FanFic - Other
"Out of the Woods"
Part 29
by Kath7
Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. I am just borrowing them. 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
Max watched Michael warily as Maria gradually inched her way out of the cave.

His ultimate goal was to save Michael, but he couldn't do what had to be done until Maria was gone. He knew that if THEIR Michael had to make a choice, Maria's safety would come first...and Max would respect that.

He would let her leave and then it would end - once and for all.

As Maria began to disapear into the steam, Max forced himself to take a deep breath. It was time. "I'm ready." He told Michael, wishing that his voice hadn't cracked. It was really annoying that they were going to know how terrified he was...

The thought that they were going to try and take his humanity - it was the scariest thought he could imagine. The idea of not being able to feel love - not remembering how much Liz, Isabel, his parents, Michael, the others, meant to him - he refused to allow it.

The thought of death was comforting in the face of that.

And that was the choice he had made. He would save Michael, and then he would die.

It was the only way to protect them all.

Michael was still fiddling with one of the orbs, a frown of concentration on his face. "We just have to wait for the master."

Max suddenly felt panic. They needed to do it now! He didn't know how long it would be until Liz, Izzy and Alex found a way through his illusion, but knowing that determined trio, he didn't think it would be long. He tried not to show his concern. "Okay. Will it be long?" He asked calmly.

His question was answered almost immediately. Max blinked in astonishment when Tarsus of Dernia suddenly seemed to melt out of the wall. The shapeshifter immediately assumed River Dog's form. He stalked across the cave, grabbed the orb out of Michael's hand. "You still haven't made it work?" He demanded angrily.

Michael shook his head, no emotion on his face. "I apologize master."

"Bah! You're as useless in this life as you were in your last." Tarsus sneered, turning to Max. "So, my lord, are you ready for your rebirth?" Max was surprised to hear a note of seeming excitement in the shapeshifter's tone. It was the first evidence of real feeling the jerk had displayed in all the time Max had known him.

And to Max it felt like he had known Tarsus forever.

"Ready." Max replied evenly, deciding that the fewer words he spoke, the less chance he would have of screwing up - betraying his plan. "But I don't understand how we can do it here. The pods are back at the Reservation." Besides, Max thought wryly to himself, I haven't exactly been successful at cutting all my emotional ties. The process wasn't going to work anyway.

Tarsus smirked, shook his head. "Your human mind thinks so concretely." He snapped his fingers and suddenly the steam caused by the hot spring began to fade away. Max's eyes widened and he swallowed as he watched the pool of water begin to bubble...something was happening to it...

A perfectly formed golden pod began to emerge from the pool. Max rubbed his eyes in frustration. The extent of the other alien's powers - it was intimidating - but it did not bend Max's resolve.

Max glanced at Michael. His friend was staring straight ahead, clearly uninterested in the proceedings. Max stepped forward. He turned to Tarsus. "What do I do? Didn't it take Michael a bunch of "cleansings" to change him?"

Tarsus snorted. "His human make-up was more stubborn then was anticipated. Your family chose a complex system into which to clone your essences. Why humanity? They really could not have chosen a more annoying species had they tried... It took me a few stages to work out the kinks." He smirked again. "Michael was really only a test subject anyway. It was ironic that he was so eager to undergo the cleansing, yet in reality he was only clearing the way for one which would be easier - yet so much more important."

Max just shook his head. "Whatever. Let's get on with this."

Tarsus scowled, clearly annoyed that his gloat-fest was at an end. Max felt like rolling his eyes. If this guy wasn't so damn powerful, he would almost be a caricature. "Very well." If Max didn't know better, he would say Tarsus was pouting.

Max moved toward the pod, sighed as he waved his hand over it. This was not going to be pleasant. But he was not scared...the only thing that frightened him now was the idea that any of his friends end up hurt....

He removed his coat, decided that since this wasn't going to work anyway, there was no point in undressing fully. Besides, without the steam, it was becoming uncomfortably cold in the cave.

Max took a deep breath and climbed into the pod. He felt momentary panic as it closed behind him. And then it began to fill with the clear, transforming liquid.

He could still see Tarsus and Michael watching him through the transparent side of the pod...he flinched as the slimy liquid began to inch its way up his body. He hoped he would be able to breathe.

And then Max saw something behind his two tormenters that made his heart stop.

It was Liz - and she was staring right at him, horror and pain written all over her beautiful face.

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