|"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.
|Liz sat alone in the first booth of the Crashdown waiting for Max and the others to show up for their movie date. The plan was for all of them to meet at the café and go on from there. |
Her elbow propped on the table, cheek on her hand, she broodingly traced the rivulets of condensation on her glass of cherry coke, looking as though she'd just lost her best friend.
She felt as if she had.
Working with Maria this morning had been awful. They'd been so tense and uneasy around each other that they'd hardly even spoken all day. And the fact that Michael had been working, too, had made things even more awkward. Every time he and Liz had even looked in one another's direction, Maria had turned a sharp eye on them, as though she suspected them of trying to send secret telepathic messages to one another or something. It had gone on all day, and even her dad had noticed something was up and told them chidingly to get it together. Liz knew that if her parents hadn't been here, Michael probably would've ended up exploding at Maria. As it was, after receiving several of her eagle-eyed looks of mistrust, she and Michael had quickly learned to just avoid each other altogether. An act that had caused several mix-ups in orders. Sometimes because Liz had hastily dropped her order tickets off at the pick-up window when Maria had been nearby, and at other times it had been because Michael had announced her and Maria's orders with a ring of the bell then beat a hasty retreat back to the grill before either of them could get there to pick them up.
She'd been looking forward to a relief from the tension when Max had come over for lunch, but even he hadn't seemed to be able to stop himself from throwing an occasional glance at the kitchen where Michael worked. She'd wanted them to just get out of here for awhile, but her lunch hour had been cut short when they'd gotten an unexpected rush of customers.
She was worried that tonight was going to turn out to be a complete disaster with all of them together like this. When she'd tentatively asked Maria after they'd gotten off if she was still going to come tonight, Maria had hesitated before saying, "Tonight's all about Tess, right? And Kyle? Don't worry, Liz. I'll be there to do my part. I don't want to see the world taken over by evil aliens any more than you do."
The corner of her lip had tightened in a semblance of a smile, and Liz had felt about ten times lighter, taking hope from that small sign of encouragement. But when she'd asked Maria if they could talk about what was happening with her and Michael then, Maria had said, "Not right now, okay, Liz? Can you just...I need a little time to deal with all of it. I know you said you can't help it and all, but that doesn't make it hurt any less, you know?"
Liz sighed sadly then took a drink of her coke. She hated this connection and everything it was doing to all of them. They needed to figure out what this thing was before it ended up tearing them all apart. She and Max already had so much other stuff to overcome before they could be together, they didn't need this complication between them.
As though her thoughts had conjured him up, Max walked through the door of the restaurant, Isabel and Alex right behind him. Liz's heart lifted at the sight of him as he homed in on her almost immediately, and their eyes caught and held, slight smiles of loving welcome lifting their lips. She felt a sense of release from her troubles, as he became the most significant thing in her world. His presence always had a way of wrapping itself soothingly around her, protecting her from harsh realities, and making all her problems and worries fade into the background, leaving nothing but the two of them and the wonder of their love. As long as they had that, anything seemed manageable.
They needed this time together tonight, and Liz determined right then that she was going to put all this connection stuff behind her and attempt to have a good time. The original purpose of this outing had been to try and encourage something to happen between Kyle and Tess, and Liz knew it would be important to take advantage of every opportunity that presented itself to succeed in that effort. But tonight was also about giving them all a chance to relax after the stress of feeling they were being watched this week, and if things were strained between her, Max, Maria, and Michael, there would be absolutely no chance of that happening. Maybe she could even use tonight's event to show Maria and Max that there was no threat to them whatsoever in this connection with Michael.
So, she had a pretty full agenda: Do a little matchmaking between Kyle and Tess, set Max's and Maria's minds at ease, and, if she had time, relax and have a little fun.
She was officially a woman on a mission.
As Max and the others drew even with the table, Liz finally pulled her eyes away from his long enough to take in the rest of him, and a feeling of weakness stole over her as she realized what he was wearing. He looked so good. Too good. She'd never be able to keep her hands off of him tonight, she thought a little worriedly. He was all in black, and she thought she might recognize that button-down shirt as the one he'd worn that night so long ago in Michael's apartment, the night they'd found the orb. Of course, it had been a while ago, but how could she possibly forget it? Taking that shirt off him that night had felt like one of the most daring intimacies she'd ever performed in her life. And to make things even more difficult for her peace of mind tonight, he'd broken rule number eight, and was wearing his black leather jacket.
Her mouth practically watered.
Max's heart picked up its pace at the way Liz seemed to be eating him up with her eyes, and his own eyes avidly returned the favor. She looked heart-stopingly beautiful tonight. Her hair was pulled back at the sides, and the ends draped her shoulders with shining sable curls that made his fingers itch to discover whether they were as soft and pliant as they looked. The red v-neck sweater she was wearing clung lovingly to her every curve, and a silver necklace hung close around her throat, sparkling brightly as it caught the light.
Max swallowed hard. It was going to be extremely difficult to keep up the 'just friends' act tonight.
"Hey," he greeted her huskily.
"Hey," she returned softly, looking up at him with an enthralled smile.
He slid into the booth at her side, and Alex and Isabel settled in on the other side. Sparing them a glance, Liz said, "Hi, guys."
She hardly heard the greetings they offered in return as Max's thigh pressed against hers, making her physically aware of his proximity, and without quite thinking about it, she edged closer to him, her thigh pressing back upon his. His unique spicy scent invaded her senses and she breathed in deeply of it as she cut her eyes around to give him a glittering once-over that ended at his face, and lingered there.
Max returned her gaze with a heavy-lidded one of his own and was surprised to see a look of gentle accusation mixed with the appreciation in her gaze, and he gave her a questioning look. Fulfilling her need to touch him as well as providing an answer to his question, she reached out to take hold of the open edge of his jacket near his waist and waggled it lightly. It took only a moment for comprehension to set in, and he remembered her rule about not wearing this jacket unless they were alone.
"Sorry," he apologized softly. "You're gonna have to explain that one to me."
"Explain what?" Alex asked, looking back and forth between them. The last he'd heard, Max had finally agreed to forgive Liz for the thing with Kyle and they were going to try to be friends. Obviously, though, he'd been left out of the loop. Way out. The way they seemed to be completely enraptured with one another right now reminded him of the Max/Liz 'looks' of old, and there was no way he could believe there wasn't something more going on between them than he'd been led to believe.
The sound of Alex's voice pulled them from their absorption with each other and they turned guilty faces his way as they realized what a dismal job they were doing of hiding their relationship from him.
Max shook his head slightly. "Oh, uh- nothing," he said dismissively, then cleared his throat. "So. Have you been waiting long?" he asked Liz.
Quickly falling in with his attempt at small talk, she answered, "Not all that long. Five or ten minutes, maybe. You're actually the first ones here. The others should be here any minute. Um, can I get you guys something to drink while we wait?"
Isabel turned down the offer, but the guys told Liz what they'd like, and Max got up to allow her to get out of the booth. Unconsciously, she trailed her hand down the sleeve of his jacket in a brief caress before leaving his side, and she felt his eyes watching her every step of the way as she went around the counter to pour the drinks herself.
While she stood at the soda fountain, the bell over the door jingled, and Liz turned her head to see Michael walk in. He made his way over to the table, exchanged a few words with everyone, then looked around the restaurant searchingly, before heading in her direction.
As Michael drew closer, Liz darted a glance over at Max to see him staring in their direction with a small crease between his brows, and she looked at Michael angrily. Not here even two minutes, and already he was ruining everything.
Max frowningly watched as Michael made a bee-line for Liz. He had seemed as though he had something he was bursting to tell, and Max irritably wondered why Liz had to be the person he needed to tell it to. He absolutely hated it that he felt like they had all kinds of secrets from him now. Scoldingly, he told himself not to be so suspicious. It was probably just something about Maria. Liz had told him this afternoon that she and Michael had only now confessed to Maria about their connection. That was probably all it was he assured himself.
When Michael had joined her behind the counter, Liz hissed fretfully, "What are you doing, Michael? Where's Maria?"
"She'll be here. I rode my bike. Listen, I need to talk to you for a second," he said, his voice low with suppressed excitement.
"Well, can't it wait? Look, I thought we could use tonight to try and show Max and Maria that they don't have anything to worry about as far as this connection goes, okay? But, I'm gonna need your help. And singling me out like this for a private conversation is not a very good thing to do right now, you know?"
"It'll just take a minute. C'mon, Liz, this is important."
She sighed impatiently. "What is it?"
He glanced over at the people sitting at the counter and answered, "Not here."
"Then forget it," she replied. "I'm not going off somewhere alone with you, Michael. Not with Max sitting right there. Whatever it is, it'll just have to wait."
"This can't wait," he said insistently. Giving another quick glance around, he said, "Alright, fine. We'll do this here. I remembered something about the dream," he said in an urgent undertone. At her look of incomprehension, he reminded her, "The one from last night. I remembered what the little girl said."
Her look of impatience told him that if this was so urgent, then spit it out.
He waited as though expecting this to produce a strong reaction in her.
She looked at him blankly. "So?"
"Don't you get it? It's a name," he said excitedly. When she still seemed as though she weren't following, he expounded, " Rath's name."
Startled, she didn't say anything for a moment, then asked, "You think the dream was about something from your past?"
"It had to be, Liz. I mean...don't you think? Whatever the boy said, that must've been a name, too. And that thing that he was trying to keep away from her, I didn't recognize what it was, but maybe it was some kind of toy or something."
She shook her head with bemusement. "So, I was dream-walking you? But...have you ever dreamed about your past like that before?"
"No. Not that I remember," he answered.
So, what did this mean, Liz wondered with bewilderment. When she'd shared the same dream with Max, it had been something from his past, too, but not his past past. Was this just something else that this connection allowed her and Michael to do? To see into their past lives? Great, she thought resentfully. Another sterling example of the strength this thing contained. She glanced over at Max remorsefully and found him gazing at them moodily.
"We have to get back. I don't want to talk about this anymore tonight, Michael, okay? And I don't want you to mention it to anyone else either. The last thing we need right now is for Max and Maria to find out that you spent the night in my room."
"What? You mean, don't tell them?"
"No, we will tell them. I just don't think it would be a good idea to tell them tonight, do you? Especially not Maria."
Realizing that that was certainly true, Michael sighed. "Fine. We won't talk about it." He reached across the counter, then handed her an empty glass. "Here. I told them I was comin' to get a coke."
As she filled the glass for him, he said pressingly, "You do realize we have to try this again, though, right? I mean, this could be a way for us to find out about everything in our past, Liz," he ended excitedly.
Oddly, Liz felt disturbed by the idea and she said shortly, "Michael, just calm down, okay? We don't even know if we can make it happen again. Can you just...try to forget about this and focus on Maria tonight, please?"
She handed him his coke and he accepted it with a tightening of his lips, then turned to get some straws. He knew she was right, that this could've just been a fluke and he shouldn't get his hopes up. But it was hard to reign in his excitement and impatience to find out when it seemed possible that the answer to every question they'd ever had about themselves could be within reach. He only managed to do it by thinking of Maria, and how upset she was with them right now.
As he and Liz made their way back to the table with everyone's drinks, she said in a quiet rush, "So, you're gonna help me with this, right? Reassure Maria and Max?"
He frowned. "How are you thinkin' we're gonna do that, Liz?"
Almost to the table now, she said hastily, "Just- make sure they know how we feel about them. And that the connection doesn't change anything."
When they reached the table and she sat Max's cola down in front of him, he looked up at her with questioning uncertainty, and the look tore at her heart. She desperately wanted to give him a reassuring kiss and take that look of insecurity from his face, but she settled for sitting back down beside him and fitting her palm to the curve of his knee underneath the table, stroking it comfortingly.
"Michael was just telling me that he rode over alone. I-I guess Maria's still pretty upset," she said regretfully.
She looked at Michael expectantly, and he concurred. "Yeah, uh- I offered to ride over on my bike instead of having her pick me up, and she agreed with it pretty quick. Said it might be a good idea."
"I'm surprised she's still coming at all," Isabel said. "I can't believe you guys kept this from her all week."
Liz looked at her lap guiltily, and Max's hand covered hers on his knee, giving it a squeeze. "Yeah, it- it was definitely the wrong thing to do. I think we probably only made things worse," she admitted.
At that moment, the bell over the door signaled another arrival, and Maria came in, looking beautiful in a white coat and bright blue scoop-necked top, and her hair caught up with lots of curly tendrils hanging loose.
She approached the table slowly, as if reluctant to do so, and everyone greeted her warmly. Liz scooted closer to Max and tentatively offered Maria a seat, and she hesitated only briefly before accepting it.
"You look really great," Liz complimented her after she'd sat down. Stretching her leg out underneath the table, Liz nudged Michael with her foot, and inclined her head infinitesimally in Maria's direction.
He sat up a little straighter. "Yeah," he agreed. "You look...nice."
Maria was slightly taken aback. She didn't think Michael had ever given her a compliment on her looks before, and she was warmed in spite of herself by this one, even though it had been a meager one at best, and had been prompted by Liz. "Thanks," she told him softly.
Michael nodded his head, shifting in his seat in slight disconcertment as he threw an uncomfortable look at the others at the table. The corner of her lip lifted affectionately. It meant even more knowing that he'd given it even though he felt as if he were risking the amusement of the others by doing so. She knew he was only trying to make up with her, but if it was going to bring about this kind of behavior, she was all for it.
They waited only a few more minutes before Kyle and Tess showed up, then they all left together, and drove over to Senor Chow's in separate vehicles. When they'd gotten there, Max requested of the hostess that they be shown to the back room where the pool table was located, and when she complied, the guys pulled four of the small round tables there into a cluster, with two stools to each table. They each quickly found their partners and sat, leaving Kyle and Tess to take the last table. Tess threw a longing look in Max's direction, then looked at Liz resentfully before climbing onto a stool beside Kyle.
"So," Alex brought his hands together and rubbed them gleefully. "Anyone up for a game of pool before we eat?"
When no one immediately took up the challenge, Max said, "Sure. I'll play."
Liz lifted a brow and gave him a dubious smile, and he said, "What? You don't think I can play? I'll have you know I was taught by a pro."
She grinned at him and said, "A pro, huh? Well, I hope your lessons paid off. Alex is really good."
As Max slid off his stool, he said for her ears alone, "Even if they don't, they were the most enjoyable lessons I've ever had."
They shared a secret smile.
Max and Alex moved over to the pool table to choose a couple of cue sticks, and Tess watched for a moment, before letting her gaze roam around the room. They had it all to themselves, and except for a couple more empty tables, the only other thing in the room was a jukebox by the door. "Got any change, Buddha Boy?" she asked Kyle.
Seeing where her gaze rested, he obligingly dug out some quarters and handed them over. "No 'N Sync or girly crap like that," he directed.
"Hey, I like 'N Sync," she protested.
"Like I said, 'girly crap'."
"What- ever," she said with a roll of her eyes, then turned to go pick out some tunes.
Isabel went over to join her, and Liz watched them chat for a while as they decided what to spend Kyle's money on. The upbeat tempo of Morcheeba's 'Be Yourself' filled the air, and everyone began to loosen up a little as they watched the pool game in progress, and soon they were calling out encouragement and cheering Alex and Max on. Even Maria seemed to relax and joined in.
Liz hadn't expected the game to last long. She really hadn't even expected to see Max get a chance to shoot. After all, if he thought she was a pro, Alex was even better. He was the one who'd taught her how to play on his table at home. But Alex did finally flub up a shot, and when Max took his turn, he surprised her with the flawless shot he made. He hadn't even known the simple rudiments of pool when they'd played here almost a year ago, but at some point in between now and then, he'd gotten really good, and he gave Alex a real run for his money.
The game was interrupted once when the waitress came to take their order, and when the play resumed, they stayed pretty much neck and neck until the moment they both made it down to the 8 ball.
"Yeeesss," Alex crowed deeply after he made the winning shot, lifting his hands in the air. "The winner and still champion, ladies and gentlemen," he bowed dramatically. Coming over to Max he shook his hand and said, "Mr. Evans. Incredibly good game. I don't believe I've ever felt such a close threat to my title before."
Smiling, Isabel rolled her eyes and said, "Come on, Champ. Your food's getting cold."
Alex went over to sit at their table, and Liz explained to Max smilingly, "Alex has a pool table at home. He taught me and Maria how to play when we were in the sixth grade, and we've never managed to beat him."
" Now you tell me," Max said wryly.
"Hey, I told you he was good," she said in mild protest.
As Max sat back down at the table, she said, "What I didn't know was how good you were. Where'd you learn to play like that? Last time we were here I think you made one successful shot and called it a game."
Shrugging, he lowered his eyes and shyly admitted, "I used to come here almost every afternoon when you were in Florida over the summer. It just...it kinda made me feel closer to you, being here. I guess I spent hundreds of hours at this pool table teaching myself to play."
"Max," she said softly, emotion swelling her heart.
She didn't know whether she felt like laughing or crying at the thought of him coming every day to the place where they'd had their first date, probably reliving the memories of it as he spent so much time at the same activity that had proven to be such a playful, stimulating, exhilarating part of it. And possibly missing her as much as she'd been missing him, as she'd moped miserably on the beach at Florida.
The memory of all those lonely days and months they'd spent apart filled her with melancholy and regret, and made her long for nothing so much right then as to go into his arms and attempt to make up for all that lost time.
Max's mind had traveled along the same path as hers as he recalled all the bitter-sweet afternoons he'd spent at that pool table, thinking of her and remembering that night. Sometimes when he'd closed his eyes he'd almost been able to imagine that she was there with him. He could see her standing at the side of the table laughing delightedly at his clumsy attempts to sink a ball into one of the pockets, or acting playfully superior after she'd made a difficult shot. And sometimes, he'd imagined that he could feel her breath on his face, or her hands on his body as she'd instructed him on how to hold the cue stick.
That had been one of the most lighthearted times they'd ever spent together, and he used to love coming here to relive those happy memories. They'd given him hope that when she came back from Florida, they'd be able to work everything out, and be that happy again. But, at the same time, those visits had made him miss her acutely, and on bad days he'd feared that he'd lost her completely, and he'd never know happiness like that again.
The sadness and yearning he could read in Liz's eyes found its way straight to his heart and became his, and he wanted desperately to hold her in his arms at that moment. He ripped his eyes from hers to glance around the tables at their friends, who were chatting amongst themselves as they ate their meals.
Looking back at Liz, he picked up his fork and said raspingly, "Eat fast."
Her forehead wrinkled in confusion. She'd thought they'd been on the same wavelength only a second ago, but now all he wanted was to eat?
"What?" she asked in perplexity.
"Eat fast," he repeated, following his own instructions by shoveling food into his mouth. When she made no move to comply, he gave a hasty explanation. "I'm dying to hold you right now, Liz, and the only way I'm gonna get to do that in front of everybody is to dance, but Isabel isn't supposed to start the music until we get through eating, so eat fast."
Liz smiled in sudden understanding, and at the promise of being held in his arms, did as he asked.
She ate fast.
|Part 28 | Index | Part 30|
|Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours|