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Summary: Post JTNY. Liz is getting sick, and her friendships are tested as the gang struggles to help her. No one is getting any sleep as Michael and Isabel start having strange dreams.
Authors Note: This was written before ARC, based on what Max said about not being able to just heal people in LN. As always, your feedback is much appreciated.
|There was a stunned silence in the room as Max and Isabel stared at the
small, dark-haired girl standing in the doorway.|
"Well, Liz?" Michael prodded.
Her eyes darted from Max to Michael. She quickly went over her options. There weren't many, so it didn't take very long. She could tell Max about the deception, and inform Isabel and Michael that their days were numbered, or she could continue with the lie she'd started back in November. Or she could pretend to faint. Or she could try to run. Liz had never been a coward, and she wasn't about to start now, so she guessed the last two options were out.
She didn't know what Michael thought he knew, but it obviously wasn't the truth or else he wouldn't be standing there so calmly right now. She knew Michael better than that. She glanced at Isabel. Her last question ran round and round in her head. "What about that other guy? The other you who was on the balcony with Liz the night you were serenading her?" The other you. She somehow knew about Future Max, but she apparently didn't know who he was or what his mission had been. Thank god. There was still a chance to keep the secret safe.
Putting up her chin, Liz stated firmly, "I don't know what you're talking about. Any of you." Her plan was to call Michael's bluff. It failed for the simple reason that Michael wasn't bluffing.
"Is that right?" he asked with narrowed eyes. "Michael," Max tried to interrupt, but his friend stepped forward and cut him off with a look.
"So, I guess I have some good news to tell you." Michael said in an off-handed tone. "Maria and I are back together."
Max realized right away where Michael was going with this. Liz however, didn't have a clue. She was thrown off guard by the change in topic, but was genuinely happy for her best friend. "Michael, that's great. Maria must be so happy."
"She is," he said softly. "I have a lot of making up do for all the stupid things I've done to her. Until tonight, I hadn't realized how much I'd hurt her. She's unbelievable and I know how lucky I am."
"I'm happy for both of you," she smiled at him.
He stepped closer and asked, "Are you?"
"Of course I am."
He reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Putting his thumb beneath her chin, he held her gaze with his. "I wasn't sure if you'd object."
"Michael, how can you even think that?" Liz couldn't believe he'd think she had anything against him being with Maria.
"Well, there's two reasons, I guess. The first is I know how you feel about Max and Tess being together. I mean, that's why you broke up with him and all. I mean, I am supposed to be with Isabel. I thought maybe you'd object to me choosing to be with someone other than my destined mate..."
Liz hurried to reassure him, "No, Michael. How could you think I'd object to that? You guys are all free to make your own choices." She had to force herself not to look at Max as she said it.
"So, it's not like it would be, you know, the end of the world if Maria and I were together?" he asked. Liz's dark eyes widened as realization set in.
He knew. Somehow... Maria, of course. Liz closed her eyes against a deep sense of hurt that Maria had broken their confidence. She'd trusted her friend to keep her secret.
Michael was reading every emotion that paraded across Liz's face, and immediately knew where Liz's thoughts had gone. "Ok, so that was reason number one. Do you want to know the second reason why I was afraid you'd object to me and Maria being together?"
"I can guess," Liz answered bitterly.
"You'd be wrong," he assured her, softly. "Maria didn't tell me anything tonight, Liz. You and Max never even came up in the conversation."
Releasing her, he stepped back. "Did you know that Maria used to have a pair of red sneakers when she was a kid?"
Liz shook her head, waiting for Michael to get to the end of whatever he had to tell her.
"I remember, that was what I saw the first time I'd ever gotten a flash from her," he told Liz. "She was tying the laces on her red sneakers. Or trying to at least," he added with a smile at the memory. Comprehension immediately dawned on her face, but just to make sure she understood, he went on, "Didn't you know that I got flashes from her? No? Well, they don't happen all the time. Only when things get especially... intense. Like tonight."
Dreading what was to come, Liz whispered, "No. Michael, please. Don't say any more."
"Michael, what is it?" Max asked. "What did you see?"
"Please, Michael. I'm begging you. Don't say anything more. You don't understand what could happen."
Tears sprang into Liz's eyes as she looked at Max. He was trying to keep it together, but it was obvious that he wanted to know whatever Michael had found out.
Liz put her hand on his arm and begged. "Michael, please. You have to trust me. Please don't say anything else. Please? Everything depends on it."
"It doesn't matter, Liz. He already knows about Kyle. What difference could it make if he knows why?"
Liz opened her mouth to respond and closed it again. What could she say?
Max stepped closer and touched her wet cheek, wiping away the tears that had fallen unbeknownst to her. "Liz, I promised that I would never ask you about Kyle again. This time I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. I know you didn't sleep with him. I know it. And it's not because you wouldn't do that to me, but because you wouldn't do that to yourself. You care too deeply to just give your body to someone you don't love, and I know you love me, Liz. You've never denied it.
"I know what I saw that night, and I realize that the two of you in bed wasn't a lie, but the part about you being lovers was and do you know how I know? I saw you, Liz. If it had been me in that bed, and we'd just made love, I would have been holding you so tightly that neither one of us would have been able to tell where one of us ended and the other began. We might not have ended at all, because I would have wanted to stay with you forever..." His voice dropped to a deep rasp. "...to be a part of you, inside of you as you held me tightly in your arms. That would have been heaven for me. And I know it would have been the same for you.
"Do you know what I saw as I looked at you through your window, Liz? Two friends sharing the same bed. There wasn't a single inch of your body that was touching his. I'm touching more of you right now," he said as he trailed his fingers down her damp cheek, "than Kyle touched that whole night. That's the truth, Liz. And I know it. You can deny it all you want, but you'll never convince me it was otherwise."
"Max..." Liz couldn't think of what else to say. Her brain had turned to mush with the images he'd created inside her mind. The lies she needed to tell refused to come to her lips. Instead, she could only look at him in agonized silence.
"Max," Michael interrupted their soulful staring, "Is it possible that you'll suddenly develop a desire to be with Tess?"
Not looking away from Liz, Max answered, his voice a deep rumble of emotion, "No."
"At any point during the trip to New York, after all that alone-time with her away from Liz, did you feel anything romantic toward her?"
"Well then, I don't see what the problem is, Liz."
She looked at her friend in desperation. "Michael, this isn't about me and Max and whether we're together. It never was. It's about finding your balance. The four of you. You can be with Maria because you won't get so wrapped up in her that nothing else matters. Your mission, your family will always come first with you." Michael didn't bother to deny it. Liz continued, "With Max and me, it's different. When Max and I are together, the entire world could explode and we wouldn't notice. Don't you see, it can't be that way."
She turned back to Max to say, "Remember what you said to me after Michael had gotten so sick? You said that ever since our first kiss, all you could think about was being with me but that it wasn't real. I couldn't see it at the time, but you were right to step back. To find your balance. You need to find that balance again, Max. Michael, Isabel and Tess have to come first with you. Always. They have to. They are your family. You need to protect them, and you can't do that if all you can see is me.
"That is why I kept pushing you away. That is why I went to Kyle. You weren't letting me take a step back, so I had to find a way to push you back. Isabel is your sister. Michael is your brother. Tess is... whatever you want her to be: sister, friend, lover, mate. As long as the four of you are together you're stronger. You'll have the balance that you need. It's critical that I don't upset that balance. It's like I told you before, I can't come between you and your destiny."
"Critical," Isabel whispered after having been silent for most of the conversation. She brought her fingers to her mouth as she stared at Liz.
That word caused a disturbed stirring in her mind. There was something about it... Something some one had said... Oh my god.
"What, Isabel?" Michael asked.
"In my dream, you told Liz that Tess was critical to our survival," she told her brother.
Liz swung around and looked at her with unbelieving eyes. "How did you...? Did you dreamwalk me?"
"No. Well, not on purpose. When we were sleeping, somehow, I got sucked into your dreams, only most of what I saw wasn't dreams, it was memories."
Liz backed up a step, looking at Isabel in dawning horror. "Oh my god."
"Me and Max were able to figure out most of it, but some of it still doesn't make sense."
"Liz, I'm sorry, but I have to ask you something," Max gently said. "In Isabel's dream, she said that she and Michael were dead."
Michael's mouth fell open. "What!?" He looked to Liz. "We're dead!?"
She was shaking her head wildly. Pushing Max out of his way, Michael grabbed both of her arms and said, "He told you we were dead?!"
"Who? Who are we talking about?" Max asked as Liz denied, "It's not true. Michael, you're not going to die." At the same time, Isabel answered Max, "The man on the balcony." The details of her dream falling into place. "He told her that we were dead."
"How did we die? You gotta tell us." Michael gave Liz a shake, causing her to cry out.
Max grabbed her out of Michael's grasp with a glare for treating her like that. Then he turned back to her and his heart turned over by the look on her face, but he couldn't let go of it now. He had to have some answers. His quiet voice was belied by the fierce light shining in his eyes as he asked, "Liz, who was the man on your balcony the night I came and sang to you?"
She looked helplessly from one face to another. Isabel was scared. Michael was going into a panic and Max was just trying to keep it together. This nightmare was worse than she'd ever imagined it.
She wanted so desperately to tell them all the truth, but she couldn't. It was too much, too soon. And besides, she'd sworn to Max that she'd never tell them about his visit. "I... I c... can't tell you."
"Liz, if Michael and Isabel are in danger, I need to know."
"They're not. I promise you that they're not, just, please, don't ask me about this."
"Liz. I need to know." He repeated softly, his dark eyes burning into hers.
"I can't. I swore to him that I'd never tell you about what we did. Please, Max. Please, you have to trust me."
Max was torn between wanting to give into her tearful pleas and wanting to shake her secrets out of her. God, the look on her face was killing him. He felt like he was torturing her. But he needed to know. He already knew too much to back down now. He had to know everything. "Who was he, Liz? Who else knows about us?" Her lips were pressed firmly together and she refused to meet his eyes. Max released her and assured, "Liz, you can tell me. It's ok."
"I promised him..." was all she'd say. She was sobbing for all she was worth at this point, torn between loyalties. She'd sworn to one Max, but here was another asking for the truth... She didn't know what to do... what to say...
Max was honestly perplexed as he asked, "Who on Earth could make you agree to keep all this from me?"
Liz said nothing, just shook her head stubbornly.
Into the silence, Michael was the one to speak. He said only, "You are."
Liz's eyes closed in defeat. It was over.
"What?" Max and Isabel asked.
"It was you. You're the one who went to Liz. It must have been you on the balcony with her while you were down below singing. You're the one who told her to push you away."
"What are you talking about?" Isabel asked.
"That's impossible," Max added. None of this was making sense to him.
"Not if you have the Granilith, right Liz?" Michael spoke to Max as he said, "She told you it was powerful. Well, the thing is a goddamned time machine. You used it to come back from fourteen years into the future."
"Why?" Isabel whispered.
"All I know is what she told Maria, which is that the world will end because Max and Tess weren't together when our enemies come calling. It didn't make sense to me why Max being with Tess would make a difference, but I get it now."
"The four of us are stronger when we're together." Max said, repeating what Liz had told them a few minutes ago.
Isabel stared at them like they were insane. "The Granilith is a WHAT?"
"So where was Tess?" Michael asked, ignoring Isabel. "If Tess wasn't with us at the end of the world, where was she?"
Everyone turned to look at Liz. She figured there was no reason to hold back now. They already knew the worst of it. It was time to take her own advice about taking each crisis as it came. Since it was too late for lies, then perhaps it was time for the truth.
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