Strange Days

Max came in through the crashdown doors, passing Isabel at the counter and sitting down across from me. "Hey."

I'd turned toward the coffeemaker, pretending to be busy with coffee filters. "Hi, Max."

He cleared his throat. "Liz, about yesterday..."

I looked up at him.

"You, uh -- you were right. About me losing it." He took a breath. "So I apologized."

I looked at him, nodding slowly. "That was probably good."

"I forget you care about him," Max said thoughtfully.

My head snapped up. I nearly spilled the coffee.


He looked at me strangely. "Well, you -- you're protective of him. I see it. That you, you know, want him to be happy."

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

"Max... I..."

"I forget that he might need that, you know, and I can't...I don't..." He cleared his throat. "I think it's good. You know, Michael could use a friend."

A friend. My heart caught in my throat. He was my best friend, my lover, my -- everything, I thought, looking at Max, his hazel eyes staring into mine.

I should have stayed angry at him. That's what Maria would have done.

But then I thought about what Michael and I were doing and how it would kill him...

The guilt was bitter in my mouth. It wasn't his fault I'd fallen for Michael.

"What's wrong?" He asked.

Nothing. Everything. I lifted the pot of hot liquid.



"Uh, Miss," Max said.


"Refill, please," He said.

I smiled at him. "It would be my pleasure," I whispered, pouring the steaming coffee into his cup.

I leaned close to him, nuzzling him a little, and -

I felt both of them. Max's lips were barely touching my face and Michael's touch was warm and soft on my neck, gliding over my shoulders, his lips soft of the hollow of my neck --

I pulled back from Max. He was smiling at me, his eyes soft and warm.

Then the caféé doors opened, and Valenti walked in.

The temperature in the room dropped about 20 degrees.

"Hi," I said quickly. "Uh, um, hi. Can I help you, Sheriff?"

"Just the usual, Miss Parker," He said lightly, standing next to Max and Isabel and placing a thermos on the counter.

I took it from his hands and fumbled with the thermos, trying not to spill the coffee. Get him out of here, Liz, just get him out -

"Here you go," I breathed, handing him the full thermos. "Here, Sheriff."

"Thank you," He said, his eyes flickering over Max and Isabel. "You folks have a nice night."

I felt Michael behind me before Valenti was even out the door.

"He knows," Michael said.

Max was trying to be calm. "What does he know?"

"He's got the orb," Michael snapped.

"Which proves nothing. And if you hadn't taken it out of the apartment in the first place..."

"Oh, yeah, it's always my fault -"

"Blaming each other is not going to change anything," Isabel interrupted. "So Valenti now has something from our planet in his possession."

"Even though he has it -" I said, "He doesn't know what it is, right?"

"We don't even know what it is," Max started -

It's a communicator -- it only works with another one --

"What what is?" Someone asked.

Blonde hair. Blue eyes. I'd never seen eyes that blue. We all stared at her.

{That's her, Liz.}


I fought the urge to look over at him.

{Tess. Isabel's friend. The one she brought over to their house -}

"Oh, sorry," She said, backing away. "I didn't mean to interrupt anything..."

"No, no," Isabel spoke up suddenly. "Hey, we were just - why don't you join us?"


"Have a seat," Isabel finished.

"Thanks," She said, smiling and sitting down.

"Sure," Isabel said, smiling back.

We were just talking about the orb. What was Isabel doing?

"So, what were you guys talking about?" She asked.

"Can I..." act normal, Liz... "Can I get you something to drink, Tess?"

"Oh, thanks. Uh, Cherry coke with lime."

I nodded, a little surprised by the change in the room. Isabel was acting like she was her best friend, and Max...Max was staring at her.

I headed to the back to get Tess' drink when I felt him catch up to me.

"Max, look, I have to get back to work."

"Shh, Liz, just..." He kissed me and I felt it again, both of them, Michael's touch warm on my skin -

He pulled away from me. "I just really needed to do that," He said.

"Okay," I whispered.

He pulled me toward him for another kiss and I --

It was strange to explain. His kiss changed. It was -- demanding. Harsh. Passionate. Not like Max.

And I could barely feel Michael.

I broke away from him.

"Max," I whispered. He didn't answer me. "Max -"

He looked down at me, his eyes glazed, disbelieving.

"Max, where'd you go?" I whispered. "Did you have another flash?"

"Yeah," He breathed. "No. No, I'm fine."

What --

"- I'm just tired, I guess," He finished quickly. "I'm sorry."

He was fine. I shook my head a little and smiled at him."Look, I gotta get back to work. I'll see you later," I said, walking away from him.

That was just a fluke, I thought. Maybe Michael was distracted by something. Maybe that's why I didn't feel him.

I nodded to myself. Definitely a fluke.

I couldn't shake the nagging doubt all day.


"Liz, Max was on fire," Maria stressed.

"Maria, it was an accident."

"No, really, I did not like the way she was looking at him -"

Why was she so concerned?

She was my friend. Looking out for me.Maria always saw bad omens where there weren't any.

"Maria, Max and I are together now," I said, putting on my lipstick. "I don't have anything to worry about."

"Max isn't human," She stressed. "What if Czechoslovakians can't resist temptation?"

They could. They did. Michael and I both did every day.

"Ok, so what you're saying is that this not only a romantic problem now, it's, you know, intergalactic. Come on, Maria," I said, shaking my head. "Don't you get it? You know, Max and I... we're really... we're really happy together."

Substitute Michael's name for Max and I was telling her the truth.


"Michael, I'm worried."

"You should be, Maxwell."

"It's not about Valenti. It's about Tess, Isabel's friend. I'm having these daydreams about her -"


"Yeah, where we're together -" He shifted his weight, looking uncomfortable. "You know, together."

He had Liz and he was thinking about someone else. I tried to swallow the comment in my throat.

He really was an idiot.

"Guess you're only human after all, huh, Max?"

"It's me," He said, shaking his head. "I'm the problem. Something's happening to me."

I rolled my eyes. "Haven't you ever had a fantasy before?"

"This is different," He stressed. "It's out of my control. I can't stop it."

Whatever, I thought. "We'll work it out."

"Thanks for the compassion," He said, turning away and looking in the mirror.

"Valenti has the communicator, and we need to do something about it," I snapped. "This isn't the time for your sex fantasies."

"Michael, I'm telling you, there's something weird about this. It's like she knows something about me that she shouldn't know. I mean, who is she?"

"Can you focus?" God, did he have no control at all?

I got a flash of Liz in the moonlight of her bedroom, the light seeping into her skin, the rise and fall of her body from her breath -

Like you do, Guerin.

"I mean," I tried to shake it off. "Focus on what's important here, Maxwell."

"Forget about it?" He snapped. He was angry now. "Why did I think you'd be any help?"

I rolled my eyes and left.

It's like she knows something about me that she shouldn't know-

I took a deep breath. Maybe it was nothing. Could just be Max having a crush.

Didn't hurt to check.


I was unobtrusive. Quiet. Discreet.

She still found me. Maria.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"I saw you sneaking in," She said. "What are you doing here?"

"Nothing," I muttered, going through some files.

"Michael, if you want to be a couple, you've got to learn how to trust me. Okay, that's how a relationship works -"

I ground my teeth together and tried to tune her out.

"- no secrets. So either give it to me straight, or you're not going to be giving it to me at all."

Whatever - "Fine," I mumbled. "I'm checking out the new girl."

"Tess? Why?"

"That's classified."

"Does this have anything to do with Max?"

I looked up at her. Had he told her?

"- I knew it," She said, shaking her head. "I knew it."

"I'm just helping Max out, ok? It's not a big deal."

"I thought we were a team."

"What do you mean?"

"We've always investigated as a team."

Sometimes I wondered where she came up with this stuff.

"Well, take it easy, Sherlock," I said, opening the door. "When I find something, I'll let you know."

I stepped out into the hallway. She didn't try to follow me.


{-Yeah. I'm here.}

{Has anything strange happened today?}

{What're you talking about?}

She sighed. {It's probably nothing. I just -}

She was hedging. {Come on, Liz. Spill -}

{It's stupid.} She paused. {It's just, when Max kissed me this morning, it felt...different.}

{Different how?}

{I don't know how to explain it, just - different. That wasn't what worried me, though.}She paused again.

{I could barely feel you, Michael.}

I frowned. {But I thought -}

{I know. Maybe it was just one time, I don't know.}

I pursed my lips. {When was this?}

She sighed. {This morning. Right after Valenti left. When Tess came in.}

There's something about her, Michael -

{What is it? Michael?}

{Nothing. It's - I gotta go check something out. Alright?}

{- Okay. I'll see you later.}

I felt the connection lift and ebb into thin air. It was gone.

I ran off the school grounds as fast as I could, heading to the address I'd memorized from the file.

To Tess' house.


Something was bothering Max. You didn't have to be bonded with him to be able to tell that.

"So listen," I said, leaning over to him. "You know that assignment we have for BioLab? It was kinda left a little unclear whether Mr. Steigman wanted you to be Tess' lab partner for the day or from now on."

"I'm sure he didn't mean it," He said, not looking at me.

Who didn't mean what?

"It's just that we used to have an even number of students, and now that Tess is here, it's odd... it's an odd number. So, someone is going to be stuck without a partner, you know, mathematically -"

"Could we just stop talking about Tess?" He interrupted.

His tone was strange. Come on, Liz, you're just overreacting -

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea," Michael said.

I looked up at him. {Michael - are you okay?}

He nodded slightly and looked at Max. "Can we talk?"

"I'll be right back," Max said, getting up.

"Uh - okay," I said.

They were already deep in conversation. They didn't even hear me.

What was going on?


"She's a liar," I said. "Tess. I went to her house."

"You went to her house?" Isabel demanded. "Why?"

"I was passing by. The point is: it was empty. Not a single box. They don't live there. It's a cover."

"She did just move in, Michael -"

"There were military people there, Isabel."

"Military people?" She almost laughed. "Come on, Michael -"

"Two men with briefcases and suits, and one with an M-16," I snapped.

She stopped, blinked once.

"They don't work at the cheese factory, Isabel."

"I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation -"

Max looked away.

"What?" I asked.

"Nothing," He said. He was lying. I could feel it.

"Maxwell -"

He told us about Valenti coming to see him. The fire.

"...everything Topolsky told us might be true."

-you'll know I'm telling you the truth, Michael -

I snapped. "Why the hell didn't you tell us?"

"I didn't know if it was true," He said. "I didn't want anyone to panic and do something stupid."

Aimed at me. Typical.

"Hey, I'm trying to figure out which problem to panic over - you having secret meetings with Valenti or your new girlfriend Tess bringing the Army to town -"

Max's eyes flashed over. To Liz.

Her eyes flickered over us once, and then she was moving away.

"- you asked for my help, Maxwell."

He stared after Liz. "Not exactly the kind of help I was looking for," He said.

I opened my mouth to tell him he could do it alone, that he could have Tess for all I cared -

And Valenti was between us, setting something on the counter. The orb.

"Before you can expect somebody to trust you, you've got to trust them first. Whenever you're ready, Max."

We had the orb back. I couldn't believe it.

{Michael - what's going on?}

{Valenti just gave us the orb back.}


{Liz, can you close up by yourself tonight?}

{-Yeah - but Michael -}

{I gotta finish talking to Max. I'll come back when you're closing.}

{Michael -} She was worried, her voice trailing off.

{I know, Liz. Me too.}


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