|"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.
|Unreasoning panic taking over, Liz had begun to struggle uselessly against her assailant's greater strength, when he lowered his lips to her ear. In a familiar voice he said softly, "Hey, relax, it's just me." |
It took a minute for the familiarity to penetrate the fog of terror that had clouded her brain, but when she realized his identity she immediately stopped fighting against him. He loosened his arms around her, allowing her to wheel around to face him, and she angrily began hitting at him in two-handed smacks.
"What did you think you were doing?! You scared me half to death!" she exclaimed, as she continued to hit him in a release of tension.
Michael lifted his arms up in front of him defensively. "Ow! Cut it out!" he demanded, finally grabbing hold of her wrists to restrain her.
Shaking with the aftermath of fear, Liz glared up at him accusingly. "Why'd you sneak up on me like that? Were you trying to give me a heart attack or something?"
"No," he answered defensively. "I was trying not to scare you."
"Well what a brilliant plan! Sneak up and grab her like some thug out of the movies. No way that'll make her nervous," she said sarcastically.
He scowled. "Look, I was afraid if I said anything, you'd scream. Which you would have," he ended meaningfully, reminding her that she'd almost done just that.
In grudging admittance, she said, "Well, I wouldn't have if I'd known it was you. You should've said something, Michael. I could've...blasted you or something. If I'm capable of it."
His brows lifted. "You think you might be?"
"I'm not sure," she replied with a shiver. Now that the crisis had passed, she became aware of just how cold it was out here. "And I'm feelin' a pretty strong urge to rectify that right about now. I just know my energy was getting ready to do something." Her eyes narrowed as a thought occurred to her. "But I guess it's possible that had something to do with you," she speculated, based on the events of the day. Feeling a return of her pique at recalling that whole situation, she said curtly, "Just don't ever do anything like that again, okay?"
"Okay. I'm sorry," he apologized shortly in response to her tone. He really did feel guilty for scaring her so badly. He'd heard her scream for Max, and the terror he'd felt in her had chilled him. He honestly hadn't meant to scare her that way. "I really am sorry, Liz," he offered more sincerely.
At hearing the honest apology, the corner of her lip tightened, and the peevishness slowly melted from her expression, then she finally nodded in acceptance. When she tugged gently on her wrists he released them, and she immediately wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the chill in the air.
Frowning in sudden confusion, she asked, "What are you even doing here, anyway?" Her eyes scanned the darkened perimeter of the balcony, and she thought she could finally make out the dim outline of her lawn chair at the other end. She assumed he'd been camped out over there, and she looked up at him questioningly.
Shrugging with studied nonchalance, he replied, "Keepin' watch."
Liz began chafing her upper arms as she looked at him oddly. "Keeping watch for what?"
Looking at her as though she were being deliberately dense, he told her, "For whoever it is that's been following you."
Her heart filled with warmth and the last of her irritation vanished as she realized he was looking out for her. It was probably the sweetest thing he'd ever done for her. She thought this might be a real break-through for him.
"Well, that's sweet, Michael, but we don't really even know if anyone has been following me. I mean, I never actually saw anyone. It could be that I've just been paranoid," she said, as shivers began chasing over her body.
"Look, we know someone's out there. We shouldn't take any chances. If you think this guy has been focusing on you, then we should watch out for him. This might be the way we catch him."
Well that was certainly a dose of reality, she thought wryly. His main concern wasn't keeping her safe so much as it was catching the watcher. Or so he'd like her to think, anyway.
"So, what? You think you're just gonna camp out here on my balcony until we catch this guy? You can't do that, Michael, you'll freeze. It must be 35 degrees out here tonight." As she said that, she realized that he was shivering too. "How long have you been out here?" she asked with concern.
He shrugged jerkily, his shivering more pronounced now that she'd noticed it. "I dunno. An hour or two maybe."
Liz shook her head. "Michael, this is ridiculous," she told him through chattering teeth. "Go home. It's too cold out here for this."
The iciness of the concrete floor was seeping into her very bones, it seemed, and she knew they couldn't stand out here and argue about this.
"You're the one who's freezing, Liz," he said with a little frown. "You should just go inside. I'll be fine out here." He put his hand lightly on her back as if to usher her in. "Come on. Get inside."
Planting her feet firmly, she said protestingly, "You will not be fine, Michael, look at you! You're shivering. You can't stay out here."
His mouth firmed stubbornly. "I'm not leavin', Liz, so you might as well get inside where it's warm, and go back to bed."
She gave him a disbelieving look. "I can't just go back to sleep knowing you're out here shivering in my lawn chair."
"Well, you can bring me a blanket or something if it'll make you feel better, but I'm stayin' right here," he told her, crossing his arms, a visible shudder wracking his body.
"Michael," she said exasperatedly.
He just looked at her mutely, refusing to budge an inch.
They stood there for a long moment in a silent, shivering stand-off.
Michael finally broke it, saying quietly, "You said I was supposed to be the protector, Liz. Let me do what I'm here to do."
Her eyes softened compassionately. She'd had no idea he'd taken her words so to heart.
Gently, she said, "But you're here to protect Max, Isabel, and Tess. You aren't responsible for me, Michael."
"Yes, I am," he argued. "You're one of us now, Liz. I mean, how can you think you're not when we're connected the way we are?" Dropping his eyes, he admitted with a small shrug, "That kinda makes me feel especially responsible for you."
The soft confession warmed her, and all her arguments fell away. How could she possibly argue against him if he kept saying such sweet un-Michael-like things? She didn't know what had gotten into him, but it was definitely a welcome change from the attitude he'd been giving her lately.
"Come inside, then," she offered in compromise.
"What?" he asked with lifted brows.
"We can't stand out here arguing about it, Michael. It's too cold. You say you won't leave, and I can't let you stay out here, so this is the only solution. You can just...sleep on the floor." She couldn't believe she'd just invited Michael Guerin to spend the night in her bedroom, but really, what choice did she have? She thought she could practically feel hypothermia setting in, and she'd only been out here ten minutes. She couldn't imagine how Michael must feel after two hours of this. There was no way she was letting him stay out here all night.
At his look of doubt, she said, "What? You used to do it all the time at Max's. I don't see why this should be any different."
He looked at her in disbelief. "Well it is different. He's a guy, you're a girl," he pointed out the obvious, as though it had escaped her notice.
She couldn't quite meet his eyes as she shrugged with forced indifference and said, "So? What difference does it make? You'll be on the floor, I'll be on the bed. And we'll both be fully clothed. I don't see a problem."
Michael could see all kinds of potential problems in the proposed situation, but before he could list even one, she'd turned to her window, and said with chattering teeth, "I'm not gonna stay and argue about this anymore, Michael. You can either come inside, or I'll..." she paused to come up with a suitable threat, "I'll just call Sheriff Valenti and tell him I think I have a prowler on my balcony. The choice is yours." With that she climbed inside, feeling sure that she could go through with the threat if she had to look outside even once to see him huddled miserably on her lawnchair.
Michael obviously had no trouble believing in the threat either, as he silently climbed in behind her.
He stood awkwardly in the center of the room as Liz picked up the blanket off the bed to throw it around herself. "Stay here. I'll be right back," she whispered, then slipped noiselessly from the room.
Michael crammed his hands into his pockets, not quite sure what to do with himself, and let the welcome warmth of the room seep into him. He glanced idly around, feeling decidedly out of place, and wondered uneasily if this was a very good idea. He'd been in Liz's room approximately two times since he'd known her, and the unfamiliar surroundings cloaked with the quiet shadows of night, along with the knowledge that her parents were only yards away completely unaware of his presence, combined to cast an air of intimate secrecy over his being here that made him feel uncomfortable.
Max would absolutely kill him if he knew Michael'd spent the night in Liz's room. Of course, if he knew Liz thought someone was watching her, he'd probably be here himself. And Michael knew that while the odds were less than zero of anything happening here between Liz and himself, the same could definitely not be said if Maxwell were the one who was here. So, he was actually doing Max a favor, Michael assured himself. Keeping them out of trouble, preventing the end of the world, and all that.
Liz came back after several minutes with a bundle in her arms. It had taken her longer than she'd expected to retrieve her sleeping bag from the hall closet. Once she'd had a free moment for introspection, she'd realized her shivering hadn't been entirely due to the cold, and she'd had to take a few minutes to remember Max's instructions, and draw back her unspent energy.
She spread the sleeping bag out on the floor, and tossed one of her pillows down on top of it, then stood there uncertainly clutching the blanket around her. "Um, you'll have to be gone by 7:00. That's what time my parents will be up to open the restaurant," she told him quietly.
"Yeah, I'll have to go home to get ready, anyway. My shift starts at 8:00."
Her bottom lip tucked between her teeth, Liz nodded, and though she couldn't really see him all that well in the darkness, her eyes shifted away uncomfortably. Shrugging a little, she gestured toward the sleeping back. "So, um... Good night."
Lifting his brows and tossing his head back in a kind of nod, he quietly returned, "G'night."
Michael kicked off his shoes and slipped off his jacket while Liz crawled into bed, then he climbed beneath the insulated layers of the sleeping bag. It smelled slightly musty, as if it had been put away for a while, and he wondered when she'd last had occasion to use it.
The quiet sounds of rustling covers and creaking bedsprings as Liz shifted around in the bed was the only thing to break the stillness, and the suggestiveness of the sounds only seemed to heighten the feeling of intimacy in the room. Michael squeezed his eyes tightly shut and told himself firmly that there was nothing even remotely intimate about this. He was only borrowing floor space from a friend. A friend he was mysteriously connected to. With a bond that had an insidious pull on him. Gritting his teeth, he thought, okay, definitely not helping.
He'd be lying if he said that in all his musings this week, as he'd searched for a reason for the existence of this connection, he hadn't drawn a parallel to his connection with Liz to her connection with Max. It was really the only thing he had to compare it to, after all, since neither he or Isabel had really ever experienced a relationship like Max and Liz had. They just seemed like they were almost a part of each other. The reason for their connection had always seemed to be bound up somehow with their love for one another. The flashes, all that stuff that had happened that led to finding the orb, the way they seemed to sense each other's presence whenever they were near one another. To him, their connection had seemed like some sort of substantiation that they were meant to be together.
So, what did it mean that his connection with Liz seemed to be much stronger than theirs? In an attempt to answer that question, the possibility that it might mean something romantic in terms of his and Liz's relationship had occurred to him more than once. But he didn't like having thoughts like that about Liz. Besides the fact that she was the girl Max loved, it just made him uncomfortable to think about her like that. It seemed really wrong, somehow.
But lying here in her darkened bedroom, listening to the soft sounds of her breathing as the stifling quiet of the apartment pressed in on them, knowing she lay only two feet away from him, in bed...the whole situation just carried a suggestiveness with it that made it hard to keep those disturbing thoughts from coming to life.
He wondered if these things had even occurred to Liz. Were the same kind of thoughts running through her head right now? Or had she obliviously fallen asleep?
Liz listened to the quiet sounds of Michael's breathing and shifted around uncomfortably. What had she been thinking asking him to stay here like this? There were probably any number of ways she could've forced him to just go home. She really didn't need anyone to guard her. Even if their watcher had been following her this week, he hadn't made any move against her. She was just going to have to make it clear to Michael that his protecting services weren't needed. This was just going to be a one-time occurrence.
Maria would positively flip if she knew about this little slumber party of theirs. Thinking about Maria flipping out reminded Liz of her intention to talk to her friend tonight. And she'd missed out on her chance to talk to Max again, too. It was way too late to call him now. She should've set an alarm, she thought remorsefully, but she'd had no idea she would sleep so long. She probably would've slept the night through if Michael hadn't woken her. So, now she wouldn't have a chance to talk to Maria until tomorrow, she thought with regret. There was no telling what Maria might be thinking. Once again, Liz wondered what Michael had told her. From the way Maria had been acting, she didn't think he'd told her the whole story.
The longer she lay there thinking about it, the more her curiosity grew, and she wondered if Michael were still awake.
"Michael?" she tentatively whispered.
"Yeah?" he returned quietly.
Turning on her side to face him, she asked softly, "What did you tell Maria tonight? I mean, about why I ran out like that? Did you tell her about the connection at all?"
Folding an arm underneath his head, he looked up towards the edge of the bed and answered, "I started to, but I didn't get very far."
"What do you mean?"
"I wanted to kind of prepare her, you know? So, I told her we don't have any control over this thing, and that our connection was different than when you connect with the others, and I told her about how you helped heal my hand, but before I could get any further than that, we got interrupted. And then your parents came down, and we didn't get a chance to talk anymore after that."
"But, what about after closing? She didn't corner you and make you tell her then?"
The corner of Michael's lip lifted at the memory of Maria's rant about Amy and the Sheriff. She was so cute when she got riled up like that. "No. Her mom came in with the Sheriff and told Maria they were going home together, so she took off to keep an eye on them. She told me we'd talk later."
So she wouldn't have gotten a chance to talk to her even if she had woken up, Liz thought, the knowledge making her feel better over the omission. "We have to tell her everything tomorrow, Michael," she told him in a voice filled with dread.
"Yeah, I know," he replied in a matching tone.
"It, um- it might be easier if we tell her together. I could call her in the morning, see if she wants to come meet us before work," she suggested.
That gave him only about five more hours before his reprieve would expire, Michael thought gloomily. But, maybe Liz was right that it would be easier if they told her together. "Okay," he finally agreed.
They were silent for a moment, and then Liz said tentatively, "You know, we can tell her together, Michael, but- she's really gonna need you to make her feel better about all this. She'll, um- she'll need your reassurance. You know what I mean?"
He didn't answer immediately, not quite sure what she was getting at, then he said hesitantly, "Like- holdin' her, and tellin' her it'll be alright, and stuff?"
"Well yeah, that, too, but I mean- she'll really need to know that...that this doesn't change anything between you and her. That your feelings for her haven't changed. And it would probably be good to tell her that this hasn't made you and me any closer- just the opposite, really. It's why we've been fighting so much."
Michael didn't say anything for a long moment, as the implications of what she was saying sank in. Then he said, "Wait, are you thinkin' this is gonna make Maria think that you and me...?" he trailed off. It seemed as though Liz had been thinking about the possibility of the connection meaning something romantic between them.
Hastily, she said, "I'm just saying, that this is probably going to make her feel insecure. You know, about where she stands now. She's just gonna need to know- that this doesn't really mean anything. It's just some weird alien thing, and we don't have an explanation for it, but it doesn't matter, because it means absolutely nothing," she said emphatically.
A little surprised by her vehemence, Michael said quietly, "Do you really mean that, Liz? That you don't care what the explanation is? 'Cause I think you're wrong. It's gotta mean something. Otherwise, why would it even exist? There's got to be some kind of reason for it. Don't you want to know why you and I are capable of doing things that the others can't?"
"Not really," she admitted softly.
Baffled, he asked, "Why not? I thought you were the one who always needed a scientific explanation for everything. How can you not even be curious about this thing?"
Liz didn't answer, her thoughts confused. He was right, she did like for everything to make sense and to have a logical explanation. But for some reason, with this, she just instinctively seemed to shy away from the answer for it. Whatever the answer was. She couldn't understand the reason for her fear anymore than she understood the stupid connection's existence, and the whole thing just made her frustrated and resentful.
When the silence had stretched without a response from her, Michael prompted, "Liz?"
"I just don't want to know, okay?" she burst out quietly. "I mean, what difference does it make, anyway? It's not like I'm a member of your team or anything. We aren't going to actually do anything with it, right? So why even worry about it?"
Disquieted by her words, he replied, "Well maybe you aren't an official member of the team, Liz, but this thing we have...this power when we put our energy together- it's strong. Stronger than anything the four of us can do alone. So maybe we'll need you, you know, in whatever we're gonna have to do later on. We can't just...completely ignore its existence."
Though he couldn't see it, Liz shook her head abruptly. "Are you talking about helping you fight? Max would never let me do that anyway. He'd say it was too dangerous."
"Look, we have no idea what's coming. We may need all the strength we can get some day, and Max won't have a choice."
For some reason, she had never thought of this. Using her new powers to help them fight. Probably because it wasn't something she ever would've imagined herself doing. If it meant keeping Max safe- or any of them really- yeah, she could see herself doing whatever she could to help them, including using these powers against someone. But, Michael seemed to be suggesting that she become some kind of warrior or something, to help them in their upcoming battles. Imagine, her, little Lizzie Parker, fighting evil aliens who were trying to take over the world. She just couldn't picture it. It was way too Sigourney Weaver-ish.
"Well, there's no point in talking about this now, Michael. Like you said, we have no idea what's coming- or even when. Right now we're just talking about how this thing connects us. And there really isn't any reason to pursue that part of it, right?"
Michael made no reply. If she'd asked him this yesterday, he probably would've agreed with her instantly. But after what they'd found out today, and he realized just how deep this thing went and what they were able to do with it, he felt an insatiable curiosity to know why. He had been wondering about it all week, and he still didn't like that the fact that she could see inside him, but after today's discovery, he felt an almost urgent need to know more about it. To know why it existed.
Just when Liz seemed to want to forget the whole thing. Their roles had almost seemed to reverse.
After a moment of silence, Liz frowned and repeated, "Right, Michael?"
He sighed. "I don't know, Liz. I mean, I totally get where you're coming from, believe me, I do, it's just...I'd really like to know. You know, what it is that connects us like this. It seems too important to ignore."
Liz was distressed by his sudden change in positions. She'd thought they both felt the same way about this thing, that they hated its very existence. But, Michael seemed to have come to the point where he was ready to accept it now.
If he was, he'd beaten her there by a mile.
Upset, she said, "Well, there's no way to find that out, though, is there? Even if we wanted to, how do you think we could find the answers?"
She could almost hear him shrug. "Maybe we could start by findin' out more about it. About what we can do."
This was met with a moment of silence. "What are you saying, Michael?" she asked tightly. "That now you want to like- explore this thing?"
Turning on his side, he lifted his upper body, bracing himself on his elbow, and propped his head in his hand. "Would it really be so bad? I mean, yeah, I'd really rather you didn't know everything about me. Maybe we could see if we can avoid that part of it, but who knows what all we can do with this thing? The answers might be right there waiting for us if we just...go in there and look for them."
Oddly, the conversation was making Liz's heart pound. This wasn't something she was ready to deal with yet. She didn't know how Michael had possibly come to this sudden turn around.
"I don't want to talk about this anymore," she said thinly. "I'm sorry, Michael, if you need to know about this right now, but...I'm not ready. I don't know if I'll ever even be ready. So just...please don't push, alright?"
With that, she turned over in bed, away from him, and pulled the covers tightly over her shoulders. They already had enough problems with this thing, with Max and Maria and their feelings over all of it, and now he wanted to go and make things even more complicated. See how deep the thing really went.
Why did he have to be such an agitator, she wondered irritably.
She was very afraid that in sharing a connection with Michael, she would never have another tranquil moment in her life.
|Part 26 | Index | Part 28|
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