Title: Late for the Sky
Chapter: 4/4
Author: ibshafer
Category: Max/Liz (with some great Michael/Maria thrown in!)
Rating: R (light)
Summary: Heavy AU future fic. This story was written between seasons 1
and 2, before the Skins, before Tess's betrayal, before Michael and Isabel
lost respect for Max. It was written with Liz's sacrifice -- Max's destiny
over her own happiness -- in mind. Most of the characters are involved
(including Friggin' Eddie!), but I am a Dreamer first and foremost. . .
Though not originally intended, the story has a pretty strong Candy
storyline, as well. Maria just wouldn't be ignored or down played. g
Author's Note: This story appeared in the first issue of the Roswell
fanzine, Late for the Sky. © 2000 MadSeasonPress

Now for me some words come easy
But know that they don't mean that much
Compared with the things that are said when lovers touch
You never knew what I loved in you
I don't know what you loved in me
Maybe the picture of somebody you were hoping I might be

Awake again I can't pretend
And I know I'm alone
And close to the end
Of the feeling we've known

How long have I been sleeping
How long have I been drifting alone through the night
How long have I've dreaming I could make it right
If I closed my eyes and tried with all my might
To be the one you need

Somewhere between the hospital and the apartment, Liz had taken his hand.

They'd been crossing 165th Street when a cabbie ran the light. She'd seen it first, grabbing hold of him and pulling him back. Once the sudden flash of yellow had passed and he'd recovered from the shock of it, he'd registered the warmth of her tiny hand clasping his tightly—and the fact that though the danger had gone, she hadn't let go yet.

Again, he marveled at the feel of her skin against his and the faint tingle of electricity it carried. It was like a tiny center of warmth in the wintry New York street. The sensation was intense and needful. It soaked through the skin of his hand to the bones in his fingers and then shot straight to his heart, which spread it to the rest of his body. Before he knew it, he was gasping softly in the cold and holding on to her hand for dear life.

She looked up at him and smiled—a smile that spoke of realization and yearning and more—and gently hurried him along, pulling his hand, making him rush after her to maintain the connection.

The connection.

The images were flowing easily now from his mind to hers, from her mind to his. In a flash, their lives, their histories, were played out in sensory Technicolor. The visions were not as intense, nor as orgasmic, as they had been when they were younger. The revelation of it, the cadence of it, was more refined now. More reflective. Less compelled by chemical need.

Though that was still there.

As he walked, as she urged him along, he saw in flashes of prescience, her life as she'd known it. The long hours in the ER—the patients, the misery. The emptiness of her apartment—of her heart, of her bed. The things in her life she believed separated her from everyone else—her fears, her guilt. In her desperation and need to feel that guilt, she had surrendered her life to it because she did not think she deserved better.

Because she'd left him. Because she'd left him to die when she could have stopped it. She should never have had to known that feeling.

He held on more tightly now, hoping what she saw in him somehow lessened that pain. Would she see how desperately he had ached to be with her, to know she was well, to tell her he loved her even though he'd known she was right to leave him? Holding her hand in his, he willed her to "see" those things, running them through his mind like a slide show.

And when moments later he stood shivering in her apartment, she gently helped him from his coat, steered him towards the radiator, and silenced him when he tried to speak.

"Not now," she said, her voice breathless, her body pressed warm and insistent against his. "There'll be time for that later. I know all I need to for now. . ."

And then he felt the smoothness of her nimble hands on the bare skin on his chest (she had always taken the lead), and for the time being, everything else ceased to matter. . .

Hours later, Max lay watching her as she slept, awed by the simple act of her breathing. He noted, with no small amount of pleasure, that she still held his hand firmly in her own and he reveled in the sensation. Somehow it seemed more intimate than all other gestures; even after what they had just shared. It spoke of innocence, of that first tentative touch, and it reminded him of all they had been to each other and how far they had come.

The realization of that, and the reality of being there with her, brought a fresh smile to his lips. He would have been content to spend the rest of his days in this sanctuary, far from duty and the life he knew was waiting for him; far from the thing that had brought him to New York and Liz's arms to begin with.

Again he debated. Would Liz have been better off if she'd never known him? Or never loved him? Could he take that from her? Did he have the right?

Hesitating just a moment longer, he studied her sweet face in the candlelight, gently kissed the hand he held and slipped out of bed. In the hallway of Liz's tiny apartment, he found his jacket draped over a chair and reached into the pocket, searching. His hand brushed against his cell phone, but he did not find the medallion. Nor was it in the other pocket.

"Did you really think I'd let you do it?" said a soft voice behind him.

Max spun around to find Liz standing in the bedroom doorway, regarding him intently. He was at once aware of how he stood before her; naked, both in flesh and intent.

He saw something flash in her hand and knew it was the medallion. I should have known.

"Let me rephrase that," she said before he could respond. "Did you really think you could hide it from me? What you were planning?" There was no rancor in her voice and only the slightest hesitation.

What could he tell her that she didn't already know? "Liz," he began, softly. "I don't . . . I don't know what I thought. Other than I had to try and put things right. I had to give you a chance to be happy."

She shook her head. "And this was how you thought to do it, Max? To erase parts of my memory? Suck them up in this . . . in this device." She stopped to study the metal disk in her hand and it was then that he noticed how carefully she held it. "Would I have felt it . . . as they left? My memories?" She looked up at him now, eyes brimming, and he could imagine those memories moving across her mind's eye, like a slide show. . .

The day in the Crashdown when she'd been shot. click Going home with him after her grandmother had passed away and holding him as she cried. click Her balcony and the sweetness of their first kiss. click The look of pure relief on her face when she'd seen "him" standing before her in the Fun House, not yet realizing it was Nasedo. click The raw grief on her face as she turned to him one last time before running down that ridge, away from him. . .

"You would have taken all that from me?"

Setting the medallion gingerly on the coffee table, Liz grabbed a faded green Indian blanket from the back of the couch, shivering as she wrapped it around herself and sank into the cushions. Max doubted the pale silk nightgown she wore afforded much warmth, but recognized the tremulous way she moved as something else.

"Liz. . ." He watched the tears beginning to slide down her pale cheek and the shock of it, the agony of it, cut straight through to his heart. "I would have taken the pain from you. That part of your memory that told you to feel guilt and responsibility for a thing you should never have known." He sat down next to her and swept the hair from her face. With a thumb he gently smoothed her tears away. "I knew . . . I knew what you were doing to yourself. And I couldn't let you go on that way."

She looked up at him, her brow suddenly furrowed in confusion. "How could you have known what I was "doing" to myself?" A second later Liz's deep brown eyes went wide with realization. "It's true then. I thought . . . I thought I was going crazy, dreaming about you. Dreaming that I saw you over and over. That I touched you. It felt so real. . ."

She had known.

Hearing it, knowing for certain that she'd felt him there as he'd walked her dreams, sent a shiver through him. Seeing that, she drew closer, holding the blanket out for him to share. He took it, grateful for the warmth, but grateful, too, for her acceptance. She could just have easily been angry at him for the intrusion.

"All that time. . ." she said, the wonder having returned to her voice. "And you were there with me."

"You weren't supposed to know I was there, Liz," he said. "I just needed to see what your life was like. To see if you were happy."

She took his hand in hers again, squeezing gently and he felt another jolt of electricity. She felt it, too. Fought it. Continued. "Don't you get it yet, Max? I can always feel you. Whether it makes sense or not . . . That's what made the past ten years so hard. Everything I knew told me . . . told me you were gone." She bit her lip and when she continued, her voice was soft and strained. "I'd seen your parent's house. I went to your funeral. I'd even read the coroner's report, which I'd known was a bit of fiction on Valenti's part." The hint of a smile now. "I just didn't realize how much fiction it was. Inside, though," she touched the pale pink fabric over her heart. "Inside I knew differently. If you were dead, something inside me would feel it. I would know." She shook her head. "But I knew I had to be wrong. There was just too much evidence." She drew her knees to her chest, hugging them close. "I never got past it. I mean, I tried. I had a career and a life here. Some part of me, though, was always expecting you to walk around the next corner and every day that didn't happen. . . ." She trailed off and he saw her beautiful eyes fill with tears again.

It was just too much. He loved her too much.

"I'm so sorry. . ." he breathed, his eyes fixed on hers. Thumb beneath her chin, he tipped her face up towards his, leaned in and brushed his mouth against hers. "I never wanted you to know that kind of pain, Liz. I. . ."

She drew back, silencing him with a fingertip to his lips. "It doesn't matter anymore, Max." She was holding his face in her hands now. "None of it matters." She kissed him softly—the whisper of a touch. "You're here now. For however long, you're here. . ."

"Okay, so I get that you're leaving. Earth, I mean," Maria said matter-of-factly. No point in sugar-coating it. She was guessing she didn't have a whole lot of time. "And I get that you're not planning to take me with you."

Michael was watching her now, warily, chopsticks poised above the take-out container. She glanced over, then motioned with her chin. "Watch it," she said. "You're dripping sauce on the sheets." Popping the spicy morsel into his mouth, Michael set the container down on the floor beside the bed, chewing. With a barely perceptible smirk, he glanced up at her briefly, then waved his hand over the sauce that had dribbled there. One second, she had General Tso's seeping into her flannel sheets, the next nothing.

"Impressive," she said, meaning it, and he responded with one of those patented, knee-melting Michael grins that had her heart beating faster all over again.

Taking a deep breath, she continued quickly, before she lost her nerve.

"What I don't get is why you're here now, Michael. Why the sudden alien pilgrimage to New York? Why not leave well enough alone?"

There! It's said. I can smack myself for saying it later. . .

Michael stared at her so long, so intently, that she felt the little hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She could see the gears shifting in his head and wondered what exactly he was debating. Which version of the truth he was rehearsing. Which fiction.

After what seemed like an eternity, he leaned toward her, achingly slow, eyes never leaving hers, and guided her face with one hand towards his. He kissed her so softly and so sweetly, her face was wet with tears when he'd pulled away and she let them stand, unshamed.

Before she could ask him if that was his answer, he'd slipped from the sheets and padded into the living room to retrieve his jeans from the floor where they'd fallen.

Despite the moment, Maria allowed herself an appreciative further appraisal of the . . . changes she could see in Michael. She fought back the blush creeping up past the collar of the too-large Michael-Guerin-smelling denim shirt she'd thrown on to run downstairs in before. Like I've never seen a naked man before. . .

Of course, this wasn't just any man. This was Michael.

When he returned, groping through a pocket, his face was awash with emotion and she thought she spotted fear there. Or was it uncertainty?

Finding what he'd been searching for, he drew it into the light and held it gingerly out to her.

"Wh--what is it?" she asked, afraid to touch the ancient-looking bronze medallion. It seemed more than mere decoration. It almost sparked with power. She shivered reflexively. It was so . . . alien.

Michael smiled softly. "It's okay," he said. "You can touch it now. It isn't set."

It wasn't set? What the Hell did that mean?

"I repeat, what is it?" Maria tried to slip some of that patented sarcasm into her tone, but there was a chill crawling up her spine and it was making it hard to keep her voice steady enough to carry it off.

Again, the silence from Michael, but this time she got the feeling he was just trying to work up an explanation that would make sense to her. Alien technology required small words and slow speech? She watched him chew on the thought for a while.

"Okay, let's try this," he began, setting the piece down on the bed between them when he finally got the message that she wasn't going to touch it. "Do you remember that old Will Smith movie, 'Men in Black?""

Maria stopped breathing. She was watching his lips move, she could hear the words coming out of his mouth, but her brain was reeling and her stomach had taken a nose dive towards the floor. She'd just put 2 and 2 together and gotten . . .

"Nothing," she said aloud, her voice hoarse, her heart pounding.

"Nothing?" he asked, confused. "You don't remember the movie? We used to watch it at least once a month, Maria. You always got a huge kick--"

"Nothing," she repeated, shaking her head now. Oh, God. "You were going to leave me with nothing, Michael?" She watched his lips tighten as he realized she was on to him. Then her anger kicked in. "You can't be serious?" She'd been sitting on the edge of the bed and now she stood, taking a quick step out of his reach. "You've got another friggin' thing coming, buddy, if you think I'm gonna let you—"

"Maria. . ." Michael was shaking his head almost vehemently now. "I'm not . . . I'm not gonna do it." He stared after her for a moment, then lifted the medallion off the sheets, hefting it from one hand to the other. "Oh, and if I was . . . you would never have seen it coming. It would have just happened. And you'd never have known something was missing." He tapped the side of his head, indicating where that something would be missing from.

She tried to swallow, found a desert of drifting sand in her throat. "What about Liz?" she managed through the grit, and then knowing what he was going to say, she cut him off before he could answer. "Liz, too, huh?" She swore softly. "Son of a—! Max would do that to her? He would take his love from her like that?" She stopped talking, realization slamming home. "Oh, God, Michael! He did it. . . He's done it already." She was starting to hyperventilate and she could barely speak. "I . . . I helped him do this! I brought him right to her! I . . . I . . ." She slammed her fist into the oak armoire behind her. Then again.

Before she could bloody her hands, which was what she'd been trying for, he'd taken them in his, his touch gentle, stilling her.

"He couldn't do it, either, Maria," he soothed. "He couldn't do it."

"How did you. . ." she trailed off, her face a question.

"I called him while you were downstairs getting the Chinese," he said, guiding her back to the bed, kissing her bruised knuckles when she sat down. His lips were cool against the heated skin. A balm. "He was about to melt the thing into slag, but he couldn't find it. Liz had it. She'd figured it out." He kissed her hand again, smiling when he drew away. "You both figured us out. All those years of hiding to survive. You'd think we'd be better at it. . ."

"Ah, but it's easier to fool your enemies than. . ." She trailed off, suddenly afraid to continue. After all this, unsure.

She needn't have been.

". . .than the ones you love," he finished for her.

Searching his face, she felt the empty place where her heart had been begin filling with light and expanding. Against this warmth, she was suddenly aware of the room's chill and needing his body, needing to feel his smooth skin against hers, needing to feel that part of her that existed when he touched her. She wrapped her arms around him tightly and drew him so close she could feel his heart beating in his chest. Beating double-time.

"I love you, Michael," she whispered into his hair. "What happens now?"

Max set the phone on the coffee table, then turned back to Liz. Beneath the fringed cotton blanket draped over her shoulders, he could see her fighting the urge to tremble: shiver, stop; shiver, stop. Reaching through the blanket for her hand, he squeezed it gently in his, hoping his warmth would ease her mind and stop the cycle.

"She's okay," he said, softly, and felt her relax against him. "I . . . I don't know if Michael ever really intended to do it, anyway."

He flashed on an image from earlier that day; Maria amongst the racks of outrageous clothing in her shop, a worn Louisville Slugger in one hand. She may have dropped it when she'd seen him, but he had no doubt she would have used it. He felt a grin crawl onto his face. "Something tells me Michael would have had quite a fight on his hands. . ."

Liz's answering smile was lit with awe and pride. "Maria's tough. She may act like a flake sometimes, but she's a fighter. She's strong."

He kissed Liz's smooth forehead, feeling her shift and remold herself to him. "So are you, Liz."

She'd been through so much, had tortured herself for years, but she was a survivor. He could see that now. He'd misunderstood her dreams. Whatever she'd done to herself, whatever she'd taken from herself, she'd still survived. She'd found a way, in her own mind, to atone for imagined sins. She was living without joy, but with purpose. He admired that. He was living it himself. . .

Somewhere near his heart, Max felt a spark, as though their connection, now quiescent, had come to life again—a deep swelling of warmth and peace and . . . and there was no better word for it—connection. It grew until it had filled him to his fingers and toes and when, shivering, he looked over to Liz, he could see her trembling again, her tiny body filling with the same glorious feeling.

They were the same. They were two halves of the same perfect whole.

"Come with me," he said, his voice breathless, surprising himself with the utterance. Before she could speak, before she could answer, he had slipped his hands behind her pale ears, woven his fingers into her beautiful almond-scented hair and drawn her face to his. He kissed her, softly at first, and then deeper, with his heart as well as his lips. "Tell me you don't feel it," he said. "Tell me you don't feel this and I'll never ask again."

For a moment she looked as though she wanted to answer, but instead, she kissed him, this time with a fervor that almost verged on desperation. When she pulled away, the look of sheer confusion on her face surprised him. She regarded him strangely for another moment, then the blanket slipped from her shoulders and she was on her feet, pacing near the windows.

"Liz?"

Max rose to follow her, but she waved him away and stood at the glass, looking down into the darkened street below.

"How do I know, Max," she asked, her exhalation fogging the pane.

"I . . . I don't understand, Liz."

Her breath had highlighted the frosting of ice on the inside of the winter-cold window and he watched as she carefully placed her palm against the glass and held it there until a perfect hand print had been melted into it. There was a faint smile on her face as she turned away from the window.

"How do I know this is real?" she asked, her voice calm and steady.

"Pinch yourself," he said, hoping his own smile would reassure her. "This is no dream. I'm real. You're real." He rose to his feet, cut a quick glance over his shoulder to the bedroom. "The things we've done. The love I feel for you. It's all real, Liz."

"That's not what I meant, Max," she said in a whisper, shaking her head. She was fidgeting with the hem of her nightgown and he could see the palm of her hand, still wet from the window.

"Tell me what you're thinking, Liz," he said, at her side. Catching her restless hand in his own, he kissed the frozen palm, warmed it with his breath. "Tell me so I can fix it."

"I'm not sure you can fix this, Max." She gently pulled her hand from his. "How do we know that this—" she waved at some nebulous something in the room. "—isn't all that we get—you and I? One last hurrah before you go off to fulfill the Grand Plan." He winced at the bitterness in her voice. It wasn't a sound he was accustomed to hearing there.

Had her life done this to her? Had the years turned her against her own happiness? Was it guilt or had it just become easier to live without hope? He could see it on her face now, as though she were pleading with him to not let her give in—to not let her hope for a thing she'd never believed she could have.

"How do we know we get to be happy, Max? Isn't it selfish to think that we can? You . . . you still have a war to fight. And me? I have a life here in New York."

"Your life is with me, Liz."

The moment he said it, he recognized the arrogance of the conceit. Judging from her shocked expression, she did, too. "No, wait. I . . ." he fumbled for the words. ". . . I just meant that I want your life to be with me."

"Max. . ."

"Didn't we used to want the same things?" he asked hopefully.

A bitter laugh. "A million years ago. . ."

No, this was not happening. Didn't they just get a second chance? Or a third? Could he really let her talk herself out of what he knew, what he could feel she wanted? Was he honestly ready to leave here without her?

That had been the plan six hours ago, anyway; to do a quick rewind on her personal trauma tape, then leave her free to go on without the pain. That was before she'd outsmarted him, yet again. Now the thing he'd never allowed himself to dream, was there for the taking. And she was saying—what, no? Again?

Was that their destiny? To get to see and touch it, to taste it and then have to leave it behind?

She was walking away from him, yet again—leaving him to fulfill some fate she believed could never include her, one that couldn't exist with her? This time, this time he had to stop her.

"Tell me you don't love me, Liz." His voice was steady, but his heart was beating a mile a minute.

"Of course, I love you." The hint of a smile flitted across her face, then was gone. "But this isn't about love. It's about. . ." She trailed off, but he could hear the word nearly formed on her lips.

"Say it."

She hesitated, suddenly seeming frightened of the word. "It's about destiny, Max."

"You're my destiny, Liz." He'd never been more sure of anything in his life.

She started to speak, and he knew she meant to argue it, so he continued breathlessly. "I used to think that destiny was a lie. . . That it was a joke I played on myself in another life. There came a time, though, when I had no choice but to believe it. I accepted the parts I could handle, discarded the one I couldn't. Would things be different if I hadn't fought it so hard?" He shrugged, felt the pull of an old, familiar guilt. "Would Tess be alive today if I had? Would Alex? Would my parents?" He saw the answering compassion in her eyes, immediately sorry he'd manipulated her pity. "No, please. . . That's not why I'm telling you this." He paused for a moment to regroup. "Liz, I . . . I believe in destiny. I really do. It isn't always what we think it's going to be, but I believe that everything we do, every choice we make, we make for a reason. Everything leads us to where we are."

He took her hands now, drew her back to the couch.

"Liz, our lives have lead us here. This place. This time. This reality."

He caught her eye and for a moment, she seemed ready to concede.

"I want to believe you, Max. I—"

"Believe me."

Then the moment was gone. "It's not that simple. . ."

"Yes, it is."

"Max, I . . . I don't want to believe that in order for me to be happy now, to have you here now . . . that I had to go through ten years of believing you were dead. That I made that happen. That I . . . that I had to lose you, to get you back." She laughed bitterly. "Sounds like a sappy dorm room poster I saw once, 'If you love something, set it free. . .'"

He knew the one. He'd been to college, too.

"Oh, but I did come back," he said with a faint smile. "And I am yours."

He could see she was touched, but not amused, so he tried a different tack.

"You want to know if we can make it this time, right?" He watched her nod slowly, eyes locked on his. "If we get the happy ending. The fairy tale thing—ever after." A bitter laugh, then he continued. "You want a guarantee, Liz? No one gets that. Why should we be any different?"

He took her hands and held them tightly. "Are you willing to take a chance, Liz?" He searched her eyes for a sign, thought he saw a glimmer just below the surface, took joy from it, went on. "Do you love me enough to take a chance on me? On us?"

"Of course, I do. You know I do." She kissed him gently and he could feel the tears starting to slip down her face—a slow, steady tracing towards her chin. "But I don't . . . I don't know what's right anymore."

Max took a deep breath. "So, what are you saying? Do you want me to just . . . leave?"

Liz shook her head with a vehemence that was reassuring. "No."

"Do want me to stay here?"

Again the head shake. "That would be wrong. I . . . want that, but it would be wrong."

Liz's voice caught when she spoke and it was then that he noticed she was breathing more heavily, that her cheeks were flushed, her brown eyes wide and glittering.

When he touched her face to brush at the wetness there, he felt a spark at his fingertips and an answering warmth . . . everywhere else.

Oh . . . oh, God. . .

Max took a deep breath, realizing that he wouldn't be able to hide what he was . . . feeling from her. Not for long, anyway. He moved closer, no longer wishing to. "Then what do you want, Liz?" Max asked softly, his face so close, his lips brushed against hers when he spoke.

Her breath caught in her throat. "I—I don't . . . know. I don't know anything right now. . ." Her eyes found his, then his lips. The air hummed between them.

There was just the briefest moment of hesitation and then the connection overcame them both, washing over them like a wave on the shore and, powerless, they were swept away with it. . .

Leaning into him, Liz deepened the kiss, hands traveling down the broad, smooth expanse of his back, pausing at his slim waist, then dipping lower. He seemed surprised by the touch, but only for a moment. With a low, soft sound at the back of his throat, he drew her to him more tightly, lifted her easily off the couch, and carried her, legs around his waist, back into the bedroom.

Her lips were at his throat now, moving softly over his Adam's apple, eliciting more sweet sounds from him and making it difficult for him to concentrate on moving through the now darkened room. Most of the candles had burned themselves out during their time away. With a glance and the faintest movement of his head, they re-ignited. In the glow, he found her mouth once again, kissing her gently as he lowered her onto the bed. Trailing a hand down her side, he caught her leg and brought it up and over his back. He held her face as he deepened the kiss, then moved to trace the line of her jaw with his tongue. She moaned and shifted against him. Once. Twice. He seemed to stop for a moment, as if enjoying the feeling. Smiling, he kissed her shoulder and when he reached the neckline of the simple silk nightgown she wore, the corners of his mouth drew up more sharply. He pulled away to watch her eyes as he waved a finger over the nightie—which turned slowly to water and slipped easily over her now bare skin, soaking into the sheets. Her breath caught in her throat and her hands were buried in his hair, urging him on. Down. He bent to catch—

"Max? Are you watching that again?"

He didn't jump. He'd known she'd come into the room. He always knew when she was there.

Liz's tone was playful, but he could feel her embarrassment"A little too Pamela and Tommy Lee for you, huh?"

"That's not it," Liz said, slipping her arms around him from behind and bending to kiss the back of his neck. "What if Isabel walked in? Or Maria?"
"Alien ships have locks, too, you know." To demonstrate, he waved a hand toward the door, which clicked once—open, then again—locked.

She laughed softly and he felt her breath move his hair; her chin was resting comfortably on the top of his head. "Well, that's a relief. Turn it back on, then. . ."

He could feel and see her amusement in his head at the point of contact, it's color tinted by something decidedly more serious: love; commitment; need; wonder. Max reached around behind him, drawing her into his lap. "You're making fun of me," he said, smiling. "I love you, but stop, okay?"

She leaned into him and once again he marveled at the ease, the freedom of it. That she could touch him like that. Whenever she wanted. And she did.

Max shivered.

He still couldn't believe she was here.

"Okay." She was smiling. "I'll humor you a little, but only because I. . ." She blushed. ". . .I kind of like watching it myself. I'm also really glad you had the medallion set to . . . um, record and not erase." She cut a glance to the image frozen on the view screen and her blush deepened. "I know the answer should be obvious, but why do you keep watching this?" She shifted in his lap a little. "I'm here," she said meaningfully, glancing out the port behind him, and he knew she was looking at the stars streaking by them; he could see them reflected in the view screen. "I'm not going anywhere, Max."

May I never get tired of hearing that. . .

"Good. . . . Don't you want to know why I keep watching this over and over?"

"And over and over," she added, grinning.

He took a deep breath. "I keep watching it to see that one sweet moment—"

"See!" Her eyes flashed playfully. "I told you it was about . . . that!"

Resolute, he continued. "—that one sweet moment when you realized the truth."

He saw her beautiful mouth form a silent "o" of surprise.

Max nodded to the screen, to the captured image of their love. "It doesn't happen for a little while yet. There's a whole lot of . . . other stuff first."

She nuzzled his neck and he shivered again. "I remember that other stuff. . ."

"Do you?" He smiled, kissing her forehead.

Liz nodded, then sat up, her expression sobering. "I remember suddenly realizing that none of the arguments mattered anymore. That you were right, Max If our love had survived the death and the distance, the struggles and the pain, that had to mean something. Maybe that'swhat destiny is." Liz touched his face with a fingertip, as if suddenly needing to reassure herself that he was still there. "I know that's what you were trying to tell me. I just. . ."

"You just had to figure it out on your own," he finished for her, lacing his fingers through hers. "Liz Parker, you always have to consider all of the angles and weigh all of the facts, before you make a decision."

"And you're just a dreamer, Max Evans." She kissed him. "Don't ever change, okay?"

"I won't if you won't."

She kissed him again, then nodded to the view screen, settling more comfortably against him.

With a gesture, the frozen image on the screen came to life and, silently, solemnly, they watched for that sweet moment together.

Hours later, Max watched Liz sleeping peacefully, the blush of joy coloring his face.

Once again, he regarded her in wonder and, despite the reality of her very real presence there, a faint disbelief.

To have come this far and struggled for so long, to have fought and sacrificed and known the desolation and fear of defeat, and come out on the other side whole and rewarded and utterly happy. . .

He was repeating himself, to himself, but it was still a mystery to him.

After years of living a life he couldn't choose or change, fighting for his people, but denying his own heart, Max Evans had finally seen destiny's plan for what it was—a plan of his own making.

We make our own destinies. . .

Larger than even he would have believed at the tender age of 17, the arc of it, the scope of it, ran beyond the realm of concrete, finite events. It allowed for the variations of the heart.

Or perhaps that had been built into the design at the beginning.

Was he not the originator of the plan—ages ago? He could not imagine living, in any time, and not knowing what she was to him. That he and Liz Parker belonged together, he'd never had any doubt. That the Universe now understoodand accepted it, was becoming more clear with each light year they crossed.

And what lay ahead? Max could only guess.

He'd tried to keep his time with Liz separate and pure. No talk of war and enemies, of death and destruction. Much as Liz had tried to be the voice of reason, questioning him on the plans that he, Isabel and Michael had for their return, Max had selfishly steered the conversation out of such intense and unknown waters. There would be plenty of time for strategies and politics later and hadn't they sacrificed enough of their lives to the "cause" to have earned themselves at least a few weeks of blissful, earthly ignorance?

Easier to do when they were earthbound. Not so easy now that Earth was millions of light years behind them. . .

Had they complicated the struggle ahead by bringing Liz and Maria with them? Both had seemed eager to brave the unknown; to make this war their own. Max refused to believe it had been a foolish decision, and Michael, after years of solitude and struggle, was unwilling to live another day with regret; he was unwilling to live without Maria.

Max marveled that he and Michael, after years of disagreeing about nearly everything, had arrived at the same place. Life. Love. One did not work without the other. Not really.

Slipping the medallion from the viewer, Max hefted it in his hand. With a finger, he traced the symbol etched in the metal; two hands with a disk clasped between them. He felt himself smiling in amusement at the simplistic "directions" his people had placed there, like the symbol on the orb, though they hadn't seen that symbol for what it was at the time. Such simplicity belied the power this intricate device held. He and Michael had almost robbed Liz and Maria of their memories—more than a decade of their lives.

Though, in the end, he'd realized how wrong it would have been, he could just as easily have gone through with it and he was grateful for this second chance.

It might have been selfish, but neither he nor Michael wanted to face the future alone.

As for Isabel, she had long ago made her peace with Alex's passing and it somehow prepared her to lose Eddie to his work on the reservation. Through his influence, she had found the focus and the serenity to await planetfall with an eager heart, despite the uncertainty they all felt about what they would find on their arrival.

None of them had any idea what lay ahead, but they would face it together.

They were stronger together.

How long have I been sleeping
How long have I been drifting alone through the night
How long have I been running for that morning flight
Through the whispered promises and the changing light
Of the bed where we both lie
Late for the sky

— Jackson Browne, Late for the Sky, 1974 SWALLOW TURN MUSIC