Freefall (AU,M/L, Adult) (Complete)

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Carol000
Addicted Roswellian
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Joined: Tue Oct 09, 2001 4:58 pm

Post by Carol000 » Sun Feb 20, 2005 12:30 am

Part 20

“We’re goin’ home,” Thad said with a sigh. He slid into a seat next to Alex, his orders in his hand. “Wesley and I, day after tomorrow. I guess Jeremy will go as soon as he can travel.”

Alex watched Thad struggle and empathized. Going home without Max was a bitter pill to swallow, no matter how anxious he was to see his wife again.

“There’s scuttlebutt.”

“Yeah?”

“Word is they released Ames from the hospital and then he showed up with his ex-Navy dad in Herzliya. If that’ s true, there’s a plan.”

Eyes wide with hope, Thad forced himself to be cautious. “He could just be getting one more debriefing before they ship him out.”

“Yeah, it’s possible.”

The two men stared at each other until the grins couldn’t be contained. “They’re gonna get our boy.”

“Damn straight,” Alex agreed.

“That calls for a beer.” Thad made his way across the room while Alex wrestled with his own mixed feelings. He could barely eat or sleep with worry over Max. He didn’t say it out loud, but he’d been battling a bad feeling in his gut these past few days. There had damn well better be a plan; he just wished to hell he could be a part of it. On the flip side was his envy of friends going home. He missed Svea. Not just a little, the way you miss your friends or your parents or even a casual girlfriend. He missed her like he missed . . . nothing else in his life before. The Navy had been good to him; he’d never questioned his choice or his purpose. But now he yearned for Svea—to make a home with her, to make babies with her, to make a life with her. All things he’d thought about doing someday. It’s just that someday was supposed to be in the future, and somehow, the future had snuck up on him.

And so did Thad. The beer thunking down on the table jolted him from his reverie.

“Penny.”

“Don’t waste your money. I’m just thinking about Svea.”

Thad nodded, understanding.

“So, you’re going home. What’s the first thing you’ll do?”

“Besides making love to my wife a few dozen times?”

Alex grinned. “Yeah, besides that.” God, he missed Svea.

“I’ll pump everyone I know and everyone they know for news about the Lt. Commander. Then when I know he’s safe, I’m gonna go buy me a steak—rare, and about yay thick . . .” Thad spread his thumb and forefinger wide. “And I’m gonna wash it down with enough bloody Marys to sink this fuckin’ carrier.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Alex hoped his friend could do just that. Especially the part about finding out Max was safe. “I’m counting on your sharing anything you hear.”

“Same goes.”

“Naturally.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, idly watching male officers try to make time with the small supply of female officers.

“What’s it like?” Alex wanted to know. “To be married and in the Navy. Are you happy? I mean, both of you?”

Thad eyed his friend thoughtfully. “If the woman’s right, it’s the best. But I don’t just mean right for you, I mean right for the job—and it is a job being married to a Navy man, make no mistake. Charisse has had more than her share of time alone, and I used to worry about it. But she’s right—for me and for the job. She makes friends, for one thing. People to do stuff with, like go to movies, out to dinner, go to the beach. And she has her business—it’s long hours but she’s proud of it. It gives her something, ya know? Something of her own. Plus she likes to make stuff . . . sew, I mean. So she’s never bored. Fact is, sometimes I think I’m an inconvenience when I am home.”

“Seriously?”

“Nah, not really. It’s kind of an adjustment is all, but I always know she’s happy to see me.” He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “Real happy.”

Alex chuckled, but sobered quickly. “What about a family? You ever think about that?”

An oddly soft expression came over Thad’s face and had Alex narrowing his eyes. “Charisse doesn’t know this, but I found patterns for baby clothes in her sewing kit.”

At Alex’s bemused expression, Thad added gruffly, “I just needed some scissors, okay? Anyway . . .” The soft expression was back. “I think I just might let the gun go off loaded when I get home, if you get my drift.”

Alex bit the inside of his cheek; he didn’t think Thad would appreciate the chuckle that sprang to his lips. Instead, he reached over to offer a manly slap on the back, then lifted his beer. “Here’s to good aim.” The chuckle surfaced again, but this time Thad added one of his own.

“Bull’s eye,” he grinned.

They each took a long pull. “So, you thinkin’ about marrying Svea?”

“Yeah. Maybe. I don’t know.” Alex rubbed a hand back and forth over his short hair. “We only dated for three weeks, and now we email every day. That doesn’t feel like much, and yet . . .”

“I was pretty sure Charisse was it after one date. Real sure after three. It’s not how long, my friend, it’s how much—how much you mean to each other.”

Alex pondered, nodded. “I hear you. Still, it’s not like being with someone day in and day out. What if she hates that I eat cereal for dinner sometimes or that I stand in a hot shower for ages when I need to think or that sometimes I’d rather stay in and watch a movie than party on a weekend?”

“Good point,” Thad agreed. “I mean, you’d probably dump her sorry ass if you found out she didn’t like football or spent too much on purses and shoes and shit.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Alex frowned. “Of course I wouldn’t.”

Thad peered at him. “You love her?”

Alex’s shoulders relaxed with his sigh, and he couldn’t suppress the crooked smile. “Yeah.”

“She loves you?”

“I guess so. I think so.”

“Is she back in San Diego, waiting for you to come home while she works? Goes out with friends? Plays volleyball?”

“Yeah.”

“And she still writes every day. Says she misses you. Can’t wait for you to come home.”

“Yeah.” It was looking good, he had to admit.

“Got any more stupid questions?”

The crooked smile evened out into a wide, foolish one. “Yeah, how long does a rational guy wait to buy a ring?”

******
“I’ve fallen in love, Jonathan. For real this time.”

With her back against the trunk of a very old cottonwood tree, Liz surveyed the expanse of headstones and dry grass. The most tenacious of the yellow leaves left from fall’s celebration of color clung to the shivering branches above her head while others skittered across the ground in a stumbling dance. She pulled her knees in toward her chest and drew the faded stadium blanket around her.

This place used to leave her feeling empty, even in summer when wildflowers sprinkled life over the graves. Even in the midst of renewal and growth, the sorrow was a living ache in her chest, a breathing shell around the hole she could never fill. Today was different. Somehow today, in spite of the uncharacteristic chill and the gray sky, her brother’s memory warmed her, easing the fear and providing the comfort she yearned for. She could almost feel him.

“His name is Max and you won’t believe it, but he’s a Navy pilot. I swore I’d never . . .” She smiled. Was he laughing at her? “Well, never say never, right? I don’t know if I would’ve given him a chance if I’d known about that first, but he’d swept me off my feet—literally—before I knew, and I was already a goner. And you know what else? He knew Aaron. What were the odds?”

A bird lit on Jonathan’s headstone and stared at her. She stared back, indulging in the speculation that it was a sign of some kind, but the bird flew off, uninterested.

“If Aaron is with you, tell him he’ll always be special to me. Tell him . . . I loved him, in the only way I could at the time. Tell him I think of him, and I hope he’s happy for me.”

The thought of her brother and Aaron being together pleased her. She scooted forward and ran a finger over the engraving:

Jonathan Claudius Parker
1973–2001

He Flies with the Angels

She thought back with a smile to the day Jonathan accused their parents of hating him. Why else would they give him a middle name like Claudius? It was a stupid, sissy name, he’d complained bitterly, and being named after a grandmother? Boys were supposed to be named after grandfathers. But when Grandma Claudia’s book on Native Americans of the Southwest had been published, and the history teacher had made a point to show the whole class, he’d beamed with pride and had told everyone he’d been named for her. Grandma had even been paraded as Jonathan’s Show-and-Tell soon after, and the two had formed a special bond.

A special bond. That’s what she had with Max. Or had had. She couldn’t feel him now, and she was terrified of what that meant. Knowing it was a mistake, she reached for him, then withdrew with a whimper when she felt nothing. A tear slid down her cheek and bounced off the blanket.

“Jonathan, you haven’t seen him, have you? He’s not there, is he?” The sob hurt her throat and she couldn’t make the painful ache go away. “Please, God, please don’t let him be there. Not yet. Not yet!”

She wrapped her arms around the marker, pressed her hot cheek against the cool stone. “He loves me, Jonathan. Truly loves me—even with all the bad stuff, all the baggage, he loves me.” Her voice was a plaintive prayer, her words nothing more than anguished punctuation amidst the sobs that buffeted her body like the leaves on the wind. “Don’t let them take him from me. We just found each other!”

Dizzy, she clung to the stone like a life raft. “I need more time with him. I need him to understand that I meant what I said. I love him. There’ll never be anyone else. Not like this.” The knot of grief dissolved into a torrent of tears, her voice little more than a whisper. “I can’t do this. I . . . can’t. Bring him home to me, Jonathan. Please, bring him home.”

The sky grew dark with clouds as the last of her tears fell. Spent, she sagged against her brother’s headstone and fell asleep.


******
This was different, Max thought with annoyance. It was the Rana world, yes, but in this version, he could hear Jeremy’s voice, and that made no sense. And things not making sense scared him, since he was already more than a little worried about losing his mind right before he lost his life.

Then Jeremy’s frowning face loomed in front of him, and he was swearing a blue streak under his breath.

“Swallow this.”

Something was wrong, and even though he wasn’t sure what it was, he knew for damn sure that Jeremy wasn’t really here. But if this wasn’t Jeremy, who was it? Well, whoever it was could freeze in hell before Max Evans would swallow whatever the bastard was trying to cram down his throat.

Harnessing whatever tattered strength he could muster, he spit out the pill and turned away.

“Goddamn it, sir, it’s medicine. You’ve got to take it.” He shoved the pill back in Max’s mouth and clamped his hand over cracked lips. Max’s skin burned against his own, even through the thick beard, but his fevered eyes turned belligerent and he refused to swallow.

“Sir, you’re gonna take this whether you like it or not. I don’t care if we have to wait until it dissolves in there. You’re no match for me right now.”

The stubbornness remained, although Max half-collapsed back against the makeshift bed.

“What do you suppose Liz would say, Max, if I told her you could have gotten well, could have come home to her, and chose not to?”

Resistance drained away, replaced by need and confusion.

“Liz?” Liz was in the other world. How did she spill into this one?

Taking quick advantage, Jeremy pulled him up again and offered a ladle of water, watched him swallow. “Thaaat’s it. Drink some more if you can.”

When the water began to dribble down Max’s beard, Jeremy lay him down and turned to Rana. Yavuz glared at him and held out his hand. Jeremy placed the pill in it and watched his former captor administer it to his fiancée. Step one complete. Now all they had to do was get two feverish, hallucinating patients from a mountaintop to the sea on burros over miles of rough terrain. Piece of cake.

At first, Max balked at his wrists being tied around the burro’s neck. He didn’t understand what was happening, but a voice—Jeremy’s voice again—kept telling him they were taking him to Liz. He didn’t trust what he heard or the man who claimed to be Jeremy, but seeing Liz was what he wanted most in the world, and he didn’t have the strength to fight anyway. For the next few hours, he slipped in and out of consciousness, his face bouncing against the coarse mane.

It could have been hours later or even days when Max began to process his surroundings. Time was shifting like sand on a beach, but one thing was certain—he didn’t like the fact that the real world had turned out to be the wrong one. He was weak, sick, and missing Liz more than ever, especially since his fantasies seemed to wane as his mind cleared.

He was back in the village, lying in the lean-to that had become his prison. Hadn’t he been in the mountains? Or was that just another hallucination? He looked around, but Jeremy was nowhere in sight. A vessel of water had been left near his pallet and he realized how dry his throat had become. Reaching for the water with one hand, he swiped at his face with the other and stopped short.

The length and thickness of his beard had his heart hammering. How much time had passed since their capture? Was Jeremy still here? Or had he been rescued? That sounded familiar, but he didn’t exactly trust his memories now. Setting down the water, he did a survey. His hair was longer than he’d expected, and he seemed to have lost more weight. Pale skin stretched across jutting ribs and the angles of bones and joints seemed more pronounced.

Liz. Oh God, Liz. Was she all right? Had she given up on him? Not that he’d blame her, but . . . He reached for her, sweat breaking out on his forehead with the effort. Once he thought he’d found her, but the feeling faded too quickly to be sure. Dizzy, he lay back down. What would his disappearance have done to her? How would she survive if she thought another man she loved had been taken from her? What would the bitterness do to her? What if she . . . what if she tried to . . . no, he couldn’t even think it.

But the image persisted, and Max keened like a wounded animal, bringing Jeremy running. He’d seen to Max’s needs first, of course, and supervised personally when they shot him up with a massive dose of antibiotic, but once his patient had fallen into a restful sleep, he’d essentially been serving as nurse to the doctor and paramedic who were injecting the rest of their many patients. Now he skidded to his knees next to Max.

“Max! You okay? I’m right here. I’m right here.” He began to cool Max’s face with a cloth when his hand was locked in a vice grip he wouldn’t have thought Max capable of. Max’s eyes flew open, recognized Jeremy, then turned pained. He moved his lips soundlessly, squeezed his eyes shut in frustration, and tried again, the effort contorting his thin face under wild whiskers and sweat.

“Liz.” His hoarse whisper was desperate.

“I haven’t heard anything, Max, but I’m sure she’s fine. You’ll be home soon and can see for yourself.”

“How long?”

“How long have you been here?”

Jeremy thought back. His own sense of time was still a little warped. “Three or four weeks, I’d say. SEALs came for me almost as soon as they carted you off to the mountains. I was laid up for a while, and had to hammer at Command for days before anyone would listen, but here we are. We’ll be getting you out of here soon.”

Jeremy supported Max’s back and watched with satisfaction as his commander took a long drink.

Max closed his eyes with a sigh and lay back down. “You came back.”

“Yeah, it was a tough call,” Jeremy said seriously. “But then I thought about the shit I’d get from Thad and Alex and the rest if I came back without you, and this seemed like the lesser of two evils.”

A ghost of a smile tweaked the corners of Max’s mouth. “Bad choice. Gonna have to reevaluate your judgment.”

Nothing could have pleased Jeremy more than to hear Max’s attempt at humor.

“You do that. But first, I want you to take another drink. You look like hell.”

It was the next day before everyone had been treated and others trained in their care. As the rescue team prepared to leave, Max made a point to find Rana. He had expected her to be in Adnan’s tent, but he found her sitting with other recovering patients, issuing what he was sure were reassurances. He even heard her laugh as he stuck his head in the tent and saw her patting the hand of a young woman with a baby in her arms. She was already a leader.

She was still weak, as was he, but slowly gaining strength, both physically and mentally. There was some color in her cheeks that he didn’t think fever had put there, and her eyes had gone from dull to clear.

“Rana.”

She looked up, her smile immediately welcoming, and he felt a small jolt as he realized how much she had come to mean to him. He had truly made a friend here in this unfamiliar, even hostile environment that was so different from everything he had ever known. She rose and walked past him, tugging him out of the tent and toward the woods where they could talk in private. She drew him into the shade and waited for him to speak. Strange, but he wasn’t in any hurry; the idea of leaving this place brought relief and joy, yes, but this goodbye also brought a melancholy he’d never felt before.

Sunlight dappled their faces and birds sang from the canopy overhead. It occurred to Max that he could as easily be in Draper Woods back home as in Lebanon saying goodbye to the most unlikely of friends.

“I’m leaving.”

“I know. I will miss you.”

“I wish we could write letters or . . . something.”

Rana lifted a necklace of leather and beads from around her neck and pressed it into his hand. “Take this, and think of me.”

They looked at each other for a long moment. Max soaked in the details—her long thick hair so rarely down as it was now, her large brown eyes that had spoken to him before her words ever did, the full lips he had once kissed in desperation and then felt open in invitation. The physical similarities to Liz didn’t escape his notice, but it wasn’t love he felt for Rana, at least not in the romantic sense. It was gratitude, friendship, respect. And he cared, very much, what happened to her.

He lifted a hand to her face. “Will you be all right, Rana? Here, with Yavuz? I . . . I don’t feel right leaving you here.” With him, he added to himself. She seemed to understand.

“It is meant, Max. Yavuz is a good man. You never saw the good because he was wary of you. Jealous.” She smiled, as if pleased by the notion. “We will marry and lead and make life better here.” She touched a finger to his lips and her smile turned wistful. “He does not kiss as good as you.” She chuckled at Max’s blush. “Go to your woman, Max, and be happy.” She kissed his cheek. “Remember me.”

He pressed his lips to her forehead, flinched against the realization that he would never see her again. “Always.”

******
In her dream, the day was sunny, warm, filled with the sounds of nature going about its business, oblivious to her intrusion. The sky, a postcard azure, was softened by the fringe of willow branches under which she rested, and she sighed with delicious pleasure.

Attuned to the sights and sounds, willing to commit each to memory to savor later, she watched three gleaming white birds circle and dive above her in a playful dance. Their grace captivated her; it was like watching a powerful dolphin torpedo through the ocean or a sleek racehorse arrow down a track—all muscle and motion and mission.

The burst of sound had barely registered when she sat up in horror and watched one of the birds, grace abandoned, spiral sickeningly to the ground. As it fell, it morphed from bird to fighter jet, from fighter jet to human, and as it neared the earth, its eyes--Jonathan's eyes—lifted to hers in helpless resignation. She leapt to her feet, hot tears gathering, when another shot sounded, and a second bird began its dizzying fall. A wail of protest squeezed through her throat, and Aaron landed, broken, at her feet.

Huge tears, suddenly cold, slid down her face, fell to her chest, her arms. She began to shiver, eyes huge with fear as the third bird circled.

"Max! Fly away! Fly away!" She watched him circle, urging his retreat until he was only a blur through her tears.

When she awoke, stiff and cold, the soft splat of rain echoed in her ears, and she blinked just as a heavy droplet landed and burst beneath her eye. The mix of hot tears and cold rain left her confused, and she wiped a trembling hand across her face. She was still at the cemetery, curled into a tight ball against Jonathan's grave marker. The blue sky was gray; the warm air was chilled, and there were no birds—not singing, not soaring, not dying.

A dream. Just a dream. But the sense of dread enfolded her, muddled her brain, and she stumbled awkwardly to her feet. She needed to go home, to look for comfort among the living, not the dead. She'd had too much of death, of loss. Too much . . .

He skittered across her mind, then fled, but the feeling reverberated through her body, and she stilled, desperate to taste, to touch. She had felt him. God, she had felt him! She looked toward the sky, almost convinced the white bird would swoop toward her, wink at her with Max's eyes. But the sky was filled only with raindrops and the angry clouds that purged them. Doubt fought with hope; confusion tore at confidence. Shaken, she made her way to the car.

Shivering more violently now, with cold and emotion, she struggled to insert the key into the ignition. Frustrated, she sat back and took a deep breath. Max, I'm here. Touch me. I'm waiting for you. The answering emptiness descended like a black cloak, cutting her off from all comfort, all hope. On a sob, she jammed the key in the ignition, pulled at the gearshift, and pressed down on the gas. Lurching forward, she hit the tree too fast to understand why the world went dark.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Carol000
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Joined: Tue Oct 09, 2001 4:58 pm

Post by Carol000 » Sat Feb 26, 2005 11:04 pm

Part 21

It was like trading one prison for another. The guards in this one were nicer, of course—they were solicitous of his condition, fed him at regular intervals, and dripped with sympathetic smiles. At least that’s how it was between the poke of needles, constant blood pressure checks, and tests they never seemed to run out of. That was all well and good, especially since the first couple of days he had been so weak and drugged, he’d done little else but sleep. Now, though, he was stronger, and they still wouldn’t let him do the one thing he wanted to do. Call Liz.

He’d been blessed with one very erotic dream of her. It still made his blood race to think about it—the dewy skin, warm and eager under his, the tantalizing mouth moving over his body, tasting, tempting, the silken heat that sent him flying. Max took a deep, steadying breath, wishing he could have stayed in that dream forever, but, he remembered bitterly, he’d never even gotten to finish it. Apparently his moaning had drawn the night nurse’s attention, and she’d gently awakened him, assuring him he was safe and just having a nightmare. He could have strangled her with his bare hands.

He’d been told this was the same hospital that had tended Jeremy after his rescue. Jeremy. He was really something. He’d liked the guy, admired his flying, sympathized with his romantic dilemma, but now he knew something about the man’s character he could never have learned at Top Gun. He was quality, through and through. And Max was quite sure he owed him his life.

The nurse swept in, all business and efficiency.

“How are we feeling this morning, Lt. Commander?”

We are feeling well enough to make a phone call. When do I get a phone?”

“Patience, Lt. Commander. You’re still in our step-down unit. You’ve only been out of ICU for 24 hours. As a matter of fact, I’m surprised they let Lt. Ames in to see you yesterday. Perhaps by tomorrow you’ll be well enough for a regular bed, and those rooms have phones, although they’re only for local calls.”

Max felt the squeeze of the blood pressure cuff and wasn’t at all sure that the pressure building inside him wouldn’t send it exploding off his arm and across the room. He’d had about all the coddling he could take, and if they didn’t give him a phone soon, he’d blow this joint with or without their blessing.

“I have to make a call,” he seethed between clenched teeth. “Today.”

He wanted to smack the sympathetic look right off her freckled face. It was an unfamiliar sensation to have to mentally strap himself down to keep from inflicting bodily harm. He looked at her nametag.

“Nora.” Back off on the threatening tone, he cautioned himself. “Look, I know you have rules and all, but I need to talk to my wife. She doesn’t even know I’ve made it out of Lebanon. You can understand how important this is, right?”

“Wife?” Nora frowned and pursed her lips. “You’re listed as single in your records. But the Navy would have notified her, in any case,” she assured him.

“Shit,” he hissed. “Look, we’re not quite married yet, so the Navy won’t have notified her, so it’s urgent that I talk to her.”

The look she sent him was a motherly chastisement. “You playing me, mister? Because I’ve been played by the best, and it won’t work. Your parents have been notified; I’m sure they’ll let her know.”

“They don’t even know her!”

“You’re tripping over your story, now, dear. You’re about to get married and your parents don’t know the girl?” Her agitated hands began to smooth his sheets. “My guess is you’re trying to reach your bookie or maybe somebody to smuggle you some cigarettes. In any case, no phone today.”

At his strangled growl, she paused, put one hand on her hip. “Look, I’m told your parents are here. I’ll send them in, and when I do, I’m sure you’ll be able to convince them to make the call for you. If you’re really calling your girl.”

There it was again. That urge to strangle. It subsided as his parents brushed by her and hurried to his side.

“My baby,” his mother sighed, pressing her damp cheek to his. “They’ve shaved your beard. I’m glad. I didn’t want you looking like Osama bin Laden when I saw you.” She slid a tender hand over his smooth and slightly raw face. “Oh, Max, it’s so good to see you. We got here yesterday, but they wouldn’t let us see you until you’d been on your antibiotic over 48 hours. They said you had Typhoid Fever. You poor darling.” This time she kissed his forehead. He felt eight years old, but couldn’t manage to object. She was a sight for sore eyes.

“Son, you gave us a real scare.” His father took his hand, then with a muttered “What the hell,” pulled his son into a brief hug.

“I know. I’m sorry. It was all pretty weird, actually, but the main thing is, Jeremy and I are okay. I’ll tell you all about it, but first, do you have a cell phone? They won’t let me call Liz, and I’m afraid what this might be doing to her. I have to call her, please.”

“She’s doing well, Max,” his mother soothed. “She’s strong, like you said.”

Max stared. “What? How do you know that?”

“Your mother went to see her, son. Against my advice, but I have to admit, it turned out well. They’ve . . . bonded, I guess you’d say.”

His mother beamed at him, and he found that the thought of his mother and Liz developing a relationship pleased him enormously.

“You did? She’s okay?”

“It’s been hard on her, of course, Max, but . . .” She hesitated. If she told Max about Liz “sensing” him, her practical son might think Liz wasn’t fine after all. “She was very confident that you were all right. The stress was taking a toll, though, and her friends and I convinced her to go home and share Christmas with her family. She’s in Roswell now.”

Max sat back, weak with relief. “That’s good. Really good. Do you have her parents’ number? Where’s your phone?”

“I’m sorry, honey. It’s back at the hotel. They tell you not to use cell phones in the hospital, so I didn’t bring it. We’ll find the number, though, I promise. And we’ll come back with the phone when they let us see you again.”

Banking the frustration—he could have at least tried her cell phone—Max sat up. The weakness had passed and he welcomed a surge of energy.

“Start at the beginning and tell me everything.”

******
The atmosphere in the hospital room where Liz Parker lay, still as stone, was much different. Nancy sat staring at her daughter, her lip caught between her teeth. Their fingers were linked, but it was doing Nancy more good than Liz, it seemed.

“She’s so pale,” she whispered to Jeff. “I don’t understand. They said the injury wasn’t that serious.”

Jeff paced, frustrated at the lack of answers. “We’ll call in a specialist,” he promised, “someone who’ll give us some goddamn answers. We’ll take her to Albuquerque. We’ll . . .”

“Mr. and Mrs. Parker?”

Dr. Pratt stood in the doorway. Jeff Parker’s last words hadn’t offended him; he recognized a desperate parent when he saw one. And if he were honest, he’d have to admit he couldn’t blame him. The girl should be walking out of the ER now, not unconscious in a hospital bed. He’d been asking himself the same questions he saw on their faces now.

“I have the test results,” he began, “but they don’t tell us anything we don’t already know. She bumped her head on the steering wheel when the car hit the tree, but it was a relatively minor bump. Barely enough to knock her out for a few minutes, and certainly not enough to keep her that way. I still can’t tell you why she’s not conscious. I’d recommend we start looking for a secondary problem. I’d like to run some more tests.”

“Looking for what, exactly?” Jeff asked, more nervous than before. The unknown was always scarier than a problem you could face head on.

“We’d just start with the basics, blood chemistry, major systems check, just trying to rule out other causes.”

“Our daughter’s always been very healthy,” Nancy insisted. “A few childhood illnesses, a bump or bruise here and there.” She touched the tiny scar above Liz’s left eyebrow and smiled at the memory of Maria and Liz, 10-year-old daredevils, jumping off Maria’s roof onto the trampoline before a neighbor called to warn Amy. The call had come too late to prevent a bad bounce onto the metal springs around the mat, but Nancy knew that Liz had taken pride in her feat, and had enjoyed the awed attention the injury and story had inspired.

“I’m sure that’s so,” the doctor agreed, “but something is happening here, and we need to understand what it is.”

He watched Liz’s parents stare at her, willing her to awaken. “You know, the problem might not be physical.”

Two appalled faces swung in his direction and gaped. This was always the hardest option to discuss with loved ones.

“What the hell does that mean?” Jeff erupted. “Are you saying Liz is crazy now?”

“No, no, of course not. I’m suggesting that if something was upsetting her, her mind may have seized upon this opportunity to shut down—a defensive mechanism. Perhaps all that’s wrong is that she simply doesn’t want to wake up.”

The meaningful look between Jeff and Nancy told him he might be on the right track.

“Is there something? Bothering her, I mean?”

Nancy rose and stood between Liz and the doctor, an unconscious protective stance. “The young man she’s in love with has disappeared in Lebanon. We’ve had no word for weeks.”

Dr. Pratt nodded. “I’m sorry to hear that. She wasn’t handling it well, then?”

“You have to understand, she’s already lost her brother—our son—and a previous boyfriend in action. She’s been hurt terribly.”

At the intent frown, Jeff stepped forward. “You think that’s it, don’t you?”

“I think it’s a possibility. It’s enough to call in a psych consult, but I still think we need to explore additional physical explanations as well. May I proceed?”

“Whatever it takes,” Jeff murmured, and began to pace again across the narrow room. “Whatever it takes.”

Hours later, they came home, tired and unsettled. They still had no answers, and little hope of getting them any time soon. Nancy went into the kitchen to scramble some eggs while Jeff hung up their coats. The lights twinkling on the Christmas tree seemed to mock them, and the bright packages—mostly for Liz—looked foolishly out of place. There was nothing festive or joyful in their hearts tonight.

Nancy crossed the living room to turn on the television—anything to take them outside themselves for a few minutes. As she turned, she noticed the light blinking on the phone. With a tired sigh, she sank into a chair, pressed “Play,” and let her head sink back into the cushion. Several messages droned on—well-meaning friends and customers asking about Liz—but her eyes flew open and locked on Jeff’s when she heard a woman’s voice over a thin layer of static.

“This message is for Liz Parker. This is Diane, Liz. Or, if I’ve reached Nancy or Jeff, I’m Diane Evans, Max’s mother. I know Liz has told you about him, or possibly even me. I’m in Israel with my husband, and I have wonderful news. Max has been found and is back in Israel! He’s in the hospital recovering from an illness, but he’s doing well and is beside himself to talk to Liz. I’ll be taking him this number when we go back to see him, so he’ll be trying her cell phone and your home, I’m sure. I just wanted to let you know, and to find out when he could reach Liz. He can’t talk of anything but calling her, and I know it’s the best medicine for him right now. Anyway, call us any time, day or night. And Liz, dear, I’ve told Max about our visit. He seems so pleased. I know what a relief this is to you. Can’t wait to talk to you again.”

She left her number and hung up, but Nancy and Jeff could only stare. If this news had come yesterday, or even this morning, their daughter might be home celebrating right now. As it was, how could they make her understand? They both knew there would be no sleep for them tonight. Jeff took a deep breath, afraid to hope that this would make a difference.

“I’ll get my keys.”

******
The sky was still dark when the phone rang, but Philip reached for it without alarm. They’d expected Liz’s call.

“Hello?”

“Uh, is Diane Evans there?”

“Sure.” He rolled over in bed and handed the phone to his wife, who was already wide awake.

“Liz?”

“No, this is Nancy Parker, Diane. Thank you for calling and letting us know about Max. We’re so happy for you.”

“Thank you. It’s a blessed relief, I can tell you. I actually expected Liz to call. Is she there?”

The hesitation set off a small alarm.

“Diane, there was an accident yesterday.”

“Oh, God.” She cast worried eyes toward Philip, who wished there was an extension he could pick up.

“Liz isn’t badly hurt but . . . she’s still unconscious and they don’t know why. They . . . they’re looking for a physical reason, but they also think it might be psychological—that she’s refusing to wake up because she can’t cope with Max’s disappearance after everything else that’s happened.”

“Oh, Nancy. I’m so sorry. Oh, poor thing. What will they do for her?”

“They’re just doing some routine tests first, and they’ve called in a psychiatrist, although I don’t see what good that will do if she’s unresponsive. We’ve been at the hospital all day and there’s no change. I just thought you should know.”

“Of course. Please, keep us informed, won’t you? I’ll pray for her.”

“Thank you. And tell Max we’re so pleased he’s improving.”

“I will. Thank you.”

She clicked the phone off and turned to her husband. “Liz had an accident yesterday.” She put up her hand to forestall the twenty questions she knew her lawyer husband would ask. “I don’t know what happened, but it didn’t seem that serious. She’s still unconscious, though, and they’re trying to find out why. They’re investigating physical possibilities, but they also think it might be psychological—that maybe she doesn’t want to wake up and face Max’s disappearance.”

Philip ran a hand through his already mussed hair. I guess we’d better get dressed and go to the hospital. Max will want to know and I don’t want to tell him on the phone.

Diane hesitated and had her husband narrowing his eyes. “What?”

“Do you really think we should tell him? He’ll go crazy and there’s nothing he can do. I think we should wait until they know more, and then we can at least give him some facts.”

“He’s a grown man, Diane, and this is the woman he loves. He should know what’s happening.”

“He’s also our son, and we have to do what’s best for him. He can’t help Liz right now, so do we jeopardize his welfare by adding to his stress? You know Max, Philip. He’ll want to leave, and he’s just not strong enough yet.”

Philip sagged back into the pillows. “Hell.”

******
“Just a little more. There we go. All done.”

It was a wonder he had any blood left, Max thought, checking his watch for the sixth time in as many minutes. He wanted to get back to his room; his parents were coming with a cell phone, please God, and he wanted to be waiting when they came. He’d barely slept in anticipation of this call, and he’d only nibbled at the toast this morning, much to his nurse’s aide’s disappointment.

“We’ve got to get some weight on you, handsome, or the doctors will never sign those release papers,” she’d warned.

That had gotten him poking at the eggs, but he just couldn’t seem to swallow with his heart in his throat.

“I think they want you in x-ray next,” the tech smiled.

Max’s impatient expression turned dark and had the woman taking a step back.

“X-ray? Nobody said anything about an x-ray to me.” He took a deep breath in a failed attempt to calm himself, but it only made his threatening demeanor more unnerving. His voice dropped to a frightening monotone. “I want to be taken to my room. Once I’ve seen my visitors, you can poke me, prod me, and take color pictures of my internal organs suitable for framing, if that’s what you want. But not until after I’ve gone back to my room. If that’s not possible for you, I’ll get there myself. What’ll it be?”

The poor tech only blinked at first, then drew her wounded pride around her like a shield.

“I’m sure there’s no need to be rude or threatening, Lt. Commander. I’m not one of your men, after all. But since you’re so insistent, I’ll have them take you up.” She signaled for a wheelchair. “They’re not going to be happy in x-ray,” she warned.

“I’ll send flowers,” Max growled, then caught himself. “Look, I’m sorry.” Again, he checked out the nametag. “Angela, I’m usually a pretty nice guy, but this is important—incredibly important. And if I don’t see these people and make this phone call, nothing else will matter.”

Angela softened at the apology, and managed a conciliatory smile. “Then go do what you have to do. I’ll reschedule your x-rays.”

He threw her one of his smiles—one of the real ones that made hearts race, though he never understood their power. “Thanks.”

He transferred himself into the wheelchair with a grimace; it was downright embarrassing to be wheeled around when he felt perfectly capable of walking.

“And Max?”

“Yeah?”

“If I were going to frame a picture of you, it wouldn’t be your internal organs.” She winked and left him staring after her.

Hallways, elevators, a stop to chat with another orderly—Max thought he would scream before they made it to his room. He brightened as he heard his mother’s voice. Thank God they were here. Now if they had the cell phone, he was good to go. As they slowly approached the doorway, however, words began to register.

“Philip, please. If we tell him, he’ll bolt out of here like a racehorse, and you just heard the doctor say he’s too weak. Max may think he’s fine, but he hasn’t had to exert himself at all. He needs time—another week at least.”

“Then he’ll take the week, Diane, but we can’t keep something like this from him. He has a right to know.”

“A right to know what?”

They turned toward Max like two guilty children rummaging for cookies. Neither moved for a few seconds, then Diane launched into an overly perky speech.

“Oh, nothing, honey. We just thought it might be a little soon to fill you in on world events. Such horrors in the world today. You don’t need to hear any more of that right now.”

Max studied her anxious eyes and her too-wide smile. His father was scowling, hands clasped behind his back as he did when he was annoyed.

“Dad?”

There was a war brewing between his parents, he realized as they stared each other down. The shouting was undetectable but it was there.

“Give me the phone. Please.”

“We . . . I couldn’t bring it. It’s . . . dead. But I’ve got it on the charger and it should be all right by tomorrow.”

“Mom!” She jolted, unaccustomed to Max’s commanding tone. “What are you keeping from me?”

Philip stepped forward and put a hand on his wife’s shoulder. She bowed her head in resignation.

“You can’t talk to Liz, son, because she’s in the hospital in Roswell.”

Max leapt to his feet, swayed, then straightened. “What happened?”

“Apparently, it was just a good whack on the head—a little mishap with the car—but she’s still unconscious and they’re not sure why. They’re exploring all the options, son, I promise you. Her parents are there; she’s in good hands. There’s nothing we can do from here.”

“You’re right,” Max nodded, and both parents relaxed slightly. “I have to go there.”

Jerking open the small closet, Max began to pull his clothes from the hangars.

“Max, no! Philip, I knew it! Stop him!”

“Son, this isn’t going to help. You’re not well enough and she won’t even know you’re there.”

Max stilled and closed his eyes. “She’ll know.”

******
They were running on the beach, watching the sunrise paint the sky and the gulls swoop toward the water in search of breakfast. She felt limber and fluid, her body still warm from their predawn lovemaking. The thrill of his body merging with hers, the breathlessness of his voice as he took her, the blind passion in his eyes as she took him—these were moments of unspeakable joy that made her feel alive. Then he would fold her into his arms, and they would talk of their future, their families, even the grocery list; it didn’t matter because what they’d made wasn’t just love, it was life.

She slowed ever so slightly, but Max matched her pace. “You getting tired?” Challenge with a touch of concern.

“No, I just like looking at your ass.”

The laughter took him out of rhythm, and he slowed, grabbing her into a sandy spin toward the water.

“What are you doing?” she giggled, objecting and enjoying at the same time. “Don’t you dare!”

But he dared, and soon they were submerged in the briny cold of the ocean, surfacing with yelps of shock and laughter.

“You’re a crazy person!” she screamed, beating ineffectually against his chest, her hair streaming behind her. But his lips were on hers, salty and firm, and warmth flooded her, insulated her. Her legs wrapped around him as he hauled them from the water to land entwined on the beach.

“God, I can’t get enough of you.”

His words were intense, almost angry, as if he’d looked for a way to cure himself and failed. She reveled in it, sought to make him understand it was the same for her. It always would be.

“If we run,” she gasped between kisses, “fast,” his hands were doing dangerous things to her, “we might steal a few more minutes before work.”

And like lightening, he was on his feet and pulling her to hers. “Last one home’s a rotten egg,” he yelled, already sprinting down the beach. Passion and laughter bubbled brightly inside her, and she took off after him. The race was a lost cause, of course, but she had a feeling the consolation prize would be worth every step.

She never wanted to leave this place, this feeling. Her life was perfect. Right here.

******
Booking a flight home the week before Christmas proved to be a fool’s errand. After fighting with doctors, signing off on checking out of the hospital against doctor’s advice, and calling in every favor he could think of, Max sat in his hospital room—packed and pissed—wondering how he would get home to Liz.

“We’ll go with you to the airport, son,” Philip offered. “We’ll get your name on every standby list, I promise you. But you have to promise to sit and let us do the running.”

Diane put a hand on her son’s arm and felt the thin sheen of sweat that confirmed her grim suspicions. “You won’t do Liz an ounce of good if you wind up flat on your face on a people mover, Max.”

The helplessness alone had him shaking with both anger and stress. He knew they were right; it just wasn’t in him yet to run from one airport concourse to the next looking for any seat they could spare. But if he didn’t get out of here soon, he would quite simply explode. Waiting was his worst subject.

Feet running down the hall distracted them until a uniformed figure flew into the room.

“You’re here!” Jeremy panted. “I was afraid I’d miss you.”

“That leg’s really coming along,” Max smiled, happy to see his friend looking healthy in spite of his own troubles. “But I thought they sent you home.”

“Did,” Jeremy nodded, trying to catch his breath. “But I had to wait for a transport, and I just got word. One’s leaving in two hours. It’ll get us to Norfolk. We may have to take commercial from there.”

It wasn’t super speed, but it was leaving . . . now . . . and at this stage of the game, that looked pretty good. Max already had his small flight bag in hand and was turning to hug his parents.

“I have to . . .”

“We know,” Diane sighed. “Be safe.”

“We’ll join you as soon as we can,” Philip added.

“Thanks.” He started to hurry out the door, then turned one more time. “Really. Thank you.”

They were already speeding toward the hangar when Max thought to ask what he should have asked a half-hour ago.

“Ames.”

“Sir?”

“I’m grateful you came for me. More than you could possibly know. But I don’t want to be the reason for a reprimand on your record. I should have asked if anyone approved my coming. I don’t want you having to explain my presence when we land.”

“No sweat, sir. Captain Zagorski gave his blessing. Told me to get you the hell out of the Middle East before we wind up opening free clinics in every goddamn country over here.”

He fished the orders out of his pocket and handed them to Max, who was grinning for the first time in days. “No argument here.”

His excitement didn’t last long. He’d never known time to literally grind into slow motion before, but every time he thought another hour was finally behind him, he checked his watch to find only minutes had passed. It felt like days to reach Paris, weeks to reach Norfolk, and a month to complete a 2-stop flight to Roswell, New Mexico—a pretty raw deal for the only destination on the planet that mattered. And through it all, Max could see Liz lying in a hospital bed, unable to tell anyone what part of her body—or her mind—needed help. He knew her parents, her doctors, her friends were all trying to bring her back from the depths of unconsciousness, but he also knew that she was waiting for him. He felt that, even if he couldn’t feel her, and so far, everything he’d felt where Liz was concerned had been right on target.

The Roswell Municipal Airport was almost deserted as he made his way into the terminal. And it was pitch dark outside. What the hell time was it? Scratch that. What the hell day was it? He’d lost track of time zones and calendars a lifetime ago, not to mention the fact that caffeine had lost its magical powers at least two cities ago. Now he was just exhausted and disoriented, with only one goal on his mind—finding Liz.

He followed the signs to car rental, only to find the short hallway of counters dark and deserted. Outside, there were no signs of busses or shuttles, and no city lights down the solitary road. A lone cabbie slouched against the trunk of his taxi, bored and, Max imagined, about to call it a night.

“I need a ride into town,” he said, surprised at the hoarseness of his own voice.

The cabbie perked up. “Fifteen bucks, soldier.”

Max ignored the error and reached into his pocket, stared at the five-dollar bill, and dug deeper. Nothing.

Holding it out, he prayed. “This is all I’ve got. Please, I’ll get the rest to you tomorrow.”

“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” the cabbie huffed, then turned on his heel, climbed in the cab, and started it up.

“You find ten more bucks, you let me know,” he called over his shoulder.

Max watched, dazed, as the cab sped off. Then he simply folded onto the sidewalk and held his head.

“Sir?”

Max looked up with an unnatural effort. An older man, slightly built with a fringe of gray hair, bent over him, concern in his voice and his eyes.

“Are you all right? Do you need help?

Almost speechless with fatigue, Max stared at the man, who eyed the uniform with interest.

“You Navy?”

“Yeah.”

The gentleman extended his hand. “I was Navy,” he announced, straightening with pride. “Chief Petty Officer Stanley Murdock. You need a ride?”

Grateful, Max summoned his waning energy and let the man help him to his feet. “I’d really appreciate it.”

“Nonsense,” the man huffed, waving a hand dismissively, “it’s you who should be appreciated.” And without another word, he picked up Max’s flight bag and led him to the parking lot. Fifteen minutes later, Chief Petty Officer Murdock pulled into the circle drive in front of the Eastern New Mexico Medical Center.

“You take care, son. You don’t look so good. You might think about gettin’ looked at yourself after you check on your girl.”

“I will. Thanks, Chief. I won’t forget this.”

Eastern New Mexico Medical Center was a long, flat, 2-story building, its brick and concrete walls well lit even at 4 a.m. A large glass entrance that bid him welcome in small black letters was locked, and he was shocked to discover tears of disappointment burning his eyes. He was barely holding it together and he knew it. Just a little further.

Half walking, half running, he found his way to the Emergency Room doors and stumbled in. Blinking against the brilliant lights, he leaned against the wall, trying to get his bearings. Almost immediately, a clerk was calling for help, and a strong orderly guided Max toward a chair, then crouched down in front of him.

“Are you sick, sir? Or hurt? Tell us what’s wrong.”

The room was spinning, but he focused on Liz. “Liz Parker. Patient here. I need to see her.”

“Uh, sir, visiting hours don’t start for another four hours. Why don’t you go home and get some rest and come back? I can call you a cab.”

Max pushed himself upright, counting on the uniform to buy him some credibility. Every bit of concentration went into making a straightforward statement. He prayed it worked, because he only had one in him.

“Since I last slept, I’ve flown from Israel to Paris to Virginia to Atlanta to Albuquerque to Roswell. My fiancée doesn’t know I’m alive, and she’s in this hospital. I need to see her. Right now.”

The clerk and the orderly exchanged an uncertain look. Sympathy was on this guy’s side; hospital policy wasn’t.

“She’ll still be here in the morning . . .”

Max had two options: move or faint. He opted for the first one, but felt the room tip dangerously to one side. Then he was sitting and vaguely cursing his body for giving out when he was so close. He could hear talking, but couldn’t quite process the words. Giving up, he closed his eyes and tried to find a place that wasn’t spinning. The sensation of movement was so real, he could have sworn he felt a light breeze on his face. When the sensation went from horizontal to vertical, though, he opened his eyes.

He was in an elevator, only for seconds, then in a stark, bright hallway. There was a voice close to his ear now.

“They’ll skin me alive for this when they find out, man, but I figure you deserve a break. She’s in here, Room 224.”

And then he saw her, and as the tears fell shamelessly down his face, he simply crawled onto the bed, pulled her against him, and let exhaustion claim him.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Carol000
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Post by Carol000 » Sat Mar 05, 2005 9:29 pm

Part 22

Jeff swore under his breath when the phone rang. They’d hardly had any sleep in two days, and now that they were finally in bed, the damn phone was ringing. Didn’t anyone respect civilized hours anymore?

“What!”

“Mr. Parker?”

“Yes. What do you want?”

“It’s Dr. Pratt. I’m not quite sure how to tell you this, but apparently early this morning a man came into the hospital and entered your daughter’s room and well . . . he’s asleep in there. Normally, I would have called security as soon as I was notified, but I remembered you saying that your daughter was awaiting word on a serviceman who was missing, and well, this man is in uniform, and to tell you the truth, he doesn’t look too well himself. His ID says his name is Max Evans.”

“Oh, good God! How did he get there already?”

Wide awake now, he nudged Nancy. “Max is here, at the hospital.”

“Oh, thank heaven! Diane didn’t think he’d be here so soon. She and Philip aren’t due till tomorrow.”

Distracted, Philip looked from the phone to his wife and back to the phone, where a voice was continuing to speak. “What? Yes, Dr. Pratt. Let him stay. Has Liz responded at all?”

His crestfallen face answered Nancy’s questioning look, but she refused to be discouraged. “Tell him we’ll be there as soon as we can.”

“Thank you, doctor. We’re on our way.”

*****
Spooned together beneath a thin white sheet, they might have been any normal couple sleeping, Nancy thought from the doorway. They might have come home from a day at the office, had a nice dinner, taken a walk, made love, and fallen asleep just like that.

Max looked different than she'd expected—thinner, paler, scruffier. But she supposed his ordeal and the hours he'd spent getting here, already sick and weak, would account for all three. The thing that touched her was that even in sleep, he had her daughter protectively wrapped in his arms. Something about that had her reaching for Jeff’s hand. She had to be impressed with Max’s devotion, if not his rather unorthodox behavior.

"We weren't sure what to do," Dr. Pratt said from behind them. "She's not on any medication and only the one monitor, so there wasn't any medical reason to toss him out. And given our conversation . . ."

"It's all right,” Nancy assured him. “She's been sick with worry. If he's here when she wakes up, that would be the best thing in the world for her."

"He looks more like the patient than she does," Jeff added, handing his wife the cup of coffee they were sharing.

"In many ways, I guess he should be," she agreed. She would have worried about her daughter’s exposure to the Typhoid Fever that had almost killed Max, but Diane had assured her that he was well past the point of contagion, and that his doctors had said the only danger now was to himself by overdoing. That, Nancy feared, was exactly what he’d done. For Liz.

"He hasn't stirred since he got here," Dr. Pratt told them. "The orderly who brought him up said he cried when he saw her, then just crawled into bed, gathered her in, and fell dead asleep. I can't even imagine what he's been through."

"But Liz hasn't responded." Nancy tried to accept it philosophically; Max had only just arrived.

"Not so far, but you have to realize, he's shut down, too. Perhaps when he's awake and talks to her, she'll respond."

They watched the two still figures for a few minutes, until Nancy turned away and saw she wasn't the only one wiping at tears. She kissed her husband lightly.

"Let's go get some breakfast."

*****

Max had no idea what time it was, and frankly didn’t care . . . at least at first. Liz was in his arms, just as he’d dreamed every day and night for weeks—small and safe and snuggled just where he’d enfolded her the night before. And that simple fact is what brought him fully awake . . . with a frown. She hadn’t moved at all.

Cautiously, he lifted his head and looked around. Through the gap in the curtains, he saw that it was dark. Either he’d slept very little or he’d slept through the day. He wasn’t particularly pleased with either option. He turned his attention back to Liz. At least it wasn’t a dream or a hallucination. They were here, together. And the joy of that sang through him like music. He’d told her once that together, they could do anything. Now it was time to prove it.

“Liz? It’s Max. I’m here, love. I’m here. Wake up and tell me you missed me.”

He drank in the sight of her, at once elated over being able to touch her and dejected at her lack of response. He brushed her hair back from her face and reminded himself that he hadn’t really expected her to just sit up and throw her arms around him. He lay back down, closed his eyes, and began to murmur, his lips brushing her ear.

“I kept my promise, Liz. I know it wasn’t as easy or as fast as I’d hoped, but I kept it. And you might think I’m crazy, but I swear to God, Liz, I felt you, right inside me every day. All I had to do was reach for you with my mind, and you were there. It saved me, Liz. You saved me. And when I was sick and lost, unsure of what was real and what wasn’t, still I knew you were there . . . somewhere, and I kept looking for you. I never stopped looking.”

He buried his face in her hair, pressed his lips to her head, overcome with emotion he hadn’t been ready to acknowledge. His hoarse whisper became a plea.

“Liz, I’m still looking because I can’t feel you now, either. I mean, I’m holding you as tight as I can, but I don’t know where you are. Please, baby, please come home.”

“Max.”

For a fleeting moment, he thought she’d answered him, and his heart nearly exploded in his chest, but the second time he heard his name, he knew it wasn’t his Liz, and he looked with despair into a stranger’s eyes.

“Max, I’m Nancy Parker, Liz’s mother.”

“Oh.” The voices—so similar. No wonder he’d thought it was Liz.

Max pushed himself up to a sitting position, already regretting the loss of contact with Liz. Hell of a way to meet your future mother-in-law, he thought grimly.

“I’m sorry. I got in so late, and I had to see her. I know this isn’t usual . . .”

“Relax, Max. I know what my daughter needs, and so do you.”

She meant it. He could see that, and his smile was genuine when he held out his hand.

“Lt. Commander Max Evans, ma’am. I’m in love with your daughter.”

Nancy hadn’t known she could laugh today, but she found herself doing just that. This had to be the most unusual introduction ever. He was mussed, unshaven, obviously not well, and squeezed into a narrow hospital bed with her unconscious daughter, but he was smiling—and what a smile—and offering his hand along with a most unconventional opening line. She liked him immediately.

“From what I’ve heard, the feeling’s mutual.” Her smile faded as she looked over at Liz, and Max followed her gaze.

“They still don’t know why she’s unconscious?” he asked.

“No. They’re running a lot of tests, but they think it might be psychological—a defense mechanism. If that’s true, you’re the only one who can bring her back.”

“I will,” he promised, stroking a hand down her arm. “I swear I will.”

“Your parents will be here by morning. They got a flight soon after you left.”

“They’re coming here?” He hadn’t expected them to do that. He’d assumed they would go home.

“It’s Christmas, Max.”

“It is?” Time had meant so little for so long, but how could he not have known it was Christmas? “Is it really?”

That had shaken him, she realized, and began to understand how disorienting all this was for him. “Well, not exactly. Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve. I’m sure they want to be with you for that.”

He nodded, still uncertain. “I don’t even have a present for Liz.”

Warmth swamped her. Of all things to think about. “Max, can you honestly think of anything Liz would want more than to wake up and see you here?”

The love in his eyes as he gazed at her daughter took her breath away, and she swiped a hand across her face as a single mutinous tear spilled.

“Max, I’ve arranged for you to get a shower and a meal.”

As if on cue, his stomach rumbled; embarrassed, he pressed his hand against it.

“Two to one. We win,” Nancy teased, her eyes friendly. “Max, you need to keep your strength up, and if Liz wakes to this,” she waved a hand from his head to his feet, “she might not recognize you.”

Max’s hand leapt to his face, his hair, and he grimaced. “Yeah, okay. So . . . it’s night now? How long have I been here?”

“I’m told you’ve been asleep in that bed for about 14 hours. It’s Thursday evening, December 23rd. Now, food first or shower?”

One look down, one sniff. “Shower.”

Nancy laughed. “I had a feeling. I hope you don’t mind, but we checked the only luggage we could find, and you had no fresh clothes, so Jeff braved the mall this afternoon and bought you a few things. I hope they fit.”

Embarrassed, Max stammered an apology, but Nancy waved it off. “That wasn’t a criticism, Max. We just want to help. We can’t believe how quickly you got here.”

“Quickly?” The astonishment in his voice had her chuckling again.

“Well, I don’t imagine it felt quick, but we thought it would take longer.” She touched his arm and had him looking directly into her eyes. “We’re glad you’re here, Max. Very glad.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Parker. I appreciate that.”

He let the hot water pound his body, easing the kinks and soothing the tension that had lived in him for weeks. He’d almost forgotten the simple joy of soap and washcloth, shampoo and hot water. Stepping out of the shower stall, though, he got another jolt; it wasn’t as bad as the first time he saw himself after his rescue—that had been like looking at a stranger. This time, he recognized himself, but it was a drawn and haggard version: dark circles under the eyes, pale skin, ribs he could count. It didn’t matter that it was all to be expected; he didn’t want Liz to awaken to this.

Grabbing his kit, he did his best to disguise the damage—he shaved, combed his hair, clipped his nails, brushed his teeth, and tried to slap some color into his face. Then he reached for the bag Jeff Parker had handed him. Embarrassed and touched, he pulled out underwear, socks, khakis, a shirt, and a deep green pullover sweater. Even a pair of Hush Puppies. The outfit wasn’t exactly him, he decided, but not bad, either. It was casual, comfortable, and made him look older, or at least settled, like a . . . a father. His father, he decided with a grin. This outfit might have come out of his dad’s closet.

Everything seemed big on him, though the sizes should have been right. As soon as he was able, he’d be back in the gym. Maybe he could convince Liz to come along; that way, he could watch her sexy little body as he worked out. Then, when they were all sweaty, they’d . . .

“How’s it comin’ in there?”

Max started, blushing at being caught fantasizing, even though Jeff couldn’t have had any idea what was on his mind. Max checked the mirror one more time and opened the door. Jeff’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Well, look at you. Quite a transformation.”

“Mr. Parker, I can’t thank you enough for the clothes. I guess I was really a mess. I’ll pay you for them as soon as I can get to an ATM.”

“Nonsense, Max. Consider them a Christmas gift.”

“Oh, no sir. Really . . .”

“You’re turning down our Christmas present?”

“No, sir! No, I just meant . . .” But the humor in Jeff’s eyes had Max relaxing. “I . . . you don’t even know me.”

“We know Liz. And how she feels is all we need to know about you . . . for now.”

The two men studied each other and reached a silent understanding.

“Did Liz wake up?” Max threw his toiletries and filthy uniform into his bag, feeling guilty about how long he must have taken in the shower.

“Not yet. We’ve got some food waiting for you in her room.”

Eggs. Ham. Hash browns. Grapefruit. Coffee. He sat on the empty bed in Liz’s room and decided this was the best meal he’d ever eaten. Mostly because as he ate, he didn’t have to take his eyes off of Liz. He answered the Parkers’ questions, aware that they were trying very hard not to give him the third degree. Finally, he decided to ask a few of his own.

“So the injury is only minor, right?”

“Yes, really just a bad bump, not even a concussion. That’s why this is such a mystery.”

“So, if it is psychological, I should just talk to her? What about the other test results?”

“Dr. Pratt hasn’t been very specific,” Nancy said, frowning, “but he’s assured us that they’ve found nothing else physically wrong with her.”

“Okay.” Max pushed aside the wheeled cart that held his dinner, and took the two steps to Liz’s bed. His leg was halfway up to the mattress when he pulled back, threw the Parkers a sidelong glance, and reached for a chair.

Once again, Nancy felt a chuckle bubble up. Yes, she liked him. “Max, really, I think we’re going to have to skip the formalities. Do what would be most normal, most comfortable for Liz. We’re not going to stand on ceremony at the expense of our daughter’s health.”

Feeling awkward, Max shot a look at Jeff, who seemed less inclined to dispense with parental protocol, but after a short mental debate, he nodded, and Max climbed onto the bed. Jeff and Nancy could only watch as Max gathered her close with an ease and familiarity that told them the two had lain together like this dozens of times.

“We’re going home, Max,” Jeff said quietly, fighting the twin urges to protect and indulge. “We’ll be back in the morning, probably with your parents. Call if there’s any change. Our number’s by the phone.”

“Okay. Goodnight. And thank you.”

He wasn’t sure how long he lay in the dark and talked to her. He told her about the ship, about the laughing gulls and Jeremy’s ordeal. He told her about the camp, Rana and Yavuz and Adnan. About the illness and death, and the eventual cleanup of the stream that had brought them disease instead of life. He described what he could remember of the trek to the mountains and the discovery that he and Rana could communicate—awkwardly, of course—in French. And then of his journey home to her.

When his long story seemed to have no effect, he shoved his disappointment aside and began to weave a picture of their future—marriage, travel, children, all bound together by their love. It soothed his own mind to see it unfold in his imagination, and somewhere in that picture, he fell asleep.

*****
“Oh.” The whispered syllable caught in her throat, but the tears refused to be swallowed. Diane reached for Nancy’s hand—a woman she had known for about an hour—and squeezed. “Look at them.”

“He’s barely left her side,” Nancy said, touched at Diane’s openness. “I’d hoped Liz would wake during the night, but I guess . . .”

“Don’t get discouraged. Look what Max has survived. She’ll come back. She just needs time.”

“I know. He really has been through so much, hasn’t he?”

“They didn’t want him to leave the hospital. He had to sign papers.”

There comes a time in a man's life when to get where he has to go— if there are no doors or windows he walks through a wall. Bernard Malamud.”

At Diane’s bewildered expression, Nancy smiled. “Sorry. Liz and I enjoy storing away little nuggets of wisdom through the ages and then spouting them at any and all opportunities. It’s an odd habit, I’ll grant you. But all I meant was, he obviously wouldn’t take no for an answer. Coming to her was all that mattered. I can’t tell you what it does to me when I think of my little girl finding a man that devoted to her.”

Diane sniffed and groped in her purse for a tissue. “I know what you mean. I spent several days with Liz a couple of weeks ago. It was obvious to me that Max was the most important person in the world to her, so I know how you feel. And I liked that quote, by the way. It fits.”

Already friends, the two women backed out of the room.

“They awake?” Philip asked.

“Not yet,” Nancy told him, “but the staff will try soon, I imagine, just to take Liz’s vitals. Let’s go grab a bite, and we’ll come back. Besides, I left a few things in the car I want to bring up.”

“Like what?”

“Just a few Christmas things. When Liz wakes up, I want her to know she didn’t miss Christmas.”

Her optimism had the others exchanging glances, but Nancy was unperturbed. She looked each one in the eye.

“You’ll see.”

Continued in next post
Last edited by Carol000 on Sun Mar 06, 2005 10:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Carol000
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Joined: Tue Oct 09, 2001 4:58 pm

Post by Carol000 » Sat Mar 05, 2005 9:30 pm

Continued from last post

*****
Max heard them leave, feigning sleep so he would be left alone to think. Hearing Mrs. Parker whip off that quote had reminded him of Liz’s little habit. How many times had she tossed out one of those pearls of wisdom, just off the cuff like she had a million of them? It had given him a start to hear it and, if possible, had made him miss her even more. If he had, as she’d said, walked “through a wall” to get to Liz, then why hadn’t Liz done the same?

He’d honestly thought Liz would be awake by now. Maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe she wasn’t waiting for him, after all. Maybe there was some other physical explanation. Or maybe he wasn’t doing it—whatever it was—right. With a sigh, he rose from the bed, stretched, then looked back at his angel lying so still, and ached for her. He missed her almost as much right this minute as he had when he’d been on the other side of the world. What was he doing wrong?

His stomach growled. Now that it had been reintroduced to food, it was pretty vocal about its expectations. Walking into the hall, a nurse’s aide approached him with a tray. “This was for Ms. Parker, just in case, but I guess she won’t be eating it. I heard them say they’re going to order a nutrition drip for her this morning. Anyway, I thought maybe you might want this.”

“Thanks.” Liz’s breakfast. He would gladly have done without for the privilege of watching her eat it.

He sat down on the bench across from Liz’s door where he could still see her, and lifted the metal lid. Oatmeal, fruit cup, and tea. Yum. But it was better than nothing, and he could stay near Liz while he ate, so he dug in, his mind searching for another way to reach her. He thought back to the comfort he’d drawn from feeling her across continents and oceans, knowing she was thinking of him, too.

Could it be that simple? Is that what was missing?

He set the tray on the floor, closed his eyes, and tried to reestablish that bond—the connection, as he’d come to think of it. He’d depended on it several times a day as a prisoner—reaching for her across half a world. He would depend on it again—instead of coming at her from the outside, he would search for her from within.

Refusing to accept the darkness, he pushed through it, calling for her, reaching for her, pressing out into the void with his mind and willing her to respond. He could swear he detected a sense of her, but she wasn’t reaching for him, as he’d grown to expect. It was as if she were hiding. What was she afraid of? Why would she hide from him?

He took a deep breath and mustered all of his focus, projecting images of the two of them from his store of precious memories. He called to her more insistently than he had ever had to before, and stood strong against the indecision that permeated her mind. Then he felt it. A flutter. Just a flicker of recognition. Had he brushed up against her? Liz!

“Max?”

Determinedly, Max blocked out the interruption. He couldn’t afford to be distracted. Liz! Reach for me, love. I want to bring you home. Follow my voice, baby, come with me. This way . . .”

“Max! Are you all right?”

This time there was a hand on his shoulder, and he quivered with frustration. Ready to let loose on whatever hapless person had broken his tenuous link to Liz, he jerked his head up, then forgot his anger and leapt to his feet.

“Vicki! What are you doing here?” He hugged his sister joyfully, careful not to crush his new nephew strapped snuggly to her chest.

“Mom said we were celebrating Christmas in Roswell this year, so here we are.” At his incredulous expression, she touched his face. “We’ve never been apart on Christmas, Max, and we’re not about to start now.” Pulling him to sit, she stroked the baby’s head and frowned at her brother. “But Max, what were you doing just now? It looked like you were in a trance or something.”

“Oh, Vicki.” He hugged her again, kissed her soundly on the lips, and lifted his nephew from the carrier. Kissing him, too, he settled the groggy baby against his chest and sighed. “I’ll explain later. Just an experiment.” Max put an arm around her and kissed her temple this time, then the baby’s velvet hair. “God, it’s good to see you. Where’s Mike and the kids?”

“Settling in at the hotel, but I didn’t want to wait. Besides, I’m not sure bringing C.J. and Brittany to the hospital is a good idea—they’re all energy and no brains at the moment.”

Max chuckled and kissed his nephew again. “And this is?”

“Uncle Max, meet Austin Maximillian Phelps.”

Max raised one eyebrow. “Maximillian?”

Vicki laughed and dropped her head on his shoulder. “Well, I wanted his middle name to be Max, but you know Mike; it’s all about fun. He thought Maximillian was more imaginative and powerful, so yes, he’s your namesake, but with a twist.”

Max looked down at Austin Maximillian and fell in love, as he had with his other niece and nephew, then closed his eyes and soaked in the innocent thrill of new life. Tiny and vulnerable and counting on him to be there for him. There was another person who fit that description, he knew, and he looked up through the glass to gaze at her. The blood stopped cold in his veins. She was looking back.

*****
It had been hard, choosing between her safe and idyllic haven and the persistent call of Max’s heart. Where she was, she had both—a perfect life, and of course, Max. It wouldn’t have been perfect, otherwise. But the other part of her mind recognized Max’s presence and knew that this world she loved wasn’t real. Still, something about “real” chilled her, and she didn’t know if following that voice, that heart, would lead to happiness or despair.

Then recently the voice had become more persistent, pecking away at the fragile edges of her mind until it threatened to burst through and destroy what she desperately wanted to protect. Each time she heard him—and make no mistake, she could tell the difference between the one who called her home and the one who shared this undemanding refuge—she would detect a shimmer, a quiver in the fabric of her world, as if to warn her that her time there was running out.

Finally, she hadn’t only heard him, she’d felt him, and the sheer strength of that sensation pulled at her more strongly than any riptide. She’d been sucked away as her carefully constructed world rushed from her like a distant memory. Left with little choice, she had clawed her way through layers of mist and sand, finally surfacing in an unfamiliar room.

Her eyes had been drawn immediately to the window onto the hall where she’d seen Max, and her heart had squeezed in her chest, the love so strong, it was almost painful. He was here! Alive! How could she have wandered so far when all she loved, all she wanted and needed in this life was almost close enough to touch? She struggled to speak, but the sound wouldn’t come, so she started to reach for him with her mind, as he had done to bring her home.

It was then that she’d seen him greet the lovely woman with dark waves of hair and beautiful, loving eyes. They had kissed, cooed over their baby, and sat, arms around each other, to murmur and commune as only families can.

How long? How long had she hidden herself away? She remembered being at Jonathan’s grave, talking with him, then sleeping—and the weird, unsettling dream. Then . . . something. A flash of pain. What had happened to her? Had she been in a coma? Had she been lying here so long that Max had given up? Found another woman to love who wasn’t so weighed down with painful memories and destructive fear? But she wasn’t that woman any more. She was stronger. He’d made her stronger. And she was ready to be his family. It wasn’t possible she had done this to herself, hidden herself away when he was here waiting for her. Fate simply couldn’t be that cruel.

But the scene playing out before her now said differently. He had a new family now. One that didn’t include her. The love between them was obvious. And, she realized, if she looked closely, she could see how time had passed. Max looked thinner, older. He was even dressed older. God, how old was she now?

Well, at least he was alive. She could be thankful for that. But she’d never have her life back. Not the one she wanted. That child should be theirs. That life should be theirs. Even as she watched, he kissed the woman again, then the baby, and closed his eyes with a look of peace she’d never feel again.

Then he raised his eyes to her, and everything else stood still. They stared, the woman unaware as her head lay nestled on his shoulder. She played with their baby’s tiny fingers while worlds tilted around her. Liz watched Max hand the baby back to his wife, then rise slowly and start toward her, never breaking eye contact. She braced herself, and vowed to live through this. If it killed her, she would not complicate his life.

The tears in his eyes threw her. She blinked back her own, and schooled her voice with a fierce will.

“Hello, Max.”

He never stopped moving, never veered from his true course directly to her. Then his lips were on hers, and for one sacred moment, everything was as it should be. Her arms came around him, her lips opened to him, as did her mind and heart, and they shared the miracle that belonged only to them.

“Liz.” Her name was barely a breath as he rained kisses over her face, her hair, her mouth. Then a movement at the window wrenched her back to reality, and she pulled back with a gasp.

Unaware, Max enfolded her in a crushing embrace. “Liz! Thank God. I knew you’d feel me. I knew you’d come back. I should get the doctor.” But he didn’t let go.

Liz’s stiffness finally got his attention, and the initial surge of excitement ebbed into compassion. “I’m sorry, love. I practically attacked you.” He pulled back with a laugh. “I couldn’t help it. Seeing you looking at me that way—it blew everything else out of my mind.”

She wouldn’t look at him, and he realized she was picking at the sheet with nervous fingers.

“Liz?”

There was such sadness in her face, his heart sank. “Liz? Do you know who I am?”

She thought it might be less painful to let someone slowly shred her skin with a scalpel. It had only taken one touch for everything she felt for Max to come bubbling to the surface.

“Of course. Of course, I do, Max. It’s so kind of you to come check on me.”

“Kind?” He tilted his head in confusion. Taking her by the shoulders, he studied her face. He would swear there was love there, but she was fighting it. Oh, god, they couldn’t be back there again. Not back where they started. “I got here as soon as I could. Where else would I be? I love you.”

Yes, this was more painful.

“I hardly think that’s appropriate anymore, though it’s sweet of you to say.”

He gaped at her, fear clawing its way through confusion. “Liz, what are you talking about? Has what’s happened changed everything? I won’t believe you don’t love me anymore.”

Not love him? That was hardly the issue when his wife—who undoubtedly deserved his love more than Liz did—watched through the window, a troubled look on her face. Where was her fury? Jealousy? Fear? Didn’t it mean anything to her that Max was looking at an old girlfriend as if nothing had changed? The love shone in his eyes, whether it should be there or not. And heaven forgive her, she wanted to lose herself there, just as she’d dreamed of every moment since he’d left.

“I’m so grateful you’re alive, Max. That’s the important thing.” Her gaze flickered toward the window. “I’ll learn to deal with the rest, don’t worry.”

“We’ll both deal with what happened, Liz. Together. I’m not leaving you again.”

She frowned, concentrating on her hands as if they held the key to this agonizing puzzle, but the pieces weren’t fitting together. “How long have I been here?”

“Only a couple of days. You hit your head on the steering wheel when your car hit a tree, but they haven’t been able to figure out why you’ve been unconscious. I came as fast as I could.”

“But you were missing . . . weren’t you? I mean, I didn’t just dream that, did I? And,” she gestured toward the hall, where the woman and baby were standing by the window, watching the drama unfold, “you have a family now, Max. How could it have been only a couple of days?”

He felt like they were having two parallel conversations that were destined never to cross. Damn conversation, anyway. What he wanted . . . needed . . . was to hold her, soothe her, love her. Yet she was holding him off as surely as if she had a straight arm pressed against his chest. “Yes, I was missing. It’s a long story, but Jeremy was rescued, and then led a team back in to find me. I was in a hospital in Israel when I found out you’d been hurt. I came right away. And my family—well, they just got here. They wanted us all to spend Christmas together.”

“Together.” Maybe she was still unconscious. Or hallucinating. “You’re saying your family came to Roswell to have Christmas . . . with me.”

“Why not? It’s a great time for our families to get to know each other, isn’t it?”

Liz could only gape at him. She thought she’d known him, right to his soul, but this didn’t fit the Max Evans she knew. The Max Evans she loved.

“Max, what must that woman out there be thinking right now? What about the baby? This is your family, Max. I can’t be a part of it. Why would she even consider letting me?”

Max stood, ran his hands through his hair, and watched Vicki walk away as Austin began to fuss. This was so not the conversation he expected to be having when Liz awoke. “Why in the name of all that’s holy would you think my sister wouldn’t want you to be part of the family?”

“Sister?”

There were several seconds of fuzzy thinking rolled up together with a few seconds of pure clarity. Elation and joy swelled within her, just barely managing to overshadow the most acute embarrassment of her life

“Yeah, my sister, Vicki. And her new son, Austin. He was born while I was in Lebanon.”

She began to tremble, almost shocky with relief. Tears slipped down into a brilliant smile. “Your sister. I thought . . .”

“What?” He was feeling better now that she was smiling, but he still wasn’t sure where they were headed. “You thought what?”

“Well, you were out there kissing her and snuggling that baby, and I looked at you all and I thought you gave up on me and then I realized you looked a little different, you know, thinner, even older . . .”

Older? They’d get back to that.

Then it started to gel. “You thought she was my wife?” He gaped at her until his own relief matched hers. “God, Liz!” Laughing, he pulled her to him, and this time she came willingly, joyously, wrapping herself around him like a blanket. He wanted to tell her everything—his experiences, his emotions, his desperate relief to feel her living inside him again—but all words fled; there was only the feel of her in his arms, in his soul, and the knowledge that she loved him. He didn’t even mind the chokehold she had on him; there would be time enough for breathing later.

The first kiss was tender, the second needy, the third was like a match to kindling. There was too much—too much emotion, too much need, too much love. It burned through them like flame, stole their breath and their sanity. They fell to the bed, mad with fantasy made flesh and dreams made real.

It was familiar and new all at once. As his hand slid under the thin hospital gown, he recognized every curve and dip and achingly soft rise. He anticipated the thrill of her response and the staggering rush of his own when she touched him. He found the place at the base of her throat that hammered against his lips and exploited its vulnerability with his tongue, his own heart pounding in response to her moan teasing his ear. This is where his heart had lived for all those weeks; these were the memories that let him face misery and hopelessness with strength and confidence.

Her hands maneuvered busily, tunneling toward him. He wanted her there, and the faint voice of reason that whispered to him was no match for that desire. He couldn’t stop her, would rather have died than stop her now. His mouth found her breast just as she found him, and they gasped together.

“I don’t know how I lived without this . . . without you,” he breathed against her cheek, reaching to help her. “This love, Liz, it fills me.”

Her fingers found the zipper and fumbled with impatience. “Oh, Max. You can’t know how I’ve missed you. I’ve been so empty. Don’t ever leave again.”

“Well, try as we might, we haven’t gotten him to leave yet,” Dr. Pratt smiled, hurrying in, then stopped short, diverting his eyes as Max fumbled to cover Liz. Clearly, the reunion was going well. He cleared his throat and tried to ignore the heavy breathing as Max extracted himself and turned toward the window. It didn’t take a doctor to understand that move. “Well, Ms. Parker. I, uh, I’m Dr. Pratt, and I’m pleased to see you’re . . . awake and feeling . . . um . . . healthy.”

She didn’t know where it came from, but Liz took one look at the doctor’s nonplussed expression, and a fit of giggles just grabbed control of her: her face reddened, her eyes watered, and every time she tried to say something, all she could do was wave a hand helplessly. Max went to her, grinning in spite of his intent to settle her down, but the incongruousness of Liz’s hysteria and Dr. Pratt’s deer in the headlights expression got him started, too, and soon he was holding onto her more for support than for a steadying hand. It was only sympathy for the poor man that finally helped Max wrestle control back, and Liz, embarrassed even though the urge still bubbled up every few seconds, fought to calm herself as well.

“Sorry,” she apologized. “I don’t know what got into me.”

With the uneven sigh that often signals the end of helpless laughter, Max slid onto the bed next to Liz and felt her stiffen.

“Max,” she murmured. “The doctor’s right there.” As if he hadn’t gotten an eyeful of them already. The laughter threatened one more time.

Max grinned at her. “They’re getting kind of used to seeing me here,” Max assured her. “Right, doctor?”

“Indeed, despite our efforts to send him off for some solo rest. So, Ms. Parker, although you seem to be recovering nicely, I want to review your test results and suggest some precautionary follow-up.”

But Liz was still processing the first part of their exchange, and pulled back to stare at Max. “You stayed here?” Her eyes, shining with laughter moments before, softened. “You slept in here, with me?”

“Where else?” Max murmured, and linked his fingers with hers.

Dr. Pratt shifted awkwardly. It was obviously in everyone’s best interest to get these two out of the hospital and into a more private location. “Ms. Parker, we’ve done quite a few tests on you while you were here, and we’ll need to do a few more now that you’re conscious, but it looks like you’ll be home for Christmas tomorrow, after all.”

Max felt Liz squeeze his hand as she lifted her face to his, a tremulous smile saying what she had no words for. He gathered her closer and pressed his lips to her forehead. “Our first Christmas.”

She reached up to touch his cheek, leaned in . . .

“So,” Dr. Pratt interrupted loudly. “I’ll give you a complete rundown on your tests during a follow-up visit, but I thought I should at least assure you that you and the baby both appear quite healthy.”

Two pairs of eyes slid toward him in perfect synchrony. There wasn’t a breath taken nor a muscle moved. There was only the heavy press of a silence so intense, it threatened to bow the walls.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Carol000
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Post by Carol000 » Sat Mar 12, 2005 11:11 pm

Part 23

Dr. Pratt realized his mistake immediately. He had assumed that a woman like Liz—apparently intelligent, self-aware, and in a committed relationship—who was about 10 weeks into her pregnancy would have known, or at least strongly suspected, that she was pregnant. It should have occurred to him, however, that a man missing for a month or more might not know. It’s just that they seemed so obviously devoted to one another and so completely in tune . . . no excuse, he chastised himself. He’d seriously misjudged the situation. He prayed fervently that he hadn’t misjudged the identity of the father.

Then two voices kick-started with the same word.

“Baby?”

Dr. Pratt cursed himself for a fool and began to stutter an apology. “I’m sorry. I assumed you knew. You’re a couple of months along and . . .”

“A baby?” Max turned to Liz, his face so lit with joy that she didn’t even have to ask. “We’re having a baby!”

Liz wondered if her expression was as filled with awe as Max’s. For the life of her, she couldn’t find the words to explain the overwhelming emotion swelling inside her. That seemed to be happening to her a lot today. She kissed Max softly. “We’ve made a baby, Max.” She sighed, still afraid to believe. “A baby. I can’t believe it.”

She framed his face—his beautiful smiling face—in her palms. “I love you so much.”

“Liz.” He breathed her name just before his lips descended to hers. Knowing a losing battle when he saw one, Dr. Pratt turned and padded out toward the nurse’s station where the release paperwork was kept. The best thing he could do for the lot of them was to spring those two—and he fully understood it was a package deal—so he could stop worrying about what the next nurse or aide or orderly might walk in on. He smiled. Seeing that kind of love put a little shine on a person’s perspective. Maybe he’d take some flowers home to his wife tonight.

Flowers were the last things on Max’s mind, which currently resembled a full-fledged hurricane. Images and emotions battered him with incomprehensible force, but at the deceptively calm eye of that hurricane was all he really needed to know: the woman he loved more than life itself, who loved him enough to face down her demons to be with him, was carrying a life they had made together. It was a miracle so huge, it was almost too much to take in. And Liz . . . oh, god, did she want this?

He drew back and searched her eyes, exuberant when the answer to his question leapt back at him—joy and awe and love burning so brightly between them, he could feel the heat. He brought his lips to hers again—this time a pledge, a vow as much as a kiss, and all the sweeter for it.

“I love you,” he murmured against her mouth. “And I already love our baby.” He laughed with the surprise of hearing it out loud. Scooting down the bed, he pressed a kiss to her abdomen. “Hellooooo in there. It’s Daddy. I love you. I love your Mommy. I love . . . my life!” How it had changed in just a few hours. He looked up at Liz with a wide smile. “This is like a Christmas gift. A Christmas miracle!” He scooted back up and kissed the mother of his child again.

Liz laughed with him, so filled with love she didn’t know whether she could hold it all. Her hand slid down to where Max had just spoken to their baby for the first time, and the first tear of joy slipped out.

“Max Evans, you are the most wonderful man in the world.”

“I know,” he sighed, gathering her close again. “That’s how I won the most wonderful woman.”

“We are so sappy,” she giggled, and squirmed closer.

They snuggled and imagined for a few quiet moments, caught up in the knowledge that dreams come true.

“I’m already picturing you with your stomach out to here,” he demonstrated, with a hand a good foot away from her waist, “and waking me up with midnight cravings so that I have to go to the store for pickles and ice cream in the middle of the night.” He sighed with contentment. “I’ll paint the nursery—I think I read paint fumes are bad for an expectant mother. Maybe we should buy a house. And we’ll need a stroller and a car seat and a crib and one of those whadayacallits, you know, those things that spin over a crib and play music . . .?”

Liz watched him spin his excited tale, touched beyond words that he was taking all this in without a question or a doubt. She thought she should object to the part about the huge belly and the late-night cravings—that was so stereotypical—but he was so cute with his house in the suburbs and his shopping list that she only managed a playful frown before he stopped and looked at her.

“What?”

“You have me fat, grouchy, and over my credit card limit, and we’ve only known for 5 minutes.”

He grinned at her and sprinkled kisses across her face as he reassured her. “Not fat—pregnant with the most beautiful, most intelligent, and most loved baby ever born. Not grouchy, either; I just can’t wait to spoil you. And don’t worry about the money. Why are we even talking about money?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed, relaxing under his busy mouth. “Maybe because it’s less upsetting than talking about me getting fat and ugly.”

His light kisses turned more urgent. “You are so . . . incredibly . . . sexy, Liz.” Kisses punctuated each phrase. “Nothing . . . about your body changing . . . will change that. . . . You’ll always . . . be sexy . . . to me.”

She wasn’t sure that was possible, but she liked the sound of it. Besides, she’d lost interest in analyzing the details. They had evaporated in a haze of lightheadedness, and she didn’t think it had anything to do with pregnancy. Her tongue darted out to tease his ear.

“If I’m so sexy, why are you still dressed?”

His heart did a little stutter-step. “If we were anywhere less public, I would ravish you right now.” His husky voice had her pulse racing, but they’d gone down that road once too many already.

“Thinking about me pregnant gets you hot?” She slid a hand up his thigh, meaning only to tease, and realized just how true her statement was. She saw his eyes darken, watched him lick his lips.

“Apparently.”

His reaction was fueling her own. “Max, we can’t. Not here.” She slid a hand under his shirt, just to prove how wrong she could be.

He rolled to his back with a groan and brought her on top of him. “I know. So let’s get out of here.”

“Just what I had in mind,” Dr. Pratt told them, barely slowing when he saw their position. It was just business as usual for these two, he had finally concluded. “I have your release papers here, Ms. Parker. And I’ve scheduled an office visit for you for the 29th. I also recommend you find yourself an obstetrician. I can give you some names, if you like.”

Liz looked back over her shoulder. “I can leave now?”

He nodded. “The sooner, the better.”

******
Twenty minutes was all it took for Liz to dress and sign out. If she’d been aware of the organizational miracles Max was performing during that time with just a cell phone and a body pulsing with motivation, she would have been extraordinarily impressed.

First of all, their parents had to be told what was happening. Vicki had given them a brief synopsis of Liz's awakening and, bless her, had held them at bay thus far, but parents whose children had just survived life-threatening ordeals were bound to feel a little clingy. Clingy or not, Max reasoned, they were going to have to accept that he and Liz needed some time alone. The situation simply required tact . . . and ruthless negotiation.

Satisfied with the outcome of his first offensive, he turned his attention to the second. He and Liz had gone from two lost individuals to a family in a matter of hours, and that had to be celebrated with all the care and tenderness it deserved. And although there was no compensating for the lack of time to prepare a perfect reunion, Max thought of himself as an accomplished organizer and an experienced leader; it never occurred to him that his orders would be taken any less seriously in the civilian sector.

Emerging from a tunnel of single-minded focus, Max saw Liz being pushed from her room in the obligatory wheelchair, and he finished his last phone call at a jog.

"Ready?"

"Ready," she beamed. "Where are we going?"

He winked . . . and smirked . . . and bent to kiss her. Her pulse began to trip over itself in an awkward calypso beat. The man had magic in him, and she was completely and deliriously happy to submit to his spell.

But it was Christmas Eve, and she knew her family . . .

"It's taken care of," he told her, grabbing her hand as the orderly wheeled her onto the elevator. He was pleased with how easily he was learning to read her again. "We get the next four hours alone in exchange for a big Christmas Eve family dinner and church. Then I have you all to myself until morning, at which time we'll have Christmas at your parents' and another feast.”

Her jaw dropped. "How on earth did you talk Dad into that? He's like a crazy person on Christmas Eve--more traditions than hours to put them into."

"It seems your father's more of a romantic than you give him credit for. And I think your mother may have shot a death ray or two in his direction.” His smirk returned. “She likes me.”

“Yeah? Well, so do I. Don’t let it go to your head.”

By now they were outside where a dark red SUV was pulled up to the curb. Max opened the door for her and with a word of thanks to the orderly, helped her inside.

“Where did you get this, Max?” she asked, eyeing the baby seat in the back.

“It’s Vicki and Mike’s rental, on loan until dinner tonight. Consider it your chariot, m’lady.”

"But to where?"

He drew her into a soft kiss, then smiled as he started the car. “Home.”

She could tell by the expression on his face that they weren’t headed to her parents’ home, but she sensed he was enjoying the intrigue, so she settled back and tried to calm the game of butterfly bumper cars in her stomach. They drove in silence, anticipation a living presence whose fingers shot off sparks as they danced across sensitized skin. They managed a bit of civilized small talk about the holidays with the desk clerk at the Ramada. They offered stiff smiles to the family that crowded into the elevator with them, balancing gaily wrapped packages in their arms. They walked, barely, to the hotel room door with only the slightest of telltale trembles when Max inserted the key card into the slot.

Then all bets were off.

They slammed the door on “civilized” and dove at each other in a frenzy borne of the loneliness and fear that had lived in them for so many weeks. They fought wildly through layers of clothing, feasted hungrily on flavors all but forgotten, until their naked bodies fused together trembling with need.

There were no words, only the frantic breathing and urgent exploring that reassured them they were alive and together at last. The sensations filled her, left her dizzy and breathless and unable to remember what she had wanted to do for him, how she had wanted to please him when they finally made love again. So she wasn’t ready, wasn’t prepared when his mouth found her breast and he cupped her, only the touch of a finger sending her spiraling without anything to anchor her.

“Hold me!”

She hadn’t known she’d shouted her plea, but he was there, bound around her body and her heart like no other ever could be. Then, before she could center herself, he was inside her, waking every sleeping nerve and every hidden need. She wrapped her limbs around him and met him, thrust for thrust, glorying as his voice all but sobbed her name. Already, her muscles coiled again, gathering to explode around him and call forth his seed. In a flash of clarity, she remembered their seed was already growing within her, and her body erupted in a miracle of happiness and love so strong, she shook violently.

Max hadn’t even pretended at control since the door had closed behind them, but the depth of Liz’s giving, the sheer strength of her emotion had swamped him, and he’d been unable to do anything but let the flood take him. She had come for him so quickly, he’d almost lost himself. Then, buried in her, the heat of welcome had brought tears to his eyes. Now . . . now she was falling apart in his arms and he was helpless to hold himself apart from the power. He spilled into her, giving all there was of his body and his heart.

*****
They occupied a single space in the bed for several long minutes before either one spoke. What they had shared seemed to saturate the very air, as if they could breathe each other in, and neither wanted to make a ripple in perfection.

Finally, body heat began to cool, and Max reached to pull a blanket from where it had fallen in a heap beside the bed. He slid from her and nestled her tight against him.

“I didn’t know I could love you any more than I did, Liz, but . . .” There seemed no way to tell her how being one with her again had given him new life. To his surprise, she reached up and wiped at tears he didn’t know he’d shed.

“You don’t have to explain what I already feel, Max. This is what you meant by ‘home’ this afternoon, isn’t it? You meant our home in each other.” Her eyes were shining with tears, too. Perfect happiness hitched up another notch, and they took a few more minutes to savor it.

“Do you think it was fate, Liz? I mean, we shouldn’t have been able to conceive a baby with you on the pill. Isn’t it like one chance in a 100 or something? It’s like this child was meant to be born.”

She was so still and quiet in his arms now, he looked down again, but she didn’t meet his gaze this time. He felt a little shadow drift across perfection.

“Liz, I thought you were happy about the baby. Are you having second thoughts?”

Her hands came to his face, pulled him to her for a tender kiss. "Not at all. I’m thrilled, in fact, and your excitement just makes it better.”

He could hear the “but” hanging in the space between them.

“So what is it?”

She sighed and sat up. Max sat up, too. Something told him he wanted to be on even ground for this conversation.

“I should have said something to you,” she began, and saw the little crease form between his eyes. “You remember the day I overheard you talk about Aaron and we went to the beach?” He nodded. That day had gone from disaster to delight. “I told you that night that I wanted to try. That no one had made me want to try before.”

“Yes.” He took her hand and waited.

“I wouldn’t have thought to put it this way at the time, Max, but in my own way, I committed to you that night—not just to try, but forever. I guess what I mean is, I married you, in here.” She pressed a hand between her breasts and shook her head when he opened his mouth to speak. “Let me finish. The next day, we went to work, but after work, we went to your apartment and didn’t come out all weekend.”

Max smiled, the memories sweet and wonderfully erotic.

“I didn’t even think until Monday at work that I hadn’t taken my pills all weekend, Max. It never once entered my mind to go downstairs to my apartment and get them. It was like we were living in another dimension or something. All that mattered was being together every second and making love until we were completely incapable of doing it again.”

This time, he grinned. It had been the best weekend of his life.

“Are you saying that’s when it happened? Because I can’t imagine a more loving beginning for a baby.”

Liz bit her lip and resolved to make it through this conversation without being distracted by the urge to kiss Max senseless. Her brave military officer had a soft spot a mile wide. “It must have been that weekend, and I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. I even found myself hoping just a little, but I knew the odds were against it, and I didn’t want to upset you . . .”

“Upset me?” He shook his head in disbelief. “At what point did you figure out that being with you is all that matters to me? That having you and having a family with you is all I want from this life?” He paused and studied her. “Or are you still figuring that out?”

It was her turn to grin. “No, I’ve got that now. I think it really hit me for the first time when I was calling you names out on the tarmac.”

Max threw his head back and laughed. God, he loved this woman! And what a night that had been. He remembered the exact moment he’d known she was truly his—the almost imperceptible surrender that had set his world right. It had been a bittersweet discovery, since he’d had to leave her an hour later.

He took both her hands in his. “You had no reason to think anything had happened. I understand that. What surprises me is that you didn’t figure it out while I was gone. I mean, aren’t there usually signs, and didn’t you, you know, stop having . . .?”

He trailed off awkwardly, and it was Liz’s turn to laugh. “You deal with war, disease, and death but you can’t say ‘period’?”

He winced slightly and sent her into gales of laughter. The sight made him laugh, too.

“Okay, okay, didn’t you notice you didn’t have a . . . a period?”

His obvious discomfort had her giggling again, but her answer, when she got around to it, was serious. “Perhaps I should have. The truth is, I’ve been very tired, dizzy sometimes, sick to my stomach, and yes, I missed a couple of periods.” She stressed the word just for fun. It was worth it to watch him fight back the wince a second time. “But I didn’t question any of it because that’s pretty much what happened after Jonathan and Aaron died. The doctor then just said it was stress, so it made sense that that was what was happening again. Then, after Frankie got word that Jeremy had been rescued but there was no news about you . . .”

This time, she was the one who couldn’t finish the sentence. That had been the beginning of her lowest point, the one that sent her home to Roswell fighting despair with nothing more than faith. She thought of the dream she’d had out at Jonathan’s grave; the bird that was Max had never fallen from the sky, she remembered, but had soared overhead. It was good to remember that.

She realized Max had gathered her in, rocking her as he would someday rock their child, but she no longer needed soothing. The faith had been justified, and the future soared in the sky ahead. She pulled back, hoping he would see the truth in her eyes.

“Maybe it was fate, maybe it wasn’t, Max. All I know is, you are my life. You and the child we've conceived. And if I could change anything, it would only be to take away what you’ve endured. I want you to tell me about it when you’re ready, but until then, know that I never gave up on us."

She was back in his arms and content to stay there this time. “I did tell you. I told you everything when you were unconscious and I was trying to bring you back. I’ll tell you again someday soon, but what I want you to know now is that . . .” He took her by the shoulders so he could look at her. “I’m not crazy, Liz, but the whole time I was gone, I could feel you, like a sense of you, I mean. I could reach out with my mind and find you waiting and it kept me from being so lonely or afraid.”

As he spoke, her face transformed from disbelieving to radiant. He knew, right then, that she had felt it, too. Somehow, they had truly found each other in time or space or on a mysterious plane of psychic energy . . . it didn’t matter. It had been real. They stared at each other, stunned by this revelation, honored to be privy to such a secret.

“That’s what gave me strength, Max. That feeling that you were there. I knew you were alive, and I even knew a little about your moods, I think. I’m not sure I would have made it without that.”

Something about knowing they had really shared that connection thrilled Max. It was one more bit of evidence—as if he needed any—that he and Liz were meant to be together. He tucked a bit of stray hair behind her ear and chuckled, delighted. “People would think we were crazy, if we ever told anyone.”

Liz’s eyes widened, as did her smile. “Don’t look now, but your mother knows—she even started doing a daily check on you through me—and all of our San Diego friends know because I used it to reassure Frankie about Jeremy on Thanksgiving, figuring if you were okay, so was he.”

His grimace was so cute, she wanted to laugh, but she bit it back. It was time to give him what he had always given her. Total honesty.

“Max, we are connected in a way I never knew was possible. You live inside me. I don’t know another way to explain it. When I couldn’t feel you anymore, I was on the point of despair, but I was so sure I would know if you were dead, that I would feel the loss so keenly, I would have wanted to die myself. But it never got that bad. Even when I couldn’t feel you, I held onto that.”

She watched his face, aglow with love, accept what she said. Her openness had brought him something, she realized, something he needed from their relationship, and she felt guilty and selfish for keeping so much to herself as they’d grown closer. Her own instinct to protect herself had effectively shut him out at some level. But he needed her, all of her, and from this moment on, he would have it all.

She lifted a hand to his cheek and held it tenderly. “My heart is yours, Max. I know now that we are forever, just like you always said. I’ll hold nothing back from you, and there will be nothing unspoken between us. Not anymore. I promise.”

Impossibly moved, Max cupped her face and bent to lay a soft kiss on her welcoming lips, then lighter ones across her cheeks, her brow, her eyelids.

“God, I love you.”

She moved easily to straddle him and felt the power surge through her when she felt him come to life. Wriggling closer, she nipped at his chest and felt the vibrations of his moan tickle her lips.

“Liz?”

“Hmmm?”

His breathing was already ragged, and she smiled to herself.

“I was sort of rough with you before. You don’t think . . . I mean, we didn’t hurt the baby, did we?”

When, she wondered, would that sweet, soft innocence stop surprising her? “No, Max. Baby Evans is well protected in there.”

He stilled and she looked up at him, struck by the wonder she found there.

“Baby Evans.” His smile crept slowly wider. “I still can’t believe it. I hope she looks like you.”

“I hope he looks like you,” she countered, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Or maybe there’ll be one of each.”

Laughter caught in her throat as his eyes widened. She was pretty sure he wasn’t breathing.

“Twins?”

Now the laughter burst forth. “I’m teasing, Max. No twins in our family history, although it comes down through the father, I think. How about your family?”

“No.”

“Then I’d say we’re safe. Anyway, we’ll know as soon as I start seeing a doctor in San Diego.”

“Right.”

The stunned expression lingered until Liz pushed him gently back onto the pillows and began to slide her body across his. There was no part of him she wasn’t eager to taste, tease, tantalize. Their first lovemaking had been turbulent and frantic, a natural expression of pent-up need and longing. But this, this time she would take time, and give to him whatever she could. Their scales weren’t balanced by a long shot. He had done the lion’s share of the giving in this relationship, and knowing that shamed her. It wouldn’t be that way anymore.

She began with his face, pouring herself into kisses that stole their breath and sent their hearts racing. Then, with her hands pressing gently against his arms to keep him still, she began a torturous journey down his body, thinner than she remembered, yes, but still powerful and sexy to her. She took her time licking and nipping at his throat and listened to his breath come in short, impatient puffs—a cadence she mimicked to shower kisses down to his chest, where his nipples hardened instantly under her tongue.

She felt his arms start to come around her, but she pressed against them harder. Her goal was to make him mad with wanting her, and she’d settle for nothing less. Still straddling him, she slithering erotically down his body, shivering with anticipation as the hard, hot length of him left a damp trail up her abdomen and between her breasts. Tempted to give them what they both wanted, she hesitated, ran a tongue over his tip and was rewarded with a harsh, ragged gasp. Not yet, she decided, enjoying being in control—a rare treat when you were with Max.

He groaned in protest when she began to nibble at his tender inner thigh, writhing beneath her and trying again to reach for her. She felt her own need begin to throb and found it all the harder to deny them both, and yet all the more rewarding, too. This skin, so soft and vulnerable, made her think of that sheltered part of his soul, as well. He was tender and strong, sweet and tough, soft and hard. She took another long taste of the smooth flesh before succumbing to the ache that pulsed ever more insistently inside her.

He was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and she felt the barely restrained energy vibrating through him like a violin string. It was time. Her lips slid like silk over his length, and she felt his hips thrust forward involuntarily. The answering move of her own hips had them both moaning, and that sent a new vibration rumbling through him until he arched off the bed.

“Liz!”

If she had wanted him desperate and mindless, she had succeeded. With one swift move, he dragged her up, crushed her mouth to his and sheathed himself inside her. Her body responded without a thought, setting a wild pace that had flesh and hearts pounding an erotic rhythm. When his mouth moved to her breast, she cried out and urged her body closer, climbing toward the oneness that she craved more than life.

Their explosion crashed through them, washing their minds clear of anything but the love that had brought them here. Straining against each other, ever closer, ever closer, they cherished each jolt, each spasm, each wave until they ebbed into a spent tangle of arms and legs. Two long, ragged sighs floated through the air with their contentment. And they slept.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Carol000
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Post by Carol000 » Sat Mar 19, 2005 10:54 pm

Part 24

The kiss brought him layer by dreamy layer from the depths of sleep. He dreamt at first it was Liz, blossoming with their first child and more beautiful with it every day. She was murmuring something against his mouth, but he couldn’t quite make it out. Something about “late.” Too late? What was too late?

He reached for her, ran a hand down the fullness of her hoping to feel the baby kick, but the stomach was flat and firm, and he felt little seeds of panic begin to grow. Flailing to a sitting position, he grabbed her.

“Liz! Where’s the baby?”

“Right where he’s supposed to be, silly.” She took his hand and placed it on her naked abdomen, pressed her hand over his. “He’s fine, Max. You must have been dreaming.”

It all came flooding back, and he smiled at her sheepishly. “Sorry, I was dreaming you were almost ready to deliver, and then I touched you and there was no baby.” He took a deep cleansing breath. “Sorry.”

Liz studied him. He’d been frantic to think something had happened to this baby. It’s not that she hadn’t believed he was excited before. She did. But to see him panic over the baby’s loss was, well, endearing. And very convincing. He wanted this so much, and so did she. They were incredibly lucky.

“I want to thank you, Max. I don’t know how you managed it, but this time together was just what we needed, and I only just noticed the flowers and champagne.”

She watched him frown for just a moment, then his eyes lit. “Right! I almost forgot.” He ran a finger down her cheek and glanced over at the deep coral roses on the bureau. “I wanted red, but I had to leave it to the hotel management to get them here. I guess they screwed up.”

He stood and pulled a single rose from the vase and offered it to her.

“Max.” Liz rose to her knees on the bed. “These are gorgeous. Simply stunning. Red roses have never been my favorite. I always thought yellow were the prettiest, but I was wrong. These are my new favorite.”

He beamed at her. “Then I owe them for screwing up.”

She climbed off the bed, took the rose from him and inhaled its fragrance, then wound her arms around his neck. “I can’t drink the champagne, but it was a sweet thought. Thank you.”

The kiss heated quickly, and she felt him harden against her. “Max, we can’t. It’s late. That’s what I was trying to tell you. We’re due at my parents in a half-hour, and if we’re not on time, I swear they’ll come here and find us. I can’t believe they waited all afternoon as it is.”

“Late.” He sighed with regret. “Okay.” But he didn’t release her. “It’s not champagne, by the way. It’s sparkling grape juice. I think the guy downstairs thought I was a cheapskate, but I knew you couldn’t have the alcohol.”

“You’re . . . amazing.” She kissed him again, and the heat erupted a second time, spontaneously firing from within and licking its flames across every nerve. She felt as if sparks were snapping from every cell his fingers touched, and she pulled him backwards until they fell on the bed. This constant need for him would probably settle eventually, but for now, she couldn’t stand not to be touching him.

“Now,” she gasped, and he plunged into the fire. They lasted only seconds before the world went red. When the smoke cleared, they struggled to catch their breath and grinned foolishly.

“I guess we’re going to have to expect that for a while,” Liz chuckled. “I can’t seem to get enough of you.”

“That’s just what I was going to say,” he smiled, bending to suck gently on the wild pulse in her throat.

“Don’t,” she sighed, squeezing him inside her and feeling him respond. “We have to get ready.”

“Give me a minute,” he mumbled against her throat, “and I can be ready again.”

Now she laughed out loud and smacked at his shoulder. “Let me up, you big brute. It’s time for you to experience a Parker Christmas Eve. I hope you’re ready.”

With one more loud kiss, Max lifted himself from her. “Amateurs, I’m sure, compared to Vicki. She’s the Christmas Queen. I bet she even has a present for you.”

Liz froze. “Max, I don’t have presents for anyone but my folks, and I only have that because I had an inspiration weeks ago.” She looked pained and he shook his head.

“No one will expect you to, Liz. You had no idea my family would be here.”

“Max, I have nothing for you.”

Now he smiled and cupped her face with his palms. “Yes, you do. You’ve given me a child. I don’t think even you will ever top that.”

For the umpteenth time, she felt the warmth of his joy rush through her. “Max, let’s not tell anyone—at least not until tomorrow. I want this to be just for us a little longer.”

He rested his forehead against hers. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder as he tenderly lifted her from the bed and headed toward the bathroom. “Given the time constraints,” he said seriously, “I think we’d better take our showers together.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea, Max?”

“Best idea I ever had,” he nodded.

He was true to his word—it was a very good idea.

******
“Liz! Oh, Liz!” Nancy threw her arms around her daughter and clung, while Jeff pulled them both into a bear hug. Max was getting a similar treatment from his parents, but they had to compete with C.J. and Brittany, who were impatient for their uncle’s attention. Max looked over his father’s shoulder at Vicki and Mike, who sat wedged into an overstuffed chair with Austin. He mouthed a thank you to his sister, who only nodded a teary you’re welcome.

“And Liz,” Diane managed after finally releasing Max. “It’s so wonderful to see you again. Philip, come meet Liz.”

Philip held out his hand, and was touched when Liz bypassed it to offer him a hug. She was a tiny thing, like Vicki, and he wrapped her up easily.

“My son was desperate to get here. Now I can see why.” He spoke softly so only she could hear, and she found herself tearing up instantly.

“Thank God he did,” she whispered.

Having bonded with only a few words, they pulled apart and shared a genuine smile.

“Hi, I’m Vicki, Max’s sister,” Vicki teased, and Liz knew immediately Max had spoken with her before they left the hospital. The embarrassment flooded her face, but Vicki laughed and hugged her. “Don’t worry. I understand completely. I’m the only woman of our generation on the planet who wouldn’t be a fool not to go for Max.”

Liz burst out laughing and felt like she’d already made a friend. “You’re right. Guess I’m the lucky one.”

“I guess you are,” Vicki agreed. “This is my husband, Mike, and the newest member of the family, Austin.”

Liz had just reached for the sleeping bundle, catching Max’s eye in a private moment of wonder, when Nancy began to play hostess.

“You’re late,” Nancy scolded, “so you two don’t get a before-dinner drink. We’re ready to eat.”

Max and Liz exchanged a secret smile and let themselves be led in to dinner. The seating arrangement became a hot debate when Max and Liz began to sit side-by-side at one end of the table, much to the disappointment of C.J. and Brittany.

“But I always sit by Uncle Max on Christmas Eve,” C.J. complained in his most insistent 6-year-old voice. “He tells me stuff about jets and battles and stuff.”

Vicki narrowed her eyes speculatively at her brother, who shrugged, all innocence.

“If C.J. gets to, then so do I,” demanded Brittany, not to be outdone by her brother, despite being only 4.

There was a suspended moment of indecision before Liz spoke. “Then you should sit by him,” she announced. “After all, I had him all afternoon, so it’s your turn.”

The double entendre had Vicki and Mike grinning and the parents busily rearranging silverware or studying the festive napkin rings.

“Yes, well, you heard Liz,” Diane said. “C.J., you sit here, and Brittany can sit here. Max, no war stories,” she warned, and rolled her eyes at the wink he threw his nephew.

Satisfied, C.J. climbed onto the chair and began battering his uncle with questions. “Were you really a prisoner? Did they torture you?”

“C.J.!” Vicki’s expression held no humor now. “It’s Christmas Eve, and we will not speak of torture. And no, of course they didn’t.” She wasn’t entirely sure it was true, but she couldn’t bear to think of it, let alone have her 6-year-old picture such things. Though her parents had reassured her that Max had not been abused, per se, she wasn’t sure he’d been completely truthful with them. The very thought broke her heart.

Max read her easily and turned to C.J., making sure his voice could be heard by everyone. “No, C.J., I wasn’t tortured. The people I lived with were different from us, but they were good people. I’ll tell you about it sometime, but not now, okay?”

His eyes flickered toward Liz, then Vicki, and he saw they wanted to believe, but weren’t convinced. He would have to address that soon.

“So can I see your uniform while we’re here, Uncle Max? And why are you dressed like Grandpa?”

Max almost choked on his coffee as he lifted horrified eyes to Jeff Parker. “I’m not dressed like anyone, C.J. I’m just not wearing my uniform today.”

But it was too late. Vicki was giggling, Liz was grinning, Mike was smirking, and Jeff was . . . laughing?

“Well, C.J.,” Jeff explained, “your uncle didn’t have any clean clothes after his long trip, so I bought him some. I guess I didn’t think about younger fashions. I’m your Grandpa’s age, so I guess I bought him grandpa clothes, huh?”

“Sure did,” C.J. nodded. “Looks funny on him.”

Now everyone was laughing except Brittany, who climbed into Max’s lap. “I like grandpa clothes,” she assured him, snuggling comfortably. “Besides, you can save these for when you’re a grandpa.”

The food and the atmosphere were both warm as the meal began.

******
The original portion of the small church was a century old, with precious stained glass adding rich color to the sanctuary. Packed this night, with folding chairs in the aisles and across the back, families jostled into place, settling down excited little ones as the oldest generation looked on with pride. The Parkers and Evanses—a compatible Methodist and Lutheran—had easily laid the groundwork for the family they would become. They already looked like one family as they filled two rows of aging pews.

Truth be told, it had been months since either Max or Liz had been in a church, but once inside, it felt right. This time, Max and Liz held firm on sitting together, and they held hands as the Christmas story was told, its miracle more meaningful than ever to the two who held a new life in their hearts. Max found himself praying with new faith and new purpose, and Liz let herself be carried on a wave of humility and gratitude for blessings she’d never imagined. As little Austin dozed in her arms, she watched the funny little expressions that crossed his face, smiled at the jerky hand movements that made her wonder what an infant dreamed about.

Max released her free hand and slid his arm around her to bring her closer—it was never close enough—and imagined what it would mean to see Liz holding their child in a few months. It was an overwhelming image, and in spite of the setting, he leaned over and placed a light kiss on her head. She glanced up and beamed at him. It just didn’t get any better than this.

Max had hoped to return to the hotel right after church, but Liz had warned him about Parker traditions. Jeff had pared down his long list in deference to their company, but he wasn’t willing to let go of one special tradition, and it had the full support of the youngest generation: everyone got to open one gift before bed.

Brittany went first, opening her Dora the Explorer “Big Sister Dora” DVD with a delighted kiss to Austin’s tummy, and C.J. ripped into his gift, the Shrek 2 DVD, which he begged to watch then and there. Settling for a promise of a Christmas Day viewing, he climbed on his father’s lap to watch the grown-ups.

Nancy gaped over a reservation for a week in a San Diego resort where they could visit Liz and play at the ocean at the same time. Jeff oohed and aahed over new golf clubs. They were about to give Liz a gift when Vicki spoke up.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to give Max and Liz my gifts tonight. I think they’d rather have them sooner rather than later. Is that all right?”

Jeff frowned momentarily, but relaxed with a smile. “I don’t see why not. The tradition is for one gift; we’ve never specified from whom. I guess we’ll have to make some adjustments now, won’t we?”

“I . . . I don’t have gifts for everyone,” Liz apologized, remembering Max’s prediction that Vicki would already have a gift for her. The unanimous reassurances that none were expected didn’t assuage the guilt she felt as she reached for the bow, but Max’s hand on her back rubbed gently, and she reminded herself that watching someone open a gift you’d bought for them was the best part of Christmas. She was willing to bet they felt the same way.

“You might want to open that one later,” Vicki advised.

“Oh, no,” Jeff objected. “Watching the gifts get opened is the fun part.”

Unaware of Vicki’s uneasy glance at her husband, Liz carefully unwrapped her gift, hesitating when she saw the Victoria’s Secret logo. “Ah . . . maybe Vicki’s right, Dad.”

Unable to see the box from his vantage point on the couch, Jeff blithely insisted. “You know the rules, Liz. Let’s see what we’ve got.”

Cautiously, Liz pulled back the tissue to reveal a flyaway babydoll in black satin. She knew without touching it that it was sinfully soft and sinfully scanty. She felt Max’s hand tighten at her back and her own skin tingled with expectation. The two of them were in a very satisfying “insatiable” stage right now; this was going to drive Max right over the edge.

She realized her expression had darkened into seductive instead of appreciative, and she forced it into an innocent smile. “Vicki, it’s beautiful. Thank you.”

Her plan was to close the box quickly, but Brittany was lightening fast, darting across the room to pull it from its box. “What is it?” she wanted to know, waving the tiny bra from which a short fall of satin parted in a wide inverted vee. Only the skimpy thong still lay in the box, stark against the white tissue paper. Liz could feel the heat rising in her face.

Max’s cough was a thin disguise for laughter, and Mike tried to cover up a strangled
groan by clearing his throat. Philip was trying hard to look nonchalant, and Jeff went just a little pale. The men’s expressions made it all the harder for the women to hide their amusement.

Grabbing the scrap of material from Brittany, Liz groped for dignity. “Brit, why don’t you help Uncle Max with his present?”

Happily distracted by yet another gift, the small girl sat in her uncle’s lap and unwrapped his present, looking more than a little disappointed at the jeans and black faux-suede sweatshirt. Max, however, was delighted, thankful for a change of clothes he hadn’t yet had time to arrange for.

“Thanks, Vic. Mike. These are great. I’ll wear them tomorrow.”

Philip and Diane, new to this tradition, announced their gift to each other of a getaway to Hawaii in late winter, and Mike and Vicki pretended to be surprised when C.J. and Brittany, prancing with excitement, offered their gifts—school photos preserved in kitchen magnets.

As cozy as all this was, Max was itching to leave. He’d been anxious before, but having seen Liz’s gift, he was battling a physical reaction that could only embarrass everyone if he didn’t keep control. It was just like Vicki—she of the satin sheets—to give Liz a gift like this. He knew it was more a gift for him, and one more step in his sister’s plan to get her brother married off and settled down. Little did she know that her goal had been accomplished long before—at least unofficially.

“Read us a story!” Brittany demanded, running toward her uncle with a book. “Rudolph!” She began to climb into his lap, but he snatched her up into the air, rattled by how close he’d come to having her settle against him with one of those overtly honest questions 4-year-olds ask. Before he could come up with a lame excuse for not reading, Vicki saved him, barely suppressing a chuckle.

“If you want Santa to come, we have to get to bed, sweetheart. Daddy’s got your coat, so find your shoes and let’s go.”

Brittany pouted, but couldn’t think of a rebuttal. After all, she knew Santa really wouldn’t come until she was asleep. With a reluctant hug for her uncle and his nice girlfriend, she slumped off.

“I’d say thanks, Vic, but you started the trouble in the first place,” Max grinned.

“No, Liz did,” she winked. “I just helped.”

The close call got him through the goodbyes and the promise to return early in the morning. Small children on Christmas morning were not known for patience, they reminded him. He watched Liz tuck her gift box under her arm, and beat back the images for a few more tense minutes. It was going to be quite a night.

******

"If those are the gifts your parents exchange on Christmas Eve, I hate to think what's coming tomorrow," Max commented as he dug out the room key.

"Worried about my expectations?" Liz teased, slipping her arms around him from the back. “You can relax. They always give the best gift on Christmas Eve; that way, it stands out and gets the most attention. Besides, I have a feeling they have fun thanking each other after everyone else is asleep.” Her hands dipped low and he dropped the key card.

"If you want to get in here tonight," he hissed, "stand back for 5 seconds. You're distracting as hell."

"Sorry,” she apologized, not sorry in the least. “Maybe I should help." Ducking under his arm, she retrieved the key from the floor, making a point to wiggle her butt up against him. He jerked upright and swore, but before he could exact revenge, she escaped into the room. "Already primed, huh, flyboy?"

The morning had been emotional and poignant, the afternoon romantic and sexy, and the evening loving and warm. Now Liz was ready to play, and the impish look in her eye warned him he'd better be on his toes.

"Be careful who you taunt, woman," he challenged. "I can take you with my eyes closed--in more ways than one."

She eyed him provocatively, ran a hand up her torso and across one breast. ”We’ll see who takes whom.”

With a flip of her hair, Liz walked with her gift box into the bathroom and closed the door. Max stared at it, unseeing, for a long moment, letting himself imagine what was behind that door . . . what would come out of it. Then, jerking himself back to reality, he set his watch alarm, and turned to take the tags off his new clothes. No matter what Liz had in mind for him tonight—and he could barely think beyond that—he had a plan of his own, and if he didn’t make his preparations now, he wouldn’t get another chance.

He’d barely finished his phone call and hung up his clothes when the door opened behind him. Afraid to look and desperate to look, he turned around. It was like getting slammed in the chest with a wrecking ball. His vision narrowed until all he could see was the vixen that glided slowly toward him, almost naked hips swaying seductively, almost covered breasts spilling erotically. Her tiny waist appeared and disappeared from within the wisp of satin and her lithe arms stretched upwards so that her hands could finger-comb the thick curtain of shining dark hair. Already hard, he began to throb, almost painfully. He couldn’t breathe or swallow or move. He wondered briefly if he might die. What a way to go.

She raked her eyes down his body, staring at the evidence that she was having the desired effect. “Have a seat,” she instructed, indicating the lone chair. “It’s time to unwrap your Christmas present.”

He may have told her earlier that their baby was the best gift he would ever receive, but that thought didn’t enter his mind now. In fact, no thought entered his mind. He didn’t even move to the chair, but stared, slack-jawed, at his living fantasy. Delighted with his reaction, Liz took his hand and led him to the chair.

Once he was seated, she bent toward him, knowing the vee in the lingerie would widen and her modest breasts would develop never-before-seen cleavage. One worked with what one had, she decided, and what she had was rendering her lover speechless, so she wouldn’t complain. Running her hands up his chest, he finally looked up at her face. His mouth worked, as if he meant to speak, but no sound came out. Perfect.

Sliding around behind him, she cradled his head between her breasts and reached down to pull the sweater over his head, then bent again to unbutton his shirt. Between buttons, she took time to run her hands over his chest, teasing his nipples and nibbling his ear. She could feel his heart racing under her hands and wondered why she’d never done this before—seduced the man she loved with no holds barred. She reluctantly acknowledged that it was she who had always held just a little of herself back from him, but no more. Now she was ready to abandon that shield of caution. Now she could revel in the heady freedom to give of herself without reservation.

When his shirt was off, she felt him emerging from his initial shock. She knelt in front of him and reached for his pants zipper, aroused when she felt the heat even through the layers of fabric. His hands came down to hers and she looked up at him.

“You’re a vision,” he breathed. “The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

He was absolutely sincere, she could tell as he held her gaze, and she lost her seductive edge for just a moment, struck by the love she saw there. But when his eyes flicked down to her breasts again, she felt the sexy thrill return, and vowed to make the most of it.

When he lifted his hips to help her slip the khakis down, she took his breath away by slipping her lips around him; his strangled gasp was music to her ears.

“Liz! I can’t! Baby, I won’t last!”

With a dangerous swirl of her tongue, she rose. “You’ll last,” she murmured against his mouth. “Stay here.”

Unsure of himself, and teetering on the brink of a climax he was resisting bitterly, he stayed where he was, eyes widening as Liz crawled onto the bed—the thong hiding nothing of the spectacular rear view—and turned to face him on her knees.

“Do you love me, Max?”

His throat was dry and constricted. “Yes.”

“Do you want me, Max?”

His heart pounded relentlessly against his ribs. “Oh, god, yes!”

“What do I do to you?” She slid her hands down her body. “Tell me how I make you feel.”

He only gaped as her hands traveled places he wanted to touch, to taste, to devastate.

“It’s a simple question, Max.” Her hands roamed to her breasts and sweat prickled on the surface of his skin. “I mean, I know I’m not voluptuous like Jesse or statuesque like Svea, so it’s a fair question.” Now one hand stroked her inner thigh. “It makes a girl wonder if she can make a man want her.” Fingers disappeared beneath the small triangle of satin.

He was out of the chair and across the room before she could react. “You’re playing with fire now, Liz,” he warned. He hardly knew what to devour first—her lips, her breasts . . . no, she had driven him to the edge, and by god, he would take her with him.

It was a small matter to dispense with the flimsy thong and drive his tongue towards his heart’s desire. When his mouth teased at her tight curls, he heard her moan and felt her fingers press against his head, pushing him insistently toward her center. She wasn’t all seductress, after all, he realized. She had been working herself to a peak as she’d driven him crazy. Knowing that restored a degree of control, and he resolved to fight fire with fire.

He obliged her to a point, parting her folds and tasting her with slow, languorous strokes. She was heavenly—there was still a hint of their afternoon loving, combined with her own sweet fragrance and the sexy musk of her juices flowing liberally. It made him dizzy with wanting her.

“Max! Please!”

Half an inch. He moved his attention just half an inch and within seconds he could feel the rhythmic spasm rip through her, felt the flood of release. He nearly came with her, gritting his teeth against the urge.

He crawled back up her body, mesmerized by the shattered look on her face, humbled by the near sob in her voice.

“Max. God, Max.”

He plunged into her, felt the spasms still rippling through her, and stilled, relishing the knowledge that he did this for her. She felt like warm honey around him, and he could have gladly stayed inside this heavenly haven for the rest of his life. Seconds later, though, need returned to oust patience and reflection, and their two bodies found a new rhythm where love and lust created an explosion of feeling, bursting together in heart and body like fireworks.

Christmas had come, and with it, all they could have wished for.

*****

The surprise he’d planned was obviously going to take more convincing than Liz’s had the night before. His involved rising with the dawn, getting dressed, and going out into the cold. He could tell Liz was less than thrilled and more than a little confused.

“Maaaax,” she sighed from the bed as he dressed. “Come back to bed. It’s warm and I want to love you.”

An offer like that would have had him on his knees on any other day. She was tousled and warm and still wearing that sexy little thing Vicki had given her. But today he would not be deterred. Today there was something more important than climbing back into bed with the sexiest woman alive, not to mention the mother of his child. He still got a little euphoric jolt every time he thought about that.

“Come on, sleepyhead. We have something to do before Santa at the Parkers, and we don’t want to be late. C.J. will pitch a fit, and that’s something you don’t want to see.”

She moaned in protest, rolled over, and pulled the covers up over her head. He sighed and sat on the edge of the bed.

“I could just lift you out of this bed and take you down to my parents’ car like this.”

The covers whipped down, and she scowled at him. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would,” he explained patiently. “But my dad always keeps a blanket in the trunk, so you won’t freeze.”

She peered at him, as if measuring his resolve. It must have been convincing because she sat up with a huff. “It’s Christmas, and we don’t have to be at my parents for an hour and a half.”

“Just enough time, I think. Now go get dressed before I get distracted by that beautiful breast that’s fallen out of your top.”

Seeing a possible way out of Max’s early morning insanity, Liz smiled and pulled herself to her knees where the distraction was blatantly available. Weakening for a moment, Max sucked it in and almost lost site of his purpose, but then he was swinging Liz into his arms and depositing her in the bathroom.

“You have 20 minutes.” She was still scowling at him when he closed the door.

It was 25 minutes later when they finally left the room and made their way down to the Evans’s car—another loan since the Parkers had invited them to stay in Liz’s room, now that their daughter had made other, somewhat uncharacteristic, plans. Even at this hour, Liz had to smile as they walked out of the hotel entrance and into a breathtaking dawn. It reminded her of their runs along the beach in the early morning, and she felt a wonderful sense of peace.

“It’s beautiful,” she sighed, taking his hand in a gesture of reconciliation.

“Yes, it is. And so are you.”

“So are you going to tell me where we’re going?”

“Nope.”

“Max!”

“Patience, grasshopper. All will be clear in time.”

He knew she was enjoying the drive toward the east because her eyes never left the sky that morphed from deep hues of purple and gray to brilliant shades of orange and pink. He, too, enjoyed the amazing transformation, but his mind was focused elsewhere. He’d practiced this in his mind a thousand times—it would have stunned her to know how soon after they’d met he’d begun—but it was never perfect, and he desperately wanted it to be perfect. He realized it was foolish to be nervous. They’d talked about marriage. They were having a baby, for heaven’s sake. They loved each other beyond reason. So why were his hands sweating?

The directions had been remarkably good for a sleepy desk clerk, Max concluded gratefully. The lookout was spectacular, in spite of a low mist sitting on the lake water. That only gave the scene a feel of isolation and mystery. Not a bad deal, he thought. Rounding the car, he took Liz’s hand and ignored her bemused expression. They walked to the roped edge of the rock and looked out as Max wrapped Liz up in his arms, her back to his front.

“It’s beautiful, Max. I haven’t been here in years.”

“It was recommended,” he told her, and had her turning to look at him.

“By whom? For what?”

Max sighed, said a prayer, and sought the words he’d tried to memorize so many times, but they wouldn’t come. His heart seemed to be pulling rank with a few thoughts of its own.

“Liz, my heart has always been my own. No one outside my immediate family has ever claimed a part of it. I used to think it was a flaw in me, but now I know differently. I was waiting for you, Liz, because you are the only person I was meant to love. Somehow I knew that right from the start.”

He had expected to have to quiet her, to ask for her patience in letting him get this out, but she stood quietly, tears already gathering in the corners of her eyes. Somehow it reassured him.

“We’ve had our share of hurtles to climb in our short relationship, but what I realized is that no matter what came our way, we found our way through it together. The answer to every problem was each other. That sounds like a good plan for a lifetime, Liz. Climbing those hurtles and finding those answers, all without ever looking further than us.

“It’s important to me that you understand something before I ask you the most important question of my life. This has nothing to do with our having a baby. I mean, it does, but only because that baby is the product of all the rest—the love, the commitment, the certainty that we’re meant to be together. What I’m saying is, I would be asking you this even if we weren’t having a baby, okay?”

Now the tears were falling freely down her face, but she nodded, never taking her eyes from his.

“And this isn’t because we have incredible sex, either—although I’m not sure it’s possible to have sex like that without the love to go with it. This is about you and me, loving each other more than anything or anyone else in the world. This is about sharing our lives, knowing that even when things are rough, we have each other.”

He knew it was a little hokey, but he only planned to do this once, and by god, he would do it right. Fishing the small box from his pocket, he dropped to one knee and had Liz pressing a trembling hand to her mouth.

“Liz, I will love you, care for you, and be there for you every day of my life. I’ll love our children and be the best father I can possibly be. I need you in my life, Liz. Please, marry me.”

He opened the box, where a gleaming solitaire diamond, nestled in a fine silver filigree setting, twinkled up at her. Her hand shook, her breath hitched in quiet, uneven sobs, and she felt a fool for crying during the happiest moment of her life. She stared at him, at the ring, at him . . . wondering how she had ever considered, even for a second, turning away from the best thing that had ever happened to her. He was here—on one knee, she thought with a laugh that came out as another sob—offering her his life. She’d hoped . . . expected, if she were honest . . . that he would propose, and had even wondered if news of the baby would pressure him to do it soon—a fact that worried more than pleased her. She didn’t want him to be obligated or pushed into something that he might have been working up to more slowly. He’d referred to marriage in that distant, someday sort of way many times, but this . . . this was real. This was now. This was forever.

She’d stared at him so long, he actually felt his confidence dwindle.

“It was my grandmother’s,” he said, rushing to explain. “Mom brought it from home, just in case, and gave it to me last night, but . . . if you’d rather pick out something else . . .”

She fell to her knees and he had to brace himself against the onslaught.

“Yes, yes, yes!” She kissed him hard between each word, then wiped at the wet she’d left on his face. “Max, it’s a beautiful ring. Just beautiful. But your grandmother’s ring? Are you sure?”

But he wasn’t hearing her. He was only holding onto the one thing that mattered, and her “yes” was resounding through his system like a bell. She’d said yes! She was his.

He let go of her so he could slip the ring onto her finger, then he touched his lips to it and met her eyes. Shining from them, like a beacon, was his future.
Last edited by Carol000 on Sun Mar 20, 2005 11:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Carol000
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Post by Carol000 » Sat Mar 26, 2005 10:52 pm

A moment of personal reflection, if you'll indulge me: ILLINOIS just came back to beat Arizona in overtime in one of the most amazing basketball games ever played!!! :shock: :D :!: As fans, we despaired, then almost accepted what seemed inevitable. But the players never did. I'm completely drained! Whew! The coach wasn't the only one in tears when it was over.

Okay, back to THIS reality.

Can I ever say thank you enough to the many wonderful readers here, and esp. the feedbackers (DreamToo, you continue to amaze me) who have shared their emotional reactions all along? Once again, you've been right there with Max and Liz, feeling what they feel and cheering them on. You're the greatest.

A couple people have asked how much longer this fic will go on. Right now, I believe there are three chapters left after this one, so by the end of April, Freefall will be complete.

Okay, everyone . . . Merry Christmas!

From Part 24

She’d stared at him so long, he actually felt his confidence dwindle.

“It was my grandmother’s,” he said, rushing to explain. “Mom brought it from home, just in case, and gave it to me last night, but . . . if you’d rather pick out something else . . .”

She fell to her knees and he had to brace himself against the onslaught.

“Yes, yes, yes!” She kissed him hard between each word, then wiped at the wet she’d left on his face. “Max, it’s a beautiful ring. Just beautiful. But your grandmother’s ring? Are you sure?”

But he wasn’t hearing her. He was only holding onto the one thing that mattered, and her “yes” was resounding through his system like a bell. She’d said yes! She was his.

He let go of her so he could slip the ring onto her finger, then he touched his lips to it and met her eyes. Shining from them, like a beacon, was his future.


Chapter 25

Liz was grateful that Max was driving because she couldn’t take her eyes off the ring. It was beautiful, certainly, and just the kind of thing she might have picked out if she’d been lucky enough to find anything with that kind of unique workmanship. But it wasn’t the ring itself that had her staring; it was what it represented. She looked over at Max and found him smiling at her. Her smile came quickly.

“I didn’t know you 6 months ago,” she said. “I can’t remember what that was like.”

Relaxed now, Max reached for her hand. “It was dull, sad, and boring. It was a life on hold, waiting for love. It was . . .”

“Stop!” Liz’s laughter was the best Christmas music, he thought. “I was not so pathetic as all that,” she protested, “and I think I was pretty happy.”

“Only because you didn’t know what you were missing,” he insisted, bringing her hand to his lips.

True enough, she admitted to herself. Life without Max was unthinkable to her now.

“Maybe.” But her radiant smile told him she was as happy as he, and he thought if he could ever freeze a moment in time, it would be this one. And yet, there were so many more to come now that she had agreed to marry him. He wouldn’t want to miss even one.

“The family will go crazy,” he said, another grin splitting his face. “You just know Vicki and Mom, at least, will be looking for it, since Mom gave it to me last night.”

“If you didn’t know she was bringing it, then this proposal was sort of a whim?” She enjoyed teasing him, but couldn’t quite suppress the niggling doubt that he’d rushed this because of the baby or family expectations.

He read her like a book. Steering the car to the side of the road, he stopped; his tone wasn’t teasing when he answered her, nor his eyes playful when he looked at her.

“Liz, it was always understood that if and when I wanted to marry, that ring was mine for the asking. True, in my rush to get to you, I hadn’t asked Mom to bring it, but she knew you were the one, and brought it with her so I would have it whenever I was ready.”

He took her hand and squeezed. “I was ready, Liz. I’ve been ready for some time. I was just waiting for you to catch up.”

It was easy to believe him. How could she not when he looked at her with those rich amber eyes filled with love and intense sincerity? It was obviously important to him that she accept what he’d said, and she found that she could without a qualm.

“I’m ready, too.” She touched his cheek. “Thanks for waiting.”

The intensity eased into a smile, and he kissed her.

“How will your parents react?” he asked, pulling back onto the road.

“Mom will cry and Dad will act all tough because you’re taking his little girl away from him. At least that’s how he’ll see it at first. Then he’ll see how happy I am and cave like house of cards.” It warmed her to think of it. “But Max, maybe we shouldn’t say anything right away. I don’t want to take away from the kids’ Christmas by one-upping Santa Claus.”

Max thought about that with a frown. “Yeah, I guess I see your point.” The frown flipped into a smile. “Besides, it’ll drive Mom and Vicki up the wall, wondering if I asked you, or why I didn’t, or if you said ‘not yet.’” He was warming to the idea. “It could be fun.”

Liz was laughing now. “You have a mean streak, Max. I don’t think I’ve seen that before.”

He winked at her. “It comes and goes.”

The Crashdown came into view, and they pulled into a parking space. “Here we go,” Max sighed, looking up at the Parkers’ windows. Then he turned to Liz and drew her into a long, tender kiss. “Merry Christmas, Liz.”

“It certainly is,” she breathed when he released her. “Let’s go see what Santa’s been up to.”

******
“Finally!” C.J. shouted, caught between irritation at his uncle and anticipation of the gifts that spilled from under the tree in bright red and white paper. “We thought you’d never get here!”

“Sorry, pal,” Max apologized, tousling his nephew’s hair. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

Willing to ponder that possibility later, C.J. tugged Max into the living room, where Brittany sat staring at the mound of gifts.

“I’m not sure where to start,” she said seriously, as if she’d been working on a master plan for some time. “Maybe just from the front. Or maybe the little ones first. C.J.? Wanna take turns?”

“Okay.” He dropped down next to her, unaware of the speculative glances being traded over his head by the adults who had no doubt noticed Liz’s bare ring finger. Max had not shared his plans, but they had half expected her to be wearing the diamond this morning, and found themselves nervously curious that it wasn’t there.

Max, very aware of the questions flying silently around the room, pulled Liz into his lap and watched his niece and nephew rip into their first gifts.

“Next year, we’ll have Santa gifts, too,” Liz whispered into his ear, and had him grinning. He kept the kiss light, but his mind was racing at what the new year would bring.

After the windfall of toys, games, and new clothes had left Brittany and C.J. glowing, they took a break for Christmas brunch, and Liz realized she was starving. With all the excitement, emotion, and physical activity—she was still tingling—she’d worked up quite an appetite. There were still meaningful looks bulleting between family members as the drinks were poured and the special egg and sausage casserole and homemade sticky buns were brought to the table, but Max and Liz were content to let them fly. The time wasn’t right. Not yet.

“So, C.J.,” Max began. “How about you and I take in a Padre’s game on your next visit? Just the two of us. I have a friend who can get us box seats, and maybe we can even hustle an autograph or two.”

C.J.’s eyes were wide and fixed on Max. “For real? Just us?” Doing something alone with Uncle Max seemed to be even more appealing than the box seats and autographs, and Liz realized Max had been practicing at fatherhood for some time.

“Sure,” he said in his best man-to-man tone. “Unless it’s okay for Dad to come. You know, just the men.”

C.J. swallowed loudly. He was one of the “men” now? This was huge.

“I want to be one of the men,” Brittany said with a scowl.

“Oh, honey,” Vicki said with a roll of her eyes, “don’t wish that for a minute. Tell you what, we can go to the game, too, but it’ll be just the women, okay? That’s so much better, trust me. Or we can pick something else, like going for a boat ride.”

Living in Florida had instilled Brittany with an instant love of water. If it was something you could do in the water, she wanted to be a part of it. At the suggestion, her face lit up like the Christmas tree in the next room. “A boat ride?”

Brother and sister began a debate over the relative coolness of both options and slid from their seats to take it into the next room, where they could stand toe to toe and argue. Mike just shook his head.

“Thanks, Max. I’ll remember this if you ever have kids.”

Max felt his heart skip a beat and forced himself not to look at Liz. That one look, he knew, would give away the whole story, and he wanted to wait just a little while longer.

Liz was reaching for a third serving when she caught Max’s amused smile from behind his orange juice. She drew her hand back self-consciously when the implication of what she was doing hit home. She wasn’t one for eating much, and Max knew it. Was there really something to this “eating for two” thing? She didn’t think the baby needed that much just yet. She was definitely going to have to see a doctor as soon as they returned to San Diego.

Round two of Christmas gift-giving began with a high-end digital camera for Liz from her parents and a golf weekend for Mike from his pleased wife—he was incredibly hard to buy for. Nancy and Jeff were beside themselves with the certificate for a hot air balloon ride from Liz; they had always talked about doing it, but had never actually arranged for it. Liz was delighted that the one gift she had with her was a huge success.

But it was Vicki who was speechless with pleasure when she opened her gift—a course at the Florida Culinary Institute. That would cost more than money; it would cost Mike countless hours of single parenting, but he knew she wanted to open a bakery someday, and this was his way of showing support. It made Liz smile to see them kiss so sweetly after years of marriage and three children. It was a good omen.

The last gift of the day was unexpected, though its monetary value was minimal.

“Max, Jeff and I want you to have this.” Nancy handed him a flat box, which he accepted graciously, trying to remember that his lack of gifts for others was of no concern to these people. Still, he unwrapped the gift self-consciously. When he parted the tissue paper, though, he saw more than the gift; he saw the sentiment behind it. There in the box lay a beautiful photograph of Liz, looking delicate and dreamy, as if she were imagining a distant love. He’d seen that look on her face a time or two, and it always made him hold his breath in anticipation. He was impressed that a photographer had captured it.

“It’s . . . amazing. Such a beautiful expression.” He looked over at Liz who seemed almost surprised to see it.

“That one wasn’t posed,” Nancy said, remembering. “The photographer was changing film and Liz just got lost in thought. Instead of telling her he was ready, he saw that expression and just took it. When we saw the proofs, I had to have it. I’ve seen just that expression on her face from time to time, and it always makes me . . .” She shook herself. “Listen to me, just going on. We just thought you’d like to have it, Max.”

The photo, in a stone-effect frame, was more than a gift. It was a welcome. Touched, he carefully tucked the tissue paper back around it and set the box out of harm’s way.

“Thank you. This is . . . you couldn’t have given me a nicer gift. Thank you.”

“Your mother helped me find a frame that would suit your taste,” Nancy told him.

“It does, absolutely. This is great. But the picture . . . I didn’t have a good one.” He reached for Liz’s hand and smiled at her. Things with the families were going pretty darn well.

With all the gifts opened, the room was a wreck and its occupants tired but happy. It was time, Max knew, and Diane inadvertently gave them the perfect segue.

“I know you two didn’t have time to shop for each other,” Diane said to Max and Liz, who were nestled on the floor by the sofa, “but I’m sure just being together today is gift enough.”

Max pulled Liz closer still and smiled. “It is. The best I could have wished for.” He kissed Liz on the head. “Almost, anyway.”

Something about the tone, the twinkling eyes, the smug smiles had everyone watching expectantly. Liz turned to look up at Max. Their eyes met, and he nodded.

“Max and I actually did exchange gifts,” she began. “Before we came over.”

“You did?” Diane’s voice sounded just a little anxious.

“Max gave me this.” She dug for the ring in her pocket and slipped it on her finger.

The squeal came from Vicki. Tears in varying quantities erupted on cue from Diane and Nancy. There was even a sheen in Philip’s eyes as he hugged his future daughter-in-law and offered a handshake that slid into a hug to Max. Liz showed off the ring and they both accepted congratulations, hugs, and kisses. Jeff pulled his daughter into a long, crushing embrace that had them both tearing up. Already there was speculation about the best time for a wedding—fall, perhaps; it was so hot in summer. Or even next Christmas, when they could line the sanctuary with poinsettias and candles. Evening weddings could be so beautiful. Brittany caught on that she might somehow be involved with something special and began to bounce excitedly; C.J. tried to look happy, since the grown-ups did, but he didn’t really see the big deal. It seemed like a girly thing to him.

As the plans ricocheted around them, Max and Liz stood, serenely detached, watching. Finally, Nancy tilted her head at them.

“Well, for heaven’s sake. You already have your plans worked out, don’t you?” Nancy shook her head with a quick laugh. “Don’t pay us any mind; we’re just excited for you. Of course, whatever you’ve decided will be lovely, I know.”

“No one asked what Liz gave me,” Max pointed out, his face glowing with barely restrained excitement.

“I assumed it was a ‘yes.’” Diane said, pursing her lips. She knew when her son was bursting with news. It didn’t happen often.

“Liz, whenever did you have time to shop?” her mother asked.

Liz slipped her hand into Max’s and turned to face both families. “Well, Max was actually with me when I got this,” she began, and felt Max chuckle beside her. “We’re having a baby.”

Suspended animation was the best description she could come up with for the six adults who stared, gaping, at the newly engaged couple. As the silence wore on, Liz could feel herself getting defensive and a bit angry. Why didn’t they say something? But Max’s hand was tight around hers, and she knew without a doubt how he felt about it. That was all that mattered. That was all she needed to care about. Or so she told herself.

“Liz!” Nancy broke first, throwing her arms around her daughter. “But . . . are you all right? How do you feel? Is this why . . .?” She lifted Liz’s hand and looked at the ring.

“Before anyone says anything else,” Max announced, the commander back in his voice, “I have something to say. First, Liz and I are both ecstatic about this baby, and we hope you will be, too. Second, our engagement is not a reaction to news of the baby. We just found out yesterday. I’ve wanted to ask Liz to marry me since about a week after we met, and even told her as much before I left for Lebanon. I hoped Liz would wear my ring by Christmas long before either of us knew about the baby. And finally, although this may mean the wedding is earlier than it might have been, nothing could make me happier. Tomorrow’s not soon enough for me.”

He touched his lips to Liz’s, his heart so full, it ached. She was the one who needed to believe what he’d said. The rest was icing on the cake.

Her arms came around his neck, but not for long, because now the family was crowding them with another round of congratulations. Vicki kissed her brother, finally joining the brigade of tears.

“Well, when you finally do it, you don’t mess around,” she breathed, suddenly feeling sentimental after pushing her brother toward this day for years. “Liz, you have the best man in the whole world.”

“Ahem.” Mike gave her a teasing frown.

“Okay, one of the two best men in the whole world,” she laughed. “Take care of him. And believe me, that can be a tough job.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Liz sighed, giving Max a sidelong look. He was already off to one side with Jeff Parker, and Liz tensed. Her father was her protector, her champion, and she wasn’t sure what his first reaction might be to all this. As if cueing on Liz’s tension, the room fell silent.

“That’s my little girl over there,” Jeff was saying, and Liz bit off a sigh. She’d called that one. “She’s more precious to me than anything in the world outside my wife. You make sure you do right by her. And that child.”

Max caught Liz’s movement out of the corner of his eye, but only lifted a hand to stop her. This was something Max understood—the responsibility, the need to provide and protect. Even now, Liz might be carrying the daughter who would one day ask him to accept that she was about to spend her life with another man. He already didn’t like the feeling, and he hadn’t even met that daughter yet. He could only imagine the dichotomy of emotions that were coursing through Jeff Parker’s heart right now.

“Rest assured, Mr. Parker, that there is no higher priority in my life than Liz and this baby. They will be cared for and provided for, sir, every day of their lives. And they will never once have to wonder if they are loved.”

It was short and to the point, Jeff decided. And sincere, or he didn’t know anything about people, and he liked to think he knew a great deal. It wasn’t just food that made his business successful.

“Daddy?”

Liz had appeared at Jeff’s side, and he ached to hold her. She beat him to it, wrapping her arms around his waist.

“Daddy, you couldn’t have hand-picked a better man for me.” She looked into her father’s eyes. “I love him, Dad. He’s the one.”

Jeff looked hard at Max, who held his gaze steadily. This man had more than proven his feelings for Liz, and Liz seemed to return them in equal measure. There wasn’t much more he could ask, outside of keeping his little girl little, and that was just fatherly fantasy. Releasing her with one hand, Jeff offered it to Max, who shook it firmly.

“Welcome to the family, son.”

*****
It was late in the afternoon—after naps had been taken, videos watched, and walks enjoyed—when the whole group gathered again in the living room with the aroma of baked ham making mouths water. Several conversations were going on simultaneously as a football game hummed on the television.

“Oh, Max, I almost forgot,” Nancy said, rising to her feet and hurrying into the kitchen. She returned with a FedEx envelope. “This was delivered for you yesterday and I meant to give it to you then, but it slipped my mind.”

Max took the envelope from her and squinted at the return address. “O’Hara?”

“Frankie,” Liz smiled, and leaned in as Max pulled the zip string. Tilting the package, he caught a large red envelope in his hand.

“She overnighted a Christmas card?”

Pulling out the card, Max almost dropped the pieces that were tucked inside—a handwritten note and another envelope. Unfolding the single sheet of paper, Max scanned to the bottom. “It’s from Jeremy.”

Sir:

Frankie got me Liz’s address, so I hope this reaches you. I’m hopeful that you’re feeling stronger and that Liz is recovering. It’s about time you caught a break.

As we both know, a fair amount of surveillance and documentation of the rescue mission is routine, but I found out through a friend that among the photos taken were some of Rana. I know I wanted to have one, since I think she’s a large part of the reason our stay there wasn’t worse than it was, so I figured you’d like one, too. I got my hands on a few copies via email and printed them out for you.

Hope you’ll be back for New Year’s. The gang is planning one hell of a party.

Merry Christmas.

Jeremy


Max sat and stared at the unopened envelope. He wasn’t sure how he felt about seeing Rana’s picture. There were emotions there he couldn’t name, and that was a world away, a memory that had no place in the new life he’d come home to. And yet, the experience was a part of him. It had changed him in some small way. He just wasn’t sure he was ready to have that spill into this life.

Liz pulled the note from his hand, and he didn’t resist. Wasn’t it just yesterday Liz had said there would be no secrets, nothing unspoken between them? At the time, he had known how hard that was for her, but he had seen it as something she was struggling to change, not something that would challenge him. But he’d been wrong. Just as Liz once accused him of keeping his other military traumas to himself, here was another.

He raised his eyes to find a whole room of people watching him. His family. Her family. Their family. Maybe it was time to tell the story after all.

He opened the envelope, aware that his pulse had accelerated. Liz put a hand on his arm, and he looked at her. He could read her so well; she was ready, if he was, to know.

The pictures hit him . . . hard. Rana’s face looked back at him and for a few seconds, he was there, amidst the heat and the death and the loneliness. He didn’t realize he was trembling until Liz took his hand and the trembling slowed. He opened his eyes and saw Rana looking back. Her name was a whisper on his lips.

“You don’t have to do this now, Max,” Liz murmured. He’d gone pale and started to shake; he was scaring her. “It’s too soon.”

“No, now is the best time. You might as well all hear this. Then I only have to say it once.”

“Wait,” Vicki said. With strained enthusiasm, Vicki invited C.J. and Brittany to watch one of their new movies in another room. Brittany moved to follow her mother immediately, but C.J. held back, frowning at his Uncle Max. Then, in a move that touched everyone, he walked to his uncle, put his slender arms around his neck, and pressed his smooth cheek against his uncle’s rougher one. “It’ll be all right.”

Max grasped him fiercely and held on until he knew it was true. It would be all right.

With uncanny maturity, C.J. gave him one last look and followed his mother.

*****
There were three pictures. One was posed, Rana smiling into the camera like any woman enjoying her vacation. The other two were taken without her knowledge and spoke to who she was so much more poignantly. In the first, she was kneeling beside an older man who was clearly ill, stretched out on his pallet as Rana gave him water. Max had seen her do that a thousand times. He touched her image. She’d still been weak then, he remembered, as had he, yet she had reassured and tended those she saw as her responsibility. She had tended Jeremy . . . and him, when no one else saw them as her responsibility. He would never forget that.

The last photo took his breath away. This one had been taken without either of them knowing. It was that last day, their goodbye among the trees where they had thought themselves alone. Obviously, the photographer thought it suspicious when they’d disappeared into the woods. Somehow, Max felt violated, and yet the picture itself brought on a storm of emotion. They were staring at each other, almost like lovers about to kiss. He remembered how he had asked her if she would be all right, and she had told him to go to his woman and be happy. He had done just that. But how was she? Was she satisfied with her life now that the crisis was over?

Liz looked at the photo and watched Max’s face. If he hadn’t spent every second of the last day and a half declaring his love and pledging his faith, she would have been shaken by what she saw in the picture. This was more than captive and captor—even a benevolent one. This was a relationship. And although Liz could accept that Max cared about this woman, she also recognized the look in the woman’s eyes.

“She was in love with you.”

“Wha . . .?” Max looked up at Liz, confusion and alarm at war in his eyes. “No! No, it wasn’t like that. We became friends. I cared about her, but not like that, Liz. Never like that.”

“I know, Max. I believe that. I wasn’t talking about you, though. Look at her. That’s a woman in love.”

He studied Rana’s face, but couldn’t see what Liz thought she saw. It hadn’t been like that with them.

“I need to explain how it was. Right from the beginning.”

And he did, beginning with the ship, the doomed flight, the capture, and the camp fighting frantically for its very survival. He explained how Rana had cared for him and for Jeremy even when he was sure her father and Yavuz disapproved. He explained about how she took him to the waterfall and his discovery of the decomposing animals. Suddenly the kiss loomed in his mind, but he skipped it as insignificant. Why ask for trouble?

He instinctively softened the details of his treatment by Yavuz, but explained how they were taken to the caves when Rana fell ill, and how it was there they began to communicate in rusty French. He called her a survivor and a leader, and explained that she was betrothed to Yavuz and that they would lead their people when Adnan was unable.

“She was good and strong and compassionate.” Overcome, he held his head in his hands. “I wish to God I knew if she were all right. That Yavuz is as good a man as she believed.”

Sniffles punctuated the quiet as each person absorbed Max’s story. It had been less violent than they had imagined, but worse in other ways. Vicki wiped away a tear as she stared at the photo of Rana and Max together. “She’s you, Max.”

He lifted his head and peered at her. “What?”

“She’s you. The characteristics you admired in her, the things that made you care about her, are the ones you share, Max. ‘Good, strong, compassionate.’ Those are some of your best qualities. She knew what she had to do and she did it. That’s you, too. She never questioned it. It was simply her reality.”

Max mulled that over and saw some truth to what Vicki said. Perhaps that was the bond they shared. It was nice to think of it that way. It made him more confident that she was doing okay, as well. They were both survivors. He knew that first-hand.”

“Could be,” he conceded. “You see, Liz? There was no romance about it. It was more like two soldiers in a war.”

“No, Liz was right, Max. She was in love with you.”

She said it so matter-of-factly, he could only gape at her. “What the hell are you talking about? I just told you . . . “

“I’m not saying you loved her, Max, at least not romantically. I’m just telling you what I see. I’m not surprised you didn’t know. Men so rarely do.”

Ignoring the slightly offended looks exchanged among the other men in the room, Max looked helplessly back at Liz. “I swear, Liz . . .”

“It’s all right, Max. I’m not jealous, honestly. I believe you. I’m just glad someone was kind to you. I realize you weren’t in love with her, that you didn’t seduce her or even kiss her, but when I look . . .”

That flicker behind his eyes stopped her cold. “You did kiss her.” She took a deep breath. “I think you skipped that part.”

At war with himself, he stared. Nothing unspoken between us, Max.

“Once, just once, and it wasn’t because I wanted to, I swear. It was because she was about to scream, and I was already carrying her, so I couldn’t put my hand over her mouth, so I . . . kissed her, just to shut her up. God.”

His head was back in his hands, this time wondering how the story got twisted like this.

“How did she react, Max?”

“She didn’t react. She just quieted down until I could show her the carcasses. I just needed her to see what I’d found so she could convince her father to send some men up there to clean it up.” But he was remembering how her mouth softened under his, opened in invitation. He does not kiss as good as you. Surely that didn’t mean . . .

“She didn’t react?” Liz threw him a skeptical glance. “Oh, come on, Max. One kiss and I was in love, whether I admitted it or not. Those things are lethal.”

Caught off-balance, he stared at her. Gradually, it dawned on him. She was teasing him. He didn’t know whether to laugh or throttle her, but she was taking one of his most sensitive memories and teasing him with it. Already the family was relaxing a little. Vicki was smiling at him wickedly and Nancy Parker looked mildly curious.

“Very resourceful,” his father said, not even trying to keep the amusement out of his voice. Liz knew exactly what she was doing, he realized gratefully. In defusing an awkward situation, she was taking pressure off of him, though he knew he would revisit his guilt later. If Rana had loved him, he had to take some of the blame for aggravating what seemed to him a cruel fate.

“She cared for you,” Liz said softly, no teasing in her voice now. “She showed you compassion where there might have been none, and offered you friendship in the midst of despair. I’m grateful to her, Max. Impossibly grateful.”

Liz slid her arms around him and kissed his temple. “I know this was hard, Max, but thank you for trusting me. We can talk more whenever you want, but I need you to know that I understand. There’s nothing you can’t tell me. All right?”

Then she was in his lap and experiencing quite vividly how lethal his kisses could be.
Last edited by Carol000 on Sun Mar 27, 2005 8:43 am, edited 2 times in total.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Carol000
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Post by Carol000 » Sat Apr 02, 2005 11:10 pm

Part 26
It was good to be home. The weeks since Max left—even before, actually—had been a roller coaster of emotional lows and highs, but something about coming back, together, had life cruising on an even keel. Of course, most people wouldn’t have considered planning for a wedding and a baby to be an even keel, but compared to the last few weeks, it seemed like smooth sailing.

They had, it seemed, come home to a new world where it was easy to slip into sentences that started with “we” or “our.” And there was no pretense of their maintaining separate apartments; Max had simply suggested they use his apartment instead of Liz’s because of the view they both enjoyed, and Liz had nodded her agreement casually. It never occurred to them to wonder if they should move in together or how to adjust to this shared life. New routines just seemed to evolve naturally, and the inevitable bumps met with chuckles instead of chastisement. It felt . . . right.

The first couple of days were blissfully quiet; their friends were still with their families finishing up holiday visits, and it was easy to postpone any significant changes. Shortly before New Year’s, though, they acquiesced to the practical only to discover the obvious: two households don’t merge without a few hurtles . . . like space.

“We need a bigger place,” Max observed when only three trips up from Liz’s apartment had filled every spare inch of storage space.

Liz flopped down on the couch, blew the hair out of her face, and placed a protective hand over her abdomen. It was a natural gesture she was completely unaware of, Max realized with a smile. No one would be able to tell Liz was pregnant just by looking, but he knew, and the new habit charmed him.

“Tired?”

“No, just thinking. How in the world are we going to work, find a new place, plan a wedding, and get ready for a baby, all in the next few months?”

“By just doing it,” he answered confidently, dropping down beside her. “Maybe you should take a leave of absence, though. I don’t want you to overdo.”

“I can pull my weight,” Liz frowned.

“Your weight is about 100 pounds soaking wet. You’d better not try pulling too much.”

He put his hand over hers and rubbed it in small circles.

“You’re all sweaty,” she said, though it didn’t sound at all like an objection. “It reminds me of the day we met. Only that day, you’d peeled your shirt off and I could see your muscles bunch and ripple every time you moved.” She ran her fingers up his arm until they lingered on his bicep, and her voice grew husky. “I almost swallowed my tongue.”

It still surprised him when she came on to him like this--after all, it hadn’t been so long ago that he wondered if she would ever be able to give him all of herself--but he liked it. Hell, he loved it. He was equally enchanted with her body, and relished not having to hide that fact. But they had a ton of work to do, and they kept getting sidetracked. Already he could feel himself respond to her, and he knew where they were headed.

“Liz, we’ve got all that packing to do, and then we have to get you to the doctor’s. Dr. Pratt said this guy was fitting you in, so we can’t be late.”

“We could take a break,” she said softly, then turned her come-hither eyes on him. “Maybe lay down for a few minutes.”

“Liz Parker, I never thought I’d say this, but you’re going to have to stop seducing me—at least for a few hours. Otherwise, we’ll never get you moved in. Besides, I think maybe you need some real rest.”

“But Max.” She moved to straddle him, and he felt himself weakening. “It keeps me relaxed, and that’s very important for the baby.”

“Baby?”

They turned to see Jesse and Svea standing just inside the doorway, the cookies and balloons forgotten in their hands.

“Baby????” Svea squealed and rushed forward, releasing the balloons so that they sailed to the ceiling and scooted sideways with the breeze. The belated “welcome home” celebration forgotten, she clamped one hand on each of their shoulders. “Don’t tell me you’re having a baby!”

“Okay, we won’t,” Max grinned.

“Ohmigod, Jesse. Look at Liz’s hand! That’s an engagement ring, isn’t it?”

By now, Jesse had deposited her cookies on the kitchen pass-through and joined the party on the sofa.

“It’s gorgeous, Liz. Amazing. It has to be an antique.”

“It was Max’s grandmother’s,” Liz said, enjoying the fuss. There was a lot to be said for girlfriends. “He asked me Christmas morning.”

“Oh, oh, that is so romantic.” Svea patted her palm against her chest to emphasize the fact. “Max, did you get down on one knee? Were you alone? Or did you ask her with everyone there? Did you cry, Liz? What did you say? I mean, besides ‘yes.’”

Liz laughed, pleasure flushing her cheeks. Even here, she realized, among people she called friends, she’d held something back, but in the midst of her friends’ exuberance, she knew it would be easier now. Everything was easier, or at least better, since Max.

“It was amazing,” Liz sighed, feeling Max begin to squirm. “He was so romantic and so . . .”

“That’s my cue,” Max said, lifting Liz from his lap. “Good to see you both, but I’ve got heavy lifting to do.”

“Yeah, it looks good on you,” Jesse teased, throwing him a flirty look. “Really good.”

With an embarrassed shake of his head, he took a step toward the door, but Svea and Jesse flanked him. “Seriously, Max,” Svea began, “we’re so grateful you’re okay. We were really worried.” The really nice thing was, he knew she meant it.

“Thanks. That means a lot.”

“Liz was a rock,” Jesse told him. “A little spooky, maybe,” she added, wiggling her fingers with a crazed look, “but a rock. She seemed to know you were okay. Most of the time, anyway.”

Max turned and caught Liz’s eye. They’d spent a lot of time discussing that connection they’d both felt, finally agreeing to stop the analysis and just accept it. It wasn’t the only miracle they’d experienced lately.

“Thanks for watching out for her.”

The three hugged, a good solid embrace that said more than any of them could express.

“And now a wedding!”

“And a baby!”

Max watched the first tears start to gather in two pairs of eyes and felt a sudden urge to pack linens. With a wave, he escaped into the hallway. Giggles and sighs followed him all the way to the elevator.

******
The Naval Medical Center was a sprawling array of imposing white buildings that were meant to convey both confidence and competence, but to Liz, whose healthy life had kept her clear of all but the briefest doctor’s visits, it looked impersonal and intimidating. She felt fine, and stubbornness held that that should have been good enough. Max sensed her tension and appreciated the sentiment, but he wasn’t taking any chances. Not with her, and not with their baby.

“It’ll be over soon, and when we get home, I’ll do my best to . . . relax you.”

She couldn’t help but smile.

“Sounds like a plan. When’s your doctor’s visit? I’m actually more concerned about you.”

“Friday at the base. They won’t let me go back to work until I’m cleared.” He sighed. “The school’s starting date was postponed while Jeremy and I were away. I guess there’ll be a mess to deal with.” His glance was apologetic. “I might be pretty busy for a while.”

“I know. Don’t worry. I imagine I’ll have to play catch-up, too. We knew we’d have to deal with reality eventually.” Her hand slid down to her stomach. Reality wasn’t half bad.

The visit with Dr. Ringgold had been brief and reassuring. Liz had sustained no lingering injury and was given a clean bill of health. What they hadn’t anticipated was the instant referral to an obstetrician who had agreed to see them that same afternoon. Evidently, the fact that Liz was approximately 11 weeks along and hadn’t seen a doctor yet put her at the front of the line. Liz’s practical side was grateful; her emotional side felt a little unprepared.

“Liz? I’m Dr. Blackwing. I hear there’s a baby on the way.”

Liz nodded nervously and reached for Max’s hand. They sat side-by-side in front of a scarred wooden desk in Laura Blackwing’s office. A narrow window gave them an abbreviated peek at the beautiful day outside, but their focus was entirely on the small woman in front of them. She was obviously of Native American descent, middle-aged, with threads of gray throughout the otherwise dark hair that she had twisted into a bun at the nape of her neck. She moved with smooth efficiency, and her eyes, though kind, were all business.

“And this, I presume, is the father?”

“Yes, this is Max.” They glanced at each other, barely containing the excited smiles. “Father” was a word they hadn’t used out loud yet.

Laura scanned again the detailed notes from a Dr. Pratt in Roswell, New Mexico, along with a letter he had written outlining the circumstances of his interaction with the couple—a couple he had described as having come through a very bad time. It made quite a story, even when couched in boring medical terminology. Something of the flavor of this special couple had come through, and looking at them, she was sure she saw it, too.

“You’ve just recently learned you’re pregnant, Liz?”

“Yes. I . . . I suppose I should have suspected, but there was so much other . . .”

She bit her lip and Laura watched as Max immediately began to rub her back and neck.

“I’ve read the background, Liz. No need to cover old ground. I gather this baby wasn’t planned. I’d like to hear from both of you how you feel about the pregnancy.”

Joy leapt into both faces and made their responses unnecessary.

“We’re so excited,” Liz began. “I mean, it’s true we weren’t planning it, but now that it’s happened . . .”

“We couldn’t be happier,” Max finished for her.

Not just words, Laura decided, trusting instinct and long experience.

“Well, then, let’s talk about your baby.”

She began to outline the course of obstetric care: vitamins, doctor visits, Lamaze classes, birthing techniques, dietary considerations, exercise, and post-partum options like nursing and sleeping arrangements. She tried not to look amused as their eyes widened and their hands clasped.

“It’s a lot, I know,” she smiled. “But it will all become routine, I promise you.” She pressed a button on her phone and spoke quickly.

“Sono free? Good. 5 minutes.” She turned back to them. “Want to see your baby?”

Minutes later, Liz and Max were in an exam room eyeing the small machine they recognized only from television. Laura pushed aside Liz’s shirt, applied gel that made Liz shiver, and began to move the wand around Liz’s abdomen. A moment later, a heartbeat, like a drum under water, came through the small speaker, and Max’s hand came immediately around Liz’s.

“That’s her?” His throat was tight, he didn’t bother to blink back the sting of tears.

“He sounds strong, right?” Liz asked, eyes searching the little black and white monitor. “Where is he?”

“Right . . . there,” Laura pointed. “See? This is the head, spine, and these nubs will become arms and legs. Everything looks perfect. I can’t tell the gender, but you’ll need to decide if you want to know or not when it does become evident. Some couples . . .”

She turned back to her patient, then trailed off into silence. The kiss was achingly tender, even reverent. It wasn’t often a couple wriggled through her professional buffer; that distance was important for her own emotional health. But knowing what these two had been through and the circumstances of their reunion, well, it got to her, plain and simple. She knew now what she had sensed in the letter from Dr. Pratt; what she had felt in her office. Love, at its most extraordinary, was almost a tangible presence in the room, and she felt warmth wrap around her heart like a favorite sweater—soft, comfortable, familiar. This would be one lucky baby.

She indulged in a few seconds of appreciation, then quietly slipped out the door.

******
New Year’s Eve. Liz looked around Jesse and Svea’s living room and hugged herself. She felt lighter, emotionally at least, than she had felt in years. From her somewhat isolated and work-intensive existence, she had somehow found her way to love, friendship, and hope. Her hand rested lightly on her abdomen. How was it possible to feel such love for someone she’d never seen, never held? How could it fill her like this when she was already bursting with love for Max? This was different from that love, of course, but every bit as intense, every bit as overwhelming.

Max slipped his arms around her from behind. “Nice party.”

“Mmmmm.”

“Left foot Red!”

“You gotta me kiddin’ me!”

Thad and Charisse were in a somewhat tipsy game of Twister with Jeremy and Frankie, a drinking game invented spontaneously when Svea mentioned using Twister with her kids at school to encourage exercise and stimulate coordination. Watching Thad try to straddle Jeremy’s neck when he was already doing a backbend, however, had Max speculating that Svea was calling out whatever limb and color would amuse her the most. Kyle and Jesse were snuggled into a chair, presumably waiting to play the champions, but much more preoccupied with each other than the outcome of the game.

“Who do you think will be next?” Max murmured in her ear. “To get married, I mean.”

Liz smiled. All the couples seemed so happy together, though she knew Svea was missing Alex terribly. Just that afternoon, she had told Liz that she was beginning to wonder if those three weeks with Alex were so built up in her mind that they’d feel disappointed when they finally saw each other again. Liz hoped not.

“My money’s on Jeremy,” she said quietly. “After what he’s been through, I think he’s ready to grab a hold of happiness while he can.” She turned in his arms. “Like you.”

“Liz, I’ve told you, I was ready to marry you before I left. Don’t think our engagement is about Lebanon.”

“I don’t think that, Max. Honestly. But you have to admit, it makes you appreciate what we have all the more, don’t you think?”

He pulled her close. “Yeah.”

A cacophony of squeals and grunts had them turning to see four tangled adults in a writhing pile on the floor, giggling like children. “Yes!” Thad shouted, raising his fingers in a victory sign from his prone position under Frankie.

As Frankie, helpless with laughter, struggled to crawl off of him, he threw his arms around her. “What’s your rush, darlin’?”

Charisse smacked him hard and he howled in mock pain, rolling to one side to kiss his wife. “Just kiddin’, my little chocolate soufflé.”

“That’s it!” Charisse laughed. “No more booze for Thad.”

As Jeremy and Frankie left the mat in favor of the bar, Kyle and Jesse prepared to take on the victors. Svea had a wicked gleam in her eye.

“I heard Alex will be home on leave mid-February,” Jeremy mumbled, his mouth full of nachos.

“Yeah, he sent me an email,” Max nodded. “It sure will be good to see him. I was thinking, Liz, that maybe we could get married while he’s here. I always wanted him to be my best man if I ever took the plunge.”

Married. It still sent a little thrill down her spine. He would be hers. Forever. Jonathan and Aaron popped into her mind, but now she could greet them with warmth instead of grief.

“Sounds perfect, Max. But I haven’t even thought about who to ask to be in it. I mean, I wasn’t expecting to have a big wedding, but there are people I really want to be a part of it.”

“Like everyone here?”

She smiled. “Exactly. And your sister. I really liked your sister. And C.J. and Brittany.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Sounds like a big wedding to me,” he warned.

Max grinned. “Get used to it, Lieutenant. You’re going to be in it, too.”

Surprised and pleased, Jeremy flushed, then cleared his throat. “Yes, sir.”

“Liz,” Frankie said, just a little bolder for the three margaritas she’d already enjoyed, “I haven’t told you how excited I am about your baby.”

“Thanks, Frankie. We’re pretty excited, too.”

“Jeremy and I are going to have four children,” she announced, oblivious to Jeremy’s astonished expression. “Two boys and two girls, alternating with the girl first. Two years apart.” She turned to Jeremy, her eyes dreamy. “They’ll be strong and brave like their father, with a dimple just like this.” She kissed it, then her tongue darted out for a quick taste. Max and Liz struggled to suppress the chuckles as Jeremy battled embarrassment, shock, and pleasure.

“Frankie, honey, maybe we should . . .”

She snuggled close to him. “Mmmm, maybe we should.” The kiss looked like it was going to last a while, and Liz tugged Max gently away to watch a game of Twister.

“I asked Gabe and T.J. to stop by,” Liz told him as they squeezed into the chair vacated by Kyle and Jesse, “but I think they had plans. Not surprising, but still, Gabe looked . . . I don’t know, guilty, I guess you could say. I don’t know what that was all about.”

“Probably better that way,” he assured her. “Speaking of plans, I need to ask you something, but you can’t tell anyone.”

She felt him tense slightly and looked up at him. “Something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong, it’s just . . . Alex is convinced Svea is the one for him. I think he’s got it in his head to propose.” When her eyebrows flew up, he hurried on. “I don’t mean right away, necessarily, but soon.” He watched Svea’s spinner land on “Right Hand Green.”

“Right Foot Yellow!” she called, eyes dancing as Kyle tried to avoid kicking Charisse in the butt. He chuckled; so he’d been right about her manipulating the game. Well, she was entitled to some fun on a New Year’s Eve as a single at a couple’s party. “I realize I’m not exactly the poster boy for taking things slow, but don’t you think maybe that’s a little fast? They had three whirlwind weeks. That’s all. What do you think Svea would do if he asked her?”

Liz turned across his lap and he cradled her. “I think she’d say yes in a heartbeat, Max. Does that worry you?”

“I’d hate to see him get hurt. He’s a good guy, Liz. The best. And a great deal more vulnerable than you might think. If they married and then it didn’t work out, he’d never get over it. I know him like a brother, and trust me, he’s a one woman guy.”

“As opposed to you?” she asked, one eyebrow arched over a piercing look. When he realized her implication, he opened his mouth to protest, but she only laughed and kissed him. “She loves him. That’s all I can tell you. There are no guarantees—you know that better than anyone, Max. But I’m willing to bet they’ll make it.” She kissed his throat and felt him relax. “They’ll find their way. And with any luck, they’ll be very happy.”

“Are you?” He looked at her seriously. “Happy, I mean?”

“You sure need a lot of reassuring for a hero,” she mumbled, trailing kisses along his throat, his jaw. She felt his arms tighten around her. Was it hypersensitivity due to pregnancy that made her want his hands on her every minute of every day? Or was this what it felt like to open yourself up to someone so completely, there were no shields, no safeguards, no net?

When her mouth reached his and her arms twined around his neck like vines, he felt her mold to him, pliant as sculptor’s clay in his hands. When she moved against him like this—without reserve or caution—he grew lightheaded, and his surroundings faded to a soft buzz in his ears. His arms pulled her closer yet, until he felt her heart’s tattoo reverberate through his system. No matter how close, it was never close enough.

“So, apparently Max and Liz worked things out.”

“Ah . . . yeah. Looks that way.”

“Does this qualify as ‘Behavior unbecoming an officer’?”

“Hope not. We’d all get busted.”

“We could turn a hose on them. That works with dogs.”

“Oh, it’d work, but you’d be stripped of rank by morning.”

“Let me do it. I don’t have a rank.”

“Hypocrite. You were liplocked with Jesse until about two minutes ago.”

“True, but people expect that behavior from me, unlike our Boy Scout here.”

“Do you think they really don’t hear us?”

“No, I really don’t think they do. Should we do something? Before they just roll to the floor and do it?”

“Ooooo, you think they might?”

“Pervert.”

“Hey, Shelby. Did you hear Liz is preggers?”

“Kyle! That’s not very . . . respectful.”

“A baby?!”

The code word had been found. At the exclamation “baby,” Max and Liz parted, swimming back into the room through a thick haze.

Max blinked, peered around the room, then seemed to land in the here and now.

“Shelby!”

He smiled at the ambitious reporter turned friend. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Gabe and I and T.J. and Mindy just stopped by on our way into town. We’re going to the fireworks down at the water.”

“Gabe?” Liz looked around and spotted Gabe and T.J. grinning at her. She did her best to climb gracefully from Max’s lap.

“Hey, Liz. I hear congratulations are in order.”

The blush took her by surprise. Telling their close friends about the baby and the impending marriage had been fun and a little exciting, but suddenly she realized that work would be different. Would they razz her? Pamper her? Both options made her uncomfortable.

“Yeah. We’re due in July.” Her hand slid automatically down toward the baby.

“Congratulations! You, too, sir.” Gabe offered his hand.

“Thanks.” Max wasn’t blushing; he was positively preening as they shook hands. She’d never seen him do that before. It was cute and irritating at the same time. It’s not like he was the first to accomplish such a feat. Still, he looked adorable acting as if he were.

Liz turned back to their new guests. “Shelby, you’re here with Gabe?”

Shelby snorted out a chuckle. “I know. Hard to believe a babe like me would hang out with a jerk like him, isn’t it?” But there was real affection in her eyes when she looked over at him.

Gabe grabbed her around the waist and gave her a mock glare. “Women all over San Diego are crying into their beer tonight because I’m with you instead of them,” he told her.

“I might be one of them,” she retorted, and had T.J. hooting with laughter.

“They met doing face-painting at that shindig Liz organized for the kids at Christmas,” T.J. explained, “and now they spend all their free time together pretending they’d rather not. It’s classic.”

Ignoring the guys’ banter, Liz moved toward the unfamiliar face in the crowd. “Mindy, is it? I’m Liz. It’s nice to meet you.”

Mindy nodded politely, looking as though she were a few layers out of her element.

“Mindy here is sort of my protégé,” Shelby told Liz, ignoring Kyle’s derisive snort. “I’m trying to scrub off that sweet midwestern naiveté and mold a hardnosed reporter.” She threw the girl a teasing scowl. “It’s harder that I thought.”

She could have stepped right from the pages of American Cheerleader, Liz thought. Her compact body and Little House on the Prairie face wasn’t T.J.’s usual style; he’d always been more of a Cosmo kind of guy. But there was a little something different in his eye as he looked at her that made Liz smile.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Liz smiled, feeling a little protective. “Why don’t you sit down?”

“There are munchies on the bar,” Svea offered, remembering her role as hostess. “And drinks, of course,”

“Nope, just stopping by,” Gabe said. “It’ll be midnight soon and we want to be down at the pier.”

“Just wanted to to say we’re all mighty glad you’re back,” T.J. added.

Touched, Max nodded his gratitude. “Glad to be back. Thanks.”

The phone rang and Svea excused herself as Shelby sidled up to Max. With a wink at Liz, she slid her hands up Max’s chest and adopted her most sultry tone. “I’m sure you’ll be looking for a brilliant yet friendly reporter to write up the story of your ordeal, Lt. Commander. You know where to find me.” She planted a drawn-out kiss on his cheek, and all but laughed out loud as he glanced uncomfortably at Liz, whose answering grin only confused him.

“Uh, well, you know the routine, Shelby. It’ll all have to be cleared.”

The pushy reporter was back. “Yadda, yadda, yadda. They’ll give you whatever you want, flyboy. Just make sure you want me.”

With a chorus of “Happy New Year,” Gabe and T.J. left with their dates, and in the momentary quiet after the door was shut, they heard weeping. As one, they turned to see Svea on the sofa, head bent and the phone to her ear. Jesse was on her knees in front of her in a second.

“Svea, what is it? What’s happened?”

The smile was tremulous but radiant as she lifted her head. “It’s Alex.” Without another word, she stood and walked into the bedroom and shut the door. Every pair of eyes that watched her leave smiled, too.

By the time the clock neared midnight, Svea had reluctantly hung up and was walking around in a sort of dreamy haze, her mind clearly elsewhere and completely happy about it.

“How’s Alex?” Jesse asked, just barely keeping the laughter out of her voice.

“He’s wonnnnderful.” Svea did a little pirouette. “He misses me. He’ll be home in a few weeks, you know.” She sailed around the room, picking up stray dishes, then setting them down again. “I don’t know if I can last a few weeks. It feels like it’s been forever.”

Liz threw Max a look that said, “See?” He nodded, but his smile was cautious. He just hoped the glow didn’t dull when Alex came home.

As the clock ticked down, champagne was poured—sparkling grape juice for Liz—and the couples drew together. It may have been the first New Year’s together for this group of friends, but it was also the most meaningful any of them had ever had.

“I think we should each make a toast,” Jesse suggested. “It’s been quite a year. Who wants to go first?”

“I will,” Jeremy volunteered, and raised his glass. “To being home.”

“Amen,” Frankie agreed.

“To comrades in arms,” Thad said softly, a poignant melancholy in his voice. “And to those who wait for them,” Charisse added. A murmur of agreement rippled through their circle.

“To Alex coming home safely,” Svea said, her eyes bright with emotion. The room was quiet for several seconds after that.

“To good friends,” Kyle said, “old and new.”

“And to those who contribute outside the military,” Jesse smiled, kissing Kyle lightly on the lips. The smile he returned was surprised and pleased.

It was left to Max and Liz to complete the toasts. Max looked into Liz’s eyes and wondered at the changes in his life. “To family,” Max said. Liz touched her glass to his and held his gaze. The fingers of their free hands linked over their child.

“To love.”
Last edited by Carol000 on Sun Apr 03, 2005 8:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Carol000
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Post by Carol000 » Sat Apr 09, 2005 10:57 pm

Part 27

"Where's Liz?"

Roused from distant thoughts, Kyle turned from the sliding doors of Max's patio and frowned at Jesse. "What do you mean 'Where's Liz?' She supposed to be with you guys."

"I know! And it's almost time for her hair appointment. I can’t find her and we've only got 6 hours before the wedding!"

It was probably the wedding that was making him irritable, he decided; not the fact that he was in it—that was just a friend thing and represented no commitment on his part. It was the twinges of jealousy that threw him. Kyle had never wanted “forever.” He’d never wanted to be tied to one woman. He’d never confined his thinking to any one woman. But recently . . .

"Well, we're not hiding her in here," Kyle shrugged. "Max is in there with Alex," he said with a nod toward the bedroom. "Best man stuff, I guess."

"Max nervous?"

He hoped so. The thought cheered him.

"Don’t know, but Alex is freaking out." That cheered him, too, and he grinned. "You'd think he was the one gettin' married."

"Why would getting married freak him out?"

Kyle's grin froze into a sort of grimace under Jesse's narrow-eyed glare. "Aw, come on, Jess, you gotta let a guy freak on his wedding day. It's only natural when you're giving up your life in favor of . . ."

Her eyes narrowed even further and Kyle felt the two lasers boring holes in his face. "I mean . . ."

Jesse walked toward him slowly, slid her arms up his chest and around his neck, and planted a hot, sultry kiss on his lips. Blood heating, Kyle pulled her close until all he could smell was Jesse, all he could taste was Jesse, all he wanted was Jesse. Then she abruptly ended the kiss and walked out the door, leaving him off-balance and trying hard to remember what they'd been talking about.

"The man is unnatural," Alex muttered as he entered the room. "You'd think he'd be at least a little nervous, but he acts like he's going out for dinner, not getting married."

Still muddled, Kyle turned toward him. "What?"

"Max. He's cool as a cucumber in there."

"Then don't tell him they can't find the bride."

Alex stopped cold. "What?"

"Jesse was just in here looking for Liz."

"Oh, God."

"Don't panic. She's probably just out looking for the perfect face goo or something."

"Who?" Max asked, strolling in with the hangar holding his dress whites hooked over one finger.

His two friends exchanged a guilty look.

"Who?" Max asked again, squinting suspiciously.

"Nobody," Kyle muttered.

"Liz. They can't find Liz!"

Yeah, he's freaking out, Kyle thought with mild contempt. The key, he knew, was to keep a little distance, a little safety gap. Whitman was a “heart-on-his-sleeve” kind of guy. Since his return a few days before, he hadn’t been apart from Svea any longer than needed to fulfill his duties as best man. He was already a dead man; anyone could see that. And yet he . . . and Max . . . had never looked happier. Hell, that was just the glow because it was all so new. How would they be feeling in a few years?

"It's nothing, Max. I'm sure it's just some last-minute emergency, like she ran her stockings or something. Jesse said something about it being time for her hair appointment."

Max closed his eyes and reached for her. The now-familiar warmth filled him and made him smile. She was fine, as was the baby. He could feel that now, too—a recent development neither had expected. But she was wired, he could tell. Not upset, not unhappy, just . . . wired. With a deep breath, he opened his eyes.

"She's fine. I'll go get her."

The two friends stared in silence. They had gotten only the briefest description of this strange connection, and that only because Thanksgiving came up in conversation one night. Liz's guests that day had never understood what she had tried to explain to them, and Jesse had finally asked about it. Kyle found it a little too Twilight Zone for his taste, but Alex found it intriguing, if a little bizarre.

"I still don't get how you do that," he whispered, as if Liz might overhear.

"Me neither," Max smiled. "I'll be back."

"Svea will kill me if I let you see the bride before the wedding."

"Then don't tell her," Max winked, and was out the door.

Somehow he knew he'd find her on the beach. They both found solace there, where the sea's mass and rhythm offered consistency and perspective. As he approached her at a slow jog, he recognized the look. She was searching, but for what?

He came to a stop behind her, then lowered himself to the sand, spreading his legs on either side of her. She leaned back against him, knowing without looking that he had come for her. His hands slid over the small mound of her belly, and she laid her own over his.

"So."

She sighed heavily. "It's so much, Max. Almost too much. I hardly know how to deal with it."

He kissed her head and waited.

"I didn't know there was this much happiness in the world, Max, and it feels like it’s all just fallen on top of me. I . . . I don't know what to do with it all."

"Enjoy it? Share it?"

"I've always wanted to be happy. I mean, everyone does, right? But in the last few years, I somehow convinced myself that it wasn't the natural state of things. I mean, everyone is entitled to little bits of happiness, but not all the time, not that 'happily ever after' kind of happiness they sell in the movies. But now . . ." Her hands pressed against his and he pulled her closer. "Now I’m happy, blissfully . . . overwhelmingly happy.” She closed her eyes. “It scares me.”

He thought he understood. He hoped he did. “Like it’s too good to be true? Like it might disappear just as fast as it came?”

She should have known he would get it. It was a thing she both loved and resented about him—how he often knew what she was thinking before she did. His hands ran up and down her arms, a soothing cadence that matched the ocean’s. "When you've experienced lows, bad ones like we have, I think the highs seem that much higher. Some people would find a way to make what we have seem normal, but we know differently. In a way, we're lucky. We can appreciate this in ways others might miss."

They sat quietly as the gulls swooped overhead and the spray of the water moved closer with the tide.

"You're good for me," Liz said, tilting her head to look up at him.

"I know." His smile teased just a little, and the muscles in her neck began to relax. “I plan on being good for you for a very long time.”

The ocean surged and ebbed, smoothing out the rough edges and calming the soul.

“Jesse was looking for you. Something about a hair appointment?”

“Yeah.” She didn’t move but stayed cradled in his arms. “I guess I missed it.”

Max smiled and pulled at the clip that held her hair up off her neck. “That’s okay. I like it down best anyway.” It poured through his fingers like water.

“I know.” She smiled at the horizon. “That’s what I decided this morning.”

His laughter turned her smile into an impish grin. “You did this on purpose. You intended to miss that appointment all along.”

“If I’d stayed there, the girls would have insisted, and dragged me there whether I wanted to go or not.” She turned in his arms to face him. “But I figure this is about us. About what we want. So I disappeared.”

“They’re probably frantic by now.”

Her eyes sparkled. “Yeah.”

“I love you.”

“God knows why.” Her lips brushed his, then lingered, the light touch sending shivers through both of them. “I wish we could make love.”

His fingers tightened, but he held himself just apart from her.

“I’ve been told it’s bad luck for me to even see you before the wedding. If we make love, the world just might explode.”

“Mine always does,” she breathed, and the kiss spiraled through them both like a tornado. Why didn’t this feel normal yet? Why did she still react with such dizzying need every time they touched? Liz finally forced herself back and took a steadying breath. It was satisfying to see his breathing was as unsteady as hers. “But even if the world didn’t explode, I’m pretty sure Svea would.”

“And we care about that, right?” Suddenly making love wasn’t such a bad idea.

She laughed in delight, and the sound calmed them both. Look at him, she thought with a rush of love. He’s everything I want, and he’s mine. She’d known that, of course, and yet every day that knowledge was new again. She sighed and realized she was completely relaxed now. She’d just needed to touch him, talk with him, to assure herself that the world . . . their world . . .was as it should be. She stood and offered him her hand.

“Let’s go get married.”

******
“Will you please stop pacing? Who’s the groom here anyway?” Max finally grabbed Alex’s arm to break the cycle of perpetual motion. The ceremony was minutes away and the San Diego sunset hadn’t let them down. Violent hues of pink and orange streaked across the horizon and sent sparks across the cheerful foam of the breakers down below. The park, with its breathtaking view of the water, boasted a large gazebo on a grassy bluff, and the white ribbons that bedecked it were already taking on the pastel glow of the sky’s brighter colors. Max and his groomsmen, Alex and Kyle, waited off to the side while Jeremy and Thad seated guests. Max waved at his sister as she corralled her two children; they may have been dressed for a wedding but it seemed they were more interested in playing in the park. She had her hands full.

Kyle frowned at Alex’s clammy appearance. “Are you all right?”

“I may be sick,” Alex blurted out.

Max’s step back was purely instinctive. “You get one spot on this uniform and you’ll die before you take another breath.”

Nodding as if the threat were just friendly advice, Alex began to pace again, then turned to Max. “I’m going to ask her to marry me, tonight, after you’ve left the reception.”

“Aw, jeez,” Kyle mumbled.

Max’s smile was one of pure pleasure. In the three days Alex had been home, all of his fears for his friend had been put to rest. If anyone was as happy as he and Liz, it was Alex and Svea. They may not have had much time together, but they’d known each other from the first. He knew just how that felt. “I had a feeling.”

“What if she says no? What if she thinks it’s too soon? What if I bungle it and my hands get all sweaty and . . .” His eyes were wide and unseeing as potential horrors paraded through his imagination. “How in God’s name did you manage it?”

“Listen to me.” Max stepped forward and put a friendly hand on Alex’s shoulder. “It’s not about what you say. She knows how you feel, and you obviously think you have a handle on how she feels. I had a whole thing memorized that day and it went right out the window when I looked at Liz. What came out was just what was there, on top, and it seemed to work just fine.”

Alex looked pained. “You’re better at that stuff.”

“Look at me.” He waited until he had Alex’s full attention. “We’ve known each other a long time. I would trust you with my life and you’ve never let me down. Your instincts are some of the finest I’ve ever seen. Trust them.”

Twin spears of surprise and pleasure jolted Alex into stillness. “You think?”

“I know.”

They both looked up as Charisse began to sing. Liz had been torn about her wedding attendants; Jesse, Svea, Charisse, and even Vicki were important to her, but Max had rightly determined that having four groomsmen was a little over the top for their modest wedding, so he’d asked Thad and Jeremy to be ushers. That left Liz with an uncomfortable decision. In the end, though, it had worked out. Charisse had asked Liz if she could sing at her wedding, and the idea had pleased Liz enormously. Her rich contralto voice carried over the ocean breeze like a siren’s call, and set a romantic tone with only a few notes.

Vicki had also been there for Liz, but in a different way, telling her that if C.J. and Brittany were going to be in the wedding, she’d better stay on the sidelines and monitor them. Liz wasn’t sure if she was intentionally resolving Liz’s dilemma or was just practical enough to know that bridesmaid’s gowns and racing after children weren’t a good match, but it had left the numbers right where they needed to be and no one’s feelings were hurt.

As Charisse began her second song, Thad led Diane Evans to her seat, then stood aside as Philip took a seat next to her. The bride would be appearing soon, and there was an expectant air running through the guests. Thad glanced over toward Max, ready to give him the nod that would have him and his groomsmen taking their places, but Max’s eyes were targeted on the path from which Liz would soon emerge. With a grin, Thad caught Kyle’s eye and knew he would get the groom where he needed to be.

Just out of view, Nancy Parker fussed needlessly over the soft folds in Liz’s gown. The ache in her throat made it hard to swallow and impossible to talk, but she was determined not to cry. She’d wanted this day for her daughter almost as much as Liz did, and yet the sense of loss was sharp. She would have to learn to share her baby. Other mothers did it, and she wouldn’t have changed it, even if she could. But most other mothers hadn’t already lost a child, a beautiful, strong, loving boy who would never know the joy of family or grow old with the one he loved.

The tears made another determined effort, but she beat them back, concentrating instead on details that needed no attention. She bent to brush a stray bit of leaf from Liz’s gown. Liz had made a beautiful choice—simple and elegant, with an empire waist that Nancy knew was meant not to disguise the pregnancy but simply to make the dress comfortable for the hours she would wear it. She carried a spray of fragrant lilacs, an exact match to the bridesmaids’ dresses. A straight-cut, strapless bodice strewn with tiny pearls hugged her petite form, then flared generously to skim her feet, and a single strand of pearls, worn by three generations of Parker brides, graced her neck. Her hair was down, just as Max loved it, and crowned only with a modest ring of baby’s breath.

There was no veil. Liz had been adamant that there were to be no barriers between her and Max during the ceremony; shattering the barriers between them had been a painful and arduous journey, and she wanted no reminders of them today. But there was a gauzy train that flowed gracefully behind her like a waterfall, and she enjoyed the childish feeling that she was a fairy princess. She could have easily been convinced that this was a fairy tale, and that she would live happily ever after with her Prince Charming. She fully intended to do just that.

Charisse’s rich voice wafted across the distance and Liz looked up at her father with a smile.

“This is it, Dad.”

“Oh, baby.” He wasn’t as good at keeping the tears at bay as his wife, and he pulled his daughter into a fierce hug. “Be happy,” he whispered, his voice hoarse and strained.

“I will, Daddy.” She pulled away to look at him with shining eyes. “I am.”

With a tender kiss to her daughter’s cheek, Nancy started to turn to take Jeremy’s arm, but turned back one last time.

Marriage is three parts love and seven parts forgiveness of sins. Langdon Mitchell. It’s a good thing to remember, Liz.”

“I will, Mom.”

Nancy let Jeremy lead her down the path toward the gazebo, signaling the beginning of the ceremony. Brittany came up the aisle first, scattering rose petals with an excited smile as Vicki looked on with both wariness and pride; C.J. followed with studied dignity carrying the ring pillow. When he reached the front, his face relaxed into a relieved grin at his uncle, who returned it with a wink. When Jesse began to process, Nancy turned to watch Max. Svea would be next, and then Liz, and Nancy wanted very much to watch his reaction.

She knew the instant he saw her. If she had carried even a shred of doubt with her to San Diego, it evaporated in the brilliance of his smile. There was no questioning the love in his eyes or the joy in his face. This man loved truly and deeply. That was all she had needed to see; just one more reassurance that this was right for Liz. It was, and the tears would no longer be denied.

His throat closed the moment she appeared from behind the wall of trees. It was happening. It was really happening. He hadn’t been nervous all day until Charisse had begun to sing and the ceremony became real. At that moment, he realized he’d been burying the faintest persistent worry that she wouldn’t go through with it. He hadn’t let himself think of it or even acknowledge it, but now he knew, seeing her walk slowly toward him with that loving smile and those shining eyes, that he’d harbored that one molecule of fear.

No more. She was more beautiful than he could have imagined. Not that he knew what the dress looked like, or the flowers, or the bridesmaids. Not that he appreciated the palette of sky or the ocean’s soothing rush. All he could see was her face; all he could hear was what she was saying to him with her eyes locked on his. All he could feel was humility and joy that such a woman had agreed to be his bride.

Her first look at him sent her spinning back to an emotional conversation they’d had one afternoon on the beach when the walls between them began to crumble. She had told him that day how she’d fallen for Aaron, handsome and dashing in his stark white uniform, and that she could only guess what Max would look like in his. She had given it little thought since; so little, in fact, that she realized she’d been expecting to see him in a tux.

So when she emerged from the trees and looked for him, it struck her like a physical blow. He was resplendent in his dress whites, just as she might have imagined if she’d taken the time to think of it. He’d gained some weight since Lebanon, regained his fit form, and his tanned skin glowed with health. Decked out in gloves, medals, and sword, he was like a hero from a storybook. For a moment, she forgot to walk, and her father looked at her with concern.

“Liz? Honey, are you okay?”

She took a deep breath, feeling ridiculously awestruck. “Look at him, Daddy. Just look at him.”

With an indulgent smile, Jeff patted her hand. “Don’t tell me you’re just blinded by the uniform.”

“Hardly,” she whispered as they resumed walking, aware of the irony. “More like in spite of it. Still,” she sighed happily, “he’s beautiful, isn’t he?”

Jeff chuckled and guided his giddy daughter toward the aisle. If he had to give her away, he couldn’t imagine better circumstances.

Max stepped forward as she approached the gazebo, and watched as her father turned to kiss her and then offer him her hand. He took it in his and squeezed. God, he wanted to kiss her, but he was supposed to wait, wasn’t he? They’d been over the details the night before, and he was pretty sure he was supposed to wait.

To hell with waiting. Cupping her face, he leaned down and captured her lips. She didn’t hesitate, but returned his kiss with such sweetness, he ached with it. This caring, this love, this having someone in his life more important than himself—this is what his life had become. Thank God.

“Uh, that comes later.” The minister tapped his shoulder and brought the two back to the park, where everyone was having a good-natured chuckle at their expense.

“Right.” Max straightened and grinned at Liz. All the nerves were gone again. He finally took a moment to look at her dress. “You look . . . amazing.”

“So do you.”

“Dearly Beloved . . .” The minister’s voice rose clearly, as much, Max was sure, to get their attention as to be heard in the back row.

When it came time for vows, they turned to face each other, and their foolish smiles faded. They had written their own and had taken the task seriously. This was the pledge, the promise on which the rest of their lives would be based. Each wanted the other to hear with their heart what lay beneath the words.

“Max, I didn’t want to love you. You know that. I had a thousand reasons not to, and only one reason to ignore the rest. You held my heart in the palm of your hand from the very first time we met. It’s like I recognized you as the other half of my own heart, and still I fought it. You showed me patience, tolerance, understanding, and love; you brought me from darkness into light, and opened me up to life again.

“From the best of times to the worst of times, I have come to know the man you are, and I couldn’t be prouder of who that man is. I promise to love you with everything that I am, but that’s the easy part. The harder promise is that I will work to be what you think I already am, what you deserve. You make me better than I am, Max, and whatever I can become is yours.”

It took Max several long seconds to clamp down on his rampant emotions. It might have been better if they’d seen each other’s vows first; then he might have been able to handle the unreserved generosity of her promises to him. Love he’d expected; they’d had that from the first, but the rest . . . how could she not know she was already everything he wanted? Why did she see him as the hero when she had done every bit as much to save him?

His hands were trembling, but his voice was strong. Just like the proposal, the prepared words weren’t good enough, so he spoke from the heart.

“In my life, I’ve wondered more than once if I was capable of the kind of love that made two people commit their lives to each other. I’ve even wondered from time to time if that feeling was real or just something people tried to believe in to make their lives easier. Then I met you and everything changed. You call me patient and tolerant; I say selfish and stubborn. I saw what I wanted, what I needed, and I went after it. You don’t have to become anything for me, Liz. You are already who I want, who I love. You are the only person I can imagine making my life with.

“I will love you all of our days, Liz. I will cherish you and care for you and do my best to make you happy. But those are promises I’ve made to you before, and I have no more to make. So instead, let me thank you, because everything you say I have done for you, you have done for me, and if I am a man you can be proud of, it’s because you have helped shape that man. Thank you, Liz, for making me whole.”

There were several seconds of silence, broken only by a few sniffles. Alex watched as Svea dug out a handkerchief, then looked up at him through damp lashes. He barely stopped himself from going to her and proposing on the spot. He wondered idly if they could have been married today, too, if he’d been a little more aggressive in his plan to propose. But Svea was a sentimental sort and would surely want a wedding of her own, he reasoned. And damn Max for writing perfect vows. He’d never measure up to that.

Even Kyle, relieved that Jesse wasn’t actively crying, couldn’t help but be warmed by the loving look she offered over Max’s shoulder. Maybe if he took a vacation . . . alone . . . he could stop himself from careening down this path, because much more time with this group and he’d find himself blurting out a proposal, too. And that was completely out of the question.

Wasn’t it?

The rest of the ceremony was little more than a blur, and when the minister pronounced them joined, they melted together in a moment of raw emotion. This kiss wasn’t jubilant or giddy or even sweet; it was another promise, trembling with tenderness and soft with serenity. Onlookers held their breath and sighed privately for a purity of love that seemed all too rare.

When they finally parted, and their slow smiles crept across their faces and into their eyes, they turned to the gathering as one. Family and friends leapt to their feet, the applause and catcalls finally released. By the time they had processed down the aisle, the mood had shifted dramatically. There was one hell of a party coming on.

continued in next post
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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Carol000
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Post by Carol000 » Sat Apr 09, 2005 10:59 pm

Continued from previous post

******

The dance floor of the rustic park pavilion was filled with couples. The buffet dinner had been cleared away and a friend of Kyle’s was spinning a nice mix of music. Alex and Svea slow danced to every song, no matter how fast the beat, swaying together in each other’s arms as if protected by their own little bubble. Kyle, moderately drunk, hung on a laughing Jesse, proclaiming his devotion in a loud voice that would have made him cringe a few hours before. Frankie, wearing a diamond on her ring finger, drank in the details and plotted with Jeremy about how their wedding would compare. And both sets of parents danced and talked together, sharing the melancholy joy of watching their children start down a new path.

A sweep of the room saw Gabe dancing with the Captain’s wife, T.J. introducing Mindy around, and Captain Schmidt offering his congratulations to Charisse—word had just recently spread that the Owens family was about to grow by one. Mike had Vicki dizzy with drink and dance, and Shelby was up talking the DJ into a Three Dog Night selection. As “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog” blared from the speakers, Max swung a tired Brittany into his arms and glanced over at Thad; he was twirling Liz in tight circles as Charisse and the Captain looked on. Charisse was taking it easy, since early pregnancy was proving to be all it was cracked up to be—tiring, nauseating, and thrilling. Already she and Liz were planning play dates and babysitting support.

“Uncle Max?”

“Yeah, sweetie?”

“Mom says I’m supposed to call Liz Aunt Liz now.”

Max smiled at the thought. “Yeah, I guess you are.”

“Why did you marry her?”

Such a deceptively simple question. “Because I love her.”

Brittany was thoughtful. “You love me.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Will we get married?”

Amused, Max pondered his options. “Who’s your best friend?”

“Amanda.”

“Do you love her?”

She hesitated. “I guess.”

“You love Mom and Dad?”

“Yes.”

“You love C.J.?”

At this, she frowned. “Mom says I do.”

Max threw his head back and laughed, delighting Brittany with a quick, unexpected spin.

“I love Grandma and Grandpa.”

“Right. Well, those are all different kinds of love. Grown-ups know about another kind of love—one that they share with just one special person and that they don’t feel for anyone else. That’s the kind of love that makes two people get married. That’s how I love Liz.”

Brittany mulled over the mystery that was adulthood.

“Will I get married?”

The question sent an abrupt pang through his heart, and made him think of his own child. “I suppose so, but only if you find someone wonderful who understands how special you are.”

“Like you did?”

“Yes, exactly like that.”

“Okay.” Apparently satisfied, she laid her head on his shoulder, and he lifted his eyes to see Liz approaching them.

“You two are deep in conversation.” She ran her hand down Brittany’s back and mimed to Max that his niece’s eyes were drooping.

“We were discussing the true nature of love,” Max told her seriously.

“Really. Well, that’s quite a subject.”

“Aunt Liz?”

Liz’s eyes widened at the new title. “Yes, Brit?”

“Do you understand how special Uncle Max is?”

Liz’s smile was both surprised and warm as she shifted her gaze back to Max. “You bet I do, honey.”

“Then it’s good you got married.”

“I think so, too.”

“When you’re all done with him and I’m grown up, I might marry him, too.”

Liz swallowed her laugh, though Max’s expression made it hard. “Let’s just see how it goes, shall we?”

“Okay.”

And her eyes closed completely.

******
Three hours of dancing, kissing on demand, and greeting each and every guest was enough, Max decided. He loved his family, he loved his friends, he loved celebrating his good fortune. What he especially loved, though, was Liz and the concept of “honeymoon.” It was time to get on with theirs.

“Let’s blow this joint,” he whispered in her ear during a rare dance together.

“I thought you’d never ask,” she whispered back. “I hope the party hasn’t worn you out, because I have plans for you.”

Every nerve in his body reacted, and his fingers pressed reflexively into her flesh.

“Give me five minutes.”

Standing on the slightly raised platform that served as a stage and, in this case, music center, Max took the microphone in hand.

“Can I have everyone’s attention?” The din gradually quieted, and Max held out his hand for Liz to join him.

“This has been, without a doubt, the best day of my life. Liz and I love you all, and can’t thank you enough for sharing this special day with us. That being said, we can’t wait to leave.”

The laughter erupted amidst catcalls and crude jokes, but Max only grinned as Liz buried her face in his shoulder.

“Well said,” he chuckled. “So we bid you goodbye with our thanks, our love, and a promise to see you all when we get back. Goodnight.”

It was only a whim, but it just seemed to fit. With one easy swoop, he had his surprised bride scooped into his arms and was marching toward the doors. Jeremy and Thad opened them wide as the crowd cheered, and Max never broke stride until they’d reached his car, already loaded with two suitcases.

“Getting a little carried away?” Liz smirked as he set her down.

“No, I believe that was you,” he grinned.

Liz slid between Max and the car door and wrapped herself around him. “I haven’t told you how incredibly hot you look in dress whites. I couldn’t even walk down the aisle at first for drooling over you.”

Her voice had gone husky and her eyes seductive. His body kicked into overdrive, but she wasn’t finished yet.

“So look out, Lt. Commander, because when I’m done with you, you’ll be nothing but a useless collection of quivering nerves.”

Immediately, his knees turned to water, and he braced one hand against the car. Crushing his lips to hers, the fire began to burn inside him.

“God, I want you, Liz. Right now. Right here.”

She’d wanted to light that fire, gloried in it when she did, but she hadn’t been prepared for the sudden explosion inside her own body. She had a plan for tonight, a gift for her new husband, but why she ever thought she could maintain control was a mystery at this particular moment. After all, she’d never managed it before.

“Get us out of here,” she panted, then all but ran to the other side of the car. Gravel flew as Max roared out of the parking lot. Everyone thought they were going to San Francisco for their long weekend, which was all they could get given the state of things at work, but they had decided weeks ago that they wouldn’t waste those precious hours driving on a highway when they could be enjoying each other, so they turned away from the Interstate and headed out of town to a small bed-and-breakfast halfway to the Mexican border. The brochures had promised quiet beauty and uninterrupted privacy. It was exactly what they wanted.

The hour in the car was exquisite torture. Liz made them both crazy with her restless hands and whispered promises. Max tried desperately to focus on the road, but it kept swimming in images of Liz that had no business on a public street. He was already strung tight when Liz slid a hand down his thigh.

“Liz!” Max swerved off the road, breathing hard. He brought his face within inches of hers, and when he spoke, his voice was hoarse. “You have two choices: we can climb into the back seat and relieve some of this tension right now, or you can keep your hands on that side of the car for another 15 minutes. Your call.”

His face was positively comical. Yes, she’d been trying to drive him crazy, but maybe she’d pushed just a little too far. There was a dangerous gleam in his eye.

“Not that immediate gratification doesn’t hold a certain appeal,” she said, barely holding back the laughter, “but I’d rather not have our first time as a married couple be a quickie in the back seat of a car parked along the road.” She placed her hands deliberately in her lap. “I’ll be good.”

She couldn’t tell if he was relieved or disappointed, but he stared at her for a full 20 seconds before shifting back into his seat, taking a deep breath, and pulling back onto the road. They traveled in silence for several minutes.

“You mad?”

He turned to look at her in disbelief. “Mad? You think I’m angry?” His laughter was a short explosion that made her frown. “I’m so hard right now, Liz, my seat belt might snap in a minute. This is pain, not anger.”

She felt the laughter rising again, and he goggled at her. “I’m sorry, Max,” she snorted, “but I had no idea I was making things so hard on you . . . if you’ll forgive the pun.”

He relaxed slightly and managed a tight smile. “It doesn’t take much, Liz. And when you’re trying . . .”

They were both relieved when they rounded a bend and saw the sign for “Asilo Pacifico.”

Buckets of colorful flowers seemed to pop into the beam of their headlights as they descended along the drive to an adobe structure that climbed three stories into a cliff on one side and opened to a panoramic view of the ocean on the other—at least it would be panoramic in the morning. The huge windows that rose almost floor to ceiling at each level would guarantee that.

“Max, it’s . . . it’s charming.”

It could have been the retreat of a wealthy pirate with a taste for Mexican style and American luxury. From the stucco walls and red tile roof to the arched doorways and authentic pottery, the southwestern flavor offered a warm and intimate welcome, but there was no detail left to chance, no touch that didn’t reflect taste and quality. Only four parking spaces were labeled for guests—a good indication that there wouldn’t be many people around to intrude on their time together. The first floor, they knew, had common rooms for enjoying a fire or taking a meal or watching the only television on the premises. The other two floors held only two suites each, and they weren’t disappointed to see just one other car.

“Asilo Pacifico. Peaceful Haven. It’s a perfect name for this place,” Liz smiled. “I’m glad we changed our plans.”

“Me, too.” He turned to look at her, the urgency of a short time before on simmer for the moment. “I feel so . . . happy.” He shook his head. “That’s not a big enough word. I just feel . . .”

“Don’t try, Max. I have, over and over, and there’s just no word for this.” She kissed him. “Let’s go in.”

They mounted the six steps to a wide veranda where cozy groupings of rocking chairs and gliders invited guests to relax and enjoy what was surely a grand vista. The tall double doors were already standing open to a broad entry hall that looked into what could have been the comfortable living room of a good friend. Max set down the suitcases as a short, slender woman who looked to be in her 50s—she could have been Jesse’s mother, Liz mused—hurried in and greeted them with a smile. “Ah, the Evanses, yes?”

“Yes.” Liz felt the little thrill run through her again. Liz Parker Evans. The name already felt like hers. “That’s us.”

“I’m Carlotta. Welcome.” She took keys from a hook behind a cherry desk.

“Your wedding night.” She beamed at them. “We’re so glad you’ve come. Leave the bags. Henry will bring them up shortly.”

They followed her, hand in hand, up the wide staircase and then again up a narrower set of stairs.

“Our best suite,” she assured them as she opened the doors.

“Max.” Liz stopped just inside the door and pressed her hands to her cheeks. She felt Max’s arms slide around her, and tears she thought were finally dried sprang free. “This is beautiful.”

The wide room was almost all window on one wall, and Liz already couldn’t wait to wake up to the view. Soft shades of peach, beige, and seafoam seemed to blend into a seascape of their own, and were reflected in the bedding and furniture. The bed, a huge king with a gauzy canopy, drew their eyes right away, but their hostess was already leading them into the massive bathroom, with a whirlpool tub big enough for two and another large window. Liz blinked at the sense of exposure the bathroom window gave her, but Max’s eyes were twinkling over his smile when she looked at him. Apparently, privacy wasn’t an issue in the remote location.

There was a fruit basket on the dresser, and every other surface held candles, ready to turn the idyllic getaway into a romantic nest. From this height, the window looked out over subtly lit rock gardens strewn with wildflowers and dotted with small fountains that seemed to form naturally from the terrain.

“This is like a dream,” Liz breathed. The reaction obviously pleased Carlotta enormously.

“Here’s Henry with your luggage.” They turned to see a small man with graying hair and dancing eyes carry their bags through the doorway. His size belied his strength, Max realized, as he set the heavy bags down without a grunt.

Max fished in his pocket for some cash, but Carlotta put a hand on his arm. “Think of this as your home while you are here,” she said warmly. “Your fee for the room pays for all services. Just enjoy.” And with an approving smile for both of them, she slipped her hand into her husband’s and closed the door behind them.

“I knew it would be nice, but . . .” Liz turned toward Max and found him watching her. His gaze was loving . . . and hungry. The urgency was back.

“You are the sexiest wife I’ve ever had,” he murmured, stepping toward her with slow, deliberate steps. “The kind of wife that makes a man’s blood boil.”

She stepped away from him, and watched his flicker of surprise with satisfaction.

“I need a minute,” Liz said, “to . . . get ready.” She’d put enough suggestion in her voice to enjoy watching his eyes darken a shade. “I’ll be back. Don’t go anywhere.”

Taking her small bag into the bathroom, she shut the door with a sharp “click,” and thought she heard a frustrated growl from the other side. She’d have him more than growling before long.

Saving the luxurious bath for later, she opted for a quick shower, then took her time with the rest of the regimen, creaming her skin, brushing her hair, dabbing on fragrance, and finally slipping into the most sinful lingerie she’d ever owned. Even now, it almost embarrassed her, but she’d succumbed to Svea’s and Jesse’s urging when they saw it in the shop window, and she remembered how Max had reacted after Christmas when Vicki had given her those sexy babydolls.

The barely-there nightie was sheer burgundy mesh in front, covering only the two feet from breasts to thigh and held together across the sides and back with a thin web of straps sparkling with sequins and rhinestones. She debated whether to even bother with the matching thong, but decided the full effect was the best effect, and pulled them on.

Staring at herself in the mirror, she was mildly shocked. She’d never thought of herself as sexy, let alone a seductress, but Max did, and it had changed how she saw herself. Even now, she was a little self-conscious about the blatant invitation she wore, and yet, why not? This was her husband, and the sexiest man alive. There wasn’t much she wouldn’t do to see that look in his eyes that made her feel weak and powerful all at once.

With a final touch of color to her cheeks, she slipped her feet into strappy rhinestone heels and turned out the light. Opening the door quietly, she saw Max lighting the last of the candles, wearing only silk boxers. His back was to her as she stepped into the room, but she could see his reflection in the mirror and spent a moment appreciating the muscular build he’d worked to regain after his ordeal. The candlelight washed his already tanned skin with a golden glow, and she felt the stirring deep within her. He didn’t even have to work at turning her insides to jelly.

As he raised the match to blow it out, he caught sight of her in the mirror and froze. It was the look she wanted to see and more. Who knew how long he would have stared if the flame of the match hadn’t licked his fingers and jolted him into motion? He blew on the match almost absentmindedly, and turned to her, mouth open slightly, eyes roving over her like the lotion she had so carefully applied.

Deciding he wasn’t ready to speak, she did a slow turn, nearly stepping back at the look in his eyes when she finished. She wanted dangerous? She’d gotten that and then some. When he started toward her, she stood her ground, her heart racing faster with every step he took.

There were no coherent thoughts as he looked at her. There was only need and lust. His wife had disappeared into the next room minutes ago, but the woman who emerged didn’t look like a wife. She looked like a fantasy, an erotic promise that men visited in their most private dreams but never thought to see in their fondest reality. She was sex and invitation and challenge, and his body responded on every instinctual level.

He stepped toward her, hardly aware of the movement until he was inches away. Oh god, she smelled . . . incredible. His fingers—shaking, though neither of them realized it—touched her face, her throat, her shoulder, skimmed the side of her breast until they reached the swell of her hip.

Then he found her eyes again, found Liz again, and crushed her against him, his lips hot and demanding on hers. Hands traced her back, fingers slid under the criss-cross of thin straps that felt as fragile as spider webs. She responded with the same searing heat, molding herself to him like wax, soft and pliable and ready to bend to his touch.

He swept her up and carried her to the massive bed, then pressed her into the mattress, every curve and mound touching off a storm of need. He had to touch, to taste everything that she was, every dark place that only he knew. The knowledge that no one else would ever be with her like this again, that this gift was for him alone, pounded through him, a feeling so powerful and so humbling, he could hardly contain the emotion.

He slowed his attack and raised his eyes to hers. “Liz, I love you.” It seemed so inadequate. “I . . . I love you.”

Her hands came to his face, and he wanted to dive into the look of love she offered him.

“Show me.”

Her words snapped something inside of him, and he lost himself in the desire. His lips traced a wet trail down her throat, her shoulders, and nudged away the wisp of material over her breast. Drawing her peak into his mouth, he began to suckle, his blood roaring over the sound of her soft moans. His hand cupped her other breast and stroked it until it hardened like the first, then he took that one in, lightheaded with the taste and smell and sensation of her giving.

Creamy skin beckoned him, drawing him deeper into her mystery like a maze he never wanted to solve. Nuzzling aside the rest of the material, he dipped his tongue into her naval and felt her squirm beneath him, then followed the scent of desire to her core. He wanted to feast, to explore, to take her to new heights, but not yet—not until she had no will left but to cry out for him. He dispensed with the scanty thong, then worked his way up from her feet with slow, methodical torture. A pause to suck on the pulse point of her ankle, a trail of kisses up her shin, a light nip along the back of her knee, then a slow, thorough exploration of her thighs. Higher. Higher.

With a whimper of frustration, she pulled his head to feast on her, and he gratefully obliged, tasting, plunging, stimulating until he felt her arch like a bow and dissolve into hot liquid.

“God, Max. Oh, god, Max.”

Her breath was fast and irregular when he crawled back up her body, and he savagely beat back the urge to ravish her and have it done. His body was throbbing; he couldn’t breathe. But he wanted to give her time to enjoy.

“Let’s not set our sites too high, okay?” he teased through clenched teeth. He kissed her lightly and let her float, though his blood boiled, and he tasted the salty dampness. When he kissed her again, there was still desire, but there was tenderness, too. Her tears told him he had given her something wondrous, and somehow, that calmed his soul.

“Max.” It was little more than a breath.

“Yes, love.”

“Max, take me. Make me your wife.”

He was frozen for a fleeting second with the impact of her words. Make me your wife. She had been his wife, in his heart, for so long already. But this was different. This was a new beginning, a new direction. This was their first time.

He rose over her, waiting until her eyes met his. “You are mine, Liz. And I am yours.” He slipped into her and time seemed to stop. “Do you feel it, Liz? We are one. We were meant to be one.”

Another tear slipped down her cheek, such a modest symbol for the torrent of emotion that hung between them. Yes, she felt it--their two souls that had been incomplete, searching, until they’d found each other. She had wondered if “happily ever after” existed, but she realized now it wasn’t about finding “the perfect man.” It wasn’t something that happened to you. It was about learning to accept another soul that brought to yours what it was missing and, so much harder, to share your soul with another. It was about giving, and it had taken Max to show her that.

She clung to him, pressing his mouth to hers as her body sought to give and give—in gratitude and love. They began to move, all that passed between them played out in the union of bodies and hearts. She met him, thrust for thrust, in the dizzying dance they’d come to perfect, and she recognized that moment of blind focus just before he poured himself into her. She gave herself to the bliss and fell with him over the edge.

******
She must have dozed, but had no idea how long. It was still pitch black outside and the candles still cast their gold along the walls. She was spooned tightly against him, and recognized the curl in her stomach even before she knew why. She smiled into the dark. He hadn’t been sleeping, that was sure. The arm that pillowed her neck was bent across her chest and his fingers stroked her breast. At her back, she felt him, hard and ready. It shot a current through her system that had every nerve sparking.

Without a word, she lifted her leg to rest on his, and after a flicker of surprised hesitation, he slid into the heat that he’d been fantasizing about only seconds before.
They didn’t speak, but rode the gentle crest as it swelled, a gradual wave that drew power as it moved toward the shore. Max’s free hand slid into her damp curls, one finger plunging into her folds until the pressure built to the brink of pain, then exploded through her like fireworks. The intensity of her climax rocked him, and he erupted inside her with almost no warning.

“Liz.” There was wonder in his voice and love in his touch as his hand rose to stroke the small swell of her abdomen. She turned in his arms and kissed him.

“Hi.” They watched each other, then shared a foolish smile.

“I’m sorry I woke you.”

“I’m sorry I fell asleep. Although not that sorry, if that’s how you intend to wake me up.”

He chuckled. “I can’t help it. If you’re near me, I get hard. I’m starting to get used to walking around that way.”

The thought delighted her. “Well, at least we don’t have to worry about birth control on our honeymoon.”

His smile widened. “True. How’s our baby doing?”

He shifted until he could nuzzle the firm mound. “Helloooo, baby. It’s Daddy again. Just checking in. Have we been keeping you up?” Laying his ear against her, he seemed to listen carefully, then spoke again, his mouth tickling her with its vibrations. “I know, but she won’t leave me alone. There isn’t much I can do about it.”

Liz grinned down at him, oddly touched by this father/child moment.

“She’s very sexy, your mother. Not that you should be thinking in those terms, of course, but I do.” His eyes met hers. “Constantly.” He pretended to listen again. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Max sat up. “She wants me to tell you she needs some rest, and that you should get some sleep.”

Liz squinted at him, eyes laughing, but her heart was bursting with love that just seemed to get more overpowering each day. “Is that right?”

“Yes, and I think she’s right.”

“Tell him that this is our honeymoon, and that I intend to make love with my husband for four days straight or until he expires from exhaustion, whichever comes first, and that someday, he’ll appreciate the sentiment.”

Max’s grin faded gradually as Liz rose to her knees and slowly peeled off the skimpy swatch of fabric that had left little to the imagination. She shook her hair loose from the web of straps in the back, and pinned him with a look of invitation that had him holding his breath.

“Let’s test that theory, shall we?”

Taking him by the shoulders, she pressed him back against the bed and moved to straddle him. “You said being near me makes you hard.” She bent low to study him, repressing a giggle when she saw his soft flesh stir. “The question is, just how fast can you recover?” She drew her tongue up one side, then swirled it around his tip. The result was fascinating.

Drawing herself up to her knees again, she ran her hands up her sides, over her breasts, and into her hair, then settled over him with a slow rocking motion. His mouth was hanging open and his wide eyes watched her every move. She was astounded at herself; this was the second time she’d gone about blatantly seducing him, and her enjoyment in doing it still surprised her. Might as well go for broke.

Her hands came back to rest on her breasts, and she watched his eyes riveted to her movements. She flicked her nipples with her thumbs, and felt a more insistent twitch between her legs. She picked up the pace with her hips and felt his flex in response.

“Now if you want to get some sleep, feel free. Just pretend I’m not here.” She let one hand fall to where they were nearly joined, then let two fingers disappear beneath the curls. He watched, his breath coming in short gasps now. She knew he could feel her fingers against him even as she slid them through her folds. She threw her head back and let the sensations she was causing lead her. His eyes on her were almost as erotic as his hands and mouth. She was discovering so much with him that was new.

He moaned when she lifted herself from him, then cried out when her hand surrounded him instead. Stroking lightly, slowly, she realized he had come fully hard for her already, and realized he hadn’t been exaggerating before. To provoke such a reaction was . . . well, it was empowering and humbling all at once.

Impulse had her slipping her lips around him, aroused at the long groan it drew from him, along with the first few pearly drops. His musky scent filled her and his urgent need consumed her. His hips began to thrust and she thrilled to the sounds of his pleasure. It was tempting to keep him here, to let him find release here, but she didn’t get to finish that thought.

Her mouth on him was the single most painful and pleasurable sensation of his life. Just a few strokes of her tongue had him close to bursting, and he none-too-gently grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her up.

“Inside you,” he gasped, his gentle intentions shattered.

He was sitting up and lifting her over him, his eyes begging for her. Alive with power, she took him in, elated as she watched his pretense of calm and control dissolve into focused desire. He surged into her again and again, a look of intense concentration on his face, his hands gripping her thighs. Soon she was soaring with him, a collection of nerves and senses on overload in a purely physical world; she surrounded him with her body, he suckled fiercely at her breast.

“I love you.” It escaped her lips like a prayer, and he felt his heart tremble. When she crested, the warm wave of his release spread through her. They fell together, unaware of their own tears.


******
This time, they both slept like the dead, wrapped in each other’s arms as only lovers can. Dawn had come and gone when they opened their eyes and shared their first morning smile as husband and wife.

“Let’s get married again today,” Liz sighed. “That was fun.”

Max squeezed her against him, and wondered if it were possible to be this happy. “Okay.”

They lay there quietly, just enjoying the solitude and peace.

“I wonder how Alex fared,” Max finally said.

“What do you mean?”

“He was going to ask Svea to marry him last night.”

“What?” Liz sat straight up and smacked her new husband. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

His amused eyes highlighted the smirk. “I was distracted. And ‘ow,’ by the way.”

“I should call her!”

Half believing her, Max grabbed her arm. “Liz, now? First of all, they’re probably asleep, and second of all, what does that say about our honeymoon that you’re making calls at the crack of dawn.”

It was Liz’s turn to smirk. “Worried about your reputation?”

“Damn straight,” he answered, still holding on to her arm. She burst out laughing.

“Well, I didn’t mean now, but it’s interesting to learn you’re so insecure. I can probably use that at some point.”

“Already learning to exploit my weaknesses?” He grabbed her and wrestled her to the bed. “That’s military thinking, civilian. You don’t want to take me on, trust me.”

Accepting his challenge, they fought an uneven fight, in spite of Max’s cooperation. He declared victory and lifted her into his arms. “I’d throw you over my shoulder and haul you into that tub in there, but I’m afraid that might not be good for the baby, so I’ll have to carry you like this.”

Liz moaned with pleasure at the thought of a bath. “Oh, yes, please. And then we have to eat something. I’m starving.”

“Good point.” Carrying her toward the dresser, he managed to pick up the fruit basket and take it with them into the bathroom. Minutes later, they sank into a deep tub of hot whirling water and bubbles, and got their first long look at the panoramic view. Liz sighed happily.

“Max, this is absolutely perfect. You’re absolutely perfect. Everything is absolutely perfect! There’s nothing half so sweet in life as love’s young dream. Thomas Moore.”

He smiled at her. What a long way we’ve come, he thought, and offered her an orange slice. She was radiant this morning. Certainly “love’s young dream.”

“Nothing is perfect Liz. Least of all me.”

She turned to look at him, surprised by his serious tone.

“But I promise you this. It will be as perfect as I can make it.” When she tilted her head, he went on. “I’ll mess up, you’ll mess up, our kids will mess up. That’s life. But I wouldn’t change it. And I believe—no, I know—the way we feel about each other will make it all worth it.”

“You know the last thing my mother said to me before I walked down the aisle?”

“What?”

“She said, Marriage is three parts love and seven parts forgiveness of sins. Langdon Mitchell.”

He smiled. “Sounds about right. Now I’ve got one for you.”

“Really?” This was a first.

Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction. Saint-Exupéry.” At her quizzical expression, he chuckled. “Vicki adores Saint-Exupéry, ever since she read Le Petit Prince in high school. She sent me that in a card after we got engaged.”

Liz smiled and touched her lips to his, then settled back in his arms. The ocean gleamed in the morning sun, a gull sailed off toward a distant ship, and the surf fought its eternal battle against the shore.

As one, they looked outward together toward their future.
Carol/spacemom

Max and Liz: The love that is Roswell--"You have gone through me like thread through a needle. Now everything I do is stitched with your color."

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