|posted on 26-Dec-2001 11:38:16 PM by Star2000monkey|
|“Gift Exchange” |
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, they belong to the TPTB. I just borrowed them for a little while.Summary: Liz on Christmas Eve... and more!
Author’s Note:[/b[ No spoilers at all. I have always wanted to do a Christmas story for Roswell, and since this will be the last year for the show, I guess this year has to be it. But with the way things are, a truly happy story is beyond me. For those who are Max Apologists, you probably won’t like this one, even though I am not TOO mean to him. But for the rest of us, I hope you will like it!
Warning: It’s bittersweet.
Christmas Eve in Roswell. An unusual year, because the snow had fallen several times in the last week, and again just that afternoon. A white Christmas. Beautiful. Pure. Most of the inhabitants had completed their frantic preparations for the big day. Had enjoyed visiting Santa’s Village in the town center, sledding and ice skating as they so often could not do in Roswell, being too warm most winters. A day of thanksgiving and family and happiness. But not all the citizens felt it. In a large house on one side of town, a couple studiously kept the traditions of the day. Pretending to themselves that all was well, when they couldn’t even talk to each other. And on the other side of town, a young woman let herself into her family’s apartment, quiet, dark. It is with her our story begins.
She should be happy, Liz Parker knew. It was Christmas time - a time she loved. She had decorated as she normally did - more even. She had put up an entire tree on her balcony, with Max, her boyfriend, helping. No, he hadn’t helped, she reminded herself. He had watched her do it, talking to her all the while. Trying to convince her that the little boy, that autistic child, was being channeled by his son. Trying to convince himself.
She opened up the window and crawled out, onto the dark balcony. A flip of the switch caused the lights to come on - the tree as well as the lights she had strung on the walls and along the top of the balcony walls. It had seemed so cheery when she had hung them, bright red, blue and green lights, some of which blinked as they were meant to do. Liz sat in her balcony chair, watching them. Trying to feel the cheer she was sure she should feel.
Max had called her “his family” tonight. She had looked at him for a moment, her face totally blank, and then she had realized that he was expecting something from her. Something that wasn’t there at all. But she had gotten so good over the last year, pretending to feel things she didn’t feel. So she had smiled a bit, then giggled. Then she had turned away, getting up to start ice skating. He hadn’t questioned it, of course. Did he ever question anything she said or did, she wondered, and then stopped herself. She wouldn’t do that. She had promised herself that.
But, oh, if only.... She couldn’t stand sitting there any longer, jumping up from the chair. She walked over to the balcony, peering over the edge. Her back was to the tree, and if she looked in just the right direction, she couldn’t see any Christmas lights at all. Most of the stores had closed early on this Christmas Eve, their store windows black in the night. And the only blinking lights she could see were for the Crashdown sign. They were on a timer and would go off when they normally did - at ten o’clock. It was hours until then. She hugged herself, feeling the sudden chill of a blast of cold air.
Suddenly, softly, she thought she heard her name being called. She turned her head, trying to catch the sound.
“Liz...” Yes, there it was again. Faint though, so faint she couldn’t tell from whence it came. She leaned further over the balcony, looking onto the street. Had someone there seen her? But the street appeared empty, eerily so. No cars came, just quiet as the snow started to fall once more.
“Liz...” Softly, but right behind her this time, causing her to start violently, turning around quickly, her heart beating fast.
A blur, a general outline in the darkest corner. Becoming steadily more solid until she finally recognized him. “Alex?” she breathed, shock freezing her where she stood.
He looked at her for a moment, then took a step forward. She leaned back, away from him. “Don’t be afraid, Liz. It’s just me.” He said to her in the calm, humorous voice that had been her best friend’s voice.
“But you... Alex is dead. Who are you?” her voice shook a bit, but she stood up straight. It must be a shape shifter. No one else could have mimicked Alex so well.
“No, it really is me, Liz,” he assured her, lifting a hand towards her. He left it there, hanging, enticing her to touch him.
“How could you be Alex? It isn’t possible,” She insisted.
He chuckled at her. “Liz, Liz. After the last two years, do you really think anything is impossible?” He dropped his hand, recognizing that she wasn’t going to believe him that quickly. He turned from her, and went over to the patio chair, slumping down into it, shifting a bit as if looking for comfort. He looked around. “Nice tree, nice lights.” He seemed fascinated with them, watching them blink. Red, green, blue, white.
She watched him as he watched them. He looked so much like Alex. Sounded like him. Suddenly her heart squeezed with the pain of the moment, and tears filled her eyes. She tried to keep them out of her voice as she told him. “I know that shapeshifters seem to be pretty unfeeling overall... but pretending to be Alex? Its a low blow. Too low even for one of you.”
“Liz, it really is me. I’ve come to do a Christmas miracle. You know, like Clarence the Angel, or the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. I know you remember, because we used to watch those movies together every Christmas Eve.” He was so earnest, and those blue eyes looked at her with an expression that was totally Alex. And he was right, she and Alex had spent every Christmas Eve together watching It’s a Wonderful Life and then A Christmas Carol - the version with George C. Scott, because Alex insisted it was the best. Until last year, because Alex had been in Sweden - or so they had thought. How would a shape shifter know that?
“What do you want from me?” she was still suspicious, but she felt herself wavering.
He grinned at her. “A miracle, of course.”
“I thought that was what you were to give to me?”
“Maybe so. We’re going to be doing our own thing, Liz. No rules. Well, almost no rules.”
She was silent a moment, and then repeated her earlier question. “What do you want from me?”
“We’ll get to that later. You first.” He leaned back in the chair, crossing his legs at the ankle. As it wasn’t cold there.
“Aren’t you cold?” she asked.
“Nah, remember, I got over that in Sweden,” Alex assured her.
She felt her heart catch. “But you were never in Sweden, Alex. Remember?”
He blinked, sitting up. It was the first real emotion she had seen out of him. “Yeah, I guess that is right.” His eyes got a far off look, then became aware again, looking at her watching him. “Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten everything. It’s just that... here, well, where I normally am, I don’t think about that much. All painful things put aside, don’t you know?”
“’Where I normally am’? Just where is that, Alex?” She was truly curious. Was it possible it really was Alex? But what could a shapeshifter want with her anyway?
“Forget that. That’s one of the rules.” He grinned at her look of frustration. “I tried to talk them out of it, because I knew how you would feel. But they insisted.”
“Yeah, right.” She let her voice drip with sarcasm. He laughed outright at that tone.
“Liz, Liz. You never change.” He watched her cross her arms, wondering if it was defensiveness or if she was cold. “We could go in, if you want,” he offered her.
“Will this take long?” She was wondering if it would be safe to do so, because she was cold. But she realized if he were really a shapeshifter, there would be nothing she could do to stop him from hurting her.
His teeth flashed whitely. “Got a date or something?” It was their standard reply to each other over the years, and for some reason, more than anything else, it hurt.
“Yes, actually, I do. Max is going with me to the midnight services.” Could he hear it in her voice, she wondered?
“Yeah, I know.” He nodded, then went over to her window, opening it easily, years of practice coming in handy. He stooped inside, and then called to her. “Come on, Liz. It is cold out here.”
She followed him in, taking her coat off, then turning to face him. He had seated himself in the chair by the window, as Alex always did. She waited.
He cleared his throat, wondering how to start. Maybe the beginning was best. “So, you and Max are together now, huh?”
She looked at him skeptically. “You already knew that, didn’t you?”
“Maybe I did, but I thought you might want to talk about it.”
Silence as she considered that, then shook her head slightly. “Why don’t you tell me what you want from me first, Alex.”
He laughed softly. “No, there’s time yet for us to get to that.” Liz cocked her head, wondering. “We need to find out what I can do for you first.”
“I have a choice?” she asked quizzically.
“Yes, it will be your choice,” Alex explained. “But first, you need to tell me what is wrong.” Seeing her about to protest, he raised a hand to stop her. “No, don’t deny it. This is Uncle Alex, remember?” The smile on her face cheered him. “I already know - it’s about Max, huh? But you are together, aren’t you?”
Liz looked at him, her eyes liquid with silent pain She hadn’t told anyone, talked to anyone about how she felt. A part of her felt she owed it to Max not to say anything. It was between the two of them, wasn’t it?
“I won’t be able to help you if you won’t tell me the entire story, Liz.” Kindness was in his tone. Concern on his face. He was her “Uncle Alex” as he had called himself whenever she had needed to pour out her heart to him. She had so missed him. She had needed to talk to someone - someone who wasn’t involved with the problem, as Maria was. Besides, Maria had her own problems to deal with.
She choked the words out. “It’s such a long story, Alex. It starts over a year ago, things I couldn’t tell you then.”
“I have time.” And there was time, time enough anyway. And so the time passed as she told him about Future Max, about what he had made her do. About what had been the real problem between she and Max that fall. Alex had thoughts things were better by the spring because Max and Liz had been together in Las Vegas, dancing all night, staring into each other’s eyes, holding hands. And they had gone to Prom together, Alex knew. And then... well, he didn’t know much of the story since then - just the barest details. But now, now Liz told him everything. Every conversation she and Max had back then, through to the revelation of Tess’ pregnancy, and the podsters attempts to leave earth, only to be stopped at the last moment by the revelation of Tess’ true intention - to kill them all and to hand over a child of Max’ to Kivar. Evil. She was evil. But then, Alex knew all about that. As he listened, he had to keep reminding himself. He was beyond base human emotions, anger and vexation. He was. Really. He was. But if Max had been anywhere near him, Alex didn’t know what he might have done. He tried not to let his outrage show on his face, for fear that it would stop Liz talking.
And so she went on, going through the reconciliation between she and Max. And her determination to help Max find his son, at all costs. Committing armed robbery. Being arrested. And all that had happened since.
Alex got up and strode around the room, pacing to the window, to her desk. Staring blindly at the photos there. If he hadn’t been so angry, he might have grinned at the picture of Liz, Maria and him together. It brought back such memories, but they weren’t enough to change the way he felt.
Liz watched him. She knew how he felt. She knew him too well to not understand what he was thinking now. She swallowed heavily, her throat thick. Shame coursed through her. “I’m sorry, Alex. I let you down.”
“What do you mean?” He swept around to face her. She had obviously misread him.
“You always told me to keep my eyes on the prize - getting into a good college. To be true to myself. And I blew it, I know. I.... I’m not sure why. I guess I was so destroyed by last year, the months of pain and anguish, and then losing you and Max at the same time, that I ... when I had a second chance - with Max, at least - I took it. And I let myself, all the things I knew were right and wrong - get so blurred. Anything to keep Max. I thought anything would be better than being without him.”
Alex started to say something, then paused. “Is it?”
Liz brought her knees up onto the bed, wrapping her arms around them, resting her head on her knees as she thought. She didn’t look at him. “When Max left for LA? He knew I was worried about him, scared for him. But suddenly, he didn’t call. He never even called me back.” Her voice rose a bit. “I started waking up then. Yes, it really was like waking up. I started thinking of all I had done for Max. And for what? For the child he made with Tess? I ruined my life for that? And he didn’t even call me back.” She was really on a roll, now, her head hanging no longer. Anger was there, blazing in her eyes, red in her cheeks. “When he came back, I had decided that was it. I couldn’t be in a one-way relationship any more. But he was so upset, so sad that he had lost his chance to get his son, that I relented. And eventually, he told me everything that had happened there. You know what I realized? The minute he thought he had a way off of earth - never knowing if he could or would get back in my lifetime? He stopped taking my calls. He intended to leave - would have left if the ship hadn’t broken - without even telling me that he was leaving or anything. I wasn’t even worth a goodbye!”
Alex gritted his teeth in further anger. He had thought he was above these feelings - but then, he hadn’t dealt with anything like this since death had come stealing his life. Time dragged on as their gazes were locked, each thinking their own thoughts. Finally, Alex had say it. “But you are still with him, Liz.”
“Yeah,” the question deflated her. “Yeah, I am. But I am not asleep anymore, Alex. Now, now I see everything.”
“What do you mean?”
“Max Evans is.... was the love of my life, Alex. That will always be true. But Max now? Sometimes, I don’t even like him very much. He didn’t even want to know who killed you, Alex, and yet he said you were his friend. He was going to kill that girl Leanna, and didn’t even seem upset when he found out he almost killed an innocent human. And the way he intended to use that little boy these last days? A year ago I wouldn’t have had to explain that it was wrong to do that. The Max that I loved, he would have been the first to see that, Alex. The Max I see now? I don’t know if he gets it even yet. And when he touches me...” her voice trailed off as she realized what she had been about to say. She looked over at him in that moment, then down. Then again, out of the corner of her eyes. She was embarrassed, he realized.
“Come on, Parker. I don’t need to hear about your sex life. Nothing more than all the details, anyway,” he teased her, wiggling his brows at her. It was a typical Alex remark, and she laughed a bit as he had intended, but then she sobered. Black eyes became haunted.
“There isn’t anything to tell, Alex. We kiss. We make out a little. But no sex.” She shuddered lightly. “I can’t, Alex. Every time we get anywhere close to being serious... I just freeze up inside.”
“Hey, you have a right to save yourself until you are ready, Liz. You know that.” They had talked about it often in their earlier teen years.
“But it isn’t that, Alex. It’s Max.... and Tess.” Her voice dropped to a whisper, almost as if she were ashamed. “I start remember that he was with her, that he left me for her, and I can’t... I just can’t.”
“Liz, you have to be fair. You weren’t together, really. So he didn’t betray you.” Alex felt he had to say it, although he didn’t really feel it.
“Do you know when they first got together, Alex? The night he and I were on our first date in months - at the Prom. I left him for ten minutes - just to help Maria, and Max - he knew where I was. In fact, he insisted I go! We had finally been talking about us, and so I went back, to find him with Tess.”
“Argh...!” Alex exclaimed. That was a definite no-no. Everyone knew it. You went home with the person you came with - and you didn’t do anything with anyone else along the way. No excuses for that. “Did you nail him over it?”
“He didn’t even ask how I got home,” Liz admitted. “The only time we talked about it was after you died, and I told him I had seen him, and would accept it.”
“Him or me?” she smiled. Anything to keep her “friend” - who had betrayed even her friendship in the days to come.
“Both of you. Him for being stupid enough to leave you for Tess. He didn’t even like her! Believe me - a guy can tell. He was never anything but impatient for her to leave him alone. And you? You for excusing his inexcusable behavior. Starting on the path you are still on today, I guess.” He was her friend. She didn’t get a pass because of that. In fact, he told her the truth because he was her friend.
She flushed. “Not entirely. When I tried to investigate what happened? You wouldn’t believe the fights - the nastiness, the way he attacked me...”
“He attacked you?” Alex said softly, feeling his anger rise another level. Although she couldn’t know it - suddenly, visions of those events came to him. So that he could help her, he guessed - but all it did was make him angrier. Suddenly, he found himself disliking Max Evans.
“Not physically - well, not really. But yeah.” Her mouth quirked as she thought again of those events. A Max she had never seen. A Max she never wanted to see again. She shook her head a bit. “You know, I think I had forgotten how nasty he was to me then. Why is that, do you think?”
“Because if you did, you would have to face the truth?” Alex asked angrily. He bit off further words he wanted to say, and turned away from her. “Boy, that apology must have been something - to make you forget all this. I wish I could have seen it. Maybe it would make me feel better.” It was a request to that someone Liz couldn’t see, but no pictures came.
“No, not really. I think his ‘apology’ went something like “I was attracted to someone like me. I admit it. But it’s over now. I can’t leave Earth anymore, so I want to be with you.”
Alex blinked at her. “That was it? What about the other things? The way he treated you? His betrayal of you? Just ‘I’m stuck here now, so I’ll deign to spend time with you’?”
Liz nodded. “Yeah, I guess that was about it.” She laced her fingers together, then unlaced them. And again. Watching them carefully, as if something important might happen if she didn’t watch them. Finally, she looked at him again. “Do you realize what that means? Not just the rest of it... it means he lied to me, Alex. All those times he swore he felt nothing for Tess, no interest in her at all? That there would never be anyone for him but me? He lied. All lies. I can’t trust him anymore, Alex. Not what he says, not what he does.”
The words echoed in her mind. “You are my family.” More empty words to add to all the others, especially considering the way he had turned his back on his adopted parents these last months - not even letting his mother have his cell number. The meanness of that still upset Liz. And that was the way he treated family. That was the thought that had gone through her mind at his words, seeing Diane’s face as she had asked Liz for that number, knowing she was asking Liz to betray Max to her, but she had been desperate. As Liz had been desperate all that summer, doing anything to keep Max. >Liz had just stared at Max blankly for a moment, hysteria welling inside, coming out as a giggle she could barely control. She had known by the look in his eyes that he thought she was bowled over by his words. Bowled over. Not hardly. She had felt sick. And empty inside.
“Liz,” Alex walked over to put his arms around her. Hugging her, feeling her arms come around him too. He was warm, Liz thought, as she cried. Just like Alex had always been. Cried as she hadn’t let herself cry in so long. Finally, she pulled away from him, using the sleeve of her shirt to wipe her eyes. She wouldn’t look at him.
Alex got up from the bed, putting the distance between them that he knew she wanted. He only had a little more time.
“It’s almost time to leave, Liz.” Her eyes flew to him, and her mouth trembled. “I meant for us to leave, not me. Not yet. But the time is almost here. Your part of our deal.” He smiled at her. “You will do something for me - something I can’t do myself. And I will do something for you.”
“What can you do for me?” Liz asked. She had no real fears of what he would ask her to do. Alex would never ask her to do something terrible, not as Future Max had done. And she was sure now - this was Alex. She didn’t know how, but it was her friend.
“Answer a question, maybe. I was told that you would get to ask one question... and whatever it is, I will answer it for you. That should be easy for you, don’t you think?”
Questions came easy to Liz Parker, he had thought at the time. The truth was that he hadn’t really understood how the answer to one question would help Liz - but he knew he had not been told everything. It was definitely a good thing they hadn’t told him about all that had happened since he had died. Was that his real purpose? Just to let Liz pour all that out to someone who loved her, someone who would always be on her side? But something in her face told him that she knew to what he referred. There was a question she needed to ask. One he would have to answer. What was it? He didn’t realize he had spoken aloud until she answered him.
“You see, Alex, all the things that I have been telling you - I have been thinking about them the last weeks. I knew I had to make up my mind, to decide what to do. Because, you know, all the things I hate now - they are all because of what I did. What my life was like all last year, what I am now. And Max?”
“The real Max Evans died on October 31, 2000 on my balcony. The Max Evans that is left? Well, he is partly of my molding, isn’t he? Our relationship - our love - that perfect soulmate love - it died then, too, didn’t it? It won’t come back. I know that now. What is left... maybe I can live with it. Maybe I can’t. All I know is that it won’t ever be what it might have been. It makes me so sad I can hardly bear it - but I know it is true.”
She edged closer to him, back straight, her eyes blazing with the passion she felt. “And your death? Don’t you see that, Alex? If I hadn’t done what Max insisted, Tess would have left. You would still be alive. Here with us. With your own life, a future. The only thing that made it tolerable - was the thought that the world was saved by what I did. Surely a few lives screwed up beyond fixing - well that is nothing compared to the whole world, huh?”
She swallowed heavily. “But I don’t know that, do I, Alex? I finally woke up and realized the truth. Max said if he disappeared his timeline died - but that doesn’t mean the fate of the world is any different, does it? He thought that Tess had to stay here - but she left anyway, didn’t she? So, is the end of the world still coming? Sooner? Later? And what I do now, whatever that may be? Will it effect the world too? Don’t you see? I’m afraid to do anything for fear of messing everything up even worse.” She bowed her head, closing her eyes.
“Did you save the world? Is that your question?” Alex asked. She looked at him over her shoulder, seeing the final understanding in his eyes. The rules were the rules, after all.
She considered it, looking back into the night. A cloud passed, letting the moon shine through for the first time that night. A beautiful moon. Distant. Cold. As cold as she felt, she thought, shivering. She nodded her head, turning her eyes back to look at him.
“Yes, Alex. I need to know. Was it worth it? All the pain - and what we all became. Was it worth it?”
He closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at her. Standing, he walked to her side, placing a hand on her shoulder. He started to speak, and then stopped suddenly. He raised his head, as if listening to a voice she could not hear.
“I’ll have to answer your question later, Liz. We have your gift for me to attend to now.” He smiled at her. “Be brave.”
She felt frustrated. She had been so close to knowing. But a deal was a deal. “Where are we going?”
“I’ll tell you as we go. Put your coat on,” he instructed her. He strode over to the door to the apartment. “Oh, and you might want to clean up a bit.”
Her hand immediately went to her hair, her face. She probably looked awful. She walked to the mirror, catching a glimpse of herself. She gasped. She had raccoon eyes, her skin was blotchy with tears, and her hair was a mess. She dove into the bathroom to make quick repairs, and then grabbed her coat when she heard Alex call. He was in a hurry, he said.
|posted on 26-Dec-2001 11:39:30 PM by Star2000monkey|
|"Gift Exchange" |
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, they belong to the TPTB. I just borrowed them for a little while.Summary: Liz on Christmas Eve... and more!
Author's Note:[/b[ No spoilers at all. I have always wanted to do a Christmas story for Roswell, and since this will be the last year for the show, I guess this year has to be it. But with the way things are, a truly happy story is beyond me. For those who are Max Apologists, you probably won't like this one, even though I am not TOO mean to him. But for the rest of us, I hope you will like it!
Warning: It's bittersweet.
Liz walked up to the front door of the house, her feet heavy. Was she up to this? She knocked on the door. She had done worse things, she told herself. Much worse things than this.
The door opened, and a tall, gaunt man blinked owlishly at her. “Liz?” He asked, obviously shocked to see her.
“Mr. Whitman? Can I talk to you and your wife?” Liz asked timidly. He looked so sad still. Not much better than he had the last time she had seen him - just days after Alex’ funeral.
He stared at her a minute, a look of shock on his face for a brief second, and then seemed to come to himself. He stood back, opening the door wider. “Yes, please. Alice will be so glad to see you. I told her Alex’ friends wouldn’t forget him just like that.”
He turned to call for his wife, waving Liz into the darkened living room. A Christmas tree was there. Decorated, but dark. They hadn’t thought to turn the lights on, evidently, Liz thought. Trying to keep from feeling the guilt she had felt at what Mr. Whitman had said. Alex’s friends wouldn’t forget him? They had thought one of them - no, no prevaricating. They had thought she or Maria would come to see them. Liz felt shame crawl along her backbone. She had dreaded seeing them so much, she had not let herself think further than to be sure they would be better off without her there. Yeah, right. She had been taking the easy way out. And her pain? How could she compare it to theirs?
Alice Whitman walked into the room wearing a robe. He had evidently had to get her out of bed! Liz rushed to apologize. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were already in bed, Mrs. Whitman.”
Her lined face smiled. She was glad to see Liz, and it showed. “No, I’m so glad you came. I wanted to see one of Alex’s friends.”
Liz flushed a little, biting her lip. What could she say? “How are you two doing?”
“Oh, oh. Fine,” the woman said, and Liz realized just how untrue that was. She was still suffering. Of course she was. She had lost her only child. Liz felt tears start, and blinked to control them. She swallowed several times. She tried to speak, stopped, cleared her throat. She started again.
“I.... I don’t know if you will believe me or not, but .... Alex... his spirit, I guess you’d say... he contacted me.”
Alice blinked at her in shock, her face going blank. The gladness was all gone. Liz was afraid to look at Mr. Whitman. He was an engineer, a practical man - he would never believe in ghost stories. Liz stumbled on.
“He told me to come see you. Now, he said. Tonight. He wanted you to know something.” Liz put every ounce of sincerity that she could in her voice. She had never before realized how difficult telling a story like this could be - never in all the movies she had seen where this scenario happened. Did all those people feel as big a fool as she did? But they were acting - and she was not. She had seen Alex. He did have a message for them.
“A message for us?” A breath of sound, in a voice Liz wouldn’t have recognized as Alice Whitman if she hadn’t seen her speak the words. Shock was a mild word for the look on that face.
Liz sighed heavily. “Look, I know it sounds ridiculous. You know me - I don’t believe in this kind of thing... but it is true. He wanted me to tell you, to let you know.....” Oh, this was so hard. She wished she had paid more attention to what Alex had said exactly. She looked at Mr. Whitman. “You have a nephew? Your brother’s boy. David is his name, right?”
Those blue eyes- the eyes Alex had inherited - looked strangely at Liz. Not angry, Liz was glad to see. Why wasn’t he angry? Or skeptical? “My brother died several years ago. But yes, he had a son named David. We haven’t seen him in years. His mother moved off with her boyfriend just a few months after my brother died.”
Liz nodded. That was basically what Alex had told her. “His life... it hasn’t been good. His mother’s boyfriend? He doesn’t want David with them. He is mean with David.”
“How would you know that?” Alice asked quietly. She was beginning to catch her breath - and her sanity.
Liz looked at her earnestly. “Alex told me, but I don’t know how he knows. I don’t really know anything.... but David? He is going to call you in a few minutes. He is going to ask you to let him come live here.”
A sound came from the older woman as she rose, a sound of pain. She stood up, walking to the window. Staring out as if she didn’t realize that the curtains were shut.
“Live with us? His mother wouldn’t allow that. He is her son, after all,” Mr. Whitman told her. He was still calm. It was eerie, Liz thought. Mrs. Whitman’s actions seemed more normal. But Alex had told her to say this, and she would. And when he had told her some things - well, she wanted to help this boy she had never even seen.
“Yes, she will. She has another child now, with the boyfriend. She is tired of the fights over David. She will let him go.”
Mrs. Whitman turned at that. “That isn’t the point. Even if this happens, as you say? I... I couldn’t take another child. It’s not like getting a new puppy to replace your dog who dies. Nothing will replace Alex.” She was angry.
“No, of course not!” Liz assured her.
“And...maybe he would be better off anyway. After all, our boy.... our own boy killed himself, didn’t he? We couldn’t have been good parents.”
“No, no. Alex didn’t kill himself!” Liz had told them before, but she realized now that they hadn’t believed her. She hadn’t been able to tell them the entire truth, of course. Had they seen her hesitations and thought she had lied? They must have.
“What can I do to convince you? Mr. Whitman, surely you believed me?” Her black eyes pleaded with him. “You must. Alex, he would be so sad if he knew you thought that.”
A tear rolled down the gaunt cheeks as she watched, and then tears were blurring her eyes as well. All these months - and they had been living with the thought that their son had killed himself. That they had somehow failed them.
She went over to hug Alex’ father, putting her arms around his skinny shoulders. She felt him tremble in her arms. Loosening her arms, she turned to his mother. By will alone, she pulled her to them, hugging her, too, feeling how thin she had gotten as well in these months since that dreadful day last spring. Finally, Liz dropped her arms. A buzzing in her mind told her that time was short. Alex was spurring her on, somehow.
“You wouldn’t know -but Alex? He wasn’t like most kids, like most teenagers. He loved you both, and he told us - me and Maria - he told us that all the time. He always wanted to be as smart as you, Mr. Whitman. And he told us that he would always live near Roswell, so he could be close to you both. He never said that you did anything wrong.” She saw their faces, the struggle to believe what she said. “And more... Alex wanted me to tell you. He wants you to take David. To bring him to live with you, and make sure he never goes back. He said to tell you... to please give his cousin the wonderful life you gave to him. He wouldn’t have said that if he thought you did anything wrong, would he?” She smiled through more tears. The phone rang. Liz knew who it was.
“Do it... for Alex. And for David.”
It was an hour later when Liz walked home alone. Or almost alone. She felt his presence before she saw him. “I’m so glad I went Alex. They need each other, don’t they? David and your parents?”
“Yeah, they do.” A quiet voice, but not sad. “He knew I was there.”
Liz turned her head to look at him. “Your dad?”
Alex nodded. “At the door... I couldn’t help it. I reached out to touch him, to hug him. I couldn’t NOT do it, you know? And somehow, he felt it, Liz.”
Liz thought back. The way Mr. Whitman acted at the door - the look of shock that had crossed his face. And then later, his lack of doubt had seemed so odd. But maybe not, now that she understood. “Will they be happy, Alex?”
A chuckle. “Yes. A bit floored maybe, at first. David isn’t a quiet child as I was. He will keep them on their toes, but that will be good for them. And later, when he marries and has children, they will be their grandchildren. And their children will be their great-grandchildren. And so on. They’ll have the family from him they won’t ever have from me.”
Liz reached up a hand, using her gloves to absorb the tears leaking from her eyes. It was a good thing she had cleaned the mascara from her eyes earlier, or she would have raccoon eyes again, she thought. It brought a smile to her face. But sadness was there too - for it meant that her friend was really gone. Soon, he would be gone again.
“Will I see you ever again, Alex?”
“Maybe. I don’t control things, you know.”
Liz nodded, plodding on. She could see the Crashdown at the end of the next street. The lights were out now, meaning it was after ten. She glanced at her watch. It was almost eleven. Max would be here soon.
Still, she didn’t hurry. Max arriving would mean that Alex would be leaving. She wondered for a moment. Would she tell Max about Alex’s coming? She didn’t know.
They reached the Crashdown, and Liz unlocked the door, entering the quiet restaurant. Her parents had gotten home, because the hall light had been turned on for her. They were probably in bed already. She trudged up the stairs, going to her room quietly. Opening the window, she went out to the balcony. She didn’t want her parents to hear her talking and wonder about her. They would probably be afraid that Max was in her room. She sighed, then turned when she heard the sound behind her.
“Don’t you want the answer to your question?” Alex asked.
Liz steeled herself. “Yes....and no. I realized something, while your parents were talking to David and his mother - making their plans. Getting the gift you intended for them, Alex. I realized that it doesn’t really matter if I changed the fate of the world with what I did for Future Max, does it? It is too late to undo it now. Too late to go back, even if I wished I could with all my heart. Knowing... well, it would only make me feel better. Or not.”
She turned to him. “So, my one question? It only concerns the future, Alex. Will I change the fate of the world based on what I do or don’t do regarding Max from now on?” The phrasing was awkward, but she could see he understood her. They looked at each other for a long while.
Alex started to talk, speaking as if he had memorized a speech - or as if he was repeating words he was hearing in his head. “The world has never been in your hands. What will happen and when - it will happen regardless of what you do. It is arrogance to believe otherwise. You can only do your part, Liz Do what you know you should do, what you feel in your heart is the right thing to do.” He paused a moment, and then added more - parts that didn’t sound so rehearsed.
“You know, some things are better than they were, some are worse. That will be true regardless of your actions. And who can choose which is better? You might say that ‘Alex is dead, things are the worst they can be.’ But I am happy where I am. And a young boy will have a better life now than he would have otherwise. Who are you to say which way is better?”
Liz thought about that. It wasn’t much of an answer, but she knew he was right. She nodded her head. She looked for Alex, but he was gone. “Alex?” She whispered, knowing it was too late. Tears started again. How could she cry more this night?
“Liz?” She thought for a moment it was Alex again, then realized the sound came from the street.
She went to the edge, peeking over. Max was there, and he smiled as she looked at him.
She thought for a moment, then nodded slowly. “I’ll be right down.”
She was ready for what would come, she thought but she wouldn’t make any decisions tonight. Tonight was for other things. She turned off her lights again, shrouding the balcony in darkness. Climbing in through the window, she closed it behind her. Latching it. Thinking. Sad. And then she remembered - what he had said. Grandchildren, great-grandchildren. That wouldn’t be possible if the world would end in fourteen years, would it? Joy tripped through her. Alex had found a way to answer both her questions. For the first time in a long time, she felt free. Free of guilt, for her past actions and her future ones, too. His gift to her - freedom. And joy. And then she felt it... A brush of her hand, a vague pressure around her. Like a hug that was almost there.
When she joined Max, he saw the roses in her cheeks, dark eyes dancing with happiness, a bright smile on her face. Her beauty amazed him. He had thought her a little sad tonight, but evidently not.
“Ready?” he asked, reaching out a gloved hand to her, smiling.
She nodded, taking it. She wasn’t really - not yet. But she would be soon.
Author's Note: I will probably do a companion piece to this - Max/Alex. But it isn't nearly this sweet. Will be done in a few days.