FanFic - Other
"Out of the Woods"
Part 7
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
When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see...
Let my love throw a spark
Have a little faith in me...

Joe Cocker

***********************************************************************

The group had set up their camp in the exact same spot as the previous year. It had all been accomplished very quickly because the stars had just started to emerge when they settled down by the far for an evening of what the dads thought would be bonding - and the kids KNEW would be torture.

Liz sat on a log near the fire, listening to Kyle tell the same stupid story about cows and holes in heads that he had told last year. Instead of being annoyed, as she expected, she found herself liking it...it reminded her of the previous year - how, although none of them had been on the best of terms, at least they KNEW and trusted each other.

It was so different from what was going on at the moment, she felt like crying...

Isabel sat on her right, roasting a marshmallow. Liz was still amazed at how she managed to look like a goddess even in the middle of the bush...She had her blonde hair in a french braid and she was wearing the most beautiful jacket Liz had ever seen. She looked sporty but glamourous at the same time. Liz could see Alex sneaking glances at her from his place beside Kyle. It's ridiculous that those two aren't together, Liz reflected. They so blatantly want to be...I have to get through to Max for at least that reason...fine if he doesn't want to be with me, but Alex and Izzy deserve to be happy if they can be...

Liz's gaze strayed to Maria and Tess, who were playing a rowdy game of Hearts with Mr. Evans and Sheriff Valenti. They both looked amused by Maria's constant chatter and even Tess seemed to be enjoying herself. As Liz watched she trumped the Queen of Spades on poor Mr. Evans, crowing with triumph.

Liz noticed that Michael was watching them blankly, seated near Mr. Evans. It's like there's nothing going on up there, she reflected, as she analyzed Michael's empty eyes. The old Michael's eyes had been alive at all times, snapping with annoyance or sarcasm or, when he thought no one was looking, lonliness. And only sometimes, and only when he had been with Maria, Liz used to see happiness in Michael Guerin's eyes...but now - there was just nothing...

She gazed across the fire at Max, who was sitting under a tree, Pam at his side. He was ignoring Pam at the moment, his head thrown back gazing at the stars, but Liz knew that wouldn't last long. She hadn't though that Max Evans was capable of such public displays of affection...

Well, that's not true, she amended ruefully. He certainly had no qualms about kissing me in public. A slight smile touched her face. When Max used to kiss Liz, it had been like they were the only two in the world, no matter where they were. More often than not Max had been embarrassed when he had remembered where he was...it had been one of his most endearing qualities, the fact that he couldn't seem to keep his hands off of her, despite it being completely contrary to his personality.

But what was going on with Pam was totally different...it freaked Liz out the way he seemed to be so deliberate every time he touched her...it looked like he was trying to get a rise out of someone, whenever he did it. More than once she had seen him staring at her, Liz, when Pam was nibbling on his ear, or kissing his neck... it made her ill...

And, unfortunately, she couldn't make her eyes behave...they kept straying back to the couple across the way, although it felt like she was being stabbed in the heart everytime.

Remember Liz, she admonished, that is not YOUR Max...that is not the Max that made you see stars when his lips touched yours, that let you SEE him in a way that could never be replaced.

The thing that pissed Liz off the most about the whole thing was that she didn't know what she was going to do if the anti-Max was here for good...because the old Max had ruined her for anyone else. No one was ever going to compare to him... they just couldn't.

She had finally admitted to herself that running away had been pointless, because no matter where she ran he followed... he was a part of her... she would never feel about anyone else the way she felt about him... even if he was currently being a Grade - A jerk...

"So, Liz, have you figured out a way to get Max alone?" Isabel whispered suddenly.

"Well I had hoped that Pam would go with her dad when he went to the lake with my dad and Mr. Whitman, but I'm not really surprised she didn't..."Liz replied. "None of the other kids went and she can't seem to keep her hands off of Max so..." Isabel sighed.

"I was hoping that I wouldn't have to do this..." She muttered.

Isabel jumped to her feet, a blatantly false smile on her face. "Hey Pam!" She chirped in a voice so unlike Isabel's Alex's head jerked up.

Pam's head snapped around. She blinked, surprised. Liz realized that this was probably the first time that Isabel Evans had ever addressed Pam in anything remotely resembling friendliness.

"Yeah, Isabel?" she asked, warily. Liz tried hard to hide her smile. Poor Pam, she thought, not really feeling bad at all. She has no idea what she's in for...

"Alex, Kyle, Tess, Maria and I were going to go do some stargazing." Isabel told her. "Do you want to come?"

Pam looked confused, glanced at Liz, who tried her best to look innocent. "I don't know..." she stammered. "Is Liz going?"

Liz noticed that Max was eyeing Isabel suspiciously, his eyes narrowed. "Nope!" Isabel replied. "Liz is on KP duty." Max's sister indicated the piles of dirty dishes sitting next to the fire. "Max is going to help her do them...Right Dad?" Isabel looked appealingly at her father.

Mr. Evans glanced up from his cards. He looked at his son, who was glaring at Isabel in annoyance. Liz could see that Max knew exactly what was going on and he was not pleased. "That would be nice of you Max." Mr. Evans looked so hopeful, Liz's heart went out to him. It appeared that any sign that the old Max might be around was like music to his father's ears.

Max rolled his eyes. "Fine." He muttered. Liz realized that it was actually the first time she had heard him speak since they had gotten off the bus.

"You're coming too Michael." This came from Maria, who had grabbed him by his collar and hauled him to his feet. Michael didn't say anything, just followed unprotestingly. Weird, thought Liz. Michael definitely has to be our next project.

Pam still looked unconvinced. "I don't know...maybe I should stay here..." She gave Liz a dirty look.

"No, no! I insist." Isabel exclaimed. She quickly grabbed Liz's hand, squeezed and then went and grabbed Pam by the arm, hauling her off into the woods. "We haven't really had a chance to get to know each other...I mean you ARE dating my brother after all..." Liz could hear Izzy saying as Kyle, Alex, Maria and Michael followed. Tess left as well, glanced back once uncertainly, but shrugged and continued on her way. Alex stopped at the edge of the forest, grinned at Liz, gave her the thumbs up sign behind Max's back...Liz felt hysterical laughter about to explode...

Sheriff Valenti suddenly spoke up. "Hey Phil, I think you and I should head down to the lake to see the other dads, give the kids a chance to hang out on their own..." Liz shot him a grateful look. He grinned at her. It's nice to know that you have a grown-up on your side, Liz reflected briefly.

She looked nervously at Max who was beginning to collect the dishes, dumping them into the bucket of water that had been heating up on the fire.

She swallowed, slowly went to join him.

"Do you want to wash or dry?" Max demanded suddenly. Liz nearly jumped out of her skin it was so unexpected.

"Ummm...I don't care. What would you rather do?" She asked quietly. Max turned to stare at her.

"I'd rather not be doing this at all as a matter of fact." He grabbed a towel, handed her the sponge. He raised an eyebrow her, motioned towards the pot of water..."Well?"

Liz flinched. His tone was so cold...she was finding it hard to believe that this was Max Evans talking to her. She quickly picked up a glass, scrubbed it, passed it to him to dry.

Okay Liz, get it together she told herself. Everyone is depending on you. This is MAX. You can talk to him.

"So, how is everything?" She asked, realized that it sounded stupid, shook her head in annoyance. Liz glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He was scowling.

"Sorry Liz." He replied. "You don't have a right to know that anymore."

Liz blinked. "Oh...okay." She stopped talking, tried to collect her thoughts. Max was staring off into the woods, an unreadable expression on his face as he waited for the next dish. When he began to tap his foot impatiently, Liz snapped.

"Max!" He turned back to look at her, surprise evident on his face. She saw that she had broken through at least a tiny piece of the wall he had built around himself - okay, take advantage Liz, she told herself. "What is going on with you??? Everyone is so worried about you."

"Nothing's going on Liz...I'm getting on with my life. I'm sorry that you and the others don't like it, but, well, that's really your problem." He snapped. The icy stare was back.

"Of COURSE it's our problem Max - we all love you..." Max snorted.

"Funny way you had of showing you loved me Liz..." Liz felt the guilt come rushing back.

"Max, I know now that I was wrong to run away from you...I was a coward... I admit it. But please! Be mad at me if you need to, but why do you have to be so mean to everyone else?" Max just stared at her. "I don't understand why you're destroying everything in your life...I'm not worth it! Flunking out of school, hurting your parents and Izzy, dating PAM Troy for Pete's sake...don't even make me go into how she's using you...." Liz felt herself beginning to lose control. "Max everyone loves you so much...why are you hurting them like this? I've only been back for three days and already I can see how this is tearing everyone up..." She felt tears beginning to well up in her eyes. She looked at Max - was any of this getting through?

He was still glaring at her, clearly listening, but just as clearly thinking she was insane.

In fact, he sort of looked bored.

Liz felt her anger rising. "What the hell is the matter with you?" She demanded. "Have you gone crazy? What happened to the Max everyone loves? He was so kind and loving and sweet..." she trailed off when she realized that he was snickering.

"Jeez Liz - I'm not dead... I'm sorry I didn't turn out to be the guy you thought I was..."It was clear that he wasn't sorry at all, "But really, there's no need for the soap opera." He reached out and patted her on the shoulder. She flinched at the condescending action. "I'm doing just fine... I happen to like Pam...she's fun, not serious...there's not the constant boring dissection of every little thing with her..." He eyed her, amused.

Is there no way to break him down? Liz wondered. She could only think of one thing to say - one thing that might work. He was turning away, getting ready to throw the dish water into the bush..."But Max! I love you."

He froze. Liz could see it. His face was turned away from her, but he had heard her...

Max turned around, looked her right in the eye and said the words Liz had been sure she would never hear coming from his lips. "But Liz....I DON'T love you."

With that, he threw his dish-towel down on a log, smirked at her and walked off into the bush in the direction the others had disappeared.

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