Smoke and Mirrors

I stared at Nasedo. He looked so much like Max...

I know. He was a shapeshifter, Liz, he's supposed to look like Max...But knowing someone has a - a power like that doesn't prepare you for the mental and emotional gymnastics you have to do when you're looking at them. It was still incredibly confusing, sitting next to him, this person that I'd grown to care for and trust, a person I would save if I could -

And he was someone else. Just like that. He had Max's body copied perfectly, his eyes, his kiss, everything.

Except what made him Max.

That was entirely different.

" - Agent Pierce, please," He said into the cell phone. "Yeah, yeah, yeah...I know there's no Agent Pierce..."

It felt strange that he said please. He'd killed people. It was strange to think murderers say please and thank you...

Michael's doing something, I thought. You know he's doing something -

What could he do? Nasedo had said he'd kill me if Michael came after us.

He could find me. I know he could find me -

How would he explain that to Max?

Maybe he'd tell him. Tell Max about us -

I bit down on my lip and stared at my hands in my lap. He could kill me. He could just reach over and kill me, Michael couldn't come after me and if he told Max it would kill him, he'd hate us and Oh, God -

I brought my hands up to my face and felt the tears burn a path onto my skin.

Think, Liz. Think...

"...just let him know that I left him a little clue on Highway 380 to Hondo," He said, looking over and smirking at me. "Near mile marker 67."

I heard the click of the phone and dropped my hands. I looked over at him. His eyes flickered to me and back to the road.

"Are you going to kill me, too?" I whispered.

He smirked and looked over at me before answering.

"Not as long as I still need you," He said, his eyes squinting at the road. He was smiling.

"Do you -" I licked my lips. "Do you have to be Max?"

He turned and leered at me. {What. Would you prefer I was Michael, Liz?}

I flinched, my eyes moving away from him, focusing on the blurring wasteland flying past us.

"Oh, I like it," Nasedo said, his voice smug, clipped. "Being him. Being 17. I don't think you'd have been as friendly to Ed Harding."

I stared at him. "That - that was you?"

If he was Tess' father, then -

Who was Tess? Did he change into her when we were watching the videotape and then change back, or -

They were talking like they were two different people -

I blinked. It didn't make sense -

He grinned at me. "I've been a lot of different people," He said, shrugging. "A lot of them you don't even know about. But right now, Max Evans is my most important role."


"Because I'm the bait," Nasedo said, looking at me. "Pierce is looking for Max, and I'm going to draw him to me."

"So why do you even need me -"

"You're my collateral," He said. "My hostage."

"What kind of hostage am I," I whispered, my voice choked. Keep him talking, Liz, think of something - "Pierce would - Pierce would just kill me."

"Actually," Nasedo said thoughtfully, "He wouldn't. He knows what Max did to you at the crashdown that day," He said, staring at me, his eyes rolling slightly. He looked back at the road.

"He wants you alive. He needs answers. You could come in extremely handy in terms of my survival, and even if you don't... well," He said, flashing a grin at me, "You've been fantastic company."

{I don't suppose you'd like to pull over again, would you, Liz?}

My stomach turned. I looked away from him, at the desert flying past us, fighting the chill running through my blood.

I heard him laughing.

Michael was thinking of something. They all were.

They had to be.


I sped up, grabbing Tess' arm as I passed her. She jumped a little in surprise and looked up at me, scared. "Michael! Michael, what -"

"What's going on?" I snapped, dragging her behind me.

"What are you talking about?" She asked, trying to pull her arm free. I tightened my grip. You're not going anywhere. I don't care who you are -

"You know what I'm talking about," I hissed, trying to keep my voice down. "Nasedo has Liz."

Her eyes widened. "I didn't know -"

Right. Like I was gonna buy into the innocent act.

"The hell you didn't," I snarled, my grip tightening like a vice, pulling her more roughly, getting her off-balance, the rage flaring up in my tone, in my skin. I moved faster to get her into the car. "You want us to trust you, but how can we if you don't tell us what you know -"

"Michael, I can't tell you what I don't know -"

"Valenti is involved now," I said from behind clenched teeth, leaning in to her. She tried to back up and I held her in place. "If this thing goes the wrong way, he'll know everything, and that puts us all in danger, including you. Now get in the jeep."

"Michael, you don't know who you're dealing with -"

Neither do you.

"No," I snapped, shoving her into the passenger seat of the jeep. "But you do. And that's why you're coming with us."


"Why would Nasedo -"

"He's going to kill her," I said sharply.

Tess turned around to look at me. "What? Michael, why -"

"I'm telling you, that's what he's doing," I snapped. "Max, go faster."

"Michael, we don't even know if we're going in the right direction -"

I do. I know. I could find Liz across the world if I had to.

"Just trust me on this," I muttered, staring out at the sky. Night was falling around us.

Isabel stared at me. "How do you know?"

I looked over at her. "I just know, alright?"

"Michael, why -"

"Leave him alone, Isabel," Max said, looking in the rearview mirror.

She opened her mouth to say something and then changed her mind, looking out at the desert, turning her back to me.

"It doesn't make sense," Tess insisted. "Liz isn't part of us."

I stared at the back of her head. Liz isn't part of us? What, but she was?

"She's not part of our destiny," She continued.

"What destiny?" I snapped, leaning forward. "What're you talking about -"

"Michael," Max said quietly. I glared at him.

Fine. Just drive, Maxwell.

"Hurry it up," I muttered, leaning back.

"You can't deny this, any of you," She said, looking around at the three of us. "It's our destiny. It's what we were planned for -"

Shut up, I thought. Shut up. Drive, Maxwell.


"Where's the pea?" Nasedo asked, his chin in the hollow of his hand, his elbow propped up against the booth.

"Pick one," He said. I didn't move.

"Pick one."

I flinched a little and gestured at one of the shells. The carnie picked it up -

Empty. Nothing.

Nasedo straightened. "Don't believe everything you see," He whispered, his hand slipping to my back, herding me away from the booth. I walked faster and arched my back, moving out of his reach.

{Are you going to be like this all night?}

My eyes were empty. Dead. I'd done everything. I'd begged, I'd bargained, I'd done everything I could think of.

I had to get away from him.

{Maybe I really should shift into Michael.}

"Shut up," I whispered. "Shut up."

His arm slipped around my shoulders again, dragging my body against him. I bit down on my lips, trying to kill the scream hovering in my throat. I heard a strange, low, familiar sound.

He was laughing. In my head.

Hurry, Michael. Hurry.


We were close. I could feel it. Then we saw the flashing lights, the police -

It can't be Liz, I thought, fighting the panic surging through my body. I would know. I would feel it -

"Don't stop," Tess whispered. "Don't even slow down. It's not her. Those men are from the Special Unit. Just drive."

"How do you know?" Isabel asked.

"I've been running from them all my life," Tess said. She was shaking. "And now they're after you, too. Just go." Her voice was a ragged whisper. She looked at Max. "Go!"

He sped up and the jeep hurtled past the cops, the darkness and the night sky swallowing us.

If he hurts her, I thought, I'll kill him.


"What are we doing here?" I asked.

"We're waiting for Pierce to connect the dots," He said, his eyes flickering around us.

The noise and the lights were constant, almost unbearable. I thought about screaming for help, running for someone -

There were children here. Families. If I did - if I tried to get help, he'd kill any of them. Mother, Father, child, it doesn't matter to him.

"When he gets here, what are you going to do to him?" I asked. "You know, and then you won't need me anymore, right?"

He smirked at me. {He's not coming for you, Liz. Any of them.} I backed away from him and his arm snaked out, catching me, pulling me closer to him.

{Especially Michael.}

"You don't know them at all," I whispered.

He stared at me. "What's that mean?"

"God, don't you think Max is already on his way to find me?"

Nasedo rolled his eyes. "Now, why would he be doing that?"

"Because he cares about me," I whispered. "But you don't understand that, do you? don't care about anyone."

"All I care about is protecting them," He said. His eyes locked onto mine. "No one else matters."

"What are you protecting them from?" I asked, turning away, looking for an escape.

He shrugged. "Everything," He muttered. "Pierce. The special unit." He looked sharply at me.


I looked up at him. "Me," I whispered. "They don't need protecting from me -"

"Evidently they do, Miss Parker," He said, looking up at the ferris wheel. "You're a distraction, and they can't have distractions. There's too much at stake."

"What's that mean," I asked, staring at him. "What're you -"

"Max isn't coming after you, Liz," He hissed, leaning in to me. "He's with Tess now. And Michael's not far behind."

I stared at him. "I don't believe you," I whispered. "Michael wouldn't -"

"It's amazing how little you know," He said, his head tilted strangely, looking at me. He shrugged, looking around at the carnival. "Well, you're clever. For a human. You'll figure it out."

"Figure what out?" I demanded.

He stared at me. "Max and Tess," He said, a smile cutting across his face. "And Michael and Isabel. None of them have a choice in the matter."

The vision of Michael and Isabel flashed in front of me, his arms reaching out to her and she was moving towards him, their arms pulling each other closer, their mouths hungry, leaning in to kiss each other -

"Michael doesn't want her," I whispered.

He laughed, a hollow, cruel sound. "Wants," He repeated, looking down at me with a surprised expression. "Wants?"

I blinked. "Doesn't that matter? What they want?"

"Oh, Liz Parker," He said, smirking and shaking his head. "You have no idea."

"Michael would never be with -"

"He doesn't have a choice," Nasedo said, glaring at me. I fought the urge to back up. "Besides, have you looked at her? No offense, Liz," He said, his eyes flickering around the carnival. "But you can't compete with that. Not that you deserve it. Michael's going to be with Isabel."

That wasn't Michael. She isn't what he wants. He loves you -

"I don't believe you," I whispered.

"It's true," He said, shrugging, his smile cold. "Just like Tess and Max were made to be together."

"But you don't even know what - what Max and I have," I whispered. If Max was lost -

Then maybe Michael would be lost, too...

His head rolled around. He was smirking at me. {You don't have to lie to me, Liz. You don't love him.}

No. I didn't. But I cared about him -

"You know, ever since he saved my life at the CrashDown, he changed me," I said, my voice building. I sounded desperate. "We saw into each other's souls -"

He rolled his eyes and turned away from me, sighing.

He was bored. I was boring him.

His eyes flickered and locked onto someone else.

"... I don't believe in aliens," the person was saying.

His eyes narrowed. He turned away from me, focusing his attention on them.

"Time for the final clue," He whispered.

It was blinding, that close to it, a pillar of light and wind suddenly coalescing around them, blue light screaming up into the sky -

It took me a second to realize he wasn't watching me.

Go, the voice inside me screamed. Go. Go. Go.


We were stopped by the side of the road. Max was insisting we wait for Valenti.

"Max. Let's go," I snapped, my voice rising. "Come on!"

"Michael, we have to wait for him."

We're wasting time. "Are you willing to risk Liz's life on Valenti?"

"Michael, they could have gone in twenty different directions," He said. "We have to-"

The light shot out of nowhere, maybe ten miles down the road. A huge blue beacon, reflecting off the clouds above, sharpened and formed into something familiar -

A symbol. The one on the orb.

Found them.

"Oh my god," Tess whispered. "I know what he's doing. He's leading Pierce right to him. He wants to kill him."

"Let's go," Max said.

Tess stared at him. "Max. We can't -"

"Yes we can," Max said, gunning the engine, the tires screaming against the road.


"Split up," Max said, jumping out the of the car. "Find Valenti. He'll lead us to Liz."

I scanned the carnival. I could feel traces of her everywhere, so powerful they were almost tangible, a faint trail of energy pulsing throughout the carnival. But I couldn't see her -

My eyes narrowed and focused on a booth. A shell game.

I took off running, ignoring the others calling my name behind me.

If he hurts her, I'll kill him.


I leaned against the mirrors, breathing hard. I lost him. I think I lost him -

Footsteps. I turned around, pressing my lips together, trying to keep myself silent -

It was him. I hadn't lost him. I moved back, my hands against the mirrored glass.

Please, Michael. Please -


"Yeah, they were here," The guy said. "Just a little while ago -"

"Where are they now?"

He shrugged. "I dunno," He muttered, counting some bills. "They didn't win -"

I grabbed him faster than I thought I could move. His feet were off the ground. I pulled him up to my eye level.

"Where are they," I snarled, the rage glowing white in my fists. Dollar bills fluttered all around us like snow.

He pointed left, his eyes wide and scared. "That - they went that -"

He fell to the ground when I dropped him and ran left, searching for traces of her.

Damnit, Liz, where are you?


I turned a corner and stopped dead.

I saw Max.

Two. Two of Max -

He'd come after me. He'd come after me -

I shouted his name. Both of them turned to look at me. Max ran towards me.

Thank God. Thank God -

He was saying my name when he stopped, trapped behind a glass wall.

Break the glass, I thought,break it -

"Liz, get out of here -"

"Not without you," I said.

I saw shapes behind him, reaching for him -

"Max! Behind you -"

He turned around. The guy was pulling something, a gun, and Max ran to the side. I raced around to find him -

"I've got to get you out of here," He said. He was right in front of me.

Thank God, I thought. Run. Run. Run.

He pulled me around a corner, weaving through the maze, dragging me behind him. I was racing to keep up. We turned another corner and he was opening a door, we were free, I thought, we were out -

I heard gunshots and shouting behind us. I turned around -

Max - not Max, I thought, Nasedo - was shoved up against the glass, two guys grabbing him, pinning his arms behind him -

And then Max was pulling me out into the night, and I couldn't see any more.


I couldn't find her. Something was blocking me, keeping me from finding her. I tried to focus -

I felt it. Her. Not a trace, but her, outside the carnival. He was taking her again -

I closed my eyes and felt the sensation again, like I was flying, being drawn to her like a magnet -

A bus. Nasedo was pulling her onto a bus. I opened my eyes.

"Isabel!" I yelled, breaking into a run. She was twenty yards away, spinning around, trying to find my voice.

"What," She asked, moving to join me. "Michael, what -"

"I know where they are," I called over my shoulder. "Come on -"


"Right in here," He said, looking out the windows.

"Max," I whispered, "Max, are you all right?"

He wasn't looking at me. And he was pushing me backwards, away from him.

What if he's not -

I grabbed him, my mouth coming up to his, pulling him down against me -

Blackness. A grey spiral. Someone screaming -

I pushed him away and backed up. Oh my God. Oh God -

"You're not Max," I whispered.

"No. I'm not," He said, staring at me. "And now I've got to get him back."

He put his hand out. He's going to kill me, I thought, the logic odd and calm in my mind. He's going to kill me.

The light was blinding, like the pillar of light he'd created, the beacon that Max followed, but pure white, stunning and hot and his features started to melt, almost, a metallic sliver running across his body and clothes, the bus screaming and protesting under his feet -

And then it was over. I blinked, my mind trying to process the image in front of me, a clown staring at me, the two of us just watching each other.

And then he was gone. I saw his shadow slip out of the bus and into the crowd.

He left me. He didn't kill me. He left me.



I stepped off the bus. I had to do something. I had to do something -

"Liz?" Someone shouted. I turned around.

Michael was running toward me. Isabel and Tess were right behind him.

{Liz - are you alright?}

I could hear him. I could hear him. "Oh, God," I whispered, the tears burning my eyes. I tried to move towards them and stumbled. Isabel said my name.

"They have Max," I whispered, my voice a weak whisper. Isabel's eyes flew open, unbelieving.

I'm sorry, I thought, I'm so sorry -

{Liz. Liz, come here -}

{Oh, God, Michael, they have Max.}

"They have Max," I whispered, trying not to fall.

{I left him there. Oh, God, Michael, I left him there -}

He reached for me and pulled me into him. I collapsed against his body, the sobs racking me. I'd failed him. I'd failed all of them. They had Max.

And it was all my fault.


"What's he look like," Michael said, cupping my face in his hands, staring at me. "Liz. What does he look like."

I stared up at him, blinking. "He's a - he's a clown - I don't -"

"What's he wearing?"

"A plaid jacket," I whispered. "It's - it's grey. Red hair -"

"Split up," Michael said to Tess and Isabel, pulling me back into him, his hand cradling the back of my head, his other arm wrapped tight around my body. "Find him."

"Michael -" Isabel started.


"What about you," I heard Tess say.

"I'm not leaving her," Michael said quickly.

"But Michael -"

"He might come back for her," He snapped. Tess and Isabel were silent.

"Go. Find him."

I heard footsteps, quick and hard on the earth, pounding an angry, determined rhythm and fading into the noise of the carnival.

Michael's arm around my body loosened and slipped under my knees, picking me up, carrying me away from the bus, cradling me against him. I wrapped my arms around his neck, clinging to him as close as I could get, his shirt spotted and wet from the tears I couldn't stop crying.

"I've got you," He whispered fiercely. "I've got you. It's okay. I've got you."


{I'm sorry, Michael, I'm so sorry -}

{Liz. You're not responsible for this -}

{Yes I am, Michael, I should have asked him, I should have stayed - oh God, Michael, they were FBI. They were FBI, Michael, they're going to -}

{Stop. Liz, stop. We're going to get him back.}

She wouldn't stop crying. I'd moved her to the passenger seat of the jeep and was crouched down next to her, our eyes at the same level.

{Did he - did he hurt you?}

She looked up, her eyes red from crying, her face worn with exhaustion. {No, Michael. He didn't.}

I nodded and looked down at her hands. She was fidgeting. Nervous. Her hands wouldn't stay still.

He might not have killed her, or hurt her, but he'd done something to her.

{Liz. I'm not going to let him hurt you again.}

She blinked. {It's not that - it's -}

She didn't finish. {What? Liz, what -}

"He talked about you and Isabel," She whispered. "And Max and Tess. That you were all supposed to be together."

I felt my breath catch. Bastard -

{Liz. Listen to me.}

{Michael, he was saying that you didn't have any control over it, that none of you could-}

{Liz. Listen to me.} She looked up at me.

{I'm not leaving you, Liz. I don't care what anyone says.}

She stared at me evenly. I couldn't tell if she believed me or not -

"Nothing," Isabel said breathlessly, her footsteps harsh against the ground. She looked frantic. I stood up.

"There's got to be something -"

"There's nothing, Michael, alright?" She yelled, waving her arms. "Nothing. We can't find any trace of him."

Tess walked up behind her, staring at the carnival. "I can't believe he did this," She whispered.

"Believe it," I snapped. "Come on. We're going back."

"Michael -"

"I said we're going back. We're taking Liz home and then we're going to figure this out."

Isabel blinked. She glanced at Liz, sitting numbly in the passenger seat. Her eyes flickered back to me.

"Okay," She said, her voice calmer. "Okay. Come on, Liz," She said, leaning over to her, helping her to stand up. "Climb in back. I'll sit with you."

I watched them moving, the woman I loved and the woman I was supposed to be with, one of them helping the other into the back. Liz slumped down in the seat, exhausted. Isabel put her arm around her shoulders and spoke softly to her, trying to comfort her.


I turned around. I'd almost forgotten about Tess.

"Let's go," I said.


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