Banner by Reese
Rating: PG13 maybe? For mild slashiness. Nothing graphic.
Disclaimer: I own nothing Roswell.
Character Focus: Liz/Whittaker, Liz/Max (mentioned)
Author's Note: A possible backstory showing how Liz 'really' met Whittaker, inspired by some comments made on a UC Liz thread at FF. So, Doug? This may not be what you had in mind, but thanks for the mental image that got me going. And thanks Debbie, for reading it over. You know I appreciate it.
She sat up, gasping and shaking, disoriented.
It took her a moment to recognise the rapid thudding of her own heartbeat, but once she did, it seemed to centre her. She remembered where she was, and fought to breathe, deeply and regularly, in and out, in and out.
And when her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, she pulled back the blanket and made her way over to her desk as quietly as possible.
There she sat, and she remembered, and as she remembered, her hands clenched and her nails dug into her palms. But she didn't really notice; she wasn't truly there. She was back in time, back in the Florida of a summer earlier, when she thought her life had changed, finally, and for the better.
When she met Vanessa.
Not Congresswoman Whittaker.
"Liz, are you sure about this?" Her aunt had been a little worried. Liz had seemed so determined to wait out the summer in her room, and this request was unexpected.
"I am. Oh please, let me go. Justin and Laura will be there, and you know their parents. I promise, if it gets a little wild, I'll come right home, okay?"
"Well okay. I know we can trust you to be responsible, Liz."
"Thanks, Aunt Grace! You're the best!"
"Try not to get home too late."
"Sure thing. I'll try not to wake you guys up when I get in."
"Oh George, isn't she sweet?"
She had been so tired of moping. She was ready to go out, to see other people, to think about something other than her own pathetic life.
So she had gone to the party, and even though she felt a little nervous, she had started to enjoy herself. It was held in a large house on the beach, and they'd hired a bartender to mete out a seemingly endless supply of drinks by the pool.
She was the youngest one there. Justin and Laura were a couple of years older than she was, and even they seemed young for this crowd. But no one seemed to notice, or if they did, no one said anything.
Still, she wasn't really blending well, and soon she decided to have one more drink and then go.
"Orange juice, please?" she half-yelled at the bar to be heard. The bartender nodded and started to fill a glass.
"Supporting local industry? How socially-minded of you." The low drawl came from her left. She turned to see a woman grinning at her over a tumbler of something clear. Somehow Liz didn't think it was water. And the woman's voice was definitely inviting.
"It's my last one," Liz replied smoothly. Over the course of the night, she'd watched how the few other non-drinkers of the party fended off similar drunken jokes. "I thought I should go easy." With a smile of thanks she accepted her juice from the bartender.
The woman slapped the empty seat next to her, and after a moment of indecision Liz sat down. She was right in plain view of a bartender and a hundred guests at the most sophisticated party she'd ever been to. This was no frat kegger where she had to worry about some guy doping her drink and getting her alone.
"Liz. Nice to meet you," Liz said politely.
Vanessa smiled. It was a nice smile, actually. Warm. "So, Liz men suck, don't they?"
Caught off guard, Liz laughed before she could stop herself. "Sorry. Um, yeah, some do," she giggled, relieved to see Vanessa laugh in response. She bent her head then to take a sip of her juice, and grimaced a bit at the sweetness. She was thirsty, but she was used to the kind of juice that came in a can and got watered down; this thick, fresh stuff was a little strong for her.
Vanessa noticed the look on her face. "Here, try this. It'll cut the juice." And before Liz could say anything, she had poured a generous dollop of what was in her glass in Liz's.
"Um," Liz said, trying to stall. This was no frat boy, and she didn't know what to do.
"Try it," Vanessa urged. "If you don't like it, I'll go get you another juice - plain juice - myself."
"Uh, okay," Liz said, and took a sip. To her surprise, it didn't taste much different at all. But like Vanessa had said, now the juice wasn't so overwhelming. Bolder now, she took another sip, and then another. After a few minutes, a subtle warmth kindled in her belly.
In wonder she looked at the other woman, and smiled. "Hey, that's really good. What is it?"
Liz choked mid-sip. Vanessa just laughed, a low, sexy chuckle.
"I'm sorry. You'd think you'd never had a drink before," she teased, clearly not at all sorry.
"I haven't," Liz admitted. Privately, she was starting to wonder why not. She was actually feeling pretty good. She leaned over to speak confidentially. "I'm underage," she whispered loudly.
Vanessa froze. She came the closest to sober she'd been in several hours. "No. You're kidding, right?"
Liz shook her head, rather enjoying the way the room seemed to tilt when she did. "Nope!" she said proudly, and giggled. A little shocked at the sound coming out of her mouth, she clapped one hand over it, and then giggled some more.
Still tipsy herself, Vanessa found herself smiling back. "Listen, let's get you out of here, okay Liz? There are a few people who would be upset with me if they found out about this."
Liz nodded, although it was getting a little harder to think clearly. She didn't want Vanessa to get into trouble. But why would Vanessa get into trouble? Maybe it was something in the juice, she mused, and looked down. Uh oh, she thought. It was all gone.
"I'd like some more juice, please," she said as distinctly as she could.
Vanessa looked at her, then laughed. "Are you here with anyone, Liz?"
Liz thought for a moment, then shook her head. "No," she answered, a little proud that she knew the answer. "But I know a couple people here," she added. "Justin and Laura Preston. They know my aunt and uncle."
Vanessa paled. "Preston? As in, ex-Senator Preston?"
Liz nodded candidly, now feeling quite warm and content. "Yup. Their dad. He's in town to s'port a new Cong - cong -conger - congrest-" she stuttered, trying to get the word out.
"Congresswoman Whittaker," Vanessa suggested, although it was more of a statement than a question.
Liz nodded again, feeling rather puppetlike and laughing, looked up just to make sure there was no one pulling some strings attached to her ears.
Vanessa was quiet for a minute, clearly trying to think. "Liz," she said finally, "how would you like to stay with me tonight?"
Liz frowned. "I'm s'posed to go home. To my aunt 'n uncle's, I mean."
"I can call your aunt and uncle and get permission."
Liz smiled happily. "Okay!"
And then she looked at Vanessa seriously. "Can I have some more juice?"
Alone in her room, Liz began to cry.
What was it about her? No matter what she did, she could never get away from the truth. No matter what she told herself, it was all her fault.
Saving her life had put Max, Michael and Isabel in danger.
Running away had put them in more.
She really didn't remember anything that happened that balmy summer night. Maybe it was another effect of Max changing her; she just didn't know. It was the first and only time she'd been drunk, and she had no basis for comparison. Maybe forgetting what happened was normal for her. Maybe Vanessa had had the power to make her forget.
And now, all this time later, she suddenly found herself wondering if everything that happened afterwards was less a coincidence than she thought. Had she, however unwittingly, brought the Skins down on her friends?
But she couldn't deny a certain sense of nostalgia. At the time Vanessa had seemed to have the answers to all the questions she wanted to ask but didn't know how.
For a moment, just a moment, she found herself wishing Vanessa was here - not the politician, not the Skin, not the enemy - but Vanessa. She wanted her friend and mentor back. She wanted the woman who made her feel safe and important and strong.
She wanted that person back so badly it hurt.
She'd never felt so free. Vanessa had a summer place a little farther down the beach, and Liz snagged another drink before leaving, this time specifically asking for some vodka with the orange juice.
"It cuts the juice," she told the bartender, who nodded affably.
Vanessa grabbed an entire bottle when the bartender wasn't looking, and they supported each other as they made their way down the beach, laughing at everything and nothing.
"You were right," Liz said at one point, as Vanessa was refilling her empty glass. "Men stink. Aliens stink. Alien men stink." She laughed at the thought.
Vanessa looked at her blearily. "Ya know many aliens?" she asked, and tugged Liz to join her on a large piece of driftwood for a rest, taking a long swig herself.
"Yup!" Liz said proudly. "One, two, three," she counted on her fingers, "four." She held up her hand so Vanessa could see it clearly. "I know five!"
"Me too. But," and Vanessa stopped to burp lightly. "I know lots more than five."
Liz looked at her new friend with wide eyes. "Wow! That's so cool!"
Vanessa grinned delightedly.
Liz laughed and almost fell off the log. But when she'd righted herself, she wasn't smiling. "Shtupid aliens," she sniffled. "Mean. Meanies. All of them," she said in a wounded tone, looking deeply into Vanessa's eyes.
Vanessa was almost on the verge of tears herself. "No," she protested thickly, reaching with one slightly shaky hand to brush away the moisture that had escaped down Liz's cheek. "Some are really nice. Well, okay," she admitted, "some are mean. My brother? He's mean. In fact," she said in a low, conspiratorial tone, "He's really, really mean."
Liz felt bad. No one should have a mean alien for a brother. "I'm sorry," she said, and on impulse she reached out to hug Vanessa.
Pulling back, she said, very seriously, "You know what?"
Vanessa wiped her own conspicuously wet eye. "What?"
Vanessa looked at her for a moment, and then started laughing.
Liz began laughing too, and then she really did fall off the log. After a moment Vanessa fell back too and they lay on the beach, legs in the air, and tried not to spill their drinks as they laughed and laughed.
It had never occurred to her to wonder what she'd said then. How many secrets she might have given away.
She didn't remember saying anything. But looking back it would explain a lot. Why Vanessa had offered her the job, why they knew to monitor her phone calls.
At the time, all she wanted was to get away from alien conspiracies. It was ironic, in a way, that her big bid for independence from Max only brought them back together.
But there was something about the way Vanessa had looked at her ...
"I love the stars," she said, as they lay on the beach and contemplated the night sky. They'd found a more comfortable spot, away from the lights, where they could listen to the sound of waves crashing against the shore. "But I hate them too."
Some movement caught her eye, and she turned to see Vanessa facing her, tears in her eyes. "Me too," she choked out. The misery in her voice made Liz want to cry, and the compassion she saw in Vanessa's eyes encouraged her to speak.
"It's like they promise you so much, and they seem so beautiful, but when it comes down to it, when you get too close to the stars you get burned. 'Cause they're just gas."
Vanessa nodded thoughtfully, unmindful of the sand working into her hair. "Yeah. It's easy to look at them, and wish on them, because they're all twinkly. But you gotta be careful what you wish for, 'cause you might get it. And then you get burned, 'cause they're just gas."
"I already said that," Liz informed Vanessa gravely.
"Yeah. And then I said it," Vanessa confirmed.
"Must be right then," Liz said, liking the logic.
Vanessa grinned, a slow grin that caught her eyes and made them shine, Liz noticed.
"Hey, your eyes are twinkly," she said, peering closer. "Are they made of gas too?"
Vanessa snorted. "I don't think so!" she replied indignantly. "I'll have you know, my skin - and that includes my eyes - represents some of the most advanced technology in bioprotective engineering on five planets." After a moment, she added, "Make that six."
Liz was impressed. "Cool," she breathed, and automatically rolled over so she could get a closer look. She poked Vanessa's arm in fascination.
Vanessa giggled as Liz hit a ticklish spot. Biting her lip, Liz leaned in to tickle her harder, until Vanessa shrieked and went to tickle Liz in defence. For a moment, Liz had the upper hand but then somehow Vanessa pushed her up and over, and suddenly she was on top of Liz, holding her hands over her head and using her leg to stop her from wiggling.
Breathlessly they lay there for a moment, staring at each other.
Looking back, she wondered again just what had happened while she was drunk for the first and only time in her life. She wouldn't even drink beer now.
She had spent a lot of time at Vanessa's house after that night. They'd hit it off quickly, talking like old friends almost from the beginning. Of course, Liz didn't talk about her friends back in Roswell. She'd neatly avoided the subject altogether, just saying that she'd come to Florida to get away from a bad situation.
Vanessa had looked at her knowingly when she said that, and at the time, Liz had felt like maybe she'd found a mentor. A refuge that was all hers, that didn't involve dangerous secrets and hurting people. She'd felt completely comfortable asking if she could write Vanessa sometime, maybe visit her.
Vanessa had smiled brightly, and said that actually, she'd been in talks with her mentor, Preston, and they'd decided that Roswell would be a great place for her to set up office. So maybe they'd see more of each other.
Liz remembered hugging Vanessa in excitement, honestly happy for her. And for a moment, she had a flash of Vanessa wet and covered in sand, but it was gone and (almost) forgotten immediately.
Until now. Now, she found herself thinking about that moment, and wondering why it seemed so poignant.
"How old did you say you were?" Vanessa asked.
Vanessa sighed. "I don't know how to answer that honestly. But compared to you, I'm ancient." One of her hands loosened its grip on Liz's, and she used it to brush some hair off of Liz's face.
"Does it really matter?"
Vanessa just nodded, the movement bringing her face closer, so Liz could feel the warm outrush of tangy breath.
"Why?" Liz breathed, unable to pull her eyes away from the dark, glittering gaze of the woman above her. It was weird, her mind insisted, that she could feel so light that the body holding hers down felt more protective than smothering. But part of her was scared that Vanessa would get up, and Liz would just float away into the night sky, never to be seen again.
"Because that makes this wrong."
"Makes what wrong?" Liz frowned, trying to follow.
Slowly, Vanessa lowered her head until her lips touched Liz's. That's all she did, just touch them, and after a moment, she applied a little pressure.
Liz closed her eyes. She wasn't sure what was happening. But it it didn't feel bad.
In fact, she wanted a little more. Tentatively she opened her mouth, her tongue peeking out to touch the lips that pressed against hers, and she tasted alcohol and salt water and something that could only be called Vanessa.
Suddenly her own lip gloss, a berry flavour that Maria had given her months earlier, tasted too sweet. Almost sickeningly sweet. It needed the all those other flavours to balance it, like the juice had needed the vodka. Liking her analogy, she began kissing Vanessa, pushing her tongue between salty lips and exploring Vanessa's mouth way she dimly recalled Kyle and Max exploring hers, intimately, daringly, urgently.
And then Vanessa kissed her back
Everything had changed after meeting Vanessa.
Suddenly she didn't feel so alone. Vanessa introduced her to Florida society, and she learned the difference between the kind of people that you meet at an afternoon tea and those you met at a semi-formal cocktail parties. She met others almost as young as she was who assumed that, like them, she was interested in politics and was jockeying for an internship. Through networking, she found herself sailing on yachts, attending operas and plays, and meeting a dizzying array of people she'd only seen on the evening news. She learned to play garden croquet, and took tennis lessons at the Preston's country club while Vanessa and Preston conferred.
It never occurred to her to ask why Vanessa was in Florida if she was based in New Mexico. She just figured it was because Preston was there, and maybe it was.
Her aunt and uncle were delighted that she was making a good impression on society folk, and granted permission for her to go on the occasional trip with Vanessa or the Prestons whenever any of them asked.
For some reason she didn't say anything in her calls home to Maria or Alex or her parents. Here, the colours were so intense, the desert seemed like another world. Here, when some young man her aunt and uncle approved of took her boating or golfing, her days of waiting on tables seemed like another lifetime.
Not that she ever lied about her life. When asked, she spoke candidly about what it was like to grow up middle class in the desert, to attend public school, to work in a restaurant. But it felt like she was reciting something she'd learned from a pamphlet, detached from the person she had become. Certainly that person would never laugh knowingly over a (virgin) Bloody Mary about the spectacle some public figure made that day.
And then one day, Vanessa pulled her aside.
Florida sand was rough, she remembered suddenly. Forgetting it was dark in her bedroom, she looked down, half expecting her hands to glisten with saltwater and the tiny particles unique to a stretch of beach along the Atlantic coastline.
She felt disoriented when she couldn't see them, and fumbled to turn on her desk lamp.
The light seemed harsh, and she squinted in discomfort. But she could see her hands, and they were clean and soft. The palms were a little damp, but not not wet.
She strained to remember more, but only succeeded in hearing the sound of waves hitting the shore, in feeling the thud of water pounding onto the sand, in seeing the stars overhead, in smelling salt and something she couldn't put a name to because she hadn't grown up on the ocean.
She could remember the feel of a body on hers, a compact body that felt different, softer than any other body that she had ever held, that knew what it was doing.
And suddenly she didn't want to remember any more.
"We're friends, right Liz?"
Liz nodded easily. "Of course."
"Do you think we could be something other than friends?"
Liz was a little confused. "What do you mean?"
Vanessa hesitated, and then made a decision. "Do you think you could put aside being friends, and work for me?"
"I I don't understand."
"I'll be arriving in Roswell a couple days after you go home. I want you to work for me. But it wouldn't be like working at the diner with your friends. I'd be your boss, and we'd both have to remember that."
Liz thought about it. She thought she knew what Vanessa was talking about. In politics, she'd learned, loyalty was important, but not blind loyalty. You might give people jobs because they were friends, but you also did it because they could do the job, without emotions getting in the way of perspective and judgment. And you did it because they could do something for you, to further your prospects, and because you could do the same for them.
"Vanessa," she said deliberately, "I would be thrilled to work for Congresswoman Whittaker in her Roswell office."
Congresswoman Whittaker smiled in regret and pride. "Liz Parker, I would be thrilled to meet you in Roswell to discuss what you can do in my office." Liz nodded.
Then Vanessa smiled, a warm and engaging expression. "So, is your backhand improving?"
Without really realising how it happened, Liz found herself on the floor next to her chair, on her side, knees drawn up and held to her by shaking arms.
She rested her forehead on the floor, welcoming the coolness of the hard wood against a brow that seemed suddenly feverish. And then her eyes focused on the space under her desk, lit just enough by the light thrown by her lamp to reveal the dust that collected under there no matter how many times she cleaned.
Admittedly, she didn't seem to clean as often, or as obsessively, these days. It just didn't seem as important anymore.
And now she reached out and pressed her hand into the dust.
And she thought about what was left of Congresswoman Whittaker after Isabel had finished with her.
And she missed Vanessa.
When she'd 'met' Congresswoman Whittaker in Roswell, she hadn't seen Vanessa anywhere in there.
Vanessa was soft and protective of Liz and drank vodka.
Whittaker was driven and didn't like Liz being too curious but was a little too curious herself about the people in Liz's life. And she flaunted her 'boyfriend' in front of Liz, teasing her about her age, putting her in her place.
But every now and then, Liz felt like maybe Vanessa was resurfacing. Like when her 'boyfriend' betrayed her and she drowned her sorrows in something amber and commiserated with Liz about their personal lives. It wasn't quite the same, something was off, but for a moment Liz enjoyed pretending they were friends again.
And then they found out the truth. Vanessa was an alien, a Skin. An enemy.
She could never tell Max, she knew. Or any of them, really, but especially Max. Whittaker - even now, she couldn't think of that her as Vanessa, not that part of her - had threatened his sister. Her efforts had landed Michael in jail. She had been part of a force set out to destroy him and everyone close to him. She'd collaborated with Pierce.
Liz would have to learn to put it aside in her mind, so that he could never see what happened while she was in Florida in her mind. It was foolish to think that they'd never kiss again, or that they'd never exchange another flash.
If he noticed, and asked her about the block, she would ask him to block his memories of being with Tess, pointing out that there were some things that they really didn't need to share. She knew it was manipulative. But she also knew it would work, that guilt would keep him from pressing the issue. Which would be for the best.
She loved Max, but he could never know. None of them could. This was one secret she would take to the grave.
Lifting herself off the floor, Liz stood and switched off the light. Slowly she made her way back into bed, where she hugged a thick pillow and promised herself something before drifting back to sleep.
No one would ever know about Vanessa.
Not her Vanessa.
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