Banner by Rilla
Disclaimer: Roswell? Mine? Would that it were...
Author's Note: This stand-alone fic takes place in the reality that would have been, had Future Max not come back in time to muck everything up - a reality that Reese and I are creating in The Serena Series. Also, remember that events from Season 2 can have occurred but with Max and Liz together.
Thanks to Camille for her beta-reading skill. "Chicken?"
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And wither then? I cannot say.
~"The Fellowship of the Ring"
Nights are colder now than they were when I was a kid. All this crap about global warming used to have my parents praying to God, Allah, Buddha -- whoever they were into at the time. It got them praying for deliverance, salvation, divine understanding and most of all - protection from the world around them. And that meant global warming, too. Mom would tell me that by the time I was 18, Earth would be a pressure cooker waiting to explode from all the thermal energy and pollution. But I'd probably be dead by that time so it didn't matter.
Of course, she was wrong. I'm very much alive. And she and my dad have been dead since the Treaty broke. The colony wanted to keep me, but I'd had enough, so me and some other kids whose parents were killed in the first attack ran away and joined in The Cause. I'm the only one left now. Andy and Lola died a few days ago when a Skin infiltrated our camp and took hostages. I would have died with them, but somehow...I just knew something was about to happen, so I turned the corner while my friends walked into a trap. I don't know how I knew. I just did.
That's not the first time I've done that...sensed danger or trouble before it happened. My dad said it was a gift, given to me by God when the Holy Savior laid his hand upon my chest and took the cancer from my body. We moved from Phoenix right after that and found ourselves in a religious compound, where at the age of four, I became an example of what God could do if you believed enough. I remember my father holding up pictures of the silver handprint contrasting so brightly on my black skin while he spoke to crowds in the towns we lived in. He would point to me, and say, "Look at my boy! He's a living, breathing testimony to God's healing touch."
It embarrassed me, but I couldn't really blame them for believing. I was dying and something saved me and there was no explanation for them other than divine intervention. And somehow, I always knew it was better to say I believed along with them, rather than tell them what I knew. God didn't save me that day. At least not directly. He may have brought Max Evans to my bedside in that hospital, but the handprint wasn't one of God's making. Of course, I didn't learn his name until much later.
I first saw Evans at the peace celebration in April of 2007. My parents were there as religious protestors. Most of the world didn't really understand what was happening in New Mexico at the time. They just knew the attacks that their militaries were powerless to prevent, suddenly stopped. I was 11 years old and I remember looking up into the face of the leader as he passed by our crowd on his way into the building where the main celebration was taking place. He didn't see me, but I never took my eyes off him. He looked tired and almost angry, but it might have been because people were yelling and pushing to get near him. I didn't recognize him at first because when I last saw him, his face wasn't hard and frightening. But then something happened. One of the protestors broke through the barrier and lunged for the big guy with the wild hair who my father called 'Guerin.' The man missed and instead collided with the small brunette. I asked my mom later that night if the brown-haired woman was the leader's wife and my mom laughed, "Heathens don't have wives, they have whores."
But she was wrong. Because when the leader saw the beautiful woman start to fall under the weight of the protestor, he pulled the man back and caught her in his arms with more care than I've seen mothers handling their babies. And suddenly, his eyes weren't angry anymore. They were so full of concern and love that it struck my 11-year-old soul with the force of a wrecking ball. I'd seen that look before - in the eyes of my savior that night in the hospital in Phoenix.
After that I started asking more questions that my parents couldn't or wouldn't answer. Questions about the leader and if they knew anything about his life. I asked if he'd ever lived in Arizona. I asked if they'd ever seen him in person before the protests. And I asked about the other kids who'd been saved that night. I think I scared my parents with that one because from then on, I wasn't allowed to say the name 'Max Evans' within their earshot.
It would have been different if I'd been living in a normal neighborhood, where kids could read news reports about the war in the libraries or ask questions of their teachers. But living in compounds where everything we learned was taught to us by like-minded people, I soon lost interest in finding out more about Evans. I had my dreams of the night he healed me, and for awhile, I was satisfied with that.
I was 16 when my parents were killed. The kids I ran away with knew more about The Cause than I did. I just knew the people I'd joined were good and the people we were fighting were bad. I was chasing something noble, something or someone to follow, and this was it. When we joined a camp to fight, I was still so ignorant I didn't even realize who I was fighting for. People talked about His Highness or The King. They never talked about Max Evans. And I wasn't interested in asking many questions then, either.
It took awhile to get used to living with aliens. The Renegade Skins were the easiest to deal with because they looked like humans and stayed looking like humans no matter what happened. The shape shifters were another matter. They could become anything or anyone and I still won't trust a shape shifter to this day. So it's easy to see why I wasn't too talkative my first month in the camps.
The second time I saw Max Evans, or really the third counting Phoenix, was November 27, 2012. All hell had broken loose. One of the higher-ups, Maria DeLuca, had been killed a few months before in a bombing or something like that and the Treaty was broken. So things were pretty active and it wasn't too surprising that I saw Evans in person again. But more importantly, he saw me.
The second we locked eyes, we both knew what we shared. For me, it was like being hugged, real tight. Like if you're goofing around on the sidewalk and accidentally trip into the street where a tank is heading your way, and your mom sees. And even if you're all right, she grabs you to her and squeezes so hard it hurts more than the falling did. But at the same time, it feels good and safe. That's what it was like looking into Evans' eyes. But I think it scared him. I could tell because he looked away really quickly and then I saw his eyes dart around to see if his comrades were close by. I watched as he counted each head and sighed when the numbers added up. And I saw that the first and the last person he looked at was the brunette from that day at the peace celebration. The weird thing was, he didn't look back at me, but she did. It was like he had given her a message just by looking into her eyes. Kinda how I knew he was the man who saved me in Phoenix and how I knew he wasn't God. And it was even harder to hold her stare than his. Looking into her eyes was like looking into pure honesty, and that's pretty daunting at any age. So instead I looked down and stared at my feet.
"Hi. How's everything going here?"
I remember she spoke like we weren't in the middle of a war. And she smelled amazing. The heat and sweat of the desert sun that made the rest of us stink, only made her soft flowery scent travel further until not only was I looking at the ground, but my friends were as well.
"I'm Liz. What's your name?"
Even though she was standing in front of me and three other guys, she addressed the question to me. Just me. Ever since my dad used me as a living example of faith, I've hated being singled out. So I didn't speak at first and she tried another route.
"How long have you been Helpers?"
My friends laughed. I don't know what made me blurt my name out like that, but what I do know is how she smiled and the sound her voice made when she repeated my name. And that's when I knew she would tell him. She'd tell Evans my name. It would change everything.
Of course, I was blowing things way out of proportion. It didn't change everything. It couldn't have, because 'everything' was changed the day Max Evans took the cancer out of my bone marrow. Which brings me to today. It's May and the irony of all this is that I should have been graduating from high school this month...well, that is, if I had gone to a regular high school instead of being tutored on the compound. And when we ran away, education was one of the first things to go. That's actually how Liz and I first started talking.
After she told Evans my name - and I know she did because on visits to the camps he would nod to me - she started searching me out whenever she and he were near. We'd talk a little about The Cause or about any work I'd been assigned. And before she left she always gave me something to read. A book or a magazine or something. Sometimes it was interesting stuff. Other times the words were too flowery and girly for me to get into. But I'd never tell her that. She's all I have that's close to a friend anymore. And she's my only connection to Evans. I don't want to lose that.
She's back. I haven't seen her in a few weeks and I was beginning to worry.
Instead of standing over me, she plops down beside me and unscrews the cap on a bottle of water. She holds it out to me.
I grin and shake my head. She makes me laugh. She's so casual, like nothing's going on. Like she doesn't notice the death in the air from the latest battle. But of course, I know she does. I've seen her hold a sobbing man in her arms after losing his wife to a Skin. But for me, she doesn't bring sympathy. She brings books and smiles. Maybe this is because we have a secret.
"I brought you a play this time. "Arms and the Man" by G. B. Shaw. I read it the other day and there's a part about a chocolate solider. I thought of you."
I take the book in my hands and flip through the pages. I can see her notes on the side. She always makes notes in the books she reads. I remember reading "Tender is the Night" and finding an inscription on the front. It read, "Please stop defacing my books, Sincerely, F. Scott Fitzgerald." And I knew it was Evans' handwriting and I thought about how she must have laughed when she read it.
"Is he here today?"
She takes a long swig of water and as she lowers the bottle, her eyes focus on a point just left of the camp.
"He wanted to be alone."
When she says this, I can hear some sadness in her voice. Maybe she wishes he needed her instead of isolation, or maybe she knows something I don't. And then I think she notices I'm getting worried.
"Nothing's wrong, Coban. We're not giving up the fight."
We sit silently together for a few minutes. Today doesn't seem to be a day for shooting the breeze. And then...
"Maybe you could go talk to him?"
"He might like to talk to you."
I'm scared. He's never said a word to me and she wants me to go to him - when he wants to be alone?
"I don't think so, Liz."
I hate myself for saying this because of the look on her face. 'You owe him something,' she seems to be saying with her eyes. But her smile returns, even if it's a little less bright.
"Well, only if you want to. I hope you like the play."
Watching her walk away, her boots send little clouds of dust in her wake. She doesn't look back.
I used to wonder if I had a purpose in life beyond what my parents had planned for me. Beyond even this lifetime and this war. I once read a sci-fi book about a man who was an alien who came to earth and became a cult-religious leader and got laid a lot. All the women he screwed talked about how amazing the experience was and how the alien had a higher destiny than even his cult or alien sex. The book basically sucked but the idea of becoming something more than what's expected stuck with me. I asked Liz once if she believed in a higher destiny and she didn't answer me for a long time.
And when she did her voice was unlike I'd ever heard it.
"We make our own destiny. But sometimes sometimes it's clear that even the destiny you choose there's no promise that that's the best choice. There's no guarantee that life will be better because you believe in something. You just have to hold on to the destiny you made and accept the good with the bad."
And then she turned to face me. We were standing on the hilltop at the edge of camp after a long day of refresher training. Her face was streaked with dust and her jacket had a tear in the arm. We were sharing a contraband Orange Crush and watching the sun set. Evans was going to be there any minute to take her to wherever they slept at night when they camped with us. I usually wanted to be gone before he got there, but tonight tonight I needed to hear what she had to say.
"We might have made a mistake a long time ago, Coban. One that might have an effect on what happens today. But it was a choice we made and we have to live with that choice. Destiny or not, we have to live with it and maybe even die with it. And that would be hard to handle, if it weren't for this one thing. I don't regret it. I don't regret making my own destiny. If you learn anything from all this hell, Coban, it's don't ever regret choosing your own destiny."
And then she turned away from me and stared back into the red-purple setting sun. From a distance I could see Evans' long shadow moving over the base of the hill. I didn't even say 'goodbye' and she didn't move or speak either. I scurried down the other side and disappeared around a ridge. I only looked back once. To see Evans reach the hilltop and stop just behind her and Liz turn into his arms like she knew he'd be there.
"Liz Mrs. Evans told me I could find you here."
He didn't turn around. Just like Liz on the hilltop, he seemed to know I was there without looking. I expected him to remain silent. After all, it's what he was good at as far as I could tell. Especially when it came to me.
"You know who I am."
It wasn't a question and he wasn't talking about his role as a leader. He was talking about 12 almost 13 years ago.
"I think so."
I don't know why I said it like that. I knew. I knew with every part of my body that he was my miracle. There wasn't a shred of doubt in me. But for some reason, to say it to him like I had his number wouldn't have been right.
"I remember you from that night. You were the last one I got to. I wanted to do more there were more kids I could've helped but I wasn't very strong then. So you were the last one."
As he speaks, I move to join him on the rock he's sitting on. I sit slowly, but I keep a couple of feet between us. Out of respect, maybe. This is the first time I've ever learned anything about that night other than the recycled information from TV interviews and talk show specials.
There's a pause and I'm scared that I've pushed my boundaries by sitting, but then he starts again.
"I never thought that night that anyone from that night "
"I've been searching for you my whole life."
I never planned on saying that. I don't think I knew it was the truth until the words left my lips. My words seem to have affected him, because I see the muscles in his arm tense and relax.
"I wish there was more to show for all your searching," he says, and then he tilts his head toward me and there's a kind of half-smile on his face. More rueful than anything else. I don't know what to say, so instead, I stare at my hands and wish for Liz to come interrupt us. This isn't the reunion I'd planned. I don't know what I thought it would be like, but it didn't include this feeling the feeling like something's coming to an end. And then, I'm suddenly assaulted by a memory. And some stupid part of me thinks it would be a good idea to share it.
"I was there at the Peace Celebration. That was the first time I saw you since that night in the hospital. My parents were there to protest so I was up real close to the guards and I saw you catch Liz."
Evans is still looking at me, but now the smile is gone.
"Then why did you join us? Your parents can't be happy about it. Not if they were there that day. They probably filled you with all kinds of hate for us. So why become a Helper?"
"My parents are dead."
This makes him pause for a moment. Like he has to catch his breath.
"So are mine. I'm sorry."
I shrug and look back at my hands.
"No really, Coban. I'm sorry. It's just that day the day you saw me. That wasn't a very good day for me. I haven't thought about it in a long time."
He said my name. Max Evans, leader of the movement, alien king, savior of six kids in a hospital in 2000, said my name. I think I've been waiting for this all my life. Which would explain the sudden, rushing excitement inside me.
"It was destiny I joined because it was my destiny." My voice is stronger than I thought it'd be and my chest feels full and broad as I say those words again finding answers with every breath I take. "It was my destiny. All my life my parents saw something in me that wasn't really there. I could pretend I was who they wanted me to be, but after they died I didn't have to pretend anymore. I wasn't some testament to faith and I didn't want to be, even if I was. I wanted something else. I've been searching for you my whole life. You changed me that day. I have a higher purpose because of that day. So as soon as I could, I joined the best thing I could find. I found the place where I knew I could make a difference. I chose my destiny."
His mouth is slightly open in surprise and I can't blame him. I haven't spoken that many words in a row since .well I don't know if I've ever spoken that many words in a row. And I haven't cried in years. But I'm doing both of these things right now. Not the kind of crying where you're sniffing and blubbering. Just tears on my face, more like sweat than anything else.
Evans turns away for a moment, probably to let me pull it together. I wipe my face with my sleeve and take a deep breath. But before I can tell him I'm sorry for acting like a girl, he speaks.
"All my life I've wondered if I did the right thing that night. I saved those kids I saved you, just so you could grow up in a world like this - one where we're fighting and dying everyday. And it's my fault. It's my fault you lived to see this day and it's my fault this day exists in the first place."
My skin rises, like a shiver, when he says this. His voice is too soft to being saying something so hard. "You couldn't have known. You can't put all that on yourself."
"Maybe not. But it still haunted me."
"And now?" I offer tentatively.
"I'm glad you came to talk to me, Coban."
I'm grinning like a fool. "Well you should probably thank Liz."
"I always do."
And then we both laugh. The first laugh we've ever shared. I guess I should thank Liz, too.
I wish I could say that that was "the beginning of a beautiful friendship." (Liz turned me on to old black and white movies like Casablanca when we had to hide in an abandoned library for a week.) But the struggle took a turn for the worse after Evans' and my first conversation. And somewhere inside, I guess I knew it would. Some gift.
The enemy gained an unexpected strong hold and we were pushed back. Liz still came to talk with me, but there was something different in her eyes now. The light was fading from them and I wondered if this was one more thing Evans would blame himself for. And now it's been a little more than three weeks since I saw her last and truthfully, I'm not expecting to see her again.
Two nights ago, word came that someone important had been killed. Rumors flew around the camp and everyone was freaking out because there was speculation that it was Evans, himself.
It turned out to be his sister.
Bombs are going off everywhere. If they're not shaking you to the ground, they're rumbling far off in the distance like they're teasing you letting you know they could get closer if they wanted to. Somehow, the bombs have become living things in my imagination. They're living and breathing and seeking to destroy just for fun. That's crazy, I know, but there a lot around me that doesn't make sense anymore.
I've been thinking mostly about that night in Phoenix, about destiny and about whether it was all worth it. I think about Evans taking it all on himself.
"It's my fault you lived to see this day and it's my fault this day exists in the first place."
And I think about Liz - Liz with her smile and her easy way of talking and her books and her faith in Evans and maybe even her faith in me. And when I'm thinking of her, the bombs aren't so real and the fact that I'm probably going to be killed in a few days isn't so frightening. And more than anything, the feeling that I've done something with my life is just a little more believable than it was before I met her.
But it's time to turn in for the night. Most of the people I share a tent with are already struggling to sleep, trying to wrap the blankets around their ears so they won't hear the blasts. I pull my blanket up as well, all the way to my chin because I'm shivering, but I don't try to muffle out the sound. Instead, I think of Liz's voice and of that funny little catch I heard in it when she was talking about destiny.
The nights are colder now than they were when I was a kid.(end)
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