posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:35:50 AM
among_us
This fanfic cover is by the absolutely talented ChrissyP47


title Among Us *REPOST*
author TeddyBehrJKT
category Primarily Max/Liz, S1 AU
rating PG-13 to eventual NC-17
disclaimer I don't own Roswell or Roswell High or any of the characters or situations but you already knew that. They belong to Jason Katims, FOX and Melinda Metz, though I firmly believe J/S should have dibs, too, because without them, we wouldn't have a dream couple to be so obsessed over. Lyrics used as part titles and bits n pieces from other inspirational sources are copyright by their respective owners. Please don't sue. I mean no infringement, only tribute.

summary Liz stumbles upon Max's secret. Max chooses Liz. Aliens are still aliens, with the conspicuous absence of the gerbil. *wink*

dedication To my virtual best bud and beta, Kitcat26, who believed. Thank you for supporting me all the way with this story.

author's note Please behr with me here *angel*... This little tale draws its inspiration from and sez thanks muchness to JK&Co.'s S1 episodes (the magical Pilot through SH) and the RH books, specifically the seminal THE OUTSIDER. The eps and the books are so interwoven in this story that if anything sounds familiar, they came from those brilliant creative minds. Only borrowing for the moment, pulling from our common lexicon and giving it my own fanfic twist. Thank you also to the Crashdown for the episode transcripts, and Roswell MP3s for the lyrics and music guides.

Feedback appreciated muchness, even tho' I'm only doing this b/c S2 is still. Showing. Where. I. Live. LOL.

Without further blather...


Among Us
Prologue
But I fear



SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1999
- LIZ POV -

It's the morning after the night before and what am I doing?

Watching astonishingly bad movies and stuffing my face with ice cream.

It's my favorite flavor, too.

Strawbehrry.

Fooled you, didn't I? Bet you thought I'd say "vanilla."

Because Liz Parker--straight A student, aspiring molecular biologist, Crashdown manager (only when my parents are out of town, otherwise I'm just another waitress), Roswell Memorial summer volunteer, and best friend to Maria Deluca and Alex Charles Whitman--would be the type to like vanilla.

At least, I'm pretty sure that's what the majority of West Roswell sophomores would think. Because they can't be bothered to look beyond the surface. They can only see predictable Lizzy Parker with interests mundane or scholastic or esoteric.

But I'm rambling. See, I'm still trying to come to grips with what I just found out, so forgive me for taking the path of least resistance and focusing on peripheral...stuff.

Because the truth I learned yesterday was just absolutely, positively...bizarre, it has me running for the comfort of Ben and Jerry and sundry celluloid characters... sleep-deprived hours after the fact.

I need a semblance of normal. So that I can deal. I gotta get a handle on what will come so that I can face it with some degree of composure.

Because whatever else you can say about Liz Parker, you can say that she copes. And she plans.

Oh, God, now I'm referring to myself in the third person.

Failed attempt at distance aside, it's one thing to believe that there is life on other planets--

--but it's, like, a whole different thing altogether to be confronted with ET right in your own backyard.

Yes, aliens walk the earth.

And yes, they are in Roswell. There's truth in advertising after all.
And the guy I've had a crush on since third grade?

The one with the incredibly soulful eyes and biceps to-die-for that I can behrly keep from touching when he sits beside me in bio lab?

The one Grandma Claudia would say was definitely soulmate material?

That one.

He's one of them.


* * *

But I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose
We have so much to lose...

--Sarah McLachlan, Fear



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


Part One
Nothing I'd like better than to fall



THE DAY BEFORE


"Okay. We've spent the week talking about genus and phylum. Now we're going to get a little more specific and talk about the difference between species. For today's experiment you'll be working in teams of two." Liz, sitting alone at her station in biology, tuned out Ms. Hardy's introduction to the day's lesson. Her attention was on the classroom door.

Her lab partner Max Evans still hadn't shown up for class.

For some strange reason, Liz had always been drawn to Max. They never had a conversation that didn't revolve around homework and academic stuff--even when they weren't in school--but she'd always felt this puzzling tug every time they were together. Liz had first put it down to enigmatic, brooding Max arousing her retentive Nosy Parker tendencies (she loved solving a good mystery after all), but Maria relentlessly maintained that Liz was just aroused, period. She had persevered in calling the Liz/Max Vibe "chemistry." Whenever the conversation degenerated to that point, Liz would, without fail, point Maria in the direction of the nearest cedar oil well.

Liz first felt it the moment Max stepped off the school bus with his sister Isabel on the first day of school, way back in third grade. Liz had been playing in the school yard with Maria at the time. The tiny hairs at the back of her neck had stood up as she felt someone staring at her. Looking over her shoulder, she had seen a solemn, sad-eyed boy about her age gazing intently at her. Liz remembered smiling at him, wondering who he was. Max for his part had apparently been unnerved by her noticing and had turned away to shuffle after Isabel who was resolutely leading him in the direction of the front doors of Roswell Elementary.


"Maria, did you see those new kids?" Liz asked her best friend.

"What new kids?" Maria swept the school grounds with a green-eyed squint. "Where?"

"They just walked inside. Two of them. A boy and a girl," Liz answered. "Come on, let's go see if they're going to be in the same class as us," she continued, tugging on Maria's hand and marching towards the school building.

"OK, OK, gimme a sec to tie my shoes," Maria pulled her hand away, bending down to tighten the laces on her new red sneakers. "I know you're always excited about the first day of school but what's so special about those two anyways?"

"I dunno, Maria, but when the boy looked at me, I... had... I mean I felt... things." Liz came to a standstill at the realization. Unlike Maria, she wasn't exactly enamored with boys. In fact, she would even go as far as saying she borderline hated them, especially after Howie Krantz beat her for first place in the previous year's Future Scientists Fair.

"Oooooohhhhh, Liz is in loooooveee!" Maria teased. "Lizzy and hmm....hmmm...sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"

"Stop it, Maria!" Liz warned, giving her a slit-eyed glare. "Boys are just so... disgusting.. and-and-loud... Jerks, NO, pests that should be exterminated."

"Ex-ter-mi-na-ted?" Maria enunciated with a snicker. "Did you, like, swallow the dictionary over the summer?" she asked, referring to Liz's over-achiever penchant for learning 10 new words a day, everyday, during the holidays. "You're just saying that because Kyle sprayed you with shaving cream last Halloween."

"Kyle is a bug. There you go," Point proven, Liz folded her arms across her chest and pouted.

"Yeah, well, don't worry. If he does something like that again this year, I'm gonna beat him up," Maria promised.

"You and what army?" Liz smirked.

"Lizzieee! I'm trying to be your best friend here! The least you can do is back me up!"

"OK, OK! Backing up... I mean, backing you up! Now, let's go before all the good seats are taken."

"Trust you, Liz, to think the front row's gonna go like popcorn."


"Mr. Evans, so nice to have you join us."

Liz snapped out of her reverie in time to see Max walking in late and being singled out by the teacher for his tardiness. In classic Max Evans fashion, he tried to be inconspicuous, ducking his head and moving quickly to seat himself beside Liz. Liz's heart stuttered as she drank in the sight of Max--bangs tousled, wearing a distracted mien and a gunmetal gray sweater that barely concealed his Michelangelo-ish upper body proportions. Down, girl. No drooling allowed, she admonished herself.

Sticking a pencil in his mouth, Max started flipping through his books. Noticing that once again Max was gnawing on a hapless writing instrument, Liz surreptitiously shook her head. She knew it was an age-old nervous habit but it was positively endearing. She tried to suppress the smile threatening to burst forth and switched her attention from her intriguing, adorable partner back to Ms. Hardy.

"Okay, everyone on the right prepare a slide with the vegetable sampling, everyone on the left, take a toothpick and get a sample from your cheek," Ms. Hardy continued.

If Liz hadn't chosen to turn toward Max at that point, she would have missed how he'd stilled, like a deer caught in a car's headlights. Her bewilderment went up a notch when Max, apparently having gotten over what fazed him, took the pencil out of his mouth and stood up.

"Mr. Evans?" Clearly, even Ms. Hardy found the sight of Max Evans deliberately seeking attention a novelty.

"Could I get a bathroom pass?" Max requested, visibly uncomfortable.

What is that about? Liz's brow crinkled in confusion.

"High maintenance today, aren't we?" Ms. Hardy noted as she held out the pass to Max who accepted it with alacrity and exited the classroom.

What is with Max today? Liz wondered. First the late thing, now this. He doesn't look sick, not that he ever is... which, when you think about, is practically a miracle... Not unless he only gets sick during weekends or something, but that's gotta be a mathematical impossibility, right? OK, I'm babbling. I don't babble. Get your mind back to biology, Parker. Max mystery on your off-time.

Ms. Hardy swept by Liz, handing her the toothpick that should have been Max's. With a shrug, Liz reached for the toothpick and proceeded to scrape the inside of her cheek.

"It's very easy to look on the outside and say what differentiates humans from other species. But what about what's on the inside? Everyone, look at the human cells and describe everything you see on your lab sheet." Ms. Hardy continued her circuit of the classroom.

Subject's cheek cells exhibit normal properties. Liz wanted to smack herself upside the head for being silly, in fact, downright frivolous on a school day. But she couldn't seem to help it. Max must have scrambled my brain more than usual, she sighed, reaching for her pen so she could fill out her lab sheet.

As she uncapped her pen, she glanced at Max's side of the table. He should be the one eyeballing cheek cells, she mused. Me, vegetable, him, animal. OK, that didn't come out quite right... Anyway, he's off doing... whatever it is you could be doing with a bathroom pass... She espied Max's pencil and before she could change her mind, used it to extract some cells, and placed the slide under the microscope.

And what she saw just about blew her away.


* * *

Max could still hear echoes of Ms. Hardy's displeasure in his head as he searched for a place to hide after decamping from biology. And no wonder. He'd been late and he'd been disruptive. At least, disruptive by Max Evans' standards.

He had managed to sidle past the unwelcome attention to casually sit beside Liz. She had looked at him and as usual, made the most unlikely scenario unfold in his mind from that single glance. He would return her gaze, start a conversation, and lay the grounds for getting close to her. Then, they would spend time together. Be ordinary teens. However, he would work his way up to telling Liz his secret. And Liz, knowing that he was still Max, would look past the alien baggage and accept him wholeheartedly.

Albeit absurd, it was his most cherished dream.

He looked around the utility closet that served as his convenient bolt hole. He could open up to her, but he wouldn't. And not only because he'd be putting himself, Michael, and Isabel at risk. It was more because whatever he yearned for in the recesses of his heart--that the innate goodness and generosity that defined Liz Parker would also extend to him--his brain maintained that any connection between them was purely one-sided.

For as long as he could remember, Max had always felt an inexplicable connection with Liz. He'd never over-analyzed it; he'd just accepted that it was there. The metaphysical link had flared to life from the first moment he'd laid eyes on her and over the years, had become a source of both comfort and distress. While it made him feel like he was no longer alone--as if he had found the other half of himself that had been lost or severed--it also brought home the fact that he was different. That he could never act on his feelings for her. It made him feel preternaturally elated whenever he was in her presence but also acutely despondent when he saw her with other guys, most especially Kyle Valenti.

Kyle was the person Max envied the most. Confident, popular but above all, normal. Someone who could become even more to Liz Parker. He symbolized all that Max wasn't and would never be. For one, Kyle would never have to accompany Michael on a quest for clues to their alien identity. Not that Max wasn't equally interested in finding out who they really were, nor begrudged what he had to do for Michael. If Michael wanted to dig up half of New Mexico, then Max would gladly help him.

But the fact remained that Kyle would never be called on to do the things Max had to, because he was a regular guy.

He reached up towards the flickering light bulb that was the only source of illumination in the room. It went from wavering to steadily bright in a heartbeat.

So because he could never be normal, Max always squashed the oh-so-tempting impulse to confide in Liz that came with distressing regularity. He wasn't ready to take the step that would lead to certain, instead of only possible, rejection. He would rather hide in the shadows of secrecy and be content with worshipping her from a distance. That was safe. That was smart.

But that morning shattered his complacency. When Ms. Hardy instructed the students sitting on the left to take a cell sample for examination, Max realized that his feeling of safety in isolation was pure illusion.

Must do something. Must. Do. Something. He had chanted over and over in his mind like a mantra. But what eventually came out of his mouth was "Could I get a bathroom pass?"

As statements went, it was anti-climactic. However, it served its purpose in getting Max out of biology and keeping the aliens' secret intact for another day.


* * *


I have so much
to lose here in this lonely place.
Tangled up in your embrace
there's nothing I'd like better than
to fall.

--Sarah McLachlan, Fear



[ edited 5 time(s), last at 11-Jan-2003 12:47:25 AM ]
posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:37:04 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer n such, see first post

note Part Two of the Repost is the same as Parts 2A and 2B on the active board. I just consolidated 'em b/c the parts were short. *big*


Part Two
Heaven knows what a girl can do



"Max! Max!! Excuse me, excuse me," Liz tried to muscle her way through the crowd of students milling about the hallway in between classes. It wasn't happening as for every three steps she took, she got pushed back two as taller, bulkier Roswell High denizens formed a semi-permeable barrier to her quarry. Max never went back to class, and Liz really, really, had to talk to him. So, if Max wouldn't come to Liz Parker, then Liz Parker, woman on a mission, would corner the elusive Mr. Evans. She caught a glimpse of a gray sweater and a determined stride and knew that if she didn't haul ass, she was going to lose him to the wonders of algebra.

"MAX!" Liz shouted. No more time to be subtle. "WAIT UP!"

Max came to a stop as Liz yelled out his name and ordered him to cease-and-desist. She skirted around a trio of loitering jocks, intent on catching up with him.

"Looking good, Liz," Brad Willman, one of Comet's basketball forwards, ragged while ogling Liz in her jeans, red tank top, and russet checked shirt. "I like the Crash outfit better though," Brad continued which elicited boisterous guffaws from his cohorts whom he'd apparently impressed with the quality of his wit. Liz ignored them, muttering "testosterone junkies" under her breath and barreling on until she reached Max's side.

"Max, I have to talk to you," Liz stated with determination, latching onto Max's arm. "Now." Gee, Liz, dictate much?

"Liz, can't this wait?" Max looked down at her gripping his arm, then back at her probably flushed face. "I don't want to be late for my next class and I... you don't really want to have to deal with Mr. Edwards' sarcasm because he's--"

"It can't, Max, and I just need a minute," Liz plunged in, in a much lower tone than her earlier strident summons. Unconsciously she tightened her grasp on his arm. She could hardly believe what she was about to tell him; it was just plain staggering. "I know I shouldn't have, but after you left, I, I examined your cells under the you know, microscope--"

"--even scarier than Ms. Hardy."

"--and they didn't look normal!"

They both finished in the same breath.

Max looked into Liz's eyes and was that consternation she was seeing? Maybe she was getting light-headed from over-breathing. She blinked and decided she was probably mistaken; the expression she now saw in his gorgeous amber eyes could only be called... cryptic.

"You're right. We have to talk." Max grabbed her hand and led her away from the thinning crowd.

As he pulled Liz in the direction of the utility closet he had just recently vacated, Max fought down the combination wave of protectiveness and possessiveness that had slammed into him when he saw those morons checking her out. He knew he didn't have any claim on her, and she clearly, literally had been taking the harassment in stride. Reason, however, had nothing to do with him wanting to blast them. Which would've been a big mistake. And in the scheme of things and at the heels of his renewed resolve, huge. So, he'd clenched his fists at his side to rein in the temptation to unleash an energy bolt that would have put Michael's to shame, and waited for Liz to say what she wanted to say.

It was a good thing that their simultaneous declarations had cancelled each other out. No one around had been any the wiser that a revelation of galactic proportions had just taken place. How--where did she get hold of my cells? He'd wondered frantically and would've started hyperventilating if Liz hadn't already been doing it for both of them.

I guess what she saw proves beyond doubt that we're not like everybody else. But what is she planning to do with that proof?

As he furtively unlocked the door with his alien powers, all Max knew was that he had to find a way to defuse the situation. And find it fast.


* * *

"So, Max, you like algebra?" Could you be any more lame, Liz? She scolded herself. From the time Max took over and pulled her into a poky closet, butterflies had made a permanent home in her tummy, accompanied by her female hormones partying like it was 1999. To add insult to injury, her mouth wasn't even taking orders from her brain anymore. I'm here to talk to Max about weird-looking cells and what comes out is algebra? Liz wailed. That's just great. Concentrate, Liz. On Max. Just Max.

OhmigodimallaloneinaclosetwithMAX! Breathe, Liz, breathe!

Giving herself time to recover, Liz took in her surroundings: it was small, it was cluttered, and it was rapidly making Liz claustrophobic. The lone light bulb in the room had taken on spotlight proportions and she squirmed in its relentless glare. This is Max. Just Max. No one to be afraid of, she counseled.

"Or has Mr. Edwards, like, sucked it dry of any possible enjoyment?" It was confirmed. Liz Parker's brain has fried.

Max leaned against the door. "That wouldn't be hard, seeing that algebra has never been a party subject to begin with," he deadpanned.

"Um, I guess you're right. I should've clued in when we were doing the FOIL method in freshman year." Liz gave a strained giggle. "But, hey, you know what, I didn't ambush you just to blather on about math. We're here because of biology."

She glanced up to see how he was taking the U-turn back to their original topic. He had crossed his arms and was giving her a long look that made her uneasy. Where is this coming from? Just Max remember?

"Um, I--I scraped some cells from your pencil. This is really hard to say, I'm trying to keep from blacking out here," she continued. "Um, the cells weren't normal." She darted another quick peek and was vaguely alarmed to see that he'd moved closer.

"I guess--what I mean is...I...didn't expect to see what I saw," she added in a whisper.

"Maybe you made a mistake?" Max replied in a low voice, placing a hand on the utility shelving supporting her and leaning in. Close. Despite half-blocking the light, she could see the freckle on his left upper lip. She could count each and every one of his ridiculously long lashes. But his gaze itself remained steady. Inscrutable. Max-the-Sphinx.

"Maybe." Liz definitely hoped so. The few remaining thoughts she had scattered as she caught a whiff of a clean soap-and-mint-toothpaste scent. She could feel his breath caressing her face. Liz closed her eyes and almost immediately popped them open.

"What I'm holding onto here is that my experiment was obviously not done in a very scientific manner," she persevered. "So I'm going to have to suggest to you that we go back to the bio lab now, so I can take a sample.

"So that I can see what I've been thinking is wrong, you know?" And what I'm thinking is--let's not even go there. "That I got the wrong cells..." she trailed off.

"That would work." A split-second pause before Max straightened to his full height and Liz breathed a sigh of wistful relief. "But it'd have to be after school," he conceded. "Busy. And then there's Mr. Edwards. Scary dude?"

He smiled--a private one that Liz just knew no one ever got to see--as he pushed a stray hank of hair behind her ear. She started in surprise. In all the time that she'd known him, Max had always kept his hands to himself. Sure, they'd talked, joked some, but touches--even casual ones--never. Okay, who ARE you and what have you done with Max Evans?

"You're right, another class is probably using the room anyway," she agreed, still bemused. "So, bio lab later?"

"It's a date."


* * *


Heaven knows what a girl can do
Heaven knows what you've got to prove
I think I'm paranoid
And complicated
I think I'm paranoid
Manipulated

--Garbage, I Think I'm Paranoid



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


author's note for part twoThe closet scene owes a debt of gratitude to Meg Cabot's THE PRINCESS DIARIES. Loved the whole agonizing-about-algebra so much, it snuck into the closet with ML. No infringement intended.


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

AMONG US
For disclaimer n such, see first post


Part Three
Heaven knows what you've got to prove



"I can't believe this, Max. I finally feel like I have a quasi-normal existence and you're going to blow it all with a supreme act of idiocy." Isabel paused in her ongoing tirade to spear her brother with a glower of equal parts disdain and trepidation.

As per their usual, Max, Michael, and Isabel were having lunch together. This time it was off-campus, at an out-of-the-way food stand that served mediocre tacos. They were trying to decide their next move in between blaring announcements about the upcoming Crash festival.

Max had had to tell them about Liz and the cell experiment but he left out her opening gambit. It still made him smile, which went a long way towards calming him down. Her very tentativeness reassured Max that it was going to be okay because it was Liz he was dealing with. But the fact that they were alone in a closet had gotten to him: he couldn't help himself from closing the distance between them. Neither could he stop himself from pushing her hair back behind her ear when it fell across her face. He'd been right about its texture; it was supremely soft and touchable.

Because it was Liz, Max felt even more like a jerk at having to out-and-out lie. But he had to make her doubt what she saw. As Liz prided herself on being Miss Scientist, he knew that she would insist on the second cell examination. He cringed over having called it a 'date,' but at least, he'd managed to buy a little time--time to deliberate with Iz and Michael over the breaking of an inviolable pact--the vow they'd made to never tell anybody about their true selves. And while officially he wasn't the one to break it, the end-result was still the same. Somebody--Liz--had stumbled on to their secret.

To say that Isabel and Michael were not pleased was putting it mildly. And they weren't at all impressed with his plan for damage control.

"Look, I said I was sorry." Max felt like shouting at them but pitched his voice just above a whisper. "How was I supposed to know she'd get that curious?"

"You've been watching her forever and you didn't see this coming? You should've known, Max! You should've been more careful!" Isabel counter-whispered.

"You use your powers all the time, how is that different?" Max knew he was going off on a tangent but he didn't care; he was quickly tiring of their bickering.

"Don't make this about me. And anyway, I only use my powers recreationally," Isabel rejoined, using said powers to heat up her lunch. The taco shell crisped and the cheese topping started to melt.

"It's gonna be okay. I'm going to prove to her that she botched the experiment, that my cells are the same as everybody else's." Max ran through his plan again, trying to get them to see reason. "We find a 'volunteer' and I'll use his cells to convince Liz that she made a mistake."

"Yeah, like that'llwork." Isabel rolled her eyes. Ms. Skeptical. "Don't you realize that everything has changed?"

"No, it hasn't," Max insisted for what felt like the umpteenth time.

"Max, she's right, we're screwed. It's time to leave Roswell." Michael gulped down his Tabasco-laced soda, picked up his jacket, and stood up.

"Michael, we can't just leave." Max's heart slammed in his chest, hammering in a frantic rhythm. No way was he going to leave Roswell. He wouldn't be able to survive without seeing Liz, even if it was only from afar.

"Yeah, we can," Michael asserted with measured deliberation. "We've always known this day would come and we said when it did, we'd be prepared."

"But we can contain this!" Max halted beside the jeep parked curbside and willed both Michael and Isabel to really listen. "I can pull this off!"

"Anyway, Michael, where are we gonna go? You know Roswell's home," Isabel said, climbing into the jeep. Max was never more grateful than he was at the moment for Isabel's predictability when it came to their adoptive parents. Faced with a choice between his scheme and running away from the only home they knew, Iz was bound to choose the former.

"Roswell's not home. It's not even in our solar system," Michael parried.

"Well this is the closest thing we have to home right now." Max hated pointing out the obvious but it needed to be emphasized.

"For you two maybe. It was you the Evans found on the side of the road not me. They're like real parents to you," Michael rejoined. "My foster dad, he just keeps me around for the monthly check." Michael's skill in laying a guilt trip was unparalleled, but Max was equally, if not more adamant about preserving the status quo.

"This is gonna be okay. After I convince Liz, we should just lay low. Go to school, act normal."

"Act normal? You're a real genius, Max," Isabel recovered her earlier sarcasm. "Just know that if you fail, it's only a matter of time before they find us and turn us over to some government agency where they're gonna test us and prod us, and, oh yeah, exterminate us," she fumed as she popped a CD out of its case.

She held up the CD to her ear and the first strains of I Think I'm Paranoid by Garbage blasted out. "Now, let's go see if there's any freshman we can victimize into turning over some cells."

Max started the jeep's engine and the Alien Trio headed back to school.


* * *

Liz walked in a daze as she headed to the quad for her regular lunch date with Alex and Maria.

What did Max Evans mean when he said It's a date, she wondered. Was it some sort of Freudian slip--a vibe signaling that Max wanted to be more than just friends? For the impact it had on her, that remark had to have been on par with Stephen Hawking refuting the Big Bang origin of the Universe. It had even eclipsed her uberweird experiment results. Maybe she was over-dramatizing it (too much Maria bleeding into Liz she rationalized), but Liz was pretty sure that that kind of come-on wasn't even in Max's personality, never mind his vocabulary.

Liz had never seen Max with another girl (that she knew of) in a non-platonic kind of way. Which was a real pity for the girls in West Roswell High, but something for which Liz was unaccountably grateful. In spite of the invitations blatant and otherwise, Max had kept aloof, never letting anyone in other than his sister and their friend Michael.

Which made his last words even more confusing, if that were at all possible.

Liz still remembered when she had her Max epiphany; it had happened toward the end of the previous school year. She had been working her shift at the Crashdown and Max had been ensconced in his regular booth, studying for finals. Pam Troy--Liz's arch-nemesis--had slithered over, plastered her over-endowed chest against Max's upper arm, and whispered something suggestive in his ear. Liz had seen it happen, like, a thousand times before but with different girls. And as expected, she had seen Max visibly recoil, stammer an apology, and head for the nearest exit. As he threw down more money than necessary to pay for his Saturn fries, cherry coke, and take care of Maria's tip, he caught Liz watching him from behind the cash register. Some kind of awareness had passed between them and it was at that instant that Liz recognized that Max Evans was saving himself for someone. Someone he hadn't yet met, or someone who remained oblivious to the fact that Max was pining for her.

She still remembered because in her non-Max-fogged moments, she lived with a low-grade dread of the time he would find his dream girl.

It's a date.

It's probably just something someone says, to, like, fill space, Liz reasoned out, as Maria and Alex came into view.

"Hey, Parker, what took you so long?" Her other best girlfriend scooted over to make room for Liz. She plopped down beside him and opened her lunch bag.

"Not that long, Alex. You still haven't made any dent in your food." Liz gestured toward Alex's lunch--two slices of pizza, a brownie, a bag of pork rinds, and an orange soda.

"That's where you're wrong, Liz. A double cheeseburger already disappeareth." Maria grinned at Liz before biting into a cucumber slice.

Liz pivoted in Alex's direction and placed her hands on her cheeks in an exaggerated gesture of astonishment. "Alex! How could you?"

"I didn't mean to! Honest!" In turn, Alex swiveled towards Maria and pointed solemnly. "That's her, Officer. She made me do it."

"Hey, don't blame this on me, dude. I wasn't the one chowing down all those fat grams," Maria retorted, drawing a celery stick from her lunch bag and crunching leisurely. "I would never profane my body with unnecessary calories, artificial sweeteners, or unpronounceable additives," she continued in a lofty tone.

"You won't have to pronounce them. We'll leave that to Liz," Alex declared reasonably, taking a bite out of his pizza, and smirking at Liz who promptly started waving her hand about her throat and making choking noises.

"Ohmigod! LIZ!" Twin best friend voices rang out, drawing attention from the lunch crowd. As Alex moved into position for a Heimlich maneuver, scattering bits of food and Saran wrap as he went, Maria rushed to Liz's side and started pounding on her back.

As quickly as it came, Liz stopped choking and beamed at Maria and Alex. "Gotcha! And you both said I couldn't act my way out of a paper bag."

"Aargh!" Maria decided to continue thumping Liz anyway, swatting her on the arm. "Elizabeth Claudia, that was just wrong!"

"That was not good, Parker," Alex pronounced while brushing off the detritus of his lunch from his pants. "There's a precedent you should already be aware of, it's called the boy who cried wolf?"

"Now I feel like choking you myself!" Maria continued to grouse as she flopped down next to Liz.

"Awww, c'mon you two." Liz felt bad at her thoughtless stunt. She looked first at Maria. Then at Alex. Both had found something interesting to stare at in the distance. Maybe she should just leave the funny stuff to the pros.

"Just kidding?"

Silence greeted her. Definitely. She'd never play a practical joke again, ever. It was just too apparent that she had absolutely no sense of comedic timing or appropriateness. She got up and faced the two statues.

"Love you?" She peered at them from underneath her lashes, pushed her lower lip out slightly, and tilted her head a couple of degrees to the right.

"Man, that is just so low," Maria moaned, renewing her swat attack on Liz's arm.

"Naah, she must be desperate," Alex riposted, pulling Liz away from Maria who sometimes underestimated her strength. "Liz only trots out the adorable puppy look when she's losing."

Almost as if rehearsed, all three looked at one another, flashed near-identical goofy grins, and snorted in laughter.
All was good again in their corner of the world.


* * *

As Alex headed off for computer class, Liz and Maria strolled towards French. They stopped by the lockers for Maria to retrieve her books.

"Maria, if I'm late for my shift later, cover for me?" Liz leaned against her locker. She already had the books she was going to need.

"Sure, chica. No prob. Got a hot date?" Maria slammed the locker door shut and faced Liz.

"No, just some extra work for bio."

Maria's eyebrows shot up. "Biology? Isn't that, like, one of the classes you have with Max Evans?"

"Yeah. So?"

"Nothing, nothing," Maria held up a hand that wasn't encumbered with books. "It's just, it's Friday, it's Max Evans... you do the math. God knows, I couldn't possibly!"

"Sniff some cedar oil, Maria. How many times do I have to tell you there's nothing going on between me and Max?" Liz whined.
"Yeah, but he'd like there to be," Maria waggled her eyebrows in exaggeration.

With that statement, Liz's earlier confusion over her upcoming 'date' with Max surged to the surface. And it was a quiet Liz who walked into French class with Maria.


* * *

As the late bell rang, George Riley ran the length of the corridor. He had a pleased smirk on his face. This was one time he didn't mind being late; he had just been propositioned by a supermodel-beautiful 'older woman.' Too bad he'd promised to be faithful to his girlfriend Holly. And anyway, that girl had a seriously bizarro oral fixation.

Imagine, getting turned on by fondling the inside of your mouth...

But with a toothpick?


* * *

Heaven knows what a girl can do
Heaven knows what you've got to prove
I think I'm paranoid
And complicated
I think I'm paranoid
Manipulated

--Garbage, I Think I'm Paranoid



[ edited 1 time(s), last at 5-Nov-2002 12:52:01 AM ]
posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:41:07 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Four
All I Want is You



Max rushed out of his last class even before the exodus started, a seemingly innocuous toothpick tucked inside his pocket. He didn't even bother to dump his books in his locker in his haste to reach the bio lab before Liz.

As he looked around the empty classroom, he willed his heart to slow down its frenetic pounding. I can do this. It'll be okay, he reassured himself, shoving away the pang of conscience that screamed it was criminal for him to lie to Liz. Now was not the time for second thoughts.

As he retrieved two microscopes from the cabinet, he thought of Isabel and Michael, ever-critical, waiting impatiently for him to pull them out of the mess his unwitting nervous habit had caused.

I'm doing this for them. For all of us.

I have to make Liz believe she was wrong.

I have no other choice.


If he succeeded, he, Isabel and Michael would still be able to hide in plain sight.

But at what cost?

Not for the first time, Max wished he was someone -- some thing -- other than himself.

All he ever wanted was to be normal, but barring that, to live as normal a life as possible, given the circumstances.

And the best normal he could hope for was being content at just having the solace of an admittedly improbable future where the girl he loved, returned his love and accepted him in spite of his otherworldly origins.

At least, in that version of normal, he would have had his dream to get him through.

But if he was able to pull this off, even that improbable dream would die.

By his own hand.

And he sensed, soul-deep, that once he lied to Liz, he would never be able go back, nor ever go forward.

She was trusting him to tell the truth; he was going to deceive her with lies.

Knowing that, knowing that he would deliberately betray her trust, Max, of his own volition, would do everything in his power thereafter to ensure that his path would never again intersect with hers.

Their lives would go on, along parallel lines, but would never converge.

It was almost funny that he'd had no inkling how pivotal this day would become for him. The day he would be called upon to save three lives, one of which was his own.

The day that I save my life is the day my life ends.

Max wished he could find it in himself to appreciate the irony.


* * *

"Max?"

Liz stood at the doorway, watching Max fitfully run his hand up and down one of the microscopes he had set up on their table.

He startled and met her inquiring gaze.

"Are you okay?" She walked in slowly, thumbs sliding up and down the straps of her backpack, mimicking his action in a distracted way.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm fine," Max answered as he visibly pulled himself together, ditching whatever was bothering him. "So, ready for Cell Experiment Take Two?"

"Yeah," Liz replied, unzipping the outside pocket of her backpack. "I stopped to get us a couple of toothpicks--"

"So did I," Max interrupted as he held up one toothpick. "Except I only got one for me. Sorry."

"No biggie." Liz dropped her bag on the floor and sat down on her lab stool.

"Let's get started then."

Liz pulled two glass slides out of their wooden box and handed one to Max. She scraped the inside of her cheek and repeated her actions of that morning.

"You know, the experiment was actually to compare animal and plant cells," Liz recounted, slipping the slide under the microscope's metal clips. "I was wondering what category a couch potato would fall into."

Max paused in the act of dropping a thin plastic cover on top of his cell sample and smiled at her. "Only you, Liz Parker, would come up with that question."

"Hey, it's valid!" She was glad to see him smile. Max Evans, poster boy for morose didn't do it often enough.

"You wanna see what I have here?" Max gestured to his microscope.

"You show me yours, I show you mine?" Liz teased, unwilling to let Max lapse into his usual gravity. "I didn't mean that in the, you know, um, usual, way," she backtracked, remembering how innocent statements could be misconstrued.

"I understand." Max nodded. "You mean in the creepy lounge lizard kind of way."

"Yeah, exactly." Liz was grateful that he'd overlooked her faux-pas. "So, may I?" she asked.

"Sure." They switched places, with Max immediately bending down to examine her cell sample. Liz marveled at the weirdness quotient of the situation before mentally shrugging and getting back to the task at hand.

Seating herself on Max's lab stool, she pulled the microscope nearer to her and peered into the eyepiece. She paused for a moment in her cell examination to readjust the focus. She then looked up, pushed back from the table, and turned to Max. He swiveled in her direction and raised his eyebrows in question.

A pregnant hush fell over the room.

Seconds passed before Liz averted her gaze and stood up to circle the table and pick up her book bag. She carefully placed the bag on the tabletop, opened the flap, and withdrew a thick biology tome from its depths. She riffled through the pages, found the section she was looking for, and silently studied the photographs displayed. Breathing deeply, she closed the book with a loud snap and faced Max.

"I guess I was wrong," she said finally. "Everything looks the way it should."

Max exhaled audibly and stood up. He directed his gaze toward the door, then back at Liz.

"I must have contaminated your sample, somehow," she added thoughtfully, fiddling with the box of slides, thinking that they should start clearing away the equipment they had used.

Another spell of silence descended.

"Liz?"

"What?" she answered, in the act of replacing the book inside her backpack.

Max was staring at the book with a resigned expression.

"Max?"

He braced himself, seemingly with resolve.

Deliberately, he placed his hand over hers and watched her eyes fly up to his.

"Please hand me a clean slide and your other toothpick."


* * *

Bend me break me
Anyway you need me
All I want is you
Bend me break me
Breaking down is easy
All I want is you

--Garbage, I Think I'm Paranoid



* * * * * * * * * *

AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Five
In a boy's dream



Res ipsa loquitur.
The facts speak for themselves.

As Max watched Liz's bent head examining his real cell sample, that one Latin phrase came to mind. He couldn't even remember from where he'd read it, but it seemed wholly appropriate for the situation.

Liz would see that his cells were not normal.

She would realize that HE was not normal.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Earlier, after Liz had pronounced his cells to be as typical as they could get in their resemblance to the bio text pictures, Max finally understood that he couldn't do it.

Any of it.

Run away.

Hide.

But most of all, lie to Liz.

So he had stood his ground, focusing on the classroom door as if all the answers to his questions had been written there. And despite knowing that that way led to safety, Max reversed his earlier decision.

Staring at the book that would have been his salvation, Max spared a thought for Michael and Isabel and regretted what this would do to them. But even the certainty of their ire wasn't been able sway him.

Liz--even if she didn't know it--only deserved the truth.

And because it was Liz, things would still work out.
She might look at him differently from here on out--seeing him for the freak that he really was--but she wouldn't tell anybody.

She was different.

She was Liz.

She slowly looked up, consternation plainly written on her face.

"These look exactly like the cells from this morning."

There was a long, uncomfortable pause as Liz backed away from their table.

"Max, what is going on?"

This is Liz, Max reminded himself as he rounded the table to stand beside her. She'll understand, he tagged on for reassurance. Isabel and Michael would simply have to respect his turnaround, would have to trust that he knew what he was doing.

He grasped her arm and was immediately assaulted with a myriad of random images, shot through with intense confusion and heightened awareness of him. A teddy bear with a chewed-off ear. A Mr. Wizard junior chemistry set. A little blond girl--Maria-- holding a baby bird. Liz at about age five, wearing a pink dress covered with cupcakes. A younger Alex Whitman helping Liz carry her books.

The flashes now came with dizzying rapidity but Max could still identify them. A valentine from a secret admirer. Max's own face. Max sitting beside Liz in class, chewing on a pencil. Fleeing the Crashdown that time Pam Troy went overboard propositioning him. Smiling from this morning's respite in the utility closet.

He abruptly let go of her arm, breathing erratically, and the connection between them faded as quickly as it had flared. But traces of the link remained, a humming in his brain.

It was very hard to think, but Max felt that he had been right to trust.

Right to intuitively believe that Liz would be able to handle the truth.

The enormity of what he had just done crashed into him as Max saw Liz inching away. He flinched and made a half-hearted effort to widen the distance between them, to give her the space she needed.

And he could literally feel his new-found conviction wavering.

But it was all academic now. He would just have to deal.

"Okay, um. So help me out here, Max." She tried to smile but it was a losing proposition. "I mean, what are you?" she asked, seemingly wanting Max to spell it out.

"Well, I'm not from around here," he admitted, hanging his head.

"Where are you from?" she persisted.

Max held her puzzled gaze with his and pointed up with his index finger. What else was there to say?

"Up north?" she questioned.

He silently pointed higher, raising an eyebrow in emphasis.

"You're not an, an alien, I mean." She widened and rolled her eyes in a come-on-you're-kidding motion. "Are you?" she then continued in all seriousness.

"Well, I prefer the term 'not of this earth.'" Max tried to lighten the pall that was rapidly enveloping them. He watched her to gauge her reaction and found that his attempt at levity had fallen flat. "Sorry, it's not a good time to joke," he apologized.

Liz nodded but remained silent. Clearly at a loss for words.

"Yeah, I am," Max reiterated for good measure. He darted glances left and right, wishing he could mitigate his stark announcement. "Wow, it's weird to actually say it," he added.

The longest two seconds passed as Liz stood there motionless. Then she shouldered her backpack and made a move towards the door.

Max was suddenly frightened. She was refusing to look at him. He fell into step beside her.

"Liz...."

She strode, almost ran in her haste to get out of the room. "Um, Max, you know, I have, I'm gonna be late for my shift, so I'm just gonna--"

Max beat her to the door, a barrier between her and the world outside.

Liz quickly looked up at him and just as immediately looked away. She extended a hand to push open the door but Max intercepted her.

"Max, please let me out," Liz entreated, withdrawing from his touch. Max's heart broke at her panicked countenance. He could understand her being overwhelmed, but he couldn't let her leave until he was sure she understood precisely what he was asking of her.

"Liz, listen to me," Max appealed, holding her in place by the simple expedient of a firm hand to her arm. He steeled himself against the anticipated torrent of images that flooded his mind; the flashes blurring together like a movie on fast forward. He tried not to be distracted, concentrating instead on convincing her of the gravity of the situation.

"Max, let me go, please?" She squirmed but Max held on.

"You can't talk to anyone about this. Not your parents, not Maria. No one," he stressed. "You don't understand what'll happen if you do."

"Max, let go of me!" She was nearly in tears, fighting his grasp.

"I'm not gonna hurt you." Max was shocked that she thought, even for a second, that he would inflict pain on her. He couldn't.

She knew that, didn't she?

She looked up at him again, searching his gaze. She stopped struggling and bent her head.

"Liz, please? It's my life you hold in your hands," he said before releasing her arm.

She looked up at him once more, before opening the door and running away.


* * *


Lost for you I'm so lost for you
You come crash into me
And I come into you
I come into you
In a boys dream

--Dave Matthews Band, Crash into Me



* * * * * * * * * *
author's note for part five I included some lines, which JK had in the initial draft of the pilot, but weren't in the aired band room scene. I reinstated them because I loved the gratuitous UST muchness. Here's the link (hope it still works), if you wanna refresh your memory:
Roswell High (Pilot Episode) by Jason Katims, 1st Draft Revised October 15, 1998

posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:42:11 AM

AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Six
Lost for you



"Liz. LIZ! Order up!" Jose, the cook on duty, deposited plates containing a Sigourney Weaver and a Will Smith onto the window ledge, shouting to be heard above the din that was the Crashdown on a Friday night.

Liz tore her gaze away from the mural showing a car and its occupants caught in a spaceship's tractor beam that had had her mesmerized. She winced visibly as she watched Jose finish off the burgers by enthusiastically spearing them with festive toothpicks topped with stereotypical alien heads.

"Don't want these suckers mooing and scaring away the tourists, now, would we?" Jose asked in a confiding tone. Liz blanched as she watched the cook grab an extra toothpick and stick it in his mouth, grinning at her in camaraderie.

Ever since she ran from Max that afternoon, Liz had found the ubiquitous alien lunacies on which the town thrived clamoring for her attention. The banners and decorations publicizing the impending Crash Festival. The UFO Center looming across the street. The Crashdown itself rife with all manner of things alien--from her uniform with its campy silver head apron and tacky antenna headband to the chalkboard caricature of an alien promoting the day's specials.

She had lived with these and similar reminders all her life, but suddenly she found them abrasive. Disturbing. Monstrous.

She tried to reconcile what she knew about Max--unassuming, kind, intelligent Max--with his mind-blowing revelation that he was 'not of this earth.'

If Liz hadn't had the evidence of her own eyes, she would have gently guided Max in the direction of the nearest available mental health specialist.

Now she felt that it was SHE who needed an appointment with an analyst's couch.

It was one thing to believe in the possibility of extraterrestrial life in the abstract, but it needed sheer grit to confront the reality when IT was standing right in front of you.

Stop it, Liz. Don't dehumanize Max, she chided herself. You've known him practically forever. He hasn't changed, just because you discovered an entirely different facet of his identity.

"Liz?" Jose was looking at her quizzically, wondering why she wasn't making tracks to deliver the orders he'd prepared.

"Yeah, Jose," she said, moving to pick up the two plates. "Off to do your bidding now."

She walked towards the table seating a 20-something couple, their demeanor positively identifying them as conspiracy theorists. The guy was wearing a dark gray vest and a T-shirt in a lighter shade, with thick glasses framed by heavy black rims. The blond woman sitting beside him sported dark lip stick and nail polish. Both were busy tapping away on matching handheld PDAs.

"Here you go," Liz said, sliding the two thick burgers--one with avocado and sprouts, the other with jalapeño peppers and cheese--onto the tabletop.

"Can I get you guys anything else? Green Martian Shake? Blood of Alien smoothie?" She went through the motions of offering the Crash's beverage specials, but she didn't really want to engage them in a lengthy conversation.

"Nah, thanks. We're good. So is your family from around here?" Glasses guy asked predictably. His partner looked up at Liz in expectation, hand holding a stylus hovering over the Palm Pilot screen.

Liz mentally sighed. Might as well talk to them. They don't realize they're poking at a sore tooth.

"Yeah," she answered listlessly. "Four generations," she added in afterthought.

Glasses guy cleared his throat noisily and tentatively pressed on. "So does anyone in your family have stories about the uh, UFO crash?"

Liz looked at him, but he wasn't really registering. She was remembering how she used to scam the tourists, showing them a worn black and white photo of a baby doll someone left out in the sun too long, pretending that it was the alien that crash-landed in 1947. She had been able to rake in the tips because of that alleged alien picture. Now she realized that that had been a totally asinine thing to do, given what she had just learned.

"There are always stories," Liz replied, pocketing her order book and giving them an earnest look. "Have you heard the one about the weather balloon?"

Glasses guy and blond companion looked crestfallen, probably wishing that somebody else--someone in the know--had served them.

If they only knew, Liz thought, ambling back to the service station.

"This place is a zoo," Maria remarked, setting down a tray full of empties and joining Liz behind the counter. "And Agnes is off having a break again. Liz, do you think you could speak to your dad about equitable distribution of labor? Liz? Liz?!"

Liz looked at Maria with wide eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came out.

You can't talk to anyone about this. Not your parents, not Maria. No one.

Oh, Max, you don't ask for much, do you? Liz had always told Maria and Alex everything of importance that happened to her. It was a basic tenet of their Best Friend Code.

But this was one thing Liz could never reveal; one thing for which she could never ask Alex' or Maria's perspective.

"Is everything OK?" Liz wished that Maria's best friend-in-distress detector didn't work quite so optimally. Max's plea kept repeating itself in her mind, a grim and disconcerting reminder.

...not Maria. No one. You don't understand what'll happen if you do.

You're wrong, Max, she silently refuted. I understand perfectly.
"Yeah, everything's great. Just, um, you know, as you said, it's a zoo." Liz made an effort at friendly inconsequential banter but Maria in full concerned best bud mode was not about to be dissuaded.

"Did something happen with Max?" Maria veered onto an all too familiar track. She always ended up linking Max to any inexplicable out of character Liz behavior. Liz should have seen it coming a mile off. She nearly wished that her reaction to Max over the years hadn't been quite so predictable, but then realized that she could use that same predictability to head Maria off.

Liz, please? It's my life you hold in your hands.

"No," Liz shook her head. Maria still looked doubtful. Here goes.

"Though I wish that something had..." Liz offered, anticipating that Maria would go for the red herring.

"Aaaawww, chica..." Maria empathized. Jackpot. "You're ditching the Denial Queen routine... I knew that you liked him, didn't I tell you that you liked him? Yeah, I knew you liked him..." Maria rambled on in commiseration. Liz let her chatter, nodding in appropriate places, as if willing herself to be comforted.

"Anyway, the guy's just shy so it might take a while for things to happen," she explained to Liz who saw an opening to further bolster her story.

"But nothing's gonna happen. I'm going out with Kyle," Liz interrupted. Maria knew about her halfway ambiguous relationship with Kyle Valenti. Best friend alarms would peal if Liz didn't make an attempt to bring him into the Max discussion. "He's steady. And loyal. And he appreciates me."

"Sounds like you're describing a poodle." Maria frowned. "Is that what's bugging you? You told me yourself it was just a summer thing."

"And this thing with Max is a what thing?" Liz countered.

"Liz, believe me. With Max, it won't be just a summer thing. He's has, like, transcended appreciating you," she averred, still on a roll over having her pet Max/Liz theory conclusively proven. "He's so far gone--"

"Maria--"

"--and with those cheeks! Preciosita tan linda!" Maria ignored Liz, pinching said cheeks to underscore her point. Then she paused, as if a bright idea had just occurred to her. "Maybe, you should be the one to make the first move," she suggested.

"Nuh-uh, no way." Liz knew she'd found a way to cut the discussion short before it spiraled out of her control. Maria knew that Liz had major security issues over approaching a guy. "I'm not gonna be like all the other girls who throw themselves at Max," she stated emphatically. "Not on this earth."

"Hmm... Then we gotta work on improving your Max-skills." Maria contemplated, as Liz busied herself with spooning coffee into the coffee machine. "Never fear, Auntie Maria is here," she proclaimed in a self-important tone.

"We'll get Max yet," she finished, patting Liz on the shoulder before lifting two clean coffee cups and heading back to the floor.

Well, it's better that she thinks I'm obsessing over Max, Liz consoled herself. If Maria really knew what was bothering me, she'd totally freak out, she rationalized as she followed Maria's example and got back to work.


* * *

Max parked in the lee of the strange, towering desert rocks that hid their destination and jumped out. He needed to stretch his legs. Although the cave, hidden deep within the ancient jutting formation, was only about twenty miles outside of Roswell, the entire drive had been accomplished in loaded silence. Beside him, Isabel had sat closemouthed, twisting her hands in her lap, not even bothering to play her let's-annoy-Max music. As for Michael, whenever Max met his eyes in the rearview mirror, he would hold Max's gaze for a long second before turning his attention to the passing scenery.

Max knew it was all a front; he could feel energy--unseen alien energy--seething just below the surface. Ever since they decided to hone their powers over the summer, Max had become more receptive to alien energy currents. Unless he made a conscious effort to block it, he felt the others' powers as a subdued vibration around him. It was understandable; he had always been the one with the most control.

He just hoped that his vaunted control was up to the task of bringing Michael and Isabel over to his side.

Oh my God, you told her.

Isabel's dismayed shock upon hearing his confession still reverberated.

Isabel and Michael had gone through disbelief and denial, but those had quickly dissipated, replaced instead by anger, dual chilling waves that had been building in intensity as they neared the cave which had sheltered them for what they supposed was more than half a century.

The cave was the first place they beheld when they broke free of their incubation pods. However brief, within its solid walls they had known only sanctuary--a place alive with hidden memories of home. Of safety. Comfort. Which was why Max insisted on going there to discuss the implications of his Liz revelation, instead of to the Evans' home like Isabel had initially suggested.

Max needed them to comprehend that he wasn't denying what he was; that he knew exactly what he did; and that he had compelling reasons for doing so.

For that, he needed to be in the one place where the truth about his origins was inescapable.

He entered the cave first, moving with purpose to the wall that held the remains of the pods they'd broken out of when they were six. As he neared the pods, Max felt a palpable surge of energy and without thought, enveloped the three of them in a shield of shimmering green.

Just in time to avoid being struck by rock fragments pulverized by Michael's indiscriminate energy blast.

Max was thankful that in spite of all the makeshift training they had put themselves through, Michael still had problems when it came to accuracy.

"Michael?!" Isabel choked out. "Stop. Please stop."

As Max dispersed his shield and moved closer to Isabel, Michael stomped towards the opposite wall and slammed a fist against its unyielding surface.

"Dammit, Max! What were you thinking? How could you blow our cover like that?" Michael burst out, heedless of the abuse he'd inflicted on his own hand.

"Michael--" Max slowly approached, wary of Michael's belligerence. He gestured towards Michael's hand. "Let me heal that." Max could see the blood welling up, coating Michael's fingers before dripping in slow motion to the dusty cave floor.

"No, Max, stay away from him." Isabel checked him with a glare, moving towards Michael. "No amount of healing is going to make up for what you just did."

She undid the scarf that bound her hair and started to wrap it around Michael's torn and bleeding hand.

"You can make all the excuses you want, but the fact is you CHOSE to betray us, when you said you would save us," Isabel stated.

"And I'm not gonna hang around and wait for them to catch us," Michael spat out, pulling his hand away from Isabel.

"Michael, listen to reason. No one is caught yet," Max pointed out. "I mean, we don't even know if there is a 'them.'"

"Look who's not listening to reason!" Michael snapped back. "What happened to our parents? What happened to everybody else on the ship? They were killed, and you know that. It's time to get out of Dodge. I won't be here when whoever murdered our family comes to get us."

"Michael, no," Isabel protested. "I'm not about to lose the only brother I have left." Max could hear tears in her clogged voice.

She strode over to Michael and grasped him tightly, pitting her strength against his as Michael tried to shake her off. A look passed between them, an understanding.

"I can't believe you sided with her against US on THIS," Isabel hissed. "Just because it was Liz Parker doesn't mean we won't be in danger. Maybe not right this minute, but someday, when she can no longer resist not telling someone about us.

"And you still went ahead like the irresponsible and SELFISH BOY THAT YOU ARE." Isabel was approaching hysterical now.

"Liz won't tell anyone, she's different," Max pursued doggedly, firmly believing that his faith in Liz was justified.

"Really? So how'd she react when you told her? 'Great you're an alien that's fantastic. Excellent.'" Michael sneered, ranged solidly beside Isabel. Underlining that it was two to Max's one.

Max looked away, unable to relate how Liz had fled from him in seeming terror.

"No, I didn't think so," Michael tagged on bitterly.

"Michael, this secret--it can't last forever," Max appealed. "And I don't want it to," he added to himself.

"We don't tell anyone. Not your parents. No one. Your rules," Michael recited without remorse. "So tell me exactly what your escalating stalker tendencies have accomplished.

"Other than putting HER in danger, too."

Max turned abruptly to stare at them. He hadn't realized that and felt his heart drop.

"Pretend everything's gonna be okay, Max, you're good at that," Michael said, leading Isabel to the cave entrance.

"But we'll be watching. And we will make sure that your screw up doesn't cost us our lives."


* * *


Lost for you I'm so lost for you
You come crash into me
And I come into you
I come into you
In a boys dream

--Dave Matthews Band, Crash into Me



* * * * * * * * *
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.

Part Seven
Sweet like candy to my soul



"Well, goodnight, Kyle." Liz had been trying all night to 'kick' Kyle Valenti out of the door. He'd been hanging around the Crash, waiting for her to close up, but she just couldn't deal with him on top of everything else that had happened to her that day.

At the same time, she couldn't just blow him off. She'd been brought up better. Not to mention that she took 'customer delight' to previously unknown heights.

Or was that depths?

"Oh right, right. Listen, Liz, you've, you've been somewhere else all night." Kyle let himself be pushed towards the front doors but was clearly not getting that Liz was trying to ease him out. This AFTER Liz had repeatedly turned down his invitation to go to the Crash Festival, her rejection delivered intermittently during her breaks and whenever she refilled his and his rowdy pals' drinks.

"I know, I'm sorry," Liz said in sincere apology. Kyle couldn't help that he was just so ... oblivious, Liz thought with some measure of affection. But then, that was Kyle Valenti. Jock extraordinaire and all that implied. The last time they went out, they'd ended up at Kyle's house, with Liz sitting next to him on the couch, watching him play Nintendo. Kyle hadn't even offered her a turn.

Imitating a bump on a log in the Sheriff's house had NOT been Liz's idea of fun.

But there had been a time when Liz had deluded herself into thinking that something could eventuate between them. And before she could censor herself, she blurted out.

"Kyle, do you ever wonder if...."

"Do I ever wonder what? Kyle perked up. Liz was irresistibly reminded of what Maria had called him earlier.

Poodle.

"When you see me, do you, do you feel things?" Liz floundered. What am I doing? Why am I even asking Kyle about feelings?

Kyle started to fidget, no doubt thinking that this was one of those abstruse female things written about in Seventeen or some other magazine skewed along gender lines.

"Yes, of course. I feel things." Oh, oh. Kyle was trying his best to keep up. Mr. Sensitive.

"Like what?"

Not.

"Forget it, I don't know what I was talking about." She wasn't even sure just what she had been trying to accomplish, so she opted to let Kyle off the hook before he did himself some injury. "I'm just gonna go get some sleep," she hinted gently.

"All right," Kyle agreed finally, swinging the door open. "Good night, Liz."

"Good night, Kyle."

Liz let out a sigh and relaxed. It had been a long and unusual day. She turned the key and leaned against the door, closing her eyes. She had a choice between throwing herself on her bed and sleeping or soaking away her aches, physical or otherwise, in a bubble bath. Both sounded equally attractive.

She was startled by a light tap on the glass.

"Liz?"

"Max?" What was he doing here? At this time of the night?

"I have to talk to you."

Liz experienced a moment of deja vu.

She slowly unlocked the door and let him in. He probably just wants to know how you're taking his confession. She realized it had to have been weighing heavily on him; he was still in the same jeans and sweater he had on earlier and he looked as tired as she felt, but with the added air of anxious wariness about him.

And it was catching, Liz thought, as she unconsciously backed away from him.

A spark of hopefulness in Max's eyes flickered out.

"I can't imagine how you must feel right now," he began, sounding so crushed. "I mean, I've thought about telling you a thousand times."

Liz blinked in surprise. A secret of this magnitude and he wanted to let her know?

"You have? Me??" In spite of herself she was intrigued.

Max started to smile.

"What?" She didn't think her answer was particularly funny.
"Sorry, I just , uh, I just keep picturing you in that dress, with the, uh, the cupcakes.....on it," Max related, still trying to restrain his smile.

"What?" She was beginning to sound like a broken record but Max was totally losing her.

"Forget it, it was a long time ago."

Then Liz remembered. That AWFUL pink dress. With the cupcakes. No wonder it slipped through the cracks of her memory. "Oh my God. That's, that's right. I can't believe I actually wore that thing!!" She clapped a hand to her mouth, flushing in mortification.

No kid should be subjected to wearing something her mom makes, especially when it makes said kid look fashion-impaired, Liz thought with a shudder. Good thing I hadn't met Max yet...

And it hit her.

How could he know that?

"I had that dress in kindergarten. I didn't know you until the third grade. Do you like, read minds or something?" Liz challenged. What an invasion of privacy, she fretted. It was inexcusable. In any society. Human or alien.

"No, I--I don't read minds," Max denied, striding towards her. "At least, not usually. But when things get intense... Uh--heightened, sometimes we see things. And you have to admit that things this afternoon were--"

"--intense and heightened," Liz echoed. But it still made her uncomfortable. She didn't even want to think about what Max could have seen. Things like her silly daydreams. Oh God, her silly daydreams about HIM!

He went on to explain. "When I touched you, I made this, this, I don't know, this connection. And I got this rush of images.... An image of that dress flashed into my mind, and I knew how you felt about it."

It was even worse that she'd imagined. He could experience her feelings?

"And how did I feel about it?" Liz whispered, wanting to fathom the extent of this connection he was talking about. Just how far did it reach?

"It was the single supreme embarrassment of your life," he affirmed her inchoate suspicion, a tender expression lighting up his eyes. It stayed Liz who was close to bolting again. "But your Mom made it for you, she was so proud of it. She'd never made a dress before. So you wore it. For her sake."

He apparently saw that her officially freaked meter was climbing. He advanced cautiously, as if expecting at any moment to be rejected.

"I've never tried this before, but maybe I can make the connection go the other way?" he volunteered.

That would be good, Liz thought. Even the playing field a little.

"So you can see, you know that, that I'm still me." Max's voice broke on the last word.

"I have to touch you," he added, asking for permission. Liz gave it with a slight nod.

Max gently slid his palms under her hair and cupped her face. Liz shivered imperceptibly. He leaned close, his familiar face mere inches from hers. For one drawn-out moment she thought he was going to kiss her. Instead, he looked into her eyes, his gaze deep and penetrating, as he advised, "Just take deep breaths and try to let your mind blank out."

Liz could hardly breathe, her heart was racing so fast. But she forced herself to draw in long, deep breaths. Max matched his breathing with hers.

Trying not to let any extraneous thoughts intrude, Liz stared into Max's eyes and felt herself drowning in their amazing amber depths. She heard her heartbeat slow as she slid deeper into a semi-relaxed state. A second heartbeat gradually synced with her own.

And that was when it came.

~FLASH~
A dark cave, lit by an eerie green glow emanating from some cocoon-like thing.

~FLASH~
Headlights along a deserted road and a six-year-old Isabel turning to Max with trust clearly evident in her eyes.

~FLASH~
A boy's hands unwrapping a Christmas present--a Mr. Wizard junior chemistry set.

~FLASH~
Liz on the first day of school in third grade, playing with Maria and turning to smile at Max.

~FLASH~
Liz by her locker at school talking to Maria, laughing over some trivial thing.

~FLASH~
Liz at the Crashdown, serving Max his regular cherry coke.

~FLASH~
Liz, eyes wide, watching Max tuck her hair behind her ear.


Max slowly let his hands drop.

"Did it work?"

Liz couldn't speak for the lump in her throat. She felt unaccountably alone as the connection eased.

It wasn't so much what she saw but what she sensed when Max opened up to her. She had felt everything he'd felt; she'd seen deep into his soul, to the sum and substance of Max Evans.

"Liz?"

She focused her attention back to Max. He looked pained. And scared.

"I guess it's a lot to take in," he said. "I better go now."

"Max?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you." It seemed so mundane but it encapsulated what Liz was feeling. It was a privilege to share something so intimate with someone as private as Max.

She'd sensed everything. She knew everything.

Max was in love with her. He had always been in love with her.

He gave her one of his rare smiles before whispering.

"Thank you."


* * *

From his vantage point across the street, and abetted by the blazing lights of a Crashdown empty save for Max and the girl, the watcher could distinctly make out Max slowly relinquishing his hold. Max's body language spoke volumes about how reluctant he was to disengage from the connection.

For that must have been what it was. Max had actually inverted the connection, allowing the girl to see into him, the way he must have seen into her.

The girl, however, was harder to read. He could see an expression of puzzlement on her face, but couldn't say whether that reaction was positive or negative. Whatever she said must have allayed Max's fears, though, as Max turned to slowly walk out of the Crashdown and back to where his jeep was parked.

He moved out of sight, blending into the deeper shadows, hoping his control was sufficient to stop any inadvertent energy leak that might alert Max. He swore softly to himself as Max stopped before getting into the jeep, whirling around as if he knew he was being watched.

Max took a few steps forward, and Michael quickly pivoted and ran into the night, making sure to keep himself cloaked in darkness. He'd seen enough.

In spite of what Max might have beguiled himself into thinking, Liz would still have to be watched.

And Michael would take it upon himself to do so.


* * *

Into your heart I'll beat again
Sweet like candy to my soul
Sweet you rock
And sweet you roll
Lost for you I'm so lost for you
You come crash into me
And I come into you
I come into you
In a boys dream
In a boys dream

-- Dave Matthews Band, Crash into Me



* * * * * * * * * * *

author's note for part seven Where would we be if the wonderful Ms. Metz hadn't written the Roswell High series? Hate to think **shudders** The original is just perfect, so for the real, dreamy reverse connection, suggest a reread of the book that started it all... (THE OUTSIDER, pages 87-92)

posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:43:25 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Eight
You've washed my fears away


LIZ POV

Yes, aliens walk the earth.

And yes, they are in Roswell. There's truth in advertising after all.

And the guy I've had a crush on since third grade?

The one with the incredibly soulful eyes and biceps to-die-for that I can behrly keep from touching when he sits beside me in bio lab?

The one Grandma Claudia would say was definitely soulmate material?

That one.

He's one of them.

And he's in love with me.
Liz Parker.

In his eyes, I'm beautiful??!!!??!



I stare at my demented ravings and I want to chuck them down the nearest trash can. The same way I did that empty carton of Ben and Jerry's.

And hopefully, this crumpled piece of paper won't bounce off the rim. (Must remember to clean up that gooey mess before mom sees it and decides her daughter has turned into a slob overnight).

I can't sleep. Still trying to wrap my head around the fact that

MAX EVANS LOVES ME!!!!!

Okay. Calming down.

I've been ricocheting from one extreme to another (that's figuratively, not literally, thank you) since Max left. It's now a toss-up between euphoria, denial, and quite possibly delusion.

And I think we can forget about my diary being a personal confessional, don't you?

I can't write down that Max is an alien--not that I mention him by name or anything-- that's just asking for trouble.

Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing Elizabeth Parker, Champion of the Understatement.

Let's try for clarity and composure again, shall we?


MAX EVANS LOVES ME!!!!!


Okay. Scratch excited and insert hysterical.

Because poise just left the building.

Right, Parker. Deep inhale -- slow exhale.

Good.

Now, be analytical about this.

Let's see--

a) Max is in love with me.
b) Max is an alien.
c) I'm... in love... with.....Max.

If a equals b, and b equals c, then

I'minlovewithanalien!


There.

I've admitted it.

Wow. It's weird to actually say it, much less write it down.

Of course, what I just wrote down will also end up in ashes. Because I just realized that I can't rely on the good old sanitation department to take care of destroying these dangerous inanities for me.

Great. Add paranoia into the mix. Perfect.

Have I mentioned that I saw in Isabel as a little girl in Max's memories? That was her, wasn't it? I'm pretty sure she's also like him. And just what exactly is the p.c. term here? Otherworldly? Anyways, if Max and Isabel are quote unquote otherworldly, does that mean their best friend Michael is, too?

So where do they come from? How far away is their home planet? What is it called? It is like earth? Carbon-based life forms? Do aliens really resemble humans, or is that like a pod person kind of thing?

Hey, it's not as if I can just go on the internet and start searching, you know. Without direction, I'd just get voluminous information that would take me light-years to sift through.

So what is their purpose here? For that matter, what is MY purpose here... Okay, another tangent. I so do not need to go there. I already have these marathon the-world-we-live-and-life-in-general sessions with Maria and Alex on a regular basis.

And speaking of Maria, I've already lied to her.

I'm also going to have to conceal this from Alex.

All of sudden, everywhere I turn, I bump into secrets and lies.

Whatever happened to the predictable concerns of a small town girl with her ambitious but ultimately earth-bound dreams?

How will this overwhelming secret affect my big 'Plan'?

Because it will. I can't just go on as if nothing important has happened. Or ignore Max's revelation.

Not that I could. I love the guy, I mean, alien, I mean, otherworldly guy.

Oh, forget it.

I just have to adapt.

I mean, any good plan has flexibility built into it, right?

So let's try this again:


Max Evans has put a force on me.
It's like my whole life changed in an instant.
It's just so ironic that when something like this finally happened to me,
itwaswithanalien.



Aaargh!

I carefully cross out the last line that wrote itself and bite my pen.

???!!??

Nothing comes to me.

I'm guessing that I can't deal with this alone.

I have to see Max.


* * *

Liz stood nervously in front of the Evans' home, beset with doubts over her revised Plan.

After having spent a sleepless night indulging herself with empty calories and vacuous mind-candy, Liz had changed out of her ratty but comfortable sweat pants and burned any 'evidence' that could expose Max's secret. Her mom and dad had been surprised to find her up so early, knowing that they had given her the day off for having worked double shifts the previous week. Liz had distracted them, saying that she had woken up with an irrepressible craving for doughnuts. They had looked at her oddly but refrained from any comment.

Quickly scribbling down her notes for her planned Q&A with Max, Liz had then tiptoed out into the morning, stealthily searching for signs of Maria who was scheduled to work the breakfast shift.

Liz had been so intent on her getaway that she had found herself at the Evans' doorstep sooner than she had expected.

Max was obviously still at home. His jeep was parked in the driveway, although Liz couldn't see his parents' car.

She should have called first, she realized. It wasn't as if she didn't have Max's phone number. She had covertly jotted it down on her palm that time Alex hacked into the school's system so that he, Liz, and Maria could share at least one class.

Liz had copied down that number onto the piece of paper containing her 'talking points.' The same folded piece of paper that now lay in her jacket pocket--a road map to the weird and wondrous.

As she stood in front of the door, Liz hesitated over starting the latest in the Max/Liz 'let's talk' series. She sensed that after Max's trials and tribulations the day before, he would likely shatter at the merest pleasantry. Which precluded an entire inquisition. At the same time, she could be seriously underestimating him, she contended. After all, Max had stayed hidden in plain sight these many years. Self-control and self-denial were probably ingrained in him by now.

But even years of self-control and self-denial hadn't been enough to overcome Max's love for her. And Liz acceded that her real reason for seeing Max was a need to be close, to bask in his love. Even if he didn't admit it. Liz definitely wasn't going to be the one to bring up the subject. She was bound and determined to respect Max's privacy, especially if Max wasn't aware of what he'd revealed.

The alien question, however, was a different matter.

She pushed the doorbell.

Max opened the door.

"Liz?" Max heard the undercurrent of shock in his voice at the sight of Liz Parker on his doorstep. He felt like he had conjured her, after having spent the night rehashing the previous day's events.
He had already come to several conclusions. Whatever stuff Liz had seen in his head had probably weirded her out and Max expected her to shun him. He couldn't blame her. He HAD been selfish and unrealistic to want her unstinting acceptance. He had acknowledged that, albeit unwillingly.

But he couldn't leave her alone. It wasn't safe. His 'escalating stalker tendency' as Michael called it had seen to that. After he had given in to the impulse to connect with her, Max had felt someone spying on them. His compulsion to protect Liz, never far from the surface, had surged. He had wanted to chase after Michael--who had been betrayed by the unique signature of his own energy--but settled instead for a nocturnal vigil to ensure that no one bothered Liz or her family during the night. He brought the jeep to the alley behind the Crashdown and hunkered down for the duration. Max knew that Michael wasn't big on going over options, so he wanted to be around if Michael went off half-cocked.

As he watched the night shade into dawn with nothing happening, Max conceded that it would be almost impossible to constantly watch over Liz. However, letting her get hurt because of him was not an option. Max felt confident in his ability to protect her from another alien's attack; he and Michael were evenly matched. Whatever stupid thing Michael would do, Max could and would stop.

He just wasn't sure whether he would be up to the task of protecting her from those nebulous 'them,' or whether she would even permit his interference.

"Hey," Liz greeted, shifting from one foot to the other.

Max felt relieved. Apparently, Liz hadn't totally given up on him. And she was safe for the moment, which was the important thing.

"We haven't finished our discussion," she reminded him tentatively.

Max should have known. He'd tossed Liz Parker bits of information and now she wanted to piece together the entire puzzle.

Max nodded haltingly and gestured for Liz to come in. The house was silent, which made the raucous noise emanating from the kitchen even more jarring. Upon seeing her wince, Max explained, "Isabel's fixing breakfast."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Should I come back later?" Liz asked, flushing in chagrin.

"No. It's okay. Isabel's in one of her moods, so I'm staying away from her line of fire," Max replied. "Maybe we should go to my room. You know. To talk," he continued, darting a quick look in the direction of the kitchen.

As Max ushered in Liz into his bedroom, he saw her slowly take it in, gazing enraptured at the books lining the shelves. She nodded in approval at the computer that held pride of place on his study desk.

"Uh, sit down. I forgot--do you want something to drink or anything?" Max snatched an armful of clothes and hurled them into the bathroom. He grabbed the book on clinical psychology that had been sitting smack-dab in the middle of his bed and hastily shoved it alongside its companions on the nearest shelf. He was pretty sure that Liz was now adding 'slob' to her mental list of Max Evans' dubious qualities. "We have orange juice... and soda... and, and--"

"Max, calm down." Liz sat on the edge of his bed. "I'm okay."

Max started to sit next to her and then changed his mind at the last second. Instead, he walked over to one of the bookcases and leaned against it. Liz stared at him, not saying a word, which made Max even more unnerved.

Must. Not. Twitch. Max told himself. There was no need to obsess over the fact that Liz Parker was in his bedroom. Over the years, Max had fantasized about Liz and him in this very place. A lot. In all its permutations. His imagination had even surprised him by its inventiveness. But he never expected that fantasy to come true, or envisioned the circumstances that would lead up to it.

"I've spent the night trying to process everything you said," Liz confessed gently. "I need to know the whole truth, Max. We kinda got sidetracked there with the connection thing."

Max met her gaze and felt a persistent weed of hope stir at the soft, sympathetic expression in her beautiful doe eyes.

"Okay," he agreed, feeling inexpressibly lighter.

Liz pulled out a folded piece of paper from her pocket. Of course. Her questions. Typical Liz. Max fought the smile that was trying to spread.

"Okay. All right. Here we go," Liz said, scanning her notes, not noticing his struggle. "Where did you come from?" she began again.

"I don't know. When the ship crashed I wasn't born yet," Max admitted, now with a straight face.

"So there was a crash?"

"All I know is it wasn't a weather balloon that fell that night." Max felt a familiar frustration washing over him. If only they knew more or had access to credible information about what happened.

"The ship crashed in 1947." Liz contemplated. "You're sixteen." Her brow furrowed in confusion.

"We were in some kind of incubation pods." Max didn't know what else to call the cocoon-like things from which he, Isabel, and Michael had emerged.

"We?" Liz repeated.

Max couldn't believe he'd slipped up like that. He was usually so vigilant, so cautious. This thing with Liz--feeling like all of his nerve endings had been exposed-- had messed him up big time. All he could think about was her, of telling her everything.

"Isabel and Michael are also...uh..." Max trailed off, unable to proceed.

"Okay, well, that, confirms, um, my suspicion." Liz mused, crossing something off her list.

"Um, what powers do you have?" Liz proceeded to her next question.

"We can connect with people, as uh, you know." Max felt slightly better that she'd dropped the other aliens angle. He darted a quick glance at her and saw that she was listening intently. "We can manipulate molecular structures, and...we can...."

"Wait." Liz held up a hand to interrupt him. "What does that mean?"

Max picked up a small silver flying saucer perched precariously on one of the shelves. He began rubbing it, concentrating on the molecules. He delicately nudged them, forcing the molecules of silver to move apart. Pretty soon, he cupped in his hands a small pool of liquid silver.

Liz left the bed to stand beside him. She dipped a finger in the pool of silver and gasped.

Max concentrated again, pushing the molecules back together.
When the silver re-formed, it was in the shape of a simple bracelet. Max wordlessly held it out to Liz.

She reached for the bracelet and caressed the reshaped metal. "Max, who else knows about this?"

"No one," Max replied, envying the bracelet he'd created.

"What about your parents?" She gently grasped his hand, pressed the bracelet into his palm, and folded his fingers over it.

"We don't tell anyone. We sorta think our lives depend on it." Max wanted to protest when Liz returned the bracelet he had made and withdrew to her perch on the edge of his bed. He clamped down on his resistance and instead, went on answering her questions.

"So when you told me, you risked all of this getting out, didn't you?" She had hit upon the crux of the matter, the reason for the schism that now existed between Max and Michael and Isabel.

"Yeah." He regretfully pocketed the bracelet.

"Why??" She sounded so puzzled and at the same time, concerned.

"It was you."

Max made his declaration without hesitation or embellishment. He watched for her reaction to the one unshakable truth that would always govern him, his actions.

She bit her lip, a shy but pleased smile gracing her face. She then pulled herself up short, a businesslike tone infusing her voice.
"Um, Max, have you and Michael and Isabel ever tried to find out where you're from? Your home planet, I mean?"

"We've been trying to all our lives," Max said, disappointment underscoring his words. "So far, the only clues we have are the cave where our pods were stored, a little piece of unidentified metal that we dug up miles from the crash site, and a vague image of a sky that looked nothing like the earth's."

"You've seen your home?" Liz asked, astonished.

"We think it might be a collective memory," he clarified. "It's this vision of acid green clouds--kinda fuzzy around the edges. But that's all we remember."

"Have you thought about looking through stuff about UFOs and alien sightings and abductions?" She tried a different tack.

"The government whitewash was pretty much useless," Max replied in disgust. "And there are a lot of kooks out there claiming to have had contact with aliens but you can't really take them seriously."

"What about the UFO Center?"

"Liz, c'mon, you're the intelligent skeptic here." Max looked at Liz, startled. "The UFO Center is nothing but a tourist trap."

"Yes, but a tourist trap that specializes in the 1947 Crash," Liz drilled home her point. "If you really were part of that Crash, maybe there are stuff there--something that strikes a hidden chord. Something that's not yet in the hands of the government."

"We went there once," Max recalled. "Isabel came home with nightmares about that tacky alien autopsy display, and they wouldn't go away."

"Once?" Liz reprised. "Maybe you should try again. I could help you."

"Liz, no. This is not why I told you." Max didn't want her getting in any deeper. She was already too close to being hurt.

"Your reasons are immaterial at this point, Max." She brushed off his objection. "You made me a part of this and I would like to help."

"No--"

"Max--"

"Liz, I said no!" Max tried to calm down, but his heart kept up its furious tempo. He had to find a way to make her drop the subject.

"Max, be reasonable," she cajoled, undeterred. "We can make this like some science project thing. For extra credit, you know? Alien Physiology according to Eyewitness Accounts or something like that."

"Liz, I don't want you pursue this," he stated stubbornly.

"Well, news flash, Max. I will anyway." She matched his intransigence. Max could only sigh out loud.

"I have to get home." She stood up and walked to his door.

"Wait, Liz," he called out. "I'll drive you." If she was so insistent about ferreting out clues to his alien identity, then Max had no choice but to dog her footsteps.

"No need to. I can walk." Liz glided out into the hallway.

Max fell into step beside her, a faithful shadow. "I know you can walk. I want to drive you home, anyway."

Liz made eye-contact for a long moment. Then she did something that made his heart skip a beat.

She smirked.


* * *

I've been watching the sunrise whether you are the sunset
And I thought our faces would meet
But now that I found you
Like a wave on the sound you've washed my fears away
I never thought that you would come
I never thought that I could love like this
This feeling inside me is growing
I never thought that you would come

- Loni Rose, I Never Thought That You Would Come


posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:44:27 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


author's note Just wanted to make it clear that I mean no offense to anybody who believes in unexplained phenomena (I got my ideas from THE WORLD'S MOST INCREDIBLE STORIES: The Best of Fortean Times), nor am I making fun of the efforts made by people intent on exposing what they feel is a government cover-up, 'k? Anyhoo, it's just a story. Thank you. A debt of gratitude to Television Without Pity for matters pertaining to pronunciation. LOL.


Part Nine
You are the one that has stolen my heart



Right: eyes, lips, skin, nails, scent, she catalogued, willing the restless energy to dissipate harmlessly. She paused in the act of emptying her makeup drawer onto the bedspread at the sound of the jeep driving away.

So. Max had left, taking Liz Parker with him.

Isabel had heard their voices coming from Max's room as she marched in the direction of her own. She was done nearly trashing her mom's kitchen. But banging pots and pans and then returning them to their original but not quite pristine condition had not been able to rid her of her feelings of searing betrayal. She was thankful that their parents had not been around to get caught in the cross-fire; it had been a nerve-racking struggle to channel the unruly tendrils of her power into a safe outlet.

Safe. A state that Max seemed to have forgotten or willfully disregarded in one idiotic and categorically destructive move.

Seeing the door to Max's bedroom swing open, Isabel had promptly slipped out of sight. She didn't want to look at them; she didn't want to talk to them. Even as she shut her eyes, the specter of a carelessly happy grin--one she was sure would have been pasted on Max's face had she seen him--taunted and tormented her. But she had been more outraged at the sheer audacity of Liz Parker who dared to cross the line that unequivocally separated Isabel, Max, and Michael from outsiders. Isabel had fought grimly to quell the seething energy that had spiked during that near encounter, knowing that if she had lashed out, she might have decimated the girl who had effectively stolen Max from her and Michael.

Granted, she and Michael had lived with Max's Liz Parker obsession for the better part of their lives. It had been a constant, as integral to Max as his mile-wide controlling streak. When they were younger, Max hadn't been able to hide the countless moments of sappy pleasure he'd experienced whenever Liz smiled at him or paid him attention. Although he'd been more successful at blocking them lately, Max's sickening euphoric outbursts sometimes still leaked. Isabel and Michael had just gotten better at tuning Max out.

But besotted or not, Isabel had counted on Max to place family before any and all comers. She had thought that Max had understood that - had heeded that they could never expose themselves to anyone outside, except superficially. After all, he was the one who came up with that rule.
Because the alternative would mean endangering them all.

Should've known he'd side with HER.

To stop herself from screaming at the way her life seemed to be spiraling out of her control, Isabel had decided to reorganize her stuff. It was her comfort ritual--something that grounded her whenever she felt upset. And with the way the universe had been conspiring against her lately, doubtless blithely assisted by her delusional brother, Isabel needed all the comfort she could wrest from her little idiosyncrasies.

She had been about to dump the contents of her top dresser drawer when the jeep's engine turned over.

They're gone, Isabel thought, feeling the need to sit down. She placed the drawer to her side and scrubbed away the suspicious moisture that had welled up in her eyes. She decided to finish reorganizing anyway.

She up-ended the contents on to the bedspread and started arranging them by category. She moved all the eye shadows (powder and cream), eye-liners (pencil and liquid), mascara, and her eyebrow pencils to the upper-left corner of an imaginary square. Next she picked out all the lipsticks, gloss, lip pencils, and lip balm and made a pile on the upper right hand corner. Then she swept up all the foundations (liquid and powder), concealer, moisturizers, and blushes and heaped them on the lower left quadrant. She halted when she came to a facial mask. Should she make cleansing stuff a separate category? Isabel shook her head at her uncharacteristic indecision and firmly deposited the mask with the rest of the skin pile.

It was slowly working. She could feel her initial anger gradually ebbing.

The thing with Max and Liz Parker can be dealt with in a proper manner, Isabel reflected, gathering all the perfumes and colognes and delicately placing them on the lower right hand corner. There was no need to drive herself nuts thinking about when Liz would cave.

Here's what I'll do, Isabel decided. I'll go into her dreams, and if there's even the smallest hint that she'll blab, I'll find a way to drive her crazy. No one will believe her babbling about aliens if she's in an asylum. Isabel had been assiduously practicing her dreamwalking, even though Mr. Responsibility Max had asked her to limit it. He had said that it wasn't nice to go poking around people's minds. Isabel had ignored him, justifying that it was a power that might prove useful against enemies in the future. She had become much stronger as a result, even managing to implant visions in the people she'd dreamwalked. Once, she had been able to make Stacey Scheinin dream of insects crawling all over her body, and the next day, Stacey had shown up covered in long, angry red scratches from her attempts to get rid of the bugs. Isabel hadn't told either Max or Michael about how much her power had improved, convinced that they would insist that she stop dreamwalking altogether.

But the Liz Parker situation definitely called for a preemptive strike. The sooner the better.

Because in spite of what Max might have deluded himself into believing, relying on Liz Parker's silence was as bad as leaving a ticking time bomb alone, hoping that at the last second, it wouldn't explode.

The non-issue resolved, Isabel picked up her phone and dialed the number of her friend, Tish Okabe. Tish would probably be still in bed, but Isabel neglected to factor that into her equation. She was going to enjoy her life, events to the contrary notwithstanding.

Tish answered on the thirteenth ring.

"H'lo?" A deep but sleepy voice mumbled.

"Tish, Isabel," she said in a breezy tone. "Can you come by and pick me up? I wanna go to the mall. I think I know what to get for my costume for the Crash Festival."

"I-sa-bel," Tish whined. "My eyes are barely open and you know that my sister wanted me to go swimming with her."

"But I have my dad's credit card only for today," Isabel wheedled, twirling a strand of long blond hair around her finger.

"We-ell..." Tish yawned. "If you put it like that, I guess I can oblige."

"Great!" Nothing like a shopping spree to chase away the blues and pesky potential danger.

"You owe me big, girl," Tish replied, yawning some more.

"Thanks. And Tish? Can you also bring our yearbook from last year?" Isabel went on. She wasn't about to use any of the yearbooks around the house or whatever picture of Liz Max had managed to scrounge for her dream-walk. Call her paranoid, but she didn't want any telltale signs of residual energy alerting Max. "I can't find mine and I'm making a short list of the guys who may be able to persuade me to be their date for the Crash."

"You are truly unbelievable, Isabel," Tish remarked. Isabel could almost see her shaking her head in amazement. "Your vanity astounds me."

"Well, your vanity amuses me, so let's call it even," Isabel rejoined. "Bye, Tish."

"Later."

As she replaced the handset, Isabel forced a smug laugh. Her day was looking good already and the night promised to be even better.

She rejected the wayward stab of guilt that had made a surprising and unwelcome appearance and went to her closet to don her armor.


* * *

For some strange reason, as she faced off with Max in their mini Mexican standoff, Liz had felt a frisson of atavistic thrill go through her.

Max in masterful mode had been simply enthralling to behold.

Liz had known that she should feel insulted that he'd apparently thought he could order her around, but some primitive throwback had made her feel ... cherished instead.

And grateful.

And irrepressibly playful.

She flashed him her patented Liz Parker smirk, her take on the old what's-up-with-Mona deal.

"So, Max, when you came out of your pod, were you, like, three feet tall and green, and bossy?"

She nearly burst out giggling at the mystified look on his face but reined it in; that would have just made Max doubt her sanity. But who would have thought Max could do dazed and confused so well?

Max let a couple of seconds pass before stating with a somber mien, "No, I've always been like this." Then as he loped to the living room, he tossed back casually, "Except for the, uh, third eye." He made a vague gesture toward the back of his head.

Liz hurriedly followed Max on tiptoes, trying to see any vestige of the third orb he'd mentioned, when Max turned around and caught her peeking.

"Kidding," he said with a slight 'Gotcha!' grin.

Liz rolled her eyes, granting him victory in that round. "Yeah, I knew you were kidding." She gave him a playful shove. "You're such a jerk!"

Their uncharacteristic impishness lightened the undercurrents of tension swirling around them. Relishing how she had made Max smile, Liz nearly rammed into the door, the victim of a collision with a memory.

Duh.

She really was the ultimate in slow.

Her Max epiphany was incomplete. Max had been waiting for someone -- someone oblivious to the fact that he was pining for her.

And that clueless someone was her. Earthly Liz Parker.

The realization made her tingle all over. She wanted to recall as many of their times together, comb them for hints of Max's feelings, and then wallow in the new-found knowledge.

But she shelved the tempting impulse. For now, she would live with the disappearance of the dread she used to feel at the thought of Max falling for someone. She wanted to focus on the pleasure of just being with Max. His presence was like the gentlest and most satisfying of hugs.

Unless he started going all dominant and Martian to her Venusian again (she really should stop skimming through her mom's late night reading material). Her heartbeat sped up at the mere thought.

If this was how she felt just being with him, Liz worried whether she could actually survive a kiss from Max.

But she was over-shooting herself. For now she'd settle for Max's company on the short drive home.

She stopped beside the jeep and Max automatically proffered a helping hand. She smiled at him and he unreservedly smiled back. The worried creases had faded and he no longer looked like he was about to have a heart attack.

He probably thinks I've given in on the UFO research thing.

But Liz couldn't do that. She needed to know more about Max. Not that she didn't trust him or anything, but because it was an inseparable part of him.

And Liz was looking forward to getting to know all the facets that made Max different from other guys.

All the facets that made Max 'the one' for her.

She and Maria had been having these endless talks about their dream guy ever since Liz had discovered that boys weren't altogether cretinous creatures put solely on earth to pester girls to death.

Liz remembered describing her dream guy as someone sweet, shy, intelligent, tall, dark, and gorgeous. She had been half-teasing, saying that that was her version of the Boy Scout code. She now realized she had been describing Max.

She just about died when he'd held out the bracelet. She couldn't tell whether he'd meant for her to keep it, but Liz felt slightly uncomfortable accepting something so loaded with meaning when he hadn't even admitted his feelings for her.

She stared at his hand as he shifted gears. Involuntarily her gaze wandered up to his handsome profile and she marveled again at the weird and wondrous left-turn her life had taken.

"What?" Max asked because she kept staring at him.

"Nothing. I knew you weren't like other guys, but I never expected just how different."

"Is that bad?"

"On the contrary."

They reached the Crashdown in no time. Liz jumped out of the jeep, not because she didn't want Max helping her but because she didn't want to encourage the li'l ole me notion Max seemed to have been entertaining.

"Uh, Liz, where are you going?" Max asked as she made to cross the street.

"The UFO Center, where else? No time like to present to start our science project," she replied.

And there it was again. The look of supreme shock as Max realized she wasn't going to budge.

"Coming with?" Liz asked, cocking an eyebrow.

Max let out a gusty--and was that exasperated?--sigh and traipsed alongside her.

They paid the admission fee and went in. Liz hadn't been to the UFO Center since the field trip their fifth grade class had taken ages ago. She now recalled that Max, Michael, and Isabel hadn't made the trip with them and Liz had spent the whole time systematically critiquing the exhibits while Alex vociferously defended their extreme possibility.

Five years down the line, the exhibits had just gotten more elaborate and bizarre.

The entire place was kept in artificial darkness, with self-consciously eerie track lights drawing attention to the displays. A green overhead light slowly pulsed on and off in a bid to create a stereotypical otherworldly ambience. Liz grimaced at the unabashed hokey-ness and knew the UFO Center was going to be a long shot.

But they had to start somewhere. And at the very least, she and Max were together in a quest for truth that was stranger than fiction.

They were the only ones not carrying an assortment of highly commercial alien souvenirs or portentous conspiracy books so they joined the river of tourists snaking its way around the plethora of unexplained phenomena on exhibit.

Their first stop was a display of blown-up pictures of crop circles, including the notorious five-circle pattern photographed from above at Westbury, their edges sharp and the flattened pattern intricate.

Their second--the face on Mars, one of the many photographs taken by the US Orbiter spacecraft. Snapped from more than a thousand miles above the planet's surface, the face was uncannily humanoid.

"Sorta like an alien sphinx, don't you think?" A woman in a faded I WANT TO BELIEVE t-shirt trotting beside Liz whispered.

"I can't compare," Liz muttered. "I've never been to Egypt. Denial, yes. The Nile, no."

The woman harrumphed and threw Liz a dirty look, branding her an alienated non-believer. Liz turned to Max and he replied with a shrug.

They basically sailed past the displays on Foo fighters and other strange lights in the sky, the wall filled with blurry amateur photos of UFO sightings, and a visual treatise on the alien/Elvis connection. Liz felt increasingly discouraged.

All of a sudden, Max stopped. Liz who had been lagging behind because she had been looking up at a door marked 'Certified UFOlogists Only' and wondering how to pronounce 'UFOlogists' (U-F-Ologist? Ufologist? U-F-O-ologist?) bumped into him.

Max had halted in front of framed tabloid accounts of alien abductions. Liz's nose crinkled in distaste at the sensational reporting, but then she saw the story that had Max frozen:

"AN ALIEN IMPREGNATED ME AND I GAVE BIRTH TO A MONSTER!" The headline screamed.

The tabloid showed a photo of a busty, big-haired, blond bimbo, her makeup just this side of perfect, despite being in hospital scrubs. She was draped over an incubator but made sure to face the photographer. A suitably concerned doctor type solicitously patted her on the shoulder. Whatever the baby looked like was unclear. The camera, however, had preserved for all time the woman's obviously fake tears.

Max turned to look at Liz and Liz met his gaze with one of consternation. Their heads swiveled as they read the lurid headline again, before locking gazes a second time.

Then they both blurted out simultaneously.

"Maybe we should move on."

As they scurried away, with Max clutching her arm, Liz babbled, "Max, you know you can't believe everything you read in the papers, right? And that isn't even as bad as some of the ones I've seen at the checkout counter, and the whole alien baby thing has been done, like, a thousand times before, and by hacks, and..." Liz knew that something about the story hit too close to home for Max and she wanted to comfort him.

"Liz." Max eased his death grip and stopped in front of another display. "We're here."

They were now in front of the Roswell Crash exhibit.

The UFO Center had outdone itself in piecing together a timeline, from the time of the crash up to the denials stretching to present day. Framed newspaper accounts dotted the wall, but the piece de resistance was an outrageously tacky diorama of the saucer (two satellite dishes stuck together) surrounded by what seemed to be alien corpses. A few steps away, there was a display of a surgery, with an alien--guts spilling out of its abdomen--on a gurney, being autopsied by a surgeon mannequin.

Silently Max and Liz listened to the tour guide recap the incident.

"And so on July 4th, 1947, after all the fireworks had been shot off, they came. Evidence suggests that they had been studying us for quite some time. To what end we'll never know, but on that fateful night something went terribly wrong, and one, though some say more than one, of the alien crafts crashed onto our planet, starting what was to become one of the most elaborate cover-ups mankind has ever known.

"There are eyewitness accounts from people still living in Roswell today of debris found in the desert made of strange metals, inscribed with purple hieroglyphs. There are those who on their deathbeds spoke of being present at alien autopsies," the tour guide pointed to the alien autopsy display. "And of the threats made to their lives and the lives of their families if they ever spoke of what they saw.

"We are campaigning to find out the truth behind the cover up," the tour guide added. "If you also seek the truth, we suggest that you sign our petition to have the information about the 1947 Crash made public on your way out.

"We are not going to quit until we get our answers," he finished in ringing tones.

A bespectacled boy raised his hand. "I heard that they found some aliens still alive, and that they were tortured into giving us their technology?"

Liz shot Max a quick glance. He stood petrified like a statue, but his eyes were blinking. Fast.

"There are many theories son, many theories," the tour guide answered.

Another tourist piped up. "Did they ever come back again? You know, back to rescue the ones in the crash?"

Liz turned to Max again. He was staring intently at the tour guide, waiting for his answer.

"There have been sightings in this area on a regular basis since that night. You decide." Liz could see Max's hopeful expression giving way to resignation.

"Right this way." The tour guide herded the tourists to the next display. Max didn't move and people had to skirt around him and Liz.

"Max?" Liz's heart broke at the look of utter misery on Max's face as he continued to stare at the reconstructed crash landing. Could he be imagining the last moments on board before impact? Liz wanted to smack herself for being incredibly dense. By forcing Max to accompany her to the UFO Center, she had made him needlessly face a personal tragedy that to most of the world was simply something to either be commercialized or trivialized.

"I think we've seen enough for today," she said, pulling him away.
Max let himself be led, stumbling, to the nearest exit.

As they emerged out in the sun, Max was again assailed by a harrowing brew of emotions that solidified into a throbbing mass right in the pit of his stomach: guilt that he'd dragged Liz into a dangerous situation, terror at the implied lengths the government would go to keep the truth hidden, grief over the beings who perished in the crash, but most of all, a yearning for a connection that could neither be articulated nor consummated.

"Max, I'm sorry." Her soft voice penetrated the cries that were echoing in his head.

He looked at her and caught her hand in his, interlacing their fingers.

"I'm okay," he spoke gruffly. "Not your fault." He was hit again with the reminder that they were so different, it was laughable that he'd even thought to bridge the divide. Not that she would go screaming that she gave birth to a monster--he was sure that she never even contemplated the possibility of a physical relationship developing between them--but he didn't want her to ever treat him like some sort of mutant, something only fit to be dissected or ridiculed.

She squeezed his hand before continuing, "No. I should have been less assertive and more sensitive."

The ache in his chest diminished. "Liz, don't worry about it. You were only trying to look out for me... for us." He didn't want her feeling bad because the truth about his origins had been reinforced. "Thank you."

"I was acting like a real jerk," she insisted, before biting her lip in obvious contrition. Max itched to soothe her self-inflicted injury with his thumb. He didn't want to even think about how much better it would feel if he had the right to kiss it better. "I shouldn't have been so pushy.

"The entire thing was an exercise in futility, anyway," she lamented, her frustration palpable. Max was sure that if a stone had been in their path, she would've kicked it.

"I wouldn't say that," he refuted. "I mean, someone, somewhere must have proof that it was a spaceship that crashed. The passionate belief in a cover up could never be justified otherwise."

"So how are we going to find out the truth?" She looked up at him earnestly, and Max's heartbeat hitched at her renewed emphasis on the 'we.'

"I have this feeling that the exhibit is only the tip of the iceberg," Max said. Then in an attempt at lightness, he half-joked, "So before we do any breaking and entering into military bases, I suggest a rummage of the UFO Center attic or basement -- do they even have either?"

"We-ell, I did see this door that said 'Certified UFOlogists Only," Liz mused, pronouncing 'UFOlogists' carefully. She spelled out the 'U' and 'F,' and stressed the 'O' of 'Ologists'. "Maybe the staff can get in?"

She looked back at the building they had just left. Suddenly Liz grabbed Max's shirt sleeve.

"Max! Look!" She pointed to a small flyer tacked on to the bulletin board beside the entrance.

It was a 'HELP WANTED' sign.


* * *

Isabel flopped down on her bed, still wired at having bought not one, but two costumes for the Crash Festival, just in case something dire happened to her first choice. Although night had already descended, she couldn't hear any sound from Max's room, which meant he was still out.

She tentatively let down her guard and tried to sense him.

Wherever he was, he wasn't with Liz Parker. Isabel would've gone into sugar-shock otherwise. All she felt was a low key anticipatory mood.

She reached out a hand for the yearbook she had borrowed from Tish and flipped it to the page where students whose names started with 'P' were arranged.

She sniffed at the totally apple pie wholesomeness that radiated even from a black and white picture of Liz Parker.

She should be asleep by now, Isabel thought as she closed her eyes and allowed her breathing to even out. Practicing had made it easy for her slip into the state between sleep and wakefulness.

She felt the ripple that signaled her passage into the dream plane.

As Liz's dream world started to form, Isabel 'walked' into its misty expanse.

Now, to find Liz.


* * *


You are the voice I hear in my ears
You are the one that is prone to these tears
And you are the one that has stolen my heart
And I'm telling you from the start
I never thought that you would come
I never thought that I could love like this
This feeling inside me is growing
I never thought that you would come

-- Loni Rose, I Never Thought That You Would Come


posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:45:28 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


author's note Italics stand for Dream Max's dialogue. <<>> plus italics are more dream conversations. Liz's bio lab fantasy is my version of a fave nookie scene from Jennifer Crusie's CRAZY FOR YOU. Yet another affectionate tribute to a great writer, no infringement intended. The fantasy will pop up in other parts, so consider this valid for when it reappears.


Part Ten A
I never thought that you would come



"Isabel. Wake up. ISABEL!"

Isabel frantically sought a way out of the dream plane. It had changed, in a flash, from something predictable and harmless to one fraught with danger. She fled down familiar pathways lately turned menacing, pushing herself to outrun the unknown entity pursuing her. Whatever it was that she had disturbed in Liz's dream, it was now gripped by a chilling rage and was actively hunting her down. Despite never having encountered something like that before, Isabel knew with a dead certainty that if that, that thing caught up with her, she would eternally rue the outcome.

"Isabel! Snap out of it!"

She wanted to grab hold of that lifeline. She was getting so tired. But the frontiers of Liz's dream realm remained elusive. And the voice came from so far away. So far...

Almost as if the real world had turned into the dream, and this nightmare she was trapped in, the reality.

Isabel had been dreamwalking Liz off and on during the night, making sure to time her 'walks' so that they coincided with Liz's REM sleep periods. The first couple of times, she had been treated to banal and altogether forgettable Liz Parker concerns: acing a test, open doors leading to picturesque vistas, a bank of fluffy clouds--normal in all aspects except for their neon green color and blurred edges, and a host of other discrete images including Liz Parker listening, entranced, to harmonious but unearthly music. Par for the course in dreams, the music sequence gave way to one where Liz, dressed in a virginal-white chemise was slow-dancing with a formally attired Max, while white rose petals rained down on them. They had worn identical beatific smiles that wavered and turned pensive when Dream Max bent down and rested his forehead against Liz's.

Ohmigod. She's as sappy as he is! Isabel had remembered thinking somewhat uncharitably, before the dream winked out and she woke up.

It was at that point that Isabel had begun to doubt her Liz suspicions. But she remained reluctant to unconditionally accept that Liz posed no threat. Having been privy to the first Max dream produced by Liz's subconscious, Isabel had redoubled her efforts to unearth something, anything alien-related that would conclusively prove that Max had been right to trust Liz. She had shrugged off the voyeuristic discomfort and begrudging envy that had pounced on her, forging her way into Liz's dream world a third time.

She might as well not have bothered, Isabel thought, peeved. Liz's regard for Max had apparently undergone a sea change. The formerly frequently obtuse (at least when it came to Max) Liz Parker had become downright smitten. Isabel had had to suffer a dizzying parade of Max and Liz dream sequences that were increasingly moving from tame -- puh-leaze, holding hands in the quad? In public?? -- to downright racy (at least by Liz Parker standards, she supposed). The one where Dream Max had Dream Liz pinned against their lab station, braceleting both of her hands behind her back and kissing his way past her collar bone had especially made Isabel want to wash her eyes out with soap. She SO didn't need to deal with her brother as the male lead in his dream girl's fantasies.

However, in spite of her disdainful stance, Isabel had experienced an inexpressible loneliness and wistful longing at the thought that someone was apparently willing to accept Max for what he really was. While Isabel hadn't been able to discern whether Liz would divulge their secret at some point in the future, she had been convinced that to Liz, it didn't matter what Max was. To her, what was important was who he was.

Someone worth fantasizing over. Someone to build romantic dreams around.

"Izzy, please. Open your eyes!" the faraway voice insisted.

Isabel continued to run, trying to recall what had led to the sudden and terrifying metamorphosis of Liz's dream landscape. One moment, she had been averting her eyes and trying to shut out snatches of Fantasy Max and Liz's loaded conversation--

"You shouldn't be here. Alone. It's dangerous."

"I'm not alone. You're here."

"I love the bracelet... It's perfect. I don't know how to thank you."

"Yes, you do."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'm sure you can think of ways to thank me properly."

"You can let me do this."


"Max--?"

"Or this."

"Black polka dots. I like."


"R-really?"

"But I like this even more."

"Just, just for uh, a--a bracelet?"

"You said it was perfect."

"Ma-a-a-x--?"

"Yes, Liz?"

"Please let go my hands?"

"No."

"I want to touch you, too."

"Max?"

"Please?"

"No. Not a chance."

"I'm never letting you go."



--and the next, she had been flung into a totally different setting, the only point of reference being Liz herself.

It had appeared to be a stark desert night. Devoid of stars. A lonely coyote howled at a miserly moon that looked uncannily alien.

Dream Liz had been standing in the middle of the desert. Alone. With the cold desert wind teasing her short -- short? -- chocolate brown tresses. Isabel could only note Liz's altered appearance in passing as she reeled from the debilitating swells of grief exuding from Liz. She lost track of the time till Dream Liz raised her eyes to the night sky, as if in supplication. In the paltry moonlight, Isabel had glimpsed the silvery tracks of tears. She had followed Liz's gaze upward and was nearly blinded when blue-hot lights swooshed at lightning speeds from out of nowhere, zinging and dancing around maniacally like they had OD'd on mega doses of caffeine.

Isabel had felt an insane urge to laugh, but one look at Dream Liz's face was enough to snuff the impulse stillborn. If anything, the appearance of the lights had only made Dream Liz mourn all the harder.

When she finally couldn't stand the grief-induced near paralysis, Isabel took a forced step forward, wanting to offer some sort of solace. But before she reach Liz's side, a faint shimmering outline materialized beside Dream Liz and tenderly wiped away her tears.

<< "You shouldn't be here. Alone. It's dangerous." >>
<< "I'm not alone. You're here." >>


Dream Liz had been about to say something else when the apparition placed one finger against her lips, halting the words she'd been about to utter.

Isabel had been unable to stop her squeak of surprise at the statements voiced by Dream Liz and the stranger. The giveaway sound had made him, it whirl in her direction. As if the sight of her had triggered some sort of switch, the almost glassy figure exploded in motion. Isabel had turned tail and ran.

And ran.

And ran.

"Isabel!"

Her audible lifeline was getting stronger. The 'walls' of the dream realm started to shimmer. She was so close. So close...

She focused her remaining energy into homing in on that voice. She gathered herself for a metaphorical leap, vaulted, and then almost broke down in tears when she felt the ripple signaling successful passage from sleep to wakefulness.

She awoke to Max gripping her icy hands in his, a bewildered and worried expression on his face.

Isabel tried to gulp in as much air as she could while pulling her hands away. Max reluctantly let go. She cut a glance towards the clock on her bedside. 5:21. More than an hour had passed since she'd last dreamwalked Liz.

"Max," she greeted him, ordering her voice not to falter. Even though she was no longer running, her legs still felt the aftereffects of the nightmarish pursuit. They felt like they had morphed into jello. Isabel stalled a few more precious seconds by examining Max. Her brother was dressed, which either meant he'd gotten out of bed early, or had just come home. Isabel bet it was the latter. "You just got back?" she chattered inanely as she smoothed her tangled sheets and attempted to shake off the unsettling effect of her harrowing flight.

"I heard you from the hallway. What happened?" He sidestepped her bid to distract him. Total big brother mode. "You sounded like you were having a nightmare." Reflexively, he placed his hand gently atop hers.

He's probably remembering all those nightmares you used to have about dead aliens, Isabel reminded herself, allowing her frayed nerves to take some comfort. He was there for you then. He'll be here for you now. She toyed with her blanket, casting for a way to confess what she had done and its resulting fallout.

As she continued to fidget, pulling one side of the blanket up to her chin, the yearbook she'd borrowed from Tish tumbled off the bed.

Max retrieved the fallen book and froze.

The silence that descended was deafening.

"You've been dreamwalking Liz," he eventually said in a grim tone, before carefully returning the yearbook to her.

"Max--" Isabel choked out as he stood up and turned his back on her to pace the floor.

"Why can't you and Michael just leave her alone? She's not a threat to you, to any of us!" Max spun around angrily. Isabel could hear the pent-up hurt and frustration in his voice and scrambled to explain.

"Max, please, I--"

"God! She's even willing to help us... She's not going to say anything. Explain to me why you can't just trust my judgment about her." Max was trying to keep from shouting. He clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides as if battling the urge to shake some sense into her.

"Why take it out on Liz? If I made such a monumentally stupid decision, then punish ME." He continued to pace agitatedly. "Leave. Her. Alone."

"Max! Please! Just listen!" Isabel begged, almost in tears. Whatever rift existed between them, he was still her brother. And he was hurting. She realized that she couldn't, wouldn't forsake him.

He was the first one she would always turn to in need.

Her sole recourse for guidance.

If ever there existed a time when she most needed his direction, it was now.

"I can respect your decision. I can! I won't say I agree with it, but I'll try to live with it," she sought to articulate, beseeching.

Max looked at her in hopeful disbelief.

The tears Isabel had been trying to dam up burst free as the chasm between them narrowed.

"But Max. Liz could really be in danger," she sobbed. "And it's not from us."


* * *


I never thought that you would come
I never thought that I could love like this
This feeling inside me is growing
I never thought that you would come

-- Loni Rose, I Never Thought That You Would Come


posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:46:40 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Ten B
I never thought that I could love like this



Liz awoke with a gasp, flushed and quivering with lingering traces of yearning and what she came to realize was... disappointment.

Great. Welcome to the wonderful world of frustration, she grumbled, glaring at the ceiling.

She turned her head to face the clock on her bedside. 5:21 AM. It was still too early, but Liz felt the imperative to move. Breakfast. She would fix breakfast. Cereal. Toast. Juice. Yogurt. Possibly, some chocolate chip cookies. She had to stop herself from giving in to the enticement to fall asleep again. To have her dreams unfold to their natural conclusion. However, her body, seemingly fluid and boneless from a surfeit of fantasy, lacked the strength to sit up.

For a few seconds she let herself sink into a post-dream haze. She could hear her heartbeat, which had been returning to its normal pace, gallop again. Excitement and elation jostled for dominance. Liz hid her face in her pillow, hoping that that would dilute the heady elixir rushing through her veins. They're just dreams, Liz argued firmly. Or maybe creative visualization?

Her limbs eventually recovered their temporarily lost capacity for movement. Liz took advantage before they decided that they preferred lolling on the job. Okay. Push off the bed, she coaxed. Feet on the floor. Now stand up.

She teetered and tottered to the bathroom. Slapping her hands down on the counter, she tussled gazes with her reflection's in the mirror. Her face was dewed with sweat, spurring a hurried turn of the tap to splash cold water on her heated cheeks. They stayed an unabashed pink, a fitting counterpoint to the faint, sheepish gleam in her eyes.

Liz was torn between being appalled and amused. She never realized that she had it in her to invoke some blackmail-worthy dreams.

No. Not just dreams, she corrected herself.

Fantasies.

And they had all featured Max.

There was no need to be so shocked, Liz assured herself as she gingerly walked back to her bedroom. Almost by rote, she headed for her study desk and absentmindedly switched on her computer. As she waited for it to start up--chin resting on hand, the goofy beginnings of a smile on her face, and staring at, but not seeing, the screen--Liz conceded that being shocked was only natural. A function of her inhibition and inexperience. Coupled with her finding out that she was in love with and was loved by Max, well, it was understandable, wasn't it? She probably should be worried IF she hadn't been dreaming about him.

Her preoccupation momentarily hit a snag when her wallpaper popped up. It was the handwritten text of Stephen Hawking's bet with his friend that the star Cygnus X-1 was a black hole. Liz had chosen it to remind herself that while geeks were usually one track minded, they were not necessarily boring.

"...Therefore be it resolved that Stephen Hawking bets 1 year's subscription to "Penthouse" as against Kip Thorne's wager of a 4-year subscription to "Private Eye", that Cygnus X 1 does not contain a black hole of mass above the Chandrasekhar limit..."

Liz's eyes almost popped out of their sockets when the name Penthouse caught her attention. She hurriedly flipped the wallpaper back to its default setting and sank down in her chair.

Now, even science was having a good guffaw at her expense!

Force of habit, however, still prompted Liz to riffle through scientific minutiae to navigate the unfamiliar track her mind had taken. Intellectually, she knew that her subconscious was only trying to process the things she had learned, putting them into perspective. After all, the clinical studies she'd read about had shown that dreams were just a form of mental activity. Different from waking only in that things were seen and heard without being analyzed to death. Liz refused to even think about the significance of this latest batch, although if Maria knew about them, she would probably insist that Liz list down all the pertinent details so that they could scour them for meaning. Her best friend fancied herself an adept interpreter, especially when armed with her trusty, pages-falling-off dreamer's dictionary purloined from her mom.

"Flowers, especially fresh ones, are good. They bring great personal happiness. Wilted or dead ones . . . not so good." Liz could almost hear Maria intoning in her best Madame Vivian imitation.

Liz couldn't remember some of the dreams she had during the night. But the one she felt most at ease with in divulging (if she ever had to, which she doubted) had been the one where she was dancing with Max while being showered in petals from her favorite white roses. She had never before seen Max dressed up, but Liz instinctively knew that her dream image of him had hit the bull's eye.

He would look positively scrumptious in a tux.

On the heels of that thought, her brow crinkled. She'd gotten Max's clothes right, but Liz herself had worn something that could only be described as retro 1920-ish. Which was weird because her fashion sense was conventional at best. Not even her favorite doll from her extensive collection when she was younger could boast of having been attired with such a splendid sense of history.

Strange historical details aside, she melted when she remembered the blissful smile on Max's face. He had the look of a man who held in his arms all that he had ever wanted (or will ever want) from life.

I love you, Liz, Max had admitted OUT LOUD in her dream as he rested his forehead against hers, before bestowing upon her lips the sweetest, most adoring kiss imaginable.

Liz sighed and slumped down on the desktop. That dream confession would simply have to tide her over until real life Max felt comfortable enough to give her the words. She pouted in disappointment before dragging her focus back to her dream dissection. No matter how special, how unique that dream had seemed, she knew that it was still garden-variety. It wouldn't raise any best friend eyebrows to ludicrously high levels, nor elicit catcalls, whistles, and exclamations of 'Yeah, baby!' in mixed company.

But the other one!

She covered her face with her hands and groaned at how deliciously wicked that fantasy had made her feel. The content and the detail, well, it was wishful thinking at its (admittedly truncated) finest.

The fantasy had started innocently enough. Her dream self was in the bio lab, diligently filling out her lab sheet. As she scribbled, a simple silver bracelet slid low on her right wrist. She fondly pushed it back, caressing the delicate links. Max had crafted it with his alien powers and that made it infinitely treasured beyond its intrinsic material value.

And where was he, by the way? She sorely missed him.

She heard a faint squeak and looked up, her breath catching in her throat. Max was nonchalantly leaning against the doorjamb, looking even more breathtakingly attractive than usual. Liz bit her lip, a small, pleased smile on her face, as she reacted to the knowing but thoroughly tender expression in his beautiful amber eyes.

With an economy of movement that was fascinating to watch, Fantasy Max strode over to her. Upon reaching her side, he cradled her face between his palms--the way a man holds the face of his beloved--and slanted his mouth over hers. The kiss was exploratory but held an undertone of sureness that electrified Liz.

"You shouldn't be here. Alone. It's dangerous," he breathed against her lips.

"I'm not alone. You're here," she murmured, sliding off her stool and twining her arms around his neck in welcome. The pang of incompleteness that his absence had brought disappeared. He had come for her. That was all that mattered. Her heart thumped like it was about to burst; it was too small, too finite to hold the depth, breadth, and height of her love for him.

She gave in to the temptation to press against him as her body warmed and her knees weakened. His kiss acquired a delightfully playful note.
He stroked, savored, nibbled, and nuzzled at her lips until they became pliant, heated, and slick. She threaded her hands into his hair and as she did so, his gift slid further down her arm. "I love the bracelet... It's perfect. I don't know how to thank you," she sighed.

He let his tongue tease the corners of her mouth before raising his head. His lips curved and a cocky gleam appeared in his eyes. "Yes, you do."

She peered at him from beneath her lashes and licked her lips. Tasting him. She noted how his gaze sharpened at her provocative gesture. "I don't know what you're talking about," she teased back. It was a gauntlet and he recognized it.

He retaliated by grasping the back of her neck and urging her closer. His mouth covered hers, his kiss hard and insistent. In contrast, his grip stayed amazingly delicate; the thumb beneath her chin and his fingers wrapped around the back of her head were heart-wrenchingly gentle. His kisses delved below the surface of skin to touch her very soul. Her arms pulled him deeper into the embrace as her eyes drifted shut. They flew open when his teeth nipped sharply at her lower lip, before he slowly sucked it into his mouth to soothe the sting.

"I'm sure you can think of ways to thank me properly," he countered, his gaze heavy-lidded and languorous. The expression in those amber depths, framed by the luxurious decadence of his charcoal lashes, was so intensely loving that her toes curled in reflex. He slicked her hair back behind her ear, his fingers trailing along its silky length. Liz let another small smile peek as she visually followed the path his hand took.

"You can let me do this." He bent down and kissed the side of her neck that he had bared. She whimpered then moaned as his mouth leisurely laved and caressed its way down its vulnerable length. Branding her. Liz had never before felt so consumed by a will stronger than her own nor so aware of the unbehrable rightness of being with Max than she did in that moment.

"Max--?" He retreated from lapping at the skin at the base of her throat to reclaim her mouth. His tongue urged her lips apart, thrusting within in a foreshadowing of a more intimate joining. Heat flashed - incredibly heady, absolutely seductive. Their breathing grew increasingly unsteady as tastes and textures dueled in joyful abandon.

What felt like millennia passed before Max drew his mouth away from hers with a lazy, soft suction that kept their lips mated until the very last nanosecond. Liz's lips throbbed and her eyes reluctantly opened, weighted down by the piercing hunger coursing through her. A glint of male satisfaction gleamed in his heated gaze as he contemplated her passion dazed expression.

"Or this." He waved a mock negligent hand down her front and the buttons on her shirt popped open. She squeaked and made to draw the edges of her shirt together. Fantasy Max, however, had other ideas: his hands stopped hers, slowly bringing them down to her sides with a silent command to keep them there. Then without breaking eye contact, he slid her shirt off her shoulders. First the left, then the right. Leaving the shirt tangled just midway down her arms. Effectively hampering her movement. Liz went dizzy as his eyes feasted on her.

His hand brushed against the fabric of her bra and Liz tensed. She needed to move. She wanted to explore. She wanted to touch him the way he was touching her. "Black polka dots. I like," he murmured in a whimsical tone.

"R-really?" she stammered. Breathing was fast becoming an issue as Max toyed with the front clasp.

"But I like this even more." He flicked open the catch and reverently palmed her. Liz felt her breath go at his worshipful caress. He made her feel like the most precious person in any world.

"Just, just for uh, a--a bracelet?" Breathing was a problem, closely followed by speech. From beneath lids at half mast, she gazed longingly at the strong lines of his face as he watched her reaction to his caress. She traced his firm lips with a fingertip, mesmerized by its beautiful contours. He opened his mouth and lazily drew her in. Liz shivered at his twin assault.

"You said it was perfect," he reminded her after reluctantly releasing the finger he'd been tasting. Then he crushed her lips beneath his once more, crowding her against their table, his body hard and muscular against her soft yielding one. Liz thrilled to the feel of his unmistakable arousal. She shucked off her shirt, and once free, her hands meandered, trailing over his magnificently sculptured chest, his arms, the muscles flexing in his back, the tightening of his rock-hard abdomen. Marveling at and being grateful for their differences. Her fingers trembled as she released the buttons on his shirt. After much fumbling, she impatiently slid the shirt off him. His kiss deepened, if that were at all possible. It went from being merely intoxicating and entered a whole new world of the profound, the sublime.

As her hands continued on their less-constricted and southerly path, he arrested them right at the waistband of his jeans. Carefully and deliberately, he crossed both hands behind her back. With one hand, he manacled her wrists in a literal handcuff. Liz protested at having her freedom curtailed. "Ma-a-a-x--?"

"Yes, Liz?" He punctuated his question with another hard kiss on her mouth.

"Please let go my hands?"

He tightened his hold before bending down to place maddeningly light kisses above the swell of her breasts. His other hand continued to stroke and fondle, tracing ever-shrinking circles to her pebbled peak.

"No." He softened the implacable reply with an indulgent smile.

"I want to touch you, too," she pleaded, aching to make him as breathless as he made her. "Max?" she persisted. "Please?"

Speech deserted her as he captured the nipple he'd been toying with in his mouth. As he suckled, sending streaks of glowing heat to her core, Liz felt her legs give way. Max relinquished her wrists, his strong hands circling her waist, lifting her, keeping her upright. Automatically, Liz threw her arms around his neck to keep her balance.

"No. Not a chance," he had mumbled in between hot lashes of tongue on her sensitive flesh.

"I'm never letting you go."


Liz grabbed a brochure off her desk and started fanning herself vigorously. It was good that her imagination had not been up to being more explicit. Otherwise, her sheets might have caught fire. She would just have to live with the throbbing ache of frustration, she presumed, not that she really had a choice. Then she groaned and knocked her head on the table. Once. Twice. Three times. How was she supposed to face Max after this?? Her best case scenario would still feature blushing and stuttering aplenty. What would the worst case be? Melting into a puddle at his feet?

Wait, didn't she have it on backwards?

She blew out a noisy but affectionate breath. Avoiding him was moot at this point. Ever since she found out his secret--the reason for all that quiet, brooding attention--there remained no nook, no cranny in her being that he hadn't taken over. Even right at that very second, she could have sworn that she felt his presence like a warm, albeit anxious and apologetic, embrace, enfolding her and keeping her safe. She told herself that she was imagining things. Max was at home, probably asleep... dreaming about... Oh, don't go there! she wailed, as choice excerpts from her fantasy replayed themselves in her head. She bolted out of the chair and rushed out of her room, muttering baking ingredients under her breath in a vain attempt at distraction. Flour. Rose. Sugar. Spice. Chocolate. Not as tempting as Max. It was useless. Max's unwitting confession had totally obliterated her ability to think as it unleashed the pent-up, previously unacknowledged love she had for him.

Except... if she was so in love with Max, she thought as she rushed to the Crashdown kitchen when she saw that they were out of chocolate chips upstairs, what was up with the angsty, barely remembered, yet achingly familiar dream she had just before she was jolted out of sleep?

The one that had left behind this puzzling sense of... love... lost?


* * *

Echoes from the dream plane... Fides fragilis

She paid no mind to the details of the place, only to what she felt. So cold and so alone. The other half of herself had been torn away, leaving her in agony no mortal should ever suffer and yet live.

As she had done countless times before, she trespassed into this place, urgently aware that she didn't have the luxury of time. She whispered a fervent prayer to the heavens, pleading that she be taken to where he had gone. Because without him, her life--her future accomplishments--may as well have held no meaning. Sound and fury signifying... absolutely nothing.

The heavens had answered. But with auguries to the contrary. They were telling her to move on. That she had lost him for all eternity. That to even hope was futile.

It had been more than she could bear; the only thing that had kept her going had been a tiny spark of hope that somehow, someway, they would find each other again. Across space. Across time.

In her other excursions, they had been adamantly silent, neither saying yes nor no.

It had kept her fragile faith flickering.

But this one time, they had responded.

Only to snuff out the meager hope she had left.

She railed at the injustice. How had she been allowed to find her soulmate, the only one who completed her--only to lose him to Them? A Them that she had initially believed didn't exist and who, with an enigmatic turn of the cosmos, proved that there were more things in heaven than could be dreamt of in her philosophy.

To be forced to accept that she would never again see him was a truth so stark that she cursed the bane that was hopefulness.

Because never being with him again was a truth she could neither endure nor alter.

Just when she was about to willingly plunge into the abyss, he came.

Despite unimaginable obstacles, he had returned to her.

<< "You shouldn't be here. Alone. It's dangerous." >>
<< "I'm not alone. You're here." >>

Her joy had been overwhelming. He had come. That was all that mattered. She had been about to vow that she would never let anything sunder them again, when he communicated that he wasn't really with her.

Not in the sense that she thought.

When she mewled in dissent, he soothed and healed her battered spirit, saying that her faith had allowed the merging of their souls to be made manifest.

That way, he would always be with her.

And that someday, in that other world, they would meet again.



* * *

OUTSIDE THE CRASHDOWN CAFE
- MAX POV -


There's something seriously bizarre about launching a 'rescue mission' to coincide with the business hours of a diner.

Here I am, parked outside the Crashdown, heart racing, adrenaline rushing, going quietly insane as seconds do their best to convince me that their actual duration span eons instead of heartbeats. I suspect I'm strung up so tight, a flick might actually produce a discordant note.

It's beyond surreal. Any moment now, I expect to be scolded by Tock the literal watchdog from The Phantom Tollbooth for wasting time.

But I'm not being profligate; I'm being patient. Patience is something I have an inordinate amount of. I'm ready to flip the CLOSED sign hanging on the door AND unlock said door with my powers, any time. Just like that. If I thought that would speed up the wait. Which, of course, it won't. So I don't.

The only reason, well actually the first reason, why I'm currently not scrambling up her ladder and barging into her sanctuary (for I know that the balcony above the fire escape leads to her bedroom. It's pathetic. I have no life outside of mooning over Liz Parker) is because I know she's awake and I can sense her joy and excitement over a new day.

A non-traumatized, giddy, but more importantly, safe Liz. The idea is heartwarming, the reality, virtual for the moment, heart-stopping.

Yeah, it's an unexpected but welcome side effect of reversing the connection that has always existed between us. Kinda like how I sense the others, but still different. I felt traces of it at the UFO Center yesterday when she squeezed my hand and it's been increasingly getting stronger ever since. At its strongest, I can share her emotions--the crests, the cascades, the tumbles. They wash over me in a sonata of the most ethereal kind. It's still a little hard to pinpoint individual feelings, unless one specific emotion overwhelms the others, but I'm getting better. If I make a conscious effort to block it, it fades to a steady, comforting hum.

My second reason stems from guilt. I already tried to invade Liz's privacy once this morning when I insisted that Isabel dreamwalk her again, with me tagging along. To check out that thing that she had encountered. I wrestled with my conscience and echoes of my pompous pronouncement that it's not nice to go poking around people's subconscious for about a couple of seconds before I practically begged Isabel to go back. I was beside myself in panic and anguish that Liz had been in danger while on my watch (maybe the connection doesn't extend to dream emotions? I never sensed anything beyond bliss and a poignant anticipation from Liz) and I have never so much wished for dreamwalking to be part of my alien power portfolio than I did this morning. Not that I had a clear plan about how to neutralize (I think Michael's contagious) whatever that was that had frightened Isabel. All I knew was that if Liz was being threatened, I was gonna protect her. My powers had to be good for something.

And my sister, terror-stricken though she had been, had rallied like a trooper. Isabel knew how important it was to me, so she tapped into her nearly depleted inner reserves to help me out. Thereby proving to me that she was slowly accepting my decision to tell Liz about us aliens.

I wish I could say the same for Michael. We spent most of the day yesterday in a pissing match to decide who's the man. Or rather, who's the alien with more attitude and the will to back it up. Funnily enough, I think I won that skirmish. After hours of threats and counter-threats and small desert rocks exploding, Michael had finally backed off, bristling like his hair, and heading in the general direction of his foster home. I don't know whether that's good or bad--a tactical retreat would give him time to think. But then again, going over options has never been Michael's strong point so I don't really know if he's going to give up this watching-Liz-to-see-if-she's-gonna-crack deal. And that brings a pang of unease constricting my chest. I'm the only alien who should be watching Liz. Looking out for her.

Which brings me back to the dreamwalk that was a non-starter.

I totally disregarded the variables that could have thrown even a successful dreamwalk out of whack. That Liz's dreams might not have been the same or that maybe Isabel's consciousness had transposed with Liz's (making it Isabel's nightmare) are just two of the possibilities that later occurred to me. The second alternative seemed very likely, given that Isabel had seen those green clouds I told Liz were what was left of our otherworldly memories.

Needless to say, I wasn't really thinking.

Also I think it would be belaboring the point to tell you that us finding out that Liz was no longer asleep had been anti-climactic.

Predictably, I wavered between joy and terror when we didn't succeed. Liz was already awake and her emotional state had registered on the happy side of the scale. There had been a tinge of frustration, sure, but overall, it had been positive. That didn't stop me though from rushing to the jeep and careening my way to her home to personally check, dogged by guilt every block of the way.

Do you still need to do penance if you didn't succeed in sinning? Had the failure to dreamwalk Liz been a pithy lesson in the end never justifying the means? If it was, then I didn't learn it. I mentally shrug off the moral implications of my actions (but not without agonizing) because I know that if I had to do it over, I would.

Liz is too precious to me.

I can live with the guilt and her probable anger if she ever finds out.

I will not, however, stand still and watch her get hurt.

Which is why this waiting game is grating on my nerves.

But once I put the guilt aside, there's this whining idiot voice that takes its place. It's demanding an encore. It's clamoring for a front row seat for the fantasies Isabel said Liz had spun during the night. Isabel's details had been sketchy, but her inability to repeat them while looking at me straight hinted that whatever she had seen starring me and Liz, they may very well make this alien teen's hormones go wild.

I sigh and stare at the sign on the door again. It still says CLOSED.

Tentatively, I let down my guard to restore our connection. I just want to reassure myself that she's really okay. Her actual thoughts and her dreams are barred to me, so I'll take what I can get.

And what I'm getting is... impatience?

Okay, that's it! I'm not waiting any longer. This rescue mission is now 'GO.' I circle to the back, hoping that someone's in the kitchen. I could always do my lost puppy dog look and say I was dying for some breakfast (well, it works on Mom and Isabel). From somewhere within, I hear a female voice, Liz's, saying, "Hurry up!"

Okay, that's a Very Big Hint, if I ever heard of one.

I knock, but not before checking to make sure I didn't look too rumpled from my all-night vigil and mad dash back to the Crashdown. Like I said, alien powers have to be good for something.

"Max?!"

Liz opens the door, my name squeaking from her lips. I suppose a similar bemused expression is on my face. She's wearing an old t-shirt with shorts. Her feet are adorably bare, her silky hair mussed, her cheeks a becoming shade of rose. Her customarily limpid gaze is shot through with twinkles of mortified delight. Unlike yesterday post the whole alien truth is out there exposé, there are no violet bruises under her cocoa-colored doe eyes--testament to a night of restful sleep.

But what has my mouth tugging upward is the sight of flour streaks on her beloved face and the delectable cookie--chocolate chip from the heavenly smell of it--clutched in her oven-mittened hand.

"Hi, Liz," I say, feeling unbearably happy and light at the sight of all that winsome, sheepish charm.

"I... I thought you were Maria!" she says, while dropping the cookie like-- well, like a hot cookie--and scrubbing furiously at her cheeks and forehead. "What are you doing here?" she mumbled in between swipes.

"I was gonna invite you for breakfast, but from the looks of it," I pause to give the cookie a significant glance, "You're already having yours."

My hand reaches up toward her cheek. I can't help myself. I rub my finger over a spot of white that she missed.

"Join me, anyway?"


* * *


I never thought that you would come
I never thought that I could love like this
This feeling inside me is growing
I never thought that you would come

- Loni Rose, I Never Thought That You Would Come



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


author's note for part 10B You know where Liz's bio lab fantasy came from, but the text of the bet (Liz's wallpaper) can be found in JP McEvoy and Oscar Zarate's STEPHEN HAWKING FOR BEGINNERS (this is my source for anything Hawking related, in addition to Stephen Hawking's A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME). Any dream interpretation used came from THE DREAMER'S DICTIONARY (doncha just love the title LOL) by Lady Stearn Robinson & Tom Corbett. Props to Nora Robert's ENCHANTED for giving me the idea for the cookies for breakfast thing.

posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:48:03 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Eleven A
My favourite game



Liz dipped her head and gave herself a quick once-over, checking to see if she had melted into a whimpering puddle at Max's feet.

Nope. All solid parts remained firmly solid, she inventoried with a sigh of relief, restraining the nervous impulse to wiggle her toes.

She also had to resist stroking her cheek, which still tingled from Max's thoughtful removal of that last stubborn speck of flour. The flash of heat that had streaked through her was highly inconsistent with the innocence of his gesture. If Liz had to describe it, she would have said that Max's touch had set off a mini-nuclear explosion, with her at emotional ground zero. One teeny-tiny graze and a lingering of his thumb at the corner of her lip and she went from soft to outright gooey in record speed.

In the enchanted pause that unfurled following his invitation--while Max held his breath and she turned breathless--Liz understood that this tableau had played out countless times over, without it ever losing its soul-stirring luster. But the overtones of excitement gave way to a tinge of wistfulness as she grasped that their hold on this moment was frighteningly ephemeral.

As though she needed an additional reminder, a recall of her nighttime fantasies blindsided her, the memory popping up with bobbing brows and a suggestive snicker. It introduced an absurdly pragmatic note, breaking the spell woven by Max's lopsided grin and gorgeously expectant gaze.
And judging by the renewed heat flooding her cheeks, Liz suspected that the flush on her face had moved from bashful pink to a more roseate hue.

Yup. Body-wise, she stayed (somewhat) intact. Her dignity, unmistakably groaning in the dust, was another question.

Liz planted her feet squarely on the floor and straightened her spine. Well, this is me, Max, she asserted silently, raking a hand through her hair and desperately hoping that she wasn't scaring or scarring him for life with the sight of a messy, blushing, just out of bed, and possibly deranged Liz Parker. Only Maria, whom she'd called to share her Max-inspired chocolate craving, had ever seen her so disheveled. Liz gave thanks that she hadn't begun chasing the cookies with milk, otherwise she would have had to add a white mustache to her sins. Aloud she asked, "What? The Heavenly Hash special not good enough for Max Evans?"

He fought a valiant but losing battle with a smile before replying. "Apparently, it's not good enough for Liz Parker either." He swept the room with an amused glance, taking in the mini-havoc she had wreaked. Flour and sugar were scattered on the stainless steel tabletop, joining escapees from a bag of chocolate chips. Like a sentinel, the mixing bowl she'd been tempted to lick of cookie dough stood at attention, while the spoon within listed drunkenly like a sailor on shore leave. Sprawled beside the bowl was the baking sheet, displaying golden circles of decadence lined up with military precision, that she had impatiently pulled out of the oven the second the timer buzzed. Crumbs littered the floor at her feet, with one larger and particularly needy piece clinging to her little toe. Liz ruthlessly shook it off.

As she visually tracked his assessment of her mess, Liz wondered if alternating early morning visits would, from this time on, become their pattern for starting the day. Any day. Despite niggling logistical details, she wouldn't mind; in fact, she would go as far as saying that she would welcome it--HIM!--with arms wide open. As long as Max gave her enough time to look presentable. The natural look just didn't agree with her, Liz's vanity tut-tutted. Her sanity, however, hugged the possibility of a Max-first-thing-in-the-morning fix like it was an armful of teddy behr.

"Please? Have breakfast with me?" Max repeated his invitation, appearing for all worlds like a puppy asking for a cuddle. Okay, low blow, Liz thought ruefully. If he only knew. Given a chance, Liz would skip the measly inch, go straight for the proverbial mile, and simply move in with him! Just... not this very minute. At least, not until their relationship--for that was what it was, with all its promises left unsaid--reached a more comfortable place.

The point where she could just leap into his arms and he would automatically catch her was still a long way coming.

And Liz didn't relish injuring her butt in case Max missed his cue.

"I'm thinking about it," she drawled, ordering the cookies into a plastic container. She offered one to him with a lift of an eyebrow. "Munch on that while I clean up. You don't want me," she watched his throat work convulsively and flushed again, "tobelynchedbythebreakfastcrew," she finished breathlessly. And keeping busy would offset the temptation to jump him, she hoped.

In flo-mo that made The Matrix's bullet-dodging antics look speedy, Max accepted her offering. Liz free-kicked the smart aleck that pointed out her extreme predictability in traipsing the man's heart via his tummy route and waited for the verdict. Max bit into the cookie, his lashes sweeping down in the proper homage to baking perfection.

She held her breath.

Then, with an audible question mark punctuating his declaration of pretend amazement, he said, "It's good?"

Liz threw him an equally fake glare before lightly whapping him with a dish rag. Madding crowds (consisting mainly of Alex and... well... Alex) came to blows because of her cookies. As she proceeded to wipe down the tabletop, Max covered her hand, volunteering, "I'll do that. You go get ready."

"I haven't even said 'Yes' yet!" she grumbled good-naturedly as she eyed her cursory clean up job. Then to herself she added, But I'm going to.

"Won't you?"

Not quite an echo but close enough. Liz gave him a brief look over her shoulder as she collected her baking paraphernalia and padded over to the sink. She really liked this Don't-take-No-for-an-answer (or a No answer) Max Evans; not many guys had the courage to spar with Liz Parker, even when she wasn't being the ultimate in obdurate. From the outset, Max had revealed an unexpected propensity to take her on with a paradoxical confidence.

But just so that confidence didn't mutate into typical male arrogance...

"You can help me out by doing something about those crumbs," she hinted, wide-eyed. At her blatant prompting, Max skirted the table, dropped down in a crouch, and then looked questioningly up at her.

Liz cleared her throat meaningfully and pointed towards the broom closet. Max dutifully trotted off.

"I have to leave word with my mom and dad where I'm going," she called out above the sound of sloshing, soapy water. "And who I'm going with," she added, drawing out her eventual acceptance, just on principle.

"Okay. I'll ask for their permission after you give me yours." A mini crumb mountain at his feet, Max blinked, using those luxuriant lashes to their most unfair advantage.

Braving the parental units, Liz approved, dizzy with glee. Oh, he was really irresistible, even with a broom in hand. To subject her defenses, already woefully insufficient if not out-and-out non-existent, to this Max offensive was simply asking too much. She tapped a finger on pursed lips, as though contemplating the attractiveness of his offer.

"I promise to let you continue interrogating me?"

She continued tapping even as she tried to glower at him for reminding her of the Parker fact-finding mission.

"I'll let you fill out all my future job applications?"

Her tapping slowed down, then halted. Her lips unpursed, trembled, and let forth a spontaneous hoot of laughter.

"You will never let me live that down, will you?" she chortled in between a freshly started game of broom tug-of-war. She'd been insatiably curious (nosy would be the more appropriate term) about what Max had been writing on his application sheet to the UFO Center position the day before. She'd gone overboard with the pointers on what employers liked to see on an application. After debating with him on a couple of questions, Max had amiably offered to let her fill in the answer to 'Are there any significant experiences you have had, or accomplishments you have realized, that make you suitable for a position at this establishment?' Coloring furiously, Liz had retreated but Max had stayed her, solemnly whispering, "Not joking," as he pressed the pen into her hand. Realizing that she couldn't very well jot down that Max's qualification was that he survived the Roswell crash, she'd settled for a partly enigmatic, epigrammatic solution:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


Scanning her careful scribble, she didn't realize that she'd been biting the end of the pen in an unconscious imitation of Max's nervous habit. She turned to him, only to find that he had been reading over her shoulder. His face had been so close to hers, it only needed the slightest nudge to press her lips (sans pen) to the corner of his.

Max held her gaze for a long moment as if he, too, felt the undeniable pull to meld their lips together. But his will was obviously stronger than hers because he withdrew-- infinitesimally--and passed his hand over his application form, all the while watching her with a peculiarly longing look. When she finally glanced down, her eyes narrowed into slits and not just because of the apologetically stygian lighting.

Max had rewritten the quote in his distinctive scrawl, but appended at the bottom:

-- Act I, Scene V, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by William Shakespeare

"Show-off," Liz had muttered as she mentally bemoaned the return to prosaic normalcy. In response to her accusation, Max had regally inclined his head in quiet, mirthful acknowledgment.

"Yes, okay?" Liz finally gave in--on the invitation and the broom which Max returned it to its usual rest stop. "And you don't need to ask my parents for permission. They left ridiculously early for Albuquerque." Or so said the Post-it note they had stuck on the fridge upstairs, the reason for her phoning Maria with a chocolate binge invite. Had she had known Max was gonna turn up, she would have postponed her Swedish chef routine for another time, that was for sure.

At her acceptance, Max's lips curved in that rare, perfect smile of his. He extended a hand out to her, just like a prince in the very best fairy tales, and Liz was bowled over by a breathtaking rush of pure love for the occasionally diffident boy who now held her heart. As she placed her hand in his, the way she had surrendered her heart into his keeping, she sighed, "You're impossible!"

But you love me anyway. The thought imploded in his mind and Max almost blurted it out loud in wonder. He reeled as her love for him, borne by the connection that flared as she placed her small hand trustingly in his, crystallized into one perfect note of such purity, clarity, and strength that Max nearly sank to his knees.

His most cherished dream had come true.

The girl he loved returned his love and accepted him in spite of his alien-ness.

And all because he had risked telling her the truth about himself.

Because he had trusted her.

He couldn't stand it. He wanted to rush outside and tell the whole planet that Liz Parker loved Max Evans. He yearned to sweep her up in his arms and kiss her until oxygen became an issue.

But most of all, he wanted to hear the words from her lips, echoing his confession and sentiments and magnifying them a gazillion-fold.

It was one confession they wouldn't have to torture out of him...

He drew in a bracing breath and began, "Liz, I--"

"LIZ!?"

They simultaneously turned toward the sound of the intrusion. Liz's best friend stood in the doorway, mouth halfway open and her large green eyes bugging out at the sight of Liz and him acting like they were more than just lab partners.

"Maria! Hi!" Liz extemporized, squeezing his hand in a surprisingly strong grip. As he saw Maria eyeing them askance, Max gently let go. Liz's wide-eyed gaze sought him out in confusion. What she saw must have befuddled her even more because she improvised with a flustered, "You know Max, right?"

"Hey," Maria greeted Max, subjecting him to a top to toe inspection worthy of a drill sergeant. Max had to refrain from rubbing the nonexistent dust off his sneaker tops on the backs of his jeans.

"Hey," Max returned, sticking his hands into his pockets and ducking his head. He supposed he was turning in an award-winning performance of someone obsessively interested in floor patterns.

Or a neurotic kitchen designer.

"Max, um, he, uh, that is, Max came here for breakfast!" Liz babbled, dividing her darting glances between him and her best friend. From his peripheral vision, Max saw Maria slowly incline her head as if in acceptance but a trace of bewilderment remained evident in her spill-or-else expression.

"Except we're not open yet and, and he suggested that we go out! For breakfast!" Liz seemed to be signaling frantically to Maria in visual shorthand. "You don't mind if we do the chocolate thing some other time, do you, AUNTIE Maria?" she underlined the 'Auntie' in a near yell.

Max's eyes lifted, in time to see the beginnings of some kind of understanding dawn in Maria's penetrating gaze.

"Then may I suggest, niece," Maria leveled an inscrutable look at Liz, "that you go get DRESSED?" Maria's advice was delivered with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. Then turning to Max, she added pertly, "Max and I will wait here, won't we, Max?"

"Sure," Max rejoined dolefully, tracking Liz with his patented stare as she whirled around, calling out, "Five minutes!" and sprinting up the staircase leading to the Parkers' apartment.

"So. Max. Where are you and Liz going? Some place fun?" Maria questioned brightly when it was just the two of them. Liz's parents might not have been around, but Maria--who only needed to tap her foot in impatience or haul out a shotgun to complete the picture--more than made up for their absence. "Wait... What am I saying? There's no fun place in Roswell, not unless you're a UFO nut." Her conspiratorial grin urged him to share in the joke about their hometown. "You've gotta wonder about intelligent life on other planets, especially if those downed aliens were really on their way here," she rambled on, shaking her head. Max hid a wince at her unintentional and cavalier dismissal of alien mental prowess and the crash that had stranded him, Isabel and Michael on earth in the first place.

"I was thinking of that doughnut place?" Max interrupted before Maria could unearth more alien-scandalized gems. Her timely arrival reminded him that Liz had a very different life outside of her dealings with him. A life where friends had fun and cared for one another, out of genuine affection, and not merely because it was expedient. He felt slightly shamed at belittling his relationship with his sister and Michael like that, but it was the truth. Protecting them was his duty, his burden to carry, even if they hadn't been related and/or loathed one another. Max didn't mistake the protective vibes he got from Maria, nor miss the fact that their wellspring was more altruistic than his own source of alien protectiveness could ever be.

He was grateful that Maria had cut short the articulation of three words that might have unduly pressured Liz into a commitment she wasn't ready to make. A commitment he had no right to ask of her, unconfessed love on both their parts notwithstanding. Max realized that he didn't want Liz plunging deeper into the alien abyss, getting further entangled in his problems; the best thing for her was to keep her distance. Perforce that meant Max had to keep his distance. Maybe that way, the affection he'd felt from her--which could have simply been propinquity at work (after all, they had been spending a lot of time together since her inadvertent discovery)--would wither away, drying up in the dearth of encouragement.

Anyway, what was two days in the overall scheme of things?

"Maybe this whole thing isn't such a good idea." He cast about for a way to gracefully retract his invitation. He'd accomplished what he'd set out to do. Liz was okay. The weird dream presence was probably nothing. Max just had to find other clandestine means to safeguard Liz from whatever repercussion his revelation might have or from the alleged night terror which may or may not have been threatening her.

It was a workable plan, wasn't it?

He would resume watching over her covertly, which shouldn't be hard, seeing as how he'd had years of practice. Michael and Isabel had become so used to him being an onlooker rather than a participant that 'doing a Max' had become their not so secret code for 'passively watching.'

Except this time, the passivity would be cranked down the few notches needed to allow for action, in case it became necessary.
Max dismissed the piteous appeal his heart lodged at being told to back off indefinitely.

"Listen. I don't want to be intrusive or anything, but it's a nice day outside. Why don't I pack up a picnic and you and Liz can spend the day together?" Maria suggested, almost magnanimously.

Max's eyes widened. It was Lewis Carroll's duchess staying an order to chop off his head. From her initial reaction, he would have said that Maria had issues with his accosting Liz. And now she was throwing them together? For a whole day?

He watched, bewildered, as Maria patted him on the shoulder before cornering the makings of sandwiches and drinks for an al fresco picnic. She resembled a hurricane as she danced around the kitchen, preparing food with a slap-dash abandon. The Crashdown training program must have included a stint as the fastest short order cook in the Southwest because Maria had the food prepared, parceled, and ready for pick-up before she even finished the song she was belting out.

"And I'm losing my favourite game," Maria carried on with her cover of The Cardigans' popular single as she cleaned up the debris tossed by Twister Deluca. Max silently applauded her enthusiasm and vocal range. "You're losing your mind again/I'm losing my baby/losing my favourite ga-a-a-a-a-me!"

"Okay, I'm ba-a-ck!" He heard Liz call out before he was able to expound on his about-face in the pause when Maria drew in a breath. Then he couldn't because his mouth went dry at the sight of the glorious vision in front of him.

God, she looked good in red! It highlighted her delicate, luminous beauty. And the amount of golden skin exposed by Liz's tank top and flirty skirt would have felled a more stoic male than Max at twenty paces, let alone two. Her shining mane was clasped demurely at the back, making his hands itch to undo her hair clip and let loose the rest of that silky glory. And her eyes!

He'd become so used to seeing only an openhanded friendship in them that his breath hitched from the innocent expectation writ large in her doe eyes.

The expression in them said she wanted nothing more than just to be with one person.

Him.

Their connection roared a seductive confirmation.

"Shall we?" Liz invited, slipping a hand through his arm with disarming grace. Max swallowed the halfhearted negative that nearly whooshed out and instead, meekly accepted the takeaway paper bag that Maria shoved at him.

"Buh-bye. Have fun, kids," Maria sang out around a wide, wide, Cheshire cat grin as she shooed them out the door.

At that moment, Max understood how Alice must have felt as she tumbled down the rabbit hole.

He only wished that once he got out of his tunnel, his steadfast determination to stay away from Liz would remain unchanged.


* * *

I had a vision I could turn you right
A stupid mission and a lethal fight
I should have seen it when my hope was new
My heart is black and my body is blue
And I'm losing my favourite game
You're losing your mind again
I'm losing my favourite game
I've tried but you're still the same
I'm losing my baby
You're losing a saviour and a saint

-- The Cardigans, My Favourite Game


posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:49:22 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Eleven B
That leak in my soul



Going by their direction, they were headed for the Bitter Lakes bird sanctuary which was some twenty minutes away. Max drove in a cocoon of silence and Liz became increasingly uneasy, wondering if maybe he had changed his mind about breakfast. Thanks to her matchmaking friend's misreading of Liz's prompt for Maria to scram, Max had been roped into spending more time with her than he'd previously anticipated or allotted. And contrary to what his earlier high octane (for Max Evans anyways) flirting might have indicated, he was one Unhappy Camper about it.

Liz wasn't that dense that she could mistake a none too subtle distancing act when it was sitting right beside her.

During the course of their short ride, Liz had opened her mouth to tell Max that they could scrap the outing more times than was advisable or remembered. She had stopped counting early on after the fifteenth vain attempt only netted hanks of wind-whipped hair. But the Pope of Mope demeanor had stopped any utterance dead in its tracks.

Just what did Maria say to him while she was changing? It must've been a doozy to effect this transformation, she fretted, caught in an emotional tailspin. If he hadn't been driving, Liz would have testified that Max had morphed into the Great Stone Dragon from Mulan when she wasn't looking. She knew that Max was pretty quiet most of the time, but this mimicry of brooding sculpture was ridiculous, even for him. Liz sincerely hoped that with Max being Old Stoney, she wasn't going to be cast in the role of Mushu because she didn't exactly look forward to hitting him with a gong upside the head or yelling into one of those adorable sticking out ears to find out what was wrong.

But the loaded silence held no answers for her, inspiring a circuitous questioning of Max's motives for being at the Crashdown when other people were still hitting the snooze button on their alarm clocks. Now that she had the luxury of really mulling it over, she concluded that it wasn't breakfast that he initially had in mind. From his appearance--sexy morning stubble and what she noticed was yesterday's clothes--it looked like he had waylaid her for something other than her scintillating company. Come to think of it, his early morning visit was weirdly reminiscent of the night he'd come to check up on her; the night he wanted her to realize that he 'was still him.' Like he had forgotten something he wanted to tell her, and upon remembering it, had immediately rushed to tell her about it, before whatever it was sank back into oblivion.

And if she continued over-using the catch-all 'it,' 'it' would go on a strike for abusive treatment of a pronoun!

Although, if that were the case, why didn't he just tell her? Why go through the whole breakfast date routine?

Maybe I'm just being too obsessive with the over-analysis, she thought, rapidly running out of theories. Ascribing fault where none exist. It's probably just your average incomprehensible male behavior, like the urge to fix things, drool over expensive cars, and cook outdoors that periodically overcame the male of the species. Or it could even be the overworking of the aloof AKA cool gene that some men just seemed to be born with.

Except Max wasn't exactly your average, normal, typical--choose your thesaurus word--male.

Liz reevaluated her decision not to bellow into his ear. If she loudly demanded that they turn back, would that garner some kind of reaction? But then again, hollering at the driver whilst in a moving vehicle wasn't exactly the action of a reasonable person, now, was it? Best that she wait until they came to a full stop. Except the next stop was already their destination! Oh, this waffling was going to drive her insane! She petulantly sank down into her seat, still plotting ways To Make Reticent Max Talk. She might be rewarded with only a grunt for her efforts, but at least that would shatter this maddening rock impersonation Max was hell-bent on portraying.

For a performance it was and not quite perfect at that, she sniffed. Max had shown a perceptible reaction along the way; that had been when they passed the sheriff's cruiser on a quiet side street some few minutes back. He had recoiled, although it hadn't shown on his face. A tsunami of anxiety--not hers--had buffeted Liz, rendering her observation of his whitened knuckles on the steering wheel pure overkill.

As the swell receded, she'd become even more mystified. Ambivalence radiated off Max, which was, just as immediately, subdued by his self-control.

Back so soon, oh Cryptic One?

Liz wished she had even a pinch of that formidable control for own use. She was obviously made of less stern stuff. She wouldn't last even an hour in his company if he continued treating her like some bothersome waif to be indulged with a trip to the park.

And he wouldn't get off scot-free either.

With an contrite screech, the jeep pulled up in the parking lot of the bird sanctuary. Liz was about to do her carpe diem thing when, rather than turning to acknowledge her, Max popped open the glove compartment, rummaged around, and withdrew a package of crackers. What the--? He handed them over to her, fastidiously avoiding any contact between them, and then grabbed a blanket and the breakfast that Maria (who was in danger of being throttled once Liz returned!) had so thoughtfully but misguidedly provided from the back.

"Those are so old, they don't qualify as food anymore," Max told her, evading her glare. "I figure we can feed the ducks so that they don't feel so left out when we..." Max's voice trailed off as he jumped out of the jeep and hurried over to the edge of the duck pond.

Figures this might turn out to be something for the birds, Liz nearly snorted at the unintentional double entendre as she carefully climbed out of the jeep, crackers clutched in a box-crushing grip. No gentlemanly gestures this time around. Max had made no move to escort her out of the car, in sharp contrast with the previous morning. As she watched him matter-of-factly set up their impromptu picnic, he reminded Liz of someone about to swallow some dreaded medicine: resistant but philosophic about the whole procedure. So what was up with the flirting? Her thoughts circled back and Liz seethed, poking out her bottom lip. In mutinous pique, she followed him, an imaginary but nonetheless palpable storm cloud forming above her head.

"So," Max said, looking up from where he had settled on the ground with a minimum of fuss and the maximum in grace.

"So," Liz repeated, remaining upright and combating the monumental urge to bean him with a stale saltine. Instead, she threw the temptation into the pond where three ducks immediately started fighting over it. The quacking and the flapping over one outnumbered cracker filled a few seconds of the awkward lull.

"Do you have any more questions? About the, you know... me?" Max asked in a forced, light tone, still avoiding her eyes and fixing his gaze at something interesting in the water.

Okay, this hot and cold routine is so getting old! Liz fumed, embracing her inner sulky child. He's the one who invited me out, not the other way around... But if he wants me to resurrect Grand Inquisitor Parker, he's gonna get more than he bargained for!

"Well, I'm still confused," she challenged, tossing the pack of saltines at Max which he neatly caught. "If you crash-landed in 1947, are you really 16 or are you like 52 in a 16-year-old's body?" And if that creepy May-December thing hasn't freaked me out, then shouldn't you have a little more faith in me? she mutely questioned on a hard-to-squash optimistic note. "Or do you guys just age differently? I mean, is like one alien year equal to three human years?"

"You've thought about this a lot, haven't you?" For one protracted moment, Max met her gaze. For a fraction of that instant, she saw a heartbreaking debate raging in those uncanny amber depths. Her already unsteady heart lurched and Liz sighed heavily, losing the considerable head of steam she'd accumulated, like a tire with a slow leak.

"Kind of." In a flash of intuition, Liz realized that the facade he'd erected and their verbal interaction took the back seat to what was unraveling on a subliminal level. Max was in a classic Catch-22. And he was scared witless but at the same time, excited that she was with him. The emotions he was projecting were as real as the weird but familiar background track that began to tug at her heart strings. The old, skeptical Liz would have whirled around to check if an orchestra had materialized out of the blue, performing a poignant serenade marred only by sporadic off-key notes, but the new, more open-minded Liz just accepted it as par for the course.

The same Liz who was now in agonies of expectation, waiting for Max to accept that they Belonged Together.

"Well, we know we came out of the pods in 1989." Liz's shoulders slumped as the arcane music twanged to a halt. Max turned back to face the water and the ducks. "We just don't know how long we were there. When we came out we looked like six year olds." He scooted a little as Liz flopped down beside him.

"So uh, you really have no idea where you're from or who your people are besides Michael and Isabel?" Liz asked halfheartedly, regurgitating what she had already been told. Max removed a cracker and pitched it at the waiting ducks. Liz wanted to be as easily pleased, but it seemed that she had long ago passed the point where she could be happy with palliatives. With a disturbing passion, she hoped that he and the others didn't ever solve the mystery of their past; that Max would come to accept the present and a possible future as a good enough consolation. Then recognizing her utter selfishness, she berated herself, attempting to restore even a smidge of objectivity and compassion.

It was a hard-won battle.

"No idea." Liz had to strain to hear Max's melancholy admission above the ruckus of the ducks. Her heartbeat hiccupped, then sped up as she sought to put a positive spin on the aliens' lack of knowledge.

"Well, that must be kind of freeing in a way," she commented, hoping to banish the self-loathing she was getting from Max.

"Freeing?" His question was a masterpiece of quizzical and disbelieving. Liz jumped up and started to pace. Her thoughts clarified when she was on her feet and she wanted to eloquently present the good side of staying hidden to Max.

"Um, well just with me, you know, my parents own the Crashdown, so everyone in town knows who I am," she explained, gesturing with her hands just in case speech wasn't enough. "Like, if I so much as get a haircut, everyone seems to notice, and they have to give me their opinion on it." Liz sneaked a peek and saw Max visually caress the hair in question. "It kind of makes life claustrophobic," she rambled on, suppressing a hopeful shiver of delight. "It's like, you know, how am I ever supposed to become whoever it is that I'm gonna become while everyone is looking? You know?

"Sometimes I wish I could just be invisible," she ended softly, flicking another look. Her mouth went dry as Max rose, walked up to her, and unclasped her hair.

"Sometimes I wish I didn't have to be so invisible," he murmured, combing through tresses with a butterfly-light touch.

Liz wanted to speak but she was too enraptured by the brilliance of Max's gilt-edged gaze. The first melodious notes of a comforting haunting serenade resumed, plaiting a beguiling harmonious spell. She felt like she had stumbled into another dimension, a place outside of time and space. The pond, the ducks, the sanctuary disappeared and she saw them standing in a vast, mist-strewn landscape, gazing upward at a wondrous, mysterious panorama unfolding above them. As they watched, five pinpoints of light illuminated one by one, until a perfect 'V' sparkled against the velvet darkness. Another softer light winked on, but this was far removed from the others, past the border where the darkness merged into nothingness. Liz felt the keen edge of imperfection as she viewed that lone light. She fumbled for Max's hand, and as their palms met, fingers entwined, completing a soul-satisfying link, the light that formed the nexus flared with a preternatural incandescence until it eclipsed the other four, its blinding radiance echoed by the brightening resplendence of the light on the periphery. The musical accompaniment swelled to a heart-stopping crescendo.

As the music hushed and her vision cleared, Liz saw that their hands were still joined. It was the only tangible remnant of their unscheduled otherworldly sojourn.

The place where they tarried would have to be discussed some other time. What was important was that she was back.

She was real.

And so was Max.

"But you'll never be invisible. At least, not to me." Liz placed her hand against his cheek, luxuriating in the roughness of his stubble against her palm. Max could never again be invisible to her. She could learn to be patient if that was what he wanted, but the truth about Max's feelings for her was undeniable, if unvoiced. She smiled and gazed encouragingly at him, willing him to see the love she would've have bet was shining in her eyes.

"Liz, I really, really wish this could be something, you know... more." Max slowly drew her hand away. His expression was so hopeful, so happy that it distressed her because she could foretell what was coming. He hesitantly released her hand and bit his lip; she closed her eyes at the raw pain of loss and clung to the intangible connection still thrumming between them. "But it can't. We're just..."

"Different," she murmured, eyes still shut, unwilling for him to see just how much that one word hurt.

"Yeah."

She drew in several deep breaths. She couldn't even begin to fathom where this nobility was coming from, but in its present incarnation, Liz didn't want it. She was selfish, she admitted freely. It wasn't so much that she couldn't live without him; Liz was confident enough in herself that she knew she could make it without Max.

She'd been doing it for years.

Yes, she would survive.

But she would never be complete.

And despite giving thanks for his noble intentions, his not so secret nurturing tendencies, but most of all, his irresistible heart, she was going to fight for what she knew was right.

And true.

And destined.

"Yeah. You probably think that's a good reason." She smiled again, marshaling her resolve.

He nodded, resigned. He dropped down on the blanket, arms resting on his bent knees, blinking fast as if to dam tears about to fall.

Liz could have told him that that trick never worked.

"But it's not a good reason. Nope, it's just a paltry excuse."

Max looked at her in shock, eyes luminous, like he couldn't believe that she'd just casually rejected his self-sacrificing gesture.

"Hear me out," she appealed in a more dulcet tone. "Differences are responsible for some of the greatest relationships in history."

Doubt and hope warred in his gaze.

"If differences discouraged all great relationships, we would never have had Romeo and Juliet or Cathy and Heathcliff or Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy or--" she softly enumerated, ticking off her examples on her fingers with a helpful beam. The corners of Max's lips tugged up and he reached for the hand she held out. One playful snag and she ended up where she'd been aiming.

"Uh, Liz, those are fictional characters," Max pointed out, wrapping his arms around her.

"Don't confuse me, I'm on a roll here," Liz protested in quasi-indignation even as she snuggled deeper into his embrace. Her heart wouldn't quit with the furious thumping as she felt the slow dismantling of his defenses. She was close. So close...

"Yes, sir, Sergeant Parker, sir." She could feel Max sketching a brief and probably impudent salute.

Liz sighed noisily, reached up, and pinched both of his cheeks. "And cover your face with a paper bag while you're at it. You're seriously distracting."

Max's mouth dropped open and closed several times as he tried to accept her underhanded compliment. He looked torn between wincing and laughing.

"Why? Hasn't anyone ever told you you're cute?"

"Not you, Liz," Max stated simply. Then with an endearing blush he managed, "Thank you. I think. But only if you wear a matching one." He flicked a glance at the Crashdown paper bag their picnic had been packed in, currently weighed down by a bottle of water. Liz, comprehending the surprisingly sneaky light in his eyes, launched herself at the paper bag but before she could snatch it, he tackled her, pinning her beneath him.

The quacking of the ducks seemed preposterously loud in the breathless, uncertain silence that enveloped them. Liz could almost appreciate Max's thoughtfulness in keeping most of his weight off her, but she would have liked it better if there had been no space between. Literally and figuratively. She wanted his lithe, hard body flush against hers. Before she could give in to the temptation to arch provocatively against him, she opted for the lesser transgression, twining her arms around his neck and playing with a wayward curl at his nape.

"A-ny-way. As I was saying, what's to stop history from adding Max and Liz to the great relationship roster?"

The elbows that had been propping up that breathtaking muscular body at a respectful distance wavered and Liz bit back a purely feminine chuckle of delight.

"We have a relationship?" Max slowly enunciated in the predictable stillness that signaled a last ditch grab at control.

"You bet," Liz affirmed, unrepentant, as she searched his gaze for a matching acknowledgment.

Max deliberately disentangled himself from their embrace and sat up.

"So, does that mean I can shower you with presents and you have to take them and say you love 'em even if you don't?" he asked blandly but with a puzzling gleam in his eyes.

"Uh, yeah." Liz arranged herself in a seated position, wondering where this was leading.

Max's hand dipped into his left pocket and took out something. She caught a glint of silver and drew in a surprised breath. Max turned to her with a brief smile before focusing on the object he held in his hand. Liz edged closer to him, in time to see a lambent light surround the bracelet he'd made yesterday morning. When the glow died down, she saw that some of the links had been forged into a heart-shaped charm.

With adorable tentativeness, he asked for her hand. Then with heartbreaking gravity, he clasped the bracelet on her wrist.

Liz held up it up to her eyes to read the tiny engraving on the heart.

ME + LP.

"Thank you, Max. I love it." I love you, she added on a silent sigh.

"I love you, Liz," Max whispered, as he rested his forehead against her.

"I love you, too, Max," Liz admitted, lightly tracing his lips with a fingertip.

"I know," he conceded with a slight smile as he tightened his hold around her petite frame.

"I know, too," she whispered back. She then brought her lips to within scant millimeters of his and for all his earlier indecision, when Max finally gave in, he gifted her with the sweetest, most adoring kiss in the universe.


* * *

You remind me
Of that leak in my soul

-- Smashing Pumpkins, Blank Page


posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:51:42 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Twelve
The words they use so lightly, I only feel for you



Max had always considered himself a reasonable guy. Rational to the point of tiresome, maybe, but still, someone who would first worry the problem or question till it keeled over in aggravation, before taking any action.

Reason and logic, however, flew out the window as echoes of Liz's longed for admission of her feelings for him hung in the suddenly oxygen-depleted air.

Three words. Three. Little. Words. Three overrated, overused words. But Max had been listening for those three precious words for what felt like three eternities. And for Max, the emotional detonation triggered by Liz's utterance of those three words could have rivaled even a star going supernova.

And then gone one better.

"I know," Max confessed as he wrapped Liz in a tight embrace. Within the connection, he felt Liz's flustered awe over her peerless effect on him.

"I know, too," she revealed in turn, and with her affirmation of the measure of their connection, Max glimpsed the staggering reward that lay beyond his willingness to trust.

No more hiding behind trees, he silently vowed.

Dampening lips that had gone (not inexplicably) parched, Max allowed himself to be seduced by the shy urging in Liz's waiting eyes. With barely hidden hunger, he visually devoured the sight of her soft, kissable lips parted in guileless invitation, a breathless promise of heart-stoppingly sensual riches.

God, how can she look so innocent and so sultry, all in the same breath? he asked rhetorically.

He spared an erratic heartbeat to thank Ms. Topolsky for preparing him, somewhat, for just this very occasion.

Last year, when the irritatingly nosy guidance counselor had grilled the students, ostensibly to get to know their dreams and find out who they were, Max had been inclined to scoffing at her insights and opinions. After all, Topolsky had been a hopeless substitute math teacher and even in her official capacity, Max held her and her so-called advice in pretty low esteem.

He'd only snapped out of his insolent slouch after she launched into this unbelievably lame psych test. Before that he'd been indifferently fielding her tedious interview questions with shallow answers. But when she held up a picture of two girls and two boys in a ring--with another boy sitting cross-legged behind a tree, chin propped in hand--and quizzed him on which character was most like him, Max had chosen the obvious outsider. His only alternative had been the other boy, the one not wearing a (cringe) beret. But Topolsky had pounced on his unthinking admission, steamrollering over his 'I was sort of kidding' disclaimer.

"That's a hard place to be and it's really, really risky to change. To get out there in the world," she had pointed out in her obvious way. Contrary curiosity had led Max to probing--

"But it was worth it," he'd spelled out, and her affirmative had been the last word in smug. She'd then gone on this Go for it, Max! kick, counseling, "You say, 'Today I'm going to do one thing to get out there.' Nothing big. Just one thing."

"And what did you do?" he'd prompted, fascinated in spite of himself.

"Started a conversation with this guy I liked."

That same day, Max had sought Liz out in the hopes of talking to her about something other than school, and later, maybe, even walking her home. Gripping his books as though they were some talisman that could magically bestow confidence upon its bearer, he waited for Liz to finish her conversation with a classmate. Leaning against a kindly wall plastered with an enormous logo of the Comets, he rehearsed his opening line for the nth time and then gave himself the hesitant green light. But when he checked again, he saw Liz strolling away, Kyle Valenti's arm snaked possessively around her shoulders.

His heart withdrew into its shell.

Still alone, Max shuffled back to his tree and erased the initials that he'd carved there.

He'd always been cautious, forever watching, and after that abortive attempt to leave relative safety, had never gotten involved. Max had known he was never gonna move forward.

Like it or not, he was stuck.

But now, it seemed that fickle fate had given him a second chance.

And Max didn't want to be stuck anymore.

Of course if he'd been given a choice over how he would stage his first kiss, only ever exchanged with Liz, he would have imagined it happening in the most romantic of settings. At the very least, it should have been candlelit, rose-scented, and softly-serenaded.

Max comforted himself with the thought that one out of three ain't bad as strains of music--heard only deep within where their souls dwelt--trilled a melodious backdrop. However, his adorable princess deserved a more fitting consort and he wished, with every fiber of his being, that he could trade in his awkward alien self for a dashing, prince-like, and more sophisticated model.

He ignored the derisive hooting that resounded in his mind, guffaws that rose in volume at the stumbling entrance of Max Quixotic.

As he watched Liz tilt her head, encouragement tipping the edges of her mouth upward, Max dared his sensible side, an equally fumbling critic, to hang a sharp left to evade the impending fervent collision. Or barring that, simply make sure there were no bystanders (anything of the avian persuasion excepted) to gawk at the less than romantic and all too public display.

Sullen silence reigned in the peanut gallery.

He'd SO called that, Max thought, as his hands brushed back Liz's hair, tousled now that he'd released it from the confines of her hair clip.

But his sensible side, apparently not through with the nitpicking, decided to throw in another two bits. With frantic hisses it warned of things dire, of hopes dashed, of Max being fated to disappoint the one person he couldn't afford to let down.

Max stilled.

As usual, his reasonable side had a point, he yielded, aggrieved.

Max had already accepted that close to all of his dreams were doomed to languish unfulfilled, while those destined for achievement would never live up to the unrealistic expectations with which he burdened them.

The deflated, pitiful few in the second category would only fall short, a plight that might otherwise have been avoided or mollified, had these dreams not been oppressed by the weight of seemingly infinite longing.

And this, their first kiss, was carrying an emotional payload worthy of an oil tanker.

Coupled with his considerable inexperience, it wouldn't have surprised Max in the least if he ended up royally disappointing Liz.

But oh, how he yearned, ached, burned for a sip--just a sip--of Liz's boundless sweetness.

With both blood and ambivalence thundering through his veins, he briefly touched his lips to hers.

When he drew back, Max was mildly disconcerted that the most fanciful fourth of July fireworks hadn't stopped exploding within the connection.

As he searched Liz's melting gaze for continued permission, he perceived a higher rung, one encompassing dreams-turned-reality, that even the most preposterous of expectations would never be able to diminish or tarnish.

Affording mortals blessed by some benevolent power a tantalizing glimpse of... heaven.

Max should have known that this first kiss--sparkling, dancing, soaring-- would alight with a shimmering twirl and a delighted grin of accomplishment on that lofty tier.

He wanted a replay.

His besetting insecurities spiked while his confidence plunged in the equal and opposite direction.

Max's eyes slammed shut; he had never before really, deeply, kissed a girl and his lessons on how to proceed were learned entirely from TV or the movies. He hoped those superficial studies plus instinct would prove a good enough guide. He captured Liz's beloved face in his hands and slanted his mouth over hers this way and that, privately deploring that he couldn't come up with something marginally better than the most abject excuse for a follow-up.

He was just so... wretchedly inept in terms of technique.

And yet... Liz did not flinch, did not pull away. In fact, through their connection he felt her cheering him on, bolstering his flagging confidence, imploring him to surrender to the kiss without reservation. She matched her metaphysical support with the concrete act of pulling him down with her to the ground and sliding her body against his. With delicate greed, she nipped his bottom lip, before tracing an ingenuous blow-the-top-off-my-head-why-don't-you 'sorry' with her tongue.

Max went with what felt natural, giving free rein to the raging hormones driven crazy by her nearness. He helped himself to tiny tastes, stole little nibbles whose resounding impact were directly inverse to their abbreviated duration. His name, sighed out on a breathy note, was a plea, a promise, a benediction.

He slicked the tempting seam of her lips, his importuning tongue seeking and gaining entry to the moist softness of her mouth. With unseemly but perfectly understandable haste, he supped of her nectar sweetness, spiced with an addictive combination of flavors and textures uniquely her own. It made him unbearably dizzy with pleasure. He clumsily tangled her tongue with his, and she responded with enthusiasm, embracing his unskillful caress, deepening it, and with the amazing gift of her love, transformed the kiss from something earthbound into something wrought of heavenly magic and mystery.

And in that imperfectly perfect kiss, Max beheld the world in a grain of sand and seized infinity in his hands.

An incandescent freshet chose that moment to playfully sweep them up, eddying, swirling, and drenching the both of them in colors, flashes, music, and feverish sensations with a glorious exuberance. The universe itself hopped, skipped, and cartwheeled into a frivolous iridescent bubble around Max and Liz, floating away with a flourish of tinkling, twinkling delight.

Max didn't know whether to laugh or weep at the beauty they were dreamily creating together. Two bodies, yet one soul. Each discovery was an epiphany. Slowly, gently, he breached the boundaries of the kiss. His senses swam, drowned, as his exploration unveiled before him the pure essence of Liz. Max felt what she felt with each flash of his own visage: breathless wonder, need, passion, exhilaration, gratitude, and prevailing over it all--love.

With barely tamped down avidity, Max memorized her soul, engraving her on to his heart, much like how he'd etched their initials on to its material twin.

He skimmed a path across her cheek, bearing south, nuzzling the vulnerable, delectable line of her throat. His teeth tripped on a pulse point and he rejoiced as Liz's sighs were upgraded to gasps. But still, there was something in Liz that was impeding the flow of their connection, some dam that, while incapable of totally blocking the surge, held fast enough to slow it down.

With all that was in him, Max reached out, delved deep, finding and tenderly immersing a throbbing lump of barely-acknowledged insecurity with love and reassurance. Liz didn't actually believe he cared that she was nothing like the cookie cutter bimbettes in school, did she? He mind sent an image of the two of them, Liz in her messy glory from earlier, her chin tilted imperiously and crooking a finger at him. Max showed himself tumbling forward, tongue hanging out in a goofy pantomime of panting and drooling. The musical peals of her laughter presaged the resurgence of their connection to full strength. Max replaced the flash with another, with him sweeping her off her feet and catching her lips in an open-mouthed, devoted kiss. The real world witnessed its clone.

The healing kiss went on.

And on.

And on.

And lingered.

Max knew the exact moment when the last scrap of Liz's insecurity dissolved into nothingness. He nearly chuckled when she flashed him his fantasy--her version--now that he was no longer bent on soothing. The flash showed Liz, garbed in a virginal-white dress that for sheer fairness and by his automatic and actual reaction to it should have been slashed all the way down to there and slit all the way up there, except it wasn't. He saw his fantasy self lead Liz onto a dance floor inlaid with a patina of brilliant gold, drawing her into his arms for a slow dance. Liz's smitten-- yes, with him!--smile slowly straightened in solemn anticipation as her dream Max whispered three powerful words.

The flash twinkled out and Liz's hand worried the collar of his shirt, sliding inside to feel hot, behr skin.

Whatever else that Max promised to Liz in her fantasy, he would honor.
Max hoped Liz understood that for him these kisses were a binding covenant.

He was never going to let her go.

His heart stalled and nearly plummeted at her immediate acceptance. He was so high, he didn't even remember what solid ground felt like anymore.

As though a tinder had been lit, the tenor of the kiss changed. Frank need licked, penetrated, and consumed every sinew, nerve, and cell in his being. Max felt raw, powerful, and out of control.

He demanded inside.

In a way that was completely tangible.

Physical.

Carnal.

For once, self-denial forged and sharpened to a knife-sharp edge over a celibate lifetime worked in his favor. Max fought down the ravening hunger to crush her hard in his arms, run his hands shamelessly over the curves of her body, and ravish her.

This was Liz. His soul's mate. The basis of his existence.

Max pulled down the top he'd slid up and reverted to placing light-as-air kisses all over her precious face. He closed his eyes, forcing his unruly body to behave. When that didn't immediately work, he estimated how long it would take for Liz's effect on him to fade, for him to settle down. He reckoned the interval past ten decimal places before realizing he was still glued to her.

Max bolted upright.

The connection and his body finally toned down.

Liz didn't warrant a cave alien at this point; she deserved only the tenderness he had at his confoundedly shaky disposal.

More so because her power to unleash all his inhibitions and demolish his good intentions was well-nigh effortless, not to mention dauntingly faultless.

When Liz made a moue of protest, the corners of his mouth twitched in commiseration and he helped her up, dropping a light kiss onto her tousled tresses along the way. He about lost it again, wanting to snuffle his way through the silky, strawberry-scented strands to her ear.

Their gazes met, held, and wouldn't let go.

Finally, Liz said simply.

"Wow."

He couldn't have said it better himself.

Then Max did something that instantly brought a torrent of heat suffusing his neck, cheeks, his entire face, all the way to the tips of his ears.

He yawned.

To her credit and Max's everlasting thankfulness, Liz didn't seem insulted nor teetering on the brink of a giggle. Instead, she asked with concern,

"You didn't get much sleep last night, did you?"

Still embarrassed and probably tomato-red, Max mutely shook his head no.

"Why?"

"I haven't slept ... much ... since you found out my secret."

A tangle of emotions flitted across her expressive countenance: confusion, guilt, remorse, and the whole self-flagellating kit and caboodle with which he was on too-familiar terms.

But the one that pierced his heart was the hurt written there in bold capital letters.

"Were you that afraid? Did you expect me to tell someone?" Liz questioned in a resigned whisper, shrinking away from him and enfolding her arms around herself in an unconscious hug.

Max followed her, even a hand's span seeming as wide as the Grand Canyon. With deliberation, he pulled first one, then the other wrist down, uncrossing her arms. It was awkward, to say the least. The pad of his thumb stroked her bracelet before he hooked a knuckle under her chin, turning her cherished face to his survey. Her expression hovered, then maintained on uncertain. There was a suspicious swimming luminosity in her rich brown eyes.

Max took a rasping breath and coaxed her closer, draping an arm around her shoulders. She looked up at him and he grazed her lips gently with his. When she didn't demur, he scooped her up and placed her on his lap. The barest hint of a smile curved her lips as she rearranged her skirt which had ridden up. He fitted his lips to hers, willing the connection back up to its strongest level. Max concentrated on sharing with Liz the unqualified joy he felt at her knowing and acceptance.

Her hands linked around his neck, lightly brushing his back. Her lips parted and she returned his kiss, her tongue curling shyly around his. Max's heart swelled in gratitude and relief, while another part below the belt predictably hardened in need.

Gentleness fled. Their kiss turned hot. Intemperate. Intimate.

The necessity for air nudged Max into loosening his hold on Liz. He reluctantly broke off the kiss with one last, soft, dallying suction of her bottom lip.

Liz rested her head against his chest with a regretful sigh and his arm squeezed her shoulders. Then her head jerked up, neatly clipping him on the chin.

"Ow."

"Oh, Max!" Liz's hand flew up to her mouth. Her eyes dropped down, but not before Max saw her realization of the still unbearably tight fit of his jeans, then zoomed back up to his face. "I am so sorry!" She scrambled to get off him.

"S'okay," Max mumbled, this time calculating the value of pi to calm his hormones down. The slight throb where her skull had bumped into his didn't even merit an extraterrestrial fix-up. His erection, however...

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841972 --

"Going back," Liz eventually squeaked, cleared her throat, then began again, "Going back to what you were saying--" She looked him square in the eye. Even a cat would have been hard-pressed to outstare her. "You don't need to lose sleep over it... I would never tell anyone. Your secret's safe with me." Her obvious sincerity provided an unnecessary underscore.

"Liz..." Max also found himself having trouble with his voice. It was an affliction he thought he'd outgrown years before. He tried again for an appropriate baritone instead of falsetto. "Liz, I know... I believe you. I believe in you," he stated emphatically. "I trust you. I just couldn't trust Michael or Isabel not to hurt you."

Her expression clouded over again.

"But why would they hurt me, Max? If you said ... you didn't believe ... Don't they trust you?" she finally asked in artless consternation.

And therein lay the rub. Max squelched the familiar lurking despair that dwelling on his difference brought.

"They think I didn't think," he sighed, quirking a self-deprecating grimace. "That my lifelong obsession with you--" he evinced a diffident smile and saw Liz's eyes widen. "They think I betrayed them to pander to my 'escalating stalker tendencies,'" he explained with a wry shrug.

Liz didn't say anything, but Max could almost see the gears of her agile mind engaging, pondering, reviewing the extent of his obsessive behavior.

"Liz? You know that I won't ever let them harm you, don't you?"

She stared into his eyes, gave a succinct nod, then looked away, her focus darting from one point to another before locking onto her clasped hands.

"And I would never hurt you."

Liz's head reared up at his words. Max looked absolutely earnest.

Time for a double take.

She shook her head; Max really believed she needed it voiced! She then pinned him with another unwavering stare. "Max, you can't promise that!"

The expression on his face was the visual equivalent of a 'Huh?'

"You're only--"

"Not human?" he quipped and Liz affectionately ruffled his hair.

"Ri-I-ght," she agreed with an eye roll. Max's hand checked hers when it turned from playful to outright caressing. He pulled his captive towards his mouth and placed a definitely non-threatening kiss on her palm.

How many kisses does that make? And anyway, who the heck is counting? The important thing is that I survived... Liz thought with precipitate glee, gagging the breathless mind voice that acerbically piped out, behrly.

"Okay, Miss Literal Parker. Let me try that again. I promise to never hurt you."

"Oh, Max, I knew that already." Again with the eye roll. "Ditto."

Now it was Max's turn to roll his eyes. He was a tad less Cookie Monster-ish about it. "It's like trying to navigate unknown territory," he said, flinging up his hands in that endearing clueless male gesture. "Help me out here, Liz." He favored her with one of those rare smiles; the smile she'd already come to consider as hers. In reply, she crinkled her nose and flashed him a grin that would have trumped Lucy's post snatching-the-football-at-the-last-second one.

"I'm just trying to wrap my head around being your 'obsession,'" she declared tongue-in-cheek, placing the last word between air quotes. She watched him flush and look everywhere except at her. "I mean, you don't tell a girl who's been pining for you for, like, forever, something like that and expect her to remain... lucid," she breathed the last word into his ear in her best husky bedroom voice impression.

"Oh."

Max looked at her, blinked, then slowly cranked up the wattage on her smile. Liz nearly fainted.

"Yes. Oh," she coughed out. "Anyway... your lack of sleep. You can't keep missing it, Max. I can take care of myself."

"Not against alien powers, you can't. Although--" He stopped abruptly.

"Although what, Max?"

"Don't freak out, okay? Isabel has this power. We call it dreamwalking. She can basically enter someone's dream and see what's happening..."

"And she entered mine?!" Liz just managed to stop herself from screeching. Ohgodohgod, that fantasy in the lab!

"Yes, but she didn't know, Liz. And I guarantee, she won't ever do it again." Max busied himself with the box of erstwhile neglected crackers. The ducks showed their riotous approval when the boon of three saltines hit the water.

Liz wrestled the box away from Max and demanded, "What are you NOT telling me?" Pleaseplease tell me she didn't see that fantasy... I don't mind the romantic dream, in fact, THAT I'm willing to share... Just not the other one!

"Well, I asked her to dreamwalk you this morning again..." Liz started pummelling Max on the arm. "Wait, wait, ow..." You said it, buddy. That smarts! Liz thought, cradling her hand and wincing. Her fist was no match for his flexed muscles.

"Now look what you've done," Max said, grabbing her hand. Liz tried to pull it away but Max wouldn't release it. "You weren't asleep, okay? She, WE didn't see anything!" Max muttered in his defense.

A flamboyant glow surrounded her only slightly injured fist. Liz quickly looked around to see if there were any onlookers in the vicinity, found none, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. She then gaped at Max whose head was still bowed and who apparently had a bright future in health care in a more tolerant universe.

"Max, are you... healing my hand?" Sometimes, one had to be obvious, especially when dealing with things literally out of this world. She felt the heat beneath the stinging skin give way to a delicious coolness.

"What do you think?" Max retorted, his molecular manipulation of her hand right up there with bandaging a pin prick with a whole roll of surgical dressing. That's very handy, she thought. Over their connection she felt Max's fretful fussing. Out loud he was grumbling.

"I do my best to make sure she's okay, then she bruises herself hitting me for wanting to take care of her. Sheesh, talk about your poetic injustice."

Liz almost didn't hear his extended unMax-like complaining; a movie was playing over the connection that she wouldn't miss in a million years. "Thank you, Max," she murmured distractedly, watching transfixed as a series of images--Max and her--cavorted within the connection. Ohmigodohmigodohmigod, who would have thought--

Max bussed her knuckles as the luminescent glow faded.

"What possessed you, Max?" Liz pursued tenaciously, her initial snappish feelings somewhat assuaged, even as she teased Max about his mother hen imperative through their link. She wiggled her fingers impudently to tell Max he did good. He gave a quick, satisfied nod.

"Well, when she was in your dream, she got chased by this, I don't know, this thing and it terrified her," Max responded, preempting another punch and heal session by simply cuffing both her wrists in one hand.

Ack! He did see! He knew what she had him do! Wait, what was that about something chasing Isabel? "Wha-aa-t?!?" Would horrors never cease?

"Liz, Liz, please calm down." Liz couldn't budge his shackle, couldn't concentrate on which problem to tackle first. She chose the devil she didn't know.

"You're telling me to calm down? You tell me there's something so horrific in my subconscious that it terrorized your sister and you tell me TO CALM DOWN??" He was lucky he was only getting a keyhole peek! She squirmed in Max's implacable grip.

"But that's just it. We don't know if it was your subconscious or Isabel's that created that... whatever that was."

"Hmm." She subsided; she'd take that new info under advisement.

"Liz?" Max hesitantly uncuffed her. Liz started drumming her fingers on her knee.

I have the right to remain silent...

"For what it's worth, I am so sorry. I will never invade your privacy like that again." He blinked a number of times. Very fast.

Drum, drum, drum. "Okay." She could afford to be magnanimous. His heart was in the right place after all.

"On the condition that--Owww!" She pinched him. "Please, Liz, you're too important to me. I have to make sure you're safe."

She called a halt to the pinch offensive. "Good save."

"I love you," he added, peering at her from beneath those beautiful lashes.
I know that tactic... I will not melt. I am strong... He threw in her smile. I am such a wimp.

"I love you, too, Mmmph--" Max kissed her noisily. "But go on."

His already glee-filled expression brightened. He beamed at her. Okay, now I know what torture looks like...

"Max!"

"Maybe -"

"M-a-ax!" Whodathunkit that Morose Max would be such a handful? The shyness was clearly a facade. But even in a frisky mood, his reticence still held. Curiosity was going to kill her, that was for sure.

That is, if frustration didn't get there first.

"--if you tell me what you remember of your dreams?" Oh, no, the sneaky puppy look! Commend the boy for perseverance--

"Please?"

Not.

"I already showed you." Liz ducked her head, pushed out a lip, and scrunched her shoulders.

"Everything?" Max wheedled, tipping her chin up to stare her in the eyes. Oh, jeez, the puppy had the temerity to perk his ears and wag his tail!

"Liz?"

"I, I can't!" Came the muffled wail as Liz buried her face in the crook of his neck.

"Why? Don't YOU trust me?" Max asked indulgently, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

"It's, it's embarrassing is what it is!" she grumbled. She would tell him, really, she would. Except... she was just a little busy at the moment?

She would just have to get back to him. Do lunch sometime...

"What? Your dreams?"

No, Max, my nightmares... "Yes."

"Were they like the flash you showed me?" Max reconstructed the dance scene, embellishing it with a breathtaking kiss. Within and without the connection. Tempting fate alarms blared but Liz was too preoccupied with batting back sensual intoxication, like a kitten with a ball of yarn thrice its size.

"Not all," she finally gasped, confused as to when they'd ended up horizontal again, but thankful to find that she was still in one, albeit limp, piece. The gagged know-it-all hmph'ed and mmph'ed in a bouncy frenzy of 'See, see!' vindication.

"Oh." He sounded intrigued, hopeful, and enviably energized. There's only one way you'll get me to 'fess up, Max... Turnabout and all that.

"Max? I, I..."

"Liz, I was just teasing." He kissed the tip of her nose. "Even if you don't tell me, it's okay."

"You're darn right, it'll be okay." Liz put her all into smacking a hand against his chest and pushing. Max pouted before giving her a generous berth. A full quarter-inch worth.

"Tell you what--let's trade stories. I show you my dream, you show me the rest of the Crashdown after hours fantasy I saw."


* * *


And the plans I make still have you in them,
Cause you come swimming into view,
And I'm hanging on your words like I always used to do,
The words they use so lightly, I only feel for you,
I only know this cause I am, Way back down,
In the background.

-- Third Eye Blind, The Background



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


author's note for part 12 Thank you to Ron Van der Meer & Bob Gardner's THE MATH KIT for the pi calculation and these wonderful writers who gave me insights into how to belabor a kiss *wink*: Claire Cross (THIRD TIME LUCKY), Glenna McReynolds (DREAM STONE), Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein, the screenplay of Never Been Kissed.

posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:53:10 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Thirteen A
Secret, sweet and sublime



BITTER LAKES BIRD SANCTUARY
BY THE DUCK POND
- LIZ POV -


It's September 19. I'm Liz Parker and if I had my journal with me right now, this is what I would write:

"If it isn't complicated, he probably isn't a soul mate."
-- Elizabeth C. Parker quoting Dr. Claudia Parker


Well, that and--

Did I honestly believe that Max 'Secrets R Us' Evans was gonna spill about that fantasy sneak peek?

Now that I've mentioned it, did I?

The truth, now.

Yeah, that's what I thought, too.

I realize that I'm sounding delusional by having this mental conversation with myself, but bear with me. I have nothing else to do: Max is peacefully napping, head pillowed on my lap; it's a beautiful Sunday morning filled with all kinds of promise; and my legs have gone to sleep.

I need the distraction, I decided as I brushed back Max's bangs off his forehead, smiling as he let out a tiny satisfied sigh.

So while he sleeps, I go over and over the (air quotes here) juicy details of our latest tussle. And then I start all over again. It gives me enough material to satisfy a not so latent over-dramatic streak.

Maria would be so proud of me--I can almost hear her proclaiming, "Babe, you are so worthy"--plunking down a fake coronet on my head--"of the Drama Queen throne." By the way, I'm not changing the subject, just getting distracted in my distraction.

Okay, that sounded really bad.

So let's just say--I'm building up the suspense.

Layer by excruciating layer if need be.

Because the heavens know time and my heart practically stopped after I asked Max that question.

I still wonder though if it could have turned out any other way. I can't judge. All I can do is rerun the episode, hoping to catch something I missed the first time around.

So here I go again. This is how the scene played out:

Halfway-resuscitated ME (pinned down by the hard, muscular body of my dream guy)
Tell you what--let's trade stories. I show you my dream, you show me the rest of that Crashdown after hours fantasy I saw.

Color commentary here. For once, the guy who I utterly love to bits didn't blush. He blanched. Now, if weren't still stuck together, and I couldn't feel this huge wave of embarrassment bowling him over, I would have been outraged by that frightened reaction. I mean, it had been directed at me. Like I was the wicked stepmother in Snow White! Or was that Cinderella? A-ny-way... since The Pale, Wan Look (hey, that sounds vaguely Chinese) had also been caused by me, I just felt chastised. My conscience speared me with a reproving glare and loudly reprimanded Miss Nosy Parker for causing Mr. Right Evans distress. Which made me feel like I should be making amends and hugging Max, crooning, 'Oh, honey, I'm sorry--I was only teasing...' Except the entire planet and its best friend probably knew that the second half of that statement was a big FAT lie, so I didn't bother.

With the saying, I mean. Not the squeezing.

ME (clutching an armful of quivering Max and murmuring in his ear):
Max? Would you like to see what I've been dreaming about?

MAX (cupping my face and looking deep into my eyes):
Oh, God, YES!

ME (whose knees buckled, which is a feat in and of itself, considering I was horizontal at the time)
And will you share your Crashdown fantasy with me?
(punctuated with a nip of Max's--did I ever tell you that I find his ears which stick out just a little too much like a cup handle extremely cute?--ear.)

MAX:
OH, GOD, NO!

ME: (Speaking volumes with one raised eyebrow)

MAX (mumbling):
Sorry. No. I dunno...

ME: (Switching to another language, this time, a bratty pout.)

MAX (grasping and gasping):
Maybe?

ME (Going multilingual with a very hopeful smile):
Oh, Max...

MAX (releasing my face):
Sometime?

ME: (Thunk--that would be the sound effect to go with my too optimistic head hitting the ground. In my mind I mutter, 'Hopefulness is a terminal disease,' and guess who suffers from it?)

Insert A Very Long Commercial Break here. It felt so long, an ICE AGE could have come and gone during this intermission. At first, I considered the prolonged quiet to be an heartening sign. I took Max's speechlessness to mean that he was thinking about how best to proceed. (See, what did I tell you about that hopeless optimism? There is simply NO cure.)

I cautiously opened one, then the other eye to check on things. Still glacial. So I didn't say anything, leery of spooking Max and prompting a change of mind. I settled for a the-beginning-is-always-good, confidence-boosting grin, except a fairly complicated phrase like that goes beyond a single smile's capability to communicate properly. Or if not, it said the completely opposite thing because Max got off me (drat!), sat upright, and felt around for the box of crackers, that I, in a burst of oh-no-you-don't! premonition, snatched out of his reach.

NOTE TO SELF: Keep present and future saltines and anything related to that family out of Max's sight and grasp when we're together. The boy is waaaaaay too prone to using them for distraction.

Max looked longingly at the box I was guarding like a football and let out a weary sigh of his own.

That sigh was directly responsible for the mind going off on a tangent (it never fails) and completely missing the advanced class on Effective Prying, Snooping, and Assorted Interrogation Techniques.

What is it about Max that he can impart worlds of meaning with just one look or a sigh, I speculated, entranced. I remember that it began in third grade and hasn't let up since. And it must be catching because between the two of us, Max and I have literally cornered the market in soulful stares and wistful exhalations.

Apparently, I thought, warming to my topic, they're the outward signs of this humbling, breathtaking connection that binds me to Max. A link that should have felt alien but didn't and one that makes each precious iota of time spent together groan with delicious excitement and wonder.

A bond that's gonna be extremely hard for people to overlook, I concluded.
When I was with Kyle, I can't or don't recall even one overtly amorous second that has made me feel as alive, as blessed, as cherished as did one innocent look or breathless instant in Max's presence. And let's not even talk about how those feelings increase exponentially when I'm in Max's protective arms.

Which, by the way, are staying Very Far Away (think half a foot) from my person. And of course, the internal connection had become markedly quiet when Max was no longer holding me.

I sat up, decorously folding my legs to the side even though I wanted to imitate Max and make with the more comfortable crossed-legged thing. I tried again.

Tenacious ME (prodding and poking):
Max?

MAX (twitching but not scooting away):
...

Okay, a second ice age just blew a flirty kiss at me. I glowered; it winked.

Rapidly losing patience ME (bellowing):
MAX!

Raucous quacking. I would have so liked to pelt the ducks with a cracker for their unwelcome intrusion, except the bird-brained volume knob would have whirled so far to the right, it would have defeated my purpose of muffling the clamor anyway.

Then Max turned to me with this beseeching expression on his adored face. And in one of those eureka! moments so beloved by otherwise pragmatic scientists, I realized that Max still had a lot of issues to work out when it came to really opening up. Sure, he would have loved to hear about my fantasies about him. But he remained unsure about my reaction to how he saw and treated me in his. Even the connection--which hadn't been apprised of all the facts--wouldn't reassure him, I realized.

Only the actual shared experience and aftermath could.

But Max was simultaneously dreading and anticipating that encounter.

I searched his heavy-lidded gaze, noting with a (hopefully) scientist's eye, the redness that spoke of lack of sleep. The emotional aftershock of the connection was probably the only thing propping him up. His body and mind were obviously screaming for rest, if the air of tiredness and discomfited wriggling were anything to go by.

And I knew, just knew, that in his vulnerable state, I could keep on hammering and that ultimately, Max would give in.

So I, persistent Parker, made my decision.

"Don't sweat it, Max," I said with what I hoped was a comforting smile. "We don't have to bare all--" Insert a mortified flush here; how come my words always take on added meaning that I don't intend?? "--right this very minute," I finished on a croak.

And I'm thinking the question of whether I would be let in on another Max Evans secret today has just been answered.

Deep down, I guess I didn't really believe Max would tell me or share with me in any shape or form, that Crashdown fantasy. At least, not at this point in time. But perhaps, someday.

Someday hopefully being some time before I give birth to his kids...what? I'm convinced that he's gonna be what Maria and I call the FFOHC. The future father of Liz Parker's children, if you need me to spell it out. And no, I'm not worried about our offspring. Well, maybe I am. A little. O-kay, a lot. You got me. I'd probably be so relieved if the doctor goes to Max after labor and says, "Congratulations, it's a baby!" And no, I'm not doing a Charles Addams with the morbid, gruesome thingy. And YES, the plural was intentional. Wouldn't want to lower the national kid average, now would we? But we're drifting off course again. Going back to the confrontation at hand--

Max's look of sharp relief slash disappointment was absolutely priceless.

"You need to sleep," I said, patting my lap. Hey, it's the least I could do, considering he was up all hours making sure me and my family were okay. I hid a smile as I watched these mercurial oh-please-can-I? and No-I'm-okay expressions flitting across his face. He just looked so gosh-darned cute! Ruffling his hair, I plucked the decision out of Max's hands.

"Just a snooze," I proposed. "I promise,"--drawing an 'X' over my heart-- "I won't even tell anyone if you snore." I nearly smacked myself upside the head for that one. I just meant people didn't need to know if he slept, snored, or stripteased his way through a date; I certainly wasn't going to blab about any of it. It wasn't meant to be an affront to his dignity. With all seriousness though, Max denied my unintentional ribbing.

"I don't snore."

"Good for you." I dipped my head and permitted a slight grin to escape. "And me."

"At least, I don't think so," he soldiered on. I rolled my eyes skyward and tried to wrestle him down. Max wouldn't let me win.

"L-I-I-z," he whined. "The last thing I want to do when I'm with you is sleep," he declared, distaste dripping from that last word.

"Max," I said, putting my foot down and provoking his protective instincts. "If you don't get some shut-eye, I am not--repeat not--going to get into that jeep with you when we go back."

He's smart. He'll know what I mean.

"I'd rather WALK home," I proclaimed anyway. People will tell you that Liz Parker has a gift for stating the obvious.

"Just for an hour," Max compromised, throwing himself supine and looking up at me. I must have looked doubtful because he went on. "We usually need only two hours of sleep at night."

My eyes rounded into two Oh!s but the mouth replied, "What-evah." I brushed his eyelids closed. Max let out a tiny sigh--or was that a little moan?--and settled down to some serious snuggling.

Of course I melted and the heart overflowed, runneth over even, with this surplus of love at the sight of that boyish face in repose.

He's so beautiful, I thought, tracing the whorls of that adorable Dumbo ear. Inside AND out.

The cheery chirping of the sanctuary's residents perfectly complemented Max's soft snores. I barely suppressed an affectionate snort.

As I watched Max sleep, my thoughts winged back to Kyle.

The guy I kissed in the janitor's closet on the last day of school last year.

The guy I saw with inertia-induced frequency over the summer.
The one I idiotically allowed to call me 'his girl,' ambiguous casual relationship aside.

Kyle who I had been unfaithful to.

Can we say complicated?

I don't want to subject Max to the acrimonious fallout of being the other alien in an extremely strange love triangle. I would throw myself off a bridge first but I hoped it wouldn't come to that. And as much as it pains me to admit, this new source of teen angst came up because me and my heart had been the supreme in self-indulgent. In following my heart's dictates, I let things move too fast, get out of control.

The fact that I can barely think, let alone plan, when I'm with Max is beside the point.

The point being that I committed to Max without first breaking off my relationship with Kyle.

And Kyle, for all that he's not Max, is a good guy. He deserves, at the very least, the courtesy of being broken up.

It's not due to any deficiency on his part that Max is just way out of Kyle's league.

It's not Kyle's fault that he's not perfect for me and that Max is.

Saying I didn't know any better doesn't get me off the hook; I don't think they accept ignorance or stupidity as valid defense for breaking someone's heart.

Which I hoped and prayed wasn't the case with Kyle.
And compounding my selfishness, I swore that I wasn't gonna let anyone or anything come between me and Max.

ME + LP, the heart charm on Max's bracelet flashed in frantic agreement.

And wresting back the reins of control, I started to plan.


* * *

Beautiful one
Asleep in the sun
Secret, sweet & sublime
I hope you last a long, long time

-- Semisonic, Made to Last


* * *

When Max eventually woke up, after the agreed-upon one hour and legs with no feeling left in them, he looked refreshed and smugly secretive.

Like he'd had a dream to equal my bio lab one AND his Crashdown fantasy combined.

Which, of course, made me itch to even the score. I'm competitive like that. I'm not sure that my imagination was up to giving Max's a run for his money (I mean, c'mon, he may be alien, but he's still a heterosexual teenage guy. Trust me, I know), but I was willing to try.

In fact, I would have tried then and there, except that when Max got up, alleviating the pressure on my previously immobile limbs, the rush of blood back to my legs swept away any budding fantasy idea in favor of mindless ow, ow, ow-ing, wincing, and reflexive massaging.

Max nudged my hand away and took over kneading the pain from my thighs. He might have added an extraterrestrial fillip to his massage because my oww-ing became ahhh-ing before turning to mmm-ing. Which only made Max stroke my legs all the more earnestly.

I'm thinking those moans had nothing to do with normal circulation being restored and everything to do with the electrifying skin-to-skin-under-skirt contact.

That weird symphony orchestra struck up again and I closed my eyes. I could say it was because I wanted to savor the music--a little frothy yet thoroughly soul-quenching melody--but that wouldn't be the whole truth. A part of me--that somewhat detached side who worships at the altar of science--wanted to concentrate on the music for purposes of ... research. Yeah, I know. Totally 'huh? What??' territory. Because like the kid who tears apart her toys to see what makes them work, this impartial observer wanted to disassemble the elements of the connection: what triggers it; are Max and I creating it together or are we just weaving separate strands into one; is there any way to repress it... and so on and so forth. Very oops!-dissection-in-progress nuances. And I was afraid that this examination might end the way that kid's often did--sure, she had found out how her toys worked; she just couldn't put them back together again.

However, I didn't get a chance to put a stopper on the musings myself because, can we say deja vu? As I felt Max's hand come up farther north, heading past my hips to that heated strip of bare skin between my skirt and top, I saw, once more, that fantasy he didn't want to share with me. Projected against the inky backdrop of my shut eyelids, I watched a vision of me in my work uniform, a couple of buttons unbuttoned, bending over a captivated Max. I heard my voice, though it seemed so far away, moaning Max's name in a shameless refrain. As if in slow motion, I saw Max lift his hand and sensuously draw a scorching line down my breastbone. Then, unlike before, the flash abruptly cut off, the Secrets censors snipping it earlier than the first time it played at the Liz Parker theater. Fortunately (unfortunately?), Max's physical caresses didn't cease, making thinking about anything beyond how good, how right his hand on me felt a distant, if not outright forgotten, memory.

Eventually surfacing from all that heavy-duty moaning--interspersed with hissing, gasping, and groaning just for variety--I found myself breathily extracting a promise from Max that the second the connection lets him catch even a hint of the bio lab, he would IMMEDIATELY give me the heads-up.

Or else.

Frustration and guilt kinda prompted that silly ultimatum. Because as Max pointed out with laughing eyes and a straight face, it was highly possible for the bio lab to feature in more than one memory whizzing inside me. The same way mental snapshots of the Crash (all save one being rated PG-13) populated Max's emotional landscape.

I repeated my original assertion. I know Max was responsible for that fantasy being edited down to a mere teaser and taken off the air. And since I don't have his control (yet), I'll settle for a promise of good behavior and fair play.

He had just the slightest bit of trouble taking me seriously.

Introduce the threat of appropriate torture here: I'm leaning towards lopping off an inch from my hair (it's no big loss to me) but Max whimpered when I brought it up. Which finally produced a grudging agreement to my demands.

Kyle has never shown the same fascination with my boring hair that Max did, which was another glaring difference between them.

And speaking of Kyle, I shied away from letting Max in on what I planned to do about The Two Boyfriends Situation. Only if directly challenged would I tell Max the truth. Otherwise, I'll just conveniently omit the pertinent details.

At least, until after mission accomplished.

And a nice, hearty breakfast.

Except... I could hardly swallow the food Maria provided; the apprehensive lump (surprise, surprise) in my throat was that big. In addition, my nerves were just this side of shot. Max, after one disquieting and penetrating glance, let me stew in relative peace. He also looked like he wasn't enjoying our picnic, although he did wolf down the cookies I baked earlier. When I quizzed him about leaving the sandwiches fairly untouched, he told me about this alien dietary quirk that precludes enjoyment of food without liberal lashings of Tabasco. Uh-huh, you heard me right. Hot sauce. No wonder the bottles on his regular table were always near empty. Anyway, Max said the cookies would have been finished sooner if he had a bottle of the stuff. I peered inside the plastic container. Not even a crumb remained. Max just shrugged sheepishly and held up his hands, palms up, in that classic, helpless what-can-I-say? gesture, and smiling, you know, that smile.

It was that smile which he reserves for me that clinched the deal.

I will break up with Kyle today.

I just need a little alone time to do it.

As soon as we cleaned up our mess, thoughtfully disposing of wrappers like they tell you on junk food packaging (Yeah, I read everything. So?), I asked Max to take me home. I nearly cried at the heartbroken expression on his face. He asked me why and I hemmed and hawed and finally settled on "I need to take care of some stuff." When his expression brightened and he eagerly offered to help out, I almost couldn't tell him that I had to do it alone.

The devastated look in his eyes made my heart wrench in hellish pain.

I'm sorry, Max, but just this once, I vowed in my battered heart. I promise, after this, you'd be so stuck with me, you'd need to a surgeon to pry me loose from your side.

Max gave a shaky nod, then pulled me to my feet. I couldn't help it; I threw my arms around him, attempting to say without words that he meant all to me. In response, his arms curved around me and he dropped a kiss on top of my head. My hands tightened around his middle convulsively and Max started nuzzling my hair, his lips working their way down to my ear.

"I love you, Max," I gasped out as Max dotted hot, damp kisses along a dizzying line from my ear, down the side of my neck, to my lips. "Only you. Don't ever forget that."

"As if I could," Max breathed into my mouth, his tongue licking my lips. "I love you, Liz." His hands drew my head back a bit so that his brilliant gaze could lock with mine. "We belong together."

That opened up the sluice-gate to the confusing, guilt-ridden emotions I was trying to hold back. In the wake of the emotional torrent, I felt like I was drowning. Trying to save myself, I attacked Max with renewed recklessness. Denying that anything was wrong, I fastened my mouth to his and slid his shirt up and out of the way so that I could touch his skin.

I realized that Max knew something wasn't right because the kiss turned desperate. As if we had a foreboding that this caress would be the last. The connection produced cacophonous sounds and a maelstrom of incomprehensibly garish images. And I'm sad to report that I used whatever feminine wiles I had at my inadequate disposal to try and distract Max, to make him forget that anything or anybody outside of us existed. As his tongue dove inside, the action so reminiscent of something I thought I was just not ready for and his hands took liberties that never once had I contemplated with or allowed Kyle, I thought to myself, please, please, don't let me lose him.

But when we jerked apart, gulping in noisy helpings of oxygen and waiting for the world to quit with the spinning, I still had misgivings and so did Max.

I resolved to dispel those fears.

Later.

And after that, things will be...

Perfect.


* * *

posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:54:20 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Thirteen B
Let me be the calm you seek



SUNDAY AFTERNOON,
A FEW YARDS AWAY FROM THE VALENTI RESIDENCE,
BUT HIDDEN FROM THE HOUSE OCCUPANTS' VIEW


He watched from behind a convenient tree as Liz Parker dashed up the last few steps to the Valenti home. Halting in front of the door, she fiddled with the clasp on the silver bracelet she wore, unfastening it and pocketing the trinket hurriedly. Then, pushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear, she knocked. Almost immediately, the door swung open and Kyle Valenti stepped out. A huge, satisfied smirk appeared on his face before he grabbed Liz's tense shoulders and planted a quick peck on her luscious mouth. Then he pulled her inside and shut the door.

Loudly.

Eagerly.
Max unclenched his fists and struggled to contain the angry energy bursting to be let loose.

This is not good. This is not happening, Max thought frantically as he wrestled with the unreasoning alien power coursing through his body, seeking to destroy, in unthinking reaction to another guy kissing his Liz. He reviewed her words before they parted over and over in his mind, desperately hoping that repetitive reminding would be an effective deterrent to rash action.

She's just taking care of stuff, he grasped, trembling with the force of restraining the violent power. It was so turbulent Max could hardly credit that just minutes before, the same energy had been responsible for their delicate connection. However, he refused to believe that it could not be mastered; his control in recent memory was practically flawless and Max could hardly recall the last time his discipline had failed him.

Stuff. That's all. Stuff, he reiterated under his breath, gritting his teeth.
Except did 'stuff' have to include her thrusting anything connected to him like say, oh, the BRACELET he gave her, out of sight?

Max wanted everyone to see it and recognize what it meant!

Smoke emerged from under the hand that gripped the tree. Max wildly yanked his hand away and looked at his palm, then at the tree trunk, in shock. Shaken, he fitted his unsteady left hand to the scorched tree section and focused on eking out just enough power to stimulate the plant cells and erase the palm-shaped evidence of his loss of control.

It was like trying to direct lightning.

Sweat beaded his brow and his breathing came in uneven pants. By Max's reckoning, over twenty minutes passed before he was able to restore the tree bark to its original condition. Or as close to its normal flora state as his unruly power would allow.

The front door of the Valenti house stayed shut.

Stuff covered a multitude of sins, Max reasoned once more, eyeing his hand as though it were alien to him. He thought back to Liz's original interpretation, his memory now staining that colorless word with alarming connotations. Earlier, when they had arrived at her home, Max had noticed Liz's obvious anxiety and reluctance to get out of the jeep; her seeming aversion had tripped an alarm inside his head. It had amplified the trepidation he already felt over why she wouldn't let him help her out with whatever chores, errands, stuff she needed to take care of.

"Liz?" He inquired quietly, placing a gentle hand on her upper arm. He let all the love he felt for her saturate her name and swamp the connection. She aimed her knee-weakening gaze anywhere but his face, the troubled expression in them still hitting him full-blast. The butterflies in his stomach took frantic flight. He saw her mouth shape to form a reply, but no words came out.

"You know, Sundays have a long and proud history of being the day for goofing off," Max joked weakly, hoping a more light-hearted tone would make it easier for Liz to say what she wanted to say. "Changed your mind about that stuff you had to do?"

She let out a nervous chuckle. Then-- "Max, I'm, I'm going to see Kyle," she divulged, looking simultaneously relieved of a heavy burden and scared of what lay ahead. And before Max could interrupt with a beleaguered, "What?" Liz continued, "I wasn't going to tell you, until after the fact, but..."

She looked him straight in the eye. "I don't want... stuff ... coming between us, Max." She positioned a gentle hand on his chest. "No matter how good intentioned."


They had talked it over some more, Max remembered, refusing to agonize over how long Liz had been inside the house. And while it was Max's considered opinion that he would be of more use at her side, Liz had maintained that she needed to go through the ordeal alone.

Yeah, alone with her other current boyfriend. Max's alien energy seethed in flat-out rejection of some other having a claim, no matter how tenuous, on Liz. The power was building up to another indiscriminate outburst; Max just managed to rein it in and redirect the blast.

His brain felt like it had imploded.

He trusted Liz. He would be patient, Max promised reluctantly around the stabbing pain at his temples. For one whimsical second, he wished that teleportation and invisibility were part of his alien arsenal, just so he could see and hear for himself her confrontation with Kyle. Then realizing the absurdity of what he was wishing for, Max shook his head and flinched anew in agony. Pulling in a long, cleansing breath, he trained the wayward energy towards healing himself.

As the pain slowly faded, Max reminded himself that HE had put Liz in this totally untenable position and as such, he should respect her decision to right what she considered her wrongs, without him getting in the way. He had no right to impose his will on her, especially as she had made the effort to explain things to him in advance and at considerable length.

And while Max would've wanted to stand by her, Liz had a valid point when she argued that it would be better for her to face Kyle on her own and for Kyle to not have Max, his replacement, shoved in his face.

Although it rebelled against the thought of himself being a replacement-- she was HIS soul mate!--his brain appreciated the consideration that Liz was displaying. After all, compassion always had a place, even late in the day. Max truly believed that.

It was just all the other parts, human and otherwise, that had problems dealing with Liz spending any amount of time with Kyle.

And Max was getting increasingly uneasy about Kyle's more than possible reaction to Liz's news. He was almost certain that he wasn't just projecting. Unlike Liz, Max didn't believe Kyle considered his relationship with Liz 'casual.'

He had been paying attention after all.

A wave of protectiveness crashed into Max. Liz was going to tell Kyle that their relationship was over, that she was with Max now, and admit to Kyle that she had, technically, cheated on him. She was firmly convinced that she could handle the recriminations that would follow.

Liz never entertained the thought that she could be hurt if Kyle lashed out in anger.

And Max wanted, needed to be with Liz to shield her, in the likely event that Kyle lost it.

But Liz had insisted that he remain out here. In her own way, she was protecting him. Her intrepid optimism was going to drive Max crazy, but to Liz, it was the only way to deal with the indefensible situation.

And even after she broke up with Kyle, Max knew that Liz would be haunted for a long time by what she considered to be her sin, and hers alone. Which was irrational because committing to each other had been a mutual decision.

Max refused to face for the moment an inflexible truth about his relationship with Liz: that one important building block of Liz's commitment to him had been her infidelity, no matter how narrowly they defined it, to her former boyfriend.

The door yawned open and Liz came out, head bowed, but otherwise okay. Max had never been so relieved in his entire life. Kyle was behind her, his expression set in uncompromisingly grim lines. Max saw Liz risk a glance back and although he couldn't hear what she was saying to Kyle, her dejected body language said it all.

Regret.

Liz then squared her shoulders and took a faltering step forward. Kyle stoically stepped back inside the house. The front door closed with what sounded to Max like an ominous click. With one last glance over her shoulder, Liz took off on a run. Max rushed to where he'd hidden the jeep, peeled out, and headed Liz off before she could round the next corner.
As the jeep came to a screeching halt, Liz lifted her eyes to his, tears hanging precariously from her lashes. Max jumped out of the car, tenderly enfolded Liz in a hug, and brushed a whisper of a kiss on her lips. As he felt her tears seep out and moisten their cheeks, Max stroked her hair and rubbed her back, offering what solace he could.

He could stay like this, hugging her forever, but his natural caution reasserted itself.

"Are you okay?" he finally asked, wiping away her tear tracks. She sniffled. "How did it go?"

Liz gave a watery smile and said nothing. Instead her hand delved into her jeans pocket and pulled out his bracelet.

"Max, can you put this on me again?"

He stared into her eyes and she essayed another brave smile.

"Sure." Max circled her wrist with his token, fastened it, then fused the lock. It wouldn't come off, not unless Liz used a cutter or a file. She looked at him with a question in her eyes, waiting for him to explain his actions.

"I-I want people... to know..."

She nodded in acceptance before hugging him again. Tight.

"Me, too," she mumbled against his shoulder. "Me, too."


* * *


I have a smile
Stretched from ear to ear
To see you walking down the road
We meet at the lights
I stare for a while
The world around us disappears
Just you and me
On this island of hope
A breath between us could be miles
Let me surround you
My sea to your shore
Let me be the calm you seek

-- Sarah McLachlan, I Love You



* * *

Kyle slouched on the sofa, the TV remote balanced on one indifferent hand. As he desultorily channel-surfed, pointless television images and inane chatter assaulted his senses. Kyle paid no mind to it all.

He was remembering the moment when his heart fractured into two jagged pieces, the ache from the injury radiating like ripples from a stone cast into a deceptively calm pond. Unlike those circles that dissipated eventually, his suffering wasn't diminishing the more time passed.

It was the opposite actually.

So it wasn't surprising that even ESPN provided no competition: it could neither offer reassuring lies nor grant last minute reprieves. It was even incapable of pointing him in the direction of a workable emotional future.

A tomorrow that didn't include Liz.
The pain in his heart grew intolerable, forcing Kyle to uselessly massage his chest as he strove to accept what had just happened.

Liz had broken up with him.

She had come, armed with the honesty he'd insisted they employ, and ended their relationship.

A relationship that Kyle had been instinctively keeping laid-back friendly, just so Liz wouldn't be overly burdened by his true feelings for her. He hadn't planned on revealing his dreams (admittedly vague) for their future until such time that Liz consented to take their relationship from casual to serious.

In his less lucid moments, Kyle had wondered if Liz was constitutionally incapable of committing to anything other than professional aspirations that would take her far, far away from Roswell. He had later thought he was merely deranged or plain impatient and so, had chosen to be accommodating.

But obviously, he'd read her wrong.
Liz was more than capable of committing to a serious relationship; she had even betrayed him to do it.

Kyle wanted to punch out the lights of the clueless idiot who said good things come to those who wait. All his patience had netted was a patently single status.

He and Liz were no longer a couple.

She was with Max Evans now.

What was up with that shit?

Slapping an icy compress on his bruised ego (something more doable than stanching the internal bleeding), Kyle decided that it was beyond comprehension that Liz had gone from him--Roswell's most promising athlete, the home boy who would put the small town on the fame map for achievements non-alien related--to Roswell's own invisible man.

She had dumped him for Max Evans!

The obvious outsider had never really registered on Kyle's radar as competition before. Sure, he'd noticed that Evans could be found perennially gawking at his girlfriend, but Kyle had dismissed it as jock envy and the understandable male admiration due Liz. He hadn't worried. After all, it had been Kyle who had his arms around her shoulders.

And now he was supposed to give up that honor to Evans??

No, that was totally unacceptable. Kyle didn't know what Evans did to persuade Liz into ditching him, but whatever it was, it still fell under the category of cheating. Something Kyle had been taught, coached to abhor. So he couldn't, wouldn't let that loser win.

So Evans could be sneaky and underhanded?

Well, so could he.

The bastard would pay.

posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:55:20 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Fourteen
The night's too long



It's a feeling like no other
To find what you thought was lost
Not by the darkest valleys
Nor by the infinite skies
But in the space between.

-- "Between" (30" Roswell generic promo)


------------------------------------


He dreamed.

In dazzling color and rich detail.

If he'd been conscious, he would have realized that all the talk of fantasies earlier had made this one elbow its way to the front of the dream queue. Additionally, just before he nodded off, he'd been wrapped up in an incredible feeling of well-being , catalysed by her good night kisses and sweet dreams wishes. In the face of all that moony, nascent happiness, his usually watchful self-control vanished in a quick, exasperated fade.

A fluffy dream state didn't allow for dreary cross-examinations.
While the newly-minted bliss still had the power to blow his mind, he had the good sense not to question his good fortune.

Serendipity, fate, whatever.
He just wanted to bask, wallow, glory in the unfamiliar waters of intemperance.

In this most receptive frame of mind, with all barriers down and the stars looking benevolently on, influences overt and covert had converged to make the dreaming of this particular dream inevitable. He, of course, remained unaware of the forces at work. As it was, deep in REM sleep, he simply enjoyed the uncommon surprise.

He shifted, cuddled up to the pillow that had unknowingly been deputized for substitute hugging, and let out a contented murmur.

He prized this guiltiest of guilty pleasures. The requisite comfort level needed by this fantasy--the seditious evolution of his most cherished absurd hope--was oft impossible. In fact, the most explicit of sexual fantasies had a better chance of sneaking past the inescapable checkpoints.

And on those few occasions when the subversive fantasy slipped past vigilance, his self-discipline had actually been stern enough to remind him--in the dream itself--that it was just that. A dream. A delusion with nowhere to go, no way to effect. Then, businesslike, he would be roused, and he would pace the remainder of the night, wishing he wasn't so sensible that he couldn't even take refuge in pipe dreams with any sort of ease.
But for all his restraint, he was still far from sainthood. There were isolated cases when his subconscious gave the guard the slip.

And upon waking from those dream sorties, ruing the return to his strange half-life, he found strength in that rare fantasy and the possibilities it implied.


As houses went, it was average. Its design, its lines, its proportions indistinguishable from the rest of the suburban residences on the block. But after years of yearning, he finally got to go home, and this house was the sunshine-colored embodiment of that achievement.

Because it was her home, too, and she was his.

He saw his dream self pulling up in the driveway and cutting the engine of the family car. He smiled at the sight of ethereal pink roses rioting against the side of the house, that most romantic of flowers being her favorite and in all its adorning floral representations, the leitmotif of their home. He got out, inhaling deep of the gentle but opulent fragrance, and balanced the bags of groceries he hadn't wanted his wife to bother with. As lately she had been putting in major overtime at the lab, he'd felt she deserved the luxury of a lazy weekend.

The front door burst open and his two children rushed out. His breath caught at the wonderful, commonplace normality of it all, the dizzying onrush of love almost making him faint in gratitude.

His daughter, his precious princess, sprinted towards him, a whirlwind on short legs. She was a miniature, if a baby-pudgy version, of her petite mother, from her straight, silky fall of chocolate brown hair, those large luminous eyes, to her cute little feet. She also had a fondness for puzzles and, to her dad's chagrin but continued indulgence, a real talent for getting into the cookie jar.

His eldest, the son for whom he'd worn tracks on the hospital floor in caffeine-zapped worry, marched after his doted-upon sister at a more sedate pace. He resembled his father. His heart felt for the little guy for having fallen heir to the ears, the eyes that always gave him pause on official documents when asked, 'Color,' and his painful shyness with others. At least from his mom, he'd inherited the questioning mind and obsession for scientific knowledge. Although in his son's case, the most excitement was reserved for chemistry instead of biology.

But whatever his children's idiosyncrasies, he never forgot to give thanks that both of them had been born normal AND healthy.

He nearly toppled over as his beloved wife came into view, propping herself against the doorjamb and dragging a negligent hand through her hair. She didn't step forward, content to watch him get happily attacked. He mouthed, 'Help,' but she just smirked and blew him a kiss.

"Daddy!!" His daughter greeted excitedly. He barely saved half of the groceries from pitching to the ground as his daughter grabbed a leg and held on.

"You'wre home!" she squealed, clinging tighter and climbing on his shoe.

"Well, where else would I go, punkin?" He saw his wife leave her station on the threshold and join them.

"You wew're gone FOW-EVEWR," his daughter whined exaggeratedly, giving him that trademark pout. "And my name not punkin," she sniffed, thumping his leg with a tiny, already grubby paw.

"Whatever you say, angel." He gave in immediately; his daughter had him totally wrapped around her chocolate-and-tabasco-smeared pinky. Then turning to his son who was solemnly regarding him he asked, "So what have you guys been up to?"

"She," with a significant look at his sister, "wants to play Monopoly."

"And this would be bad because..." he prompted, swallowing the laughter at this evidence of continuity. He could almost hear his own sister, harassing him for 'Just one more game!' as she followed him around the house.

"She can't even count yet," his boy said morosely, running over his sister's outraged, "Can, too!" He went on, "If it's just against me, it's like I'm playing alone because I have to do everything." Turning a thoughtful gaze on his mother, he admitted, "I didn't want to wake you up and disturb you, Mom."

Above their children's heads his gaze snared his wife's. She let out an inaudible 'Oops!' and quirked her lips in a wry grin. Mussing up their son's raven-dark hair, ignoring the put-upon, "Mom!?!" she offered, "Mommy's sorry to be such a sleepyhead, baby. We'll play after the groceries are put away, okay?"

"'Kay," their children chimed. Their son snagged his little sister's hand and led her back inside the house. His wife reached for one of the shopping bags.

"It's alright, I got it," he refused, holding the groceries away from her. After a glance at their kids who were already in the hallway, he bussed the tip of her nose. She, in turn, planted a loud smack on his mouth. He snuck in one more languid kiss before they leisurely sauntered in.

As he stashed the last of the cherry cola in the fridge, his wife grabbed him from behind, squeezed the breath out of him with a hug and said, "Thank you for doing the groceries even though it was my turn."

"I demand payment," he stated, pivoting and hoisting her up to nibble at her lips. "My manly male ego can't take too much of this sensitive guy stuff."

"Name your price," she breathed into his mouth.

He was about to crush her lips passionately under his when--

"Mom! Dad!" Came their son's scandalized complaint. "You're kissing again? You just kissed outside," he grumbled in a passable imitation of his grandpa Jeff. Then remembering what he had come to report, he advised his lovey dovey parents, "She already grabbed the race car and won't give it back."

"Your dad will choose the little dog, honey." His wife breathlessly extricated herself from his hold. "We'll be right up." They heard sneakers squeaking as their son dragged himself upstairs.

She graced him with a light kiss meant to tide him over till after their kids' bedtime. "Later, okay?"

"Not okay, but okay," he agreed with a slump of his shoulders.

She grinned and patted his cheek. "I love you, Max."

"I love you, too, Beth."



His brows etched a 'V' of bewilderment. Why was he calling her Beth? That had never happened before. It wasn't as though he could even forget her name or want to christen her with an alias. Everything about her was already perfect.

His eyes fluttered open although he was only half-awake. Perhaps if he fell asleep again the fantasy would continue, extending to the non-Monopoly games saved for later? He burrowed deeper into the bedclothes.

The extra pillow plopped softly to the floor. He tossed and turned, sheets winding around and binding restless limbs.


He strained with the effort of willing himself to die. And when he succeeded, it would be her name on his lips, her initials carved on his heart. He knew he could never return home. He knew he'd never see her, never be with her, never hold her ever again.

Of what use would existence be without her?

He remembered the last time they spent together with heartbreaking clarity. It had been a nondescript summer night. They had snuck away and contrary to what his parents would have suspected, they only wanted to talk. Or rather, he had just wanted to listen to her mellifluous voice as she shared with him the esoterica of her life. A life so thoroughly different from his own.

She didn't have a mother, her own having died during childbirth, nor siblings. Her father, an established entrepreneur, had been so set in his advanced years that he hadn't expended the effort to remarry. And before his advent into her orbit, her life had revolved around the parent whom she dubbed a true Renaissance man with unabashed hero worship--this despite his having dumped her with her aunt and uncle for the summer because he didn't have time for her.

For what it was worth, the man had his gratitude anyway. Otherwise, she wouldn't have come to the out-of-the-way New Mexico hamlet and brightened his life.

For illumine his existence she did.

He knew his parents worried about his strong, stubborn feelings for her. But he'd lacked the eloquence to explain the emotions she'd engendered in him. They viewed it as a transient thing because his mother and father had only seen her surface prettiness.

In the handful of days they'd been together, he'd become intimate with her deep within.

In her, he'd found the other, better, half of himself.

The visceral certainty did not need to be explicated for it to exist.

He loved her; how could he not?

She was loving, warm, wise, infinitely precious, infinitely good. No one (save for himself) had bothered to dig beneath, content to stop at and, to his distress, snub even the superficial. His heart suffered careless razor cuts every time he saw people look at her askance because of the assertive intelligence she'd cultivated in her bid for her father's affection.

So that was why he always grabbed the opportunity to listen to her musings and watch the candid expressions of wonder and excitement, tempered with pensive consideration, on her face as she speculated aloud about what the world would be like for them and their children.

Whereas before she had displayed what she'd learnt on subjects her father found more engaging than his daughter as if by rote, with him she shared things she found personally intriguing. And not satisfied with monologues, she had demanded his equal participation.

And with her gazing so hopefully into his eyes, the spellbound pause laden with unsaid promises, how could he resist?

She sought his opinions on their country's rise to the pinnacle of global economic and military power in the postwar dissolution of empires as he stroked her satin-soft cheek. He outlined her lips with a gentle fingertip as he stuttered an incoherent reaction to her favorite lines from a poem about time and wasted time: 'I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.' He played with her hair as she expounded with much chattering enthusiasm on a revolutionary theory concerning subatomic particles developed by some German called Max Planck.

She'd lost him on that one, so he'd elected to simply listen (twining their fingers together) to her rhapsodizing and ambitious plans for the future.

Oh, what he would give to hear her rambling on about quantas again!

He thought it ironic that in spite his determination not to waste time, he'd run out of it.

They had stolen that precious commodity from him. And he could no longer endure their abhorrent metaphysical invasions. More importantly, he didn't want any more part of himself contributing to their horrific cause.

Death was infinitely preferable. A demise brought about by his own hands beat an impotent and ultimately, worthless life as a puppet in theirs.

His naked self lay defenseless on some kind of gurney, wrists and ankles fettered by inflexible bands of energy. A drill of sorts, elegantly slim, was poised above his forehead, its oblique tip glowing with an eldritch light. A fistful of translucent scalpels, their edges gleaming and for the moment, unstained, had been partly retracted on spindly glass-like arms. Drill and knives were still for the moment, but he knew that it was only a matter of time before they hummed to life once again.

And although he knew it to be futile, he prayed to His Maker for forgiveness.

He turned his head, opened furious amber eyes, and beheld an expression of resignation tinged with pity in the unwavering gaze of the Other. He felt contempt, cold and bitter, welling up inside him. Lying on a separate cot, the Other wasn't forcibly held down, and thus, deserving only of scorn. The Other had droned on and on to the strange assemblage that he wanted no part of the nefarious experiment, but to his mind, the Other's continuing cooperation pointed to the contrary. The Other was nothing but an effete monarch who nevertheless managed to sanction the tragic sacrifice of who knew how many others to aid their profane design. He was a weak, snivelling ass, capable only of bleating, 'Please, no. I don't want this stolen life,' in tiresome reiteration. Not that he heard the actual words; it was more akin to a forced mental eavesdropping. Their thieves' cant spoken mind to mind acquired a frame of reference, context, and understanding within his own. Whether his comprehension was deliberately or accidentally spawned was beside the point. The thought-voices were yet another intrusion he could not countenance.

He whipped his head to his left and saw them, watching imperturbably from behind a trim console. There were a score of them: the one they called the Priestess, the Learned, the Queen, the Advisor, the Guardian, and the Learned's lackeys and technicians. Before he could damn them all to hell and back, his head was snapped back to face the drill and scalpels. The obscene instruments of his torture were wielded anew.

He instinctively braced himself for the remarkably painless extraction of whatever material they required to mix with the Other's. He felt the seemingly inoffensive psychic probe they used to monitor him on the inside. They left nothing untouched: his thoughts, his dreams, his hopes and fears, his emotions, his strengths and weaknesses, his successes, his failures. Everything that constituted his very humanity were laid bare, as surely as his body was stripped of its protective covering, and subjected to a callous review. The examination and the surgery produced no discernible trace of discomfort. Only horrified awareness. But the very lack of tangible pain only made the suffering that much more acute. He felt violated in a fashion he couldn't have kenned, not even if he lived a myriad lifetimes.

As it was, only hatred so icy it burned had kept him alive this long.

He despised them. If they weren't monomaniacal zealots bent on the fulfillment of a ridiculous prophecy, they were unfeeling scientists bloated with the arrogance only extensive knowledge of the cosmos and overweening intelligence could confer. Not a one displayed even a whit of wisdom or compassion. Only a sense of methodical urgency. As though the sands of time were running out. He had caught hints of an Enemy who had been victorious in annihilating the Princess and her Half-Brother, who had nearly succeeded in assassinating the Other when he attempted to save his siblings. The Usurper who was pressing to eliminate any claims, legitimate and otherwise, to the throne. However, it was a trifling thing which camp had been responsible for abducting him and bringing him to this accursed place; he loathed both factions in equal, unrelenting measure. It was also irrelevant that they seemed to have been created in the same image; that they--in time unremembered--used to call home the world that revolved around a yellow sun.

Theirs was the face of pure evil. The visage of angels who willingly fell from grace. The mien of monsters who would consign him to oblivion after he'd served his purpose.

If there was one thing guaranteed to provoke his antipathy, it was having his course plotted and piloted by someone else, least of all, these space pirates. Even though their route likewise led to perdition, HE would steer himself to his fate.

He couldn't see them, but he knew that ranged along one wall, past his feet, were a row of cocoons filled with animate vessels that would have been interchangeable with himself at six years of age. The defective products of their tampering, the amalgam of his corporeal material and the essence of the royal weakling who lay beside him. He wanted to rage at them, to order them to destroy the evidence of an unchecked, unconscionable travesty.

He cursed the thinning of what they called the energy field, but to his eyes had looked like banks of green clouds, which had apparently permitted them to travel to the world he called home and abscond with him and a handful of terrified abductees. He spared a moment to wonder what had happened to his companions, but almost immediately moved on. Even if he had the opportunity, there was nothing he could do to save them from their fate. He had enough on his own plate as he waged a literal life and death war with himself.

He didn't know how he was doing it but he could feel himself getting closer to a chasm of no return. And for the first time, he sensed an angry undercurrent in their mental probe. They were not pleased that their pawn was showing signs of rebellion. A brief stunning blast shot through his mind, shoving him away from the precipice. Unwillingly, he glanced over to the Other. Was that a gleam of respect in the Other's gaze? He redoubled his concentration, erecting metaphysical barriers against them with a renewed resilience.

Someone retaliated with heavy-handed psychic force.

"Stop! What are you doing?" The Priestess, the one most often found succoring the Other, cried out in an angry thought-voice. She struck the Learned who had the vaguest hints of gloating satisfaction on his impassive face.

"Teaching our recalcitrant donor that it is not he who holds the power here," the Learned sneered.

"Infidel," the Priestess bristled. "We need blank specimens. We cannot afford to have any donor contamination of the royal essence. We do not have time! Khivar and his minions are marching towards this sanctuary, even as we speak."

They were fighting among themselves. The technicians of the group had stopped slicing at him. He nearly got distracted by the novelty of isolating names, especially their enemy's. He refocused, using the unlooked-for boon to his gain.

"Well, then, it seems our task is over," the Learned replied in a supercilious tone. "It would have been of so much help if you could have seen Khivar's plans in a Farseeing trance, Priestess, instead of prattling on again about a mythical Time of Dreams when the King Who Was and Who Is To Be reigns as the King Who Is.

There is no way we can grow an invincible King in the time left before Khivar beats down our doors." the Learned hissed.

"No!" Another thought-voice joined the two in his head. It was the Queen, the mother of the Other. "We will not fail. The King Who Was and Who Is To Be will be The King Who Is. Finish the extraction and pod the latest batch."

That roused the technicians. They bustled to complete their duties. If they were less careful this time around, he relished it, magnifying the pain to push him closer to the void. He hadn't realized that the will to live, to eventually go back to her was so strong that it felt like the mightiest of chains.

"But my Queen," the Advisor intervened. "Where are we going to hide the King Who Is? There are no places left after this one. The other worlds will not let us establish a kingdom in absentia. And even if, by the Light, we find a safe haven, what of the possibility that something untoward occurs before he is ready? What will become of the royal line?

Is it not more advisable to negotiate with Khivar now? To plead for mercy?"

"What?!"

"Have you gone past the darkest end of the Spectrum, Nikolaos?!"

"Since when did you become an Unbeliever?"

"Do you realize how close we are to fulfilling the Prophecy?"

The thought-voices rang in his head and he felt a twinge of wry laughter bubbling up at the glimpse of a Judas in the midst of vipers.

"CEASE!" The Queen commanded peremptorily. "We will send the recreations to the only refuge left. The King, his sister, and half-brother. They will awaken in time and even if, the Light help us, only one returns, the Royal House of Antar will still prevail," she intoned. "I will face Khivar to avenge my children's deaths."

"No, my Queen! You will fail in the attempt. And there are no sanctuaries left," the Advisor protested.

"My Lady, WE will face the Usurper and end his tyranny." the Priestess interrupted.

"No, Serena. Your duty and that of the Far Seers is to see to it that our people do not forget that their salvation rests with the Royal House. The Guardian will ensure that the recreations are brought to safety."

He had just brushed away the diversion of identifying yet another of his tormentors when he felt the Other insinuating himself into his psyche. He prepared to expel the intruder when the Other spoke to him from within his mind.

"I still have powers, weakening though they may be. I will help you," the Other said in a surprisingly strong thought-voice.

"Why?" He asked suspiciously, his voice rusty from disuse.

"The void is at hand. By the Light, I would save an innocent before I go."

He did not hesitate. He tore down all his barriers.

"Do it."

Pain, intense and extreme, exploded all along his nerve endings. His soul and another's hurtled towards neverending darkness in the not so far distance. A wave of icy cold froze every cell in his being. He didn't see a shimmering blanket of green enshroud first, his physical self, and then, each and every one of the faulty incarnations and the most recent of the collected samples.

He no longer perceived the despairing protestations that the destructive green light triggered, nor feel the last chaotic excision. He didn't witness the rush to create one last pod.

As the darkness seductively beckoned, he yearned to see her again. He wished he could touch her soul, be it just once. Even if only for as long as tears still tracked down his cheeks. Before his eyes closed permanently.

He didn't want to go into the night alone.

His penultimate thought before the abyss claimed him was never-ending regret that he never said the words out loud to her. And there, on the threshold of an alien place, he gave the words voice.

"I love you, Beth."



His eyes flew open. His heart thudded in his chest as wisps of the most recent dream loitered and reconnoitered like some gatecrasher overstaying a non-welcome. For a fraction of second, he felt lost. Like he hadn't always been who he was. He rebelled at the thought. For all his ignorance about his heritage and history, he knew this much. He was Max Evans and now that his future was filled with promise, he wanted to remain Max Evans.

He heard faint scrabblings that presaged some sort of intrusion and his pulse raced even faster. Reflexively he groped for the baseball bat his paranoia had insisted on keeping near, grabbed it, and almost immediately flung it down.

He got out of bed, stomped over to the window, and unceremoniously yanked it open.

"Michael."

"Max." Michael seized the window sill and heaved himself into Max's bedroom, just as the door opened to admit his sister.

"Hi, guys." Isabel waved a slim hand to switch on the light, tsk-tsked, and picked up the pillow on the floor. She made up the bed and then sat on its edge in a waiting pose.

Michael pulled up Max's computer chair and straddled it, resting his arms on the chair's back.

"Okay, anyone gonna tell me why all of a sudden my bedroom's hosting an alien conference?" Max rubbed his hands over his face. He peered at the clock. "At three in the morning?" God, did he feel wired. Like he was about to jump out of his suddenly too tight skin.

Isabel looked at Michael. Michael gazed steadily back at Isabel. As one they turned to Max and shrugged.

"I woke up with the feeling that I should check on you," Isabel said with a faint trace of anxiety.

"Ditto," Michael seconded.

Max looked at them skeptically and snorted.

"That's a first. Checking up is usually my province." In his mind he added, although I seem to do it more often with Liz... Remembering her made a smile tug at the corners of his lips as he relived the dream where the wildest alien thing to happen to him was to have kids with her. How he wished she were here (or he was with her) right this very moment; his arms just felt so...empty. A faint musical tinkling commenced.

I love you, Beth.

He groaned and threw himself down on the bed, flinging up an arm to shield his eyes. What was up with the rose by any other name thing?

"Max? What's wrong?" The bed dipped as Isabel slid closer.

"Hey, man, you okay?"

Isabel and Michael were outdoing themselves in the TLC department, but the connection had already handed over a blanket of thoroughly confounded comfort.

"I'm fine," he muttered, metaphysically wrapping the soothing blanket around himself. I just have to get my soul mate's name straight and figure out what the heck Arthurian legend has to do with the origin of our species. He knew he should tell Isabel and Michael what he dreamt, especially as it came nipping at the heels of Izzy's weird nightmare encounter.

It felt like something was awakening.

That last dream seemed like a memory bent on compelling remembrance.

"You sure?" Michael pursued doggedly.

Max sat up and steepled his fingers. He felt calmer, stronger. He wasn't alone. The part of himself in tune with the connection began a countdown. Isabel fidgeted; Michael got up to prowl the distance from bed to window.

"Just a really weird dream." Twelve...eleven...ten...

His listeners stilled and Max began, "You know those green clouds we keep seeing?"

Six...five...

They nodded.

"I think I know what they are." Three...two...

He grabbed the phone before it could ring, holding up a hand to let Michael and Isabel know that he had to take this call before continuing his story.

"Hi, Liz."

"Max? Are you okay?" Liz clamped the handset in between shoulder and cheek as she eased open the window leading to her balcony and climbed out.

"I'm fine," Max answered as she went around lighting the candles encircling what she called her journal chair. "You're probably wondering how I knew you were gonna call?" Liz heard the tiny smile in his voice, even as the connection played a happy tune. When she had first woken up from a sound and what she thought a dreamless sleep, there had been no musical accompaniment. Just a prodding feeling that Max needed her, to which she had clumsily attempted to respond.

"Not really," she replied around an involuntary yawn. "I'm learning not to question the unimportant how's, only the who, what, when, where, and why's." She had been feeling less antsy ever since she felt a definite Max presence in the connection. Although for some strange reason, she could picture him hanging on to a blanket, just like Linus, except she was almost sure that Linus' blanket wasn't pink.

He chuckled. "I guess it's part and parcel of being an alien's girlfriend, huh?" Liz nearly lost her train of thought as she realized anew that she was now Max's significant other. But she managed to hold up her end of the conversation.

"So, what are you doing? Did you fill up your sleep quota already?" Liz flopped down on the chair. "And why did I wake up, feeling like I had to check up on you?"

"Well, if you're being literal, I'm standing by my window, looking up at the stars, talking to you and picturing you in your pajamas." Liz gulped and felt heat blooming on her cheeks. So what was HE wearing? Or not wearing?

"And yes, I've had my two hours worth," Max continued, methodically answering her questions. "I don't really know what's happening, but you weren't the only one to get this urge to mother me. Isabel and Michael felt it, too." Michael? Liz's eyebrows shot up to her hairline. "They're with me right now."

"Oh." So it was an aliens only thing.

"Listen, Liz? I have to discuss this with them, but can I come over after?" Liz felt an unmistakable need emanating from Max to be with her. It was a craving she definitely shared. Especially at this hour, an hour when normal people were still asleep; the hour when things looked their bleakest and loneliest.

"Sure, I'm on the rooftop terrace but come up the fire escape, okay? My parents don't know about you, and even if they did, they probably won't like the idea of you coming this early." She had to reach for a reply that had pretensions to common sense, instead of immediately blurting a 'Yes, please.'

"Oh. Right. Maybe I should just wait? Talk with you later? I could pick you up and we could go to school together." Liz smiled at the notion of Max also trying to hit a more appropriate, sensible note when it was the last thing he felt like doing.

"Doesn't work for me. The unnecessary waiting, I mean. But what do YOU want to do, Max?"

"I want to, HAVE TO see you."

"Then it's settled. My balcony in a few."

After a couple of breathless 'See you's,' Liz pressed the disconnect button and wrapped her arms around herself as she pictured Max placing a light kiss on their entwined hands.

As she crept into the shower, doing her best to keep quiet, she thought giddily. Max is on his way over, YES!

Could life get any better?


* * *


And I forgot
To tell you
I love you
And the night's too long
And I'm cold here without you

-- Sarah McLachlan, I Love You



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


author's note for part 14 Thank you to Mr Vidiot for the S1 "Between" promo which totally inspired this part. The poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock from which Beth quotes is by T.S. Eliot.

posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:56:31 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Fifteen
I'm cold here without you



"So what do you think?"

"Gee, Toto, I don't think we're in Roswell anymore?" she offered sheepishly. It wasn't exactly witty Liz Parker repartee, but she had had to work hard for that bit of officially-freaked distance. It beat running away, screaming her head off, or cowering and whimpering in a corner, which were the other exotic, not to mention totally incorrect, options.

The other wrong alternative, stranger than the first two for it would not take place on the physical plane, was letting the cumulative emotional turbulence seething inside her rebound and hit Max.

And the possibility of the third happening was infinitely greater than the first two.

She had been tossed into unfamiliar territory, relocated as efficiently as a house displaced by an F4 tornado. And if ever there was a time when she needed a there's-no-place-like-home familiarity--with its pat answers and predictable outcomes--then this was it.

She needed to get a handle on things, and do it post haste, if not sooner.

As her deflated comeback trailed off in embarrassment (on her part) and prompted contemplative consideration (on his), Liz realized that neither disconnected impartiality nor panicked subjectivity would help her deal with what she had just learnt with any degree of satisfaction. But deal with it, she would, she acknowledged, although probably not in the fashion of Max's expectations. With the weight of careful hope bearing heavily down on her psyche, she didn't have the dubious luxury of succumbing to terror, nor the questionable treat of railing at the ambiguity of 'if's.'

Of late, she was learning too much about fear, and panic had crowded out any attempt at clarity.

On the bright side though, she was learning how to tame the bond (ve-ry sloow-lyy but sure-ly) that linked her to Max so that their connection didn't completely overpower her. Necessity providing a compelling learning incentive and all that.

In the not so distant past, Liz had likened the omnipresent pull to the gravitational force that kept a planet and its satellite revolving along their prescribed orbits: something powerful; something real; something that was just there but not really felt. More importantly, something that drew them together but still kept them apart. They exerted force on each other, but were still able to proceed their separate ways.

Now, she felt their power over each other becoming greater, coming at it did with increased frequency and strength.

Awkward metaphors and comparisons aside, she didn't pause to wonder any more why she was not more freaked by the invisible, increasingly pervasive tie; she had decided that sensing Max's emotional state through their connection was more benefit than hindrance. Besides, it was Max. End of discussion.

And in the days A.M. -- after Max -- post his reversal of the connection that fateful night - she appreciated being privy to his emotions and receiving the thought-images he 'transmitted' (for want of a better word) or in some instances of lost control, 'leaked.' It wasn't a cause for complaint. After all, it seemed she had not only had an affinity for receiving, but also for sending.

Yup, she was a regular metaphysical base station alright. Except unlike cellular repeaters, she only had Max to broadcast to.

Now, she wondered if there was any way to speed up the learning process of subduing the transfers. She had been receiving the full brunt of Max's emotions (even as he tried to control their spillover to her), heightening her own emotional turmoil. She had thought she'd transcended being perturbed by anything Max revealed--conventionally or unconventionally--but apparently, she'd thought wrong. Moreover, she really, really didn't want him to be hit by a redoubled backlash, for the fallout from his recent revelation was going to be the mother of them all.

"Nix that." She waved a hand in the air as if to erase traces of the most famous line from The Wizard of Oz still lingering. Max continued to regard her with wary amber eyes and she lowered her gaze. She didn't want him seeing in her eyes how unsettled his second dream had made her feel; Max had enough to deal with right now, without her adding more confusion to the precariously full emotional baggage cart.

Halfway through his dream narration, Max had attempted to shield her from his emotions. In the beginning, during the re-telling of his first dream, he had let his control loosen, and she loved him more for having been so honest with her. And considering the almost suffocating anxiety he was displaying at the time, not omitting any detail had to rank up there as one of the hardest things Max had had to do.

But from the start of that second dream--nightmare, she corrected--he had tried to control the feelings exchange and had succeeded. For about a minute. So for that interval, she had gotten nothing. Nada. Zilch. Only a bland white noise. After that, he lost his grip. With every fit and start of his speech, his control slipped his shaky grasp and a waterfall of his emotions thundered into her. Fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, fear for their safety, and plain vanilla fear were just some of the fear flavors she'd identified and she was still reeling from the heavy dose. The only thing that had steadied her had been the outpouring of love she felt from him over the same connection.

Max had asked that she not interrupt while he recounted his nocturnal travels and she had obliged. However, now that she needed to respond coherently, she couldn't. The creeping horror-- if indeed that second dream were factual--was too sinister to consider, much less verbalize.

She sought temporary asylum in silence to order her thoughts and break free of the roiling emotions. They were a deep, unquiet sea threatening to completely overwhelm her. As she sat there on the edge of her bed, she carefully tucked her feet under her and darted a quick peek at Max for moral support.

"It's okay, Liz. Take your time," Max said before jamming his hands inside his jeans pockets and shuffling his feet in the limited space he'd circumscribed for himself to the side of her bedroom window. They had moved to her bedroom because for some strange reason, Max had not wanted to have the discussion while they were out in the open (she would later infer, from his second dream, his reason).

Not that being inside her room made Max more at ease.

"Your room, huh?" he said, looking nervously around her sanctuary. Liz tried to pin her lips together to hold back a goofy grin. A little over two days, and Max had already picked up her quirk for stating the obvious. Good thing she wasn't into the Bobbsey Twins look for couples, otherwise she or Max would be needing a minor wardrobe overhaul. She simply nodded and moved to stand in front of her poster of the History of the Universe.

Seemingly at a loss over what to do with his hands, Max picked up a CD on top of a pile beside her boom box. He stilled, closed his eyes, then replaced the CD gingerly with its companions. "Good album."

She squinted at what he was holding up and frowned. "That's not mine, it's--"

"--Kyle's," Max finished for her. She got a definite doleful vibe from him and almost rolled her eyes. He couldn't have made his insecurity clearer, than if he broodingly proclaimed, 'Liz, you deserve someone human.'

She glided over to his side, captured his hand, and laced their fingers. She sifted through her feelings for him, picking out the thread of besotted ardor and switched the knob to STUN. Then satisfied with her work, she plucked the unfamiliar CD from its perch and dropped it into the black hole-ish interior of her book bag, saying, "I'll return it to him today."

Max shook his head as if to clear it, but she flashed on an image of a puppy on the floor, on its back, pawing the air. Call her dense, but she thought that was enough to indicate that her mission had been accomplished.

Max then picked up a teddy bear with a chewed off ear that had pride of place on her bed for as long as she could remember. Turning to her, he asked, "You still sleep with him?"

"Yes, Jason never leaves my bed."

"Jason?" He was procrastinating, she realized with a start. Did she need to send an extra helping of supportive thoughts? She mentally shrugged. It couldn't hurt.

"It fit him, somehow." She fussed with her pillows then laid Jason the bear precisely in the middle. Then trying to get him to start talking, she cranked up the helpful helpmate level and said, "Max, just tell me already."


And that proved to Liz the adage that you should be careful of what you wish for. Clichés became clichés because the truth did reside in the trite. And she found herself (unfortunately) comparing favorably to the proverbial curious cat, the fate of which, the less said, the better.

Initially, Liz had been euphoric during the re-telling of his dreams, and considering the nature of the first one, who could blame her? Who wouldn't be elated and excited that their boyfriend fantasized about a happily ever after? Not her, that was for sure. And as he delved deeper into that near fairy tale, she had been doubly warmed by the undertones in his soft voice and the accompanying emotions echoing through the connection.

The shy pride that permeated his description of their children.

The bashful eagerness that accompanied his portrayal of a possible, albeit still fairly distant, tomorrow.

They had tugged at her heart-strings in a way that only Max could accomplish. In fact, the sheer dreaminess of the dream's content had boosted her warm and fuzzy quotient so high that she'd worried she would grow old on cloud nine.

Not even the puzzling substitution of her name had been enough to dim the glow.

It was simply so in character for Max that his most treasured fantasy, over and above the usual sexual fantasies that got filed away in the collective male unconscious, was one others took for granted--that of being married with children. A dream of marital bliss that she had in common with him, despite her practical misgivings. And through the bond that linked them so strongly, Liz had made sure that Max knew that she was equally overjoyed about his dreamy plans for their future.

Liz had known what that dream--for all that it had been prosaic--meant for Max.

Home.
Stability.
Belonging.

Simple but powerful motivations that made life--especially one as veiled in mystery as Max's--not just bearable but worth living.

For him, the dream embodied the fulfillment of his most desired but most unattainable goal.

But then the dream had ushered in the nightmare.

Conscious notice invoked her earlier helplessness. Just when she thought she had broken free, she was engulfed, dragged down to the obsidian depths pulsing with twin beats of malevolence and sorrow. As with her recent joint experience with Max, cries of suffering echoed in her mind--a poignant distress call that no one had heard, much less heeded.

I love you, Beth.

She stopped herself from resisting the darkness. The clammy tendrils of fear relaxed, loosened their hold but did not let her escape. Sinuous skeins continued to weave around her in macabre flirtation. Liz had to battle to keep from flinching and screaming. If she started, she was afraid she would never stop.

It could have been a meaningless dream, she thought, gritting her teeth and drawing in a deep breath. She knew that the subconscious could be funny that way. In fact, she would rather it had simply been a fun house mirror reflecting unacknowledged subjective motives; she might not understand why his (hopefully) made-up answers would take such a chilling detour, but they still would have been easier to swallow.

It wasn't me, and yet it was me.

Max said he had relieved that person's ordeal because he had been that person. And she agreed that Max's 'recall' of that person's memories, of his anguished struggle to escape the clutches of his kidnappers, was too detail-laden to have been the sole product of his imagination. Not that she was underestimating Max, she countered. She firmly believed that he had depths she had just barely explored. But at the same time, if it were only his subconscious at work, then Max really needed to give it a good talking-to so that it wouldn't go around frightening people out of their wits, namely, her. Not that she truly believed that a scolding was necessary. She was, as they say, grasping at straws.

Further adding to the confusion, Max had also contradicted his 'Me' theory. He said he had never before had a dream where he was someone else other than Max Evans, clueless alien. It had been, as he'd pointed out, a source of frustration, especially when tied to his quest for the truth behind his origins.

He--I--he was human, Liz. So, according to the dream memory, I am partly human.

What was she supposed to have said to that?

Are you serious?
Do you realize what that could mean?
That's great for you and me, too bad about the other guy?

Those were just a smattering of her knee-jerk reactions that got thrown into the discard pile. For a while there, she had been pleased that Max had something biologically in common with her; it increased their chances of having the married with children scenario come true. But she also felt guilty for that instant of happiness. The good guys (she counted herself as one of them) just didn't dance on the corpse of someone, rejoicing, even if that someone had been a bad guy, which, according to Max, he hadn't been. At least the fact that she and Max both straddled the happy/guilty divide appeased her somewhat. She wasn't alone.

She really should stop depersonalizing his dream self, she reflected. Max had supplied a name, pulled out from the darkest recesses of the dream:

Jonas. My...his name was Jonas. And I, I mean... he, he loved this girl. Beth.

What Jonas' last name was, Max couldn't seem to remember. That was possible, she accepted unenthusiastically, unless Jonas had been used to barking out name, rank, and serial number at the drop of a hat.

And Liz? Jonas's memory of Beth? It was so clear and... she...she looked like you.

A 'whaaat?!' at that point seemed redundant, when her eyes were already bulging out of their sockets and she was hyperventilating over the connection. A tentative metaphysical Max hand had helped her recover. She clung to his hand and her theory that her inclusion in his dream further indicated that Max's subconscious was working overtime.

She supposed the reason why the second dream so unnerved her was the fact that for every item she put down in her mental 'dream' list, the same item--when viewed through a different lens, could also be included in the 'past life memory' column. But she was almost sure that the glib explanations for the mysteries surrounding Max's alien past--things like the purpose of the pods; the significance of the green clouds; the imperative for intergalactic travel--belonged on the dream side. They were, she surmised, a bit over the top and uncomfortably similar to plot points of a bad sci-fi story. It frustrated her that the explanations were all purported. All defying belief. All incapable of being independently tested and substantiated. And their revelation came at too darn convenient a time--just when she and Max had decided to renew the search for alien clues.

Upping the melodrama, the second dream had gone as far as ascribing feelings, petty and profound, to the other dramatis personae who'd featured in that nightmarish landscape of pain, loss, and death. Wasn't character dissection--within a dream-- highly suspect?

If all these were memory, then I wasn't born, Liz; I was created.

Giving credence to that speculation gave Liz the creeps, but she still wanted to do right by Max by affording his theory due consideration. Regardless of the personal cost to her. Which, she admitted, wouldn't be as high as the price that Max, Isabel, and Michael would be pay if they truly believed Max's dream version of reality.

She tried to concentrate on that first wonderfully normal dream again, wrapping it around herself like a new favorite coat. Still, shivers trailed arctic fingers up and down her spine as she questioned anew whether that first dream was just an innocent fantasy or something more. What if it were some sort of precognition? Future events casting their shadows before them? She, who used to consider foreknowledge and other seriously out there stuff incredible, had learned from Max to keep an open mind.

So if she was so receptive and unquestioning, shouldn't the possibility of her and Max, married with children, regain its status as a comforting thought? And didn't she ultimately agree with him that calling her 'Beth' was reasonable within the context of a dream and/or a portent?

The thing that ties the two dreams together was me saying, 'I love you, Beth.'

Going deeper, Liz worried that if the first one foretold a possible future, did the second one really tell the story of an immutable past? She took refuge in recognizing that she was generalizing and that her logic was flawed; it meant she was not totally lost. But what did that link, that 'I love you, Beth,' mean? Or did it not mean anything? Were his dreams really just dreams, harmless subconscious yarns that had nothing to do with reality? Neither prophecy nor memory? That there were no such persons as Jonas or Beth? She didn't know; she could only guess. She couldn't think properly; she was chasing ideas around in a tortuous circle.

"Liz?" Max's patience was obviously being severely tested by her inability to dispel the gloom-and-doom air stretching between them. Tension like desert heat emanated off him, and her skin prickled from his unease. She was certain that he didn't know he was dumping the whole confusing morass into her system or whatever it was that functioned as a crucible for their connection. And while she felt herself too small, too weak a vessel to contain his troubled uncertainty and her own fears, she would still try to protect Max from the recoil.

"Short or long version?" she asked, prevaricating. She really wanted to contribute something insightful, something that would fulfill the promise of comfort she had tendered when she'd called him. But her earlier optimism had drained and courage was slow to fill the void. Rational thought, never mind intelligent hypotheses, at that moment was beyond her. She had never felt so powerless, so without resources, in all her life.

She, whose touchstone was empiricism, had no way of proving anything. She was out of her element, millions of parsecs away from those usually found marching in neat, orderly rows and columns of the periodic table.

"Any. Both," Max replied.

She wrestled with the tumult inside her, visualizing a babbling brook instead of roaring white waters. Slowly, the emotional chaos muted. And as she mentally sloshed her way to a bank, she scolded that selfish part of herself that refused to let go of the debatable comforts of a mundane life.

Get a grip! You have left normal, deal with it, she silently reprimanded. She was stronger than her fear. She was more than her selfishness. This wasn't about her, it was about Max. As her resolve firmed, she felt panic melting away, leaving a clearer-headed Liz in its wake. She hoped that she would succeed in sharing her newfound equanimity with Max, and by extension, Isabel and Michael, for they surely needed it more than she did.

She decided she didn't believe that either dream had any arcane significance. But that didn't automatically mean she wouldn't lend her support, in the only way she could, in the quest for answers. She would help Max muddle through the dream; they needed to reach some sort of acceptable resolution.

"Okay. Long version. But first--" She pushed herself off the bed, strode over to Max, and took his hands in hers. Raising herself up on tiptoes, she anointed his forehead, his cheeks, his chin with kisses before fitting her mouth to Max's. His eyes squeezed shut as he gave himself over to her ministrations.

"I want you to know that whatever you told me doesn't detract from what I feel for you. Not one bit. Even if that second dream IS a memory," she said with a last breathless kiss. She sensed Max's acceptance of the truth in her words and feelings and breathed in his sigh of relief. "We're okay, Max."

"You don't know how much I want that to be true." Max framed her face in his hands, tilting her up to his anxious study. She felt a redoubling of his love for her overflowing the connection and pressed a kiss to his palm in acknowledgment. "But I'm scared, Liz. And I thought I didn't scare easy."

"So we'll be scaredy-cats, together." She held his hands and walked him back towards the bed, stopping only when she felt the edge bump the back of her legs. She sat down and Max followed.

"There's four of us in the same boat," Max reminded her. "And three of us are still groping in the dark."

"And this is where I come in. For what it's worth. So what do we know? Assuming that the second dream is a memory."

"That I don't want to lose you like Jonas lost Beth," Max said promptly.

"Max... you won't. We'll be okay, just like in your fantasy. Especially if I have anything to say about it. I'm not Beth and you're not really Jonas," she gently pointed out.

"But the thing that linked the two dreams was me saying, 'I love you, Beth.' And in that first fantasy, I meant you, Liz. And what about Jonas' memory of Beth? She looked so much like you, she could have been you. Liz, I--" he broke off hoarsely, unable to continue.

"Sssshh, Max," she soothed as she gave his hand a squeeze. "You're just confusing yourself. It was just some kind of weird subconscious glitch. Think about it--we've known each other for most of our lives. You know I'm not Beth." He drew in a deep breath, centering himself and Liz felt so proud of him for not letting his fear take over.

After a few seconds, he began speaking again. "In the dream, I was Jonas." He paused, gulped, and proceeded with a shy smile. "And I was human." His voice lilted with the last word, as though in marvel.

"And Jonas was abducted by aliens and experimented on by aliens. And this is where it starts to not fit the profile," Liz reflected. Max raised his eyebrows at her wannabe FBI agent posturing. She gave him an unrepentant grin and continued, "So, my dad's favorite show is The X-Files. Blame him, not me. Anyway, before I was interrupted--" he interrupted again by kissing her, "Jonas doesn't fit the normal alien abductee profile because according to your dream, he wasn't returned."

"Or maybe he would have been, if he hadn't killed himself," he speculated.

"His suicide was not as clear-cut as that; it bordered on murder. You said it yourself--he had help from that alien guy. The deposed king."

"Yeah, that's right. I felt him lending power to Jonas, and he was the one that pushed Jonas over the edge."

"What I'm still unclear on is why they took Jonas in the first place."

"To create a stronger king, I guess. One who could win the throne back," Max said with a slight furrowing of his forehead. Liz experienced a jolt of uncertainty from him, rendering moot the facial cue indicating he was unsure about his answer.

"Why didn't they just clone the guy? Much as I don't agree with that, it would have made more sense. It sounds like they already had the technology," she forged on.

"I got the feeling that there was something unique about Jonas. Like he was instrumental or something. Jonas was kinda vague on the prophecy that brought him to that place. All he was concentrating on was escaping."

"So you--the you now--is Jonas recreated?" She shivered slightly.

"With bits of the alien king thrown in." His delivery was bland, but Liz was knifed by his guilt. Max regretted that his life came with someone's death as a price tag. Contrarily, Liz was afraid that no amount of rebuke would let her regret the existence of Max, regardless of the sacrifices along the way. The only thing she could offer to Jonas was her belated empathy and understanding.

"Yeah, you had to be a king, too." She tried for levity, wrinkling her nose at him, then sticking out her tongue. He gave her a tremulous grin, then gently kissed the corner of her mouth. "We'll talk about that later," she mumbled, "Right now... where do Isabel and Michael fit in?"

"Well, Isabel was the king's sister, and Michael his half-brother. I think they were killed by whoever took the throne. The king wasn't able to save them."

"So the aliens took at least three people from earth, mixed them with three aliens to what? Retake the kingdom, but they sent all of you back here in pods. Why? Wasn't that defeating the purpose?"

"Well, they were facing an imminent attack. I think earth was a last resort, the last safe haven. Those green clouds--they were some sort of energy barrier--and they had something to do with making interstellar travel possible."

"And something went wrong when they approached earth and the spaceship crashed."

"That's what me, Isabel and Michael have concluded. So Michael wants to go digging in the desert for more clues. He, more than Iz and me, wants to go back. He doesn't really consider Roswell, or even earth home. And even if he doesn't admit it, he thinks he'll find some kind of map where 'X' marks the spot."

"And Isabel?" Liz prodded.

"Isabel will go along with it, but she actually likes her life here so she's... conflicted. But she's willing to keep dreamwalking me to check on what I dream." He felt her start and was quick to offer reassurance. "Don't worry, she said she'll pull out if I'm only dreaming about you." She chewed on her lower lip, hiding a smile, as Max tried out a leer. She received an image of Max holding up a pink blanket like a coat and she sent back a picture of her about to snuggle into it. He transmitted a follow-up image of him mummifying her with the blanket from head to toe.

A happy silence descended as they settled down for serious metaphysical play, complete with tackling, blanket unwrapping, and relentless tickling. In the real world, they cuddled.

"Fine, if you're okay with it, have Isabel dreamwalk you every night to corroborate. But can you control your dreams, Max? Can anyone?" The last question was rhetorical.

Max chose to answer, "Nothing about my life has ever been normal, so I'm hoping I can recreate that nightmare. Not that I really want to. I thought I wanted to know more about my alien side, but now I'm not so sure. I mean, those ... beings ... were like some ruthless Dr. Frankenstein. I mean, to do that to Jonas."

"I know. Saying what happened to Jonas was tragic seems almost to belittle it. Demean it somehow," Liz said in a lower voice. This was the part she hated. The fear that someone could take Max away from her and she wouldn't be able to do a thing. She stiffened her spine. Like she told Max, she wasn't this Beth person. She would find a way to glue herself to Max's side, so if anybody did a Scottie, beam me up thing, she would be along for the ride.

"If we could only prove that it wasn't just a dream." Max sighed.

"I guess third-party help is out of the question?" Max gave her a long-suffering look. She continued, undaunted, "On the proving/disproving of the alien bits--Max, I examined your cells. How come your difference never came up in your medical exams?"

"Well, we've never gotten sick." He shrugged as though that were par for the course for someone mortal.

"Never?" He emphasized his statement with a slow side-to-side head shake. "Wow," Liz marvelled. "So I don't suppose a medical test is advisable, especially if it's anything invasive that will only remind you of what Jonas went through. And I'm thinking regression hypnosis is also out of the question..."

"Gee, you think?" Max asked dryly.

"So, what else? Do you know where Jonas came from? Was that info in the dream?"

"I guess, he was also from Roswell."

"What is it about this place that makes it such an alien hot spot?" Liz threw up her hands in the air. "Never mind that tangent. Maybe... we can look through the list of unsolved missing persons cases at the police station? Or maybe a list of Roswell abductees from the UFO Center? Those from before and including 1947?"

"How will we do that? Especially with the police files?" His demeanor was skeptical, but she could see him already trying to work out the ways and means.

"I'm leaning towards using the extra credit excuse again. For history maybe. Or business. We can say we're looking into the hopefully short list of missing persons and unsolved crime cases as part of proving a claim like--" she sketched a marquee with her hands. "'Roswell: A Nice Place to Live.' I mean, the crime rate here isn't that high, is it?"

"Well it's worth a shot. But the list might still be unwieldy. I don't remember Jonas' last name."

"There is that. So, we'll have to investigate all the Jonases we come across, see if any name rings a bell."

"I guess."

She sighed. She was so exhausted, but at least now Max felt more hopeful. "We have a plan."

"Yeah, we do."

"Tweak it some more?" She turned to him and smiled tiredly.

"Maybe later." He folded her into his embrace and she circled her arms around him, holding tightly.

"I love you, Max," she murmured against his chest.

"I love you, too... Liz."


***


And I forgot
To tell you
I love you
And the night's too long
And I'm cold here without you

-- Sarah McLachlan, I Love You


posted on 2-Nov-2002 2:58:53 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer 'n such, see first post.


Part Sixteen
I am folded, and unfolded, and unfolding, I am



"And you're okay with this Max/Liz thing?" Michael asked Isabel carelessly as he picked up the tome that looked to be Max's latest nighttime reading from his bedside. A clinical psychology text, ex libris Philip Evans. He glowered. The book was purposeless reading, even for Maxwell. Usually they stayed away from the hardcore stuff, focusing instead on alternative references that proved more useful in honing their powers.

Isabel stopped in the midst of hanging up the clothes cluttering Max's closet floor--the rejects in the contest for suitable attire to bring Liz Parker to school--and glared at him. "I wouldn't say that, no," she contradicted.

Michael noted that both the withering look she aimed in his direction and her quick denial were half-hearted. He was keeping his tone casual--he didn't want to get into a shouting match--but he knew Isabel knew he was anything but laid-back at that precise moment. She was pouring her all into shielding her emotions, screening him out, and so was he. But the uneasiness in the air around them was so thick, you would've needed a chainsaw to cut through it.

And clearly provoked, his own alien energy seethed underneath his skin, just begging for release. He could feel it welling from somewhere deep within, gaining strength as it raced through his body. The searing power speared through his limbs, seeking both outlet and target.

He jumped up, too wired to stay in one place. He wrapped his fingers tightly around the thick book, so tightly that his knuckles showed white, and paced Max's room. His heavy, agitated tread brought him from door to window, from wall to opposite wall, then back to make the circuit. As he prowled like something caged, Isabel went on pretending that nothing earth-shaking had taken place, that their world had not, in fact, tilted on its axis because of Max's dream revelation, and continued to arrange her brother's clothes by color.

It was un-frickin'-believable.

He'd thought they had agreed to double-team Maxwell - to force him into staying away from Liz Parker, to bring his concentration back to more important pursuits. It had been a joint decision reached after that quarrel in the cave that led to his self-inflicted injury. He'd automatically assumed that he and Isabel were individually working towards that common goal.

Michael had done his part by bringing Max to the desert to try to knock some sense in to him, but Isabel? She'd let herself get distracted by trying to break Liz Parker's hold on her brother. And scaring herself witless with the surprisingly dark corners in that girl's subconscious to boot.

But for that to be enough to effect a 180 degree turn... he scowled, half dismayed, half disgusted. It didn't make sense. He couldn't accept that Isabel was giving in so quickly to Max's delusion that any of them could have a serious relationship with a human. That they could let other people in and have everything turn out hunky-dory. He especially couldn't believe that her attitude had changed so radically, so quickly from the embittered, angry stance she had displayed after Max told Liz their secret to this, this, whatever the hell this was.

To go from understandable distrust and resentment to a seeming acceptance of the human girl into their tight circle, triangle, whatever...it just didn't fit.

It wasn't her.

So why was she pretending otherwise?

He felt like blasting something--anything!--which was why he kept his hands on the book.

As for Max, Michael had never really thought that one follow-up 'discussion' in the desert would be enough to make Max realize the disaster he was courting. Truth be told, he suspected it would take more than seventy times seven confrontations to put a dent in Max's resolve; after all, it was Liz Parker who was involved. He shook his head in disgust. He had never understood how Maxwell could be so fascinated with her when the key to their entire existence was just waiting to be found. Sure, she looked nice and all that--although she was hardly in the same class as her kooky friend Maria--but Michael would never put her (or any human for that matter no matter how attractive) above stuff like trying to go home. Their real home.

But Max's almost scary preoccupation with Liz had become even worse now that they were, he snorted, a couple. He was even planning on marrying her for crissakes! As though it were safe to go that far! It irritated Michael something fierce, especially in light of this latest development. When it was starting to appear that information about their home was actually locked somewhere inside them, if only they could decode it.

Michael chanced another grim glance at Isabel. She was still doing her don't-put-me-in-the-middle-of-you-and-Max routine with her compulsive comfort ritual. While Max was off, dissecting the memory dream with Liz Parker like it was a dead frog, and probably convincing himself that it meant nothing important in the bargain. Michael wished Max was there right in front of him so that they could settle the issue of him shying away from their alien side, once and for all. He was sick and tired of Max's excuses for not doing anything, while, he, Michael, was left cooling his heels, literally vibrating with the need to do something.

Some days, Michael wished he didn't have such a hair-trigger. It was draining to be the one always demanding action, and demanding it NOW!

Though he would never admit it, sometimes, even he tired of himself and his often rash impulsiveness.

But someone had to act. And deep in his heart, Michael knew that action was what he was best at, what he was supposed to do.

His mission, as it were.

He glanced down at the book he still held in his clutches. Maybe, some sort of answer would recommend itself from there. No one was tripping over themselves to suggest a more aggressive course of action. Michael noticed that one of the pages had been dog-eared so he opened the book to Max's marker and expelled an almost painful hiss of breath.

The section title said it all:

Psychology of a Stalker.

A 17-point list written in Max's hand of signs to look for, each number crossed out, was overkill.

He slammed the book shut. Max was beyond help. "It was bad enough that he told her that we're not from around here," he groused to himself but Isabel's more than human hearing picked up on his objection.

"Michael, your griping is so getting old," she said in a long-suffering tone, diverting her anal focus from the closet to Max's already made up bed. "Just deal with it, okay?"

Right, Michael thought sarcastically. Deal with it. How could he be expected to just deal with it, he stressed expansively and sardonically in his mind, when his siblings were busy pussyfooting around?

They had a lot of things to deal with, and they were doing what, exactly?

Drowning in denial, that was what.

Michael wouldn't allow that to happen. In the absence of the real target for his anger and bitterness, he continued needling Isabel.

"So what was that, 'Go on, Max, I'll catch a ride with Mom later,' crap?" Michael raised a supercilious eyebrow, playing alien's advocate to the hilt. The whump of a pillow hitting the mattress preceded Isabel's reply.

"I don't spend enough time with my mom, okay?" she finally strangled out.

He closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose. That was the problem right there, he thought, almost wearily. Both Max and Isabel were trying so hard to protect what they had in Roswell that they couldn't see the forest for the trees. In their own ways, they wanted so badly to find a home on this rock, to belong.

Why couldn't they understand that they would never belong, that this wasn't, would never be home?

Why was it only Michael who was raring to go back?

If he had to steamroller them into it, he would, he decided grimly. They didn't have a choice but to act on the clues in Max's dream. That they would even prefer inaction and useless postmortems was beyond belief.

"Your mom. Right," he responded nastily, thinking of his own abusive foster father. "Wake up, Isabel. She's not your mother and she never has been!" He dismissed her disbelieving, teary look and went on. "She's just some woman who picked you and Max up from the roadside like a couple of puppies. And I bet if she had kids of her own, she wouldn't have given a damn about you both after dumping you with the social services people." Like Hank never gave a damn about me, only about that damn child support check and how far it will go to keep him in beer.

"Don't you ever, EVER, say that about my mother." Isabel rounded on him, eyes blazing. "What has she done to you that you have to be this cruel?" she rebuked. "She is a loving mother, she's always made you feel welcome when she didn't have to." To underscore her passionate defense, Isabel got up from the bed and went toe to toe with him; he stood his ground and found it knocked away by her following words. "And if I ever had to tell anyone about us, she's the only one I would trust with our secret."

"Keep your voice down, you want her to come in here?" He raked his fingers agitatedly through his spiky hair, further messing it up. He thought about apologizing but couldn't find the words. He whirled around, turning away from her, backing down. "Forget I said anything," he sniped over his shoulder. "You and Max do what you want to do. Take out an ad in the papers, tell all the UFO freaks who come to town about the aliens in Roswell, I don't care."

He stomped over to the window, heart heavy, and thought about just running away into the night. The sky was still dark; he could still see the stars. He wished the night would last longer; during nighttime, he felt more optimistic--as if his home planet were closer, close enough to touch. He felt so disconnected from either Max or Isabel. They didn't understand, they never would. They preferred to maintain their distance from the stars that called to him so seductively.

"Get over yourself, Michael." Isabel was still on the offensive and Michael regretted having shoved her on the war path. "You want to find our people and then what? Didn't you listen to what Max was saying? Our people tortured and kidnapped innocent people!" The control she had on her shielding cracked wide open, and Michael was buffeted by confusion that rivalled his. Except the terror in his case was a different kind.

"So you're saying that we just forget about trying to find a way back and settle for things here." He faced her again, forcing a reasonable note into his voice and hoping that that would be enough to smooth over her ire.

Isabel looked into his eyes for a long moment, then forgave him as easily as she'd earlier forgiven Max. The ache in his heart eased somewhat. She took the few steps necessary to erase the distance between them and said, "We're not settling, Michael." Giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, she reiterated their half-baked plan. "I'll dreamwalk Max tomorrow night, and you, you can go back to digging for more clues around the crash site." Then apparently realizing how lame their plans were, she added hesitantly, "It's not much, but it's all we can do for now."

Michael grabbed the olive branch she was offering. The adversarial stand wasn't getting him anywhere. "You realize, of course, that the way we're going, I'll have the entire map of New Mexico shaded in and we'd still have zip."

He pulled out a creased map from his pocket, sections of which were shaded in pencil, and gingerly unfolded it. The shaded parts fell within an area about sixty miles out of Roswell and fifteen miles from the crash site. He and Max had spent hours digging in the desolate, parched desert, theorizing that their ship lay buried somewhere near the crash site; the beings who'd survived and brought their incubation pods to safety had probably not had enough time to drag whatever remained of the ship farther. A thin strip of flexible metal Max found a year ago within the crash radius had further convinced them that the theory was sound. The metal was unlike anything they had ever encountered: if you crumpled it up, it straightened itself out into its original shape without any creases. And it was practically indestructible--hammers, pruning shears, even a blow-torch couldn't damage it. It stood to reason that the unidentifiable, durable material was not of this earth, and most likely, had been sheared off from their ship on impact. It made Michael wonder just how much force it would take to shear off the metal and how they had survived the crash in the first place.

And during those times when he let himself get discouraged, Michael considered the possibility that he and Max would never find another clue, would run out of places to search, would run out of time and still the ship would forever stay hidden. As irredeemably lost as their belief in having someone of their kind save them and take them home.

He wrestled with an angry roar building up inside him. Why did it have to be so damn complicated?

Were they meant to be stuck on earth till their dying day? To live forever hiding in the shadows? Despite the so-called clues provided by Max's dream, even Michael saw the iffy-ness of the chance that they could use the info there to plot a course back to the home world.

So did Max and Isabel maybe, just maybe, have the right idea in making a home on earth? To let humans in? That perhaps Michael, too, should just accept that he was never getting off this rock and learn to live with the fact?

It was a hard question, one that he found more difficult to answer.

At least he wasn't alone, Michael conceded wryly. Despite everything, he had Max and Isabel, his family for all their spats and differing opinions.

Only death would break that kinship or the otherworldly connection that bound them to one another.

Then, as if he had been hit over the head with a sledgehammer, Michael realized that the connection, the ability to sense each other was not exclusive to aliens.

Liz had felt the need to check on Max, too.

What the hell was that about? He thought, his irritation once again spurting. She was not like them, how could she be tuned in to their alien frequency? And more importantly, was she the only one who had a connection with an alien, or was she only picking up Max's admittedly Liz-obsessed vibes? Or could Liz also feel him and Isabel? If she could, did that mean there were other humans out there who could sense them, sense their difference? Before they were ready to defend themselves? Someone who would cage them into a lab somewhere like they were nothing else but freaks to be studied. Or would cut them down, victims of unreasoning fear of the unknown? The questions came fast and furious and the only one who could maybe shed light on the subject was blocks away, doing... whatever a teenage boy would be doing in the arms of his girlfriend.

He turned to Isabel with a huff and a disgruntled air that masked his inner alarm.

"Michael?" The expression on Isabel's face was perplexed.

"Don't you think it's weird that Liz was able to sense Max like we did?"


* * *

Another loaded silence fell after Max made her heart melt with his proclamation of his love for her--Liz.

They were sitting on her bed and she cuddled closer, as though her clinging would keep the monsters at bay and him safe. It probably wouldn't, she concluded, snuggling under his chin and making like a limpet, but they were gonna have a difficult time peeling her 110-pounds-soaking-wet body from Max's side if they came to harm him.

It was quiet in her room, only the ticking of the clock audible. It seemed uncommonly noisy. Resting her head against Max's chest, Liz listened instead to the frantic pounding of Max's heart as she snuggled deeper into the strong circle of his arms. With her own pulse thudding loudly in her own ears, their heartbeats combined in stereo, a comforting but at the same time, alarming thing.

Beneath her cheek, the hammering of his heart and the feel of the hard muscles covering his impressive chest made Liz realize that for all Max's vitality and strength, it was not inconceivable that his life could be snuffed out as easily as your average human. A knife, a bullet, a noose, poison, explosives - the varied ways that people killed other people ran morbidly amuck through her mind. Heck, she'd even heard that exaggerated claim of carving someone's heart out with a spoon!

Her hands tightened about him convulsively. She didn't think being an alien (half of one anyways if she believed his dream) exempted him from suffering and death. Could Max heal himself of a fatal injury? Was that even possible? Her recognition of Max's vulnerability--for all that he was different--caused her earlier fears to explode, flinging her back with a near audible splash into that cold, dark nightmare sea. As she sank into the mirk, she sensed the horrifyingly clammy tendrils eagerly stirring, relishing her recapture in their clutches.

Oh, no...not this time, she resolved as she metaphysically kicked her way to the surface, putting distance between herself and the suffocating creepers of fear. Almost automatically, she smothered her connection with Max; she could handle the resurgence of fear and doubt on her own. It occurred to her that she was getting good at this multitasking thing: hug Max tightly in the real world - check; fight the monstrous terror - check; make sure that Max doesn't know about it - check.

When she felt she had returned to some semblance of levelheadedness, no matter how fragile or illusory, Liz breathed a sigh of relief. She peered at Max from beneath her lashes, only to find him looking at her with an odd expression on his face. She debated on whether to open up their connection again, but decided against it in the last second, tendering normal conversation in its stead.

"Max?" Her voice came out quizzical but little-girl-breathless and unsure. Try again, she advised. She cleared her throat and said in her more or less normal husky tone, "You alright?"

"You've been doing that off and on," he stated evenly, his expression wiped clean of anything indicating his emotional state.

Oops. Busted. She didn't bother prevaricating, she knew what Max meant. "Ye-es..." she drew out the affirmative. Was he disappointed that she didn't have better control? Was she leaking all over the place? Practice, she thought, grasping. She needed more practice. Practice makes perfect Parker.

"Why? You don't have to," Max elaborated, still using that carefully neutral tone.

She tentatively released her hold on her side of the connection and was almost bowled over by the bittersweet pain Max was feeling. Yikes! Without thought, she fumbled for some reassurance and channeled it to Max clumsily, flinging herself headlong into the rush of emotions. He gave her a small, wistful half grimace (oh, Max, what happened to my smile?) and met her floundering attempt with--what was that? matter-of-fact?-- thankfulness.

"I--I was just trying to spare you more heartache, Max," she whispered awkwardly. Looks like she had a-ways to go before she could decipher Max and what he needed, link or no link. "I just thought you shouldn't have to put up with my anxieties on top of your own, you know? But I'm here for you. Always..."

"Seems like I don't like having the tables turned on me," Max whispered back, his lips curling in self-deprecation. "Talk about contrary... I'm sorry, Liz."

Her forehead scrunched up in confusion but she nodded uncertainly. Max, with what felt like a renewed burst of determination, embraced her even more tightly, like he was afraid she was going to disappear before his eyes.

Within that happily suffocating embrace, he traced slow circles on her back. "I'm confusing you, aren't I?"

"Kinda," she muttered against his shirt.

"Call it conditioning. Michael, Isabel, and I shield when we don't want anyone poking in." He nuzzled her hair and Liz mentally sighed. "And I...shield from you...when I don't want you to see--"

"Shielding," she interrupted thoughtfully, trying the word out loud. She angled her head up to gaze into his face. "That's not bad, Max," she mused. "Humans put up walls all the time. And sometimes, you actually need them."

"I know," Max agreed with a solemn nod, smoothing her mussed up hair with a gentle but hesitant hand. "It's just ... I didn't think ... I mean, for you to deliberately shut me out--"

What was he trying to tell her? She was getting totally lost; his emotions were confusing the stuffing out of her. She shook her head to try to clear it, but Max took the gesture to mean she was rejecting what he was saying and went on insistently.

"You know, when I stopped you from seeing the rest of that Crash fantasy?" His earnest gaze held her puzzled one.

"Yes."

"I was only thinking of myself ... of how ... embarrassing it was for me. I didn't realize how bad it would feel to be on the receiving end."

"Like this?" Liz slammed shut the flow of her emotions and Max nodded miserably. Within their connection, she could picture Max slumping down against the barred portal.

"Yes," he confirmed with a pained note in his voice. "You've gotten unbelievably good at that... Do you know how long it took for Michael to learn that kind of control?" He stared at the darkness outside her bedroom window. Then turning back to her, he said, "I just ... I don't like when you hide things from me, when I can't feel what you're feeling." He tipped her chin up, searching her gaze for something. She lifted the metaphysical barrier between them and he eagerly fell through. "We're together now. We don't have to keep things secret from each other."

"O-kay," Liz averred hesitantly, thinking about what he said. "So you're saying that you don't want us to have any sort of privacy?" She swallowed hard. "At all?" That was, that was--

"Yes. No. I don't know." His eyes pleaded with her to understand. The surge of his emotions flooded into her, entwining with her own with uncharacteristic aggression.

Liz pulled back, pressing a hand to Max's chest. The place they were in was so strewn with emotional land mines that Liz needed to pick her way carefully around them before she figuratively blew herself and Max to smithereens. She frowned at that morbid thought. Concentrate, Parker, she scolded. Then pausing for a deep breath she began, "Max, it's about trust."

"Do we trust each other?" she inquired in follow-up.

"Yes," Max replied promptly.

"Then we can trust each other to know what to keep hidden and what to share, right?"

"Ye-es..." Max imitated her earlier agreeing tone.

"That's what I was doing earlier. It's not keeping things secret per se. It's just knowing what can be hidden and what shouldn't," she rationalized, stroking away Max's bangs from his forehead, and smiling at him encouragingly.

"I guess," Max murmured in a reflective tone, lowering his head. With endearing hesitancy, he pressed a gentle kiss on her lips, then withdrew, gazing raptly at her. The wide open connection swirled with shimmering colors and thrummed that familiar haunting music as their longing for each other swamped them both. And just like that, the ambience turned from something fairly innocent into one...not ... quite so innocent.

"Max?"

"I want you so much, Liz."

With that heart-tugging and mind-boggling preface, Max slanted his mouth hungrily across hers. She met his ardor equally, her heart somersaulting in her chest as he eagerly sucked and nibbled on her lower lip with provocative delicacy. Oh, but he had the most gorgeous mouth... She trembled from his fiery caress, sighing out a broken and breathy "Want...you...too...Max," as the delicious anticipation of more made her head spin dizzily and her body pulse with undeniable excitement. His sure touch compelled greedy flames to lick through her veins, igniting the sense of rightness being physically close to him brought. She fanned the passionate conflagration, slicking her tongue across the seam of his mouth, before parting her lips and inviting Max within. Avidly, his tongue thrust in with urgent, ardent swipes, his intimate plunder of her mouth a foreshadow of intent that was rawly and unmistakably sexual.

Oh, God, she didn't think she could love him anymore that she already did, she thought hazily, linking her arms about his neck. She ached, yearned, burned as he drove his tongue deep, urging her to return his hunger in full measure. The beguiling and oh-so-welcome heat set off something like sparklers inside her and she gasped, momentarily breaking the kiss. Easily, Max transferred his worshipping to her face, raining moist kisses along her cheek to her ear. He nipped at, then sucked on her earlobe and she shivered, trembling hands gripping the taut sinews of his back. He bore her down to the bed, hands on her hips pulling her closer. One of her jeans-clad legs slid in between his muscled thighs and got imprisoned there. It was so tempting to just stay forever like this, willingly trapped in his embrace, she silently sighed. She marvelled muzzily at how Max wanted her and how he was making no secret of it; Liz felt him hot and hard and ready against her and moaned, "Oh, Max..."

Then, just like the previous morning on their Maria-enforced picnic, she saw a vision of herself in her teal Crash uniform, antenna bobbing, buttons unfastened, teasing a captivated and nearly drooling Max. Her breath hitched, her already reeling heart lurched as Fantasy Max sensuously traced a line down her sternum, while Real Life Max cupped the soft curves of her breasts, whispering her name and declaring his love for her over and over. She echoed his words, her nipples hardening as she arched reflexively into his grasp.

He was making it so hard--DIFFICULT! She meant difficult!--to think...

The sound of her zipper rasping down brought her back from the sensual brink. Mentally she let out a mournful, 'oh, please, no. Not yet!' as she forced herself to emerge from the drugging fog of desire, dogged by unwelcome echoes of her mom's talk about giving your body to the man you love.

She loved Max, she did, she affirmed even as she squirmed in his grasp. She wanted this intimacy. But right this very second wasn't the perfect time. And her bedroom, with her parents sleeping just down the hall, not the right place. Their yearning for each other was spiralling out of control faster than she expected, but she had just that one smidgeon of self-control left. "Max..." she gasped, trying to catch his attention.

"Liz..." he muttered, a strong arm locking her to his hard body as she tried to edge away from him, his other hand still worrying the fastening on her jeans.

"Max!" She clamped a hand over his fingers, halting their progress. He freed her mouth and her button with slow reluctance. His amber gaze was both lambent-gold and hot, but slowly, a sheepish light came on and he said ruefully, "Sorry. Got carried away. You do that to me."

"I, I-" The words wouldn't come from her unquenched desire drenched vocal chords. She didn't want him thinking that she was leading him on so she concentrated on sending a thrilled but scared vibe across the connection as she pulled up her zipper. The sound was still loud and she gave a small wince.

"It's okay, Liz. It's too soon, I understand," Max said as she tried to explain with her apologetic gaze why they had to stop right now. He drew his thumb across her wet lips and inhaled deeply. They both sighed at the same time and laughed into each other eyes as soft chuckles wafted in the heated air. After a while she tried to restart less distracting conversation.

"Max?" She needed to know if that fantasy leaked without his permission or if it was being deliberately sent.

"Hmm?" He sounded pleased and disappointed all at the same time.

"Don't get me wrong... the real thing was, is, mind-blowing, but -" Maybe she shouldn't be talking about this. This was NOT the way to cool things off. Maybe she should just ask him about the homework they had to submit for chemistry?

"You're still curious about that fantasy." He toyed with the ends of her hair as he sent her an image of herself in chemistry class, earnestly taking down notes.

"Um, it's the trust thing...and...and...should I even try to explain?" she inquired rhetorically, sending back a vision of them playing tag on a board painted with a gigantic periodic table. She wasn't in the mood to balance chemical equations in her mind, which was what Max was encouraging her to do over the connection.

He smiled and tagged her on the square marked Cd - cadmium - atomic number 48. "Not being secretive for the sake of it, but I don"t think that's advisable right now."

"Oh, sure." She snuck a peek below his belt and bit her lip. She moved just the teensiest bit away, while tagging him on the C - carbon - atomic number 6 square. They went sprawling.

"And Liz?"

"Yes, Max?"

"I'm still curious about that fantasy in the lab, too." They had sort of rolled on to the next chemical element, N - nitrogen - atomic number 7.

"Some other time." With an enthusiastic wave, Liz erased the periodic table they'd been playing on, before it took the place of her bed. She tried not to, but succumbed anyway to the temptation of kissing Max again in reality. Just a little kiss, she promised herself. Not enough to lure them into depravity.

"That a promise?" he mumbled and she sensed him keeping a tight rein on the desire for physical intimacy that thundered back to full strength.

"Uh-hmm," she also mumbled.

"Good."

* * *


I am covered in skin
No one gets to come in
Pull me out from inside
I am folded, and unfolded, and unfolding, I am
Color blind

-- Counting Crows, Colorblind



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


Here's the link to this fic on the Dreamer board: Among Us


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 26-Nov-2002 7:14:26 PM ]
posted on 8-Nov-2002 6:45:46 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer n such, see first post.


Additional note Parts of Max's description of Liz are a take-off from D.J. MacHale's PENDRAGON Book One: The Merchant of Death. No infringement intended.

In two posts due to length restrictions.


Part Seventeen
Take your knocks, shake them off, duck everybody



MONDAY
FAST FORWARD TO LUNCH PERIOD
MAX POV


This is the first time that I've sat down to lunch with Liz in school. In plain view of anyone eating in the quad who cares to notice.

And may I just say it's unnerving to be the center of this much attention.

My insecurity, prodded to near snarling heights by a couple of dozen pairs of curious eyes, is wreaking havoc on what should be a euphoric moment of togetherness.

I shake my head in disgust. Only Liz knows it's not because of the near accident I had with a can of soda. Nevertheless, she wipes away the sticky drops from my hand and I am simultaneously warmed and discomfited.

For someone who has elevated hiding in plain sight into an art form, I find I'm singularly not equipped to live life as a goldfish.

I heard that puzzled 'What?' so let me explain.

A goldfish. You know, swimming around in a bowl? It doesn't have to be a goldfish; it can be any member of the fish class unfortunate enough to live an unnatural existence in an aquarium. Those lessons on the animal kingdom last week seem to have sunk in, in spite of my NOT listening to Ms. Hardy's lectures because I was... um... otherwise occupied with my lab partner. Anyway, as I was saying, fish trying to go about its business in a totally exposed environment, stuck in a place where people who have nothing better to do spend their time gawking at you, or tapping on the glass hoping to get your attention.

I see the light dawns. Good. Haven't lost my touch in belaboring a point.

The anxious trapped-in-a-glass-bowl feeling is so great that I'm almost tempted to grab Liz and drive some place where the only eyes trained on us would belong to the other. But as I quickly check on who's around and paying attention, I realize it's too late.

It was already too late from the time we walked through the school doors this morning.

Running out now will only make the inevitable return to the fishbowl worse.

Before I proceed further, let me just state categorically that I am NOT complaining. I'm only telling you what I feel (with maybe a little whine mixed in) and what I feel is an affinity with goldfish.

A dubious and doubting do-I-really-want-to-get-out-of-this-bowl goldfish.

I would be ludicrous if I weren't so pathetic.

I see my self-scolding hasn't gone unnoticed. But then again, with our connection wide open, it's not like Liz has a choice. She tries to cajole me out of my brooding mood by a) wrinkling her nose and making faces at me; and b) deftly flirting with me within that same connection.

Addictive stuff. Extremely.

I reply with a weak smile, subduing a giddy impulse to maul her both publicly and privately. I settle for popping the huge metaphysical bubble gum she was blowing at me, then lapse back into my fishy musings.

What brought on this feeling of kindred spirits, you ask?

Why ponder the nature of a strange half-life that, all fishy nuances aside, has taken a definite turn for the better?

They say the beginning's always good, but I prefer highlights. So here they are --

(1) The thing I've been terrified of all my life finally happened, with a whimper and not the bang I was dreading;
(2) As a result of (1), my cherished dream came true and I'm still reeling from its fulfillment;
(3) I may not exactly be who I thought I was (trust me, you don't want to go there, so we'll leave that alone for now)
(4) Points (1) and (3) didn't dissuade my dream girl (from point (2)) from choosing me and dumping her ex.

That last point is what led to this goldfish scenario.

Because the dream girl in question is Liz Parker. Yes, we ARE talking about THAT Liz Parker -- sweet, winsome, intelligent, beautiful, bites-her-lower-lip-or-tucks-her-hair-behind-her-ears-when-she's-nervous, looks-incredibly-appealing-in-her-uniform, mouthwateringly-gorgeous-in-red (which is the color of the top she's wearing today), with-extraordinarily-expressive-eyes-that-bore-into-your-soul Liz Parker.

Liz Parker, who up until yesterday afternoon, used to be superjock Kyle Valenti's girlfriend.

Pardon me while I stress that she's MY girlfriend now.

And now that you're all caught up, let me take you through my morning. The morning that, despite its nightmarish beginnings, marked the start of my first day of truly public life as the official other half of a dream couple.

Let me pause to again savor that mind-boggling development. The reality of it still catches in my throat. My heart thumps in a crazy staccato rhythm, matching what sounds suspiciously like drooling pants. Topping 'em off are out of control teen hormones jumping up and down and leering all around.

I'm about to keel over from an overdose of happiness.

But then, what a way to go, huh?

Being thisclosetoLiz makes me so giddy that I went a little overboard with the finally permissible adoring and goofy grins this morning.

Admittedly, we could've gotten away with just raising eyebrows if we were simply walking together. Nothing really shocking about that. We share a lot of classes after all, the foremost being first period geometry.

But those high voltage, besotted smiles had been a dead giveaway. Because people will tell you I am NOT known for beaming at all and sundry, making everyone, teachers included, double take and question whether that smiling person IS Max Evans and is that Liz Parker hanging on to his arm?

Because she was. Before we went to our first class of the day, we were practically glued at the hip. The drive from her house to school had been too short that it was only natural for us to want to extend our time together. Oblivious at first to the curiosity we were arousing. I don't know how many people saw us arrive in and linger beside my jeep, but I'm pretty sure that the scandalized observation of Max Evans coming to school with Liz Parker and not his sister went around like wildfire during the morning, adding combustible material to the blaze already getting out of hand.

I can't recall how many inquisitive, "Hey, Liz. Max??" we were subjected to in that short time window we had between first walking in and going to class. I wasn't what you'd call in touch with the outside world just then. I only realized later that we became the day's news headline. I'm getting ahead of myself but for now, let me just say that throughout the short amble to her locker, a bomb could've detonated beside me and I wouldn't have twigged, much less recognize that we were attracting A LOT of attention.

Which, I admit, was exceptionally dense of me. But then, I don't think you should expect a newly-transplanted goldfish to be brimming with insights, especially not when his better half is right there in the bowl with him. Being affectionate even though it was only in our heads.

As we sauntered along at the pace of molasses, we were so into each other's personal space. Internally AND externally. And while I knew PDAs were a no-no, I couldn't help but squeeze her delicate hand as we walked, my heart overflowing with joy. To make matters better (I know, it's usually 'to make matters worse,' but since this is my perspective, it's 'better'), the connection that bound us was so heady, more real than reality, that the extraneous world just... disappeared.

And I wanted to grab Liz, lower her in one of those cheesy dips, and kiss the daylights out of her, regardless of those bystanders I hadn't noticed. Which just goes to show you how far I've fallen from my normally cautious self.

I don't even know how I had enough of my wits left about me to gently remind her that we were right in front of her locker, and for her to get her books out before the warning bell rang. But I managed. I was the one who interrupted the protracted gazing-into-each-other's-eyes thing. And I found it so adorable that Liz colored prettily and sighed out a sheepish, "Oh. Yeah. Right...," before dialing her combination and popping her locker open.

As I reached for her books, offering to carry them for her, she gifted me with yet another one of those shy smiles. My knees threatened to give out and it wasn't because her books weighed a ton.

But cut me a little slack here, people. This is Liz Parker. The person who I've been in love with practically forever, resentful sibling issues notwithstanding.

Begging your indulgence once more as I drag in another example to illustrate what being Liz Parker's boyfriend means to me: you know, that boy with the empty pockets and his nose pressed against a candy store window? That was me. For as long as I could remember. Do I need to tell you what, or more appropriately, who, I was yearning for?

I didn't think so.

Liz accepting me for what and who I am was like flinging the doors of that candy store wide open and inviting me to help myself.

I'm trying not to be a greedy pig, but it's straining the bounds of my self-control.

Liz has seen into my soul, and instead of being repulsed, she gifted me with its other half.

She is so connected to me that I don't know where the line of separation lies anymore. Nor do I care to wonder. All I'm capable of is... losing myself. In her. In us.

As I pulled on our link, wrapping it around an imaginary hand in the way I couldn't bury my face in her strawberry scented hair, I felt Liz's good-natured ribbing over our connection. I didn't mind; my thoughts had taken on a maudlin tone. I took a couple of deep breaths to steady myself and to privately relish her teasing and her surprisingly strong connection hug.

Because it's cute. She's cute. She's beyond cute.

She's a goddess!

She also needs to breathe... I let my confining hold on our bond and her shoulders slacken somewhat. I teased her lightly about her forgetting the reason we're in school today was to study and not just cling to one another like the rest of humankind had vanished and we were the only two beings left on the planet. She rallied and in her inimitable way, transformed how I would look at geometry from here on out.

As she tugged at the relaxed connection and pulled it tight, she also drew my head down. "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And the shortest distance between here and--" she broke off and I looked at her upturned face, literally awe- and lust-struck. She'd mindsent a flash of a simple room sign and was drawing a line from that door to where we were standing.

God, but I love this woman...

There she was, her bottom lip caught by perfect white teeth, the light of challenge gleaming in the rich chocolate depths of her eyes. She was daring me to erase the space between those two points and to go the shortest distance from the lockers to the infamous make-out room of West Roswell High.

I've subconsciously memorized that path. It's a straight line down the hall and... smack into reality.

People would really talk if Max Evans dragged Liz Parker to a room that seemed to get more and more notorious with each passing school week. And the hallway was still chockful of loitering students who, in all likelihood, had also committed to memory the fastest route to that nookie nook. Tempting though the prospect of taking Liz to the eraser room and keeping her there was, before first period wasn't really the right time. Not enough time, for one. For another, I would really rather not subject any of the student body to Liz's effect on MY body.

Thinking about other people brought me up short, signalling my wake-up call in the goldfish bowl.

I've always watched. I don't think I've ever been watched. At least, not to any great degree. And now that I've experienced it, it IS unsettling. And I found I couldn't, didn't want to shed the cloak of near invisibility I'd worn over the years and be that... transparent to others.

People were staring. Waiting. Weighing. Not everyone but enough of them to make you fidget. It was partly comical because I saw some mouths hanging open in shock. And here I thought that was just a figure of speech. But there they were, in addition to eyes rounded like they couldn't believe what they were seeing. The connection between Liz and me flared with bemusement, so I knew I wasn't the only one to find the silent open-mouthed staring bizarre. Among those in mute agape mode was this girl who kept propositioning me all through last year and this one, Pam Troy.

Pam has a tendency to poke and prod, and not in a good way. She had once intimated that if only I'd give Michael up, I would find something more appropriate for me on the other side of the sexual preference divide. Needless to say, I've been keeping a wide berth between us ever since.

So I steeled myself against her possible questions. But she didn't. Confront us, that is. No one from among the stare brigade did. It was funny.

Not.

Anticipation bites. You can write that in stone.

Then, as though someone snapped their fingers to break a spell, those who'd been staring at us in dumbfounded appraisal, started chattering loudly and volubly to whoever they were with. Clearly ignoring us. Lockers were either opened or slammed shut. The sound of feet shuffling toward classrooms grew, accompanied by a rise in the volume of conversational buzz.

Liz and I didn't have to explain ourselves or our uncharacteristic behavior.

And I actually felt crushed that no one cared enough to wonder about what was going on beneath their noses.

Can we call me perverse? How about conceited? While I would have resented any inquiring mind wanting to know what was up with Liz Parker and Max Evans, not being able to face down that sort of impertinence kinda rankled.

At the very least, someone should have questioned why Liz Parker was with Max Evans that morning and not with the king of the WRH jungle, Kyle Valenti. I mean, this is high school. The hotbed of superficiality for pete's sake. According to my sister Isabel (and she would know), this was the kind of juicy gossip that school thrives on.

Imagine. Me. Wanting to run the gauntlet of gossip.

Amazing.

But it was true. I wanted to impress upon people that Liz was with me now but I didn't because, as I said, nobody asked. Not at that instant anyway.

I thought I would have that chance (and a darn good one!) when Liz's best friends, Maria and Alex, showed up. But they too chose not to make with an interrogation. See, everyday before class, the three of them usually congregate in front of Liz's locker, laughing and exchanging stories the way real friends do. Me, I could usually be found dawdling by my locker, passively watching them. That is, until Isabel got fed up enough to tow me, heels dragging, to class.

As Liz and I tarried in the hallway, Alex and Maria rounded the corner at a quick lope, then stopped so suddenly that Alex collided with Maria a couple of feet from us. Alex's puzzled and drawled out, "Li-iz?" was ran over by Maria's perky "HI, MAX, HI, LIZ! CATCH YOU GUYS LATER!!" She followed through with a furious whispering in Alex's ear.

So on this never-to-be-forgotten morning, Alex and Maria had given up their usual stations by Liz's side, leaving that coveted spot for me. It had not been without reluctance on Alex's part (yet another curiouser-and-curiouser development that amplified the goldfish feeling). I'd seen that Alex was concerned about what changed since last Friday; the expression of watchfulness on his face was a clue. But Maria, with a conspiratorial grin at Liz and me, dragged him away before he could say anything. Alex had let himself be led in the direction of the classroom with one last bemused look at Liz (and a half warning one at me) over his shoulder. When I glanced over at Liz, I saw her mouthing, "Later. Promise," to her best friends.

As Maria and Alex vanished, I felt the corners of my mouth drooping again because, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted people to know that Liz Parker had made Max Evans a happy man. And that he would do the utmost to return the favor. I so wanted to have that chance to emphasize, especially to those closest to Liz.

But at the same time, I was relieved that I had been let off the hook and didn't have to tell anyone about our new relationship just yet.

Don't court attention; hide; stay in the shadows; and other timeworn warnings went through my mind like a broken record. Which, obviously, made me feel like some anti-commitment jerk. You know, the superficial, moronic kind who doesn't want people to know who he's seeing.

It was bewildering knot of unstable emotions. It was a good thing Michael hadn't arrived yet because he would've only added his own volatile stuff to the baggage I was already lugging.

There was a war going on between that part of me that always urged caution (and all the commitment-wary things that implied) versus an aggressive, primitive, mate-claiming side to which I had not been introduced before, which equally cannot be portrayed in a healthy relationship light. Either one reflected badly on me. Together, they make it obligingly easy to condemn myself in Liz's eyes.

And you know how much I don't want that.

Have I mentioned that the fishbowl is very transparent? Well, it is and I'm worried that through it, people will figure out just how torn I am about the whole me and Liz thing.

My life has gotten so complicated.

So focused was I on what other people would think that I overlooked Liz's being tuned in to my emotional frequency. I wasn't exactly in a frame of mind that could hide anything from her, especially not after my extended treatise on the connection transparency issue. My expose or hide quandary must have been growing exponentially within our bond because Liz grabbed my shirt sleeve and urgently hissed, "Euclidean postulates" so that I could calm my ass down.

I don't know whether the fact that I now equated geometry, or math for that matter, with pleasurable Liz pursuits was gonna help much in calming me down, but I muttered obediently, "The sum of the interior angles of any triangle is equal to the sum of two right angles," as we entered the classroom.

Liz smiled at me encouragingly and rejoined, "The square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides."

Unfortunately, our teacher Mr. Singer overheard Liz and me, and he grinned at us.

"Miss Parker, Mr. Evans. How sweet that you two recite the Pythagorean theorem to one another. Music to my ears, indeed. Now, if you would like to take your seats, perhaps I can entice you further into the fascinating study of geometry?"

A spike in our connection told me we had matching blushes on our faces. Which prompted titters from those students who were seated right in front of Mr. Singer's desk. You could almost make out the low, intrigued murmurs that whizzed around.

"Liz Parker and Max Evans??"

"Since when?"

"What about Kyle? I thought he and Liz were--"

It was just too bad that I couldn't come clean then. Now that I felt ready to wax eloquent about lovely Liz, the timing just really sucked.

After surrendering her books to Liz, I made my way over to my desk (where else but the back row), while Liz sat down near the front. I had to force myself to ignore the wiggling-eyebrow promptings to "Spill!" from those beside and in front of me. Don't be fooled by Mr. Singer's propensity to drone on in the most fantastically boring monotone ever affected; this teacher is a holy terror when it comes to giving out detention assignments for the least infraction.

"Mr. Evans, is something the matter?" Mr. Singer all of a sudden boomed after I pushed away yet another notebook shoved in my face with 'WAY TO GO, EVANS!' written on it.

"No, sir," I said meekly.

"Then please pay attention."

I focused on the angles made by Mr. Singer as he wrote on the board, thankful for my narrow escape from detention. But I could still feel the weight of the nosy stares I'd attracted. Goldfish bowl alright.

I mentally offered another "Thank God, Michael's absent" litany because he would have really hauled me over the coals for the spectacle I was making of myself this morning. I felt Liz's worry over our connection and mindsent an "All's cool on the Max front" message: an image of me with halfway decent smile my face. Liz glanced back and gave me a significant look.

Call me suitably chastised. I am so not worthy of the consoling metaphysical back rubs she's doing over the connection.

The curious stares, some downright malignant (those came from Kyle's jock friends), and hastily smothered snippets of conversation continued through third and fourth periods. Perhaps predictably, the gawking and whispering was negligible during second period which was biology. Probably it was because our classmates there are already used to us as lab partners so the greater majority thought nothing was amiss.

And again, contrarily, I felt like saying "We're more than just lab partners!" All the while, warily looking around and through my goldfish bowl.

We separated for third and fourth periods, but not before we decided to be aloof and discreet. It was Liz's idea, actually, to help me get through the day; she thought a return to my usual detached state would be the best course of action. And predictably perverse or perversely predictable me, I wanted to protest.

At the rate I was going, Liz would soon lose patience.

I could only gaze longingly at her as she went to the classes she didn't share with me.


continued in next post
posted on 8-Nov-2002 6:47:26 AM
When we finally met up for lunch, I tried to explain to her why I was being so contrary. Had to. But once I said the whole alien-in-hiding rationalization and my goldfish analogy out loud, they sounded as ridiculous as that "we're different" excuse she lambasted yesterday (a move for which I will be eternally grateful). After listening to my stutterings, she said, with all the aplomb I've come to expect from Liz Parker, "Just ignore them, Max. If anyone asks, we tell them. If not, why worry? I, for one, plan to simply enjoy being with you. I think I've earned it."

And she snuggled up to me. Right there, in full view of everyone! Sure, it was done over the connection, but still!

I am dangerously close to falling off this bench.

Liz is right. I SHOULD be enjoying being with her, instead of worrying about other people. Whatever their conclusions, I don't think they'll arrive at the far-fetched since-Liz-Parker-is-with-Max-Evans-that-means-he's-an-alien scenario that's at the root of all this goldfish agonizing.

Paranoia may be my middle name, but that doesn't mean I should let it take over. Because no matter how uncomfortable it gets, I'm sharing this goldfish bowl with Liz Parker. And she's cheerfully ignoring all the stares and glass tappings.

But I realize I'm not what you call a get-it-right-the-first-time kind of alien. In spite of my pledge to simply enjoy Liz's company, I must have been failing miserably. Because as I frowned for probably the nth time (unfortunately at the sandwich Liz had packed for me), Liz brought me back with a beseeching, "M-a-ax--"

My gaze flew up to hers. From my earlier visual reconnaissance, I knew the other people who would have noticed Liz calling for my attention. Two tables over, Alex and Maria. My sister with a group of her friends over by the shady side. Beside them, Kyle, Tommy Hoag, and a couple of guys in letterman jackets from the football team. In front of us, Pam and her gaggle of flighty attendants. Depending on who you focused on, you could pick up vibes that ranged from worried anticipation, to irritable exasperation, to nosy inquisitiveness, to brooding malice.

It was the latter vibe, which Liz may have picked up on, that really woke me up to the fact there were more important things to worry about.

Because that seething undercurrent of animosity could only have come from Kyle. I know, I usually need to be touching something to get this kind of insight, but you would've had to be numb and blind to miss out on it. It was as powerful as a riptide, as noticeable as the smell of ozone before it rains.

And as Liz held my gaze, I wanted to smack myself upside the head for not heeding what she'd been trying to say all along: we were in this together. We handle things together. Partners in the all encompassing sense of the word. It wasn't just about me and my selfish apprehension. It was about 'Us' and not 'you and me'.

I reached for her hand, fondling the bracelet and its heart charm before bringing Liz's palm up to my lips for a reverential kiss.

"I'm sorry, Liz," I said, feathering kisses on her wrist like I'd wanted to since this morning. There was a collective hiss of breath from our audience. The fact that my caress also sent a message to Kyle was not lost on me. Because while we are an us, Kyle should still know that his quarrel was with ME and not with Liz.

Liz's eyes widened at my public display of affection. I felt her relief and happiness through our link and regretted that it had taken Kyle's surliness to bring me to my senses.

"I know that... It's just... I'm sorry if this is making you uncomf--"

"So Max. Tell me. Is it true? About what everybody's saying? About you and her?" Pam Troy chose that moment to insinuate herself into my apologizing to Liz, flicking a dismissive glance at my beloved. I had to smother the impulse to blast her for that insult.

"Yes, Pam," I said, tightening my grasp on Liz's hand before she could pull it away. We had nothing to feel guilty or uncomfortable about. "We're together now." There I said it. Though I wish it was to a more worthy person. It kinda takes something away when you make an earth-shaking confession to someone who was just an... annoyance. I don't know where this fount of meanness was coming from but I also wanted to tell her she could stop hounding me. Not only because I was with Liz now, but also because she never stood a chance, not even when Liz was still out of reach. I squashed the ungentlemanly impulse though. My adoptive mom taught me better manners than what Pam was currently displaying.

"Oh, how lovely for both of you," Pam simpered while turning an unbecoming shade of maroon. Then turning to Liz, she said, "Congratulations, Parker. I admire your courage." She made that quality sound like a negative. "Not everyone would dump a hunk and a half like Kyle for an unknown quantity like Max here."

Damned with faint praise. I laid a finger across Liz's soft lips before she could blurt out anything. "Pam," I began reasonably. "Show a little grace in defeat." As I said that, I also added a "Sorry, Mom," in my mind because the b*t⊕h was asking for it. And if she didn't get out of my sight soon...

"Yeah, Pam, pollute the air somewhere else."

We all looked up. Maria had rushed to our table like an avenging pixie. She speared Pam with a scary, acerbic glare. Not one to be left out, Alex sat down beside Liz, deliberately shoving Pam aside. Pam, with an unladylike growl, flounced away.

"We didn't need to be rescued," Liz told her friends once the 'air,' as Maria put it, cleared. "I would've have taken Pam on, but Max the goldfish here was doing just fine."

It was a mild statement, but Liz gratefully throwing herself into my arms over the connection magnified her sentiments. Her mindsent image of a scaly Prince Charming wearing a listing crown didn't hurt either. I have never felt so fond of goldfish as I did at that moment. Heat flooded my cheeks, searing the tips of my ears. The goofy grin also made a comeback, plastering itself on my face.

"I'm glad to hear that," Alex inserted, "though I'm puzzled about the 'goldfish' thing." He shook his head and forged on, "When did this," gesturing to Liz and me, "happen?"

"Yesterday," Liz answered promptly, "as I'm sure Maria told you."

"Hey, I only told him about the picnic," Maria clarified, "which, if I may say so was a masterpiece of brilliance on my part. An astounding, Auntie Maria accomplishment deserving of a matchmaker's trophy. I can get years of feet kissing mileage out of that one generous act alone." She came back from wherever her expansive flight of fancy had taken her to pout at Liz. "So I expect the 411 you owe me, girlfriend."

"I'll give you both the exclusive on ice cream night when Max isn't around," Liz promised impishly, running her hand up and down my arm. "Otherwise he might turn redder than he already is."

Alex stared at me, apparently checking to see if my color would deepen. There was a measure of sizing up in his stare, a hint of some inner resolve. "Be that as it may," Alex said gravely, "I want to make it clear to you, Max, that I love Liz. I consider her my sister.

"And if you screw up--"

"Alex!!"

"No, Liz, let him finish," I urged.

"--or hurt her in any way, you will have me to deal with. Comprende?" Alex concluded with a serious, steely gaze. I always knew he was a good guy and the streak of big brother protectiveness didn't disappoint.

Ominously he added, "The computer is wonderful and powerful thing."

The guy is definitely not to be underestimated. "Believe me, Alex. If I screw up, I will willingly deliver myself into your clutches," I promised. Then looking at Liz, "that is, if there's anything left of me after Liz is finished."

"I get dibs, too," Maria tagged on, green eyes flashing and fists planted on her hips. "I'm the Power Puff in this outfit, why should Alex have all the fun?" Alex and Liz both rolled their eyes.

"I do solemnly swear to you, Maria, that you can pound me to the ground if I don't make your best friend happy." I offered Maria a half-smile that was 100 percent convinced she could do a creditable Bubbles, Blossom, or Buttercup. Although since she was blonde -- "I'm assuming you'll be coming for me as Bubbles?"

The three of them started giggling at that, and I felt Liz pull me closer over the connection, inviting me into their circle. Without noticing, I caressed the heart on Liz's bracelet again, something which did not escape Maria.

"Did you give her that bracelet, Max? It's new," she commented.

"Yeah, he did. Look." Liz showed off the tiny charm. If I do say so myself, I do good work. I'm proud of that ME + LP. After peering at the small but precision engraving, Alex raised his eyebrows and gave me another one of those measuring looks. Maria, meanwhile, whistled long and low.

"Wow. Max. How long have you been planning this? If it had been left to Liz to do the running... And how confident is that that you had your initials engraved?? Where d'you have it done?" she rambled on. A stab of fear went from Liz to me. We both knew the bracelet didn't come from any jewelry store but no one could ever know that. I looked up and caught Isabel watching me. She'd caught the blast of fear, too, and was pulled right in with us.

Our normal would never be anyone's definition of the word. Our normal would only come with vigilance as a price.

And caution is a fine line to tread; I'd best relearn how-to for the sake of us all.

Liz beat me to the punch.

"See, this is the reason why I said I'll tell you everything when Max is not around," she said hurriedly while apologizing within our connection. "I didn't want you guys scaring him off."

Maria snorted. "As if!" It made me realize that Maria was more perceptive than she let on.

"Now, shoo!" Liz continued. "You're my bestest friends, but let me and Max finish our lunch in relative peace."

"Quick thinking," I muttered under my breath as Alex and Maria got up, saying "See you later," to both of us.

"Max, I'm sorry, I didn't think--I just wanted them to see... But everything's gonna be fine, I promise," she stated earnestly.

"Liz, I understand. It was my idea. But we have to be more careful."

"We will be. Now, c'mon," she said, efficiently sweeping our uneaten lunch into a paper bag. I don't think either of us was hungry anymore.

"Where are we going?" I faced Liz and from the corner of my eye, noticed Kyle steadily glowering at us. It took a slight head turn for me to hold his stare. In that split-second, we understood one other and knew exactly where we both stood.

I suspect Kyle and my understanding about Liz is one of those things I should shield, withhold from her.

Liz leaned in closer and whispered two words to me. She made with the biting-her-lip thing.

I really do love this woman.

I held out my hand to help her up. I proposed, "I have a better idea than the eraser room..." Then I also whispered into her ear my counter-offer.

Liz nodded eagerly. She nearly made me have a heart attack from a full-blown heart-stopping smile.

A little unsteady, I led the way to a place where we could be alone. A place that no one had, as far as I knew, used to sate youthful lust.

A place just as good as the eraser room, but with a particular significance for us.

That closet from last Friday.



* * *


Take your knocks shake them off
Duck everybody you're gonna take them again

-- Smashmouth, Then The Morning Comes



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


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 26-Nov-2002 7:17:34 PM ]
posted on 26-Nov-2002 7:04:17 PM
AMONG US
For disclaimer n such, see first post


Part Eighteen:
Give it to me




"This is not good. Not good at all."

"What are you babbling about, Maria?" Alex hastily swallowed the remains of his interrupted lunch. A peanut butter sandwich disappeared with dispatch.

"Did you see the way Kyle and his goons looked at Max?" Maria crunched a carrot stick with determination. "I'm telling you, Alex. Train wreck waiting to happen," she predicted ominously.

Alex stopped gulping his orange soda to level a considering look at his best friend. Then he cast a covert peep at the jocks' table. Nothing seemed amiss to him: Kyle and his friends looked like they were rehashing a past Comets win. Complete with grunting, guffawing, and expansive food-gesturing. Normal jock pack behavior.

But if Maria was getting impending collision vibes, Alex was more than willing to listen. He trusted her instincts when it came to Kyle. Especially as they pertained to Liz. Maria was rarely wrong about Valenti-type trouble, probably because she wasn't a fan of Kyle's. Not as a significant other for Liz, at any rate. Her best friend early warning system was firmly entrenched, commissioned in the dusty playground of elementary school when Kyle's favorite past time had been teasing li'l Lizzy Parker or for variety, bullying geeky Alex Charles Whitman.

"What exactly did you see, Maria? How were they looking at Max?" He craned his neck, checking on Max and Liz's progress. He could barely see the back of his other best friend's new boyfriend for the speed at which Max and Liz were making their escape. Aside from Maria and himself, no one seemed interested in keeping the rapidly vanishing pair in sight. Seemed being the operative word there, he acknowledged.

"They were looking at him with that I'm-planning-something-dastardly look," Maria whispered urgently. "Don't look!" she warned when he was about to swivel around. Alex gave her an are-you-kidding glance before shifting in his seat (casually, he thought) for a better look-see. He needed to confirm it for himself.

"Huh."

He unwrapped a candy bar and proceeded to demolish it. His and his best friends' lives just became a teen soap opera. Sugar. He needed sugar to keep his strength up. If Alex had been worried that Maria was over-dramatizing the situation, that brief gander at Kyle convinced him otherwise.

Too bad you couldn't throw someone in the slammer on mere suspicion of misguided jealousy, Alex mulled, chomping on his Snickers. It would make life so much easier.

"He's taking the breakup with Liz badly," he mumbled matter-of-factly around quick-fix chocolate.

"Understatement." Maria let out a noisy sigh before sipping her water.

"Sounds like we should move ice cream night up." It would serve a dual purpose, he reflected. It would allow Maria and him to get the full story on Liz's new relationship while warning Liz about possible repercussions from her previous one. A powwow over Ben & Jerry's Strawberry, Chunky Monkey, and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough would plug up the Swiss cheese holes in the incomplete second-hand account of the Liz and Max saga that Alex had gotten from Maria. He just hoped his Maria filter and Liz decoder would be up to speed. He could already hear Liz's rapid-fire delivery being drowned out by Maria's 'I knew it, I knew it!!' crowings.

"We'll corner her after shift today," Maria agreed. "We'll come up with something. Kyle won't get a chance to ruin this for Liz." Problem solved, her mood underwent that unsurprising 180 degree Maria twirl. "I'm dying to know everything," she confided extravagantly. "Even the littlest detail. With my nonexistent love life -- I have to live vicariously through Liz. And her with Kyle was SO not doing it for me."

Alex had to concur. Liz must have suffered a brain hiccup when she said yes to Kyle, he concluded for the nth time. Alex expected better things in store for her with Max.

Because despite his genuine warning to the other guy, Alex didn't think Max had it in him to treat Liz with anything but near reverence. Letting him off lightly had been default belief on Alex's part. He was pretty sure the new Max and Liz relationship wouldn't devolve into anything that could hurt Liz. Like Maria, Alex had long noticed just how much time Max spent gazing adoringly at Liz when he thought she wasn't looking. Alex recognized those pining looks from his own experience in lusting -- uh, make that longing -- after Max's sister.

Now there was a weird case of coincidence, he mused. All it needed was for Maria to hook up with - what was his name again? The guy with the spiky hair? - for Maria to hook up with, oh, right, Michael Guerin, and they'd have a cozy-- Alex broke off his train of thought, shaking his head and attempting to dislodge the Princess Isabel fantasies currently teasing at the edges of his conscious mind. Dwelling on them, on her, was SO not good. Downright useless, in fact. The twain had more chances of meeting than he did in finding himself within shouting distance of the unattainable Isabel Evans. Alex would do better to concentrate on something else. Something doable.

He chanced another furtive look at Kyle. Around the jock, his friends roughhoused, their rowdy hoots of laughter ringing out. But Kyle himself was quiet and preoccupied.

One recently exchanged boyfriend -- one with a history of wanting Liz as long as Max -- was NOT an idle threat. Alex was with Maria on that.

A thwarted Kyle was, as she eloquently put it, a train wreck waiting to happen. Alex decided it was up to him to give Max the heads-up.

He crumpled his paper bag and got up, ready to report for Musketeer duty.


* * *

This is definitely not good, Isabel thought, schooling her features into something approaching her normal blasé exterior. That spike of fear she caught from Max still unnerved her, sending waves of panic through her system. She suppressed them with effort.

She didn't know what prompted it, but the cause was irrelevant. Max was courting disaster, she just knew it.

"How someone as bland as Liz Parker ended up with your brother is way beyond belief," Vanessa, one of the two casual friends Isabel was lunching with in the absence of her friend, Tish, grumbled. "I mean, what is the world coming to?"

Isabel shot her a quelling look. She had told Michael, who predictably had cut classes again, that she wasn't exactly enamored with Max's new relationship with Liz Parker. But that didn't mean she was about to broadcast her own feelings to anyone within earshot. She had mixed feelings about the two of them, but she was willing to rise above said confusing feelings.

She would give Max, and to a certain extent, Liz, the benefit of the doubt. It was the most she could offer and that only because she had never before seen her brother so happy in their short and lonely life.

But then again she had never before seen Max drooling over Liz Parker in public either, Isabel thought with a fastidious mental shudder. Her mild disgust turned into an unwilling stab of... something as she scanned the quad, her gaze reluctantly alighting on Liz Parker's friends and zooming in on Liz's lanky guy pal, Alex.

So not possible, she dismissed. But still, very, very intriguing...

"Is-a-bel--" Vanessa chose that moment to snag her attention. Isabel felt half-relieved, half-annoyed at her for interrupting her assessing review.

"You told me your brother wasn't interested in anybody." She whined while stabbing a plastic spoon into her frozen yogurt like it was her sworn enemy.

"You're delusional," Isabel retorted, carefully wiping her lips. She wished she could wipe away these bewildering feelings as easily as she did the minute traces of pizza. "I didn't say 'he wasn't interested in anybody.' I only said I thought he wasn't. I'm his sister, not his keeper." Would it be over the top for her to kill Max, Isabel wondered peevishly. She absolutely didn't want him becoming the focus of her and her friends' conversation. Call her in denial, but when she was playing the Ice Princess, she worked hard to relegate her brothers and their difference to the back of her mind. Barricaded securely by a wall of small disappointments.

But Max acting on his Liz obsession and drawing attention to himself severely undermined her efforts. And having him move to the forefront, inducing her to give him airtime on this, her personal time, was a serious offense on the Isabel scale. Even the mere thought of Max and his girlfriend at this point, never mind his indictment of her superficiality or, for that matter, his lack of knowledge about her extracurricular activities, was a definite irritant, she thought, piqued.

"I wouldn't call all that PDA not being interested," Elana, seated on Isabel's right, noted while leisurely inspecting her nails. "And I think we all know he's been carrying a torch for Miss Perfect Parker for ages.

"Even though some of us are so reality challenged they can't see that," she said with a sly glance at the histrionic, suffering Vanessa.

"But at least, Kyle's available again."

"Get in line, I think Vicky Delaney's leading that stampede," Vanessa sneered before harping at Isabel again. "The only reason my world didn't self-destruct was that you said he wasn't interested in anyone. Least of all, Prissy Parker. I had plans of asking Max to the Crash festival... And now... did it have to be her?? He could do so much better."

"Actually, he couldn't. Not if it was you and Pam Troy in the running," Elana interjected, saving Isabel the trouble. The other girl let out an undignified sniff.

"I thought you were my friend," she said indignantly. "How you could lump me and that slut in one category, I have no idea."

"Think about it, hon." Elana offered sweetly. "I'm sure it'll come to you."

"Oh, you are such a bitch."

"Can we please move on to another subject?" Isabel interrupted, interposing herself in the middle before Elana and Vanessa could come to blows, or more to the point, nails-on-face scratching. "The thought of my brother and Pam seriously makes me want to retch," she grimaced obviously, neglecting to mention that the idea of a Vanessa/Max coupling provoked a similar gag reflex.

Vanessa looked horrified at Isabel making faces. "Don't do that, that's like total loss of poise."

"Yea, Isabel. Remember, image is everything. We live our lives based on that," Elana added.

Isabel rolled her eyes. Haven't these girls ever heard of something called 'exaggeration'? "At the risk of sounding repetitive, can we talk about something else? Something fun like--"

"Your costume for the Crash festival? Elana questioned dryly. "Or should I say, costumes?" she tagged on, referring to the shopping trip Isabel and Tish took on Saturday that she'd bumped into.

"You're just green with envy because you still haven't found one that fits." Isabel said, glad that her near clumsy diversionary tactic worked. Barbie One and Barbie Two could always be counted on to wax eloquent on the topic of apparel. Vaguely she wondered if Alex was going to be there to see her in her finery.

"Well, at least what I'm wearing won't make me look like a cast member from 'Earth Girls are Easy,'" Vanessa butted in, throwing a catty smile at the both of them.

"And this is a good thing?" Elana arched her eyebrows.

Isabel smiled back at Vanessa, an unforced one this time, as she played with the chain of her necklace. Clothes, makeup, façades, she understood. Relationships, darting a quick peek at the tall boy who was listening intently to Maria Deluca, even promising ones were not only confusing, they were overrated.

The ground once more steady under her feet, she and the other two continued to diss each other's costume choices for what remained of lunch time. Even if it was with an inexplicable pang, Isabel shelved thinking about how exhilarating it would be to skate on thin ice, believing that a computer nerd could and would save a princess if ever the ice shattered.


* * *

This is gonna be SO good, Liz thought giddily as she trotted after Max as fast as her legs could carry her. However, her short steps were no match for his longer strides; she ended up half-running, being pulled along in his wake. And what a wake it was, she approved, squeezing his hand and giving him an enraptured once-over: her location behind Max, slightly to his left, presented her with the heady view of Max's broad shoulders, his muscular back, and his tight butt.

She bit back the smitten kitten giggle that wanted to come out and play. She couldn't believe herself. She was ogling Max's ass!

The corners of her mouth curved up even more. You go, girl, Liz patted herself on the back for a leering job well done. For someone who'd been labeled a goody two shoes, she and her hormones weren't doing so bad. But it helped that Max was such a tempting sight to begin with, and that beholding the littlest things about him - his mere lope as he steered them in the direction of the utility closet, for instance - turned her on. Unbelievably.

She shivered in delight.

As she did so, Liz felt a quizzical probing over their connection. She flushed, first in embarrassment, then in determination (she really had to get a grip on this blushing thing, she reflected). If Max didn't want her going crazy with wanting to jump his bones, then he shouldn't look so good, she reasoned, hoping her face no longer resembled a tomato. Or be so adorable. Or let her see into his soul. Or... and she was never gonna stop enumerating, she realized and tried to compose a fitting reply to his metaphysical probe. As stoically as she could, she mindsent a borrowed image: a guy, a girl, and an alien-themed diner. She saw him freeze, then throw her an abbreviated glance over his shoulder, the barest hint of a smirk playing about his sensual lips as he continued to drag her along. Over their link, he hit her with a deluge of flashes that made her knees grow weak and her entire body overheat. Then he made her melt inside into so much Liz goo when he re-sent the vision of them dancing while rose petals rained down. Liz couldn't help it; her eyelids closed involuntarily to better savor the romantic music and the intoxicating sensation of being the love and light of Max Evans' life.

Finally emerging from her Max-inebriated fog, Liz sensed his unabashed male smugness across their bond and narrowed her eyes. He was asking for a suitable, physical retaliation.

Much-needed privacy was as close as that why-does-it-have-to-be-so-far-away utility closet. And once the door was locked, she would have the freedom to do... things... with Max. To Max.

OhgodthethingsshecouldandwoulddowithandtoMax!!

She shook her head, questioning who was that girl counting the lovely benefits to being abducted -- right in the middle of a school day -- by her favorite alien. Idly, Liz wondered if Max had imprinted himself on her, intensifying her addiction to him, or if her self-control had merely snapped. Liz Parker wasn't normally this giddy; Liz Parker was circumspect; Liz Parker didn't deliberately pencil in make-out time in her busy schedule.

But then again, Liz Parker had never had the pleasure of Max Evans as an honest to nookie biology partner before. So wasn't her almost reckless behavior forgivable? Understandable, even?

She would be seriously mental if she called a halt now.

Or bucking for sainthood.

She snorted inwardly. Not on this earth. Or any other planet for that matter. Liz Parker wasn't that high-minded.

Her thoughts being earth-bound yet not, Liz tripped. Max caught her in his strong arms before she could sprawl on the floor.

"You alright?"

"I'm okay!" Liz blurted out at the same time as Max. With his help, she pulled herself up and brushed her top, which was bearing north, down, then burrowed into the haven of his satisfying embrace. Just for a minute, she shamelessly begged. Face smushed into his neck, she sniffed delicately at his warm male scent. He smelled so-o-o good! She just about passed out, totally Max-overcome. Can I stay here forever? I don't ever want to move!

Slowly, almost languidly, she lifted her gaze. She leisurely tracked his chest, neck, chin, nose, cheeks, before staring provocatively into his eyes and moistening her lips. Her smile widened into one of feminine satisfaction when the hands holding her clenched even tighter and the gleam of pent up desire in his glittering eyes skyrocketed into orbit.

She had a natural talent for this, she marveled. And decided it was past time she expanded her repertoire and gave temptress Liz a whirl.

Especially now, when she had a willing victim in Max to practise on...

She brushed back Max's soft hair from his forehead as she tried to subdue the urge to ravage him where they stood. He latched convulsively on to her caressing hand, lacing their fingers together. A river of colors, as warm as a tropical sun and shot through with unfathomable longing, impatience, and unmistakable male possessiveness coiled around the most secret part of her.

If she didn't get Max into that closet NOW she was gonna explode, implode, revert back to the basic atoms that made up all things in the universe in her own personal Big Bang.

He was hot, he was sweet, he was HERS!

She'd better haul ass if she didn't want anyone else absconding with him.

She skipped ahead. Now it was her tugging on Max's hand to Hurry Him Up!

Max quickened his pace and it became a toss-up as to who was more eager to get to the confines of the utility closet.

Max was pretty sure he won hands down. He had the added below-the-belt-rising-to-the-occasion impetus after all. It would have been humiliating, had it not been for two things: the untucked shirt that mercifully hid his hard-on and Liz's elated approval. As they dragged each other down the hall (with Max thanking the inventor of flannel and every American male's God-given right to wear it, every step of the way), her gleeful acceptance pirouetted around his sheepish acknowledgment that not only was he a yearning alien and an ulcer-prone goldfish; he was also a salivating horn dog to boot. Liz's delight, dancing giddily in little musical tinkles over their link, reassured him that she didn't mind the worn rut his mind had taken. It was the opposite, actually, which was a profound relief. Max didn't want to offend her, thinking that he didn't respect her, even though he lost all vestiges of self-control around her.

Like yesterday, for instance. And early this morning. This morning before class, too.

Even when she wasn't around, all he had to do was think of her and he became hard. Which he did with alarming frequency. Thinking! He meant the thinking! Although that usually degenerated rapidly into fantasizing and its predictable outcome, he sighed.

And Max wasn't even counting the times when his subconscious took over and he lost himself in his Liz dreams.

But he couldn't help it; responding to Liz came as naturally as breathing.

"What is essential is invisible to the eye."

Invisible, my foot, he choked, deciding that using literature as a diversion was equally as useless as using math for distraction. The Little Prince's axiom didn't apply to him: his need for Liz was as plain as day. Glaringly obvious in fact, he privately moaned after a quick peek down. Down, boy, down! Sit! Play dead! He tried to think of less incendiary thoughts. He felt Liz's 'Good luck' snort before she sent him an image of herself smirking. Max kept trying nevertheless. No matter how hard he got lusting after Liz, Max was gonna Treat Her Like a Lady. He wasn't dragging her to the closet just to have his way with her. Honest. And while he was at it, he really shouldn't be dragging her through the hallway like... like... like a stallion herding a mare with absolutely no subtlety whatsoever! They should be walking -- sedately if he could manage it -- his hand lingering at the small of her back, considerate and thoughtful. Sure, he was an alien but he could be a gentleman and all that implied.

Damn, he sighed wistfully.

He glanced over at Liz. She had on a mask of get-outta-my-way determination that would have made an armored personnel carrier balk. It went very well with the renewed Liz urgency he felt flooding their connection.

His mood perked up and he grinned. She was so good to him, to his admittedly fragile ego. She made him feel like a king of a brave new world! And to think that it had only been three days since he'd first let her see him. It felt like three lifetimes. Three scary but exhilarating lifetimes. And regardless of how unnerved being in the limelight made him feel, he would willingly go through countless reincarnations as a goldfish if it meant that he would have this, her, forever.

He just had to remember not to mindlessly attack her. Although in their minds, Liz was happily attacking him. Her enthusiasm was infectious. And the realization that she wanted him, needed him, and wasn't at all shy about letting him know was getting to be too much to handle. His imagination, fed by the heady connection and images lifted out of his favorite Crashdown fantasy, was going haywire. Bonded to her side, the perfume of her strawberry scented tresses seductively wafting around him, Max had a flash of her silken fall of hair tumbling over his bare chest. Sweeping lower. And lower... His mouth went dry, he sucked in a deep breath, and wildly grabbed for even the littlest trace of self-control.

Darting another quick peek at the love of his life, Max saw she was doing that biting-her-luscious-lip thing which drove him crazy. Oh god. Where the hell was that closet?? He wanted to sweep his beautiful Liz into his arms and sprint hell-for-leather towards privacy, but, with a rueful look around, regretted that that might not be the best idea. There were some stragglers in the vicinity, even if they weren't focused in his and Liz's direction.

"Max, quit stalling and come on!"

Coming! No, no coming! He scolded himself as he hustled her down the hallway. Zippers were staying in the zipped and locked position. No one was gonna come, well, at least, not him.

Or was he kidding himself?

Groaning inwardly, Max hoped he had enough willpower to simply survive the coming (no pun intended!) half hour.


* * *

(Give it to me)

I'm so addicted
To the lovin that you're feeding to me
Can't do without it
This feeling's got me weak in the knees
Body's in withdrawal
Everytime you take it away
Can't you hear me callin'
Begging you to come out and play?

- Mandy Moore, Candy



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

posted on 26-Nov-2002 7:06:06 PM
AMONG US
For disclaimer n such, see first post.


Part Nineteen:
Boy, I'm cravin' (Missin' you like candy)



"Great. It's locked."

Liz looked like she was about to kick down the door of the utility closet in her frustration. Max totally understood; the second floor eraser room was just too far away to be an option. But before she could decide to damage her cute, vulnerable-in-flip-flops little toes, Max gently but firmly shouldered her aside and placed his hand against the lock.

"I got this." A soft 'click' followed his announcement.

"Very impressive," Liz murmured around a grin, her doe eyes twinkling in approving admiration at his not so latent B&E tendencies. He squirmed slightly. Alien lock picking wasn't such a big deal; it was the most basic molecular manipulation thingy all three aliens -- even Michael! -- had picked up.

"I try." Modesty was good, Max thought, but honesty even better. Urging Liz into the tiny closet and stumbling after her, Max sealed them in using the reverse of said questionable alien ability and bid a not so contrite good-bye to any pretense at being a gentleman. Who was he kidding, anyway? He muttered and almost fell flat on his face when Liz threw him a seductive glance over her shoulder and crooked her finger at him.

He didn't pause to be grateful that they finally made it to somewhere more private; he didn't offer any goldfish thanks that no one was around to see them disappear into it. He ditched any attempt to lean against the closet door to drink his fill of Liz.

He was fresh out of patience.

I'll go slow next time, Max promised as he whirled Liz around, speared trembling hands into her soft, sexy tresses, and just about slammed his mouth on hers. Kissing her hungrily, practically inhaling her, Max spilled all the accumulated longing in his being into those desperately grateful kisses. He barely heard the cut short 'mmmph' that preceded his starving mouth crashing against hers, but he did feel the jolt of shocked need that arrowed from Liz as she convulsively grabbed on to his shoulders.

"We might be here awhile," he panted as he nibbled along the seam of her lips.

"Let's hope nothing explodes," Liz mumbled, splaying her hands on his upper back, seeking purchase on his straining muscles. He growled in agreement. Her hands drifted lower and her bracelet snagged on the fabric of his shirt. She opened her mouth to call attention to the teensy-weensy mishap and Max took advantage of her parted lips to plunge his tongue into the sweet, sweet inside of her mouth. He released his grip on her head and with one hand, circled her wrist. Matter-of-factly, he snapped the length of thread that had snarled. He sent his other hand skimming under her top and against the silky flesh of her back. This time, he did hear Liz's low and languorous 'mmm-hmm' of consent and felt the trill of excitement that accompanied it.

Stroking feverishly, his tongue tangled with hers in a loving duel that inflamed Max past redeeming. Liz took all he had to give and reciprocated his reckless passion with mind-blowing ardor. He enticed Liz to do her own exploring, and when she followed his lead, curling her tongue, kitten-like, around his and running a probing tip against the edge of that one crooked tooth, Max nearly blew a fuse. Nabbing her questing tongue, sucking her in, loving her taste, loving the explosion of colors that rioted within their connection as their desire tried to outpace each other's, Max found himself spinning, tumbling out of control.

As though to anchor him, Liz's fingers hooked determinedly into his belt loops, yanking him as close to her as possible: alluring pliant snug against uncompromising hard in a way that even air would find it troublesome to whistle through. He found himself wishing for more, wanting her hands where he'd craved them the most. He moved both hands all over her slender form, touching as much of her as he could, tempting his self-control by sliding a warm palm against her abdomen. She sucked in a deep breath at his touch and did her best to clamber all over him.

However, even on her tiptoes, they didn't quite manage to align chest to um, chest yet. Decision made, Max's hand darted down to where her thigh met luscious derriere and tugged. He gasped, "Liz? Could you--"

He didn't get to finish his request/order because Liz jumped, clamping her legs around him and tried to shimmy up. The poster boy for impatient, Max took over, lifting her easily, and arranging her limbs to encircle him around the waist. He groaned a heartfelt "Thank you" as her soft warmth cradled his aching erection.

"You like, huh?" Hands laced behind his neck, Liz drew back and peered at him flirtatiously from beneath her sooty lashes. Max gulped in a shuddering breath as he flashed on the admission that his beloved Liz was essentially riding him. She wriggled a little, shifting to a more uh, stimulating position for both of them. He could've kissed her, so he did.

"Liz, 'like' doesn't even come close," he muttered as he trailed almost sloppy kisses down the side of her neck. She arched, granting him more exposed territory to lovingly graze. He wished she wasn't in jeans, but allowed that it wouldn't be possible for her to wear her extremely accessible work uniform to school.

"You are really fixated on that tacky uniform, aren't you?" Liz murmured, halfway between a pout and a laugh. She had obviously caught his regretful flash at how easily he could dispense with the snaps on her short-short-short, sexy uniform.

"Seven," he rasped into her ear before nipping her earlobe.

"What?"

"Three clasps from your waist up, four down but you can't really see them unless you're not wearing your apron."

She looked at him askance before snorting in disbelief. "So does that mean I can't ask my dad to change our uniform into those Men in Black suits?"

"Don't. You. Dare."

Max dragged her up slightly and resumed branding her with damp kisses, licking lower until he reached the neckline of her top. Inspired by her breathy, "M-ax," he consolidated his hold on her with one vice-like clamp, letting his other hand gently palm her while nuzzling the edge of her scoop neckline aside. Mentally thanking whoever invented stretchy fabric, Max enthusiastically drew on the warm, golden skin he'd uncovered. He almost howled in triumph as Liz's thrilled shock at his double assault reverberated long and loud across their connection. Infinity-long seconds and a couple of bio lab flashes later, he stopped suckling but didn't remove his hand. He caressed her with just his fingertips, relishing her bit-back moans and how she responded to his touch before giving a brief satisfied nod. A wet ring of red marked her upper chest -- above her left breast to be exact, he thought, highly pleased. Liz was also sporting very slight whisker burns and was as aroused as he was, if the way her nipples pebbled under his fingers were any indication. Not that Max really needed the confirmation; he could still feel what she felt resonating through their link, but it was gratifying to gape at her reaction to him all the same.

He wondered if there was a way he could persuade her to cut class and hole up in this closet forever. "Liz?"

Her lids fluttered open and he just had to kiss her again for the dazed glaze sheening her chocolate brown eyes. He whispered against her lips, "I love you so much."

"And I love you, Max," she sighed into his mouth. Then continuing languidly, she said, "Just so you know -- you still owe me that Crash fantasy. Especially now that I have to live with Maria's whining because we won't be getting new uniforms."

"And just so you know," Max parroted with a teasing grin, "I still wanna know what we were doing in the lab."

Her eyes rounded and she struggled to get down. Max tightened his grasp; she subsided.

"You first," she said with a provocative pout.

He sucked on her lower lip before whispering, "You already know the opener, so--"

He stared deeply into her eyes, tucking tongue into cheek as he let the movie in his head play to an audience of two. When the screen finally flashed 'To Be Continued,' Liz's mouth dropped open before she hid her face into the crook of his neck.

"How do you expect me to work at my dad's restaurant after this??" Came the muffled wail. Max felt the heat in her cheeks grow warmer against his skin. "I will never be able to look at your regular booth the way I used to! Ever!" Fingers tracing a heart shape on his chest -- right above where the real one thumped a thunderous beat -- accompanied her wailing.

"You asked," Max replied simply before dropping a light kiss on the crown of her head. "Your turn," he encouraged.

"My fantasy wasn't anywhere near as...as... I don't know... as that..." Head dipped, Liz continued to mumble. Max moved them towards the only slice of wall left that wasn't covered floor to ceiling with cleaning supplies, pressing kisses wherever he could reach every shuffle of the way.

"I don't know that it was all that." He nudged her face up, lingered over the scar above her left eyebrow, a fifth grade injury she sustained for Alex that he'd about died to heal. Well, he could still kiss it better, couldn't he, even years after the fact? So he did and waited for Liz to go on.

"It was sorta like what just happened here," she persevered. "Definitely not ER legend material!" Then, realizing what she had just intimated, she looked him straight in the eye and backtracked. "Not that I have any firsthand experience of the eraser room, you understand. I'm only going by stuff I heard from Maria at the end of last year."

"And what did Maria say?" Max whispered as he moved his attention to her ear.

"That the eraser room was only good for two things: cleaning erasers and um, uh, taking, uh--our innocence," she coughed. He stopped munching on her earlobe.

"Wait." Last year? He tipped her chin up with his forefinger and searched her gaze. Despite all the heated gropings they'd gone through, innocence looked out at him. Max rubbed his thumb against her moist lips, groaning and closing his eyes when her tongue darted out to lick his finger. "What led up to the whole innocence-being-taken thing?" The connection between them yowled with an out of season glut of male possessive vibes. His grasp tightened from an ohmigod-Liz-is-in-my-arms clench to a just-try-to-take-her-from-me-and-see-what-happens stranglehold.

"Max, get a grip, okay?" Liz ordered. The possessive vibes were replaced by discomfited and chastened ones. His grip on her slackened, while his hold on what was left of his reason tensed. "You have to know that it was you I wanted to drag, kicking and screaming if need be, to the eraser room," Liz admitted. "Had to make plans, you know? I didn't want Pam Troy getting to you first." The possessive vibes arced back, this time with a definite Liz-determined flavor.

A hard tremor shook Max and translated across their connection. If he thought he couldn't get any more aroused, then Liz had just shown him that he still had room for improvement. Although guessing by the constricted fit of his jeans, any more improvement and he'd be really embarrassing himself.

He sighed.

Focusing on the rolls and rolls, and rolls, and rolls (?!) of toilet paper lining one of the closet shelves, Max felt slightly dismayed. If he didn't watch it, if he didn't slam on the brakes soon, he wouldn't be able to. Given his history of pining, his pushing (and gripping) too hard was understandable. Heightened by Liz's encouragement, there was no way to end up but extremely hot and mindless.

But with her confession still hanging in the air--

No, no, no innocence lost today, Max decided wistfully as he leaned his forehead against hers. Their first time deserved a more romantic place than a poky closet in the middle of a school day. Additionally, he didn't make a habit out of carrying protection and he wasn't sure whether the box in his bathroom at home -- the one his dad gave him many, many moons ago -- had a Use By date. But even if they were still good, it wasn't as if he could materialize them into his hand, he thought regretfully.

He made an effort to calm himself and the crank down the steamy ambience. He could feel Liz good-naturedly frowning while cajoling him over their bond. Max had trouble staying resolved.

She resumed drawing on his chest muscles with the pad of her index finger, except now she was now lazily printing block letters against the canvas of his chest.

P, then R, followed by an O and another P, E, R... Max ensnared her fingers, bringing them up to his mouth for a nip and a nibble, before he grunted, "Oh, I am definitely the property of one Elizabeth Parker."

She smiled, like she knew something he didn't. "That's what Maria said."

"She's a fountain of wisdom." He said it softly, a half-smile tilting up the corners of his mouth. Her lips hovered barely a centimeter from his. A hard breath would just about...

"Where could they be, if not the library, Alex? Wait -- you don't think...."

Max and Liz looked at one other and simultaneously blurted out in suppressed laughter. They shushed each other by fusing mouths together.

When the door remained shut and the steps outside the closet receded into the distance, Max just had to have the last word.

"And she's got great timing." Liz rolled her eyes and fumbled for his hand. With a deep, regretful sigh, Max lowered Liz to her feet and plodded to the door.

He slowly opened it and two heads popped out to scan the hallway. The heads popped back in. After a haphazard brush down of clothes that had gone askew and another lingering heated kiss, Max and Liz strolled out.

After delivering Liz to Maria's custody, Max ambled towards Señora Martinez's classroom. He smirked when he overheard Maria telling her best friend, "Liz... I think a bathroom stop's in order. Those pink cheeks and lip gloss-less mouth are a dead giveaway."


* * *

He'd been staring at the sign for so long, it was a wonder the edges didn't curl up in embarrassment.

Using his better-than-human vision, he peered through the glass window on which the sign was taped to the clock on the far wall. It read twenty three past three in the afternoon, with the second hand -- a green alien with the oversized head and black almond-shaped eyes -- having just swept past forty seconds.

Good. That meant he could quit the waiting and get on with the doing. School was already out and no one would question why he wasn't in class.

Slapping the dust of the desert from his jacket and the front of his T-shirt, he wondered idly if he looked like what he was purporting to be. Not that he had anything better in his closet, even if he had been inclined to go home and change, he concluded after another quick glance at himself. He rubbed his scuffed boots against the back of his jeans, hoping for a quick shine, having neither the patience nor the dexterity to molecularly fiddle and fix the hair-thin lines crisscrossing the black leather. He combed his fingers through his hair, trying but not succeeding in making it lie flat.

Fuck it. He would have to go as he was.

He rolled his shoulders, strode up to the front doors of the diner, and went in. Bells tinkled, counterpointing his heavy tread. He made a beeline for the proprietor ringing up the tab of yet another batch of humans who went bonkers over the '47 Crash.

He waited until the tourists, loudly chattering about the possibility of driving out to the crash site, left before planting himself solidly in front of the man he knew to be Liz Parker's father.

"Can I help you?" Jeff Parker inquired, pushing the cash drawer back to locked position. He noted that Jeff Parker was trying to place him and offered a rusty smile, one that wasn't so edgy. The man's hands hovered uncertainly above the cash register before one disappeared beneath the counter.

"Yeah - saw your ad." He jerked his head towards the window with the sign.

Jeff Parker glanced at the window he'd indicated. The printed words couldn't be read as they faced outward, but both he and Jeff Parker knew what the sign said: Short Order Cook Wanted. Apply inside.

Blue eyes once more took in a face he strove to keep expressionless, the scruffy leather jacket, and the Metallica T-shirt. He was sure Jeff Parker would've scoped out the thrift shop Doc Martens if he could see that far without contorting his neck. He attempted another innocent smile and strongly suspected he was nearer to grimacing.

Whatever Jeff Parker saw in his awkward attempt must have reassured him because his hand left its hiding place under the counter.

"Any experience? References?" Jeff Parker questioned carefully, smoothing a hand down a necktie showing a spaceship beaming up a cow while a farmer-type human looked on. The cartoon bubble above the ignored potential abductee said, 'Take me, take me!' The bubble below the hovering spaceship answered, 'No, you're ugly.'

"My dad taught me to mix drinks when I was about ten. I learned. Does that count?"

"You wouldn't happen to be related to Hank Whitmore, would you?" Jeff Parker inquired, his study softening somewhat. Michael shifted uncomfortably.

"He's... in charge of my foster situation," he muttered, averting his glance from the man's unsettlingly sympathetic inspection to the soda dispenser. "Michael Guerin, Mr. Parker." Extending his hand, he stressed the different surname with just a tinge of surly.

"Well, Michael," Jeff Parker said, shaking his hand. "Not much call chatting up the customers when you're the cook. Hot, too."

"I could really use the job." That he could, he thought, but Jeff Parker didn't need to know that. The owner of the diner simply nodded, then called the attention of one of the diner's staff.

"Karen? Could you take over for me, please?" Then turning back to him, Jeff Parker cocked his head and said, "Let's go to the back." They matched treads and walked towards the door marked 'Employees Only,' the length of the counter separating them. Snatching what he assumed were application forms, Jeff Parker continued, "You can fill these in after you've seen that putting together greasy gourmet fare isn't anything like bartending."

Michael snorted and Jeff Parker's mouth curled up at the corners.

"How old did you say you were?"

"I didn't, but it's sixteen. Is that gonna be a problem?"

"Show me what you can do first."

* * *

As Michael stepped out through the back door and into the alley, he allowed himself his trademark smirk. He had a job. An undercover one, too. How... weird. How incredibly... fitting. It was part-time and he was still on probation, but the job afforded him the best excuse, for now, to watch and learn about Max's Liz.

And speaking of Max... He stopped and opened up his alien senses to the fullest. The air about him swirled with energy currents invisible to the human eye. Michael's gaze was drawn down. The ground beneath his feet still held residual traces of a too-happy-to-be-believed Maxwell. Michael rolled his eyes before letting his gaze swivel around looking for, homing in on more hints of Maxwell's passing.

His brown eyes locked on a fire escape ladder. He tracked it to where it disappeared over what looked like a balcony. The tie of alien kinship he shared with Max and Isabel erupted with more sappy-sappy-sappy, exceedingly ecstatic Max vibes.

He quickly looked left and right to determine that he was alone. Before he could change his mind, Michael ran up to the ladder, placed a booted foot on the lowest rung, and climbed.


* * *


Boy I'm cravin'
Missin' you like candy

So baby come to me
Show me who you are
Sweet to me
Like sugar to my heart
I'm cravin' for you
I'm missin' you like candy

- Mandy Moore, Candy



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


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 6-Jan-2003 8:39:01 AM ]
posted on 6-Jan-2003 8:35:28 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer n such, see first post.


Part Twenty: You Can Do All the Things that You Like to Do


There are days when everything seems wrong, when little things just irk you for no good reason. And then there are days like today when the whole world just sings to you from the minute you open your eyes in the morning, till the minute you shut them again at night. Days when you actually enjoy--

--being grilled like a burger in the Crashdown kitchen by your very best friends.



Liz yanked her wandering thoughts from what she was planning to write down in her journal later that night to the aforementioned third degree in progress. Drawing in a deep breath, she sank down into a squat on the floor and plunked down three pints of ice cream: strawberry with fresh, frozen strawberries; banana interspersed with walnuts and chunks of fudge; and vanilla ice cream chummy with chocolate chip cookie dough.

Three gleaming spoons went on top of each carton.

There was a split-second pause before three pairs of best bud hands swooped on their favorite euphoric flavors. Lids were flipped -- one hurriedly, the other two, leisurely. Silverware were wielded with fervor as a flattering, single-minded attack on Ben & Jerry's commenced.

While a well-loved teddy bear looked silently on, quiet and contentment -- broken only by this-is-soooo-good! groans -- reigned in Liz's bedroom: a fitting tribute to ice cream perfection. No nonessential movement, barring the precise scooping of yummy ice cream into mouths, could be observed. In addition, shapely (but tough!) feminine legs continued to take advantage of the well-earned rest, post a fairly hectic shift of serving greasy, alien-themed food to earthly visitors (as well as to the usual suspects) in Roswell. A one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others pair of male limbs also sympathetically celebrated in inactivity, extending their earlier sedentary streak.

"Okay, girlfriend. Spill and we expect a gusher," Maria ordered.

"If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law," Alex Mirandized Liz in well enunciated stentorian tones like he was doing a screen test for a cop role.

Drawing her spoon out of her mouth and carefully swallowing, Liz was irresistibly reminded of the last time she had stuffed her face with ice cream while doing major soul-- and she now realized, soulmate searching. It now looked like she was destined to forever associate her Max reflections and admissions with strawberries and strawberry ice cream. Or both.

Must tread lightly, Liz advised herself. Ben & Jerry's probably qualified as a truth serum, as she well knew from countless unintentional confessions prior to this latest Spanish Inquisition. Liz only hoped that her recent cognitive exercise would help her navigate the upcoming emotionally-fraught landscape.

I can do this, she said to herself again while metaphysically crushing Max's hand. She still marveled that she could reach him, even with several blocks distance between them (she'd practised earlier). She immediately felt Max sending back everything's-gonna-be-okay vibes at her, along with a mental picture of himself shaking his right hand as though in pain.

Okay, that is SO exaggerated, Liz thought with a fond huff.

Reassured and accompanied by soft music only she could hear, she began her version of a non-otherworldly-complicated account of her new romantic relationship that had instigated the calling of Musketeer ice cream night. She prefaced her tale with, "Don't interrupt me, ok? Cuz I... I have this whole speech to get through and I just want to make sure I get everything I need to tell you just right, so don't say anything."

When Maria was about to do exactly what Liz had instructed her NOT to do, Liz repeated, "Just DON'T say anything." She ignored Maria's "Control much?" resigned retort and snort and proceeded full steam ahead.

Mumbling, Liz tried to keep it just-the-facts-ma'am kind of simple, picking up her story from her wistful confession to Maria that she wished that 'something had happened' during Friday afternoon after school with Max. To add color to her commentary, as well as to head off anybody blurting out that they saw Max and Liz on Saturday, Liz followed that up by relating how she had 'stalked' Max to the UFO Center the following day, offering her help when she found out he was applying for a job. (After all, that was what she had done loosely (extremely loosely!) interpreted, she concluded.)

Midway-through, doubts beset Liz that her highly-edited (and oh, boy, was it!) account wouldn't be enough to satisfy Alex and Maria's curiosity, without casting Max in a suspicious light. So in the clasp of an uninspired brainstorm, Liz explained away the engraved bracelet as just-in-case, wishful thinking on Max's part, although she expounded at length on how the Sunday breakfast picnic had been a spur of the moment deal, in a bid to throw off her best friends from the suspect custom jewelry detail. (As she had done earlier, Maria echoed Liz on the picnic being her own brilliant idea, which Liz gratefully conceded.)

She hadn't been sure how much detail was adequate, so after some dithering, Liz also reported that her first kiss with Max happened on Sunday morning. But she was ruthless in squashing her friends' startled and commendatory exclamations of "On your first date??" and "Give the girl a gold star -- or would that be a silver heart?" by saying that she had NO intention of elaborating further/that her lips were sealed/mum's the word and all that after her revelation. That earned Liz an approving snicker and one thumb up from Alex (his other hand was otherwise busy with a spoon) and a mutinous pout and a "You're torturing me here!" from Maria. Peering at her gal pal who was making successful incursions into her Chunky Monkey, Liz hoped the ice cream would mitigate Maria's minor suffering.

"And that's how Max and I got from point A to B in the space of a weekend." Liz wrapped up with a petite sigh of relief.

"So let me get this straight--" Maria mumbled, digesting Liz's tale and spoonfuls of ice cream. "After years and years and years of Auntie Maria trying to persuade you to make the first move, something just clicked and you went after Max?" She looked a little incredulous but willing to be talked into it.

"Well, yeah," Liz answered, nearly choking on a frozen strawberry. "I thought things over again, and decided that it was a case of no guts, no glory, you know?" Inwardly, she cringed at West Roswell's alleged brightest (Principal Forrester always told her she had the highest GPA of any student in recent memory) resorting to bumper-sticker-type clichés to explain herself. But for Max's sake, she persevered with the truisms. "And then, when Max showed up for breakfast on Sunday, I wasn't about to let the knock of opportunity go unanswered."

"Max must've thought Christmas had come early and Santa finally decided to reward him for being a good boy." Alex winked.

"It was the poodle thing, wasn't it?" Maria inquired nosily, crinkling her nose. "You realized that you wanted more than just appreciation.

"You're definitely gonna get more than that from Max!" she teased while glancing meaningfully at the ME + LP charm dangling from Liz's wrist. "I wonder what else your Romeo has in store for you?" she mused, a faraway look clouding her eyes. Liz also wondered about the same thing, then came to with a start. Was she becoming (she grimaced) a tad... greedy?

"Here's to second thoughts and male appreciation plus." Alex toasted Liz and Maria with a gob of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. "May they live happily ever after."

Liz gnawed on her bottom lip and despite her earlier vow to get a handle on the turning-red-at-the-drop-of-a-hat thingy, relapsed into a bashful blush. The memory of that first kiss to end all first kisses and the more recent activities that baptized the utility closet were the culprits. She quickly dipped her spoon into her ice cream, practically shoveling the dessert into her mouth (before her foot could get lodged in it with lame rationalizations) and let her hair fall over her face to hide her rosy countenance. Her crimsoning didn't go unnoticed, however, extorting delighted hoots from Alex and Maria.

"Woo hoo! Parker's been a really naughty girl--"

"I think the word is 'wicked' and about time, too!" Maria ribbed in concert. In self-defense, Liz plucked Jason the behr off her bed and lobbed him at Maria who reacted by spiking the toy at Alex. The teddy bear bounced off Alex's noggin and landed without any further injury (to the bear) on the area rug. Alex threw the girls an unsuccessful, mean glare, which made Maria and Liz dissolve into a spate of giggles and a chorus of "We wuv you, Alex!"

When the feminine laughter and the male harrumphing died down, Maria pursued her skewed cross-examination.

"I'm assuming that between the Liz Parker, Stalker bit and lip-locking with Max that you didn't have time to look for a costume for the Crash Festival," Maria inferred. "My mom just got this delivery of--"

"Au contraire," Liz inserted while trying to mangle French in the process. "I got that done on Samedi." Then realizing what Maria was trying to say, she added, horrified, "No way am I wearing anything that comes from your mom's inventory!"

"Oooh, that stings!" Alex chuckled. His chortling immediately cut off to a squawk as Maria glowered at him, too.

Facing Liz, Maria muttered dolefully, "My best friends in the whole wide world think my mom's stuff is tacky crap."

"Ria, I didn't mean it the way it sounded..." Liz's regretful disclaimer was drowned out by Alex's panicked, "Hey, I'm wearing the costume I got from your mom!" She could feel her resolve melting like an ice cube on hot pavement in the face of Maria-prompted guilt. "I mean, the costumes she's got are probably nice and all--"

"Just not good enough for Princess Lizzy?" There was a bright gloss misting up Maria's green orbs.

"Maria--"

"You're probably right," she persisted with a soft sniff. Behind her, Liz could see Alex gesturing madly and mouthing, "Say YES already!"

Liz did the only thing she could do. She caved.

"Okay, okay, I'll look at the costumes your mom ordered." And may God have mercy on me, she appended to herself.

Maria propelled herself at Liz, easily knocking her over. Sprawled atop Liz, she promised, "You won't regret it. You'll be the best dressed alien aficionado there, after me!" She squealed, crushing the breath out of Liz.

"Just (gasp) promise me (gasp)--" Maria ceased squashing her flat and rolled to her back beside Liz, "--that I won't be going as Princess Leia!" Liz pleaded desperately.

"I like Princess Leia!" Alex protested.

"You would!" Liz and Maria chimed from the floor in unison.

"Especially in that gold bikini," he added half-defiantly.

"We know, Alex." Liz got up, the better to make sure that Alex could see her rolling her eyes in tell-us-something-we-don't-know exaggeration. "You and every other testosterone junkie who's ever watched The Revenge of the Jedi."

"It's RETURN of the Jedi... And you would know this because of... Max?" Alex countered, still vibrating with indignation on behalf of all male Star Wars fans.

"Return, revenge, whatever. Alex, I'm not dissing Princess Leia or her slave wear. I just don't want to be taking notes at the UFO lectures while dressed so skimpily." Liz reasoned. Reviewing what she said, Liz scrunched up her nose. Even if 'skimpily' was a word, she was sure it wasn't one that appeared in the SATs.

"Okay, who ARE you and what have you done with Liz Parker?" Alex demanded. "Since when did you become Mulder's heiress? You were always more the skeptical Scully type."

"Um, uh, Max and I might be doing something on the uh... so-called Crash for extra credit." Liz coughed uncomfortably. Parker, get a grip on your runaway mouth! she castigated herself.

Alex shook his head at Liz's excuse, apparently thinking she had lost it from inhaling too much Max-redolent fumes.

"Speaking of Max, where DID you and he disappear to during lunchtime?" Maria asked, levering herself up and wiggling her eyebrows. "We looked for you everywhere! Even--" she placed semi-scandalized hands on her cheeks and said sotto voce, "the Eraser Room!"

"Barging in was Maria's idea, not mine." Alex was quick to clarify to Liz. "I think I might never recover from seeing Richie Roher and Amanda Lourdes trying to consummate their relationship." He shuddered.

Liz's eyes rounded but she let her questions about Richie and Amanda slide. The school's most notorious couple striking again was predictable and not worthy of (much) notice. "We didn't want to be found. That's all I'm saying," she muttered, grateful that 1) Max's impressive alien powers were useful with doors and locks on doors, and 2) that he had a way of keeping them as quiet as mice when well-meaning but interfering friends were around. "Haven't you guys heard that more than two's a crowd?"

"But we had a good reason for wanting to find you and Max," Maria sweet-talked in her and Alex's defense. "Didn't we, Alex?"

"Yeah, it's actually something you and Max should be aware of, but since he's not here, we're counting on you, Liz, to keep him in the loop."

"If this is about warning him again to treat me right--"

"That is SO over and done with." Maria pffed in emphasis.

"It's about Kyle," Alex interjected, a grave expression rearranging his features.

"What about Kyle?" Liz's brow creased and her heart dropped to somewhere nearer her stomach instead of its usual spot in the vicinity of her chest. Her slight panic was followed by a pang of questioning anxiety.

Oops. Max.

Around a rush of protectiveness, Liz hastily concentrated on assuring Max that everything was alright, adding an image of herself whistling like she hadn't a care in the world. After a beat, she felt Max metaphysically shaking his head and Liz almost grinned. Max most likely knew that she couldn't whistle to save herself.

"After you and Max vanished to -- wherever you vanished to --" Maria waved her hand animatedly in the air, heedless of Liz trying not to squeak in inappropriate laughter, "I noticed that Kyle was looking particularly evil! E-vil!" she stressed.

"Maria!!"

"Well, he was!" Her friend protested. "Back me up here, Alex."

"Have to agree with Maria on this one, Liz. Remember how Kyle used to look before he slammed me into the nearest available wall when I was about knee high to the proverbial grasshopper?" Alex prodded Liz's memory. "That Look," he explained with a more serious and worried mien, if that were possible.

Liz regarded first Alex, then Maria, half-disbelievingly. "Guys, this is Kyle, remember?" she reminded them in a prove-me-wrong-please tone. But even as Liz tried to convince herself that her ex-boyfriend wasn't going to be a problem, she knew in her heart that her relationship with Max would not be smooth sailing with brooding thundercloud Kyle on the horizon.

As if she needed yet another complication, she privately sighed. She stuck a mental Post-It in her brain -- one that said, 'Keep Max away from Kyle' above the sticky note that urged her to 'Help Max find Jonas.'

"Exactly our point, Liz. This. Is. Kyle were talking about," Maria rejoined.

They looked at each other, Liz sure that her dismay was all too prominent on her face as it was on theirs. When Kyle got his way, he was quite docile and biddable. But if crossed, he reverted to the hellatious school yard bully of their childhood. And his influence on his muscle-bound but reason-challenged friends was considerable. Her mind awhirl, Liz attempted to think of something that would mollify Kyle. She reflected on the possibility of going as far as drawing up a list of possible love interests to shove onto Kyle's path, Vicky Delaney heading up the list. Liz tried out a couple of approaches in her mind that wouldn't be so unflattering to Vicky before giving up for the moment. She still hoped that enough time passing would render that resort academic. As a general rule, it was exhausting to explain things to the ditzy Ms. Delaney. In the mean time--

"I would warn Max about staying away from dark places and any other place crowded with jock types," counseled Alex sagely, echoing Liz's thoughts. "I don't think Kyle would do anything to you, Liz, but Max? Iffy. Very iffy."

"I'll tell him," Liz agreed, promising to herself that she would indeed advise Max (by conventional phone means) once Maria and Alex had gone home. She also swore that she would henceforth keep an eye peeled for any dubious-fellious moves from Kyle.

"Don't worry, chica. Alex and I will also be pulling guardian angel duty," Maria said supportively. "Where was Max earlier, btw?" she questioned. She gestured to their guy pal with her spoon. "Didn't that second booth from the door seem, I don't know, empty to you, Alex?" At Alex's puzzled agreement, she continued, "I thought we were going to need a crowbar to jimmy him loose from that seat in order to get ice cream night going -- not that I'm complaining -- but it seemed just a little odd.

"For Max, I mean."

"His mom called Isabel -- and I just have to note that his sister gave us this sharp lecture on Max needing to get his own cell phone -- and asked him to come home straight from school," Liz replied, the slightly morose feeling she got because her Max-time got cut short blowing up out of proportion. Max's short detour to the Crashdown wasn't nearly enough time to do anything! "I don't know what that's all about, but I'll probably find out later when he calls.

"Or I call," she mused, feeling her excitement igniting at the prospect of hearing Max's voice.

"How absolutely couple-ish!" Maria shivered in delight. "Can't end the day without heavy breathing and smooches over the phone, huh?" She poked Liz's side. "Finally, someone else's parental units will be complaining about running up the phone bill!" Another poke.

"Excuse me, but I don't blather on the phone as long you do, Maria." Liz sniffed haughtily as she moved a little ways away from Maria and her remorseless tickling finger. "I order my thoughts and get what I have to say all in line before I even pick up the receiver," she proclaimed loftily.

"R-I-ght!" Maria drawled, indicating how much she bought what Liz was saying. "Bet you my tips for today that all your orderly thoughts fly out the window the second Max sighs... 'L-I-z.'"

"I would take that bet." Liz contemplated her best girlfriend. She was fairly certain the $33.73 she raked in during her shift wouldn't be augmenting Maria's take. "But how do you know I won't cheat? I'm certainly not calling him while the two of you are still here."

"She's got you there." Alex beamed at Maria whose eyes sparkled in mischief. Liz felt a mini misgiving for having egged her on.

"Alex, who told that substitute teacher back in sixth grade that she broke that horrendously ugly vase with the awful flowers Mrs. Carson got for Valentine's Day? When there were about five other more likely suspects, present company included?" Maria challenged Alex.

"Liz." Alex grinned, obviously remembering that too-big-to-be-ignored vase of flowers that had annoyed the entire sixth grade class. Liz had knocked it over (she remained unsure whether that had been accidental) on her way to her front row seat because she'd caught Max staring at her hair and her new pink hair bows that day.

She groaned and squirmed in remembrance. Maria was about to rehash Liz's too-good-to-be-true-I-cannot-tell-a-lie routine, she was sure of it. She steeled herself but her best friend surprised her by keeping her babble sweet and (for Maria anyways) short.

"Girl--" Maria turned to Liz. "Lying is not in you," she elaborated as if to a dimwit. "In spite of you running cons on the tourists, you won't lie about something this important. If you lose the bet, your overactive conscience won't let you rest until you 'fess up to your best bud Maria."

And Liz's overactive conscience made itself felt. Right at that moment. With a vengeance.

Contrary to what Maria (and Alex) apparently believed, lying about Big Things WAS in her.

Sure, her lie had been one of omission, but that was just so much nitpicking. Like the fine distinction between sin and the near occasion of sin. Liz paused to wonder where that bit of Catholic wisdom came from, grasping to be distracted.

But it was for a good cause, she mentally wailed. She couldn't tell Maria and Alex that there was more to Max (and Isabel and Michael) than what was immediately obvious. That was like, totally impossible.

Wasn't it?

Snatches of Max's dream about their house in suburbia with their two cute kids consolidated Liz's purpose. She wasn't hurting Maria and Alex by leaving out the salient fact that Max, his sister and his best friend came from some galaxy far, far away (or so they theorized). On the flip side, divulging that bit could only harm the three aliens and that was something Liz wasn't going to be a party to.

It was a little tiring trying to go against a lifetime habit of revealing secrets to her best friends, Liz acknowledged resignedly. But she was committed to doing exactly that. She refused to feel more than passing regret -- keeping Max's secret did not exactly come under the heading of the-way-to-that-hot-place-being-paved-with-good-intentions kind of thing. Liz wouldn't be able to live with herself if anything happened to Max, Michael, or Isabel because she couldn't keep her mouth zipped.

If anyone else found out what Liz had inadvertently stumbled on, the outcome would be... terrifying.

Acute anxiety swamped Liz and she desperately needed to hear Max's voice to assure herself that he was okay. She called out to him in her mind and Max took the opportunity to resend her an excerpt from what happened after their visit to Kyle. Liz calmed down at the memory of that hug.

"But seriously, Liz, you love him, don't you?" Alex turned a solemn gaze on Liz.

Maria did the same.

Without thinking about it, Liz proclaimed, "I do -- I know it seems premature to say so--"

"But when it's right, when it's The One, you know," Maria finished for Liz, a wealth of best friend wisdom with her gentle smile.

"Everything will work out. You'll see," Alex said bracingly. "Kyle or no Kyle." He placed his ice cream beside him and opened up his arms, inviting Liz and Maria into a group hug.

Mulling silence descended on the three as they individually contemplated life and its surprising twists and turns.

"Okay, you guys better get a move on," Liz said, wanting to get back to (goofy sigh) Max. She broke away from their circle, unfolded her legs and stood up. "Tomorrow is still a school day." She smiled weakly.

"You just can't wait anymore to whisper sweet nothings into Max's ear." Maria renewed her teasing, even as she started stacking the cartons and collecting spoons. With nary a pause, she picked up Jason off the floor and beaned Liz with her teddy bear. "And I expect new highlights and your tips when I see you tomorrow... Is Max going to be bringing you to school again, or are you going with me?"

"I think Max is picking me up." Liz patted her beloved toy before giving Jason a squeeze.

"Will Isabel be with him?" Alex asked, attempting to sound nonchalant but failing.

"I don't know, she didn't go with us this morning. I think that was a special case though," Liz answered, putting Jason down and mentally slapping herself on the head for having forgotten that Alex had a 'thing' for Max's sister. Wouldn't Alex be so good to and for Isabel, she reflected, adding an incipient plan of bringing them together to her To Do list. She laughed. Wasn't she being so stereotypical in a committed relationship by wanting to see her single friends also discover the joys of couplehood?

"Alex -- Max and Liz are possible. You and the Ice Princess are so... not," Maria pointed out pithily.

"What? You don't believe in miracles?" Alex pulled himself up to his full height and folded his arms about his chest, looking mulish.

"Call me doubting Maria," she explained as she thumped Alex heartily on the back before making for Liz's bedroom door. "I'll believe it when I see it."

"Sounds like another bet to me," Alex spluttered. "Me and Isabel are still more of an extreme possibility than you and that Michael Guerin guy."

"Eeew!! As if I would even want to have anything to do with him! He creeps me out," Maria said ear-splittingly loud. Then in an even more boisterous tone, she added, "Can you believe it? He's the new cook? He can't even get my orders right... I wrote them out carefully, too, seeing that he's new!" Turning to Liz, she demanded, "What got into your dad, Liz? Of all people, why that... that... guy?!"

"Maria, he's not so bad," Liz said, a small smile quirking her mouth. Maria usually used a pen with neon-blinding green ink when writing out her orders. Liz didn't blame Michael at all if he got the orders mixed up because he couldn't decipher unreadable ink and Maria's loopy-even-in-block-print scribbles.

Even without his relationship to Max, Liz had always felt it was worth it to get to know Michael. No matter how difficult. He's probably got a lot more emotional perimeter defenses than Max, she thought charitably. He definitely had a boulder on his shoulder. But impenetrable and intimidating Michael might be, Liz still trusted her dad's instincts; he wasn't such a shabby judge of character, she tagged on. "Give Michael a chance," she advised her best friend.

"Hmmph." Was all Maria said before grabbing her bag and heading out.

"Bye, Liz. See you tomorrow." Alex squeezed Liz's shoulders before following Maria.

"Later, chica!" Maria tossed over her shoulder as Alex pulled Liz's bedroom door closed behind him and Maria. Liz could hear them bidding good-bye to her folks through the shut door.


* * *

posted on 6-Jan-2003 8:37:11 AM
"How was it?"

"Considering I finished a whole carton of Ben & Jerry's that I might as well have just troweled on to my hips and thighs to get it over with, pretty good actually," Liz groused good-naturedly.

Max quickly stifled a chuckle before he cajoled, "Liz, I love you, no matter where the ice cream ends up."

"Cute." Liz snorted as she arranged herself into a more comfortable position on her bed. "What I was expecting was an offer to work out with me so that the ice cream doesn't turn into extra poundage," she teased.

"Oh." His convulsive swallow communicated itself audibly through the phone line.

"Otherwise, the new lump of lard will match the one from the first tub of ice cream I consumed because of you." She affectionately harassed Max without compunction.

"Huh? What?"

"I also went through a pint of ice cream after you did that, you know, reverse connection thing." She could feel Max's consternation, as well as his revitalized pledge to get with the Be More Understanding and Supportive of the Soulmate program, and smiled.

"O-kay..." Liz could imagine Max squaring his shoulders. She suspected that he suspected (ably helped by their metaphysical bond) that she was just angling for humoring. "So when do you want to hit the gym?" he asked warily.

"You really think I need to lose weight, Max?" She said it while poking out her lip and inwardly giggling.

"No. No!" he quickly refuted.

"See, this is why you should occasionally browse through your sister's magazines and not just the articles entitled--" Liz paused to snatch a Cosmo left by Maria, her eyes widening, "'Kama Sutra Two: 12 Naughty New Sex Positions,'" she read aloud in a marveling tone.

"I... I don't--"

She erupted into peals of laughter. "I love you, too, Max." Liz finally relented, mentally sending him an image of the two of them doing the tonsil hockey. The connection between them flared with upbeat music and jewel colors.

"Liz!" Max protested, amiable exasperation radiating from him, even as he 'improved' on the vision she sent him by mind-sending a horizontal near-tango version. "I knew it! Just for that, you ARE going running with me."

"Run away with you? Anytime, Max."

They paused to savor what she had just confessed. Liz forgave Max for his pacified and increasingly smug satisfaction.

After a while, Max asked, "What did you guys talk about?" His question and their bond was rife with his earlier curiosity.

"You, who else?" Liz wrinkled her nose. The night seemed to be made for reporting aftermaths. But she was still fairly sure that she wouldn't be handing over her tips to Maria in the morning; she was, as they called it, waiting for her perfect opening.

"What exactly about me, Liz?" Max wheedled.

"Why you weren't at the Crashdown today, for one."

"Oh. That."

Liz felt definite sheepish vibrations suffusing their link. Her interest piqued, she prodded. "Yeah. That. So?"

"Milton Ross called the house. My mom took the call -- that was what she wanted to tell me."

"Who?"

"The curator and owner of the UFO Center? The tour guide while we were there?" Max reminded her.

"Max, you're not saying--"

"Yup. You're talking to the newest employee of Roswell's tackiest tourist attraction after the Crashdown."

"I resent that!" Liz exclaimed, fake outrage and real approbation mingling.

"Kidding!"

"This is really good news, Max. We can put our plan to 'Find Out More About the Crash' part one into operation," Liz mused. He needed help to go through the undoubtedly copious information available at the UFO Center. "Will you be able to sneak me in?"

"Liz, I think it's too early for that. We have to act like I'm just someone normal trying to make an extra buck to feed the monkey."

"Yeah, right," Liz agreed, somewhat deflated. She functioned best when there was a plan, but being patient wasn't as strong a suit as she could've hoped for.

Max understood. "Don't stress out over it, Liz. We have other avenues. Isabel's all set to dreamwalk me tonight. After I finish talking with you, of course. Now, wanna tell me what worried you earlier?"

"Oh! I nearly got distracted!" Liz winced; it seemed her bet with Maria wasn't in the bag. She wondered if she could get out of it on a technicality. Distraction wasn't the same as forgetting, right? And she was now back on track... "The other reason Alex and Maria insisted on ice cream night was because of Kyle."

"What about Kyle?"

"Maria and Alex think he's planning some sort of retribution. On you," she confided.

"I see."

"I'm sorry, Max." Liz wished she could've handled the breakup with Kyle with a little less hamhandedness. But it was too late for should-haves now; all she could do was to try to contain the situation.

"It's not altogether unexpected," Max commented.

"Max--"

"Don't worry, Liz. I can handle Kyle."

"What if Kyle and his friends gang up on you?"

"I'll just blast them to kingdom come?"

"Max, be serious." Liz was really worried. Not because she thought Max couldn't take care of himself; she just didn't want antagonism escalating into violence because of her.

"You're right. That's Michael, not me." Max conceded. Then more seriously, he continued, "But Liz, we can't live our life dwelling on the what-may-happen," he pointed out. "All we can do is be on our guard."

They sighed at the same time, both agreeing that keeping alert and trying to stay out of trouble was their best bet at the moment. Liz realized for the first time that this was the way Max had had to live his entire life. It amazed Liz that he had even considered upping his stress factor because of her.

For her.

"Max, thank you." She couldn't say it often enough.

"For what?"

"Just for being you."

"Hey, I thought I was the sappy one in this relationship," Max demurred.

"Are you... complaining?" Liz joked back.

"No. Not at all." Max enfolded her into a hug over their connection and kissed her hair.

"Just one more question -- am I going to school with you tomorrow?"

"I'd like to see you try to get out of it," Max declared. That was definitely arrogance she heard there, Liz thought, warmed by Max's determination.

"Will Isabel be coming with us?" she asked for Alex's sake.

Max sighed, "Unfortunately, yes."

"Good."

"What?"

"I'd like to get closer to your sister, Max." And not simply because of Alex, Liz qualified to herself.

"If you want." Max sounded doubtful but simultaneously pleased.

Liz smiled to herself, placed two fingers over her lips and transferred the kiss to Max via the mouthpiece of the phone. "Good night, Max."

"Sweet dreams, Liz."

* * *

An Excerpt from the Journal Entry of Liz Parker, September 20, 1999

"Every day is full of wonderful."

I think it was Winnie the Pooh who said that. I'd like to borrow it from him to describe this day.

For what a full of wonderful day it has been. Despite Max's terrifying and tragic dream, the grilling I had to go through, not being able to spend more time with Max -- the wonderful still far outweighs the not... wonderful.

Foremost in my mind is how my Max, my family, my friends each showed me how much I am loved today, in their own unique ways.

And in spite of the scary things Kyle and the future may bring, I will take the memory of this day and the days preceding it with me to face each coming day with optimism and hope.

I will keep close to my heart the truth in one wise fictional bear's statement.

Today has been a day of wonderful.

And tomorrow will be, too.



Liz capped her pen, closed her journal, and laid it on the bed beside her. She sank into her pillows and stared up at the ceiling.

Going through the day's events, Liz recognized that she had so very many things to be grateful for today. And she felt confident that she could tackle whatever her new, complicated life chose to throw at her tomorrow.

Swiveling her gaze to take in the contents of her room, Liz's eyes softened at the comforting familiarity of her surroundings. Her science books, her pictures of her friends and family, the mementos from the few trips she'd taken out of Roswell, her computer. Then focusing her gaze on her wrist, Max's bracelet.

Things that stood for dreams and dreamy realities.

A life worth living, each and every single second.

Her acknowledgment of the abundance of her life relaxed her and her thoughts as she surrendered to sleep were peaceful.

But before Liz fell asleep with a soft, thankful and whimsical smile on her face, one stray thought flitted into her mind.

Her microscope was facing the other way.

Must remember to put it back in the correct position tomorrow, she thought sleepily.

* * *


You can do all the things that you like to do
All around underground pick a part that's new
You can do all the things that you like to do
Bridge Riff All around upside down pick a part that's new

-- Stereophonics, Pick a Part that's New



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

author's note(s) I don't remember Winnie the Pooh saying "Every day is full of wonderful," but according to Angela Payne in "Pink Throw Up" from YOU MAY LOSE YOUR BALANCE BUT YOU CAN FALL INTO GRACE, he did. *angel* Thank you, A.A. Milne and Angela Payne for being so inspirational.




[ edited 1 time(s), last at 11-Jan-2003 12:45:11 AM ]
posted on 11-Jan-2003 12:44:00 AM
AMONG US
For disclaimer n such, see first post.


Part Twenty-one:
My skin is bare; my skin is theirs



Max watched absently as Michael clambered in through his bedroom window, unrolled the sleeping bag Max kept just for him, and threw himself onto it with a low grunt and a creak of his leather jacket. When he'd hunkered down to his satisfaction, Michael then turned to Isabel, who was perched on the floor beside him, and pointedly eyed the magazine she was poring through. With a moue of resigned suffering, his sister put aside her magazine, but not before Max, from a quickie glance at its cover (Fall Fashion Flirts?), discerned that whatever it was, it didn't have a new Kama Sutra article contained within its ample pages.

Much to his disappointment.

Shoulders drooping, Max stated with some obviousness, "Okay, we're ready," and flopped down on his bed. It was the dreaded appointed hour. The time for his sister accompanied by Michael to traipse merrily around his subconscious, and with Max's ever-so-reluctant permission, search for clues to an obscure (and troubling) alien past. Everyone was in their designated places, ready for the first session of monitored Max dreamwalking.

A sigh issued from his lips as he bemoaned the loss of privacy. He insisted on tripping over his big feet in letting Liz in, but the thought of his sister and Michael securing similar access gave him the willies. He refused to speculate on the why.

As Isabel grasped his left hand and Michael's right, Max placated the butterflies zooming around like impish pixies in his stomach by wondering what Liz, if she were also observing this 'experiment', would write down in her report:

Subject Max Evans is about to enter NREM-sleep stage: vital signs are slowing down. We're recording low pulse rate and blood pressure is...

Hold on...did the normal human biology of dreaming, feeling the physical effects associated with the two distinct sleep states, apply to his I-need-only-two-hours-of-sleep self? With a mental shrug, he thought, why not? Studies had shown that animals--some mammals at least--also experienced D-sleep or dreaming or desynchronized sleep in which dreams frequently featured, with an attendant intense activation of their visual cortex... Max smiled, thinking that his lab partner would be delighted at how much he remembered from his recent dip into the good ole encyclopedia. Then with a half-dismayed start, he realized he was trying to postpone the inevitable and shushed the musings. Deciding that he needed to buckle down to the task at hand and that he wanted to sleep with Liz (not just his sister) holding his hand, Max reached for her.

His mind met with a barrier that was soft, misty, and near impervious. Max realized the muzzy, miasmic 'wall' meant that Liz was already peacefully slumbering. Was she dreaming about him? Regretful that he was the one being dreamwalked and not the one in charge of the dreamwalking (not that he would intrude into her dream world, even if he could, he hurriedly denied), Max pulled back, placed a temporary block between himself and his soulmate after one last good night kiss, and concentrated on surrendering to sleep.

He strove to regulate his breathing and consciously relax, calling on the time-tested help of counting sheep, to muddle through.

A minute passed.

Two.

Five.

After he'd counted seven-minutes-worth of 3D-cartoony sheep with bulging eyes and black numbers spray painted on their fluffy bodies bounding over a paddock fence (he was sure that none of the sheep that made Roswell the country's leading producer of wool resembled any of the bleat-and jump-happy sheep he'd tallied), and getting no closer to even a light snooze, Max started all over again.

This time, he counted down from one thousand sheep.

After telling the nine hundred sixth mouthy sheep to can the witty asides, Max dozed off.

Had he been aware of it, Max would have been gratified to know that yes, like other humans, his dream sleep was characterized by rapid eye movements, muscle relaxation, and the stimulation of his autonomic nervous system.

- Max's dream snippets -

Nine-year old Max stepping out from behind a tree and helping a nine-year old Liz make a daisy chain out of the white Shasta daisies she had just picked. He draped the finished daisy chain over her shoulders and inserted one last daisy behind her ear.

A bashful older Liz presenting a suspiciously watery-eyed Max with a guinea pig, saying, "I know he won't be able to ever replace Bigfoot, but I'm hoping you'll learn to love him, too."

Present-day Max and Liz (in a short red dress) supposedly watching a movie -- Terminator?? -- but more interested in feeding each other buttery popcorn.

Max in a toga, standing up and whistling shrilly as Liz stepped up to a podium to deliver her valedictorian address.

Max at the Crashdown, gawking down Liz's cleavage--


As his fantasy reel started to roll, Max's eyes flew open, years of keeping to himself his lusty fantasies taking over and extracting him from the clutches of Morpheus, aka the god of dreaming. Obviously, his subconscious was working on a number of levels. While it did what it was supposed to by drawing interrupted stories partly constituted of memories and wishes that hinted at his mental and emotional states, it also protected him from being revealed in all his teenaged guy glory. And Max was grateful for the timely wake-up call; it wouldn't do his already uncomfortable self any good to be shook back to consciousness by Isabel yelling into his ear, "Max!! Trauma-rama!"

And speaking of Isabel...and Michael for that matter--why weren't they berating him?

Why was no one griping at him because he had not been dreaming that dream?

How... surreal.

Sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Max let his gaze assess his companions before knitting his brow, vastly mystified.

Max expected Michael to be regarding him darkly because he wasn't dreaming about anything useful; he likewise expected Isabel to be looking at him exasperatedly because he was dream-diverting.

But they weren't looking at him. That was definitely annoyance radiating from Isabel, but her concentration wasn't on Max.

She was frowning at Michael who, albeit tinged with confusion, was belligerently scowling back.

"What?" Michael finally barked.

"You reek!"

Max supposed he had the same dumbfounded expression on his face that Michael, who'd dropped Isabel's hand, had. "Isabel--" he called out to his sister tentatively.

"Well he does!" She scrunched up her nose fastidiously at Max. "I'm glad you woke up on your own before we saw anything we didn't want to see," she said absentmindedly before addressing Michael again. "You smell like...grease. And whatever soap you use." She waved an elegant hand before her face. Now that Isabel had mentioned it, Max could distinguish between the warring smells. A definite deep-fried bouquet wafted from Michael, mingling with the scent of generic soap.

"You smell like you fell into a vat of oil for french fries and then tried to wash it off. The soap is definitely losing and the greasy smell is giving me a headache," Isabel elaborated, moving closer to Michael to sniff daintily at his spiky hair. "That's why! You left out lather, rinse, repeat." Tsking, she agitated the air molecules around Michael's head, sending them whizzing turbulently. When she stopped, Michael looked like he'd stuck his finger into a light socket, except he didn't have black smudges decorating his face. Breathing deeply, Isabel proclaimed, "Much better," with a small smile tugging up the corners of her lips. "Now, where were we?"

As Isabel did her impression of the stench police, armed with an alien-powered blow dryer, Max noted Michael stiffening at Isabel's french fries comparison. His suspicions, barely formed, rose to the surface. "Michael?" Max questioned warily.

Michael sidled away from them until stopped by a wall. "Would you quit it! I started my on-the-job training today!"

"You got a job??"

"Where?"

One Evans sibling tone dripped with curious inquiry, the other with vigilance. Both pairs of eyes had Michael in their sights.

"Short order cook at the Crashdown," Michael stated defiantly.

Max vaulted off the bed and crouched in front of Michael in a thrice. Tawny gazes clashed with an almost audible clang. Suppressing the urge to fist his hands into Michael's T-shirt and drag him up, Max gritted out, "What do you think you're doing?"

"Max!" Isabel exclaimed, outrage palpable. "Explain yourself," she subsequently commanded Michael, all the while silently warning Max to calm down and hear their half-brother out.

"They were hiring. I applied," Michael replied curtly, shrugging and standing up to prowl Max's bedroom.

"At the Crashdown..." Max pronounced each word carefully while also getting to his feet. Michael was up to something and Max bet that it involved Michael's clearly ongoing distrust of Liz.

"The pay's okay. Not everyone has as big an allowance as you and your sister here," Michael continued with a blatant attempt at a sneer. Isabel looked stricken.

"I don't believe that was your reason," Max said, deliberately positioning himself in Michael's way. With effort, he ignored the familiar guilt that sliced through him, knowing that he'd failed to persuade Michael to stay with him and Isabel on the night they were picked up by his parents. "Not if you chose the Crashdown, of all places."

"Hate to disillusion you, Maxwell, but not many places around here would be willing to take me on." Michael persisted while swerving to avoid colliding with Max. His flat delivery couldn't quite disguise the wry note that had crept into his voice. Max sensed his brother hastily and somewhat angrily smothering a wisp of self-pity that slid past Michael's formidable defenses.

In spite of himself, Max felt a kindred chink form in his own armor. "Michael--" he began helplessly, not knowing what to say. Reflexively, he reached for Liz, met with the same misty barrier, and made do with the memory of her saying, "We're okay, Max." Arraying his thoughts by order of priority, he went on, "Are you working the same shifts as Liz?"

Michael contemplated Max for a beat, then two, before shaking his head. "According to my schedule, not always, no. And if today were any indication, she stays out of my way, I stay out of hers." All I wanted to do was check on whether she can sense me. Going by her response tonight, I'd say the answer is 'No,' Michael added to himself, conveniently forgetting his original, way-too-paranoid motivation for staking out the diner to begin with, as well as the bewildering feelings provoked by what he 'saw' in Liz's bedroom and watching Liz interact with the people around her, which came after.

Max looked torn. So what else was new? Michael thought, rolling his eyes. He also looked unusually twitchy, clenching and unclenching his fists.

Isabel chose that second to speak, obviously hoping to dispel the escalating tension. "Max, they're surrounded by people. Michael couldn't do anything, even if he wanted to," she said, an entreating expression on her face directed at Michael. Michael noticed that Max made an effort to control himself, but his hands remained balled up at his sides.

"Amazing," Michael snorted. "This is what your obsession with that girl comes down to -- mistrust of your own kind."

"I didn't say I mistrusted you," Max quickly contradicted.

"You didn't have to and as for you--" Michael faced Isabel, "thank you for your oh-so-touching faith in me," he stated sarcastically. Isabel retreated from him like he'd actually slapped her and Michael felt a fleeting stab of remorse.

"But you don't have to take my word for it," he continued, unable to stop the caustic words from spilling forth. "You can see for yourself." Was it too much to ask for some uncompounded benefit of the doubt, he questioned, a little angrily and a lot tiredly. He wasn't the bad guy here, criminal tendencies notwithstanding!

"I don't have that much time to spend at the Crashdown anymore," Max muttered. Michael looked at him askance, Isabel with narrowed eyes.

"I got a job, too," Max said heavily. "At the UFO Center. The only times I'll get to see Liz when we're both working will be during our breaks."

Isabel drew in her breath in a loud hiss. Michael saw unreasoning panic ghost over Isabel's brown eyes, needlessly counterpointed by an explosion of fear. Michael was sideswiped by the memory of how Isabel, of the three of them, had been the most negatively affected by their one and only visit to the UFO Center. He realized she still had problems thinking of the place as just another tourist trap. Although she said she wasn't having daily nightmares about the alien being autopsied anymore, the prospect obviously still haunted her.

Like it did him and Max, although they had different coping mechanisms.

Max walked over to Isabel, placed gentle hands on her shoulders and said, "Iz, it's okay. There's nothing in the UFO Center that can hurt us," he promised readily. It was extremely rash of Max to do so, Michael criticized in his head. Michael should know; he wrote the book on reckless.

"Who's keeping things to himself now?" he goaded Max, although what he was really trying to do was get Iz to focus on something else. It sorta worked.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Isabel questioned her brother, tears clogging up her voice. "And why the UFO Center?" She shook off Max's hands and started organizing the CDs scattered around his boom box, filing them by musical genre. Michael saw her placing Max's Counting Crows' This Desert Life album at the bottom of the pile.

"Liz and I thought it would be a good way to dig up more information about the Crash." Max captured her busy hands in his and pulled her, inch by inch, into a brotherly hug. Mouth quivering, Isabel finally let her head pillow on Max's shoulder and her unnaturally tense form sagged as allowed herself the comfort of touch.

"Good luck," Michael interrupted, relieved. He only hoped that Max's (and Liz's, mustn't forget Liz...) investigation got them closer to answers than the desert digging that had been the aliens' sole option until now. But he seriously doubted it. He would just have to continue scouring the crash site radius for clues, with or without the other two. Because if he had to rely on Max--

Well, they saw how well that went with the dreamwalk. Trying to get Max to dream that same dream was gonna be hit-or-miss. More misses probably. It was more than likely that Max could only recreate the dream when he wasn't being dreamwalked. And really, the dream was more about Max than anything or anyone else, Michael dismissed.

"Max, be careful, okay?" Isabel beseeched, the continued worry in her tone belying her carefully composed extrication of herself from Max's back rubs.

At Isabel's plea, Max's mouth curved up in a rueful grin. Michael expected him to reply along the lines of "When am I not?" but Max kept quiet. Probably remembering that he messed up big-time with the Liz thing, Michael assumed.

In a rare admission, Michael conceded that Max revealing their greatest secret to his dream girl was simply Max distilled into his most basic. With Max, everything started and ended with Liz, Liz, Liz. Thoughts of her and how he could worship her were probably never absent from his brain! But then again, Max had shown great instincts by choosing Liz Parker, Michael acknowledged, remembering.

He just wished thoughts of her left Max alone enough to allow him to explore the other side of himself...

"I'm outta here." Michael moved towards the window. "Doesn't look like there'll be a repeat of that dream about home tonight."

Isabel was about to protest, but upon glancing over at a discomfited Max, apparently decided that Michael -- for once -- had the right idea.

"We'll try again tomorrow," Isabel proposed, half-reluctant, half-eased by the sound of it. Michael swung a leg over the window sill. "And you be careful, too, Michael," she added, sending him a speaking glance, mouth firming from a million other censuring admonitions left unsaid. It was as good as a blessing and Michael took it as such. He nodded a good-bye and sprinted off into the night.

As Michael traced the route back to Hank's trailer and his dismal foster situation, he reflected once again on the temptation to run away.

He wasn't running away from home, he consoled himself, shoulders hunching.

He was running to it.

A gentle breeze blew a torn piece of the Roswell Daily Record into Michael's path, drawing his gaze down and slowing his pace. The newspaper piece hugged his Doc Martens before continuing its nocturnal constitutional. Michael's eyes followed the scrap of the day's news as it clung curbside, before it skittered down the direction he had just left. He watched it as it blew past the house closest to him, one of the gracious and tidy residences lining Murray Lane. He squinted, picking out the Evans' home. Max and Isabel's house seemingly stood apart, appearing to Michael as if spotlit by moonlight.

Forcing himself to keep walking away, Michael continued trudging, heart heavy.

There had to be something out there that was better than this hick town, Roswell. Which refused to give up its secrets, no matter how hard he sweated to uncover them.

Maybe he'd been looking in the wrong place, he speculated, striding faster. The year before he'd come out of his pod, there had been a flurry of UFO sightings reported in Gulf Breeze, Florida. If memory served him right, ten years after a local man snapped pictures of a mysterious craft with an old polaroid, UFO-spotters were still reporting consistent, sometimes daily, activity in that notorious hot spot. Maybe those otherworldly visitors had been looking for them?

Why didn't it occur to him earlier that it was weirdly coincidental that the increase in sightings was sorta near the time when they awakened?

More importantly, were those UFOs still searching?

The speculations were now coming fast and furious, but there was one other plausibility he was willing to consider.

Maybe Michael had been looking in the wrong desert. Perhaps he should be digging up clues, not in New Mexico, but Nevada. Where the most enigmatic and fiercely shrouded in secrecy military installation in the continental United States was located. Michael broke into a run. 'The Pig Farm,' 'The Box,' and 'Paradise Ranch' had been some of its nicknames, but most people simply knew it as Area 51. Michael felt a shiver run down his spine even as he worked up a sweat at the name the base was called by aviation frequency users: Dreamland. Was that some sort of hint? The most mind-boggling claim about Area 51 was that it housed a fleet of nine recovered extra-terrestrial craft.

Could one of those recovered craft be his spaceship?

Except he didn't know if he could break into that top-secret base to confirm that. Moreover, even if he found their spaceship, could he fly it out? Was that information programmed into him by whoever made him?

Why did everything have to be so difficult, he raged.

Michael stopped running, rocked back on his heels and scanned the night sky. Par for the course in his disappointing life, no UFO buzzed the quiet little town. No celestial chariots, no flying discs, no colored lights, no shiny objects streaking across the sky at great speeds then abruptly halting and hovering mid-air to pick him up and bring him home made their presence felt.

But the stars of the Big Dipper constellation twinkled brightly. His gaze tracked the two stars forming the outer edge of the bowl to Polaris, which marked the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. Navigators of old used the North Star for simple navigation. To guide them home.

How he wished that same star could point the way back. If it could and he had a saucer he could fly, he'd be off this planet in a heartbeat!

But could he stand leaving behind Max and Isabel? The only family he knew? For he realized that his siblings would never willingly trade in Roswell for their mysterious home planet. Only something bigger than themselves -- possibly a planet's salvation -- might persuade them. But even Michael acknowledged how ridiculous their being messiahs was. It was stretching the boundaries of preposterous to suppose that a world full of inhabitants would be sitting on their collective asses, just waiting to be saved by three clueless teenagers.

He continued his trek back to the Old Chisholm Trail Trailer Park and his messed-up life.

Leaving Max and Isabel -- literally or figuratively -- was a non-starter. It was wrong, no matter how he looked at it.

He wouldn't leave Max and Isabel. For the moment. He was staying right here. In Roswell.

He supposed he could live with that.

He would have to live with that.

That same way he and his paranoia would have to live with the fact that someone else knew them for what they were.

Anyway, for what it was worth, it seemed that Max had lucked into finding the one human capable of accepting him with an open mind and a generous heart.

As he remembered what he discovered about Liz and Max from his search of her bedroom, Michael had never felt more envious in his life....

* * *

My skin is bare
My skin is theirs
Awake on my airplane
Awake on my airplane
My skin is bare
My skin is theirs

I feel like newborn
And I feel like a newborn
Awake on my airplane
Awake on my airplane
I feel so real

-- Filter, Take a Picture


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

author's note(s) I used a number of references for this part: Cambridge Paperback Encyclopedia, The Third Edition; Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia Volumes 4, 8, 16; The Element Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mind, Body, Spirit & Earth; and The X-Files (TM) Book of the Unexplained Volume One by Jane Goldman.


TBC


[ edited 1 time(s), last at 11-Jan-2003 12:49:14 AM ]