Fanfic - Max/Liz
"Strong, Dangerous, and Undeniable"
Part 49
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
Liz felt the same prickling sensation across the back of her neck that she’d felt off and on all day, and she turned quickly to try and catch whoever had their eyes on her.

All she found was a moderately populated diner whose occupants were all focused on conversation with their table companions, or on eating their meals. No one seemed to be paying her an undue amount of attention, as had been the case every time she’d turned to look today, and she sighed with frustrated irritation. It was driving her crazy, this feeling of being watched, and it was also freaking her out the slightest bit. She didn’t know if it was just her paranoia kicked into overdrive, or if there was honestly something to worry about, but just the idea that Nicholas, or some other evil mind-warping alien, might be silently stalking her left her completely unnerved.

She hadn’t said anything to anyone today about her wariness, but the gang had stuck pretty close to her anyway, after hearing about the incident with Nicholas from yesterday. Liz realized she was going to have to tell Max about it. He’d gotten so upset when he found out she hadn’t told him the last time. She really hated to, though. She knew it would probably make him crazy with worry. As it was, he was already with her every possible minute he could be. He’d walked her to every one of her classes today, even though sometimes they were extremely out of his way, and she had her suspicions that he’d ended up late for a few of his classes because of it. They’d sat close together at lunch, and she hadn’t had the heart to enforce the two -foot distance rule because it was so comforting to have him near. Fortunately, Tess hadn’t eaten with the rest of the group, but had instead sat at another table with Kyle and one of his football buddies and his cheerleader girlfriend. That had been one heartening aspect of the day. That Tess had felt comfortable enough to break away from the group, and that she had wanted to be with Kyle instead. It seemed a promising sign.

Max had brought her home from school, and probably would’ve hung around the Crashdown during her shift if he hadn’t had to work, himself.

Longingly, Liz looked out the window towards the UFO Center. She wished 7:00 o’clock would get here already. She needed to see him.

“Hey, Earth to Liz,” Michael said at her back, making her jump and swivel around sharply to face the pick-up window. She’d been coming to check on table seven’s Orbit Rings before she’d gotten so side-tracked.

Michael was looking at her quizzically and said, “Spaced out much? I said your name three times.”

“Oh. Sorry,” she said distractedly.

He threw a quick glance out the window to see what she’d been so intent on, and looked back at her with a slight frown when he saw nothing unusual.

“You okay?” he asked with concern.

“Um... yeah, I’m fine,” she replied, her expression one of dismissal. She wasn’t going to make the mistake of letting Michael in on her feelings of leeriness before she told Max this time.

She scooped up the basket of rings and started to turn away.

“Liz,” Michael said insistently, catching her arm to stop her. When he became aware of what he was doing, he jerked his hand away immediately. “Tell me what’s wrong. You’ve been actin’ weird all day. Did you think you saw something out there?” he asked, glancing out the window again.

Her expression softened as she looked up at him. “No, I didn’t see anything. Everything’s fine, Michael. Really,” she assured him.

Michael had been hovering quite a bit today too. Which was surprising to Liz. After sharing so much of himself with her this morning, she’d thought he’d probably be quick about getting his wall back up into place, and would give her a wide berth. But amazingly enough, just the opposite was true. She’d often felt his presence nearby throughout the day.

He’d actually shown up after their first period class was over, presumably to walk her to her next class, but as soon as Max had made an appearance, he’d made himself scarce. He’d sat on her other side at lunch, with Maria between them so they wouldn’t inadvertently connect, and after school he’d ridden to the Crashdown with her and Max, getting out of the jeep with her and going in to start his shift early.

Liz was feeling a lot more indulgent of Michael’s behavior than she had been the past several days, seeing it now for the protective effort it was. And Max had tolerated it pretty well today too, but she wasn’t sure if he’d truly been okay with Michael’s frequent appearances. The two boys had been so careful with each other all day, doing their best not to argue or step on each other’s toes, while both trying to keep an eye on her. Their excessive politeness with each other might have almost been comical to watch if it hadn’t been so painful to see what a strained effort it was for these two once-best friends to merely get along now. Liz hated to see them acting so stilted with one another. She wished they could just get everything cleared up between them.

After looking at her for a moment, unconvinced by her assurances that nothing was wrong, Michael said, “You know I know you’re lying, right?”

Liz made a small sound of exasperation. Thanks to this connection, they were learning to read each other way too easily.

“Okay,” she admitted. “Something has been bothering me a little. But I need to talk to Max about it first, Michael, alright? I don’t want to mess up with this thing anymore. I hate that we keep having so many hurt feelings between the four of us, and I want to make sure we do everything right from now on. I just want everything to be okay with us again,” she said with regretful longing.

“I know,” Michael said, somewhat soothingly.

Liz’s mouth twisted wryly, and she shook her head. “Of course you know. Why do we even bother to talk?”

Smirking, he replied, “Beats me. Not my department.”

She gave a snort of amusement at the truth of that, and left to deliver her order.

She continued to have that crawling feeling that someone was watching her for the duration of her shift. But every time she tried to catch someone at it, no one was looking that she could see. Several times she went to the window to visually search the sidewalks outside, and though she spotted a few people lounging around who seemed to have no purpose, no one really looked as if they were paying the restaurant any mind.

The whole thing was making her extremely nervous, and by the time 7:00 o’clock neared, she was jumpy and on edge. A fact Michael and Maria both took note of rather worriedly.

“Are you okay, Liz?” Maria asked as she came to help her friend with the task of bagging up the trash out front.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Liz answered automatically, knotting the top of the trash bag and shaking out a replacement with a sharp snap of her wrist.

When Maria continued to look at her in concern, Liz sighed in concession. “I’m just tired, I guess. And a little on edge. But there’s nothing to worry about, Maria,” she told her, hoping that were true.

“You sure?” Maria continued to press.

“Yeah,” Liz nodded assuringly. “Really. I’m fine.” Her lips tipped up in a small grin, and she added, “And I’ll be even better in about 20 minutes when I can see Max.”

Maria made a face of dawning comprehension and said, “Is that all this is? Here you had me all worried, and it’s nothing but Max withdrawals,” she teased.

Grinning widely now, Liz said, “What can I say? I need my fix.”

She hefted the two industrial-sized bags of garbage, and Maria quickly took one from her, saying, “Here. Let me help. You takin’ them to the dumpster?”

Liz nodded in answer, and after a brief stop to collect the trash from the back room, the two girls headed for the back door.

“Hey! Where do you think you’re goin’?” Michael called, just as they were pulling the door open.

They stopped and turned back to face the kitchen where he loomed in the doorway.

“We’re going to deliver presents to all the good little girls and boys,” Maria replied with dry wit, lifting her bags slightly in the air. “Where does it look like we’re going?”

Narrowing his eyes a little, he leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms, then returned smoothly, “Well, it looks like you’re going outside alone, but I know you can’t be that stupid, which is why I asked.”

“Michael, the dumpster is like three yards outside the door,” Maria said exasperatedly. “If anything happens in the two minutes we’re out there, I’m sure we’ll be close enough to make a run for it.”

“Think you can outrun an energy blast?” he challenged. “‘Cause I don’t. Just let me do it,” he said, straightening to head in their direction.

“What, you think you’re faster than a speeding bullet or something?” Maria asked with derisive sarcasm. “Just relax, would you? We can do this. We’re only gonna be going to the alley, not setting off for the Mexican border on foot. I appreciate your protectiveness, Michael, really, I do, but let’s not go overboard, alright? If we can’t even step foot outside the door without a bodyguard, we might as well just lock ourselves in our homes until you can rid the world of evil aliens.”

Michael’s only response was a tightening of his lips.

Taking it as a sign of concession, Maria said, “Now be a good little spaceboy and let us go, ‘kay? We’ve gotta get back to our customers.”

Sighing, Michael shook his head. “You are so pig-headed. Anybody ever tell you that?”

Maria smirked. “Yeah. My mom. All the time.”

“Well she knows what she’s talkin’ about,” Michael agreed. “Alright, fine. If taking the trash out is so important to you, go do it. But I’m staying back here to watch. If that offends your sense of independence, that’s tough.”

“Hey, do what you gotta do,” Maria said with shrugging airiness.

Liz hadn’t involved herself in the argument for a little more freedom from Michael’s watchfulness. His sense of cautiousness over this small act had awakened apprehension in her over it as well. But Maria was right. They couldn’t just cower down and let fear rule their lives until Nicholas or whoever was caught. What if that never happened?

Lifting her chin determinedly, Liz reassured herself with the thought that they were just taking several steps outside the door, then they would be right back. Like Maria had said, it would take two minutes, tops. What could happen in that short amount of time?

With those bolstering thoughts, she and Maria turned to go.

Just as Michael was leaving the kitchen doorway to follow them, the loud popping sound of grease pulled his attention towards the grill. He still had several burgers cooking, and they were just about due to be taken off. Glancing back at the alley door in a moment of torn indecision, he kept an eye peeled on the open door as he hurried over to the grill to get the meat off before it burned.

In spite of her earlier bravado, Michael’s reminder of the need for cautiousness had made Maria the slightest bit uneasy, and she darted a rather nervous glance toward the end of the alley as they entered it.

“Let’s hurry, okay?” she suggested.

Liz nodded in wholehearted agreement, and they moved as quickly as their burdensome loads would allow, trash bags bouncing against their legs with each hurried step.

They reached the large metal container in only a matter of moments.

Half-way there, Liz thought, throwing a quick look toward the alley’s opening while waiting for Maria to swing her bags up and over the dumpster’s side. She told herself she was being ridiculous to be so tense about this brief venture outside, but she decided right then and there that Michael could just have garbage duty from now on. Defying possible danger and refusing to cower were all well and good, but there was something to be said for having a big, strong guy, who happened to have alien powers, at your side while you were doing it.

Just as she’d copied Maria’s action and tossed the trash she was carrying into the dumpster, Maria suddenly seized hold of her with a crushing grip.

Liz jerked her eyes Maria's way to see her friend’s face frozen in an expression of voiceless fear, and she twisted around in panic to see what had put that look there.

There, at the end of the alley, several feet from the street, stood Nicholas.

Liz’s heart seized, as time seemed to come to a stop for a brief instant, then it suddenly began pounding furiously in terror as he slowly began to raise his hand towards them, palm out.

Quickly turning to crowd against Maria, Liz herded her in front of her as she began moving in the direction of the alley door, saying shrilly, “GO! Go, Maria!”

Her words seemed to unlock Maria’s frozen posture, and she turned swiftly, keeping hold of Liz as the two of them scrambled towards the door together, both fearful of feeling the blazing impact of an energy blast against their backs at any moment.

Maria had the fleeting thought that Michael had been right and she should’ve listened. There was no way they would be able to escape the wave of energy once Nicholas made it airborne. He could fry them in only seconds, and they wouldn’t even have a chance to know what hit them.

Upon thinking of Michael, his name slipped from Maria’s lips in a panicked cry when they were still several feet from the door.

When they had reached the open door, she could see him racing across the break room with a look of fear on his face, but suddenly the door was pulled closed in front of her as if by an unseen hand. Maria let out an involuntary shriek as it slammed in their faces with a crash.

Liz frantically twisted at the knob, terrified that this was it, this was the way they were going to die. The handle refused to turn under her hand, and she knew instinctively that Michael was doing the same thing she was on the other side of the door as his fist pounded against it with furious frustration. It crossed her mind to wonder if energy could transfer through metal, and if so, could she bring herself to actually use their massive power blast against someone.

The sobbing sound of Maria’s breath as she anxiously bounced beside her in a spurring motion, as well as her own desire to live to see Max once again, helped Liz decide that yes, she could, and she threw a glance over her shoulder to check on the enemy alien’s whereabouts.

It had probably been only a mere matter of seconds since they’d spotted him, but it seemed as if an inordinate amount of time had passed, and Liz wondered why he hadn’t released an energy blast on them yet.

In the same instant that she realized he was no longer there, the knob turned underneath her hand, and she and Maria practically fell inside the door as it flew open without warning.

Michael was nowhere to be found, and as they turned back to look toward the empty spot where Nicholas had been standing, they saw Michael appear at the entrance of the alley.

He paused for a brief moment to look their way and make sure they were alright, then ordered, “Go inside and lock yourselves in the bathroom. Do not come out until I come get you.”

“But... there’s no one else to watch the restaurant,” Liz said inanely.

“I don’t care!” he shouted. “Just do it!”

Maria tugged on Liz’s arm to get her moving, and when Michael was sure they were obeying his orders, he took off running across the street in the direction he’d seen someone fleeing. He’d barreled out the front doors of the Crashdown in time to catch a glimpse of someone running around the corner of a building a few doors down the street, but he was afraid his brief stop to check on the girls had given them time to get away.

Just as he’d reached the corner where their mysterious assailant had disappeared, a car came careening down the narrow street alongside the building with a screech of burning rubber, missing him by mere inches.

Michael jumped back out of the way, crashing back against the store’s wall, and looked after the car, straining his eyes for good look at the driver. But it was moving away at a terrific speed, and it was impossible to make anything out in the early evening twilight other than a dark baseball cap pulled low over the driver’s face.

Michael’s heart was racing from the near-collision, but he had enough presence of mind to take note of the fact that the car had been a dark sedan with no tags. As it flew around a corner several blocks away and disappeared from sight, Michael bent at the waist with his hands propped on his knees, and tried to catch his breath.

It occurred to him that if he’d only had his bike, he might have been able to chase them down. But he wouldn’t have wanted to leave Maria and Liz unprotected anyway, he realized. If there were more than one of them, whoever they were, this could’ve just been a plot to lure him away.

At that thought, Michael abruptly straightened and made his way hurriedly back to the Crashdown. He returned to an almost silent restaurant, and nearly everyone inside swivelled their heads around to look at him curiously as he entered.

He guessed they had kind of made a spectacle of themselves as the diner’s only cook had gone tearing out in panic, and the only two waitresses had presumably rushed in to lock themselves in the bathroom.

Clearing his throat, he rubbed at his eyebrow disconcertedly. “Uh... sorry about that, folks. We just- had a little incident in the alley.” Trying to think fast, he said the only thing he could come up with. “Seems a couple of guys from Goddard High got started early on the pre-game pranks and shook up one of the waitresses pretty bad,” he told them, referring to the rival school Roswell High was slated to play football against on the upcoming Friday. The two schools were notorious for pulling ridiculous, but usually harmless pranks on one another every year before their teams went head-to-head.

Michael thought it sounded like a plausible excuse for their behavior, and apparently he was right, as everyone seemed to accept it and went back to their meals with a shaking of their heads.

Once he was no longer the focus of attention, he crossed the restaurant and discreetly knocked on the Ladies Room door.

“It’s me. Open up,” he said softly.

The door was opened instantly by a white-faced Maria.

Enormously relived to see him safe and whole, she threw her arms around him, and they shared a quick hug

“Okay,” she said shakily against his shoulder, as if resuming a conversation they hadn’t been having. “You can play bodyguard all you want. I swear you won’t hear another word about it from me.”

Pulling back from her embrace, he looked her over and asked quietly, “Are you okay?” He glanced at Liz to include her in the concerned query, and she nodded jerkily in answer.

“Yeah, we’re okay. Are you? Did you find him?” Maria asked.

Michael shook his head regretfully. “He got away.”

He rubbed her upper arms lightly to reassure himself she was okay, then bent to place a kiss of thankfulness on her forehead. Feeling eyes on him, he looked over his shoulder self-consciously.

Several of the patrons were watching them with interest, and he gently extricated himself Maria’s embrace, saying quietly, “Come on. Let’s go in the back.”

He guided Maria out with an arm at her waist, but when Liz was slow to respond, he stopped.

“Liz?” At her continued lack of response, he stepped inside and took her gently by the arm to begin leading her out. “Come on, Parker. Don’t fall apart on me here. Let’s just go in the back, okay?”

He was assailed with the tumult of her emotions the moment he touched her. He could feel the trembling aftermath of her fear, the terrifying realization that someone was really after them and could have even killed them, and... a jarring note of guilt.

Michael was puzzled by that last one, but he didn’t take the time to analyze it. Liz kept looking at him almost incomprehendingly, and he was worried that she was in some kind of shock or something. He swept his hand down her back in a single, soothing motion, then gently pushed her forward.

As they exited the rest room, Maria reached for her and said, “Come on, Lizzie.” She wrapped an arm around Liz’s waist, and the two girls clung to each other as Michael ushered them through the swinging door to the back.

He got them both settled on the couch in the break room, then crouched on the floor in front of them.

Rubbing a hand along the outside of Maria’s thigh, he asked again, “You’re sure you’re alright? He didn’t do anything? Did he say anything this time?”

Maria shook her head and said unsteadily, “He- put up his hand, like he was gonna blast us or something...but nothing ever happened. You were right, Michael. We shouldn’t have gone out there.”

Dismissing the matter of who was right and wrong as unimportant, he said, “As long as you’re okay, that’s all that matters.”

“This is really real, isn’t it?” Liz asked in a slightly dazed tone. Looking at Maria, she said, “It wasn’t just a hallucination this time. You saw it too. And...” she switched her attention to Michael, “You said before, ‘they got away’. You actually saw someone running away?”

“Yeah,” he confirmed gently. “I saw them go around the corner over beside Movies and More, and then they got in a car and drove away. Fast,” he tacked on, failing to mention the fact that they’d almost run him down. “I don’t think it was really Nicholas, though. I could see him over the steering wheel,” he said with grim humor.

“So... it was a mindwarp?” Maria asked distressfully. The idea that someone had been playing around with her mind totally freaked her out.

Michael’s hand had come to rest just above her knee, and now his thumb brushed her leg in a comforting gesture. “It kinda looks that way,” he affirmed.

Just then, the phone out in the front began to ring insistently.

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back,” Michael said, getting up to go answer it.

“Somebody should really get back out there to the customers,” Liz said faintly.

“Don’t worry about that. I got it,” Michael assured her on his way out.

A couple was standing patiently at the register waiting to pay when he got out there, and he held up a finger to indicate he’d be with them in a minute, then picked up the phone underneath the counter.

“Crashdown,” he answered shortly.

“Is everything okay over there?” Max asked without preamble. “I’ve been having the weirdest feeling that something was wrong,” he said worriedly.

“Yeah, it is,” Michael told him. “Knock off early and get over here, would ya? Liz needs you right now.”

“Is she alright? What happened?” Max asked with a panicked tone.

“She’s fine. Just shook up,” Michael hurried to assure him. Turning his back slightly towards the customers, he said quietly, “She saw Nicholas again. Maria saw him too this time,” he added significantly.

“I’ll be right there,” Max said abruptly and hung up.

Michael took care of the customers at the register, then made a quick check around to all the tables to see if anyone needed anything. Fortunately, the café wasn’t too awfully busy, and the customers seemed to be understanding of the supposed situation, a few going so far as to express concern over Liz and Maria. By the time Michael had reassured them that the girls were fine, and had fulfilled a couple of their requests, Max came quietly bursting through the door.

Their eyes met across the room, and Michael indicated with a small movement of his head that they were in the back, sending Max hurrying in that direction.

He couldn’t believe this was the second time in as many days that Nicholas had managed to slip in and show himself to Liz when he and Michael were so nearby. It terrified him to know how easily the enemy alien could get to her. He felt a brief flash of anger at Michael for not keeping a better eye on her when he couldn’t be here himself, but Max tamped the feeling down. He needed to be calm for Liz’s sake. She was probably feeling even more scared than he was right now, he thought with concerned regret.

Liz thought she’d been holding it together pretty well until Max strode through the door. Though a myriad of churning emotions were bubbling inside her, they seemed to be somewhere in a place so deep she felt numb to them, allowing her to function in an emotionless void that didn’t require thinking too much about what had just happened. But the minute Max entered the room, feeling seemed to come rushing to the surface with prickling awareness, and tears sprang to her eyes as she catapulted off the couch to throw herself into his arms.

Max caught her up against him and held her crushingly, one hand going up to cup the back of her head protectively.

“Are you okay?” he asked with gruff emotion.

She nodded tightly against his chest, and his hand closed around her hair as he threw a searching glance behind her at Maria to make sure the other girl was okay too.

Maria forced a weak smile and said, “We’re okay. Just majorly freaked is all.”

He accepted that with a small nod, then leaned back a little, lifting Liz’s face in his hands. Her big brown eyes were swimming with tears, and Max’s heart clenched painfully at seeing them.

Brushing at her cheeks with his thumbs, he asked with concern, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Liz nodded in reply, and she wanted to reassure him that nothing had really happened beyond another huge fright. She didn’t want to worry him. But her throat felt too tight to speak, and the next thing she knew, tears were leaking from her eyes and cascading hotly down her cheeks.

“Liz?” Max questioned in alarm.

“I’m sorry,” she said on a breathless sob. “I don’t know why–“ the rest of her words became choked in her throat, and she could only shake her head helplessly. She tried to stop the tears from falling, but it was as if her feelings of helplessness, and the knowledge that Max was here to catch her if she failed to be strong at the moment, had broken something loose inside her, and she couldn’t seem to stem the flow.

His face twisting into an expression of caring sympathy, Max tenderly enfolded her in his arms and rubbed her back soothingly. “It’s okay,” he said softly. “You’ve just been under a lot of pressure lately. It was bound to catch up with you sooner or later.” Rocking her slightly within his embrace as she cried, he stroked her hair and whispered, “Just let it go, sweetheart.”

His tender words of understanding seemed to break down some final barrier, and Liz clung to him tightly as sobs began to wrack her body. As though they’d been given permission now to fall, her tears flowed in a torrential outpouring. What had begun as an emotional reaction to the fear of being killed and all the resulting implications of that incident, quickly evolved into something more, as she found herself crying for everyone and everything. For the whole Future Max ordeal and the pain she and Max had been put through. For Tess and her misguided notions of destiny that might still cause the end of the world even after all they’d endured. For the stress of lying to her friends and hiding her relationship with Max when all she wanted to do was be with him and be happy. For Maria and Max and all the pain and confusion her connection with Michael was causing them. For Michael and his desperately unhappy childhood. And for all these alien changes that had been set into motion inside her without her consent, changing her life irrevocably. Changing her irrevocably.

Liz was hardly able to recognize herself anymore. She was deeply shaken by the knowledge that if circumstances had led to it, she would have done her best to kill Nicholas. It scared her to know that about herself. And she cried with a strange sort of grief, as though the Liz Parker she’d once been had died or something, and this new stranger had taken her place.

It seemed she might possibly drown in sorrow as everything came pressing in on her at once, and she felt powerless to do anything but stand there and watch as it all threatened to bury her beneath its heaviness. She just didn’t seem to have control over anything anymore, and it left her feeling aimless and adrift in a vast sea she had no idea how to navigate.

Max continued to stroke her and murmur soothing platitudes while she cried out all her fear and helplessness, the sound of her heart-wrenching sobs making his chest constrict. As he lay his cheek against the softness of her hair, his lips curved sadly. His sweet, tough little Liz, he thought with loving affection. Such a tender soul and yet so brave-hearted. She’d been strong and unflinching for so long now- since May really- and this emotional storm had probably been a long time in coming. He’d felt the urge to break down like this himself over the past several months. But even though he was sure this was something she needed, her pain tore at his heart, and made him ache with regret for all she’d been through recently and the part he’d played in all of it.

He decided on the spot that she was not going to hear anything more from him about the problem he was having with the connection between her and Michael. Even if he had to block part of himself from her when they connected to do it. She had enough to worry about without adding that to the pile, he told himself reproachfully.

Michael entered the break room quietly after one of the waitresses that was working the night shift had come in to take over out front. The cook who was to relieve him was due in any minute. His steps faltered in hesitation next to Max and Liz as he crossed the room, and he and Max exchanged a brief look over the sobbing girl’s head tucked under Max’s chin, before he moved on to sit on the couch next to Maria. She immediately moved in against his side, and Michael put an arm around her shoulders to pull her in close as they somberly bore silent witness to Liz’s tears.

Michael was disconcerted to feel unshed tears thick in his own throat, and troubled confusion swelled inside him oppressively. He was almost positive that he was feeling what Liz was feeling, despite the fact that they weren’t connected. Maybe because her emotions were so strong right now, he concluded. As he tried to hold back the flood of painful emotions, Michael sat with down-bent head, unable to help but share in her sadness.

Maria, too, was subdued during Liz’s emotional outpouring, her terror from before all but forgotten in the face of her friend’s pain. She guessed this had been the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back. Liz had just been carrying too much for too long. It made Maria feel deeply ashamed of her childish behavior the past couple of days, and for treating Liz the way she had. She should’ve been more understanding of Liz’s point of view in the whole connection thing instead of striking out in resentment and giving her the silent treatment the way she had, she thought with self-remorse.

When her sobs had died down to an almost silent hitching of breath, Liz buried her face tightly against Max’s firm chest, embarrassed over losing it like that. It wasn’t like anything had really even happened that had been terrible enough to provoke it.

Max was feeling incredibly attuned to her emotions in that moment, and when he became aware of her embarrassment, he hugged her to him comfortingly and dropped a soft kiss atop her head.

Bending his head over hers, he said gently into her ear, “Nobody blames you for doing this after everything you’ve been through, Liz. It’s completely understandable, okay?”

A barely perceptible nod was all the reply he received, and Max leaned backwards at the waist to see her face, lightly palming the soft curve of her jaw.

The sight of her flushed, damp cheeks made his heart melt, and it brought every protective instinct he owned rushing to the fore. He would give anything to save her from all of this.

Smoothing her hair away from her face before brushing away the remnants of her tears with his thumb, he asked, “Feeling better now?”

Fingering a button low on his jacket, Liz peeked up at him, before lowering her eyes and nodding shyly. Her throat felt scratchy and raw, and a slight headache throbbed behind her eyes, but she did feel better. A little lighter somehow. She’d just suddenly been feeling so overwhelmed by all the upheaval and uncontrollable circumstances. Thank goodness Max had been here, she thought, glancing up at him in loving gratitude. He was her port in the storm. Gentle and understanding, and offering a steadying strength to hold her upright.

Max pushed the fall of her hair over her shoulder and asked softly, “Wanna talk about it now? I’m not really even sure what happened here. Michael said you saw Nicholas but you weren’t hurt, and that’s about all I know.”

Her voice husky from her bout of crying, Liz said, “Yeah, um... w-we can talk about it. I only know what I saw, though. Michael actually went after someone.”

Max threw a slightly startled glance Michael’s way, then looked back down at her with a nod, and placed a kiss on her forehead, before they turned to face Michael and Maria on the couch.

Not looking at them directly, Liz said self-consciously, “Sorry.. about the- um, the meltdown.”

“Don’t apologize, chica,” Maria said gently in understanding. “You were definitely entitled.”

Liz darted a glance at them, then looked away and nodded.

“You okay?” Michael asked quietly. He could still faintly feel the tumultuous swirl of her emotions, but they didn’t seem to be quite as dark and tangled as they’d been only a few minutes ago.

With a softening of her features at his concern, Liz met his eyes shyly and nodded again. “Yeah, I- I guess everything just... kinda caught up with me at once.”

Sensing that she just wanted to move on without anymore discussion of it, Max slipped an arm around her before asking Michael, “So- you went after him? And he got away?”

Maria felt Michael stiffen beside her at the way Max had phrased that. As if Michael had failed. He’d let them get away. She knew Max hadn’t meant it like that, but the way things stood between the two boys right now, she knew Michael would probably take it that way.

Hoping to forestall a defensive outburst, she said quickly, “He got away in a car, Max. There wasn’t any way Michael could’ve kept up with him.”

At her quick defense of Michael, Max realized how his words must have sounded, and he hurried to assure him, “I wasn’t saying you let him get away, Michael. I was just asking what happened.”

Michael accepted that with a tight nod, then proceeded to tell them about his pursuit and how the runner had made his escape. “I didn’t get a real good look at the guy,” he admitted, “But I really don’t think it was Nicholas. This guy seemed a little bigger than the pipsqueak.”

Max frowned. “So- what, you think this was a mindwarp?”

“Yeah,” Michael answered simply, giving Max a direct look.

“Tess?” Max voiced the possibility grimly.

Shrugging a little, Michael replied, “It’s possible I guess, but they were driving a dark gray Taurus. Unless she somehow managed to get her hands on an unmarked car, I’d say it was someone else.”

“A dark, unmarked vehicle?” Maria said uneasily. “Does that not just scream FBI?”

Michael made a considering motion with his head. “Yeah, maybe. But an alien with mindwarping capabilities in the FBI?”

“Why not? Whittaker held a public office, and she was an alien,” she pointed out.

Max had gone quiet and still at the suggestion that this was someone from the FBI. The idea had made him go cold all over, and now acid was churning violently in his gut. And the thought of someone with alien powers in the FBI was even more terrifying. What would someone like that be able to do if he ever captured one of them? And if Liz was the one he was after... the idea didn’t even bear thinking about. He would go out of his mind if he even considered it.

Beside him, Liz could sense Max’s state of unrest in the stiffness of his posture. She’d curved her body to fit his when he’d put his arm around her, turning her front to his side and resting her head on his shoulder while she’d listened to their exchange with quiet disturbance. She shared Max’s fears completely. This whole situation was just unnerving to her. And she knew the suggestion that this was FBI had to be resurrecting old terrors in Max. But it really didn’t seem to make sense.

Tightening her arm around his waist as comfort for them both, Liz quietly said, “But if this is someone with the FBI, or even just an enemy alien, what could their plan possibly be? I mean, they really haven’t done anything... except scare us. It’s like- they’re just out to- to terrorize us or something,” she ended with a slight shiver.

Forgetting his own fears as he sought to soothe hers, Max pulled her in closer to his side and asked gently, “What did he do this time? When you saw him?”

Liz related the entire incident that had taken place in the alley, catching him up on all that had happened.

When she was through, Max looked at her sternly and asked, “What were you two doing going out there by yourselves in the first place? We aren’t supposed to go anywhere alone, remember? Especially after what happened yesterday.” He sent an accusatory look at Michael and asked, “Why weren’t you with them?”

Michael felt his defensive hackles rise, but he knew Max was right in accusing him. He shouldn’t have let them out of his sight. No matter what Maria had said. If anything had happened it would’ve been entirely his fault.

“It wasn’t his fault, Max,” Maria defended, as if she’d heard what he was thinking. “It was mine. I talked him into letting us go. We were just going out to the dumpster. I didn’t think anything could happen,” she excused guiltily.

Filled with self-reproach, Liz confessed timidly, “Michael probably wouldn’t have let us go if- if I had told him I had a feeling someone was watching us when he asked earlier.” Max looked at her sharply, and she said quickly, “I thought maybe it was just my imagination. And I wanted to tell you about it first.”

She dropped her eyes from his, and Max looked from one to the other of them, each blaming themselves for the episode.

Sighing, he said, “Alright, look- it happened. Everybody feeling guilty about it isn’t gonna change anything. Thankfully, nothing really bad happened this time, but from now on, no one goes anywhere unless one of us is with you, okay?” He looked from Maria to Liz to make sure he had their agreement, and they both nodded. “And I think we can trust your instincts, Liz. They haven’t been wrong yet. If you think someone is watching us, they probably are,” he said grimly. “It doesn’t matter who you tell first, just so long as you tell someone when you think it’s happening, okay?” he ended gently, feeling a little guilty, himself for that part. He knew he was at fault for making her think that way, and he would’ve never forgiven himself if something had happened to her because he’d made her feel as if she were doing something wrong by telling Michael something he’d needed to know just because she hadn’t told him about it, first.

They all fell silent as Michael’s replacement came through the swinging door on his way to the kitchen. He cast a curious glance their way, but the look on Michael’s face urged him to just keep walking, and he did so hastily.

When he’d disappeared into the kitchen, Michael said, “Let’s get outta here. The others’ll be at my place soon. We should tell them about this so they’ll be on the lookout.”

Max would feel better if everyone were all together in one place where they could keep an eye on them, but after everything that had happened, he wasn’t sure Liz was still up to tonight’s activities. Which would be fine. He just knew that wherever she wanted to be, he was going to be there too.

Without releasing his hold on her, he looked down into her face and asked, “Do you still want to do this tonight, Liz? I’ll stay with you whatever you want to do. If you want to just stay here, we can.”

Liz took only a moment to consider. There was no question that she wanted to be with Max right now- needed to be, really- but she thought it might be better if they were with the group. She had complete faith in Max’s ability to protect her, but she thought she might feel better if he had some back-up readily available. If this lunatic came after them when it was just the two of them, she would fear for Max’s safety if he had to fight this enemy alone.

Smiling her thanks for the offer, Liz said, “I’d really rather not be here right now, Max. We should go ahead with our plans. I- think I could probably use the distraction.”

“Okay,” he said easily, smiling softly in understanding.

He pressed a kiss to her temple before reluctantly letting her leave his arms, and the four of them left for Michael’s, watchful caution directing their every move.

Part 48 | Index | Part 50
Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours
Crashdown is maintained by and . Design by Goldenboy.
Copyright © 1999-2004 Web Media Entertainment.
No infringement intended.