|"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.
|"Here you go," Liz said plunking a cherry coke down on the table in front of Max, avoiding the text book and papers scattered
there. "I think this is like your tenth one," she said teasingly.|
"What can I say? I'm really thirsty," he returned with a grin.
He'd been sitting here in his usual booth ever since she'd started her shift hours ago, and since that time he'd steadily made his way through a Sigourney Weaver and Saturn Rings, Astronomy and U.S. History homework, and was currently working on his umpteenth coke and...she peered over his shoulder... their trigonometry exercises.
"Oh. Did you get the answer to number eight?" she asked curiously, while tilting her head to read his work. "I thought I'd never figure that one out."
"Haven't made it that far yet," he told her. "Maybe you could sit for a minute and give me some pointers. You look exhausted."
She was exhausted. She'd been lucky just to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep every night this week. She was still having nightmares. She could never remember anything about them the next morning, but she always felt their affect. It had been an effort just to pry her eyes open and get out of bed every day. And she thought she was probably single-handedly keeping the aspirin industry in business.
Add to that the facts that she'd been working extra hours because they'd had a waitress quit, and there seemed to be some kind of conspiracy going on that involved all her teachers and an insane amount of tests, and she'd barely had a minute to call her own.
Of course, it hadn't helped matters any that she'd had the nerve-wracking feeling off and on all week that she was being followed. She wasn't sure if she was only being paranoid since their last trip to the quarry, or if someone had actually been watching her. She hadn't wanted to worry Max needlessly, so she'd just been trying to keep a sharp eye out, and she hadn't gone anywhere unless one of the others was with her.
Taking a look around the crowded restaurant she finally answered, "I don't know, Max. I probably shouldn't."
They'd been unusually busy tonight. The drama club at their school had performed a play in the school auditorium earlier tonight, and as soon as it had let out, it seemed like maybe the entire audience had flocked here. It finally seemed to be slowing down a little, though.
She looked from Max's caring face, to the inviting surface of the padded seat opposite him, to the small mob that surrounded her. "Maybe just until my next order comes up," she compromised.
She sank down onto the bench seat across from him, an act her feet thanked her for, and gave a little sigh of relief. In a slightly chiding tone of voice, she told Max, "Of course, you know you've like, completely demolished rule number 12 tonight, right?"
He thought for a minute. "You mean the one about not loitering at the Crashdown when you're working?"
"I'm sorry, Liz. But I figured this would be the only chance I'd get to talk to you. You've been so busy this week, we really haven't needed any rules to keep us apart," he said, concern evident in his voice.
He was getting kind of worried about her. She'd had dark smudges underneath her eyes ever since Tuesday, and she just hadn't been her usual cheerfully energetic self. But, whenever he asked her about it, she always told him she was fine, just a little tired. Of course, they were all a little stressed worrying about being followed everywhere they went, he just hoped Liz would tell him if she was actually losing sleep over it.
His concern warmed her, and she answered, "I know. I'm sorry we haven't had any time together. But things will slow down once we find a waitress to replace Julie Ann."
He nodded and said, "I hope you find someone soon. I don't see how you can keep up this pace, Liz."
"I'm fine, Max. Stop worrying. Come on," she urged, "We've barely spoken for days, and we only have a few minutes here. Surely, we can think of something better to talk about than my long and tiring week."
Max hesitated, then reluctantly agreed to let it go. "Well- since you've mentioned it... we really haven't had time to discuss this list of yours. And I've gotta tell you, there are some rules on there I object to. And number 12 is one of them."
"What's wrong with number 12?"
"I just don't see the need for it. I mean, Tess isn't even here now. What's it going to hurt for me to hang around?"
"Because, other kids from school are here, Max. Word could get around to Tess."
"They don't know how long I've been here. And besides, if that happens, I have a legitimate excuse now that we've discovered someone's watching us. I'll just say I was here on guard duty."
Slightly amused, she pointed out, "Michael's here. Why isn't he a sufficient guard?"
Throwing a look toward the kitchen he said, "Because. Look how busy he is. He can't watch you...a- and Maria... like I can."
"And what's going to happen to us in the middle of a crowded restaurant?" she asked with playfully lifted brows.
Hesitating, he finally conceded, "I don't know. But if I have to argue this point with Tess, I'll just- I'll wing it. Trust me, rule number 12 isn't necessary. I vote we take it to a higher court and have it repealed," he said with a tiny grin.
"I'll take it up with legislation," she said with mock seriousness. "So, what other rules do you have an objection to?"
Giving her a direct look, he said, "I really hate the one about not being alone in bedrooms. I mean, our rooms are the only places we have to be completely private, Liz. How else are we supposed to follow rule number-- well, I don't remember what number it is, but it's the one that says..." he looked around furtively and leaned closer. Lowering his voice, he continued, "no kissing, hugging, or touching can take place unless it's at a time and place where there's no chance of being caught."
"Well, our rooms aren't exactly havens of privacy, Max. Are you forgetting how Maria almost caught us in my room the other day?"
"But she didn't catch us," he reminded her. "She still doesn't have a clue."
"Well, I wouldn't say she's completely clueless, she just hasn't tried to worm it all out of me yet."
Surprisingly, their secret was still safe from Maria. She'd had her own crisis to worry about lately, and she really hadn't questioned Liz too much about her relationship with Max. It seemed that Amy DeLucca had been going out with Sheriff Valenti every night this week. When he couldn't manage to get away from work, she'd been fixing him home-cooked meals and taking them to the police station to have dinner with him there. Maria had been ranting all week that they were getting 'way too serious way too fast', and she was now more worried than ever that the joining of the two households was eminent.
"So, are you saying you aren't willing to put the 'no bedroom' rule on the table for discussion?" Max asked with disappointment.
Both their heads jerked around in alarm at the sound of Michael's shout across the noisy cafe, and at least half the customers' conversations were startled into silence.
"YOU ON THE CLOCK, OR WHAT?!" Michael demanded, his voice loud and sharp with annoyance.
Liz's face flamed as the majority of the patrons swiveled their heads around to the table where she and Max sat. She darted an embarrassed glance over at Max to find that his face was also stained a dull red, and he was aiming a hard stare in Michael's direction. The room seemed to hold its breath in anticipation as everyone awaited her response.
Max took one look at her mortified expression and moved to slide out of the booth, saying angrily, "That's it. I can't just stand back and watch him treat you like this anymore, Liz. I haven't said anything all week, but this is the last straw. He's called attention to us all with this little outburst."
Liz quickly caught Max's forearm to stop him, and said, "No, Max. That'll only make things worse." She took a calming breath and assured him, "I can handle this, okay?"
She waited until he'd settled back in his seat, and he gave her a long look before finally tightening his lips and nodding his assent.
In the most dignified manner she could manage, she slowly got up from the table, and crossed over to the pick-up window where Michael stood. Most people had resumed their conversations at her lack of response, but many watched her progress across the room with keen interest.
When she'd reached Michael, she glared at him and said frostily, "You know, a simple 'order up' would've been sufficient."
Sarcastically, he returned, "Well, apparently not, 'cause I've called 'order up' twice and it's still sittin' here. Food's probably cold by now. Y'know, I realize that whatever it is you two are doing over there is extremely important, the fate of all the world rests upon your shoulders and all that, but if you could manage to tear yourself away every so often to do what you're getting paid to do, I'm sure these hungry people would appreciate it." He punctuated his words with a quick little false smile that she found utterly infuriating.
Biting her tongue, Liz took another deep breath to calm herself, but it didn't seem to help much. She was tired, she was stressed, and she wasn't in the mood for this. "You know what I would appreciate, Michael? If you would just stop being such a complete and total jerk!" she said in an angry undertone. "You're obviously forgetting that I know exactly what you're doing and why, so don't you agree that this whole attempt to like, keep me at a distance is a complete waste of both our time?"
Before he could answer, Maria hurried up to them, only now able to escape the demands of her customers. Eyeing them both, she hissed, "What is going on with you two? You're like, creating a public spectacle! I thought we were supposed to be keeping a low profile. You know, like- low? What were you thinking yelling across the restaurant like that, Michael?"
Annoyed at the chastisement, he said angrily, "I was thinking that while little Miss Deep and Soulful here was sitting over there gazing into Maxwell's eyes, this burger that I just slaved over was sitting here slowly turning into garbage." To make his point he grabbed up the food basket and slam-dunked it into a nearby trash container. "Where'd you get your work ethic, anyway?" he demanded of Liz. As if suddenly remembering, he said, "Oh, I forgot. I guess you don't really need one when Mommy and Daddy own the restaurant, do you?"
"Michael!" Maria protested on Liz's behalf. "What's wrong with you? Liz hasn't had a break all night, and it's been a zoo. So she was sitting down for a few minutes, all you had to do was let her know her order was ready. And if she didn't hear you, you could've yelled at me. But not yelled yelled," she scolded, "I mean, this is a place of business, you know."
"Whatever," Michael said shortly in dismissal. He glared pointedly at Liz and said, "I have to go get another burger on the grill."
Mutely, Liz stared him down until he turned away, then she glared at his back for good measure.
Maria looked from one to the other of them with a puzzled expression and asked, "Liz, what's going on? I've never seen Michael be so nasty to you. Something's been weird between you two all week."
Liz averted her eyes guiltily.
This was another thing she'd managed to keep from Maria. She and Michael both had glossed over the depth of this connection thing as far as Maria was concerned, and fortunately none of the alien crew had said anything to give them away. Liz hated to be keeping secrets from Maria again, but she was just really afraid that this would hurt Maria deeply.
Liz knew from the things she'd told her that in all their hot-and-heavy make-out sessions, Maria had never gotten a flash from Michael. Not a single one. She was afraid to find out how Maria would react if she knew that Liz had practically seen into his very soul. She just dreaded the thought of hurting her best friend that way. And apparently that was the one thing she and Michael had managed to agree on this week. Even though they hadn't discussed it aloud.
Unable to look Maria in the eye, she shruggingly spoke to the floor as she said, "He's just been frustrated, you know, that we didn't see anything more than we did when we got the flashes the other day. And he seems to be taking it all out on me. I don't know, maybe he blames me, or something."
She felt a little guilty at making Michael out to be the bad guy this way, when Maria exclaimed in outrage, "What?! But that is so totally not fair! He's the ali--" Snapping her mouth shut as she realized where she was, she took a quick look around, then lowered her voice. "He's the Czechoslovakian. You're just like... a visitor to their country, you know? How could he possibly blame you?"
Michael plopped a fresh food basket down on the pick-up window's ledge and gave Liz a sarcastic smile as he said in an exaggeratedly pleasant tone, "Order up."
No longer feeling the least bit guilty, she snatched up the food while shooting him a look of death, and turned to Maria to say tightly, "Because he's Michael."
As soon as Liz had moved away, Maria said demandingly, "Michael. What is your problem?"
Rubbing a hand over his eyes, he said, "Maria, don't start, alright? Just... stay out of this."
"I will not stay out of it. Liz is my friend, and you're treating her like crap. I know I let you get away with that with me, but Liz is different. She's... sensitive, and she's very- vulnerable right now. She's been through a lot lately. And if you knew the part you'd played in all that, I hope you'd be ashamed. Deeply, deeply ashamed," she emphasized.
"I don't know what you're talkin' about, and your order's gettin' cold," he answered, pushing the food in her direction, then turning away to oversee the grill.
He glanced over his shoulder to see her flouncing away and sighed.
He knew exactly what Maria had been talking about, he admitted to himself, mechanically flipping over the meat patties lined up in front of him. And it did make him feel ashamed.
He'd never even acknowledged the sacrifice that Liz had made for him and Isabel. Heck, for the entire world. He wanted to say that he probably hadn't factored very much in her decision, but this stupid connection left him unable to do that. He knew how she'd felt that day when she'd stood behind the door watching him and Isabel out in the Crashdown, while she tried to come to a decision about what to do about Max. And all her feelings hadn't just been for Isabel. She cared about him, too.
Michael was afraid that if the situation had been reversed he wouldn't have been so generous. For Isabel, yeah, he'd give up anything, in a heartbeat. But for Liz? He couldn't honestly say what he would've done.
She really didn't deserve the way he'd been treating her lately. He knew that in his head, but the words just seemed to come out of his mouth without conscious thought. She looked at him with those dark, soulful eyes that saw far too much, and it was just a reflex action. And she seemed to annoy him so easily, these days. No one got under his skin like that except for Maria.
He sighed again.
He didn't know what to do about her. They wouldn't be able to keep this connection a secret from her forever, but he really didn't relish the scene she was sure to make once she found out about it. Not that he would really blame her. After being so effective in keeping her from seeing inside him all this time, here he was seemingly letting Liz into the deepest corners of his heart and mind.
He just couldn't figure out what it was that let Liz see into him so easily. It had to have been something Max did to her when he changed her. But then, why couldn't she see inside Isabel and Tess like this? What made him so lucky?
The only thing he could figure that even half-way made sense was that, since she shared something similar with Max, maybe it had something to do with them being male and her being female. Why on earth that should make any difference, though, he didn't have a clue.
There were just too many questions, and not enough answers.
The story of his life, he thought with disgust, taking out his frustrations on the hapless meat patties by savagely squeezing the grease from them.
Liz stopped briefly at Max's table on her way back from delivering her order, and sent a challenging look toward the kitchen, just in case Michael was looking.
"If we just consider the 'no bedroom' rule null and void, do you think it would be okay if I come over when I get off?" she asked Max.
"Sure," he answered. He threw a quick glance of his own at the kitchen, then looked back at her, his brows drawn into a frown. "Is everything alright? What did Michel say?" he asked darkly.
Liz sighed tiredly. "It doesn't matter. He's just...being Michael, that's all. I'm hoping he'll come around before I have to resort to strangling him, but I guess time will tell."
Max almost smiled, but she said the words with such a completely straight face, that he frowned slightly with concern instead.
She was suddenly feeling overwhelmed with all that had been happening this week, and the lack of alone time with Max, and she told him, "I just really need to be with you for a little while, Max. But it'll be pretty late when I get off. Are you sure it'll be okay?"
Responding to the need in her voice, he nodded reassuringly. "Of course it's okay, Liz. I can't imagine I'd ever turn down a request to be with you. Especially not when it's something I really want, too. We'll just...you can come in through my window, okay?"
She nodded gratefully. "Thank you, Max. I know it's not a very cautious thing to do, but...I just- really.. miss you, you know?"
His heart melted, and his golden eyes filled with warmth as he murmured, "I miss you, too."
They smiled softly into one another's eyes, and rule number 4 bit the dust, as the world around them slowly began to fade away...
And then Michael's strident voice calling, "Order up!" jarred them back to reality.
With a quick look of annoyance over her shoulder, she told Max dryly, "I have to tear myself away to go do what I'm being paid to do now. So I'll see you later?"
With a nod of agreement, Max began to gather up his things, and said, "Yeah. I think I'll go to the library to get this trig out of the way, and I'll come pick you up when you get off, okay?"
"Okay. Meet me on the balcony."
He nodded as he stood up and slung his book bag over his shoulder.
The urge to touch her was strong, but there were just too many people around. He wrapped one hand around the strap of his back pack and stuffed the other in his pocket to keep them from doing anything they shouldn't.
Caressing her face with his eyes, he said huskily, "See you later, Liz."
She gave him a doe-eyed look of longing and said softly, "Yeah. One more hour."
Eyes on hers, he swallowed, tightening his grip on the arm strap of his bag, and finally had to force himself to move away from her.
It was always like that. Like he was ripping away a piece of himself just by leaving her side.
As he was turning away, he happened to catch sight of Michael through the pick-up window. Apron and bandana-clad, he was leaning down with his hands braced against the counter on either side of him, glaring at them intimidatingly.
Max's lips twisted. "Better get back to work before the Soup Nazi starts raving again."
Grinning conspiratorially at his description of Michael, Liz turned to do as he suggested, while Max's feet reluctantly took him to the door of the restaurant, the same thought running through both their minds.
They just had to keep themselves occupied for one more hour, and then they could lose themselves in one another's arms for a short while.
|Part 20 | Index | Part 22|
|Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours|