Disclaimer: I own nothing Roswell.
Character Focus: Max/Liz, podsters, some Skins, a butterfly … oh, wait, talks fell through. Sorry, no butterfly.
Spoilers: Up to Wipeout. And, you know, the ep where Liz told Maria about FMax.
Author's Note: Tremendous thanks to Debbie for beta-reading.
Summary: Liz knew she'd have to sacrifice a lot to make FMax's plan work, but she didn't know how much.
Warning: Character Death
This fic won Ultimate Angst Fic in the Roswell Undercover Awards.
The door opened, and he was thrown into the cell with the rest of them.
"Max!" Isabel screamed, and they crowded around him. Tess pulled him up from where he fell, and they looked him over for injuries.
"You okay, man?" Michael asked, and winced. Stupid question. "What did they do to you?"
Sweating and shaking, Max managed to focus on his friend. "N-n-nothing they d-d-didn't do to you g-g-guys first," he stuttered.
Isabel threw her arms around him. "But Max, you're shaking."
"He might be going into shock," came a soft voice behind them, and the three of them turned to look at her. Unlike them, she hadn't rushed over when he came through the door, although the way her hands clenched at her side suggested that it was a difficult stance to maintain. "He needs warmth. Body warmth, I guess, since there's nothing else here."
The four of them crowded around the young king. Isabel and Tess moved first but Liz closed in to hug him from behind and Michael put long arms around all of them.
After a moment a healing connection sprang up between them. One so faint that it flickered and they had to fight to maintain it. There was something about their cell that -- like everything else about this hell-hole -- seemed to suppress their powers. But now they grabbed onto it, first the four podsters and then, like a whisper, Liz.
It felt like completion.
The shudders stopped, and Max sighed.
The five of them had woken up here seven hours ago, disoriented and bewildered and terrified at their complete helplessness. Well-armed guards had come to the cell and ignored their demands and protests and fighting to drag them off, one by one, like clockwork. They explained nothing.
Isabel was first. When she was thrown through the door after the first horrific hour when Max and Michael nearly went insane with fear, she told them what she had learned.
It wasn't the FBI, this time. It was Khivar. He was here. And he had Nicholas along to interrogate his prisoners the best way he knew how.
He had chosen Isabel first, hoping to find Vilandra. But the mind-rape had found only Isabel, and she had been returned to the secured chamber.
Despite all their efforts, they couldn't find a way out of the chamber. It was large, L-shaped, and absolutely empty; there was nothing to use as a weapon. The walls were smooth metal, and their only light was generated behind ceiling panels that would not break or budge. There was only one entrance, and it too was smooth, without visible hinges or handle.
An hour after returning Isabel they had come for Michael. An hour after that, they threw him back too. And then Tess, and finally, as if taunting him for not being able to protect his friends and family, Max.
No one knew why Liz was here and not the others. But they could guess. Isabel had pointed out that only an idiot wouldn't have done a little research before kidnapping them. And no one could miss how close Liz was to Max, or that something had changed in their relationship; an observant spy might even have noticed her powers, weak and unpredicatable as they were.
A little apologetically, she then speculated that their enemies would see Liz as a weak spot, a liability.
... who has to die. The thought reverberated through their link.
Max's head snapped up and he pulled back from the pleasure of connection. "Who said that?" he demanded, looking in anger from sister to friend to brother.
"I did." And the four podsters turned in disbelief to stare at her.
She backed away, breaking the connection. Still, she faced them, pale but resolute.
"You have to kill me," Liz said. "They can't be allowed in my head."
"What?" Max cried out, and stepped towards her.
"I know things," she told him. "Things they can't know."
"What?" Michael wanted to know. Hours of helplessness had him strung out and snappish.
She just shook her head. "I can't tell you."
He almost growled in fury, and Tess stepped forward to keep him from charging at the small girl.
"Michael," she said, sharply. "She can't tell us. If she tells us, they can find out." Michael froze, and Liz nodded gratefully to Tess.
Isabel stepped forward, one hand on Michael's arm, as much a gesture of comfort as a restraint while she took up the questioning. "So why are you only telling us this now?"
Liz struggled to stay calm. "I was hoping we could find a way out. I was hoping that maybe they wouldn't think a human was important enough to interrogate. Hey, I've been trying to think of something for the past seven hours," she said, her voice rising in emotion.
They watched as she struggled to stay calm.
"I don't want to die," she admitted, and almost lost control then, almost begged them to find some way to stop this. "But in one hour, they're going to come through that door, and unless something changes they're going totake me. And if they do, I don't think I'll be able to keep them out of my head, not if any of you couldn't."
They averted their eyes then, because none of them had, and Liz sighed.
"But Liz, this isn't the answer. It's too extreme. I I won't lie. What Nicholas does, it's not " Max licked dry lips and somehow managed to continue. "It's not pleasant," he said, a sneer of self-loathing twisting his features and showing how badly being captured again was damaging him. "But you can survive it. We all did. And when we get out of here, we'll get them for doing this to us."
Liz just shook her head, crying openly but refusing to concede the argument. "It's not enough. I can't take the chance. I won't."
"You really do know something that important?" Michael said then, and for the first time in hours he spoke quietly.
"The Granolith," Max said suddenly. "You said something before, about how it can't fall into the wrong hands."
"But Liz!" Isabel jumped in then. "It's already as good as theirs. They " she took a deep breath, ashamed at her next words. "They got the location from me." The others nodded; they hadn't been able to withhold anything themselves.
"But you couldn't tell them what it could be used for," Liz said softly, and leaned back against a wall. She closed her eyes so she didn't have to see the shocked looks of betrayal directed her way.
Michael wasn't quiet anymore. He was livid. "You know? And you didn't tell us? We could have used it! Maybe we wouldn't be here!"
Liz shook her head. "No, I don't know how to use it. Not really. I just know one of the ways its power can be " she struggled, wanting to explain, but knowing she had to choose her words carefully. "Perverted. Potentially. And I can't say anything more about that," she said, forestalling the questions she could see on their faces. "Please don't ask. There are reasons, good reasons, why I haven't been able to tell you before. And now
"Don't you see?" she cried, frustrated at the stubborn looks turned her way. "It can't be allowed to happen. They can't get any ideas. Not like this one. It has to die with me. Or -"
"Or what?" Max demanded then, unable to listen calmly.
"It's powerful, Max. So powerful it can make things possible that should be impossible."
They looked at her, their faces identical masks of wonder and fear and despair and curiosity.
"Is it a weapon?" Tess asked, trying to find a question Liz would - or could - answer, trying to understand what was happening.
"I think so. I'm not sure how. I just know that it's important, and that in the hands of an enemy that knows how to use it "
Her voice trailed off. She had to be very careful of what she said. If the Skins did have the Granolith now, and somehow got the idea to use it for time travel she shuddered at the thought of Khivar sending forces back in time to kill Max, Isabel, Michael and Tess as helpless children.
"Isn't there anything you can tell us?" Isabel asked.
Liz shook her head regretfully, but suddenly she looked up, eyes wide.
"Yes!" She said, and they could see the strain in her eyes, in the nervous twitch of her hands. "Two things." Automatically, they leaned in, to hear better.
"First of all, you have to stay together. The four of you. I'm not talking about dating here," she said, before Max could argue with her. The others, even Tess, were looking at her, and each other, sceptically. "You have to stay together as a unit. Your powers complement each other, and being together is what will give you the strength you're going to need to win this. Or at least," she added, "a better chance."
She held up a hand so they would back off.
"That's all I know about that, okay?"
"Is that why " Max couldn't finish his sentence. She looked him directly in the eyes as she answered.
And then Tess had to wipe her eyes, because she remembered packing her suitcases one night and then going to find Max to tell him she was leaving, only to find him in the park. Where he had told her he didn't want her to leave, so she hadn't.
It had been that close. She felt sick at the thought.
"Two," Liz continued, determined not to get sidetracked,"there are two people who I think can help you. Serena and ... and Inez ..." She searched their faces then, looking for signs of recognition. Seeing none, she continued. "I can't tell you how to find them. Even if I knew," she said carefully, and they understood that she was holding back, "that would be telling them," she said, pointing at the door, "which could put everyone in danger. But remember their names. I'm hoping that together, they can give you enough so you can figure it out."
"Why didn't you tell us about them before?" Michael interrupted. "That you could have told us."
"How?" Liz asked. "Could you have held back, if you knew that I knew something, but refused to tell you? Tell me the truth. Tell me if I made a mistake here, Michael. Would you - could you - have left me alone, knowing this much? How long would it have taken for you to decide you had to know? To pressure me to tell more, maybe get Isabel to invade my mind some night in my sleep?"
She stared at him until he dropped his eyes.
There was silence then, until Michael thought to check his watch.
"It's been half an hour," he said, dully. He and the others watched Liz as she tried to come to terms with this, tried to damp down the panic she couldn't suppress completely.
"Maybe they won't take you. They know you're human, they knew it in Copper Summit," Max said, and the sound of his desperation was painful to hear.
"Can you be sure of that?" Liz asked, and he couldn't answer.
She walked over to him then. There was something she needed to do.
"Half an hour, Max. Can you give me half an hour to say everything I've been wanting to say for the past year?"
He looked at her and pulled her to him, his mind unable to comprehend the enormity of what was happening, only seeing his own pain reflected in her eyes, and losing himself in the feel of her embrace.
Tess tugged at Isabel and Michael. "Come on," she said, swallowing tears. "We can give them this." Wordlessly they followed her to the other end of the room, using its L-shape to give the two of them as much privacy as possible, and huddled together to wait.
Michael and Tess looked up when Max and Liz joined them again, hand in hand, but said nothing.
Isabel choked back a moan when she saw Max. He looked broken. Old, worn out. And he clutched at Liz like a drowning man.
Liz didn't look much better, but she had better control over her emotions as she met their eyes, one at a time.
"You guys need to help me now. I I don't see anything in here I can use to do it myself, or I would." She never even looked at Max. Everyone knew he couldn't do this.
Isabel burst into tears, but no one comforted her. No one could.
"We don't have our powers," Tess reminded them. "I don't know how " but she couldn't finish the sentence.
"Michael?" Liz said, and they all turned to see him studying his hands. His large, powerful hands. Hands that had killed before.
He looked up bitterly. "Why not? I am the murderer in the group," he snarled, and everyone winced to hear him speak so harshly, so openly hurting.
Liz left Max then to approach Michael. "No. Not a murderer. Not that, Michael." She spoke quickly, not allowing him the chance to argue. "I can't let the fate of my world, no, six worlds, rely on the chance that Khivar brought me here on a whim. Or that they think I'm so useless I'm not worth interrogating," she told him. Told all of them, really, but forcing him to look her in the eyes.
"Save me, Michael. Save your people and mine. I'd do it for you," she said, and they all heard what she wasn't saying. She was doing it for them. Michael stared at her, hypnotized by her words, and then jerked back.
"No!" he shouted. "How can you ask me to do this? How am I supposed to live knowing I did -- that? How could I look at them, at your parents, at Alex and Maria, every day, knowing what I did? They'll never forgive me. No one will. Everything'll fall apart," he said, reminding her of the need for a complete four square, "and for nothing."
Liz caught his flailing hands, holding them in hers with some effort. She'd flinched when he mentioned her parents and Alex and Maria, but she stood her ground.
"They will," she promised. "They'll forgive you. They know why. And some day you'll forgive yourself. Right now --" and her gaze never wavered as they all heard the locking mechanism in the door disengage.
She was out of time.
Turning swiftly, she pulled Michael's hands up to cup her head on either side. Looking across the room into Max's stunned eyes she said, clearly,
"I forgive you."
And as the door swung open, a sickening crack reverberated through the chamber, a sound that would haunt the Royal Four for the rest of their lives.
The guards stepped in and surveyed the scene.
The human girl lay on the floor. The tall boy sat with her head in his lap, stroking her hair and staring numbly down at unseeing eyes. The dark-haired boy had thrown himself down and across her, too late to protect her, sobbing hoarsely. The two girls hugged each other desperately, eyes shut tight.
"Khivar is not going to be happy about this," the guard in front said. No one answered. At his signal more guards filed through the doorway and pulled the dazed teens en masse out of the room.
"There's nothing else to learn from them," Nicholas informed Khivar. "I was listening, and she didn't tell them anything useful. Just some names of people they don't even know how to find." He neglected to mention that he'd had time to save her but had misjudged the hybrids. He hadn't thought they'd go through with it.
Khivar looked down at the four unconscious bodies before him. He had no more use for them.
"Dispose of them," he commanded. Then he raised a hand to change his instructions. "Wait, take them outside, where everyone can see."
His lackeys dragged the Royal Four outside.
Tess woke up first. She tried to ignore the pounding in her head to look around, but cringed to find herself in the centre of a courtyard, surrounded by hundreds of Skins. The afternoon sun seemed blinding.
"You need a new act, Nicholas," she heard after a minute, and managed to turn her head enough to see Michael glaring blearily at their tormentor, standing about twenty feet away. She was shocked at how haggard Michael looked, but she understood his pain.
Unwilling to follow that line of thought, she remembered back to another day, when the four of them had been tied to pillars like this, in another battle. That one they'd won. But this time, she knew that she was too weak.
"But I think it'll work much better this time," their captor called out, in response to Michael's taunt, and turned to speak to others in the crowd.
"What are they waiting for?" Tess heard Isabel's agonized whisper. She sounded sick with grief and exhaustion.
"Khivar," Max said, and Tess winced to hear his empty voice.
"Max," she said softly, to get his attention.
"We're not inside anymore."
She sensed, more than saw, they way he suddenly came alert. It was true; when Nicholas had taken them outside the building, he had also removed them from the oppressive confines of its power-suppressing material.
The four of them felt their energy surging.
"She said we had the strength to beat them if we were together," Michael said suddenly, and all four froze at the mention of her.
Isabel recovered first. "We need to connect. Fast," she urged them, and they did. It was easier now, out here.
Tess gasped to feel the power building, to feel them sending it to her, filling her until she thought she would explode.
Nicholas turned then, and instantly realized Khivar's mistake. "Stop them!" he yelled, raising his own hand before him.
But then the world was engulfed in heat and flame, and this time, there would be no survivors.
Only the four of them were left standing. They were still connected.
Michael's pain was the worst. The waves of pain and self-hatred that emanated from his mind nearly drove Max to his knees, but somehow he made his way to his friend's side, to make him look at him.
"You're not a murderer, Michael."
Making sure he had his second's full attention, he continued.
"We are going to stay together. We are going to find Serena and Inez. And we are going to wipe every fucking Skin off the face of the universe."
Michael just stared into his eyes. They all felt him wavering on the brink of some dark abyss.
"For Liz," Max whispered, and now tears were streaming down his face and all of them shared his agony. "Please, Michael."
An eternity later, Michael nodded.
They buried Liz Parker on a clear and sunny day.
Only eight people knew that she hadn't fallen and broken her neck while hiking with her friends, and they gathered around her grave long after everyone else had followed her grief-stricken parents away.
"I don't hate you," Maria said suddenly, and the others looked at her. She was holding Alex but looking directly at Michael, who was standing as far away from her, from everyone, as possible. He hadn't been able to look the Parkers in the eye at the service.
"As far as I'm concerned, the Skins killed my best friend."
Alex nodded in agreement. "And they're going to pay for it," he said grimly. Together they walked over to Michael, who hadn't moved or spoken.
But his eyes flickered at Maria before focusing on something in the distance.
"Don't do this to yourself, Michael," she told him. "They need you. The four of you have to stay together as a unit. You have to; it's really important. And that means no going off and getting yourself killed out of guilt."
She didn't notice the way Max, Isabel and Tess looked at each other and then at her.
"Maria," Isabel said, hesitantly, and waited until the other girl tore her eyes away from Michael to look at her. "What do you mean by that?"
"That the four of us have to stick together. Liz said that, before "
Maria panicked for a moment. She had realized, as Tess had told the humans something about how Liz really died, that Liz hadn't told them the whole truth. She trusted that Liz had thought it was the right thing to do at the time. But Liz wasn't here, and she didn't know what to do. Pulling away from Alex, she started to walk away from the group, trying to give herself a little space, so she could think.
Unnerved by her behaviour, everyone just stood there for a moment, and then Alex called after her. When she didn't answer, he lost what little composure he'd been able to sustain all day and yelled at her more harshly than he intended.
"Maria Inez DeLuca, where the hell do you think you're going?" He didn't hear four sharp intakes of breath behind him, but he did stop yelling when Isabel grasped his arm.
"Alex, wait," she said, and called over to Maria.
"Inez? Maria, is your middle name really Inez?"
Maria came to an abrupt halt when she heard the urgency in Isabel's voice. Turning, she nodded, head tilting in confusion.
"Maria," Max breathed. "Liz said to find two people, Serena and Inez, to ask about the Granolith."
And everyone watched as a dozen emotions passed over her astonished face. Alex pulled her to him as she started crying, great wracking sobs that made talking impossible.
"What is it, Maria?" Alex asked, gently, when she was able to calm down somewhat.
She didn't answer right away, and finally Isabel approached her. "Maria, if you know what Liz knew, why didn't she just tell us to talk to you?"
But it was Michael who answered. "She was protecting Maria," he said, and his voice sounded rusty from disuse. "She knew we'd figure it out sooner or later but didn't want the Skins to come looking for her first."
Maria nodded then, and there was silence because no one could find the words.
Eventually, however, she spoke. "Where is the Granolith now?".
"We created another chamber for it out in the desert. It's safe. Why?" Tess asked.
"Because I won't say anything unless it is. Safe, I mean," she announced, more determined than ever to protect her friend's legacy.
"It is," Max promised.
Maria took a deep breath then, and wiped her eyes before starting.
"It all started last October."
"What did?" Max begged. And then he asked what he really wanted to know. "Maria, why did she do all this?"
She looked directly at him.
After a moment she looked around, meeting their eyes one by one.
"For all of us."