Max and Liz strolled into school hand-in-hand, identical grins on their faces. They couldn't seem to keep their eyes, or lips for that matter, off each other; which generated both curious stares and grossed-out expressions from the small groups of students milling around outside the school building. Together, they entered the school, stopping first by Max's locker so that he could pick up his books and then making their way towards Liz's locker to fetch hers.
They reached the row of metal doors and, failing to notice their captive audience, Max pressed Liz against her locker, capturing her lips in an indulgent kiss, his hands creeping up behind her neck. His fingers sank into her silky mane of hair as her arms slid around his waist, pulling him closer to her. When they eventually pulled apart, breathless and giddy with happiness, it took several moments for their focus to shift from each other to the small group now surrounding them with expectant expressions on their faces.
"So, um," Maria cleared her throat and raised an eyebrow. "I take it everything went according to plan last night?"
Liz glanced up at Max, flashing him a brief smile, before turning to face her friend.
"Yeah, it did," she grinned. "It went great. Ariana is gone…she's never coming back; and Max and I are together."
Maria smiled happily at her two friends for a moment, before becoming serious. "As happy as I am…as we all are…for the two of you, I have to know…how do you know this is permanent? What's to stop Ariana from returning?"
"And what was with the orbs on your bedside table this morning?" Isabel blurted out, before slapping her hand to her mouth when she realised that she'd just admitted to seeing them together earlier.
Max gave his sister an inquiring, yet slightly suspicious look, but elected not to question her. Instead, he chose to concentrate on Maria's concerns.
"Yes, this is permanent, Maria. The instructions that the future version of me left for Liz explained the true purpose of the orbs that we found. Not only are they a contact beacon between here and Antar, but they can also be used to capture a person's essence, their soul, if you like," he told the group, effectively answering Isabel's question in the process. "And once the soul is inside them, the only way if can escape is if someone consciously uses their powers to do so."
"But, how do you know that an evil alien won't come along and do just that?" asked Michael gruffly.
Max looked down at Liz for a moment, who gave him and encouraging smile, before fixing his gaze on his friend, "Because, Michael, there are only four people who have the power to do that, and they are all standing right here by these lockers."
"You mean the Royal Four?" piped up Maria.
"Yep," Max nodded. "And although I know that none of you would ever choose to do that, Liz and I have decided that the best course of action is to completely destroy the orbs."
"But that would mean destroying our only means of contacting our planet," murmured Isabel.
"Yes," Max nodded again. "It would. Are you okay with that?"
She shrugged. "I guess I have to be," she replied; although in truth, she wasn't sure she'd ever want to try contacting their home anyway.
"Thank you, Izzy," Max smiled at her gratefully, before continuing. "Okay, so we'll go out to the pod chamber after school and get rid of the orbs. Michael, Izzy, Tess," he addressed them in turn, "I think we're gonna need your help with this."
Eight hours later, the seven of them, Maria and Kyle included, stood inside the pod chamber. Isabel, Michael, Tess and Max made a small circle in the middle of the front cave; the two orbs nestled carefully between their hands in the middle. Liz stood just behind Max, her hand resting supportively on his lower back as he, along with the other three, concentrated on sending their power to the orbs.
At first, nothing happened and Liz started to worry that for some reason, the orbs couldn't be destroyed, but eventually the silver football-shaped objects began to emanate a soft, blue glow. However, almost a full minute later, the glow hadn't changed in appearance or colour and Liz noticed that beads of sweat were rolling down Max's forehead. As a gesture of encouragement, she slipped her hand over one of his and squeezed it lightly. He didn't move his eyes from the orb in his hands, but a small, grateful smile appeared on his lips a second later.
In an attempt to renew some of his strength, Max sucked in a breath as he concentrated on sending his energy into the orbs. The feel of Liz's hand covering his only made him even more determined to destroy the offending objects, and in a rush of anger at the pain Ariana had caused them, he pushed his brain harder. Suddenly, a renewed burst of energy shot through his body and out of his and Liz's joined hands. It encased both the orb in his and Isabel's hands and the one Michael and Tess were holding causing the glow to turn a bright purple. For several moments, the glow simply remained, like a bubble surrounding the Royal Four, and the occupants of the cave just stared at it, open-mouthed. Max was on the verge of attempting to aim his powers at the bubble one more, but before he could act on his instincts, the purple energy began to pulsate and intensify. Suddenly, it was sucked into the whirlwind symbols on the orbs, like the implosion of a dying star, before a bright, white light burst from them, almost blinding them. Silver debris flew everywhere as the orbs exploded outwards. The Royal Four and Liz were thrown backwards by the force of the explosion, whilst Maria and Kyle flattened themselves against the rocks of the cave wall.
After several seconds, the light dimmed and the cave returned to normal; the slight glowing of the remains showing the only evidence that the orbs ever existed. Cautiously, Max climbed to his feet, pulling Liz up with him, and brushed them both off.
"Is everyone okay?"
His question was met with silence, although most of the others managed weak nods.
"Well, I guess it's over then," Max supplied unnecessarily.
Isabel frowned as she got to her feet, "Are we completely sure about that, Max? I mean this almost seemed too easy. You know, we concentrate our energy on the orbs and then they just explode, gone forever. It can't be that simple."
"You know, I didn't think it would be like this, either, Izzy," he replied softly, hugging Liz to his chest as he spoke. "But what more can we do? The orbs are gone; you can see that. Ariana's gone. So, I say we go home, relax and be grateful that we were able to solve this mystery."
"Wow, it feels like a whole weight's been lifted off my chest," commented Liz, as she and Max took a seat on her bed later that evening.
"I know what you mean," chuckled Max, placing an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. "And we finally know the truth about Alex. But, Liz," he turned to her in all seriousness. "I hate that you had to go through all of this because of me. I never wanted to hurt you, and lately it seems like that's all I've been doing."
"Max," started Liz, lifting her hand to caress his cheek. "It's okay; I don't blame you. I love you so much and I don't think I could live without you, so please don't start thinking I'd be better off without you, because that's just not true."
Max stared down at her pleading eyes, his heart swelling with gratitude and love for her.
"Actually, you know what? As much as I think you would be better off without me, I'm gonna have to be selfish and keep you all to myself. I love you too much to let you go know."
A delighted smile spread across Liz's lips as she leaned up to him for a kiss.
"Make love to me, Max," she murmured against his lips. "Right here, right now."
"Anything for you," he whispered, unable to resist her.
As the kiss deepened and Liz's tongue slid against his erotically, his hands found the hem of her shirt and he pulled it over her head. They undressed each other slowly, savouring every moment together; and when they were both naked, Max gently lay Liz against the pillows. They were unhurried in their movements and caresses, driving each other crazy with the tortured pleasure. Max was careful to explore every inch of Liz's body, stroking and nipping at her skin until she begged for more and even then he denied her the release she craved. When he did finally enter her, Liz was so close to release that her climax swept over her almost immediately and the pleasure only built from there, escalating to a high she'd never experienced before.
"I'll never leave you, Liz Parker," murmured Max as he came down from his own release several minutes later. "You're my forever."
"And you're mine," she replied tenderly, stroking the hair back from his forehead.
They lay together in each other's arms, sated and happy, as they fell into a deep, contented sleep.
It was pitch black outside in the desert, the consequence of it being two in the morning, yet inside the pod chamber there was an eerie glow. Had anyone been there, they would have observed the small pieces of broken orb vibrating on the floor of the cave as they glowed brightly and then rose into the air, forming a swirling cloud of purples and pinks.
For several minutes, the cloud simply remained suspended in mid-air, but a spilt second later, a crackle of energy spilt the air, much like fork lightning on a stormy night, and the cloud spun faster and faster. Without warning, it shot out an arm of sorts, spearing through the door to the Granilith. There was no one around to see this, but if there had been, they would have observed as the cloud filtered into the base of the Granilith, gradually filling the inverted-cone-shaped chamber from the bottom up.
As Max and Liz found the ultimate pleasure in each other's bodies in Liz's bed just across town, the swirling mist pulsated in a steady rhythm. Just before the purple glow within the immense object faded to darkness, a face became visible in the centre of the cone, an evil smirk masking its features
It was the face of Liz Parker.