posted on 7-Sep-2001 5:48:07 AM
Author: Destinee- smylee⊕
Rating: PG-13
Category: Mainly M/L, a little Mi/Ma, and a strong secondary focus on Michael
Disclaimer: The characters in this story don't belong to me, but to M. Metz, J. Katims, and 20th Century Fox. I'm just gently leading them where I'd like them to go. No infringement intended.
Spoilers: Up to, and including, Max In the City

Summary: When Liz saves Max from the Dupes in New York, it leads to some startling discoveries about her new-found alien powers. A mysterious new connection that has opened between her and Michael adds to the tension between Max and Liz as they work to overcome the obstacles presented by Future Max in order to be together.

Chapter 1

Isabel sat motionless and tense, watching the emotions play across Liz's features. It was easy to read everything she was feeling, even though the other girl’s eyes were closed tightly in concentration.

Was this even working? Was she reaching him at all?

Isabel threw an anxious glance up at Michael standing next to the table where she and Liz sat. His eyes were glued to Liz's still figure, his hands clenched tightly into fists, and she could almost feel the anxious impatience seething within him. You’d think by now they would be used to being patient while the current crisis in their lives played out, but waiting helplessly never got any easier. It was especially hard on Michael, who was always ready to jump into action whenever they had a problem to solve. But this time there was just nothing he could do. Neither of them could. They had pinned their last hope on Liz Parker.

It seemed ridiculous to believe that out of the four of them Liz would be the one who could reach Max using alien powers, but Ava had seemed so sure. How she knew was anybody's guess, but she'd been right. Liz had been changed.

After a little coaching, Liz had been able to form a connection with Isabel, and while they’d been linked, Isabel had managed to feed her some of her own energy through it. Then suddenly, without warning, Liz had gone somewhere using a power that had not come from Isabel, but from somewhere inside herself. Isabel had felt the distinct crackle of it in the space around her. Whether or not she’d been able to make her way to Max remained to be seen, but the fact that she seemed to be capable of it totally astounded Isabel.

Max had somehow given alien power to a human.

How would he feel about that, Isabel wondered.

She refused to even allow the thought that he might never get the chance to respond to it at all. This just had to work! They had to get to him in time to warn him about Laanie and Rath. She couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to Max. Especially not now, when they had all this ugly Vilaandra business between them.

And not when he believed a terrible lie about Liz.

She and Michael both had heard the rumors at school today about Liz and Kyle sleeping together. And for the first time in two days she'd been glad that Max was gone so he wouldn't have to suffer through all the speculation and whispers. Michael had said that Max had probably already heard about it and that was one of the reasons why he'd felt like he needed to get out of Roswell and go to New York.

It had added to her own guilt to realize that Max must feel as though he'd been betrayed by everyone around him.

But he actually hadn't been betrayed by Liz.

When she and Liz had first formed their connection, she’d seen a rash of disjointed images that told a wildly unbelievable story. And though she was too worried to put it all together right now, she was sure of one thing.

Liz had not slept with Kyle.

Isabel was abruptly jerked back to the present by the sound of a gasping cry. As she watched Liz panting for breath, she tightened her grip on her hand in concern, only then noticing how cold it felt.

Chafing her friend's hand for warmth, she asked urgently, "What happened, Liz? Did you see him? Were you able to warn him?"

Liz's only response was to continue to breathe heavily, her eyes glassy and wide with shock.

"Liz!" Isabel shook her hand lightly in an effort to get her attention. "Liz, are you okay?"

When she continued to remain silent, Isabel looked up at Michael helplessly.

He hesitated, then knelt in front of Liz's chair and took her face in his hands. Turning her to face him, he said, "C'mon, Liz, you have to focus here. Tell us what you saw."

When she still didn't respond, but only looked at Michael dazedly, Isabel began to panic. The only thing she could think was that Liz must have seen something really horrible.

"Liz, tell us! Was he okay?" she demanded, a sob building up in her throat.

Feeling Isabel's anxiety transfer itself to him, Michael shook Liz firmly by the shoulders. "Liz! Listen to me. We need to know what you saw. Did you see Max?"

Liz blinked rapidly and finally seemed to come back to herself. "M-Michael?" she asked in a thready voice, as the face in front of her came into focus. "What happened?" Her eyes shifted to Ava standing behind Michael, her face full of concern, then over to Isabel, sitting at the table beside her.

"That’s what we want to know, Liz. Don't you remember?" he answered.

Still disoriented, she struggled to pull her thoughts together. "Isabel? Did we-did we...go somewhere?"

"You went somewhere, Liz. What happened? I connected with you and then I tried to help you to connect with Max..."

At that Liz gasped. "Max! I saw Max!"

"What did you see?" Michael asked, his voice low and urgent.

"I-I saw him. With Rath and Laanie a-and Tess." Her eyes widened with fright as she looked at Michael and remembered the scene she'd witnessed. "Rath h-had his hand over Tess's mouth, and he was-he was holding her back. And Laanie was...she had her hand pointed up at this-this..." her hand motioned above her head as she searched for the right word, "scaffold. It was hanging really high on the side of this building. It was right above Max's head." Her voice choked, but the words were tumbling out in a rush now. "He just st-stood there. Looking at me. I kept screaming at him to get out of the way, but he just...stood there. I tried- I wanted to go to him- to get him out of the way, but I couldn't- couldn't seem to move." Her words came to a sudden halt as her throat tightened and her heart filled with terror. She looked over at Isabel, her face stricken.

"What?!" Isabel cried.

Shaking her head slightly, her gaze returned to Michael, as though seeking strength from him. He seemed to understand what she needed, and placed his hand on her upper arm, squeezing comfortingly. His image became blurry as her eyes filled with tears, and she thought vaguely that this scene felt familiar somehow. It reminded her of when Max had been captured by the FBI at that carnival. Michael had been the one who had offered her comfort then, too.

"What happened next?" he asked softly.

She answered hoarsely, "I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?" Isabel asked shrilly.

A tear slowly rolled down Liz’s cheek as she desperately searched her memory for just another moment of the scene. "I don't...the scaffold was falling," her eyes closed tightly in fierce concentration, but she just couldn't remember seeing anything more. "He-he could have...he might have been about to move, but...I just didn't see," she finished on a whisper. "I'm sorry."

The room was still and silent for a tense moment, before Isabel burst out hysterically, "Well you'll just have to go back!" She looked to Michael to back her up. "You have to find him again, Liz! We can't you just have to go back!"

"Isabel." Michael stood and put a steadying hand on her shoulder.

"No! No, Michael. We have to know!" Isabel cried, her eyes wild.

"Is," he squeezed her shoulder to get her attention. When she raised her eyes to his, he shook his head slowly. "She's done," he said quietly and looked pointedly at Liz.

Isabel followed his gaze and made a conscious effort to push aside her panic and truly focus on Liz. Michael was right. Liz’s face was leeched of color, tears continued to fall from her dazed eyes, and Isabel could see her entire body trembling from where she was sitting. It always took a lot of energy to use their powers for anything big, and this was the first time Liz had ever experienced anything like this. And especially something of this magnitude.

But while Isabel understood all that, she really did, she also knew that there was no way she could possibly play the waiting game again. Not now. This was even worse than before. At least then there had been some room for doubt about Rath and Laanie's intentions.

But now they'd been confirmed. They had honestly tried to kill Max. And to not know whether or not their attempt had been successful...well, she just couldn't do it. She'd go crazy! They had to do something!

"Liz," she said pleadingly, "I'll help you. I can give you more of my power this time. I'll even try to go with you. I have a better idea now of what to expect. And we won't have to sustain it for very long. Just long enough to see if he’s okay. Please, Liz. We have to know!"

Liz was almost afraid to find out, but Isabel was right. If Max was...seriously injured(she refused to even think the 'D' word) then they needed to know. She nodded her assent, took a deep breath, and tried to gather herself.

"Are you sure, Liz?" Michael asked. He couldn't help but admire her strength. She really would do anything for Max. So what was this whole thing with Kyle all about, he wondered fleetingly. It was hard to figure her out.

Liz was touched that he would show concern for her, it was such an un-Michael-like thing to do. She smiled tiredly at him in reassurance. "I'll be okay, Michael."

He nodded in acceptance, then watched as she and Isabel prepared to establish a connection for the second time that night.

The two girls looked into each other's eyes and took deep breaths, attempting to synchronize their breathing. Once Isabel could feel the connection begin to open up, her eyes slid closed... only to fly open at the sound of her cell phone ringing. Everyone froze for a second, and Is felt hope grab her by the throat.

Max! Please let it be Max, she prayed as she finally shook off her paralysis and scrambled for her phone.

"Hello?” she answered breathlessly.

"Is? Why are you so out of breath?"

"Max!" she cried with elation, throwing a glance up at the other three as they sighed collectively in relief. "Are you okay? What happened?"

"What do you mean?" Max asked in confusion. "I'm okay. How did you know...Isabel, where are you? I tried you at home, but no one answered."

"I'm at the Crashdown."

"Is- is Liz there...too?"

Isabel could almost hear the wheels spinning as he tried to put all the pieces together.

"Yeah, she's here. So are Michael and Ava."

"Ava? Isabel, what's going on? Did Liz..." she heard him drag in a deep breath. "Was she...real?" he ended on a disbelieving note.

She could almost feel his tension transmit itself through the phone line as he waited for her answer.

"Yeah. She was real,” she confirmed.

"But how? Was it just....How did she do that?"

Isabel chose her words carefully. "Ava said you changed her, Max. When you brought her back after the shooting."

This was met with a stunned silence.

Standing on the dark New York street, Max was lost in a tangle of confused emotions and couldn't seem to pin down a single thought firmly enough to know how to respond. How had he changed her? He hadn't meant to. He'd always vowed that he would never hurt Liz. Of course, she didn't seem to worry overly much about his feelings lately. But she had just saved his life. How did Liz feel about all this? Was Isabel saying he had actually given her some kind of power? That might explain a few things.

"The flashes," he finally said.

"What?" Isabel asked quizzically. That certainly hadn't been a response she'd anticipated. Then she realized what he was getting at. "Oh, yeah. Right. That would explain the flashes."

"How did Ava know?" Max asked, trying to get his thoughts straight.

Isabel looked over at the girl in question. "I don't know. She said there wasn't time to explain. We were kind of in a hurry to contact you. She told us about Rath and Laanie, that you could be in danger. Are you really all right, Max? We've been so worried."

"I'm okay, Izzie. And so is Tess. We're coming home."

"I'm glad," Isabel said fervently. "We have so much to talk about. I want everything to be okay between us again. Between all of us." Her eyes moved to Liz and Michael, who were listening intently. "Can it, Max? Be okay, I mean?"

Michael and Liz both shifted nervously.

All she heard on Max's end was silence for a few charged seconds, then he answered gruffly, "We'll see, Is. I want that, too, but...we just need to talk. Tess and I are flying home. I'll call you when we get flight information."

"Call me on the cell. I'm not sure when I'll get home."

She had to strain to catch his next words. "Is Liz all right?"

Isabel's gaze automatically went to Liz, who went completely still, as if aware that he'd asked after her.

"She's fine, Max. Do you want to talk to her?"

"Um..I don't think..." he stopped, and struggled briefly with himself. "Yeah, put her on," he said quietly.

Liz held her breath as she waited for Max's decision. When Isabel extended the phone towards her, she hesitated, then reached for it slowly. Her throat felt tight, and she was worried that she might not be able to get any words out. It seemed so important that she say exactly the right thing at this moment. Isabel gave her forearm an encouraging little squeeze and Liz shot her a silent look of gratitude.

"Um...hi, Max," she said timidly. She wasn't quite sure what to expect from him. He was probably still angry with her, but what had just happened was pretty incredible. She wished she knew what he was thinking.

"Hey. How are you? I mean...are you okay?"

", a little freaked," she gave a nervous laugh, "but I'll be fine. And-and you're okay? The um..." she hesitated to mention any details of the whole ordeal, but felt the need to make sure. "The scaffold didn't hit you?"

She heard a quick intake of air, then, "No. No, it didn't hit me. We need...I want us to talk when I get back. Okay? And- not only about what happened tonight."

Liz could feel her heart begin to pound. "Yeah, okay."

There was an awkward silence, heavy with longing and questions that begged to be asked and answered. There were so many things that needed to be said to heal this breach between them, but Liz finally decided that everything they needed to say to each other should really be said in person.



"Just...hurry home. And please be careful."

"Thank you, Liz." His response was fraught with meaning, and she understood that he was thanking her for more than just her wish for his safe journey.

"You're welcome," she replied softly.

"I'll see you soon," he promised. "And get some rest, okay? I'm sure three-minute trips to New York must be exhausting."

Liz imagined his lips twisting into the small smile she could hear in his voice, and her eyes filled with relieved tears as a sobbing little laugh escaped. She hadn't thought he would ever speak to her with that gentle, teasing tone again. Surely it meant that everything was going to work out. Like Isabel, she, too wanted everything to be okay between them. She wanted that so desperately she ached.

"I-I will," she said, her voice thick with tears. "Bye, Max."

"Bye, Liz."

The phone clicked gently in her ear as he broke the connection.

Chapter 2

Liz hit the disconnect button and cradled the phone against her heart while she fought back a swell of emotion.

Max was safe. And he'd talked to her civilly. Even better than civil. And he wanted them to talk when he got back.

It was a definite turning point. Hopefully for all of them.

Things had just been so crazy, confused, and awful between them all ever since they'd seen that destiny hologram in the spring. The news they'd received that day had torn them all apart, not just her and Max. Everyone in their group of friends had seemed to go off on their own to try and deal with the devastating effect the destiny message had had on each of their lives, and all of their relationships with one another had suffered for it.

They were handling it all wrong though. She could see that now. The only way they'd been able to handle the whole Pierce/FBI debacle was by sticking together and being there for one another. By turning their backs on each other now, they were really just making things harder on themselves and everyone else. And especially on Max.

Liz swallowed hard in regret.

All these secrets, lies, and betrayals had driven Max away, and had led to his almost getting killed. They had to find a way to work things out and make them better. There was just no way to fight Skins and Dupes and whatever other enemies lurked out there if they didn't have the security of friendship and loyalty to fall back on that they'd once had.

She knew for a fact that the four aliens were stronger if they stayed together, but the seven of them together would be even stronger. Nine if you counted Kyle and his dad. And now it seemed as though she might be able to contribute a little Czechoslovakian super-power, too.

Quickly, she pushed that thought to the back of her mind. She couldn't deal with that right now.

No one seemed to know what to say now that the crisis had passed, and Liz finally broke the silence.

"So. He's fine. And when he gets home we'll talk and...everything will be okay." She looked to the others for confirmation. "You guys, we have to make it okay."

Isabel and Michael nodded their agreement. Max had had a close call, and now she thought they all felt as if they'd been given a second chance. They had to make it count.

Liz was suddenly hit by a wave of exhaustion. Too much had happened in the past hour that had left her reeling. She could hear Michael confronting Ava about how she seemed to know so much, but Liz just wasn’t up to a discussion about alien changes, dupes, and murders at the moment. Right now she wanted nothing more than to go to her room and pull the covers over her head.

She could see Ava reacting defensively, and it seemed as though they were rapidly evolving into a repeat of the interrogation she had interrupted earlier. As tired as she was, Liz still felt as if she had to try and keep the peace.

"Uh, guys? I'm going up to bed. I'm exhausted. Ava, come to the break room and I'll bring you down a pillow and blanket, okay? You are crashing on the couch again, right?"

Ava nodded and promptly followed her to the swinging door that led to the back.

Liz looked back at Isabel and Michael. "Lock up when you leave, okay?"

Halfway through the door she stopped. "Oh, and Michael? Clean up that mess." She pointed at the pile of destruction he'd created when trying to intimidate Ava earlier.

The two of them just looked at her, dumbfounded at how swiftly she had gained control of the situation.

Liz smiled serenely and turned to go upstairs. After she'd gotten Ava all settled in the break room, she escaped to the solitude of her own room. Leaning back against the closed door, she rested her head against the wood and closed her eyes.

Heaving a sigh, she thought about all the things they'd had to deal with over the past few months. Things that went way past the realm of plausibility. And just when they thought they'd seen the ultimate impossibility, they were thrown something else that proved how wrong they were. But this latest development...

Liz shook her head.

Almost unwillingly, she was drawn over to the cheval mirror standing near the window. Once in front of it, she studied her reflection intently.

She looked no different than she always had. Her face, although pale, was the same. Same straight dark hair framing its contours. She couldn't see anything different about her body. She wasn't any taller, which seemed to be an alien characteristic. Well, except in Tess's case, she acknowledged, her lips quirking. She moved closer to the mirror to search her eyes, and noted that they looked tired and still contained a little residual shock, but otherwise they looked normal.

Coming up short, Liz made a wry face at herself. Of course she looked normal. What exactly was she looking for anyway? Green slimy skin? A third eye?

A nostalgic smile curved her lips.

It seemed so long ago that she'd first learned Max's secret. They'd been so naive back then. Utterly clueless about where the path they had chosen would lead.

It had led to his changing her, she thought darkly.

Giving her reflection one last searching glance, she moved away and collapsed on the bed.

Draping a forearm across her brow, Liz stared at the ceiling as her thoughts continued to churn. She'd always felt different somehow after Max had healed her, she realized. She could even remember thinking that day before they'd found the orb that she could actually feel chemical changes taking place in her body. She'd thought it had just been normal teenage growing pains, though.

That had certainly been a crazy couple of days, she recalled. Secretly, she called that brief time the Orb Odyssey. Being changed might explain the flashes, the glowing hickey, and all that, but she'd always written off the strange happenings that took place then as something that generated from Max. The possibility that they could have happened because of something within herself...well, that would never have occurred to her in a million years.

And maybe it shouldn't have occurred to her because it was wrong.

At a sudden thought, Liz sprang up to a sitting position. Maybe Ava was wrong. Maybe she hadn't been changed. This thing that had happened tonight, couldn't it have just happened because she'd been connected with Isabel? And she'd always shared a special connection with Max, a phenomenon she'd always attributed to Max's powers and the love they felt for one another. Maybe she'd simply acted as some sort of conduit between Max and Isabel. Maybe she hadn't been changed at all.

Her mind latched on to the thought and wouldn't let go. She had to find out if it had been some kind of fluke. She'd try and see if she could reach Max again.

With that plan firmly in mind, Liz moved to sit cross-legged in the middle of the bed. Taking a few deep breaths, she centered all her thoughts on Max.

Ten minutes had passed when she opened her eyes and peeked at the clock. Nothing was happening.

She could feel her hopes rising and told herself sternly that she had to be sure she was giving this her all before jumping to any conclusions. Isabel had given her a boost with her powers the first time. Was it possible for her to do this on her own even if she had been changed?

She tried to remember exactly how it had felt when she'd been connected with Isabel. It had felt completely different from when she and Max connected. It was always a complete rush to experience Max's emotions. He never held anything of himself back from her. He allowed her to see everything in his heart. Warm, caring, and generous, his heart was full of the most beautiful sensations she'd ever felt.

But with Isabel, she hadn't been bombarded with feelings and emotions. Words and thoughts had only whispered at the edge of her consciousness. She had definitely felt the worry and fear she felt for her brother, as well as empathy for Liz and what she was experiencing. She'd also heard the name Vilaandra, and it had been attached to an extreme sense of guilt.

Liz thought that she had sensed the majority of Isabel's emotions nearby, but it was like they were closed off somewhere that she couldn't see. She briefly wondered if Isabel lived her life like that or if she had just closed them off on this occasion to keep them hidden from Liz.

Shaking her head to clear it of those thoughts, Liz tried to get herself back on track. When they'd connected, Liz had been able to see herself and Isabel standing under a starlit sky, hands still clasped. Isabel had told her beforehand that she would feed some of her energy into her, and Liz had felt it seeping in through their linked hands. Tingling and hot, it had spread throughout her body, bringing her nerve-endings to life. Isabel had told her to try and reach out with her mind to try and find Max's. She'd explained that Liz should be able to sense him somewhere out there, and to simply follow his call.

Liz remembered being able to feel him, the same familiar thoughts and emotions she felt whenever they connected, and it had been a fairly simple thing to home in on them. It was as if they drew her towards him. The next thing she knew, Isabel and the night sky had been left behind, and she was standing in the middle of a busy New York street.

Liz closed her eyes and attempted to do the same thing she'd done then. She reached out with her mind, casting about for the answering pull from Max. Finding nothing familiar, she tried to reach further. Nothing. Again and again she sought him, trying to reach further each time, but she still couldn't find him. She didn't give up until she'd been trying for a full hour.

She hadn't sensed him at all. Not at all.

She heaved a relieved sigh and a jubilant smile broke out across her face. They were wrong. She hadn't been changed. It had all been Max and Isabel. She had only helped to form the connection somehow.

Falling back against the bed, the strange feelings of panic and dread she had felt from the moment Ava had announced her change fell away from her, making her feel lighter and almost dizzy. She didn't stop to examine why it had upset her so much to think that she’d been changed, she simply let herself float in the giddy sensations of relief.

It wasn't long before exhaustion once again overtook her. She stirred herself enough only to kick off her shoes, then dragged the blankets up to cover her. Her last thoughts before sleep consumed her were happy memories of Max's soft voice, lilting teasingly.

Everything was going to be fine.

A small smile curved her lips as she fell into unconsciousness.

[ edited 3 time(s), last at 3-Dec-2002 12:38:23 AM ]
posted on 7-Sep-2001 6:58:48 AM
Chapter 3

Liz woke early the next morning, and after showering and dressing, she wandered downstairs to check on Ava. She was surprised to find the other girl already up and dressed. And she seemed as though she were preparing to go somewhere.

"Ava. What's goin' on? Are you leaving?" Liz asked.

"Yeah. I'm gonna book."

"But why? I mean, you know you're welcome to stay."

"Thanks. But I'd rather not be here if Rath and Laanie decide to come lookin' for me. I don't think they'd really care if I fell off the face of the earth, but you never know wit them. I mean, I do know what they did to Zan. I'm like a loose end, ya know? And it wouldn't surprise me none if they up and decided one day to get rid of all their loose ends, if ya know what I'm sayin'. You should be careful, too. All of you."

"We will. We'll look out for each other. You know, we'd watch out for you, too. I mean if you wanted to stay."

Ava couldn't decide if this chick was for real or not. She honestly seemed like she wouldn't care if Ava crashed on this couch forever if she wanted to. In the seventeen years she'd been alive on this planet, no one had ever cared much about what happened to her. Except maybe Zan. He'd always had a soft spot for her, but he'd never stood up for her against Laannie and Rath. They had always treated her like a second-class citizen, often making her the butt of their cruel jokes. Ava probably wouldn't know genuine caring if it came up and bit her, but it seemed like that might be what she was seeing in the face of Liz Parker. It made her a little uncomfortable. She didn't quite know how to deal with it.

"Not my style. But thanks," she finally answered.

She realized it had come out a little more brusquely than she'd meant it to when she saw Liz lower her eyes and chew on her lip.

"Really. Thanks," she said more softly, and offered a small smile.

Liz nodded and returned the smile.

"So where will you go?"

"I was thinkin' maybe California. I found this book once somebody left on the subway. It had these really cool pictures of the beach. I thought, now that's the place to be. Warm and sunny and clean. One day I'm gonna go see the ocean. This seems like as good a time as any."

"Will you be okay? By yourself, I mean?"

"I'll be awright. Sometimes I felt more alone when I was wit Rath and Laanie than if there wasn't anybody else around, ya know? This way, at least I won't always be lookin' over my shoulder, wonderin' what they're gonna do next."

Liz's face softened into a look of sympathy and she reached out and touched Ava's arm lightly.

"Well, you know where we are if you ever need anybody, okay?"

Ava nodded and looked away, uncomfortable again.

"How are you going to get there? To California."

Ava gestured airily. "Transportation won't be a prob. I'm sure it can't be that hard to swipe a car in Roswell, New Mexico."

Liz looked at her in concern, unsure if she was being serious or not. After studying her for a few minutes, she decided that she was completely serious.

Liz was slightly horrified. She had a brief nightmare-ish vision of Ava stealing whatever flashy car might catch her eye, and Kyle's Mustang convertible came immediately to mind. It wasn't hard to imagine the sheriff being home while Ava attempted to peel out of his driveway in his son's car. And, well, nothing good could come of anything that would take place after that.

"Um, right. Swipe a car. You know, Ava, I have something I want to give you before you go. Will you wait for me?"

"Will it take long?" Ava asked, anxious to be on her way.

"Ten minutes, tops," Liz promised.

Ava nodded her agreement, and Liz rushed over to the stairs. A few minutes later she came bounding down again and hurried to the door to the alley.

"Don't go anywhere till I get back," she reminded Ava breathlessly.

Again Ava nodded.

Exactly ten minutes later, Liz returned through the diner's swinging door. At the sound of her entrance, Ava sprang to her feet from the couch. Liz approached carrying a large carry-out bag from the Crashdown.

"Here," she said shyly, as she handed the bag to Ava. "The kitchen isn't open yet, so it's just some sandwiches and snacks." She shrugged apologetically.

Nodding acceptance, Ava took the bag. "Thanks."

Liz hesitated before reaching into her purse to retrieve the envelope she'd just gotten from the bank. She was afraid the other girl might not accept money as readily as some leftover food. Liz knew she had to handle this smoothly so it wouldn't seem like charity. She didn't want Ava's pride forcing her to refuse the money.

Tucking her hair behind her ear, she spoke cautiously. "Um, you know, I'm really grateful to you for what you did to save Max. We all are. I mean, Max could have d-died," Liz stumbled on the word. Somehow, saying it out loud made it seem scarier and more real. "You know, if you hadn't warned us. We wanted to get you something before you left, kind of a thank-you present or whatever. We didn't realize you'd be leaving so soon, so maybe you could just take this."

She handed Ava the money she'd just withdrawn from her savings account. She didn't think the others would mind if she inferred that they were in on this little gesture. Especially if it would divert a car theft disaster.

Liz watched as she rifled through the bills, and rushed on before she could object. "You know, you shouldn't have to drive all the way to California by yourself. Why don't you just get a plane ticket? You'd get there alot sooner that way," she said persuasively.

Ava considered her words as she continued to count through the bills. She hated feeling that they all probably thought she was some poor little lost soul who needed their charity, but on the other hand, they all seemed like they had it pretty good compared to the way she'd always had to live. Why not take it if they had it to throw away on the likes of her. And it would be epic to be able to fly to where she was going. Actually the sooner she got there the better. And she'd never been on a plane before. In the end, that was really the deciding factor. She couldn't pass up the opportunity.

"Well," Ava cleared her throat,"I could just whip up a plane ticket if I wanted, but seein' as how it's a thank you and all..." she shrugged and stuffed the money into her purse. Embarrassed, she avoided Liz's eyes and said gruffly, "Tell everyone thanks."

"Sure," Liz nodded. Hoping to gloss over the moment for the other girl's sake, she quickly went on to say, "So. Do you need a ride anywhere?"

"Nah. I'll walk."

"You sure?"

Ava nodded and shuffled her feet in a movement that moved her closer to the door.

"Well. Goodbye," Liz said with a little lift of her shoulders. "Good luck, okay?"

"Okay," Ava answered. "You too."

Liz hesitated, and with a small huff of laughter at herself, she moved to hug Ava.

Ava was taken completely by surprise. Again she found herself wondering if this girl was for real. She sure was into that genuine caring thing.

Slowly, her arms moved up to return the hug, and a warm feeling settled itself in the pit of her belly. When the two girls parted they both gave a flustered giggle.

"So cornball," Ava said derisively, then laughed to show she meant no harm by the remark.

Liz joined in with her laughter and nodded self-deprecatingly. "Okay."

Ava gathered up her stuff, and with one last smile and a fond glance at this girl that had given her so much in the past two days, she was out the door.

Liz continued to stand there for a moment, her smile lingering. Turning away from the door, her gaze fell upon the clock on the wall above the lockers, and she realized with a start that her shift started in fifteen minutes. She hurried upstairs to get into her uniform, then came back down to start the process of opening the restaurant.

She looked up from her task of upending the chairs from the tabletops when she heard Michael letting himself in the front door.

He nodded a greeting upon seeing her. "Liz."

"Hey, Michael."

He continued on his way to the kitchen, and Liz made a face. Conversation was definitely not the man's strong suit.

He paused and turned before going through the swinging door to the kitchen.

"You okay?" He spoke offhandedly, as if her answer weren't truly of concern.

The corner of her lip lifted. That was Michael. Never let 'em see you care.

Nodding, Liz answered, "I'm fine, Michael. Thanks."

He nodded in return and continued on to the back. Smiling, Liz shook her head and moved on to the next chair. Two minutes later, Michael burst back through the doors. "Where's Ava?"

Furrowing her brow, Liz answered, "She left."

"Left? As in left left?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Why?!" He shook his head as if he couldn't believe she would ask such a stupid question. "She obviously knew things, Liz. Things about our past. Did you get any answers from her at least?"

Liz faltered as she realized he was right. She should have gotten some answers from Ava. She knew that he and Isabel had been in the act of prying answers out of the girl when she'd brought things to a halt last night. But things had just happened so fast this morning. She'd caught Ava in the act of leaving and had only been able to delay her long enough to run to the bank. She had seemed reluctant to wait even those ten minutes.

Liz knew though that if she had tried hard enough, she probably could have gotten her to wait an extra half hour until Michael got here.

"I'm sorry, Michael. I didn't think."

"How could you not think, Liz?!" he exploded. Rubbing his hand over his eyes, he turned away from her, obviously trying to keep a reign on his temper. Abruptly he turned back to her. "Even if you didn't think she might know something about our past, how could you not want to know more about what she told you? About Max changing you?"

"She was wrong," she answered firmly.


"She was wrong," she repeated. "Max didn't change me."

Michael frowned. "What are you talking about, Liz? You did something last night that even Isabel couldn't do. What do you think that was all about?"

"I don't think it was me. I-I think it just had something to do with my connection with Max and the fact that I was connected to Isabel. I was just like a...middle-man or something. But I don't have any kind of power of my own," she said insistently.

He shook his head. "Liz, Isabel felt it. She told me she could tell it wasn't her energy that formed your connection with Max. You did it on your own."

"No. I didn't. I couldn't. When I went up to my room last night, I tried again. I tried for over an hour, Michael, and I couldn't reach him again."

"You were exhausted. We always are after we use our power for something big. It was too soon for you to try again. And Is had to help you the first time. Max was so far away, and this is new to you. There are a lot of reasons why it wouldn't happen when you tried a second time."

She shook her head stubbornly. "No. I think Ava was wrong. I don't know why she thought what she did, but, you're right, I should have asked. I should have asked her to wait for you. I'm sorry, Michael."

He just looked at her for a moment, unsure what to say. He didn't know what to think about her fierce denial. Should he push it or let it go? He finally decided to just let it go. Max would be home soon, maybe he could talk to her. And who knew, she could very well be right. They had never had a reasonable explanation for the connection she shared with Max. He'd hoped they might finally get some straight answers from Ava if they could just play her right, but nothing could be done about that now.

Shrugging his shoulders, he said as much to Liz. "Can't help that now." Seeing her downcast face, he said more gently, "Don't worry about it."

Nodding her head disconsolately, she went back to upending chairs. Once again, Michael headed to the back and they worked together silently to get ready for opening.

Chapter 4

After refilling the final coffee cup for the people at table four, Liz looked up as Max walked through the door of the Crashdown. She'd sensed him even before she noticed his jeep pulling in at the curb. Was that an alien power, she wondered apprehensively. Or was it just like chemical attraction or something?

She was regretting more and more that she'd let Ava get away without finding out what she knew.

Max quickly found her in the crowded restaurant and their eyes locked for a moment. Her heart gave a little leap of delight and a smile lit her eyes.

He was here and he was safe. He even looked glad to see her too. In that moment, she could almost imagine that things between them were the same as they had been last fall. But then she read the hurt and disillusionment buried deep in his amber gaze, and reality came crashing down on her.

Giving her customers an absent smile, she moved behind the counter to get rid of the coffeepot before approaching Max's usual table.

Smiling uncertainly, she greeted him quietly. "Hey."

"Hey," he answered in an equally soft voice.

They met each other's eyes, then looked away and fidgeted nervously.

"Um, can I get you anything?"

"That depends. What time do you get off?"

She looked at her watch. "In about 45 minutes."

"Would it be okay if I wait till you get off so we could talk?"

She nodded.

"Okay, then could you bring me a Galaxy Melt and a cherry coke?"

"Sure. Be right back with your coke." S she started to turn away, Max grabbed her lightly by the wrist.

Liz pulled in a quick breath and her eyes locked on the hand holding her. It had been so long since he'd touched her even casually. She'd almost forgotten how his simplest touch could cause her heart to race, and send an electrical charge zinging straight through to her core.

He dropped her wrist quickly, and once again their eyes caught and held, then bounced away.

"Uh, how are you?" he asked huskily.

"I'm okay."

His eyes continued to question her, and she knew he was wondering about the change Ava talked about. "Really. I'm okay," she insisted.

He nodded in acceptance. "Okay. Good."

"I'll be right back, okay?"

Moments later she brought him his order, then returned to her other customers. As she finished out her shift, she often felt his eyes following her movements and would look up to catch him watching her intently, his gaze brooding. At least he was no longer avoiding looking at her, she thought. And she was glad to note that intense anger was no longer his expression of choice.

When it was time for her to get off, she headed over to his table, pulling off her headband as she went.

"Do you want to go up to my room? My parents aren't home and we'll have some privacy there.

Max nodded, and got up to follow as she led the way.

When they got upstairs, she left him alone for a few minutes while she went into the bathroom to change clothes.

Max wandered aimlessly around her room, steadfastly refusing to let his gaze rest on the bed with its painful reminders.

He still wasn't sure what he was going to say to Liz about their relationship, even though he'd thought about it all the way home from New York.

She'd said she wanted them to be friends. He grimaced. Friends. After everything they'd been to each other how could they go back to just being friends? He wanted more than that from her. Much more.

But at the same time, he was afraid he might never be able to put the thing with Kyle far enough behind him to even be able to offer her friendship. Just the memory of her betrayal was enough to wound him more deeply than anything ever had in his life. He still wanted to believe that it wasn't true, even though he'd seen it with his own eyes. But even if that were true, it hurt almost as much to know that she would lie to him about something like that.

He no longer knew what to believe about her. He just knew he missed her. He missed her laughter, her caring, her understanding. What's more, he missed the person he was when he was with her. Things had been spinning so completely out of control lately, and he just couldn't seem to catch his balance without Liz beside him.

He was ready to get past all this, and get things resolved with her. The way things had been between them lately had just been killing him in small degrees.

He found himself standing in front of her stereo, and absently looked over her collection of CDs. Two empty cases were laid out and he idly read the titles. There was one by Sheryl Crow, but it was the other one that gave his heart a pang.

It was Gomez.

She'd been listening to Gomez. And he had the exact same CD in his stereo at home. He knew it was masochistic to listen to it, but he did it anyway. Constantly. It had taken the place of the Counting Crows.

Before he had time to figure out the significance of Liz listening to the music that symbolized the beginning of their romantic relationship, the bathroom door opened, and she walked out carrying her uniform folded over her arm.

Finding him in front of her stereo, she gave him a shy smile, and set the dress down on the bed.

Thrusting his hands into his pockets, Max cleared his throat and pressed his lips together.


"So," she returned softly.

They both fell silent.

Liz moved further into the room, and cast about for a safe topic of conversation. "Oh! How did the summit go?" she asked.

Max made a face. "Well, Nicholas was there. They offered to take us back home. But only the four of us who were in New York. And only if I gave them the Granolith."

"Max!" The very first thing he said had stabbed Liz with a trepidation that grew with each additional sentence. But it was the last thing she addressed. "You didn't tell them where it was, did you?"

"No. I remembered what you said. How did you know, Liz? Will you tell me now?" His eyes begged her to give him some answers.

Liz hesitated. She'd really been dreading this moment. She hadn't been able to decide what to do about this. He really did need to know exactly what it was he was protecting, didn't he? He'd turned down a chance to go home because of it, and it seemed only fair that he know more about it. But she was still afraid to tell him the truth. So much depended on what she and Future Max had done. And how would she ever know if the future had been altered enough for it to make a difference? She wanted to tell Max about the Granolith, but as she considered telling him, she just couldn't see any way of revealing some of it without revealing it all.

"Liz?" he prompted.

"I really don't even know that much about it, Max. I don't know what its purpose is, or all that it's capable of, or even how it works.

"Okay," he said slowly. "That covers what you don't know. But what about what you do know?"

Liz bit her lip and her eyes filled with regret. "I-I can't tell you, Max. I'm sorry."

Max heaved a sigh and looked away. Shaking his head impatiently, he said curtly, "You say you want to be friends, Liz, but how could a friend keep something this important from-"

"It can be used for time travel," she blurted, interrupting his outburst.


Liz took a deep breath and tucked her hair behind her ear. "It can be used for time travel," she repeated.

Max was speechless for a moment, and she squirmed under his intense regard.

Finally he asked, "How do you know that?"

She shook her head. "I just do. It wasn't originally intended to be used for that, but it does have an enormous amount of power, and it can be modified to artificially create a tear in time space."

Max was looking at her as if she'd lost her mind. "Who told you this?" Shaking his head in disbelief, he said, "Time travel isn't possible. It goes against all the laws of physics. I mean, you're the scientist, Liz. You know that."

Liz had to fight back the absurd urge to laugh. This whole conversation was beginning to sound exactly like the one she'd had with Future Max, except she was playing his part now, and Max was repeating her own words. Could her life be any more Twilight Zone?

"I know it sounds crazy, Max, but it's true."

He just looked at her, trying to reconcile this wild theory with the logical realist he knew Liz to be.

"Liz, I don't understand how you could believe something like that. If someone told you do you know you could trust them?"

"I just do."

"How? I'm sure we still have enemies out there that we know nothing about. How do you know someone wasn't trying to trick you into...I don't know, giving them information or something? I mean, come on, Liz. Time travel?"

"I didn't just accept this blindly, you know. I was skeptical, too, at first, but- he proved it to me."

"Who proved it?"

Her eyes filled with apprehension and jerked away from his, and Max knew he was on to something.

"Who, Liz?" he repeated when she didn't answer.

"I can't tell you. I've already said too much," she replied and turned away.

Max stood there and tried to figure out what it was she wasn't telling him. If she was sure this was true, then he was prepared to accept her judgement. She was too smart to let herself be deceived about something as important as this. So what did that mean? Had someone used the Granolith as a time travel device and then come to Liz to tell her about it?

But why come to Liz, he wondered in confusion. It would have to have been someone who knew how to use the Granolith, which led to the natural conclusion that it must have been an alien. Unless sometime in the future they revealed their knowledge of it to someone else. That seemed unlikely, given Liz's insistence on secrecy. So, if an alien came back through time, why go to a human? Why not go to one of the four other aliens that lived in Roswell?

It didn't make sense, and Max was becoming frustrated with her reticence.

"Liz," he said in a hard voice. She turned slowly to face him. "Tell me the rest of it," he demanded.

She swallowed hard. "Max, you wanted to know what I knew about the Granolith, and I-I've told you. That's all I know." She avoided his eyes.

"You're lying to me." He looked at her with accusation and hurt, and she felt as if she'd betrayed him all over again. Right before her eyes, he was reverting to the cold, hostile attitude he'd treated her with since finding her with Kyle. She was desperate to keep that from happening. He'd been so different today, as if he were willing to return to a friendship with her. But there was nothing more she could tell him about this, she thought, torn with indecision.

She looked at him pleadingly. "Max, please? Please don't be this way. I can't- I just can't tell you anything more. I'm not keeping this from you to hurt you. It- it's really for the best that you don't know."

"Whose best?" he asked, not giving an inch.

"Ev-everyone's," she replied, lowering her eyes.

"Not ours, Liz. Not yours and mine."

Her eyes filled with tears as she looked up at him, and he softened at the sight of them.

"Liz, how can I trust you when I know you're willing to lie to me and keep things from me?" he asked, his voice rough with emotion.

A single tear escaped and slid down the slope of her cheek. "Can't you just...accept that I have a good reason for not telling you, and leave it at that?" she implored.

Her tears caused his heart to clench. He hated to see Liz cry, and he especially couldn't stand to be the one causing her to cry. It was obvious that she felt conflicted over this.

She was asking him to place his trust in her blindly, and in a way it reminded him of when he'd done the same thing with his mother. Earlier this year, Diane had been in the room with him when he'd used his powers to put out a grease fire in their kitchen. She'd known something hadn't been right about the way he'd been able to do that, and for two days, she'd questioned him and Izzie about other unexplainable 'mysteries' she'd observed concerning Max. He'd been afraid that everything was about to come crashing down. She'd been pretty relentless about finding out his secret. Isabel had wanted to tell her so badly, and Max had felt completely torn.

He'd finally just gone to his mom, and asked her to stop questioning him about this. He'd assured her that what he was keeping from her wasn't something bad or dangerous, and he'd begged her to just trust him. She'd been able to do that, to let it go, and trust him blindly. He really didn't think he could do anything less now, for Liz.

"Okay, Liz," he agreed quietly. "I'll let it go for now. I want us to be friends again, and I want to be able to trust you. I don't like it that you think there's something you can't tell me, and I hope one day you'll trust me enough for that." Liz began shaking her head in protest, but he continued, "But for now, I'll just trust your judgement."

"It's not that I don't trust you, Max. Please don't think that. It's just..." She stopped as she suddenly realized that he was right.

It did seem as though she wasn't telling him because she didn't trust him to react responsibly and unselfishly. She was afraid that if she told him she hadn't slept with Kyle that he wouldn't let anything stand in the way of them being together, not even the fate of the world.

But she knew that wasn't true. Max made himself responsible for everyone. He would never choose his own happiness over everyone's well being.

As she realized this, she had to fight the urge to confess to him. It would be so good to get this burden off her shoulders alone.

But Max himself, well, future Max, had told her not to tell. He had believed in what they were doing so strongly he was willing to cease to exist for it. If anyone would know how Max would react it would be him, right?

This was the same old tired argument she'd been having with herself for the past month and it was driving her crazy! She was torn between two Maxes.

Max had been searching her eyes while she remained quiet for so long. He could see the struggle going on there, and every muscle in his body tensed as he awaited the outcome. Was this it? Was she finally going to tell him what she'd been hiding all this time?

Liz decided in the end that she couldn't risk telling him. She was too afraid of what would happen, and she wouldn't be able to live with being the one who was resposible if things still turned out the way Future Max had told her they would.

She could see the expectation in Max's eyes and she felt sick knowing that she was going to hurt him again. And he'd been ready to forgive her and move on, too. She was afraid that this would put them right back where they'd started.

"I want to tell you, Max," she said told him yearningly, "I do. But-there's so much at stake. And..I-I promised."

Max's heart plummeted as he realized she wasn't going to tell him.

"And...I'll understand, you know, if-if you don't want to be friends." She looked at the floor dejectedly.

Max studied her bent head and tried not to let the hurt overwhelm him. She felt like she owed her first loyalty to this- this unknown time-traveling alien. There had been a time when she would have put no one before him. She was willing to remain silent even if it meant they could have no relationship at all. That realization sat like a huge lump in his throat.

Max swallowed against it and sighed heavily. This really didn't change anything, though. He still needed Liz in his life. And only moments ago, he had said that he would trust her judgement.

"I do want to be friends, Liz," he admitted softly, "I-I miss you."

She raised shining eyes to his, gratitude and relief written all over her face. "I miss you too, Max."

Their eyes said so much more than that to each other, but nothing else was allowed to express itself by way of their lips. They continued to have a silent, heartfelt conversation for a few short moments. A time that felt all too brief to Liz. She could have stood there and communicated this way with Max for hours and hours, and not grown tired of it. This was the way it used to be. She'd missed this. So much.

Max was the one to drop his eyes first, and the spell was broken. In the awkward silence that followed, he stuffed his hands back into his pockets and studied his shoes, and Liz tucked her hair behind her ear in a slow deliberate movement.

"So," Max said once again.

"I-I guess a lot happened when I was in New York. Isabel told me about some of it, but I'd like to know what's going on with you. Do you want to talk about it?"

"Yeah, the whole change thing. Max, Ava was wrong."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, she was wrong. You didn't change me. When I...did whatever it was I did last night, I don't know how I did it, but I think it was only because I was somehow connected to you and to Isabel. She couldn't reach you by herself, and I think maybe I was able to just channel her energy somehow because of our connection," she motioned between herself and him.

"Liz, I don't think that's possible," he said, shaking his head. "Isabel said-"

"Yeah, I know," she interrupted," Isabel thinks I did it on my own. But I couldn't have, Max. I tried to do it again on my own, later, and I couldn't do it."

He looked at her quizzically. Why was she being so adamant about this? "Why did Ava say that, then?"

Liz grimaced. "I don't know. And she left this morning before anyone could ask her."

"She's gone? She didn't go back to New York, did she? Because I'm not sure she'd be safe with Rath and Laanie."

"Yeah, she didn't think she was safe, either. She was afraid they'd come looking for her here, so she went to California. She said we should be careful of them, too."

Max digested this slowly. "And no one asked her any questions about what she knew? Because Rath and Laanie sure seemed to know alot about our past. I don't know how much of what they said was true, but I was thinking maybe we might be able to trust Ava a little more. She seemed different from them. And according to Isabel, she did help save my life."

Liz looked away, guiltily. "It's my fault we didn't find out anything from her. Last night I stopped Michael and Isabel from questioning her, and this morning I caught her just as she was about to leave. I should have tried to talk her into staying a little longer, but I...well, I just didn't."

He looked at her in bewilderment. She seemed to be acting so unlike herself. "You didn't want to know? About what she said?"

"No, Max, I didn't think it was true. I told you, I tried to reach you again last night, and I couldn't. I thought she was just..wrong. And she left so quickly this morning, I just didn't think about asking her about it. I'm sorry I let her go, Max. I-I messed up."

"It's okay," he reassured her. "But I really think we should try and find out more about this, Liz. Maybe you couldn't do it again because you have to be connected to one of us. I mean, if you do have a power, don't you want to know how it works? What you can do?"

"I don't think I have one," she insisted stubbornly.

"Liz," he said softly, "if I did something to you, I really need to know." She looked up at him and read the guilt he was feeling over this in his eyes. "Please? Would you just try?"

She couldn't say no when he looked at her like that. And she wanted to prove to him that he didn't have anything to feel guilty about. She had hurt him enough already. There was no need for him to add this to his burden.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked.

"Maybe we could start small. You could try to do the same thing you did before, only a much shorter distance," he suggested. "Like maybe, just down to the cafe."

Liz nodded and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Okay." She moved to perch nervously on the edge of the bed. "Um, should I try it on my own, or...?"

"Yeah, why don't you try to do it by yourself first, and if it doesn't work, I'll try and help you."

Taking another deep breath, Liz nodded and closed her eyes. Picturing the restaurant in her mind, she tried to imagine herself there. When nothing had happened after a few minutes, she concentrated on pulling air into her lungs in a steady rhythm, and tried to call to mind every detail of the diner she could remember.

When she didn't think she could make the picture in her head any clearer, and still nothing had happened, she opened her eyes.

Looking up at Max, she said apologetically, "Nothing."

"Well, maybe you can't just...project yourself randomly. Maybe there has to be someone there for you to contact? Why don't you give me a few minutes to get down there and try it again." He moved towards the door.

She felt ridiculous, but she didn't want him to leave her alone while she was doing this. "Wait, Max? Um, you know, actually Michael should still be down there. His shift was longer than mine, today. Maybe I could try to reach him?"

"Okay. But if it works, try not to freak him out too much, okay?" One corner of his lip tilted up a little in a teasing grin, and for a moment Liz was mesmerized. It had been so long since she'd seen him smile. It made her heart lift and she couldn't stop a grin of her own in return. She couldn't tear her eyes away from him until the smile had faded completely from his face, then she gave a little shake of her head to clear it, and got back to the matter at hand.

Closing her eyes, she tried to picture Michael in the kitchen of the Crashdown. It was a sight she'd grown accustomed to over the past nine months or so, and it wasn't hard to imagine.

When she'd connected with Max in New York, she'd been able to sense the familiar pull of his mind. She was well acquainted with the pattern of his thoughts and emotions. But she'd never connected with Michael, so she wasn't quite sure how to go about finding him.

Liz tried to call to mind everything she knew about him. How she felt towards him, and even the sound of his voice. Then she pictured herself talking to him down in the kitchen where he was undoubtedly standing behind the grill, flipping burgers. She imagined herself appearing before him magically and totally freaking him out. She would pay good money to see that take place, but when it became obvious that it wasn't going to happen, she opened her eyes to find Max sitting beside her.

"Still nothing?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"Okay. Let me see if I can help. Isabel said that she gave you a boost with her power. I can try and do the same thing." He moved closer and placed his hand palm up on the bed between them in invitation.

Liz looked down at his hand and realized what he was suggesting.

He wanted them to connect so he could feed her some of his energy.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 26-Oct-2001 11:35:48 PM ]
posted on 7-Sep-2001 7:32:00 AM
Chapter 5

He wanted them to connect, Liz thought in a mild panic. She couldn't let him connect with her, he'd find out the truth about her and Kyle!

She looked up to find him waiting patiently for her to place her hand within his, his eyes questioning her hesitancy.

Okay, what could she do, here? Refuse to do this? No, maybe she could do what Isabel had done when the two of them had connected. Maybe she could close off her thoughts so he couldn't see them.

That decided, she focused inwardly. She imagined all her thoughts scattering to a place far in the back of her mind, and closing a door tightly on them. Concentrating on making sure no stray thoughts got loose, she reached for Max's hand.

The usual spark his touch created was overshadowed as the connection formed immediately. Simultaneously, they each drew in a startled breath at what they found.

Max had been anticipating this from the moment he'd suggested it. He missed being able to get this close to Liz. Closer than anyone else had ever been. Even Kyle, he thought bitterly. But he'd entered her subconscious to an utter absence of everything that was Liz. The silence and stillness around him was deafening. Occasionally, the ghost of an emotion would whisk past him, but he didn't try to make them out. One whisper was more insistent than the others, though, and he recognized it without conscious effort. Guilt.

Liz was hiding from him, and it hurt. It hurt almost as much as it had to find her in bed with Kyle. He could tell the exact moment that she felt his pain at what she was doing, and her sense of guilt intensified. It hovered around him in a cloud so thick, it threatened to choke him.

Liz was experiencing her own choking sensation. The moment she'd entered into Max's subconscious, she'd been immediately engulfed by a dark mix of emotions. Frustration, betrayal, anger, helplessness, but over and above it all, pain. A pain so deep, she didn't know how he was managing to function through it. It was horrifying, and it swirled around and inside her, sucking the breath from her.

Her eyes flew open to find his fixed on her. Deep brown eyes met hazel-gold with matching expressions of anguish.

The longing to hold him and give him comfort was a physical ache in Liz, and she allowed that wish to communicate itself through the connection without restraint. His hand tightened painfully on hers, and she knew that he'd received the sentiment. It wasn't enough, though. Would any amount of comforting ever be enough to obliterate all this hurt he was carrying around, she despaired.

They each took a deep breath, and mutually agreed to push this into the background and get back to their purpose in doing this in the first place.

"I'm going to give you a push with my energy, then go ahead and try again to reach Michael," Max said.

Liz nodded to show that she understood.

The warm tingle of pure electricity flowed into her, and she closed her eyes to concentrate once more on contacting Michael.

After several minutes, she heard Max say, "Focus, Liz. Listen for Michael, and then let the energy take you there."

Her attempt to focus most of her concentration on the task of locating Michael, while also keeping her emotions hidden away, was giving her a headache. Finally, with a brief shake of her head, she broke their connection.

"It's no use, Max. I can't find Michael. I can't hear him like I could you. Maybe you're the only one I can reach."

He accepted the possibility with a nod of his head. "Let me go downstairs then, and try again."

He footsteps seemed impossibly heavy as he moved to the door. "You can try it by yourself, but I think I'll send Michael up in case you need some help, okay?"

"That's a good idea," she agreed quietly.

When he was gone, she leaned forward and buried her face in her hands. How could she keep doing this to him now that she knew how much it was devastating him?

Tears filled her eyes.

How could he even think straight with all that seething inside him? That he could consider forgiving her for hurting him so deeply...

The two times he had teased her lightly in the past two days gained even more significance. It broke her heart to know how generous and courageous he was being, and a sob tore from her throat.

The sound of someone clearing his throat jerked her attention to the bedroom door. Michael stood there, a look of concern on his face.

"You okay?"

She couldn't answer for a moment, then said sofly, "He's so hurt, Michael," the ache of unshed tears in her voice.

"Who? Max?"

"We connected, and I felt..." she swallowed hard around the lump in her throat. "He's so hurt," she repeated, another sob threatening to escape.

"Well, what did you expect, Liz?" he asked not unkindly.

"I didn't-" she shrugged helplessly. Teary brown eyes appealed to him for something he didn't understand. "It can't be any other way." She spoke as if she would give anything to change it, but it was out of her control.

What was going on with her, Michael wondered for the twentieth time since he'd heard the rumor about her and Kyle. He'd heard her tell Ava last night how much she loved Max. He couldn't believe that she would betray him that way. And if there was one thing he'd learned with his experience with Courtney, it was that things aren't always what they seem. So what was the deal?

"Why not, Liz?" he asked, truly wanting to understand.

Heaving a sigh and closing her eyes, Liz shook her head. After a silent moment, she said, "We- we'd better get this over with before Max decides to come back up."

Michael studied her from the doorway for a moment longer, trying to figure out what was going on, before finally giving up with a sigh of exasperation.

"You gonna try it by yourself first?"

Liz nodded, then concentrated on forming a connection with Max. It took only seconds before she could sense his presence nearby, the same as she had when she'd felt him pulling up outside the Crashdown earlier. She tried to answer to the pull of him, but again, nothing happened.

Shaking her head to show she had been unsuccessful, she told Michael, "I can't do it by myself."

In answer, he moved to sit down beside her on the bed, and offered her his hand. She snuck a peek up at him to see how he felt about doing this with her, but of course, she could read nothing in his face.

She took his hand and they focused on opening a connection. After a few minutes, nothing had happened.

"Um, maybe it would help if we looked at each other," she suggested. "Max had to do it that way the first time we connected, and Isabel and I did, too."

With a shrug, he turned to face her. Her eyes shifted uncomfortably, before coming to meet his. She wasn't really all that close to Michael, and she wasn't sure how she felt about him being inside her head. Taking a brief moment, she tried closing off her thoughts again.

This time when they tried to form the connection, it worked. Once inside, she felt the push of Michael's energy filling her, and she had the brief realization that the energy the three of them posessed each had a distinct and very different feel to it. She listened for the call of Max's presence, and once again tried to answer to it, with no results.

A smile broke across her face, and she sighed in relief. "She was wrong. I told you she was wrong," she said triumphantly.

Michael looked at her in consternation. "What's the matter with you, Liz? I don't get it. You act like this is some disease you don't want to admit you have," he accused.

"I don't think it's a disease, Michael," Liz scoffed. "It's's, I don't know, it's not...human. You know? I mean, we're talking about something with no scientific basis in fact."

Michael smiled humorlessly. "Not human," he repeated. "Do I need to remind you, Liz, that I'm 'not...human'? Max is 'not...human'. And if he hadn't done what he did to you, you'd be dead right now."

Liz caught her breath at his harshness.

"Maybe we're finally seeing how the perfect Liz Parker really feels about aliens," he sneered.

Her mouth set, she glared at him as her eyes filled with hot tears. She hated when he spoke to her this way. As if her feelings were invalid and incredibly stupid.

Her fear of this thing was irrational and she knew it, but she couldn't stop it. Everything in her life right now seemed beyond her control, and she didn't know if she would ever regain it. She was terrified at the thought that she might even have something inside her own body now that was out of her control. Something unexplainable. Something...alien.

She'd never been bothered by the fact that they were aliens, not after the first day Max told her. But now that it was possible that she could have something alien inside her, it made her look at it differently. And that made her feel guilty. Like she'd been lying to Max when she said it didn't matter. Like she'd only been accepting of it all this time because she hadn't really understood the magnitude of it.

Confusion, guilt, and hurt seethed within her until she couldn't contain them. Liz rarely lost her temper, but something inside her now just seemed to snap, and she jumped up off the bed and whirled to confront him.

"No, Michael, you don't 'need to remind me'," she threw his words back at him in the same mocking tone that he'd used. "Believe me, I've never forgotten for a single second how much I owe Max. And even if I tried for the rest of my life, I could never repay him for what he did. But when he saved me, if he left something inside of me, or-or made something grow in me, whatever, I'm sorry, but I DON'T WANT THAT!" Her voice rose angrily. "If you think that makes me ungrateful, I don't care! Because if it's true, if I've been changed, what am I supposed to do with that? I don't belong with Max! That's been made perfectly clear. I'm supposed to be trying to get on with my life and let him get on with his. But how am I supposed to return to a normal, safe, boring human existence if I'm not even human anymore?!"

Michael was taken aback. He'd never seen Liz angry before, and he was filled with remorse for being the one to push her to it now. She'd been so upset earlier, and he had been feeling really sorry for her, but for some reason this whole denial kick she was on made him feel defensive of who he was. Of what he was. Everything she was saying was true though, and he knew he wasn't being fair to her.

Standing, he put his hand on her shoulder and implored, "Liz, calm down."

"No! I won't calm down! You think I feel disgust for you because you're an alien? You couldn't be more wrong! The only one I feel disgust for these days is myself!" she spat.

Turning her head, she caught sight of her reflection at the edge of the mirror across the room. She saw a girl who'd lied and betrayed the one person who'd gladly given her everything he had to give. A girl who was acting like a spoiled child right now because she wasn't getting everything her own way.

Anger and shame bubbled up in her until it was a force that begged for release from the confinement of her own skin. Her flesh grew hot, and it prickled as if her pores were actually opening wide to allow an escape route.

She didn't like that girl she saw in the mirror. She didn't want to BE that girl!

She threw her hand up in front of her eyes with the intention of hiding the reflection from her sight.

Suddenly, all the air in the room seemed to be sucked toward the spot where she and Michael stood. Electricity crackled in the air, causing the lightbulb in the fixture overhead to explode, and a wide beam of brilliant blue light shot out from the palm of her hand. The light collided with the mirror, and before it even had time to cast a reflection, it exploded into a cloud of dust.

Michael and Liz both jumped in reaction, and ducked their heads automatically to avoid the dust particles floating down in a heavy cloud.

When it was over, Liz began to tremble violently.

"What was that?" Max asked from the doorway, a stunned expression on his face. He'd heard Liz raising her voice and had hurried up the stairs to reach her room just in time to witness the explosion.

Liz didn't act as if she'd heard him speak, so he looked to Michael.

The look they exchanged was long and telling.

Chapter 6

Liz stared in shock where the mirror should be standing, completely unable to move.

What just happened? Had she done that? Had she just blasted her mirror into oblivion?

No. There was no way she could have done that. No possible way.

Her body shook harder, and suddenly her legs refused to hold her up. As her knees buckled, Michael caught her before she hit the floor. Supporting her around the waist he moved to help her sit on the edge of the bed.

Max rushed across to kneel in front of her. "Liz? Are you okay?" He reached for her hand. It was as cold as ice, and he enfolded it between both of his own.

Her eyes sought his, and he could read the terrified confusion there. "Max? D-did you see that?"

"Yeah. Are you okay?" he repeated.

Her eyes huge and fixed on his, she simply nodded. "How did that happen, Max?" Slowly, she looked up at Michael. "Did you do it?"

Michael silently shook his head no.

She pulled in a deep breath, and her eyes shifted around the room as she tried to assimilate this.

"I don't understand. How could I do that? I couldn't even connect with you when you were in the same building. You were thousands of miles away last time. I thought that meant..." she trailed off. Obviously she was wrong. She couldn't deny it now. Ava had been right all along.

Max looked at Michael questioningly. "Was she connected to you?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah," Michael answered. "I only had my hand on her shoulder, but somehow she drew the power out of me."

Liz looked up at him sharply.

"I felt it, Liz," he said insisted gently.

Max tightened his hold on her hand, and she turned her attention back to him. His eyes soft with sympathy and understanding, he asked, "Would you be willing to try something, Liz?" He reached up as if to tuck her hair behind her ear, but stopped just short of it. Closing his hand into a fist, he dropped it back to his side. Clearing his throat awkwardly, he assured her, "If you don't feel up to it, that's okay."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Well, you were connected to Izzie when you did something along the lines of one of her dreamwalks. When you were connected to Michael, you were able to do one of his, uh..." his lips quirked and he looked up at Michael. "What do you call that anyway?"

Michael smirked and shrugged. "Alien power blast?"

Liz couldn't help but smile a little at their attempt to lighten the mood.

Max looked back at Liz and continued, wryly, "Whatever. Anyway, since you seemed to be able to use the gift that's unique to each of them whenever you were connected to them, I thought we could see if that's true, and you could try something that only I can do."

Liz looked at him doubtfully. "Healing? I don't know, Max..."

"No," Max interrupted. "I had something a little easier in mind. The shield. So far, I'm the only one that has been able to do that. Do you want to try it?"

Now that they knew for sure that she did have abilities, she figured she might as well resign herself to the fact. She couldn't deny the curiosity that was coming to life inside her. Maybe the only way to gain a sense of control over this was to find out everything she could about it. Push the fear of it aside and do some objective research.

"Okay," she agreed.

She and Max stood, and moved to the center of the room, where he reached for her hand to form their connection. She felt his energy filling her, and tried to remember the one time she'd seen him use the shield. It had been when they went to Copper Summit and he'd been trying to hold off the Skins.

Imitating the stance she remembered him using then, she raised her free arm up in front of her, palm extended outward. She tried to imagine them being surrounded with the protective green light. But it wasn't happening.

"Try to pull together all the energy you feel inside you, and focus on releasing it out of the palm of your hand," Max instructed.

As he and Michael watched, the entire room suddenly began to glow with a pale turquoise light, that grew brighter with each passing second.

Their eyes met in astonishment.

"Is this whole room protected?" Michael asked quietly.

"Only one way to find out. Why don't you go outside and do your thing," Max suggested.

Michael nodded and crossed to the door.

Eyes closed, Liz was deep in concentration and hadn't responded to anything they'd said.

"Michael has to get outside, Liz," Max said close to her ear to gain her attention.

She blinked the room back into focus, and the light immediately disappeared.

Her breath escaped in a rush. "I did it, didn't I?"

Max nodded. "And I think it was stronger than any I've ever been able to create. It seemed like it extended to the whole room. Michael's gonna go outside and see. Can you do it again?"

"If you can give me the power, I guess I can." She remembered how much it had taken out of him to use the shield against the Skins that time, and he felt the concern through their connection.

"That was a little different, Liz," he assured her. "I was using it to fight back their energy bursts. Besides, you're helping me. You do have power of your own. I can feel it. Maybe that's why the shield is stronger. It's being created with our combined power."

They looked to see Michael waiting outside the door, and turned their attention to bringing the shield back into place. It started out pale and weak this time, too, but it took only an instant to brighten and gain full strength. Once again, the entire room was enveloped.

It simply looked like a swirling mist of light with no substance, but when Michael reached out to it, his hand met with solid resistance. He pushed against it, putting his weight against it, but it was like an immovable wall of blue-green glass. Being careful not to aim directly at Max and Liz, he directed a weak blast of power at it. The shield seemed to absorb the energy he shot at it, and grew even brighter.

While Michael was testing the shield's strength, Liz was marveling at how this all felt. Once the shield had come to life, it seemed to take no effort to sustain it. Standing inside its safety, it was as though she and Max were the only two people in the world. All sound was suspended. Surrounded by absolute stillness and silence, all that could be heard was the sound of their quiet breathing.

Inside her body, she could feel Max's energy coursing through her forcefully. It was completely different than when Michael and Isabel shared their energy. Every cell in her body seemed to be quivering with excitement. Her blood felt as though it was fizzing and popping as it rushed through her veins. Max's thoughts and feelings crowded all her senses, and the dark emotions she'd felt in him earlier were buried under a sense of delighted amazement.

It was like having Max inside her.

Her breath caught and her face flushed at the suggestiveness of that thought. It would probably feel incredible to kiss him in the midst of all this. Closing her eyes, she savored every sensation. She wished they could just hide away from the rest of the world forever inside here.

Hearing Max suck in a quick breath, her eyes flew up to meet his. They were fixed on her, burning and bright. She felt an answering heat flare to life in her belly, but panic quickly set in and drowned it out.

Too late she realized that she hadn't even attempted to block her thoughts from him. She scrambled to do so now, while at the same time, trying to pull her hand from his and break their connection. He tightened his grip and refused to let her go, causing her panic to flare even higher.

She had too many emotions running through her now to close her thoughts off like she had before, and she was terrified of what he would see if she didn't break this connection. She continued to tug at her hand, but he wouldn't let go.

The light of the shield around them flickered, then disappeared, drawing Michael's attention to the two of them. He could tell with one look at their silent struggle that something was about to break. And about time, too.

"Guys? I'm just gonna..." He gestured toward the stairs. When he realized that neither of them were paying any attention to him, his lips twisted and he finished with a muttered, "Yeah." He left them alone, closing the bedroom door behind him.

Max was looking at Liz with confused concern, while she struggled to pull away from him. Even if they hadn't been connected he would have been able to sense her fear.

"Liz, why are you so afraid?"

"Max, please let go. This isn't fair!"

He felt a pang of guilt at her words and said defensively, "It isn't fair to want to know why you've been lying to me? I felt that, Liz. I could feel you...wanting me."

She blushed and looked away.

"If you still feel that way about me, then how could you sleep with Kyle? I just can't believe that you would do that, Liz."

He was getting too close to the truth, and she was afraid that just the mention of this subject was enough to create flashes of it. Desperation lent her strength, and she jerked sharply on her hand, breaking free from him.

She stood there breathing harshly, unable to meet his eyes.

After a moment, he said again, "Tell me what you're so afraid of, Liz. Whatever it is, we can take care of it. Together."

He had no idea how those words broke her heart, and she gave a despairing little laugh. "No, Max. We can't, okay? We can't take care of it together, we create it by being together."

Utterly baffled, he said, "What does that mean?"

She shook her head. "Nothing."

"Liz, why can't you just give me a straight answer," he said frustratedly.

"Why can't you just let it go," she countered, her frustration level matching his. "You said that you would let it go, Max."

His brows furrowed. "I said that about the Granolith."

He knew without a doubt that she was hiding something about the Granolith, and he'd had his suspicions about the thing with Kyle. Until now, he hadn't thought about the two things being connected. But the look on her face said otherwise. That didn't add up, though. How could someone using the Granolith to travel through time have anything to do with her sleeping with Kyle?

As she watched him puzzle it out, her eyes filled with guilt, and she bit her lip. She'd given something else away. If she didn't stop dropping so many hints here, he was going to figure it out in no time. She could be the freakin' poster child for Freudian Slips.

"Max, no more questions, okay? You said you would try and trust me. And I can't tell you, so please stop pushing this."

Max looked at her intently, then reluctantly nodded his acquiesence. He was going to figure this out, though. She was really scared about something, and he couldn't stop his protective insticts from kicking in.

He would never let anything happen to Liz.

Edited by - Destinee on 09/08/2001 07:36:18

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:42:44 AM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 4:53:57 AM
Chapter 7

Isabel slid the turkey back into the oven and blew a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. Now all she had to do was get the yams ready for the oven and that should be everything, she thought with satisfaction.

As she began peeling the sweet potatoes she thought about how good it was to have Max safe at home, and what a relief it was to finally have all that stuff about Vilaandra out in the open. They'd talked about it before he left for the Crashdown to try and find Liz. He'd been so great about everything, Isabel felt stupid for keeping it from him for so long. She should have known better. After all, it was Max.

The past couple of weeks had been an enormous strain on them both. Max had never been so angry and upset with her before. She'd known something had been bothering him for at least a month, but after he found out about the Vilaandra thing from Nicholas, he'd extended his hostility to include her.

Now, of course, she knew what had been bothering him. He'd found Liz in bed with Kyle. She couldn't even imagine how devastating that must have been.

She still wasn't sure exactly what it was she had seen in the flashes she'd received from Liz. She'd definitely seen Max walk up to Liz's window and see her and Kyle together. She'd heard Liz tell Max that she didn't want to die for him, and she'd heard her telling Tess, of all people, that Steinbeck was Max's favorite author. And it seemed as though some guy was forcing her to do all those things. Some guy who looked a lot like Max.

Isabel was really concerned about Liz, but she trusted Max to know what to do about it. She hoped he and Liz got things straightened out. It was clear that they'd both been miserable without each other. Max had been hard to live with ever since Liz had left him at the cave last spring, but at least he had seemed to keep a sense of hope that they could work things out when she got back from Florida. This past month though, he'd seemed utterly defeated. He hardly ever came out of his room when he was home, and she thought if she had to listen to that stupid Gomez CD one more time she would scream.

The faint noises of someone entering the front door filtered into the room, and a few seconds later Max entered the kitchen.

"What smells so good?" he asked.

"Could be any number of things," she said with a smile.

"You're cooking?" he feigned disbelief.

She aimed a glare at him, then answered, "Mom and I thought since you missed Thanksgiving, we'd recreate it for tonight. Everything you missed the first time around, plus your favorite, bread pudding."

His face softened into an expression of affection. "You didn't have to do that."

"We wanted to. It just wasn't Thanksgiving without you. Besides, now we have even more to be thankful for."

Extremely touched, he slid an arm around her waist and gave her a gentle squeeze. Isabel smiled and briefly rested the side of her head against his, both of them feeling an even greater closeness since they'd confessed their fears and cleared up all the tension between them.

Suddenly a look of uneasiness crossed his face.

"You said we were having everything you had on Thanksgiving...Mom didn't make anything weird, did she?"

Isabel grinned. "Well, she wanted to make something called ratatouille, but I appealed to her sense of traditionalism, so we had yams instead."

Max just looked at her questioningly, and she shook her head.

"Something with eggplant. Don't ask."

"Where is Mom?"

"She forgot the peaches for the peach cobbler, so she had to run to the store."

Max wandered over to the refrigerator and got out a bottle of juice.

"Did you and Liz get everything worked out?" Isabel asked as she searched through the cabinets for a baking dish.

Leaning back against the counter, Max studied his juice intently, and picked at the label on the bottle with his thumbnail. "Uh...yeah. We're gonna- we're gonna be friends."

Isabel sent a puzzled glance at the top of his downbent head. "Is that what you want?"

He shrugged.

"Liz is okay, though, right? I mean she isn't being threatened or anything is she?"

Max looked up at her sharply. "What do you mean?"

At his look, Isabel paused uncertainly, then said slowly, "Well, I mean, who was that guy that made her do all those things? Was he a shapeshifter or something?"

He looked at her narrowly and asked, "Isabel, what are you talking about?"

She looked sick as realization set in. "She- she didn't tell you?'

"Tell me what?"

Isabel didn't know what to say. She couldn't believe Liz hadn't told him. What was going on with her?

She hated to divulge a secret if Liz had a reason for keeping it, but what if she was in trouble? She was certain that Liz had seemed as if she hadn't wanted to do any of the things she'd done to Max, but that Max-looking guy had forced her to. What if it had been some kind of enemy who was trying to hurt Max somehow? The best way to get at him would definitely be to go through Liz.

Granted, it wasn't a life or death kind of threat, but ever since Liz had seemingly betrayed Max, his head had been somewhere else. And it was causing him to make impulsive, dangerous decisions like going off to New York with those duplicates.

Looking at it like that, it did seem life-threatening.

"Tell me what, Isabel?" Max repeated more demandingly.

"Max. I-I got flashes from Liz when I helped her connect with you in New York."

He tensed. "What did you see?"

She took a deep breath. "I would respect her decision to keep this from you, Max, but...I'm worried for her. I-I saw someone making her do what she did to you. Telling you she didn't want to die for you, setting you up with Tess. And Max, she-she didn't sleep with Kyle."

She waited anxiously for his reaction.

Max's head was spinning with confusion. Why would someone force her to hurt him? What could anyone gain by that?

He swallowed hard. If this was true, he'd treated her horribly. And all the while, she was being threatened.

"W-why do you think it was a shapeshifter?" he asked hoarsely.

"He looked like you, Max. Only older."

His brows lowered. "He looked like me?"

She nodded.

So was the time-traveling alien a shapeshifter, he wondered. Liz had said she trusted him, but had he tricked her somehow?

Max couldn't make sense of any of it. Out of everything Isabel was saying, only one thing seemed consistent with what he'd found out from Liz. If she was being threatened, that would explain the fear and panic he'd felt from her.

His first impulse was to go tearing back over to the Crashdown to make sure Liz was okay, but Max forced himself to remain calm. He needed more information first.

"Isabel, tell me everything you saw."

Chapter 8

Liz had just gotten off the phone with Maria after talking for almost an hour about everything that had happened that day. Maria had been totally blown away and kept lamenting that she'd missed out on everything.

Her mom had a date with Sheriff Valenti tonight, and Maria had gone with her to Carlsbad to shop for something to wear. Maria had complained, with amusement, that Amy was acting like a teenager with a date for the prom.

She was coming over tomorrow and had made Liz promise to give her a small demonstration of her powers. Liz had laughed and protested that it seemed as if she had to have a Czechoslovakian to connect to before she could do anything, and Maria had promised to drag Michael along if she had to.

"But I gotta tell ya," she had quipped, "it looks like you'd better be getting your citizenship papers ready, girlfriend. Seems as though you might have a little Czech blood yourself now."

Liz wasn't quite sure how she felt about that anymore. She still shied away from thinking about it too much as it made her very uneasy.

She was about to get up and find out what her mom was fixing for dinner, when she heard someone tapping on her window.

It was Max. She smiled a bit quizzically at him in welcome. He'd only left about an hour ago, she hoped nothing was wrong. As she crossed over to open the window for him, something in his posture and the set of his mouth set off warning bells in her head.

Throwing open the window, she said, "Max. Is everything okay?"

Climbing in silently, he gave her a look filled with intent.

"I don't know, Liz. Is it?"

Trepidation filled her, and she couldn't tear her eyes away from his. "W-what do you mean?"

"I know I said I wouldn't push this, and I'm sorry. But I need to know the truth. If you're in trouble, Liz, I can help you," he said earnestly.

"What are you talking about, Max? I thought we already had all this settled."

"That was before Isabel told me someone was forcing you to do something you didn't want to do. Is that true, Liz?" he asked, his eyes shadowed with worry.

"What? No. Why would Isabel think that?"

He gave her a direct look. "She saw flashes. When you two connected with me in New York."

Liz's eyes widened. Why had that never occurred to her? And how could Isabel tell him?! Didn't she realize she was putting her own life at stake?

"So, w-why does she think I was being forced? Exactly what did she see?"

"She saw you trying to set me up with Tess, and she saw you practicing your speech before you came to my room. She saw you crying on your balcony and saying you didn't want to do this anymore," Max paused deliberately. "And she saw you set me up so I'd think you and Kyle had slept together."

He saw the truth in her eyes before she lowered them to the floor, and his own eyes slid shut briefly as relief flooded over him. She didn't sleep with him, she didn't sleep with him. The words played over and over in his head, and something seemed to shift, as his world righted itself again. Believing that lie about her had caused him to doubt everything; Liz, himself, the world and everything in it. Now everything made sense again.

He heaved a cleansing sigh, then opened his eyes to look at her, willing her to look up at him and tell him the truth.

"She also said the entire time you were doing those things, there was a man there who looked like me."

The silence after that statement was profound.

Liz refused to look up from her study of the floor. Her heart pounded heavily and a strange mixture of dread and relief churned sickeningly within her. He knew! He knew the truth. What was going to happen now? The future Max had warned her of loomed threateningly, and she almost expected the earth to tremble beneath her feet in a portent of disaster.

At her continued silence, Max struggled to put it all together himself. "Was it a shapeshifter, Liz? Did he- did he threaten you or something?"

Liz sighed with defeat. There was really no reason to hide this from him anymore. The only piece he was missing was the part his future self played in all this. She sent a silent apology to that future Max for failing him.

Liz shook her head. "He wasn't a shapeshifter, Max. And he didn't threaten me. Well, I mean, he did, but not the way you think."

When nothing more was forthcoming, he sighed. He was having to drag this out of her one word at a time, and his mind was racing to supply the missing details.

Suddenly, like tumblers falling into place, something clicked in his mind. A time-traveling alien. An older him. Someone she trusted. As the idea formed in his mind, he was horror-stricken.

"Was it– was" he choked, disbelievingly.

Her eyes, huge and solemn, locked on his. Slowly, she nodded.

Anguish exploded within him, and he sucked in a deep breath.

Shaking his head, he asked achingly, "Why? Why would I tell you to do something like that?"

Tears filled her eyes at the pain in his voice. She thought he must feel as if he'd been betrayed by his own self, and she hurried to give him the reason why.

"He said that enemies had taken over the earth, Max, and we needed to try and keep that from happening. He said that you and I- we made love, a-and after that, everything changed. Tess left Roswell because of us, and you needed her to fight. The four of you, you're like a complete unit, and without her you weren't as strong. So, he said we...we had to get you and Tess together. And we had to get you to fall out of love with me."

Max kept shaking his head in denial and she could see the sheen of tears in his eyes.

Her own tears overflowed.

"I'm so sorry, Max," she said in a throbbing voice. "I'm so sorry for hurting you like that. We just- we didn't know what else to do. Y-you just wouldn't give up." A breathless gust of tearful laughter escaped her. "You were making what we were trying to do so much harder, but..." her eyes glittered with emotion as they looked deeply into his, "thank you, Max. Thank you for loving me that much."

"Liz," he said, his voice broken.

Then he rushed across the room to enfold her tightly within his arms.

"I do love you," he vowed tearfully. "And I'm the one who's sorry. He- I should never have asked that of you. It was too much to ask!" his voice cracked.

She tucked her face into his neck, and he cradled the back of her head. "And I must have made it so much worse for you. I treated you so badly," he choked, his hand fisting in her hair. "I'm so sorry, Liz. I-I never should have lost faith in you," he said, his voice guilt-ridden.

"No. It's okay, Max," she reassured him, rubbing his back gently. "I understand. I do. I don't know how I could have handled it, you know, if the situation had been reversed. And you already had so much other stuff going on; the Skins, the town disappearing, the summit. I'm so sorry to give you something else to deal with on top of all that."

"It wasn't your fault," he said, then laughed bitterly in acknowledgement. "It was my own."

He was silent for a contemplative moment, then shook his head. "I just don't understand what I could have been thinking. How could he put all that responsibility on your shoulders? He- I shouldn't have done that! What kind of person do I become that I could do that to you?" he asked tightly in anger.

"There was a lot at stake, Max. And...and I think he was just- desperate. He-you-he told me that Michael had died in his arms 30 minutes before he came here.

His hand clutched at the fabric of her sweater at the small of her back.

She continued hesitantly. "A-and he said Isabel died two weeks before that."

Max closed his eyes and dropped his forehead to her shoulder, and her fingers threaded through his hair to tenderly cup the nape of his neck.

"You see? There's so much at stake here, Max. In the face of all that, how much importance can we place on our feelings?"

He pulled back to look at her and shook his head, his eyes shining with admiration and love. "You've been so strong," he said wonderingly. "How could you be so strong, Liz?"

She swallowed. "It was really hard," she admitted in a whisper. "Lying to you-hurting you, it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, Max. It- I think- it felt like something in me died, when I did that to you. And I don't ever want to lie to you again. Not ever." Her eyes clung to his, dark with pain and sincerity.

Pulling her close against him, he moved to rest his cheek against the side of her head and stroke the length of her hair. There was a healing comfort in the gentle embrace, and they soaked it in like the parched desert floor drinking thirstily of the rain. It was the first true peace they had both felt in over six months, and they relished the solace it brought to their bruised souls.

Hating to break the tranquility of the moment, Max spoke reluctantly. "When does all this happen? To Isabel and Michael."

"In fourteen years," she answered quietly.

After a moment, he asked, "And you're sure it was me? I mean, how do you know he wasn't a shapeshifter, Liz?" He pulled back to look at her. "You said he proved it to you. How?"

"He came right before you sang to me that night, and he told me you'd be here with the mariachi band. He told me he spent a week learning the lyrics from Mr. Delgado. And when you threw the roses up to me, when they changed color, he said you changed them because you remembered that I preferred white ones. He told me before it happened. And he just knew things. About you, and me...about us. I'm sure he was telling the truth, Max."

He nodded thoughtfully. "And he said things changed, Tess left, after we...made love?

Flushing a little, Liz nodded. "He said it happened the night of the Gomez concert."

As Liz watched while he silently processed everything, a look of amusement began to grow in her eyes.

"Did you really bring protection that night?" she asked, a smile hovering on her lips.

The expressions that flew in rapid succession across his usually serious face were priceless. Shocked surprise, comprehension, and chagrin, all painted in an interesting shade of red.

She burst into quiet laughter, and he smiled sheepishly in response.

"I can't believe he told you that," he muttered.

"You told me that," she corrected him, poking his chest gently for emphasis.

He caught her finger playfully, and enclosed it within his fist.

Shaking her head in mock astonishment, she teased, "Max, the saint. Walking around with a condom in his back pocket."

His face turned an even deeper red, and she laughed.

"It's not like- I don't just...carry one around with me all the time," he tried to explain himself. "It was just...that night- I was desperate, Liz. I was determined to make you admit that we belonged together, no matter- no matter what I had to do." He studied her closely to judge her reaction. "I wouldn't have forced you or anything," he hurried to assure her. "I just...was hoping you'd finally give in to your feelings and tell me that's what you wanted. I wanted that so much, I guess I wasn't really thinking straight."

There was silence for a moment before Liz admitted, wide-eyed, "I would have."

They stared at one another as what they'd lost fully hit home.

Liz had meant every word she'd said when she'd told Future Max that she wasn't ready for sex yet. But if a determined Max had come to her, bent on seduction, she could easily see herself giving in to him. And she had, in that other life, the one they'd changed.

As they realized what that Liz and Max had given up, sorrow overtook them both, and Max brought her captured finger to his lips to gently kiss the tip of it in regret.

Knowing that they were sharing the same thoughts, Liz said softly, "We would've gotten married, too. He said we eloped when we were 19."

It caused pain to stab at Max's heart to know what might have been. It must have been an uncharacteristically impulsive act for the two of them, and it made him sad to think that now they would always have to worry about making careful, responsible decisions that wouldn't bring about the future that they'd been warned about.

"I guess...we just rushed things too much," Max said quietly.

Liz nodded sadly in agreement.

"We'll have to be more careful this time. Take things slow," he said.

"What?" She pulled away from him. "Max. This doesn't mean- we can't be together."

Max frowned in alarm. "Of course we can. We just have to make sure everything is different this time, that's all."

"No, Max. We-we can't. You- the future you- said we couldn't be together. We had to get you together with Tess. It's the whole destiny thing all over again. We just...weren't meant to be," she said in quiet heartache.

Max shook his head firmly. "I don't believe that. You're the only one for me, Liz, and you always will be. If all we have to do is keep Tess from leaving, then I don't see why we have to be together romantically. Things have changed between her and me. We've become friends. If we told her about all this, once she knew how important it was, I think she'd stay."

"You don't know that. I mean, sure, she might even say that now, but who knows what she would do if she was forced to stand by and watch us together? If it were me, I couldn't bear it."

"I don't think it would bother her, Liz. She doesn't feel that way about me anymore. She's accepted what you mean to me, and I think she's given up on all that destiny stuff."

Liz chewed on her lip and looked at him in indecision. The only time she'd spent any length of time with Tess since the destiny message had been when she'd gone to her at Kyle's to try and help her get together with Max. Even though it had obviously been hard on her pride, she had listened intently to all of Liz's advice. The utter determination with which she'd attempted to follow everything Liz told her to the letter, said something to Liz about how much she still wanted to be with Max. If he thought all Tess wanted from him was friendship, Liz was afraid he was mistaken.

"No," Liz shook her head, unable to shake her fear of making the wrong choice and being responsible for the fall of Earth. "Future Max didn't want to risk going to Tess, and I don't think we should either."

"But, Liz, things were different between Tess and that Max. I mean, we've already changed that. Tess is becoming more a part of us. I realized I was treating her badly, we all were, and we've been working on changing that and making her feel included. Now that we know how much depends on it, we'll just work harder."

"We can't predict what she'll do, Max. It's just- it's impossible. And there's so much at stake. How can we possibly risk it?"

When he made no reply, she went on to say, "And it's not just that. What if that other Max was right? What if you do need to be a couple? Max, I-I don't see how we could just ignore all of this and get together anyway. I couldn't be happy that way. Could you?"

Max couldn't accept what she was saying. There had to be a way to work this all out. Why wasn't she helping him to think of a solution instead of arguing against their being together? He realized suddenly that she hadn't actually said that she still loved him and he quietly began to panic.

"Don't you want to be together, Liz? Don't me?"

The look in his eyes tore at her heart, and she threw her arms around him to pull him close and reassure him. "Of course I do! You're my reason for being alive."

He clutched at her desperately, unwilling to let her get away from him.

She went on, "Being without you, I've felt like the best part of me was missing. And ever since last month, when I thought you...hated me," his arms tightened around her in remorse, "I- sometimes, I just didn't know if I even had a reason for going on."

Max squeezed his eyes shut. He knew exactly how she'd felt. It had been an effort for him just to get up out of bed each day, knowing that it would be just as dark and empty as the last. Liz was his light. Without her, his life was simply a joyless stumbling from one meaningless moment to the next, and happiness was only a brief and colorful memory of something he'd held in his arms once, long ago. Knowing that he'd made Liz's darkness even more suffocating with his cold attitude toward her filled him with shame.

Cupping the back of her head, he pressed his lips tenderly to her forehead in atonement. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm so sorry. I could never hate you, Liz, and I should never have let you think I did."

She closed her eyes and sighed, and he leaned down to rest his forehead against hers.

"I love you, Max. I'll always love you. And I do want to be with you. I mean, of course I do. But I'm so afraid of what could happen. And it would be our fault."

"We won't let it happen," he said determinedly.

"What if we can't stop it? I mean, once we tell everybody, it won't even be up to us anymore."

"Well," he said slowly, as an idea formed in his mind, "what if we don't tell them?"

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:43:20 AM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 5:44:47 AM
Chapter 9

"What do you mean?" Liz asked, her brows furrowed with confusion. "If we were together, don't you think they'd notice? I mean, we'd have to tell them something."

Max thought he had hit upon the perfect solution if she would only agree to it. Well, it wasn't perfect, he amended, but it would allow them to be together, and now that the possibility was within his reach, he wouldn't give it up easily. He couldn't.

"We just won't tell them the whole truth. We can say that I've forgiven you for what you did with Kyle," she grimaced, and he winced in apology, "and we've decided to take things slow. Kind of like Isabel and Alex's relationship used to be. Not be all intense, like a 'soulmates back together' kind of thing, but like friends- close friends," he grinned, "with the possibility of something more serious. That way we could kind of feel Tess out, see how she'd react to us being back together."

He looked closely at Liz to gauge her reaction.

She looked into his eyes with a half-smile, intrigued by the idea. She could see its possibilities. They could be together. And they wouldn't have to worry about how it would affect anyone else if no one knew about it. It would mean continuing to keep the secret, but at least Max knew the truth now. That was the most important thing. It might even be kind of fun to sneak around with him.

"It would mean lying to everyone, though, Max. And I'm really sick of lying."

"Yeah, I know. But it'll only be temporary, until we can figure out what might happen when everyone knows we're back together. If we think Tess is gonna be okay with it, then we can talk to her first, before telling everyone else. It probably won't be for long."

Liz asked hesitantly, "But what if she isn't okay with it?"

Max took a deep breath. "Well...we'll just- we'll have to deal with that when it comes. But I really think it's going to be okay, Liz. I honestly don't think she's going to mind."

Liz let that go without comment. "A-and what about the destiny thing? What if your future self was right about you and Tess needing to be a couple?"

Max shook his head. "He couldn't know that, Liz. I mean, how could he? It didn't happen that way, and there's no way for him to know what it would have changed unless it had happened that way. It was just speculation on his part."

Liz just couldn't seem to let it go. "But what if he learned something, about your past, or your home, and that's how he knew it had to be?"

Max wanted to soothe all her fears, and if she needed to list them one by one, he was willing to be her sounding board.

"Did he tell you that?" he asked.

"No. But he said he couldn't tell me too much, only what I needed to know."

"Well, don't you think that would be something you would need to know?"

"I would think that. But who knows what a leather-clad warrior out to save the world would consider essential information," she grumbled.

Max arched a brow, and she smiled sheepishly as she realized what she'd just said. "Um, would you consider it essential information?"

"If I were out to save the world?" he asked with amusement. "I would think it might be pertinent, yeah."

She smiled wryly and cut her eyes to the side before bursting into quiet laughter. Max chuckled in response.

It felt so good to laugh with him again! It created a warm glow within her, and she felt hope stirring to life in her heart. After everything they'd been through, if they could still manage to come to the point where they could actually laugh about what had happened, then surely they could overcome anything.

His deep, soulful eyes were alight with laughter, and she loved seeing them that way. The sadness they had contained since she'd lied to him had haunted her. But there were no shadows there now. The dancing lights within them made his eyes look more green than gold, and she was riveted by their beauty.

Until the happy curve of his lips claimed her attention.

Max's laughter was arrested as he noticed the way her velvet eyes had focused intently on his mouth. His heart began to thud heavily as warmth coursed throughout his body.

He'd missed seeing this look on Liz Parker's face. This look that said she was absolutely fascinated by him, and was held in awe by the feelings he evoked. It made him feel at once ten feet tall and utterly humbled to think that she could feel this way about him. It had torn him apart to think that Kyle might have received even one of these looks from her dark eyes. These looks belonged to him and him alone, Max thought possessively.

He held his breath as Liz lifted a finger in seemingly slow-motion to graze his lips. The simple touch electrified him, and his breath escaped in a rush.

"Liz!" he whispered longingly.

How long had it been since he'd felt her lips on his, he wondered desperately. It seemed like another lifetime ago. He wanted to just scoop her up against him the same way he had that time in the back room of the Crashdown, the night of the strawberry kiss. He'd been driven to the Crashdown that night by an urgent need unlike anything he'd ever felt before. Once he'd gotten there, he'd tried to keep himself under control, but Liz had brushed teasingly against him again and again, slowly driving him insane. He'd finally just had to grab her for one of the most breathtaking kisses he'd ever experienced.

The feelings surging through his body now rivaled anything he'd felt that night. He wanted to kiss her more than he wanted his next breath, but he clenched his fists and forced himself to remain still underneath Liz's caressing fingertip. He would let her set the pace. He was aware that she hadn't actually agreed to his plan for them to be together, and he didn't want to push her. He would let her call the shots. Even if it killed him.

Liz traced the outline of his lips lightly, and when they parted for her, she dipped her finger slightly inside his open mouth to test the texture of his soft inner lip. She gently stroked the fullness of his bottom lip, leaving behind a trail of dampness that felt white-hot. Her eyes were heavy-lidded as they latched covetously on the perfection of his mouth. Memories of every pleasure that mouth had ever given her flooded her mind, and heat rushed through her, awakening an exacting hunger that caused her insides to quiver with yearning.

Max had remained passive as long as he could. The urge to touch her became a living thing that he could no longer suppress, and he eased his hand up to cup the underside of her jaw, while looking deeply into her eyes. His thumb brushed across her lips in a feathery caress, and they responded by parting on a long, shuddering intake of air. Her eyes clung to his as she whispered his name.

Her hand had dropped to rest on his chest, and she could feel the pounding of his heart through the thin material of his shirt. All her thought processes ceased to function, as her world narrowed down until it consisted of nothing more than their racing hearts and the feel of the soft pad of his thumb as it stroked across her lips again and again. The repetitive movements felt hypnotizing, and her lips began to feel tingly and hypersensitive. Her eyes dropped to his lips again as the craving to feel them against her own became the single driving force of her life.

The dark heat in her eyes as they focused avidly on his mouth once more made his breath come quicker. The strain of holding himself in check actually had him trembling. Her hand slid up his chest to slip behind his neck and urge his head down to hers, while her lips lifted temptingly towards his. Max needed no further prompting. His lips closed over hers hungrily and she eagerly welcomed them with a breathy moan.

His hands gently cradled the sides of her face, and the warm familiarity of the gesture brought tears to her eyes. She granted his tongue immediate entrance into her mouth the moment it came searching for hers, and upon discovery, they tangled hotly together as his lips greedily ate at hers in gentle, consuming bites. She cupped his jaw in the palm of her hand, and met each hungry pass of his mouth with one of her own. As his lips tore away from hers to glide across her cheek to the curve of her neck, she dropped her head back with a gasp, and reveled in the feelings he brought to life in her. She'd been so afraid that she'd never know the exhilaration of his kisses again.

Only Max could make her feel like this. No one else but Max.

Their lips came together again, as if unable to remain apart for long, now that they had rediscovered their counterparts. With a blinding flash of light that exploded behind their eyelids, the connection between them came to life. Images and emotions came pouring through, and drowned both of them in the heady feeling of being filled and utterly surrounded by the one they loved. They gasped for breath as they were completely overcome with the physical and mental sensations. Each of them ran the gamut of emotions as they experienced what the other had been through since they'd been apart.

The feel of Max's pain left Liz clutching at him in an effort to take it all away, and she whimpered softly. Pulling her tightly against him in response, Max gentled their kiss to soothe and comfort the hurt he felt in her. He speared his hand through the dark silk of her hair to cup the side of her head and tuck it closer to his. He poured feelings of hope, love, apology, and forgiveness into the kiss, as his lips softly closed over hers again and again. The tender kisses he rained across her cheek, her eyelids, and up to her forehead were a healing balm, and she gloried in them. She offered gentle consolation of her own in the delicate kisses she pressed on the strong column of his throat. His hand fisted in the hem of her sweater.

"I love you, Liz," he whispered fiercely.

"I love you, too," she returned, and burrowed herself in his arms. He gladly gave her shelter, wrapping her more securely within his embrace, his head bent over hers protectively.

Bound tightly in one another's loving arms, they breathed in peace by the starving lungful, and released all the pain and heartache, until they felt whole again.

Chapter 10

Liz came through the swinging door of the Crashdown to find Max, Michael, Isabel, and Tess in their usual booth. Her face lit up, and she couldn't contain the broad smile that broke over her face as Max's dark eyes met hers. His answering smile was quickly subdued, and he gave her a mild look of admonition.

Remembering suddenly that they were only supposed to be friends- close friends, she attempted to compose her expression into one of friendly greeting.

Approaching their table, she said, "Hi, guys."

Michael's nod coincided with Tess's brief greeting.

"Hi," Isabel returned hesitantly, as if uncertain of her reception.

Liz wanted to assure her that everything was fine between them, and smiled warmly at her. Max had explained to her last night that Isabel had only told him about the flashes of Future Max because she figured Liz had already told him. She didn't hold anything against Isabel for telling Max, and she hoped her friendly smile was enough to let her know that.

Isabel visibly relaxed and returned the smile.

Finally Liz's gaze rested on Max. His eyes were shining with admiration and gratitude on Isabel's behalf, and Liz could feel herself getting lost in the mysterious depths of them. His dark hair was wind-blown, he was wearing his black leather jacket over a bright blue t-shirt, and he looked positively kissable. She just loved Max in leather. A secret smile stole across her face, and Max's cheeks grew flushed in response.

Isabel cleared her throat, and they were abruptly pulled back into the world around them.

"Uh- hey, Liz," he returned her greeting belatedly.

"Hey, Max." She smiled at him, then glanced at the others to see if she and Max had blown their covers already.

Isabel was looking down at the table with a small smile, Tess was looking between Max and Liz with mild suspicion, and Michael returned her look with a speculative one of his own.

Trying to appear as innocent as possible, she asked, "Um, did you guys order anything?"

"We've eaten, thanks. We were just waiting for you," Max replied.

They had decided to meet here this morning, before heading out to the rock quarry to find out more about Liz's abilities. It was Sunday, and she and Michael both were off work today, since they'd worked yesterday.

Liz nodded. "Well, I'm ready, but we have to wait for Maria. I hope you don't mind that I asked her along, but she was a little disappointed about missing out on everything that happened yesterday. She wanted to come today and watch." As well as offer a little moral support, but Liz refrained from mentioning that.

Isabel answered, "We can always use an extra pair of eyes to help keep a look out for anyone who might accidentally come up on us while we' know. Right, guys?"

Max and Tess nodded in agreement, and all eyes turned questioningly toward Michael.

"What?" he asked. "It's fine. Whatever. "

Isabel and Max scooted down to make room for Liz to squeeze into the booth next to Max, and they settled in to wait for Maria.

Max and Tess had been filling them in on everything that had happened at the summit, and now they quietly began a discussion about Nicholas, and how he had managed to show up alive.

A few possible explanations were tossed about, and then talk slowly moved to the role Nicholas had played in the summit. After making the observation that he was obviously able to communicate with Khivaar on their world, Max slid his foot over to gently nudge Liz's in friendly greeting. Hiding a smile, Liz responded by bumping the side of her foot up against his in a light kiss of shoe leather.

Isabel agreed with Max, telling them about the things Nicholas had said to her about Khivaar when they'd been in Copper Summit. She began questioning them about everything they'd heard about Khivar while sharing what she knew, and Max added his comments to Tess' as they answered intermittently. His expression was one of seeming absorption with the conversation, while underneath the table, Max's foot was toying affectionately with Liz's. Each part of his foot found its mate on hers and demonstrated its adoration, and she lovingly returned every stroke. Heels and ankles rubbed against each other amorously, toes brushed teasingly, and insteps slid together in a slow, breathless glide.

It was ridiculous for such small, odd caresses to be so exciting, Liz told herself, but her body had been deprived of Max's touch for far too long, and any opportunity to touch him now was a thrill. The secretiveness of their actions added to her exhilaration. Their friends sat there within touching distance, completely oblivious to the intimacies Max's foot was committing upon hers.

Liz listened quietly as Tess mentioned something that Laanie and Rath had told them about Khivaar, and then they went on to talk about the Dupes and where they might have disappeared to. Occasionally Liz would insert a remark or question of her own, but most of her attention was focused on the unusual make-out session that was afoot beneath the table. Boldly, she became the aggressor, and proceeded on to the next base, seductively twining her lower leg around Max's so that her foot rested between both of his. Slipping her foot out of her loafer, she pushed up under the cuff of his pants with her sock-clad toes, and flirtatiously began stroking his ankle and calf.

Max glanced at her sideways with a roguish half-smile, and Liz peeked up at him through her lashes and allowed a tiny grin in return. She turned her head away to find Tess looking at them from her spot directly across the table, and froze.

She knew Tess couldn't know what was going on under the table unless she had some kind of x-ray vision they weren't aware of, but Liz suddenly became aware of how close together she and Max were sitting. The way their legs were tangled together had them practically glued to one another's sides.

Slowly, she began to edge away from him.

Max looked down at her in question as she pulled away, and followed her gaze across the table to catch Tess' stare. He tightened his legs around hers in a brief hugging motion, then allowed Liz to move away.

Tess watched them for a moment more, before Isabel claimed her attention with a question.

Liz hugged the end of the bench seat, and shook with reaction. Her heart pounded heavily, and she silently berated herself for acting so carelessly in front of Tess. While she and Max had been acting so playfully, she'd allowed herself to forget for a few minutes about what hung in the balance here. But she couldn't allow herself that luxury. They had to watch every move they made. Too much depended on it.

Wanting to be alone for a few minutes, Liz told the others that she was going to go to the back to make a quick phone call to check on Maria, then made her escape.

When she reached the break room she dropped down on to the couch and leaned her head back to stare at the ceiling. Taking deep breaths, she forced herself not to think about Tess and Max and the end of the world, and after a short while she felt somewhat steadier.

Before heading back out, she picked up the phone to try Maria's house. Receiving no answer, she hung up, and turned just in time to see Max slipping in through the swinging door.

Her calm quickly fled.

"Max! What are you doing?" she hissed with distress. "You're going to give us away!"

"No one saw me," he assured her, "I told them I was going to the bathroom."

"Well, it's going to look suspicious. I should get back out there," she said, moving quickly towards the doors.

Max caught her by the wrist, and said, "Liz, wait. Please? A few more minutes isn't gonna hurt anything."

He pulled her around to stand in front of him, then lifted a hand to curl around the side of her neck, and gently tilted her face up towards his with a thumb underneath her jaw.

"Talk to me," he said imploringly, his amber eyes full of entreaty.

Liz gave in with a sigh.

"I just got scared, that's all. Did you see the way she was looking at us?" She looked up at him with worried eyes. "We aren't being careful enough about this, Max. I mean, she was sitting not two feet in front of us, and there we were playing footsie underneath the table! What were we thinking?"

"We were thinking it's been over six months since we've been able to touch each other, it's been 16 hours since we last saw each other, and we didn't get to kiss each other hello like we wanted to, so we settled for what we could." His tone was soothing, and his half-smile attempted to coax an answering smile from her.

The corner of her lip lifted in acknowledgement of the truth of his words, but her eyes remained sober.

"We can't afford to think like that, though, Max, or this will never work." Her gaze dropped down to his chest, and she began to play with the open edge of his jacket. "I know it's probably not the greatest idea we’ve ever had, but I really, really want this to work." Her fingers slid just underneath the leather of his jacket, and absently began to stroke up and down his chest along the edge of the coat. "That's why I think we'd better set some rules."

Max's eyes focused on the movements of her hands on his chest, and he took an unsteady breath. Distractedly, he asked, "What kind of rules?"

"You know...about, um- touching and stuff," Liz answered with bemusement.

She was quickly becoming diverted from the subject of their conversation by the feel of the hard muscles of his chest underneath the soft cotton of his t-shirt. An image of him as he'd looked in his room that night she'd interrupted him when he was doing chin-ups suddenly flashed in her mind. She'd only seen Max without his shirt a handful of times, and the beauty of his bare chest had never failed to take her breath away each and every time. She flattened her palm against the giving firmness of his pec, and slid against it exploringly. Licking her lips, she looked at his chest raptly as though she could see the bronzed muscles from her memory through his shirt.

"Liz," he said huskily.

She slowly dragged her eyes up to his.

"I think I need that hello kiss now," he told her.

She silently nodded her head in agreement.

He still had one hand wrapped around the side of her neck, and he used it now to pull her forward to meet his kiss. His mouth hovered over hers for a teasing second, making her yearn to have it on hers, before leaning down to softly lay claim to her lips. The warm slide of his mouth against hers sent sweet sensations stealing throughout her body, and every concern she'd had just moments ago vanished like the mist. His tongue stole out to brush teasingly against her lower lip, then boldly entered the hot cavern of her mouth to taste of its sweetness. When it pulled away to return to its home, hers eagerly followed to explore his familiar taste and textures. He changed the angle of the kiss, and his thumb stroked her cheek caressingly while his mouth continued to tenderly devour hers.

The startling sound of dishes clattering loudly together brought Liz jolting back to earth, and she reluctantly pushed against his chest and tore her lips from his.

"Max!" she gasped. "W-we have to stop! Someone could see."

Breathing heavily, he grudgingly let her push away, and rested his forehead against hers as they tried to get their racing hearts under control.

After several moments, he swallowed and said, "I'm sorry, Liz. I forgot for a second where we were. You're right, anyone could catch us back here." He pulled in a deep breath, and took a slow step back.

Liz couldn't let him go completely, and clutched the edges of his jacket in her fists to keep him from moving too far away.

He smiled wryly, and said, "Those rules you were talking about is probably a good idea, but I don't think we have time to discuss them right now."

Liz nodded, and unwillingly slid her hands free from his jacket. "Yeah, one of us should probably get back out there. We've been gone way too long."

"I'll go in just a minute," he offered. "I need to tell you something, first. I thought you should probably know that Isabel knows about us. I mean, about Tess, and the future and everything."

She looked up at him, and he shrugged apologetically. "She just wouldn't let it go until I told her everything."

Liz nodded in acceptance. "I was pretty sure it would be hard to keep it from her. There was so much of it she knew already, I knew you'd have to explain it somehow. It's gonna be really hard to lie to Maria, too. She already knows the whole story about the Max from the future. I told her last night that you and I had a long talk and we've decided to be friends, but I'm not sure how long she'll be satisfied with that."

With a nod of understanding, Max said, "We can trust them, Liz. They won't say anything."

"Yeah, I know. It'll actually be a relief to have two less people to hide this from. So far, I'd have to say that when it comes to you and me, we pretty much stink at subterfuge," she said dryly.

Max grinned. "I guess I'd have to agree. But it's only the first day. We'll get better, okay?"

He moved in close to give her a brief peck on the lips, then said, "I'd better get out there. You should probably go wash your face or something. If they saw you looking the way you do right now, I think it would be pretty obvious what's been going on back here."

Liz made a face. "Alright. I'll be out in a sec."

They turned to go in opposite directions, and after taking only a few steps, Liz turned around and called, "Hey."

Max turned to look at her inquisitively.

"I love you."

His expression softened, and his lips turned up in a beautiful heart-stopping smile.

"I love you, too," he replied.

With one last lingering look, they slowly turned away from each other.

When Max returned to their table he was met with looks of mild curiosity from the three sitting there.

"Didja fall in?" Michael asked caustically.

Max met his eyes, then looked away. "Oh. Uh, it was out of order, so I had to use the one upstairs in Liz's apartment."

The explanation seemed to satisfy everyone but Isabel, who looked at him with a twinkle in her eye.

"So where's Liz? And what's the hold-up with Maria?"

Max was saved from answering Tess' question by Liz's appearance at the swinging door. When she was half-way to their table, the bell over the front doors jingled, and everyone turned to see Maria entering the café.

"Hey, guys. Sorry I'm late," she said as she shuffled towards their table, then continued on past it toward the kitchen. "Just gotta get some coffee." They could hear her continue to mumble something about Reveille at the crack of dawn and Czechoslovakian calisthenics as she rounded the counter to pour herself some coffee.

They exchanged glances with one another.

Arching a brow, Isabel said, "It's after ten o'clock."

"Yeah, well, Maria's not exactly what you'd call a morning person," Michael said dryly, shaking his head.

They waited for Maria, then everyone piled into the jeep and the Jetta. Liz rode with her best friend, and once she'd gotten her jolt of caffeine, she filled Liz in on the gory details of her mom's date the night before. Maria had waited up for her until 3 a.m. and was not happy with the way things seemed to be headed with Amy and 'Jim'.

"Can you even imagine having Kyle Valenti for a stepbrother?" she asked in mid-rant. "I mean, I like Kyle, but living in the same house with him? No," she shook her head in firm denial. "My life would be changed irrevocably. Even just doing the laundry with them living there would become something that could scar me for life. Do you know how much it could damage my psyche to know what kind of underwear Kyle wears? Not to even mention the sheriff." She shuddered dramatically. "Living with the two of them until I turn 18 and can legally escape does not sound like a good time. And you know what else occurred to me at exactly 2:13 a.m. as I contemplated the joy that would be my life if the DeLucas joined the Valentis in holy matrimony?" She didn't wait for an answer, but forged ahead. "Tess is staying with them! She'd probably like, come along as part of the deal! I cannot live with Tess, Liz! I would just- I'd have to come live with you. Do you think your parents would adopt me?"

Liz smiled and shook her head. "Maria, calm down, okay? It was one date. I'm sure things can't be nearly as serious as all that."

"No, my mom really likes him, Liz. I can tell. She like, gets all giddy just talking about him."

"Well," Liz shrugged philosophically, "your eighteenth birthday isn't really all that far away. And, you know, Kyle is into Buddhism now, he could probably help you reach your inner peace. Just think. You'd never need your cedar oils again," she said, smiling impishly.

Shaking her head, Maria said, "Okay, clearly I have come to the wrong person for sympathy over Kyle Valenti."

"Kyle's a really good guy, Maria. A true friend. You could do worse for a brother. And as for Tess...okay, yeah, that would be really...hard. But look on the bright side. It might be kinda nice to have someone with Czech power around all the time. I mean, surely you can think of some advantages to having her Tess-o-vision at your constant disposal."

"Yeah, like she'd ever use it to do me a favor," Maria muttered.

"Well, you two could like, bond. She could become like the sister you never had," she returned, tongue-in-cheek.

Maria shot Liz a dirty look.

"I always thought you were like the sister I never had, but after this little conversation I'm beginning to rethink that whole issue."

Liz laughed. "I'm sorry. It's just- I think you're worrying prematurely, okay? I mean, even if your mom does marry the sheriff, who has turned out to be a really good guy too by the way, it's probably not gonna happen any time soon. You, Kyle, and Tess could be 18 before it ever happens. And your mom's happiness is the most important thing here, right?"

Maria nodded reluctantly. "You're right. I know you're right. But just ask your parents about the adoption thing, okay? Just in case."

Liz grinned.

They reached the quarry, and everyone got out and gathered around. Maria and Liz followed the others to a hidden cove down by the water’s edge. Enclosed on three sides by a steep bank of unmined rock, it was very secluded, and could only be seen if someone were standing directly on the edge of the top of the bank. The fourth side opened onto a wide expanse of water, with the added advantage of giving an unobstructed view of the entrance of the quarry, which was the only way to get inside by car. One person sitting at the top of the bank could easily spot anyone who might wander in on them.

They all instinctively looked to Max to take charge of the practice session, and he slipped into the leadership role smoothly, saying, "We're here because we want to try and find out what Liz is able to do, but the rest of us can always use the extra practice on our own powers. I thought we could kind of take turns working with Liz, and find out for sure if she's only able to go through us and use our gifts, or if she can do something that's unique to one of us while connected to someone who doesn't really have that ability. And if she's up to it, we could also see if she can do things on her own, like manipulate molecular structure."

Max looked at Liz. "We already know you're capable of doing what Isabel, Michael, and I can do. Today why don't you start with Tess, and see if you can do her mind warp?"

Liz and Tess looked at each other warily.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 27-Oct-2001 12:00:22 AM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 6:53:30 AM
Chapter 11

Liz was not looking forward to doing this. She was still very leery of this whole alien powers thing to begin with, and she especially dreaded the thought of connecting with Tess. She really didn't want the other girl in her head. And the mind warp kind of creeped her out. It just seemed so deceitful. She thought maybe she just perceived it that way because of the way Tess had used it earlier this year to manipulate Max. Liz decided then and there that if she did have this ability, she wouldn't use it unless it somehow became an absolute necessity.

Tess had her own reasons for not wanting to do this. She didn't want to find out that Liz had alien abilities. Tess felt that her only value to the group lay in the fact that she was able to do things the others couldn't do. They had finally started to make her feel included within their ranks, but she was afraid they still didn't have any particular fondness for her. Liz was an established member of their group, and if they found out that she was capable of the same powers that Tess, herself was, then what would they even need with her?

Tess looked over at Max, trying not to let her longing show in her eyes. He had just begun to warm up to her, and she'd thought they were finally beginning to get somewhere. She was afraid that their fragile relationship was doomed if he found out that the love of his life had the abilities she would need to stand by his side and help him fight their enemies. The thing with Kyle had been one of only two things that was keeping the two of them apart, and Max had told them that he’d forgiven Liz for that. Tess had felt secure in the knowledge that the second thing that stood in their way was something that only she, herself could provide for Max. And that was her power. As a human, Liz would never be able to offer Max what he would need in the fight for their people. Now it looked as if that would no longer be an obstacle either.

As she watched Liz walk across the cove towards her, Tess thought she could only hope that Liz would be unable to do this without her. Then they would still need her around.

Tess made a small sound of disgust at herself. When did I become so pathetic, she wondered.

Liz forced herself to move toward Tess by telling herself that connecting with her would be a good opportunity to find out how she really felt about Max. She cast a glance over at Maria to find her returning the look with one of sympathy. Maria grimaced and rolled her eyes, and Liz smiled, knowing her best friend knew exactly how she felt.

When she reached Tess' side, she pushed her hair behind her ear, and asked uncertainly, "So, um, what should I do?"

Tess glanced at Max, before looking back at Liz and shrugging. "I guess we should try and form a connection first."

She held out her hand and Liz hesitated a beat before reaching for it. She looked around nervously to find everyone focused on her and Tess like they were the main event at a boxing match. Liz threw Max a pleading look, and he interpreted it immediately.

"Why don't we give them a little time and go practice on our own for a while," he suggested. "Someone should go up top and keep watch, too."

Everyone nodded and moved away.

When Max turned to go, Liz called desperately, "Um, Max? Would you mind– could you stay?"

He gave her a soft look of understanding. "Sure," he said, and touched her back briefly in reassurance. "You'll need someone to do this on, anyway."

She smiled at him in gratitude, then quickly looked over at Tess to check her reaction. Earlier at the Crashdown, she'd almost completely forgotten that they were supposed to be feeling Tess out, so Liz tried to read the other girl now. She didn't know whether to feel relieved or disappointed that Tess seemed to readily accept Max's excuse for staying.

She simply pursed her lips, then asked, "You ready?"

Liz nodded reluctantly.

The two girls looked into each other's eyes and concentrated on forming a connection.

Tess considered blocking Liz's attempts to connect with her, but thought it might look suspicious, since Liz had had no problem connecting with the rest of them. Besides, as much as she disliked the idea, she really needed to find out what Liz's capabilities were. Nacedo had always taught her that it was best to know your enemies. While 'enemy' might be too strong a word in regards to Liz, she felt that the sentiment still applied.

It took several minutes before anything happened, and Liz took that time to push her thoughts firmly into hiding.

Suddenly she was pulled inside Tess' head forcibly.

Flashes flew in such rapid succession before her, that Liz wasn't able to comprehend them, but only get impressions of who they involved. Images of Max, Kyle, Nacedo, and Sheriff Valenti blended together in a confusing cacophony of sight and sound.

While watching the images flash past, Liz found that she was standing on a surface that felt extremely unstable. She stepped back in alarm, and the sudden movement made it abruptly give way beneath her, giving her the sinking sensation of falling. She came plunging to a halt only to become submerged in a liquid maelstrom of emotion. She tried to stay afloat, as feelings of confusion, conflict, loneliness, and desperate hope pulled her along in their undercurrents to a place where she became mired in an emotion that was thicker than the others. Liz knew instinctively that this was what Tess was feeling in the present moment, and the feel of it made her heart pound in a rhythm that perfectly matched Tess'. Because Tess was feeling threatened. By Liz.

Liz's fear made her falter, and her head went under the surface of the bubbling emotions. The suffocating feeling of drowning had Liz breaking the connection abruptly with a gasp.

Breathing heavily, Liz looked at Tess searchingly. Tess returned her look with one of confusion.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

Liz shook her head as if clearing it, and answered, "N-nothing. Sorry. I guess I just lost my concentration."

She took in Tess' cool blonde looks as if she'd never seen them before. She'd always thought that Tess was too much like Nacedo, who had shown no human emotion whatsoever. Who could have ever guessed at all that seethed underneath Tess' emotionless facade? And it was hard to believe that she felt uncertain of her position here. Tess had always seemed completely self-assured and confident. Liz suddenly recalled the comment Tess had made to her at Kyle's house about knowing how everyone hated her. Did she still feel that way, Liz worried. Max had said they'd been making her feel included, but her emotions seemed to suggest that she still didn't feel as if she belonged. Everything depended on them making her feel secure here.

Liz got even more nervous about doing this, knowing how it was adding to Tess' feelings of insecurity. So, should she refuse to do this, Liz wondered uncertainly.

She glanced up at Max, and he read the uneasiness in her gaze.

"Are you okay?" he asked, his forehead wrinkled in concern.

"Yeah, um, I'm fine. I just..don't know if I'm ready for this," Liz replied.

"No one is going to push you, Liz. You don't have to do this," he said softly.

Liz hesitated, and was surprised to hear Tess say reassuringly, "Don't be scared, Liz. We'll both be right here. Let's just see if you can do this."

She looked at Tess curiously, knowing that her words were in direct contrast to what she was thinking. Liz tried to figure out her motives, but came up with nothing. Trying to second guess her, Liz finally decided that the best way to reassure Tess would be to show her that she couldn't do this without her. She could only hope that that was truly the case, or the decision could backfire on her. Then again, she could be worrying for nothing. She might not be able to do this at all.

Finally, Liz nodded her assent.

She and Tess looked at each other and focused on opening the connection once more. When they had connected, Liz tried to go no further than the surface of Tess' emotions this time, and to just focus on what the other girl was telling her to do.

She had to do this by getting into someone's head and making them think they were seeing something that wasn't really there. Since Max was the only one whose presence she could sense mentally, he was really the only one she could try the mind warp on. Liz was hesitant to do this to him, though. It just seemed so wrong.

Sensing her reluctance, Max reassured her softly, "It's okay, Liz. I trust you."

His words caused Tess to look at him sharply, and Liz tried once again to read what she was thinking. She thought she saw surprise and maybe even sadness in the other girl's light blue eyes, but Tess quickly masked her reaction. She looked back at Liz, expressionless, and Liz sighed, then turned her attention toward the task before her.

She took a moment to decide what kind of illusion to create, then reached out to find Max's mind, entering into it easily once she'd found it. Her eyes slid shut in concentration, and after studying her for a moment, Tess followed suit.

Max watched the two frozen figures before him, and waited in curiosity to see if Liz would be capable of this ability. When nothing had happened after several minutes, he began to wonder if she couldn't do it, and he looked around searchingly to see if something was happening that he hadn't noticed. His search was interrupted when he heard someone walking up behind him, and he turned to see Michael approaching.

When Michael had reached him he said, "I need to talk to you for a second, Maxwell."

"Michael, can't this wait? We're kind of in the middle of something," Max said in slight exasperation.

"Look, this is important, alright?" Michael replied. "I've been wanting to say somethin’ to you since you got back from New York, but we haven't had a chance to talk alone. I'm sure Tess and Liz can get along without you for 3 minutes," he ended sarcastically.

When Max didn't respond immediately, he said, "Please, Max."

Max looked at him in surprise. For Michael to say please it really must be important, he thought.

He glanced at the girls, and Liz opened her eyes to look up at him, and said, "You might as well go ahead, Max. Even if I can do this, it may take me awhile. It seems kind of hard. Maybe Tess can give me some pointers while you're gone."

"Okay. Yell when you get ready."

Liz nodded.

He and Michael walked away a few feet and turned to face each other.

"What is it, Michael?" he asked.

Michael took a deep breath as if gearing up for something. "This is hard for me to say," he said, and squinted a bit as he rubbed at his eyebrow. Clearing his throat nervously, he said, "Okay, here goes. I want to...apologize. For- you know, always givin' you such a hard time."

Max's eyes widened. He certainly hadn't expected to hear anything like that come out of Michael's lips.

Michael's eyes darted away uncomfortably, and he continued haltingly. "I know things haven't been easy. For you I mean, since we found out you're the leader of our planet. And I guess I probably haven't made things any easier- with all my Fearless Leader crap. Anyway, I just wanted to say...I'm sorry."

Max just couldn't believe what he was hearing. His close call in New York must have really affected Michael. Who knew that all it would take was one little near-death experience to bring Michael around?

"And, uh- I'm not gonna fight you- every step of the way anymore. I'm not promising anything, but I am gonna try to listen whenever you make a decision. And- I want you to know, from now on..." Michael dropped to one knee before Max and crossed his forearm across his chest, his closed fist resting over his heart.

Max's jaw dropped in astonishment.

"I will be your humble servant," Michael continued, bowing his head low. "Your Majesty."

Max stood gaping in disbelief, waiting for Michael to deliver the punch line...then sudden comprehension dawned.

He looked to the spot where Tess and Liz stood to find them in the same position he'd seen them in before Michael appeared. Smiles played across their lips. Suddenly they opened their eyes to look at each other, and both collapsed into giggles.

The image of Michael in front of him vanished.

Max couldn't help but chuckle, himself. Shaking his head, he looked across the way to see Michael sitting next to Maria at the water's edge. He looked back to the spot where the illusion of Michael had bowed before him and said wistfully, "Isn't there any way to make that happen for real? I mean, what's the use of even having powers if the three of us together can't manage to pull off a minor miracle like that?"

Laughingly, Liz asked, "Well, have you ever just asked Michael to call you 'Your Majesty', Max?"

"Yeah, Max," Tess took up the joke readily, "Michael's not completely unreasonable. I'm sure if you just asked him politely, he wouldn't have a problem with it."

"I can't imagine why I never thought of that," Max said dryly.

"What's going on over here? I thought we were supposed to be working," Michael complained, as he and Maria came over to join them.

Their laughter came to an abrupt halt, and they tried to hide their smiles as Liz replied innocently, "Nothing's going on, Michael."

His brows lowered, and he asked, "So what's the joke?"

"Oh, Liz and Tess were just giving me pointers on leadership etiquette," Max said facetiously.

Liz nodded her head once. With features drawn in seriousness, she said, "Right. Like, 'always remember to be polite'."

"Yeah," Tess added, "and 'never be afraid to ask for what you want. You might be surprised at the results'."

Michael looked suspiciously from one to the other as a few snickers escaped.

Looking at them curiously, Maria drawled, "Riiiight."

Max cleared his throat and shrugged. "Guess you had to be there," he said.

Giving them one last look that said he was aware he wasn't being let in on the joke, Michael let the matter drop. "So did she do it? Could she do the mind warp?" he asked.

"Yeah. She did it," Max replied with a small smile at Liz.

Tess watched Liz return Max's smile and said grudgingly, "She did well for her first try."

A budding feeling of companionship had sprung up between them in the aftermath of their shared laughter. For once, Tess had been in on the joke, rather than being the one who was left out to look on in confusion. As much as she hated to admit it, she felt a warmth toward Liz for making her feel included, and reluctant appreciation shone in her eyes. Liz saw it and smiled tentatively at her.

Isabel had come down from the bank top in time to hear Max tell them that Liz had been successful at the mind warp, and now she asked, "So, what next?"

Liz looked at Max questioningly and said, "Well, I could try and do a crossover like you said before. You know, like I could try and do the mind warp while connected to someone besides Tess."

"Why don't you try it with me," Isabel suggested. "We could also see if you can do the dreamwalk, or whatever it was, again. Max said you couldn't do it yesterday with him or Michael. We should make sure the only reason you couldn't do it was because you have to be connected with me."

"Yeah," Liz agreed. "We should find out whether I can reach anyone besides Max, too."

"Why don't we go over here and give it a little distance," Isabel said, inclining her head towards a spot across the clearing.

Liz followed willingly, and when they were several yards away from the group, Isabel turned to face her with an uncharacteristically nervous expression.

"It wasn't really necessary to move away from the others, but I wanted to talk to you for a second," she began.

"Isabel, I know what you're going to say, and it's okay," Liz interrupted. "Max explained everything to me, and I understand. Don't worry about it, okay?"

Unwilling to just let it go, Isabel said sincerely, "I really am sorry, Liz. I didn't mean to break a trust. I just figured you had already told him. I assumed that's what you meant you were going to do when you said we had to make everything okay."

"Well, I wanted to tell him. I was just afraid, you know? It's funny, but now that he knows, I mostly just feel relieved."

"I know exactly what you mean. I was keeping something from Max, too, and when Laanie told him about it, I felt the same way."

"Yeah, the Vilaandra thing?"

Isabel looked at her in surprise, her eyes questioning.

"Oh, I got flashes. Mostly from Max, but one from Michael, and vague impressions from you," Liz explained apologetically. "I'm sure I don't know the whole story, but I think I've got the gist. Sorry," she added with a wince and a half-shrug.

"Hey, who am I to object?" Isabel asked with amusement. "You know, we'd better not make a habit out of all this connection stuff, or none of us will have any secrets left."

Liz smiled sadly and said, "Yeah, well, secrets aren't really such a great thing anyway."

"Yeah," Isabel agreed, sobering quickly. "Max told me everything. About why that other Max came back, and what happened in the future. I hope that's alright. I kinda wouldn't leave him alone until he told me all of it."

"It's okay. I mean, you practically knew everything anyway. I knew he was going to have to tell you something. So, um, what do you think Tess would do if Max and I got back together?"

Isabel shrugged uncertainly, and she and Liz glanced over at the girl in question.

"Tess is pretty hard to read sometimes. She doesn't push the destiny thing anymore, but she does kind of stick close to Max's side. I honestly don't know how she would react, Liz, but I want you to know that I'll do whatever I can to help you and Max. There has to be a way to make her want to stay here without being together with him."

"Do you really think so, Isabel?" Liz asked, wanting to hear the words from someone who could be objective.

Sensing her need for reassurance, Isabel touched her arm briefly, and said, "Of course I do. You and Max belong together, Liz. I really believe that now. Tess would never be able to make him happy. But seeing you two together today, it's like having the old Max back. He needs you. And when you're lucky enough to find what you guys just have to believe it was meant to be, you know?"

"I really want to believe that, Isabel, but...what about his destiny?" Liz asked unsurely.

"I don't see why he would have to be with Tess to fulfill his destiny. I mean, Michael and I certainly aren't going down that road, so I don't see why Max should have to. If we were made to be this- fighting unit or whatever, I don't know why we would have to be romantically involved in order to fight together. Maybe we were together in our past, but we're completely different people now. Our people, our family- they just can't expect it to be that way now. It- it isn't fair to expect that from us on top of everything else."

Liz could hear the agitated frustration in her voice, and for the first time she realized how confusing and unsettling all this must be for Isabel. It would be hard enough to find out after living her own life for 18 years that she wasn't who she'd always assumed herself to be, but was someone who'd been engineered from the remains of a person who'd once been a traitor. But it must've been really disquieting to learn that she was expected to give up everything in the life she'd built for herself here to re-live the life of that traitor, become some kind of warrior, and fulfill the lofty goals that her mother had set before her. Not to mention the fact that those who'd recreated her had intended for her to marry someone she'd always believed was her brother. Liz could only imagine how insecure and powerless all that would leave Isabel feeling. This whole alien change of her own certainly had her freaking out, and Isabel's discovery went way beyond that.

Liz reached out and squeezed Isabel's forearm sympathetically.

"I'm sorry, Isabel. I guess I never thought about all this from your point of view before."

Isabel shrugged with dismissal.

Forgetting her own worries for a moment, Liz wanted only to reassure the other girl. "Don't worry. I'm sure everything will work out." She smiled nostalgically. "Someone very wise once told me we just have to follow our hearts, you know? To just trust them. If we follow wherever they take us, everything will turn out the way it should."

The mention of Grandma Claudia's words brought Liz a sense of comfort. Everything would turn out the way it should. She could rely on her heart to tell her which way to go in this thing with her and Max and Tess.

Isabel smiled softly. "That makes it sound so easy."

The sentimental moment was broken abruptly with Michael's shouted complaint.

"Would you two stop blabbin' over there and get on with it!" he yelled across the cove.

Isabel shot him a look of annoyance and turned back to Liz.

"Listen, Liz, I just had one more thing I wanted to say."

Liz looked at her inquisitively.

Isabel looked down at the ground in hesitation, before looking up at Liz with eyes full of emotion. "I wanted to say thank you. I can't believe what you were willing to do for me and Michael, and for Max, for everybody. I think you may be the most selfless person I've ever met. And I didn't realize that... well, that you were such a good friend. I'm sorry that I haven't really been very appreciative of that. But, I-I will from now on."

The shy sincerity of her words was so unlike her typical aloofness, and Liz was really touched. She hesitated briefly, then stepped forward to give Isabel a friendly hug. The gesture left Isabel moved as well, and she warmly returned the embrace.

"Hey!" Michael yelled impatiently. "Are we doin' this or what?"

Isabel backed away from Liz and turned to glare at Michael. "Maybe the first thing you should try and master on your own is one of Michael's energy blasts," she suggested.

Liz grinned. "Alien Power Blast," she corrected, recalling Michael's words from yesterday.


"That's what Michael calls it," Liz informed her.

Isabel rolled her eyes. "Only Michael would name his gift like something out of a Spiderman comic."


Isabel whipped her head around and cut Michael off before he could get out another word.

"Yell at us one more time, Michael, and I can promise you you'll be having nightmares for a month!" she shouted.

Only mildly subdued, Michael replied irritably, "Well, get on with it already!"

Hoping to forestall any further angry retorts, Liz interjected placatingly, "We should probably just get this done. Maria has to be at work by 1:00, and we really haven't gotten that much accomplished today."

Aiming one last death glare in Michael's direction, Isabel conceded, and she and Liz reached out to link hands and get to work.

Chapter 12

Giving up on the effort of changing the stone she was holding into any other form besides its present one, Liz tossed the rock away disgustedly.

"It's no use. I can't do it," she said in exasperation.

They had sat down to take a break after she and Isabel had worked together for about half an hour, and after resting for awhile, Isabel had started playing around with molecular structures. She had encouraged Liz to try it, and after walking her through it several times, left her to try it on her own. Liz had been at it for a while now, and it had been an exercise in frustration. She'd been moderately successful at changing some things, but she wasn't very good at it.

The first thing she'd tried had been to change the colors of different things, everything from items of clothing to a lipstick Maria had in her purse. She could usually get them to change colors without any help from the others, but they always turned into a pale, washed-out version of the color she was actually trying for.

Next, Max had brought her a soda he had in the jeep, and she'd tried to change its contents into water. The resulting concoction had been something that even Max with his bland alien palate hadn't been able to swallow. She'd also tried to change the temperature of the liquid in the bottle, and had managed to make it pretty hot, but she'd been aiming for boiling. She'd attempted to melt the metal of Michael's ring with no success. And she'd been playing with that stupid rock for almost 15 minutes, first trying to dissolve it in the same way Max had the bullet she'd been shot with, and when that hadn't worked, she'd simply tried to change its form in some way. In any way. But it remained annoyingly unchanged.

Liz glared at the hapless stone in defeat.

"Wanna just blast it?" Michael teased.

She threw a small smile his way.

Max was sitting beside her, and he said soothingly, "Don't worry about it, Liz. It just takes practice, that's all. You are capable of doing it on your own, though. At least we learned that." He rubbed her back comfortingly, and bent his head to look into her eyes. "Why don't you take a break, and then try something else. I think we've pretty much covered everything today but the shield and the energy blast. Which one would you like to work on?"

Besides working with Isabel before they'd sat down for a break, Liz had tried to do the dreamwalk and the mind warp while connected to all the others. So far, it seemed as though she was only able to perform with each person's ability while she was connected with that person, and not with anyone else. Although that wasn't completely conclusive, since she hadn't experimented with Max's and Michael's gifts yet.

In response to Max's question, Liz sent an uneasy glance towards Michael, and said, "Um, yeah, could we not do the power blast thing today?"

The energy blast really made her nervous. It was scary to know that she had the power within her to literally blow up anyone or anything she raised her hand to. And it was terrifying to be unsure of how it worked and whether or not she could even control it. She could understand now how Michael must have felt after he'd killed Pierce. Maybe not the guilt part, but the fear of this destructive force that lived inside them... yeah, now she could completely relate.

Michael shrugged with indifference, and said, "Hey, it doesn't matter to me."

Despite the nonchalance of his words, she was dismayed to see a hint of vulnerability in his eyes. She knew Michael was sensitive about how dangerous his ability was, and how he'd used it to kill. She didn't want him to think she was afraid of him, because she wasn't. She was fairly confident in his ability to control his power now. Maria had told her how hard he had worked over the summer to master it, and Liz trusted him. It was her own control over it she was worried about.

Liz sighed as she admitted to herself that the only way she would ever be able to feel confident about it was if she were to work on it, the same way Michael had. She forced herself to get up to go over to the spot where Michael was sitting.

Max caught her before she could move, and said quietly, "Liz, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. No one here is going to pressure you. It's totally up to you what you do with this."

She hesitated at his words. He was giving her an easy out, but as much as she wanted to take it, she also wanted to somehow get a sense of control over this thing.

Smiling in appreciation, she said, "Thanks, Max. But I really think I need to do this."

Max nodded and let her go, his eyes shining with admiration. He knew how wary she was of all this, and he was so proud of her for facing up to it the way she was. He could only marvel at the incredible amount of strength and bravery contained within her tiny frame.

Liz walked over to stand in front of Michael. Shifting her weight from one foot to the other, she tucked her hair behind her ear, and said uncomfortably, "Um, Michael, it's just scares me a little, you know? Because I don't know how to control it. Could you just...maybe- teach me?"

She saw understanding light his eyes before he climbed to his feet to face her. One corner of his lips turned up wryly as he said, "Well, I'm not exactly what you'd call the master of control, but I can teach you everything you ever wanted to know about crackin' rocks."

He walked across to the spot where she'd been sitting, and bent to pick up the rock she'd unsuccessfully tried to change. Walking back to her, he tossed the stone up in the air off the palm of his hand, and caught it deftly.

Grinning, he said, "What d'ya say we start with this one?"

Liz returned his grin and nodded, then turned to follow as he climbed the bank to move to a more open area. The others followed them up to keep watch, staying well back.

"Hey, not too close to my car, okay?" Maria called, as she chased after Michael and Liz. "All it would take is one stiff breeze to make my bumper give up the ghost," she said, referring to the fact that the bumper was only hanging on to the car by a thread.

When she caught up to them, Michael stopped, and demanded, "Where do you think you're going?"

"I thought I'd come along. Be Liz's cheerleader."

"Look, she doesn't need a cheerleader, alright? So, why don't you just take your pom-poms, and head back to the bleachers."

His tone suggested that she should be a good little girl and do as she was told, and it made Maria see red.

"You don't know what Liz needs, Michael. The fact of the matter is that she asked me to come today for moral support. So that's exactly what I'm going to give her whether you like it or not. That's called being a friend. You should try and get yourself one of those some day."

"Hey, I've got all the friends I need. Just because I don't sit around holding hands with them all the time does not mean I don't have friends."

"Yeah, more's the pity for them. With friends like you, who needs enemies?" Maria muttered.

"Come on, you guys. That's enough, alright?" Liz interjected looking at them both beseechingly.

Placing a gentle hand on Maria's upper arm, she turned to her best friend with an apologetic look and said, "Maria, I'm really sorry, but Michael's right. Although he could’ve been a lot nicer about it," she added, throwing a hard look in his direction.

He stood there with his arms crossed, staring off into the distance, as if letting them know he was no longer participating in this conversation.

Liz turned back to Maria, and rushed ahead with an explanation in an effort to erase the hurt she could see in her friend's eyes. "It's not that I don't appreciate you being here for me, Maria. I mean, you know I do, right? But the thing is, this thing- it's so unpredictable. I've only done it once before, and that time I wasn't even thinking about it. I don't know what's gonna happen when I try to do it again. And if I'm not able to control it..." looking away, Liz stopped and swallowed hard. Her eyes traveled back to look directly into Maria's, and she said sincerely, "I would just die if I accidentally hurt you, Maria."

A small shifting movement beside them drew both girls' attention over to Michael. His look of disinterest hadn't altered, but Liz and Maria looked back at each other to exchange a knowing look. Michael would die if that happened, too, and that's exactly what he'd been saying in 'Stone-Wall' language.

Mollified, Maria's lips curved up slightly. "Okay. I guess I'll just cheer you on from the stands then."

She gave Liz an encouraging hug, and said, "Good luck, babe. And don't worry. Michael will be here to help."

Liz nodded, and tightly returned the hug, in desperate need of the reassurance.

She watched Maria walk back to the group, then took a deep breath and turned to find Michael staring at Maria's retreating back. Liz thought she could see regret in his eyes before he noticed her watching him, then he hid it quickly.

He looked at her briefly, then promptly looked away. Clearing his throat, he said, "Hey- uh, listen. About yesterday. I'm sorry, okay? I mean, about that whole 'perfect Liz Parker' thing."

Liz lifted her brows and said, "Wow, Michael. That's the second apology you've given me in the past couple of months. Keep it up and I'll start to think you have a pretty sensitive guy hidden somewhere underneath that John Lennon hairdo."

He smiled sarcastically. "Nice. I go out of my way to apologize, and not only do I get mockery, I get yet another derogatory remark about my hair."

"I'm sorry." Liz laughed. "I guess you could say we're even now," she said impishly.

He looked at her with narrowed eyes, then the corner of his lip lifted and he shook his head.

"C'mon, let's go do this," he said, and Liz nodded.

He turned and moved away to place Liz's rock on top of a boulder with a relatively flat surface, then backed away several yards. Liz went to stand beside him, and tucked her hair behind her ear nervously.

"Okay, there's two ways you can do this," Michael told her. "You can pool the energy inside you, gather all of it you can, and hit the rock with it, the way you did with the mirror. Or, you can concentrate on getting inside the molecules of the rock, and sorta let your energy pool there until the rock explodes from the pressure. Obviously, hitting it from the outside would be the easiest way to go, since this particular rock seems to have the ability to block you," he smirked when Liz made a face at him, then continued, "but if you do it that way, you have to make sure you hit what you're aiming at, and that rock isn't all that big a target. So it's up to you."

"Oh. Well, I guess that's the part I'm most afraid of. You know, making sure I only hit what I'm aiming at. Can you help me with that at all, do you think, or are you just like providing the energy, and the focus part is up to me?"

"I don't know," he said thoughtfully. "It happened so fast last time I hardly even had a chance to realize what was going on. Do you want to try and see?"

"No," she answered, giving a little laugh of apprehension, "but let's do it anyway."

They joined hands and went through the motions of forming a connection. Once it had been established, Liz could feel Michael's energy transferring itself to her. Since her emotions weren't heightened this time like they had been when they'd done this yesterday, she was able to register more about what was taking place.

The energy it took to perform with this ability felt different from the others'. It felt more aggressive somehow, as it came pouring inside to fill her. When the rushing flow of energy from Michael had slowed to a trickle, she felt something that left her feeling completely unnerved. Something inside her seemed to recognize his energy, sending her own leaping in response. That gave her pause, and she realized for the first time that in some strange way, it did feel oddly familiar. This entire experience was suddenly giving her the strongest sense of deja vu. The two forces eagerly collided within her, dramatically increasing the intensity level of the charged energy as it gathered in readiness.

She looked at Michael with wide eyes, and whispered, "Can you feel that?"

"Yeah," he answered quietly.

"Is that...normal?"

"I don't know," he said uncertainly.

Heat flowed over her in a liquid wave, and her skin started to tighten and prickle, the same as it had yesterday. Her heart raced out of control, and the concentration of power inside her was making her feel anxious and edgy.

"Michael, this is scaring me," Liz said unsteadily.

His hand tightened on hers, and he asked, "Do you want to stop?"

She shook her head fiercely. "I-I don't think we can. It's in-inside me now. I think I've gotta let it out. It- I have to get it out!"

Responding to her mounting urgency, he said tensely, "Let me take some of it back, then. It's getting too strong. You can't handle all of it."

"Okay, but hurry!" she urged.

Liz didn't want Max anywhere near the explosion of power that was certainly eminent, but she couldn't seem to stop herself from throwing a quick panicked look in his direction. She looked away almost immediately, and missed seeing that his gaze had already been trained on her and Michael uneasily, as if he could sense that something wasn't right. At Liz's look of fear, he jumped to his feet, and raced toward them, with the others close on his heels.

The intensity level of their combined energy continued to build inside her, seeming to fold over on itself again and again, increasing its strength. She was becoming terrified by the simmering turbulence of it. It felt like pure, undiluted violence as it seethed within her, and she was afraid of what it would do if she released it. But it was becoming more than she could contain, and she just wanted to get rid of it.

The power inside her had reached epic proportions. Michael had never felt anything like it before. He was a little afraid of what would happen if she unleashed all that, too, but he was worried that it was going to tear her apart if she didn't let it out soon. He tried to draw some of it back into himself, but it was like one solid mass of energy, and he couldn't break any of it free.

"I can't get any of it loose," he said with frustration. "Just let me take all of it."

"No! You can't, Michael."

"Come on, Liz. It's too much for you!"

"Michael, you can't, okay? I've got to do it!"

"Alright then, do it!" he exclaimed, wanting to question why she seemed so sure of that fact, but feeling there was no time to argue.

Liz looked at her target despairingly. There was just no way that little rock was going to be able to absorb all this energy, and she worried about where all the excess would go.

"No, that'll never work," Michael agreed. His gaze moved around them searchingly, and he pointed in front of them and over to the right. She had her gaze trained on his discovery before he even pointed it out.

"Just aim for that," he said, pointing at a solid wall of unmined rock. "It's good and solid, and it must be 30 yards away." She sized it up as a target, and he urged, "You won't hurt anything, Liz."

"What is it, Liz? What's happening?" Max asked anxiously, as he rushed up to them. The girls hurried up behind him.

Liz had raised her hand in readiness, but the presence of their friends so close-by made her stop and try once again to keep a reign on it. She was shaking violently now with the effort to control it, and spots began dancing before her eyes. She gave a distressed little moan.

Knowing the reason for her hesitation, Michael yelled, "Get back!"

"What's going on, Michael," Max demanded.

"Max, you have to get back! Our energy bonded somehow, and it's out of control. She can't hold it in, but she won't let it go when you're so close, so get back!"

Max looked at Liz's pale, shaking form with frightened eyes.

"Just break the connection!" Maria said frantically.

"She can't do the energy blast without me, and she has to expend this power somehow. Look, we don't have time for a discussion right now!" he said in exasperation. "Just get back!"

The girls obeyed and moved away quickly, but Max hesitated. It went against every instinct he had to leave Liz like this, but the sense of urgency wasn't lost on him, and there was no time to argue. If she wouldn't do this until he was gone, she was leaving him no choice. He knew for a fact that she would willingly sacrifice herself to protect them, so if he had to leave her now in order to protect her from herself, then he'd have to force himself to do that.

"I'm going to be by your side the minute you get this done, Liz. Okay?" Max said in reassurance. When she didn't respond, he reached out to touch her arm lightly, and was shocked to feel the immensity of the power seething inside her.

"Michael, get that out of her. Now!" he demanded tightly, as he reluctantly backed away.

"They're back, Liz. Do it," Michael urged as soon as Max was a safe distance away.

Liz hardly knew what was going on around her anymore as she stared blindly at the wall of rock Michael had pointed out. The power had grown until it seemed to fill every hollow space in her body. The ache to release it was an actual physical pain, but she could feel Max nearby, and she couldn't take the chance of hurting him if she unleashed it. She felt like she was in serious danger of passing out, and she was terrified of what would become of all this energy if she did.

The roaring in her ears drowned out all other sound, but she was still able to hear Michael somehow when he told her it was safe. She responded immediately, releasing her hold with a small cry.

The power ripped through her angrily, escaping through the palm of her hand in a blinding flash of blue. A violent wind was stirred up at its passing, and the force of it threatened to knock them all off their feet. The light crashed head-on with the quarry wall, cracking it wide open in a thunderous explosion of sound and erupting granite. Tremors rocked the ground underneath them, and shards of rock flew perilously close. Michael turned his back protectively to shield Liz's body with his own. She was swaying on her feet, and he quickly caught her by the upper arms to steady her.

"Are you okay?" he asked with concern.

She just looked at him dazedly for a minute before her eyes rolled back in her head, and she collapsed in a faint. He eased her fall the best he could with his awkward hold on her arms, and followed her down to the ground.

Max watched with awed horror as the energy blast savagely tore the rock wall apart. The violence of the action shook him. How had Liz held all that inside her? Then he saw her collapse immediately afterwards, and his heart stopped.

His blood turned to ice water in his veins, and he wasn't even aware that he was moving until he heard Maria shout Liz's name, and realized she was running right behind him. He fell to his knees beside her motionless form, and Maria came down beside him. He reached out to frame Liz's face with shaking hands, and realized at that moment that she was still breathing. Dizzying relief overwhelmed him, and he hung his head and drug air into his heaving lungs in an attempt to steady himself. When he felt marginally calmer, he tried to concentrate enough to form a connection, so that he could get inside and make sure she hadn't been hurt in any way.

"Liz, can you hear me?" Maria asked, her voice trembling. She reached for Liz's hand and looked to Max for reassurance.

His eyes were closed, his expression solemn, but he didn't seem to be alarmed at anything he was finding, so she took that as a good sign.

Michael was kneeling at Liz's other side, and Maria looked over at him and asked quietly, "Are you okay, Michael?"

"Yeah," he answered dismissively. "Liz was the one channeling all of it."

Max's eyes opened and he gently brushed Liz's hair back from her face before removing his hands.

"Is she okay, Max?" Isabel asked, as she dropped to the ground and gently lifted Liz's head up to rest on her lap.

"Yeah," he croaked, then cleared his throat. "Everything seems fine. I guess she just passed out from the shock."

Reaching out to caress Liz's pale face, he caught sight of Tess on the ground next to Michael, and forced himself to drop his hand without touching her.

Catching Max's eyes on her, Tess asked, "Should we try to bring her to?"

"Maybe her body needs rest," Isabel suggested, brushing Liz's hair back from her forehead in Max's stead.

It was killing him to be unable to touch her. Even though he'd made certain she wasn't hurt, he wouldn't feel completely convinced she was whole and well until he could hold her solid warmth in his arms, and feel the reassurance of her steady heartbeat against him. He could have kissed Maria when she unwittingly gave him all the excuse he needed.

"We should at least make her more comfortable. Get her off this hard ground," she said.

Without wasting another second, Max immediately scooped Liz up against his chest. Standing with her in his arms, he held her tightly against him, and fretted at her slight weight. She felt so fragile and delicate. How had she managed to keep all that power from ripping her to shreds? He hugged her closer and said to Maria, "Let's take her to your car."

He carried Liz away in that direction and Maria scrambled up to follow him. Tess stared after them for a moment before moving to trail along behind.

Michael rose to his feet unsteadily, then staggered, and Isabel threw out an arm to brace him.

"Are you okay?" she asked in concern.

"I'm fine. Just a little weak, I guess."

The huge out-surge of power from the blast had left him feeling drained and a little lightheaded. He couldn't imagine how Liz was going to feel when she woke up.

Isabel studied him with lowered brows. "You sure?"

"I'm fine, Is," he repeated. "Liz did most of it. I was practically an innocent bystander."

Taking him at his word, she finally nodded, then her eyes widened as they focused on something over his shoulder. He turned to see what she was looking at and whistled in awe. The craggy surface of the quarry wall had been flat and unbroken before Liz had blasted it. Now it was marred by a gaping hole big enough to park the Jetta in.

"How did she do that, Michael? Where did all that come from?" Isabel asked, her voice low and shaking.

Michael shook his head. "I'm not sure. Something happened when our energy came together." He hesitated, unsure whether to express this out loud or not. "It was the weirdest thing. When my energy met hers, it was was- complete for the first time ever."

"What do you mean, complete?"

He paused as he searched for the right words to describe what he'd felt. "It was like- when you've been searching for something for a long time, you know, something that's been missing, and finally finding it. That's what it felt like when my energy touched hers. And when they found each other, they just like- fused together and became this one huge mass of power."

Isabel was looking at him in consternation. "Michael, do you know how bizarre that sounds? How could Liz have a power that you've been looking for for a long time? We didn't even know she had a power until a couple of days ago. And she didn't have a power at all until Max healed her."

"I know that, Isabel," he returned with confused frustration. "But that's what it felt like, okay?"

"Well," she said musingly, "did you feel that way yesterday when you two did this?"

"No. At least, I don't think so. It was over almost as soon as it started yesterday. I didn't really have a chance to feel anything."

They looked at each other for a long minute, both trying to find an explanation for his feelings.

Finally Isabel shook her head. "I don't know, Michael. This whole thing seems really freaky."

"Tell me about it," he grimly agreed. He looked over to the Jetta where Max and Maria were laying Liz down across the back seat.

His brows creased, he asked, "Do you think she'll be okay?"

She followed his gaze briefly before looking back at him curiously. There'd been a note of something in his voice she couldn't interpret. "I think it was just a shock like Max said. He'll make sure she's okay."

Michael was silent for a moment, then said quietly, "That energy...I've never felt anything like it before. I couldn't control it." After a short pause, he admitted, "I think it could have killed her, Isabel."

"But it didn't. She's going to be fine." She looked at him searchingly. Was he trying to take responsibility for this? "This wasn't your fault, Michael," she assured him.

"Yeah," came his unconvinced reply. "We should get over there. They'll want to leave as soon as she wakes up."

He walked away, leaving Isabel with the choice of talking to his back, or following him.

Watching him go, she heaved a troubled sigh. Almost unwillingly, her gaze was drawn back for one last look at the destruction Liz had wrought.

The jagged edges of the newly created hollow made it look like the maw of a great beast that leered at her mockingly, and Isabel shivered uneasily.

What kind of power were they dealing with here, she wondered with apprehension. The magnitude of it, Michael's weird feelings, all seemed to suggest that this was something more than just a mere 'change'.

"What is going on with you, Liz?" she mused softly to herself.

The yawning chasm in the quarry wall stood silent and menacing, giving her no answers.

With another troubled sigh, Isabel slowly turned to join the others.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 27-Oct-2001 12:15:35 AM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 7:41:15 AM
Chapter 13

Max was squatting in the open doorway of the car at Liz's head, watching her worriedly. It seemed like she'd been out an awfully long time. Profound relief flooded over him when he saw her lashes flutter, and her eyes opened to look around in confusion.

He fitted his palm to the top of her head and asked anxiously, "Liz, are you okay?"

Her eyes lifted to see him leaning over her, and her lips curved in a soft smile. She swallowed and moistened her lips, then whispered his name.

The sound of her voice was like the sweetest of benedictions to him, and a deep sense of thanksgiving welled up within him. Nothing could have stopped him from leaning down to give her a lingering kiss just then, not even a battalion of enemy aliens out to conquer the earth.

They did manage to divert his affectionate gesture towards her forehead rather than her lips, however.

"W-what happened?" she asked softly.

"You fainted," he told her gently.

"I fainted?" she repeated with disbelief. "I've never fainted before in my life."

"I think you can be forgiven for it this time, chica. This was kind of an extreme set of circumstances. You had us pretty worried. Are you okay?" Maria asked from her position in the front passenger seat. She'd been reluctant to interrupt the tender scene between Max and Liz, but she was extremely happy to see that her best friend was awake, and that she seemed to be fine.

She definitely had some serious explaining to do, though, Maria thought, as she watched the way Max helped Liz ease up into a sitting position. He handled her as though she were made of spun glass, and once she was upright, he gently brushed her hair away from her face, his fingers dawdling as they lovingly tucked it behind her ear. Liz's eyes clung to his face throughout the entire process.

Just friends, huh? Yeah, right.

Liz sat up gingerly, her every muscle and joint aching, and her head was pounding ferociously, prompting her to hold her head as motionless as possible. When she reached a sitting position, Liz squeezed her eyes shut as the world seemed to tilt crazily. She reached out to grab the nearest object for balance, and caught hold of the sleeve of Max's jacket.

"What is it?" he asked anxiously, climbing into the car to slide in next to her.

Wanting to reassure him, she forced her eyes open and said, "Nothing. Just dizzy. And maybe a little sore."

Everything kept spinning, and she started to lower her head to rest on Max's shoulder, but caught herself when she saw Tess standing behind him. Knowing instinctively why she had frozen in mid-motion, Max glanced over his shoulder and threw an imploring look at Isabel, who was standing next to Tess.

With a small nod of understanding, she flew into action, pulling gently on Tess' arm, and saying, "Come on, Tess. Why don't we go gather everyone's things and get ready to go."

Tess resisted for a moment, then she nodded reluctantly, and allowed Isabel to pull her away.

"I'm glad you're okay, Liz," Isabel said sincerely before she and Tess turned away to go.

As they passed by Michael, who was standing in the open door on the opposite side of the car, Isabel asked, "Michael, where'd you leave your jacket?"

In answer, he started to turn and go with them to look for it, but Liz stopped him, calling his name softly.

He leaned down into the car, bracing one hand on the back of Maria's seat.

In a subdued tone, he asked, "You okay?"

"Yeah, are you?"

"I'm fine."

They looked at each other searchingly.

"What happened back there, Michael?" she asked quietly.

"I wish I had an answer, Liz, but I don't," he answered regretfully. "You have any ideas?"

"Me?" She gave a humorless laugh that intensified the throbbing in her head. Bringing a hand up to her temple, she said, "I don't know anything anymore."

Max cupped the back of her head and said soothingly, "We can all talk about it later if you want to, okay? Maybe together we can come up with an explanation. Just...try not to worry about it right now."

"Yeah, Lizzie," Maria put in, reaching across the seats to give her hand a squeeze. "We should get you home now, so you can rest. You don't look so good."

"Yeah," Liz said faintly, "I-I don't think I feel so good."

Her head wouldn't seem to stop swimming, and the throbbing there threatened to burst a hole in her skull. It was beginning to make her nauseous.

"I left my purse out there where we were sitting, so let me run and get it, and we'll go, okay?"

Liz nodded weakly, and Maria gave her hand another squeeze, then climbed out of the car.

Michael said, "I should go find my jacket." He touched Liz's arm briefly and said, "Take it easy, okay?"

"Okay. You, too."

He backed away and closed the door with a soft click.

As soon as Max and Liz were alone, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, gently pressing her head down to rest on his chest. He left his hand on the side of her head and leaned down to kiss her crown.

"Are you okay?" he asked again, worriedly.

She nestled her cheek against his chest and said, "My head is killing me, but this feels much better."

She sighed with contentment and slid her arm around his waist.

"Let me make it even better," he said, and fitted his hand more firmly against her head.

She felt a prickling sensation across the surface of her scalp, and a soothing warmth came seeping inside her head. It traveled to all parts of her body, leaving behind a tingling that felt similar to the fizzing of carbonation. It filled every crevice and hollow of her body, coating everything with a heavy liquid heat that eased all her pain and discomfort.

Liz sighed again and said a breathy, "Thank you."

Placing another loving kiss on the top of her head, Max glanced out the windshield and said regretfully, "Everyone's coming back."

Tightening his arms around her, he said gruffly, "I don't want to leave you."

She gave him a needy squeeze of her own, then reluctantly eased away a bit to see how much time they had before the others reached them.

"Could you maybe come by later? My parents should both be in the restaurant working the lunch rush."

"Definitely," he answered. "Just let me drop everyone off and I'll come to your window." With another quick look through the windshield, he slowly drew his arms away from her, and she shivered at the loss. "So I'll see you later then, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed.

Their eyes spoke to each other of their reluctance to part, but Max finally forced himself out of the car when Maria slid into the driver's seat. Liz climbed out behind him and he walked her around the car to the passenger side, then opened the front door for her.

Once she was settled inside, Max leaned down to look over at Maria and said, "Take care of her, okay?"

"You know it," she replied.

With a final look at Liz, he said, "See ya."

"Bye, Max," she answered, then gently pulled the door closed.

Maria watched as Liz smiled at Max through the passenger window, and their eyes clung while he took a few slow steps backwards, then he turned away to go.

"So. What's going on with you and the Alien King?" she asked.

Startled, Liz looked over at her, then quickly looked away. "Nothing's going on. What makes you think something's going on?"

Maria gave her a look of chiding disbelief, then started the car and pulled out to follow the jeep.

"Come on, Liz. This is me you're talkin' to. You aren't actually gonna sit there and tell me again that you're just friends, are you? You two can barely tear your eyes away from each other! Not to mention the fact that he can't keep his hands off you. I know what friendship looks like, and believe me, you two have left Friendship Road far behind, and are well on your way down Lover's Lane."

Liz sighed and wondered tiredly if it was worth the effort of trying to keep this a secret from Maria.

She leaned her head back against her seat and said wearily, "It's just...really complicated, Maria. Do we have to talk about it right now?"

Instantly contrite, Maria said, "Of course not. I'm sorry, Liz. Are you feeling okay? Do you need anything?"

"No, I'm fine. Just tired. And a little shell-shocked, I guess."

Maria hesitated before asking, "Do you want to talk about what happened back there?"

Liz looked at her best friend for a long moment, then said quietly, "I was so scared, Maria. I've never felt anything like that before."

"What did it feel like?" she asked in timid curiosity.

"It was like...this- incredible, unstoppable force inside of me that just kept growing stronger and stronger. I was terrified of what it was going to do if I let it loose, but it felt like I might actually explode if I didn't get it out of me."

Liz shuddered at the memory. "I hate this, Maria," she said low and fierce, "I hate knowing that that's a part of me now. I-I don't know how Michael deals with it."

Maria made a face. "I don't think you should use Michael as a role model. He deals with it by not dealing with it at all. He just uses it as another excuse to keep everyone at arm's-length. Who could know how he feels about anything? I don't know if he's ever even completely gotten over what he did to Pierce. As far as I know, he's never talked to anyone about it."

"You can hardly blame him for that, though," Liz said in his defense. "I mean, I'd like nothing better than to just pretend this thing inside of me doesn't exist. The only thing stopping me from doing that right now is knowing that it isn't going to go away just because I ignore it. And I can understand completely why he would want to keep everyone at a distance. This thing is really powerful, Maria." She paused and swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. Looking over at Maria with haunted eyes, she continued in a voice barely above a whisper. "Can you even imagine what I would have done to someone if I had hit a person with all that energy? It-it would have.. annihilated them," She made a choking sound, "It would have annihilated an entire group of people. What if- what if it were to get away from me someday, and I ended up k-- really hurting someone I care about? I mean, the first time I did this, it just came out because I got angry. What if you, or-or Alex, or anyone, had been standing there instead of that mirror?" She shook her head slowly, horrified at the thought. "I'd never be able to live with myself if I did something to hurt any of you."

Maria felt a small leap of panic at her friend's words. They sounded too much like the little good-bye speech Michael had given her last spring, and she couldn't let Liz shut her out the same way he had.

"Liz, you didn't even know you had it then. Now you do. You'll just- you'll work on it. Find out how to keep it under control. And, yeah, it is dangerous, but that doesn't matter to me. I want to be here for you. You can't push us away, Liz. You need your friends around you right now to help you get a handle on this thing. And, at the risk of sounding utterly selfish, I don't want to lose you over this. I've pretty much lost Michael because of this--'gift'," she spat the word sarcastically, "I can't lose you too, Liz. I-I need you. You're the one who- who keeps me grounded, you know?" she ended tearfully.

The knot in Liz's throat grew, and tears filled her eyes as well. She reached her hand out blindly, and Maria took one hand off the steering wheel to catch it in hers.

Squeezing her friend's hand tightly, she said emotionally, "You won't lose me, Maria. I need you, too. You're right. Everything you said is right. I need you to help me deal with this. As much as I'd like to just have nothing more to do with it, I'm gonna have to work on it. Learn how to control it. For the sake of everyone around me."

They had pulled up in front of the Crashdown, and Maria turned off the engine, then turned to face Liz.

"We'll help you however we can, Liz," she vowed. "I'm pretty sure I can speak for everyone. And, you know, Michael might even be the one who could help you the most. Maybe you could help each other."

Liz nodded and smiled tremulously. "Yeah. Maybe."

"Do you want me to walk you to your room, help you get settled, before I get ready for my shift?"

"No, I'll be fine. I think I'll just go take a little nap. I'm pretty tired."

Maria nodded and they both climbed out of the car. They walked through the busy restaurant to the back room and Maria exclaimed, "Ugh! Looks like a madhouse out there!"

She got a fresh uniform out of her locker and asked, "Are you sure I can't do anything for you before I go to work? Can I get you something to eat, a soda? Ice cream?" she grinned.

Liz smiled consideringly, then said, "No, I just need some sleep, I think."

She walked across to give her friend a heartfelt hug and said, "Thanks, Maria. You're the best friend a girl could ever have."

Maria gave her a squeeze and replied, "Ditto, babe."

They pulled back to share a smile, then Maria turned to go get changed, and Liz headed for the stairs.

Feeling grimy from the dust at the quarry, she went straight up to her bathroom to take a long, hot shower. When she got out, she pulled on a red baby tee and a pair of loose drawstring pants. The shower seemed to have sapped her little remaining strength, and she dropped onto the bed, thinking she would just lie down and rest there until Max came.

That was the last thought she had before sleep claimed her.

Chapter 14

No one in the jeep said anything for the first couple of miles as they headed back into town.

Max's eyes kept shifting to the rearview mirror to make sure the Jetta was still close behind. He was anxious to get everyone home so he could go check on Liz. He knew she was fine physically, he'd at least been able to see to that, but her emotions had to be all over the board. He knew his certainly were.

He couldn't get the picture of her with that power ripping through her out of his mind. She had almost seemed to be pulsating with it before she had let it out, and he couldn't help but wonder what it would have done to her if she hadn't released it when she did. Although most of his attention had been focused on making sure Liz was alright, he had taken a cursory look at the damage it had done to the quarry wall.

He just didn't see how such a vicious blast of energy could have kept from damaging her in some way, and he felt sick with guilt knowing that something he'd done to her had created that deadly force within her. It tore him up to know that it was a permanent part of her now, and there was nothing he could do to take it away. He couldn't even protect her from the danger of it, because the peril was within her own body.

But there was something he could have done to minimize the danger. He never should have allowed her to experiment with Michael's gift. He didn't know what he'd been thinking. Michael's power was the most dangerous any of them possessed, and Michael was the least disciplined of them all. How could he have so carelessly turned Liz over to Michael when they knew so little about her abilities? They weren't even that knowledgeable about their own abilities, and yet here they were playing with Liz's life! Max was disgusted with himself for not putting a stop their experiments with the energy blast when he'd seen that she was afraid of it. And he was angry at Michael for not being more careful with her.

Oh yeah. His emotions were pretty much all over the board.

The heavy silence in the jeep was broken by the sound of Tess' voice as she cautiously broached the subject that was preying upon everyone's minds.

"Michael? What happened back there? Where did all that energy come from?"

Michael sighed, as once again he had to say, "I don't know what happened. One minute we're connecting and I'm feeding her my energy, and the next minute our energy has fused or something and it's out of control.

His face grim, Max asked, "What do you mean 'it fused'?" His voice was low and tense, but rose steadily as his words continued. "I wanna know exactly what happened out there today, Michael. You were supposed to be just showing her how to bust up some rocks! Explain to me why you gave her more power than she could handle, and why you didn't just take some of it back when you saw that it was too much."

Michael grew defensive at the accusing tone and said harshly, "I did try to take some of it back, okay? But it was like a solid block inside her and I couldn't get it apart. And it didn't all come from me, Max. It was both of us. Her energy- it, like, grabbed on to mine, and it just kept growing stronger. We weren't doing anything, it did it on its own."

"Why would it be like that only with you?" Max said skeptically. "The rest of us worked with her all day and everything went fine. Yet the minute you get hold of her, catastrophe strikes. Why is that, Michael?" he demanded.

Feeling guilty and frustrated, Michael shouted, "Look, I don't know why! I don't have any explanations for it. It's just another mystery to add to the list of unexplained facts about who we are and where we come from. And I'm sorry, alright? I know it could’ve really- hurt her. We just...shouldn't try to do it again. That's all I know to say."

"Max, you're making this sound like it was Michael's fault and that's not true," Isabel protested. "There wasn't anything he could've done to make this turn out any differently."

"Forget it, Is. It doesn't matter," Michael said shortly, then turned away to look out the passenger window, propping an elbow on its ledge, and resting his mouth against his closed fist.

At hearing Michael's apology, Max's anger had died a sudden death. Michael was aware of how disastrously this could have turned out, and if what he said was true, then Isabel was right. He couldn't have changed anything if he'd had no control over it. Max realized that he was mostly just taking his own guilt and fear out on Michael, and that wasn't being fair.

With a wince of concession, Max said quietly, "I'm sorry, Michael. It just...scared me, that's all. I know you didn't mean for it to happen. I shouldn't have implied that."

"No, Maxwell, you're right. All this power does is hurt everyone who comes into contact with it. I've been struggling to control it all my life, you know? And when I think I've finally got a handle on it," his mouth turned down at the corners and he shook his head briefly, "doesn't matter. It still just hurts people. As far as I can see, my only purpose here is to be used as a weapon. There's nothing else my power is good for."

Hearing the self-contempt in Michael's voice made Max feel even guiltier. He thought Michael had finally come to terms with his ability after killing Pierce, and now this whole thing had him questioning himself again. And Max had only made things worse.

"Michael, your gift is our best defense. It's saved our lives more than once. What happened today, it was just because there's still so much we don't know about our powers, and especially about Liz's."

"Max is right," Tess said, sorry she had ever even brought this subject up. "Don't blame yourself, Michael."

He didn't respond, and everyone fell silent once again, remaining that way until they reached Michael's apartment. He was out the door the minute the jeep came to a stop, with only a short, "See ya."

Isabel sadly watched him go. "He really feels bad about this, Max. He thinks this could have killed Liz and it would have been all his fault." She suddenly jumped into motion, climbing out of the jeep. "He shouldn't be alone. I think I'll just hang out here for awhile. Can I call you for a ride home?"

Max nodded. "Call me on the cell. And.. tell Michael I'll talk to him later. I shouldn't have said anything until I was more calm," he said remorsefully.

Isabel nodded and took off after Michael.

Tess got out to move up to the front seat of the jeep, and with a final regretful look at Michael's apartment building, Max pulled away.

Studying his face, Tess tried to comfort him. "He'll be alright, Max. He just needs some time."

Max nodded wordlessly.

Tess continued to watch him and chewed on her lip. She finally had him all to herself, but she wasn't quite sure what to say to him. She didn't seem to know where they stood anymore. Liz was back in his life now, and Tess didn't know where that left her.

Max had barely spoken a word to her all day. He'd been so intent on Liz and her needs that he hadn't spared Tess a second glance. She wanted to resent him for that, but she placed most of the blame for it on Liz Parker's doorstep. That-that...human kept Max so tied up in knots he hardly knew which way was up. Even when Liz hadn't been present in his life these past months, he'd still been consumed with her.

Tess had been on the verge of giving up on having a life here with him and the others. She'd been ready to just pack her things and leave Roswell, New Mexico far behind. She had other options open to her now. But then Liz had committed her little indiscretion with Kyle, leaving the door wide open for Tess to walk into Max's heart. She really couldn't have asked for a better scenario if one had been planned for her.

She'd known it was selfish of her to enjoy the way things were, because Max hadn't really been happy, but for the first time in her life she had a real friend. No one had ever shown her such genuine consideration as Max had this past month. Sure, guys had been friendly to her before, but they'd always wanted something from her in return. Max wasn't like that. He had a way of making her feel special. He confided in her, and he listened to her as if what she said really mattered.

When he'd taken her to New York with him, it had been one of the best experiences of her life. Even including the brief kidnapping thing at the end. He had even managed to turn that into something she could almost be glad for, because he'd been so solicitous of her on the trip home. For those few days in New York she had felt like it had been her and Max against the world. Against several worlds, actually. It hadn't been hard to imagine that they truly were the king and queen of their own world, and it had been exhilarating. It had felt like the way things were meant to be.

And now Liz was trying to take all that away from her.

Although, if she were perfectly honest with herself, Tess knew that Liz didn't have to put any effort into it. All she had to do was breathe in Max's direction and he was a complete goner. Whenever Liz was around, Tess might just as well cease to exist and he would never even notice her absence.

The sad acknowledgement actually brought tears to her eyes, and Tess grew angry with herself when she realized what a silent pity party she was sitting here indulging herself in. Nacedo would be appalled if he could see what a sniveling baby she was turning into.

If she wanted to know where things stood with Max, then she was just going to have to ask him. As she was trying to figure out the best way to go about doing that, they turned onto the street where the Valentis lived.

In last minute desperation, she finally just blurted, "So! You and Liz. I guess you guys got everything worked out, huh?"

Max came to sudden attention at the topic of conversation Tess had chosen.

"Uh, yeah. We-we're friends again."

Tess pressed her lips together and nodded. "That's great. I'm...happy for you. I know how upset you've been, ever since she and Kyle..." she trailed off deliberately.

She watched closely for his response, but he gave no outward reaction. He really didn't seem to care anymore that Liz had slept with Kyle.

"Yeah, well, I've decided to just put all that behind me."

"That's good. That you can do that. It- I guess it really didn't do you any good to dwell on it."

"Yeah, that's kinda what I thought."

They had pulled up in front of the Valenti house, and now sat with the engine idling. Max looked over at Tess, trying to guess at her thoughts, but it was hard to tell anything from her expression. She was playing it pretty cool. He could only imagine what she must be thinking about the way he'd acted with her today.

He just felt so awkward with her now. He felt like he had to guard every move he made and every word out of his mouth whenever she was around. Even more so when Liz was within touching distance. He hated having to regard Tess as a threat to his happiness. She'd become a good friend, one who was beginning to form her own place amongst those in their group. But she held the fate of his and Liz's relationship in her small hands, not to mention the fate of the entire world, and being unsure of what she would do with the power she unknowingly held over them had him questioning whether he even knew her at all.

He'd become convinced over the past month that she was content with only friendship from him, but Liz's fears had planted doubts in his mind. Could Tess really have changed so much? It didn't seem that long ago when she'd been utterly determined that they were destined to be together. Was she really happy now to be nothing more than his friend, or had she merely been biding her time in the hopes that he would come around eventually?

What would she do if he told her right now that he and Liz were back together?

Only yesterday he had said that she wouldn't care. But now, having held Liz in his arms once again, he was afraid to take the chance of being wrong.

For now, he thought he should just stick to the plan of feeling Tess out about his and Liz's relationship. She was so hard to read, though, that probably the only way he was ever going to find out anything from her was to just ask her. Straight out.

"So, h-how do you feel about that? About Liz and I being- friends?"

She looked at him oddly. "Why would it matter how I felt?"

In his haste to keep from revealing anything he shouldn't, he stumbled over his words. "Well, because. I mean, I know you and Liz got off to a bad start, aren't exactly what you'd call friends. But...I was hoping you could be. Friends, that is. Now that you and I are friends, and Liz and I are-are.. friends- again. I was just hoping that we all could be, you know...friends," he ended lamely.

Flushing a little, he snapped his mouth shut. With an inward grimace he thought, great, Max. Babble much? He really had been spending way too much time with Maria lately.

Tess just gave him a direct look and asked seriously, "What if she and I can't be friends, Max? What then?"

Max's heart began to pound. "I-I don't know. What do you think...would happen then?"

Her mouth twisted bitterly and she said, "Honestly? I think you'd say, 'So long, Tess. Been nice knowin' ya', and you and Liz would live happily ever after."

"I don't want it to be that way, Tess," he said emphatically. "Why does it have to be a matter of either/or? I don't want to have to choose between you, and I won't, unless you make me."

Tess snorted and muttered, "As if."

He ignored her and continued, "I care about both of you, and I want both of you to be a part of my life. Are you saying you think that's an impossibility? Because, this morning, at one time, I thought it felt like the three of us were getting along great. Was I wrong, Tess?"

He would have to remind her of that, Tess thought irritably. Yes, she wanted to hate Liz, for everything she had that Tess felt should have been hers. But Liz made it really hard to hate her. She'd always been civil, and even friendly to Tess, even though Tess knew that she had wreaked havoc on Liz's life by showing up here. And she couldn't help but feel sorry for Liz for the way her life was suddenly being turned upside down by this alien change. But at the same time, she was jealous and resentful of it.

The truth was, Tess' feelings were so confused right now she wasn't sure of anything, except that she didn't want to lose Max. Especially not now. She needed him. And if that meant being friends with Liz Parker, she guessed she could grit her teeth and do that. She might not even have to grit them very hard.

She looked down at her lap and admitted, "No, Max. You weren't wrong." She paused, then said, "Can I just ask you one thing, though?" She looked up and waited for his nod, then continued, "Do you honestly believe you and Liz are just going to be friends?"

He looked at her with trepidation. "Do you think that's important? That we're no more than friends?"

She caught his stare and held it. "Yes, Max. I do. Because if you're anything more than that I think you'll lose sight of everything else. Our people, our purpose for being here...our destiny."

He swallowed sickly at hearing that word fall from her lips.

She continued without addressing it any further. "You may lose sight of it even if all you are is friends. If you want my opinion, I'm not sure you two are capable of being only friends. But I guess I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt."

His face was a study in earnestness, as he said, "Tess, I know how important our cause is. I may not have fully realized it until we went to the summit, but I do know that now. And Liz and I- we understand that we aren't the only two people involved here. No matter what kind of relationship she and I have, we know we have to take the others in the group into consideration. That's true for all of you, too, and it'll probably always be that way. Because we all have to stay together. That's really important, Tess. And if Liz and I are doing something that's going to jeopardize that...well, let's just say we're willing to do whatever we have to do to make sure that doesn't happen."

He made it sound like he and Liz were giving everyone in the group, including herself, the power to decide what kind of relationship they were going to have. It was hard to believe that they would do that, but just the thought of being able to put a stop to their being together by merely stating her disapproval had Tess gloating with satisfied glee. But their willingness to hand that kind of control over to her filled her with the deepest humility.

Could they make this any harder for her to deal with, she wondered in aggravation. Human emotions really sucked!

Tess sighed in defeat. So how was this friendship thing going to work?

"Well," she said slowly, "I-I guess if we're all going to be friends...someone should probably go over to Liz's to check on her. I mean, that's what a friend would do, right? She did have a pretty rough day today. Seeing as how she and I aren't exactly friends.. y-yet, I mean, maybe- maybe you should go." Even as the words were leaving her mouth, she was calling herself an idiot. Why on earth was she pushing them together? Friendship didn't have to mean cutting her own throat, did it? She was really going to have to learn all the rules to this thing before she opened her big mouth again.

Max's eyes lit up in appreciation of her acceptance and generosity, and he reached across to give her hand a brief squeeze.

"Thanks, Tess."

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Tess nodded and clutched at his hand, then forced herself to release it when he pulled away.

She avoided his eyes as she gathered her things together and climbed out of the jeep.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Max told her.

Still unable to look at him, she forced a small smile and said, "Yeah. See ya."

Max watched her hurry to the house with a compassionate gaze. She obviously wasn't thrilled with the situation, but she'd just conceded more than he'd dared to hope for. He felt as though any immediate threat from Tess had just been removed, and he was elated.

He couldn't wait to tell Liz.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:44:00 AM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 3:06:13 PM
Chapter 15

Liz awoke to the feel of someone's hand gently cupping her head and stroking her hair in barely-there movements.

"Mmmm," she purred, and rubbed her head kittenishly against the stroking palm.

A smile curled her lips and she opened heavy eyes to look up at Max, who was sitting on the edge of the bed at her hip.

"Hey," she said sleepily.

"Hey," he returned, smiling gently. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

"No. I'm glad you did," she said through a yawn. "I can sleep any time. Now that you're here, I don't want to miss a single second with you."

He continued to stroke her hair, and asked, "How do you feel?"

Liz paused to consider. "Good actually," she answered with brows slightly raised in surprise. "What time is it?"

"Almost 2:00."

Her eyelids drifted closed again. "Hmm. I must have slept for an hour."

He tilted his head and cupped his hand over her ear, brushing her cheek lightly with his thumb. "You're probably exhausted. Today had to have taken a lot out of you. Are you sure you're okay? No more headache?"

She forced her eyes open at the worry in his voice, and shook her head. "Completely gone. I feel fine, Max. Really."

He studied her for a moment before accepting her assurances, then his mouth tipped up a little.

"You can barely keep your eyes open. Why don't you get some more sleep. I'll be right here when you wake up. Okay?"

Her eyes popped open. "Uh-uh," she protested. "Our time's too precious to waste sleeping. I'm awake."

Raising her arms above her head, she stretched luxuriously and yawned again.

Max's eyes darkened as he took in her sleek stretch, then raked her form hotly. Her hair was tousled appealingly, her cheeks flushed with sleep, and the little red shirt she was wearing had ridden up to her midriff with her stretch, leaving a wide expanse of skin bare to his eyes. He'd thought she'd looked ethereally beautiful while he'd watched her in the innocence of sleep, but suddenly she looked sinfully sexy, and Max's palms itched to fill themselves with the creamy skin peeking out from under that shirt.

He cursed himself for his insensitive thoughts. She'd been through a huge ordeal today, and the last thing she needed was to have to deal with his teenage male hormones.

Liz felt the weight of Max's stare on her body, and it felt as though she'd been hit with a soft blast of heat. She took her time in releasing the stretch, returning her arms to her sides with slow deliberation, and watched him as his eyes followed her every movement.

Her lashes swept down, and then she looked up at him coyly with a slight smile. "I can think of something I'd much rather do besides sleep. Can't you?"

Their eyes locked and Max swallowed.

"Uh, yeah. I guess- I guess I can," he replied huskily.

The moment stretched out, and he continued to sit there, making no move toward her.

Liz's eyes filled with amusement. "You know, you don't have to just sit there and think about it."

His smile was one of sheepish self-mockery. "I don't? You mean I could actually...touch you?" he asked, easing his hand on to her bare stomach in a slow glide.

"Mmm-hmm," she hummed in answer, smiling a little.

His warm palm lazily skimmed back and forth over her smooth skin, leaving a trail of fire in its wake, and Liz's breath began to come just a little bit quicker. Her eyes fell closed to savor every nuance of his touch. How she'd missed the gentle touch of his hands. In his strong hands lay the ability to heal and to protect. They were powerful hands, and yet they handled her with such tender consideration that she never failed to feel cherished by them.

Max's eyes were fastened on Liz's face, utterly fascinated by the sensual expressions that played across it as he blindly learned every exquisite dip and hollow of her torso. His fingertips traced a feather-light path along the curve of her waist, prompting an eruption of goose bumps and a delicious shiver from her. They skated up over her ribs to move towards the hem of her shirt, where his fingers insinuated themselves just underneath the fabric, working it up the tiniest bit more as they stroked back and forth across her midriff.

Liz's heart raced as she waited in breathless suspense for his next move. How far would he dare to go? Mere inches lay between her breasts and his fingers as he teasingly brushed them from side to side. Suddenly, he stopped, and his hand lay still upon her ribs.

Liz held her breath.

Long moments passed without any movement from him, and finally, growing impatient, her eyes flew open to search his out.

Leaning over her, his lips hovering only inches from the flesh he'd been exploring so thoroughly, he waited until her eyes found his, before asking softly, "Could I even... kiss you?"

"Absolutely," she whispered, tense with the anticipation of feeling his lips against her bare skin.

The first touch of his lips made her stomach contract sharply as she sucked in a quick breath, and each subsequent caress of his lips seemed to shock her flesh into quivering life. Time held no meaning, as he leisurely scattered open-mouthed kisses across every inch of her exposed abdomen, the occasional rasp of his tongue like velvet against the satin of her skin.

Max's hands framed her hips as if holding her steady for his ministrations, and she brought her hands up to circle his wrists with her fingers. Stroking the vulnerable skin of his inner wrists with her thumbs, she thrilled to the warm life pulsating there in a rapid throbbing that kept time with her own racing pulse.

Liz marveled at the affect they had on one another. She hadn't even touched him until now, yet his heart was pounding every bit as hard as hers, and his breathing just as shallow.

The heady taste of Liz's skin and the breathless sounds coming from her throat were creating a hunger for more within him that quickly grew sharp and insistent, and his kisses became fiercer and more aggressive in an effort to appease it. Interspersing gentle nips of his teeth with delectable little suckling kisses, he anointed her with the raining heat of his mouth, paying careful attention to every sweet bit of skin that lay bare to him.

And each sizzling touch left Liz gasping for breath.

Her hands slid up his arms, pausing lingeringly at the muscles bulging in his upper arms, then moved up to thread her fingers through the hair at the back of his neck. She held his head closely against her with both hands, unwilling to let him stop until he'd explored every single millimeter.

Opening his mouth against her flesh, Max raked his teeth gently across a spot just below her ribs, and she arched against his lips with a gasp.

"Max!" his name was a harsh whisper on her lips.

His eyes lifted to see her head thrown back on the pillow and her face drawn in lines of pleasure. Her reaction sent an electric thrill jolting through him, and he lowered his head to repeat the gesture, eliciting another sharp gasp and sending her hands flying to land on his shoulders, fingertips digging delicately into his flesh.

The dull bite of her short nails inflamed him, and had him tightening his own hands on her hips. His thumbs met at a point low on her belly, where they began to brush back and forth in maddening strokes, while his mouth strung a series of nibbles and delicate swipes of his tongue along the skin directly above the waistband of her pants. A soft whimper escaped Liz's throat, and she bit her lip and gripped his shoulders tightly, as if she needed something to hold onto to keep herself grounded to the earth.

The sight of Max's dark head moving against the paleness of her skin was incredibly erotic to Liz, and it sent a flood of molten heat flooding through her. It traveled to all parts of her body before moving to gather in the spot directly underneath his stroking thumbs. She moved restlessly beneath his caressing hands and lips, and a desperate need to feel his lips against hers suddenly seized hold of her. Her fingers clutching fistfuls of his t-shirt, she tugged firmly, urging him upward.

He lifted passion-dazed eyes to hers, and allowed her to slowly draw him up, until his face hovered above her own. They found their own desire reflected back at them in one another's eyes, and the heaving breath that was coming from each of them mingled hotly together before Max leaned down to take her lips with his own. Liz's head came up off the pillow to meet him halfway, and their lips collided in a silent explosion of need. Their tongues sought one another out, as their mouths moved against each other rapaciously, each feeding on the sweet taste of the other.

Liz wrapped her arms around Max's shoulders to pull him closer, and he came down to rest his upper body atop hers, bracing himself on his forearms. His hands moved to cup the sides of her face as his lips continued to greedily sip from hers, and she avidly met each thrust of his tongue and brief stroke of his lips with a hungry reciprocation. The connection between them began to open...

A soft knocking at her bedroom door ruptured the silence of the room.

With a start, their lips tore apart and their heads swivelled toward the door. They lay frozen in that position, with hearts pounding, until another tentative knock sounded and Maria's hushed voice called Liz's name.

Max swallowed and looked down at Liz, and she turned dark eyes still glazed with passion up to his. The look in her eyes kept his own desire burning brightly, and his gaze shifted down to her mouth. Glistening and swollen from his kisses, it seemed to beg for his return, and he couldn't resist its pleading.

He tilted his head and lowered his lips to within kissing distance of hers, and whispered, "She can't come in. I power-locked the door." His lashes swept up to allow him to catch her response.

She regarded him with a gleam in her eye as she considered what he seemed to be suggesting and caught her bottom lip between her teeth.

"Liz?" Maria called softly.

Max's lips dipped in teasingly toward Liz's, but then backed away as he waited for her decision. It came in the tipping up of her face toward his, and he eagerly took what was offered. His lips closed over hers, receiving a response that was hot and immediate, and they kissed each other until they were breathless.

"Liz? Are you awake?" Maria's voice came again.

They tried to stifle their ragged breathing as Max's lips left Liz's to forge a blazing trail across her cheek to her neck, where he began a delicate nipping and sucking of the sensitive skin there. Her eyes slid closed at the pleasure his mouth sent rushing through her and she tipped her head back to give him better access. A soft moan escaped before she could stop it when his teeth raked across the skin at the juncture of her neck and shoulder, and once again they froze in fearful expectation of being caught.

There was a long silence before Maria's puzzled voice again called Liz's name.

The lack of accusation from her unlocked their frozen position, and Max lifted his head to look into Liz's eyes. They looked at one another questioningly, and when nothing more was heard from Maria for a long moment, a look of sinful mischief came over Liz's face, and she pulled Max's head back down to her neck.

His lips willingly took up where they'd left off, testing the spot with his tongue before applying a gentle suction. Liz cradled the back of his head and bit her lip in an attempt to stay quiet. He pushed aside the neck of her shirt to slide his lips along the bare skin of her shoulder, and she tilted her head to the opposite side to give him more room to roam.

"Are you alright, Liz? I thought I heard you...moaning."

The concern in Maria's voice registered vaguely through the sensual haze Liz was fast becoming lost in, and finally prompted her to answer her friend.

"Um...Maria?" she said faintly, as Max's tongue dipped into the hollow at the base of her throat. "I-I'm fine. I was, um... sleeping."

"I'm so sorry, Liz. I didn't mean to wake you. I just thought I'd bring you something to eat. If you were awake, I mean. Which you are now, I guess. I know you said earlier you weren't hungry, but you should really eat something. Is it okay if I come in?" The door knob rattled even as the question was coming out of her mouth.

Liz jumped, dislodging Max's lips from the curve of her jaw, and her eyes jerked over to the door.

Max jolted slightly and fell still for a moment, but then resumed his erotic meanderings. "Relax," he breathed directly into her ear. "There's no way she can get in."

Relax? Was he crazy? When the tiny love bites he was stringing along the sensitive chord of her neck threatened to tear another moan from her throat, and her best friend was no more than ten feet away with a curious ear trained on the room?

Her heart pounded crazily and adrenaline heightened her senses, amplifying every touch of his lips. She didn't know whether it was from the fear of being caught, or the thrill of what Max was doing to her, but either way, it was completely titillating.

"Liz, why is the door locked?" Maria asked in consternation.

Max's mouth had returned to its starting point, where his tongue thrust delicately into the shell of her ear, and Liz said weakly, "Is-is it?"

His breath came fast and harsh in her ear, and knowing how this was affecting him fueled her own excitement. It was an effort to think through the fog in her brain, but she tried to focus. What had Maria just asked? Oh. The door. Locked. "Um...I didn't- I-I didn't know it was."

"Liz, are you okay?" There was a frown in Maria's voice.

Max nibbled softly on her earlobe, then his lips moved to linger at the hypersensitive spot behind her ear, eliciting a delicate shudder and a pressing of her fingertips into his shoulder and the back of his neck where she held him.

"Uh-huh," Liz breathed in answer to Maria's question.

"Are you sure? You're kinda weirdin' me out, here. Why won't you let me in?"

Max could hardly hear Maria's voice over the pounding of his own heart. Drugging pleasure had taken over his senses, and he'd quickly become addicted to it. Nothing else seemed to matter except taking in more of it. The knowledge that one thin door was the only thing that hid them from Maria's sight lent a sharp edge to their passion that left him feverish and filled with reckless abandon.

"I--," Liz gasped as Max placed his mouth over her throbbing pulse and drew strongly upon it. She struggled to catch her breath and concentrate in order to come up with an explanation for Maria. "I-I'm just...I'm still really tired, M-Maria. I don't really want any- anything to eat. I think I'll, go back to sleep, o-okay?" She lifted her chin as Max's lips made their way up its underside. "Thanks, though," she thought to add.

Out in the hallway Maria looked at the door doubtfully for a long moment, before finally accepting the breathless explanation. "Well, okay. I'm just gonna leave this tray outside the door, though, alright? You can eat it when you get up."

"Th-thanks," came the vague reply.

Maria set the food down on the floor, then turned to go. She cast another suspicious look over her shoulder at the door, then shook her head and laughed at herself.

What? Did she think Liz was in there having wild, passionate sex with Jason Behr or something?

Yeah, right. And maybe aliens would take over the earth someday.

Wait a minute!

She stopped in her tracks and looked back at Liz's room with a frown.

After studying the door with narrowed eyes for several moments, she finally wrinkled her nose in dismissal.

"Naaah," she murmured, shaking her head, then turned away to get back to work.

Back in Liz's bedroom, Max had worked his way up to Liz's lips, and they stopped to look at each other as they heard Maria's footsteps receding.

Liz shook her head, her eyes glinting wickedly. "We are so bad, Max."

His smoldering eyes roamed her face. "Bein' bad feels pretty good," he said gruffly, before swooping down to capture her lips.

As her mouth opened under his, Liz had to agree.

Chapter 16

Max gently cupped the sides of Liz's neck and the underside of her jaw, as his lips hungrily feasted upon hers. The palm of her hand lay lightly against his cheek, and her head moved upon her pillow in seductive circular motions as she ardently returned his kiss. Occasionally she rose up off the pillow as if trying to reach more of him, and Max would try to answer her need with a dark thrust of his tongue or by changing the angle of the kiss and tilting her head so that their lips might mesh more firmly.

The connection between them was wide open, and it was impossible to tell where her hunger ended and Max's began. Their passion still running high from their daring and the fear of almost being found out, they desperately tried to fulfill the demand it was making of them with the voraciousness of their kiss.

Liz was making whimpering sounds of need deep in her throat, and they fired his intensity even more, making him burn for something more than their kisses could seem provide. His mouth never leaving hers, Max twisted around so he could move fully onto the bed, climbing over to lie down between her legs with a creak of the bedsprings.

As he laid his body fully atop hers, Liz moaned softly at the contact and wrapped her arms around him to pull him more firmly against her. One of her hands found its way up underneath his shirt and slid, with fingers splayed, across the heated skin of his bare back, taking delight in the sleek muscles that rippled there. A simmering heat set up a slow boil at the center of her being and sent a pleasurable buzz to her brain that drew her even further into a world of sensuality where only she and Max existed.

Max just couldn't seem to get close enough to her. Her thoughts and emotions were flooding his senses, entangling with his until he couldn't separate the two, yet, still it wasn't enough. His body craved more.

Being careful not to crush her, he pressed up tightly against her, trying to align their bodies until every curve of hers found its perfect resting place against each hollow and plane of his. He couldn't even begin to think about the intimate proximity of her hips to his right now, or he would completely lose the tenuous grasp on his self-control that he was barely managing to hang on to. Liz wasn't helping his cause one bit with her sinuous movements beneath him, and when she gently thrust her hips up against his, he tore his lips from hers and gasped her name sharply.

In a desperate bid for sanity, he wrapped his hands firmly around her tiny waist to halt her movements and begged raggedly, "Liz, please?"

Responding to the strain in his voice, Liz obediently fell still, but she refused to relinquish his lips, and pulled them back down to hers demandingly. She echoed Max's desperate need to be closer, and she'd been moving against him unconsciously in pursuit of a deeper contact. Nothing seemed to be enough. She wished she could just crawl right up inside him and BE him.

The buzz of pleasure seemed to hum throughout her entire body now, making her anxious for some unknown something, and she could feel an answering vibration coming from deep within Max's body. Somewhere in the back of her mind she vaguely recognized it as the charging of their energy, but it didn't fully register amidst all the other sensations she was engrossed in.

Their lips moved against each other urgently as Max's hands wandered restlessly over her body. They were quickly reaching a dangerous precipice that they shouldn't risk falling from when images suddenly began pouring in through their connection, adding yet another form of stimulation to their already overheated senses.


Max and Isabel getting off the bus on the first day of school and seeing Liz across the playground.


Max reaching for her hand in the cave where they first met Riverdog, and Liz trustingly placing her own hand in his after Riverdog's warning to be sure that Max deserved her trust.


The kiss onstage at the end of the blind date with Doug Shellow, where Liz received flashes from Max in this way for the first time.


Standing on the guardrail of the bridge as Pierce's men close in on them. Their lips meeting in a last desperate kiss before making the jump into the dark river below.


A million stars shining brightly overhead as they lay together intimately on the desert floor the night they found the orb. Sexual anticipation running high as they kiss hungrily, their intention of making love foremost in their minds.


The darkness of infinite space all around as a distant, bright planet comes into view and moves closer and closer...


Two figures without substance, pale and glowing amidst a deep purple mist. Merging into one in a blinding flash of light and rippling ecstasy, sending a shockwave of euphoric heat radiating outward.

Bodies jolting, their lips ripped away from each other with breathless sounds of startlement. Panting for breath, they looked into each other's eyes searchingly.

"What was that?" Liz gasped. "Did you see it?"

"Yeah. I mean.. I guess I did. What did you see?"

Her eyes huge and questioning, Liz answered, "Two glowing.. uh, f-forms, and they.. came together- and just melded into one."

He nodded. "Yeah. I saw that, too."

They looked at each other silently for a long moment, hearts pounding.

The shockwave of feeling that had come from that last flash had felt as though it had made an actual physical impact with her body. That, as well as the abrupt halt it had brought to their lovemaking, left Liz trembling with an ache that came from somewhere deep inside, and had her clutching the back of Max's shirt tightly in both hands, while she tried to pull in deep, steadying gulps of air.

Feeling the tremors of her body, Max's eyes darkened with concern. He lifted his weight off her immediately, bracing himself on his forearms, and cradled her head in his hands.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

She nodded and said, "I-I'm fine. But- could you just.. hold me.. for a little bit?"

He leaned down to place a tender kiss upon her temple, and replied, "Of course I can."

Moving to the side of the bed, he lay down on his back and wrapped his arms tightly around her small form, pulling her in close to his side. Liz rolled to her hip beside him, and after lifting her head to rest on his shoulder, she threw her arm around his waist and clung to him tightly.

Max rested his lips against the top of her head, and moved one hand slowly up and down her arm in a soothing motion to try and calm her shivers, and they lay there quietly for a moment.

When they'd caught their breath, Liz asked shakily, "Wh-what was that, Max? In the flash. Do you know?"

Max shook his head a little. "I'm not sure. But- did you feel it? When they... came together?"

"Yeah," she answered quietly. "I've never felt anything like it before. It was like... the most pure form of pleasure I could ever imagine." She hesitated, then asked, "Do you- do you think that's how... your people, um- you know, m-make love?"

"I was wondering the same thing. But I don't see how that would be possible if they have physical bodies. I mean, one of them just... disappeared inside the other one."

Liz shuddered lightly. She felt disturbed by the strange vision, but was unsure why, since it had felt as though she were witnessing a most beautiful and reverent act. One that had induced such feelings of pure bliss that she was still shaking from its effects.

"Well, what were they doing, then? And where did that flash come from? We've never seen the same vision before, and the first time we do, it's something from...your home. What does that mean, Max?"

"I don't know," he answered absently, frowning in concern. Her trembling hadn't lessened. If anything, it had grown more pronounced, and now her teeth were even chattering slightly. "Liz, are you alright?"

"I don't know what's wrong. I can't seem to stop shaking. It's just...reaction, I guess."

Max's arms tightened around her, and he began rubbing her arm a little more briskly. "This was too much for you after everything you've been through today. I'm sorry, Liz," he said, his voice full of self-reproach.

"It's okay. I'll be fine, Max, r-really, I just--" she stirred restlessly, and her knee lifted to rest her leg atop his, where it brushed against his jeans fitfully. "I feel k-kind of...on edge."

Her hand began to clench and open convulsively on a handful of his t-shirt, and she couldn't seem to control the small agitated movements she was making against him.

"Liz, you're really starting to scare me," Max said, his voice sharp with worry. He craned his head around to see her better, and brushed her hair away from her cheek. His hand halted in mid-motion as he encountered the heat of her skin. "You're burning up! Liz, what's happening?"

"I-I don't know," she replied uncertainly, teeth chattering. She was beginning to get a little scared, herself. Something was going on inside her, and she was afraid it might have something to do with her new 'power'. "Max, d-did you feel our energy doing something earlier, w-when we know, k-kissing?"

"What? Liz, we need to find out what's happening to you right now."

"No- I know. But, I think it-it feels kinda like it did earlier today w-when Michael and I were doing the energy b-blast. You know? Like energy built up inside that I need- need to get rid of. And I thought I might have felt our energy- um, doing... something while we were kissing. Did you f-feel it?"

"Yeah, I guess I did. I just wasn't paying that much attention to it. Do you think that's what this is?"

"I'm not sure. But I- I think so."

She didn't feel exactly the same as she had when her and Michael's energy had been building inside her. This energy didn't seem to be growing any bigger, it just seemed to seethe at her center, as if charged up for readiness with nowhere to go. Trying to contain the simmering heat of it was making her skin feel too tight, and made her anxious to just get rid of it, the same way it had with Michael.

With a soundless whimper of distress, Liz sat up, and said, "Max, I have to let it out. I- I can't stand it!"

Max sat up as well, and moved his hand to cover hers where it was gripping the bedspread. He was extremely relieved at finding an explanation for her behavior, and that it wasn't anything too serious. It took away his sense of urgency and helplessness to know that this was something they could easily take care of, and he set about reassuring her as well.

Rubbing her hand soothingly, he said, "Listen, Liz. If all this is is unspent energy, you don't have to use it, you just need to learn how to absorb it back into your body. This used to happen to me and Isabel when we were kids and we were first learning to use our powers. We'd gather the energy to use it on something, and then get interrupted by one thing or another, and it would just sit there, charged and waiting."

Liz nodded, and in a strained voice, asked, "Well, how do I do that? Absorb it back?"

Lifting his hand to her hair, he said, "You just need to relax. And focus on pulling it back."

"Max! I can't relax. It- it's making me crazy!"

She felt as though her entire body were vibrating with a palpable electric hum, and she could barely think through it. She could only worry that the energy would escape somehow.

His thumb brushed her cheek and he said soothingly, "Shhh, it'll be okay. C'mere."

He pushed back until he was resting against the headboard of the bed, and pulled her over to sit between his legs with her back to his chest. Wrapping one arm tightly around her waist, he used his other hand to press her head back to rest on his shoulder, then brushed her hair back from her forehead in repetitive calming strokes.

Putting his lips against her ear, he said softly, "Now close your eyes and take deep breaths."

Liz obeyed and let the deep, husky sound of his voice lull her as he further instructed her. "Focus on where your energy is gathered, and on not letting it control you. You control it, Liz. It's something your body created, and it's under your control. Now, pull it back from your center and force it to dissolve. Then just let it go and imagine it all flowing away."

Max fell silent to allow her to concentrate on her task, and continued to stroke her hair. After several long moments, Liz's trembling finally ceased. She took a deep cleansing breath that seemed to come from her toes and let it out slowly.

"Better?" Max asked quietly.

"Much," she whispered. "Thank you."

Max nodded and rested his cheek against the side of her head, then slid his other arm around her waist to join its mate. Moving her arms to rest atop his, Liz stroked his forearm lovingly with one hand, and they stayed that way for a few moments, relieved that the mini-crisis had passed.

Max's arms tightened around her, and he said semi-teasingly, "I don't know if my heart can take another scare from you today. How about we just stay like this for the rest of the day?"

Her own arms tightened on his, and she said, "That's fine by me. You know, there's food right outside the door in case we get hungry." She grinned up at him. "And if we stayed in here long enough, Maria might even bring us dinner, too."

Max's lips quirked and he said, "Our own personal form of room service, huh? Think she'd comply with the 'Do Not Disturb' sign this time?"

Liz wrinkled her nose. "I doubt it. Maria takes her job pretty seriously." His brows rose in question, and she said, "You know, best friend, mother hen...defender of my virtue."

He chuckled, then said wryly, "She has good instincts. Your virtue might have been in pretty serious danger if we'd gone on much longer."

"Yeah, you're right. I guess things were getting...kinda out of hand, huh?"

Max grew serious, and met her eyes. "Yeah. We, uh- weren't exactly taking things slow."

She bit her lip in remorse as she realized he was right. They weren't being careful at all. They'd undoubtedly been heading down the same path they'd been on before Future Max showed up. All it had taken was a steamy once-over from Max and all that end-of-the-world stuff had completely flown from her head.

"You're right," she conceded. "I guess staying in bed like this isn't a very smart move. Maybe we should, um...get out of here."

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea. Do you want to go take a drive or something?"

Happy that he didn't intend to go home just yet, Liz quickly agreed.

"Let me just go change real quick."

Max watched as she hopped up off the bed, and moved around the room quickly gathering up clothes to change into, then said, "Liz?"

She stopped her bustling movements and looked at him in question.

His lips turned up in a half smile, and he requested, "Just don't wear that shirt, okay? And wear lots and lots of layers."

She grinned devilishly in answer, then disappeared into the bathroom to change.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:45:29 AM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 6:08:54 PM
Chapter 17

"She actually encouraged you to come check on me?" Liz asked Max with brows lifted in surprise.

They were in the jeep, driving down the Old Highway with the radio playing softly in the background, and they'd been talking about Tess ever since they'd left the city limits. Liz had told him about everything she'd seen when they'd connected to do the mindwarp, and Max had filled her in on the conversation he'd had with Tess in the jeep earlier.

"Yeah," Max answered. "That's really good news, right? That she's willing for us to all try and be friends?"

"Yeah, that's great. If she really means it. But if there's one thing I learned from connecting with her today, Max, it's that what's in Tess' head and what comes out of her mouth are two entirely different things."

"Well, but, it's a step in the right direction, don't you think? I mean, if you two could become friends, and the rest of us make more of an effort to make her feel like a member of the group, eventually, I think she'd be able to accept you and me being together."

"Oh, yeah," she agreed, nodding. "It's definitely a step in the right direction."

She wanted to share Max's enthused sense of optimism, and she did feel that Tess encouraging Max to come to her was a positive sign, but her feelings of caution and doubt refused to be dismissed. When connecting with Tess, she hadn't seen anything concrete that she could point to as a reason for her mistrust, but simply the state of Tess' emotions was enough to make Liz uneasy. She'd been so confused and conflicted that Liz could very easily imagine those emotions driving Tess to make a decision that they would all come to regret later. And until they felt more sure of Tess, Liz wouldn't feel comfortable about trusting her with the whole future thing.

"I guess we should all try and do something together soon. You know, go out, be friends," she suggested with an ironic smile.

"Yeah," Max agreed. "Maybe we could go to the movies or something next weekend. Do something normal for a change."

"That sounds good. We could invite Michael and Maria, and Alex and Isabel, too."

"Sure. What better way to make Tess feel like a part of the group?"

"Oh! And we should invite Kyle, too."

She looked at Max quickly as she suddenly remembered the part Kyle had played in the whole sleeping together deception, and added, "I mean, if- if that's okay."

He looked over at her and said reassuringly, "It's okay, Liz. I don't hold anything against Kyle. I mean, how can I? All he was really guilty of was being loyal to you. He's been loyal to all of us, actually, ever since he found out the truth about us. He's one of us now, and we should definitely include him."

Liz looked at him with shining eyes, and marveled at his generosity.

How could he forgive and forget so easily? It had been only yesterday that Max had still believed that she and Kyle had slept together. And she knew the depths of hurt and anger he'd felt because of that, she'd experienced it herself when they'd connected. So how was it possible that he could just let all those dark emotions go, and forgive her and Kyle without holding even the tiniest of grudges against them for tricking him and lying to him, all within the space of a single day? He hadn't even gotten the least bit upset with her because she hadn't trusted him with the truth sooner. And not only was he able to forgive them for everything they'd done, but he was willing to count them among the members of his elite group of friends.

He was incredible, she thought, her heart swelling with love and admiration.

Looking over to find the reason for the long silence, Max encountered her amazed stare, and asked self-consciously, "What?"

Shaking her head a little, she said feelingly, "I love you, Max Evans."

A pleased smile curved his lips and he reached for her hand where it rested in her lap.

Twining her fingers through his, she said, "You're amazing, you know that?"

The corner of his lip quirked and he said, "Why? Because I included Kyle in our movie plans?"

"Yes," she answered seriously. "Because you're able to forgive him- forgive us, for what we did to you. I know we didn't really.. um, sleep together, but- we made you think we did, and that's even worse, really, because it isn't something you can just excuse by saying it was a mistake we made in a weak moment, or whatever. It.. was a deliberate attempt to- to hurt you." She dropped her eyes to her lap in regret, and Max gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. She tightened her grip around his and said, "A-and there may have been a good reason behind what we did, but...I know how much we hurt you, Max. I- I felt it. I wouldn't have blamed you- at all, if you needed some time, you know, to- to come to terms with that." Her lip lifted slightly at the corner, and she looked at him with a shake of her head, "But here you are, the very next day, saying, 'Hey, why don't you and Kyle come to the movies with me'."

He gave a small shrug of his shoulders and said, "Of course I can forgive you, Liz. I know you never would've done what you did if- if I hadn't asked you to do it." He grimaced. "If it's going to take time for me to come to terms with anything it'll be that. That the person responsible for putting us through everything we've had to go through this past month was- myself. That's still hard for me to comprehend, you know? If it had only involved my feelings, I might be able to understand it better. But to just drop all that responsibility in your lap, and leave you to deal with it on your own, on top of the way you were already hurting..." he shook his head, "that's not something I would have ever thought I'd do. No matter what was at stake. There- there had to be a better way."

Liz's gaze rested pensively on their linked hands and she brushed her thumb lightly across his knuckles.

Max's thumb returned the caress, and he continued, "But I don't want us to waste any more time on regrets, Liz. Either of us," he added pointedly. "I've done enough of that over the past six months to last both our lifetimes. Mostly regretting who I am, but also that I didn't stop you from walking away that day at the cave, and that I wasn't more persistent when you first came home from Florida, and even that I hadn't just gone into your room that night and confronted you and Kyle. But all those things, they're over and done with, and regretting them isn't going to change anything. I just... I want us to put all that stuff behind us, so we can focus all our energy on doing what we have to do to be together. Because if I've learned anything from us being apart, Liz," she brought her gaze up, and his eyes left the road to look directly into hers, "it's that nothing else in my life seems to work if I don't have you beside me," he finished earnestly.

Smiling at him lovingly, she slid her free hand to cover the back of his and stroked it caressingly.

"So no more talk about forgiveness for what happened last month, okay? It's in the past. And besides, there's really nothing to forgive in the first place."

Her lips retained their upward curve as she lowered her lashes, and agreed to let bygones be bygones with a soft, "Okay."

"Okay," he repeated with a small nod of his head and a squeeze of her hand to seal the deal.

They were silent for a few moments, then Max said, "You know, as amazing as I am for including Kyle," he gave her a teasing grin, and she smilingly rolled her eyes, "he may not want to be included."

"What do you mean?" she asked curiously.

"Well, I had Tess talk to him last night about the possibility that he's been changed, just like you have. I thought he might take it better coming from her."

"Yeah, I've been thinking about him, and wondering if that were true. So... it didn't go so well, huh?"

"Well, he wasn't too thrilled about it, but Tess said he didn't totally reject the possibility. When she asked if he wanted to come with us to the quarry today to find out more about it though, he said there was some game on t.v. he didn't want to miss. I get the feeling he'd just rather not know."

"Well, it's kind of a lot to accept all at once, Max. If we hadn't been in the middle of an emergency when Ava told me, I probably wouldn't have wanted evidence that it was true right away, either." After pausing for a second, she said, "He's gotta be wondering, though. Maybe I should talk to him."

"Yeah," he agreed. "That might be good. It might help you both to deal with it. I mean, since it's something you're both going through." He hesitated a beat before saying, "I realized something on the way home from the quarry today, Liz. About how I kept saying over and over again today that none of us are pressuring you, you know, to- to use these powers you have now. But I realized that's not true. I have been pushing you, practically since the minute I got home yesterday. Wanting to learn more about them, and to find out what you can do. That was wrong of me, and I wanted to apologize. Not only have I not given you enough time to deal with all this, but we've just been trying to learn too much about it too fast. And we need to be more cautious with this thing. We don't know anything about it, and you could end up really getting hurt. Or- or worse." His heart quickened in remembered dread as his mind relived her collapse after doing the energy blast today. "We could've lost you today, Liz," he said in quiet fear.

Her hand slid from its place atop his to give the back of his wrist a comforting squeeze, and she assured him, "But you didn't. I'm right here, Max. And I'm fine."

His hand gripped hers tightly and he said, "It could've easily turned out so much worse, though. I- I shouldn't have pushed. You should take as much time as you need to deal with this. There's no need to hurry, it's not like there's an urgent reason for you to develop these powers. There's really no need to develop them at all, if you don't want to. For you or Kyle, either one. We'll just.. we'll take things slow, okay? From now on, we won't do anything unless you're completely comfortable with it."

"I wouldn't mind if we slowed down a little, but- I don't want you to feel bad for pushing me, Max, because I really needed you to do that. If you hadn't, I would've just.. kept denying that it was true, that I've been changed. But it is true. And it's something that's a part of me now. I won't deny that it really scares me, and I totally agree that we should be more cautious, but I want to learn more about it. I need to. Because my biggest fear is that I might accidentally do something terrible to hurt someone just because I don't know how these powers work. So, really, I think- I think there is a need to develop them."

"That's fine, Liz. If it'll put your mind at ease, we'll help you learn whatever you want. Except... no more energy blasts, okay? They're too dangerous. And according to Michael, they aren't something you two have any control over."

"He thinks that? He doesn't think we could get them under control even if we worked on them?"

"Liz, I don't want you working on them. Look at what happened today when you tried to do that. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said we should be more cautious. We don't know what we're dealing with here, and it isn't something to play around with."

"Right, Max. We don't know what we're dealing with. All the more reason to try and find out more about it, don't you think?"

He looked at her sternly and said, "No, I don't think. We don't know why your energy reacted the way it did to his. And Michael said that it started to grow as soon as you connected. If it's going to be like that every time you connect, it isn't gonna give you any time to try and get it under control."

"Yeah," she said reflectively, "It did kinda take on a life of its own." She paused for a contemplative moment. "But, you know, I think part of it may have been the same thing that happened with you and me this afternoon. We just...let it build up for so long, and I felt like I just had to let it out. Maybe- maybe I could've tried doing what you showed me how to do, you know, absorb some of it back into my body. Then maybe it wouldn't have been so much that we couldn't handle it."

Max shook his head. "Liz, this is too dangerous for you to try to experiment with. And anyway, I thought you were scared of it. I would've thought you'd be the first one to agree not to use this power anymore. Why are you suddenly so gung-ho about it?"

"Because, Max... It- it's like- this incredible force that's capable of.. well, of.. of killing, and it's inside of me, and I don't know anything about it. I- I need to feel like I have some kind of control over it, you know? Otherwise... I'll just live in fear of it for the rest of my life."

Max sighed. He could understand her need to know more about it, but it was just so dangerous, and he couldn't override his protective instincts. "I just don't want to see you get hurt, Liz," he said, his face twisted into an expression of reluctance and concern.

She smiled softly in understanding and said, "I know, Max. We can wait on this. There isn't any hurry about it, right?" Her lips quirked. "We won't do anything until you're completely comfortable with it."

He grinned at hearing his words tossed back at him, and said dryly, "Well, in that case, there isn't anything to worry about, because I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with it."

Liz smiled and decided to let the matter drop. It was true that she wanted to find out what she could about this power, but she would be more than happy to wait a little while before pursuing it. It would give her and Max both time to grow more used to the idea. And she had no idea how Michael felt about the whole thing after what had happened this morning. She wondered what was going through his head right now.

"Um, did Michael say anything else about it on the way home? I mean, besides the fact that it grew stronger and got out of control?"

Max felt the return of his guilt and regret as he remembered everything that had been said in the jeep going home this afternoon. "He, uh- he just said that your energy seemed to grab on to his, and it somehow fused together. And that he tried to take some of it back, but he couldn't get it separated."

"Yeah," she agreed, remembering how she had felt the pull of it as he tried to take his own energy back, but both forces had intertwined so tightly that it had become like a single unit inside her. "Why do you think it did that, Max? And why only with Michael? If it was gonna do that with anyone, I would think it would be with you, since you're the one that changed me, you know? So, why Michael?"

Max remembered the accusatory way he'd asked Michael the same questions, and the memory of his bitter answers sent Max sinking a little deeper into guilt. "I don't know," he answered quietly.

"It's really strange, but...when our energy came together, it felt like--" she hesitated for a long moment, then shook her head at the absurdity of what she was about to suggest. "Forget it."

Pulled out of his guilty musings by curiosity at what she'd left unsaid, Max said, "It felt like- what?"

"Nothing. Forget it," she said again. "It doesn't make sense."

"Very little about this situation does make sense, Liz. What were you gonna say? It felt like- what?"

Liz sighed in capitulation and said, "I was just going to say that.. what was happening with our energy- it felt... familiar, somehow. Like- like maybe it had happened before."

Nonplussed, Max's brows drew down in a frown, and she said hastily, "I told you, it's ridiculous. You know, I was obviously under a lot of stress at the time, and what I was feeling just... well- it had no basis in reality. We should really just forget I even said anything."

Max continued to frown as he thought about what she'd said. He hated to just dismiss her feelings out of hand, but she was right, it didn't make any sense.

"You're probably right," he finally conceded. "It must have been the stress. I mean, we know how much of a strain it was on your body to do the blast, it had to have affected your emotions, too."

Liz was quiet as she recalled exactly how much of a strain it had been on her body. It made her shudder to remember how the power had felt as it had gone ripping through her body when she'd thrown it at the quarry wall. It seemed an impossibility that she had escaped the force and fury of it unscathed. It was a memory that had her doubting the sanity of ever having anything to do with this power again. It was capable of so much destruction. At least, she assumed it was. She suddenly realized that she had no idea exactly what the blast had done after she'd let it go, because she'd blacked out almost immediately. The lack of knowledge seemed to add another unknown quantity to the already uncertain ability.

She licked her lips nervously, and said, "Um, did- did it do a lot of damage? The blast?"

Max threw a quick look over at her and said, "I didn't get a really good look at it because I was focused on you as soon as you fainted, but... yeah," he finished quietly, "It did a lot of damage."

She was silent for a moment, then asked, "Could I see it?"

"What, now?" he asked in surprise.

"Yeah. I- I need to see it, Max. Will you take me?"

He looked at her in indecision and asked, "Are you sure you're up to it today, Liz? I can bring you back some other time."

"I'm sure." When he still hesitated, she asked, "Please?"

"Okay," he finally complied. He stroked the fleshy pad at the base of her thumb with the tip of his own, before sliding his hand free from her clasp to turn the jeep around.

Once they were headed in the opposite direction, Liz said, "Thank you, Max. I just... I guess I need to see it with my own eyes, you know? What this power is capable of."

"I understand that you need to do that, Liz, but you've already had to deal with so much today..." Looking over at her, he reached his hand up to the back of her head to stroke her hair and said, "I just don't want you to try to handle too much at once, okay?"

"I won't," she promised, smiling softly at his concern.

They were quiet for most of the trip to the quarry. When they were only a few miles away from their destination, Liz finally became aware of the fact that the reason for Max's silence was because he was brooding over something.

"Max, what's wrong? If you really don't want me to do this today, I can wait."

Startled out of his thoughts, his eyes jerked over to hers, and he answered, "It's not that, Liz. I was...I was just thinking about Michael."

Her brows drew down slightly. "What about him?"

Max shook his head in self-disgust. "I really messed up with him today. He- he's feeling guilty about what happened with you at the quarry." He gave her a brief look to catch her response, and continued, "And I just made things worse. I actually... tried to place blame on him for it. A-and now he almost seems like he's at the same place he was after he killed Pierce."

"Oh, Max," Liz said softly.

"I just...I was worried about you. And I was feeling guilty myself, for pushing you and letting you go through with the blast, and I didn't understand what went wrong. All Michael had to do was open his mouth, and I just...jumped all over him." He gave a brief shake of his head. "I guess I just needed someone to strike out at." His mouth twisted, and he said with bitter regret, "That's the only kind of relationship he and I seem to have anymore. Like we're just someone to take each other's frustrations out on. He's always pissed off at me about something, and I'm always so frustrated with him I can't see straight."

"Max, you guys- you have such a complicated relationship, you know? Michael has never had a steady male influence in his life except for you. And he's always looked up to you. But at the same time, I think he's always been a little jealous of you, you know, because you always seem to have it just a little bit better than him. And when you found out that you're the leader of your planet, and that Isabel is your sister, but not just gave him even more to be jealous of, and- it's just taking him some time to deal with that. And you know Michael has never been good with emotions, anger is the only way he knows how to deal."

Max gave her an odd look and said, "Since when do you know so much about the inner workings of Michael's mind?"

She blinked, taken aback, and answered, "I- I don't know. I just... do."

They'd come up on the entrance of the quarry without her being aware of it, and the question was immediately forgotten. She barely had time to take a deep breath to prepare herself, before the evidence of what the energy blast was capable of was staring her in the face. The moment the quarry wall came into view, her eyes became riveted by the site of the dark cavity carved into its face. The sun hung low on the horizon, backlighting the granite bluff, and leaving its sheer interior wall hidden in shadowed obscurity. It was hard to gauge the depth of the yawning hole from here, inside was utter darkness, but judging from its opening, it looked as though it could be at least as big as her bedroom.

Max took a long look at the violently wrought crease in the rock, and was shaken once again by the realization that the massively destructive force responsible for creating it had first gone tearing through Liz's small body. He reached for her hand to reassure himself again that she had escaped harm, but Liz was already making her way out of the car. Moving as though she were in a trance, she reached blindly for the door handle, her rapt gaze never leaving the site before her.

She slowly climbed out of the jeep and started walking toward the quarry wall as though being pulled there by some unseen force. Max got out on his own side, and followed closely behind her, his watchful gaze trained on her every move.

Liz's stomach was churning with about ten different emotions. The closer she got to her and Michael's handiwork, the harder it churned. When she was about 30 yards away from the wall of the quarry, Liz came to an abrupt halt. The dark depths of the chasm seemed to emit a feeling of ominous foreboding that chilled her, and she wanted to stay far out of its reach. She stared in fascinated horror at the sheer size of it, and swallowed hard at the knowledge that she had done that. She had pulverized a chunk of granite the size of a car into tiny pieces, creating a hollow that was big enough for a small crowd of people to fit into.

She felt Max close at her back, and asked in a small voice, "How deep do you think it is?"

"I don't know," he answered quietly. "It's hard to see from here."

His hands came up to rest on her shoulders, and she leaned back into him, drawing comfort from his steady strength. Liz felt him press a kiss to the back of her head as his hands moved lightly up and down her arms to chase away her chill, and his silent reassurances infused her with a sense of warmth and safety.

"Are you okay?" he asked gently.

Leaning back to fit her head underneath his chin, she answered with a small smile, "I'm fine now." After a moment she said, "You know, I think this is all I needed to see to convince me that it's a really good idea to wait awhile before we do any more experimenting with the energy blast."

"Good," he replied. "'Cause it certainly hasn't done anything to increase my comfort level."

They were silent for a few moments, each lost in their own thoughts, when suddenly, Max made a sound of wry disbelief. Liz pulled away to look up at him, and followed his gaze to the large boulder about two feet away from them. Atop its flat surface sat a small stone, perfectly intact.

Liz narrowed her eyes.

Her nemesis.

Catching her expression, Max chuckled, and moved toward the boulder, saying, "This is one lucky rock." Bending to pick it up, he said, "Maybe I should take it with me. It obviously has some kind of powers of defense that might come in handy sometime."

Smiling dryly, Liz said, "Very funny."

Her smile fell away, and her eyes grew startled as Max's face suddenly lost all expression, and his eyes grew dull and blank.

Her hand flew up to his forearm in concerned fright, and she said fearfully, "Max? What's wrong?"

Without warning, she was bombarded with flashes.

Images of the six of them here this morning as she and Michael had performed the energy blast came at her in bits and pieces, interspersed with the familiar bursts of bright light.

They could have lasted for long minutes, or only a few seconds, but the flashes suddenly halted as abruptly as they'd begun.

She and Max slowly regained awareness of where they were, and when each of them had finally brought the other's face back into focus, their eyes locked.

Trepidation filled them both, making their hearts pound, as they silently realized what the flashes meant.

Max was the one who finally gave voice to the frightening conclusion they both had come to.

"Someone was watching us."

Chapter 18

"And you're sure that's what the flashes meant?" Michael asked.

Only minutes after Max's alarming declaration at the quarry, Isabel had called on his cell phone to ask him to come pick her up at Michael's. Liz had come along with him, and now the four of them were in Michael's apartment, where Max and Liz had just told the others about the flashes they'd received from the stone.

"What else could they have meant?" Max asked. "We saw all six of us in some of them, so the flashes couldn't have come from one of us." He looked at Liz for confirmation, and she nodded to show that she'd seen the same thing. "And I think I saw the Jeep and the Jetta driving away in one of them. Whoever it was, they must have gone down to the spot where you and Liz were standing, and picked up the rock after we left."

"This is bad, Max," Isabel said shakily. "Someone saw us using our powers. It- it could've been anyone. What are we going to do about this?"

"They didn't actually see all of us using powers, Isabel," Liz interjected. "They really only saw m-me and Michael," she threw a glance up at Michael, and he met her gaze with an unreadable one of his own. She finished quietly, "You know, um- when we did the energy blast, that was the only time we were out in the open."

It was a fact that made Liz feel guilty. If it hadn't been for her, none of them would've even been out at the quarry today in the first place, much less exposing themselves by giving an amazing pyrotechnic display of alien powers out in the open where anyone could see.

Sensing that she was somehow feeling to blame, Max moved closer to her side and closed his hand around her upper arm, his thumb brushing back and forth against her sleeve lightly. "That wasn't your fault, Liz. The four of us have been going out to the quarry since the beginning of last summer to practice our powers. We've always thought it was a safe enough spot, as long as someone kept watch." His hand slid away, and he turned to look at Michael and Isabel, saying, "And I still think that's true. Whoever it was watching us, I don't think it was someone who wandered up accidentally. If that had been the case, we would have seen them. I think it had to be someone who was deliberately hiding from us."

"Well, who would do that?" Michael demanded. "What would be the point of just watching us use our powers?"

At that, a sudden idea occurred to Liz, and she said, "Max, do you think it could've been Kyle? I mean, he knew we were out there. Maybe he was, like, curious or something, but he didn't want to actually be involved, you know?"

Max's eyes lit at the possibility, and he said, "Good thinking, Liz. That's a definite possibility. If that's who it was, then we're worrying for nothing."

"But what if it wasn't, Maxwell? What if it was an enemy? It could've been someone who was out there trying to learn our strengths and weaknesses."

"Michael, there's no reason to jump to conclusions," Max said. "Especially when there might be a perfectly innocent explanation." He looked at Liz and said, "Someone should talk to Kyle."

Liz nodded her agreement, but Michael said caustically, "Great idea. I'm sure he'll readily admit to cowering in his little hidie-hole and watchin’ us like some perverted peeping-tom."

Both Max and Liz gave Michael a dark, quelling look, before looking back at each other, and Liz said, "I'll talk to him. And if he won't tell me, maybe he'll talk to Tess."

Max nodded in approval.

"What if Michael's right, though, Max? What if it was some kind of enemy?" Isabel asked worriedly. "I mean, you did say that someone at the summit told you you'd made a lot of enemies because you wouldn't turn over the Granolith. If that's who it was, we can't wait until someone can get Kyle to admit whether it was him or not. We have to do something."

"What do you suggest we do, Is? I can't think of any way to find out who it was, can you?" Max paused, and when she didn't reply, he continued, "All we can do is try to be more careful. No more trips out to the quarry, and no using our powers where someone might see us. Everyone should try to keep a sharp eye out, in case this person is watching us all the time. If they are, then maybe they'll slip up, and we can catch them that way. I'll talk to Valenti and see if he'll keep a look out for anyone who looks suspicious. Just... everyone try and keep a cool head," he looked at Michael pointedly, "At least until we find out whether we really have a reason to worry or not."

"Typical Max response. Just wait and see," Michael said scathingly.

Max grit his teeth, then asked, "Well, what is it you want to do, Michael? Go out and blast anyone you think is looking at us funny?"

"I think we should go back out to the quarry and see if any of the rest of us can get any flashes that'll tell us something more."

"Michael, the quarry is the last place any of us should be right now. If someone is following us, you'd be leading them right back out there to show them more of what we're capable of. And besides, if it wasn't Kyle, then we don't know if this was even the first time this person has been out there watching us. Who knows how long they could've been following us, and even what their ultimate purpose is? They might have already learned everything they were trying to find out from us. We go out to the quarry again, and this time they might not just watch from a distance," Max said.

"What if one of us could see something you didn't, Max? Maybe we could find out once and for all who this person is," Michael argued stubbornly.

"And maybe you couldn't, and we would be taking a risk for nothing!" Max returned sharply.

Moving up behind Max, Liz placed her hand lightly on his shoulder blade and lifted her eyes to his face. Max looked down at her slightly over his shoulder, and pulled in a calming breath.

"Michael," he said more evenly, "Can you just wait? Just until we can talk to Kyle? If he says it wasn't him, then... we'll go out to the quarry, okay? All of us. We'll be safer if we all stick together."

For a long moment Michael didn't reply.

"Fine," he finally answered shortly.

Max gave him a long look, then sighed. "I'm supposed to have Liz home by dinner." He looked down at Liz and said, "We should probably go."

She nodded, and the three of them made ready to leave.

As Liz was passing beside Michael, he asked her, "So when are you gonna talk to Kyle?"

She stopped and turned to him, saying, "Um, I can ask him if he'll meet me at the Crashdown tomorrow after school?" She made the statement sound like a question, as if asking if that was okay with him, and Michael nodded.

Liz hesitated a beat, then asked softly, "A-are you okay? I mean, about everything that happened this morning. The, um- the energy blast and everything?"

"Sure," Michael said, shrugging one shoulder dismissively. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Catching her lower lip between her teeth, she threw a quick look over at Max, who was standing in front of the door talking quietly with Isabel, and said, "Well...Max said that he thought maybe- you might be feeling a little... uh- guilty a-about what happened."

Michael threw a look of his own over at Max, and said in a hard voice, "He did, huh?" He didn't say anything else for a minute, then tilted his head in a shrugging motion and said, "Well, I wouldn't say I'm wracked with guilt over it, but it was mostly my fault."

Liz shook her head and said, "Michael, how can you even say that? Why would it be your fault? I was there, too, you know."

"Yeah, but out of the two of us, I was supposed to be the one who knew what I was doing. I should've been more careful, paid more attention."

"It was the first time we'd ever done the energy blast, Michael. Well," she amended, "it was the first time we'd done it knowingly. There wasn't any way you could've predicted what was going to happen when we connected. You couldn't have known what's happening inside of me."

Michael's gaze held hers as he answered, "See, that's the thing Liz. I kind of do know what's going on inside of you."

Her eyes were wide as they remained glued to his. "What do you mean?"

Michael replied, "I don't mean I know what's going on with the whole... change thing, and what happened with our energy. That's still a complete mystery." His voice lowered. "But...since we connected this morning- I know things about you, Liz."

Her heart skipped a beat. "W-what kind of things?"

"Things like... what didn't really happen with Kyle, and how it made you feel to do that to Max. I know how scared you are of what will happen if Tess finds out that you and Max are just pretending to be only friends. And I know you're terrified of this alien change, but you're trying to be brave, so Max won't be disappointed in you."

Liz pulled in a shaky breath. She took a minute to process all that, then said hopefully, "Y-you saw flashes?"

Dashing her hopes completely, Michael replied, "No. I don't think so. There was too much going on for there to be any time for flashes. I just...know."

She nodded slowly and admitted quietly, "I know things about you, too."

"You do?" he asked sharply.

Nodding again she said, "I know how you felt after you killed Pierce, a-and how afraid you are that you'll fail your people in your mission here. And- I know how much you want to be with Maria, but you're too afraid you aren't what she needs."

Something flashed in Michael's eyes. She thought he must feel naked before her, because she felt much the same way. No one had ever seen her most intimate thoughts and emotions but Max. With him, she was glad to share them. She liked the fact that Max could see everything there was to know about her, good and bad, and he still loved her anyway.

But knowing that Michael knew so much about her almost made her feel violated. He knew things she wouldn't have readily told him. He knew her secrets. About Kyle and Future Max. And he knew her private fears. Things she hadn't even admitted to herself. Like how she worried about disappointing Max.

But she could hardly object to his knowing about her, because she seemed to know things about him that he would have never told her in a million years. Things she knew he'd never told anyone.

Swallowing hard, she whispered, "How do we know those things, Michael?"

He shook his head slowly. "I don't know. You don't know stuff like that about Isabel and Tess since you connected?"

Liz shook her head in answer.

They looked at each other silently until Max cleared his throat, and asked, "Liz? Are you about ready?"

She pulled her gaze away from Michael's to look over at Max, and answered, "Um- yeah. I'm coming."

Liz looked back at Michael and hesitantly reached her hand out rest on his upper arm. " You know, you shouldn't feel guilty about the energy blast. What happened today- it was something that was beyond your control; we just weren't prepared for it. But, you have a really amazing gift, Michael. The four of you were made to be a complete unit, and your gift- it kinda makes you like, the protector. And...maybe you don't know it, but- we all know we can trust you with that."

Michael didn't know what to say. His eyes dropped to the floor for a moment, then came up to meet hers briefly while he nodded, then they fell away again, uncomfortably.

The corner of her lip lifted, and she gave his arm a little squeeze, before moving toward Max and Isabel. "See you at school tomorrow."

"Yeah. See ya," he answered gruffly.

Max and Isabel said their goodbyes, and they left.

Once they'd reached the jeep, Max asked Liz quizzically, "Everything okay?"

"Yeah," she answered. "We, uh- we talked about the energy blast. I think he's going to be fine."

Max nodded, and they all climbed into the car.

Liz bit her lip as she considered what she'd left unsaid. For some reason she was reluctant to tell Max about her and Michael's exchange of knowledge about one another. She wasn't sure what was going on with them, but whatever it was, it made her feel almost...guilty. She felt as though she'd given away something of herself that only Max should have, even though she hadn't given it knowingly.

She hadn't thought anyone would ever know her the way that Max did. Their connection had always been something special and unique. They'd seen into each other's souls, in a way that she'd imagined no other two people on this planet could. But now, it seemed as though she could share the same thing with Michael. It almost felt like a betrayal of what she and Max had.

But as hesitant as she felt about discussing this with Max, she knew she couldn't keep it from him. Just yesterday, she'd told him she never wanted to lie to him again. That included lies of omission. She didn't want any more secrets between them.

Tucking her hair behind her ear, she asked timidly, "Um, Max?"

He looked away from the road to give her a brief inquisitive look. "Yeah?"

"Do you remember how you were asking earlier, about- about how I seemed to know so much about the inner workings of Michael's mind?"

He was aware that she was leading up to something, and her tone of voice made him unsure of whether he was going to like it or not. Cutting his eyes around at her, he drawled apprehensively, "Yeah?"

"Well...a-apparently, he knows an awful lot about the inner workings of my mind, too."

"What do you mean?" he asked frowningly.

"Since we connected this morning- we just... we know things about each other. Um, you know, like, private things. Like- like feelings and stuff."

Max was silent for a moment, then he asked, "You mean, you saw flashes?"

Liz shook her head. "We don't remember seeing any flashes. There was too much going on at the time. A-and I think we may know a whole lot more than we would've learned just from a few flashes. Somehow- we just...know."

"So that's what he was talking about when he asked me if I knew things about you now," Isabel said musingly from the back seat. She met Max's eyes in the rearview mirror, and said, "I thought maybe he'd just seen flashes of- you know, the other you from the future, and all that stuff. But when I asked him what he meant, he told me to forget it, and changed the subject."

"Yeah, um- he does know about the Future Max stuff. But he says he didn't get it from flashes," Liz said.

Max pulled in a deep breath and said, "What exactly are you saying, Liz? That you and Michael connected once, and suddenly you know everything about each other?" Max asked, disturbed by the thought. He'd always been the only one who'd ever seen the things in Liz's innermost being. Now it seemed that she was saying Michael knew all the intimate details about her, too. He didn't like to think that she and Michael could share the same kind of connection he'd always shared with Liz. It made him feel cheated, somehow.

Liz bit her lip at his response. She could tell that this bothered Max, and it increased her own distress over the whole thing. "I didn't say- we don't know everything about each other, Max," she replied quietly.

He didn't respond, and after a short silence, Isabel said, "Well, Michael told us that your energy- bonded, somehow, Liz. It kinda sounds like..." she hesitated and threw a cautious look at Max before continuing, "Maybe your thoughts, or your emotions or something, bonded too."

While Liz silently acknowledged that Isabel might be right, she didn't say anything aloud. Her eyes were on Max's profile as he moodily stared at the road ahead, and she just wanted to drop the whole subject. She hated being the source of more turmoil for him so soon after they'd finally gotten the whole Kyle thing cleared up. She just couldn't understand why all this was happening with Michael. She seemed to be sharing something with him that went beyond the scope of what she shared with Max, and she couldn't figure out a reason for that.

Max didn't know why she was experiencing this with Michael either. He had to admit that what Isabel had said sounded like a plausible explanation for what was going on between them, but he couldn't help but dislike the thought of Liz doing any kind of 'bonding' with anyone but himself. Michael didn't have a right to know Liz's private thoughts and emotions, he thought resentfully. And even though he knew it was irrational, Max felt extremely put out with Michael for this entire thing. Only the knowledge that this was completely involuntary, and that Michael would certainly never reveal his deepest feelings to anyone if given a choice, kept Max from truly getting angry, and he repeated those facts to himself in an attempt to keep this in perspective.

They pulled up in front of the Crashdown, and Max turned to find Liz watching him steadily with a troubled look on her face. A pang of guilt stabbed at him as he realized that his reaction was just giving her one more thing to worry over. He knew that it had to be difficult enough for her to deal with the uncertainty of whatever it was that was happening with her and Michael, without him acting all hurt and jealous over it. She needed his reassurance right now, and instead he was acting like a sulky little boy who didn't want to share his favorite toy.

His expression softening into one of silent apology, he said, "I'll walk you in, okay?"

Her heart lightening a little at his change in demeanor, she nodded her agreement, and he turned off the jeep's engine and got out to walk around to her side. She exchanged good-byes with Isabel, and Max assured his sister that he'd be back in a few minutes.

As they moved toward the Crashdown, Liz stopped and said, "Oh, you know, I think Maria's probably still working. Maybe you should just walk me to the back door."

He agreed, and they walked down the alley to the back entrance of the restaurant. When they had reached the door, she turned to face him, and he offered an immediate apology. "I'm sorry for the way I reacted, Liz. It just... kinda threw me for a minute, that's all."

"It's okay, Max" she replied softly. "I know exactly how you feel." He gave her a meaningful look that she interpreted immediately, and the corner of her lip quirked as she amended, "Okay, I'm like, 95 percent sure I know exactly how you feel. Because I feel the same way, you know? Like- this is just... wrong, somehow. Like- like we've lost something..."

"Special," he finished for her quietly. "Something we thought belonged to us alone."

Liz nodded sadly.

Max lifted his hands to curl around the sides of her neck, and he tilted her face up to his. "But this really doesn't take anything away from what we share, Liz," he told her, looking deeply into her eyes. "What we have... it is special. Because we didn't have to make any kind of a connection for my soul to know yours. It knew you the minute I saw you, when I got off the bus that day in the third grade." Liz lowered her eyes and smiled softly, and he brushed his thumb in a feather-like stroke against her jaw as he continued, "You're my soulmate, the other part of me... and I found you even though I had to come across an entire galaxy to do it. If that's not special, I don't know what is." His lips tipped up slightly. "The connection, the flashes, those things are great, and I love that we can share them...but it's our love that's the real miracle, Liz. And that's not something we'll ever lose, no matter what happens."

Liz looked up at him adoringly. He always knew just exactly what to say to calm her fears and doubts, and she loved him for that.

They shared a long, intense look before his head slowly began to lower toward hers. Liz leaned into him and came slightly up on her toes, and somewhere in the middle, their lips met sweetly. Max's hand slid underneath the dark curtain of her hair to lightly cup the nape of her neck, as his lips moved against hers in gentle devotion, and Liz cradled the strong curve of his jaw with one hand and rested the other delicately against his bicep, while returning his kiss with loving intensity. Their tongues came softly into play, stroking lazily against one another, while moving from the warm haven of one mouth to the other, and everything else faded away, as they both lost themselves in the tender ardency of the soulful exchange.

Max wrapped one arm around her to pull her in closer to his body, and she slid her hand up his bicep and around his shoulders in collaboration, pressing herself against him. Banked passion simmered just below the surface, but the kiss remained an unhurried expression of the incredible feeling of love and closeness they were feeling at that moment. Max changed the angle of the kiss, and Liz tilted her head obligingly, molding her lips to fit the soft shape of his, as they brushed against hers languorously.

Suddenly, two sharp blasts of a horn from a nearby car startled them apart, and their heads jerked automatically toward the sound. There, at the entrance of the alley, Pam Troy and one of her gossipy friends were walking past.

Max and Liz stood perfectly still, hoping to remain unnoticed. Fortunately, the two girls were so involved in their conversation they never even glanced toward the frozen couple.

Max and Liz waited at least a full minute after the girls had passed before looking at one another in relief at their narrow escape.

"That was close," Max admitted.

"Yeah," Liz agreed. "If they'd seen us, it would've been all over school tomorrow before the first bell had even rang."

Realizing who had given them the warning by sounding the jeep's horn, she said, "Thank goodness for Isabel,"

Max had come to the same conclusion. "Yeah. I guess it's a good thing she knows about us."

Liz looked up at him and said regretfully, "We can't keep going on like this, Max, or we're gonna get caught. Look at how many close calls we've had today."

Max nodded and said morosely, "I guess we'll have to start following those rules you were talking about earlier. Keep our distance."

Smiling a little, she said consolingly, "It won't be so bad, Max. We just have to be a little more selective about where we do these things, you know?"

The jeep's horn sounded again, and she and Max looked toward the alley's entrance, once more. When no one made an appearance there after a long moment, he looked down at Liz and said ruefully, "I think that's Is warning that she's waited on me long enough. I guess I'd better go, or I may end up walking home."

She nodded reluctantly, suddenly hating to let him go. Sliding her arms around his waist underneath his jacket, she held on to him tightly, and rested her cheek against his heart. Sharing her unwillingness to part, Max wrapped her up in his arms, burying his face in her hair. They breathed in deeply of one another's scent, wanting to store up the things that they could keep with them while they were apart. Max memorized the way her body fit against him so perfectly, only further reinforcing his belief that she'd been made especially for him, and Liz drank in the sound of his strong heartbeat in her ear and thought whimsically that it seemed to tell her it beat only for her. The warm shelter of his arms aroused in her the most incredible feelings of being cherished and protected, while Max felt that in her arms was the home he'd been searching for all his life.

"I love you, Liz" he murmured in her ear.

She tightened her arms around him and softly returned, "I love you, too, Max."

Easing away slightly, he said regretfully, "I have to go."

Taking her face in his hands, he pressed a kiss to her forehead, then to her temple, the opposite cheekbone, her jaw, and finally, a lingering kiss to her lips. Liz's fingers curled into the belt loops of his pants as her lips clung to his. He pulled back to look into her eyes, then swooped in for a final quick kiss.

His hands covered hers at his waist and gently disengaged them from his belt loops, and he kept hold of them as he slowly backed away. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" he said.

"Okay," she nodded.

When their arms were extended fully, Max gave her hands a quick squeeze before letting them go. "Bye, Liz."

"Bye, Max," she said forlornly.

Liz watched as he walked away, and when he'd reached the end of the alley, he turned to give her a little wave.

She returned the gesture, then finally turned to go inside with a mournful sigh.

Tomorrow was simply way too far away.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:46:06 AM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 7:20:10 PM
Chapter 19

Liz walked down the hall, dodging other students as they rushed past, her own footsteps lagging in spite of her need to hurry. She'd overslept this morning and had managed to drag herself out of bed and make it to school with only about five minutes left before the bell would ring signaling her first class. Turning down an adjoining hallway, she noticed Max standing in front of her locker, and everything else ceased to matter. The crummy way she felt this morning, the annoyance of running late, and the concern of making it to class on time all lost their place of importance as she realized he was waiting for her.

He caught sight of her the minute she came around the corner, and a smile lit her face as their eyes met, her feet automatically picking up their pace to move her more quickly to his side.

His lips curved upwards as he watched her coming towards him, and it was a good thing the crowd of students between them seemed to part and make the way clear for her, because her eyes never left his from the moment they'd spotted one another.

"Hey," he greeted her softly when she'd reached him.

"Hey," she returned with a shy smile.

As they stood silently drinking each other in, Max's eyes roamed her face lovingly before finally coming to land on her lips. She could clearly read his desire to kiss her, and it created an intense longing of her own to feel his lips against hers. Their bodies unconsciously swayed towards each other, and Max's hand was actually lifting up to her face, but they were kept from actually making any kind of contact by the sound of Michael's voice as he said sardonically, "There are other people here, y'know. You two are about to blow the entire ball game."

Her eyes slightly dazed, Liz swung her head around to see him and Isabel standing right beside them. She hadn't even noticed them there, she thought with a blush.

She and Max exchanged a quick glance, then she looked back at Isabel and Michael and said sheepishly, "Oh, um- hey, guys."

Grinning a little, Isabel shook her head as if to say they were utterly hopeless, and returned Liz's greeting.

Forgoing pleasantries, Michael asked, "Have you talked to Kyle yet?"

Liz looked up at him, then immediately looked away while shifting uncomfortably. In all her rushing around this morning, she'd almost forgotten about the whole connection thing with her and Michael, but it all came rushing back now, leaving her disconcertingly aware of him.

"No, I- uh, I haven't seen him. I just got here," she answered.

"Sleep in?" he asked derisively.

She lifted slightly startled eyes at his tone of voice, then she looked away and said quietly, "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

"What's wrong?" Max asked, lifting his hand to gently rest on her back.

She looked up to see the concern in his eyes, and shook her head saying, "Nothing, really. I just...didn't get much sleep last night, that's all. I kept having these really weird dreams that I can't seem to remember anything about, and then I woke up with this horrendous headache."

Max's hand immediately moved up underneath dark fall of her hair to mold itself to the base of her skull, while Isabel said, "Yeah, well, I'm not surprised you're having nightmares with everything that's been happening lately. Next time, give me a call and I'll see what I can do about getting in there and changing them."

Liz started to smile before she felt a familiar prickling heat on her scalp that made her gasp and jerk away from Max's touch.

Her eyes darted around nervously at all the people passing near them, and she hissed, "Max, what are you doing?"

Gripping her arm in one hand to keep her from moving away, he slid his other hand back underneath her hair to finish the job as he said, "No one can see. Just hold still for a second."

True to his word, it only took a second before the pleasurable heat filled her head, and she sighed in relief at the cessation of the pounding there.

"Mm, there's nothing like alien aspirin," she murmured, and looked up at him with a small, "Thanks."

Grinning at her comment, he answered, "Sure."

Michael gave them a look of slight censure and said, "Can we please get back to the subject at hand here? Has anyone seen Kyle around this morning?"

They were all shaking their heads when Isabel caught sight of him moving down the hall towards them, and pointed him out to the others. "Here he comes with Tess."

The four of them turned to watch the oblivious couple's progress down the hall. Kyle had just said something to Tess with a teasing expression on his face, and she burst into laughter, looking up at him flirtily from underneath her lashes and lightly swatting at his arm. In return, he lowered his shoulder the slightest bit and gave her a playful nudge that knocked her slightly off course. They could hear her laughter and mock threats of retribution from where they stood.

Eyebrows raised, they all exchanged looks as if to ask how long this had been going on. Max looked down at Liz, and matching 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?' smiles slowly tipped up their lips.

As the two of them reached the others, Tess stopped to join the group, but Kyle said only a short, "Hi, guys," and continued walking.

"Oh, wait. Kyle!" Liz said, hurrying after him.

Max watched Tess' brows pull down into a frown as she watched Liz catch up to Kyle, and wanted to laugh with delight. Tess had feelings for Kyle! This could change everything.

Kyle let Liz pull him to a halt in the middle of the hall, and turned to face her. "What's goin' on, Liz?" he asked.

"Kyle, I was... just wondering if I could talk to you about something."

"Sure. What is it?"

Looking around at the throng of people walking past, she said, "Well, it's kinda private. I was hoping maybe you might stop by the Crashdown after school. I could treat you to a piece of Men In Blackberry Pie," she offered as enticement.

He looked at her in mild suspicion and asked, "Is this E.T. stuff you wanna talk about?"

"Well, kind of. But it's not what you've got in mind, I don't think. Not if you're talking about, you know- 'changes'. Although...we could talk about that, too. I mean, if you wanted."

At that moment, the bell rang, and Liz said, "I've gotta go get my books. So will you meet me?"

"Okay. The Crashdown. After school," he agreed.

"Great! Thanks, Kyle," she answered, moving backwards toward her locker. "See ya then."

He nodded and moved down the hall, and Liz turned to her locker, only to find Max still standing there.

"Max. You shouldn't have waited, you'll be late."

He shook his head. "I've got Lafeber first. It's just a few doors down. So Kyle agreed to meet you."

"Yeah. Hopefully we'll know by this afternoon if it was him that was watching or not. Um, I'm actually glad you waited. I have something I wanted to give you," she said, digging around in her backpack.

She pulled out a piece of folded notebook paper, and handed it to him, saying, "Here. We've already broken number four and five today. I'm gonna be late. I'll see you in trig."

Max watched her hurry down the hall, and turned to get to his own class. The note seemed to burn a hole in his pocket as he wondered at its contents. Had she written him a love letter? Was it a request for an eraser room rendezvous? But then what was with the cryptic comment about four and five? He managed to wait until he'd gotten settled at his desk and Mr. Lafeber had been droning on about Nixon and Watergate for at least fifteen minutes, before the suspense got to be too much, and he quietly unfolded the note with eager anticipation of its words...

And almost laughed aloud.

It was a list. Which wasn't that unusual coming from Liz, she was often making lists of one kind or another, but it was the contents of this list that amused him. She had actually written out a set of rules for them to follow to keep their relationship secret. 22 rules to be exact. His eyes scanned down to find out what transgression they had committed already today.

Rule number 4 was: Direct eye contact may not last longer than 30 seconds when other people are present (no getting lost in each other's eyes).

Yep, he silently admitted, a definite infraction had been made upon that one.

Rule number 5 said: A distance of no less than two feet shall be maintained between us at all times in public.

Surely that one wasn't necessary, he thought to himself with a frown. Recalling the near-kiss in the hallway only moments before, he decided ruefully that maybe it wasn't completely unwarranted.

He read through the list quickly and found at least three that he objected to, and two that had him slightly puzzled. The one about him not wearing his leather jacket unless they went somewhere alone, what was that about?

He thought a trip to the eraser room to discuss some of these rules might be in order.

But then, that would be breaking rule number 10: No trips to the eraser room.

With a small smile and an inward shake of his head, he wondered if Liz was going to find it as hard as he was to stick to these things.

In another wing of the school, Liz was in her English Lit class wondering what Max was going to say about the list of rules. There were quite a few of them, and if they followed every single one of them she was afraid they were going to find it very difficult to ever find a private moment alone. She wondered if she might not have gone a little overboard by creating 22 of them.

She spent the rest of her class period just struggling to stay awake and get her assignment done. And the rest of the day passed in much the same way, with her just dragging herself tiredly from one class to the next, and praying for 3:00 o'clock to come. Which wasn't exactly a reprieve, because then she had a four hour shift at the Crashdown to get through. The only bright spots in her day were the two classes she shared with Max, and the fourth period lunch hour when they sat together with their group of friends. All six of them were there, and it would've seemed almost like old times, if it hadn't been for the addition of Tess to their crowd.

As she was leaving the school grounds after her final class, Kyle met up with her and offered her a ride to the Crashdown, since they were both headed there anyway, and she accepted.

Once they'd gotten out of the parking lot, Kyle asked, "So. What did you want to talk to me about?"

"Oh, um-" she pushed her hair behind her ear nervously. She'd hoped to be given a little time to prepare what she was going to say to him. "It was about something that happened yesterday. You know, when we were out at the quarry. We, uh...well, we found out that someone had been out there watching us, Kyle. And we were kinda wondering...if it might've been you."

Laughing a little, he replied, "Yeah, right. 'Cause we all know that when I'm not involved in one of their little intergalactic challenges, I have nothin’ better to do with my time than to sit around and watch them hone their superpowers."

She didn't say anything in reply, and when Kyle glanced over to find that her expression remained solemn, the smile slipped from his face.

"You're serious," he stated the realization.

She rushed to say reassuringly, "We're sure someone was watching us, Kyle. And if it was you, you know, there's nothing to be embarrassed about. You were were curious. About this whole change thing. I can totally understand that. But...if it was you out there, we just- we really need to know."

His mouth set, he said, "No. It was not me, alright?" He shook his head. "You guys are just way too wrapped up in yourselves, Liz. I do have a life outside the Martian Military Squad, you know."

Liz looked at him searchingly and said, "You would tell me the truth, right? If you'd been there?"

His voice was hard as he answered, "You know, Liz, I don't know what I would tell you if you had caught me sneakin’ around spying on you guys like some crazed alien stalker. But I am glad to know you think I'm such a pathetic loser that I would do something like that, rather than just drive out there with the rest of you when Tess invited me. I realize that it's a completely foreign concept to you people, but I didn't want to go out there with you, okay? That was absolutely the last place on this planet- or any other that I wanted to be. And I'm sorry if you don't believe that, but it's the truth."

He stared straight ahead at the road in front of him, a muscle working in his jaw, and Liz sighed, saying apologetically, "Kyle. I do believe you, okay? If you say you weren't out there, then...of course, I believe you. It's just- someone was there. And you were the only one who knew where we were, so...I had to ask."

She laid her hand on his upper arm and said, "Don't be mad. Please?"

His eyes were cold as he met her pleading expression, then finally the corner of his lip tightened, and she could tell by the softening of his expression before he turned to look back at the road that she'd been forgiven.

"I- I wasn't trying to accuse you of anything. We just- were really hoping it was you, you know? Because if it had been, then that meant it was something that was harmless. But if it wasn't..." As she trailed off, the same sense of trepidation she had felt yesterday after she and Max had first gotten the flashes filled her. "Well, if it wasn't- then there's no way to know who it was. And whatever their reason was for being out probably wasn't harmless."

The import of the situation finally sank in for Kyle, and he said, "Ooh, right. So, you think this was like- an enemy or something. And they saw them using their powers?"

"They saw us, Kyle. Me and Michael."

Kyle began to see the danger they could possibly be in, and it made him angry that, once again, the aliens had involved Liz. More specifically, it made him angry at Max Evans.

"What was Evans thinking by taking you out where anyone could see you and teaching you how to do all their little magic tricks?" he said irately.

She made a sound of quiet exasperation and said, "It wasn't like that, okay? Most of the time we were hidden. It's just, when Michael and I did the energy blast, we couldn't do it in a closed-in space. That's the only time we were out in the open."

"Well, that one time was enough, Liz. Don't you see what this means? Whoever this was, they know you're like, one of them now. And whatever it is they want- they could come after you to get it."

"Yes. Thank you, Kyle, for pointing out the danger to me. You know, I really wasn't aware of it," she said, her fear coming out in the form of sarcasm. She frowned as she realized that was one of Michael's tactics, and it had slipped so effortlessly from her lips.

"Alright. Sorry," he said, giving her a look. "I just- hate that they keep doing this to you, Liz. Involving you in their crap. And I don't understand why you keep letting yourself get sucked into it. I mean, why'd you even go out there in the first place? You want to be turned into one of them?"

"Kyle," she said gently, "I've already been changed. That's something that can't be undone. And ignoring it...that's not gonna make it go away. What I want is to know more about it, you know? So it won't be, just this- unknown element inside me. I understand that you don't want to face this right now, but when you do decide that you're ready to deal with it, I'll be here to help you. We all will be. You're not alone in this, okay?"

They came to a stop in front of the Crashdown, and Kyle turned to look at her somberly. After a long moment, he finally nodded.

"You know, I'm not really much in the mood for pie right now. If that's all you wanted to talk about, I think I'll just go on home."

Liz nodded with sympathy and said, "Yeah, that's really all I wanted to talk about."

She reached over and gave his arm a squeeze, saying, "Call me if you want to talk, okay? Any time."

He looked over at her, pressing his lips together in a semi-smile, and said, "Thanks. I'll, um- I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah. Bye, Kyle."

Liz slid out of the car and watched until he drove out of sight, then sighed and turned to go into the restaurant.

She still had about half an hour before her shift started, and she went upstairs to her room and went straight to the phone.

Max answered on the second ring, and without any preliminaries, Liz told him, "He said it wasn't him."

He didn't say anything for a few seconds, then asked, "Do you believe him?"

"Yeah, I'm- pretty sure he was telling the truth."

Max sighed.

"Looks like we'll be making another trip out to the quarry," he said grimly.

Chapter 20

Liz stood with her back deliberately turned to the power-blasted crater in the quarry wall, and watched anxiously with the others, as Isabel held the rock and tried to get flashes from it. She kept darting nervous glances up towards the rim of the canyon to search out hiding places, and wondered if someone was up there watching them right now. Max and Michael were keeping a sharp eye out, and the five of them had been handling the stone as unobtrusively as possible, so as not to blatantly announce what it was they were doing.

After several minutes Isabel opened her eyes and shook her head. "Nothing," she said.

She was the last one to try it, and none of them had been able to see anything. Max and Liz had even tried it while being connected, since that had seemed to work last time, but again, no luck.

They were all silent in their disappointment, until Michael erupted.

"There's got to be somethin' else we can do!" Rubbing his hand across his mouth, he scanned the quarry as though looking for an answer.

Speculatively, Tess looked back and forth between Michael and Liz, and said, "What if you two connected, and tried to see together? I mean, something obviously happens when you join energy. Maybe it would work on this."

The minute they realized who Tess was referring to, Michael and Liz's eyes met, then immediately swung away.

"I think that's a good idea," Isabel agreed.

Liz didn't think it sounded like a good plan at all. She'd hoped to avoid connecting with Michael again for a very long time. He knew way too much about her already.

Taking in the unwilling expressions on both their faces, Isabel said, "It might work, you guys. Shouldn't we try everything we know to do?"

There was silence for a moment, during which Liz and Michael studiously avoided looking at each other.

Finally, Max said reluctantly, "Isabel's right. This could be the one thing that might work. We really shouldn't ignore the possibility." Looking down at Liz with an expression that clearly said he was hating this, he said, "Maybe you should try it."

"Max," she protested quietly. "There's no reason to believe that this...connection, or whatever it is, will help us see flashes." With a quick look at Michael, she said in a low voice, "I'm not completely comfortable with this, Max," reminding him that he'd told her just the day before yesterday that no one would make her do anything she wasn't comfortable with.

Despite her attempt to be quiet, Michael heard her protests, and said harshly, "Look. I'm not any happier with this thing than you are, alright? But if it'll help us find out something about who was watching us, then you need to just get over here, and let's do this."

Liz glared at him angrily. He'd been rude to her for the past two days, and she was about to get fed up with it. She knew he hated it that she knew things about him that he wasn't comfortable having anyone know, but she hated it just as much as he did. He had no right to take his displeasure out on her.

She had to admit, though, that there was some truth to what everyone was saying. If there was any possibility that this might work, she and Michael just needed to put aside their aversion and try it. It could put an end to this mystery of the unseen enemy, once and for all.

"Fine," she said grudgingly. "But I'm not gonna do it out here in the open. If something happens I don't want anyone to see."

"She's right, Michael," Max backed her up. "We should go down to the cove. It's more private there."

"But what if we need to be where the person was standing before we can see anything? This is where they picked up the rock, I think we have the best chance of getting something right here," Michael argued.

"Michael. We either do this down in the cove, or we don't do it at all," Liz delivered the ultimatum.

Michael gave her a hard look, then spun around without a word and stormed away in the direction of the cove.

Liz exchanged a dark look with Max and said, "You know, I can totally get where you're coming from when you say you get so frustrated with him you can't see straight."

Max's lips quirked sympathetically, and he reminded her of her own words from the other day, "Anger is the only way he knows how to deal, remember?"

"Yeah, well- he needs to just get over it," she said aggravatedly.

Max grinned. "Try telling him that."

Half-sliding, half-climbing, Max, Liz and Isabel made their way down to the cove by the water's edge, while Tess stayed up on the top of the bank to keep a lookout. Michael was already waiting at the bottom, and he watched Liz with an unreadable expression as she slowly walked towards him, dragging her feet with reluctance.

She really didn't want to do this. In addition to the fact that it would give Michael another chance to find out things about her he had no business knowing, she was really afraid of a repeat of the other day when the energy blast had gone awry. They had absolutely no idea of what to expect when they connected. Anything could happen. It was a total unknown. And she knew she'd been talking big lately about wanting to know more about this power inside her, but right now, she would've really rather just run the other way.

When she finally reached Michael, she studied his impassive expression and said quietly, "You aren't mad, are you? Because if you are..." she dropped her eyes, "I reeaally don't want to do this if you're mad, Michael. You know, it- it's scary enough without worrying how anger might affect it."

He didn't answer immediately, then finally sighed and said, "I'm not mad, okay? I just think we would've had a better chance of this working up there. But you're right. We don't know what's gonna happen when we do this, and we really shouldn't take the chance of anyone seeing. Let's just...get this over with."

Heart pounding with dread, she took a deep breath and reluctantly slipped her hand into his. Michael held the stone on the open palm of his free hand, and Liz placed her own hand over the top of it.

"If any of my energy transfers, I'm gonna try to limit how much gets to you, okay?"

Her head moved in a quick, fearful nod.

Seeing her anxiety, Max came over to stand at her side supportively. He looked at Michael sternly and said, "This is just a simple connection, right? No energy'll be exchanged, no powers need to come into play, you're just connecting. Right?"

Michael gave him a look of annoyance and said, "Yes, Maxwell. It's just a connection. But, simple? I guess that remains to be seen, now doesn't it?"

Max looked at Liz with apprehension.

"I'm not sure if this is such a good idea, after all," he told her worriedly.

His misgivings fed Liz's own, and she attempted to pull her hand free of Michael's, wanting to just call off the whole thing. But Michael held her fast.

"Stop it, Max. She's scared enough already, in case you can't tell, and you're just adding to it."

Max narrowed his eyes. Michael's words of chastisement, and the way he spoke, as if he were more aware of Liz's emotional state than Max himself was, made him feel as if Michael was just rubbing his face in this connection.

Anger and jealousy erupting within him, he said tightly, "I can see how scared she is, Michael. I don't need you to tell me that."

Michael gave a sarcastic smile, and with a quick lift of his brow said, "Well, obviously you do, or you wouldn't be over here frettin' like an old woman, and makin' things worse for her."

Max's jaw tightened. The taunting smile on Michael's face infuriated him, and Max found himself taking a threatening step in his direction.

From her perch at the top of the bank, Tess rolled her eyes as she realized that Max and Michael were at it again. Their angry voices had drawn her attention, but they were too low for her to make out what they were saying. Whatever they had found to argue about this time probably had Liz Parker's name written all over it, she thought disgustedly.

Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

It hadn't even occurred to her, but of course Max wouldn't like it that his one true love suddenly had this strong connection with his best friend/semi-brother.

Tess’ lips tipped up as she turned back to resume her post, her mind whirling with possibilities.

Isabel took an automatic step forward at the same time Max did. She was so used to being the referee between the two of them, that the instinct to place herself between them as a buffer came naturally. But she stopped as she realized Liz had it under control.

Liz had thrown her hand up to land in the center of Max's chest as he and Michael faced off, and now she said, "Alright, just stop. Both of you." Looking back and forth between them, she said, "Michael, just...stop trying to push his buttons, okay? He's worried about me, that's all." She turned her head to look at Max. "And, Max-" she took a deep breath, "this is going to be fine. I-I trust Michael. He won't let anything happen if it can be helped." She looked back at Michael. "Right?" she asked, as though demanding that he put Max's mind at ease.

Michael looked down at her with a slight frown for a long moment, not quite sure how he felt about her being so authoritative. He finally looked over at Max and said, "I'll be careful, Maxwell. I'm gonna try to make sure nothing happens, alright?"

The anger in Max's expression dissolved in slow increments, and he nodded grudgingly.

His eyes softened with concern as he looked down at Liz and asked, "And you're okay with this?"

Nodding, she answered, "Yeah, um-" she dropped her eyes for a brief second before raising them again to his, "it's like you said, Max. It's just a connection. Maybe- maybe we'll see something that'll help."

Finally nodding his assent, Max backed a step away. "I'm going to be right here in case anything happens, okay?"

Her eyes clung to his for a moment as she nodded and said softly, "Okay."

"Let's do this," Michael said, pulling her attention back to the matter at hand.

Giving her no more time for second- or maybe it was third- thoughts, Michael resumed his previous position, and Liz followed his lead.

As the link was forming between them, Liz tried to push her thoughts into hiding. An effort she immediately knew was futile, because once they were connected, she could feel Michael attempting to do the same thing, but it wasn't working. She could feel his emotions anyway.

She felt his regret that he and Max couldn't get along anymore. A fact that he knew he was mostly responsible for, but he just couldn't seem to control the things that came out of his mouth. But, she knew he missed the way things used to be between them. He missed being able to confide in Max.

And he was actually feeling a little nervous about making this connection, too. He was afraid something would happen that he couldn't control, and he was... worried she might get hurt.

The realization surprised her.

She could almost imagine that she heard him say something caustic in response to her astonishment, and inwardly, she rolled her eyes. Even his emotions seemed to be capable of sarcasm.

Attempting to pull free of the flow of feelings all around her, she tried to narrow her focus on to the rock, and on picking up anything that had been left behind on its hard surface. Michael's fingers curled around hers as they pressed the stone more firmly between their palms.

She felt the heated simmer of Michael's energy as it moved on an inward course, pulling together inside him. And once again, there was a tug of recognition inside herself, as her own energy rushed to meet it.

She was so busy trying to contain her panic and bracing herself for the entrance of its mass into her own body, that she didn't realize until it was too late that it was her energy that was streaming outward, heading on a collision course inside Michael. She could actually feel a physical loss as it emptied itself into him. The moment she felt the two forces converge within him, she was hit with a sudden onslaught of images, and she and Michael both staggered back a step under their impact.

Distorted, nightmarish images that didn't make any sense filled her head, and an undercurrent of whispers and mumblings seemed to narrate them as they flowed consecutively from one confusing scene to the next. A sense of overwhelming terror consumed her, crowding out everything else until she could barely breathe. Occasionally, a clear picture would flash before her, engendering a feeling of being chased, of running for her very life. And interspersed amongst all these terrifying visions, were the varying images of Max, Michael, Isabel, Alex, Maria, and herself.

Max watched the two of them with worried eyes. Faces drawn and eyes closed tightly, they were both breathing heavily, and Michael had broken out into a sweat. It had to have been at least several minutes since Max had seen them react to the impact of the flashes. He'd almost pulled them apart then, but then he'd realized they were seeing something. He was beginning to be afraid that this was something more than mere flashes, though, and he was only prepared to let it go on for a few more seconds.

He could feel Isabel hovering anxiously at his back. "Should we--?" she began.

Simultaneously, Michael’s and Liz's eyes suddenly flew open.

The minute Liz felt the return of her own energy, they mindlessly broke the connection. It took several moments for their pupils to retract enough to allow them clear vision, during which, all that could be heard was their ragged breathing. When they'd finally regained their focus, they looked around disorientedly.

"Are you okay?" Max asked with urgent concern. "What happened?"

Swaying on her feet, Liz said faintly, "I think...need to sit..." She was dropping bonelessly to the ground even as the words were leaving her mouth, and Max quickly caught her underneath the arms to ease her down.

Michael soon followed them, sitting beside Liz, and running a shaking hand over his face.

Cupping the back of Liz's head in his hand, Max looked from one to the other of them and asked again, "Are you okay?"

"I-I'm alright," Liz said shakily. She lifted her hand to curl around Max's forearm to steady herself, and met the worry in his eyes with as much reassurance as she could muster at the moment. "I just...feel a little weak, that's all." Turning her head, she asked, "What about you, Michael? I felt my energy go into you. Are you okay?"

Nodding, he said, "Yeah, I'm fine." His lips turned up the slightest bit. "It wasn't super-energy this time. Just felt like plain old energy."

Isabel knelt in front of them, and put her hand on Michael's knee. "We were getting worried about you guys. Must've been some pretty intense visions. What were you seeing?"

Liz and Michael looked at one another questioningly.

"It was confusing," Michael finally said.

"Most of it just seemed like garbled nonsense." Looking at Michael, Liz asked, "Could you make out any words in all that muttering?"

He gave her a meaningful look and said, "Yeah. I heard our names."

Realizing suddenly that she'd heard them, too, she said, "Oh yeah, you're right."

"And there were all kinds of images of us," he told Max. "All of us. You, me, Isabel, and Liz, Maria, and Alex. Doin' stuff, you know, like at school, at the Crashdown, your house..."

"And I saw one of you at the trailer park, Michael," Liz put in.

"The trailer park!" Isabel exclaimed. "It's been almost a year since you lived there. They've been watching us that long?"

Tess had moved down to join them as soon as she'd seen Liz and Michael drop to the ground, and now she asked, "Why would anyone just watch us for almost a year?"

Everyone was silent as they tried to puzzle it all out, and Max and Liz hastily dropped their hands away from each other at the realization that Tess was in their midst.

"You don't think this is someone from the FBI again, do you?" Isabel asked fearfully.

Liz's eyes jumped to Max's to find an expression of pure dread there, and she knew he was thinking of Pierce and the White Room.

She touched his sleeve lightly and said, "I'm not sure it was." Looking at Michael to see if he shared her opinion, she said, "I mean, if it was, what was all that running about? They were afraid if they got caught by whoever was chasing them, they'd be killed. And they were really, really scared."

"Yeah," Michael agreed. "I've never felt fear like that before. Just completely..."

"Overwhelming," Liz finished for him.

Brows drawn in confusion, Tess said, "So we've got someone who's running for his life, but he's been hanging around here watching us for a year? That doesn't make any sense."

Silently, everyone agreed with her.

"Did you see anything else?" Max asked them.

Liz thought for a minute before shaking her head regretfully. "I don't remember seeing anything else that made sense. Do you?" she asked Michael.

He paused for a long moment before answering frustratedly, "No. Everything was so crazy. It was like being trapped in a Fun House or something."

That was exactly what it had felt like, Liz agreed with a nod of her head. "And their thoughts were so completely illogical, you know? Like- worrying about waking up, in time to go to bed."

"Terrific," Isabel said in disgust. "As if Nicholas, the duplicates, and whatever other enemies we have out there weren't enough, now we've got some total psycho stalking us."

'A crazed alien stalker'.

Somewhat hysterically, Liz recalled Kyle's words from yesterday, and thought he might not have been too far off with his facetious comment.

She felt sick knowing that someone in such a frightening state of mind had been watching them. Could be watching them even now. She and Michael had seen nothing that would tell them what this person's purpose might be, and she couldn't even imagine what thoughts could be running through his head right now.

After a short silence, Max said, "If this person has been watching us this long without doing anything to hurt us, I'd like to think he's harmless. But if he really is...unstable, then we really have no way of predicting what he might do. We should be more careful than ever now, and try to stay alert. And I think it would be a good idea if no one goes anywhere alone for awhile." He looked at Liz with worry in his eyes. "Especially you, Maria, and Alex. This could be someone with powers for all we know, and you guys have no way of protecting yourselves from him," he said, regretful that they'd brought down trouble on the three of them once again.

His words made her fear for her friends, and Liz said, "We should get back now, Max. Maria and Alex need to know what's going on."

He nodded his assent, and the group dispersed to make their way to the jeep.

Michael had ridden out on his motorcycle, and he made straight for the bike without a word to anyone.

Liz hesitate, then veered in his direction.

He sat straddling the seat by the time she got to his side, and she said, "Um, are you sure you're okay to ride this thing, Michael?"

"Yes, Mother, I'm fine," he answered with mild sarcasm. Taking an exaggerated look down at her feet to point out the fact that she was in his way, he asked, "Can I go now?"

Rebuffed, she turned away without another word, and walked over to the jeep.

Michael watched the retreat of her stiff back with slight regret, then angrily kick started the bike, and peeled off in a spray of gravel. He made his way to the highway outside the quarry, then took off in a burst of speed, berating himself for his behavior all the while.

The picture of Liz's big brown eyes, filled with hurt, stayed in his head, making him feel like total scum. He would've much rather she had just laid into him for being such a jerk instead of simply looking up at him with that wounded look of silent accusation.

He knew she'd only been showing concern for him, but he didn't want her concern. He didn't want her caring about him, he didn't want to deal with this flood of soft emotions that weren't his own, and he most especially didn't want her inside his head and heart seeing things that he preferred to remain hidden.

Heaven only knew what the perfect Liz Parker would think if she ever saw any of the garbage he'd dealt with while growing up. He'd seen a lot of ugliness in his short life on this planet, and he knew he had things locked inside him that weren't fit for Liz's eyes. Things he'd never told Max and Isabel for the same reason. He didn't want them dirtied by it. The three of them were of the same cloth, with their perfect families, perfect grades, perfect lives, and they were all so friggin' naive it was laughable. But he didn't want to be the one to take that innocence away from them, and Liz would be in for a very rude awakening if she delved too deeply within his subconscious.

He didn't know what kind of cosmic alien joke this stupid connection between them was, but he knew he wasn't laughing. Knowing that Liz knew so much about him made him feel vulnerable and exposed, and he hated it. There was a reason he always kept to himself, and this was it. This out-on-a-limb, what-will-she-think-of-me, I-want-her-to-like-me feeling. Maria always managed to make him feel this way, even without a connection, and he hated how uncertain and almost needy it made him feel.

He was a warrior. A stone wall. And all these females with their girly-girl emotions and unexplainable connections needed to just keep out of his way. He had a job to do on this planet, and he didn't need them distracting him.

Even though the compassionate concern from the one did warm him from the inside out.

And the passion and fire of the other burned him alive.

Those insidious thoughts made him scowl, and with a savage twist of the throttle, the motorcycle shot forward, leaving the insistent reminders far behind.

Edited by - Destinee on 09/16/2001 19:24:44

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:46:58 AM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 11:47:39 PM
Chapter 21

"Here you go," Liz said, plunking a cherry coke down on the table in front of Max, avoiding the text book and papers scattered there. "I think this is like your tenth one," she said teasingly.

"What can I say? I'm really thirsty," he returned with a grin.

He'd been sitting here in his usual booth ever since she'd started her shift hours ago, and since that time he'd steadily made his way through a Sigourney Weaver and Saturn Rings, Astronomy and U.S. History homework, and was currently working on his umpteenth coke and...she peered over his shoulder... their trigonometry exercises.

"Oh. Did you get the answer to number eight?" she asked curiously, while tilting her head to read his work. "I thought I'd never figure that one out."

"Haven't made it that far yet," he told her. "Maybe you could sit for a minute and give me some pointers. You look exhausted."

She was exhausted. She'd been lucky just to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep every night this week. She was still having nightmares. She could never remember anything about them the next morning, but she always felt their affect. It had been an effort just to pry her eyes open and get out of bed every day. And she thought she was probably single-handedly keeping the aspirin industry in business.

Add to that the facts that she'd been working extra hours because they'd had a waitress quit, and there seemed to be some kind of conspiracy going on that involved all her teachers and an insane amount of tests, and she'd barely had a minute to call her own.

Of course, it hadn't helped matters any that she'd had the nerve-wracking feeling off and on all week that she was being followed. She wasn't sure if she was only being paranoid since their last trip to the quarry, or if someone had actually been watching her. She hadn't wanted to worry Max needlessly, so she'd just been trying to keep a sharp eye out, and she hadn't gone anywhere unless one of the others was with her.

Taking a look around the crowded restaurant, she finally answered, "I don't know, Max. I probably shouldn't."

They'd been unusually busy tonight. The drama club at their school had performed a play in the school auditorium earlier tonight, and as soon as it had let out, it seemed like maybe the entire audience had flocked here. It finally seemed to be slowing down a little though.

She looked from Max's caring face, to the inviting surface of the padded seat opposite him, to the small mob that surrounded her.

"Maybe just until my next order comes up," she compromised.

Sinking down onto the bench seat across from him, an act her feet thanked her for, Liz gave a little sigh of relief.

In a slightly chiding tone of voice, she told Max, "Of course, you know you've like, completely demolished rule number 12 tonight, right?"

He thought for a minute. "You mean the one about not loitering at the Crashdown when you're working?"

She nodded.

"I'm sorry, Liz. But I figured this would be the only chance I'd get to talk to you. You've been so busy this week, we really haven't needed any rules to keep us apart," he said, concern evident in his voice.

He was getting kind of worried about her. She'd had dark smudges underneath her eyes ever since Tuesday, and she just hadn't been her usual cheerfully energetic self. But, whenever he asked her about it, she always told him she was fine, just a little tired. Of course, they were all a little stressed worrying about being followed everywhere they went, he just hoped Liz would tell him if she was actually losing sleep over it.

His concern warmed her, and Liz answered, "I know. I'm sorry we haven't had any time together. But things will slow down once we find a waitress to replace Julie Ann."

He nodded and said, "I hope you find someone soon. I don't see how you can keep up this pace, Liz."

"I'm fine, Max. Stop worrying. Come on," she urged, "We've barely spoken for days, and we only have a few minutes here. Surely, we can think of something better to talk about than my long and tiring week."

Max hesitated, then reluctantly gave in, and let it go.

"Well- since you've mentioned it... we really haven't had time to discuss this list of yours, Liz. And I've gotta tell you, there are some rules on there I object to. And number 12 is one of them."

"What's wrong with number 12?"

"I just don't see the need for it. I mean, Tess isn't even here now. What's it gonna hurt for me to hang around?"

"Because, other kids from school are here, Max. Word could get around to Tess."

"They don't know how long I've been here. And besides, if that happens, I have a legitimate excuse now that we've discovered someone's watching us. I'll just say I was here on guard duty."

Slightly amused, she pointed out, "Michael's here. Why isn't he a sufficient guard?"

Throwing a look toward the kitchen he said, "Because. Look how busy he is. He can't watch you...a- and Maria... like I can."

"And what's gonna happen to us in the middle of a crowded restaurant?" she asked with playfully lifted brows.

Hesitating, he finally conceded, "I don't know. But if I have to argue this point with Tess, I'll just- I'll wing it. Trust me, rule number 12 isn't necessary. I vote we take it to a higher court and have it repealed," he said with a tiny grin.

"I'll take it up with legislation," she said with mock seriousness. "So, what other rules do you have an objection to?"

Giving her a direct look, he said, "I really hate the one about not being alone in bedrooms. I mean, our rooms are the only places we have to be completely private, Liz. How else are we supposed to follow rule number–“ his brows furrowed as he tried to recall the rule in question, “Well, I don't remember what number it is, but it's the one that says..." he looked around furtively and leaned closer. Lowering his voice, he continued, "no kissing, hugging, or touching can take place unless it's at a time and place where there's no chance of being caught."

"Well, our rooms aren't exactly havens of privacy, Max. Are you forgetting how Maria almost caught us in my room the other day?"

"But she didn't catch us," he reminded her. "She still doesn't have a clue."

"Well, I wouldn't say she's completely clueless, she just hasn't tried to worm it all out of me yet."

Surprisingly, their secret was still safe from Maria. She'd had her own crisis to worry about lately, and she really hadn't questioned Liz too much about her relationship with Max. It seemed that Amy DeLuca had been going out with Sheriff Valenti every night this week. When he couldn't manage to get away from work, she'd been fixing him home-cooked meals and taking them to the police station to have dinner with him there. Maria had been ranting all week that they were getting 'way too serious way too fast', and she was now more worried than ever that the joining of the two households was eminent.

"So, are you saying you aren't willing to put the 'no bedroom' rule on the table for discussion?" Max asked with disappointment.


Both their heads jerked around in alarm at the sound of Michael's shout across the noisy café, and at least half the customers' conversations were startled into silence.

"YOU ON THE CLOCK, OR WHAT?!" Michael demanded, his voice loud and sharp with annoyance.

Liz's face flamed as the majority of the patrons swivelled their heads around to the table where she and Max sat. She darted an embarrassed glance over at Max to find that his face was also stained a dull red, and he was aiming a hard stare in Michael's direction. The room seemed to hold its breath in anticipation as everyone awaited her response.

Max took one look at her mortified expression and moved to slide out of the booth, saying angrily, "That's it. I can't just stand back and watch him treat you like this anymore, Liz. I haven't said anything all week, but this is the last straw. He's called attention to us all with this little outburst."

Liz quickly caught Max's forearm to stop him, and said, "No, Max. That'll only make things worse." She took a calming breath and assured him, "I can handle this, okay?"

She waited until he'd settled back in his seat, and he gave her a long look before finally tightening his lips and nodding his assent.

In the most dignified manner she could manage, Liz slowly got up from the table, and crossed over to the pick-up window where Michael stood. Most people had resumed their conversations at her lack of response, but many watched her progress across the room with keen interest.

When she'd reached Michael, she glared at him and said frostily, "You know, a simple 'order up' would've been sufficient."

Sarcastically, he returned, "Well, apparently not, 'cause I've called 'order up' twice and it's still sittin' here. Food's probably cold by now. Y'know, I realize that whatever it is you two are doing over there is extremely important, the fate of all the world rests upon your shoulders and all that, but if you could manage to tear yourself away every so often to do what you're getting paid to do, I'm sure these hungry people would appreciate it." He punctuated his words with a quick little false smile that she found utterly infuriating.

Biting her tongue, Liz took another deep breath to calm herself, but it didn't seem to help much. She was tired, she was stressed, and she wasn't in the mood for this.

"You know what I would appreciate, Michael? If you would just stop being such a complete and utter jerk!" she said in an angry undertone. "You're obviously forgetting that I know exactly what you're doing and why, so don't you agree that this whole attempt to like, keep me at a distance is a complete waste of both our time?"

Before he could answer, Maria hurried up to them, only now able to escape the demands of her customers. Eyeing them both, she hissed, "What is going on with you two? You're like, creating a public spectacle! I thought we were supposed to be keeping a low profile. You know, like- low? What were you thinking yelling across the restaurant like that, Michael?"

Annoyed at the chastisement, he said angrily, "I was thinking that while little Miss Deep and Soulful here was sitting over there gazing into Maxwell's eyes, this burger that I just slaved over was sitting here slowly turning into garbage." To make his point he grabbed up the food basket and slam-dunked it into a nearby trash container. "Where'd you get your work ethic, anyway?" he demanded of Liz. As if suddenly remembering, he said, "Oh, I forgot. I guess you don't really need one when Mommy and Daddy own the restaurant, now do you?"

"Michael!" Maria protested on Liz's behalf. "What's wrong with you? Liz hasn't had a break all night, and this place has been a total zoo. So she was sitting down for a few minutes, all you had to do was let her know her order was ready. And if she didn't hear you, you could've yelled at me. But not yelled yelled," she scolded, "I mean, this is a place of business, you know."

"Whatever," Michael said shortly in dismissal. He glared pointedly at Liz and said, "I have to go get another burger on the grill."

Mutely, Liz stared him down until he turned away, then she glared at his back for good measure.

Maria looked from one to the other of them with a puzzled expression and asked, "Liz, what's going on? I've never seen Michael be so nasty to you. Something's been weird between you two all week."

Liz averted her eyes guiltily.

This was another thing she'd managed to keep from Maria. She and Michael both had glossed over the depth of this connection thing as far as Maria was concerned, and fortunately none of the alien crew had said anything to give them away. Liz hated to be keeping secrets from Maria again, but she was just really afraid this would hurt Maria deeply.

Liz knew from the things she'd told her that in all their hot-and-heavy make-out sessions, Maria had never gotten a flash from Michael. Not a single one. She was afraid to find out how Maria would react if she knew that Liz had practically seen into his very soul. She just dreaded the thought of hurting her best friend that way. And apparently that was the one thing she and Michael had managed to agree on this week. Even though they hadn't discussed it aloud.

Unable to look Maria in the eye, she shruggingly spoke to the floor as she said, "He's just been frustrated, you know, that we didn't see anything more than we did when we got the flashes the other day. And he seems to be taking it all out on me. I don't know, maybe he blames me, or something."

She felt a little guilty at making Michael out to be the bad guy this way, when Maria exclaimed in outrage, "What?! But that is so totally not fair! He's the ali–" Snapping her mouth shut as she realized where she was, she took a quick look around, then lowered her voice. "He's the Czechoslovakian. You're just like...a visitor to their country, you know? How could he possibly blame you?"

Michael plopped a fresh food basket down on the pick-up window's ledge and gave Liz a sarcastic smile as he said in an exaggeratedly pleasant tone, "Order up."

No longer feeling the least bit guilty, she snatched up the food while shooting him a look of death, and turned to Maria to say tightly, "Because he's Michael."

As soon as Liz had moved away, Maria said demandingly, "Michael. What is your problem?"

Rubbing a hand over his eyes, he said, "Maria, don't start, alright? Just... stay out of this."

"I will not stay out of it. Liz is my friend, and you're treating her like crap. I know I let you get away with that with me, but Liz is different. She's... sensitive, and she's very- vulnerable right now. She's been through a lot lately. And if you knew the part you'd played in all that, I hope you'd be ashamed. Deeply, deeply ashamed," she emphasized.

"I don't know what you're talkin' about, and your order's gettin' cold," he answered, pushing the food in her direction, then turning away to oversee the grill.

He glanced over his shoulder to see her flouncing away and sighed.

He knew exactly what Maria had been talking about, he admitted to himself, mechanically flipping over the meat patties lined up in front of him. And it did make him feel ashamed.

He'd never even acknowledged the sacrifice Liz had made for him and Isabel. Heck, for the entire world. He wanted to say that he probably hadn't factored very much in her decision, but this stupid connection left him unable to do that. He knew how she'd felt that day when she'd stood behind the door watching him and Isabel out in the Crashdown while she tried to come to a decision about what to do about Max. And all her feelings hadn't just been for Isabel. She cared about him, too.

Michael was afraid that if the situation had been reversed he wouldn't have been so generous. For Isabel, yeah, he'd give up anything, in a heartbeat. But for Liz? He couldn't honestly say what he would've done.

She really didn't deserve the way he'd been treating her lately. He knew that in his head, but the words just seemed to come out of his mouth without conscious thought. She looked at him with those dark, soulful eyes that saw far too much, and it was just a reflex action. And she seemed to annoy him so easily, these days. No one got under his skin like that except for Maria.


He sighed again.

He didn't know what to do about her. They wouldn't be able to keep this connection a secret from her forever, but he really didn't relish the scene she was sure to make once she found out about it. Not that he would really blame her. After being so effective in keeping her from seeing inside him all this time, here he was seemingly letting Liz into the deepest corners of his heart and mind.

He just couldn't figure out what it was that let Liz see into him so easily. It had to have been something Max did to her when he changed her. But then, why couldn't she see inside Isabel and Tess like this? What made him so lucky?

The only thing he could figure that even half-way made sense was that, since she shared something similar with Max, maybe it had something to do with them being male and her being female. Why on earth that should make any difference, though, he didn't have a clue.

There were just too many questions, and not enough answers.

The story of his life, he thought with disgust, taking out his frustrations on the hapless meat patties by savagely squeezing the grease from them.

Liz stopped briefly at Max's table on her way back from delivering her order, and sent a challenging look toward the kitchen, just in case Michael was looking.

"If we just consider the 'no bedroom' rule null and void, do you think it would be okay if I come over when I get off?" she asked Max.

"Sure," he answered. He threw a quick glance of his own at the kitchen, then looked back at her, his brows drawn into a frown. "Is everything alright? What did Michael say?" he asked darkly.

Liz sighed tiredly. "It doesn't matter. He's just...being Michael, that's all. I'm hoping he'll come around before I have to resort to strangling him, but I guess time will tell."

Max almost smiled, but she said the words with such a completely straight face, that he frowned slightly with concern instead.

She was suddenly feeling overwhelmed with all that had been happening this week, and the lack of alone time with Max, and she told him, "I just really need to be with you for a little while, Max. But it'll be pretty late when I get off. Are you sure it'll be okay?"

Responding to the need in her voice, he nodded reassuringly. "Of course it's okay, Liz. I can't imagine I'd ever turn down a request to be with you. Especially not when it's something I really want, too. We'll can come in through my window, okay?"

She nodded gratefully. "Thank you, Max. I know it's not a very cautious thing to do, but...I just- really.. miss you, you know?"

His heart melted, and his golden eyes filled with warmth as he murmured, "I miss you, too."

They smiled softly into one another's eyes, and rule number 4 bit the dust, as the world around them slowly began to fade away...

And then Michael's strident voice calling, "Order up!" jarred them back to reality.

With a quick look of annoyance over her shoulder, she told Max dryly, "I have to tear myself away to go do what I'm being paid to do now. So I'll see you later?"

With a nod of agreement, Max began to gather up his things, and said, "Yeah. I think I'll go to the library to get this trig out of the way, and I'll come pick you up when you get off, okay?"

"Okay. Meet me on the balcony."

He nodded as he stood up and slung his book bag over his shoulder.

The urge to touch her was strong, but there were just too many people around. He wrapped one hand around the strap of his back pack and stuffed the other in his pocket to keep them from doing anything they shouldn't.

Caressing her face with his eyes, he said huskily, "See you later, Liz."

She gave him a doe-eyed look of longing and said softly, "Yeah. One more hour."

Eyes on hers, he swallowed, tightening his grip on the arm strap of his bag, and finally had to force himself to move away from her.

It was always like that. Like he was ripping away a piece of himself just by leaving her side.

As he was turning away, he happened to catch sight of Michael through the pick-up window. Apron and bandana-clad, he was leaning down with his hands braced against the counter on either side of him, glaring at them intimidatingly.

Max's lips twisted. "Better get back to work before the Soup Nazi starts raving again."

Grinning conspiratorially at his description of Michael, Liz turned to do as he suggested, while Max's feet reluctantly took him to the door of the restaurant, the same thought running through both their minds.

They just had to keep themselves occupied for one more hour, and then they could lose themselves in one another's arms for a short while.

Chapter 22

Max pulled up in front of his house, and hopped out almost as soon as he'd gotten the motor turned off, eager to get inside and have Liz to himself.

Liz climbed out a little more slowly. The warmth of the heater, and the hum of the jeep's engine had almost lulled her to sleep on the way over. She was just so tired. But she really wanted this time with Max, and she was determined not to waste it in sleep.

She followed Max a little way up the walk, then he turned and told her, "I'll meet you at my window, okay? I'm just gonna tell my parents I'm going to bed, so we won't be disturbed."

Liz nodded, and headed around to his bedroom window.

She got there before he did, and after waiting a few moments, she pushed against the window experimentally. It didn't budge, and she turned and slumped back against the house, stifling a yawn. Max probably hadn't realized it was locked, or he never would have allowed her to walk around out here by herself.

The thought made her shiver, and she pulled her jacket more closely around her as she peered out into the darkness and wondered if it was cloaking their unseen watcher right now. A slight breeze rustled through the trees as she strained her ears to hear anything out of the ordinary that might give away his presence if he was out there.

Motivated by uneasiness, she was struck with a sudden curiosity to find out whether or not she might be able to manipulate the lock on the window.

Without further thought, she turned to place her hand flat upon the glass directly atop the lock and concentrated hard, trying to remember everything the others had told her last weekend at the quarry when they'd been working with her powers.

When nothing had happened after a minute or so, she didn't think she was going to be able to do it, but suddenly a faint glow began to emanate from her hand, reflecting back at her through the glass, and!...she was met with success.

"Ha!" she breathed in quiet triumph, grinning hugely.

Without warning, the curtains across the window were yanked aside, and Liz jumped in fright.

As Max quickly pulled open the window, she threw her hand over her pounding heart.

"You scared me!" she exclaimed softly, then moved to climb up on the sill.

"Sorry," he apologized. "It wasn't locked. Why didn't you come on in?" he asked, holding out his hand to offer her assistance.

She gave a self-satisfied smile as she perched on the window's ledge and said, "It was locked, but I unlocked it."

His incomprehension lasted only a second.

"You mean, with your powers?" he asked in surprise, then grinned at her smug nod. "Good job." he quietly praised.

As she slipped her hand into his to allow him to help her down, she couldn't help but remember the last time she'd come in his window like this, and she could tell by the look on Max's face that he was remembering, too. That time, she'd adamantly refused his hand. But it had only been because she'd known that if he'd touched her it would've weakened her resolve.

She didn't know how long she'd stood here that night, mesmerized by the bunch and release of the muscles in his strong back as he'd executed one slow chin-up after another. When she'd finally managed to make herself knock on his window, her mouth had gone dry when he'd turned to face her, and once he was in front of her, there had been that beautifully sculpted chest staring her right in the face. It had honestly made her knees go weak, and she just hadn't known how she was possibly going to be strong enough to do what she'd come here to do. She'd been afraid that even the simple touch of his hand would have been enough to make her surrender her purpose, and her speech about his life being too dangerous would've been history. So she'd sharply refused his help. And the look of hurt in his eyes had nearly broken her heart.

And there had been even worse to come.

Wanting to erase the memory of that hurtful night from both their minds, she pulled her hand from his, and slid it up his arm to slide it around his shoulders. Her other arm wound around his neck, and she pushed herself away from the window to let her weight fall against him. He quickly threw his arms up to catch her and pull her close, and she slid tantalizingly against the front of his body, making the breath catch in both their throats.

Now this was more reminiscent of a happier memory.

A slight smile tipped up his lips as he shared that memory with her, too, and once she was on her feet, he leaned down to rest his forehead against hers.

"You know, I really wanted to kiss you that day," he admitted softly. "The day you came after the pendant."

"Yeah, I really wanted you to kiss me," she added her confession to his.

"Think maybe...we could have a do-over?" he murmured, his lips already moving towards hers in teasingly slow increments.

"I don't see why not," she said in breathless anticipation, lifting her face up to his.

It had been three long days since they'd last kissed, and Liz felt as though she were absolutely starving for the taste of him. She knew that Max had to be feeling as hungry as she was, but still he seemed to move at a snail's pace, honing the anticipation between them to a keen edge.

The cadence of her heart quickened its tempo as she forced herself to wait- just wait- for that first sweet touch of his lips.

Finally- finally, his mouth closed over hers, hot and lush, and Liz moaned softly in blissful satisfaction. It felt even better than she remembered- hotter, wetter, sweeter- and she wondered how she'd possibly managed to survive this long without his kiss. His lips were magic, positively life-infusing, and she thought fleetingly that it was no wonder she'd been so tired lately. She hadn't been getting her daily recommended dosage of Max.

He delicately traced the seam of her lips with his tongue, and she willingly opened for him. His tongue immediately came pressing inside the moist heat of her mouth in a tender invasion, and she eagerly welcomed the attack, silently urging him to take whatever he wanted. One of his hands slid up to tangle itself within the silky strands of her hair, while their lips avidly moved in relentless, clinging nibbles, as though this were the only sustenance they required to keep themselves alive.
Max greedily indulged himself in the scent, taste, and feel of Liz, until he felt as if he might be in danger of going into sensory overload. The kittenish curl of her tongue against his as she daintily lapped at the interior of his mouth sent tendrils of heat and desire coiling within him that had him reflexively tightening the arm wrapped around her waist, a move that brought their lower bodies more firmly into contact.

Gently sucking her bottom lip into his mouth, he held onto it briefly as he pulled his head back to change the angle of the kiss, then he let it wetly slide from his grasp.

Liz's heart skipped a beat.

She always thought it was unspeakably sexy whenever he did that. She'd never thought to question where he might have learned it, she just thanked whatever instinct he possessed that guided him in it, and appreciated the fact that she was the only one who'd ever benefitted from it.

Unless he'd ever kissed Tess that way.

As that insidious thought crept in, a crease formed between her brows. Tightening her arms around him possessively, she lifted herself onto her toes and ferociously deepened their kiss.

Surprised by the sudden attack, Max's hand fisted gently in her hair, and he met the avaricious movements of her mouth with a fiery response of his own. His reaction set off a thrilling riot of sensation within Liz, and she gave a tiny whimper, muffled by the dark heat of his mouth.

Max leaned her slightly back over his arm as his lips left hers to string a series of fierce little butterfly kisses along her jaw and down to the satin curve of her neck, and both of them gasped for breath in ragged pants. Moving her hands to curl around the sides of his neck, Liz tipped her head back, fully exposing her throat for his delectation.

As her lids were sliding closed, she happened to catch sight of the open window out of the corner of her eye, and she realized that they stood perfectly framed within its center, backlit by a soft pool of light from Max's desk lamp. It took a moment for her passion-fogged brain to assimilate why this was important, but she finally came to the reluctant conclusion that anyone could see them here.

"Um... Max?" she breathed, a quiver running through her body as his teeth and tongue gently began to make a sensuous meal of her neck.

"Mm-hmm?" he hummed in answer, his lips never pausing in their task of searching out the sweetest spots on the delicate column of her throat. It was a futile effort, Max realized vaguely. It all tasted like Liz and there was nothing that could taste any sweeter than that.

"M-maybe, ahh--" her breath escaped her in a rush as he found a particularly sensitive spot underneath the curve of her jaw, and he lingered there deliberately upon learning its affect on her. She cradled the back of his head while he gently suckled at the tender spot, and another soft whimper escaped Liz's throat.
A vague thought at the back of her mind called insistently for her attention, and she struggled to think clearly enough to bring it into focus.

As his tongue snaked a path down the side of her neck, she stammered weakly, "Max, maybe we... um- maybe we should move. A-away from the window. Someone.. might see."

"What?" His head came up in a sort of dazed confusion. He looked at her in incomprehension for a moment, then he finally seemed to come to a slow realization of where they were.

"Uh, yeah. You're- you're right." He pulled in a deep breath to try and clear his head, then briefly closed his eyes and touched his forehead to hers.

"I'm sorry, Liz. You just...all you have to do is touch me, and I kind of- lose all common sense, you know?" he said with the barest hint of a sheepish grin.

"Yeah, um- I know the feeling," she answered wryly.

He leaned in to tenderly graze her lips with his own one last time, then forced his unwilling arms to release her.

He moved over to the window to push it to and draw the curtains across it, and Liz dropped to sit on the edge of his bed with a long sigh. She felt as though her body was crashing as it came down off the intense high of Max’s kisses, and all her exhaustion from the previous week seemed to catch up with her at once.

Max turned to find her drooping in tiredness, and asked with concern, "Are you alright?"

"Yeah," she nodded, "I'm fine. I'm--"

"Just a little tired," Max said right along with her as she completed the sentence.

Flushing a little, she said, "I guess I've said that a lot this week, haven't I?"

"Only just about every time I've asked if you're okay."

"Well, that's been a lot, Max. And, really, that is all it is. It's just been a crazy week, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," he answered sympathetically, then reluctantly said, "I should probably just take you home."

"Oh, but I just got here," Liz protested. "Can't we just... talk a little bit before I go? A-and maybe hold each other?"

He wasn't hard to persuade, since he really didn't want her to go either, but he made a show of sternness, saying, "Okay. But just for 30 minutes, alright? Then we need to get you home to bed."

"Yes, Max," she said with exaggerated meekness.

He narrowed his eyes at her playfully as he crossed over to the bed, and she giggled softly.
Propping his pillows against the wall at the head of the bed, Max sat down and settled himself there, and Liz turned around to crawl up the length of the bed to his side.

His brain still a little clouded with desire, and his body most definitely still feeling its effects, Max swallowed hard at the unconscious seductiveness of Liz's movements as she advanced upon him on hands and knees.

Fire lit his eyes to a golden glow as he said huskily, "Just, uh...just holding and talking, huh?"

Recognizing the arousal in his eyes and the reason behind it, a sexy little smile tipped up her lips as she slowly drew out her crawling motions toward him.

"Well," she drawled, "Maybe one more kiss wouldn't hurt."

When she'd finally reached him, she braced her hands on either side of his hips, and looked into his eyes as she leaned in to kiss him. They were both conscious of where they were and how easily things could get out of control there, and their mouths met gingerly in light of that fact.

Liz nudged his lips apart with her own, then brushed against them again and again in languorous open-mouthed passes that were no less stimulating for all their softness. Max's hand came up to lovingly cup the back of her head while he kissed her back with lazy desire.

Their heads moved in perfect counterpoint as their mouths parted and came together in kiss after languid kiss, and for long, timeless moments, all that could be heard in the room were the tiny sounds of enjoyment Liz made deep in her throat.

"Mmm," she murmured, as her lips left his to trail along the strong angle of his jaw. "I've really, really missed you." Speaking between kisses as she made her way down his neck, she told him, "I think... we need... a new rule."

Lifting his chin as her lips slid across his throat to the opposite side of his neck, he urged her on with his hand in her hair, and his brows pulled down in a frown as he rasped, "Another rule?"

"You'll like this one," she promised breathlessly, "Rule number 23:" she paused to place a string of gossamer kisses across his cheek, "We must kiss at least once every day... no matter where we have to sneak off to do it."

His lips curved against hers as the two of them came together once again in a soft prolonged kiss.

When they parted, he said in a low rumble, "You're right. I do like that one."

They smiled into one another's eyes.

Her arms threatening to give way beneath her, Liz brushed his lips with a final sweet kiss, before easing herself down at his side, and he wrapped an arm around her to tuck her in close.
Resting her head in the hollow of his neck, she yawned and began to play with one of the buttons on his shirt.

Frowning a little, she asked, "Max, could I ask you something?"

"Sure," he answered, pressing a kiss onto the dark hair at her crown.

Liz hesitated. She wasn't really sure if she even wanted an answer to this question, but ever since it had occurred to her, she couldn't seem to let it go.

"Um, I know I really don't have a right to ask you this. A-and if you want to just tell me it's none of my business, that's okay," she quickly assured him.

Frowning a little himself now, he asked, "What is it?"

Liz took a deep breath. "When we were apart, did you, um...did you ever- you know...kiss Tess?"

Looking down at her in surprise, he said, "Of course not, Liz. Why would you even think that?"

Toying with his shirt button again, she shrugged a little and said, "It would be understandable if you had. I mean, you were hurt and confused...and we were definitely broken up. Tess was- well, she was there for you, and...she represents everything your future was meant to be, you know? I can see how you might be...curious, about that."

Taking a gentle hold on her chin, Max tipped her face up to his. His expression seemed to be a mixture of affectionate understanding and gentle chiding.

"First of all," he told her, "Tess represents my past. You're my future, Liz. Even when we were apart I could never seem to completely give up hope that that would still be true. And secondly, I've never had even the slightest desire to kiss Tess." He grimaced, then amended apologetically, "Never one of my own free will, anyway."

She pressed a quick kiss of forgiveness to the slight cleft in his chin, saying, "I'm sorry for even asking. The thought just kinda popped into my head and I couldn't seem to get it out till I knew."

"You'll never have anything to worry about as far as Tess and I are concerned, Liz," he told her reassuringly. Looking into her eyes, he said earnestly, "You're it for me. You always will be."

Her lips curved up gently, and her eyes meltingly told him of the depth of her love, while her lips seconded it. "I love you, Max."

"I love you, too," he returned softly, reaching down to capture her lips in tender kiss of affirmation. Liz stretched up to meet him and responded with heart-stirring poignancy.

Their lips clung as they broke apart, and they shared a loving look before Max placed a kiss upon her forehead, and she relaxed back down at his side with a sigh of contentment.
There was a peaceful silence broken only by the sound of another yawn from Liz, then she said, "I may not ever have to worry about you having feelings for Tess, but we're always gonna have to worry about her as long as we have this whole...end of the world thing hanging over our heads. I haven't even had time to think about all that stuff this week. Do you think it's possible she might feel something for Kyle?"

"I think it's a definite possibility," he answered. "I've been really watching them this week, and I've never seen Tess act the way she does when she's with him. They're always laughing and flirting. She seems almost...lighthearted."

"That's great, Max!" Liz quietly enthused. "He may be just what she needs. And, you know, when she first showed up in Roswell, Kyle was definitely interested in her."

"Yeah, but with them living in the same house now, and having just a platonic relationship, I think they might have it in their heads that they have more of a brother-sister kind of thing, you know?"

"Well then, maybe we can just give them a little push in the right direction." She grinned up at him.

Smiling, he said, "Yeah, I've been thinking about that. I thought maybe we could see if we could get them together in situations that would make them look at each other differently, you know, see themselves as a couple."

"That sounds like a good idea," she agreed. "Did you have something in mind?"

"Yeah, I know we kind of put our weekend plans on hold after we found out we're being watched, but I think everyone could use a little down-time after this week. Most especially you," he said pointedly, "And we ought to be safe enough in a public place if we all stay together. So I thought maybe we could go ahead with it. Maybe go out to eat, then to the movies. Do you think you, Maria, and Michael could all get off Saturday night?"

"Mm, I don't know, Max. Michael and Maria can, they're scheduled to work during the day, but I'm supposed to work the night shift. I'll talk to my dad. Maybe I can switch with someone, or he or my mom might be willing to cover for me for a few hours."

He nodded. "If nothing else, I guess we could always come eat at the Crashdown and then go to a late movie when you get off."

Yawning, she nodded her agreement.

"Uh, do you think maybe you could ask Kyle if he wants to come?" Max asked. "He's kind of been avoiding me. I've tried talking to him a few times, but he just gives me one-word answers, and acts uncomfortable. I think maybe I make him think about things he'd rather not think about."

She lazily slid her arm around his waist and gave him a light squeeze. "He'll come around, Max. He just needs a little time to come to terms with all of this, you know?"

Nodding, he said, "Yeah. I just wish he'd talk to someone about it. I mean, we have no way of knowing what's going through his head right now. And we don't really even know if he's been changed like you have. You know, when I saved Kyle, it was kinda different from when I healed you. I didn't get any flashes from him. I just saw these blinding flashes of light and nothing else. I don't know why it happened that way, or even if that would make any difference in whether he was changed or not, but it makes me kind of curious." He paused thoughtfully. "As much as I'd like to find out about it, though, it's Kyle's life it'll be disrupting, so I guess we'll wait as long as we need to for him to come to terms with it."

He fell into a contemplative silence, and after a few moments, he suddenly became aware of how quiet and still Liz had become. Tilting his head to see her face, he saw that she was no longer with him, and his lips tipped up wryly. He wondered how long he'd been talking to himself.

Lightly hugging his precious armful closer to his side, he dropped a kiss onto the top of her head, then rested his cheek there while softly stroking her hair.

He knew he needed to get her home, but he hated to wake her up, and it brought him such a warm feeling of contentment to hold her sleeping form in his arms.

Twice before he'd held her while she slept, and he had never slept so peacefully himself, than he had with her curled up at his side. It had been the most incredible feeling to wake up in the morning to find her limbs tangled together with his as she cuddled next to him. Of course, the last time it had happened, they hadn't gotten to enjoy that part. That had been the night Liz and the others had helped him escape from the White Room.

The memory of that experience made his heart give a sickening lurch, and he suppressed it immediately.

The only thing worth remembering about it was the night he got out. He couldn't imagine anything else that could have healed his heart and given comfort to his soul the way Liz had that night with her words of love, and the tender way that she'd held him. He'd found solace in her arms that night. They'd offered him respite and utter tranquility.

Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply of her scent, and marveled at all the emotion she was able to stir up within him even while asleep.

She truly was the miracle of his life.

With that thought, Max slid quietly into sleep alongside Liz.


Max woke with a start, his heart racing with panic.

He thought he was back in the White Room, and after his eyes had swung wildly around to take in the familiar surroundings of his room, he shuddered in relief to find that it had only been a dream.

As his heartbeat steadied, he slowly became aware of the severe crick in his neck that came from resting his head atop Liz's, and there was a prickling sensation in his arm where it lay underneath her body. It took a minute for the cobwebs of sleep to clear from his brain, and when they finally did, he realized that he must have fallen asleep shortly after she had. Looking at the clock, he saw that that had been over two hours ago. He really did have to get her home.

Liz made a tiny sound of distress in her sleep, and he noticed that she was breathing erratically. Frowningly, he wondered if that had been what had woken him. Was she having a nightmare, too?

"Liz?" he shook her gently.

"Max!" she violently jolted awake, fearfully crying his name.

"Hey. Shhh, I'm right here," he said soothingly, wrapping her in his arms and pulling her tightly against him.

Disorientedly, she clutched at his shirt, as her breath hitched sobbingly.

"Max?" she said in tremulous confusion. "A-are you okay?"

Bending his head over hers, he pushed her hair away from her face. Softly stroking its length, he answered, "I'm fine. You were just dreaming." He gave her a gentle squeeze. "A bad one?"

Her breath left her in a shaky rush and she nodded, then turned to bury her face in his chest, clinging to him tightly.

"It was awful," she said in a voice muffled by his shirt. "You were- you were in the White Room again...w-with Pierce."

Max's hand paused in its comforting motions against her hair, and he frowned in startled response. What were the odds of them both dreaming about the same thing?

"Really?" he asked in consternation. "What did you see?"

Shivering with remembered fear, she told him, "It was like I was there...watching, when it- when it really happened to you. Only- Michael and Isabel were there, too."

Max made a face of astonishment that Liz missed seeing as she continued to speak against his chest. "And Pierce was...hurting all of you, doing- things I've seen in flashes from you." Her arm tightened around him. "I wanted to make him stop, but it was like- no one could even see me. All I could do was him hurt you."

Liz turned her face into his neck, wanting to just block it all out. She knew it had only been a dream this time, but Max had really lived through some of those things, and it actually created a physical pain in her heart to remember how he'd suffered at Pierce's hands.

As Max's hand automatically went up to cradle the back of her head comfortingly, his mind raced.

She'd just perfectly described the dream he'd been having moments ago.

How was that possible?

Coming to the most logical conclusion, he said hesitantly, "Uh, Liz? I think- I think you may have been dreamwalking me."

Edited by - Destinee on 09/16/2001 23:54:42

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:48:46 AM ]
posted on 16-Sep-2001 1:23:52 AM
Chapter 23

"What?" Liz twisted around to look up at Max in bewilderment.

Giving her a direct look, he said, "I just woke up a minute or two before you did, and that was what I was dreaming."

Disconcerted, she just looked at him for a minute.

"Well, are you sure it was the exact same dream?" she asked.

"It sounded like it. Michael and Isabel were in my dream, too. And Pierce and his men were- doing things to us," he hesitated, hating to delve into the details of the dream. Thinking about it was making the memories return too sharply. Haltingly, he made himself go on. "Things like...the ice baths, and the, uh- the electric shock, and...they were gonna- cut Michael open." Max swallowed sickly, his eyes focused inwardly on something only he could see. "And Pierce never stopped laughing the entire time," he finished in a low voice.

Liz nodded solemnly.

"It was the same dream," she quietly confirmed.

Shadows of remembered pain darkened Max's amber eyes, and as she tenderly brought her hand up to rest along his jaw, she silently cursed Pierce and everyone else who'd played a part in putting them there.

"You still have nightmares about it?" she asked gently.

His eyes shifted away. "Not- not that often. I was just...kind of thinking about it before I fell asleep. That's probably why I dreamed about it tonight."

The possibility that she'd dreamwalked was pushed aside as unimportant as she studied his down-turned face with concern.

Smoothing a hand over his dark hair, she asked softly, "You okay?"

"Yeah," he answered, shaking his head once in a dismissive gesture. "It just...kind of brought it all back, you know?"

Head tilted, her face drawn in lines of compassion, Liz asked, " you want to talk about it, Max? We never really got a chance to, back- when it happened."

He bent his head toward his shoulder in a negative motion. "Not...really. It's- not something I like to think about, Liz. It happened a long time ago, and I've put it behind me. There just- isn't any point in dredging it all up again."

His eyes never quite met hers as he spoke, and Liz searched his face, wondering if he truly had been able to put it behind him. Had he ever even spoken of it to anyone? So much had happened the day after his rescue, that she was afraid that his experience with Pierce may have been overshadowed as far as Isabel and Michael were concerned. With Michael especially. Besides the fact that he'd had his own crisis to deal with after killing Pierce, that also seemed to be precise time that he'd become so angry with Max, so she was sure Max had never been able to talk about his capture with Michael.

That left only Isabel. But, would he have divulged the details of what had happened to his sister, or would he have chosen to keep it all inside and quietly deal with it on his own? Knowing Max, it had probably been the latter. It would be just like him to carry around the weight of this without allowing anyone to help him, all in the name of protection. The question was, had he really dealt with what had happened, or had he merely buried it deep inside and refused to ever think about it?

"Okay," she said slowly, her eyes fastened on his face. "But...would you just- promise me that you'll come to me if you ever do want to talk about it, Max? Because, you know, I've already seen some of it in flashes anyway, so it's not like... you'd be shocking me with- with the horrible details. There isn't any need to feel like you have to protect me from it," she emphasized gently. "So, will you promise? To come to me, I mean?"

His eyes warm with loving gratitude, he lifted a hand to her hair and said, "I promise, Liz. Thank you."

She caught his hand, cradling the back of it in both of hers, and turned her lips into his palm to place a soft kiss there. Laying his palm against her cheek, she said, "You don't have to thank me, Max. I love you, and I want to be here for you. I just...I want to be sure you're okay."

His head dipped forward a little, while he looked into her eyes. "I'm okay," he said.

And for the most part that was true, Max silently maintained. The whole thing really did seem like something that had happened a lifetime ago. Like a terrifying, surreal experience that had happened to someone else. He never talked about it, and he tried to never even think about it. It was only on nights like tonight, when the nightmares returned to haunt him, that he was forced to remember.

Maybe someday he might be able to tell Liz about it. After all, like she'd said, she'd seen it in flashes anyway. But not right now. Not when the nightmare had made the wounds feel so fresh.

Liz looked at him for a long moment before finally accepting his assurances with a brief nod and a soft, "Okay. Good."

Her hand followed his as it pulled away from her cheek to land in her lap, and their fingers lovingly twined together there.

Wanting to take his mind off the nightmare and the very real experience that had formed it, Max changed the subject back to the matter at hand.

"So, uh- you dreamwalked," he said.

"Yeah," she said agreeably, understanding what he was doing, and willingly going along. "Um- are we sure that's what it really was, though, Max? I mean, because- I thought I had to be connected to Isabel before I could use her gift."

"Well...we really don't know enough about your abilities to say that for sure, but- what else could it have been, Liz? We pretty much established that it was the same dream we both saw."

"Yeah, I know. But- I just don't see how it would be possible for me to do a dreamwalk on my own, Max. I don't have the slightest idea of how I would even go about doing that. So how could I possibly it in my sleep?" she asked, frowning in perplexity.

It did seem unlikely, Max allowed. He would have to ask Isabel to be completely sure, but he didn't think she'd ever dreamwalked without making a conscious effort to do so. As far as he knew, none of them had ever had an experience where they'd tapped into their powers while they were asleep. And while it was true that they hadn't experimented with Liz's powers enough to know exactly what she was capable of, it had seemed as though the few experiments they had conducted had led to the conclusion that she needed to be connected to one of them before she could do anything more than simple molecular manipulation. So, what exactly had happened here?

The wheels in Liz's mind were turning just as rapidly as Max's as she tried to come up with an explanation. As a sudden thought occurred to her, she began to chew on her lip a little nervously. If she really was able to do this- to dreamwalk without being aware of it- was that what was behind all her recent sleep-deprived nights? Had she been walking into other people's nightmares? Or even more disturbing, had it been Max's nightmares she'd been witnessing? Because, in all the experiments they'd performed with the waking dreamwalk, or whatever it was she'd done when she contacted Max in New York, she'd never managed to reach anyone but Max. Would the same hold true with this?

Liz looked at Max with slightly worried eyes and wondered if he'd been suffering from nightmares all week.

Lost in thought, Max's eyes were focused blindly on a point across the room. Feeling the weight of Liz's gaze, he looked over to find her studying him intently.

"What?" he asked uneasily.

Shaken from her stare, she replied, "Oh. Um-" she shook her head, "nothing. I was- just wondering...have- have you been having nightmares this week, Max?"

His expression melted into one of affectionate reassurance and his fingers tightened on hers. "I told you, Liz, I hardly ever dream about the White Room. Tonight was just- an aberration. I promise."

"No, I'm not just talking about that. I general- have you been having nightmares?"

His brow furrowed, he replied, "No. Why are you asking?"

Dropping her eyes, Liz tilted her head while lifting one shoulder in a shrug. "It's just...I've been having them, and I wondered if- if maybe I was dreamwalking then, too."

"You've been having nightmares?" he asked with concern.

"Yeah, um- remember how I told you Monday at school that I'd had them all night the night before?"

He nodded.

"'s happened every night since then, too," she admitted.

Frowning, Max said, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because there was really nothing much to tell, Max," she insisted, feeling a little guilty that she'd kept something from him, once again. "I never remember anything about the dreams in the morning. The only way I even know I had them is that I remember waking up scared during the night. And I have these horrible headaches when I first get up."

Max's eyes darkened. He didn't like knowing that Liz had been scared and in pain every night this week and he'd known nothing about it. "I wish you'd told me, Liz," he gently scolded. "I could at least have helped you with the headaches."

"I know. But- I just...didn't want to worry you. You've had so much on your mind, what with someone watching us and all that stuff with Tess...I just didn't want to add to it. And anyway, it's not like there was anything you could do about the dreams. All it would've done was make you worry about me more, and you were already asking me if I was okay every time you saw me."

"Because I was afraid something was wrong that you weren't telling me," he said meaningfully.

Liz winced. "I'm sorry, Max. Really. I- I wasn't trying to keep secrets from you. I just didn't think it was that big a deal."

Relenting easily at the unhappy look on her face, he assured her, "It's not. Don't worry about it, Liz. I just would've liked to have known, that's all." His expression was sympathetic as he lifted his free hand to brush the back of his knuckles against her face. "You've had it pretty rough this week."

She denied it, saying, "It hasn't been all that bad. I mean, it's not like I'm being traumatized by the dreams or anything, 'cause I never even remember what they were about."

He became momentarily distracted by the dewy softness of her skin as he caressed her face, then said bemusedly, "But you thought they were my dreams?"

Shruggingly, she said, "I just wondered if I was dreamwalking then, too. And since I've never been able to reach anyone but you when I was awake, I thought it would be the same with this, you know?"

He nodded, but his eyes were following the path of his index finger as it trailed over the curve of her jaw, down the side of her neck, then lingered to play at the hollow of her throat. "They weren't my dreams, though, if they were nightmares," he said absently.

Liz made no reply, and when the silence stretched out without Max seeming to notice, her lips quirked with amusement. "I think I'm losing you here."

"What?" his eyes jerked up to meet hers and his hand fell away guiltily. "No you're not," he denied automatically. "I was just...thinking."

Cutting her eyes up at him in a flirty manner, and said teasingly, "Yeah? What were you thinking, Max?"

His eyes fell away as he cleared his throat, then the corner of his lip tipped up in a gesture of admission. "You mean, besides the fact that your skin feels exactly like a rose petal?" he asked self-deprecatingly. "Not much, actually."

Liz made a soft sound of laughter as her lashes lowered demurely.

Smiling, Max dropped his eyes as well, then visibly pulled in a breath.

"But, uh- before I got...completely hypnotized by the feel of your skin," he said the last dryly, and Liz dimpled up at him, "I was thinking that maybe we're making all this more complicated than it really is."

"What do you mean?" she asked, shaking her head in confusion.

"Well, just that maybe what's been happening this week is nothing more than you having nightmares. I mean, with everything that's been going on--" he made an apologetic face, "that would be understandable, right? And what happened tonight...maybe you were right to begin with and it wasn't a dreamwalk at all. Maybe we just somehow connected, and- we shared the same dream."

She thought about that for a minute, then said, "Kinda like when we both saw the same flashes last week."

"Right," he agreed.

Liz nodded consideringly. "Yeah, you know, you could be right."

"But, just to be sure, maybe you and Isabel could get together sometime this weekend and do some experimenting with dreamwalking. Find out exactly what you can do."

She nodded to show that she thought it was a good idea, then her eyes suddenly began to gleam wickedly.

"A sleep-over?" she said suggestively.

Max grew still as their eyes locked, and a slow smile crept across his face.

"Think your parents would go for it?"

"Only one way to find out," she replied with a grin.

At the mention of her parents, Liz realized that she probably needed to be getting home. She had no idea how long she and Max had slept, and she looked over at the bedside clock to check the time.

"Oh my gosh, Max! Is that what time it is?" she exclaimed, scrambling up off the bed. "I've gotta get home! My parents'll freak if they find out I haven't been home all this time."

Max had forgotten about the time while they'd been talking, and he quickly followed her up, and led the way over to the window.

"I'm sorry, Liz. I shouldn't have fallen asleep," he apologized, climbing out ahead of her.

She let him help her out, then told him, "It's not your fault, Max. I did it first."

They hurried around to get into the jeep, then Max quietly coasted away from the house. As they sped down the darkened streets of Roswell, he was extremely grateful for their deserted state. He only hoped that if anyone from the local police force was patrolling on the graveyard shift, it would be their good friend, the sheriff.

When they pulled up in front of the Crashdown, Max turned off the engine and said, "I'll see you up."

Liz paused in climbing out of the jeep. "You don't have to do that, Max. You should get back before you get caught."

He shook his head. "I'll feel better if I see you up safely. Anyone could be waiting for you on that balcony, Liz."

She looked up toward her bedroom window and gave a little shiver of apprehension at the thought of someone lying in wait for her up there.

Nodding her assent, she got out of the car, and Max followed. He climbed up the ladder first then took a quick walk around the balcony. When he was finally satisfied that everything was as it should be, he came to a stop near Liz's bedroom window.

Liz moved away from the ladder and went over to join him. Wanting to make sure there were no parental surprises waiting for her inside, she crossed in front of him to peer through her window, and was surprised when he grabbed her by the arm and swung her around to face him. She got only a glimpse of the pale shadow of his face before he pulled her against him and his lips came down on hers. She gasped as their bodies came crashing together, and Max took instant advantage of her open mouth, his tongue plunging in for a taste of her familiar sweetness, while his lips passionately ravaged hers.

Her heart skipped a beat, then took off at a galloping pace at the suddenness of this forceful kiss. Scrambling for purchase, her fingers wrapped around the collar of his jacket and hung on for dear life, as he wrapped an arm tightly around her waist to lift her to her toes and mold her against the front of his body. His free hand came up to the back of her head, positioning it so that he could deepen the kiss still further, and the thrilling movements of his tongue as it plundered every hidden secret of her mouth sent a heavy heat pumping throughout her every extremity.

A small whimper of protest escaped her when he pulled his lips from hers, and his breath beat against her face in short, agitated gusts as he gazed down at her with glittering eyes. Unable to form any coherent thoughts through the fog in her brain, Liz could do nothing but look up at him dazedly.

Huskily, he said, "Just wanted to make sure you had pleasant dreams for the rest of the night."

Mindlessly bobbing her head in a gesture of understanding, she swallowed hard, then said breathlessly, "That oughtta do it."

Eyelids heavy, Max bent his head till his lips hovered once more over hers. "You sure?" he asked raspingly.

"Umm...maybe- not quite," she murmured, and pulled him down that last inch to meet her mouth.

Their lips came together in several hungry little plucking kisses, heads tilting one way, then the other, then Max slanted his open mouth over hers, and Liz gave him free and ready access, earnestly countering every bold stroke of his tongue and heated glide of his lips. Their hands gently roamed each other's backs, shoulders, and hair, sometimes caressing, sometimes clutching, and sometimes demanding even closer contact. They kissed until their breath rushed faster and their hearts were pounding, then Max finally broke away to kiss his way down the gentle slope of her neck, and buried his face there, getting lost within the midnight silk of her hair. Gasping for air, they held each other tightly.

After several minutes, Max breathed a long sigh, and lifted his head from her neck. They looked into each other's eyes for a moment, then he held her head steady while he pressed his lips to her forehead.

She felt his lips curve upward against her skin and he pulled back to say wryly, "I wanted to be sure they were very sweet dreams."

Smiling, she said teasingly, "Then I think probably your work here is done."

Max gave her one last lingering kiss, and Liz kept her eyes closed to savor it even after his lips were gone.

Her lids finally drifted up to find him smiling gently. "Good night, Liz," he told her softly.

"'Night, Max," she replied.

They slowly went their separate ways, and Liz felt as light as a cloud as she climbed into her bedroom and went through the automatic motions of getting ready for bed. When she finally lay underneath the covers, her lips were still tingling with the aftereffect of his kisses.

Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, her tongue moved across it avidly, imagining that it could still taste Max there. But she'd just brushed her teeth and her mind knew that was impossible.

Silly mind. Max had magic lips.

Liz smiled dreamily and drifted off to sleep.

And she had very sweet dreams, indeed.

Chapter 24

Ding, ding, ding!

"Order up!" Michael said loudly.

Liz grit her teeth and kept her professional smile pasted firmly in place, as she moved toward the kitchen to pick up her customer's food. Even though the café was practically deserted and Liz had been prompt in picking up and delivering every order this afternoon, Michael still insisted on making a big production out of announcing each order. She knew he was only doing it to annoy her, and she told herself that if this was the worst she had to put up with from him today, she could handle it. Surprisingly, he hadn't made a single rude comment to her all day.

She got waylaid by a customer who asked for coffee, and as she made a slight detour for the coffee pot, Michael announced the order again by ringing the bell.

Liz closed her eyes briefly in annoyance and pulled in a deep breath. She was really going to have to do something with that bell.

Preferably shove it forcefully into one of Michael's bodily orifices.

Admirably restraining herself, she merely gave him a tight smile when she got to the pick-up window, and said, "Michael. It's practically as quiet as a library in here. I can hear you perfectly well. Do you have to draw so much attention to us with that stupid bell?"

Michael smirked. "Just makin' sure you get the message." With a quick lift of his brows and tilt of his head, he finished goadingly, "We don't wanna let the food get cold."

Liz narrowed her eyes. "Believe me, Michael, I'm getting the message. Loud and clear. And it has nothing to do with the temperature of the food," she grated. "What exactly is it you want from me? Would you just tell me that? Whatever it is, I'll do it, if it'll get you off my case."

"See, that's the beauty of this whole thing, Liz," he said sarcastically. "I don't have to tell you. All you've gotta do is touch me, and you'll know my every thought and feeling."

"You act like that's my fault! I didn't ask for this, you know. It goes both ways, Michael, and I hate it just as much as you do! You know that. So would you just..." her irritation escaped her in a sighing rush, "Stop pushing me? Please?" She looked at him imploringly. "I mean, what good does it do for us to constantly be at each other's throats? It's not gonna make the connection go away."

Michael stood looking down at her for a long moment, his arms crossed, and just as he seemed about to capitulate, a voice interrupted him.

"Hey, guys. What's goin' on?"

Liz whirled around guiltily to find Maria looking at them quizzically, and she and Michael simultaneously answered with an emphatic, "Nothing!"

Neither of them would meet her eyes as she looked from one to the other, and she asked with a skeptical little laugh, "Well, what's with the intense, whispered conversation? Isn't somebody waiting for that food?" She looked over at the customer in question. "He looks like he might be getting a little impatient."

"Yeah! Right!" Liz answered, hurriedly snatching up the plate, and slinking away with downcast eyes.

Maria watched her go, then turned back to look at Michael searchingly. "You two are at it again? What is going on, Michael?"

In an effort to avoid her eyes, he picked up a nearby towel and began industriously wiping down the counter in front of him. "I already told you, Maria- nothing's goin' on. We were just...discussing the customer's order, that's all. Liz said he ordered mustard on his burger, but I said she told me mayonnaise. It was just a minor disagreement, nothin' more."

Eyeing him with mild suspicion, Maria nodded slowly. "You two seem to be having a lot of those lately. Anything you wanna tell me about?" she asked with raised brows.

He shrugged, the corners of his mouth turning down tightly. "Nothin' to tell."

"Are you sure?" she questioned. "'Cause, you know, I've hardly ever seen Liz angry, but she seems mad at you all the time now. Not that I can blame her. You've been saying some really harsh things to her, Michael. Something has to be behind all that."

Feeling guilty for lying, and annoyed that she wouldn't just let it go, Michael quietly exploded. "What do you want me to say, Maria?! I said it's nothing, and it's nothing! We're just a little tense thinkin' we're bein' watched, and Liz and I have been gettin' on each other's nerves. That's all! Just- stop makin' it into such a big deal, alright?"

Her eyes flashing with hurt, Maria lifted her chin and answered tightly, "Fine. Whatever. I have to go get ready for my shift."

Turning, she headed stiffly for the bathroom.

As Michael watched her go, he tightly crushed the towel in his hands, then turned to throw it savagely across the room. An action that did absolutely nothing to release his angry tension, as it landed on the grill and promptly burst into flames.

Cursing, he rushed across the kitchen and attempted to rescue the burning cloth, only to have his fingers singed for his efforts. He cursed again, shaking his burned fingers in the air, then automatically lifted them to his lips while reaching for the spatula with his free hand. Scooping the towel up with the utensil, he hurriedly carried its burning remains over to the sink and dumped it inside, turning on the water with a vicious twist of his wrist.

When the smoke had finally cleared and the cremated corpse of the towel lay sadly at the bottom of its watery grave, Michael leaned down to brace his forearms on the edge of the sink, and plunged his injured fingers underneath the running tap, shaking his head disgustedly.

He felt a presence behind him and knew instinctively who it was without turning to see. It figured that she would witness this act of humiliation.

She might as well, it seemed he didn't have an awful lot of secrets from her anyway.

"You okay?" Liz asked softly.

"Just peachy," he replied caustically.

He straightened and turned to catch her biting her lip to hide her smile, but it was quickly wiped away as soon as she found him looking at her.

"Guess we can't say as much for the towel," she couldn't resist gibing, looking pointedly at the sink.

"Yeah, well, take it outta my paycheck," he muttered, lifting his blistered fingers for inspection.

Liz hesitated, then moved to scoop a couple of pieces of ice out of the ice bin. Stepping toward him, she said, "Here, let me see."

Immediately dropping the hand to hide it partially behind his back, he said shortly, "It's fine, Liz. I don't need your help, alright?"

She faltered a step, then her mouth firmed into a thin line, and she continued on determinedly until she'd reached him. Taking hold of his forearm, she gave it a sharp tug to pull his hand around for her ministrations, saying exasperatedly, "Just- give me your hand, Michael." Shaking her head, she said, "Why does everything have to be such an issue with you? Why can't you just let anyone do anything nice?"

Tightening his jaw, he made no reply, resisting her for a moment, then finally allowing her to lift his arm and turn it so that his palm was facing up. Cupping the back of his hand in hers, she gently unfurled his fingers to check out the damage, and winced at what she found. It made her feel guilty that she'd found any humor in the whole episode. His pinky finger was the only one that seemed to have escaped with no damage, and blisters were already forming on his index and middle fingers.

She gingerly touched the ice to them, and jerked her eyes up to his as he hissed in pain.

"Sorry," she said, making an apologetic face. "It looks kinda bad, Michael. Can't you just..." she took a surreptitious look around, "you know. Fix it?"

He didn't say anything for a minute, then, with lowered eyes, he admitted, "I'm not always that good at it."

In respect for his embarrassment, she dropped her eyes as well, and focused on his injury. "You should- you should really try, though. I mean, look at it. That's got to hurt," she tentatively looked up at him with eyes full of sympathy.

Warmed by her concern in spite of himself, he met her eyes briefly, then answered gruffly, "It's just a couple of burned fingers, Liz. It's not gonna kill me."

Despite his answer, he took a quick look around to make sure no one was nearby, then laid his free hand lightly atop the singed fingers.

Liz continued to cradle his hand in hers to hold it steady, and kept an eye on the pick-up window to make sure no one walked up to witness what he was doing. She was vaguely aware of the hum of his energy as he gathered it to perform his task, but she was made startlingly aware as hers charged up as well, and moved to join together with his without any conscious effort on her part.

Her eyes flew up to his, and just like that, they were connected, and his energy came spilling over into her. She sucked in a quick breath, and her first impulse was to drop his hand to sever the connection immediately, but then she quickly became aware of the dull pain that he was experiencing because of his small wound. Without another thought, she dropped the melting ice cubes to the floor, and her free hand instinctively came up to rest on top of his.

She felt an instant outgoing rush, as their energy seeped out through their joined hands in a slow, steady stream. Following seemingly silent instructions in her head, she focused all her concentration on the molecules of Michael's flesh, and they healed the burn in a joint endeavor.

When it was done, and Michael's energy had left her, they looked at one another silently.

Taking an unsteady breath, Liz said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"

"I know," he interrupted. "It's okay."

She bit her lip and nodded, knowing that just as she'd been filled with a sudden knowledge of his motives and emotions, he had just as surely been flooded with an awareness of her own.

Looking down at their hands, Liz gently pushed his out of the way so she could view his newly healed fingers. She brushed a finger over their unmarred tips, not quite certain how to feel about what had just happened. She felt confusion, awe, uneasiness, and objection all tangled together with a tumultuous swarm of emotions that belonged to Michael roiling around inside her, and it was impossible to settle on just one.

"What is this thing, Michael," she asked thickly. "It just happens- automatically... instinctively. Why? Why only with me and you?"

He shook his head. "I don't know," he answered darkly. "I've been asking myself the same thing all week."

The press of confused questions inside her head were giving her a headache, but only one took solid form. "Were you...I mean, I-I thought--" she stumbled to a halt, then took a deep breath to start again. Brows furrowed, she looked up at him intently, and said, "I didn't know how to do that, Michael. What- what we did. Once we were connected, I didn't know what to do. I thought...I could hear... something- or someone telling me what to do. Was that, um-" She swallowed, her expression one of someone who was preparing themselves for a blow. "Was it you?"

He didn't answer for a long moment, a muscle working in his jaw, and his eyes dark with turbulence. This was a possibility that had been playing at the edge of his consciousness ever since last week. It seemed he was finally going to have to admit it was true. "Yeah. I guess it was. I could hear your- uncertainty, and I was just..." he lifted a shoulder in a stiff shrug, "willing you to somehow know what to do."

She tore stricken eyes away from his to look blindly at a point somewhere over his shoulder and shook her head slightly in denial.

He hesitated, before confessing in a low voice, "Look, I've been thinkin' a lot about that day we did the energy blast, Liz, and I think...I think maybe I could hear what you were thinking. I don't just mean...vague impressions, or- flashes, I heard everything that was goin' through your mind. You wanted to get rid of all that power, but you were worried about what it was gonna do. I heard you think that little rock was never gonna be able to absorb all of it. And the minute Max and the others came running up, I knew before you even drew the power back why you thought you had to hold back from doing the blast." He paused, then asked uncertainly, "Was that real? Does- any of it ring a bell?"

Her mouth set, she nodded tightly, knowing immediately that he was right. Now that he'd reminded her of it, she thought she could remember that when she'd been thinking the rock wasn't a viable target, he had agreed with her unspoken thought, saying, 'No, you're right. That'll never work.' And when he'd gone about searching out a suitable target, she'd been looking at the spot he'd chosen even before he'd pointed it out to her. And even the last time they'd connected, the time they'd gotten the flashes from the rock, she remembered how she'd thought she could hear him make a sarcastic comment in response to her astonishment over him being worried about her.

They were somehow capable of silent communication .

The thought seemed to erupt within her with the force of an exploding bomb, and the implications of it reverberated throughout her entire body.

This was something that even she and Max, in all the times they'd connected, had never done. It made the connection between her and Michael seem like something more powerful than they'd even begun to suspect. And it disturbed her. Deeply.

"No," she said, shaking her head emphatically. "No, this is wrong." She jerked her hands away from his as if she'd been burned. "If I'm able to do this with anybody, it should be with Max," she said, her voice tight and upset. "He's the one who changed me. The connection we have is special. We love each other. And aren't anything to me. We barely even like each other. Why should we have some kind of- of super-alien mind-link, or something? It isn't right!"

Michael looked furtively out into the café and said harshly, "Would you keep it down?! Someone'll hear you."

Her mouth drawn tightly, she threw a quick glance out the pick-up window, then looked back at him.

His jaw set, he returned her gaze with unreadable eyes.

While she knew he was right that she needed to watch what she said, she'd been speaking in an undertone and it wasn't likely that anyone had heard. It made her unreasonably angry at him that instead of offering a word of understanding or consolation for her distress, all he could do was reprimand her for speaking out of turn. He was so insensitive, and contrary, and annoying!

And for some incomprehensible reason, she seemed to share something deep and mysterious with him that went beyond words.

Something that went beyond what she shared with the love of her life.

Liz shook her head again. There was no way she would accept that. There had to be some kind of mistake.

Blindly, she turned to rush headlong out of the kitchen, but before she'd taken two steps, Michael caught her by the arm. "Wait. Where are you going?"

Shaking her arm free, she said shrilly, "I have to get out of here."

"You're still on the clock!" he reminded her, following her out of the room.

She didn't bother to reply, pushing her way forcefully through the swinging door, and almost running into Maria on the other side as the she came walking out of the bathroom.

"Liz!" she exclaimed, catching her by the upper arms as she stopped short of crashing into her. "What's wrong?" she asked in concern the minute she saw the wild-eyed look on her friend's face.

Michael came hurtling out the door right behind her, and Maria looked up at him in question when Liz failed to answer right away. "What's going on?"

Liz pulled away from her and said thinly, "I have to go, Maria. Will you cover for me?" Without waiting for an answer, she headed quickly for the front doors.

Barely sparing Maria a glance, Michael moved around her to catch up to Liz before she made it to the doors. Catching hold of her arm once again, he jerked her to a halt. "Where are you going?" he demanded to know. "We aren't supposed to be going anywhere alone, remember?"

Looking around at the few customers who occupied the tables around them, she said tersely, "Michael, you're making a scene. Let me go."

"Not until you tell me where you're going. I know you think someone may have been following you this week, Liz. I can't just let you wonder around out there alone."

At the reminder that she had practically no secrets from him, Liz angrily tugged on her arm, saying tightly, "I'm going across the street. Now let me go!" With that, she jerked her arm sharply from his grasp.

Michael let her go without further protest when he realized that she was only going over to the UFO Center. Max would be able to handle this a whole lot better than he ever could anyway, he thought disconsolately. As usual, he'd made the mess, now Max would have to fix it.

He continued to stand there even after he'd seen that Liz had made it safely into the building across the street, hoping to delay the inevitable confrontation with Hurricane DeLuca.

No such luck.

Coming up behind him, she said, "All right, that's it, Michael. I want to know what's going on right now. And I am not gonna give you a moment's peace until you tell me. You got it?"

Sighing, Michael nodded, while sending a desperate look out to the empty street. Where was a mob of hungry customers when you needed them?

Apparently, they were all on a diet or something.

There would be no more reprieves for Michael Guerin, he realized, as he docilely allowed himself to be pulled back to the kitchen, like a prisoner being led to the gallows.

Edited by - Destinee on 09/17/2001 01:27:56

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:50:19 AM ]
posted on 19-Sep-2001 1:50:00 AM
Thanks for leaving the feedback, guys! I really appreciate it. I'm glad you're enjoying it the second time around.

And yeah, Tara, it's possible you may have mentioned that. But I don't mind hearing it as often as you want to tell me. *wink*

Chapter 25

Liz hurled herself through the door of the UFO Center and rushed inside without even a moment’s pause to let her eyes adjust to the darkened atmosphere. She clattered down the steps to the main area, then hurried blindly past the exhibits, with only one clear thought in mind.

She had to find Max.

She covered the entire public area without encountering anyone but a couple of tourists, and was just about to give in to unreasoning panic, when she passed a room marked 'Employees Only' and thought she heard the sound of his voice.

Hesitating only a second, she pulled the door open and found him inside talking to Brody. They both looked up at her abrupt appearance, and she wavered in the doorway in sudden uncertainty.

"Liz!" Max exclaimed. Taking in her agitated expression, he immediately moved toward her, asking, "Is everything alright?"

When he'd reached her side, he curled his hand around her upper arm, and she reached up to close a fist around the gold fabric of his vest near his waist. Looking at him with pleading eyes, she asked, "Could I just- talk to you for a second?"

Frowning with concern, he tore his gaze away from her face to look at Brody for permission, and she turned her eyes toward him as well and managed to offer an apology. "Um- sorry for just...barging in like this."

"No, it's alright," he assured her in his accented English. "Is there some sort of emergency?"

Her eyes shifted to Max, unsure what to say, and he gave her arm a bolstering squeeze. She finally looked back in Brody's general direction and answered, "Um...kind of. I guess. N-nothing life-threatening...or- or anything, I just...I really need to talk to Max. Just for a minute. If- if that's okay."

Brody gave her quizzical look at the stumbling answer, then he looked at Max and told him, "Why don't you go ahead and take your break. This isn't anything that won't keep."

"Thanks, Brody," Max said gratefully, as he quickly ushered Liz out the door.

As soon as they were a safe distance away, his head bent toward hers and he asked, "What is it, Liz? What's wrong?"

"Can we go somewhere private?" she begged.

She had to be alone with him. She had to prove that this whole thing was just some kind of huge oversight. The connection she shared with Max was ten times- no, a hundred times deeper than anything she could ever share with Michael Guerin. She was sure that anything she could do with Michael, she could also do with Max. She and Max just hadn't realized they were capable of doing this, that's all. Maybe it was something new that she could do.

She desperately wanted that to be true.

Max looked at her searchingly, his brows creased with concern, then he took her arm to lead her down a darkened corridor towards the far end of the building, throwing troubled glances her way as they walked.

He'd never seen her like this. She seemed like she might be on the verge of losing it, and he couldn't imagine what had happened to put her in such a state. Only one thing came to mind, and the possibility of it filled him with dread. He didn't think he could wait until they found complete privacy to find out whether or not it was as bad as he feared.

"Does this have anything to do with Tess?" he asked grimly.

"What?" Dimly, she realized that he thought this was about the end of the world thing. It felt like the end of the world as she knew it, but at the moment, she guessed the earth was safe enough. "Oh. No. It- it's not about that, Max. This's just...Michael--" Frustrated that she seemed incapable of forming a coherent sentence, she repeated, "It's- just not about the Tess thing."

All he needed to hear was Michael's name in that garbled explanation for his dread to turn immediately into anger. Suddenly her behavior made sense. Michael had finally done it. He'd pushed her too far. And after Max had specifically asked him to back off.

He'd finally said something to Michael at school today about the way he'd been acting toward Liz lately. Naturally, it had turned into one of their typical confrontations. Michael had been defensive and sarcastic, mild insults had been exchanged, Max had ended up basically demanding that Michael let up on her, and Michael had stormed off before they'd gotten anything resolved. Max couldn't believe that he would've continued to treat her the way he had been even after learning how much stress she'd been under this week, but it seemed as though he had. And he was afraid Liz might have finally reached her breaking point.

He would've dearly loved to put a fist through Michael's face for doing this to her.

They reached a little-used storage room at the end of the hallway, and Max held open the door while Liz preceded him inside.

As soon as he'd flipped on the light and closed the door behind them, he asked gently, "What happened, Liz? What did Michael do?"

She didn't respond to his questions, but turned to look up at him with a wild look in her eyes, and said desperately, "Connect with me, Max."

"What?" he asked with confusion, the command taking him completely off guard.

"Connect with me," she repeated pleadingly. "Please?"

Lifting his hand to her face, he entreated, "Liz, tell me what this is about."

When he made no move to comply with her request, Liz took matters into her own hands.

Max was too surprised to resist her when she pressed up against him forcefully and pushed him backwards until his back hit the door with a dull thud. Then, anchoring his head on either side, she lifted up to her toes and crushed her lips against his. Her tongue came out immediately to demand entrance into his mouth, and Max hesitated only a second before granting it. Forcing his lips wide, Liz ravished his mouth with fierce, single-minded intent, and for one brief moment, he lay back against the door in stunned incomprehension of her aggressive actions. He'd never known her to come on so strong, and he was somewhat disturbed by the intensity of her kiss.

But then, as was always the case when he kissed Liz, his mind quickly became clouded by the feel and taste of her, and his heart took a sudden charged leap of excitement at her boldness, the latent sexiness of it setting off a powerful eruption of unrestrained passion within him that shook him from his passivity.

Quietly exploding into action, Max took command of the kiss. Wrapping one arm around her waist, and spearing the other hand through her hair, he spun her around to take his place against the door. His arm at her back cushioned the impact as she slammed lightly against the wood, and bounced there twice. Liz gasped and clung to his broad shoulders as his lips ate at hers with tender savagery, and her purpose for initiating this was quickly forgotten, as desire sent a flush of sizzling heat washing throughout her body.

Their lips and tongues mated furiously, coming at each other again and again, each stroke seemingly more fierce than the last, and their ragged breathing, along with the wet sounds of suction made by their lips each time they separated, filled the small room.

Giving in to an urgent need to be closer, Max lowered his weight onto her, trapping her tightly between the ungiving solidity of the door and the yielding hardness of his body. He left his hand behind her, his palm pressed flat against the small of her back, and he used it now to arch her up against him. Liz made a whimpering sound of need deep in her throat, and dropped her own hand to his lower back to pull him even closer. In an effort to obey the unspoken request, he nudged her foot aside with his own, widening her stance, and crowded in between her legs to press against her intimately, a move that forced several of the snaps at the bottom of her uniform to give way, as the skirt was pulled taut between them. Liz gave a muted cry that was swallowed up by his mouth, as something deep inside her clenched at the feel of him, and their hands tightened on one another reflexively.

As though their intimate contact had sparked it to life, the connection between them opened with a sudden outpouring of emotions and images.

The desire Max was feeling was the first thing to hit her. Its heat flooded over her in sensual waves, and as their lips moved together with hungry insistence, she quite readily drowned in its warm depths. Flashes of the time they'd gotten caught making out in the Eraser Room earlier this year played behind her closed eyelids, and she thought he must be reminded of it by what they were doing now. Then more recent images flashed before her, reminding her suddenly of the circumstances that had led them here, and she pulled his hips more snugly against hers, while renewing the onslaught against his mouth, resenting the reminder.

She saw Michael, at different times over the week when he'd been rude to her, and she could feel how much Max had wanted to lash back at Michael in her defense, but he'd kept quiet for fear of making things worse between the three of them. Pieces of the argument he'd had with Michael when he'd finally confronted him played out in her head, and she felt his frustration that he and Michael couldn't even have a simple talk anymore without practically coming to blows.

Then she saw a picture of herself as she'd appeared in the doorway moments ago. She felt the small leap of fear he'd felt at the first sight of her, then the trepidation and concern he'd been feeling as they'd made their way to this room, and his initial surprise when she'd started to kiss him. This was a reminder she couldn't ignore as it brought to mind the reason why she'd wanted them to connect like this in the first place. She had to find out if they could hear each other's thoughts.

Almost afraid to try for fear of finding that they couldn't, she reluctantly tried to send him her thoughts, and concentrated fiercely on listening for his.

The firestorm of emotion Max felt inside Liz made him catch his breath. When the first swell of her passion had broken over him, he'd deepened their kiss with a sweeping thrust of his tongue in automatic response. But then he became aware of other, more disquieting emotions that quickly dampened his ardor.

Tangled feelings of confusion, dread, and wild protest crowded into his consciousness and lay heavy upon him like a dark blanket, making his brows furrow, and sending his hands up to frame her face and stroke her cheeks soothingly with his thumbs. Brief flashes of her and Michael in the kitchen of the Crashdown played through his mind, and he saw her rush in panic from the restaurant, and then anxiously search the Center for him. Then he felt the return of her earlier distress, as the tenor of her kiss changed, and he sensed that she had something she wanted him to know.

This wasn't working, Liz thought with despair. Why wasn't it working? It was just the same as it had always been when they connected. She was still occasionally seeing flashes from Max, mostly images of her, and she could feel everything he was feeling, but it was somehow different than when she connected to Michael. She thought maybe she could feel Max questioning her, but it was more like something she sensed through the context of his kiss and his emotions, rather than actual words she could hear in her head. She wondered if he was hearing her at all. Please, Max. Please hear me, she begged silently.

The passion had virtually drained from their kiss when Max had felt the shift of Liz's focus. He could feel the turmoil inside her and it became his own. He felt certain that she wanted something from him, but he didn't know what it was.

Gently disengaging his lips from hers, he pulled back to look into her eyes and asked huskily, "Liz, what is it? Tell me what's going on."

She lifted troubled eyes to his and said with soft urgency, "I am telling you, Max. You have to listen! Please listen," she ended pleadingly.

Stroking her hair with one hand, he said reassuringly, "I am listening, Liz. Just tell me."

She shook her head agitatedly. "No. I mean...listen- inside our heads. I-I'm telling you in my mind. I'm sure you can hear me if you'll just listen. Listen hard, Max." With that she closed her mouth over his again to keep the connection open between them.

Max hesitated before responding gently to her kiss, now feeling a confusion and distress of his own. This was all because she needed something from him. And he wanted desperately to give it to her, but she seemed to be asking him for something he couldn't provide. He thought she was asking him to read her mind, but she knew the connection didn't work like that, and he didn't understand why she suddenly thought it would.

But obviously something had happened to make her believe it was possible. So Max put aside his questions and doubts and did as she asked. He listened. Hard.

They could do this, Liz assured herself. They just needed to try a little harder. Remembering what Michael had told her about somehow willing her to know how to heal the burn, Liz did the same thing now. Circling Max's neck with her arms, she pressed against him tightly, and willed with all her might for him to hear what she was telling him.

Max began to get flashes of Liz and Michael in the Crashdown's kitchen again, and he knew that if he could just see enough of what had happened there, he'd know what had her so upset. He saw Michael putting out a fire on the grill and getting burned while doing it, and then he saw Liz tending to his hand. She asked if he could heal it, and when Michael began to do just that, Max felt her surprise as her energy gathered on its own to assist Michael.

Then he heard snatches of the conversation they'd had after they'd healed his hand.

And each revelation seemed to ring with stunning significance.


"...I think I could hear what you were thinking."


"I don't just mean vague impressions, or flashes, I heard everything that was going through your mind."


"Was that real?"

Max could feel every one of Liz's roiling emotions as she protested, "If I'm able to do this with anyone, it should be with Max! ...Why should we have some kind of- of super-alien mind-link or something?!"

Breathlessly breaking off the kiss, as well as the connection, Max pulled away to look at her questioningly, his eyes dark with seething emotion. Now he understood her agitation. Though they were no longer connected, it was a state of emotion he shared.

"Is that true, Liz? He can- read your thoughts?" he asked, his voice rough.

Liz's eyes lit with relief. "You heard me?"

Shaking his head briefly, he replied, "I just...I got flashes, the same way I always have. Is that...Michael's able to do something more than that?"

Crushing disappointment followed closely upon the heels of her relief when she realized that he hadn't really heard her, and tears of defeat and sudden remorse filled her eyes. She'd been so hoping that this would be something they were capable of doing that she hadn't stopped to think about the consequences if they couldn't. This wasn't the way Max should have found out about this. She should've broken it to him more gently.

Swallowing hard in regret, she slowly nodded. In a low voice, she confessed, "We can...hear each other in our heads. When- whenever we're connected."

"Hear each other," Max repeated dully. "Are you can read his thoughts, too?"

She looked at him for a long moment, her expression anguished, then said, "I'm saying that...I think- we're able to...communicate, somehow, w-without any words." She winced at his slightly stricken look and said achingly, "I'm sorry, Max. I shouldn't-- I shouldn't have let you find out like this."

Max didn't respond, his thoughts and emotions in turmoil. They were capable of silent communication? How could that be? Why would that be? Why did her connection with Michael seem to be so much stronger than the one she shared with him? He was the one who'd changed her. He hadn't yet come to terms with the fact that she even shared some kind of weird connection with Michael, and now he had to deal with the knowledge that it was something more than he, himself seemed capable of having with her. He resented that. A lot.

Liz's own distress deepened upon witnessing Max's. This whole thing was so unfair! To all of them.

"Why is this happening, Max?" she wailed softly. "I just...I don't understand!"

Called from his dark thoughts by the confused frustration in her voice, Max tried to put aside his petty jealousies for the moment, and focus his efforts on soothing Liz.

"I don't know," he answered, gently chafing her upper arms, "But, there's got to be some kind of explanation for it, and we'll...we'll figure it out, okay?"

She looked up at him with haunted eyes and said in a whisper-soft voice, "I think that's the part that has me so scared. I'm not really sure I even want to know what the explanation is."

Frowning, he curled a hand around the side of her neck and asked, "Why does it scare you, Liz? What do you think it is?"

For a long moment she didn't respond, and then she sighed. "I have no idea. My fear doesn't make any sense. None of this...makes any sense." Moving forward to lay her head on Max's chest, she said wearily, "I'm just so tired of my life not making any sense, Max."

Winding one arm around her waist, and bringing his other hand to the back of her head, his face was drawn with regret as he said, "I'm sorry, Liz. I'm sorry for putting you through all this. Seeing how much it's turned your life upside down, I keep wanting to apologize for whatever it was I did to change you, but...I can't honestly say that. Because- even if I had known what it was going to do to you, that day I healed you...I would've done it anyway. I couldn't have done anything else if the alternative was to just let you die. And I can't say I'm sorry for that."

Pulling away from his embrace, she lifted a hand to his face. Nodding reassuringly, she said, "I know. I'm sorry if I sounded like I was complaining, Max. I didn't mean that. Just...don't pay any attention to me, I don't know what I'm saying. I've been--" giving a tiny shake of her head, she closed her eyes briefly and gave a single gust of humorless laughter, "I've been acting like a total basket case ever since I came in here. I shouldn't have come to you like this. I'm sorry."

He tilted her face up to his and said, "I'm glad you did, Liz. I want you to always come to me whenever you're hurt or upset over something. Because no matter what it is, we can deal with it together." He caressed her cheek with a brush of his thumb. "Right?"

Her throat tight with emotion, Liz simply nodded in answer, and went back into the warm safety of his arms. Max caught her up against him and held her tight, rubbing her back soothingly. They stood there just holding each other for a long while, and then Liz realized belatedly that she'd probably kept Max away from work long enough. Brody would be wondering about him. And she needed to get back to work herself. She'd left Michael and Maria there alone to take care of the entire café. They'd be in trouble if they got a rush. The thought of going back over there to face the two of them and finish out her shift with them in undoubted awkwardness left her weak with sudden exhaustion. What on earth was she going to say to Maria? She'd known that they'd have to confront her with this sooner or later, but she just really didn't feel up to it at the moment. Her own emotions were still in such turmoil, how was she ever going to have a rational conversation with Maria over this now? Maria would need her to be calm and reassuring, and that just wasn't anything she felt capable of right now. She hid her face in Max's neck and wished the whole situation would just disappear.

But that wasn't gonna happen. Liz sighed in resignation and forced herself to leave his arms, saying, "I should let you get back to work before Brody decides to come looking for you."

Knowing she was right, Max reluctantly let her go. Taking in her strained expression, he tenderly tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and asked with concern, "Are you sure you're okay to go back to work? You look- wiped out."

"Yeah, I am...pretty tired all of a sudden," she admitted.

Smoothing his hand along the length of her hair, he told her, "You should go home and get some rest as soon as you get off. And if you're not too tired and you want to talk, you can call me, okay?"

Her lips tipped up slightly as she looked up at him, and she nodded. "Okay."

Her hands came up to cup his face as she leaned up and gently pressed her lips to his, her thumbs brushing softly against his cheeks in imitation of the caress he so often gave her. Pulling back to look into his eyes, she said a heartfelt, "Thank you, Max. For-" she shook her head helplessly, "just for being here. I can't even imagine how I'd handle all this without you."

His eyes warm with love, he cradled her face in his hand and returned her kiss with one of his own, a sweet brush of his lips against hers. Bringing their foreheads together, he answered softly, "Then it's a good thing you don't have to."

Chapter 26

As Liz trudged back across the street to the Crashdown, her feet felt weighed down with a hundred pounds of reluctance. She so didn't want to do this right now. Never would really be a much better time for her.

She tried to come up with the words she was going to say to Maria, but her thoughts seemed heavy with dread, and the look on Max's face when she'd told him took up all her brain space. She'd already hurt the most important person in her life today, she didn't want to hurt the second most important person, too.

She wondered what Michael had told Maria. He'd undoubtedly had to tell her something. She couldn't imagine Maria settling for the half-truths they'd been giving her after the way her best friend had run from the café as though the devil had been on her heels.

Liz sighed tiredly. She'd made such a mess of things.

Her stomach was churning as she reached the entrance of the restaurant, and she had to force herself to cross over the threshold...and was met practically inside the door by her mother.

"Lizzie, honey, are you alright?" she asked, coming up to take hold of Liz by the upper arms. "You look so pale," she said fretfully, and placed a palm on Liz's forehead as though checking for a temperature.

Liz just looked at her in perplexity. How could her mom possibly know how crummy she felt right now? Was her radar kicked into overdrive, or what?

"Maria told us you weren't feeling well and you had to go outside for some air. You should have told us you were sick, Liz. I know we're short-handed, but your dad and I can handle the restaurant. I want you to go upstairs and get into bed, okay? We've been pushing you too hard this week. I'm going to take over some of your hours until we can find a new waitress, so don't worry about things down here. You just go get some rest and I'll come up to check on you later, hmm?"

A little bewildered at this sudden turn of events, Liz felt compelled to admit, "Mom, I'm not really sick."

But as she looked around at the crowded restaurant she had to admit she didn't exactly feel well, either. It had gotten busy in her absence, and the thought of dealing with all these people had her trembling weakly with exhaustion. It was after 6:00 on a Friday night and it probably wouldn't slow down for hours. Another waitress had come on duty while she was gone, and the customers were keeping her and Maria hopping from one table to the next. This really wasn't the time or place to try and have a serious alien discussion with Maria anyway, Liz told herself. What would it hurt if she went upstairs to regroup for a little while before coming back to face this thing with her?

Feeling like a complete coward, Liz took the easy out her mom was offering.

"I guess I'm just...kind of exhausted, you know? It's been a really tough week."

"I know, sweetie. I'm sorry we didn't realize we were over-working you. Just go get some sleep, alright?"

Guiltily, she asked, "Are you sure, Mom? It is pretty busy."

"Yes, I'm sure. Go," she said, giving her daughter a gentle push towards the back.

Liz turned to give her a quick peck on the cheek, saying, "Thanks, Mom."

On her way to the back, she passed by Maria, and touched her on the arm. "Can I talk to you for a second?"

Maria set two plates down on a table in front of the men sitting there with a quick, "Enjoy your meal," then followed Liz to the swinging door.

"Thanks for covering for me with my mom," Liz said in a hushed voice.

"No problem," Maria answered. "Are you okay? You look kinda pale."

Liz's lips twisted wryly. "Yeah. So I've heard. I'm just really tired, that's all. My mom's taking over my shift tonight, and she told me to go get some rest."

"That's probably not a bad idea, Lizzie. You look like you could use it," she said with concern. Liz really did look stressed out. She was dying of curiosity to find out what had made her friend flip out the way she had earlier, but now was hardly the time.

"Yeah. Listen, Maria, I know that we really need to talk--"

"Don't worry about it, Liz," she interrupted. "We probably wouldn't get a chance to talk in the middle of all this, anyway," she said, gesturing towards the busy café. "You should just go get some rest like your mom said. We'll talk later, okay?"

Grateful tears stung her eyes at Maria's generosity. "Yeah, definitely," she agreed. Giving the other girl's arm a squeeze, Liz said, "Thanks, Maria."

Maria returned the gesture, saying, "Sure, babe. Now, go rest."

Nodding, Liz turned to go through the door to the back, amazed that Maria was being so calm and rational. Was it possible that Michael still hadn't told her what was going on? She glanced into the kitchen as she passed by the door. Her dad was helping Michael at the grill, so there would be no finding out about it now. She'd just go upstairs and rest for a few hours, then she'd come back down after closing so the three of them could talk.

That decision made, she went up to her room and changed out of her uniform, then fell into bed with a grateful sigh. As she lay her head down wearily on her pillow and settled herself in for a nap, the picture of Max's face played upon her closed eyelids. His expression when she'd told him the news about the connection continued to haunt her.

He'd looked so hurt and bewildered that just thinking about it caused a squeezing sensation in her chest. It almost reminded her of the way he'd looked when he'd seen her and Kyle in bed together, she thought with a stab of pained regret. Although this whole thing was involuntary on her and Michael's part, and it seemed to be something beyond all their control, it still felt like just as much a betrayal as 'sleeping' with Kyle had been.

It tore her up to know that she was causing Max pain like this again. He'd seemed to put his hurt behind him quickly enough tonight, but she knew now that he'd only done that for her sake, and it made her feel guilty that he'd had to put his own feelings on hold in order to be strong for her.

Even though it hadn't been more than twenty minutes ago that she'd seen him, she felt a sudden need to talk to him. To hold him and make sure he was alright, to just be there for him the way he'd been there for her tonight.

But she told herself that he was working and she couldn't interrupt him again or she might get him into trouble. She'd call him tonight after she and Michael had talked to Maria.

Though her mind was still whirling, and her heart was heavy, her body was physically and emotionally spent, and she soon fell asleep thinking about how she might make all this up to Max.


Michael flipped the last chair over to rest atop the table, then grabbed the broom to begin sweeping up, thankful this long night was over. The only good thing that had come of it was that he'd been granted his reprieve after all.

As he swept his way behind the counter, he thought about his earlier conversation with Maria, and he knew that even though he'd been trying to prepare her, she still had no clue about what was coming.

When she'd dragged him back to the kitchen after Liz had left, she'd crossed her arms and demanded to know what he'd done to upset Liz so much.

"I just said something to her that I shouldn't have," he'd said evasively.

Shaking her head, she'd said, "That's not good enough, Michael. I want some answers. Some real answers. Liz was really upset, and I'm not gonna let you put me off this time. I want to know why."

Giving in with a sigh, he'd said, "Fine. But I need to start at the beginning, okay?"

"Start wherever you want, just as long as you give me the whole story this time."

He'd rubbed his eyebrow nervously, then said, "Well, you were there the day we did the energy blast. You know we found out we have some kind of weird connection that day. When we connect, and our energy comes together, I don't know, it's like...magnets or something. Her energy just comes rushing at mine, and when they meet..." he’d shaken his head, "It's crazy, Maria, but when they come together, it feels- complete. Like my power is somehow more complete when we're connected."

He'd looked at her intently to gauge her reaction, but she'd simply frowned a little as she'd taken that in, then prompted, "Go on."

"When we connect...for some reason, it's different than when she connects to the others."

"Different how?"

"For one's more unpredictable. I don't know if it's because of the energy thing or what, but we never know what to expect when we make a connection. It's just- completely out of our control. Like before Liz ran out, I burned my hand on the grill. I was gonna try to heal it, and then Liz looked at me...and the next thing we know, we're connected and she's helpin' me heal it. It had been the furthest thing from her mind, Maria- helping me to do that, but it's like it's...involuntary, you know?"

"And that's why Liz got so upset?" she'd asked.

He'd been able to tell from her expression that she thought it would take something more than that to make Liz come so unhinged.

"That had something to do with it, yeah," he'd stalled.

When he hadn't said anything else, Maria had sighed impatiently and said, "Well? Tell me the rest of it. What is it you haven't been telling me, Michael?"

The question had loomed large between them, seeming to swell with importance the longer it sat there unanswered, and the café had grown quiet and still, as though everyone were waiting to hear what he had to say. He'd shifted uncomfortably, wishing he were somewhere else. Wishing he didn't have to do this to her.

And then his wish had come true, as the bell over the front door had jingled, signaling the entrance of new customers. And as they were the only two working, Maria had had to go take care of them.

The term saved by the bell had gained new significance for him.

Those customers had been only the first of a steady stream of them to come wandering in, and soon the two of them had become too busy to talk anymore. It hadn't been long after that that the Parkers had come to check on things, and had stayed to help. Once they were there, he and Maria hadn't had any privacy to take up their conversation again.

He'd known his moment of reckoning would come once it was closing time, and he'd been looking toward the moment with dread, but help had arrived in the unwitting form of Amy DeLuca and Sheriff Valenti.

They'd come in near the end of the night for coffee and pie, and Maria had nearly gone ballistic over their 'disgusting displays of affection'. Michael hadn't seen them do anything all that demonstrative himself, but Maria was really freaking over that whole thing.

Amy had asked Maria about her plans when she got off work, telling her that Jim was taking her home, and hinting that they'd like to be alone. Maria had promptly left to follow them home, telling Michael that she'd be traumatized for life if she thought they were doin' the nasty underneath her very own roof, and she was going to go chaperone and make sure the good sheriff made it home to his own bed, at a decent hour for once.

She'd left Michael to close the restaurant alone, and the last words out of her mouth had been, "Don't think this lets you off the hook, Spaceboy. We're gonna talk later."

He wasn't sure exactly what she'd meant by 'later'. Had she meant like, tomorrow 'later', or later 'later'? Like she'd call him later tonight, or maybe even come by his apartment if she got done babysitting early enough.

In case she might've meant later 'later', he was planning on just not being home. Now that he'd been granted a final reprieve, he selfishly wanted to hang on to it as long as he could. He knew it didn't say much for his status as a warrior that he was afraid of a confrontation with one small human female, but Maria DeLuca was no ordinary female.

She was a force to be reckoned with.

As Michael got through in front, he went back to the kitchen to finish up the dishes that were piled in the sink.

Maria was probably going to be pissed that they'd kept this from her, he thought, as he stacked each newly-washed container on the sideboard of the sink, but he'd much rather she be pissed at him than be hurt over this whole thing. He knew there'd be no getting around that, though. She was going to be hurt.

Ever since that night last December when he'd given in to his feelings, and had come to find her here alone at the Crashdown, he'd worried that something from the alien part of him would end up hurting her somehow. This situation wasn't anything he ever would've imagined, but still, it seemed as though he'd been right.

Something inside him connected him to Liz. And they could both deny it till they were blue in the face, but this connection was deep. He'd never imagined having such a strong link with someone.

It was scary. It was unwanted. It was...intriguing.

They were actually capable of communicating their thoughts to one another. Like mental telepathy or something. It was like something out of a science-fiction novel. He'd never dreamed that this was one of their capabilities, and it never had been before. But now it was. For him and Liz.

It just didn't make any sense! How could he do something with a human that he couldn't even do with Max and Isabel? And why was Liz able to do this with him and not with Max, who had changed her? What was it that connected them like this?

It was the same old questions, and he played the whole situation over in his head, trying to come up with some answers this time, as he finished up the task of closing.

Lifting his apron off over his head, Michael walked contemplatively to the front doors, flipping off the lights as he went. Locking the doors behind him, he turned to walk away from the restaurant, wondering for the second time since Liz had gone to tell him, what Max might be thinking about all this.


Trying not to think, Max concentrated on the pull of his muscles as he steadily lifted and lowered himself from the bar lodged in his doorway, an attempt to exhaust himself so he could get some sleep. It was after midnight and he had to get up early in the morning to go to work, but he just couldn't get his brain to shut down.

This connection between Liz and Michael really had him unsettled. It left him feeling somehow unsure of things, and he hated it.

He'd always thought that no one would ever know Liz as well as he did, and it disturbed him to find out he was wrong. To his resentful mind, it seemed like Michael had complete access to everything inside her, while he was restricted to only brief flashes. And as if that weren't enough, they were also capable of some deep, mysterious form of communication that he was denied. Knowing everything their connection allowed them to do seemed to lessen his own connection with Liz, and he hated himself for thinking that way.

He just couldn't understand why this was happening! What was it that Michael had that was suddenly allowing him all these privileges with Liz, and why was it lacking in himself? The abilities she had now had only come into existence because of something he'd done to change her, so why would those abilities respond more favorably to Michael, while excluding the one who'd played a part in creating them? The whole thing just didn't make any sense.

And he didn't know how they were ever going to find the answers they all needed about it.

Max ignored the burning sensation in his arms, grimly pushing himself until his trembling muscles couldn't take anymore, then he lowered his feet to the floor and wearily stumbled over to the bed, dropping down upon it with a deep sigh.

His exertions had succeeded in tiring out his body, but his thoughts still spun with troubled confusion.

Why did all this have to happen now, just when he and Liz had finally gotten everything straightened out between them and had a possibility of a future together? It was bitterly ironic that if this thing were happening between him and Liz, it would be bringing them closer together than they'd ever been before, and helping them to bond at a time when they could really use the reassurance that they belonged together and nothing would ever come between them. Instead, it was happening with Michael, who hated it, was fighting it with everything he had, and would wish it all away in a heartbeat.

But when Michael did finally come to accept this connection, which he would have to do sooner or later, Max was afraid it would become even harder to deal with himself. Their connection opened up an opportunity for Liz and Michael to become close. Really close. And Max felt certain it would be hard not to be envious if that happened.

He was going to have to be careful to see that he didn't allow this to come between him and Liz, Max thought, punching his pillow and rolling over onto his stomach. They already had enough obstacles to overcome, they didn't need his jealousy putting a strain on their relationship.

He'd just have to remember how much Liz needed him. She seemed to be having a pretty hard time dealing with all this.

He wished he could've seen her, held her, one more time tonight before he'd come home. He'd stopped by the Crashdown when he'd gotten off work, but Maria had told him she'd just been up to check on Liz, and she'd been sound asleep. He was glad to learn that she hadn't had to go back to work. She really hadn't seemed up to it the last time he'd seen her.

He'd see her tomorrow, he thought, finally drifting toward sleep. Maybe they could take their lunch hour together. It would give them a chance to talk, and maybe even take advantage of Rule #23.

He fell asleep with a small smile on his lips.


Liz was startled awake by a sound from her balcony.

It had sounded like the scraping of her lawnchair across the cement, she thought, her heart pounding heavily with fright. Someone had covered her up while she'd been sleeping, and her hands gripped the blanket fearfully now, as she strained her ears for any further sounds from outside.

Had she been dreaming, or was someone really out there? Was it their watcher? Would he have climbed right up onto her balcony? Had he come for her?

Each subsequent thought heightened her fear, and she told herself sternly to stop it. She was working herself up into hysteria.

Her heart in her throat, she tentatively opened her eyes to a slit, and peered through the darkness to her moonlit balcony, her mind cringing with the expectation of seeing a face in the window peering back at her.

But there was no one there.

Her eyes slid shut and her breath escaped her in a sighing rush. Silently, she had a brief argument with herself.

It had probably just been her imagination. But if someone was out there, she couldn't just lie here meekly and wait for them to come get her. And she couldn't allow her parents to be placed in any danger.

That thought spurred her to action, and she slowly climbed from the bed. As her heart pumped the chill of fear throughout her body, she frantically scanned the darkened room for something that could be used as a weapon, and despaired when she found nothing. Why wasn't she more athletic, she wondered with panicked dismay. The first thing she was gonna do tomorrow was go out and buy herself a good, stout baseball bat.

As she stood there in momentary indecision, she felt the sudden instinctive rushing of her energy, as it pulled together at her center and geared itself up for...what? Defense? Was she capable of doing something on her own to defend herself, she wondered. Was it possible that she could do the energy blast without Michael? She was extremely distressed that they'd never taken the time to find that out. That was the second thing she was gonna do tomorrow, she promised herself.

Forcing her reluctant feet to move, she began to creep towards the window, her heart knocking against her ribs. If her instincts knew to make her energy ready to be used defensively, hopefully she could rely on them to let her know what to do if she actually had to use it for that. When she got to the window, she timidly put her face up to the glass and peered out.

She couldn't see her lawnchair from here.

Taking a deep breath for courage, she silently raised the window, then eased her head part-way out its opening. Moonlight fell on the portion of the balcony directly outside the window, but both ends were secluded in shadows, and she couldn't make anything out in their dark corners. She still couldn't see the lawnchair, which meant that it had definitely been moved from the spot where she'd last left it. At that realization, she jerked her head sharply back inside the window.

She tried to control her panic and think rationally about what she should do. It was better to be on the offensive than it was to be on the defensive, right? The silent hum of her energy was a comforting answer, and it gave her a small surge of confidence. Without giving herself a chance to think twice, she stealthily climbed out the window.

The cold concrete of the balcony's floor quickly chilled the bottoms of her feet, as she stood uncertainly, looking from one darkened corner to another. She still could see nothing, and she felt uneasy at the thought of just walking blindly into their darkness. She bit her lip to stifle her ragged breathing and lifted her hand slightly in front of her, palm facing outward, then turned to the right and took a hesitant step toward the corner nearest her.

Suddenly, her instincts screamed at her to look behind her!

She began to whirl around, her breath coming in sharply and her mouth open to scream, when a strong arm wrapped itself around her waist, jerking her back against a hard male body, and a hand clamped over her mouth.

MAX! her mind screamed in blind terror.

But it had already been established that she and Max weren't capable of silent communication, and Liz's blood ran cold as she realized there was no one who could help her now.

Edited by - Destinee on 09/21/2001 23:43:58

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:49:38 AM ]
posted on 21-Sep-2001 1:35:15 AM
Chapter 27

Unreasoning panic taking over, Liz had begun to struggle uselessly against her assailant's greater strength, when he lowered his lips to her ear. In a familiar voice he said softly, "Hey, relax, it's just me."

It took a minute for the familiarity to penetrate the fog of terror that had clouded her brain, but when she realized his identity she immediately stopped fighting against him. He loosened his arms around her, allowing her to wheel around to face him, and she angrily began hitting at him in two-handed smacks.

"What did you think you were doing?! You scared me half to death!" she exclaimed, as she continued to hit him in a release of tension.

Michael lifted his arms up in front of him defensively. "Ow! Cut it out!" he demanded, finally grabbing hold of her wrists to restrain her.

Shaking with the aftermath of fear, Liz glared up at him accusingly. "Why'd you sneak up on me like that? Were you trying to give me a heart attack or something?"

"No," he answered defensively. "I was trying not to scare you."

"Well what a brilliant plan! Sneak up and grab her like some thug out of the movies. No way that'll make her nervous," she said sarcastically.

He scowled. "Look, I was afraid if I said anything, you'd scream. Which you would have," he ended meaningfully, reminding her that she'd almost done just that.

In grudging admittance, she said, "Well, I wouldn't have if I'd known it was you. You should've said something, Michael. I could've...blasted you or something. If I'm capable of it."

His brows lifted. "You think you might be?"

"I'm not sure," she replied with a shiver. Now that the crisis had passed, she became aware of just how cold it was out here. "And I'm feelin' a pretty strong urge to rectify that right about now. I just know my energy was getting ready to do something." Her eyes narrowed as a thought occurred to her. "But I guess it's possible that had something to do with you," she speculated, based on the events of the day. Feeling a return of her pique at recalling that whole situation, she said curtly, "Just don't ever do anything like that again, okay?"

"Okay. I'm sorry," he apologized shortly in response to her tone. He really did feel guilty for scaring her so badly. He'd heard her scream for Max, and the terror he'd felt in her had chilled him. He honestly hadn't meant to scare her that way.

"I really am sorry, Liz," he offered more sincerely.

At hearing the honest apology, the corner of her lip tightened, and the peevishness slowly melted from her expression, then she finally nodded in acceptance. When she tugged gently on her wrists he released them, and she immediately wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the chill in the air.

Frowning in sudden confusion, she asked, "What are you even doing here, anyway?" Her eyes scanned the darkened perimeter of the balcony, and she thought she could finally make out the dim outline of her lawnchair at the other end. She assumed he'd been camped out over there, and she looked up at him questioningly.

Shrugging with studied nonchalance, he replied, "Keepin' watch."

Liz began chafing her upper arms as she looked at him oddly. "Keeping watch for what?"

Looking at her as though she were being deliberately dense, he told her, "For whoever it is that's been following you."

Her heart filled with warmth and the last of her irritation vanished as she realized he was looking out for her. It was probably the sweetest thing he'd ever done for her. She thought this might be a real break-through for him.

"Well, that's sweet, Michael, but we don't really even know if anyone has been following me. I mean, I never actually saw anyone. It could be that I've just been paranoid," she said, as shivers began chasing over her body.

"Look, we know someone's out there. We shouldn't take any chances. If you think this guy has been focusing on you, then we should watch out for him. This might be the way we catch him."

Well that was certainly a dose of reality, she thought wryly. His main concern wasn't keeping her safe so much as it was catching the watcher. Or so he'd like her to think, anyway.

"So, what? You think you're just gonna camp out here on my balcony until we catch this guy? You can't do that, Michael, you'll freeze. It must be 35 degrees out here tonight." As she said that, she realized that he was shivering too. "How long have you been out here?" she asked with concern.

He shrugged jerkily, his shivering more pronounced now that she'd noticed it. "I dunno. An hour or two maybe."

Liz shook her head. "Michael, this is ridiculous," she told him through chattering teeth. "Go home. It's too cold out here for this."

The iciness of the concrete floor was seeping into her very bones, it seemed, and she knew they couldn't stand out here and argue about this.

"You're the one who's freezing, Liz," he said with a little frown. "You should just go inside. I'll be fine out here." He put his hand lightly on her back as if to usher her in. "Come on. Get inside."

Planting her feet firmly, she said protestingly, "You will not be fine, Michael, look at you! You're shivering. You can't stay out here."

His mouth firmed stubbornly. "I'm not leavin', Liz, so you might as well get inside where it's warm, and go back to bed."

She gave him a disbelieving look. "I can't just go back to sleep knowing you're out here shivering in my lawn chair."

"Well, you can bring me a blanket or something if it'll make you feel better, but I'm stayin' right here," he told her, crossing his arms, a visible shudder wracking his body.

"Michael," she said exasperatedly.

He just looked at her mutely, refusing to budge an inch.

They stood there for a long moment in a silent, shivering stand-off.

Michael finally broke it, saying quietly, "You said I was supposed to be the protector, Liz. Let me do what I'm here to do."

Her eyes softened compassionately. She'd had no idea he'd taken her words so to heart.

Gently, she said, "But you're here to protect Max, Isabel, and Tess. You aren't responsible for me, Michael."

"Yes, I am," he argued. "You're one of us now, Liz. I mean, how can you think you're not when we're connected the way we are?" Dropping his eyes, he admitted with a small shrug, "That kinda makes me feel especially responsible for you."

The soft confession warmed her, and all her arguments fell away. How could she possibly argue against him if he kept saying such sweet un-Michael-like things? She didn't know what had gotten into him, but it was definitely a welcome change from the attitude he'd been giving her lately.

"Come inside, then," she offered in compromise.

"What?" he asked with lifted brows.

"We can't stand out here arguing about it, Michael. It's too cold. You say you won't leave, and I can't let you stay out here, so this is the only solution. You can just...sleep on the floor."

She couldn't believe she'd just invited Michael Guerin to spend the night in her bedroom, but really, what choice did she have? She thought she could practically feel hypothermia setting in, and she'd only been out here ten minutes. She couldn't imagine how Michael must feel after two hours of this. There was no way she was letting him stay out here all night.

At his look of doubt, she said, "What? You used to do it all the time at Max's. I don't see why this should be any different."

He looked at her in disbelief. "Well it is different. He's a guy, you're a girl," he pointed out the obvious, as though it had escaped her notice.

She couldn't quite meet his eyes as she shrugged with forced indifference and said, "So? What difference does it make? You'll be on the floor, I'll be on the bed. And we'll both be fully clothed. I don't see a problem."

Michael could see all kinds of potential problems in the proposed situation, but before he could list even one, she'd turned to her window, and said with chattering teeth, "I'm not gonna stay and argue about this anymore, Michael. You can either come inside, or I'll..." she paused to come up with a suitable threat, "I'll just call Sheriff Valenti and tell him I think I have a prowler on my balcony. The choice is yours." With that she climbed inside, feeling sure that she could go through with the threat if she had to look outside even once to see him huddled miserably on her lawnchair.

Michael obviously had no trouble believing in the threat either, as he silently climbed in behind her.

He stood awkwardly in the center of the room as Liz picked up the blanket off the bed to throw it around herself. "Stay here. I'll be right back," she whispered, then slipped noiselessly from the room.

Michael crammed his hands into his pockets, not quite sure what to do with himself, and let the welcome warmth of the room seep into him. He glanced idly around, feeling decidedly out of place, and wondered uneasily if this was a very good idea. He'd been in Liz's room approximately three times since he'd known her, and the unfamiliar surroundings cloaked with the quiet shadows of night, along with the knowledge that her parents were only yards away completely unaware of his presence, combined to cast an air of intimate secrecy over his being here that made him feel uncomfortable.

Max would absolutely kill him if he knew Michael'd spent the night in Liz's room. Of course, if he knew Liz thought someone was watching her, he'd probably be here himself. And Michael knew that while the odds were less than zero of anything happening here between Liz and himself, the same could definitely not be said if Maxwell were the one who was here. So, he was actually doing Max a favor, Michael assured himself. Keeping them out of trouble, preventing the end of the world, and all that.

After several minutes, Liz came back with a bundle in her arms. It had taken her longer than she'd expected to retrieve her sleeping bag from the hall closet. Once she'd had a free moment for introspection, she'd realized her shivering hadn't been entirely due to the cold, and she'd had to take a few minutes to remember Max's instructions, and draw back her unspent energy.

She spread the sleeping bag out on the floor, and tossed one of her pillows down on top of it, then stood there uncertainly, clutching the blanket around her. "Um, you'll have to be gone by 7:00. That's what time my parents will be up to open the restaurant," she told him quietly.

"Yeah, I'll have to go home to get ready, anyway. My shift starts at 8:00."

Her bottom lip tucked between her teeth, Liz nodded, and though she couldn't really see him all that well in the darkness, her eyes shifted away uncomfortably. Shrugging a little, she gestured toward the sleeping bag. "So, um... Good night."

Lifting his brows and tossing his head back in a kind of nod, he quietly returned, "G'night."

Michael kicked off his shoes and slipped off his jacket while Liz crawled into bed, then he climbed beneath the insulated layers of the sleeping bag. It smelled slightly musty, as if it had been put away for a while, and he wondered when she'd last had occasion to use it.

The quiet sounds of rustling covers and creaking bedsprings as Liz shifted around in the bed were the only thing to break the stillness, and the suggestiveness of the sounds only seemed to heighten the feeling of intimacy in the room. Michael squeezed his eyes tightly shut and told himself firmly that there was nothing even remotely intimate about this. He was only borrowing floor space from a friend. A friend he was mysteriously connected to. With a bond that had an insidious pull on him. Gritting his teeth, he thought, okay, definitely not helping.

He'd be lying if he said that in all his musings this week, as he'd searched for a reason for the existence of this connection, he hadn't drawn a parallel to his connection with Liz to her connection with Max. It was really the only thing he had to compare it to, after all, since neither he or Isabel had really ever experienced a relationship like Max and Liz had. The two of them just seemed like they were almost a part of each other. The reason for their connection had always seemed to be bound up somehow with their love for one another. The flashes, all that stuff that had happened that led to finding the orb, the way they seemed to sense each other's presence whenever they were near one another. To him, their connection had seemed like some sort of substantiation that they were meant to be together.

So, what did it mean that his connection with Liz seemed to be much stronger than theirs? In an attempt to answer that question, the possibility that it might mean something romantic in terms of his and Liz's relationship had occurred to him more than once. But he didn't like having thoughts like that about Liz. Besides the fact that she was the girl Max loved, it just made him uncomfortable to think about her like that. It seemed really wrong, somehow.

But lying here in her darkened bedroom, listening to the soft sounds of her breathing as the stifling quiet of the apartment pressed in on them, knowing she lay only two feet away from him, in bed...the whole situation just carried a suggestiveness with it that made it hard to keep those disturbing thoughts from coming to life.

He wondered if these things had even occurred to Liz. Were the same kind of thoughts running through her head right now? Or had she obliviously fallen asleep?

Liz listened to the quiet sounds of Michael's breathing and shifted around uncomfortably. What had she been thinking asking him to stay here like this? There were probably any number of ways she could've forced him to just go home. She really didn't need anyone to guard her. Even if their watcher had been following her this week, he hadn't made any move against her. She was just going to have to make it clear to Michael that his protecting services weren't needed. This was just going to be a one-time occurrence.

Maria would positively flip if she knew about this little slumber party of theirs. Thinking about Maria flipping out reminded Liz of her intention to talk to her friend tonight. And she'd missed out on her chance to talk to Max again, too. It was way too late to call him now. She should've set an alarm, she thought remorsefully, but she'd had no idea she would sleep so long. She probably would've slept the night through if Michael hadn't woken her. So now she wouldn't have a chance to talk to Maria until tomorrow, she thought with regret. There was no telling what her friend might be thinking. Once again, Liz wondered what Michael had told her. From the way Maria had been acting, she didn't think he'd told her the whole story.

The longer she lay there thinking about it, the more her curiosity grew, and she wondered if Michael were still awake.

"Michael?" she tentatively whispered.

"Yeah?" he returned quietly.

Turning on her side to face him, she asked softly, "What did you tell Maria tonight? I mean, about why I ran out like that? Did you tell her about the connection at all?"

Folding an arm underneath his head, he looked up towards the edge of the bed and answered, "I started to, but I didn't get very far."

"What do you mean?"

"I wanted to kinda prepare her, you know? So, I told her we don't have any control over this thing, and that our connection was different than when you connect with the others, and I told her about how you helped heal my hand. But before I could get any further than that, we got interrupted. And then your parents came down, and we didn't get a chance to talk anymore after that."

"But, what about after closing? She didn't corner you and make you tell her then?"

The corner of Michael's lip lifted at the memory of Maria's rant about Amy and the Sheriff. She was so cute when she got riled up like that. "No. Her mom came in with the Sheriff and told Maria they were going home together, so she took off to keep an eye on them. She told me we'd talk later."

So she wouldn't have gotten a chance to talk to her even if she had woken up, Liz thought, the knowledge making her feel better over the omission. "We have to tell her everything tomorrow, Michael," she told him in a voice filled with dread.

"Yeah, I know," he replied in a matching tone.

"It, um- it might be easier if we tell her together. I could call her in the morning, see if she wants to come meet us before work," she suggested.

That gave him only about five more hours before his reprieve would expire, Michael thought gloomily. But, maybe Liz was right that it would be easier if they told her together. "Okay," he finally agreed.

They were silent for a moment, and then Liz said tentatively, "You know, we can tell her together, Michael, but- she's really gonna need you to make her feel better about all this. She'll, um- she'll need your reassurance. You know what I mean?"

He didn't answer immediately, not quite sure what she was getting at, then he said hesitantly, "Like- holdin' her, and tellin' her it'll be alright, and stuff?"

"Well yeah, that, too, but I mean- she'll really need to know that...that this doesn't change anything between you and her. That your feelings for her haven't changed. And it would probably be good to tell her that this hasn't made you and me any closer- just the opposite, really. It's why we've been fighting so much."

Michael didn't say anything for a long moment, as the implications of what she was saying sank in. Then he said, "Wait, are you thinkin' this is gonna make Maria think that you and me...?" he trailed off. It seemed as though Liz had been thinking about the possibility of the connection meaning something romantic between them.

Hastily, she said, "I'm just saying, that this is probably going to make her feel insecure. You know, about where she stands now. She's just gonna need to know that this doesn't really mean anything. It's just some weird alien thing, and we don't have an explanation for it, but it doesn't matter, because it means absolutely nothing," she said emphatically.

A little surprised by her vehemence, Michael said quietly, "Do you really mean that, Liz? That you don't care what the explanation is? 'Cause I think you're wrong. It's gotta mean something. Otherwise, why would it even exist? There's got to be some kind of reason for it. Don't you want to know why you and I are capable of doing things that the others can't?"

"Not really," she admitted softly.

Baffled, he asked, "Why not? I thought you were the one who always needed a scientific explanation for everything. How can you not even be curious about this thing?"

Liz didn't answer, her thoughts confused. He was right, she did like for everything to make sense and to have a logical explanation. But for some reason, with this, she just instinctively seemed to shy away from the answer for it. Whatever the answer was. She couldn't understand the reason for her fear anymore than she understood the stupid connection's existence, and the whole thing just made her frustrated and resentful.

When the silence had stretched without a response from her, Michael prompted, "Liz?"

"I just don't want to know, okay?" she burst out quietly. "I mean, what difference does it make, anyway? It's not like I'm a member of your team or anything. We aren't going to actually do anything with it, right? So why even worry about it?"

Disquieted by her words, he replied, "Well maybe you aren't an official member of the team, Liz, but this thing we have...this power when we put our energy together- it's strong. Stronger than anything the four of us can do alone. So maybe we'll need you, you know, in whatever we're gonna have to do later on. We can't just...completely ignore its existence."

Though he couldn't see it, Liz shook her head abruptly. "Are you talking about helping you fight? Max would never let me do that anyway. He'd say it was too dangerous."

"Look, we have no idea what's coming. We may need all the strength we can get some day, and Max won't have a choice."

For some reason, she’d never thought of this. Using her new powers to help them fight. Probably because it wasn't something she ever would've imagined herself doing. If it meant keeping Max safe- or any of them really- yeah, she could see herself doing whatever she could to help them, including using these powers against someone. But, Michael seemed to be suggesting that she become some kind of warrior or something, to help them in their upcoming battles. Imagine, her, little Lizzie Parker, fighting evil aliens who were trying to take over the world. She just couldn't picture it. It was way too Sigourney Weaver-ish.

"Well, there's no point in talking about this now, Michael. Like you said, we have no idea what's coming- or even when. Right now we're just talking about how this thing connects us. And there really isn't any reason to pursue that part of it, right?"

Michael made no reply. If she'd asked him this yesterday, he probably would've agreed with her instantly. But after what they'd found out today, and he’d realized just how deep this thing went and what they were able to do with it, he felt an insatiable curiosity to know why. He'd been wondering about it all week, and he still didn't like the fact that she could see inside him, but after today's discovery, he felt an almost urgent need to know more about it. To know why it existed.

Just when Liz seemed to want to forget the whole thing. Their roles had almost seemed to reverse.

After a moment of silence, Liz frowned and repeated, "Right, Michael?"

He sighed. "I don't know, Liz. I mean, I totally get where you're comin’ from, believe me, I do, it's just...I'd really like to know. You know, what it is that connects us like this. It seems too important to ignore."

Liz was distressed by his sudden change in positions. She'd thought they both felt the same way about this thing, that they hated its very existence. But Michael seemed to have come to the point where he was ready to accept it now.

If he was, he'd beaten her there by a mile.

Upset, she said, "Well, there's no way to find that out, though, is there? Even if we wanted to, how do you think we could find the answers?"

She could almost hear him shrug. "Maybe we could start by findin' out more about it. About what we can do."

This was met with a moment of silence. "What are you saying, Michael?" she asked tightly. "That now you want to like- explore this thing?"

Turning on his side, he lifted his upper body, bracing himself on his elbow, and propped his head in his hand. "Would it really be so bad? I mean, yeah, I'd really rather you didn't know everything about me. Maybe we could see if we can avoid that part of it, but who knows what all we can do with this thing? The answers might be right there waiting for us if we just...go in there and look for them."

Oddly, the conversation was making Liz's heart pound. This wasn't something she was ready to deal with yet. She didn't know how Michael had possibly come to this sudden turn around.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," she said thinly. "I'm sorry, Michael, if you need to know about this right now, but...I'm not ready. I don't know if I'll ever even be ready. So just...please don't push, alright?"

With that, she turned over in bed, away from him, and pulled the covers tightly over her shoulders. They already had enough problems with this thing, with Max and Maria and their feelings over all of it, and now he wanted to go and make things even more complicated. See how deep the thing really went.

Why did he have to be such an agitator, she wondered irritably.

She was very afraid that in sharing a connection with Michael, she would never have another tranquil moment in her life.

Chapter 28

Liz stood and watched, as two small towheaded children, a boy and a girl, ran giggling through a purple meadow. They cut a path through waist-high field grass, as it undulated around them in a gentle breeze. The boy ran ahead of the girl and held something in his hands, and the girl followed hot on his heels. But each time she got close enough to catch him, he would sprint a few steps out of reach, causing her to call out in protest amidst peals of laughter. They finally came to the edge of a stream that trickled like mercury in the sunlight, and the boy stopped and lifted the object over his head, laughing tauntingly. He was at least a foot taller than the girl, and even as she stretched up on tiptoes, she couldn't quite reach the object.

"Raa-thoos!" she whined in childish protest.

"Drey-aah," he mockingly drawled.

Liz woke abruptly with a gasp, her heart pounding rapidly in her throat.

As her surroundings penetrated her consciousness, she came to the slow realization that she'd been dreaming.

She thought it had been a really pleasant dream. Peaceful even. So why was her heart pounding with fearful dread?

She was lying on her stomach at the edge of the bed, and as she shifted her eyes, she saw Michael lying on the floor in her sleeping bag, silently looking up at her.

Licking her lips, she whispered huskily, "Sorry, did I wake you?"

Michael lay there with his heart pounding, not quite sure why that was so. Shaking his head briefly, he replied, "No. I just...had a weird dream. What about you? You have another nightmare?"

Liz hesitated. It hadn't been a nightmare, had it? She had woken feeling as though she'd had one, but it hadn't really been a bad dream. Had it? Her memory of it seemed hazy. "Not- really, I don't think. I guess mine was just kinda weird, too."

The fact that they both used the same word to describe their dreams made the possibility that it had been the same dream spring to mind, and Liz wondered uneasily if she'd been dreamwalking again.

Hesitantly, she asked, "Um...why was your dream weird?"

Something in her hushed tone put him on the alert, and his gaze sharpened as he tried to see her face better in the dim shadows of the room. Slowly, he answered, "I don't know. I can't remember all of it. But- the parts I remember seemed pretty real, only just kind, somehow."

She frowned. "What do you mean, 'off'?

Michael propped himself up on his elbow, and asked suspiciously, "Why are you asking?"

Liz lifted herself to her elbows as well, and her eyes skittered away as his sought them out in the dark. Shrugging a shoulder, she replied, "Just...curious."

"Liz," he said, his tone telling her that he knew it was something more than that.

Capitulating with a sigh, she admitted, "It's possible I've been dreamwalking. This week, I mean. And I was wondering if I just did it to you."

His brows pulled down as he took that in, then he said, "What d'you mean it's possible? How can you not know whether you did or not?"

Liz shrugged helplessly. "I'm just not sure. Max and I fell asleep at his house last night, and we both had the same dream then, so we're wondering if maybe my nightmares this week have been dreamwalks, too. But we're not really even sure that what I did last night was a dreamwalk. I'm spending the night with Isabel tomorrow night and we're gonna experiment. See if I can really do one on my own."

For some reason, he got so hung up on all her talk about sleeping over at Max's that he barely paid attention to anything else she said. He was extremely unsettled to realize that he found the idea of her spending the night at Max's house objectionable. And he was equally disturbed at the knowledge that she had gone to Max's late last night after she'd gotten off work. She'd undoubtedly gone in through his bedroom window since it had been so late, and she'd stayed long enough for the two of them to fall asleep. So, what had they been doing in Max's bedroom before they'd fallen asleep, he wondered in suspicion.

Michael was slightly horrified by his own thoughts. Was he actually feeling...jealous?

Emphatic denial rose up in him, and he silently assured himself that no way was this jealousy. He didn't feel that way about Liz. He was just...concerned that she and Max weren't being cautious enough, that's all. Didn't they remember what that Max from the future had told Liz? They were supposed to be taking things slow. Late-night bedroom visits and cozy little sleep-overs was not taking things slow.

In a voice dark with incredulity, he said, "You're spending the night at Max's house. And your parents are okay with this? What kind of parents let their teenage daughter spend the night with her boyfriend?"

Surprised at this sudden attack, she said sharply, "I'm not spending the night with my boyfriend, I'm spending the night with Isabel. Who just happens to live in the same house as my boyfriend."

"How very convenient," he said caustically. "But you didn't answer my question, Liz. Are they okay with this? Or did you lie to them? Do they even know where their little girl's gonna be sleepin' tomorrow night?"

She narrowed her eyes at him and replied tightly, "You are dangerously close to crossing the line, here, Michael. None of this is any of your business."

With a quick lift of his brows, he said tauntingly, "That might be true, but I bet I could find out." He lifted a hand to wrap around her arm in a threat to make a connection. "How long d’you think it would take? A minute? Two?"

Jerking her arm out of his grasp, she exclaimed indignantly, "Don't you dare!"

They both froze as her cry seemed to echo throughout the silent apartment. Neither dared to move as they strained to hear any noise that might indicate that they'd woken her parents. When nothing had stirred after a full two minutes, they finally relaxed their guard, turning their heads to look warily at one another.

In a hard voice that lost much of its affect since it was uttered in a whisper, Liz told him, "Don't you ever do that again, Michael. Threaten to use this thing against me. Or I promise you we won't ever find out another single detail about it."

He looked at her sullenly for a moment, then offered a grudging apology, embarrassed and confused over his behavior. He'd claimed that he wasn't jealous, but that had certainly seemed like a jealous outburst. He didn't understand what was making him act this way.

Apparently, neither did Liz, as she asked the same question of him. "What is with you, anyway? Why should it matter to you where I sleep?"

After a brief inner conflict, he answered shortly, "It shouldn't. It doesn't. Sleep wherever you want." Why should he care? It was only his life on the line if they went forward with the disastrous future they'd been warned of, he thought acrimoniously. He only managed to restrain himself from making the biting comment by clamping down on his inner lip with his teeth.

Liz was utterly confused by his weird behavior, but her own seemed just as uncharacteristic. She didn't know why she always let him get to her like he did. She wasn't usually so easily provoked, but she just found it so hard to stay even-tempered these days. With all that was going on, though, who wouldn't be a little irritable, she told herself consolingly.

A yawn overtook her, and she collapsed back onto the bed after a glance at the clock. Tiredly, she whispered, "I'm gonna get some more sleep. We have to be up in two hours."

"Wait. What about this dreamwalking thing you were talkin' about? You really think we just saw the same dream?"

She yawned again. "I thought you weren't interested. You seemed to have other things on your mind," she reminded him.

Irritably, he replied, "I just got a little sidetracked, alright? Tell me what your dream was about."

Lazily fighting the pull of sleep as it tried to draw her in, she tried to recall the hazy details of her dream. "Two kids, I think," she mumbled. "Playing chase, or something."

"In a field? With tall grass?" he prompted.

"Mmm-hmm. Maybe," she agreed faintly.

"Come on, Liz," he said impatiently. "You can't go to sleep yet. This is important. I think it was the same dream I was having. It was a boy and a girl, right? And the boy had something he was trying to keep the girl from getting."

When she didn't respond, he reached up to give her a light shake. "Liz!" he whispered sharply.

Liz forced her eyes open so she could glare at him. Why wouldn't he let her sleep? Hadn't he heard her tell him they had to be up in two hours?

"Was it a boy and a girl?" he asked again.

"Yes, alright? Yes, it was the same dream. Now can I go to sleep?"

Ignoring the question, he said musingly, "They said something, right before I woke up, but...I can't remember what it was, can you? It was something- weird. Do you remember?"

She honestly made an effort to recall it, just to get him off her back, but the memory somehow seemed just out of her reach. Shaking her head, she said, "I don't remember, Michael. All I remember is that the boy was being mean to the girl." She looked at him pointedly. "He reminded me a lot of you. I'm going to sleep now. We can talk about it tomorrow."

She rolled over to the opposite side of the bed, and Michael lost sight of her from his position on the floor. He lay there trying to remember more of the dream. Whatever they had said seemed important somehow, but after wracking his brain for at least half an hour, he finally gave up in weariness. His eyes slid shut as he yawned tiredly.

Liz had the right idea, he silently acknowledged. They needed all the rest they could get. They were having a big confrontation for breakfast.

*~~~~~~~~~~~~~* *~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

Liz sat staring at a spot high up on the wall at the opposite side of the room, jiggling her foot nervously, the sound of Michael drumming his fingers on the end table setting her teeth on edge. She was sitting on the arm of the sofa in the break room, while Michael sat at the other end, and they were waiting tensely for Maria to make an appearance.

Liz finally tore her eyes away from the wall long enough to give Michael a quelling look, and it took him only a second to realize what he was being chastised for. Obligingly, he stopped the annoying noise, removing his hand from the table to rake his fingers through his hair.

Maria was due to get there within the next five minutes or so, and just sitting here waiting for her was driving Liz insane. Jumping up from the couch, she busily began moving around the room. Discovering a forgotten dishrag on a nearby table, she began frenziedly dusting every flat surface in sight. When she got to the end table, she stacked the scattered pile of magazines there more neatly. The lamp that sat there seemed to be in the way, so she moved it to a different spot, thinking it looked much better there anyway. She wiped down the table thoroughly, then noticed that one of the pictures on the wall was slightly askew and crossed over to straighten it up. As she stood back to inspect her handiwork, she caught sight of the lamp out of the corner of her eye and frowned. It looked completely wrong there. Searching the room for a better spot, she moved it back to where it had originally sat. Much better. Stepping away from the lamp, she glanced up at the picture again. Okay, that picture was seriously crooked.

As she passed in front of the couch to straighten the already straight picture, Michael caught hold of her wrist and said, "Stop, okay? You're drivin' me nuts! Sit down, and just...take a deep breath before you spontaneously combust or something."

She dropped down to sit on the edge of the seat and took a quick breath, while wringing the dishrag in her hands. Watching her, the corner of Michael's lip curved up wryly. "Why don't you take two," he suggested.

He continued to watch as she took several deep breaths, and thought he'd never seen her so jittery before. She'd always been so cool-headed whenever they'd had a crisis before. He couldn't understand why he wasn't more nervous himself. On the ride over from his apartment a strange calm had just seemed to flood over him. He would be glad to finally get this over with. He was tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop. They'd really only been delaying the inevitable. Maria would've found out sooner or later, and the longer they tried to keep it from her, the madder she'd be when she found out. Now, all he seemed to feel was a heavy sense of dread at thinking of her reaction.

Liz tried to control her nerves, telling herself that Maria would need her to be calm. She tried to prepare what she was going to say, but it was just impossible to put together a speech when she was so unsure of what Maria was going to say. The only thing she could really anticipate from her was that she would be upset, Liz thought apprehensively.

"I'm not sure this is such a good idea," she told Michael worriedly. "I mean, telling her right before she has to go to work? She's gonna be upset, and the last thing she's gonna feel like doing is smile politely at customers for eight hours after this."

Michael made a sound of exasperation. "Well, it's a little late to be thinking of that now, Liz. She'll be here any minute. And I don't think she's gonna let us put her off again."

"Maybe she would. You know, if we just told her that this was probably gonna upset her, and it might be best to wait till after work."

He shook his head. "So we tell her we have bad news, and we make her wonder and worry about it all day? How much better would that be? Besides, I don't think we should be puttin' any ideas in her head. I mean, she might not get all that upset at all. Why tell her that she will?"

Liz gave him a dark look of disbelief.

Defensively, he said, "Hey. Let me live in denial as long as I can, alright? I like it here."

Sighing, she conceded, "All right, fine. We'll tell her now. I can cover for her if she needs me to." She looked at him sternly. "But, we're not going to make this any harder than it has to be. None of your talk about delving into this thing and finding out where it leads us, okay?" Without waiting for an answer, she continued, "And we should try to make it very clear that this is out of our control. She needs to know that this isn't anything we're doing of our own free will."

"I already told her that last night," he reminded her.

"Well, we'll tell her again. The point cannot be emphasized enough," she said agitatedly.

Michael reached out to lightly touch her arm. "Liz, relax. She's gonna understand, okay?" he reassured her. "I mean, she has to. It's not like this is something we're doing on purpose just to hurt her or anything. She's gonna see that." Grimacing, he finished, "Eventually."

At that moment, the door to the alley opened, and Liz and Michael jumped up off the couch to face Maria as she came in.

"Hey!" Liz said with false brightness.

"Hey," Maria returned with a leery, but humorous smile. She looked from Liz to Michael.

His hands in his pockets, he asked with over-done casualness, "How's it goin'?"

She nodded. "Fine," she answered with another small smile.

The both of them had been acting so weird all week. She was glad they were finally going to tell her what was going on.

In an attempt to ease into conversation, Liz asked, "So. Did you see the sheriff off okay last night?"

With a small laugh, she replied, "Yeah. He was gone by 11:00, and my mom went to bed as pure as--" she broke off as she considered how much time her mom had been spending with the sheriff lately, and how much she liked him, and made a face. "Well, as pure as she was yesterday, anyway," she finished dryly. "So, enough small talk. I want to know what's up with this..." she gestured in the air with her hand, "connection, or whatever."

Startled, Michael and Liz just looked at her.

Shrugging a little, she asked, "What?" She looked at Michael. "You were obviously leading up to something last night. I just assumed it was about this weird energy thing you guys've got going on. Was I wrong?"

Liz exchanged a look with Michael, feeling a quick dip of disappointment at Maria's words. For a second there she'd almost thought that Maria somehow already knew about this thing and hadn't seemed upset about it.

"Um...well, not really. But kind of," Liz answered.

Maria's brows rose as she said wryly, "That really clears things up. I'm glad we got a chance to have this little talk."

Jumping in to explain, Michael said, "What she means is, it does have something to do with the connection, but it's something besides what happens with our energy."

"So, what is it?" Maria asked.

The sound of dishes clattering in the kitchen momentarily drew their attention, and Liz was reminded that her parents weren't that far away. "Maybe we should go upstairs for this," she suggested.

Nodding in agreement, Maria and Michael allowed her to lead the way up to her apartment.

Liz moved up the stairs as though she were marching to her own doom, Maria thought, as she slowly climbed the steps behind her. She glanced back uneasily at Michael, who was bringing up the rear, and was not reassured by his grim expression. She was beginning to get a very bad vibe about this whole thing.

She'd stayed in her room for a while last night to give her mom and the sheriff a modicum of privacy, and she'd thought about nothing but this, trying to figure out where Michael had been going with his explanation about what was going on. When she'd left her room at around 11:00 to run the sheriff off, she'd still been no closer to figuring it all out. Since this had all started happening after Michael and Liz had done the energy blast, she'd thought at first, that maybe they were just having a hard time dealing with that. With having all that power between them. Or maybe they'd done something else with their power that she didn't know about, and that had made them uneasy. But that wouldn't explain why they'd been so angry with each other this week. Of course, Michael wasn't an easy person to deal with at the best of times, and if he were uncomfortable or unsure about something, he had to come off as a real tough guy to cover that up. Or, the word 'jerk' might be a better description, she silently amended with a twist of her lips. But if that was what had been happening, she couldn't understand why neither of them were talking to her about it. Granted, she'd been preoccupied this week, but any time she'd even tried to bring up the subject of what was going on with them, they'd always put her off. Something about that whole explanation just hadn't jelled, and now she was beginning to wonder if she hadn't just been completely off-base with it in the first place.

The three of them silently trailed into the empty apartment, and Maria said nervously, "Something tells me maybe I should be sitting for this."

Liz gave her an apologetic look of sympathy. "Yeah, that's- probably a good idea."

Maria went to perch on the edge of a couch cushion, and Liz and Michael looked at each other questioningly, uncertain where to begin or who should start. Maria looked up at them and had the disquieting thought that they seemed to be communicating in that silent way she'd so often seen Liz do with Max.

Her heart began thumping heavily.

Was it possible that something was happening here that she'd been like, totally oblivious to? Crazy thoughts began to fill her head, thoughts about her best friend and her boyfriend doing things behind her back, but before her imagination could run away from her, she gave a nervous little laugh and said, "Okay, you two would not believe the things that are running through my mind right now. I want to know once and for all what is going on. No more stalling. Just- out with it," she demanded, trying to brace herself for news she was sure now she wasn't going to like.

Michael and Liz exchanged another quick look, then seemed to come to some kind of agreement. Liz moved to sit gingerly next to Maria, and Michael sat in the chair at the end of the sofa. Leaning forward, he clasped his hands together between wide-spread legs, and kept his eyes on the floor. He scratched his eyebrow nervously, then re-clasped his hands and said, "Maria, remember how I was tellin' you last night about the connection Liz and I have, and about how our energy reacts to each other? How we don't have any control over it?" He paused and glanced up at her.

A sarcastic comment sprang immediately to mind, but Maria squelched it, and simply nodded.

He threw a brief look at Liz, then looked back to Maria and continued. "Well- there's also somethin' else that happens when we connect. Something we can't control any more than we can our energy." He hesitated, then blurted, "We see things." He held his breath, but when Maria didn't react, he realized he would have to explain further. "We feel things, you know, inside each other."

Why did he keep stopping and waiting for her to react, like what he was saying was clear, Maria wondered impatiently. It took a minute, but when it finally dawned on her what he was saying, she felt a piercing pain in her heart.

He had let Liz see flashes?

"Are you talking about flashes, Michael? Stop beating around the bush and just say what you mean!" she said sharply.

Liz gently lay a hand on her friend's upper arm. "It isn't flashes, Maria. It- it's more than that," she admitted with soft regret.

"More?" Maria choked in bewilderment.

Wincing slightly at the look on her friend's face, so reminiscent of Max's when she'd told him about this, Liz forced the words out to explain. "After we've connected- we just know things about each other. But it's not like it's something we actively do, it's just...the knowledge is just there, you know?"

Maria's eyes narrowed. "Like how much knowledge?" she bit out.

Liz looked away.

Quietly, Michael answered, "A lot."

She took a minute to absorb that, then said stridently, "Well, then, obviously the solution is to just stop connecting!"

She couldn't believe this. Michael Guerin, the closed-off stone-wall himself, was allowing Liz inside him to learn all his secrets, while she nearly had to pester him to death before he would even consent to spend a moment in her company. Why would he do that?! She thought he cared about her. He wasn't even all that close to Liz! Or at least he hadn't been, she thought bitterly.

At Maria's statement, Liz looked darkly at Michael and wondered if he was aware of what she was fearfully beginning to suspect. That they didn't even have to connect any more to gain new insights on one another. She knew things today that she hadn't known about him yesterday. Things like how he'd been regretful of the way he'd been treating her this week ever since Max had told him what she'd been going through lately, and she knew that one of the reasons he'd camped out on her balcony last night had been to avoid Maria. And she also knew the thoughts he’d had as he'd lain sleepless on her bedroom floor, and how they had disturbed him.

Jerking her eyes away from him, she turned her gaze back to her best friend. "We can try to do that, Maria, but...I don't know if we can help it. I mean, look what happened yesterday when Michael burned his hand. I didn't mean to connect to him then, it just- happened," she shrugged helplessly.

"So, basically, what you're saying is, there's absolutely nothing you can do about it, whether anybody likes it or not," Maria said wrathfully.

Wincingly, Liz apologized. "I'm sorry, Maria. We don't like it either. It's why we've been so edgy with each other lately."

Maria turned turbulent eyes on Michael. He'd grown quiet and she wondered what he had to say for himself. It was his stupid heritage that was responsible for this. Why couldn't she have fallen in love with a normal human being? Forget normal, why couldn't she just love a human being?

Michael returned her look with a stoic one of his own, and told himself to just keep his mouth shut. When her voice turned sharp like this, his defenses always came up and his first instinct was to bark right back at her. But he knew she had an honest right to be upset, and he was afraid that if he opened his mouth he'd say something that would only make things worse. So he kept quiet.

Maria could only assume he had nothing to say for himself.

Feeling the need to lash out, she said accusingly, "So you've had this guilty little secret for like a week now, and every time I asked about it you lied to me! As if it weren't bad enough that you were having these...intimate little soul-connections, you kept me in the dark about it too. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? I'll tell you how it makes me feel. Betrayed! Like you were doing something behind my back that you knew would hurt me!" She couldn't imagine feeling much different if they'd told her they'd been sneaking around on her to have sex.

Liz bit her lip and dropped her eyes to her lap. Even Michael couldn't look her in the eye. Good! she thought. They should feel ashamed! When she thought of all the times this past week when she'd allowed them to feed her their half-truths and outright lies and then gone blithely on her way, she felt like a complete idiot. And all the while, they'd been sharing something she'd been dreaming about experiencing with Michael ever since the time Liz had told her about making a connection with Max and seeing stars.

It wasn't fair, she thought resentfully. Liz already shared an other-worldly link with Max, why did she have to have some kind of invisible bond with Michael, too? What was it with her, anyway? Was her brain frequency just always tuned in to the Cosmic channel so she could receive alien wave-lengths or something, Maria wondered irritably.

"I'm really sorry, Maria," Liz softly apologized. "You're right. We should've told you. We just...we didn't want to hurt you, that's all."

Maria looked at her stonily and said, "I just thought you weren't going to keep things from me anymore, Liz. I mean, ever since you told me about the Future Max thing..." Her gaze darted over to Michael, then she looked back at Liz and said curtly, "I assume it's okay to talk about that in front of Michael. Seeing as how he's seen inside you and all, I figure he knows about that, right?"

Lowering her eyes, Liz nodded guiltily and replied, "Yeah. He knows."

The evidence of what they were saying seemed to smack Maria right between the eyes. She knew Liz never would've willingly told Michael about all that. That meant they really did know each other's secrets. There was no telling what Liz knew about Michael that Maria, herself didn't even have a clue about. Liz probably knew more about him than she would if she were to live with him for the rest of his life on Earth. And apparently Michael knew stuff about her that even Max, with the advantage of his own connection with Liz, didn't know about. Poor Max. She felt a wave of righteous indignation on his behalf. After the way he'd pined for Liz all summer, after saving her life, this was the thanks he got.

"So, anything else you haven't told me about?" she asked acidly. Shaking her head and turning down the corners of her mouth, she said to Michael, "Maybe you two are having dreams about each other and now Liz thinks she's having your alien baby?" She looked at Liz. "Or, wait. I've got it. A future Michael came back in time to tell you there's been a huge mistake, and you were meant to be with him all along. Oh, and that blonde chick?" She waved her hand dismissively in the air. "Hey, she was fun to mess around with and all, but she's not anybody you'd wanna share a connection with."

"Maria," Michael said with exasperated protest. Sighing, he rubbed a hand over his eyes and struggled to hang onto his patience.

"Well, what am I supposed to think, Michael? You won't let me in even the least little bit, and here you are like, opening your soul and inviting Liz inside."

"I didn't invite her in, alright? I told you, we don't have any control over this thing. You think I like having her walk around in my head? Well I don't. If I knew how to stop it, I would."

Maria knew that for the honest truth it was, and it erased some of her ire.

"Well, what is this thing?" she asked aggravatedly. "Why are you two even connected, anyway? Max is the one who changed her. You didn't have anything to do with it."

"We don't know why, Maria," Liz answered quietly. "We just know, whatever it is that connects us, it's really strong. There, uh...there's more you should know." Liz was loathe to bring this up now that Maria seemed somewhat closer to acceptance, but she didn't want to be guilty of keeping anything else from her. She needed to know all of it.

Maria looked at her sharply in disbelief. "You've already told me you like, know each other inside and out. How could there possibly be more than that? What?" She shrugged jerkily and pulled the first fantastic and unlikely ability she could think of out of the air. "You can like, read each other's minds or something, too?"

She saw a flicker of surprise cross Liz's face, before guilt and discomfort overtook her expression, and her eyes shifted away.

Maria's mouth dropped open slightly as she turned to look at Michael for confirmation.

He chewed on the inside of his lip and avoided her eyes.

Maria gave a huff of disbelief and shook her head. "Well, this just keeps gettin' better and better, doesn't it?" she said with sharp sarcasm.

Liz tried to explain that it wasn't as bad as it sounded. "It's only when we're connected. And it's not like we can hear each other's every thought or anything." Remembering that that hadn't been the case when they'd done the energy blast, she grimaced, and amended, "Well, not every time, I don't think. But, mostly I think it's more like we inside our heads, you know?" she said uncomfortably.

Maria gave her a hard look of resentment. "No. Actually, I don't know."

Her eyes pleading for understanding, Liz said, "I'm sorry, Maria. You have to understand- this is not something I'm choosing to do," She glanced at Michael. "Neither of us are."

Maria stood abruptly. "Yeah, I get that part. You've said it like a hundred times now. Unfortunately, Liz, knowing that just doesn't seem to help too much at the moment."

She turned to walk stiffly to the door, and Liz jumped up to chase after her. "Wait! Where are you going?"

"To get ready for work," she answered shortly. "If there's more, just...keep it from me, with my blessing. I can't deal with any more right now."

Liz caught hold of her arm before she could get out the door and asked gently, "Are you sure you feel like working? I can cover for you if you want."

"No thanks. I need something to take my mind off things right now," she replied ungraciously. She didn't know if work would actually serve that purpose or not, seeing as how she would be running into Liz and Michael every time she turned around, but it was all she had right now.

Liz nodded sadly in acceptance and let her go.

When the door had closed behind her, Liz faced Michael with a hard gaze shiny with tears, somehow feeling that he was to blame for all this.

She hated to be at odds with Maria, it gave her a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. In all their years of friendship it had only happened a handful of times, and most of that had just been over kid-stuff.

This was definitely not kid-stuff.

And Liz was afraid that it could potentially create a rift in their friendship they might never be able to mend.

Edited by - Destinee on 09/22/2001 01:38:02

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:52:02 AM ]
posted on 21-Sep-2001 4:34:36 PM
Chapter 29

Liz sat alone in the first booth of the Crashdown waiting for Max and the others to show up for their movie date. The plan was for all of them to meet at the café and go on from there.

Her elbow propped on the table, cheek on her hand, she broodingly traced the rivulets of condensation on her glass of cherry coke, looking as though she'd just lost her best friend.

She felt as if she had.

Working with Maria this morning had been awful. They'd been so tense and uneasy around each other that they'd hardly even spoken all day. And the fact that Michael had been working too, had made things even more awkward. Every time he and Liz had even looked in one another's direction, Maria had turned a sharp eye on them, as though she suspected them of trying to send secret telepathic messages to one another or something. It had gone on all day, and even her dad had noticed something was up and told them chidingly to get it together. Liz knew that if her parents hadn't been here, Michael probably would've ended up exploding at Maria. As it was, after receiving several of her eagle-eyed looks of mistrust, she and Michael had quickly learned to just avoid each other altogether. An act that had caused several mix-ups in orders. Sometimes because Liz had hastily dropped her order tickets off at the pick-up window when Maria had been nearby, and at other times it had been because Michael had announced her and Maria's orders with a ring of the bell then beat a hasty retreat back to the grill before either of them could get there to pick them up.

She'd been looking forward to a relief from the tension when Max had come over for lunch, but even he hadn't seemed to be able to stop himself from throwing an occasional glance at the kitchen where Michael worked. She'd wanted them to just get out of here for awhile, but her lunch hour had been cut short when they'd gotten an unexpected rush of customers.

She was worried that tonight was going to turn out to be a complete disaster with all of them together like this. When she'd tentatively asked Maria after they'd gotten off if she was still going to come tonight, Maria had hesitated before saying, "Tonight's all about Tess, right? And Kyle? Don't worry, Liz. I'll be there to do my part. I don't want to see the world taken over by evil aliens any more than you do."

The corner of her lip had tightened in a semblance of a smile, and Liz had felt about ten times lighter, taking hope from that small sign of encouragement. But when she'd asked Maria if they could talk about what was happening with her and Michael then, Maria had said, "Not right now, okay, Liz? Can you just...I need a little time to deal with all of it. I know you said you can't help it and all, but that doesn't make it hurt any less, you know?"

Liz sighed sadly then took a drink of her coke. She hated this connection and everything it was doing to all of them. They needed to figure out what this thing was before it ended up tearing them all apart. She and Max already had so much other stuff to overcome before they could be together, they didn't need this complication between them.

As though her thoughts had conjured him up, Max walked through the door of the restaurant, with Isabel and Alex right behind him. Liz's heart lifted at the sight of him as he homed in on her almost immediately, and their eyes caught and held, slight smiles of loving welcome lifting their lips.

She felt a sense of release from her troubles, as Max became the most significant thing in her world. His presence always had a way of wrapping itself soothingly around her, protecting her from harsh realities, and making all her problems and worries fade into the background, leaving nothing but the two of them and the wonder of their love. As long as they had that, anything seemed manageable.

They needed this time together tonight, and Liz determined right then that she was going to put all this connection stuff behind her and attempt to have a good time. The original purpose of this outing had been to try and encourage something to happen between Kyle and Tess, and Liz knew it would be important to take advantage of every opportunity that presented itself to succeed in that effort. But tonight was also about giving them all a chance to relax after the stress of feeling they were being watched this week, and if things were strained between her, Max, Maria, and Michael, there would be absolutely no chance of that happening. Maybe she could even use tonight's event to show Maria and Max that there was no threat to them whatsoever in this connection with Michael.

So, she had a pretty full agenda: Do a little matchmaking between Kyle and Tess, set Max’s and Maria’s minds at ease, and, if she had time, relax and have a little fun.

She was officially a woman on a mission.

As Max and the others drew even with the table, Liz finally pulled her eyes away from his long enough to take in the rest of him, and a feeling of weakness stole over her as she realized what he was wearing. He looked so good. Too good. She’d never be able to keep her hands off of him tonight, she thought a little worriedly. He was all in black, and she thought she might recognize that button-down shirt as the one he’d worn that night so long ago in Michael’s apartment, the night they’d found the orb. Of course, it had been a while ago, but how could she possibly forget it? Taking that shirt off him that night had felt like one of the most daring intimacies she’d ever performed in her life. And to make things even more difficult for her peace of mind tonight, he’d broken rule number eight, and was wearing his black leather jacket.

Her mouth practically watered.

Max’s heart picked up its pace at the way Liz seemed to be eating him up with her eyes, and his own eyes avidly returned the favor. She looked heart-stoppingly beautiful tonight. Her hair was pulled back at the sides, and the ends draped her shoulders with shining sable curls that made his fingers itch to discover whether they were as soft and pliant as they looked. The red v-neck sweater she was wearing buttoned up the front with small pearl buttons and clung lovingly to her every curve, and a silver necklace hung close around her throat, sparkling brightly as it caught the light.

Max swallowed hard. It was going to be extremely difficult to keep up the ‘just friends’ act tonight.

“Hey,” he greeted her huskily.

“Hey,” she returned softly, looking up at him with an enthralled smile.

He slid into the booth at her side, and Alex and Isabel settled in on the other side. Sparing them a glance, Liz said, “Hi, guys.”

She hardly heard the greetings they offered in return as Max’s thigh pressed against hers, making her physically aware of his proximity, and without quite thinking about it, she edged closer to him, her thigh pressing back upon his. His unique spicy scent invaded her senses, and she breathed in deeply of it as she cut her eyes around to give him a glittering once-over that ended at his face and lingered there.

Max returned her gaze with a heavy-lidded one of his own and was surprised to see a look of gentle accusation mixed with the appreciation in her gaze, and he gave her a questioning look. Fulfilling her need to touch him as well as providing an answer to his question, she reached out to take hold of the open edge of his jacket near his waist and waggled it lightly. It took only a moment for comprehension to set in, and he remembered her rule about not wearing this jacket unless they were alone.

“Sorry,” he apologized softly. “You’re gonna have to explain that one to me.”

“Explain what?” Alex asked, looking back and forth between them. The last he’d heard, Max had finally agreed to forgive Liz for the thing with Kyle and they were going to try to be friends. Obviously, though, he’d been left out of the loop. Way out. The way they seemed to be completely enraptured with one another right now reminded him of the Max/Liz ‘looks’ of old, and there was no way he could believe there wasn’t something more going on between them than he’d been led to believe.

The sound of Alex’s voice pulled them from their absorption with each other and they turned guilty faces his way as they realized what a dismal job they were doing of hiding their relationship from him.

Max shook his head slightly. “Oh, uh- nothing,” he said dismissively, then cleared his throat. “So. Have you been waiting long?” he asked Liz.

Quickly falling in with his attempt at small talk, she answered, “Not all that long. Five or ten minutes, maybe. You’re actually the first ones here. The others should be here any minute. Um, can I get you guys something to drink while we wait?”

Isabel turned down the offer, but the guys told Liz what they’d like, and Max got up to allow her to get out of the booth. Unconsciously, she trailed her hand down the sleeve of his jacket in a brief caress before leaving his side, and she felt his eyes watching her every step of the way as she went around the counter to pour the drinks herself.

While she stood at the soda fountain, the bell over the door jingled, and Liz absently turned her head and saw Michael walk in. He made his way over to the table, exchanged a few words with everyone, then looked around the restaurant searchingly, before heading in her direction.

As Michael drew closer, Liz darted a glance over at Max to see him staring in their direction with a small crease between his brows, and she looked at Michael angrily. Not here even two minutes, and already he was ruining everything.

Max frowningly watched as Michael made a bee-line for Liz. He had seemed as though he had something he was bursting to tell, and Max irritably wondered why Liz had to be the person he needed to tell it to. He absolutely hated it that he felt like they had all kinds of secrets from him now. Scoldingly, he told himself not to be so suspicious. It was probably just something about Maria. Liz had told him this afternoon that she and Michael had only now confessed to Maria about their connection. That was probably all it was, he assured himself.

When Michael had joined her behind the counter, Liz hissed fretfully, “What are you doing, Michael? Where’s Maria?”

“She’ll be here. I rode my bike. Listen, I need to talk to you for a second,” he said, his voice low with suppressed excitement.

“Well can’t it wait? Look, I thought we could use tonight to try and show Max and Maria that they don’t have anything to worry about as far as this connection goes, okay? But, I’m gonna need your help. And singling me out like this for a private conversation is not a very good thing to do right now, you know?”

“It’ll just take a minute. C’mon, Liz, this is important.”

She sighed impatiently. “What is it?”

He glanced over at the people sitting at the counter and answered, “Not here.”

“Then forget it,” she replied. “I’m not going off somewhere alone with you, Michael. Not with Max sitting right there. Whatever it is, it’ll just have to wait.”

“This can’t wait,” he said insistently. Giving another quick glance around, he said, “Alright, fine. We’ll do this here. I remembered something about the dream,” he said in an urgent undertone. At her look of incomprehension, he reminded her, “The one from last night. I remembered what the little girl said.”

Her look of impatience told him that if this was so urgent, then spit it out.


He waited as though expecting this to produce a strong reaction in her.

She looked at him blankly. “So?”

“Don’t you get it? It’s a name,” he said excitedly. When she still seemed as though she weren’t following, he expounded, “Rath’s name.”

Startled, she didn’t say anything for a moment, then asked, “You think the dream was about something from your past?”

“It had to be, Liz. I mean...don’t you think? Whatever the boy said, that must’ve been a name, too. And that thing he was trying to keep away from her, I didn’t recognize what it was, but maybe it was some kind of toy or something.”

She shook her head with bemusement. “So, I was dream-walking you? But...have you ever dreamed about your past like that before?”

“No. Not that I remember,” he answered.

So, what did this mean, Liz wondered with bewilderment. When she’d shared the same dream with Max, it had been something from his past, too, but not his past past. Was this just something else that this connection allowed her and Michael to do? To see into their past lives? Great, she thought resentfully. Another sterling example of the strength this thing contained. She glanced over at Max remorsefully and found him gazing at them moodily.

“We have to get back. I don’t want to talk about this anymore tonight, Michael, okay? And I don’t want you to mention it to anyone else either. The last thing we need right now is for Max and Maria to find out that you spent the night in my room.”

“What, you mean don’t tell them?”

“No, we will tell them. I just don’t think it would be a good idea to tell them tonight, do you? Especially not Maria.”

Realizing that was certainly true, Michael sighed. “Fine. We won’t talk about it.” He reached across the counter, then handed her an empty glass. “Here. I told them I was comin’ to get a coke.”

As she filled the glass for him, he said pressingly, “You do realize we have to try this again, though, right? I mean, this could be a way for us to find out about everything in our past, Liz,” he ended excitedly.

Oddly, Liz felt disturbed by the idea and she said shortly, “Michael, just calm down, okay? We don’t even know if we can make it happen again. Can you just...try to forget about this and focus on Maria tonight? Please?”

She handed him his coke, and he accepted it with a tightening of his lips, then turned to get some straws. He knew she was right, that this could’ve just been a fluke and he shouldn’t get his hopes up. But it was hard to reign in his excitement and impatience to find out when it seemed possible that the answer to every question they’d ever had about themselves could be within reach. He only managed to do it by thinking of Maria and how upset she was with them right now.

As he and Liz made their way back to the table with everyone’s drinks, she said in a quiet rush, “So, you’re gonna help me with this, right? Reassure Maria and Max?”

He frowned. “How are you thinkin’ we’re gonna do that, Liz?”

Almost to the table now, she said hastily, “Just- make sure they know how we feel about them. And that the connection doesn’t change anything.”

When they’d reached the table and she sat Max’s cola down in front of him, he looked up at her with questioning uncertainty, and the look tore at her heart. She desperately wanted to give him a reassuring kiss and take that look of insecurity from his face, but she settled for sitting back down beside him and fitting her palm to the curve of his knee underneath the table, stroking it comfortingly.

“Michael was just telling me that he rode over alone. I-I guess Maria’s still pretty upset,” she said regretfully.

She looked at Michael expectantly, and he concurred. “Yeah, uh- I offered to ride over on my bike instead of having her pick me up, and she agreed with it pretty quick. Said it might be a good idea.”

“I’m surprised she’s still coming at all,” Isabel said. “I can’t believe you guys kept this from her all week.”

Liz looked at her lap guiltily, and Max’s hand covered hers on his knee, giving it a squeeze. “Yeah, it- it was definitely the wrong thing to do. I think we probably only made things worse,” she admitted.

At that moment, the bell over the door signaled another arrival. Maria came in, looking beautiful in a white coat and bright blue scoop-necked top, and her hair was caught up with lots of curly tendrils hanging loose.

She approached the table slowly, as if reluctant to do so, and everyone greeted her warmly. Liz scooted closer to Max and tentatively offered Maria a seat, and the other girl hesitated only briefly before accepting it.

“You look really great,” Liz complimented her after she’d sat down. Stretching her leg out underneath the table, Liz nudged Michael with her foot, and inclined her head infinitesimally in Maria’s direction.

He sat up a little straighter. “Yeah,” he agreed. “You look...nice.”

Maria was slightly taken aback. She didn’t think Michael had ever given her a compliment on her looks before, and she was warmed in spite of herself by this one. Even though it had been a meager one at best, and had been prompted by Liz.

“Thanks,” she told him softly.

Michael nodded his head, shifting in his seat in slight disconcertment as he threw an uncomfortable look at the others around the table. The corner of her lip lifted affectionately. It meant even more knowing that he’d given it even though he felt as if he were risking the amusement of the others by doing so. She knew he was only trying to make up with her, but if it was going to bring about this kind of behavior, she was all for it.

They waited only a few more minutes before Kyle and Tess showed up, then they all left together, and drove over to Senor Chow’s in separate vehicles. When they’d gotten there, Max requested of the hostess that they be shown to the back room where the pool table was located, and when she complied, the guys pulled four of the small round tables there into a cluster, with two stools to each table. They each quickly found their partners and sat, leaving Kyle and Tess to take the last table. Tess threw a longing look in Max’s direction, then looked at Liz resentfully before climbing onto a stool beside Kyle.

“So,” Alex brought his hands together and rubbed them gleefully. “Anyone up for a game of pool before we eat?”

When no one immediately took up the challenge, Max said, “Sure. I’ll play.”

Liz lifted a brow and gave him a dubious smile, and he said, “What? You don’t think I can play? I’ll have you know I was taught by a pro.”

She grinned at him and said, “A pro, huh? Well, I hope your lessons paid off. Alex is really good.”

As Max slid off his stool, he said for her ears alone, “Even if they don’t, they were the most enjoyable lessons I’ve ever had.”

They shared a secret smile.

Max and Alex moved over to the pool table and began chalking a couple of cue sticks, and Tess watched for a moment, before letting her gaze roam around the room. They had it all to themselves, and except for a couple more empty tables, the only other thing in the room was a jukebox by the door. “Got any change, Buddha Boy?” she asked Kyle.

Seeing where her gaze rested, he obligingly dug out some quarters and handed them over. “No ‘N Sync or girly crap like that,” he directed.

“Hey, I like ‘N Sync,” she protested.

“Like I said, ‘girly crap’.”

“What-ever,” she said with a roll of her eyes, then turned to go pick out some tunes.

Isabel went over to join her, and Liz watched them chat for a while as they decided what to spend Kyle’s money on. After a moment, the upbeat tempo of Morcheeba’s ‘Be Yourself’ filled the air, and everyone began to loosen up a little as they watched the pool game in progress. Soon they were calling out encouragement and cheering Alex and Max on, and even Maria seemed to relax and joined in.

Liz hadn’t expected the game to last long. She really hadn’t even expected to see Max get a chance to shoot. After all, if he thought she was a pro, Alex was even better. He was the one who’d taught her how to play on his table at home. But Alex did finally flub up a shot, and when Max took his turn, he surprised her with the flawless shot he made. He hadn’t even known the simple rudiments of pool when they’d played here almost a year ago, but at some point in between now and then, he’d gotten really good, and he gave Alex a real run for his money.

The game was interrupted once when the waitress came to take their order, and when the play resumed, they stayed pretty much neck and neck until the moment they both made it down to the 8 ball.

“Yeeesss,” Alex crowed deeply after he made the winning shot, lifting his hands in the air. “The winner and still champion, ladies and gentlemen,” he bowed dramatically. Coming over to Max he shook his hand and said, “Mr. Evans. Incredibly good game. I don’t believe I’ve ever felt such a close threat to my title before.”

Smiling, Isabel rolled her eyes and said, “Come on, Champ. Your food’s getting cold.”

Alex went over to sit at their table, and Liz explained to Max smilingly, “Alex has a pool table at home. He taught me and Maria how to play when we were in the sixth grade, and we’ve never managed to beat him.”

Now you tell me,” Max said wryly.

“Hey, I told you he was good,” she said in mild protest.

As Max sat back down at the table, she said, “What I didn’t know was how good you were. Where’d you learn to play like that? Last time we were here I think you made one successful shot and called it a game.”

Shrugging, he lowered his eyes and shyly admitted, “I used to come here almost every afternoon when you were in Florida over the summer. It kinda made me feel closer to you, being here. I guess I spent hundreds of hours at this pool table teaching myself to play.”

“Max,” she said softly, emotion swelling her heart.

She didn’t know whether she felt like laughing or crying at the thought of him coming every day to the place where they’d had their first date, probably reliving the memories of it as he spent so much time at the same activity that had proven to be such a playful, stimulating, exhilarating part of it. And possibly missing her as much as she’d been missing him, as she’d moped miserably on the beach at Florida.

The memory of all those lonely days and months they’d spent apart filled her with melancholy and regret, and made her long for nothing so much right then as to go into his arms and attempt to make up for all that lost time.

Max’s mind had traveled along the same path as hers as he recalled all the bitter-sweet afternoons he’d spent at that pool table, thinking of her and remembering that night. Sometimes when he’d closed his eyes he’d almost been able to imagine that she was there with him. He could see her standing at the side of the table laughing delightedly at his clumsy attempts to sink a ball into one of the pockets, or acting playfully superior after she’d made a difficult shot. And sometimes, he’d imagined that he could feel her breath on his face, or her hands on his body as she’d instructed him on how to hold the cue stick.

That had been one of the most lighthearted times they’d ever spent together, and he used to love coming here to relive those happy memories. They’d given him hope that when she came back from Florida, they’d be able to work everything out, and be that happy again. But at the same time, those visits had made him miss her acutely, and on bad days he’d feared that he’d lost her completely, and he’d never know happiness like that again.

The sadness and yearning he could read in Liz’s eyes found its way straight to his heart and became his, and he wanted desperately to hold her in his arms at that moment. He ripped his eyes from hers to glance around the tables at their friends, who were chatting amongst themselves as they ate their meals.

Looking back at Liz, he picked up his fork and said raspingly, “Eat fast.”

Her forehead wrinkled in confusion. She’d thought they’d been on the same wavelength only a second ago, but now all he wanted was to eat?

“What?” she asked in perplexity.

“Eat fast,” he repeated, following his own instructions by shoveling food into his mouth. When she made no move to comply, he gave a hasty explanation. “I’m dying to hold you right now, Liz, and the only way I’m gonna get to do that in front of everybody is to dance with you, but Isabel isn’t supposed to start the music until we get through eating, so eat fast.”

Liz smiled in sudden understanding, and at the promise of being held in his arms, did as he asked.

She ate fast.

Chapter 30

Restlessly, Max pushed the last remaining morsels of his food around on the plate with his fork, practically bouncing in his seat with impatience. He kept casting glances over at Isabel, but she seemed completely oblivious as she lingered over the last of her meal.

The plan had been for her to play the song on the jukebox that was to be the signal for them to dance because they’d thought it would look less contrived that way, but she was taking entirely too long to get to it. The dark-eyed looks of longing Liz kept sending his way wasn’t doing anything to help curb his anxiety, and once again, he tried and failed to get Isabel’s attention. What was she and Alex talking about that was so engrossing anyway, he wondered irritably.

Finally, he could wait no longer. Slipping off his stool, he told Liz softly, “Be right back.”

Sliding his hands into his pockets, he wandered over to the jukebox as casually as possible. He stood there for a moment, pretending to look over the playlist, then went through the motions of selecting a song.

Liz’s lips tipped up in a nostalgic smile as the strains of Third Eye Blind’s ‘Deep Inside of You’ began to play.

They’d played that song over and over the night of their date here. The first time Max had played it she’d mentioned that she loved it, and he had plugged in enough quarters to play it at least a dozen times. She’d never been able to hear it after that without thinking of him and remembering the joy they’d taken in one another that night in the moments before things had gotten dark.

Isabel looked up in surprise at hearing her cue and her eyes automatically went to the jukebox to find Max standing there. She’d thought she was supposed to be the one to start the song, but apparently her dear brother was getting antsy. She suppressed a grin.

Going ahead with the next step of the plan, she asked, “Do you wanna dance, Alex?”

He looked at her doubtfully. “What, here?”

Isabel tilted her head in a shrug. “Sure. Why not? There’s plenty of room and no one’s here to see. Come on, please? I love this song.”

He tightened the corner of his lips and looked at her from under his brows as if to say she knew he couldn’t deny her anything. Standing, he offered her the crook of his elbow in invitation. She smiled and slipped her hand through, and they walked to an empty spot on the floor and began to dance.

Michael watched them go with a flicker of nervousness. It was his move now, but he was almost afraid to ask. Maria was acting pretty cool towards him tonight, but at least they’d managed to keep from fighting, and he didn’t want to rock the boat.

Maria sat with her chin propped on her hand and watched Alex and Isabel with a faint smile. Go, Alex, she thought. She had to give him snaps for doing something so romantic , even if it had been at Isabel’s behest.

Why couldn’t she have that? Was a little romance too much for a girl to ask? Not that she was in a particularly receptive mood for romance tonight, but maybe she wouldn’t be feeling so ridiculously insecure about this whole connection thing if Michael could just throw her a small bone every now and then. She wasn’t talking candy and flowers or anything, she knew better than to expect that much from him, but an occasional ‘Hey, baby, you rock’ would be nice.

Michael rubbed at his eyebrow and looked at Maria hesitantly. “So, uh... d’you wanna–“ he left the sentence dangling and motioned vaguely toward the dancing couple on the floor.

It was exactly the romantic gesture she’d been wishing for only a second ago, but for some reason the words that came out of her mouth were, “I don’t know, Michael. I mean- dancing,“ she made a clicking sound with her tongue, stretching out the corners of her lips, and gave a dire shake of her head, “That can be a pretty intimate thing to do. Are you sure it’s me you wanna ask?”

Michael compressed his lips and sighed. “Just forget it. I was stupid for askin’.”

His face set, he looked away, shaking his head, and Maria felt a stab of remorse. He was honestly trying to make an effort here, and she was just throwing it right back in his face.

Relenting, she tilted her head and said as if she were doing him a favor, “Alright, fine. I’ll dance with you. But only because this is a good song, and because-“ she darted a glance at Tess and Kyle’s table and lowered her voice, “we’re supposed to team up whenever possible. I just wanna make sure it’s clear that this is not a concession to you in any form.”

Annoyed, Michael looked at her darkly, and sighed. With a look of long-suffering, he stood and pulled her to her feet by her elbow, then led her out to the floor, thinking that the world really owed him big for the things he was willing to put up with in order to carry out this whole Kyle/Tess plan for it.

Tess watched the two couples step out onto the floor and begin to dance, then her eyes shifted eagerly over to Max as he moved from the jukebox toward their tables. He made no indications that he was going to ask her to dance, he wasn’t even looking in her direction, but that didn’t stop the foolish hope from growing in her breast. A hope that came crashing down as he passed her by to walk to Liz’s side.

“Dance with me?” she heard him ask softly.

Liz’s lips curved upward as she looked up at him, then she gracefully got to her feet.

Tess watched with envy as Max placed his hand lightly on Liz’s back to guide her out to a spot near the others who were dancing. She really should’ve known better than to harbor even the slightest hope that Max would choose her to partner him in anything if Liz was in the room, she thought bitterly.

She scrutinized their every move as Liz turned to face him and he took one of her hands in his, bringing it up near their shoulders, while winding the other arm loosely around her waist. Tess could find nothing in their actions to object to. Max wasn’t holding her particularly close, and their stance was rather old-fashioned compared to the others’, where the girls had their arms around their partners’ necks. They weren’t even looking at each other. All these things should’ve served to make Tess feel better, but instead she found herself feeling irritated that they weren’t doing anything she could protest.

When Max had told her last weekend that he and Liz were going to be friends, she hadn’t believed they would be able to stick to it, but she hadn’t seen anything to imply that there was something more than that between them. She’d barely even seen them together this past week except for during their lunch periods on a couple of days, and even then they’d been sitting about two feet apart.

So, if they were going to maintain this ‘just friends’ bit, why was it that Max had to set an unswerving course for Liz, as though it was a given that she would be the one he’d ask to dance? Just once, would it kill him to give her a little recognition even though Liz was in the room, Tess wondered acrimoniously

Kyle looked at Tess with sympathetic eyes as she watched Max and Liz dance. He’d seen the way her face had fallen for the briefest moment when Max had walked past her to ask Liz to dance, and he felt a flash of indignation on her behalf. He thought Evans was supposed to be this really sensitive guy, but if that was the case, why was he so oblivious to Tess’ feelings? Kyle turned to look at the two of them dancing with their heads close together. ‘Liz Parker’ was the obvious answer to that question. Put those two in a room together, and they seemed to find it difficult to focus on anyone or anything else. It was like they had some sort of tunnel vision or something.

He knew exactly how Tess was feeling right now. He’d been there, done that, and had the t-shirt that said ‘Forgotten like a grungy pair of old shoes because the soul mate came along’.

“Tess?” He waited for her to look at him and asked, “Would you wanna dance with me? I mean, I know I’m no Evans, but-“ he shrugged slightly, “I’m game if you are.”

She gave him a strange look and said, “I wouldn’t want you to be Max, Kyle. Why would you even say that?”

To protect her dignity, he said carefully, “You just looked like maybe you were wishin’ it was you out there with him, that’s all.”

“Kyle. That is- so not true,” she sputtered. Untruthfully, she said, “I was just watching them with concern, not...envy, or whatever. Because I know how easy it would be for Max to get sucked back into something with Liz, and I just think that would be an extremely unwise thing to do.”

Unconvinced, he looked at her speculatively and said while shaking his head a little, “ don’t care if they dance together.”

“Of course not. Not as long as they’re just friends,” she answered.

“Right,” he accepted that with a nod of his head, rolling his lips inward. He shrugged. “Well, for what it’s worth, they look like just friends to me,” he said while studying the two on the dance floor. Personally, he had his doubts as well about them maintaining that status, but he felt Tess could use the reassurance.

After a moment of quiet observation, he became tired of being the audience for the Max&Liz show, and questioned, “So, was that a yes or a no to my ‘do you wanna dance’ question?”

Max and Liz would’ve been happy to know that their behavior was convincingly casual, but it was taking everything in them to make it seem so. Conscious of Tess’ eyes on them, they studiously avoided looking at each other and tried to think of other things besides the tantalizing closeness of one another’s bodies. It was like an exquisite form of torture to finally be in each other’s arms after yearning for it since the minute Max had walked into the Crashdown tonight, yet still having to uphold a proper distance between them.

Liz stared at the dark fabric covering Max’s shoulder and repeated their list of rules to herself, throwing in a few more that applied to the situation for good measure, and struggled to ignore the sensations that were attempting to seduce all her senses.

The tangy male scent of him pervaded her sense of smell until she grew absolutely dizzy with it, while the heat of his body reached out to her, seeming to beckon her closer to bathe in its warmth. The song that played in the background evoked a flood of memories of the last time they’d danced to it, and she remembered the incredible feelings of newness, excitement, and almost giddy delight she’d experienced that night. Thoughts of that dance inevitably led to their near-kiss. It would’ve been their second. But they’d been interrupted when their lips had been a tantalizing millimeter apart, and Liz fervently wished that they were alone right now so they could take that up where they’d left off.

Max let his eyes fall closed momentarily as he breathed in deeply of the alluring scent of Liz’s hair. His fingers itched to slide up her back to tangle themselves in her glossy curls, and only sheer effort of will kept them from doing so. Every ounce of will-power that wasn’t being used in that endeavor was being put to use in the struggle to keep himself from molding her against the front of his body, and his hand moved restlessly at the small of her back as he denied himself that contact. He felt a pause in the heaviness of Tess’ gaze on them and glanced around to see her and Kyle walking out to join them, then move together to dance. No longer under such close scrutiny, Max summarily pulled Liz closer. But still not as close as he would’ve liked. She went to him willingly and felt his seductive warmth begin to close in around her, enticing her to come closer still. As she fought against its pull, her hand played agitatedly with the collar of his shirt.

Glancing furtively over at Tess, she found her laughing up at Kyle as he said something to her, and Liz felt safe in making eye contact with Max for the first time since they’d begun dancing. Tilting her head back slightly, she lifted her eyes to his, and immediately became ensnared in amber quicksand. Her heart stumbled as she witnessed the struggle he was engaged in that was a clear echo of her own, The fight to resist the call of one another’s bodies. Knowing he was feeling the same things she was made it twice as hard to withstand that call.

Her eyes locked on his, she said faintly, “I didn’t know it was going to be so hard.” She swallowed. “You know, keeping up this pretense.”

“Yeah, uh-“ Max cleared the huskiness from his throat, “Me either.”

Their eyes touched upon one another’s faces as their lips unconsciously parted, allowing their breath to meet and mingle in an unsubstantial kiss that failed to satisfy their growing cravings.

As Liz fingered the brushed cotton of Max’s shirt, her eyes dropped from his to admire the way the black material molded to the contour of his pec. Jealously, her hand slid down to cover his heart, shaping itself to the bulge of the surrounding muscles, and felt its heavy pounding fill her palm. Her eyes lifted in a sultry gaze, and she said raspingly, “You know, you really didn’t make this any easier by wearing this shirt.”

Drowning in the soft heat of her dark eyes, it took a moment for her words to sink in, and then he frowned in confusion. Looking down at himself, he asked, “What’s wrong with my shirt?”

Eyeing the object in question, she asked, “Isn’t it the same one you wore the night we found the orb?”

Max hadn’t thought about it before, but now he realized she was right. He vividly remembered her fingers on these buttons as she’d slowly stripped the shirt from him at Michael’s. It was one of the most erotic memories in his experience, and he couldn’t believe it had escaped his notice until now that this was that self-same shirt.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” he answered.

Her fingertips caressed the soft cotton as she confessed lowly, “It makes me remember things.”

Liz’s eyelids grew heavy and her breathing began to come a little more quickly as she recalled the sensual memories from that night, and Max pulled in an unsteady breath as he watched her and began to remember things too.

The undeniable feelings that had drawn them together like magnets beginning that night at the Crashdown, the reckless urgency that had filled him every time she’d been near, and the incredible heat they’d generated between them whenever they’d so much as touched. If they’d gone forward with their intentions to make love that night in the desert, Max had no doubt that they would’ve burned each other alive.

His heart beat faster against her hand and his eyes, dark and glittering, roamed over her face, as the memories of that heated passion raised his body temperature now, creating a keen thirst in him he felt nothing would quench except the taste of her lips.

As Max’s eyes focused on her mouth, Liz pulled her bottom lip in loosely between her teeth to moisten it, then released it slowly, and his gaze grew hotter at the sight. She was having trouble breathing as the pull of his heat grew insistent, luring her a tiny step closer.

Suddenly, and without warning, the connection between them opened, and Liz was swamped with the intensity of his emotions.

With a soundless gasp her eyes latched onto his as she felt his desire eddy thickly within her, like the richest of warm, melted chocolate. Dark and sweet, it urged her to taste of it, and the temptation was becoming more than she could withstand.

Their heads tilted a small degree closer.

“Max,” she breathed yearningly.

His fingers stiffened on her back, the tips softly digging into her flesh, and he said hoarsely, “I know.”

He’d been immersed in his own sea of outpouring emotions, and it seemed an impossible task to resist her longing when he fully understood the depth of it. Her craving for his kiss matched his in intensity and he couldn’t fight himself and her both. He had to get them out of there. But, he still had enough presence of mind to realize that they couldn’t just go off alone. Tess was watching them closely tonight, and it would look far too suspicious if they disappeared together.

He couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from Liz’s for even a glance in Tess’ direction to find out if she was witnessing this charged moment between them, but he maneuvered around so that his back was facing the spot he’d last seen her and Kyle, in the hopes of shielding them from her view.

Liz felt his concern through the connection, and she had to admit he was right. It was way too risky to go somewhere alone right now. But, at that moment she began to be inundated with a series of flashes that swayed her dangerously close to the who cares, let’s risk it point of view.

The images were of her and Max locked passionately together at different locations. Alone at the Crashdown, his bedroom and hers, her balcony, the eraser room, the pod chamber, some of them had them in more intimate embraces than others, some in different states of undress, but all of them were scenes of events that had never taken place. She was momentarily confused until a familiar image flashed before her, and she caught her breath as she realized that these all must be fantasies Max had had about them.

The flash that clued her in was the fantasy she’d had of them in the shower of the girls’ locker room at school. Apparently, Max had taken that one and made it his own, furthering it in a direction that was slightly different from the way it had played out in her own head.

She could feel everything he was feeling in the fantasy as the vivid pictures flashed inside her head...


Max moving towards her with focused intent, taking visual inventory of her dripping, naked form with a gaze that contains fascinated awe. Without protest, she allows him to look his fill.


“You’re beautiful, Liz. I’ve never even imagined anything as beautiful as you.” She smiles shyly, and lifts his hand to her flesh. “Touch me, Max.”


Max using a towel, his hands, his lips to dry her with tender thoroughness, and her hands cradle the back of his head as he kneels before her, the sounds coming from her throat driving him insane with lust.


Liz wrapped around an equally nude Max, his lips hungrily mapping her body. “Make love to me, Max!” she feverishly whispers. “Please, I can’t wait anymore. I want to belong to you completely.”

Her surroundings slowly came back into focus as the flashes came to a halt, and she lifted dazed eyes up to Max’s. Trembling and flushed, her eyes were almost black with passion, and Max’s breath caught sharply in his throat. He was aware that she’d gotten flashes, he just wasn’t sure what she’d seen, but whatever it had been had heightened the level of her desire to a seething roil that threatened to suck him completely under, Tess or no Tess.

Their clasped hands had tightened to a death-grip, and the hand that rested on Max’s shoulder was actually exerting a steady force, as though the impetus was needed to keep them from coming together.

“Let’s get out of here, Max,” Liz said in a voice that was hardly recognizable as her own. “Please. I-I can’t...I need–“ further words caught in her throat. She wasn’t sure exactly what it was she needed, she just knew she needed. Desperately.

The desperation in her voice added to Max’s own urgent sense of need, and as he began to look quickly around for a quiet place for them to go, he noticed that the others had stopped dancing, and were turning to make their way back to the tables. He hadn’t even heard the song come to an end.

He and Liz stood there for a brief moment in wavering indecision, loathe to let each other go, but knowing that they couldn’t just keep standing there locked together.

“We’ll have to make some kind of excuse,” Max said thickly.

Liz nodded jerkily.

They pried their hands away from each other, and both moved on unsteady legs to join the group. Max tried desperately to get his brain to work amidst the fog of desire it was enveloped as he searched for a ready excuse for him and Liz to leave.

But he didn’t get a chance to say anything at all, because they reached the table just in time to hear Isabel saying, “Did anybody really have their heart set on seeing this movie tonight?”

“Why? Did you have somethin’ else in mind?” Kyle asked.

Her eyes sparkling, Isabel answered, “Well, I’ve been hearing the kids at school talk about this new place that just opened in Dexter. It’s like a club for teens. There’s dancing, and a restaurant, and I think on weekends they have a live band. I thought you might like that Alex.” She wagged her head side to side. “It would sorta give you a chance to check out the local competition. So. Anybody up for a road trip?” she grinned.

The girls all agreed that it sounded like fun, and Alex gave his assent mostly because he was interested in hearing whoever might be playing live, but also because he was always willing to fall in with whatever Isabel wanted to do. Michael and Kyle were vocal in their objections, saying that this one dance had been enough to last them through the night, but Isabel told them persuasively that she thought she’d heard that they had a game room or some kind of sports bar or something, and that ought to be right up their alley. Plus, the girls all promised that they wouldn’t insist on any more than four dances from them, tops.

“Slow dances,” Kyle negotiated.

Tess looked at Isabel and Maria questioningly. “Deal,” she said.

“Great!” Isabel exclaimed. “I’ve been wanting to check this place out. So, how many cars should we take?”

As they discussed road plans, no one noticed that Max and Liz hadn’t spoken a word during the entire exchange. They stood there stiffly with hands tightened into fists as their plans were changed without their consent, and they saw their chance for a moment alone evaporating like so much mist.

When Max realized that the decision had been all but made, responsibility reared its head, breaking through the immobilizing arousal that had held him in its grip.

Clearing his throat he said, “I’m not sure this is such a good idea, Isabel. I mean, going to an unfamiliar place crowded with strangers. It’ll be too hard to keep an eye out in a situation like that.”

Moving to stand in front of him she said, “Come on, Max. Just this once, why can’t we act like normal teenagers for a change?”

Regretfully, he answered, “Because we’re not normal teenagers, Is. We can’t forget that someone might be following us.”

“So what if they are. We’ll be in a public place. What could possibly happen? As long as no one gets separated from the others, we should be fine. Right?”

Liz felt his hesitation as he took Isabel’s words under consideration. Pulling in a deep breath, she tried to steady her racing heart as she saw the chances of them being alone together dwindle down to nothing. The immediate urgency she was feeling began to dissipate somewhat, and left her entire body throbbing with a dull ache.

Now that she was rational enough to think about it, the idea of getting lost within a crowd of strangers held a certain appeal. At the very least, they should be able to dance without Tess’ eyes on them the whole time.

And maybe it would be possible to sneak away for a few minutes without anyone noticing.

“Let’s go, Max,” Liz said persuasively. When he looked down at her with mild surprise, she added, “It’ll be fine. I mean, we’ll be out on the open highway most of the way there. We ought to be able to tell if anyone’s following us, right?”

He looked at her quizzically for a moment. She sure had fallen in with the change of plans quickly enough. Knowing that she must have something in mind, and seeing the sense of her words about noticing if someone followed them there, Max gave in.

So, it was three cars that left the restaurant and headed for the open road.

Destination: Dexter.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:51:31 AM ]
posted on 22-Sep-2001 12:00:46 PM
Chapter 31

Michael threw yet another uneasy look at Maria’s profile as she drove, about the tenth time he’d done so in the past twenty minutes. The silence that filled the small car was thick and uncomfortable, made doubly so by the fact that it was so unnatural coming from Maria. She’d given him the silent treatment before, but usually even her silent treatments weren’t very silent. A cutting remark usually burst free from her every so often in between very short periods of quiet. But this time was turning out to be different. She actually hadn’t spoken a word to him since they’d gotten in the car. He’d been thinking that maybe this would give them a chance to talk and get this whole thing settled, but after making two attempts at conversation and receiving a glare and a disbelieving snort for responses, he’d fallen silent himself.

He wasn’t really quite sure where to go from here. Normally whenever they had a fight he would just wait her out, and she’d come to him after a couple of days or so and tell him she’d decided to forgive him for his boneheaded stunt, but next time he might not be so lucky. Usually next time he was, though.

Looked like maybe his luck had finally run out.

The thing was, he didn’t want to just wait her out this time. He wanted to fix this. He hated thinking that she was hurting because of him. Of course, right now she was acting more angry than hurt, but he recognized that for the defensive cover-up it was. He ought to. He’d used it enough himself.

She just seemed to be stuck on the fact that he was sharing things with Liz that he’d never let her see, never mind that it wasn’t on purpose. The thought occurred to him that maybe it would make her feel better about that if he could try to let down his defenses and give her a chance to see flashes from him. But that wasn’t even an option he would consider. As much as he dreaded the thought of Liz finding out everything about the way he’d grown up, he hated the thought of Maria seeing that stuff even more. He just couldn’t do it. There had to be another way to make this right.

Maria felt Michael’s eyes on her for like the hundredth time since they’d gotten in the car, and continued to ignore him. She guessed she was freaking him out with her silence, but she didn’t really care. Let him be off balance, she thought spitefully. She certainly was. Her emotions kept see-sawing so wildly she could hardly keep up with them.

Michael was being so sweet and patient with her tonight, and so attentive, in a clueless Michael kind of way, that sometimes she wanted to simply throw herself into his arms and beg him to tell her that it was her he loved and that everything was going to be okay. But every time she felt a softening towards him, she’d remember the way he and Liz had lied to her all week, and she’d get angry all over again. An anger that was all out of proportion to the situation, but she couldn’t seem to control it. She almost relished it, actually. It felt much better to focus on her anger than it did to dwell on the painful aspects of this whole thing.

Thinking about that stuff only led to feelings of exclusion and hurt bewilderment. And questions. Millions of questions. Like, what did it mean that they were connected like this? Why was it so strong? If Michael really loved her, then why couldn’t he let her see the things he’d let Liz see, instead of just trying to hide the whole thing from her? She understood that they hadn’t deliberately shared these things with each other, that it had been against both their wills. Even if she hadn’t known Michael well enough to know that this wasn’t something he would choose to do, their behavior this past week was enough to prove what a sore point this was with them. But willing or not, the fact of the matter was that now Liz knew all these things about him that she, herself might never know unless by some miracle he chose to tell her about them.

It was the ultimate cosmic irony really. Here was this connection that she would absolutely kill to have with Michael, but instead, Liz was the one who possessed it, and she didn’t even want it.

Life could really suck sometimes.

But, the good news was that if all that Future Max stuff kept Liz and present Max from getting back together, it looked like Liz could have the same thing with Michael. He could be like her back-up connection, Maria thought with dripping sarcasm.

She felt a wave of depression hit. Yeah, life could really, really suck.

After uneasy glance number 101, Michael looked away from her profile to glance out the back window, and saw that the headlights of Kyle’s car had fallen further behind since the last time he’d checked.

“If you don’t slow down you’re gonna leave the others behind,” he commented. “How fast are you goin’ anyway?”

She barely even spared him a glance.

Leaning over to look at the speedometer he shook his head and said with deliberate provocation, “Typical female. Can’t even drive safely when you’re upset. I knew I shoulda made you let me drive.”

When she did nothing more than shoot him a dirty look, Michael began to get a little worried. She must be more hurt than he thought if he couldn’t even goad her into a fight with a remark like that.

He studied her frowningly, then sighed. “How long are you gonna stay mad over this, Maria?”

She tried to keep the words from leaving her mouth, she was rather enjoying the upper hand her silence was giving her, but they popped out anyway. “Maybe till the mothership comes to take you home?” she suggested, smiling sweetly.

Encouraged by the fact that she’d finally broken her silence, he tried to soften her further by saying, “Look, we’re both sorry we didn’t tell you about this, okay? We know we messed up.”

Screwing up her face while shaking her head, she asked acerbically, “What’s with this ‘we’ stuff? You’re broadcasting in stereo now, or what?” Her gaze sharpened. “Can you hear her right now?”

Impatiently, he answered, “Of course not. Weren’t you listening this morning? We can’t hear each other unless we’re connected. I just meant- I’ve heard Liz say that hiding this from you was the wrong thing to do,” he shrugged a shoulder, “and I agree with her.”

“Of course you agree. Why wouldn’t you agree? You two are like, sharing a brain now, right?” she said acidly.

Narrowing his eyes at her, he said tightly, “Are you just deliberately tryin’ to piss me off? I am trying to apologize here. Do you wanna hear it or not?”

“By all means,” she waved her hand to motion him to go right ahead. “But seeing as how you’re new to this apology business, I feel I have to warn you that a simple, ‘Hey, sorry I lied’ is not gonna cut it.”

Scowling, he asked, “Well, what d’you want from me? Blood?”

Smiling viciously, she purred, “Don’t make offers you aren’t prepared to back up, Spaceboy.”

He almost smiled at her use of the nickname. It made him feel like everything was going to be alright. Lips twisting, he asked dryly, “Want me to just open up a vein right here?”

She smirked. “I said I wanted blood, not ice water.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “You sayin’ you think I’m cold, DeLuca? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I could prove you wrong,” he said suggestively.

“You aren’t gonna get a chance to prove anything until you get yourself off my list, Guerin,” she shot back, exhilarated at the familiar by-play. It was the first time things had felt normal between them for days.

Growing serious, Michael was silent for a moment, then said uncertainly, “Well, what do you want me to say, Maria? I’m sorry we kept this from you. We haven’t been dealin’ with the whole thing very well, I guess. We knew you were gonna flip out over it, and you’ve already been totally flipped out this week over your mom and Valenti, so...” he trailed off with a small shrug of his shoulder.

“Oh, I see,” she said with a sage nod. “So you were just doing me a favor by covering up the whole thing. Giving me one less thing to worry about.”

“What, you’re not buyin’ it? It’s the truth, Maria. Maybe it was a stupid thing to do, and it only ended up makin’ things worse, but we put off telling you ‘cause we didn’t want to hurt you. So, fine, be mad at us for lying if you want, but we did it for a good reason.”

She snorted. “You are so full of it, Michael. And you totally suck at apologies. The reason you didn’t tell me is because you didn’t want to have to deal with any of it. The connection, Liz, or me. Liz, on the other hand...” she shook her head. That one really hurt. With Michael, it wasn’t such a surprise. He’d lied and kept things from her before, and he probably would again. But Liz...Ever since the Future Max thing, things had changed between her and her best friend. It seemed like they no longer shared everything with each other, and it made Maria really, really sad to think that they weren’t as close as they used to be. Shaking her head as if to clear it she said, “Well, that’s between me and Liz.” Her lips twisted bitterly. “Although, I guess nothing will ever be just between me and Liz anymore, will it?”

Michael made a sound of exasperation. “Yes, Maria, there are things that will be just between the two of you. Liz and I don’t know every single thing about each other, and if we have our way, it’ll stay that way. You’re makin’ this thing bigger than it has to be. It’s just a connection. That’s all.”

Unaccountably irritated at his attempt to downplay it, she said snappishly, “No, Michael, it is not ‘just a connection’. It’s like some kind of super-connection or something. You said yourself, it’s so powerful the two of you can’t control it. And connecting without meaning to, knowing all this stuff about each other without even trying, and- and...reading each other’s minds? That is not ‘just a connection’. What I want to know is what makes this thing so strong? And why does it even exist in the first place?”

“Because Max changed something inside her,” he answered by rote.

Shaking her head in argument, she replied, “Then why isn’t her connection with Max this strong? Why is she even connected to you in the first place? She isn’t connected to Tess and Isabel like this, right?” He shook his head in answer, though it had been a rhetorical question. “So, why you? It means something, Michael. That you’re connected like this.”

Hearing her voice the same thoughts he’d been having since last night, his heart quickened, and he wondered what conclusions she’d come to.

“What do you think it means, Maria?”

Shaking her head, she answered gloomily, “Nothing good.”

*~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~*

Tess stared broodingly out the passenger side window of Kyle’s mustang as the moon-washed desert landscape rushed past, still aggravated by the fact that she hadn’t gotten to ride in the jeep with Max and the others. When she’d asked if she could go with them, Max had given her some song and dance about Liz thinking she’d been dreamwalking on her own this week, and she and Isabel wanted to talk about it on the way to Dexter. The story might very well be true, but Tess didn’t see why it was necessary for them to discuss it tonight.

It just irritated her that she seemed to keep getting paired up with Kyle tonight. Not that she didn’t enjoy being in his company. She actually loved to spend time with Kyle. He always made her laugh and forget for awhile that she was different from everybody else. But she’d thought tonight would give her the perfect opportunity to get closer to Max, and it seemed she was being thwarted in that at every turn. The only reason she was having a decent time in spite of it was thanks to Kyle. If she could just ignore all the destiny stuff she might actually be able to relax and have a good time. It felt really good to be a wanted member of the group. But it was impossible not to think about destiny when Max was so close, and she had to watch him with Liz. She couldn’t help but see their being together as a threat to everything that was supposed to be hers.

She couldn’t believe that Kyle had apologized for not being Max when he’d asked her to dance. She hadn’t known she was being so obvious. She’d really have to watch that. It wouldn’t do for Max to know how much she still wanted to be with him. If he did, she was certain he’d promptly turn to run in the other direction, and she needed his friendship too much to risk that happening.

Tess was hoping that when they got to the club Max would ask her to dance. But if it looked like he wasn’t going to, she decided she was just going to have to be bold and ask him. Surely he wouldn’t turn down a simple dance with a friend. After all, that’s supposedly what he and Liz had been doing at the restaurant.

Kyle took his eyes off the road to throw a quick look at Tess. She’d been quiet ever since they’d gotten on the road, and he wondered what she was thinking about. He grimaced slightly. Probably the alien commander.

It annoyed him that she couldn’t just let all this destiny business go when it was so obvious that it was never gonna happen in this lifetime. But at the same time, he could really empathize with her. He knew exactly how it felt to have something you’d come to think of as yours ripped away, and have to look on helplessly while it was made clear that it had never really been yours to begin with. It was a painful reality to deal with, and he’d spare Tess from it if he could. He’d really come to care about her, and he wished he could protect her from any further hurt. But this was something she was going to have to deal with on her own, and the only thing he could do was try and help her in any way he could. That is, if she would let him.

“So!” he said brightly to pull her from her thoughts. “How ‘bout those Mets?”

“Huh?” she shook her head in slight confusion as she came back to the present. “Kyle, you know I don’t watch baseball.”

“Well, it was either that or the weather. Wanna talk about what a chilly, but relatively clear night it is?”

She smiled. “We could I guess, but what else is there to say about it?”

“’s really very lovely weather for Roswell in December,” he said loftily, as though they were discussing it over tea.

“Never having been in Roswell in December, I’m afraid I’ll have to take your word for it. But I’m sure I must agree, it is very lovely weather,” she replied with the same lofty attitude.

Faces returning to their normal expressions, they looked at each other and grinned.

How did he always manage to do that, Tess marveled. Make her go from hopeless and depressed to happy and playful in a matter of seconds. It made her wonder how she’d ever dealt with all this Max and Liz stuff before Kyle had come along. Nacedo had certainly never helped. He’d always just lectured and pushed, only making her feel under more pressure to succeed, no matter how bad the odds had seemed of things working out the way they should.

Her heart filled with gratitude at having Kyle for a friend. This time last year she hadn’t had anyone who really cared what happened to her. Now she had two. Three if you counted Sheriff Valenti. She wished she could just be happy with having Max as a friend and not have to worry about all this maneuvering and planning to try and make him more interested. It was just so exhausting. But the state of their relationship seemed to play such a big part in the fate of their world that she couldn’t give up on Max, even if she wanted to. Which, for the most part, she didn’t.

In the meantime, she wanted to hang on to her friendship with Kyle with both hands. She didn’t want to lose him either.

“Thanks, Kyle,” she said with soft affection.

Mildly surprised, he asked, “For what?”

She smiled.

“For always making me smile.”

*~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~*

Alex and Isabel attempted to have a quiet conversation in the back seat of the jeep, but the obvious tension that was emanating from the front of the car was beginning to affect even them. They weren’t quite sure why it was there, though. Max and Liz hadn’t said a word during the entire trip and they could only wonder if they’d had a fight or something.

Alex looked at Isabel questioningly, and she shrugged her shoulders uncertainly.

Max and Liz were oblivious to the murmurings coming from the backseat as they fought to keep their hands to themselves. Liz’s were clasped tightly together in her lap, and Max’s were wrapped around the steering wheel in a strangle-hold. Their eyes kept reaching out to each other and connecting heatedly, but that was as close to physical contact they could allow themselves with Alex and Isabel in the jeep.

Between needing Liz so badly he ached, and trying to keep up a constant watch on the road behind them, Max was wound so tightly he was ready to jump out of his own skin.

It was going to be an incredibly long and uncomfortable night if they didn’t manage to get some alone time soon.

Their eyes met yearningly again, and Liz knew that he was dying to touch her as much as she needed to touch him. It was in the midst of this extreme state of deprivation that she realized they hadn’t kissed since yesterday. The realization seemed to deepen her craving for him to an even greater extent.

If they didn’t find somewhere to be alone when they got there, they were definitely going to explode before this long night was over.

Telepathy or not, they wouldn’t have been surprised to know that in that, they were in emphatic agreement.

Chapter 32

Everyone got out of their cars to gather in the parking lot of the club, where Max told them he was pretty sure they hadn’t been tailed.

“Everyone can relax and have fun, but try not to let your guard down completely. We don’t want any surprises.”

They all agreed, then followed the faint thump of music to the front doors of the complex. As they entered, the pulsing music assaulted their ears, and the group paused just inside the entrance to take in their surroundings.

Several yards in front of them, a sitting area with overstuffed chairs and sofas sat behind a railing that divided it from the dance floor. The dance floor itself, was a sunken area over to their left with a stage at its far end, and on their right was a fairly open wing where they could see various video games, and gaming tables. Next to the game room, a patio-type area with small café tables scattered about, sat in front of a pair of double doors that obviously led to the restaurant, where the charbroiled smell of cooking meat wafted out.

They were divided as to where they wanted to go first. Of course, Michael and Kyle wanted to head straight for the game room, and since the live band wasn’t yet performing, Alex was leaning in that direction as well. The girls wanted to dance, and since it was a fast one, they knew they were pretty much going to be partner-less since the guys had made them promise to only ask for slow dances. Max and Liz merely wanted to find someplace private. Fast.

But before they could all separate, the song that was playing came to an end, and the DJ announced a slow one. Ivy’s ‘Worry About You’ promptly began to play.

“I’m claiming my first dance,” Isabel proclaimed, catching Alex by the arm and towing him towards the crowded dance floor.

Max and Liz looked at each other, and without saying a word, turned simultaneously to follow.

Tess sighed dejectedly as she watched the two of them go, and Kyle put his hand lightly at the small of her back and said gently, “Come on. This’ll be a freebie. But just so you know, five is absolutely my limit, okay?”

The corner of her lip tipped up and she nodded, allowing him to lead her behind the others.

Michael looked at Maria uncertainly and asked, “What do you wanna do?”

She shrugged, slightly ill at ease. “I guess we really shouldn’t stray too far from the others.”

He nodded in agreement, and they brought up the rear as the eight of them walked towards the short set of steps that led down to the dance floor. They made a brief stop to check in their coats and purses, then filed down the steps to try and find an available space on the floor.

Max and Liz deliberately hung back until everyone had claimed a spot and moved together to dance, then they wove their way amongst the swaying couples to find a spot closer to the center of the floor, away from the eyes of their friends. Max held on to her hand tightly to keep them from getting separated.

Gently buffeted on every side by strangers, they finally turned to face each other, falling headlong into one another’s eyes as they slowly drew closer together. As they slid their arms around each other their eyes never lost contact, and Max pulled her in close to his body.

Liz drew in a deep breath at the physical contact. It was the most profound relief to finally be touching him, but at the same time, it wasn’t nearly enough and made her almost desperate for more. She wanted to plaster herself tightly against the front of him, but she was afraid if she did she wouldn’t be able to stop there, and even though she couldn’t see any of their friends from this spot, it felt too risky to be very intimate when they were so close-by. Keeping that in mind, she managed to leave a paper-thin slice of air between them.

Max allowed her that much space away from the front of him, but his hands tried to make up for the lack by roaming gently up and down her back, the soft angora of her sweater tickling his palms in an added stimulus to his sense of touch. One of Liz’s hands wrapped itself around the back of his neck, her fingers occasionally sliding up to lose themselves within the fine strands of his hair, while the other came to lay upon his shoulder, moving against it in restless up-and-down strokes.

Her head tilted back slightly while their eyes exchanged silent messages. Such as how good it felt to be in one another’s arms again, even in so small a way, and how tonight’s enforced separation was absolute torture, and most importantly, how much longer did they have to do this before it might be considered safe to slip away from the others?

Max slid his hand up between her shoulder blades, applying a slight force, and she leaned her upper body in towards him, her temple coming to rest near his jaw.

“Soon,” she thought she heard him murmur in promise.

Their bodies swayed together gently to the rhythm of the song, a short verse with a simple guitar accompaniment, followed by a measure of music with a softly pulsing back-beat, and Liz easily followed Max’s lead as though they’d danced together a million times.

Max could feel the soft curves of her breast’s brushing teasingly against his chest with their every movement, and he swallowed convulsively while his heart stepped up its pace. His hands went on differing quests, one fisting loosely around a handful of her sweater to rub the folds of fabric together in slight agitation, the other moving to wrap his fingers up in one of her silky curls to verify its resilience, as he’d wanted to do all night.

The hand at the back of his neck went on a quest of its own, as Liz insinuated her fingers down into the collar of his shirt to stroke the bare skin at the juncture of his neck and shoulder. Max unconsciously tilted his head toward the caress, while her thumb brushed lightly over the pulse point at the base of his throat. She could feel the wild pounding of his heart there, and hers automatically quickened to perfectly match its pace. Turning her face into the curve of his neck, her eyes sank shut as she filled her lungs with the heady scent of him. Nothing smelled as good as Max, and she quickly became intoxicated by him.

Max felt her breath, hot and moist upon his skin, and turned his face down towards hers, his cheek making a nuzzling motion against her temple in a barely-there caress that just failed to make skin contact. As they slowly leaned away, their faces slid alongside one another’s, the heat of their skin almost a physical entity that dragged against the other’s with a sultry friction.

Their breath, heavy and ragged, washed sweetly over each other’s faces, as their eyes met and clung, and in that moment their connection sprang gently to life.

Their hands clutched at clothes and flesh as each felt the force of the other’s passionate yearning come surging into them. Liz looked up at him, entranced, as his feelings flooded over her and she immediately began to get flashes. Images of them together at different times melded seamlessly together to form a chronicle of their lives that Liz instinctively knew Max was seeing, too. His emotional reactions to the scenes perfectly mirrored her own so that it almost felt like the two of them were reacting as one. All the important events in the history of their relationship flashed before them, from Max healing her the day she got shot, to the night she and Max had shared the same dream about the White Room.

They’d been through so much together over the past year, and every event had only served to bring them closer together in the end. It felt as though the visions were a testament to that, making them feel emotionally closer, and increasing their longing for a more physical closeness.

It felt like they’d stood there for hours as their entire lives seemed to unfold before them, but when Liz became aware of her surroundings again, the same song was still playing, and miraculously, she and Max were still slightly swaying to its beat.

They continued to stare into each other’s eyes, both a little dazed by the way the flashes had gone almost as quickly as they’d come, but their emotions continued to flow into one another, keeping them connected.

“How does that keep happening so easily?” Liz breathed.

There was no way that Max could’ve heard her over the volume of the music, but when he answered with the same low tone, she had no trouble making out his words.

“Because our emotions are so heightened.”

Acknowledging the truth of that with a slight nod of her head, she wrapped her arm more tightly around his neck and moved up against him, needing to be close to him. Max’s arms tightened around her tiny waist to hug her close, feeling safe from their friends’ curious eyes for the moment by the unfamiliar couples that pressed in around them on all sides.

They danced close until the song ended, then reluctantly parted and stood uncertainly as another song began. The lonely strains of a single electric guitar began its introduction into Creed’s ‘Torn’, then shortly picked up its tempo slightly as it was backed up by a throbbing heavy-metal base.

The couples at one side of them parted when Isabel came pushing through, and she reached for Max’s arm as she got to his side. He bent his head to hers as she said into his ear, “We’re going to the game room. Are you coming?”

He looked at Liz in brief question, but he already knew her answer would be the same as his.

Shaking his head, he put his lips close to Isabel’s ear to tell her, “We’re gonna stay, and... dance. Cover for us?”

With lifted brows, she looked at the surrounding couples and took in the way they were dancing to the song that wasn’t really an appropriate slow-dance song, but wasn’t quite up-tempo enough for a fast dance. Most of the couples were wrapped around each other as their hips moved together in a grinding dance, ‘Dirty Dancing’ style. She couldn’t picture her brother dancing with Liz like that. Her surprise only lasted a second, as she realized they had more than dancing on their minds. Suddenly their tension on the ride here made perfect sense.

Giving them a knowing look, she said, “I won’t say anything. If she asks- which I’m sure she will,” this said dryly, “I’ll just tell her you must’ve lost us.”

“Thanks, Is,” Max said gratefully.

She nodded, her lips twisting into a half-grin as she gave him a significant look, then turned and disappeared into the crowd.

While the two of them were speaking, Liz gently bumped her hips to the beat of the song and observed the dancers around them. Some of them almost made dancing look like a form of sex as they straddled their partners’ legs and ground their pelvises against each other in a slow seductive rhythm. At first she was embarrassed by the suggestive displays, but then she became almost transfixed by the sight of them and couldn’t seem to look away. How could anybody do that in public, she wondered with fascination. Without being aware of it, her own motions became a little more evocative as she watched.

After Isabel left, Max looked back at Liz, and she was hit with a wave of heat as his eyes grew dark and dropped down to take in her sinuous movements. She’d vaguely heard Isabel promise to make excuses for them and knew that meant they were now free to do whatever they wanted to do, and her heart began to race with anticipation, as Max surveyed her swaying form with glittering eyes.

Max’s heart began a slow, heavy thud as he took in the way her hips jutted smoothly to one side for a slow double beat before rolling to the opposite side for that same sexy beat. The lithe motions were captivating.


Almost trance-like, Max reached out to catch her gyrating hips in his hands, and without thought, hers came up to rest atop his as she continued to rock to the music. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her, as she fixed a heavy-lidded gaze upon his face and her body kept time with the pulsing rhythm of the song. In response to her movements, his own body began to move, automatically trying to emulate her actions.

They hadn’t made a conscious decision to dance, but now that they were, the pounding beat of the music seemed to enter their blood and become a powerful stimulant that spurred them to continue.

Liz’s hands trailed from the backs of his to trace a lingering path up his arms, her head cocked to follow the movement with her eyes. The heat of his skin warmed her palms as they slid over the silk-like fabric of his sleeves with teasing slowness. She stopped momentarily at his upper arms to explore the muscles there with lazy back-and-forth strokes, then moved up to test the breadth of his shoulders in the same way, before finally coming together to link at the back of his neck. The whole process left Max breathlessly wishing that the barrier of his sleeves hadn’t separated him from her touch.

Dry-mouthed, Liz was wishing for the same thing. She felt a sudden keen desire to have his bare flesh underneath her hands. Almost as strong, was the desire to feel his hands on her in the same way.

As though he’d heard the unspoken wish, Max pulled her closer and slid one hand around her waist to slip underneath the hem of her sweater, finding the bare skin of her back with a touch that seared her. Dragging her eyes up to his, Liz was instantly captured within the smoldering heat she found there. Amber locked with deep brown, as they moved with perfect synchronicity now, their hips bumping fluidly from side to side in time with the stirring music.

Close, but not quite touching, their bodies kissed the very air that delineated each of their forms, the teasing closeness almost more stimulating than if they’d been adhered to one another.

The thumping bass of the song somehow seemed to find its way inside his flesh, vibrating throughout every part of him, and Max’s body throbbed with heavy arousal in a matching tempo. The feel of Liz brushing lightly against him soon had him gritting his teeth, and he could no longer tolerate the fraction of an inch that separated them. Hauling her up against him, one hand still riding low upon her back beneath her sweater, he fused their lower bodies together.

Wide-eyed, Liz gasped at the contact, her hands curling tightly around the collar of his shirt as she pressed forward against him, their pelvises now swaying together as one. She was being assailed by so many sensations at once, inside and out, that she could hardly assimilate them all. The feel of Max’s body, hard and exciting, against her, the rush of his charged emotions intermixing with her own, the sexy rhythm of the music pumping through them, their inflaming movements against one another. The stimulating bombardment was stirring something to life deep within her. Something hot and electric that seemed to be growing incrementally to greater proportions.

Her eyes slid closed as it swelled to fill her, and she clung tightly to Max while they continued to dance against each other with intimate friction. Completely caught up in the music, as well as the fever growing inside her, her head began to roll bonelessly from side to side in direct counterpoint to their hips.

Max was riveted by the sight of her. He’d never seen her look more sexy. Cheeks flushed, lips parted to allow her breath to escape in uneven, thready gusts, she was totally oblivious to everything but the two of them and the feelings they were creating between them. Her mounting excitement was communicating itself through their connection and caused his own to surge higher. His hand began to roam across her bare back with restless urgency and he strained to get closer to her, unsure how much more teasing he could take.

The song changed tempo slightly as an electric guitar broke into a throbbing solo, sliding up and down a musical scale in a thrilling build-up of intensity that quickened their hearts and had Liz climbing right along with it. The solo climaxed with the event of a thrashing heavy-metal back-up that seemed to crash over them, and sent Liz’s head dropping back. Without even thinking about it, Max deepened the move by tipping forward a little and dipping her slightly over his arm at her back. Holding onto his upper arms for balance, she arched back, then slowly rounded up in a continuous cat-like move. Her head was the last thing to come up, and when she finally became fully upright, her face ended up only inches away from Max’s.

Two sets of eyes dropped to the mouths that were a scant inch away from their own. All they would have to do was tilt their heads forward the merest bit, and they could taste each other like they’d been dying to do all night.

His breath coming hard through flared nostrils, Max was leaning forward to do just that, when someone jostled him from behind, reminding him where they were.

Abruptly, he pulled away from her.

“Let’s go,” he growled, taking Liz by the hand and pushing his way through the crowd to get off the dance floor.

He didn’t know where they were going to be able to go to be alone, but he was determined to find some place.

With all due haste.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:52:48 AM ]
posted on 22-Sep-2001 1:16:11 PM
Chapter 33

Tugging Liz along behind him, Max moved purposefully until they finally made their way through to the edge of the crowd, then they hastily tripped up the steps that led off the dance floor. Once at the top, he paused to look around searchingly.

There had to be some kind of storage room in this place, or a janitor’s closet, something.

Avoiding the game room altogether, they swiftly headed in the general direction of the restaurant, driven forward by urgent need. Liz clung tightly to his hand as they wound their way around the dispersion of people milling about, her eyes wildly scanning the space around them for a feasible place to go. Everything inside her was absolutely screaming for Max, and she felt like she would fly into a million tiny pieces if she had to wait much longer for the relief his kiss would bring her.

There was a wide expanse of floor space between the edge of the court in front of the restaurant and the seating area that stretched along the entire length of the dance floor’s railing, and they kept on the path between them, dodging around chatting, laughing people who were completely oblivious to the desperate lovers’ plight.

Grimly, Max thought that if they didn’t find some privacy soon he was going to have to do something rash, like push Liz up against the nearest convenient wall and kiss her until this raging desire loosened its strangle-hold on him.

When they’d finally reached the end of the seating area, they came to a short deserted hallway with several doors opening off of it. Taking a quick look around to make sure no one was paying them any mind, they made their way down its length, the richly patterned carpet muffling the sound of their footsteps.

The first opening they came to was a set of double doors that led off to their right. The brass plaque above them read ‘Banquet Hall’. Max threw a brief look at Liz before moving to try the doorknob, only to find them locked. Already anticipating his next move, Liz stepped over to block his actions from the sight of anyone who might be at the end of the hall. While Max used his powers to get the doors unlocked, she kept watch over her shoulder, silently urging him to hurry. She could hardly stand still beside him for the pulsing need coursing through her, and her heart was knocking heavily against her ribs with the anticipation of getting inside that room.

The sharpness of her urgency filtered through their connection to spike his own, and Max’s hands shook as he completed his task. When the door was opened, he placed his hand at Liz’s back to usher her through, then darted a look down the hall to make sure they weren’t being observed before stepping through, himself.

As soon as he was inside they fell upon one another ravenously, their mouths greedy and demanding, and Liz made a muffled sound that was at once needy and relieved. It was the sweetest of gratifications to finally have his lips on hers, while at the same time, it seemed to awaken an even deeper hunger inside her.

Max wrapped one arm around her to hold her against him, and without letting go of her lips, fell back a step to push the door closed with his body. Her arms locked tightly around his neck and she stumbled along with him until they came to a jarring stop with the closed door at Max’s back. While he reached behind him to search blindly for the doorknob, their tongues tangled frenziedly, almost seeming to get in one another’s way as they each sought out the deepest, darkest recesses of the other’s mouth. When his hand finally closed around the doorknob, he expeditiously used his powers to freeze the lock in place. Once he’d ensured their privacy, he buried his hand in her hair to hold her steady beneath the onslaught of his mouth, and gave himself over to the desire that had held him on its edge all night.

He kissed her as if he wanted to eat her alive, and Liz was more than willing to be consumed by him, meeting his ferocity and returning it with equal fervor. She pushed forward against him, crushing her breasts against the hard planes of his chest, and Max’s arms tightened around her, pulling her into him with gentle relentlessness, as though he were trying to absorb her into his very flesh. Their hands refused to remain still, alternately grasping at clothes and roaming the other’s body with fevered restlessness.

As Liz lifted to her toes to get better access to his mouth, the slight friction against his chest was electric, making him burningly aware of the soft curves flush against him. Liz emitted a soft mew as she was similarly affected by the move, her fingers curling against the nape of his neck with a gentle rake of her nails across his skin that had Max shuddering in response.

Their breath came in smothered gasps as their lips came at each other again and again, heads tilting and dipping in one direction, then changing course to find an angle from the opposite side. The honeyed heat of her mouth was a drugging sweetness Max couldn’t seem to get enough of, and the hungry insistence of her lips was driving him to new levels of urgency. After enduring the hours of sexual tension between them tonight, his body was clamoring for more. Much more.

Succumbing to its demand, his hands glided down her back to find the hem of her sweater, then worked their way up underneath it in a needy seeking out of flesh. One palm skimmed up her spine towards her shoulder blades, while the other stayed near her waist, and he resumed his restless rovings against the naked skin of her back.

His palms spread a tingling warmth wherever they touched, making her skin feel sensitized and over-heated, and Liz shifted against him anxiously at the stimulation. The small movement drug the tips of her breasts against his chest once again, and a charged current seemed to shoot straight through to her core from that point of contact. The blunt pads of Max’s fingers pressed into her flesh as his hands clenched convulsively on her back, the jolt of his reaction to the stimulus made twice as thrilling by feeling her matching response through the connection.

Liz tore her lips from his and dropped her head back, greedily sucking huge gulps of air into her oxygen-starved lungs, her fingers twisting in the fabric covering his chest. Max’s only concession to breathing was to pull in deep draughts of air between fervent kisses, as his lips slid across her jaw and down to the tender curve of her neck. They traveled, hot and open-mouthed, down one side of her throat and up the other side, then his hand slipped up through the neck of her sweater to angle her head back towards his, and his mouth fastened itself to hers once again.

Liz ardently returned the pressure of his lips, but it just didn’t seem to be enough. Rather than allaying the fierce need that had seized hold of her on the dance floor, their kisses were sharpening it into a keen edginess that had her quivering. His hands on her back was a scorching pleasure, but she longed to have them elsewhere on her body, and her own hands yearned to touch him the same way.

With that idea in mind, her hands slid down to the bottom of his shirt and attempted to tunnel underneath it, but his hem was trapped between his body and the door, restricting her access to his flesh.

Liz made a low sound of frustration.

Aware of what she wanted, Max made to move away from the door, but her impatient hands had already gone an alternate route, moving to the buttons of his shirt. He felt her hesitate, and she pulled her lips from his to look up toward his face. But the room was in utter darkness, the only illumination coming from a thin sliver of light seeping in underneath the door, and they were unable to read each other’s expressions.

Breathlessly, she asked, “Can I–?”

“Yes,” he answered before she could even finish the question, his voice deep and gravelly.

Their hearts pounded wildly as her fingers shakily began to work at his buttons, both forcefully reminded of the last time she’d performed this same task. The memories of that night raised their sensual awareness even more, but Liz was too focused on her goal to savor the feeling.

Once the shirt was undone, she pushed it open with her wrists as her palms glided over the muscular contours of his chest. Max’s hands moved fitfully at her back as he tried to hold himself still under her questing touch, the feel of her small hands on him heating his blood to a rousing simmer.

Liz ran her hands over the tautness of his skin with curious wonder, wanting to discover every smoothly-hewn inch of him, and she forced herself to slow down just a little in order to appreciate him. She felt flushed and excited by the pleasure this new experience was engendering in both of them. While it was true he’d had his shirt off that night in Michael’s apartment, she hadn’t been bold enough to thoroughly explore then. And though she mourned the lack of light that kept her from clearly seeing the chiseled perfection beneath her palms, the darkness did make it easier to shed all timidity.

The absence of visibility also served to magnify their sense of touch until it seemed to overwhelm all else. Their perceptions narrowed down until they registered nothing more than the sound of shuddering breath, the throbbing of one another’s pulse, and their shared reactions to her caresses as her fingertips drew exquisite sensations upon his torso.

Learning him as a blind person might, Liz traced over every plane and hollow, fascinated by the suppleness of his flesh contrasted with the muscled hardness underneath. Everywhere she touched was smooth and soft, but firm at the same time, and a sudden desire to feel that smoothness against her lips overtook her.

Max read her intention a split second before she began to lower her lips toward him, and his every muscle tensed as he waited for her to reach her goal. The soft puff of her breath against him was a sweet precursor of what was to come, and Max found himself holding his own breath in expectation of her touch. Even knowing she was so close, he still jerked involuntarily when she made the initial contact, chastely brushing her lips across his breastbone in an exploratory caress that was as light as a butterfly’s wings.

Liz became instantly beguiled by the sleek feel of him against her lips, and she eagerly sought out more of the sensation, placing a scattering of hungry kisses randomly over his chest.

Max’s eyelids drooped heavily, and his hand came out from beneath her sweater to cup the back of her head, wanting her never to stop. The fleeting press of her lips was a bliss that burned, each touch branding him unequivocally as hers. Only Liz could stir such a boiling maelstrom within him with nothing more than a simple touch of her lips.

Only Liz would ever get the chance.

He exulted in her innocent caresses. He’d never imagined anything could feel so good. But in the very next instant she sent his pulse skyrocketing as she showed him that innocence was all well and good, but there was something that could feel even better.

No longer content with testing the texture of his skin against that of her mouth, Liz gave in to an irresistible craving to taste him. Parting her lips against the slight bulge of his pec, she drew them across his flesh in an upward swipe, her bottom lip moistly dragging open against him. The erotic caress left Max gasping, and his hand tightened reflexively in her hair. A thrill shot through Liz at his response, and she darted a quick glance up at him through the dimness to see his head tilted back against the door, the sound of his breath harsh and unsteady. His excitement fueled her own and urged her to continue, and she lowered her lips to him once again. Widening the opening of his shirt with her hands, she began covering the broad expanse of his chest with avid, open-mouthed kisses.

Max swallowed and looked blindly toward the ceiling as her mouth did incredible things to him, its wet warmth tearing at his control and intensifying his desire until he was nearly shaking with it. He felt a low-key humming deep inside that told him his energy was beginning to gather, but for now it was just a faint, pleasant buzz that intermixed with all the other sensations Liz was arousing within him.

She kissed her way up to his throat, lovingly nuzzling the crook of his neck with lips, tongue, and teeth, and Max’s eyes slid closed as he held her close against him with one arm, his other hand closing loosely around her hair. She lingered there for a short moment before working her way back down to his chest, as though she couldn’t bear to leave her new discovery for long.

When she began to ply his flesh with semi-gentle love-bites, Max stiffened, and a guttural sound of pleasure was ripped from his throat. The feral tenderness of the caresses seemed to unleash something primitive within him, and he gritted his teeth against the urge to grab her up as he felt a slipping of his restraint. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could let her keep this up, but it felt far too good to stop.

Liz felt a rush of exhilaration at hearing his involuntary sound of pleasure. She was usually the vocal one of the two of them in this type of situation, and to drag an audible response from Max was a heady thrill that made her want to hear it again.

As she renewed her efforts in that direction, she became completely intoxicated by the taste and feel of him. Each rake of her teeth against him seemed to send his muscles rippling beneath her lips. And though this was incredibly stimulating for her, the most provocative stimulant of all was being able to experience what she was making Max feel. It filled her with a strange mix of tenderness, humility, and fierce arousal to know she could excite him so.

The frantic beating of his heart reverberated against her lips as she nibbled at its surrounding muscles, and when she reached to press her lips firmly to the throbbing there, she inadvertently brushed across his nipple.

It was a moment loaded with charged tension, and they both fell utterly still as everything inside them rioted at the sizzling contact.

Liz’s lips hovered over him uncertainly, her breath rushing against him raggedly, then she lowered her head to hesitantly engulf the small nub of flesh within the warmth of her mouth.

Max choked out her name as scalding heat streaked through him, setting off a powerful explosion of need, and the bonds of his restraint snapped in two.

Seizing hold of her head, he tipped it up abruptly, and his mouth came down forcefully on hers. He kissed her with a raw, unbridled furor, and Liz whimpered as the intensity of his desire was unleashed on her. It came pouring inside her with the force of a crashing wave. Seething and white-hot, it took her breath away, and her own rose up swiftly to meet it.

While their lips moved together with blazing relentlessness, Max’s hands grasped her hips and lifted her off her feet with a suddenness that startled her. Gasping, Liz mindlessly wrapped herself around him, locking her legs about his waist and hooking her arms over his shoulders, while his arms supported her slight weight.

The meager light spilling in underneath the door revealed the vague outline of a long buffet table a few feet to the right of him, and Max made for it unerringly. As he carried her the few steps necessary to get them there they continued to kiss. Deep, devouring kisses that seemed to imply that nothing would satiate this ravening hunger inside but that they draw the other’s very soul right into their own bodies.

Small sounds of arousal escaped from Liz’s throat, and she cradled the back of Max’s head in her hand as their tongues tangled with wild aggression. Completely swallowed up by the fire that had ignited between them, they lost all sense of time and place.

When they had reached the end of the table, Max sat her down on its smooth surface, then slid her forward to its edge so that her legs could remain where they were around his hips. Wedging himself tightly into the juncture of her thighs, he pressed their bodies together right where they ached the most.

Something seized deep inside of her, and Liz uttered a gasping cry, tightening her legs around him to return the relieving pressure. She felt a hollow emptiness inside that went bone-deep, and she knew instinctively that only Max could make it go away. The sudden keen stirring of her energy seemed to echo throughout the emptiness to set her senses tingling and amplify the impact of Max’s every caress. Lost in the pleasure it generated, she gave no thought to its reason for pulling together.

Her head fell back when Max’s lips left hers to follow the curve of her chin down to the delicate skin underneath, then on to attack the arch of her throat with thrilling fierceness. Treating the flesh there to a series of gentle nips with his teeth, followed immediately by a soothing lap of his tongue, he made his way down to the slight hollow where her pulse pounded. He lingered there for a brief moment to taste the precious beating of her life-force on his tongue, then continued down even further to deposit open-mouthed kisses onto the V of skin bared by the neck of her sweater.

Liz threaded her fingers through his hair to hold his head against her, and shocked herself with the wish that her sweater wasn’t in the way so he could take his kisses further still. Max felt the desire as clearly as if it were his own, and it gave him pause. Stopping what he was doing, he lifted his head to look at her, his chest heaving as if he’d been running. Now that they were no longer standing directly in front of the door, the faint puddle of light from the hallway dimly revealed the general placement of their features, but it was still impossible to read one another’s expressions.

Pulling in a steadying breath, Max glanced down at the buttons that closed the front of her sweater. The small rounded pearls glowed enticingly in the pale light, and his heart flipped over as he considered her unspoken wish. A faint niggling of caution struggled to be heard over the haze of lust that had taken over his brain, but he barely acknowledged it. The urge to fulfill the yearning that he now shared was too compelling to ignore. The hot coursing of her energy seemed to call out to him, drawing him in, and luring his hand up to lie at the neckline of her sweater.

Trembling, Liz leaned back and braced herself with one hand on the table at her side, and their eyes locked upon one another’s face. Her body seemed to go cold all over, then instantly began to burn as he suggestively traced the edge of the v-neck with the flat of his hand, half of it stroking fleecy angora, the other half satin skin. Following where its lines led, his palm began a slow downward glide over the row of buttons down her front.

Liz struggled to pull in air as his hand slid over the narrow pass between her breasts, and they throbbed with an aching heaviness as he bypassed them to continue on a dissecting path down her middle. Their hearts raced out of control at the slow tease of his hand, and Liz emitted a soft moan.

Her fingers tightened on his shoulder, and she whispered agitatedly, “Please, Max?”

Something sharp and primal leapt within him at the sound of her soft pleading, and he bent his head to give her a tongue-thrusting kiss as his fingers swiftly moved to undo her buttons. Liz’s sudden flare of excitement produced a powerful upsurge in her energy level that sent Max’s soaring in response, and they shivered as it heightened their pleasure. Once her top was open, he slid his arms inside to curl around her waist, and pulled her up tight against him.

Flesh met flesh with a burning intensity that had Liz murmuring wordlessly into his mouth with delirium. Her bra was the only thing that stood in the way of complete intimacy between their upper bodies, and she was beyond shocking herself when she yearned for it to be gone.

That indefinable something she’d felt heating up her insides on the dance floor began to glow with renewed vigor in the pit of her belly, coiling in on itself to form an ever tightening spiral of fire that had her hips instinctively moving against his. Gasping, Max’s arms constricted around her, and he couldn’t stop himself from giving an answering thrust.

The air around them crackled with electricity as their bodies thrummed with the charge of their energy. The strength of it left them both panting for breath, and Liz could feel the two forces straining toward each other, much like her energy reacted to Michael’s.

“What- what’s happening, Max?” she asked raggedly against his lips.

Before he could think to answer, the door behind them burst open, startling them apart to turn abruptly toward the sudden noise.

They shrank from the light pouring into the room, and it took a moment for them to return to reality and realize that it was Michael silhouetted in the doorway. He stood there with upraised hand, a startled look upon his face.

Suddenly, his expression turned thunderous. “What the devil is going on?!”

Chapter 34

Disoriented at the interruption, Liz came plummeting to earth with a thud when she was finally able to process what was happening, and she cringed with embarrassment at her state of undress in front of Michael. Her legs fell abruptly from Max’s hips, and she ducked behind him clutching the sides of her sweater together. Max darted a quick glance down at her and moved to shield her protectively with his body.

“Close the door, Michael,” he demanded tightly, still breathing heavily from their intimacies.

Michael stepped into the room, then shut the door forcefully behind him. He scowled at the utter darkness inside. Guess they hadn’t needed any light for what they were doing, he thought venomously. He felt like a complete idiot for worrying that something was wrong, and rushing around to find them, only to discover them doing this.

Lifting his palm toward the ceiling, he released a burst of energy to bring the overhead lights blazing to life, and they all squinted at the sudden brilliance. Once his eyes had adjusted to the light, Michael took in the scene before him, then quickly looked away. Acid began churning in his gut at the realization of how dangerously far things had been going between them, and he felt a sudden blind, unreasoning anger toward Max.

“Sorry to break up the party,” he said, sounding anything but.

Liz made a small sound of distress as the lights came on in the room, and she frantically fumbled with the buttons of her sweater. Max laid a hand on her arm in comfort, then turned his head to glare at Michael, the intensity of his emotions changing instantly from blazing desire to frustrated fury.

“I meant close the door on your way out. What are you doing here, Michael?” Max asked curtly.

“I’ve been sittin’ in that game room feelin’ like a ticking time-bomb for the past half hour,” he said accusingly. “When I finally figured out it was because of Liz’s energy, I got this ridiculous idea you might be in trouble,” he finished caustically.

“What kind of trouble did you think we could be in when you found us in a dark room with the door locked?” Max bit out, the reminder of their connection only serving to fan his anger. He was uncomfortable and indignant at the knowledge that it had somehow allowed Michael to tune in to what they were doing.

Michael wasn’t about to admit that in his headlong rush into the room, he hadn’t even noticed the fact that it had been dark. The strength of Liz’s surging energy had called his up to such an alarming level that it had had his adrenaline pumping while he’d searched the complex for them. Once he’d pinpointed the room he thought they were in, he’d only paused for a brief listen at the door for any sign of trouble before rushing in. The music blaring from the club had been too loud for him to hear anything, so he’d burst in prepared for the worst.

“Well, what was I supposed to think?” Michael asked harshly in defensiveness. “Her energy level was shooting through the roof. If you didn’t want your play-time interrupted, someone should’ve warned me sex had this effect on Liz.”

Max flushed an angry red. “Shut up, Michael. We were not having sex.”

“You may not have been doing the deed yet, Max, but from the looks of things you were headed there pretty fast” he charged sharply. “What would’ve happened if I hadn’t come in when I did?” he demanded.

Guiltily admitting that there was some truth to his words, Max had a sudden attack of conscience for letting things get so out of hand. Especially in such an inappropriate place. He’d completely lost sight of where they were. Heck, he would’ve been hard-pressed to tell anyone his own name a few minutes ago, much less the general vicinity of space he and Liz were occupying. But regardless of how right Michael was, to stand here and listen to him criticize them for lack of self-control was simply too much. This, coming from the most impulsive, unrestrained person Max knew.

“Whatever might have happened between me and Liz is really none of your business, Michael. Connection or not,” Max said raspingly, his tone hard. “I’m sorry if you were worried, but you’ve saved us from ourselves now, so why don’t you just go back to the game room. We’ll meet you there.”

Michael crossed his arms over his chest, his stance proclaiming clearly that he wasn’t moving. “Sorry, Maxwell, but I don’t think I can consider you ‘safe from yourselves’ until you’ve left this room with me,” he said with an expression of reproach.

Insulted and outraged by his entire attitude, Max’s hand curled into a fist at his side. With the heated emotions coursing through him, the impulse to do violence was strong, and he struggled to contain himself. He didn’t know who Michael thought he was, but it was very clear that some things needed to be set straight.

“Look, Michael,” he began warningly, his jaw tight.

“Would you two please just stop?” Liz interrupted, her voice shaky and pleading.

They both turned their attention sharply toward her at hearing the distress in her tone, but Michael immediately averted his eyes when he realized her sweater still wasn’t buttoned. He couldn’t really see anything behind Max except her elbows as she worked on fastening her top, but he wasn’t going to chance getting a glimpse of anything he shouldn’t. This whole situation made him feel deeply disturbed, and he honestly felt like punching Max’s lights out. Although, for the life of him he couldn’t figure out why it should matter to him what they did behind closed doors. It never had before. He had to assure himself for the second time in as many days that this was not a jealousy thing, but the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach was hard to argue against.

Liz and Max were still connected, presumably through his touch on her arm, and as Max shifted his focus to her, he realized that his wasn’t the only turmoil he was feeling. Her face was hidden behind the curtain of her hair as she bent her head toward the task of buttoning her top, but she was trembling so badly her fingers were fumbling ineffectually with the small pearl studs. There was an incredible amount of unspent energy seething within her, and Max could actually feel the heat of it radiating off her skin. His brows furrowed with concern. He didn’t know if she just hadn’t had time to deal with it in her hurry to make herself decent, or if she was so flustered she couldn’t get a handle on it. Either way, he was sure that the roiling violence of his anger was only adding to the turbulence inside her. He felt a stab of self-reproach for being so involved in his ridiculous male posturing with Michael that he’d failed to realize what was happening with her.

Tears of frustration blurred her sight as Liz struggled with her stupid buttons. She was beyond humiliated at being found in this state. By Michael of all people. Who, of course, couldn’t be at all tactful and leave them alone for a minute, but had to stir things up and make them worse by being all belligerent and reproving. It didn’t help to know that he was right, and she shared Max’s feeling of guilt for letting things get so out of control between them.

She chewed on her lip as raw energy simmered within her, setting her so on edge she felt like screaming. She’d attempted to reign it in, but she just couldn’t seem to find an end to it. The more she tried to pull in, the more there seemed to be of it. She knew part of the reason for that was because Max’s energy seemed to be stoking it somehow, as the upheaval of his emotions flowed in through their connection. She could also feel a slight tugging from Michael’s direction, and she feared she might never be able to call all this down if their energy was making it grow.

Max could feel her apprehension, and his head tilted down to see her face while his hands came up to cup the sides of her head, then they smoothed over the flow of her hair to her upper arms. Chafing them soothingly, he murmured huskily, “It’ll be okay, Liz. We just have to calm down, that’s all.” His eyes dropped down to the clumsy movements of her fingers, and he gently pushed her hands out of the way to take over the task of buttoning her sweater himself. “You should’ve said something sooner. I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention.”

With nothing to occupy themselves, her hands curled around the edge of the table on either side of her thighs and held on with a white-knuckled grip. Her body rocked back and forth restively as her energy churned disturbingly within her. She tried to do as Max said, to calm down and get the seething power dissolved, but she couldn’t block out her discomfort enough to concentrate. She felt as if she had a live electrical current running through her, one that was sending fine vibrations throughout her every extremity. Her body was just one enormous throbbing ache. Partly from unfulfilled desire, partly from the huge mass of unused energy, and the havoc it was creating was impossible to ignore.

Max was aware of the struggle she was having, and he tried to help by getting his own emotions under control. But that was really difficult to do when he ached with frustration and could still feel Michael’s annoying presence at his back. He knew he should just break his connection with Liz, but it seemed to be the strength of their emotions rather than physical contact that was keeping them connected, because he wasn’t touching anything more than her sweater.

Max frowned at the force of her shudders, and as soon as he’d finished fastening her buttons, he brought his hands up to gently cup her face. As he lifted it up toward his, the look of helpless distress he found there tore at his heart. He wanted to give her a soft kiss to soothe her, but his blood was still running so hot he was afraid a kiss between them now would be anything but soothing. He settled for lowering his forehead to hers, and he tenderly brushed the hollows of her cheeks with his thumbs.

“Just take a few deep breaths and try to relax,” he said quietly, the raspiness of his voice wrapping around her like velvet.

Taking his own advice, he pulled in a calming breath, and tried to keep his body from reacting to her continued nearness by staying focused on the difficulty she was having.

While Max continued his low and soothing murmurs to Liz, Michael grit his teeth behind them as he fought to keep his energy from answering to the call of hers. This was exactly how it had felt in the game room earlier, like his powers were trying to gear up for action. When it had first started happening he’d been completely bewildered. His energy had never pulled together without conscious thought like that before. It had put him on the alert, wondering if there was an enemy present that his powers were somehow reacting instinctively to. He’d been a little worried about Max and Liz then, but he’d gotten it from Isabel that they’d gone somewhere to be alone, and he’d trusted Max to be able to look out for himself. For at least 20 minutes he’d tried to act normal in front of the others while unobtrusively keeping watch, and battling constantly against the charging of his energy. It had been a low constant hum inside of him that had set his teeth on edge, and he’d had to push it down time and again. Then suddenly it had flared up full at the ready, instantly attaining a strength that had reminded him a lot of the day he and Liz had done the energy blast. As soon as that thought had crossed his mind he’d known he was reacting to Liz’s energy, and he’d instantly gone into panic mode, unable to imagine why she would be using her powers unless she was in trouble.

Of course, now he knew differently.

Disgustedly, he wondered if he was going to have to go through this every time she and Max made out now.

Liz released a slow breath of relief, having finally gotten the mass of energy dissolved inside her.

“Okay now?” Max asked, lovingly brushing back her hair.

Liz gave him an adoring look of gratitude and nodded. “Thank you, Max,” she said softly.

His lips tipped up slightly while he continued to stroke her hair. “You did all the work, Liz. I just had to stop making it harder for you,” he replied, making a rueful face.

Liz was silent for a moment. Now that everything had calmed, she was sad to note that she could no longer feel him inside. They’d been connected as often as not tonight, and she felt empty without his presence inside her.

“I miss you,” she whispered, a tiny crease between her brows.

Max knew immediately what she meant. He was feeling the loss as well. Suddenly needing to hold her, he enfolded her in his strong arms.

“Me too,” he rumbled softly in her ear. The warmth of her body against him threatened to raise his pulse again, but he curbed his body’s involuntary response. This embrace was to fill an emotional need, and the sweet solace it brought was satisfying in its own right.

Rubbing his cheek against the smooth silk of her hair, Max said, “I’m sorry I let things get so out of control, Liz.”

Laying her head on his shoulder, she gently stroked his back. “You weren’t the only one in the room, Max. I’m just as much to blame,” she said quietly. “Things did get pretty...intense. What was happening with our energy do you think?”

“Ahem!” Michael cleared his throat loudly, disgruntled that they’d become oblivious to his presence as they held each other lovingly and carried on a hushed conversation he was excluded from.

They stiffened, then glared at him over Max’s shoulder, dismayed that they’d forgotten he was here, and annoyed he was interrupting again.

Ignoring their looks of aggravation, he reminded them, “So we’re going to the game room now, right?”

Max and Liz exchanged a look of reluctance.

“Yes, Michael. We’re going to the game room now,” Max agreed without looking at him. To Liz, he said, “We can talk about it later.”

Nodding, she ran a hand over Max’s hair to smooth it into place, completely unwilling to stop touching him. It was going to be harder than ever now to go in there and pretend to be only friends.

“Are you sure this is still a good idea, Max? I mean, how much longer can we keep pretending like this?”

Max shook his head unhappily. “As long as we have to, I guess.”

Liz sighed, knowing that nothing had changed, and they still had little choice in the matter. Biting the inside of her lip, she nodded with lowered lashes, then lifted her eyes to his while her lips curved upward sadly.

Max forced himself to move back so she could slide off the table, and made quick work of the buttons on his shirt. When he was done, he slid an arm around her back, and they moved to join an impatient Michael.

Leaving the room just as they’d found it, the three of them headed for the game room. As they neared the end of the empty hallway, Max hugged Liz briefly to his side, a gesture that would have to serve as their last act of intimacy until they got home tonight. Her fingers curled around a handful of his shirt as she returned the hug. Reluctantly, their hands fell away from each other as they stepped out into the crowd.

Leaving the protective enclosure of the hall, the crush of people and the deafening music came as a slight shock to Max and Liz after being wrapped in an intimate fantasy world where only the two of them existed. Liz actually stumbled back a step as the din greeted her ears, and Max and Michael both threw up a hand instinctively to catch her.

Their eyes met in a hard stare over her head.

Michael’s look was one of accusation, and seemed to question Max’s honor after what he’d walked in on back there. Max’s eyes flashed with angry disbelief that Michael would act as if he had any right to challenge him at all. Looking from one to the other, Liz wasn’t sure whether she should try to pacify them and break this up, or walk away in disgust to let them do whatever their testosterone led them to do. But, although she thought it was ridiculous for them to raise their hackles over this small matter, she found it hard to blame Max for being angry. She didn’t much care for Michael’s attitude either.

After a tense, uncomfortable moment they both dropped their hands to their sides, then Michael turned with silent grimness to lead the way through the crowd. The sitting area had filled up since the last time they’d come through here, and people were standing shoulder-to-shoulder behind the long row of seats in preparation for the live band’s performance. Michael turned back to take hold of Liz’s arm so they wouldn’t get separated, and Liz caught Max’s hand in hers to tug him along with them. They wove their way through the mob, and as they drew closer to the game room the crowd grew sparser.

Just before they reached their destination Michael glanced down at Liz and stopped.

Speaking loudly to be heard over the noise, he leaned towards her and said, “You know, maybe you should,” he gestured vaguely, “go- do whatever it is girls do when they disappear into the bathroom. With make-up or whatever. You look like you just spent the last 30 minutes lettin’ some guy rip your clothes off,” he ended with a look of mild reproof.

Liz blushed fierily, and darted an embarrassed glance around at the people surrounding them to make sure no one had heard him. A twenty-something blond standing nearby met her eye and lifted his brow in curious amusement. Mortified, Liz lowered her gaze to the floor.

“Michael!” Max said sharply in reprimand.

Feeling as though everyone were staring, Liz wanted only to escape, and she laid a hand on Max’s arm to keep him from saying anything further.

“No, he’s probably right, Max,” she said, running a hand over her hair in self-consciousness. “I must be a mess. I’ll just- I’ll go get my purse and run to the ladies’ room.”

Max tore angry eyes from Michael’s face to nod down at Liz. He gave her hand a brief squeeze, then said, “We’ll go wait outside the restrooms then.”

She nodded, then hurried away.

He and Michael moved over to the alcove where the restrooms were located. The crowd was considerably thinner here, and as soon as they’d gotten completely out of the path of traffic, Max leveled Michael with a dark look.

“Don’t talk to her like that again, Michael. You have no right to judge, and I expect you to show Liz more respect than that,” he said, his voice low and hard.

“Oh, you mean like you were respecting her earlier?” Michael returned hotly. “We’re in a public place, Max. How respectful would it have been to turn Liz’s first time into nothing more than some hurried grope-fest in a back room with hundreds of people outside the door?”

Max looked around quickly to make sure they weren’t being overheard, then lowered his voice even more. “Things got a little out of control, Michael, but we never would’ve let them get that far.” His expression twisted as he shook his head. “And even if we had, we don’t have to explain ourselves to you. This has nothing to do with you.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I beg to differ, Maxwell. If I’m gonna have to take a little energy joy-ride every time the two of you decide to go at it, I’d say it has a lot to do with me,” Michael said, his lip curling sarcastically.

Max’s jaw clenched. “Well, then learn how to block it somehow. Or- go for a run. Take a cold shower, I don’t care. But lose the self-righteous attitude, and don’t embarrass Liz like that again.” He took a steadying breath. “This connection is hard for all of us to deal with, Michael. But I won’t have you making things even harder for Liz,” he said with a dark-eyed look of warning that let Michael know he was completely serious in this.

As Liz approached them after freshening her hair and make-up, she could tell from the low intensity of their conversation that they were still arguing, and it made her reluctant to join them. She just wanted to forget this had happened. The whole thing was embarrassing and disturbing, and just one more thing to add to the list of things she hated about this connection with Michael.

She just didn’t understand what was happening. This was the second time since last week that her and Max’s energy had been activated when they were making out. Although, what had taken place last week in her room had been nothing compared to the strength and intensity of what had been happening here. Now that she’d had time to reflect, she was unnerved by the power they had generated together. It reminded her too much of the time she and Michael had done the energy blast, the way her energy had kept surging higher and higher. Oddly enough, at the time it had been happening, she hadn’t been scared of it at all, but now it was extremely disquieting to have no idea what their power would have done if she and Max had gone any further. As embarrassing as it had been for Michael to come in on them like that, it had probably been a good thing he’d stopped them when he had, or there was no telling what might have happened.

Not that she could go so far as to be thankful to him for it.

When Liz had reached Max and Michael, the two of them stopped talking abruptly, and she looked at them both uncomfortably, aware that she’d been the subject of their argument. This connection with Michael seemed to be putting funny ideas in his head about her, and she didn’t like what it was doing to all of them. She couldn’t imagine what he must’ve been thinking when he’d sensed the gathering of her power, and she could feel empathetic with him on that point. But he was killing any sympathy she might have for him with his condemnation of them both.

“Ready?” Max asked, as his eyes swept over her with admiring approval.

Thankful for his silent reassurance, Liz gave him a shy smile and nodded. He placed a hand lightly at her back as they turned to enter the game room, and Michael followed close behind. Their friends gathered around them almost immediately, with varying degrees of relief evident on their faces.

“Where have you been?” Isabel asked, looking a little shaken. “We were about to come looking for you guys. It’s been almost 20 minutes since you left for the men’s room,” she said to Michael accusingly. “We were worried something had happened.”

Michael shrugged with forced nonchalance. “I thought I’d go check on Max and Liz so Tess would shut up about it,” he said, causing Tess to shoot him a glare.

Michael thought it was a good cover story since Tess honestly had plagued him and Isabel with her supposed worries ever since she’d realized Max and Liz hadn’t come to the game room with everyone else. ‘Did they think Max and Liz knew they were in the game room, did they think everything was alright, did they think Max had been wrong and the watcher really was here?’ Michael had already been on edge because of what was happening with Liz, and Tess’ incessant questions had driven him to the brink of insanity.

“I was worried, alright? So sue me,” Tess said huffily, her eyes flashing irately at Michael.

“We were fine,” Max interjected placatingly. “We just stayed to dance, that’s all.”

“Well, you’re a braver man than I am if you were out there dancing to this,” Alex said humorously, pointing vaguely toward the dance club. The song that was currently playing had a hard-driving hip-hop beat that demanded fast-paced dancing.

“Well, some guys aren’t scared of a little fast dance, Alex,” Isabel said teasingly, quickly recovering from her worry now that everyone was safely together. She was definitely going to have a little talk with Max and Michael, but pulling them aside right now would raise too many questions. “It’s too bad you’re so easily intimidated. You’re missing out on a lot of fun,” she goaded Alex lightly.

Alex narrowed his eyes at her playfully. “That sounded strangely like you were casting aspersions on my manhood.”

“If the shoe fits, then dance in it,” she grinned tauntingly.

“Oh, it’s on now, baby,” Alex said, grabbing her hand with determination, and pulling her towards the dance floor.

Liz smiled as she watched them go. It was good to see them acting so playful together. She wished Isabel could see what great boyfriend material Alex was. He seemed really good for her.

The smile was quickly wiped from her face at the sight of Tess approaching them hesitantly.

She looked up at Max uncertainly, then glanced at Liz and seemed to gather her courage. “I know you just got off the dance floor,” she told him, “but you’re my only hope if I want a fast-dance partner.” At this, she looked over at Kyle with a faint smile. The look he gave her in return could only be described as moody, and she frowned a little, then looked back at Max. “Would you- want to go back out? With me, I mean?”

“Oh,” Max lifted his brows in comprehension, then shifted uncomfortably. “Uh...” It took a herculean effort of will not to look to Liz for her approval, but Tess seemed to be waiting for just such an action as she divided her gaze between him and Liz. He really wasn’t comfortable fast dancing, and he definitely wasn’t comfortable with the idea of dancing with Tess. Especially not with Liz here, and not after what they’d just been doing. It felt like a betrayal to Liz. But he was afraid if he made excuses, it would only raise suspicions with Tess. Afterall, he’d supposedly just spent all this time dancing with his ‘good friend’ Liz.

“Yeah, o-okay. Sure,” he finally agreed.

As they turned to leave the game room, he sent Liz an apologetic look over his shoulder. She forced a slight smile of forgiveness, but inside she felt like raging. She was sick of this pretend game already, and it had only been a week. She wanted to be able to tell Tess in no uncertain terms that Max belonged to her, just as her own heart belonged to him. And she felt like shaking the other girl and telling her to open her eyes.

Liz glanced over at Kyle to find him staring darkly after Tess and Max, and decided it was time to move on to the matchmaking portion of the evening.

She was counting on Kyle to help her save the world once again. Only this time he would be saving her and Max as well.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:53:33 AM ]
posted on 26-Sep-2001 3:04:08 AM
*smile* Hey, mia. Thanks for the feedback!

I probably will keep aiming to end before 60 chapters. But don't worry, I think there will probably still be questions left to answer, and I'm planning to continue on with a sequel that will pick up right where this one leaves off. We will get the issues of the watcher and the connection cleared up before that happens though. And thanks for your vote of confidence! I appreciate that. *happy*

Oh, and your request for more Alex has been duly noted. I know I've neglected the poor guy shamefully, but I've been so focused on getting the two big mysteries cleared up that there just hasn't been a way to work him in that much. But I'll definitely make an effort to give him a little more 'screen' time. *happy*

Chapter 35

As they made their way to the dance floor, Max walked at Tess’ side, his hand politely at her back to guide her. He was really wishing they could just hurry and get this over with. He felt a little guilty for his attitude, afterall Tess was his friend. It shouldn’t be that big a deal to share a dance with a friend, but this just felt wrong. He wanted to be with Liz right now. They’d barely had time to recover from whatever it was that had been happening in that banquet hall. He should be with her, not off dancing with the one person that was a threat to their relationship.

The press of people grew more difficult to navigate as they drew near the waiting crowd at the railing, and Tess smiled up at him a bit coyly and slipped her hand into his, presumably so they wouldn’t lose each other. He offered her a weak smile in return, and she hugged his side closely as they pushed through the throng.

Max felt a wave of uneasiness at her actions. He was alarmed by the vibe he seemed to be picking up from her. Like a ‘let’s be more than friends’ kind of vibe. But he thought he must be mistaken. Tess had given up on the idea of a romantic relationship with him.

Hadn’t she?

Just as they reached the steps that led down to the dance floor, the song that was playing came to an end.

Feeling as though he’d been granted a reprieve, Max breathed a short-lived sigh of relief. But the feeling was completely dispelled with the DJ’s next announcement.

“Okay, boys and girls, looks like our band is just about ready, so this will be my last tune for awhile. Guys, grab your girls and make the most of it.”

A single male vocalist, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and the muted sound of cymbals keeping rhythm in the background, immediately began the lyrics to the song ‘Perfect Place’. People paired up and moved together to begin swaying to the music, and Max’s uneasiness returned stronger than ever as Tess tugged him down the steps to join them almost eagerly.

Tess was ecstatic at the turn of events. The situation had played right into her hands. Not only had she finally gotten Max all to herself, but now she was going to get to slow dance with him. And she was determined to do exactly as the DJ had said and make the most of it.

Weaving her way amongst the crowd of dancers, she found them a spot where the crush of the couples around them would necessitate that she and Max dance close together, then she turned to face him and circled his neck with her arms. Max eased his arms around her waist and unobtrusively attempted to put a little space between them, then woodenly set them into a slow side to side motion.

As they danced in silence, his eyes shifted around the room, only looking down at her occasionally, and he found himself comparing how very different it felt to have Tess in his arms than it did to hold Liz. The two girls were similar in height, but somehow they felt different in every way.

He and Liz fit together like two interlocking pieces of a puzzle, the contours of their bodies just seemed to flow together naturally. But with Tess he felt all at odd angles against her, and her curves seemed to hit him in awkward places. When he held Liz he never felt like he could get close enough to her. He wanted to be closer than their bodies would allow. Tess wasn’t dancing nearly as close to him as Liz had been earlier, but he still felt hemmed in and uncomfortable at the close confines. Mostly, holding Liz just felt like coming home to him. At times he found a passion that was hotter than the sun within her slender arms, but at others she offered him the most serene peace and contentment he could ever hope to find. Somehow, he felt more sure of his place in the world when he had Liz to hold to. But Tess- Tess just felt completely...alien. In every sense of the word. She made him think about things that called into question who he was, where he belonged, and even whether his life was his own.

Max was thankful the music they were dancing to wasn’t exactly dreamy and romantic or he probably would’ve felt even more awkward dancing with Tess than he did already. While it was a slow-tempo song, the gentle beat that drove it kept it from being too soft and mellow, and the lyrics seemed to be about a guy chiding a girl for her false notions of love. His voice was slightly smoky as he sang the words of the chorus dolefully:

There is no perfect place, baby
There is no perfect place
Forget what you have heard
Each and every single word
Those fairytales that you embrace
No, there ain’t no perfect place.

Someone crowded Max from behind, pushing him closer against Tess, and he darted a glance down at her and swallowed when she tightened her arms slightly around his neck and moved a tiny step closer herself.

Desperately, he launched into conversation to try and make things feel more normal between them.

“So, uh-“ he cleared his throat. “Have you been having a good time?”

She nodded. “Yeah, this was a really good idea. I think it was good for all of us to get out of Roswell for a little while.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. Deciding to use this situation to his advantage, he said, “You and Kyle seem like you’re having fun.” He watched carefully for her reaction. “Actually, I’ve been noticing that about you a lot lately. You two are getting pretty close, huh?”

Shruggingly, she replied, “Well, I don’t know if I’d call us close exactly, but living in the same house and all, we have gotten to know each other pretty well.” Even as the words were coming out of her mouth, Tess realized that Max was right. She and Kyle had grown rather close.

Sheriff Valenti worked a lot of night shifts, and lately, when he wasn’t working he was out with Mrs. DeLuca, so she and Kyle often had the house to themselves. They’d spent a lot of time together talking and laughing about everything and nothing, or doing their homework together in companionable silence. She was really comfortable with Kyle. It was almost as easy to talk to him as it was to Max. In some ways it was even easier, because she didn’t have to worry about accidentally letting something slip about their destiny that would put him on the defensive. And Kyle always listened to her patiently.

Feeling as though she’d done him an injustice, she said in amendment, “I like Kyle. He’s really been great since I moved in.”

“Well, I’m glad you’ve become friends,” Max said diplomatically. “Kyle has probably really needed someone to talk to about everything that’s been happening since he found out about us.” Encouraged with the way the conversation was going, he pushed for a little more. “But are you sure there isn’t something else going on between you, Tess? I mean- because, it kinda seemed like Kyle might have been a little...I don’t know, ticked off or something when you asked me to dance.”

Tess frowned as she remembered Kyle’s brooding look when she’d lightly intimated that she would never get him on the floor for a fast dance, and had asked Max to dance instead. Had he been jealous, she wondered. It wasn’t possible that Kyle had feelings for her and she’d been completely oblivious to it, was it? The thought sent something fluttering in her stomach that was a strange mix of intrigue and dread. She honestly hoped it wasn’t true, she told herself. There could never be anything more between them than friendship, and if Kyle was hoping for something more than that, she was afraid he was going to end up hurt, and that was the last thing in the world she wanted to happen. She wasn’t convinced he was hoping for more, though. Surely he would’ve given some clue if that was how he felt, and she couldn’t believe she would’ve missed something like that. No, there had to be some other explanation for that look in the game room.

“I don’t think he was ticked off, Max. He must’ve just been feeling...protective or something,” she said without conviction. Why Kyle might think he needed to protect her from Max she couldn’t guess. “We’re just- we’re friends, that’s all.”

Satisfied that he’d given her something to think about, Max shrugged and said, “Well, that’s just the way it seemed to me, but you’ve spent more time with him than I have. I guess you’d know.”

Frowning slightly, Tess nodded, and continued to ponder whether this were true or not while the song played on in the background.

There is no perfect place, baby
There is no perfect place
Forget what you’ve been told
Take a good, hard look at the hand you hold
Then put on your poker face
No, there ain’t no perfect place.

After several contemplative moments, she shook off her thoughts when she realized she was wasting this opportunity with Max, and tried to come up with something suggestive to say that wouldn’t send him running. But it was too late. The music had ended and the tinny sounding voice of the singer was plaintively singing the closing words of the song.

Tell me when
will you ever learn
Will you never learn
You drive yourself crazy

Tell me how
many times it takes
For you to learn...

The words struck an odd chord within her for some unnamed reason. And that feeling, along with her unconventional thoughts about Kyle, made for a very unsettled Tess who accompanied Max off the dance floor.

* ~~~~~~~~~~~ *~~~~~~~~~~~*

Liz studied Kyle as he sat in the booth across from her playing absently with the straw in his soda, and tried to figure out how to open a conversation about Tess.

After Max and Tess had left to dance she’d talked Kyle into coming with her to get something to drink, and they had retreated to the sports bar located at the far end of the game room.

Liz had practically had to secure Michael’s permission before he’d let her leave with Kyle. He was acting so weird tonight. And he was doing a really lousy job of holding up his end of the ‘show Max and Maria there’s no threat in this connection’ plan. Maria had been standing right there while he’d quizzed her about where she was going like some overprotective father on a rampage.

Not to mention the way the connection had brought him bursting in on her and Max.

Nope, no threat here, guys. Everything is c o m p l e t e l y normal.

Liz mentally rolled her eyes.

She and Kyle hadn’t spoken much since they’d entered the bar and sat down. There weren’t that many people inside, probably because most everyone was outside waiting for the band to begin its performance. The cozy atmosphere here was conducive to quiet conversation, if you could ignore the occasional outburst from random members of the mostly male patronage as they cheered on their favorite teams. There was a long bar situated along one side of the small establishment, and several television sets were set in the wall behind it, all broadcasting different sporting events. Booths such as the one she and Kyle were occupying took up the other half of the bar, arranged strategically around a big-screen t.v. It was extremely telling to Liz that Kyle hadn’t even glanced at the football game that was in progress there.

Though Kyle’s thoughts weren’t quite a million miles away, they were several hundred yards away, and completely focused on Tess. He’d heard a slow song start playing a few minutes after she and Max had left, so he knew they were out there slow-dancing together. He could almost imagine her glee that the situation had played out that way, and part of him was happy for her. The part that had seen her sadness and yearning at Senor Chow’s when Max had gone to dance with Liz. But another part of him hated the thought of them out there wrapped in each other’s arms. He was worried that Tess would try to take advantage of the opportunity, and if Evans rejected her or hurt her in any way, Kyle was afraid he might have to take his head off. No matter what Buddha might think.

On the other hand, he didn’t really like the thought of Evans welcoming any advances from her, either, he thought with a scowl.

Liz watched him as he frowned and jabbed at the ice cubes in his glass. “Are you okay, Kyle?” she asked with concern.

He looked up as if startled to find her there, then shook his head to clear it. “Yeah,” he answered dismissively. “I’m fine. Sorry. I was just thinking- about stuff.”

“Anything you want to talk about?” she inquired.

He looked at her consideringly for a long moment, curious to know just how things stood with His Royal Czechness.

“Are you and Evans really just friends?”

The question came completely out of left field, and Liz’s eyes widened slightly at its unexpectedness then immediately dropped to the table in front of her. Fiddling with the napkin that laid there, she replied stumblingly, “Y-yeah. We’re friends.”

Kyle noticed she hadn’t said they were only friends. “Well, how are things goin’ with that? You think it’s gonna work out?”

She laughed a little nervously and avoided answering by saying, “This is the ‘stuff’ you were thinking about?”

“Well no,” he admitted. “I just mean, I know you and about each other. So, the friends thing- is that just because he still thinks you and I--“ he faltered, then gestured vaguely and finished uncomfortably, “you know. Or... is it just that you decided friendship was all you could have between you?”

“Mostly the latter,” she answered truthfully. Trying to stick with the truth as closely as possible, she said, “Max and I both know that with everything that’s going on, and...and everyone that’s involved, all we can be is friends right now.”

“Right now,” he pounced on the words. “But you’re hoping for something more later?”

Cursing the slip, Liz replied a little irritably, “I don’t know, Kyle. We have no idea what’s gonna happen in the future. We’re mostly just taking it one day at a time.” She looked at him askance. “Why are you so interested in me and Max all of a sudden?”

He looked away and answered with feigned casualness, “I was just...curious about what was goin’ on between you two. And where Tess stood in all of it.”

Her heart lurched. “T-Tess? What do you mean?”

“I just...” he paused unsurely for a moment, then plunged ahead. “I hate seein’ her get hurt, Liz. You know? If she hasn’t got a snowball’s chance with Evans, I hate to see her keep banging her head up against a brick wall. But I don’t know how to stop her.”

Liz swallowed sickly, and had to force her words past the tightness of her throat. “Kyle, are you saying...Tess still wants to be with Max?”

Kyle’s brows drew together. “Well, yeah. She thinks that’s her- destiny, right?” he said as if the words left a sour taste in his mouth.

“Yes, but...Max thought she’d given up on all that. He thinks she’s happy being friends.”

His expression doubtful, he said, “I don’t think so, Liz. I mean, I don’t guess I’ve heard her say it in so many words, in fact, she’s kind of denied it, but I’ve seen the way she looks at him. And just from the things I’ve heard her say when we talk...I kinda get the idea she thinks she can’t even move forward with her life ‘cause she has to wait around until he finally realizes that his destiny is with her,” he finished on a bitter note, frustrated at Tess’ single-mindedness.

Liz looked at him wordlessly, trying very hard not to look as shaken by this as she felt. Kyle was confirming her very worst fears, and panic and dread had begun to churn within her at his words, threatening to make her sick.

Pushing her trepidation aside, she forced herself to ask the single question whose answer could mean everything to her and Max. Because Kyle had probably spent more time with Tess than any of them, and if anyone would know, he would.

“What if-“ her voice emerged as a hoarse croak, and she cleared her throat to get it to work properly, but her words still came out scratchy and low. “What if Max never does that, Kyle? What if something finally made Tess realize he’ll never be with her like that? Would you think she might...leave Roswell?”

Kyle blinked. “Leave? No, of course not,” he automatically denied. “This is her home. She wouldn’t pick up and leave just because Evans...” he trailed off uncertainly when he realized he couldn’t honestly say what Tess might do when it came to Max. She seemed pretty fixated on all that destiny stuff. But the possibility that she might actually leave town if all that didn’t work out had never occurred to him, and he wondered what had made Liz think it was possible.

He fixed his gaze on her warily and said, “Why’d you ask that, Liz? Has she said somethin’ to you?”

“Tess?” Her eyes shifted away as she shook her head. “No, we- um, we’ve never talked about it.”

“Well then why would you think she might leave?” he asked, growing agitated at the prospect. “She finally has a real home here in Roswell, with a chance for a semi-normal life. And she has people here who care about her. She wouldn’t just- take off, and leave all that behind just because things with Captain Galaxy didn’t go the way she planned. She’s got a lot going here. She has to see that.”

The idea of Tess leaving really disturbed him. The past few months she’d become a fixture in his life, and he’d grown used to having her around. He couldn’t imagine how lonely and empty the house would seem without her feminine presence and the sound of her laughter to fill it. Sure, they did have some pretty frou-frou lookin’ stuff sitting around now that served no genuine purpose, but they also had home-cooked meals and clean socks where you could find them. He hadn’t been that crazy about her moving in at first, but now he liked the fact that his home was hers. This was where she belonged.

Liz felt hope leap within her breast at Kyle’s heated reaction to Tess’ leaving. The way he was acting, it shouldn’t be difficult at all to persuade him to help them keep Tess in Roswell. Now if only Tess could feel this strongly about leaving Kyle behind, this could be the first step to keeping her here.

“You really care about Tess a lot.” It was a gentle statement rather than a question, but Kyle answered anyway.

“Yeah, I do. She’s- like family.”

Liz was hoping he meant more like kissing cousin-type family rather than a platonic sibling kind of family.

“I’ve seen the way you two act with each other. You’re really good for her, Kyle. She’s different when she’s with you. Even Max has noticed it,” she told him.

His gaze sharpened with interest. “Yeah? What’d he say?”

She shrugged a shoulder. “Just that he’s never seen Tess the way she is with you. She seems...happy, you know? Carefree. I think he wonders if maybe there’s something going on between you.”

A satisfied little smile curved Kyle’s lips. What he wouldn’t give to be able to show Max what it felt like to be the reject while he walked away with the girl. The smile slid from his face. Of course, the fact that Max wasn’t in love with Tess would suck most of the satisfaction out of it. He gave an inward shake of his head. That wasn’t what this was about, anyway. This was Tess they were talking about here.

It made Kyle feel warm inside to think that she might be happier when she was with him than at any other time, but the likelihood of her choosing him over Max and the whole alien destiny thing was pretty slim. Not that that was even what he wanted from her. He liked Tess. A lot. But there was no way he was going to let himself fall into the trap of pining for another girl who only had eyes for Max Evans. He’d learned his lesson with Liz, and he refused to put himself through that again.

Even if it was a distinct possibility that he was happier in Tess’ company than at any other time, too.

He sighed. “No, there’s nothin’ going on. We’re just friends.”

Liz looked at him searchingly, and decided to take a chance that what she was hoping for was really true. Softly, she asked, “But you kinda wish maybe it was something more?”

He didn’t quite meet her eyes as he replied, “Why would you think that? You get ‘changed’, and suddenly you think you’ve got some kind of psychic alien thing goin’ on?”

The corner of her lip tilted up. “No, I don’t think I’ve got some kind of psychic alien thing going on. I told you, Kyle, I’ve seen the way you act together. And... you just seemed kinda- bummed that she and Max went to dance,” a sentiment she could totally understand and sympathize with, she added silently. “And just now, you got pretty upset about the thought of her leaving.” She looked at him gaugingly and shook her head a little as she concluded, “I just figured...all that’s gotta add up to more than friendship.”

Kyle shifted in his seat. “Yeah, well, you’re wrong. So we look happy when we’re together. Big deal. I had a German Shepherd once that seemed to enjoy my company too, but that didn’t mean I wanted to date it. And- I was not bummed she went to dance with Max, “ he said defensively. “She can dance the night away with him for all I care. I’m just afraid she’s gonna get her hopes trampled on again, that’s all. I was showin’ a little friendly concern, alright?”

He seemed to be protesting just a little too much, Liz thought, and she wasn’t sure she was buying a word of it.

“And the part about being upset that she might leave?” she prompted.

Sensing that she wasn’t believing him, he narrowed his eyes at her. “Okay, fine. That part’s true. But that doesn’t mean I want her for a girlfriend or anything. It’s just... she can’t leave Roswell, Liz. I mean, where would she even go? She has enemies out there. The watcher, for one. She takes off by herself, and she’s an easy mark. We can’t let that happen,” he said emphatically. The idea of Tess being captured by the enemy terrified him. That had already happened twice in the past couple of months, even with the benefit of others around to protect her. He hated to imagine what could happen if she went out on her own. She could simply disappear and they would never know what became of her. He looked at Liz appealingly. “I know you probably have less of a reason than any of us to want her to hang around, Liz, but you have to see how dangerous it would be out there for her.”

“No, yeah, I totally agree,” Liz hurried to assure him, bemused at the ironic turn this conversation had taken. Kyle almost seemed to be pleading with her to help him keep Tess from leaving town. “We should definitely do what we can to get her to stay,” she agreed. “Got any ideas about what we can do?”

They had only begun to come up with some options when the object of their discussion entered the bar with Max and Isabel.

As they approached the table where she and Kyle were sitting, Liz saw Tess scrutinizing them keenly, her eyes lingering on Kyle as though she were searching for something.

“Hey, the band’s starting. Are you guys coming to watch?” Isabel asked them.

Liz and Kyle got up and paid for their drinks, then they all left the bar together. As they made their way through the game room, Liz walked close at Max’s side, needing the reassurance that only his steady presence could provide. As if he’d heard and understood her need, Max cupped a hand gently under her elbow and stayed close.

Though they’d added someone else to their ranks tonight who would help them try to keep Tess in Roswell, Liz couldn’t help but worry that it wouldn’t be enough if it was true that Tess still wanted Max.

This past week with him had reminded Liz of the happiness that could only be found in Max, and selfishly, she didn’t want to give that up. It had killed her spirit to have to do it before. She was afraid she would only ever be a hollow shell of herself if she didn’t have him beside her to make her whole.

But if they couldn’t do something about this whole end of the world mess soon, she feared they would never be able to be together.

Chapter 36

Alex took a bite of his strawberry shortcake and looked around warily at the mostly silent table. After the band’s performance had ended, the group had decided to come to the restaurant for dessert before heading back to Roswell, but conversation between them had been sporadic at best.

Once again, Alex was being made to feel as if he’d been left out of the loop somewhere along the line. Everyone had seemed subdued ever since the concert, or maybe even before that, and he wondered what was going on. An undercurrent of tension could distinctly be felt running amongst all of them as everyone kept stealing furtive glances at one another.

Isabel’s gaze kept roaming around the table in a knowing, but quizzical way that seemed to suggest that she was somewhat as lost as Alex was.

Tess was paying particularly close attention to Kyle while distractedly keeping an eye on Max and Liz. And when she wasn’t looking, Kyle returned her stares.

Liz and Max often seemed to be communicating in that silent way they’d always had, and quietly observed everyone in the group, frequently sending dark looks Michael’s way.

Michael glowered back at Max and Liz, and shot a guilty look at Maria every so often.

Liz kept casting a worried eye upon Maria, and Maria, in turn, was watching Michael and Liz as if she were going to be tested later on every gesture they made.

It was like watching a scene from some cheesy whodunit farce. Which he felt completely removed from, because Alex didn’t even know what it was that had been done, much less who done it.

But it was Maria’s utter silence that had initially clued him in. He’d hardly heard her say a word since he and Isabel had come off the dance floor before the concert, and if she was this quiet, something must really be wrong. He knew about the whole Michael/Liz connection thing, but things between everyone hadn’t seemed this tense and strained earlier at Senor Chow’s, and Alex could only conclude that something had happened after they’d gotten to the club. The question was, what?

He really hated feeling like the only one who hadn’t been let in on the secret. It took him back to the painfully confusing days before he’d been allowed to become a member of the exclusive I-Know-an-Alien club.

Forcing a light tone, he asked, “Why is everybody so gloomy? I didn’t think the band was that bad.”

No one said anything for a moment, then Liz spoke for all of them saying, “It’s just getting kinda late, Alex. I guess we’re all a little tired.”

“So...there’s no plot to take over the earth underfoot that I should be made aware of?” he asked only half-jokingly, feeling sure that something was up.

Liz just gave him a pained smile and shook her head. Determined to divert him from this line of conversation, she quickly said, “Did you really think the band was bad? I thought they were alright. I mean, clearly they weren’t The Whits,” at this Alex graciously inclined his head, “but they sounded decent enough.”

Kyle snorted. “Yeah, especially that rousing little number at the end. Could anyone even tell what song that was supposed to be?” he asked with quizzical derision.

“‘Please Forgive Me’,” Liz and Michael answered in unison.

Startled, their eyes met across the table for a brief moment before falling away in chagrin, and Michael took a hasty sip of his water while Liz carefully refolded the napkin in her lap.

Kyle lifted a brow at their chimed reply, and after an awkward pause he said, “Yeah? I don’t think I know that one. Who sings it?”

There was a moment of silence as Michael and Liz each paused to allow the other to answer, and when it appeared neither was going to, they again replied simultaneously, “David Gray.”

Liz flushed in consternation, and Michael closed his eyes and grit his teeth, as a few uneasy laughs sounded around the table.

Unamused, Maria stiffened at Michael’s side. She’d been looking for evidence of their connection and its effects all night. Add this to Michael’s extreme edginess while Max and Liz had been absent from the group earlier, and the grilling he’d subjected Liz to before she’d left with Kyle, and Maria couldn’t find anything funny in this little ‘coincidence’.

Max, too, was finding it hard to see any humor in the situation, as anything that even alluded to their connection was like an irritant that rubbed against him chafingly.

Trying to ease the tension between the two silent couples at the center of the table, Alex said lightly, “You know, you set that to music, and maybe you two can take that duet on the road.”

Michael didn’t acknowledge the comment, and Liz just forced a small smile.

Tess looked between Michael and Liz speculatively and threw a sly look towards Max, sensing an opportunity to play this connection thing for all it was worth. “I wouldn’t have thought you two would have the same taste in music,” she observed with a look of innocence. “David Gray’s not really your style, is he, Michael? I thought you were into heavy metal.”

Wishing he’d never even opened his mouth in the first place, Michael mumbled uncomfortably, “Yeah, uh... I kinda just started listenin’ to his stuff lately.”

Dismayed, Liz just looked at him. She loved David Gray. She had every one of his CDs at home and listened to him all the time. It was really weird that Michael had started listening to him, too when his music was so diverse from what Michael usually listened to. But what was even weirder was that she had recently started listening to a lot of Linkin Park’s music and found herself absolutely loving it, even though their thrashing sound was a huge departure from what she usually liked. She didn’t think she’d need three guesses to figure out whose musical taste that was a reflection of, and it disturbed and upset her to know that now they were unknowingly picking up each other’s habits and likes through this connection.

The significance of Michael’s confession wasn’t lost on Max and Maria, who were both aware of Michael and Liz’s musical preferences. It was a pretty odd coincidence that Michael was suddenly listening to one of Liz’s favorite singers. Especially when he was an avid heavy-metal fan, and David Gray was anything but. It wasn’t that difficult to do the math.

And the sum of two parts equaled connection.

Max struggled to keep his expression neutral as he wondered resentfully for the thousandth time what this thing was that connected them and why it was so strong as to have this kind of effect on them. Maria’s expression wasn’t neutral at all, as she looked back and forth between Michael and Liz, her face set. She was appalled to see just how much of an influence this thing was exerting over them. It really was almost like they were sharing a brain, she thought with caustic anguish.

Conversation flowed in fits and starts after that without any input from the four of them. Liz was afraid to open her mouth again, for fear of what new revelation she might utter. She was praying that everyone would just hurry and finish eating so they could leave. She was exhausted and she just wanted to get to Max’s house. Of course, even then her night wouldn’t be over. She still had dreamwalking experiments to get through with Isabel.

When everyone had finished, and the bill had been taken care of, they all left the restaurant together. As they entered the small courtyard outside the restaurant’s entrance, Michael caught hold of Liz’s arm and pulled her aside. Maria faltered a step as she witnessed his action, but continued on with the rest of the group, casting a dark look over her shoulder at them.

Liz watched them go, her eyes expressing apology to Maria, then looked up at Michael with confused displeasure. “What is it, Michael? I thought we agreed no private conversations in front of Max and Maria.”

Ignoring her comment, Michael just looked at her in uncertainty for a moment. He knew he was going to tick her off by saying this, he could almost predict what she would say- it wasn’t any of his business, he had no right yada, yada, yada. But while he knew that stuff was true, he couldn’t seem to help it. He didn’t like the idea of her going home with Max, and he had to say something. Firming his resolve, he said, “Look, you can’t spend the night at Max’s tonight, Liz.”

“Excuse me?” she asked in astonishment, giving him a disbelieving look.

“I said, you can’t spend the night at Max and Isabel’s,” he repeated more forcefully.

Her eyes flashed. “Yeah, I heard what you said. What I’m having a really hard time understanding is why you would possibly think you have any right to tell me that I can’t do something.”

Not the least apologetic, he told her, “Well, whether I have a right or not, Liz, I’m tellin’ you it is not a good idea for you to spend the night with Max. Especially not after what happened here tonight. Surely you can see that.”

“What I ‘see’ is that you seem to be under the mistaken impression that you’re my dad or something,” she muttered angrily. “And I told you before, Michael, I am not spending the night with Max. I’m spending the night with–“

“Isabel,” he finished for her shortly. “Yeah, fine. Whatever. But you can’t tell me that at no time tonight are you planning to go to his room, Liz,” he said with dark skepticism.

“Whether I do or not, it’s none of your business, Michael!” she exclaimed, her features drawn in angry exasperation. “What is wrong with you lately? You’ve completely gone off the deep end. Why have you suddenly made it your personal mission to like, keep tabs on me and monitor my actions with Max?”

Her frustrated ire quickly gave rise to his own. “You know why!” he quietly exploded. “Because this stupid connection has things so twisted up inside me I have no clue anymore what I’m feeling, or even who we’re supposed to be!”

Max and Maria walked up to them at that precise moment.

Max had failed to realize right away that Liz wasn’t with them because Isabel had been talking to him as they’d left the building. When he’d noticed Liz’s absence and asked about it, Maria had told him where she was and had declared that she was going back in with him.

She was wishing she hadn’t now, though. What had Michael meant by that last statement, Maria wondered sickly. He thought he had some kind of feelings for Liz? Or he thought he was supposed to?

Either way she interpreted it, it left Maria with a tight feeling in her chest that seemed to be constricting her breathing.

“Max!” Liz exclaimed guiltily, the grim expressions on his and Maria’s faces making her feel as if she’d been caught doing something wrong.

Max lifted a hand to her arm in soothing support, then shifted his gaze to Michael and asked balefully, “What’s the problem?”

Michael’s emotions were already turbulent and confused, and Max’s animosity, not to mention the way he’d been so quick to reassure Liz, but immediately turn on him in censure, quickly provoked Michael to temper, and he burst out stormily, “The problem is that you two have no business spendin’ the night together at your house when you can’t even keep your clothes on when you’re in a public place. And I was tellin’ Liz she shouldn’t go.”

No one noticed Maria’s eyes widen in shock and hurt, and she looked at Liz as if she didn’t even know her. Exactly how many secrets was her ‘best friend’ keeping from her?

“You have got to be kiddin’ me,” Max said blackly, incensed that Michael was continuing in his condemnation of them for the incident in the banquet hall when he’d already warned him to change his attitude about it. And he couldn’t believe Michael’s nerve in trying to interfere in things between him and Liz. “Where do you get off telling Liz what she should or shouldn’t do, Michael? This connection does not give you any rights over her, you got that?”

Michael’s eyes narrowed. “We have no idea what it is that connects us so strongly, Maxwell. Whatever it is, maybe it gives me more rights over her than you think,” he said antagonistically.

The intimation that their connection tied them together more strongly than his own connection to Liz hit him right where he was the most vulnerable, and Max’s jaw tightened in fury. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he snarled.

“Stop it! Both of you,” Liz said fiercely, stepping in between them. “This is over. Michael, just go,” she gritted out. “Go to the car with Maria and we’ll be out in a minute.”

She glanced around Max to implore Maria for help, but the other girl wasn’t there. Liz’s eyes darted around in alarm. “Where’s Maria?” As Max and Michael jerked around to look at the spot where she’d been standing only a minute ago, Liz’s eyes widened in sudden comprehension, and she looked around frantically to try and catch sight of Maria.

“She didn’t know about me and Max, “ Liz said tightly. This was not the way Maria should’ve found out about that. And it was the absolute worst time for it to happen, coming right on top of the secret she and Michael had revealed only this morning. “And that thing you said...about whatever connects us-“ furious tears filled her eyes. “How could you say that in front of her? You know how flipped out she is about it right now,” she said in throbbing accusation to Michael.

Shaken by fear for Maria’s safety and filled with self-reproach, Michael said agitatedly, “We have to find her! She shouldn’t be wandering around by herself, we can’t be sure it’s safe.”

Forcing calm into his voice, Max said reasonably, “She probably just went outside with the others.”

Agreeing that was the most likely place for her to go, the three of them hurried toward the exit, scanning the crowd for Maria’s bright head along the way. When they got to the parking lot, Isabel hurried up to them.

“What happened?”

Instead of answering, Michael asked roughly, “Did Maria come out here?” He looked toward the spot where they’d parked the Jetta and got his answer before Isabel could respond.

“Yeah, “ she answered, concern darkening her face. “She came storming out a minute ago and got in the car without saying a word. Alex managed to get in the car with her before she left, though, so she isn’t alone.”

Angry with himself for screwing things up so bad, Michael said harshly, “Well, let’s get going then. Maybe we can catch up to them. They shouldn’t be out on the road alone.”

Everyone rushed towards their vehicles, and Max started calling out instructions. “Kyle, you go first, since your car is faster, and we’ll try and keep up. If you lose us and haven’t caught up with them after ten miles, wait for us. There’s no point in all of us being separated. Liz, do you have your cell phone with you?” Liz nodded quickly, and began digging through her purse. When she’d found it, he directed her to give it to Kyle. “Isabel’s phone is in the jeep. If you catch up to them, or if anything happens, call, okay?” he told Kyle as Liz hurried over to hand off her phone.

“Be careful,” she called as everyone climbed into their respective cars.

In their hurry to leave, no one noticed the nondescript gray car that pulled out of the parking lot behind them a few moments after they’d gone.

And it followed them at a safe distance all the way back to Roswell.

Edited by - Destinee on 10/02/2001 02:40:15

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:55:20 AM ]
posted on 2-Oct-2001 4:07:43 AM
Chapter 37

The jeep and mustang pulled up in front of the DeLuca house and sat quietly idling on the street. Inside the jeep, the only thing to be heard was the sound of Liz’s hushed conversation on Isabel’s phone. The rest of the jeep’s occupants were silent, as they tried to deal with the sudden deflation of their adrenaline-fed emotions.

Though it was a profound relief to see the Jetta parked safely in the driveway, it was also a bit anticlimactic after racing all the way here at 80 mph, terrified at every curve that they would come up on the Jetta at the side of the road and find that Alex and Maria had been dragged away by some unknown enemy.

The flood of relief and anger Michael felt were dizzying. He was extremely glad that Maria was okay, he never would’ve forgiven himself if anything had happened to her, but he also wanted to throttle her for scaring them the way she had. They’d tried to call her repeatedly on her cell phone on the way here and she hadn’t answered. Whether she’d shut off her phone, or was simply ignoring them was anyone’s guess. Only after they’d reached Roswell had Alex called to let them know they’d made it safely, and that Maria had just dropped him off at home. He and Liz had been talking for several minutes now, and judging from her end of the conversation, Maria hadn’t told him anything, and he was demanding to know what was going on. Liz kept telling him that this connection stuff must’ve finally just gotten to Maria, but apparently he wasn’t accepting that.

“Look, I have to go now, Alex. We’re using up Isabel’s minutes, and we’re at Maria’s house now. I’ll just talk to you tomorrow, okay?” Liz said, gently drawing the conversation to a close

They said their goodbyes, and after she’d hung up, Liz looked at Max bleakly.

“What did he say? How’s Maria?” Michael prompted impatiently.

Liz shook her head dejectedly. “She wouldn’t talk to him. He said she was...crying- a little, and all she would tell him-“ she faltered as her throat grew tight, and Max reached over to wrap his hand around hers, his brows pulled down in sympathetic concern. She looked over at him, pain and regret twisting her features. “All she would tell him was that...he was the only- the only real friend she had, and...she didn’t even know me or Michael anymore,” she choked out softly.

Max squeezed her hand gently, and she clung to it, needing the comfort it gave, as she fought against the emotions clogging her throat. She couldn’t believe what things had come to. She’d never thought the day would come when Maria wouldn’t even consider her a friend. Of course, she knew intellectually that Maria had only been speaking out of pain and anger, but it didn’t make it feel any less devastating.

Isabel looked out her window at Maria’s house and asked uncertainly, “Well, do you think someone should go in and try to talk to her now? Make sure she’s okay?”

“I’ll go,” Michael stated decisively. He wasn’t all that eager to face Maria, he had no idea what to say to her, but he knew this mess was his fault, and he had to do something to try and make it better.

Liz whipped her head around to look at him resentfully. She was heartsick and distressed about this whole situation, and Michael made a convenient target for her frustrations as she was furious at him for it. “Don’t you think you’ve said enough tonight?” she asked, her tone harsh and accusatory. “If you go in there what are you gonna say? ‘I’m sorry I’ve been acting like such a thoughtless lunatic, but the connection made me do it’?”

His jaw clenching at the sudden attack, Michael struck back with angry sarcasm. “How ‘bout if I just say, ‘I’m sorry your best friend keeps lying to you. I guess she’s not really the best friend, is she?’”

“Oh, like you’ve been completely on the up and up,” she returned acidly.

“C’mon, you guys. Stop,” Isabel implored, a little wide-eyed. She’d never heard Liz speak with such rancor before. “We need to think about what’s best for Maria right now.”

“Isabel’s right,” Max agreed gruffly. He was a little disturbed by Liz’s uncharacteristic outburst as well, and he chafed her hand soothingly. “We’re all...really upset about this, but we just need to try and calm down and think about what Maria needs.”

Liz subsided guiltily, knowing they were right. She knew it wasn’t fair to place all the blame for this on Michael’s shoulders. She bore as much responsibility for this mess as he did. But that wasn’t even important right now. What mattered was Maria and what she was going through at this moment. She must be feeling so hurt and betrayed, Liz thought, her stomach twisting with guilt.

“What she needs is for me to stop lying to her,” she confessed with dark remorse. Turning to look at Michael again, she added in a voice that was grudgingly conciliatory, “And she needs for Michael to tell her how much she means to him.”

Michael looked at Liz mutely, his expression implacable for a long moment. Finally, the corner of his lip tightened in concession and he asked gruffly, “So who goes first?”

Liz turned to look at the exterior of Maria’s house, softly bathed in the golden light from the front porch light, and swallowed. Shaking her head sadly, she said, “I’m not even sure she’d listen to either one of us right now.”

“Well, we have to at least try,” Michael said vehemently. Then less certainly, “Don’t we?”

He’d be the first to admit he was no good at dealing with this kind of stuff. He wanted to charge in there and demand that Maria listen to him while he told her... well, something that would make her feel better. But he could see how forceful insistence might not be the best way to go.

“You go, Liz,” Max softly urged. “Somehow I think she’d have more of a problem slamming the door in your face than she would in Michael’s,” he said somewhat dryly.

Michael snorted. “Yeah, that’s probably true.”

“Yeah, well, don’t be too sure,” Liz said apprehensively, as she steeled herself for the confrontation ahead, and climbed out of the car.

A few seconds later Max began to climb from the jeep as well, saying, “I’m just gonna go tell Kyle to go ahead.”

Michael and Isabel watched as Liz approached the front door, and after a moment, Amy answered her knock.

“It’s late,” Isabel exclaimed with mild surprise. “What’s her mom still doing up?”

Shrugging with a slight shake of his head, Michael replied, “She was probably out with the sheriff or something.”

Liz stood talking to Maria’s mom in the doorway for several minutes, and when Max slid back into the driver’s seat, he grimly concluded, “She’s not gonna talk to her.”

It appeared he was right, as Liz turned away without gaining entrance to the house, and slowly returned to the jeep, her expression slightly stricken. She entered the car quietly, then sat without speaking for a moment. An aching sense of loss was thick in her throat and dread sat heavily in the pit of her stomach. The fear she’d felt this morning over losing Maria’s friendship over all of this had just edged a little bit closer to reality.

“She won’t talk to me,” she stated the obvious with quiet despair. “To either of us,” she glanced back in Michael’s direction to include him in the edict. “Her mom said she told her that if we called or came by, she didn’t want to talk to us.” She made a bitter huffing sound. “And of course, her mom is completely in the dark. She just kept asking me what was going on.”

She deliberately left out the part about how Mrs. DeLuca had questioned if something was going on between her and Michael. She’d said she couldn’t believe that that might be the case, but what else was she to think when her daughter extended her angry silence to both of them like this?

“What did you tell her?” Isabel asked.

“Just that there had been a misunderstanding. I don’t know if she believed me, though. Maria... she’s never shut me out like this before. Not- not ever,” Liz said desolately.

Reaching for her hand again, Max said consolingly, “She’s just upset right now, Liz. She’s been hit with a lot of stuff since this morning, you know? You just have to give her a little time. She’ll come around.”

Liz bit her lip and nodded, hoping he was right.

Everyone was silent on the way home, each lost in his own thoughts about the latest turmoil that was stirring their small group.

Michael couldn’t believe how royally screwed up things had gotten. It had only been last week that he, Liz, and Isabel had been vowing to themselves to make things better when Max got back safely from New York. Instead, things had just continued to slide steadily downhill.

He was calling himself all kinds of stupid for saying what he had back there at that club. It was a wonder Max hadn’t punched him right in the face for suggesting that he could possibly have more of a claim on Liz than Max did. He must’ve gone temporarily insane. Liz hadn’t been wrong in calling him a thoughtless lunatic. That was exactly how he’d been behaving tonight. She had asked him to help her prove to Maria and Max that there was no threat to their relationships from this connection, and he’d done exactly the opposite.

That he could have completely forgotten Maria’s presence and blurted out the truth about Max and Liz, and worse, had intimated that he possibly had some kind of feelings for Liz, was really just inexcusable. Guilt and regret were churning in him like acid, and he cringed to imagine how Maria must have felt when she’d heard him say all that.

It was true that where Liz was concerned, his feelings were a jumbled mass of confusion. He’d never thought anyone would ever understand him the way Maria did, and now that Liz could actually see inside him the way she did, it kinda blurred the lines somewhat. And up till now, no one had ever been able to arouse his protective instincts as quickly and thoroughly as Maria, but suddenly, he was feeling fiercely protective of Liz, as well.

But his worry and fright for Maria on the way back from Dexter had made him realize that no matter what he might be feeling for Liz, he still cared about Maria as much as he always had. It was her he wanted to be with. She kindled emotions in him like no one else. From fiery passion and excitement to caring concern and tenderness, she always made him feel intensely alive. When he was with Maria he had a little less cynical view of the world, and of all the people in it. Maybe because he knew that she’d been through a lot too in her young life, but she hadn’t let it suppress her naturally cheerful, optimistic nature. He really admired that in her.

But the fact that she made him feel so much was exactly the reason he shouldn’t be with her. She made him too soft and weak when he needed to be strong and clearheaded. That, and the fact that he was afraid he would only ever bring her heartache and sorrow if they were together. He thought that the situation they were in now was a perfect example of that. It tore him up inside to know that he was bringing Maria pain. He just had to make this right somehow.

When Max pulled up in front of Michael’s apartment, Michael hesitated before getting out, feeling extremely conflicted. He knew he shouldn’t say anything else about it, but he just couldn’t let go of his concern over Liz spending the night with Max. It was driving him crazy.

“Listen, uh- Liz... you know, you and Is could use my place tonight to do your dreamwalking thing. I could always find somewhere else to stay,” he offered hesitantly.

Gritting his teeth, Max said without turning around, “Michael, don’t start, okay? Just drop it. Liz is staying at my house. Period.”

Michael stared at the back of Max’s head, a muscle working in his jaw, then turned to find Liz looking at him.

For the first time tonight, Liz could sense the extreme turmoil that was going on inside of him. Maybe because she was in such a state of turmoil herself, it was easier to recognize it in him. Feeling a need to reassure him, she said softly, “We aren’t gonna do anything stupid, Michael. His parents will be right there. There’s nothing to worry about, okay?”

The same muscle that had just been working in Michael’s jaw now bunched in Max’s as he turned to look at Liz. Why did she think she had to explain herself to him? This was none of Michael’s concern, he thought resentfully.

After sharing a long silent look with Liz, Michael finally nodded his head. “See you tomorrow,” he said to the car in general as he climbed out and made his way to his apartment.

Turning to catch Max’s stare, Liz bit her lip, knowing immediately what he was thinking. Placatingly, she said, “Look, I know he’s being a pain, but...I think- he’s just trying to look out for us, you know?”

“Yeah, well...maybe he should remember we’re capable of looking out for ourselves,” Max replied darkly, pulling out on the street to head for home.

When they’d reached their house, Isabel fished Liz’s overnight bag out of the back of the jeep, and Max took it from her as the three of them made their way to the front door.

A block away, a dark gray sedan pulled to a stop at the corner without making the turn onto the Evans’ street, lurking there like an unnoticed shadow as the three teens crossed the lawn towards their destination.

Obliviously, they entered the house, and unexpectedly found Max and Isabel’s parents waiting up for them in the living room.

“Mom, Dad, what are you guys still doing up?” Isabel asked in surprise.

“We just wanted to make sure you made it home safely,” Mr. Evans replied. “You never know with that old jeep, and Dexter’s a pretty long drive.”

Max had made sure that everyone, with the exception of Liz, had called their parents to let them know where they were going after they’d decided to go to the club. It had been the responsible thing to do, he’d told them in response to their grumblings.

“And, we wanted to greet our guest, make sure she got settled in properly,” Mrs. Evans added with a friendly smile at Liz. “How are you, Liz? We’ve missed you around here.”

Smiling shyly in return, Liz replied, “Oh, um- thank you, Mrs. Evans. I appreciate you having me.”

“Anytime,” she said graciously. “And please, call me Diane. All of Max and Izzie’s friends do. Well, except for Michael,” she amended in an aside, a wry expression on her face. “We’ve never been able to get him to drop the Mr. and Mrs. And this is Phillip,” she said, with a gesture toward her husband.

Liz nodded in acceptance of the friendly gesture, and diffidently dropped her gaze to the floor.

“Well. You kids must be tired,” Diane said, preparing to see them off to bed. “Liz, please make yourself at home. If there’s anything you need, don’t be shy to ask, okay?”

Liz smiled. “Thank you, Mrs.- uh, I mean, Diane,” she corrected herself at Diane’s mock-look of censure. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

Mr. Evans gave Max a stern look and said, “I trust that we’ll find everyone in their proper beds in the morning. Right, Max?”

Max flushed and dropped his gaze to the floor, and Liz mirrored his reaction in abashment.

“Dad,” Isabel protested for him with an awkward little laugh.

He held up a hand to forestall any further protests and said, “I just wanted to remind you that I expect everyone to behave responsibly tonight. This is a slightly unusual situation, and the only reason your mother and I agreed to it is because we trust you,” he told Max in a no-nonsense tone, glancing at Liz to include her in the mild lecture.

Max cleared his throat and threw an apologetic look at Liz. “I told you, Dad, Liz and I are friends. You don’t have to worry.”

Lightly touching the back of her hand to Phillip’s chest from where she stood beside him, Diane said, “We aren’t worried, are we, Phillip?” Without waiting for an answer, she said, “Good night, kids,” at the same time moving to give Max and Isabel each a kiss on the cheek, and then gave Liz a friendly hug. “Sleep well, alright? We’ll see you in the morning.”

“G’night,” they chimed as everyone headed for their respective bedrooms.

Max halted at his bedroom door, and he and Liz exchanged a look of longing as he handed over her bag, and she moved on to follow Isabel to her room. He wanted to tell her that despite what his dad had said, he wanted her to come to him after she and Is tried the dreamwalking, but he was afraid his parents might overhear him. He only hoped she already knew that.

As the two girls entered Isabel’s bedroom, Isabel began slipping off her jacket and moved to the closet. “Here, let me hang up your coat,” she offered and waited for Liz to comply. “You can put your stuff over there,” she indicated the dresser by the bed.

After handing her jacket to Isabel, Liz placed her small overnight bag on the dresser top, and moved to sit on the bed with a deep sigh.

Isabel looked at her sympathetically and said, “Are you sure you’re up to testing your powers tonight, Liz? Maybe we should save it for another time.”

Liz looked up at her in incomprehension for a split-second, then shook her head slightly with a frown of dismissal. “Oh. No, I’ll be fine. Besides, we might never get another chance as good as this one.”

Watching her carefully, Isabel said, “It’s just’re gonna need to be able to concentrate, and I know you’re upset over Maria and everything.”

“Yeah.” Liz sighed dejectedly. Needing desperately to talk to someone, she blurted, “Everything is just such a mess, Isabel. With Maria, and Max. With Michael. It’s like- I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. With any of them.”

Isabel sat next to her on the bed. “What exactly happened at that club tonight, Liz?” she asked with curious concern.

That was all it took to open the floodgates, and Liz found herself pouring the entire story out to Isabel. About what had happened yesterday and the discoveries they’d made about her and Michael’s connection, about confessing about it to Max and Maria, and about everything that had happened tonight. With the small exception of exactly what she and Max had been doing when Michael had caught them. About that, she only said he’d caught them in a compromising position, made mention of what was happening with their energy, and let Isabel’s imagination fill in the rest.

“Poor Maria,” Isabel said when Liz finished by telling her what had made Maria run out on them at the club.

“Yeah, I know,” Liz replied, wincing in remorse. “We couldn’t have possibly handled things any worse where she’s concerned in all of this. I’m so mad at Michael for saying the things he did tonight I could kill him. But at the same time, I know he only said them because he’s confused and frustrated about this whole thing. I know how he’s feeling because I feel exactly the same way. You know, when we first found out about this connection I thought we could just ignore it. As long as we just didn’t connect there was no way it could hurt anybody, right? But’s like it’s taken over our entire lives or something. It’s affecting everything. And everyone,” she finished with quiet frustration.

Isabel had listened quietly to everything she’d said, and now cut straight to the heart of the matter. “So what do you think this thing is that connects you, Liz? Have you and Michael even talked about it at all?”

Avoiding her eyes, Liz answered, “ Um...yeah. Kind of. We sorta talked about it last night- a little bit. Michael wants to experiment with it. See what we can find out about it... but, um- I told him I didn’t want to.”

Isabel looked at her in bafflement. “But, why? It sounds like a good idea. Even if you can’t find out exactly why you’re connected, maybe you could find out how to keep it under control. Max and Maria still might not like it very much that the connection exists, but it would probably be a little easier to deal with if it wasn’t quite so...out there. You know? I mean, you’ve got to admit, Liz, talking in sync, feeling each other’s energy, Michael going all postal over you and Max- that’s all a little freaky. Max and Maria must feel like this thing is constantly being shoved down their throats.”

Biting her lip, Liz looked down at her lap. Nodding, she said, “You’re right. But, we don’t even know if this thing can be controlled. What if...what if working with it only makes it even stronger? I’m just- for some reason, I’m just really afraid to find out any more about this thing. I’m scared to know why it exists,” she confessed softly.

Slowly, Isabel said, “Because, somehow- you know it’s something deeper than just from Max changing you.”

Liz felt a chill go through her as her startled gaze met the other girl’s. “Yeah,” she agreed in a near-whisper. “M-maybe. did you know?”

Isabel gave her a direct look. “Because, I’ve kinda been thinking it, too. Ever since you did the energy blast at the quarry. Michael told me that day that when you two joined energy it was like something was complete in him for the first time in his life. And all the power you generated between you...Liz, if that was because of something Max created inside you, why wouldn’t he and Michael be able to produce that same amount of power together?”

Liz’s heart was pounding in dread. She hadn’t wanted to admit it, even to herself, but these same thoughts had been playing around the edge of her subconscious. She just couldn’t accept the idea that this connection wasn’t any of Max’s doing, though. Because, if it wasn’t, what other possible explanation could there be? How could this- link between her and Michael just suddenly come into being?

“I don’t know, Isabel,” Liz answered wearily. “I don’t know what to think anymore. I just wish none of this had ever happened. I wish...I could make it disappear. For Maria and Max’s sake, if nothing else.”

Accepting that she didn’t want to probe further for the meaning behind the connection, Isabel let the matter drop. She wasn’t helping Liz to feel any better about it anyway, she thought with a touch of insecurity. She was new to this female confidante thing. The only kinds of things she’d ever talked about with her girlfriends from school had been shallow and meaningless. Just idle gossip really. If she’d ever had anything important to discuss, she’d always had Max and Michael for that. But sharing confidences with Liz was a whole different dynamic than talking to those guys. It left her feeling a little unsure that she was saying the right things.

“So...uh, what are you going to do about Maria?” Isabel asked tentatively.

Liz shook her head despondently. “I don’t know. I feel like I’ve messed things up with her so bad, I don’t even know where to start. She’s never been so mad at me that she wouldn’t talk to me,” she mourned, her chest tight. “That’s the worst part. I don’t even know what she’s thinking right now.”

“Well,” Isabel said in a bolstering tone, “I think you’ve found your first dreamwalking subject. That’s the biggest advantage of this gift. It lets you see what’s going on in someone’s subconscious mind.”

Liz had any number of reservations about that suggestion, and she shook her head, saying, “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Isabel. I mean, for me to just go in and- and find out things that she refuses to tell me...I would just feel like I was - violating her free will, or something.”

Isabel lifted a brow. “But you wouldn’t feel like that with somebody else? Who were you thinking we were gonna try this on?”

Flushing a little at her hypocrisy, Liz replied, “Um, well...actually, I was thinking maybe we could try it on Tess.”

A devilish smile slowly curved Isabel’s lips. “Why, Liz Parker. That’s so devious. Who’d have thought you had it in you?” she teased.

Smiling a little, Liz rolled her eyes.

“That’s a really good idea,” Isabel said in approval. “I should’ve thought of it before. We can go in there and see what she’s thinking about Max.”

“And hopefully about Kyle,” Liz added.

Isabel’s enthusiasm for the idea dimmed somewhat as the possibility occurred to her that it could turn out badly. “Have you thought about this, though, Liz? What if you find out something you didn’t want to hear?”

It made Liz’s stomach turn to think of having her worst fears about this realized, but she firmly pushed her apprehension aside. She needed to find out once and for all.

“Yeah, I- I need to know, Isabel. And besides, it’s pointless to worry about it ahead of time. Tess might not even be dreaming about Max.” Liz grimaced at the way that had come out sounding, as though Max was what Tess’ hopes and dreams were about, and hastily corrected herself. “I mean, she may not be having a dream about him right now.”

Isabel made a face at Liz’s first choice of words, then smoothed her expression and said encouragingly, “Well, we’ll just have to find out, then, won’t we?”

Chapter 38

Isabel and Liz lay on opposite sides of Isabel’s bed with their heads propped up by their hands, a snapshot of Tess lying between them atop the scarlet bedspread. Liz was listening attentively while Isabel attempted to explain the basic fundamentals of how her gift worked in an informal lesson that could’ve been entitled, ‘How to Dreamwalk the Unsuspecting in Ten Easy Steps’.

“It’s kind of a balancing act going in,” Isabel was saying. “I guess you’d say it’s like entering another plane of consciousness. You have to be relaxed enough to let go of your conscious self, but you can’t completely lose your focus or it won’t happen.”

Liz shivered with trepidation at her words. She’d said that so casually, as if it were nothing to let go of everything that was logical and real, and allow the unknown to take over. To Liz it sounded mildly horrifying. She couldn’t imagine doing anything more contrary to her nature, and she felt a little bubble of panic at the prospect.

“Why is it different?” Liz asked apprehensively, cutting Isabel off mid-sentence as she was explaining what would take place on the dream plane.

“What?” she asked with a confused frown.

“I thought... what we’ve done before- I thought that was basically the same thing as dreamwalking,” Liz said in halting agitation.

“It was,” Isabel agreed. “At least from my end it was. Why? What’s wrong?”

Her eyes clouded with distress, Liz replied, “I never had to make any kind of effort to- to,” she stumbled over the words as if they were a different language, “let go of my conscious self when I projected myself to Max. I just...connected to you, and somehow found myself on that- other plane.”

Her expression one of comprehension, Isabel told her, “That’s because I was doing that part. You were just kind of...piggybacking my power. But when you do it on your own, you’ll have to learn how to do that part yourself.”

Reading the anxiety in Liz’s face, Isabel reassured her, “It’s not a big deal, Liz. You’ll still be going to the same place, the only difference is you’ll be in the driver’s seat,” she said with a little smile.

“Right,” Liz said leerily. “It just sounds kinda... hard,” she ended lamely, failing to mention her fear.

“It’s not that hard, “ Isabel refuted. “You’ll be able to do it, Liz, trust me.”

Liz didn’t argue, but she was suddenly extremely nervous about this.

“We’ll go ahead and connect so I can take you in and try to go with you first, and then you can try by yourself, okay?”

Liz nodded reluctantly and silently encouraged herself with the fact that this first time at least would be similar to what she’d done with Isabel before. Even doing this much had taken a huge leap of faith on Liz’s part the first time they’d done it. But it had been to save Max and she couldn’t have made any other choice. After taking that monumental step, projecting herself to Max only yards away when they’d been experimenting with it hadn’t seemed scary at all.

Of course, she hadn’t realized Isabel was doing the hard part, she thought with an inward grimace.

Isabel placed a finger on the photo of Tess, and Liz watched with fascination as its surface seemed to ripple beneath her touch.

“It might help if you try and keep contact with the picture while we do this,” Isabel suggested.

“What’s the picture do?” Lis asked curiously, while gingerly touching her fingertips to the photo. She was ridiculously disappointed to see no ripple effect.

Isabel shrugged. “It’s just always helped me to focus in on them. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe it just helps to keep them prominent in my consciousness. Or maybe it somehow helps me to recognize their energy or thought patterns. I don’t really know. I just know it works.”

Reclining fully, she folded her arm across her stomach and reached out to clasp Liz’s forearm with her other hand. Following her lead, Liz lay on her side and tried to relax, leaving her hand on top of the snapshot that sat between them.

“She won’t have any idea we’re there, right? I mean, she won’t be able to sense we’re um- we’re in her head?” Liz asked anxiously.

Isabel shook her head. “She’s asleep, Liz. She won’t feel anything.” Upon further consideration, Isabel became uncertain. “At least...I don’t think she will. No one ever has before, but then- I’ve never dreamwalked anyone with Tess’ kind of powers before.” Seeing the trepidation increase in Liz’s eyes, Isabel said more definitely, “But I’m sure it’ll be fine. She’s going to be completely unconscious. As long as we keep quiet and don’t move around a lot, I’m sure she’ll never even know we’re there.”

Liz nodded warily, her misgivings about this multiplying.

“Just try and relax, okay?” Isabel said encouragingly, feeling the slight tension in Liz’s arm where she was holding it. “Take a deep breath and remember to think positive thoughts while we’re in there.”

Liz looked at her in surprise. “Think positive thoughts? Will it really help to do that?”

“Well,” Isabel shrugged shortly and grinned. “It couldn’t hurt.”

Liz shook her head at her own gullibility and smiled, appreciating Isabel’s efforts to lighten the mood.

Reminding Liz of the part of her instructions that might actually be of use, Isabel took a deep breath and slowly released it, silently urging Liz to do the same.

Liz copied the relaxing technique while trying to quiet the butterflies in her stomach, praying they would only see good things in Tess’ dream. And would remain completely invisible while doing it.

In an instant, she could feel the connection forming between them.

It wasn’t quite as stark in Isabel’s subconscious this time as it had been the other times they’d connected. Faint swirls of warm emotions eddied around Liz teasingly, and she even thought she saw a brief flash of Alex dancing goofily, but before it could fully form, she could feel herself moving along with Isabel as she led them to the dream plane.

They were suddenly standing in a vast open space that was similar to the place where she had always launched her projections from. The same star-studded sky was low overhead, but instead of the unrelieved emptiness that usually surrounded them, shadowy, mist-colored images flickered disjointedly all around them. Each image was a constantly shifting form. As soon as it seemed on the verge of solidifying into a single identifiable object or person, it quickly changed into something else. It was hard to distinguish one from the other, but as far as she could see in every direction, their pale flickering motions met her eyes.

It was really kind of eerie, Liz thought with a faint shiver of unease. Like being surrounded by ghosts or something. She jerked around when she thought she heard a distant voice echo through the silence. She looked where Isabel pointed, and a bright flash of color amidst the hazy images caught her eye. The shadows parted easily as she and Isabel made their way through them towards the single bright image. As they drew closer, the sound of voices grew clearer, and Liz began to catch distinct words here and there. Her heart began to beat a little faster when she heard Max’s name being said.

The closer she and Isabel got, the larger the image grew, and by the time they were upon it, it had gained life-sized proportions. Liz marveled at the strangeness of it, as the image stood in front of them, comparative in size to a wide doorway. Looking at it was like looking in through a fogged up window, where you could clearly tell that action was taking place inside, but it was impossible to make out more than vague outlines.

Isabel tugged her forward, and Liz took a deep breath and braced herself for whatever she was about to see as the two of them stepped inside.

At first, Liz could see nothing. It was like they’d stepped into a cloud of smoke, and she automatically waved her hand in front of her face to try and clear it away. After a moment, it dissolved around them, and she found herself standing on the sidelines of the school football field. Several yards in front of her, Max and Kyle stood at either end of a turquoise colored rope that was stretched out directly across the 50 yard line, engaging in a fierce-looking game of tug-of-war. The scrap of material tied to the rope to mark its center looked suspiciously like a Crashdown waitress’s apron. Standing between them looking on, was Michael, his arms folded across his chest.

Liz and Isabel looked at each other with raised brows, unsure how this would play out.

Max and Kyle were struggling mightily, their muscles bulging as they fought each other for dominance.

“Just forget about it, Evans,” Kyle said breathlessly as he strained against the rope. “I had her first. In every possible way. Why don’t you just give up?”

“No way, Buddha Boy,” Max grunted, digging in with his feet and heaving forcefully. “Liz and I love each other. You should just go take a hike.”

“You said you were only friends!” Kyle protested accusingly.

“I lied,” said Max, grinning devilishly. “So, just...let...go!” he gritted out, punctuating the words with a hand over hand tug on the rope that forced Kyle to give way at the other end.

“In your dreams, Evans” Kyle returned grimly, struggling to regain his ground.

Between them, Michael shook his head. Scowling lightly, he complained, “You know if you keep this up you’re gonna break her, and I might never listen to David Gray again.”

Isabel grinned as Liz released a bubble of laughter. She couldn’t help it. She’d come in here afraid she might find Tess in a passionate clinch with Max, and instead she found this ridiculousness. The relief was absolutely giddying. So, was the rope actually supposed to be her, she wondered with amusement.

At that moment, Tess walked up to the three boys and grumbled, “I just don’t get it. What is it about Liz Parker that has every guy I care about revolving around her like she’s the sun or something?”

No one seemed to hear her except for Kyle, who turned his head to look at her. “I don’t revolve around her, Tess. I’d revolve around you if you’d only give me a chance.”

Tess smiled widely in delight. “Really, Kyle? That’s so sweet.” Her smile dimmed. “ slept with her,” she pointed out.

“We were just doin’ a little lamp trimming. It didn’t mean anything, I swear,” he assured her.

Her gaze dropped down to his hands and she frowned. “Then why are you still holding the rope?”

He looked down as if surprised to see the rope in his hands, and immediately released his hold on it, sending Max flying backwards at the sudden lack of resistance. Liz, in her Crashdown uniform, went sprawling atop him, as they both went crashing to the ground.

Smirking, Kyle taunted, “You lose, Evans.”

Tess looked at him in confusion. “You’re the one that gave up. Don’t you mean he wins?”

“Nah. How can he win when he doesn’t have you?” Kyle said, his expression sincere.

Her face softened into a smile. “Kyle,” she said softly in bedazzlement. “Why have I never known how sweet and romantic you could be?”

He shrugged. “I guess because you never bothered to look.”

“I’m looking now, “ she promised softly.

“Couldn’t you do more than look?” he asked engagingly, slowly leaning towards her.

She began leaning forward as well, and asked coyly, “ What exactly did you have in mind?”

He answered her question with a murmured question of his own. “How’s your lamp these days?”

“Burning brighter than ever,” she answered breathlessly.

Liz gripped Isabel’s arm in excitement as Kyle and Tess continued to lean in towards each other, the narrow space between them taking an inordinate amount of time to breach. Liz felt like jumping up and down and crowing in triumph. Tess liked Kyle! Tess liked Kyle! Surely, this proved it.

Their lips were hovering only inches away from each other’s now.

“Tess!” a voice barked her name sharply.

Tess jerked away from Kyle and whirled around. “Nacedo!” she exclaimed guiltily as her shapeshifting guardian glowered down at her.

“Would you care to tell me exactly what it is you think you’re doing, young lady?” he asked in the arrogant tone Liz remembered so well. “I die, and the first thing you do is forget everything I ever told you so you can play a nice little game of pretend with this...human?” he spat the word as if it were an epithet. “You don’t have time for this! You have your destiny to think about. Our people are counting on you.”

“This isn’t a game of pretend,” Tess protested. “I think Kyle might really care about me. I’m the one who’s been pretending. Pretending that Max will ever see me as anything other than a friend. I’m tired of trying to change his mind. I just want to have a normal relationship for once. I want somebody to love me,” she ended forlornly.

Isabel and Liz exchanged a wide-eyed look of disbelief at the vulnerability of her plea.

“Max does love you,” Nacedo assured her. “He just doesn’t remember. You can’t give up on him now, he needs you. He’ll never become the king our people need without his queen by his side to help guide him.”

“But...Kyle...” Tess said in half-hearted protest. She turned to look at him longingly, but Max stood there in his place.

“Don’t give up on me, Tess,” he said in soft-eyed appeal. “We had something really great once. I’m sure we could have it again, I just need you to help me remember.”

“You won’t let me help you remember,” she said in frustration. “How much longer am I supposed to keep trying?”

“How ever long it takes,” Max answered.

Tess wilted a little. “I’m just so tired, Max. I’m tired of doing this on my own. I’m tired of waiting for you to love me.”

Max caressed her cheek with his fingertips, then trailed them upward to thread them through the hair at her temple. “Don’t you think I’m worth the wait?” he asked with a beguiling smile.

Gingerly, she slid her hands around his waist, and he responded by pulling her up against his chest.

Liz grit her teeth at the sight. How had this suddenly gone so wrong? Only a second ago Tess had been longing for Kyle. Didn’t this girl ever have a consistent thought in her head? Nacedo had made it sound like this was her duty. But was it really duty she felt? Or desire?

“Max,” Tess answered him weakly, “You’re everything I’ve ever wanted and more. But what if you never come around? Am I supposed to spend my entire life waiting for you?” she asked in distress.

Lowering his lips to her ear, he promised silkily, “I’ll come around.”

“I really want to believe that,” she said longingly, pulling back to look up into his eyes.

Slowly lowering his lips to a hair’s-breadth from hers, he urged softly, “Then.. do.”

Liz turned her head quickly away as their lips met, a strangled note of anguish sounding deep in her throat. The sight of them when she’d once seen them kiss was etched on her brain in permanent pain-colored ink. She had no desire to add a second picture of them to her gallery, whether it was only an imaginary kiss or not.

She clearly had the answer to her question. And the answer was definitely ‘desire’.

Isabel poked her gently in the side, and when Liz looked around at her she motioned toward the ardent couple. Liz frowned at her in consternation, refusing to look where she directed. She knew Isabel couldn’t be so insensitive as to urge her to watch the guy she loved making out with another girl. Dream or no dream, even the thought of seeing them like that created a pinched feeling in her heart.

“Liz, look,” Isabel whispered insistently, her eyes pointedly drawing a line toward Max and Tess. Only it wasn’t Max and Tess, Liz discovered, as curiosity bade that she give in to Isabel’s urging. It was Kyle whose lips were locked on hers in a passionate kiss that showed no signs of ending anytime soon, his hands gently anchoring her head in place.

Liz lifted her eyes to Isabel’s face, whose smirking expression seemed to say, ‘what do you think about that?’

Liz wasn’t sure what to think. Did this mean Tess really did want Kyle? Or she wanted him, but she wanted Max, too? Or she only wanted Max because she felt duty-bound to, but deep down she really wanted Kyle? Or was she simply as confused as Liz was feeling right now, and had no idea what the heck she wanted?

She turned her attention back to the embracing couple when she heard Tess speak. She was clutching at Kyle as he placed random kisses over her face, and she breathed his name dreamily as if unaware she’d ever been kissing Max in the first place.

“Seen enough?” Isabel whispered.

Liz nodded silently in answer, glancing back to find Tess and Kyle kissing passionately on the lips once again. She only had a second for her spirits to be buoyed by the sight before a sudden sharp pulling sensation caught hold of her, drawing her out of the dream and across the dream plane with a force that was startling. Liz had the fleeting uncomfortable thought that this must be what it felt like to be sucked into the funnel of a tornado. Then a feeling of coming back to herself took over her consciousness, and she gasped, her eyes flying open to see Isabel lying on the bed across from her.

It took her a moment to get her bearings, during which time, Isabel asked, “You okay?”

Grimacing a little, Liz replied, “Yeah. Great. Is coming back always so...intense like that?”

Isabel made an apologetic face. “Yeah, I guess I should’ve warned you about that. But you get used to it,” she assured her. “I actually think it’s kind of a rush,” she finished with a small grin.

Liz gave her a skeptical look and flopped over onto her back. “Remind me never to be anywhere near you if we ever have a tornado in Roswell,” she said dryly.

Isabel’s smile widened, and she wiggled around to find a comfortable position facing Liz. “So? What did you think?” she asked expectantly, her tone and posture saying clearly, ‘Let’s dish!’

Liz turned her head to look at the other girl as she contemplated what had just happened. “It was...interesting. The dream plane was a little spooky, but other than that...” she shrugged.

Isabel wrinkled her nose in dismissal and said more specifically, “What did you think about Tess’ dream? I think it was a pretty good sign, don’t you? I mean, obviously she’s interested in Kyle romantically. At least on a subconscious level.”

Gloomily Liz said, “Yes, but it’s just as obvious she still wants to be with Max. She hasn’t given up the destiny thing.” Her earlier jubilation at seeing Tess kissing Kyle was fading quickly as she recalled other parts of the dream. Such as Nacedo’s stern admonitions about her destiny with Max. His words about their people needing their king and queen together struck Liz’s heart with guilt.

“Maybe not yet, but she wants to. Look how many times she said she was tired of waiting for it to happen,” Isabel said.

And look at how she’d encouraged herself to continue her efforts. Through Max’s very own lips, Liz thought with a pang. A dream Max’s lips, anyway.

When Liz was silent, Isabel pointed out another promising part of the dream. “And deep down she knows you and Max are still in love, otherwise why would she have had Max say it?”

Liz nodded half-heartedly. Yeah, that was true. She’d even had him admit that he was lying about them only being friends. But Liz wasn’t sure that was a good thing. In terms of the end of the world thing, it could only be bad.

Isabel looked at her questioningly when she continued to hold her silence. “Why are you so down, Liz? For the most part it was good news, wasn’t it?”

Liz tried to shake off the sudden heaviness that seemed to be pressing in on her shoulders. Isabel was right. There had been a lot of things that were encouraging in the dream. But the things Nacedo had said stabbed at her conscience. The part about how their people were counting on them had reminded Liz of exactly how many people’s lives depended on her and Max making the right decisions. They couldn’t afford to make selfish choices. And she was afraid their being together was the selfish choice.

“Liz? Are you alright?” Isabel prompted with a frown. She couldn’t figure out this funk Liz was in. She wondered what she was thinking.

Shaking her head a little to clear it, Liz said, “Yeah. I’m sorry Isabel. You’re- you’re right. It was mostly good news in the dream. I guess... I just need some time to think about it. You know, figure out what all of it means.”

Isabel continued to study her, a little disappointed in Liz’s reaction to the dream. She’d thought they had grounds for celebration, and in her enthusiasm, had been looking forward to a little late-night gab-fest. She’d thought they’d figure out what the dream meant together. Maybe laugh a little at its silliness, and hatch a few matchmaking plots for Kyle and Tess. Instead, Liz was strangely subdued and didn’t seem to want to talk.

It left Isabel feeling a little deflated.

Sighing in acceptance, she said, “Okay. Well...are you ready to try a dreamwalk on your own?”

The question was extremely effective in pulling Liz from her thoughts, as nervous dread once again pooled in her stomach.

Was she ready to do this on her own?

Not even a little bit.

Edited by - Destinee on 10/05/2001 03:05:09

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:55:50 AM ]
posted on 12-Oct-2001 4:23:56 AM
Chapter 39

Liz lay full length on Isabel’s bed, while the bed’s owner sat cross-legged beside her. She was attempting to do the ‘balancing act’ Isabel had mentioned earlier, a feat that was proving impossible.

It was difficult enough to try and fully relax her entire body, while at the same time collect her energy and hold it charged and ready, but that wasn’t even the hardest part. The hard part was reaching a state of release. They’d tried everything they could think of to help her relax- deep breathing exercises, focusing on the sound of her heartbeat, Isabel had even turned on some low, soothing music, but Liz just couldn’t seem to completely let go. No matter how much she told herself that she wanted to find out if she could do this, there was this small pocket of resistance in her mind that she couldn’t overcome.

At one point she thought she’d almost been successful when she’d begun to experience a kind of floating sensation. It had been similar to the feeling she sometimes got when she had a head cold, like her head wasn’t quite attached to her body. But as soon as she’d become aware of what was happening, she had quickly come slamming back to reality.

It was unbelievably frustrating. She knew it was ridiculous to be afraid to go somewhere that she’d just come from with Isabel, but going there by herself, or more specifically, taking herself there, was a whole ‘nother ball game. The idea of relinquishing control of her logical mind, of forcefully separating from her conscious self and leaving it behind to enter the dark mystery of the dream plane, made her extremely nervous. It held so many uncertainties if no one was there to guide her. What if she couldn’t find a dream to go into? What if she made it to the dream plane and was unable to find her way back to herself? Would she just wonder around in the darkness forever while her body lay here like an empty shell? Isabel had assured her that wouldn’t happen, but how could she know that for sure?

It was exactly those kinds of worries that were keeping this from happening, Liz thought with a sigh of frustration.

Opening her eyes, she shook her head briefly and said, “This isn’t working, Isabel.”

Isabel sighed too. “Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way.”

“Maybe I just can’t do it,” Liz countered, laying a forearm over her eyes wearily. All this relaxing business was wearing her out.

“We can’t count it out just yet, Liz. You’re fighting it. If you could just give yourself over to it, you might be able to do it.”

“I’m trying. I just... can’t seem to let go.”

Her eyes compassionate, Isabel said, “Well, if it’s this hard for you to do, I guess we’ve got the answer to the question of whether you’ve been doing this on your own.”

Liz moved her arm away from her eyes and looked up at the other girl. “Maybe it was just easier for me to let go when I was asleep,” she suggested.

Isabel shook her head. “I don’t think that’s possible, Liz. The dream plane is another plane of consciousness, but you are conscious in it. I don’t think you could do it if you were asleep. When I was little, and I was first learning how to use this gift, I couldn’t tell you how many times I fell asleep trying to do it. But it never happened once I lost consciousness. Ever.”

Liz’s brows knit in consternation, and she spoke without thinking. “But...I’m sure I dreamwalked Michael last night.”

Lifting her brows, Isabel looked at Liz quizzically. “What makes you think that?”

Dismayed at what she’d inadvertently disclosed with her assertion, Liz shifted uncomfortably on the bed. She couldn’t tell Isabel about Michael spending the night in her room before she’d even told Max about it. It didn’t seem fair to Max.

Hoping to distract her from the whys and hows of the situation, Liz said, “Oh- well...last night Michael dreamed about his life before. You know, before? When he was Rath? And I kinda saw it, too. So, we had to be a dreamwalk.”

As Liz had hoped, Isabel immediately homed in on the content of Michael’s dream rather than how they’d come to know they’d shared it. “Michael dreamed about our past?” she asked, her voice vibrating with excited wonder. “And he didn’t tell us? What did he dream?”

“Well, we can’t really remember all that much about it. All we remember is a boy and a girl running through this field. The boy was holding something out of the girl’s reach and... she called him ‘Raathos’.” Liz shrugged a little apologetically. “That’s just about it.”

Isabel was blown away. This was big news. Nothing like this had ever happened before, and she was a little miffed that Michael had kept it from them. “This is really important. None of us have ever dreamed about our other life. I can’t believe Michael didn’t tell us.”

Liz bit her lip, her sense of fairness prompting her to say, “Don’t blame Michael, Isabel. I um- I asked him not to tell just yet.”

Isabel frowned. “Why would you do that?” she asked, trying hard to understand why Liz would feel that it was alright for her to have knowledge of this, but would want to keep it from them. It was their past after all.

Trying to explain herself without revealing everything about last night, Liz said, “I just...I wanted to tell Max about it first. A-about the dreamwalk, I mean. You know...just how it happened and everything. And we didn’t think it was a good idea to talk about it in front of- of Maria tonight, so we agreed that we would just wait and tell everybody tomorrow. We weren’t trying to keep it a secret or anything,” she hurried to assure her.

Unable to decipher Isabel’s expression, she asked tentatively, “You aren’t mad are you?”

Isabel shook her head, knowing Liz already had enough to deal with right now without worrying about her being mad at her too. And if they were planning to tell them about it tomorrow, what did she really have to be mad about?

“I’m not mad, Liz,” she said reassuringly. “I can see how it might be a touchy subject with Max and Maria right now . It looks like you two are even sharing the same dreams now.” She made a wry face.

Liz looked at Isabel, disquieted. “You don’t think it’s possible it was a dreamwalk?”

Shrugging slightly, Isabel said, “I told you, Liz, it’s never happened that way for me. Of course, we don’t really know enough about your powers to say anything about them for sure, but if it was a dreamwalk, I’d think the same principles would apply. And if you had done it before, it doesn’t seem like it would be so hard for you to do now, you know?”

Liz nodded uneasily. All those things were true. But if it hadn’t been a dreamwalk, that meant that she and Michael had somehow connected in their sleep, didn’t it? And it seemed as though that should be just as impossible to do as to dreamwalk while she was unconscious. But it was looking as though maybe nothing was impossible where this connection was concerned, she thought with resentful resignation.

Sensing her friend’s state of unrest over the subject, Isabel quickly said, “Anyway, we can talk about that tomorrow. For now, you just need to try and stay relaxed, remember?”

In her turmoil, Liz had almost forgotten what it was they were trying to do here.

“Right,” she responded, determinedly banishing thoughts of her connection with Michael, and taking a calming breath. “You said maybe we were going about it the wrong way. Did you have something else in mind?”

“Yeah. Maybe you’re just thinking about it too much,” Isabel suggested. “Here.” She picked up the open yearbook that was lying at Liz’s side and offered it to her. “Just put your hand on her picture, and focus all your thoughts on Maria. Try and pull your energy together, but don’t even think about the dream plane and trying to go there,” she instructed. “Just think about Maria.”

Liz nodded, as she took the yearbook from Isabel and propped it on her stomach. Calling up her power, she obediently touched a finger to Maria’s school photo, studying it intently and imagining that she and Maria were in the same room together. She felt a tiny thrill of delight when the picture rippled beneath her touch.

Of course, thinking about Maria inevitably brought to mind everything that had happened with her today, and Liz began to feel tense and upset at remembering how angry Maria was with her right now. It was the only reason she’d finally agreed to try dreamwalking her best friend. Isabel had told her that she would better know what to say to calm Maria’s fears about this connection if she was armed with the knowledge of exactly what those fears were. Liz only hoped this wasn’t the wrong thing to do.

Isabel saw the slight stiffening of Liz’s body and the small crease that had formed between her closed eyes, and correctly interpreted the reason behind them. “Think good thoughts, Liz,” she chided gently. “Just remember all the good times you’ve had together.”

Frowning in concentration, Liz banished her troubling thoughts once again, and attempted to call to mind happier, closer times in their friendship.

There had been the time when they’d had their first sleep over together when they were seven, and they’d stayed up half the night telling ghost stories, scaring themselves so much they’d huddled together in the middle of Liz’s bed until daylight, afraid to go to sleep.

And the summer when they were nine, Liz had gotten the chicken pox, which had ended up getting infected and she’d spent two whole weeks in bed. Maria had come over and camped out in her room to keep her company, and had wound up contracting the ailment herself. They’d spent every waking hour together during those days, scratching each other’s itchies, playing board games until they were sick of them, and commiserating with one another over losing almost three weeks of summer vacation.

Then, there was the time when the two of them had become the three of them in Miss Elmer’s fifth grade class. For some reason Toby Phillips had constantly singled Liz out as a victim to torment that year. Her mom had told her it was probably just his way of letting her know he liked her. Liz had thought if that was the way he showed fondness, she’d be afraid to see his version of hate. That had also been the year they’d been introduced to the game of dodge ball in P.E., and it had quickly become Toby’s favorite new way of ‘showing her he liked her’. And his love taps had stung ferociously. Maria had done everything she could to draw his attention away from her friend, and she’d taken almost as many hits as Liz had. Enter Alex Whitman, eleven-year-old knight in shining armor. For whatever reason, he’d stepped in one day to fight Toby off with his own launches of the ball, setting up a one man wall of defense around Liz and Maria that he’d worked to maintain to this very day.

Completely lost in feelings of nostalgia, Liz didn’t notice when her energy began to hum with electricity, and sentience began drifting away. She first became aware of what was happening when she felt as though she were lifting away from her body, and she firmly kept thoughts of Maria planted in her mind, allowing herself to go with it.

The next thing she knew, she was surrounded by the ghostly darkness of the dream plane, the cold flickers of colorless dreams all around her. Liz took a deep breath and looked around uncertainly, straining to see a glimmer of color somewhere to give her direction. When she’d turned a complete circle without anything catching her eye, her heartbeat quickened in panic.

Forcing herself to stay calm and think, she closed her eyes and concentrated on drawing a vivid mental picture of Maria, imagining the sound of her voice, and even the smell of her favorite perfume.

A faint sad note of music captured her attention, and Liz’s eyes popped open to look around searchingly for the source of the lonely sound. Off to her left she thought she saw a quick flash of red in the distance, and she turned to hurry in that direction. The pale snatches of dreams scattered out of her way, parting to reveal a large blur of bright color that let Liz know she had found Maria’s dream.

She breathed a sigh of relief.

When the dream image stood directly before her, Liz braced herself, once again hoping she wasn’t doing the wrong thing. She stepped cautiously inside, and waited for the vapor around her to clear.

The seductively wailing sound of Santana’s ‘Put Your Lights On’ colored the air, and Liz found that she was standing inside the empty Crashdown. Or almost empty, anyway. As she took in her surroundings, Liz’s eyes widened when she saw herself standing in front of the counter, lethargically sweeping the floor.

The tables, the pick-up window and cash register, everything around her appeared solid and real, and it was extremely disorienting to stand here and observe someone who looked exactly like her. It made her feel like she was someone other than herself. Or like a spirit who was watching her own body moving around. The thought made Liz shiver.

The replica of her paused in her sweeping for a brief moment to lift a forearm to her forehead, wiping at the beads of sweat that glistened there. It was obviously supposed to be hot, as the dream version of herself was wearing nothing but a tank top and denim cutoffs.

Something about the scene, along with the music that seemed to be coming from the restaurant’s sound system, struck a chord of familiarity within Liz, but she couldn’t pin down why exactly.

The dream Liz suddenly came to a standstill, and lifted her eyes towards the front doors of the café. Liz followed her gaze to find Michael standing outside in the dark. A sinking feeling of dread overtook her, as she watched herself lay the broom aside and slowly move to the doors to twist the key in the lock.

Michael pushed the door open and slipped inside, and they looked at each other silently while sliding their arms around each other. When Michael brought his lips down to cover those of her dream self, Liz quickly averted her eyes in dismay, unable to bear watching this kiss any more than she had been able to stand seeing Tess and Max kiss in Tess’ dream.

She’d thought she might see something about her and Michael in Maria’s dream, but she hadn’t been prepared for this.

Why would she dream something like this, Liz wondered sickly. Maria couldn’t possibly imagine that she and Michael had romantic feelings for each other, could she? Liz could hardly give the idea credence, but the proof seemed to be standing right in front of her.

Just the thought of even kissing Michael like this filled Liz with a strange sort of revulsion. Not that Michael was so very unattractive or anything. It just seemed really wrong to imagine kissing anyone but Max. But the idea of kissing Michael even seemed to go beyond the boundaries of that. There was just some kind of inherent wrongness in it. As Maria’s boyfriend, he was completely off-limits. And she hated it that Maria was entertaining ideas like this.

She was startled by a crashing sound, and swung her head around to find that Michael had just lifted that other Liz to sit on top of the counter, knocking dishes to the floor in the process, then began placing kisses upon her neck.

Liz made a face of distressful distaste.

After only a moment, he slid her off the counter into his arms, and carried her around behind it, where they both disappeared from sight as they went down to the floor together.

Suddenly, Liz’s heart clenched as she realized why this whole thing had seemed familiar. This was what had happened last December during that freak heat wave when she’d come downstairs for some milk, and had accidentally stumbled upon Michael and Maria making out like this.

“Oh, Maria,” Liz whispered in pained sadness, her heart breaking for her friend. This was the first time Maria and Michael had come together. Why was she dreaming it like this?

At that moment Maria came through the swinging door at the back of the restaurant, and saw the couple on the floor.

“Liz! Michael! What are you doing?!” she exclaimed in outraged incredulity.

As is often the case in dreams, no one seemed to hear her. Liz could only assume that the two behind the counter were continuing on in their activities, even in front of Maria. A sharp protest rose within her. How could Maria even dream that they would treat her like this, she wondered painfully.

Abruptly, Liz turned away to leave the dream, feeling extremely guilty. This was wrong. She never should’ve let Isabel talk her into coming here like this. Maria would hate it if she knew Liz had witnessed this.


The anguish in Maria’s voice stopped her in her tracks, and she turned in involuntary response to her name.

But of course, Maria was addressing the Liz in her dream. “How could you do this to me? You know how I feel about Michael. You’re supposed to be my friend!”

“I’m sorry, Maria,” Dream Liz answered, still hidden behind the counter. “I told you, this isn’t our fault. Something’s happening between me and Michael that we just can’t stop.”

“But...what about Max?” Maria sputtered, looking as if she were struggling to understand. “I thought you loved him.”

“I do love him,” Dream Liz agreed. “And we’re secretly together now. We’ve been taking each other’s clothes off you know.”

“Then how can you do this with Michael?” Maria demanded in hurt outrage.

“Michael and I are connected too, Maria. Now I have two aliens who can see into my soul.”

Forlornly, Maria asked, “So where does that leave me?”

Receiving no response from Liz, she turned to Michael.

“Michael, I don’t understand. You said you had to be alone. You said you never should’ve started this, remember?”

“This is different, Maria,” came his muffled reply from the floor. “I never knew I could feel so close to someone. Liz and I know everything about each other. We’re connected in a way you and I could never be.”

“How do you know that?” Maria protested. “You never gave me a chance!” She continued in a defeated tone, “I wish you would just tell me why. If you could let her in so completely, why couldn’t you give me a flash? You never let me see even a single flash,” she ended with wounded accusation.

“I’m sorry, Maria. I guess maybe you just aren’t the one,” was his devastating answer.

Laughing bitterly with tear-filled eyes, Maria said, “What, and you think Liz is? You can’t be with Liz, Michael. She belongs with Max.”

When all she received was silence, Maria looked down at them both uncertainly. “Doesn’t she?” she begged for an answer.

Liz couldn’t stand seeing Maria in such torment. She was torn between feeling that she should leave, and wanting to somehow make Maria stop dreaming this. But she didn’t know how she could do that without letting Maria know she was here.

She scanned the empty restaurant, racking her brain for an idea.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Maria was saying tearfully. “You two are so wrapped up in your secrets, and your fighting, and your... your David Gray, it’s like, I might as well be invisible.”

Liz winced as that one hit home.

She really hadn’t paid enough attention to Maria since this all started. And she’d sadly neglected her tonight. Between what had been happening with her and Max, then later on with Michael, and working on the Tess and Kyle situation, Maria seemed to have gotten shuffled to the bottom of the deck, Liz realized with profound regret. She vowed to herself that she would make it up to her friend.

Starting right now, she thought, her eye lighting on the swinging door. She needed to come in the back way and get Maria out of this dream.

That decided, she silently eased out the front doors as Maria was asking achingly in the background, “Do you even care about how I feel?”

The heartfelt cry made Liz’s throat feel tight. “Hang on, Maria,” she muttered, as she hurried down the alley to the back entrance.

Thank goodness there were no locks in dreams, she thought, as the door opened easily under her hand. The thought occurred to her that it was a wonder there was even a back door, seeing as it wasn’t actually a part of Maria’s dream, but she didn’t stop to think about it for long.

She could hear the muted sound of Michael’s voice coming from the front, and without even a pause to try and make out his words, she interrupted him with a loud slam of the door. As she had hoped, a moment later Maria came in through the swinging door to peer curiously into the break room. Her eyes widened as she saw Liz standing there, and she darted a look back toward the front.

Thinking quickly, Liz gave her no chance to speak, bustling into the employee’s area saying, “I’m sorry I’m late, Maria. I left my bio notes at school and I have a test tomorrow, so I had to go back and get them. I hope you weren’t too busy without me.” She made her way over to her locker, and was happily surprised to find a uniform neatly folded inside.

Maria seemed to be at a loss, as she kept looking from Liz to the swinging door. “ I just saw you outside. How can you be back here?”

Liz glanced at her with mock-bewilderment. “What are you talking about, Maria? I just came in through the door.”

“No,” Maria shook her head in consternation. “You were...out there- on the floor. With Michael,” she said, her eyes dark with pain and confusion.

Liz shook out her uniform and made a face. “Yeah, right. That’s what I meant to say. I’m late ‘cause I was out there on the floor with Michael,” she said as if she were going along with the joke. At Maria’s perplexed silence, Liz looked at her oddly. “Are you okay?” She wrinkled her nose sympathetically. “Has it been really crazy this afternoon?”

Shaking her head in befuddlement, she said, “Liz, nothing you’re saying makes sense. It isn’t afternoon. We’re closed. And I just saw you and Michael right out there on the floor making out,” she insisted, pointing towards the front of the restaurant.

Making out?!” Liz said with a spurt of surprised-sounding laughter.

As if understanding had dawned, she flattened her expression into a look that said ‘very funny’. “Cut it out, Maria. If this is to get me back for not telling you about that whole kissing incident with Rath, I already told you I was sorry for that.”

“This isn’t a joke, Liz! I saw you,” Maria persisted.

Looking at Maria as if she refused to be taken in, her voice dripped with skepticism as she said, “With your boyfriend. On the floor. With you and an entire restaurant full of people looking on.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” Maria cried in frustration. She strode purposefully to the swinging door and said, “There are not any people out there, Liz.”

Liz held her breath as the other girl pushed the door open, hoping against hope that the power of suggestion had been enough to get Maria to change the direction of her dream. She sighed in relief when Dream Maria stopped short at the sight of the crowded café outside.

With a mystified shake of her head, Maria said, “I don’t get it. W-where’s Michael, then?”

Shrugging, Liz told her, “If he’s working, my guess would be, in the kitchen.”

Maria moved to the door of the kitchen, and there was Michael standing behind the grill. Pausing in his task to look up at her, he asked quizzically, “What is it?”

“N-nothing,” Maria replied, backing away. Turning to look at Liz, she said uncertainly, “I’m sorry, Liz. I really thought...” her sentence trailed off as she glanced once more towards the swinging door.

The lost look on her friend’s face tore at Liz’s heart. This Maria looked so real, it was hard to keep in mind that she was only a dream image. But the emotions she was displaying were real, and came straight from Maria’s heart. And Liz couldn’t help but want to do what she could to ease her turmoil.

Even if Maria might not remember anything she said in the morning.

Walking up to place a comforting hand on Maria’s upper arm, Liz asked with sympathetic gentleness, “You honestly thought Michael and I were in there making out?”

Maria nodded her head miserably.

“Maria, why would you even think something like that?” Liz asked with genuine bafflement. “Even if Michael and I felt like that about each other, which we absolutely do not, neither of us would ever do that to you.”

“Michael might,” Maria disputed morosely, making Liz think she was referring to the whole Courtney chapter in Michael’s life.

“Maria,” Liz gently chided. “He wouldn’t,” she insisted. “And I know you know that. It’s just...this connection’s got you confused. It’s got all of us confused,” she said darkly. “But...we just need to talk to each other about it. You know- it only makes things harder if we each try to deal with it on our own.” Unable to resist taking this opportunity to plead with Maria since she was listening, Liz said, “Would you just think about that? And...maybe we could talk about it tomorrow?”

Maria looked at her questioningly. “Why wait till tomorrow?”

Liz avoided her eyes as she tried to come up with a feasible answer that didn’t involve dream planes. “Because, uh... because right now we have to get to work!” was her triumphant reply, and she lifted her uniform as if it were proof.

“Yeah,” Maria sighed. “I guess the masses are waiting.”

Liz nodded. “I’ll just see you out there, okay?” She made a motion with her uniform, silently indicating that she had to change.

As they turned to go in separate directions, Liz halted near the swinging door. “Oh, and Maria?”

Maria stopped and looked at her inquisitively.

“One thing you don’t have to be confused about? That,” she pointed towards the front of the café, “will never happen,” she assured her.

Maria smiled a wordless thanks, then turned to go out into the restaurant.

And Liz returned to wakefulness with a rush.

Chapter 40

Liz stared sightlessly at the ceiling and listened to the sound of Isabel’s deep, even breathing in the bed beside her. She’d fallen asleep about ten minutes ago, after Liz had given her the bare details of Maria’s dream

It was late, and they hadn’t discussed it that much, but one thing was really bothering her, and she’d had to ask Isabel what she thought it meant that Maria had dreamed Liz in her place in that whole Crashdown scenario. She hadn’t liked anything they’d come up with as they’d turned it over. Not because she thought the possibilities were wrong, she just didn’t like it that Maria might be thinking such things.

Isabel had said that judging from the things Maria had said about being invisible, and about Michael denying her flashes while letting Liz in, that Maria was probably feeling pretty displaced in Michael’s life right now. Maybe she felt like Liz had taken something away that should’ve been hers, whether it be the deep insight into Michael or Michael himself. Even worse had been the suggestion that Maria could even be questioning whether this connection could somehow mean that Michael should be with Liz. Maria had made that comment this morning about a future Michael coming back to tell them that. She’d said it sardonically, but things like that often popped up in dreams.

She’d also heard what Michael had said at the club tonight about being unsure of his feelings and wondering who he and Liz were supposed to be.

Liz’s eyes sank closed in pained distress as she recalled that whole lamentable scene. She hadn’t even had a chance to think about what Max must’ve thought when he’d heard Michael’s words. Could he be feeling the same kinds of wrenching uncertainties Maria was, Liz wondered, troubled by the thought.

This whole situation was just becoming intolerable. It was causing all of them so much confusion and pain. The events that had taken place at the club, combined with tonight’s dreamwalking escapades had left Liz feeling guilty and depressed for the most part. But they’d also helped her reach the conclusion that Michael was right. They had to find out what this thing was once and for all. And they definitely had to find a way to control it. She was just going to have to swallow her trepidation and tell Michael tomorrow that she was willing to go along with his experimenting idea.

The thought made her stomach churn with dread. It didn’t help to know that she was going to have to tell Max about it, first. And he probably wasn’t going to like it much.

But even though she wasn’t looking forward to that conversation, she really wanted to see Max right now. So much had happened tonight, and they hadn’t had a chance to talk since the moment Michael had practically dragged them from the banquet hall. She needed to know what he was thinking. The idea that he might be lying in his bed right now having the same kind of tortured dreams Maria had been having made Liz ache to hold him. And she needed to feel the reassurance of his arms as well, as the guilty doubts stirred up by Tess’ dream continued to plague her conscience.

Liz threw a quick glance at Isabel to assure herself the other girl was asleep, then eased out from under the covers, and slipped out of bed with cautious movements. She crept over to the door on silent feet, and just as she was reaching for the doorknob, the sound of Isabel’s voice made her start with fright.

“Be sure and check the hallway first. If you get caught we’ll all be in for it,” she warned quietly.

“Isabel!” Liz whispered in guilty exclamation. “I thought you were asleep. I was just, um...I was kinda thirsty, so I thought I’d- go get some water,” she offered in hasty explanation for her leaving.

Her voice full of quiet amusement, Isabel said, “Don’t even try, Liz. It’s okay. Just- try and keep it down in there, okay? And my parents get up around 9:00, so maybe you guys should set an alarm or something.

Liz stood there uncertainly for a moment. She didn’t want Isabel to think she was being disrespectful of her parents. “We aren’t gonna do anything, Isabel. Just- just talk, is all.”

“It’s okay, Liz,” Isabel said again in reassurance. “You don’t have to explain anything to me.” When Liz continued to hesitate, she prompted, “Go on. Max is probably waiting for you.”

That idea was enough to galvanize Liz’s feet into motion.

“Thanks, Isabel,” she said warmly before turning back to the door.

Smiling slightly, Isabel snuggled down into the mattress and prepared to get back to sleep.

After making sure the hallway was empty, Liz silently stole out the door and tiptoed down to Max’s room. Once there, she lifted a hand with the intention of rapping softly on his door, but was waylaid by a moment of doubt.

Was Max really up waiting for her as Isabel had said, or would he be uneasily surprised that she had come, seemingly ignoring what his dad had said about staying in their proper beds?

Max provided the answer to the question himself when the door was suddenly pulled open in front of her, and he poked his head out to look furtively down the hall before urging her inside.

He pulled her past him into the room, closing the door soundlessly behind her, then turned to smile at her crookedly.

Max was inordinately glad to see her. He’d been lying here thinking about her for the past couple of hours, and he’d been about to come to the disappointing conclusion that she wasn’t going to come.

Blinking in surprise at the swiftness with which she suddenly found herself in his room, Liz stood there wordlessly for a moment.

Shaking her head a little in perplexity, she finally asked, “How did you know I was out there?”

He gave a tiny shrug. “I always know when you’re near.”

Liz’s lips curved up into a pleased half-smile, and they shared a long silent gaze as they got caught up in one another’s eyes.

Liz took note of the fact that his hair looked slightly rumpled, but he didn’t look like he’d been asleep yet. That eased her mind over the concern that he’d been in here having dreams along the lines of Maria’s. But that didn’t mean he hadn’t been lying awake thinking along the same lines, she acknowledged.

The lamp on his desk cast a warm glow over the room, and Liz’s eyes unconsciously dropped to take in his attire. He wore a red t-shirt that looked faded and soft from many washings over a dark gray pair of sweatpants that hung comfortably loose on his lean frame. His feet were bare on the carpeted floor, and her eyes lingered on his naked toes.

She’d never seen Max’s bare feet before. It was ridiculous, but it somehow seemed an intimate sight, blatantly pointing out the fact that they were both dressed for bed, she in a bare minimum of comfortable clothing, and that there was a bed only steps away that they could easily climb into together. After what had happened in the banquet hall of the club tonight, the thought was a little flustering.

Flushing slightly, she raised her eyes to his and said shyly, “Um...I hope this is okay. Me coming here, I mean. I know what your dad said before, but I thought- maybe if we just talked it would be okay.”

“It’s definitely okay,” Max assured her warmly. “I wanted to tell you that before you went to Izzie’s room, but I was afraid my parents would overhear. We, uh- we have a lot to talk about. And I wanted to know what happened with the dreamwalk. How’d it go in there?”

Liz made a face, then said with downcast eyes, “N- not all that great, actually.”

“You couldn’t do it?” he asked with some surprise. The sadness in her face prompted him to step closer and lift a hand to her hair in comfort. “That’s okay, Liz. It’s not a big deal.”

Shaking her head, Liz corrected him. “No, I did do it. I just...wasn’t prepared for some of the things I saw, I guess.”

His brows furrowing with concerned trepidation, Max asked, “Why? What did you see?”

Liz sighed with disheartenment. There was so much to tell him, she wasn’t even sure where to begin. Gesturing toward the bed, she said, “Could we...?”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure,” he answered, and they moved together to sit on the bed’s edge.

She sat looking down at her hands without speaking for a long moment, and Max watched her with a slight frown. He hated to see Liz looking so unhappy.

Their night out had pretty much ended disastrously for all of them. He’d been brooding over Michael’s words at the club and the whole connection thing, himself. And what was happening with Maria was upsetting, especially so for Liz. But if it were possible, she looked even more dejected now than she had outside Maria’s house. It made Max apprehensive about knowing what she’d discovered in the dream she’d gone into. He didn’t even know who she’d dreamwalked.

Reaching to tuck her hair gently behind her ear, he asked quietly, “What did you see, Liz? Talk to me.”

Liz sighed heavily and decided to just start at the beginning. “We went into Tess’ dream first,” she told him, glancing up at him to catch his reaction.

Max didn’t say anything. He just waited for her to continue with a sick feeling in his stomach.

“It started out well enough. I-I think she might have feelings for Kyle.” She went on to tell him everything she and Isabel had seen in Tess’ dream, ending with the way she’d kissed Kyle.

Max listened with ambivalent feelings about what she was telling him. It seemed as though he’d succeeded tonight in opening Tess’ eyes to the possibility of a relationship with Kyle. That was good news. But it also looked like he’d correctly interpreted those vibes he’d felt from her when they’d gone to dance. She hadn’t given up on the destiny idea.

It made Max feel uncomfortable and disturbed to realize that she’d had an agenda all along.

When Liz had finished relating the dream to him, she waited silently for his reaction. Had it reminded him of duty and responsibility as forcefully as it had her?

“Well,” Max said slowly. “It’s obvious she wants to give up on the destiny thing. We just have to help push her along. Keep doing what we’re doing. You know, what we can to keep throwing her and Kyle together, and see what develops. And- I need to try and make it clear that all we’ll ever have is friendship. I thought she’d finally realized that...” he trailed off, shaking his head in frustration.

“But what about what Nacedo said, Max? About how you two need to be together- for your people. Maybe for our people too,” she ended faintly. The words tasted like ashes in her mouth, but the worry that they might be true had been reawakened in her and wouldn’t be suppressed.

“No.” His hand came up to the side of her face and gently turned it up towards his.

He’d been feeling disquieted and slightly uncertain over the connection business ever since Michael had said what he had at the club, and Max couldn’t bear to know that Liz might be feeling unsure as well. Especially not when it was over Tess.

Looking into her eyes, he said reassuringly, “That’s only what Tess thinks, Liz. It was just a dream. And- even if Nacedo really has told her that...he didn’t know me. He knew Zan, and that’s not who I am now. If I’m ever going to be any kind of a leader for anyone, I have to have you by my side.” He brought his other hand up to stroke over her hair before coming to rest on the curve of her jaw, framing her face between his hands. “You’re the best of everything that’s inside me, Liz. You know? You make me think, and you help me see things from a different perspective. You keep me calm and rational when I get frustrated... and if I do something stupid you aren’t afraid to call me on it.” He grinned slightly, and her lips tipped up in response. “When I have you beside me I feel like I can do anything.” He looked at her intently and shook his head. “Tess can’t give me any of that. Maybe- maybe that’s part of the reason why Zan failed, who knows? All I know is that I need you, Liz. You’re my greatest strength. How could that not be what’s best for my people?”

As he saw the worry fade from her eyes, Max began to feel better himself. Everything he’d just said was the truth. He and Liz completed each other. There was no way either of them were meant to be with anyone else. If Michael thought his connection with Liz meant anything different, he was wrong.

Liz looked at him with shining eyes. This had been one of those perfect things to say to soothe her fears that Max was always so good at, and she was profoundly moved by his words. He made her feel as if she were essential to him. There was still the question of whether or not their being together would lead to the whole Tess/end of the world thing, but they would be able work that out somehow. Max was right. As long as they were together anything seemed possible.

Love, thankfulness, and appreciation swelling her heart, Liz stared into his eyes with adoration as she carefully brought her hands up to cup either side of his neck, and stretched up to close her lips softly over his. They parted moistly in immediate response, and their mouths moved together with gentle reverence in an expression of love so stirring and pure it brought a lump to Max’s throat. His hands flexed slightly on her face, then pulled her in closer, and he tilted his head to slowly deepen the kiss.

Liz pressed up against his side, tipping her head at an opposing angle to widen his access to her mouth, and threaded her fingers through his hair to hold him close. Their movements were so slow as to seem almost tentative as they continued to kiss with a passionate tenderness that wrapped them both in feelings of reassurance and a sense of security in their love for one another. Their tongues twined together with warm, languid strokes, and each thrusting sweep sought a deeper contact than the one before. Max’s brows drew together in an expression of intensity as he tried to absorb all the emotion that was pouring from Liz’s lips, and returned them to her in full measure.

A low rousing heat began to simmer deep in Liz’s belly, and with it came the gentle springing to life of their connection.

The warm tide of Max’s emotions came washing over her. A sweet, heady mixture of love, need, and desire that was somehow both soothing and stimulating. After only a moment, she began to see a quick series of flashes of the two of them earlier in the banquet hall, and her pulse rate escalated. It made her feel flushed all over to recall their heated encounter, and her fingers curled around the hair at the nape of his neck at the remembered pleasure of it. The memory of how their tryst had ended urged her to caution- they didn’t want a repeat of things getting out of control and her energy going berserk- but Liz was loathe to bring this to a halt. They both needed the affirmation it was providing.

When she gently broke away from the kiss, Max smoothed his lips over the hollow of her cheek without pause, and she tipped her head the slightest bit as he worked his way downward.

“Max,” she breathed, her senses spinning, as he slowly mouthed the sensitive skin between her neck and jaw. “We should...we should be careful,” she warned vaguely. When she got no response other than that of his open lips gently bathing her throat, she elaborated with stammering breathlessness, “So my energy- doesn’t go crazy again.”

Max could hear her words, but he was lost in the taste of her and the rain of her emotions through the connection, and his brain wasn’t quite connecting them.

“Right,” he answered mindlessly, as he closed his lips over hers once again. Despite her words of caution, her mouth opened easily under his and welcomed him back.

This kiss contained more heat than the first one, as the hunger from earlier in the night began to reawaken in each of them. Their breathing became a little more labored as their tongues curled against one another’s, sharply tasting of desire. Heads swaying subtly with the passionate movements of their mouths, their hands moved to try and pull each other closer, though the position they were sitting in would hardly allow it.

Max began to receive various flashes of the things that had happened to Liz during that day. He saw her and Michael confessing to Maria about their connection, he felt the sadness and distress she’d felt as they’d worked their shift together, he could feel how touched she’d been when he’d told her how he’d learned to play pool, he experienced again their arousing dance at the club, then, the later happenings in the banquet hall.

He sucked in a deep breath as he was hit with the intensity of what they’d been feeling then, and his hands clutched at her and tried again to pull her closer. Thwarted in this a second time, he gently began to lower them both to a reclining position on the bed.

Unthinkingly, Liz let him pull her down, her heart skipping as he seductively sucked her bottom lip into his mouth for a brief moment once her back hit the mattress. Max leaned over her, bracing himself on an elbow, and cupped the other hand lightly over her ear, as his lips moved on hers ardently.

Liz wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back with ever-increasing hungriness. It took a moment before it registered in her passion-fogged brain that she was now lying against the coolness of his sheets. When she became aware of how quickly things were intensifying between them, caution reared it’s head again.

Reluctantly pulling her lips from his, she whispered between light gasps for breath, “Max- we were...only gonna talk. R-remember?”

Reminded of where they were, and the assurances he’d given his parents, Max paused briefly before dropping the kiss on her jaw that he’d been about to place there. His lips lingered there sweetly, then with a great effort of will, he reigned himself in, and slowly pulled away.

The banked fire in his eyes as he looked down at her made Liz catch her breath, and she wanted nothing more than to pull him back down to her lips. She pulled in a deep breath and called upon all her powers of restraint.

“You’re right,” Max finally answered, sighing, and lowered his forehead to hers.

Liz slid her hands up and down his back soothingly, and after a long calming moment, he lay a soft, but brief kiss on her lips, then propped himself up on his elbow beside her. Resting his cheek on his hand, he gently began sifting through her hair with the other.

“So. What should we talk about?” he asked, lips quirking wryly.

Liz gave a quiet huff of laughter and after a moment, suggested shyly, “Well, since the situation sorta brought it up...maybe we could talk about what happened at the club. In the banquet hall, I mean.”

Thoughts of that episode upped his blood pressure a little, just when he’d begun to get it down to a safe level. Swallowing, he said, “Uh- I’m not sure thinking about that right now is such a good idea.”

Liz flushed slightly. “I meant the part about our energy.”

Max made an expression of comprehension.

Her brows furrowing in puzzlement, she asked, “What was it doing, Max? Do you have any idea what would’ve happened if we had... um- you know, kept going?”

Max shook his head. “No idea,” he said apologetically. “But, it was really- strong. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt my energy reach that kind of level before.”

Liz looked up at him, her eyes dark with an expression of apprehensive foreboding. “I have,” she said ominously. “When Michael and I did the energy blast together.” Max looked at her in mild astonishment. “I mean, it didn’t get quite that strong tonight, but... it felt like it was headed that way. That day at the quarry, it- just kept growing inside me until it felt too big to contain, you know? That’s what it felt like tonight. Like...your energy was feeding mine somehow. And if we had- gone any further...” Liz swallowed hard.

It was kind of scary to imagine what it would’ve done if they’d continued with what they’d been doing. It seemed as though it would’ve needed an outlet of some kind if it had grown to the kind of proportions it had at the quarry. The question was- what kind of an outlet? Considering what they’d been doing, one obvious answer came to mind, and Liz blushingly felt a wave of heat at the prospect. But how could making love dispel it, and why would making out even activate it in the first place, she wondered with bewilderment.

Apparently Max was thinking the same thing because he asked, “Why would it do this now when it never has before, though? I mean, even back when- when we found the orb, and things got so intense, nothing like this ever happened.” They were both lost in silent thought for a moment, then he said, “It seems like it only started happening after you did the energy blast with Michael.”

Looking at him closely, Liz said, “So you think this is me? Something I’m doing?”

“I’ve been thinking about the powers we’ve found out you have so far,” Max said by way of explanation. “And it seems like, not only are you able to do whatever we can when you’re connected to us, but you can also, like- amplify our powers. Use them in a way that’s stronger than what we can do ourselves.”

He looked at her with a question in his eyes as though asking if she agreed with what he was saying.

Looking thoughtful, Liz nodded her head. “Yeah. I think you’re right. So- are you saying this thing tonight was coming from you, and I only amplified it?”

Max sighed. “I don’t really know which one of us it was coming from, Liz. We’re going to have to be careful of it, though. At least until we find out what it’s gearing up to do.”

He couldn’t deny that he was pleased over the possibility that their energies were capable of attaining a strength that was every bit as strong as her and Michael’s were together. It eased his stress over their connection just a little more.

Liz yawned widely, and Max looked down at her with a half-smile, brushing her cheek tenderly with his thumb. “You must be worn out. It’s been a pretty stressful day.”

She turned her face towards his caress, prompting him to cup her cheek more fully within his palm. “Yeah, I guess I am kinda tired,” Liz said in vast understatement. It had been a really stressful day, and she was exhausted. But she was reluctant to leave Max just yet.

“We still have so much to talk about though,” she said appealingly. “Could we just...lie here and talk a little bit longer?”

Brushing her hair behind her ear with a slight smile, Max nodded. “Sure we can. Do you wanna- get a little bit more comfortable first?” he asked. His arm was getting tired of acting as a brace for him, and he needed a change of position.

Liz was agreeable, and the two of them crawled up towards the middle of the bed. Liz lay back down at his side, and he wrapped his arms around her to hold her close, their heads side-by-side on his pillow.

Liz lay on her side and fixed her eyes on his profile, sighing with contentment. She would love to spend the night here with him like this. But they really did need to talk some more. If she was going to go to Michael tomorrow and give the go ahead on exploring the connection, she needed to tell Max about it now. It felt so peaceful lying here in silence with him, and she hated to ruin that, but she didn’t want to keep this from him.

She only hoped he would be receptive to the whole idea.

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 15-Oct-2001 2:30:03 AM ]
posted on 15-Oct-2001 3:49:28 AM
Chapter 41

Max lay on his back with an arm curled around Liz to tuck her in close to his side. Absently stroking her arm with his other hand, he listened quietly as she told him all about dreamwalking Maria earlier.

She faltered a little in the telling of Maria’s dream, and Max was a little uncomfortable as well, when he heard it. The image of Michael making out with Liz was definitely not something he wanted in his head, and his insecurities bedeviled him, making it far too easy to picture. Poor Maria, he thought. She’d been trapped in a dream, forced to watch, as it played out in a scene that had been important in her relationship with Michael.

Max’s heart went out to Maria. It seemed as though she just didn’t know what to think about all this. He had to admit that he’d had more than a few faltering moments of misgiving over the strength of Liz’s connection with Michael, himself. It was hard not to question whether there might be some fateful reason for its existence. But at least he knew Liz loved him. He knew how much she loved him, because he’d felt it through their connection. And he was relatively certain that she wasn’t confused about what she felt for Michael. Maria didn’t have the luxury of knowing any of that where Michael was concerned.

She must be feeling so insecure, Max thought sympathetically.

Liz ended by telling him about the discussion she and Isabel had had about the reasons why Maria might have dreamed what she had.

“She’s just so confused,” Liz said woefully. “I wish I could reassure her that this thing isn’t going to change anything between her and Michael. I know she needs to hear that from me and Michael both, but how can we do that if she won’t even talk to us?” she finished with frustrated sorrow.

“Well, maybe I should talk to her,” Max offered.

He felt bad that he’d neglected his friendship with Maria lately. They rarely ever hung out together now the way they’d fallen into the habit of doing over the summer. It sounded like she could really use a sympathetic shoulder to cry on over all this. She’d offered her own shoulder to him often enough when Liz had been away in Florida, and it was only fair that he be there for her now. Maybe they could cry on each other’s shoulders.

“I might be able to understand how she feels a little bit better than you and Michael, anyway,” Max suggested hesitantly.

Liz lifted her eyes to his face and looked at him searchingly for a long moment, a small crease between her brows.

“You haven’t been thinking the same kinds of things Maria has...have you, Max?” she asked worriedly.

Max twisted his head around on the pillow to look at her, and debated how to answer. He didn’t want Liz to think he doubted the rightness of their being together, but he didn’t want to lie to her either.

Softly, he confessed, “I have to admit, I’ve kinda been worrying about this a lot, Liz. Trying to figure out why you’re connected to Michael the way you are... a lot of crazy thoughts have crossed my mind. I- I guess they’ve probably crossed all our minds. Michael’s too. I mean, look what he said at the club tonight a-about his feelings, and who you two are supposed to be to each other,” he said uncertainly.

“Yeah, but, Max, he’s just confused,” Liz promised. “Michael doesn’t have any feelings for me. He loves Maria. I’m sure of it.”

“And you?” The words came out of their own volition. Max knew he was being pathetically needy in asking them. He’d just assured himself that he knew exactly what lay in Liz’s heart. But something in him needed to hear her say the words.

Liz pushed herself up to her elbow at his side, and looked at him with concern. The fact that he would even ask that spoke volumes to her. It gave her heart a pang to realize that he must need reassuring almost as much as Maria did.

She brushed his bangs off his forehead tenderly, then rested her palm lightly against his cheek. “I’m not confused about my feelings at all,” she told him assuredly. “I care about Michael, the same way I care about Alex...or- or Kyle.” Looking deeply into his eyes, she said feelingly, “But you own my soul, Max. I’m- bound to you. With a connection so deep, it- it’s like a part of my being. And whatever the reason turns out to be for this connection with Michael, it really doesn’t matter. Because, what you and I have... nothing can touch it.”

His eyes glowing with emotion, Max said huskily, “I love you, Liz.”

“I love you, too, Max. More than my life,” she returned with soft sincerity.

Max wrapped a gentle hand around the back of her neck to pull her down to him, and Liz went willingly. Her body lay partially atop his as their lips melded together in a kiss that took her breath away. Fervent and deep, it managed to warm her heart and arouse her, both at the same time. The air around them seemed to turn sultry and warm as their tongues tangled intimately together, silently exchanging heated messages of love and desire. For long moments, they became completely lost in the emotions they were kindling in one another with the hungry movements of their mouths.

When their lips finally parted, they were both flushed and breathing heavily. One of Liz’s legs had somehow found its way in between the both of his, and his arms were wrapped around her tightly, holding her close against him. Max suddenly became keenly aware that she had nothing on beneath her shirt, as their embrace flattened the soft globes of her breasts against his chest.

Little else registered beyond that fact in that moment of acute awareness, and Max swallowed hard at the feel of the tiny points that were digging into his flesh. His hand fisted in the material of her shirt between her shoulder blades as he tried to will his unruly body back under control. The move inadvertently tugged the small tee up at the bottom, and his other hand moved as if it had a will of its own, sliding caressingly across the smooth expanse of flesh that had been bared at the small of her back.

Dropping her head to rest in the crook of Max’s neck, Liz took a shuddering breath and waited for her pulse to return to normal. Were they utterly incapable of having a conversation anymore without it turning into something physical and intense, she wondered ruefully. She felt Max’s hand on her hair, and then he placed a lingering kiss on the top of her head.

“You okay?” he asked gently.

Liz nodded, her face still buried in his neck.

“Funny, I don’t remember talking being quite this hard,” Max said humorously.

Liz laughed softly and finally moved a little ways away from him, moving back down to his side, and leaving her head on his shoulder.

“Yeah, I know,” she agreed. “I was thinking almost the same thing.”

They were silent for a moment, then Max said in reiteration, “So. I’m gonna talk to Maria tomorrow.”

“Yeah. You probably are the best one to talk to her right now,” Liz conceded. She hesitated before moving to the next topic of conversation, suddenly very nervous about bringing it up. “And, can tell her- we’re gonna find out why the connection is there,” she said, tentatively looking up at him to gauge his reaction.

Max’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean? How are we gonna do that?”

“Well...Michael wants to do some experimenting with it. Kind of... explore it- see where it takes us. He said the answers might be there waiting for us, you know if- if we just go in and look for them.”

Max was shaking his head before she’d even finished speaking. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Liz. This thing is too strong. It’s too unpredictable. You don’t know what might end up happening. I mean, look what happened with the energy blast. It could’ve ended up killing you! You can’t just...blithely wander around inside each other and see what you can do with this thing. It’s too dangerous,” he exclaimed roughly, disturbed by the very idea.

He didn’t like the thought of Liz and Michael working on this thing and possibly strengthening the connection between them, but his main concern was for Liz’s safety. He could still remember with frightening clarity the way she’d collapsed after doing the energy blast at the quarry, and he didn’t want anything like that happening to her again. It might not turn out okay the next time. Sure, it would be great to have answers to all their questions about this, but not if it ended up being at Liz’s expense.

Liz looked up at him and chewed on her lip. He was already upset, and she hadn’t even gotten to the part about how Michael had spent the night in her room last night. This was not an auspicious beginning to this conversation at all.

“We’ll be really careful, Max,” she assured him quietly. “And we won’t do the energy blast. I think we’ll mostly just try to do stuff with our minds. There can’t be any danger in that, right?”

His lips tightened as he struggled with himself over the answer to that. He was really averse to the entire idea, but part of him said that was only jealousy talking. Another part of him said he had a legitimate concern. Even if the two of them didn’t do anything that could immediately be deemed dangerous, they were just so clueless about what might happen whenever they joined their energy together. It was impossible to try and be prepared for any trouble they might encounter when they had no idea what form that trouble might take, or how it might harm Liz. And possibly even Michael.

“I don’t like it, Liz,” he said gruffly. He looked down at her and continued earnestly, “It’s too uncertain. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Liz looked at him in distress, feeling conflicted. She was none too enthusiastic about this idea herself, and she needed Max behind her in this. His qualms about it were making it hard for her to stick by her conviction that this was what was best for everyone.

“Max, come on. We need answers about this thing. It’s tearing us all apart. And maybe there’s some way to control it, you know? Don’t you want to find out if there is?” Lowering her lashes, she bit her lip, then confessed, “I’m just as apprehensive of it as you are, but... I think this is the only way to make things better.” She looked at him pleadingly. “Please, Max. I really need your support in this.”

Their eyes locked in a moment of contention. Max clearly wanted to respond to her need, but just as clearly, still didn’t like the idea.

“I want to be there,” he finally said in reluctant concession. “And if anything you do gets weird in any way, promise me you’ll back off and leave it alone.”

Liz nodded quickly, relieved that they’d come to an agreement.

Squeezing him lightly around the middle, she said, “Thank you, Max. I’m really glad you’re going to be there.”

Max silently returned the hug and continued to hold her tightly, feeling a sense of dread over the entire prospect of these ‘experiments’. Being present when they did them was mostly just for his own peace of mind. He’d been virtually helpless to do anything to stop it the day the energy blast had gotten away from them. But at least he’d be there in case the worst happened, he thought grimly. And if it would make Liz feel better to have him there, so much the better.

“So... what kind of ‘mind stuff’ are you gonna try? Telepathy?” he asked with an expression of disgruntlement.

Now that the moment was upon her, she was really dreading telling him this part. She didn’t know why she hadn’t considered before now how upset he was likely to be with her. Not only because she’d let Michael spend the night, but because she hadn’t told him about her feelings of being watched.

“Um, yeah. There is that,” she answered hesitantly. Taking a deep breath, she continued, “But... I think Michael wants to try a-another dreamwalk.”

Another dreamwalk?” he asked frowningly.

“Well Isabel said she didn’t think it could really be a dreamwalk since both of us were asleep so I don’t know if you could really actually call it that but-“

“Liz, what are you talking about?” Max interrupted, her sudden nervous chatter making him uneasy. And as another thought occurred to him, he asked with confusion, “And when did you and Michael even talk about all this anyway? I thought you said you two hadn’t talked to each other all day because Maria was acting so suspicious of you. And last night Maria said you went upstairs to bed as soon as you left me at the UFO Center.”

“Yeah, I... I-I did” she admitted, “but, um... I woke up- in the middle of the night, and Michael was- was on my balcony.”

Max stiffened. “What was he doing on your balcony?”

Liz looked up at him in trepidation. “He was... keeping watch.”

“Why would he be keeping watch on your balcony, Liz?” he asked darkly, suddenly suspicious of the way she seemed to be stalling. It was becoming increasingly clear that she had something she hadn’t been telling him.

Lowering her eyes, she confessed, “Because yesterday, when we connected to- to heal the burn on Michael’s hand, he found out I- I’ve been feeling like someone... might have been watching me this week.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell me?” Max quietly exclaimed, sitting up abruptly. He couldn’t believe she could have thought herself in danger and hadn’t told him. His heart was suddenly pounding with the fear that the watcher might have singled her out, and he didn’t know whether to be angry or hurt that she hadn’t come to him with this.

Liz sat up as well and looked at him beseechingly. “I didn’t want to worry you,” she tried to explain. “I thought I was probably just being paranoid. I never actually saw anybody, it was just a feeling I got sometimes.”

Max shook his head in displeasure. “Liz- you can’t keep doing this. You can’t just not tell me things because you’re afraid they might worry me. What if something had happened to you? Something that could’ve been prevented if you’d only told me about your suspicions.”

Sighing shortly, she argued, “They weren’t suspicions, Max. They were probably nothing more than delusional feelings of paranoia. I didn’t want to make everyone all upset over nothing. And I knew if I told you, you’d think you needed to try and keep an eye on me 24 hours a day, and there’s just no way you could do that.”

“But Michael could?” he asked resentfully. “Did you let him stay on your balcony?”

Liz swallowed anxiously.

In a small voice she admitted, “I did let him stay, but... n-not on the balcony.”

Max drew back and looked at her with hurt disbelief, and she rushed to defend herself. “Well it was really cold last night, Max! He’d been sitting out there shivering for hours before I found him, and I couldn’t get him to go home. What was I supposed to do?”

“You could’ve called me. I bet I could’ve made him leave,” Max said grimly.

Exasperatedly, she said, “And how exactly would it have helped the situation to have you two fighting on my balcony? At least this way my parents were none the wiser, Michael was satisfied that he was ‘doing his duty’ by being the protector, and I got to sleep the rest of the night through without worrying that he was sitting out there contracting the first known case of alien pneumonia.”

“Right. Everybody’s happy,” Max said with a mild sarcasm that he was immediately sorry for when she bit her lip and looked away, her expression guilty and unhappy.

He couldn’t be mad at Liz for trying to make the best of a sticky situation. But he couldn’t help but feel excluded and resentful that he hadn’t known something potentially dangerous had been going on with her, while Michael had. It felt like a confirmation of his earlier suspicion that the two of them had secrets he didn’t know about.

Quietly, Liz said, “He slept on the floor in a sleeping bag. The same way he’s done here thousands of times. It didn’t mean anything, Max. He was just a friend who was borrowing some floor space.” She unconsciously used the same words Michael had used last night to reassure himself that nothing untoward was going on, and she winced slightly when she realized she’d done so.

Max sat there in grim silence as he battled his feelings of jealous pique. Liz mistook his silence for anger at her and was dismayed to feel sudden tears stinging her eyes.

Her best friend was already so mad at her she refused to speak to her, what would she do if Max shut her out too?

“Max, I-I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I thought I was being followed. I honestly just didn’t want to worry you.” Remembering his earlier chastisement, she swallowed against the tightness in her throat and said, “I know that’s really no excuse, not...not when I promised you I’d never lie to you or- or keep things from you again. You have every right to be mad, but...” her words choked to a halt and she dropped her eyes to her lap, fighting back tears.

Relenting with a sigh, Max pulled her into his arms, and her own arms wrapped thankfully around his back. He couldn’t hold on to any resentment in the face of her distress. He knew she didn’t need this right now. She’d been through enough today.

Smoothing a hand over her hair, he told her, “I’m not mad, Liz. I’m just-“ he grimaced and forced himself to be honest, gruffly admitting, “I’m mostly just...jealous, I guess. I just really wish it had been me there last night.”

Liz felt a stab of guilty remorse at his words. She could tell by the tone of his voice that he wasn’t only jealous, but he was hurt that she’d left him out of this. The fact that Michael had been let in on it instead was probably a bitter pill to swallow. Never mind that Michael had found out without her telling him. That probably only made it worse. Chalk another one up for the connection, she thought bitterly.

Pulling back from his embrace, she looked up at him with apology and regret. “I’m so sorry for not telling you, Max. If I’d had any idea it would end up hurting you, I promise I would have.”

His expression softened and he brushed her hair away from her face. “I know you would’ve. Let’s just let it go, alright? Just- please tell me if anything ever has you scared or worried, Liz. If it turns out to be nothing, that’s great. But I still want to know about it, okay?”

Chastened, she nodded with downcast eyes. “I promise.”

“Good,” he said, satisfied for the moment. “Now, c’mere.” He pulled her down with him and they both lay back down in their former positions. She looked miserable, he was still feeling a little raw, and he needed her in his arms.

Holding her tightly in reassurance for them both, he said, “So. Tell me about this dreamwalk that wasn’t really a dreamwalk...”


Light, tinkling music, laughter, and conversation filled the large hall with the sounds of festivity. In the center of a gleaming black floor, a striking couple moved gracefully amidst the dancing bodies that filled the room. The young woman looked up at her partner in smiling affection.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

He made a face of mild disgust and answered, “These feet are clumsy.” A smile lit his eyes and he asked boyishly, “Forgive me if I crush your toes?”

The girl laughed softly. “I don’t care how many times you step on my toes, just as long as you keep holding me in your arms.”

His arms wrapped around her more firmly, and he lowered his head nearer to hers. “That, you may count on,” he promised huskily.

Another dancing couple moved in alongside of them.

“Zan,” the young man said with a note of quiet warning in his voice, pulling the first man’s attention away from his captivating dance partner. “Khivaar just came in with some of his men.”

Zan maneuvered around until he was facing the door, then stopped dancing altogether as he eyed the entryway grimly. Four men, rough in appearance, stood near the entrance of the hall, arrogantly surveying the room as if they owned it. One of the men threw out an arm to grab a young girl who had been skirting their small group, and the others laughed at her distress as she struggled against her captor’s embrace.

Authoritatively, Zan said, “Rath, take Shaan and Vilaandra to the dining hall, then come watch my back. It looks as though our friends have come looking for trouble.”

Liz’s eyes snapped open in wakefulness to find herself looking directly into Max’s as they lay on their sides facing each other in his bed. Her heart thundering, she swallowed, then asked in a hushed tone, “Was I- was I having another nightmare?”

He shook his head a little, his mind still slightly clouded by the mists of sleep. “I don’t know. I just woke up. Why? Do you think you were?”

Liz struggled to remember what had woken her up with pulses pounding.

It seemed like her dream had had something to do with.. dancing. She frowned in confused annoyance. Why did she always wake feeling as if she’d been having a nightmare, but there never seemed to be anything fearful in what she remembered about it?

“I don’t... I can’t really remember,” she answered. “Were you dreaming?” she asked with curious anxiousness, wondering if she’d gone dream-sharing, or whatever it was, again.

Max nodded slowly, and tried to recall what he’d been dreaming about. Suddenly, his eyes widened. “I- I think it had something to do with Zan,” he quietly exclaimed.

Liz’s heart renewed its hammering pace, his words bringing some of the details of her own dream rushing back to her. “I think mine did, too,” she confessed in a portentous whisper.


Outside, parked directly across the street from the Evans’ house, a dark gray sedan sat in the lifting darkness of pre-dawn. Its driver sat with an unswerving gaze fixed upon the house, and one grim thought circled repeatedly among a confused din of thought pattern.

It was time to make a move.

Chapter 42

Michael parked his bike in the alley behind the Crashdown, then climbed off and lowered the kickstand into place. He wasn’t due at work for almost another hour, but Liz had called this morning and asked him to meet her here so they could talk about something. She hadn’t said what it was, but he was betting it was about what had happened at the club last night, and he was not looking forward to this little conference at all. He didn’t know how he was going to be able face her.

He couldn’t imagine feeling any more stupid than he did about the way he’d acted last night. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure what had gotten into him. It was like someone had taken over his body or something. If he didn’t remember everything that had happened with such perfect clarity, he might almost wonder if someone from 'home' hadn’t paid him a little visit. Michael knew he often shot his mouth off without thinking, but he really deserved a medal for some of the things he’d spouted off last night. And he knew he'd probably earned everything Liz might say to him about it.

As he climbed the ladder to Liz’s balcony, he wondered if Max were going to be present for this. Liz hadn’t said, but Michael was almost hoping he would be. If he was going to be read the riot act, he’d rather hear what they both had to say and get it over with in one go.

When he reached the top he found Liz waiting for him on one of the lawnchairs that were scattered about. There was no Max in evidence. Michael didn’t know whether to be relieved or annoyed.

As he pulled himself over the short wall that ringed the balcony, Liz stood up to greet him awkwardly.

“Um, hey, Michael,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“Hey,” he replied in her general direction, unable to meet her eyes.

“Thanks for coming.”

He shrugged. “Had to be here in an hour anyway.”

There was a long moment of strained silence, with neither of them knowing quite what to say to each other.

Liz’s anger with him over the things he’d said at the club seemed to have faded, leaving her feeling extremely self-conscious over the fact that he’d walked in on her and Max during a moment of intimacy. She couldn’t help but wonder uncomfortably just how much of a glimpse he’d gotten of her without her shirt.

Ill-at-ease, Michael thrust his hands into his pockets, and shifted his stance. Finally, wishing to just get this over with, he introduced the subject he was sure he was here for them to discuss.

“So, I guess you and Maxwell behaved yourselves at his house since my energy didn’t get any wake-up calls in the middle of the night,” he said, his sarcasm masking his discomfiture over the whole incident.

Truth be known, he’d stayed up half the night waiting for that very thing to happen. He was afraid to imagine what he might’ve done if it had. Rushed right over to Max’s house and made a fool of himself, most likely, he thought with an inward grimace.

A frown of irritation marred her expression, and Liz almost became annoyed over his comment, before dismissing it as too much effort.
“Look, let’s not get into that right now, okay? That’s not what I asked you here to talk about.”

Michael frowned in slight confusion. “Well, what did you wanna talk about, then?”

“Uh...several things actually,” she replied, wondering where to begin. Deciding to start with the least embarrassing subject, she asked, “Remember how you said you wanted to- to explore our connection? See if we could find some answers about it?”

He nodded, somewhat bemused. Their connection was the last thing he would have expected her to want to discuss after all the trouble it had caused last night.

“Well- do you still want to do that?” she asked a little anxiously.

Michael looked at her curiously. “I haven’t changed my mind, Liz, if that’s what you’re askin’. He lifted his brows slightly. “Why? Have you?”

Tucking her bottom lip between her teeth, she nodded.

“Yeah, I- I have. I want to see if we can find out why it exists.” Her mouth twisted. “And I want to figure out if there’s a way to put some kind of leash on the thing. It’s having way too much of an influence on... everything.”

He nodded, in complete agreement. His musical preferences being the most recent example of that.

He was a little surprised at Liz’s sudden change of heart. Only 36 hours ago she’d been telling him that she might never be ready to find out what this connection between them meant. But then, it had been a very busy 36 hours, connection-wise.

“Okay, so when do you want to do this?” he asked, growing excited at the prospect. There was no telling what they might be able to do with this thing if they developed it a little. And finding out more about their past seemed a distinct possibility if they could repeat the dreamwalking thing Liz had done the other night.

Liz wasn’t excited about it by any means, but now that she’d made up her mind, she was ready to get started as soon as possible. “What about after work today? I think your shift is a couple of hours longer than mine, but do you want to meet at your apartment when you get off?”

Michael nodded his agreement, wishing they didn’t have to work today, so they could get started right away. But he was pleased that Liz didn’t want to waste any more time and they could get to it as soon as possible.

“Max is gonna be there, too,” she informed him. “And we have to be really careful that this thing doesn’t get away from us, Michael. I promised Max that if anything felt weird at all, we’d back off, okay?”

His lips twisted. Great, he was gonna have Maxwell breathing down his neck the entire time. He really should’ve expected something like that, especially after the misadventures of the energy blast last weekend.

“And I told him to ask Maria if she wanted to be there, too. I think it would be really good for her to see exactly what this thing can and can’t do, you know? Max is over at her house talking to her right now.”

Michael frowned. “What’s Max doin’ talking to her? I thought we decided it would be best for you to try to talk to her first.”

“Yeah... well- she still might not be speaking to you or me today, and she really needed someone to talk to.” It pained her to say that, and she was really hoping that Max could get Maria to come around. It was torture knowing that she was responsible for the pain her best friend was going through right now, and she couldn’t stand not being able to talk to her about it. “So, um- Max and I figured he should be the one to go. You know, since he’s... kinda in the same situation she is,” Liz finished with a slight wince.

He silently took all that in and had to agree that it sounded reasonable. Max was good at doing the sensitive thing and he’d probably know just what to say to Maria. Michael only hoped that when his turn came, he’d have some general clue about what she needed to hear from him.

“I think she’s in a pretty bad place about all this, Michael,” Liz told him quietly, before confessing guiltily, “I- uh, I dreamwalked her last night.”

His forehead wrinkled and he asked, “What did you see?”

Liz shifted uncomfortably and avoided his eyes.

“Us,” she admitted, her cheeks coloring. Haltingly, she went on to relate the details of Maria’s dream to him.

By the time she was through, Michael had a heavy ache in the center of his chest. It wasn’t hard to figure out why Maria might have dreamed about him and Liz in a romantic situation after what she’d overheard him saying to Liz last night, he thought with a wave of self-loathing. But that she would dream about that night at the Crashdown like that filled him with a sick feeling of dismay.

That had been an important moment for them. Most especially for him. It had been the first time he’d ever allowed himself to be led by his heart. The following week had been some of the best days of his life. He’d been almost happy for the first time in his memory. And it had all been because of Maria. He was always the closest he ever got to being happy when he was with her. No matter what she was thinking right now, how could she possibly imagine that Liz could ever take her place in his heart?

She must be feeling even more confused over this thing than he was, Michael thought, disturbed. He was suddenly extremely grateful to Max for going over there to talk to her.

But Max wouldn’t be able to tell her what she most needed to hear to ease her mind over all this. Michael realized in that moment that that was something only he could do.

Maybe he just might have that clue after all, he thought with self-mockery.

After Liz had finished telling him the dream, there was a long pained silence, heavy with awkwardness. She finally broke it, saying, “I just thought you should know. You know, just...what’s going on in her head right now.”

Michael nodded without replying, and Liz studied his brooding expression, trying to guess at his thoughts.

“We have to talk to her as soon as she’ll listen, Michael,” she told him, wanting to make sure he understood.

“Yeah, I see that,” he answered. He looked at her, his expression unsure. “Do you think she’ll come tonight? To my apartment?”

Shrugging uncertainly, Liz replied, “I’m not sure. I think she’d feel better if she were there, but it may be too soon to expect it of her. I guess it just depends on how things go with her and Max.”

Michael accepted that with a nod, knowing they’d find out soon enough when she showed up for work in less than an hour.

With a glance at her watch to see how much time they had left before their shifts started, Liz said, “There’s one more thing that happened last night you should know about.”

He cocked a brow. “It was obviously a very busy night in the Evans household.”

Her lip curled humorously and she cut her eyes up at him. “You haven’t heard the half of it,” she said dryly.

He smirked at her in response and her smile widened.

They both suddenly realized that this was the closest they’d come to joking with each other since... well, since a week ago when all this had started. The moment of slight humor seemed to alleviate some of the uneasy tension between them.

Liz’s eyes fell away shyly and she said, “’s about the dream thing. Isabel said she didn’t think what we did the other night was a dreamwalk.”

“What, you told her about it?” he asked, frowning.

“Yeah, last night,” she confirmed.

“Great. I guess now she’s ticked at me for not tellin’ her.” He knew that’s probably how he’d feel if he found out one of the others had had a dream of this import and had held out on him.

“No, I told her it was my fault you hadn’t told her,” Liz said, explaining it away. “Anyway, she said she was pretty sure I would have to be conscious of what I was doing for it to be a dreamwalk.”

His brows furrowed. “Well what was it, then? I mean, we did both see the same dream, right?”

Liz nodded. “I think maybe- we connected somehow, in our sleep.”

Shaking his head in consternation, he asked, “How? We weren’t even touching.”

“I don’t know how. But, Max and I can do it, too,” she told him.

Michael looked at her sharply, sensing where this was headed. Just that quickly he forgot how foolish he’d been feeling only moments ago over his protective attitude towards Liz last night, and became outraged.

“You went to his room last night,” he said accusingly. “And after you swore to me you wouldn’t do anything stupid.”

Tossing her head, Liz said impatiently, “I did not swear. And we didn’t do anything stupid. I went to his room to talk.”

He snorted in disbelief, and Liz glared at him. “Look, Max and I have been going through a lot lately, and we really needed to- to just hold each other. So we slept together in his room.”

Michael’s eyes flashed dangerously.

Slept being the operative word,” she clarified. She made sound of exasperation and said, “Can we please get back to the point here?”

He looked at her, his jaw tight, and Liz took his silence for assent.

The point is, Max and I had the same dream last night. And it was about Zan.”

The words were enough to startle him from his indignation. “You dreamed about Zan?”

She nodded. “Yeah. Well- not just Zan. We think Rath and Vilaandra were there, too. And maybe someone else, but I don’t think it was Ava.”

“Well, what were they doing?” he prodded, his voice an octave higher in his excitement.

She grimaced slightly. This was where the details got sketchy in both her and Max’s memories. “Dancing. I- I think.”

Dancing?” he asked, dumbfounded. Utterly disappointed by the answer, he asked caustically, “And what kind of dancing do they do on the home planet? The alien hustle?”

“It was just regular...slow- dancing,” was her shrugging reply, and she looked at him somewhat apologetically, understanding that he’d been hoping for something a little more... alien. But then, how could he complain, when the dream they’d shared had been of two kids playing in a field?

Michael shook off his feelings of letdown, telling himself that if these dreams were real, it was more than they’d ever received in the past, no matter what the subject.

“So okay, we connected. But how does that explain why we’re suddenly dreaming about our past selves?” he asked.

“We talked about that this morning, and Max thinks maybe I’m tapping into something inside you guys somehow. Kinda like when I was getting those flashes about the orbs.”

He made a face of comprehension. “So- Max knows...?”

“About the dream we shared?” she completed the thought. “Yeah, I told him last night.”

“And he knows I spent the night,” he said with a tone of apprehension.

She gave him a significant look. “Yeah. He knows.”
She really had been busy, Michael thought sourly. In studying her, he decided she looked a little guilt-ridden, but she didn’t seem too broken up about it, so Max must not have been very hard on her. Michael didn’t hold out much hope that he’d get off so easily. It should make tonight’s activities even more fun, he thought sarcastically, dreading the confrontation.

On the up side, they’d learned that this dream thing she could do hadn’t been a one-time deal, and it showed a lot of potential for helping them learn about their pasts. Hopefully something of a little more significance than dances and frolicking children.

“I wanna try to do the dream thing again,” he said emphatically.

Wryly, she replied, “I never doubted you would. But, we have to be asleep.”

“Then we’ll go to sleep,” he said, shrugging negligibly.

Liz nodded her assent. “After work,” she reminded him, and he frowned in irritation.

He was more impatient than ever to get to their connection experiments, and it was an annoyance that they had to get through their shifts first. Plus, they still had to try and make sure Maria was okay.

Michael sighed heavily.

It was gonna be a long day.


Maria crossed over to the door with resignation, in answer to Max’s knock. Though he hadn’t said when he’d called, she knew why he was here and she wasn’t sure she was up to this discussion just yet. She’d woken up to find that the protection of her cloaking anger had dissipated for the most part, making her feel as if all her hurt feelings over the situation were exposed and raw. And she was afraid talking about it was just going to feel like rubbing salt in them.

“Hey, Maria,” Max greeted her from the doorstep with a quiet smile.

“Hi, Max,” she returned, forcing a small smile in return, then opened the door wide in silent invitation.

He stepped inside, tucking his hands into the front pockets of his jeans.

“Come on in,” she motioned him with her hand, and he followed her into the living room, where they both took a seat on the couch.

Turning to face him, she spoke without preamble. “Look, I know Liz sent you here, but there really wasn’t any need. I was- gonna talk to her today anyway,” she admitted.

She’d come to the conclusion this morning that she couldn’t stand feeling this alienated from Liz. Neither of them had ever refused to speak to the other before, and she knew she’d probably hurt her best friend by doing so now. After an initial stab of satisfaction that she was completely ashamed of now, Maria felt nothing but regret for it. She’d realized she was really only making things harder, and was making herself feel even more miserable and alone by cutting herself off from them this way. She’d dreamed last night that Liz had told her something along those lines, and she figured her subconscious was probably trying to tell her something.

She was attempting to ignore everything else it’d had to say last night.

“She didn’t, actually,” Max refuted her first statement. “It was my idea to come over here. We haven’t really talked in a while, and...I-I’ve kinda missed it,” he confessed, his lips curving shyly. “So I thought I’d just come see how you were doing with all this. Make sure you’re okay.”

Maria looked at him warmly, touched by his concern. It really had been a while since they’d talked one on one. The last time had probably been over a month ago when he’d come to the Crashdown upset over Liz’s speech about not wanting to die for him. Maria realized suddenly that she’d missed him too.

“Well, thanks. But I guess it’s pretty obvious I’m not dealing very well,” she said ruefully. Wrinkling her nose apologetically, she said, “Sorry for running out like that last night. Were you guys really worried?”

Giving her a look of gentle reproof, Max replied, “Yeah. We were pretty worried. I was afraid if the hairpin curves at 80 miles an hour didn’t kill us, Michael was just gonna kick me to the curb and take over driving, ‘cause I wasn’t going fast enough to catch up with you.”

Her lips thinned and she said bitterly, “I’m surprised he was worried at all. In fact, I’m surprised he even realized I was gone.”

Max looked at her steadily. “Is that why you took off? To test him?”

“No,” Maria denied emphatically, then after a moment, made a face. “Not consciously, at least. I was just...upset. Everything was happening too fast. It was like, everybody’s been keeping all these secrets from me that I didn’t even realize they had, and suddenly they’re hitting me with them all at once, you know? I just- I couldn’t deal.”

His expression compassionate, he said, “I know this is a difficult situation, Maria. But please- don’t ever take off by yourself like that again, okay?” he admonished softly. “At least not until we find out more about this watcher and what he’s after.”

Shamefaced, she nodded, remorseful that she’d thrown everyone into a panic last night. If what Max had said was true, they could’ve had a serious accident trying to chase her down, and it would’ve been all her fault. She hadn’t been thinking about the watcher at all when she’d gone rushing from the club. Alex had reminded her forcefully of it when he’d gotten in the car, though.

Not wanting to be too hard on her, Max said soothingly, “Everybody made it home safe and sound, though, that’s the main thing.”

“Right,” she nodded with lashes lowered. “I am sorry, though, Max.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, dismissing the subject as closed.
They were silent for a moment, then Max said, “I’m glad you decided to talk to Liz today. She really feels bad about all this, and she’s worried about you.”

Maria’s lips twisted. She knew he was right that she and Liz needed to talk, but she was still feeling pretty bruised over all the secrecy business. She couldn’t help but feel foolish now, knowing everything that had been going on right under her nose that she’d been unaware of. And she found it hard to understand why Liz would leave her out of so much that was going on in her life.

“Yeah, it seems like talking isn’t really something Liz and I have been very good at lately,” she said, her voice tinged with bitter sadness. “Apparently, there’s been a lot I’ve missed.” She paused. “You, for example.”

Max remained silent, not quite sure how to respond to that.

“I mean, I’ve kinda suspected something was going on with you two, but I gather from what Michael said last night that you and Liz have gotten pretty... close- again,” she said archly.

Max’s face reddened at the mention of Michael’s comment about him and Liz not being able to keep their clothes on. Under normal circumstances Maria would’ve teased him about it, but she wasn’t much in a teasing mood at the moment. Instead, she asked, “When did all that happen?”

“Oh, uh-" he scratched the back of his head, “It was when I got back from New York. But we’re keeping it a secret until we can be more sure of how Tess might react. You know, because of all that future stuff.”

Lowering her eyes and smiling faintly, Maria shook her head once. “So you do know about all that.”

“Yeah,” Max admitted, watching her carefully. He knew this was probably a sore point with her too, since it was yet another secret she hadn’t been let in on. But he and Liz had decided she'd probably already guessed it was true.

Shrugging slightly and nodding at the same time, she said, “I kinda figured, since you two are obviously back together now and everything.”

He hesitated, then said consolingly, “I’m sorry, Maria. I know Liz would’ve told you if you’d pushed her on it, but you’ve just been kind of... distracted this week. No one knew but Isabel. And that was only because she got flashes from Liz when they saved my life in New York.” He grimaced. “Well, and Michael knew. For obvious reasons,” he said in a slightly grumbling fashion.

Maria looked at him searchingly, his tone suddenly making her aware of the merits of having him here to talk to. “Does that make you as crazy as it does me?”

He raised his brows questioningly.

“That they know like- everything about each other. Things we might never know. You- at least you have a fighting chance with your connection, and Liz probably tells you things. But Michael-“ she shook her head. “Unless he suddenly grows a little openness and sensitivity, I’ll probably never know a lot of the things Liz does.” She looked at him with shadowed eyes and asked hesitantly, “Does it make you feel kinda... cheated? And- left out?”

The corner of his lip tightened and he gave her a brief, dark look, before his eyes fell away. The thought occurred to him for a second time that it would probably be almost as good for him as it was for Maria to have someone to commiserate with over this.

“Yeah,” he replied, confessing, “I know it’s probably completely irrational, but- it just feels like they have all these secrets together. It’s hard not to feel... excluded, and maybe- maybe a little bitter.”

“Exactly,” she said almost triumphantly, gratified that someone understood exactly how she felt.

“And you know what else makes me crazy about this thing?” Without waiting for an answer, she went on. “That they can talk to each other inside their heads! That really freaks me out. I mean, it is just not something real people do. It’s kinda creepy, don’t you think?”

That part did kind of make him crazy, Max acknowledged. He hated it, actually. It seemed so unfair to him that Liz should be capable of that kind of communication only with Michael. But creepy wasn’t exactly the word he’d use for it.

“If by ‘creepy’ you mean annoying, and I resent the heck out of it, then yeah,” he answered a little irritably.

Maria snickered, and he smiled reluctantly, pleased by his unintentional lightening of the mood.

Her smile faded quickly, but the relief of having someone to talk to about this, and even be able to laugh about it, made it so much easier to ask the question that had been plaguing her since she’d found out about this connection.

“You’ve had a week longer to think about this than I have, why do you think they can do that, Max? Why are they connected like this?”

He shrugged helplessly, and looked at her as if sorry he didn’t have an answer for her. “A week really hasn’t been long enough to figure that out, Maria.”

“Well I know, but you must have some ideas rolling around in your head,” she prompted.

Since he had a more than vague idea of her own thoughts on the matter, his gaze was serious and direct as he said, “Probably about the same kinds of ideas rolling around in yours.”

He saw something like anguished fear flicker in her eyes, and he thought she must feel as if he were substantiating her worries by admitting they'd occurred to him too.

Shaking his head, he said gently, “But I do know that no matter why the connection exists, it’s not going to make any difference at all in the scheme of things.”

Envying him his sense of faith, Maria asked quietly, “How can you be so sure?”

“I’ve had plenty of unsure moments, believe me,” he said wryly. “But in the end, I guess I just have to listen to what my heart tells me, you know? That Liz and I belong together. No matter what. And since I know that’s what Liz’s heart is telling her too, I have to believe that.”

Maria sighed, feeling depressed and a little jealous. She wished she had that kind of certainty where Michael was concerned.

Max read her expression easily, and said comfortingly, “I think it’s just his head that’s confused, Maria. I’m sure his heart knows the truth.”

She made a face. “It doesn’t really make a difference. Following his heart isn’t exactly Michael’s strong suit. I’m not that sure it would lead to me anyway,” she said with heavy-hearted dubiousness.

Max’s eyes darkened with sympathy, but he wasn’t sure what he could say to reassure her. He almost smiled when he remembered how effectively Liz had dispelled his insecurities the night before. But he was definitely the wrong person to take that tack with Maria. He considered telling her of Liz’s conviction that Maria was the one Michael loved, but he wasn’t sure if that would make her feel better, or simply stir her resentment toward the connection, since Liz was likely so sure of it because she’d actually seen it inside him.

In the end, he decided it really wasn’t their place to tell Maria how he felt. That was something Michael needed to do himself.

“Well, it might not mean that much coming from me,” he finally said. “But I honestly think you are the one his heart would lead him to. Just...follow your own heart, Maria, and I’m sure he can’t help but respond to it.”

Maria smiled softly, suddenly reminded of their summer conversations, when they’d kept each other encouraged to just hang in there and Liz and Michael would come around eventually. It seemed as though Max didn’t need her reassurances this time, but she found herself desperately latching on to his. His quiet understanding and obvious willingness to listen seemed an invitation to confess her feelings to him, just as she had in those days.

“I just feel like I’ve lost him all over again. You know? Which is stupid, because we really weren’t all that together to begin with. But it feels just like it did last spring. Like- I’ve lost him, to something...alien. And I just don’t have any way of fighting against that.”

“You haven’t lost him, Maria,” Max assured her softly. “He needs you. Probably more than he knows. You bring out the...the human in him. He fights against that, and- he tries to keep his alien side apart from you because he’s afraid it’ll hurt you somehow, but..." he shook his head, "he’s never going to be happy until he learns how to reconcile both sides of himself. And I don’t think he’ll ever be able to do that without you.” He reached out and gave her arm a light squeeze. “Just- try and be patient with him a little longer, okay? He’s gonna wake up one of these days and realize how much he needs you. And he’ll probably kick himself for taking so long to see it.”

Maria looked at him silently, her eyes glowing with appreciation. The man certainly had a gift for soothing a girl’s fears, she thought fondly.

Of course, she knew he couldn’t speak for Michael, and this was all just speculation on Max’s part. But she’d always thought, herself, that if Michael would only let her in she could teach him not to be afraid of his emotions, and could make him happy. Max’s words instilled her with the hope that if she persevered, everything would work out in the end. And if Michael thought he had some kind of newly-arisen feelings for Liz, she would just have to help him see the error of his ways. Liz and Max had just found one another again, and they couldn’t allow Michael’s confusion over this connection to mess things up for the two of them. She knew how much they loved each other, and even if she couldn’t be 100% sure of Michael’s feelings for her, the surety that Max and Liz belonged together was something definite to hang on to.

She had started out dreading this conversation with Max because she’d been afraid it would only end up making her more depressed by stirring it all up and discussing it. But he’d actually managed to make her feel a little better over the whole situation. A little more resolute, and less alone.

Her voice warm with gratitude, she said affectionately, “I’ve missed you, girlfriend.”

Max smiled at the silly misnomer she’d taken to calling him over the summer.

“Ditto,” he returned with a teasing grin.

[ edited 2 time(s), last at 27-Oct-2001 12:48:10 AM ]
posted on 15-Oct-2001 5:00:55 AM
Chapter 43

Maria came in the back door of the Crashdown to find Michael and Liz in the break room already dressed for work, and apparently waiting for her. Max walked in behind her and hung back as the three of them faced each other in awkward uncertainty.

Liz took a few hesitant steps toward her best friend, throwing a quick glance in Max’s direction for a clue about how his talk with her had gone, and he sent her a gentle smile of reassurance. Stopping several feet in front of Maria, Liz searched her eyes anxiously for signs of forgiveness.

Maria looked back at her guardedly. She hadn’t been sure exactly what her feelings would be when she faced Liz and Michael this afternoon. She’d known they’d be forced to confront each other today at work, and she’d lain in bed for over an hour this morning contemplating calling in sick. But in the end, she’d decided that she’d only be prolonging the pain and confusion she felt if she sat around the house all day brooding over this thing.

She’d half-expected seeing them again would resurrect her angry bitterness over all their secrecy. But the anguished look of appeal on Liz’s face only made her feel regretful and sad for the way things stood between them, a state that was due in part to her own silent withdrawal, she knew. She noted that even Michael looked troubled and remorseful, and she just couldn’t summon up the will or the energy to continue to be mad at either of them. Her emotions felt too ravaged, and the aching hurt she felt inside seemed to leave little room for anything else.

Though it had only been one day since she’d found out about all this, it felt as if it had been much longer, and Maria didn’t think she could make it through another day like yesterday. She just wanted things back to normal. She wanted her best friend back. And she needed to know how much Michael cared about her more than she ever had.

When Liz could find no evidence of hostility or resentment in Maria’s expression, she felt an absolutely overwhelming sense of relief, and tears sprang readily to her eyes. The unmistakable look of hurt in the other girl’s eyes made Liz long to try and comfort her if only Maria would allow her to.

“I’m sorry,” she offered tentatively.

Her own eyes grew wet as Maria nodded and said a low, “Me too.”

Liz rushed forward, and the two girls threw their arms around each other in relieved thankfulness, babbling tearful apologies almost on top of one another.

“I really am so sorry, Maria. I never ever meant to hurt you with any of this.”

“I’m sorry I had my mom turn you away last night," Maria countered. “I was just hurt and upset, and I didn’t want to talk about it.”

Liz pulled back to look at her and shook her head briefly. “No, it’s okay. I completely understand. After what happened at the club last night anyone would’ve been upset."

“Yeah, but I shouldn’t have run out and scared everyone the way I did.”

“Well I never should have lied to you in the first place. You shouldn’t have found out about me and Max like that.”

Her words colored with hurt, Maria asked, “Why didn’t you tell me about that? I wouldn’t have told anybody, Liz.”

Remorsefully, Liz hugged her friend again and said in an aching voice, “Oh, Maria, I never even thought you would. It’ve had so much on your mind this week, and it just never really seemed to come up.”

“You should’ve brought it up, Liz. I would’ve been ecstatic for you. And I would’ve tried to help you more with the Tess thing.”

“I know. I know you would’ve,” Liz said guiltily.

Max and Michael exchanged a bemused look as the girls continued to make up in an emotional release of chatter, seemingly having forgotten that the guys were even there.

“I won’t lie to you, Liz, I’m still really upset that you kept all this from me. It made me feel really shut off from you to find out all this stuff has been going on and you didn’t tell me. It..hurt, you know?”

Liz’s face twisted into an expression of apology and regret. “I’m so sorry, Maria. I- I don’t know what else to say.”

Maria hesitated for a moment before saying relentingly, “Just say you won’t ever lie to me again. And promise you’ll fill me in on everything, okay? All about Max, and telling him about his future version, and literally everything that’s happened since you found out about this connection with Michael.”

Liz quickly nodded her agreement, immensely grateful that Maria was willing to forgive her for this so soon. She knew she’d created a breach in their friendship with her secrets, and she only hoped that telling Maria the complete truth now would truly be enough to mend it.

As if Maria’s mention of Michael had suddenly reminded them of his presence, both girls abruptly fell silent, and turned to look at him.

Michael shifted uneasily as his eyes met Maria’s, and he felt a flash of something close to panic. Everything between them was such a mess, and he desperately wished that just this once, he could come up with the perfect thing to say to make everything better, the way he was sure Maxwell would. In his anxiety, he was suddenly drawing a complete blank, though, and he felt extremely self-conscious over the fact that Max and Liz were standing there watching him expectantly.

Dark uncertainty held her immobile as Maria gazed back at Michael, the short distance between them feeling like a distance of miles. For some reason it seemed easier to forgive Liz for all this than it did him. Which was weird, because she felt more hurt over Liz keeping it secret than she did over Michael’s silence on the matter. But this connection seemed to be more his fault somehow, since it was an alien thing, though she knew that was unfair and irrational. And the extent of her vulnerability and insecurity where he was concerned almost made her feel angry at him. If she just had a solid idea of where she stood with him, this wouldn’t be nearly so hard.

Liz, who still had an arm loosely wound around Maria’s back, finally gave her a gentle push in Michael’s direction, and Maria slowly made her way towards him.

Michael’s eyes veered away nervously, then glanced back and became caught by her face as she approached him almost warily. He was struck with the thought that he’’d never seen her looking so fragile and unsure of herself, and it threw his emotions into even more turmoil. He really hated himself for making her feel like this, but at the same time, her lost look of hesitancy brought all his protective instincts rushing to the fore, and he wanted nothing more than to surround her with himself and protect her from further pain. But how could he possibly do that when the one her heart needed protection against the most was himself?

As Michael struggled with his conflicting emotions, Maria halted an arms-length away from him and stood stiffly, as if bracing herself. She tilted her chin in a show of bravado, but her eyes screamed her need for reassurance from him.

And suddenly Michael knew exactly what to do. The decision brought a strange sort of peace flooding through him.

“Come here,” he said softly, and reached out to pull her the rest of the way to him.

As he wrapped her securely in his arms, she seemed to whither a little and melted against him, while her own arms went around him tightly.

Nothing had ever felt so good to Maria in her entire life, and a stray tear slid silently down her face as her eyes sank closed in relief. His gentle embrace comforted and reassured her in a way nothing else from him could have.

Of course, ideally he would’ve given her a verbal declaration of his feelings, but coming from Michael, this was almost as good, and she drank in the peace it brought her.

Watching them, Liz smiled widely, feeling ridiculously proud of Michael, and moved over to join Max by the door to give the two of them a little more privacy.
Michael held Maria close and lowered his head to rest his jaw against her temple with a sigh. He’d needed this almost as much as she had, he realized. This is what he’d needed to hold onto to keep his feelings straight. This sense of rightness he only felt in her arms.

Tightening his arms around her slightly, he said softly, “I’m sorry, Maria.”

Surprised and a little cautious, Maria leaned back to look up at him. “What exactly are you apologizing for, Michael?”

His lips twisted. He should’ve known she’d pin him down to specifics. After all, she’d told him last night a general apology just wouldn’t cut it. But he actually didn’t mind. He needed to say this to her.

“For all of it. For not tellin’ you about the connection, for acting so...psychotic at the club last night.” His expression discomfited, but sincere, he finished, “And I’m sorry you heard me say that. You know, about my feelings. Maybe...if I’d talked to you in the first place- I wouldn’t have been so confused,” he admitted gruffly.

Biting her lip to contain her expression of pleasure, Maria sternly told her heart to behave, and asked evenly, “And why is that?”

Michael scowled lightly. This pinning down stuff could easily get annoying.

But as he looked down into hazel eyes, bright with hopefulness, he found himself wanting to give her the words she needed to hear. Nothing had really changed about their situation though, and he was afraid he couldn’t tell her what she probably wanted to hear the most.

Hoping it would be enough, he lowered his lashes and confessed hesitantly, “Because, I could never feel for anybody the way I do about you, Maria.” He tilted his head shruggingly. “I just... needed you to remind me of it.”

A soft smile broke free, and Maria gave her heart permission to go ahead and jump around all it wanted.

It wasn’t an ‘I love you’ by any means, but after the suffocating state of uncertainty she’d been living in since yesterday, his admission made her feel as if she could finally breathe again, and the relief was giddying.

Waiting tensely for her reaction to his words, Michael relaxed slightly when she smiled.

Her eyes lit with warmth, Maria said in a slightly throaty voice, “Then I guess I’ll just have to remind you of it every day, won’t I?”

The corner of his lips tilted up, and he pulled her back into his arms, an incredible feeling of gratitude swelling inside his chest. Laying his cheek against her hair, he closed his eyes tightly, feeling unworthy of such easy understanding and acceptance from her.

When Liz had reached Max’s side after leaving Michael and Maria to their reconciliation, she looked at him with glistening eyes and reached up to give him a tender kiss of appreciation on the cheek. Slipping her arms around his waist, she hugged his side and said softly, “Thank you for talking to her.”
Empathetic of her emotionalism, Max curled an arm around her shoulders, cradling the back of her head in his hand, and pressed his lips to her forehead. While stroking her hair, he told her, “I am glad we talked, but I can’t take any credit for this. Maria had decided to talk to you before I even showed up at her house.”

Liz glanced over at Maria in surprise. “She had?”

“Mm-hmm,” Max affirmed, bending his head to rest against hers as he looked toward the embracing couple as well.

Liz was overwhelmed anew at her best friend’s generosity in forgiving them so quickly. She and Michael were going to have to do everything they knew how to make this all up to Maria.

A slight smile stole across her face as she took in the almost fierce way Michael was clasping Maria to himself. He’d already made a really good start.

Leaning her head on Max’s shoulder, Liz sighed tranquilly.

Everything was starting to feel just a little bit more under control.


Liz was standing at the pick-up window waiting for table five’s Trekkie Special to come up when Maria coasted up beside her to pick up the order Michael had just pronounced ready. He’d waited on his side of the window for Maria to get there so he could hand it over to her personally, and when she arrived, she treated him to a coquettish smile. His lips quirked as their eyes flirted with each other for a minute, then he handed her the plates one at a time.

“One Venus Meatloaf Platter and one Alien Takeover,” he announced.

“Thank you, Spaceboy,” she said liltingly, sliding the plates from his grip with a lingering brush of her fingers.

Spinning around lightly to deliver them, she halted after only a single set of steps and turned back. “Hey. You forgot my Space Fries.” Looking at him quizzically, she said, “That’s like the sixth order you’ve messed up today. What’s up with you?”

Glancing at the plates in her hand, he shrugged and said tongue-in-cheek, “I’m just checkin’ out your powers of observation. Tryin’ to keep you on your toes.”

“Mm,” she nodded, unconvinced. “Is that what you’ve been checking out? My powers of observation?” she asked, her eyes gleaming wickedly. Several times today she’d noticed him standing idle and watching her through the pick-up window as she worked, a fact that had secretly thrilled her.

Michael grinned slightly, unconcerned at being caught out.

“Know what I think?” she challenged.
He lifted a brow lazily.

I think if you spent a little less time observing me and my... ‘toes’, and paid a little more attention to what’s going on in the kitchen, you wouldn’t be getting so many orders wrong,” she charged lightly, honestly hoping he wouldn’t stop, even though it was affecting his work. She was enjoying the attention far too much.

Smiling rakishly, he replied, “Hey, can I help it if your ‘toes’ are distracting?”

She flashed him a beaming smile, then turned it on Liz when he moved away to get her fries.

Shaking her head, Liz smiled and said playfully, “Ugh. You guys are worse than Max and I ever even thought about being.”

Maria lifted her shoulders toward her ears and thrust her head forward a little, grinning secretively. “I know. Isn’t it great?” she said in an excited undertone.

She felt positively buoyant over the way Michael had been acting today. She’d never seen him like this before. So openly admiring and almost playful with her. While she was absolutely reveling in it, it was hard not to suspect that his connection with Liz might be influencing his behavior somehow. But she wasn’t allowing herself to dwell on thoughts like that. She just wanted to enjoy being the center of Michael’s attention right now.

Liz shared a smile with her friend, thrilled to see her looking so content, and Michael came back in only seconds to supply the missing item on Maria’s plate.

“Thanks. I’ll try to be less of a distraction from now on,” she promised impudently.

With a short tilt of his head and back, he drawled, “You can try.”

Smiling brilliantly, Maria left to serve her customers, and Michael watched her walk away with a pleased glint in his eyes, feeling lighter than he had in days. He loved seeing her happy like this. She almost seemed to be sparkling with it. It was kind of a rush to know that he was the one responsible for making her glow like this. It was extremely gratifying, but at the same time scarily humbling. He wasn’t sure he was all that comfortable knowing his actions could have that kind of impact on the state of someone else’s emotions. But at the moment he only allowed himself to feel grateful that he could make her smile like this. Ever since Liz had told him about the dream Maria had had the night before he’d been driven by the urge to erase all the pain he’d been causing her. He was glad to see what he was doing might be working.

When he finally shook himself back to the present, he noticed Liz staring up at him, a smile playing over her lips.

“What?” he asked in self-conscious defensiveness.

She shook her head innocently. “Nothing. I’m just wondering what’s gotten into you, that’s all.”

He shrugged abruptly. “I’m just tryin’ to make sure she knows where she stands with me. Isn’t that what you said I should do?”

Liz remembered telling him that the night he’d slept over in her room, and nodded. “Yeah, I did say that. It’s just seeing you go about it that’s such a trip.” Not wanting him to feel insulted, she quickly let him know she thought it was great, saying, “You’re being pretty terrific, you know.”

Michael ducked his head, but he couldn’t deny that it gave his confidence a boost to hear Liz affirm that he’d been doing this reassuring thing right.

His lips curving up in a half-smile, he said carelessly, “Yeah, well, I’m a pretty terrific guy. You just don’t know it.”

Lifting her brows, she said with amusement, “Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea.”

Michael looked at her in some surprise. He’d been so focused on his efforts to make Maria feel more secure in his feelings, and subsequently enjoying every minute of it, he’d almost forgotten about the connection the past few hours. He was slightly shocked at himself for doing so, especially when they were so close to finding out more about it.

Such was the power of Maria, he thought ruefully, not knowing whether to feel amused or dismayed.

Liz was equally surprised at herself for making such a light reference to their connection, without feeling any of the resentment towards it she usually did.

She almost felt as if she had a whole new outlook on things today. The relief of having disclosed everything to Maria and Max, and their acceptance of it was like having the weight of a huge burden lifted from her. Everything just seemed so much more manageable and less threatening today.

Finally Michael dryly replied, “Well, just don’t go spreadin’ it around, okay? I have a reputation to protect.”

Liz grinned, and with the jingling of the bell over the front doors, turned her head to see Max entering the café, and her smile brightened by several degrees.

His gaze was drawn to her immediately, as though he’d known exactly where she’d be before he walked in, and her eyes lit with pleasure as they locked with his across the room. Max’s lips curved affectionately at the sight of her, sending a warm rush of love flooding through her, and she silently returned the tender regard.

Suddenly realizing that he’d been standing in the doorway doing nothing more than staring at her for long moments, Max tore his eyes from hers to take a self-conscious look around, then stuffed his hands in his pockets and headed for his usual booth.

Michael watched the entire exchange impassively, and when Liz turned away from Max with a dreamy sigh, he shook his head.

“Could you two be any more obvious? It’s a wonder everybody doesn’t know about you by now.”

Liz blushed prettily and gave back as good as she got. “Speaking of being obvious... you know if you could manage to tear yourself away from flirting with Maria long enough today to do what you’re being paid to do, I’m sure these hungry people would appreciate it,” she said with a taunting smile, delighting in the opportunity to throw his own words to her the other day back in his face.
Michael scowled in reply, and her smile broadened teasingly. Nodding her head toward the kitchen, she playfully ordered, “Go check on table five’s order, would you? I’ll be right back. Don’t ring that bell,” she said in warning, pointing at the offending object.

Michael smirked, and she smiled as she turned to make her way over to Max’s table with light footsteps.

Almost as soon as Max had gotten seated in his favorite booth, Maria glided by and tossed off a lively greeting in passing.

“What’s up, girlfriend?”

“Hey, Maria. How’s it goin’?” he returned with a smile.

“Surprisingly great,” she answered brightly, continuing on her way.

“That’s- great,” he replied, blinking in mild surprise. He had expected things would still be a little strained today. But apparently that wasn’t the case, Max thought, taking note of the bounce in Liz’s step as she approached his table.

“Hi,” she greeted him sunnily.

“Hi,” he returned warmly, smiling at her obvious high spirits. “So I guess things are good, judging from all the cheerful waitresses around here,” he commented, lifting his brows in question.

Liz grinned. “Things are really, really good. You wouldn’t believe how great Michael’s been today, Max. Maria’s been practically floating all day.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” he said, glancing over bemusedly to see to see Maria amble smilingly towards the pick-up window where Michael was waiting.

Max was surprised to learn that Michael was the one responsible for Maria’s light-heartedness, and he grudgingly allowed that the other boy must be trying to do what he could to make up for last night. It made Max feel a little more kindly disposed towards him, but he was still kinda ticked at him over his whole attitude at the club. And also for the fact that he’d spent the night in Liz’s room, Max thought darkly.

Liz dragged him from his grim thoughts, saying, “Not that I’m not glad to see you, but what are you doing here so early, Max? I don’t get off for almost an hour.”

“I know. I thought I’d just hang out here while I wait for you.”

She looked at him with mock-disapproval and said, “But that’s a violation of the ‘loitering’ rule.”

His brows came together slightly. “I thought we did away with that rule,” he protested mildly.

“We did?” She was unclear what the ruling had been on that one.

“I’m almost positive,” he answered certainly. His eyes gleaming, he drawled, “But as long as we’re discussing rules...when can I make a claim on rule #23 today?” He asked the question with a tiny grin.

Liz grinned as well, and said teasingly, “You’ve already had your #23. This morning when I left you to go to Isabel’s room.”

Her smile widened at how adorable he looked as he almost seemed to pout.

“Surely that didn’t count,” he argued.

They hadn’t gotten much sleep last night, what with dreamwalking, late-night confessions, and discussing the dream they’d shared in the wee hours of the morning. Liz had barely woken up when Max’s alarm had gone off, warning of his parents’ imminent waking. He’d dragged himself out of bed only slightly more alert than she’d been herself, and had bundled her up to lead her down the hall, leaving her at Isabel’s door with a single tender kiss. While sweet, it certainly hadn’t been enough to last him through the day.

“Doesn’t the rule say anything about how long it has to last before it counts?” he appealed.

She pretended to think. “You know, I don’t think the rule says anything about that.”

“Well I think it should, don’t you?”

She tilted her head consideringly. “Maybe,” she concurred. “How long do you think it should say?”

“I think at least five minutes’ worth,” he said definitely.

“Five whole minutes?” she said with exaggerated dubiousness. “I don’t know, Max. What if we can’t sneak away for that long?”

Without missing a beat, he said with a grin, “Then I guess we’ll just have to keep trying until we meet the requirement. After all, rules are rules.”

Liz released a gust of laughter and cut her eyes upward.

Max smiled with her, then asked hopefully, “So, do you think we could try for our first five minutes when you get off work?”

“Well, okay. But my parents are gonna be down here getting ready for the dinner rush and we can have the entire apartment to ourselves. I was kinda hoping for something a little more than five minutes, but if you wanna play by the rules...”

Shrugging, she left the thought dangling, and Max hastily changed his tune.

“Then again, rules were made to be broken,” he said dismissively.

She made a moue of seriousness while giving a single nod of her head. “Yeah, I’ve noticed that about you. You’re a real rule-breaker.”

Grinning, he said, “What can I say? You bring out the rebel in me, Liz Parker.”

Liz giggled softly, and Max’s gaze fixed on her face in captivation as he enjoyed the musical sound. Her dark eyes seemed to emit a warm, happy glow today that had been missing for quite awhile, and it gladdened his heart to see her acting so carefree.

Liz glanced over her shoulder, then said, “Listen, I have an order up, but maybe later we could go upstairs, and um... see how rebellious we can be,” she said wickedly.

Max’s eyes dropped to focus on the devilish curve of her lips, and the room suddenly felt disconcertingly warm to him. Swallowing, he nodded in affirmation. Not the most brilliant response, but it was the only one he seemed capable of coming up with. The next hour couldn’t pass fast enough for him now that he had a craving for her kiss.

The hour did pass fairly quickly. The restaurant wasn’t all that busy at this time of day, and Liz often stopped by Max’s table, flirting lightly when no one was there to see, and teasing him with suggestive promises that made him anxious to finally get her alone.

He told her as much, couching the thought in the mock-threat of ‘You just wait until I get you alone.’ To which came her sassy reply, “I can hardly wait.”

With almost fifteen minutes left to go on her shift, Liz began bussing empty tables, humming the popular song that was playing over the sound system while she worked. Maria was at Max’s table keeping him company while Liz was occupied, and Michael was busy getting the kitchen in shape before Jeff came down to take over the evening shift.

Liz picked up her tub full of dirty dishes and headed for the back, deliberately passing Max’s booth on the way.

“Fifteen more minutes,” she told him in an almost sing-song voice.

Max greeted her comment with a smile, but there was a dark heat in his hazel-gold eyes that made her shiver deliciously.

When she pushed through the swinging door to go to the kitchen, Liz was hit with a rush of cold air. Thinking it odd, she looked to the far end of the break room to find the alley door standing wide open.

But it was the person standing boldly in its opening that stopped her dead in her tracks.


It was completely incongruous that the sight of him, with his small stature, had the ability to strike such terror in her heart, but she knew how deceiving this exterior husk was that he wore. Courtney had told them how very powerful he was, and he had somehow mysteriously escaped death when Tess had killed the rest of the Skins, proving the truth of those words. And he had tortured and terrorized Max and the others when the Skins had captured them only weeks ago. This man-child was the very epitome of danger, and the icy cold finger of fear held Liz in its grip as she came face-to-face with the evil menace his teen-aged countenance somehow managed to exude.

The tub she was carrying slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers and landed at her feet with a deafening crash of shattering dishes, and blind instinct urged her to turn and flee.

But then the most amazing, utterly terrifying thing happened.

He simply vanished into thin air.

One moment he was standing there smirking at her arrogantly, one brow cocked tauntingly, and the next he disappeared like so much mist.

The sound of breaking dishes nearby startled Michael from his task of stocking condiments, and drew his attention to the kitchen doorway. Liz stood with her back to him framed in the door's center, and the sight of her frozen posture put him on immediate alert, sending him hurrying to her side in alarm.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” he asked frowningly, lightly catching hold of her arm.

She didn’t answer right away, but he could feel the fine quivering of her nerves under his hand, and he followed her gaze across the room, finding nothing out of the ordinary other than the open back door.

The swinging door opened beside them and Maria rushed in, followed closely by Max.

“Liz, babe, what happened? Are you okay?” Maria asked, her face etched with concern.

Liz turned her head toward Max, and her eyes, wide and fearful, latched onto him, drawing immediate comfort from his presence. Intercepting the fear in her eyes, Max was instantly by her side, the sound of broken glass crunching noisily underneath his feet. The soothing feel of his light touch on her back seemed to unlock her vocal chords, but at his tender concern, reaction began to set in. The whole incident had been over with so quickly, she’d barely had time to process it, but now emotion came crashing in on her.

Max frowned at the feel of her trembling and asked raspingly, “What’s wrong, Liz?”

Swallowing, Liz looked back at the alley door and said hoarsely, “I saw Nicholas. At least... I-I think it was Nicholas.”

“What?” Max’s eyes widened. Instinctively, he pulled her closer protectively. “Michael,” he said commandingly, but Michael had anticipated him and was already moving swiftly towards the back door.

“Be careful!” Maria called anxiously to his retreating back.

Liz stood sideways in Max’s embrace, both hands wrapped around his upper arm clingingly, and Max clutched her shivering form close to his chest. His heart was pounding heavily with the frightening knowledge that something could’ve happened to her even though he’d been only yards away.

He took a calming breath and tried to keep it together for Liz’s sake, despite the panicked thoughts that were trying to crowd his mind. It seemed their watcher now had a name. And it was one that filled his heart with dread. His experience with Nicholas had shown him how ruthless and unfeeling the other alien was, and knowing that he was focusing in on Liz terrified Max.

Why Liz, he wondered despairingly. Anger and guilt mixed with his fear in a gut-churning combination. Anger that Nicholas would threaten Liz when she had nothing to do with this war, and guilt because he was putting her in danger simply by being with her.

His roiling emotions were all based on the assumption that Nicholas had been their watcher all along though, and only now did it register that Liz had expressed some doubt over the fact that it had indeed been the Skin.

Pulling back to look into her face, Max asked in consternation, “What did you mean ‘you think’ it was Nicholas, Liz? What did he say?”

“H- he didn’t say anything,” she admitted. “One minute he was there, and the next he was just...gone.”

Michael came back after searching the alley and connecting street, and everyone looked at him expectantly.

“Nothing,” he announced with frustrated disgust. “What do you mean he was just gone?” he asked Liz, having overheard her last statement. “Which way did he go?”

As the three of them looked at her with varying expressions of worry and inquisitiveness, Liz began to feel a little foolish over the entire incident. Once her rational mind had reasserted itself over her previous state of panic, it pointed out the unlikelihood that what she’d seen had been real. Nicholas had only been there for a brief span of seconds, and if he’d been real how could he simply vanish into thin air?

“He, um...he didn’t go in any direction,” she sheepishly confessed. “He just kinda...disappeared.”

This was met with a beat of silence, and then Michael said scoffingly, “How could he just disappear, Liz? He’s an alien, not a magician.”

Flushing, she narrowed her eyes at him. “I know that, Michael. Look, it must’ve just been my imagination playing tricks on me or something. He was only there for a few seconds. And if it had really been Nicholas, why would he reveal himself like that without doing anything?”

It was a sound argument, but Liz continued to feel uneasy over the whole thing. She didn’t know why she’d be having random visions of that particular alien enemy. It wasn’t like she’d even been thinking about him. The possibility that he could be their watcher had occurred to her on a few occasions, but since she couldn’t reconcile the flashes she and Michael had gotten from the rock with what they knew of Nicholas, she’d dismissed him as a suspect. So why would her mind just conjure him up out of the blue?

Max thought she had a valid point, but his innate caution and fear for her safety wouldn’t be easily dismissed.

Michael’s instincts, too, were warning him not to ignore the possible danger in this.

“Well, somebody opened that door,” he pointed out.

Liz warily eyed the door in question. “Maybe the wind just blew it open.”

“It’s a steel door, Liz,” Max gently refuted.

A heavy silence descended as the four of them turned the incident over in their minds, not quite sure what to believe.

“It’s not possible it was real, right? I mean, just the fact that he disappeared is enough to tell us that. It had to have just been in my head.” Liz said the words to reassure herself as much as anyone, and she looked at each of the others to see if they felt any more comforted by them than she did.
“Maybe so,” Maria agreed, “But what if someone was playing with your head?” she asked meaningfully.

“A mindwarp?” Max asked, disturbed.

Of course, Tess was the culprit that automatically popped into everyone’s mind, and it sickened Max to think that she could’ve done something this cruel to Liz.

He shook his head. “Tess wouldn’t do something like that,” he said in defense of the friend she had become. “I mean, what would her motivation be? If she knew Liz and I were together, yeah, maybe, but as it is...” he trailed off. As much as he disliked thinking that Tess could’ve been responsible for doing this, there was too much at stake to leave any possibility unexplored. It could mean Liz’s life. He’d have to look into it, Max concluded grimly.

Acceding to Max’s assertion, Maria suggested, “So if it wasn’t Tess, then maybe it was like, some kind of enemy that has powers like she does.” The idea was almost scarier to her than the thought that it truly had been Nicholas. At least with the evil shrimp you knew what you were getting. But the idea of some faceless bad guy out there with Tess-like abilities, capable of messing with your head at any time, was truly terrifying, and it heightened her worry for Liz, imagining that she might be a target for someone like that.

She wasn’t the only one who felt dread at the prospect that what she said was true. Suddenly the danger that had merely skirted at the edges of everyone’s consciousness this past week felt decidedly more real, and it threw both Max and Michael into automatic protective mode.

Looking at Liz with grim determination, Max said, “You remember that 24-hour watch you said there was no way for us to do?”

Liz nodded slowly.

“We’re gonna have to find a way,” he said resolutely.

Chapter 44

It was half an hour after Michael had gotten off work, and Max and Liz were headed over to his place in the jeep. Most of the drive to the apartment had been accomplished in silence, with each of them lost in their own thoughts.

Max had questioned whether they should change their plans to experiment with the connection tonight, but rather than seeing the Nicholas vision, or whatever it had been, as a reason not to go forward with their plans, the whole incident had made Liz even keener on the idea of discovering more about her powers. After the scare she’d gotten, she felt a definite need to know if she had the capabilities to protect herself, should the need arise in the future. And since encountering Nicholas, that almost felt like a foregone conclusion.

They hadn’t been able to come up with a satisfying explanation for that whole thing, though she and Max had continued to brainstorm over it after she’d gotten off work. They had gone upstairs to her apartment as they’d earlier planned to, but sadly, their playful mood had been destroyed by the fright they’d been given, and it was a much more somber and subdued rendezvous than the one they’d been eagerly anticipating. There had been no rule-breaking, much to Liz’s regret, but they had each kept the other extremely close to their sides during their discussions, both of them needing the sense of safety it seemed only the other’s nearness could provide.

Over the course of the two hours they’d spent together there, Max had gotten his #23, although it hadn’t exactly been in the vein he’d asked for it. The kisses they’d shared in the privacy of the apartment had alternately been soft expressions of fearful worry and concern, and tender reassurances that all was well for the moment.

Mostly, they’d just spent the time talking, trying to make sense of the appearance of Nicholas, and the way it had occurred. Liz had learned how very serious Max had been about keeping a constant watch over her, an intent she had half-heartedly argued against, the main reason being that if they had sleep-overs every night, someone’s parents were bound to find out about it eventually. And who knew how long this threat could possibly exist? They might never catch this watcher. They couldn’t live in each other’s pockets indefinitely. Not when they had school, work, and parents to contend with.

But as infeasible as the idea seemed, Liz had to admit that she’d feel considerably safer if Max or one of the others were always around. This thing with Nicholas had her pretty unsettled. As much as she’d like to just dismiss the whole thing as a figment of her imagination, she thought it would be foolhardy to ignore all the possibilities that warned of danger.

Still, it was hard to believe that the vision had been the act of an enemy. Why would anyone get so close only to create a 30-second mind warp or whatever, that hadn’t done any more harm than to scare her? Max had pointed out that maybe whoever it had been had been interrupted, or maybe they’d been afraid that the sound of the breaking dishes would draw attention and they hadn’t wanted to get caught. If that had been what happened though, she couldn’t figure out what exactly they had been planning to do before they’d been interrupted. That one short vision had been bad enough, but the thought of someone seriously messing with her head kinda freaked her out. Only, she just couldn’t see what purpose that would serve anyone.

It honestly seemed as if someone had just been playing a very cruel joke. One that she could hardly credit Tess with. Liz just couldn’t see a reason why the other girl would suddenly be so vindictive. So, the next logical suspect was the watcher. And if it had been him, this vicious prank made him seem much more menacing than she’d originally been imagining. The idea of someone malicious, and as mentally disturbed as their flashes from him had seemed to indicate, focusing his attentions in on her, scared her more than a little. Who could guess what a person like that might do? And why target her as his victim?

It was all the unknowns that made the situation so very unnerving.

“You okay?” Max asked, breaking the silence in the jeep. His thumb brushed over the back of her hand where it was firmly clasped in his, a reassuring contact they’d maintained throughout the drive, broken only when Max had to let go to shift gears.

Her bottom lip tucked in, Liz nodded and gave his hand a squeeze. “Yeah, I’m... just still thinking about the Nicholas thing,” she admitted.

Max glanced at her soberly. “Yeah. Me too. I’ve been trying to figure out a way for me to be able to stay with you tonight. Your room just seems way too easily accessible from your balcony for my comfort.”

Liz chewed on her lip and silently agreed with him. Ever since the other night when Michael had scared her by being out there, she’d seen her balcony for the easy access route to her it was. That had always been advantageous for her and her friends before, but now that someone potentially dangerous could use that same path to get to her, it made her feel extremely vulnerable having it there. But it was her room, and she didn’t know what she could do about it, short of asking her dad to have some major reconstruction done.

“You could spend the night at my house again,” Max offered as an option, “but I thought since you and Michael are going to try the dream thing tonight anyway, maybe he wouldn’t care if we just stayed over at his place. Do you think your parents would let you spend the night away from home again? If you told them you were with Maria or something?”

“Maybe they would. If I told them Maria and I just made up from a fight. But Max, I’m gonna have to sleep at home sometime. I know exactly how you feel about the situation, but finding an excuse for my parents so I can spend the night with someone every night isn’t the solution.”

“I know,” he conceded reluctantly. “But at least for tonight... I would feel better if I had you with me. Please, Liz? Would you just humor me?”

Her encounter with Nicholas had left Max feeling pretty shaken. The fear that she could be in danger sat like an unremitting ball of lead in his stomach, and until they knew for sure what had really happened this afternoon, he didn’t feel comfortable letting her out of his sight. He knew it was unrealistic to imagine he could do that for the indeterminate length of time it would take until they could get this watcher caught, but for now he thought the only thing that would get this apprehensive dread in his gut to abate was to keep her close. Besides, he’d gotten a taste of what it felt like to have Liz Parker sleep in his arms and in his bed last night, and it had been better than his sweetest fantasy. Right now he thought they could both use a little of the soothing peace it would bring to sleep in one another’s arms like that again.

Liz really couldn’t argue against being with him tonight when it would make her feel much safer too. So, by way of agreement, she said, “Maybe after we’ve worked with the connection for awhile, Maria can take me to my house. I can get some clothes and ask my parents’ permission then. But um... listen, Max, I’ve been thinking.”

The hesitant tone of her voice warned him that this wasn’t something she was expecting him to be thrilled about, and he gave her a wary look before turning his attention back to the road by necessity when he came up on the turn for Michael’s street.

“What about?” he asked uneasily.

She looked at him with slight apology because she knew she was going back on her word, then dropped her eyes to her lap and confessed, “About how helpless I felt when I saw Nicholas earlier. I hated feeling like that, Max. Knowing he has all these powers he could use against me, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to defend myself.” She hesitated before continuing. This was the part he wasn’t going to like. “But what if there was, Max? Something I could do to defend myself, I mean.”

Max pulled the jeep to a stop in front of Michael’s apartment, and turned to look at her. Seeing where she was heading with this line of conversation, his face took on a mutinous expression while his eyes filled with dread.

Trying to reason with him, she began to list the reasons why this was a good idea before actually stating what it was she wanted to do. She was fairly sure he had probably already guessed what it was, though.

“Don’t you think we should try to find out everything I’m capable of doing, Max? I think maybe I’m ready to, and that’s kind of what tonight is all about anyway, right? And, you know, if we knew I could take care of myself, you wouldn’t have to worry so much about keeping an eye on me all the time.”

His expression flattened. “Even if I knew you were ten times more powerful than Nicholas, I would still worry about keeping an eye on you, Liz,” he objected.

Giving him a speaking look of gentle chiding, she said, “You know what I mean. You probably wouldn’t feel like this 24-hour watch was so necessary if we knew I could defend myself against someone with powers.”

With grim certainty, Max finally stated the subject she’d been skirting around. “You want to do the power blast.”

Looking at him in appeal, she told him, “I know I said we wouldn’t mess with it, Max, but I just want to find out if I’m capable of doing one on my own. I think I would feel a little safer if I knew I could. Wouldn’t you?”

Stubbornly, Max said in near-accusation, “I would feel safer if I knew trying to do one wouldn’t be so intensely overwhelming that it could render you unconscious.”

His words conjured up memories of how terrifyingly overpowering their last energy blast had been, and Liz began to have a few second thoughts.

“Yeah. I would too, actually,” she said falteringly. Realizing she would never be able to sell Max on the idea if she wasn’t completely confident in it herself, she swallowed her trepidation and said more strongly, “But it may not be like that if I can do one on my own, Max. It was probably just my energy combined with Michael’s that made it so strong last time. We’ll never know until we try, right?”

Max hesitated before answering, studying her with an expression of conflict. He wasn’t sure which was the lesser of two evils. The effect the energy blast could have on her, or the danger of leaving her completely defenseless against an enemy if he continued in his objections about letting her try the blast. He could tell she was a little nervous about the idea herself, but she also seemed utterly resolved. If she wanted to do this despite her apprehension, how could he let his own worry stand in her way?

He also couldn’t deny what she’d said earlier. It might ease his fear for her the slightest bit if he knew she had the capability to defend herself.

Sighing in defeat, he reluctantly assented. “I guess not.”

* ~~~~~~~~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~~~~*

Michael paced over to the window of his apartment and peered out for what had to have been the tenth time since he’d heard the jeep pull up. A neighbor’s rosebush near the edge of the street kept him from getting a clear view of the jeep, and he could only speculate as to what Max and Liz had been doing out there for the past five minutes. It was those speculations that were making him so agitated.

Ever since the two of them had disappeared into her apartment after she’d gotten off work, Michael had been feeling edgy. On the one hand, he was really glad she hadn’t been alone after that freaky incident with Nicholas. But on the other hand, he really hadn’t trusted them to behave themselves while they were alone up there. Liz was probably a little upset, and Michael could easily imagine things getting out of hand in the course of Max trying to comfort her. He’d half-expected the pull of Liz’s energy to alert him to what they were doing. He wondered grimly if he shouldn’t be expecting it now, too.

If that was what they were doing in the jeep right now he would be seriously p.o.’d at Max. Anyone could take them unawares if they were all involved with each other. They didn’t have any business sitting out there on the street alone when Nicholas was possibly watching them, anyway.

Frowning slightly, Maria watched Michael go to the window for like the hundredth time, and wondered what was wrong with him. She knew he was anxious to get this show on the road, but she wished he would just sit down and be still. He was making her nervous.

She wasn’t fully supportive of these experiments to begin with, and his odd behavior was only making her feel more uneasy. She wasn’t sure exactly what it was they were planning to do here tonight, but it seemed to her that he and Liz were just gonna end up more connected than ever if they started messing with the thing.

Unable to see anything more than he had the last time he’d looked out the window, Michael wondered aimlessly to the kitchen. Absently grabbing a soda from the fridge, he belatedly thought to look to Maria seated on one of his barstools, and ask, “You want something?”

Eyeing him quizzically, she shook her head. “No thanks.”

As he absently popped the top on the can his eyes fell on the window, and he jerkily sat the untouched drink aside to stalk across the room and peer out again.

“What are they doing out there that can’t be done in here with the rest of us?” he asked irritably. “Don’t they know we have an enemy on the loose out there?”

Maria didn’t answer him aloud, but when he turned away from the window in frustration he saw her slightly mocking smile, and she cocked a brow at him meaningfully. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who imagined they were out there engaging in highly amorous, possibly lewd, activities.

“That’s it. I’m goin’ out there,” he said, abruptly turning to head for the front door.

Quickly hopping off the stool, she caught him by the arm before he’d taken a handful of steps, and told him, “No, you’re not. What’s wrong with you? Let them have a little time alone together already, Michael.”

Indignantly, he said, “They’ve already had two hours alone together at her house. Probably decided to just carry on with the show no matter where they were, and give a lovely little PDA for all my neighbors to gawk at,” he ended grumblingly.

She snorted. “Yeah, like your neighbors would be shocked by the sight of two teenagers kissing. You are aware that the guy in 3C works as a bouncer in a strip-club, right? And once, I saw the couple across the street goin’ at it in broad daylight with the bedroom curtains wide open. Does that sound like the kind of people whose sensibilities would be offended by the sight of a little affection?

“Hey, old Mrs. Haygood lives in the house right next door, and she has got a very weak heart, okay? If Max and Liz can’t control themselves and show a little common decency for the good of the neighborhood, then obviously someone has to help them keep their hormones in check.”

Sighing exasperatedly, she told him, “Michael, relax, okay? It’s still light outside, and they’re trying to keep their relationship a secret, remember? They are not out there making out. I was just joking around.”

As he turned to gaze outside once again, Maria looked at him with uneasy appraisal. He’d been acting strange ever since that thing with Nicholas this afternoon. She had thought he must be worried about Liz, the same way she was. At least, that’s all she’d hoped it was. He kinda seemed to be going into overkill with it, though, and it was steadily eroding the confidence in his feelings that had grown in her today, due to his attentions.

“What is this thing you suddenly have about Max and Liz?” she asked with consternation. When nothing was immediately forthcoming, she went on, “I noticed how weird you three were acting at the club last night, you know. The dirty looks all through dessert, you telling Liz she shouldn’t spend the night at Max’s. And I ask myself how you could’ve possibly known they ‘couldn’t keep their clothes on in a public place’, and the only logical answer is that you must’ve seen them without them.” Looking at him assessingly, she asked, “Did that have anything to do with that whole inquisition you subjected Liz to before she went to the sports bar with Kyle?”

His eyes shifting away uncomfortably, he hesitated before mumbling, “Maybe.”

Maria’s heart began to thump with heavy dread.

Forcing the words out through a suddenly tight throat, she asked, “Are you... jealous?”

Michael took one look at the troubled look of insecurity on her face and cursed himself. He was completely undoing any good he might have done with her today by acting so asinine now. But he just couldn’t seem to help it. The idea of Liz and Max going at it hot and heavy really bugged him. It disturbed him that he felt like that, but no matter how much he told himself that it shouldn’t matter to him one way or the other what they did, or that it had never bothered him before, it didn’t seem to help.

But it wasn’t really jealousy, he assured himself for the hundredth time. It couldn’t be.

When Michael failed to answer her question outright, Maria’s face blanched, and her arms came up to wind around herself as if to ward off a chill. Had her subconscious been right all along, she wondered achingly. Did Michael really have feelings for Liz?

“Michael?” she prompted, her voice strangled.

When he realized that he’d been silent way too long, remorse stabbed at him for unconsciously hurting her yet again. Was he ever going to get things right, he wondered with self-disgust?

Wrapping his hands around her upper arms, he slid them up and down in a clumsily soothing gesture.

“No, I’m not jealous, alright? I don’t feel that way about Liz,” he assured her, looking directly into her eyes and willing her to believe him. The words were entirely true, which was why it was so hard to figure out why the thought of her and Max freaked him out the way it did. “It’s should’ve seen them at that club last night when I walked in on ‘em, Maria. They might not have actually had each other’s clothes off, but they were unbuttoned, and I have no doubt they would’ve been off if I hadn’t shown up when I did. The two of them were so far gone they weren’t even aware of where they were anymore. And Liz has got this... thing with her energy. When she gets...” he reddened slightly, “when she gets- excited, her energy charges up. It’s really strong- and I can feel it. That’s why I was acting so weird last night.”

Maria looked at him with fascinated horror. “You could feel them making out?!”

“No.” Sighing shortly, he rubbed at his eyebrow, feeling uncomfortable with this entire subject. “I didn’t know that’s what they were doing. I just felt Liz’s energy gearing up. It felt kinda like it did that day we did the blast, and I was afraid she and Max were in trouble. But when I took off lookin’ for them I found them in a dark conference room makin’ out like bandits. Apparently, Liz’s energy gets into the act when she gets all hot and bothered,” he said in mild disgust.

“Wow.” Maria blinked in speechless surprise. There was so much to react to in what he’d said, she wasn’t quite sure what to think about it.

It was yet more weirdness with the connection. But this wasn’t anything to resent really. Actually, she imagined it must’ve been pretty embarrassing for everyone involved. She guessed that would explain why Michael had been acting so antsy in the game room last night. And she could kind of understand his attitude about Max and Liz now. She could remember walking in on a similar situation here in Michael’s apartment back in the beginning of the year, and she’d kinda gone off on Liz afterwards about how she was playing with fire. And there hadn’t even been massive power-blast-doses of energy involved then. As far as she knew.

“Liz and I have really got some serious dishing to do,” Maria finally said, shaking her head a little. “Why would being with Max like that trigger her powers? It never did before.”

Collapsing heavily onto the couch, Michael rubbed a hand over his face and answered wearily, “Who knows? Who knows why anything happens these days?”

Maria made a sympathetic face, his expression of disgruntled bewilderment tugging at her heartstrings. Michael usually tried to avoid dealing with feelings whenever he possibly could. He must feel like he’d been put through an emotional wringer this week. And she knew he’d always felt a deep need to know all the answers about who they were and where they came from. This whole thing with Liz was just adding more questions and confusion to the mix.

Moving across the room to where he sat, she gingerly sank down onto the couch beside him. She yearned to reach out to him with a gentle touch of comfort, and maybe something even more, but after everything that had happened lately, she felt timid to do so.

Voice soft with empathy, she said, “Rough week, huh?”

Michael could feel the wave of tender concern she emitted as if it were a palpable thing. It seemed to quiver in the air between them and wrap around him with the soothing warmth of a blanket. She’d always been able to somehow project her emotions like that until he’d swear he could almost feel them. It was the most amazing thing. But right now, it was the look of longing in her eyes that had fully captured his attention.

Swallowing, he answered gruffly, “Yeah. Pretty brutal. But that’s nothin’ you don’t know about. Yours wasn’t so great either.”

Her expression wry, she said, “Yeah, that’s true.” Looking at her lap, she said casually, “It’s really too bad we didn’t have somebody around to offer a little...sympathy. It seems like we both could’ve used it. What with our brutal week and all.”

Michael sat up a little straighter and looked at her carefully, his heart rate picking up its tempo. Had that been some kind of an invitation? Could she really be willing to allow him so close again already after the way he and Liz had hurt her?

Cautiously, he replied, “Well, if you’re still feelin’ bad, maybe there’s someone here now that could give you a little sympathy.”

Her lips tilted in a beguiling smile, and she said encouragingly, “It was a pretty tough week. I think I probably have a few lingering bad feelings.”

The soft glow of her smile stirred something inside him, and Michael was suddenly finding it a little difficult to breathe. She was so beautiful it honestly made his heart ache.

“Think maybe I could help you feel better?” he asked, his eyes dropping to focus on the curve of her lips as he unconsciously began to lean towards her.

Maria felt his gaze like a physical touch, and it seemed to lure her inexorably closer to him. The distance between them shrank to inconsequential proportions as she gave her breathless reply. “You could give it a shot.”

Michael gently cupped the back of her head to draw her the rest of the way to him.

“Poor baby,” he murmured shortly, in the instant before his lips closed over hers.

The kiss was tentative at first, as if both were a little unsure of the reception they might get, but they quickly warmed to the familiar velvet-soft glide of one another’s lips, and they eagerly pressed closer to initiate a firmer contact. Michael’s fingers tangled within the silken strands of her hair and gently tilted her head at a sharper angle, and he greedily went looking for more, his tongue slipping out to forage for a taste of the heated sweetness inside her mouth.

Maria had placed a palm against his chest to brace herself, and now her fingers closed convulsively around a handful of his shirt at the devastating sweep of his tongue. A small sound emerged from her throat and she hungrily responded to his foray with a delicate thrust of her own tongue. She’d almost forgotten how incredibly potent his kisses were. His lips had the ability to scatter all her thoughts, and being the sole focus of Michael Guerin’s passionate intensity was an extremely heady and addictive sensation. In this, as in nothing else, he made her feel as if she were the only thing that existed in his universe. She believed this was probably the only time he truly allowed himself to feel without reservation and was genuine in his responses, and each time he allowed her to get this close to him and feel him like this, it made her fall a little bit more in love with him.

Michael’s fingers circled the wrist that rested near his heart, their length easily encompassing its petite size. As his thumb brushed across the delicate skin at its underside, he could feel the erratic rhythm of her pulse there, and the knowledge that he was the one making it trip that way sent his blood pumping heavily through his veins with excitement. He couldn’t seem to get enough of the taste of her, as he continued to drag his lips against hers again and again. Her kisses were every bit as sweet and spicy as any tobasco-drenched delicacy, and he didn’t know how he’d gone so long without them.

The movements of their mouths became a little hotter and more desperate. Somehow needing more, Michael slid an arm around her waist to pull her flush against him, and Maria aided him by practically climbing into his lap. But no sooner had they completed the move than the sound of the apartment door opening had them pulling apart abruptly, and Maria fell heavily back into place beside him. Facing the unwelcome intrusion with flushed faces and heaving breath, they hastily rearranged themselves, and Michael scowled.

“Don’t you two know how to knock?” he demanded.

Max and Liz didn’t say anything for a stunned moment as they took in the scene they’d broken in upon, then slow grins broke across their faces.

Delighted by the fact that they were the ones doing the interrupting for once, and pleased to see that the two of them had worked things out so well, Max shrugged in response. “Hey, turnabout’s fair play, “ he said unsympathetically.

Liz was absolutely thrilled by this turn of events, and her eyes danced with excitement for her friend as she flashed a smile Maria’s way. Looking flustered but happy, Maria grinned back.

“Kinda sucks being the interruptee instead of the interruptor, huh?” Liz teased them both lightly.

Michael shot her a dark look. “Yeah, well, I wouldn’t say being the interruptor has all that much going for it either,” he grumbled in reply and exchanged a significant glance with Maria.

Correctly interpreting the look that passed between them, Liz said dryly, “Oh good. You caught Maria up on everything that happened last night.”

“He gave me a bare idea of what happened last night,” Maria corrected. “But you’re gonna give me explicit details over ice cream later, right?” she asked meaningfully.

Liz glanced uneasily at Max, put on the spot because she knew she’d promised to fill Maria in on everything she’d been holding back from her, and unsure how Max felt about her sharing their intimate details.

Max’s lips quirked wryly as he caught Liz’s look of uncertainty. He knew how Maria was. She would try to drag out every possible detail. But he didn’t really mind, he was sure Liz would be discreet.

“Yeah, um- right,” Liz finally answered. Later, she silently promised.

Receiving the message, Maria nodded. “So, uh- how are you feeling after what happened at the Crashdown? Are you really sure you’re up to doing this tonight?” she asked Liz with concern.

The mention of the incident with Nicholas brought back Liz’s state of disquiet over it, and without thinking, she slipped her hand into Max’s. His fingers immediately entwined reassuringly through hers.

“Yeah, I’m a little freaked, I guess,” she replied. “But I’m sure I’ll be fine tonight.”

Her words held a double meaning, and Max took his cue from them. He really hated having to ask for anything from Michael since he wasn’t exactly his favorite person right now, but his concern for Liz far outweighed his feelings of objection. And they would really have less of a chance of getting caught spending the night together if there were no parents around to catch them.

“Listen, Michael. I want to stay with Liz tonight,” he said unapologetically, and tightened his hand around hers. “I think someone should be with her whenever we can manage it. And since you guys are gonna do the thing with the dream tonight, I thought maybe it would be easier if we could just stay here.”

“What thing with the dream?” Maria asked in innocent confusion, looking from one to the other of them questioningly.

The three of them looked back at her for a moment with matching expressions of stupefied dismay, then their eyes flew to exchange an inquisitive look amongst themselves as if asking one another if they’d told her about this.

If no one had told Maria about the dreams, then she was undoubtedly still in the dark about Michael spending the night in Liz’s room, and Liz couldn’t believe that between the three of them, this small, but flip-out-worthy detail had been overlooked.

Their reaction, and the drawn-out silence that followed, filled Maria with uneasiness. But when Michael and Liz dropped their eyes guiltily, and Max adopted an expression of stoic resignation, Maria’s uneasiness quickly turned to dread. There was something else they hadn’t told her, she realized with a flash of pique. And from the looks of things it wasn’t going to be pretty.

“I am sooo gonna hate this, aren’t I?” she asked of the one person in the room she felt a certain kinship with at this particular moment.

Max shifted uncomfortably, and glanced briefly at Liz and Michael. He couldn’t contradict Maria when he still wasn’t all that crazy about the whole thing himself. Replying honestly, he said, “Probably, yeah.” Not wanting her to blame Liz and Michael when they were basically innocent, he added heavily, “But try and keep in mind that it’s just another one of those irrational reactions we were talking about earlier, and maybe it’ll be easier.”

Maria grimaced.

In the midst of dealing with a telepathic connection, some creepy stalker dude, and a disappearing alien skin, who, by all rights really should be dead in the first place, the man asks her to be rational.

He’d obviously forgotten who he was speaking to.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 17-Dec-2001 3:56:42 AM ]
posted on 15-Oct-2001 5:42:56 AM
Chapter 45

Liz and Maria huddled close together in the dimness of the huge empty building they’d chosen to use as a practice ground for Liz’s energy blast. Max and Michael were taking a walk-through to make sure they were indeed alone in it, only having left the girls after taking the precaution of locking all the entrances alien-style. No one short of another alien with powers could possibly get in, and they’d assured the girls they’d be quick in their sweep of the building.

Once they’d committed to the plan of trying out the blast, they’d realized they couldn’t very well perform it in Michael’s apartment. They were too uncertain of what would happen when Liz tried it, and they didn’t want to risk attracting attention. After racking their brains for a place to go that wouldn’t leave them exposed in the open like the quarry had, it had been Max who had reluctantly come up with the solution of using the old abandoned soap factory near the edge of town. It would offer the safety of a large enclosed space, and there were no houses for miles around, so they should be safe from discovery.

Once here, they’d seen that it really was perfect for their purposes. There were only three entrances, one of which had been boarded up thoroughly enough that it had remained that way over the years, and there were hardly any windows in the place. The few that were here were nearly opaque with grime, and they were situated yards above their heads, so there was no chance of anyone looking in on them through their clouded glass. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow in much light either, and as it was nearing darkness outside anyway, it left the interior of the building gloomy and dark. Not to mention the fact that with no source of heat, it felt cold and damp inside.

It was the cold and the silent spookiness of a structure long-deserted that had Liz and Maria huddled together the way they were, rather than any sense of chumminess or real support they felt at the moment. But it was comforting to have another human body so near, nonetheless.

Maria hadn’t said much at all after her initial outburst over the news of Michael sleeping in Liz’s room, and the coolness she’d exhibited ever since affected Liz far more deeply than the dank winter chill of the building. She would’ve almost preferred that Maria rail at them rather than retreat into silence this way. It was so un-Maria-like, and Liz didn’t know how to counter it. To be thrust abruptly back into this tangled state of affairs after feeling the carefree joy that everything was finally getting back to the way it should be, was distressing to say the least. For everyone involved.

As Liz watched her friend now with unhappy eyes, Maria stared fixedly towards the spot where Max and Michael had disappeared, and avoided her gaze.

Lowering her head briefly in remorse, Liz said quietly, “I’m sorry, Maria.”

Maria sighed and turned to face her. “I know, Liz. You’ve said that like a hundred times. Stop apologizing, alright?” she said without heat.

Liz bit her lip and was silent for a moment, but she couldn’t stand feeling this wedge between them. Looking at Maria’s set face, she said apologetically, “How can I when I can see how upset you are about this?”

“I’ll get over it,” Maria returned flatly. At Liz’s slight wince, she said relentingly, “Look, I know you guys didn’t do anything wrong. I even think it was kind of noble for Michael to be willing to sit outside in the cold to keep you safe. The part I don’t get is why you let him spend the night with you when you had to have known how Max and I would feel about it. If someone had to stay with you, Liz, why couldn’t you just call Max?” she asked in a slightly resentful tone.

Liz looked away guiltily. Max had said the same thing last night when she’d told him. And in hindsight, she could see that that probably would’ve been the best solution. One that everyone could’ve lived with happily.

But informing Max over the phone in the middle of the night that she’d been thinking someone was watching her didn’t really seem like a great move, either. So maybe there just hadn’t been a solution that would’ve made everyone happy.

Subdued, Liz said again, “I’m sorry, Maria, but it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. And at the time, I just couldn’t think what else to do. You’re right, though. With everything as messed up as it is over this connection, we should’ve given your feelings more consideration. It was thoughtless of us.” With a look of remorseful appeal, she continued, “And until you can forgive us for hurting you like that, I can’t stop apologizing. Because I truly am sorry, Maria.”

Maria softened at the earnest sincerity of her words. She’d done her level best to react to all this rationally as Max had suggested, but rational just really wasn’t her thing. Especially when she was still a little thrown by all this connection business. To be fair, she couldn’t really blame Liz and Michael for any of it, though.

“I know,” she said softly in acceptance of Liz’s apology. “So you can stop now, okay? I forgive you.” Grimacing a little, she said, “I can understand why you did it and everything, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Liz made an apologetic face, but before she could say anything in reply, the guys returned from their reconnaissance of the building.

Max naturally gravitated to Liz’s side to slide an arm around her waist, and Michael came to a stop near Maria, eyeing her a bit uncertainly. Maria smiled faintly in return.

Dividing his gaze between the two girls, Max asked, “Everything okay?”

Liz threw a look at Maria before nodding in reply. “Yeah, it’s fine. You guys didn’t find anything?”

“No, it’s all clear,” Michael answered. “You ready to do this thing?”

Max felt Liz pull in a bracing breath, and although he was worried about her doing this, he mustered up an encouraging smile and gave her a little squeeze.

Knowing he needed the reassurance as much as she did, Liz returned the one-armed hug and nodded in answer to Michael’s query.

“Yeah. Where should we go?”

“There’s some empty crates in the back. Maybe one of those would make a good target,” Max suggested.

“Yeah, good idea,” Michael agreed.

The four of them moved to gather in the back part of the building, which had obviously been used for storage or warehousing at one time, as evidenced by the several large wooden crates that sat near the wall. With no windows for relief, it was considerably darker back here, and the deepening gloom made the silence feel thick and eerie.

Maria shivered. “I don’t remember this place being so creepy,” she said. “The scene of great humiliation and heartbreak, yes. Creepy, not so much,” she ended dryly.

The moment they’d walked in the door of the abandoned factory, Maria had been assailed by memories of the party they’d attended here almost exactly a year ago. That had been the night Michael had broken up with her only a week after they’d first gotten together, basically telling her that being with her was a huge mistake, and he never should’ve even gotten involved with her in the first place. He hadn’t used those exact words, but that had been the general gist.

Remembering the blow he’d dealt her that night was making her feel a little vulnerable. And it wasn’t helping that memories of that breakup were in turn stirring up plaguing thoughts of the dream she’d had last night, where she’d reminded Michael of his little speech from the party, and he’d told her that didn’t pertain to him and Liz. She had to remind herself that the dream hadn’t meant anything.

Michael and Liz both looked stricken by Maria’s words.

“Oh, Maria, I wasn’t even thinking,” Liz said, stabbed with remorse for once again being so thoughtless of Maria’s feelings. This was probably bringing back some painful memories for her at a most un-ideal time to have to deal with them.

Deeply regretting the way he’d hurt her the night she was referring to, Michael hesitated uncertainly before lifting a hand to rest on her shoulder in silent apology. When Maria looked up at him he saw a brief flash of insecurity in her eyes, but then her lips lifted in the barest hint of a smile, and she brought her hand up to wrap around his forearm in acceptance of the gesture.

“Don’t worry about it, “ Maria told them both in dismissal of the subject. “Could you guys just do some kind of power thing and maybe get us some light?”

Lifting his palm toward the ceiling, Max granted her request, bringing the ancient overhead fixtures to life.

Briskly chaffing her arms, Liz said lightly, “Got anything in that hand that can do something about some heat?”

With a slight grin, he answered, “Your wish is my command.”

He lifted his hand again and a faint stirring in the air around them brushed against their exposed skin like a breeze that was barely there. Instantly the temperature in the room rose by at least twenty degrees.

Impressed, Maria said, “Pretty nifty bag of tricks you got there, girlfriend.”

Looking at him with a keen edge of scientific interest, Liz asked, “How’d you do that?”

Shrugging modestly, he said, “Just stirred up some molecules and heated them up.”

“Impressive, Maxwell,” Michael acknowledged. Rubbing his hands together, he said, “Okay, you got light and you got heat. We all set now?”

Tilting her chin up determinedly, Liz answered, “Yeah. I’m ready.”

She lifted her eyes to Max’s before moving from his side, and he brought a hand up to the back of her head and leaned down to kiss her briefly on the lips. Pulling back to look into her eyes, he tried to keep his anxiety from showing, and said reassuringly, “I’ll be right here if you need me, okay?”

The arm around his waist gave him a tiny squeeze. “Everything’s gonna be fine, Max,” she assured him in return.

Tightening his lips in a semblance of a smile, he nodded, then reluctantly released her so she could move to join Michael near the center of the room.

Once she stood beside him, Michael looked at her gaugingly and asked, “You okay?”

Nodding, she replied, “Yeah. Nervous. But I’ll be fine.”

Michael could tell how nervous she was. He felt that way, too. What if she got seriously hurt this time trying to do this? He felt responsible for whatever might happen because this was basically his gift she would be using. And he felt like his experience with it should enable him to keep everything under control, but he didn’t know if he was going to be able to do that. Her nervousness and uncertainty was just increasing the jitteriness he was feeling.

Michael frowned suddenly. Or was that actually her nervousness he was feeling?

Seeing his frown, Liz asked with edgy sharpness, “What’s the matter?”

Shaking his head in dismissal, he answered, “Nothing.” Looking assessingly at the crates lined up against the wall, he pointed towards the largest of them a little over to their right. “That one ought to make a good target.”

Liz turned her head to look where he was pointing and nodded in agreement. Trying to control the nervous butterflies in her stomach, she blew out a short calming breath, and fixed her eyes on the crate.

“Okay, you know the drill,” Michael told her. “Just pull all your energy together, center in on the crate, and focus on the way you release your power. At this distance you won’t have to use that much, so take it easy, okay?”

Nodding, Liz lifted her palm toward the crate, and attempted to follow all his instructions. Gathering her energy and pulling it towards her center, she divided her concentration between an intense scrutiny of her target, the amount of energy she was going to release, and shaping the sort of explosive bolt it was going to take to achieve her goal. When she felt she had built her energy level high enough, Liz squeezed her eyes shut, and let it fly.

And nothing happened.

Opening her eyes, she looked at the crate in puzzlement, as if it could tell her what had gone wrong. Thinking that she just hadn’t focused it correctly, she tried again.

She could still feel her energy humming electrically inside her, and she tried to pull still more from the furtherest reaches of herself to add to it, reasoning that maybe she just hadn’t attained the strength she needed to do the job. She remembered how powerful and violent the reserve of energy had felt inside her the last time. But no matter how high she tried to stoke the force inside her now, it just didn’t feel quite the same. It lacked that aggressive quality Michael’s energy had seemed to possess when they’d done this together.

When she thought she’d pooled as much as she possibly could, she held it together there, charged and seething, and let it gain in strength and velocity. She felt a strong pull from Michael’s direction, but she forced herself not to look that way to question him. She didn’t want them unintentionally connecting again while she was doing this. That could spell disaster.

Clenching his hands in his position beside her, Michael took a few precautionary steps away, and forced his energy to remain at bay. It was reaching toward Liz’s with a strength that was taking a large amount of willpower to contain. He didn’t want them connecting now either. He agreed that it could prove disastrous if that should happen.

Wait a minute, he thought, how could he agree when she hadn’t even said anything?

Liz was just about to release her pent-up energy for another try when she was startled to feel a familiar presence brushing against her consciousness. Michael?

“What?” he answered her unspoken question without thinking.

Their eyes flew to collide with one another’s when they realized what was happening, and in his surprise, Michael faltered in the struggle against his energy. It quickly escaped his hold, eagerly pulling free to join with Liz’s.

“Michael!” she said shrilly in panic when she felt it pouring inside to fill her.

His heart quickening with anxious dread, Michael tried to pull it back, but just as it had the last time, once the two forces had melded together, there was no separating them.

At his failure to call it back, he said harshly, “Just get rid of it! Don’t give it a chance to build up this time.”

Automatically, they reached for one another’s hands, although obviously they didn’t need to. Liz could feel the combined mass of energy inside her gaining momentum fast, and without giving it a chance to grow any further, she drew on Michael’s ability to hastily expel it in a violent eruption of power that blew the thick wooden crate to bits.

As the resulting particles rained down on their heads in a powdery dust, Max and Maria rushed to their sides. Ripping Liz from Michael’s hold, Max gently seized hold of her upper arms and looked her over worriedly.

“Are you alright?” he demanded.

Before she could do anything more than nod her head shakily, Max rounded on Michael angrily.

“What is your problem?! I thought it was understood that Liz was doing this on her own! Did you not get that? Why is it so beyond your capability to control your own power?”

“I tried to control it, alright?” Michael raised his voice in defensiveness. “I was fighting to keep my energy from reacting to hers, but somehow we connected anyway.”

Placing a calming hand on Max’s bicep, Liz said softly, “He’s right, Max. It wasn’t his fault. It was an accident.”

Tearing her concerned gaze from Liz, Maria frowned. “You made a connection from like five feet away without even touching? I didn’t know that was possible.”

“Well apparently it is,” Michael replied with a surly look at Max. He felt guilty for once again dropping the ball, and he resented Max for pointing it out.

Max returned his dark look with an equal measure of resentment, hating this connection, but hating this aspect of it especially when it kept putting Liz in danger. He’d just had another few years scared off his life when he’d understood what was going on, and he placed the blame for the whole thing squarely on Michael’s shoulders, fair or not. He felt like he was placing Liz within Michael’s keeping every time he gave the go-ahead for her to mess around with this thing, and each time he did, Michael let him down. While a part of him understood that there was just no guessing what would happen with this connection, it was really hard to listen to rationalities when Michael got his back up like this, and when his own emotions were running high on adrenaline.

While the two boys glowered at each other, Liz said in a conciliatory fashion, “Max, nothing really happened. I’m fine. It wasn’t like the last time. You were right, Michael. It seemed to help to do the blast right away. It didn’t give it a chance to get as strong.”

Giving Michael one last glare, Max turned to look down at her in concern. Cupping either side of her face, he tilted it up towards his and looked at her searchingly.

“Are you sure you’re okay? No headache this time?”

Bringing her hands up to wrap her fingers around his wrists, she looked deeply into his eyes and repeated, “I’m fine.”

Frowning, he said, “You’re shaking like a leaf.”

“It’s just a delayed reaction or something. It’s nothing,” she assured him.

With a final probing look, Max sighed and reluctantly let it go. Dragging her close within one arm, he half-turned towards Michael and rubbed her upper arm gently to ward off her shivers.

“What happened? Did you even have a chance to try it on your own before you connected?” he asked Liz.

“Yeah, once,” Liz replied. “I couldn’t do it, but I thought maybe I was just doing something wrong. I was about to try again when I realized we’d formed a connection.”

“I still don’t get that,” Maria interjected. “So you can connect from a distance now?” she asked, trying to remain objective about it.

Liz looked at Maria somewhat apologetically. “I think that’s probably what we did when we shared that dream,” she said, transferring her gaze to Michael. “We weren’t touching then either, but I think we must’ve connected somehow.”

“So... how close do you think you have to be for it to happen? Can you just form one from anywhere?” Max asked with frowning consternation. Each fantastic ability that revealed itself with this thing was making him resent the connection that much more.

Uncomfortable with the idea, Liz answered, “I don’t know. Do you want to test it?” she asked Michael, really wanting to know if it were possible that they could just connect at any time or place without intending to.

“Yeah, okay,” Michael agreed, uneasily wondering the same thing.

Liz gave Max a light squeeze before letting him go, knowing he couldn’t be very crazy about this either, then she and Michael put a distance of several yards between them. Looking at each other intently, they concentrated on forming a connection.

It formed instantly, and suddenly the suppressed emotional intensity that was Michael was all around her.

A little disconcerted at how easily they’d accomplished that, Liz decided to test it further. Remembering how he’d heard her silently calling his name earlier, she tentatively thought the words again. Michael? Can you hear me?

At first she got no response, and she thought he hadn’t heard her. Then, she had a definite feeling that he’d said something to her in question, but she couldn’t discern any actual words.

I didn’t hear you, but I thought you asked me something. Can you hear what I’m thinking? she asked again silently.

Michael’s brows drew together, and with a slight shake of his head, he finally asked aloud, “Are you saying something?”

“Yes. Are you?” she returned.

“Yeah. I was asking if you were saying something,” he answered, his lips quirking.

Smiling, she said, “I was just asking if you could hear me.”

“I could tell you were trying to ask me something, but I couldn’t make it out.”

“Yeah, same here. So we can connect, but we can’t do the telepathy thing?” she said questioningly, asking his opinion.

“Looks like it,” he agreed. “Let’s move further apart. I wanna see if we can do this from anywhere.”

Liz glanced guiltily at Max and Maria before moving to do as he said, somehow feeling that she and Michael were doing something wrong. She suddenly questioned if it had been such a good idea to have them both here while she and Michael did this. She felt like they were excluding them from something important. And if she felt that way, she could only imagine how left out they must be feeling right now.

The subjects of Liz’s worries looked on in brooding silence as Michael and Liz moved to opposite sides of the room. The two of them were fighting similar feelings of exclusion and resentment, but it seemed to help a little to know that someone else was feeling exactly the same way, and they drew comfort in that. They also had to admit to a certain curiosity over the limits of this connection, so they knew these experiments were necessary. They were just going to have to grin and bear it.

When Liz and Michael had reached either end of the room, they turned to face each other, and reached out to try and connect once again.

After several moments of being unable to do so, Liz narrowed her eyes in concentration. She could clearly hear the distinct whisperings of his subconscious, but she was having trouble actually making a connection with him.

Michael was having the same difficulty she was. He thought he could feel her reaching out, but it was like stretching out to try and catch someone’s hand when something was preventing you from actually making contact. Like he couldn’t quite reach.

After trying repeatedly, it felt like they did finally manage to form some kind of peripheral connection, but it was more like they were just brushing up against one another’s inner energies, rather than feeling as if they had actually joined.

Again, Liz asked him mentally if he could hear her, and wasn’t surprised when she got no response. She couldn’t even sense his thoughts this time.

A subtle relaxing of their postures signaled the break of the meager connection, and Liz sighed gustily. That one had taken a lot of effort.

“Did it work?” Maria asked curiously.

“Kind of,” Liz answered.

“But barely,” Michael added.

“Yeah, I couldn’t hear what you were thinking at all. Could you?” she asked Michael.

He answered with a shake of his head.

“So, should we try it from further away?” Liz asked.

“We can try. But I don’t really think it’ll work.”

Standing with arms crossed, Max frowned. “Well, what about this thing with your energy?” he asked, thinking back to last night. “You were practically on the other side of the complex last night when you said your energy reacted to Liz’s. Her energy level was really high, which probably had something to do with it,” he admitted with ruddy cheeks, knowing everyone here was aware of exactly why it had been so high. Smiling slightly, Liz lowered her eyes blushingly as well. With a quick glance in her direction, Max continued. “But I’m just wondering if distance has any affect on that.”

Michael looked at him narrowly. “Worried I might be able to tell the next time you start to get lucky?”

“Michael!” Maria said in wide-eyed protest. She couldn’t believe he would say something so crass, especially in front of Liz, who was blushing furiously now. He had to know how inflaming that would be to Max, Maria thought, looking uneasily at Max to gauge his reaction.

His jaw tight, Max struggled to hang onto his temper. Michael already had several strikes against him as far as Max was concerned, and the way he was feeling toward him right now, it wouldn’t take much to push him over the edge.

In a hard voice, he replied, “Actually, I’m worried that if you ever have to do a power blast with Liz nearby, she won’t be able to keep her energy from reacting and joining yours.”

At that Michael fell silent. That hadn’t occurred to him. After what had happened a few minutes ago they knew the two of them were capable of doing the blast without a repeat of what had happened at the quarry. But the potential for danger was still there. It was just so unsafe to experiment with, he didn’t know if they would ever be able to find out all the absolutes of it. Until they did, it would probably always pose a threat to Liz. He should’ve thought of that before he’d shot his mouth off, Michael realized with an apologetic glance toward Liz.

His expression was a little cooler when he turned his gaze Max’s way but he said in reluctant conciliation, “Yeah, we should probably check that out.” Looking at Liz a little questioningly, he said, “I’ll just go out towards the front. I won’t actually use my power, but yell if you feel my energy charge, okay?”

Liz nodded without looking at him, a little miffed at him for embarrassing her, and for constantly sniping and pushing at Max the way he did.

With a tiny pang of regret, Michael turned to leave the room.

“I’ll come with you,” Maria stated rather than asked, and followed him out.

Watching them go, Liz sighed. She couldn’t really be mad at Michael when she understood his motives, and she realized suddenly that she did know what was driving him in the snide remarks he’d been making since last night. Catching her and Max together at the club kinda had him wigged out for some reason.

Feeling the need to try and smooth things over between him and Max, she attempted to excuse him, saying, “He’s still just a little upset about what happened last night, Max. You know, seeing us together and everything.”

Max’s expression hardened. “I’m not exactly overjoyed over the whole event myself.”

“I know,” she said placatingly, laying a soothing hand on his chest and stroking lightly. “But you know how Michael is. He doesn’t think before he speaks. He just- reacts. If it’s any consolation, Maria’s probably out there giving him an earful right now.”

The corner of his lips tipped up at the thought and he admitted, “It is some consolation.”

They shared a wicked smile.

In the next instant, without warning, Liz’s inner energy pulled together sharply, as if someone had scooped it up within a large fist and yanked it into a heightened state of readiness in a fell swoop. The suddenness of it made her gasp.

“What’s wrong?” Max asked, alarmed.

“Um...” she said a bit shakily, “I think I understand a little better why Michael flipped out the way he did last night. This energy thing is a little...disconcerting,” she said in vast understatement.

If Michael had spent half an hour fighting this back, then it was no wonder he’d been so agitated, she thought, as the charged force rushed strongly within her. And her energy level combined with Max’s had probably been a lot higher than Michael’s was right now.

Max relaxed when he realized nothing was wrong, and a sound in the doorway of the storage area brought his head up to see Maria standing there.

“Okay, he’s doing it. Can you feel it?” she asked Liz.

“Yeah,” Liz answered dryly. “I can feel it.”

Poking her head out the opposite side of the door, Maria relayed the message to Michael, then after a moment turned back to tell Liz, “He’s gonna move further away. Tell him when you can’t feel it anymore.”

Liz nodded and waited for an abatement of the electrified coursing within her center, but even after several silent moments it was still raging just as strongly.

“Is he still moving?” she finally inquired of Maria.

Maria glanced outside. “Yeah. You can still feel it?” At Liz’s nod, she said, “He’s all the way to the door now.”

They heard the muffled sound of Michael’s voice, then Maria repeated for their benefit, “He’s going outside. Max, take my post, will you? I’m gonna go to the front door of the building.”

She left, and Max took her place so the two of them could act as go-betweens for Liz and Michael.

While Max and Liz waited, he watched from the doorway as she shifted restlessly and pulled in a deep breath.

“You okay?” he asked with concern.

“Yeah,” she answered. “Just...edgy, I guess.”

Studying her moodily, he asked, “What, um... what’s it feel like?”

She paused for a contemplative moment before replying. “Like... my energy is fully charged and waiting to be used, and it’s kinda like it’s straining to reach something. To reach Michael,” she amended, somewhat apologetically. “I can feel him pulling at me.” She made a face. “I guess that’s how he found us last night. It would probably pull me right to him if I let it.”

Ignoring the twinge of jealousy her words aroused, he said, “Not that I want you to try it, but do you think you could do the energy blast now?”

Liz hesitated, then said, “For some reason, I don’t think so. It seems like I have to be connected to Michael before I can do it, and I don’t think we could actually connect from this distance.”

She heard Maria say something from the front door, and Max told Liz, “She said he’s pretty far away now. You can still feel it?”

After a brief internal check, Liz replied, “Yeah. I feel it, but I don’t think it’s quite as strong now.”

He repeated her answer back to Maria, and they heard her calling to Michael outside.

Max moved back into the room with Liz and told her, “He’s coming back.”

Liz felt the strength of the power inside her begin to dim, then die down slowly, and it took a moment of concentration to pull it back into place. Absorbing it was still an effort for her, and it demanded her full attention, but it didn’t take long to complete the task.

Michael and Maria came back into the room, and his eyes met Liz’s before they both looked away, not quite sure how all this sat with them.

“So I guess it reaches pretty far,” Michael said after a short, awkward silence. “I was probably about 50 yards away and I could still feel it pretty clearly.”

“Yeah, um... me too,” Liz agreed.

“So, what exactly did we just learn here?” Maria asked for clarification. “You can like, sense each other’s energy from far away, but you can’t actually connect? Does that mean Liz can or can’t do the power blast?”

Michael and Liz looked at each other in conferral, and Liz said, “I don’t think I can. You can go back in the other room and we can give it a try,” at this she glanced at Max, as though asking for his assent, and told him, “But I really don’t expect it to work.”

Max hesitated, then said, “As long as we’re doing this you might as well make sure.”

That agreed, Michael left the room again, and shortly after, Liz felt the sharp rushing course of her energy. She’d been more prepared for it this time, but the sudden intensity of it still took her breath away.

She turned away to face the crates once more and did her best to produce a blast, but again, it didn’t happen.

“Okay, somebody tell him to do one out there and see what happens.”

“Liz,” Max protested.

“You said we should make sure, Max. And I really don’t think anything will happen. Just tell him to do a little one,” she said in appeasement.

Max wanted to object further, but he put his trust in her instincts, and kept silent.

Maria told Michael what they wanted him to do and was met with a long silence from him.

Finally, he asked, “And Max is okay with this?”

He wasn’t sure it was such a great idea. Not since Max had raised his concern over it. Why had he suddenly changed his mind?

“Um... maybe not completely,” Maria said vaguely. “But Liz doesn’t think anything will happen.”

Feeling doubtful, Michael wondered if she was 100% sure about this. Reaching out with his mind, he tried to connect with Liz, or at least get a sense of her feelings, but he couldn’t seem to reach her. He could feel the vibration of her energy answering to his, but nothing more specific than that.

At his hesitation, Maria encouraged him softly, “Go on, Michael. They both said to do it. Just make it a weak one if you can.”

Finally deciding to bow to everyone else’s judgement, Michael looked around searchingly for a target, and found it in a small cluster of faded buckets that sat in the corner. Glancing behind him to make sure Maria was well out of the way, he lifted his hand to take aim.

“Get ready,” Maria told Liz in warning.

Without conscious thought, Liz braced herself at the words of caution, and faced the crates in a state of readiness, just in case.

She stood there waiting for the unknown with heart pounding, unable to believe in that moment that she’d suggested this. In the instant before she heard the small explosion from the outer room, a powerful shockwave rippled through her, making every inch of her skin tingle fierily as her energy seemed to explode against the confines of her flesh from the inside. The abrupt plummet of the surging power sent her reeling, and she staggered and might have fallen if it hadn’t been for Max, who had miraculously appeared at her side to catch her.

“Are you okay?” he rasped, frowning with worry.

“Fine. I’m fine,” she assured him breathlessly.

Pulling her into his arms, he held her tightly and said pleadingly, “No more experimenting with it today. That’s enough, okay? Please?”

Nodding in wholehearted agreement, Liz clutched at him and tried to halt her trembling.

Max could feel her wobbling on legs that were obviously unsteady, and without a second thought, he bent to scoop her up into his arms and lift her against his chest.

“Max!” Liz protested on a choked spurt of surprised laughter. “Come on, put me down. I’m fine.”

“You’re just gonna have to allow me this he-man moment, Liz,” he said unapologetically, as he carried her towards one of the shorter crates against the wall. “You’ve stopped my heart one too many times today,” he said in excuse.

Melting into compliance, Liz tilted her head to rest her forehead against his temple, and tightened her arms around his neck.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized softly.

Hovering anxiously at Max’s back, Maria followed them over to the crates, where Max sat down and cradled Liz on his lap. “Are you sure you’re alright, Liz?” she asked distressfully.

“I’m okay, Maria,” Liz said reassuringly. “It was just like this shockwave or something went through me when he used his powers.”

Michael went hurrying into the room as soon as he’d performed the blast, and when he saw Max apparently coddling Liz as she sat on his lap, his stomach dropped. Rushing over, he dropped to his haunches in front of them, and laid a hand on Liz’s arm.

And suddenly, he knew for a certainty that she was fine.

“You’re okay,” he stated in relief. A bit unsettled by the realization of how he knew that, he looked at her uncertainly and told her, “I can feel it.”

“Yeah, I- I can tell,” she replied in abashment, as she became aware that nothing more than the simple touch of his hand on her arm was allowing them to become in tune with each other’s emotions.

Their eyes locked as that information settled in upon them, and Max and Maria witnessed the entire exchange with a sense of dismayed resignation.

Just as she’d predicted, Maria thought gloomily as she watched them.

More connected than ever.

Chapter 46

It was a silent foursome that rode in the jeep over to Liz’s house from the old soap factory. Everyone seemed to need the time to themselves to process everything they’d just learned, but at the same time, they each felt the need to be connected to their significant other. As a result, Maria sat close against Michael’s side underneath the arm he had wrapped around her shoulders, and Max and Liz were once again holding hands tightly while he drove.

It was good not to have to worry about covering up their relationship at the moment, and Liz was really glad that Michael and Maria knew about them. It was also good to see that Maria wasn’t letting their discoveries about the depth of their connection destroy the tentative progress she and Michael had made in their relationship today. If anything, they seemed to be drawing closer together.

Liz knew Michael was still doing everything he knew to do to demonstrate his feelings to Maria, and she was sure Maria could really use the reassurance right now. And Liz didn’t have to be able to actually experience his feelings to know that the same held true for Max.

She glanced over at his darkened profile, lit by the greenish glow from the jeep’s instrument panel, and his drawn features gave her heart a pang. Tightening her hand around his, she covered the back of it with her free hand, and began to stroke it softly.

Max automatically returned the small squeeze, and feeling her gaze upon him, took his eyes off the road to look over at her. His expression cleared, and they shared a brief tender look.

Liz received as much comfort as she gave from the silent exchange. She’d thought getting some answers about this connection would make things better. Instead, it had only stirred more turmoil within her, and made her need to know the reason why the connection existed even stronger.

It just felt so wrong to be sharing these things with Michael. She wasn’t comfortable having all this intimate knowledge of him. And she was even less comfortable with the idea that he could invade her thoughts and emotions at any given time. She felt like she couldn’t even think about anything personal with him nearby for fear that he might be able to listen in, and she resented the fact that she had to monitor her own thoughts.

She couldn’t help but think again that she should be experiencing all these things with Max instead of Michael, and that some kind of mistake had been made. Or that Max had switched something around inside her by accident when he’d changed her.

But somehow, in some deep, obscure part of her being, this thing with Michael felt utterly right. Like something finally falling into place. And the thought made her want to run as far, and as fast as she could.

Max imagined that he could almost feel the turbulence of Liz’s emotions communicate themselves through their point of contact, and he brushed the back of her hand with his thumb in a slow soothing rhythm. Though his own emotions were far from calm at the moment.

He was glad to know that while the energy blast was still something of a wild card, it wasn’t necessarily deadly to Liz if they did do it. But that was about the only good thing they’d learned so far tonight as far as Max was concerned. All this stuff about them connecting without meaning to, even from across the room, and having the ability to feel each other’s emotions with a single touch was hard to have to watch, and Max was having to deal with it a little sooner than he’d been ready to. Of course, he probably never would’ve been truly ready, but right now, when he was already aggravated with Michael, all this was only adding to his resentment of him.

He’d known that when Liz and Michael both finally gave in to this connection, he was going to have a hard time with it, but the reality was even worse than he’d anticipated. He hated having to share Liz with Michael in this way. He felt like Michael was taking something from her that should only belong to him. And the fact that Michael could see even deeper within her than he, himself could, was really eating at him.

The only thing that was helping him stay calm was knowing how it would upset Liz if she knew how much all this was bothering him. He wanted to make this as easy for her to deal with as he could, and knowing how jealous he felt over it would only make things harder for her.

He just wished they could find out why they shared a connection like this. One that was so strong, and carried abilities with it that none of the rest of them had. It was crazy, and it made no sense. And it seemed the more they were finding out about it, the more perplexing it became.

They pulled up in front of the Crashdown, and Liz turned in her seat to direct a look at Maria.

“Would you come in with me? It might make it more convincing.”

Maria nodded her assent, and Liz turned back to say softly to Max, “Be right back.”

He gave her a slight smile and brief nod in return, and the two girls climbed from the jeep, leaving him and Michael alone.

As they sat waiting for Liz and Maria’s return, the silence in the car was thick and stifling, and the very air around them seemed to churn with tension and hostility.

Michael just knew words of chastisement were coming his way, the only question was, over which incident? The two of them hadn’t had a moment of privacy like this since the last time Max had chewed him out, two days ago.

That had been because of the way he’d been treating Liz all week, and Michael admitted, if only to himself, that the lecture had been deserved on that one. But he was just daring Max to say anything about what had happened at the club last night. Not when his own behavior was far more deserving of a lecture than Michael felt his had been. He knew he’d said some things he shouldn’t have, but if Max dared to try and call him on it, he had plenty he could say to him in return. And Michael was feeling just edgy enough over this connection business to welcome the fight.

He wasn’t too thrilled about the revelations they’d made about it tonight. He’d hoped he and Liz would be able to explore the thing without it getting all that personal, but the discoveries they’d made earlier proved that would be an impossibility. He didn’t want Liz seeing everything that was inside his head, and now it seemed he was going to have to be on constant guard against that whenever she was around. The infringement really irritated him

But as much as he hated feeling that he no longer had the privacy of his own thoughts, the urge to find out an explanation for this connection was riding him hard. There had to be a reason why they could do all this stuff, and he just knew if they dug deep enough they could find it. The resentment and objection to these mental abilities, and the need to explore it more deeply, were warring emotions within him, and the conflict was making him extremely ill-tempered. And the tension of waiting for Maxwell to get on his case was making him feel wound even more tightly.

Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore, and in an abrupt movement, he leaned up between the seats and said shortly, “Alright, let’s have it.”

Max threw a dark look over his shoulder, then went back to his scrutiny of the front of the Crashdown.

“Let’s have what?” he asked tonelessly.

Michael scowled and said, “Don’t play coy with me, Maxwell. Just say what you have to say and let’s get this over with.”

His brusqueness had the same affect as putting a match to tinder, and Max’s irritation with him immediately reached a flash point.

Twisting around in his seat, he said tightly, “Okay. You wanna know what I have to say? This whole attitude you have lately is unacceptable, and I’d better see it change, quick. One more crack like the one about me getting lucky, and I swear I won’t be held accountable for my actions, Michael,” he told him with a stormy-eyed look of warning. “I warned you last night about being more respectful of Liz than that, and I’m not gonna tell you again.”

“Hey, what I said had nothin’ to do with Liz,” Michael refuted. “It’s not her fault all you seem to be thinkin’ with is your energy source these days,” he said contemptuously.

“What?!” Max flushed a dull angry red at the accusation. Harshly, he said, “Look, I don’t know what your problem is about what happened between me and Liz last night- unless it’s these ‘feelings’ you suddenly think you have for her,” he charged scornfully, “But I do know that what happened at that club is none of your business. It’s between me and Liz. And I don’t care if you can see all the way down to the very bottom of her soul,” bitterness colored his words, “That does not give you a right to censor her actions, or mine, and you’d better just step back and stop giving me grief over this.”

“Is that an order from the king?” Michael challenged sneeringly.

Max’s expression hardened. “No. It’s a warning. From me, Max. The guy that used to be your best friend, remember?”

“Used to be is right,” Michael returned. “You sure haven’t been much of a friend lately.”

Max felt a flash of outrage. “I haven’t been much of a friend?! What about you, Michael? Ever since that day at the cave when we found out who we are, all you’ve done is constantly criticize me and try to tick me off. I’m sorry, but it’s a little hard to be a friend to somebody who’s always at your throat,” he said accusingly.

“Well don’t kid yourself, Maxwell. It’s not any easier bein’ friends with someone who’s always on your back,” Michael shot back.

“I am not always on your back, Michael,” Max emphatically denied. “If anything, I think I’ve been pretty patient with you considering all the stunts you’ve pulled.”

“Yeah, that’s you all right. Patient ,” Michael agreed, his mouth turned down in disgust.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” Max pounced on his words. “That right there. If you don’t think you aren’t always on my back about something, you’re sadly mistaken. You never have anything to say to me anymore unless it’s some kind of dig about the way I’m doing things. So forgive me for thinking our friendship isn’t exactly something you cared much about anymore.”

The words seemed to strike at the very heart of the matter.

At the abrupt cessation of their raised voices, the silence in the jeep felt profound, as they both realized their argument had somehow wound around to the crux of the problem between them.

Michael didn’t know what to say. While it was true he’d been feeling generally pissed off at Max since that day at the cave, never once had he ceased to think of him as a friend. He and Isabel were the closest thing to family he’d ever had, and he didn’t think he’d ever be able to get so mad that he’d want to break off their friendship.

Not that he even could if he’d wanted to. Now that they knew how important it was for them to stay together they were stuck with each other. But for Michael, it was a good kind of stuck. It offered a kind of stability he’d never had before, the assurance that someone would always be there, and he’d found that he liked having it.

It made him feel a little guilty to know that Max had been thinking he didn’t even want to be friends with him any more. Michael knew he’d been giving him a hard time lately, but he obviously needed to try and make an effort to cool it. It wouldn’t be easy, though. Everything Max did these days just seemed to irk him for no good reason.

Michael cleared his throat. “Listen, uh- Maxwell,” he started, but that was as far as he got before the opening of the jeep’s passenger door interrupted him.

Maria was in position to climb into the car ahead of Liz, but now she stood there awkwardly as she gained the impression they’d interrupted something important.

“Sorry,” she apologized uncertainly.

Michael glanced at Max, but the moment had been lost. He hadn’t really been sure what he was going to say anyway.

In dismissal of her apology, he shrugged and said, “For what?”

Max sighed with frustration. He didn’t know what Michael had been about to say, but he thought they’d been on the brink of having a discussion that was long overdue between them. Who knew when they might ever get back to this particular place in time again? But as let down as he felt, it wasn’t Maria’s fault, and Max took pity on her.

“Yeah, there’s no reason to apologize, Maria,” he assured her. “Get in.”

Maria hesitated, then stepped up into the jeep, and Michael put up a hand to steady her as she climbed between the front seats to join him in the back. Liz threw a quick look between Max and Michael before getting in behind her. Slipping her backpack from her shoulder to sit it on the floorboard at her feet, Liz looked at Max questioningly. She’d been so focused on making a persuasive argument to her parents, she hadn’t thought about it being a bad idea to leave him and Michael alone out here, but she knew they weren’t on the best of terms at the moment.

Max shook his head slightly to indicate that it was nothing, then glanced at her bag in the floor.

“So they said okay?”

“Yeah,” Liz answered. “They said it was fine.”

“Good. I guess now we should run by my house so I can get some things,” Max said to the car in general, then started the jeep and pulled out.

Michael sat in the back seat with his hand wrapped around Maria’s, and aimed a brooding look at Max and Liz. He didn’t much like this plan of the two of them spending the night together in his apartment. He was probably doomed to another sleepless night as he worried over what they were doing together, he thought with resignation. But he’d rather they were close enough for him to keep an eye on them than to be across town at Max’s place again. And he didn’t want Liz to be alone and unprotected tonight any more than Max did. There was no question of her spending the night in his apartment without Max there, Michael knew, so this was probably the best solution. But he still didn’t like it much.

After a quick stop at Max’s, the four of them returned to Michael’s apartment together, and filed in the door to the living area.

They stood in awkward uncertainty, exchanging glances with one another, until Maria finally said, “So, what are you guys gonna do now?”

She watched while Michael and Liz looked at each other in question, and wondered jealously if they were speaking with that language she couldn’t hear. She was really hating witnessing all this supernatural stuff they were able to do with each other. She’d thought about just telling Max to take her home after they’d gotten through at his house, but she figured it would make her even crazier to sit at home and wonder about everything they were finding out than it would to just be here and see for herself. Neither option particularly appealed though.

Actually, Liz and Michael weren’t speaking silently. They were just trying to guess at the other’s line of thinking. Liz was listening, but she got no sense of him trying to communicate with her. It made her wonder exactly how paranoid she was being in thinking he could hear her thoughts at any time.

After a moment of inquisitive silence, Liz said, “Um....I guess I kinda have the idea that you could tune into my thoughts just- whenever. It, uh- it’s making me a little paranoid,” she admitted.

“Tell me about it,” Michael said in agreement.

“I’d really like to find out if that’s true. Or, do we actually have to be connected first? And as far as connecting goes... I don’t understand how we can just do that even when we’re trying not to. I mean, the thing doesn’t have a life of its own, right? There has to be some way to control it, don’t you think?” She asked the question of Michael, but she looked at Max and Maria to see if they had any insight to offer. She certainly hoped they could learn to control it, otherwise she would be leery of ever even looking at Michael again for fear of forming a connection at some inopportune moment.

“Maybe there is. But the only way to find out is to practice with it,” Max reluctantly concluded. “Find out if maybe something triggers it, or if you’re unconsciously doing something that brings it to life.”

The last thing he wanted to do was encourage them to work on it and strengthen this bond between them, but he didn’t like the idea of Michael being in Liz’s head at any and all times either.

“Well, we definitely know that when one of us uses our powers it activates it,” Michael said ruefully.

“But only at a certain distance,” Liz put in.

“Right,” he agreed with a nod.

“Is that the only time, do you think?” she asked. If that was the case, it shouldn’t be that big a problem. But then there was that thing about feeling each other’s emotions. That hadn’t really felt the same as a connection though. At least, not at first.

Shrugging, Michael replied, “Like Maxwell said, I guess there’s only one way to find out.” He glanced over at Max, but he wasn’t exactly seeking his approval, he told himself. He was just checking on his reception of the idea.

To be honest, Michael really didn’t relish giving Liz another opportunity to get inside his head himself. But he needed to find out everything he could about this thing with an intensity that almost bordered on desperation.

Liz glanced at Max and Maria apologetically, then asked Michael, “So how should we do that?”

In lieu of a reply, Michael reached up to give Maria’s elbow a gentle squeeze before moving away towards the kitchen, and motioned Liz to follow.

She looked up at Max, and he gave her a slight smile of supportive understanding that tugged at her heart. He was being so great about this thing. Him and Maria both. She knew they had to be hating every minute of this, but they hadn’t spoken a word of protest about their experimenting all night. Liz briefly lay a hand over Max’s heart and tried to convey all her gratitude and appreciation with the simple touch, and Max covered it with his own to give it a light squeeze before sending her on her way.

She pulled herself away from him and moved across the room to join Michael, who sat sideways on one of the barstools at the counter that separated the tiny kitchen from the rest of the apartment.

“Have a seat,” he invited, indicating the twin to his stool.

Liz slipped off her jacket as Michael had done and laid it on top of the bar. Tucking her hair behind her ear as she sat, she said somewhat nervously, “What are we doing?”

Michael could feel her uneasiness with the whole situation. Or maybe he just heard it in her voice and felt deeply empathetic. He didn’t know whether he could be sure the emotions he felt were hers or his anymore.

“Relax,” he told her soothingly. “I just thought we could see if we connect without trying to when we’re this close.”

Liz nodded her comprehension and shifted on the hard seat. She didn’t seem to know what to do with her hands, and finally just clasped them loosely together in her lap. Hesitantly, she looked over at Michael, and waited tensely to see what would happen.

Michael let his eyes meet hers and braced himself for her entry. They gazed at each other for a few strained moments, but no connection formed.

Both of them breathed a sigh of relief, but then Liz said, “You know, this really doesn’t prove anything. We were braced against it. All those times before, it happened when we weren’t expecting it.”

Frowning at her logic, he replied, “Well, we can’t exactly sit here and be unsuspecting, Liz, so I don’t see how we can test that theory. Maybe it just takes more than looking at each other.” He pulled a face. “When we aren’t using our powers, that is. Let me just...” He lifted his hand to hover near her lap. “I wanna try something, okay?” He waited for her nod of assent before moving to lay his hand gingerly atop her forearm.

In only an instant, he was inundated with a wash of emotion that wasn’t his own. Curious dread, guilt, and apprehension all settled over him in a tangled coil. It didn’t feel exactly like they were connected, he couldn’t actually feel her inside him, it just seemed like some kind of instinctual knowing what she was feeling at the moment. But then she looked up at him with a slight frown of disquiet, and that was all it took to form a genuine connection between them.

When Liz was inexorably drawn into Michael’s subconscious, she let herself be pulled there and thought wryly, I guess that’s one of those triggers Max mentioned.

She was slightly startled to hear an answering echo say dryly, Yeah. Definitely something we should avoid in the future.

Liz couldn’t get used to hearing him talk inside her head like that. It was such an odd feeling. It wasn’t like hearing spoken words, but it was more vocal than if she were just hearing herself think. It was more like a subtle vibration of tones inside her head that somehow managed to convey all the inflections that his voice would have if he spoke aloud. Sitting this close, she had no trouble hearing him perfectly.

Responding to his last statement, she thought back to him, Maybe we should make it a rule. No touching, not even accidentally, when we’re in public.

She could feel his amusement as he made the comment, Looks like you’re following a lot of rules these days.

She knew then that he’d ‘seen’ her list of rules for her and Max and felt a distinct sense of encroachment. Her indignation increased when she heard him silently ask with a frown, What’s this about rule # 23?

Hey! That is something that’s just between me and Max, Michael. Get out!

Giving him a dark look, she thought, Obviously, we are gonna have to have some rules about invading each other’s private thoughts.

Hey, I couldn’t help it
, he protested. It was right there.

Well, your little makeout session with Maria before we interrupted is right there too, but you don’t see me delving into it and making personal comments about it, now do you?

Feeling a mild sense of outrage, Michael hastily tried to pull his thoughts into hiding, resenting her intrusion into what had been a very personal moment.

Grimly, he asked, What were you saying about some rules?

She could feel him trying to tuck his thoughts away, but it wasn’t working. She could still clearly hear the flirty comments Maria had made earlier to encourage Michael to kiss her, and Liz felt the surge of lust and love Michael had felt when he’d complied.

Appalled, Liz desperately tried to block all that out, and she returned in a thought every bit as grim as his had been, I don’t think rules are gonna do any good. Maybe we should just break the connection.

Michael’s first instinct was to agree. Everything in him objected to the idea of her seeing things he was determined would remain hidden. But at the last minute, he shook his head in dissent.

“We need to figure out a way to block this kind of thing, Liz. I want to find out everything we can about this connection, but we can’t do that if we’re constantly worrying about what the other one is gonna see.”

“But what if we can’t do that, Michael? I don’t want you horning in on all my private thoughts. Y’know, they call them private for a reason.”

He gave her a look of exasperation. “Look, I probably have a lot more thoughts I wanna keep private than you do, but you want to find out the reason for this thing, right?” he asked, already knowing the answer. “And I know the answer’s in there somewhere. We just have to look.”

“And how exactly are you planning to go about doing that, Michael?” Max asked with displeasure, as he and Maria joined them at the bar.

Michael looked at them in surprise. Neither he, nor Liz had been aware that they’d started speaking aloud, allowing Max and Maria to hear the latter part of their conversation. The two of them had listened to Liz’s protests about Michael’s entry into her private thoughts with grim dismay. It was one thing to think Michael and Liz had the ability to know everything there was to know about each other, but to hear them voice an actual confirmation of it made it really hit home.

Fighting back the jealousy that threatened to consume him, Max asked with dark skepticism, “How do you think you’re going to find the answers about this connection inside each other?”

Michael’s brows drew down in frustration as he grappled for an answer. He couldn’t explain why he thought the answers were hidden somewhere inside the connection itself, and he wasn’t really even sure what to do to get at them, he just somehow knew they were there.

“I don’t know how, okay? I just know they’re there. I feel it,” he finally replied emphatically. “We just have to... keep connecting, and- I don’t know...explore it.” Looking at Maria and Max, he said in acknowledgement, “Look, I know none of us are crazy about this whole thing, but I think we all need to get some answers about it, and this is the only way I know how to get them. But I’m up for suggestions if anyone else thinks there’s a better way.” He looked at each of them in turn, and waited for an answer.

Max looked at Liz unhappily, wishing there was some other way to do this. He’d known the whole purpose for tonight was to find some answers about the thing, and he agreed with the plan in theory. It was just that watching them go about it now was stirring up all kinds of objections in him. He wanted them to stop, but at the same time, he wanted to know more about it.

Reluctantly, he shook his head in answer to Michael’s question, and abjectly prepared himself to have to watch his girlfriend share her innermost being with his ‘used to be’ best friend.

Maria looked between Liz and Michael broodingly and asked, “Well, do you think you can at least block each other from seeing everything?”

Liz reached out to touch her on the arm and replied emphatically, “Believe me, Maria. We’re going to do everything possible.”

Slowly, Maria sighed in acceptance. She knew none of this could be very easy for them either, but it just seemed so much worse to have to stand on the sidelines and watch it all unfold in front of her.

She and Michael exchanged a look much the same as the one Max and Liz were sharing at the moment, as each of them tried to silently bolster and reassure one another.

Finally, Max and Maria retreated to the living area with unwilling footsteps, and settled themselves side-by-side on the couch.

Michael and Liz watched them go, feeling conflicted about doing this because of what it was putting them through. But they both felt that the sooner they found the reason for this thing, the better off they would all be. Hopefully.

They looked at one another uncertainly, and Liz said, “, how did you want to do this? You know, I could feel you trying to hide your thoughts before, but I could still see them.”

Michael thought for a moment, then said, “Let’s just connect, and focus all our concentration on keeping each other blocked out. Maybe if that’s the only thing we focus on we can figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

It sounded as good a plan as any to Liz, and she nodded her head in agreement.

He watched her take a deep breath, and asked, “Ready?”

Nodding, she lifted her gaze to his, and he reached out to grasp her forearm, the same as he had before.

In the next breath they were connected.

Again, Liz felt a twinge of disconcertment at how easily that happened between them. They really were going to have to be careful about making contact when they were in public from now on.

Michael’s energy and emotions flowed all around her. The first thing she became aware of was his conflict regarding this whole thing, and his need to know why the connection was there felt even more urgent than her own. What was it that was pushing them in this, she wondered uneasily. She could feel Michael’s worry and remorse over Maria and her feelings, and there was a sense of regret that seemed to be attached to Max somehow.

At the same time that she felt a slight resistance go up in him, she heard him tell her, Focus, Liz.

Turning her attention towards the matter at hand, Liz focused all her concentration on forming some kind of wall around her thoughts to keep Michael out. She could feel the brushing of his mind against hers, and she did everything she could think of to block him, pulling her thoughts back into the deepest corner she could find, and trying to exert an actual force against him to push him away. At the same time that she was doing all that, she could feel the sensation of something pressing against her mind, as Michael tried to do the same to her.

But in spite of their best efforts, he was still there in her head, a presence she couldn’t seem to expel, and though his thoughts were somewhat muted, she could still hear the whirling of his mind.

After several minutes of the struggle, Liz thought, This isn’t working, Michael. She felt, more than heard his concession, and suggested, What if, instead of me trying to keep you out, I just, like, try to keep myself from seeing your thoughts, and you do the same with me?

Michael nodded. It’s worth a try.

Going at it with a different approach, Liz began to reign in her subconscious mind and try to separate it from his, so his thoughts would no longer be audible to her. She pulled with all the power her mind could summon, but she was perturbed to find there seemed to be just no getting them apart.

She could tell Michael was having no more success than she was, and after a few moments, she heard him explode with frustration. What is this thing that binds us together like this?! It’s the same as with our energy. Once they come together, it’s like they fuse or something.

Trying to ignore the heated wave of emotion he’d set off inside her with his spurt of temper, Liz sent calming thoughts his way, and said mentally, Let’s just try something else, okay?

Sighing shortly, he rubbed a hand over his mouth and tried to calm down. What? he asked for her idea.

Well, maybe each of us could just try to focus on one thing, you know? Like, you just concentrate on getting inside my thoughts, and I’ll focus on keeping you out. Maybe if I don’t let myself be distracted by what’s going on in your head, I can figure out a way to anticipate you, and keep you from getting in.

Michael nodded in favor of the strategy. Sorta, you be defensive, I’ll be offensive, he clarified.

Right, she agreed.

Okay, let’s try it.

He gave her a moment to shore up her defenses, and Liz tried to gather her thoughts and pull them back into what felt like the deepest reaches of her mind. When she felt Michael advance upon them, she attempted to get a sense of where he would make his entry. Since he wasn’t focusing on restricting her access to his thoughts at all, it wasn’t hard to read his intentions, and she put everything she had into throwing up a defensive block and push him back. She thought she’d been successful when she felt him pull away and come at them from another angle, but she became distracted by a sudden series of flashes that came from Michael’s unguarded mind.


Darkness all around, with cold pressing in, as a small, trembling figure huddles close.


A man, waving a belt around wildly, his face contorted with fury, as he shouts, “I’ll have her taken away! Is that what you want, you little snot?! Don’t think I won’t!”


A middle-aged woman, dragging a struggling little girl towards a dark sedan, the girl squirming desperately within her grasp, and wailing Michael’s name.


The car, pulling away, a tiny, pale face pressed against the back window as a small boy chases behind screaming, “Wait! Take me too! I’m her brother! Sara! I’m sorry, Sara! I’m sorry!”

The heartrending emotion that was left in the wake of the flashes made Liz gasp, and tears choked her throat. Her guard against Michael’s intrusion into her thoughts was all but forgotten as the troubling images took root in her mind, allowing Michael an unchallenged entrance with his next approach. Once inside, he became aware of what she’d seen almost immediately.

Liz felt a sudden withdrawal as he swiftly turned his attention to his own thoughts, and he desperately tried to push her away, while at the same time doing his utmost to shield them.

Get out, Liz! he ordered her fiercely.

Still trying to assimilate what she’d just seen, Liz was unconsciously searching his memories for answers to some of the questions the flashes had wrought. Michael, what...?

Realizing what she was doing, he pushed at her harder and thought harshly, I mean it, Liz! Get out! NOW!

Liz hardly even heard him. Her mind was whirling a mile a minute as she tried to fill in all the blanks of the story that had just played out.

Michael had a sister? How was that even possible? What had happened to her? And how was it that he’d gone through an obviously traumatising situation like that, and nobody knew? She was almost positive Max didn’t know about it. Or Maria either.

Not until she felt him forcibly pushing at her mind, did she realize that she was still intruding on his thoughts, and it was more than apparent that he wanted her out. But she was unwilling to just let this go. Why hadn’t he ever told anybody?

Michael, who was that? Was she...?

I’m not gonna tell you again, Liz!” he interrupted, infuriated by this invasion, and even more incensed that she wasn’t listening to him, and wouldn’t back off. He was terrified of what else she might see if he didn’t get her out immediately, and he shouted insistently into her head, GET OUT!! With that, he gave her a forceful mental shove that hit her with the impact of a physical blow, and she recoiled violently, her hands flying to her head as if she really had been hit.

Pain bloomed inside her skull, and she groaned softly while pressing her palms against the sides of her head as if she could hold it at bay that way.

Instantly remorseful, Michael jumped from his stool and grabbed hold of her upper arms. “Liz, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean...”

Max elbowed him aside as he rushed to Liz’s aid, and he asked Michael furiously, “What did you do?!”

Michael looked at Max guiltily before turning his gaze back to Liz , whose head was now cradled in Max’s hands.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I just...pushed her out of my head. Hard,” he admitted regretfully.

Knowing the two boys didn’t need another bone of contention between them, Liz forced herself to ignore the pain that had now faded to a throbbing ache, and pulled Max’s hands from her scalp to hold them in hers.

“I’m alright, Max. Michael didn’t mean to,” she glanced at Michael with a silent assurance of forgiveness, then lifted her eyes to Max’s to see the expression of worry there. She gave his hands a reassuring squeeze, and said, “Really, I’m fine. We were just trying to figure out a way to block each other from our thoughts. And I think we found it,” she ended dryly.

“Yeah, but I won’t ever do that again, Liz,” Michael promised. “If I’d had any idea it would hurt you like that, I swear I never would’ve done it in the first place.”

“I know, Michael. It’s okay. Really,” she assured him. “You know, I think maybe what we were doing before that might have been working.”

Grateful that she was willing to forgive and forget, and that she hadn’t said anything to the others about the flashes, he fell in with her attempt to move on, and said quietly, “Yeah. You may be right.”

“But you aren’t gonna work on it anymore tonight, right?” Maria said imploringly to them both as she looked at Liz with concern. “I mean, you could’ve given her a concussion or something for pete’s sake,” she declared, lifting a hand to lightly place it on the back of Liz’s head. She hated to see her keep getting hurt from this thing. As far as she could see, this stupid connection had absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

“Maria, no. I really am okay,” Liz insisted, hoping the throb above her right eyebrow couldn’t be seen pounding underneath her skin the way it felt like it was doing.

Max studied her carefully, and said, “Just the same, I think Maria’s right. Why don’t you guys just take a break from it tonight? You should probably rest if you’re still gonna do the dream thing later on,” he told Liz, gently pulling one of his hands free to stroke her upper arm in a quest for a more substantial physical contact.

After everything she’d undergone today, he needed to reassure himself that she was okay. He didn’t think he could hate this connection any more passionately than he did. Not only because of the facets of it that aroused him to jealousy, but because every time they did anything with it, Liz ended up suffering for it. He wished he could just forbid them from ever messing with the thing again, but he knew he couldn’t do that. Ultimately, it was Liz’s decision as to how they dealt with it.

“Well, if we’re basically through here, why don’t I take you home, Maria,” Michael suggested.

Frowning slightly, Maria agreed. “Yeah, alright.”

She hated to miss out on their attempts to learn more of the aliens’ past tonight, but she had to go home and cover for Liz in case her parents happened to call.

Pushing Liz’s hair behind her shoulder, Maria asked gently, “You’ll be okay?”

Liz caught her forearm in a light grip and looked up at her, feeling immensely grateful to have her best friend back. “I’ll be fine, Maria,” she assured her warmly. “Thanks.”

“Okay,” Maria replied, giving her shoulder a squeeze. “Talk to you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I promise I’ll tell you everything we find out.”

Forcing herself to be content with that, Maria let Michael lead her out after he’d said a subdued, “Be back later.”

When the door closed behind them, Liz looked up at Max solemnly, and he pulled her up from the stool and into his arms. She hugged him back tightly and thought that this was all she needed to deliver peace after all the turmoil of this day. His loving arms enfolding her close against his heart.

After a long moment, Max lowered his lips to kiss her forehead and said softly, “Now will you let me heal your head?”

Her lips curved slightly in affectionate amusement, not terribly surprised that she’d been unable to hide her pain from him. Though it might seem that this connection with Michael overshadowed what she had with Max, she knew that could never possibly be true. She and Max had a heart’s intuition of one another, and a language of the soul that needed no words, not even silent ones, to communicate that which lay at the innermost part of their beings. Overly poetic, maybe, but true nonetheless.

As she allowed him to place his hands on either side of her head, the stance reminded her poignantly of the one from so long ago when he’d reversed their connection to let her ‘see’ him. She’d known that day that her life would never be the same. And she’d never been more right about anything.

Not only had Max revealed the existence of far-away worlds that day when he’d risked saving her life, but he’d awakened her to a love so deep and pure and encompassing, she’d never even imagined anything like it existed. And he did it all with a single touch of these gentle, healing hands. She realized suddenly that all these changes went hand-in-hand with everything she’d known with Max since that day, and the trade-off was more than worth it.

Curling her fingers around his wrists, she looked deeply into his eyes while her own glowed with emotion, and said softly, “Heal me, Max.”

Everything she was feeling poured into him through their connection, and Max sighed as the warmth of it flooded his heart. Nothing she could’ve said would’ve made him feel more favorable towards her connection with Michael than the sentiment she was sending him now. And nothing could’ve made him feel more like a vital part of her happiness than the feeling that she’d never known what true happiness was until that day he’d healed her.

Max’s hands gently tightened around her hair reflexively as he thought to himself, she might not possess the alien power of healing, but still, she held the ability to heal all the dark places in his heart, and his chest swelled with an overwhelming feeling of loving gratitude.

“No, Liz,” he gently refuted, as he gazed into her eyes with an adoring look of earnestness. “You heal me,” he quietly avowed.

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 21-Oct-2001 8:03:19 PM ]
posted on 15-Oct-2001 5:48:22 AM
Chapter 47

When Max had finished healing her headache, its tingling aftereffects lingered inside her head, while the warm current of their emotions continued to flow through their open connection. His reverent words to her still rang in her ears. And that, coupled with the outpouring of love and enamored appreciation Liz could feel inside him, made her own heart feel even fuller if that were possible.

Being connected to Max like this was better than anything she could imagine. His emotions always had the effect of buoying and swelling her own, as hers, in turn, did to his, and they sometimes pushed each other so high she wasn’t sure how they could contain the seeming overabundance of sensation. But the best part was the way their emotions intertwined together, creating an intricately woven tapestry of feeling between them that somehow seemed to bind them together, and when things got intense, it was almost impossible to tell which of them the feelings originated from. It was as close to being one with a person she could conceive of, short of making love.

There was such a vast difference between their connection and the way it felt when she connected with Michael. With him, there was always this guarded sense of cautiousness, like they were connected, but they were trying not to really BE connected. But with Max, it was always an open exchange of emotion. He laid everything he was open to her, and she was more than willing to share all of herself with him. With them, it felt like they connected on every level possible.

As they stood there silently sharing the depth of their love for one another, their heads slowly began to tilt towards one another’s simultaneously, and finally came together in a perfect moment of breathless expectancy. Gently, Max brushed his lips across the petal-like softness of hers, then after a minute pause, angled his head to possess her mouth more completely, and Liz welcomed him in wholeheartedly.

A sweet feeling of peace from all the trauma of the day stole over them both with the pliant caress of lips, but as the moment wore on, the warm glow of tranquility was steadily replaced by a more restless kind of heat.

While their mouths moved against one another’s feelingly, Liz closed the distance between them, sliding her hands up his arms and stepping forward until she was up against his chest, and Max dropped one of his hands from her face to wrap his arm around her waist and hold her tightly to him. His other hand tunneled under the ebony fall of her hair to cup the back of her head, and without conscious thought, Liz tilted her head back further to fit her scalp more firmly into his palm.

The kiss gained momentum as Max took advantage of the sharper angle, urging her lips wider, and pressing inside with a heated glide of his tongue. He stroked the dark interior of her mouth with a studied thoroughness, as though he could drink in her very essence that way. And as he fed on her sweetness like a man starved for the taste of dessert, Liz met each tender lash of his tongue with an equally hungry thrust of her own.

Max pressed forward against her, doing his utmost to imprint her on his body, and the swaying motions of his head became a little less smooth, a little more urgent, as his lips twisted against hers and his tongue delved deep.

He wanted to absolutely immerse himself in her. To sink so deep inside her that his every inhale was filled with the scent of her, that every precious beat of her heart was the only sound he could hear, that she became the very air he breathed. But at the same time, he wished he could draw her tiny form deep inside himself. That he could enfold her within his depths until no harm could possibly reach her.

Thoughts of all the dangers that had seemed to come within touching distance of her that day had him tightening his hold on her, and hugging her close. This latest incident with Michael in her head had been only the last in a long string of things that could’ve ended up seriously hurting her, or even worse.

As they pulled away from each other slightly to drag in desperately needed air, Max began to trail open-mouthed kisses towards her neck. Without taking his lips from her flesh, he rasped huskily, “You really scared me today, Liz.” Remembering where the most serious threat had come from, and that they couldn’t even be sure she was out of danger yet, his hands fisted around her shirt and hair as if to reassure himself she was really here, safe in his arms. Working his way back up from her neck, he lay a fierce kiss upon her lips, and in a tone of fearfulness he ground out, “If Nicholas ever got his hands on you...”

“Shhh,” she soothed softly, drawing his head down, and closing her lips over his to cut the thought off mid-sentence.

The connection allowed her to feel his utter fear for her safety, and the worry that if anything happened it would be entirely his fault for dragging her into all this, and her brows drew together in a slight frown of disturbance. Holding his face gently within her hands, she tried to chase away all his fears with the tender movements of her lips on his, and Max clutched her close and allowed himself to be pulled under the sensual spell she always wove over him with her kisses.

Her ardent stroking of his lips was a sweet paradox, momentarily easing his worries and bringing comfort, but also stirring a hot rush of desire within him. And though she’d offered it in an attempt to soothe, Max could feel the matching sensation of excitement the kiss was arousing in Liz.

Dragging her lips from his, Liz slid them across his jaw, and turned her face into his neck. Pressing occasional kisses there, and alternately brushing his skin with the softness of her cheek, she reassured him breathlessly. “We don’t know it really even was Nicholas, Max. And... if it was.. we know what to watch out for now.”

Just because they knew to watch out for him didn’t mean they’d be able to stop him if he tried to do something else to Liz, but Max didn’t voice the frightening thought aloud. Even the idea of that happening made his heart pound with terror instead of the excitement her lips were invoking. Nicholas was a powerful enemy. And if it ever came down to a fight between them, Max wasn’t sure they would be able to defeat him. But he knew he’d die trying if it meant keeping Liz safe.

Cupping her head in his hands, he eased her lips from his neck and looked into her eyes with an expression of sincere earnestness, his breath rushing heavily. “I just want you to know, Liz.. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure nothing ever happens to you.”

Liz looked up at him warmly. Though she didn’t like the idea of Max putting his own life in danger to keep her safe, she knew he was offering the only thing he could to try and make them both feel better about all this.

“I know,” she assured him lovingly, curling a hand around his neck to stroke his hair lightly. “You always have, Max. I always feel safe when I’m with you. And- if this really is Nicholas watching us...we’ll stop him somehow. I have faith in you.”

Emotion tightened Max’s throat. Her assurances were like a benediction that somehow managed to give him ease, and her confidence in him made him feel stronger and more capable of handling the situation.

Admiring appreciation swelled inside his chest, and a fierce determination to protect this strong, but delicate girl who held his entire world in her small hands overtook him.

“I love you, Liz,” he declared gruffly, enclosing her within the tight ring of his arms once more, and passionately taking her lips with his.

The emotional fervor of his kiss made Liz’s breath catch in her throat, and his ardency sent a spiral of heated pleasure unfurling low in her belly. A low sound of desire escaped her throat, and her fingers closed around the fringe of hair at the nape of his neck, as she crowded close against him and kissed him back with a quicksilver flash of need.

Her tongue swept inside his mouth with a fevered avariciousness that heated his blood, and Max responded immediately with an answering greed, his claim on her mouth growing hungrier as he shifted against her restively.

His small movements against her were producing a delicious friction between the front of their bodies, and as they continued to ply each other with fervid kisses, Liz found herself moving slightly in counterpoint. His arms, like steel bands around her waist, tightened still further, and at first, she thought he was trying to still her tiny movements. But he was only pulling her hips more snugly into his.

He swept her hair aside to hungrily mouth the delicate skin at the curve of her neck, and Liz gave a breathy little moan as her head fell back to give him access. The feel of his hardness pressing into her near the juncture of her thighs sent a lightning bolt of charged heat through her, and she clung to him as her legs grew weak at the dual stimulation of his mouth gently biting at her throat, and his obvious arousal teasing at her senses.

Max held her up as she sagged against him, and slowly began stepping her backwards toward the couch, his lips never pausing in their amorous activities, sliding up over her chin, and latching onto her mouth once more.

In only a matter of several steps they had crossed the expanse of the small living area, and when they had reached the couch, Max sank down upon it and pulled her with him. She ended up on her knees beside where he sat, and Max tipped his head back to continue to kiss her in a reaching manner, while placing a hand at the bend of her knee to urge her leg over his lap. Following his bidding willingly, Liz straddled his hips and allowed him to pull her in tight against his body, then wound her arms around his shoulders. She made a whimpering sound as the position pressed her even more intimately against him, and her thighs clenched around his, her pulse tripping chaotically.

Max gasped at her involuntary thrusting motion against him, and his fingertips dug into the flesh of her hips where he held her. All the blood seemed to rush from his head to pulse low in his body, leaving him dizzy and mindless to everything but the feel of her surrounding him, and the heat that was cradling him intimately.

Their kisses grew needy and desperate as the level of one another’s arousal communicated itself through their connection to drive their own even higher. Liz was v