posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:25:54 PM
Author: Debbi aka Breathless
Category: Max and Liz
Rating: PG13 to ? ? ?
Disclaimer: No affiliation to Roswell or anyone associated. I'm just borrowing the characters for awhile. Lyrics from 'It's Been Awhile', by Staind. No infringement intended, so please don't sue my ass.

This fic begins where season 2 ended.

Dying Embers

Part 1

Liz could feel the vibration beneath her feet and her eyes opened wide in fear. Tendrils of smoke were drifting from the opening in the Vasquez Rocks and he was still in there . . . with her. Her heart raced thinking of the danger he was in just being near her. She closed her eyes and prayed to God that Max would come out of the chamber, alive and safe.

A sound penetrated her silent plea and she opened her eyes, straining to see into the smoky gloom. After everything that had happened, after all that they had been through, she still loved him more than she had been willing to admit, even to herself. If anything were to happen to him, she would just die inside.

He suddenly appeared at the opening, alone, and hastily climbed through, drawing a deep breath of fresh air to try and clear his smoke filled lungs. Her pulse raced through her veins, overjoyed that he appeared uninjured and relieved that he was safe. He grabbed her hand with the feel of the ground rumbling beneath them and they ran for safety as the cliff side splintered and crumbled. The vibrations increased and with a loud explosion the Granilith sped across the sky with its lone occupant, headed home.

As it disappeared from sight Max turned back to look at her, with his hand gently touching her face and stroking through her hair and he spoke to her in a tone she hadn’t heard in a long time. “I’ve been really wrong about a lot, but I was right about one thing . . . To get you into my life, to be around you, to love you.”

She let his words soak in, not sure how she should feel, as she rested her head against his chest. They had once had something special, so magical, but all that had ended that night back in October when she had broken his heart. And for what? Everything had gone to hell now. She’d given up everything because the one person she trusted most of all told her it had to be that way. Max had come from the future, giving up his own life so that she could change the past. His past. Her future.

She had given up the love of her life, so that everyone could live, and now what? Alex was dead because of her. Tess was gone because of her. Would everyone die now, because of her? She had chosen the wrong path that night back in October, and now they were all paying the price.

Max stepped away from her and turned to lead them down the rock face, away from this place and its awful memories. As he passed by Isabel, she turned her questioning eyes to his retreating back and said, “What happens now, Max?”

Liz felt Max step away from her and he separated himself from the group. She could feel his inner turmoil, and then he spoke the words that were like a dagger in her heart.

“I have to save my son . . .”

* * * * *

Liz sat in the cramped back seat of the Jetta as they made their way back into town in silence, everyone feeling shell-shocked from the recent events that had culminated in the revelation of Tess’s betrayal and her subsequent departure using the only means available to return to their home world, the Granilith. Max sat on her left, next to the window, with Maria on her right and Isabel next to her. Michael drove and Kyle sat in the front passenger seat.

Liz could feel Max’s eyes on her, but she avoided his gaze, still stinging from the reality of the words he had spoken back at the cliff side. Nothing would ever be the same again. She had pushed him away from her and right into Tess’s waiting arms, but she’d never thought he would really succumb to her temptation. A part of her had always believed that what she and Max had felt for each other would supersede the life he had lived before, and in the end they would find their way back to each other, regardless of what the future version of him had said.

It was a dream that was now dying in the harsh reality of daylight.

Max had consummated a physical relationship with Tess, something that she had thought they would share together someday, and in another timeline, they had. They had shared a life, a love beyond all loves, but it had resulted in the end of the world. So she had given it up, given him up, but in the end it didn’t matter. She had lost everything, and more, this time.

Alex was gone, dead and buried. Tess was gone too, just as in that other timeline, but this time it was so much worse. She had Max’s son growing inside her, his heir that could be used against him, to control him, to make him do things he wouldn’t want to do, but would have to in order to keep his child safe. She felt a tear spill down her cheek and she brushed it quickly away, hoping no one had noticed.

“Liz . . .” Max said softly next to her.

She stiffened next to him, acutely aware of the feel of his leg touching hers in the cramped quarters of the car. He reached to touch her shoulder and she flinched, shying away from him, knowing that her actions would probably add to his confusion and his pain, but unable to help it. He had slept with Tess. As much as she hated to accept that truth, there it was, and nothing could take it back. He had slept with Tess and she was having his child.

“Liz . . . please . . .” Max said and she cut him off.

“Michael, take us to your apartment,” Liz said bluntly.

“I thought we were going to the Crashdown,” he said sounding confused. Everyone could feel the tension in the air. The last few weeks, no, not weeks but months, had been hell on everyone. They were all ready to explode.

“No,” Liz said trying to find her inner resolve. “We need to talk, and we can’t do it privately at my home. There’s something I need to tell you. All of you. Something I’ve been hiding from you.”

Liz met Maria’s eyes, ignoring the sudden commotion in the car as the others fired questions at her. Everyone, that is, except Max. She could feel his gaze burning into her, wondering what in the world she was talking about, but she couldn’t look at him. Maybe she would never be able to look at him again.

They finished the ride in silence and it was a subdued group that filed into Michael’s apartment to hear what Liz had to say. Michael and Maria stayed close together, united against whatever travail Liz was about to reveal. Isabel stood close to Max, convinced by Liz’s attitude that he was in for some painful disclosure. Kyle stood alone, uncertain and confused by everything his life had come to over the last year.

“First of all, I have been lying to you, all of you, ever since last fall. But I thought . . . I thought I was protecting you.” Liz covered her face with her hands as she tried to figure out how to say this. She looked to Maria, the only one who knew the truth, and her encouraging nod helped her forge on. “Last fall, in October actually, Max came to visit me.”

She looked at the faces around her and knew she was saying this badly. How could she explain it coherently? Her eyes finally turned to Max and she met his gaze. She could see his pain and his uncertainty, and she forged on. “Max came to see me one day last October. He sang to me outside my window.” The look on her face softened as she remembered how he had looked that night, standing down on the street and looking up at her. His smile had warmed her heart. She shook the memory aside, knowing those feeling belonged in a life that didn’t exist anymore.

“The only problem was, I already had a visitor.” She saw the look that crossed Max’s face. A look that said ‘Had she slept with someone else besides Kyle?’. She closed her eyes, trying to wipe out the look she’d seen on his face, but of course it didn’t work. She took a deep breath and continued on.

“That night, when Max came to visit me, Max was already there.” She held her hand up as Isabel and Michael became unruly from listening to so contrived a statement as that, but she noticed how Max and Kyle remained quiet. She stared right at Max as she continued on, “Max came back from the future to visit me, using the Granilith, to tell me that the world would be overrun, that Earth would be destroyed, all because Max and I had . . . Max and I had . . .”

She couldn’t say it. That the thing she had most wanted in the world was never going to happen? That she would never make love to the man she love more than life itself, because she had sent him into the arms of another woman? She looked directly at him as her words rushed on.

“Max came back from the future to tell me that the life we had shared, a life where we got married at nineteen in a chapel in Vegas, was going to lead to your enemies being able to take over the world. He told me in fourteen years we would have been defeated and the whole world would become enslaved. Max told me that once our relationship was cemented,” she noticed the questioning look on Max’s face when she used that term and she continued on, “Max told me that once we had made love, the way we would have the night of the Gomez concert, it would have sealed our fate together and Tess, angry about how I had taken her place in your heart, would have left town and without her strength to compliment the rest of yours, Earth was doomed.” Max opened his mouth to speak but she held up her hand to quiet him and she pressed on.

“So Max, the future version of Max, told me . . .” her eyes filled with tears and her chin trembled as she tried valiantly to get the whole story out. “He told me I had to make Max-”, she struggled not to cry as she looked at the pained expression on his face. “He told me I had to make you fall out of love with me, because . . . because he said Tess was critical to your survival, and she had left Roswell because you and I were together.”

“So I used Kyle, to make you think I’d moved on, so that you would turn to Tess and . . . and by being with Tess, you would form the unit you were meant to be and this world would be safe from the enemies that were out there . . .” She knew it all sounded far fetched, but so did aliens attending West Roswell High School, when you thought about it that way. “I guess that future version of you never knew Tess had a separate agenda, that didn’t include your safe return to . . . Antar? I guess that’s the right name of your planet.”

“So,” Michael began hesitantly and then the sound of his voice changed to the hard edge of anger. “So are you saying that you changed ‘the future’, without talking to any of us to see if we thought it was a good idea? Or to get our opinions? What did you think you were doing? Playing God?”

“Michael,” Liz tried to make him understand. “Max said he came to me because he trusted me. I begged him to find another way, to go to someone else, but he said I had to . . .” her voice broke and she fought to keep from crying. “He said I had to turn Max away from me.”

“So in all this time, you never thought once about telling any of us about this?” Michael asked in disbelief.

Liz watched Max as he stared at the floor, listening to her as she spoke, but not looking at her. The color had drained out of his face and his jaw was clenched tightly. “By the time I realized something was terribly wrong, you wouldn’t have believed me anyway. When Alex died,” her voice cracked again as she said her friend’s name. Alex was dead now because of what she had done. In the other timeline, Alex had danced at her wedding. How could everything have gone so wrong? “When Alex died, no one believed me when I said something was wrong. And by then it was too late. Michael and Isabel weren’t listening to me, and Max was off with . . .” she shut up then when she saw the devastated look on his face. She had forced the worst possible nightmare on him, pulling the rug right out from under him, and there was no way they could ever go back now.

“Max,” she said staring straight at him, “He said I had to turn you away from me, and who was I to argue with him? What difference did it make what I wanted? When it came right down to it, how could I put my wants and needs above what was necessary to ensure the survival of a whole planet? The whole human race?”

“Liz . . .” Max finally found his voice after listening to her. Their eyes met and she could see the depth of pain that she had caused him. “I . . . I don’t know what to say . . .”

“Don’t say anything,” she said blinking back her tears. “I should have told you the truth a long time ago. I’m sorry.” She brushed at the offending tear that spilled down her cheek and she turned away from him. “I have to go.”

“Please, Liz,” Max said taking a step toward her. “Don’t go. We need to talk.”

“I don’t think there is anything left to say. We’re different now Max. Our lives have gone in different directions.” She moved toward the door with Max following hesitantly behind her. The others moved away, trying to give the two of them some space.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Max said softly. “If we just talk this over, I’m sure we can work it out.”

“But that’s just it, Max,” she said hesitantly. “I don’t know if I want to work it out. I don’t know anything anymore.” She sighed forlornly, feeling his presence right behind her. “I just need time to think, Max.”

She crossed to the door and fumbled blindly for the handle with her eyes swimming with tears. She heard him say her name again as she opened the door and she fled the apartment.

“Liz . . .” Max called to her as she hurried through the door and he reached to grab her arm. Kyle’s hand closed over his forearm, jerking it away from Liz and he glared harshly into the taller boy’s eyes.

“Leave her alone, DAD,” Kyle hissed at Max. “Haven’t you hurt her enough to last a lifetime?” He released Max’s arm in disgust and turned to chase after Liz.

Max stood in the doorway and watched Kyle catch up to Liz. She stopped as he reached her and she turned to him. Max could see her shoulders trembling and the tears streaking down her cheeks as she looked at Kyle. He pulled her into his arms to comfort her and then he looked back at Max. He could read Kyle’s expression clearly. The look on his face said ‘I won’t let you hurt her again’.

posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:28:12 PM
Dying Embers

Part 2

Max stared at Liz, standing on the grass with Kyle’s arms comforting her, and he took a step toward them. Maria suddenly appeared at his side and he was surprised, shocked, at the way she jerked him back inside Michael’s apartment. He stumbled as she pushed him roughly and he turned to look at Michael with a frown, wondering if he knew what the hell Maria was doing.

“Leave her alone, Max,” Maria warned.

“What are you talking about?” he asked, knowing full well what she was talking about.

“Just leave her alone, Max,” Maria said, feeling herself going into full protection mode. “Haven’t you hurt her enough?”

“Maria-” Max began but she cut him off.

“Did you think she was just going to fall back into your arms and say ‘That’s okay Max. I don’t mind that you screwed Tess. Yes Max, I’d love to help you get your son back.’ What the hell is wrong with you, Max?” Maria fumed.

“I made a mistake,” Max hurled back at her, angry at himself for the mess he’d made of everything.

“Some mistake, Max!” Maria yelled. “Tess was leading you around by the prick and now she has you by the balls.”

“Maria-” Michael interrupted and she turned her angry gaze at him.

“NO! Look, somebody has to tell him,” she hissed at Michael. She turned back toward Max with fire in her eyes. “You fucked up Max. You fucked up big time. Liz put you first in EVERYTHING, and how did you repay her? You fucked Tess. But no, that wasn’t enough. Mr. Prepared, Mr. Condom in his Back Pocket just forgot to use it, so now, little Max Jr. is on his way.”

“Mr. Prepared? What’s that supposed to mean?” he yelled back at her. Maria moved swiftly, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket and flipping it open. He stood stunned by her actions and cried, “Maria, what the hell are you doing?”

“What am I doing? The question is, ‘What were YOU doing?’ She pulled the packet out of his wallet and held it up in front of his face. “When did you start thinking with your prick instead of your brain, Max? I know you’ve had this in your wallet since at least last fall. When did you start taking stupid pills? Did you just forget to put it on when you were sticking it in Tess? Jesus, I don’t even know you anymore.”

“Maria,” Max fumbled, at a loss for words. He flinched as she threw the condom, hitting him in the face with it, and he caught it with his hand as it fell. He stared at it, wondering for the millionth time why he hadn’t used it that night. He’d been carrying it around in his wallet since last spring, when things had gotten so intense with Liz. He knew it was there.

How could he explain his actions to Maria, or to the person that he really owed the explanation to, Liz, when he didn’t understand it himself? He didn’t love Tess. He never had. He couldn’t explain what had driven him to do what he had done. It went against everything he believed in. Even after he had thought he’d lost Liz, when he thought she didn’t love him anymore, he hadn’t turned to Tess because she didn’t mean anything to him.

He’d always thought he would be with Liz, and only Liz, and when the time was perfect, they would make love in some special place, with candlelight all around them and rose petals on the bed and flowers filling the room. Then he’d wake up with her in the morning knowing he’d just spent the most wonderful night of his life in her arms.

And then he’d awakened on the hard floor of the observatory, with Tess in his arms knowing he’d just made the worst mistake of his life. Only at the time he hadn’t known just how bad it would really be. He’d destroyed everything that night. In a moment of weakness he had used Tess because he had felt lonely and empty, and in the process he had ruined everything that had ever mattered to him.

“Tess played you, Max, and you fell for it,” Maria said with scorn. “And now you have to live with the consequences. Go save your son, Max, and just leave Liz alone.” She grabbed her purse and stormed out of the apartment, leaving three stunned aliens in her wake.

* * * * *

“Do you believe her?” Isabel asked, staring at her brother. “Do you believe all that stuff Liz said about you coming here from the future?”

“Of course I believe her,” Max answered, meeting her gaze and then turning away from her. He sat on Michael’s couch and leaned forward with his elbows propped on his knees and his head in his hands. His eyes were gritty from lack of sleep and the smoke from the pod chamber, not to mention how he was fighting off the urge to just break down and cry.

He felt like such a fool. Tess had used him, and he’d been too stupid to see it. He’d fallen right into her trap because he was worthless. He was scum. He was nothing. All he’d ever wanted was to make Liz happy. To see her eyes twinkling with delight. To hear her laughter floating on the air. And now, knowing he had caused her only pain, only sorrow, was nearly more than he could bear.

Liz had deceived him, lied to him, pushed him away from her, but it had all been because he had asked her to. He had come back in time and convinced her that she had to. The shock of that chilled him to the bone. He had been so harsh to her, so mean, so cruel, and the only thing she’d had been guilty of, was doing exactly what he had pleaded with her to do. And she had done it, she had sacrificed her wants and her dreams because his future self had asked her to, and she loved him so much that she had given up everything that she wanted, to comply with his request.

But even in the future he must have been a stupid man, unworthy of her love, to have come back in time and allowed her to sacrifice herself like that. All for nothing. Tess never was part of a cohesive unit. Tess had always been the enemy, they just hadn’t known it. But Liz had, Max reminded himself. Liz had always known. When Tess first came to town, Liz had warned them all. She had said she didn’t trust Tess, and she had been right all along.

And now here they were, living this nightmare. A nightmare he didn’t know how to wake up from.

* * * * *

He stood at the base of the ladder, the ladder that led to her, the ladder he had climbed so many times on so many nights, the ladder that stood between him and the only person he had ever really loved. But would she even talk to him? Would she welcome him if he climbed up to her rooftop, or would she send him away, telling him never to return? God, how had it come to this? How had he let this happen?

He looked at his watch once again, indecisive on what he should do. It was late and maybe he shouldn’t disturb her tonight. Maybe he should just leave, give her some time. Maybe with the right amount of time, it could mend her broken heart and she would be able to let him back in. Please, he prayed to God, please let her find it in her heart to forgive him. God how he wished he could change the past, to take back that one night, to prevent the event that would ruin so many people’s lives.

But no, he couldn’t take back what he had done. He had no knowledge of quantum physics or any of the other technical sciences, and he wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to change history. Besides, the Granilith was gone now. There would be no changing the past this time. He had fucked up everything, and maybe lost the only thing that mattered to him.

He looked at his watch again and made up his mind. He needed to see her. He had so many things he needed to say to her. He reached his hand out toward the ladder and he noticed how it trembled. He pulled it back, flexing his fingers, telling himself not to be nervous. If there was even a small part of her that still loved him, that would be enough. It would be a start, a beginning point, to build back what they used to have. If he could just get her to talk to him, then maybe they still had a chance. He put his hands on the rungs of the ladder, and began his slow ascent.

He climbed over her balcony and crossed over to her window. It was late, and he could see her huddled form on the bed, under the covers. He tapped lightly on the glass but she didn’t stir. He disengaged the lock and climbed through the window, letting his feet drop silently onto her bedroom floor. He crossed the room and with an ache in his heart he looked down into her sleeping face.

He knelt beside the bed and pushed the errant strands of hair away from her face. When he had touched her out at the Rocks this morning, out in the desert, it was the first time in a long time that he had felt like himself. That he had felt . . . normal. It was holding her in his arms that had made him feel that way. Without her, his life had just been spinning out of control. Without her, he’d made a mess of everything.

Her hair between his fingers was silky soft and touching it again gave him a sense of being where he belonged, where he was supposed to be. He’d always known she was the one for him, ever since the first time that he had seen her. The moment he had laid eyes on her, he had just known. He’d even told her that last year, so why had he stopped believing in her? Why hadn’t he tried harder to learn the truth? He’d taken what he saw at face value, and then he’d shut her out, and his whole life had gone to hell without her in it.

He drew his fingers through her hair and released it, letting it fall softly around her, framing her delicate features. He felt the ache deep within him intensify as he looked down at her. The moonlight spilling in from the window lit her face and he could see the dried tear stains on her cheeks. She had cried herself to sleep.

The pain he felt in his heart now was so much worse than the pain he had suffered on the night he saw her in this bed with Kyle. Everything that she had done, every betrayal that he thought she had been guilty of, was because she thought it was the right thing to do, for him. She left him in the desert a year ago, because she didn’t want to interfere with his destiny. She had given up a life with him, because he, his future self, had asked her to. How could he make this right? What could he do to make her believe in him again? To let him back in her heart again? Without her, he was out of balance. He needed her in his life. He didn’t know how he could survive without her.

She stirred and he saw the moonlight reflect off something clutched in her hands. He lifted the edge of the blanket, drawing the covers away from her, and he felt a rush of hope surge through him. She was holding a picture of him, clutched closely to her chest. She’d fallen asleep holding it. Did that mean she still had feelings for him? Could he rekindle the love she used to feel for him? Could those dying embers be brought back to life, to flame once more with the passion she used to feel for him?

She stirred again and her eyes slowly opened. Her sleepy face smiled up at him and then her smile faded as she became more fully awake.

“What are you doing here, Max?” she asked in a whisper.

“I had to see you, Liz,” Max said softly. “Please don’t send me away. There are so many things we need to talk about. So many things I need to say to you. I love you Liz. I’ll do anything, anything, to get you back in my life. Please say that we have a chance.”

“Max, you shouldn’t be here,” Liz said, clutching the blanket to her chest. “You should go.”

“Tell me you’ll meet me tomorrow, so we can talk,” Max begged. “Anywhere you say will be fine with me. Just give me a chance to talk to you. Please?” He touched his hand to her bare shoulder and they both were inundated by a series of sudden flashes. A flash of their first kiss, right outside on her balcony, in what now seemed like a lifetime ago. A flash of their passion erupting one day at school, in the eraser room, and on another night at Michael’s apartment, when the fire burning between them had raged.

Max lifted his hand from her shoulder, moving it to cup her cheek and he leaned down to kiss her, unable to stop himself. Their lips touched, and the contact was like a bolt of electricity surging through his body. He felt her lips respond and his heart was elated with joy.

His hand slid into her hair, drawing her closer to him, pulling her into the kiss. She stiffened suddenly as an image flashed unbidden into his mind. The image of Tess’s naked body lying curled up against his and her sleepy blue eyes smiling up at him. Horrified, he felt Liz pull away from him. Her dark eyes were overflowing with tears. Her chin was trembling as she shrank away from him.

“Liz . . . I . . . I . . .” he stammered, horrified by the image he’d just projected into her mind. “Liz . . .” and she slapped him. Hard. Across the face.

Get out,” she cried out as the tears streamed down her cheeks.

He stood and backed away from her with a look of bewilderment and shock on his face. What had he just done? How could he have let her see that? “Liz . . .”

I said get out!” Liz screamed again and she threw the picture she had been holding. It hit him on the chest and then fell to the floor, with the glass shattering into a million pieces. Just as her heart had done a moment ago.

“Get out,” she sobbed, turning away from him and burying her face in her pillows as she cried inconsolably.

Max stared at the broken picture in the floor, the shattered glass symbolic of what he had just done to the love she might have still felt for him, and was now surely gone. He looked at her lying on the bed, dying inside as he watched her whole body shaking as she cried, knowing he was the one causing all her pain.

“Liz . . .” Her name caught in his throat, devastated by what he had just done to her. He turned, unheeding as his feet crunched through the glass on the floor around him as he fled her room, bolting down her balcony to the street below. He ran blindly into the night, unable to escape the one person he hated most of all. Himself.

posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:29:55 PM
Dying Embers

Part 3

Max sat in his room until the last minute, and then he picked up his backpack and grabbed his keys off the dresser. His feet felt leaden as he trudged through the house, headed toward the jeep and another day of misery at school. He threw his backpack on the passenger seat and walked around to the driver’s side door. He noticed another charred spot on the fender as he passed by and his hand hovered over it as he fixed it. It had taken all of his energy to repair the damaged done to the jeep when they had set it ablaze and sent it over the side of the road into the ravine. He was still finding spots that he had missed, even after a week had gone by.

He climbed in behind the wheel and sat there staring off into the distance, reliving the torture of the last week. They’d all gone back to school on Monday, pretending like nothing had happened, nothing was different. Jim Valenti had called the school and made an excuse to cover Tess’s absence, informing them she wouldn’t be returning.

Liz hadn’t come to school on Monday and when he’d tried to talk to Maria, to ask her if she knew where Liz was, what she was doing, how she was doing, Maria had refused to talk to him about her at all. He had a feeling Liz had told her exactly what had happened, that he showed up professing his love for her, only to end up showing her an image of his night spent with Tess.

Michael had become inseparable from Maria, and Max had a feeling it was because their relationship had turned deeper even though Michael hadn’t said anything. It appeared Michael had attained everything he hadn’t. Michael was in love with a girl who loved him back, and if his suspicions were right, they had shared their first intimacy together, the way he had always thought he and Liz would. For the first time in his life, Max had a reason to be envious of Michael. To watch them in the hallways, with Michael’s arm draped over Maria’s shoulders in an affectionate and possessive manner, was a constant reminder of just how much he had screwed up his own life.

The uneasy truce that had developed between Max and Kyle over the winter had come unraveled. Kyle wouldn’t speak to him on Monday, and had just glared at him whenever they were in the same vicinity. They never had been friends, and now he was sure they never would be.

Liz had come back to school on Tuesday. He’d seen her enter the school grounds in the front seat of Kyle’s car, and then they’d walked slowly across the parking lot, deep in conversation. He felt the pangs of jealousy deep inside him and wondered if his actions had driven them together. He couldn’t blame her for turning to Kyle. He was the one who had been supportive of her over these last weeks, the one that believed her suspicions about Alex, while he, on the other hand, had accused her of doing things to expose them, screaming at her that she was wrong, when the whole time he was the only one who had been wrong, about everything.

He shared the second class of the day with Liz, and it was pure torture. She wouldn’t talk to him. Hell, she wouldn’t even look at him. She sat one row over and one row up and her hair fell over the side of her face, blocking his view of her. All week she had come in to class late, just before the final bell rang and then she’d leave quickly, disappearing in the hallways while he sat at his desk in agony.

Lunch had even been worse. When he stepped into the commons on Tuesday, Michael and Maria had been sitting with Liz, talking and eating their lunch. Max had stood to the side, uncertain what to do. Should he join them? Should he just walk away? Isabel appeared and Liz moved her backpack giving her room to sit down. He hesitantly took a few steps toward the table and then a few more, and then Liz looked up, meeting his eyes.

The color drained from her face and she looked away quickly. He was close enough to hear her mumble, “I’ve gotta go,” and she gathered her things together quickly. She leaned close to Maria and said something he couldn’t hear, and then she was gone. He walked around to the far side of the table with his eyes downcast, not wanting to see the sight of her hurrying away from him.

“Shit,” Maria mumbled watching Liz’s retreating back and she turned back to Michael. “I have to see if she’s-”

“I know,” Michael answered. “I’ll see you after sixth period.” Maria gathered her things and he watched her follow after Liz and then he turned to Max. “You really know how to clear a room, don’t you?”

“Michael-” Max stammered. His eyes darted toward Liz and he watched her disappear around the corner, never once turning back to look his way. He sat down heavily at the table and let his backpack drop to the ground.

“Shit, Max,” Michael said shaking his head.

“What did you do?” Isabel frowned at her brother. “I know she was upset when she left Michael’s apartment on Saturday, but this is more than that.”

“Isabel, I . . . I don’t-”

“You mean you don’t know?” Michael interrupted him again, staring at Isabel. “Max didn’t tell you?”

“Michael . . .” Max uttered dejectedly.

“Our illustrious leader here went over to see Liz the other night, to ‘profess’ his love for her,” Michael said sarcastically, “and then proceeded to give her a flash of his hour long orgasm with Tess. That’s a pretty hard act to follow, Max.”

“What?” Isabel said in shock, staring at her brother.

“It wasn’t . . .” Max said and then stopped. His elbow was propped on the table and he leaned forward, covering his eyes with his hand. ‘It wasn’t what’, he thought to himself. It was just the image of him and Tess lying naked in each other’s arms, not the actual hot alien sex, as if that made any difference?

“Max, how could you?” Isabel said, stunned.

“I don’t know how it happened,” Max shot back, feeling suffocated by the guilt. He stared at them both, pleading with them to understand. “I didn’t do it on purpose. That’s the last thing I wanted her to ever see. It just . . . suddenly was . . . there, and Liz saw it, and now she won’t talk to me. She won’t even look at me.”

“Do you blame her Max?” Isabel asked. “Jesus!”

“No, no I don’t blame her,” Max said sounding defeated. “I don’t blame her at all.” He looked away from them, disgusted with himself. He reached into his backpack to retrieve his lunch and his hand shook with all the tension he was feeling. He took out his sandwich and looked at it, realizing his appetite was gone, and he threw it down on the table in revulsion . . .

“Max . . . Max . . . MAX, honey. What are you doing?” Diane shouted, shaking her son on the shoulder.

Max blinked his eyes and looked around him. He was still sitting in his jeep, with his backpack on the seat beside him, but something was different. His mind felt sluggish and he blinked again, suddenly realizing that he was soaking wet. His hair was drenched and the rainwater was running in rivulets under his collar and down his back.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Diane asked with growing concern.

Max turned to look at his mother, standing next to the driver’s side door of the jeep, with an umbrella open above her to keep the rain off. “When did it start raining?” he asked, sounding out of sorts.

“About twenty minutes ago, not long after you left the house,” she answered. “Have you been sitting here all this time?”

Max felt a shiver run through his body. He looked at his watch and his eyes got wider. He’d been sitting here for nearly half an hour and he’d missed the start of school. What the hell? He scrambled out of the jeep and hurriedly pulled on the soft top while the rain continued to pour. Diane assisted him and then she rushed him into the house to get out of the rain.

“You’re soaked to the bone, Max.” She walked into the laundry room to retrieve a clean towel and brought it back to him. “Here, honey, dry yourself off. What were you doing out in the jeep all that time?”

He looked at his mother but he had no answer for her. He’d been so lost in his thoughts about the events of the last week, he hadn’t even felt it when it started to rain. Shaking his head, he walked toward his bedroom so he could change his clothes.

* * * * *

Liz stood in front of the Crashdown waiting for Kyle. He’d been nice enough to give her a ride to school each morning, and his quiet support had helped her get through the week. It had been the longest week of her life.

She had cried for hours after Max had left on Saturday night, after she had seen the flash of him with Tess. She knew she had only herself to blame. She had pushed and pushed him away from her, first by leaving him last summer, when he needed all the support he could get. God only knew what kind of horrors he had faced under Pierce’s directions. She’d seen flashes of only a portion of what they had done to him, and when he needed her most, she had run away. He must have felt like she abandoned him, which she had. The shock of seeing the image of his mother, and all that she had said, had made Liz feel like she didn’t belong, that she was in the way of what he was supposed to become, so she had left. She hadn’t been there when he needed her most.

He had pursued her rigorously in the fall when she returned, and she would have given in, if it hadn’t been for her visitor from the future. She’d known that night, when Max looked through her window with that look of sheer devastation on his face, that she had destroyed everything that had ever existed between them. She had known it, but she hadn’t allowed herself to believe it. A part of her had believed that he would know it wasn’t true, that he would figure out the truth and come back to her, but that had only been a foolish dream. She had destroyed their love that night and in doing so, she had destroyed him. His life was in the state it was right now because of what she had done to him.

He’d felt all alone, and he’d done exactly what she had been pushing him to do. He formed a bond with Tess. What right did she have to be angry because he’d had a physical relationship with her? Isn’t that what she had pushed for? Isn’t that what she knew would end up happening? Hadn’t she told him a thousand times, in deed and in words, that be belonged with Tess?

Yes, her mind screamed at her. Yes, she’d known she was pushing him right into Tess’s arms, Tess’s bed, but she never thought he would . . .

She’d foolishly thought that he would see right through her deception, her lies, and together they would find a way to keep Tess in Roswell and everything would work out the way she wanted it to, and Max would come back to her. She’d had no way of knowing Tess was not only her rival, but Max’s enemy as well. All Tess had wanted was his heir, to assure ascension to the throne, and then Max would become expendable.

There was nothing she could do now to change what had been done. She had forced Max away from her and he had turned to Tess. Liz would have to live with that knowledge for the rest of her life. The hard part now would be moving forward with a life that didn’t include Max, but after the vision he had given her, after seeing the image of Max and Tess together, she knew it was over. The love they had once had was nothing more than dying embers now.

Kyle pulled to a stop in front of her and she made her way to his car. She steeled herself for another pain filled day, of seeing Max in the hallway or in class or walking through the commons. She wasn’t sure if she could take it, but she told herself, only a few more days and it would be over and then she would try to build a new life. She’d have to tell Max though, before she left. She owed him that much.

* * * * *

Max elbowed his way down the hall as he hurried to his class. He’d missed first period and he’d be late for second period if he didn’t hurry. As he walked the hallway his thoughts turned to Liz again, and all that he had put her through.

Last year, when she had seen him kissing Tess that night in the rain, he had begged her to believe in him, that it wasn’t what she thought. And she had. She’d stood by him, even though what she saw had hurt her deeply. She’d still kept her faith in him. So how had he repaid her? Had he kept his faith in her? No. He couldn’t get past what his eyes had seen, to find out the truth beneath the surface, so he had turned his back on her.

And the worst thing of all was that deep down, he had known she was hiding something from him. He could tell it in the way she acted around him, and definitely in the way she acted around Kyle. There was no way that Liz would have given herself to Kyle for a one night stand. After that night, they never once acted like they had become lovers. Why hadn’t he listened to his instincts? So much pain could have been avoided if he had let his heart lead the way.

If only he hadn’t turned his back on her, and created that rift between them, maybe they could have worked it out and he would have never turned to Tess . . .

The bell rang just as he entered his classroom and he slipped into his seat. His eyes latched on to Liz, sitting in front of him on the left, and he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He couldn’t hear the sound of the teacher’s voice, or the chatter of the students around him. All he could hear was the subtle sounds she made as she shifted in her chair, and the soft sigh that escaped from her throat that he knew only reached his ears.

This was what he remembered, this connection he felt with Liz, and had felt for most of his life. It had always been easy for him to pick up on her moods, to sense what she was feeling, to hear the subtle things her body was saying and know what her mind was thinking. Those sensations had been diminished or absent for most of the last year, but now they were back with a vengeance and it made him miss her all the more.

Her head turned back toward him and she glanced his way. He felt like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, unable to move, unable to look away. Her eyes looked into his and then she broke the contact, dropping her gaze down to the floor. He was oblivious to everyone and everything around him. His world was limited to only Liz and the space between the two of them. She bit at her lower lip and then her eyes rose up to meet his again. He forgot how to breathe when she leaned toward him and opened her mouth to speak.

“Max, I . . .” she said softly and then her eyes dropped to the floor again. “I . . .”

She looked up at him again and he saw her take a deep breath. He could see the struggle on her face and it made his chest hurt to know she found it so difficult to talk to him now. “What, Liz?” he managed to say, suddenly afraid that he didn’t want to know.

“Can we talk?” she asked and his heart soared. She wanted to talk to him? Would she let him try to explain? Would she give him a chance to try to redeem himself in her eyes? His lungs were screaming for air and he sucked in a deep breath, right before her next words knocked it right out of him.

“I have something I need to tell you.”

What? What could it possibly be? How could she say something like that and then make him wait to hear the rest? He couldn’t wait. He needed to hear it now. He was living and breathing based on the words coming out of her mouth. “What? Tell me now,” he said, afraid to know, not being able to wait.

“Not here, Max . . .” she answered, looking at the students around her.

“What do you need to tell me Liz?” Max said, ignoring those that were staring at the exchange going on between them.

She held his gaze for a moment and then her eyes dropped to the floor again. “I . . . I’m going away Max.” She looked up at his face again and saw a flash of panic in his eyes. She forged on, knowing it was the only way. “I’m going back to Florida, as soon as the school year is out. I just . . . I just can’t stay here. I wanted you to know. I didn’t want you to hear about it from someone else.”

Max stared at her feeling the panic sweeping over him. She was leaving again, and he wouldn’t be able to see her all summer. Last summer had almost killed him without her near. How would he survive another summer without her? He stared at her and he managed to squeak out, “For the whole summer? Will you be gone until September? Like last year?”

Her head slowly shook back and forth and she bit her lip again. It was always bad news when she bit her lip before answering him. A part of his mind was screaming at him not to listen to anything else that she had to say, while another part of him was sadly resigned to what he knew was coming.

But knowing wasn’t the same as actually hearing it, and when she said the words aloud his mind railed against it. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be true. For if it was true, what reason did he still have left for living? The words rang in his ears as she said them. Words more hateful than anything he had heard before. He tried to block them out. Tried to pretend he hadn’t heard them, but he had. God help him, he’d heard every syllable she had just said.

“I’m not coming back . . .”

posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:32:33 PM
Dying Embers

Part 4

Max sat in the booth in the Crashdown, wondering if this was the last day that he would ever see Liz. Her flight to Florida was schedule to leave in just a few hours and it wouldn’t be long before she would be headed toward the airport. What was he going to do? What could he do? The thought of never seeing her again was his worst possible nightmare coming true.

He knew she was upstairs packing. Maria had told him. He knew he was probably the last person she wanted to talk to, but he couldn’t help it. He needed to see her, at least once more before she left his life forever. He looked toward the back of the café and felt something was drawing him to her. The remnants of the life he had thought they would share, maybe. The dreams of a future he couldn’t let go of.

Even after Tess had arrived and wrecked havoc on everything he held dear, he had always thought in the end, he and Liz had something that would transcend everything that had threatened to destroy their love for each other. But there was only so much she could put up with before she broke, and when it happened, she’d left him with his ultimate nightmare. Facing a lifetime without her. And for that he had no one to blame but himself.

He pushed his plate aside and steeled himself for what was sure to be one of the most painful moments of his life. He pushed himself away from the table and he made his way to the back, finding the stairs that would take him up to her apartment. At the top of the stairs he hesitated before lifting his hand to knock on the door. He noticed how his hand trembled as he raised it and he flexed his fingers trying to steady it. He knocked on the door and a few moments later found himself face to face with Liz’s mother.

“Hi Mrs. Parker. I was wondering if I could talk to Liz?” he said, surprised that his voice sounded so calm. He was anything but calm. Inside he was a jumble of emotions, all threatening to overwhelm him.

“Sure Max,” Nancy answered and stepped back so he could enter. He crossed the threshold and stood awkwardly to the side while Nancy closed the door. “She’s in her room. Go ahead. I’m sure she’ll be glad to see you before she leaves.”

The words echoed in his head, ‘before she leaves . . . before she leaves . . . before she leaves.’ He nodded his head and mumbled, “Thanks,” and then turned to walk down the familiar hallway to her room. He passed Jeff Parker and they exchanged pleasantries as the older man headed down to the Crashdown, and Max continued on his way to see Liz. When he reached her door he noticed it was open and he peeked inside.

She was standing in profile with her head bent slightly forward, looking at something in her hand. Her hair covered the side of her face and he couldn’t see her expression, but he could read her emotions in her body language, and feel it in the air around her. She was sad.

Liz held the strip of pictures in her hand and she was flooded by the memories of a better time, a time when it was a joy to wake up in the morning and her nights were filled with wonderful dreams. Dreams where she and Max had a lifetime together, where nothing and no one had come between them. Dreams where she’d never broken his heart or torn his world to pieces.

She stared at the strip on photos, taken at the county fair over a year ago, in one of those cheesy little booths. Was that the last time Max had ever smiled at her that way, without a care in the world, and loving every moment that they spent together before their world fell apart? Another tear fell and hit the back of her hand and she fought back the sobs that were threatening to drown her. She’d been crying all morning.

Max rapped his knuckles softly on the door and his stomach fell as she turned to look at him. Her face was streaked with tears and her eyes were puffy and red. She’d been crying for a while. She turned away quickly and he could see her wiping her hands across her cheeks.

“Liz,” he said haltingly. “Your mom . . . your mom said I could come up.” He had a million things he wanted to say to her, all of them tumbling around in his brain and he couldn’t get a single one of them out. He wanted to tell her that he loved her to the depths of his very soul, that the thought of a life without her left him quaking in fear. He wanted to beg her to stay, to plead with her to forgive him, to find it in her heart to love him again. Instead he said, “So you’re packing?”

She nodded her head while she tried to get control of her emotions. She didn’t trust herself to speak just yet. She had been shocked when she turned and saw him. How long had he been standing there? Had he heard her when she was crying his name a few minutes ago? She hid the strip of photos in her suitcase, underneath a layer of clothes.

“Yeah, I’m just finishing,” she finally said, answering his question. She picked up the last of the clothes that were stacked on her bed and set them in her suitcase. With the task complete, she turned to look at him finally, unable to avoid it any longer. “I hate packing. It’s always so hard to know what to take.”

“Yeah,” he said with a halfhearted smile. “I know what you mean. Then when you get there you remember all the stuff you forgot.”

“Yeah,” she agreed and fought to keep her chin from trembling. “Yeah, I hate that.”

Max stepped into the room with his eyes sweeping over the boxes on the floor. Her room had an empty feel to it now, with so many of her things packed away. She had lent the room her personality while she was here, and now that she was leaving and taking everything with her, all that was left was a hollow shell.

“Are you having all this shipped to you?” Max asked resting his fingers lightly on first one box and then another, afraid to look at her. For if he looked at her, he knew he’d have to beg her to stay, but that would be selfish on his part. He’d ruined her life and broken her heart and how did that saying go? If you loved something, set it free? He was setting her free, to find the life that she deserved. A better life.

“Yes. They’re being shipped tomorrow, and they should be there by Friday. My Aunt has a nice house, and my room is pretty big.” She avoided eye contact with him, and stared out the window to her balcony.

“That’s good,” he picked at the tape on one of the boxes as he spoke. “I hope you have a good trip, a safe trip,” he said and his mind screamed ‘Please don’t go. Please don’t leave me.’

“Thanks. I’m gonna miss this place,” she sighed, but in her mind she said ‘I’m gonna miss you.’

“It’ll be strange not climbing up your balcony to come visit you anymore,” Max said feeling a stabbing pain in his heart but trying to keep the sound of his voice light.

“Well, you hadn’t done much of that lately,” she said and instantly wished she could take it back.


“Forget I said that.” She crossed to her dresser and picked up the framed picture of her with Maria and Alex. They’d been so happy then, with their future spread out before them. And now, Alex was dead and she was leaving and nothing would ever be the same again. “There are so many memories here,” she said so quietly he could barely hear her.

“I’m so sorry, Liz,” Max said moving closer to her. “About Alex, about us, about the way . . . the way I’ve treated you. You were right all along. Your instincts have always been right and I don’t know why I couldn’t see that. If I’d only listened to you. If I’d only believed in you, Alex wouldn’t be dead and we wouldn’t be apart and Tess . . .”

She closed her eyes and clutched the picture to her chest. “And Tess wouldn’t be carrying your son . . .”

“Liz.” He could barely say her name around the lump in his throat. He reached to touch her shoulder and when his hand brushed her skin, she bolted from him, moving quickly back to the suitcase on her bed.

She placed the photograph inside it, cushioned by her clothing to keep it from breaking on the trip. Near it was the picture of Max, the same one she had thrown at him a week ago. She had placed it in a new frame the next day, still holding on to what they once had, even after everything they had been through.

She shut the lid of her suitcase and the sound of the zipper being pulled closed filled the air. It was such a final sound, like the ending of a chapter in her life. She turned to look at him then, biting on her lower lip to keep from crying. “I have to go now. I just . . .” her jaw began to tremble and she closed her eyes to regain her composure. After taking a deep breath, she focused on him again and said, “I hope you find your son, Max. I really do.”

“Liz,” he choked out and a tear spilled down his cheek. He couldn’t swallow and he couldn’t breathe. It felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. She was saying goodbye to him, forever, and his mind screamed for him not to let her go. How could he ever make things up to her if she walked out of his life now? “Liz, I don’t wa-”

His words were cut off when Nancy suddenly appeared in the doorway, looking distraught, with a wild glaze in her eyes. They stared at her mother and the room filled with the sense of dread.

“Mom? Mom, what’s wrong?” Liz said and Max could hear the panic building in her voice. Nancy didn’t answer and Liz took a frightened step closer to her. “Mom? What is it?”

“It’s your father. Something’s happened to your father.”

“Dad?” Liz said stunned. “What do you mean? Where is he?”

“Downstairs. Come quick Liz.” Nancy turned to run and Liz looked at Max with panic in her eyes before racing after her mother. Max followed on Liz’s heels and they ran down the stairs to the Crashdown. A small crowd had formed around a crumpled body on the floor just inside the doors to the café.

“Dad?” Liz cried out as she elbowed her way past them and dropped to her knees beside her father’s prone body. Max knelt across from her and placed his fingers against Jeff’s throat, feeling for a pulse. “Dad, can you hear me?” She looked up at the faces surrounding her and asked, “What happened?”

Someone in the crowd answered, “He came through the doors and he was kind of flexing his arm like it was bothering him and then he clutched his chest and went down like a rock. I think he had a heart attack.”

Max turned Jeff flat on his back and rested his ear against his chest. He sat back up and met Liz’s eyes, shaking his head. “No pulse. He’s not breathing.” Max looked at the fear and the panic and the pain on her face and he knew he had to do something. He couldn’t let her father die right in front of her eyes. Without thinking of the consequences, he placed his hand over Jeff’s heart.

Liz watched Max’s hand move into position over her father’s chest and her eyes grew even wider. What was he doing? He couldn’t expose himself like this. There were so many people watching. She grabbed his hand and he pulled his eyes up to meet hers. “You can’t do this Max. I won’t let you.”

“But Liz, it’s your father,” Max gasped. “I can’t sit here and watch him die, knowing I could have done something.” He cupped her hands with his, silently begging her to let him make this right for her.

“I can’t let you sacrifice yourself, not even to save my Dad. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.” She kept her voice low as she looked at all the faces hovering around them and then looked back at Max. “You can’t do it, Max.”

He looked at the tortured expression on her face and it killed him inside not to be able do this for her, but she was right. If he healed her father, here, in front of all these people, the word would spread quickly and God only knew what would happen then. But there had to be something he could do.

“Max,” she said and he could see a spark of hope in her eyes. “We took a CPR class together. Do you remember how?”

“Yeah, yeah I think so,” he answered, trying to sound confident.

“You do the chest compression’s, and I’ll give him mouth to mouth. It's one breath for every five compression’s, right?”

“That sounds right,” Max nodded and saw that with a plan of action, the panic had left her face. He watched as she adjusted the position of her father’s head, tilting his head back slightly, and then she blew two breaths into his lungs to begin. Max felt his chest rise with each breath, and then he went to work, pressing down rhythmically on Jeff’s chest with his hands crossed over his heart.

“Did anyone call 911?” Liz shouted at the crowd.

“They’re on the way,” came a reply as Liz listened to Max counting out the compression’s.

“ . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five.”

Liz pinched her father’s nose and tilted his head, breathing air into his lungs once more. She sat back and Max leaned in, using his thumb to find the right spot and then linking his hands together to start the compression’s. “One . . . two . . . ”

“Everybody, get back, please. Give us some room here.” Liz saw her mother standing off to the side with a horrified expression on her face and she called out to her, raising her voice to get through to her. “Mom. MOM. Go see if the ambulance is coming. When they get here, tell them to hurry.”

“ . . . three . . . four . . . five.”

Max rocked back on his heals and Liz moved in to give her father the oxygen his body was starving for. Afterwards, she felt for a pulse in his throat. Her eyes met Max’s and she shook her head no. He leaned forward again and his voice droned on as he tried valiantly to keep Jeff Parker alive until help arrived. “One . . . two . . . three . . .”

posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:34:32 PM
Dying Embers

Part 5

The sound of a siren drew closer and the emergency lights created a strobe effect across the interior of the Crashdown. The paramedics jumped from the cab of the Medic One emergency vehicle and a terrified Nancy Parker directed them into the rear of the café, where Max and Liz were still performing CPR on an unresponsive Jeff Parker.

“How long’s he been down?” the first paramedic asked, assessing the status of the unconscious man on the floor.

“Five, maybe ten minutes,” Liz responded as she watched him spreading equipment out on the floor around them.

He monitored Max as he performed chest compression’s and nodded his head approvingly. “You’re doing a good job.” Max leaned back when he was done and the paramedic checked the carotid pulse in Jeff’s throat and then checked for respirations.

The second paramedic moved into position, fitting a respirator over her father’s face and Liz moved back so they could do their work. Max went to her side and pulled her to her feet, drawing her close to him as they watched the professionals do their work. Everything became a blur to her as they worked on her father, attaching wires and contacts to his skin and then zapping him with a defibrillator to restart his heart.

Jeff’s body rose off the floor as the shock surged through him and the voices of the paramedics whirled around in Liz’s mind as they worked to save her father. “We’ve got a rhythm . . . he’s in V-tach, let’s hit him again . . . he’s throwing PVC’s . . . let’s do it again, everybody clear . . . he’s back, normal sinus rhythm . . .”

Liz felt a surge of relief pass through her as the paramedics stabilized him and prepared to transport him to the hospital. They placed him on a stretcher and her mother followed close behind them as they wheeled him to the ambulance. There was only room for one passenger to accompany him to the hospital and Nancy turned to her daughter, uncertain what to do. Should she go with her husband, or should she stay with Liz and follow behind in the car? She turned to look at her daughter and Max moved toward her, bringing Liz with him.

“You go in the ambulance,” Max urged her. “I’ll bring Liz to the hospital and we’ll meet you there.”

“Thank you, Max,” Nancy said gratefully. “Are you going to be okay Liz?”

“I’ll be fine, Mom,” Liz tried to assure her, hearing how shaky her voice sounded. “I’ll meet you there.”

Max slowly became aware of the way Liz was holding on to him, and he was holding on to her. His hand was cupping the back of her head and her cheek was resting against his chest. Her hand clutched his shirt in her fist as she watched her father being loaded into the ambulance and he could feel her trembling against him. She had been so calm, so in charge during the crisis, and now he could tell it was all starting to catch up with her.

“Come on Liz, we’ll follow right behind them,” he said softly with his arms around her and gently guided her to the jeep. He helped lift her into the passenger seat and then reluctantly released her as he hurried to the driver’s side and climbed in. The ambulance pulled into the street with the lights flashing and the siren screaming and Max followed behind them.

Liz rocked back and forth, a quivering mass of nervousness and anxiety, wondering if what she and Max had done had been good enough, had they performed the CPR in time, had they done it right? What if her father survived the heart attack, but his brain had been starved for oxygen because she hadn’t breathed right? What if he was a vegetable for the rest of his life because she’d done the CPR all wrong?

Everything she tried to do was always wrong, wrong, wrong, and the people she loved the most were always suffering because of it, her mind screamed at her. She’d ruined Max’s life. Alex was dead because she’d changed the future. Her father was going to die because she couldn’t do anything right and her mother was going to be left all alone.

Max kept glancing at Liz as he drove, seeing the strain and tension on her face and wishing there was something more he could have done to help. She looked devastated and he wished there was some way he could comfort her. Her chin was trembling and the tears were starting to fall down her cheeks as the reality of what had happened set in. He reached to take her hand just as she lifted it to cover her face and the sound of her crying pierced his heart. His trembling hand hovered in the air uncertainly and then he pulled it back without touching her.

She seemed so lost and alone as she huddled in the seat next to him and he wanted to whip the jeep over to the side of the road and take her in his arms and tell her everything would be alright. He wanted to kiss away her tears, wrap his arms around her and chase away her fears, swear to her that nothing bad was going to happen, but he was afraid to touch her. What if he touched her and she got another flash from him? What if she saw more images of that horrible night he’d spent with Tess? What if he could never touch her again for fear of what she might see?

“He’s going to be fine Liz,” Max tried to reassure her. “I promise you, I won’t let anything bad happen to him. Somehow, I’ll make sure he recovers. Please don’t cry, Liz.” He could hear her sniffling and then saw her trying to wipe the tears from her face.

“Thank you, for helping,” she said shakily and her eyes darted up to meet his, “and for . . . being willing to . . . to-”

“He’ll be alright, Liz. I promise,” Max said, holding her gaze and seeing the fear in her eyes abate somewhat. He longed to comfort her but he was afraid the rift between them was just too deep.

Liz stared at Max remembering another time when someone she loved lay dying in the Roswell Hospital. Max had been there for her that night, supporting her as her grandmother lay dying. They’d been together as her life drained away, and his gentle presence had helped her come to terms with her loss. He had taken her home afterward and walked her up to her apartment above the Crashdown. He had sat with her in her living room, holding her in his arms as she cried herself to sleep and he’d stayed with her until her parents had returned home.

The look on his face now reminded her of how he had looked that night. She had sensed that he was concerned about her, that he wanted to comfort her, but he was hesitant of over stepping his bounds. She felt that same way now, that he wanted to support her and soothe her fears, but the wall between them was just too high. They could never go back to those innocent days before their world fell apart.

The hospital loomed ahead and Max pulled into a parking stall close to the emergency room entrance. He raced around the jeep with the intention of helping her down, but she had already climbed free and he chased after her as she ran across the parking lot. They reached the emergency room just in time to see her father being wheeled down the hallway into the exam area, and out of sight.

Liz stood staring as the doors swung shut and Max stood beside her, staring down at the helpless look on her face. If only things were different between them, he knew he could make her feel better, but she was closed off from him. He could sense it. He wasn’t a part of her inner most thoughts anymore. There wasn’t room in her heart anymore for someone who had hurt her as deeply as he had over these last months.

“Liz?” Max said softly. “Let’s go sit down. It might be a while before you hear anything.” She stood staring at the closed doors and he reached out his hand, touching her gently on the shoulder. She jerked her head in his direction and she stepped away from him, almost as if his touch had burned her. Her eyes had taken on a shocked look, and then a curtain fell over them as she shut off her emotions. “Let’s go sit down,” he urged again.

She looked at the waiting room, and then back at his face before nodding her head slightly and responding, “Okay.”

He led her to the chairs and they sat side by side in awkward silence. He could sense that something had happened between them in the last few minutes but he wasn’t sure what. They had worked as a team while they were trying to save her Dad, putting aside all their problems for a few minutes, and he had felt connected to her again. But a few minutes ago that wall had gone up between them again and he wasn’t sure why.

“Is there . . .” Max said trying to break the silence, “is there anything you want? A cup of coffee? A drink? Something to eat?”

She turned to him and she started to shake her head when he could see her change her mind. “A cup of coffee would be nice,” Liz said finally.

“Okay,” he said eager for something to do for her. “I’ll be right back.” He started to rise from the chair and she reached out her hand to stop him, only to pull it back quickly before she touched him. He looked at her with a heavy heart, remembering a time when touching each other and holding hands seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

“Max, while you do that, I’m going to go call Maria and tell her what’s happened.”

“Okay,” Max said rising to his feet and Liz joined him, walking side by side down the hall, Liz headed toward the phones, and Max seeking out the vending machines.

* * * * *

Liz finished her phone call and returned to the waiting room, noticing the empty chairs where they had been sitting before. Her phone call had lasted several minutes and she was surprised Max wasn’t back yet. She sat down and waited, watching the minutes tick by on the clock above the nurses’ station. Feeling a sense of apprehension, she set off in the direction of the vending machines to see if Max was still there.

She walked down the hallway and her pace slowed as his back came into view, standing in front of the coffee machine with his hand raised in the air. Was he just getting the coffee now? Maybe he had been doing something else before, and had just now walked over here. Maybe he had called home first to tell his parents what had happened, to let them know where he was. Maybe. But he hadn’t used the phones near her, and there weren’t any other ones close by. Whatever it was, she reminded herself, it wasn’t part of her business anymore.

The closer she got to him, the deeper her apprehension grew. He wasn’t standing in front of the vending machine like he was trying to figure out what he wanted, but rather like he was frozen in place. “Max? Max, is everything alright?” She moved to his side and saw the glazed look in his eyes as he stared at the giant coffee cup on the face of the vending machine. His hand was in the air clutching a quarter and it was trembling. “Max?” she said louder and she touched his arm, shuddering as an image in his mind assaulted her.

Max shook himself and refocused, surprised to see Liz standing next to him. “Did you reach Maria?” he asked and then wondered why Liz was staring at him so strangely. “Liz? Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” she said, trying to shake off the image she had seen. Tears formed in her eyes again and she took a step back from him.

“What is it Liz?” Max asked with deep concern. “Is it your . . . did you hear something about your Dad?”

“No,” she whispered, staring at him as she struggled not to cry. Just then Maria appeared at Liz’s side, wrapping her arms around her friend, and Liz crumbled against her. Amy hovered around them and Max felt his hackles rise when he saw Sean walk up to Liz and place his hands on her shoulders.

“You okay Parker?” he asked looking down into her shimmering eyes.

She nodded and then Sean wrapped his arms around her, kissing her lightly on the forehead as he pulled her close. Max noticed how she didn’t fight him off, or pull away from him and he felt a pang of jealousy course through him. She shied away from him every time he touched her, but she let Sean DeLuca hold her in his arms. He reminded himself that he had no right to feel jealous. He’d made his bed, with Tess no less, and he had no claim on Liz now. But it still tore his heart apart to see her anywhere near Sean.

Liz backed away from him, feeling confused and scared and so very alone, even with all these people around her. She didn’t want to deal with Sean, she didn’t want to hear Maria’s endless questions, she didn’t want to think about what she’d seen when she touched Max’s arm a moment ago. She just wanted to sit down and not think about anything at all.

Liz headed toward the waiting room and Maria and Amy followed along beside her, asking her questions about her father’s condition. Max and Sean stood glaring at each other by the coffee machine and then Sean broke the silence by saying, “So Father’s Day is in a couple of weeks. You must look at that day differently now, huh?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Max said dismissively, but the set of his jaw gave his away sudden tension. What did Sean know about it? Had Maria told him about Tess and the baby? Had Liz confided in him? Sean was the last person Max wanted knowing about his secrets. What else did he know?

“Yeah, right Max,” Sean mocked him. “Where is little mommy dearest anyway?” He looked Max up and down, not expecting an answer to his question, and not getting one. The big jerk was staring at him with a stupid expression on his face and Sean wondered what Liz had ever seen in him in the first place. He turned his back on Max and walked toward the waiting room, making a beeline straight for Liz.

Max stared at his back with contempt in his eyes. Sean DeLuca was bad news, and he’d be damned if he was going to let him work his way into Liz’s heart. Maybe he had lost his chance to ever have a life with her, he thought to himself, but no way was he going to stand by and watch that creep try to get close to her. Max finished inserting the quarters into the vending machine and headed back to Liz with a steaming cup of coffee in his hands.

Maria and Amy sat close to Liz and she told them all that had happened and what she knew about her father’s condition, which wasn’t very much. She was starting to feel overwhelmed by all the questions and her anxiety level continued to rise as more time passed with no word of what was happening in that exam room down the hall.

As Max neared Liz, a sound behind him drew his attention and he turned to see Kyle burst through the emergency room doors. His eyes met Max’s with barely an acknowledgment and then he looked past him, to Liz sitting on a chair in the waiting room. He brushed by Max without a word and hurried over to Liz, squatting down in front of her and taking her hands in his.

“Are you alright, Liz? How’s your Dad?” he asked showing the depth of his concern.

“I’m okay Kyle,” Liz answered, squeezing his hands. “I don’t know about my Dad though.”

“Is there anything, I mean anything, that you need, or you want?” Kyle asked, not taking his eyes off her.

“No, I don’t need anything,” Liz answered, touched that he had come here. “But why are you here? How did you know?”

“I stopped by your place because I wanted to say goodbye before you left. Agnes told me what happened, so I wanted to come by and see how you were, and see how your Dad was doing.”

Liz was about to thank him when Max walked up to her, distracting her as he offered her the streaming cup. “Here’s your coffee, Liz,” he said, feeling his jealousy deepen at the intimate way Kyle was holding her hands. Kyle had had his chance once, but Liz had chosen him instead. Was it all going to turn around again, with him losing her to Kyle this time? He leaned forward, holding the coffee out to her and warned, “Be careful, it’s really hot.”

“Thank you,” she said meeting his eyes and pulling her hands away from Kyle so she could take the cup from him.

Max felt a sense of satisfaction when she stopped holding Kyle’s hands, and then felt a renewed bout of ire when he watched his hands dropped to her legs, gently cupping her knees and her thighs. As Max handed her the cup their fingers touched for a moment and Max felt another jolt of electricity surge through him when her skin came into contact with his. Her expression gave him no indication that she had felt it too, and that saddened him deeply. Their connection had once been so strong, and now he was afraid that after what he had done to her, after how badly he had hurt her, that it was lost now too.

“Did you want any sugar? Any cream?” he asked, ignoring the way Kyle glared at him.

“No, this is fine,” Liz replied. “Thank you.” She held his gaze for a moment and then she looked to Kyle, before dropping her eyes to stare at the steam rising off her coffee. The clock above the nurse’s station continued to tick away the minutes and they waited.

* * * * *

Liz wandered around the waiting room, stretching her tired leg muscles. What was taking so long? Why hadn’t she heard anything yet? Was it a bad sign that so much time had passed since he was brought in with still no word about his condition? She looked around the room, seeing Maria and Amy talking quietly together, with Sean lounging next to them in what appeared to be a light doze. One leg was stretched out in front of him and his head rested on his hand with his eyes closed. Kyle was sitting across from them flipping through some kind of car magazine.

She turned her head to look at Max, standing at the window and staring out at the sun filled day. She walked over to him, lifting her hand to touch his shoulder and then pulled it back, remembering what had happened when she touched him earlier by the vending machine. She didn’t want to see that image again, that image of him with Tess.

“Max?” she said softy and when he didn’t react she spoke louder. “Max?”

He jumped, startled out of his thoughts, surprised to see her next to him. He looked around the room quickly and then back to Liz. “Still no word?”

“No,” she answered and the strain was evident in the tone of her voice. “Look Max, you don’t have to stay. I appreciate everything that you’ve done, but I know you have your own . . . your own problems that you need to deal with. Maria’s here now, and Kyle, and everyone. They can keep me company.”

“You don’t want me here?” Max asked, stunned that she was sending him away. He didn’t want to be apart from her. He wanted to stay right by her side in case she needed him. It was like a physical blow to think that she didn’t need or want his help. “You want me to leave?”

“No, Max. I didn’t mean it that way,” she said shaking her head. “It’s . . . it’s just that this is taking so long, and I know you have other important things to do. I know you’ve been trying to find a way to . . . you’ve been trying to figure out how to . . .”

“You mean my . . .” Max said, unable to finish the sentence.

“Yeah,” she answered, not able to say the words aloud but hearing them screaming in her head, ‘You’ve been trying to find a way to save your son.’

“Right now you’re the most important thing, Liz.” With all his being he wanted to touch her cheek with his fingertips, but he kept his hand at his side. He knew she didn’t want him to touch her anymore. “What’s happening now . . .” he continued, struggling to find the words, “this is . . . this is real, and I want to help you through this. I want to be here in case you need me. Please, don’t send me away. Don’t shut me out. I want to help you, Liz.”

“Okay,” Liz said at a loss for words. She’d assumed he was staying out of some sense of honor, or duty, because of the role he had played in bring her Dad back from the brink of death. But his heartfelt plea for her to let him stay belied that. Looking into his mournful eyes, she wasn’t sure what to think anymore.

“Liz, when all of this is over, and we find out your Dad is fine and everything is going to be okay, can we sit down and talk? There are so many things I want to say to you, so many things I want to try to explain. I’ve treated you horribly, Liz. I know that and there is no way that I can ever make that up to you, and I wouldn’t blame you if you hated me for the rest of your life but I just haven’t felt like my self in such a long time and all I’m asking for is a chance just to talk to you-”

“Max,” Liz said touching her fingertips to his lips, “take a breath.”

She smiled at him, but he could see that it only touched her lips, not her eyes, and definitely not deep, into her being, into her soul. But, she was touching him, which was something considering her recent aversion to touching him at all. He reached up and took her hand in his, wrapping his fingers around her palm, feeling her warm skin and remembering what it had felt like when she once loved him.

“Liz, I-” Max started to say and then Nancy Parker suddenly appeared next to them.

“Liz, your father’s awake, and he’s asking for you,” Nancy said and the strain of the last few hours was evident on her face.

Liz’s attention was fixed on her mother, trying to gage her unspoken meaning. Was her father dying, and he wanted to see her once more before he was gone? Or was he better and he wanted to go home?

“Okay,” Liz said meekly and she pulled her hand away from Max as she walked apprehensively toward her mother.

As Liz reached her side, Nancy turned her eyes on Max and said, “He wants to see you too, Max. Will you come with us?”

Max gaped at Nancy, astonished that he was being invited to come along. Why would Jeff Parker want to see him? After all, he’d broken his daughters heart and trampled all over it and she probably hated him now for the horrible person that he had become, so why would Mr. Parker want to be anywhere near him?

Liz gazed at her mother with a look of understanding on her face. She turned her eyes toward Max and then, almost in slow motion, Max saw her reach out her hand to him. He hesitated for only a moment and then he slipped his hand into hers and they followed her mother into the depths of the hospital.

posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:36:29 PM
Dying Embers

Part 6

They made their way in silence down the hospital corridor and Max was acutely aware of the feel of Liz’s hand in his. He wasn’t sure why she was allowing him to touch her now, but she was, and he wasn’t going to question it. For the first time in a long time, he felt some semblance of his old self, holding the hand of the girl he loved more than anything else in the world. It might be fleeting, and it might come to an end long before he wanted it to, but for this moment in time, Liz was holding his hand and all felt right in the world.

“Liz,” Nancy started to explain as she led them down the hall. “Your Dad had a heart attack. A myocardial infarction, they call it. They did some tests on him, that’s why it’s taken so long. The doctor said he is going to need double bypass surgery. They’ve already scheduled it for tomorrow. The good news is, if the surgery is successful, he should come through this just fine. The bad news is, he won’t be able to work, probably for the rest of the summer. Liz, I need you to stay home. I’m so sorry, honey. I know we promised that you could go to Florida and get a head start on college, but we need you here.”

“That’s okay, Mom. I understand,” Liz answered. Going to Florida was the farthest thing from her mind right now.

A part of Max felt elated at what Nancy had just said. Liz wasn’t going to be leaving anytime soon for Florida. She was staying right here in Roswell. He wouldn’t have to worry about waking up each morning with an ache in his heart, knowing he would never see her again. He felt like a heel for rejoicing in her father’s illness, but if it hadn’t been for him turning sick, he wouldn’t be standing here now, holding Liz’s hand in his and feeling her emotions surging through him.

Nancy slowed and Max felt Liz’s apprehension grow as her mother pushed open a door and they stepped into her father’s hospital room. He was reclining on the bed with a nasal canula delivering oxygen through his nose. Wires were attached to his chest and various machines around him were beeping and humming and clicking as they monitored his heart and his blood pressure and his respirations.

Max felt Liz’s hand squeeze his tightly as the sight of her father in such a weakened condition sunk in. He could feel her shaking and once again he wished more than anything that he could have fixed this for her, healed her father somehow, so that she wouldn’t have to be going through this now. They walked up to the side of the bed and Liz pulled her hand away from Max and placed it over her father’s.

“Hi Lizzy,” Jeff said with a tired smile on his face.

“Hi Dad,” she responded, trying to smile back at him. “How are you feeling?”

“Oh, like a truck hit me, I guess.” His eyes shifted from his daughter to the young man standing next to her. “Hi Max.”

“Hi Mr. Parker,” Max replied, feeling somewhat out of place.

“It looks like I owe you two my life,” Jeff said gazing at his daughter and her friend. “The doctors said if you hadn’t performed CPR the way you did, I wouldn’t have made it. They said that you bought me enough time until the paramedics got there, I don’t know how I can ever thank you enough Max, Liz.”

“Oh Dad-”

“Lizzy, I’m sorry this is ruining your plans for the summer,” Jeff interrupted her. “Maybe in the fall you’ll still be able to go, and get that early start on college-”

“Oh Dad, that doesn’t matter now. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay right here, with you.”

“Liz, I’m going to need your help running the restaurant while I’m cooped up in here. Your mother can’t do it all by herself.”

“Whatever you need Dad. Don’t worry about the Crashdown at all. I’ll take care of everything.”

“I knew I could count on you.” He squeezed his daughter’s hand affectionately and then his eyes shifted to look at Max. “And as if I didn’t owe you enough already, I have a favor to ask you Max.”

“Anything, Mr. Parker,” Max responded quickly. “I’ll do anything you need me to.”

“Can you take care if my little girl for me while I’m stuck in here? Make sure she doesn’t work herself too hard? You know Liz and her sense of responsibility. Can you make sure she takes the time to have some fun once in awhile too?” He looked at his daughter, noting the blush that rose in her cheeks.

“Of course, Mr. Parker,” Max answered quickly, trying to hide his smile as he realized the request gave him a great reason to spend time with Liz and hang out at the Crashdown. “You can count on me.”

They spoke for awhile longer and then a nurse came in and chased Max and Liz out, saying the patient needed to rest. Nancy followed them into the hallway and stood in front of Liz, placing her hands on her daughter’s shoulders.

“I want you to go home, Liz. Get some rest. Your Dad’s surgery is scheduled for 8:00 am tomorrow morning. I know you’re going to want to be here for that, so I won’t even try to talk you out of it. But I insist that you go home now. There’s nothing more you can do here, and you’re Dad needs to rest now anyway. Max,” Nancy said turning to look at him, “can you take her home?”

“Sure,” he answered quickly.

“But Mom, what about you?” Liz asked. “Are you coming home too?”

“No honey, I’m going to stay here with your Dad.”

“Then I want to stay here with you,” Liz insisted.

“No honey,” Nancy repeated. “I’m sorry but I need you to make sure the restaurant is running smoothly and closes down properly tonight. If I don’t make it home tonight, I’ll see you in the morning, okay?” She brushed her fingers through her daughter’s hair and Liz reluctantly nodded her head.

“Okay Mom.”

“Thanks baby. I know this is hard on you. It’s hard on all of us, but your Dad is going to be just fine. We just have to believe that.” She looked at Max, silently asking him to take Liz home and when he nodded she gave her a tight hug and then she went back into the hospital room to be at her husband’s side.

Liz stood staring at the door until she felt Max put his arm around her and gently turned her toward him. She fell against him, feeling all the stress and the strain overwhelming her and he wrapped his arms around her.

“Come on, Liz. I’ll take you home.” He guided her down the hallway, holding her close to him, giving her his support, his encouragement, his love. She didn’t push him away and she didn’t hold him at arms length, and for that he as grateful. For now, that alone was enough.

* * * * *

Max watched Liz as she moved around the Crashdown, filling the napkin dispensers, and then checking the salt and pepper shakers and the sugar containers. She was trying to remain busy, trying to keep her mind off her father and all the rest of the things that had gone wrong in her life lately.

Maria and Michael had been here earlier but they had left a while ago. Maria had said she would cover the restaurant in the morning so that Liz could go to the hospital and Michael had taken her home, calling it an early night. Isabel had stopped by for awhile and so had Kyle, but everyone was gone now, except the two of them. He was just about to call out to her, to ask her to sit down with him for a minute, when the phone rang. He watched her as she picked it up and then listened to her side of the conversation. After a polite ‘Hello’, the next thing she said made the hackles rise on the back of his neck.

“Oh hi, Sean . . . No, I haven’t heard anything else . . . Yes, tomorrow morning . . . No, I don’t think that would be a good idea. Not tonight. I’m really tired and I have to be at the hospital early . . . No, I’m not alone. Max is here keeping me company . . . Sean, that’s not true . . . Look, he’s just . . . I don’t want to talk about this now . . . You what? . . . No, that’s okay. Max already offered to drive me in the morning . . . Sean, I don’t want to think about that right now. I just want to get through tonight, and then tomorrow, and then the day after that . . . Friday? . . . I don’t think I can make any plans right now . . . I know you do, Sean, and thank you . . . Yeah, I did too . . . Yeah . . . Okay . . . Okay . . . Bye.”

“So that was Sean?” Max asked after Liz put down the phone, trying not to sound as jealous as he felt.

“Yeah. He was just checking in, you know, to see if anything had changed.”

“Yeah,” Max agreed, but knowing it was much more than ‘just checking in’. Sean wanted Liz. There was no doubt in his mind about that. What he didn’t know was whether Liz wanted Sean back. “Liz, can you come over here and sit down for a minute?”

She moved away from the cash register and slipped into the booth across from him. He was about to reach for her hands, wanting to hold on to her, when she moved her hands off the table and rested them in her lap.

“Liz, I need to ask you something . . .” She sat across from him unmoving, and he struggled with how to phrase the question. How had he let things spiral so out of control that just sitting across from her was pure agony? He wanted to make the table between them disappear, and then he could pull her into his arms and smother her with kisses and feel her soul connecting with his the way it always did when they kissed. He wanted to feel her sitting on his lap, and feel his arms around her, and his lips on her skin and feel that moment when she would surrender to him. Instead, he had to ask her a question that was going to reopen all of her wounds.

“Liz, did you tell Sean about me and . . . about me and Tess . . . and the . . .”

“Did I . . . ?” Liz said with her large eyes staring at him. “Did I tell him about the . . .” She still couldn’t say it, not out loud anyway. The baby. The baby he was having with Tess. His son. “No, I haven’t said anything to Sean about it. Why?”

“Because he knows. About the . . . about my . . . he knows.”

“Maybe Maria said something,” Liz offered, not knowing what else to say.

“Maybe.” He appeared deep in thought and then his penetrating gaze focused on Liz once more. “Liz, be careful around him. He’s bad news. He doesn’t have your best interests at heart.”

“Oh, like you do, Max?” she said bitterly and then instantly regretted it. “I’m sorry,” she said covering her face with her hands. “It’s been a long day.”

What she’d said, no, the way she had said what she said, was like a physical blow to him. It was as if he could still feel the stinging in his cheek from when she had slapped him a week ago. Her words cut him just as deep as any physical pain he could ever experience. “Liz . . .”

“Max, you should go home now,” she said closing herself off. “It’s late and I have to be at the hospital early and . . . and . . . and I just don’t want to talk about this anymore tonight. You slept with Tess and you got her pregnant. And now . . . and now you have a . . . and I just really don’t want to talk about this right now.”

“Liz,” Max said in agony from the pain he could hear in her voice. “I’m so sorry Liz. I never wanted to hurt you. What I did was so wrong, and I’ll spend the rest of my life regretting it. But it happened, and somehow, some way, I pray to God you can find it in your heart to forgive me, cause I don’t know how I can live without you.”

“Max, you should go home,” Liz repeated, trying not to let him see her cry again.

“Okay,” Max said, accepting defeat for right now. “But I have one thing to say before I leave. I’ve been wrong, about almost everything this last year, but there was one thing I was right about. And that was you, Liz. You belong in my life, we belong together. You might not feel it right now, but I won’t give up on you, Liz. You’re my whole world.”

Liz stared at him, wishing it was true, but knowing it really wasn’t. He had given up on her before and she had no illusions about her place in his life now. He was a King, from another world, with a son out there somewhere that he needed to find. She was just a small town girl and inconsequential in the scope of things. He might be clinging to the past, holding on to what he used to feel for her because of the confusion he was going through now, but it wouldn’t last. And she couldn’t open up her heart to him again, knowing it was just a matter of time before it’d get broken again.

She dropped her eyes and Max felt his heart sink. What had he expected, though, he thought to himself? Did he think his declaration of love was going to make her fall into his arms and forget about the way he had treated her lately, or forget about what he had done with Tess? He had to earn her trust again, and no matter how long it took, he wasn’t going to give up.

“You’re tired, Liz. Why don’t you go on up and get some sleep. I’ll lock up down here.” She lifted her eyes and met his gaze again and then nodded her head slightly before slipping out of the booth. As she turned to leave, he grabbed her hand, squeezing it gently and asked, “What time do you want me to pick you up in the morning?”

Liz looked down at his hand holding hers, trying to avoid looking directly into his eyes. She couldn’t say what she really wanted to say. That she was scared and so lonely, and this place felt so big and empty tonight and she didn’t want to be alone. That what she really wanted was for him to stay with her tonight, because even after all that they had been through, after all the pain they had caused each other, he was the one that made her feel complete inside. Without him near, she was left with one big hole in her heart.

“Can you pick me up at 7:00,” she finally managed to ask.

“Okay,” he answered softly and reluctantly released her hand. He watched her walk away from him and as soon as she reached the door that would take her to the back of the Crashdown, she slowed and then stopped. She turned half way back toward him and he could see her face in profile.

“Thank you,” Liz said softly. “For what you did for my Dad today. For staying with me all day long. For being here when I needed you.”

He rose to his feet and stood awkwardly, wanting nothing more than to cross the distance between them and take her into his arms. Instead, he stood rooted to the spot, knowing how he had let her down so many times over the last few weeks and months. Knowing how undeserving he was of her.

“It means a lot, that you were here with me,” she said and her eyes were focused on the floor, on the very spot the two of them had worked so diligently together to keep her father alive this morning.

Max felt drawn to her and his feet moved of their own volition until he was standing right behind her. His hand rose from his side and hovered in the air above her shoulder, but he didn’t touch her.

“Liz, we’ve been through a lot lately, and we’ve both done things to hurt each other.” His voice was tinged with the pain that they both were feeling. “I know it’s asking too much to expect you to still have feelings for me . . . for you to still love me, but we can be friends, can’t we Liz? Even if we can’t be more than that?”

“I don’t know, Max,” she said and they could both felt the tension in the air around them. “You didn’t want to still be friends after you thought I slept with Kyle. You wanted a clean break, remember?”

Max inhaled sharply, remembering that night late last fall when he had come to her room just before he left for New York. He had returned a gift that she had given him, the act signifying the end of what they had once had. How could he expect anything more from her? But he hoped, he prayed, that she was a better person than he was.

“Please, Liz,” he barely managed to say around the lump in his throat. “I couldn’t bear to lose your friendship.”

“I don’t know,” she said, knowing how much she needed him in her life too. “We can try, Max. We can try.”

“That’s all I ask.” He let his hand settle onto her shoulder and he was encouraged when she didn’t bolt away from him. She lifted her head and when she turned back to look at him, he could see how tired she was. “You should go to bed now. I’ll take care of everything down here.”

“Thank you,” she said and her hand rose to cover his. “Goodnight, Max.” She gave his hand a squeeze and then she walked away from him, through the swinging door and out of sight.

“Goodnight Liz,” Max whispered mournfully after she was gone, and his words hung in the empty air.

posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:38:38 PM
Dying Embers

Part 7

Max swept his eyes around the Crashdown one last time to make sure everything looked in order. The doors were locked, the days receipts were locked in the safe, everything in the kitchen was turned off. He turned off the lights and pushed through the swinging door into the back of the restaurant and looked up the stairs that led to Liz’s apartment, knowing that there was no reason for him to stay, but not wanting to leave. He wondered of she was sleeping yet, or was she lying in bed unable to shut her mind off as she relived the events of the day. He knew it was too much to hope that she might be thinking of him, and contemplating still having a future, together.

His hand hovered over the light switch, knowing he should go home, but wanting to climb those stairs, to kneel beside her as she slept, just to be close to her. Making up his mind, he quickly made his way back to the kitchen and picked up the phone. Isabel answered on the second ring.

“Iz, it’s me. I need you to cover for me,” Max said, keeping his voice low.

“Max, where are you?” Isabel demanded. “Mom’s been asking when to expect you home.”

“Look, I’m still at Liz’s. Tell Mom and Dad that I’m staying the night at Michael’s. Liz is really upset about what happened to her Dad today and I don’t want to leave her here all alone until I know she’s okay.” His fingers tapped nervously on the phone, hoping Isabel wasn’t going to give him a lot of crap about not coming home tonight.

“Are you telling me you’re spending the night with Liz?” Isabel asked incredulously.

“Not like that, Isabel,” Max answered in exasperation. “I just want to stay here with her, and make sure she gets to sleep alright. It’s been a terrible day for her and she’s under a lot of stress. Imagine how you’d feel if Dad almost died today.”

“Okay, Max. I’ll cover for you. But . . .” she paused, uncertain how he was going to take what she was about to say.

“But what, Isabel?”

“Max, don’t smother her. I know you want to work things out with her, but you can’t pretend away everything that’s happened between the two of you. Realistically, you’re lucky she’s even talking to you at this point.” She could hear him still breathing on the other end of the line, but he had fallen silent. “Max?”

“Yeah, I’m still here.” He couldn’t keep the disappointed tone out of his voice. Even Isabel was telling him not to get his hopes up about a future between him and Liz. He hung his head and wondered, after spending his entire lifetime being so careful about every move he made, how could he have acted so rashly and behaved so stupidly over these last few months? To spend the night with Tess, when he didn’t even have feelings for her, and the irresponsible way that it happened, without using protection and in a public place no less. It just wasn’t like him. He couldn’t explain his actions, so how could he expect anyone else to ever understand?

“Max, I just don’t want you to expect too much, you know?”

“I know,” he answered defeatedly. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight Isabel.”

“Goodnight Max.”

He hung up the phone and stood staring at it for a moment before looking back up the stairs. Somehow, some way, he had to get back what he lost. He walked down the hall to the back door and flipped out the lights before leaving the Crashdown and closing the door behind him.

* * * * *

The figure stood in the shadows, watching the building across the street to see what he would do next. He was still in there, with her. Just the two of them. The watcher had noticed her bedroom light switch on some time ago, yet movement was still visible in the restaurant below. Now, as the lights were extinguished and the Crashdown had fallen dark, what would the boy king do next?

The answer was soon in coming as Max appeared on the side of the building, striding with purpose from the back alley, headed straight for the ladder. Without any hesitation, his hands wrapped around the rungs and pulled himself up, moving swiftly and gracefully, until he disappeared over the top railing.

Patience was a virtue, one the watcher had considerable experience with, and tonight would be no different than any other night. Diligence was imperative, jumping to assumptions was never contemplated. Quiet observation with care given to the details would go far in deciding a course of action. The figure stayed in the shadows, watching and waiting to see what would happen next.

* * * * *

Max made his way quietly past the lounge chairs and the tables until he came to the window he had sat at so many times before. He knelt down and his eyes fell instantly on her sleeping form on the bed. The light from the small lamp on her nightstand fell across her face and he could see her knitted brows. Even in sleep, she couldn’t find peace, not on this night.

He watched her, with his forehead resting on the frame of the window, thinking about all the things she had said to him in Michael’s apartment last week. He had come back from the future, and stood right here on this very balcony, and made her change the life that they would have had. A life where they loved each other and nobody had come between them. Was he selfish for wishing the future had never been changed? Was he selfish for wishing they had made love together on the night of the Gomez concert, or that they had married shortly after graduating from high school, or that they had had a chance to love each other for fourteen glorious years before the world fell apart?

At least in that life, they had been together. What if he could never convince her to take him back? What if he had to face an uncertain future without her love and support and strength and her intelligence to help him find the right path? He might have been created to be a king, but he wasn’t prepared to be one, and without her help to keep him grounded, he doubted he ever would be.

She stirred on the bed, whimpering in her sleep, fighting off some darkness that had invaded her dreams. Even through the glass he could hear her call his name, and the melancholy tone tore at him. She fell quiet again, but he could still feel the distress coming from her. He disengaged the lock and silently slipped into her room.

He stood quietly by the window memorizing every detail of her face, a face that had left him spellbound from the first moment that he had seen her. A reflection in the light caught his attention and his gaze shifted to the object she was holding clasped in her hand. Her finger twitched and the breath caught in his throat as he recognized it. She was clutching the pendant he had given her a week ago, when he had thought he would never see her again.

Did that mean what he hoped it meant? Did it mean that she was thinking of him? That she was holding on to what they had once meant to each other, and could someday mean again? How could he have ever doubted her or questioned her love for him all these months? How could he have given up on her so fast, when he had spent his whole life dreaming of her, and wanting only her?

She moaned in her sleep and her hand tightened on the pendant. Max crossed the room and knelt down beside her, brushing his fingers over her forehead to ease her worried brow. She sighed in her sleep and as his fingers brushed over her temple, a connection opened between them, one he neither instigated, nor had any control over.

In her mind he could see her sitting on her balcony, looking at the hand that was offered her. Her eyes rose to his face, only not his face, familiar, yet very different. Her hand slipped into his and he drew her to her feet while the sound of a familiar song played softly in the background. Her eyes looked at him with such love and such trust and his arms surrounded her, pulling her close to him as they moved to the music. His hair hung down around his face and the scars on his arms were unfamiliar to him, but the intensity of the love that he felt for her as he gazed down into her beautiful face was unmistakable. Her body twirled once, twice, with her hair fanning out around her and then she was standing there alone, with a look of utter despair on her face, the look of someone who had lost the most important thing in her life and knowing it would never return again.

Max pulled his hand away from her face and collapsed onto the carpet by her bed, overwhelmed by the emotions he had felt in her. The depth of the love that she had felt for him, the pain that she lived with when she had been forced to break his heart, the absolute sense of desolation she was left with as she stood there facing a future alone. Is this the pain she had lived with, suffering in silence all these months as she watched him getting closer and closer to Tess? She had given up everything for him. How could he have ever asked that of her? How could he have allowed her to sacrifice herself like that?

She moved again in her sleep, shifting position and his eyes rose up to her face. Her lips parted slightly and in a whisper so quiet he could barely hear her, she said his name. Her eyes were still closed and he knew she was still dreaming. His hand rose to her cheek again and then moved toward her temple, not wanting to invade her private thoughts and dreams, but needing to know what she was thinking, what she was feeling. The connection formed without effort and his mind filled with the image of Liz standing next to Tess and then him walking into the room, verbally attacking Liz, accusing her of terrible things, speaking to her in a voice filled with such hostility and loathing.

Why would she see him that way, saying those horrible things to her? He could never act that way to her, never speak to her that way. Why would she dream something like that? What if it wasn’t a dream at all? What if it was a memory? But it couldn’t be, he reassured himself. He’d never spoken to her like that, or treated her that way. He had a vague memory of showing up at the Valenti’s house one day just as Liz was leaving, but he’d felt so uncomfortable with her being there that he’d barely spoken to her at all.

Suddenly afraid of seeing anything more, he pulled his hand away from her. Is that how she saw him now? As someone who would verbally attack her and belittle her in front of others? Did she think he could be physically abusive too? In her dream she’d flinched from him, almost like she feared he would strike her. Why would . . . and then he remembered that day in the school hallway, when he had grabbed her arm so viscously, not even realizing he was doing it until he saw the shock and the fear in her eyes. What had come over him that day, acting that way toward her?

If this was how she saw him now, as someone who would bully her, and try to intimidate her both verbally and physically, how could he ever hope to gain her trust again? She mumbled in her sleep and his eyes were drawn to her face again. Maybe she’d be better off if he left her alone. Maybe the best thing for her now would be for him to climb back out that window, go down that ladder and never darken her doorway again. That would be the honorable thing to do, to separate her from the mess he had made of his life, but as he looked down on her he knew he couldn’t do it. Just the thought of not being near her made his chest constrict and his heart ache. He couldn’t give her up, no matter how selfish that made him.

She whimpered again as her dreams assailed her and Max caressed her cheek with his hand trying to chase away the demons in her mind. He sat on the floor beside her, watching her through the night as she slept, soothing away the nightmares that plagued her, letting his voice calm her, gently touching her so she would feel safe and secure. His voice was soft as a whisper and his touch was feather light and he heard her sigh in her sleep as the tension began to fade out of her.

Her steady, rhythmic breathing eased some of his own fears and he allowed himself to think about tomorrow and the day after, and all the dreams that they had once shared. Dreams he wasn’t ready to give up on.

“I love you Liz,” his voice whispered softly on the night air. “I hope, someday, you’ll learn to love me again.”

* * * * *

The morning light fell across her face and Liz stirred, stretching languidly, with a smile etched on her face. She felt rested and there was something about the air around her, something about the scent on her pillow and on her sheets that had calmed her, and relaxed her during the night. In a dream, she’d opened her eyes to see Max sleeping peacefully beside her, snuggled close to her with his arm around her waist and his nose buried in her hair. Of course it couldn’t have been true, but she really wished it had been. He was probably sleeping soundly in his own bed right now, certainly not thinking of her.

She looked at the clock on her nightstand and pulled back her covers, giving herself plenty of time to shower and get ready before Max got here. Her feet hit the floor and she pulled her tank top over her head as she made her way across the room to her closet. She slipped out of her pajama bottoms and slid her arms into the sleeves of her robe before heading back toward her bathroom. A confused look crossed her face when she noticed a pair of shoes near the side of her bed. A pair of men’s shoes. A pair that looked remarkably like the ones Max was wearing last night. She suddenly heard a sound in the hallway, a deep voice humming, and then there he was, standing in her doorway with a tray in his hands.

“Max!” Liz said shocked to see him there and clutching her robe tightly to her chest. “When did you get here?”

“I made you breakfast,” he answered, sidestepping her question. “Scrambled eggs and toast. You like scrambled eggs and toast, right?” He couldn’t take his eyes off her as she stood in the middle of her room, with her silky robe draping her body and her hair in disarray. The top she had worn to bed lay on the floor at her feet and not far away he could see her pajama bottoms, also on the floor. Instead of on her. Where they were supposed to be. Which meant . . . under her robe . . . she was . . . don’t go there, he told himself. Don’t even think about it. He swallowed hard, chagrin at the sound of his voice as it cracked when he said, “You’re hungry, aren’t you?”

She nervously drew her hand through her hair trying to smooth it and her cheeks felt hot with embarrassment as she tried to nudge her tank top out of sight, behind her. What was he doing here so early? And why were his shoes tucked under her bed? She looked at his feet and saw that he was walking around in his socks. His clothes looked rumpled and weren’t they the same clothes he was wearing last night? “How long have you been here, Max?”

“A while,” he answered and holding the tray out to her he quickly added, “You should eat this before it gets cold.” He hesitantly crossed over the threshold into her room and stood in front of her with an uncomfortable look on his face.

She placed her hands on the tray, so close to his that he could feel the energy surging between them. “How long is ‘A while’, Max?” she asked and her eyes were locked on to his.

“All night,” he mumbled and he took his hands off the tray as he took a step back from her. He shoved his hands in his front pockets and his toes fidgeted nervously in his socks. “I put strawberry jam on your toast.”

“You’ve been here all night?” Liz said in astonishment. She felt her robe start to fall open and she turned from him quickly and placed the tray on her desk by the window. She clutched at the belt and cinched it tight and then held it closed at the throat as she turned back to look at him.

“Well you were so sad last night and when I went to check on you after I locked everything up you were having a nightmare and I didn’t want to leave you all alone so I stayed until you quieted down and then I stayed a little longer to make sure you were sleeping peacefully because I knew today would be a long day for you with your Dad and all so I wanted to make sure you got a good nights sleep because those operations can take hours and hours so then it got so late that I thought it would be better if I just stayed . . . so I stayed.” He took a deep breath, wondering if any of that made any sense at all.

“So you didn’t go home last night?” Liz asked and the memory of the dream she’d had of him lying beside her filtered across her mind. “Where did you sleep?”

He stared at her with his mouth open, uncertain how to answer her. How could he tell her that he’d awakened this morning, with her in his arms and it had been the most wonderful morning of his life? How could he tell her that he’d sat and watched her for an hour as she slept, studying every inch of her face because he couldn’t tear his eyes away from her? The sound of her breathing had been music in his ears. The rise and fall of her shoulder as she breathed was hypnotic and kept him spellbound. The warmth of her body, lying next to his, was a like a dream come true. He couldn’t say any of those things, so instead he said, “I just found a good place to curl up.”

“You just found-” she pressed on but he interrupted her.

“Yeah, well, I can fall sleep anywhere, you know?” He took a quick breath and blurted out, “You really should eat that before it gets cold.”

She held his gaze, almost like she was staring through him, and then he could see her drop it. She turned back to the desk and lifted the lid from the tray. As the breakfast smells drifted up to her she realized just how hungry she really was and she turned back to him with a smile on her lips. “It smells wonderful. Did you eat already?”

“Well, no, not really,” he said awkwardly. “I mean, I took a bite to make sure it tasted okay. I didn’t know how hungry you were.”

“There’s more than enough here for the both of us.” She picked up a knife off the tray and held it out to him. “Make yourself a fork, pull up a chair, and help me eat this.”

He stared at the knife she was holding out to him and then he lifted his hand and took it from her. Her eyes were twinkling with humor, and a smile spread across his face as his hand covered the knife and he rearranged the molecules to turn it into a fork. With a bashful look, he grabbed a chair from the other side of the window, and brought it over to sit it next to hers.

She sat down in front of the tray and he perched on the edge of his chair, feeling keyed up and not quite able to relax. She was keenly aware that they were alone in the apartment and she wasn’t wearing anything under her robe. That fact wasn’t lost on him either, and he tried not to notice how she clutched it closed with her left hand while reaching for her fork with her right.

“It really does smell good,” Liz said glancing over at him and then she took a bite. “Oh, it tastes really good, too!” she with her eyes growing wide.

“Did you doubt it?” he asked feigning indignation.

“Well, I didn’t know you could cook,” she informed him as she divided the bacon, two strips for her, two strips for him.

“I’ll have you know I’m a very good cook. At least, when I want to be,” he said and speared a clump of eggs and popped it into his mouth.

“Does your mother know you’re such a good cook?” Liz asked curiously.

“Hell no!” Max exclaimed and picked up a strip of bacon, jabbing it in the air for emphasis. “I’m a king after all,” he said with mock arrogance, “and kings aren’t supposed to cook in the kitchen!”

“Oh, look at you, Mister Full-of-Himself!” she proclaimed and backhanded him across the chest. “Don’t give me any of that ‘King’ crap.”

“That’s what I’ve always loved about you Liz Parker,” Max said around a mouth full of food. “You never let me get away with shit!” As soon as he said it, he realized his mistake but he couldn’t take it back. Their friendly banter died in the air and he stared at her as she scrutinized the plate in front of her. Her fork pushed the eggs around and his stomach turned upside down, wishing he could take it all back, but he couldn’t. He did love her and it was impossible to hide it.

Her back stiffened and then she glanced at him, twice, in quick succession, noting the uncertain look on his face. He was watching her reaction to what he had inadvertently said, and she tried to make light of it. “Yeah, well, you’ve been full of shit for as long as I’ve known you.”

He stared at her relieved that she was trying to make a joke of it, and he tried to regain some of the teasing tone his blunder had stifled. “Did you just say the ‘S’ word? I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say the ‘S’ word before.”

“You mean shit? There, I said it again. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit,” she said in a sing song voice. “I know other words to! You want to hear ‘em? How about this one? I can say fu-” and his hand covered her mouth before she could say the whole word. She almost burst out laughing at the shocked look on his face and he shook his head back and forth.

“NO! I don’t want to hear you say that!” He pulled his hand away slowly, ready to cover her mouth if she tried to say it again. “Don’t do it,” he said pointing his finger at her when she teasingly pursed her lips. “Don’t even think it!” he scolded her with an affectionate glimmer in his eye as he shook his finger back and forth.

“Very well, your Highness,” she said mockingly as she rose to her feet. She pushed her chair back and then bowed to him. “And with that note, I take my leave, so that I may take my shower.” She walked around him headed toward her bathroom and he watched her every move. He sat there with his elbow on the desk and his fork in his hand, forgotten as it hovered in the air. His eyes were glued to Liz, feeling a deep sense of longing in his heart as she moved across the room.

“And,” she said turning around to look at him, “thanks for breakfast. It tasted wonderful.” She smiled at him and then she added, “By the way, you can use the bathroom in the hallway if you want a shower too. Just wait until after I’m done or else we’ll both end up with cold water.”

He watched her enter the bathroom and close the door behind her. He heard the sound of the lock clicking into place and then the humming of the pipes as she turned the water on. He listened to her moving around behind the door and he sighed, wishing that he’d never heard of alien worlds or kings or destiny or duty.

posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:40:11 PM
Dying Embers

Part 8

Nancy sat in the waiting room, nervously pacing back and forth as she waited for word about her husband’s surgery. It had started close to three hours ago and she knew she still had a long wait ahead of her. She was glad that Liz was here with her, sharing this interminable wait, but she was even happier that Max was here with Liz. She needed the support and the distraction that Max could give her, to keep her mind off her father and what was happening to him. She was too young to face the prospect of a future without him.

Nancy had been relieved when they arrived just after 7:00 and Liz had been able to talk to her father before he’d been taken into the operating room. They really were close and for that Nancy was grateful. She’d never been close to her own father and then he’d died when she was only fifteen. She didn’t want Liz to have to live through that. At least now, if something were to happen to Jeff on the operating table, Liz had gotten a chance to talk to him, and tell him how much she loved him. Nancy never got that chance with her own father. He had died so suddenly and afterwards she’d been left feeling abandoned and alone.

Max had gently steered Liz to the waiting room after she had spoken to her father, and he’d been at her side ever since. Nancy had watched them throughout the morning and while she had noticed some strain between them, she’d also noticed the smitten look on Max’s face. That boy had it bad for her daughter. Then again, Nancy had known for a long time just how bad Liz had it for Max. Oh, to be young and in love, when life is simple and uncomplicated, Nancy thought to herself. She turned to look at the two of them, engrossed in a deep conversation, and as she walked by Nancy smiled, wondering what in the world they were discussing . . .

“So Crichton got split into two, and one of him is over on Talyn-” Max said and then Liz cut in.

“The baby ship,” she clarified.

“Yeah,” Max nodded, “and the other Crichton is still on Moya-”

“The mother ship,” Liz added, trying to follow him.

“Exactly!” Max enthused. “So the Crichton on Moya is jealous of the Crichton on Talyn because Aeryn is on Talyn.” Max was leaning forward in his chair and his animated hands were moving around in the air as he explained the story.

“And Erin is the peacekeeper girl,” Liz said studying his face.

“Right, she’s a Sebacean, which looks and acts just like a human, except for the heat thing, and man can she kick ass, but anyway, they’re flying around in the Uncharted Territories and trying to evade the Peacekeepers, and then there’s Scorpius of course-”

“Scorpius?” Liz asked, shaking her head. She wrinkled her nose as she tried to follow what he was saying.

“Yeah, he’s a really bad guy. Ugly too. He took up residence inside Crichton’s head last season and made him do all kinds of things he wouldn’t normally do. Even made him kill Aeryn, but it’s TV so they brought her back to life when the new season started.”

“And this show is called Farscape?” Liz asked with arched eyebrows. She’d never seen Max get excited about a TV show before.

“Yeah. It’s the best Sci-Fi show on TV. It even won an award recently. So anyway, D’Argo and Chiana, she’s the gray girl, are on Moya-”

“Wait a minute, is this the show that has that big blue woman on it?” Liz asked, thinking it was starting to sound familiar.

“Yes! That’s Zhaan,” Max nodded.

“Zan?” Liz asked incredulously.

“Yeah, Pa’u Zhaan. She’s a 10th level Delvian Priest. She’s actually a big blue plant.” He paused when he saw the look on her face. “Don’t laugh! She was really a plant, even though she looked human, except for the blue color and everything. But she died last season and I don’t think they are going to bring her back. Are you laughing?”

“No,” Liz answered and had to hide behind her hand so that he wouldn’t see that she really was.

“It really is a good show,” Max said excitedly and then before he had realized it he blurted out, “Do you want to come over on Friday night and watch it with me?” He saw her features freeze and he blundered on, kicking himself for getting carried away and thinking she would want to spend any time with him. “I mean, you know, just a couple of friends sitting around on a Friday night watching TV and eating popcorn.”

“I don’t know Max,” Liz said hesitantly. “Until I know what’s going on with my Dad, I don’t think I can make any plans.” She looked at the stain on the arm of the chair she was sitting on, and then started to pick at it with her fingernail, any distraction to keep from looking at him.

“Oh, yeah. Sure.” With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he sat back in his chair, feeling the strain of the sudden silence between them. Things had been going so well. She had been listening to him, and talking to him, and their conversation hadn’t been strained and then he’d blown it by crossing that invisible line that she’d drawn between them. He had to be some kind of stupid to think she’d want to spend a Friday night with him.

The silence was deafening between them as they both sat haunted by their own tortured thoughts, and then she turned toward him and asked softly, “What time does it come on? Farscape, I mean.”

His eyes rose to meet hers and he tried to keep the hopeful tone out of his voice as he answered, “It starts at 9:00.”

“Oh,” she answered quickly and then looked at her hands in her lap. The silence stretched again, and then she said, “If my mom doesn’t need me to close the Crashdown on Friday, then maybe . . .”

He drew a deep breath and it wasn’t until that moment that he realized he had been holding it, waiting for some kind of encouraging word from her. Her chocolate eyes turned to look at him and for just a moment he allowed himself to believe that he could see something there that had been missing lately. Something in her eyes that reminded him of how she used to look at him. “And if you can’t, you know, get off work,” Max stumbled over his words, “I could always tape it or something and we could watch it later, or on the weekend, or whenever, you know, you can work it into your schedule.” He cringed inside, wondering if it was possible to sound any more like an idiot than he was right now.

She absorbed what he said and then she responded by simply saying, “Okay.”

‘Okay’, he repeated silently to himself and tried to keep his face from breaking out in a huge grin. She said ‘Okay’. She didn’t say ‘Maybe’, or ‘We’ll see’ or all those other phrases that came to mind when you were turning someone down but didn’t want to hurt their feelings. She said ‘Okay.’

“So,” Liz said after a pause that didn’t seem nearly as strained as before. “Who’s that little freaky guy?”

“Oh, that’s Rygel,” Max jumped in again, and this time he couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he leaned forward once more. “He’s a Hynerian, and he’s really self absorbed and he farts helium . . .” His voice droned on and a part of him was embarrassed that he’d just said that but it made her laugh and the sound of her laughter made his heart fill to overflowing. He continued talking, filling up the time while they waited to hear word on the condition of her father, and he could feel the strain between them lessening. It might not be the same as used to be, and it might not be what he hoped the future would lead them back to, but for now she was talking to him, and she was laughing with him, and that was enough for him to hold on to.

* * * * *

Nancy returned to the waiting room with a steaming cup if coffee in her hands. She looked at the clock on the wall, noting that it was just past noon. The operation was probably still in full swing, and she wondered if the kids were hungry. They probably wouldn’t hear anything for another hour at least, so there should be plenty of time to go to the cafeteria to get something to eat. She headed over toward Liz and then she stopped in her tracks, with a smile breaking over her face.

Liz was sitting in the chair with her head resting against Max’s shoulder and her eyes closed, sound asleep. Max was equally dead to the world, with his cheek resting against the top of her head. They both looked so peaceful, she didn’t have the heart to wake them.

Max’s talk about spaceships and wormholes had either worn Liz out with excitement, or bored her to sleep. Nancy wasn’t sure which. She took a seat nearby, concentrating on the steam rising from her coffee, trying not to think about what was happening to her husband.

* * * * *

Liz struggled with her luggage, pulling it back to the terminal and wondering how long it would take for Maria to pick her up. She’d insisted on a full explanation as to why Liz was at the airport, with a ticket to Sweden, on an airplane, in the dead of night, and she hadn’t bothered to tell her anything about it. Maria hadn’t been too happy that she had been left out of this little excursion Liz had intended to go on.

The wind kicked up again and Liz could feel the moisture in the air. A storm was rolling in and if Maria didn’t get here soon, Liz was going to get drenched. She could hear the rumbling off in the distance, and see occasional flashes of lightning on the horizon. She hoped to be home before it hit full force. She was still stunned, numb, from the phone call she’d received just a short time ago. Alex hadn’t gone to Sweden. The photographs she’d seen were fake. What could it all mean?

Alex’s face swam before her and he kept repeating the words ‘Leana is not Leana. Leana is not Leana.’ His hand rose and grasped her arm, squeezing her tightly with an urgent look on his face and he said, “Wake him up, Liz. Wake him up . . .”

“Wake up Liz,” Nancy said shaking her shoulder. “Liz, honey, it’s time to wake up.”

Liz slowly rose up from the depths of her dream, feeling the familiar tug at her heart as Alex’s image dissipated and then disappeared. She became aware of her surroundings, feeling a tapping on her shoulder and a warmth suffusing her hand. She opened her eyes to see her hand in her lap, but not just her hand. Her fingers were entwined with another set of fingers, warm and inviting, familiar and comforting, fingers that felt so natural wrapped around her hand.

Her gaze traveled up the arm, a well known arm, with rich golden skin glowing in the stark light. Her eyes rose further, past the bulging bicep, up to the shoulder, rising up to the face. It was a sleepy looking face. An incredibly handsome face, and his eyes were blinking, squinting in the harsh light of the waiting room as he too fought off the dredges of sleep.

As their slumber induced haze retreated, they both realized their physical contact had taken on an intimate proximity while they slept. They both straightened up, feeling the strain in their necks from the uncomfortable angle of their sleeping positions and Liz slowly pulled her hand away from his. He lifted his hand from where it had been resting on her leg and reluctantly returned it to his own lap. Max watched her from the corner of his eye, feeling the loss of her warmth, the loss of her touch, the loss of feeling close to her. Their eyes met, and for a fleeting moment, for one tiny fraction of a second, he thought he saw a remnant of the love she used to feel for him reflected in her eyes, and then it was gone, replaced by the veil that fell into place to hide her innermost thoughts. Another presence entered their sphere, and her eyes were drawn away from his as they both looked up into the face of her mother.

“Mom,” she said, rubbing her hand over her eyes and then she suddenly sat up straight as the fog lifted from her brain. “Mom! What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Nothing honey,” Nancy smiled. “Calm down. Your Dad came through with flying colors. The surgery’s over and he’s fine. He’s going to be just fine. He’s in recovery now, and we’ll be able to see him in a little while. He should be home by the end of the week.”

* * * * *

Max stood outside the room, staring through the glass of the Coronary Care Unit as Liz and her mother hovered over Jeff Parker. Tubes and wires were connected all over him and Max was amazed at how much equipment he was hooked up to. But he was alert, or reasonably so for a man who had just gone through a five hour operation and had been flayed open from his throat to his navel. His color was good which probably meant his heart was beating strong and pumping oxygen rich blood through his veins.

Max could see the relieved look on Liz’s face as she held her father’s hand and he was happy for her. The operation had been a success, and with the proper care and attention to diet and exercise, hopefully she would see her father grow to be an old man. There would be no question of it, if he had his way about it. Max intended to make sure Jeff Parker recovered completely, even if it meant further exposure on his part. Liz had lost enough in this lifetime, in this timeline, and he was bound and determined she wouldn’t have to lose anyone else.

He lifted his hand to rub his forehead to try to alleviate the dull ache he could feel behind his eyes. The strain must be catching up with him, he thought. He never got headaches, hell, he never got sick, but lately with all the shit that had been going on, he’d been getting them more and more. He’d mentioned it to Isabel, but she’d just told him that it’d been so long since he’d thought with his brain that it wasn’t used to all the activity. He hadn’t appreciated the snide remark.

As he lowered his hand he noticed the way it shook, trembling, unresponsive when he willed it to stop. He flexed his fingers and then spread them apart, and his eyes widened with concern when the tremor seemed to worsen. If this kept up, he was going to have to bring it up to Isabel, and he wasn’t looking forward to that. She’d been taking pot shots at him lately, and all her comments about his ‘attitude’ had him confused. He was less than enthused about giving her one more thing as ammunition against him.

He flexed his fingers again and then shoved his hand into the front pocket of his pants as he turned his attention back to Liz. She’d be ready to leave soon, to go back to the Crashdown to check on things before the dinner crowd, to show her father that he could count on her. It was something that Max should have always known, and vowed he would never forget again. Of all the people in the world, Liz was the one you could count on, the one you could trust, the one he should have believed in. If it took him the rest of his life, he swore an oath as he watched her through the glass, he would somehow make it up to her.

Edited by - Breathless on 09/21/2001 10:32:35
posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:42:24 PM
Dying Embers

Part 9

Liz busied herself at the front of the Crashdown, making sure the menus were stacked neatly and the mint tray was full. The dinner crowd would be arriving in another hour or so, and right now things were pretty quiet. Max watched her as she attended to all the little details of running a restaurant, knowing her father would be proud of her dedication and her thoroughness.

As soon as they’d arrived here from the hospital, he had noticed how she had thrown herself in to her work, probably relieved to have something else to concentrate on for a change. Her movements mesmerized him, and he wished she would come sit with him, but he knew she had things to do.

He thought back to this afternoon, when he had awakened with the feel of her head on his shoulder and her hand in his. It had been a perfect moment in time, and he had felt that connection to her that had been missing between them for so long, and then her mother had drawn her attention away from him and their contact had been broken.

She’d been so happy, relieved, as they left the hospital, knowing that her father was going to be alright, and she had smiled at him brightly, talking a mile a minute, right up until the moment when he helped her climb into the jeep. As soon as he had touched her arm, to help her up, he had seen that veil fall over her eyes again and her body flinched as if his touch was hurting her. He had pulled his hand away quickly, but the damage had been done. She had been quiet for most of the ride home.

“Hey,” Michael said as he slid into the booth opposite Max. “So what’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Max answered shifting his attention from Liz to Michael. “Liz’s Dad came through the surgery fine and he should be home by the end of the week.”

“Cool,” he said as he settled into the seat, getting comfortable. “So what did you decide to do?”

“Do?” Max questioned. “About what?”

“About Tess, and the kid,” Michael said bluntly.

Max glanced across the room at Liz with a guilty look on his face and then looked down at his hands. He picked up the fork off the napkin and fidgeted with it restlessly before saying, “I don’t know. I haven’t decided what to do yet. When Larek shows up again, I need to talk to him.”

“Don’t you think it’s time we went back out to the pod chamber, and see what kind of shape it’s in? We haven’t been there since-”

“Yeah, I know,” Max cut in. Liz walked past, headed to the back room and he paused so she wouldn’t hear what they were talking about. He watched her until she disappeared through the door and then his eyes returned to Michael’s, noticing his callous look. He shifted uncomfortably and then put the fork back down before folding his arms across his chest.

“Look,” Michael said after Liz was gone. “After Tess took off in the Granilith or whatever the hell happened, it must not have registered on any radar or anything. I mean, nobody from the FBI or the CIA or Project Blue Book,” he added with disdain, “came snooping around. Valenti said he hasn’t heard anything unusual reported. What do you make of that?”

“Maybe it has some kind of stealth technology or something. Something that blocks radar,” Max suggested, feeling out of his element. “Maybe it doesn’t travel through normal space. Maybe it just bends space, you know, like the way it bent time . . .” like when his stupid alter ego came back from the future and fucked up his life, Max thought to himself.

‘Maybe we should ask Liz-”

“No,” Max cut in sharply and Michael raised his eyebrows.

“She’s the geeky scientist. Maybe she’d have some ideas,” Michael said leaning forward.

“I want to leave her out of this,” Max said quietly and his eyes were drawn back to the door as she returned with a tray of condiments.

“Jesus Max, it’s your kid. Don’t you think Liz is gonna have to learn to deal with it, you know, if you two are gonna get back together?”

“Who’s getting back together?” Maria asked as she plopped a plate of French fries onto the middle of the table.

Max and Michael looked up at her and then they all turned when the chimes to the front door sounded and Kyle walked in, headed straight for Liz. Max couldn’t help but notice the smile that spread over her face as he neared. Kyle draped his arm around her shoulder and she leaned into him, laughing at something he said. Max clenched his jaw as he stared at them, feeling his heart rate soar in agitation. He had no right to be jealous, but he was. He couldn’t help it.

Liz reached across the counter and retrieved a ‘to go’ order and handed it to Kyle and Max watched as they hugged each other before Kyle turned to leave. She gave him a wave as he walked out the door and then she turned with a contemplative look on her face as she settled onto one of the stools at the counter to look over some paperwork.

“Liz and Kyle?” Maria said as she turned to look back at Max and Michael. “Maybe. They have a lot in common, you know. They have a history together, and how many people can claim they were brought back from the dead by an alien? Makes for some interesting pillow talk, I’d imagine.”

Max looked at her sharply, feeling his jealousy double in strength as the image of Kyle and Liz in her bed flashed into his mind again. Even though nothing had happened that night between them, the image was still like a fresh wound, and something he knew could turn into a reality if Liz chose to move in that direction.

“You want a refill on that?” Maria asked, pointing at his drink. Max shrugged noncommittally and she took the empty glass out of his hand and headed over to the counter. Her long strides slowed as she walked behind the counter and saw the pitiful look on Liz’s face and the dejected way she was slumped forward with her chin resting on her hand.

“What’s the matter, Babe?” Maria asked as she filled the glass with cherry cola from the fountain. “You look like you’ve lost your best friend.”

“It’s like his ghost is haunting me, Maria,” Liz sighed.

“Whose ghost? What are you talking about?” she asked setting the drink on the counter and leaning forward with her antenna bobbing on her head.

“Alex,” Liz admitted. “I keep having the same dream where Alex grabs my arm and tells me to wake him up. Like he’s blaming me for his death, you know? Like I should have known he was under some kind of spell and if I had just broken it in time, he’d still be alive today. And of course, if I hadn’t changed the future, he would be alive today.”

“Liz, you have to quit blaming yourself. None of us knew anything was wrong with Alex. We just didn’t see it.”

“But that’s just it, Maria,” Liz said plaintively. “In my dream, he acts like I should have seen it. I should have been able to tell.”

“Liz, you’re beating yourself up over a dream. You are not responsible for Alex’s death. The blame for that is squarely on that bitch’s head. If Tess ever comes back, I swear to God I’ll tear that blonde head right off her shoulders,” Maria fumed.

Liz smiled at that, picturing a vindictive Maria, inflicting her revenge on an unsuspecting Tess. She’d pay to watch that, front row center. Maria doing the smackdown. Could anything be more sweet? Her smile faded though as she tried to look at this maturely. Tess was the mother of Max’s child. That was never going to change.

“God Maria,” Liz said as she covered her face with her hand. “I’m just so confused. I thought by going to Florida, I’d be able to get away from all of this and I’d be able to think.”

“You mean, you’d be able to forget,” Maria corrected her.

“Yeah, that too,” Liz confessed.

“Are you still in love with him?” Maria asked quietly and watched the color drain out of her friend’s cheeks.

“Oh, Maria . . .”

“Liz, are you still in love with him?” Maria insisted, cupping Liz’s face with her hands so she couldn’t look away.

“Yes Maria. God help me, but I can’t stop loving him. I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work. Even after everything that’s happened, I still love him.” Liz fell silent as she stared down into her drink. That was the first time she had admitted that aloud since this horrible mess started.

“What are you going to do?” Maria asked quietly, feeling the other girl’s pain.

“What am I going to do?” Liz repeated in a surprised tone. “I’m not going to do anything.”

“He wants you back, Liz. It’s killing him inside, not being with you.”

“No, Maria, he wants his son.” Liz turned to look at Max, sitting in a booth on the far side of the Crashdown. He was talking to Michael, deeply absorbed in some conversation and stabbing the air with a french fry to emphasize his point. She took a deep breath as she turned back to Maria with pain filled eyes and confessed, “He thinks about her all the time.”

“Who?” Maria frowned. “Who thinks about who?”

“Max,” Liz sighed and rubbed her hand tiredly over her face. “Max thinks about Tess all the time.”

“No way,” Maria exclaimed.

“Yes, Maria, it’s true,” she said defeatedly and toyed with the straw in her drink. “He does think about her all the time.”

“Max? Thinks about Tess? Why do you say that? What makes you think that?” Maria asked perplexed.

“Every time I touch him, or he touches me, I get a flash of what he’s thinking about, of what’s on his mind, and it’s always the same. It’s always her.” Liz closed her eyes to try to keep the tears at bay. She’d cried enough tears lately to fill an ocean.

“Oh God, Liz. Are you serious? You get a flash of Tess every time he touches you?”

“Yeah, just about,” Liz said in resignation. “It’s always the same. I see the two of them waking up together, you know, the next morning, and they’re . . . naked, and she’s smiling at him with her big blue eyes. God Maria, it’s just awful.” She bit at her lower lip as the image once more surfaced in her mind.

“What a bastard!” Maria exclaimed and then had to tone it down when she realized the customers could hear her. “You’d think he could keep that whole hour long orgasm thing to himself.”

“What?” Liz asked frowning. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, the um, you know, the ah . . .” She closed her mouth while she tried to figure out a gentle way to say it. “You don’t know?”

“I don’t know what?” Liz asked and then suddenly wondered if she really wanted to know.

“I mean about the ‘hour long point of culmination’,” Maria said, wishing she’d never mentioned it.

“You mean . . .?” Liz asked incredulously with her mouth dropping open. Maria nodded her head and Liz felt her stomach turn upside down. “Is that the way it was for you and Michael?” During the ride to the Vasquez Rocks on the morning to prevent their departure, Maria had told Liz what had happened between her and Michael the night before. Liz had been stunned, surprised, but ultimately happy that things had worked out well for Maria. She deserved to be happy.

“I guess it takes two aliens to get the good stuff. As wonderful as it was between me and Michael, there was nothing alien about it,” Maria said feeling sorry for Liz.

“Well,” Liz said with her voice sounding shaky, “I guess I’ll always be second best, won’t I? How can I compete with that? She gives him a son. She gives him the kind of sex that guys only dream of. I’ve got nothing to give him.” Her chin trembled and she fought off the tears that were suddenly filling her eyes. “I’m going upstairs. I’ll see you later, Maria,” she said as she fled the room.

Max pulled his attention away from Michael as he saw Liz rush from the café, headed toward the back. He was just about to rise, wondering what was wrong, when Maria was suddenly there, pushing him back down into the booth.

“Just keep your ass right there, Romeo,” Maria seethed as she flung his cherry coke onto the table. It tipped over with half the contents spilling onto his lap before he could catch it. He half stood, feeling the cold and the wetness soaking through his pants to his skin.

“Jesus, Maria! What was that for?” Max frowned as he wiped at his jeans. “What’s wrong with Liz? Why’d she run out of here like that?”

“You know, if you’d just kept it in your pants, none of us would be going through this now.” She felt a sense of satisfaction as she saw the color drain out of his face. He sat back down heavily, not even noticing the puddle of cola on the seat. Maria leaned over him in full attack stance and he shrank back from her. “You know, it’s bad enough you had sex with that little tramp, but then you had to go bragging about how great it was.”

Max looked from Maria to Michael, narrowing his eyes when Michael shrugged his shoulders in an apologetic way. What had he told Maria?

“Hey!” Maria spit out at him. “I’m not done here. Listen up buddy, it’s one thing to tell spaceboy here about your hot alien sex and your out of this world orgasm,” Maria hissed, trying to control her anger so the customers couldn’t hear, “but to show that to Liz, to let her see that every time you touch her, you moron, what the hell’s wrong with you? Jesus Max!”

“Maria . . .” Max faltered, not knowing what to say. There was no excuse for what he had done that night, letting Liz see that. He still couldn’t understand how it had happened. He covered his face with his hands and mumbled, “I didn’t do it on purpose. I didn’t want her to see that. I don’t know how it slipped out. I know it hurt her.”

“I don’t think you’re getting the gist of it here, Max.” His eyes looked up into hers and she barreled on. “You’re talking like it was one time. Max, she gets the flash every time you touch her. The same one, you and that bitch waking up in the morning together, buck naked. Thank God you haven’t given Liz a flash of you actually fucking her-”

“Maria-” Michael interrupted and she whirled on him.

“Oh shut up, Michael. Stay out of this.” He raised his hands in capitulation and turned to Max with a look on his face saying, ‘You’re on your own, Buddy’.

“What do you mean?” Max was barely able to get the words out as he stared up into Maria’s angry face. His stomach was twisting in knots and he felt like he was going to throw up. He was praying that he misunderstood her. She couldn’t have meant what she said. He would have known if . . . if . . .

“What do you mean, ‘What do I mean’?” Maria said derisively. “Max, is your head buried up you ass? Don’t you see it? Don’t you see what you’re doing to her?” She saw his eyes close and a look of pain shot across his face. She sat down next to Michael, and her anger started to turn to concern.

“You mean, she sees that every time I touch her? I . . . I thought it was just the one . . . Oh God.” He thought back to when they were at the hospital yesterday, by the coffee machine when he’d seen that shocked look on Liz’s face, and then again in the waiting room. Was that why she acted that way in the jeep today? Jesus, no wonder she flinched away from him all the time. God, what was wrong with him?

He rubbed at his forehead and then Maria noticed how his hand was shaking. No, not just shaking, but twitching uncontrollably, locked in a violent spasm. She looked at Michael with her concern bordering on alarm and saw that he was feeling the same thing. She turned back to Max, and took his hand trying to calm him. “Max? What’s wrong? What’s happened to you?”

“Nothing,” Max mumbled and pulled his hand away as he started to rise from the booth. He looked around to see if anyone was looking and then waved his hand over his pants to remove the dampness from the cherry cola Maria had spilled on him. He stood by the table, staring at the door to the back of the café, wanting to go to Liz, but knowing he should leave her alone. “I’ve gotta go,” he mumbled dejectedly and with a bowed head, he left through the front doors of the Crashdown.

Maria and Michael watched him leave, sitting side by side in stunned silence. Their hands interlocked as they sought the familiar contact and the comfort that went with that. Their friends were falling apart around them, and they didn’t have a clue what to do to stop it.

* * * * *

Liz lay curled up on her bed with her legs pulled up to her chest. It was time to move on. Time to give up on the past and all the hopes and the dreams she had once had. It didn’t matter if he no longer had feelings for Tess, after the truth of her treachery had come out. He was forever tied to her because of their son. She would always be there in his thoughts as the mother of his child, and those thoughts would inevitably lead to a comparison between her and Tess. She couldn’t give him anything even remotely like what Tess had. The ultimate sexual experience. It’d be better if she never tried. Just stop it now, and quit holding on to something that could never be.

She pulled the pillow close to her chest, breathing deeply and surprised when she realized how much it smelled like Max. How long would it take for her to get over him? Could she ever really get over him, or would it always be there, that ache in her heart every time she looked at him? She’d been foolish this morning when, just for a moment, she’d thought maybe things could work out between them. Too much had happened, too much stood between them. The specter of Tess, with her sleepy blue eyes once more invaded her mind and Liz curled into a tight ball, crying until exhaustion claimed her in sleep . . .

posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:44:14 PM
Dying Embers

Part 10

Max lay on his back staring up at his bedroom ceiling, listening to the quiet sounds of the empty house. He’d spent a sleepless night and his puffy eyes showed it. His parents had left for work sometime ago, and Isabel had already left for the Crashdown. She’d asked him if he was going to join her, but he’d mumbled that he wasn’t hungry.

She’d looked at him strangely then. Since when did they ever go to the Crashdown because they were hungry? It was the place they hung out, the place they met their friends, the place that used to feel like a second home. But that was in a different life, a different time, a world that didn’t exist anymore. He shouldn’t go there now. He shouldn’t subject Liz to his presence anymore.

He still was reeling from what Maria had told him yesterday, that every time he touched Liz she got a flash of the morning he’d woken up with Tess. What kind of freak was he, making Liz see something like that? It was bad enough that he had to remember that night. He’d never wanted to subject Liz to it too.

Was that it then? Was that the final nail in the coffin? Were all hopes for rebuilding a relationship with Liz over now? He’d never be able to touch her again, never be able to kiss her or hold her in his arms again. How could she even stand to look at him? They’d never be able to move beyond this, to forget about the past, when she kept seeing it flash before her eyes.

Maybe he really was a sadistic bastard, making her see something like that. Maybe during these last few months his alien side had taken over and changed him into something that wasn’t recognizable anymore. A year ago he never would have acted this way, done the things he’d done, said the things he’d said. He was still having a hard time reconciling himself to that. When had he turned into something even he couldn’t stand to be around? He’d grown up all those years thinking he was a monster. Now he knew it was true.

But so much of it was unclear in his mind. It was almost like the words had come out of someone else’s mouth, but he knew it had to have been him. He couldn’t remember speaking to Liz so harshly that day at Valenti’s home, but he’d seen it in her mind. He’d felt her fear of him, the same fear he’d caused that day in the school hallway when he’d grabbed her arm. Would it only get worse? Would his alien side suppress his human side completely, until Max Evans no longer existed, and only a hollow shell of him remained, controlled by something hideously alien?

He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He had to get out. He had to do something. He was suffocating here in his room and all he wanted to do was run. Run away from who he was, away from what he was, away from what he had become . . .

* * * * *

Liz busied herself around the Crashdown, trying to keep her mind occupied so she wouldn’t have to think. Now that the crisis with her father had past, and he was on the road to recovery, she didn’t have to worry about him as much, which left time for her mind to wander. And when her mind wandered, it always turned to thoughts of Max. She’d felt a huge disappointment when Isabel entered the Crashdown an hour ago and she realized Max wasn’t with her.

She told herself not to think that way, not to give in to those feelings that would only lead to more heartache. She’d made her mind up last night to move on, to put the past in the past and concentrate on creating a new future. But was that really what she wanted to do? Did she really want to face a future that didn’t, couldn’t, include Max? Yes . . . No . . . She felt so confused. Could she really keep him in her life, as a friend? Could she really see him everyday, and talk to him, knowing there could never be anything more between them? Or would the clean break that they had talked about be the best for them both?

“Why the sad face, Liz?” Maria asked as she came up behind her. “I don’t know if I can take anymore awful revelations, so humor me and tell me life is sweet and the sun always shines and every story has a happy ending.”

“Life is sweet and the sun always shines and every story has a happy ending,” Liz recited, trying her best to smile at her friend. It didn’t work very well.

“Now tell me the future is looking better, you’re in love with Prince Charming and you’ll live happily ever after.”

“The future sucks, Prince Charming doesn’t exist and happily ever after is only a dream,” Liz said, showing her dejection.


“Let’s talk about something else, Maria,” Liz hastily changed the subject. “Can you take me over to Hobbs? My Mom has the car at the hospital and I need to pick up that replacement part for the smoothie machine.”

“Sorry Babe, no can do. My Mom took the car into El Paso early this morning. I don’t expect her back until late tonight.”

“Damn, how am I going to get there?” Liz frowned.

“Get where?” Kyle asked as he came up behind her. He’d just entered the Crashdown, and the girls had been so engrossed in their conversation they hadn’t noticed him come in.

“Liz needs to go to Hobbs,” Maria answered, “but she doesn’t have a ride.”

“I can take you,” Kyle offered.

“Are you sure?” Liz asked. “It’s a long way to Hobbs and back, just to do me a favor.”

“I don’t mind,” Kyle reassured her. “Besides, I heard they have a fantastic Harley shop there. I’ve been meaning to go check it out.”

“Okay then, you’re on!” Liz nodded, finally breaking into a smile. “When do you want to go?”

“Now, if you want,” Kyle said and when she nodded again, he reached into his pocket to retrieve his car keys.

“I’ll just get my purse,” Liz said as she hurried around the counter.

From across the room, Isabel kept a close eye on Liz, suddenly feeling unsettled about the way Kyle was being overly attentive to her. Is this why Max was so depressed this morning? Had he noticed it too? Kyle and Liz headed toward the front door and Isabel got up from the table to follow them outside.

Max pulled the jeep to a stop in front of the Crashdown and turned the ignition off. He’d been driving around for the last hour, but he always found himself driving down this street. After the fourth time passing the restaurant, he gave in and parked in front of the familiar neon UFO sign. He climbed out and was just about to reach for the door when a smiling Kyle and Liz stepped through to the outside.

“Max . . .” Liz said as she almost bumped into him, and her smile faded.

“Evans,” Kyle said, acknowledging him and then placed his hand on the center of Liz’s back in a possessive gesture.

Max just stared at them, not knowing what to say. Maybe this hadn’t been a good idea. Maybe it would have been better if he stayed away. He watched as Kyle led Liz to his car and he noticed the way she glanced back at him, with a sad look on her face, and then she climbed into the front seat and Kyle closed the door. He felt a presence next to him and he tore his eyes away from Liz to see his sister standing beside him.

“He’s taking her into Hobbs to get something for the restaurant. It’s not a date or anything. Nothing romantic, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Isabel said trying to reassure him.

“It doesn’t matter Iz,” Max said dejectedly, unable to take his eyes off of Liz. “I’ve got no right to interfere in her life.”

Isabel stared hard at Kyle’s red Mustang, and then she turned to look at Max. “Are you giving up? Just like that?”

“She’s better off without me,” Max lamented.

“I disagree. She loves you, Max,” Isabel quietly asserted. “And you love her.”

“You’re the one that wanted me to stay away from her,” Max said as he turned to look at her. “For years you told me that. I should have listened to you all along, and then I never would have hurt her the way I did. Besides, she doesn’t need me. In fact, I’m the last thing she needs.”

“So now you decide to listen to me?” Isabel arched her eyebrows. “Well listen to this then. You need her Max. She’s the one that keeps you grounded. Without her, look at the mess you’ve made of everything.”

“That’s exactly why I have to give her up. Because of the mess I’ve made. She deserves better than me.” Max stole a glance over to the car and for a brief moment their eyes met before Liz looked away.

“Maybe it’s time you learned to fight for her Max,” Isabel said drilling her eyes into his. “Instead of passively watching her slip away from you.”

He shook his head and said sadly, “There’s nothing left to fight for, Iz. She doesn’t want me anymore.”

“If that’s what you think, then you really are an idiot,” Isabel shot back at him.

His mouth opened, about to respond, when their attention was drawn to the sound of an engine straining to start. After a few attempts to turn the engine over, Kyle climbed from the car and lifted the hood, mumbling about how human technology sucked and cars weren’t worth the money you paid for them. Liz climbed out of the passenger side, and vacantly stared down at the uncooperative engine.

“Where were you going Liz?” Isabel asked innocently.

She turned toward Isabel, thinking she was acting awfully cheery. Max had his hands in his pockets and he was looking at her under veiled lids. She couldn’t read his expression. “Kyle was going to take me into Hobbs on an errand. I guess it’s going to have to wait.”

“Max can take you,” Isabel offered brightly. “He’s not doing anything.”

Max jerked his head in the direction of his sister with a look of astonishment on his face. What did she think she was doing? Didn’t she hear a word he had just said?

“In fact,” Isabel continued, “he just told me a minute ago that he had nothing to do all day and he thought a long drive might do him some good. Clear the air and all, you know?”

“Well,” Liz said hesitantly, certain by his behavior that he had no desire to drive all the way to Hobbs with her. “That’s okay.”

“Max is more than happy to take you, isn’t that right Max?” Isabel asked as she led them both to the jeep. “It’s a beautiful sunny day, just the kind made for nice drives through the countryside.” And besides, she thought, the two of them alone in the car would force them to finally talk to each other.

“I don’t know,” Liz said as they came to a stop by the passenger door. “Max, you don’t have-”

“I don’t mind Liz,” Max hastened. “Isabel’s right, I don’t have anything else I was planning on doing . . .” He knew he sounded lame and took his hand out of his pocket so he could scratch his ear nervously. The thought of spending the afternoon alone with her was both exhilarating and terrifying. What if she said no? What if she didn’t want to be anywhere near him?

“Well, if you’re sure . . .” Liz mumbled as her eyes bounced between Max and Isabel.

“See? What’d I tell you!” Isabel smiled sweetly at Liz. “You two have a good time!” She backed away and gave her brother an encouraging smile as she passed him before stepping up onto the sidewalk.

Max shifted from one foot to the other and his eyes darted from the jeep to the ground to Liz and back to the jeep again. His hand moved to touch Liz on the elbow, to help her into the jeep, and then he pulled it back, remembering he couldn’t take the risk. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and then stood there like an idiot until Liz finally climbed inside the jeep without his help.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Liz asked as she settled into the seat.

“Sure,” Max said as he stood staring at her. It finally dawned on him that they weren’t going anywhere if he didn’t move his ass, so he pulled his hands out of his pockets and hurried around the jeep. He passed Isabel and gave her a confounded look, not sure if he should thank her for creating an opportunity that kept him near Liz, or curse her for making things worse. He climbed in behind the wheel and inserted the key in the ignition and paused, giving Liz one last chance to change her mind. She gave him a small smile and he started the engine, backed away from the Crashdown, and then they headed out of town.

“What the hell?” Kyle whined as he pulled his head out of the engine of his car and watched Liz driving off with the King of Stupidity, His Majesty the Moron.

“Forget it Kyle,” Isabel said with a smile. “She’s not for you.” She waved her hand over the engine of his car as she turned to leave, and the motor came purring to life.

* * * * *

They headed east on Highway 380, and Max stole quick glances at Liz as they drove along. Traffic was light and the road lay wide open before them. Her hair was flying in the breeze and the sun made it shine vibrantly. Her skin was glowing too. Soft and silky looking. Skin he wished he could reach out and touch. She turned to look at him and he gave her a half smile, feeling awkward and self-conscious. As her eyes met his, he took it all back. He didn’t just wish he could reach out and touch her, he craved it.

Her hand pulled an errant strand of hair away from her mouth and then she turned to face forward again, but he couldn’t take his eyes off her lips. He remembered a day, so long ago now, when he’d driven this road out to Bitterlake, with thoughts of her on his mind. His mind had been filled with memories that day, memories of their first kiss, and the fireworks it had caused in him. That day he’d wondered if he’d ever get to kiss her again. As he looked at her now, those same thoughts filled his mind. No one else had ever made him feel this way. No one else ever could.

“Are you okay? I mean, is it too windy or anything?” Max asked, raising his voice so she could hear him above the noise of the engine.

“I’m fine,” she answered as her hand once again drew her hair away from her face. She looked at him briefly and then returned her eyes forward.

“I didn’t ask, before,” Max said after a few minutes of silence and Liz turned to face him again. “What do you need to do in Hobbs?”

“I have to pick up a part for the smoothie machine. We can’t be without a Sunrise on Saturn smoothie, you know,” Liz said offhandedly.

Max smiled at the silly names her Dad had selected to represent the food in the Crashdown. “I could have just . . .” and then he let his voice trail off. He could have just what? Fixed the smoothie machine with a wave of his hand? If he said that out loud, would she suggest they just turn around and save themselves a trip? But then he wouldn’t get to spend the afternoon with her, just the two of them, out here, away from town, away from everybody.

“You could have what?” Liz asked after he didn’t finish what he had started to say.

“Sorry, I forgot what I was gonna say.” She was looking at him questioningly and he had to look away. They continued on, each lost in their own thoughts, until Max broke the silence again. “How’s your Dad today?”

“Good,” Liz said and turned back to look at him with a genuine smile on her face. “My Mom called me from the hospital this morning and said he’s doing great. Really great.”

“That’s good . . . great,” Max stumbled around trying to find the rights words to say what he meant. “I feel really bad that I wasn’t, you know, able to help him more.”

“I know,” Liz nodded her understanding, “but it’s better this way. I mean, he’ll be okay, once he fully recovers. And we don’t have to explain anything, you know? No silver hand prints and stuff like that,” she said and then looked down at her hands in her lap.

“Right,” Max said, trying to keep at least one eye on the road. They drove in silence for a few more minutes and then they both reached for the knob to turn on the radio at the same time. Their hands collided and Liz pulled hers away like it had been burned. “I’m sorry Liz, Oh God, I’m so sorry,” Max said almost in a panic.

“It’s okay,” Liz said as she pulled her hand back. She looked at the alarmed look on his face, wondering why he had overreacted so badly. She thought back to earlier, outside the Crashdown, when it had been painfully obvious that he didn’t want to touch her then either. So much had changed between them, she sighed inwardly.

Had she seen a flash that time, Max wondered? Was she right now reliving his betrayal? He couldn’t tell by the look on her face, but she was good at hiding her feelings. Would he be able to learn to control it, so that she couldn’t see it, or would it always be there, between them, keeping them apart? Her eyes were downcast, staring into her lap, and he felt his stomach twist with tension. Not knowing what else to say or do, he turned the knob on the radio and a familiar melody drifted up from the speakers.

It’s been awhile
Since I could hold my head up high
It’s been awhile
Since I first saw you

“Oh, I love this song,” Liz smiled, lifting her eyes up to look at Max. “I bought this CD a couple of weeks ago. The whole thing’s great.”

“Really?” Max asked. “I like it too.” It makes me think of you every time I hear it, he thought to himself. A lot of songs make me think of you. In fact, everything makes me think of you. Everywhere I turn, it reminds me of something we once did together, or someplace we once went. In fact, that road we just passed goes to Buckley Point, where we used to go, when things were still good between us. I can still remember what you use to taste like, when I kissed you in the back seat of the jeep, and nothing else existed except you and me-

“Max?” Liz said a little louder.

“What?” Max said, shaking his head. “Did you say something?”

“I just asked if you’d heard the whole CD yet.”

“No, not yet,” Max responded with a shake of his head. He had thought about buying it, but there didn’t seem any point when he thought he was going to leave the planet. Jesus, he thought to himself, what the hell had he been thinking? Leave the planet? Leave the only home he had even known, with a conniving, murdering bitch whose whole goal was to take home his heir and turn him and Isabel and Michael over to his enemies? What a fucking mess he’d made of his life.

“-they’re all good.” Liz couldn’t help noticing the far away look in his eyes and she wondered if he was even listening to her. She leaned back against the seat and turned her head to look out the window, watching the desert pass by, trying not to let her mind think of him.

* * * * *

“What are you doing here?” Max said with a coldness Liz had never heard in his voice before. They were in the Valenti home, and Max had just come in the door, surprised to find her there talking to Tess. He stood staring at her and it was almost like his eyes were burning right through her.

“Um, nothing . . . you know we were just . . .we were talking. I should go.” Her nervousness was showing. He was scaring her.

“Talking about what?” Max said staring down at Liz.

“Nothing . . .”

“Max, you know, it’s okay,” Tess attempted to smooth things over. “Forget about it.”

“No, I want to know.”

“We’ll just talk later,” Liz said, trying to move toward the door.

“Please don’t go on my account. Go ahead. Ask you questions.” Max said, using his body to block her exit. He sounded heartless, cruel, mean.

“Max, she just had some questions about my powers, that’s all,” Tess explained.

“Your theory?” Max asked in a clipped voice.

“I just wanted to know some things about mind control and I thought-”

“Oh,” Max interrupted, “so Tess killed Alex. Is that your theory?”

“No,” Liz said shocked.

“Max, she didn’t say that.”

“But that’s what you were thinking, so why don’t you just ask it?” Max said, staring at Liz with contempt in his eyes.

“Max, of course that’s not what I’m thinking,” Liz said stunned by his accusation.

“Tess, did you kill Alex?” Max asked as he continued to belittle Liz.

“Max . . .” Tess pleaded.

“What were you doing the night he died?” Max asked Tess, but kept his eyes glued on Liz.

“Will you stop it?” Liz begged, almost crying.

“Go ahead,” Max urged Tess, still with his eyes boring into Liz. “What were you doing?”

“She was with me,” Kyle said, stepping into the fray. “We were watching Gladiator on video.”

“An alibi,” Max said triumphantly and then added, “from one of your own.”

“Can I leave now?” Liz begged as she stood shaking from his wrath.

“Yeah,” Max said scornfully and stepped away from the door, finished with her now.

“Is everything okay?” Kyle asked wondering what that scene had been all about.

“Fine,” Max responded as he stepped away from them.

“Yeah,” Tess said calmly. “Yeah, everything’s fine, Kyle.”

Kyle frowned at Max. He’d never seen him act that way before, especially to Liz. Tess walked up behind Max, rubbing her hand up and down his arm, and Kyle backed away from them, retreating out of the room.

“You did that well Max,” Tess said soothingly. “Very well.”

“What?” Max asked. His eyes darted around the room, looking for something, and then finally settled on Tess.

“I said, are you feeling alright?” She brushed her fingers across his forehead and then through the soft strands of his hair. “You don’t look very well.”

“I’m fine,” he said frowning and his eyes darted around the room looking for something he couldn’t seem to find.

Liz fled, running away from the house, running from Max and the hateful look she had seen in his eyes. She sobbed as his image loomed in front of her and she stumbled to the ground, falling in a heap as she cried. She felt his hand on her shoulder, shaking her, and she heard Max say, “Liz? Liz?”, before his face changed, morphing into something different, someone different.

The image solidified and Alex’s familiar features came into view. The open landscape changed into the confined space of his room, and Alex was sitting on his bed, strumming his guitar, and humming a tune she thought was familiar.

She watched him as he reached for something on his bed, and when he picked it up he smiled. Tickets. He was holding tickets in his hand. His smile faded as a spasm of pain flashed over his face and the tickets fell to the bed. His hand rose to clutch his forehead and then he turned to her, staring at her with haunted eyes, and he reached out to grasp her hands. He spoke to her and the desperation weighed heavy in his voice.

“Wake him up, Liz . . . Wake him up . . .”

“Wake up Liz,” Max said for the third time and laid his hand on her shoulder to gently shake her again. “Liz, we’re here. It’s time to wake up.”

“What?” Liz asked as her mind started to clear. When had she fallen asleep? She looked at Max hovering over her, and then out the window, noticing the jeep had come to a stop. A sign, Morely’s Parts and Service, came into view as she looked around and she said, “We’re here.”

“That’s what I just said,” Max smiled at her.

She tried to shake off the remnants of the dream and she sat up straight, trying to compose herself. “How long was I asleep?”

“About an hour,” Max answered. “You seemed so tired, I just let you sleep.” He couldn’t help notice how she seemed to be recoiling from him, shrinking away from his touch and the smile slowly faded from his face.

“If you want to wait here, this will only take a minute,” she said climbing out of the jeep.

“Sure,” Max answered, watching her movements with an ache in his heart. “Whatever you want.”

“Okay then,” she mumbled and hurried into the parts store. She was upset about the dream, about reliving the whole argument she’d had with Max that day. He’d been so cold, so harsh. Not at all the Max she’d fallen in love with. He’d scared her that day. For the first time, he had felt truly ‘alien’ to her. And maybe that was it in a nutshell, she thought as she pushed through the doors into the parts store. Maybe finally she was seeing the real Max Evans, the alien hiding from the world inside a human shell. Maybe Tess had just brought to the surface what had been buried underneath all along. The cold detachment, the harsh demeanor, the contempt he held inside that she’d never seen before. The Max she knew, the Max she fell in love with, hadn’t been that way at all. That Max was gone, as dead and buried as Alex was.

Max watched Liz enter the store and when she moved out of his line of vision he visibly collapsed behind the wheel of the jeep. The look on her face had said everything. She found him abhorrent now, after the things he had done, and the things he had said. What could he do to convince her that he wasn’t the monster that he had been acting like lately? What could he do to make her believe in him again?

He rubbed his hand over his face, feeling the stress and the strain and then sat up straight again when Liz reappeared at the door, carrying a small package. She didn’t look at him or make eye contact with him until she was almost to the jeep, and when she did, when she lifted her eyes to look at him, he felt his feet sinking in quicksand again. She opened her mouth to speak and he knew it wouldn’t be good. He could see it in her eyes, and in the way she stood so stiffly next to the car. He knew the words she was about to say before she said them, and he knew what they meant.

“Max, we need to talk . . .”

posted on 14-Sep-2001 6:48:35 PM
Dying Embers

Part 11

Liz stared out the window as they drove in silence. The landscape held no appeal for her. She barely registered the desert as it flashed by. Max hadn’t said a word since they left Hobbs, and she left it at that. They would have to talk, but she could wait. Maybe when they got back to Roswell . . .

Max was being eaten alive inside. He knew what she wanted to say and he was putting it off for as long as possible. If he didn’t hear it, it wouldn’t be true, right? He wouldn’t have to face it. He could live in denial and pretend there was still a chance to make things right with Liz. But was that being honest? Was that being a man and living with the consequences of his actions? Wasn’t that part of his problem all along, that he didn’t face his problems head on and deal with them? He let them lie dormant, festering inside him until they spilled over onto everyone around him.

He passed by a sign indicating a roadside park up ahead, and he made up his mind to face the demons that he had created. He turned on his blinker and before Liz was even cognizant of it, he had exited the highway. He pulled to a stop in a nice tree covered location looking out over the Pecos River, and he turned to face Liz.

“I know you want to talk, Liz, and God knows there are so many things we need to talk about,” Max said turning to look at her. “But I have questions too. Things I don’t understand, about what happened between us.” He stared into her eyes and what he saw there frightened him. She seemed resigned to some decision she had already made, and he feared that her life was going to move in a direction that didn’t include him.

“Max, why don’t we go sit over there,” Liz suggested, pointing to a patch if thick grass overlooking the river. Max followed the direction of her outstretched finger with his eyes and he nodded his head. They climbed out of the jeep and Max followed a step behind Liz as they made their way across the terrain.

She came to a stop on the grass and stood staring out at the river for a minute, lost in thoughts of what might have been, before slowly sinking down to sit on the ground. Max hesitated, a part of him wanting to run away so he wouldn’t have to face this and another part of him knowing there was no escape. He dropped down beside her, not close enough to crowd her, but not too far away in case a miracle happened and he could take her in his arms the way he wanted to. Miracles did happen sometimes, didn’t they?

“You said you had questions, Max,” Liz said as she plucked a blade of grass. She lifted her eyes to his, sad eyes, both of them feeling the other’s pain. “Go ahead Max. Ask your questions.”

His eyes dropped from hers, drawn to the way her fingers fidgeted with the blade of grass, shredding it and tearing it into tiny pieces. If only he could get back the pieces of his life he’d lost along the way. If only he could make his world whole again.

“When I . . . I mean, when that other version of me, the future me, came to you last fall . . . why didn’t you tell me about it, Liz?” He had picked up his own blade of grass now, twisting it between his fingers, staring at it instead of at her. “Why didn’t you come to me, so that we could talk it over, and make a decision together?”

“When you came to me Max, I didn’t believe it was you at first. I accused you of being a shape shifter. Because I didn’t want to believe the things you were telling me. I tried to block out everything you said.”

“Maybe it was a shape shifter,” Max said hopefully and lifted his eyes to meet hers.

“It didn’t take long to realize the truth,” Liz said shaking her head. “It was you. And you told me what I had to do. You didn’t just say you and I couldn’t be together. You said I had to make you fall out of love with me. You begged me to change the future. Michael was dead. Isabel was dead. It was only a matter of time before we’d all be dead. How could I ignore that?”

“But if I had known . . .”

“If you had known?” Liz repeated, trying to make him understand. “Would you have just stopped loving me if I had never done anything to force it? Could you have just turned your emotions off, if I’d told you the truth? Would you have willingly walked away from me?”

“No,” Max admitted. “But . . .” The grass had disintegrated in his hand and his fingertips were tinged with green. He plucked a new blade and began to tear at it too.

“You were so certain about what needed to be done. It killed me inside, but I had no choice. You left me no choice. Now, after everything that’s happened, I guess we know you were wrong. For whatever reason, you didn’t know about Tess. What she really was.”

“But how could he have not known that?” Max implored.

“You said that after you and I,” Liz started to say and then stopped. What good did it do to talk about what might have been? “In the other timeline, Tess left Roswell. You made it sound like you never saw her again, but I don’t know for sure. Maybe you just never found out the truth about her.”

They were quiet for a minute and then Max said softly, “You said that, in that other timeline, you and I got . . . we got married. What else did he . . . I say? What kind of life did we have together?”

“Max-” She knew it was better not to go down that road. That was a life they would never have.

“You said we got married, in Vegas,” Max said lifting his eyes up to see her face. “When we were there, last February, I got a flash, remember? You, in a wedding gown and me in a tux. We were so happy. Was that real? I mean, was it a memory or a vision of what really happened in that other timeline?”

“I think so,” Liz answered with a sad smile. Their eyes met and she had to bite her lip to keep from crying over what might have been. “You said we became inseparable after . . . well, after the Gomez concert. You said I made us elope. When we were nineteen.”

“You did?” Max said in surprise. He couldn’t help the smile that lit his eyes. “The ever practical Liz Parker, making us elope? At nineteen?”

“Yeah,” Liz chuckled. “Imagine that.”

“Were we happy together?” Max asked, turning serious again.

“Yeah,” Liz said with a trembling chin and her eyes filling with tears. “Yeah, we were.”

“I want that life, Liz,” Max said around the lump in his throat. “I want a life where we’re happy, and where we’re together.”

“I wanted it too, Max,” Liz said brushing a tear off her cheek. “But it wasn’t meant to be. You told me that once, a long time ago. I didn’t want to believe it, but you were right.”

He felt his heart sink at the way she spoke in the past tense. She was telling him that there was no future for the two of them. That what they had was over, and couldn’t be found again. There was a finality in the tone of her voice, unmistakable in its meaning.

“You can’t get past what happened,” he said and his eyes darted away from her. “Between me and Tess. Can you?” He didn’t want to hear her answer. The silence around them was deafening while he waited, dreading what he would hear. He knew what she was going to say, but it still tore his heart out when she said it.

“No.” Liz looked out over the river, watching the water flowing in its endless journey to the sea. Some things you could count on. The sun was going to rise tomorrow morning. If you stood in the rain, you were going to get wet. If you hit your thumb really hard with a hammer, it was gonna hurt. Some things you couldn’t count on. Love was one of those things.

“I have no excuse, for what I did,” Max said, avoiding looking at her.

“You thought you were in love with her,” Liz said, crying on the inside, trying to hold it together on the outside.

“I don’t know what I thought,” he said, rubbing his hand over his face. He was quiet for a minute and then he continued. “I was devastated when I thought you slept with Kyle. Not because you gave yourself to him, but because I knew you, and I knew that you would never give yourself to someone you didn’t love. Which meant . . .” he had to pause while he tried to fight the quiver that had crept into his voice. “Which meant that you had moved on, and you didn’t love me anymore.”

“I had spent my whole life in love with you,” Max continued as he stared down into his hands in his lap. “From the very first moment that I saw you, I knew you were the one for me. I always knew it. It was like I felt it deep inside.” Max finally looked up at her with an expression that begged her to understand.

“After I saved you that day in the Crashdown, it was like the worst day of my life, and the best day all rolled up into one, you know? I mean, you suddenly knew I wasn’t . . . normal, but at the same time, you didn’t run away from me. I was surprised and amazed and in shock and . . . and when you stopped me and Michael and Isabel in the alley that night and said you wanted to help throw Valenti off our trail so we wouldn’t have to leave Roswell, it was like every dream I had ever had was coming true. You weren’t running away from me screaming, and you actually wanted to help me.”

“And then, as we got closer and closer and everything I ever wanted was coming true, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, because I knew I couldn’t get that lucky. And then Tess showed up, and I lost everything that ever meant anything to me.”

He fell silent for a moment and then he continued, “When you came back from Florida, I still thought we had a chance. Even when you were trying to push me away, I could still feel how much you loved me. You couldn’t hide it, even though you tried. I thought you were just scared and who could blame you? I was scared after hearing that message out in the desert last year. What do I know about being a king? So I thought you just needed time to adjust, to think things through just like I needed to, and I wasn’t about to give up on you. And then I saw you with Kyle, and I knew it was over.”

“For the longest time, I just didn’t feel anything at all. I had loved you for so long, and to be without you left me hollow inside. I was so lonely, when I thought I’d lost you. A part of me just curled up and died. I didn’t care about anything anymore. I was just . . . empty. And then Tess started to show me these memories and it made me feel something. And something was better than nothing. So I let her show me more.”

“Your memories, of your life with her,” Liz whispered.

“Yeah. Only they didn’t feel like my memories, you know?” He looked at Liz then, trying to make her understand. "I mean, they were his memories, of who I was before. But they didn’t feel like my memories. But the more I was around Tess, the more she tried to convince me that they were mine, and I started to believe her. Everybody else was shutting me out. Michael and I were barely talking. Isabel and I couldn’t have a conversation without fighting, and you . . .” he said with a catch in his throat. “I knew I’d lost you forever, and then Alex died, and I couldn’t bring him back-” He ducked his head, blinking back the sudden tears that filled his eyes.

“It’s not your fault you couldn’t save Alex,” Liz said as she fought not to cry.

“I knew how devastated you were, and I wanted to go to you, but you had closed yourself off completely. You wouldn’t let me in. You were moving further and further away from me, until I couldn’t feel you at all anymore. Did you know that I used to always be able to feel you whenever you were near me? Ever since I was little, I always knew when you walked into the room, even though I couldn’t see you. I could feel your energy, the essence that makes you who you are. You’re the only one that ever made me feel that way.”

He stole a look in her direction and his eyes fixed on the tear that was slowly falling down her cheek. These last couple of weeks he’d felt her energy stronger that ever, like a beacon drawing him to her. He didn’t know why he’d lost it for awhile, but feeling it again now was like a drowning man finding his way to shore. It made him feel grounded again. Normal. It also made him miss her all the more.

“Alex’s death was like the final wedge between us. I felt you blaming me and deep inside I was afraid you were right. But I couldn’t accept it, the guilt was too much to bear, and this time I pushed you away from me. The rift between us had grown so huge that I felt like I had lost any chance of ever being with you again, and nothing mattered anymore. Nothing I did would ever bring you back to me, so I gave up. I gave up the dream of spending a lifetime with you. I gave up the dream of us. And after that, I had nothing.”

Max paused trying to gather his emotions back together. The lump was getting thicker in his throat and he wasn’t sure he could get out what he wanted to say. “I felt like I had lost everything I ever cared about, and everyone that ever mattered to me. I felt so alone.” He quickly brushed his hand across his eye and tried to keep from losing it completely as he remembered how he had felt that night. “I was all alone, and looking at a future with nothing in it, and then she was there, telling me I was important to her, and telling me she could make everything better, and telling me that she could make me feel alive again, and so . . . and so . . .”

“And so you slept with Tess,” Liz said shakily.

He dropped his head and a sob tore from his throat, unable to hold it back now. “Yes. I’m so sorry, Liz. I’m so sorry.” He covered his face with his hands, not wanting her to see him like this. He was trembling and his eyes were burning as the tears flowed down his cheeks. His nose was starting to run and he felt like a wreck, but the worst part was listening to the sound of Liz crying next to him.

The distance between them had never been greater, as they sat side by side on the grass. Max floundered in his own private hell, a hell of his own making. Because he was weak, he had destroyed the one thing in the world he had cherished the most. The love that Liz had once felt for him.

Liz rocked back and forth, with her trembling hand hiding her face and her tears flowing freely. What she had started back in the fall had led them to this. She’d lived with the pain of breaking his heart, with seeing the heartache on his face everyday, but she had thought what she was doing was the right thing. She had pushed him toward Tess who had manipulated him and separated him from those he was closest to until he succumbed to her machinations. He’d had no one to turn to, no one to support him except Tess, who played her role of loving ‘wife’ to perfection until she got what she wanted out of him.

The decisions that she had made had set them on this course, and she would have to live with that knowledge for the rest of her life. The pain she’d caused them both was intolerable. She reached out her hand to him, bridging the gulf between them and he reacted quickly as her fingers touched his shoulder. He pulled her into his arms and they clung to each other, crying together over everything that had gone wrong in their lives.

“I’m so sorry, Liz,” he cried with his head on her shoulder. His hand clutched her hair in a tight fist and he held on to her desperately. “For everything I’ve done. I know I’ve said terrible things to you and I’ve treated you horribly.” He could feel her tears soaking into his shirt and she trembled against him. He held her tighter, as if she was a lifeline to his sanity, and his voiced cracked as he asked, “Can you ever forgive me?”

“Yes, Max,” she whispered against his ear and felt his sudden intake of breath. “Yes, I can forgive you.” Her voice got even softer and she said, “Can forgive me, too?”

“Forgive you for what?” Max asked, pulling back so he could look at her. The pain he could see in her eyes was tearing him up inside and he wanted nothing more than to kiss her and take that pain away.

“For lying to you,” she said and her eyes dropped from his. “For hiding things from you. For making things worse.”

“What you did doesn’t compare with what I did,” Max said as he brushed the tears off her face. “What you did, you did for love.” She pulled further away from him and the brief moment of hope he’d had began to fade. “Is there any way you can open your heart to me again? Is there any chance for us Liz?”

“I don’t know, Max,” she said and her eyes turned away from him. “It’s not just you and me and what happened with Tess, is it? Someone else is involved here too. Someone that will forever be between us.”

“You mean my son.” Max felt the last of his hope dying. She pulled out of his grasp and he watched as she rose to her feet and separated herself from him. The distance between them had expanded again, this time a chasm impossible to breach. Liz stood an arm’s length away from him, hugging herself against the coldness she felt inside, and Max sat on the ground with his head in his hands knowing nothing would ever be the same again. The distance between them was light years apart.

posted on 14-Sep-2001 7:00:14 PM
Dying Embers

Part 12

Liz felt relieved when the neon lights of the Crashdown came into view. The rest of the trip home had been in stony silence, with few words exchanged between them. Their wounds were so raw, and they both needed time to come to grips with where they stood now. They were both emotionally exhausted, and the physical strain was apparent too. She’d noticed how he kept rubbing at his forehead, like he had a headache. God knows, her head felt like it was about to explode too. Tension had a way of doing that to you.

The jeep came to a stop in front of the restaurant and when Max didn’t move Liz turned to him, asking “Are you going to come in? Do you want something to eat? We haven’t eaten since this morning. You must be hungry by now.”

He turned to look at her and he nodded his head slightly but he didn’t speak. He couldn’t speak without exposing the emotions he was feeling, so it was better not to say anything at all. Liz retrieved the parts bag from the back seat and they both climbed out of the jeep and walked into the bustling Crashdown.

“Liz! You’re back,” Maria said happily, and then her smile slowly faded as she took a good look at their faces. She sighed inwardly, lamenting the fact that their trip had not resulted in a Love Connection. Would things ever get back to normal, the way they were supposed to be?

Max came to a stop next to Maria and he stood awkwardly, not knowing what to say. Liz walked around the counter, taking the part out of the bag as she went and came to a stop in front of the smoothie machine. She turned the part over and over in her hand, wondering where in the world it was supposed to go. She opened the back of the machine and reached inside, pricking her finger on a piece of exposed metal. “Shit,” she said under her breath as she saw the blood welling up on the pad of her fingertip.

Max suddenly appeared at her side and took the part out of her hand saying, “Why don’t you let me do that.” She dabbed at the blood with a tissue and then watched as it slowly welled up again. Max took her hand in his and he looked around the restaurant to see if anyone was watching them, and then touched his finger to hers. The point of contact glowed blue for just a moment and then it was gone. His eyes were staring into hers and she started to smile at him, to thank him, when they got a flash. A flash of her worst nightmare, a flash of his greatest sin.

She closed her eyes and slowly pulled her hand away from his, but she couldn’t escape the image of sleepy blue eyes smiling into his or the sight of his bare chest as they lay naked together. She moved past him, running to the back door, fleeing to the safety of her room, but unable to outrun the image that tormented her.

Max stood staring at the empty space where Liz had stood a moment ago. He’d done it to her again. As if the day hadn’t been horrible enough for her, he had to top it off by showing her a vision of his ultimate betrayal once again. He closed his eyes trying to wipe out the image of the shattered look on her face, but it was burned into his brain.

“Max? What’s wrong?” Maria asked with concern. “What’s the matter with Liz? What just happened here?”

Max wavered on his feet, feeling his world spinning around him. He couldn’t keep doing this to her, and he couldn’t seem to control it. His hand rose to his head, wanting to tear the offending memories out of his brain, and then he turned abruptly, nearly bumping into Maria in his haste to leave. “I have to go,” he uttered and pushed past her, rushing through the front door.

“Max? Max! What happened?” Maria called out to him, but he was gone, out the door and out of sight. She turned on her heels and followed in Liz’s footsteps, running up the stairs to the apartment and down the hall to Liz’s room. The door was shut and she shook the handle, not surprised to find it locked.

“Liz,” she called through the door. “Liz it’s me. Open up.”

“Go away Maria,” came her muffled response.

“Please Liz, talk to me. Tell me what happened,” Maria implored through the door.

“Maria, please. Just go away.” She buried her face in her pillow, pulling it close to her to drown out the sound of her crying, and after a few minutes she could hear Maria’s retreating footsteps. She curled into a tight ball, trying to forget, but the nightmares wouldn’t leave her alone . . .

“Love me Max,” her blue eyes stared up into his as she lifted her hand to his cheek. The lightning flashed and illuminated his face before the shadows fell again. A face that was tormented, full of anguish and pain. A face that looked lost and alone.

“I can’t,” he answered as he gently cupped her hand and drew it away from his cheek. “I’m sorry.”

“Max, we belong together. You know we do,” she said squeezing his hand.

“I’m not in love with you, Tess. I’m sorry, but I’m not. Maybe I did before, in that other life, but that wasn’t me.” The lightning flared again, the sudden light dancing around the cavernous room, followed by the rumble of thunder.

“It can be, if you let it. Let go of her Max. Let me love you the way you were meant to be loved. I can make you forget all about her.”

“I don’t want to forget her. I’m sorry Tess, but I’ve always been in love with her . . . and I always will be. Nothing can change that.” He took a step back from her and turned away from the hurt in her eyes. “We should go . . .”

“Max!” He stopped, with his back to her, frozen in place. “I won’t let you leave . . .”

The thunder roared overhead as she sat on her suitcase waiting for Maria to arrive. A drop of rain hit her on the cheek and she pulled out her cell phone from her coat pocket. She dialed the familiar numbers and listened to the phone ring and ring as another bolt of lightning flashed above her.

“Come on Maria,” she pleaded softly. Another drop hit her dark lashes and her deep brown eyes turned skyward. A hand took the phone from her and she looked up into his ominous visage, his ghostly presence sending a chill through her. Her breath caught in her throat as he opened his mouth and he echoed the familiar refrain . . .

“Wake him up, Liz. Wake him up. Before it’s too late . . .”

Liz came awake with a start, elements of the dream still clear in her mind. Once again Alex was trying to tell her something, something she should know if she could just think clearly. Why was he repeating the words ‘Wake him up’ over and over? And what did ‘Before it’s too late’ mean? It was already too late. Alex was dead. What ever he was trying to tell her, it was too late to save him. It didn’t make any sense, unless . . . unless Alex wasn’t referring to himself. But who did he mean? Max? Michael? Kyle? Kyle had been mindwarpped by Tess, but he seemed to be recovering from that, and not in any danger.

The other part of her dream made her shudder. Why would she dream that? Wasn’t it torture enough to live with the knowledge that Max had made love to Tess, and to see it in the flashes that he gave her? Did she have to dream about it now too? Of course in her dream, Max had turned Tess down. If only it had really been that way. If only his dream words had been true. She could hear them, still ringing clearly in her head . . .

‘I’m sorry Tess, but I’ve always been in love with her . . . and I always will be. Nothing can change that.’

She closed her eyes and listened to the silence around her. The dream had been filled with sounds, a cacophony of noise ringing in her ears. Just like the night she had nearly left Roswell to fly to Sweden. The storm had raged throughout the night and the rain had drilled against her rooftop once Maria had brought her home. She sat up in bed suddenly as she stared up at her ceiling. The storm . . .

Images flashed across her mind, pictures that suddenly weren’t making any sense. She tossed the pillow aside and ran from her room, hoping Maria was downstairs.

* * * * *

Liz burst into the Crashdown and was relieved to see Maria hadn’t left yet. She was standing by the pass through into the kitchen talking to Michael as he flipped burgers on the grill and she moved across the room quickly to join them.

“Liz!” Maria exclaimed, taking in her disheveled appearance and her wild looking eyes. “What’s the matter?”

“Maria, do you know which night Max slept with Tess?” she said as she grabbed her by the arms.

“What? No. Liz, what’s going on?”

“Maria, I have to know!”

Maria stared at her friend like she had lost her mind. Why was she trying to torture herself this way? No good could come of Liz hearing the awful details. Wasn’t it bad enough what Max had shown her? Had she finally cracked under all the strain of these last few weeks?

“Michael,” Liz turned to him when she got no response except a sympathetic stare from Maria. “Do you know? Was it the night I almost went to Sweden?”

“I don’t know,” he frowned at her. What was her problem? What difference did it make?

“Michael, God Damnit, I have to know!” she said latching onto his arm as he neared the opening between the café and the kitchen.

“What the fu-” he said pulling his arm away from her claw like grip. “I told you I don’t know. He first told me about it a couple of days after that, so yeah, maybe. It might have been that night. Why? What the hell difference does it make?”

“Have you noticed anything unusual about him?” She asked looking back and forth between Michael and Maria. “Anything? Have you seen him staring off into space like he’s in a trance?” They both shook their heads and stared at her like she was crazy. And maybe she was. Maybe she was completely wrong. Maybe she was just reading things into it that weren’t really there. She started to slump dispiritedly and then Maria drew her attention back to her.

“Yesterday, after you went upstairs, I kinda got mad at Max-”

“Kinda,” Michael mumbled under his breath, rolling his eyes at the understatement. Who was she trying to kid? She had gone off on Max.

She glared at him and then continued. “Anyway, I yelled at him and he was acting like his head hurt and his hand was shaking really bad, like he couldn’t control it. And then he just left. You know, he looked pretty out of it when he left here earlier too-”

“Where’d he go?” Liz said almost desperately. When they didn’t respond, she repeated more forcefully, “Do you know where he went?”

“I don’t have any idea,” Maria answered and Michael shrugged his shoulders.

“We have to find him and we have to find him now, before it’s too late.”

“What are you taking about Liz?” Michael asked worriedly as he threw down his apron. “Before it’s too late for what?”

“Come on, let’s go in the back,” Maria urged. Liz’s strange behavior hadn’t gone unnoticed by the customers and a little more privacy seemed to be in order. They met Michael in the back room and they both turned to stare at Liz.

“So what the hell’s going on?” Michael demanded.

“Michael, will you call and see if Max is at home?” Liz asked. “If he is, figure out a way to make sure he stays there. Don’t let him leave.”

Michael stared at Liz, tempted to demand a further explanation and then decided not to waste time arguing with her. She could be so damn stubborn, and he knew he wasn’t going to get the story out of her until she was damn well ready to tell him. Her instincts had been right in the past and as much as she got under his skin sometimes, she always seemed to put their wants and needs above her own. He had grudgingly come to consider her a true friend. He took the phone that Liz was holding out to him and he made the call. Isabel answered on the second ring.

“Hey, it’s me,” Michael said without elaboration. “Is Max there?”

“Yeah, just a minut-”

“No, I don’t want to talk to him,” he interrupted her. “What’s he doing?”

“Well, he’s kinda zombied out, sitting at the kitchen table. He’s just been sitting there since he got home awhile ago. It’s that whole Liz thing, you know? He’s been-”

“Whatever,” Michael interrupted. “You said zombied out. What do you mean by that?” He met Liz’s gaze and he could see her worried expression.

“Oh, he’s just been acting weird since he got home. Did something happen between them today? He seems even more depressed than usual. I thought the trip would give them a chance to clear the air, but maybe I was wrong.” Isabel watched Max out of the corner of her eye and she noticed how he kept rubbing his forehead.

“Isabel, don’t let him leave. We’re coming right over there. Whatever you do, just keep him there,” he demanded.

“What’s going on, Michael?” she asked, starting to feel scared.

“I have no idea,” he said as he stared at Liz, “but we’ll tell you as soon as we get there.”

Isabel stared at the phone in her hand, wondering what the hell Michael was talking about. He wasn’t making any sense at all, but the message was clear. Don’t let Max leave. She hung up the phone and moved across the kitchen, taking a seat opposite her brother.

“Max,” she started, uncertain what to say. His eyes rose up from the spot he had been staring at in the center of the table and looked directly into hers. The emptiness she saw there frightened her even more than before. “Max, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he answered flatly. His voice had a hollowness to it, almost as if it was devoid of all emotion.

“Are you sure?” she asked, trying to draw him out, but he just sat there, staring at the keys he was fidgeting with in his hands. He shrugged his shoulders noncommittally and started to rise to his feet, and she decided to change the direction of the conversation to keep him at the table.

“Max, about the whole college thing, I understand why you won’t let me go to California. You were right. I can’t leave Roswell. We need to stick together.” She watched him as he sat back down and his eyes became more focused. “I just, you know, wish we hadn’t had such a big fight about it,” she continued. “I mean, you said some pretty harsh things, and I was really acting bitchy about the whole thing.”

“Harsh things?” he said frowning. “What harsh things?”

“You know, when you said you were going to tell Mom and Dad I was on drugs. And my teachers that I’d been cheating all through school.”

“When did I say that?” he asked with a scowl darkening his face.

“At school. A couple of weeks ago . . .” How could he forget that, she wondered? “So anyway, I just want you to know that I understand, and I’m sorry we fought about it. It’s just that, when you ordered me to stay, it just didn’t set right. But I thought about it, and I decided I can just go to the community college right here in Roswell, at least for the next two years. And then we can re-evaluate things then.”

Max tried to follow her, but most of what she was saying didn’t make any sense. What did she mean when she said he wouldn’t ‘let’ her go to college in California? She was talking about him like he was some kind of dictator or something, ordering her around like a power hungry despot. A stabbing pain shot through his head and he rose to his feet, swaying unsteadily as the pain intensified.

“I have to go,” he muttered and turned to walk out of the kitchen.

“Max? Where are you going?” Isabel chased after him as he walked toward the front door. “Max, come back here. You can’t just leave. We have to talk. Max! God damnit, are you listening to me?” she shouted and grabbed his arm to keep him from leaving. He yanked it free, and without a sideways glance at her, he marched out the door headed directly for the jeep. Isabel followed after him and continued to plead with him to stay, but he ignored her as he put the jeep in reverse and pulled out of the driveway.

* * * * *

Liz had a sinking feeling in her stomach as they rounded the corner and his house came into view, but the jeep wasn’t there. Isabel was pacing in the front yard, with her arms folded across her chest in obvious agitation. As the Jetta came into view she rushed to the driveway to meet them.

“Where is he?” Liz demanded as she jumped from the back seat. “Isabel, is he here?”

“No,” she said in distress. “He took off about ten minutes ago. I couldn’t stop him.”

“Why didn’t you use your powers to keep him here?” Michael shot back. “I told you not to let him leave.”

“What was I supposed to do Michael,” Isabel cried out. “Enclose him in a green force field right here, in front of the neighbors?”

“Do you know where he went?” Liz grabbed Isabel and shook her to get her attention. “We have to find him now, Isabel. There might not be much time.”

“What are you talking about?” she cried as she raked her hand through her hair. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“If we don’t get to him soon, the same thing that happened to Alex is going to happen to Max.”

“What?” three voices rang out at the same time. Three sets of eyes stared at her for an explanation, but there wasn’t time for that now.

“Where could he have gone? Think, you guys. Isabel, did he give you any idea where he was going?”

“No,” she said shaking her head in distress. “He didn’t say anything. He just had this dead look in his eyes and he left.”

“Let’s check Michael’s place,” Maria suggested. “Maybe he went there to get away from everyone. He knew Michael was working, so he’d have the place to himself.”

“Let’s hurry,” Liz shouted as they all ran for the car.

* * * * *

Liz rocked back and forth in agitation in the back seat of the Jetta as Michael drove quickly across town. She stared out the window at the passing houses and prayed that they would get to Max in time. Maybe she was wrong, maybe she’d look like an idiot once they found him, but she didn’t think so. The signs were all there. She just hadn’t put them together before.

“No answer,” Maria said and she put her cell phone back in her purse. “Either he’s not at Michael’s, or he’s just not answering the phone.”

“Or he can’t answer . . .” Liz said, voicing her fears.

“Okay, explain,” Michael demanded as he looked back at Liz in the rear view mirror of the car.

She turned to meet his eyes, and then looked from Isabel sitting next to her, to Maria sitting in front of her. They were all staring at her, waiting for answers. Answers she wasn’t sure she had. She opened her mouth to speak, and then didn’t know where to start.

“You think Tess did something to Max’s head, just like she did with Alex, don’t you,” Maria said voicing her growing fear. Liz met her gaze and slowly started to nod her head.

“Yes, I do.” She looked to Michael, seeing the question etched on his face, and then to Isabel, who’s eyes were wide with fright. “Have any of you noticed him kind of spacing out sometimes lately? Since Tess has been gone?” She saw the perplexed look on their faces and she continued on. “I saw it the first time in the hospital. I found him standing in front of the coffee machine like he was in a trance. His hand was hovering in the air and shaking and his eyes were all glazed over. I called his name, but he didn’t respond, not until I touched him, and then he came out of it.”

“My Mom said that she found Max sitting in the jeep one morning before school,” Isabel said worriedly. “It was raining and he was drenched and she said she had to shake him to get his attention. She said it was really weird, but later on he seemed fine.”

“And I’ve seen his hand shaking,” Maria added, “but I just thought it was from all the stress he’s been under lately, you know, with Tess and everything.”

“Well, at the time, I kinda thought the same thing,” Liz admitted. “Because when I touched him, I got a flash of him with Tess. You know, Maria, the one I told you about. So I just thought he was thinking about her, and the baby, you know? And his mind was ‘off in another world’ so to speak. But then I kept getting the dreams.”

“What?” Michael blurted out. “You’re freaking out here based on some dream?”

“Michael,” Maria warned as she backhanded him across the arm. “Just hear her out.”

“Isabel,” Liz said turning to look at the girl beside her. “Do you know if the night Max spent with Tess was the same night that I almost went to Sweden?”

“I don’t know,” Isabel frowned. “Wait, I think it was. He came home the next morning all freaked out and told me something had happened between him and Tess, but I was so pissed at him I didn’t want to listen to him. Then later that day I heard about you almost flying out of the country in the dead of night, so yeah. It was the same night.”

“I was sure of it,” Liz sighed. “Maria, you know the image I told you I’ve been getting from Max when he touches me?”

“Yeah,” she answered. “The one of him and Tess waking up together the morning after they . . . well, the next morning?”

“Yes,” Liz nodded. “I think he’s been sending me that image on purpose.”

“No, Liz,” Maria said soothingly. “He even said he wasn’t. Yesterday, remember Michael?”

“Yea-” Michael started to say and Liz cut him off.

“No, I mean his subconscious mind is sending it to me. I think he’s been doing it for awhile, trying to make me see, trying to get me to figure out the truth. And that image that’s in his mind is not the truth.” Their eyes were drilling into her, waiting for her to explain further and Liz took a deep breath before continuing.

“Buried deep inside Max, he knows what really happened but it’s locked up in his head for some reason. Since his conscious mind can’t see it, his subconscious mind is sending it to me in a flash. Always the same image, one that was sure to get my attention. I think he knows that once I could get past the hurt, past the shock of seeing it and started looking at it from a logical standpoint, a scientific point of view if you will, that I’d see how the flash that he shows me couldn’t possible be real.”

“So you think somewhere deep inside, Max knows what really happened, and has been trying to get you to see that what he thinks happened couldn’t be true,” Maria said, trying to sort it out in her mind. “But why do you think it’s something he’s sending you on purpose, and not just some random occurrence rooted in his guilt?”

“For one thing,” Liz answered trying to make them understand, “it’s not random. He is specifically sending me that image. Every time. And let’s face it, if everything Max thinks happened, really did, then we all know he could be sending me flashes of things a whole lot worse than just waking up with her the next morning. But the point is, there is a very specific clue in the flash that he sends me, only I didn’t put it together until I started getting the dreams.”

“Dreams?” Michael said dismissively. “How can you pin anything onto a dream?”

“Well, I don’t think they’re just dreams, Michael.”

“If they aren’t dreams,” Isabel jumped in, “what are they?”

“I think the flashes weren’t the only thing Max sent me,” Liz said as she looked at each of her friends in turn. “I think he sent me part of his memories too. His real memories.”

posted on 14-Sep-2001 7:05:37 PM
Dying Embers

Part 13

Michael came to a screeching stop in front of his apartment and they piled out of the car, following behind him as he ran to his door. He used his powers on the lock and they burst into his home, spreading out to check all the rooms.

“He’s not here,” Isabel said with a panicky tone as they met back in the living room.

“Where could he be?” Liz asked shakily. She had a sinking feeling that something bad was going to happen if they didn’t find him soon. Why had it taken her so long to figure out something was wrong?

“He’s not at home and he’s not at the Crashdown,” Maria listed the places Max could usually be found. “What does that leave? The UFO Center?”

“Liz’s bedroom,” Michael offered. She turned to stare at him and he added, “Look, we all know how much time he spends hanging out on your balcony. You can see the permanent imprint of his butt on the floor outside your bedroom window.”

“Michael-” Liz began and then Isabel interrupted.

“Maybe he did go to see you Liz. You were already headed to our house when he left, so maybe you just missed each other. We should at least go look. Michael and Maria can check out the UFO Center and you and I can see if he went back to the Crashdown. We all know he can’t stay away from there.”

They all nodded in agreement and hurriedly left Michael’s apartment. Liz had a horrible feeling that time was running out, and if they didn’t find him soon, they’d never see Max alive again.

* * * * *

Liz flung the door to her bedroom open and her eyes swept around the room. It was empty, just as she had suspected it would be. She raced to her window and peered outside, but he wasn’t on her balcony either. “He’s not here, Isabel.”

“Damnit,” Isabel cursed in frustration. They hadn’t seen his jeep at the UFO Center and they doubted he was there either, but Maria and Michael were checking. “Where in the world could he be?”

“Wait,” Liz interrupted. She lifted her window and climbed out onto her balcony with Isabel following behind her. Something had caught her attention, something that looked out of place. She crossed over to the small table next to her favorite chair and stared down at the object that hadn’t been there earlier. “Max was here.”

Isabel came up to stand beside her and they both stared down at the pendant that was resting in the middle of the table. Max had given it to Liz the night before he was going to leave, to go back to his home planet with Tess. He wanted her to have something to remember him by. But the pendant he had given her had been in its original condition, with the piece missing from the bottom. She had been keeping it on the nightstand next to her bed.

The pendant that they were staring at now didn’t have the jagged edge along the bottom. It was whole and Liz bent down to pick it up. She held it on the palm of her hand and her finger traced along the lower edge. “He fixed it. He put the two parts together and made it whole. You can’t even tell where it was broken.”

“Why would he do that now?” Isabel asked. “He gave it to you without the bottom piece, so why come over here to fix it now? The things he’s been doing just don’t make sense.”

“Maybe he left it here as a clue,” Liz suggested.

“But what kind of clue? What do you think he meant by it?”

“Oh God, Isabel,” Liz turned to her with frightened eyes. “Max gave me this just before he left to go to the Granilith chamber, when he thought he was leaving and we’d never see each other again. What if he went back out there all alone? We don’t have any idea what’s out there now, or who might be out there. No one’s been there since that day. What if it’s dangerous out there? He’s all alone Isabel!”

“God, let’s hurry,” Isabel said turning back toward the window. “We’ll go get Mari-”

“Wait!” Liz said grabbing Isabel by the arm. “It’s so far out there. What if he’s in trouble right now? Try to do that mind walk, Isabel. Try to reach him with your mind to see where he is.”

Isabel stared at Liz uncertainly, and then took the pendant out of her hand. She sat down in a nearby chair and Liz sat next to her, watching her as she held the pendant tightly and closed her eyes in concentration. Liz could see the strain on her face and her hands were shaking with the effort. “Nothing!” Isabel hissed in frustration. “I don’t feel him at all.”

“Try again,” Liz pleaded. She could hear the clock ticking in the background and it reminded her of how little time they might have left.

“You try it Liz,” Isabel said shoving the pendant into Liz’s hand.

“Me?” Liz said in shock.

“Yes! Like you did when Max was in New York. You saved his life that day. He’s sensitive to you Liz. He’ll hear you above anyone else.”

Would he really, Liz stared at Isabel with growing reservations. After all that had happened between them, were they still connected anymore? Why was Isabel looking at her like that, as if she had all the answers? She didn’t know anything! “Isabel, there’s too much at stake for me to start playing with this . . . this power that Max gave me. What if I just make things worse for him?’”

“As if things could get any worse!” Isabel admonished. “Liz, you know it’s the truth, so don’t deny it. You and Max are bound together. You’re the one that can get through to him. You have to at least try.”

“Okay,” Liz finally acquiesced. She looked at Isabel uncertainly, and then closed her eyes and clutched the pendant tightly in her hand.

Isabel watched the concentration on Liz’s face and the way her hand was holding the pendant so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. She clutched Liz’s other hand letting her draw whatever strength from her that she needed.

Liz tried to relax her breathing while she concentrated on trying to reach Max. Where could he have gone? What was he doing? If she were right in her suspicions, how much longer did they have before it would be too late to save him? An imagine flashed over her, a memory, but not her memory . . .

Max slowly opened his dresser and looked at the assortment of socks and shorts and t-shirts in his drawer. What should he take? What was it going to be like there? What were the people going to be like? Could he even call them people? He had no idea what the inhabitants of his home world actually looked like. Last year, in the message they’d seen in the cave, the image of his real Mother had implied that they didn’t look human. She’d said she had “taken ‘this form’ so that it would be familiar to them”, so it was obvious by what she said that she meant their native state was not human in appearance. He didn’t like the sound of that.

He wondered what was real because in the memories Tess had shown him of their previous life together, they had both looked human. The party that they met at, the people that were there, all of it seemed so . . . human. Why was it that in all the memory retrieval Tess had shared with him, he never saw even an inkling of what his alien self really looked like?

He reluctantly picked up a handful of socks and turned to take them back to his bed. How could he give up his life here, he wondered as he dropped the socks onto his bed? How could he have screwed up so badly? A year ago, he knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted Liz. That was still what he wanted, but that was never gonna happen. He’d lost her, and he was inextricably tied to Tess now. God, his life had completely fallen apart. Everything he’d ever dreamed of was gone.

He opened his backpack and began the task of loading it with the various things he wanted to take with him. As he picked up a bundle of socks an object fell to the bed. He stared at it for a moment and then dropped everything else. He picked up the pendant and let it drape over his palm, touching it reverently with the tip of his finger. This was one of the first objects symbolizing his home planet that they had ever found. Liz had been there that day in Atherton’s home when Isabel found it, just another one of the times that Liz had laid herself on the line for him, expecting nothing in return.

He clutched the pendant in his hand and a thought occurred to him. He returned to his dresser and searched through his top dresser drawer until he found what he was looking for. A bittersweet smile crossed his face when his hand closed over it and he brought out the bottom half of the pendant, the piece Eddie had returned to Liz. He held the pendant in one hand and the broken fragment in the other and a decision formulated in his mind. He would give the pendant to Liz in hopes that maybe she would think about him, now and then. He would keep the broken fragment, to keep alive the dream that someday, maybe, they could find their way back to each other and reunite the two parts and make them whole again. He slipped the pendant into his pocket and finished the task of choosing which beloved possessions he would take with him, and which he would be forced to leave behind. His picture of Liz, in an intricate silver frame, was one of the first things he packed.

The vision flashed over Liz quickly, and with it all the thoughts and emotions that Max had felt. Confusion, regret, pain, and an overriding sense of loneliness. He was giving up everything that mattered to him the most, because he had a duty to fulfill, an obligation that he had no one to blame for but himself. He was going to a place he didn’t want to go, with someone he didn’t want to go with, but for him there was no choice. He had to live with what he had done.

“Liz?” Isabel said in apprehension as she watched the changing emotions on Liz’s face.

The vision changed to the familiar patio outside her bedroom window. Max stood next to her favorite chair and he stared down at the object in his hand and then reached into his pocket to retrieve the bottom portion. He held the two pieces together and a soft light glowed as they mended together, forming one solid piece, flawlessly repaired.

He put the pendant down on the table where he knew she would find it. It was his parting gift to her. The flash that he had inflicted on her earlier had sealed their fate and he knew they could never go back to what they had once had. He had hurt her too many times for the words ‘I’m sorry’ to have any meaning anymore. It was time to let her go, and let her find the life that she deserved.

He wandered around her rooftop, touching the various ornaments that decorated the comfortable space that she had created here. She loved the candles and the lights that glowed here, giving it such a warm and welcoming feel. He would miss coming here to see her. He would miss that tremble inside he always felt when he climbed up her balcony, in anticipation of seeing her or the rumble he would get in his stomach and the weakness he would feel in his knees when he looked through her window and her eyes would meet his.

He wasn’t sure how he could survive without her, but he had to let her go, no matter how much it killed him inside. He needed to let her go, for her sake, so that she could be free to live her life, and find someone who would treat her right, the way she deserved to be treated. He’d caused her so much heartache and so much pain, maybe someone out there could make her dreams come true and give her a happy life.

He paused in front of her window, the window he’d sat at so many times, talking to her late into the night sometimes, baring his hopes and his fears . . . and his soul. He rested his forehead against the frame of the window and looked into her room. This place felt more like home to him than his own house, and he knew the reason why. He’d always known it. Ever since the first time he laid eyes on her. She was the one for him, and where ever she was, that’s where he belonged. But he’d ruined everything and now he was never going to have that life. He was never going to have her.

His vision blurred and a tear spilled down his cheek as he came to terms with the choices he had made, and how those choices had brought them to this point. Even when he had been ready to leave Earth, to go back to his home world with Tess in order that his son could live, a part of him had still been holding on to the dream that he could come back and make things right with Liz. He would never be able to love anyone else the way he loved her. Not even close. She meant everything to him.

He had told her that once, and it was still true today. Liz was his everything and that’s why he had to let her go. He loved her too much to keep hurting her this way. It wasn’t fair to make her suffer because of his mistakes. He turned from her room and through his tears he blindly made his way to the ladder. His hand closed over the railing and he paused, feeling his resolve start to crumble. The thought of never touching her, never kissing her, never seeing her again was tearing him apart inside, but he had to do this for her. She’d told him once that if he really loved her, he would let her go. He closed his eyes and silently said a final goodbye, and then climbed over the wall and descended to the street below.

Liz trembled as the vision swept over her and she was drowning in his emotions. He’d given up all hope. She felt Isabel clutch her hand even tighter and she forced herself to concentrate, the way she had that night when Max had been in New York. The vision faded and she felt herself floating, being drawn across space, her mind reaching out trying to find him.

Liz stumbled along the pebbly surface of the Vasquez Rocks, feeling the heat beating down on her. The air was heavy and silent, with nary a breeze nor a sound to break the stillness. It was an oppressive feeling and a sense of doom hovered around her, threatening to suffocate her. She turned in a circle, searching for him and seeing nothing but the desert stretching into the distance around her. Her eyes were drawn to the cliffs and her sense of foreboding grew dramatically.

She raced up the sparsely traveled cliffside with her heart hammering in her chest, praying that she had gotten here in time. As she neared the entrance to the cavern she paused, staring at the opening in the rock face. It should have been closed, sealed off from prying eyes. Was it open because strangers had found this place? Had the FBI or whatever secret government organization tracked these things been alerted by the events that had happened here? Was this a trap just waiting for its victim to walk inside?

An unease feeling settled over her and she looked closely at her surroundings. The damage to the cliff face that she had seen on that fateful day was no longer evident. They had run for cover as the Granilith prepared for takeoff and they had seen the cliff crumble and disintegrate. To look at it now, it appeared whole and undamaged.

With trepidation, Liz stepped through the entrance into the pod chamber and let her eyes adjust to the dim interior. The silence around her was deafening, a quiet so complete that Liz was certain nothing had survived here. The desert teamed with life, an abundance of creatures that had adapted to the heat and the dryness and thrived here, but not in this place. Not anymore. This was a place of the dead.

She stepped further into the chamber and the pods came into view. They had collapsed in on themselves, the result of some violent upheaval, but they hadn’t been destroyed. She had been certain that everything would have been annihilated, wiped off the face of the earth that day after watching the destruction left in the wake of the Granilith leaving, but it hadn’t been. The chamber still existed. What else lay inside these walls?

She moved past the pods and deeper into the chamber. The sound of her footfalls was the only noise that penetrated the silence and tracked her movements as she made her way to the chamber that housed the Granilith. She hesitated as she drew near the opening. Through the entryway she could see the room was filled with light. What could that mean? Why would that room, hidden deep within the walls of this cavern, be illuminated that way?

Liz stepped forward and through the doorway, scared for what she might see, but unable to turn away. Where the Granilith had once stood the space was now empty, with nothing to show of the powerful machine that had once stood here. The entire room was barren as her eyes swept from the left to the right and then her breath caught in her throat.

Up against the wall on her far right, lay the one sight that she was dreading she would see. There, sitting with his back to the wall and his legs stretched out at odd angles before him sat Max, with his head lolling to the side. She froze as she looked at him and then tentatively stepped towards him, calling out to him softly.

“Max? Max, can you hear me?” Liz gingerly walked closer to him and a sense of apprehension closed over her. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. He didn’t answer, couldn’t answer, and as she neared him his unseeing eyes left no doubt in her mind. A mournful sound tore from her throat as she knelt before him and cried, “Oh God, no. Oh Max . . . Nooooooo . . .”

posted on 14-Sep-2001 7:08:52 PM
Dying Embers

Part 14

Isabel moved from the chair and sat next to Liz on the bed, watching her as she tried to connect to Max. Liz had done it before, and saved her brother’s life. Could she do it again? Was their bond strong enough to let Liz reach out with her mind and connect to him so they could find out where he was? She heard a strangled cry come from deep in Liz’s throat and a chill went up Isabel’s spine.

“Nooooo,” Liz sobbed and her fingers dug into Isabel’s hand. “Oh my God . . . No. Wake up Max. Please . . . wake up . . .”

“Liz?” Isabel cried out in fear. “LIZ! Talk to me. Tell me what’s happening . . .”

Liz crouched in front of Max and she cupped his face between her hands, but she was only a projection and she had no physical presence. She couldn’t touch him or move him or influence him physically in any way. His eyes stared vacantly ahead of him, unseeing, unfocused and if it hadn’t been for the slow rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, she could have sworn he was dead.

“Max, can you hear me?” Liz tried to get through to him. “Max, please, you have to hear me. Wake up. Wake up Max. You have to come back to me.”

Could he hear her, she wondered? In New York, he hadn’t been able to hear what she said. How was she going to get through to him if he couldn’t hear her or feel her and it was obvious by the glazed look in his eyes that he couldn’t see her? There was nothing she could do to reach him and she was dreading that it might already be too late.

“Liz,” Isabel shouted and shook her shoulders.

Liz opened her eyes and looked around wildly before focusing on Isabel. “We have to go,” she cried out. “Now!” She bolted from the bed and ran from the room with Isabel hot on her heels.

“Liz! What is it? What did you see?” Isabel demanded as she ran to keep up.

Liz tore down the stairs and raced through the Crashdown, on her way to find Michael and Maria. She burst through the front doors of the café and she almost collided with Kyle who was headed inside.

“Liz? Liz! What’s wrong now?” Kyle shouted as she ran past him. He watched her dart through traffic, headed toward the UFO Center and his eyebrows knitted together in a frown. She must be headed over to see Max the Moron. What kind of trouble had he gotten himself into this time? Had he locked himself in the john and couldn’t figure out how to get out? Maybe the toilet was overflowing and the bathroom was filling up with water and he was going to drown and wow, a guy could always hope. Isabel raced past him, chasing after Liz and his frown deepened. What the fuck was going on?

“Maria! Michael!” Liz called out, ignoring the tourists that turned to stare at her. Maria poked her head around a corner and Liz ran to her, relieved to see that Michael was with her. “We have to leave now. I know where Max is, and he’s in trouble. Come on! We have to hurry.”

“Where?” Michael demanded. Liz had turned around and was headed toward the exit at a fast clip and they followed her quickly. “Where are we going?” Michael demanded as they ran through the doors to the outside and headed for the Jetta.

“Keys!” Liz shouted as she wrenched open the driver’s door. “We’re going to the pod chamber.” Michael looked at her in surprise and then reached into his pocket. He tossed her the keys and she caught them cleanly in mid air and climbed behind the steering wheel. Michael, Maria and Isabel piled into the car and Liz gunned the engine before putting it in gear and flooring it. The tires spun, shooting loose gravel out behind the wheels and then amidst the squeal of rubber on the pavement, they shot into traffic on their way out of Roswell.

Kyle stared at the four of them like they had all gone crazy, and maybe they had. This last year had been totally insane, and like it or not, he was smack in the middle of all the bullshit. He had been ever since Max healed a bullet hole in his chest and made him a part of the ‘I know an alien club’, and there was no way to pretend that he wasn’t. He ran for his car and chased after the Jetta with a sense of alarm and apprehension, and knowing that if it involved aliens, it probably wasn’t going to be good.

* * * * *

Liz concentrated on the road in front of her and tried not to give in to her fears about Max. What if she’d realized too late that he was in trouble? What if his mind had been so damaged, just like Alex, that there was no saving him? It had destroyed her to lose Alex, but if she were to lose Max . . . dear God, how could she live if that happened? If Max died, how could she go on? He had entrusted her to find the truth, given her his thoughts and his memories so that she could save him. What if his faith in her wasn’t warranted? What if she’d figured it out, only too late to save his life?

“Liz,” Isabel said breaking the silence in the car. “You still haven’t told us what you think Tess did to Max. What did you see in the vision Max gave you that made you think he and Tess didn’t really, you know . . . sleep together that night?”

Liz turned to look at the girl beside her in the front passenger seat and shook her head slightly. “That’s not what I said, Isabel.” She turned back to concentrate on the road and then continued. “I don’t know what happened between Max and Tess. Maybe he did sleep with her. Maybe he did get her pregnant. I just don’t know. All I do know is that whatever happened, didn’t happen the way he remembers.”

“You mean you think Tess was mindwarping Max?” Maria asked.

“Mindwarping him, manipulating him, I don’t know what she did, but I think she’d been trying to control him ever since she first came to Roswell,” Liz said with a certainty. “She had an agenda right from the beginning.”

“You never did trust her, Liz,” Isabel said. “You were right all along.”

Liz glanced at Isabel again, but her words held no consolation. Yes, she’d been proven right, that Tess was untrustworthy. But what difference did it make to be proven right, if Max ended up paying the ultimate price?

“Last year, after Tess came to town, Max told me that he thought she was doing something to him,” Michael said from the back seat with his arm around Maria. “She was making him see things that made him uncomfortable, and that night that he kissed her in the rain outside the Crashdown, the night you saw him Liz, he told me that it was like he had no control over it. He said it was like his mind was shouting no, but his body wasn’t doing what he told it to. But then so many things started happening.”

“You’re right, Michael,” Isabel nodded in agreement. “Max got captured by the FBI, and then when we finally got him out of that awful place we heard that message from our mother that shocked us all, and then things just kept snowballing. One thing after another, Whittaker and Nicholas and the rest of the skins and then our duplicates showing up and throughout it all, Tess had backed off and pretended to be just one of us, waiting for the right time to sink her claws into Max. How could we all have been so blind?”

“We can’t worry about who is to blame,” Liz interjected. “I pushed Max away from me at a time when he needed me the most. Isabel, you stopped supporting him and Michael constantly fought against him. It’s no wonder he felt all alone and fell victim to her. There’s blame enough to go around for us all.”

“No,” Maria said from the safety of Michael’s arms. “Let’s put the blame right where it belongs. Tess did this. She manipulated Max from the moment she came to town, making him see things and trying to convince him that he belonged with her. When that didn’t work, she backed off and pretended she was okay with just being one of the group. The whole time she was working in the background, driving a wedge between us all, isolating him from the rest of us. Some of the things he said, and the way he acted, it just wasn’t Max. We should have seen it, but we didn’t, and I think we can blame her for that too. Max wasn’t the only one she was manipulating. She admitted she killed Alex, and we know she mindwarped Kyle too because he helped her removed Alex’s body from the house and he thought it was just luggage. That bitch was just bad news from the moment she arrived in town.”

“How did you figure it out, Liz?” Isabel asked. “None of us saw anything wrong with Max, other than his crappy behavior lately. How do you know Tess did this to him?”

“It has to do with the vision that Max kept sending me, the one of him and Tess in the observatory,” Liz said as she drove deeper into the desert. “That night, while I was waiting for Maria to pick me up at the airport after I found out Alex had never gone to Sweden, a storm was rolling in. By the time we got home it was pouring down rain and it had developed into a huge thunder and lightning storm. It rained all night long and didn’t stop until the next morning. Normally the observatory would be open to the public at night for stargazing, and sometimes they don’t close until the wee hours of the morning, but with a storm like that, the observatory was closed for the night. There’s nothing to see when the sky is covered in clouds.”

“When I first started getting the vision from Max I didn’t want to think about what they did there, and why he’d do it in a place like that. It didn’t seem like something Max would do, but a lot things he’d done lately seemed, well, not Max. I tried to block it out but I kept seeing it over and over, nearly every time Max touched me. I couldn’t escape it. But still, I didn’t put the two together until I started getting the dreams. Alex kept coming to me telling me to ‘Wake him up’ and-”

“Alex came to you, in your dreams?” Isabel said with a tremor in her voice.

“Yes,” Liz said and covered her friend’s hand with her own. “My subconscious mind used his image to make the correlation between what happened to him and what was going to happen to Max if I didn’t stop it in time. The last dream I got wasn’t really a dream at all. I think it was Max’s memory of what really happened that night, or at least part of it. They were in the observatory, late at night, and it was storming out. Lightning kept illumination the inside of the building and thunder roared overhead, just like the night I was going to leave to go to Sweden. Tess wanted Max to make love to her, but he said no. She tried to convince him that they belonged together and she could make him forget all about me, and he turned her down. When he tried to leave, she stopped him. She said she wouldn’t let him go. I don’t know what happened next, but whatever it was, it wasn’t his choice. Maybe she mindwarped him into just thinking they had made love that night, or maybe she mindraped him and forced him to do it. I don’t know.”

“So Max subconsciously sent you his memories, so that you would know what really happened,” Maria said, amazed at the idea that Max could do that. “When?” she asked mystified. “When could he have done that?”

Liz looked in the rearview mirror and met Maria’s questioning gaze. “The night before they were going to leave, when Max and I returned from Las Cruces, he gave me the pendant to remember him by and then he kissed me goodbye. I think he did it then. It was the first time we had kissed in, well, months and when he did I felt something pass between us, but at the time I was in so much pain that I didn’t let myself question what it was.”

“So how did you put it all together, Liz?” Michael asked. He covered Maria’s hand with his, glad that they had never gone through anything like this.

“It was the flash that Max kept giving me,” Liz as she slowed the car and they left the freeway, traveling on the dirt road that would take them to the pod chamber. “That flash is what Max remembers happening, but it couldn’t have. In his flash, he wakes up on the floor of the observatory, and Tess is curled up next to him. When he turns his head to look at her, I can see all around the room. It was a bright and sunny morning, just like it really was that day. The storm passed through just after dawn and left beautiful skies in its wake. But in the flash that Max gives me, the roof of the observatory is wide open and the telescope is pointing at the sky. If they had spent the night there with the roof open all night long, with the amount of rain that fell that night they would have been flooded out of the place. I think the whole thing was staged. Tess did something to his mind that night and maybe to his body too, and then she arranged it to look like they had had an intimate encounter.”

“Are you sure about this Liz?” Michael frowned, wondering if she was just trying to find any plausible reason to believe Max wouldn’t have done that willingly.

“Michael,” Liz said looking back at him in the rearview mirror. “Do you really think Max had an hour long orgasm?”

“Good point,” Michael capitulated and looked knowingly at Maria.

“Somebody’s following us,” Liz said suddenly and they could all hear the tension in her voice.

“How do you know?” Michael said on edge but unable to see anything through the dust billowing behind the car.

“I can see another dust cloud behind us,” she said looking at the side mirror.

“Stop the car,” Michael demanded. Liz hit the break hard and Michael jumped out before it even came to a stop. “Now GO!”

“Michael NO!” Maria cried out as Liz hit the gas and the car picked up speed again. “Michael, come back here!” she shouted but his figure was already obscured by the dust the tires kicked into the air. “Liz, let me out!”

“No, you stay with us,” Isabel insisted. “Michael knows what he’s doing.”

“Damn you Michael,” Maria whispered as she looked out the back window. “If you get yourself killed I’m never speaking to you again!”

* * * * *

Kyle hung back from the Jetta so they wouldn’t see him, but he wasn’t worried about losing them. He knew where they were going. As soon as they had headed out on this stretch of highway, he knew. They were going to the pod chamber.

Liz was driving like a crazy person, way too fast for this terrain. It must have something to do with Max, Kyle lamented. He made her act crazy, putting herself on the line for him all the time. Even with the way he’d ripped her heart out and stomped all over it, she still couldn’t let him go. What was it about him that bewitched her so?

God damn Max Evans, Kyle allowed himself to wallow in his dislike for the guy. He’d stolen Liz from him and then once he had her he didn’t want her anymore. He’d taken that whole ‘step back’ thing last year and broken her heart for the first time. He should have wrung his neck right then and there, and then he could have prevented all this misery. But he hadn’t and then they got back together, just in time for Tess to come along and tear Liz’s heart out again. It just wasn’t right what Liz had suffered because of Max.

He’d felt a sense of satisfaction when he’d seen the look on Evans face outside of Liz’s window that night, when they were laying in her bed together. He’d been more than happy to pretend, to make it look like they were lovers, but then he’d felt guilty afterwards, but not because of Evans. He’d felt guilty because it was obvious how devastated Liz was by what had happened.

Kyle knew he shouldn’t harbor this resentment of Max Evans, after all, the guy had saved his life. Of course, it was because of Evans he got shot in the first place. Jesus. Why hadn’t Max just flown home with that lying little whore of his and made everyone happy? Well, not everyone. Kivar would have killed Max’s scrawny little ass, and that would have made Kyle happy-

Kyle’s rambling thoughts were interrupted when something slammed into the front of his car and he came to an abrupt halt. He lurched forward and the air bag went off, billowing all around him. His door was wrenched open and he felt a hand grab him around his upper arm and yank him from the car.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing here?” Michael shouted into Kyle’s face. He’d used a bolt of energy to stop Kyle’s car and the entire front end had been smashed in.

The sound of water hitting hot metal filled the air and steam hung around then. Kyle jerked his arm free and stared at the front of his car. “What the fuck did you do?” he hissed in disbelief. The world wasn’t safe with these fucking aliens in it. “Jesus Christ, man! You wrecked my fucking car!”

“What the hell are you doing out here?” Michael demanded.

“I was following you, ya dipshit. I saw Liz in town and knew she was upset so I followed you guys to make sure she and Maria don’t suffer any more crap because of you three . . . Royal Rejects. Just what the hell is going on?”

“Liz thinks Max is dying, just like Alex did,” Michael said in a softer voice and released Kyle’s arm.

“Oh shit,” Kyle said, feeling himself sucked once again into the alien abyss. Damn that Max Evans.

posted on 14-Sep-2001 7:11:55 PM
Dying Embers

Part 15

The back of the Jetta fishtailed as Liz slammed on the breaks and the three girls flew out of the car. They raced up the cliffside and Liz was the first to rush inside, past the collapsed pods to the entryway into the Granilith chamber. Everything appeared just like the vision she’d had when she’d tried to reach Max back in her room. She turned her head to the right and there he was, just like she’d seen him before. His back was to the wall and he was sitting on the ground. His dark green t-shirt was hiked up in the back, as if he had slid down the wall as he sank to the floor. One hand rested palm up in his lap and the other hand lay on the ground at his side. One denim clad leg jutted out in front of him and the other was bent awkwardly at the knee. His head tilted to the side and his open eyes stared vacantly at nothing.

“Max!” she shouted and tore across the room. “Oh my God, Max!” She fell to her knees in front of him and cupped his face with her hands. “Max, can you hear me? Max! Wake up, Max. Please, you have to wake up.” His empty eyes stared in front of him and it was obvious that he was not aware of anything happening around him.

“Max, please talk to me,” Liz begged. His unfocused eyes couldn’t see her and a sob caught in her throat. Her fingers stroked through his hair and then she pulled him close to her, cradling his head against her breast and she cried softly into his ear, “I love you, Max. Please don’t leave me.”

“Liz, let me see him,” Isabel pleaded. She was sitting on the hard floor on the other side of her brother, and Liz gently released him. It was obvious by looking at the emptiness in his eyes that something terrible had happened to him. She shuddered as a horrifying question invaded her mind. Was there even a ‘Max’ left inside him to try to save? Isabel placed her hands on either side of his temples and tried the only thing she knew how to do.

Her hands hovered at his temples and she tried to heal him, but this was a power that wasn’t her forte. Max was the healer, not her, but he couldn’t heal himself. Not this time. She concentrated hard, but to no avail. His breathing was becoming erratic and she was afraid she could feel him slipping away. “I’m not good at this!” Isabel shouted in frustration.

“Isabel, we need something more powerful,” Liz cried. “This isn’t working!”

“Oh shit,” Kyle mumbled from the doorway as he stepped into the chamber. Liz turned to look at him with tears streaming down her face and he felt his resentment for Max crumbling. This girlfriend stealing, heart breaking, son of a bitch alien had created havoc all around him, but Kyle didn’t want him to die. He didn’t understand why, but Liz wanted Max, and needed him, and God help her, she loved him. Just like Maria loved that dipshit Michael.

“It’s not working Michael,” Liz called out to him. He was hovering in the doorway right behind Kyle and he didn’t know what to do. His healing skills were almost non-existent. There was nothing he could do to bring Max back to the world of the living.

He watched Liz rise to her feet and make her way to him, her eyes never leaving his face. She came to a stop before him and he almost cowered under the onslaught of her gaze. She was one mighty presence to deal with when she was upset. “Where are they Michael? The healing stones.”

Michael looked beyond her to Max, sensing that Isabel was having no luck trying to heal him. He focused again on Liz and said, “You want to try to use-”

“We need them now if we’re ever going to bring Max back,” Liz interrupted him. There wasn’t time for small talk or idle chatter. Didn’t he understand that?

He stared at her and it didn’t take him long to assess the situation. Max’s mind had gone someplace they couldn’t reach. The only way to bring him back was with the healing stones, and the power that they contained.

“Tell me where they are, Michael,” Liz demanded, leaving no room for discussion.

He glanced at Isabel once more, knowing that her efforts were futile and then he looked back at the small girl in front of him. By the look on her face, if he didn’t answer her soon, she was going to kick his ass. And she could probably do it too, even though she was five foot nothing and he was double her body weight, “I’ll go get ‘em,” he said and abruptly left the chamber.

“What the hell are healing stones?” Kyle asked. This shit just kept getting weirder and weirder.

“There’s no time to explain,” Liz said shaking her head. “Just believe me when I say that the stones are the only chance we have of saving Max.”

“Why do you do it Liz?” Kyle asked as she started to turn away. “After all that he’s done to you, why are you still here? Why are you still trying to save his ass?”

Liz stopped in her tracks and turned back to him. The answer was so obvious to her, did Kyle really need her to spell it out? It was irrevocable and undeniable. Her eyes held his steadily as she told him the plain and simple truth. “I love him Kyle.”

* * * * *

Liz knelt beside Max and sensed they were almost out of time. His body had been moved away from the wall by Michael and Kyle and he now lay stretched out on the floor with his eyes closed. She cupped his face between her hands and she had to blink back her tears to see his features. His skin had taken on a pale and waxy appearance, almost like a death mask already. His body trembled from some inner conflict and an unearthly sheen was covering his exposed skin.

“Liz,” Isabel said softly into her ear, “get up. We need to do this now.”

Liz nodded her understanding and she rose to her feet. She picked up the bag that Michael had retrieved from its hiding place in the outer chamber and she reached inside. The stones were warm to the touch and as she pulled one free it pulsated in her hand. The sensation was rhythmic and familiar and she soon realized what it was. The stones were pulsating in sync with Max’s heart rate.

Michael, Isabel, Maria and Kyle were standing in a circle around Max and she gave each one of them a stone. Michael and Isabel took theirs without question. Maria took hers and gave Liz a supportive look. They’d done this once before and saved Michael’s life. They could do it again. Liz moved to Kyle, who took his stone from her outstretched hand with some trepidation. He hadn’t joined this alien club willingly, and he was still coming to terms with all the crazy shit they expected out of him.

“Thank you Kyle,” Liz said quietly to him as she gave him the stone. “You’re energy is just as important as the rest of ours. Max changed us, and made us something more than we used to be. Embrace it Kyle. Don’t fight it. He gave us a gift. Now its time to return the favor.”

“I understand, Liz,” Kyle said so that only she could hear. “I’m not angry with him anymore. In fact, I envy him, but I’m not mad at him.”

“Why do you envy him?” she asked as they both looked down at his body lying in the chamber floor. She could see nothing enviable in the turn his life had taken this past year.

“I envy him because he has you,” Kyle answered. “I just hope that when this is over, the son of a bitch realizes what you’ve sacrificed for him. Is he really worth it Liz?”

“Yes, Kyle,” Liz answered without hesitation. “The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.

They stood in a circle around Max with the stones cupped in their hands. Liz stood at his feet and looked at the others. They were all staring at her, waiting for her to tell them what to do. How odd, she thought, that they would look to her to lead them through an alien ritual. Liz let her eyes sweep around them, first to Maria on her left and then to Michael who stood next to her. Isabel was directly across from him and Kyle looked uncomfortably out of place on Liz’s right.

She looked at each of them in turn and then she broke the silence. “Close your eyes and open your minds. Let your energy flow through the stones. Don’t think. Just feel.”

Kyle looked at the faces around him. They seemed so sure of what they were doing, even Maria. Her eyes were closed with her head bent forward and she looked so confident with what they were trying to do. And just what was that? What the hell were these stones supposed to do? It pulsed in his hand like a living thing and the warmth it emitted was unnatural. Or at least unnatural in Earthly terms. He jumped when he felt her hand touch his arm and he turned his eyes to look at Liz.

“It’s okay, Kyle,” she said soothingly. “Just relax. You can do this. Just open your mind . . .”

“Right,” Kyle said nervously. “Relax.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes and shut out everything except the feel of the stone in his hand.

The group stood around Max, three humans and two aliens, united in a common cause. Their eyes were closed and their heads were bowed forward with the stones cupped in their hands before them. The silence in the room was replaced by a low humming sound and the stones began to glow. Their normal amber color faded away and was replaced by a blue radiance. The energy from their bodies flowed through the stones and arched up into the air, taking on a physical form. Streaming blue tendrils rose from the stones and weaved through the air above Max, casting his face in a blue hue. One by one, the tendrils hovered over him and then dove at his face, penetrating his forehead.

As the tendril from Maria’s stone entered his brain, she got a flash . . .

Maria was in the park, playing with Liz and they were young, just girls no older than eight or nine. Max was cutting through the park on his way home with his hands in his front pockets. His eyes were glued to the ground in front of him until he heard the sound of her laughter. His pace faltered and he looked up, searching the park until he found her. Her laughter was musical and her smile was brighter than sunshine. He came to a stop behind a large oak tree and watched the two of them as they played. He wished he had the courage to walk up to them, to join in their fun, but instead he watched from his hiding place behind the tree.

“Someone’s watching you Liz,” Maria teased.

“What?” she said and looked up at her friend. “Who?”

“Who else?” Maria answered. “Max Evans, of course.”

Liz looked around quickly and when Maria pointed in his direction, she finally saw him. He was stooped over, tying his shoe, and she said, “He’s not looking at me-”and then the words froze on her lips when his eyes looked up and met hers. He looked away quickly and then hurried on his way, but Liz had seen the intensity in his gaze.

“You’re going to marry him someday,” Maria told her friend.

“I am not,” Liz denied hotly but she couldn’t take her eyes off him as he ran through the park and disappeared from view.

“Are too,” Maria insisted.

“Am not,” Liz said with less conviction as she thought about the look she’d seen in his eyes.

“Are too!” Maria smiled.

A series of flashes followed, moments from their lives. Lunches in the Crashdown and snacks after school. Classes they had shared together and then more recent events. Comforting Max when he found out Liz was going to Florida for the summer. Covering for Liz when she returned. The breakup. The funeral. The betrayal by Tess. All these things flashed from her mind to Max through the link.

Michael was in the midst of his own flash . . .

Max sat in the lunchroom next to his sister and opened his sack lunch. He pulled out the contents but he wasn’t paying attention to his food. He was staring at the new boy sitting all alone two tables over.

“Max, are you listening to me?” Isabel huffed. “Can you take your mind off Liz Parker for just one minute and listen to what I have to say?”

“What?” Max said turning to look at her. “What makes you think I was thinking about Liz?”

Isabel rolled her eyes and groaned. “You’re always thinking about that girl, that’s why!”

“No, Isabel, I was looking at that kid over there. The new guy. There’s something familiar about him.” He rose from the bench and Isabel grabbed his arm.

“What are you going to do?” she asked feeling scared.

“I’m gonna go talk to him,” Max said, certain it was the right thing to do.

“Max, be careful,” she cautioned. “It’s just you and me, remember?”

“Isabel,” Max said looking down at her. “I think he’s one of us.” She watched him as he moved across the lunchroom and stopped in front of the new boy.

“Hi,” Max said and the boy looked up at him from his sandwich. “My name’s Max. Max Evans.”

“What do you want?” he asked suspiciously.

“I was eating lunch with my sister, over there,” Max said pointing back at Isabel, “and I thought you might like to come over and eat with us.”

“Why would I want to do that?” he said with hostility.

“Because . . . because I think we have a lot in common,” Max said and touched the boy lightly on the shoulder. It was a simple gesture, a gesture of friendship, and with that touch came the knowledge that they were kindred souls, born from the same unearthly womb.

The hostility on the boy’s face was replaced by a look of shock and surprise. He wasn’t alone anymore. “I’m Michael. Michael Guerin.”

More images flashed before him, a series of memories they had shared. Searching the desert for signs of where they came from and why they were here, and what they really were. Nights spent talking in the dark, Max on his bed and Michael lying on a sleeping bag on his bedroom floor. Moments of time when they’d argued, when they’d laughed, when they’d just horsed around. Michael and Max’s minds were joined, through the link.

Across from Michael, Isabel trembled as the flashes swept through her . . .

“Max, what are you doing out here?” Isabel asked from the doorway.

“Oh, nothing,” Max answered and tried to hide what he was holding in his hand. He was sitting on the ground with only the moonlight illuminating the back yard.

“Something,” she insisted and sat down on the ground next to him. “What is that?”

“What’s what?” he tried to pretend he didn’t know what she was talking about.

“What’s that, in your hand?” She reached over and grabbed him and pried his fingers open.

“Stop it Isabel!” he shouted and tried to pull his hand free but she was strong for a girl. They wrestled back and forth and then the object in his hand dropped onto the ground. Isabel lunged for it and Max shouted, “Give it back!”

“What is this?” Isabel looked at it with wide eyes, “Is it a present, for me?”

“No, it’s not for you,” Max huffed and grabbed it back from her. He looked down at the hair clip in his hand and closed his fingers around it.

“Where’d you get it?” Isabel asked suspiciously.

“I made it,” Max answered and looked at his sister. He was glad it was too dark for her to see him blush.

“Oh, I get it,” Isabel exclaimed. “It’s Lizzy Parker’s tenth birthday tomorrow and you want to give her a present.”

Max dropped his eyes back down to his hand and opened his fingers, looking at the hair clip again. His cheeks were hot and he knew they were beat red. “Well . . .”

“Well what Max?” When he didn’t answer she said softly, “You can’t give it to her. You know that, right?”

He looked at her sharply and she was shaking her head as she continued, “It’s only you, and me, and Michael. We can’t get close to anyone else.”

“But . . .” Max started to say, feeling an unhappy weight settle onto him.

“Someday we’re going to go home,” Isabel said and her eyes rose up to the stars. “Up there . . . Somewhere . . . and nobody here can ever know about us.”

Max followed her gaze and the weight of his loneliness crushed in on him. His eyes focused on one particular star and he said haltingly, “Maybe . . . maybe she’d come with me . . .”

The flash shifted and changed, rapidly spanning the days and months and years of their lives together. Days spent playing in the park, dinner with their parents, vacations to distant shores. All the while, hiding from the world, never really joining the living. Always waiting and watching the world go by, without them.

Kyle swayed slightly, as visions of his own filled his mind . . .

“Here,” Kyle reached into his coat pocket and pulled the flask free. He stumbled to a stop and closed one eye so that he wouldn’t keep seeing double Max’s. Wasn’t one enough? Which one was the real Max, the one he could see out of his left eye, or the one when he used his right? He closed one eye, and then the other, back and forth, left and right. He almost lost his balance and Max grabbed him by the arm to steady him.

“You’re drunk,” Max giggled.

“No shit,” Kyle answered and shoved the flask against Max’s chest. “Here, have another swig.”

“I don’t think so,” he said pushing it back toward Kyle.

“Why not?” Kyle slurred.

“Cause I’m drunk too,” Max laughed and fell against Kyle’s chest.

Kyle pushed him back yelling, “Get off me, you pansy!”

“I’m not a pansy.” Max staggered back to Kyle and drilled him in the chest with his index finger. “I. Am. Not. A. Pansy.”

“Prove it.” He tried to push Max’s finger away but he missed. “Have you ever done it with a girl?”

“No,” Max admitted, “but I want to.” He tried to shove his hands in his pants pockets, but he couldn’t find them. He looked down to try to see where they went. Oh. There they were. Good. His pockets were still in his pants. Why did he want his pockets again?

“Let me guess . . .” Kyle said and chewed his lower lip in concentration. They both almost lost their balance when they stepped down from the curb and Kyle had to help Max back up to the sidewalk when they reached the other side of the street. “What about Amanda Wilson?” Kyle asked and his finger circled the air in front of Max’s face. “Do you want to do her?”

“Nope,” Max shook his head. He was trying to follow the movements of Kyle’s finger and he almost fell over.

“What? Have you seen the jugs on her?” Kyle said in disbelief. He held his hands out in front of his chest to emphasize his point.

“Oh, yeah,” Max nodded appreciatively.

“Don’t you just want to grab ‘em and rub your face in ‘em when she walks by?” Kyle sighed with a silly grin on his face.

“Nope,” Max told him honestly.

“What?” Kyle couldn’t believe it. “Not a breast man, huh? Well, how ‘bout Megan Connors? Have you seen the ass on her?” They continued to stumble down the sidewalk, occasionally bumping their shoulders together as they tried to walk a straight line.

“She doesn’t do it for me,” Max said in all seriousness. “She’s a blonde. I’m not attracted to blondes.”

“But Man! What about her ass?” Kyle insisted.

“Well, she does have a nice ass, I’ll grant you that . . . but-”

“But it’s the wrong ass, huh?” Kyle said knowingly.

“Yeah,” Max said and tried to focus on Kyle’s face. Was his nose always that big, or was it just because he was looking at it from this angle . . .

“If you had your choice of all the girls in school, who would you pick?” Kyle asked. He came to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk and waited for his answer.

“That’s an easy choice.” Max felt giddy just thinking about it.

“Liz,” Kyle answered for him with a smirk.

Max’s smile turned into a huge grin and he sighed deeply. His eyes were drawn past Kyle to the display window of the furniture store they were passing. A large four-poster bed filled the space and Max took a step closer to it.

“Man, you’re so predictable,” Kyle admonished. “Of all the girls at school you’d choose Liz? Why?”

“She’s my dreamgirl,” Max said staring at he bed. The covers were pulled back and the silk sheets looked inviting. There was a picture on the wall of a south sea paradise and the motif in the display window was of the sand, and the sea, and the shore. Kyle looked around with a frown, wondering why he could hear the sound of seagulls on the night air.

An image started to coalesce on the bed and Max pressed his nose to the window. His palm splayed against the glass and the shape took substance and form. Liz smiled at him from the bed and his breath caught in his throat at the sight of her creamy skin. Her arms were bare, her shoulders were bare, her chest and stomach and navel were bare. Her hair fell forward, hiding her breasts and then she drew back the sheets, inviting him to join her.

Kyle looked at the sky, watching for errant seagulls and he stepped closer to the street. “What the hell? Do you hear that?” He turned back to Max but he wasn’t there. Movement caught his eye and he saw Max inside the display window staring at the bed.

“How the hell did you get in there?” Kyle shouted at Max. Rose petals were falling from the ceiling like snow and . . . was Max taking his shirt off? Why was Max standing in that display window, taking his shirt off? “Hey freak! What are you doing in there? Get your ass back out here before we both get in trouble!”

The vision of Liz faded and Max blinked as the falling rose petals brushed against his face. He sighed and looked down at Kyle standing on the sidewalk below him. Man he was short. How did Kyle get so short? He looked over at the bed once more, wishing Liz had really been there, waiting for him, with her arms open wide. He turned back to Kyle and said, “Hey! Isn’t that your Dad over there?” He pointed across the street and when Kyle swirled around to look in that direction Max quickly parted the window, jumped through, and sealed it closed behind him.

“I don’t see-” Kyle called up to the empty display window.

“Guess it wasn’t him,” Max said and Kyle nearly jumped out of his skin.

“How the fuck did you get out here so quick?” Kyle stared at him.

Max just shrugged and they set out again, down the sidewalk through the middle of downtown Roswell. “So,” Max started, “if you could have any girl at school, who would it be?”

Kyle thought about that for a moment and then with a wanton expression in his eyes, he said, “Your sister!”

The memory shifted and changed, replaced by more images and feelings and sensations. Kyle watching Max watching Liz. Liz talking to Kyle, but watching Max as he walked across the commons. A sense of satisfaction when he saw Max with a cracked lip and bruises on his face. Max knocking out an FBI agent and locking him in the closet. Max, hovering over him with his glowing hand on his chest. Max looking through Liz’s bedroom window and seeing them in her bed together. Max bringing Tess home in the morning and getting busted by his father.

One by one the blue tendrils pulled back from Max and retreated into the healing stones. Maria’s eyes blinked open, and then Michael’s and Isabel’s and finally Kyle’s. They each wobbled slightly on their feet feeling the drain of their energy and then they became aware of what was going on around them.

The chamber, so quiet when they had first entered it, was now a maelstrom of activity. The low background hum that they had heard before had built to a crescendo and the roar was almost deafening to their ears. An unnatural wind tore at their clothes and whipped their hair around them, but even these things couldn’t compare with the sight that left them all speechless.

Liz and Max were glowing . . .

posted on 14-Sep-2001 7:17:01 PM
Dying Embers

Part 16

Max’s still form lay on the floor, with Liz standing silently at his feet. Her head was bowed and her hair danced around her face in the swirling wind. Her eyes were closed, as were his, and a glowing light encompassed them both. The healing stone in her hand pulsed rhythmically and a tendril of light, sparkling and shimmering with color, arced through the air and penetrated Max’s forehead. A second beam of light arced toward Liz, and flowed over her, lighting her entire body.

In the air above them an image began to take form. The ghostly image of Max and Liz took shape, standing face to face before the backdrop of a million shining stars. His hands cupped her face and her fingertips rested at his temples. Their eyes bore into each other’s, unblinking, and a lifetimes worth of memories played out between them . . .

Mrs. Elmer stood in the front of the classroom announcing the birthday girl and Liz rose to her feet feeling the eyes of the entire class on her. She quietly made her way to the front of the room and when she turned around Max could see her shy smile.

“Happy tenth birthday, Liz,” Mrs. Elmer exclaimed. “Your Mother dropped off cupcakes earlier. Will you help pass them around?” Liz nodded and picked up one of the plates. She started on the side of the room closest to the door and gave out the frosting covered treats one by one. By the time she reached Max, there was only one cupcake left on her plate.

“Here you go,” Liz offered it to him.

“Thanks,” Max said and set it on his desk, never taking his eyes off her face.

Liz noticed that Mrs. Elmer was almost finished passing out the rest of them so she returned to her seat in front of Max. He stared at her long dark hair shining in the florescent lights of the schoolroom and he felt the familiar fluttering in his stomach. If only he could touch that hair. A few minutes later the bell rang to signal afternoon recess and Liz rose to her feet. A curious look crossed her face when she glanced at his desk and she asked him, “Aren’t you going to eat your cupcake?”

“What?” Max croaked out. She was talking to him. She was looking at him. What was he supposed to say? He knew he wanted to say something to her, but the words were all stuck in his throat.

“The cupcake,” Liz said pointing at the treat sitting untouched in the middle of his desk. “You don’t like cupcakes?”

He tried to get his mouth to open, to say something, anything, but nothing would come out. Liz shrugged her shoulders at his silence and she turned to head out the door to the playground. As she walked away, he bolted to his feet and shouted out, “I LOVE CUPCAKES!”

Everyone still left in the room turned to stare at him, including Liz. Her eyebrows were arched in surprise at his outburst, and a smile was slowly breaking over her face. He could hear the snickering of the other kids and his cheeks began to burn. Liz held his gaze as the other kids scurried out of the room until Maria grabbed her arm and pulled her along. She looked back at him once more as she passed through the door and then Max sank back down onto his chair.

He clutched his hands to his forehead and he mumbled, “I’m an idiot . . .”

A few minutes later he heard the soft tread of footsteps and looked up to see Liz walking in his direction. She stopped at her desk and reached inside, pulling out a jump rope. “Aren’t you coming outside?” Liz asked as she straightened up.

Max felt that flutter again in the pit of his stomach, but this time he was determined not to make a fool of himself. He rose to his feet and said, “Yeah.”

Yeah? That’s it? That’s all you can think of to say to her, he scolded himself. She turned away from him and headed toward the door again and he called out, “Wait. Please.”

Liz turned back to look at him with a curious look on her face and he swallowed hard. A small smile touched her lips and he felt his resolve strengthening. He reached into his desk and retrieved the small box that he had put there earlier. He held out the brightly colored package and he said, “Here.”

“What’s this?” Liz asked, taking it from his hand.

“It’s for you,” Max said quickly. “For your birthday.”

“You got me a birthday present?” she asked and he could hear the surprise in her voice.

He nodded his head and said, “I made, um . . . I saw . . . well, I thought you’d like it,” he finally got the words out.

She looked at him strangely and then she put the jump rope on her desk. She opened the package and lifted the lid on the small box and nestled in pink tissue paper she saw a beautiful silver hair clip. It was shaped like a V with intricately carved symbols along the edges. “Max, it’s beautiful!”

Beautiful? She thinks it’s beautiful? The flutter in his stomach had moved up to include his chest and he had to take a slow, deep breath just to keep from hyperventilating. He started grinning from ear to ear and he said, “I was hoping that you’d like it.”

“Like it?” she said as if that was the biggest understatement in the world. “I love it! Thank you.”

Impulsively she threw her arms around him and gave Max a hug. His breath caught in his throat and he thought he had died and gone to heaven. She had his arms pinned to his sides and he was afraid to move. What if he tried to hug her back? Would she get defensive and think he was getting fresh with her? He didn’t want to break the spell so he just closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of her hair and the soap she used on her skin. No, he decided, this wasn’t heaven. This was better than heaven.

“Thank you, Max,” she said again and the spell was broken when she took a step back from him. She took the clip out of the box and asked, “What do all these little symbols mean?”

“I don’t know,” Max shrugged. “Just decoration.” He knew they meant something, but he wasn’t sure what.

He watched her as she pulled her hair back and tried to fasten the clip at the back of her head. “Does that look straight?”

“You . . .” Max said, lifting his finger and pointing towards her neck. “You have a strand . . . a piece of loose hair . . .”

“Where?” she asked and tried to feel for it.

“Right there,” he said still pointing at her. “Just to the left . . . no, your other left . . . up a little . . . feel it?” He watched her try to tuck the errant strand of hair into the clip and then he offered, “Do you want some help . . .?”

“Can you just do it for me?” she asked and put the clip in his hand. “I can’t do it very good when I can’t see what I’m doing."

“Sure,” Max said and cringed inwardly when it came out two octaves too high. Liz turned her back to him and he looked at her dark hair cascading down her back. His fingers tentatively reached for her hair, and then he pulled them back, afraid that this was just a dream, and if he touched her he would wake up. He told himself not to be stupid and he reached for her again, letting his fingers slip into her hair. It felt just the way he always knew it would. Soft. Silky. Luxurious. He let his fingers brush against her skin as he gathered the hair away from her face and he momentarily closed his eyes at the myriad of sensations that he felt. He was touching Liz Parker, and this was the best day of his life so far.

She felt him secure the clip in her hair and she reached back to feel it with her fingers. She brushed against his hands and he pulled them back quickly. Boys! They always acted like girls were going to give them cooties! “Does it look okay?”

“It looks really nice,” Max beamed. You look really nice, he thought to himself.

“Thank you, Max,” Liz smiled at him and then she reached for the jump rope on her desk. “Do you want to come out and jump rope with me and Maria? We need someone to hold the other end.”

“Sure,” Max said and he could hardly contain his delight. He was floating on cloud nine. He took a step to follow her and he snatched the cupcake off his desk, peeling off the paper wrapper as he followed behind her. He shoved it in his mouth and licked the frosting from his fingers, and felt a sense of contentment settle over him. This really was the best day of his life!

* * *

“Hey, Liz,” Maria said placing her lunch tray down on the table and then plopping down beside her. “I sooooo hate my homeroom teacher. I was like five minutes late and she made me go to the office to get an excuse. Are you gonna eat that brownie? And then she kept picking on me for the whole period. Why couldn’t we be in the same homeroom together? I like your teacher. That would have been so cool to be together! Did you hear what Pam Troy did? She was caught smoking in the bathroom! Have you talked to Alex today? He’s thinking of forming a band. Maybe he’d let me sing in it. What do you think? We could become rich and fam . . .”

Liz smiled as her best friend rattled on. She was wondering if Maria was going to take a breath when Max Evans walked into the lunchroom. She watched the way he moved with his backpack slung over one shoulder and she suddenly wasn’t hungry anymore. In fact, her stomach was fluttering uncomfortably now. He crossed the room and took a seat next to that strange Michael guy. She wondered why they were such good friends. They didn’t seem to have anything in common.

“Are you listening to me?” Maria asked.

“Of course I’m listening.” Liz tore her eyes away from Max and told herself to quit dreaming. Someone as gorgeous as him was never going to look at a geeky girl like her. “Alex wants to start a band, huh? Can I be your groupie?”

Across the room Michael watched Max sit down and said, “School sucks.”

“Well you only have six more years to go,” Max needled him.

“I’m never gonna make it,” Michael whined.

“Why? School’s okay.” His eyes swept the room knowing she was here somewhere. He could feel her. He always knew when she was nearby. The sound of her laughter reached his ears and then he saw her. She was sitting next to her friend Maria and they were eating their lunch and Liz was wearing that cute little pink top with the flowers on it and he had noticed lately how she was starting to fill it out-

“Are you listening to me?” Michael frowned and turned to see what Max was staring at.

“Of course,” Max refocused on Michael and said, “What were you saying?”

“Max . . .” Michael said warningly.

“What?” he said innocently, even thought he knew what his friend meant.

Michael’s eyes had narrowed when he saw Liz and he turned back to Max scowling even harder than before. “Max, you know you have to stay away from her. We can’t get close to any of them, remember? It’s too dangerous.”

“I know that,” Max said and his eyes dropped down to stare at the tabletop. Michael and Isabel had been reminding him of that fact for the last two years. They weren’t about to let him forget it. Besides, he thought, Liz could never be interested in him. He was just a freak, who didn’t even belong here. Changing the subject, Max looked at Michael and said, “Did you do that math assignment?”

“School really sucks,” Michael groaned again . . .

* * *

Isabel was sitting at the kitchen table pouring through paperwork and Max opened the refrigerator looking for something to drink. He took out a carton of orange juice and as he poured it into a glass he asked, “What are you doing?”

“I can’t decide if I want to take chemistry next fall, or biology. What do you think?” She looked up at him questioningly and Max shrugged.

“What do you want to take?” Max asked and sat down across from her.

“What are you going to take?”

Max smiled and looked into the glass. He’d overheard Liz talking in the hallway to Maria and he knew what she was sighing up for. “I’m taking Biology. I signed up for Ms. Hardy’s class.”

“Biology, huh?” Isabel said suspiciously when she saw the look on his face. “Does that have anything to do with a certain waitress that likes science?”

“Maybe,” Max ventured and he glanced up to see his sisters reaction.

“Max . . .” Isabel said softly and covered his hand with hers.

“Look, I know you and Michael don’t think I should-”

“Max, she has a boyfriend.”

“What?” Max said in surprise, feeling his stomach clench. What was Isabel talking about? Who was she talking about? Not Liz. Liz didn’t have a boyfriend. She couldn’t have a boyfriend. Not when he was finally getting up the nerve to talk to her, to maybe ask her out, no matter what Isabel and Michael thought.

“Kyle Valenti asked her to the dance on Friday night. I saw them holding hands after school today.” She saw the crushed look on his face and she felt her heart go out to him. “I’m sorry Max. I know that you like her, but . . .”

Max pulled his hand away and he rose to his feet. She was going out with Kyle Valenti? The Sheriff’s son? Since when? He’d never seen her with Kyle before. Or had he? It was true that Kyle had been hanging out at the Crashdown more often lately, but a lot of people went there after school. Was she really going out with him?

“Max,” Isabel called gently to him as he walked out of the kitchen. “Where are you going?”

“For a walk,” Max answered feeling dejected. He left the house and shoved his hands in his pockets with a sense of utter disappointment. What else could he expect though, he wondered as he walked along? Did he think she’d never have a boyfriend? Did he think she’d grow old waiting for him to get up the guts just to talk to her? When had Kyle made his move? Now that he thought about it, he’d seen that look in Kyle’s eyes. That hungry look a guy got when he was on the make. Max felt his stomach twist at the thought of Kyle with his hands on Liz.

He walked the streets of Roswell and without even realizing it, he found his way to the Crashdown. He looked through the front windows and his heart sank even further when he saw Kyle sitting at the counter talking to Liz. He watched as Kyle placed his hand affectionately over hers and a smile broke over her face. Max felt his world falling in around him as he watched her laughing with her friends.

Inside the Crashdown, Kyle rose from the stool at the counter. “I’ve gotta go,” he said and reluctantly released Liz’s hand. “So I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 7:00 for the dance. We can grab something to eat before we go.”

“Okay,” Liz nodded. She smiled at him as he left the restaurant and then she grabbed a rag to clean the counter.

“Liz,” Maria stopped her, mystified by her friend’s actions. “Why are you going out with Kyle?”

“Why?” Liz asked in surprise. “Because he asked me. That’s why.” Besides, she thought to herself, no one else was knocking down her door to see her. “Why shouldn’t I go out with him?”

“Cuz you don’t like him,” Maria said following after her.

“Kyle’s alright,” Liz said noncommittally.

“Liz. He’s a jock. You don’t like jocks. You like tall, good looking, dark haired guys that study hard and get good grades.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Liz said offhandedly.

“Why don’t you just ask Max to the dance? You know you want to. You’ve been mooning over him for years.”

“Maria,” Liz turned on her in exasperation. “Max has no interest in me. He hardly even talks to me, other than when he comes in here to get something to eat. I mean he sits right behind me in English and he’s barely said two words to me all year.”

“Maybe he’s just shy,” Maria suggested.

“Maria, Max can have his pick of any girl in school. I don’t think he’s going to be interested in a geek like me.” She finished cleaning the counter and dropped the rag in the sink. As she turned back she could see him passing by the window but he didn’t come inside. She felt her heart race when she first saw him, but then he walked by without coming inside the restaurant and disappointment hit her. “See Maria?” she said softly. “He didn’t even look this way.”

* * *

Isabel watched private moments of her brother’s life flash before her, things that she’d never known about him. She’d been aware of the fact that he liked Liz, but this was so much more than that. Why had she never seen it before? The images were coming faster now and they all watched transfixed as the memories Max had entrusted to Liz were given back to him . . .

“Max, what are we doing here?” Michael asked with a scowl.

“I’m hungry,” Max answered matter-of-factly.

“We should be out in the desert, or out in Frasier Woods, looking for evidence,” Michael insisted. “Something that will tell us about where we come from.”

“Michael, we have all weekend to do that. And the next weekend, and the weekend after that. Besides, right now I’m hungry.” Max couldn’t take his eyes off Liz as she bustled around the Crashdown. He could see her writing something on her order pad and he watched her as she walked in his direction.

As she reached his table, Liz looked up and their eyes met. “Hi. What can I get you guys?” She looked from Max Evans’ intense gaze to Michael Guerin’s bored expression.

Max picked up the menu and pointing a finger at it he said, “I’ll have a Saturn Burger and an order of Ferengi Fries.” He watched her as she wrote it down and then she lifted her eyes to look at him again. They were so big and expressive and he could just look into them all day long.

“Do you want anything to drink?” She looked back down at her pad and started to write cherry cola. Max always ordered cherry cola. He didn’t answer right away and she looked at him again.

Michael was staring at Max, getting more irritated by the minute. Max was looking at Liz like nothing else existed in the world and Michael kicked him under the table.

“What?” Max blurted out, suddenly aware that Liz had asked him something.

“Something to drink?” she asked again, bemused by the look on his face.

“Cherry cola,” he replied quickly.

She nodded with a smile curling her lips and turned to Michael. “And you? Do you want anything?”

“Just to get out of here,” Michael mumbled.

“Excuse me?” Liz asked, not sure that she had heard him correctly.

Michael could see Max glaring at him and he said louder, “No. I don’t want anything.”

“Oh-Kay,” Liz said, not surprised by Michael’s attitude. It was what he did best. She turned back to Max and said, “I’ll go get your drink.”

When she was out of hearing range Max turned on Michael. “Do you always have to be so rude?”

“Max, she has a boyfriend. She’s been seeing Kyle Valenti all summer.”

“I know that,” Max said looking down at his hands on the table. He could feel that familiar sinking feeling in his stomach. The one that he got every time he thought about her with Kyle.

“I saw them coming out of the eraser room,” Michael said, twisting the knife in his heart. “It didn’t look like they had been cleaning erasers.”

Max shifted uncomfortably and then he saw her coming his way with his order. Would she really let Kyle touch her like that?

Liz set the plate on the table and asked, “Can I get you anything else?” She watched Max shake his head no, but he didn’t look at her. She stared at him for just a moment and then she turned away to serve the rest of the waiting customers.

Max watched her as she walked away, wishing that it had been him that had asked her to the dance last spring, and him that had spent the summer going out with her. What would it feel like to kiss her, or hold her hand as they walked down the street together? He could see her talking to Maria and he wondered what they were talking about.

“You are sooo bad girl,” Maria said smugly. “Oh, and Max Evans is staring at you again.”

“No way. Maria, that is so in your imagination,” she said and took a peek in his direction. He looked away quickly and she felt a flutter in her stomach. He had been looking at her!

Max picked at his food and kept darting looks in her direction. Maybe this thing with Kyle wouldn’t last very long. Shit. Who was he kidding? What guy in his right mind would ever give her up? The sun rose in the sky every morning just so it could shine on Liz Parker’s face. A commotion came from the left side of the restaurant, an argument, and suddenly everyone was ducking for cover as the sound of gunfire erupted. He heard Maria cry out Liz’s name and then he looked in her direction. Oh God, no . . .

* * *

“Liz, LIZ! You have to look at me. You have to look at me.”

“You're all right now. You're all right.”

“Keys! Now!!”

“You broke a bottle when you fell, spilled ketchup on yourself. Don't say anything, please.”

* * *

“Um, I-I scraped some cells from your pencil. This is really hard to say, I'm trying to keep from blacking out here. Um, the cells weren't normal. So, Max, what I'm going to suggest to you is that we just go back to the bio lab now, so that I can take a sample so that I can see what I'm thinking is wrong, you know? That I got the wrong cells . . .”

“You didn't.”

“Okay, um. So help me out here Max. I mean, what are you?”

“Well I'm not from around here.”

“Where you from? Up north? You're not an, an alien, I mean . . . are you?”

“Well I prefer the term not of this earth. Sorry, it's not a good time to joke . . . Yeah, I am. Wow, it's weird to actually say it . . . Liz . . .”

“Um, Max, you know, I have, I'm gonna be late for my US Government class, so I'm just gonna-”

“Liz, listen to me. You can't talk to anyone about this. Not your parents, not Maria. No one. You don't understand what'll happen if you do. Liz, please? Now my life is in your hands.”

* * *

“So I've been thinking about why I called you, you know, that day from the hospital. Because I knew it was against the rules and it led to that whole awkward moment. But, I called anyway. Sort of couldn't help it. Because when something like this happens, what's happening to my grandmother, you don't listen to logic to what you're supposed to do. You listen to your heart, and my heart told me to call you. Because you were the one person in the world that I really wanted to talk to. Max, I've been thinking something, and I'm really not going to be able to get it out of my head unless I just say it. I'm really sorry for asking you this, but is there . . . is there anything that you could do for my grandmother? You know . . . do?

“Liz, when I saved you, it was because you were shot, and there was a bullet in you. Something was happening to you that wasn't supposed to happen. It was before your time. But I can't just heal people. I'm not . . . God.”

* * *

“Um . . . I really didn't want to say this before because I didn't want anybody else to get involved, but . . . I'm going to the reservation.”

“No . . . no, you're not. We're being watched.”

“Maybe you're not just being watched, you know. Maybe it's more than that. Max, today they came for the files. What if tomorrow they come for you? If there's anything there, any possibility at all that this means something, we need to find out.”

“Thanks for the offer . . . but no.”

“Max, you saved my life.”

“What does that have to do with it?”

“It's what started all of this. People suspecting you. If anything happened to you . . . or Michael or Isabel, I just . . . I couldn't live with that. Let me do this one thing.”

“Liz, I already told you no.”

“Max, I didn't come here for permission. I came here for the pendant. If you don't give it to me, I'll just draw it. I'm going.”

“Hey. First moment anything weird happens, anything at all, you come back.”

* * *

“Liz! Are you there? Hi.”


“Can I come up?”

“Yeah, sure. Very impressive.”

“I try.”

“You really can't stay long.”

“I know. I just wanted to tell you that I've been thinking a lot about last night.”

“Yeah, me, too.”

“When I saw Valenti taking you away like that . . . it just hit home for me, you know? How much knowing me has screwed up your life.”

“No, it's just the opposite.”

“Thank you for saying that.”

“It's the whole truth, Max.”

“I better go.”


“Cuz if I don't go right now, things are gonna change.”

“Change, how?”

“I'm gonna have to touch your hair . . . cuz it's so soft . . . and I'd have to tell you that . . . no matter what we go through, it's all worthwhile for me, because we're together.”

“And then?”

“ And then . . . I'd have to do this . . .”

* * *

“Beautiful countryside, don't you think? Especially at sunset.”

“Yeah, it's pretty cool. So, Mr. Hubble, you said you were going to answer my questions.”

“My wife Sheila and me liked to slip away sometimes . . . just take a drive. Nothing like flying down the highway with the woman you love by your side, now is there?”

“You're probably right.”

“'Course it's gotta be the right one. You know how you know that? A kiss. That's how. Ever heard the expression, "I saw fireworks"? It was just like the 4th of July. That ever happen to you when you kissed a girl?”

“Maybe . . . once . . .”

* * *



“What are you doing here?”

“I just . . . I wanted to see you.”


“I had to know if something was real.”

“If what was real?”

“Well, just like you’ve seen things . . . I've seen things. And . . . one of those . . . things . . .”

“You saw my fantasy?”

“I had to know if . . . if . . . what I saw was . . . really from you or if it was just my imagination, which . . . it definitely . . . definitely could've been. Except . . . I've never been in the girls' locker room. And now that I see it, and . . . well, it . . . it is the same room . . . I know I didn't make it up.”

“This is really horrible.”

“No, Liz. It's incredible, really.”

“This is not incredible.”

“Wait. Please? Listen. Please. The main thing is . . . I didn't just see what you saw. I felt . . . what you felt . . . when you saw me. And I never thought anyone could really . . . ever feel that way about me.”

* * *

“Michael, I'm worried.”

“You should be.”

“It's not about Valenti. It's about Tess, Isabel's friend. I'm having these daydreams about her.”


“Yeah, where we're together . . . you know, together.”

“I guess you're only human after all, huh?”

“It's me. I'm the problem. Something's happening to me.”

“Haven't you ever had a fantasy before?”

“This is different. It's out of my control. I can't stop it.”

“We'll work it out.”

“Thanks for the compassion.”

“Valenti has the communicator, and we need to do something about it. This isn't the time for your sex fantasies.”

“Michael, I'm telling you, there's something weird about this. It's like she knows something about me that she shouldn't know. I mean, who is she?”

“Can you focus? I mean, focus on what's important here, Maxwell.”

“Forget about it. Why did I think you'd be any help?”

* * *

“What's going on, Max?”

“I wanna talk.”

“About what?”

“Liz, about what Michael said before, about Tess. I just . . . I want you to know that I don't feel anything for her. I look at you, and I know you're the person I'm supposed to be with. I've always known it. What happened here that day, when you got shot, and how that brought us together . . . it's fate. Look at me. You're the one, Liz . . . the only one. I could never be with anyone else.

* * *


“I saw you, Max.”

“Liz, it's not what you think.”

“How could you kiss her?”

“I don't know. I don't know what's happening.”

“You know all those thing you said to me, Max? Were any of them true?”

“Liz . . . Liz, you've got to believe me. It wasn't me. She was there. She was waiting for me.”

“Oh, so it's her fault.”

“Liz, something is going on with her. I'm telling you, something is not right about her.”

“Not right about her, Max! What are you talking about?”

“The way I'm drawn to her, it's not just attraction. It's something else. Please, Liz, you have to have faith in me. In us.”

* * *

“Don’t even try to use your abilities, Max. The serum we injected you with – very effective in suppressing the neurotransmitters in your cerebral cortex. Experiments on the alien in the forties taught us that that’s where most of your powers come from. Come on, sit down. It’s all right. That’s not your real weakness, though, is it? You know, I’ve been going about this the wrong way the whole time. It’s not that you’re part alien . . . it’s that you’re part human. You have feelings. Emotions. Friendship. Love.

“No! NO!”

“Trick photography, Max.”

“NO! No!”

“Max, Max! Computer rigged. Virtual reality, Max. It’s not real. It’s not real. We didn’t kill her. We didn’t kill her. I just wanted to show you what can happen. What will happen.”

“You’re evil.”

“I’m evil? I’m risking my life to save my country, my planet from being colonized by alien life. By you. Tell me where the other one is.”

“The other what?”

“We found this in the crash. We have spent fifty years looking for the other one, and we know you have it. It took a little persuading, but Topolsky told us. Tell me where it is. Tell me. Ok. I’m going to give you a choice, Max. You can either tell me where the other orb is, or you can tell me which one of your friends you want me to kill first. Hmm? And you have ten seconds. Maybe I’ll start with Liz.”

“Okay, stop it! Stop! I’ll tell you where it is, just don’t hurt Liz.”

* * *

“I wish I could go back Liz. Back to when things were normal.”

“Me, too. I just wish that I could have stopped you from saving my life that day in the Crashdown.”

“Don't say that.”

“Max, the day that you saved my life, your life just . . . ended.”

“No, that was the day my life began. Liz, when I was in that room, and they did . . . what they did to me, you're what kept me alive. The thought of you. The way your eyes look into mine. Your smile. The touch of your skin. Your lips. Knowing you has made me . . . human. Whether I die tomorrow or fifty years from now, my destiny is the same. It's you. I want to be with you, Liz. I love you.”

“I love you.”

* * *

“He sat down. You got him to sit down with her.”

“Rah-rah . . . What?”

“Nothing. It's just . . . seeing you at 17 again is making it all come flooding back to me. How my stomach used to rumble every time I saw you.”

“So, um . . . did we get married?”

“Liz, you know I can't . . .”

“You . . . I know, you can't talk about it. I'm sorry. I know.”

“We eloped. We were 19.”

“We were 19? Wow, that is so young. That is too young.”

“That's what I said, but you said that Romeo and Juliet were even younger than us, so we drove to Vegas. Got married at the Elvis chapel. Congratulations, kids.”

“So we didn't have a real wedding.”

“Oh, we had a great wedding. You called Maria, Michael, Isabel, and Alex, and had them meet us halfway. We spent the whole night singing and dancing in some dive outside Phoenix, and at the end of the night, ‘I Shall Believe’ came on the radio.”

“I love that song.”

“I know. Everyone else was exhausted, but not us. Oh, we danced . . . just the two of us. And ever since then, it's been our song.”

“If this works . . . I'm not gonna have that day.”

“No, you won't.”

“Then what happens to you if we succeed? I . . . I mean you. The future version of you?”

“If we succeed in changing history, a different version of the future will take place. All the events that led to who I am 14 years from now will be different. The man I am now will cease to exist.”

* * *


“Were you watching?”

“Um . . .”

“So, it was all a setup.”


“You tried to get Tess and me together?”

“Look, I know that you must hate me right now. I, um . . .”

“I felt that . . . and I know you did, too, and I know you think that . . . that I need to let you go . . . for the sake of Michael, and Isabel, and my race . . . so you went to Tess. But she can't be you. Tess can never be you.”

* * *

“You're supposed to be breaking up with him, not kissing him.”

“You . . . you kissed me. I mean . . . you know, he kissed me.”

“You're only making me love you more.”

“I just said no to Gomez.”

“You said no the last time, too. I didn't take no for an answer.”

“So we went to the concert.”

“No. The night of Gomez I came to your room. That's the night that things between us were cemented.”

“Cemented. So when you say cemented, you . . .”

“We made love.”

“No, no, we . . . we didn't.”

“Liz . . .”

“No, I have no intention of making love to you or . . . or anyone else at this particular stage of my life.”

“I beg to differ.”

“No. Making love to you is the farthest thing from my mind. I . . . I don't even have protection.”

“I did.”

“Oh, that's great. There you are, Max the Saint, just walking around with a condom in his back pocket. I . . . I . . . I don't even care what happened in your reality. I am not making love to you or anyone until I am ready, and I am just not ready.”

“Liz, I am telling you what happened, and we have to change that. We have to. And so far, we've failed. Liz, it's not just Max that's the problem here. You are. You are not letting yourself change. Now you have to do something . . . before it's too late.”

* * *

“It didn't work. We have to do something else.”

“No, I . . . I can't.”

“You have to.”

“Do you know how hard it was for me to tell him that I didn't want to die for him? He's the only reason that I'm alive right now. You . . . you've . . . you gotta come up with another plan. Please go to someone else. I . . . I just . . . I can't do this anymore.”

“Just 25 minutes before I came here, I held Michael in my arms . . . dead. Isabel died 2 weeks before that. Now you have to do this. You have to find a way. All of our lives depend on it.”

“How? What can I do that's gonna make you turn away from me?”

“I don't know.”

* * *

“The look on his face . . . on your face.”

“Maybe it's for the best. For you, too.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I saw you with Kyle. He's turning out to be a . . . a great guy. Maybe it would be better for you to be with a human.”

“Don't you realize what you are to me . . . and you're always gonna be? You're the love of my life. Everyone else is gonna be second best. There'll never be another you.”

* * *

“I thought you'd be at the airport right now.”

“I was on my way, but I had this weird moment.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I saw this vision. You and me, jumping out of the cab like we'd just been married in Vegas.”

“That's weird.”

“Yeah, it was like this memory flash of something that really happened, but then . . .”

“Max . . .”

* * *

“Remember Max? The sky had a red tint to it. All the time, not just at sunset. It was beautiful.”

“I don’t remember. I’m sorry Tess. I don’t remember it at all.”

“Open your mind Max. If you open your mind and let me in, I can help you remember. Just close your eyes and relax. I can show you all the things you’ve been missing. Aren’t you curious about the life you lived before?”

“Yes, but . . .”

“Then just relax, and open your mind and I’ll show you everything . . .”

* * *

“Maria, I saw him kissing Tess at the prom last night.”

“No. Are you serious?”

“I guess it worked. Max is with Tess now. We’re never gonna be together. Oh God Maria, I miss him so much.”

* * *

“Max, I know you don’t want to hear this, but she’s moved on. I saw her with Sean. They were . . . they were kissing. They were more than kissing.”

“What do you mean? What are you talking about Tess?”

“Liz and Sean. They’re together now.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Max, I know it hurts, but you have to face the truth. She doesn’t love you. She’s moved on with her life. But I’m here for you Max. I’ve been waiting for you. No matter what, Max, I’ll always be here for you.”

* * *

“No. No, you have to be wrong. It can’t be. Alex can’t be dead. He was supposed to dance at my wedding. Oh God, what have I done? What have I done?”

“Liz, what are you talking about? You heard the sheriff. Oh God, he died. Alex died . . .”

“No. Maria, this is wrong. This can’t be happening. Alex is not supposed to die. No one is supposed to die. This can’t be happening.”

* * *

“Max, we belong together. You know we do.”

“I’m not in love with you, Tess. I’m sorry, but I’m not. Maybe I did before, in that other life, but that wasn’t me.”

“It can be, if you let it. Let go of her Max. Let me love you the way you were meant to be loved. I can make you forget all about her.”

“I don’t want to forget her. I’m sorry Tess, but I’ve always been in love with her . . . and I always will be. Nothing can change that. We should go.”

“Max! I won’t let you leave . . .”

* * * * *

“Is he out?”

“Yes. God damnit Tess, can’t you do anything right?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You were supposed to seduce him. You know what Kivar expects, and he’s running out of patience. He wants the Royals back, and he wants the Granilith. Now.”

“It’s not as easy as that. He can’t forget that stupid bitch of his. If you’d just let me kill her like I wanted to in the first place-”

“No! We can’t risk that until we know for sure.”

“I already told you. She’s not the one.”

“You don’t know that, and until we know for sure, we can’t make a move against her. This isn’t open for debate. If she is the one, we have to know. They tried to take her out once before and look at what happened. Max healed her and made her even stronger. No, we don’t do anything until we know for sure.”

“I’m telling you-”

“Drop it Tess. Now what the hell did you do to him?”

“He tried to leave, so I stopped him.”

“Is the implant still working? You know you have to be careful with it. You know that implants can react badly to mindwarps. Look at what happened to Alex.”

“That wasn’t my fault. His implant was degenerating. He was remembering everything. I had no choice but to mindwarp him.”

“And you killed him Tess.”

“So what! He was just a human.”

“So what are we going to do about Max? He’s never going to accept you, and he’s never going to return the Granilith on his own.”

“There’s one way . . .”

“And that would be?”

“Look, I know Max. There’s one way I can wrap him around my finger. He’s an honorable guy. He’ll do the right thing, even if he doesn’t want to.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Help me get his clothes off and I’ll explain everything. We can make this work, Sean. You can reprogram the implant with a new set of memories, and tomorrow morning when he wakes up, he’ll be all mine.”

* * * * *

Memories continued to flash before them, moving faster and faster as the truth was revealed. The images moved so fast they became nothing but a blur to the four watching. The wind swirled around the room even faster, and the roar rose to a crescendo before suddenly dissipating. The image that had floated in the air vanished in an explosion of light and then the chamber was left in silence.

Liz swayed and then collapsed to her knees with her energy nearly exhausted. She sensed movement and with difficulty she lifted her head. She watched as Max slowly opened his eyes and she crawled up to his side. He tried to move but he was so weak. She lifted his head and cradled him in her lap and she took his hand in hers, entwining her fingers between his as they stared into each other’s eyes.

“Liz . . .” Max said haltingly. He couldn’t believe she was really here, holding him, touching him like she used to. He looked into her eyes, her face, and he saw something there that he never thought he’d see again. There was love there, in her eyes, love for him. “Liz . . .” he said again, needing to tell her what he now knew.

“Shhhhh,” Liz said stroking her fingers through his hair and brushing it off his forehead. “Don’t say anything. Save your strength, Max.”

“I have to tell you something,” he whispered. “About me, and Tess.”

“It doesn’t matter, Max,” Liz answered and leaned down to press her lips against his forehead. “All I care about is you, Max. Nothing else matters.”

“I didn’t sleep with her, Liz,” Max said, squeezing her hand with his. “I didn’t sleep with Tess.”

posted on 14-Sep-2001 7:19:01 PM
Dying Embers

Part 17

Isabel felt a sense of intense relief wash over her when Max opened his eyes and spoke to Liz. The emptiness she had seen in them earlier had been terrifying and she had doubted the healing stones would be strong enough to bring him back from whatever dark place he had gone. After witnessing the events that had happened here, Isabel now suspected it wasn’t just the stones that had saved her brothers life. It was Liz. She had done something extraordinary, had channeled some hidden strength, and pulled Max back from the brink of death. She watched them as they clung to each other on the hard floor of the Granilith chamber.

“Liz, it was all a lie. A lie to force me to go home.” She was holding Max, with his head resting in her lap and he looked up into her shining eyes. His memories were returning now, the memories that she had safeguarded for him. “But Tess could never understand that this is my home, here, with you. I couldn’t give up on you Liz. I couldn’t give up on the idea that we would work things out and someday we’d been together again. That’s when she got desperate and used the implant to-”

“Woo, slow down Max,” Michael said picking up on what he had just said. “What implant?”

“Remember when I went to New York last November?” Max said as he sat up. He drew Liz fully into his arms and then looked at the others in the room. They all nodded and waited for him to continue. “I told you how the Emissary checked for the Royal seal in my brain? Well that wasn’t all they did. They put something in my brain, an implant in my cerebral cortex so that they could control me. They programmed it so that they could trigger certain responses in me, and gave me memories that weren’t really mine. Like the memories of home, and how I met Tess, and what it was like there.” He focused on Isabel and said, “They put an implant in Alex too.”

“What?” Isabel whispered.

“It’s how they controlled him,” Max continued. “They set him up in Las Cruses and programmed the implant to make him decipher the Destiny book. They needed the supercomputer there to do it. They checked his progress from time to time and once he translated the book they let him return to Roswell. They just programmed the implant to give him memories of going to Sweden, but when it started to degenerate the false memories also started to breakdown. Tess tried to mindwarp him and that caused the implant to further degrade and it destroyed his brain.” He looked at Liz again and said, “Just like it was destroying mine. You saved me. You all saved me.”

“Is it still in your brain?” Maria asked.

“Yeah,” Max nodded his head. “But it’s inactive now. We need to figure out some way to get it out, so that it can’t be used to control me anymore.”

“But Tess is gone,” Michael reminded everyone. “You don’t have to worry about her controlling you anymore.”

“Tess wasn’t working alone,” Liz said as she and Max locked eyes on each other. His memories had become her memories during the link, and her memories had become his. She had felt his pain when he looked through her bedroom window that night, and saw her with Kyle. He had felt her tears when she begged that future version of him to find another way. The pain that they had suffered was now shared pain and their healing was already under way.

“Who was she working with?” Kyle asked. He had trusted Tess and had welcomed her into his home. She had repaid him by lying to him and manipulating him and using him. As he looked at Max he realized they had that in common. Tess had used them both, controlled their minds and their actions. She had quite literally raped their minds, for her own benefit.

Max held Kyle’s gaze for a moment and a silent communication passed between them. They had both been victims and a new understanding was being forged. In time, a true friendship could emerge. Max shifted his gaze to Maria and he regretted what he was about to tell her. “Sean isn’t Sean.”

“What?” Maria said and felt the color drain from her face. Michael wrapped a protective arm around her and she said to Max, “What are you talking about?”

“Sean has been working with Tess, and probably has been since he came to town.”

“Are you saying that Sean has been possessed, like Brody? Or are you saying Sean is dead, and the person that has been living in my house is an impostor, a skin or another hybrid or something, created to look and act like my cousin?”

“I’m sorry, Maria,” Max said looking at her sympathetically. “I don’t know. All I know is that Sean was helping Tess. I can remember now what really happened that night in the observatory. I was only semi-conscious, but I could hear some of what was happening around me. Sean was there and helped Tess set me up.” Max looked at Liz and he saw the understanding on her face. His memory of what really happened that night was in her now, too.

“So what did happen that night?” Michael asked. He had pulled Maria close to him and he could feel her struggle to come to terms with the fate of her cousin.

Max squeezed Liz’s hand in his and his eyes looked deeply into hers as he answered Michael to the best of his ability. “Tess tried to seduce me and when I turned her down she used the mindwarp to prevent me from leaving the observatory. She called Sean for help, and then devised the plan to make me think I’d slept with her and got her pregnant. Sean programmed the implant so that I would remember the um, the ah . . .” Max cleared his throat uncomfortable.

“The hot alien sex?” Liz said and chewed at her lower lip.

“Yeah,” Max answered and felt the blush rising in his cheeks.

She looked at him and felt that old familiar sensation in the pit of her stomach. This was her Max, the Max she had fallen in love with. His embarrassment was so reminiscent of those simpler days before Tess came to town and started controlling him. His eyes had dropped from hers and he was concentrating on the back of her hand. She leaned forward and her lips touched his with a soft kiss. She could feel his quick intake of breath, his surprise, and as her lips parted from his she felt him chase after her, wanting more.

“So no hot alien sex, huh?” Kyle asked in mock disappointment. Max and Liz both turned to look at him and he shrugged his shoulders and quipped, “Inquiring minds want to know!”

“No,” Max shook his head and laughed softly. “No hot alien sex, but . . . but . . .” He looked at Liz and he knew he had to be totally honest with her. There could be no secrets, no half-truths, no deceptions between them. “I mean, I saw . . . we were . . . when I woke up she was . . . I was . . .”

“Are you trying to say that you woke up with a naked Tess in your naked arms with your naked bodies touching?” Liz articulated what he was having such a hard time saying.

“Yeah, that.” Max looked at her face closely trying to judge what she was thinking.

“None of it was your fault, Max,” Liz reassured him. “You shouldn’t feel guilty.” They stared into each other’s eyes and Max felt all the tension and the strain and the loneliness of the last year falling away from him. He wanted to kiss her again, to feel her soft lips against his. The knowledge that he could, that he could kiss her right now and she wouldn’t turn away from him was more powerful than any drug ever made. He leaned toward her, wanting to taste her once again, and then Michael interrupted.

“We better get out of here. We can go back to my place and figure this all out.” He leaned over and held his hand out to help Max to his feet. Their hands clasped and the brief look that crossed Michael’s face displayed the depth of his emotions. Michael gave his hand an extra squeeze and said, “Welcome back Maxwell.”

Max rose to his feet with Michael’s assistance, and then he turned back to Liz and helped her to her feet. “You guys go ahead,” he said to them but he didn’t take his eyes off of Liz. “We’ll be with you in just a minute.”

The four of them quietly left the chamber and Max drew Liz closer to him. He lifted his hand to let his fingers brush her hair back from her face and he said, “Of all the things that have happened to me, to us, I’d live through the torture of a thousand white rooms if it meant I could have spare you the pain I caused you in this last year. Knowing the way I hurt you is almost more than I bear.”


“You mean everything to me, Liz. When you look at me, the way you’re looking at me right now, I know that I was right all along. The first time I laid eyes on you, I knew you were the one for me.”

“I love you, Max,” Liz said as she stared into his eyes.

Her words made his breath catch in his throat and he felt his heart swell with joy. Liz Parker was in love with him and all things felt right in the world. He could hardly speak around the lump that had formed in his throat, and when he did, the emotion was heavy in his tone. “I love you, Liz. I always have, and I always will.”

Their lips came together and they kissed, tentative at first and then deeper as they each let the turmoil of the last year fall away. Their arms held each other tightly and their bodies reacted to their familiarity. Liz felt his tongue sweep over her lower lip and she parted her lips to allow him the access he was desperately seeking and she urgently needed.

The kiss was all consuming, and then he got a flash. A memory surfaced, a memory of a time long ago, in a place far away. It was a memory that would forever change them . . .

“Mother, please! Don’t make me do this. There must be another way.”

“Zan, sometimes we have to do things for the good of the people. I know it’s unfair, but this is the life you were born into. I’m sure you will grow to love her, in time.”

“But Mother, I know that there is someone-”

“Someone else? Who Zan? Who is it that holds your heart?”

He stood at the portal staring out over the city and the lights mirrored the stars in the sky. He looked up and he concentrated on the one star that always seemed the brightest to him. “I don’t know, Mother,” he sighed. “There is someone out there for me, but I just haven’t met her yet.”

“Zan, this marriage with Ava, it has to be. We’re on the verge of a civil war. Marrying her will unite our two peoples and avoid a bloody conflict. If you don’t do this, there will be war. Will you be able to sleep nights, knowing millions are dying because of the decision you made?”

“No Mother. I know what my responsibilities are. When Father died and I became King, I knew my life wouldn’t be my own anymore.”

She came up behind him and when she touched him gently he turned away from the night sky, and all his hopes and dreams. “I will meet with Ava tomorrow when she arrives in the city. We will finalize the arrangements and the wedding will proceed next week as planned.”

“It’s the right thing to do, Zan.”

“Yes Mother.” He left her chamber to return to his own with a heavy heart. He always did the right thing, no matter how much his heart wanted to do something else. He was King. A King had responsibilities and duties and his personal happiness didn’t play a part in them.

* * * * *

Zan waited in the receiving chamber for the arrival of his bride-to-be. They had spoken on the vids, but this would be their first meeting. A commotion sounded in the outer room and with a flair of pomp and ceremony, she entered the chamber. It was always different looking at someone in person, instead of on the vids. Even though the images were life size and three dimensional, there was still something artificial about them. Zan appraised Ava as she swept into the chamber and he noted her classic Cerian beauty. Her markings were indicative of upper class, high society, and her manner mirrored that. Her color flared in the traditional formal greeting and he returned his muted response, as was fitting and proper from his position as King.

“Your Highness,” she spoke softly.

“Princess Ava. Welcome.” Their digits touched and Zan drew her further into the chamber. “I hope your trip was pleasant.”

“It was . . . uneventful.” It was well known that Ava detested travel between the planets and preferred the use of the vids when she was required off world. This was her first visit to Antar, her new home. “My Father sends his regards, and wished for me to inform you that he will arrive by week’s end.”

“Yes, I noticed he was not with you.” Her entourage had filed in behind her and the room was becoming crowded.

“State business keeps him away.”

“I see.” An uncomfortable silence fell between them and Zan wondered what to say to this female that was to become his mate. “Perhaps you’d care to rest after your trip? Your chamber has been prepared for you.”

“Yes, that would be appreciated,” she said with relief. “The trip was tiring.” She paused for a moment and then added, “I’m glad to finally meet you in person. I’m looking forward to making a new life here, and to a strong marriage.”

“Yes, I am too,” Zan answered and forced his muted tones to take on the shade of orange to reflect his mutual anticipation. He was good at hiding his true feeling. And the truth was, though Ava was beautiful, he felt no connection to her. Well, maybe in time, as his Mother had counseled. They rotated toward the door and he said, “I’ll show you the way-”

And then he saw her. His colors flared bright red in an immediate response to her, even though he couldn’t see her clearly from across the room.

“You were saying?” Ava asked and she matched his color, mistaking it as a response to her.

The girl was in the back of the chamber and she was bowed in deference, as was custom when in the presence of Royalty. Zan fought valiantly to rein his colors in. It wasn’t fitting for the King to show such a display in public. Who was this girl? One of Ava’s Ladies? Or a handmaiden perhaps? He couldn’t see her markings clearly.


“This way.” Zan forced himself to return his attention to Ava and he escorted her from the room. Her entourage followed behind them and Zan had to use all his willpower to keep from turning around to look for the girl. “I think you’ll like your chambers. They’ve been prepared to your specifications.”

“Thank you, Zan. I’m sure everything will be more than satisfactory.”

“If you need anything at all, or if the space is inadequate, just let me know.” He could sense the girl behind him now. He had isolated her scent, a strong and intoxicating scent, and his colors nearly betrayed him again. He’d never had this kind of reaction to a girl before. Well, girl wasn’t the right word. The color of her markings indicated a mature female, probably in her third or forth cycle. They reached the entrance to Ava’s chamber and Zan came to a stop. “Rest now. Let me know when you are ready and a meal will be prepared for you. I’ve instructed the cooks as to your favorite foods.”

“Thank you, Zan.” Their digits touched again and Ava’s colors lightened to pink. Zan matched hers in a show of respect and then she disappeared into her new rooms.

Zan watched as her entourage followed her and he sought out the girl. She was just a few paces away from him and as she neared he could see her more clearly. She moved with a sense of grace and dignity, and her appendages were delicate and refined. Her head was bowed in respect as she passed by Zan and he breathed deeply to catch her scent. His colors flickered wildly for a moment and he had to rein them in once again. He felt like a boy, suffering through the embarrassment of going through the awakening all over again. He was a fully mature male, ten cycles past the awakening, This shouldn’t be happening to him.

The girl passed him and he could see her markings clearly now. There was something familiar about their placement and he wondered what her lineage was. He watched her refined movements and then something most unusual happened. Her colors flared bright red and then swiftly turned deep purple. Zan stared at her in shock and amazement. Red! He’d seen her turn red, the color of attraction. But not just red, he noted. Bright red! The stronger the color, the more intense the emotion. The red had quickly turned to purple. Embarrassment. She was deeply embarrassed by her sudden display of attraction. Zan felt his own colors rising and he had to fight them down yet again. As she entered the chamber her tones had returned to the usual muted browns, but there was no mistaking what he had seen.

* * * * *

Zan met Rath in the anteroom off the dining hall and greeted his friend with a display of pink colors.

“You look like you’re in a good mood,” Rath commented and returned the colors. “Your first meeting with your bride-to-be must have gone well.”

“Yes, it went fine. She will be joining us for the evening meal shortly.”

“And her Father? Will he be joining us too?” Rath asked curiously.

“No. State affairs will keep him on Ceri Prime until the end of the week.”

“I wonder if he is still as fat and ugly as always,” Rath flashed green tones to highlight his humor. “How did that Cerian ever have a daughter as beautiful as Ava?”

“That’s a good question,” Zan laughed. “Her brothers were lucky too. They must take after their mother.”

“Be careful of them, Zan,” Rath warned and his colors slipped into blue. “Something tells me they are not trustworthy. There is something hiding behind their outward appearances. I don’t trust their colors.”

“Noted,” he sighed. Intrigue and backstabbing and power plays could get so tiring. “I want to talk to you after dinner. Do you have any plans?”

“No, noth-” and then the commotion in the dinning hall captured their attention.

“It sounds like Ava has arrived. We better go join them.” Zan moved from the anteroom and his gaze fell upon his intended. She flashed him pink in greeting and he motioned for her to join him. Try as he might, he couldn’t help looking around for the face that he really wanted to see. He hid his disappointment that she wasn’t in attendance and Zan escorted Ava to the table.

His Mother and Vilandra swept into the room and greetings were flashed by all. “Ava! It’s so wonderful to finally meet you in person,” his Mother effused and her pink flashed brightly.

Zan decided that he must have gotten his control over his colors from his Mother. She was certainly good at projecting what she wanted others to see. Normally, he was extremely efficient at his displays. Today had just been an unusual day. He rotated to look around the room again and then he felt Ava touch him.

“Are you looking for someone?” she asked curiously.

“No,” Zan answered hastily and flashed her a shade of yellow. “I was just looking to see if the cook was ready to serve the meal. You must be hungry.” This was not a good sign. He was lying to the female that was soon to be his mate, but he couldn’t very well tell her that he was looking for another. He could feel his Mother’s gaze on him and he had to concentrate hard to keep his colors yellow. The cook entered and the hall filled with an assortment of tantalizing smells and his yellow deepened. Good timing. Perhaps the cook was due a nice bonus come month’s end.

“So when will the rest of your family be arriving?” Vilandra asked pleasantly.

“Week’s end. My Father should arrive mid day,” Ava answered as the cook served her first as their honored guest.

“And you brothers? Will they be arriving with him?” she asked and Zan could see her colors waver slightly. He wondered why such a simple question would cause her colors to change.

“I believe so,” Ava answered. “Kendal and Kivar are assisting my Father this week, but they should all arrive together, in plenty of time for the nuptial celebrations.”

Vilandra nodded and turned her attention to the meal the cook was now serving her. Zan watched her closely and for just a fleeting moment he thought he saw her colors tint with red. Interesting. She had had a brief attraction to Kivar two cycles ago, but their Father had forbid it. Zan and Ava were intended to merge their two houses, not Vilandra and Kivar.

The meal proceeded uneventfully and when completed Ava returned to her chamber, citing lingering fatigue from her trip. Zan escorted her to her to her room and amidst their mutual shades of yellow he asked, “Would you like to see the city tomorrow? I can show you the Town Square and the Market. There might even be a performance in the park we could view. That is, if you have recovered from your trip.”

“That sounds nice,” Ava flashed a deeper yellow and she waited expectantly for his response. He matched her color and then leaned forward to give her a kiss goodnight. It was their first, and he touched her tentatively, waiting to see how they merged. She was open to him and her desire flashed over him. He pulled back from her and flashed red, only because he knew it was expected.

“Do you want to come in?” she asked and her yellow was tinged with streaks of red.

“You’re tired.” He knew what she was offering, but it was just a little too soon for him. He wanted a chance to get to know her a little before the mating. He knew her likes and her dislikes from their many conversations on the vids, but there was still so much to learn about her. “Rest now, and tomorrow we’ll spend the day together.”

Ava nodded and moved into her chamber. “Tomorrow . . .”

He watched her close the door and when he heard it latch his yellow returned to the neutral shade of brown. He had been hoping there would be a natural response to her, an attraction that would be mutual and bode well for their pairing, but it appeared he wasn’t to be that lucky. It felt like he’d been waiting his whole life for that one certain person to enter it, and just when he thought it had happened, it wasn’t the female he was pledged to.

He rotated from the door and hurried off to find Rath.

* * * * *

“I need you to do me a favor,” Zan told Rath as they exited the Palace and made their way onto the grounds. He wanted this conversation to be private, and privacy was a hard thing to come by inside those walls. The three moons were out in full force tonight and the gardens looked inviting in the shimmering light.

“That sounds interesting,” Rath said. Zan didn’t often ask him for personal favors. “What do you need?”

“There’s someone I want you to find out about. A girl. I want to know where she was born, who her parents are, where she got her education. Basically, I want to know everything you can find out.”

“This is an interesting request. What’s her name?”

“I don’t know.” Zan could feel Rath’s penetrating gaze and his colors fluctuated, showing his nervousness. “She’s a member of Ava’s entourage. I . . . I just want . . .”

“Looking for one last hurrah before settling into married life, huh?” Rath said suggestively.

‘No. Not at all,” Zan denied hotly. “I just . . . there’s something familiar about her.”

“I see. For a minute there I though you were finally going to take that vestal body of yours and enjoy some carnal pleasure.”

“I’ve enjoyed carnal pleasure before!” Zan retorted.

“I’m not talking about with yourself! I’m talking about with any one of the lovely females that live within your domain.” He gazed at Zan and almost laughed at the shocked maroon color of his friend’s markings. “I’m just saying that it’s about time you showed an interest in the female population. Some of us have been wondering just where your loyalties lay, if you know what I mean.”

“What are you talking about? I’m just more discreet in my liaisons than you are. I don’t boast about them to just anyone that will listen.”

“More discreet?” Rath said shaking his head. “More like celibate!”

“I’ve had my share of females,” Zan insisted and felt his colors taking on a purple hue.

“Ha! When?” Rath needled him. He was enjoying watching his King’s embarrassment.

“Just last cycle I found pleasure in Benoi’s fair cousin.” Zan replied.

“Everyone’s found pleasure in Benoi’s cousin.” Rath laughed.


“A King should be spreading his seed throughout the kingdom and bestowing his infinite charms on the fine young maidens. I dare say, they would line the streets beseeching you to choose them. Your rep-”

“There she is!” Zan interrupted him. He felt his respirations increase and the cool night air felt hot against his dilating markings.

Rath studied Zan in utter amazement. His King was well known for his cool demeanor and his aloof nature. His control of his physical responses was legendary and he never gave away his emotions. It was why he had been so successful as the head of the Council. To look at him now, bright red with desire, stopped Rath in his tracks.

Zan stared at her from across the garden as she moved among the flora. He isolated her scent and he breathed in deeply, drawing her unique fragrance into his lungs. Her scent put the flowers to shame. His blood rushed to his markings causing his color to flare a vivid red but he didn’t even notice. He watched her as she picked a small bud and he noticed her markings turn yellow with contentment. Without conscious thought he moved in her direction.

The rustling of his coverings drew her attention and she looked up to see the King coming toward her. The blood rushed from her markings leaving them a pale cream and she bowed before him.

As he neared her he realized his colors were on display and he quickly muted them. Had she seen? Had Rath? He glanced over at his friend and confidant but his appearance was neutral, giving Zan no indication of what he might have seen. He shifted his sight back to the girl and when she spoke, her voice was musical.

“Forgive me your Majesty. I . . . I shouldn’t be here in your private gardens. Your permission to leave . . .”

He was fighting an internal battle to keep his colors neutral and when he spoke his tone sounded tense. “It’s much too pleasant a night to be cooped up indoors. You have my permission to stay, and glean the gardens until your heart’s content.”

“Thank you, your Majesty, but . . . but I really must go.” She remained bowed before him and her colors paled even more. “Please . . . my Lady awaits.”

“Yes, of course.” His colors darkened slightly at the mention of Ava and then he said, “But please, come back. Anytime. The gardens love the attention of a beautiful Lady.” He noticed the lavender blush that rose in her markings and then she backed slowly away from him.

“Thank you, your Majesty.” She rotated, intending to flee to the Palace but her movements froze when he called out to her.

“Wait!” She turned back to him with her head bowed and he said, “I didn’t get your name.”

“Rena,” she answered softly. “My name is Rena.”

“Here Rena, you dropped this . . .” He held the bud out to her that had fallen to the ground and she tentatively reached for it. Their digits touched and her colors flared red before turning deep purple. He could hear her sharp intake of breath and his colors betrayed his own attraction. She pulled away from him and once more fled toward the safety of the Palace.

He watched her go and he memorized every detail of this magical moment. How she looked and how she moved and how her scent filled the air all around him. He memorized everything, right down to the color of the flower bud she had picked. She liked the white ones.

posted on 14-Sep-2001 7:26:37 PM
Dying Embers

Part 18

Rena. What a beautiful name. Zan had awakened with the musical sound of her name ringing in his mind. He had dreamed of her in the night. Sweet dreams.

He rose early, as was his custom, and he walked the quiet halls of the Palace and let his mind wander back to last night when he’d seen her in the garden. She’d looked so beautiful standing there amongst the flowers. She looked like she belonged there. He could fairly hear the sounds of the flowers crying out for her return.

Alanee opened her chamber door and her eyes encountered the sight of her son on his morning ritual, roaming through the halls. Lost in his thoughts, she could tell he hadn’t noticed her. She watched him as he passed by and she could see that his movements were lighter than normal. Bouncier. As if he was actually happy. The last two cycles, ever since his father died and Zan had taken on the responsibilities of King, he hadn’t allowed himself time to just enjoy life.

What a difference a day could make, Alanee thought as she watched her son. Yesterday his despair had been palpable, and today . . . today he was literally glowing. His normal muted brown tones were glowing a vibrant yellow, radiating an aura of contentment around him. Her heart swelled with maternal joy as she watched him disappear around the corner. She could sense the change in him, see it in the way he moved and in the way his colors were on display. The signs were all clear. Her son was falling in love.

* * * * *

Zan entered the dining hall for the morning meal and inhaled the succulent smells of his favorite meal of the day. Cook was just finishing laying everything out on the sideboard and he could hardly wait to begin feasting. He loved the mornings the best, when everything was quiet and the day held so much promise.

There hadn’t been much that looked promising lately, Zan mused while he waited for Cook to finish. The unrest in the south, the attacks aimed at the government, even an altercation against the Palace Guards in the town square weighed heavily on his mind. His friend Larak had warned him that too many changes in the wake of his father’s death could cause strife, but there was so much he wanted to do. He wanted his people to have a better life. Was that so wrong?

There was also the conflict with the Council he’d had to deal with. His thoughts turned to Ava and unconsciously his colors muted to a neutral brown. It had been decreed shortly after his birth that Zan and the first daughter of Pau, ruler of Ceri Prime would be betrothed and marry to bond the two houses together. The prophets had declared the first son of Antar and the first daughter of Ceri Prime, bonded in marriage would herald in a time of wealth for all nations, peace and prosperity. The union was considered sacred.

However, before Zan had even reached the age of the awakening, Pau had been overthrown by Tirus in a bloody coup. Pau’s mangled body had been left on display in the Capitol Square on Ceri, as a reminder of what would happen to anyone that opposed the tyrannical Tirus. Pau’s family had perished in the coup as well, and his wife and young daughter had been buried in an unmarked grave.

Zan had forgotten about the decree after Pau was killed, and the subject of marrying had not been mentioned again until after Zan’s father had died two cycles ago and Zan had ascended to the Crown. Tirus had gone before the Council and insisted the decree was still valid, and Zan was obligated to marry his daughter, Ava. Zan had been adamantly opposed, asserting the binding contract was with Pau, not Tirus, but the Council had declared the contract was valid. The first son of Antar, Zan, must marry the first daughter of Ceri Prime, Ava. Zan was left with no choice in the matter.

He sighed inwardly as he watched Cook finish arranging the morning meal, but his mind was no longer filled with thoughts of food. When he met Ava the day before, he had been disappointed that he hadn’t felt a sense of connection to her. He hoped his Mother was right, and that this union would grow into something more than just a political pairing, but somehow he doubted it. Marrying for political expediency was common practice among the hierarchy of the five planets, but that didn’t make Zan feel any better about it. Perhaps, someday, love would find a way.

Cook moved aside and Zan’s thoughts turned to the happier ones of the feast laid out before him. He moved closer to the buffet and let the mouth watering aromas waft up around him. He inhaled deeply and then he caught a scent that set his colors ablaze. She was here. His gaze shifted around the room and then there she was, standing in the doorway. He’d never seen a more beautiful sight.

“Your Majesty, pardon my intrusion,” Rena said softly. Her head was bowed in deference to him and she moved backwards tentatively, as if she were about to flee.

“Good morning, Rena,” Zan rushed a greeting to prevent her departure. “Please, come in, come in. You’re just in time. Cook has just served the meal and everything is fresh. Join me, please.”

Her colors flared maroon and he could tell that he had shocked her. “Sir, my Lady asked that I prepare her a plate and return it to her chambers.”

“I see,” Zan said and studied her. Her bearing was regal. She held herself with such grace and dignity and poise, and her manner of speech indicated a formal education. Yet she lived the life of a servant girl, catering to Lady Ava’s wants and desires. It left him with a feeling of anger that a girl such as this should serve another and his colors briefly flared blue. He saw her eyes grow wide in alarm and he instantly reined in his emotions. Returning to his neutral shades of brown, Zan said, “If Lady Ava wishes a plate delivered to her, then let me help you prepare it.”

“Your Majesty! No-”

“In fact, I will help you hand deliver it!” Zan rushed on. “Come. Help me choose which foods she will find satisfactory.”

Reluctantly, Rena joined Zan to assist in selecting the appropriate foods for Ava’s finicky palate. When the plate was filled she reached for it and Zan felt a sudden jolt of intense emotion as their digits touched. He could tell that she had felt something too, and the plate almost dropped to the floor. She quickly recovered and stepped back from him, clutching the dish close to her.

“Thank you, your Majesty, for your assistance. I must now take this to her.” She bowed to him and backed quickly to the door, seeking her escape.

Zan watched her, still feeling the shock of their physical contact and before she disappeared he called out, “Rena, wait!”

She froze in place and for a moment he wasn’t sure what to say to her. Should he ask her if she felt it too? But how? He could hardly even describe what he had felt. Need? Want? Desire? Or was it, could it be . . . Love? He was a male, betrothed to another and his wedding day was looming ever closer. It was a wedding he was bound to by contract. Falling in love with another was not an option for him. He could see the plate that Rena was holding shaking in her hand and he said, “Please tell Lady Ava I’ll be by within the hour to escort her around the city.”

Rena bowed lower, never raising her eyes to him, and softly said, “Thank you, my Lord,” and departed swiftly. As she disappeared from sight, the light in his eyes dimmed and he realized he no longer had an appetite.

* * * * *

Zan walked the streets of the Capital with Ava at his side and a company of Palace Guards surrounding them. Ava was accompanied by a handful of her ever present entourage, and Zan was keenly aware that Rena was in attendance. He could smell her scent in the air, had isolated her rich fragrance from the others, and he drank it in like a fine wine. Though he couldn’t see her, he could sense she was just a few paces behind him. Her scent was so unique, and it almost felt like his body knew it, and reacted to it as if . . . as if . . . she was something more-

“Zan?” Ava said with a touch of blue staining her colors. Was he ignoring her? Had he heard a single word she had said?

“I’m sorry Ava,” Zan hastily said. “You were saying?”

“Perhaps it’s time to return to the Palace,” Ava said coolly.

“Yes. Yes, of course,” Zan responded and mentally shook himself. He was getting off to a bad start with Ava and he was afraid it wasn’t boding well for the union. They rotated back in the direction of the Palace and Zan had to consciously keep from studying Rena’s graceful movements when she came into his line of vision. Looking at her markings, he once again felt a familiarity, as if he had seen the pattern before. He became aware of Ava, standing beside him, waiting for him to show her the proper intimacy that she expected from her soon to be husband. Holding back an inward cringe, his digits wrapped around hers and they made their way back to the Palace grounds.

* * * * *

“The Rebels have taken a foothold in the southern province,” Rath informed Zan as they reviewed the current status of the dissension that had been sweeping across the southern region of the planet. The bands of insurgents were growing in number, leaving a violent path in their wake.

“Casualties?” Zan asked with trepidation. Every loss of life he felt personally, as if every soldier were a part of his own family.

“A few,” Rath spoke somberly. He eyed Zan closely and then gave him the bad news. “I just got word General Weston suffered a fatal injury in a skirmish in sector 27 earlier today.”

Zan’s colors flared maroon as the shock set in. Weston had been a trusted member of the Palace Guard, and a boyhood friend. When the fighting had broken out, he’d volunteered to lead the southern regiment. “Has Marissa been informed yet?”

“No,” Rath answered, feeling his King’s pain. “I knew you would want to do it personally.”

Zan nodded and when he spoke his voice was thick with suppressed emotion. “I will attend to Marissa as soon as we are finished here.”

“Who is Marissa?”

Zan rotated swiftly at the unexpected voice and his eyes met Ava’s. Her colors were muted, neutral, but he was certain he heard a hard edge in her tone. “The mate of one of my finest Generals, and a dear friend. He was killed today in battle and I must inform her of his fate.” Zan watched her colors change to the subdued gray shade of sympathy, but for a moment he thought he saw something else there. Had his eyes only thought he’d seen the aqua shade of triumph? What did that mean?

“My sympathies to both you and the unfortunate widow,” Ava said in a composed tone. She turned to one of her entourage and spoke quietly. Turning back to Zan she said, “You must take an offering of the Weeping Heart, as is custom, when you visit the General’s wife. I have dispatched an expert to pick the finest sample from your gardens. She is exceptionally skilled in the flora of Antar and will chose a proper specimen.”

“Thank you Ava, for your thoughtfulness,” Zan uttered solemnly.

“I take your leave, so that you may continue your discussions,” Ava said with a respectful bow. Zan nodded his acknowledgment and she disappeared into the hallway. He stared at the empty doorway with a vaguely uncomfortable feeling hovering over him.

* * * * *

Zan shuffled through the reports on his desk and things were looking bleaker. Rebels had reportedly infiltrated the Capital City and rumors of a planned attack on the Palace were circulating. With dignitaries arriving for the wedding from across the globe, as well as off world, security had been heightened and the Palace Guard was on high alert.

He sensed her long before the sound of her footfalls reached his ears. He let the paper in his hand flutter to the desktop, forgotten as his eyes concentrated on the door, wondering if she was coming to see him, or just passing by. As her footsteps grew louder, they slowed, and he rose to a standing position as she appeared in his doorway. His colors took on the shade of surprise, turning a vivid magenta for just a moment and then he said, “Rena . . .”

“Lady Ava charged me with the selection of an appropriate Weeping Heart to give as an offering to the unfortunate widow of your General,” Rena said as she bowed to Zan in respect. “I pray that my humble knowledge of the flora of Antar will prove satisfactory.”

Zan stared at the flower arrangement she cradled in her arms. He’d never seen a finer example. The eye at the heart of the bud was the perfect shading and the coloration at the outer edges looked exactly like teardrops. He noticed that she was wearing the traditional mourning garb, and the gray sympathy robe that draped her body and covered her head only served to make him respect her more. She knew his customs well. “Rena,” Zan managed to say finally. “Your selection is the finest I have ever seen. I am honored to present it to the General’s wife.”

Rena felt a sense of pride fill her. She had studied long and hard to understand the customs of Antar, and to have the King praise her was more than she had expected. His next words left her maroon in shock.

“You must accompany me, Rena,” Zan informed her. “The task is a daunting one, and your gentle presence will help ease the pain. Marissa will welcome your gift into her home.”

Rena was about to utter a protest, to suggest that his bride-to-be accompany him, as was fitting, but she held her silence. Zan had just requested that she attend him, and who was she to question the King’s desires? She nodded her head in understanding and waited while he prepared for the unpleasant task ahead of him.

* * * * *

“Nooooo,” Marissa cried out as her eyes took in the sight before her. Zan was standing on her doorstep, wearing the traditional gray robe of sympathy and beside him stood an equally draped female holding a Weeping Heart. “Noooo,” she cried again and Zan caught her as she collapsed to the floor.

“Marissa, I’m so sorry,” Zan said softly as he held her close to him. Her body was trembling with grief and no words were necessary for her to know why Zan was here. Her husband was dead, killed in the fighting. He guided the weeping female back into her home and Rena closed the door to block out the prying eyes of the neighbors.

“Say it isn’t true,” Marissa pleaded.

“I wish it wasn’t true, but he’s gone Marissa,” Zan said nearly choking on his own emotion.

Rena watched Zan as he ministered to the grief stricken widow and she was taken by the tenderness he showed. He had a reputation as unemotional, intolerant, and even cruel, but everything she had seen so far belied that. As Marissa sobbed against him, he held her gently, rocking her back and forth and speaking soothingly to her.

Rena set about the task of displaying the Weeping Heart in a place of prominence in the room. As family and friends came to offer condolences, they would stop by the altar she was preparing to wish the departed a safe journey to the afterlife. It was an integral part of their grieving process. When her task was completed, Zan drew Marissa to the alter and they knelt before it, praying for Weston’s soul to find peace.

Later, after the house had filled, Zan said his solemn goodbyes and escorted Rena to the door. Marissa’s mother walked beside them and said humbly, “Thank you Zan, for taking the time to tell Marissa personally. And to you, Ava, for the fine display you created. The altar is the most beautiful one I have ever seen.”

“No . . . I mean,” Zan stammered, wanting to correct the mistake. “She’s not . . . this isn’t Ava . . .”

“No? I thought . . . you look so . . . you two seem so . . .” Now it was her turn to feel flustered and then she lowered her head. “Pardon my error.”

“This is Rena. A . . .” and then he wasn’t sure what to say. A servant? To use that name for her seemed wrong. Mari was staring at them with a strange look in her eyes, and then Zan let his colors take on a soft yellow as he finished, “ . . . a friend. Rena is a good friend.”

They said their final goodbyes and Zan lead Rena out the door and into the afternoon sunshine. He pushed the hood of the mourning robe off of his head and he turned to gaze at Rena. “Thank you,” he said solemnly.

“For what, Sire?” Rena asked.

“For making this unpleasant task easier to bear,” Zan answered. “Marissa was deeply touched by the beauty of your offering. Tell me, Rena, how did you become so well versed in Antarian customs? How much time have you spent here?”

“This is my first visit,” she answered, avoiding eye contact with him.

“Impossible! How can you know our ways so well?”

“I spent my life knowing I would live here. I began studying your ways when I was but a child.” She met his eyes then, and he could see that there was something hidden there, something that he couldn’t read. With a small laugh she said, “I think I know Antarian customs better than those of my home world.”

Why, Zan wondered as he came to a halt in the middle of the street. Where did she grow up? Where was she schooled? Why did she think she would someday live here on Antar? He had so many questions for her. He wanted to know everything about her. No detail of her life was too minor or inconsequential. As he pondered even more questions he wanted to ask her, he was interrupted by one of the Palace Guards that was in attendance.

“Sir, your presence is requested back at the Palace.”

He nodded at the soldier but continued to stare at Rena. There was something about her that made him want to know about every facet of her life, every dream, every desire, every fantasy that she had ever thought about. He didn’t know what it was that caused him to be this way, he only knew he wouldn’t rest until he knew more. In silence, they turned back toward the Palace gates.

* * * * **

“We need to talk when this torture is over,” Rath whispered into Zan’s ear. They were seated around a large table and enduring yet another stately dinner, complete with visiting dignitaries who had begun arriving in anticipation of the impending nuptials.

Zan looked at Rath with his interest piqued and said, “What about?”

“Your side dish,” Rath answered.

Zan looked at his plate and wondered what in the world Rath was talking about. He didn’t have a side dish.

“You know Zan, sometimes you can be a dim color,” Rath needled him. “I’m not talking about your food.”

Zan looked at him questioningly and Rath glanced over at the girl that hovered behind Ava, waiting on her beck and call. “Are you talking about Rena? Did you find out something about her?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Rath responded. “Something very interesting.”

“What?” Zan demanded. He wanted to know right now. He didn’t want to wait until later to hear what Rath had to say about her. He hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind, and with each passing day he could feel his connection to her growing stronger. He knew it was wrong. He was destined to marry another, but he couldn’t help the way he felt drawn to her. There was just something about her . . .

“Let’s just say that under different circumstances,” Rath said conspiratorially, “your fair Rena would have been much more than just a side dish.”

* * * * *

“Explain!” Zan demanded. He was pacing back and forth in the anteroom off the dining hall, waiting for Rath to tell him what the hell he meant. “Exactly what did you find out about Rena?”

“My, my, Zan. I’ve never seen you act this way before.” Rath was eyeing his friend, taking note of his obvious agitation. “If I may be so bold as to say, I think this girl has gotten under your markings. If I believed in it, I would swear you have fallen victim to that dreaded disease, Love At First Sight.”

“Why do you say that?” Zan asked with a touch of blue showing his irritation. Rath was mocking him.

“I’ve seen the shade your colors turn every time you look at her,” Rath said taking on a more serious tone. “I’ve seen the way you watch her, and I must say, you’re lucky Ava hasn’t noticed it too.” Rath could tell that Zan was about to object and he barreled on. “I’ll wager you even know her scent, and can isolate hers from everyone else’s, even after only knowing her such a short time and barely even having spoken to her.”

Zan looked at his friend and admitted to himself that what he felt for Rena went far deeper than curiosity or simple attraction. She made his heart beat faster, just thinking about her. When she walked into the room his breath caught in his throat. He lost complete control of his colors every time she was near. He’d never behaved this way before, not even during the agony of the awakening when he changed from a boy into a mature male. The words Rath spoke were true. God help him, after all this time of waiting, after all the lonely days and nights he had spent wondering if he would ever find the one he dreamt about, Zan realized love had finally entered his heart. But once again, nothing ever quite worked out the way he wanted it to. He was in love with Rena, and yet in mere days, he would take another as his wife.

“It’s too bad,” Rath sympathized. “If it hadn’t been for Tirus, everything would have fallen into place. You would have had the girl, the Crown, and the Kingdom.”

“That’s the second time you’ve inferred something, Rath,” Zan said and his colors showed his irritation. “Exactly what are you trying to say to me?”

“Zan,” Rath locked eyes on his King. “I found out Rena is the daughter of Pau, of Ceri Prime. Your father and Pau bonded you to Rena when you were just a boy. If Tirus hadn’t wrested the Crown away from Pau, Rena would have been the one destined to become your wife.”

* * * * *

Zan stood at the Palace window and stared out over the grounds. It was late, but he had been unable to sleep. His conversation with Rath kept echoing through his brain. Rena was the one he had been bonded to. Rena was the daughter of Pau. Rena should have been the one to become his wife. If only things were different . . .

But things weren’t different. Over his objection, the Council had upheld the contract. Ava would become his wife a week hence, and nothing short of death could stop it.

A movement in the garden caught his eye and he felt his heart skip when he recognized her. She was walking among the flora again, as she had the previous night and the night before that. He felt himself drawn to her and he opened the door and made his way silently across the lawn.

Rena leaned forward so that she could breathe in the scent of the flowers on the vine. The foliage on Antar was different than that of home, on Ceri. Not good different, nor bad different, just different. She had spent the better part of her life studying Antar, it’s customs, it’s traditions, it’s way of life and it’s lifeforms, but this was her first opportunity to really study the flora up close in it’s native environment. With all the things that had gone wrong in her life, at least she finally had this. Everything was as beautiful as she had always thought it would be.

Examining a bud closely, Rena was able to deduce what genus this flower derived from and extrapolate its Cerian cousin. Mating this Rosacea alba with its blue Cerian cousin should create a white hybrid with spectacular blue markings on the tips of each velvety soft petal. Her ruminations were suddenly interrupted by a sound behind her and she froze in place when his scent drifted to her on the night air.

“Hello, Rena,” Zan said softly.

She straightened up and slowly rotated in the direction of her King’s voice. He was standing just a few paces from her, and the rising moon cast his features in its soft glow. Her heart began to beat wildly in her chest and she had to force herself to take slow, even breaths so as not to bring attention to her inappropriate response to him.

“Your Majesty,” she said with a bow of respect.

“Rena, I request a favor of you,” Zan said and his voice was like honey to her.

“Yes, my Lord,” she replied. What could he wish of her, a lowly servant girl?

“When we are alone together, it is my most fervent wish that you refer to me by my given name.”

“But your Highness-”

“That is not my given name,” Zan interrupted.

“But your-”

“No. My given name never has a ‘your’ in front of it. A simple Zan will do very nicely.”

“But . . . but . . . your Maj-”

“Zan,” he cut her off again.

“Please, yo-”

“Zan,” he said again and his colors turned a shade of green to reflect his smile.

“It is improper for me to refer to you in that fashion, Sir.”

“Sir is not my given name either.” He took a step closer to her and said, “Repeat after me . . . Zan.”

“I . . . I . . .” she stumbled over her words.

“Zan,” he repeated. He stepped closer still until he could breathe in the air around her. Her fragrance was heady and he felt his colors turning a vibrant red. It was good that only one of the three moons had risen and the light was still low.

“Please, kind Sir,” she begged.

“Rena, say my name. Please.” She looked at him then, and he sighed as he drank in her beauty. “Please.”

He could see her reticence waver and then her colors took on a glowing shade of yellow. Shyly, and ever so softly, she said, “Zan.”

It was musical in his ears, just the way he had known it would be. Sweet music floating from her mouth to take away the emptiness of the night. His heart sang with joy to hear her say his name. “That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Zan teased her to add levity to the mood.

“Yes!” Rena said boldly. “Yes, it most certainly was . . . Zan.”

His colors flared bright yellow to hear the ease with which his name flowed from her lips. It felt so right, so fitting . . . so natural. Just being in her presence filled him with a contentment he had never experienced before.

“Tell me, Rena, of all the flowers in my garden, which one is your favorite?” Zan watched her closely, noting the way her eyes dropped from his and her colors took on a purple hue.

Her gaze darted to the white Rosacea and she slowly reached for one delicate bud. “My Mother loved this one, and I guess it was only natural for me to find the same beauty in it that she did. The white ones are my favorite. They are so . . .”

“Pure?” Zan offered when she didn’t finish the sentence.

“Yes,” Rena nodded. “Pure and simple, yet complex. Their beauty is so natural.” She was lost in thought for a moment, of memories of days spent walking hand in hand with her mother through her own precious gardens, before everything had been lost. Zan took a step closer to her and then she asked, “Which is your favorite . . . Zan?”

She turned to him and he held her gaze as he replied, “Until tonight, I had no favorite flower. Now, the Rosacea alba, in all its splendor, will forever hold that most special place in my heart.” Even in the low light of the single moon, Zan could see the way her colors shifted from purple to red. There was no mistaking it, no doubt in his mind. She was as attracted to him as he was to her. But it wasn’t just simple attraction, he corrected. It went much deeper than that.

“I really must go now,” Rena said and began to back away from him. “Lady Ava will become angry if she notices I am away too long.”

Zan watched her rotate and move swiftly toward the Palace. She had only moved a few paces when his words stopped her in her tracks. “I know who you are, Rena.”

He could hear her sudden intake of breath and then she slowly shook her head. “I am but a lowly servant girl, bound to do the bidding of my Lady. I exist only to serve her.”

“You are Rena,” Zan said moving to stand behind her. “Daughter of Pau, tenth ruler of Ceri. You are Rena, the female my Father bonded me to when I was but a boy.”

“I am no one,” Rena whispered.

“You are the one I was intended to marry,” Zan leaned into her, whispering to her. “You are the one I should be marrying. You are the one I wish I was marrying.” He touched her and turned her to face him and even in the low light he could see her unshed tears. “You are the one who brought out emotions in me that I never knew existed. You are the one that makes my heart sing every time I’m near you.” He lifted her face up to his and said, “You are the one I’ve been waiting my whole life for.”

“Zan . . .” her voice quivered as she spoke.

“Tell me I’m wrong, that you don’t feel anything for me, and I’ll walk away right now,” Zan said leaning even closer to her. Their heads were nearly touching as he looked down into her eyes and he saw her slowly shake her head.

“My Mother gave me a picture of you on the day our Father’s bonded us,” Rena spoke in hushed tones. “As soon as I saw your image that day when I was just a young girl, I knew. It was as if my soul recognized you, and from that moment on, I knew I could never be with anyone else. All my life there has been only you. Even after my Father was murdered, and my Mother as well, the thought of someday seeing you, of actually traveling to Antar and being near you, kept me going. I knew we could never have the life that I had dreamed of, but just the thought of you kept me alive day after day.”

“Are you saying . . .” Zan struggled to speak around the constriction in his throat.

“I’ve always been in love with you,” she whispered.

“Rena . . .” Zan managed to say. He pulled her close to him and then closed his eyes, struggling with the reality that he was in love with her too. He barely knew her, but it didn’t matter. He knew he’d always been waiting for someone, and now he’d finally found her, only it was too late. His fate was already sealed. Or was it? “Maybe there’s a way.”

He was grasping at straws and he knew it, but the thought of marrying another when his heart belonged to Rena was more than he could take. His entire being was screaming for her. His heart, his mind, his soul cried out to love her.

“You’re bound by contract,” Rena said and Zan could hear the sorrow in her voice.

“Contracts have been broken before,” he countered, not wanting to give up.

“Not this kind,” she sadly shook her head. “The Council has spoken.”

“I’ll find a way, Rena,” Zan pledged. “I’ll find a way to make this work for us.” He leaned even closer and his mouth moved along the delicate ridges of her cheek, brushing along the aroused markings on her fine skin until he reached her mouth. When they touched, his mouth to hers, it was the culmination of every desire he’d ever had, every dream he’d ever dreamt. An explosion of intense emotion passed between them and left them shaking in its aftermath.

“Zan . . .” Rena whispered.

“I love you, Rena,” Zan whispered back.

“I love you,” Rena answered. “I’ve loved you my whole life.”

* * * * *

Zan paced back and forth in his chambers waiting for Vilandra to arrive. Rath watched him and couldn’t help the smug look that crossed his face. It was so unusual to see Zan so out of control. This was a male that rose every morning at the same exact time, that demanded adherence to a strict code of conduct, who would deal swiftly and harshly with his enemies. Yet in the face of true love, he lost all composure.

“Relax, Zan,” Rath urged. “She’ll be here shortly.”

“I know,” Zan replied in agitation. “It’s just that time is running out and this is the only option I have been able to think of. We have to make this work.” A rapping at the door drew his attention and he barked out, “Enter!”

“What is so important that you had to drag me out of my weekly game of Kia?” Vilandra demanded as she glared at her brother.

“I’m sorry, Vi,” Zan answered, “but I need your help.”

“Help with what?” she asked suspiciously.

“I want you to help me break up the wedding.” Zan watched her colors change to a deep shade of maroon.

“Are you crazy?” she blurted out.

“Maybe, but that doesn’t change anything,” Zan replied. “I don’t want to go through with this wedding, and I want you to help me. I’ve been studying case law and I believe there is one way we can make this work . . .”

* * * * *

Zan lay in wait in the Palace hall and his ears picked up when he recognized the sound of her familiar tread on the marble floors. Once again, she was headed toward the gardens as she did every night, but this time he was ready to intercept her. The echo of her footsteps grew louder as she neared and when she passed by, he reached out and grabbed her. Her cry was smothered by his mouth covering hers, claiming her as his rightful mate.

“Zan,” Rena mumbled. “Someone will see.”

“I don’t care,” he answered as he planted kisses on her face. “After tomorrow, everyone will know that you belong to me. Soon, you will be my rightful Queen.”

“What are you talking about?” Rena asked and her colors took on a deep shade of maroon. It was impossible. She could never be Queen.

“I’ve found a loophole in the law,” Zan answered as he pulled Rena along the hallways. He reached his chamber and slammed the door behind him and then pulled her close to him, relishing the feel of her body pressing against his. “I found an old reference to a similar situation in case law.” He began to touch his cheek against her dilated markings and his own swelled as his blood rushed to the surface of his sensitized skin. The intimacy of his touch was making her feel things she’d never felt before and he was making it hard for her to keep her mind on the current pressing matters.

“Explain, Zan. What do you mean?” He was making her heart race, her blood boil, and all she could think about was her desire to be with him.

“I’ve already used my one allotted objection,” he said looking into her eyes, “but Vilandra hasn’t. During the ceremony tomorrow, as first in line to the Crown, she has the right to claim a fraudulent marriage. My contract is with you, not Ava. The Council thought you were dead when they decreed I marry Ava. Now that we can prove that you didn’t perish along with your Father and the rest of your family, Vilandra’s objection during the ceremony will halt the proceedings and cause a mandatory review of the situation. At that point, I can demand that the original contract be fulfilled. I can demand you as my rightful bride.” He was breathless as he finished telling her the news and she stared at him with a deep shade of maroon highlighting her shock.

“Will she do that for you?” Rena asked, daring not to hope.

“Of course,” Zan answered with certainty. “She’s my sister.”

“Do you think this will work?” Rena asked, afraid to believe in it.

“Yes,” Zan answered as he stared into her beautiful face. “The law will be on our side this time. A week from now, after all the proper paperwork has been filed, I can take you Rena, the love of my life, as my lawful Queen. That is, if you’ll have me.”

Rena stared at him afraid to let her true feelings show through. To be his wife was all she had ever dreamed of, ever since she was a child and saw his boyish face for the first time. Her breathing reflected the depth of her desire for him and she replied, “Of course I’ll have you. I’ve waited my whole life to become your wife.”

Zan stared at her in utter amazement that he had found her. In just these few days that he had known her, his whole world had come to revolve around her. His needs and his desires craved to be fulfilled by her. He had never wanted someone so intensely before. He could feel his skin begging to touch her again.

“Zan . . .” she muttered as the deep red markings on his skin once more came in contact with hers. He was making her weak, showing her the kind of intense pleasure they could one day experience in each others embrace. “Zan . . . I want . . .”

“Stay with me,” Zan insisted as he nuzzled next to her ear. “Stay with me tonight, and tomorrow we’ll announce our plans to marry. Please Rena, stay with me.”

She met his intense gaze and saw his need, his desire in the vibrant red tones he was showing her. Her colors were a matching shade, showing him just how much she wanted him too and he swept her into the air. He ran, holding her delicate body close to him, and when he reached his bedroom chamber, he ordered his servants to leave.

Tonight, Zan would mate with his true love, and together, he and Rena would create something magical. Tonight, their life and their love would be joined forever. Tomorrow their future would begin. Or so they thought.

* * * * *

“Oh, look at your brother,” Alanee said to Vilandra as they watched the ceremony unfold. “He’s so nervous.”

“Yes, he is, isn’t he,” Vilandra agreed.

“He couldn’t even eat his morning meal, and you know how much he loves to feast in the morning. I’ve never seen his colors so vivid before.” Alanee squeezed her daughter’s hand and watched as the ceremony went into the final stage. “I knew he would find true love. The prophets said this union would be something special. Ava has made him happier than he’s ever been before. And speaking of happiness, when are you and Rath going to set the date for your wedding?”

“Soon Mother,” Vilandra smiled. “I hope to marry very soon.”

The high priest continued his chant and Zan struggled to remain calm. Vilandra should have voiced the objection already. He tried to make eye contact with his sister but each time their eyes met she simply smiled and looked away. What was she waiting for? He watched as Rath went to her side and whispered to her. He pulled her to her feet and Zan sighed. Finally. He allowed himself to relax while he waited to hear her voice raise in objection. A minute later, after hearing nothing, his eyes swept the room again but Rath and Vilandra were no where to be seen.

* * * * *

“What do you think you’re doing?” Rath hissed.

“Whatever are you talking about?” Vilandra asked innocently.

“You know what I’m talking about. The ceremony is almost over, and still you remain silent. Zan is counting on you to stop this marriage.”

“I plan on doing no such thing,” Vilandra shot back. The Council decreed that Ava is my brother’s intended, and I will not object so that he can take a servant girl to become his Queen. I was first born, and the Crown should have gone to me upon my Father’s death, but this male dominated society bestows privilege based on gender. My brother is King. Let him live with the Queen the Council chose for him. I’ll not lift a digit to help him.”

“You’re killing him,” Rath said in condemnation.

“No,” Vilandra said chillingly. “That comes later.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rath said in shock.

“Things are about to drastically change,” Vilandra said coldly. “If you want to stay in power, you better not side against me.”

* * * * *

The ceremony drew to a close with Zan in a state of shock. The high priest declared he and Ava bonded and married, a Royal Union that could only be dissolved upon death. As long as Ava lived, Zan could never take Rena as his wife.

He stared at Ava with a combination of dread and disbelief. She was waiting patiently for him to show the traditional male’s acceptance of his bride. He slowly rose from his kneeling position and drew her to a standing position beside him. A cheer went up from the crowd as Zan embraced his bride and he held her stiffly with his extremities while his mind kept repeating, ‘This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening . . .’

The next hour was a blur as well wishers paraded past the newly married Royal pair. After an interminable time, Zan was able to finally break away from Ava and went in search of Vilandra. He found her in the vestibule off the Grand Parlor.

“I only have one question,” Zan seethed as his colors flared a deep blue. Vilandra turned to him at the sound of his voice and met his gaze head on. “Why, Vi? Why did you betray me?”

“I didn’t betray you, Zan. Your marriage to Ava was decreed by the Council. An alliance with Tirus and Ceri Prime is in the best interest of Antar. You were blinded by the pretty face of a servant girl. I kept you from making a terrible mistake.”

“Damn you, Vilandra. Damn you to hell,” Zan said in a fury.

“There is a way out, dear brother,” Vilandra said scornfully. “Abdicate the Crown, and I’ll grant you an annulment. I was first born. The Crown rightfully belongs to me!”

Rath burst through the doorway and Zan turned his blazing colors toward his second in command. “Were you in on this too? Have you been conspiring against me right along with my sister? Did you really think I would turn the Crown over to you so that the two of you could corrupt it? How could I ever have trusted you? Either of you?”

“Zan, there’s no time for accusations now,” Rath shouted at his King. “The Palace is under attack.”

* * * * *

“Zan,” Alanee said cupping her son’s face with her digits. “Don’t send me away. I should stay here, with you. With all of you.” She looked from his solemn face to those behind him. Rath and Vilandra stood together and the strain was evident on their faces. Ava stood behind Zan, and Alanee thought she looked shocked by the turn of events. Her wedding day had been darkened by the attack.

“Mother, I want you to be safe. Go to the country, and when things settle down again, I will call for your return. Don’t worry about us. We will be fine. Take these good people with you, and I will let you know when things are safe enough for your return.” Zan looked beyond his Mother to the downcast eyes of Rena. He had insisted she attend his Mother, fleeing to the safe haven beyond the Capital walls. Had she thought he betrayed her by marrying Ava? How was he to let her know that it was Vilandra that had been the betrayer? “Go now. Your safety is of the utmost importance to me,” Zan said earnestly. His eyes were riveted to Rena as he said those words, but still she didn’t look at him.

“Very well, “ Alanee adhered to her son’s wishes. “I pray to the Gods that our separation will not be a long one.” He didn’t need anymore stress to add to his complicated life. She had no way of knowing that she would never see him alive again. She was unaware that death was waiting to claim him.

* * * * *

Rena busied herself around the Queen Mother’s chamber, trying to keep her mind off of what was happening in the Capital City. The word from the front was that the City was on the verge of collapse, and the government was in disarray. The invaders had the upper hand, and Rena feared for Zan’s safety.

A noise drew her attention, and Rena cast her eyes in the direction of the near window. Something was outside, scratching to get in. Feeling a sense of impending doom, Rena made her way across the room. At first she saw nothing and she breathed a sigh of relief, until she saw the bloody handprints on the glass and she knew. She pushed the windows open and not far away, in his Mother’s sacred gardens, she saw him standing with his back to her. She slowly exited through the window and walked up to his unflinching silhouette, elated to see him but a part of her knowing bad news was afoot. As she neared, he turned to look at her.

“Ever since the first day that I saw you, I knew every time you were near me,” Zan said when their eyes met. “I memorized the sound of your footsteps on the marble floors. I could smell your scent long before you ever entered a room. I spent my whole life knowing there was someone for me, out there somewhere among the stars, that would make my life complete. I just didn’t know that, when I found you, I wouldn’t get to keep you.” His eyes swam with suppressed emotion, even now wanting to deny the inevitable.

Rena watched him and her heart filled with dread. Something was terribly wrong. He wavered on his feet and then she watched in horror as he collapsed to the ground and she rushed to his side. “Zan! Zan, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“Everything is lost,” he said looking up into her face as she held him close to her. “No one can ever know what you meant to me. It would mean you’re death too, and I couldn’t bear that. The precious time that we had together, the intimacy that we shared, just know that in the short time that we had, I loved you for a lifetime. I would have given up everything, the Crown, the Kingdom, everything, if it meant we could have been together.”

“Zan, don’t say that. Don’t talk like that.”

“Rena,” Zan sighed. “All my life I waited to find you, always knowing there was someone out there for me. Even after my Father died, and I became King, I always knew that someday you would enter my life.” He choked on his words and a stream of blood flowed from the corner of his mouth. “I just didn’t know that we’d have so little time together.” He tried to lift his digits to touch her face, but he didn’t have the strength.

“Zan, please,” Rena pleaded. “You’re going to be okay. You have to be okay. There’s something you need to know. There’s something I have to tell you. Zan, please, you can’t leave me!”

“I love you,” he whispered as the last of his strength left him. He was dying and nothing was going to stop it. There was no medicine, no healing powers that could prevent it.

“Noooo,” Rena cried as she watched his colors turn ashen and the light dimmed in his eyes. “Zan! You can’t die! Listen to me! There’s something you must know . . .” but the light was gone. His lifeless body lay in her arms and she knew she’d lost him. She clutched him to her and she made a solemn vow. She would find him again. Her soul would search the stars for him if she had to, and someday, their love would be reunited . . .

posted on 14-Sep-2001 7:28:00 PM
Part 19

Max and Liz were trembling as their eyes swam back into focus. The vision had slowly faded, but not the emotions that had accompanied it. Grief, despair, pain, fear, loss, but the overriding emotion that they both felt was love. Such a deep feeling of love.

“Wha-” Liz tried to formulate coherent words but she couldn’t quite get her brain to tell her mouth what to say. “Max . . . did you . . . did you see that?”

“Yeah,” he answered staring down into her eyes. He was also having a hard time putting his thoughts into words.

“Did . . . did you understand any of it?” A part of her understood perfectly well what she had just seen. Another part of her tried to deny it. It wasn’t possible, was it?

“I . . . I don’t know,” Max answered truthfully. He was speaking in hushed tones, still overwhelmed by what he had seen. He needed time to absorb it. “Did you?”

“I . . . um . . . I don’t know. What do you think? Was it . . .”

“. . . real?” Max finished her question. He was trying to get his thoughts together after experiencing such an extraordinary event and he said, “I think . . . I think I wasn’t the only one who lived before.”

“You mean, you think . . . I was . . .” and again she hesitated.

“. . . Rena?” He watched her slowly nod her head and all he could do was stare at her. Had she lived before? Had she been his true love in another lifetime? Is that why he had recognized her from the first moment he set eyes on her? Is that why he’d always known she was the only one for him?

“No, Max,” Liz said shaking her head. “It can’t be. I can’t be Rena. I’m not . . . like you. There’s nothing alien about me. Not in my blood. Not in my cells. I’m . . . human.”

“But it makes sense, Liz,” Max said. “What I felt . . . what Zan felt, in the vision, it’s how I’ve always felt about you.”

“Maybe it’s wasn’t . . . real.” Liz suggested. “Maybe, because things have been so . . . intense lately, maybe what we just saw was like some weird Quentin Tarantino movie, you know? Like our minds going into overdrive or something and making a bunch of weird shit up?”

“Is that what you really think?” Max asked with an uncertain look on his face.

Liz stared up at him as she thought over what she had just said. Quentin Tarantino? Is that what she really thought? She shook her head almost imperceptibly and said, “No . . .”

“Then you think it was real?” Max asked her.

“Is that what you think?” she asked.

“I asked you first,” Max countered. He didn’t know what to make of this crazy shit either. Did he really believe in reincarnation? Who would have thought he could be cloned and brought back to life in a new body, a different species even, but it had happened. Her soul had searched for him and when she found him, she too was reborn. Did he believe it? Looking at her, he realized he didn’t just believe it, he knew it. But what about her? Could she accept it too?

With her eyes roving over his face, she slowly, almost imperceptibly, nodded her head. She did believe it was real. A memory of the life he lived before. The part she wasn’t sure about was if it had anything to do with her. Max had been Zan. But there was no evidence that she had anything to do with the events in the memory they’d shared. There was nothing to prove that she was Rena. “Max . . . do you think that’s how you really looked . . . before? All the . . . weird spots that changed colors? And the ridges . . .” her voice trailed off as she touched her face.

“And the way the arms looked and, um, the hands weren’t really hands,” Max said and then cleared his throat. “And the eyes, did you see how big the eyes were . . .?”

“You look much nicer in this life Max,” Liz said smiling up at him and lifting her hand to run her fingers through his hair. “I like you better with hair.”

“Well, you didn’t have any either you know,” and let his fingers slip through her long, luxurious strands. God how he loved the feel of her hair. It’d been so long since he’d been able to touch her this way. He could feel his stomach rumbling with that old, familiar sensation and he wondered if she could hear it too.

“Zan didn’t seem to mind my lack of hair,” Liz said and her fingers brushed over the smooth skin of his cheek.

“So you do believe,” Max jumped on what she had just said. “You do believe you were Rena.”

“I . . . I . . .” she stumbled as she looked up into his expectant eyes. The words had flowed so easily from her mouth a moment ago, as if subconsciously there was no doubt in her mind. She swallowed hard and then said, “I guess so.”

“What made you changed your mind?” Max asked. “I mean, a minute ago . . .”

“It feels right, Max,” Liz said smiling up at him. “It just feels like the truth.”

“It does,” Max agreed. Everything felt right now.

“Are you guys gonna stay in here forever?” Maria asked from the doorway. Max and Liz both shot a look in her direction and she continued, “Look, let’s go back to Michael’s apartment and try to figure out what’s going on.”

Max turned back to Liz knowing there was so much they needed to talk about, and maybe here wasn’t the best place. Maybe it would be better to go back to Michael’s. The two of them looked at each other and in silent agreement, they turned to follow Maria. Max slid his hand into Liz’s and he breathed out a contented sigh when her fingers entwined with his. After they had walked a few steps, Max hesitated and he squeezed her hand as he came to a sudden stop.

“We’re okay, right Liz?” he asked almost fearfully as she turned to look at him. So much had happened between them in the last year, he was afraid to assume anything. If she said no, he didn’t think he’d survive to the end of the day.

“Yes, Max,” she said as she looked up at him with a smile that emanated from deep inside her. “We’re okay. In fact, we’re more than okay.”

Elation swept through him and his smile lit his face. He pulled her into his arms and he just had to kiss her. Fireworks erupted every time his lips touched hers, and this time was no exception. He would have been happy to spend the rest of his days standing here like this, holding her . . . kissing her . . . loving her. But, of course, Maria chose that moment to poke her head back into the room.

“Holy Shit!” she exclaimed as she watched two of her dearest friends. “Here we go again.”

* * * * *

Max and Liz walked hand in hand out of the Granilith Chamber, and the intimate way they touched wasn’t lost on the rest of the group. Michael and Maria accepted it, Isabel grudgingly approved of it, and Kyle had come to terms with it.

As a unit they turned to exit the pod chamber, when something caught Kyle’s eye. Over in the shadows, he’d seen a movement. Something out of place. What could it have been? Feeling a sense of protectiveness for the others, he took a step in that direction.

Liz slowed her pace as she watched Kyle head into a dark corner of the pod chamber and she pulled on Max’s hand to bring him to a stop. He turned to look at her and curiously followed the direction she was looking. Kyle had wandered deeper into the cavern and with a touch of apprehension in her voice Liz said, “Kyle? What’s wrong?”

Kyle carefully rounded a corner and in the dim light he could see a figure in the shadows. It was hovering against a wall, trying not to be seen and Kyle felt the hairs rise up on the back of his neck. He took a step closer and the figure bolted, running deeper into the cavern.

“Hey!” Kyle shouted, and took off running, chasing after the intruder.

“Stay here!” Max ordered Liz and he ran after Kyle.

“Max!” Liz cried out. Fear gripped her as he disappeared into the shadows and she chased after him. She’d almost lost him earlier, and she wasn’t going to stand by and watch him get hurt again. Running footsteps echoed throughout the chamber and Liz could feel Michael right behind her as they raced deeper into the shadows.

The figure was moving fast and Kyle was struggling to keep up. He must know these caves well, Kyle thought fleetingly and wondered who it could be. His pulse raced even faster when the realization hit him that he was probably chasing another alien, an alien that could probably blast him into a million little pieces with just a look. Who else could get inside this place? You needed that secret decoder hand print shit to get in here. What the hell was he doing chasing an alien? Had he lost his fucking mind? The figure stumbled and Kyle ran even faster to close the distance between them.

Max could dimly see Kyle up ahead but he was having a hard time keeping him in sight. He was still weak from what had happened to him earlier and his legs were threatening to give up on him as he tried to run. What was Kyle chasing? Who was Kyle chasing? Had someone been watching them? What if it was Sean? Sean had been helping Tess. If Sean was alien, another hybrid, Kyle could be in a lot of trouble. He didn’t have any defense against alien powers. Max pushed himself even harder, trying to catch up to the dark figures ahead of him. He needed to protect Kyle.

Liz could see Max just up ahead and her worry intensified. She knew he hadn’t recovered yet and here he was chasing after some unknown threat. If anything happened to him, she’d just die. She finally had him back, her Max, the Max she loved more than anything in the world. She tried to run faster, but her short legs couldn’t equal his long strides. He rounded a corner and Liz panicked as she lost sight of him. A hand closed over her arm and brought her to a sudden stop.

“Michael!” Liz cried out as his face loomed above hers. “Let go!”

“Max said to stay put,” Michael’s voice rumbled. “You and Maria go back to the entrance. In fact, go back to the car where it’s safer.”

“No,” Liz said shaking her head. She tried to pull her arm out of Michael’s grasp but he squeezed harder.

“This isn’t open for discussion,” he said angrily. “Now go! Both of you!” His eyes met Maria’s and he pushed Liz in her direction. “Get out of here!”

A look passed between Michael and Isabel and they both took off running in the direction they had seen Max going.

Maria held onto Liz as she watched Michael’s figure disappear into the depths of the chamber. What did he think he was doing, blindly running after some unknown intruder? Why did guys always have to be so stupid? Acting all macho and invincible and shit. Male testosterone was really overrated. It made them act crazy. Girls always thought things out more thoroughly than guys. Girls made a plan first, and then acted on it. Maybe not, Maria thought as Liz tore away from her and chased after Michael. Hell, who needs a plan?

Isabel could hear two sets of running footsteps behind her and knew that Liz and Maria had ignored Michael’s order. Didn’t they realize they would be safer outside? They had no way to protect themselves, not like she did. Rounding another corner, Max came into view up ahead and she ran faster trying to catch up to him. He had looked so weak earlier, and she was sure his powers weren’t up to strength. He was probably as helpless as the girls were.

Kyle felt a surge of triumph as the figure ahead of him stumbled again and he lunged forward. His body hit the mystery man in the back and they went down together, Kyle on top, pinning the figure to the ground. His lungs were heaving as he tried to suck in air and he could hear the labored breathing of the guy beneath him. His arm went around his throat and Kyle jerked him up to his feet.

“Who the fuck are you?” Kyle hissed in his face and pressed him back against the rock wall of the cave. In the dark, Kyle couldn’t see his face, but his brain was slowly starting to take in what his other senses were feeling. Whoever it was, he was short. Probably not much taller than Liz, and definitely shorter than Maria. With his hand around the guy’s throat, he could feel the small bone structure and the smooth skin. A small whimper escaped from the intruder’s mouth and it caused Kyle to blink. At the same time it dawned on him that his chest was pressing into a pair of soft breasts.

In surprise, Kyle took a step back as a female voice said, “Let go of me.”

Max came up behind Kyle and tried to assess what he was seeing in the dim light. He could feel Michael behind him, and Isabel, and he was distracted for a moment as he sensed Liz nearby, and then Maria too. He cupped his hands in front of him and created a light so that they could see their surroundings, and see the face of the intruder.

A gasp went up from the group as a pair of startling blue eyes came into view. Liz rushed to stand protectively in front of Max, worried about his weakened condition and she felt him put his hand on her shoulder. He looked down at her briefly, letting her know with his eyes that he was alright, and then he turned back to look at Kyle, and the girl standing in front of him. With contempt in his voice he said, “Tess.”

* * * * *

Michael held Tess roughly with his hand clenched around her upper arm and led her into the chamber near the withered pods. She struggled against him, which only served to make him tighten his already painful grip.

“Let go of me,” she hissed and turned her steely blue eyes on him.

“Don’t play mind games with me Tess,” Michael warned her menacingly. If it meant protecting the others, he’d gladly break her neck.

“What are you doing here Tess?” Max’s voice was thick with contempt and her eyes narrowed as she turned to glare at him. “How did you get here?”

Her head lifted defiantly and Michael angrily shouted in her face, “ANSWER HIM!”

“I never left!” she screamed. She looked at the rest of them with hatred and then her eyes settled on Max. “I just made you think I did.”

“Why? I thought you said the baby was dying. That he couldn’t survive here.” He was trying to draw her out, find out how much she knew. Had she heard him earlier, when he was talking to the others and telling them what he remembered?

“There was never anything wrong with the baby,” she said with scorn. “Your son is fine.”

“Tess, I never slept with you,” Max declared. “I never touched you!”

Tess shot a look at Liz and said ominously, “There’s more than one way to get pregnant.”

“No, you’re not,” Liz said with controlled fury. “There never was a baby. You made it up. You made the whole thing up.” She reached back to take Max’s hand and they intertwined their fingers in a show of solidarity.

“Why Tess?” Max asked. “Why did you do it? We opened up our homes to you. We let you in, to be a part of us. We trusted you.”

“It’s because of her!” Tess spit out and glared hatefully at Liz. She turned her gaze back to Max and shouted, “It’s always been because of her! You never loved me.”

“No,” Max said in an even tone and shook his head. “I didn’t.”

“Not here,” she cried. “Not back home. She was always between us.”

“Yes,” Max nodded and looked down at Liz. “I loved her then. I love her now. Nothing and no one could ever change that.”

“She ruined everything,” Tess cried. “She even had your bastard child!”

“Tess! Shut up!”

They all turned at the sound, a voice from behind them, in the shadows. The figure stepped forward, into the light, and Tess shrank back from him. A whimper escaped her lips and she said, “Sean.”

“Can’t you ever do anything right, Tess? You had one simple job to do, and you couldn’t even do that.”

“Don’t come any closer!” Max commanded and his hand rose up ready to throw out a protective shield just in case Sean made any suspicious moves.

“Who are you?” Liz stared him up and down, knowing this wasn’t really Sean. She stepped toward him and felt Max’s hand on her shoulder holding her back, trying to protect her. She looked up at him quickly and then back to Sean. “Are you Kivar?”

Sean smirked arrogantly, smug in his self-conceit. He shook his head like she was child and said, “Parker.”

“Or are you Kendal?” She watched as the smug look faded from his face. She guessed right that time.

“How do you know that name?” He looked at her through narrowed eyes. There was no way she could know who he was. None of them knew anything about his world, not even the King. They were all ignorantly unaware of their past, and this girl, this human, was nothing to fear, unless . . .

“Who is Kendal?” Michael asked in confusion. His eyes shifted from Sean, first to Liz and then to Max, and he could tell they both knew something he didn’t.

“Kendal is Ava’s brother,” Liz spoke softly as she looked at Sean and for just a moment she thought she could see something in his eyes. Something that looked like fear. “And Kivar’s brother too.”

Tess inhaled sharply and she whispered, “How do you know that? I never told anyone.”

“You didn’t have to. We know,” Max said and took an intimidating step toward her. “And now I want you to tell me everything else. Start with what you said a minute ago. What child?” Tess stared up at him defiantly and he shouted into her face, “WHAT CHILD?”

“Your child!” she screamed back at him. “Zan’s child, with that servant girl.”

“Rena,” Max said softly as he stared down at Tess.

Tess cowered back from him, staring at him in disbelief. How could he know? She’d probed his mind many times over the last year and never seen evidence of any memories of his prior life. But now he seemed to know about Kendal and Kivar, and even Rena. How? Her eyes narrowed slightly as she tried to see inside his mind again and alarm gripped her when she encountered a wall of resistance. An incredibly strong wall of resistance.

The tension in the air was thick and then Isabel asked what the rest of them were wondering. “Who’s Rena?”

“Me,” Liz answered. She felt a sense of satisfaction as Tess shot her a startled look. Tess hadn’t expected her to know anything about Rena. Liz turned her eyes up to Max as the words they’d heard finally sank in. Zan and Rena had had a child? They hadn’t seen that in the vision. Or had they? Those final, ominous words that Rena had spoken. Was that the declaration that Rena had tried to tell Zan as he lay dying in her arms?

Max turned his cold gaze on Tess and said, “You better tell me everything.” Tess looked at him with hate filled eyes and she turned away, refusing to answer. Max stepped closer to her, towering above her and shouted, “EVERYTHING!”

“Just keep your mouth shut!” Sean lunged forward and Michael shot out his hand knocking him backwards with a blast of energy.

“Michael!” Maria cried out. “Don’t hurt him!” Sean crumpled unconscious to the ground and Maria ran to his side.

“I want to know everything,” Max insisted. He grabbed Tess by the chin and turned her face to his. “If you don’t tell me, I’ll take it out of your mind.” Tess glared up at him, sensing an idle threat, but she didn’t know him as well as she thought she did. His hand clamped over the side of her face and she felt his eyes boring through hers.

“Max . . .?” Liz said questioningly. She could see the strain on his face and the fear on Tess’s. Something was happening, she didn’t know what, and all she could do was watch. Liz saw the color drained out of Tess’s face, and then her eyes were drawn to Max as his hand and then his arm started to quiver. His jaw was clenched tight and the veins in his neck were bulging and she grasped his arm and repeated, “Max!”

His hand pulled back from Tess like it was on fire and he blinked as he refocused his eyes. He took a step back from her and then he looked at Liz and then the others in the room. Tess slumped forward from the strain and a sob escaped her throat.

“We had a daughter . . .”

“Max?” Liz looked up at him worriedly.

“Zan and Rena had a daughter,” Max said and his mouth turned up in a small smile as he looked down at Liz. He looked around the room, to Isabel and Michael and then said, “Kivar didn’t know about it at first. No one did, except my mother and that wasn’t until . . .”

“Until what, Max?” Liz asked.

“You kept it a secret. You didn’t tell anyone, not until the night you went into labor, when something went wrong.” Max stared down into Liz’s enthralled face and his fingers brushed her hair back from her face. “That’s how you died, during childbirth, but you told my mother the truth first. She hid the child, to protect her, so that Kivar wouldn’t know.”

“Know what Max?” Isabel asked. “What are you talking about?”

“That I had an heir. An heir that had a claim to the throne.” Max turned to look at his sister and Isabel could see the hurt in his eyes. “You weren’t . . . Vilandra wasn’t like you Isabel. She was bitter and she harbored a deep resentment toward me because the Crown went to me. And you had so much anger in you because Father had forbid you to marry the one man you loved. Kivar.”

“What?” Isabel took a step back and her hand flew up to cover her mouth. What was Max saying?

“You’d been in love with Kivar for years, but you kept it a secret. First from Father and then after he died, from me. You told Kivar about the contract between Father and Pau, and from there together you hatched the plan. Force my marriage with Ava and after a reasonable time I’d meet with an unfortunate demise. A victim of an attack on the Palace. Ava would act the role of the grief stricken wife, and wanting no part of stately matters, she would defer the Crown to her oldest brother. Kivar. So with me out of the way and no heir apparent, Vilandra and Kivar could marry and she’d be the Queen she always wanted to be, with the husband she always wanted to have. And Kivar could take the title of Royal Prefect, not as good as King, but close enough. He’d rule Antar, with Vilandra at his side.”

“No, Max,” Isabel whispered and her eyes were filling with tears. She couldn’t have been that cruel, that ruthless, that cold-blooded. Everything that Max was saying confirmed the things Whitaker had told her. She’d betrayed her own brother, even plotted his murder.

“It’s okay Isabel,” Max said to her soothingly. “It wasn’t you. Vilandra is not the person you are.” Michael and Maria stepped over to Isabel, Michael on the left and Maria on the right, showing her their support. She looked at them gratefully but she was still reeling inside. Max turned back to Tess and the gentle look that had been in his eyes a moment ago hardened into something else. “But you, you’re the same, aren’t you Tess. You planned my death in that life and then you planned it in this one too.”

“No . . .” Tess said shaking her head. How could he know these things?

“But something went wrong with Ava’s plan, didn’t it Tess? The attack came early, and instead of you being safely out in the country, you were caught right in the middle of it. So was Vilandra. All four of us were there. All four of us died.” Max looked down at Liz then and he knew she was remembering the same thing he was. That Zan had lived long enough to find his way to Rena, to see her one more time before he died.

“So my Mother,” Max continued and turned his harsh gaze in Tess’s direction again, “not knowing Kivar had orchestrated the whole thing, turned the Crown over to him. He was, after all, the brother of the late Queen. When she sent us here to be reborn, she didn’t know about you or Vilandra or Kivar. She didn’t learn the truth until the night Rena gave birth. After that the rumors started, didn’t they Tess? Rumors that there was an heir to the Crown. Zan’s heir.”

Everyone’s eyes turned to Tess and she shrank back. When had Max gotten so strong? He’d never shown abilities like this before. He had scoured her mind and seen everything. For the first time, she was afraid of him, of what he could do.

“Isn’t that right Tess,” Max said. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” Tess whispered, knowing it would do no good to resist him. “No one opposed Kivar until the rumors started. They were too afraid of him. But then they heard the ‘Great Zan’ had an heir, and an underground movement was formed to oust my brother and place your daughter on the Throne. A Queen with Zan’s royal blood flowing through her veins. They didn’t even care that it was a bastard child. She was yours. That’s all they cared about.”

“And so Nasedo made a deal,” Max said coldly, “with Kivar.”

“Yes,” she said and her voice quivered as she answered.

“Nasedo gave up his loyalty to me, and he raised you for one purpose only. Bring home a male child. Zan’s child. A male heir who would have first right to the Crown and that Kivar could raise and control.”

“Yes! But you wouldn’t cooperate, because of her.” Tess turned her cold eyes on Liz, and Max pulled Liz closer to shield her from danger.

“So you messed with his mind,” Liz said with disgust, “so you could take him and Isabel and Michael back home for execution.”

“I had a job to do,” Tess said and her eyes darted around the room. “It was what I was raised to do!”

“So you pretended to love Max all this time,” Liz fumed, “knowing that in the end you were going to send him to his death?”

“It didn’t have to be that way!” Tess cried out and turned back to Max. “Kivar said he would let you live, if only you would have been willing to cooperate! But you wouldn’t, because of her. It always comes back to her.”

“You’re right Tess,” Max smiled inwardly. “It does always come back to her.” He’d seen many things inside Tess’s mind a minute ago. He’d seen that the rebellion was gaining momentum and Kivar was losing ground. He’d seen that Kivar was desperate to hold on to power, but fighting not only the memory of a King that the people refused to forget, but his progeny as well, the daughter Zan had never known. A daughter that now led the movement against Kivar.

He’d seen Kivar’s merciless demand for Tess to bring home a male heir to authenticate his control of the Crown, or face the consequences. But most of all, he’d seen the one thing that frightened Kivar the most.
A proclamation from the prophets that the reborn King would be reunited with the true daughter of Ceri and the Crown would be rightfully restored. A prophecy that said brothers would lay down their weapons and kneel quaking in fear before the King. A Prophecy that the people had come to believe Zan, reborn as Max Evans, was the living embodiment of. A prophecy come to pass.

Max wasn’t sure if he believed in prophecy but the important thing was that Kivar did. It was something that Max could use against him, when the time came to face his enemy. Something had changed in Max today. Zan’s memories had made him stronger, wiser, and given him insights he hadn’t had before. An inevitable confrontation was coming, and for the first time Max felt like he would be ready.

Everyone was quiet as they stared at Tess. How could they ever have trusted her? From the moment they met her, she had been plotting their demise. The silence was finally broken when Isabel asked, ““What are we going to do with her Max? She killed Alex. She was taking us to our deaths. Where does it stop?”

“It stops here, and now,” Max answered as he stared hard at Tess. “What happened to the Granilith? You’re still here. It must be here.”

“It’s gone. I don’t know where it went.”

“What do you mean, ‘You don’t know where it went’? And what’s so special about it that Kivar wants it back? If it’s just a spaceship-”

“It isn’t. It’s the only one in existence. It doesn’t exist in time and space, not like we do,” Tess said meeting his eyes. “It can move from one plain to the next, connecting one place to another. That’s why it can be use to travel from here to Antar or anywhere else, almost in the blink of an eye.”

“Or for time travel,” Liz said quietly and looked up at Max.

“Let’s get out of here,” Michael suggested, “and figure out what we’re gonna do with her. And juvie boy over there.” Max nodded his head in agreement and Michael and Kyle went to lift Sean’s unconscious body from the ground. Isabel grabbed Tess by the arm and pushed her toward the entrance to the cave and Max and Liz, walking hand in hand, followed close behind her.

Liz’s footsteps suddenly faltered and she felt a strange sensation. She reached into the front pocket of her pants and pulled out the pendant that Max had left on her balcony this afternoon and she held it in her hand. She had always felt that there was something special about it, some purpose besides just an ornament or a piece of jewelry and now she was positive of it.

“Liz?” Max said as he watched her walk toward the Granilith chamber with the pendant resting on the palm of her hand. The symbol in the middle was glowing, pulsing with an unearthly light and Liz pressed her thumb against it. Max stood at her side, with the rest of them crowded behind them and they all watched spellbound as the room began to shimmer in a multitude of color, and the Granilith once again took solid form.

“It’s like a fucking remote control!” Kyle eloquently declared as he looked from the Granilith to the object in Liz’s hand.

“Maybe I should send you back,” Max said taking Tess by the arm and walking her toward the Granilith. It was pulsing with a rainbow of colors and the room was filling with a steadily rising hum. “Back to Antar.”

“No! Max! You can’t do that!” Tess cried.

The shocked look on her face took Max by surprise and he asked, “Why not? Isn’t that what you always wanted? To go home?”

“No, please! You can’t send me there! I can’t go back now! You don’t understand what he’ll do to me!”

“You mean Kivar? You’re afraid of your own brother?”

“I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. He’ll kill me if I come home empty handed! Max, please!”

“Well that’s your problem, isn’t it?” Max said harshly.

Tess broke away from his grasp and ran to the crystal in the face of the Granilith. She clawed at it with her fingers until it pulled free and she threw it to the floor where it smashed into a thousand pieces. “I won’t go back!”

“Tess,” Max said as he took a step toward her and she cowered back against the Granilith. “What did you do?” The air in the room suddenly changed, filling with an electrical energy and Tess fearfully turned her head to look at the imposing machine. The colors inside were swirling faster than before, a riot of colors and her eyes grew even wider as she felt the pull. Her body began to tingle like pins and needles on her skin and then she disappeared.

The room shimmered and suddenly her body was inside the belly of the beast, instead of standing beside it. It was real this time, not a mindwarp she had created for the others to see. She was about to be transported to another world, another place, but where? She’d taken the crystal out, the crystal that navigated the transport. Without that, the direction was random. It could fling her into the black void of space, or into the molten core at the heart of a planet. She could materialize on the sandy shore of a far away paradise, or disintegrate in the corona of a nearby sun.

“Tess . . .” Kyle stepped forward looking at her worriedly. Max rushed to the Granilith looking for a button or a lever or a control panel to stop whatever was happening, but the surface was smooth. The Granilith refused to give up its secrets.

Max watched her and knew there was nothing he could do. The Granilith was still a question mark in his mind. Kivar wanted it and needed it, and Max had it. Now he needed to learn how to use it. But it wasn’t going to help Tess right now. Nothing was going to help Tess.

The low hum in the room built to a roar and they all stared helplessly at the image of Tess inside the Granilith. “Max!” she cried one last time. “I wanna stay-”

Her image blinked out, but her final word echoed around the chamber long after she was gone. The Granilith powered down of its own volition, and the swirling colors dimmed and faded away. They stared at the empty space where Tess and been, and then one by one, they turned their backs and walked away. Kyle was the last to leave.

* * * * *

They were all quiet as they reached the main entrance to the chamber and Max looked out at the darkening sky. It’d been the middle of the day when he’d driven out here, and now he could see the sun had already dipped below the western horizon and all that remained was the residue of what must have been a spectacular sunset. “How’d it get so late?”

“Max,” Michael squeezed him on the shoulder as he passed by. “We’ve been in there for hours. You lost a chunk of you life while you and Liz were in that trance, or whatever it was.”

Max looked down at Liz who was standing at his side. They smiled at each other over how far off Michael was. He hadn’t lost a chunk of his life. He’d gained a whole new one. He’d had so many questions his entire life. Who he was, what he was, where he came from, why was he here? He didn’t have all the answers yet, but now at least he knew enough to give him a better understanding of what he had once been.

They crossed over the threshold and Max sealed the chamber closed before turning to look at Sean. “What are we going to do with him?” Michael asked. They’d propped him against the rock surface just outside the cave and it looked like he was starting to come around. Max knelt in front of him and placed his fingers on the side of his head. He closed his eyes and concentrated hard and his fingertips began to glow. After a minute, Max broke the contact and rose slowly to his feet.

“What did you do?” Maria asked as she watched Sean stir.

“I put a block, inside his brain. He won’t remember anything. They also won’t be able to use him again. Kendal won’t be making any more visits, at least not using Sean.”

Sean stirred and opened his eyes. He looked up at everyone standing around him and rubbed a hand over his eyes. He looked at Maria crouched next to him and he said, “What’s going on? Where are we?”

“We were on a picnic,” she told him. “You fell and hit your head. Do you remember anything?”

“I don’t even remember getting out of bed this morning,” he said sounding confused.

“Come on,” Maria said helping him to his feet. “Let me help you to the car.”

“How’d you learn to do that?” Michael asked in amazement as he watched Sean scratch his head and follow Maria down the rocks.

“Just a little something I picked up today,” Max said and a tired smile graced his face. “Let’s go home.”

Max felt Liz slip her hand into his and they headed down to the cars below. They broke into two groups, Max and Liz leading the way to the jeep with Isabel following behind and Michael following Maria and Sean to the jetta. Kyle came to a stop and stood staring at Michael’s broad back as he walked away from him. Even after all that they had seen, and all that they had heard, Kyle was still Kyle.

“Hey, Michael!” he called out to get his attention. “When are you gonna fix my fu-, when are you gonna fix my car?”

“Later,” Michael said indifferently.

“Later?” Kyle repeated. “Later, in like an hour? Or later, like when hell freezes over?”

“Later,” Michael repeated as he opened the driver’s door of the jetta and climbed inside.

“Great.” Kyle’s eyes narrowed as he watched Michael settle in behind the wheel and then decided Buddha wouldn’t approve of his violent thoughts. But Buddha never had to put up with freaking aliens! He kicked at the ground with the pointed tip of his boot and followed Max and Liz to the jeep.

Max reached into the front pocket of his jeans to retrieve his keys and as he pulled them out, Liz took them out of his hand. “You’re tired Max. Why don’t you let me drive? Then you can just sit back and relax. Rest.”

He was about to protest, to tell her he was just fine, but he really was tired after everything that had happened today. He nodded and then helped her into the jeep before walking around to the other side. He waited while Kyle settled into the back seat and then he climbed into the passenger seat next to Liz.

Michael put the jetta in gear and headed for the highway with Liz following close behind. As they passed Kyle’s mustang, Liz slowed and Max leaned over to get a good look at the damage Michael had inflicted on it. The front end really was smashed, and Max just shook his head and said, “Jesus, Michael really did a number on your car.”

“No shit,” Kyle mumbled from the back seat. “You people really are a menace to society.”

“Look Kyle . . .” Max looked back at him apologetically.

“Forget it, man. It’s not your fault.”

“Kyle, about earlier,” Max said, dropping his eyes. “Thanks for-”

“Forget it,” Kyle said again but his tone was much mellower. “Let’s just say we’re even.”

Their eyes met and held as they both contemplated the things they’d been through over the last year. Max had saved Kyle’s life and healed a bullet hole in his chest. Today, Kyle had returned the favor, helping Max come back from the brink of death. A slow smile spread over both their faces and Max said, “Yeah.”

“What do you think happened to her?” Kyle asked after a brief silence. He could still hear Tess’s final words echoing in his head.

“I don’t know,” Max answered. “Maybe we’ll never know.”

“I really liked her, you know? She had a good side, but they never let her have a chance to . . .”

“To what Kyle?” Liz asked as she looked back at him in the mirror.

“To be human.” He looked from Isabel, and then to Max and slowly shook his head. “Just do me a favor.” He stole a glance back toward the rocks and said regretfully, “Don’t introduce me to any more of your alien friends.”

* * * * *

Liz pushed open the door to her apartment just as the phone began to ring. She rushed over to answer it and Max closed the door behind him. He listened to her side of the conversation and a frown creased his brow.

“Is everything alright?” Max asked worriedly as Liz set down the phone.

“Yeah,” Liz answered. “That was my Mom. She’s going to stay with my Dad again tonight, to keep her eye on him. She says he’s fine, but still . . . I can tell she’s worried about him.” With all the events of the day, for a while she’d forgotten about her father still recovering in the hospital.

“Do you want me to go over there?” Max offered as he gently lifted her chin up. “To see if everything’s okay?”

“No, Max,” Liz said shaking her head. “I’m sure he’s fine. Besides, you can’t get near him. My Mom never leaves his side. But maybe we can go tomorrow?” Liz asked hopefully. She felt guilty for not going to the hospital this evening to see him. She felt guilty for forgetting he was there.

“I’m sorry, Liz.” Max felt terrible once again for disrupting her life so badly. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her forehead, wishing things could be normal and knowing they never would be.

She heard him sigh again and her hand rose up to brush against his forehead and she said, “You look tired. Maybe you should go home. Get some rest.”

“I’m okay,” he assured her and his hand closed over hers. Maybe she was right, though. It was late and the events of the day really had taken a toll on him. He really should go home but the thought of being separated from her, even if it was only for the night, left him feeling uneasy. He knew it was unreasonable, but he didn’t want her out of his sight ever again. “I don’t feel good leaving you here all alone.”

“Max, I’m fine here,” Liz reassured him. “You’re the one I’m worried about. Besides,” Liz said with a laugh, “if you leave Isabel down in the jeep any longer, she’s gonna kill you!”

“You’re right,” Max laughed lightly. “I wouldn’t want her to do that again!” Turning more serious his smile disappeared and he said, “You call me if anything bothers you. And I mean anything.”

“I will,” Liz promised. She was looking up at his face, already missing him even though he hadn’t left the room yet.

“I’ll see you in the morning then,” he said and he kissed her lightly, aching for more. “I’ll make sure everything’s locked up when I go downstairs.” With difficulty, he tore his eyes away from Liz and he crossed the room, opening the door to the stairs that would lead down to the Crashdown. He paused there, staring at Liz one more time, and then the door closed and he was gone.

Liz stared at the empty doorway and then she was chasing after him. “Max! Wait!” She flung the door open and he turned to her with a look of intense longing on his face and then she was running to him. His long strides closed the distance between them quickly and he swept her into his arms, crushing his lips against hers, claiming her mouth as his own, showering her with all the love he felt for her. Their kiss was long and filled with all the passion that they felt for each other and been denied for so long.

The sound of a door opening drifted up the stairs and then Isabel’s strident voice interrupted them. “Max!”

“I guess I better go,” Max smiled sheepishly at Liz. He rested his forehead against hers and said, “I meant what I said. Call me if you need anything. Anything.”

“”I will,” Liz smiled at him to ease his worries. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“In the morning. Goodnight, Liz,” Max said and he had to kiss her again. His arms crushed her to him and his lips pressed hard against hers and when he pulled away, her arms felt empty without him. He took the stairs two at a time and when he reached the bottom he turned around to look up at her again. She thought his skin looked flushed, tinged with red, or was it just her imagination? His face was shining as he looked up at her and he said, “I love you.”

“I love you too, Max,” she said softly. His smile was full of joy as he backed away and then he turned and disappeared from sight.

Edited by - Breathless on 09/21/2001 10:27:47
posted on 14-Sep-2001 7:28:55 PM
Part 20

Max tossed his keys on his dresser as he passed by and then wandered over to his stereo. He waved his hand in front of it and music began to float from the speakers. Staind was playing on the radio and a bittersweet smile played across his lips.

It’s been awhile
since I could look at myself straight
It’s been awhile
since I said I’m sorry
And it’s been awhile
Since I’ve seen the way the candles light your face
And it’s been awhile
But I can still remember just the way you taste . . .

Max touched his fingertips to his lips and sighed deeply. The taste of her lips was still fresh. The feel of her body in his arms had felt like heaven to him. After the nightmare of the last year, ever since that day out in the desert when his real mother had left a message about his supposed destiny, Max had been walking around without purpose, without direction, without a will of his own.

Liz was what grounded him and gave him a reason for being. He felt alive again, remembering the feel of her in his arms, the taste of her on his lips. He’d had to lose everything, to get back what he wanted most of all. Liz. He didn’t want to be without her ever again.

He sat on the edge of his bed and wearily pulled off his boots and his socks and tossed them in a corner of his room. He hooked his fingers under the hem of his green t-shirt and pulled it over his head. It joined his shoes and socks in a heap on the floor, and then he stretched out on his bed. His hand rested on his chest and he remembered how it had felt when Liz rested her hand there earlier. It had made his heart race faster in his chest.

As weary as he was, he just couldn’t get Liz out of his mind. But that really wasn’t surprising. It had always been that way. She filled his thoughts, ever since the day he climbed off a big yellow school bus and saw her smiling face across the school yard. He’d known from that moment that she was the one. The only one. He just hadn’t known how really true that was.

Max turned his head and looked at the picture on his nightstand, the picture he had of Liz, and he picked it up and brought it closer so that he could see her face. Maria had taken it one day last fall, and she had been showing Michael the pictures she had just had developed when he looked over her shoulder and he saw it. He had begged Maria for it, pleaded with her until she finally relented and gave it to him.

He touched her face through the glass and not for the first time wished he had the ability to dreamwalk Liz. He could be with her right now, in his dreams, if only . . .

He sighed and set the photograph back on the nightstand. As weary as he was, he decided he’d be lucky to get any sleep at all tonight. He was just too keyed up. So much had happened today, and he was still trying to take it all in. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, knowing sleep was out of the question. He looked at Liz’s picture again and he knew he couldn’t stay away. He needed to be near her.

His mind made up, he hastily grabbed his shirt off the floor and slipped his boots on, sans socks, and grabbed his keys off the dresser. He opened his window, climbed through, and headed out into the night, and the one place he desperately wanted to be.

* * * * *

Liz sat on the edge of her bed idly running a brush through her hair. Her hand covered her mouth as she stifled a yawn, but she knew sleep wasn’t going to come easy on this night. Too much had happened. She’d seen too much. Felt too much. Experienced too much. She’d almost lost Max forever today, and in the process of getting him back, she experienced things that were beyond imaginable.

Who knew what tomorrow would hold? Maybe they wouldn’t even have a tomorrow. Maybe all they had was the here and now, and it should be lived to the fullest, because tomorrow might not ever come. She’d always looked at life in long term possibilities, but for Zan and Rena, one night of passion was all they had had. And then life had conspired against them and taken him away from her. And what of her and Max? Did a similar fate await them? Was their love destined to always fall short of what it could have been?

What did she really want? If she had her choice, would she choose to deny herself, or would she give in to the primal urges Max caused in her? And that was the key, wasn’t it? Max. All roads lead back to Max. Not surprising with all that she had seen today. He was, after all, the center of her world.

* * * * *

Max pulled the jeep to a stop and stared up at the lights in her bedroom window. He’d been surprised that they were still on, but maybe she couldn’t sleep either. He slowly climbed out, but hesitated to climb up her ladder. Was he here just to be near her, just to breathe in the air around her? Or was he hoping for . . .

He ached for her, but what if it was too soon? What if she wasn’t ready for . . . more? Maybe he wasn’t ready either. Oh God, who was he kidding?

His feet moved of their own accord, and he found himself at the base of her ladder with his hands poised, ready to rise. Going on blind instinct, his foot found the bottom rung, and he began to climb . . .

* * * * *

Liz opened the drawer of her nightstand and took out the wooden box that she kept there. Her favorite possessions were stored in it. Her Grandmother’s wedding rings that her dad had given to her after she died. The blue ribbon she had won in her first science fair. An arrowhead that she and Maria and Alex had found in the desert and used to proclaim themselves blood brothers.

She moved those objects aside and reached for the one she was looking for. A silver hair clip, in the shape of a V, with intricate little symbols along the edges. She smiled as she picked it up and laid it on the palm of her hand, and fond memories returned. She closed her nightstand drawer and opening the clasp on the clip, she slipped it into her hair.

* * * * *

Max rose up the ladder and he hesitated as he reached the top. He could sense her on the other side, feel himself being drawn to her. He’d felt that pull his whole life, always known that he was meant to be with her. He lifted his foot and his boot slipped off, falling to the sidewalk below. He hadn’t bothered to tie them in his haste to leave his room. It hit the ground with a dull thud and he fleetingly thought of retrieving it, but he was drawn to Liz, and there was no time to waste.

He swung his leg over the top of the wall and clumped across her balcony, coming to a stop as he reached her window. And there she was. His heart climbed into his throat as he looked at her, sitting on the edge of her bed and running a brush through the ends of her hair. Her pink tank top contrasted beautifully with her dark hair and her matching pajama bottoms had little white stars all over them. For some reason, that made him smile. He lifted his hand, and hesitated briefly before tapping lightly on the glass.

Liz turned at the sudden sound and when her eyes met his she felt a rush of emotions. Surprise, elation, joy, euphoria, delight, desire. Her heart rate tripled as she rose from her bed and crossed her room to the window. Her hand reached out to disengage the lock and Max lifted the window, removing the obstacle that separated them.

“What are you doing here, Max?” Liz asked in surprise.

“I just . . . I wanted to see you,” he answered, hoping she wouldn’t be mad at him for coming back. “I couldn’t stay away.” They stared at each other for a minute, with an air of anticipation all around them, and then he asked, “Can I come in?”

She stepped back from the window, giving him her silent consent, and he hesitated only briefly before slipping over the windowsill and letting his feet hit her floor. He stood before her, feeling a gentle breeze pushing him toward her, and then he reached around and closed the window behind him.

“You really shouldn’t be here,” she said, biting nervously at her lower lip. What did she have to be nervous about? Didn’t every girl have an exotic dark haired mystery man climb up their balconies during the middle of the night? With one shoe on, and one shoe off? And wind swept hair, and smoldering eyes? And lips . . . oh, those lips . . .

“Do you want me to go?” he asked and held his breath, waiting for her answer. He wasn’t sure if he was physically capable of leaving. His body wasn’t going to let him . . .

She slowly shook her head back and forth, and when she found her voice she said, “No . . .”

The air that he had been holding rushed out of his lungs and he felt lightheaded. She didn’t want him to go. She wanted him to stay. Her eyes were looking up at his, so big, so expressive, so innocent, so full of love and he felt incapable of speech. He was living a dream, one he hoped he’d never wake up from. “I . . . I want to show you something . . .” he finally managed to say.

“What?” An uncertain smile touched her lips and her stomach fluttered again. He stepped away from her and she watched his every move as he crossed the room to her stereo. She covered her mouth with her hand to keep from laughing over the way that he walked, with one shoe on, and one shoe off, and when he turned to see her staring at his feet, he looked down in surprise. He hadn’t even noticed.

With an embarrassed look in his eyes and a blush rising in his cheeks, he lifted his foot and pulled off his remaining shoe. He let it fall to the floor with a sheepish smile and then turned back to her stereo. Soft, gentle music flowed from the speakers and he walked slowly back to Liz. His hand reached out for hers, letting his fingers glide along the palm of her hand and he drew her away from the window, into the center of her room.

“Close your eyes,” he said softly. She looked into his eyes, trying to guess what he was going to do and then she did as he asked. The trust that she showed him made his heart sing, and he just stared at her for a moment, knowing that he was the luckiest man alive. His hand rose toward the ceiling and the wood and plaster and nails shimmered and wavered before disappearing to reveal the stars twinkling in the night sky and the moon shinning down on them. He snapped his fingers and the lights blinked out, replaced by an abundance of flickering candles casting her room in a soft glow. Her eyes popped open at the sound and her trembling hand flew up to cover her mouth as she looked around the room.

“Max . . .” she whispered.

“Do you like it?” he asked, unable to take his eyes off her.

She blinked, trying to keep from crying, and she said with a sigh, “Yes.”

Max looked up at the night sky and said, “We came across the stars, Liz, to find each other again. Both of us.” He looked back down at her and drew her into his arms. “We just took different ways to get here. We belong together, Liz. Then. Now. Always.”

Her eyes held his and she said, “Yes. Always.”

They began to move slowly to the music, their bodies swaying gently together as they lost themselves in each other’s eyes. His hand wrapped around hers and brought it to his chest where it rested over his heart. His arm circled around her, with that hand pressed against her delicate back. Their bare feet brushed together as they danced in the center of her room.

“I love you, Liz. Forever.” He swallowed hard as he looked into her beautiful face, lit by a multitude of candles, and colors danced across her face. Colors that reminded him of a place far away, and a time long ago.

“Forever, Max,” Liz whispered as his lips moved toward hers. “Forever.” Their lips touched and fireworks were added to the candlelight. Their hearts raced, their passion soared, and nothing could keep them apart. His hand roamed over her back as they kissed, and he could feel the heat of her body through the material of her tank top. His fingers rose to touch the skin of her shoulder and lifted higher to cup the back of her head and then he touched the clip in her hair.

“You’re wearing . . .” he said huskily as he broke off the kiss. His fingers traced the shape of the V and he took a step back from her. He turned her chin so that he could see it in her hair and he was touched to see her wearing it again. She turned back to him and a smile spread over his face. “You missed a strand, there, on your left,” he said, and he watched as her hand rose to feel for it. “No,” his smile deepened and his eyes were twinkling, “on your other left.”

“Will you fix it?” she asked throatily, and then turned her back to him. His hands rose to the back of her head, gathering her long hair between his fingers. He reached for the clip and unfastened it and then carefully removed it from her hair. He set it on the nightstand, safely away from the edge, and lifted his hand to her hair again. He brushed it to the side, away from her shoulder, and his lips descended to kiss a trail down her throat. Her skin was so soft and tasted so sweet, and she leaned back against his chest as if her legs were too weak to hold her up. His arm wrapped around her, crossing over her chest, and his hand lightly brushed over her breast. The contact was electrifying, and his body couldn’t help its natural reaction.

She turned around to face him and her eyes looked up at him, burning with a fire that he had never seen before, and he once more found it almost impossible to breathe. He was frozen between want and self-denial, needing her desperately yet not wanting to push her into something she wasn’t ready for. The strap on her tank top had fallen off her shoulder and the flickering candlelight accentuated the creamy color of her skin. As she stood before him, he could swear she was literally glowing.

“Max . . .”

“I don’t want you to do anything that you’re not ready for-”

“Max . . .”

“I don’t want to pressure you, and I want you to know I’ll wait for as long as you need to-”

“Max . . .”

“That’s not what tonight was all about. I know you said you just weren’t re-” and then the words froze in his mouth as her hands went to the hem of her top and slowly pulled it over her head. She let it fall to the floor and Max couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was perfect. Everything about her was perfect. Her breasts were better than anything his imagination had ever come up with. Round and full and perfectly formed with compact rosy nipples right in the center, nipples that were hard rigid peaks-

“Max . . .”

God how he wanted to touch her, to taste her. He could imagine how she would feel against his hand, in his mouth. How wonderful those rosy peaks would taste-

“Max . . .” she said and moved a step closer to him. His eyes rose to her face and he tried to remember that breathing was necessary to survive, even for aliens. Softly, she said, “I think you’re overdressed.”

Her hands were at his hips and he could feel his shirt starting to rise. This was really happening, not a dream, not a fantasy, not a nightmare forced upon him. The woman that he loved was standing half naked in front of him, and she was right. He was overdressed.

He grabbed his shirt and tore it off, pulling it over his head as quickly as he could. He let it join hers on the floor at their feet and then she moved even closer to him. Her arms went around him and their skin came into contact, chest to chest. Her nipples were like points of fire pressing into his flesh and all hesitation disappeared.

He clutched her against him while his mouth chased after hers. He kissed her hard and his tongue swept over her lips, touching her, tasting her, tempting her with more. Her hands cupped his face as they passionately attacked each other and his hands roamed over her back, up the back of her neck, and threaded into her luxurious hair as he pressed her even closer to him. Her arms wrapped around him and he shivered with sexual excitement when her nails scraped lightly over his skin. He broke off the kiss abruptly and stared down at her while he tried to catch his breath. His eyes roamed over her face and he said, “Liz . . .”

He attacked her mouth again and one hand moved from her back to her side, and then slowly forward. He moved along the swell of her breast until his hand covered her and he could feel her erect nipple pressing into his palm.

“God, Liz . . .” he mumbled against her lips and the moan she emitted from deep in her throat only served to stroke the fires of his passion even more. His lips moved from hers, along her chin, to the sensitive spot below her ear, then down along her throat. Together, they flashed on a distant memory, of a time when the skin on their throats was alive with color, and their flesh blazed red with passion. Max nuzzled his cheek along Liz’s exposed throat, stimulating her phantom markings and Liz moaned as her body reacted to a sexual awakening.

“Zan,” she cried out softly.

“Rena,” Max mumbled into her ear, lovers finally reunited across space and time.

Their skin was alive with heightened sensation and their bodies trembled with mounting desire. Everywhere their skin touch came alive with building pleasure, nerve endings humming to a rising crescendo. Cheeks stroking cheeks and the skin on their throats burning with sexual fire. Chest pressed to chest, his skin stimulating hers as they touched, taking on a life of its own as the friction mounted until they both cried out in pleasure.

“Max . . .?” Liz managed to say between deep lungfuls of air. What was that?

He lifted his cheek from her throat and looked into her eyes, reading her unspoken question. Only half jokingly, he said as he tried to catch his breath, “Foreplay?”

Their skin on their throats and their chests was tingling and throbbing and he cut off her throaty laugh as he kissed her again. That was only the beginning.

As he kissed her, he reached blindly for the edge of her bedspread. He pulled her covers aside and the scent of roses drifted up around them. Startled, she looked down at her bed and saw the rose petals that were sprinkled over her sheets.

“Max . . .” she smiled at him in astonishment. A blush rose up in his cheeks and he shrugged his shoulders as if it were nothing, but she could tell he was pleased by her reaction. “Silk sheets too?”

“Only the best,” he answered and his eyes darted between her lips and her eyes, until he just had to kiss her again. With a wave of his hand, the petals flew off the bed and danced in the air above them. He swept her off her feet and held her in his arms for a moment, just looking into the depths of her eyes, and then he set her on the cool sheets. He hovered above her and he couldn’t help letting his eyes drift over her body as he said, “God you’re beautiful.”

He stretched out beside her and she looked up at him, self-conscious in her partial nudity. His hand went to the pillow next to her head and lifted the long stem white rose that had suddenly appeared there. He brought it forward for her to see and she took it from his hand with a look of surprise on her face.

“Max . . .”

“No thorns,” he said smiling gently at her. “Nothing to hurt you. I don’t want anything to ever hurt you again.”

“Max . . .” Liz said again and his fingers stroked slowly along her cheek. His hand trailed down along the sensitive skin of her throat and he could feel her pulse racing there. He leaned down, taking her lips once more in a slow kiss, and his hand closed over her exposed breast. He felt her sudden inhalation at the intimate contact and he parted his lips from hers to look at her, to see if maybe she had changed her mind, and wasn’t ready for this to happen this soon.

He looked at her flushed face, and what he saw wasn’t hesitation or uncertainty or even second thoughts. What he saw was need, and want, and desire and his heart pounded out a staccato beat, drumming rapidly in his chest. She wanted him. He wanted her. He watched her, felt her skin press against his as she stretched to place the rose on the nightstand, right next to the silver hair clip, and when she looked back at him the air around them was filled with energy just waiting to be unleashed.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her and the fire that he saw in her set his passion ablaze. His mouth swooped down onto hers, devouring her, parting her lips with his tongue, probing the moist depths of her mouth, seeking to merge completely with her. He could feel her hands in his hair as she tried to pull him even closer, hear the moans rumbling deep in her throat, feel the pounding of her heart in her chest.

He wanted her, and she wanted him, and nothing else existed except for this moment in space and time. His hand caressed her breast as he kissed her and he felt her nipple harden even more. He stroked it with his thumb and heard her whimper in pleasure and knew he wanted more than just a touch. His lips moved from her lips, down to the tender skin under her chin, lower then to the hollow at the base of her throat and then on to claim his prize. His mouth moved along the valley between her breasts and then up the soft mound until his lips encountered that sweet, erotic peak. His lips closed over her, tasting her with his tongue at first, and then sucking her deeper into his mouth.

“Max . . .” Liz could barely contain the sensations he was making her feel. Her back arched up as he pulled at her nipple and she moaned even louder. “Oh God, Max.”

The air crackled with sexual energy and Max released one hard peak so that he could taste the other. Liz slid her hand into the hair at the nape of his neck, pressing him hard against her while her sounds filled the air around them. His body moved from her side, gliding into position on top of her, and then he slowly kissed a trail back up to her throat so that he could claim her mouth again. She spread her legs apart and his thighs nestled between hers, pressing his extremely aroused manhood against her equally aroused feminine center. He devoured her lips again and her legs wrapped around his hips so that she could feel him better as he rocked his hips against her. His jeans were painfully tight but he couldn’t stop. It felt too good to stop.

Her hips were rubbing against him, her nipples were drilling into his chest, and he could sense something happening inside her. He pressed his body harder against her and the sensation grew, building in pitch until her body shuddered with a blinding climax and his name erupted from her lips. And she hadn’t even taken her pants off yet.

“I felt that,” Max said breathlessly as he hovered above her. “I felt what you felt, just now . . .”

“You did . . .?” she looked up at him and tried to catch her breath.

“Is that how . . . I mean, is that the way it’s supposed to . . . for you . . .”

“I guess so,” she smiled shyly and then said, “We’re in virgin territory here, Max. I don’t know exactly how it’s supposed to feel, but I can tell you this. I really liked it. I mean I really liked it.”

He smiled then, a smile somewhere between relief and rejoicing. “I do know one thing,” she said with a certainty as her eyes roamed over his candlelit face.

“What’s that?” he asked huskily.

“You’re still overdressed.”

He stared at her mutely for a moment and then he swallowed hard and said, “So are you.”

He shifted his weight and moved to her side, eager yet hesitant at the same time. This was a major change in their relationship, one they could never go back from. He lifted his hand and gently touched the skin on her cheek, and then brushed his fingers over her throat, trailing his hand down to cup her breast while his eyes lingered there, and then he moved lower. He touched the smooth flesh that covered her ribs and then down to her flat stomach, where he hesitated once more.

His eyes met hers and he saw her consent, and his hand slipped lower to the top edge of her pajama bottoms. His hand slid under the material and his fingers encountered a patch of silky hair. Yes, he must have died today out at the pod chamber, he thought as his hand moved lower, because surely now he must be in heaven. He tugged at the material that still covered her and it easily slid down her hips, along her shapely thighs and then down her legs and past her feet. She lay before him, vulnerable in her nakedness, and Max had never seen a more beautiful sight.

Her hand was suddenly on his chest and he felt her push him backwards until his back was resting against the sheets. He stared up at her this time as her hand went to the front of his jeans. Her fingers deftly unfastened the top button and she lowered his zipper in what felt like agonizingly slow motion. Her hand could feel his rock hard erection straining at the fabric and she lingered there, judging what was beneath the material. When the zipper had been lowered completely, Max almost frantically pushed his jeans down his legs and Liz helped pull them free. She moved to toss them to the floor to join the rest of their clothing when he suddenly cried out, “WAIT!”

Startled, and suddenly feeling terribly exposed, she clutched his jeans to her naked flesh. She looked at him apprehensively and said, “What?”

“There’s something in there I need,” he said and she could see the flush in his cheeks. He pulled his pants out of her hand and reached into the back pocket. He pulled out his wallet and set it on the bed, and then tossed his pants to the floor. Settling in next to her again he murmured, “Now where were we?”

She smiled at him, regaining her composure and said, “It looks like these need to come off.” She slid her hand under the top band of his boxers and the smile froze on her lips and then slowly disappeared. She stared at him and then said slowly, “Max . . .”

“What’s the mat-” he started to say and then he groaned outloud when her hand surrounded him. Her fingers explored him, feeling his size and his shape and his texture and then she tugged off his shorts so that she could see him, too. All coherent thought left him as her hand moved up and down the length of him.

“Max, you’re so . . .” and her voice trailed off.

“What?” he said hoarsely. If she didn’t stop touching him, he was going to lose it right now. God, her hand felt-

“Perfect,” Liz said as her hand roamed over him. “You’re perfect, Max.” She raised her eyes to his and she leaned in to kiss him then, and they were once more swept away on a titlewave of passion. His mouth covered hers and he became the aggressor, driven by a blinding need to become a part of her. He chased her back down to the sheets, his lips consuming hers, his chest pressing against her soft breasts, his stomach sliding over hers and his thighs settling between her legs. Her hand was still holding his throbbing sex and she drew him near.

His hot flesh came into contact with her wet heat and they both groaned as a bolt of sexual energy surged between them. His sex rubbed against her sex, stimulating them even more until they were both panting with need. Max was smothering her mouth with his, tugging at her lower lip while his hands moved over her hot skin, touching her everywhere. She rocked her hips against him, feeling the way his erection slid between her slick folds, getting closer and closer to that sweet place they both wanted him to go.

“Max . . .” she mumbled against his lips. “Now. I want you now.”

His hand blindly search the bed for his wallet and as his fingers closed over it, he tore his lips away from Liz. Almost frantically, he opened it and searched for the small packet he had placed there in hopes that some day he and Liz would reach this point. He slid the packet out and dropped his wallet carelessly on the bed.

Max lifted his body off Liz and she watched him as his fingers tore at the protective wrapper. He removed the condom and she could see that his fingers were trembling slightly as he rolled it into place over his impressive member. He tossed the wrapper hastily aside and then he leaned over Liz again, hovering above her for just a moment and then she laced her fingers through his hair and pulled him down to her.

His body settled onto hers and the moment that they had been waiting for for such a long time was upon them. With his thighs between her thighs, his proud sex moved once more toward that special place. He could feel her rapid heartbeat resonating against his chest, feel her heated puffs of breath on his throat, feel her legs open wider to let him in. His lips touched hers, kissing her tenderly as he gently pushed forward, entering her with care and all the restraint he was capable of gathering. His body screamed for more, but his mind told him patience as he slowly pushed inside her.

“Max . . .” Liz moaned as she tore her lips away from his. His lips went to her throat, kissing the skin there that felt like more than just skin now. It was alive with sensation, stimulated by his lips, his flesh, his very breath on her inflamed nerve endings. Her sense of touch was heightened, enhanced in some old yet familiar way and she arched against him, wanting to feel more.

His hips moved forward and then back, entering her slowly, amazed at the feeling that surrounded him as he moved deeper into her. Her hands were in his hair and then her fingernails were scraping down his spine to the small of his back, driving him nearly mad with need. Her hands moved lower, digging into the muscles of his butt and he could feel her urging him deeper. With a moan escaping from her throat, her hands rose up to cup his cheeks, lifting his face from her throat, and she stared up at him with her eyes ablaze.

“Now, Max,” she breathed out.

He looked down at her and knew what she meant. Do it fast. Do it deep. The pain would be fleeting, but their joining would be for a lifetime. Maybe even longer than that. Her legs shifted, opening herself to him even more, and he moved his hands to her hips. He hovered at her entrance while he stared into her eyes, and then she said it one more time. “Now.”

He drove into her, hard and deep, feeling her membrane tear as he stripped away her barrier. She cried out as he filled her and his hand slipped between them, pressing against her belly and glowing softly to ease her pain. Her eyes closed as she adjusted to his presence, taking in these new sensations. Such wonderful sensations. She wanted more.

He felt her body arch up against him as he plunged into her and he used his healing powers to try to stem the pain he could feel in her. It ebbed and was gone and in its place he could feel her desire flood into him. The feel of her inner walls surrounding him, hot and tight and wet and so much more than his imagination could have dreamed of, was almost enough to send him over the edge right now. He rocked his hips back and then plunged into her again, this time with no pain to mar it.

“God Liz,” he said heatedly as he sank into her the second time. He pulled back again, craving more as together they experienced these new sensations. Her legs lifted up to wrap around his hips and he sank into her with vigor. Her breasts danced against his chest with each deep thrust into her body, and the hard ridges in his stomach pressed against her soft belly.

It seemed that he had waited his entire life to claim her, and now that it was happening, now that he was inside her and a part of her, all of his dreams were coming true. His arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly to him while he thrust deeply inside her. Their skin, wherever it touched, seemed to be on fire, on their cheeks and down their throats and along their chests. He plunged down into her while she raced upwards to meet him, driving them to new heights, and they both trembled as they were swept into a maelstrom of sexual tension just waiting to be released.

“God . . . Max . . .” Liz intoned as Max drilled into her. His thrusts had taken on a hungry tone, building to a fevered pitch as Liz moaned against his ear. He had always felt the fire in her, waiting to come out, and unleashing it was like letting a wild tiger free. She was eager. She was primal. She was grinding her body against his to increase her stimulation. She knew what she wanted, and Max was going to give it to her.

His hips pulled back and his thick sex throbbed with building tension as he raced toward climax. He could feel it in her too, ready to explode, hovering right there on the edge, and he drove into her hard. Her hips rose up to meet him and she cried out as they crashed together. Her walls, already tighter than imaginable, clamped down on him, quivering and throbbing as she came, and he exploded in a mind searing rush of sexual release. His seed burst from him, spurting out of him in a pulsating rhythm and his body shuddered as he drove into her one last time. His own cry joined hers and they clung together as their climax crested and they rode a wave of sexual ecstasy.

Their bodies spent, they lay in each other’s arms with their hearts pounding and their breathing coming in gasps. Their skin, slick with sweat, quivered, vibrating with their underlying passion, quenched now but ready to burst into flame again. Their wild heartbeats thundered in their ears and pounded in their chests while their lungs heaved, trying to catch their breaths. His body weighed down on hers, their chests, their bellies pressed together, their skin tingling and contracting wherever they touched. They stayed connected for long minutes afterward, Max buried deeply inside of Liz, while their bodies hummed in the afterglow.

He slowly lifted his head from her throat and he looked down at her radiant face. Her eyes opened slowly and a smile spread over both their faces. He kissed her forehead and then her nose and then her lips and he said, “I always knew that it would be this way for us.”

“What way?” Liz asked as she stroked her fingers tenderly through his hair.

“Magic,” Max said and his eyes were shining with the love that he felt for her. “It’s all magic when I’m with you.”

* * * * *

The candles flickered and burned out one by one, casting the room into near darkness. Soon, a beam of moonlight was all that remained to keep the night at bay. It bathed the couple on the bed in its pale glow and the dark sky above them twinkled with a thousand stars.

They lay on their sides, Max with his body wrapped protectively around her, Liz with her head tucked under the hollow of his chin. His arm was draped around her holding her close to him, and his hand cupped her warm breast. The silk sheet covered their naked bodies from the waist down and their skin appeared to glow with a reddish tint in the pale light of the moon.

A war was brewing on a distant shore, a battle they would have to someday face, but not tonight. Tonight was just for them. Their sleep was peaceful and comforting, unmarked by any dreams as they lay in each other’s arms. The final candle flickered out and all that remained was the ember of the wick, glowing orange in the dark. A tendril of smoke rose from it and then dissipated into the night air. For now, all was quiet. But tomorrow . . . tomorrow the flame would be relit, and burn brightly once again.

The End

Edited by - Breathless on 09/21/2001 10:25:07