|"Strong, Dangerous & Undeniable"|
Disclaimer: The characters belong to M. Metz, J. Katims, and The WB. I'm only gently leading them where I'd like them to go.|
Summary: This story begins with the scene in MITC when Liz does her astral projection thing. It follows along with everything in the show up to that point, and goes on to explore Liz's powers, and to resolve the obstacles in the path of her being together with Max.
|"She actually encouraged you to come check on me?" Liz asked Max with brows lifted in surprise.|
They were in the jeep, driving down the Old Highway with the radio playing softly in the background, and they'd been talking about Tess ever since they'd left the city limits. Liz had told him about everything she'd seen when they'd connected to do the mindwarp, and Max had filled her in on the conversation he'd had with Tess in the jeep earlier.
"Yeah," Max answered. "That's really good news, right? That she's willing for us to all try and be friends?"
"Yeah, that's great. If she really means it. But if there's one thing I learned from connecting with her today, Max, it's that what's in Tess' head and what comes out of her mouth are two entirely different things."
"Well, but, it's a step in the right direction, don't you think? I mean, if you two could become friends, and the rest of us make more of an effort to make her feel like a member of the group, eventually, I think she'd be able to accept you and me being together."
"Oh, yeah," she agreed, nodding. "It's definitely a step in the right direction."
She wanted to share Max's enthused sense of optimism, and she did feel that Tess encouraging Max to come to her was a positive sign, but her feelings of caution and doubt refused to be dismissed. When connecting with Tess, she hadn't seen anything concrete that she could point to as a reason for her mistrust, but simply the state of Tess' emotions was enough to make Liz uneasy. She'd been so confused and conflicted that Liz could very easily imagine those emotions driving Tess to make a decision that they would all come to regret later. And until they felt more sure of Tess, Liz wouldn't feel comfortable about trusting her with the whole future thing.
"I guess we should all try and do something together soon. You know, go out, be friends," she suggested with an ironic smile.
"Yeah," Max agreed. "Maybe we could go to the movies or something next weekend. Do something normal for a change."
"That sounds good. We could invite Michael and Maria, and Alex and Isabel, too."
"Sure. What better way to make Tess feel like a part of the group?"
"Oh! And we should invite Kyle, too."
She looked at Max quickly as she suddenly remembered the part Kyle had played in the whole sleeping together deception, and added, "I mean, if- if that's okay."
He looked over at her and said reassuringly, "It's okay, Liz. I don't hold anything against Kyle. I mean, how can I? All he was really guilty of was being loyal to you. He's been loyal to all of us, actually, ever since he found out the truth about us. He's one of us now, and we should definitely include him."
Liz looked at him with shining eyes, and marveled at his generosity.
How could he forgive and forget so easily? It had been only yesterday that Max had still believed that she and Kyle had slept together. And she knew the depths of hurt and anger he'd felt because of that, she'd experienced it herself when they'd connected. So how was it possible that he could just let all those dark emotions go, and forgive her and Kyle without holding even the tiniest of grudges against them for tricking him and lying to him, all within the space of a single day? He hadn't even gotten the least bit upset with her beacause she hadn't trusted him with the truth sooner. And not only was he able to forgive them for everything they'd done, but he was willing to count them among the members of his elite group of friends.
He was incredible, she thought, her heart swelling with love and admiration.
Looking over to find the reason for the long silence, Max encountered her amazed stare, and asked self-consciously, "What?"
Shaking her head a little, she said feelingly, "I love you, Max Evans."
A pleased smile curved his lips and he reached for her hand where it rested in her lap.
Twining her fingers through his, she said, "You're amazing, you know that?"
The corner of his lip quirked and he said, "Why? Because I included Kyle in our movie plans?"
"Yes," she answered seriously. "Because you're able to forgive him- forgive us, for what we did to you. I know we didn't really.. um, sleep together, but- we made you think we did, and that's even worse, really, because it isn't something you can just excuse by saying it was a mistake we made in a weak moment, or whatever. It.. was a deliberate attempt to- to hurt you." She dropped her eyes to her lap in regret, and Max gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. She tightened her grip around his and said, "A-and there may have been a good reason behind what we did, but...I know how much we hurt you, Max. I- I felt it. I wouldn't have blamed you- at all, if you needed some time, you know, to- to come to terms with that." Her lip lifted slightly at the corner, and she looked at him with a shake of her head, "But here you are, the very next day, saying, 'Hey, why don't you and Kyle come to the movies with me'."
He gave a small shrug of his shoulders and said, "Of course I can forgive you, Liz. I know you never would've done what you did if- if I hadn't asked you to do it." He grimaced. "If it's going to take time for me to come to terms with anything it'll be that. That the person responsible for putting us through everything we've had to go through this past month was- myself. That's still hard for me to comprehend, you know? If it had only involved my feelings, I might be able to understand it better. But to just drop all that responsibility in your lap, and leave you to deal with it on your own, on top of the way you were already hurting..." he shook his head, "that's not something I would have ever thought I'd do. No matter what was at stake. There- there had to be a better way."
Liz's gaze rested pensively on their linked hands and she brushed her thumb lightly across his knuckles.
Max's thumb returned the caress, and he continued, "But I don't want us to waste any more time on regrets, Liz. Either of us," he added pointedly. "I've done enough of that over the past six months to last both our lifetimes. Mostly regretting who I am, but also that I didn't stop you from walking away that day at the cave, and that I wasn't more persistent when you first came home from Florida, and even that I hadn't just gone into your room that night and confronted you and Kyle. But all those things, they're over and done with, and regretting them isn't going to change anything. I just.. I want us to put all that stuff behind us, so we can focus all our energy on doing what we have to do to be together. Because if I've learned anything from us being apart, Liz," she brought her gaze up, and his eyes left the road to look directly into hers, "it's that nothing else in my life seems to work if I don't have you beside me," he finished earnestly.
Smiling at him lovingly, she slid her free hand to cover the back of his, and stroked it caressingly.
"So no more talk about forgiveness for what happened last month, okay? It's in the past, and besides there's really nothing to forgive in the first place."
Her lips retained their upward curve as she lowered her lashes, and agreed to let bygones be bygones with a soft, "Okay."
"Okay," he repeated with a small nod of his head and a squeeze of her hand to seal the deal.
They were silent for a few moments, then Max said, "You know, as amazing as I am for including Kyle," he gave her a teasing grin, and she smilingly rolled her eyes, "he may not want to be included."
"What do you mean?" she asked curiously.
"Well, I had Tess talk to him last night about the possibility that he's been changed, just like you have. I thought he might take it better coming from her."
"Yeah, I've been thinking about him, and wondering if that were true. So.. it didn't go so well, huh?"
"Well, he wasn't too thrilled about it, but Tess said he didn't totally reject the possibility. But when she asked if he wanted to come with us to the quarry today to find out more about it, he said there was some game on t.v. he didn't want to miss. I get the feeling he'd just rather not know."
"Well, it's kind of a lot to accept all at once, Max. If we hadn't been in the middle of an emergency when Ava told me, I probably wouldn't have wanted evidence that it was true right away, either." After pausing for a second, she said, "He's gotta be wondering, though. Maybe I should talk to him."
"Yeah," he agreed. "That might be good. It might help you both to deal with it. I mean, since it's something you're both going through." He hesitated a beat before saying, "I realized something on the way home from the quarry today, Liz. About how I kept saying over and over again today, that none of us are pressuring you, you know, to- to use these powers you have now. But I realized that that's not true. I have been pushing you, practically since the minute I got home yesterday. Wanting to learn more about them, and to find out what you can do. That was wrong of me, and I wanted to aplogize. Not only have I not given you enough time to deal with all this, but we've just been trying to learn too much about it too fast. And we need to be more cautious with this thing. We don't know anything about it, and you could end up really getting hurt. Or- or worse." His heart quickened in remembered dread as his mind relived her collapse after doing the energy blast today. "We could've lost you today, Liz," he said in quiet fear.
Her hand slid from its place atop his to give the back of his wrist a comforting squeeze, and she assured him, "But you didn't. I'm right here, Max. And I'm fine."
His hand gripped hers tightly and he said, "It could've easily turned out so much worse, though. I- I shouldn't have pushed. You should take as much time as you need to deal with this. There's no need to hurry, it's not like there's an urgent reason for you to develop these powers. There's really no need to develop them at all, if you don't want to. For you or Kyle, either one. We'll just.. we'll take things slow, okay? From now on, we won't do anything unless you're completely comfortable with it."
"I wouldn't mind if we slowed down a little, but- I don't want you to feel bad for pushing me, Max, because I really needed you to do that. If you hadn't, I would've just.. kept denying that it was true, that I've been changed. But it is true. And it's something that's a part of me now. I won't deny that it really scares me, and I totally agree that we should be more cautious, but I want to learn more about it. I need to. Because my biggest fear is that I might accidentally do something terrible to hurt someone just because I don't know how these powers work. So, really, I think- I think there is a need to develop them."
"That's fine, Liz. If it'll put your mind at ease we'll help you learn whatever you want. Except... no more energy blasts, okay? They're too dangerous. And according to Michael, they aren't something you two have any control over."
"He thinks that? He doesn't think we could get them under control even if we worked on them?"
"Liz, I don't want you working on them. Look at what happened today when you two tried to do that. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said we should be more cautious. We don't know what we're dealing with here, and it isn't something to play around with."
"Right, Max. We don't know what we're dealing with. All the more reason to try and find out more about it, don't you think?"
He looked at her sternly and said, "No, I don't think. We don't know why your energy reacted the way it did to his. And Michael said that it started to grow as soon as you connected. If it's going to be like that every time you connect, it isn't going to give you any time to try to get it under control."
"Yeah," she said reflectively, "It did kinda take on a life of its own." She paused for a contemplative moment. "But, you know, I think part of it may have been the same thing that happened with you and me this afternoon. We just.. let it build up for so long, and I felt like I just had to let it out. Maybe- maybe I could've tried doing what you showed me how to do, you know, absorb some of it back into my body. Then maybe it wouldn't have been so much that we couldn't handle it."
Max shook his head. "Liz, this is too dangerous for you to try to experiment with. And anyway, I thought you were scared of it. I would've thought you'd be the first one to agree not to use this power anymore. Why are you suddenly so gung-ho about it?"
"Because, Max... It- it's like- this incredible force that's capable of.. well, of.. of killing, and it's inside of me, and I don't know anything about it. I- I need to feel like I have some kind of control over it, you know? Otherwise... I'll just live in- in fear of it for the rest of my life."
Max sighed. He could understand her need to know more about it, but it was just so dangerous, and he couldn't override his protective instincts. "I just don't want to see you get hurt, Liz," he said, his face twisted into an expression of reluctance and concern.
She smiled softly in understanding and said, "I know, Max. We can wait on this. There isn't any hurry about it, right?" Her lips quirked. "We won't do anything until you're completely comfortable with it."
He grinned at hearing his words tossed back at him, and said dryly, "Well, in that case, there isn't anything to worry about, because I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with it."
Liz smiled and decided to let the matter drop. It was true that she wanted to find out what she could about this power, but she would be more than happy to wait a little while before pursuing it. It would give her and Max, both time to grow more used to the idea. And she had no idea how Michael felt about the whole thing after what had happened this morning. She wondered what was going through his head right now.
"Um, did Michael say anything else about it on the way home? I mean, besides the fact that it grew stronger and got out of control?"
Max felt the return of his guilt and regret as he remembered everything that had been said in the jeep going home this afternoon. "He, uh- he just said that your energy seemed to grab on to his, and it somehow fused together. And that he tried to take some of it back, but he couldn't get it separated."
"Yeah," she agreed, remembering how she had felt the pull of it as he tried to take his own energy back, but both forces had entertwined so tightly that it had become like a single unit inside her. "Why do you think it did that, Max? And why only with Michael? If it was going to do that with anyone, I would think it would be with you, since you're the one that changed me, you know? So, why Michael?"
Max remembered the accusatory way he'd asked Michael the same questions, and the memory of his bitter answers sent Max sinking a little deeper into guilt. "I don't know," he answered quietly.
"It's really strange, but...when our energy came together, it felt like--" she hesitated for a long moment, then shook her head at the absurdity of what she was about to suggest. "Forget it."
Pulled out of his guilty musings by curiosity at what she'd left unsaid, Max said, "It felt like- what?"
"Nothing. Forget it," she said again. "It doesn't make sense."
"Very little about this situation does make sense, Liz. What were you going to say? It felt like- what?"
Liz sighed in capitulation and said, "I was just going to say that.. what was happening with our energy- it felt... familiar, somehow. Like- like maybe it had happened before."
Nonplussed, Max's brows drew down in a frown, and she said hastily, "I told you, it's ridiculous. You know, I was obviously under a lot of stress at the time, and what I was feeling just.. well- it had no basis in reality. We should really just forget I even said anything."
Max continued to frown as he thought about what she'd said. He hated to just dimiss her feelings out of hand, but she was right, it didn't make any sense.
"You're probably right," he finally conceded. "It must have been the stress. I mean, we know how much of a strain it was on your body to do the blast, it had to have affected your emotions, too."
Liz was quiet as she recalled exactly how much of a strain it had been on her body. It made her shudder to remember how the power had felt as it had gone ripping through her body when she'd thrown it at the quarry wall. It seemed an impossibility that she had escaped the force and fury of it unscathed. It was a memory that had her doubting the sanity of ever having anything to do with this power again. It was capable of so much destruction. At least, she assumed it was. She suddenly realized that she had no idea exactly what the blast had done after she'd let it go, because she'd blacked out almost immediately. The lack of knowledge seemed to add another unknown quantity to the already uncertain ability.
She licked her lips nervously, and said, "Um, did- did it do a lot of damage? The blast."
Max threw a quick look over at her and said, "I didn't get a really good look at it because I was focused on you as soon as you fainted, but... yeah," he finished quietly, "It did a lot of damage."
She was silent for a moment, then asked, "Could I see it?"
"What, now?" he asked in surprise.
"Yeah. I- I need to see it, Max. Will you take me?"
He looked at her in indecision and asked, "Are you sure you're up to it today, Liz? I can bring you back some other time."
"I'm sure." When he still hesitated, she asked, "Please?"
"Okay," he finally complied. He stroked the fleshy pad at the base of her thumb with his own, before sliding his hand free from her clasp to turn the jeep around.
Once they were headed in the opposite direction, Liz said, "Thank you, Max. I just.. I guess I need to see it with my own eyes, you know? What this power is capable of."
"I understand that you need to do that, Liz, but you've already had to deal with so much today..." Looking over at her, he reached his hand up to the back of her head to stroke her hair and said, "I just- I don't want you to try to handle too much at once, okay?"
"I won't," she promised, smiling softly at his concern.
They were quiet for most of the trip to the quarry. When they were only a few miles away from their destination, Liz finally became aware of the fact that the reason for Max's silence was because he was brooding over something.
"Max, what's wrong? If you really don't want me to do this today, I can wait."
Startled out of his thoughts, his eyes jerked over to hers, and he answered, "It's not that, Liz. I was...I was just thinking about Michael."
Her brows drew down slightly. "What about him?"
Max shook his head in self-disgust. "I really messed up with him today. He- he's feeling guilty about what happened with you at the quarry." He gave her a brief look to catch her response, and continued, "And I just made things worse. I actually.. tried to place blame on him. A-and now he almost seems like he's at the same place he was after he killed Pierce."
"Oh, Max," Liz said softly.
"I just...I was worried about you. And I was feeling guilty myself, for pushing you, and letting you go through with the blast, and I didn't understand what went wrong. All Michael had to do was open his mouth, and I just...jumped all over him." With a brief shake of his head, he said, "I guess I just needed someone to strike out at." His mouth twisted, and he said with bitter regret, "That's the only kind of relationship he and I seem to have anymore. Like we're just someone to take each other's frustrations out on. He's always pissed off at me about something, and I'm always so frustrated with him I can't see straight."
"Max, you guys- you have such a complicated relationship, you know? Michael- he's never had a steady male influence in his life except for you. And he's always looked up to you. But at the same time, I think he's always been a little jealous of you, you know, because you always seem to have it just a little bit better than him. And when you found out that you're the leader of your planet, and that Isabel is your sister, but not his...it just gave him even more to be jealous of, and- it's just taking him some time to deal with that. And you know Michael has never been good with emotions, anger is the only way he knows how to deal."
Max gave her an odd look and said, "Since when do you know so much about the inner workings of Michael's mind?"
She blinked, taken aback, and answered, "I- I don't know. I just.. do."
They'd come up on the entrance of the quarry without her being aware of it, and the question was immediately forgotten. She barely had time to take a deep breath to prepare herself, before the evidence of what the energy blast was capable of was staring her in the face. The moment the quarry wall came into view, her eyes became riveted by the site of the dark cavity carved into its face. The sun hung low on the horizon, backlighting the granite bluff, and leaving its sheer interior wall hidden in shadowed obscurity. It was hard to gauge the depth of the yawning hole from here, inside was utter darkness, but judging from its opening, it looked as though it could be at least as big as her bedroom.
Max took a long look at the violently wrought crease in the rock, and was shaken once again by the realization that the massively destructive force responsible for creating it had first gone tearing through Liz's small body. He reached for her hand to reassure himself again that she had escaped harm, but Liz was already making her way out of the car. Moving as though she were in a trance, she reached blindly for the door handle, her rapt gaze never leaving the site before her.
She slowly climbed out of the jeep and started walking toward the quarry wall as though being pulled there by some unseen force. Max got out on his own side, and followed closely behind her, his watchful gaze trained on her every move.
Liz's stomach was churning with about ten different emotions. The closer she got to her and Michael's handiwork, the harder it churned. When she was about 30 yards away from the wall of the quarry, Liz came to an abrupt halt. The dark depths of the chasm seemed to emit a feeling of ominous forboding that chilled her, and she wanted to stay far out of its reach. She stared in fascinated horror at the sheer size of it, and swallowed hard at the knowledge that she had done that. She had pulverized a chunk of granite the size of a small car into tiny pieces, creating a hollow that was big enough for a small crowd of people to fit into.
She felt Max close at her back, and she asked in a small voice, "How deep do you think it is?"
"I don't know," he answered quietly. "It's hard to see from here."
His hands came up to rest on her shoulders, and she leaned back into him, drawing comfort from his steady strength. Liz felt him press a kiss to the back of her head as his hands moved lightly up and down her arms to chase away her chill, and his silent reassurances infused her with a sense of warmth and safety.
"Are you okay?" he asked gently.
Leaning back to fit her head underneath his chin, she answered with a small smile, "I'm fine now." After a moment she said, "You know, I think this is all I needed to see to convince me that it's a really good idea to wait awhile before we do any more experimenting with the energy blast."
"Good," he replied. "'Cause it certainly hasn't done anything to increase my comfort level."
They were silent for a few moments, each lost in their own thoughts, when suddenly, Max made a sound of wry disbelief. Liz pulled away to look up at him, and followed his gaze to the large boulder about two feet away from them. Atop its flat surface sat a small stone, perfectly intact.
Liz narrowed her eyes.
Catching her expression, Max chuckled, and moved toward the boulder, saying, "This is one lucky rock." Bending to pick it up, he said, "Maybe I should take it with me. It obviously has some kind of powers of defense that might come in handy sometime."
Smiling dryly, Liz said, "Very funny."
Her smile fell away, and her eyes filled with startlement as Max's face lost all expression, and his eyes grew dull and blank.
Her hand flew up to his forearm in concerned fright, and she said fearfully, "Max? What's wrong?"
Without warning, she was bombarded with flashes.
Images of the six of them here this morning as she and Michael had performed the energy blast came at her in bits and pieces, interspersed with the familiar bursts of bright light.
They could have lasted for long minutes, or only a few seconds, but the flashes suddenly halted as abruptly as they'd begun.
She and Max slowly regained awareness of where they were, and when each of them had finally brought the other's face back into focus, their eyes locked.
Trepidation filled them both, making their hearts pound, as they silently realized what the flashes meant.
Max was the one who finally gave voice to the frightening conclusion they both had come to.
"Someone was watching us."
|Part 16 | Index | Part 18|
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