Disclaimer: I own nothing Roswell.
Character Focus: Shifting POV
Spoilers: Nothing beyond Panacea
Author's Note: Tag to Panacea ... more or less.
Isabel and Michael had just let themselves into her apartment when they heard it.
"Jesse," Isabel whispered, and he nodded.
Quietly they walked towards the bedroom, where a very awake and fully dressed Jesse was trying to calm someone on the phone. From the sounds of things, he wasn't succeeding very well.
They exchanged more startled glances as they heard what he was saying, and who he was speaking to.
"Liz, I told you," he said, doggedly patient. "I don't know where Isabel is. She's not here. No, I don't know what happened to Max, but I'm pretty sure they're together right now. I -"
Isabel's eyes widened further as he stopped, apparently to hear something Liz was saying. She looked at Michael again, and knew he was feeling worried too. No - more than worried.
Max and Valenti hadn't met them at the meeting point, or at either Michael's or the Valenti house. Now they had come back here to pick up her wallet; they hadn't wanted to carry any ID when breaking and entering so she'd left her purse behind, but they needed more cash to cab it back to where they'd hidden Max's car, the only other checkpoint discussed.
At which point she planned to become very hysterical indeed if they didn't turn up.
She walked forward, making sure Jesse saw her coming. He looked startled and upset at the sight of her, but he didn't say anything as he handed her the phone.
"Liz?" Isabel asked, relieved when the other girl stopped talking. She did have a rather piercing voice when she got excited. "What's wrong?"
She started to get worried when Liz didn't answer right away. Then, so softly she almost couldn't hear it, Liz spoke.
"You don't know?"
"Know what? Liz, it's really late," Isabel said, letting a little impatience colour her tone. "Just tell me why you're freaking out. Did something happen at school?"
She was completely shocked when the next sounds were - well, Liz sobbing. And not quietly, but with great gasping breaths, as though she was trying not to hyperventilate and not doing a terribly good job at it.
"Mu-mu-Max," was all she heard until someone took the phone from Liz.
"Maria?" She looked up in time to see Michael come out of the shadows and push Jesse away to get as close as possible. "Maria, what's wrong? Where are you?"
"I'm with Liz, at the Academy place. Long story. Listen, Liz just had a dream -"
Isabel winced at the sound of Liz's immediate protest. Apparently, it wasn't 'just' a dream.
"She thinks something happened to Max. She - she says he's dead, Isabel. She says she felt him die."
Isabel froze, overcome by sudden fear. Why weren't Valenti and Max at any of the checkpoints? She knew her voice was faint when she asked, "When? When does she say it happened?"
She'd seen Max with her own eyes only forty minutes earlier, heard him with her own ears for another ten minutes after that, by radio. And he was fine then.
But when she heard Maria say "Just a few minutes ago," she had to close her eyes.
Because she thought it might be true, because suddenly the world was grey, and she was falling into darkness.
Even after she opened her eyes, she felt the darkness.
Michael knew the exact moment Isabel believed.
He panicked when she didn't regain consciousness right away, grabbing a glass of water off a nightstand and throwing it on her, spilling the entire glass in his haste to wake her up, to have her with him, to not leave him alone right now. She woke to find herself cold and wet, and he waited for the scolding.
But she just burst into tears and buried her head against his shoulder.
"Isabel?" He needed her to say something. The grief would come later, he knew, if what he'd overheard was true. But it hadn't sunk in yet, not all the way, and right now he felt like a little kid again, lost and alone and homeless. He needed to know he had someone, he needed family.
"Isabel?" Jesse echoed, and she raised her head to see her husband hovering over them both, clearly concerned and a little frightened.
But it was to Michael that she spoke. "Do you think it's true?"
He looked down at the phone in his hand, hearing the tinny sound of someone calling out. He lifted it to his ear. "Maria?"
There was silence for a moment, then: "Michael?"
"What exactly did she say?" He had to know. Maybe it was just a bad dream, and he swore that if it was, the next time he saw Liz he'd tear her head off for pulling this kind of stunt. He steadfastly ignored the inner voice that told him Liz Parker wasn't the kind of person to pull cruel practical jokes.
"A couple minutes ago she woke up really suddenly, and she - she told me - and Michael, I don't know what's going on, but ... she believes it."
The loud sobbing in the background was painful to hear.
"Do you believe her?" He held his breath.
"Yeah," she said, quietly. "I do."
He didn't respond. He couldn't.
"Michael, we're coming home. But I have Liz's cell phone and I'm leaving it on. Can you - when you find out what's going on, will you call me? Please?"
He couldn't dislodge the growing lump in his throat. She was coming home. A day ago - hell, ten minutes ago - he would've been thrilled. Now now he didn't know what he felt. But he still felt that cold chill, and if nothing else, Maria and Liz were still family. Sort of. "Yeah, I'll call."
Neither spoke for a moment. He hung up when he heard a dial tone.
When he looked down, he saw Isabel, clinging desperately to him. When he looked up, he saw Jesse, looking worried and scared and clearly wondering just what the hell was going on.
And somewhere in the dim recesses of his mind, he heard a dry voice talking to him.
"Then you can be fearless leader."
He recoiled from that voice. That obligation. He didn't want to be fearless alien leader. He he wanted to go home and feel safe and warm. But what was home? His empty apartment?
He shivered. He didn't think he'd ever feel safe or warm again.
The three of them jumped when the phone rang.
Jesse saw the look on Michael's face and knew he didn't want to answer it.
Isabel was still huddled against Michael, and if the circumstances were different Jesse would take exception to the way she'd latched on to him. But there was nothing remotely sexual about this, and he recognised it for what it was - a sister looking for comfort from her brother.
If it was true, if something had happened to Max, then Michael was the closest thing to a brother she had left. He still didn't understand why Michael and Isabel were taking Liz so seriously. Everyone knew she was at some boarding school; how could she know anything about what was going on in Roswell? He himself had seen Max sneak into MetaChem with Isabel only an hour or so earlier.
When he thought about it rationally, it was all so ludicrous and part of him was wondering why they were all overreacting to some kid's dreams.
But there always had been something different about Isabel's family and her friends, he admitted to himself, somewhere in the most private part of his mind. And he couldn't help but respond to the almost palpable waves of emotion that seemed too powerful for one rather small bedroom to hold.
When the phone continued to ring and Michael still hadn't moved, Jesse stepped forward and plucked it from his hand. Michael and Isabel watched him intently as he answered.
His brow creased. Was that Kyle Valenti's father? But this voice sounded much too old to belong to the man many Roswell residents still thought of as The Sheriff. "Mr. Valenti?"
"Is Michael or Isabel there?"
He never got a chance to answer. In a blink of an eye, Isabel was in front of him and snatching the phone from his grasp. "Where's Max?" she demanded.
The silence that met her desperate question was answer enough.
Jesse watched his wife crumble before his very eyes. Had he ever thought her strong and confident and capable of handling anything?
The woman - no, the girl - in front of him looked broken. And somewhere deep inside, he knew she would never heal. Not really. He'd be strong for her, he decided without even realising he was making the decision. He'd take care of her.
But it was all he could do not to cry himself, for the life they could have had, for all the possibility he'd once seen in her eyes.
Tears ran down Jim Valenti's face as he tried to answer Isabel.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Kyle hovering over him, waiting to hear the answer to the question he'd been asking ever since Jim had walked in the door. Alone.
"Isabel - Max is Max is dead. I I saw it happen."
He felt her pain somewhere in his chest, where his own burned hotly, somewhere near where Max had place his hand on him less than an hour ago. He felt his hand cover the ragged hole in his shirt, covering the hole in his shirt as though hiding it from her, as though she could somehow see him and know it was his fault her brother was dead.
He couldn't hear anything except the pounding of his traitorous heart as he kept talking, because he didn't know how to stop, and because she deserved to know. "It wasn't the FBI or aliens or anything, it was just some damn stupid humans who wanted him to heal someone. He wasn't sick, he was just old, but Max tried, because they were going to shoot us both, and it worked but - but something went wrong, it was too much, and - and I saw him ... I saw him ..."
And then he couldn't speak anymore. Kyle was lifting the phone out of his hand and saying something into it and hanging up and helping him stand and taking him to the door and he didn't know where they were going but he was just too damned tired to care.
He felt so tired, so old. He thought Alex's death would be the hardest thing he'd ever had to do in his career, and maybe it was. There had been so many unanswered questions, it had seemed so pointless, and then when the truth about Tess had come out it was like Alex had died all over again. Because it had been his job as Sheriff to find out the truth, and he'd failed. He'd failed Alex, and he'd failed Alex's parents and Liz and Maria and Isabel and his son, and now he'd failed them all over again because he'd just stood there and watched Max die.
He'd let Max die.
He wished Max had just let him die in that too-bright hallway.
Dying didn't hurt as much as living like this.
Kyle listened numbly as his father told Isabel what happened.
He'd been so scared when his dad hadn't come home last night, and so relieved when he came home. Even now, he got a vague sense of comfort from the solid presence of the man who used to take care of him when he was sick or scared, and he felt bad that something had gone wrong but also because his dad was alive and he couldn't help but be glad about that.
And his dad needed him. So he pushed down all the suffocating pain that had never really gone away after Alex died, and he pulled the phone out of his shaking father's hand.
He steeled himself for the sound of Isabel crying. It didn't really help. "Where are you?"
In the background, he heard Jesse speak, and he knew.
"We're on our way," he said, and hesitated, trying to figure out what to say, how to comfort the woman he yearned after.
But nothing came to mind so he hung up and tucked the phone in his pocket.
Turning, he helped his father up off the couch and the two of them staggered to the door, leaning on each other for support.
Kyle slid behind the wheel and waited for his father to buckle himself in before starting the car, resolutely ignoring his father's sudden resemblance to the old man they took turns visiting in a nursing home every week.
As he drove through the dark, quiet streets of a town suddenly strange and unfamiliar, he became aware of something he'd been trying to ignore for some minutes now.
Somewhere in his chest, he felt a hole. An empty space where there used to be this warmth, something he'd grown used to over the year since he'd been shot and then miraculously healed. Max had left something behind when he'd healed Kyle, and for all that he used to curse it and pray for it to go away, this unwelcome reminder, Kyle missed it now that it was gone.
He'd felt his life change the night Alex died, could still hear his father's words echo in the nightmares that still plagued him. And he'd felt something that he only understood as a loss of innocence slip away from him the day he'd discovered Tess's treachery.
But when his father had uttered those fateful words, when he'd heard that awful note of finality in his voice ... that was when the world turned upside down and inside out.
Max Evans was dead.
He hadn't been close to Max, not really. He'd resented him for a long time. A lot. And though he'd gotten over the Liz thing a long time ago, a little part of him had been thrilled that despite everything, he had been the one she'd come to when she needed help, not Max. Not the alien king. Not the guy who'd had everything and screwed it up.
And now Max was gone, and Kyle knew he'd have to be strong. For Liz, for Isabel, for his dad, for everyone. He'd push aside his pain and panic, again, and he'd take care of them whether they knew and wanted it or not.
Later he'd head out to the desert and be alone for a while. Because he hurt too, and he didn't think there was anything around here that could make him feel better right now. There were too many memories here.
Part of him didn't want to. Part of him thought that maybe he deserved to feel like this. After all, he was still alive, wasn't he?
But ... at what cost?
And that was the thought that haunted him all the way to Isabel and Jesse's apartment, as he pulled the phone out of his shirt pocket and dialled a number he knew by heart.
It would haunt him for a long time, he knew.
Maria wondered if she knew her best friend anymore. Or if she'd ever really known her.
After the first stunned minute, Liz had fallen apart - except, she hadn't really. Maria could see the wheels turning in her head, even as she sobbed, heartbroken and drunk and frantic with grief. And maybe she was all of those things. But even while she was yelling at Jesse, Liz had just been upset, not incoherent. She'd started packing while still on the phone and, by the time she'd let Maria take the cell from her hand, she'd had her bag together and, for some reason that was simply beyond comprehension, made her bed. Neatly.
And she didn't seem drunk as she'd slipped the cash-stuffed envelope and a seriously evil looking Swiss army knife out from the carefully hidden slit in her mattress. Maria wondered when she'd traded in the cute pink mini-model for the tough, businesslike one that seemed too large for small, well-manicured hands.
Preferring to focus on the friend in front of her rather than the fate of one miles away, Maria realised that for all Liz had claimed to want normalcy, she was still preparing and prepared for the unexpected. She even had a note for the Dean prepared, complete with locker keys and a generic explanation that an emergency had come up and she was very sorry, but she needed to take care of it.
Maria wondered when she'd written it, and what she was thinking when she did. Had she known somehow?
Her roommate, a nice enough blonde girl that Liz had introduced her to earlier, just watched with tears in her eyes. She was their age, Maria understood, but still the girl seemed impossibly young, and Maria had to wonder if she had ever been that young, that naïvely sure of herself and her place in the world.
Of course she had. If she tried, Maria could still remember the days when her family consisted of her mom, Liz, and Alex, and aliens were inflatable green things her mom made for local businesses.
Alex. Alex was gone. And inside, she found herself comparing what that had felt like to this.
She didn't know what 'this' was. Maybe she was numb. Maybe it just hadn't hit her yet. But instead of screaming, instead of crying, instead of wanting Liz to curl up with her under a blanket so they could cry it out together, she felt an odd sense of clarity.
Changes were coming, she knew. Without really examining how or why she was sure of it, or even what she was sure of, she could feel them on the horizon, just out of sight but coming closer. And she felt herself hardening in anticipation.
Kyle had called to tell them the news and he hadn't been surprised that they already knew and were on their way. He'd told her about Max healing his father, and she'd been struck by the realisation that of them all, she was the only true human left. That is, if what they believed was true, that Max had changed the people he'd healed.
Somehow, it seemed significant. And the more she thought about it, the more she realised that they needed a human among them, and that she wanted to be that human. She was glad she'd gone to New York for that stupid demo disaster, glad that she'd taken Liz's advice, because she was sure she'd never get another one like it. She'd be too busy dealing with other matters, other problems. Like - did they really know what happened to Ava? They needed to track her down. That Cal guy that hated Max but followed his orders anyway; they needed him too probably. And the other dupes; were they really dead? It might be important to find out.
Maybe she should have kept an eye out for them while in New York.
There was also the parent situation to figure out. How would they explain Max's absence? Kyle hadn't mentioned what they did with Max's ... with his body.
She shivered as the word passed through her mind, but it didn't stop her mind from working. They'd need explanations for the Evanses, for the Parkers, for her mom, for Brody maybe it was good that Max had pushed so many people away in recent months. Maybe they'd just think he ran away. He was an adult now, and no one would make too serious an effort to look for him, no one official, anyway.
Michael needed her. She knew this instinctively, just as she knew that Isabel would become both more distant and more needy. That Liz would find something to distract herself from the grief until she'd felt like she'd earned the right to mourn. That Kyle would stay in the shadows, quietly supporting everyone else and retreating from time to time to find solace in solitude. And that the Sheriff would look ten years older than the last time she'd seen him, because he'd feel responsible. Michael ... Michael would do all these things, and throughout it all he'd need an anchor, whether he admitted it or not.
And she'd decided that she could be that anchor for him. Time was too precious. She didn't want to waste any more of it 'finding herself'; she wanted to be with the people who knew her, who looked at her and saw her. It was her turn to be there for them, for him.
Liz was almost done, and Maria got up to hold the door for her as they took their bags to make their way through the silent halls.
The sound of her footsteps echoed hollowly around her. She didn't know what she thought they'd accomplish by rushing back to Roswell like this. But she kept going.
Because, in her own way, that's what she did. She backed up her friends and she persevered.
Because what else was there?
Liz stayed focussed.
Maria was there, and Maria believed her, so she hadn't needed to hold back this time. She'd felt safe, knowing that Maria would take the phone from her when she couldn't speak, when she froze upon hearing Isabel's voice. Maria would take care of her.
Briefly the thought occurred to her that maybe she expected too much of Maria. But, another small but insistent voice argued, maybe she didn't. If Maria bailed, she'd survive, but there was no doubt in her mind that Maria wouldn't. Bail, that is. She'd heard it in her best friend's voice on a park bench only a week earlier, and she'd heard it only minutes ago when Maria had spoken to Isabel, then Michael, and then Kyle: Maria's strength was her will, and for all the times she had had no idea what was going through her friend's head, Liz had never underestimated Maria DeLuca's will to see things through.
It was her strength, and one of the reasons Liz had told her about the aliens in the first place. Not just because she needed someone on her side, but because when it came down to it, Maria would always come through.
But there were some things Maria couldn't do, and this knowledge gave Liz purpose.
For one thing, she'd been saving money. At some point after the trip to Marathon - and didn't that seem like another lifetime - she'd realised that alien powers were all well and good but they didn't keep gas in the tank during impromptu road trips. Money could make a lot of difference when time is of the essence and supplies are needed. So she'd stopped investing everything she had for college, preferring to keep her assets liquid. And between putting aside two-thirds of her earnings every week and the two thousand-plus she'd never gotten a chance to spend in Vegas or on a plane ride to Sweden, she'd amassed a tidy sum over the past year or so and kept it handy. So right now they didn't have to depend on anyone to get them back to Roswell, or sit on a bus for a week, because she had their plane fare covered and then some.
Plus - well, Liz couldn't deny it anymore. She'd run from Roswell, from Max, because the changes to her were scary and, well, they hurt. She hurt. A lot. But there were things she hadn't told him or anyone else about. Like the dreams where she'd wake up knowing things that she was pretty sure she hadn't known before, like how Antarian water wasn't really water, and it didn't look blue because the atmosphere over Antar held different chemicals and reflected different colours.
And more recently, she'd had an idea that her changes weren't over yet, that they were just the first step in a process. Secretly she'd been relieved when Maria had shown up at her door, because she didn't want to go through it alone.
She wondered, humourlessly, what her blood chemistry would look like when it was all over; if indeed, it would ever be over.
And what scared her wasn't that she was changing, or that she didn't know what to expect, but that she wasn't as scared as she thought maybe she should be. Even now, she felt driven, as though there was a lot to do and she'd only just begun.
And she had a secret.
Max was dead. She knew this with every fibre of her being.
But he wasn't gone.
He still had work to do. They still had work to do.
Once in flight, she made her way to the airplane washroom and locked herself inside, away from prying eyes and the watchful gaze of her friend and keeper. Only then did she take a deep breath and look up, catching sight of her red eyes and tearstained cheeks in the mirror but not caring.
"Max?" she said, softly, and waited for the answer, any answer, any indication that she wasn't insane.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she felt the simultaneous chill in the air and warmth in her chest. This was her purpose, her fate. And she was tired of fighting it.
She shivered as goosebumps rose along her arms and something like a breeze caressed the side of her throat but nowhere else. A familiar, subtle scent filled the air as a voice she'd know anywhere spoke. To her.
My Liz …
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