-1Title: Boarders and Babes

Author: Vix PG13- R (No bad sex scenes like TNCAS but there's cursing)

Disclaimers: I own the story and the characters belong to UPN, WB, etc..

Summary: Each was the best...the badest...well... That was until they met each other.

Category: AU

Author Notes: I can't believe it's over. Wow. I had fun, hope you guys did as well. I'm considering an Epilogue- but if you think it is/isn't needed let me know and I'll figure it out from there! For all those who made it this far thanks for sticking with me. I know it's been crazy!

Part Twenty Two

"So you want to be a doctor?" Liz asked her chin bobbing on Max's shoulder as he carried her, piggy back style, down the road.

"That's my plan." Max said gruffly hitching her up higher on his back.

"Your plan," Liz said tilting her head to look at the stars, "but not their plan."

Max grimaced at the pronoun, he hated thinking of his parents as a 'they', but they had really left him and his siblings no choice, "No, they want me to follow in Daddy dearest's footsteps because Michael won't."

"The franchise." Liz concluded.

"Yep, they keep trying to pin me with these summer intern things and I can't stand it." Max confided in her, "I love my parents, but they don't even know me."

Liz nodded her head solemnly, her lips brushing idly against his shoulder, "At least they don't know about your ...hobbies outside the law."

Max grinned, "I guess, sometimes I wish they'd find out so they could disown us."

Liz stared at his back, "You want to be disowned by your parents?"

"It'd be a clean break. They couldn't drag us back and we wouldn't have to worry about filling these little predestined molds they've made for us." Max said honestly turning the corner, the Valenti shop coming into view.

Liz could understand the logic, but couldn't sympathize with the sentiment, her mother was all the parent she had left, and she couldn't imagine being disowned by her. Looking from the skyline to her house she noted a strange happening on the hood of the West racer's car.

"Maria and Michael are going at it again." Liz shook her head against Max's.

Max smirked at his brother and Maria before glancing back at Liz, "Seems to me that they have the right idea."

"You'd think so wouldn't you." Liz scoffed with a laugh.

Stopping suddenly Max let loose his hold on Liz, letting her fall to her feet. Turning around he leered over her using his height against her vertical ineptness, "I do think so, got a problem with that?"

Liz smiled up at him letting her head tilt with fake consternation, "Maybe."

Max inched forward, leaning towards her smiling face, "Maybe?"

Liz took the opportunity of his slightly lowered body to jump on him. Linking her legs about his waist and her arms about his neck she managed to surprise him enough to throw his balance leaving them both tumbling to the grass beside the sidewalk. Subsequently the boards that had been strapped to Liz's back fell carelessly to the ground.

Liz looked cockily down at her boy toy from her perch on top of him, "Maybe not."

Max let lose a laugh before he reached for her, leaving them rolling in the grass fighting for power in the most pleasurable way.

"Was that a squeal?" Michael asked pulling his lips from Maria's ear lobe.

Maria's eyes took a moment to focus then narrow, "That was Liz."

"Liz squeals?" Michael asked skeptically.

Maria, ignoring Michael's inquiry, turned her head, listening and looking for what she must be confusing for her sister enjoying herself.

That's when she saw them, tousling on the ground. Of course Liz was squealing in glee, Maria thought dismally she's finally gonna kill him.

"Is she trying to choke him again?" Michael asked dispassionately.

"It looks like they're," Maria looked closer to be sure, "playing."

Michael's head popped off the hood of the car; he couldn't believe this unless he saw it.

True to Maria's statement the two twisted teens were laughing wildly as they battled for control on the ground.

Liz smiled as Max pressed her arms into the ground, "You think you can hold me?"

Max smiled at the words, his sincerity at the wish to do just that pushed aside, his cocky attitude shown through instead, "Oh I think I can."

Liz reared her hips against his, causing his eyes to narrow and the hue to intensify, if that was possible.

"That, Superwoman, is dangerous." Max's voice was gravely and his fingers were kneading her arms pleasantly.

"Really?" Liz asked doing it again, slower, her lower body grating against his and her games doing the same to his control.

"Ahem." The cough came from behind them, causing both to jump, partially because of surprise, and the other portion from embarrassment.

Maria's eyes were wide and smiling, "Finally cross to the dark side?"

"I didn't think she could get any more evil." Max said conversationally, receiving an elbow in the side for his trouble.

Pushing Liz back to the ground he sneered down at her, "Watch your elbows."

Liz, growling in return, "Make me Boarder Boy."

"Oh My God," Maria said rolling her eyes, "You two flirt horribly!'

Michael gave his brother a nod and wink before picking Maria up by the waist and hoisting her over his shoulder.

"Porcupine! Let me down!" Maria's voice was high with surprise as she half heartedly struggled against his hold.

"You're ankle must be feeling better." Michael said as if he wasn't carrying her across her own lawn.

Maria experimentally rotated it around, and not very surprisingly, found that it had stopped its acute pain. No doubt it would be tight tomorrow but nothing was permanently, or even severely, damaged.

"Michael," Maria's voice was as sugary as honey as he carried her into the garage.

Assuming Michael's grunt was a justified acknowledgement she continued, "Where are you taking me?"

"To your bike." Michael explained as he dropped her to her feet beside the fire red machine.

"And what am I doing here?" Maria asked looking between her precious baby and her boyfriend.

"We," Michael corrected leaning forward, dragging her bottom lip into his mouth, letting his tongue lavish it ever so teasingly, "are taking a ride."

"On my bike?" Maria asked shaking her head to clear the clouds that had rolled in when his teeth nipped at her chin.

"Unless you wanna walk." Michael shrugged straightening up.

"I'll go get the keys."

Alex nuzzled Isabel's ear as she sat the popcorn in front of them on the coffee table.

"I still don't see how this was more important than the game." Kyle gripped as he reached for a hand full of the buttered mutilated corn.

"Because you were losing." Isabel offered as if it should have been obvious.

"Not by much." Kyle said defensively.

All eyes turned to him skeptically.

After a beat Kyle shrugged, "Ok we were down by 40, but we could have come back. We had time."

"Since when does two minutes constitute time?" Alex asked his sister with raised eyebrows.

Chuckling at Kyle's expense Tess settled into the couch, and firmly into Kyle's side.

Kyle, although highly disturbed at the thought of his sister being cozy with her new beau, took it in stride as he compensated for hugging Tess a little closer. He wasn't sure he'd ever get used to the racer's public intimacy with his sister, but he didn't think Isabel would give him much say so in the matter.

Maria tromped through the door and straight across their line of sight as she made a bee-line for her room. Michael, who entered behind her lingered at the hallway, looking shocked at the two couples sharing the couch. Peace, with Kyle Valenti in the room… strange. This night just kept getting stranger and stranger.

And as if on cue two seemingly possessed teenagers tromped in behind him, startling the others.

Kyle's eyes sharpened and he tensed, seeing Max's arm around his most protected sister did horrible things to his stomach muscles. He shook his head briefly, not in denial or argument of the situation. He was only disparaged at the thought that from then on out he would have to more actively worry about all three of them. His hostile sisters had now fallen. And he knew it.

Maria hadn't actually brought a date home since junior high, and Isabel was entirely too comfortable for him to think her closeness with Alex was a flippant gesture of teen lust. And the losing straw was Liz's smile. With 'border boy's' arm around her waist she looked genuinely pleased.

Staring at the rolling previews he sighed. He could hate the boys for these worries, but then he knew they'd simply hate him because of the blonde in his arms. They were all precious things to be protected, no matter how surly they could be at times.

Michael perched against the wall watching Maria rifle around on the table until she pulled her keys from the mess of mail. With a victorious grin on her face she turned to him, "Off we go."

"We go? We go where?" Isabel asked leaning back against the couch arm to peer upside down at her little pixie of a sister

"We go bye bye." Maria said thumping Isabel in the head, "We shouldn't be too long."

"Ass." Isabel stuck her tongue out at her sister before turning back to the movie, snuggling a little closer to Alex.

Alex looked Michael over really quickly, "Are you gonna need a ride when you get back?"

"Nah, I got it covered." Michael replied not taking his eyes off Maria.

After the couple was out the door Liz snorted, "They're completely hopeless."

The four teens, who were particularly cozy on the couch, looked accusingly at her.

"They are." Liz shrugged, her movement moving Max's own arm up and down, as it rested around her shoulders now.

"Yeah," Kyle said with a tight lipped smile, "Because they're the only ones."

Liz's half hearted glare and Max's broad grin brought laughter to the rest of the on lookers.

"You're not driving." Maria said staring at Michael incredulously, "Repeat after me; Maria's bike. Maria's."

Michael rolled his eyes, "You don't know how to get there."

"Maria's Bike."

"Fine, just let me drive to our shop, and I'll pick up my own bike." Michael's voice was exasperated.

"Maria's…"

"Yeah, yeah." Michael grumbled, "I got it."

Maria smiled brightly as she let threw her legs over her baby, kicking up the kick stand and steadying it, waiting for him to climb on back.

"Hold on." Maria said patronizingly.

Michael directed a fierce stare at the back of her helmet, but his annoyance quickly faded away. Having her snuggled tightly between his legs could have that affect on him.

Taking the moment to enjoy the feeling of her against him, and the wind against his face, he leaned back and just simply let the experience lighten his mood of surrendering control.

At least it gave him time to think about what he was doing. He wanted to explain to her what happened in Japan. He wanted her to know, and he didn't think he could do it while everyone was around. He'd never done it before, and he didn't even check with the other's to ask if it was alright.

Did he have to check with them? The whole 'girl-friend' business was something so foreign to him, he didn't know the rules, or plays. Playing by ear was the most that he could do. He wanted to tell her, to kind of share something of himself. He knew they had fire, but what else?

As Maria pulled up to the curve Michael nimbly jumped off, careful not to cause her to dump the bike, knowing she would probably never forgive him for it.

She waited while he gathered his helmet and bike, and as soon as he was off down the street she was trailing him.

He skillfully winded his machine through traffic, across the highway, and then started onto the hard packed desert.

Maria hadn't been out here, and her unfamiliarity with the terrain made her a little edgy, especially with the quickly approaching evening. She needn't worry though, Michael wouldn't take her, much less his own bike, somewhere dangerous.

In fact where they were going wasn't dangerous, at least not physically. It was his spot. Michael's safe point in life. She had Frasier Woods and Michael had this barren desert as a kind of refuge to emotional trials. It was only fair that they come here, that she be here.

It was twilight when he stopped on the side of a quarry. He was backlit by the bluish light, which played wondrously off his dyed spikes.

"So, porcupine, what are we doing here?" Maria asked as soon as she had her helmet off.

Michael motioned her over to where he was leaning against his bike, a vision of 'cool'.

She stopped a near foot from his body, "Not gonna tell me?"

"You wanted to know what happened in Japan right?" Michael asked not really meeting her eyes.

Soundlessly she nodded.

"Alright then," Michael tried to categorize his thoughts, "I'm not sure I'm supposed to tell you. I'm not sure the others will appreciate it."

Maria stayed silent, watching the battle in his eyes, as he obviously warred with himself.

"I'm not sure they'll care either." Michael took on of his hands out of his pockets and ran it over his spikes once, twice, and a final time before finally meeting those inquisitive eyes, "I'm not sure I'm supposed to tell you, but I want to. You said that we don't really know one another, and that's true…but I want to know you, and I want to tell you."

"What ever you say stays between us." Maria reached out and ran her fingers over his arms in what she hoped was a comforting gesture.

Michael nodded then took a moment to clear his throat, "There were.."

His voice clogged in his throat just as it had earlier, "In Japan, we were happy."

"We were a real family. All seven of us." He said begging her to do the math and know with out the words.

Her eyes filled with sympathy, and for a moment he felt a reprieve.

"What happened?" Maria's voice was soft, walking on troubling territory now.

Michael pushed away slightly, bending and grabbing a few rocks from the ground.

"Hava." Michael chunked one out into the deep crater, "Her name was Hava, and she was our… she was the youngest."

Maria stayed silent as rock after rock plummeted to it's deep death.

"We weren't careful enough, and I don't think our parents have forgiven us for that yet." Michael found it easier to stare at the darkening sky and confess than staring into Maria's sympathetic eyes.

"It wasn't your fault." Maria said, almost instinctively.

"You don't know that." Michael said quickly.

"I've seen you with the others, you're to caring to be at fault." Maria reasoned, knowing her wording was jumbled in her need to comfort him.

Michael's back was rigid with the tense anguish roaming freely in his body.

"She was so young. So little." Michael said, his voice harsh, "She was the center of our family for three years. And then our family fell apart."

Michael's body heaved slightly as he gulped air in. It felt as if the words were taking parts of him with them as they left his mouth. Parts of his heart that until now had been inadequately held together with sticky denial.

"Hava died."

Maria had known it was coming, and she had also known how vital it was for him to say the words. She knew what it was like to harbor that kind of pain, that kind of dark abysmal grief.

She slipped her tiny arms around his waist and pressed her cheek into his jacket. She knew no words would help him, but knowing he could lean on her just might.

Michael's head sank and his breath escaped in one harsh expulsion. Taking solace in her closeness, he turned and wrapped her tiny frame in his arms.

"You don't have to tell me baby," She whispered into his chest, "I get it."

Michael's eyes burned as he clenched them against the onslaught of tears, but they stubbornly slipped out and into her hair. He'd never told anyone, and now he knew why. The pain of saying it was as severe as the grief itself.

Maria didn't know how long they stood wrapped together, but by the time Michael's breathing had returned to normal and his body stopped trembling it was full night and the moon was well over horizon. Some would consider the man who had shed tears in her arms weak, but all she could think was that to carry grief so long, so silently and now, to open so boldly were traits of a strong man.

There weren't any words between them as he turned her to face the rising moon and held her steadfast against his chest matching his breathing to hers. Slow and steady.

Maria laid her own hands across his at her waist and held her tongue. She had more questions and comforts, but now was not the time. The first step towards intimacy of a kind they had only before touched on was made. She wanted to ease that pain for him, but it brought her, her own pain knowing she was as helpless as he against ghosts.

They stayed that way, in silence, listening to the sounds of the night as they leaned on each other, consumed in their own thoughts.

"So," Alex rested his cheek against Isabel's hair, "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"If I get my way." She murmured into his neck, nipping there.

Alex let out a whoosh of air and a jerky laugh, "You're gonna be the death of me."

Isabel gave a husky laugh, "You'll die happy."

That thought kept Alex's body strung tight as he eased into the driver's seat, Max in the passenger side, and Tess crouched between the two from the back.

"You're sunk." Max snorted as Alex turned onto the main street.

"Yeah, I'm sunk." Alex's sarcasm was accentuated from the cut of his eyes and the snort from Tess.

"We're sunk." Max shrugged glaring at nothing particular.

"So," Tess turned to look at Max, asking a question that had been bugging her since she'd seen him come in with Liz, "how did that miracle occur?"

"You know me. I just have that magic touch." Behind Max's casual cocky grin hid his joy at the memories he had of today. It wasn't a miracle, just a hard earned gift. As far as he was concerned he'd beaten her down and she'd given him something he didn't want to share. Not even with his siblings, at least not yet. He might just jinx it and it was something he had fought hard for, and had the battle wounds to prove it.

And across town, Liz was examining her own wounds. Actually, though she'd never admit it, she was admiring them. Max had left a trio of love bits just below her collar bone. She thought of a few caustic remarks about men and territory, but wisely kept them to herself as she knew of a few marks left on Max's body. And now that she let herself she spent a few daydreaming moments mentally praising that vision in her head.

With a goofy smile and her hand at her collar is how Isabel found her moments later. She almost laughed, but thought better of it. She hadn't seen that particular look on her sisters face for a very long time. It made her shiny eyed just to witness it. Wisely Isabel cleared her throat, held back her tears, and began to chuckle.

"Seems like Boarder Boy has left an impression."

Liz snapped back to reality guiltily. "You're one to talk. I'm surprised you and Alex could bare to separate."

The scathing tone died half way between the sisters and Isabel, smile a mile wide, walked over to her younger sister and pressed her lips to her cheek. Liz waited till Isabel was at the door, "Just don't tell Kyle. He'll kill me."

Isabel nodded as she shut the door behind herself.

Liz picked up the phone experimentally. She didn't know all the rules of this game her Boarder Boy had dragged her into. Was he supposed to call? She had accused Isabel of being inseparable with Alex because she couldn't tear her own thoughts from Max.

Kyle came into the room a few moments later looking for a CD and found her still holding the phone.

"Just call him." Kyle said with a roll of his eyes.

Liz's mouth nearly hit the floor, "You OK?"

Kyle shook his head. He wasn't sure he'd ever be ok with all three of his sisters dating, "Listen. I know you gave me a lot of flack for Tess and dating an East and all that bullshit. If you're really into Max, take my word, and don't let that get between you. It's not worth it."

Liz looked at the phone still in her hand and then back to her brother. It tore at her to admit it, and even more to vocalize it, but her sense of love and decency had the words pushing through her stubborn lips, "I'm sorry."

Kyle only lifted his eyebrows.

"I should have slacked up. I was just aggravated because of my own drama."

"True. And?"

It wasn't quite what she'd expected from him, but she knew she didn't deserve the easy way out. She would have made him grovel as well, "I was wrong."

"True."

"Damn it Kyle." Liz clenched the phone, sorely tempted to vault it at his head, "Are you going to rub my nose in it?"

That brought a smirk to his face. He wanted to. Some petty part of his ego wanted to torture her with her mistake, but he loved her more than his anger so he shrugged and reached an arm out, "Forgiven."

She smiled and grabbed his hand, yanking him into a hug, "I love you."

Kyle squeezed her close with a smile, "Call him."

Michael pulled up to the garage as Alex turned off the ignition. He got two steps from his bike before Tess pounced on him, "What happened?"

"Did you guys have a fight?" Alex stayed where he was but his eyes told of his concern.

"No, we just," Michael tried to search for the right words, "We just talked."

"Hava?" Max asked carefully, not knowing what the reaction from the other three would be.

Tess kept her eyes on the ground, Alex and Michael both looked to him with narrowed eyes.

Michael nodded, and Max moved his head in sync, "Me too."

Tess looked back at Max, then to Michael, "I didn't."

"I should have." Alex shrugged. He had time. He planned on keeping Isabel around for a good long time.

Tess wrapped her arm around Michael's waist and leaned her head against him.

Alex and Max followed behind them into the house.

They sailed into the kitchen and found dinner still on the counter from the local delivery place, and their mother and father were sitting solemnly at the table.

"Nice to see you finally found your way home." their mother smiled into her food and then back at her children.

Tess stood for a moment, looking at her mother very carefully. She couldn't remember the last time her mother's smile had reached her eyes. Had it ever? Was the woman so cold inside she didn't have the heart to smile at her own children. With idea of her sister still fresh in her mind she took a second to consider her mother's perspective more clearly. How much could it hurt her to look at them, and not see Hava every day?

Tess was blessed with the buffer of a child's memory and time. She couldn't recall a lot about Hava which was it's own special type of grief, but she never stopped to consider how it would feel to loose a child.

Taking a bold and unnerving step she sat at the table between her parents. Her siblings stilled and watched her carefully, not quite sure what was about to happen and if they wanted to be a part of it.

Both of her parents looked at each other and then back to Tess, putting their silverware down and preparing for battle.

"I met a guy." Tess decided the bridge had to start somewhere.

"His name is Kyle. He's a mechanic and going to University in the fall." Tess looked back and forth from her mother to her father.

Her father was the first to speak, "Did something happen between you and Kyle?"

"Did he get you in to trouble?" Her mother's face was pale and like fine porcelain; like her own, and looking pointedly at her flat stomach.

"No," Tess counted to five before she spoke again, "I thought you might want to know what was going on with me."

"Well," Her mother looked down at her plate and the back again, "How long have been dating this young man?"

Michael set a plate down in front of her, and never one to leave a soldier on the battle field alone he sat beside her. He wasn't sure when but he'd started to think of anything involving his parents as a war. He too was starting to reevaluate his parent's actions. He had a one sided view of their pain, and having relinquished his tight grip on his own grief made him more aware of the fact that he hadn't seen his own parents surrender their own.

As Tess started to answer her mother's question the phone rang and their father stood and walked into the parlor to answer it.

The males in the dining room and adjacent kitchen stood still watching their mother and sister have a shallow, yet polite conversation about mundane things families shared every day.

"Max," The call broke Max's trance like state and he carefully walked around the far end of the table to get to the parlor, insensibly afraid what ever had gotten into his sister was catching.

"It's a Liz." His father titled the phone towards him and noticed his son's confused look, taking a leaf from his daughter's book he tried a smile, "You're girlfriend?"

Max glanced at his father's face, "One of my patients."

The smile thinned out, "I see."

The easy acceptance made Max feel like an ass, and with a sigh he took the phone, holding it at his side, "Dad."

The look his father gave him was guarded and his now free hands were crossed over his chest. The only thing that kept his mouth moving was the way Liz had looked when she spoke of her own father and condemned him for his harsh dismissal of his own. Had his father been dead as well he wouldn't even be able to have this conversation. That thought made his stomach clinch. He usually didn't like the man, and he wasn't really a part of his life anymore. But there was always this peripheral consistency of the chance of a reconciliation. Would he wait till it was too late?

"I want to be a doctor."

"This is not the time for this conversation." His father was curt and made a move to go back into the kitchen.

"Dad," Max tried again, determined, "I want to try."

"The real world is hard Max." His father kept his tone's down, "It's not something you can play at. If you work for the company you're guaranteed a steady job. It's safe Max."

Max sighed. His parents didn't want to ruin his dreams, but they didn't believe in him enough to try, "I appreciate you and mom wanting something easy for me, but what's easy isn't always what's right. Something's better when you've earned it."

Max smirked at himself and down at the phone. He'd learned that the hard way of course, but after all that was the only way to earn it.

His father looked far from convinced, but he wasn't ignoring his words as he was prone to doing, "We'll talk about this more after you get the first semester under your belt."

Max's look brightened from a smirk to a real smile, "Thanks."

His dad nodded patting his shoulder awkwardly as he walked towards the door.

Max brought the phone to his ear with a smile, only to find out she'd hung up. Figures, he thought, his Super Woman wasn't known for her patience.

When he went back into the dining room he found his entire family sitting at the table, their words slow coming, but a nice start to a change.

He took a seat between Michael and his father, sitting across from Alex who was watching things unfold before him.

He'd call Liz back later, she'd understand.

The End