posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:35:25 PM
Title: Out of the Woods

Author: Kath7

E-mail: kath453⊕yahoo.ca

Rating: PG -13

Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. I am just borrowing them. Lyrics to songs by Joe Cocker and Amanda Marshall. Thanks to Angel_Parker for the banner.

Out-of-the-Woods_Banner

Part 1

January, 2001 - Roswell, New Mexico

"We're going Max! And that's final!" Philip Evans called after his son, his voice finally raised to a yell.

Isabel Evans flinched as her brother slammed his bedroom door. Music suddenly blared from behind it - Metallica if she was not wrong. Darn Michael! she thought. Why did he have to give that CD to Max for Christmas?

She curled up in the corner of the couch, pulling her knees to her chest, resting her chin on her knees. She eyed her father and mother, who were still staring after Max, angry and hurt expressions reflected on their faces.

Why does Max have to be such a jerk all the time? Isabel asked herself for the thousandth time. Why doesn't he care how much he's hurting everyone?

Because he doesn't care about anything anymore, a little voice in the back of her mind told her, and he hasn't for almost a year - ever since Liz Parker walked away from him.

Diane Evans sank into a recliner near Isabel, taking her daughter's hand. "We're sorry that you got pulled into the middle of this again Izzy." Tears were beginning to form in her mother's blue eyes. "We just think that this trip might be good for your brother. He never leaves his room anymore, only to go to school...."

And barely even there, Isabel thought wryly to herself. She couldn't remember the last time she had actually seen Max at school. She knew for a fact that he had almost flunked three of his classes in first semester.

"It's okay Mom," Isabel squeezed her mother's hand. "We did have fun last year, right Daddy?" Philip Evans turned and smiled weakly.

"We sure did Iz." Suddenly his face lit up. "Hey! Do you think Max might want to come if we ask Michael along?"

Isabel nodded reluctantly. Max and Michael were still inseparable. However, she was not currently Michael's biggest fan. "Yeah, probably Dad." Philip nodded enthusiastically.

"And you can invite Tess." Isabel raised an eyebrow.

"I'm not sure that camping is exactly Tess's thing," she muttered. But Isabel knew that if Tess knew that Max was going, she would come. Isabel wasn't really sure she cared one way or the other. Yes, Tess was technically her best friend, but really only due to circumstance.

Isabel felt a brief pang. "Alex..." But she quickly surpressed it. It was too painful. Their break-up had been doubly brutal, because not only had he been her boyfriend, he had been her best friend too - the only non-alien she could really depend on, the only one who had known - and loved - the real her. They had tried so hard to stay together, despite all that destiny crap, but what with Max and Liz and Michael and Maria...it had just been impossible.

Isabel thought she might have been able to handle it if she had had someone to talk to, but there was just no one.Michael was impenetrable, Tess was annoying and Max....

Well, he was no longer MAX. The brother she had loved was gone, and had been for a long time.


Part 2

Liz Parker stared into the mirror, adjusting her uniform's alien headband. She realized that her hands were shaking. She quickly dropped them, clutching her apron, trying to get a hold of herself.

Has it really been over six months since I wore this stupid outfit? She asked herself, continuing to peer into the mirror. I look exactly the same. How can that be?

Despite herself, Liz thought back to the last shift she had worked - or, at least had been scheduled to work. It had been the night that Nasedo had disguised himself as Max and had kidnapped her. From that point on, her life had basically lost control.

And control was the one thing Liz Parker could not live without.

It was the one thing she and Max had always had the most in common, that need for control.

It had been lost almost a year ago - for good.

Liz was dragged from her thoughts by a familiar voice calling from the kitchen. "Lizzie! Where are you???" She smiled despite herself, stepped out of the washroom and suddenly Maria was on her. "You're back! Finally! How come you didn't call me? I have so much to tell you!!!"

Liz covered her best friend's mouth with her hand, raising her eyebrows and falling back immediately into her "sensible Liz" routine. "Maria, calm down or I'll be on the next plane back to London." Maria blinked above Liz's hand, her eyes sparkling with excitement. She finally nodded though when Liz raised her chin questioningly.

"Okay." Liz dropped her hand and grinned. "I missed you so much!" She hugged her friend. When she pulled back, there were tears on Maria's cheeks. "What's wrong?" She demanded, concerned immediately.

"Oh Liz! I'm just so glad that you're back...Nothing has been the same since you've been gone!" Maria hugged Liz again.

"Hey little ladies, can't a guy get a little service around here?" Alex Whitman poked his head through the swinging door leading to the dining room, a grin splitting his face. Liz tried to disentangle herself from Maria, but found that her best friend was refusing to let go. "Hey Alex." She finally said wryly, smiling at her other best friend over Maria's shoulder.

"Hey yourself stranger! It's so great that you're back!"

Liz wondered. It suddenly felt like she had never left, that she had not just spent the last seven months of her life away from Roswell, New Mexico, trying to regain what little control she still had over her life.

Walking away from Max Evans seven months ago had been the hardest thing she had ever had to do in her life. Coming back to Roswell now seemed like it was going to possibly be worse.

Liz's dad suddenly appeared in the service window, a perplexed look on his face. "You girls were planning to work today, were you not?" Jeff Parker asked. "'Cause it's getting really busy out here and I have some guests I need to take care of."

Liz sighed. "Yeah sure Dad. We're coming." She took a deep breath and made her way into the dining room, Alex and Maria close on her heels, both talking a mile a minute.

"So, anyway Liz, there are like 37 million things I have to tell you. First, and by far the most important, Vicky Delaney actually got a nose job. Can you, like, believe that? And she goes around trying to pretend she didn't and she didn't even need to anyway..."

"The band is doing great, we actually have a gig for next weekend."

Liz made her way behind the counter, listening to her friends with half an ear, just happy to be in their company, when she suddenly came to a dead halt.

Sitting on the counter, right in front of the cherry soda machine, was a bottle of Tabasco sauce.

Liz blinked. She turned to look at Maria and Alex. They had both stopped talking abruptly, having noticed Liz's face and were now both staring at the Tabasco bottle as well.

"Well, so much for trying to avoid the topic." Alex finally said, a sad look suddenly on his face.

Liz felt like her whole body was suddenly burning up. "Max."

She turned to look at her friends. "How are they? I mean, how is he?" Liz felt herself strangling as she tried to make her voice work.

Maria and Alex exchanged glances. "Well..." Maria began, clearly uncertain what to say.
Liz knew it was bad if Maria was at a loss for words. She knew what it meant.

"Tess?" She felt her knees about to give out under her. No matter that she had prepared herself for this a thousand times while away, telling herself over and over again, that he was not HERS, that he was Tess's, the thought of it still made her want to scream, weep, and throw up all at the same time.

"OhmyGod, NO!" Maria rushed forward, clearly no longer having trouble speaking. "Max is so NOT with Tess." She rolled her eyes. "Not that she isn't still trying though."

Liz felt as though a breath of fresh air was suddenly blowing through the Crashdown. She clutched at the counter, helping herself around it, sat herself on a stool. "He's not with Tess?" Alex was staring at her worriedly while Maria continued.

"God no!" Maria shuddered. "And Michael is so NOT with Isabel." She snorted suddenly. "Not that Michael's with anybody these days."

"Or Izzy." Alex murmured. Liz watched him rub his forehead, as though he had a splitting headache. She suddenly needed to understand, needed to know exactly what had been going on in Roswell while she had been gone.

While she had been running away from Max Evans.

"Tell me."

Part 3

Alex and Maria exchanged glances again. "You do it Maria. I know you'll only interrupt me if I do it, so tell her." Alex decided.

Liz felt her stomach clench. She just knew that this was not going to be good. "What's wrong?" She asked, hardly believing that calm-sounding question had come from her mouth. She was screaming on the inside.

Maria bit her lip. "I almost don't know where to start Lizzie. Everything is so different." Liz just stared at her. Maria continued. "Okay! Just let me get it organized." She began to mutter to herself.

As Liz waited impatiently, she noticed her dad seated at one of the booths, a cup of coffee clutched in his hands. He was not alone.

She blinked in surprise when she saw Max's dad on the other side of the booth. As she watched, the Crashdown door opened and Sheriff Valenti and Mr. Whitman entered, both making their way to the booth to join the other two men.

"What's going on over there Alex?" She asked. Alex was eyeing Maria incredulously as she continued to talk to herself. He turned to look in the direction Liz was pointing.

"What's my dad doing here?" He wondered aloud. He and Liz exchanged confused looks.

They both snapped their heads back around when Maria suddenly began to talk.

"'kay I'm gonna start with Max," Liz pursed her lips, feeling a sudden urge to grab her best friend by the shoulders and shake it out of her. Maria blanched at the look on Liz's face. "Okay! I'm sorry! Maybe you should tell this Alex!" Alex rolled his eyes. "Anyway, after you left - which by the way I still haven't technically forgiven you for." She made one of her annoyed Maria gestures. "I mean really Liz! Alex and I come over here and your mom tells us that you've up and gone to London, like one day later! What was up with that? You didn't even say good-bye! You didn't even write. You didn't even come back for school."

Liz grimaced. "I know. I really am sorry you guys. I promise I'll tell you everything, but, please..."she pleaded. "Tell me!"

"Just let me calm down a bit," Maria took a sniff of cedar oil and plunked herself down on a stool. "Anyway, Alex and I were here when Max came looking for you." Her blue eyes were distant, as though she was picturing the moment. "He was totally distraught - I mean, I've seen him upset, like when Nasedo kidnapped you, but this was like total craziness."

"Liz, he wasn't himself. He just kept going on and on about how he hated being who he was - that none of it was worth it if it meant that he couldn't be with you, that he wasn't going to lead anyone if he couldn't be with you." Alex inserted. Maria glared at him. He put up his hands in surrender. "Sorry! Sorry!" He shut up and sat down.

"Your dad told him that you were gone." Maria's eyes filled with tears. "His face Liz..."

Liz felt her heart in her throat. She was having trouble controlling her tears as well. "Oh God, Max..." Alex took her hand comfortingly.

"Don't feel guilty Liz." Maria told her. "He seemed to understand. He wasn't mad at you, or even hurt. It was more like he just gave up."

"I talked to Isabel the next day." Alex continued. "We didn't break-up right away. She wanted nothing to do with Michael romantically." He eyed Maria worriedly when she flinched. "She told me that Max was not himself. He was snapping at everyone and refused to come out of his room. When she tried to talk to him, he just stared at her. Not blankly, but like he hated her. It was really scary."

"Anyway, Michael had disappeared at this point. Isabel asked Maria and me to talk to Max to try and get him to see that we needed to find Michael."

Maria sighed, "Max seemed to snap out of it a bit after that. We found Michael eventually. He was staying with River Dog on the Reservation, trying to learn how to control his powers. School had ended by this time. He told me that he was going to try and figure out if he could control them enough to be with me." She paused, her voice cracking as she fought the impending tears. "Max decided that he was going to stay too, try and learn more about what he could do. He said that if he couldn't be with you, he would at least try and do what you wanted him to, which was try and be "the leader." Maria spat out the word, as though it was a curse. "Isabel wouldn't stay, she didn't want to leave her mom or Alex, but Tess did. Max let her, but he made it clear that they were not going to be together. He told all of us that he did not need to be "married" to be the leader. Tess stayed anyway."

"So, the next time we saw the two guys, school had started and they were just...."Alex tried to think of the right word. "I don't know - weird. Isabel said that something happened to them on the Reservation, something that made Max refuse to have anything to do with anyone, except Michael. He seemed particularly pissed off at his parents." Alex paused, "I mean his human parents. He like became the classic smart-ass teen-age son. Isabel said it was the weirdest thing she had ever seen. It looked like Max, but it wasn't him. She just knew it somehow. We almost thought it was Nasedo again, except Tess managed to get a hold of him at the Special Unit and he was still there. Even Tess is a little scared of Max now. She is still trying to get him to be with her. She can't get off her stupid destiny kick." Alex snorted. "Anyway, Max doesn't even know she's alive."

"Michael was just Michael, but like ten times more Michael," Maria continued. "He told me that it was no use - his powers were just too much. He couldn't be with me." She flushed guiltily. "So I decided to get back at him. I started dating Neil Freemont. I totally flaunted it in his face. He was still working here then."

Alex shook his head. "He totally lost it. He quit the Crashdown, stopped going to school. He and Max just holed themselves up in Michael's apartment."

"Then Max started skipping school." Maria told her.

Liz's mouth fell open. "What?"

"Yeah, he's never there anymore. And, Liz, this is the worst part..." Maria stood up and put her arm around Liz's shoulders. "Are you sure you want to hear this?"

Liz nodded mutely, automatically. She felt like ice. She felt so much guilt, it practically strangled her.

"Liz, he's dating Pam Troy." Liz felt her eyes roll back in her head. Alex grabbed her, forcing her to sit down.

Suddenly Mr. Parker was there, pressing a wet napkin to Liz's forehead. "Honey! Are you okay?"

The Sheriff, Mr. Evans and Mr. Whitman were all standing there too, varying expressions of concern on their faces. Liz pulled away from her father.

"Sorry, yeah, I'm fine Dad." She picked up a glass, asked Maria to fill it with water, and quickly gulped down the contents. "I think it's the climate - I'm not used to it anymore," she improvised quickly.

"Honey, it's January." Mr. Parker replied, confused.

"Yeah, but it's so rainy in London, not dry like here." Liz pulled herself together.

"What are you doing here Dad?" Alex asked suddenly, apparently trying to change the subject so the Dad spotlight would leave Liz.

Mr. Whitman blinked behind his thick glasses. "Oh, Jim, Jeff, Phillip and I were planning for the Father's Camp-out in Fraser Woods."

"WHAT???" Alex, Maria and Liz all yelled together, then looked around sheepishly.

Mr. Parker eyed them. "You guys do want to go don't you? We had such a great time last year...Jim suggested that we all go again this year and set up our camps together. We thought you'd want to go, you know be with your friends..." He trailed off uncertainly. The three teens were just staring at him incredulously.

Sheriff Valenti was putting on his hat. He dropped a dollar bill on the counter. "Kyle and I go every year. He's really looking forward to catching up with you Miss Parker." He said to Liz. "Roswell missed you while you were gone." The expression on his face spoke volumes. The Sheriff knew what was going on - he always had. He grinned sympathetically. "Thanks for the coffee Jeff. I'll see you all at the bus tomorrow evening."

"Mr. Evans, Max is coming?" Maria asked bluntly, then blushed.

Mr. Evans sighed. "Well, he didn't exactly say he would, but I didn't give him much choice." Liz felt sad when she saw the pained expression on Max's dad's face. "He agreed when Michael said he'd come. Izzy is looking forward to it." Alex snickered at that statement. Mr. Evans stared at him momentarily, confused, then continued, "And Tess has agreed to join us too."

"I'm surprised they are allowed to come to a school function, since they're never at school." Alex muttered under his breath so that only Liz heard him.

"And, of course, Maria you're invited to tent with Lizzie and I." Mr. Parker grinned at her. Maria smiled back weakly, clearly not happy about it, but not wanting to hurt Liz's dad's feelings.

Liz felt weak with frustration. How could their dads all be so oblivious?

The fathers left the teens then, as Jeff Parker walked Mr. Evans and Mr. Whitman to the door.

"Oh, this is just great!" Maria fumed. "Forty-eight hours of Michael Guerin in the bloody boonies!" Alex looked hopeful.

"Maybe Izzy and I can do some stargazing again." Maria elbowed him.

"Climb yourself out of the alien abyss buddy. You know you and Isabel decided that it was just too complicated. You can't do that to yourself OR her. It was hard enough a couple of months ago."

Liz just shook her head, still trying to take in all that she had heard in the last half an hour.

"Maria, please tell me you were kidding about Pam Troy." She said suddenly.

"I wish I was Liz." Maria wrinkled her nose. "I told you - Max is not your Max anymore. He is totally different."

While the thought of Max and Pam Troy made Liz physically ill, strangely it also had a galvanizing effect on Liz. It was the one thing that told her that Max could still be reached.

For, suddenly, with utter clarity, Liz knew what was wrong with Max Evans.

He was punishing her.

Dating Pam Troy was the ultimate sign of it. He had deliberately decided to date the one person that he must know would drive Liz literally insane. While Max being with Tess, would have hurt Liz, she would have accepted it, because she was the one who had encouraged him to do it, who had told him he had to.

Pam Troy was his way of getting back at her. He could not be more obvious if he tried. He knew that Pam Troy had been her arch-nemesis at school since the fourth grade. He was thumbing his nose at her and was taking it out on their friends.

Liz was quickly losing her sadness and guilt. She was beginning to get angry...and determined.

"Mr. Perfect, Mr. Dreamy Max Evans is no more." Maria was saying sadly, clearly on a roll. "He's been replaced by Mr. Meanie, Mr. I Hate the World, particularly anyone who ever loved me Max Evans."

"We'll see about that," Liz replied.

Part 4

Liz had barely slept all night.

While she had decided that she was going to find out what the heck Max thought he was doing, that did not mean that her heart was not still in her throat at the thought of actually seeing him.

The last time she had seen him had been at the pod chamber. The pleading way he had begged her to stay, the way he had looked like a lost little boy when he had told her that she meant everything to him...

It had taken all her strength to walk away from him. She had barely managed to control her tears, but seeing Max on the verge of weeping himself had almost been her undoing.

Max had always been the strong one - first loving her for so long, so silently, so completely, so sure that she was never going to notice him, yet remaining so faithful...

Then he had taken the step back, not because he had wanted to, but because he feared for her. She had not believed him when he had told her that he was scared of the way he felt about her. It had been an excuse, his way of protecting her.

Finally she had convinced him that he couldn't control everything, all the time - that he couldn't stop her from loving him just because he was afraid she would be hurt.

But he had been right all along - she had been hurt, but not by him.

She had done it to herself. She had not been brave enough to stand by him when he had wanted to make it work despite all they had heard from his real mother.

Maria had told her the night she had returned from the desert that she had been brave, selfless, that Max would thank her someday, that if it was meant to be they would find their way back to each other.

But Liz had been afraid. She had been afraid of falling even more in love with him and of then losing him in the long run. She could barely stand it then. How would she handle it after more time with him?

And so she had run away.

Her parents had not known what to do with her when she had come home. She had been gone for over twenty-four hours - again. Her mom had ranted about the influence that boy was having on her, that she was too young, that she and Max had to start behaving more responsibly.

Liz had just sat on the couch, in a daze, not really listening to a word of her mother's tirade. All she kept thinking was, "How can I live without ever touching him again?" How could she live never again feeling that connection that she knew she would never, ever, in a million years feel with anyone else? She hadn't even commented when her mom told her that they were sending her to stay with her aunt in England for the summer, that if she still felt the same way about Max when she came back, well then they would consider letting her see him again.

See him again...As if she would ever stop seeing him! She didn't need to be in his company to see him, to know him. She had seen into his soul - more than once in fact.

She had always been rational, in control. She had never believed that every person had a "soulmate," that one person that completed them. She had believed that people could be happy with any number of people as long as they had things in common.

But when Max Evans had touched her for the first time - he had done a lot more than just healing a physical wound. He had healed her soul - had opened her heart to the fact that there were people in the world meant for each other. As she had told him a thousand times, he had brought her to life.

She had continued to run away. When the summer had ended, she had stayed in London, had enrolled in a semester-long exchange program. Her mother had been ecstatic when Liz had told her her plans on the phone.

"I told you Liz. There is such a big world out there. What you and Max had was special, but you're both only teenagers. It would never have worked in the long run."

Liz had not responded. Her dad had not been as easy to fool though.

"Are you sure Lizzie?" He had asked in his quiet, concerned way.

"Yeah Dad." He didn't believe her, but he let it go. Mr. Parker had always been more sensitive to what was really going on with his daughter. Their relationship had improved again after the last camping trip, when he had finally figured out that although his daughter was growing up, she would always be his little girl. He had gotten to know Max and had always been more reasonable about the way Liz felt about him then Nancy had. In fact, he liked Max a lot - liked the way he made Liz glow.

When the semester had ended, Liz had returned to Roswell. She had not felt any more capable of facing Max - but it had been time.

But now - now that she had heard that Max had apparently lost his mind, that Maria and Alex and even Isabel had had to deal with it all on their own...Well, she was angry.

Liz had realized for the first time that it wasn't all just about she and Max.

Yes, what they had was special, but what she shared with the five others in their small group was special too.

She had let them down for the last time. She was going to get the real Max back, help Maria figure out what was going on with Michael, and help poor Alex and Izzy, who had basically been caught in the middle of the whole mess, find their way back to each other.

Liz had decided not to go back to school that day. She would start on Monday. So the first time she would see everyone else would be at the bus that night. She knew that it was not going to be fun, but she was determined. They had a whole weekend to work everything out.

They had all been close once - brought together by circumstance, had fought to stay close, but, in the end, when the going was roughest, they had all given up.

It was going to end this weekend on the same camping trip that had begun the string of events that had brought them to this point.

As Liz threw clothes into her duffel bag, she thought back to that last Father's Camping trip. She had paid Maria to accompany her, Alex had hauled his father along because he knew Isabel was going to be there, Max and Izzy had gone because of the sighting - the sighting that had turned out to be Nasedo's first signal to them. That had led them all to that pod chamber several months later, when all their hopes and dreams for themselves had been shattered.

Liz and Max had still technically been on the outs during that trip, but it had also been the first time Liz had really admitted to herself that she was not going to give up on Max Evans. The way he had looked at her when he had had to leave her and Maria to face those dogs had told her that he had felt the same way.

She wondered briefly what Max was going to say to her when she saw him later today. She had absolutely no idea. She just could not picture him being rude or mean, but from the way Maria and Alex talked, it might happen. It was not a pleasant thought.

An even more unpleasant thought was that he might ignore her altogether. She could not remember a time that she had been in Max's presence that he hadn't looked at her in some way, totally aware that she was in the same room. It had seemed that he had been totally incapable of ignoring her. The looks had sometimes been longing or sad, but always loving. They had often been teasing or lustful in happier times. The ones she liked the best though were the ones that told her that nothing that happened was ever going to change the way he felt about her.

Liz felt a lump rising in her throat. She stared at a photo of Max that still sat on her bedside table. Maria had snapped it for a photography project she had done the previous school year.

It was totally candid. He was seated on a bench in the quad, munching on a bag of Doritos, a bottle of Tabasco at his elbow. He had a book open in front of him and he was avidly reading.

Liz even remembered the book. It was The Alienist by Caleb Carr, one of her favorites. She had given it to him for his birthday. He had quirked an eyebrow at her questioningly when he had opened it. "The Alienist?" he had asked wryly. "Is this about what I think it is?"

Liz had grinned and replied, "Not alien silly, alienist. It's the old-fashioned word for psychiatrist."

Max had grinned teasingly. "Are you trying to tell me something?" Liz had rolled her eyes. Just as she knew would be the case, he had been unable to put it down after he started it. When he had finally finished - it was a long, dense book - she had asked him what he thought of it.

He had looked at her seriously for a moment and then replied, "That Sarah character reminded me of you." It had been the nicest thing he had ever said to her. Sarah was totally logical and Liz had identified very strongly with her. That Max saw it to, that he understood why she found the book so fascinating...It had moved her.

It had been just as everything about Max had always moved her. She was going to get the REAL Max back, the sensitive Max who almost cared too much about others, whose selflessness sometimes bordered on selfishness, so determined was he to protect the people he loved.

She had not yet encountered the anti-Max that had apparently been inhabiting Max's body for six months, but she knew that she could get rid of him. She just had to know what she was up against.

She would find out tonight.

Part 5

Mr. Parker and Liz picked up Maria on their way to the high school to meet the bus. Liz laughed when she noticed that her friend was wearing the same big, fuzzy boots she had worn on the trip last year.

"Tradition?" She inquired teasingly. Maria rolled her eyes.

"If you must know, they really annoy Michael. Thought I might as well have some fun if I have to be in his presence."

Mr. Parker eyed her in the rear-view mirror. "How is Michael anyway? Haven't seen much of him around the restaurant lately."

"Dad!" Liz exclaimed. It astounded her on occasion how totally clueless their parents were. It was perfectly obvious that Maria and Michael were not exactly on the best of terms - of course, they had not exactly been on the best of terms even when they HAD been dating.

"What?" Mr. Parker asked.

Liz sighed. "Never mind. Just please don't like ask Michael a ton of annoying questions when you see him."

Mr. Parker looked hurt. "Okay Honey." He said quietly.

Liz sighed again. Oh, great. Now I've hurt his feelings. The stress of anticipating her first glimpse of Max was beginning to take its toll on her.

They pulled into the school's parking lot. Maria had her face plastered against the window, scanning the crowd. "There's Alex. Looks like he and Mr. Whitman actually brought a tent this year."

Liz followed Maria's gaze. Actually, it looked as though Mr. Whitman had brought the entire stock of Mountain Equipment Co-op. Alex was standing in the middle of a pile of camping articles, looking mildly bemused. His dad was showing him how to light the Coleman camp light in his hand.

The girls and Mr. Parker joined them. Alex addressed them in relief. "Thank God you girls are here. My dad has gone all Grizzly Adams on me."

Mr. Whitman looked up, blinked and said. "Hey Jeff. Girls."

Alex, Liz and Maria left the two dads talking and went to stand near the bus, conferring quietly. "Any sign of the Czechs yet?" Liz asked nervously.

"Nope." Alex responded. "Isabel called me this afternoon." He looked suddenly happier. Liz and Maria exchanged looks.

"Alex, how many times do I have to tell you..." Maria began. Alex scowled, cutting her off.

"I know, I know. Just drop it okay? She just wanted to let me know that Max and Michael were officially coming. She said that Max actually seemed semi-excited about it."

Liz felt her mood lighten. Maybe this wouldn't be so hard after all.

"What about Tess?" Maria asked. Alex grimaced slightly, glancing at Liz.

"Unfortunately she's coming too. And there's even worse news. Max invited Pam and her father to come as well."

Liz felt momentarily ill, but then shrugged. "Well, it's to be expected. I knew that this wasn't going to be easy."

The three friends froze when they suddenly recognized the Evans's car pulling into the parking lot. They were all distracted though when Kyle Valenti suddenly appeared from the other side of the bus. He had a fishing rod in his hand.

"Hey Liz!" He came forward, a pleased expression on his face. "It's great to see you! My dad told me you were coming." Liz smiled at him, surprised that she was genuinely happy to see him. She hadn't actually laid eyes on Kyle since the day he was shot and Max had healed him.

"Hi Kyle." She walked forward, hugging him.

As she tried to pull back, she realized that his fishing rod had become entangled in her hair. Kyle tugged on it, but it only became more caught. She felt herself giggling, realized that she was quickly losing it - she never giggled. Kyle still had his arms around her as he attempted to unhook her hair.

Of course, at that exact moment, Max Evans walked right past them.

Liz felt her heart stop. She was surprised to see that he looked exactly the same. With all the talk about how different he was, she had expected him to somehow look different.

But no, he looked great. His dark hair still curled adorably at the back of his neck, he was still attractively muscular and walked with that shy, don't notice me gait that had always made Liz's breath quicken. He was wearing khakis and a dark sweater, and was swinging a back-pack up over his shoulder as he walked.

Her heart was racing, her skin tingling. Max! Max....oh, my love...

And right beside him was Pam Troy. Liz blanched.

Max didn't notice she and Kyle right away, but she knew it was only a matter of time. She tried desperately to untangle her hair, but every move she made just made it worse. Maria had sized up the situation quickly and was slapping Kyle's hands, trying to get them off Liz.

"Ow!" Kyle exclaimed, staring at Maria, annoyed. "What the hell Deluca?" Liz sighed. So much for escaping Max's notice.

He stopped abruptly and stared at her. His dark eyes were bright for one, heart-pounding moment, and then they narrowed.

It was only then that Liz noticed that Isabel, Michael and Tess were there too. Her entire being had been focused on Max - and Pam.

Isabel was biting her bottom lip, looking upset, but hopeful. She kept glancing between Liz and Max. Tess was watching Liz with interest, not maliciously, but not kindly either. Liz felt briefly like some peculiar lab specimen that Tess was about to do an experiment on.

Michael just looked weird. He stared right through all of them, seemingly oblivious to anything going on around him. Liz glanced briefly at Maria, who had retreated behind Alex and was trying to appear like she was fixing the strap on his backpack.

"Hey guys!" Alex said, much too cheerfully. It was clear that he was trying to break the awkward silence. Isabel smiled weakly at him, Kyle stared and Liz felt like she was going to faint.

She grabbed the fish hook in her hair and gave a quick yank. It broke free, taking what felt like half her scalp with it. She looked back at Max. His expression was unreadable, but his eyes...

They were scalding.

Pam Troy looked a little different. She wore her hair a little longer, but her attire, as usual, was entirely inappropriate for her surroundings. She was wearing a very low-cut blouse, tight jeans and so much make-up, Liz briefly wondered if she was auditioning to be Tammy Faye Baker in her next life.

"Well, if it isn't Liz Parker." Pam said, in her false sweet voice. It had nastiness barely veiled under the surface though. It grated on Liz's nerves as much now as it had during her sophomore year. "Back from her little European jaunt. Funny, didn't really notice she wasn't around." She said this to Max, who was still staring at Liz, unmoving. He glanced briefly at Kyle's hand on her arm, then back at her face

"Liz!" Isabel stepped forward and started chattering in an entirely un-Isabel-like manner, giving Pam a dirty look. Pam wilted a little under Isabel's icy stare. Even Tess was sneering at her. "It's so great to see you! How was England? Did you see any shows, do any shopping?"

Liz couldn't answer. She was still staring at Max, waiting for some sign from him.

There was no sign. He just looked at her like she was a total stranger - no, actually he looked at her like he was working on the same lab experiment Tess was involved in.

The eyes she had gazed into so many times were cold and hard. He was staring at her with a look of distaste on his face.

And then he did something that was deliberate and so cruel, Liz felt her heart shatter. He picked up Pam's hand and pulled her away. About ten feet away he stopped abruptly, dropped his backpack and started kissing her.

Maria gasped. "Let's get out of here." She put her arm around Liz's shoulders and started to lead Liz away. Isabel stared at her brother and his girlfriend, a disgusted look on her face. Michael was eyeing Liz with interest, not unkindly, just in a way that was totally unlike Michael. She again felt like she was under a microscope in some horrible lab experiment gone awry.

Kyle looked shocked. "Hey Evans, you're a real jerk, you know that!" He called after Max and Pam. Max broke the kiss briefly, grinned at Kyle. Liz could understand how her friends had thought that the new Max was Nasedo at first. His smile was just as heartless as Nasedo Max's had been when he had scraped his gaze up and down Liz during their brief adventure together the previous year. Max gazed coldly, challengingly, at Liz once more, picked up his backpack and led Pam away.





"It was you."

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 19-Aug-2002 1:33:18 PM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:36:18 PM
Part 6

"What the hell is up with that guy?" Kyle asked, obviously perplexed. "I mean when I heard he was going out with Pam, I was floored." He shot Liz a sympathetic look, "But that - man - that was just cold." He looked at Michael, thinking he would be the one most likely to answer him, even if he was snotty about it. Michael just stared at him without interest and walked away after Max and Pam.

"God, Liz, I'm so sorry." Isabel said. Liz smiled weakly at Max's sister. It was becoming more obvious by the second that Isabel was not the same person she had been the last time Liz had seen her. She was quieter and sadder, but somehow kinder too. "It's not just you." Izzy continued, obviously trying to make her feel better. "Everything he does is like that - totally calculated to make whoever it's directed at feel like the lowest being on earth."

Liz straightened her back. "Well, if that's the worst Max Evans can dish out, this is going to be a piece of cake," she replied, trying to use a cheerful tone. The others all stared at her.

"What the hell are you talking about Liz?" Kyle asked. "That was the most brutal thing I have ever seen."

"Thank you Kyle," Alex inserted, "I think we are all aware of how brutal it was."

Isabel was gazing at Liz, her eyes questioning. Liz addressed her. "Isabel, can we sit together on the bus?" She saw Maria scowl out of the corner of her eye. "Please Maria. Alex needs a seat-mate too. I need to talk to Isabel about Max." She turned to include the whole group, even Tess, who had yet to speak. "That was NOT Max guys. I don't know what's wrong with him, but we are going to snap him out of it. I refuse to just ignore it." She held up her hands, when Tess seemed about to protest. "I know you guys have tried, but I'm the one who caused this. I'm going to need your help to fix it, but in the end, it has to be me." She glanced around the group quickly. "We have no secrets anymore you guys. Max is keeping something from us, I don't know how I know, but I just feel it."

Isabel had brightened considerably. "God, Liz, I know I've been a jerk you in the past, but this has been so hard. I'm so glad you're back. The way Max felt about you - I mean, I think maybe you can reach him." Tears welled up in her eyes. Maria frowned at Alex when he looked like he wanted to go put his arm around her. Alex scowled and looked away.

Tess snorted. "I don't know if anyone can reach him anymore." She inserted. "As Michael would say, all he seems to do is think with his energy source, Pam Troy being People's Exhibit A." Kyle snickered at that. Tess looked at him, smirked as well.

Isabel blinked. "That is definitely the first thing we need to take care of. It is like the most repulsive thing I have ever seen." She looked at Liz. "I mean you guys used to gross me out, but at least I knew you loved each other. I KNOW Pam is only going out with Max to piss me off - not to mention you."

"She's like the black widow spider." Alex supplied. "She mates and kills." They all laughed despite themselves.

Liz could hear Coach Clay calling out their last names, trying to get everyone loaded on the bus. She saw her dad chatting with Sheriff Valenti. The Sheriff wasn't really paying attention though. He was watching Max make-out with Pam right beside Mr. Evans's, his eyes narrowed, a thoughtful expression on his face.

Liz felt momentarily ill again. Just don't think about it, she ordered herself. You know that is not YOUR Max. The real Max is still in there somewhere and you're going to find him.

"Evans!" Coach Clay yelled. Isabel jumped, saw her dad looking around for her.

"That's me. I'll save you a seat Liz. C'mon Tess." With that, Izzy hurried away, taking a wide circle around Max, who was looking back in their direction, his expression unreadable. Pam was nibbling on his ear, but he was currently ignoring her. Liz felt his gaze come to rest on her, then quickly move away.

Liz looked momentarily at Michael, who was standing just to the left of Max and Pam. He was staring off into space, no expression on his face. Liz shivered. It was freaky - and very unlike Michael. The old Michael would have been scowling at everyone, trying to piss someone off - likely either Max or Maria. But no, he just stood there, occasionally tilting his head and examining Max with interest, but usually just looking like the stereotypical pod person.

Liz giggled to herself, feeling a little hysterical. Of course, technically, he IS a pod person. She saw Kyle and Alex give her weird looks, clamped her lips shut.

"Parker!"

"C'mon girls!" Mr. Parker called. Liz turned back to Alex and Kyle.

"See you guys on the bus." She grabbed Maria' s hand, pulled her toward the bus.

As they climbed aboard, she saw Max sitting by himself near the back of the bus. He was staring out the window and for a moment, Liz saw HER Max.

He looked sad - and lonely. Liz's heart sped up. Max...

"Hey Liz! Back here!" Isabel was standing in her seat, a few in front of Max. Tess and Michael were sitting together directly in front of Max. Michael was staring straight ahead, he expression blank. Tess was turned around in her seat, lecturing Max, who was ignoring her completely.

"If you make out with that trollop the entire way to the campsite, I will personally murder her. Do you hear me Max? I mean, you're like making everyone ill. Everyone knows you're supposed to be with me, even Liz. I don't know why you're fighting it. It's been six months for Pete's sake." Max turned to stare at her briefly. He glanced past her, directly at Liz. She shuddered when she saw his eyes darken, freeze over.

"Shut up Tess." He said clearly.

"I'm coming Max!" This came from Pam, who was behind Liz in the aisle. Maria, in front of Liz, moaned.

"Oh great! I can tell already this is going to be the bus ride from Hell! Alex is going to moan about Queen Amidala the whole way, I just know it, and just my luck, the only seat left is right behind where the Widow is going to be making out with Mr. Meanie. Could my life get any worse?"

Liz patted her friend's back reassuringly. "It'll be okay Maria. Just sniff your cedar oil. At least Michael seems to be behaving himself." She continued quietly.

Maria sighed. "Yeah. He didn't even comment on my boots." she said sadly. Liz's heart went out to her best friend. While she had never understood why Michael and Maria had liked to bicker so much, it had been an integral part of their relationship.

Sort of like me and Max with those staring contests...

Liz felt tears welling up in her eyes as she joined Isabel. Be strong Liz, she ordered herself.

"Are you okay Liz?" Isabel asked, concerned.

"Yeah, thanks. It's just hard to see him like this. I knew he'd be upset, but I never imagined he would go crazy." Liz replied. "I can't even imagine what you've been going through these past months Isabel."

"It hasn't been that bad for me really. He mainly just ignores me." Isabel said. "It's the way he treats my mom and dad that's the worst. It's like he hates them or something. And they're just so hurt - they go from having the perfect son to like Genghis Khan. Liz, he plays Metallica for God's sake."

Liz patted Isabel's shoulder. "I really am sorry Isabel." Isabel just sighed. Liz decided to change the subject for the moment.

"What happened with you and Alex? It is so obvious you guys are still crazy about each other." Isabel sighed again.

"It was just too much. I was so happy when I was with Alex, but I just couldn't do it to Max you know? He was so miserable after you left Liz, more like you would have expected him to be. Not this..." She gestured to Max behind them, who had gone back to kissing Pam. "Seeing me with Alex, it just seemed to make him wilt. So we decided to cool things for a while." Isabel turned in her seat and smiled briefly in Alex's direction. He didn't notice as he and Maria were laughing as he made evil facial expressions in Max and Pam's direction. Kyle was across the aisle from them, sitting with his friend Paulie. He was grinning as well, but Liz noticed that he was watching Tess out of the corner of his eye. Interesting, thought Liz.

Tess was currently snapping her fingers in front of Michael's face, saying "Will you snap out of it Michael? Tell Max to stop it. You're the only one he listens to these days."

Liz watched Max briefly. She shivered when she realized that his eyes were open and that he was staring at her, even though he was kissing Pam. Blech! Thought Liz. She looked away quickly.

"What is up with Michael?" Liz asked Isabel. "He is totally zoned out." Isabel eyed him momentarily.

"I'm not really sure. He came back from the Reservation and he was just like that. It's actually kind of creepy. He watches all of us, all the time, like he's waiting for something. He and Max hole up in his apartment all the time. I have no idea what they talk about, but he's the only one Max will be even remotely civil to."

"Well, what are we going to do about this?" Liz asked, feeling suddenly very close to Isabel. She had always wanted to bond with Max's sister, not just because she was his sister, but because she admired and liked her. Isabel had always been distant and disapproving in the past, making it virtually impossible. The only person she had ever opened up to, besides her brothers, had been Alex. It seemed that if one good thing was to come out of Max's crazy behavior, it would be that she and Isabel could finally, truly become friends.

"I think that we should arrange for you to be able to be alone with Max - you know, try and talk to him." Isabel replied. "Are you okay with that?" She asked worriedly. "I know it will be hard. How are you anyway? Did going to London help at all?"

"England was really cool. I loved it, but it certainly didn't take my mind off Max if that's what you're wondering." She stared out the window, trying to explain to Isabel what the past few months had been like for her. "I felt so guilty. I was a coward Isabel. I didn't even call anyone to see if you guys were okay. I was just so freaked out by that whole destiny thing. The weeks before we heard that message from you mother...." She turned back to look Isabel in the eye. "I kept telling Max that we made our own destiny, that we got to choose who we wanted to be with and then when it came down to the wire - when Max really HAD to make a choice -I ran away." Tears filled her eyes again, but she wiped them away angrily. Isabel pulled a tissue out of her purse, handed it to Liz. "Thank you. Anyway, I totally failed him. I was so scared that he wasn't going to choose me. When he told you guys that it was the four of you now, I just wanted to die. I had to leave."

"I think what you did was really brave Liz." Isabel told her. Liz could see that she really meant it. "I couldn't leave Alex. Not until there was absolutely no choice. I think you knew that Max WOULD choose you. You didn't want him to have to make that choice. That's real courage in my books."

Liz snorted briefly. "Well, it obviously was all for nothing anyway. I don't understand what's happened to him. I didn't even think that Max was capable of being the person I've seen him be today." She giggled despite herself. "I mean, Pam Troy! What the heck is up with that?'

Isabel laughed too. "It's like we've entered the Twilight Zone. I'm expecting that guy to do his voice-over any minute. Welcome to Roswell, where nothing is ever normal and where people go bonkers at the drop of a hat," she intoned. Liz laughed again, the first genuine laugh she had had in a long time.

"What's so funny girls?" This came from Mr. Evans who was seated across the aisle from them with Liz's dad. Liz rolled her eyes at Isabel.

"Dads are so oblivious." She murmured under her breath. Isabel giggled again.

"Nothing Daddy. We're just really looking forward to the marshmallows tonight. Liz was just telling me about the time she ate 25 in one sitting." Mr. Parker grinned beside Isabel's dad,

"I remember that. We had one very sick little girl on our hands." He added. "But I think Maria was worse. Didn't she have about 30 Lizzie?" Liz nodded, laughed again.

"Yeah but she was fine. That was when Mrs. Deluca was going through her weird sugar diet phase. All Maria ate then was sugar anyway."

"Well, that can't possibly be any weirder than when Izzy and Max used to put Tabasco sauce on THEIR marshmallows," Mr. Evans argued. "Max did it first, if I recall correctly. He was about eight. He wanted Diane and I to try it too. Di did. I'll never forget the expression on her face." He laughed affectionately, but then stopped abruptly, turned in his seat to stare at his son sadly, who happened to be looking in their direction, clearly curious about what they were talking about.

Liz watched as Mr. Evans met Max's eyes. She couldn't believe it when Max glared at his father, deliberately took Pam's chin in his hand and started kissing her again.

She felt Isabel flinch beside her. She patted Isabel's arm reassuringly. "Don't worry Isabel. We're going to fix this. Somehow..."

Part 7

When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see...
Let my love throw a spark
Have a little faith in me...

Joe Cocker

The group had set up their camp in the exact same spot as the previous year. It had all been accomplished very quickly because the stars had just started to emerge when they settled down by the fire for an evening of what the dads thought would be bonding and the kids KNEW would be torture.

Liz sat on a log near the fire, listening to Kyle tell the same stupid story about cows and holes in heads that he had told last year. Instead of being annoyed, as she expected, she found herself liking it. It reminded her of the previous year - how, although none of them had been on the best of terms, at least they KNEW and trusted each other.

It was so different from what was going on at the moment, she felt like crying.

Isabel sat on her right, roasting a marshmallow. Liz was still amazed at how she managed to look like a goddess even in the middle of the bush. She had her blonde hair in a French braid and she was wearing the most beautiful jacket Liz had ever seen. She looked sporty but glamorous at the same time. Liz could see Alex sneaking glances at her from his place beside Kyle. It's ridiculous that those two aren't together, Liz reflected. They so blatantly want to be. I have to get through to Max for at least that reason. Fine if he doesn't want to be with me, but Alex and Izzy deserve to be happy if they can be.

Liz's gaze strayed to Maria and Tess, who were playing a rowdy game of Hearts with Mr. Evans and Sheriff Valenti. Both men looked amused by Maria's constant chatter and even Tess seemed to be enjoying herself. As Liz watched she trumped the Queen of Spades on poor Mr. Evans, crowing with triumph.

Liz noticed that Michael was watching them blankly, seated near Mr. Evans. It's like there's nothing going on up there, she reflected, as she analyzed Michael's empty eyes. The old Michael's eyes had been alive at all times, snapping with annoyance or sarcasm or, when he thought no one was looking, loneliness. And only sometimes, and only when he had been with Maria, Liz used to see happiness in Michael Guerin's eyes. But now there was just nothing.

She gazed across the fire at Max, who was sitting under a tree, Pam at his side. He was ignoring Pam at the moment, his head thrown back gazing at the stars, but Liz knew that wouldn't last long. She hadn't though that Max Evans was capable of such public displays of affection.

Well, that's not true, she amended ruefully. He certainly had no qualms about kissing me in public. A slight smile touched her face. When Max used to kiss Liz, it had been like they were the only two in the world, no matter where they were. More often than not Max had been embarrassed when he had remembered where he was. It had been one of his most endearing qualities, the fact that he couldn't seem to keep his hands off of her, despite it being completely contrary to his personality.

But what was going on with Pam was totally different. It freaked Liz out the way he seemed to be so deliberate every time he touched her. It looked like he was trying to get a rise out of someone whenever he did it. More than once she had seen him staring at her, Liz, when Pam was nibbling on his ear, or kissing his neck. It made her ill.

And, unfortunately, she couldn't make her eyes behave. They kept straying back to the couple across the way, although it felt like she was being stabbed in the heart every time.

Remember Liz, she admonished, that is not YOUR Max. That is not the Max that made you see stars when his lips touched yours, that let you SEE him in a way that could never be replaced.

The thing that pissed Liz off the most about the whole thing was that she didn't know what she was going to do if the anti-Max was here for good because the old Max had ruined her for anyone else. No one was ever going to compare to him. They just couldn't.

She had finally admitted to herself that running away had been pointless, because no matter where she ran he followed. He was a part of her. She would never feel about anyone else the way she felt about him - even if he was currently being a Grade-A jerk.

"So, Liz, have you figured out a way to get Max alone?" Isabel whispered suddenly.

"Well I had hoped that Pam would go with her dad when he went to the lake with my dad and Mr. Whitman, but I'm not really surprised she didn't." Liz replied. "None of the other kids went and she can't seem to keep her hands off of Max so..." Isabel sighed.

"I was hoping that I wouldn't have to do this," she muttered.

Isabel jumped to her feet, a blatantly false smile on her face. "Hey Pam!" She chirped in a voice so unlike Isabel's Alex's head jerked up.

Pam's head snapped around. She blinked, surprised. Liz realized that this was probably the first time that Isabel Evans had ever addressed Pam in anything remotely resembling friendliness.

"Yeah, Isabel?" she asked, warily. Liz tried hard to hide her smile. Poor Pam, she thought, not really feeling bad at all. She has no idea what she's in for.

"Alex, Kyle, Tess, Maria and I were going to go do some stargazing." Isabel told her. "Do you want to come?"

Pam looked confused, glanced at Liz, who tried her best to look innocent. "I don't know," she stammered. "Is Liz going?"

Liz noticed that Max was eyeing Isabel suspiciously, his eyes narrowed. "Nope!" Isabel replied. "Liz is on KP duty." Max's sister indicated the piles of dirty dishes sitting next to the fire. "Max is going to help her do them. Right Dad?" Isabel looked appealingly at her father.

Mr. Evans glanced up from his cards. He looked at his son, who was glaring at Isabel in annoyance. Liz could see that Max knew exactly what was going on and he was not pleased. "That would be nice of you Max." Mr. Evans looked so hopeful, Liz's heart went out to him. It appeared that any sign that the old Max might be around was like music to his father's ears.

Max rolled his eyes. "Fine." He muttered. Liz realized that it was actually the first time she had heard him speak since they had gotten off the bus.

"You're coming too Michael." This came from Maria, who had grabbed him by his collar and hauled him to his feet. Michael didn't say anything, just followed unprotestingly. Weird, thought Liz. Michael definitely has to be our next project.

Pam still looked unconvinced. "I don't know. Maybe I should stay here." She gave Liz a dirty look.

"No, no! I insist." Isabel exclaimed. She quickly grabbed Liz's hand, squeezed and then went and grabbed Pam by the arm, hauling her off into the woods. "We haven't really had a chance to get to know each other. I mean you are dating my brother after all." Liz could hear Isabel saying as Kyle, Alex, Maria and Michael followed. Tess left as well, glanced back once uncertainly, but shrugged and continued on her way. Alex stopped at the edge of the forest, grinned at Liz, gave her the thumbs up sign behind Max's back. Liz felt hysterical laughter about to explode.

Sheriff Valenti suddenly spoke up. "Hey Phil, I think you and I should head down to the lake to see the other dads, give the kids a chance to hang out on their own." Liz shot him a grateful look. He grinned at her. It's nice to know that you have a grown-up on your side, Liz reflected briefly.

She looked nervously at Max who was beginning to collect the dishes, dumping them into the bucket of water that had been heating up on the fire.

She swallowed, slowly went to join him.

"Do you want to wash or dry?" Max demanded suddenly. Liz nearly jumped out of her skin it was so unexpected.

"Ummm...I don't care. What would you rather do?" She asked quietly. Max turned to stare at her.

"I'd rather not be doing this at all as a matter of fact." He grabbed a towel, handed her the sponge. He raised an eyebrow her, motioned towards the pot of water. "Well?"

Liz flinched. His tone was so cold. She was finding it hard to believe that this was Max Evans talking to her. She quickly picked up a glass, scrubbed it, passed it to him to dry.

Okay Liz, get it together she told herself. Everyone is depending on you. This is Max. You can talk to him.

"So, how is everything?" She asked, realized that it sounded stupid, shook her head in annoyance. Liz glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He was scowling.

"Sorry Liz." He replied. "You don't have a right to know that anymore."

Liz blinked. "Oh. Okay." She stopped talking, tried to collect her thoughts. Max was staring off into the woods, an unreadable expression on his face as he waited for the next dish. When he began to tap his foot impatiently, Liz snapped.

"Max!" He turned back to look at her, surprise evident on his face. She saw that she had broken through at least a tiny piece of the wall he had built around himself. Okay, take advantage Liz, she told herself. "What is going on with you? Everyone is so worried about you."

"Nothing's going on Liz. I'm getting on with my life. I'm sorry that you and the others don't like it, but, well, that's really your problem." He snapped. The icy stare was back.

"Of course it's our problem Max! We all love you!"

Max snorted. "Funny way you had of showing you loved me Liz."

Liz felt the guilt come rushing back. "Max, I know now that I was wrong to run away from you. I was a coward. I admit it. But please! Be mad at me if you need to, but why do you have to be so mean to everyone else?" Max just stared at her. "I don't understand why you're destroying everything in your life. I'm not worth it! Flunking out of school, hurting your parents and Isabel dating Pam Troy for God's sake! Don't even make me go into how she's using you..." Liz felt herself beginning to lose control. "Max everyone loves you so much. Why are you hurting them like this? I've only been back for three days and already I can see how this is tearing everyone up." She felt tears beginning to well up in her eyes. She looked at Max - was any of this getting through?

He was still glaring at her, clearly listening, but just as clearly thinking she was insane.

In fact, he sort of looked bored.

Liz felt her anger rising. "What the Hell is the matter with you?" She demanded. "Have you gone crazy? What happened to the Max everyone loves? He was so kind and loving and sweet..." she trailed off when she realized that he was snickering.

"Jeez Liz - I'm not dead. I'm sorry I didn't turn out to be the guy you thought I was." It was clear that he wasn't sorry at all. "But really, there's no need for the soap opera." He reached out and patted her on the shoulder. She flinched at the condescending action. "I'm doing just fine. I happen to like Pam. She's fun, not serious. There's not the constant boring dissection of every little thing with her." He eyed her, amused.

Is there no way to break him down? Liz wondered. She could only think of one thing to say - one thing that might work. He was turning away, getting ready to throw the dish water into the bush..."But Max! I love you."

He froze. Liz could see it. His face was turned away from her, but he had heard her.

Max turned around, looked her right in the eye and said the words Liz had been sure she would never hear coming from his lips. "But Liz, I don't love you."

With that, he threw his dish-towel down on a log, smirked at her and walked off into the bush in the direction the others had disappeared.

Part 8

"I think I should go back." Pam whined as Isabel hauled her through the bush. They had been walking for about twenty minutes now and Isabel realized that she had probably gotten them all good and lost at this point.

That's what I'm trying to do though, Isabel reflected. The longer we're gone, the more time Liz will have to try and get Max to open up.

"Oh don't be such a wuss Troy." This came from Kyle, who was helping Tess over a log. "Everyone knows the best stargazing is on the far side of the lake." Isabel shot him a grateful look. Who knew Kyle Valenti would turn out to be so helpful?

"I just don't understand why Max got stuck back there with that wench Liz." Isabel halted abruptly, turned and stared at Pam. Was she that clueless? Everyone else was staring at Pam as well.

"Uh, news flash Pam." Alex said evenly. "We're all Liz's friends." Pam snorted, tossed her head.

"Which makes you all as loserish as she is." Maria stepped forward, a murderous expression on her face. Alex and Tess quickly grabbed her by the arms, Alex wrapping his arm around her waist and clamping a hand over her mouth.

Isabel shot Maria a warning look. They had to give Liz more time.

"Well, we can't all get along." She said to Pam through gritted teeth. "Why don't we just drop the subject." Unfortunately it wasn't going to be as easy as that. Pam was evidently on a roll.

"Liz is just so pathetic. I mean, everyone knows that she ran off to England because she couldn't deal with the fact that Max dumped her. No one could believe he wanted to go out with that little nerd to begin with. He might have been quiet when they went out, but he was studly man. He could have had any girl in the school. Does Liz put out or something?" Pam asked with false concern. Maria's eyes were practically bugging out of her head above Alex's hand.

Tess was eyeing Pam with annoyance. "Do you even know Liz?" She demanded suddenly. Pam blinked.

"Huh?" Pam's mouth was twitching.

Tess continued. "You obviously don't know Liz Parker at all, do you?" Maria and Alex were both staring at Tess with suspicion, wondering where she was going with this. "I don't know her very well either, but from what I've seen she's loyal and friendly and sweet." Alex and Kyle exchanged glances of wonder.

"I really like Liz too." Isabel inserted, picking up from Tess. "I think she was the best thing that ever happened to my brother." Isabel suddenly realized that this was true. She had never seen Max as happy, as complete, as he had been when he was with Liz. The entire disaster that was Max had begun after Liz had walked away from him. Everything had gone wrong from that moment on.

Sort of how nothing is right when Alex and I aren't together. She glanced at her ex-boyfriend from under her lashes, wishing that she could be the one holding his hand right now, not Maria.

Thinking of Maria made Isabel think of Michael. "Hey!" She suddenly cut off Pam, who was muttering under her breath about them all being idiots. "Where's Michael?"

Maria's head snapped up and she wrenched Alex's hand away from her mouth. "He was here a minute ago." She began to twist around frantically. "Michael! Where are you?"

"Oh he wondered off into the bush a few minutes ago." Pam told them dismissively. "Who cares anyway? He's weird." Alex quickly grabbed Maria again before she could make a move. Maria was just ignoring Pam anyway.

"We have to find him! I don't think he even knows what he's doing half the time." She looked at Isabel pleadingly. "Izzy can you like find him somehow? That destiny crap has got to be good for something." Isabel looked sharply at Pam, stared back at Maria meaningfully. Pam knew nothing about their secret, unless Max HAD truly lost his mind. She had no intention of having her find out by accident.

Maria snapped her mouth shut, looked embarrassed.

Pam was glaring from one to the other annoyed. "You guys are so psycho." She said snootily. " I can't even understand what you're talking about half the time. I am so glad Max has decided to ditch you all,'cause let me tell you, there is no way I'm hanging out with you freaks on a regular basis."

She turned suddenly to Kyle. "Even you Valenti - you're hanging out with losers all the time. Your position at school has been totally compromised. Dating Parker last year was bad enough, but this..." Pam pointed at Alex with disdain. "The geek of the junior class? And Miss Snotty Isabel Evans, not to mention that dingbat Maria, who's mom is the town tramp. And then there's little Tess Harding, who everyone knows is a slut. I mean everyone heard the rumors from her old school when she moved here."

Alex grinned at Pam, put a comforting arm around Tess. Tess looked at him in surprise, clearly not that upset about what Pam was saying since she knew that Pam had started all the rumors about her. "Ah Pam, you're a real laugh-riot, you know? Could you be any less original? Everyone knows I'm a geek. I mean, if you're going to hate us, at least let it be because WE loathe YOU." The rest of the group had been staring at Pam, but all turned to stare at Alex instead. Kyle started to laugh.

"And know Pam," continued Maria. "We really, REALLY loathe you." Isabel giggled.
So much for trying to be friends with Pam she thought. Isabel found that she was not at all surprised that it was going to be impossible. I would have felt like I was betraying Liz anyway, she thought. She and my brother might have made me ill on occasion, but at least I like Liz. Tess is right. She is loyal and kind. Isabel realized that she trusted few people as she trusted Liz. She even trusted Liz to save her brother from himself, since Isabel had been so incapable of doing so.

"Enough of this tomfoolery," said Alex. "We have to split up and find Michael." Isabel was glad that someone else was taking control. "Kyle can you take Izzy and Pam with you?" Kyle nodded. "I'll go with Maria and Tess." Isabel felt it like a stab to the heart that Alex didn't want to search with her. Oh focus Isabel, she reprimanded sharply. This is so not the time.

"I'm not going anywhere," pouted Pam. She sat down on a log, crossed her arms and glared at them all. "I hope he drowns."

"Oh for crying out loud." Kyle rolled his eyes. "Great! You can just stay here then. Maybe the bears will eat you." Pam stood up immediately.

Isabel was ignoring the arguing going on around her. She was trying to connect with Michael.

Since the last year, she had become much more adept at entering other people's minds. She had been practicing and now she didn't need to have a picture anymore and could usually penetrate others' thoughts when they were awake. The only people she had no success with were Max and Michael unfortunately. They seemed to know exactly what to do to block her access.

Of course, before they had never bothered to block her. They had trusted her completely. Now that Max was no longer MAX and Michael was always out of it, they had shut her out. And she had definitely tried to get to them, if even to get a little hint about what was going on in their stubborn heads since the whole destiny fiasco.

Isabel shuddered when she remembered the one time she had actually gotten anywhere with Max. He had been asleep, but he had known the instant she had entered his dream. It still hurt to reflect on how the dream Max had forcibly thrown her out.

Isabel opened her eyes. She could see that Maria was watching her hopefully. She just shook her head regretfully. Maria's eyes shadowed. Pam was still complaining.

"Why can't someone just take me back?" She whined. Alex was scrubbing his eyes in frustration.

"Oh, don't we wish we could - back to Hell, where you belong,"he muttered.

"Someone's coming!" Maria said suddenly. They all stopped talking instantly, even Pam.

"What if it's a bear?" She whispered. Alex just rolled his eyes and Kyle snickered.

Michael appeared suddenly from behind a tree. They all just stared at him. They all stared more when they realized who was with him.

It was Max.

And he did not look happy.

Of course, when does he ever look happy? Isabel thought. She felt herself about to giggle hysterically.

"Did you finish the dishes?" She smiled inanely at her brother.

Max did not respond, he just shot her an annoyed look. "Are you guys done pumping Pam for information?" He demanded. Isabel flinched.

"Where's Liz?" This came from Maria, who was glaring at Max. If anyone hated Max now, it was Maria.

Max glanced at her and then away dismissively. "She's probably off somewhere bawling," he replied coldly. He turned to Pam. "Nice of you to try and get along with them for my sake, but it's not necessary. Let's just go." Pam stuck her nose in the air, went to stand beside him. She shot Maria a superior look as she passed.

"Make sure to say hi to Liz when you go back to the campsite," she said. Then she reached up, grabbed Max's head and kissed him.

Isabel turned away. It was revolting. She hated her brother at that moment - hated him for doing this to himself.

Max broke the kiss, took Pam's hand and led her off into the bush. Michael followed, still not having said a word.

Maria, Tess, Alex, Kyle and Isabel all stood there in silence.

"Well, that was anticlimactic." Kyle finally said. Maria snapped to attention.

"We have to get back to Lizzie." She looked worried. "Even if Max was just being a jerk, which is more than likely, I'm betting their talk didn't go very well."

"That's an understatement." Alex muttered.

So much for stargazing, thought Isabel as they all trooped back through the woods. She shot a sad look at Alex.

Part 9

When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see
Let my light throw a spark
Have a little faith in me.

And when the tears you cried
Are all you can believe
Give these loving arms a try,
And have a little faith in me...

Joe Cocker


Liz tossed and turned in her sleeping bag. Maria was curled up on one side of her in the tent, muttering in her sleep. Liz's dad was snoring softly on the other side.

She sighed, sat up, punched her pillow and flopped back down.

This is hopeless, she realized. Her mind was going a mile a minute, going over and over what she had said to Max, what HE had said to her. What could I have said that would have gotten through to him? she wondered for the thousandth time.

After Max had walked away from her, after their highly unsuccessful conversation, Liz had gone into her tent and had let the tears come. She had cried, feeling so sad and so guilty, she didn't know if she would be able to stop.

She didn't know how much time had passed, but suddenly Maria, Isabel and even Tess were there. Maria had pulled her head into her lap, stroking her hair, had let her cry. When she had spoken, her tone had been so bitter it had snapped Liz out of her self-pity. "I promised myself that I would never let him make you cry like this again Lizzie."

Liz knew that Maria was thinking of the time Liz had seen him kissing Tess. She glanced at Tess, who suddenly looked uncomfortable. Liz could see that the other girl really wanted to help though. "It wasn't Max who did this Maria." Liz replied, sending Tess a reassuring smile. This was not the time for pettiness and old hurts. Liz knew that both she and Tess loved Max, which was what was important. "That is not Max," she continued.

Liz looked at Isabel. Max's sister had tears glistening in her beautiful dark eyes. "What are we going to do Liz?" She asked. "You were my last hope. I was so sure that he would listen to you." Tess put a comforting arm around Isabel's shoulder. "He loved you so much."

"Don't worry Isabel." Liz smiled at the blonde. "I haven't given up." She suddenly stood up, made her way to the tent door. "Now let's go show him that he didn't hurt me. He cannot know. It will only make things worse. He can't know that he still has that power over me."

"Wait Liz!" Isabel crawled over to Liz, grabbed her hand, pulled her back down. Liz blinked as Isabel gently ran her hands across her face. "To wipe away the signs that you've been crying," she explained.

Liz smiled again. "Thank you."

Isabel shook her head ruefully. "Unfortunately I've had a lot of practice doing that recently." Liz couldn't help herself. She started to laugh. Isabel stared at her for a moment, then laughed too. "This is just brutal isn't it?"

"It is the brutalist." Liz agreed, "Even though I'm sure that's not a word." She and Isabel erupted into gales of laughter. Tess and Maria exchanged looks, turned back to look at them like they were crazy.

"I think they're hysterical." Tess muttered under her breath to Maria. Maria just stared at them with wide eyes.

"We're not hysterical." Liz continued to laugh. "We're just laughing through the pain." She was still giggling as she crawled out of the tent. She turned back, took all the other girls in with a glance. "Now we are going to have fun tonight despite Mr. Meanie." Liz grinned at Maria as she used her best friend's new name for Max. "At least we have each other. I'll try again tomorrow when he's unprepared."

Isabel nodded. "I'm sure he thinks you'll give up now."

Liz pressed her lips together in determination. "I will never give up. He'll have to kill me if he wants me to give up."

They had left the tent.

The four of them, plus Alex and Kyle, played the roles of their lives that night. They had laughed, they had told stories, they had roasted marshmallows like their lives depended on it. Liz had even genuinely enjoyed herself at certain points, like when Alex had accidentally gotten marshmallow stuck in Isabel's hair. It had been fun to watch the two of them pretend to be just friends, but covertly try and touch each other when no one else was looking. At one point, Isabel had poked Alex in the side. He had swung around in surprise, getting the marshmallow he was roasting hopelessly caught in Isabel's blonde locks. The look of absolute horror on her face had been priceless. Maria and Liz had burst out laughing, Kyle had snorted and Tess had giggled. Alex had looked like he thought Isabel was going to murder him. And she had certainly looked like she was going to - until she started to laugh as well.

They had all laughed themselves silly, releasing all the pent-up misery and despair, but had all abruptly stopped when Max, seated near the Evans' tent with Pam and Michael had suddenly yelled, "Will you guys please shut the hell up?"

Maria had hiccuped once, but after that, no one really felt like laughing anymore. They had all soon retired to bed.

Now as she lay awake at three in the morning, Liz's resolve increased. Images of HER Max flowed through her mind, giving her strength:

Max gazing at her with love as she worked her shift at the Crashdown...

Max teasingly playing with her hair in biology...

Max staring at her with hot eyes on the night of the party at the soap factory - the night before they had shared their first kiss....

Max grabbing her, lifting her onto the table in the back room of the Crashdown, kissing her with abandon, like he couldn't stop, even if his life depended on it...

Max pleading with her to have faith in him - in them - after she had seen him kiss Tess...

Max staring at her through the glass in the House of Mirrors before he had been taken by the Special Unit, his only concern for her, his only wish to get to her...

Max telling her that he wanted to be with her, that his destiny was with her, that he LOVED her...

Max, with tears in his beautiful eyes, watching her walk away from him, down that cliff and out of his life....

Liz felt tears fill her eyes again. She couldn't breathe! She needed air.

She grabbed her pillow and sleeping bag, crawled to the entrance of the tent and stumbled out.

Liz stood, took deep, cleansing breaths. Her thoughts were screaming though. MAX! Where are you???

She blinked when she suddenly saw movement near the Evans's tent. Liz looked around frantically. He couldn't see her like this! It would ruin everything!

Liz dropped her sleeping bag and pillow and threw herself down on top of them. She slammed her eyes shut.

Relax Liz, she thought. Look natural. She concentrated on gentling the expression on her face, on breathing deeply and evenly.

She knew it was Max, just as she had always known when he was near. She could hear him moving around quietly, clearly not wanting to wake anyone up. She heard him fiddle with something near the fire and then silence. Liz carefully opened her eyes, keeping them slitted, to see what he was doing.

Max had a stick in his hand and he was poking around in the fire. His face was in her direct line of vision, the flames creating dancing shadows across his familiar and beloved features. His expression was somber but it was not the anti-Max - she knew it. Liz felt her heart practically stop in her chest. He looked so much like the Max she knew and loved - his face was relaxed and open, not hard and cold like it had been every time she had seen him since she had been back.

He sighed heavily. She made herself close her eyes again when she realized that he was looking in her direction. Calm down, calm down, she kept repeating to herself. He thinks you're asleep. If he knows you're awake he'll shut down again.

Liz could hear him quietly walking in her direction. Her body began to tingle. She could hear him breathing.

He seemed to stop just a few feet away from her. She KNEW he was watching her. She couldn't help it - she shivered, not from the cold but from his proximity.

Her ears were straining to hear the smallest sound. Max said nothing, just continued to watch her. It took all her willpower not to open her eyes, not to look and see if was really HIM, her Max.

And then she knew it was. Suddenly she felt a warm breeze brush her cheek, seem to settle over her like a blanket. She could almost envision Max gently waving his hand over her, keeping her warm.

An image of him reaching his hand behind her in the Jeep that night they had chased Michael and Maria to Marathon appeared unbidden. "Just wanted to keep you warm," he had told her gently as he had fixed a hole in the roof of the car.

She thought she heard him speak suddenly. "Liz..." but it might have been the wind - or wishful thinking.

Her heart screamed as she heard him move away from her. Max! Liz slit open her eyes again, watched him return to the fire.

Max's head was lowered pensively when a noise from the woods caused him to snap it up. Liz's heart was in her throat as he turned and entered the forest, apparently looking for something.

Liz only waited until his back disappeared. She jumped to her feet, quickly pulled on her shoes, grabbed her flashlight and followed him.

Part 10

When Liz stumbled over a root, she froze, straining her ears to see if Max had heard her. He was about thirty feet ahead of her, moving at a fast pace. He stopped once as though he was listening, turned to the right abruptly and plunged through the foliage.

Although the stars were beginning to fade and the sky was beginning to brighten, it was still quite dark in the woods. Liz had turned off her flashlight so as to not draw Max's attention, but she realized that she was likely going to kill herself in the process. She moaned as she bumped into a tree, smacking her head quite hard.

When she looked up, Max had disappeared. Liz looked around frantically, her ears peeled trying to hear any noise. "Max, where the hell are you?" She muttered. And then, suddenly, she heard a voice.

"It's okay." It was Max. "I'm not going to hurt you." The gentle tone made Liz's heart skip a beat. She cautiously made her way in the direction of his voice, stopped abruptly behind a tree when she realized that she was about to stumble out into a clearing and directly into Max's line of vision. She looked in the direction of the camp, realized that they really weren't that far into the bush at all. She could still see the dancing flames of the campfire reflecting off the trees.

Liz paused and then carefully peeked around the tree, praying under her breath that Max was not looking up.

He wasn't. He was crouched on the ground over a large, shadowed shape. Max's hand was hovering over the shape, apparently trying to soothe it.

Liz realized that it was a deer - and that it was hurt. She could see that it's delicate leg was bent back at an awkward angle. The animal's eyes were bright with terror in the hazy dawn.

"Shhhh!" Max gently stroked the deer leg, clearly trying to get a handle on what was wrong with it. As Liz watched his hand began to glow. Max's face whitened as he took the deer's pain into his own body - healing it.

Liz felt tears beginning to fill her eyes. She flashed back to when Max had healed her - when their amazing connection to each other had begun.

She could still see Max hovering over her like it was yesterday: "You're okay now...you're going to be okay..." She still recalled the feeling of wonder that had claimed her That she had been about to die - and that Max Evans had pulled her back.

Suddenly the deer was on it's feet and bounding off into the bush. Max watched it go, his expression unreadable.

"Max," she breathed, getting ready to step out from behind the tree, to let him know that she had seen everything, that she KNEW he was pretending to be something he wasn't. He was still her Max. He had just shown it.

Max was still staring after the deer. As she watched him, he reached up, scrubbed his hand across his eyes wearily.

"What the Hell are you doing?" Another voice demanded, anger evident in the tone. Max's head snapped up. Liz recognized the voice immediately.

It was Michael and he had appeared in the clearing from a different direction. Now he was glaring at Max.

"What do you want Michael?" Max asked tiredly.

"I want to know what the hell you're doing?" Michael snapped back. "Where the hell is Liz?" Max stared at him.

"What are you talking about?" He demanded. He had begun to look around the clearing suspiciously. Liz felt her heart stop in her chest.

"She's not in the camp." Michael replied tonelessly. "When I saw that you were both gone I decided to make sure you weren't ruining everything." Max sighed.

"Liz isn't with me as you can clearly see." He looked sad for a moment. "I've taken care of that. You don't have to worry about it."

"That still doesn't explain where she is." Michael replied. He too was peering into the bush. Liz started to back carefully away. The tone of Michael's voice - it was terrifying. She literally didn't know what he would do to her if he found her spying on them. He sounded furious. What the heck is going on with you guys? She wondered to herself.

"If she saw you out here playing Dr. Dolittle, they're'll be hell to pay Maxwell." Michael continued.

"She's not here okay? She probably went to the bathroom. I'm not her keeper for God's sake." Max told him, his tone becoming annoyed. "I promised I wouldn't have anything to do with her - with any of them. I've kept my word until now haven't I?"

"Whatever. You just see that you keep it up. You know what's going to happen if you don't. You know what you promised to do and you know now what I can do." Michael threatened. "I don't want to have to hurt you Max, but I will." Liz saw Max swallow, look away from Michael's angry face. "Don't push me."

With that Michael stormed off into the woods. Liz let her breath out with woosh. She hadn't even realized that she had been holding it.

"Liz?" Max was staring right in her direction. She knew he was. Just as she could feel when he was near, he could feel her. It had always been that way, at least since he had healed her. "You can come out now. I know you're there." Liz couldn't tell if he sounded worried or annoyed. But there was no use trying to pretend she hadn't heard him.

Liz took a deep breath, stepped out of the shadows and into the increasingly bright clearing. Max was staring at her. His expression was shuttered. She could not figure out for the life of her what he was thinking.

"Max..." she began.

"What the hell are doing here?" He asked coldly.





"It was you."
posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:40:15 PM
Part 11

"Well what do you want?" Max demanded again, scowling at her.

Liz smiled at him lovingly. "You can cut the crap Max." She told him, starting to walk towards him. She smiled even more when he stepped backwards, away from her, fright beginning to appear on his face. "I SAW you. I saw you heal that deer and I heard everything with Michael. I know you're faking."

Max stared at her, pressed his lips together. "I don't know what you're talking about Liz," he replied stubbornly. Liz didn't answer, just kept walking towards him. Max stopped abruptly when he smashed backwards into a tree. He blinked. Liz wanted to giggle he looked so adorable. "I don't know what you think what you saw meant," he continued, clearly searching for words. "So I healed a stupid deer. It doesn't mean anything. Helping an animal in need has nothing to do with the fact that I do not want to be with you."

Liz just continued to smile, although it was beginning to feel a little strained. Why was he so good at being mean? she wondered briefly. It is so unlike him. Shouldn't it be harder? "I don't believe you Max."

Max just shook his head, held up his arms trying to keep her away from him. "It's not my problem what you believe and what you don't believe Liz. You left ME remember? I don't want anything to do with you." He told her coldly. Liz paused a couple of feet away from him. She stared into his eyes. They were still frozen, not the eyes of the boy she loved. But she KNEW that he was in there...

"Max..."she breathed, pushing aside his arms. She saw him swallow convulsively. AHA!

Liz threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. She threw all her love for him into that kiss - every ounce of her soul was transmitted to him through their lips. She fought him desperately, trying to make the connection, trying to see into his soul, to find out what he was hiding from her.

Nothing happened.

It was as though he had shielded himself from her. Max's arms were around her waist and he wasn't fighting her but he wasn't participating either. It was like kissing ice.

Liz lifted her lips from his, stared into his eyes. They were burning - with what she couldn't tell.

"Max, what is going on with you?" She asked him desperately. "Please! I know what I saw - that was you healing that deer. I know what I felt back at the campsite - you warmed me up. I know you did." She felt Max flinch at that. A brief expression of guilt flashed across his face, but quickly disappeared. "What is Michael holding over you?"

Max turned his face away from her, roughly disentangled her arms from around his neck. "I'm not hiding anything from you Liz." He muttered as he set her away from him. "Michael has nothing to do with this. Don't blame him for what YOU did. You walked away from me." He paused, turned back to glare at her. "I'm happy now - I don't have any entanglements. I don't have to worry about all you guys anymore and I don't want to ever again." He grabbed her chin in his hand, forced her to meet his eyes. "Do you understand Liz? I don't want anything to do with you - any of you."

Liz stepped back, sighed. "You can say it as many times as you want Max. I DO NOT BELIEVE YOU! Do YOU understand?" Max rolled his eyes. She smiled at him again, although it felt like her face was going to crack off it was so fake.

"Oh, for God's sake." He stormed off into the bush. "Just stay away from me! I mean it."

Liz watched him go. "Well, I guess it's time for Plan B." She muttered to herself. She followed Max back through the bush, hoping that Isabel and Maria were awake.

Part 12

Max stumbled through the bush, trying to put as much distance between he and Liz as he could. It had taken all his self-control to push her away when she had kissed him.

Feeling her lips against his again - it had been his dream for the seven months since she had walked away from him at the pod chamber. To have to push her away - it was like torture. He almost couldn't understand how he had been capable of it.

He could hear Liz following him back to the camp. He knew that he couldn't face her again so soon. He had to keep his distance, had to build up his strength to reject them all again.

Max abruptly turned to the right, headed in the direction of the lake. He paused briefly at a tree, leaned against it trying to catch his breath. Max closed his eyes, tried to erase Liz's face from his mind but she was still there. She was always there - her beauty, her goodness, her love for him taunting, torturing him.

He pulled himself together with effort. Okay Max, just breathe. Remember why you're doing this. You're doing if FOR Liz - for all of them - to keep them safe.

It was never going to work if Liz kept confronting him though. He could feel his resistance to her wearing down every time. When Michael had threatened her a few minutes ago - it had made his heart stop, because the minute he had known that she was not in the camp, he had known exactly where she was. Her presence had called to him, even though he had been unable to see her. If Michael had caught her there...

It's your own fault though, he reflected. Why on earth did you go near her at the campfire?

It had been easy to stay away from the others - he was used to it and basically hid from them when they were at home. But Liz - she was a different story.

He had been sure that she had been asleep. When Max had become aware of her so near, her cheek cradled on her small hand, her dark hair tucked up under a woolen hat accentuating every delicate feature on her beautiful face, her breathing deep and even, it had been impossible for him NOT to go to her.When she had shivered in her sleep, he had had no control - of it's own volition his hand had reached out, had stirred up the air molecules surrounding her, had tried to make her more comfortable.

And he had revealed himself to her. He had put her in acute danger.

Max remembered the look of shock and hurt that had crossed her face when he had blown her off while they were doing the dishes the previous night. He had felt his own heart breaking with hers - completely in sync with her emotions, just like always. It had been like the seven months they had been apart had disappeared. his heart - which had been frozen since she left him - had cracked and had started beating again.

I don't know how much longer I can keep this up, Max thought now. I need to figure out a way to end this one way or another - even if it kills me. His expression became grim, shuttered, a mask hiding his true feelings.

I will not let anything happen to them - any of them, but especially Liz.

He went off in search of Pam - ready to continue the farce that had become his life.

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

Liz was pleased to see that almost everyone was up when she returned to the campsite. She couldn't see Max anywhere, assumed that he hadn't yet returned.

Kyle was frying eggs over the fire. She went to join him. "Hey."

He looked up at her worriedly. "Hey Liz. Are you okay?" Kyle asked quietly. "Maria said that you were gone when she woke up. When Isabel came looking for Max, we got worried." He eyed her, his concern evident. "Any luck?"

Liz just shook her head. "I can't really go into it Kyle. I'm still not exactly sure what' s going on but I will tell you this - Max is in there and he's hiding something."

Kyle looked at her, his expression doubtful. "I don't know Liz. Don't you think you're just setting yourself up for disappointment?" He shrugged. "I mean, I didn't think Max Evans was capable of some of the stuff I've seen him do over the last few months."

Liz just smiled weakly. "No one knows Max like I do Kyle."

Kyle nodded. "Yeah, Max told me once that you saw into each others souls. I mean he was drunk at the time but who knows with these Czechs?" Kyle looked sad for a minute. Liz saw him glance across the campsite at Tess, who was trying to tame her curly blonde hair into some semblance of order.

"Kyle, is there something you want to talk about?" She asked him sympathetically. "I mean, I know you really liked Tess, before all the stuff that happened last year."

Kyle shrugged again. "Just a case of wanting something that belongs to Max Evans again." He muttered, turning away. Liz let the matter drop, decided that she would ask Isabel about it later. It was clear that something was going on with Kyle and Tess, whether either of them wanted to admit or not.

Liz filled the coffee pot with water, set it on the fire and plunked down on a nearby log to wait for it to perk. She had barely slept the past two nights - well really since she had returned to Roswell she amended. Her fatigue was beginning to take a toll on her ability to think straight.

"Hey Lizzie!" Maria emerged from their tent, pulling on a sweater as she approached the fire. She eyed her friend, concern on her face. "You don't look like you slept at all chica. It's still early. Don't you think you should go back to bed for a while?"

Liz just shook her head. "No, I'm all right. Where's Izzy?" Maria sighed.

"So much for protecting them from themselves," she replied, her tone resigned. "She and Alex went to collect fire wood." Maria's voice revealed that it was very unlikely that their friends would return with anything to keep the fire going.

Liz smiled. "Oh well, they need each other." She replied. "But I do need to talk to Isabel." She lowered her voice, glanced around. She could her Pam bickering with Tess near the Evans's tent. Mr. Evans was staring at them both, clearly unsure what to say to either of them. Liz looked back at Maria. "I spoke to Max again this morning Maria."

Maria raised her eyebrows. "Oh?"

"I know for sure he's faking Maria. I heard him talking to Michael." Liz eyed Maria, wondering how she was going to handle what she had to tell her. "Maria, Michael is holding something over Max." Maria's eyes widened. "I heard him threaten Max - telling him he had to stay away from us - from me."

Maria was shaking her head. "Are you saying that Michael actually spoke?" She demanded, hope beginning to appear on her face. Liz grimaced.

"He spoke all right but I don't even know if it was Michael." Maria looked perplexed. "I mean, Michael could be difficult Maria. You know that better than anyone. But he wasn't scary. It was always clear that a lot of that tough stuff was a way to try and protect himself."

"His stonewall." Maria inserted, a sad half-smile on her face.

Liz nodded, "Yeah, anyway, this was more than that. He threatened Max with actual physical harm and it wasn't in the heat of the moment either - not like when they used to fight." Liz shivered involuntarily. "It was cold and deliberate and real."

Maria gulped. "So what are you planning to do Liz?" She asked, her tone frightened.

Liz didn't reply right away. Max had suddenly appeared from the woods, his face shuttered and cold. He didn't even look in Liz's direction, just headed straight for Pam. She threw her arms around him and pulled him off into the bush again. When Liz turned back to Maria, she could see that her best friend was watching her, concern on her face.

Liz gave her a determined look. "Michael is the key here. It's clear that Max is trying to alienate everyone because he thinks he is keeping us safe. I have to get Max to open up to me, to tell me what's going on. And I know just how to do it."

Part 13

Isabel tried to keep her mind on the task at hand. Just collect the wood and go back to the fire Izzy, she kept telling herself. Just because you're alone with him doesn't mean anything. You're friends. You can do this.

Alex was about ten feet away from her, kicking at a log, trying to break it into smaller pieces. Isabel could feel a smile beginning to break across her face. He was so adorable!

It amused her how incompetent Alex was when it came to outdoorsy matters. He was so capable when it came to anything technological, but throw him into the Great Outdoors and it was like he had never even learned to walk. He was glaring at the log now, clearly perplexed.

"Ummm...This might help." Isabel went to join him, handing him the small hatchet Mr. Whitman had given her when she and Alex had left. Alex turned and stared at the tool, his eyes brightening.

"This is why my dad bought that," he muttered, as though he had just solved the riddle of the Sphinx. Isabel laughed despite herself. Alex raised his eyes to her face. "What's so funny?" He demanded, clearly offended. Isabel continued to giggle.

"You are Alex." She replied teasingly. "How is it that you can break into any computer system in the country but you can't even figure out how to collect firewood?" She asked.

Alex grinned. "Firewood is boring." He shrugged. "And you're one to talk. Didn't you tell me that your dad was so surprised when you and Max asked to come on this trip last year, he spat his coffee into his corn flakes?" He raised an eyebrow at her.

Isabel's good mood disappeared at the mention of her brother. She flashed back to that morning, when she and Max had ambushed their father, working as a team to get him to agree to take them on the trip. They had had ulterior motives of course, to investigate the sighting, but it pained her to remember how close she and Max used to be. She missed her brother so much!

Isabel dropped her eyes. "Good job Whitman." She heard Alex berate himself. "I'm sorry Iz. I forgot. How I could have forgotten for one minute..." Isabel placed her mittened hand on his arm.

"It's okay Alex, really." She forced herself to smile. "I think Liz is going to break through to him. I mean, I know she is." Alex smiled back weakly, clearly unconvinced.

"I hope so Izzy." He looked down at her hand, which was clutching his sleeve. Isabel watched him lick his lips, clearly wanting to say something more.

"What is it Alex?" She asked softly. Alex blinked, looked up at her face. Isabel had always liked how they had always been able to look directly into each other's eyes. They were almost exactly the same height. She suddenly became acutely aware of how close she was to him. Her heart sped up.

"Izzy..." Alex raised his hand, stroked her cheek. "Do you think....I mean, can we try this again?" Isabel did not reply immediately. She just gazed at him, not wanting the moment to end. Alex continued, "I know why we broke up before - because Max and Michael were so upset about Liz and Maria - but, even though I want it for them more than anything, they may never find their way back to each other." Alex looked sad for a moment. "I don't like to be selfish, but is it really fair for us to be miserable just because they are?" He moved closer to her, until only a breath separated them. "I need you Isabel and I think you need me. I know that I can never replace Max and Michael, but I love you. If I can't replace them, at least let me try and make you smile again."

Isabel stared at him, her love for him almost painful. Being away from him these last months had been like torture - no one had ever understood her like Alex, had made her feel so special. She ached for him that he thought that he wasn't enough for her. "Alex, you don't need to feel like you need to replace Max or Michael. the way I felt - I mean, the way I FEEL about you has nothing to do with them. I love them and I miss them, but I miss you too." Alex's expression brightened.

Isabel reached out and hugged him tightly. "I think we made a mistake." She continued. "I don't know why I thought not seeing you would help Max. I think it sort of made things worse actually. He seems to have forgotten how lucky we are to have you guys - all of you." Isabel pulled back. "I want to be with you to Alex. I think we both need to be a little selfish. Both Max and Michael need to realize that the world doesn't revolve around them. I have a right to be happy." She could feel tears welling up. "And I can't be happy if I'm not with you." Alex grinned at her, brushed a tear off of her cheek.

"Screw destiny!" He exclaimed, kissing her fiercely. He pulled back, kept his arms around her waist. "Maria's going to be really pissed off." He said jokingly. "She's going to tell me that I've let myself be pulled back into the alien abyss." Isabel felt a momentary pang.

"Do you feel that way Alex?" She asked worriedly. Alex continued to grin at her.

"Nah. I never managed to climb out in the first place." He replied softly. Isabel grinned back and sighed with happiness as he leaned in to kiss her again.

Alex and Isabel were lost in each other for a long time, trying to make up for the months they had wasted. Isabel finally became reaware of her surroundings when she heard someone clear their throat.

She looked up to the sight of Liz, Maria, Kyle and Tess staring at them. "Are we interrupting something?" Kyle asked, his tone sarcastic. Liz was smiling, Tess' expression was unreadable, but Maria looked furious.

"Alex!" She exclaimed, clearly perturbed. Alex moved away from Isabel but kept a firm grip on her hand.

"Maria!" He replied, his tone just as annoyed.

Maria scowled at him. "Bah! Well, don't say I didn't warn you."

Alex shrugged, squeezed Isabel's hand. "No, I certainly won't say that." He grinned again.

Isabel turned to Liz. "Did you talk to Max again?" She asked hopefully. Liz's mood was clearly better this morning, although she did look really tired.

"Yup." Liz replied. "I don't want to go into too many details until I talk to Max again." She paused when she saw Isabel practically jumping up and down in excitement. "Don't get your hopes up too high Isabel. " She cautioned. "I found out that Max is faking it. I think he's going to keep faking it too, but, basically, ignore anything he says to you. He doesn't mean any of it."

"Did he tell you that Liz?" Alex asked.

Liz shook her head. "No, but I overheard him and Michael." She looked sad. "I think you were right about something happening either to them or between them at the Reservation Isabel. It was more than clear from what I overheard that they are not friends anymore, no matter how much time they spend together."

"I don't get it." Kyle said, voicing what Isabel was thinking. She didn't understand why Liz was being so evasive.

Liz grimaced. "I really want to tell you guys, but I think its better that I keep the details of their conversation to myself." She glanced at Maria warningly. "I don't know if they're going to want us interfering with what happened between them when they're back to normal." Isabel felt her confusion mounting.

"Are you telling me that you can snap them out of it Liz?" She asked, barely daring to breathe, her hope was becoming so strong.

"I think so." Liz sounded confident, but her eyes reflected her uncertainty. "But I need your help guys. I need to get Max alone somewhere private and it needs to be somewhere he can't escape from." She smiled and Isabel started at the determined gleam that appeared in the other girl's eyes. It was clear that Liz was ready to do ANYTHING to get the real Max back. "You guys also need to keep Pam occupied."

Isabel nodded. "Anything you want Liz." She could see that Tess was unconvinced however. While Tess had warmed up to Liz, there was no question she was still jealous of the bond between Liz and Max that Liz took no pains to hide.

"Okay then." Liz stared at them all with determination. "Here's the plan..."

Part 14

Max was alone.

It had happened quite by accident actually. Mr. Evans, Mr. Troy and Pam had decided to go for a hike and had insisted that Isabel join them. Max had thought at first that Isabel was behind trying to get Pam away from him again - so Liz would have another chance at getting him alone. But Izzy had been so annoyed by the idea in general, he didn't think she had anything to do with it. She had only agreed when Alex and Mr. Whitman decided to join them. Max had been surprised to see Alex and Isabel holding hands when they left. Deep down he was pleased that they had apparently found their way back to each other. Max knew how lonely Isabel had been since he and Michael had changed. She needed Alex.

He had been surprised when Liz hadn't even come near him after the six had left. She had stayed with Kyle, Maria and Tess near the campfire, laughing and fooling around. Max had wanted to join them so badly it had hurt - but he knew that he couldn't. Not only was Michael still there, Liz already had a good idea that he was faking his new personality. He couldn't risk being near her. He had to keep her safe.

Finally Mr. Parker and Sheriff Valenti had hauled the remaining four kids off into the bush, on a scavenger hunt they had been working on all morning. Max had been shocked when Michael had actually gone with them. He still didn't understand why, but he was pleased that it meant he could have some solitude.

Now he was sitting on a log near the Evans's tent, his head in his hands. It was extremely rare for him to have any time to himself these days. Pam was always there and when she wasn't, Michael was, watching him suspiciously.

It was one of the reasons he had decided to go out with Pam in the first place - to try and get away from Michael for a while. He didn't like Pam at all, in fact disliked her intensely for the way she had treated Liz all last year, but, as was the case with most of his life these days, when the opportunity to date her had arisen, Max had had no choice.

Pam had approached him about six weeks into the school year. The gossip surrounding Liz and Max's break-up and Liz's decision to stay away from school for the first semester of junior year had been fierce. Liz's good name had been dragged through the mud actually. Someone had remembered the time that the two of them had been caught in the Eraser Room by the principal and soon the talk was that Liz was pregnant and that she had gone off to have the baby in secret and to then put it up for adoption - and that Max had dumped her when he found out.

Max reflected now that he really hoped that Liz knew nothing about all that. She would be devastated and humiliated. That what they had gone through could become so easily trivialized by their classmates...It made him sick. He had wanted to go on the PA, announce to the world that he loved Liz Parker in a way that few of them would ever understand, that SHE had broken up with him, that he would love her forever - but he hadn't. He had gone completely against everything his gut was telling him to do and he had used the gossip to try and keep Liz safe - to keep all his friends safe.

Max had already begun his campaign to be perceived as someone who had done a 180 personality-wise. He had started to flunk tests, skip classes, lip off to his teachers and his parents. He ignored Isabel and treated Alex and Maria like dirt. Michael was always there, watching, waiting for him to screw up. Max had been relieved when Liz had not returned after the summer. To try and be as mean to her as he was being to everyone else - he just knew that it would be impossible.

Then Pam had approached him.

Max knew that Liz despised Pam Troy. It had been so unlike Liz to hate anyone, Max had wondered at it sometimes. He had asked Maria about it one day. Liz's best friend had told him about how Pam had always been jealous of Liz, how Pam knew that Liz was prettier, smarter, more popular, but that the kicker had been when Kyle Valenti had asked Liz out after Pam had practically thrown herself at the star of the football and basketball teams all freshman year. That was when Pam had truly begun her campaign of terror against Liz.

It had started small - a rumor here and there - that Liz and Kyle were sleeping together, that Liz's dad was going bankrupt, stupid things like that.

But then Pam had had her big chance. Liz and Max broke up.

Max knew that Pam had started the rumors about the reason for their break-up. His hatred for her knew no bounds. When she had first approached him, asked him out, he had rebuffed her completely. It had been the first time that his jack-ass act had been a benefit.

But then Michael had stepped in. "I think you should go out with Pam."

Max had been so shocked, he had been incapable of speech for several moments. "Why?" He had finally managed to croak.

Michael had just stared at him coldly. "I don't trust you Maxwell. You've been behaving yourself up until now, but I know you. You're going to be putty in Liz Parker's hands when she gets back. You need to do something that will keep her away from you, that will really make her hate you."

Max had wanted to resist with every fibre of his being, but he knew he had no choice. "Fine." He had finally muttered. He had asked Pam out the next day at school. She had been ecstatic and had been all over him ever since.

That he finally had a few moments to himself now - it was like a gift. He could sit and brood in peace, daydream about the days when he knew what it was like to love and be loved.

Liz. God, he loved her. He had been amazed at how much he still loved her when he had seen her at the bus, how much he just enjoyed watching her, how beautiful she was to him. He had known all his life that she was the only one for him. Seeing her again after so long only reinforced it.

Max not only missed her, he missed himself, the person he was when she was around. He had never been overly confident in the person he was before Liz - but that she had loved him - it had made him like who he was in a way that he never had before. He hated that he had to hide his true nature, that he couldn't be the Max that Liz loved.

He wondered if he could ever fix things so that they could go back to normal. He knew that Maria hated him now, that Alex almost did too, that even Isabel was beginning to give up on him. Tess seemed to have given up too to a certain degree. He was so isolated. That Liz was ignoring him now too...

Well, at least I know I'll always have Michael, he thought bitterly.

Max was abruptly thrust from his reverie by someone calling his name. "MAX! Max, where are you??"

It was Tess - and she sounded frantic. Max jumped to his feet, fought to keep his face bland. While he was not Tess' biggest fan, she was one of them. He had started to care about her despite himself.

Tess came stumbling out of the bush, her blonde hair in complete disarray, her expression panicked. Max stepped forward, grabbed her by the arms.

"Tess?" He asked, concern evident in his voice despite himself. Tess stared up at him, her blue eyes wide, beginning to glisten with tears.

"Max, there's been an accident." She managed to say, still breathing hard. Max could tell that she had sprinted all the way back to the camp.

One name shot through Max's mind. LIZ! He knew without asking that it was her.

"Show me!" He commanded Tess.

Part 15

Max followed Tess through the bush, his heart beating a mile a minute. When he had demanded that Tess tell him what had happened, she had just shaken her head.

"There's no time Max! I'll tell you on the way." She had exclaimed, clearly on the verge of breaking down. "Just come. We may already be too late."

"Just tell me." Max had asked, his hands clenched. "Is it Liz?"

Tess had just stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "I'm sorry Max. C'mon! We don't have time for this."

Max reached down to help Tess up when she tripped over a rock. He was amazed that she was so concerned and upset about Liz of all people.

It must mean that something is really wrong Max thought, beginning to really panic. What would he do if Liz was gone from his life - gone for good?

He had no clue and he didn't even want to contemplate it. He forced back his terror. He had to be completely with it when they got wherever they were going. He was the only one who could potentially help Liz - if it wasn't too late.

Max wondered where on Earth they were going. They had been running through the trees for a good ten minutes now. "Where are Liz's dad and the Sheriff?" Max asked breathlessly as he and Tess paused for a rest.

"They went down to the lake to wait for the winner of the scavenger hunt." Tess explained. "Michael and Maria were a team and me and Kyle and Liz." Max blinked, as they started to walk again, still trying to catch their breath.

"Michael agreed to that?" He asked, amazed. Tess shrugged.

"It was his idea." Max began to get really worried. What the hell was Michael up to? He realized that it wasn't the time to wonder though - he had to concentrate on Liz.

"Are we almost there?" He demanded impatiently. Tess nodded.

"Just another couple of minutes. After Liz was hurt, Kyle and I carried her to an abandoned ranger's cabin and then I came to find you." Max was relieved that Liz was not alone. He might not like the idea of Kyle and Liz together but he knew that Kyle cared about her. If he couldn't be with her, then he was glad that someone who loved her was.

"What happened to her?" Max asked again. "I need to know if I'm going to help her at all."

"I don't really know Max. Kyle was helping me find a specific leaf for the hunt when we suddenly heard Liz scream. When we went to find her, she was unconscious and bleeding all over the place."

They emerged into a clearing. Max could see a small cabin about twenty feet away. Kyle was sitting on the porch, his face in his hands. His head snapped up when Tess called out to him. He quickly jumped to his feet. "Finally!"

"Is she okay Kyle?" Tess asked, her voice quivering.

Max could tell that Kyle was too upset to talk. He had tears in his eyes. He just shook his head. Tess went to him, hugged him, buried her head in his chest.

Max couldn't breathe. It couldn't be true. Liz couldn't be...dead. How could this possibly have happened?

And she didn't even know that he still loved her.

An unbidden thought appeared in Max's mind. Michael. Somehow Max knew that he was responsible for this.

He could feel rage beginning to build. He pushed it away. He had to go to Liz.

Max felt like he was walking through a nightmare as he mounted the steps to the porch of the cabin. He pushed the door open, saw her lying on a small cot in the corner of the room.

There was blood everywhere.

He forced himself to move. He was at her side in an instant, on his knees beside the cot. He didn't even hear the door of the cabin slam shut behind him.

Max raked his eyes over her beloved form. Liz's eyes were closed, her expression serene. He couldn't see an injury, a scratch, anything. All he could see was blood. It covered her and was dripping onto the floor as well.

He noticed almost immediately that she was breathing. Her chest rose and fell shallowly. He didn't know how it was possible since it appeared that she had lost every fluid ounce of blood in her body, but it was true.

There was still hope.

He would save her - even if he had to kill himself in the process. He didn't want to live without her anyway.

Max gently placed his hands on her temples, shuddering as they came into contact with the sticky blood in her hair.

He had to connect with her, find out what had happened. He began to get fuzzy images, things that made no sense. Mainly he could feel her calling to him. "MAX! HELP ME!"

"Liz, please try."He pleaded. "Can you open your eyes- just a little bit? It'll make the connection stronger." Nothing happened.

Suddenly Liz's eyes flew open and she was staring right into his soul.

And Max knew then. He had been tricked.




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:41:47 PM
Part 16

I was alone in the silence
Till I was hearing your voice
I couldn't see my way clear
Until you parted the clouds and you gave me a choice.

I couldn't pick up the pieces
Until I was falling apart
I didn't know I was bleeding
Till your love fixed this hole, baby, here in my heart.

I'd give up my sight just to see you
I'd beg, I would borrow and steal
I'd cut off my hands just to touch you
I would tear out my heart so you'd know how I feel.

There's nowhere I wouldn't follow
There's no place I'd rather be
'Cause life without you would be hollow
This love is a gift and you gave it to me.

All that I am you have made me
And baby I know that it's true
I'd give it all up in a heartbeat
Just to spend every moment with you...

I wouldn't want to be me...
If I didn't have you.

Amanda Marshall


Liz felt her heart beating a mile a minute as Max started to make the connection with her. Only a couple more seconds she thought.

She felt terrible. His voice had cracked when he had asked her to open her eyes. She knew what he must be suffering, thinking she was dying - but she had had no choice.

Liz waited until she felt images from Max's mind start to flood her own. He was concentrating so hard on what was going on in her head, he was not paying the least bit of attention to what he was sending HER.

She knew the exact moment that he realized that there was nothing wrong with her. She felt exactly what he felt at that moment - shock, relief, then panic....and rage.

The connection was made.

Liz felt him start to leave her. NO! She was just starting to get the flashes. She had to hold on to the connection.

She opened her eyes, stared right into his. They were starting to freeze over as she watched. Liz grabbed Max's head and pulled him down on top of her.

Her lips met his in a kiss so fierce, she could not breathe.

Liz could feel Max fighting himself. They were still connecting. He was trying desperately not to give in, but he wanted to.

She knew he did, because in that moment, she WAS him.

And then it happened.

The flashes started coming as Max gave in and started to kiss her back.

Flash*

Liz walking down the cliff at the pod chambers. She could feel Max's heart breaking as though it was her own....and then the despair and the anger hit her like a tidal wave.

Flash*

Max lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering if he would ever feel like moving again. One thought: Liz is gone, Liz is gone, Liz is gone...

Flash*

Isabel bursting into his room with Maria and Alex. "Michael is missing!" Fear and yet, finally, the will to do something again.

Flash*

Michael standing with River Dog, their hands outstretched to Max. "Join us. Learn all you can."

Flash*

Michael and Max in the desert, facing off, fear in Max's heart.

Flash* Flash* Flash*

Max as a child, emerging from his pod, taking Isabel's hand...leaving Tess behind...losing Michael soon after...seeing the Evans' headlights...fear and hope...

Flash* Flash* Flash*

Max seeing Liz for the first time...thinking she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen...

Panic...Max healing Liz after she was shot..."You spilled ketchup when you fell...don't tell anyone...please..."

Michael and River Dog glaring at Max, their arms crossed. Then they turned their backs and started to walk away.

Flash*

Teen-age Michael in a pod, floating, his eyes closed then snapping open to stare at Max, hatred gleaming in their depths. "You betrayed me. You let this happen to me."

The connection between Liz and Max was severed suddenly, abruptly.

Liz realized that they had rolled off the cot. She was now on top of Max on the floor. She opened her eyes, stared into his. He had his hands on her face and they were suddenly in her hair.

"You're all right, " he said dumbfounded. "How?" He was running his hands over her face, down her body, checking for injuries and causing a shiver of desire to run down Liz's spine.

"Tess." Liz only had to say the name for him to understand. His eyes darkened.

"She made me see that? But I FELT the blood Liz. I know you were bleeding."

Liz smiled ruefully. "What can I say? She's been practicing. I didn't believe her either when she told me how realistic she could make it."

Max was staring at her. She had absolutely no idea what he was thinking.

"Max?"

"Liz." He replied tonelessly.

"Are you mad?" She asked in a small voice. She knew that he was again her Max - and that if she was in his position she would be very, VERY angry.

"Yes, actually I am a little mad."

"Oh. You do understand why I did it?" Max raised an eyebrow at her. She was pleased to note that his hands seemed unable to stop stroking her hair.

"My head understands, but my heart still needs a little time to process the fact that you are not about to die." He told her, still with little indication of whether he was really angry or not.

"Oh." Liz smiled at him. "I am sorry Max, but you really gave me no choice."

Max rolled his eyes. She could see that he was trying hard to keep his face straight but that his lips were beginning to twitch. "How pray tell were you planning to keep me here if I decided to leave?" He asked suddenly.

Liz felt her face redden. "Well Kyle is standing guard with Tess," she replied, avoiding his eyes. "You know, 160 pounds of Greco-Roman wrestler?" Max gently took her chin, forced her to meet his eyes.

"And if I used my powers on Kyle? You didn't know for sure that I was faking."

Liz replied confidently to that. "Oh I knew. I know you Max." His eyes narrowed slightly. She was becoming very aware of the fact that she was still stretched out on top of him and that she had not been as close to him since the night they had spent together in that abandoned van - the first and last time he had told her he loved her. She swallowed. He smelled exactly the same - like MAX. It was very distracting.

"Liz, do I have to take matters into my own hands to get a straight answer?" Max asked teasingly. "I have my ways you know." Liz smiled at him, lowering her lashes.

"Well, I was prepared to do anything Max. And I mean anything. I love you." She could see his eyes beginning to darken, but this time not with anger.

His lips met hers in a kiss so sweet, it brought tears to her eyes.

She started to sob. "Liz, what's wrong?" Max whispered against her lips, cupping her head with his hand, bringing her cheek to rest against his chest.

"I just missed you so much Max." She listened to his heartbeat, could feel her own beginning to beat in time.

"I don't understand Liz." Max said quietly. "Everyone else gave up on me. Why didn't you?"

Liz turned her head, stroked his hair. "It was you," she replied.

And there were no more words for a very long time.

Part 17

The silence was driving Maria insane.

She and Michael were deep in the forest. They had given up even bothering to pretend that they were looking for anything on their scavenger hunt list and were now just wandering aimlessly.

She didn't understand why he had suggested that they be partners. For one heart-stopping minute she had hoped that he was snapping out of whatever it was that had been plaguing him for the last six months, but it was soon clear that this was not the case. He refused to speak and was stalking ahead of her, not at all concerned about whether she was keeping up or not.

When Maria had tentatively tried to start a conversation, Michael had just stared at her, causing her to trail off uncomfortably. At one point she had decided that she was just going to leave him, but then she realized that there was no way that she was going to be able to find her way back to the camp on her own. Their route had been so circuitous, she was sure that she would get hopelessly lost.

And she needed to give Liz more time.

Maria was sure that the plan was not going to work, but if it was going to have any chance at success, she needed to keep Michael away from Max for as long as possible. She thought though that it would likely all be in vain. Too much of the plan depended on Tess, trusting her to make Max see something that wasn't there.

Maria did not have any trust in Tess. Sure she was being nicer to Liz now, but Maria just knew that there would be a knife in Liz's back the minute it was turned.

They had argued for a long time after Liz had told them what she was planning to do. Isabel had wanted to play a bigger role, had been upset when Liz told her that Max was too in tune to her. She wouldn't be able to fool him like Tess could.

Tess had grinned wryly. "I guess I deserve that." She had turned to Isabel. "There's no question I'm the best actress Isabel, plus Max will really think there's something wrong if it's ME that comes to tell him about Liz. He still thinks I hate her. But Liz," she had looked at Liz with concern, fake if Maria had anything to say about it. "Max is going to be really mad. Are you sure you want to do this?" Liz had sighed, nodded.

"We have no choice Tess." The group had been quiet, realizing that it was true. They were desperate.

As Liz had said, Michael was the key here, Maria thought now, as she glared at his retreating back. Whatever was wrong with him was what had led directly to Max turning into the anti-Max. If Liz could get through to Max - well, maybe they could then figure out what was wrong with Michael.

"Michael!" Maria called now, struggling to catch up to him.

He was standing on a slight rise, staring off into the woods, a peculiar expression on his face. It looked like he was listening to something.

Maria stumbled up beside him. "What's wrong?"

Michael turned to look at her assessingly. The expression on his face was not comforting. "Come." Maria blinked at him.

"Come where?" She asked, shaking her head in confusion.

"Come with me Maria." He offered his hand, quirked an eyebrow, daring her to take it. She looked at his hand suspiciously and then back at his face.

"What's going on Spaceboy?" She demanded, beginning to get scared. He was just so weird. Yes, he had been prickly and difficult to get along with in the past, but that had just been Michael. The emptiness in his eyes now - it was terrifying.

"Come with me Maria." Michael repeated. "Don't you love me?" It was said in a monotone that was more disturbing then if he had sounded hurt - which he didn't, at all.

"What?" She yelled. "Why would I love you? You've been acting like a pod-person for the last six months. Where is this coming from?" Michael dropped his hand, tilted his head and examined her with what looked like mild curiosity. "I WAS born from a pod," he replied finally. "You loved me before. What is the difference now?"

Maria waved her hands in the air, scowled at him in frustration. "Michael, you have NO personality anymore. What is there to love?"

"Personality? I don't understand." He looked genuinely confused.

"Emotions! You know - the things that make you Michael." Maria said, a little more loudly than she intended, but it was like talking to a brick wall - or should I say stone wall, she thought wryly. Of course, even when Michael had been trying to be a "stone wall" he had been completely incapable of it. His character had been such that feeling no emotion was, ironically, completely alien to him.

"I am Michael." He replied tonelessly.

Maria grimaced. "You're not the Michael I knew." She muttered. Michael just continued to stare blankly at her.

"You won't come with me willingly then?" He asked finally. Maria threw her hands in the air.

"What gave you that idea?" She muttered. She glared at him. "I don't understand any of this!"

Michael shrugged. "It is not for you to understand." His tone...

Maria backed up, stumbled as she came to edge of the incline. Michael's expression wasn't exactly threatening, but Maria just knew instictively that she was in danger.

Run! Run Maria! Her mind was screaming but her legs refused to budge. She was watching Michael raise his hand in fascination, not quite believing that this was really happening.

Michael's hand began to glow and then the world went black.

***********************
Max had not thought that it was possible to feel this happy again.

They had managed to get off the floor and back onto the cot at some point, but Max wasn't really sure when. He had been unable to stop kissing Liz once he had started. His hands had a mind of their own too. She was so sweetly responsive and loving. He finally forced himself to break away from her though. It was entirely possible that they were reaching the point of no return here and as much as he wanted to be with her, it wasn't fair to her to have it be now. There was still so much explaining to do and so much to fix.

"Liz." He finally managed to say between kisses.

"What?" She asked. Her lips were on his neck, practically driving him insane.

"We...need...need to talk." He croaked, thrusting his hands into her silky hair, dragging her mouth back to his.

"Mmmmmm." Liz replied. She finally propped her elbow on his chest, her chin on her hand, smiled at him teasingly. "You're right Mr. Evans, we do." She grimaced briefly.
"I have a few things to say to you about Pam Troy."

"Liz, it didn't mean anything." Max told her. "I had no choice. I had to try and keep you away from me." He grinned lovingly at her. "Not that that worked very well." He kissed her lightly again. "You can be very stubborn you know."

"Only when it comes to you." She said seriously. Liz dropped her eyes momentarily, started to trace circles on his chest. "What's going on Max?" She asked, raising her eyes to his. "I mean, why?"

Max sat up, pulling Liz up beside him. He tried to put some distance between them, as it was entirely impossible for him to think clearly with her so near. She kept a firm grip on his hand though.

"It's such a long story Liz." He glanced at her. "I just need you to know that I will keep you safe, that everything I did was to protect you and the others."

"Max, I saw some things when we were connected a while ago." She told him. Liz watched him carefully. "I know that there is something seriously wrong with Michael. I mean, I heard him threaten you last night and I saw him floating in what looked like a pod." She moved closer to him. "You have to tell me what happened to you guys on the Reservation."

Max sighed. "I want to tell you Liz but I can't. It's just too complicated to go into a thousand times." He heard Liz sigh too, in exasperation. He turned, brought his hands up to cup her face. She looked at him questioningly. "I'll tell you with all the others. I promise." He kissed her again. She threw her arms around his neck trustingly, kissed him back hard. He was flooded by the love she felt for him, realized that they were connecting.

When Liz started to trace his lips with her tongue, Max forced himself to break the kiss. "Liz, please! You're killing me here." She pouted at him. He couldn't help himself, he brought his lips back to hers. "You have to listen to me," he moaned, realizing that he in no way had the strength to break away again. Liz tumbled back on the bed, bringing him with her.

Things were almost completely out of control again, when a sharp knock on the door brought them both to their senses. Liz's face was flushed, Max knew that his was the same. He really needed to go jump in the lake. "Yeah?" He managed to call out.

The door creaked open. Kyle's head was suddenly thrust through the crack. "I still don't understand why I'm the one who has to..." he was muttering to someone behind him. And then suddenly the door crashed open and Kyle stumbled into the room, followed by Tess, who had clearly pushed him. Alex and Isabel entered cautiously behind them.

Kyle was blinking at the sight of Max and Liz entangled on the bed. "Well, I think they made up." He said to Alex, who was trying hard to hide his grin of amusement. Isabel was staring at Max, her eyes wary, clearing trying not to hope too much.

Max's heart went out to his sister. He heard Liz whisper to him, "Go to her. She needs you Max." Max swallowed, stood up, tried to smile at Izzy. He didn't know how she could possibly forgive him for the last few months.

And then she flew to him, practically knocked him over. Isabel threw her arms around him. "Oh my God, Max! It's really you!" She pulled back, slapped him upside the head. "What the heck was wrong with you?" She demanded in a voice that only a sister could use. He felt like he was six again.

"I'm sorry Iz." He said finally. It was really all he could say. Any more words would have been ridiculous. The way he had shut her out - he knew it would take her a long time to get over it. He hoped that she would forgive him one day. He knew that she would understand when he explained about Michael, but forgiveness was something else entirely.

Max knew that Liz could forgive him easily. She had missed most of the last half-year, had not had him treating her like dirt at every turn. Yes, the last two days had been hard, but it hadn't taken her long to snap him out of it. He just could not resist her.

Isabel and the others - what they had gone through would take longer to get over.

"When did you guys get here?" Liz asked Alex and Isabel.

"Only a few minutes ago." Alex replied. "Pam tripped on her stilettos on the hike." He explained sarcastically. Kyle snickered. Max saw Liz tense, shoot a look at him. That was another thing he was going to have to take care of immediately, he realized.

"How'd you manage to leave her behind?" Tess asked curiously.

Isabel shrugged. "We just left. She was ranting about Max having disappeared. Dad was trying to calm her down, but she was being ridiculous, so we left." She turned back to her brother, dismissing the whole subject. "Max, what's going on? What was wrong with you?"

Max turned to Liz. She came immediately into his arms. He swallowed. "It's such a long story you guys. Where's Michael?" He asked, trying to change the subject.

Kyle shrugged. "Did they come back to the camp you guys?" He asked Isabel and Alex. When they both shook their heads, Max frowned.

"I'm not crazy about the idea of Maria being alone with him," he told them all. Liz and Alex exchanged worried looks. "I think that we should find them first."

Max was not being exactly straight with his friends, he knew, but he still wasn't sure what he wanted to tell them. Michael was his problem. He was the one who was going to have to deal with it - the less they knew, the safer they would be.

"But first," Max continued. He glanced at Liz worriedly. "Guys, I'm going to have to keep pretending to hate you all." He saw Isabel flinch.

"Why Max?" Tess asked, clearly upset as well. He was surprised to see Kyle take her hand...and even more surprised to see that Tess let him.

"Michael can't know that I've told you guys anything." Max looked at them all one by one. "I promise that we are going to end this today, but he cannot know until it is ended." He set his jaw. "Do you understand?" He squeezed Liz's shoulder, hoping that they would cooperate.

There was silence for several moments as the rest of the group exchanged looks. Finally Alex spoke up. "You're the leader Max." Max grimaced. He hated that word. The others were nodding, although neither Liz or Isabel looked at all happy about it.

"Okay then. I'm going to find Michael and Maria. I'll see you all back at the camp."

"I'm coming with you!" Liz said immediately. Max smiled at her lovingly.

"No Liz, it's not safe." She frowned at him. He could see that she was getting her back up to argue with him. "Michael can't know remember?"

She sighed, nodded. "Just be careful."

"I will." He kissed her quickly, although it took all his strength to move away from her.

The others left, Liz trailing behind reluctantly. She glanced back once, gave him a sad smile. And then she was gone.

The room suddenly felt very empty.

Max straightened his back, left the cabin. This WILL end today, he thought. Even if I die in the process.




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:43:17 PM
Part 18

When Liz returned to the campsite with the others, she found that she could not sit still.

Her dad and the Sheriff had appeared a few moments after they returned, perplexed expressions on their faces. Kyle, Tess and Liz all glanced at each other guiltily. They realized that they had totally deserted the dads at the lake, waiting for them to come back with their scavenger hunt items.

"What happened honey?" Mr. Parker asked Liz. "We waited for you guys for an hour. Jim and I were starting to get worried."

The Sheriff was staring at Kyle suspiciously. Valenti knew that something was going on and Liz could tell that he was beginning to get hurt that none of them had confided in him yet. She knew that Kyle was in for a serious grilling the minute the Sheriff got his son alone.

"I'm sorry Dad. We found a waterfall and sort of got distracted." Tess shot her a look.

"I didn't know there was a waterfall in Fraser Woods?" He looked at the Sheriff for confirmation.

Sheriff Valenti narrowed his eyes, finally nodded. "Yeah, there is - a small one." Liz sent him a relieved smile.

"So who's cooking dinner?" Mr. Parker asked cheerfully. One of the things Liz loved most about her dad was that he was totally incapable of holding a grudge. Liz had explained things and he was satisfied. It made her guilt ten times worse. She wondered if she was ever going to attend a Father's Camping weekend where she actually spent time with her dad.

Tess and Kyle had agreed to help Mr. Parker with the food. Liz went and sat on a log near the woods, hoping that Max would soon appear with Maria and Michael in tow. She felt antsy and worried. Max had tried to hide it, but he been really concerned by the fact that Michael and Maria were alone together. She just knew he was.

What is wrong with Michael? Liz wondered for what felt the thousandth time. She jumped up and began pacing. She saw Isabel and Alex standing together near the tress, Izzy clearly as worried as Liz, Alex talking to her quietly, holding her hand.

At that moment, Pam Troy appeared from the tent she was sharing with her dad. She marched right up to Liz and glared at her. "Where's Max?"

Liz blinked, remembered that she and Max were still supposed to be on bad terms. "How should I know?" Liz snapped, trying hard to hide how much she disliked this girl.

"You're wasting your time if you think that you're going to get him back Parker." Pam smirked at her. "Everyone knows that he dumped you like last year's trash after he realized what a boring little nerd you really are."

Liz tried to control her temper. She turned away. "Whatever you say Pam." Liz started to walk towards Alex and Isabel when she suddenly realized that Pam had grabbed her ponytail. Liz's head jerked back.

"Don't you walk away from me you little whore!" Pam snarled. Liz could see Alex and Isabel's horrified expressions as they caught sight of what was happening. Mr. Evans, standing about ten feet away, seemed frozen.

Pam yanked again. Liz felt herself falling. Before she knew it she was staring straight up at the darkening sky.

"What the hell is going on here?" Liz was still in shock. She could not believe that Pam Troy had actually just physically attacked her. It took her a minute to realize that the voice she heard belonged to Max.

Liz climbed to her knees, massaging her scalp. She eyed Max worriedly. The expression on his face - it was terrifying.

She was relieved to see that he was not looking at her though. "Liz are you okay?" His tone was even.

"Yeah Max."

Max walked up to Pam, stared at her. "Can you explain what I just witnessed?"

Liz could see that Pam was totally confused. "I don't understand."

"Did I or did I not just see you lay hands on Liz?" Max asked, his tone cold.

"She was bugging me Max - telling me that you didn't really love me." Pam whined, trailing off when she saw that Max's expression had not changed.

Liz glanced at Mr. Evans. Max's dad's face was blank. He was watching the little scene unfolding dumbfounded. He clearly had no idea what to expect from his son.

Max grabbed Pam by the hand, hauling her off into the bush. Isabel and Alex rushed to Liz's side. "Are you okay Liz?" Isabel asked.

"SHHH!" Liz held up her hand. She quickly followed Max and Pam into the woods. "I want to hear this."

Isabel and Alex exchanged looks, Alex suddenly grinning. "Lead on." Isabel smiled back, followed Liz.

The three friends did not have to go far. Max had obviously not wanted to do whatever it was he was going to do in public but Liz had to hear it for herself. She knew Max wouldn't mind.

"Max, what's going on?" Pam was beginning to sound worried. "Are you mad at me about something?"

Max glared at her. "No Pam, I am not mad at you. I'm furious. Can you please explain to me what you thought you were doing?"

"I was defending my good name against that trollop." Pam replied. "I heard her telling your sister and Alex that it's only a matter of time before she steals you back from me." Liz was amazed at the ease with which Pam lied.

Max sighed. Liz thought he sounded annoyed that he had to deal with this at all. She couldn't help but be a little pleased. He deserved to suffer a little for the behavior the rest of them had had to put up with. "I hate to have to tell you this Pam. Liz can't steal someone who already belongs to her."

"What??" Pam screeched.

"I love Liz. I never stopped." Max explained. "And if I ever see you speak to her again, let alone touch her, I will have my sister ruin you - and you know she can do it."

Liz looked at Isabel in wonder. "I didn't know Max had it in him." Isabel whispered to Liz, grinning.

"Would you do it Isabel?" Liz asked.

Isabel grinned. "Of course I would." She glanced at Alex, who raised an eyebrow at her warningly. "Liz, you have no idea some of the stuff she's been saying about you."

Liz felt ill. She could just imagine. She had been Pam Troy's victim for too long. "Don't tell me. I don't want to know." Liz said finally.

She turned back to Pam and Max. She almost felt sorry for Pam, who looked devastated.

She could see Max beginning to soften. She knew that it went totally against his nature to be mean to anyone. His expression hardened again when Pam flew at him, tried to claw at his face. "You bastard!"

Max grabbed her quite easily. "Please don't ever speak to me again." He said wearily, setting her away from him.

"You'll pay for this Max Evans." Pam hissed at him.

"Being with you was payment enough," Max replied. "I mean it Pam. Stay away from Liz. You have never seen me truly angry...and you never want to." He narrowed his eyes at her.

Pam screamed in frustration, ran off towards the campsite.

Liz, Alex and Isabel stepped out from the bushes, joined Max, who looked drained and still mad. Liz went directly into his arms, hugged him comfortingly.

"Thank you Max." She said simply.

"I just can't pretend anymore Liz. It's too hard." He looked over her head at Isabel and Alex. "I couldn't find Michael or Maria anywhere." Liz tensed, felt Max begin to stroke her hair, trying to reassure her.

Isabel eyed her brother. "So the pretending is over then?" She asked. "You can talk to Dad?" Max nodded. Alex put his arms around Izzy when tears filled her eyes in relief.

"We don't have time for that right now though." Max sounded regretful. "Michael knows that I told you guys something. I don't know how he knows, but I'm sure he does. I think he's taken Maria to get me to join him." Max explained tiredly.

"Join you where Max?" Liz asked confused.

"In hell." Max replied, shaking his head.

Part 19

"Okay - enough with the cryptic statements and the secrets." Alex was beginning to sound mad. "I mean it Max. It's time to tell us what's going on, especially if Maria is in danger." Isabel took her boyfriend's hand, squeezed. Alex rarely, if ever, got angry. She knew that he must be really worried about Maria to speak that way.

"It's true Max." Isabel told her brother. Max looked torn, clearly did not want to bring them all into the middle of the situation that existed between he and Michael. Max was stroking Liz's hair still, trying to control his own fear and natural caution. Isabel knew her brother. "We all need to be in this together." Isabel continued. "It's not fair to leave us out. You almost destroyed any trust that existed between the six of us with all that anti-Max behavior. You had no right to do that Max! Having you five was the only thing that made me feel at all safe. I know we'll never be totally secure, but you cannot leave us out. You might be some great leader in the grand scheme of the universe, but in Roswell you are Max Evans, my brother, Liz's boyfriend, Michael, Alex and Maria's friend and as Max Evans you have to tell us."

Isabel knew that she was ranting, but she could not help it. Even though she was relieved that her brother had given up his act, he was still leaving them out. Liz smiled sadly at Isabel from where she stood, still with her head on Max's chest, his arms wrapped around her. Max looked resigned.

"You're right Izzy. I'm sorry. But it's too long and convoluted to get into now. We need to find Michael and Maria. I'll tell you on the way." He smiled at his sister. "And you're not alone anymore Izzy. You'll never be alone again - I promise." He glanced at Alex. "We need to come up with something to tell the dads. There's no way they're going to let us go traipsing off in the bush by ourselves."

Alex looked pleased that Max had turned to him for advice. Isabel realized that Max had recognized that in a lot of ways Alex had pulled both Maria and Isabel, and even Kyle and Tess through the past few difficult months. Alex's true worth and loyalty to all of them was still only just becoming evident. He was so much more than just their easy access computer hacker. In a lot of ways he was the group's strength: Liz and Maria's confidant and brother, Michael's buddy, Max's advisor and her, Isabel's, love.

"Yeah - I guess Kyle can talk to the Sheriff, tell him what's going on. Maybe he'll have an idea?" Alex suggested.

"Sounds like a plan," Max replied. "We'll have dinner and then I'll tell you all what has been going on while we walk."

Liz spoke up with concern. "Can we wait that long Max? If Maria's in danger, shouldn't we do something about it right away?" Alex nodded in agreement.

"I'm almost positive that she'll be fine Liz. Michael just took her to get my attention. He won't hurt her until he knows for sure that I'm not going to take the bait." Max sounded like he knew what he was talking about. "And he knows I'll take it." Isabel felt terrified again.

"Can we help Michael?" She asked.

Max shook his head. "You guys just don't understand. He's not OUR Michael anymore. He's theirs."

"Whose?" Isabel demanded, her confusion reflected in her voice.

"It's complicated." He sounded frustrated. "I will tell you, but it has to be in order. Let's just wait a bit longer." Max was pleading with them to trust him. Isabel knew that he was worried that they wouldn't, because of the way he had been behaving, but this was MAX - their Max.

Liz spoke for them all. "Of course we trust you Max." Max squeezed her tightly. Alex pulled Isabel away, decided they better give Max and Liz a little time to themselves. Max was clearly still wary about telling them anything. He had done so much to keep them safe for so long, even alienating himself from those he loved. It would be hard to suddenly open up and put them all in danger again.

Isabel and Alex found Kyle and Tess laughing when they joined them at the campfire. Tess was stirring a big pot of spaghetti sauce, while Kyle was telling her the story about the night he had gotten Max drunk. "Of course, he kept doing all these crazy things, but I just thought it was because I was drunk." Kyle was saying. "I mean, I was sure I was hallucinating."

"And you broke into Liz's room?" Tess giggled. "Can you imagine what that Doug guy must have thought?"

"That we were crazy obviously." Kyle laughed too. "But we were, so he wasn't far off. We actually had a plan to split Liz up. We'd each get to date her every second week."

Tess collapsed against him, unable to stand up she was laughing so hard.

Isabel and Alex exchanged looks.

"Interesting." Alex murmured to Isabel.

"Hey guys! Is dinner almost ready?" Isabel asked with phony cheer. Tess's head snapped up - she looked momentarily guilty as she quickly moved away from Kyle. For a minute, the small blonde's emotions flitted across her face. Isabel had caught her flirting with another guy. She was betraying the destiny that she was the only one who still clung to like a life-line.

Isabel smiled at Tess reassuringly. Now was not the time for all that.

"Kyle I need your help." Alex told the other boy. Kyle frowned, nodded and followed Alex over to a nearby tent. Isabel watched as he began nodding, then walked away towards the Sheriff who was playing poker with Mr. Parker and Mr. Evans.

Izzy noticed that her dad kept glancing at the woods in the direction that Max had disappeared with Pam almost an hour ago. His expression was hopeful. Isabel could not blame him. She was sure that Pam had returned in a fury. She noticed that the Troy tent - not to mention the Troys - had disappeared. Mr. Evans had to notice that Liz was still with Max, which could only be a sign to her father that the old Max was coming back.

She wondered briefly if this was one of the reasons her dad had insisted that Max accompany them. Had he hoped that by having Max hang out with Liz, he could bring his real son back? If this was the case, her dad was a much more perceptive person than Isabel had realized. What else did he know? She wondered briefly, a tiny flickering flame of hope in her chest. Could he suspect the truth about she and Max?

Isabel knew that her mom already knew they were special. She also knew that nothing they could ever tell her would turn her against them. Her dad had always been another story though. He was such a square, so conservative - but now Isabel began to wonder.

She pushed the thought aside for later reflection. Alex had returned. "Kyle's going to tell his dad enough so that he'll help us, but he's a little wary about getting him too involved." He explained. Tess blinked in surprise. "Max didn't find them Tess." He elaborated. "We're going to have to mount a full-scale rescue mission tonight. We need to get rid of the dads." Tess nodded her understanding.

"Does Max know why Michael took Maria?" Tess asked.

"Yeah, he just doesn't know where they are." Isabel's eyes brightened. "Hey! I am such an idiot. Why don't I try dreamwalking Maria to find out where she is?" Alex looked wary.

"I don't know Isabel. Remember how upset you got when you did that to Max last year. You might not like what you find and it might not help anyway." Isabel reached out and squeezed his hand, trying to convince him.

"Besides," Tess inserted, "Doesn't she have to be asleep?" She looked up at the sky, which was dark, but not yet star-pocked. "It's kind of early."

Isabel shook her head. "I've been practicing guys. I mean I still can't do it all the time, but I can sometimes do it when the person is awake. I did it to Pierce that time."

Alex still looked doubtful. "I hate to watch you do that Izzy. It's dangerous."

Isabel shot him a cold look. "I'm doing it Alex. Now are you going to help me or do I do this alone?" She saw Alex's face harden. She didn't like to go all ice-queen on him, since he usually saw through it anyway, but she needed to do this. For Maria - and Michael.

Their Michael would never forgive himself if he hurt Maria. It was why he had stayed away from her in the first place. He might not be THEIR Michael right now - but if Isabel had anything to say about it, he would be again soon. And he was not going to have anything else to make him unhappy or guilty, not if Isabel could help it.

"Fine." Alex muttered. "Tess, can you make sure that my dad doesn't come into our tent when he gets back? We'll be in there."

Tess nodded, grinned slightly. "You know they're all going to think you've gone in there to make out?"

Isabel blushed, tried not to think about what her dad was going to think. "I guess it's best that way," she replied ruefully. "At least we'll seem like normal kids for once."

Isabel tried to be as inconspicuous as possible as she made her way to the Whitman's deluxe tent. She didn't think her dad noticed anything, but Mr. Parker did glance in their direction. He smiled wryly to himself, but didn't comment.

She crawled through the door and looked around in amazement. Alex was on her heels. "Good Lord Alex! It's the Taj Mahal of tents." It was huge, with a hook in the middle for a light. There were even weird little benches built into the side of the shelter.

Alex grinned. "My dad never does anything half-way. When he decides he's camping, he's camping." He indicated the sleeping bag in the far corner. "That's mine. Make yourself comfy." He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, rummaged through it and finally pulled out a small snapshot, handed it to Isabel. "Here. This will make it easier."

She looked at it closely. It was Maria's school picture from last year. Isabel recognized it from when she had dreamwalked her friend before she trusted her. It had been the photo in the yearbook Isabel had used to access Maria's dream. She flipped it over. Maria had inscribed a short message: "To my best pal Alex, hope your Czechoslovakian dreams come true, but know that I always have your back! Hugs and kisses from your little lady Maria." Isabel smiled sadly.

Isabel sat on Alex's sleeping bag, patted the spot next to her. "Care to join me?" Alex narrowed his eyes when she smiled flirtatiously at him.

"Isabel, this is serious." He said evenly, but she could see his lips twitching.

"I know Alex." Isabel was suddenly serious again. "Please, it's easier for me when you hold me."

Alex nodded, reclined back against his pillow, pulling her into his arms. She breathed deeply, trying to forget that it had been awhile since she had kissed him. Not the time Izzy, she told herself sternly.

She stared intently at the picture of Maria, concentrated on the other girl, on how much she cared about what happened to her. She called to her quietly. "Let me in Maria!let me in..."

Her own mind flickered, cleared, flickered and then she felt like she was flying through space. She landed with a thud. Her physical self was aware of Alex's arms around her, anchoring her but she was no longer alone in her mind.

She was in.

It was pitch black. She realized that she was looking out through Maria's eyes. She knew the exact moment when Maria became aware of her presence. Isabel felt the relief course through Maria's body.

"Isabel? Is that you? I've been trying to call to you!"

"Yeah it's me. Are you okay?" Isabel asked, searching the black void of Maria's mind for the dream image of her friend. "Where are you?" And she just didn't mean physically. She meant mentally as well. Maria was nowhere to be found - but her voice was as clear as a bell.

"I'm not really sure." Maria replied, her voice strained. "I was a little out of it when he brought me here."

"Is Michael still there?" Isabel asked worriedly. "Are you asleep?"

"No, I'm awake. I'm blindfolded. I can't see a thing." Isabel nodded to herself. That explained why she couldn't see anything but black. Suddenly Maria's mind flickered and she was seated in front of Isabel. She was leaning back against a stone wall, her hands and feet bound, a bandana tied around her head to shield her eyes. Isabel felt ill.

Michael! What have you done! She wailed to herself. "Maria, you need to give me something... anything...so we can find you!"

Maria suddenly sat up straight. Her tone was adamant when she said, "NO WAY! It's not me he wants. He wants Max...and you and Tess. I'm not going to help him lure you guys into a trap."

"Maria! Tell me!" Isabel demanded, getting annoyed. "We're going to look for you anyway. This will just make it easier."

"No." Maria said stubbornly. "It's Michael. He won't hurt me, but he's so angry at you guys. I think he would hurt you."

"He has already hurt you Maria." She felt Maria flinch, had a quick image of Michael raising his hand and it beginning to glow. Isabel pushed the image away - it was too distracting. "It's not Michael!" Isabel continued, trying to convince Maria. "Max says that our Michael is gone. I still don't know what that thing is that has you, but it's not Michael."

Isabel could feel Maria's shock. "Where is MY Michael?" She finally asked in a small voice.

"That's what we're going to find out Maria, but first you need to tell me where you are." Isabel could feel Maria's torn emotions. She was terrified, but she did not want to put her friends in jeopardy. Until this moment, Isabel had never realized how truly courageous Maria Deluca really was.

"I'm not completely sure Izzy, but I can hear running water and I can smell something weird. I think it's cheese."

"What?" Isabel was totally perplexed. The cheese factory was back in Roswell, not in the middle of Fraser Woods. "Are you sure?" She could feel Maria concentrating.

"Yeah. I woke up pretty soon after Michael....well, let's just say I'm pretty sure we're still in the woods. We didn't walk very far."

"Okay. Hang in there Maria. We'll find you! I promise." As Isabel began to leave Maria's mind, she was pulled back suddenly when a shot of terror ran through her - she realized suddenly that Maria's blindfold must be gone. The sudden brightness was blinding. When her eyes finally adjusted, she saw Michael glaring down at her - at Maria.

"What the hell are you doing? Why are you muttering?" He was demanding.

"Nothing! Leave Izzy leave!" Maria was clearly scared witless. She was yelling it at the top of her lungs.

"Izzy? You mean Isabel! Is she in there?" Michael grabbed Maria, pulled her towards him. It was then that Maria saw the gun in his hand.

And then she was forcibly ejected from Maria's mind. Maria had gathered the strength to throw her clear, to put her out of danger.

Isabel sat up with a jolt. "Oh my God!" Alex grabbed her, started to rub her back comfortingly. She turned around, stared at him. "We have to find her Alex! Michael - he's crazy!" She stumbled to her feet, out of the tent. "Max! Max, where are you?"




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:43:58 PM
Part 20

"We still haven't figured out what we're going to do about the dads." Liz was frustrated. She wanted to get moving. After hearing about Isabel's dream conversation with Maria, her concern for her best friend had increased ten-fold.

"I talked to my dad - tried to calm his suspicions a bit." Kyle put in. "He actually thinks that you should tell your dad the truth Max. He thinks that keeping your secret from him has driven you to behave the way you did."

Max frowned. "There's no time for that right now." He sounded annoyed. Liz knew that telling his parents the truth about he and Isabel was a sore subject with him. She knew that he wanted to tell them, but that he felt totally incapable of doing so. Not only did he not want them endangered by the knowledge, although he would never admit it, Liz knew that he was terrified by what their reaction would be. While Isabel trusted her parents implicitly, Max had always been more naturally cautious. He had once said that he only trusted five people in the world. Liz realized that number had diminished further now that Michael was gone.

"I have an idea." Tess spoke up. Everyone turned to look at her hopefully. They were all huddled around the campfire, desperate to go after Michael and Maria, but also still trying to come up with a plan to keep their dads out of the loop. "I could make them SEE you guys here." She looked around hopefully.

"But Tess can you hold an illusion of that magnitude from where we're going?" Kyle asked, concerned. "You might hurt yourself."

"It's the only way Kyle." The curly-haired blonde replied.

Liz noticed that Max's eyes narrowed in thought. "Hmmmm...it could work. But we can't take any chances Tess. You'll need to stay here and keep a close eye on your illusion." Tess looked like she wanted to argue with him, but Kyle interjected.

"I'll stay with you Tess."

She gave in. "Fine."

"Kyle what did you tell your dad?" Max asked, looking pleased that one dilemma was resolved.

Kyle shrugged, "Just that he and Maria were hanging out and that you had snapped out of your ridiculous behavior because of Liz." He grinned teasingly at Liz, who felt herself blushing.

"Good. He really can't come with us." Max decided. "If we can bring the REAL Michael back, well, I don't want the Sheriff to know how he's been acting. He's already been in enough trouble with the law."

"You can trust my dad." Kyle said, sounding offended.

Max looked at him. "I know we can - but he's a man who has to go with his conscience. I don't blame him, but when he hears that Michael has been holding Maria at gun-point, I mean wouldn't he feel an obligation to bring him in?"

Kyle nodded reluctantly. "I guess you're right."

"Okay, let's get moving before our dads stop playing poker. Tess can you give us about twenty minutes and then make it look like we're all coming back to camp?" Max asked. She nodded.

"But Max we still haven't figured out where they are." Liz said suddenly.

"I think I know." Max replied as he reached out and took Liz's hand. He stared at Alex and Isabel. "Before we leave, one more thing. I'm going to tell you guys what's going on with Michael on the way to find Maria, but you have to promise me that you're going to do everything I tell you to. We're going to try and get Michael back, but if we can't we're going to have to leave him."

Isabel looked like she wanted to disagree, but Alex reached out and put his arm around her warningly.

"I mean it Iz," Max continued. "I know what's going on with Michael, you don't. If I don't get your word on this, I'm going alone."

Isabel finally nodded. Max looked satisfied. He seemed to already know that Liz and Alex were in agreement.

"So, let's go." Max led the way over to the dads, who were laughing about something.
Liz felt his nervousness approaching his father. He still had not talked to him since his decision to stop acting like an idiot.

Liz squeezed his hand, spoke for them all. "Dad, we're just going to do some stargazing okay?" She saw Mr. Evans give Max a questioning look. Max looked away. Mr. Evans' face fell. Liz knew that Max did not know what to say to his dad, but he was not dealing with the situation very well. Liz smiled reassuringly at Max's dad. Mr.Evans brightened a bit.

"Okay Lizzie." Mr. Parker replied, staring at his cards intently. "Don't go too far. We wouldn't want you getting lost in the woods like last time, " he teased. Jeff Parker suddenly looked up. "Where are Michael and Maria anyway?" He asked suddenly. "Amy Deluca will kill me if I lose her daughter again this year."

"Oh, they're still down at the lake," Liz replied nervously. Sheriff Valenti was giving her a penetrating look.

"I think I might join you kids." He said abruptly, getting to his feet. Liz glanced over at Kyle.

He played his part to perfection. "Hey Dad! Can you come over here for a minute?" He called from the fire, where he and Tess were sticking marshmallows on the ends of sticks. "Tess doesn't believe that you can put ten marshmallows in your mouth at one time."

Sheriff Valenti glanced at his son. Just as Kyle had known it would, the Sheriff's dad-guilt kicked in and he went to join the other two, giving Max another assessing look as he walked away. Liz glanced at her boyfriend, tried hard not giggle at how hard he was trying to look innocent.

Alex and Isabel led the way into the woods. They stopped after they had gone far enough that the glow of the fire had disappeared. Their flashlights created dancing shadows on the trees as they turned around to wait for Liz and Max. "Where to?" Alex asked Max.

Max frowned, scanned the area. "That cheese smell Maria told you about Izzy - do you remember the time dad took us to the Santa Anna Hot Springs?" Isabel nodded, looked confused. "We took the old highway - which ends at Fraser Woods. I think the hot springs must be on the far side of the forest."

Isabel wrinkled her nose. "That's right. I'd forgotten about the stench of that place."

It all suddenly became clear to Liz. "Sulfur springs?" She asked Max.

He nodded. "Yeah. I think if we head straight west, we'll come out on the highway. It's not very far. The springs should just be another two or three miles north of there."

The two couples began to carefully pick their way through the woods. Liz could feel the hair on the back of her neck beginning to stand on end. She was glad that Max had such a tight grip on her hand. If any of them got separated - they only had two flashlights. They might not find the person again.

"Does anyone else feel like they're suddenly in the Blair Witch Project?" Alex asked, breaking the tense silence. Liz could feel herself wanting to giggle hysterically.

"It's weird that they're no stars out." Isabel commented. "Good thing none of our dads decided to look up." She glanced back at her brother, who looked pensive. Liz was worried about Max - THEIR Max was back, but he seemed a little distant sometimes still - like he did not want to get too close to them again. "So Max, when do we find out what's going on?" Isabel continued impatiently.

"It's a long story." Max said quietly, for what felt like the two millionth time to Liz.

"Well, it isn't going to get shorter, the longer you wait. The sooner you start, the sooner you're done." Alex grinned encouragingly.

"Okay, well you know how I've told you guys that it's Michael, but it's not OUR Michael?" They all nodded. "Wait - I think I better start at the beginning..."

Alex, Isabel and Liz all listened closely as Max began to tell his story.




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:47:14 PM
Part 21 - Max POV

June 15, 2000 - Mesa Laco Reservation, near Roswell, New Mexico

I drew my pillow over my head when sunlight suddenly streamed through the window and directly onto my face. "What?" I asked groggily.

I knew it was Michael who had thrown open the curtains to the guest bedroom in River Dog's house. Why couldn't he ever just leave me in peace? I had been having the best dream - about Liz of course. In it, she stopped on the cliff near the pod chamber when I asked her to, turned around, told me she loved me and that she would never leave me. Trust Michael to interfere again. I still hadn't forgiven for him for not letting me go after her. Maybe it would have changed things.

"Get up Maximillian. Today's the day. Today's the day we learn who we really are."

I groaned. I threw my pillow at him. He caught it, scowling. "You say that every day Michael - and so far all I know is that I'm still Max Evans, so-called leader of my people, who would rather just go back to sleep."

"You're the one who decided to stay here Max. Don't you think Liz would want you to learn everything you could? Isn't it why she left you in the first place?"

Low blow.

I sat up and glared at him. "Fine." I crawled out of bed and stumbled to the shower.

Michael was sitting on my bed fiddling with something when I returned. I saw that it was one of the blue communicator orbs.

"What are you doing with that?" I asked suspiciously. "We agreed we weren't going to use it again. Nasedo warned us that it could be dangerous, that it could let the other race know where we are. Plus, its what caused all my problems in the first place."

"River Dog told me to bring it - we're meeting him at the cave." Michael explained.

I quickly dressed, poured myself some orange juice in River Dog's sunny kitchen and then followed Michael out the door. "Where's Tess?" I asked, not really caring, but pleased that she wasn't around.

"River Dog told her to go back to Roswell last night after you went to bed to sulk." Michael told me.

"And she went?" I asked, surprised. Tess had not let up on me since Isabel, Alex and Maria had left the Reservation a couple of weeks ago. I had told her that she was only allowed to stay if she dropped all that destiny business, but she hadn't gotten it through her thick, destiny-obsessed skull. It was really annoying.

But Tess had been useful in other ways. She knew a lot more about what Michael and I could do then we did - she had grown up knowing. She had been helping Michael mostly - the extent of his power to destroy was actually kind of scary. He didn't seem to like it much either.

"Who's going to help us now?" I asked, a little annoyed that River Dog had been so high-handed. Sure, he had been really helpful, but it annoyed me when he tried to tell me what to do. I didn't think he liked me very much sometimes. I kept remembering how he had told Liz to make sure she could trust me way back when we had first met him. He seemed to like Michael a lot more, in fact, always had. I remembered the Father's Camping trip and how annoyed he had sounded when Izzy and I had shown up at the place where Nasedo had left the message - like we didn't belong there or something.

Basically, I thought River Dog was weird and I didn't understand why he was so eager to help us.

But Michael trusted him and Michael needed people to trust these days. I knew that he still thought about having killed Pierce all the time. He needed to focus his thoughts elsewhere and River Dog gave him that outlet.

"The Dog said that he could take it from here." Michael informed me now. "He told Tess that she was distracting you, that you haven't made any progress because you keep having to push her away from you. She finally agreed that this was probably true and left." Michael looked momentarily nonplussed. "It was actually kind of weird Maxwell - she just suddenly changed her mind. Like she didn't really but just said she did."

I frowned, but didn't have time to reply. We were at the cave.

Michael ducked his spiky head, entered. I followed my best friend warily. Every time I came here I was reminded of the time Michael had almost died. It had been one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Sure we fought - a lot - but he was my brother. If there was any reason to trust River Dog, the cave always reminded me of what it was. He had saved Michael's life that day.

River Dog was seated in the centre of the healing circle as we entered the large chamber at the end of the tunnel. He had his eyes closed, but they popped open when I accidentally tripped over a rock, sending it scuttling against the stone wall. Michael turned and glared at me. "Sorry." I mouthed, feeling like I was two years old.

"Did you bring them?" River Dog asked without hesitation. Michael nodded, placed the orb in his hand on the ground in front of the old man, pulled the second blue communicator out of the pocket of his jacket and set it down.

"So, what are we doing today?" Michael asked eagerly. I never saw my friend as animated as he was when he was about to learn something to do with our heritage - well, except when he had been bickering with Maria. I smiled sadly to myself. Thinking of Maria made me think of Liz.

I shook my head, pushed the thought away, tried to focus on what River Dog was saying. "Today is the day you learn the truth about me boys." He told us, glancing affectionately at Michael, barely including me.

It was weird how he did that - his concern always concentrated on Michael, like he was the more important of the two of us. But wasn't I the leader?

Great Max, I thought to myself, arrogant much? It was good that Michael was the centre of attention to someone. Lord knew he had rarely experienced that in his life.

"What do you mean?" Michael asked suspiciously. River Dog just gazed at him, one eyebrow raised.

"I think you know Michael." I glanced at Michael, totally confused.

My best friend blinked, the said quietly, "You ARE one of us." My head snapped back around to stare at the native elder. He had a slight, knowing smile on his face. "Are you my father?" Michael asked, his eyes brightening in excitement.

"Yes, I am."

Part 22

I stared at River Dog in shock. Needless to say, Michael started shooting his mouth off immediately. "Why the hell did you lie to me?" He demanded. "I knew you were one of us! Why didn't you tell me?"

"You were not ready." River Dog replied calmly. He was still sitting motionless, cross-legged in the middle of the healing circle. His gaze rested solely on Michael.

"But I'm ready now?" Michael asked, his tone belligerent - he always behaved this way when he was hurt. I knew that he felt betrayed that River Dog had not trusted him in the same way he, Michael, had trusted the native elder - or should I make that alien, I amended wryly to myself. "What about my mother? What about the crash? Tell me about our home. Why did you desert me?" The words were still tumbling out of Michael's mouth. I didn't think I had ever heard him talk so much at one time.

River Dog did not answer any of his questions, just gazed at him with meaningful eyes.

I was suspicious. "Michael we need to talk about this alone." I told my best friend quietly. "We need to tell Isabel and Tess."

"It is not your place to tell anyone my lord." I blinked at the title the old man bestowed on me. Michael grimaced.

"I don't understand." I told him. "They're part of the Four Square. They need to know." River Dog ignored me again.

"Are you ready to learn about your true destiny my son?" He asked Michael. I saw Michael glance at me, confused. I shrugged - I was just as lost as he was.

And I realized suddenly that I was afraid. Once again, nothing had been what it seemed to be.

"Are you saying that what those things told us..."Michael pointed at the orbs on the ground, "Isn't true?" My heart leapt. Maybe Tess wasn't my destiny after all! Could I be with Liz without either of us feeling guilty?

River Dog eyed us both. "It was true. In a way. You heard the correct message, but misinterpreted its meaning." He told us.

Michael ran his hand through his hair in annoyance. "What?"

"The Four Square is incomplete." He told us. "The message was misinterpreted."

"Me, Max, Isabel, Tess." Michael counted off impatiently on his fingers. "Four!"

River Dog just smiled cryptically. Michael glanced at me again, rolled his eyes. "I feel like I'm in the bloody X-Files here," he muttered to me. "Why can't aliens ever speak straight?" I felt myself wanting to laugh. This whole situation was ludicrous.

"Fine." I said finally as River Dog continued to stare at Michael in silence. "We're leaving." I grabbed my friend by the arm. He didn't budge.

"Do not leave yet my lord." River Dog still wasn't looking at me. "You must learn Michael's true destiny." He indicated the orbs on the ground. "Use them again."

Michael and I stared at him. "But we're missing Tess and Isabel and what about the evil race?" I trailed off. Michael had stepped up to the nearest communicator, picked it up and then handed me the other one.

"Let's do it Maxwell." I had never seen my friend so determined.

"Michael, I want to talk to you first - alone." I said, equally as determined.

Michael shook his head. "It's now or never Max. You know that you want to know just as badly as I do. I know you." I swallowed, nodded.

What the orb told us might make things better. Maybe I could be with Liz and still save my people.

But then it could be worse.

Of course, no life could be worse then the lonely one I was currently living. "Okay."

Michael and I both held our communicators between our hands. I closed my eyes, concentrated, waited for it to heat up as it had when Tess and I had activated it a few weeks before.

Nothing happened. My eyes snapped open at River Dog's snort.

"It is you my lord. You are willfully stopping the communication." I stared at Michael's orb. It was glowing, while mine remained perfectly the same.

"I didn't do anything." I protested.

Michael opened his eyes. The orb in his hand gradually began to fade until it was exactly like mine again.

"Great Maxwell!" He glared at me, grabbed the orb out of my hand and stalked out of the cave.

River Dog truly looked at me for the first time since this whole conversation had begun. "You cannot stop his destiny my lord, so don't try. It will only be worse for you and those you love." His tone was even, but the underlying menace made me shudder.

He stalked past me, brushed my arm. Images began to assail my head...

Flash*

Liz lying motionless in a pool of blood.

Flash*

Isabel curled up in a ball in the middle of the White Room, Pierce standing menacingly over her.

Flash*

My parents pointing at me, staring in horror."Get that thing out of my house!" My dad yelled as my mom just cried, terror on her face.

Flash*

Maria and Alex and the Sheriff, and even Kyle and Tess...all dying in horrible ways.

Flash*

Michael and I in the desert, him glaring at me, saying "I was always the one."

I stumbled against the wall of the cave, threw my hands up to my head, trying to push the flashes away.

They stopped as abruptly as they had come.

I was alone.

Things sort of went back to a routine after that. I had tried to talk to Michael about what had happened, about the images that River Dog had sent me, but he generally ignored me, which I was not unused to.

But somehow, this time it was different. I knew he was still furious that the communicators had not worked and that he blamed me but the coldness that he started to develop...it was not Michael. The Michael I knew should have been flying off the handle, demanding that I figure out a way to make them work. It was weird.

Michael and I continued to train together despite the sudden distance between us. I was trying to develop the power to scan things into my mind that Nasedo had told Michael about when I had been rescued from Pierce. Tess had instructed us on the basics, but it was damn hard. I wasn't getting very far.

Michael was still working at fine-tuning his blast, as we had begun to refer to it. We didn't know what else to call it. And he was succeeding, where I was failing. He had improved to the point that he could actually aim, and he didn't kill or destroy things right away anymore.

I was disturbed that he had started to practice on live creatures. I came across him blasting a rattler one day, and it was over before I could stop him. It was only stunned though, which showed how much he had improved...but the lack of emotion that was involved. I didn't know what to think about what was happening to my friend.

He was changing.

Although I never saw them together, I knew that Michael and River Dog were going off together, that River Dog was training him, was telling him things that Michael was not passing on to me.

And everyday he spoke less to me and froze over a little more. It no longer seemed like he was mad at me, rather, that he just didn't care.

I wondered if I should call Isabel, ask her to come out and try and help me get through to Michael but then I didn't like the idea of getting her involved. The threatening image of her in the White Room that River Dog had sent me...No, it was best to keep Izzy and the rest of them as far away as possible.

Finally, one day I followed them. And I learned the truth about what River Dog really wanted with my friend.




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:48:17 PM
Part 23

It was hard to follow River Dog and Michael and stay out of sight.

They headed straight out into the desert. There were few trees and very few things to duck behind should they turn around.

But they never did. They just walked.

The noon sun was beating down on my head when suddenly Michael and River Dog disappeared.

I broke into a run, tried to remember where exactly I had last seen them.

And then I stumbled over a rock and almost fell head-first into the hole.

It was small, barely five feet across, but I could tell that it was where my friend and River Dog had disappeared. Michael had left his water bottle sitting on a small rock near the entrance to what I assumed was an underground tunnel of some sort.

I got down on my hands and knees and peered into the dark opening. I couldn't see a thing, even when I made my hand light up the way I had when I had been with Liz and River Dog had "tested" me.

I really had no choice - I eased myself into the hole, was not surprised when my feet hung in mid-air.

I took a deep breath and let myself drop.

I didn't realize that I had been holding my breath until it whooshed back into my body when I hit the ground. I climbed unsteadily to my feet, looked back up the way I had come. Sunlight streamed into the tunnel from about ten feet above me.

The ball of light I created in my hand lit up the tunnel enough for me to see Michael and River Dog's footprints in the dust on the stone floor. They led off to the right.

It was then that I realized that the floor on which I was standing was not natural. It was smooth rock, clearly polished at one time, although it was now dusty and the walls were covered with spider webs. Where the hell am I? I wondered, amazed.

I swept my ball of light near the walls, was not at all surprised to see symbols engraved everywhere. I recognized the whirlwind galaxy from Isabel's pendant and the four-square and there were a bunch more that I had never seen before, but I somehow KNEW them all. I didn't know what they meant, but they were familiar to me.

Finally I tore myself away from trying to read the symbols. I scanned them into my brain, knowing that they probably wouldn't all be there when I went back to access them, but I had improved a little bit. All that practice hadn't totally been in vain.

I followed the footprints. They wound through what seemed to be endless twists and turns. The tunnel was heading down. I wondered how far underground I was when, after ten minutes, I still hadn't found Michael.

After another ten minutes I wondered if I had gone the right way. Then the footprints stopped abruptly. I looked back the way I had come and then I saw it..

A glowing handprint.

I stared at it for a minute. Well, it was now or never.

I swiped my hand across it and the wall slid back immediately. I inched my way into the chamber, saw River Dog and Michael conversing on the far side of the room.

I ducked behind an outcropping of rock. I carefully poked my head up, tried to hear what they were talking about.

"...you sure I'm ready for the final stage?" Michael was asking, his voice excited and hopeful.

"Yes, my son. You have been ready for a long time. And when it is done you will be ready to take your true role in our society - as his right-hand. You will convince him of his destiny and he will go through the ritual himself. When you are both cleansed, then we will complete the Four Square."

What the hell are they talking about? I asked myself, getting more and more worried. I just knew that something was not right here.

I turned my head, scanning the room for an answer.

And then I saw them.

Five glowing pods.

I stared at them, tried to see if they were like the ones I had seen in the pod chamber. They were identical - but there were five. What the...

I turned back to stare at River Dog. He was helping Michael into a white body-suit. I sort of recognized it. It looked like the ones Michael, Isabel and I had been wearing in the memory Tess had shown me of us emerging from our pods when we were little.

"The first four stages cleansed you of your human skeletal structure, your blood supply, your human thought patterns and the majority of your organs." River Dog was explaining to Michael. My mouth fell open. "This last stage will be the most important - it will transform your human heart, return you to your true form - that of warrior and true member of our society. You will be ready to return to Illyria." Michael was nodding, clearly not disturbed at all by the fact that the other man had told him that he was losing his humanity.

And suddenly I knew exactly what the pods were for - they were to prepare us to return to our home planet.

It had never dawned on me that we would be unable to return as humans, but of course we couldn't. When Tess had told me that we were mostly human, just advanced humans, I had been glad. It had never occurred to me that that might not be the final form that the cloning of our essences was to take.

And Michael was only one stage away from NOT being human...from leaving us all
behind, from abandoning his true self, his Michaelness.

My brother would be gone.

Ridiculously, I wondered wildly what his name was on our home planet because what was I going to call him when he was no longer Michael?

Okay, Max get yourself together, I ordered myself. You're the leader here. It is your responsibility to stop this.

Because even though I often felt like every question we had answered only made me realize how ignorant I really was of my place in the world, the universe, I was sure of one thing.

This was wrong.

I stepped out from my hiding spot. Michael had just waved his hand across the front of one of the pods. It was opening, the sides pulling apart in a strangely organic manner.

"Michael! Stop!" He whipped his head around, stared at me.

River Dog grabbed him by the arm, shoved him into the pod.

"Michael!" I raced across the chamber, pushing River Dog aside, tried desperately to grasp Michael's arm but the pod closed around him, pushing my hand out.

As I watched in horror, the pod began to fill with a clear liquid. Michael's eyes closed and a blank expression came over his face. He floated in the liquid, apparently unconscious.

I turned, grabbed River Dog, pulling him to his feet. "I command you to get him out of there!" I barked. Being the supposed leader had to be good for something - I hoped.

The old man laughed, his tone mocking. "It is too late my lord. It is done." He pulled away from me and as I watched in astonishment he shape-shifted. He was no longer River Dog but instead...Michael. "And now I have you exactly where I want you."

Part 24

"Who are you?" I demanded, now positive that whoever this guy was, he was not Michael's father. And then I knew.

He was one of THEM. The enemy. They had found us. "It's me you want, isn't it?" I asked quietly. I was amazed that I sounded so calm. I had just seen my best friend literally become a pod person. Shouldn't I be a little more upset?

"Of course." The Michael clone looked over his shoulder at the real Michael, who was floating peacefully in his pod. There was disdain in his voice when he continued, "He has always been unimportant. He could not save you in your past life and now with his insipid human desire for a family he has doomed you in this one."

I felt red-hot rage. "Don't talk about him like that! You don't know him at all."

"Oh, I know him." The shapeshifter replied arrogantly. "Michael has always been weak and completely unable to see past his own desires. Why they sent him with you, I'll never know, but it made my mission easier." He sounded pleased.

"Who the hell are you?" I demanded again. I needed as much information as he could provide. It was becoming more and more clear that he liked to talk about himself and how brilliant he was. The more I kept him talking, the better. "And why are you Michael?"

The shapeshifter eyed me, a slight smirk on his Michael-face. " I am Michael because I choose to be - it is but a form. My true role is that of your destroyer Jaxon Falconer - and the facilitator of your rebirth." I blinked.

"Pardon me?"

"That is your true name you know - Jaxon Falconer, Blue Prince, King of Illyria." It had the ring of truth to it. But the name did not sound at all familiar.

I was Max Evans - and that's who I intended to remain.

"What do you want with me - us?" I indicated Michael, but I really meant ALL of us, Isabel and Tess included.

"I don't want them at all." The Michael clone sneered. "They are insignificant to what I want. They will remain on this puny planet and hopefully rot. They are only important so far as they help me control YOU."

He waved his hand in the air. An image began to form - it was Liz. "Now this one...her importance is only just becoming clear. At least to you." He smirked at me. "I believe that she has recently gone on a little trip." I stiffened. "Well, no matter. She will be back."

I felt the intense fear and panic that had engulfed me the last time Liz, Isabel and my friends had been threatened. Pierce had been bad enough, but at least he had been human. This guy was certainly not, and was also clearly insane.

I forced myself to remain calm. My tone of voice was ingratiating when I finally managed to say, "Tell me everything. Maybe I will choose to go with you in spite of them."

He snorted. "You cannot fool me my lord. They are the key to controlling you. Bringing you back to Illyria, completely powerless, then bringing you to our side. I will be as a god on our world. And I will be able to rule through you. Or my leader will." He amended.

I was getting seriously confused now...and worried. How could I possibly defeat this guy if he wouldn't tell me what he intended to do? "What is your name?" I asked, trying anything to keep him talking. I glanced quickly at Michael in the pod, wondered how long until his transformation was complete. Cd he be turned back?

"I am Tarsus of Dernia. I am the right-hand of the one who defeated you the first time Jaxon Falconer nd I am here to bring you back so that we can finish the job."

"Ummmm...call me Max." I replied. This Jaxon Falconer stuff was not what I wanted to hear about at the moment. It seemed wrong somehow. "What do you want me to do? You already know that I will do anything to save my friends." There was no point in lying to him, he knew it already. "Just get to the point."

"It is not so easy as that...Max." He accepted my request to call me by my familiar name. "With that one," He indicated Michael, "He had already given up on humanity. He was willing to do so eagerly in order to find his true self. He loved as a human, but he craved his other side more. He was an easy pawn to play."

He stared at me intently. "You, however, will not allow the transformation so easily. Your bonds to this world are too strong. You have accepted your humanity - in fact you revel in it - and it is all because of this girl." He waved his hand through the image of Liz, which was still floating in the air. It disappeared suddenly. "You must step back from them, make them hate you. Break their bonds to you and you will break YOUR bond to them."

"But I cannot choose to go with you?" I asked desperately. I would do anything to protect them - even leave them.

"No. The heart is a strong force. Michael was able to give up his heart for the chance at a family, not realizing that once he loses it he will no longer care about family anyway. We do not love in our race in the way the pitiful humans do. It is weak. You will never willingly give up your human heart, no matter how long you pickle in that pod. And as long as they love you in return, you can never be changed."

Tarsus of Dernia's expression was blank. I realized that the only emotion he had displayed up to this point had been arrogance. This had been very similarly the case with Nasedo, although I had seen glimmerings of a heart when he dealt with Tess.

If I gave up my humanity, I would lose all emotion. It was a scary thought. I turned to stare at Michael. Would he be that way when he came out? Had he really, willfully broken all his human ties? I just could not believe it somehow. I KNEW that he had loved Maria...and me and Isabel and maybe even Liz and Alex. How could he have thrown it all away so easily?

And I felt anger at my friend.

But I would not desert him. "Can you please not look like him?" I demanded, suddenly not wanting the bastard in front of me to lay claim to my best friend's face any longer.

Tarsus complied, shapeshifted back to River Dog's form. I suddenly had a thought.

"How did you find us?" I asked.

"The communicators of course." He replied. He had moved slightly away and was fiddling with something on the wall. I could see that it was an organic control panel of some sort.

"So then you were not the one who healed Michael here last winter?" It was a formality. I knew now that the real River Dog had probably been murdered by this maniac.

"Of course not." He snorted. "I would have let him die. That old man did not know what hit him." I felt a pang for that kind, wise man. Michael had cared about him, and though he had not seemed to like me much, he had always been there, someone who knew who we were and accepted us anyway.

Tarsus stopped whatever he was doing. As I watched sadly, Michael began to emerge from his pod. His expression was blank and he stared at me without recognition.

"Get dressed Michael." Tarsus told him abruptly. He watched Michael carefully as he complied, clearly trying to see if the transformation had been a success. I was staring at my best friend, my "pitiful" human heart breaking for him.

"Can he shapeshift now?" I asked.

"No." Tarsus replied. "It is unnecessary for him to have that ability. Your race has given it up anyway. The pods only program what is required." He turned back to me. "You have the power to turn him back Max Evans."

I knew what he wanted from me before he even said it. "You'll make him human again if I do what you want?"

"I am glad that you are as intelligent in this life Jaxon Falconer as you were in the last." Tarsus said smugly. "It makes life much easier." He gave me my instructions, knowing me too well. I would do anything to save my friend and he knew that I considered returning him to humanity to be saving him, although he could not understand it himself. "Return to your little human life and break your ties. Make them hate you and return to me. Then the ritual to cleanse you of your humanity will be possible and the return to Illyria will follow swiftly."

I swallowed, could not peel my eyes from Michael, who still looked exactly like Michael, but was NOT him. "Fine."

"And do not try any funny business my lord." Tarsus of Dernia warned me. "Michael is my pawn now. I can see through his eyes and I can ACT through his body. I will hurt them if I must. Not all of them - some must be there to reject you - but some of them are expendable."

I glared at him. "Fine." I said again.

I led the way out of the chamber, Michael following close behind. He still had not spoken a word.

I had been a lonely person in the past, always "behind the tree" as Ms. Topolsky had told me once, but at least I had had Isabel and my parents and Michael...and then I had Liz and Maria and Alex. But that was over.

For the first time I truly knew what it was to be alone.




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:48:52 PM
Part 25

Fraser Woods, near Roswell, New Mexico - January 2001

Liz had been unaware of the tears streaming down her face until Max stopped talking.

They had finally stopped walking while Max told his story because Liz, Isabel and Alex kept smashing into trees in the dark, they were concentrating so hard on what Max was telling them. Now Max was leaning against a tree, Liz seated between his legs, leaning back against his chest. He had practically been in a trance the entire time he had been talking, but she had known that he had been aware of her, stroking her arms every once in a while to warm her up when she shivered, or placing a kiss on her temple or her ear or the back of her head every once in a while. She was pleased that her presence seemed to be comforting him.

Alex and Isabel were sitting side-by-side on a log to their right. Isabel's face was icy - Liz could see the fury she felt at what her brother had been forced to deal with on his own over the past few months. Liz guessed that anger was Isabel's defense mechanism over her true feelings - supreme terror that she was going to either lose Max or Michael - or maybe both, depending on how things went when they tried to rescue Maria. Alex was doing his best to support her, but Isabel flinched away from his touch, clearly needing to deal with this on her own, at least for the moment.

Liz did not blame Isabel for trying not to feel anything. The situation looked impossible. To save Michael, they were going to have to sacrifice Max or vice versa. Liz felt panic begin to rise in her chest at the thought of losing Max. She had just accepted that they belonged together, destiny be damned. How could she let him go now?

Because Liz knew without a shadow of a doubt, if it came down to a choice between Max and Michael, Michael would win out. Max would accept nothing else. He would go with Tarsus of Dernia and they would lose him.

"I don't know what to say." Alex said suddenly, breaking the stunned silence that they had all been sitting in. "I mean, did you believe all this stuff that he told you about who you really are Max? I don't understand all that blather about the Four Square not being complete. I mean, how can Izzy and Tess NOT be important." Alex shook his head. "It doesn't make any sense. What about what that book said? What about what the transmission from your mother?"

Liz felt Max shrug behind her. "I don't know what to believe. He could be lying for all I know. But I do know that he is one of the enemy race our mother spoke of and I do know that something has happened to Michael. I think we have to believe him."

"Then there's no hope." Isabel said in such a calm manner, it made Liz's blood run cold.

"No Isabel! There's always hope." Liz said urgently. "I mean, Maria told me when I first got home that Michael freaked out when she dated Neal Freemont last fall. That has to mean something?" She looked at Alex appealingly, "Don't you think?"

Alex nodded slowly. "Yeah, I remember that. He was still going through the motions at the Crashdown then." He looked at Max. "I wonder - do you think that Michael is still in there somewhere?"

Max sighed. "I don't think so." He glanced at Isabel worriedly. She looked so brittle, Liz thought that any wrong word might make her crack. "But maybe. I guess it's worth a try."

"So then what's the plan?" Alex asked, standing up, clearly eager to get the show on the road.

"First and most importantly, we need to get Maria out of there. That's your job guys. I'm going to distract Michael - hopefully he won't know you're there. I know that he knows that I screwed up somehow but he doesn't know that I told you guys everything. I'll try and convince him that Liz just won't leave me alone and that I cracked a bit." Max kissed the top of Liz's head, then gently pushed her to her feet.

"And then what?" Isabel demanded. "We're not going to just leave Michael?"

Max scowled. "Of course not!" Liz took his hand, tried to calm him down. "You'll leave and I'll give myself up to Tarsus." Liz closed her eyes, taking deep breaths. She had known he was going to say that but hearing the words was like a stab to the heart.

"NO Max!" Isabel suddenly exploded. "I can't lose you! I can't!" She was shrieking, quickly becoming hysterical. Liz knew exactly how she felt - wanted to scream too, but she couldn't. Max didn't need her flipping out on him on top of everything else he had to deal with.

Besides there was no way he was giving himself up to anyone.

She would not allow it.

Max looked helplessly at Alex, who was trying to calm Isabel down. The whole outburst was so unlike Izzy, neither quite knew what to do. Max moved forward, tried to pull her into his arms to comfort her.

Isabel turned away from him, was suddenly quiet, which was almost more terrifying. "I want to talk to Liz alone." She said in a voice that brooked no opposition.

Max and Alex stared at her, turned to Liz hopefully. She nodded. "You guys go wait for us at the highway." Liz could hear the cars whizzing by on the Interstate. They were obviously close to the road.

"I don't like leaving you alone." Max said stubbornly. Liz smiled encouragingly at him.

"It's okay Max. We'll just be a minute." Max finally nodded, pulled Liz into his arms for a quick kiss and followed Alex off into the woods.

Liz turned to Isabel. "Are you all right?"

Isabel's face was a mask of ice again. "I refuse to allow this Liz." She said. "We have to stop him and we have to get Michael back too." Her beautiful face set into stubborn lines. "I am not going to lose EITHER of my brothers."

"I understand Isabel. I have no intention of letting Max sacrifice himself either." Liz replied. Isabel eyed her, nodded resolutely.

"Then we're in agreement. Max is in charge, but only if it looks like he's going to be reasonable. I won't let him play the martyr again Liz. He has to learn that we're all in this together or we all lose." Isabel tugged on her hair in frustration. "I don't understand any of this! Why did this thing come after only Max and Michael? Something's wrong here Liz! Was my mother wrong in that message? I mean, its not like we were going to follow that stupid destiny stuff anyway, but can't we trust anything to be the truth?" Isabel's eyes filled with tears.

Liz felt her heart go out to the other girl. Isabel had never wanted anything other than to stay who she was. She loved her parents, her brother, Alex, her friends - her LIFE. She didn't want to be having to make these decisions that seemed to affect whole worlds.

It wasn't fair - fair for any of them.

Liz moved forward, put her arm comfortingly around the taller girl. "I promise that I will do everything in my power to help you in this Isabel. We're in this together - whatever happens - until the end." Liz continued with determination. "And we're going to find out the truth, no matter what it is."

Isabel's spine straightened. "It's a deal."

The two girls smiled at each other, in perfect accord.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:50:07 PM
Part 26

Kyle watched Tess pace the length of the campsite, her form tense.

It was 2:30 a.m. Max, Liz, Isabel and Alex had left on the rescue mission a good five hours ago and there was still no sign of them. Izzy had checked in once, entering Tess's mind to tell them that they were almost there.

Tess had been upset ever since. Her distress had been so great at once point, Kyle had noticed that her illusion had flickered slightly. The Liz figure that had been seated beside him at the fire had disappeared momentarily, but had flared back into existence quickly.

Kyle had been astounded at the detail that Tess had been capable of creating. He could still hear the Alex illusion snoring in the tent beside his dad. To try and lighten her burden slightly, Kyle had suggested that Tess make Isabel, Liz and Maria share the Parker tent. He had watched in amazement as the Liz illusion had gone up to Mr. Parker, had asked if he minded tenting with Mr. Evans that night so that the girls could have a late night gossip session.

"Sure Lizzie." Mr. Parker had said in his usual accommodating way.

"What about Max?" Mr. Evans had asked pointedly, glancing at the Max figure that was leaning against a tree near the fire.

The Max figure had glanced at his dad. "I'll sleep out by the fire tonight with Michael Dad. Care to join us Valenti?" The illusionary Max had sounded so much like Evans, it had made Kyle shiver. He had glanced at Tess questioningly. Her face was blank, her blue eyes wide with concentration.

"Ummm...sure, I guess." Mr. Evans had looked disappointed but the two dads had retired fairly soon after that. Tess had had the Alex doppelganger join his dad in their tent, but had managed to whisper to Kyle that she was going to bring him out soon to rejoin them at the fire so that she could rest for a while.

Sheriff Valenti had finally gone to bed, his expression still highly suspicious, even after the other "six kids" had returned from the forest. He had glanced at Kyle once, his eyes narrowed. Kyle had grinned innocently at his dad, knowing that Valenti was likely seeing right through him.

Tess had heaved a sigh of relief when she had finally let the illusion go. She had been ignoring Kyle ever since. He was worried about her.

Kyle wondered briefly when he had started caring about Tess Harding so much.

When he had dated her that one time last spring, his main motive had been to annoy Max and, he admitted to himself feeling a little ashamed, to hurt Liz. He had seen how uncomfortable Max was around the new girl and Kyle had, for one heart-stopping moment, wondered if Evans was actually interested in Tess. His immediate reaction had been pure, unadulterated joy. Maybe he could get Liz back if Max dumped her!

The way Kyle had felt about Liz - he had loved her in his own way. She was so smart, so pretty, so totally out of his league. Yeah, he was the captain of the football and basketball teams, but his rocky relationship with his dad had seriously undermined his self-confidence. That Liz Parker had wanted to date him - it had been like a miracle.

And then Max Evans had happened. It had come totally out of left-field. Max had always been so quiet, so unassuming, but suddenly Liz was obsessed with someone she had never even really talked about before. When she had broken up with him, Kyle had been devastated...and furious.

Sure, he and Liz had made up a bit during that whole fiasco when he had sprained his ankle. But he had still been angry, even if he hadn't admitted it to himself. The arrival of Tess had been like a dream come true. The chance to annoy Evans, it had been irresistable...even though Kyle had sort of liked Max by then, especially after the night they had hung out together and Kyle had gotten Max drunk. He had been amazed at the intensity of the feeling he had witnessed between Max and Liz that night. And he had been jealous - because he still wanted Liz for himself, but also because he didn't think he would ever find someone who felt the way about HIM that Liz clearly felt about Max. He should have known that Max wasn't interested in Tess.

As he had soon learned, nothing that concerned Max Evans was ever as it seemed.

After Max had saved his life, Kyle had retreated into himself for a while. He was amazed that he wasn't scared by the fact that Max was an alien. Actually, he was relieved - glad to discover that his dad wasn't a loony-tune after all. He had regretted that he had never had a chance to thank Max for what he had done though and for having saved Liz the previous fall, even though that had resulted in Kyle losing her.

But Max and Michael and Tess had disappeared for the summer, as had Liz. Kyle had been too late. He had seen Isabel around town with Alex for a while, but then they both seemed to fall off the face of the planet too. Only Maria had kept him semi-updated about the others, when he had visited her at the Crashdown.

One day, he had been surprised to see Tess sitting at the counter in the Parker's restaurant when he had gone in for an Alien Blast.

"Harding." He had said shortly, deciding to walk right past her. He was still pissed at her for having used him the way she had. It annoyed him even more that Liz had been right.

Tess had turned her blonde head, had blinked at him. "Hi Kyle." She had said quietly. Kyle had paused momentarily, seeing the expression on her face. She looked sort of dazed, like she had just woken up from some sort of weird dream. He hadn't said anything else, but from that moment on he had watched Tess Harding.

He had watched her at school, hanging out with a lonely looking Isabel in the quad, glaring at Max once he had started going out with Pam, bickering with Maria in English, yelling at Michael in the cafeteria.

He had been enthralled. Tess Harding was no longer an enigma. She was a real person who intrigued him beyond all others - even Liz. He knew that she was "not of this world" but it amazed him how human she really was. A snippy one on a regular basis, yes, but Kyle liked that. Attitude attracted him.

And one day he had realized that he was in love with her. He didn't really know her and she certainly did not know he was alive, obsessed as she was with Max Evans, who did not give her the time of day, but he KNEW that there was no longer the possibility that he could be interested in anyone else.

"Are you okay Tess?" He finally asked now, realized suddenly how absolutely stupid it sounded. Of course she wasn't all right! She had just spent the last few hours using all her energy to create the biggest illusion of her alien career and she was also clearly concerned about the others.

Tess stopped pacing, stared at him. "Isabel told me what's going on." She said suddenly, her eyes wide and frightened.

"What!" Kyle jumped to his feet. "You didn't tell me this before now?"

Tess grinned sardonically at him. "I was sort of busy Kyle."

"Right, sorry." He gazed at her questioningly.

"Is it really bad then?"

Tess nodded helplessly. "Michael isn't human anymore Kyle." Kyle felt his eyes widen, but he didn't say anything, waiting for her to continue. "It's kind of a long story, but there's one thing..." she trailed off. Kyle frowned with concern when he saw tears well up in her blue eyes. He moved towards her, cautiously put his arm around her, led her over to a log, made her sit down.

He kept his arm where it was. His heart was thundering in his chest. It was the first time she had willingly come into his embrace. Sure she had thrown herself into his arms way earlier that day when she had come careening out of the forest with Max - when Max had thought Liz was dying - but that had been to hide her face from Evans while she worked her mindwarp of Liz and the blood. Now is NOT the time Valenti! He told himself sternly. "Can you tell me?"

"River Dog is evil." Tess began, clearly struggling to get the words out. It was like if she said them aloud, they would suddenly be real. "He's from our planet and he told Max that Isabel and Michael and I aren't important. He only wants Max. He....he called me insignificant Kyle!" Her frame was tense. She was clearly on the verge of breaking down. "I mean, all my life, my WHOLE life, has revolved around the fact that I am Max's bride."

Kyle felt himself flinch. Tess looked at him momentarily, confusion on her face. He smiled weakly but encouragingly at her. "Anyway, I've like clung to that over the last year. I was sure that Max would eventually accept it - Liz had. I was going to get the only thing I had ever wanted but then he started acting so weird...and now...what if he's right Kyle?"

Kyle swallowed painfully. He couldn't believe that he was about to give Tess Harding love advice about Max Evans. Especially because he KNEW that Max loved Liz and that HE, Kyle loved Tess. "You said yourself that River Dog is evil Tess. He...he could be lying." He managed to stutter.

Tess tilted her blonde head, eyed him assessingly. "I don't know. Isabel said that Max believed him. Not that it would be bad news to Max." She muttered bitterly to herself.

"Well, I don't think that you should get too upset until the others figure out what's really going on." Kyle said decisively, although he could hear the sadness in his voice. He hoped Tess didn't.

"I guess you're right." She brightened a bit. "I mean, why would Nasedo lie to me all these years?" Kyle grinned weakly, moved his arm away from her.

Max Evans wins again, he reflected bitterly, as he watched Tess go stand near the spot where the others had disappeared hours back.

Part 27

Maria was no longer afraid.

After Isabel had left her, Michael had grabbed her, hauling her up against his front, his expression as blank as it had been for the past few months. She had known that her life was about to end. She had served her purpose. Isabel and the others would find them now. He didn't need her anymore. He had them in his clutches.

And then their eyes had met.

Michael had stared at her for what had seemed like an eternity to Maria. His eyes seemed to be devouring her face. She had seen a flash of recognition cross his face.

He had dropped her gently to the ground and untied her. "Leave." He had said abruptly, his tone brooking no opposition.

Maria had stared at him in astonishment, glanced at the gun still in his hand. "What?"

"You heard me. I said leave." He had turned away from her, his face blank again, heading towards the far side of the pool that graced the middle of the cave. Steam was rising, shielding his disappearing form from her sight.

Maria had blinked, unclear as to what this meant.

"Michael?" She had whispered to herself.

She followed him.

Maria was now seated on a natural shelf in the cave wall, her legs crossed up under her, watching Michael intently. It was hot in the cave, a result of the steam, so she had removed her jacket and her fuzzy boots. She knew that her friends were on their way, but she also knew that she was no longer in danger.

She was positive that she had seen HER Michael in the moment before he had turned away from her.

She would not leave him.

She knew that he had seen her join him, but he had not looked at her again. In fact, it was as if she HAD left. He ignored her completely.

Michael was fiddling with something about ten feet to her right. It looked like one of the blue communicator orbs that Max and Liz had found during their passionate make-out sessions the spring before.

"What are you doing?" She asked him suddenly, her voice loud in the silence of the cave.

Michael raised his head, stared at her momentarily, went back to what he was doing.

"Hmmmm...no "it's none of your business?" Maria continued talking. She wanted a reaction out of him. Anything would be better then the expressionless mask he was wearing. She wanted him to get frustrated, to run his hands through his hair in annoyance, to yell at her. "I mean, c'mon Michael! I know it has something to do with your home planet. You used to love talking about that stuff. Why don't you just tell me? We can kill some time until the others get here."

The Michael zombie tilted his head slightly, did not take his eyes off the orb. "Why do you talk to me when I clearly do not want to answer you?" He asked in a peculiar monotone, as though he truly did not understand - like her needling was completely foreign to him.

"Because humans like to talk Michael." Maria replied. "You used to shoot off your mouth about everything."

Michael looked mildly interested. "You mean I spoke when I had nothing to say?"

Maria snorted. "All the time. You NEVER knew what you were talking about." She smiled sadly. "That was one of the things I liked about you. You were so passionate about everything."

"I do not understand this." Michael said dismissively. "The human ability to communicate orally is substandard, but it is clearly overused. Why speak when you have nothing of importance to say?"

"I don't know." Maria shrugged. "We just like to hear ourselves I guess."

"Well, I no longer speak when it is unnecessary." Michael replied. "If you will cease this useless chatter, I will be able to concentrate on what I am doing."

"What ARE you doing?" Maria asked again, desperately. Even when Michael spoke in that dead monotone, it was better then the silence she had been forced to endure for the last few hours.

Michael did not reply. He had stopped moving, was clearly listening to something. "He is here. The time of rebirth is almost upon us."

Maria shook her head in confusion. "What are you talking about?"

And then she heard footsteps, someone fumbling in the dark.

"Michael!" It was Max. "Where are you?"

Michael did not reply. He turned back to the orb, placing it gently on the ground. He picked up a stick, started to carve symbols into the dirt around it. Maria recognized the same picture from Isabel's pendant and some others from the cave on the Reservation.

"Max! We're over here!" Maria called out.

Max appeared through the steam, as if by magic. He did not look pleased. Maria realized that she had no idea whether Liz's plan had worked or not. Was this Mr. Meanie still or had the real Max Evans, Prince Charming, decided to rejoin them?

Her question was not immediately answered, but his tone of voice was all Mr. Meanie. "What the hell do you think you're doing Michael?" Max demanded, glaring at his friend. So far he had ignored Maria completely. Maria wondered where the others were. Somehow she could not believe that Liz, Alex and Isabel were sitting back at the campsite twiddling their thumbs waiting for Max to rescue her.

She carefully began to pull on her boots and her jacket. Max glanced in her direction briefly but quickly turned back to Michael. "Answer me!" He snapped, making Maria flinch. When Max decided to play galactic leader, he really went for it, she thought wryly.

Michael looked up from where he was crouched on the ground. "I'm glad that you decided to join me Jax....er Max...it is time."

Maria was confused. She had climbed down from her perch and had been gradually inching her way away from the two Czechs, hoping to run across Liz or one of the others. She had no idea what was up with Max at the moment and she actually didn't know if he was there to rescue her or not.

She paused at Michael's last words though. Time for what? She wondered to herself. She glanced at Max, bit her lip.

Max had blanched. Maria saw him swallow convulsively. "I'm not ready yet." He told Michael in a choked voice.

"Too bad." Michael paused, tilted his head in that weird way that terrified Maria. It was like whoever he was addressing was completely beneath him, but strangely interesting at the same time. "You have weakened the bonds enough. The cleansing can take place."

Max nodded stiffly, turned to stare meaningfully at Maria. "Get out of here Maria." He said in a hard tone. His eyes did not match his voice though. They were pleading with her, trying to tell her something. And she knew then.

It was the real Max.

Where the heck are the others? Maria wondered desperately. She couldn't abandon Max. Something terrible was about to occur here.

ISABEL! She called out with her mind. WHERE ARE YOU GUYS?

There was no answer. Only silence.




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:51:00 PM
Part 28

Liz could not believe what Max had done to them.

Isabel and Liz had joined Alex and Max at the highway after their short conversation. Neither of the guys had said anything, just looked at them inquiringly. When Liz and Isabel refused to tell them what they had been talking about, Alex shrugged and extended his hand to Izzy.

Max had continued to eye Liz worriedly. "Liz..."

"I'm not telling you Max so just forget it." She had told him firmly. He had frowned slightly but had finally nodded his acceptance.

"Fine. Just promise me that you are both going to do everything I tell you to when we get to the Hot Springs. You guys really don't understand what we're dealing with here."

Liz had smiled at him reassuringly. "I promise Max." She had lied with a perfectly sincere expression on her face, while carefully crossing her fingers behind her back. There was no way that she would not interfere if it meant the difference between saving Max and losing him.

Max had looked unconvinced, but had gently pulled her into his arms, kissing the top of her head. "Okay then. We're almost there. I just want you to know something before we get there Liz."

Liz pulled back, reached her hand up to trace his beloved features. "I already know Max. I love you too."

His gaze had been scorching as he had lowered his head, capturing her lips in a fierce kiss that Liz had never wanted to end.

She knew now that he had been saying goodbye.

Max had led them across the road, through some underbrush and they had emerged on a dirt road. A sign nearby read "Santa Anna Hot Springs - 1 mile."

The smell had been strong - exactly like the cheese Maria had described. Liz had felt her heart starting to beat faster. They were going to face Michael soon - or whoever it was that Michael had become.

Liz had clutched Max's hand tightly, taking comfort in his presence. Isabel and Alex had been close on their heels. Max had paused briefly, pointed ahead to an opening in the slope they had encountered suddenly. "There it is." He had whispered, glancing back at the three of them.

Isabel had a slight frown on her face. "It looks different then I remember." She said quietly.

"You were only ten Izzy." Max had replied impatiently. "I remember it." His tone had been the one only know-it-all older brothers employ. Liz had been forced to suppress a giggle at the irritated expression on Isabel's face, but she had finally nodded.

"Okay." Max instructed, briefly pulling Liz against his side. "You guys know what you're supposed to do. In to get Maria and then OUT. I mean it. I'm going to talk to Michael, try to reason with him."

"And if Michael doesn't suddenly re-transform into human mode?" Alex had asked sarcastically, clearly not at all happy with the plan.

"Then I'll come back and find you guys and we'll figure something else out." Max replied quietly.

Liz had kissed Max quickly and had followed Alex and Isabel to the entrance of the cave. She expected Max to be right behind her.

Liz turned when she realized that he wasn't. He was still standing exactly where they had left him, gazing after them, a strangely sad expression on his face. Liz frowned slightly, ducked through the low overhang into the cave. "Max isn't coming, "she had whispered ahead to Alex and Izzy.

"Oh my God!" Isabel was in the lead. She whirled suddenly. "Go back! Liz, go back!"

But it was too late. A giant rock had suddenly appeared where the entrance to the cave had been. "Max!" Liz yelled, suddenly realizing what he had done.

"Liz, please! I need you to be safe." He was still on the other side of the rock. "I'm sorry. You guys can't come with me. I have to do this alone. You'll be able to get out in a while."

"Max! You let us out of here right now!" Isabel shrieked, fury radiating off her in waves.

Liz motioned for her to be quiet. "Max, what have you done?"

"Remember I love you Liz - and you too Izzy. Take care of them Alex. Please."

"Max!" Liz screamed, suddenly panicked, pounding her fists against the rock. Isabel joined her. They pushed against it with all their strength, but even with Alex helping, it didn't budge.

"How the hell did he do this?" Alex demanded, stepping back and staring at the rock in amazement. "It weighs a bloody ton!"

Isabel kicked at the rock, her expression furious beyond belief. "I don't think it's real. It's an illusion. I think Max has developed Tess's power."

Liz stared at the stone wall in front of her, still not quite believing that Max had locked them in. It had to be a mistake. "I don't get it." She looked at Isabel in bewilderment. "It feels real." And suddenly she remembered the blood that Tess had created on her to fool Max into giving up his anti-Max act. Max had actually FELT the blood, not only seen it. It seemed like days ago, but really had only been earlier that day.

Apparently Tess was not the only one who had been practicing.

Alex was running his hands up the pile of illusionary rocks, trying to find an opening, anything that could help them to get through. He was muttering to himself. "I just can't believe that guy. Who the hell does he think he is? Superman? Why can't he ever just accept a little help?"

Isabel was finally calming down. She had continued to pound and kick at the stone wall, her frustration and anger almost scary.

"There has to be something we can do!" Liz said finally. She could feel her desperation mounting. MAX! She had to get to him - had to stop him. Isabel was staring at the illusion, her expression intent. "Can you reverse it Iz?" Liz asked hopefully.

"I don't know." Isabel replied. "I didn't even know that we shared some powers. I mean I can't heal a fly!"

"Wait!" Liz said suddenly, remembering something Maria had once told her. "Didn't Michael heal River Dog last year? You know, when we were on the camping trip and you guys found the signal from Nasedo?"

Isabel looked perplexed. "He did?"

Liz could feel herself getting excited. "Yeah! Michael told Maria about it later, when they were back together. She asked him one day about his powers and he mentioned that he didn't really know what he could do - and that he couldn't control them like you and Max could."

"No kidding." Alex muttered, clearly remembering some of Michael's bigger past fiascoes.

Liz frowned at him, shutting him up. "Anyway, Michael told Maria that he did think that he had a little of Max's healing power because he had been able to heal River Dog's ankle when he had broken it on the way to the signal."

"So what are you saying Liz?" Isabel asked. "That we all have specific powers that we're most talented at, but that we all have a little bit of each other's ability?"

"It makes sense, doesn't it?" Alex inserted. "I mean, didn't Tess tell Max that your powers are mind-based? You should all be able to develop the same powers if these are all abilities that lie genetically dormant in humans."

Isabel was nodding slowly, clearly thinking quickly. "Just let me try something." She closed her eyes, started taking deep breaths.

Alex and Liz watched her hopefully. The seconds seemed to fly by. Liz glanced at her watch. Max had been gone for at least ten minutes. They had to get out of there - now.

Finally, Isabel screeched in frustration. "Dammit! Nothing!" Her eyes snapped open. "I can't figure it out!"

Liz stepped forward, took her friend's hand. "Try again. I know you can do it Izzy. Remember the pact we made. We have to save him from himself."

Isabel stared at Liz, finally nodded. "I think I'm too upset. I can't concentrate. Alex, I need you to help me."

"How?" Alex asked, confused. Isabel smiled lovingly at him.

"You know how." Alex blinked, suddenly grinned wryly.

"Ummm...I don't really think this is the time Isabel."

Isabel rolled her eyes. "Get over here Whitman."

Liz watched Alex make his way to Isabel's side. He pulled her into his embrace, started stroking her hair. Liz suddenly felt like she was intruding, but she couldn't tear her eyes away.

Isabel closed her eyes, rested her head against Alex's shoulder. She began taking deep breaths again. A slight frown marred her face as she concentrated.

Liz felt tears begin to fill her eyes. She had never realized that the bond between Alex and Isabel ran so deep. The trust the other girl placed in Liz's best friend - it was beautiful.

Max! The thought that Liz was going to lose the one person with whom she shared such a bond....she clenched her hands to her mouth, trying to control the sob that threatened to erupt. She couldn't distract Isabel.

Liz turned to stare at the stone wall hopefully. Please Izzy, please, she chanted in her head.

And suddenly a cool breeze drifted through Liz's hair.

The wall was gone.

"You did it!" Liz threw herself at Isabel and Alex, throwing her arms around both of them. "It's gone!"

Isabel's eyes snapped open. She looked amazed. Alex kissed her quickly. "Good work Iz."

"Let's go you guys!" Liz was out the entrance in a split second.

She halted abruptly when she realized that she had absolutely no idea where she was going. She turned around in desperation. "Isabel!"

"I knew I remembered what it looked like." Isabel was muttering as she took off down the dirt road. "I should have known he was lying to me."

Alex and Liz raced after her. Liz's desperation helped her to run faster then she had ever run before.

And then she heard it...A voice screaming her name. "LIZ!"

It was Maria. "Liz! Where are you? Alex! Isabel!"

"Maria!" Liz yelled back. "Where are you? We're coming."

Maria appeared suddenly in the distance. She was having difficulty running in her ridiculous furry boots. Liz felt a hysterical giggle working its way up from her chest.

Liz threw her arms around her friend when they finally reached her. "Maria! Are you all right?" She managed to inquire though she was breathing hard. Isabel was leaning against Alex, trying to catch her breath.

"There's no time! Hurry you guys! I don't know what those two intergalactic imbeciles are doing but it doesn't look good to me. We have to stop them!" Maria turned on her heel, ran back down the road, Liz, Isabel and Alex right behind her.

Part 29

Max watched Michael warily as Maria gradually inched her way out of the cave.

His ultimate goal was to save Michael, but he couldn't do what had to be done until Maria was gone. He knew that if their Michael had to make a choice, Maria's safety would come first and Max would respect that.

He would let her leave and then it would end - once and for all.

As Maria began to disappear into the steam, Max forced himself to take a deep breath. It was time. "I'm ready." He told Michael, wishing that his voice hadn't cracked. It was really annoying that they were going to know how terrified he was.

The thought that they were going to try and take his humanity - it was the scariest thought he could imagine. The idea of not being able to feel love - not remembering how much Liz, Isabel, his parents, Michael, the others, meant to him - he refused to allow it.

The thought of death was comforting in the face of that.

And that was the choice he had made. He would save Michael, and then he would die.

It was the only way to protect them all.

Michael was still fiddling with one of the orbs, a frown of concentration on his face. "We just have to wait for the master."

Max suddenly felt panic. They needed to do it now! He didn't know how long it would be until Liz, Izzy and Alex found a way through his illusion, but knowing that determined trio, he didn't think it would be long. He tried not to show his concern. "Okay. Will it be long?" He asked calmly.

His question was answered almost immediately. Max blinked in astonishment when Tarsus of Dernia suddenly seemed to melt out of the wall. The shapeshifter immediately assumed River Dog's form. He stalked across the cave, grabbed the orb out of Michael's hand. "You still haven't made it work?" He demanded angrily.

Michael shook his head, no emotion on his face. "I apologize master."

"Bah! You're as useless in this life as you were in your last." Tarsus sneered, turning to Max. "So, my lord, are you ready for your rebirth?" Max was surprised to hear a note of seeming excitement in the shapeshifter's tone. It was the first evidence of real feeling the jerk had displayed in all the time Max had known him.

And to Max it felt like he had known Tarsus forever.

"Ready." Max replied evenly, deciding that the fewer words he spoke, the less chance he would have of screwing up - betraying his plan. "But I don't understand how we can do it here. The pods are back at the Reservation." Besides, Max thought wryly to himself, I haven't exactly been successful at cutting all my emotional ties. The process wasn't going to work anyway.

Tarsus smirked, shook his head. "Your human mind thinks so concretely." He snapped his fingers and suddenly the steam caused by the hot spring began to fade away. Max's eyes widened and he swallowed as he watched the pool of water begin to bubble. Something was happening to it.

A perfectly formed golden pod began to emerge from the pool. Max rubbed his eyes in frustration. The extent of the other alien's powers - it was intimidating - but it did not bend Max's resolve.

Max glanced at Michael. His friend was staring straight ahead, clearly uninterested in the proceedings. Max stepped forward. He turned to Tarsus. "What do I do? Didn't it take Michael a bunch of "cleansings" to change him?"

Tarsus snorted. "His human make-up was more stubborn then was anticipated. Your family chose a complex system into which to clone your essences. Why humanity? They really could not have chosen a more annoying species had they tried. It took me a few stages to work out the kinks." He smirked again. "Michael was really only a test subject anyway. It was ironic that he was so eager to undergo the cleansing, yet in reality he was only clearing the way for one which would be easier - yet so much more important."

Max just shook his head. "Whatever. Let's get on with this."

Tarsus scowled, clearly annoyed that his gloat-fest was at an end. Max felt like rolling his eyes. If this guy wasn't so damn powerful, he would almost be a caricature. "Very well." If Max didn't know better, he would say Tarsus was pouting.

Max moved toward the pod, sighed as he waved his hand over it. This was not going to be pleasant. But he was no longer scared. The only thing that frightened him now was the idea that any of his friends end up hurt.

He removed his coat, decided that since this wasn't going to work anyway, there was no point in undressing fully. Besides, without the steam, it was becoming uncomfortably cold in the cave.

Max took a deep breath and climbed into the pod. He felt momentary panic as it closed behind him. And then it began to fill with the clear, transforming liquid.

He could still see Tarsus and Michael watching him through the transparent side of the pod. He flinched as the slimy liquid began to inch its way up his body. He hoped he would be able to breathe.

And then Max saw something behind his two tormentors that made his heart stop.

It was Liz - and she was staring right at him, horror and pain written all over her beautiful face.

Part 30

"Max!" Liz screamed before she realized what she was doing. The sight of him in that pod - it was too much. It was all too much.

Michael and River Dog whirled to stare at her. Liz didn't even see them. She could not take her eyes off of Max. He had noticed her now and was trying desperately to get out of the pod. Whatever it was he was doing in there, it didn't seem to be working. Max was fumbling with something, but as Liz watched, clear liquid continued to poor into the egg-shaped receptacle. It was up to his chin now.

Liz's gaze snapped away from Max as Michael suddenly grabbed her wrist, pulled her across the room. She struggled to get away from him. Michael threw her down on the floor of the cave, directly in front of River Dog.

Liz looked up at the old man, wished that the creature that she knew inhabited his shape would choose another. River Dog had been so good to all of them. She grieved for the fact that he had been killed by this monster. The false River Dog's head was tilted as he eyed her speculatively. "So, this is the lovely Liz Parker?" He finally said. Michael nodded.

Liz turned on him. "Michael! Snap out of it! I know you're in there! Maria said she saw you! Help us, please!" She was still on the ground, but she started to crawl towards the pod where Max was still struggling although it was almost full. She felt tears begin to fill her eyes as Max's eyes closed and he seemed to fall into a state of unconsciousness.

Michael just continued to stare at her, no sign of Michaelness flickering on his face. Liz brought her hands to her face, wished that they would kill her quickly. Life without Max, HER Max, was pointless anyway.

River Dog reached down and helped her gently to her feet. "Don't cry." Liz looked up at him in astonishment.

"Why not?"

"He will be his true self. Although I do not understand these emotions that you humans feel, I do know that, more often then not, they are painful. Do you not want him to never have to experience pain like that again?" The shapeshifter asked.

She gave him a disdainful look. "I pity that you don't understand - pain and hurt can only happen when one has experienced true happiness and love. I would never trade one second of the love Max Evans gave me to spare myself pain. I would suffer loneliness and heartbreak every day of my life, just to remember the way he made me feel about myself." Liz turned her back on him, walked towards the pod.

She paused briefly about a foot away, swallowed. Max did not appear to be hurt in any way. He just looked like he was sleeping. Liz reached out her hand, traced the contours of his face through the transparent organic material. She remembered the way her heart had pounded as she had done the exact same thing to his actual face less than an hour ago.

"What happens now?" Liz turned and addressed River Dog.

"We take him home." The old man replied, watching her with interest. "He will lead my people to triumph over his own people. It is written in the stars and so it shall be done."

"How?" Liz inquired. The shapeshifter lifted an eyebrow.

"Why do you want to know?"

"My friends need to know what their real role is on this planet. I won't let Max sacrifice himself in vain. Tell me who they really are. Max said that you told him that they were insignificant." Liz prompted.

River Dog laughed. It was disturbing, like it was the first time the shapeshifter had ever made that sound and it definitely was not mirthful. "You amuse me Liz Parker. Very well, I will tell you."

He eyed Michael. "Go find the others." He told his lackey.

Liz's eyes widened. Her mind was screaming for Isabel. Run Izzy! Run!

River Dog leaned up against a natural stone ledge, folded his arms across his chest. "My people have been at war with Jaxon Falconer...er excuse me..." He smirked knowingly. "MAX Evans's people for generations. The message that Max's mother sent to him was truthful, yet incomplete. Michael WAS his second-in-command, but he failed him. The blonde, curly-haired one WAS his bride, but not his wife." Liz wrinkled her brow in confusion. River Dog ignored her. "The tall blonde one IS Max's sister, but she betrayed him. Michael and Isabel, I will use those names as they are the ones known to you, were chief negotiators for your Max. They tried to broker a peace through their marriage, trusted that my leader respected their leader. He did not." River Dog raised his chin proudly. "My leader knew that to save the planet we needed to win unconditionally. So we were willing to lie to gain that end."

Liz curled her lip in disdain. "You work for a being without honor?"

River Dog snorted in derision. "Honor is a human concept. We believe in progress above all things on Illyria. Jaxon Falconer was driving the planet into catastrophe."

Liz sighed. "None of this makes any sense to me." She finally said. She was surprised to realize that her fright of this creature was gone. He was like some totally delusional maniac. "How does Max joining your side help you?"

River Dog scowled. "Despite all my leader's entreaties, the people could not see Jaxon Falconer for what he was - ineffectual and ridiculous. They still await his return." River Dog turned to stare at Max. "To have him return as one of us - they will finally see the light."

"Are you saying that Max isn't supposed to be one of you?" Liz asked suddenly.

The shapeshifter whirled on her. "I have said too much." He grabbed Liz by the arm, thrust her back against the wall. "None of this is important to you as you will soon be dead anyway." He paused momentarily. "But, no. I find you amusing in your stupidly brave little way. If you leave now, I will spare you."

"I'm not leaving him." Liz replied. "So you might as well go ahead and do whatever it is your going to do." Liz took a breath, tried to stare him down.

River Dog did not move. He just continued to eye her.

Their battle of wills ended abruptly as Michael suddenly reappeared, Isabel slung over his shoulder, passed out. "Where are Alex and Maria?" Liz demanded. She felt a tiny bit of relief to see Isabel's back rising and lowering. She was breathing.

"They will not trouble us." Michael replied. He laid Isabel down on the ground beneath Max's pod.

Liz was suddenly furious. All Max's suffering and sacrifice over the last few months - the loneliness and pain. It had all been for nothing.

She knew now that he had been trying to save them all, hoping that by giving himself up, they would be left alone. And now she was captured, Izzy was captured, Alex and Maria were likely dead. She had to see that his sacrifice was not in vain.

She had to save Michael.

Liz motioned towards Michael, who had come to stand beside her, clearly prepared to do whatever the other alien told him to. Liz knew that he would kill her in an instant if that's what River Dog wanted. "You promised Max that you would change Michael back if he gave himself up to you. Are you going to keep that promise?"

She waited breathlessly for his reply.






posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:55:48 PM
Part 31

Maria, Isabel and Alex watched the scene unfolding below them, their combined feelings of horror causing the small ledge they were huddled on to feel like it was drowning in tension. "Go find the others." They heard Tarsus order Michael.

Maria felt her heart skip a beat. She turned and grimaced at Alex. "Where are we going to go?" She mouthed.

Alex shrugged, his expression resigned.

It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Liz would go in first, try and get through to Max. The other three would hang back as reinforcements if things went awry - which they were almost positive they would.

Meanwhile Isabel would try to penetrate Michael's mind. They had climbed up to the ledge while it had still been covered in the dissipating steam from the hot spring.

They were still hidden slightly behind an overhanging rock, but it would likely only be moments until Michael found them, especially because Isabel had been unable to break her mental connection with him immediately. "He knows where we are." Isabel told them, as Alex had to physically pull her out of the dream-state she had been in.

And Michael was suddenly there. Maria felt like she was reliving a nightmare as his hand came up, began to glow.

Her last conscious thought was of Alex grabbing her by the arm, trying to thrust her behind him and then all went dark.

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

"You promised Max that you would change Michael back if he gave himself up to you. Are you going to keep that promise?" Liz demanded, sounding braver than she felt.

It seemed like forever before the shapeshifter gave Liz a reply. "Why should I change him back?" He finally asked. "Michael chose to be transformed. I would be going against his free will if I made him become again that which he has always despised."

Liz was suddenly furious. "You didn't give him a free choice!" She told Tarsus, her tone disgusted. "You lied to him, led him to believe you were someone you were not. He thought that he was joining his family. All you made him do was give up his REAL family."

Tarsus' lip curled. He shook his head in annoyance, like Liz was some insect he was humouring. "You do not seem to understand that he is better off the way he is. He will be returning to his home. He is his true self."

"I thought you said he was insignificant and unimportant." Liz retorted. "Why bother bringing him with you?" She demanded.

"Because he knows that he needs Michael to control me." The voice was achingly familiar - and yet somehow totally foreign.

It was Max.

Liz whirled around, her eyes widening at the sight of her boyfriend standing near his pod, his arms folded across his chest. "Max?" She breathed. She didn't know if it was really him or not. Had he been transformed?

But suddenly Liz knew that he had not - her Max had never given up on being human. He had tried unsuccessfully to break his bonds with those he loved - their bonds with him. They had proven stronger then Max's will, which was definitely not insignificant. There was no question in Liz's mind. Max had to be still Max.

Max was not looking at her, but his voice brooked no opposition as he said quietly. "Get behind me Liz."

Liz didn't even try to argue. She knew that he was still her Max, but somehow he was something else entirely as well.

His dark eyes were intense and driven, glinting with an awareness of his own power that was almost frightening.

But Liz was unafraid as she hurried away from Tarsus. Her eyes met Max's briefly. The flash of love she saw there was the final proof she needed but it was unnecessary anyway.

"Can you see if Izzy is okay?" Max asked her quietly as she passed him.

Liz knelt at Isabel's side, gently drew Max's sister's head onto her lap. Isabel was breathing evenly. Liz didn't even think that she was unconscious. It was almost as if she was sleeping. "Isabel." She whispered. "Isabel, wake up." Liz felt her friend begin to stir.

Liz's eyes were drawn back to Max as though to a magnet. Something was different about him. She couldn't quite place her finger on it.

He was staring at Tarsus, his expression stern. "Well, it is done." Max told the other alien. "Is everything prepared for our departure?"

What??? Liz's mind screamed. She felt a sudden, light flash across her mind, calming reassuring...* Liz! It's all right...* She knew it was Max.

She immediately felt better.

Liz was astounded when Tarsus suddenly fell to his knees in front of Max. "Yes my lord."
The shapeshifter motioned urgently to Michael who was watching the whole scene passively. "Prepare the portal."

Michael looked momentarily nonplused. "I told you that it is still malfunctioning master."

Tarsus rolled his eyes, gritted his teeth. "You are good-for-nothing Tristandor." Liz blinked at the strange name. Isabel was beginning to groan quietly. Liz saw that her eyelashes were beginning to flutter.

Tarsus pushed Michael aside, grabbed one of the orbs off the floor of the cave, the other out of Michael's hand. He bowed and scraped his way until he was standing directly in front of Max. "My lord?"

Max took the orbs, eyed them. As Liz watched amazed, Max closed his eyes. The blue orbs began to glow. It looked somewhat like how they had glowed when Max, Isabel, Michael and Tess had received the message from their mother the previous spring but it was somehow different at the same time.

Isabel sat up abruptly, gasping. "Alex!" She clutched at her temples as though she had the world's worse headache. Liz threw her arm around the other girl reassuringly. Isabel calmed immediately. Her eyes widened as she took in the sight of her brother with the orbs.

"What's going on?" She whispered to Liz. "Is Max still Max?"

Liz nodded. "But I have no idea what he's doing Iz. We just have to trust him." She replied quietly.

Isabel grabbed Liz's hand. "What happened to Alex and Maria?" She whispered urgently as they both watched Max intently. Liz's glance slipped to Tarsus, who looked like he had suddenly been thrust into the presence of a god. Michael had also fallen to his knees. He was staring at the orbs with something approximating interest.

"I don't know." Liz told her, not as quietly this time. Max, Michael and Tarsus were ignoring them anyway.

All thought fled Liz's mind as Max suddenly thrust the orbs away from himself. They seemed to take on a life of their own. Isabel and Liz both ducked their heads as an intense flash of light burst from each orb.

The streams of light joined together, forming a column of such brilliance Liz could not even look at it. She briefly caught a glimpse of Michael and Max through the light.

And then she saw something that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up on end.

Maria.

Part 32

Maria woke up with a splitting, Czech-induced headache for the second time in twelve hours.

Michael.

She brought her hands up to her forehead, tried to massage away the ache that her errant ex-boyfriend had caused with his cursed powers.

Maria managed to pull herself into a sitting position. She was not surprised to see Alex passed out next to her. Isabel was nowhere to be found.

She reached out a hand, started shaking Alex gently. "Wake up! Alex, wake up." Her friend groaned, shifted, went quiet again.

Maria bit her lip. Desperate times called for desperate measures. "Good grief Isabel! Put your clothes back on!"

Alex was up in a flash. He blinked, looked around in confusion. "What the hell?"

Maria smirked despite herself. "Sorry about that bub. I needed you conscious."

Alex's eyes were closed. He collapsed momentarily against the solid rock-face of the cave. "Was I hit by a train?" He managed to croak almost a minute later.

"Just the Michael Express." Maria replied, tried to control the hysterical note that had crept into her voice.

Alex pried his eyes open. "Where's Isabel?" He asked suddenly.

"No clue." Maria told him. She climbed unsteadily to her feet, made her way to the edge of the natural shelf.

Peeking over the edge, Maria wished momentarily that she was still unconscious.

Michael had returned to Tarsus of Dernia's side. He was watching Max, who was fiddling with the damn orbs that had done nothing but cause trouble since Max and Liz had first uncovered one of them.

"Isabel's down below." Maria finally reported over her shoulder to Alex who was finally on his feet. "She looks okay. She's awake."

Maria was surprised to see Alex moving away from her, back the way they had climbed up to their perch. "I'm going down there." He told her.

"Alex!" Maria raced after him, grabbed him by the arm. "You can't just barge in there. We don't have any way to protect ourselves from AK47 Guerin."

Alex shook her off. "I don't care. We should all be in this together Maria." He stared at her, daring her to disagree with him.

Finally she nodded. As usual, Alex was right. "Okay, but listen, let me try and talk to Michael first. I think he's still in there. If we can get him back on our side..." She trailed off.

Alex looked unconvinced. "Fine. But I'm giving you five minutes - that's it. Then we're going in there to get Liz and Isabel out. We can figure out what to do about Max and Michael when we're all safe."

Maria agreed, but briefly crossed her fingers behind her back.

She would not leave Michael again.

He could keep knocking her out until E.T. called home. She would never give up on him.

Alex and Maria carefully climbed down from the ledge, Maria forcing herself not to look down. Alex jumped the last five feet, grasped Maria by her waist, lifted her to join him.

"Wow, impressive Whitman." She joked nervously. "Been working out?"

Alex just rolled his eyes. Maria sighed. Her mouth always motored itself into trouble when she was scared.

And Maria was scared. In fact, she was terrified.

Their trajectory was halted suddenly when an intense beam of light practically knocked them both to the ground. Alex fell back against Maria, shielding her with his body. "What the..." He yelled.

Maria pushed him aside. "Michael!" She screamed.

She could see Liz and Isabel staring at her through the light, both of them with expressions of horror on their faces.

Maria had no idea what was going on, but she knew that she needed to get to Michael, stop him. Whatever he was about to do - it was wrong.

"Maria!" Alex grabbed her by the arm as she tried to get past him. She wrenched herself free, sprinted across the cave, threw herself at Michael's back.

She heard Liz scream, heard Max yelling her name and then she felt Michael's broad back under her hands.

He stumbled as she rammed into him, directly into the beam of light. Maria could not stop herself. Her forward momentum was too great.

Suddenly, she felt as though she was being burned alive. She knew that she was right in the middle of the column of light.

And all went dark.




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:56:39 PM
Part 33

Liz watched in horror as Michael and Maria disappeared into the column of light.

"Maria!" She shrieked, rushing forward, saving her best friend the only thing on her mind.

Max grabbed her as she passed him. "Liz! Stop!"

She struggled to get free. "Let me go Max! We have to do something."

Max forced her to look at him. He was gentle, but insistent. "They're gone! Liz, you can't help them. You have to let me do it."

Liz calmed immediately. This was MAX. She trusted him.

As they both watched, their arms wrapped around each other, the column of light disintegrated. Michael, Maria and, Liz noted quickly, Tarsus, were all gone.

They had completely disappeared.

Liz threw her arms around Max's neck, realized that this was the first time that she had touched him since he went into the pod. "Max, are YOU okay? What's going on?" She felt tears beginning to fill her eyes. She had been maintaining a brave front up until this point but watching her best friend disappear before her eyes - it was too much.

Max's hands were stroking her back. "They've been transported to our home planet." He explained quietly, clearly trying not to upset her again.

Nice try, but no way. Liz wondered if she would ever again feel anything other than upset.

"Is that what you were doing?" Liz asked tersely. "You were going to go with him, weren't you?" She could feel herself getting angry at him again. Why couldn't he ever just let them in? Why did he always have to take everything onto his own shoulders? He had been planning to abandon all of them - abandon HER! - and he wasn't even going to tell them.

Max's jaw clenched. "I'm still going Liz." Liz felt him wind his hands in her hair as she jerked with shock. He brought his forehead down to meet hers. "Liz, please try and understand. I have to get Maria and Michael back. They don't want them. It was a mistake. They want me. I have to go and get them myself."

Liz stared up at him, saw herself reflected in the depths of his beautiful eyes. Max! She couldn't lose him again. She couldn't! "I'm going with you." She told him resolutely.

Max smiled sadly. "Liz, you can't. Your human form won't survive it."

Liz flinched. "Are you telling me that Maria's..." She paused, tried to force the word past her lips. "Dead?"

Max grimaced briefly, touched her face, tried to comfort her. "I hope not. I'm going to do everything in my power to try and save her Liz."

Liz sobbed, buried her head in Max's chest. "Oh God! Maria!" Max's hand cupped the back of her head, as he tried to console her.

Liz became aware of Alex and Isabel standing nearby, equal expressions of shock and grief on their faces. Alex had his arm around Isabel, but she stood stiffly, clearly about to break down.

Liz turned around in Max's embrace. She refused to stop touching him in some capacity. He was leaving her, going into danger to save her best friend and his.

And she couldn't go with him.

She brought her hands to her mouth, tried to control her sobs.

"Max?" Isabel asked carefully.

"I have to go Izzy. You know I do."

Isabel's eyes filled with tears. "Please let me come with you Max!" She motioned to the pod. "I can go through the transformation. I can't let you go alone."

Liz saw Alex's face harden, but he didn't comment. She knew that Alex would consider it to be Isabel's decision, no matter how much he wanted to interfere.

Max shook his head. "No. It won't work Isabel."

Isabel began to look desperate. "But I don't understand Max - how can you go? You're no different. You aren't acting like Michael at all! You still have your emotions. How can you be sure that you aren't still human?" She glanced at the empty pod again. "If you can go, why can't I?"

Max sighed, ran a hand through his hair. "I don't know how I know Isabel. I just know."
Liz could hear the pleading tone in his voice. "You guys have to trust me. It's me they want and I need to go now."

Liz closed her eyes. She could feel that she was about to start hyper-ventilating. Max gently set her away from him.

She suddenly felt so cold.

Alex quickly came and put his arm around her as Max said good-bye to his sister. Liz couldn't bear to watch them. It was too painful.

She turned and buried her head in Alex's chest but she couldn't shut out their voices.

"Please Max." Isabel was practically begging. Liz had never heard the other girl sound so desperate. "Please let me go with you."

"It'll be okay Izzy, I promise. You need to stay here and protect Mom and Dad - explain to them." Liz jerked her head up. Was Max saying what it sounded like he was saying?

Isabel sounded equally as incredulous. "Are you telling me to tell them the truth?" Isabel was staring at him. "Max, you are coming back?"

Liz saw Max swallow. She narrowed her eyes. "Of course I'm coming back! I just think that they need to know the truth. It's time." Isabel continued to assess him, but finally nodded. She looked somewhat better then she had a few minutes before.

Max hugged his sister tightly, clearly trying to pass some of his strength on to her. Isabel finally broke free, stumbled away from him. She paused at the wall of the cave, leaning against it for support.

Alex approached Max, who was staring after her in concern. "I'll take care of them Max. I promise."

Max smiled at him. "I know Alex. I knew I didn't even have to ask." Liz felt her tears beginning to flow again as they shook hands.

Alex went to join Isabel, to comfort her. Max turned slowly. His eyes met Liz's.

There was a brief pause as their gazes devoured each other.

His eyes...his beautiful eyes...

"Max." Liz finally whimpered, could feel her knees giving out.

He was at her side in an instant, crushing her to him. Their lips met in a kiss so fierce, Liz couldn't breathe.

She didn't care.

She wound her hands through his soft hair, trying to hold him to her.

Max finally broke their kiss, breathing hard. "Liz." She raised her eyes to meet his. "Please, I'm depending on you to be strong here. Isabel and the others need you."

Liz swallowed painfully. "Max. I need you to promise me that you're coming back to me." Max's gaze never wavered.

"I will always be with you Liz. You are my heart." She sobbed painfully, kissed him again.

"I love you. Max, please know how much I love you." Max's hands were on her face, in her hair, stroking her back.

"I love you too Liz. I have loved you from the first moment I laid eyes on you and I will love you until my dying breath."

Their lips met again, this time in a kiss so gentle, it nearly broke Liz's heart. "I have to go." He finally told her, his lips on her neck.

Liz's hands traced the contours of his beloved face, trying to memorize them. "How long will you be?"

"They'll be back before you know it. I promise."

Liz placed one more gentle kiss on Max's lips, turned away. "Go! Hurry! Please Max."

She felt him sweep his hand down the back of her head one final time. And then he had moved away from her.

It took a couple of minutes, but it seemed far too soon to Liz.

She turned around and watched him take the orbs into his hands. He closed his eyes, concentrating.

And then the flash of light...

He was gone.

It was only then that Liz realized that he had not promised that he would be back.

Part 34

I'd give up my sight just to see you,
I'd beg, I would borrow and steal
I'd cut off my hands just to touch you,
And tear out my heart so you'd know how I feel.

There's nowhere that I wouldn't follow
There's no place that I'd rather be
This life without you would be hollow
This love is a gift and you gave it to me.

All that I am you have made me,
And, baby, I know that it's true
I'd give it all up in a heartbeat
Just to spend every moment with you.

There's no place that I wouldn't follow,
There's nothing that I wouldn't do
'Cause I wouldn't want to be me,
If I didn't have you.

Amanda Marshall


Liz, Isabel and Alex huddled together in the cave for quite a while after Max had left.

Liz's tears had stopped almost immediately. Now she just felt numb.

Her mind was blank.

She knew it was a defense mechanism against the pain that would overwhelm her if she let herself think. To lose both Max and Maria on the same day...and even Michael.

To reflect on it would make her break her promise to Max. She had to be strong. She had to become the stone wall that Michael had always failed at being.

For the others.

None of them wanted to move, hoping against hope that it was all a nightmare - that they would all wake up and look at each other and laugh - and that Max and Michael and Maria would be there to share the joke.

Finally Alex spoke. "I think we better go back to the camp. We need to tell Kyle and Tess what happened. And we need to tell your dad Isabel, and the Sheriff."

Isabel was leaning back against the wall of the cave, her eyes closed. They snapped open abruptly. "We have to stay here - for when they come back."

Liz bit her lip. Be strong Liz! Be strong! She put her arm around Isabel. "We don't even know if they'll return here Isabel. They could come back anywhere."

Isabel shook her head stubbornly. "No. It will be here. I know it." Alex and Liz exchanged glances.

"Okay, why don't I go back and get the others and you girls can stay here and wait." Alex finally offered, clearly displeased to be leaving them alone, but seeing no alternative.

Liz glanced quickly at her watch. "It should be almost light." She told her friend. "Kyle and Tess might already be on their way here."

Alex nodded in agreement but said, "I think I should go anyway, just in case."

Isabel closed her eyes again, retreated into silence. Liz was more worried about the other girl than she was about herself. She had lost the two most important people in her life - other than Alex. Liz had known for a long time that despite all her posturing and snippiness, which had largely disappeared in the last year, Isabel was the most vulnerable of them all. She would try to go on for her parents' sake, but she would be dying inside.

Of course Liz wasn't allowing herself to recognize that she too had just watched the two most important people in her life disappear in a flash of light.

She would think about that later.

Liz sat down next to Isabel, put her arm around her. She looked at Alex. "Hurry."

Liz and Isabel sat in silence for several minutes after Alex had departed.

Isabel's form was tense. It was clear that her thoughts were a thousand miles away.
Liz wished that her friend would say something. The quiet was beginning to make her think.

She did not want to think.

She breathed a sigh of relief when Isabel suddenly relaxed and spoke. "Alex should be long gone by now. I knew he would try and stop us. It's time Liz. It's time to take matters into our own hands."

Liz blinked. "What can we do?"

Isabel pulled away, climbed to her feet. "We're going after them."

Liz swallowed. "How?"

Isabel turned to eye her. "The orbs of course."

"But Isabel, only Max could make them work." Liz told her. "And we're in human form. We'll never survive."

Isabel raised an eyebrow and just stared at Liz. Liz smiled weakly. "Okay, I admit it. I'm just playing devil's advocate. You convinced me at the first word."

She climbed slowly to her feet, went and grabbed the orbs where they had fallen to the ground after Max had left. They felt heavy in her hands. Looking down at them she flashed momentarily to the night that she and Max had first found one.

It had been the best night of her life - the first time that she had fallen asleep in Max's arms, the first night that she had truly realized how in love with him she was.

It was the first night that their connection had moved past high schoolers playing at being in love. The way he had looked at her, the way he had told her that he wanted to be her destiny, she had known that never in her life would she find anyone to equal him.

He was her soul-mate, her fate, her other half and he had come across the universe to find her.

And now she would do the same for him.

Even if it killed her.

"Are you okay Liz?" Isabel asked. Max's sister had been examining the empty pod closely, but had now turned to gaze at her with concern.

Liz straightened her spine. "I will be. As soon as we get them back."

Isabel smiled. "Okay. Well, it looks like Max was right." She gestured at the pod. "This thing looks pretty useless now." She swallowed, her smile suddenly more forced. "We're just going to have to risk it."

Liz nodded. "Let's do it."

She went to stand beside Isabel, handed her the orbs.

Isabel stared down at them intensely for what seemed like forever. She turned to Liz. "I guess maybe you should hold on to me somehow. We don't want to lose each other."

Liz grabbed a hold of Isabel's jacket.

She watched Isabel close her eyes, her forehead wrinkled in concentration.

For the longest time nothing happened.

Just when Liz was about to speak, ask Isabel if anything was happening, she saw one of the orbs begin to glow.

She held her breath as the other one seemed to realize that it was falling behind its twin. It brightened much more quickly, until they both burned with an intense light that forced Liz to avert her eyes.

And suddenly the column of light erupted, pulling the orbs from Isabel's hands.

But something was different...

Liz grabbed a hold of Isabel's arm as her friend's eyes snapped open. They exchanged frightened glances.

"I think something's wrong Isabel." Liz finally murmured. "It wasn't red the last time."

Isabel's eyes narrowed. "I'm going Liz." She started to walk towards the portal. Liz was on her heels.

The both stopped abruptly when the light began to flicker.

And then the world seemed to explode.




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:57:26 PM
Part 35

Alex heard the explosion from almost a mile away.

Just as he spun on his heel, Kyle and Tess appeared from behind a tree, matching expressions of fear on their faces.

"What the hell was that?" Kyle yelled, grabbed Tess, who looked like she was about to faint.

Alex pressed his lips together in fury. "Isabel."

"What's going on Alex?" Tess demanded.

"No time to explain. We have to get back there." Alex sprinted back in the direction he had just come from. Dammit! He berated himself. You knew you shouldn't leave them alone!

But he had trusted Liz not to do anything foolish.

Stupid, stupid! Liz was anything but reasonable when it came to Max. When Max was involved his usually level-headed best friend was the first to jump in head first without looking.

It took less then five minutes to get back to the cave where the hot spring was located.

Or where it had been located.

Alex slammed to a halt so suddenly, Tess stumbled into his back, sending him flying. She landed on top of him. Neither bothered to get up.

They just stared at the spot where the cave had stood in horror.

Alex finally managed to crawl to his knees. "Oh my God! Isabel!" He whispered.

Kyle had stopped a few feet behind him. He was staring at the rubble in front of them dumbfounded. "What the hell is going on?" He finally managed to choke out.

"They're all gone." Alex replied quietly. "I left Liz and Isabel alone and they tried to go after Max. I knew they would do it and I left them anyway."

Tess climbed to her feet, wrapped her arm around Alex comfortingly. Alex stared down at her, blinked. "It's not your fault Alex."

Who knew I would actually want comfort from Tess Harding, he thought stupidly.

He realized that he was in shock.

It was then that he saw something move out of the corner of his eye.

Alex turned his head, caught a flash of gold.

The just rising sun illuminated Isabel's blonde hair so that it shone like a halo around her head.

She had been thrown about a hundred feet from the cave. She was now climbing unsteadily to her feet. Her hands flew to her head and she bent over at the waist in pain.

"Isabel!" Alex was at her side in an instant, managed to catch her before she fell over.
He gently laid her back on the ground. Her beautiful dark eyes were closed, but they fluttered, opened to stare up at him. "Where's...where's Liz?" She finally managed to ask after licking her lips.

Alex raised his head, searched the surrounding area frantically.

And then he saw her.

Liz was sprawled atop a pile of rubble on her stomach, her dark hair covering her like a shroud. "Kyle!" Alex yelled, pointing towards his friend. "Liz is over there."

Kyle stared in the direction he was pointing, was at a dead run in less then a second.

Alex heaved a sigh of relief when he saw Kyle turn Liz over. He could hear her groaning.

He looked back down at Isabel, who was trying to sit up. "Isabel! Stop it! You're not going anywhere." Alex ordered, his anger returning now that he knew she was going to be all right. "What the hell were you doing?" He demanded, getting ready to launch into a full-fledged lecture. "You broke your promise to Max and you almost got yourself killed. What the hell were you trying to accomplish?"

But Isabel was definitely not listening to him. She was starting past him, tears beginning to appear in her eyes. "Alex, look!"

Alex followed her gaze, did a double-take.

Just appearing out of the trees was Michael Guerin - and in his arms he was cradling the most beautiful sight Alex had ever seen.

Maria.

All thought of pain had obviously fled Isabel's mind at the sight of her almost-brother. "Michael!" She stumbled to her feet, had thrown her arms around the spiky-haired boy and the precious bundle he carried in his arms before Alex had truly processed the sight of them.

"Whoa Iz!" Alex heard Michael croak, clearly practically suffocating due to Isabel's constrictive hold on his neck. "Oxygen...please."

Alex managed to reach their side just in time to catch Maria as Michael lost his grip on her. Maria's eyes were closed, but she opened them almost immediately, stared up at Alex. "Thanks Alex." She sounded exhausted. "Where's Liz?" She managed to say before closing her eyes again.

Alex turned to see how Kyle was doing with Liz. He was pleased to see that his other best friend was on her feet, leaning on her ex-boyfriend for support.

He saw the exact moment that Liz noticed that Maria and Michael had returned. Her eyes widened with joy.

Liz rushed forward threw her arms around Maria, whom Alex had gently placed on the ground. Alex could hear the tears of happiness in her voice as she said, "Oh my God Maria! We were so worried."

Isabel was still wailing on an uncomfortable looking Michael's chest. Michael was staring over his head at Alex helplessly. Alex just shrugged, a grin breaking out over his face.

The look of complete horror at the scene Isabel was creating on the other boy's face told Alex exactly what he needed to know.

The REAL Michael Guerin was back.

Finally, the happy reunion began to simmer down.

"What happened to you guys?" Tess, who had joined them by now, asked curiously. "Maria, your hair is like a foot longer."

Alex stared at his friend in surprise. It was true. Maria's blonde hair was longer, actually almost halfway down her back.

It was then that he noticed that both Michael and Maria were also wearing strange clothes. Maria a long white gown, Michael some sort of weird green tunic and - this was the part Alex really couldn't believe - some sort of tights.

Michael Guerin was wearing tights and looked pretty darn comfortable doing so.

Michael and Maria exchanged a brief look across the crowd of friends gathered around them. "It's complicated." Maria replied evasively, quickly glancing at Liz.

And it was then that Alex realized what he could not have believed they had missed for so long.

He looked at Liz. An expression of fear had appeared on her face.

The immediate tension that had claimed the group doubled when his best friend finally managed to whisper the question that was haunting them all, "Where's Max?"

Maria swallowed, exchanged another look with Michael, who actually looked like he was on the verge of tears. Alex noticed that Isabel was clutching Michael's sleeve tightly, her face beginning to crumble as dawning realization came to her. Michael did not even flinch, only put his arm around her in support.

"Maria?" Liz asked again, thrusting herself away as Kyle put his hand on her shoulder, clearly aware that she was going to very soon need someone.

Maria bit her lip, closed her eyes briefly. She took a deep breath, finally managed to open her eyes. She stared at Liz sadly. "He's gone Liz."




posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:58:48 PM
Part 36

Tess seemed to be the only one capable of speech. "What do you mean gone Maria?" She asked in a fairly even tone.

Liz stared at her former nemesis in amazement. How could she be so calm? Liz's entire being was screaming with tension and pain.

But she had to be strong.

She had promised Max.

Maria was still seated on the ground. She shivered suddenly. Liz realized that the long white gown that she was wearing was quite thin. She quickly started to take off her jacket, but Alex beat her too it, gently placing his coat around Maria's shoulders.

Michael and Maria were staring at each other again. It looked to Liz like they were having some sort of silent conversation. She frowned with concern.

What on Earth had happened to her friends?

Liz still wasn't quite sure what had occurred when she and Isabel had opened the portal to Max's planet. She remembered the red light, so different from the gateway that had whisked Michael and Maria, and later Max, away from them. But everything after that was a blur. The next thing she remembered was Kyle gently turning her over, waking her up.

Max! She had to know. "Please Maria!" Liz begged her best friend.

Maria managed to tear her gaze away from Michael. "What year is it Lizzie?"

Liz exchanged a quick look with Alex. He looked just as perplexed as she felt. "Ummmm it's exactly the same day it was when you left Maria. It's January 2001. You've only been gone for like an hour."

Liz saw Maria swallow convulsively. "Michael, how can that be?"

Michael just shook his head. "I have no idea." He turned back to the others. "We've been gone for at least a year."

Liz raised her hands to her temples. She had a sudden flash of Max, his face smiling, lit up by the fireworks he had unleashed from a parking meter. "What's so great about normal?"

Suddenly normal seemed like a luxury that Liz would kill for.

"Okay. Colour me confounded." Alex finally said. They had all been standing there in silence for several minutes as they all tried to come to grips with what was going on.

Liz felt like giggling hysterically. She saw Kyle look at her with concern, move to put his arm around her. This time she let him. Her knees felt like jello. "Where is Max?" She demanded for what felt like the millionth time.

"He's on Illyria Liz." Maria told her softly.

"Is he coming back?" Liz asked quietly, already knowing the answer.

"I don't think so." Maria pulled her knees up to her chest. "I'm sorry Liz."

Liz could feel herself becoming detached from reality. She had never before fainted in her life and she was not about to begin now. She shook her head vigorously, trying to clear it, turned to Isabel desperately. "Isabel! What did we do?"

"Can you guys please stop being so cryptic?" Isabel berated Michael and Maria. "How did you get back? Why isn't Max with you?"

"We had to wait a year - until you reactivated the orbs from this end." Michael explained. "It turns out your not so insignificant after all Izzy." He told her ruefully. "Max is the gate home. You're the gate to Earth."

"What the heck are you talking about?" Isabel replied. "I activated them almost right after Max left." She looked guiltily at Alex.

"Not in Illyrian time." Maria said. "It took Max six months to follow us and then it was more than six months before you reactivated them from this side." She looked at them all, her expression suddenly all Maria. "I guess I don't need to explain that time moves differently there?"

"I think they've got that Maria." Michael rolled his eyes.

Liz did not care about any of this. "Please - just tell me why Max isn't with you."

A pained expression came over Michael's chiseled face. "He had to trade himself for me." He told her. Maria climbed to her feet, went to stand beside him, taking his hand in hers. "They wouldn't let me come back unless he stayed."

His eyes were haunted. They had been gone for a year. What had happened to Michael and Maria in that time?

"Can he ever come back?" Liz asked quietly.

"No." Michael nearly choked on the word.

"Why not?" Liz could feel herself fading away again.

"I don't know." And Michael really looked like he didn't. "I don't really remember anything. I just know he's not coming back."

This was still something that Liz did not understand. "But Michael, why did you come back? This all started because you wanted to go home. You got what you wanted. Why would you come back, let Max sacrifice himself like that?" She could feel herself becoming angry at Michael.

Anger was better then pain. If she was angry, she wouldn't cry. She would keep her promise to Max. She would be strong.

It was all Michael's fault! If he hadn't let Tarsus of Dernia get to him in the first place, Max would still be there. He would be safe.

Michael glanced guiltily at Maria. "Maria." He replied simply.

And Liz knew then that she would never see Max Evans again.

Part 37 - Conclusion

Liz heard the telephone ringing.

She pulled her pillow over her head, tried to shut it out. She didn't want to talk to anyone.
This was the first chance she had had to be alone since the catastrophe.

It had been a week since they had returned from Fraser Woods.

Liz had kept her promise to Max. She had been strong. She had not cried. Her eyes felt like sandpaper they were so dry, but she would honour what he had asked of her.

They had finally returned to the campsite to find their fathers milling around in confusion, clearly worried about where they had all disappeared to.

Liz had been shell-shocked. Kyle and Tess had practically had to drag her back through the woods, but she had managed to pull herself together in time to face their fathers.

Michael and Maria had been lost in their own little world, clearly unsure of how to deal with returning to their "real" lives. They had been unable to tell them anything more about their time on Illyria. The memories seemed to be fading with every minute that they spent back on Earth.

Liz had not cared. She thought that if she heard Michael's voice for another moment, she would be sick. She stoked her anger at him, using it to preserve her delicate state of mind. Strong, strong - she would be strong. It was Michael's fault. He was to blame.

Isabel had collapsed the moment she had laid eyes on Mr. Evans. She had been inconsolable for hours. Liz had been unable to speak. She had simply held Isabel's head in her lap, stroking her hair, Alex kneeling beside her, trying to help.

Mr. Evans had known instantly that his son was not coming back. He hadn't even asked for an explanation. He had simply retired to his tent in silence, had not emerged until Mrs. Evans arrived, the Sheriff having radioed one of his deputies to bring her out.

Liz's father had tried to get her to return to Roswell with him, but she had refused to leave Isabel. Comforting her friend, Max's sister, was the only thing that mattered. Isabel was all that she had left of him. She had to protect her.

Mr. Parker and Mr. Whitman were told that there had been an accident, that Max had fallen into the river, had been swept away by the current before any of them could do anything. They had believed it. The Sheriff had managed to convince them to return to town, telling them that those who had known and loved Max needed to be together, alone, for a while - to try and come to terms with their grief.

Mr. and Mrs. Evans were told the truth.

In the end, it was the Sheriff who had had to tell them. Isabel had been incoherent, Liz trapped in a world of silence. Alex had helped him with the details of what had transpired that weekend.

The Sheriff's lips had compressed as he was told what he had missed. His anger that he had been left out had been evident, but his grief for Max was just as strong. He had never truly repaid the boy who had saved his son's life and now he would never have the chance.

Isabel's parents had taken the truth better then was expected. They were so grief-stricken over the loss of their son and their daughter's state of mind, the alien stuff had seemed sort of insignificant. Liz knew that Mrs. Evans had practically known already anyway and it was unlikely that she had never discussed her suspicions with Max's dad.

None of them quite knew what to do after the story had been told. They didn't want to leave the woods, the hope that Max might return still alive.

But as the hours had passed, hope had died.

Liz had spent the past week sleeping on Isabel's spare bed. Neither girl wanted to be separated from the other. It now seemed ludicrous that at one time they had been jealous of the other's relationship with Max. Now they were glad that someone else understood how much they had each loved him - in different ways of course, but still with an equal fervor.

One night Liz had crept silently into Max's bedroom, had curled up in his bed. She could still smell him on his pillow. It had been the closest she had come to breaking down since he had left. When she had found the picture of the two of them that he had hidden under his bed during his anti-Max act, she had had to leave the room. It had been another Maria original, totally candid, taken of the two of them in the Crashdown. Liz was in her uniform, leaning over the table where Max was sitting, a cherry cola in front of him. They both had slight smiles on their faces, but Liz had known right away that they had not been talking - or at least not with their mouths. The way they were staring into each other's eyes...Liz had clutched it to her chest for the entire night. It now sat on her bedside table.

Alex had been with them every moment that they were not asleep and Kyle and Tess spent a lot of time with them as well.

Tess was grieving in her own way. She had loved the idea of who Max was, but as she came to terms with his disappearance, she had finally acknowledged that she had never really been in love with him. She had loved him as a friend and she missed him, but she would recover. And Kyle was there to help her.

Maria and Michael kept their distance. They had holed themselves up in Michael's apartment and seemed to be drifting in a strange state of detachment. Liz wished that Maria would see her, but she was glad that she did not have to see Michael's face. She knew that she was being irrational but for once she did not care.

The Parkers had finally insisted yesterday that Liz return home. They had been terrified by the sight of her when Mr. Evans had dropped her off. She knew that she looked horrible. The dark circles under her eyes alone were enough to convince her parents that she needed to see a doctor.

She had ignored the, had locked herself in her bedroom and had spent the last twelve hours re-reading her journal.

She had re-lived every wonderful, every horrible, every magical, every abnormal, every fated moment of her relationship with Max Evans.

Liz had sat curled up under a blanket on her balcony as she read, had often paused to stare at the place where she and Max had shared their first kiss.

She had finally crawled into bed at seven in the morning, when the "V" constellation in the sky had set as the sun rose. She and Isabel had spent many an hour over the last week staring at that constellation, wondering what Max was doing, whether he was safe.

Whether he was trying to come back to them.

Liz knew in her heart of hearts that he was.

And even if he wasn't...

She would wait forever.

The End

Read the Sequel to "Out of the Woods" to find out if Max ever makes it home. It is entitled "Legacy" and is archived here on Jenn's board.