Max let himself go back into his body, and when he opened his eyes, he was back with Tess.
He focused on her. “I know where Liz is.”
“Where?” Tess asked anxiously.
“She’s in the basement, near the boiler room,” he said, “but I have no idea how to get there. We have to find someone…”
Tess cut him off. “I know where it is. There’s some stairs over by the shops. I’ll go with you. I can help.”
Max nodded, glad she was coming. “Let’s go.”
They hurried out of the gym, and broke into a run once they were in the hallway. With her powers Tess altered her costume so she could move more quickly.
As they rushed to save Liz, a million thoughts raced through Max’s mind.
What had Rath done to Liz? She was so upset, Max didn’t even want to think what he might have done, but he had to. He had to be strong for her.
And it was completely his fault. He should have known it was too easy finding Tommy behind the Crashdown. He should have known it was all wrong. And he should have protected Liz better. He’d let himself get distracted by Tess and taken his attention off Liz. It was all his fault that Rath had been able to take her.
Max was also angrier than he’d ever been in his life. How dare Rath come after Liz? Even though they weren’t together, Liz belonged to him and Rath knew that.
And what was he going to do about Rath? How were they going to beat him? They didn’t even know what powers he had.
And when they did beat him, what then? It’s not like they could just turn Rath over to the police. But they couldn’t let him go either or he would surely hurt or kill more women.
It only left one option. Max would have to kill him.
He swallowed hard. He didn’t want to do it, but what other option did he have?
Liz was grabbed from behind and pulled against a hard body, as he spoke in her ear. “Gotcha, princess.”
He knocked the wrench out of her hand and dragged her backward through a hole in the wall, into the room where she’d started. The wall closed behind them, and she almost laughed. The whole time she’d thought she’d gotten away, she was just one wall away from Rath, and he knew it. He’d just waited for her.
Rath hummed in her ear. “Mmmmm, I knew you’d be fun. But I’ve had enough foreplay with our clothes on.”
Liz struggled against him, but he just laughed. “A fighter till the end,” he chuckled. “Keep wiggling that sweet ass against my cock, baby, I’m almost there.”
Horrified, Liz froze.
Rath chuckled again, brushing her ear with his lips. “So uptight,” he growled. “I’m going to love breaking you in.”
He tossed her on the bed and went to the desk, grabbing the bra and panties he’d created. “Put those on,” he ordered, throwing them to her.
She scrambled off the bed and backed away from him shaking her head. “No way.”
Rath smiled. “I can do it for you,” he said, as his eyes raked over her body. “Or maybe I’ll just get down to business and strip you naked.”
Out of his pocket he took a heart-shaped lollipop like he had sent Liz. Tossing the wrapper aside, he slid it in his mouth, sucking it as his eyes roamed over her body. “Damn,” he growled, “I think I’ll rub this all over you and lick it off. My own sweet lollipop.”
Liz shuddered, folding her arms across her breasts as if she could block his gaze.
With a smile, he started whistling in that eerie, off-key tone, and Liz shuddered again. All of her fear came rushing back.
She knew who he was now, but she also knew what he was capable of. And unlike a human, she didn’t have a chance against him. If Max couldn’t find her quickly…, she let the thought trail off. She couldn’t think about what would happen.
Rath winked at her. “You know you want it,” he said, grabbing his crotch. “I’m going to give it to you so good, you’ll be begging me for more.”
Liz shook her head, holding her hand out as if to ward him off. “Stay away from me, Rath.”
“Come here, princess,” he ordered, smirking.
As Max and Tess reached the door to go downstairs, Max paused, turning to Tess. “I have an idea,” he said. “We’ll get as close as we can, and you mindwarp Rath. I’ll get Liz out while he’s distracted, and…,” he paused, “and then, I’ll take care of him.”
Tess nodded, understanding. She didn’t judge or question what he was going to do, she just accepted his words. “Okay,” she said, reaching out and unlocking the door, “let’s go get her.”
Max was afraid. He didn’t think they were ready to take on Rath, but they didn’t have any choice. He just wished he didn’t feel so rushed. But he couldn’t wait and come up with a better plan. Liz didn’t have the time.
Silently they went down the stairs and through the hall, careful to stay close to the wall. It was dim in the corridor, but it only took them a moment to figure out where Liz was being held. They could hear Rath’s booming voice coming from a room ahead.
And by what he was saying, obviously he’d caught Liz again.
“Come here, princess,” he ordered.
Max stopped outside the door where he could hear Rath, and turned to Tess. She nodded and closed her eyes, starting the mind warp.
Looking around the corner, Max quickly took in the situation. Rath was about half-way across the room, and Liz was backed against the far wall. As he took in her appearance he was filled with rage. Her costume was torn on one shoulder and the filmy wings were bent. She had various cuts and bruises on her exposed skin and she looked terrified.
Max stepped into the room, waving to get Liz’s attention, and motioned for her to come to him.
With a grateful expression she started across the room.
Rath was still talking to the place where Liz had been standing, like he didn’t notice anything happening.
Silently, Liz walked toward Rath, because she had to go past him to get out. She watched his eyes carefully, but they were still focused across the room.
She tried to tune out his continuing rantings, but suddenly what he said caught her attention.
“You know,” Rath said, “you must think I’m some kind of scrub.”
A shiver of apprehension shot through Liz a second before Rath grabbed her, and whirled them around toward the door. His hand shot out and he sent a burst of power right at Max.
Max dove aside, barely avoiding the crackling ball of energy that hit the wall.
“Ava can mindwarp too,” Rath said, pressing Liz to the front of him, while keeping hold of the free handcuff hanging from her wrist, “and I’ve been able to see through it since I was twelve.”
He called out to Tess, “Get in here, retard.”
Max stood up, facing Rath, fury boiling inside him. He wanted nothing more than to beat Rath senseless for touching Liz. “Let Liz go.”
Rath put his hand to his chin, pretending to be thinking. “Mmmmm,” he hummed, and then focused on Max. “I don’t think so, duke. You lost your chance. She’s mine now and I’m going to take what you never had.”
Tess came in and Rath laughed again. “Max didn’t run you out of town,” he chuckled. “You must not have told him the truth, that you’re the one who broke him and Liz up.”
The surprise on Tess’ face was obvious, and Rath laughed. “Yeah, in New York I saw in that twisted little head of yours what you did.”
She stood up straighter. “I told him tonight,” she said softly.
Rath looked at Max. “She’s a devious little bitch, that one. And you didn’t kick her to the curb?”
Max was annoyed and scared. He wasn’t sure how to rescue Liz with Rath hanging on to her, and they’d lost the element of surprise. Now Rath seemed to know what Tess had done, and was taunting them about it. “There are more important things happening,” he growled angrily.
“Saving your girl,” Rath said, nodding. “But after he gets Liz back,” he said in a sing-song tone, pointing toward Tess and winking, “you are gone.”
Tess swallowed hard. She thought Rath might be right. It was possible Max would never forgive her for what she’d done.
Rath laughed, looking at Max. “Never mess with the king, right duke?” He cocked his head, speaking to Tess. “You might as well join up with me. I’ll even give you a tumble now and then, if it’s okay with the princess,” he said, holding up the handcuff attached to Liz’s wrist, yanking her against him.
Liz didn’t know what Rath was talking about, but now wasn’t the time to ask. “Tess belongs here, with us,” she said, her voice breaking with pain. “With Max.”
Rath laughed harder. He pulled Liz close, so he could speak in her ear. “That blonde bitch only made you think you couldn’t be with Max. She mindwarped you. Made you see ‘Future Max’ so you would chase Max away, and she could have him.”
Liz whirled toward Rath. “What?”
He nodded, and she looked to Tess. Tears started in her eyes as she thought of all the pain and heartache she’d suffered, and how she’d destroyed Max. “How could you?” she whispered.
Tess actually seemed ashamed. She couldn’t hold Liz’s gaze and looked down. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t…”
“Sorry you got caught,” Rath said cheerfully.
Max was tired of playing games. “Just let Liz go, Rath,” he said again. “There’s no way you’re getting out of here with her.”
Sending his power out again, Rath hit a desk, just as Max dove behind it. Splinters of wood flew out, a couple catching Max in the face.
Rath winked at Tess. “Better join up with me, Tessie, and use those powers of yours to help me take down da man. You know you’ll never make it with him now. And he doesn’t have a chance against me. He’s got no powers to even hurt me.”
He motioned to Max who was getting to his feet, wiping at the blood on his face. “What’s he going to do, heal me to death?” he said with a chuckle.
“Shut up, Rath,” Max said angrily.
Tess looked from Rath to Max, studying him. She knew Rath was right, Max would never accept her, and she wouldn’t blame him if he did tell her to leave. After a moment she looked back at Rath and nodded. “Okay.”
Liz gasped, her eyes going to Tess, and Max whirled toward the blonde, shaking his head. “No, Tess…”
Suddenly Rath threw his hand out, sending another burst of energy directly at Max.
The ball of blue-white light shot across the room, and this time Max raised his own hand just as quickly. A green, wavering light projected from his palm, instantly expanding into a shield that protected him, bouncing Rath’s power away, into the brick wall.
Pieces shot out from the bricks, flying in all directions, a few of them getting behind Max’s shield and hitting him. He winced in pain. Tess jumped out of the way, ending up closer to Rath.
“Wow,” Rath said, impressed, “I never saw Zan do anything like that.” He looked at Tess. “Did you know he could do that?”
Tess shook her head, feeling a bit hollow inside. She really didn’t know Max at all.
Rath smiled as he turned back to Max. “Should we see how strong that sucker is?”
“No!” Liz shouted, jerking on the handcuffs. “You can’t do this.”
Rath ignored her, sending several more energy balls at Max. “You are such a fucking pussy,” he taunted.
Behind his shield Max watched as the blue spheres bounced off and hit the wall, one after another, and wondered what to do. His powers were defensive, healing and a shield. How could he possibly beat Rath? And even if he figured out something, Liz was too close to him, attached to him.
His eyes flicked to Tess. What was she going to do?
He only had a moment to think as the next blast hit his shield, making him stagger back a step. Either Rath was putting more power behind them, or his strength was already starting to fade.
Helplessly he watched as Liz struggled against Rath, trying to make him stop. She threw herself into him, clawing at his arm, but she was tiny against him and Max could see she was barely affecting him.
Liz beat at Rath’s chest, but he was able to keep her mostly under control, using his superior size and strength. With a jerk of his arm, he twisted the cuffs, pulling her off balance, and she stumbled, almost falling.
She saw Tess look at Max and close her eyes, and knew the other girl was starting a mind warp.
“No,” Liz shouted, looking back a Rath. She was afraid she didn’t have long. She had to do something quickly.
Throwing herself against Rath, she kicked at his most sensitive area, and was rewarded by a grunt of pain as he partially doubled over. His hands automatically dropped to protect himself, dragging Liz along. It happened so quickly that she lost her footing and fell to the floor.
“Aaaaaahh, shit,” he groaned. “Save the pain for later, princess.”
With one hand Max maintained the wavering green wall, and his other hand shot out, sending a burst of energy. It looked like air shimmering on hot desert day, but sped across the room, hitting Rath squarely in the chest.
It had suddenly occurred to Max, he might not have offensive powers, but he was good at manipulating molecules. He used super-speed bursts of air and directed them precisely toward his target.
He was so angry and felt so helpless, but he wasn’t. He just had to be smart. He’d try anything to save Liz.
Rath staggered back from the impact, but held his ground. Still half bent over, he kept one hand over his aching groin while the other extended toward Max. Another ball of energy left his palm, but he shot wildly, striking the floor near Max.
“What the fuck?” Rath shouted. “Are you totally useless, retard?” he yelled at Tess. “Help me out here! He’s tiring out. We can finish him off.”
Max sent blast after blast of power at Rath, each striking him in the head and chest. Rath recoiled from the hits, stumbling backward, dragging Liz.
Reaching out to Rath’s arm, Liz tried to scratch him. She had to do something to help Max, but before she touched Rath, electricity jumped from her fingers, burning his flesh.
He snatched his arm away from her with a yelp. “Fuck!” he shouted. “Now is a hell of a time to get your powers!”
Max saw his chance and started walking toward them, as he continued pummeling Rath with bursts of air. He could see that Rath was quickly losing ground and dropped his shield. With a flick of his hand he directed his power at Liz.
Suddenly she heard a sharp snap as the handcuff unlocked from her wrist, and then she was free.
Liz didn’t even have time to think before she was being propelled backward across the room. She realized Max was using his powers to pull her just as she skidded past him.
With a gasp she watched as Max’s hand shot out again, this time using his power to lift one of the desks off the floor and hurl it at Rath. It hit him squarely in the back, and he fell to his knees.
Suddenly Tess dropped the mind warp she was doing on Rath. She had sent him images of exactly what he waned to see, Max losing. It had been easier for her to get in when he was off-guard, but she’d exhausted herself forcing it on him.
Rath bellowed when he saw what was really happening, “You bitch!” Once again he raised his arm, but this time aimed at Tess.
Max pictured all the women Rath had raped and killed and thought how close Liz had come to the same fate. It made him furious. He wanted to kill Rath.
He rushed at Rath, shoving him back before swinging his fist hard and connecting with his jaw. There was a satisfying sound when they impacted and Rath’s head snapped back with the power of the punch.
It only took him a moment to recover and he came at Max swinging wildly.
Filled with rage, Max easily sidestepped Rath’s clumsy punch, and hit him again. “That’s for scaring Liz,” he growled.
Rath tried to hit him again, but Max twisted out of his way, and used his momentum to turn into another punch to his face. “That’s for touching Liz.”
Blood erupted from Rath’s nose as he staggered back, but he came rushing at Max again, roaring with rage.
Max simply stood his ground. He was still furious, but he felt clear and strong for the first time. He wanted to beat Rath to a pulp for what he did to Liz, and as Rath got near he drew back for another punch. This time Max put some of his power behind it and when he hit Rath in the jaw, he flew back, slamming against a desk that collapsed under him. “No one hurts my Liz,” he snarled.
Instantly Max and Tess ran to him, standing over his limp form with outstretched hands. They were prepared for another attack, but it was obvious Rath was out cold.
Max had never wanted anyone dead before, and looking down at Rath he realized even after all Rath had done, he was unsure about killing him. It just seemed wrong. But what other choice did he have?
He couldn’t turn him over to the police and give them proof that aliens existed, and he couldn’t just let him go. There was no other choice.
Max was aware that Liz had come up beside him. He didn’t want her to have to see what he had to do.
“Liz,” he said gruffly, unable to look at her, and all of the anger he felt seemed to drain out of him.
She knew what he meant without having to explain it, and she knew why. Putting her hand on his arm, she tried to think of anything to say.
Tess looked at the two of them struggling with the decision. She owed them both. “I’ll do it,” she said. Without waiting for an answer, she started to lower her hand toward Rath.
“No,” Max said, gripping her arm. “It’s my responsibility. I can’t let you.”
Tess started to argue, but was interrupted.
“Wait,” Liz said, shaking her head. “Isn’t there something else you could do? Is it possible that you could alter his brain somehow, take his powers away?” she asked, looking from one to the other.
Max was amazed by her suggestion. “Probably,” he admitted, “but his blood isn’t human. I might be able to change it but I can’t guarantee it wouldn’t kill him. He could die a horrible, agonizing death.”
“Just what he deserves,” Tess said.
“At least it would give him a chance,” Liz suggested, softly.
Max embraced her, kissing the side of her head. “Okay,” he said.
Releasing her, he knelt down and put his hand on Rath’s forehead. He didn’t know exactly what he was looking for in Rath’s brain, but he trusted his powers to guide him. He felt it almost instantly, like a surge of energy in Rath otherwise quiet mind. It seemed to pulse with power.
Max thought of turning off a water faucet, and extinguished the source of Rath’s otherworldly abilities.
The next part would be harder, and possibly kill Rath, but he at least had to try. It was Rath’s only chance to keep living.
As quickly as he could, he passed his hand over Rath’s entire body, changing the alien blood into human. Almost as soon as he started, Rath came awake, screaming, his body convulsing in agony. Max continued as Rath yelled louder, hoping he wasn’t killing him.
Every inch of Rath seemed to be in searing pain, like he was on fire. Vaguely he noted Max was doing something to him, and then everything went black.
Liz watched Rath’s body collapse again, and as soon as Max was finished she immediately put her fingers to the pulse in his neck. It was beating strong. He was still alive.
She felt a rush of relief. It’s not like she had any reason to want Rath alive, she just didn’t want Max to have to kill him. She smiled as she looked at him. “It’s over. He’ll never hurt you again.”
Instantly, they moved into each others’ arms, embracing tightly.
Max stroked Liz’s hair, feeling almost weak with relief. Liz was okay and one of the biggest things keeping them apart was a lie. He just hoped Liz would change her mind about staying away from him. Deeply he inhaled the scent of her, never wanting to let her go.
“I love you,” he said in her ear, and when she said it back, he felt like he was coming alive for the first time in months.
Tess stood silently by as they embraced, waiting for Max to tell her to pack up and leave town. She hadn’t really understood how much they loved each other, but it was no excuse. She thought she knew best and she’d manipulated them both. They would never forgive her.
It had seemed so easy to make Max realize his true feelings if Liz were out of the picture, but she hadn’t counted on the strength of his feelings for the brunette. They truly belonged together.
After a moment Max and Liz broke apart enough to turn toward her, but continued touching as if they couldn’t stop. And Tess realized maybe they couldn’t.
Liz spoke first. “Thank you for helping us with Rath,” she said.
Tess was amazed that Liz could have any kind words for her. “You’re welcome,” she said hesitatingly. “You didn’t think I was helping Rath?”
Shaking her head, Liz gave Tess a soft smile. “Of course not. I knew you had some trick up your sleeve.”
The comment stung Tess, though she was sure it wasn’t meant to. “I’m sorry,” she blurted out. “I really am. I didn’t know how much you loved each other. I didn’t mean to hurt either of you so much. I…” she trailed off, looking down. “Don’t worry, I’ll pack up and be gone by tomorrow.”
Rath started to moan, drawing their attention. He moved slightly as he woke up, putting a hand to his head. “Fuck, Max.” he groaned. “What did you do to me? I have a hell of a headache.”
Max released Liz and took a few steps toward Rath, looking down at him in disgust. “You won’t hurt anyone again,” he said.
Rath smiled. “Not like you can stop me,” he taunted. Suddenly he raised his hand, pointing it directly at Max, but looked shocked when nothing happened.
“You’re human now,” Max said. “I took your powers away.”
Sitting up, Rath grabbed at Max. “You can’t do that! You can’t make me human!”
With a single punch, Max knocked Rath back to the floor. “It’s already done and we’re turning you in.”
“The hell you are,” Rath bellowed, struggling to his feet. But he didn’t see Tess behind him, and she took the handcuffs laying beside him, and snapped one around his wrist. He jerked away from her, and Max was on him instantly, slamming him against the wall, he pulled his hands behind his back, securing him in the other cuff.
Pushing off the wall Rath threw himself at Max again attempting to escape. Instinctively Max pushed his shield out of his palm, knocking Rath back into the wall. His head hit hard, and he slumped unconscious to the floor.
Max examined him closely and knelt next to Michael’s double. He passed his hand over Rath’s nose, altering it, so he no longer looked like Michael’s twin.
With a sigh Max stood and looked at Tess. “Get rid of the scorch marks on the walls from his powers, while I call the Sheriff.”
Tess didn’t question Max, she just hurried to follow his orders.
When he got off the phone, Max helped Tess clean up and put the room back together. They left the items Rath created, and their own cuts and bruises to be used as evidence against him. Then the three of them quickly got their story straight.
The Sheriff and Hansen arrived not long afterward to take Rath into custody.
“What happened?” Valenti asked, his eyes sliding to Hansen.
Max knew they needed to tell the story for the Deputy’s benefit. Going to Liz he took her in his arms. “One minute Liz was there, and the next she was gone,” Max said. “Tess and I looked for her everywhere and found her down here with him.”
He paused, pressing his lips to her head. “He told her he raped and killed the other women, and framed Tommy for it, and he said he’d do the same to her.”
Hansen crossed to Rath where he was just coming around again, and pulled him to his feet.
“You are one sick puppy,” Hansen drawled.
Rath tried to shake him off. “You can’t do this,” he growled at Max. “I won’t let you get away with it.”
Rath turned to Hansen. “They’re all aliens,” he said, motioning to Max, Liz and Tess with a jerk of his head. “I was an alien too, until he took my powers away. How did he know I was down here with Liz? He used his powers to find her.” He looked at Valenti. “He knows all about it. He’s helping them.”
Hansen turned to look at Valenti, then Tess, then Max and Liz with a scowl on his face.
For a heartbeat Max thought Hansen believed Rath, but then he shook his head. “This guy is freaking nuts.”
“Yes, Deputy,” Valenti agreed, “he is.”
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