Fanfic - Max/Liz
"Strong, Dangerous, and Undeniable"
Part 43
by Destinee
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.
Category: Max/Liz
Rating: PG
Maria came in the back door of the Crashdown to find Michael and Liz in the break room already dressed for work, and apparently waiting for her. Max walked in behind her and hung back as the three of them faced each other in awkward uncertainty.

Liz took a few hesitant steps toward her best friend, throwing a quick glance in Max's direction for a clue about how his talk with her had gone, and he sent her a gentle smile of reassurance. Stopping several feet in front of Maria, Liz searched her eyes anxiously for signs of forgiveness.

Maria looked back at her guardedly. She hadn't been sure exactly what her feelings would be when she faced Liz and Michael this afternoon. She'd known they'd be forced to confront each other today at work, and she'd lain in bed for over an hour this morning contemplating calling in sick. But in the end, she'd decided that she'd only be prolonging the pain and confusion she felt if she sat around the house all day brooding over this thing.

She'd half-expected seeing them again would resurrect her angry bitterness over all their secrecy. But the anguished look of appeal on Liz's face only made her feel regretful and sad for the way things stood between them, a state that was due in part to her own silent withdrawal, she knew. She noted that even Michael looked troubled and remorseful, and she just couldn't summon up the will or the energy to continue to be mad at either of them. Her emotions felt too ravaged, and the aching hurt she felt inside seemed to weigh her down like a heavy blanket.

Though it had only been one day since she'd found out about all this, it felt as if it had been much longer, and Maria didn't think she could make it through another day like yesterday. She just wanted things back to normal. She wanted her best friend back. And she needed to know how much Michael cared about her more than she ever had.

When Liz could find no evidence of hostility or resentment in Maria's expression, she felt an absolutely overwhelming sense of relief, and tears sprang readily to her eyes. The unmistakable look of hurt in the other girl's eyes made Liz long to try and comfort her if only Maria would allow her to.

"I'm sorry," she offered tentatively.

Her own eyes grew wet as Maria nodded and said a low, "Me too."

Liz rushed forward, and the two girls threw their arms around each other in relieved thankfulness, babbling tearful apologies almost on top of one another.

"I really am so sorry, Maria. I never ever meant to hurt you with any of this."

"I'm sorry I had my mom turn you away last night, " Maria countered. "I was just hurt and upset, and I didn't want to talk about it."

Liz pulled back to look at her and shook her head briefly. "No, it's okay. I completely understand. After what happened at the club last night anyone would've been upset.

"Yeah, but I shouldn't have run out and scared everyone the way I did."

"Well I never should have lied to you in the first place. You shouldn't have found out about me and Max like that."

Her words colored with hurt, Maria asked, "Why didn't you tell me about that? I wouldn't have told anybody, Liz."

Remorsefully, Liz hugged her friend again and said in an aching voice, "Oh, Maria, I never even thought you would. It've had so much on your mind this week, and it just never really seemed to come up."

"You should've brought it up, Liz. I would've been ecstatic for you. And I would've tried to help you more with the Tess thing."

"I know. I know you would've," Liz said guiltily.

Max and Michael exchanged a bemused look as the girls continued to make up in an emotional release of chatter, seemingly having forgotten that the guys were even there.

"I won't lie to you, Liz, I'm still really upset that you kept all this from me. It made me feel really shut off from you to find out all this stuff has been going on and you didn't tell me. It..hurt, you know?"

Liz's face twisted into an expression of apology and regret. "I'm so sorry, Maria. I- I don't know what else to say."

Maria hesitated for a moment before saying relentingly, "Just say you won't ever lie to me again. And promise you'll fill me in on everything, okay? All about Max, and telling him about his future version, and literally everything that's happened since you found out about this connection with Michael."

Liz quickly nodded her agreement, immensely grateful that Maria was willing to forgive her for this so soon. She knew she'd created a breach in their friendship with her secrets, and she only hoped that telling Maria the complete truth now would truly be enough to mend it.

As if Maria's mention of Michael had suddenly reminded them of his presence, both girls abruptly fell silent, and turned to look at him.

Michael shifted uneasily as his eyes met Maria's, and he felt a flash of something close to panic. Everything between them was such a mess, and he desperately wished that just this once, he could come up with the perfect thing to say to make everything better, the way he was sure Maxwell would. In his anxiety, he was suddenly drawing a complete blank, though, and he felt extremely self-conscious over the fact that Max and Liz were standing there watching him expectantly.

Dark uncertainty held her immobile as Maria gazed back at Michael, the short distance between them feeling like miles. For some reason it seemed easier to forgive Liz for all this than it did him. Which was weird, because she felt more hurt over Liz keeping it secret than she did over Michael's silence on the matter. But this connection seemed to be more his fault somehow, since it was an alien thing, though she knew that was unfair and irrational. And the extent of her vulnerability and insecurity where he was concerned almost made her feel angry at him. If she just had a solid idea of where she stood with him, this wouldn't be nearly so hard.

Liz, who still had an arm loosely wound around Maria's back, finally gave her a gentle push in Michael's direction, and Maria slowly made her way towards him.

Michael's eyes veered away nervously, then glanced back and became caught by her face as she approached him almost warily. He was struck with the thought that he'd never seen her looking so fragile and unsure of herself, and it threw his emotions into even more turmoil. He really hated himself for making her feel like this, but at the same time, her lost look of hesitancy brought all his protective instincts rushing to the fore, and he wanted nothing more than to surround her with himself and protect her from further pain. But how could he possibly do that when the one her heart needed protection against the most was himself?

As Michael struggled with his conflicting emotions, Maria halted an arms-length away from him and stood stiffly, as if bracing herself. She tilted her chin in a show of bravado, but her eyes screamed her need for reassurance from him.

And suddenly Michael knew exactly what to do. The decision brought a strange sort of peace flooding through him.

"Come here," he said softly, and reached out to pull her the rest of the way to him.

As he wrapped her securely in his arms, she seemed to whither a little and melted against him, while her own arms went around him tightly.

Nothing had ever felt so good to Maria in her entire life, and a stray tear slid silently down her face as her eyes sank closed in relief. His gentle embrace comforted and reassured her in a way nothing else from him could have.

Of course, ideally he would've given her a verbal declaration of his feelings, but coming from Michael, this was almost as good, and she drank in the peace it brought her.

Watching them, Liz smiled widely, feeling ridiculously proud of Michael, and moved over to join Max by the door to give the two of them a little more privacy.

Michael held Maria close and lowered his head to rest his jaw against her temple with a sigh. He'd needed this almost as much as she had, he realized. This is what he'd needed to hold onto to keep his feelings straight. This sense of rightness he only felt in her arms.

Tightening his arms around her slightly, he said softly, "I'm sorry, Maria."

Surprised and a little cautious, Maria leaned back to look up at him. "What exactly are you apologizing for, Michael?"

His lips twisted. He should've known she'd pin him down to specifics. After all, she'd told him last night a general apology just wouldn't cut it. But he actually didn't mind. He needed to say this to her.

"For all of it. For not tellin' you about the connection, for acting so...psychotic at the club last night." His expression discomfited, but sincere, he finished, "And I'm sorry you heard me say that. You know, about my feelings. Maybe...if I'd talked to you in the first place- I wouldn't have been so confused," he admitted gruffly.

Biting her lip to contain her expression of pleasure, Maria sternly told her heart to behave, and asked evenly, "And why is that?"

Michael scowled lightly. This pinning down stuff could easily get annoying.

But as he looked down into hazel eyes, bright with hopefulness, he found himself wanting to give her the words she needed to hear. Nothing had really changed about their situation though, and he was afraid he couldn't tell her what she probably wanted to hear the most.

Hoping it would be enough, he lowered his lashes and confessed hesitantly, "Because, I could never feel for anybody the way I do about you, Maria." He tilted his head shruggingly. "I just... needed you to remind me of it."

A soft smile broke free, and Maria gave her heart permission to go ahead and jump around all it wanted.

It wasn't an 'I love you' by any means, but after the suffocating state of uncertainty she'd been living in since yesterday, his admission made her feel as if she could finally breathe again, and the relief was giddying. Waiting tensely for her reaction to his words, Michael relaxed slightly when she smiled.

Her eyes lit with warmth, Maria said in a slightly throaty voice, "Then I guess I'll just have to remind you of it every day, won't I?"

The corner of his lips tilted up, and he pulled her back into his arms, an incredible feeling of gratitude swelling inside his chest. Laying his cheek against her hair, he closed his eyes tightly, feeling unworthy of such easy understanding and acceptance from her.

When Liz had reached Max's side after leaving Michael and Maria to their reconciliation, she looked at him with glistening eyes and reached up to give him a tender kiss of appreciation on the cheek. Slipping her arms around his waist, she hugged his side and said softly, "Thank you for talking to her."

Empathetic of her emotionalism, Max curled an arm around her shoulders, cradling the back of her head in his hand, and pressed his lips to her forehead. While stroking her hair, he told her, "I am glad we talked, but I cant' take any credit for this. Maria had decided to talk to you before I even showed up at her house."

Liz glanced over at Maria in surprise. "She had?"

"Mm-hmm," Max affirmed, bending his head to rest against hers as he looked toward the embracing couple as well.

Liz was overwhelmed anew at her best friend's generosity in forgiving them so quickly. She and Michael were going to have to do everything they knew how to make this all up to Maria.

A slight smile stole across her face as she took in the almost fierce way Michael was clasping Maria to himself. He'd already made a really good start.

Leaning her head on Max's shoulder, Liz sighed tranquilly.

Everything was starting to feel just a little bit more under control.


Liz was standing at the pick-up window waiting for table five's Trekkie Special to come up when Maria coasted up beside her to pick up the order Michael had just pronounced ready. He'd waited on his side of the window for Maria to get there so he could hand it over to her personally, and when she arrived she treated him to a coquettish smile. His lips quirked as their eyes flirted with each other for a minute, then he handed her the plates one at a time.

"One Venus Meatloaf Platter and one Alien Takeover," he announced.

"Thank you, Spaceboy," she said liltingly, sliding the plates from his grip with a lingering brush of her fingers, then turned away to deliver them.

Abruptly, she halted and turned back. "Hey. You forgot my Space Fries." Looking at him quizzically, she said, "That's like the sixth order you've messed up today. What's up with you?"

Glancing at the plates in her hand, he shrugged and said tongue-in-cheek, "I'm just checkin' out your powers of observation. Tryin' to keep you on your toes."

"Mm," she nodded, unconvinced. "Is that what you've been checking out? My powers of observation?" she asked, her eyes gleaming wickedly. Several times today she'd noticed him standing idle and watching her through the pick-up window as she worked, a fact that had secretly thrilled her.

Michael grinned slightly, unconcerned at being caught out.

"Know what I think?" she challenged.

He lifted a brow lazily.

" I think if you spent a little less time observing me and my... 'toes', and paid a little more attention to what's going on in the kitchen, you wouldn't be getting so many orders wrong," she charged lightly, honestly hoping he wouldn't stop, even though it was affecting his work. She was enjoying the attention far too much.

Smiling rakishly, he replied, "Hey, can I help it if your 'toes' are distracting?"

She flashed him a beaming smile, then turned it on Liz when he moved away to get her fries.

Shaking her head, Liz smiled, and said playfully, "Ugh. You guys are worse than Max and I ever even thought about being."

Maria lifted her shoulders toward her ears and thrust her head forward a little, grinning secretively. "I know. Isn't it great?" she said in an excited undertone.

She felt positively buoyant over the way Michael had been acting today. She'd never seen him like this before. So openly admiring and almost playful with her. While she was absolutely reveling in it, it was hard not to suspect that his connection with Liz might be influencing his behavior somehow. But she wasn't allowing herself to dwell on thoughts like that. She just wanted to enjoy being the center of Michael's attention right now.

Liz shared a smile with her friend, thrilled to see her looking so content, and Michael came back in only seconds to supply the missing item on Maria's plate.

"Thanks. I'll try to be less of a distraction from now on," she promised impudently.

With a short tilt of his head and back, he drawled, "You can try."

Smiling brilliantly, Maria left to serve her customers, and Michael watched her walk away with a pleased glint in his eyes, feeling lighter than he had in days. He loved seeing her happy like this. She almost seemed to be sparkling with it. It was kind of a rush to know that he was the one responsible for making her glow like this. It was extremely gratifying, but at the same time scarily humbling. He wasn't sure he was all that comfortable knowing his actions could have that kind of impact on the state of someone else's emotions. But at the moment he only allowed himself to feel grateful that he could make her smile like this. Ever since Liz had told him about the dream Maria had had the night before he'd been driven by the urge to erase all the pain he'd been causing her. He was glad to see what he was doing might be working.

When he finally shook himself back to the present, he noticed Liz staring up at him, a smile playing over her lips.

"What?" he asked in self-conscious defensiveness.

She shook her head innocently. "Nothing. I'm just wondering what's gotten into you, that's all."

He shrugged abruptly. "I'm just tryin' to make sure she knows where she stands. Isn't that what you said I should do?"

She remembered telling him that the night he'd slept over in her room, and nodded. "Yeah, I did say that. It's just seeing you go about it that's such a trip." Not wanting him to feel insulted, she quickly let him know she thought it was great, saying, "You're being pretty terrific, you know."

Michael ducked his head, but he couldn't deny that it gave his confidence a boost to hear Liz affirm that he'd been doing this reassuring thing right.

His lips curving up in a half-smile, he said carelessly, "Yeah, well, I'm a pretty terrific guy. You just don't know it."

Lifting her brows, she said with amusement, "Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea."

Michael looked at her in some surprise. He'd been so focused on his efforts to make Maria feel more secure in his feelings, and subsequently enjoying every minute of it, he'd almost forgotten about the connection the past few hours. He was slightly shocked at himself for doing so, especially when they were so close to finding out more about it.

Such was the power of Maria, he thought ruefully, not knowing whether to feel amused or dismayed.

Liz was equally surprised at herself for making such a light reference to their connection, without feeling any of the resentment towards it she usually did.

She almost felt as if she had a whole new outlook on things today. The relief of having disclosed everything to Maria and Max, and their acceptance of it was like having the weight of a huge burden lifted from her. Everything just seemed so much more manageable and less threatening today.

Finally Michael dryly replied, "Well, just don't go spreadin' it around, okay? I have a reputation to protect."

Liz grinned, and with the jingling of the bell over the front doors, turned her head to see Max entering the café, and her smile brightened by several degrees.

His gaze was drawn to her immediately, as though he'd known exactly where she'd be before he'd walked in, and her eyes lit with pleasure as they locked with his across the room. Max's lips curved affectionately at the sight of her, sending a warm rush of love flooding through her, and she silently returned the tender regard.

Suddenly realizing that he'd been standing in the doorway doing nothing more than staring at her for long moments, Max tore his eyes from hers to take a self-conscious look around, then stuffed his hands in his pockets and headed for his usual booth.

Michael watched the entire exchange impassively, and when Liz turned away from Max with a dreamy sigh, he shook his head.

"Could you two be any more obvious? It's a wonder everybody doesn't know about you by now."

Liz blushed prettily and gave back as good as she got. "Speaking of being obvious... you know if you could manage to tear yourself away from flirting with Maria long enough today to do what you're being paid to do, I'm sure these hungry people would appreciate it," she said with a taunting smile, delighting in the opportunity to throw his own words to her the other day back in his face.

Michael scowled in reply, and her smile broadened teasingly. Nodding her head toward the kitchen, she playfully ordered, "Go check on table five's order, would you? I'll be right back. Don't ring that bell," she said warningly, pointing at the offending object.

Michael smirked, and she smiled back as she turned to make her way over to Max's table with light footsteps.

Almost as soon as Max had gotten seated in his favorite booth, Maria glided by and tossed off a lively greeting in passing.

"What's up, girlfriend?"

"Hey, Maria. How's it goin'" he returned with a smile.

"Surprisingly great," she answered brightly, continuing on her way.

"That's- great," he replied, blinking in mild surprise. He had expected things would still be a little strained today, but apparently that wasn't the case, Max thought, taking note of the bounce in Liz's step as she approached his table.

"Hi," she greeted him sunnily.

"Hi," he returned warmly, smiling at her obvious high spirits. "So I guess things are good, judging from all the cheerful waitresses around here," he commented, lifting his brows in question.

Liz grinned. "Things are really, really good. You wouldn't believe how great Michael's been today, Max. Maria's been practically floating all day."

"Yeah, I noticed," he said, glancing over bemusedly to see to see Maria amble smilingly towards the pick-up window where Michael was waiting.

Max was surprised to learn that Michael was the one responsible for Maria's light-heartedness, and he grudgingly allowed that Michael must be trying to do what he could to make up for last night. It made Max feel a little more kindly disposed towards him, but he was still kinda ticked at him over his whole attitude at the club. And also for the fact that he'd spent the night in Liz's room, Max thought darkly.

Liz dragged him from his grim thoughts, saying, "Not that I'm not glad to see you, but what are you doing here so early, Max? I don't get off for almost an hour."

"I know. I thought I'd just hang out here while I wait for you."

She looked at him with mock-disapproval and said, "But that's a violation of the 'loitering' rule."

His brows came together slightly. "I thought we did away with that rule," he protested mildly.

"We did?" She was unclear what the ruling had been on that one.

"I'm almost positive," he answered certainly. His eyes gleaming, he drawled, "But as long as we're discussing rules...when can I make a claim on rule #23 today?" He asked the question with a tiny grin.

Liz grinned as well and said teasingly, "You've already had your #23. This morning when I left you to go to Isabel's room.

Her smile widened at how adorable he looked as he almost seemed to pout.

"Surely that didn't count," he argued.

They hadn't gotten much sleep last night, what with dreamwalking, late-night confessions, and discussing the dream they'd shared in the wee hours of the morning, and Liz had barely woken up when Max's alarm had gone off, warning of his parents' imminent waking. He'd dragged himself out of bed only slightly more alert than she'd been herself, and had bundled her up to lead her down the hall, leaving her at Isabel's door with a single tender kiss. While sweet, it certainly hadn't been enough to last him through the day.

"Doesn't the rule say anything about how long it has to last before it counts?" he appealed.

She pretended to think. "You know, I don't think the rule says anything about that."

"Well I think it should, don't you?"

She tilted her head consideringly. "Maybe," she concurred. "How long do you think it should say?"

"I think at least five minutes' worth," he said definitely.

"Five whole minutes?" she said with exaggerated dubiousness. "I don't know, Max. What if we can't sneak away for that long?"

Without missing a beat, he said with a grin, "Then I guess we'll just have to keep trying until we meet the requirement. After all, rules are rules."

Liz released a gust of laughter and cut her eyes upward.

Max smiled with her, then asked hopefully, "So, do you think we could try for our first five minutes when you get off work?"

"Well, okay. But my parents are gonna be down here getting ready for the dinner rush and we can have the entire apartment to ourselves. I was kinda hoping for something a little more than five minutes, but if you wanna play by the rules..."

Shrugging, she left the thought dangling, and Max hastily changed his tune.

"Then again, rules were made to be broken," he said dismissively.

She made a moue of seriousness while giving a single nod of her head. "Yeah, I've noticed that about you. You're a real rule-breaker."

Grinning, he said, "What can I say? You bring out the rebel in me, Liz Parker."

Liz giggled softly, and Max's gaze fixed on her face in captivation as he enjoyed the musical sound. Her dark eyes seemed to emit a warm, happy glow today that had been missing for quite awhile, and it gladdened his heart to see her acting so carefree.

Liz glanced over her shoulder, then said, "Listen, I have an order up, but maybe later we could um...go upstairs, and see how rebellious we can be," she said wickedly.

Max's eyes dropped to focus on the devilish curve of her lips, and the room suddenly felt disconcertingly warm to him. Swallowing, he nodded in affirmation. Not the most brilliant response, but it was the only one he seemed capable of coming up with.The next hour couldn't pass fast enough for him now that he had a craving for her kiss.

The hour did pass fairly quickly. The restaurant wasn't all that busy at this time of day, and Liz often stopped by Max's table, flirting lightly when no one was there to see, and teasing him with suggestive promises that made him anxious to finally get her alone.

He told her as much, couching the thought in the mock-threat of 'You just wait until I get you alone.' To which came her sassy reply, "I can hardly wait."

With almost fifteen minutes left to go on her shift, Liz began bussing empty tables, humming the popular song that was playing over the sound system while she worked. Maria was at Max's table keeping him company while Liz was occupied, and Michael was busy getting the kitchen in shape before Jeff came down to take over the evening shift. Liz picked up her tub full of dirty dishes and headed for the back, deliberately passing Max's booth on the way.

"Fifteen more minutes," she told him in an almost sing-song voice.

Max greeted her comment with a smile, but there was a dark heat in his hazel-gold eyes that made her shiver deliciously.

When she pushed through the swinging door to go to the kitchen, Liz was hit with a rush of cold air. Thinking it odd, she looked to the far end of the break room to find the alley door standing wide open.

But it was the person standing boldly in its opening that stopped her dead in her tracks.


It was completely incongruous that the sight of him, with his small stature, had the ability to strike such terror in her heart, but she knew how deceiving this exterior husk was that he wore. Courtney had told them how very powerful he was, and he had somehow mysteriously escaped death when Tess had killed the rest of the Skins. He had tortured and terrorized Max and the others when the Skins had captured them only weeks ago. This man-child was the very epitome of danger, and the icy cold finger of fear held Liz in its grip as she came face-to-face with the evil menace his teen-aged countenance somehow managed to exude.

The tub she was carrying slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers and landed at her feet with a deafening crash of shattering dishes, and blind instinct urged her to flee.

But then the most amazing, utterly terrifying thing happened. He simply vanished into thin air. One moment he was standing there smirking at her arrogantly, one brow cocked tauntingly, and the next he disappeared like so much mist.

The sound of breaking dishes nearby startled Michael from his task of stocking condiments, and drew his attention to the kitchen doorway. The sight of Liz's frozen posture framed there put him on immediate alert, and he hurried to her side in alarm.

"What is it? What's wrong?" he asked frowningly, catching hold of her arm.

She didn't answer right away, but he could feel the fine quivering of her nerves under his hand, and he followed her gaze across the room, finding nothing out of the ordinary other than the open back door.

The swinging door opened beside them and Maria rushed in, followed closely by Max.

"Liz, babe, what happened? Are you okay?" Maria asked, her face etched with concern.

Liz turned her head toward Max, and her eyes, wide and fearful, latched onto him, drawing immediate comfort from his presence. Intercepting the fear in her eyes, Max was instantly by her side, the sound of broken glass crunching noisily underneath his feet. The soothing feel of his light touch on her back seemed to unlock her vocal chords, but at the same time reaction finally began to set in. The whole incident had been over with so quickly, she'd barely had time to process it, but now emotion came crashing in on her.

Max frowned at the feel of her trembling and asked raspingly, "What's wrong, Liz?"

Swallowing, Liz looked back at the alley door and said hoarsely, "I saw Nicholas. At least... I-I think it was Nicholas."

"What?" Max's eyes widened. Instinctively, he pulled her closer protectively. "Michael," he said commandingly, but Michael had anticipated him and was already moving swiftly towards the back door.

"Be careful!" Maria called anxiously to his retreating back.

Liz stood sideways in Max's embrace, both hands wrapped around his upper arm clingingly, and Max clutched her shivering form close to his chest. His heart was pounding heavily with the frightening knowledge that something could've happened to her even though he'd been only yards away.

He took a calming breath and tried to keep it together for Liz's sake, despite the panicked thoughts that were trying to crowd his mind. It seemed their watcher now had a name. And it was one that filled his heart with dread. His experience with Nicholas had shown him how ruthless and unfeeling the other alien was, and knowing that he was focusing in on Liz terrified Max.

Why Liz, he wondered despairingly. Anger and guilt mixed with his fear in a gut-churning combination. Anger that Nicholas would threaten Liz when she had nothing to do with this war, and guilt because he was putting her in danger simply by being with her.

His roiling emotions were all based on the assumption that Nicholas had been their watcher all along though, and only now did it register that Liz had expressed some doubt over the fact that it had indeed been the Skin.

Pulling back to look into her face, Max asked in consternation, "What did you mean 'you think' it was Nicholas, Liz? What did he say?"

"He didn't say anything," she admitted. "One minute he was there, and the next he was just...gone."

Michael came back after searching the alley and connecting street, and everyone looked at him expectantly.

"Nothing," he announced with frustrated disgust. "What do you mean he was just gone?" he asked Liz, having overheard her last statement. "Which way did he go?"

s the three of them looked at her with varying expressions of worry and inquisitiveness, Liz began to feel a little foolish over the entire incident. Once her rational mind had reasserted itself over her previous state of panic, it pointed out the unlikelihood that what she'd seen had been real. Nicholas had only been there for a brief span of seconds, and if he'd been real how could he simply vanish into thin air?

"He, um...he didn't go in any direction," she sheepishly confessed. "He just kinda...disappeared."

This was met with a beat of silence, and then Michael said scoffingly, "How could he just disappear, Liz? He's an alien, not a magician."

Flushing, she narrowed her eyes at him. "I know that, Michael. Look, it must've just been my imagination playing tricks on me or something. He was only there for a few seconds. And if it had really been Nicholas, why would he reveal himself like that without doing anything?"

It was a sound argument, but Liz continued to feel uneasy over the whole thing. She didn't know why she'd be having random visions of that particualar alien enemy. It wasn't like she'd even been thinking about him. The possibility that he could be their watcher had occurred to her on a few occasions, but since she couldn't reconcile the flashes she and Michael had gotten from the rock with what they knew of Nicholas, she'd dismissed him as a suspect. So why would her mind just conjure him up out of the blue?

Max thought she had a valid point, but his innate caution and fear for her safety wouldn't be easily dismissed.

Michael's instincts, too, were warning him not to ignore the possible danger in this.

"Well, somebody opened that door," he pointed out.

Liz warily eyed the door in question. "Maybe the wind just blew it open."

"It's a steel door, Liz," Max gently refuted.

A heavy silence descended as the four of them turned the incident over in their minds, not quite sure what to believe.

"It's not possible it was real, right? I mean, just the fact that he disappeared is enough to tell us that. It had to have just been in my head." Liz said the words to reassure herself as much as anyone, and she looked at each of the others to see if they felt any more comforted by them than she did.

"Maybe so," Maria agreed, "But what if someone was playing head games with you?" she asked meaningfully.

"A mind-warp?" Max asked, disturbed.

Of course, Tess was the culprit that automatically popped into everyone's mind, and it sickened Max to think that she could've done something this cruel to Liz.

He shook his head. "Tess wouldn't do something like that," he said in defense of the friend she had become. "I mean, what would her motivation be? If she knew Liz and I were together, yeah, maybe, but as it is..." he trailed off. As much as he disliked thinking that Tess could've been responsible for doing this, there was too much at stake to leave any possibility unexplored. It could mean Liz's life. He'd have to look into it, Max concluded grimly.

Acceding to Max's assertion, Maria suggested, "So if it wasn't Tess, then maybe it was like some kind of enemy that has powers like she does." The idea was almost scarier to her than the thought that it truly had been Nicholas. At least with the evil shrimp you knew what you were getting. But the idea of some faceless bad guy out there with Tess-like abilities, capable of messing with your head at any time, was truly terrifying, and it heightened her worry for Liz, imagining that she might be a target for someone like that.

She wasn't the only one who felt dread at the prospect that what she said was true. Suddenly the danger that had merely skirted at the edges of everyone's consciousness this past week felt decidedly more real, and it threw both Max and Michael into automatic protective mode.

Looking at Liz with grim determination, Max said, "You remember that 24-hour watch you said there was no way for us to do?"

Liz nodded slowly.

"We're gonna have to find a way."

Part 42 | Index | Part 44
Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours
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