Author: mockingbird39 PM
It's been ten years since Liz Parker brought Max Evans back from the dead, evening the score between them. But now Max needs one more favor.Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 4 - Words: 9,810 - Reviews: 18 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 04-01-03 - Published: 03-29-03 - id: 1286913
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Category: Max/Liz Future Fic
Timeline: Post-Chant Down Babylon
Summary: It's been ten years since Liz Parker brought Max Evans back from the dead, evening the score between them. But now Max needs one more favor.
Prologue—St. Petersburg, Russia, November 2012
I've always loved St. Petersburg. From the first time I walked down Nevskii Prospekt, I felt like I could be a new person here. A person who wasn't bogged down by guilt and regret and memories. Someone who didn't cry at night and dream about things that would never be. I came here two years ago, fresh from eighteen months in Christian Dior's New York offices, clutching my passport, my Russian phrasebook, and my Harvard law degree—so new it hadn't even had time to get dusty on Fifth Avenue. My boss in New York had apologized profusely when she asked me to take the placement in Russia. The company had authorized her to offer all sorts of bonuses in addition to the relocation bonus, the one year of free housing, the personal expense account, and the hardship pay in case I resisted, but she barely had to start in on them. I was more than ready to go somewhere new. I wasn't exactly sure what I'd be doing in St. Petersburg, only that the contracts department there was a mess and desperately needed some new blood. Three months after the first meeting with my boss, I left the United States. I haven't been back since.
St. Petersburg is an relatively young city that was once the most Western in Russia. Now it is old, gracious, and considered quaint in comparison to the glittering new regime in Moscow. I've visited Moscow several times, and it is an amazing place. I always feel energized there. But I am always glad to return to Petersburg, with its gentle colors and faded elegance. I live in the Fontanka district, in an apartment that is actually part of an eighteenth century palace. It has parquet floors and a marble fireplace and is reached by a wide, curving staircase that I never descend without feeling like a princess. My office is close by on Nevskii Prospekt, not far from the magnificent Church of the Spilled Blood, within walking distance of the Winter Palace complex. My favorite French restaurant is close enough to visit during my lunch hour, as is the famed Pushkin Café, from which the poet left on his way to his last, fateful duel. Once a month, a group of expatriate ("expat") women meet there for breakfast. We've formed close friendships there, and together with out male counterparts, we form a tight group.
I have a good life here. I'm successful, challenged, and happy. It's not what I imagined for myself back in high school, but it's still good. My past in Roswell, New Mexico, is not something I care to think about very often. So when I walked home one evening in late November and found Michael Guerin sitting outside my front door, I was shaken. I'm ashamed to say I didn't give Michael a very nice welcome, considering that he had come halfway around the world to talk to me.
I remember he was sitting in the front lobby, talking to the doorman when I stepped into my building that evening. It was already dark out—Petersburg nights come early in winter—and a light snow was falling. The lobby was warm, and I quickly pulled off my hat before the snow on it had a chance to melt and soak my hair. I called a greeting to the doorman and was almost to the staircase before I heard him.
Liz. No one in Petersburg calls me Liz. I turned slowly and found Michael there, holding a backpack and a parka. His hair was long and messy, his jeans and sweater rumpled. I found myself thinking how very American he looked.
"Michael," I said, dumbfounded. "What are you doing here?"
He shrugged. "I came to see you."
I was at a loss. The only person apart from my parent that I'd kept in touch with from Roswell was Maria. "Uh. . .it's great to see you," I told him, then I had a terrible thought. "Is something—has something happened to—?" I couldn't finish.
Michael shook his head. "No, nothing like that." He gave me a brief, awkward hug. "You look good, Liz."
"Thanks," I said, searching his face. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what Michael was doing in Petersburg—unless it had to do with Max. And if there was anything I'd worked hard to avoid, it was the thought, mention, and memory of Max Evans.
Maybe I'd better explain.
Vermont, March 2002
"I can't believe I've got to stay here."
Max and I were standing near the gates of the school. It was three days after I'd woken up with the conviction that my soul mate was dead, one day after Clayton Wheeler had come to Vermont to kill me and rid himself of Max's presence, twelve hours after we'd taken a swan dive out a fifth story window into the gardener's shed, and about nine hours after I'd finally become secure enough in the knowledge that Max was alive to let myself sleep. We'd slept in each other's arms that night, neither of us willing to be apart. The next morning I'd gone to the dean's office to withdraw from school, intending to go home to Roswell that day. But it wasn't that easy. I'd need a parent's permission to leave Vermont, and neither of my parents were inclined to give it. I begged and pleaded and cajoled my father for almost an hour (without telling him the actual truth, of course), and he finally agreed to let me come home, but only after I'd thought about it for two weeks. I guess he thought I was just homesick and would get over it. I couldn't blame him; in his place I probably would have thought the same thing. But now I was about to be forced into saying goodbye to Max, less than a day after I'd finally gotten him back.
"It's only for a little while," Max soothed, placing his hands on my shoulders. He looked as loathe to do this as I felt, but he was resigned to it. I was not.
"It's too long," I protested. "I just got you back, Max. I can't lose you yet."
"Lose me?" he repeated, frowning. "Who said anything about losing me?" He kissed me gently, and I could feel the energy surge between us. "Let me tell you how this is going to go." He took my hand and we began walking across the grounds. "We're going to be apart for two weeks. I'll call you every day—I promise. Then you're going to get on a plane and come back to Roswell and I'm going to be waiting for you at the airport. We're going to finish high school and then we're going to go to college somewhere together."
"Harvard?" I asked, though after that disastrous interview I wasn't sure they'd even consider me.
"Where ever you want to go," Max said, kissing my hand. "I'd follow you to Cambridge—I'd follow you to Calcutta, if that's what you want."
"What about Roswell?" I asked, looking down. "Don't you have to stay there?"
"Liz, after what's happened the past few days I'm wondering if it's safe for any of us to stay in Roswell." He squeezed my fingers. "Maybe trying to stay there was the wrong way to go to begin with."
I could agree with that. Roswell may have been home, but at that moment I wasn't sure I wanted Max or anyone I loved to stay in that town. It had been too dangerous for all of us. "So we're leaving Roswell?" I asked.
"Only if it's together." He leaned down and kissed me again. "The next time either of us gets the urge to move across the country, we're going to be sitting side by side on that plane."
You should never make promises that depend on things you can't control. I learned that from Max Evans, years ago. But I didn't know that then, and I held that promise tight for weeks and months afterward. It comforted me in the night, and made me think everything would be okay again one day. I remember the girl who believed that promise, and sometimes I feel sorry for her. I wonder what she would have done on that late winter day in Vermont all those years ago if she could have known what was to come. I think maybe it was better that she didn't know.
St. Petersburg, 2012
Maxwell would kill me if he knew I was here. I don't know everything that happened between him and Liz all those years ago, but I understand why he did it. He wanted her to have a life that didn't involve waiting for him and planning her dreams around something that might never have happened. If it had been me, I might have done the same thing. I like to think so, anyway. I'm not entirely sure I would have had the strength. But I'm not as noble as Maxwell is, and I think that eleven years is enough penance for anyone to pay. So three weeks ago I decided to ask Liz for help, and I wasn't going to ask Max's permission. I would have come to St. Petersburg earlier, but it took me that long to find Liz. Everyone who might have been able to tell me where she lived had moved away long ago. Finally, I tracked down Maria. . .through a fan site on the Internet. Oh, yeah—Maria's a singer now, in case you didn't know. Big time record deal, huge place in L.A., and a tour schedule that makes her hell to track down. She was in Canyon City, Arizona when I found her. She pretended to be glad to see me, but there was no way she was giving up Liz's address without a good reason. Finally I had to break down and tell her the truth. She waited two days, then called me with an address I couldn't spell, much less pronounce. But I booked a flight anyway, and roamed St. Petersburg until I found someone who could tell me what the address meant.
From the looks of Liz's building, she's done all right for herself. It's huge, old, and ornate, and it reeks of money. So does Liz, come to think of it. She walks like she's used to people paying attention to her—like she expects the world to make way for her. And it apparently has.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, her eyes narrowing.
I glanced at the doorman, who spoke almost no English but was looking vastly interested in this, and decided I wasn't going to lay out my problems before an entire building full of rich people. So I shrugged. "I came to see you."
"Uh, it's great to see you," she stammered, and I could sense her thoughts whirling until they hit on something that made all the color drain from her face. "Is something—has something happened to—?"
She couldn't finish, and suddenly the successful grown woman before me looked like the teenage girl who had come out of a fun house thirteen years ago to tell us that Max had vanished into a government van. I couldn't stand that look in her eyes, and I ended up hugging her. "No, nothing like that," I assured her, then leaned back to study her as her heartbeat returned to a normal speed. It had been ten years since I'd seen Liz Parker, but I'd have recognized her anywhere. Her hair was shorter—serious hair, I could imagine Maria saying—but it was just as dark and shiny as ever. Her eyes seemed larger than I remembered, but it might have been the fact that she'd lost weight over the past decade and her features were sharper, more defined. She was wearing a finely tailored coat made of black wool and trimmed in rich black fur, and a brown leather briefcase dangled from her black-gloved hand. She was still beautiful—astonishingly beautiful, and now she carried with her a bit of mystery. The kind of mystery that accompanies a broken heart.
"Liz, do you mind if we go upstairs?" I asked. "I've got some things I need to talk to you about."
Something flickered across her face as I asked it, and it was only later that I realized it was fear. She swallowed hard. "Wouldn't. . .wouldn't you rather go to a restaurant or something?" she wanted to know.
I shook my head. "No. No, I'm really not hungry. I've been all over the city today looking for you. I just need to talk to you."
"Right." All the breath seemed taken out of her. "You. . .you must be tired. Upstairs, then." She turned and led the way up a massive marble staircase.
Liz's apartment was on the second floor, down a long hall lined with lush carpet and expensive wall paper. "It's right down here," she said, walking quickly in her heeled boots. She paused at the door, her hand on the knob. "Are you sure you don't want to. . .um, go to a café or something?"
"No, this is fine," I assured her. She seemed awfully nervous, considering I hadn't told her anything yet.
"Okay." She seemed to brace herself as she turned her key in the lock and opened the door. "Come in, then."
The apartment was as fancy as the rest of the building. The floors were inlaid, the foyer paneled in dark wood. Liz called out to someone named Gruya, but the person who came into the foyer to greet her didn't look like a Gruya. It was a tall man with dark hair and strong features, dressed in a business suit and expensive tie. Liz looked alarmed when she saw him.
"Thierry," she said, quickly crossing to him. She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. "I didn't expect you tonight."
"I thought I would surprise you," he answered in a slight French accent. "I didn't know you would have company." I didn't like the way he looked me over—like if I was competition, he wasn't overly worried.
"It's a night for surprises," Liz said hurriedly. "Thierry, this is an old friend of mine, Michael Guerin. Michael, this is Thierry duPontiers. Michael is in Petersburg. . .on business."
DuPontiers nodded and held out his hand. "My pleasure," he said. "Elizabeth rarely talks about her home. Perhaps you can fill me in."
"I don't know how long I'm going to be here," I said, shaking his hand briefly. He had a firm grip, but that didn't make him any more likable.
He looked from me to Liz, then nodded almost imperceptibly. "Of course. Then perhaps I should be on my way." He kissed Liz's hand, then her cheek, and took an overcoat from a closet near the door.
"You don't have to leave," Liz murmured.
"Tomorrow, Elizabeth. I will return tomorrow. Tomorrow is the opera, yes?"
Liz nodded. "Yes, Yevgeny Onegin at the Mossugorskii."
"Until tomorrow evening, then," he said. "Let me just say good night to Sophie." He turned to the living room and called out, "Sophie, come say good night, cherie!"
Sophie? I couldn't imagine who Sophie could be until I heard clattering footsteps from the living room and a shrill voice calling in return. "Thierry, where are you going? I thought you were going to stay and read to me some more!"
I looked over at Liz, whose face was white, and then to the door. A child stood there, a little girl. My first thought was that she seemed a miniature of Liz—dark hair, high cheekbones, slender frame that would one day be just voluptuous enough to haunt a man's dreams. Then I noticed her eyes. They were a deep amber, flecked with gold that glimmered in the flickering light from the foyer chandelier. I knew those eyes. I had known them in two lifetimes. They were Max's eyes.
The little girl looked at the three of us standing in the foyer with unabashed childish curiosity, then walked straight to Liz. "Mommy!" she exclaimed happily, wrapping her arms around Liz's waist. "You're home."