|"Strong, Dangerous, and Undeniable"|
|Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine, but thanks to Ms. Metz, Mr. Katims, and the WB for letting us play.
Summary: This story begins with the scene in MITC when Liz does her astral projection thing. It follows along with everything in the show, except the final scene in MITC in Liz's room never takes place.
|Ding, ding, ding! "Order up!" Michael said loudly. |
Liz grit her teeth and kept her professional smile pasted firmly in place, as she moved toward the kitchen to pick up her customer's food. Even though the cafe was practically deserted and Liz had been prompt in picking up and delivering every order this afternoon, Michael still insisted on making a big production out of announcing each order. She knew he was only doing it to annoy her, and she told herself that if this was the worst she had to put up with from him today, she could handle it. Surprisingly, he hadn't made a single rude comment to her all day.
She got waylaid by a customer who asked for coffee, and as she made a slight detour for the coffee pot, Michael announced the order again by ringing the bell.
Liz closed her eyes briefly in annoyance and pulled in a deep breath. She was really going to have to do something with that bell.
Preferably shove it forcefully into one of Michael's bodily orifices.
Admirably restraining herself, she merely gave him a tight smile when she got to the pick-up window, and said, "Michael. It's practically as quiet as a library in here. I can hear you perfectly well. Do you have to draw so much attention to us with that stupid bell?"
Michael smirked. "Just makin' sure you get the message." With a quick lift of his brows and tilt of his head, he finished goadingly, "We don't wanna let the food get cold."
Liz narrowed her eyes. "Believe me, Michael, I am getting the message. Loud and clear. And it has nothing to do with the temperature of the food," she grated. "What exactly is it you want from me? Would you just tell me that? Whatever it is, I'll do it, if it'll get you off my case."
"See, that's the beauty of this whole thing, Liz," he said sarcastically. "I don't have to tell you. All you've gotta do is touch me, and you'll know my every thought and feeling."
"You act like that's my fault! I didn't ask for this, you know. It goes both ways, Michael, and I hate it just as much as you do! You know that. So would you just..." her irritation escaped her in a sighing rush, "stop pushing me? Please?" She looked at him imploringly. "I mean, what good does it do for us to constantly be at each other's throats? It's not gonna make the connection go away."
Michael stood looking down at her for a long moment, his arms crossed, and just as he seemed about to capitulate, a voice interrupted him.
"Hey, guys. What's goin' on?"
Liz whirled around guiltily to find Maria looking at them quizzically, and she and Michael simultaneously answered with an emphatic, "Nothing!"
Neither of them would meet her eyes as she looked from one to the other, and she asked with a skeptical smile, "Well, what's with the intense, whispered conversation? Isn't somebody waiting for that food?" She looked over at the customer in question. "He looks like he might be getting a little impatient."
"Yeah! Right!" Liz answered, hurriedly snatching up the plate, and slinking away with downcast eyes.
Maria watched her go, then turned back to look at Michael searchingly. "You two are at it again? What is going on, Michael?"
In an effort to avoid her eyes, he picked up a nearby towel and began industriously wiping down the counter in front of him. "I already told you, Maria- nothing's goin' on. We were just...discussing the customer's order, that's all. Liz said he ordered mustard on his burger, but I said she told me mayonnaise. It was just a minor disagreement, nothin' more."
Studying him intently, Maria nodded slowly. "You two seem to be having a lot of those lately. Anything you wanna tell me about?" she asked with raised brows.
He shrugged, the corners of his mouth turning down tightly. "Nothin' to tell."
"Are you sure?" she questioned. "'Cause, you know, I've hardly ever seen Liz angry, and she seems mad at you all the time, now. Not that I can blame her. You've been saying some really harsh things to her, Michael. Something has to be behind all that."
Feeling guilty for lying, and annoyed that she wouldn't just let it go, Michael quietly exploded. "What do you want me to say, Maria?! I said it's nothing, and it's nothing! We're just a little tense thinkin' we're bein' watched, and Liz and I have been gettin' on each other's nerves. That's all! Just- stop makin' it into such a big deal, alright?"
Covering her hurt by lifting her chin and giving him a hard look, she answered tightly, "Fine. Whatever. I have to go get ready for my shift."
Turning, she headed stiffly for the bathroom. As Michael watched her go, he tightly crushed the towel in his hands, then turned to throw it savagely across the room. An action that did absolutely nothing to release his angry tension, as it landed on the grill and promptly burst into flames.
Cursing, he rushed across the kitchen and attempted to rescue the burning cloth, only to have his fingers singed for his efforts. He cursed again, shaking his burned fingers in the air, then automatically lifted them to his lips while reaching for the spatula with his free hand. Scooping the towel up with the utensil, he hurriedly carried its burning remains over to the sink and dumped it inside, turning on the water with a vicious twist of his wrist.
When the smoke had finally cleared and the cremated corpse of the towel lay sadly at the bottom of its watery grave, Michael leaned down to brace his forearms on the edge of the sink, and plunged his injured fingers underneath the running tap, shaking his head disgustedly.
He felt a presence behind him and knew instinctively who it was without turning to see. It figured that she would witness this act of humiliation.
She might as well, it seemed he didn't have an awful lot of secrets from her anyway.
"You okay?" Liz asked softly.
"Just peachy," he replied caustically.
He straightened and turned to catch her biting her lip to hide her smile, but it was quickly wiped away as soon as she found him looking at her.
"Guess we can't say as much for the towel," she couldn't resist gibing, looking pointedly at the sink.
"Yeah, well, take it outta my paycheck," he muttered, lifting his blistered fingers for inspection.
Liz hesitated, then moved to scoop a couple of pieces of ice out of the ice bin. Stepping toward him, she said, "Here, let me see."
Immediately dropping the hand to hide it partially behind his back, he said shortly, "It's fine, Liz. I don't need your help, alright?"
She faltered a step, then her mouth firmed into a thin line, and she continued on determinedly until she'd reached him. Taking hold of his forearm, she gave it a sharp tug to pull his hand around for her ministrations, saying exasperatedly, "Just- give me your hand, Michael." Shaking her head, she said, "Why does everything have to be such an issue with you? Why can't you just let anyone do anything nice?"
Tightening his jaw, he made no reply, and resisted her for a moment, then finally allowed her to lift his arm and turn it so that his palm was facing up. Cupping the back of his hand in hers, she gently unfurled his fingers to check out the damage, and winced at what she found. It made her feel guilty that she'd found any humor in the whole episode. His pinky finger was the only one that seemed to have escaped with no damage, and blisters were already forming on his index and middle fingers.
She gingerly touched the ice to them, and jerked her eyes up to his as he hissed in pain.
"Sorry," she said, making an apologetic face. "It looks kinda bad, Michael. Can't you just..." she took a surreptitious look around, "you know. Fix it?"
He didn't say anything for a minute, then, with lowered eyes, he admitted, "I'm not always that good at it."
In respect for his embarrassment, she dropped her eyes as well, and focused on his injury. "You should- you should really try, though. I mean, look at it. That's gotta hurt," she tentatively looked up at him with eyes full of sympathy.
Warmed by her concern in spite of himself, he met her eyes briefly, then answered gruffly, "It's just a couple of burned fingers, Liz. It's not gonna kill me."
Despite his answer, he took a quick look around to make sure no one was nearby, then laid his free hand lightly atop the singed fingers. Liz continued to cradle his hand in hers to hold it steady, and kept an eye on the pick-up window to make sure no one walked up to witness what he was doing. She was vaguely aware of the hum of his energy as he gathered it to perform his task, but she was made startlingly aware as hers charged up as well, and moved to join together with his, without any conscious effort on her part.
Her eyes flew up to his, and just like that, they were connected, and his energy came spilling over into her. She sucked in a quick breath, and her first impulse was to drop his hand to sever the connection immediately, but then she quickly became aware of the dull pain that he was experiencing because of his small wound. Without another thought, she dropped the melting ice cubes to the floor, and her free hand instinctively came up to rest on top of his.
She felt an instant outgoing rush, as their energy seeped out through their joined hands in a slow, steady stream. Following seemingly silent instructions in her head, she focused all her concentration on the molecules of Michael's flesh, and they healed the burn in a joint endeavor.
When it was done, and Michael's energy had left her, they looked at one another silently.
Taking an unsteady breath, Liz said, "I'm sorry. I didn't--"
"I know," he interrupted. "It's okay."
She bit her lip and nodded, knowing that just as she'd been filled with a sudden knowledge of his motives and emotions, he had just as surely been flooded with an awareness of her own.
Looking down at their hands, she gently pushed his out of the way, so that she could view his newly healed fingers. She brushed a finger over their unmarred tips, not quite certain how to feel about what had just happened. Confusion, awe, uneasiness, and objection all tangled together with a tumultuous swarm of emotions that belonged to Michael, roiled around inside her, and it was impossible to settle on just one.
"What is this thing, Michael," she asked thickly. "It just happens- automatically...instinctively. Why? Why only with me and you?"
He shook his head. "I don't know," he answered darkly. "I've been asking myself the same thing all week."
The press of confused questions inside her head were giving her a headache, but only one took solid form. "Were you...I mean, I- I thought--" she stumbled to a halt, then took a deep breath to start again. Brows furrowed, she looked up at him intently, and said, "I didn't know...how to do that, Michael. What- what we did. Once we were connected, I didn't know what to do. I thought...I could hear.. something- or some one telling me what to do. Was that, um-" She swallowed, her expression that of one who was preparing herself for a blow. "Was it you?"
He didn't answer for a long moment, a muscle working in his jaw, his eyes dark with turbulence. This was a possibility that had been playing at the edge of his consciousness ever since last week. It seemed he was finally going to have to admit that it was true. "Yeah. I guess it was. I could hear your- uncertainty, and I was just..." he lifted a shoulder in a stiff shrug, "willing you to somehow know what to do."
She tore stricken eyes away from his to look blindly at a point somewhere over his shoulder, and shook her head slightly in denial.
He hesitated, before confessing in a low voice. "Look, I've been thinkin' a lot about that day we did the energy blast, Liz, and I think...I think maybe I could hear what you were thinking. I don't just mean...vague impressions. I heard everything that was goin' through your mind. You wanted to get rid of all that power, but you were worried about what it was gonna do. I heard you think that that little rock was never gonna be able to absorb all of it. And the minute Max and the other's came running up, I knew before you even drew the power back, why you thought you had to hold back from doing the blast." He paused, then asked uncertainly, "Was that real? Does- any of it ring a bell?"
Her mouth set, she nodded tightly, knowing immediately that he was right. Now that he'd reminded her of it, she thought she could remember that when she'd been thinking that the rock wasn't a viable target, he had agreed with her unspoken thought, saying, 'No, you're right. That'll never work.' And when he'd gone about searching out a suitable target, she'd been looking at the spot that he'd chosen even before he'd pointed it out to her. And even the last time they'd connected, the time they'd gotten the flashes, she remembered how she'd thought she could hear him make a sarcastic comment in response to her astonishment that he'd been worried about her.
They were somehow capable of silent communication.
The thought seemed to erupt within her with the force of an exploding bomb, and the implications of it reverberated throughout her entire body.
This was something that even she and Max, in all the times they'd connected, had never done.
It made the connection between her and Michael seem like something more powerful than they'd even begun to suspect.
And it disturbed her. Deeply.
"No," she said, shaking her head emphatically. "No, this is wrong." She jerked her hands away from his as if she'd been burned. "If I'm able to do this with anybody, it should be with Max," she said, her voice tight and upset. " He's the one who changed me. The connection we have is special. We love each other. And you...you aren't anything to me. We barely even like each other. Why should we have some kind of- of super-alien mind link, or something? It isn't right!"
Michael looked furtively out into the cafe and said harshly, "Would you keep it down?! Someone'll hear you."
Her mouth drawn tightly, she threw a quick glance out the pick-up window, then looked back at him.
His jaw set, he returned her gaze with unreadable eyes.
While she knew he was right that she needed to watch what she said, she'd been speaking in an undertone and it wasn't likely that anyone had heard. It made her unreasonably angry at him that instead of offering a word of understanding or consolation for her distress, all he could do was reprimand her for speaking out of turn. He was so insensitive, and contrary, and annoying!
And for some incomprehensible reason, she seemed to share something deep and mysterious with him that went beyond words.
Something that went beyond what she shared with the love of her life.
She shook her head again. There was no way she would accept that. There had to be some kind of mistake.
Blindly, she turned to rush headlong out of the kitchen, but before she'd taken two steps, Michael caught her by the arm. "Wait. Where are you going?"
Shaking her arm free, she said shrilly, "I have to get out of here."
"You're still on the clock!" he reminded her, following her out of the room.
She didn't bother to reply, pushing her way forcefully through the swinging door, and almost running into Maria on the other side as the she came walking out of the bathroom.
"Liz!" she exclaimed, catching her by the upper arms as she stopped short of crashing into her. "What's wrong?" she asked in concern the minute she saw the wild-eyed look on her friend's face.
Michael came hurtling out the door right behind her, and Maria looked up at him in question when Liz failed to answer right away. "What's going on?"
Liz pulled away from her and said thinly, "I have to go, Maria. Will you cover for me?" Without waiting for an answer, she headed quickly for the front doors.
Barely sparing Maria a glance, Michael moved around her to catch up to Liz before she made it to the doors. Catching hold of her arm once again, he jerked her to a halt. "Where are you going?" he demanded to know. "We aren't supposed to be going anywhere alone, remember?"
Looking around at the few customers who occupied the tables around them, she said tersely, "Michael, you're making a scene. Let me go."
"Not until you tell me where you're going. I know you think someone may have been following you this week, Liz. I can't just let you wonder around out there alone."
At the reminder that she had practically no secrets from him, Liz tugged on her arm, saying tightly, "I'm going across the street. Now let me go!" With that, she jerked her arm sharply from his grasp.
Michael let her go without further protest when he realized that she was only going over to the UFO Center. Max would be able to handle this a whole lot better than he ever could anyway, he thought disconsolately. As usual, he'd made the mess, now Max would have to fix it.
He continued to stand there even after he'd seen that Liz had made it safely into the building across the street, hoping to delay the inevitable confrontation with Hurricane DeLucca.
No such luck.
Coming up behind him, she said, "All right, that's it, Michael. I want to know what's going on, right now. And I am not gonna give you a moment's peace until you tell me. You got it?"
Sighing, Michael nodded, while sending a desperate look out to the empty street. Where was a mob of hungry customers when you needed them?
Apparently, they were all on a diet or something.
And there would be no more reprieves for Michael Guerin, he realized, as he docilely allowed himself to be pulled back to the kitchen, like a prisoner being led to the gallows.
|Part 23 | Index | Part 25|
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