An Imperfect Life, M&L, Mature, AN, 8/01/07 p 20 [WIP]

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An Imperfect Life, Part 20

Post by Breathless » Tue Jan 02, 2007 12:08 am

Happy New Year everyone! Sorry I’m posting a little late this week, but I was away for the weekend and stayed longer than I had originally planned.

I’m going into an extremely busy week at work, so I won’t have time for an update next weekend. I should be able to post the week after (2 weeks from now). Until then, I hope this will tide you over …



An Imperfect Life
Part 20



All this feels strange and untrue
And I won't waste a minute without you
My bones ache, my skin feels cold
And I'm getting so tired and so old

The anger swells in my guts
And I won't feel these slices and cuts
I want so much to open your eyes
Cos I need you to look into mine

Tell me that you'll open your eyes
Tell me that you'll open your eyes
Cos I need you to look into mine

Open Your Eyes
Snow Patrol




The only sounds in the room were the steady beeps and occasional clicks coming from the hospital equipment. Evan lay motionless on the bed, except for the rapid movement of his eyes under pale lids …

The house was quiet, his father wasn’t home yet, but there was a presence lurking, unseen but felt, causing the hair to rise on the back of his neck. He’d experienced it before, but he couldn’t quite remember when, or where. His heart rate jumped, not in a good way.

He moved cautiously through the house, though there was nothing to find. The doors and windows were all locked, the stove was off, everything was as it should be. So why were his senses screaming?

He thought briefly about calling his dad, but he didn’t want to act like a scared little baby. And besides, his dad was with Liz, on what could very well be the most important night of his life. He wasn’t about to interfere with that.

He double checked the front door, then the garage door off the kitchen, satisfying himself everything was secure. He’d been feeling pretty good all night, a quick healing earlier in the evening combined with his Dad’s emotional euphoria over his impending date with Liz, had flooded Evan with positive energy. That good feeling had stayed with him for the entire evening, up until Ryan left, and then suddenly the shadows in the corners seemed darker, the creaking of the floor boards more like menacing footsteps than just the normal sounds of the house settling.

Shaking off a case of the willies, he convinced himself he was just overreacting to being home alone and trotted off to his bedroom. He changed into a clean pair of pajamas, tossed his dirty clothes into the hamper, and turned around to head for the bathroom to brush his teeth.

He froze in place, with the air suddenly seizing in his lungs. He wasn’t alone.

Someone was standing in the doorway…



Max sat in the chair beside the bed and watched his son as he slept. He brushed back the strands of blond hair from the boy’s forehead, letting his fingertips rest on the soft skin. A sound behind him made him turn.

The stress lines around Max’s eyes softened. “Hi.”

“Any change?” Liz asked, stepping into the room.

“He’s been dreaming,” Max said. “His eyes were moving back and forth. That’s a good sign, right?”

“That’s an excellent sign,” Liz said, moving closer. “It indicates normal brain activity.”

“Normal …” Max echoed, hoping that was true. “I wish I could reach Isabel. Ask her to dreamwalk him. Have her tell him it’s time to wake up.”

“You don’t know how to get a hold of her?” Liz asked. “No address? No phone number?”

Max looked up at her and shook his head. The sadness in his eyes matched his melancholy tone. “We thought it best. If one of us ever got caught, then we wouldn’t be able to – if they used torture – the others would still be safe – if we couldn’t give anything away.”

“Oh, Max.” Liz wrapped her arms around him, drawing his head to her chest, offering him what comfort she could. It was obvious he’d never really gotten over his experience at Eagle Rock in the hands of the FBI. All these years, he’d never had anyone to talk to about it, to help him come to grips with the fear and anxiety, the horror of the white room.

Tenderly cupping his cheek and lifting his chin, she asked, “Do you connect with Isabel very often? In your dreams?”

“Not often,” Max answered, staring deeply into her eyes. “We’re so far apart. The distance is a strain on her, and the time difference, it’s just really hard for her.”

Looking at him, seeing the pain in his eyes, Liz wanted nothing more than to take that hurt away, but it didn’t feel right to kiss him under these circumstances, with Evan so sick –

“Go ahead.”

Max and Liz broke apart, startled by the soft voice. Their heads whipped toward the bed, both surprised to see Evan awake and staring at them. And smiling.

“Evan!” Max cried out, grabbing his son in a tight hug.

Some women might have been jealous watching the degree of devotion between father and son, feeling on the outside of such intense emotion. But not Liz. Watching them, her eyes filled with tears of joy.

In a constricted voice, Evan said, “Dad, you’re squeezing me!”

Liz laughed as Max let go. He touched Evan’s cheeks, his throat, shoulders and arms, hands glowing.

“You’re okay,” Max said in relief. “You’re okay.” Turning to Liz, he told her, “Everything feels normal.”

“Where am I?” Evan asked, taking in the room, the bed, plucking at the gown he was wearing.

Max said the obvious. “You’re in the hospital. You don’t remember?”

Evan shook his head. “What happened?”

“We we’re hoping you could tell us,” Liz said. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Ryan and I were watching videos. Then he had to go home. I cleaned up and got ready for bed. After that … I don’t remember.”

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you, Evan. I let you down –”

“Dad,” Evan cautioned, glancing at Liz.

“I promise, I’ll never –”

“Dad,” Evan said again, a little more forcefully.

“– leave you alone again –”

“Dad, I’m not a baby.”

“I know that,” Max said hastily. He took Evan’s hand in his. “It’s just, I want –”

“I know,” Evan said, squeezing his hand.

Liz stood at the side of the bed, watching the exchange between father and son. This was their moment, not hers. She backed up, moving toward the door to give them privacy. She felt as responsible for Evan’s current condition as Max did, maybe even more so. If she hadn’t asked Max to stay –

“Don’t go,” Evan said, staring at her now.

Liz swallowed hard. His eyes looked like they were seeing right inside her. She was suddenly flooded with a sense of warmth, a burst of pure love, welcoming and accepting. Her apprehension quickly faded away.

“Are you hungry?” Max asked, still holding his son’s hand. “Do you need anything? I could get your game wizard, or your CD player if you want to listen to some music –”

“Dad –”

Max turned to ask, “Liz, is the cafeteria open this late?” Without waiting for an answer, he faced Evan again. “Would you like a sandwich? Turkey? Or ham and cheese? Or a hamburger? I could get you your favorite burger.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“But you haven’t eaten anything since the attack.” He looked at Liz again, asking, “He should eat something, right?”

With his father’s head turned, Evan rolled his eyes. Liz had to stifle a laugh.

“I think someone’s feeling better,” she smiled. “Max, I think he’ll let us know when he’s ready to eat something.”

“Maybe later,” Evan said.

Liz took her stethoscope out of her lab coat pocket and bent over Evan. Without prompting, the boy took a deep breath and held it, used to the routine by now. With a silent nod from Liz, he expelled that breath and drew in another.

“Good,” she smile and motioned him up. “Sit up for a sec.”

Evan sat up straight. Liz slipped the bell of the stethoscope through the back opening of his hospital gown. Evan took two more deep breaths.

Satisfied, Liz pulled the stethoscope away from her ears. “Good breath sounds. No congestion, no wheezes or rales.” She slipped her fingers around his wrist, looked at her watch for a few seconds, and announced, “Heart rate strong and steady.”

“I sound okay?” Evan asked.

“You sound fine,” she said, leaving off the ‘for now’.

“Then we can go home?” Evan said, looking hopefully from Liz to his father.

Max patted his hand. “Not just yet, buddy.”

“Evan, I want to run a few tests,” Liz told him, watching the disappointment flash across the boy’s face. “I know you’d rather be home, but it’s important that we find out what’s making you get sick, and to fix it.”

“Do you think you can?”

He said it with such lack of enthusiasm, Liz felt a lump form in her throat. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make you well.”

“Okay,” Evan settled back into the pillows, yawning. “I’m tired now.”

Max looked up at Liz, worried. “But he just woke up.”

“He’s been through a lot,” Liz reminded him. “Sleep is a great stress reducer. His body is telling him to rest, so why don’t we let him do that?”

“All right,” Max said, pulling the chair closer to the bed, like he was settling in for the night. Liz put her hand on his arm, silently requesting he come with her. Max turned back to Evan and asked, “Will you be okay here for a minute, while Liz and I talk?”

“Dad,” Evan groaned. “I can sleep on my own, you know.”

“Okay,” Max smiled. “I won’t be far.”

* * * * *

“It’s not exactly the Ritz,” Liz said, spreading a clean sheet over the hospital bed. “Or as comfortable as your bed at home, but it’s the best I have to offer.”

“Liz, this isn’t necessary,” Max protested, pointing toward Evan’s room across the hall. “I can just sleep in the chair.”

“Max you’re exhausted. You need a good night’s sleep as much as Evan does, and you can’t get that sleeping in a chair.”

When he started to object, Liz crossed over to him and pressed her fingertips to his lips. “Listen to the doctor. I know what I’m talking about. You need to keep your strength up, too, for Evan’s sake.”

Max’s resistance crumbled. “Okay,” he finally gave in. “But the ‘pajamas’ around here leave a bit to be desired,” he commented, referring to the standard hospital gowns. “I think I’ll pass on those.”

Liz laughed, feeling lighthearted herself. Evan’s recovery had lifted such a weight off their shoulders, at least temporarily.

When they were finished making the bed, Max and Liz stood staring at each other. There were a thousand things he wanted to say to her, and no idea how to say them. How did you thank someone for saving you son’s life? Or for being there for him, when he needed her the most?

“I should get back to the lab,” she said, motioning toward the door.

“Wait.” As Max came around the foot of the bed, the uncertainty on his face reminded her of years past. Of a teenage boy, coming out from behind a tree, taking a chance.

He reached out and touched her arm. “You’ve been up for hours. You must be tired, too.”

“A little,” she admitted, though truthfully, she was exhausted.

“Stay with me?”

His touch, as soft as silk, chased away any reticence she might have had. “Okay.”

Max lifted his hand to his shirt, slowly unfastening the buttons. They’d been intimate before, but tonight wouldn’t be like that. In a way, he thought this might be even more intimate, on a level deeper than physical. To stay with her, to hold her through the night, to wake up with her in the morning. Like it always should have been.

Max draped his shirt and pants over the bedside chair, placed his shoes and socks beneath it. Liz did the same, stacking her things next to his. Max, dressed in boxers, and Liz wearing lace panties and a bra, slid under the light covers together.

* * * * *

“Remember the night we spent in the desert?”

Liz nodded, smiling softly. The room was dark, the hospital quiet. The feel of his breath on the back of her neck, his warm arm around her waist, his hard body spooned against hers, took her back to that night. They’d almost consummated their relationship there in the desert. Would it have changed the course of their lives if they had?

“I wanted you that night,” Max whispered close to her ear. “So much. You asked me the next morning if it was just the orb making us act the way we did. It wasn’t.”

“I know,” she said, stroking his arm.

He breathed in the scent of her hair, savoring it. “You were so beautiful that night. The moonlight on your face. I watched you as you slept. I knew that night I would always love you. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”

“You did,” she said, turning back to look at him. “Every time you touched me, I could feel it.”

“It took us so long to find each other again.” His voice sounded hauntingly sad.

“But we did,” she said, turning all the way around to face him. Her hand cupped his cheek. “I don’t plan on ever losing you again.”

“Promise?” His tone was teasing, but beneath the surface, his eyes were intensely serious.

“Cross my heart,” she pledged, lifting his hand so that it covered her left breast. His breath caught.

“Liz …”

She brushed his mouth with her lips, silencing him. “Evan’s asleep. Jenny’s gone home for the night. The ward’s empty. No one will hear us.”

It wasn’t what he had intended, or expected, when he asked her to stay. But it was impossible for him to deny how much he wanted her. Her hand slid under the front waistband of his shorts, finding his hardening length and circling around him, eliciting a low moan from his throat.

“So much lost time to make up for,” she whispered.

Her mouth covered his in a sustained kiss. Their hands sought each other out, touching and caressing, removing the last of their clothing. His palm cupped her breast, kneading the softness, exciting the nipple into a firm peak. His mouth closed around it, evoking a sensual moan out of Liz.

“Max …”

His left hand moved down her ribs, along the curve of her waist, her hip, between her thighs to cup the wetness there. Her legs widened to give him room. His finger slipped inside her, doing the things he’d only dreamt about for so many years.

“Love me,” Liz whispered, biting at his earlobe, nuzzling his throat.

“I do. I am,” he murmured, loving one nipple, then the other. Shifting position, his stiff sex left a trail of wetness across her thigh as he moved between her legs.

The bed was small and cramped for two, but to Max and Liz it didn’t matter. They moved as one, Max sliding inside her, Liz lifting up to take him in. When he was fully sheathed, he paused; face pressed into her throat, breathing in the scent of her, feeling his connection to her surround him. The beat of her heart, the heat of her desire, the completeness of her love.

Her hands caressed his back, feeling muscle, bone, skin, and more; the connection as strong for her as it was for him. Her hands lowered to his buttocks, cupping the fullness, urging him to move again. He lifted his head from her throat and sought out her lips, crushing his mouth to hers, smothering their moans as they moved in rhythm.

Their joining was quiet, only the soft sounds of rustling sheets and stifled moans, yet intense and deeply satisfying. Later, lying in each other arms, they slipped into the first contented night’s sleep they’d had in years.

* * * * *

Evan woke to eerie silence. At home, he’d grown accustomed to the trees creaking outside his bedroom window, the furnace kicking on in winter, the normal sounds of his house settling at night. It’d scared him when he was little, and his father had come to soothe him back to sleep, but it wasn’t just a sound that woke him tonight, or set the hairs on the back of his neck rising. It was something much worse than that.

He felt it rather than heard it. A presence, menacing and corrupt. Hatred filled the air. He looked around but saw nothing.

As quickly as he’d felt it, it was gone. The air no longer crackled with loathing and abomination, leaving him to wonder if it had only been his imagination. He’d never felt anything like it before … or had he? Something vague flickered at the back of his mind, like a half remembered dream that dissipates just after waking, nothing tangible to hold on to. It slipped away before he could grasp it.

He briefly thought about running across the hall, but he could sense his father sleeping peacefully. He didn’t want to disturb him. He felt another presence there as well, this one emanating warmth and love. He smiled, recognizing Liz’s unique signature, and taking comfort in it. The bad feeling he’d awakened with lifted.

Evan settled back beneath the covers, letting out a soft sigh. Everything was working out just the way he wanted it to. His father was with Liz again. No matter what happened to him now, his Dad wouldn’t be left alone. The fact that his empathic powers told him Liz was the most caring, the most generous, the most loving person he’d ever met, only made it that much better.

Smiling, Evan’s eyelids grew heavy again as he drifted back to sleep.

* * * * *

Liz bolted upright out of a sound sleep, instantly awake. Max stretched groggily, sensing the loss of her body heat.

“Liz?”

He rubbed at his eyes, stifling a yawn. She groped for him in the dark. The way her fingers dug into his skin made him suddenly alert.

“What is it?” he asked, reaching for the light. The florescent bulb flickered on, revealing Liz in profile. Her dark hair, unruly from sleep, framed rosy cheeks. She turned her head to face him, eyes alive with intensity. She grabbed his arm, squeezing his biceps.

“I know what’s wrong with Evan, Max! I know why he’s getting sick!”



tbc…
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An Imperfect Life, Part 21

Post by Breathless » Sun Jan 14, 2007 3:15 am

First of all, I want to thank everyone for the congratulations on the Round 10 awards. This story won for Best Lead portrayal for Max Evan and Liz Parker. Since these two characters are so close to my heart, it really means a lot to me. But the character award I'm most thrilled about is the one for Evan - Best Child. That one thrills me to pieces! Thank you! I'll post the banners here as soon as I get the chance.

Secondly, Ding-ding-ding- we have a winner! Cudos go to ISIS7777. Have you been reading over my shoulder, girl? lol



An Imperfect Life
Part 21



Into the night I wander
It’s morning that I dread
Another day of knowing of
The path I fear to tread

Into the sea of waking dreams
I follow without pride
Nothing stands between us here
And I won’t be denied

And I would be the one
To hold you down
Kiss you so hard
I’ll take your breath away

Possession
Sarah McLachlan




“You want to do WHAT?”

Max quaked inside, a 10.5 on the Richter scale going off inside his stomach as he watched Liz hustle around the lab, pulling out equipment, slides, test tubes, stainless steel instruments that looked more like torture devices than medical apparatus.

“You heard me right,” Liz said, setting a syringe with a 4 inch needle on a metal tray. She’d hastily dressed in wrinkled hospital scrubs, shoes without socks, her dark hair in disarray.

“You want to induce an attack? You want to make Evan sick?”

Max followed behind Liz as she moved around the room, his bare feet padding on the cold floor, with a look of shock on his face. His hair spiked up in the back, his unbuttoned shirt hanging open and exposing his chest, his forgotten shoes, all attested to an interrupted sleep.

“A controlled experiment, Max. The risk will be minimal.” She hoped.

“An experiment?” Max felt sick in the pit of his stomach. To experiment on his son, like he was some kind of lab animal, reminded him of things he tried to keep buried.

“Don’t think of it like that, Max,” Liz said, seeing the dread in his eyes. She moved across the room to take his hands. “You know I would never intentionally do anything to hurt Evan. It’s a controlled test, in a laboratory setting. Something we do everyday around here.”

The decision weighed heavily on him, but did he really have a choice? He trusted Liz with his life. Now it was time to trust her with Evan’s. Praying he was doing the right thing, Max nodded for her to go ahead.

Liz released his hands and finished assembling the tray.

“When you heal Evan,” she said as she worked, “in essence you are purifying his system, removing all the toxins that build up during the day, resetting his lungs to accept the oxygen he needs to live. At that moment, right after you heal him, he’s in perfect health. But it doesn’t last.”

Her comments were hard for Max to hear, reminding him of how insufficient his healing powers were when it came to his son. But at the same time her intensity left him clinging to a thread of hope.

“Within hours,” Liz spoke, letting her thoughts flow, “Evan’s lungs start to treat oxygen as the enemy. Physical exertion makes that process happen faster. It’s why you won’t let him play baseball, or soccer, or any of the other physically demanding sports kids his age like to play. Physical activity triggers the degeneration that’s at the root of his problem.”

She glanced up, seeing the stricken look on his face. Her voice softened. “I’m sorry Max, I know this is stressful, but we have to do this test.”

Max had to consciously steady his voice before he could speak. “But why this way? I’ve spent my life trying to fix him, and now you want me to - I have to stand by while he’s - I don’t know if I can do this.”

Liz worried at her bottom lip. She had suspicions about Evan, but no solid evidence to back it up. Her gut instinct told her this test would give them answers, and over the last twelve years she’d learned her instincts were something that shouldn’t be ignored. When the feeling took hold, she was rarely wrong. It was an ability she had no doubt she wasn’t born with, but rather something she acquired on that fateful September day when her entire life was changed.

She debated what to tell him, and what to hold back, and then went in a totally different direction.

“Is the atmosphere on Antar different from Earth?”

Thrown for a loop, totally confused, Max asked, “What does that have to do with Evan?”

“Is it?” she insisted.

“Yes, but -”

“And Tess lived there for months before she came back.”

Max tensed, just hearing the name. She was something he tried to block out of his mind, someone he tried to forget ever existed.

“And you could live there,” Liz forged on. “You could breathe the atmosphere. Your lungs would adapt to that environment.”

Max hesitantly nodded. “But I would never -”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” she cut him off. “You have no reason to go back to Antar now. Evan can’t survive there any better than he can here.”

Max felt tense, on edge, talking about the past. About Tess. Remembering how he’d almost left Earth without telling Liz. The man he was now was different from the boy he was then. Did she understand that?

Liz turned from Max and began walking around the room, thinking aloud. “Larek told us the Gandarium was a genetically engineered life form designed to bridge DNA and RNA, basically, a binding agent between Antarian and Human cells. Without it, the cloning process that created you and the others wouldn’t have worked.”

Max stared at her, startled. Gandarium? That came out of left field. He hadn’t thought about Gandarium in years.

“It’s also why I think you can live on both worlds,” Liz continued. “The Gandarium allows your lungs to switch back and forth between oxygen and whatever the atmosphere is on Antar, without damaging your body.”

Stunned, Max asked, “You couldn’t have come up with that kind of supposition overnight. How long have you been thinking about this?”

“Truthfully?” Liz said. “For years. I spent more nights than I could count unable to sleep, wondering how you could survive on another world with a different atmosphere. But none of you ever doubted it; you just seemed to know it was possible.”

He’d never given it much thought, but she was right. There were some things he just knew, like it was genetically coded into him. How to heal. How to change molecular matter. How to adapt on another world.

“Unfortunately,” Liz continued, “from the tests we’ve performed so far, it appears the Gandarium was somatic - used to create you, but it didn’t become part of your genetic structure. You didn’t pass it on to Evan.”

“But genetically he’s human,” Max said. “Why would he need it?”

“A part of Evan is still alien, Max, lying dormant. Microscopically, we just haven’t seen it - yet.”

Max shook his head. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Liz had to choose her words carefully. “I think, without the binding agent - the Gandarium - the cells in Evan’s lungs become unstable. He can’t process oxygen anymore, reacts to it like a poison, because the cells are changing into something else.”

“Into what?” Max asked, barely breathing.

“If my suspicions are right, if I take a tissue sample from Evan’s lungs while he’s in respiratory distress - during an attack - I think it will show his cells trying to mutate. Becoming ...”

“Becoming what?” Max asked, dreading the answer.

It was as hard for her to say, as it was for him to hear.

“Becoming alien.”

Stunned, Max dropped onto a stool. “Jesus.”

“And unlike you,” Liz pressed on, trying to say it as gently as possible, “without the Gandarium in his system, those alien cells can’t process oxygen. It would also explain why he couldn’t live on Antar, either. His human cells couldn’t tolerate that atmosphere.”

Max leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. “Oh my God!”

Liz laid her hand on his shoulder. “The alien cells invade his lungs like a cancer. When you heal him each night, you reset his balance. His human balance.”

Looking up, eyes tortured, Max said, “If - if Evan needs Gandarium to make his lungs work right - it’s gone. We destroyed it over 12 years ago.”

“I know,” she soothed.

“What are we going to do?”

“We’ll figure it out,” she vowed. A promise she hoped she could keep.

* * * * *

Evan walked down the hospital corridor with his dad on his left, and Liz on his right, keeping one hand behind him, holding closed the flaps of his hospital gown. He listened as Liz explained what they were going to do.

Looking down at the boy, Liz asked, “Have you ever been on a treadmill before?”

“Huh uh,” Evan shook his head. “But I know what they are.”

“I’ll start you out at a slow walk,” she said, “then speed it up to a power walk. You’ll need to tell me when it becomes difficult for you to breathe.”

Eyes bouncing between his father and Liz, looking a little scared, he said, “And then?”

They entered a room with a treadmill, an examination table, and more medical equipment than Evan had ever seen before. He saw a crash cart, used for life and death emergencies, an EKG machine, an IV pump, and numerous other devices he wasn’t sure about. Liz sat on a stool and took his hands in hers, looking him straight in the eyes.

“We want to stimulate a respiratory episode.”

Evan swallowed hard. “You want to make me get sick?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “We won’t have to wait until it’s acute, and your father will be right here to keep it from becoming that way. But I won’t lie to you, Evan. For the next hour or so you’re going to feel some discomfort.”

“How much?”

“I’ll try to keep it as minimal as possible. The treadmill will cause familiar symptoms, like shortness of breath, and a tightening sensation in your chest. When we’re ready to do the needle biopsy, we’ll move you here,” she patted the exam table. “You’ll need to sit, leaning forward. I’m going to insert a needle between your ribs, here,” she tapped the right side of his chest, “and take out a small tissue sample. You’re Dad’s going to deaden the skin so the needle won’t hurt, but you will feel a brief, sharp pain when it touches your lung. You’ll need to stay as immobile as possible. No coughing, no twisting, no sudden movements. Do you think you can you do that?”

It took a minute for Evan to answer. He looked up at his Dad, nervously biting his lower lip, before facing Liz again.

“Yeah. I think so.” His voice sounded uncertain.

“Afterwards, your Dad will heal you. There is a small risk of developing a collapsed lung, or hemorrhaging, but with your Dad here,” she smiled up at Max, “I don’t think we have to worry about that.”

Evan’s empathic powers were telling him his father was plenty worried, but doing his best to hide it. Liz seemed much calmer. He decided to focus on her.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

Evan nodded. Liz led him to the treadmill. He started to climb on, then stopped, looking at his father with reddening cheeks. “Can you fix this first?”

Holding back a smile, Max waved his hand over the back of Evan’s hospital gown, sealing the flaps together. Liz looked away, biting down on her tongue so Evan wouldn’t see her laughing.

A few minutes later, Evan was struggling to keep up with the pace of the treadmill. His chest was starting to hurt, and the air burned in his lungs. After six minutes, his lips took on a bluish tinge. When he stumbled, almost falling, Max caught his arm and helped him down.

Worried and unable to hide it, Max asked Liz, “Is that enough?”

She listened to Evan’s chest sounds, nodding when she heard the characteristic wheezes and rales associated with respiratory distress. “Help him onto the bed.”

She performed the needle biopsy as quickly as possible; every minute aware of how hard Evan struggled to catch his breath. She scrubbed the right side of his chest, waited while Max used his powers to numb the area, then inserted the needle between his ribs.

“Almost there,” she said.

For Max, each second felt like a lifetime. Hearing his son’s wheezes, seeing him strain to breathe, standing idly by and unable to do anything, was nothing less than torture.

Evan flinched when the needle hit its mark. Max clenched his teeth, waiting for it to be over. When it finally was, when Liz removed the needle and set it on the tray, Max went to work healing his son.

His hand covered Evan’s chest, stanching the trickle of blood coming from the insertion site, glowing with his life force. He didn’t have to tell his son to look at him; Evan knew the routine as well as his father. Their eyes locked, while Liz waited. Within moments, Evan was breathing easier again.

“Better?” Liz asked, squeezing Evan’s hand. He nodded, offering her a small smile. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. You did great.” She took out her stethoscope and satisfied herself that Evans lungs were once again functioning normally.

Looking at the syringe with the 4 inch needle, Evan asked, “What happens now?”

Liz picked up the tray with its precious contents. “Now I’ve got work to do.”

* * * * *

Max helped Evan climb into bed, arranging the coverings around him. “Are you comfortable?”

Evan nodded. “Yes.”

Max touched his cheek. “Do you feel all right?”

“Fine.”

“Do you mind if -”

“Go.”

“Because I can stay if you need me -”

“Dad, will you just go already?”

“I’ll be right down the hall, in the lab with Liz.”

“I know.”

“You did great,” Max smiled, cupping the side of Evan’s head. Evan covered his father’s hand with his own.

“So did you, Dad.”

Max hurried to the lab, anxious to get to Liz. When he entered the room, she was already busy at work, sectioning a piece of the tissue sample, preparing a slide, slipping it into a microscope. She looked up as he neared.

“Do you want to do the honors?”

Max leaned against the counter, avoiding her question. Looking around the room, he said, “This takes me back.”

Liz wasn’t sure what he meant.

“Mr. Seligman. Bunsen burners. Test tubes and microscopes.”

“Oh,” she smiled. “Biology class.”

“You look so natural here.”

“I’ve spent half my life in laboratories and hospitals.”

“It suits you.”

“Max, you’re avoiding. Are you nervous?”

“Very,” he admitted. If Evan’s cells looked normal, then that meant they were on the wrong track, no closer to a cure. They’d have to start all over from scratch. But if the cells were mutating, becoming alien like Liz suspected, how would that knowledge help? How in the world could they treat something like that?

Feeling Liz’s scrutiny, he bit nervously at his lower lip and said, “You do it.”

“Are you sure?”

At his nod, Liz turned back to the microscope. She inhaled deeply and let it out slowly, revealing her own nervousness. “Ready?”

“As I can be.”

Max watched her look into the microscope. She adjusted the focus, repositioned the slide, adjusted the focus again, stared for a long time, then leaned back, staring at the wall.

Finally, she turned to Max and said, “Take a look.”

At first Max was rooted to the floor. Her face wasn’t giving anything away. He took a hesitant step, paused, then plunged forward.

What he saw through the microscope made his breath catch. He hadn’t seen an image like this in years, not since his days back in Roswell. Amidst the cross section of normal lung tissue, a large mass of distorted cells pulsed. Something not human.

Stunned, he straightened, staring at the wall just as Liz had done moments ago. “You were right. His cells are mutating.” Turning to Liz, he asked, “How do we stop it?”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t a question Liz could answer.


tbc …
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An Imperfect Life, Part 22

Post by Breathless » Sun Jan 21, 2007 6:52 pm

I’ve added the banners to the first post on page 1. This story won 6 awards in the current round of voting. Best Portrayal of Max Evans, Liz Parker, Best Portrayal of a Child, Most Memorable Scene, Best Cliffhanger, and Best Musical Use. Many thanks to everyone who voted for this story. Writing it has been a labor of love for me, and several years in the making.

When reading this part, keep in mind that I am not a doctor, or a nurse, or have any ties to the medical profession. But hey, this is Sci-Fi, where anything is possible…



An Imperfect Life
Part 22



Come to me now
And lay your hands over me
Even if it's a lie
Say it will be alright
And I shall believe

Open the door
And show me your face tonight
I know it's true
No one heals me like you
And you hold the key

That not everything is gonna be the way
You think it ought to be
It seems like every time I try to make it right
It all comes down on me
Please say honestly
You won't give up on me
And I shall believe


I Shall Believe
Sheryl Crow




Evan pushed aside his lunch tray and crossed his arms over his chest, unimpressed with today’s offering. Max hovered over him like a Mother Hen.

“Come on, Evan, you have to eat to keep up your strength.”

“Then get me something good,” Evan pouted. He was bored, and cranky, and this place was driving him nuts. “A Five Alarm Burger would be nice.”

“If I go get it,” Max asked, “will you promise to eat the whole thing?”

“Cross my heart,” Evan smiled.

They’d been here for nearly a week; Evan had missed 5 days of school, Max had called in sick to work. So far, they were flying under the hospital administration’s radar. The only person who knew they were here besides Liz and Jenny was Brad, who Max was surprised hadn’t turned them in yet, but how long could that last? He’d have to talk to Liz soon about letting Evan go home.

Liz entered the room just as Max rose to his feet from the bedside chair. She looked tired, with good cause. She’d been working in the lab day and night for days. He’d tried to help her, but what she’d been working on – gene mapping – was beyond him. Looking at her closely, despite how tired she appeared, Max noticed her eyes were sparkling. A hint of a smile played on her lips.

For Evan, the emotion he sensed emanating from her overrode everything else. It flooded through him, filling him with unfocused excitement. Something important had happened, something that was about to change everything. He waited for her to speak, forgetting completely about the Five Alarm Burger.

Max saw the look passing between Evan and Liz. He wasn’t privy to the emotions Evan was feeling, but he knew how to read his son’s face. “What? What is it?”

Liz faced the two most important men in her life. One she had loved nearly her entire life. The other had only recently stolen her heart. Choosing her words carefully, she said, “I found something.”

Max sank into the chair he’d so recently vacated, and reached for Evan’s hand. Evan squeezed tight.

Liz moved to the side of the bed across from Max, and took Evan’s other hand. “As you know,” she looked back and forth between Max and his son, “I’ve been studying your cells. Both of yours. Comparing them. I didn’t get very far with it,” she said, deflating Max’s optimism, “but I didn’t really expect to.”

Focusing on Evan, she said, “Your father’s cells are predominately alien, and yours are human.” Switching her attention to Max, “Your cellular structure is so different, it would take years of study to even begin to understand it. We don’t have that kind of time.”

Max lowered his gaze, feeling his chest tighten. He thought she might have brought good news, but her announcement was as bad as it could get. He couldn’t help his son.

“So I switched focus,” Liz continued. “That’s when I found something interesting.”

Max lifted his head to stare at her again, hanging on to a thread of hope.

“I compared Evan’s cells to a human sample. In fact, several samples. I found a match.”

Max looked like a drowning man grasping for the end of a safety line. A match? How could that be? There’s no one else like Evan. “Who? Whose sample?”

Liz smiled. “Mine.”

Max’s mouth dropped to the floor. Evan looked confused. Liz tried to explain.

“Remember when you healed me, Max? We worried how that might have changed me. Under a microscope, I still looked normal. Human. Just like Evan. But you did change me, Max, just as I suspect you’ve changed everyone you’ve ever healed. That first year I stayed in Roswell after you left, Kyle and I talked a lot. He was worried about turning into “something green” as he put it.”

Liz paused, smiling at the memory. Poor Kyle. Eventually he’d come to terms with it, but it hadn’t been easy for him.

“I tested his blood every so often, just to reassure him he wasn’t, but what I did find out was that he and I had certain markers that were the same. I see those same patterns in Evan, too. Something that you changed in us when you healed us, alterations that we have in common. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a perfect match to Evan, but I think it’s close enough.”

Max was stunned by the news but uncertain what it meant. “Close enough for what?”

“I’ve spent days mapping Evan’s genes,” Liz said. “Not everything, that could take months and we don’t have that kind of time, so I concentrated on his lungs, where all his problems seem to stem. At the chromosome level, I found that Evan is missing certain strands of DNA. He couldn’t inherit them for you or Tess because neither of you had them. You didn’t need them because the Gandarium performed that function in you. But for Evan, those missing strands are essential for normal cell growth and without them, I believe that’s what’s allowing the mutant cells to flourish.”

“By mutant,” Max said cautiously, “you mean … alien.”

“Yes,” Liz confirmed.

“So how do we stop it?”

“The missing DNA leaves a door open for the alien cells to enter, like a cancer. They invade his system and take over. I believe if we restore the DNA stands he’s missing, we close that door. It’s what he needs to live a normal life. He can’t get the DNA from you – you don’t have it to give – but I think he can get it from me.”

Overwhelmed, clinging to the possibility that his son might get to live a full, normal life, Max managed to ask, “How?”

“Gene therapy. It’s complicated, and not exactly mainstream, but I do have extensive clinical experience. In essence, I extract the genetic material he needs from me, create a vector to insert into Evan’s target cells, and let the virus go to work.”

“Virus?” Max nearly choked on the word. With Evan’s compromised system, a virus could kill him!

Liz’s face sobered. “It’s not without risk. I know this is difficult, Max, but think about the alternative.” She looked at Evan, not wanting to voice the obvious. If they did nothing, Evan was going to die, and probably soon.

“Dad –”

“I don’t know,” Max spoke over his son, lost in his own thoughts. Stomach clinched in fear, he rose to his feet and turned away from the bed. How could he agree to a procedure that might kill his son? But how could he not, if it offered his only hope for survival?

“Dad.”

When his father still didn’t answer, Evan gave up and turned his attention to Liz.

“If we do this, does that mean I’ll have your DNA stuff inside me?”

Smiling, Liz nodded, then cautioned, “It’s not without complication. There’s always the fear of rejection, especially since we aren’t a perfect match –”

“Let’s do it.”

Max spun around, barely believing what he was hearing. “Evan, you can’t –”

“It’s my life, Dad,” Evan interrupted. His face was set with determination. “I want to do this.”

What Evan didn’t say aloud was the reason why. He loved his father with all his heart. He hoped someday to be the kind of man he was. But he lived with the knowledge of what his mother was; images he’d seen in both his father and in Liz, of a selfish, manipulative monster, who killed people who got in her way and got away with it. To Evan, what Liz was offering was more than just a medical procedure.

She’d be sharing with him the very essence of herself, like a real mother. For that, Evan would risk anything.

* * * * *

Max moved around the lab, randomly touching objects, barely aware of what he was doing. His thoughts were in turmoil. What might be his son’s salvation could instead become his death sentence. How could he make that choice?

Facing away from Liz, afraid to look into her eyes, he had to clear his throat before he could speak. “Just how … risky … is it? This procedure …”

Liz’s fingers dug into the counter that separated her from Max. She hated to see him in so much emotional turmoil, but she couldn’t sugar coat it for him. “I won’t lie to you. There’s no way to judge how he’ll react to the introduction of foreign cells into his body.”

Max turned, finally facing her. “What about the virus? His system can’t handle that kind of thing.”

“The virus delivers the genes he needs,” Liz explained patiently. “There are some options as to the type we could use. A retrovirus, or an andeovirus –”

Max held up his hand. “No.”

Liz felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. “Max, think about what you’re saying.”

“I have been,” he said, voice cracking. “It’s all I think about.”

Liz came around the counter. Max turned away, but not before she got a good look at his tortured face. She came up behind him and gently laid her hand on his back. “The virus is just the mechanism used to introduce the genes.”

“I understand that,” Max sighed. “I agree he needs the cell replacement, and that getting them from you is the best option for him. But can you guarantee me that the virus won’t infect him? That it won’t cause more harm than good? That it won’t …”

He couldn’t finish the sentence, but she heard the unspoken words. She laid her head against his arm. “No.” With Evan’s compromised system, there were no guarantees.

“So no virus,” Max said, peering down at the top of her head.

She looked up to meet his eyes. “Max, it’s the only way.”

“No, it isn’t.”

His hand came up and covered hers. She felt the familiar sensation even before she saw the tell tale glow. She lowered her gaze, seeing the soft light emanating from his palm. Her mouth fell open at what he was suggesting. Was it possible?

“You’ll need to show me,” he said. “I need to have a clear picture of it in my head. Which cells, which genes he needs. What they look like. Where they’re supposed to go. Show me under the microscope.”

“Are you sure this is something you can do?” Liz asked, awed.

“No,” he admitted. “But it won’t hurt him, or you, and it just might save his life.”

* * * * *

Evan sat upright in bed, nervous but trying not to show it. He concentrated on his father’s face, sensing his emotions. He seemed much calmer now, confident in what they were about to do. Evan tried his best to feel the same.

“How’s this gonna work, Dad?”

Max settled into the chair next to Evan’s hospital bed. He reached for the remote control to lower the head of the bed. “First you’ll need to lay flat on your back and try not to move. When Liz gets here she’s going to lay her hand right about here,” Max tapped Evan’s sternum. “Then I’m gonna put my hand on hers.”

“And then?”

“The healing shouldn’t be too much different than usual, but I’ve never tried anything like this before. It’ll be a first for all of us. I’ll have to connect with her first, so I can see the things I need to see. When I find the DNA strands you need – she’s already shown me what to look for – then I’ll bring you into the connection, so I can transfer them from her to you.”

“You’re sure about this?” Evan asked.

Max nodded, smiling confidently. “Believe me, this is the one thing I’m good at.”

With an impish glint in his eye, Evan said, “You’re good at lots of stuff, Dad.”

“Yeah?” Max’s smile widened. “Like what?”

“Like making spaghetti,” Evan said, acting like he was thinking hard. “And teaching how to ride a bike … and kissing Liz Parker –”

“Evan!” Max blushed, looking toward the door to see if Liz was anywhere near, while Evan fell sideways on the bed, laughing. When he got over the embarrassment, Max couldn’t help chuckling, too. “Yeah, I guess I am pretty good at that.”

“DAD!” Evan cried. It was his turn for rosy cheeks now.

“Hey,” Max said, sobering. “Are you okay with this? With me and Liz?”

Evan sat up, turning just as serious. Hadn’t it been his idea to get Liz and his dad back together? But of course his dad didn’t know that. Sensing the sudden undercurrent of turmoil inside his father, Evan said, “Why are you asking me that?”

“Because,” Max hesitated, uncertain how to phrase it. “The other night, when you called me, the night you got sick –”

“Dad, just say it.”

“You said something about “hating Liz”,” Max blurted out.

“Nuh uh,” Evan denied, shaking his head.

“It was all very confusing,” Max went on. “It was the worst night of my life, wondering if you … if you were going to … I thought you were upset, blaming Liz because I wasn’t there for you –”

“No way!” Evan exclaimed.

“You don’t remember saying that?”

“I don’t hate Liz,” Evan declared. “I lov –”

Evan slammed his mouth closed, but Max got the gist of it. A smile spread across his face again.

“Dad,” Evan’s soft voice revealed his inner vulnerability. “Kids get DNA from both their parents, right?”

“Right,” Max nodded.

“And when we’re done,” Evan continued, “after this procedure, I’ll have both your DNA and Liz’s DNA inside me, right?”

“That’s right,” Max confirmed, suspecting where this line of questioning might be going, but still surprised when he heard the actual words.

“Does that mean, after we’re through, Liz will be kind of like … my mother?”

For a moment Max couldn’t speak. The sudden lump in his throat wouldn’t let him. “Would – would you like that?” he finally managed.

Evan slowly nodded. “Are you gonna marry her?”

This time Max’s answer came without hesitation. “If she’ll have me.”

“Do – do you think she’d mind if I called her Mom?”

Max leaned forward and kissed Evan’s forehead, blinking back the sudden moisture flooding his eyes. “I – I think she’d like it just fine.”

* * * * *

Liz breezed into Evan’s room wearing a pair of green surgical scrubs with a white lab coat over the top, looking every bit the successful doctor. In a prior life, green scrubs would have sent Max fleeing from the room, but it felt different with her. Natural. It was the life she was born to live, and the one he was meant to share with her.

“Are we ready to get started?” she asked, closing the door behind her. She pulled a red stethoscope out of the pocket of her lab coat.

She covered it well, for Evan’s sake, but Max could tell she was nervous. Which, despite her best efforts, Evan could sense as well. Max rose to his feet and indicated she should take the chair across from him, on the other side of the bed.

“Ready when you are,” he said, taking his seat again. Oddly, he wasn’t nervous about the procedure now. Maybe it was just wistful thinking on his part, or a certainty born from alien insight, or the stubborn refusal to believe the alternative, but he had no fear of Evan rejecting Liz’s cells.

Liz took Evan’s hand as she settled into the chair at his side. She didn’t notice the smile that briefly lit up the boy’s face, he covered it quickly, but Max had seen it. His confidence soared that they were doing the right thing.

Max lowered the front of Evan’s hospital gown, exposing his son’s undeveloped chest. No hair growth yet, no hint of the muscles he might one day have, if he lived long enough. Liz inserted the stethoscope into her ears and placed the bell against Evan’s exposed chest. She listened for a minute, moving it several times, before finally seeming satisfied.

“Good breath sounds,” she announced, putting her stethoscope back in her pocket. Her hand came out holding a packet of antiseptic. She tore it open and swabbed the center of Evan’s chest.

“Just a precaution,” she said, discarding the antiseptic and opening another to cleanse Max’s hand, then a third to cleanse her own. Max didn’t complain, though he knew the antiseptic wasn’t necessary. It was her way of interjecting human doctoring into a very not-so-human situation.

“Ready?” Max asked. Both Evan and Liz nodded.

Liz drew in a deep breath and blew it out, and then placed her hand flat across the middle of Evan’s chest. Max flexed his fingers, then covered her hand with his.

Their eyes met and held, and in that rich, honey tone she knew so well, Max said, “Just look at me.”

As the connection formed and deepened, his hand began to glow. She felt the familiar warmth spread through her, though this time it seemed different, more focused than on any other occasion. A tingling sensation spread through her entire body.

It could have been only seconds since their eyes met, or maybe hours. For Liz, time had become impossible to judge. Her mind was lost in the past, seeing flashes of images that weren’t hers, of a life she hadn’t been a part of …


“Spinach,” Max said, opening a jar of baby food. “This will make you big and strong.”

A blond haired baby sat in a highchair, pounding his small hand on the tray, with an ‘I Love Daddy’ bib around his neck. Max dipped a baby spoon into the jar and coaxed the green gruel between Evan’s lips. Immediately, Evan made a disgusted look and spit the green goop out, spraying Max’s face with it.

Max set the jar down. “I never liked spinach either.”

In the living room of a small apartment, Evan stood on wobbly legs, clutching the edge of a coffee table with his chubby little hands. Max crouched a few feet away, hands out in front of him, palms up.

“C’mon Evan. You can do it. Come to Daddy.”

With a smile as big as tomorrow, Evan let go of the table and took his first steps.

In a bath tub, Evan splashed at the suds around him. A yellow duck floated by, just out of reach.

“Da!”

“Duck,” Max said. He gave the toy a little push in Evan’s direction. Evan let it float by.

“Da!”

“Do you want the duck?” Max asked, pushing it back toward Evan.

“Da Da!” Evan said, lifting his arms up toward Max.

“Did – did you just call me –”

“Da Da!” Evan repeated, with a giant smile on his adorable little face. Max gathered his son in his arms, getting his shirt drenched and not caring.

“That’s right,” Max beamed, grinning from ear to ear. “I’m Da Da!”

In a neighborhood park, standing beside a small bicycle, Evan strapped on his helmet.

“Always wear it,” Max said, then handed his son a set of elbow and knee pads. “These too.”

“Dad,” Evan scoffed.

“I mean it,” Max insisted. “Safety first.”

Evan strapped on the pads, then climbed on the bike while Max held it steady.

“Don’t let go,” Evan said, revealing his nervousness.

“I won’t let you fall.”

Evan tentatively pushed off. The bike wobbled at first, and then steadied as he gained momentum.

“I’m doing it, Dad!! I’m doing it!”

Watching him, Max’s smile shined a bright as the sun.



The first phase attained, Max turned his gaze to his son. When their eyes connected, the glow spread beyond Max and Liz’s joined hands, covering Evan’s chest and lighting up the air around them.

Evan felt the comforting familiarity of his father’s touch. He was used to this, the intimate connection they shared when his father healed, though this time, there was another presence in the mix.

An essence full of strength, and love, and regret …


“So,” Mrs. Zeller said, setting a cup of steaming tea in front of Liz. “What made you decide on Pediatrics?”

Liz cupped the warm mug between her hands. It was cold outside, by morning there’d be at least a foot of snow on the ground, but inside, Mabel’s apartment was always warm.

“Back home,” Liz said, in a rare moment of candor, “someone I knew had a baby, but he was born sick. I wanted to help fix him, but of course, I couldn’t. I was just a kid myself. For years, I’ve wondered about what happened to him. Whether he survived or not.”

Mabel took a sip of her tea. “You sound like this child was very special.”

Liz smiled. “Children are so beautiful, so innocent.”

“Unlike adults.”

Liz looked stunned by Mabel’s comment, but then after reflection she knew she shouldn’t be. Mabel knew how to find the heart of the matter.

“You can’t blame a child for his parent’s sins,” Liz said, nearly choking on the words. “I only saw him for a short time, but in those few hours …”

“He made a lasting impression on you.”

“I just wish there was something I could have done to help him,” Liz sighed.

“Who knows what the future holds …”



The glow in the room subsided as Max’s healing came to an end. He’d done everything he could, and now it was up to a power beyond his. He’d once told Liz he didn’t believe in God, but he now knew the fallacy of that statement. The universe had to be ruled by something more than just random chance.

“Are you okay?” Max asked, looking at Liz.

She nodded, at that moment unable to speak. She’d come here today offering herself, but she’d been given a gift as well. The gift of time, of lost years. She hadn’t been there to share in Max and Evan’s triumphs and tears, but now they were a part of her, almost as if she’d experienced it with them.

Max squeezed Evan’s hand. “How are you feeling?”

Evan looked up at his father, not sure how to answer that. Physically, he felt fine, like he always did after his father healed him. But emotionally, he felt different. More complete. Throughout his life, it’d been just him and his father. He’d never known a mother’s love. But now, Liz was filling a hole inside him until recently he never knew he had.

“I feel good,” Evan smiled. “Really good.”

“Now what?” Max asked. Both he and Evan were staring at Liz.

“Now,” she said, squeezing Evan’s hand, “we wait.”


tbc…



I’ll be having an author chat over at Roswell Heaven on Thursday, February 1st, at 7:00 p.m. (Pacific time) I hope you can join me there!

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Last edited by Breathless on Sun Jan 21, 2007 8:10 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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An Imperfect Life, Part 23

Post by Breathless » Sun Feb 11, 2007 2:55 am

Thanks for all the kind thoughts and well wishes!! My heat is working again, though I’m still in shock over the cost of the repair bill. But it’s winter, what can you do? My foot is on the mend. Not 100% yet, but much better than a week ago.

Thanks for hanging in there with me during my absence. Do you remember where we left off? Through Liz’s research, she thinks she’s found a way to cure Evan, using her own DNA to replace what he’s missing. Now let’s see if it worked …




An Imperfect Life
Part 23



Am I in heaven here or am I in hell
At the crossroads I am standing
So now you're sleeping peaceful
I lie awake and pray
That you'll be strong tomorrow and we'll
See another day and we will praise it
And love the light that brings a smile
Across your face...

Hold on
Hold on to yourself
For this is gonna hurt like hell

Hold On
Sarah McLachlan




Max paced the lab nervously while Liz bent over a microscope, studying the slide. She’d tested Evan’s cells throughout the day, in four hour increments, and now, nearing midnight, this would be the biggest test. This was the time when Max usually performed his nightly ritual, repairing the damage, removing the toxins that built up in Evan’s system, giving his son another precious few hours of life. He was anxious to continue the rite, and at the same time praying he wouldn’t have to.

Liz leaned back and sighed, rubbing tired eyes.

Max stopped his frantic pacing, feet now frozen to the floor. His heart pounded furiously in his chest. “Well?”

“Take a look.” Liz slid off the stool to give him room.

Max took a step forward then hesitated. Her face gave nothing away. What if the procedure didn’t take? What if the hope for a cure was really hopeless? Swallowing hard, as fearful to look as he was not to, Max crossed over to the lab table and leaned over the microscope.

For the next minute, the only sound in the room was the ticking of the wall clock above the lab door. After studying the slide carefully, adjusting and readjusting the lens just to make sure, Max leaned back and said, “It looks … normal.”

“Exactly,” Liz said.

Max looked up to see her smiling now. No, not just smiling, but grinning. Grinning like a fool – an ecstatically happy fool! His heart was lodged somewhere in his throat, pounding furiously. “Does that mean – do you think – is he …?”

“Cured?” she finished for him. Her smile lit her face, her eyes, saying it all. Max swept her into his arms and spun her around in a circle, kissing her breathless.

“For years, I didn’t dare dream,” Max sighed into her ear.

“It’s still too soon to know anything definitive yet,” Liz cautioned, though her smile didn’t waver. “We need to get past the 24 hour mark, and that won’t be until tomorrow morning. After that, one day at a time.”

“But so far, there’s no sign of rejection?”

“No,” she shook her head.

“No hint of his illness returning?”

“None,” Liz beamed. “Tomorrow I want to do another stress test, but so far he’s the picture of health.”

“I’m going to go tell him!” Max turned on his heels to sprint from the room. Liz grabbed his arm to hold him back.

“He’s sleeping, Max. Tomorrow is soon enough.”

“You’re right,” Max sighed, trying to rein in his wild emotions. He pulled her into his arms again, brushing his lips across her forehead. “You’re always right.”

“Not always,” she said softly. “That night, in Roswell, when you asked me to go with you. I wish I hadn’t said no.”

Max lifted Liz’s chin and gazed into her beautiful face. “You were right even then, Liz. Look at you,” he smiled, tugging on the lapel of her lab coat. “You became a doctor. You’ve helped so many people. Look what you’ve done for Evan. You became what you were meant to be, Liz. Maybe it was all meant to happen this way.”

Cocking her head, she asked, “What do you mean?”

“Think about it, Liz. We were living separate lives, on opposite sides of the country, and then fate, God, the universe in alignment – whatever you want to call it – something brought us back together. After all those years apart, when I needed you – when we needed you the most – you came back to us. If you’d gone on the run with me back then, none of this would have happened. You wouldn’t have become a doctor. You wouldn’t have specialized in genetics. Evan would still be –”

Max had to clear his throat before he could finish. “No regrets, Liz.”

“No regrets,” she agreed, blinking back tears of her own.

* * * * *

Liz felt the mattress dip as Max crawled into bed. It’d been a long day, and she felt exhausted, both mentally and physically. And never more alive.

Max settled in next to her. The space was cramped, hospital beds weren’t meant for two, but it’d felt empty while he was gone. His arm around her shoulders, her head on his chest, seemed more natural than anything she’d ever known in her life.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“He’s sleeping like a baby.”

Liz looked up at his face, seeing the outline of his distinctive jaw in the dark. “You’ve done this a lot, haven’t you? Check on him in the night to make sure he’s okay.”

“All his life,” Max responded. His hand caressed her shoulder. Her skin, so soft and silky, soothed his soul. “I’m a light sleeper. One ear always listening for a change in his breathing.”

Liz closed her hand around his. “You don’t have to do it alone anymore.”

Max brought her hand to his lips. “Thanks to you, I might not ever have to do it again.”

A comfortable silence settled over them. Both were tired, and both too keyed up to sleep. Liz rubbed a toe along Max’s leg. “What’s the longest you’ve gone without healing him?”

“Never more than 24 hours,” Max answered. “We’ve never been apart. Not since…”

He didn’t need to finish the sentence. She knew what he meant. Back in those days Evan’s very existence, and Max’s search for him, had driven them apart. Now, his son had taken up permanent residence inside her heart.

“I saw things today.”

Max cocked an eyebrow. “You did?” He didn’t have to ask her when. He knew she meant during the healing.

“You and Evan. All the things I missed. You made me feel a part of it. Thank you.”

Max kissed her forehead.

“Did you?” she asked. “See anything?”

“No,” Max shook his head, smiling in the dark. “I was a little busy concentrating. But I think Evan might have.”

Liz rose up on one elbow and looked into his shadowed face. “Really?”

“Really. I don’t know what, but he’s had that look on his face all day.”

“What look?” Liz asked.

“That look that says Liz Parker is a Goddess. A Queen. The most awe inspiring woman in the whole world.” He turned her onto her back, smiling down at her in the dark.

“Awe inspiring, huh?” she grinned, threading her hand into his silky hair. “Me?”

“Yes, you,” Max replied, lowering his lips to hers. His hand cupped her warm breast, her back arched up in response.

Fate had brought them back together again. Her brain and his gift had combined to try to do the impossible. In the morning they’d know if it had worked. Until then, he was content to hold her in his arms, to kiss her, to love her.

To dream of a future with the three of them together.

* * * * *

Liz tapped the console, increasing the pace of the treadmill. Evan’s power walk turned into an energetic jog. She checked the time: 12 minutes in, double the length of the previous test, and Evan was barely breathing hard.

“Any chest tightness?” Liz asked. “Shortness of breath?”

Evan shook his head. “It’s kinda hard – to talk while I’m running – but not – like before.”

She monitored the readouts closely. “Heart rate 155.” At Max’s worried look, Liz told him, “That’s entirely normal during this level of activity. His blood pressure is good, heart rhythm is within acceptable parameters with no evidence of any arrhythmia. Evan’s doing great.”

Max blew out the air that was trapped in his lungs.

“That’s enough,” Liz said, shutting down the treadmill.

“Did I do good?” Evan asked, huffing just a little.

“You did great!” Liz beamed.

“Now what?” Max asked.

“Well, we might consider another tissue biopsy to check for any abnormal cellular growth, but I don’t think that’s necessary right now.”

Max knew that ‘abnormal cellular growth’ actually meant the presence of alien cells. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“Evan is showing no signs of respiratory distress,” Liz continued. “I need to study these readouts more, but his blood pressure and heart rate appear good.” Lifting Evan’s hand, she inspected his fingernails and then his mouth. “No signs of cyanosis.”

“What’s cyanosis?” Evan asked.

“Blueness around your mouth or your fingernail beds, caused when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen.”

“I used to get that a lot,” Evan said, not taking his eyes off of Liz. “Does this mean I’m cured?”

“The preliminary results look very encouraging.” When Evan just stared at her, she added, “It’s too soon to call it a cure, but yes, you’re definitely getting better.”

Evan threw his arms around Liz and hugged her tightly. She drew in a sharp breath, suddenly flooded with the most intense feeling of pure love. Much like the flashes she got from Max, the connection growing between her and Evan, enhanced by yesterday’s healing, allowed Liz to share Evan’s empathic gift. She hugged him back.

Max stood by, smiling from ear to ear.

With his voice muffled by Liz’s chest, Evan said, “Thank you.”

She combed her fingers through his blond hair. “You’re very welcome.”

Evan looked up, meeting Liz’s gaze. “Can we go home now?”

Liz didn’t miss the “we” in his sentence, or the hope filling his big blue eyes. Cautiously, not wanting to dash his spirit, she said, “Let’s wait just a little longer. This afternoon, if everything still looks good,” she lifted her eyes to meet Max’s, “we’ll take you home.”

Evan sighed. “Okay.”

“Hey,” Max slid his arm around his son’s shoulders. “How about I get you that Five Alarm Burger for lunch? It might make the afternoon go faster.”

“Yeah!” Evan agreed. “I’m starving!”

“Are you up for a trip, Liz?” Max asked. “A little fresh air?”

Liz hadn’t left the hospital in days. The idea of an escape, even just to the restaurant and back, sounded wonderful. She nodded enthusiastically. “A burger would hit the spot.”

“We’ll go as soon as Jenny gets here,” Max decided, not wanting to leave Evan alone just yet. He looked at his watch, adding, “She said she’d stop by –”

“I certainly did,” Jenny said, breezing into the room. “How’s our patient?”

Evan ran toward Jenny, excited to tell her the good news. “Liz says I’m better! My lungs are clear and my heart rhythm is normal, and my lips aren’t turning blue.”

Jenny looked at Liz. “The stress test?”

“He came through with flying colors,” Liz informed her with a broad smile. “I’d like to take one more test later this afternoon, but if he comes through that one as well as he did this morning, Evan’s going home.”

“To celebrate,” Max said, “Liz and I are going to Red Robin to get Evan a Five Alarm Burger. Do you have time to stay with him? We won’t be long.”

Jenny smiled down at Evan. “Spend time with my favorite guy? Sure.” To Max, she said, “Bring me back an Asian Salad, and you’ve got a deal.”

* * * * *

Max pulled into the parking lot of the Red Robin and parked the car. He removed the key from the ignition and held it in his hand. Liz reached for the handle to open the door, then noticed Max hadn’t moved.

“The food should be ready,” she said, glancing at the dashboard clock. She’d called ahead and placed their order, so they wouldn’t be away from Evan for very long. When he didn’t move, or say anything, she touched his arm. “Max?”

“Remember that night?” he said, staring out the windshield at some spot in the distant past. “In the van, after …”

Liz settled back in her seat. “I remember.”

Max turned to face her. “Remember what I told you that night?”

Liz nodded. A lump formed in her throat as she listened to him say them again.

“’Whether I die tomorrow, or fifty years from now, my destiny is the same.’ When I left Roswell, I thought I’d never see you again. But now I know my destiny never changed. It was you, Liz. It was always you.”

“Max –”

“Let me just say this, okay? This isn’t about Evan, or because of what we did for him. This is about us.”

In a soft voice, she said, “Go on.”

Max reached across the seat and took her hand, holding it close to his chest. “I’ve loved you from the moment I first laid eyes on you, Liz, and in all the years we were apart, that never changed. I thought about you all the time. Wondered if you were happy. Hoped that you were.”

“I wanted the same for you, Max.”

“Evan and I, we’ve had a good life together. But something was always missing. You weren’t here.”

Liz squeezed his hand. “I’m here now.”

“I don’t deserve you, and for the life of me, I don’t know why you love me. But you do. I can see it in your eyes, and I can feel it, every time we touch. And Evan – he loves you, too. He even asked me if – he wondered if he could – if you’d mind if he called you – Mom. So, it seems only natural, I mean, you and me, the way we are together – the way we feel –”

“Just say it, Max.”

Max took a deep breath and swallowed hard. “Will you marry me, Liz? Will you make all my dreams come true?”

Sudden tears shimmered on the surface of her eyes. When she spoke, her voice sounded as unsteady as her quivering heart. “Do you know how many years I’ve dreamt of you asking me that? Yes, Max. I’ll marry you.”

He drew her into his arms and they kissed. The universe felt in perfect alignment, the gods smiling down on them. They held each other tightly as the kiss deepened, for the moment all the fatigue and stress of the past week gone, replaced by an inner peace so strong, so satisfying, there was no room for anything else.

Just Max and Liz, and a future that didn’t seem impossible anymore.

Suddenly, the rear view mirror shattered. Max and Liz broke apart.

“What was that?” Max asked, breathing hard.

“Look,” Liz pointed at the broken mirror. “How’d that happen?”

“I don’t know,” Max panted. “Maybe we were too intense?”

“Maybe,” she grinned.

“Let’s get those burgers,” Max said, reaching for the door handle. His heart was soaring. He had Liz. He had his son. The perfect life he always wanted.

* * * * *

Max and Liz were laughing as they exited the hospital elevator on the 6th floor, laden down with sacks full of lunch. Enticing aromas floated from the bags and filled the hallway.

“Do you think he might be able to play baseball in the spring?” Max asked. “He’s been wanting to for years.”

“You saw his stress test this morning,” Liz said. “He’s strong enough for the majors!”

“I can’t wait to tell him,” Max grinned.

“Max,” Liz cautioned, “that was a joke. He’s a little young for the majors.”

“Not that,” Max laughed, taking her hand and squeezing it. “I mean, about us.”

“Oh, that!” Liz squeezed his hand back. The world had always felt right when he was holding her hand. “I’m kind of excited about that, too.”

And nervous. And just a little apprehensive. She thought she knew how Evan would feel about them being together. Hopefully she wasn’t wrong.

“You’re not wrong,” Max squeezed her hand to reassure her.

“Did you – Max Evans! Did you just read my mind?”

“No,” Max grinned, “but your face is pretty easy to read. And the last name’s not Evans anymore,” he reminded her.

“Philips,” she corrected. “That still takes some getting used to.” Liz Evans, Liz Philips, the name didn’t matter to her as long as she was with him.

Lighthearted, they entered Evan’s room. Max came to a sudden stop. He looked around the empty room.

“Evan?”

The covers on the bed were pulled back; the tray table had been pushed aside. Max walked toward the bathroom and knocked lightly on the closed door. “Evan? Are you in there?”

Silence was his only answer. Max tested the door and found it unlocked. Pushing it open, he saw that the bathroom was empty too.

Turning to Liz, he said, “Maybe they went into the lab?”

“Let’s go look.” Liz, not yet experiencing the apprehension Max was feeling, held out her hand. Max took it.

The tranquility of Evan’s hospital room was in stark contrast to the chaos in the lab. As they entered, Max stared horror-struck at the up-ended chairs, the overturned tables, the smashed laboratory equipment. Every mirror, every window, every piece of glass in the room was broken.

“Evan!” Max shouted, shocked by the condition of the room, afraid of what it meant. A moan drew them to the far side of the room, to the body lying on the tiled floor.

“Jenny!” Max cried out. He fell to his knees at her side, using his alien gifts to judge her condition.

Jenny slowly opened her eyes, aware of Max’s glowing hands touching her face. “What happened?”

“You don’t know?” Liz said, kneeling by Max’s side.

Jenny shook her head. “Evan and I were talking. I was showing him slides under the microscope, then … I can’t remember.”

“Where is he?” Max bolted to his feet. “Evan! Evan, where are you?”

Panic set in. Since leaving Roswell, he’d never been separated from his son, never apart for more than a few hours. Where could he be? Had his worst nightmare come true? Had the FBI come and taken away his son?

“Evan! EVAN!” Max fled the room, searching ever corner of the ward.

“Did you see anyone?” Liz asked Jenny, holding her by the shoulders. “Anyone at all?”

“No,” Jenny said, sounding uncertain. “I don’t know. I don’t remember!”

Liz rose to her feet internally analyzing the condition of the room. The littered countertops, the broken microscope, the shards of broken glass. Someone or something had demolished everything and taken Evan. But who, or what?

She ran across the lab to follow Max, crunching glass under her shoes. She stopped to hastily pluck a out a large shard that had wedged in her sole, hindering her footing, then gasped as a rush of images assailed her, leaving her too stunned to speak.

“Evan!” Max’s voice echoed through the corridors. He materialized in the lab again, eyes wild, body tense, voice choked. “I can’t find him. He’s not here!”

Liz recovered her voice. Facing Jenny, she demanded, “The tapes, where are the tapes?”

“What tapes?” Jenny asked.

“The security tapes!” Liz shouted. “Every floor monitors who comes and goes. We need to see those tapes!”

* * * * *

Max paced back and forth across the floor of the decimated lab, scrubbing his hands roughly over his face and back through his hair. “He’s gone. Oh god, Evan’s gone. Who could have taken him?”

Horrible scenes played out in his mind, of his son, strapped in a chair with electrodes pressed to his temples, his chest, clipped to his testicles. Sadistic scientists swarming around him, performing the vilest of things, all in the name of ‘science’.

Experimenting on him.

Torturing him.

Slicing him apart.

A river of blood flowing across a mutilated chest.

How had they found out? Had someone turned them in? Brad? Someone else in the hospital? Had someone seen Evan’s lab work? Would they be coming for him now, too? Should he leave? Run for his life? But how could he leave without his son?

Liz didn’t say anything. Her suspicions were too horrible to voice aloud. Not without confirmation. She looked at Max, aware that he was on the ragged edge. Evan was his whole world.

Jenny called out to them from the nurse’s station. Max and Liz hurried to join her. They found her tapping away at a computer keyboard.

“The computers in the lab are all ruined, but this one’s still working. I called Whitworth down in Security. He’s given me access to the digital recordings for this floor. It should show anyone arriving or departing from the 6th floor elevators while you were gone.”

Max and Liz exchanged a strained look. Jenny sensed the tension. Her hands froze on the keyboard. “What?”

“It’s just …” Max stumbled.

“We spent years avoiding this kind of thing,” Liz finished for him. “If we needed security tapes –”

“– we took them,” Max stated.

“We didn’t ask permission.”

“It was a matter of survival.”

Jenny’s gaze shifted rapidly between Max and Liz as they spoke. They thought as one, acted as one, spoke as one. She’d known Max for most of his adult life, but now more than ever, she was certain she never really knew him. Not the way Liz did.

“I’m sorry,” Jenny apologized.

“It’s okay,” Max said, thoughts swirling with damage control. If the FBI or some other secret government agency had taken Evan, his life here was over anyway. His idyllic little world, where he lived happily ever after with his son and Liz, in a little white house on a quiet little cul-de-sac on the edge of nowhere, had been shattered in the worst possible way. He moved closer to the monitor to see the face of the man who had stolen it from him.

Liz moved beside him, her thoughts mirroring his in one respect, and starkly different in another. Their hands gravitated toward each other, clasping, drawing strength from each other.

On the monitor, squiggly lines and static gave way to a clear picture of the hospital corridor outside the 6th floor elevators. The doors slid open, and Max let out an involuntary gasp.

“Oh my God!” His hand convulsively tightened around Liz’s, his chest constricted, his stomach twisted.

Liz felt a sinking sensation in her stomach as well. Her fears had just been realized. The image on the monitor was the same one she’d seen in the flash when she touched the shard of glass.

“Who is that?” Jenny asked, watching a petite blonde emerge from the elevator. She seemed small and innocuous, not someone to inspire the type of reaction Max and Liz were showing. She pressed a key and the image zoomed forward, showing the woman in close-up. Her cold blue eyes made Jenny shiver.

“Tess,” Max said, almost choking on the name.

A nightmare from his past, back from the grave.



tbc …
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An Imperfect Life, Part 24

Post by Breathless » Sun Feb 18, 2007 2:59 am

Well, many of you weren’t surprised that it was Tess lurking in the background. I read some great theories posted, and one of you was pretty much dead on! Of course, I can’t say who it was until the story plays out!

So let’s get to it…



An Imperfect Life
Part 24



Devil and the deep blue sea behind me
Vanish in the air you'll never find me
I will turn your face to alabaster
Then you'll find your servant is your master

And you'll be wrapped around my finger
You'll be wrapped around my finger.....

Wrapped Around My Finger
The Police




Max stared at the computer screen, unable to tear his eyes away. Tess hadn’t changed much for a dead woman. Her hair was longer, and her face looked a little fuller, or maybe that was just the camera adding a few pounds. She moved out of frame with confidence and assurance, disappearing from the monitor like she knew exactly where she was going.

“Fast forward,” Max insisted, gripping the edge of the countertop hard enough to turn his knuckles white. “Is there a different angle? Another camera?”

“Just this one,” Jenny responded. “The Unit’s not operational yet. The additional cameras aren’t scheduled to be installed until sometime next month.”

“Damn it,” Max cursed under his breath, while inside he seethed. Liz laid her hand on his shoulder, feeling the tension knotting his muscles.

“Stop! STOP!” he shouted when a blurred image sped across the monitor. “Rewind it!”

Jenny pressed keys to rewind the time index on the digital recording. The screen cleared, showing an empty corridor. Seconds later, Tess reappeared, pushing a hospital issue wheelchair. Evan sat in it with his hands on his lap. Tess casually turned the wheelchair around, facing it away from the elevators and directly toward the camera.

“What’s she doing?” Liz whispered. “Can you zoom in the picture?”

Jenny tapped another key. The long range image zoomed forward.

“Focus it on Evan,” Max told her. When she did, he hissed another curse. In the chair, Evan sat staring forward with a glazed look in his eyes.

“Did she drug him?” Jenny stared, shocked by the lack of emotion on the boy’s face.

Max felt on the verge of being sick. “No. She did something much worse than that.”

Liz covered her mouth with her hand to hold in a gasp. “You mean … she’s mindwarping him? Her own son?”

Jenny looked confused by the term, but she didn’t ask what it meant. Now wasn’t the time. On the screen, Tess knelt beside Evan and waved her hand over his face. His eyes closed and his head lulled forward, mimicking sleep. Her hand lingered on his cheek for a moment, then she stood and looked directly at the camera. A smile spread across her face, a smile so cold that it sent fingers of ice down the spines of those watching.

The elevator opened and Tess wheeled Evan backward over the threshold. She caught the door as it began to slide closed and leaned forward, mouthing one last parting shot at the camera, the words silent, but their meaning ear shattering.

‘He’s mine now.’

Max exploded in a rage of violence. His entire adult life had been focused on one thing: Evan. Keeping him well. Keeping him safe. And now he was gone, taken by the last person on the planet Max would have suspected. The murderous bitch who had destroyed his life not just once, but now twice, taking all that he held dear away from him.

“Why? WHY?” he shouted, grabbing a chair and heaving it over the nurse’s station. It crashed into the far wall, taking out chunks of plaster and twisting the chair’s frame. Questions about Tess whirled through his head.

Where had she come from? Where had she been all this time? Why did she some back?

Why the fuck couldn’t she stay dead?

“Max.”

Liz reached for him, but he moved away from her, not wanting her to see him this way, too upset to control his emotions.

“Why?” he repeated again, barely holding back the urge to punch his fist through a wall. He felt on the verge of throwing up, of breaking down, of losing it. He stiffened as Liz touched his arm, trying to regain control of his rampant emotions.

“I thought she was dead,” Max said, voice low and tight.

Liz closed the space between them and rubbed her hand up his back. “We all did.”

“Michael was so sure.” He turned to face Liz, taking her into his arms, accepting what comfort she could offer. “He said no one could have survived the explosion. Michael and Isabel barely got out alive. You saw the pictures. The base was destroyed.”

“I know,” Liz soothed, pressing into the warmth of his chest. “But when it comes to Tess, things are never what they seem. We both know that.”

Max took her by the shoulders and held her out at arms length. “I have to find him.”

A rush of déjà vu hit Liz, a flash from the past of Max’s relentless search for his son. Only this time, what gripped her wasn’t driven by a sense of guilt or obligation. This time her support was complete and unconditional.

“We have to find him.”

Max stared at her, sensing her commitment, her love for Evan. But at the same time he feared for her. Tess was capable of anything. Lying. Manipulation. Deception. Even murder.

In the past, he might have tried to shut Liz out in an attempt to protect her from harm, to keep her safe. But not now. Not ever again. Their lives were too intertwined, woven together by an unbreakable bond. Their commitment to each other went far beyond mere pledges of love, an interwoven connection binding their souls. From now on, they would face everything together.

“What’s this?”

Max and Liz tore their eyes away from each other to look at Jenny. She was holding up a chain, dangling a familiar looking object. A pendant Max had given Liz years ago, on what he had then thought would be their last night together.

“Where did you find that?” Shock registered on Liz’s face. She’d lost the pendant in Boston, years ago, thousands of miles from here.

“Right here,” Jenny indicated a file sitting on the countertop. “On top of Evan’s chart.”

Max reached for it. As soon as his fingers touched the smooth metal his body stiffened and his eyes glazed over. A vision played out in his head, a message intentionally embedded into the metal.

“Max?” Frightened by the odd look on his face and his lack of response, Liz grabbed his arm. The physical contact swept her into the vision.

“Did you think you could hide him from me forever?”

Tess’s image filled Max’s mind, and through their connection, Liz’s. The image of the blonde vixen continued to spew forth her warped convictions.

“You stole him from me! You stole my baby!”

Liz recognized the background, the shelves full of science project trophies and dog-eared storybooks. The idea that Tess had been in Max’s house – in Evan’s room – made her shiver with revulsion. In the vision, Tess’s eyes burned with hatred. Her voice dripped with scorn.

“I risked my life to keep all of you safe, to get the military off your asses, and what do you do? You left WITHOUT me! You stole away with Zan in the middle of the night! Did you give any thought to me at all? How I would feel? What would happen to me, left all alone in Roswell while the three of you ran away with my son, the only thing that means anything to me?”

Her voice had risen to a screech, venting more than a decade’s worth of rage.

“When I got back to Michael’s you were GONE! ALL of you GONE! Without a trace. No note for me to follow. No hint of where to find you. For YEARS I followed your mousy little girlfriend, waiting for you to make contact again.”

Liz let out an involuntary gasp. Had she led Tess back to Max? Was this all her fault?

“I knew you wouldn’t stay apart forever,” Tess jeered. “But I never imagined it would take more than 12 years to finally track you down. Do you know what I’ve been through, watching her boring little life? 12 YEARS of watching Liz Parker. Waiting for something – ANYTHING! I nearly lost my mind!”

Max felt Liz pulling her hand away from his. Felt her growing sense of guilt. He held fast.

“All these years. I can only imagine what lies you’ve told Zan about me. I’m his mother, and he doesn’t even know me! Thanks to YOU!”

Her anger was palpable, a living thing that permeated the vision. Tess visibly forced herself to calm down, holding her head high.

“But that doesn’t matter anymore.”

The vision changed, like a camera pulling back, exposing more of the room. Helpless rage filled Max as Evan came into view. He stood beside Tess in a familiar pair of pajamas, the ones he was wearing on the night he’d gotten sick. His eyes looked unfocused, his breathing labored. His lips were starting to turn that familiar unhealthy shade of blue.

“Oh my God,” Max whispered. Tess had been there that night, in his house. What had she done to his son? In the vision, Evan’s eyes drifted closed.

“It’s over, Max. All your lies. All your betrayals. He’s mine now.”

The hatred left her face, replaced by a self-satisfied smirk which caused Max’s jaw to clench and his stomach to quake. He’d seen that look before, the predator right before it pounced. He braced himself for what was coming.

Tess tossed her hair, holding her head high, relishing the moment. “When Zan wakes up, he won’t even remember you.”

The impact of her words hit Max like a physical blow, nearly sending him to his knees. Could she do that? Would she? Take away Evan’s memories, all the years they’d had together? The answer hit him hard. Of course she would.

“Remember, you brought this on yourself.”

Was that true, Max wondered? Would he have left Roswell without Tess if he had known she was still alive? Had he been too quick to take Michael’s word for it? Self-sacrifice had never been Tess’s style. Yet he’d never questioned it. Had a part of him been glad to think her dead? Out of his life forever?

“Bye lover. You’ll never find us. Don’t even try. You’ll regret it if you do.”

The vision faded, but the coldness in those icy blue eyes lingered, leaching deep into Max’s soul. He felt like his feet were mired in quicksand, his brain frozen, his body numb.

“God, Max,” Liz whispered. “I led her right to you.” She turned away, raking her hands over her face and back into her hair. “My God, I led her right to you!”

“Liz,” Max reached for her, “It’s not your fault.”

Wracked with guilt, Liz wasn’t listening. “If I’d known, I never would have come. I should have stayed in Boston –”

Max grabbed her upper arms and spun her around to face him. “This in not your fault!”

Liz had always been a strong woman, confident in herself and her abilities – except when it came to matters relating to Tess. Tess was her Achilles heel, an unhealed wound still festering in her psyche even after all these years. She broke down and sobbed into Max’s chest.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I ruined everything. Your life, Evan’s –”

“Don’t say that. It’s not true.” Max held her tight, cradling her head against his chest. His lips brushed her hair, her forehead. “You brought me back to life. You gave Evan life. A future. Without you, he would have died, and me with him.”

Max cupped her face between his hands and gently lifted, wiping her tears away with his thumbs. “She might have taken him, but it’s not over. We’ll get him back.”

For a moment her eyes lowered, turning inward. When she raised them again, her tears were gone. “That night, at your house, she could have taken him then, but she didn’t. Why?”

Max thought for a moment. “He got sick.”

“Exactly,” Liz nodded. “But why did he get sick? You told me you healed him earlier that evening, before you left to pick me up. He should have been okay for hours.”

“Maybe he went onto shock, seeing her,” Max speculated.

“Or maybe she tried to force him to leave and he didn’t want to go with her,” Liz added. “Struggling to get away might have caused the attack.”

The blood suddenly drained from Max’s face, leaving him pale and trembling. “Oh God. He tried to tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“That night, when Evan called me, he said ‘I don’t wanna go’. At the time I thought he was scared because he was so sick and he didn’t want to die. But it was Tess, trying to make him go with her. Later, he didn’t remember she was there. She must have mindwarped him to make him forget. He would have told me otherwise.”

Liz turned to leave. “We have to go there.”

Max held her back. “To my house? You think they might be there?”

“No, but that’s where we need to start.”

* * * * *

Silence greeted him as Max cautiously entered his house. The living room still looked as he’d left it a week ago: pillows on the floor, video games by the TV. The familiar sight made his heart ache, knowing that son was gone.

Liz entered behind him, senses alert.

Max checked the kitchen, then moved into the hallway to check the bedrooms. He paused in mid-step, shocked to see picture frames scattered on the floor, the glass shattered and the photographs missing.

“What the hell? Why would she do this?” He knelt down and picked up one of the shattered frames. “She hates me. Why would she take pictures of me and Evan?”

Liz came up behind Max. She knelt down and picked up a second frame. Her eyes closed briefly, pain furrowing her brows. “You’re not in the pictures anymore.”

Max stared at her in shock. “What are you talking about?”

“Years ago you told me that sometimes when you touch things, you get a rush of images. Things that have happened that leave an imprint on the object.”

Max remembered when he first told her about that particular power, that day in her bedroom back in Roswell, when he picked up a CD and knew Kyle had been there. He opened his senses and reached out to the broken frame.

A rush of images assailed him, of Tess ripping the pictures off the wall and hurling them to the floor in a blind rage. He jerked his hand back like he’d been burned.

“I see things, too,” Liz said.

Max took her hand in his. “You never told me.”

“When it first started, we weren’t exactly talking,” Liz reminded him. “And then you were gone, and I never got a chance. It seemed to stop when I went to Boston, I thought I’d lost the ability, but it’s back now. Maybe it only works when your energy is near me.”

Max picked up the broken frame.

“What I see is different from what you see,” Liz explained. “Things that haven’t happened yet, but will. She’ll change the pictures. Replace you with her image. Make it seem …”

Chilled, Max finished her sentence. “Like I never existed.”

* * * * *

Tess smiled as she drove down the highway. She paced herself with the traffic, driving neither too fast nor too slow, careful not to attract any unwanted attention. To cars passing by she looked sweet and innocent, just a mother on an afternoon outing with her son.

“We’re on our way, Darling,” Tess beamed. “Aren’t you excited?”

Evan sat in the passenger seat, staring forward through the windshield. His face looked vacant, like an unfinished canvas with the details not yet painted. His mouth hung slack. His hands lay unmoving on his lap.

“You’re going to love it, Sweetheart.” She lifted her right hand from the steering wheel and brushed a lock of blond hair away from Evan’s forehead. “We’ll be so happy there.”

A map lay on the seat between them. A red line was drawn from Seattle, down through Oregon, across Nevada and Arizona, into New Mexico. It ended with a red circle around Roswell.

“Now tell me what I want to hear.”

Silent, Evan continued to stare forward.

Tess gripped his chin with her right hand and turned his head to face her. “Say it, Darling.”

His mouth moved, but no sound came out.

“Come on, Honey. I know you can do it.”

His mouth moved again. When the words came out, they were devoid of any emotion.

“I love you Mommy.”

“That’s right, Sweetheart,” Tess beamed. “Now tell me again.

“I love you Mommy.”

Tess released his chin and returned her attention to the road. “Again.”

“I love you Mommy.”

Delighted, Tess drove down the highway heading south.

It was a long time before she allowed Evan to fall silent again.



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An Imperfect Life, Part 25

Post by Breathless » Mon Feb 26, 2007 2:23 am

I'm a day late getting this posted, so let's get right to it...


An Imperfect Life
Part 25



There's a little black spot on the sun today
It's the same old thing as yesterday
There's a black hat caught in a high tree top
There's a flag pole rag and the wind won't stop

I have stood here before in the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running 'round my brain
I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain...

King of Pain
The Police



Evan’s bedroom was a mess. Ransacked dresser drawers were pulled open, clothes spilled onto the floor. Max checked the closet. When he turned back to Liz, his voice came out as resigned as the look on his face.

“His backpack is gone.”

Liz picked up a discarded t-shirt and held it close. “It looks like she took enough of his clothes to last a few days.”

“To go where?” Max walked around the room, pausing at the bookcase to look at Evan’s science trophies. Not a single one had been spared. They lay in twisted ruin, just like the rest of the room.

Liz sat down on the edge of the bed, still clutching Evan’s shirt. She tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear, shorter now than when she was a girl all those years ago. She felt weary, indecisive, lacking. As if cutting her hair had somehow severed her power.

“I understand why she hates me,” Liz said softly, admitting long buried insecurities. “But why would she do this to Evan?”

“Why?” Max stood in the center of the room amid the wreckage of what had once been a good life. “Because she hates me more. I never lived up to her expectations. As a man. Or a King. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, she’s capable of anything. But I did think she loved Evan. Maybe I was wrong about that, too.”

“I don’t think she knows what love is,” Liz uttered. “Not real love.”

“Tess’s view of love was never real,” Max said, picking up a small shirt from the floor and tenderly folding it. “She lived in a make believe world, holding on to make believe dreams, of a make believe life that was never going to happen. For awhile I slid into her trap. It took everything I had to claw out of it. And now –” his voice choked, barely able to get the words out. “Now she has Evan.”

He turned to face Liz, revealing a lifetime of sorrow. “I have to get him back, Liz. She’ll destroy him. It’s all she knows how to do.”

“Any ideas?” Liz asked. She felt so helpless.

Max dropped down onto the bedside next to Liz and leaned forward, elbows on his knees, hands covering his face. Memories flooded through his mind, clues that he’d missed, signals he should have seen. The strange things Evan had said on the phone that night. Of course his son didn’t ‘hate Liz’. How could he? How could any sane person hate Liz? Evan had tried to send him a warning.

Had there been other times? Tess watching them? Plotting against them? Waiting to get Evan alone? Into his hands, Max said, “I should have seen this coming. I should have known.”

Liz leaned into him and touched his arm. “Max, as you’ve told me on more that one occasion, you’re not a mind reader. You can’t blame yourself for this.”

“Then who can I blame?” he asked. “Tess?” He shot to his feet and threw Evan’s t-shirt across the room. It slid down the wall and joined the mess on the floor. The momentary outburst didn’t relieve any of his pent up stress.

“Yes, she’s exactly who you should blame,” Liz insisted. “She manipulates everyone. You. Me. Even Evan.” Liz rose from the bed as Max turned around to face her. The strain he was under broadcast loudly across his features.

“Can you think of anywhere she’d want to take him?” Liz asked.

Max shrugged and threw up his hands. “Antar?”

His tone was derisive, filled with contempt for what Tess had done in the past. He didn’t see the flash of fear that suddenly filled Liz’s eyes.

“I don’t know where she would go,” Max continued. “She has no family. No ties to anyone.”

“If she followed me from Boston, then she’s been here for weeks,” Liz said. Following that train of thought, she continued, “She would have had to stay somewhere. A hotel, or motel. Are there many on the island?”

Max shook his head. King’s Island wasn’t a big place. “There are a couple of small motels near the ferry dock, and a bed and breakfast on the north shore. The Monarch Regency is the only hotel.”

“The Monarch,” Liz echoed, remembering the Grand Ballroom from the night of the hospital dance. The crystal chandeliers. The elegant décor. Just the type of atmosphere befitting someone who considered herself a Queen.

“What?” Max said, watching her closely. Her dark eyes seemed focused inward, her features a study in concentration. Liz Parker developing a plan. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“Do you have a picture of Tess?” Liz suddenly asked, startling Max with the question. His answer was immediate and empathic.

“Hell, no!”

“Nothing you kept to show Evan?”

His reaction pinballed in the opposite direction. Did that make him a bad person? A horrible father? He’d never shown Evan a picture of his mother. Never talked about her. Did his best to forget she ever existed. Had he deprived his son in order to protect himself from bad memories?

“No,” Max admitted. “Nothing.”

“We need something to show at the hotel,” Liz said. “To see if anyone recognizes her. If she’s still there –”

The Monarch? It did seem a logical place for Tess to stay. Plenty of people for her to be able to blend in; a lifestyle she seemed to think was owed to her.

Max spun on his heels and raced for the living room. He grabbed a photo album from the bookcase and flipped through the pages until he came to a photograph of Evan, a close up taken at the beach just a few months ago. Evan’s eyes were as blue as the summer sky, his overgrown blond hair bleached even blonder by the sun, blowing in the ocean breeze. The shape of his face mirrored his mother’s.

It was one of the reasons Max had put it in the photo album, instead of hanging it on the wall. The photo was one of those perfect natural shots, capturing the pure joy of the moment, but Evan’s resemblance to Tess had been too close for comfort. He peeled back the plastic sheet covering the photograph and lifted it out of the album.

While Liz watched, Max covered the photograph with his hand. The manipulation was simple; most of the groundwork was already there. The eyes, the mouth, the chin. The color of the skin. When the glow ended and he pulled his hand away, Evan’s image had been transformed into the likeness of Tess.

Max held it out to Liz. “Good enough?”

* * * * *

At the Monarch, Liz and Max waited in line at the registration desk. It was mid afternoon, and the hotel was busy. Other guests stood in line with luggage and overnight bags, while Max’s sole possession was a single photograph. When their turn came, Max ushered Liz over to the counter.

“Checking in?” the clerk asked cheerily. His name tag read Anthony.

“Actually,” Max said, glancing briefly at Liz before turning Tess’s photo toward the desk clerk, “we were wondering if this woman is a guest here?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Anthony said. “Confidentiality rules strictly forbid me from either confirming or denying a guest’s stay with us. I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” Max said quickly. “However,” he reached into the inside pocket of his leather jacket and withdrew a leather billfold, flipping it open to reveal a very official looking badge. “This is a police matter.”

The clerk openly stared at the badge, duly impressed.

“Detective Valenti, King County Sheriff’s Department,” Max said smoothly. Beside him, Max felt Liz tense momentarily, her eyes shooting in his direction before quickly covering her surprise.

“My partner and I,” Max continued, nodding toward Liz but intentionally withholding her name, “are investigating a criminal matter. Now, have you seen this woman?”

“What did she do?” Anthony asked, taking the photograph from Max’s hand.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss an active investigation” Max replied.

The clerk studied the photo for a moment, and then tapped his index finger against Tess’s face. “Sure, I’ve seen her. She’s been here for about a month.” He set the photo aside and turned to the computer in front of him. His fingers flew across the keyboard.

“Tess Harding,” Anthony announced. “Room 1402, Penthouse Suite, top floor. She’s paid up through the end of the week.”

“Have you seen her today?” Max asked. The sternness of his tone allowed no dispute.

“Not today,” he said, “but my shift only started at noon. Would you like me to ask around?”

Max nodded. “Please.”

After conferring with the other desk clerks, Anthony returned shaking his head. “Sonya thought she might have seen her leaving the hotel this morning, but she can’t be sure. It’s been rather busy around here today.”

“Thank you,” Max said, putting the badge back in his coat pocket.

“Should we contact you when she comes back?” Anthony asked.

“We’re just going to look around for a bit,” Max said in answer. He and Liz backed away from the Registration Counter and blended into the milling crowd. With the desk clerks busy helping waiting guests, Max led Liz in the direction of the elevators.

“Detective Valenti?” Liz whispered, barely holding in a laugh.

“It was the only name I could think of,” Max snickered.

“Where did you get the badge?”

Max reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew the leather ID holder again. “You mean this?”

Liz took it from his hand and opened it. Instead of the badge, Max’s smiling image was looking up at her. This time she did laughed out loud. “Your King’s Middle School ID card?”

Max shrugged, smiling. “The only police badge I’ve ever seen was Jim Valenti’s. So I copied that image. I guess it was close enough. It worked.”

At the elevators, Max was relieved to see no one else was waiting. When the doors opened, he ushered Liz inside, and then quickly pressed the button to close the doors.

Liz studied the floor indicator panel. “The penthouse floor requires a special key.”

“No problem.” Max placed his hand over the key slot reserved for the hotel’s “special” guests. Seconds later the elevator began to rise.

“You’d make a fantastic burglar,” Liz teased.

Max managed a small laugh. “Yeah, if I was into a life of crime. Which I’m not.”

The jovial air between them was comforting, and reassuring, but it didn’t last long. As the elevator rose, the mood inside the lift darkened.

“This hotel is pretty ritzy,” Liz said. “The penthouse must be very expensive. How could she afford it?”

“Do you have a dollar?” Max asked.

With a questioning look on her face, Liz reached into her pants pocket. She found a one dollar bill and handed it to him.

Max held it up for her to see. “One dollar.”

As he ran his index finger across the face of the bill, Liz watched the image of George Washington change into Benjamin Franklin right before her eyes.

“One hundred dollars,” Max said, handing the bill back to her. “The paper is real, the ink is real, the money is real. It will pass every counterfeit test.”

“So if she had 10 one dollar bills, it would be a snap to turn it into 10 one hundred dollar bills. If she did that every day, in a year she’d amass $365,000!”

“Exactly,” Max nodded. “She could easily double that, triple that, or more. Whatever suited her. Whatever amount she needed to achieve her goals.”

“Evan,” Liz said softly.

“Evan,” Max agreed.

The elevator arrived at the 14th floor. Max and Liz exited, turning right to follow the arrow to 1402. When they reached the room, Max looked left, then right, before placing his hand over the lock.

The penthouse suite was spacious, with ornate furnishings. The couch alone might have cost Max as much as six month’s salary. They entered cautiously, careful not to make a sound, but it soon became obvious the suite was empty. No clothes in the bedroom closet, no personal articles in the bathroom, no suitcases in sight.

The bedroom was huge; the king size bed overflowing with multiple pillows, both functional and decorative. The bedspread made of silk, the sheets satin. Only the left side had been disturbed.

“She was here,” Liz said, looking at the rumpled bed. “She slept here last night.”

“She’s alone,” Max said.

Liz looked at him. “Are you sure?”

“Look at the way the sheets are. One person, on the left side of the bed. But, to be sure…”

Hesitantly, he reached out to touch the pillow, skimming his fingers over the indentation left behind by the sleeping guest. Almost immediately he was swept into a vision; a rush of chaotic images both past and present, jumbled together in disjointed bedlam.

Insane dreams from an insane mind.

Inside the stone walls of the Granilith chamber: “You were a King! Now you’re just a boy.”

On her knees in the center of the Royal Court: “I did everything you wanted. Please, don’t hurt him, he’s just a little boy!”

By a bedroom window: “You named the baby Zan?”

Through the open doorway of a hospital room: “Zan.”

Under the stars in the desert, minutes before dawn: “It’s not just what I want, it’s what’s meant to be. It’s all here, Max. Our destiny.”

Inside a small car parked outside a restaurant: “Whether I die tomorrow, or fifty years from now, my destiny is the same. When I left Roswell, I thought I’d never see you again. But now I know my destiny never changed. It was you, Liz. It was always you.”

In a bedroom: “You kissed her! Don’t worry; you won’t remember her where we’re going.”

In a vision: “When Zan wakes up, he won’t even remember you.”

In a penthouse suite: a map spread out on a hotel desk, with a destination circled.


Max snatched his hand away from the pillow like it was on fire. The vision still burned in his brain, the contempt he’d felt, the lingering images. But most of all it was the map he couldn’t forget, with the red circle drawn around the destination.

“I know where she’s going,” Max said. “Roswell.”

* * * * *

Liz rifled through her wallet while Max sped down the highway. “Finally!” she exclaimed, snatching out a credit card and waving it through the air. “I can charge the tickets on this.”

Max gritted his teeth. “I don’t like this.” His hands gripped the steering wheel harder.

Liz turned her body sideways in the seat, facing him. She held up a finger, ticking off points. “You think Tess is taking Evan to Roswell.”

Max nodded, chewing on his lower lip. “Yes.”

A second finger went up. “You think she’s driving there.”

Another nod from Max. “The map I saw clearly indicated that. South on Interstate 5, East into Nevada and Arizona, into New Mexico. She wouldn’t need a map if she was flying. Besides, she’d avoid crowds. When she’s controlling his mind, Evan looks like a zombie. If she’s not controlling his mind, he’d try to get away. No, her best option is keep him confined, in a car, with limited contact with others.”

Liz held up a third finger. “We know she’s planned this out, so she probably left as soon as she got Evan out of the hospital. That means she’s got at least a 2, maybe 3 hour head start on us. She could be in Oregon by now. We’ll never catch her by car.”

“We could,” Max disagreed. “She has to stop to sleep, but we don’t have to. We can take turns driving, make up the time.”

“And what?” Liz argued. “Stare into each car we pass on the highway? We don’t know what she’s driving. And what about at night? We could pass her in the dark, and not even know it. We know she’s going to Roswell, if we fly we’ll get there ahead of her and have time to set up an ambush. According to the map you saw, she’ll be driving southbound on 285. We’ll have time to contact Jim Valenti to help us.”

Max ran his right hand through his hair, clearly agitated. “You’re plan makes sense…”

Liz cocked her finger at him, trying to ease the strain. “You know me, always got to have a plan.”

For a brief moment Max smiled, but it didn’t last. The haunted look in his eyes quickly returned.

“What is it, Max?” Liz asked gently. “What’s really bothering you? Is it Roswell?”

Max inhaled deeply and let it out with a sigh. He glanced at Liz and then returned his eyes to the road. “I’m not afraid to admit that going back to Roswell scares me. Maybe it’s safe, maybe it’s not. But I know the airport isn’t. You’ve seen the security there. Face recognition scanners at all the entrances. Handprint recorders at the security check points.”

He held his right hand out to Liz, palm up. “They know my handprint, Liz. They know my face.”

Liz stared at his open hand. She knew who “they” were. The FBI. The Military. Homeland Security. After what he’d been through in his life, she knew his fears were valid.

Liz slipped her hand into his, palm to palm, fingers laced together. “Those records were destroyed, Max. Trust me. I wouldn’t suggest doing this if I didn’t think it was safe.”

After a long pause, Max finally assented. “Okay.”

He hoped to God her plan would work, because she was holding his life in her hand.



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An Imperfect Life, Part 26

Post by Breathless » Sun Apr 01, 2007 11:51 pm

Long time no talk. I had a great vacation, but of course paid for it when I got back. Work has consumed me since I got home. Which means I had no time to write. Not even to finish the next part (which was almost done when I left) or to work on the rest of the story. Now that my taxes are finally done, I think I can see some light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

This next week is going to be non-stop 12 hour days, so once again, no time to write. And next Sunday is Easter, so of course family takes precedence. So it’s good that I finally got this next part ready to post, because the one after this will probably be 2 weeks from now.

I know I had a lot of comments to make based on feedback from the last part, but maybe I’ll save that ‘til next time. Does everyone remember where we left off? Tess stole Evan out of the hospital. Max and Liz came up with a plan to get him back. On with the story…


An Imperfect Life
Part 26



Welcome to your life
There’s no turning back
Even while we sleep
We will find you
Acting on your best behavior
Turn your back on mother nature
Everybody wants to rule the world


Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Tears For Fears



Max parked his car in the long term parking garage at the airport. After turning off the engine, he reached into the backseat and retrieved a baseball cap, the same one he’d worn the last time he’d been here, on the day Liz returned from Boston. Had that really only been a couple of weeks ago? His life had changed so drastically in such a short period of time.

As he exited the car and locked the doors, he wasn’t sure how long they would be gone. Hours? Days? Then again, there was the very real possibility that they might never be coming back. The longer his abandoned car went unnoticed, the better.

Liz came around from her side of the car and joined Max. As they made their way across the glass skybridge into the airport terminal, she was aware of how his eyes were in constant motion, scanning for security cameras, airport police, anyone who might be watching. It made her own sense of paranoia deepen.

Inside the terminal, Max kept his face down, the bill of his cap hiding his features as they made their way toward the check-in counter.

Liz checked the flight board. Roswell was too small for any direct flights. Albuquerque wasn’t listed either. “There’s a flight to Denver that leaves in an hour. From there we should be able to get a connecting flight to Albuquerque, and then Roswell. If everything goes right, we should be there before midnight.”

“If everything goes right,” Max repeated under his breath.

They joined the throng of travelers coming and going, most pulling wheeled luggage, or carrying tote bags or backpacks slung over their shoulders. Max felt conspicuous carrying neither. Who flew half way across the country without any luggage? His nervousness intensified.

Despite the crowded terminal, their footsteps echoed in the immense place. Salmon, depicted swimming up stream, were imprinted into the concrete floors. Liz led them to a ticket counter with a relatively short line.

A pair of security officers strolled by dressed in dark blue uniforms, with badges pinned to their chests, and holstered guns on their hips. Max turned away to shield his face.

“Max,” Liz quietly admonished, “could you look any more guilty? You haven’t done anything wrong. If you keep acting like you have, it won’t take alien powers to sense it.”

Max drew in a deep, steadying breath. “I’m trying.”

“I know,” she soothed. “Let’s just get through this. Once we’re on the plane we’re set.”

Max repositioned his cap and peered around the terminal. At least half the other men he saw were wearing hats, too. That made him feel a little more normal. When a space at the counter opened up, Liz tugged on his hand and they moved forward.

The airline attendant, 30ish with blonde hair pulled back and pinned in a bun, was a pleasant looking woman, but all business. “How can I help you?”

Liz did all the talking. “We’re trying to get to Roswell, New Mexico, as quickly as possible.”

“Let me check that for you.”

The attendant’s fingers flew over the keyboard. “There’s a flight leaving for Denver shortly. It’s a pretty full, I might have to put you in separate rows. From there I can put you on a connecting flight to Albuquerque, with continuing service to Roswell. Scheduled arrival time at your final destination is 11:05 p.m., local time. Will that work for you?”

Liz smiled at Max. Everything exactly according to plan. Max couldn’t help smiling back. She slid her credit card across the counter. “We’ll take it.”

“Names, please?”

“Liz Parker and Max Ev–”

Max suddenly squeezed her hand so hard Liz almost yelped in pain. She quickly realized her mistake and tried to cover it.

“Philips. Liz Parker and Max Philips.”

The attendant’s fingers paused on the keyboard. She eyed Liz closely, then Max. “Identification please.”

Max reached for his wallet. Liz already had hers out.

After more rapid keystrokes, the attendant asked, “Any checked luggage?”

“No.”

Another look from the airline attendant made Max’s skin crawl. He knew they were trained to look for suspicious behavior. Was he just reading something into her look, or was her hand reaching under the counter to press an alarm?

“Your gate is C-5,” the attendant said, sliding two boarding passes across the counter. “When you get to Denver you’ll need to check in at the arrival gate to get your seating assignments for the flight to Albuquerque. Have a pleasant trip, and thank you for choosing Western Airlines.”

“Thank you,” Liz said, picking up her credit card and the boarding passes. Max couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Liz had to double time it to catch up to him.

“Max, we have the tickets. Everything’s fine.”

Max looked around, certain everyone would be watching him, staring at him, chasing after him, but apparently they all had their own issues to deal with. No one seemed to even notice him.

“This way,” Liz steered Max deeper into the terminal. They followed the signs toward the next hurdle: the security station.

The lines weren’t bad for mid-afternoon. A seasoned traveler, Liz calculated the wait to be no more than 15 or 20 minutes, leaving more than enough time for them to make it to the gate on time. They shuffled forward, one foot at a time.

Max couldn’t relax. Up ahead he could just make out the conveyor belt moving an assortment of carryon luggage and gray bins full of shoes and jackets, cell phones and laptops and other electronic devices, toward the x-ray machine. Next to it, passengers were moving one at a time through an arched metal detector.

As they neared the front of the line, a door marked “Security” opened to Max’s right and four uniformed officers stepped out. Max dipped his head and turned away, watching them out of the corner of his eye. They conversed in hushed tones, then fanned out.

“Here’s your boarding pass,” Liz handed Max a slip of paper. Refocusing, he took it, reading the flight information: his name, the flight and seat number, the departure gate, a bar code.

“What’s your seat number?” he asked.

“23 E. What’s yours?”

“24 D.”

“You’re on the aisle,” Liz told him, “one row behind me. When we get on the plane, maybe we can ask someone to switch so we can sit together.”

Max nodded, but he was only half listening. His attention was riveted to what was happening up ahead.

As passengers reached the front of the line, their boarding passes were taken by a uniformed security officer and scanned into a device. Once the boarding pass was verified, the passenger was instructed to place his or her hand on a portable scanner. A handprint analyzer, required for travel on all domestic and international flights since 2011. Max felt the hackles rise on the back of his neck.

One of the men Max had seen exiting the Security Office approached the female officer holding the handprint scanner. The man spoke to her in hushed tones, then handed the woman a sheet of paper. They studied it for a moment, then both looked up, casting suspicious gazes over the waiting travelers in line. Max quickly turned his face away, but not before he got a brief glance at the paper: a photograph of a dark haired man. An FBI wanted poster?

Was it his face?

They’d taken his picture at Eagle Rock. His fingerprints. Had he been on an FBI watch list all these years? Wasn’t it that very fear that had kept him in hiding all this time? Despite the baseball cap, he knew his face had been automatically scanned when he entered the airport terminal, just like all the other the passengers. Had the computers matched his image to the one taken when he was a teenager? Were they searching for him now, aware of who he really was?

Liz leaned into Max, whispering close to his ear. “Relax.”

“Relax?” Max had to fight to keep his voice low. His eyes looked wild, on the verge of panic. “Did you see what he gave her? A photograph! A photograph of ME! We have to get out of here!”

Liz squeezed his hand hard, digging her nails into his skin to get his attention. “What you saw was a shift change roster. They started using them after that terrorist impersonated a security officer at JFK a few years ago and passed through a band of hijackers. They tried to crash a plane into the Statue of Liberty, remember?”

Max’s throat felt dry, his palms sweaty. “Are you sure?”

“Trust me,” Liz soothed. “This is all normal.”

Max swallowed down the panic. Through all his years in hiding, he’d taken great pains to lead a quiet life, to stay out of the spotlight, to avoid anything that might put him or Evan in danger. And in the blink of an eye Tess had ruined everything. She’d thrown his life into turmoil, placed his future at risk, torn Evan away from him. If he found her – no when he found her – he vowed to himself to end her reign of terror – permanently.

The minutes ticked by, one agonizing second at a time. Max kept up a constant vigil, watching everything and everyone around them. When their turn arrived, Liz handed her boarding pass and picture ID to the security officer. After it was read and verified, the officer presented the scanner.

“Handprint, please.”

Liz placed her palm on the scanner. She was used to this. Homeland Security had mandated scanners years ago.

“Thank you,” the officer said when the scanner light blinked out. She waved Liz through and her attention turned to Max. “Boarding pass and ID, please.”

Max stepped forward. He ventured a quick look at a clipboard sitting on a stool next to the woman. Sure enough, the top sheet of paper was a duty roster, with a picture of the officer assigned to the 3 – 11 shift. He shot a look at Liz, who was sporting an ‘I told you so’ grin. He marginally relaxed.

He held out his boarding pass and driver’s license with a steady hand. His past was tied to the name Max Evans. In the present he was Max Philips. Would the scanner reveal those inconsistencies and expose him? Could she read the lie on his face?

After his boarding pass and ID were verified, the officer presented the scanner. Max flexed his hand, curling his fingers in on his palm and then straightening them out again. He fought the urge to run. To bolt for his life and disappear into the crowd. To be anywhere but here. It took all his strength to place his hand on the scanner.

The yellow laser light started at his fingertips and slowly traced down his palm to the heel of his hand. He held his breath and tried not to move, aware of a bead of sweat forming at his hairline, hoping the baseball cap would hide it from the officer’s view. After seconds that felt more like hours, the light finally blinked out without incident, giving Max a momentary false sense that everything might actually be all right – until an alarm sounded, startling everyone in the terminal.

At first, passengers were only surprised by the noise. They looked around; sent questioning glances to traveling companions, uncertain what it meant. Max, on the other hand, had no doubt. His hand print didn’t match his ID. They knew who his was. He reached for Liz, preparing to run.

Guards suddenly appeared like ants swarming over the woodwork. They raced right at Max, causing his panic to soar sky high. He turned to run, but more guards were coming from the other direction. He quickly shifted direction again, but his foot slid out from under him, sending him to one knee. Around him, people were running, screaming, hiding behind their carryon luggage. Pandemonium everywhere.

Max focused on a guard bearing right down on him. The man’s hand was on the butt of his gun, releasing the strap that held it in place on his hip, pulling it from the holster. In self-preservation, Max lifted his hand, fingers spread.

Liz threw herself at Max. She knocked his hand down before he could make the biggest mistake of his life. The impact of her body barreling into his sent Max sprawling to the floor. The guard continued to run right at him, then right past him, toward a confrontation happening beyond the metal detectors. Liz grabbed Max’s face and forced him to look at her.

“Listen to me! It’s not you! IT’S NOT YOU! Someone tried to take contraband through the checkpoint. He started an argument with the guards, then a fight. Security is just doing their job!”

Max was breathing so hard, shaking so badly, he couldn’t respond. Couldn’t think. What was she saying? It wasn’t him? He didn’t trigger the alarm? They were after someone else?

“We’re okay,” Liz said, holding his face between her hands. “They’ve got him. It’s over.”

Max looked over her shoulder and saw that she was right. Twenty uniformed officers surrounded a young man spread eagle on the concrete floor, guns pointed at his prone body. Seconds later he was hauled to his feet and whisked away. Max swallowed hard down his dry throat.

“It wasn’t me?” he managed to say to Liz. “I didn’t set it off?”

“No,” Liz shook her head, relief flooding her voice now that she was finally getting through to him. “It didn’t have anything to do with you. Why would it? You’ve never done anything wrong. What they did to you at Eagle Rock was a crime, but it’s over. Nasedo destroyed Pierce’s records. Tess destroyed everything at the base. You’re safe. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

Max let Liz help him climb to his feet. Could he believe her? Was it true? This was the biggest test he’d had to face since he fled Roswell. Had he really come through it intact? Could he get his life back, and not spend the rest of it constantly looking over his shoulder?

“Come on,” Liz urged him toward the metal detectors and the gate beyond. Already the terminal was returning to normal, as if this kind of disruption was a routine matter. Max followed her, still trying to calm his racing heart.

* * * * *

Evan stared out the car window into the dark. Sundown came early during the winter in the Northwest; twilight by 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, pitch black by 5:00. Overhead, clouds covered the stars. He thought Mars might be prominent in the skies at this time of year, but he couldn’t quite remember. What was his science teacher’s name? Mrs. Morton? Morgan? Why couldn’t he remember her name?

“Are you hungry, Darling? What’s your favorite food?”

Evan turned away from the window to stare at the woman driving the car. Blonde hair, just like his. Blue eyes, just like his. Heart shaped face – just like his. His mother. Mom. Mommy.

Shouldn’t she know his favorite food? Something fluttered in the back of his mind, a memory struggling to surface.

“You’re good at lots of stuff, Dad.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“Like making spaghetti –”


“Sweetheart?”

“Spaghetti,” Evan answered.

“Wouldn’t you rather have a hamburger, Darling? A Big Mac, with fries, and a milkshake?” Tess pointed out a roadside sign, advertising a McDonald’s at the next exit. “What would you rather have: Vanilla or Chocolate?”

Evan’s answer was immediate. “Strawberry.”

Tess’s mouth pinched in a straight line. “We don’t like strawberries.”

Evan stared at her but held his tongue. He was pretty sure he did like strawberries, and that his Dad liked strawberries, and that strawberries were important, but he couldn’t remember exactly why. He confronted the woman driving the car.

“Where’s my Dad?”

If he thought her face looked pinched before, now it was positively enraged. She covered it quickly but Evan could still feel it. Her hand cupped his chin and held fast, almost painfully so.

“Your Daddy’s gone, Darling. Don’t you remember? He died before you were born.”

His Dad was dead? That didn’t seem right. He couldn’t quite visualize his father’s face, but there was something there, deep in his sluggish mind. The hint of dark hair and gentle eyes. Of soothing hands, and a comforting voice. When he thought of his Dad, he was flooded with the most intense feeling of uncompromising love. But as her eyes stared hard into his, the memories he was struggling to recapture dissipated, like smoke into thin air.

* * * * *

After the turmoil in the airport, the flight to Denver was boringly uneventful. They’d made it to the gate on time, boarded the plane without incident, and had successfully convinced an obliging passenger to switch paces so they could sit together. Now, just over three hours into the flight, the pilot had started the descent into Denver. A flight attendant’s voice came over the cabin speakers.

“We’ll be arriving at Denver International Airport in approximately 20 minutes. The local time is 8:03 p.m. The current temperature is 41 degrees, with partially cloudy skies.”

Liz’s head rested on Max’s shoulder. Their hands lay intertwined on her lap. “We’re lucky. The weather in Denver can be awful during the winter. Once, I had to sleep in the terminal overnight because a snowstorm grounded all the flights. What a nightmare. I hope I never have to do that again.”

“Poor you,” Max smiled at her. Now that he’d gotten over the stress of actually getting on the plane, he didn’t feel nervous anymore. Except when he thought about Evan, and what his son might be going through. His smile faded.

Liz squeezed his hand. “He’ll be okay.”

Max cocked an eyebrow. “Are you a mind reader now?”

“No,” she smiled, “but your face is pretty easy to read.”

The descent into Denver was bumpy, but the landing itself smooth. When they arrived at the gate, with no luggage to slow them down, Max and Liz were among the first to disembark the plane. They made their way to the nearest check-in counter to ask about their connecting flight.

“We just arrived on flight 2514 from Seattle,” Liz explained. “We have a connecting flight to Albuquerque –”

“Sorry,” the attendant cut in. “An unexpected snowstorm hit the Albuquerque area earlier tonight, dumping nearly a foot of snow on the runway. The airport is closed while they dig out.”

“Closed?” Liz said, clearly disturbed by the delay. She felt Max stiffen beside her. “Until when?”

“Normal operations are expected to resume early tomorrow morning. The first flight out is at 6:00 a.m. Would you like me to check seating for you?”

Liz turned to Max, speaking in hushed tones. “If Tess drives straight through without stopping, the earliest she can get to Roswell is mid-afternoon. But with Evan, it’s highly likely she’ll need to stop somewhere for the night. Which means early evening or later before she gets there. If we take the 6 am flight, we’ll be in Roswell by 10, hours ahead of her.”

“Isn’t there any other option?” Max worried.

“We could rent a car and drive the rest of the way from here, but with the snow, we don’t know what the roads will be like when we get into New Mexico.”

Max thought about it for a minute. Roswell was about an eight hour drive away, but in bad weather, that could easily double, or more. But just waiting here in the airport for a morning flight would drive him crazy.

True to her nature, Liz went into planning mode. “How about this: we get a hotel room for the night and then take the morning flight out. We need to be alert when we get to Roswell tomorrow, and staying up all night driving through the snow is not exactly restive. We get a good night’s sleep tonight, and get to Roswell by mid-morning tomorrow. What do you think?”

* * * * *

“Darling,” Tess rhapsodized, “you’re going to love it where we’re going!”

Restless after hours of driving, Evan peered down at the floorboards of the car, then turned to search the back seat.

Oblivious, Tess droned on. “You were so little last time we were there, and so sick, we couldn’t stay. But this time it will be different. You’re strong now. You can assume your rightful –”

Evan’s fidgeting finally broke through Tess’s chatter. “Darling, what are you doing?”

Evan unzipped his backpack, searched the pockets, tossed it aside. “I can’t find it.”

“Find what, Sweetheart?”

“My Game Wizard.”

The smile left her face. “You don’t need that.”

“I’m a level ten Wizard,” Evan boasted, but questions tugged at his mind. Didn’t she know about that? She’d given him the Game Wizard for his birthday – hadn’t she?

Tess gripped his chin with her right hand and stared into his eyes. “You’re not a Wizard, you’re a Prince. It’s your birthright, your destiny! When you come of age you’ll be the one true King. The whole world will bow at your feet. And mine! They can’t deny you this time!”

Evan tried to squirm away but she held him in a firm grip.

“Your name is Zan, Prince of Antar. Now repeat it. Tell me your name.”

“Zan,” Evan said weakly.

“All of it.”

“Zan, Prince of Antar.”

“Tell me again! Who are you?”

“Zan.”

“And what are you?”

“Prince of Antar.”

“Don’t ever forget. It’s you destiny to rule the world. Repeat after me: I’m a Prince.”

“I’m a Prince.”

She removed her hand from his chin, but the power of her will was still relentless. “Keep saying it until you feel it. What are you?”

“I’m a Prince.”

Her hand returned to the steering wheel. “Say it again.”

Released from her punishing grip, Evan turned toward the side window. Outside the world was dark, the night as black as ink. The left side of his face, lit by the pale light coming from the dashboard, reflected off the glass. His right side was veiled in shadow.

Two halves of a whole, one visible, the other struggling to resurface.

“I’m a Prince,” Evan said softly to his reflection. “A … Prince.”

An overhead streetlight flashed by, briefly illuminating the right side of his face. His glazed eyes fought to refocus. His voice dropped to a whisper.

“I’m a … Wizard.”


tbc …
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