|"How to Disappear Completely"|
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended, either with respect to Melinda Metz' work and characters, or to the wb or Jason Katims. Many thanks to all of you for creating such a fabulous world. Also, no infringement is intended in respect to Radiohead's song title, either-just a respectful bow of thanks.|
Summary: The story takes place the night of The End of the World and afterward, and imagines what might have happened differently.
| Liz crunched the ice in her empty diet coke glass with her straw, trying desperately to focus on her American history notes. She'd been looking at the same words for nearly an hour now, but hadn't absorbed anything. It felt pretty much impossible, with the afternoon rush, and most especially with Max's gaze bearing down on her from where he sat across the busy restaurant.|
They'd been engaged in this little standoff ever since he'd walked in The Crashdown-he watching her intently, she averting her eyes whenever she caught him doing so. So why don't you just go upstairs then? But Liz knew the answer to that.... She ached simply to be near him-even on these terms.
She cast another tentative glance in his direction, only to meet a pair of golden brown eyes staring back at her, full of anger and hurt. Why did his eyes always have to betray so much of what he felt? Instantly, her face grew hot, and she turned back to her books, spread across the counter in front of her.
As she looked down, Liz touched the one thing that had comforted her since the night the other Max had vanished, disappeared completely right from her arms. She closed her eyes and touched the ring. Her wedding ring, given to her one night in Las Vegas... one night in the future, but never to be the past.
But that's not quite true, she corrected herself. No, she remembered the warmth of his hands, his healing touch, as he'd stood just behind her, and slipped the chain around her neck. This belongs to you, he'd whispered. The ring had glinted in the balcony's candlelight as she'd caught it between her fingers.
Liz had spun toward him, awareness dawning, and he'd answered by stroking her hair softly, his fingers lingering so tenderly against her neck. It's your wedding ring. And you have mine. Just not here, not now. He'd stared at her with such intensity, it had shaken her to the very core. Until he broke the spell by placing a feather-light kiss on her forehead. But you will always have my heart.
She'd fingered the worn band with amazement, almost as if it held some kind of magic. Just as she did right now. It was a ring with one simple, beautiful inscription on the inside, written from the heart of two people so incredibly in love that they hadn't cared about the consequences. Hadn't worried about their parents, their friends, or even their future. Or their planet, or race, a voice taunted her.
Liz cringed at the thought, and slowly opened her eyes, only to find Maria standing right across the counter from her.
"Babe." Maria bent down so that her face was level with Liz's. "What's up with that look?"
"Nothing, Maria." Liz tucked a stray hair behind her ear. Anything to avoid Maria's penetrating gaze.
"No... no. See, I know that look."
"I'm just trying to study for my history final."
"Interesting. Because that's the same look I've seen on your face ever since you left for Copper Summit last week."
Liz closed her books. This was getting her nowhere.
"Maria, nothing is wrong. I promise." There. Be firm, close all avenues of discussion.
"Then how come Max has been sitting behind you for... like more than an hour without even talking to you?"
Liz forced a casual look in Max's direction. Again, he returned the glance intently, so much pain radiating from his eyes.
"Oh. Well. I don't know," Liz turned quickly back to Maria.
"Liz, please." Maria sighed and planted her elbows firmly on the counter. "I've been watching the two of you and this... whatever it is... all afternoon."
"Well, if you have," Liz stood with her books, gathering them tightly to her chest. "Then you know that I haven't been getting much studying done."
"Okay ... so you admit it." Maria smiled triumphantly.
"That I have a final at 9 am tomorrow?" Liz said, walking toward the back of the restaurant. "Yes." Maria followed her, meeting her at the end of the counter.
She took Liz's hand in hers, holding it up in front of her. "See, I also want to know why this,"-she touched Liz's ring-"appeared on your finger at exactly the same time last week."
Liz pulled her hand away protectively. "I'm going." Liz pushed her way through the back door, toward the kitchen.
"I'm following," Maria called out, pushing the door after her.
Max watched with no small measure of guilt as Liz made her retreat from the Crashdown. And retreat is exactly the right word, he thought. Max had done everything he could to make Liz squirm as she'd sat in her own family's restaurant.
Not only had he stared her down, but he'd even used the intuitive side of his powers, the ones that were the weakest of all. Isabel had recently begun teaching him about that more psychological part of his gifts, and this was what he'd chosen to do with them. He had used them out of maddening jealousy against the one person he'd never thought he could intentionally harm. Great, Evans. Way to go.
He felt more out of control than he could recall in his life. Not just of events, but of himself, and it was a very disconcerting sensation. Maybe that was the real reason he'd come here today-to try to make sense out of at least something that was happening to him. Unfortunately, he only felt more confused, especially by his own behavior... and by the e-mail Liz had sent him in the middle of the night. Max sighed wearily, and rubbed a hand across his tired eyes. There wasn't much point in sitting here torturing himself any longer, so slowly he gathered his books and prepared to leave. He reached inside his leather jacket for his wallet, and his hand brushed against a folded piece of paper.
He had read it many times today, always trying to decipher its cryptic message. It was one reason why he'd felt so angry with Liz. He'd begged her for honesty, and this was how she'd answered-with an enigma.
Slowly he unfolded the piece of paper, and read the printed email yet again.
I can't sleep either. So I pulled out Romeo and Juliet, and thought I'd share something from the end of the play... something pertinent. Please, just try to understand.
"Upon thy life I charge thee, What ever thou hearest or seest, stand all aloof, and do not interrupt me in my course. Why I descend into this bed of death is partly to behold my lady's face, but chiefly to take thence from her dead finger a precious ring--a ring that I must use in dear employment--therefore hence be gone."
Try to get some sleep. L.
He stared at the paper. Try to get some sleep. Was she kidding? Max ran a hand through his hair in agitation. It seemed like she was urging him to stay away from her. What did she mean about not interrupting her in her course? It almost sounded like she was part of some intentional plan. Did she mean Kyle was her course? Max sighed in deep exasperation.
So many unanswered questions.
He'd turned the puzzle over in his mind dozens of times since last night, and still none of it made any sense--yet she'd said it was pertinent. Just more conflicting signals. He crumpled the paper into a tight ball, thinking how much Liz had changed. The Liz he knew would never have sent him a strange email in the middle of the night, something that made no sense-especially not with things like they were between them.
The Liz he knew would never have done that. Suddenly, the truth hit Max like a thundering freight train. How could he have missed it? Liz was trying to tell him something.
Good, because it was time for some answers-and he intended to get them.
The familiar sounds of the restaurant hummed all around them-music, laughter, clanking dishes. How was it possible that she could feel so alone?
Liz opened her locker and pulled out the notebook she'd been looking for. Maria stood closely beside her, tracing her finger along the ragged edge of the metal door.
"Liz, all I'm saying is that everybody is worried about him. Michael and Isabel say they've never seen him like this."
"Has he talked to any of them?" She couldn't hide the concern she felt at what Maria was telling her. It was worse than she'd even imagined.
"I mean, that might help him," Liz offered, closing the locker.
"Apparently, he's shut down completely. And nobody knows why. Did you guys have a fight or something?"
"Not exactly." Liz lowered her eyes and chewed on her lip.
"What does that mean? Can you be just a bit more specific with me, Liz?"
Liz was quiet for a long moment, and studied Maria. This was her best friend-someone who had known her since childhood. The urge to share the entire bizarre story was overwhelming.
She closed her eyes against it.
"Earth to Liz." Maria shook Liz's arm gently. "What's going on?"
"It's so... ." Liz opened her eyes, and let out a heavy sigh. "... complicated."
"Yeah," Maria raised her eyebrows sarcastically. "I gathered that."
Jimmy poked his head out of the kitchen. "Maria! Orders up! You coming, or what?"
"I'm there!" Maria rolled her eyes. "Well, at least I can tell Michael and Isabel one thing." She turned to leave, then glanced back at Liz.
"What?" Liz asked.
"That apparently Max isn't the only one who's shutting us all out." She shoved the restaurant door open, leaving Liz alone by her locker.
Max was literally the last person Liz expected to see walk through the door at that moment. Maria had left, then Max had simply appeared in her place. And something about it had completely unnerved her-she'd actually jumped physically at the site of him. Maybe because she was still sorting out all that Maria had just told her.
"Max!" She hated the way her voice sounded so strained. "You... startled me."
"Sorry," he looked confused by her response, and shrugged slightly. "Maria said you were back here. I need to talk." Max pulled the crumpled e-mail from his pocket and handed it to Liz.
She smoothed out the wrinkled paper. "Oh... " She shifted her books awkwardly in her arms, avoiding his gaze.
"Liz, what were you trying to tell me last night? I don't understand."
Liz's heart began to beat wildly and she felt her chest constrict. She hadn't expected this yet... wasn't ready for it at all. She had wanted the email to provoke a response, just not this quickly.
He took a purposeful step toward her. "Liz, you've been avoiding me... this whole thing... for a week."
A rushing sound filled Liz's head, and for a moment she thought she might faint as all the emotions pressed in on her at once. She looked up at Max, willing the swimming sensation to stop. She focused on the familiar brown eyes, ones that had been a harbor for her so many times... and was surprised by what she saw. He looked at her with deep intensity, every emotion shining through his eyes-just like earlier in the restaurant. He wasn't shut down to her at all.
"Aren't you even going to answer me, Liz?" He grabbed her arm with surprising strength-not roughness, but firmness of purpose. When he did, Liz instantly felt the connection spark between them--and with alarm she saw that Max had, too. Realization flashed in his eyes. Quickly, she pulled her arm out of his grasp.
"You're scared... .you're really scared of something, Liz."
"No... " she shook her head vehemently. "No, I'm not." Scared that I'm losing you forever. Of even being this near to you right now.
"You are, Liz. I felt it." Suddenly his voice shifted, becoming low and insistent. "Tell me what it is."
"Nothing, Max... .I'm fine." She dropped her eyes again, and hugged her books to her chest protectively.
"Then tell me what I just felt. God, Liz, just tell me anything about what's going on with you," he snapped.
Their eyes met and for a moment, Liz swore the connection would ignite between them again. It was that powerful. And if she ever allowed it to catch hold, he would know everything... about his future self, about how he'd changed her, about Kyle. And she wanted that more than her next breath.
So she walked away from him. She turned her back because it was too soon for the truth.
"I've got to go, Max." She walked toward the stairs, assuming her most detached, rational voice. "I've got a history mid-term tomorrow, and...."
Then she heard it... his voice so quiet she nearly missed it. "This is killing me, Liz."
She froze in her tracks, and slowly turned toward him. All the fire was gone from him now, replaced only by brokenness.
His voice was barely more than a whisper. "Just talk to me... please."
And she was gone, utterly destroyed.
Moments hung suspended, both of them left without words.
At last she found her voice. "Where?" she rasped, knowing she'd go anywhere he wanted... right into his arms forever, if only he asked.
|Part 3 | Index | Part 5|
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