Disclaimer: I don't own anything
Author's note: So, I really shouldn't be starting another story, seeing as I am currently in the middle of four others, but I am anyway. Unfortunately, that means that I won't be able to post update dates at the end of each chapter for this story as I don't know how frequently I'll get the chapters out. But I'll try to keep it somewhat consistent, hopefully once a week.
Okay, so here is the deal with the story. It starts at the end of 'Heart of Mine,' right when Liz walks in on Max and Tess kissing, and then everything that happens after that I am changing. The couples will start out CC and eventually be M/T and Mi/I. Tess is not evil, so Alex has not been mind-warped, and his trip to Sweden really was a trip to Sweden.
Also, pay attention to any place where I might indicate that it is someone's point of view. Italics are thoughts.
Chapter One: Walk Away
In poker, if you've got nothing in your hand, you're supposed to quit early, unless you think you can bluff your way through it. And since all the odds are against you on that, it is a good idea to walk away while you still can. Fold early, and watch the others play.
Sometimes you realize later on that folding was a stupid idea. Sometimes no one else has anything in their hand either, and had you stayed in, you would have had the best hand, and you would have won.
On the other hand, sometimes you stay in, and then you realize, after you've bet your last chip, that you should have folded long ago.
Either way, you lose something.
The goal is to strike a balance, make it so that your winnings outweigh your losses. And the best way to do that is to walk away early, walk away while you still have chips on the table, money in your pocket, and some dignity left. Save face and gracefully back out, prepared to come back some other day when the stars are aligned and luck is in your favor.
The thing is, and no one ever tells you this, that sometimes you try to walk away, and fate will step in and force you back until you are out of chips, out of money, and out of dignity.
What do you do then?
"What else do you remember?"
Max leaned uncomfortably back against the chairs and shook his head, not sure he wanted to say what was on his mind. Do I tell her? She asked what I remembered and I remember this. How do I not tell her? But if I tell her, I might give her the wrong impression… "I remembered something else," Max said at last.
Tess looked up sharply. "What else?" she asked, her blue eyes lighting up with happiness that Max was remembering more and more of his past life.
"Our first kiss," Max said at last. Oh, what am I doing? This is bad, this is very bad. "It was at a party…late at night. And you…" Oh, god, what if she doesn't remember?
"I…I leaned in," Tess murmured, "and whispered in your ear, and you touched my cheek…" Her voice was hoarse and filled with emotion, her eyes watery with tears.
"And then we just…" Max leaned in towards Tess, placing a hand on her shoulder, and reaching the other one up towards her cheek.
And then he felt it, the other set of eyes that were on him, and he turned slightly to look over Tess' head.
His heart stopped.
Liz was standing there, staring at the two of them, a heartbroken expression on her face. She stifled a sob and turned, running out of the room and yanking off her corsage as she did so.
Max jumped to his feet in horror. Oh, what have I done? That was bad, that was very, very bad! Without a backward glance at Tess, he hurried out of the room after Liz, his heart beating frantically in his chest.
He caught up with Liz at the doors leading into the parking lot and grabbed her arm. "Nothing happened, Liz! I swear, nothing happened," he panted frantically.
Liz wrenched her arm out of his grasp and shook her head, looking away in disbelief and disgust. "You asked me to Prom," she spat. "You asked me, and then you kiss Tess?" She brushed her long hair out of her face, letting the loose strands cascade over her back.
"I didn't kiss Tess." But I almost kissed Tess. But that isn't the same thing, because I didn't kiss Tess. Right? "Look, when you walked in, we had just been talking about…" he lowered his voice and glanced around the empty hallway, "past lives, and our first kiss. But I didn't…we didn't…Liz, nothing happened!"
Liz shook her head and looked down at the floor. She shivered, suddenly cold, and glanced over at the double doors that lead onto the dance floor. Licking her dry lips, she said, "Would you have kissed Tess, if I had not shown up?"
"No!" Liar, liar, pants on fire… "Of course not." Max reached out and took Liz in his arms, breathing a sigh of relief when she didn't pull away. "I love you. Tess is always going to be there, I can't change that. She is part of my life, and you have to accept that. But I love you."
Liz nodded thoughtfully, then sighed and said, "But how can I trust that, Max? Seeing you with Tess…it broke my heart. Do you have any idea what that feels like?"
Of course I do! Or do you think I enjoy remembering the image of you and Kyle in bed together? Max dropped his arms and stepped away from Liz. "How can you ask me that?" he demanded harshly. "You slept with Kyle! Of course I know what it feels like to have my heart broken. You had sex with Kyle!" His voice reverberated through the space, loud and angry and hurt.
Liz gasped, lifting a hand to her mouth, tears slipping out from under her eyes. "Max, I…"
"I forgave you for that because I love you, Liz!" Max hissed. "And you won't even give me a chance because I almost kissed another girl?" Oh, this is not good. Bringing up all this is not going to help the relationship… but it feels so good.
"I never slept with Kyle!"
Wh-what? "What?" Max was momentarily stunned, his confused question caught in his throat as he stared at Liz, trying to comprehend what he had just heard. "But I saw…" Don't remember that image. Don't remember that image. You don't want to see Liz naked with another guy. Don't think about it.
"I…" Liz swallowed and looked away. "I was trying to get you to fall out of love with me. So you could be with Tess. So you could follow your destiny." Her voice echoed slightly in the empty hallway. "I needed to…you needed to let me go." Liz swallowed back another sob and ran a hand through her hair.
Max took another step back. "You didn't sleep with Kyle?" he repeated. "You didn't sleep with Kyle. You didn't…you didn't…?" Great, now you sound like an blabbering idiot. Very smooth.
Liz smiled slightly through her tears and shook her head. "No, I didn't. I love you too much to hurt you like that."
"You did hurt me," Max whispered back.
"I know, and I am so sorry," Liz murmured, reaching up and placing a gentle kiss on Max's cheek. A few strands of her hair brushed against his face, tickling him. "I never wanted to hurt you, please believe me."
"I do," Max replied, and knew it was true. "I wish things could go back to the way they were." He placed his hand on Liz's cheek, smoothing away a stray tear.
"They can't," Liz said with a sigh. "Too much has happened, and we can't just ignore it. But we can work on it, and maybe someday we can get there again."
"I'd like that." Okay, this is going well. This is going very well. This is good. Max ran a hand through his hair and took a shaky breath. "I'd like that very much."
Liz stood on her tiptoes and gave him another kiss, then said, "I'm going to go back into the dance. I need to check on Maria. Then maybe we can go somewhere else?" She gave Max a suggestive smile. "Somewhere a little more private."
Max nodded slowly, and Liz turned and walked away. He watched as she passed through the doors back to the dance floor, then sighed and glanced back at the hallway leading to the chairs he and Tess had been sitting on just moments before.
And his heart stopped.
Tess was standing there, staring at him, her eyes filled with tears. She gave a weak smile and bit her lip, looking away in discomfort.
"How long have you been there?" Max asked. How much did she hear? Oh, this is not good. This is very not good. He took a few steps towards her, but she backed away, slipping further into the shadows.
"You chose Liz," Tess said slowly, her blue eyes fixing him in a piercing stare.
Max nodded. Don't say something stupid, don't say something stupid. "I love her." That was stupid. Max sighed and looked away, and Tess looked down at the ground. Great, now you are officially a complete jerk.
"Okay," Tess said simply. She turned and walked away.
Tess watched as Max jumped to his feet and chased Liz from the room. Resisting the urge to scream in frustration, she got up slowly and smoothed out the wrinkles in her dress. A few strands of hair had come loose from her updo, and she glanced quickly around the room, making sure she wasn't being observed, then fixed them with a simple wave of her hand.
Do I stay here? I don't want to intrude on Max talking to Liz. They are probably having a private conversation…I wonder what they are talking about. Maybe I should go…no, bad idea! I'm not twelve, this isn't middle school, I don't eavesdrop on people. But what if he's breaking up with her? He's not, though. He loves her, and he doesn't love me. But he almost kissed me. We would have kissed if Liz hadn't shown up. So what do I do? Do I stay here? Will Max come back and tell me when it is all over? What if he doesn't come back for me? What if I stay here and wait for him forever, and he never comes, and I starve to death? Okay, now I am just being stupid. I should go and find him. He left a while ago, he's had plenty of time to talk to Liz by now. Unless they are making out. I don't want to walk in on them making out. But what if Liz breaks up with Max and he is upset and needs someone to talk to? What if he is waiting for me? Of course he isn't waiting for me. He's with Liz, he loves Liz. What do I do?
Tess sighed and bit her lip, then turned and walked slowly out of the room, her heart hammering wildly in her chest as she retraced Max's steps.
And then she heard the voices.
"I wish things could go back to the way they were." It was Max's voice, and it was filled with longing.
"They can't. Too much has happened, and we can't just ignore it." That was Liz's reply, and her voice was filled with sobs, she had been crying. And she was upset. Tess could just imagine her doe-eyes filled with salty tears as she stared up at Max in heartache and love.
I hate Liz. Well, I don't hate her. I dislike her. Actually, I don't really dislike her. I kind of like her. I might actually really like her if I didn't have to hate her. But she has Max. I hate that she has Max. Stupid love.
"But we can work on it, and maybe someday we can get there again," Liz was saying.
Tess stepped further out into the hall so that she could see the two of them. They were standing close together, chemistry beating wildly between them, crackling in the air.
"I'd like that," Max replied, running a hand through his hair. "I'd like that very much." Tess could hear the sincerity in his voice, and she wondered if her heart could break any more.
And then Liz stood on her tiptoes and gave Max a kiss, and Tess forced back a broken sob. Liz, oblivious to Tess' hidden presence, murmured, "I'm going to go back into the dance. I need to check on Maria. Then maybe we can go somewhere else?" She gave Max a suggestive smile. "Somewhere a little more private."
Tess watched Max. Watched as he watched Liz disappear onto the dance floor. Watched as he turned slowly, watched as his eyes met her own, watched as the shock leapt into those tawny orbs.
"How long have you been there?" Max asked.
Tess didn't answer right away, wondering what she should say. At last, knowing she needed to get straight to the point, she forced the heavy words from her lips, "You chose Liz." Try not to sound disappointed. Emotions are a weakness. Try to sound… Oh, to hell with it. I'm going to sound upset if I damn well want.
"I love her." He looked distinctly uncomfortable now, as though suddenly realizing how insensitive that was. He turned and looked away, and she looked down at her hands in frustration.
Don't say something stupid, don't say something stupid. "Okay." That was stupid. Walk away now. Walk away before you look like even more of an idiot. Damn it, feet start moving now! She turned and walked away.
Sometimes fate deals you a losing hand, sometimes it deals you a winning hand. Sometimes it deals you a hand and as you stare at that hand, you have no idea whether it is good or bad, and no idea what to do next. Do you bet your last chip and cross your fingers, praying that everything will be alright in the end? Or do you fold out, and hope the next round will give you what you need to get ahead again?
Is it worth it to fight when all the odds are against you, your hand has nothing, and your highest card is a ten? Is it worth it to fold when you've got two pair, but everyone else says they've got a flush, and you don't know if they are bluffing or not?
When do you walk away?
Author's note: Like I said, I can't post update dates, but I'll try not to let too much time pass in between updates. And don't worry, this will eventually be M/T and Mi/I, it just is going to take a little while to get there.