|"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 lay full length on Isabel’s bed, while the bed’s owner sat cross-legged beside her. Liz was attempting to do the ‘balancing act’ Isabel had mentioned earlier, a feat that was proving impossible.|
It was difficult enough to try and fully relax her entire body, while at the same time collect her energy and hold it charged and ready, but that wasn’t the hardest part. The hard part was reaching a state of release. They’d tried everything they could think of to help her relax- deep breathing exercises, focusing on the sound of her heartbeat, Isabel had even turned on some low, soothing music, but Liz just couldn’t seem to completely let go. No matter how much she told herself that she wanted to find out if she could do this, there was this small pocket of resistance in her mind that she couldn’t overcome.
At one point she thought she’d almost been successful when she’d begun to experience a kind of floating sensation. It had been similar to the feeling she sometimes got when she had a head cold, like her head wasn’t quite attached to her body. But as soon as she’d become aware of what was happening, she had quickly come slamming back to reality.
It was unbelievably frustrating. She knew it was ridiculous to be afraid to go somewhere that she’d just come from with Isabel, but going there by herself, or more specifically, taking herself there, was a whole ‘nother ball game. The idea of relinquishing control of her logical mind, of forcefully separating from her conscious self and leaving it behind to enter the dark mystery of the dream plane made her extremely nervous. It held so many uncertainties if no one was there to guide her. What if she couldn’t find a dream to go into? What if she made it to the dream plane and was unable to find her way back to herself? Would she just wonder around in the darkness forever while her body lay here like an empty shell? Isabel had assured her that wouldn’t happen, but how could she know that for sure?
It was exactly those kinds of worries that were keeping this from happening, Liz thought with a sigh of frustration.
Opening her eyes, she shook her head briefly and said, “This isn’t working, Isabel.”
Isabel sighed too. “Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way.”
“Maybe I just can’t do it,” Liz countered, laying a forearm over her eyes wearily. All this relaxing business was wearing her out.
“We can’t count it out just yet, Liz. You’re fighting it. If you could just give yourself over to it, you might be able to do it.”
“I’m trying. I just... can’t seem to let go.”
Her eyes compassionate, Isabel said, “Well, if it’s this hard for you to do, I guess we’ve got the answer to the question of whether you’ve been doing this on your own.” Liz moved her arm away from her eyes and looked up at the other girl. “Maybe it was just easier for me to let go when I was asleep,” she suggested.
Isabel shook her head. “I don’t think that’s possible, Liz. The dream plane is another plane of consciousness, but you are conscious in it. I don’t think you could do it if you were asleep. When I was little, and I was first learning how to use this gift, I couldn’t tell you how many times I fell asleep trying to do it. But it never happened once I lost consciousness. Ever.”
Liz’s brows knit in consternation, and she spoke without thinking. “But...I’m sure I dreamwalked Michael last night.”
Lifting her brows, Isabel looked at Liz quizzically. “What makes you think that?”
Dismayed at what she’d inadvertently disclosed with her assertion, Liz shifted uncomfortably on the bed. She couldn’t tell Isabel about Michael spending the night in her room before she’d even told Max about it. It didn’t seem fair to Max.
Hoping to distract her from the whys and hows of the situation, Liz said, “Oh- well...last night Michael dreamed about his life before. You know, before ? When he was Rath? And I kinda saw it, too. So, we thought...it had to be a dreamwalk.”
As Liz had hoped, Isabel immediately homed in on the content of Michael’s dream rather than how they’d come to know they’d shared it. “Michael dreamed about our past?” she asked, her voice vibrating with excited wonder. “And he didn’t tell us? What did he dream?”
“Well, we can’t really remember all that much about it. All we remember is a boy and a girl running through this field. The boy was holding something out of the girl’s reach and... she called him ‘Raathos’.” Liz shrugged a little apologetically. “That’s just about it.”
Isabel was blown away. This was big news. Nothing like this had ever happened before, and she was a little miffed that Michael had kept it from them. “This is really important. None of us have ever dreamed about our other life. I can’t believe Michael didn’t tell us.”
Liz bit her lip, her sense of fairness prompting her to say, “Don’t blame Michael, Isabel. I um- I asked him not to tell just yet.”
Isabel frowned. “Why would you do that?” she asked, trying hard to understand why Liz would feel that it was alright for her to have knowledge of this, but would want to keep it from them. It was their past after all.
Trying to explain herself without revealing everything about last night, Liz said, “I just...I wanted to tell Max about it first. A-about the dreamwalk, I mean. You know...just how it happened and everything. And we didn’t think it was a good idea to talk about it in front of- of Maria tonight, so we agreed that we would just wait and tell everybody tomorrow. We weren’t trying to keep it a secret or anything,” she hurried to assure her.
Unable to decipher Isabel’s expression, she asked tentatively, “You aren’t mad are you?”
Isabel shook her head, knowing Liz already had enough to deal with right now without worrying about her being mad at her too. And if they were planning to tell them about it tomorrow, what did she really have to be mad about?
“I’m not mad, Liz,” she said reassuringly. “I can see how it might be a touchy subject with Max and Maria right now . It looks like you two are even sharing the same dreams now.” She made a wry face.
Liz looked at Isabel, disquieted. “You don’t think it’s possible it was a dreamwalk?”
Shrugging slightly, Isabel said, “I told you, Liz, it’s never happened that way for me. Of course, we don’t really know enough about your powers to say anything about them for sure, but if it was a dreamwalk, I’d think the same principles would apply. And if you had done it before, it doesn’t seem like it would be so hard for you to do now, you know?”
Liz nodded uneasily. All those things were true. But if it hadn’t been a dreamwalk, that meant that she and Michael had somehow connected in their sleep, didn’t it? And it seemed as though that should be just as impossible to do as to dreamwalk while she was unconscious. But it was looking as though maybe nothing was impossible where this connection was concerned, she thought with resentful resignation.
Sensing her friend’s state of unrest over the subject, Isabel quickly said, “Anyway, we can talk about that tomorrow. For now, you just need to try and stay relaxed, remember?”
In her turmoil, Liz had almost forgotten what it was they were trying to do here.
“Right,” she responded, determinedly banishing thoughts of her connection with Michael, and taking a calming breath. “You said maybe we were going about it the wrong way. Did you have something else in mind?”
“Yeah. Maybe you’re just thinking about it too much,” Isabel suggested. “Here.” She picked up the open yearbook that was lying at Liz’s side and offered it to her. “Just put your hand on her picture, and focus all your thoughts on Maria. Try and pull your energy together, but don’t even think about the dream plane and trying to go there,” she instructed. “Just think about Maria.”
Liz nodded, as she took the yearbook from Isabel and propped it on her stomach. Calling up her power, she obediently touched a finger to Maria’s school photo, studying it intently and imagining that she and Maria were in the same room together. She felt a tiny thrill of delight when the picture rippled beneath her touch.
Of course, thinking about Maria inevitably brought to mind everything that had happened with her today, and Liz began to feel tense and upset at remembering how angry Maria was with her right now. It was the only reason she’d finally agreed to try dreamwalking her best friend. Isabel had told her that she would better know what to say to calm Maria’s fears about this connection if she was armed with the knowledge of exactly what those fears were. Liz only hoped this wasn’t the wrong thing to do.
Isabel saw the slight stiffening of Liz’s body and the small crease that had formed between her closed eyes, and correctly interpreted the reason behind them. “Think good thoughts, Liz,” she chided gently. “Just remember all the good times you’ve had together.”
Frowning in concentration, Liz banished her troubling thoughts once again, and attempted to call to mind happier, closer times in their friendship.
There had been the time when they’d had their first sleep over together when they were seven, and they’d stayed up half the night telling ghost stories, scaring themselves so much they’d huddled together in the middle of Liz’s bed until daylight, afraid to go to sleep.
And the summer when they were nine, Liz had gotten the chicken pox, which had ended up getting infected and she’d spent two whole weeks in bed. Maria had come over and camped out in her room to keep her company, and had wound up contracting the ailment herself. They’d spent every waking hour together during those days, scratching each other’s itchies, playing board games until they were sick of them, and commiserating with one another over losing almost three weeks of summer vacation.
Then, there was the time when the two of them had become the three of them in Miss Elmer’s fifth grade class. For some reason Toby Phillips had constantly singled Liz out as a victim to torment that year. Her mom had told her it was probably just his way of letting her know he liked her. Liz had thought if that was the way he showed fondness, she’d be afraid to see his version of hate. That had also been the year they’d been introduced to the game of dodge ball in P.E., and it had quickly become Toby’s favorite new way of ‘showing her he liked her’. And his love taps had stung ferociously. Maria had done everything she could to draw his attention away from her friend, and she’d taken almost as many hits as Liz had. Enter Alex Manes, eleven-year-old knight in shining armor. For whatever reason, he’d stepped in one day to fight Toby off with his own launches of the ball, setting up a one man wall of defense around Liz and Maria that he’d worked to maintain to this very day.
Completely lost in feelings of nostalgia, Liz didn’t notice when her energy began to hum with electricity, and sentience began drifting away. She first became aware of what was happening when she felt as though she were lifting away from her body, and she firmly kept thoughts of Maria planted in her mind, allowing herself to go with it.
The next thing she knew, she was surrounded by the ghostly darkness of the dream plane, the cold flickers of colorless dreams all around her.
Liz took a deep breath and looked around uncertainly, straining to see a glimmer of color somewhere to give her direction. When she’d turned a complete circle without anything catching her eye, her heartbeat quickened in panic.
Forcing herself to stay calm and think, she closed her eyes and concentrated on drawing a vivid mental picture of Maria, imagining the sound of her voice, and even the smell of her favorite perfume.
A faint sad note of music captured her attention, and Liz’s eyes popped open to look around searchingly for the source of the lonely sound. Off to her left she thought she saw a quick flash of red in the distance, and she hurried in that direction. The pale snatches of dreams scattered out of her way, parting to reveal a large blur of bright color that let Liz know she had found Maria’s dream.
She breathed a sigh of relief.
When the dream image stood directly before her, Liz braced herself, once again hoping she wasn’t doing the wrong thing. She stepped cautiously inside, and waited for the vapor around her to clear.
The seductively wailing sound of Santana’s ‘Put Your Lights On’ colored the air, and Liz found that she was standing inside the empty Crashdown. Or almost empty, anyway. As she took in her surroundings, Liz’s eyes widened when she saw herself standing in front of the counter, lethargically sweeping the floor.
The tables, the pick-up window and cash register, everything around her appeared solid and real, and it was extremely disorienting to stand here and observe someone who looked exactly like her. It made her feel like she was someone other than herself. Or like a spirit who was watching her own body moving around. The thought made Liz shiver.
The replica of her paused in her sweeping for a brief moment to lift a forearm to her forehead, wiping at the beads of sweat that glistened there. It was obviously supposed to be hot, as the dream version of herself was wearing nothing but a tank top and denim cutoffs.
Something about the scene, along with the music that seemed to be coming from the restaurant’s sound system, struck a chord of familiarity within Liz, but she couldn’t pin down why exactly.
The dream Liz suddenly came to a standstill, and lifted her eyes towards the front doors of the café. Liz followed her gaze to find Michael standing outside in the dark. A sinking feeling of dread overtook her, as she watched herself lay the broom aside and slowly move to the doors to twist the key in the lock.
Michael pushed the door open and slipped inside, and they looked at each other silently while sliding their arms around each other. When Michael brought his lips down to cover those of her dream self, Liz quickly averted her eyes in dismay, unable to bear watching this kiss any more than she had been able to stand seeing Tess and Max kiss in Tess’ dream.
She’d thought she might see something about her and Michael in Maria’s dream, but she hadn’t been prepared for this .
Why would she dream something like this, Liz wondered sickly. Maria couldn’t possibly imagine that she and Michael had romantic feelings for each other, could she? Liz could hardly give the idea credence, but the proof seemed to be standing right in front of her.
Just the thought of even kissing Michael like this filled Liz with a strange sort of revulsion. Not that Michael was so very unattractive or anything. It just seemed really wrong to imagine kissing anyone but Max. But the idea of kissing Michael even seemed to go beyond the boundaries of that. There was just some kind of inherent wrongness in it. As Maria’s boyfriend, he was completely off-limits. And she hated it that Maria was entertaining ideas like this.
She was startled by a crashing sound, and swung her head around to find that Michael had just lifted that other Liz to sit on top of the counter, knocking dishes to the floor in the process, then began placing kisses upon her neck.
Liz made a face of distressful distaste.
After only a moment, he slid her off the counter into his arms, and carried her around behind it, where they both disappeared from sight as they went down to the floor together.
Suddenly, Liz’s heart clenched as she realized why this whole thing had seemed familiar. This was what had happened last December during that freak heat wave when she’d come downstairs for some milk, and had accidentally stumbled upon Michael and Maria making out like this.
“Oh, Maria,” Liz whispered in pained sadness, her heart breaking for her friend. This was the first time Maria and Michael had come together. Why was she dreaming it like this?
At that moment Maria came through the swinging door at the back of the restaurant, and saw the couple on the floor.
“Liz! Michael! What are you doing?!” she exclaimed in outraged incredulity.
As is often the case in dreams, no one seemed to hear her. Liz could only assume that the two behind the counter were continuing on in their activities, even in front of Maria. A sharp protest rose within her. How could Maria even dream that they would treat her like this, she wondered painfully.
Abruptly, Liz turned away to leave the dream, feeling extremely guilty. This was wrong. She never should’ve let Isabel talk her into coming here like this. Maria would hate it if she knew Liz had witnessed this.
The anguish in Maria’s voice stopped her in her tracks, and she turned in involuntary response to her name.
But of course, Maria was addressing the Liz in her dream. “How could you do this to me? You know how I feel about Michael. You’re supposed to be my friend!”
“I’m sorry, Maria,” Dream Liz answered, still hidden behind the counter. “I told you, this isn’t our fault. Something’s happening between me and Michael that we just can’t stop.”
“But...what about Max,” Maria sputtered, looking as if she were struggling to understand. “I thought you loved him.”
“I do love him,” Dream Liz agreed. “And we’re secretly together now. We’ve been taking each other’s clothes off you know.”
“Then how can you do this with Michael?” Maria demanded in hurt outrage.
“Michael and I are connected too, Maria. Now I have two aliens who can see into my soul.”
Forlornly, Maria asked, “So where does that leave me?”
Receiving no response from Liz, she turned to Michael.
“Michael, I don’t understand. You said you had to be alone. You said you never should’ve started this, remember?”
“This is different, Maria,” came his muffled reply from the floor. “I never knew I could feel so close to someone. Liz and I know everything about each other. We’re connected in a way you and I could never be.”
“How do you know that?” Maria protested. “You never gave me a chance!” She continued in a defeated tone, “I wish you would just tell me why. If you could let her in so completely, why couldn’t you give me a flash? You never let me see even a single flash,” she ended with wounded accusation.
“I’m sorry, Maria. I guess maybe you just aren’t the one,” was his devastating answer.
Laughing bitterly with tear-filled eyes, Maria said, “What, and you think Liz is? You can’t be with Liz, Michael. She belongs with Max.”
When all she received was silence, Maria looked down at them both uncertainly. “Doesn’t she?” she begged for an answer.
Liz couldn’t stand seeing Maria in such torment. She was torn between feeling that she should leave, and wanting to somehow make Maria stop dreaming this. But she didn’t know how she could do that without letting Maria know she was here.
She scanned the empty restaurant, racking her brain for an idea.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Maria was saying tearfully. “You two are so wrapped up in your secrets, and your fighting, and your... your David Gray , it’s like, I might as well be invisible.”
Liz winced as that one hit home.
She really hadn’t paid enough attention to Maria since this all started. And she’d sadly neglected her tonight. Between what had been happening with her and Max, then later on with Michael, and working on the Tess and Kyle situation, Maria seemed to have gotten shuffled to the bottom of the deck, Liz realized with profound regret. She vowed to herself that she would make it up to her friend.
Starting right now, she thought, her eye lighting on the swinging door. She needed to come in the back way and get Maria out of this dream.
That decided, she silently eased out the front doors as Maria was asking achingly in the background, “Do you even care about how I feel?”
The heartfelt cry made Liz’s throat feel tight. “Hang on, Maria,” she muttered, as she hurried down the alley to the back entrance.
Thank goodness there were no locks in dreams, she thought, as the door opened easily under her hand. The thought occurred to her that it was a wonder there was even a back door, seeing as it wasn’t actually a part of Maria’s dream, but she didn’t stop to think about it for long.
She could hear the muted sound of Michael’s voice coming from the front, and without even a pause to try and make out his words, she interrupted him with a loud slam of the door. As she had hoped, a moment later Maria came in through the swinging door to peer curiously into the break room. Her eyes widened as she saw Liz standing there, and she darted a look back toward the front.
Thinking quickly, Liz gave her no chance to speak, bustling into the employee’s area saying, “I’m sorry I’m late, Maria. I left my bio notes at school, and I have a test tomorrow, so I had to go back and get them. I hope you weren’t too busy without me.” She made her way over to her locker, and was happily surprised to find a uniform neatly folded inside.
Maria seemed to be at a loss, as she kept looking from Liz to the swinging door. “But...you- I just saw you outside. How can you be back here?”
Liz glanced at her with mock-bewilderment. “What are you talking about, Maria? I just came in through the door.”
“No,” Maria shook her head in consternation. “You were...out there- on the floor. With Michael,” she said, her eyes dark with pain and confusion.
Liz shook out her uniform and made a face. “Yeah, right. That’s what I meant to say. I’m late ‘cause I was out there on the floor with Michael,” she said as if she was going along with the joke. At Maria’s perplexed silence, Liz looked at her oddly. “Are you okay?” She wrinkled her nose sympathetically. “Has it been really crazy this afternoon?”
Shaking her head in befuddlement, she said, “Liz, nothing you’re saying makes sense. It isn’t afternoon. We’re closed. And I just saw you and Michael right out there on the floor making out,” she insisted, pointing towards the front of the restaurant.
“ Making out ?!” Liz said with a spurt of surprised-sounding laughter.
As if understanding had dawned, she flattened her expression into a look that said ‘very funny’. “Cut it out, Maria. If this is to get me back for not telling you about that whole kissing incident with Rath, I already told you I was sorry for that.”
“This isn’t a joke, Liz! I saw you,” Maria persisted.
Looking at Maria as if she refused to be taken in, her voice dripped with skepticism as she said, “With your boyfriend. On the floor. With you and an entire restaurant full of people looking on.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” Maria cried in frustration. She strode purposefully to the swinging door and said, “There are not any people out there, Liz.”
Liz held her breath as the other girl pushed the door open, hoping against hope that the power of suggestion had been enough to get Maria to change the direction of her dream. She sighed in relief when Dream Maria stopped short at the sight of the crowded café outside.
With a mystified shake of her head, Maria said, “I don’t get it. W-where’s Michael, then?”
Shrugging, Liz told her, “If he’s working, my guess would be, in the kitchen.”
Maria moved to the door of the kitchen, and there was Michael standing behind the grill. Pausing in his task to look up at her, he asked quizzically, “What is it?”
“N-nothing,” Maria replied, backing away. Turning to look at Liz, she said uncertainly, “I’m sorry, Liz. I really thought...” her sentence trailed off as she glanced once more towards the swinging door.
The lost look on her friend’s face tore at Liz’s heart. This Maria looked so real, it was hard to keep in mind that she was only a dream image. But the emotions she was displaying were real, and came straight from Maria’s heart. And Liz couldn’t help but want to do what she could to ease her turmoil.
Even if Maria might not remember anything she said in the morning.
Walking up to place a comforting hand on Maria’s upper arm, Liz asked with sympathetic gentleness, “You honestly thought Michael and I were in there making out?”
Maria nodded her head miserably.
“Maria, why would you even think something like that?” Liz asked with genuine bafflement. “Even if Michael and I felt like that about each other, which we absolutely do not, neither of us would ever do that to you.”
“Michael might,” Maria disputed morosely, making Liz think she was referring to the whole Courtney chapter in Michael’s life.
“Maria,” Liz gently chided. “He wouldn’t,” she insisted. “And I know you know that. It’s just...this connection’s got you confused. It’s got all of us confused,” she said darkly. “But...we just need to talk to each other about it. You know- it only makes things harder if we each try to deal with it on our own.” Unable to resist taking this opportunity to plead with Maria since she was listening, Liz said, “Would you just think about that? And...maybe we could talk about it tomorrow?”
Maria looked at her questioningly. “Why wait till tomorrow?”
Liz avoided her eyes as she tried to come up with a feasible answer that didn’t involve dream planes. “Because, uh... because right now we have to get to work!” was her triumphant reply, and she lifted her uniform as if it were proof.
“Yeah,” Maria sighed. “I guess the masses are waiting.”
Liz nodded. “I’ll just see you out there, okay?” She made a motion with her uniform, silently indicating that she had to change.
As they turned to go in separate directions, Liz halted near the swinging door. “Oh, and Maria?”
Maria stopped and looked at her inquisitively.
“One thing you don’t have to be confused about? That,” she pointed towards the front of the café, “will never happen,” she assured her.
Maria smiled a wordless thanks, then turned to go out into the restaurant.
And Liz returned to wakefulness with a rush.
|Part 38 | Index | Part 40|
|Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours|