|"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.
|About half an hour after Michael's shift had ended, Max and Liz had left to head over to his place in the jeep. Most of the drive to the apartment had been accomplished in silence, with each of them lost in their own thoughts.|
Max had questioned whether they should change their plans to experiment with the connection tonight, but rather than seeing the Nicholas vision, or whatever it had been, as a reason not to go forward with their plans, the whole incident had made Liz even keener on the idea of discovering more about her powers. After the scare she’d gotten she felt a definite need to know if she had the capabilities to protect herself, should the need arise in the future. And since encountering Nicholas, that almost felt like a foregone conclusion, she thought with dread.
They hadn’t been able to come up with a satisfying explanation for that whole thing, though she and Max had continued to brainstorm over it after she’d gotten off work. They had gone upstairs to her apartment as they’d earlier planned to, but sadly, their playful mood had been destroyed by the fright they’d been given, and it was a much more somber and subdued rendezvous than the one they’d been eagerly anticipating. There had been no rule-breaking, much to Liz’s regret, but they had each kept the other extremely close to their sides during their discussions, both of them needing the sense of safety it seemed only the other’s nearness could provide.
Over the course of the two hours they’d spent together there, Max had gotten his #23, although it hadn’t exactly been in the vein he’d asked for it. The kisses they’d shared in the privacy of the apartment had alternately been soft expressions of fearful worry and concern, and tender reassurances that all was well for the moment.
Mostly, they’d just spent the time talking, trying to make sense of the appearance of Nicholas, and the way it had occurred. Liz had learned how very serious Max had been about keeping a constant watch over her, an intent she had half-heartedly argued against, the main reason being that if they had sleep-overs every night, someone’s parents were bound to find out about it eventually. And who knew how long this threat could possibly exist? They might never catch this watcher. They couldn’t live in each other’s pockets indefinitely. Not when they had school, work, and parents to contend with.
But as infeasible as the idea seemed, Liz had to admit that she’d feel considerably safer if Max or one of the others were always around. This thing with Nicholas had her pretty unsettled. As much as she’d like to just dismiss the whole thing as a figment of her imagination, she thought it would be foolhardy to ignore all the possibilities that warned of danger.
Still, it was hard to believe that the vision had been the act of an enemy. Why would anyone get so close only to create a 30-second mind warp or whatever, that hadn’t done any more harm than to scare her? Max had pointed out that maybe whoever it had been had been interrupted, or maybe they’d been afraid that the sound of the breaking dishes would draw attention and they hadn’t wanted to get caught. If that had been what happened though, she couldn’t figure out what exactly they had been planning to do before they’d been interrupted. That one short vision had been bad enough, but the thought of someone seriously messing with her head kinda freaked her out. She couldn’t see what purpose that would serve anyone, though.
It honestly seemed as if someone had just been playing a very cruel joke. One that she could hardly credit Tess with. Liz just couldn’t see a reason why the other girl would suddenly be so vindictive. So, the next logical suspect was the watcher. And if it had been him, this vicious prank made him seem much more menacing than she’d originally been imagining. The idea of someone malicious, and as mentally disturbed as their flashes from him had seemed to indicate, focusing his attentions in on her scared her more than a little. Who could guess what a person like that might do? And why target her as his victim?
It was all the unknowns that made the situation so very unnerving.
“You okay?” Max asked, breaking the silence in the jeep. His thumb brushed over the back of her hand where it was firmly clasped in his, a reassuring contact they’d maintained throughout the drive, broken only when Max had to let go to shift gears.
Her bottom lip tucked in, Liz nodded and gave his hand a squeeze. “Yeah, I’m... just still thinking about the Nicholas thing,” she admitted.
Max glanced at her soberly. “Yeah. Me too. I’ve been trying to figure out a way for me to be able to stay with you tonight. Your room just seems way too easily accessible from your balcony for my comfort.”
Liz chewed on her lip and silently agreed with him. Ever since the other night when Michael had scared her by being out there, she’d seen her balcony for the easy access route to her it was. That had always been advantageous for her and her friends before, but now that someone potentially dangerous could use that same path to get to her, it made her feel extremely vulnerable having it there. But it was her room, and she didn’t know what she could do about it, short of asking her dad to have some major reconstruction done.
“You could spend the night at my house again,” Max said as an option, “but I thought since you and Michael are going to try the dream thing tonight anyway, maybe he wouldn’t care if we just stay over at his place. Do you think your parents would let you spend the night away from home again? If you told them you were with Maria or something?”
“Maybe they would. If I told them Maria and I just made up from a fight. But Max, I’m gonna have to sleep at home sometime. I know exactly how you feel about the situation, but finding an excuse for my parents so I can spend the night with someone every night isn’t the solution.”
“I know,” he conceded reluctantly. “But at least for tonight... I would feel better if I had you with me. Please, Liz? Would you just humor me?”
Her encounter with Nicholas had left Max feeling pretty shaken. The fear that she could be in danger sat like an unremitting ball of lead in his stomach, and until they knew for sure what had really happened this afternoon, he didn’t feel comfortable letting her out of his sight. He knew it was unrealistic to imagine he could do that for the indeterminate length of time it would take until they could get this watcher caught, but for now he thought the only thing that would get this apprehensive dread in his gut to abate was to keep her close. Besides, he’d gotten a taste of what it felt like to have Liz Parker sleep in his arms and in his bed last night, and it had been better than his sweetest fantasy. Right now he thought they could both use a little of the soothing peace it would bring to sleep in one another’s arms again.
Liz really couldn’t argue against being with him tonight when it would make her feel much safer too. So, by way of agreement, she said, “Maybe after we’ve worked with the connection for awhile Maria can take me to my house. I can get some clothes and ask my parents’ permission then. But um... listen, Max, I’ve been thinking.”
The hesitant tone of her voice warned him that this wasn’t something she was expecting him to be thrilled about, and he gave her a wary look before turning his attention back to the road by necessity when he came up on the turn for Michael’s street.
“What about?” he asked uneasily.
She looked at him with slight apology because she knew she was going back on her word, then dropped her eyes to her lap and confessed, “About how helpless I felt when I saw Nicholas earlier. I hated feeling like that, Max. Knowing he has all these powers he could use against me, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to defend myself.” She hesitated before continuing. This was the part he wasn’t going to like. “But what if there was, Max? Something I could do to defend myself, I mean.”
Max pulled the jeep to a stop in front of Michael’s apartment, and turned to look at her. Seeing where she was heading with this line of conversation, his face took on a mutinous expression while his eyes filled with dread.
Trying to reason with him, she began to list the reasons why this was a good idea before actually stating what it was she wanted to do. She was fairly sure he had probably already guessed what it was, though.
“Don’t you think we should try to find out everything I’m capable of doing, Max? I think maybe I’m ready to, and that’s kind of what tonight is all about anyway, right? And, you know, if we knew I could take care of myself, you wouldn’t have to worry so much about keeping an eye on me all the time.”
His expression flattened. “Even if I knew you were ten times more powerful than Nicholas, I would still worry about keeping an eye on you, Liz,” he objected.
Giving him a speaking glance of gentle chiding, she said, “You know what I mean. You probably wouldn’t feel like this 24-hour watch was so necessary if we knew I could defend myself against someone with powers.”
With grim certainty, Max finally stated the subject she’d been skirting around. “You want to do the power blast.”
Looking at him in appeal, she told him, “I know I said we wouldn’t mess with it, Max, but I just want to find out if I’m capable of doing one on my own. I think I would feel a little safer if I knew I could. Wouldn’t you?”
Stubbornly, Max said in near-accusation, “I would feel safer if I knew trying to do one wouldn’t be so intensely overwhelming that it could render you unconscious.”
His words conjured up memories of how terrifyingly overpowering their last energy blast had been, and Liz began to have a few second thoughts.
“Yeah. I would too, actually,” she said falteringly. Realizing she would never be able to sell Max on the idea if she wasn’t completely confident in it herself, she swallowed her trepidation and said more strongly, “But it may not be like that if I can do one on my own, Max. It was probably just my energy combined with Michael’s that made it so strong last time. We’ll never know until we try, right?”
Max hesitated before answering, studying her with an expression of conflict. He wasn’t sure which was the lesser of two evils. The effect the energy blast could have on her, or the danger of leaving her completely defenseless against an enemy if he continued in his objections about letting her try the blast. He could tell she was a little nervous about the idea herself, but she also seemed utterly resolved. If she wanted to do this despite her apprehension, how could he let his own worry stand in her way?
He also couldn’t deny what she’d said earlier. It might ease his fear for her the slightest bit if he knew she had the capability to defend herself.
Sighing in defeat, he reluctantly assented. “I guess not.”
Michael paced over to the window of his apartment and peered out for what had to have been the tenth time since he’d heard the jeep pull up. A neighbor’s rosebush near the edge of the street kept him from getting a clear view of the jeep, and he could only speculate as to what Max and Liz had been doing out there for the past five minutes. It was those speculations that were making him so agitated.
Ever since the two of them had disappeared into her apartment after she’d gotten off work, Michael had been feeling edgy. On the one hand, he was really glad she hadn’t been alone after that freaky incident with Nicholas. But on the other hand, he really hadn’t trusted them to behave themselves while they were alone up there. Liz was probably a little upset, and Michael could easily imagine things getting out of hand in the course of Max trying to comfort her. He’d half-expected the pull of Liz’s energy to alert him to what they were doing. He wondered grimly if he shouldn’t be expecting it now, too.
If that was what they were doing in the jeep right now he would be seriously p.o.’d at Max. Anyone could take them unawares if they were all involved with each other. They didn’t have any business sitting out there on the street alone when Nicholas was possibly watching them, anyway.
Frowning slightly, Maria watched Michael go to the window for like the hundredth time, and wondered what was wrong with him. She knew he was anxious to get this show on the road, but she wished he would just sit down and be still. He was making her nervous.
She wasn’t fully supportive of these experiments to begin with, and his odd behavior was only making her feel more uneasy. She wasn’t sure exactly what it was they were planning to do here tonight, but it seemed to her that he and Liz were just gonna end up more connected than ever if they started messing with the thing.
Unable to see anything more than he had the last time he’d looked out the window, Michael wondered aimlessly to the kitchen. Absently grabbing a soda from the fridge, he belatedly thought to look to Maria seated on one of his barstools, and ask, “You want something?”
Eyeing him quizzically, she shook her head. “No thanks.”
As he absently popped the top on the can his eyes fell on the window, and he jerkily sat the untouched drink aside to stalk across the room and peer out again.
“What are they doing out there that can’t be done in here with the rest of us?” he asked irritably. “Don’t they know we have an enemy on the loose out there?”
Maria didn’t answer him aloud, but when he turned away from the window in frustration he saw her slightly mocking smile, and she cocked a brow at him meaningfully. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who imagined they were out there engaging in highly amorous, possibly lewd, activities.
“That’s it. I’m goin’ out there,” he said, abruptly turning to head for the front door.
Quickly hopping off the stool, she caught him by the arm before he’d taken a handful of steps, and told him, “No, you’re not. What’s wrong with you? Let them have a little time alone together already, Michael.”
Indignantly, he said, “They’ve already had two hours alone together at her house. Probably decided to just carry on with the show no matter where they were, and give a lovely little PDA for all my neighbors to gawk at,” he ended grumblingly.
She snorted. “Yeah, like your neighbors would be shocked by the sight of two teenagers kissing. You are aware that the guy in 3C works as a bouncer in a strip-club, right? And once, I saw the couple across the street goin’ at it in broad daylight with the bedroom curtains wide open. Does that sound like the kind of people whose sensibilities would be offended by the sight of a little affection?
“Hey, old Mrs. Haygood lives in the house right next door, and she has got a very weak heart, okay? If Max and Liz can’t control themselves and show a little common decency for the good of the neighborhood, then obviously someone has to help them keep their hormones in check.”
Sighing exasperatedly, she told him, “Michael, relax, okay? It’s still light outside, and they’re trying to keep their relationship a secret, remember? They are not out there making out. I was just joking around.”
As he turned to gaze outside once again, Maria looked at him with uneasy appraisal. He’d been acting strange ever since that thing with Nicholas this afternoon. She had thought he must be worried about Liz, the same way she was. At least, that’s all she’d hoped it was. He kinda seemed to be going into overkill with it, though, and it was steadily eroding the confidence in his feelings that had grown in her today, due to his attentions.
“What is this thing you suddenly have about Max and Liz?” she asked with consternation. When nothing was immediately forthcoming, she went on, “I noticed how weird you three were acting at the club last night, you know. The dirty looks all through dessert, you telling Liz she shouldn’t spend the night at Max’s. And I ask myself how you could’ve possibly known they ‘couldn’t keep their clothes on in a public place’, and the only logical answer is that you must’ve seen them without them.” Looking at him assessingly, she asked, “Did that have anything to do with that whole inquisition you subjected Liz to before she went to the sports bar with Kyle?”
His eyes shifting away uncomfortably, he hesitated before mumbling, “Maybe.”
Maria’s heart began to thump with heavy dread.
Forcing the words out through a suddenly tight throat, she asked, “Are you... jealous?”
Michael took one look at the troubled look of insecurity on her face and cursed himself. He was completely undoing any good he might have done with her today by acting so asinine now. But he just couldn’t seem to help it. The idea of Liz and Max going at it hot and heavy really bugged him. It disturbed him that he felt like that, but no matter how much he told himself that it shouldn’t matter to him one way or the other what they did, or that it had never bothered him before, it didn’t seem to help.
But it wasn’t really jealousy, he assured himself for the hundredth time. It couldn’t be.
When Michael failed to answer her question outright, Maria’s face blanched, and her arms came up to wind around herself as if to ward off a chill. Had her subconscious been right all along, she wondered achingly. Did Michael really have feelings for Liz?
“Michael?” she prompted, her voice strangled.
When he realized that he’d been silent way too long, remorse stabbed at him for unconsciously hurting her yet again. Was he ever going to get things right, he wondered with self-disgust?
Wrapping his hands around her upper arms, he slid them up and down in a clumsily soothing gesture.
“No, I’m not jealous, alright? I don’t feel that way about Liz,” he assured her, looking directly into her eyes and willing her to believe him. The words were entirely true, which was why it was so hard to figure out why the thought of her and Max freaked him out the way it did. “It’s just...you should’ve seen them at that club last night when I walked in on ‘em, Maria. They might not have actually had each other’s clothes off, but they were unbuttoned, and I have no doubt they would’ve been off if I hadn’t shown up when I did. The two of them were so far gone they weren’t even aware of where they were anymore. And Liz has got this... thing with her energy. When she gets...” he reddened slightly, “when she gets- excited, her energy charges up. It’s really strong- and I can feel it. [/i]That’s[/i] why I was acting so weird last night.”
Maria looked at him with fascinated horror. “You could feel them making out?!”
“No.” Sighing shortly, he rubbed at his eyebrow, feeling uncomfortable with this entire subject. “I didn’t know that’s what they were doing. I just felt Liz’s energy gearing up. It felt kinda like it did that day we did the blast, and I was afraid she and Max were in trouble. But when I took off lookin’ for them I found them in a dark conference room makin’ out like bandits. Apparently, Liz’s energy gets into the act when she gets all hot and bothered,” he said in mild disgust.
“Wow.” Maria blinked in speechless surprise. There was so much to react to in what he’d said, she wasn’t quite sure what to think about it.
It was yet more weirdness with the connection. But this wasn’t anything to resent really. Actually, she imagined it must’ve been pretty embarrassing for everyone involved. She guessed that would explain why Michael had been acting so antsy in the game room last night. And she could kind of understand his attitude about Max and Liz now. She could remember walking in on a similar situation here in Michael’s apartment back in the beginning of the year, and she’d kinda gone off on Liz afterwards about how she was playing with fire. And there hadn’t even been massive power-blast-doses of energy involved then. As far as she knew.
“Liz and I have really got some serious dishing to do,” Maria finally said, shaking her head a little. “Why would being with Max like that trigger her powers? It never did before.”
Collapsing heavily onto the couch, Michael rubbed a hand over his face and answered wearily, “Who knows? Who knows why anything happens these days?”
Maria made a sympathetic face, his expression of disgruntled bewilderment tugging at her heartstrings. Michael usually tried to avoid dealing with feelings whenever he possibly could. He must feel like he’d been put through an emotional wringer this week. And she knew he’d always felt a deep need to know all the answers about who they were and where they came from. This whole thing with Liz was just adding more questions and confusion to the mix.
Moving across the room to where he sat, she gingerly sank down onto the couch beside him. She yearned to reach out to him with a gentle touch of comfort, and maybe something even more, but after everything that had happened lately, she felt timid to do so.
Voice soft with empathy, she said, “Rough week, huh?”
Michael could feel the wave of tender concern she emitted as if it were a palpable thing. It seemed to quiver in the air between them and wrap around him with the soothing warmth of a blanket. She’d always been able to somehow project her emotions like that until he’d swear he could almost feel them. It was the most amazing thing. But right now, it was the look of longing in her eyes that had fully captured his attention.
Swallowing, he answered gruffly, “Yeah. Pretty brutal. But that’s nothin’ you don’t know about. Yours wasn’t so great either.”
Her expression wry, she said, “Yeah, that’s true.” Looking at her lap, she said casually, “It’s really too bad we didn’t have somebody around to offer a little...sympathy. It seems like we both could’ve used it. What with our brutal week and all.”
Michael sat up a little straighter and looked at her carefully, his heart rate picking up its tempo. Had that been some kind of an invitation? Could she really be willing to allow him so close again already after the way he and Liz had hurt her?
Cautiously, he replied, “Well, if you’re still feelin’ bad, maybe there’s someone here now that could give you a little sympathy.”
Her lips tilted in a beguiling smile, and she said encouragingly, “It was a pretty tough week. I think I probably have a few lingering bad feelings.”
The soft glow of her smile stirred something inside him, and Michael was suddenly finding it a little difficult to breathe. She was so beautiful it honestly made his heart ache.
“Think maybe I could help you feel better?” he asked, his eyes dropping to focus on the curve of her lips as he unconsciously began to lean towards her.
Maria felt his gaze like a physical touch, and it seemed to lure her inexorably closer to him. The distance between them shrank to inconsequential proportions as she gave her breathless reply. “You could give it a shot.”
Michael gently cupped the back of her head to draw her the rest of the way to him.
“Poor baby,” he murmured shortly in the instant before his lips closed over hers.
The kiss was tentative at first, as if both were a little unsure of the reception they might get, but they quickly warmed to the familiar velvet-soft glide of one another’s lips, and they eagerly pressed closer to initiate a firmer contact. Michael’s fingers tangled within the silken strands of her hair and gently tilted her head at a sharper angle, and he greedily went looking for more, his tongue slipping out to forage for a taste of the heated sweetness inside her mouth.
Maria had place a palm against his chest to brace herself, and now her fingers closed convulsively around a handful of his shirt at the devastating sweep of his tongue. A small sound emerged from her throat and she hungrily responded to his foray with a delicate thrust of her own tongue. She’d almost forgotten how incredibly potent his kisses were. His lips had the ability to scatter all her thoughts, and being the sole focus of Michael Guerin’s passionate intensity was an extremely heady and addictive sensation. In this, as in nothing else, he made her feel as if she were the only thing that existed in his universe. She believed this was probably the only time he truly allowed himself to feel without reservation and was genuine in his responses, and each time he allowed her to get this close to him and feel him like this, it made her fall a little bit more in love with him.
Michael’s fingers circled the wrist that rested near his heart, their length easily encompassing its petite size. As his thumb brushed across the delicate skin at its underside, he could feel the erratic rhythm of her pulse there, and the knowledge that he was the one making it trip that way sent his blood pumping heavily through his veins with excitement. He couldn’t seem to get enough of the taste of her, as he continued to drag his lips against hers again and again. Her kisses were every bit as sweet and spicy as any tobasco-drenched delicacy, and he didn’t now how he’d gone so long without them.
The movements of their mouths became a little hotter and more desperate. Somehow needing more, Michael slid an arm around her waist to pull her flush against him, and Maria aided him by practically climbing into his lap. But they had no sooner had they completed the move than the sound of the apartment door opening had them pulling apart abruptly, and Maria fell heavily back into place beside him.
Facing the unwelcome intrusion with flushed faces and heaving breath, they hastily rearranged themselves.
Scowling, Michael said, “Don’t you two know how to knock?”
Max and Liz didn’t say anything for a stunned moment as they took in the scene they’d broken in upon, then slow grins broke across their faces.
Delighted by the fact that they were the ones doing the interrupting for once, and pleased to see that the two of them had worked things out so well, Max shrugged in response. “Hey, turnabout’s fair play, “ he said unsympathetically.
Liz was absolutely thrilled by this turn of events, and her eyes danced with excitement for her friend as she flashed a smile Maria’s way. Looking flustered but happy, Maria grinned back.
“Kinda sucks being the interrupt ee instead of the interrupt or, huh?” Liz teased them both lightly.
Michael shot her a dark look. “Yeah, well, I wouldn’t say being the interrupt or has all that much going for it either,” Michael grumbled in reply, and exchanged a significant glance with Maria.
Correctly interpreting the look that passed between them, Liz said dryly, “Oh good. You caught Maria up on everything that happened last night.”
“He gave me a bare idea of what happened last night,” Maria corrected. “But you’re gonna give me explicit details over ice cream later, right?” she asked meaningfully.
Liz glanced uneasily at Max, put on the spot because she knew she’d promised to fill Maria in on everything she’d been holding back from her, and unsure how Max felt about her sharing their intimate details.
Max’s lips quirked wryly as he caught Liz’s look of uncertainty. He knew how Maria was. She would try to drag out every possible detail. But he didn’t really mind, he was sure Liz would be discreet.
“Yeah, um- right,” Liz finally answered. Later, she silently promised.
Receiving the message, Maria nodded. “So, uh- how are you feeling after what happened at the Crashdown? Are you really sure you’re up to doing this tonight?” she asked Liz with concern.
The mention of the incident with Nicholas brought back Liz’s state of disquiet over it, and without thinking, she slipped her hand into Max’s. His fingers immediately entwined reassuringly through hers.
“I’m a little freaked, I guess,” she replied. “But I’m sure I’ll be fine tonight.”
Her words held a double meaning, and Max took his cue from them, saying, “Yeah, listen, Michael. I want to stay with Liz tonight.” Worriedly, he tightened his hand around hers. “I think someone should be with her whenever we can manage it. And since you guys are gonna do the thing with the dream tonight, I thought maybe we could just stay here.”
“What thing with the dream?” Maria asked in innocent confusion, looking from one to the other of them questioningly.
The three of them looked back at her for a moment with matching expressions of stupefied dismay, then their eyes flew to exchange an inquisitive look amongst themselves as if asking one another if they’d told her about this. If no one had told Maria about the dreams, then she was undoubtedly still in the dark about Michael spending the night in Liz’s room, and Liz couldn’t believe that between the three of them, this small, but flip-out-worthy detail had been overlooked.
Their reaction, and the drawn-out silence that followed, filled Maria with uneasiness. But when Michael and Liz dropped their eyes guiltily, and Max adopted an expression of stoic resignation, Maria’s uneasiness quickly turned to dread. There was something else they hadn’t told her, she realized with a flash of pique. And from the looks of things it wasn’t going to be pretty.
“I am sooo gonna hate this, aren’t I?” she asked of the only person in the room she felt a certain kinship with at this particular moment.
Max shifted uncomfortably and glanced briefly at Liz and Michael. He couldn’t contradict Maria when he still wasn’t all that crazy about the whole thing himself. Replying honestly, he said, “Probably, yeah.” Not wanting her to blame Liz and Michael when they were basically innocent, he added heavily, “But try and keep in mind that it’s just another one of those irrational reactions we were talking about earlier, and maybe it’ll be easier.”
In the midst of dealing with a telepathic connection, some creepy stalker dude, and a disappearing alien skin, who, by all rights really should’ve been dead, the man asks her to be rational.
He’d obviously forgotten who he was speaking to.
|Part 43 | Index | Part 45|
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