posted on 6-Sep-2001 1:33:22 PM

Author: Jezebel (imfromupnorth⊕yahoo.com)
Rating: Will probably be NC-17 eventually, for violence if not sex
Summary: A totally different universe--the aliens came much earlier, and now the children they've left behind will become involved in one of Earth's turning points.
Disclaimer: I do not own Roswell. I do not own Max, Michael, Isabel, Liz, Maria, Alex, Tess, Kyle, Sheriff Valenti, Topolsky, or any other Roswell character. I don't own Jason Behr (damn!). If you want to sue me, have fun. You can take my computer, cuz it's just about the most valuable thing I own. But beware--my computer's name is Bob, and he bites.
Archive: No problem, just tell me where.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: YES THIS IS UC NOW BUT IN THE FUTURE IT WILL NOT BE. I SWEAR. ALSO, ALL THE MAIN CHARACTERS WILL AT LEAST MAKE AN APPEARANCE. YES, MICHAEL IS IN THIS FIC. KYLE IS IN THIS FIC. MARIA IS IN THIS FIC. EVERYONE IS IN THIS FIC. I KNOW HOW THIS STORY IS GOING IN ADVANCE FOR ONCE, SO DON'T FLAME ME GOING, "WHERE IS M/L?" OR "WHERE IS M/M?" THEY WILL BE COMING I SWEAR!

Also, this fic has really been a labor of love for me--when I started writing it, I didn't realize how little I really knew about the Second World War and the American homefront. If you want to know a little more about WWII, some good sites are:


Rationed Fashion

Lest We Forget
The Women's Army Corps
World War II Encyclopedia
World War II Oral History


Prologue

It was an ethereal moment in their lives; caught on camera, enshrined forever in the archives of film and photography. "The New Recruits' Last Night at Home" the headlines would read, making known to an entire populace three faces. The same photograph was reprinted again and again, declared everything from an indicator of the times to a portrait of the futility and sadness of war. I've seen it many times myself, and I was not born for another thirty years after it was taken.

It was an anonymous sort of fame; though people throughout the years would recognize them, the kids from the famous photograph were never quite aware of it. No one had any idea who the three youths really were, or what, exactly, would become of them.

There is tall, slender Alexander Whitman, looking too young to be his actual age of 18, grinning lasciviously, dark hair and pale skin clearly captured by the black-and-white camera.

The girl whose hand he clasps, Elizabeth Parker, aged 17, laughing at something beyond the camera's scope, her head thrown back in abandon and her hair streaming around her youthful, unlined face.

Last in the photograph is Maxwell Evans, 18 years old, smirking at them from the edge of the camera, clearly enjoying their delight. His features are not really revealed by the image, and though his expression is readable, his face is mostly in shadow, his hands raised to clap along with the music.

It was June of 1943, and America was a different place. War had erupted overseas, and had once come perilously close to our own shores. It was right to fight, to fight the evil attempting to take Europe. These two boys had not been drafted; rather, they had enlisted in the Army upon the very day they graduated.

They were young. They feared nothing. And they had absolutely no idea what lay in store for them.

Author's Note: Yes, there will be M/L in this, so please don't panic out on me!


Return to Innocence
Chapter 1

For my sis, Patti



Max smiled a little watching his two best friends. They were dancing wildly to the live music, spinning and dipping so fast he could barely keep up. Trying to get a year's worth of dancing into one night, Max supposed. Tomorrow they left for basic training. They might not be back until the war ended, and the way things were going now, who knew when that might be? Maybe never, though he hated to think it. It was unpatriotic to think something like that. Of course they would be back; Roosevelt and his good ol' boys were going to win this war and beat the damned Nazis into oblivion.

He cleared his thoughts and tried not to think about it at all. Instead he watched Liz and Alex, raising his hands to clap along with the music and cheer them on. Alex was spinning Liz daringly; her total trust in him was clear. Max blinked, wincing a little as someone next to him snapped a flashbulb. He turned to glare at the guy. "Are you trying to blind somebody?" he asked, only half in jest.

The photographer lowered his camera and grinned, tipping his hat at Max. "Why, hello," the man said, offering his free hand to Max. Max stared at it. "I'm from Life Magazine. Could you tell me the names of your friends over there?"

Max hesitated. "Why?

"Well, I just took their picture. I'd like to know their names."

"Uh, that's Alex Whitman and Liz Parker," he said.

"And what's your name?"

"Max Evans."

"Thank you," the photographer purred. He wrote them quickly on a slip of paper and slid them into his pocket. Whether or not the photographer was aware of how famous his picture would become, Max was never sure.

Max headed over to his two friends. "Did you see that guy?"

"What guy?" asked Alex.

"He just took a picture of you two. You didn't notice?"

"Sorry," Liz said, her face flushed. "I guess we were busy."

"I'd like to get busy," Alex leered teasingly. The hand that had been resting on her waist began to move higher.

Liz laughed and slapped his hand away. "Don't, Alex. Do you want to get me in even more trouble? You know my parents don't approve of this place."

Alex and Max looked around at the dance hall. The rafters bracing the ceiling were hung with streamers and balloons. The band stood on a rickety stage that could have fallen over at any second. Women with their short skirts flying and men in uniform danced to the live swing music. Alex watched with amusement as one woman's skirt flew a little too high and revealed her panties. "I can't imagine why," he drawled.

"They don't approve of you either, Alex," she said.

"They used to like me," he protested.

"That was before we started dating. When we were just kids, they didn't care."

Alex grabbed his girlfriend and spun her around, then kissed her deeply. "We aren't kids anymore," he whispered, though it was loud enough for Max to hear. He blushed a little, feeling embarrassed, and headed back toward the bowl of spiked punch that all the other recruits seemed to be enjoying so much.

"Hey, Max, why aren't you dancing?"

Max looked up to see Tess Harding, his on-again, off-again girlfriend. They were currently off, but neither of them had been dating anyone else. Max couldn't bring himself to make a commitment like Alex and Liz, not when they were going over there.

Tess was a good-looking girl, almost as good-looking as Max. She was petite with curly blond hair, big green eyes and large breasts that had made her the object of fantasy for half the boys at their school. Max had to admit that those attributes were what had attracted him, too. He hated to admit it to himself, but Tess really didn't have much of a personality. She was, as the ever-intelligent class clown, Mort Wilmer, put it, "Sex on a Stick." The nickname had stuck.

"I don't know," Max said. "Guess I'm just not into it tonight."

Tess smiled. "Well, come on, Max. Get up. This is your last night at home." She put out her hand and Max took it reluctantly. She pulled him over next to Alex and Liz.

"Hi, Sex--I mean, hi, Tess," Alex said with a devilish grin. Max glared at him. Liz smiled a little, looking at Tess.

As well endowed as Tess might be, Max was aware that there was simply no competition between her and Max's childhood friend. Liz had everything Tess didn't--a fantastic personality, a throaty laugh, and of course she was unbelievably gorgeous. The boys at their school, always jealous, wondered what on earth she saw in Alex.

Max knew. The three of them had been friends since third grade. Max had come to West Roswell Elementary scared and alone, newly adopted. He saw eight-year-old Alex pushing Liz on a swing in the playground. He had been drawn toward them, shy as he was, and he knew he was welcome when he saw Liz look up and give him a bright smile. But in a sense the group had always been Liz and Alex...with Max on the side. Alex was friendly, warm, and loyal despite his professed womanizing ways. Max was quite certain Liz had been in love with Alex before he met them. It was a kind of absolute devotion, and Max knew that Alex felt it too.

He was happy for his friends. He knew they were the kind of couple that would last forever. And at the same time, he was jealous. Would he ever feel that kind of love?

He looked at Tess and sighed inwardly. Well, at least he could enjoy his youth while he still had it.

****

The next morning, Max woke up with a start. He could see a little light coming in through the windows. He panicked briefly, thinking his alarm clock had not gone off and that he had missed the bus to basic training. He sat up, throwing a wild glance backwards at his clock.

It went off just as he looked at it, the loud ringing making him jump into the air. He turned it off, cursing quietly. He didn't want to wake his mother and father. They had already said their goodbyes last night, when he returned home from Tess's house. He didn't want to say them again.

He got dressed as silently as possible, taking a last glance at his thick brown hair in the mirror, knowing it would soon be shaved close to his scalp. He grabbed his bag, packed two days before, and snuck out the front door.

It was only a mile's walk to the bus stop, and Alex's house was on the way. He didn't bother to knock on the door, instead just walking in.

Alex's mother was in the living room. She gave him a watery smile. "Hi, Max," she said.

"Hi, Mrs. Whitman. Do you know where Alex is?"

"He's still in his room," Mrs. Whitman said with a sniffle. "He's never been a morning person, you know."

Especially not this morning, Max thought to himself, but he didn't voice his suspicions about how Alex had spent his last night at home to Mrs. Whitman. There were things that parents just didn't need to know.

He heard two voices coming from Alex's room as he walked up the narrow staircase. He smiled a little as a high-pitched, yet still pleasant voice that definitely did not belong to Alex confirmed his suspicions. He knocked on Alex's door, hoping not to intrude.

"Who is it?" Alex asked.

"It's Max," he said. "It's time for us to go, buddy."

There was a pause. "Come in."

Max opened the door slowly. Alex was up and throwing his belongings into a suitcase. He apparently had not had the foresight to pack in advance. And sure enough, Liz lay back on the bed, looking thoroughly ruffled. Max shut the door tightly behind him.

"You ready?" he asked Alex, not quite sure what to say.

"Almost," Alex said grimly.

Liz rose from the bed. She didn't seem to be wearing much, and she wrapped Alex's sheet around her as she got up. She walked over to him and whispered, "I want you to bring him back to me."

"I will," Max said. "I promise."

Liz wrapped her arms around him and Max hugged her back, breathing in his friend's warmth and scent. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the forehead, and then on both cheeks. Max relished the feel of her warm, soft, slightly swollen lips on his skin. "You come back too," she said. "You have to take care of him. Please? For me?"

"Of course," Max said, a little surprised, but not wanting to let her go. He looked up and saw Alex zipping up his suitcase.

"I'll see you," Liz whispered, and kissed him quickly on the lips. Max felt a little dazed, both from her words and her actions, and as she pulled away he noticed the tiny gold ring around her finger.

He left the room, closing the door behind him again. He knew that the lovers needed a few more moments to themselves. He put his fingers to his lips, feeling them burn where Liz had touched.

The door next to him opened and Alex came out, looking a little sheepish. "Ready?" he asked, repeating Max's question.

"Ready as I'll ever be," Max replied, and they walked down the stairs and out the door.



Part 2


Basic training was rough; 13 weeks at Fort Crook and then they'd be shipped off, and to where, they did not know. Most of the recruits received letters from home on a daily basis. To his great surprise, Max got several from his older sister, Isabel, whom he had not heard from in over a year.

"Isabel?" Alex asked when Max told him about it at dinner one night. "Didn't she elope last year?"

"Yeah, our parents didn't approve of her choice of a husband."

Alex grinned. "I know the feeling. I wish I could be with Liz when her parents figure out where that ring came from. They won't be happy."

Max frowned, swallowing the last of his noxious sandwich. "Why do they hate you so much?"

"For building up their trust and then spoiling their innocent little daughter, that's why," Alex said. "Liz says they feel like I've betrayed them."

"Have you written to Liz?" Alex looked away and didn't say anything. Max gaped. "Have you written to her?"

"Well...sort of."

"Sort of? There's no sort of, Alex. I've been writing to her and I'm not the one engaged to her!"

Alex shrugged. "I don't know why I don't write back to her. She writes me every week, but...I have this feeling that something is going to happen, and I don't know what. And I don't want her to know."

"Yes, Alex, something is going to happen. We're going to be shipped overseas, and then you'll be lucky if you can write her!"

"I can't, Max. I just can't."

Max glowered at his best friend. "Liz deserves better."

Alex didn't respond.

"Listen...I know you two are closer than I could probably understand. But you can't fuck and run, Alex. Not with Liz. She's my friend too."

Alex glared at him. "That's exactly what I'm not doing, Max."

"Then what the hell are you doing? You ask her to marry you, you spend your last night at home with her--and then nothing?"

"I don't think you've got much room to talk, Max. I didn't see you leaving alone that night."

Max's eyes narrowed. "It's different with Tess."

"How is it different, Max? How exactly is it different?"

****

In his next letter, Max apologized for his best friend. "Honestly, I don't know what's gotten into him. I know he loves you, and he hopes you're happy."

She responded curtly to him. "I know that Alex loves me, and I know what's wrong. You don't need to make excuses for him." Max winced a little reading it. Whatever was going on, Liz was not a happy girl. And Max had witnessed himself many times how awful her temper could be. She finished her letter with "Remember your promise."

Max even wrote to Tess, telling her about the food, the endless Nebraska corn, the uniforms, and their drill sergeants, some of whom could be described as nothing less than sadistic. She wrote back in curly, drippy scrawl that Max could barely read. She told him about how simply awful the weather was in Roswell, and how she
and the other girls were thinking of becoming nurses. Alex peeked over his shoulder, reading the words with a grin. "Just think of all those poor wounded boys she could help," Alex said. "Of course, she might not help them in the Army-approved way, would she?"

Max rolled his eyes. In truth, he was glad to be away from Tess. She was clingy and yet distant. Their last night together, she had mentioned marriage. Max was horrified by the thought. He prayed she would find someone else while he was away.

Their training was tough, and Max's already muscular physique developed even further with the benefit of regular exercise. Alex remained tall and skinny, though he gained a dexterity and general strength he hadn't had before. The 13 weeks seemed to pass in an instant.

When they climbed aboard the train that would take them to New York, where they would meet their ship, Max looked Alex over.

"Have you written her?" he mouthed over the roar of the train.

Alex looked away.

****

The American base in southern England was quite a shock to the boys from Roswell, New Mexico. They'd never been anyplace quite so...moist.

The weather was miserable at best. It was mid-September, but it rained nearly every day and it was much colder than they were used to. Even Fort Crook, far to the north of where they'd grown up, was miserably hot in the summer months they'd spent there. The concept of mildew and constant chill were new to the boys from the arid desert. In Roswell, even the winters were mild.

They had watch every night, and they completed some more training; Alex in bomb disarmament, and Max became more fluent in the languages he'd learned in high school--French and German. Both were an essential skill for soldiers soon to be sent to the continent. The training dragged on for weeks. Most of the soldiers were miserable in the English weather, although not all of them had come from places as dry as New Mexico.

Talk began amongst the soldiers as to when, if ever, they'd be sent across the Channel. Alex seemed unnerved by rumors he'd overheard from some of their superiors. A major invasion was being planned, to bust Hitler's stronghold right down the middle. Somehow it seemed doubtful to Max that they could break what seemed to be such an impenetrable barrier, but he said nothing.

It wasn't his place to question these people. After all, he wasn't really one of them.

****

Back in Roswell, where the weather was pleasantly sunny, Liz was carefully writing out a letter to Max. Her record player was plugged in next to her, and Billie Holiday's sultry voice soared through the air. "The very thought of you...and I forget to do...those little ordinary things that everyone ought to do..."

"Max, I just got your latest letter. Is the weather really all that bad in England? I don't believe it could be. We got the worst kind of flooding around here just last month. I'd never seen anything like it. How could the weather there be worse than that?

"You asked me how Tess was, she's good for sure. I haven't seen her too much, but she seems to be enjoying herself, anyhow. She still goes out dancing every night, as far as I've heard. But I wonder why you ask...I never really got the impression that you cared all that much for her, beyond her obvious...uh...assets. But I suppose your love life isn't really any of my business...

"Also, tell Alex that he needs to write his mother. She's worried out of her head about him, and she panics when she doesn't receive a letter. She thinks that he's been killed, though I've told her you two aren't in combat yet. Do you know when you will be? Do you know if you will be together? I suppose you will be, you have been up until this point..."

She heard her mother enter the room and carefully slid the letter between two books on her desk.

"What are you doing, sweetheart?"

Liz turned around and shrugged. "Nothing important, Ma."

Her mother's lips narrowed disapprovingly. "I don't like the way you've been sitting around the house lately, Elizabeth. What happened to the girl who used to go out dancing every night?"

"My dancing partners are in England. Besides, I thought you hated when I went out at night."

"Well, this moping around the house worries us, dear. We miss our Elizabeth who was so full of life. We don't..." her words trailed off as she caught sight of a glint of gold around Liz's finger. "What is that?"

"What's what?" Liz asked calmly, sliding her hands behind her back.

Her mother reached forward and pulled her hand around, revealing the gold ring with the sliver of diamond on top. "Elizabeth Parker!" she screeched. "You're not engaged, are you?"

"Yes, mother, I am. I have been since June. Thanks for noticing."

Her mother frowned, a deep line appearing across her forehead. "Well...who on earth is it?"

"Who do you think?" she shrieked.

"Well, we never know, you're always skulking around with those boys..."

"What? What are you talking about?"

"Those boys...Alex and Max, is it?"

"Yes, mom, we've known each other since the third goddamn grade. Apparently you just noticed."

Her mother clutched at her arm. "Do NOT raise your voice to me, young lady, do NOT curse at me, and do not talk back."

Liz glared, her lip trembling. "I'm not six years old anymore, mom. I'm a grown woman."

"Well, you certainly aren't acting like one! And what have you been doing, hiding that ring all this time? You're much too young to be married."

"Don't be ridiculous. Girls my age get married all the time."

Liz's mother pulled away from her daughter in pain, collapsing backward on her bed. "Yes, and they all end up widows," she whispered, her voice barely audible. "Don't do this, Liz. You'll regret it all your life. I know you will."

Liz shook her head. "I'm doing it. And there's nothing you can do to stop me."

"We'll see about that," her mother said as she left, closing the door with a soft snick behind her.

Liz's face scrunched up as she burst into tears, pounding on the door. "Mom...mom...I love you, Mom."

"I see your face in every flower...your eyes in stars above...it's just the thought of you, the very thought of you, my love..." Billie purred, and the record came to an end with a screeching halt.

****

The next day, Liz went to the same enlistment office where Alex and Max had gone after graduation. But instead of standing outside the door, waiting, this time she walked straight inside and up to the desk.

"Excuse me, sir?"

The soldier behind the desk looked up and raised an eyebrow. "Yes, ma'am?"

"How does one go about joining the USO?"

****

Liz had taken ballet lessons since early childhood, gaining a grace and an easy way of moving that was present in her every action. The USO was eager to have her as a member, and she was offered a spot as a dancer in one of their routines. She accepted without hesitation.

She added an addendum to the letter she'd begun the night before. "Max, I may not be able to answer your letters for quite some time. I will write to you if I can, as I will most likely be traveling a lot. Please don't attempt to write me. I will write you."

As an afterthought, she added, "Send Alex my love."


Part 3


Author's Notes: Please, no more "Where's M/L????!!!" replies. M/L will eventually get together, though perhaps not in the way you expect. But I am really sick of people demanding things like that and judging the characters before they've gotten a chance to know them. I mean, if you think about it, we don't really know any of the characters
that well. Last season they were always surprising us. So don't tell me that I'm writing someone out of character before you've read THREE PARTS!!! People have hidden motivations! You can't always see straight out why they do the things they do! That's why it's a story...if
it was "M/L meet, get married, live happily ever after" it would be a fairy tale. Nothing EVER happens like that in real life, and almost never in fiction.

Also, Alex is NOT a jerk! I swear! Hidden motivations, remember?



The original copy of the photograph is lost now, probably forever. Most likely it's all for the best. Somehow today's version of American history--a few sound bytes and some striking photographs--often seems empty. It's a hollow, toned-down, politically correct version of what happened. Only those who are fortunate enough to know someone who was
there have any conception of what it was really like.

It was the beginning of the end of an American era. The naivete and delightful curiosity that were characteristic of the American people would begin to fade, finally vanishing entirely in a decade that not a single person emerged from unscathed. The whole world, it seemed, went mad.

These changes were all touched off by a single event. And, while this singular war would wind up one of the most important in history, the boys who fought there were not aware of it. They simply wanted to get home alive. These are the stories that are never told--those of
the men who fought and killed out of desperation. In the end, they weren't fighting for their country or for their families at home. They were fighting for their lives.

****


"Max...Max, wake up. A bunch of the boys and us have been given leave. We can go to town today!"

Max groaned and rolled over in his bunk. "Go 'way."

Alex nudged him. Max ignored him. Alex shrugged and looked around to the others crowding around Max's bed. "Max, if you don't get up I won't be able to stop them."

Max struggled to look up, but the sun was too bright. "Stop who?"

"On three...one, two, three!"

The ten men picked up one end of Max's bunk and unceremoniously tipped him out of it. He rolled to the floor, taking his blanket and sheets with him. He moaned and sat up, blinking furiously. "I'm up! For Christ's sake, I'm awake!"

The soldiers just laughed. Alex smirked. "I tried to be nice about it, buddy."

****

Max had just finished dressing when he heard the mail call. Cursing inwardly, he rushed outside just as he heard "Evans!"

Alex looked a little crestfallen when he realized he hadn't received anything. "What did you expect? You don't write her, she don't write you."

He shrugged. "I don't know. Things are just too weird."

Max ripped open the letter unceremoniously, scanning it quickly as the other men headed for the truck that would take them to town. It seemed to be a normal letter from Liz.

"Max, I may not be able to answer your letters for quite some time. I will write to you if I can, as I will most likely be traveling a lot. Please don't attempt to write me. I will write you."

Max gaped at the last line. Where was she going that she didn't know her address? What was he supposed to do if he couldn't write her? He read the rest of the letter - "Send Alex my love" - and barely resisted the urge to crumple it and toss it to the muddy ground. What the hell was wrong with her? What was wrong with Alex? He couldn't understand what was going on between his two best friends, but he was certain that the undercurrent of tension in Liz's letters was there because of Alex.

After all, she didn't have any reason to be tense about him.

Except for that kiss...that kiss that Alex could not have missed, on their last morning at home.

****

Max confronted Alex on the way to the truck. "So what is going on between you two?"

Alex frowned. "Why?"

Max shoved the letter at him. Alex read it slowly, his frown deepening as he scanned the lines. "Shit. I was afraid she'd do something like this."

"Why? Is she trying to get away from her parents?"

"Yeah. I guess...she never really told you how much they hate me."

"If they knew where she was your last night home, I bet I do."

Alex started to crack his knuckles, always a sign he was getting upset. "Just leave it alone, Max. It's none of your business."

"Fuck," Max muttered to himself as Alex walked away, then started to run as the truck began to pull away. He watched as it left his best friend behind in a cloud of thick dust. He looked sadly at Alex as he shook dust out of his hair, wondering if they could even be called best friends any more.

****

"And one, and two, and three...GODDAMNIT, PARKER!"

Liz winced and ground to a halt. If their dance instructor got any louder, she was pretty sure the boys fighting in Europe would be able to hear her.

And she was in Delaware.

"Parker, for Christ's sake, if you put your toes out of line there, you'll be in Miss Moore's light."

The girl next to her snickered. "Gee, we couldn't possibly block her light. Then the reflection off her teeth wouldn't blind everybody!"

Sarge scowled deeply and looked around. "Who said that?"

Liz pressed her lips together, trying not to laugh. She didn't need to anger Sarge, as all the girls called her. The woman hated her with a passion as it was.

"Was it you, Parker? I swear to God, if it was you...you'll be out of here and on desk duty so fast you won't know what hit you!"

Everyone was quiet. Sarge looked around, her eyes narrowing as she focused on Liz and the girl next to her. "Practice is over. You two come to my office at three on the dot. And don't be late."

The women all watched as Sarge departed in a huff. Then they broke into giggles. "Good one, Parker," one said. "Just hope you don't get into too much trouble."

Liz scowled. Why should she get in trouble because the ditz next to her made a comment? She was honestly trying to get along with everyone. She didn't want to go home. In fact, that was just about the last things she wanted.

****

The next day they had more training. Max was beginning to wonder if they were ever going to go into combat. There was supposedly a war being fought around here somewhere...if only they would be allowed to see it!

Alex and Max were sitting by each other, not really talking, although Alex seemed mostly to have forgotten about their conversation the day before. He had even seen Alex writing a letter, though he suspected it was to his mother, who was a little bit hysterical and, according to Liz, missed her son deeply. Max began to compose his next letter during a training session, hoping no one would notice. As soon as he got Liz's next letter, he'd put this in the mail.

"Liz, I don't know why you're so upset with Alex, or the other way around, but I do have one question. Why the hell did you kiss me in front of Alex? Were you trying to make him mad? I don't want to be the one who comes between you two." He was so engrossed in his
writing--could he even ask that? Wouldn't it just make Liz more upset? --that he didn't notice the shocked expression on his friend's face.

Alex gaped a little. He nudged Max in the side. "Hey, Max...what's your brother-in-law's name again?"

"What? Why?" Max mumbled, fumbling with the envelope.

"Just wondering," Alex said innocently.

"It's, uh, Kyle something," he said. "God, I only met the guy a few times and he left with my sister right after that. How should I know?"

"Well, then, you might want to look up," Alex said, unable to hide the mirth in his voice.

Max glanced up at the lieutenant who was assigned to their unit. His mouth opened wide in astonishment. Standing before the troops, making a speech, was Kyle Valenti, Isabel's husband. "Holy shit," Max muttered. "She didn't tell me he had joined up."

Alex grinned. "I thought he looked awfully familiar. See? You can have a family get-together right on base!"

****

Liz was beginning to understand what the boys had said about the training being tough. After four weeks, her arms, legs and back ached almost continously. Yet, she saw herself gradually gaining more strength and agility. Her ankles, formerly prone to sprains, were
so strong that she once tripped in her high heels several times in one day and was no worse for the wear.

But she paid for those benefits. Oh, did she pay. The rest of the girls were silent in their suffering as they learned their routine, so Liz was too.

She had made a friend, the blond girl named Maria, who had nearly gotten her in trouble with Sarge. Maria was desperately missing her boyfriend, who was fighting in the Pacific. She got letters occasionally, and when she got them she disappeared for hours at a time
until finally reappearing, never saying a word about the letters or where she had been. Liz liked that about her, that she was private. There wasn't much privacy in the USO. They were there to entertain the troops, they had been told on the first day, and to remind them of home. If they had to show a little more skin than they were used to
to do that, then they would. And that was that.

She liked most of the girls in their act. Most were like her, with a boyfriend, fiance or husband overseas. Liz kept mostly silent about her relationship, saying simply that her fiance was in Europe, something that evoked sympathetic, silent looks from some of
the older women. Many of them had already lost loves.

Liz didn't want their pity. More than anything, she wanted the war to end so everyone could come home and everything that had gone so very wrong could be put right.


posted on 6-Sep-2001 1:34:21 PM

Part 4



Liz licked her lips in concentration. How was she going to end this letter? It was the first one she had written in over three months. It was March now, and they were shipping over to Europe in two weeks. With any luck, this letter would arrive at the same time she did.

"Max, things are going well here. I'm sorry I didn't write, but I was getting adjusted. I have made a few friends here, among them a girl named Maria who is my age. Her boyfriend is over there, maybe you've met him? His name is...well, I don't remember it right now, but I'll be sure to mention it in the next letter.

"Also, we're shipping out in two weeks. We'll be there by the first week in April. I don't think we're coming to your base, though we are stopping in England before heading to the front in Italy. Maybe our letters will be speedier then.

"All my love, Liz."

Liz had barely laid the pen down when she fell asleep.

****

"Liz...Liz...oh God Liz, wake up!"

Liz snapped awake, her mind whirling until it crash-landed abruptly in reality. She rolled over to face the voice and nearly rolled off her bunk.

"Whoa! Are you awake?"

She forced her eyelids open and tried to see who it was in the blinding sunlight. "What time is it?"

"It's almost noon! God, you've gotta come, it's Maria..."

"What? What's wrong with Maria?"

Maggie was clearly holding back tears. Liz sat up. She'd fallen into bed the night before fully clothed, not even able to undress in her exhaustion. She jumped out of the bunk and landed softly on her feet. "She...oh Liz, she got a telegram this morning."

Liz's eyes widened and she pulled on a coat to protect her from the chill. "Where is she?"

Maggie finally lost her control and began to cry. "I'll take you to her."

****

"Maria...Maria, Liz is here..."

Liz couldn't see her friend anywhere, although she could hear an odd noise, a soft click-click. Maggie had brought her to an old warehouse they used for practice when it rained. It was moldy and stank of old coal, and most of the girls preferred dancing outdoors in the chill. Sunlight shone in through the tiny, boxed windows near the beamed roof, laying shadowed stripes over the vast empty space.

"Come on, she's back here..." Maggie whispered, pushing Liz toward a dusty corner.

Like a wraith, Maria rose out of the shadows. Her normally golden skin was blotchy white, and her eyes were wide open. She didn't seem to recognize Liz or Maggie.

Liz crept slowly toward her, and she realized what the noise she'd heard had been. Maria was sitting on some old rotten boards discarded in the corner, and one slapped the ground each time she rocked back and forth. "Maria...what's wrong? What is it? Is it..." She didn't want to say it, but she knew what telegrams normally meant.

Maria said nothing, her eyes blank. For the first time, Liz noticed what she held in her hands. In one hand there was a letter, old and folded many times, and a tiny gold ring. In the other there was the newer, yet crumpled telegram. Liz pulled the telegram gently from her hand and sat gingerly next to her on the boards. Looking up at Maggie,
she began to read in low tones.

"To Miss Maria DeLuca. Stop. Pvt. Robert Scott missing in action. Stop. Last seen at Cassino. Stop. Date of last sighting, 1/17. Stop. Our prayers are with family. Stop." Liz fell silent, her eyes filling with tears for Maria. Not to know for certain if her boyfriend - well, from the looks of it, her fiancé - was dead or alive - at least Alex and Max were safe in their base in England.

Finally, Maria's mouth opened, but instead of words one long, continual wail came from her lips, and Liz would never hear a sound like that again in her life. Liz reached over and pulled Maria gently into her arms, trying her best to comfort her.

Maggie's mouth was trembling and tears were falling down her cheeks. "You - you don't know for sure," she offered. "There's always a chance - they said - "

Maria looked up, her eyes hateful. "Missing in action. That means he's dead. That always means they're dead." Then her head fell on Liz's shoulder. Liz stroked her hair absently, her thoughts far away on the other side of a vast ocean.

****

"Mail call...Evans...hey, Evans!"

Max looked up. "Huh? What?"

"Mail call, asshole!"

"Oh," Max said, and ran over to pick up his mail. Yet another letter from Mom, he thought irritably. It wasn't his fault his sister had run off and left him the only child she had to whine to.

There were two envelopes. Both looked as though they had been through the wringer, and they most likely had. One read Diane Evans.

The other read Liz Parker, c/o USO.

"Holy shit," Max breathed. He fumbled for the back of the letter, his hands shaking as he tried to rip through the glue on the envelope. "The USO? No way, Liz. I can't --"

"Everybody down!" the scream rang out through the room. The lights went out, and the world began to shake. Max fell to the floor, groping for the letter in the blind darkness.

It was gone.

****

"Liz! Liz!"

Liz recognized the familiar shriek long before she actually saw the girl who made it. She didn't even bother to look up from her romance novel. "What is it now, Maggie?"

"Liz...Liz, the base in Cornwall's been bombed! They're sending out bombers in retaliation right now!"

Liz dropped her book, almost unable to move. "Was...was anyone killed?"

"They don't know yet. It's possible."

"Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod..." Liz whispered, fast and furious, under her breath. She rose from her cot and slipped her shoes on. The hallway was darkened; it was almost midnight. The black curtains were drawn everywhere. Technically, this wasn't really a base; non-military personnel stayed here often. It was more like an old hospital, Liz thought to herself, and she had a feeling it might soon be serving that function again.

Sarge was sitting at her desk, her finger moving so fast over the old Morse code machine that Liz could barely see it. "Sarge?" she asked desperately.

"Parker," Sarge said, without looking up. "We've got an emergency here, or can't you tell?"

"I just..." Liz was panting from her run across the building. "I just wanted to know where they're sending the soldiers."

"Some of them will go to the base in Scotland, some will be sent to local hospitals, and some will come here."

Liz's heart thudded in her chest. Alex...Alex and Max could be here, any moment. Or they could be hurt, or dead. She had no way of knowing. She marched out of Sarge's room, still hearing the clackety-clack of the machine behind her. For all her faults, Sarge was
extremely knowledgable about everything from dance to secret codes which, she guessed, were headed over the wires right now. This was the place to stick to.

Maggie appeared, looking as breathless as Liz felt. "Isn't...isn't your fiance..." Liz nodded slowly. Maggie bit her lip unhappily. "Sometimes I feel like the only person here who hasn't experienced any tragedy..." she murmured, almost too quietly for Liz to hear.

"I haven't experienced any goddamn tragedy yet," Liz snapped. "We don't know anything yet."

Maggie was silent.

"Where's Maria?"

"In her room. I don't even know if she knows yet."

Liz stared off into space. "I don't want to tell her. She's the last person in the world I want worrying for my welfare."

Maggie nodded. "I understand."

****

At some point during the long wait, Liz had fallen into the realm of dreams. She was sitting on a chair in an empty room. The room was so incredibly vast that she could not see its end, and it was vastly dark. She was alone, and the silence was deafening.

Two figures emerged from the darkness at the end, walking slowly toward her chair. She felt intense joy; she knew who they were. They were her boys. She stood, reaching out her arms...and the two figures vanished into midair.

Liz awoke with a start, her heart pounding so loud she could clearly hear each beat. Then someone poked her arm, and she realized it wasn't a heartbeat she was hearing after all. It was the pounding of boots as someone walked toward them. Gradually it grew louder, and it was clear that it was more than one set of boots. Maria released Liz's arm. She looked alert for the first time in weeks. They're coming, she mouthed.

The door opened, and men began pouring in. None of them appeared to be too badly hurt; more than anything they seemed to need a good night's rest. The women set out cots and pillows as the flood of soldiers continued. Liz was so absorbed in what she was doing that she didn't hear the door shut, and the voice of Sarge didn't really register.

"Is that all?" she barked.

"Yes, that's all we have," said a male voice, and Liz dropped the cot she'd been unfolding onto the concrete with a clash. Never, in a million years, could she forget that voice.

She looked up into the concerned brown eyes of Max Evans.




Author's Note: Yes, I know it's a bit rushed, but I think you might like the next part. *happy*


Part 5


"Max," Liz whispered, her hands trembling.

His eyes widened as he took her in. "Liz! I didn't -- when -- you're over here!" he said, stating the obvious for everyone around to hear.

Neither of them headed toward each other. Max stayed next to the heavy
wooden doors, and Liz stood still next to the broken cot. They were only a few feet apart, but anyone who cared to look could see the wall between them. "Didn't you get my letter?" she asked warily.

He shook his head. "I -- I never got a chance to read it."

She didn't question that, and seemed suddenly to come to a realization. Her eyes widened, and her skin whitened. "Where is Alex? Where is he? Is he alright? Is he..." she was beginning to sound hysterical.

Max rushed to her and pulled her gently into the hallway, away from all the staring soldiers and dancers. "Calm down! He's fine, he's perfectly fine. I saw him getting on one of the trains to Scotland. My sergeant says he's headed there to help get things organized, and then he'll be back down here. Just a day or two."

Liz collapsed against his chest in relief. Her face was buried in his shoulder. "Thank God, when I heard -- I was so afraid -- I didn't know what I would do..."

"Sshhhh," he whispered, stroking her back lightly, all his senses tuned on her. God, the last time he had held her...the only time he had ever held her..."It's all right, Liz."

Liz didn't want to move. He was so warm, and he smelled good, like himself, and yet there was an underlying scent that reminded her of everything that was going on. It was a faintly charred smell, as though his clothes had been lightly singed. Finally she backed away, until she was at arm's length, and looked up at Max.

The first thing she really noticed was his hat. Cocked at a jaunty angle, it set off the grin that still painted his face at the sight of her. Then her gaze dropped to his eyes, which seemed older somehow. Not surprising, really; it had been almost ten months since she'd last seen him. His jaw was hard and straight as ever, belying his gentle nature. Then she really looked at his uniform and had to resist sucking in a sudden breath. He looked good -- no, amazing. It just made her feel all the more miserable. She raised her glance back to his beautiful brown eyes again, and saw pain there. Bracing herself inwardly, she took his hand. "Come on, Private."

Max smiled a little, trying to cover the sorrow she could see so clearly in his eyes. "So I'm private now?"

"More so than usual," Liz replied, and led him to her room.



"How many?" she queried gently, pushing the door shut behind him.

His eyes flickered and she saw he knew what she was asking. "Twelve, so far. Could be a lot more if they ever clean up the rubble."

Liz inhaled painfully, leaning back against the door. "Anyone you knew?" she asked.

He nodded slowly. He wished he could tell her everything, he was dying to tell her, but in the end he could not.

The last sound he had heard was that of the ceiling falling in on them. The cafeteria had become a death trap. The Nazis had undoubtedly been aiming for the weapons store, but they had been off by a few feet. Max had awakened with several bricks on top of him, feeling sore and bruised, but otherwise unhurt. He pushed a brick off and tried to sit up, but found he couldn't. Reaching around gingerly, he had found the broken rib and healed it quickly. He could hear faint screams and moans from his fellow soldiers. He pulled himself from the rubble, stumbling in a daze.

It couldn't have been more than a few minutes since the bombers had flown off, because the rest of the base was just beginning to arrive. Max sat heavily on what was left of a wall and watched cars begin to pull up, unable to move.

He realized that the enemy's aim hadn't been as far off as he'd initially thought. Nearly all of the buildings were damaged in some way, and the warehouses that held the weapons were almost entirely demolished.

A doctor ran toward Max. "Are you all right, son?"

Max nodded slowly. "I'm fine."

The doctor looked unsure. "Were you...were you in there? No, you couldn't have been, you'd be hurt far worse," the doctor said, dismissing his own idea. "You've been hit by some shrapnel, son. Just let me clean you up."

Max didn't move, and the doctor splashed something on a cloth and wiped at his forehead. He shuddered as the disinfectant soaked into a cut he hadn't realized was there. He slowly came back to reality, and the smell of death and destruction was all around him. "I have to-- I have to go help--" he said, seeing the soldiers and doctors digging at the rubble wherever they heard shouts or cries. He started to rise.

The doctor pushed him firmly back down, and Max realized just how weak he was. "You're not going anywhere but the infirmary, young man. It's a miracle that you weren't more badly hurt, being so close to the explosion."

He seemed to have drawn his own conclusions, and Max let him think what he wanted. He closed his eyes again, trying not to see, trying not to hear. If only the world could be shut away, and if everything he wanted and needed would not be so hard to find.



Max opened his eyes to see Liz, her concern etched on her face. "I couldn't help them," he whispered. "I was there but I couldn't do anything."

Liz sighed and moved forward, her hand on his arm. "Max, don't worry about it. The important thing is that you're all right."

"To you, maybe."

Luckily for him, Liz didn't take that as anything more than what he meant. "Well, I think that what you need is a good night's sleep."

Max laughed hollowly. "That isn't going to happen."

She led him toward her bed. "You've been through a lot. All the others are asleep by now." She pulled back the covers of her bed and pushed him down. He was surprised at her strength. She reached down and unlaced one boot, and then the other. She placed them neatly beside the bed, and pulled the covers over him.

He tried to sit up, shocked and amazed by her display of motherliness.
"Where are you going to sleep?"

"I already slept. Don't worry about it."

"Liz..." he gave a final protest as she headed towards the door, but he could already feel exhaustion overtaking him. The hand of sleep was reaching slowly over his brain.

"Go to sleep, Max."

Surrounded by warm blankets and her scent, he obeyed gratefully.


Liz opened the door and jumped backwards in alarm as two faces loomed at her. Maria and Maggie scooted backwards, almost tripping over themselves. Maria grinned at her. "So that's Alex, huh?"

Liz rolled her eyes. "Weren't you guys watching like everyone else when he got here? That's Max."

"What?" said Maggie.

"No...we just heard about it. They told us it was your fiance. They said he was cute. Who's Max? And if he's not Max, where's Alex?"

Liz stiffened as she started to walk back towards the room where the soldiers were being kept, Maria and Maggie on her heels. "Listen," she said irritably, turning to face them. "I want you two to leave me alone now, all right?"

"Liz..." Maria said softly. "Is it Alex?"

"He's fine," she said. "I just need to be alone."

Maggie paused, then started to go after her. Maria held her back, shaking her head. "Leave her alone. If she needs time, she needs time. Now, come on. They need our help."

****

Liz found an empty room and closed the door. She sank to the cold, dirty floor. "How am I going to do this?" she murmured to herself. She couldn't take it anymore. She didn't want to hurt Max, or Alex. She loved them both, but at the same time loved one in a different way than the other. A few minutes ago, she'd wanted nothing more than to crawl into her bed with Max. But she couldn't do that. She could never do that.

She didn't want to see either of them hurt. But how could she be with one without hurting the other? Max almost certainly didn't know how she felt. But she knew, from her experience, that he would be hurt by any rejection of hers. He cared for her. He would be upset if she left without a word, and without reason...and what was she going to do about Alex? What could she do?

****

At some point during the night, Max awakened.

He heard soft, delicate breathing from across the room, and he realized that someone was in Liz's room with him. He kept his eyes shut and his breathing even, willing whoever it was just to go away. He couldn't take this right now, couldn't handle it. In the morning, yes. But now...he just couldn't.

The person walked soundlessly across the room, but Max could sense the presence.

Then, she sat down on the bed, and Max tried not to gasp, to reveal that he was really awake.



posted on 6-Sep-2001 1:35:18 PM

Part 6



He willed himself to be still as Liz brushed his hair away from his forehead tenderly. He kept his breathing slow and even, but she didn't move. He felt the bed shift as she moved a little closer to him, but she didn't touch him again. Why was she here? What did she want? He knew what he wanted, but that didn't matter.

Finally she stood, paused a moment more, and walked away, closing the door with a soft *snick* behind her. He opened his eyes, letting out a rush of breath. What had that been about? Granted, he was sleeping in her bed, but why was she up and around in the middle of the night?

He sat up, running a hand through his hair. He could still sense where she had touched. He certainly wasn't going to be doing any more sleeping tonight.

****

He stumbled out of bed the next morning, broad daylight streaming in through the windows. Since he had come here, he had not seen the light so bright in England. Generally, it rained. But today could be any New Mexico spring day, except for the pervasive damp that Max had almost become accustomed to.

He slipped his shoes back on. He was wearing the only clothes he had at the moment. He only vaguely remembered the night before -- Liz, so surprised to see him. Liz, easing him into her bed. Falling asleep surrounded by her delicious scent. Liz, coming into his room in the middle of the night--

No, that had to have been a dream. He had been so tired. It wasn't like her to do something like that. He yawned and stretched, heading toward the door. Just as he reached for the knob, it twisted in his hand. Puzzled, he stepped back.

Max looked at the goofy grin of Alex Whitman.

****

"Hey, Evans! Happy to see you're healthy! I heard you were just outside the cafeteria when it hit. You're damn lucky!"

"I know," Max said slowly, opening the door further. Beside Alex, gripping his hand tightly and wearing a slight smile, was Liz.

"Hello, Max," she said softly. "Did you sleep well?"

Stunned by this sudden display of formality from her, he blinked rapidly. "Uh...yeah. Really well. I guess you can have your room back tonight, huh?"

She shrugged. "It's all right. You can have it. I've found another one."

Max, his stomach sinking so fast he felt nauseated, was sure who she'd gotten a room with. "Yeah. Okay." With that he pushed past them, without so much as a goodbye or a farewell.

Alex turned and watched him stalk down the hall. "What on earth has gotten into him?"

Liz shrugged. "No idea."

He smiled, and leaned down to kiss her. "Hey Liz, I've got an idea."

"What?" she asked, smiling up at him.

"Wanna get married? Tonight, I mean. We can have the chaplain here perform the service."

Liz stepped back, her breath caught in her throat, obviously stunned. "I...Alex...I don't know."

His face fell. "You don't know?"

"It's -- it's too soon, we just got engaged..."

"Too soon? Liz, we've known each other forever, for as long as I can remember. And we've been engaged for too long. Six months."

"Alex...Alex, you didn't even write me."

His face was stricken. "Liz...you know what happened that night...what you...what we said...I was still upset..."

Liz closed her eyes painfully. "We'll get married, Alex. But not tonight. When this war is over, we'll be married. We'll have a thousand kids, and we'll be happy. But not now."

"Liz, I haven't even gone to war yet. For all we know, tomorrow I could be shipped out. I could be--" She put a hand over his mouth, shushing him gently.

Alex looked at her, the pain evident in his eyes. "I love you, Liz."

"I know."

****

Max sat in the cafeteria, surrounded by injured soldiers. He knew the bandage on his forehead made him look as though he'd been injured, but in reality he could have healed the wound at any time. But what if someone pulled the bandage off, or it fell off? What would they say? That he'd been faking? He and his sister had agreed to attempt to blend in. Their powers set them apart, but no one knew, so everything was okay. Max hated to think what might happen if the government found out that he could stop a bullet at a range of forty feet. They'd probably lock him in a glass room until they figured out how they could use him to exploit the Nazis. He'd heard stories, of especially
gifted soldiers being "taken away." He wasn't sure what that meant, but he didn't want it to happen to him.

He was determined not to use his powers on the battlefield.

Right now, he was tempted to use them on Alex. He didn't really know why he was so upset. Yes, he did. But it didn't matter, and he had to get over it. Liz belonged to Alex, and that was that. They would be married and he had absolutely no say in it.

One of the soldiers near him whistled, and he looked up. There were Liz and Alex, hand in hand, headed directly toward him. He groaned a little.

He could hear the murmurs, "Sweet thing," "Damned Whitman, been here three hours and he's already hooked himself up with the local ladies." There was some laughter at one comment, and he saw Liz blush.

Alex bowed dramatically as he reached the table. "Gents, I'd like you to meet my fiancee, Elizabeth Parker."

Liz blushed again. One of the soldiers shouted from across the room, "Shit, Whitman! Wish my fiance just showed up on the other side of the fuckin' Atlantic! I need somebody to help keep me warm tonight! Hey, sweetheart, you want to help me out with that?" he asked with a grin, reaching for a petite blonde next to him. She scowled and shoved him away, running from the cafeteria. Liz tried to run after her amidst the laughter, but Alex held tight to her.

"See, that's why you'll never get any, Hinckley," Alex crowed. "You just ain't got my finesse!"

Liz rolled her eyes and sat down in an empty chair, Alex following her, reluctant to let go of the attention he had.

Max reached for her arm, but she noticed him out of the corner of her eye and yanked it away. No one noticed, but Max felt stung. How the hell was he supposed to get her attention? "Liz...hey, Liz!"

She ignored him, seemingly hanging on Alex's every word as he regaled them with the tale of his overnight train trip from Scotland.

"Liz...Liz!"

Liz glanced sharply at him. "Yes?"

"Are you enjoying yourself?"

She caught his double meaning. Her eyes narrowed angrily, and, pulling her hand out of Alex's, she stormed off in the direction the blonde had gone.

****

Max sighed to himself, watching the soldiers talk and laugh. He couldn't enjoy himself at all. He didn't know what was wrong with her. Sure, maybe it wasn't such a good idea for her to take him to her room and shut them in any more...was that it? Had Alex heard some rumor, and Liz was attempting to make up for it? It certainly hadn't seemed so from his demeanor.

Well, there was only one way to find out. Sudden cold shoulder or no, they were longtime friends and he had a right to know what was going on with her. He knocked on the door of the room where he'd spent the night. Apparently it wasn't quite his yet; the blonde girl - her name was Maria, he had learned - had told him she was here.

"Can I come in?" Max asked.

Liz shrugged, indifferent. Her hair fell in her face as she stepped away from the door. "Why are you here? Where's Alex?"

"He's off with the boys, gone out. Working off stress, I guess."

Liz sighed and collapsed onto the narrow cot. "Sure. All right."

"It's the truth," Max said, fiddling with his cap. He glanced around. The room wasn't exactly well furnished. Liz had been given a cot and a dresser with a mirror over it. The room was illuminated by a single bare bulb that hung from the ceiling, casting strange shadows on the walls. The bulb itself swung back and forth gently in the breeze coming through the window, making the shadows move eerily.

Liz looked up at him, her deep brown eyes hollow and recessed. She seemed thinner than she had been when they graduated. Her drab uniform hung off her gaunt frame. "Liz, are you all right?"
Max asked.

She laughed, and it sounded as hollow as her features. "What do you think?"

He sat next to her on the bed. "I mean, we used to be great friends. Last night...now you're almost hostile towards me. Why is that?"

"You haven't figured it out? Jesus, Max, I thought you were smart."

Max shifted uncomfortably as she moved closer to him. "I just don't know what you want from me. I'm your friend, Liz. I'd do anything for you."

"Anything?" she asked, her face inches from his.

"Anything," Max replied, a little breathless.

Liz closed the gap between them and slid an arm around Max's neck, her hand coming to rest on the back of his head. "Then do this for me," she whispered, and her lips were on his in an instant.

Max kissed her back, his fuzzy brain screaming at him that this was wrong. It was wrong, and yet so right. He had been dreaming about it since she kissed him so briefly in Alex's room, her lips leaving a lingering impression. She was Alex's...had been since they were
children. It was so unbelievably wrong...and yet Max couldn't have left the room, or even pulled away, if his life had depended on it.

Her slender fingers reached for the polished buttons on his uniform, undoing them so quickly Max could swear she was using powers like his. She reached inside his coat, running her hands along the muscles under his tee shirt. Max hissed, sucking in a breath.

Liz pushed him slowly backwards, helping him pull off his jacket and his tee shirt. She was so slim that he could barely feel her weight on him. He reached up to pull her blouse over her head. She moaned when he cupped her breasts gently. He reached behind her and unsnapped the clasp to her bra. He ran his thumbs over her nipples, feeling them harden.

Suddenly the reality of all this came crashing down on him. Alex's girl was cheating on him with his best friend, and that best friend was him. Fumbling, he tried to push her away. "Liz, no, we can't do this, Liz..."

She laid a finger over his lips, shushing him. She leaned forward, pressing her lips against his once again, and he tasted her sweetness, and was lost.

It was Liz's turn now; she unbuckled Max's belt and pushed the rough fabric of his pants over his hips. He stifled a groan as her fingers brushed against him. He reached for her heavy skirt, pulling it down. She leaned down and kissed him, hard, her lips forcing his apart. Max lifted his hands to push her silky hair out of her face. Her hands
reached for his briefs, and, still kissing him, she slid over him and encased him in her hot warmth.

Max moaned into her mouth. He tried his best to keep his eyes from rolling back in his head. It had never been like this with Tess, ever. With Tess it was the classic wham, bam, thank you ma'am... and never anything more. He had never felt this complete, this whole. He could do nothing but watch her; she was an angel, the lightbulb behind her
forming a halo as she arched back in sheer ecstasy.

Finally he regained his will and he reached up, running his hands over her breasts. She gasped and, taking it as a cue, began to rise and fall, sliding up and down his hard shaft. His hips rose and fell with her, and as she began to move faster and faster, he began to lose control. He traced his fingers down her arms, finding her hands and taking them into his. She squeezed his hands tightly, and he knew she was
close.

"Liz...Liz, I'm going to..."

She rose again and he watched the muscles in her legs flex. "I know. I am, I'm so close..."

"Liz, I have to pull out, you have to move, we aren't using anything." He could barely get the sentence out. It took every ounce of willpower he had within him not to explode inside her sweet body right now.

"Oh," she moaned. "Please, please. I want you to come inside me."

Max groaned. His will snapped, and he erupted inside her. Her sigh gradually lengthened until it became a cry of pleasure, low and guttural and utterly erotic. She gripped his hand, her nails cutting into his callused skin, almost drawing blood.

Finally Liz collapsed on top of him, her skin moist and glistening. Max pulled her close, her weight totally inconsequential. Gradually their breathing became deep and even, and together they drifted off.







Author's Note: When I wrote the word "shaft" I heard in my head:

"Who's the black private dick who's a sex machine with all the chicks! Shaft! Can
you dig it!"

LOL this is why I never use that word...



Author's Note: LOL don't hit! I know how slow I am!


I still like to look at my family's pictures from that time, old and yellowing as they are. Every one of them tells a story. It's where I first found the magazine clipping as a little girl, and when I asked about it, my grandmother took me aside and told me the story behind it. The story of how she'd become famous through a picture in Life Magazine. It's what sparked my interest in the war.

Most people don't realize that 56.4 million people were killed in World War II, more than any other war, ever. The total material cost of the war eventually came to 1.5 trillion, more than every other war in history put together. It's frightening to think about. Over fifty million people--that's something like five percent of the world's total population at that time. The ratio of females to males in the United States surged for years. The average lifespan statistics for men were affected almost permanently.

Not that women weren't ever killed in the war. In fact, more women were killed than most people ever knew. They were nurses, performers--they may not have been on the front lines, but they were most certainly not out of danger. All of them knew the danger, but they took the risk anyway.

****

Liz slipped out of Max's grasp, and put her clothes back on quickly. It was messy, but she could take a shower when she got back to the room she shared with Alex. Hopefully he was back by now.

She looked at the clock on the wall and froze. "Shit," she muttered under her breath. It was almost midnight. They'd been asleep almost four hours. Max stirred at the sound of her movement, rolled over, and went back to sleep. Her body relaxed and she pulled her blouse back on.

She slipped out the door, not knowing if anyone noticed, and not caring.

****

Max woke up slowly with the daylight, his body actually sore from his exertions the night before. He reached for Liz, disappointed but not surprised to find her not there. He leaned back into his pillow, rubbing his face to try to wake himself up. Last night had not involved very much sleep. He was used to getting a full night's
rest. He knew he shouldn't adjust to that, since he could go into combat anytime. But that's what they had told him on the boat over here. *Men, you never know exactly when Uncle Sam will need you.* Hurry up and wait...that was army life. More than once Max had wished that he'd joined one of the exciting branches, like the Marines or the Air Force. Of course, his mother would have been hysterical and he'd probably be dead by now, instead of lounging around at an ex-hospital in a beautiful European country.

Now he had to find Liz. Where could she be? Her clothes were gone. She must have gone back to Alex, he realized with a sudden surge of bitterness. She can't leave her Alex for you, buddy, but she at least wants one good fuck.

Great. Just great, Evans. Mess up everything you've got with both the people you love at once.

Max sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed and burying his face in his hands, his bare body inured to the dim, wet cold of the room. Why even bother to get dressed today? What was the point?

****

Liz stumbled down the hall, her whole body sore. She wasn't a virgin, but it had never been like that with Alex, ever. It was like he'd reached inside her mind as well as her body, further than anyone had before. She tripped and went sprawling, landing with a thump at someone's feet.

She reached for the hand that was put down next to her face...and was pulled straight into Alex's arms.

"Hey, baby," he drawled. "Where've you been all night? I've been looking all over for you."

She looked up at him, and tried not to flinch at what she knew she had to say. "With Max."

Instead of being horrified, or insulted, or angry as she had expected him to be, his smile widened. "Great, Liz! I knew he'd take good care of you while I was away."

"Yeah," Liz muttered to herself as Alex led her down the dank hallway. "Really good care."

****

"Sir?"

Kyle Valenti looked up, surprise flashing briefly across his face. "Well, well. I'd heard my brother-in-law was here, but I never really believed it until now. Small world, huh?"

"Small war," Max said, and sat in the chair across from Valenti's desk.

"So what can I do for you, Max? Or should I call you Evans?"

"Either one is fine. Uh, I wanted to ask you a question."

"Ask away."

"Why are we here?"

Valenti looked up in obvious irritation and surprise. "I thought you knew that. We're here to fight the goddamn Nazi bastards."

Max shook his head. "No, I mean why are we here -- in England? So many of us, just waiting around? Why aren't we on the battlefield like everyone else?"

Valenti put down the stack of papers he'd been shuffling through, and looked his brother-in-law straight in the eye. "I'm not going to tell you that, Evans, because you'll find out soon enough yourself. But I will tell you something, and you have to promise me that you'll never tell your sister. I know you two write each other sometimes."

"No, I won't tell her."

Kyle leaned across his desk until he was only a few inches from Max. "This war is going to be *hell*, Max. Hell unlike anything you've heard about, or seen in the newsreels. And you, and I, are going to be right in the thick of it."

****

Max wandered into the cafeteria, feeling more than a little dazed by what his sister's husband had just told him. *This war is going to be *hell*, Max.* What was that supposed to mean? Were they heading over soon? It almost seemed now like it couldn't be true. Like war, for him, was going to be a rainy military base in England and a distinct lack of pretty girls.

Max could remember clearly the intense shock he had felt after the Japanese attacked. Every ounce of safety, every bit of security that he ever had had vanished in an instant. The fact that some foreign force, in a country he'd barely heard of in safe, continental
Roswell, could come out of nowhere and completely devastate one of America's major naval bases, had hit him like a slap in the head. He'd known from that very moment that he was going to go to war, and he was going to fight those assholes who were trying to take over, like they had any right to. Like they could kick the U.S. of A around.

He almost didn't realize it when he reached the cafeteria, and he had to stop dead and turn around. He blinked slightly, not sure if he was really seeing what he was seeing.

The cafeteria was bedecked as though for a ball, the whole ceiling strung with streamers and balloons. Max imagined that the rubber, and the dyed paper, were unbelievably expensive. He looked around in awe; who knew that the boring, shapeless room could be turned into something so grand?

He tapped the shoulder of a girl gluing a streamer to the cement wall. "Hey...what is this for?"

She turned around; it was the girl, Maria, that he'd spoken to the night before. She studied his appearance carefully, and he could read her face. Typed on it, clear as day, were the words, "What have you been up to?"

But she didn't say that. Instead, she said, "Ball tonight, for the boys before the girls ship out."

"Girls? Shipping out? What do you mean?"

"Well, Marlene Dietrich has finished with her run, so we're on next. We leave tomorrow afternoon."

"When--when will you be back?"

"Back? Who knows. And won't you be shipping out soon, anyway?"

Max couldn't find the words to respond to the little blond -- Maria was her name. Liz was leaving. He had wanted to talk with her, he had so many things to say, and now he might never get a chance. She'd be with Alex tonight, undoubtedly, and tomorrow too. What if he never got a chance to tell her what he felt for her? That she should leave
his best friend for him?

****

Liz looked down at herself. Her performance dress wasn't much - just a simple cut of cream-colored fabric - but it would have to do. Things were tight, especially around here, and she just needed to live with it. This was going to be her last taste of real civilization for awhile, she'd been told, so she'd better make the most of it.

She headed for the dolled-up cafeteria, feeling more pampered in her high hairdo and makeup than she had in weeks, even months. Maggie and Maria joined her, wearing their matching dresses. They seemed happy. Liz wished she could feel the same way. This wasn't going to be pretty.

Maggie and Maria giggled, and Liz was pleased to see Maria really happy for the first time in weeks. It had been nearly a month since she'd gotten the news, and for her most of it had been spent inside her room. It appeared that the thing that worked best at drawing Maria out of mourning was something absurd -- gossip.

"So what's going on with you and Max? Alex not ringing your bell anymore?"

Maggie gasped at Maria's audacity, but Liz shrugged it off. "Don't worry about it, Maria."

Maria put her hand on her chest in feigned indignance. "Are you implying that I'm being nosy? Why, I never!"

"You should," Liz said. "It's fun."

They all laughed together, and turned to walk into the transformed cafeteria.

****

Max looked up and sucked in a breath. They all came in together, breathtaking even in the boring shades of their performance dresses. They were a pale, shadowed milk color, intended, no doubt, to forecast attention to the singer who would make up their center. Astonishingly enough, the color managed to set off Liz's dark, flowing tresses, the color glimmering through them as she walked under the bright lights.

He watched her come toward him. She wasn't smiling, but she didn't seem unhappy. In contrast, she looked as though she'd just been laughing. Her lips were painted a deep, unruly red, making her delicate skin glow. The corners of her lips turned up slightly, and she headed straight for the person directly to the left of Max.

Alex.


Part 8


He welcomed her with a smile, putting his arms around her shoulders and leading her almost instantly to the dance floor. Max watched with some mixed feeling of rage and desperation. He had to talk to her, and he had to do it now. Who knew when he might get another chance?

He looked around for someone to dance with. At first he saw no one free, then, near the door, he saw a little redhead, her eyes cast downward shyly.

"May I have this dance?" he asked, offering his hand.

She seemed shocked, but she nodded slowly. He took her hand and manuevered her onto the wooden floor, gently turning her in time with the music.

Max glanced over at the singer onstage. He suspected that she was the lead act of Liz's group -- a beautiful, thirtyish singer with a raspy, throaty alto. As Max watched her, she cleared her throat and began a familiar song.

"Heaven, I'm in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we're out together, dancing cheek to cheek."

Max came out from the spell of the song slowly, and realized that Maria was steering him, a questioning look on her face. He glanced over at Liz. Her head was tucked into Alex's chest, her eyes closed. She looked blissfully peaceful. Max's heart began to pound, partly with confusion, and partly with anger.

"Heaven, I'm in heaven
And the cares that hung around me through the week
Seemed to vanish like the gambler's lucky streak
When we're out together, dancing cheek to cheek."

He took control of the dance. Maria didn't seem to mind. He spun them around, twirling closer and closer to Liz and Alex. He heard Maria's deep, unhappy sigh.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, leaning close to her ear.

She looked up at him, and he saw the understanding in her green eyes. "It's all right," she whispered back. "I understand."

Max smiled. "Thank you, Maria," he said.

She shrugged. "It's okay. Just do whatever you need to do. But there's something I need to tell you first."

He frowned. "What is it?"

"Before you came here, Liz was worried about something. Not just about Alex, or whether he'd been killed, or hurt or something. But when you got here, it was like everything came to a head for her. And since then, she's been different."

"Different how?"

Maria brushed a strand of long blond hair out of her eye. "I shouldn't have said anything. I'm sorry."

Max felt someone bump against him, and he realized that they'd wandered their way over to Alex and Liz.

"Oh, I'd love to climb a mountain
And to reach the highest peak
But it doesn't thrill me half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek."

"May I cut in?" Max asked, tapping Alex's shoulder.

Alex turned around with a smile. "Sure, buddy. No problem. Just don't wear her out, okay? I want another turn after you're done." And with that, he grabbed Maria and spun her away, dancing goofily. Max heard her laugh and knew she was okay.

He looked down at Liz. She wasn't looking at him. He grabbed her and forced her to look in his eyes. "What's wrong with you, Liz? The best night of sex you've ever had just a little overwhelming for you?"

Liz glared at him. He could see that she was tempted to slap him, but didn't want to draw unnecessary attention their way. Her lips worked as though forming words. Finally she said, "Why are you questioning one night of sex with no commitment? Isn't that what
a man loves?"

Max was so taken aback by her reply that for a moment his mind went blank. Maria was right. Liz had changed, in some way that wasn't physically visible but was clear enough in her words. The Liz he had known his whole life would never have said anything so crude about
sex. Especially sex with her best friend. "What *is* wrong with you? Why would you...Liz, I know you better than anybody. And you know me. You know that I'd never, I'd never have made love to you if it didn't mean something to me. I thought the same of you."

"Well, maybe you thought wrong," she hissed, her voice lowering as Lieutenant Valenti came closer.

"Oh, I'd love to go out fishin'
In a river or a creek
But I don't enjoy it half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek."

Max pulled her closer, ignoring the stirring of his body. He could still remember what she felt like against him, writhing, her hair falling loose around him. "I don't know you anymore, Elizabeth Parker," he said, more than a little sadly.

"Yeah, all that physical pleasure you gave me last night just left me a changed woman."

Max winced, stung. "If you hate me so much, then why do you keep on dancing?"

"Who said I hate you?"

He paused, stopping their slow dance so suddenly that Liz stumbled and Valenti, with his partner, bumped into them with an annoyed glance. "If you don't, then what is going on?"

"I guess you'll find out soon enough."

Max didn't like the sound of that at all. The song was drawing to a close, and he pulled her close again, wanting to relish the feel of her against him, just for a little while.

"Come on and dance with me
I want my arm about you
That charm about you
Will carry me through to heaven
I'm in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we're out together, dancing cheek to cheek..."

He could see her distancing herself from him. He didn't understand anything that had happened. Why had she wanted him last night? All things considered, it had been her who had initiated everything. Why was she so cold and unfriendly now? He remembered two nights ago, being tucked tenderly into her bed, her face so loving and forgiving,
offering a shoulder for all of his hurts.

The song finally ended, the beautiful red-headed singer, who seemed vaguely familiar to Max, taking a drink of water offered to her by one of the soldiers. While he was still looking away, he felt the warmth that was Liz slip from his arms. When he turned around, all he could see was her petite rear end as she walked back out the door. Alex, still dancing with Maria, looked at Max in obvious puzzlement. Max
didn't think he'd ever seen Alex's face echo his own thoughts so perfectly.

****

Max could already hear the little plane, all the way outside in the makeshift landing field. It was just big enough for all the USO girls. Even their instructor, who Max had briefly heard called Sarge, was staying behind. There just wasn't enough room.

He'd had a sleepless night the night before, the image of Alex making love to Liz flashing repeatedly through his head. He couldn't get the image out of his mind. He'd never thought of himself as the jealous type, but now he had insomnia over a girl who wasn't even his.
Apparently, one night was all Liz had wanted, and now that she was going, he was going to have to learn to live with that. He'd been able to have her for one night, and he knew that for those few moments, he'd possessed her body and soul. But that was all he was going to get.

Max watched wordlessly as Liz exited the old hospital, tripping in her high heels as she tried to walk too fast.

He saw why after a few seconds. Alex was coming after her. He seemed partly angry, partly hurt. *That's probably a hell of a lot what I looked like last night*, Max realized.

She turned around to speak to him, her face emotionless. They weren't too far away, but whatever they said was drowned out instantly by the noisy propeller plane. He glanced over and saw the last of the girls loading her tiny allotted bag. Liz was going to have to leave, and soon.

He watched them, and realized that they were arguing, Liz's words flying fast and furious to counteract anything Alex said. He remembered her doing that sometimes when they were children, annoying them both with her superior verbal ability. *Girl stuff*, they had
sniffed together at the time.

Maria leaned out of the plane, and though he couldn't hear her, he read her lips easily. "Time to leave, Liz!"

Liz turned around, throwing a nod to her friend. She turned around and said something more to Alex. Max didn't know what she said, but whatever it was, it made Alex's shoulders slump visibly. She turned on her heel and walked away, and for once he didn't try to stop her. Instead he ran in the other direction, and Max realized that his face was blurred with tears.

Max was totally astonished. In all their years as best friends, he'd never seen Alex cry. Ever. What in hell had she said to him?

By the time the plane began to taxi down the grass-and-cement runway, he was the only soldier standing near the building. He watched one face through the distant window, certain that it was Liz's. He thought he saw a flicker of recognition in the girl's eyes, before the plane rolled into the distance.

When its wheels left the ground, Max sighed and turned back toward the old hospital, not looking forward to what lay ahead, and longing for what had been left behind.

"Love you, Liz," he muttered to no one in particular.


Part 9

Author's Note: This part is essentially transition, which is why it's taken me so damn long to write, because I *hate* transition.


"Hey, Liz, isn't that your loverboy waving at you over there?" Maria asked, the teasing note in her voice giving Liz a warning.

Maggie turned around from the seat in front, nearly knocking the head off the girl next to her with a sharp elbow. "What are you talking about? No one's waving."

Maria looked at her with obvious irritation. "Shut up! I'm talking to Liz, not to you."

The younger girl looked hurt and rapidly faced front again. Liz could just picture her big green eyes welling with tears. It was just a few days ago that Maggie had told them she was really only sixteen, but Liz and Maria had guessed it long before then. There was no way that any high school graduate could every be that continuously perky and chipper.

Maria groaned. "Listen, Maggie, I didn't mean that."

"Sure you didn't," she muttered, not turning around.

Maria's temper flared. "For Christ's sake, grow up and get over it."

Maggie burst into tears and began to sob.

"Oh God," Liz muttered to herself.

****

Max wandered slowly back toward the main entrance. Liz's plane was long gone into the distance. They were headed toward the channel, and then to Italy. Max shuddered when he thought of the kind of territory they were flying over.

He looked around; the only people in sight were a trio of nurses from the contingent that had arrived just before Liz's group left. Alex was nowhere to be seen. Max needed to talk to him. He didn't want to know what Liz had said, really, but in a way he had to know, as simply as he had to eat every day.

He headed toward the room that Alex and Liz had shared. The door was closed. He tried the knob; it was locked. He knocked lightly on the door. "Alex? You in there?"

There was silence for a moment, and Max's heart sped up anxiously. Then he heard, "Fuck off, cocksucker."

Max backed away. Liz had told him. She must have. Alex swore occasionally, but he'd never directly insulted Max before. *Never.* But now he'd screwed his best friend's girl, and Alex knew.

"Shit," Max muttered. A war, he could deal with. But Alex betrayed?

****

"Faster, troops! Hey, get those chins to the ground!"

"Shit," Max muttered to Alex, who was a few feet away as they endured their torture sessions, aka "push-ups." "I can't believe my goddamn brother-in-law gets to boss us around."

Alex ignored him and somehow managed to move a few inches farther away without breaking his rhythm. Max managed not to swear. How could this be happening? How could he have so alienated his best friend? How could he have slept with the best girl he knew when he belonged to Alex? Goddammit, he had to come up with a way to get past this. Alex
would get over it eventually. Maybe it had been inevitable...maybe those stiff, unhappy letters hadn't even been the beginning of it. It was making him crazy. Why the hell did he do it? Why didn't he pull away, leave the room?

Because he could never refuse Liz Parker anything, that's why. Not even when they were children. He glanced over at his best -- well, not anymore, he thought ruefully -- friend and saw the sweat pouring off his skin in the May heat. Even the British officers seemed disturbed by it; it was unnatural for this climate. And spring storms had been pouring consistently through, causing the general and President Roosevelt to delay the invasion.

They had only been told about it a week ago. *Men, we're going in.* But the weather kept causing delays. Now they'd had a few nice days, but not enough time to prepare. And from the looks of the clouds building to the southwest, they weren't going to be sailing the
channel anytime soon.

At least, he hoped not.

Max had always had built-in intuition about big events in his life; it had been in place since he and his sister had been adopted as children. And that same sense was telling him that however this invasion went down, it would change everything. Forever.

****

Liz blinked in the bright sunlight. She wasn't used to it after so much time on two foggy coasts, but it was pleasant and reminded her of home. The warm Italian wind lifted her spirits after the dank British winter chill.

The eyes of several thousand soldiers, however, sent her head reeling. She'd known it was finally time when the plane left the ground, but after so long in Delaware and England she'd simply grown used to routine. Up at seven, practice, lunch, practice, free time.
Everything must be perfect, girls; the boys are watching. Of course, no one ever said what Liz thought. *We'd better not mess up, because this might be the last nice thing those boys ever get to see.*

Now it was nine a.m., and ten thousand war-weary men were eyeing the way her skimpy dress clung to her body in the heat.

She glanced over at Maria and Maggie. Maria seemed nervous but exhilarated, and Maggie looked terrified. A smile touched Liz's lips. No surprises with those two. She looked over at the singer, a little-known but up-and-coming redhead. With her looks, Liz had a feeling she was going to wind up a Hollywood movie star rather than a singer when the war was over. The record executives would take one look at her and call their buddies over at MGM.

If the war was ever over.

It was five years for Europe now, three for her country. Looking out at the troops made her mildly nauseous. Why did these men -- these boys, rather, many of them younger even than she was -- have to die? She'd spoken with some of them and seen the hollow ache in their eyes. Would it ever go away? Luckily, she'd never have to see it in the eyes of the two men that she loved.

Liz's head snapped to attention as the sharp whistle sounded. The men fell silent as the singer began to warble tunes so familiar back home, and the dancers fell into step around her.

****

Max raised his head to the sound of trucks rolling in. What the hell was going on? The invasion, which they'd first learned about almost a month ago, had been delayed repeatedly. All the soldiers thought it was a joke, calming the butterflies in their stomachs by saying that the invasion would never happen. Max wasn't so certain. His own company had been stuck in an allied country for months, and Max had a feeling it was at least partially intentional. They wanted fresh, uninjured -- and inexperienced, Max thought to himself -- men. And from the looks of the trucks that had been coming in the last few days, this invasion, if the weather ever cleared, was going to be enormous. The trucks were brimming with everything from ammunition to new troops, freshly shipped from Canada and the U.S.

More men poured from these trucks, and Max swore. Just what they needed; more overcrowding. And what if the Jerries got wind of this huge gathering? All it would take was one bomb and the whole invasion would be shot to hell.

In addition to everything, Max had become certain that Alex would never forgive him. But what about Liz, Max wondered. How did he feel about her, now? It was clear enough that she had broken his heart with her cold words the day she left for Italy. But knowing Alex, he'd chase her to the ends of the earth.

He wandered outside, ignoring the shouting and laughing that permeated the air. He kept under the makeshift tarps that had been strung up all around the hospital-turned-base, protecting everyone from the ceaseless rain that fell. Not only did it rain constantly, but the temperature had dropped considerably from the month before, leaving everyone
miserable. Max longed for the dry heat of his home town.

Actually, he just wanted to get out of the goddamned rain before he drowned in it.

****

"Ladies, we're leaving for further up the front tomorrow. Get yourselves together and be ready to go by 0600."

A chorus of groans rose up from the girls, but their new trainer, who reminded Liz more of a chaperone, ignored them. "I want to stick around here," Maria whispered. "Some of these boys have potential, if you know what I mean."

Liz chuckled. Her friend talked big, but she knew she was still in mourning over her fiance. She had no interest in any of the soldiers here, and it was a feeling that Liz shared.

****

Max was the first in line in the makeshift mess hall that night, and he managed to get a table by himself. That made him feel safer; that way, he'd have authority over who sat at the table with him. Not everyone here was friendly to him anymore. Rumors had spread quickly among his company about Alex's sudden depression and Max's night with Liz, which, apparently, everyone knew about. He watched the growing crowd carefully as he ate his mass-prepared stew and bread.

A tap on the back almost caused him to spit his meal all over the table. "Mind if I sit down?"

Max turned around to look at the intruder. "Sure, if you don't mind sitting with the company pariah."

The man laughed, pulling out a chair and adjusting it for his long legs. He definitely had a few inches on Max heightwise. "Hey, I've been the pariah myself a few times. It's not an problem. All I want is a place to sit."

Max put down his spoon and offered his hand. "Max Evans."

"Michael Guerin," the tall blonde said with a grin. "So how long have you been stuck in this shithole?"

"Oh, about five months," Max said.

"Well, not too much longer. I've been told we're shipping out tomorrow."

"We? Tomorrow? Your company, or mine?"

"Everybody. All these companies, everyone gathered here. My sergeant told me today. He'll tell you pretty much anything if you know how to ask. Hope that ass never gets captured, he'll tell the damned Germans everything he knows."

Max had forgotten himself briefly. Everyone. All these men here -- there were thousands upon thousands of them. And how did they expect to get across the channel in this weather? Were they going to walk on the water?

He snorted to himself and the newcomer, Guerin, looked at him curiously. "So how'd you wind up the company, ah, outcast? Everyone in my company hates me, but they're just jealous."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah. I was the one who snuck out with the local ladies while everyone else got caught and then got latrine duty."

Max laughed.

"So what's your story, Evans?"

Max shrugged. "If you want to know, you can ask anyone who's been here a month. Betcha they could tell it in more gory detail than I could."

Michael raised an eyebrow, but said nothing and went back to eating his dinner.

****

Liz finished loading bags on the plane. The big, brawny Nebraska girl who normally did it was sick, and Liz always got the short stick. Now her back ached and her head hurt from the plane's fumes and noise.

"You ready?" asked the trainer, approaching her from behind and startling her.

"Ready for what?" Liz asked, confused.

"To get so close to the front. You may have thought it was bad here, with all these wounded men, but I can guarantee you that where we're going it will be positively horrific. You seem a little out of it lately, Miss Parker, and I'm wondering if you can handle what you're
going to see."

"Yes," Liz said, straightening her back so she matched the trainer in height. "I don't think it will be a problem, Miss Barnes."

"You think or you know?"

Liz sighed inwardly. This woman had no clue what had made her seem out of sorts. "I know that it won't be a problem."

"Good," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow, 0600."

Liz shook her head and closed the bin, coughing a little as the fuel truck pulled away.

****

Max was totally unnerved now. The soldiers had piled inside the landing craft, and many of them were getting sick in the stormy, rocking water.

Michael had been right. Storm or no, danger or no, the invasion was happening. And it was happening now.

Alex wasn't here, having transferred to another company at the last possible second. For the first time in his life now, Max had no clue what was about to happen to him. Would he die tommorrow morning on the beach of France? He closed his eyes.

Now Max tried to ignore the smell of the vomit and the sea water. He couldn't ignore the 80 pounds of equipment on his back, or the loaded gun he clasped nervously in his hands.

He couldn't ignore the approaching coast, either.


posted on 6-Sep-2001 1:36:19 PM

Part 10

Liz pulled out a book, knowing that soon everyone would be asleep and she'd be the only conscious person on the plane. Well, other than the pilot. She hoped.

Maria sighed next to her and leaned her head against the window. She and Maggie still weren't getting along too well after their initial spat on the plane a few weeks back. The redhead was sitting on the other side of the plane, staring out a foggy window.

Liz shrugged and tried to find her place in the little novel. It would be a few hours before they touched down.

****

The landing craft skidded to a halt, and Max knew that this was it. The sergeant was shouting orders and commands, but Max didn't hear him; he'd gone into a world of his own.

The first tiny ships had taken off across the Channel about four hours before Max's had. It was light out now, but still the troops that shared Max's little boat were getting seasick in the rough spring waters. The salty spray rose up, hitting him in the face. The landing craft didn't seem to be moving at all. Soldiers had begun piling out the sides, despite not knowing how deep the water was. Max knew he had to join them. He took a deep breath, rose up, and dove into the water.

He immediately sank like a stone into the icy cold sea. The pack strapped tightly to his back was unbelievably heavy. He struggled to the surface only to feel a bullet whiz over his head. He took a deep breath and sank back below the waves, fumbling with the straps of
his pack. They finally released and he rose to just below the surface, treading water and letting his nose rise briefly above the surface to suck in much needed air.

For the first time, he opened his eyes to the salt water, blinking furiously and looking around. He tried not to vomit.

Max had jumped directly into a sea of death. All around were gigantic spikes and mines, no doubt meant to spear and sink landing craft like the one he'd just been on.

There were bodies in the water, too; all in American uniforms or what was left of them. They all looked as though they had been either drowned or shot in their attempt to make their way onto the beach that destiny had pointed them to.

Max's brother-in-law had called it Omaha Beach, which was a code name, obviously enough, but Max was willing to bet that Nebraska had never seen this much slaughter. The men stared sightlessly, their uniforms billowing away from their bodies below the waves. In the murky distance he saw another poor soul in the same situation as him. That man, too, had released the heavy pack full of rations and weaponry into the icy cold water. Max watched as he struggled to the surface, desperate for air.

There was an explosion of red as a bullet shot through him and into the water. He could see the bullet itself clearly. It had been slowed by the water and he watched it until it disappeared. The soldier was dead, another body floating at the surface.

****

Liz sucked in a surprised breath and stuck out a hand to steady herself as the plane shook gently. Maria looked up at her, moving to let her back into the window seat. "What the hell was that?"

"Watch your language, ladies," said their chaperone sharply from the front of the plane. She looked a little nervous.

"Fuck off, bitch," Maria retorted. The shaking of the plane seemed to increase and there was a murmur from all the women on the plane.

Their chaperone, a middle-aged woman with streaks of white in her mouse brown hair, turned around in shock. "Miss DeLuca!"

Maria held her ground, glaring at her. "In case you haven't noticed, there's something wrong with the goddamn plane. If I were you, I'd worry about other things right now."

The old woman slowly sank into her seat, then nearly fell out as the plane was knocked about in the air like a child's toy.

****

Max finally made it to the beach, drawing long, gasping breaths of the stinking air. The stench was almost unbearable. His pistol, the only gun he had as a result of ditching his pack, was tightly gripped in his hand as he tried to ignore what was happening around him and make it inland, where he could see several trenches that had been dug in the sand.

He couldn't have thought of a worse place for an invasion. High bluffs allowed the enemy a clear shot at the invaders, with almost no risk to themselves. It was useless to fire back at them.

Keeping low to the ground, he stuffed his pistol into its holster and headed for the trenches. There was no semblance of an ordered invasion here, only men fighting for their lives.

Then he gasped, and almost collapsed from the pain.

****

Several of the girls had begun to cry. Liz and Maria held tight to each other as the copilot stummbled out of the cockpit. "One of our engines has been hit by enemy fire," he said grimly. "We've gotta find a place to land."

Maria's hand tightened on Liz's arm. Neither of them said anything as the plane began a stomach-churning dive and the cabin began to ring out with the prayers of terrified girls.

****

Max grunted in pain as he felt three piercing sensations go through his chest.Then the pain seemed to subside miraculously. He checked himself carefully; he'd heard stories of men who wandered around for hours not realizing they were fatally injured. But there was nothing, no blood or sign of a wound, only sand where it had stuck to his wet uniform. *Alex* was his first thought. Alex had been hurt. This had happened before; once as children when Alex had broken a bone. Max had known almost instantly, feeling the pain in his own leg. He was the only one who could help.

But how, how could he ever tell where he was in this total chaos? This wasn't an organized invasion -- it was a mess. He could still see soldiers landing on the beach, enemy fire throwing their lifeless bodies back into the ocean as soon as they tried to step onto the shore. The sea was red. Not the color of a red tide, like the one he'd seen on a family vacation to the Gulf Coast. It was a deep, unruly red, blooming across the lapping waves.

Max tried not to vomit. The stench of death was all around him; and still the bullets flew. He saw a barricade, built out of sandbags and -- he noted with a twinge -- dead bodies. He dove behind it, barely noticing the men whose guns flew up at his face.

"Hold your fire! I'm American! I'm American!" he gasped, and at the sound of his American accent they lowered their weapons. "Do you know where Gunn's troops came ashore?"

The men looked at each other. He vaguely recognized them; he had seen them around at the base in England, but now, with faces smudged with mud and blood, they were different people entirely. One of them raised his rifle and used it to point. "Over that ridge, I think."

"Thanks," Max said, inhaling and looking over the sandbags. The fighting seemed to have calmed a little.

"But don't bother going over there, friend," another one said. "We heard they're all dead over there. It was an ambush, worse than here."

Max shook his head. "I've got to. There's someone I need to repay."

They looked at each other, not bothering to consider this statement. "You're going straight to hell if you go over there, Evans," the first one said.

"We're all going to hell," Max muttered, and with that he picked up his feet and ran as he never had before, ignoring the distant crashes and explosions. Everything faded into the background, into insignificance.

Max was a man with a purpose.

****

He'd snuck around the bluff right under the Germans' noses, realizing that they couldn't see him over the ridge. He hoped this was the right place, and, at the same time, felt as though he was getting closer. He could sense Alex, the same way he'd always known in childhood if his friend was trying to sneak up behind him. He'd always assured Alex that it was his heavy steps that gave him away, but in reality Max could hear him on the inside. It was like that with everyone he was close to.

He rounded the bend and sucked in a breath.

Bodies, bodies everywhere. The only movement Max could see was that of a soldier who was throwing an arm into the air, moaning. The man rolled over, and Max saw that his entire right side was blown away. It was just gone; Max couldn't even imagine how he managed to be alive at all. Blood gushed, but since the sand was already stained red, it made no difference. Sand had worked its way into the man's wound, making it look gritty and black instead of red. As Max watched, a feeling of
helplessness he'd never felt before washed over him. The man rolled onto his face, and stopped moving. His remaining arm fell to the ground, his one foot burying itself in the sand, his head rolled to the side. His eyes stared sightlessly.

He forced himself to look away; he could heal, but he could not heal something like that. He couldn't make half of a body reappear. He had to find Alex, now. That was the only thing he needed to do.

His eyes scanned, looking for his best friend. *The channel* his inner voice supplied, and Max looked to the brilliant red water.

Alex lay in the sand, his eyes watching Max. Neither man said a word. Max looked at his best friend; sure enough, it looked as though he'd been shot several times in the chest.

Alex's mouth moved, but he couldn't hear what Max was saying. He looked at his best friend quizzically. Then he realized what it was; "Don't move." Alex was telling him not to move. He froze in place, allowing the sand bluff to guard him. Slowly, very slowly, Max turned his eyes, looking where Alex's eyes had focused. There were several
Germans, only about twenty feet from Max's head. If he moved, he'd been seen.

If he didn't move, Alex would die. That much was clear. His wounds would be fatal; his lungs were filling with blood as Max stood here helplessly. He was bleeding from both his entrance and exit wounds as well. Max couldn't watch as his best friend faded away before his eyes.

He pulled his gun from his holster, aiming carefully at one of the Germans on the far end. If he could pull this off right, he'd be able to get Alex and get back behind the bluff. He pulled the trigger and thought, as loudly as he could, trying to project his thoughts, *Where did that bullet came from? I think it came from the east.* He hoped it would work; not only did they speak different languages, but he had never been as good at it as his sister.

Sure enough, one German fell, clutching his neck, and died as the blood spurted from beneath his fingers. The others looked around, and began to run in the opposite direction from Max. He could hear them shouting.

"Ach! Scheisse! Du, stehst hier! Es kommt vom Osten!"

Unfortunately, he couldn't understand a word they were saying. He had been taught German in school, but their accent was so thick, and they spoke so quickly, that what they said was totally foreign to him.

Max took off at a dead run, seeing the hope in Alex's eyes as he got closer. 100 feet...50 feet...Max fell, not understanding the pain that burst through his lower leg. He turned around and saw a lone German, his gun aimed at Max's head. So quickly that he barely realized he was doing it, he aimed his own gun and fired, his aim deadly once again. The soldier fell down, but not before letting out a shout.

"Ich bin Schuss gewesen! Er ist dort, unten dort!"

"Shit," Max muttered, reaching down to heal his calf. His hand had just reached the wound when he heard more shouts, and shots began to ring out around him. Instinctively, he threw up a shield, and, unable to heal himself and reach Alex, began to crawl through the sand, shoving bodies out of his way, oblivious to the gore around him. He could hear in the background, shocked gasps at the blue light around him, and the firing of numerous guns. All he had was a few more feet...

He looked up. He could see that the tide was coming in. He saw Alex's hand move, waving back and forth a little. *What is he doing?*

Max looked up to find Alex's eyes. The resignation and lack of fear there frightened Max more than anything. Alex wasn't shocked at all by Max's abilities. Then, as he watched, the light in Alex's eyes began to dim. Max moved faster, his hands and uniform catching on bodies. Alex's eyes fell shut, and his chest stilled.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!" Max screamed, and his shield burst in agony, and bullets surrounded him.



Author's Note: Just so you know, I actually wrote the ending to this part a few months ago. And it made me cry even then.

Also, I can barely remember my German, but I'm fairly sure that translates to: Oh, shit! You, stay here! It came from the east!

And:

I've been shot! He's there, down there!"



Part 11

Cold; darkness. These were the only two sensations in the world of
Max Evans.

He could sense his own life slowly draining away, but he didn't care.
He'd sensed the forgiveness in his best friend's eyes and knew that
whatever had happened, however he had justified his own actions at
the time, he would never be able to forgive himself.

He welcomed the soft, pathetic cries of the dying men around him.

Eventually, the sounds of shooting and killing faded away, and Max
heard vaguely familiar footsteps approaching. "Ah, shit," a voice
muttered unhappily. "Why'd you come running over here into a
godforsaken fuckin' ambush, you dumb asshole?"

Max recognized the voice of his new friend, Michael. He felt the
tall man lean over and touch his neck -- reaching for a pulse, he
slowly realized.

"Still alive, but barely," he said sadly. "Too bad for all the rest
of these suckers."

Then he sensed those hands hovering over his chest -- and, slowly
but surely, the pain there faded.

Max was so taken aback by this that he abruptly lost whatever
consciousness he'd been holding onto, and faded into oblivion.

****

The smell of burning in the air was sharp and pungent. Liz shifted
a little, feeling as though she'd come out of a deep dream. Her
legs were numb; she couldn't get them to move.

She opened her eyes slowly, as though some inner sense was telling
her it would be better to keep them closed, to fade away again. Her
vision was blurry; all she could make out was some lights, far off
in the distance.

*Where am I?*

She struggled to sit up and something sharp cut into her arm. She
winced and tried to reach for whatever it was, but she couldn't seem
to move. She reached down to her legs, rubbing them to try to revive
them. There was a piece of metal on top of them; she struggled to
throw it off but was unable.

Suddenly, awareness came back to her and she realized where she was with a soft, high-pitched sound in the back of her throat. The plane. The plane had gone down. Frantically, she tried to pull the wreckage off her legs. It was just too heavy for her.

She looked around for Maria. She was a few feet away, laying prone on
the dirty, muddy ground. At first, Liz couldn't tell if she was dead
or simply unconscious. She couldn't imagine how anyone could lose so
much blood and still be alive.

Liz began to cry softly. Her best friend was dying and she couldn't do
a damn thing about it.

She could hear movement behind her, and a shaky voice called, "Liz? Maria?" It was Maggie. Liz struggled to find her voice as Maggie started to cry. "Isn't there anyone out there?"

"I'm...here," Liz croaked.

She'd never been so relieved to see anyone as she was to see the little
redhead. Maggie rushed to her side. "Liz, are you okay? Are you okay?"

Liz scowled and said, "Don't worry about me. I can't move. I need you
to get something to stop Maria's bleeding."

Maggie looked over at Maria and started to cry again. "Oh, for God's sake! Help her, don't cry! Find something to put on the wound. She could bleed to death if you don't."

"Okay," Maggie sniffed, and when she turned to hunt for a piece of cloth Liz realized that she wasn't unharmed. She had been sitting over an engine and bore the evidence of it quite clearly. The hair on the left side of her head was mostly singed away, and her blouse had been burned away, imprinting its pattern into a nasty burn all down her left arm.

"Oh God...Maggie..." Liz whispered.

The younger girl looked down at her arm and shrugged. "Don't worry. It doesn't hurt."

Liz winced as Maggie starting digging through what was left of a suitcase for a piece of cloth. It may not hurt her now, but it certainly would later. Where the hell were they? And why hadn't anyone -- ally or otherwise -- come for them? They seemed to have crashed into the foothills of a mountain range. Liz guessed that it was the Alps from geography class and knowledge of their destination. They'd been shot down into the damned Alps. Who knew who would come for them?

She watched as Maggie grabbed a silk kerchief, still mostly intact, and
placed it gently on Maria's bleeding wound. "Press hard," Liz said,
recalling what her mother, a nurse, had taught her.

"Okay," Maggie whispered, and Liz could practically read her mind. She
was dismayed that she'd fought with Maria before the plane took off, and now she'd never get a chance to apologize.

Movement out of the corner of her eye startled Liz; she realized that it was another of the dancers trying to struggle to her feet. She heard a noise like the crashing of feet on leaves. "Oh no," she whispered.

As their visitors came into view, candles shining, Liz tried not to scream.

****

There was a deep pond, full of warm, sweet water. Liz didn't want to climb out; didn't want to swim to the surface. She could breathe this sweet water, and the sensation was blissful. Like being back in the womb. But something, a sense of loyalty or duty perhaps, was dragging her up to the surface against her better judgement. She should just stay in the warmth forever, she thought, and then she could be happy.

A familiar voice finally awakened her and she opened her eyes. "Hey...welcome back to the world, sweetie."

Liz tried her hardest to smile. "Maria! You're okay!"

"Oh, yeah. Gonna take awhile for all that hair they shaved off when they stitched up my scalp to grow back, but I'm fine. We weren't at all sure about you for awhile, sweetie."

"Well, I'm a fighter, and don't you forget it."

Maria's smile faltered and her lip trembled. "I know it."

"So what happened?"

Maria sniffed and wiped at her eyes. "It wasn't good, sweetie. I didn't hear the full story until I woke up in this hospital."

Liz sighed. "Just tell me."

"Well, we were flying over northern Italy when we were hit by enemy fire. Apparently there are still some German forces in he mountains there, and the mistook us for a bomber. We were hit in an engine and the pilots thought we could make it to an airfield in Switzerland. But it turned out that the fuel tanks got hit too, and we went down in the mountains."

"I know what happened then. I was awake. How's Maggie?"

"She's okay. They say she'll have some scarring on her shoulder and arm, but all in all she was lucky. A lot of the girls...a lot of the girls weren't so lucky, Liz. Miss Barnes died. Two of the girls are still in comas. Miss Up-and-Coming is all right, but she's not so pretty anymore. Three of the chorus girls died, and five of the dancers. Both pilots died. Everyone else was, you know, variously hurt."

Liz closed her eyes, breathing heavily. "Jesus. Jesus."

"I know, babe. Eleven of twenty-five...it hurts me so bad to think about."

"So tell me, Maria. What's wrong with me? You've told me about everyone else. Now what about me?"

Maria's lower lip trembled and her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Liz, I think I should get a doctor."

"No, Maria. You're the best female friend I've ever had. I know it's bad. I want to hear it from you, not some doctor I've never met."

Maria hiccupped, sitting on the bed and taking Liz's hand. The tears that had been collecting in her eyes began to stream down her cheeks. "Oh, Liz. I'm so sorry, sweetie, but they told me...they told me you're paralyzed. They say you'll never walk again."

****

"Welcome back to the world of the living, Mr. Evans."

Max started at the sound of the voice. He was dead, wasn't he? He'd been shot so many times, his whole body had to be full of lead. He remembered laying on that beach, watching as the blood stopped draining from his best friend's body. He wanted to join him. Apparently, something had happened and he had not.

Then he remembered -- Michael. His new friend -- maybe it had been a delusion, but he could have sworn that the man had healed him. Well, he'd know for certain in a few seconds.

"You've been unconscious for a surprisingly long time, Mr. Evans, considering that you only had a leg wound. You certainly had enough blood covering the rest of you, though."

Max finally managed to pry his eyelids open, and he looked at the doctor standing a few feet from his bed. The doctor's white coat seemed pristine. So he wasn't in the field anymore. Where was he? Back in England, perhaps?

"Did...did the..." he croaked slowly.

The doctor handed him a glass of water. "Here you go, son. Yes, the invasion succeeded. The coast of Normandy has been secured and the invasion of France has begun. You've got every right to be proud of yourself. They're going to award you the purple heart."

Max tried not to laugh. And he hadn't been asking about the invasion.

"Son, the reason I'm telling you all this myself instead of sending a nurse to do it is this." The doctor closed the distance between them. "I've worked on the battlefield before, and I've seen miracles before. You came in here covered in glowing handprints and you're full of enough lead to kill a horse. But I didn't include any of that in my report on you. Do you understand?"

Max nodded slowly. There was another one. Another one like him and his sister.


Part 12

Liz looked down at her heavily bandaged legs, smoothing her bland khaki
skirt away from them. What was she going to do, now that she couldn't
dance? She wasn't going back to her parents. Never. Never in a million
years would she do that. It was incomprehensible. If they hadn't
understood before, they certainly wouldn't now.

They wouldn't understand why she had to leave. They wouldn't understand
why she had to hurt the two best friends she ever had. Why it simply
had to happen. Why there was no other way, no matter how long it was
talked about or thought about.

The doctors confirmed what Maria had said. Two of her vertebra had
been shattered in the crash, severing her spinal cord and leaving her
completely paralyzed below the waist. Where once there had been sinewy
dancer's muscle, there was now scar tissue and slowly degenerating flesh.
Eventually her beautiful legs would be no more than useless sticks.
Already she was confined to a chair for the rest of her existence.

"Ladies and gents...our plane will be landing in Baltimore in just a few moments. It may be a little bumpy, but we shouldn't have any problems."

"Great," Liz muttered.

The soldier who had sat wordlessly next to her the entire flight turned
away from his window to look at her. "Afraid to fly?"

Liz smiled at him. "Oh, no, not at all."

Then the plane set itself onto the runway with a thump and Liz's body
jounced against the seat in front of her, causing her to moan in pain.
The soldier took her hand in his and squeezed it gently, and Liz found
the gesture so enormously comforting that she latched on, tears running
down her face. The soldier looked at her, not perturbed by her display
of emotion. "It's going to be okay, sweetheart," he said, releasing her
hand and wiping a tear from her cheek.

Liz nodded fiercely. "I know. Thank you."

"No problem, honey."

The stewardess opened the door and Liz waited for someone to bring her
her chair. The stewardesses looked at each other awkwardly, unsure of
how to handle the invalid on their plane. Liz tensed a little as she
felt a warm, strong hand slide around her and lift her from the seat.
"I've got her," the soldier said.

"I'll get her chair," one of the uniformed women said.

Her chair. It was to become a part of her now. The chair she'd never
be able to leave. Confined there forever...

"Watch out, honey," the soldier said as he eased her tense body and
limp legs through the airplane's door and down the stairs that had
been placed on the tarmac. A stewardess followed quickly with the
awkward wheelchair.

As he set her into it, Liz noticed that the soldier winced a little.
"What's wrong?" she asked, before she thought better of it. Something
was wrong with everyone on that plane.

"Nothin' I can't handle, sweetheart," he said, and as he turned away
she saw that his shirtsleeve was pinned just below the elbow.

****

"Hey, Max. I'm sorry we couldn't get you on that last transport."
Max's brother in law entered his room, looking sincerely abashed.
"I know how much you hate being stuck here. I don't blame you."

Max sighed. "I know, Kyle. I'm fine. I'm sure the limp will fade
after awhile, anyway. I'm just sorry I can't go back out there."
A small voice in his head reminded him that that was a big, fat lie.

"Hey, I wish I could be out there myself, but apparently I've been
relegated to strict desk-work territory." Kyle couldn't hide the
bitterness in his voice.

"Why don't you come home with me? My sister would sure be surprised."

Kyle laughed. "She'd be overjoyed, though I'm not so sure she'd even
notice I was there. She's so busy with all her new causes."

Max smiled. "Isabel's always been like that. Since we were kids, she's
been absolutely vigilant about everything. Even Christmas."

"Oh," Kyle said. "It's such a relief to know that she didn't just
develop that habit after she met me."

****

Max struggled through the halls with his cane. Abruptly he dropped the cane and almost fell. Cursing, he leaned over to pick it up, and reminded himself for the ten thousandth time why he couldn't just heal the remaining wound. Michael had left that one for a reason, he knew. It would look more than a little suspicious if Max came off Omaha Beach's mass carnage without a mark to show for it, and he might have been interrupted. Max vaguely remembered hearing voices.

He only wished he knew where Michael was now. Who had guess there was another one like him and his sister? From their adoption, they'd hidden their almost magical abilities. For him, it was healing and control of inanimate objects. For her, a mild form of mind-reading, as well as something she called dreamwalking. He had never been totally sure what that involved for her, other than during high school, when she would touch a picture of a member of the football team, fall asleep, and wake up grinning.

He needed to talk to her, but he couldn't do that until he got back to the states. And from the slow rate he'd seen, that could take months.
Letters weren't the solution. All letters from soldiers were censored in case they fell into the wrong hands, and the information he wanted to confide in her wasn't exactly appropriate for public viewing.

Well, he needed to remain in Europe a little while longer, anyway. He hadn't receieved any word from Liz, and she needed to know about Alex. But finding her was going to take some searching. There were several USO units all over Europe at any time.

He rubbed his temple as he finally made it to the crowded cafeteria. If it hadn't been for the odor of death and decay that pervaded the whole hospital, he almost could have believed he was back at his old base in England.

But things would never be like that for him again. He knew that his innocence was lost.

****

##Liz stood in the bathroom down the hall from Alex's room, her eyes
closed, trying to calm her breathing. Why had she done that? It was
against everything her parents had taught her. She didn't care about
what they thought, she reminded herself.

Then why did she feel so unhappy? She'd just lost her virginity to the
man she loved most in the world. And there was a chance she'd never see
him again.

But that was a lie too. She'd been lying to herself, and to him. It had
taken sex to make her realize that. She could never love him the way he
so clearly loved her.

She sighed and finished cleaning herself up. She replaced her blouse and crept back down the hallway, tiptoeing as she passed his parents' bedroom.

"Hi," Liz whispered as she crawled back into bed with him.

He turned to face her, pulling her closing in the enveloping dark. "Are
you...are you okay? Did I hurt you?"

She shook her head. "Not anymore than I thought it would hurt."

Alex winced and Liz reached for his face. "It's okay. It really is, Alex."

"I just...don't want to do anything to hurt you, Liz. And maybe I shouldn't leave tomorrow, maybe I shouldn't go. I should stay here with you."

She laughed softly. "I don't think the army would be very happy if you
suddenly changed your mind. I think they might come for you."

"I don't care. We could run off together. We could elope."

"No, Alex."

"Why not?"

Liz swallowed and looked down at the ring on her finger. He'd proposed to her that very evening. She'd said yes without thinking about it. And now she was thinking about it. "Because my parents would kill me if I ran off without giving them a huge chapel wedding."

He laughed. "True. Okay, I'll concede. We'll get married when my tour of duty is finished." She didn't say anything. He frowned. "Liz, really...what is wrong?"

"I...do you really want to know?"

"Of course. I always want to know what's going on with my girl."

She closed her eyes. "Alex, I want to marry you. But I'm not in love with you. Not in that way. You're my best friend in the whole world, and I don't know what I would do without you. But I have to tell you this now. Because I'm willing, and I want to marry you. It's what I've wanted since...God, I don't know when. But I have to tell you this, because I have to be honest with you and myself."

He stiffened as though she had struck him. "Why...I don't..." she could hear the hurt and fear in his voice.

"Alex, I just..."

"Don't! Don't say anything else!" And with that, he turned away from her. He didn't say anything else that night, or anything relating to what she'd said the next morning when Max arrived. And she knew he saw the good-bye kiss she gave her second-closest friend in the world.##

Liz stirred and sat up, deeply disturbed by the memory that had come to her in sleep. Forcing it out of her mind, she looked out the window. The boarding house was nice, as boarding houses went, but the lack of privacy was driving her insane.

"Miss Parker? There's someone here to see you." It was the spinster owner, Miss Jameson.

She turned the wheelchair around slowly, still not quite used to controlling it. "Who is it?"

Miss Jameson stood there, along with a middle-aged man in uniform. The man clutched an unopened letter in his hand. "This is for you, Miss Parker."

Liz frowned and accepted it. What on earth was this about?

"I'm very sorry, ma'am," he added as Miss Jameson showed him to the door.

Liz ripped open the letter, recognizing the paper instantly. She'd seen one of these before, after all.

Dear Miss Elizabeth Parker,

We regret to inform you that your fiancee, Private Alexander Whitman, was reported as killed in combat on June 6, 1944, in the invasion of German-occupied France. He was an good soldier, well-liked and respected by his fellow soldiers. He died an honorable death. He was buried in France with many other members of his company. We can only express our deepest sorrow for your loss.


Liz felt all the warmth leaving her body, as though a blast of cold air had shot through her body. She dropped the letter onto the blanket on her lap, looking up as Miss Jameson returned from the door.

"Oh, Elizabeth darling..." She let the woman envelop her in a hug, but no matter how hard she squeezed, the shaking wouldn't stop.




Author's Note: I'm sorry for this completely unauthentic letter. I've just been
having major brain-farts on it, so I just went general.



posted on 6-Sep-2001 1:37:16 PM
Part 13


Liz had gotten a letter from Maria yesterday. It was evident that
Maria was trying to be her chipper self; she'd promised to come see
Liz in Maryland. She didn't know, couldn't know, about Alex. That
Maria's fate in love had also, in a way, been Liz's.

Liz had never made it out of Maryland, of course; in addition to
having no money or savings apart from the small government pension,
she couldn't work. The frustration made her scream and cry
sometimes, showing a temper that had never before revealed itself.
She terrified the poor boarding-house owner, Miss Jameson, who had
apparently deemed herself in charge of Liz's welfare.

She could admit that Miss Jameson was trying. But she didn't want
help, didn't want anyone to lend a hand. She'd always been
independent and now she couldn't even go to sleep by herself. She
had use of her arms, but they weren't enough to lift her whole body
into and out of her wheelchair. Maybe after a few years, after her
legs were bone and loose flesh, her arms might be strong enough to
lift the entirety of her useless weight.

"Elizabeth dear...you wanted to use the telephone?" Miss Jameson
crept into the room, interrupting Liz's thoughts with her matronly
voice.

"Yes," she said, not looking at the older woman. "Is it all right
if I make a long-distance call?"

"Certainly, dear, it's just fine," she said as she reached for the
back of Liz's wheelchair.

****

"Operator," said the woman on the other end of the line as Liz held the receiver to her ear.

"Yes, please give me Roswell 3256, thank you."

"Just a second, ma'am."

Liz waited, tapping her free hand on the kitchen table. A familiar voice answered. "Parker residence."

She hesitated, suddenly feeling as though she couldn't speak. "Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?"

Liz's mother started to grow impatient. "Is anyone there? I'm going to hang up..."

"Wait, mom," Liz whispered into the receiver, barely audible.

She could hear her mother's sharp intake of breath. "Lizzie? Is that you?"

"Yes, mom, it's me."

Her mother's voice broke and cracked. "Oh, sweetie. Where have you been? We thought you were gone. We thought you were dead, oh God!"

"I'm...I'm okay, mom. I was in Europe...but I'm back now, and I'm fine."

There was a pause and Liz could tell her mother didn't believe her. That made sense; if her mother inferred that she'd been there with the armed services, they wouldn't send her back unless she was incapable of doing her job -- or until she was in a coffin. They needed every man and woman they could get. "Where are you, Lizzie?"

"I don't...I can't say, mom. I know that you won't understand, and I can't tell you." Liz could never tell her mother how wrong everything she'd ever planned for herself had gone. "How are you and Dad?"

"Sweetie, I...we're fine, just fine, only worried sick! You know,
that Max boy has been around here asking for you. He's got the most terrible limp, you know, it's quite fortunate they sent him back home."

Liz hesitated. "Mom...if you see him again, could you please tell him I'll be trying to call him at his parents' house there?"

"Elizabeth...why won't you tell me where you are?"

"I will, mom. Just please, don't ask me today. I can't...I just can't tell you."

*Mom, I'm in a wheelchair and I'm never getting out of it again. Mom, I've made so many mistakes and I don't know how to fix them. I can't fix them. I can't ever make things right again.*

"Goodbye, mom. I love you."

She could hear the tears in her mother's voice. "Lizzie, please..."

Liz hung up the phone.

****

Yesterday Max had received a call from Mrs. Parker, begging him for any
information he had on her daughter. He'd assured her yet again that he
didn't know any more than she did.

Well, that wasn't true, but it was close enough. He did know what he'd
been doing in Europe, and he did know that she'd been sent home after her plane was shot down over the Alps. That much he'd been able to find out through his brother-in-law's connections. But he had no idea where she was now; she'd been flown to Baltimore, but she could have gone anywhere since then.

Then the older woman had admitted to receiving a mysterious call from her daughter only the day before. Liz would not say where she was or what she was doing. She had been checking up on her parents' welfare, Max concluded.

Now, if what Liz's mother had said was true, all he had to do was wait-- and the girl he loved, the girl he had to see, would contact him. And he needed to talk to her so badly that he could hardly stand it. Did she even know about Alex? How did she...god, he couldn't even bear to think about what she was feeling. Not that he really understood the way her mind worked at all, anymore.

He looked at the phone. It sat patiently on its receiver. He could
have sworn it was staring back at him.

****

##Liz had her bags in hand. Everyone else was already on the plane, and she couldn't blame them. Everybody wanted to get out of this godforsaken wet place, since it had been taken over by the army.

Alex appeared at her door, a look on his face unlike any she'd seen
before in all the years she'd known him. "Liz?" he said hoarsely, and
it sounded to her like he'd been crying. Crying? Alex? Never, she
told herself.

"What do you need, Alex? I've got to get going. Our plane is about to
take off." She pushed past him into the hallway.

He followed her, much to her dismay, and she walked a little faster, her high heels clicking furiously on the tile floor. "What do you want, Alex?" she asked, turning around just outside the door, angry at his ominous silence.

"What did you do that first night I was here?"

She hesitated, thinking about how to answer him. Now that the time came, it was a lot harder to hurt him than she had thought it would be.

"What did you do?" he asked, his words growing louder, though she doubted anyone could hear them over the roaring of the plane.

"Why is it any business of yours what I do when you take off with your
buddies?"

"It is my business, Liz, I heard from..."

"You heard from? From whom? If you want to know something about me, ask me yourself."

"Fine! Liz, did you sleep with Max?"

"Yes, I did." She turned to leave again, hearing Maria shout at her from the direction of the plane. She nodded at her friend, reaching down to pick up her bags again.

He said, his voice full of pain, "Liz...why?"

She turned around, eyes flashing. "Because I wanted to fuck him, and he wanted to fuck me, that's why. And if you're wondering, no, I don't love him. I don't love either of you."

Liz turned around and strode toward the plane, struggling with a lump in her throat and trying to get the image of his slumped shoulders out of her head. Why? Why did she have to do this?

She got in the plane and sat down next to Maria, trying to hide her
unhappiness. She glanced out the window, and she thought she saw
Max's sad face looking back at her.##

She awoke at the sound of the doorbell ringing. She shuddered slightly, both at the memory of the dream and the memory of what had happened the last time that doorbell rang. Why the hell was she dreaming about past events in her life? She'd never done that before. It was almost like Alex was haunting her.

She realized that she'd fallen asleep by the phone, still trying to work up the courage to call Max.

Liz looked at the it, hanging on its hook on the wall. She could
barely reach it. "Just suck it up, Parker," she muttered to herself,
repeating something Sarge had said to her once. Finally she picked
up. "Operator, please give me Roswell 5020."

****

The phone rang and Max almost jumped into the air. He ran to get it before his parents could reach it, his sock-covered feet sliding on the hardwood floor like a little kid's. "Liz?" he asked, hoping and somehow knowing it was her before he picked up.

There was a soft, surprised intake of breath. "Hi, Max."

He sank to the floor, cradling the receiver to his ear. "Hi, Liz."

"So, what are you up to?"

"Nothing, Liz. I've been discharged."

Another intake of air. "Were you hurt?"

"Not too badly, Liz. There's other things we need to talk about, I --"

"I know there are other things. But I don't want to talk about them over the phone. I want to see you --" she hesitated, knowing it was truer than she'd admit to herself. "I want to see your face, Max."

He darted toward the table for a piece of paper and pencil. "Where are you, Liz?"

There was a long, long pause before she finally said, "I'm in Baltimore, Max. In a boarding house in Baltimore."

****

Max had already been to the boarding house, where the old matron who ran it told him that Liz had moved out only two days before. It had been two weeks since the phone call; it had taken him that long to gather enough money and then make the cross-country trip. The owner had, however, given him Liz's new address and wished him luck. "I hope you make her happier than she's been," she had said.

Somehow he doubted that was going to happen. If she knew any smidgen of what he did, then no doubt she was as miserable as he was.

He tried to run up the stairs, but failed because of his leg. He cursed the injury, and the fact that he couldn't heal it without being found out. Michael had already taken enough of a risk by saving his life.

Max knocked on the appropriate door. There was no answer, so he tried the knob. He walked inside, instantly feeling uneasy.

There was no sound from her apartment, only the most enveloping silence he had ever experienced. Something was wrong here; very, very wrong.

He walked down the hallway, his footsteps the only sound. The heels of his shoes clacked on the wood unevenly as he limped heavily. He wished so badly he could stop the limp...it would be so damn easy...

He looked in the bedroom. Empty. The bed was neatly made. It was as though she wasn't even home, though she had told him she would be.

The bathroom door was open. He looked inside.

Liz was in the bath, submerged totally, strands of her silky dark hair the only things that rose above the surface.



Part 14

Max moaned. "Oh my God..." He reached into the water; it was cold. He pulled her out. She was cold too. Had she wanted him to see this?
She couldn't have. He couldn't let it happen like this. It wasn't her
time. This couldn't happen.

He laid her gently onto the bathmat, instantly soaking it. He was
already sopping from the cold water. He felt like crying. Was it
too late? Could he help her? He had to try.

He slipped his fingers around her chest, his fingers fitting into the
grooves of her ribs. Christ, she was too thin. She was even thinner
than she'd been that April, though it didn't seemed possible. He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers, opening her mouth, breathing
air into her as he willed life back into her body.

It didn't seem to be working. She was too cold; it had been too long.
He leaned back, tears slipping out of his eyes onto his cheeks. This
could not be happening, not to Liz. His Liz, no matter what anyone had
thought. Her skin was gray. He opened one eye. It was dull and
lifeless. It had been too long.

He pulled her onto his lap, his eyes squeezed shut. Why? Why did this
have to happen? Why would Liz, of all people, beatiful, strong, Liz,
take her own life? She deserved more. She deserved better. And he
would always love her, no matter what. He touched her face gently, his
skin warming her, his tears falling onto her face.

She sucked in a breath, throwing her head back against the hard cold
floor. She spit out a lungful of water and moaned deeply.
"No...no...Alex, no..."

Max's fists clenched in pain as her eyes focused on him, for a moment
looking puzzled. "Max?" she whispered. He only looked at her, unable
to muster words. She let out a sigh and her eyes rolled back into
her head, the whites of her eyes staring blankly at him as her eyelids
finally rolled shut.

Hands shaking, he picked her up and carried her into the hallway. He
headed for the bedroom, flipping the lights on with his mind as he
went. He tucked her into bed, looking sadly at her face, which was
still a little grey despite her regular breathing. She seemed to be
fast asleep, so he crept out of the room as soundlessly as he could.

He walked back to the bathroom, opening a closet as he went. Ah, towels. Just what he'd need to clean up the mess. He needed something to keep him occupied, to keep his mind from the very beautiful and clearly ill girl sleeping in the next room.

Going into the bathroom, he nearly tripped on a metal contraption
he hadn't noticed before.

A wheelchair.

****

##Liz was back in the wreckage of the plane crash that had stolen all her dreams from her. She was struggling with that infernal piece of metal; it had paralyzed her, but somehow she could still feel it cutting open her useless legs. She screamed, and screamed louder, but still no one came to help.

"Liz."

She whirled her head around to look at her former fiance. He laid where Maria should be, his body marred by countless gunshot wounds. He coughed, bringing up blood. "Liz, why aren't you helping me? I'm dying, Liz. Why are you leaving me to die?"

"Alex!" she shrieked, struggling with the chunk of the plane. "Alex, I'm trying, I can't get loose, I'm trapped --"

He coughed again. "You put me here, Liz. You killed me."

She moaned. "No, Alex, I never..."

"Why did you do this to me? I loved you. I just wanted to make you
happy."

"No...no...Alex, no..."

"You were probably sleeping with him the whole time, weren't you? It
killed me to know that you...you fucked him, Liz. I wandered into enemy fire, and it's your fault. I would have been watching what I was doing if you hadn't slept with him. I would have been careful. I would have been looking forward to coming home to you. I wanted to be your husband. I wanted to live in a little house. I wanted you to have my babies...our babies. You killed me. You killed my dreams."

She screamed, covering her ears with her bloodied hands and smearing the red fluid into her hair. "God, stop! Stop!"

He looked at the chunk of metal lying on her lower half and nodded. "That's why you can't move, right? You're paralyzed. It's your punishment, Liz. Max will never want you now. You're useless. This happened to you because of what you did to me."

"Alex, why are you saying these things to me?"

"It's not what I say to you, Liz. It's what you said to me."##

****

Max was still sitting on the floor of the bathroom, staring at the chair. Now he knew why she'd been sent home. Well, at least he had a better idea. It couldn't be a broken leg; that would have healed by now. Some sort of leg injury that prevented her from dancing? How could he know? He could heal her...but that would mean he'd have to tell her what he was...

A scream brought him from his thoughts. Liz's scream. He was on his feet so fast he almost fell on the wet floor. Bursting through her door, he saw that her eyes were still closed. She was dreaming, then. Having nightmares.

He sat next to her on the bed, deciding that it was time for them to
have a talk. "Liz. Liz, wake up."

She stirred a little; he could see her eyelids flutter. Then she fell
back into her dream. Max put his hand on her knee. "Liz...Liz..."

This didn't seem to have any more effect on her. He shook her knee,
and he realized that the muscles in her legs were completely limp,
almost like jelly. A person in the throes of a nightmare should have
tensed muscles.

Hesitantly, he probed with his power, praying that what he thought was
true was his senses deceiving him. Other than unused, limp muscles, he
sensed nothing wrong with her legs. He moved upward, his hand hovering
an inch above her body, passing several scars on her upper thighs.
Finally, at her waist, he found what he'd been looking for -- and dreading.

Her spinal cord was severed just above the waist, the two broken vertebra that had sliced their way through the biggest nerve in her body just beginning to heal. The doctors could do nothing for this. Absolutely nothing.

Max's jaw trembled and his hand fell to rest over her stomach. He wanted to cry. Beautiful Liz, athletic Liz, graceful Liz. This shouldn't -- couldn't happen to her. No wonder...no wonder she'd tried to kill herself.

Her hands moved to cover his and his eyes shot up to hers. Her lids fluttered again, then flew open. "Max, what are you doing?"

****

"Trying to wake you up. You were having a nightmare. Screaming," he added.

She frowned, her brow furrowing. "But why are you here?"

"You asked me to come, remember?"

"Oh...oh, yes."

"Why did you do...what you did, Liz? Did you want me to see it?"

"See what? What did I do?"

Max coughed, but it sounded more like a bitter laugh to Liz. "You tried to commit suicide, Liz. I found you."

Her eyes widened. "No, I didn't. I would never do that."

"Liz, the water was cold. You were totally submerged. If I hadn't gotten here when I did..."

"I would NEVER try to kill myself!" she shouted, and turned away from him, struggling with her body.

"Liz, I know what's wrong with you."

"What, Max? What's wrong with me?" she turned back to face him, her eyes flaring.

"You're paralyzed. For life."

"How...how did you know?"

"I saw your chair, for Godsakes. I didn't notice it at first, but it was in the bathroom. How did you even get in the tub by yourself?"

Liz's eyes filled with tears. "Go away. Leave me alone."

"No. You need someone here with you. I can't believe that old woman let you leave that boarding house and go away on your own."

"She didn't! I lied to her. I told her someone would be with me. Don't blame her."

"Well, I guess I'll blame the only person that's left, then. You."

She cringed.

"How could you even do something like that? To your family? To me? To...to Alex, to Alex's memory? Do you know what that would be like for us?"

"Shut up, Max. Leave me the fuck alone. Why did you save me if you're so mad? So you could scream at me?"

Max tried to control his temper. "No, Liz. I saved you because I love you."



Author's Note: Yep, I know. You never thought you'd see another part, did you? For awhile, neither did I. But I'm so damn close to the end. Maybe another 2, 3 parts after this one.



Part 15a


Her eyes widened, her mouth opened. Then she seemed to get control of her raging emotions and turned away again. "Go the hell away, Max. Don't come back. You aren't welcome here."

"You don't believe me? Fine." He grabbed her, knowing she was helpless, and kissed her, hard. To his absolute shock, he felt a connection open.

It had only ever happened before with Isabel; when they were little, they could hold hands and see what the other had been thinking about as a series of images, occasionally getting flashbacks of older memories. They had called it their connection, and Max had never imagined it could happen with someone who wasn't like him.

Liz had clearly felt it too; she shoved him away, her hands trembling.
"I'm going crazy."

"No, you're not, Liz."

"What was that, then? I saw...I saw...you and me and Alex...and...and
the beach...but how...I don't understand. It seemed so real..."

"It was real."

"You're crazy," she moaned. "You're the one who's crazy, not me. God.
God."

"I'm not crazy, either. But I'm not what you think I am."

"You're not a lunatic? Good! Great! I guess I'll just take your word
for it then!"

"Liz...calm down. Take a deep breath, all right?" He sat next to her
on the bed again, reaching for her hand. She pulled it away as though
she'd been burned.

"Don't touch me."

Max buried his face in his hands. "I don't know how I can tell you what I want to tell you without touching you. I have to show you."

"Show me what?" From the look on her face, Max knew she would have scooted
away from him had she been able.

"I don't know how to explain it. I'm different, Liz."

"Clearly."

"Isabel is, too. We're both...we think we're aliens."

****

There was a pause. "You think you're what?"

"Aliens, you know, beings from outer space. Like from science fiction."

There was an even longer pause. "How did I go this long without ever
knowing you were insane?"

"I'm not insane."

"I...it must have been the war. I've heard it happens to some veterans, that explains it, you were still perfectly normal the last time I saw you."

"I was never normal since you've known me, Liz. Think about it. Have
you ever seen me get sick, or hurt?"

Her eyes widened, unfocused, as she thought. "No...yes! Your limp.
You've got a limp now, I saw it in the...the..." she couldn't think of
a word to describe the visions she'd had when Max kissed her.

"I do have a limp. But only because I can't heal it without raising
suspicion. I mean, a major gunshot wound to the leg doesn't heal itself."

"You're right, it doesn't! And how can you even talk about this...this
healing bullshit when I'm lying here in this bed for the rest of my
goddamn life! The war did change you. I at least thought you were a
good person, Max."

"So you admit you're paralyzed."

"Yes, I fucking admit it. I don't got much of a choice, do I? Just...
just go away, please! You being here is making me sick!" She sounded
near tears.

"Liz, I could heal this limp if I wanted to."

"Oh, right. Thanks for the sensitivity."

"I...I might be able to heal you. I don't know."

"Shut up, Max. Shut up."

"I don't know. I could put your spinal cord back together, but I don't
know if that would be enough. You might have something wrong that I
don't..."

"SHUT UP MAX! SHUT UP OR I SWEAR I'LL KILL YOU!"

Max looked at her sadly. She was sobbing now, her face buried in her
hands, both of them knowing there was no possible way she could ever
live up to her threats.

"I couldn't save Alex, Liz. I tried. God knows I tried. But I was
too late."

"Get out of here. I'm going to call the police," she moaned through
her tears.

"Let me try, Liz." He reached for her, trying to pull her back toward
him. She flung his hand away with a shudder.

"Get away from me! Go! Go!"

"I'm not leaving, Liz. You'll do something crazy again."

"I didn't do anything!"

"Don't try to bullshit me. I pulled you out of there, and you were
dead. If anyone else had been the one to pull you out of that tub,
you would be dead now, still. I saved your life and I'm not going
to let you try to destroy yourself again."

"I'm already destroyed," Liz whispered. "What's the difference?"

"Liz, I think I can heal your spine. I could make you better, make you
walk again."

She laughed coldly. "That's not what I'm talking about, Max."

And with that she turned away, and wouldn't say another word.

****

TBC...