Serenity (AU, M/L, MATURE) - 05/01/2014 (C)

Finished stories set in an alternate universe to that introduced in the show, or which alter events from the show significantly, but which include the Roswell characters. Aliens play a role in these fics. All complete stories on the main AU with Aliens board will eventually be moved here.

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Serenity (AU, M/L, MATURE) - 05/01/2014 (C)

Post by oyhumbug » Fri Mar 07, 2014 9:00 pm

Title: Serenity
Disclaimer: I own neither the characters presented in this story nor the shows from which they originate. Unfortunately.
Rating: Mature
Summary: Found alone wandering in the desert, Max Evans first confronted the confusion of the world when he was eight years old. Although everything was unfamiliar, he quickly learned two things: one, he wasn't like everybody else, and, two, if he wanted to survive, no one could discover who – what – he really was. This meant no friends, no connections, absolute isolation and loneliness... even from his own family, leaving his senses dangerously stimulated and Max seeking any way possible to numb them.
Paring: M/L
Genre: AU Angst/Romance
Status: In-Progress
Author's Note: Like with my previous story, I wrote this fic years ago and never posted it. This means that it's already completed; I just need to find time to edit and update it. However, this also means that my recollection of what my headspace was like while writing it is pretty much nonexistent. Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

~Charlynn~




Serenity


Prologue

It wasn't quiet anymore.

While he could not remember what it was like before, he knew that all the various noises surrounding him, pressuring him, startling him were new. Whereas before there was nothing, now there was everything. Sounds and sights, smells and taste, touch. It was a constant assault of stimuli, and he wasn't sure if he could handle the chaos. He did know that he didn't like it.

“Oh, the poor dear!”

Again, more noise – a higher toned sound rising and falling as the jumbled racket seemed to come together to express... something. What the thing was saying, he wasn't sure, yet. Of all the confusing things battering against his mind, this one posed less of a risk to his safety, his sanity, he believed. Rather, at unpredictable intervals there was a steady, ominous ticking sound which would signify a rapid redirection of the metal cage he found himself trapped inside. And then there were also the routine but thankfully only temporary blindings for him to worry about as well. Every time his metal cage passed another, he was prevented from accessing his surroundings for a short moment, and sometimes those passing metal cages came so close to him that he felt their vibrations ricocheting through his form. It was disconcerting, and he knew unfamiliar. He wasn't supposed to be here. His existence wasn't like this, but, at the same time, it was the only thing he now knew.

“Phillip, look at him,” that same noise smacked his ears once more.

“I'm driving here, Diane,.” a deeper tone returned. Why couldn't these things communicate silently... in their minds, especially if they were going to insist upon making noises he didn't understand and didn't particularly enjoy listening to. “If I look at him, I'll more than likely wreck the car, and then where will the boy be.”

Boy. Male. Him.

Their disturbance was about him.

“I know, honey, but I just....” Suddenly, the noise rose in volume. “It just makes me so mad. Here we are, desperately trying to have a child together, and someone can just... throw away such a beautiful, innocent little boy. And he's obviously been traumatized, Phillip. Who knows how long he's been wandering out in the desert, he's as thin as a rail, and....” Thankfully, the racket lessened quite considerably. “... I think he's mute.” He hoped that would be the end of the back and forth sounds, but then the thing continued, “you don't think he's been... abused, do you?”

“We won't know anything until we get him to the sheriff's office. There, we'll start looking through all the local missing children, and social services will send someone to look over him medically. Diane, it'll be alright. We'll help the boy.”

“That's the last thing he needs – a cold, impersonal environment, more strangers, to be poked and prodded. Why can't we just take him home with us?”

The larger thing expelled breath harshly. “Diane, you know as well as I do that there are proper channels that things like this must go through.”

“Was it proper for someone to just... dump their child off in the middle of nowhere?!”

At that point, it all became too much. Between all the audible noise; the intermittent lights; the occasional vibrations; the acrid sting of scents bypassing his nose for the first time; the touch of his body against the solid surface beneath him, around him, behind him; and the cacophony of emotions swirling dangerously inside of him – some of his own and some being transmitted by the things before him and then absorbed into his own form, he simply couldn't maintain his control any longer. So, he did the only thing he could do: he allowed some of the stimuli to leak out of his form, their wet release leaving a trail down from his eyes to his face, dripping off his chin, and then continuing to roll their way down his nude body.

They made him shiver.

And still the sounds, and the sights, and the smells, and the tastes, and touches continued. There was no relief. The pressure continued to grow – choking him.

He wanted to go back. He missed the nothingness that is there in his mind from before, but, without understanding why he was aware of such a truth, he knew he would never be able to return to what and where he was before, and it would never be quiet again.




Chapter One

Max Evans was aware of what his fellow classmates thought of him.

Freak.

Weirdo.

Sociopath.

The Next Unabomber.


They had been calling him such names since he had started attending public school eight years prior. Though the old expression his mother had taught him when he was in third grade was true – sticks and stones and all that, Max was still uncomfortable with their scrutiny, and no one liked being completely ostracized... even someone as different as he was.

And that was perhaps the worst part of his life – being hated for the wrong reasons. While the students of West Roswell High weren't wrong in their judgements of him, they were wrong in their reasoning as to why he was the way he was. Everyone thought he was shy and socially awkward, the product of whatever his life had been like before he was adopted, but, even after countless hours of thinking, and dreaming, and – as lame as it sounded – soul searching, Max still didn't know who... or what he was before his parents had found him wandering naked in the desert that fated night. In fact, the real reason why he was so closed off was because he was so very desperate to connect with someone. His body actually yearned for companionship. It wanted to know others, and it wanted others to know him, but talk about further alienating himself from society... pun intended.

If Max was to listen to his body's imperatives and actually form a bond with another being, with a human, then he would once and for all truly expose himself. Compared to his fellow students' scrutiny now, if word got out just how very different he was, Max and what were believed to be his eccentricities would no longer be tolerated. His otherness would be revealed, the disdain he was treated with would suddenly become absolute horror and fear, and he would no doubt either be shipped off to some government facility to be tested or, if someone took mercy upon him, terminated. So, while he hated being alone, while it was a struggle to remain aloof and impersonal day after day after day, and while his body punished him religiously for ignoring its demands, Max knew he had no other choice but to keep himself separate from everyone else in his life. That meant no friends, no intimacy, and certainly no eye contact... with anyone, the latter being a lesson he had been forced to learn the hard way.

It was the night his parents had found him. At that point, Max still hadn't been capable of recognizing people for what they were; they were still merely things to him. Words had been noise, lights had equaled pain, smells had burned his nose, and the touch of anything against his bare skin, no matter how soft, irritated and pained him. But those discomforts had been nothing compared to the fear that had assaulted his confused and disoriented form when he had first met the gaze of someone else.

He had been sitting in what he now knew to be the sheriff's station, waiting for social services to arrive and begin processing his case. After their countless attempts to reach him had all been for nought, his parents had given up trying to communicate, and everyone else had seemed intimidated by him for some reason, so he was primarily left alone. But there had been one man – Jim Valenti – who had felt either confident enough or brave enough, still to this day Max wasn't sure, to reach out to him. The up-and-coming law enforcement officer had kneeled down before his then skinny, quaking form. He had lowered his already soft voice to speak to him in what he now had the foresight to recognize as a soothing tone, and he had tried to find ways to relate to Max.

Patiently, the young cop had told Max about his own son, a little boy about his same age. He had told him about a camping experience gone wrong when he had been lost for several hours alone in the desert as a boy, so he knew how how scary it was. And he had assured him that he was there to make things better – to protect him from whatever it was that had Max so scared. But it was the use of the word son which had prompted Max to lift his face from where it was buried in his own neck and regard the strong, dependable man before him. While he couldn't comprehend anything else the stranger was telling him, he had instinctively recognized the familiarity and felt comforted by it. Unfortunately, that small relief was soon replaced by absolute trepidation when his own scared yet curious gaze had connected with the sympathetic, watery blues staring back at him.

Without any prompting, images had assaulted his young mind. Max had seen the then deputy's devastation when his wife left him and their young son, his embarrassment over his crazy, alien-obsessed father, and how the older man's entire self-worth and self-confidence was wrapped up in his ability to do his job. While Max had only looked at the cop for a mere moment, he had seen enough to understand the person kneeling before him, and, even worse, that first and only connection with someone had been powerful enough to leave Jim Valenti gasping in shock and fright. Although Max had never found out what the now sheriff had seen when he looked into Max's eyes, he did know that, to this day, Valenti was leery of Max, suspicious of him. It probably didn't help matters that the sheriff's son was one of the teenagers who harassed Max the most at school – his popularity and athletic success demanding that he pick on those lower than him in the high school pecking order, and Max Evans was the lowest of the low at West Roswell High.

A hard shove catapulted Max out of his own reflective thoughts. “Watch it, psycho,” one of Kyle Valenti's friends warned him along with the push. It was either Pauly, or Nicky, or Tony – wannabe mob names for future delinquents all three were on a collision course to become. In their insufferable, intolerant, and mindless drone ways – after all, they were Kyle's flunkies, the three of them were so much alike that Max couldn't tell them apart. No great loss there, though.

Speaking of Valenti, though.... “Hey, don't send him in my direction,” the school's star athlete of the month... every month... protested when Max came close to bumping into him after being tossed about. Though he knew he could easily hold his own against any of the four of his harassers, he also knew that any violence between them would be looked upon as his fault, as the local crackpot finally exploding and taking it out on the kids he was supposed to be jealous of. It was ironic that, while the school, its guidance counselor, and its teachers continually tried to coax him from out behind his tree, as they called it, any move on his part to assert enough authority in an effort to be viewed as an equal, and he would immediately be shunned for being not only strange but also dangerous.

“I swear,” Kyle Valenti remarked caustically, “they need to make two different sets of halls for this place – one for those of us who can function in society and one for Maxie-boy here and all his special friends.”

Eyes firmly riveted to the floor and his hands tightly fisted into his front jeans pockets, Max did everything in his power to ignore the caustic words being flung in his direction. It wasn't so much their insulting meaning which infuriated him but the tones in which they were spoken. Filled with disgust and revulsion, Kyle's otherwise ignorable words – after all, they were nothing that Max had not heard a thousand times before from the jock and his ignorant buddies – were filled with emotions that were being transferred from the star quarterback and into Max. What was more, the four athletes had just come from morning football practice. They smelled like sweat, grass, and dirt – scents that were masked for others but not him by the even more cloying aromas of cologne and deodorant. The more his senses were bombarded, the further Max fell victim to them. Suddenly, he could taste the bleach laden cleaning products the janitor used nightly to disinfect the school's hallways, he could see the individual particles in the stone tiles beneath his feet, and his relatively loose fitting jeans and t-shirt had become much too tight and restrictive, chaffing his over-stimulated skin. And, like always when his body became over-sensitized, an incapacitating migraine rushed forward to further cripple his mind, nearly making Max double over in pain.

And then she was there.

“Kyle Valenti, if your father heard you say something like that....”

The threat went unfinished, but everyone – the six of them now standing there together and all the students pretending to be milling about busily while they were otherwise eavesdropping on just the latest 'let's-mock-Max-Evans-session' – knew exactly what Liz Parker was referring to. After all, Kyle's glass house – his commonly believed to be insane grandfather who lived in the local sanitarium – was very publicly known and gossiped about, especially now that Jim Jr., Kyle's father, had been named sheriff just like his alien-hunting father had been years prior before being stripped of the title due to his rapidly increasing paranoia concerning extraterrestrials. A few students snickered, too, at Liz's comment and Kyle's obvious discomfort over the pointed barb, especially since it seemed as though the town of Roswell was merely holding their breath and waiting for the son to emulate the father and start his own alien witch hunt, a further reason for Max to stay as far away from the Valentis as possible.

Still, despite being stood up to, Kyle couldn't completely back down. His reputation wouldn't allow it, especially not to a mere wisp of a girl. “Trust me, my father is perfectly aware of just how... different Evans is. In fact, he warned me years ago to stay away from Mental Max.”

Liz snorted, and Max found himself actually biting back a grin. With every word she spoke in his defense, his senses started to recede. “Yeah, because everyone knows that the Valenti family is never paranoid, right Kyle?” Then, she did the last thing he expected and literally dragged his left hand out of his pocket to clutch with her own tiny, right palm and delicate fingers. “Come on, Max, we need to get to AP Physics, and we wouldn't want the four stooges to be late for remedial science. After all, it's quite the jaunt to the special ed hallway.”

True, he didn't have friends, and, yes, it was true that the entire town looked upon him as a freak – maybe not as much as they would if they knew the truth of his origins but, still, he was ostracized, and it was even true that he had to remain aloof and distanced from his parents – perhaps the only two people in the world who loved him, the two people who unknowingly risked so much to bring him into their family, but at least he had his lab partner. He and Liz Parker weren't friends, but they weren't enemies either like every other West Roswell High student treated him. And, for Max, that was as close to a connection as he felt safe in making... for both of their sakes.
Last edited by oyhumbug on Thu May 01, 2014 8:19 pm, edited 6 times in total.





Thanks to _coccy_ for the gorgeous avie!

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Re: Serenity (AU, M/L, MATURE) Prologue & 1/13&Ep. - 03/07/2

Post by oyhumbug » Thu Mar 13, 2014 8:21 pm

A/N: Hello! As always, thanks so much for reading and responding. It's lovely to see that some people are enjoying this story. :-) As for your comments... The question of whether or not there are other aliens and, if so, who and where are they will come up. Not only will Liz defend Max to Kyle, but she'll be defending him to someone a little more surprising in this next post. However, she might not be the reason why Max's fears get allayed. Also, the sheriff will be seen again, and some more voices will be introduced in these next two chapters. Enjoy!

~Charlynn~





Chapter Two

“Babe, don't look now, but your Psycho Stalker is here. Again.”

From where he was sitting outside of the cafe, Max heard what Maria DeLuca said about him and flinched. If Liz felt that same way....”

“Ugh,” Liz groaned impatiently. Just as Max was about to stand up and leave his outdoor table, he heard her continue, “you'd think Kyle would get a clue already. While I understand that he's not used to girls turning him down....”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, back that train up, girlfriend,” Maria ordered. Max watched, amused, as Liz paused, looked up from where she was filling salt shakers from behind the counter, and regarded her best friend in what was clearly a confused manner. “First of all, there's a reason why girls don't turn down Kyle Valenti. He's like... the most sought-after guy in school, Liz!”

“Yeah... if you go for that type.”

“What type – the blue eyed, buff, and beef-cake of the month type? Uh. Yeah. Most sane teenage... and some not so teenage... girls do.”

Before this enlightening conversation that he was oh-so-secretively eavesdropping on, Max had been unaware that Kyle was pursuing Liz... not that he could blame the other guy. After all, Liz Parker was definitely pursuable. In fact, she was his dreamgirl, but that didn't necessarily mean that he liked knowing she was Kyle Valenti's dreamgirl as well. Although he knew better than to think that he would ever get to be with her, he was also reassured that Liz was obviously not interested in the star quarterback. The star wrestler. The star point guard. And the star short stop.

“He's also self-absorbed, rude, has absolutely no ambition past being the most decorated high school athlete the county has ever seen, and is mean to... to those less... fortunate.”

“Ha,” Maria sarcastically shot back with a bark of laughter. “You mean that he shoves the socially inept into lockers.” As she moved around the counter to stand next to Liz, Maria continued, “Babe, that's called the high school pecking order. If someone like Kyle didn't do that, it'd be like... living in the twilight zone or something.”

“I'm sure Alex would be interested in this view of yours.”

“Hey, don't bring Alex into this. Kyle only shoved him into a locker once, and that was back in middle school.”

“Hmm... so what you're saying is that Kyle still acts like an immature child.” Liz weighed her own interpretation of her best friend's remark thoughtfully, clearly frustrating Maria from where Max sat and watched the two girls surreptitiously. “Yeah, I'd say that's a fairly accurate conclusion.”

“Okay, we're getting way off track here, Chica,” Maria lamented. “Whether I think you're insane or not for turning down Kyle's advances, that's not who I meant when I said you had a not-so-secret admirer drooling over you outside. Drooling being the important word in that sentence... and I don't mean in a lascivious way either; I'm talking a mad-hatter, eat your own hair, nuttier than my mother's fruitcake kind of way.”

When Liz didn't respond, Max's gaze flew towards the large, glass window on his right. Instead of finding that the two girls had moved into the back of the restaurant like he had assumed, he saw Liz Parker glaring at her best friend, while Maria DeLuca stared back in incredulous innocence.

“What,” Maria demanded.

“Max is not crazy! He's....”

“He's what, Liz?”

“He's nice.”

Before he could contemplate the meaning of that statement, the two girls were already pushing forward in their conversation, and he had to set aside is own thoughts in order to focus upon what they were saying. “Sweetie, while I realize that you're one of those annoyingly positive people who doesn't like to gossip – how we became friends, I still have yet to completely comprehend, but,” and here Maria sighed exaggeratedly, “Max Evans is a few crayons short of a complete box.”

“Yes, he's shy,” Liz still continued to defend him, but her best friend soon plowed over her and was once more talking.

“Liz, shy doesn't even break the surface of what Max Evans is. Do you realize that I've never once seen the guy make eye contact with anyone? Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if he wore an eye patch, or was a cyclops, or had freaky red, rat eyes for all we know, because he never looks at anyone long enough for them to see what he looks like.”

“And what do his looks have to do with anything, Maria,” Liz chastised her best friend. Max could see Maria finally back down, the disappointment in Liz's tone ringing pointedly for anyone listening to hear. “I know that Max is quiet, that he refuses to make eye contact with people, that he doesn't really talk to anyone, but I also know that he's kind. He'll hold the door open behind him for anyone and not just a cool, cute, or popular kid. He's the first person to stop and help somebody who's dropped their books... not that most people will accept his help, and he's so smart, Maria.”

“Well, he'd have to be if he was your lab partner,” Liz's best friend conceded slightly.

“Of all the people I know, you were the last person who I thought would poke fun at Max for being different,” Liz continued, not even acknowledging the other girl's teasing remark. “Your mom had you as an unwed teenager. Your father took off, and, for years, you were taunted for that, Maria. Yes, you're much more socially evolved than Max, but how many times did you come to me crying in elementary school, in middle school, and, yes, even some in high school because of the things you heard some of the more popular girls whispering about you not quite behind your back?”

“Okay, you're right,” Maria agreed. “I was being an awful wench, but, bouts of tears or not, I can function in society. Max can't, and it's not like we're kids anymore. He can''t really use that whole excuse anymore that he's the boy who was found wandering naked in the desert, abandoned. He's been living with the Evans for more than ten years; he's been coming to school with us for eight. We're seniors, Liz. If he can't hack it in high school, how the hell is he going to hack it in the real world? He's just not like the rest of us; he's just not... normal.”

“If Roswell is normal, then the earth has more problems than I thought.”

“Alright, point taken, Chica, but still,” Maria persisted in arguing. “Just look at him out there.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Liz's best friend wave in his direction where he sat at one of the CrashDown's outside, patio tables. With his books spread out around him, he looked like he was merely doing his homework, but, in truth, the heavy texts were simply his cover so that he could spend a little more time in Liz's Parker's general vicinity.

“I mean, he comes here every day after school, sits out there by himself, and does his homework. First of all, who in the world actually does their homework?” Because Maria was on a rant, she failed to consider just who she was talking to: the future valedictorian of their high school class, the girl who had never once failed to complete a homework assignment. “And here's the kicker,” Maria proceeded to steamroll forward, “he never orders anything. Anything! He takes up an entire table, no doubt scaring other patrons away with his Quasimodo act, and never spends a dime. The only reason your dad doesn't say anything is because the Evans are a prominent family in this town, and Mrs. Evans orders take out from here at least once a week. Anyway, it's creepy. I mean, doesn't it weird you out, Liz? I'm not even the one he so obviously likes, yet I'm still freaked by his...”

“By his what,” Liz countered. “By his silence? By his gentleness? By his absolute obliviousness towards us?”

“Yes. Definitely. I choose D: all the above.”

“And besides, Maria, Max Evans doesn't like me.”

“If you call him wanting to crawl into your skin and become the first man to ever have a woman's babies not liking you, then, sure; whatever you say.”

Liz leveled her best friend with a narrowed glance. “Have you been watching late night movies on the Sy-Fy channel again, Maria?”

“I can't help it! They're so bad, they're good!”

“Yeah, and they make you even more paranoid than you already are, no small feat.”

“Hey, I resent that, Liz,” Maria called after Max's dreamgirl as the two of them moved from behind the counter and approached the swinging doors which would take them into the back of the cafe. “When you live in a town like Roswell, it's not paranoia; it's being prepared for the inevitable.”

And those were the last words he heard from the two girls. Though his heightened senses would have been able to detect the sounds of their voices if he strained to listen into their conversation further, doing so would only ratchet up his other senses as well, and the last thing Max wanted was yet another sensory-induced migraine. Besides, that afternoon had been far more than he had expected already. To hear the wonderful things that Liz Parker had said about him had been amazing... even if they were partnered with everything horrible though no less than insightful that Maria had uttered. The truth of the matter was that her assessment of his character was far more accurate than what he would ever want Liz to realize, especially her reasoning as to why he came to the CrashDown day after day after day yet never stepped foot inside. Sure, Maria didn't know that the crushing level of stimuli inside of the small restaurant would have been enough to probably send his mind into permanent overload once and for all, so it was impossible for him to step foot inside, eat a piece of Men in Blackberry pie, or actually talk to Liz, but everything else she had said had been spot on.

Well... except for the whole part about him wanting to have Liz Parker's babies. While he might be on the slippery downward slope of crazy, he wasn't certifiable. No, in his fantasies, Liz was definitely the one who gave birth to their children; not him.

Standing from his favorite table, the one which afforded him the best all-around glimpse into the diner, Max slid his books into his backpack, took a deep breath, and prepared for yet another night of disappointing his parents.
; : ;
Sometimes he wondered what it would be like to have a sibling, someone who could distract his parents from their disappointment in him, someone who could share the burden of being Phillip and Diane Evans' child. Given his otherworldly status, the chances that any other adopted child brought into their family would be like him were infinitesimal. So, Max would have a human brother or sister, meaning that, while he'd never be able to be close to said sibling, he'd also have an out when it came to his parents. He loved and appreciated them, admired them both for their generosity and warmth. After all, as far as he could see it, his presence in their life had been nothing but burdensome since he had nearly caused them to wreck their car on their way home from going out to dinner on that long-ago, fateful night. But he was also incapable of being the child they both really wanted. At least if he had a human brother or sister, the pressure for him to be... just more than he was... would be lessened if not altogether removed. Though his parents had never actually told him that he was a letdown in the kid department, it was just one of those things that Max could sense, similar to how he had always known that he didn't belong there – with the Evans living on Murray lane. In Roswell. On earth.

When he had been found, he had been nothing more than an overgrown infant. Despite having the body of a six year old, Max's mentality and basic motor skills had been as advanced as a baby's. He couldn't speak, couldn't comprehend language, couldn't feed himself, dress himself, wash himself, and he certainly couldn't recognize his body's needs like when to use the restroom. He had been helpless and even more difficult to care for than a newborn, because, unlike a baby's small size, his parents had been forced to wrestle with and carry the burden of a nearly four foot tall, forty pound child. Despite this ineptitude, the one thing that Max had known, even back then, was that he was alien: a resident born in or belonging to another country who has not acquired citizenship by naturalization; a foreigner; a person who has been estranged or excluded; a creature from outer space; extraterrestrial. Yes, not even human but a creature. Whereas he had looked upon the people surrounding him as unknown entities, as things, he was even lower than that; he was merely an it.

“Maxwell!”

Startled out of his thoughts by his father's raised voice, Max looked up from his dinner plate where he had been shuffling about his dinner – not really eating the food but attempting to make his mother think that he was. However, like always, he refused to meet his father's eyes and, instead, focused on a point somewhere over the older man's left shoulder. The avoidance simply further ratcheted up his dad's annoyance to an even higher level.

“Have you heard a single word that your mother has been saying to you,” Phillip Evans demanded.

Sheepishly, Max shook his head no, dropping his gaze once more to his plate and then to his lap. “Sorry, mom,” he apologized softly yet sincerely. “I was... I was just....”

“That's alright, honey.” Of the two of his parents, his mother was more lenient, more understanding of his, as she called them, quirks. Hell, sometimes she even claimed that his shyness was endearing, though Max suspected she was either in denial or simply too kind and fearful of damaging him even more to say anything harsh or reprimanding. “I was just commenting upon how impressive your schedule is this year – four AP classes, plus you elected to take several other classes as well, despite the fact that you already technically have enough credits to graduate.”

“I like school,” he sheepishly admitted, shrugging the shoulders. And it was the truth. School, despite the brashness of his fellow students and the curiosity of the administrators, was a haven for Max. Sure, he still didn't fit in there, but at least he didn't care whether or not he disappointed a bunch of teenagers and a few adults he'd never see again once he went off to college. Plus, school was where he had first met Liz Parker, and school was where he could manipulate his schedule so that he could spend his entire day with her. Granted, he liked to learn. He found it both helpful – after all, the ways of earth didn't come naturally to him – and distracting, especially English, for it was nice sometimes to shed his own skin and live vicariously through the characters which came alive in the pages of books, but nobody, besides one Elizabeth Claudia Parker, would voluntarily take AP Physics, AP Calculus, AP Government and Current Affairs, AP History, Psychology, Sociology, and Spanish IV.

There were some days when they didn't even get to go to lunch... not that Max minded, because their labs would run over, and they'd be forced to eat together while finishing their experiments... well, Liz would be forced to eat with him; Max, on those days, felt like he had been given a rare and beautiful prize. However, his parents did not need to know about his infatuation with Liz, because it would only encourage them, make them think that he was finally coming out of his shell when that conclusion couldn't be further from the truth. His fascination with Liz only made him realize just that much more how important it was for Max to remain safely hidden away, far from where anyone could hurt him and, more importantly, far from where anyone could hurt those few people in this world that he cared about.

“We just wish that you would... branch out a little bit,” his mother continued. Though her voice was soft, due to their close proximity and Max's heightened senses, it felt like she was screaming inside of his mind, her voice reverberating around his skull and pounding his already abused brain. “Maybe try something artistic, either sculpture or theatre. And we know that you're athletically talented, Max. You're a senior this year. If you don't try out for the basketball team this winter, then you'll never have another chance to.”

“Mom, you're lucky if I don't break your dishes, and now you expect me to make my own?”

Even his father chuckled at that. “He has a point, Diane.”

“But what about theatre,” she persisted. “You're so handsome, Max. I could just imagine you on stage, wooing a young Juliet or....”

He stopped her before she could become even more delusional. “No.” As his mother took a deep breath, preparing for yet another assault, Max spoke preemptively. “And we've already talked about the sports thing. They'd take too much time away from my studies, and you know I don't like crowds.”

Now, that was an understatement.

“Son, the point your mother is trying to make is that you need to branch out a little. While we're proud of your academics and while we know that your transcript is impressive, colleges want more from prospective students than just a stellar GPA. They want to see that a kid is involved in extracurricular activities, in his or her community. Besides, it wouldn't hurt for you to become more involved, maybe... make some friends.”

Lamely, he retorted, “I'm... fine.”

“We know this is hard for you to hear, honey,” his mom started only to be cut off by his father.

“... but you're nearly eighteen, Max, and, soon, your mother and I won't be around to coddle you anymore.”

“Phillip,” Diane gasped, protesting her husband's harsh way of expressing what they both actually felt to be the truth. They knew it, and Max did as well.

“No,” his dad argued, knowing that his wife believed he had gone too far. “He needs to hear this.” Turning back to Max, he continued, “maybe some of your problems are our fault. We've known for years that there's something... holding you back, but I guess we just hoped that if we loved you and supported you enough that you'd either heal or, at least, move on. Obviously, we were wrong.”

“It's not your...,” he tried to reassure them, but his dad held up a silencing hand, and Max allowed him to press on.

“The bottom line here, son, is that we're worried about you. Yes, you're smart, but what the hell kind of future are you going to have if you can't hold a conversation with your boss or meet your coworkers' eyes? And don't even get me started on your personal life. While I realize that most parents don't lament the fact if their child is less than... promiscuous, you're seventeen, Max, and you have never once showed any interest in girls. At this point, if you were gay, your mother and I would be relieved, because at least we'd have an explanation as to why you are... the way you are, but we don't believe that to be the case. We've already given up on the hope of you ever marrying, of you ever giving us grandchildren, but we haven't given up on you yet, son. No matter what, your mother and I will always love you. You are our only child, and we feel blessed that we were able to find each other all those years ago. At the same time, though, you can't go on like this; we... as a family... can't go on like this anymore. There needs to be some changes.”

His dad was right... about everything, but that still didn't mean that Max wanted to hear what his father had to say, and it certainly didn't mean that he knew of a way to fix the mess that was his life. Resolutely avoiding his parents' probing gazes, Max whispered, “may I be excused, please?”

“Sweetheart, you've barely touched your food,” his mother protested, reaching out to lay a trembling hand against his arm. Max flinched away from her. Glaringly, he could hear his mom sniffle in response.

“And what about everything that we've said here tonight, son,” his father wanted to know.

“I, uh... I have a lot of homework to do,” he offered lamely.

His dad sighed then, already resigned to the fact that the had wasted his breath in attempting to talk to him. “Fine. Go,” he wearily replied. “But we're not finished here.”

A part of Max wanted to tell him that they had been finished the moment they had found and picked him up off the side of the road, but he couldn't crush his parents like that. Not yet. While he was resigned to the hopelessness that was his future, he would spare his mom and dad from that pain for as long as possible, though he feared that he wouldn't be able to shelter them for much longer. It felt as though he was walking across a tight rope, and any one singular misstep would take him and his family plummeting downwards, only there was no safety net below to catch them. No, when the Evans family eventually slipped, and, really, such a tragedy was inevitable, Max believed, they would be free-falling.




Chapter Three

Liz was absent.

While Max assumed that she was sick – after all, she had sneezed seven times during the course of the day before, and he knew that Liz wasn't someone to just skip school for no good reason, he also couldn't locate Maria, and Maria DeLuca, unlike her best friend and Max's dreamgirl, was someone who would take advantage of any excuse to miss class. Because he wanted to find out for himself where Liz was and, if she was sick, how she was doing, he had been looking for Maria during his entire lunch period. Physics had not run over that day. However, Maria was missing in action, lending credence to his thoughts that perhaps the flighty blonde had talked Liz into going on some all-day adventure with her that did not require them stepping foot inside the halls of West Roswell High, but, before Max accepted the finality of his own conclusions, he had one last recourse of action: follow Alexander Whitman, for, usually, wherever Liz and Maria went, Alex soon followed.

Eventually, his actions found him standing outside of the band room, eavesdropping once more. While Max was aware of the eraser room acting as a hideout for his fellow students, for Pam Troy made sure that everyone – including the lowest of the low at their school – knew about the eraser room, up until that moment, he had not known that the band room was also a popular place to duck into when one did not want to be found. Considering that the band room would come with considerably less connotations, Max made a mental note of his discovery.

“What are you doing in here, Maria,” Alex demanded to know. Sure, Max had been looking for her, too, but the other man sounded both desperate and annoyed. Obviously, something more was afloat than Liz merely having a cold. “Team Parker needs your attitude and big mouth out there.”

In an obvious affront, Maria denied, “I have no idea what you're talking about.”

“Oh, so you want me to believe that you – Queen of the Gossip – have not heard the rumors about Liz going around school today?”

Rumors, Max questioned himself. Despite his outsider status, he usually knew everything that was going on around him, simply because of his enhanced abilities. Obviously, worrying about his lab partner had been far more distracting than he had previously realized.

When Maria didn't respond, Alex continued, his voice raising in both volume and pitch as his frustration continued to rise. “I don't get you, DeLuca? How can you sit in here... doing your nails, of all things, while our best friend is being raked over the Kyle Valenti coals.”

Why did it not surprise Max that Valenti was somehow involved in whatever catastrophe was bothering Alex.

“It's for her own good,” Maria proclaimed.

“Excuse me,” Alex demanded. Repeating himself with even more aplomb, he said, “excuse me,” once more before launching into his attack. “How can the lie that Liz slept with Kyle last night and he wore her out so much that she's at home sleeping it off today be good for our best friend?”

“Because hopefully Maniac Max will hear the rumor and stop lusting after Liz.”

“Wait a tick,” Alex ordered her. “What in the world does this have to do with Max Evans?”

“He's in love with Liz.”

“And you think that's worse than the entire school thinking that Liz is now just another notch on Kyle's skanky bedpost?” There was evident disbelief and astonishment peppering the other man's words. “Max at least has a brain, and, according to Liz, he's kind. Kyle's an idiot and a bully, Maria. I thought you hated him.”

“Yeah, well,” she defended her stance upon the situation, “at least he doesn't make me nervous like Max does.”

Deadpan, Alex retorted, “Maria, mullets make you nervous.”

“And for good reason,” the blonde argued. Max could detect a note of self-righteousness in her tone, and, if it wasn't for the situation and how irate Kyle's antics made him, he might have even laughed at the ridiculous... discussion being held between the two eccentric friends. Liz certainly ran with an interesting crowd. “That whole business in the front, party in the back mentality is just creepy. I mean, if the hairstyle has multiple personalities, I don't even want to know what's going on under the scalp... if you know what I mean.”

“The fact that you can even refer to the mullet as a hairstyle disturbs me,” Alex returned.

“That's so not the point,” Maria whined.

“And if you would ever have one, DeLuca, I think we'd have to shut down the town and declare a new national holiday.” There was a slight pause and then a loud shriek on Alex's part. “Hey, what the hell was that? You just pinched my nipple!”

“It's called a nurple. Read the urban dictionary.”

“Can we please get back to the reason why I hunted your abusive self down: Liz, Kyle, the damage you're allowing her reputation to suffer while you cower away in the band room. I've done all I could. I hacked into the temporary webpage one of Kyle's idiot friends made during computer class this morning – I mean, really, who uses the password boobs anyway, a five year old? – and changed the message. It now says that, when Kyle flashed Liz last night, she had to squint and strain her eyes so much to see what was being uninvitingly displayed before her that she's now in bed with a migraine. But that's not enough, Maria. Like I said, Team Parker needs your help, and, whether you think that this rumor is a good thing or not, Liz wouldn't, and, seeing as how you claim to be her best friend, it's your duty to set Kyle Valenti and his pea-brained posse straight.”

“Ugh, you're right,” Max could hear Maria concede, and he sighed silently in relief. “Besides, I have a feeling that Max Evans' obsession with Liz could not be diminished by a rumor started by Kyle of all people.”

As he ducked behind the protruding edge of a row of lockers so that Liz's friends wouldn't see him and know that he had been listening in on their conversation, he heard Alex shoot back, “and people say your'e slow, DeLuca.”

That earned him another bruise from his vicious friend – this time, an elbow to the ribs. The two skipped off quickly, though – Maria rambling; Alex bemoaning the abuse he suffered at her hands, and Max was left not only without the answers he had initially sought but also a ball of fury churning in his stomach and quickly escalating senses and emotions, and, without Liz there to temper him, he knew that it was going to be a very long afternoon. He'd be lucky to make it home after school. If the pounding in his head was any indication of what his migraine was going to be like by the end of the day, he was in for a world of pain.
; : ;
Max wasn't sure if he would make it home before being sick.

He should have just left school early. Between the fact that he had nearly a perfect attendance record and his obvious discomfort, it would have been quite simple and easy to convince the school nurse that he wasn't feeling well. But, because Liz was sick, he wanted to make sure that he took excellent notes for her. With their identical schedules and his status as her lab partner, the chances were good that she would ask to see his notes, not only for physics but for their entire schedule. For that kind of interaction with his dreamgirl, Max would have done just about anything... including pushing his body near to its breaking point.

Because of his powers, he should have been able to heal any of his body's discomforts, but the headaches he suffered from were a different story. Not only were they the product of his own abilities, but healing his migraines would have been an exercise in futility. As soon as he sent the soothing warmth towards his pounding skull, the lights around him would just become too bright once more, the noises too loud, the aromas too pungent and powerful, the tastes floating through the air too overwhelming, and the touches his body had to endure too rough against his sensitive skin. And Max wasn't sure what caused his senses to be so strong... besides his other-worldly status, so, as far as he knew, there was nothing he could do to dial back either his body's capabilities or its reactions to the overabundant stimuli. Blocking his environment only went so far.

So, there he was, barely cognizant of his surroundings as he sped through the residential streets of Roswell, hoping that he would make it to Murray Lane, his home, and his bedroom before becoming sick. The last thing he wanted to do was throw up. Even as an alien, that, in Max's opinion, had to be one of the most unpleasant experiences. Then, to make matters worse, if his mother found out that he had gotten sick, something that had, as far as she was aware, never happened before to her son, he didn't even want to contemplate the hovering which would be the result, let alone how he would be able to dissuade his mom from taking him to the doctor's.

No, he needed to get home as soon as possible, and he needed to keep as much about himself hidden as he could.

As a loud siren smashed against his already tender eardrums and flashing red and blue lights pierced his stinging irises, Max had to slam on the brakes and close his eyes in order to avoid being sick all over himself. Luckily, such a quick reaction to the police officer behind him was expected, so he didn't raise further suspicion in stopping so suddenly. Usually, any brush with the law would cause sheer panic to flood Max's system, but, on that particular afternoon, the concern ranked rather low on his list of worries. In fact, he didn't even take a moment to glance into his rearview mirror in order to see which of Roswell's finest had pulled him over.

“License and registra...,” the familiar voice, uttering those predictable words, trailed off unexpectedly. “Mr. Evans, are you alright,” Jim Valenti, Sheriff Jim Valenti, asked. Despite the older man's wariness towards Max, there was concern laced throughout his question.

He didn't even try to mask his discomfort and desperation. “Sick,” Max offered as his answer.

“Well, I'd heard there's some new bug going around. Stopped in at the CrashDown this morning for my daily thermos of coffee, and Jeff told me that his Lizzie was down for the count as well. But, son, really, if you're feeling that poorly, perhaps you should just sit tight, and we'll call one of your parents to come and pick you up.”

Taking several deep breaths, knowing that he would need to brace himself in order to explain his actions and to convince the Sheriff that he didn't need a parental escort to make it just one more block to his house, Max eventually stated, “I live just around the corner. I'm sorry that I was speeding, but I wanted to make it home before I... before I felt worse.”

“School just let out, though,” Valenti wouldn't relent; he continued to chastise Max. “There are kids all over these streets, and it wouldn't take much for one to run out in front of you or some other passing driver. That's why we keep the speed limits in these sorts of communities so low. Since you're practically home, however, I'll let it slide this time. Just watch your speed from now on, Mr. Evans... even if you are feeling ill. Remember, arrive alive.”

“Yes, sir,” he nodded, already reaching down to release his jeep's brake and put the vehicle back into drive. With one last tip of his head in the sheriff's direction, the small movement taking considerable effort on his ailing part, Max pulled away from the curb, careful to keep his speed even lower than that which was posted. Even as he made the turn onto his own road, he could feel the Sheriff watching him from where he still stood in the street, his aviator shades blocking his penetrating gaze, and his cowboy hat pulled low to leave his face in shadow. If there was one person he had ever met who made Max anxious, it was Jim Valenti. Being in the police officer's presence only strengthened his resolve to remain aloof and distanced from the rest of society.
; : ;
Of all the nights for his parents to host a dinner party....

Of all the nights for Max to forget that his parents were hosting a dinner party....

It was a family rule: everyone had to clearly post their schedules on the large, kitchen planner. His dad penciled in his court cases so that they would know when he would be late and to start dinner without him. His mom marked her various committees and boards, enlightening Max and his father when they would be on their own to figure out something to eat for supper. And Max... well, Max didn't write anything on the calendar, but that didn't mean that he wasn't aware of its purpose and how it could be used to his benefit. For example, if he knew in advance that his parents were hosting a dinner party, he would conveniently find an excuse to stay away from home on that particular evening. Whether it was some bogus school event or a made-up group project, he would skip out on the torture sessions disguised as social get-togethers, and his parents were never the wiser that he really spent his time sitting outside of the CrashDown or driving around aimlessly in the desert.

But Max had failed to do his due diligence, and, now, migraine still blazing away, he was consequently suffering.

After narrowly escaping the Sheriff that afternoon, he had stumbled into his house and then his room, blackened out the window as much as possible with his drapes, and then collapsed on top of his bed for a blissful, peaceful thee hour nap. And then all hell had broken loose. Without even knocking on his door, his mother had breezed in at a quarter after six, rousing him by talking a mile a minute. Though she had dinner in the oven already, she still had to get ready, and there was so much to do... or so she had said. Plus, in her own words, she looked a fright, which left Max to play event coordinator while his mom showered, dressed, and primped. He set the table, filled the liquor decanters in his father's office, put away all the clutter and paraphernalia any family acquired throughout a busy work and school week, turned off the oven a good ten minutes before his mother had told him to so that she didn't burn dinner – a trick he had learned soon after Phillip and Diane Evans had officially adopted him, and then attempted (and failed) to make himself look more presentable, but there was only so much a comb could do for his unruly hair and only so much effort that any teenager, human or not, would put forth in such a situation.

Fortunately, on the nights that his parents hosted dinner parties, Max wasn't expected to sit through the entire evening with the adults. Essentially, his mom and dad asked that he put in an appearance. He had to help them by opening the door, hanging the guests' coats, and, in general, behave like any well-adjusted and respectful son. While his patience with his parents' requests could only go so far – after all, there would never be any eye contact made between Max and his dad's lawyer buddies, and he certainly wouldn't allow his mother's friends to pinch his cheeks or fawn all over him, luckily, the men and women his parents socialized with seemed to pay him little interest. The guys were too consumed with escaping their wives and getting their hands on his dad's scotch and cigars, and the women too focused on gossiping and bad-mouthing their indifferent husbands. So, usually, after an hour of so of fake pleasantries and even more phony smiles on Max's part, his mom would take pity on him, and he would be excused to eat dinner alone in his room. Even with the reprieve, the evenings were unbearable, hence his usual deceptions, but, on that particular night, Max had failed to take the necessary precautions, and, now, he was paying the consequences.

And they didn't come cheap.

Twenty minutes into the soiree, and Max was seriously considering allowing himself to be sick – not only for the satisfaction he would receive from ruining a pair of his dad's business associate's fine, Italian leather loafers but also so he could escape early. At that point, the consequences seemed worth it. He would have gladly put up with his mother's coddling if it meant getting far away from the cigar smoke clouding his dad's study. The pungent aroma smoldered in his nose, made tears come to his eyes, and he could even taste the fumes on his tongue, further worsening his already rebelliously rolling stomach. Hell, he could even feel the vapor settling heavily upon his skin. And the attack didn't end there. He also had to contend with the jovial, self-congratulatory male boasting and laughter, and the sound of the ice rattling around the crystal glassware the guys used to drink their imported scotch was like nails on a chalkboard – grating, piercing, chill inducing.

Blindly, he reached for his glass. Unlike the three older men sitting around him in the circle of leather club chairs, Max's cup had water. He hoped that the cool liquid would ease his mouth's distaste and settle his unruly stomach, but the slight movement cost him in his fragile state, so he proceeded cautiously, not only to economize his actions but also to prevent his own ice from hitting the sides of his crystal tumbler. He drank greedily, downing the contents in a single gulp. It wasn't until he gasped and felt his father pounding him solidly on the back that Max realized what he had inadvertently done.

He had grabbed the wrong glass.

Rather than his own tumbler full of water, he had consumed his dad's entire glass of scotch. The strong liquor left a burning trail over his tongue, down his throat, and it was rapidly spreading throughout his stomach. For a short moment, Max started to panic. Unlike most other kids his age, he had never experimented with alcohol before. It had been another unknown in his life – how his body would react to the foreign, potent substance, and, like many rites of passages for teenagers, it had been a risk he simply couldn't take. What if he had a bad chemical reaction and revealed himself? Relieving a little teenage angst, or rebelling, or even simply taking a drink to fit in had never been good enough reasons for Max to take such a chance. But, now, it was too late. All his common sense and rational thinking was tossed out the window with one foolish, accidental mistake, and, rather than drinking a beer, he had gone in full steam, imbibing, even if unintentionally, on an entire cup full of one of the strongest, most potent liquors made.

The room around him seemed to wait for his response. His father's good ol' boys sat poised at the edge of their seats, curious as to how their friend's strange kid would react. Max could feel his father's hesitant suspension, unsure if he should merely laugh the situation off or be worried, and even the dense cloud of cigar smoke hovered above them, no longer eddying in and about the room thanks to the dull, desert breeze which had suddenly died down as if in acknowledgement of this momentous moment in Max Evans' life.

And then Max smiled.

Lifting his head, for the first time in his life, he met his father's gaze, shocking the older gentleman into falling back into his seat and reaching for the decanter to pour himself – and Max – another glass of scotch. Granted, Max's tumbler only contained a finger while his dad's was much more generously filled, but as they clinked their glasses together and shared a grin of camaraderie, Max didn't care about... well, anything.

“To my son's first drink as a man,” Phillip Evans toasted proudly, earning chuckles from his friends. “Just don't tell your mother.”

Together, Max sipped his scotch with his dad, but his mind was far from the inside of his father's study. Rather, it was contemplating the ramifications his by chance yet fortuitous discovery had revealed. With alcohol flowing steadily through his blood stream, Max felt... normal... or, at least, what he assumed was normal. His senses were dampened, and his powers were tucked neatly away so that he could function without his usual awkwardness or discomfort. As long as the liquor's affects weren't a one time thing, he could drink in order to better blend in. He could actually lift his head while walking down through the halls of West Roswell High. He could hold conversations with his classmates, play contact sports, and go into the CrashDown; he could be the boy – no, the man – that Liz Parker needed and deserved... if only she would have him. Even if she wouldn't, he could be her friend, not just her lab partner but a real honest to goodness friend – someone she spent time with outside of school, someone she went to the movies with, someone she invited over to chill and hang out with on her balcony, and that was far more than Max had ever even allowed himself to dream about in the past.

And the best thing was that, if he played his cards right, no one would ever know. Using his powers, he'd be able to transform everyday, legal beverages into alcohol. The milk in his morning cereal could become gin. His apple juice at lunch could become vodka. And his preferred cherry cola could be mixed surreptitiously with alien-magicked whiskey. Max wouldn't have to sneak into his parents' liquor cabinet and steal their booze, and he wouldn't have to pay the homeless man down on Vine Street to buy his beer like he knew the other kids in his class did. No, for the first time in his life, he was going to make his differentness work to his advantage.

Max Evans had never felt so free.





Thanks to _coccy_ for the gorgeous avie!

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Re: Serenity (AU, M/L, MATURE) 2 & 3/13 & Ep. - 03/13/2014

Post by oyhumbug » Mon Mar 17, 2014 7:14 pm

A/N: Don't be too hard on Maria. While, yes, she's not very nice towards Max, it's part concern for Liz and part her Maria-snark. And it'll be seen again in this post as well, so keep this in mind. As for what's motivating Max's actions, yes, his parents play a role, but, as it will become apparent in this post, it's all about Liz Parker. Many things are different in this story, but that remains a constant. Now, onto Max's little new habit... Will he be able to control it? Well, I won't keep you in suspense long. That will be revealed in this post, too. Thanks for reading and commenting. :-) Enjoy!

~Charlynn~




Chapter Four

The name of the game, for Max, was moderation. Baby steps. Neither was he overly buffering his hyper-sensitivity nor was he inserting himself too forwardly into the normal teenage life he had hidden away from for so long. Total immersion would have been a culture shock, not to mention the fact that more than a few eyebrows would have been raised by his rapid turnabout, especially with no outward warning or explanation for his sudden and total personality shift. So, he kept his drinking to a minimum – sips here and there between classes just to take the edge off of the mental and emotional torture which used to be his life, and he made small changes to his behavior and habits, slowly adjusting to the newly found freedom alcohol allowed him and allowing his fellow classmates and teachers to acclimate themselves without noticing that anything was overtly different.

So far, it had been three weeks. In that time, Max had stopped finding empty classrooms to eat his lunch alone in. Now, he ventured out into the courtyard. Though he still didn't sit or talk with anyone else, his presence was now felt, and he found it fascinating to watch his fellow teenagers. Granted, he had been watching Liz for years, but that habit was for personal enjoyment; his new tendency to observe had less to do with actual interest and more to do with curiosity. He had been outside of society for so long, Max had quickly realized that he didn't really know how it worked. So he watched, and he studied, and he memorized all in preparation, for soon he would start to mimic those universally accepted behaviors. Yes, drinking was going to allow him to come out of his shell, but he wasn't looking for even more notoriety – albeit this time for an entirely different reason. No, Max's plan was to blend in by being average... well, mostly average. He still had to maintain his grades in order to remain in all of the same classes as Liz and to remain her lab partner, and there was a part of him which, just once, wanted to best Kyle Valenti, to put the conceited, overly-praised jock in his place.

But that would come later. First and foremost, Max had other battles to wage and win. To both please his mom and make his entrance into the social aspects of high school more seamless, he had started to attend meetings with the school's guidance counselor. Together, they were sorting through college options, working on applications, and determining ways in which Max could show that, though a late bloomer – the guidance counselor's words, not his, he could still be an integral part of any campus' student life. So, now he was a member of the National Honor Society, he had joined the environmental club, and he was even on a committee which planned the senior class' trip. It didn't hurt matters that Liz belonged to every single one of his extracurriculars as well, only she was a member of several additional groups and clubs as well. Now that he was more visible in a very muted way, Max's next step was to attempt conversations with his classmates, perhaps even form a friendship or two. The only problem was that there was only one person he was interested in befriending... and he wasn't sure if he could separate and keep private his deeper feelings for Liz if he was allowed to spend actual time with her. The temptation she posed to him was simply that great.

As he sat pondering the object of his affections, she walked – or, more accurately, steamrolled through the door to their shared psychology classroom, bogged down with her always bulging book bag, a stack of barely contained papers, and several rolled up posters which were almost as big as she was. She looked harried as well – her cheeks flushed, her hair awry, and her gaze overwhelmed. It was shocking to see her in such a state, for Liz was always so poised and polished, so put together. Not that it dulled Max's regard for her any – he was pretty sure nothing ever could, but, still, his own thoughts immediately disappeared, and he became concerned for his dreamgirl.

Standing up, he shuffled in place, pushing his hands into and then pulling them out of his jeans' pockets, unsure of what to do or what to say. Eventually, as she approached him and the table they shared with a third student who was either absent, late for class, or just plain skipping (much to Max's pleasure), he found himself ineptly sighing her name, “Liz...,” a question lingering in his tone but going unvoiced.

Like always, though, Liz smoothed over his inadequacies. “Ugh,” she groaned, lifting her arms in the classic gesture of weight transfer. Automatically, he took her papers from her, papers he quickly noticed were flyers advertising a student council dance, and she began to talk. “Hi, Max, and thanks. I've just had it with today already, you know? If you hadn't been standing there, waiting to help, I'm pretty sure I just would have said 'forget this,' dropped all my stuff, and had myself a good cry. I mean, this is psychology class. If there was ever a proper place to have a mini-meltdown in school, I think this would be it, don't you?”

Wanting to alleviate as much of her stress as possible and take advantage of the window of opportunity for conversation she had presented him with, Max swiftly placed her stack of flyers on the opposite side of their table, far from where they sat next to each other, before turning back to her. As he then lifted the posters and banners from her grasp, putting them on the long window ledge behind them, he inanely asked, “bad day?”

But Liz didn't take offense to his obvious question. In fact, she rolled her eyes and offered him the sweetest, wryest smirk he had ever seen. “Yeah, you could say that, Mr. King-of-the-understatement.” If he didn't have such keen senses, even dulled as they currently were, Max probably would have disbelieved his own ears. As he stood there, awkwardly staring at her as Liz maneuvered her backpack off her shoulders, down onto the floor, and then collapsed into her chair, she was playfully teasing him. Unable to blink in fear that the scene before him would fade away and prove to be the fantasy he suspected it was, Max lowered himself to his own chair as Liz explained. “I'm exaggerating, though. The day was fine up until lunch.”

“But we didn't have to stay over to finish our physics lab,” he prompted.

When she offered him a second, less humorous smile, Max had to hold onto the table before him so that he didn't fall out of his seat and completely make a fool of himself. “Believe it or not, those are my favorite lunches. At least then I get a chance to actually eat; at least then I'm not besieged by a dozen different people who need me to do something for them; at least then I can avoid Maria's latest crisis of the hour.”

He decided to tackle the easiest problem to fix for her first. “You didn't eat lunch?”

“No time,” Liz answered, shrugging. “I know it's not the healthiest thing to do, but, when you're running from meeting to meeting, from task to task, eating's just not practical. I tried once to snack on something – I don't know, it was an apple, or a pear, or something along those lines – while I was in the office making copies, and Mrs. Norman, the secretary, just about had a cow, because she was afraid I'd drip juice or something onto the fax machine and that I'd fry the equipment. I tried to tell her how ridiculous that was... you know, in a very compassionate and tactful way, but she just ripped up my hall pass and told me to leave and not come back until I could properly respect her and her office equipment.”

She rolled his eyes, and Max chuckled at her story, well aware, even as the resident school hermit, just how intolerant Mrs. Norman was and just how much slack the principle granted her. Rumor had it he was just as afraid of the middle aged woman as all of the students and faculty were. Then, with a quick glance at their otherwise occupied teacher – despite the bell having rung several minutes before, it was evident that class wouldn't be starting for several more, Max decided to do something he had never done before so out in the open: he used his powers to surreptitiously change several everyday school supplies into food for Liz.

With his own tentative grin, he offered, “while it's nothing gourmet and certainly not nearly as appetizing as anything that comes off of the CrashDown's menu, I have some leftover lunch if you want it.” He placed a banana, celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, and turkey with pepper jack roll-ups before her.

“Max, I can't take your food.”

“Oh, I already ate,” he reassured her. “My mom's a little insane when it comes to feeding me. I think it's a combination of the fact that she still sees me as this skinny, scrawny kid they found out in the desert, and her Southern upbringing. She shows her love through food, which means I always have more lunch than any one person could ever eat. In fact,” he rushed on, figuring that he might as well say as much as he could before he lost his nerve, “anytime you can't eat during lunchtime, just let me know. That way, I won't waste so much food, and you won't have to skip a meal. We'll both win.”

And the best thing was that Max wasn't lying. Oh, sure. He had alien-voodooed the food into being, but his mother really did overfeed everyone she loved. Before all the changes in his life, he had routinely had several items leftover from his packed lunches. It was only now that he was attempting to blend in and eating in the quad with the other students that Max found himself consuming everything that his mother sent with him – not because the sudden immersion into teenage life was making him hungrier but because, due to his nerves and not wanting to stick out like a sore thumb, he spent the entire duration of his lunch period eating. Basically, he was lucky that his alien constitution made worrying about his physical health unnecessary.

Hesitantly, Liz reached for the banana while double checking, “are you sure, Max?”

“It'd be my pleasure,” he assured her, and then rushed to add, flushing bright scarlet, especially his suddenly fiery and burning ears, “I mean, you know... it's no big deal. We're lab partners, right?”

So serious she made his heart stand still for several minutes, Liz contradicted, “no, Max. We're friends.” And then she reached across the table and squeezed his right hand with her left, leaving his skin tingling in pleasure. Even after she pulled away, he swore he could feel the ghost of her touch warming him from the outside in. “And thanks,” Liz added, granting him yet another warm, sweet smile.

As she started to eat, though, he thought of one last thing he could do for her. Grabbing the water bottle from his book bag, the bottle that contained anything but water, Max quickly re-altered the molecules before handing it to her. “Here, you might need this, too,” he told her, “especially after you eat those roll-ups. I tend to, uh... I like spicy food, so the cheese is hot.”

“Just the way I like it,” she assured him, winking playfully, and, with that one gesture, suddenly, the pepper jack wasn't the only thing on fire.

In that moment, sitting next to Liz, talking to Liz, being teased by Liz, Max wasn't sure how much longer he could take his plan slowly.
; : ;
“Oh!” Maria dropped her heavy book bag onto the floor of the CrashDown. “My!” Then she slammed her purse onto the swivel stool next to the one she had selected to plonk herself in. “God!” The high-strung blonde finished, emphasizing her drawn out, emphatic exclamation by slapping her hands against the bar counter.

Having already had her best friend's attention since she had boldly waltzed through the diner's front door, Max had to hold back a snicker from where he stood outside watching the scene taking place before him. While Liz's frustration was evident, so, too, was Maria's absolute obliviousness.

“Detention was that amazing, huh,” his dreamgirl asked laconically. “And what's with all the books? You never do your homework.”

Maria idly waved off the inquiry. “Seligman happened. Apparently, painting one's nails is not appropriate during detention. I tried to tell him that it was career research, but he confiscated my favorite: OPI Gargantuan Grape. I mean, how rude was that?!”

“Oh, totally rude.”

Not recognizing the sarcastic tone in her best friend's voice, Maria breezed on. Despite the fact that she also worked at the cafe and should have recognized the necessity for discretion and holding one's conversations in a more muted tone, the feisty blonde steamrolled into her next topic, talking loud enough so that the entire diner could hear everything she was saying. Meanwhile, Liz simply remained patient. It was evident to Max that she was quite experienced and adept at dealing with her rather unique counterpart.

“Anyway, that's not why I had to stop by to talk to you.”

“Maria, what is it? Is something wrong?”

“Yes, yes, yes multiplied by infinity yes! Something is definitely wrong. It's like... it's like the world has turned upside down or something on me, and I no longer recognize this place in which we live.”

Calmly, Liz responded, “alright, you're starting to make me worry here.”

“Oh, babe, you should be scared. I'm talking apocalyptic levels of creepy here.”

With furrowed brow, Liz asked, “have you been spending more time with your mom recently?”

“My mom,” Maria parroted. “What does she have to do with anything? Besides the fact that she's going to be pissed that I got another detention, so, besides the fact that I was dragging my feet at school not wanting to go home, she has nothing to do with this.”

“So, whatever this... freak out is, it has to do with school?”

Max watched as his dreamgirl's best friend dramatically took a deep breath as if bracing herself. Then, she placed a protective hand over her heart. “Chica, you might want to take a seat.”

“I'm fine standing,” Liz quickly responded. “Besides the fact that, if you haven't noticed yet, I'm working right now and not on my break, I have a feeling that you might just be over-reacting a little bit.”

“Please? Me? Over-react? You're not talking to Whitman here, Liz.”

Discretely, he heard her mumble under her breath, “if only I was.”

After not hearing her best friend's complaint, Maria launched into her tale... after only having taken five minutes to lead up to the story. “Anyway, after detention, I was minding my own business, you know... dragging my feet so I didn't have to go home and face Drill Sergeant DeLuca, and you'll never guess what was going on in the gym.”

“First of all, the gym is all the way on the other side of the building from Mr. Seligman's room. You weren't minding your own business, Maria; you were off nosing around. And, secondly, they were holding basketball tryouts in the gym today.”

Gasping, Maria asked, “how do you know that?”

“They've only been advertising them for two weeks over the PA system during home room announcements.” If it wouldn't have been beneath her, Max could have sworn he heard a 'duh' attached to the end of Liz's statement.

“Well, seeing as how your good buddy and not-so-secret admirer lab partner was there, I just thought that maybe he told you about the tryouts.”

“Wait? Max tried out for the basketball team?”

“Hello, babe,” Maria tossed her hands up in frustration. “That's what I've been trying to tell you for like hours here. Now, do you realize why I'm a little off my game this afternoon?”

“Well, did he make it?”

The blonde stared at Liz for several unblinking moments. “Are you telling me that you actually think I should have stayed around to watch life as we know it come to a screeching halt? It was bad enough having to see Max Evans in nothing but a pair of loose shorts run circles around our school's all-county point protector.”

“You mean point guard,” Liz interrupted.

But Maria simply waved off her comment, rolling her eyes. “So not what matters here,” she complained.

“So then you didn't like seeing Max without his shirt on?” From where he stood eavesdropping, Max couldn't help but chuckle at his dreamgirl's obvious confusion.

“Well, no, of course not,” Maria countered, horrified. “He's... I-Eat-Paint-Chips-Evans! He's not supposed to have a better body than Kyle.”

“Maria, Max doesn't eat paint chips,” Liz scolded her best friend.

“Ha! How would you know?”

“Because she shares his lunch with me all the time.” When her best friend gaped at her, mouth hanging open like a wriggling fish on a hook, Liz explained, “you know how busy my schedule is, and sometimes I don't have time to eat lunch. So, after lunch period, he'll save me some of his food to eat during psychology class.” She blushed then, and he felt a pleasant warmth suffuse his entire body. “It's really quite sweet.”

“Yeah. Until it's revealed that he's been slowly poisoning you this whole time.” Skewering her, Maria demanded, “Liz, didn't your mother ever teach you not to take candy from future mass murderers?”

Just like that, he saw a switch go off in Liz. She went from patient to barely restrained annoyance. “That's enough! I've asked you before to stop harassing Max, Maria. You don't know him, so don't pretend as though you have a right to judge him.”

“I'm sorry,” her best friend apologized hastily, but Max detected a definite lack of sincerity. “But, babe, come on. You have to admit that it's weird that the same guy I once questioned whether or not he even had a tongue is now trying out for the basketball team.”

“I don't think it's weird, Maria; I think it's great. Kyle and his buddies need to be put in their place. If Max can do that by showing them that they're not as great as they all think they are, then more power to him.” As Liz continued to sing his praises, Max prepared himself. After weeks of actually holding conversations with his dreamgirl, he was ready to take the next step. Plus, what better way to celebrate making the team than to spend his evening in Liz's presence inside of the diner. So, to brace himself, he pulled his water bottle out of his bag and took a hefty drink of the disguised, burning liquor. Fortified he strolled into the restaurant. “... more importantly, becoming involved in school is good for Max. He's brilliant, Maria, and he deserves to go to an excellent college. This should help him...”

As Liz's words trailed away, Maria stood so as to get closer to her best friend, snapping her fingers to reclaim Liz's attention. “Hello, Earth to Planet Parker. Want to finish that thought there, Chica?”

“Hey, Max,” Liz greeted him instead.

Beside him, Maria gasped, tripped off the side of her stool, barely managed to right herself before making an even bigger scene, and went pasty pale. Ignoring the blonde, though, he returned, “hey, Liz.”

“So, I hear congratulations are in order,” his dreamgirl praised him. “Are you here to treat yourself?”

“Maybe later,” Max shrugged. “Unless... are you on your break now?”

“No, not for at least another couple of hours. I close tonight.”

“That's fine,” he told her. “I can wait.”

Finally regaining control of herself, Maria interjected, “um, excuse me! We were having a conversation here before you oh-so-rudely interrupted us!”

Ignoring her, he continued, “I was hoping to try one of those alien blasts you've told me so much about, but, being on the team now, I need to watch my figure,” he teased Liz, making her laugh and loving the fact that his newly found freedom from the constraints of his other-worldly senses allowed him to do so. “So, I thought maybe we could share one. Plus,” he nervously rushed on to add, “I also need to keep my grades up, so we could study for our physics test coming up next week.”

“Definitely,” Liz agreed, smiling broadly.

“Hello! I'm still here,” Maria voiced her disapproval.

“Umm... why don't you go fill the sugar containers, Maria,” Liz distractedly told her best friend.

“I'm not even working right now,” the blonde responded indignantly.

Still, they simply dismissed her, too busy concentrating on each other but pretending not to be staring. “Well, can I get you anything else while you wait,” Liz offered.

“A cherry coke,” Max requested.

As Liz filled him a glass of his favorite beverage, she told him, “and you know this is going to be on the house, right?”

“Yeah because he hasn't sat outside for years costing your parents money. Let's just give him free food now, too,” Maria grumbled.

His dreamgirl continued on, undaunted. “It's just my way of saying congratulations.”

“It's really not necessary, Liz.”

“It's my pleasure, Max,” she told him, offering him a shy smile as she placed the pop before him.

Discretely, he dipped a finger into the fizzing liquid, altering its molecular structure from soda to something a little more potent. After all, if he was going to spend an entire evening in Liz Parker's presence, he wanted to make sure he was at the top of his game. What little alcohol that was left in his water bottle simply wouldn't be enough to dull his senses to the point of being able to function normally. Taking a sip, he sighed in contentment and sincerely whispered, “thanks.”

Somewhere in the background, he could hear Maria complaining, saying something about 'chicks before dicks' and then stomping out of the cafe, but he was too distracted by watching the beautiful brunette before him as she seemed to dance around the diner, effortlessly performing her waitressing duties. Frankly, he was too at peace, too happy to worry about Maria DeLuca. In fact, Max was so content that he didn't even realize that half of his glass was already empty, that he was quickly finishing the remainder of the liquor swirling in its dark depths. He was oblivious to everything in that moment besides Liz Parker and just how free he finally felt.




Chapter Five

When she spoke, she startled him.

If he had been more aware of his surroundings, of himself, Max might have been surprised by Liz's ability to sneak up on him. In fact, it was the first time in his life anyone had ever been able to do so, but it would have been especially worrisome to him that it was Liz of all people who managed to spook him, because she was the one person in the world he was always aware of without even trying... that is, if Max was in the right frame of mind to worry. But he wasn't. He was so relaxed that his body was almost numb, and, for some reason unknown to Max, he was also sad and depressed as well. The fact that he felt that way when everything in his life was seemingly going smoothly made him angry. Inside, he was jumbled and confused, he couldn't focus, and all he really wanted – and needed – was another drink. Yes, just a little more alcohol and he'd be flying high again. His energy would snap back, his mood would return to an even keel, and Liz would finally notice him enough to realize that, not only was he in love with her, but she had feelings for....

“Max, are you alright?”

He moved so suddenly when her voice broke the stillness that he snapped to attention, his eyes ricocheting open and the nearly empty bottle clasped loosely in his right hand slipping out and down onto the jeep's floorboards where it rolled haphazardly, spilling nearly all of its precious remaining contents.

“God damn it, Liz,” he growled, glaring at her momentarily before reaching down to rescue his bottle. “Look what you did!”

“I'm sorry,” she offered meekly, and, though a part of him felt like an ass for hurting her feelings and yelling at her, the more dominant part of Max's new personality was just furious with her for causing him to mess up yet again and look like an idiot. “But, I mean, it's just water, right, so it won't stain, or make your floorboards sticky, and it's not like it isn't easily replaceable. There are at least a dozen water fountains inside of the school... not that you would know.”

He detected a note of censure in her last few words, but the fact that she was reprimanding him when he had done nothing wrong further proved to irritate Max. “What's that supposed to mean,” he snapped.

Though she flinched at his tone, he watched as her back stiffened and her shoulders squared. She was like a tiny, beautiful sergeant – her cheeks flushed with determination and her hair wind tossed from the cool, desert breeze – going into battle. “It means where were you this afternoon, Max? Not only did you miss our NHS meeting, but you...”

“Look, I had better things to do with my time then sit around and make plans for yet another stupid dance or fundraiser.”

“Oh, so you mean you were studying... you know, since you're on academic probation and can't come to meetings,” she volleyed back, catching him off guard for the second time that afternoon.

“How do you know that?”

Her voice softened, her gaze became concerned and probing. “I was worried about you,” Liz confessed. “You're usually the first one to arrive at all our meetings. We sit together. You make sure I eat; I make sure you feel like you fit in. So, when you weren't there...”

He cut her off, embarrassed by her explanation. “I never asked for your pity.”

“It's not pity, Max. We're friends.” When he went to override her once more, she plowed on, refusing to be cut off. “And, because we're friends, I asked Mrs. Hardy if she knew why you had missed the meeting, thinking maybe something was wrong... like you were sick, or hurt, or I don't know.”

“And let me guess: she told you that a few of my grades have slipped? And here I thought such information would have been personal and private.”

“It's not like that,” she defended.

“Oh really,” he challenged, a mocking note entering his voice. “Then tell me, Liz, what is it like?”

“Look, even if Mrs. Hardy wouldn't have said anything, I would have put the pieces together on my own eventually. I mean, we share every class together, Max, and we sit by each other in most of them. Not that I've been purposely spying on you or anything, but I've seen some of your recent test scores. They haven't been pretty. And I've seen you talking before and after class with more than one teacher who looked concerned. And, then, after you missed today's meeting, you didn't show up for any of our classes. Where were you,” she asked, crossing her arms and cocking her hips in what he perceived to be a challenging stance. It told him that she wasn't going to back down or give up until she got some answers from him. “Were you just sitting out here this whole time, sleeping?”

“Look, I don't know why you care about this. It's none of your business.”

“Someone has to care,” she returned heatedly, ignoring his directive, “because it's obvious that you don't.”

“Just back off, Liz,” he warned her. Smirking cruelly, he added, “not all us can be perfect like you, Parker.” She visibly flinched, the old taunt hitting its mark just like he had meant it to, while, at the same time, he hadn't even realized that he was aiming to hurt her. Instantly feeling contrite, he sat up straight in the jeep's driver seat, his head swimming with the sudden movement, but Max was too focused upon his dreamgirl to take notice. “I'm so sorry,” he apologized profusely, sincerely.

“I can't believe... I can't believe you said that to me,” she replied, stumbling over her words as she struggled to reign in her hurt emotions.

“I didn't mean it, I swear,” he vowed.

“A part of you must have if you said it in the first place.”

With a shaking hand, he lifted his bottle to his trembling lips. He needed a drink. Suddenly, everything was too bold, too much. His feelings were out of control, and he didn't know what to say or what to do to make things better with Liz. But then he was no longer holding his saving grace. Opening his eyes, he saw that she had managed to grab the bottle out of his grasp.

“No, Max,” she told him when he reached to reclaim what Liz had no idea to be nearly straight, high proof vodka. She avoided his efforts, though. “For once, you're not going to hide from me, or distract me, or pretend to be doing something else long enough that I forget the fact that you owe me some answers.” He had no idea what she was talking about, yet, at the same time, he knew that everything she accused him of to be true. “What is going on with you?”

He decided to tackle the easiest explanation first, and, really, it was the only one he could give her. “I honestly didn't mean... what I said... the way I said it. Yes, I kind of used your nickname, but I wasn't making fun of you or trying to be mean, Liz.” Lowering his voice to a whisper, he confessed, “you don't get it. To me, you really are perfect.”

“Max...?”

“And I know my grades are slipping, but there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to do everything now. Between basketball practice, and games, and coach insisting that we spend time together off the court as a team to strengthen our chemistry on the court, by the time I get home every night, the last thing I want to do is study for our latest calc test or write yet another English paper. And, now, the baseball coach has been hassling me about playing for him, too, and he has me coming to open gym practices before school starts in the morning, and I... I can't keep up with everything.”

She stepped closer to him, completely astounding Max when she slipped her free hand into his left one. Squeezing his fingers gently, Liz told him, “I wish you would have said something. If you want, I could help you study. Since all of our classes are the same, I know all your assignments. I could help you keep track of what's due and when. You could come in during my shifts and sit at the counter, and, when I'm off, we could meet at the library or even work out on my balcony.” Grinning impishly, Liz added, “plus, you see, I kind of have an in with the owners of the CrashDown, so I could totally get us free study food, too. And you'd be doing me a favor as well, because it gets so boring sometimes doing my schoolwork by myself. Alex is too into his computers, and Maria firmly believes that homework is an option that she doesn't need to say yes to. In fact,” she continued, totally on a roll at that point, “I'm off tonight, so you'd have me to yourself for hours. I'm sure we could get you caught back up on all your classes in no time.”

It was everything he had wanted to hear from Liz Parker for years. She wanted to spend time with him outside of school. She invited him to her home, into her bedroom, and onto her balcony. She basically asked him to have dinner with her, which, in high school terms, was practically a date. But he was torn. Somewhere in his mind, what was once so easy to determine – the truth – was now jumbled. Everything was twisted, and tied together, and confused. Max forgot the fact that, unlike everyone else at West Roswell High, Liz had been the only person to ever treat him decently before he had changed. Now, he associated her looking at him, her talking to him, her befriending him with his new life – with the drinking, and the socializing, and the basketball playing, and, if he went with her that evening, he'd have to blow off practice, and, if he blew off practice, he'd risk his place on the team, and, in his convoluted mind, that also meant risking his place in Liz Parker's life as well.

“But... but I have practice,” he stuttered, unsure of what to do, what to say.

“Max, practice won't matter if your grades drop to the point where you can't play at all.”

Bitterly, he retorted, “if Kyle Valenti can somehow manage to maintain his GPA in order to stay academically eligible, then I think I can handle it, Liz, but thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“Yeah,” she returned sarcastically as she wrenched her hand from his grasp, “because Kyle's such a great example and role model.”

At a loss for what he should do next, say next, needing fortification, needing help, Max, without thought, reached, once more, for the bottle of his that Liz was still holding. When she noticed his actions, though, she became suspicious. “What the hell, Max?! I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you, and all you can think about is a drink of water?” As if realizing how insane her own accusations were, a hesitantly curious expression flickered across her features. “I mean, that is what is in this bottle, right,” she asked, lifting it to her nose.

He lunged out of his seat to stop her, but she backpedaled away from him effortlessly, a look of horror flashing through her eyes as she discovered his secret. Quickly, though, she shadowed her gaze, hiding her feelings from him further. Dumping out the contents of his bottle, she then threw the empty container back in his direction as harshly as she could. It hit him squarely in the chest. Despite the fact that it physically didn't hurt him, the impact still stung emotionally.

“I can't believe... why... I never...,” Liz tripped over her words, continually moving further and further away from him. Shaking her head softly as though to clear away her thoughts, she finally accused, “I guess I never really knew you at all, Max Evans.”

And then she was gone.

His arms dropped to his sides, his water bottle falling forgotten on the school parking lot's pavement. Woodenly, Max climbed into his jeep, started its engine, and drove away. Just moments prior, his basketball practice had meant so much to him that he had been willing to turn down Liz's offer to spend the evening together, studying, but, by destroying any bond he might have had with her, by realizing that, no matter what, she could never understand him, and he would never be good enough for her, everything in his life became meaningless. And then the anger – at himself, at his parents, at the school, at his teachers, at his fellow classmates, at fate for making him so different, and at Liz for turning her back on him – rushed back with a vengeance. Gritting his teeth, Max roared into the wind of the passing scenery, slamming the jeep's abused engine into yet another higher gear. When his vision started to blur, he blamed it on his speed, refusing to admit that he had lost his precious, precarious control and was crying. Rather, instead, he simply drove faster.
; : ;
Max was not in the mood to deal with Sheriff Valenti.

Again.

He was already upset. With the scene with Liz playing on repeat through his mind, he could barely restrain himself from turning the jeep around and going back to her. Whether he would beg for her forgiveness or demand it, he wasn't sure, and, if it wasn't for the last sane thread of his intellect which had convinced him neither option would garner him the results he sought, Max probably would have resorted to both. Added to that was his confusion. He had done everything in his power to be as normal as he possibly could be, but, despite this and its consequences – the recognition; the athletic success; his confidence to approach, talk, and now spend time with Liz, he found that he was no happier than he had been months before as the ignored if not slightly feared recluse of West Roswell High.

With all of his roiling emotions spiking his senses despite the steady stream of liquor he had imbibed on throughout the day, by the time he noticed the flashing red and blue lights in his rearview mirror, Max had been tempted to use those powers to send Valenti off the road. For a moment, he considered harming the Sheriff – just finally taking care of one of his problems so he could shed at least some of his ineptness. It wasn't until he realized in which direction his thoughts, his impulses were taking him that Max finally slowed down and pulled over. Minutes later, he was still upset. Despite everything he had been forced to deal with because of his other-ness, Max had never been afraid of himself or his alien side. In one afternoon, with one dark, selfish, destructive thought, that had all changed.

As he waited for the Sheriff to step out of his vehicle and approach him, Max considered just... running away. He could leave Roswell, leave New Mexico. He could change his identity, become someone new, and no one would have to deal with Max Evans – disappointing son, incompetent extraterrestrial, failed human – again. He would never have to deal with Max Evans again. He could disappear and never be heard from again. The idea was tempting, perhaps too tempting, and there was just one thing which kept him from shifting the jeep out of park and into gear: the thought of leaving Liz Parker behind forever was just too horrifying for Max to consider. Even if she no longer wanted anything to do with him, he knew that he would take a lifetime of watching and loving her from the shadows than nothing at all.

“You know the drill, Mr. Evans. License and registration, please.”

Without saying a word, he reached for his glove compartment and removed the necessary paperwork for the Sheriff. Valenti gave the documents a cursory glance before lifting his gaze and his scrutiny back up to Max's face. “Claiming a migraine isn't going to cut it this time, son.”

“Was I speeding, officer,” he asked politely, and, honestly, Max had no idea what he had done wrong. His mind had been so far beyond such inconsequential concerns as the speed limit or even what he had been doing that any reason the Sheriff gave as to why he pulled him over would be news – not shocking news but still news – to Max.

“Among other things. I need you to step out of the vehicle, Mr. Evans.”

Reaching for the driver's side door handle, he prepared to follow directions but hesitated for a moment. “Is there a problem, Sir?”

“Just step out of the vehicle, Mr. Evans.” This time, he complied, the steel lining Valenti's voice informing him that the older man was not going to back down. He wobbled slightly, the shock of standing after being seated for so long catching him off guard, but Max quickly righted himself and then waited for his next instructions. “Now, I'm going to need you to walk in a straight line down the center of the road, please.”

“Excuse me?”

“Son, you're already in enough trouble as it is,” Valenti warned him. “Just do what you're told and quit talking back already.”

So, Max walked in a straight line. And then he recited his alphabet backwards. And then had to multitask – pointing to his nose while rubbing his stomach at the same time. Finally, when the Sheriff asked him to blow into a breathalyzer, he both realized what he was being suspected of and failed to keep his mouth shut any longer. “You think I've been drinking? I've already passed all your stupid tests. You have no grounds to....”

Valenti interrupted him, “Son, not only were you speeding before I pulled you over, but you were weaving all over the road, and your breath reeks like alcohol.”

Denying the facts while still telling the truth, he excused, “I had a fight with... with a friend.” When the cop didn't react and simply stared back at him, his reflective aviators hiding his thoughts and emotions behind their mirrored surface, Max scrambled, “as for the alcohol smell, I had some cough syrup... for a cold. That's why I'm not in practice either.”

“And driving around the middle of the desert at excessive speeds,” the Sheriff finished, disbelievingly. “Right.” Hardening his voice even further, he said, “Mr. Evans, I've been a cop now for more than twenty years. If you think that I haven't heard these same excuses from drunk drivers a thousand times before, then you're an even bigger fool that I thought you were five minutes ago. I don't care if you passed the field sobriety tests, you're not sick, and you're certainly going to blow above the legal limit. Now, blow into the damn breathalyzer, or I'm taking you in for resisting arrest as well.”

While Max didn't believe he was drunk, he also couldn't risk an underage. Forget school, forget basketball, and even forget how let down his parents would feel, he couldn't stand the idea of having to face Liz with yet another failure. He was already ashamed of his grades and how he had treated her that afternoon. While Liz was a compassionate, caring, and forgiving person, he knew that drunk driving was not something she would tolerate from her friends, and he couldn't lose her. Not yet. Not when he had finally managed to become a real part of her life.

So, with this refrain warning his thoughts and disguising all Max's common sense, he did the only thing he could think of to escape Valenti's detection: he used his powers to spark and melt the handheld breathalyzer. Suspicions or no suspicions, without the little machine, the Sheriff couldn't prove anything, especially since he had aced the other challenges put before him by the older man.

Before he could breathe a sigh of relief, though, Valenti merely pursed his mouth into a tight frown and tossed the breathalyzer aside. “It looks like we're going to have to do this the hard way,” the Sheriff told him. “Turn around and put your hands on top of your head.” Dumbfounded, Max obeyed. “Mr. Evans, you are under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence and underage drinking. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law. You have the right to....”

As the famed Miranda Warning was issued to him, Max zoned out and blocked Valenti's voice. He didn't need to hear his rights. He already knew what they were. Rather, he thought about how he was going to have to convince the Sheriff to try a different breathalyzer rather than performing a blood test – something he should have thought about before his impetuous actions, how he hoped that Valenti drove straight to the Sheriff's office and didn't happen to make a stop at the CrashDown for a cup of coffee as he was known to do, and how he had no idea how he was going to explain his actions to his parents. But most of all Max thought about how a drink would take the edge off of the moment, how just a small sip of anything alcoholic would brace him for the coming evening and the highest pressures he had ever been forced to face.





Thanks to _coccy_ for the gorgeous avie!

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Re: Serenity (AU, M/L, MATURE) 4 & 5/13 & Ep. - 03/17/2014

Post by oyhumbug » Sun Mar 30, 2014 8:02 am

A/N: Not only is Max reacting towards all the liquor like a human would - developing a tolerance while his personality shifts, but this is happening on an accelerated timetable due to his alienness. Just like with his senses, his body's reaction to the alcohol is enhanced. You'll see more of this in these next two chapters. As for how he treated Liz, Eve, hold on, because he's not about to explain himself or apologize (meaningfully) yet, because Max doesn't really realize that there's anything he needs to explain/apologize for. He doesn't think he has a problem. Not only did Valenti and Liz bust him, Carolyn, but, as you'll see in this post, Max also has to face the consequences of his parents discovering his drinking. Let's just say that it's not going to go over well... for any of them. Finally, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who is reading. :-) I hope you enjoy the update.

~Charlynn~





Chapter Six

Maybe it was because he was used to people talking about him behind his back, or perhaps it was simply because Max knew that, no matter what his parents, the principle, and his coach decided, they would never know or understand the truth of the matter, but, whatever the reason, he sat calmly outside of the high school office while his future was discussed – both the immediate and the long term. Then again, it might have been the fact that whatever punishment they settled upon wouldn't matter. He didn't care about basketball. He didn't care about his permanent record. And he sure as hell didn't care about his reputation. After all, compared to being a freak – a social outcast, being a drunk, juvenile delinquent was actually a step up on the high school food chain.

Well, at least it was in the eyes of most of Max's fellow teenagers. There was one person – someone special – who wouldn't be impressed with his latest brush with the law. After it was revealed that he had been picked up by Sheriff Valenti the week before for underage drinking, driving under the influence, and a slew of other traffic violations, Liz had given him the cold shoulder. His parents had grounded him; the school had required him to attend some ridiculous substance abuse counseling sessions with the guidance counselor, but the only thing that mattered to Max was the fact that Liz Parker had looked at him like he was a stranger to her.

And now? Now, he didn't even want to contemplate her reaction. He knew she'd be disappointed, and it was how that disappointment would manifest itself in their relationship or, at this point, very nearly their non-existent relationship which had Max distracted to the point where he couldn't even muster up a slight edge of concern towards the meeting occurring behind the principal's closed office door. After all, what else could she do to... punish him for his actions? Would she insist upon changing seats, changing lab partners so that she wouldn't be forced to be near him? Would she go as far as to change classes? Perhaps she'd have her father ban him from the CrashDown. If she saw him walking down the street, would she turn and go in the opposite direction? Every imagined snub, every lost opportunity to just be around her scared Max a little bit more. It was to the point where he had managed to work himself into a near panic. Just the slightest provocation would send him running in Liz's direction – begging for her forgiveness, seeking her compassion and understanding, attempting to excuse his actions.

But then there was the flip side as well – the side of Max which remembered why it had been so important to him to be normal in the first place, why, when he had discovered the numbing side effects of liquor for the first time, he had been so tempted to drink on a regular basis. Every decision he had made, from which clubs to join, to playing basketball, to being so upset that he apparently drove drunk the week before was a direct result of his infatuation with Liz Parker, and he wanted her to recognize that fact. He wanted her to realize that his mistakes were because of her, that, if she would just love him the way he was, he wouldn't need to drink. And, if he didn't drink, then there would be nothing for her to forgive him for in the first place.

It was a continuous loop, and it sent Max's feelings and thoughts reeling from one extreme to the next. As he vacillated back and forth between desire and despondency, exultation and exasperation, he blamed his problems upon his alienness and rationalized that, if he could just have one more drink – just enough to take the edge off, then he'd be able to think clearly. He'd be able to make some sense out of the mess his life had become. He'd figure out a way to fix everything with the school, with the law, with his parents, and most importantly with Liz. But, on the other hand, if he didn't get that one last drink, then he'd be stuck in his emotional ineptitude, forever doomed to make the same mistakes over and over and....

“My, my, my, how the once mighty have fallen.”

The snickering voice made him tense with instant irritation, and, before Kyle could finish his taunt, Max was already using his powers – temporarily raising the floor just enough so that the school's most popular jock appeared to trip over his own two feet, going down hard against the unforgiving tile floor. He smirked. “You were saying...?”

As Kyle pushed himself up, he spoke, a note of suspicion tinting the otherwise cold and hostile tone Max was so used to from the other young man. “I swear, Evans, there's something weird about you, and I'm not just talking about your personality either.”

Eyes darting back and forth to avoid his accuser's probing gaze, knee jingling up and down rapidly in what could only be interpreted as a nervous gesture, Max glance around him, searching for an outlet for his frustration. The last thing he was in the mood to deal with in that moment was Kyle Valenti, and, despite his recent string of decisions lacking in common sense, he knew that punching the conceited, pompous fool standing before him wouldn't make the situation any better... no matter how good it would feel.

Spotting a water fountain and his salvation down the hallway, Max stood and began to nonchalantly stroll towards his destination. While walking, he demanded, “say whatever it is your pea-sized brain managed to come up with this time, and then get the hell out of here. I'm not in the mood to put up with your crap right now.”

“Well, isn't that just too damn bad,” Kyle sneered, trailing after him. “Because I don't take orders from you, Evans, and I sure as hell don't care what kind of mood you're in.”

Blessedly, he slid his hands over the water fountain, discretely sending waves of energy into the receptacle to change the molecular structure of the liquid coursing through its insides. Greedily, Max then drank, nearly sighing in bliss as the alcohol rushed by his lips, flowed over his tongue, and slipped blissfully down his throat. For several moments, he just stood there, allowing the liquor to enter his blood stream and quickly work its magic. All the while, Kyle stood behind him, sprouting off at the mouth, no doubt insulting Max, but he never heard a word. It was only after a second bolt of power reversed the changes he made and he stood up that Max became aware of the taunts being lobbed in his direction.

“.... and I'm just going to sit back and enjoy watching you lose everything.”

“If by everything you mean my spot on the team, then you must have the two of us confused, because, unlike you, Kyle, I have more to live for than being Mr. High School. Some of us will amount to more than just winning Homecoming King and Most Athletic senior superlative.”

“Not at the rate you're currently cruising along on,” Valenti returned smugly. “Three months ago? Yeah, you had that whole dorky salutatorian thing going for you – not that I ever believed a socially backwards loser like you would ever managed to make something of himself, but, now, you don't even have your grades to fall back on. I know what's going on; I've heard the rumors going around about you. Apparently, all that booze has fried your brain.”

“At least I had something to work with. You, on the other hand, started out stupid, so what the hell is going to be left when you're washed up and drinking your wife's paycheck away?”

Prepared for a quick return, Max was caught off guard when Kyle smirked, crossed his arms confidently across his chest, and then leaned back to rest against the wall opposite of the chair Max was once more sitting in outside of the office's doorway. “Oh, you mean Liz Parker?”

Without thought of implication or consequence, Max growled. It took all his willpower and resolve to not launch himself across the hallway, wrap his hands around Valenti's pumped-up neck, and strangle the very last flicker of life out of the other man.

“I see I finally hit a nerve.”

Through a clenched jaw and gritted teeth, he warned, “do not talk about her. Do not think about her. Don't even say her name.”

Rather than take his cautioning seriously, Kyle laughed. “Oh, this is rich, Evans, really! I mean, did you honestly think that you of all people really had a chance with a girl like Liz? Face it. She'll never be with you.”

“At least I know that you don't stand a chance either.”

“Really? You don't think so?” Pushing off from the wall on which he had just been leaning, Kyle stalked across the width of the hallway separating them. Coming to a stop just a few feet away from Max, the other man taunted, “they all give in eventually. Liz's legs might be squeezed shut a little bit tighter than all the rest, but I'll pry them apart, and, when I do, that cherry will be even sweeter knowing that it's just one more thing that you wanted but that I got instead.”

Max stood then, slowly uncoiling to his full height which was an impressive five inches more than his adversary. As he spoke, his low voice took on an hypnotic quality – melodious yet full of strength, and power, and conviction. “I'm only going to say this once, Valenti, so listen and listen good. If you ever touch her, I will kill you.” Furthering his point, he added, “and, as you pointed out so imperiously just moments ago, I have nothing else to lose at this point. In fact, the prospect of getting rid of you permanently just might be the one last thing I have left to look forward to. Thanks, Kyle,” Max finished with a sharp, ridiculing slap to the cheek.

“For what,” the other man asked, hastily backing away.

“Why, for giving me a reason to live, of course.”

“You're sick, Evans,” Kyle pronounced, scrambling down the hallway. “A fucking whack-job.”

And then the other teenager was gone.

The silence returned with a vengeance as Max, once more, retook his seat. No longer was Valenti there to taunt him, but that also meant that his mind was free to return to the thoughts which had been previously occupying it and, with that return, came his same doubts, his same insecurities, his same resentments. With no apparent end in sight to the meeting occurring behind him, Max realized that he was thirsty once more. And what would one last drink hurt? Surely, as he awaited the reveal of his fate as determined by the authority figures in his life, he deserved some momentary solace, a temporary oblivion?

Standing, with the water fountain once more in his sights, Max made the trek back down towards his salvation. He could already taste the release and relief the liquor would bring him, and he smiled in anticipation.
; : ;
He watched as her bedroom light finally was turned on, as she moved about her room – putting this away and getting that out. He saw where she kept her journal (inside of her third dresser drawer, buried beneath a mountain of soft, colorful sweaters), and he was disappointed when she stepped into her en-suite bathroom to change. That disappointment only burned brightly for a moment, though, before it was replaced with anger, his now seemingly constant companion. Max was furious with himself for being disappointed, for being so desperate to be with and know everything about Liz Parker that he would willingly invade her privacy by surreptitiously gazing upon her as she innocently, unknowingly revealed herself to him by changing in his hidden presence, and he was incensed that, because he wasn't good enough for her, because she judged him to be unworthy just like everyone else, someone else – someone like Kyle Valenti or her friend Alex Whitman, would see what her bare skin looked like with the paleness of just her sheets draped across her graceful form; they would get to kiss her, and hold her, and make love to her, and he would forever be shut out in the cold.

With that chilling thought, Max shivered, despite the fact that the heat of the desert sun was holding on stubbornly that evening; the moon had yet to bring its cooling relief. But that was fitting, wasn't it – that he, in her presence, would be denied the pleasurable reassurance of warmth and, instead, left to suffer from his own unique brand of misery. Only Max wasn't as vulnerable as he had once been, as he had always been. Before. Now, he had options, a choice. He could suffer what the unjust world tried to throw in his direction, or he could fight back the only way he knew how. Lifting the water bottle he had pilfered from the gym and then filled with the altered offerings of the water fountain just outside of the principal's office, Max sighed when the scotch trickled and sliced its way down his throat. His relief was immediate. His shuddering stopped, the sounds of the distant and fleeting yet still noisy traffic – to him – became muted, even the slight, silver illumination of the stars, of the moon was dimmed, and Max could focus once more upon Liz.

She was out of the bathroom now. Face freshly scrubbed and hair tossed up in a loose, carefree ponytail, she was innocence personified, and, at first glance, her pajamas appeared chaste and pure as well. But then he would catch a glimpse of the curve of her bare shoulder, of the soft mutinous tendrils of hair which escaped their confinement to sensuously whisper across the creamy skin of her neck, or the sliver of flesh revealed between where her camisole ended and her drawstring pants began, and Max would recognized the tempered seductress just lurking below the surface, waiting patiently but begging for release. It made him question her and her actions. Suddenly, he found himself wondering where she had been so late that evening, especially since he knew that she hadn't been working. Had she been with her friends, and, if so, why couldn't she accept him and allow him to get close to her? Or maybe she had been out on a date, allowing some unworthy guy to hold her hand, to rub his thumb along her silky smooth cheek, to put his hand on her knee as he drove her home, and to kiss her goodnight.

It was those torturous thoughts, accompanied by imagined images, which were assaulting Max when Liz pushed the sill of her window up and climbed out onto her balcony, a blanket draped across her shoulders like a cape and her journal tucked between the crook of her elbow and her side. His eyes and heart feasted upon her; his mind rebelled against her as she contentedly moved around the brick and concrete space, turning on her twinkling lights and lighting several aromatic candles placed strategically around the balcony's ledge. He was silent while she worked, and the shadows afforded him the privacy to keep his presence cloaked until she was standing directly beside him, and he stepped out of the dark to reveal himself.

“Hi, Liz,” he greeted softly, hoping not to startle her. He did anyway, losing her grip on her blanket. Before it could flutter entirely to her bare feet, Max had lifted the material back up to wrap it once more around her. “Sorry,” he apologized, though a part of him didn't mean it, because it was frightening her which eventually led to the opportunity for him to touch her, to move so close to her.

Several tense moments later, her composure restored, Liz asked, “what are you doing here, Max?”

“I had to see you; I had to... talk to you before someone else could.”

She tilted her head to the side, curiosity piqued. “Who?”

“Maria. Kyle. Anyone.”

“Okay... but surely this could have waited until tomorrow morning, right? I mean, we have every single class together, Max.” Grinning teasingly, she added, “you didn't need to scare five years off my life in order to speak with me.”

Her scent – that perfect, unique Liz scent of strawberries, and vanilla, and purity – was making it hard for him to concentrate. He wanted to release her hair and then tuck its shiny strands behind the delicate shells of her ears. He wanted to trace his index finger around the hollow of her throat, feeling the rise and fall of her chest with every inhalation. His senses were screaming out of control while in her alluring presence, but, for one of the first times in his life, Max didn't regret his otherworldly capabilities; he relished in them, soaking up as much of Liz Parker's essence as he possibly could in that moment.

Shaking away his thoughts which would no doubt confuse and embarrass her, Max, feeling emboldened, rested his pads of his fingers against Liz's arm and gently led her towards the lounge. To explain his actions, he requested, “can we sit first?” He had meant that she would sit on the chair and then he would take a seat on the concrete floor at her feet, but she surprised him by sitting sideways and granting him the chance to sit directly beside her. Their forms touched from shoulder to foot, and Max had to fight every urge, every instinct in his body not to pull her even closer, not to wrap his arms around her and never let go.

“Alright, we're sitting now,” she prompted when he remained quiet, trapped in his own silent battle of wills. “What is it that you had to tell me? What was so important that you couldn't wait until tomorrow morning in school and, instead, scared the...”

“I won't be in school tomorrow,” he told her, interrupted her.

“What? You don't seem sick. Is your family going on vacation?” She brightened with an idea. “Oh, do you have a college visit to attend?”

“No, Liz,” he answered, rushing forward before she could propose any other safe, logical reasons for his impending absence. “I was suspended – for ten days.”

He felt her stiffen beside him and pull away slightly, even if the small confines of the chair didn't allow her to physically move too far from him. “For what?”

“Having an open container... on school grounds.”

“What, that's ridiculous,” she defended him, surprising Max... or, at least, he was surprised until he realized that she was just confused. “I know that technically we're not supposed to keep bottles of water or soda in our lockers, but everyone does, and the teachers don't say anything. I can't believe you got suspended for that, Max! It sounds like the school used this as an excuse to punish you further for what happened last week with Valenti, and, while I think what you did was horrible – drinking and driving, the school does not have the jurisdiction to take action against you for your legal problems. I'll call an emergency meeting of the student council tomorrow, and we'll brainstorm about ways we can fight this on your behalf. The last thing you need right now is to be further alienated from society. You need a support team. You need to focus on your schoolwork and get your life back on track. Suspension isn't going to help. I can't believe that your parents aren't...”

Before she could become even more offended on his behalf, Max cut her off once more. “Liz, I didn't get caught with a can of cherry coke at school; I was caught drinking... as in alcohol.”

“I don't understand.”

“It was stupid, really,” he shrugged, standing up to pace in light of her quickly surfacing disillusionment with him. “I... it's relaxing – drinking is. It calms me down, helps me to ignore... everyone and everything. It's how I get through the day.”

“You get drunk... so you can function?”

“No, not drunk,” he denied. “I just drink enough to take the edge off.”

“So, that's what you were doing when Sheriff Valenti pulled you over last week? You really weren't drunk,” Liz challenged. “You were just... taking the edge off?”

“Look,” he snapped. “You couldn't possibly understand.” Stopping his pacing to face her, though he avoided meeting her gaze, Max ran a trembling hand through his hair, pushing it back. “There are things about me that I can't tell you.”

“Everyone has secrets, Max, but most people don't run to a bottle to deal with them.”

He ignored her, instead focusing on finding where he had left his confiscated water bottle. Just like his true identity, it was still hiding in the shadows. Grabbing it, Max argued back, “no, I'm not talking about secrets; I'm... different.”

He lifted the bottle to his parched, desperate lips, but the abatement didn't arrive. Instead, he felt his salvation being ripped out of his grip as Liz yelled, “what the hell is this?”

“Give that back,” he demanded.

“No. Now answer my question.”

He stepped closer to her, crowding her, but, still, she didn't relent or back down. “That's none of your damn business, and, even if it was, you don't get it, Liz.

“No, you don't get it, Max,” she fired back at him. Mocha eyes blazing, her face flushed by the heat of her emotions, she had never looked more beautiful, more untouchable to him. “We're all different; we're teenagers, for crying out loud! No one really fits in, Max. We just do our best to find some niche where we can try to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. High school is awkward, and scary, but its also extremely brief. In a few months, we're going to graduate, and, once we do, everything can and will change. And you have so much going for you! You're smart, and good looking, and you're kind... when you're not making stupid decisions and feeling entitled to make a mess out of your life simply because you've been teased some over the years.”

Before he could protest, she moved away from him, unscrewed the lid to his water bottle, and then dumped its contents over the side of her balcony. “And this,” she continued once she was finished, finally giving him back the now-empty container, “isn't going to help you, Max. In fact, it's just making things worse. Now, you're not only that shy, quiet kid, but you're also that shy, quiet kid who got suspended, who got arrested, who, I'm guessing, got kicked off the basketball team. And what makes this all worse is that you were this wonderful guy before you suddenly decided to make all these changes in your life.”

“Yeah, this wonderful guy who was alone,” he refuted her claim, “who had no friends.”

Lifting her chin stubbornly, Liz proclaimed, “I was your friend.”

All his bravado and irritation fleeing, Max questioned softly, “was?”

She shrugged. “I don't recognize you now, and, frankly, what I do see, I don't like. To be honest, Max, you... you kind of scare me now sometimes. The way you were with me last week by your jeep, the way you treated me just a few minutes ago when I took your bottle, I deserve to be treated better than that, and, frankly, I don't need that kind of friend in my life.”

“So then I'll change,” he told her.

“I'd like to think that it's that simple, but I don't think it is.”

Feeling desperate, he demanded, “what do you mean?”

“I mean, if it was as simple as you realizing that you made a mistake and changing your behavior, then you would have done so after you got in trouble with the law. In fact, you probably would have realized that what you were doing was wrong before things even got to that point, and you never would have drove around drunk in the first place.”

“I wasn't drunk,” Max defended. It wasn't until he noticed Liz cowering that he recognized that he had just screamed at her. “I'm sorry. I didn't...”

“... mean it, I know,” she finished for him, obviously doubting his words. “But that just might make it worse and definitely scarier.”

With arms outstretched before him, prepared to beg for her forgiveness, he stepped forward, only for his dreamgirl to scramble several steps backwards, away from him. “Liz?”

“I need you to leave now, Max.”

“But I... we...”

“I need you to leave and never come here again. You're no longer welcome at the CrashDown, and you're certainly not welcome on my balcony. While I realize I have no right to ask you to change your schedule at school... once you return, I do have the right to ask you to stay away from me. Don't sit by me in class. Don't talk to me. And I'm going to ask for a different lab partner.”

“Please, don't do this,” he beseeched her.

But she ignored him. “Goodbye, Max.”

Before he could respond, before he could offer up one last objection, one last frantic plea, she turned away from him, slipped through her window, and then immediately closed the sill. The last thing he heard before swinging his legs over the edge of the balcony and onto the ladder was Liz securing the lock to her window. To his senses, it was as loud as a gun shot going off in the dead of the night, its finality striking him like the impact of a bullet and rendering just as much damage emotionally.

Once his feet touched the ground, he took off running, blindly searching for something, anything liquid that he could once more fill his water bottle with. Eventually, Max's boots splashed through a mud puddle in the back alley behind the CrashDown. Falling to his knees, he skimmed as much of the murky water into the bottle as he possibly could. Then, with a single touch, he multiplied and altered the molecules. This time, he chose to make it tequila and drank so greedily afterwards that he was forced to fill the bottle a second time before he could manage to stand up and start the trek home.

Sometime during his conversation with Liz, the night wind had switched directions, bringing with it the crispness of the northern mountains. Even with his clothes wet from kneeling in the puddle, though, Max didn't notice the chill. Rather, he was too relaxed, too calm, too numb to notice anything, to do anything, to think of anything beyond his next drink. Even Liz's devastated, hurt face slid into the background of his mind. Everything was eclipsed by the moment, and the moment, thanks to the tequila, was devoid of all sight, all smells, all sounds, all tastes, and even those very few who had ever managed to touch him and his heart.




Chapter Seven

Never before had Max ever felt so awkward... and that was saying something considering his social ineptness. He was with his parents – seated across from them in a chair while they shared the love seat, sitting close to one another as if they needed the physical contact to help strengthen their resolve. And it was silent. While his dad kept opening his mouth to say something and then, apparently, changing his mind and closing it once more, his mother was wringing her hands so tightly he could watch them go pale and then, upon release, almost purple as the blood desperately rushed back to her fingers. It was a good distraction – watching her hands, because he was in no shape for a deep, meaningful heart to heart.

He was stone cold sober, his parents having dragged him out of bed first thing that morning before they had to leave for work. So much for enjoying at least one aspect of his suspension from school. Add to that the fact that, whenever he allowed his mind to actually work, it would immediately assault him with images of a broken Liz, soundbites of their conversation the night before, and his fears of never spending another meaningful moment in her presence. All he wanted to do was go back to sleep; all he needed was a quick shot of something, anything alcoholic to dim the morning sun shining in through the open living room windows, the annoyingly persistent and shockingly loud ticking of the foyer's grand father clock.

Hell, at that point, Max was pretty sure a drink would have done not only him well but his mom and dad, too. They were just as tense, just as unsure as he was. Maybe even more so.

Somewhere between deciding his mother would be a sherry drinker and contemplating if an attempt to persuade his parents into having their extremely serious and somber discussion over breakfast so he would alter his milk and orange juice as was now his morning habit could actually succeed, Max's thoughts were interrupted by his mom fairly exploding with self-accusation. “This... you... it's all our fault, isn't it?”

Her question completely caught him off guard. Stuttering, he replied, “wha... what?”

“I think what your mother is trying to say, Max,” his mother picked up the reins of their conversation, “is that, when it comes to being your parents, we've made mistakes. There were things that we could have... handled better, and we didn't, and, for that, we are to blame.”

Putting aside the fact that he still believed that everyone in his life was making a mountain out of a mole hill – after all, he had everything under control; it was the people around him spiraling and overreacting, but, even if Max did have a problem – which he didn't, his parents would certainly not be to blame for anything he had or ever could have done wrong. Yes, theirs wasn't the healthiest of relationships, but that wasn't because he didn't love and appreciate them or recognize just how lucky he was that Phillip and Diane Evans had found him that night so long ago in the desert. Rather, their relationship was hindered by the very same issue which hindered every aspect of Max's life: his alienness. It was hard to get close to someone if you feared doing so could result in both their death and yours.

To that effect, he tried to argue with his parents. “No, you guys have been amazing. When I think of everything that you've done for me...”

“Oh, sweetie,” his mom cut him off. “It was out pleasure. But we should have done more.”

But they had always given him everything and anything that he needed or wanted. “What else could you have possibly given me?”

“Counseling, son.”

“Excuse me,” he questioned his father, his back already stiffening, his shoulders squaring, his flight instinct just barely simmering under the surface of his unreadable expression.

“From the beginning, we knew that you were special, that raising you would be different than anything any child rearing book could tell us,” his mother explained. “Given the way we found you and all the evidence which led us to believe that you had been traumatized in some way, as soon as you could talk, you should have gone to therapy. But you were so shy and so scared of anyone but your father and I. So, when you begged us not to make you go, we relented. We promised ourselves that we'd be there for you to talk to and that, if ever a situation came up which we felt incapable of handling, then we'd reexamine the issue.”

“And let me guess: that situation is this, is now?”

“Yes, your mother and I have decided that you are going to start seeing a therapist. You'll start out going three times a week and, in a few months' time, we'll reevaluate.”

“Yeah, because going to a shrink is really going to help me fit in and seem more normal,” Max scoffed. “If you think that I'll voluntarily go to a....”

His father cut him off. “If you think that you'll be driving yourself anywhere, young man, then you have another thing coming. Even if the law doesn't take your license from you, your mother and I are taking the jeep away.”

“You're selling my jeep,” he exploded.

“Honey, no,” his mom was quick to reassure him. “The jeep's yours. It's just... until we feel as though we can trust you to make responsible decisions again, you won't be given access to it. Your dad already confiscated your keys last night while you were... indisposed.”

“So, you're grounding me?” Max laughed, rolling his eyes, but there was no humor in either gesture. “I'm eighteen years old, a senior in high school, and you're grounding me? Do you realize how ridiculous you are?”

“And do you realize that you're lucky we're giving you this opportunity at a second chance,” his father countered. “Most parents would just ship their delinquent son off to military school, but we believe that you're better than this.”

“So, what do you propose?”

“We're not proposing anything, son,” his dad once more answered him. “It's either do this our way or don't and go to military school.” Continuing, he listed off the hoops Max would have to jump through in order to just remain in his own home. “First, as you know, there will be no more basketball. Period. Even if the school reinstates your eligibility, your mother and I decided that you need to focus on your grades. In the past couple of months or so, they've just bottomed out. You're in serious jeopardy of ruining your chances of going to even a decent college. Secondly, you'll be going to therapy. Either your mother or I will pick you up, wait for you, and then drive you home. You will not leave this house unless one of us is with you. And, finally, while you're home from school during these next two weeks, you won't be sitting idly. Your mom has a whole laundry list of things she wanted me to get to around the house, but those will be your responsibility now, and I've added a few chores of my own as well for good measure.”

“Is that it? Are we through here?”

“Well, I guess that's everything we needed to tell you,” his mother spoke slowly, exchanging a reassuring glance with his father. “Would you like some breakfast, honey?”

Max stood. “You know, for some reason, I'm not hungry. Maybe it's the house arrest. Just leave your damn list on the kitchen table.”

And, with that, he stalked off.
; : ;
Max stretched, his hips thrusting upwards when his legs were prevented from extending past their cramped position. Slitting a single eye, he glanced at his surroundings, feeling momentarily displaced until he realized where he was. Just like on Monday morning and on Wednesday morning, he was at his shrink's office, passed out uncomfortably on the proverbial couch... only he didn't use it to be psycho-analyzed; he used it for a nap. Considering how stiff his neck was and what his parents were paying hourly for his so-called sessions with the good doctor, Max had a pretty good feeling they were getting jipped.

He yawned then, wincing at how disgusting the inside of his mouth tasted and felt. He'd give just about anything in that moment for a toothbrush or a little mouthwash, but he definitely wasn't at the dentist. No, he was at his therapist's, and he was supposed to be confessing all his deep, dark secrets, but Max had a sneaking suspicion that 'hey, doc, I'm an alien who needs to connect with someone so badly that my senses are extremely acute because I suppress my instincts and hide who I really am from the rest of the world out of fear of being locked up, experimented on, and tortured to death, but you won't tell anyone right?' wouldn't go over so well. In that light, he prepared to roll over onto his side, giving the psychologist and his intrusive questions the old 'screw you' through his body language, but, when he finally paid attention to his surroundings, he realized that Dr. Isaac's voice was not coming from inside of the older man's office but from the reception area.

“This is the third time this week, Mrs. Evans, that your son has shown up drunk to his appointment and then proceeded to pass out on my couch. Obviously, our arrangement is not working.”

“I can assure you that neither my husband nor myself know where he is getting all this alcohol. We cleaned out our liquor cabinet. I threw away my cooking wine. I even checked all our medicine cabinets to make sure that there wasn't any cough syrup after I read that there are teenagers who will drink it to get a buzz.”

“Well, then,” the shrink suggested, “Max must have a secret, hidden stash.”

“Dr. Isaac, while I'm not naïve enough to think that there aren't people in this world who will sell booze to underage kids, Max has no means to go and purchase anything. He doesn't have a job, so he's dependent upon his father and I to give him money... which we've stopped doing, and we took his jeep away from him.”

“And you're gone all day at work, Mrs. Evans. Roswell, while not the largest city, still possesses its fair share of bars and liquor stores, and your son is in excellent physical shape. It would be quite easy for him to walk to wherever it is he gets his alcohol while you and your husband are at work. You'd never be the wiser unless you actually caught him. As for how he's paying for it, addicts are quite resourceful when it comes to getting a fix.”

He could hear the affront in his mom's voice when she sputtered, “Max is not an addict, Dr. Isaac! Granted, he's going through a rough time right now, and he has some problems, but this has only been going on for a couple of months.”

“If he had been snorting cocaine for three months straight, would you be arguing with my diagnosis then,” the psychologist challenged her. “What if he had been shooting heroin up his veins? Just because it's more typical and less frightening to see your teenager drinking, that does not mean that Max doesn't have a very serious issue with substance abuse.”

“I hadn't thought of it that way,” his mother confessed, her voice dull and dismayed with horrified realization.

But Max was furious. For that smug bastard to judge him after what were essentially three non-sessions, for him to act as if he knew what made Max tick, and what motivated him, and why he behaved the way he did made Max see red. The shrink had no right to make such a call, not to mention upsetting his mother for no good reason. Now, on top of dealing with her disappointment and guilt, he'd also have to deal with her paranoia, her suspicion, and her overprotective fear. But then Dr. Isaac was talking again, and Max could no longer focus on his rage; he had to pay attention.

“Obviously, this is not working. I'm not sure if it's therapy in general, or if Max is just failing to respond positively to me, but you and your husband, Mrs. Evans, should start considering some alternative treatment options for your son. While I'd be happy to keep Max as a patient – after all, it's frustrating yet still easy money for me, it's certainly not benefiting Max at this point.”

“Yes, I can see that we have some very important decisions to make before us,” his mom agreed, making his animosity shift focus and settle on her instead.

The fact that his mother would believe some stranger, some quack over him made Max tremble with barely restrained anger. Plus, he felt abandoned by the very last person whom he had believed to still be on his side. Suddenly, everything was just too much. Like always, his senses flared, and, under the strain, Max's head started to pound. With quivering fingers and muscles which felt like jelly, he pushed himself into a sitting position and then swayed to his feet. Quietly, so as not to make a sound that would alert his mom and Dr. Isaac to the fact that he was awake, he made his way out of the shrink's office, down the hall, and into the little kitchenette. Locating a clean, plastic cup, Max filled it with water from the faucet and then quickly transformed the unoffending liquid into vodka – odorless and clear-colored, high-proof vodka.

Downing the entire cup, Max did not receive the immediate numbing that he was used to. His eyes still stung, his nose still burned, his ears still rang, his skin still felt to tight, and he could still taste the staleness that was the doctor office's air. His migraine still raged, and, even with the aid of the alcohol, he couldn't get control of his body. With shaking hands he filled a second glass, altered the water's molecules, and then downed it as well. After the second glass, some abatement was achieved, but it wasn't enough.

It was never enough anymore.

With that thought, Max repeated his process a third time, finally feeling as though he was ready to face his mother. Just as quietly, he walked back down the hall, but, instead of returning to Dr. Isaac's office, he slipped into the reception area unannounced. Without acknowledging either his shrink or his mom, he simply left the building. After all, really, what was there to say? No matter what he said, his mother was determined to believe an unknown and unproven psychologist over her own son, and, if that's the way she wanted to play the game, Max would let her. He didn't need her. He didn't need anyone, not if they weren't going to trust him, and his mother clearly didn't.

While his life had always been lonely, now he knew what it was like to be completely alone in the world. And it wasn't a good feeling.





Thanks to _coccy_ for the gorgeous avie!

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Re: Serenity (AU, M/L, MATURE) 6 & 7/13 & Ep. - 03/30/2014

Post by oyhumbug » Fri Apr 11, 2014 8:50 pm

A/N: Hello again! Before Max can help himself, Natalie36, he has to admit that he needs help, and let's just say that Max hasn't hit bottom yet. That's coming up, though. The good news, Carolyn, is that, despite the fact that grounding him and forcing him to go to therapy haven't worked yet, Max's parents still haven't given up on him. They'll be trying a new tactic in this update. The bad news is that, as you alluded to, Max is SO far gone. Perhaps you saw that I accidentally had this story labeled as complete at FF.net, Eve, but the last post was just the halfway point. Sorry about that. Finally, Roswelllostcause, even if Max has lost Liz for good (and I'm not saying that), she can't be the ONLY reason why he gets sober, and she can't fix this for him. Max needs to realize on his own that he wants to get clean, and he needs to want it for himself, too. And, now, that's it for the comments. :-) Thanks for reading and reviewing, everyone, and enjoy the next two chapters.

~Charlynn~





Chapter Eight

Ice cold water smacked him in the face, immediately making Max wake from the nothingness of sleep. He had discovered that, if he drank enough during the day, his nights would be peaceful once he closed his eyes, once he passed out. And that's how he made it through his life now, one day at a time. Despite once more catching glimpses of Liz, being back in school was unbearable. He had gone from, just weeks before, sitting next to her, talking to her, and being her friend to having Liz now ostracize him. Forget sharing a conversation with her, his dreamgirl wouldn't even look in his direction, and it was slowly killing Max – the distance between them.

What was more, it made him otherness seem even more pronounced. The less contact he had with Liz, the worse his reactions to the stimuli around him became. He saw more, heard more, smelled more, tasted more, and felt the touch of more. It was all he could do to numb his senses enough to even walk upright. Every second of every day had become a challenge of survival. His pain was constant. While his body had always craved and pressured him to form a connection with someone, now that he had experienced being close to Liz but no longer had the right to such a pleasure, his instincts were even more demanding, his urges nearly undeniable. It took all of Max's reserve not to beg for her forgiveness. At this point, it wasn't even his pride preventing him from making a further fool of himself; it was the fact that, even if Liz would consent to being his friend again, he knew that he would no longer be satisfied with mere friendship, and there could never be anything more between them. If his disaster of a relationship with his parents had taught him anything, it was the fact that, no matter what, he couldn't trust anyone, especially if they claimed to love him.

It was the feeling of the shock-inducing water slipping down the collar of his t-shirt to leisurely trail its way down his now shivering back which brought Max back to the present and out of his own thoughts. With that reminder, his inner despair quickly morphed into outer rage, and he yelled, “what the hell was that for?”

Calmly and in a very soft spoken tone, his father answered, “I wanted to make sure that your mother and I had your complete and total attention.”

It was only then that Max realized both of his parents were in the room. While his dad was standing directly before him, a large pot clenched loosely in a lax, forgotten grip, Max's mom was in the shadows, blending into the background as if she was cowering from the upcoming confrontation. And that's exactly what was about to happen. There was no other way to interpret his father's steely, determined gaze or his alpha-male attitude in that moment.

“Well, I'm definitely awake now,” he bit out acerbically. “Would you two mind getting out of my room so that I can change? I'll meet you downstairs in a few minutes.”

“And give you an opportunity to find your secret stash and drink yourself into oblivion first? I don't think so.”

Despite his dad's words being true, he didn't flinch. In fact, he didn't react at all. “So, you'd rather I sit here – cold – in wet clothes while you and mom lecture me? Again?” Adding a sarcastic note to his voice, Max ridiculed, “someone's not worried about winning father of the year.”

“Sweet....” His mother had started to call him by one of her many favorite terms of endearment, but, when she stopped herself, blanched, and then swallowed roughly, he realized that, whatever his parents were prepared to talk to him about that evening, they were just as upset about it as he would surely be in a matter of minutes. Correcting herself, his mom instead said, “Max, you've never been sick a day in your life... well, at least, since you came to live with us.” Not since the day you became our son. Already, the cracks in his parents' caring veneer were starting to show. While he had always known it was only a matter of time before they regretted adopting him, Phillip and Diane Evans were showing their true colors much sooner than he had anticipated. Lamely, she finished, “you'll be fine, and this... what your father and I have to say to you... is important.”

Standing from his wet bed, Max stripped off his dripping t-shirt, dropped it onto the floor, and then located a dry one from a basket of clean, folded laundry. He paid no mind to the fact that, while he dug for the shirt, he upset most of the other clothes, unfolding them. Some even spilled onto the floor, but he didn't care. Then, ignoring his parents' presence, he changed his pajama bottoms as well, thankful that he had on boxers underneath his drawstring pants. Comfortable once more, he disinterestedly collapsed into his desk chair, laced his fingers behind his head, leaned back, and offered his parents a bored stare. “Let me guess: you're worried about my grades. If I don't turn them around soon, I'll never stand a chance of getting into a good school. Or maybe you wanted to tell me about the new shrink you're going to force me to see. If so, don't worry. I'll go willingly; I won't fight you this time. You see, I've been missing my afternoon naps. It's just not the same trying to sleep in school with my head on my desk instead of a pillow and a classroom full of idiots droning on around me. I'd rather just have to block out one moron rather than twenty.”

“Are you finished yet,” his father asked tensely when Max paused for breath. Tilting his head to the side and shrugging his shoulders, he made a noncommittal sound of concession. “This is not about your grades, though we are concerned about them.”

“Don't be. I've decided I'm not going to college anyway.”

Instantly, his mother shot across the room in his direction, only to be stopped when his dad held out an arm, preventing her from passing him and moving any closer to Max. “What do you mean? Of course you're going to go to college! If you don't... honey, what kind of future would you have then?”

“Diane, we discussed this already,” his dad said in a softer tone, a tone obviously meant for his mother's ears alone, though Max could hear perfectly well everything his father was and was not saying. “Right now, we have bigger fish to fry.”

“I know, but....”

He watched on as his dad gently helped his mother back into the shadows, preventing her from voicing whatever protest she had been prepared to say. Though he was still feigning boredom, secretly, Max was beginning to panic. Something bigger than his grades or his going to therapy was about to go down, and the sinking feeling in his stomach told him that, whatever it was, he wasn't going to like it. Somehow, Max just knew that his life – or, more precisely, what was left of it – was about to come crashing down around him.

To cement his concerns, his father revealed, “this isn't about therapy either, son. You have made it abundantly clear that you refuse to cooperate with your mother and I. We've done everything that we could think of to help you, to get you back on track without actually having to.... Well, anyway, we've exhausted our options, and you've left us with only one remaining course of action.”

Sitting up straight on the edge of his chair, Max barked, “just get to the point already, dad. What are you trying to say?”

Without blinking, without remorse, and without a single sign of weakness, his father announced, “tomorrow morning, I'll be driving you to rehab.”

Immediately, jumping to his feet, Max challenged, “you can't do...”

But his dad interrupted him, the older man's control snapping. “Don't tell me what I can and cannot do, Max. You are still my son; you are still my child. I have every right to get you help, and, if you refuse to help yourself, than your mother and I will do whatever we feel is necessary to get you better again.”

“This isn't the answer,” he protested. Already feeling trapped, he started to pace. “You don't understand. I'm not a drunk; I don't have a drinking problem.”

“You could have fooled us,” Phillip retorted acrimoniously.

Ignoring his dad, Max continued to try to explain. While he knew he was rambling, while he knew that he was losing the last thin thread of his control, in that moment, he didn't care. “It's just that... without it, without the alcohol, everything is too much. I can't handle it. I don't want to drink. I don't like it, or how it tastes, but I need how it makes me feel.” Looking up at his parents beseechingly, he added, “I know I've made some poor choices lately, but I'll get it together again, I promise. Just give me a little more time. I can handle this. I am handling it.”

When his mom stepped forward, Max could clearly see the tear tracks obscuring her face, though their presence barely registered on his desperate mind. “Honey, listen to yourself. Don't you hear what you're saying?”

“What I hear is that my parents don't want me around anymore, that they think I'm a lost cause.”

“If we felt that way, Max, we wouldn't be trying to help you,” his dad answered. “We wouldn't be spending a good portion of our retirement fund to send you to rehab.”

Screaming, he responded, “I never asked you to!”

“No, you didn't,” his father acknowledged, “and, one day hopefully, you'll understand yourself that sometimes parents have to do things for their children that their kids don't want. You need to trust that your mother and I know what's best for you, Max.”

“Trust you,” he spit the words back towards them, his voice drenched in contempt. “By doing this, you two are making my biggest fear a reality.” Knowing exactly how to hurt them as much as they were killing him, he sent out one last parting shot. “You found me on the side of a road – naked, lost, mute, and, now, you're abandoning me, too. What great parents you turned out to be. You should have just left me out in the desert alone.”

With his words, his mother's silent tears became audible sobs, but Max, in his need to leave, didn't pay her any attention. Instead, he pushed past his dad when the older man tried to prevent him from fleeing the room, and he didn't stop or look back as his parents pursued him down the hall, down the stairs, or out the front door. He felt trapped, and he needed to escape. That was the only thing Max could focus on: getting away. Hopping into the jeep, he started the old army vehicle without keys, uncaring of what his parents would think or wonder about his actions. Peeling away from the only place he had ever considered home, his devastated parents looking on in astonishment and mortification, in fear and frustration, Max briefly wondered if it was the last time he'd ever see that house and those people. And then he thought about getting a drink.
; : ;
He wasn't sure where his mind had been before, but Max had now come crashing back down to reality. No matter how hurt he was by his parents, he knew that he couldn't leave town. Roswell was his home – not because that's where he had lived his entire life, not because that's where he had been found, but because that's where Liz Parker was. While he couldn't go back to the house on Murray Lane, he also couldn't run as far away as he had initially wanted to.

Max took another swig of whatever it was he was currently drinking, laughing bitterly at the thought of what would happen to him if someone could somehow see inside of him, his thoughts. Though he could no longer taste the burning sensation of the liquor sliding down his dust coated throat, he was far from the numb state he sought. His unrealistic – for him – and unhealthy – for her – love, need, infatuation, obsession for and with Liz Parker was pressing down upon him no matter how fast he drove, how hard he fought against it, how much he drank. The weight of his surroundings as he sped by them still pressed down upon Max. His acute senses were in overdrive; nothing and no amount of alcohol were quelling them that night.

As his jeep soared down the deserted highways surrounding Roswell, he could smell the choking combination of burning asphalt and rubber as the friction of his tires against the road rubbed out anything pure and fresh about the desert air. Meanwhile, the jeep's normal bumps and jolts seemed magnified, his vibrations rocking up through the floorboards to travel through Max's body. A tuning rod for every slight movement, he was long past nauseous. And so that's what he tasted – the bile from his own stomach overriding the relief of the whiskey, vodka, scotch, gin that he drank and burning his mouth in recrimination.

Max could have handled all that, though, for it was nothing new. What was worse was the sound of his own desperate heartbeat and the vision of his own failures flashing relentlessly before his otherwise unseeing eyes. As scene after scene of mistake after mistake haunted him, taunted him – Liz's disappointed frown, Liz's sad eyes, her tears, Liz walking away from him, Max also had to contend with the overwhelming pressure weighing down his chest. His heart was pounding so ferociously, so quickly that he could no longer discern its moments of rest. It was like one constant shot of tension, the tightness spreading outward from his chest; down through his torso, his arms, his legs; only to pool heavily in the tips of his fingers, his toes, leaving his head floating and dizzy, oxygen deprived, and in pain. His drive, his need, his biological imperative to connect with someone had never been so urgent.

In vain, he continued to drink. Sips turned into gulps as Max's despair ratcheted up his need to quell urges. It had worked before, it had been working for the past few months, and it quite simply had to work again. If it didn't.... Well, Max didn't really want to contemplate what would happen if he couldn't get himself under control. Thanks to his parents' abandonment, their betrayal, he was already on the edge. Even in his nearly mindless state, Max couldn't help but fear what would happen to his sanity if one more thing went wrong. He was that close to the edge.

So, Max drank, and he drove. Dusk had long since turned into early evening which had then melted away into the murkiness of night. As the miles flew by, swirling around him in an endless loop of melancholy and distraction, Max got no closer to finding any of the answers he sought. Instead, he just continued to break his own rules. After nearly twelve years of trying to fit in, of trying to act as normal as possible, he simply existed. When his gas ran out, he created more. When his human body begged to be relieved, he used his alien abilities to fix the physical interruption. When the salty accusation of his tears touched his mouth, he altered them, lapped them, and then mourned the fact that they, just like the alcohol he consumed so consistently, so rapidly, so greedily, did nothing to dull the ache of dejection, the sting of sorrow.

Eventually, the highways gave away to residential streets; his route changed from circular to a maze of dangerous, screeching turns. It was the light of companionship which drew him away from the solitary confinements of the desert. Though the pinpoints of warmth blurred past him given the speed at which he was driving, Max still craved to be near what he himself couldn't have: intimacy. Every light represented a family sitting down for a late dinner, kids being read a bedtime story by their parents, a couple curled up together on the couch to watch their favorite television program – scenes his heart cried out for but would never be allowed to experience.

And then the lights disappeared. Dissolved. Darkened to nothingness.

With a sickening punch of bruised flesh and broken bones, he felt his jeep collide with something it shouldn't have. For a brief moment, Max considered running away – just leaving behind whatever it was he had injured and not facing the consequences of his own actions, but he knew that such an instinct was his alien side attempting to assert its dominance, and he held hysterically, fiercely onto the part of him that was human and demanding that he do the right thing.

Jarringly applying the brakes, the jeep came to a screaming stop in the middle of a road Max suddenly realized that he recognized. It was a nice street – a street full of single mothers and their children, small homes, and Maria DeLuca. Max couldn't even count the number of times he had slowly driven down the street in hope of spotting his dreamgirl walking, laughing, talking, living with and beside her best friend. And that's when the sickening feeling of dread settled low in his stomach.

Quickly and without even thinking about his actions, Max put the jeep in park and jumped out of the barely just stilled vehicle. If he could have willed himself to the spot where the prone form – a form he had just seconds before believed to be some family's treasured pet, he would have. Instead, though, he had to settle for sprinting in the body's direction, ignoring the overwhelming sight, smell, and taste of the damning blood rapidly pooling beneath the tennis shoes, legs, torso, shoulders, and thick, chestnut mane of hair he would have been able to recognize with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back.

Falling to his knees beside her, Max wasted no time in gently yet swiftly turning her over. With her disfigured face held tenderly between his hands, he begged, pleaded, ordered, screamed in a whisper, “open your eyes, Liz; I need you to open your eyes, damn it. Please!”

She didn't move, didn't stir.

Leaning down further so that their foreheads were touching, he tried once again. “I can't do this without you, Liz. I know I don't deserve your help or your trust, but you need to do this for me. For yourself. Open your eyes. Open your eyes, and I'll never ask another thing of you ever again.”

At first her lashes just fluttered, then they trembled, and then, finally, they lifted. Mixed in with feelings of pain and bewilderment, there was recognition shining through in the depths of Liz Parker's coffee colored eyes. “Max...?,” she questioned, her voice a mere exhalation against his lips.

“It's okay, Liz,” he promised her. “Everything is going to be alright.”

And then it happened – the thing he feared and desired most. In a whirlwind of images, feelings, confessions of the heart, and flashes of the mind, he let his barriers down, risked everything and nothing all at once, and connected with Liz Parker.




Chapter Nine

“You were drunk again, weren't you?”

Of all the things for Liz to zero in and focus on....

They were still sitting in the street – Max exhausted and barely remaining upright; Liz sprawled out unselfconsciously on his lap. At the sound of her voice, he realized that he was idly running his fingers through her matted hair, slowly removing all traces – the blood, the dirt – of the trauma she had narrowly managed to survive, the trauma he had inadvertently inflicted upon her. In the murky haze of a fatigue, of a contentedness the likes of which he had never experienced before, Max's mind had been blissfully quiet until Liz's accusation had interrupted the stillness. Now, though, with her dismayed and saddened gaze drilling into him, reality came crashing down around him.

And it was amazing.

He laughed then – a carefree, light as air song of mirth and amusement. “Of all the things you could have asked me right now, that's what you picked? The world of science is disappointed in you, Miss Parker.”

She immediately pushed away from him, putting distance between their formerly entwined bodies, but, still, even Liz's obvious discomfort could not dampen his good mood, and, amazingly, she did not sever the connection between them just simmering under the surface of consciousness. With a hard voice and an even harder expression, she accused, “that's not an answer, Max. Either tell me the truth, or I walk away – right here, right now. For good. No more second chances.”

If he had been enchanted with her before what they had shared during the past several minutes, Max now knew that his very sanity, his very life depended upon maintaining some sort of relationship with Liz. Everything he had ever wanted was finally within his grasp – he had shared his darkest secrets with someone and they hadn't gone running off, screaming into the night. They had stayed, they hadn't shied away from his touch, and, to Max, it was like getting a glimpse of the unconditional love he craved so much but feared reaching out for. He was addicted.

So, it was with that need in mind that he spoke candidly. “It's not what you think, Liz,” he told her pleadingly, imploringly. Reaching out a hand towards her, seeking and wanting to give support, he waited to see if Liz would grant and request the same from him. She did – tentatively, almost timidly, but, still, she eventually laced her fingers through his, and it was then that Max felt confident enough to continue. “You felt it, didn't you – the connection? When I healed you, it was like our minds joined. I saw you, and, for the first time in my life, I allowed someone to truly see me. The drinking... I did it because I couldn't risk connecting. It helped... or, at least, it used to.”

She squeezed his hand. It was an encouraging gesture, one of appreciation for his sincerity. “I don't think I understand, Max.”

He searched his mind for a moment, contemplating how he could make her realize just what exactly had truly been shared between them. Finally, with inspiration, he told her, “close your eyes.” She looked at him warily for several seconds before begrudgingly giving in to his request. Watching her avidly, Max asked, “alright, now, tell me what you smell.”

“You,” was her immediate answer. Max grinned when he saw Liz blush with her admission, the rosy glow illuminated by the street lights above and the distant beams of his still running jeep. “I can smell the laundry detergent on your clothes, the soap, alcohol, and sweat on your skin. But that's not all,” she said excitedly, and he watched as Liz became more animated. “I can smell freshly mowed grass... even though it has been hours since the sun set, and the dew is heavy tonight. I can smell the asphalt, someone smoking in their backyard down the street, popcorn popping in the house behind us, and I can smell the traces of my own blood despite the fact that you cleaned it up already.”

“Good,” he praised her, encouraged her. “Now, tell me what you hear.”

“Your heartbeat, my heartbeat, the faint drone of a dozen televisions, cicadas, mosquitos buzzing, a child turning over in its bed, distant traffic from several streets over, and the flapping of a bat's wings. Max, this is amazing,” she gushed, starting to open her eyes, but he stopped her.

“Wait, don't look at me, not yet,” he beseeched her. “First, tell me what you taste – take a deep breath through your mouth, and tell me what you taste on the breeze.”

“Grill smoke from a lingering barbeque, cedar chips from a nearby, recently mulched flower garden, and the exhaust from your jeep. It should be unpleasant, but it's oddly... relaxing, like I'm now a natural part of my surroundings instead of disrupting them.”

“And none of this is painful to you, right?”

This time, when she opened her gaze to lock with his, he didn't stop her. “No, it's not painful,” she reassured him. “Why?”

“Because it used to be for me. Everything you're experiencing right now, I've dealt with my entire life... or, at least, since I was six when my parents found me. Before that, I'm not sure where or what I was. That's immaterial now, though. My heightened senses, however, weren't pleasant, and they certainly didn't seem natural. I had this... need, this instinct to connect with someone, but I couldn't, because I was afraid of what would happen if anyone found out the truth about me.” Liz started to interrupt him, but he held up his free hand which was not entangled with hers, asking her to wait until he was finished.

“Because I refused to connect with someone, my body used my heightened senses to try and force me to. Everything was magnified, bigger, more. I tried to manage them, but, if my emotions were triggered, everything just became worse. Sometimes there'd be days when I just couldn't handle the sensory overload, and I'd get these debilitating migraines. Then, last fall, there was this night where my dad and I accidentally got our glasses confused, and I downed his scotch in one gulp. It was disgusting, and it burned my throat, but, soon afterwards, everything was just... muted. I realized that drinking numbed my senses. If I drank enough, I could act semi-normal. I could sit in the cafeteria with everyone else during lunch, I could play basketball, I could talk to you. Do you have any idea how much that meant to me, how long I had dreamed of just... being your friend?”

Liz's mouth quirked into a crooked smile, her eyes danced with amusement, and she squeezed his hand still held protectively within her own. “After what you showed me tonight... when you healed me, when we connected, I think I have a pretty good idea.” This time, it was his turn to blush. She didn't allow the moment of levity to distract her, though. Getting back to the topic at hand, she prompted, “what happened then? I'm guessing your body needed more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect?”

“Yeah,” Max admitted, never loving her or her brilliant mind more than he did in that moment. He was utterly amazed by her composure, by her grace under pressure. “Looking back now, I guess I built up a tolerance, though I can't really recall when I lost control of everything.”

Gently, she told him, “you lost control the moment you turned to drinking in order to achieve an end result, the moment you started to believe that you needed a drink to do anything.”

He recognized a tone of awareness, of knowledge to Liz's words that she shouldn't have. “You... how do you know so much about this?”

Instead of answering him, though, she stood up, pulling on his hand in a silent invitation for him to follow her. He did... if for no other reason than he wasn't ready to stop touching her. “We need to get out here before someone sees us. I can't believe we've had this much time as it is.”

“Okay,” he readily agreed. “Where do you want to go? I'll take you anywhere, but we're not done talking. There are some more things I need to tell you, and I'm sure there are a ton of things you still want to ask me.”

“Yeah, you're right. We do need to talk some more, but you're not driving anywhere, Max.”

“Wait, what do you mean? I'm fine, Liz. After what just happened....”

“Exactly,” she interrupted him. “After what just happened, I'm not getting into a vehicle with you.”

Leaving everything up to her, he asked, “alright, so what do you want to do instead?”

“Fix your jeep, move it, and park it here for the night. You can come back and get in the morning... when I know you're definitely sober.” Reading between the lines, Max realized that Liz intended for them to spend the night together. Whether it was because she felt she had to babysit him, because they had so much to talk about, or because she just wanted to be near him, he didn't care. The thought of spending so much uninterrupted, private, personal time with his dreamgirl literally made any other concern, any other idea, flee his mind in a rush of pure, exulted anticipation. Realizing she was still talking, though, he shook away his own preoccupation and tuned back in to what Liz was saying. “... walk back to my place. It's not far. I do it all the time, was doing it tonight before....”

“Yeah... before,” he repeated lamely. But then he couldn't help himself, and Max smiled at the beautiful, amazing girl standing before him – a big, dopey grin that, if he wasn't so happy in that moment, despite everything, would have totally embarrassed him. “Okay.” With one last squeeze of Liz's hand, he let go of her and ran off to do what he was told. After moving the jeep, parking it, and turning it off, he jumped out to fix the damage to his front end. He worked quickly, and, out of the corner of his eye, he watched an astonished Liz observe him. Though a million emotions were flashing across her face, the one that he didn't see was fear. Buoyed and emboldened by the fact, once finished, he moved back to her side, slipped his left hand into hers, and said, “let's go.”
; : ;
“Rise and shine.”

He felt a foot connect with his leg... at least, he thought it was a foot, and he was pretty sure it was his leg, only Max had no idea what in the world was happening, let alone where he was. Squinting against the dim light, he tried to roll over onto his side but failed. Giving up almost immediately, he moaned into what he quickly realized to be a cement floor. “Huh?”

“I said rise and shine. The day doesn't wait for anyone... not even you.”

He knew that voice. While it wasn't one he was used to hearing, it was also one that, years ago, he had made a point of memorizing in the effort of easier recognition. Twisting his neck around and swallowing several times in an effort to provide his extremely dry and extremely foul tasting mouth with a little moisture, he finally observed the man trying to rouse him. “Mr. Parker?” As soon as the name was out of his mouth, he ricocheted into a sitting position, bending to the side in an attempt to see past his living, breathing wake-up call and into the room behind the balcony on which he was still reclined. “Where's Liz?”

But Mr. Parker simply mimicked his actions, bending over so as to block his view. “She's asleep... in the room I share with her mother. Did you really think I'd allow my innocent daughter to stay anywhere near you last night? While I might not be a teenager anymore, Max, I also wasn't born yesterday.”

He hadn't even realized that he had spent the night at the Parkers until that very moment... let alone that Liz had informed her parents of his presence the evening before, but Max's common sense was at least present enough to realize admitting just how out of it he had been the night before was probably not the best idea in the world. So, instead, he asked, “uh... what time is it?”

“It's 4:30 AM,” Mr. Parker responded in an unreasonably chipper mood given how earlier in the morning it was. Before Max could adjust to the older man's pronouncement, a pile of clothes was dumped in his lap. “Get dressed.”

For a moment, he feared the worst, but a quick look down at his own body confirmed that Max had not sometime during the night stripped and made an exhibitionist of himself. Reassured that he wasn't indeed naked, he inanely said, “but I am dressed.”

“Not for what we're about to do.” Checking his watch, Jeff Parker added, “two minutes, Max, and then we're leaving. I have a restaurant to open, don't forget.”

Without offering further protest, he tried to stand gingerly, but the movement was wobbly and uncoordinated as a newborn colt's first steps. He head screamed in pain, rebelling against the early hour and the rude interruption from sleep, and his body felt weighed down and clammy. His hands shook when he reached to remove his shirt. What he needed was a drink... maybe two. A drink would settle his mutinous stomach and calm his nerves. After all, it wasn't every morning that a guy was woken up by their dreamgirl's father after spending the night on said dreamgirl's balcony. Not only did he need a drink, Max believed that he deserved one. It wasn't until he found himself glancing around the concrete and brick expanse of Liz's private oasis that he realized what he was doing, what he was thinking, and the realization made him freeze. As flashes of Liz's broken, bleeding body tumbled before his eyes, his heart cringed in regret and misery even though he remembered that he had just barely managed to save her before she died in his arms.

Quietly, compassionately, Mr. Parker broke him out of his revelry. “Max, we really do need to get a move on here.”

Without glancing behind him, he nodded in acquiescence, rushing to do as requested. Stripping off his dirty t-shirt, Max finally felt the crispness of the air when a cool, morning breeze puckered and raised his exposed skin. The chilliness made him dress even faster. After trading his own jeans for a pair of borrowed sweatpants, no doubt Jeff Parker's, Max then retied his shoe laces, glad that he had been wearing sneakers the night before and not work boots.

“Just leave your clothes. Nancy will put them in the wash this afternoon, and I'll give them back to you tomorrow.”

Though Max picked up on the fact that Mr. Parker was assuming that they would see each other the next day, he didn't ask how or why the older man took such a conclusion for granted. While he was certainly not at his best that morning, he had picked up on the fact that, whatever was about to happen between the two of them, Jeff would be doing most of the talking, while Max merely listened and occasionally confirmed that he was paying attention. He also somehow knew that, after that morning, his life would never be the same.

Wordlessly, he obeyed and then followed Mr. Parker down Liz's balcony ladder. Once both of their feet were solidly placed upon the alley's pavement below, Jeff started stretching – twisting his torso, contorting his arms across his chest and behind his neck, reaching down to touch his toes, and Max mimicked his actions. After several minutes of warming up, Jeff simply started to jog, never once looking back to make sure that Max was following him, simply taking it for granted that Max would. And he did.

They ran for several minutes before Mr. Parker spoke up, his breathing only slightly more noticeable than normal. “Before we go and talk with your parents, we're going to sweat out all that booze you consumed last night.”

“I...,” he started to argue, not wanting Liz's dad to know such things about him, but he was immediately interrupted.

“And don't try to deny it. You smell like a distillery. In fact,” Jeff mused out loud, glancing in his direction out of the corner of his dark, knowing eyes, “just what in the world were you drinking last night? You smell awful... and you look even worse.”

It was too late to deny, so Max elected to try being candid. “I really don't know. Plus, I slept on a concrete floor. Outside. Trust me, I feel even worse than I look.”

Solemnly, the older man replied, “it could have been worse. You could have spent the night in the drunk dank... or the morgue.”

“Just what exactly did Liz tell you about last night?”

“Well, for the both of your sakes, I hope the truth – that she found you on her way home from Maria's, drunk and attempting to drive. She made you get out of your vehicle, took your keys, and had you come home with her. She said once you got back to the apartment, it didn't take you long to pass out, and that's when she came to talk to me.”

From what Max could remember, aside from the whole part where he had hit Liz while attempting to drive and it was the accident which made him get out of the jeep, Mr. Parker pretty much knew the truth. Despite his best intentions, it had been impossible for Max to stay awake much longer than what it took to walk back to the Crashdown and climb the ladder to Liz's balcony. Between all the alcohol he had consumed and then the ensuing exhaustion from healing Liz's wounds, he had been dead to the world mere minutes after arriving at the Parker's residence... which meant that he and Liz still had a lot to discuss.

He couldn't say any of that to Jeff, though, so, instead, he asked – genuinely caring about the older man's response, “she's not in trouble, is she?”

“For doing the right thing?”

“For bringing me – a guy – back to her... well...”

“Liz was upfront about her actions, and her mother and I trust her, Max, because she's never given us a reason not to.”

That stung. Even if Mr. Parker hadn't said so, his meaning was clearly implied: that Max had given his parents plenty of reasons not to trust him. In the meantime, his lungs were also starting to sting. Though it had only been a few months since he had been booted from the basketball team, he was clearly out of shape, and, after only ten minutes of running, he was feeling the pinch of his body's deficiencies. For someone whose ability to escape, to run from danger was possibly imperative to his basic survival, the realization was quite telling. It was like one wake up call after another. The first and most powerful had been hitting Liz with his jeep, then it had been his reactions to waking up so hungover that morning, and, now, it was the fact that a 45 year old man was clearly out running him.

He wasn't allowed to contemplate his thoughts for long, though, because Jeff was already moving on to yet another topic of discussion. “And I don't want you to be upset with Lizzie either. Yes, she broke your confidence by confiding in her mother and I, but she did so because she cares, and she did it because she knew, if anyone could understand what you're going through, it would be me.”

That made Max stop in his tracks, his body coming to an abrupt halt. “What?”

“Keep up, Max,” Mr. Parker ordered him. “Like I told you before, I don't have all morning.”

Pushing himself to catch back up to the older man, once they were even again, he asked more coherently, “what did you mean by that – that you'd be able to understand what I was going through?”

“My father died when I was young. I was an only child; my mother, by that point, was very involved in her career; and I had no aunts, uncles, or cousins to turn to. So, instead, I turned to music. I joined a band; we started hitting the local club scenes... well, as local and as clubby as all the honkey-tonk bars across the state of New Mexico can be considered; and, as it became more and more apparent that music was neither going to be my ticket from rags to riches nor the answer to my loneliness, my pain, I started to drink. I met a girl, and she partied as well, so that only compounded the problem. Eventually, the band fell apart... and so did I, but I didn't realize it. Instead, I just kept on drinking. Then, one night, I got drunk and killed that very same girl.”

Jeff paused then. Whether he as merely taking a break in order to regroup, allowing Max a moment for the story to sink in, or waiting for Max to respond, he didn't know, so he elected to just remain silent, struggling to run and breathe beside the suddenly introspective man beside him. Eventually, though, Mr. Parker broke the silence once more.

“Thankfully, it was a one car accident, so I only ruined one life that night. We hit a tree, by the way... in case you were wondering. And I was so drunk when the accident happened that I passed out behind the wheel and had no idea what had occurred until I woke up the next morning in jail. Not only did I have to contend with the fact that I had just killed the woman I loved, but I also had to deal with my mother's disappointment, her doubt in her abilities as a parent, and a murder trial. I was convicted of vehicular manslaughter – only because I was a first time offender and because the girl's family didn't press for a harsher charge – and spent three years in prison, the first six months of which were in a rehab facility. However, I was lucky, because, even though my actions and my inability to admit that I had a problem took an innocent life, that accident also saved my own. I don't think I ever would have gotten help if someone hadn't forced me to, and, if I wouldn't have gotten help, I never would have met Nancy, we never would have gotten married, we never would have had Liz, and we never would have had our amazing life together, the three of us.”

“While I appreciate the fact that you're confiding in me,” Max prefaced his question, pausing for a deep, bracing, much needed breath. “Why are you telling me all of this?”

“Because, apparently, my daughter cares about you; because she asked me to help you, and I try to give my daughter everything I possibly can; and because I don't want to see what happened to me happen to you, too, Max.”

He had to stop then. Doubled over and gasping for air, sweat dripping from his pores, he queried, “so, what does that mean?”

“That means a lot of things,” Jeff answered, pausing as well, though he was by no means as winded as Max was. “It means that you're going to start going to AA and that I'm going to be your sponsor. It means that you're going to get a job – at the diner, in fact, and you're going to start paying your parents back for all the grief you've caused them: court fees, fines, tickets – whatever the case may be. And it also means that, every morning, the two of us are going to go running together, bright and early before you help me open up the restaurant. I find that running helps to ground me, helps to center me, and I think you could benefit from that, Max. It also means that we're going to cut across the park to get to Murray lane, because our jog is almost over, and we have a conversation with your parents awaiting us. I already called them – last night, in fact, so they wouldn't worry about you needlessly, and they're willing to hear both what I have to say and what you need to say to them.”

“They're not going to send me away?”

“Not if you take this opportunity and get your life together.”

“I... I don't know what to say,” he stumbled with his words, flabbergasted at what Jeff Parker was offering him. “Thank you.”

“First of all, you're thanking the wrong person. It's Liz who deserves your gratitude. And, secondly, don't thank me yet. We have a long road ahead of us, and I can tell you right now that it's not going to be a pleasant trip.”

“That's okay.”

“Well, alright then,” Jeff nodded in approval, slapping Max on the back as well. “Now, get yourself in gear, because I've barely broken a sweat, and I don't like to waste a good run.”

Before he could respond, Mr. Parker was already shooting forward, leaving Max to follow in his dusty path. And he did so, dutifully. By the time they reached Murray Lane and his front yard, the sun was just starting to rise, peeking up over the tops of Roswell's residential roofs. The moment, the sight, felt like a good omen, and, for the first time in a long time, Max smiled.





Thanks to _coccy_ for the gorgeous avie!

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oyhumbug
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Re: Serenity (AU, M/L, MATURE) 8 & 9/13 & Ep. - 04/11/2014

Post by oyhumbug » Fri Apr 25, 2014 6:51 pm

A/N: Hey everyone, sorry I'm not responding to you directly this evening, but I'm posting quickly. Just know how much I appreciate you both reading and responding. :-) We're quickly approaching the final stretch of this story... Enjoy!

~Charlynn~






Chapter Ten

As he cleaned the grill, Liz washed dishes. While he put chairs up, she mopped the floor. Rather than sticking to their own close-up chores, Max and Liz had elected to share each others. That way, they could spend more time with one another; they could finally talk. Although he could have just used his powers and saved them both a lot of time and effort, Liz either hadn't thought of that suggestion, or she didn't want to cheat on their responsibilities. And who was he to argue with spending more time with her? If he did rush them through the close-up process, then he'd just have to go home sooner, and home meant studying, sleeping, and being grounded. He wasn't allowed to talk on the phone, his computer had been disconnected from the internet, and Max's only deviation from going from home to school, from school to home were the nights when he was working. Sure, he could have found a way around his parents' rules, but he refused to do anything that would jeopardize their giving him a third chance and allowing him to stay at home and not go to rehab.

So, all that meant being economical with his Liz time. He timed it so that their breaks coincided, and he had learned the art of passing notes in class. Best of all? Apparently, Liz felt the same way, because she was now trading all the other waitresses for the closing shift. Since it was all of the girls' least favorite shift – after all, who would voluntarily want to clean the milkshake machine or scrub down the Crash's vinyl booths?, they readily agreed. And, if her parents were suspicious, then they were obviously accepting, especially since he and Liz were careful, paying attention to all the diner's nighttime noises just in case either Mr. or Mrs. Parker decided to creep down the stairs and check up on them. When that happened, they simply talked about school, and, given their identical class schedules, such discussion came easily to them and was quite believable.

“Sooo,” Liz prompted, eyeing him curiously. She was currently refilling all the sugar, salt, and pepper shakers, while he was tackling the restaurant's much-used coffee machines.

Unsure of what she was trying to ask him, he teased back, “sooo what?”

Unprepared for her light, whimsical mood, Max laughed out loud when Liz playfully stuck her tongue out at him. “So, tell me about last night,” she prompted. “We didn't get to talk about it this morning, because the hallways were too full at school, lab ran over into our lunch period, and I had a student council meeting after school.”

“Not to mention the fact that the employees' couch while on our breaks during a busy dinner rush isn't very conducive to private conversation.” She nodded in agreement, rolling her eyes in recollection at just how insane their shifts had been that evening. Returning to a note of seriousness, he asked, “what do you want to know?”

“How did it go?”

“It went,” he responded simply, shrugging his shoulders and then biting his lip in preparation of her complaint.

“Max!”

He chuckled. “I don't know,” he finally responded seriously. “As you're well aware of, it was my very first AA meeting.”

“Just tell me about it, please,” she prompted him. When he didn't immediately reply, Liz backpedaled, “I mean, if you feel comfortable talking about that with me. I don't mean to push, and I definitely don't want to pry.”

“You're not prying,” he was quick to reassure her. “I just don't really know how to describe it.” Replacing the pot he had been scrubbing, Max turned around, leaned his elbows against the counter, and watched as Liz put down her own task and mimicked his stance. They were standing side by side, their hips and shoulders discreetly brushing together. “When we first got there, your dad told me that I wouldn't be expected to talk if I didn't want to, that most people don't share on their first visit, that the point was to listen and feel a part of something larger than my own demons.”

“And did you... talk, I mean?”

“No, and it'll probably take me a while before I feel comfortable opening up to a roomful of strangers.”

“Well, they won't always be strangers,” she pointed out pragmatically.

“To me, they will be,” he argued, not defensively just realistically. “Liz, you might know the truth about me, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to... show another soul my secrets. While I know it's not the same thing, and it certainly is not fair to you, for now, I'm just going to have to be content with sharing my thoughts and feelings with you. No one else can ever know about the real reason why I... well, why I drink.”

He was shocked when Liz shifted her weight to free one of her hands, lightly sliding a single digit leisurely against his thumb. “I don't feel burdened by knowing the real you, Max.”

“You say that now, but...”

“But nothing,” she interrupted him. “Don't finish that sentence. I feel blessed that you trusted me enough to open up to me, and, when I saw what you showed me... well, let's just say that I could never regret that night, Max – any of it.”

Avoiding her gaze and, instead, watching as her finger brushed against his own, he hesitantly, nervously asked, “what, uh, what did you see when we... connected that first time?”

“Oh, so many things,” Liz responded enthusiastically. He nearly cried out at the loss of her touch when she stood up straight and eagerly started to reveal the personal insights she had gleaned from their shared experience. “I saw you naked.”

“What,” Max squealed, reddening immediately in embarrassment. And then he felt a twinge of jealousy. After all, he had certainly never seen Liz so revealed before, but then his selfish thoughts were followed by yet another surge of mortification, for Liz was smart, and beautiful, and kind hearted, not some girl to merely ogle.

So, it was with burning ears that he heard his dreamgirl giggle in response to his reaction before she assured him, “relax, Max. I meant when you were six. I saw you wandering around in the desert when your parents found you.”

“Oh.” Really, he had no idea what else to say. He felt like a first-rate fool. Looking at his shuffling feet and rubbing an index finger distractedly along his left temple, he risked asking, “what else...,” only to pause long enough to clear his throat. “What else did you see?”

“I saw your mother give you this little toy house, and, though I didn't understand its significance, I could just tell that it was important to you.” He hadn't thought of that toy house in years. However, when he went to explain its role in his life to Liz, she was already moving forward onto yet something else she had seen while connected to him. “I also saw what I believe to be your first fishing trip with your dad. I saw you lose your first tooth and felt how scared you were, because you didn't understand what was happening; I saw your first day of school, and I saw the first time when you saw me. In fact, I saw myself a lot in your flashes, Max.”

And here it was – the part he had been dreading. While he had been present in her flashes as well, he did not feature as prominently in her subconscious as she did in his. Mixed in with the fleeting moments they had shared over the years, Liz had also shown him much of her relationship with her parents, with her grandmother, with Maria, and with Alex. He had seen the trip her family had taken to the beach when she was five, the first time she and Maria played together, Alex rescuing Liz and Maria from the dodgeball bullies in gym class, and her grandmother telling her that, if it wasn't complicated, then it wasn't a soulmate. What he didn't know was what his part – parting smiles, shared academic achievements, glimpses of each other in the hallway – in her memories meant. Sure, such occasions were the driving force behind Max's existence, but Liz could have been simply recalling moments shared between them because of the stress of the evening, because his hands were on her as she bled out in the street, and she had no idea what was happening.

“Are you okay with that?”

“Okay with it?” She paused then long enough to catch his glance, refusing to allow him to look away. And then she sent his mind and heart careening into a state of flabbergasted hope when she lifted her right hand and cupped his face, the silky skin of her palm complimenting the rough, shadowed texture of his jaw. “Max, I wouldn't have it any other way.”

“Liz!”

Before he could reply; before he could truly savor the moment; before he could take advantage of the opening she had provided him with, leaned down slightly, and kissed her, a very petulant, very pissed off Maria DeLuca shattered the haze which had formed around Max and his dreamgirl. They broke apart, Liz dropping her hand like touching him had burned her sensitive skin, and he turned away, putting his back towards the confrontation he was not truly a part of.

“What the hell are you doing? What's the matter with you?” Before Liz could respond to her friend's accusations, Maria was already leveling some more. “You were supposed to meet me at the movies ten minutes ago, and, now, we're going to miss the movie altogether, because this place is still a mess, and you haven't even changed yet!”

“I'm sorry, Maria,” Liz apologized profusely. “I... we just....”

“Save it,” the blonde barked. “If Freakazoid Evans can't hack this job, then he needs to make himself scarce.”

“Maria, don't call him that,” Liz defended him, but her best friend was already talking once more, steamrolling over the chastisement.

“This is our senior year, babe. It's almost over, and we've yet to really start living it up. You're going to be leaving for college in a few short months, while I stay here, stuck in this alien-themed hellhole. Soon, our friendship is going to be reduced to a holiday card every December and awkward catch-up sessions at our reunions, and, before that happens, I need to soak in as much Lizzie time as I can.”

“Maria, that's not going to happen. How many times do I have to reassure you that...”

Whatever promise Liz was about to make, it was cut off as Maria continued on. “And, apparently, you don't feel the same way, because, instead of spending time with me – as you swore you would, I catch you here making googly eyes with the town weirdo.”

Suddenly, Liz was not so accommodating towards her irate friend. Rather, she, too, became upset, losing her patience. “Maria, I said I was sorry, and I am. I let you down, but that's no reason for you to continually insult Max. He did nothing to you, and he doesn't deserve your wrath. If you want to be mad at me, if you want to say ridiculous things about our friendship and toss accusations at my character, then fine. There's nothing I can do to stop you, but leave Max out of it.”

With hands on her hips, the blonde exclaimed, “so, that's how it's going to be from now on, huh?”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Liz said with a frustrated sigh in return.

Without responding further, Maria turned on her heal and exited the diner, attempting – and failing – to slam the door behind her.

“I'm sorry about that, Max.”

“You have nothing to be sorry about, Liz,” he argued with her. “In fact, I'm the one who should be apologizing to you. If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't be fighting with your best friend.”

“No, Maria and I are fighting because of her insecurities. You're not the problem, Max; you're just the latest symptom.”

“If you want to run after her and try to patch things up, maybe even still catch your movie, I can finish up here,” he offered genuinely. Though he didn't want to sacrifice his own precious time with Liz, he would do anything to make her happy... even if it meant depriving himself of a little joy.

“Thanks for the offer, but Maria's going to need some time to cool off.” Then, looking him straight in the eye, she added, “besides, I'm right where I want to be. I, uh... we still need to connect again tonight.”

In order to continue staving off his heightened senses, he and Liz had been attempting to reconnect on a daily basis. By allowing his mind to truly be free around another person, by allowing his heart to feel and his soul to speak, Max was satisfying his body's instincts and preventing his sensory overloads from occurring. In the meantime, Liz seemed to relish the heightened awareness she achieved from being so close to him yet had thankfully, so far, failed to experience any of the negative aspects of his powers. It was like connecting with someone, connecting with Liz, took the overwhelming pressure he had lived with and suffered under his entire life and divided it between them into a level that both could, instead, enjoy; it was like he had been meant to share his entire self with her all this time and just hadn't known or been brave enough to try.

Deciding to lighten the moment and to distract Liz from her problems with her best friend, Max taunted, “and I think you were also about to tell me about your cupcake dress.”

With wide eyes, a gaping mouth, and an expression somewhere caught between humor and humiliation, Liz remarked, “I can't believe you saw that!”

If Max had his way, he'd see everything there was to know about Liz Parker.

; : ;

Being a short order fry cook wasn't the most inspiring job in the world. In fact, it kind of sucked. Despite the fact that he had been working at the Crashdown for several weeks at that point, Max still left every evening with some sort of new burn. And, yes, he often healed them, but, still, until he had a free, private moment to himself, the spots still stung like hell. Plus, there was also the smell. Even putting aside his advanced senses, by the time his shifts were over, he always left the diner wafting rank odor... especially when they had some sort of fish as the special.

It was also sweltering back in his little cubbyhole of a work area. Between the various fryers, the griddle, the grill, and the oven, Max was pretty sure the Crashdown produced enough heat to warm the entire town of Roswell even on the chilliest of nights. Not that they were experiencing such cool weather at the moment. Summer was quickly approaching, the balmy days of May waning into the steamy days of June, and that fact only compounded how uncomfortable his working environment was. There was only one saving grace... and, no, he wasn't talking about all the free alien blasts he could consume.

Liz.

They shared practically every shift together. Now that finals were over, and they had officially graduated high school, the two of them had started to pick up even more hours – Liz stocking her money away for college in the fall, and Max working even harder to both pay his parents back for all the trouble he caused them and to impress Jeff Parker. That meant weekday evenings and Saturday mornings at the diner together, both of them electing to take Sundays off. If anyone else noticed or, for that matter, cared that he and Liz preferred to work the same shifts, they didn't say anything. Well, he took that back. Maria had noticed, Maria had definitely voiced her observation, and Maria had also questioned it, too, but everything the cantankerous blonde waitress had uttered had been voiced under her breath – loud enough for Max and Liz to hear but intentionally soft enough as well that she could have denied their accusations if they had elected to make them. What mattered was that Mr. Parker had thus far not commented upon their mirrored schedules, so he was either unconcerned or supportive of their spending so much time together.

Max liked to think it was the latter, that, despite the circumstances of their relationship, Jeff Parker saw something in him that he liked, that he respected.

In that moment, though, it was a good thing that Liz's dad couldn't read his thoughts let alone hear them, because, if he could, any respect Mr. Parker had for him would go flying out the passthrough window. Even when he wasn't actually looking at her, Max couldn't see anything but Liz. He saw her in her uniform – the skirt not short enough to be considered risque but, at the same time, short enough to offer him a tantalizing peek; the collar not quite demure as it bared Liz's collar bones and hinted at places he had only fantasized about seeing; and those snaps... perfect for feisty seduction and fast and easy removal. And the heat of the diner combined with the heat of the approaching New Mexican summer only heightened his awareness of his coworker, his friend, his dreamgirl. Despite the Crash's air conditioning, with Liz bustling about to and fro to wait dedicatedly on her customers, her skin was now always a delicious shade of juicy, ripe pink – slightly flushed and slightly moist as well, a fine sheen of perspiration dewing upon her already soft flesh. When Max really lost track of his surroundings, when he really fell head first into his daydreams about Liz, there were moments when he could have sworn he heard the snaps of her dress popping open, when he could taste the salty sweetness of her throat against his greedy, desperate...

“Max.”

He was so startled when he whirled around to face his boss that Max dropped the spatula he had been using onto the floor, the metal cooking utensil clattering at a ridiculously loud decibel given how otherwise busy and noisy the rest of the diner was, and badly burned his hand on the grill behind him. “Um, Mr. Parker,” he returned, his voice squeaking. Surreptitiously, with his hands behind his back, he healed the injury before attempting to relax. He failed in his efforts.

“Is everything alright back here?”

“Oh, yeah. Everything's great,” he was quick to reassure the older man. “I was just... uh, I was....”

“Absorbed with your meat, apparently,” Jeff filled in for him.

Since that was more or less the truth of the matter... only not in the way Liz's father meant, he simply nodded his head in agreement. “So, uh,” he prefaced his question, scratching behind his right ear nervously. “Is there a problem? Did I do something wrong?”

“Relax, Max. It's nothing like that,” Mr. Parker dismissed. “I just had a spare moment, and I wanted to tell you that I won't be able to go running with you tomorrow morning. In fact, now that the summer's here, I'll probably have to stop for a while. Between the increase in local diners and preparing for the upcoming tourist season, it's about to get really hectic around here.”

“Oh, well, okay... if you're sure. I mean, we could just get up earlier if you'd like.”

Mr. Parker chuckled. “No matter how much I like to pretend otherwise, I'm not as young as I once was. Any earlier and it just might kill me... or, more precisely, Nancy might kill me. I hope you'll still continue running on your own, though,” he suggested.

“I will,” Max readily agreed. Just as Jeff had told him a few weeks before, he did find it helpful to go running every morning. It grounded him, centered him. It cleared his mind and pushed his body to its limits in a healthy way.

“And I could start going out with you, too... if you want, running I mean,” Liz offered, surprising them both from the dining room side of the passthrough window.

Her father laughed, Liz blushed, and Max just stared at her, too excited by the prospect of her proposal to react. Yet. It was Mr. Parker who spoke first. “Lizzie, honey, you're just like your mother; you hate physical exercise.”

“Yeah, well, I'm not going to be eighteen forever, dad. This will be good for me.”

“Are you sure, Liz,” Max questioned, wanting to solidify their plans before she changed her mind. “It's pretty intense.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you saying that I can't handle it, Evans, that I can't handle you?”

“Would never dream of it, Parker,” he returned playfully.

While they were both exchanging grins with each other, neither of them were aware of the looks that Liz's father was casting in their direction. In fact, it took his gruff, “alright already, back to work, you two,” for them to break their mutual, intense stare. Even after Liz had gone back to her tables and Max had turned back to the grill, Jeff stood there. It was only after he left several minutes later that Max realized the mood in the kitchen had shifted. By then, though, it was too late to do anything about it.

; : ;

“Rise and shine, Little Lizzie Parker,” an enthusiastic voice boomed down the hallway which led to the Parkers bedrooms. “You've had a week to be lazy and sleep in, and, now, it's time for us to let loose your inner rock and roll.... Unless my Whitman genes have finally caught up with me and I now need glasses, you're not Liz,” Alex accused Max.

“She'll be out in a minute,” he assured her friend, hooking a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the closed bathroom door behind which Liz was... well, it was better if Max didn't contemplate the details. “She's just getting ready.”

“And you're in her bedroom, because why exactly,” Alex prompted.

He shrugged, moving to shove his hands into his pockets only to recall that he wasn't wearing jeans; he was in his sweats. “Mrs. Parker told me to come on back and wake her up.”

“It's kind of early, don't you think?”

Becoming slightly defensive, Max volleyed back, “you're here.”

Alex nodded, lifting a finger to his chin as he contemplated Max thoughtfully. “So, what brings you by, Evans? A Crashdown emergency, perhaps?”

“We're going running,” Liz answered for him, making both men turn in her direction as she emerged from her en-suite all bushy and bright eyed, fairly bursting with energy.

“As in errands,” Whitman prompted.

“No, as in jogging,” Liz corrected.

Alex pretended to laugh. “Ha ha, very funny. Now, tell me who you really are and where I can find my best friend.”

Liz, on the other hand, genuinely chuckled as she sat down on the edge of her bed and proceeded to slip on and then tie her tennis shoes. “I'm serious, and, besides, what are you doing here so early?”

“What's Max Evans doing here so early,” Alex countered, “and in your bedroom no less.”

She stood then, teasingly approaching her friend in a timid manner as though she was afraid of startling him. “It's going to be okay, Alex. We've gone over this already, remember? Max and I are going running... as in one leg moving rapidly in front of the other while simultaneously pumping your arms. Don't worry, though. I won't allow the men in white coats to drag you away... at least, not before getting that ten bucks you still owe me back first.”

“Wow, you're a laugh a minute, Parker.”

Liz tauntingly preened. “What can I say? I do what I can. No seriously, though,” she became more solemn, mock punching her friend in the shoulder. “What's up? Why are you here?”

“I thought we'd start the summer off right with a little mono e mono bonding time – band practice with you acting as my favorite tone deaf groupie, of course, and then I figured I'd allow you to treat me to breakfast afterwards.”

“Alex, we just spent four years in Spanish together. You know that mono e mono means absolutely nothing.”

“Hey, newsflash,” Alex tossed up as a witty rejoinder. “We graduated, and it's our last summer break before we all leave for college. The knowledge police called, and they want their pretend badge back.”

Liz rolled her eyes. “Well, as tempting as your offer sounds, I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass. Max and I already have plans.”

“So it seems.”

“Besides, shouldn't you be asking Maria to go to band practice with you? She's the one with an ear for talent. Then again,” Liz remarked jeeringly, the friends' banter all in fun, “maybe that's why you didn't ask her.”

“Hey, The Whits have talent... or, at least, the potential to have it.” Liz chuckled. “Besides,” Alex admitted, sighing dramatically. “I already asked Miss-Don't-Wake-Me-Before-The-Price-Is-Wrong-Bitch-DeLuca. She said she needed her beauty rest and to ask you.”

“Glad to see I was your second choice, Whitman.”

“Yeah, well, have fun getting sweaty this morning with tall, dark, and silent over there,” Alex indicated Max as he prepared to leave Liz's bedroom via the door.

As the two of them moved towards her window where they would shimmy down the fire escape before starting their run, his dreamgirl tossed back, “and you have fun torturing your ears on an empty stomach.”

They could still hear Alex hardy-har-har'ing it, because of their increased senses, as they reached the alley below. Reaching out a tentative hand to hold Liz by the arm and prevent her from starting her stretches, he asked her uncertainly, “are you sure you don't want to bail on me and go with your friend?”

“Alex is just one of my friends; you're my friend, too, and we made our plans first. Besides, listening to The Whits first thing in the morning? Yeah... that's not exactly my idea of starting the day off on the right foot.”

“Just as long as you're sure.”

“I'm sure, Max.”

He let go of her; she bent over to touch her toes, giving him a perfect view of her nice, round, tight...

“Max,” Liz's lilting voice teased him lightly, laughingly. “Aren't you going to stretch, too?”

“Right. Stretch. Yes.”

He as still blushing, and Liz was still giggling when they took off jogging five minutes later.







Chapter Eleven

“... grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

The meeting closed like any other. Catching the eye of his sponsor, Max nodded once to signal goodbye and thanks. After their first visit to AA together, he had been quick to tell Jeff Parker that he wasn't comfortable sticking around after the meetings adjourned to socialize over bad coffee and stale donuts, and Liz's dad had been fine with Max leaving on his own. It wasn't so much that he was uncomfortable in the musty community center's basement... or, at least, any more uncomfortable than he was anywhere else; it was just that, if he was going to talk to anyone, he wanted that person to be Liz, not her father and certainly not some anonymous stranger.

So, now, they had a routine. Once the meetings were over, he would pick up Liz, and they would go for a drive out into the desert. Because of his job and his obvious efforts to remain clean and sober, his parents had lifted his grounding after a month, and he was reaping the rewards of their tentative trust. And, speaking of trust, it was on those desert drives... or, at least, after he and Liz found some place to park, that they would connect. Sure, they shared fleeting moments at the Crashdown or when they were out jogging, but those brief seconds of being open with her were far from enough to sustain Max and his need to let someone in. When they were on their own in the middle of nowhere, they could just sit together, stare, and talk for hours... or for however long they had before Liz's curfew would expire.

It was the thought of spending what remained of his Sunday evening with his favorite girl that had Max grinning like a fool and twirling his keys distractedly around his index finger when Mr. Parker surprised him in the center's parking lot. Usually, he was the first to leave, and, when he did so, he was alone, so, to hear his name called out and especially in such a meaningful, ominous tone, startled him.

“Max, we need to talk.”

His steps faltered just feet shy of the jeep, and slowly he turned around in order to face Liz's father. What he found was far from reassuring. Jeff Parker was frowning, his brow creased in what could only be interpreted as worry, and his arms were folded over his thin chest. It was a challenging pose. “Is there something wrong?” Without giving his sponsor a chance to respond, Max quickly tacked on, “if this is about me skipping out right after the meeting was over, I thought you were okay with that.”

“I am, and, no, this has nothing to do with the meeting... or, well, not directly.”

Without intention, Max moved into his defensive posture – shoulders slightly pushed forward, hands jammed into the front pockets of his jeans. “I'm kind of confused then,” he admitted.

“Max, this is about my daughter; this is about Liz.”

Briefly, he had to fight the urge to yell at Mr. Parker, to tell him that he was well aware of his daughter's name, but Max immediately squashed that urge. He had a feeling animosity was not the way to handle what was surely shaping up to be a confrontation between the two of them. No, it was more than a mere hunch; he knew that Jeff would react badly if pushed by sarcasm. So, instead, he calmly asked, “what about her?”

“The two of you have been getting pretty close lately,” Liz's dad observed. “You work all the same shifts together; you go running together... something that, before two weeks ago, my little girl never showed any interest in, no matter how many times I invited her to go along with me; and, now, you're going out for drives in the desert together as well.”

Despite his best intentions, he became defensive. “It was your idea for me to work at the Crashdown,” Max reminded his boss, “and, when Liz suggested the idea that she go running with me now that you can't, you didn't seem to have a problem with it then.”

“I was caught off guard.”

“And we asked for both your permission and my parents', too, before we started going for drives together.” Shrugging his shoulders, Max said, “I don't know what else I can do to make you trust us, to trust me.”

Finally, Jeff uncrossed his arms, taking several steps closer to Max so that they could talk more in private as some of the other group members were starting to leave. “It's not that I don't trust the two of you. Lizzie is a good girl, and, despite your issues, Max, you have shown remarkable strength and growth since I became your sponsor. In fact, I'm actually impressed with how well you've handled yourself.”

“Well, then, I don't understand what the problem is.”

“The problem is that, despite your claims and despite my daughter's, I'm not sure what to make of your sudden closeness.”

“Liz and I are just friends,” he admitted. Despite what he wanted, he was telling the truth. “And we've always gotten along, It's just that I was always... too shy to be her friend in the past.”

“But are you really just friends, Max,” Mr. Parker challenged him, leaning forward to stare at him with a narrowed, accusing gaze. “I've seen the way you look at my little girl, the way your eyes follow her around a room, and, while I might be an old, married man, I can still recognize the look you give her. You're attracted to my daughter. Don't even attempt to deny it.”

Swallowing thickly, he stood up straight and then confessed, “alright then, I won't. Liz is beautiful, and smart, and compassionate. I'd be an idiot not to be attracted to her.”

“And I could live with that – you liking my Lizzie as more than just a friend,” Mr. Parker shocked him by saying, “if that's all I thought was going on between the two of you, but I've been watching her, too, and do you know what I've seen?”

“No?”

“Intrigue. When my daughter looks at you, it's like she sees this mystery that she wants to solve and that she knows she'll enjoy every single second of her efforts.” While it was apparent that Liz's father did not share his opinion, Max was definitely liking what he was hearing – so much so, in fact, that he knew he was blushing, and he was grateful for the shadows the setting sun washed over the shaded parking lot. “And I can't have that.”

“You can't?”

“But here's the catch,” Jeff continued, ignoring his question. “I can't just tell Lizzie that she's forbidden from seeing you, let alone that she's not allowed to date you. While Liz might be a wonderful daughter and a very responsible young woman, she's still a teenager, and teenagers are willful and stubborn. If I were to tell her what to do, she'd do the exact opposite, and I'd only succeed in driving her even closer to you.”

Why was her father telling him all of this? Why was Mr. Parker confiding in him about a problem Max was a part of, one that he, by no means, felt the need to fix at all? Before he could even contemplate an answer to his own questions, though, his boss was giving him the reason. “But I can tell you what to do.”

This time, it was Max's turn to narrow his gaze in open disfavor. “Excuse me?”

“Look, Max, before I get to what I need to say to you, I want you to know that this isn't personal. I like you. I honestly do, and, as I just told you, I'm not only proud of your progress in your recovery but also impressed as well, but that doesn't mean that I want my only daughter dating an addict.”

He was too stunned to respond.

“So, this is how it's going to be: make it clear to Liz that you can and only want to be her friend, that you're not interested in her, or you'll lose your job, I'll stop being your sponsor, and I'll do everything within my power to keep you away from my little girl.” When he went to protest, Jeff interrupted him, “right now, I know this seems cruel, Max, but, someday, you're going to be a father yourself, and you'll understand that a parent will do anything to protect their child. And, really, what I'm offering you isn't so bad. You can still be Liz's friend, you'll be able to keep your job, and your parents will continue to be proud of you.”

He was not a violent guy, but, in that moment, Max wanted to hit Jeff Parker more than he had ever wanted to hit another person... even Kyle Valenti. That said a lot. But he refrained. Instead of reacting, he simply turned his back on Liz's father, got in his jeep, and drove away.

; : ;

He had run straight to Liz.

Despite her dad's threats and the fact that Max knew Mr. Parker was justified in his concerns, he simply couldn't help himself. He had always been obsessed with Liz – since the very first time he had laid eyes on her. Now, though, it was more than that. His want had become need as he traded in one addiction for another. Max was self-aware enough to realize that it wasn't AA, or running, or Jeff Parker's influence keeping him sober; rather, it was his new dependency... upon Liz. While everything else helped, for the meetings and the support allowed him to understand his addiction, understanding wouldn't have been enough to keep him sober, but his newfound connection with Liz was. The peace her compassion and friendship afforded him balanced Max, his love for her gave him the serenity, courage, and wisdom he needed to remain clean.

It wasn't fair to Liz – placing so much pressure upon her and their relationship, but it was also too late to change their connection... not that he wanted to. In fact, the two of them hadn't even made a conscious decision to bond themselves together so intricately. Instead, it had been a life or death choice. Either he save Liz's life and risk exposure, or he allow her to die and remain anonymous. Really, there had been no decision to make at all. Even before their minds had become joined, Liz's death would have killed Max, too. Add to that the fact that he would have been the cause of her loss of life, and he had no doubt that the guilt, and the remorse, and the shame would have, first, driven him insane, and then, second, driven him to commit suicide.

For some reason he didn't understand or, at that point, care to question, their lives were bound together, and Max was done fighting the inevitable. Even if he wanted to change his connection to Liz Parker (which he didn't), it was too late for that now. Hell, it had been too late the moment he stepped off the school bus in third grade and saw her smile for the first time. At that point, the only thing that could possibly keep him away from her was Liz herself.

Max promised himself that, if he ever became too much of a burden to Liz, then he would leave, no matter what the consequences to his own existence might be, and, if she ever asked him to go, he would respect her and her wishes enough to do just that... even if the thought of walking away from her sent every instinct, every nerve ending in his body into a blind free-fall. So, essentially, he just had to make sure that he was worthy of her, that, someday, he became just as good for Liz as she already was for him, and Max knew that the first step in doing just that was honesty. While her father might be comfortable manipulating her and her relationship with him, Max was not. Ultimatum or no ultimatum, Liz would decide what she felt for him, what she wanted out of a relationship with him, and how they would respond to her dad's unfavorable stance upon their connection.

Having come to his conclusion, Max sighed in relief, finally registering the night around him. It was a quiet, still summer night – one where the heat of the desert refused to surrender to the coolness of the moon, its heavy, oppressive air weighing down upon everything. It was like a buffer, softening the edges and blurring the realities of one's world. The stars seemed dreamier, the howls of the coyotes edgier, more threatening, and all Max Evans wanted to do was hold Liz Parker's hand.

With that thought in mind, he decided that they had been driving around the barren New Mexico landscape for long enough. At the first level spot along the highway, he pulled the jeep off the road, taking it further into dry wilderness. The nearly full moon hung low in the sky – a huge, alabaster halo of illumination. It lit up the night, upstaging the stars in purpose but never in beauty, and caused the burnt sand of the nearby mesas and rock formations to glow nearly gold. A quick glance over at his companion, though, caused Max to realize that he was the only one of the two of them aware of their surroundings, that Liz was lost somewhere in her own mind. Immediately, his focus shifted entirely onto her, his concern over her father's demands disappearing in light of whatever it was causing her so much stress and worry.

Blindly, he reached into the back of the jeep to retrieve the blanket and heavy-duty flashlight he now kept in his vehicle at all times now precisely for nights like the one he and Liz were currently sharing together. Despite the brightness of the sky that evening, Max knew better than to walk out into the desert without the proper supplies. If clouds were to move in, obscuring the moon's illumination, then he and Liz could very likely be stranded in the middle of nowhere all night. While his powers would guarantee that they survived such an outing, he never wanted to put her in the position where she was scared or uncomfortable, where, being with him, could potentially get her into trouble. So, clear night sky with a full moon or not, the flashlight was going with them.

Supplies in his right hand, the jeep in park with the emergency brake on, too, just to be safe, Max hopped out of his parked vehicle and quickly circled around its front to help Liz down and out. While he hoped that she interpreted his actions as chivalrous, the truth of the matter was that Max simply tried to take advantage of any opportunity that afforded him the chance to touch his dreamgirl... even if it was just a simple brushing together of their hands. After all, while his physiology was not of this earth, his urges were, and, just like with any teenage boy his age, lurking underneath his nervous, shy exterior beat the heart of a libidinous eighteen year old. He was just better at hiding his lust than others.

They walked together in silence for several minutes – far enough so that, by the time they stopped, even Max would have had to strain to see the toy-sized figure of the jeep in the distance. Wordlessly, he spread the blanket, watching Liz the entire time. She barely blinked, her gaze cast into the shadows of the night as though she was watching some scene only she could see take place just over his shoulder. Her brow was furrowed in concentration, in distress, and her poor bottom lip was raw from the constant abuse of her mangling teeth. Although Max had been patiently waiting for Liz to open up to him without provocation, he simply couldn't stand to see her so upset any longer. So, shattering the stillness, he took a step closer to her and hesitantly asked, “Liz, what's going on? Are you... is everything okay? It's like you've been in a completely different galaxy all night so far.”

It wasn't until he made a reference to his own reason for aloofness around everyone else except Liz that he received a reaction. She smirked, and, for the first time that evening, met his eyes with her own, and he was relieved to see that her humor reached her expressive orbs of mocha colored grace and generosity. “It sounds like someone speaks from first-hand experience.”

Max simply raised his brows in defiance, not allowing her to distract him from his purpose. Maybe he had set out that evening intent upon confiding in her, in sharing the burden her father had placed upon their relationship, but too much of their friendship centered around him and his issues; for once, Liz and whatever was bothering her was going to come first. They'd deal with his worries another time, another night.

“Alright, fine,” Liz conceded. “Let's sit, though, first, alright?”

Wordlessly, he complied, nearly smirking himself when he noticed that their actions mirrored each other's. As soon as they sat down, both he and Liz purposely folded their legs underneath them before scooting closer to the other, so close, in fact, that their knees were just a sliver away from touching. Once he was settled, Max looked up, but, instead of finding Liz ready to talk, he found her, once more, biting her lip in silent contemplation. Just when he was about to prompt her into talking again, he lifted her gaze, smiled, and held out her hands, palms up.

“I have a better idea,” she told him. “You're right. There is something bothering me, something that's been on my mind all night, but, instead of telling you about it, let me show you, Max. Connect with me,” she entreated him.

That was something she never had to ask him for twice. If Max could spend the rest of his life connected to Liz Parker, he would gratefully and greedily do so. Taking the invitation that her hands presented to him, he awkwardly laced their fingers together, only for Liz to twist her own wrists so that they could more comfortably wrap their hands around one another's. Palms touching, their fingers braided together into two tight knots – her petite hands nearly swallowed by his own much larger ones, the two of them unconsciously moved even closer to one another, the slight distance from before quickly being swallowed by their connection's instinct to be near each other. And that's all it took before he was inside of her mind, spinning, falling, jumping into Liz's thoughts, Liz's feelings, Liz's soul, and she allowed him in freely, welcoming Max into the very heart of what made her Liz. Everything she experienced in memory, he experienced with her.

Before the person outside of her door could knock, Liz heard them approaching... not that they were being stealth no matter what their intentions might have been. She could hear Maria whispering to someone, though Maria's whispers were always of stage-quality. Liz explained away her best friend's inability to speak in hushed tones upon the fact that Maria simply felt things too powerfully to keep them bottled up and to herself. That was part of the reason why, whenever they had girl talk, they had do so with a pint of Ben Jerry's sitting between them. Being alone helped to muffle Maria's tendency to share things Liz wanted kept secret; her best friend's mouth full of ice cream worked even better.

“I've been standing outside her bedroom door for like... hours, Alex. Hurry your skinny ass up already. She's going to start getting suspicious.”

From outside on her balcony, Liz then heard her other best friend respond, Alex doing absolutely nothing to cloak his approach. “Have you ever tried to climb a fire escape with a cell phone in one of your hands.”

“I'm a woman, Whitman. I've climbed Liz's fire escape in both heels and a thong. Quit being a wimp already. It's no wonder you only hang out with girls.”

Like a ping-pong ball, Liz's head bounced from her closed bedroom door to her open bedroom window, ricocheting back and forth quite comically as her friends continued their bickering. While she was both curious as to the purpose of their visit and slightly apprehensive about their apparent double team... on what issue, she had no idea, the humor of the situation was proving distracting... for the time being.

“Hey, today isn't about harassing Alex... again; it's about 'Operation Googly Eyes.' And, for the record, let me just state once more how ridiculous I find that name.”

“Hey, pal, once you mentioned body snatchers, you lost all credibility and right to name our mission.”

“Says the girl whose mother owns an alien decorations shop,” Alex snorted.

“Shut it, Whitman. You leave Crazy Amy out of this,” Maria threatened.

“Like mother, like daughter, DeLuca,” he tossed back in reply, finally climbing/falling/belly-flopping over the brick wall of her balcony's ledge.

Deciding it was time for her to intervene before blood was shed, Liz spoke up. “Okay, James Bond and Lara Croft you two are not. The gig is up. I've known you were both there for several minutes now, and I heard your conversation. Does someone want to tell me what 'Operation Googly Eyes' is?”

“Smooth one, Alex,” Maria sniped, opening Liz's bedroom door and walking into the room as if she not only lived there herself but owned the entire building as well. “Maybe if you didn't spend all your time holding down one of the Crash's swivel chairs, you would have been able to sneak up here.”

“Me,” he returned sarcastically, stumbling over the threshold of Liz's bedroom window. “I'm not the one with the voice capable of assembling a pack of wild hyenas.”

Maria was just about to launch herself in Alex's direction when Liz stood up from her bed, holding a warning hand out in both of their directions. “To your corners, children. You know the drill.” Once her two best friends were each stomping towards their designated cool-down spots, she demanded, “now, does someone want to tell me what's going on here?”

“We're here to rescue you,” Alex answered.

Picking up where he left off, Maria added, “yeah, from the evil clutches of Maniac Max, his tentacle arms, and his x-ray eyes.”

“Amy hasn't been baking – and sharing – her famous brownies again, has she?”

“Hey, I told you to leave my mother out of this,” Maria exploded, only to realize her error. Lowering her voice considerably, she went on to say, “I mean... I told Alex, and you obviously overheard, so, yeah, let's ix-nay on the Amy onspiracies-cay.”

“You're like the worst secret agent ever, DeLuca,” Alex accused their blonde friend. “I mean, really? Pig Latin?”

“At least I don't speak Klingon, nerd.” Reaching into her pocket, Maria pulled out a vile of her natural substance of the week... whatever that may have been, unscrewed its cap, and took a good, long, what she believed to be bracing whiff. Once fortified, she continued, “besides, this isn't about us; this is about Liz and how crappy of a friend she's been lately.”

All humor draining from her face, she immediately swiveled to face her accuser. “Excuse me?”

“It's true, Liz,” Alex interjected, but she couldn't turn her gaze away from a frowning, pissed-off Maria DeLuca.

“For the past few months, you've hardly been around, Liz. You're suddenly too busy with your best friend Max to spend any time with us. This is the last summer before you and Alex go off to college without me; it's supposed to be the best time of our lives together, but, instead, it's been awful.”

“Maria, we went shopping together three days ago, and,” turning to face Alex, she added, “you and I had a cooking lesson yesterday afternoon.”

“And, in those same three days during which combined you maybe spent six hours with Alex and I,” Maria questioned her, “how much time did you spend batting your disgusting lashes at Max Evans?”

“I... just... what are you guys accusing me of?”

“Are you in love with him,” Alex asked her, shocking Liz so much that she took several steps backwards until she felt her bed hit her knees, alerting her to the fact that it was safe to collapse like her suddenly rubbery legs were begging her to do.

“And, more than that, what kind of trouble has he dragged you into, Lizzie,” Maria finished for him. Not allowing her time to adjust to one accusation before leveling her with another, her best friend stated, “you're keeping secrets from us, something that the three of us promised years ago that we'd never do. Every time either Alex or I see you with Max, the two of you always have your heads bent together, whispering, and you're like a completely different person, too, Liz. I mean, you go running now. It's like, who are you, what have you done with my best friend, and please don't eat my brains.”

“Maria, how many times do I have to explain the differences between aliens and zombies to you?”

“Yeah, so not the point here, Alex,” Maria leveled a glare across Liz's bedroom.

Ignoring their bantering once more, Liz squared her shoulders and stood up, ready to defend herself and her connection with Max. “Look, if I've hurt the two of you this summer, then I'm sorry. The three of us have been friends for so long that the both of you are like family to me, but I won't apologize for making a new friend. As you pointed out, Maria, I am leaving for school in the fall. We're eighteen now, not eight. It's time for us to grow up, and a part of growing up is realizing that your childhood friendships, while still important, are not always going to remain the same. Maybe you're right; maybe I am changing, but change isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps the problem is that the two of you aren't changing along with me. As for my relationship with Max, that's between Max and I. The two of you are welcome to make an effort to get to know him, but, until you do, don't disparage against something you can't understand. I want to be friends with all three of you, but, if push comes to shove, if you give me an ultimatum, I'll stand by the better friend, and, right now, that friend is not either of the two of you.”

Maria went to open her mouth, but Liz held up a hand, preventing her from doing so. “Please, don't say anything. Just leave. Right now, I'm too angry with the both of you to listen to anything else you have to say, and I think all three of us need to do some thinking before we discuss this any more.” Nodding, both Alex and Maria moved towards their respective entrances. “And, Alex, this time,” Liz told him, “you can use the door. After all, you can't corner me when you're leaving.”

“Right,” he nodded, blushing.

And then the two of them were gone.


It was Liz who broke their connection, letting go of his hands long enough for Max to return to the night, to the desert, to the familiarity of his own mind and guilt. “Liz, I'm so sorry,” he immediately apologized. “I had no idea... I just...” He shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. “I guess I was just too selfish to realize what being friends with me was doing to the rest of your relationships.”

“Max, I didn't show you what happened between Maria, Alex, and I this afternoon to make you feel guilty; I just showed you so that you could realize why I was being so distant tonight.”

“You want to stop spending so much time with me,” he surmised.

“No.”

Her blunt response surprised him. After considering it for a moment, he asked, “you don't want to tell them the truth about me, do you?”

She laughed then, reassuring him. “Absolutely not, Max. Despite his lifetime membership to geek-dom, Alex is too realistic to accept the truth about what you are, and Maria would just freak.”

“So, then, what do you want to do?”

“Nothing,” Liz answered, shrugging. “It's like I told them, Max. We – you and I – did nothing wrong; our friendship is not the problem here. Maria and Alex just need to realize that they're not my only friends now, and, once they do, we'll be as good as gold again.”

“And if they don't... accept that, accept me as a part of your life?”

“Then they're not the friends I thought they were, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Worrying about it now when there's nothing we can do to change things won't help any of us, Max.” He nodded his acceptance, realizing the wisdom of her words, though he was still upset that knowing him, spending time with him, being connected with him was causing her so many problems. But just earlier that evening he had promised himself that he would allow Liz to make her own decisions. Going back on his word now would only make him a hypocrite.

Bringing him back to the moment, Liz stated, “now that we've covered that, what do you say you tell me about that little confrontation you had with my dad this evening.”

Jerking his head upwards to meet her pointed, pressing gaze, Max squeaked, “what?”

She laughed. “You're too noble for your own good, Max. While I appreciate you wanting to focus on me tonight, our connection went both ways just now. Maybe I didn't see what happened between you and my dad play out scene for scene, word for word like you just saw what happened between Maria, Alex, and I, but I saw enough to know that, whatever he said to you, it upset you. Talk to me, Max; let me in.”

When she asked him like that....

In that moment, Max realized that he would never be able to deny Liz Parker anything. As long as it was in his power to grant her something, then he would. And he would enjoy every single minute of doing so, too.





Thanks to _coccy_ for the gorgeous avie!

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oyhumbug
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Re: Serenity (AU, M/L, MATURE) 10 & 11/13 & Ep. - 04/25/2014

Post by oyhumbug » Thu May 01, 2014 8:15 pm

A/N: Hello, everyone! This will be the final post for this story (but you get three chapters in one). Thanks for your continued support and interest. It's been fun. :-) Enjoy!

~Charlynn~





Chapter Twelve

He always thought he'd be satisfied with the knowledge that Liz Parker was happy, healthy, and, most importantly, alive. Max would watch her from the distance, drinking in his fill of her beauty and grace, her intelligence and her poise from afar, and he'd be content. Then, they became friends – real friends not just lab partners who shared a lunch occasionally, and he changed his mind. After that, he assumed that conversations with Liz would sustain him. Despite the fact that he was in love with her, as long as they could catch-up with one another when they randomly met up about town or socialized in a small group, his need for her would be fulfilled. He now realized, though, that he had just been fooling himself. He would never be truly happy, truly content, until Liz Parker returned his feelings.

Up until just a few days ago, such a thought had always seemed ridiculous. She was... well, she was Liz – his dreamgirl: everything he wanted from a friend, a lover, and a partner all rolled up in one sexy, petite package. But, at the same time, though, he was Max Evans: everything no woman would ever want. He was too shy, too quiet, too strange, too moody, too secretive, too – and this was the biggest strike against him – not of this world. Even if Liz did know the truth about his background, and even if she had somehow managed to break through all his layers of self-protection, he still wasn't good enough for her. The fact that he only revealed his true nature to her out of desperation after nearly killing her was proof enough of that.

Apparently, however, he was the only one who couldn't fathom Liz's possible attraction to him. After she shared her confrontation with Maria and Alex, her two best friends, with him, he realized that Liz's closest confidants questioned her feelings towards him. Even more shocking was the fact that her own father believed Liz wanted more from their relationship than just mere friendship. Even after Jeff, Maria, and Alex's accusations, though, Max had been hesitant to believe such a miracle – Liz loving him as more than just her pal – to be possible. But then she had become all introspective and secretive following his reveal of her dad's ultimatum. While she didn't avoid him, she also didn't react to anything he had shared with her. She didn't deny that she had feelings for him, but, at the same time, she didn't admit that she did either. It was like he was on the cusp of attaining everything he had ever fantasized about but dismissed as impossible...

… And it was driving Max insane!

What was even worse, weeks had now passed since their conversation out in the desert, and with August rushing towards them like a runaway train intent upon decimating his very existence, Max was not only consumed with thoughts about what Liz was thinking about in regards to him, her dad, and their relationship – his relationship with her, not Jeff Parker, but he was also very much aware of the fact that, in less than a month's time, the person he loved more than anything in the world, the person whom his very sanity and survival depended, upon would be leaving Roswell – and him – behind for college.

At one point, he had dreamed of maybe following her to whichever school she ended up selecting... not that he knew yet where Liz would be attending college in the fall. And his intentions weren't to stalk her across the country but rather plan their mutual decision together. Max had even had his entire argument mapped out. He would emphasize how well they worked together as lab partners, how it was always nice to have something, someone familiar nearby when faced with nothing else but the unknown and strangers, and Max had even been prepared to argue his own insecurities, seeking to appeal to Liz's altruistic side.

Now, though, such dreams of late night study sessions were just that: figments of his overactive imagination. After the number he had done to his grades, not to mention his reputation and criminal record, there was no school worthy of Liz's interest which would ever accept him... even if his parents could pay off an admissions counselor or two. He was still on probation, and he was lucky that he had even passed his senior year of high school. The only reason he had managed to squeak by was because Liz had taken him under her wing once more after he agreed to get and stay sober, cramming nearly six months worth of information into his brain so he could score high enough on his finals to pass his classes. To say that his GPA had taken one for the team was a great understatement.

So, now, he was stuck in Roswell while he scrambled to find a way to continue to put his life back together, and Liz was off to who knew where – east coast; west coast; somewhere far, far away from his daily reach – in just a paltry twenty-some days... depending upon which school she flew off to. Besides the agony of his uncertainty about her feelings toward him, Max was also tortured by thoughts of how many miles would soon be separating the two of them, and he also questioned why Liz's final college choice was such a secret. From what he had been able to piece together... and by piece together he meant eavesdrop in on private conversations, no one knew which prestigious university would be welcoming Roswell's favorite friendly, overachieving waitress to their freshman orientation week and subsequent fall semester worth of classes.

Despite his inner turmoil, though, Max remained sober – as promised. In fact, his body no longer woke up in the morning and went to bed at night craving a drink. While he still had moments of weakness, mainly when put in a situation where his lack of social skills were forced to come to a forefront and Liz wasn't anywhere nearby to hold his hand and help him, he also believed that he had managed to turn a corner. That was the one source of brightness in his otherwise rapidly dimming life. For the first time since his parents had found him wandering aimlessly, naked, in the desert, Max was proud of himself for something. Sure, his sobriety wouldn't have been possible without Liz's support and willingness to connect with him, without Jeff Parker's intervention upon his daughter's insistence, or without his parents' love and faith, Max also knew that no one else was responsible for his decisions, that he was the one who now, for more than three months, had elected not to take a drink.

Whatever joy he had been briefly feeling in that moment, whatever peace had settled over his countenance temporarily vanished, though, as Max returned to the present – to the stickiness of the overwhelmingly hot July midday. Upon Liz's insistence, they had gone against sensibility and taken a drive out into the desert that afternoon as had become their summer custom. Neither of them had to work until the dinner shift, so they had the day free... only the day was too hot to do anything physical, and they weren't the sort of friends to hide away indoors, savoring the air conditioning while sitting in silence because what they had to discuss they couldn't do in public. Usually, they spent their free afternoons in the park – playing frisbee, biking, or sometimes they went out to the beach at Bitter Lake, but, on that particular July afternoon, Max and Liz found themselves once more parked in the middle of nowhere, the exposed skin of their legs sticking to the seats of his jeep, while the dust which had been kicked up by his tires as they drove down the old, dirt highways was being caked into their bodies by the unrelenting, unmerciful sun. Not a single cloud peppered the blindingly blue New Mexico sky, and the desert was certainly not the place to go if one wanted to seek out the shade.

“Listen, maybe we should just keep driving,” Max suggested, already moving on to explain himself without giving Liz a chance to respond. “I know you said you had something you wanted to talk about, but if you get sun poisoning because of me or you have a heat stroke, your dad is going to....”

She interrupted him. “I didn't ask you to bring us out here so we could talk about my dad, Max.”

Her words were teasing – he could hear her laughter coloring them in warm tones, but, still, he refused to look at her. Since he had picked her up earlier that day, Max had avoided all eye contact with Liz. Afraid of what he might see in her gaze and, even more, afraid of what he wouldn't see, it had just been one risk he couldn't bring himself to take. Even if the limbo of uncertainty was quickly making him go mad, it was better than the alternative. Insanity – and hope – were always preferable over outright rejection.

Swallowing once, then twice, and then finally a third time – his adam's apple bobbing maniacally as he struggled to clear his dry and tight throat, Max eventually croaked out, “well, uh... what did you want to tell... I mean, uh, what did you want to....”

And then a miracle happened. His inept, clumsy, embarrassingly awkward question was cut short when Liz's mouth was suddenly covering his. At first, that's all Max was aware of: her lips were touching his, but then slowly, as she gently coaxed a reaction from him, everything else about the moment became poignantly clear to him. She was straddling his lap – Liz's legs spread wide to fold around his own, bringing their lower bodies into intimate contact – and barreling, tunneling her slender fingers through his hair. With her short nails, she massaged his scalp, relaxing his shoulders more and more by the moment as other parts of his anatomy came alive with barely leashed tension and pressure. After several stunned moments, Max surrendered happily to her surprise assault, dropping his hands to wrap possessively around her delicately rounded hips. His digits flared wide. While his thumbs rubbed sensuously over her lower abdomen, his fingers stretched to wrap around her bottom, clenching and releasing in a rhythm which matched the rolling and rocking of their lower bodies. And then Liz flicked her tongue against the seam of his lips, and reality fell away.

Max opened his mouth wide, an invitation she readily accepted. At first, her tongue just explored shallowly – running up and then down below to slide against the insides of his lips, but he soon lost patience with the provocative temptation of her delicate actions. He wanted to taste her, consume her, become her, and so Max let go of the last, lingering tendrils of his restraint and took control of their kiss. Wrapping his own tongue around Liz's, he drew her into the sultry, wet recesses of his mouth, drinking from her passion and returning to her tenfold. In doing so, he brought her body even closer to his own, the tender suppleness of her breasts rubbing lusciously against his chest, their diamond hard points finally drilling some sense back into Max's brain... and raging libido.

He broke the connection of their mouths, making sure, though, that Liz did not move from his lap, and rested their foreheads together intimately as they each struggled deliciously for breath. Though his body was no longer surging up into hers, Max couldn't release his hold upon the enticing curves of her bottom, and Liz seemed in absolutely no hurry to break their embrace either. If the sheer agony of his arousal was not throbbing in time with her heartbeat, Max would have questioned if what he had just experienced was actually real or just another of his very realistic fantasies. Then, Liz spoke, and the surreal nature of the moment deepened, expanded, nearly suffocated him in its wonder.

“I'm in love with you, too.”

He grinned then, and, even without seeing it, Max knew that it was one of those silly, boyish grins that made him appear about twelve, a grin that only Liz Parker could inspire. Despite his joy, though, he was nothing if not practical. “What about your dad, though?”

“While I love my father, Max, I think it would be super strange if I felt the same way I feel about you towards him as well.”

Growling playfully, he leaned forward and nipped at the tip of her nose, making Liz giggle, his frolicsome mood a pleasant surprise for the both of them. “You know that's not what I meant.”

“I know, and, to really answer your question, I'm eighteen, I'm going off to college in a few weeks, and what Jeff Parker doesn't know won't hurt him.”

“What are you saying, Liz,” he questioned her, intrigued by the devilish light illuminating her coffee colored eyes.

“I'm asking you how you feel about entering into a secret affair with me?” Before he could respond, she continued, “it's not that I'm ashamed of you, Max. Please don't think that. But I know how tenacious my father can be, and, with me leaving soon, I can't allow you to stay here and face him alone.”

“Allow me to, huh?” He jostled her slightly, making Liz roll her eyes in humor.

“Max, you're focusing on all the wrong parts of what I'm saying here. Did the words 'secret affair' not penetrate that thick, warped-because-you're-a-guy skull of yours?”

“Oh, no, trust me,” he assured her, smiling once more as he realigned their lower bodies. “It registered.”

“And...?”

“And tell me more about what you had in mind.”

“Well, we have twenty-three days until I leave, and, in the meantime, I thought you could ravish me whenever we're lucky enough to be alone – you know, quick kisses in the Crashdown kitchen; make-out sessions every morning during our jog through the park... though we'll have to cut down on our route to make time. Damn, what a shame,” she added dryly. “And, best of all, heavy petting sessions at night in the back of the jeep while we're parked out here in the desert.”

“Of course I want that,” he assured her, punctuating his remark with a quick peck to her lips, “but what about after you leave for school? I guess we'll have Christmas break, and we call and email each other... though we'll have to be careful with the former in case your dad scrutinizes your phone bill too closely.”

“Yeah, about that...,” Liz started, making Max panic slightly when she pulled far enough away from him so that she could rest her hands upon his sweaty, t-shirt clad chest, her fingers sweeping back and forth distractedly while avoiding his gaze. “What if I told you that we might be able to see each other more than just on my Christmas and summer breaks?”

“Liz...?”

Biting her lip, she rushed to admit, “I'm going to Texas Tech.”

Texas Tech meant Lubbock. Texas Tech meant that, if he took US-380, he could be with Liz in less than three hours... probably closer to two if he broke a few speed limits. Texas Tech meant she could come home every weekend; he could go and see her on his days off; and, if he was particularly missing her, or needing to connect with her, or craving the taste of her mouth, all Max would have to do was drive to her and spend the night. Texas Tech also meant....

“But what about Harvard, or MIT, or Stanford, or Berkeley, or all those other amazing schools which would be lucky to have you attend their university?”

Liz shrugged. “Harvard's still my dream, but it doesn't have to be my dream now.”

“I don't understand.”

“In order to do what I want to do someday, I'm going to have to go to school for many, many years and for multiple degrees. I can go to Harvard for my Master's, or maybe even my Doctorate, but to start out there now while I'm just studying for my Bachelors seems ridiculous. While I might be an only child, and while my parents have been saving for my tuition for years, they don't have Harvard money. And Texas Tech is a good school. I can work if I go there, too – save up my money, get an apartment, and become a resident so I can pay in-state tuition. And, best of all,” she confessed, now fiddling with the collar of his shirt, “by going to Texas Tech, I get to live a dream that's even more important to me than Harvard: you, Max – being with you. You know, you're not the only one in this relationship who has been crushing on the other for years.”

Suddenly, he was bursting with energy, with inspiration, with hope. “And I can get another part-time job and continue saving up as well. Plus, if I apply to community college and prove myself there, I might be able to join you in six months... or a year – whatever it takes. Then, maybe we could get an apartment together, and if I do well enough, perhaps I could prove to....”

“While I love your mind,” Liz interrupted him, her forehead once more leaning against his own as her palms cupped his jaw, “think silently, Max; think silently.”

As her mouth once more touched his, and their kiss quickly escalated out of control yet again, the last coherent thought Max had was that his dreamgirl tasted like raspberry lemonade and sunshine. The flavor of tabasco had been usurped; it was no longer his favorite essence. Liz was.

; : ;

Ever since their confrontation, Max had avoided Jeff Parker. Now, even with Liz in Texas, he tried to stay away from the older man as much as possible. Though they had been successful at keeping their burgeoning relationship a secret, Liz's father was still suspicious of their friendship, of Max's feelings for his little girl, and he knew that Mr. Parker partially blamed him for Liz's decision to go to school so close to home, no matter how many times she explained the logical reasons behind her choice. Because he worked for him, though, and because Jeff was his sponsor, avoiding his boss was easier said than done, though he was working on the latter of those two complications.

Despite not being a traditional alcoholic, Max still liked going to AA. Sure, there were the steps, and the members were supposed to work the program... whatever that meant, but, for him, the meetings provided him with a sense of belonging, with a sense of camaraderie. And, while he argued that his disease was different than everyone else due to his extraterrestrial nature, his differences were just an extreme case; everyone else who belonged to AA had something about their history or their life which set them apart, too. In their mutual uniqueness, Max found that maybe he wasn't so different after all, and perhaps that was the true beauty of the group: learning that, no matter what, you weren't alone. Perhaps he couldn't completely open up like other members, but he still felt as though he now had a support team, and, someday, he hoped to help someone the way Jeff Parker had helped him. In the meantime, though, because of the strain on their personal relationship, he knew that it was time to find a new sponsor. In fact, he was even considering looking for a new group to join... perhaps one in Clovis.

As for work, though, he wasn't giving up the Crashdown. If it were any other restaurant, he'd gladly turn in one chef's apron for another, but Liz worked there as well... at least for now. Until her Texas residency became official and until he was able to transfer to Texas Tech with her, their plan was that she would come home every weekend. Of course, that meant that she would continue to don her Crashdown uniform and serve greasy spoon fare to the hungry, alien-hunting masses. As long as Liz worked at her parents' cafe, then he would as well... that is, as long as the Parkers didn't fire him. However, because of his tension with Mr. Parker, Max now felt as though he were walking on egg shells while flipping burgers and frying onion rings, and he did everything within his power to avoid the older man.

And that included going to Liz's mother now whenever he had a question, a concern, or a work related issue to discuss. Either Nancy was oblivious to the bond her husband was so quick to sniff out between Liz and Max, or she supported the idea of them being more than friends, because Nancy was just as kind and considerate towards him as she had always been. He was leaning more towards the former option, though, given the fact that she had yet to notice the distance between Max and his sponsor as well.

As he came into the Crashdown that afternoon, Max used the back entrance, knowing that Jeff Parker liked to man the cash register and chat with his usual customers during the lagging hours of the midday. Not only was it a good way to fetter out the town's latest gossip, but Liz's dad thought of himself as the face of the Crashdown Cafe... seeing as how he was the restaurant's owner, so he believed it was his duty as the boss to be front and center for his customers to see and be seen by. Mrs. Parker was the opposite. She was quieter, less outgoing, and really rather shy. While she didn't mind helping out in the family restaurant, she preferred handling the less visible duties. She kept the books, handled most of the stocking duties, and, now that Liz had gone off to college, she also handled the scheduling responsibilities as well... which suited Max's intentions perfectly.

So as not to startle her, Max took care to make plenty of noise as he approached the supply closet, already knowing from his conversation with Liz earlier that her mother had planned to spend her day holed up in the small stock room. Despite having already announced his presence, he still rapped his knuckles upon the doorway's trim, calling out pleasantly, “knock, knock.”

Over her shoulder, Mrs. Parker graced him with a smile. “Come on in, Max. I didn't know you were working today? And aren't you a little early for your shift... or am I just that much behind on my task?”

“No, don't worry,” he reassured her. “If I were scheduled for the dinner shift, then I'd be early. But I actually had to take the day off.”

“Oh? Nothing's wrong, right?”

He grinned, the gesture apparently contagious as Nancy returned it with a grin of her own. “Everything's great. In fact, I just got back from scheduling my fall classes.”

“Max, that's wonderful! Your parents must be thrilled... and proud, too.”

“Well, it's just Clovis Community College,” he informed her. Despite his best intentions, he blushed, too, knowing that she was only so effusive with her praise because of his recent missteps on the road towards higher education.

“Everybody's got to start somewhere,” Nancy responded realistically. “Now, pull up a box,” she nodded towards the large packages of canned supplies behind her, “and tell me what you're thinking about majoring in.”

He did as he was told. “Well, at CCC, I just want to get a semester or two worth of my basic courses under my belt, hopefully pull a 4.0, and show larger, more prestigious universities that this past year was just a fluke.”

“Any idea where you might want to transfer to?”

He was purposefully obtuse, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant manner. “I have a few schools in mind, and I'm sure my parents will have some thoughts as well.”

Mrs. Parker chuckled. “We parents tend to where our children's futures are concerned.”

With that opportunity, he decided to feel her out as to her feelings towards Liz's decision to forego the Ivy League as an undergrad and attend a more local, less prestigious university. “What do you think about Liz going to Texas Tech?”

“I'm sure she told you that her father rivaled the Crashdown sign out front he was so angry?” He nodded, Nancy rolled her eyes, and then she continued. “Don't tell my husband this, but I actually think that Liz made the right decision. While I don't doubt my daughter's capabilities, I do think that Harvard, or MIT, or Stanford would have been a huge adjustment for her. She would have gone from being Roswell's bright and shining star to just one of thousands of bright and shining stars. Texas Tech is a good middle ground for her. She'll have some competition, but she will also still have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd as well. Plus, there's always been a part of me which suspected Harvard was more her father's dream for her than Liz's dream for herself.”

“You should tell her that,” Max encouraged her.

“Maybe I will,” she agreed, pausing long enough in her efforts to turn around and offer him a soft, small smile. “Anyway, listen to me going on and on. Weren't you going to tell me about your plans?”

“I'm thinking secondary education, actually,” he answered, “but I don't want to teach. I want to then go back and get my Masters in school counseling. I want to be a guidance counselor – work with and help kids who were like me in high school.”

“You and Liz with your big plans – she wants to cure diseases; you can't to prevent teen loneliness and depression. You two are so much alike sometimes, it's no wonder you were always lab partners and now friends. I think that's a great idea, Max.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Parker.”

“But what did I tell you about that Mrs. Parker business?”

He chuckled. “Not to use it, Nancy.”

“Much better. Now, I'm assuming you didn't stop by just to keep my company while I tried to make sense of my husband's organizational skills or, more precisely, a lack thereof.”

“It's a guy thing,” Max told her, snickering.

“Only too true... and very astute of you to realize that already. Anyway,” she sighed, placing down her clipboard and turning around to smile at him. “What can I do for you today, Max?”

“I was actually hoping that I could change my schedule. You see, I'm getting a second job in the afternoons... over at the UFO Center actually.” Now, instead of trying to hide from alien hunters, he'd be assisting them. It was ironic, really, and hilarious, too. “And I decided to take night classes, so, if a lecture runs over, I won't be late for work. I already checked with Jose, and he'd actually prefer the nights now, because his wife's due at any time to give birth to their first child, and he knows it'll be nearly impossible for him to wake up in time to be here to start prep work by six.”

“Let me get this straight: you're going to work two part time jobs and take classes? Just when exactly, Max, do you plan on sleeping, on eating, on studying?”

“I'm only going to take twelve credits this semester, and I scheduled it so that I only have classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I'll have Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, not to mention the weekend, to study.”

“But that still leaves sleeping and eating,” she pointed out.

“I work in diner, so I don't think eating will be a problem. As for sleeping, I've never really needed a lot of rest.” Shrugging his shoulders, Max played it off as if this aspect of his physiology was just a strange quirk. “When I was little, I used to drive my parents crazy, because they'd wake up in the middle of the night to find me playing with action figures or legos. At first, they would scold me, but, after a while when I didn't show signs of being tired, they just realized that I was different, I guess.”

“Lucky them.” Snorting, she recollected, “Liz was a bear if she didn't get eight hours of sleep when she was little. She's still like that, actually.”

Max filed that helpful insight away. “So, about that change in the schedule...?”

“Consider it done,” Nancy told him. “But, Max, seriously, if anything becomes too much, let me know, and we'll work something out, alright? I don't want you pushing yourself too hard or risking... everything that you've accomplished during these past few months.”

Briefly, he wondered if the adults in his life would ever, if not forget, then at least forgive his mistakes from the spring and winter before, but he also knew that those mistakes were probably too fresh upon their minds to be overlooked anytime soon. “I won't, and I will,” he reassured her, “come to you, I mean, if things get to be too much. And thanks... for everything.”

“It's no problem, and it's my pleasure, Max,” Mrs. Parker offered him kindly.

As he left the tiny supply room with a small wave, he had to wonder if Mr. Parker would feel the same way. It didn't matter, though, because he couldn't touch or hurt Max at that point. For the first time in his life, everything was... well, pretty much perfect. He had Liz, he was learning how to make friends and socialize in a healthy manner, his future was back on track, and he had his parents' faith and trust back, too. There was nothing that Jeff Parker had the power to take from him at that point... no matter what the older man might think or threaten him with.







Chapter Thirteen

For years, Max had believed the dead of night to be the quietest part of the day – when everyone was asleep, when the stoplights were turned off because the idea of traffic in Roswell became obsolete, and when the sizzle of the desert sun was replaced by the cool serenity of the moon. Now, though, he knew better. Dawn was true stillness. It was during the haze between night and day when their small part of the world ground to a halt. As if sensing the quickly approaching bustle, people slept heavier, deeper, and the nocturnal creatures which roamed the wilderness gave up their prowling ghost, retiring before the sun could give chase to their starlit shadows. It was in the anticipation of something new and noisy that time really did seem to grind to a halt, a blanket of lethargic stasis buffering his reality. In those brief moments between dark and light, that was when Max now found himself the most at peace.

The changes in his life certainly didn't hurt matters either. While he was glad for his jobs and enjoying school once more, Max knew that the real reason behind his newfound contentment was Liz – truly knowing her, kissing her, being with her. She was everything he had always wanted but never believed he'd be privileged enough to enjoy. Loving her and being loved in return by her made Max happy for the first time in his life, and it was during those preciously fleeting moments every day between when the dark of night faded into the light of morning when he found the world still enough to contemplate how lucky he really was. As he woke up from a night of dreaming about her or stumbled in silently from a night of being in her presence, sharing her company, Max always took a few seconds to acknowledge his gratitude.

“We need to talk.”

In his alarm, Max stumbled back a step or two until he collided with the wall behind him, and it took him a moment to place the faceless tone coming from the depths of his family's kitchen. “Dad,” he finally questioned, squinting into the near darkness, the only light barely slinking in from the room's west-facing windows. Max had been on his way towards the back of the house where the bedrooms and bathrooms were located when he had, what had felt like, been ambushed. Further pushing his senses into the space, he realized that his father wasn't alone, that there was a second presence there as well. “Mom?”

“Come in and sit down, Max,” she told him remotely, without greeting or warmth.

“What's going on,” he questioned. Suddenly realizing how strange their early morning meeting was, he jumped to conclusions, “what's wrong?”

“Like I said, son, there are some things we need to discuss.”

He relaxed somewhat, reassured when his parents didn't immediately tell him some piece of bad news. Though he moved into the kitchen like they requested, he didn't sit down. “Listen, if this is about my grades, you guys don't have anything to worry about. I got my midterms back yesterday, and I passed them all with flying colors. Right now, I'm on track for a 4.0, but I really can't get into this with you right now. I need to be at work in half an hour.”

Coldly, his dad ordered, “Maxwell, do as your mother told you and sit down. You're not going into the Crashdown today.”

“What? Why not?”

It was his mother's turn to speak. “We called you off.”

“You called me off,” Max parroted, confused and then quickly annoyed. “Why would you do that? I realize that I've been busy lately, but, now, Jeff and Nancy are not only going to think that I can't handle my work load but that I'm too immature to handle my own affairs, that I had to have my mommy fight my battles for me. You should have come to me, and we would have scheduled a dinner or something.”

“Scheduled a dinner or something,” this time it was his mom who repeated his words. “Max, you are our son. This is getting out of hand.”

“What is?”

“This...,” she gestured wildly between the space separating them across the table. “You, your life again.”

“Excuse me?”

“Son, the deal was that you would work at the Crashdown, run every morning with Jeff Parker, and that you would go to meetings with him as your sponsor. When Liz took over for her father when he no longer had time to run with you, that was one thing, but now there's a second job, and school, and a new sponsor, and you don't come home at night.”

“I call,” Max jumped in to defend himself. “I've never once stayed out and not told you first that I wouldn't be home.”

“And let's talk about those phone calls, shall we,” his mom prompted. “You're vague, Max. You tell us that you're staying over at a friend's place, and that's it. No name, no number as to where we can reach you. You haven't even introduced us to this friend.”

Suddenly, he could sense where their conversation was headed, and Max shut down. Becoming detached, he said, “I didn't realize that I was supposed to.”

“That's always been the rule, Max,” his mother pressed on, “ever since you first went to school. The deal was that, if you wanted to spend the night at a friend's house, we had to meet the friend and his parents first.”

Calmly, despite his frustration, he responded, “I'm not in elementary school any longer, and who said anything about this friend being a guy?”

His mom sucked in a harsh breath, and his father sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “This is exactly what we're talking about, son. You've become secretive again. You're keeping things from us, lying, you're sneaking around, you're....”

“I haven't lied to you,” he interrupted, defending himself. “Not once.” Changing gears, Max asked, “where is all this suspicion coming from?” Narrowing his gaze in his parents' direction, he leveled his own accusations. “I thought you'd be proud of the initiative I've taken, that you'd be happy that I've taken back control of my life once again, and that you'd be pleased that I'm doing so well.”

“But are you really, Max,” his mom wanted to know. “It's like six months ago all over again. We gave you an inch, and you took a mile.”

“No, what I thought you had given me was your trust back, and I decided to prove to you that you were right to do so.” Standing up, he rolled his shoulders back so that he was standing up perfectly straight. “Just what exactly is it that you guys are trying to say to me?”

A fourth voice entered the fray, and Max's body swiveled to meet the eyes of the person who he just instinctively knew had startled the entire mess that he now had to deal with. “We want to know why a young man with no financial responsibilities suddenly feels its necessary to work not just one job but two, why you're all of a sudden so happy, where you spend your nights, and how you can possibly be functioning on so little sleep? Your parents told me, Max, that you're rarely home, that most mornings you only make it back in time to shower and change before work.”

“You're still just making implications, Mr. Parker.” He no longer felt that he could call Liz's dad by his first name. “If you want to accuse me of something, then do it.”

“What are you on, Max? It's not alcohol this time, so what it is? Cocaine? Heroin? Speed?”

He laughed then, but the gesture held no signs of humor. Rolling his eyes, he turned back to his parents. “Let me guess what happened here. Mr. Parker came to you, told you of his suspicions, and, now, without even giving me a chance to defend myself, you're going to believe him.”

“The signs are all there, son,” his mom stated.

“And, in doing this, you've broken our trust and, more importantly, your promise to us to remain clean,” his father picked up where she left off. “Consequently, we want you to pack your bags. Either you go to rehab this morning, or you leave this house and not come back until you're ready to do whatever your mother and I say.”

“You're also out of a job, Max,” Liz's dad added. “Don't even think about going to Nancy or my Lizzie about this either. You're no longer employed by or welcome in the Crashdown. As for Milton... well, I'm not sure what he's decided. I went to him yesterday, told him about your problems, and he said he'd think about them over night and make a decision. My guess is that he'll no longer want you working at the UFO Center. Finally, there's school to consider. While we can't get CCC to kick you out, your parents and I are going to go and speak with your advisor this morning. He needs to be kept abreast of your situation so that he can closely monitor you. Hopefully, though, you'll agree to your parents' demands, and we'll simply withdrawal you from your courses instead.”

Despite everything the older man had said, he refused to look at Mr. Parker. Instead, Max kept his unblinking gaze upon his parents the entire time Liz's dad talked, his unwavering stare finally breaking them as they nervously glanced away. After several moments of tense, awkward silence while they waited for his response, he said, “well, then, I guess you leave me with no choice.” And, with that, he turned around on his heels and marched out of the only home he'd ever known.

; : ;

For one of the first times in his life, Max Evans followed his instincts. He didn't second guess himself, he didn't do the opposite of what his intuition told him simply to spite his alien-ness, and he didn't question or doubt what his body, mind, and heart needed. In the blinding maelstrom of emotions which assaulted him after his parents' ambush, Max just... ran, but, unlike in the past, he didn't run away from his demons; he ran towards his salvation.

He knocked solidly on the door, knowing that she'd be alone, for her roommate generally stayed over at either her boyfriend's fraternity house or a friend's off-campus apartment, and knowing that, after just leaving her a few hours before, she'd be exhausted and sound asleep. It had taken what had felt like forever to get to her, but time slowed down even more as Max waited for the entrance to the dorm room before him to swing open. When it finally did, he knew that he was the last person she was expecting to see. Her greeting proved as much.

“If this is some sick RA's idea of a good time for a severe weather drill, then we are seriously going to have to consider orchestrating a coup to... Max,” Liz questioned, relaxing immediately upon recognizing him only to lean against her doorjamb and rub tiredly at her sleepy eyes. “What are you... is everything okay?”

There were so many things he wanted... no, that he needed to tell her. He was upset about his parents – how they could so easily doubt him and turn against him when he had been doing everything within his power to prove to them, the town, and himself that he had changed; he was lost as to what he should do next, how he could possibly piece what had been his life just a mere few hours ago back together; and he was besotted by her adorable appearance – fuzzy slippers, teeny, tiny shorts which disappeared under one of his t-shirts she had already managed to confiscate and claim as her own, and what had to be the cutest head of bed hair he had ever seen. Instead, though, Max confessed the one thing that was bothering him the most, and, unfortunately, of all the burdens weighing down his broad shoulders – worries that he knew she would gladly bear with him, his admission was the one that scared him the most, the one that could very easily push her away from him for good.

“I wanted to hurt him, Liz. For a moment, I forgot everything: how my life depends upon my ability to keep my secrets, how hurting him wouldn't fix any of my problems, even you. He just... he tried to take everything away from me, and I wanted to do the same thing to him, only I knew that I could hurt him in ways he never imagined.”

Immediately, the exhaustion fled from her delicate features, and another regret piled itself upon his conscience. For the first time since he fled his parents' house earlier, Max realized just how selfishly he had acted in running to Liz. She was a college freshman. Her life should have been nothing but school, making new friends, and having fun, but, instead, he dragged her down with him by laying his problems at her feet. There she was: tired and no doubt just a few hours shy of a jam-packed, loaded day, and, without a thought for her feelings, he pounded on her door, waking her up from her well-deserved sleep.

“Whoa, stop right there,” she broke into his thoughts, making Max's gaze once more snap up to meet hers remorsefully. “I know that look. You look like you just kicked a kitten... one named Liz, but I won't let you do this to yourself, Max. You don't have to feel guilty for turning to me. That's what people do, especially when they're dating.” Without giving him a chance to respond, she grabbed his arm and started pulling him into her room. “Now, come inside.”

He followed her, quickly distracted when her grip slid from his forearm down to his hand so that their fingers could lace together. She led him to her bed, only turning around when she was close enough to lean against its raised platform. Without words, she undressed him – first his shirt and then his pants as he hastily kicked off his shoes and socks. All the while, Liz bit her bottom lip contemplatively, but Max was surprised to notice that her actions lacked the nervousness he would have expected. Though their relationship had been progressing steadily for the past couple of months – both emotionally and physically, she had yet to act so forward around him, and they had never completely been together. When he slept over, that's all they did: sleep, and, usually, they were at least partially dressed if not completely so. They kissed, and they touched, and they played, but there had been this unspoken agreement between them that they didn't need sexual intimacy to be close to one another... at least, not yet. Rather, they had elected to savor an achingly sweet yet no less torturously slow romantic build-up.

Once Max was left in nothing but his boxer-briefs, he slid his hands under Liz's arms, lifting her so that her body was flushed against him for several seconds before placing her bottom on the edge of her high twin bed. Usually, she had to use a stool to climb in at night... or whenever else she wanted to curl up amongst her cocoon of blankets and pillows, but Max found that he didn't want to be away from her for even a moment; he couldn't be. Immediately, she parted her legs, and he positioned himself between them, pulling her body even closer to the edge of the bed so that he was nestled in the cradle of her thighs.

In a whisper soft caress, he trailed his fingers down her bare things, circled her knees, and then slithered over her calves until he encountered the high-ankled, fuzzy slippers she wore. Teasingly, he pulled them off, tossing them over his shoulders only to make Liz laugh. By way of explanation, she offered, “my feet were cold without you here.”

For a moment, he was tempted to just kiss her then, breaking the spell she had managed to so quickly weave around them and forget about his heart which, just minutes before, had been breaking into a thousand devastated, jaded pieces, but he tabled his ever-growing desire and need for the woman perched before him; his need to confide in her and have her comfort him emotionally was even greater. That didn't mean, though, that holding her nearly naked body close to him wouldn't be a comfort as well. So, with that thought in mind, his wandering hands left her feet and traveled back up to her hips, reaching for the hem of the large, baggy t-shirt she was wearing and, in one fluid motion, stripping it off her. She was bare beneath his shirt, her unbound breasts immediately puckering as the cool air brushed against them. As Max met her gaze, Liz never blushed or blinked once. Rather, she simply scooted back on the bed, leaned against the pillows resting against her headboard, and pulled him after her, settling them so that he sat between her legs and was leaned back against her, his head cushioned against her petal soft chest while her legs and arms wrapped themselves comfortingly around him. He was desperate to see her, though, too, so he twisted his torso around so that their gazes could lock, her compassionate mocha colliding with his wounded whisky-hued depths.

“Who did you want to hurt,” she finally asked him, and the weight of his earlier confession settled down upon Max once more. Liz must have sensed him tense, because she immediately began to sooth him, her right hand brushing tenderly against the skin above his still rapidly beating heart, her fingers absently flickering against his nipple occasionally, while her left hand slid low against his middle – past his belly button, through the thin line of hair which led a trail down his abdomen, and then slipped under the band of his boxer-briefs. Suddenly shivering with need himself, Max realized how chilled Liz must be, so he reached forward to pull her various assortment of sheets, blankets, and comforters up around them, allowing them naturally to settle against their laps.

Taking a deep, bracing breath, he released it before confessing, “your father – I wanted to hurt your father.” This time, it was her turn to tense, and she even gasped, too, but, instead of panicking, Max took a page out of her book and used his hands to sooth her before attempting to explain away his feelings towards her dad with words. He dropped his right hand beneath the covers, found the right leg opening of her shorts, and positioned his palm to cup the firm roundness of her bottom. By doing so, he determined that she wasn't wearing any underwear. Then, still twisted in order to see her face, Max leaned over and kissed the pouty tip of her left breast before lifting his left hand to idly stroke the underside of the creamy, pert flesh. He only used the pads of his fingers, but, this time when Liz gasped, it wasn't from horror but from pleasure.

“You don't have to worry, though. I didn't touch him. I never would, no matter what he did to me, because you love him.”

“But what did he do to you, Max,” she questioned curiously. He could also hear the slight note of fear which tinged her otherwise steady words. “Despite everything, I've never seen you lose your temper... not even around Kyle and his idiot friends. What could my dad have possibly done to make you....”

Interrupting her, he answered, “he convinced my parents that I'm no longer sober, only, this time, he has them thinking that I'm not just drinking but using drugs.”

“Oh my god, Max,” she softly lamented on his behalf.

“He fired me; talked to Milton, so I'll probably lose my job at the UFO Center as well; and he and my parents are going to talk to my advisor this morning. But, worst of all, my parents told me to get out, to not come back until I was ready to go to rehab.” Sucking in a breath in order to regain control of his emotions, Max confessed, “I've never felt like I belonged anywhere, like I fit... until now. All these years, I was lost. While I appreciated everything my parents had done for me, there was this wall between us. Because of you, I was finally ready to let them in, and I was trying to make them proud of me, Liz, by holding down two jobs, by going to school and doing so well, by learning from you how to be a friend and put myself out there, but, now, that's all gone.”

“I'm so sorry, Max,” she whispered, dropping her head down to nuzzle his neck briefly before lifting her lips to his face. She didn't kiss his mouth, though. Instead, as she continued to murmur her apology over and over again, she brushed butterfly caresses against his forehead and his temples; his eyelids, his nose, and his cheek bones; his upper lip; his chin and his jaw. With every feather like touch of her lips against him, Max let a tiny piece of his sorrow go. Slowly, gently, Liz was healing him in the way that only she could.

She had finally dropped her mouth to his, and they had barely shared a brushing touch of their lips when a loud, frame-rattling pounding started upon her door and didn't let up; in fact, it just got worse, to the point where Max started to fear that the person on the other side would stop at nothing until they were granted entrance. It was with that thought that he realized who was standing in the hallway. “It's your dad,” he muttered, for some reason not wanting Jeff to hear him.

Liz's reaction, on the other hand, was anything but tentative or nervous. Hastily but not roughly, she pushed away and out from behind him, scrambling down from her semi-lofted bed before he could stop her. “Good,” she announced, hands on hips and looking, for all the world, like some ancient warrior princess about to go into battle. “There's a few things he and I need to get straight.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he called after her, jumping out of bed to wrap a tight arm around her waist and pull her back against his chest. “Don't you think you're forgetting something first.”

After a comical pause, Liz dropped her gaze and regarded her own – and his – near nudity. “Oh.”

“Here,” he said, tossing her his shirt that she had been wearing when he arrived earlier. Then, he quickly scrambled into his jeans. By the time he had both legs in their proper holes, though, it was too late to put on his shirt, let alone actually button his pants, for Liz had already wrenched open her dorm room door. Even with her back to him, Max could tell that her eyes were blazing with acrimony. If possible, she was even more beautiful when in a temper.

“You,” Jeff Parker bellowed, rudely pushing past his daughter and leveling an accusatory gaze and finger in Max's direction. “Get your clothes and get out of here. I thought I told you what would happen if you messed with my daughter.”

Before he could get a word in edgewise, Liz was on the attack. “Oh, you certainly made yourself perfectly clear, but it's not like you can threaten Max with anything at this point, dad. You've already taken everything away from him.”

Mr. Parker whirled around to face his daughter. “What do you know about...?”

“I know everything,” she intervened, breaking off her father's question. “I know about the ultimatum you gave Max months ago to keep us apart, not that it worked. All it did was force us to sneak around rather than be upfront about our relationship. And, now, I know about the lies you told his parents, too.”

“They weren't lies, Lizzie.”

“I spend nearly every single night with Max, Dad,” she snapped, glaring in the older man's direction. The two of them were so locked into their argument that they both had seemed to have forgotten his presence there... at least, momentarily. “He's not using drugs, and you know that, too. You're just scared of losing me, and that's alright, but it's not alright to take that fear out on Max. You destroyed his life today, and you destroyed the Mr and Mrs. Evans' lives, too. Yes, I turned to you for help back in the spring, but that was because I trusted you and believed that you were capable of putting someone else first before yourself. I guess I was wrong.”

“You're damn right I'm afraid,” Jeff fired back. “You have this whole, amazing future ahead of you, Lizzie, and I won't stand by and watch some punk kid ruin it. He already got you to forfeit your chance at Harvard; I won't let him hurt you anymore.”

“Some punk kid,” she repeated, snorting derisively. “Open your eyes and take a good, hard look at Max, Dad. Yes, he got himself into some trouble, but he's turned his entire life around. He's working two jobs in order to save for next semester when he transfers out here to be with me, because he doesn't want me to worry about having to work to help pay for our apartment. Plus, he's going to school. He's taking four courses, and he's acing all of them, not to mention the fact that he drives here every night after he's done with his classes to spend time with me, to help me study, to be my boyfriend.”

“But Liz,” he father tried to protest, but she wouldn't allow him to.

“But nothing. After everything that you did when you were Max's age, all the trouble you caused, and everything Grandpa put you through in order for you to be with Mom, you were the last person I ever thought would act this hypocritical.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

With this, Liz crossed the room and slipped into Max's arms. Although he didn't know what was going to happen next, he was awed by how she had defended him. “Max makes me happy, Dad.” After giving him a quick squeeze, she turned her attention back to Mr. Parker. “You need to make this right. You need to fix what you broke between Max and his parents, with Milton, and you better stop Mr. and Mrs. Evans from talking to Max's academic advisor. If you don't, well... I don't think I'll be able to come home unless its just to see Mom, Alex, and Maria.” Before Jeff could respond, Liz was quick to add, “and this isn't me giving you an ultimatum. I just... it's hard for me to look at you right now. I'm really angry and hurt, and it's going to take me some time, not to mention you making amends, before I can forgive you.”

“So, basically, you're choosing him over me,” he father questioned.

“No, Dad,” Liz corrected him, slipping out of Max's arms and then moving across the room to open the door even wider, insinuating that it was time for Mr. Parker to leave. “You made that choice for me.”

He left without another word.

Liz closed the door behind him, locked it, and then turned back to face Max. Removing her shirt, she then surprised him further by pushing down her shorts as well. With an impish smirk, she said, “let's go to bed.”







Epilogue

Six Years Later...

Dropping his keys onto the kitchen bar countertop, Max took a quick glance around the apartment he shared with Liz. Moving noiselessly throughout their home, he failed to catch a glimpse of her petite frame. Despite the fact that six years of connecting and living with her had managed to suppress his awareness of his surroundings to a point where he could easily blend in, it was still his habit to leave as quiet of a footprint upon his senses as possible. Plus, he had long since learned that sneaking up upon Liz had its benefits. Long ago, he had lost count of how many times the ability had afforded him the chance to surprise her in the shower or watch her silently, unsuspected from a doorway. On the other hand, they also went through more dishes than the average couple, but such a loss was a worthy sacrifice in his opinion.

As he moved, he stripped, peeling off the sticky clothes which clung to his still damp with perspiration skin. Despite the fact that the heat of summer had yet to settle upon Dallas, a sunny, May afternoon was nothing to scoff at... especially when he had spent the last two hours down at the local community center playing basketball with a group of teenage boys younger and, apparently, more resilient than he was. The day's high had only touched the mid-eighties, but, still, Max was a sweaty mess.

First, it was his shoes and socks. He toed them off as he moved across the large, central living space of the flat he shared with Liz, picking them up and holding them in his hands as his now bare feat greedily sunk into the thick cushion of the carpet. Bypassing the guest bathroom, he peered into the room that doubled as their office and guest bedroom... not that anyone from Roswell made it to Dallas all that often. Still, when they did, it was nice to have a place to comfortably put them, especially given the fact that their guest bedroom was situated on the opposite side of the apartment from the bedroom he and Liz used as their own. Not finding her there working on her thesis, he lifted his arms over his head and removed his t-shirt. Immediately, the cool air of their air conditioned home made his balmy skin break out in goosebumps, but the sensation was quickly suppressed as his body, once more, adjusted to the fluctuating temperatures.

Max was just about to make his way towards their bedroom when he caught a glimpse of the sight he sought through the double windows which looked out onto their balcony. He should have known. When they were looking for a place to live after relocating to Dallas to attend grad school and start their first real, adult jobs, Liz had asked for one thing concerning their prospective apartment: she wanted a balcony. He had been more practical, trying to find a place somewhere equidistant from the UT Southwestern Medical Center – Dallas, where she was studying for her Masters in Molecular Biology, and from Dallas Baptist University where Max had decided to enroll for his own graduate degree in school counseling.

Max had also been worried about parking, about laundry hookups, about having a dishwasher. They had been surprised, though, at how easy it was to find something which fit both Liz's more romantic ideals for their first real home together and his functional ones. Now that they had it, though, even he had to admit that their balcony was his favorite place as well. It was private, overlooked the waterfront and downtown Irving, and it was the perfect place for the two of them to unwind after a long, stressful, jam-packed day. Their lives were anything but peaceful – what, between both of their studies and their full-time jobs: Liz as a clinical laboratory technologist and his as a high school psychology teacher, but the balcony afforded them their own slice of relaxation on a daily basis.

Quickly, Max made his way back out into the living and dining room, electing to deposit his clothes in their bedroom before using its second access door to join Liz outside. Whether it was because of his surreptitious movements or because she was too engrossed in whatever it was she was working on, her laptop balanced on her crossed legs, Max was able to make his way over to where Liz sat, the end of the lounge chair she occupied free for him to claim as his own. He kneeled upon it, leaning forward to both get closer to the woman he loved and to peek at whatever it was that had captured her attention so completely.

“Should I be jealous,” he teased, already grinning as he anticipated both her reaction to his sudden appearance and the proper greeting he had planned for her.

She gasped, though, shying away from him, and, almost immediately, Max's playful smirk turned into a frown, and his brow furrowed. “Don't, shoo, get away,” Liz ordered as she backpedaled as far away from him on the chair as she possibly could and held her computer up and away from his prying gaze. “You can't look!”

“Liz, I've seen pieces of your thesis about a thousand times already. If you haven't realized it yet, you mutter parts of it under your breath while you're working on it, while you're cleaning. Hell, you once started talking about your topic while you were sleeping.” Leveling her with a pointed gaze, he admonished, “just be warned that I will draw the line during sex. If you even once mention your paper while we're....”

“Okay, okay, I get it, but, for your information,” she informed him haughtily, “I'm not working on my thesis. In fact, I finished it earlier.”

His eyes lit up with joy and congratulations that Max didn't even attempt to disguise. “You did?”

Liz nodded, sighing dreamily. “All I have to do now is print it out, get all my signatures, and then turn it in for binding.”

“Well, then, we should celebrate.” He leaned forward to kiss her, but, before he could, she squirmed away from him, apparently still paranoid that he would catch a glimpse at her laptop. Leveling her with a pointed gaze, he asked, “do I even want to know what you're attempting to hide from me?”

She laughed. “Max, it's nothing bad. You just can't see it.”

“Well, that's enlightening.”

Rolling her eyes, Liz finally closed her computer, setting it aside on the patio table next to them. Now capable of directing her full attention on him, she wrapped her arms lazily around his neck, pulling him closer, and unfolded her legs to curl them around his hips. He settled into the juncture of her thighs comfortably. As she ran her fingers through his sweaty hair, she murmured, “you reek.”

“So romantic,” he taunted, nuzzling his face into the hollow of her neck and causing Liz to giggle and burrow closer to him despite his unpleasant scent. After dropping several kisses upon her delicate flesh, he once more looked up to meet her coffee gaze. “So, tell me, Miss Parker: what exactly were you looking at that had you so engrossed?”

“All I'm going to say is its bad luck for you to see it before the wedding.”

“Ah, that,” Max replied with a big, goofy grin upon his face. Pausing, he reached behind him to remove her left hand from where she had it entangled in the ends of his hair, bringing it forward so as to caress his lips against the warm skin where her finger met the platinum of her diamond engagement ring. He had surprised her with his proposal during the tension-filled madness of midterms, creating a bubble of excitement in between the chaos of papers, exams, and presentations two months before. Now, they were planning an August wedding – a final hurrah to their life in Dallas and a proper segue into their married existence elsewhere. Returning back to the moment at hand, though, Max questioned, “I thought that superstition applied only if I saw you wearing your wedding dress.”

“Let's just say that I'm not willing to tempt fate. The last six years with you have been perfect; I want the next sixty to be so as well.”

“I want the same thing,” he confided in a whisper, rubbing their noses together before finally giving Liz the hello kiss he had been intending to since he first opened the door to their apartment. He tasted her languidly, luxuriating in the freedom to do so. It didn't matter how many times they were together intimately, Max never once took a moment he shared with the woman he loved for granted. Then, with one last provocative swipe of his tongue against her bottom lip, he pulled away, hoping that the seductive embrace they had just shared would be enough to tempt her into showering with him. “So, you found your wedding dress this afternoon?”

“I did,” Liz confirmed.

“Did you find anything else, make any other decisions without me?” Because he was about to have the next three months off, while Liz would still be working full-time, he was determined to shoulder much of the burden which came with planning a wedding. Though their nuptials would not be a massive production – after all, neither of them had large families, he still wanted it to be beautiful and memorable for Liz. Plus, with their families eight hours away, neither his mother nor Liz's would be able to help with the planning very much, and Maria, though Liz's maid-of-honor and quite excited for them, had a life of her own to live. On top of everything else, Liz had to finalize her application to her PhD program of choice, they had an apartment to pack up, and they had an entire new life to build together.

“I found Maria's bridesmaid dress, but I'm still trying to narrow down which location I think we should book at the Arboretum.

Max shrugged, standing up, prepared to solve that problem for her. “Why don't we just go tonight and check it out. We'll make an entire evening out of it. We'll go into Dallas and stop at the Arboretum on our way to dinner. After all, like I said before, we need to celebrate.”

Liz's eyes lit up with anticipation and excitement. Standing with him, she cupped his face. “Oh, I like the way you think, Mr. Evans.”

Without warning, he scooped her up in his arms, lifting her so that her legs could circle him around his waist as he walked them both into their bedroom. Liz laughed the entire way. “Well, then, come on. Time's a wasting. We only have a little bit of time before I need to leave for my meeting, and we need to get our shower in before I go.”

“Our shower?”

Max smiled brightly. “It's almost summer-time in the South, darlin'. We need to conserve water.”

She tossed her head back in amusement, her long, thick hair cascading down in a rich shower of decadence. “I can't believe you used that line on me!”

“Hey, you're the scientist. I shouldn't be telling you anything you don't already know.”

“What, that my fiance is the lamest pick-up artist in the entire state of Texas?”

He pinched her butt, making Liz squeal. “And that's a good thing, isn't it?”

Before allowing her a chance to respond, though, Max covered her mouth with his own, kicking the bathroom door shut behind them.

; : ;

“... and, now, in three months' time, my fiancee and I will be getting married, we'll be moving to Baltimore, Maryland. I'll be starting my first job as a guidance counselor – hopefully, helping kids who were just like me in high school... and some who weren't as well, and she'll be working as a clinical laboratory scientist and starting the PhD program in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It's not Harvard... like her father always wanted for her,” Max admitted with a slight chuckle, meeting the interested, amused, pleased glances of the men and women surrounding him, “but we weren't sure if we were ready for those Massachusetts winters yet.”

It had taken him six years before he felt ready to completely open up and share his story with his fellow AA members... an albeit slightly edited version in order to maintain his anonymity... in more ways than one, and it felt good – like a fitting conclusion to their lives in Texas, their lives before their marriage. In talking about his own past at that evening's meeting, Max felt the last link to his former addiction break, and he knew without a doubt that he'd never take another drink again. While he would still attend meeting, he knew that the temptation had finally, once and for all, been conquered. This also meant that he felt he was now ready to be someone else's sponsor.

“Best of all, we're buying a house. It's this historical, brick, central hall colonial, something so... normal. It's got four bedrooms, a large, family-friendly, eat-in kitchen, and a big, fenced-in back yard. It's the perfect place for my fiancee and I, in a few years, to start and raise our family.” Becoming more serious, Max sat up straight. “When I think back to what my life was like six years ago and then compare it to what it is now, I realize that there was one key thing to my sobriety: trust. My getting clean was dependent upon one moment: that night when I was finally honest about who I was with the woman I love. For the first time in my life, I really allowed someone to know me; I let her in. If it wasn't for that moment, then nothing that has happened since would have been possible. We're not islands. We can't survive on our own... no matter how much we initially might think and want otherwise, and it was only with this realization that I was able to find true and lasting serenity.”

After he finished talking, the meeting closed with its traditional prayer and the socializing which always came afterwards. Some nights, he joined in; others, he didn't. It usually depended upon how much grading he had to do... or how good he thought his chances were of convincing Liz to be naughty with him and spend the rest of the night in bed together rather than working on their respective school and work commitments. With an evening out on the town planned with his soon-to-be wife, Max had no plans to stick around long. His intentions, though, were sidelined as, while he was walking towards the door, a new visitor to their meeting that night stepped into his path.

“Hey,” the other man greeted, awkwardly shuffling his motorcycle boot clad feet and shoving his clenched fists just that much deeper into his jeans pockets. “Do you have a minute,” the stranger requested.

Max nodded, leading him outside to the parking lot where they could talk in private. Briefly, he recalled another monumental conversation held in a similar parking lot years before, but he quickly brushed his recollections aside, for the man before him deserved his undivided attention. Without hesitation, he got to the point. “You're new.”

“Yeah, well, this isn't the easiest thing to do in the world.”

“What, admit that you have a problem,” Max supplied, questioning.

“No,” the other man contradicted, shaking his head in a negative fashion to further emphasize his response. The stranger had long, dirty-blond hair which hung down into his eyes and cloaked his face, and his shoulders were hunched forward as if exhausted from a lifetime of carrying an invisible yet no less heavy burden. “This,” the world-weary guy gestured between them. “Opening up. It's like you said before,” he continued on, “how learning to trust someone was the hardest yet most important thing you've ever done.”

“I never said it was the hardest,” Max corrected, though there was no censure to his tone. In fact, a small smile accompanied his words. “And is that what you're doing? Are you trying to open up to me?”

“I'm here, aren't I? I'm talking to you.”

“There's a big difference, though, between talking to someone and talking with them.”

The stranger snorted. “I just had to pick the shrink to confide in, didn't I?” Before Max could reply, the other man was continuing on, “look, I can't promise that I'll tell you everything about my life. There are things that... well, let's just say I have some secrets, and they're going to stay that way.”

“But,” he prompted.

“But I'd like for you to be my sponsor.”

“And I'd be honored,” Max said. “But, as I told the group just a few minutes ago, I'm moving across the country in a few months.”

“That's cool,” the blond guy replied with a shrug. “I don't like to stay in one place for long anyway.” As if to support that claim, he then glanced around them, looking over his shoulder as if uneasy and fearing somebody was watching or listening into their conversation. “After you leave, we could email, maybe talk on the phone some. Whatever.”

“That's not the ideal set-up for a sponsor/sponsee relationship.”

“It's better than nothing, and you're the first guy I've met at any of these meetings who I felt comfortable enough to even think about talking to... or with.”

“Fair enough,” Max agreed, holding his hand out to shake the stranger's. “In that case, the name's Max Evans. If you have a cell phone, I'll program my information into it for you.”

Digging the requested electronic out of his back pocket, the other guy gave him what he requested while holding out his free hand. “Here. Give me yours and I'll do the same.”

After several minutes of typing, the two men handed the other their respective phones back. “And your name,” Max had to ask, obviously his new sponsee was too keyed up, too nervous, to realize the fact that he had failed to introduce himself.

“Michael Guerin.”

They parted ways then, but Max couldn't help but look back over his shoulder at the retreating form of Michael Guerin. He was standing by his car, keys in hand, ready to unlock his door and drive away, but something made him pause. Just as he had felt his ties to his past snapping just moments before inside, after talking to Michael, he had felt something else change inside of him as well. Though it wasn't unsettling, he knew that his life was about to change yet again. There was just something about the other guy... something that he couldn't quite put his finger on.

But he'd solve that puzzle another day. After all, he had a lifetime to do so. In the meantime, however, he had a fiancee back at home waiting for him, a wedding to plan, and a finished thesis to celebrate. Life was... pretty much perfect.





Thanks to _coccy_ for the gorgeous avie!

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