|"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.
| "Could I get a cherry Coke to go, Maria?" Max asked, approaching the counter.|
Maria arched an eyebrow. "You're awfully chipper now." She leaned her elbows on the counter, leveling her eyes with Max's conspiratorially. "Things must have gone well in the break room, huh?"
Max smiled faintly, avoiding Maria's inquisitive gaze. He could feel his face flush, especially since he knew exactly just how well things had gone in the back of the Crashdown. For that matter, he wondered if he looked as overheated as he felt. Could Maria sense what had happened between the two of them... was it that obvious?
He pressed two dollars across the counter, pretending not to notice that Maria was expecting details of his conversation with Liz. Maria placed an empty glass under the coke dispenser, then turned to face Max.
"So?" she asked, not relenting.
Max smiled slowly in return, but remained silent for a moment. "It went well," he replied finally, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Really well."
"And?" she asked.
"There's not much else to tell." He shrugged evasively.
Maria sighed in exasperation, and leaned closer to him across the counter. "Max, let me clue you in here."
"On what?" Max furrowed his brow in confusion.
"See, Maria likes to know details. Maria does not like it when her best friend and her other very good friend skip these things." She smiled encouragingly. "So spill."
Max laughed and Maria turned around to hand him his cherry Coke. He took the cup thoughtfully.
"What has Liz told you? I mean, do you know... " his voice trailed off, and he flinched at the unspoken thought. Even though he knew the truth about Kyle now, actually stating it out loud was still too painful.
"Not a word." Maria shook her head emphatically. "There's only been all this gloomy silence between the two of you."
"That's strange... " Max rolled the straw between his fingers thoughtfully. "Why wouldn't she have at least told you?"
Maria grabbed her order pad and slapped Max with it, punctuating each word. "Told. Me. What?"
Max groaned and ran a hand through his hair. Maria would never let it go, and besides, maybe she'd have some idea why Liz would have wanted to deceive him so strangely. And that might help when he talked to Liz upstairs.
"Well... I thought she slept with Kyle." His voice was incredibly quiet. Saying it out loud felt like a knife through his heart. "But she didn't... something else is going on, something I don't yet understand."
Maria stared at Max for a long silent moment, her face unreadable, and he felt panic begin to rise up in his chest. Maybe she knew something about this? Maybe it really had been true after all?
And then she began to laugh outrageously, which completely disconcerted him--he couldn't have imagined that she would react like this, especially to something that had felt so incredibly humiliating and painful.
"Maria. Please... it's not funny."
"It's funny to me, babe. Kyle Valenti? Kyle? God, I could have put you out of your misery a week ago. Liz would never do something like that-you know that."
"I know it now. But I saw them, Maria, and it was hard to know what to think..."
"Well, not exactly. I mean they were in bed together," he rubbed his tired eyes. "See, this is why I still have to talk to Liz. I know that nothing happened... she just wanted me to believe something had. But what I don't know is why."
"Max, Liz Parker has only ever loved one guy. One. And that's you." She met his gaze intently. "Whatever you saw... there's some kind of explanation."
"I know." Max nodded thoughtfully.
"Hey, and it's probably some weird alien thing!" Maria laughed.
Max started to laugh, but was cut short by an excruciating pain that began to throb suddenly behind his eyes. It felt like something exploding inside his brain, as it hit him with vigorous, sharp jolts. He rubbed at his temples, trying to ease the shooting pain.
Maria's smile faded, replaced by concern. "Max? Are you okay?"
"Yeah...just a headache"
He fumbled his way to a stool, trying to beat back the throbbing pain as he sat down. He tried to clear his mind, but was hit with a terrible sensation of dread. Icy fingers reached inside him, taking hold of his heart, and literally choked the breath out of him. His lungs burned with every ragged breath he drew in.
This was not a flash. It was something deep within him... connected to him somehow. He looked to Maria, trying to sort through the rapidly firing impressions, and saw worry reflected in her eyes.
"Max?" She rubbed his arm soothingly.
Then the swirling sensations formed a single thought, and everything came dreadfully into focus.
God, it was Liz. Something was wrong with Liz.
"Why did he come back to you? And where is he now?"
"He?" Liz asked, borrowing time.
The stranger circled her, pacing around her like a wildcat stalking its prey. Liz stood frozen, her back to the bedroom door.
"What was Max trying to do by coming back to this particular time? What is so critical about now?"
Thoughts raced one after another through her mind, but one thing was clear--this man was not from her time, and probably from 2014. She remained silent, willing herself to breathe, as he fired off questions rapidly.
"Where is he?" the stranger asked, leveling her with his icy gaze.
Liz smiled faintly in victory. "I'm not telling you anything."
"You're so pathetic. Both of you... " he sneered. "Your precious husband sacrificed everything to protect the location of the granilith... his family, friends, even his throne." The stranger shook his head derisively. "And then at the very last moment he got careless. Betrayed its location by coming back to you."
Liz gasped. "What do you mean?" "I mean I followed both of you there. To the granilith. And after he used it to come back through time, I followed him here. To you."
"In the end, he couldn't protect the granilith." His voice grew hushed, almost seductive. "And he couldn't even protect you."
"That's not true." Liz shook her head forcefully.
"Are you so sure? You weren't there... " he reached out and touched a stray strand of her hair, causing chill bumps to rise on Liz's skin. "Once he left, there was only the two of us, my dear... I enjoyed sifting your mind to learn his pitiful plan."
Liz's breath caught in her throat, and she flinched as the stranger let his fingertips linger on her face, tracing a path down the skin of her neck.
"But you were strong. You shut me out... at least from that area of your mind." He looked at her significantly. "I couldn't learn why he came back... but now you're going to tell me that." His fingers stopped at the base of Liz's throat, and she could feel her pulse throbbing underneath them. His black eyes met hers forcefully, and she couldn't seem to look away. Why did he have so much power over her?
"And then you're going to tell me where to find him." He let his fingers drop. Oh, God... he's here for Max. And Max is probably going to walk in the door in a matter of moments. "I don't even know who you are," she choked. "True. But I know you extremely well, Liz Evans." He stared at her thoughtfully, and his dark eyes flared for a moment with an emotion she couldn't read. "You may call me Marco," he offered. She noticed that a smooth scar cut through his eyebrow, causing a shocking white line to divide the dark hair. The silvery scar ran up across his forehead, disappearing into his hairline, and Liz had the feeling that it was important. It was almost like she knew its significance, but it kept floating just beyond her grasp. Liz met his gaze, and tried to form some kind of plan. She had to protect Max at all costs, had to lure this stranger away from him. She shivered because somehow she knew that part of Marco's mission was to end Max's life, and then to set about changing the course of the future in his own way. And with that, she made a decision. "Let's go," she said. He arched an eyebrow curiously in response. "I can take you to him," she said, "but he's not here." "Right now, I only want the one who came back. My first business is with him." Liz nodded. "I understand." She had no idea where she was going to take this man-only that she had to get him out of the apartment right now. And she also guessed it was a good idea to continue the illusion that Future Max hadn't yet disappeared. Otherwise, all his energy would shift toward finding her Max. One question plagued her, though-why hadn't Marco disappeared when they changed the future? Why had he somehow been impervious to the forces of time that had caused Future Max to vanish that night one week ago?
Max rushed into Liz's apartment and met a solid wall of emotions, every last one pulsing over him, through him... suffocating him. His connection with Liz was wide open as he stood in the doorway of her room.
But there was no Liz. No sight of her at all.
There was only an open window, where a curtain fluttered listlessly.
"Liz?" he called out hopefully, as he stepped into the rest of the apartment. "Liz!" Maria pushed past him.
Their cries were met with empty silence, as Max stepped back into Liz's bedroom. Maria grabbed his arm and looked up at him for some kind of assurance.
"Max? Where is she?"
"I don't know," he shook his head, stepping past her, circling Liz's room desperately.
As he turned toward Maria, the air crackled with energy and simply came alive around him. The floor shifted beneath his feet as he caught a glimpse of Liz in front of her bedroom mirror, with a wedding veil on. Before he could make sense of it, the image dissolved and faded into another... Liz in her bathroom, sobbing.
He jerked his head toward the bathroom, as if he might actually see her standing there, and flashed on the strangest vision of all. He saw someone who looked very much like himself, but older... different. Max began to shake as the air all around him cooled by quick degrees. What was happening to him? What had happened in this room that had been so intense it had left an actual imprint in the atmosphere?
And then the headache exploded behind his eyes again, nearly blinding him this time.
He collapsed onto Liz's bed and buried his face in his hands. Max forced his mind to still so that he could try to read all the emotions and images he was getting from the room. If he could just sort through them, then maybe he could figure out what was going on. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths.
"Max? We can't just sit here!" Maria stomped impatiently.
Max looked up at her slowly, raising his face out of his hands. "Maria, I... I'm getting things... off this room. Things that might help us find Liz."
"What kind of things?"
"Emotions... images. Maria... you should look around in here. See what you can find."
"Why not the rest of the apartment?"
Max closed his eyes. Grief... a solid wall of grief. Terror. Delirious ecstasy... more grief. The impressions washed over him quickly, but one in particular kept surfacing out of the murky depths. Terror.
Liz's terror... shooting through the room like ungrounded electric current.
And it was the freshest, most recent imprint he was picking up.
He shook his head. "No, this room is the key," and he buried his face in his hands again, willing the room to stop spinning. He had to quiet himself and it was going to be hard, especially because he recognized the emotions in this room.
He'd only known absolute terror like this one other time in his life-in the white room.
|Part 5 | Index | Part 7|
|Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours|