FanFic - Other
"Out of the Woods"
Part 17
by Kath7
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. I am just borrowing them with thanks to Melinda Metz and Jason Katims and the WB. Lyrics to songs by Joe Cocker and Amanda Marshall.
Summary: This story is derived from a challenge from Actrez. The gang heads back to Fraser Woods (from Into the Woods) during their junior year. Tess and Michael join the Evans, while Maria goes with the Parkers. This story is post-Destiny. Liz had just returned from a lengthy stay in England. She returns to find a completely different Max and Michael.
Category: Other
Rating: PG-13
The silence was driving Maria insane.

She and Michael were deep in the forest. They had given up even bothering to pretend that they were looking for anything on their scavenger hunt list and were now just wandering aimlessly.

She didn't understand why he had suggested that they be partners. For one heart-stopping minute she had hoped that he was snapping out of whatever it was that had been plaguing him for the last six months, but it was soon clear that this was not the case. He refused to speak and was stalking ahead of her, not at all concerned about whether she was keeping up or not.

When Maria had tentatively tried to start a conversation, Michael had just stared at her, causing her to trail off uncomfortably. At one point she had decided that she was just going to leave him, but then she realized that there was no way that she was going to be able to find her way back to the camp on her own. Their route had been so circuitous, she was sure that she would get hopelessly lost.

And she needed to give Liz more time...

Maria was sure that the plan was not going to work, but if it was going to have any chance at success, she needed to keep Michael away from Max for as long as possible. She thought though that it would likely all be in vain. Too much of the plan depended on Tess, trusting her to make Max see something that wasn't there...

Maria did not have ANY trust in Tess...sure she was being nicer to Liz now, but Maria just knew that there would be a knife in Liz's back the minute it was turned.

They had argued for a long time after Liz had told them what she was planning to do. Isabel had wanted to play a bigger role, had been upset when Liz told her that Max was too in tune to her...she wouldn't be able to fool him like Tess could. Tess had grinned wryly.

"I guess I deserve that." She had turned to Isabel. "There's no question I'm the best actress Isabel, plus Max will really think there's something wrong if it's ME that comes to tell him about Liz...he still thinks I hate her. But Liz," she had looked at Liz with concern, fake if Maria had anything to say about it, "Max is going to be really mad. Are you sure you want to do this?" Liz had sighed, nodded.

"We have no choice Tess." The group had been quiet, realizing that it was true. They were desperate.

As Liz had said, Michael was the key here, Maria thought now, as she glared at his retreating back. Whatever was wrong with him was what had led directly to Max turning into the anti-Max...if Liz could get through to Max...well, maybe they could figure out what was wrong with Michael...

"Michael!" Maria called now, struggling to catch up to him.

He was standing on a slight rise, staring off into the woods, a peculiar expression on his face. It looked like he was listening to something...

Maria stumbled up beside him. "What's wrong?" Michael turned to look at her assessingly. The expression on his face was not comforting.

"Come." Maria blinked at him.

"Come where?" She asked, shaking her head in confusion.

"Come with ME Maria." He offered his hand, quirked an eyebrow, daring her to take it. She looked at his hand suspiciously and then back at his face.

"What's going on spaceboy?" She demanded, beginning to get scared. He was just so weird... yes, he had been prickly and difficult to get along with in the past, but that had just been Michael... the emptiness in his eyes was terrifying.

"Come with me Maria." Michael repeated. "Don't you love me?" It was said in a monotone that was more disturbing then if he had sounded hurt...which he didn't, at all.

"What?" She yelled. "Why would I love you? You've been acting like a pod-person for the last six months. Where is this coming from?"

Michael dropped his hand, tilted his head and examined her with what looked like mild curiousity. "I WAS born from a pod." He replied finally. "You loved me before. What is the difference now?"

Maria waved her hands in the air, scowled at him in frustration. " have NO personality anymore...what is there to love?"

"Personality? I don't understand." He looked genuinely confused.

"Emotions! You know - the things that make you Michael..." Maria said, a little more loudly than she intended, but it was like talking to a brick wall...or should I say stone wall, she thought wryly...of course, even when Michael had been trying to be a "stone wall" he had been completely incapable of it...his character had been such that feeling no emotion was, ironically, completely alien to him...

"I AM Michael." He replied tonelessly.

Maria grimaced. "You're not the Michael I knew." She muttered. Michael just continued to stare blankly at her.

"You won't come with me willingly then?" He asked finally. Maria threw her hands in the air.

"What gave you that idea?" She muttered. She glared at him. "I don't understand any of this..."

Michael shrugged. "It is not for you to understand." His tone...

Maria backed up, stumbled as she came to edge of the incline. Michael's expression wasn't exactly threatening, but Maria just knew instictively that she was in danger...

Run! Run Maria! Her mind was screaming but her legs refused to budge. She was watching Michael raise his hand in fascination, not quite believing that this was really happening...

Michael's hand began to glow and then the world went black...

Max had not thought that it was possible to feel this happy again.

They had managed to get off the floor and back onto the cot at some point, but Max wasn't really sure when. He had been unable to stop kissing Liz once he had started. His hands had a mind of their own too...she had been so sweetly responsive and loving...He finally forced himself to break away from her though. It was entirely possible that they were reaching the point of no return here...and as much as he wanted to be with her, it wasn't fair to her to have it be now...there was still so much explaining to do...and so much to fix...

"Liz..." He finally managed to say between kisses.

"What?" She asked. Her lips were on his neck, practically driving him insane.

" talk..." He croaked, thrusting his hands into her silky hair, dragging her mouth back to his.

"Mmmmmm..." Liz replied. She finally propped her elbow on his chest, her chin on her hand, smiled at him teasingly. "You're right Mr. Evans, we do." She grimaced briefly. "I have a few things to say to you about Pam Troy..."

"Liz, it didn't mean anything." Max told her. "I had no choice...I had to try and keep you away from me." He grinned lovingly at her. "Not that that worked very well." He kissed her lightly again. "You can be very stubborn you know."

"Only when it comes to you." She said seriously. Liz dropped her eyes momentarily, started to trace circles on his chest. "What's going on Max?" She asked, raising her eyes to his. "I mean, why?"

Max sat up, pulling Liz up beside him. He tried to put some distance between them, as it was entirely impossible for him to think clearly with her so near. She kept a firm grip on his hand though.

"It's such a long story Liz." He glanced at her. "I just need you to know that I will keep you safe...that everything I did was to protect you and the others."

"Max, I saw some things when we were connected a while ago." She told him. Liz watched him carefully. "I know that there is something seriously wrong with Michael...I mean, I heard him threaten you last night... and I saw him floating in what looked like a pod..." She moved closer to him. "You have to tell me what happened to you guys on the Reservation."

Max sighed. "I want to tell you Liz...but I can''s just too complicated to go into a thousand times." He heard Liz sigh too, in exasperation. He turned, brought his hands up to cup her face. She looked at him questioningly. "I'll tell you with all the others....I promise." He kissed her again. She threw her arms around his neck trustingly, kissed him back hard. He was flooded by the love she felt for him, realized that they were connecting...

When Liz started to trace his lips with her tongue, Max forced himself to break the kiss. "Liz, please! You're killing me here." She pouted at him. He couldn't help himself, he brought his lips back to hers. "You have to listen to me..." He moaned, realizing that he in no way had the strength to break away again. Liz tumbled back on the bed, bringing him with her.

Things were almost completely out of control again, when a sharp knock on the door brought them both to their senses. Liz's face was flushed, Max knew that his was the same. He really needed to go jump in the lake..."Yeah?" He managed to call out.

The door creaked open. Kyle's head was suddenly thrust through the crack."I still don't understand why I'm the one who has to..." he was muttering to someone behind him. And then suddenly the door crashed open and Kyle stumbled into the room, followed by Tess, who had clearly pushed him. Alex and Isabel entered cautiously behind them.

Kyle was blinking at the sight of Max and Liz entangled on the bed. "Well, I think they made up." He said to Alex, who was trying hard to hide his grin of amusement. Isabel was staring at Max, her eyes wary, clearing trying not to hope too much...

Max's heart went out to his sister. He heard Liz whisper to him, "Go to her...she needs you Max." Max swallowed, stood up, tried to smile at Izzy. He didn't know how she could possibly forgive him for the last few months...

And then she flew to him, practically knocked him over. Isabel threw her arms around him. "Oh my God, Max! It's really you!" She pulled back, slapped him upside the head. "What the heck was wrong with you?" She demanded in a voice that only a sister could use. He felt like he was six again.

"I'm sorry Iz." He said finally. It was really all he could say. Any more words would have been ridiculous. The way he had shut her out...he knew it would take her a long time to get over it...he hoped that she would forgive him one day...he knew that she would understand when he explained about Michael, but forgiveness was something else entirely...

Max knew that Liz could forgive him easily...she had missed most of the last half-year, had not had him treating her like dirt at every turn...yes, the last two days had been hard, but it hadn't taken her long to snap him out of it...he just could not resist her.

Isabel and the others...what they had gone through would take longer to get over...

"When did you guys get here?" Liz asked Alex and Isabel.

"Only a few minutes ago." Alex replied. "Pam tripped on her stilettos on the hike." He explained sarcastically. Kyle snickered. Max saw Liz tense, shoot a look at him. That was another thing he was going to have to take care of immediately, he realized.

"How'd you manage to leave her behind?" Tess asked curiously.

Isabel shrugged. "We just left. She was ranting about Max having disapeared. Dad was trying to calm her down, but she was being we left." She turned back to her brother, dismissing the whole subject. "Max, what's going on? What was wrong with you?"

Max turned to Liz. She came immediately into his arms. He swallowed. "It's such a long story you guys...Where's Michael?" He asked, trying to change the subject.

Kyle shrugged. "Did they come back to the camp you guys?" He asked Isabel and Alex. When they both shook their heads, Max frowned.

"I'm not crazy about the idea of Maria being alone with him," he told them all. Liz and Alex exchanged worried looks. "I think that we should find them first."

Max was not being exactly straight with his friends, he knew, but he still wasn't sure what he wanted to tell them. Michael was his problem...he was the one who was going to have to deal with it - the less they knew, the safer they would be...

"But first," Max continued. He glanced at Liz worriedly. "Guys, I'm going to have to keep pretending to hate you all." He saw Isabel flinch.

"Why Max?" Tess asked, clearly upset as well. He was surprised to see Kyle take her hand...and even more surprised to see that Tess let him.

"Michael can't know that I've told you guys anything." Max stared at them all one by one. "I promise that we are going to end this today, but he cannot know until it IS ended." He set his jaw. "Do you understand?" He squeezed Liz's shoulder, hoping that they would cooperate.

There was silence for several moments as the rest of the group exchanged looks. Finally Alex spoke up. "You're the leader Max." Max grimaced. He hated that word. The others were nodding, although neither Liz or Isabel looked at all happy about it.

"Okay then...I'm going to find Michael and Maria. I'll see you all back at the camp..."

"I'm coming with you!" Liz said immediately. Max smiled at her lovingly.

"No Liz, it's not safe." She frowned at him. He could see that she was getting her back up to argue with him. "Michael can't know remember?"

She sighed, nodded. "Just be careful."

"I will." He kissed her quickly, although it took all his strength to move away from her.

The others left, Liz trailing behind reluctantly. She glance back once, gave him a sad smile. And then she was gone.

The room suddenly felt very empty.

Max straightened his back, left the cabin. This WILL end today, he thought. Even if I die in the process.

To be continued...

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