Taking Steps

I stood in the shadows and watched Max leave. I shook my head. He really did redefine 'honorable'.

Or stupid.

She'd stopped him climbing down the fire escape. I think she said, "No, wait..." and then she was kissing him. I shut my eyes. Turned my face to the ground, counted to ten. I took a breath and looked back up. He was climbing down.

He could walk away from that.

Gotta hand it to him.

I shoved my hands into coat pockets. The temperature was dropping fast. I looked at the rooftop, but she'd disappeared.

I didn't even know why I was here. She hadn't even shown up in the circle until the very end.

I expected her to be first.

I looked down the street after Max. Nothing. He was long gone. And he wasn't coming back.

I looked at the rooftop again, squinting. She didn't care about me. She wanted Max. I was wasting my time. My fingers toyed with my ring and looked down the street again.

Yeah. I was definitely wasting my time with Liz Parker.

I climbed the fire escape two steps at a time.


She was sitting on the lawn chair, under the string of lights, her hair drawn back in a ponytail. Her eyes were fixed on the blanket around her when I reached the top. "Hey," I said.

She looked up. "Hey," she said. She pulled at a loose thread on the blanket.

I swung my legs over the rooftop, sat down on the ledge. Her eyes looked strange. Tired.

"You got a sec?"

She took a deep breath. "I don't know if I can do this tonight, Michael."

The anger rose up inside me, fast. This was going to happen whether she felt up to it or not.

"Well," I said. "That's too damn bad, Liz."

That got her attention. She looked closer.

Oh, this was priceless. She was worried.

"Michael, are you alright?"

"Me?" I said. "Sure. Nearly died, but hey, I'm --"

"Oh my god." She was off the chair, moving to her room. "Stay there. I'll call Max and we'll go back to the reservation. We can find Riverdog and --"

As entertaining as this was-

"No, Liz," I said, standing up. She stopped. "Nonono." I walked over to her. "I'm fine. Whatever happened in that - vision, or whatever it was - broke my fatal, rampaging fever. I'm fine." I stopped in front of her. "But thanks. For nothing."

She was confused. She looked at her window, then back to me. "Then what --"

"Liz!" I said loudly. She jumped.

"I. Was. Dying. Liz."

Her eyes flickered. Now she got it.

"I was dying, in that - cocoon, Liz, and you just --"

She just what?

Left me there. Let the others come for me.

She didn't care about me.


She was shaking her head. Babbling. "Michael - I was scared, alright? I - I didn't know what was going to happen, I didn't want to hurt you, I just -"

"Hurt me?" I laughed. Women. "How could you hurt me, Parker?"

"He said there was a risk." The words were tumbling out of her mouth. "He said that - that the balance could, I don't know, pull us in, or something, and that we had to think about you, that we had to keep our feelings clear about you."

I shrugged. "So what's the problem, Liz?"

"I -" she stopped. Looked up at the sky. At the constellation.

I folded my arms. Humans. I wasn't going to make this easy for her. It wasn't like I believed her, anyway.

Besides, she was the one who let me down. Right?

"Oh, the hell with it," she said.

She grabbed me and kissed me.

Max was wrong. She didn't move in slow motion.

Liz was lightning fast.

The reservation. Daylight. Max.

Max was talking to me.

Not to me. To Liz.

"I remember the first time I saw Michael..."

What the hell-

"Maybe this is how we die...

"...committing to someone is hard enough without having to wonder if they'll be there tomorrow."


Me. I was looking at me. In Liz's room. It was dark. She was telling me I should consider learning physics. I was laughing at her.

"Physics? Physics don't apply to me, Liz. Besides, someday I'm gonna leave this wasteland of a rock, one way or another."

My chest constricted. That hurt.

Why did that hurt?

"I could be gone tomorrow, Liz. Go back to astronomy."

What was happening to me?


The cave in the reservation. Riverdog was speaking. Everyone looking at me.

No. Not me.


"You're afraid... not of the healing. Your fear runs deeper. You fear for someone else...

"Someone you care for a great deal...


Not Max. Me.

"Take a step back."

He was gone.

Max. A stone in his hand. He was looking at me. At Liz. Anger in his eyes.

I heard Liz say she was sorry.

Everything went black.

I opened my eyes, stumbled back, gasping for air. She'd kissed me.

Liz Parker had kissed me.

I tried to get my balance, failed. Everything was spinning. Maybe I was still weak from the fever. She reached, trying to catch me. "Michael! Are you okay?"

"Okay?" I yelled. Move, Guerin. Fast. I backed up as quickly as I could, as far as I could go. "What the hell did you do to me? How did you -- "

She stepped back. "Michael, I - I didn't know how to tell you, so - I just -"

"Tell me what?" I kept backing up and hit the ledge. I grabbed the railing to keep from falling over.

This was crazy. Max's girlfriend had kissed me.

And I'd kissed her back.

He was gonna kill me. Max was going to kill me ten different ways. I couldn't blame him.

I don't think I cared.

Why had I seen her talking with Max? And Riverdog?

"Michael, please," she said. "Just listen."

Listen. I barked a laugh. She'd just turned both our worlds upside down and she wanted to talk. I put my face in my hands, tried to catch my breath.

"You have One. Minute," I said. Hands against the ledge. Be ready to bolt. "Go."

"I was afraid, if I went with them --" she bit her lip. "I was afraid I might hurt you."

That made no sense.

"I've been having -" she swallowed once. "Feelings."

"Feelings." I said. This was insane.

"For you."

For me.


"And I thought that if I went into the circle, then -" wisps of her hair were falling loose from her ponytail, drifting past her face. "-- then did I think of you as a friend? Or as - as something else?" Her eyes were pleading. I stared at her blankly.

This made no sense.

"What if that hurt you, Michael? I mean, what if I messed it up by - by being inconsistent? Just by thinking that? Michael - he said you could die. I couldn't take that chance." She stopped. I waited.

That wasn't all of it.

She brought her hand up to smooth her hair. "And then what if --" she broke off and looked down the street.

The direction Max had left.

Suddenly, I was tired.

"What if Max found out," I finished.

I couldn't believe this.

She bit her lip. Nodded her head once. "He's -" Stopped again. Stared at the floor.

"He's so - intense about me, Michael," she said. "And I feel that way for him too, but --" Her voice trailed off.

I shut my eyes. Control, Guerin. My fingers dug deep into the brick ledge. I wondered if I could make the jump to the street without breaking something. Of course, maybe breaking something would make me feel better. I shook my head.

He was Max. Of course she felt that way about him.

Everybody liked Max.

I heard her take a breath. Start again. "Max - his finding out - " she swallowed. "That did scare me. But..."

I looked up. "But... what?" I asked.

She raised her head up. Her eyes were dark liquid.

I didn't say anything.

She looked down, started to tremble. Her hands fluttered nervously, up to her hair, her shoulder, her upper arm. She knotted her arms, trying to control her movement, and stared into space. All tension. Fear. And something else. Determination.

She wasn't afraid of Max knowing. Not really.

She shifted her weight, bit down on her lip.

I wanted to hear her say it.

I let go of the ledge, straightened. Took a step toward her. She jumped, startled. Eyes searching.

But she didn't run.

I took another step. She looked away.

Another step. She started to back up, toward her window, her room, to anything safe and stopped herself almost immediately. She took a shaky breath, pressed her lips closed, tight. Her knuckles were white.

Come on, Liz. Say it.

She was so beautiful. My best friend's girlfriend. My girlfriend's best friend. The palindrome possibilities were endless.

I didn't care.

"Liz," I breathed.

She closed her eyes. Her mouth opened, her tongue touched her lips, disappeared again.

"I was scared," she said. I took another step.

"Of -" I stopped. My mouth was dry and my voice threatened to crack. Try again. "Of what?"

"Of you." Her voice was a whisper. Step.

"Why, Liz?" I was so close. She didn't answer. "Why would you be afraid of me?"

Less than a whisper. Just soft sounds on her breath. "I thought --"

The words were warm in her mouth. Maybe they had been for weeks.

She just had to say them.

Say it. Her eyes flitted for sanctuary. I was too close.

Max would have stepped back. Given her space. He'd say she could tell him when she was ready, that he could be patient. Max would wait.

I'm not Max.

"-- I thought-"

Last chance. Last chance for everything to stay the same. Stay normal.

What's so great about normal?

"-- I thought you wouldn't want me."

She wanted to run. I could feel it.

"Really," I whispered.

Her eyes locked onto mine.

Max was going to kill me.

I didn't care.

I wanted to touch her. I wanted to kiss her, like she'd kissed me. I felt my hands stirring. Her eyes flickered. My tongue was thick in my mouth. He was my best friend. My family.

She wanted me.

Slowly, my hands rose up to her face, touched her skin lightly.

She didn't flinch.

My hands cupped her face gently. Her eyes were a deep, rich brown. Coffee brown, with flecks of gold. Her skin was like silk.

Who knew humans had skin like that?

She looked scared. Desperate. Her mouth opened slightly. I almost lost it.

I forced the swallow down my throat, breathed deep. My left thumb slipped over her lips. She gasped a little and moved her lips to kiss my palm. Her throat was silver in the moonlight. The crossroads of her neck and her jaw beat in a rapid pattern. Her pulse.

I let my right hand slide down, traced it with a fingertip. Surprised her. She exhaled and I felt warm lips against the hollow of my hand. She pressed against my palm, stretching her neck for me. I remembered to breathe, opened my mouth. Then I couldn't close it.

How could he do it?

How could he leave her?

Her hands slid up my arms, softly, delicately. She turned her face away from my palm, eyes on mine. I felt her fingers turn over, slowly, the fabric coarse under her hands, tiny clutches on my jacket. It took me a second to feel it slowly pull tight around my back. Pressure so light I barely felt it.

She was pulling me. Gently. Pulling me down toward her.

I didn't care.

Slow, Guerin. For once in your life-

I pulled her up to me slowly. Her eyes fluttered, closed.

Her breath was soft against my lips. Warm. Damp. like a rainforest.

Then I felt her lips on mine. Soft, light.

No Max. No Riverdog.

I felt like my heart would burst.

I kept my left hand on her face, touching her skin. My right arm slid down her shoulders and over her spine. She tasted sweet.

It was all over.

My arms closed around her loosely, still holding back. I started to pull her in, closer to me, and her body was against me, melting at the touch, curves filling hollows, the space between us closing. I was hanging on by a thread. My arms enveloped her and I threaded my hands into her hair, dark satin cascading over my fingertips. Her touch was light on me, everywhere, on my face, my jawline, my cheek, my lips. She opened her mouth to me.

Any restraint I had left was gone.


No one knows exactly how a hurricane develops.

We know they begin as tropical storms, rising from ocean waters heated by hot desert winds, summoning towering clouds and charging the air with electricity. Two opposing elements come together, the winds lift and surge, and suddenly, you have a tropical storm.

It happens dozens of times a year and no one is ever surprised. Most tropical storms run their course out in the ocean, away from our coastlines. Their energy spent, they dissipate into nothingness, leaving the seas as flat as when they first appeared.

They're not named. Barely catalogued into record books.

But hurricanes are different.

Unlike other tropical storms, hurricanes feed upon their own energy. Wind tightens inward, upon itself rather than the wide expanse of the ocean. The winds tighten upon a wobbly, loosely defined center, forming a circular wall of wind surrounding the eye of the storm, gaining power with every turn.

And then it can't stop.

The best people can hope for is enough notice to board up their homes and escape inland, away from the tidal surges and 100 mph winds. Because a hurricane destroys everything in its path -- walls, houses, power lines, crops, buildings -- to get wherever it's determined to go.

What makes one storm turn into a hurricane, and the other a whisper on the ocean?

That was the difference between Michael and Max.

My world was going to change. Again.

I don't know how it started.

I just knew he was walking toward me. And he wasn't going to stop.

The air crackled with electricity. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end when he touched me. His eyes, dark and absolute, never wavered from mine. There was nothing I could do to stop it.

It couldn't happen fast enough.


That same night, Michael tried to explain the flashes.

"You saw Riverdog?" I asked, confused. "What do you mean, you saw Riverdog?"

"I don't know, I just -- " he stopped, kissing my temple softly. His lips were warm against my skin. "I was seeing it from your perspective, I think. He was telling me -- you, I mean, that you were afraid. For someone you cared for." He cleared his throat. "He told you to step back."

How could he know that?

"Michael -- " I pushed myself up on my hands, looking down at him. His hand reached out to touch a strand of my hair, and his eyes followed. " -- that's crazy. How could you see something I experienced?"

He looked at me. "I don't know."

I didn't know how to phrase my next question. "Michael, do you -- see things -- with Maria?"

Neither of us had brought up Maria yet.

Or Max.

His eyes dropped down.

"I saw you," I said. "That night. In the cafe."

He pursed his lips, took a deep breath. "No," he said. "No flashes."

I tried not to smile. I really tried.

I lowered my body back down to his, snuggled my face against his upper chest, feeling his breath on my hair, watching his chest rise and fall. "Well -- maybe this is just some kind of alien thing, then."

"That's remarkably insightful," he deadpanned. "I hadn't thought of that."

I punched him in the arm. "Jerk," I muttered, smiling. His arms pulled me tighter.

"Violence is never the answer, Liz."

This time it was a swat. "You're still a jerk."

He laughed a little.

"Liz," he cleared his throat. "I knew you were thinking about me."


"When I had the flash," he said. "When you were kissing me."

I rolled my eyes. "You know, this arrogance of yours passes for charm for a while, but you've really got to get some new material, Michael."

"No," he said. "I mean, I knew what you were feeling."

That took a second to sink in. When it did I sat up and looked at him. "You knew what I was feeling?"

"Well -- yeah," he said lamely. "I mean, what do you want me to say? Is that any less weird than me seeing something that happened to you hours ago?"

No. It wasn't.

But the idea that Michael could not only see my experiences, but also feel the emotions I felt when I experienced them, was -- disturbing, to say the least. Suddenly all my privacy was gone and my personal thoughts were exposed.

Then I remembered he'd read my journal, and was even more embarrassed. I felt the blood rushing to my face and turned away, looking at the brick wall.

He knew so much about me, he knew everything about me.

And I knew nothing about him.

"What is it?" he said. Damn. I couldn't even conceal embarrassment, how was I going to hide feelings that really mattered?

"I'm just -- I don't know." I took a deep breath. Nothing risked, nothing gained. "I'm -- feeling vulnerable, I guess."

There was a pause. I heard him take a deep breath, felt his hand on my back.

I felt the question welling up inside me and bit my lip to stop it. My vision blurred. The tears were there before I could fight them.

No, I don't want to talk about this now, I don't want to ruin this -- "What are we going to do about Maria, Michael? And Max?"

Silence. His hand froze on my back. I held my breath.

Say something.

Please say something.

I felt his hand drop from my back, resigned. The lawnchair squeaked when his body left it.


He was leaving.

The panic was suffocating.

This was impossible. It wasn't going to work. You were stupid to think it would, stupid to have tried it. He's going to leave, again, just like he did every night, and if he doesn't come back --

His arms pulled me around to face him. "Liz," he started, then stopped when he saw the tears on my face.

I was scared. I didn't know what he was going to do.

He kissed me gently. I tried not to whimper, to clutch at him. He didn't let go.

He didn't brush the tears away, didn't tell me to stop. He just kissed me gently, repeatedly, touching my hair, my face. Trying to calm me, bring me back to center, replacing fear with reassurance. I felt the panic subsiding, dissipating into air, and then the realization hit me that he was staying, he was staying with me, he was taking care of me.

Suddenly I realized I'd stopped crying minutes ago.

The relief and gratitude was overwhelming. My arms circled around his neck, pulled him closer. He was too far away. He tensed, kissed me harder.

I felt the intensity building, the roaring in my blood.

And then everything went black.

Night. An alley. Maria and...me.

"Maria knows."


Wait -- was that Michael?

Protect the others.

"Get your car out of the way, NOW."

I looked so small. He was a giant when he was angry.

I was the only one who stood up to him.

"I don't think that you should try to leave..."

Surprise and -- respect?

Was that what he'd thought about me?


Daylight. The trailer park. Michael was squinting at me. Worried.

"You're sure it was my records, it was definitely my records?..."

"I don't know what's going on, Michael... I just thought I should tell you."

Don't stop talking to her. Say something!

Is that what --

"Listen, if Hank insulted you or anything... you kind of have to ignore him."

"Sorry... to just show up here."

That surprised him.


Because no one else ever came to see him.


The night he gave me my journal back.

"Thank you for giving me one more reason to envy Max Evans."

I knew it. I knew it.


I stopped the kiss, shaking. Breathe, Liz.


"Liz --"He cupped my face in his hands, staring at my eyes. Looking for trouble. " -- you okay?"

"I'm fine," I said. "I think -- I think I know how you felt when I kissed you."

His hands dropped. He sat back. "You had them too."

"Yeah, but -- different. Different situations, I mean, than what you saw."

"So?" He looked anxious. Defensive. "What'd you see?"

I took a second. "Mostly, it was -- me," I said. "I mean, times when you were with me, when we were talking about stuff."

"And you felt --"

"-- everything you felt," I finished. "Yeah."

He sighed, put his head in his hands, rubbed his forehead. "So, lemme go over this again, just to make sure I've got this absolutely straight. I'm kissing my best friend's girlfriend, and --"

"I'm not his girlfriend," I interrupted.

"Liz," he said, his head shaking.

"I'm not!"

""Please. No technicalities. You and Max are --"

If he says ''soulmates', I'll kill him.

"We're not dating!" I said loudly.

He started to say something and gave up. He stood up, pacing, his right hand rubbing his forehead, left hand on his hip. "Fine," he said.

"Look, he --" I gestured to the ladder. "He said let's take a step back, and I tried to argue, but then I thought, why? Why do I want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with me?"

No response. Just pacing, not looking at me.

Try again.

"And then I thought, why am I with him when I want --" I paused.

He stopped. Dropped his hand.

Why didn't I want to finish that?

Because Michael made no promises.

Michael didn't think safety first. He wasn't going to make decisions for both of us, try to decide what was best for me.

He'd let me decide that.

If I was going to do this, then I was going to have to grow up, fast. I had to be able to deal with the consequences. Michael had to find out more about why he was here, where he came from.

And there was a chance that he might leave. For home. Wherever that was.

I would have to be able to take care of myself.

But -- I would be with him.

He was standing on my rooftop, waiting for me to continue.

Here I am. Deal with me.

He was good at waiting. He'd had a lifetime of practice.

I took a breath.

"-- why am I with him," I said, deliberately. "When I want you."

He smiled. Michael had a great smile. It occurred to me I'd hardly ever seen it.

He looked down at his ring and toyed with it for a second. When he looked up, he was resolved.

"Well, that's it, then," he said, walking over to me and kneeling down in front of me. Our eyes were level with each other. "We're just going to have to tell them."

Tell them? "Tell them what?" He reached down and brushed a strand of hair back from my face.

He took a deep breath. "We're going to tell them," he said, leaning in to kiss me, "That we're dating."


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