Okay, I have re-posted this under a new format, and with disclaimers, etc, included. For anyone whose reviews were lost, they were greatly appreciated. My Inner Review Junkie thanks you.
Stop the Cannon, I want to get off! Die, S3! DIE, DIE, DIE! I have to admire Whiteotter for sticking to cannon with the PN. I can't do it. Major events up to and including Behind The Music (mid-November for those of you keeping a timeline) I'll leave as is, for the sake of familiarity and narrative flow. The rest I am twisting to suit my own fiendish needs, including Max's 'situation'-he's staying with the Valentis, and he and Liz broke up at the end of Control.
Roswell, including all characters and other recognizeable intellectual properties, is not mine. I'm well aware that it belongs to Whiteotter. Choke, cough. Katims. I meant Katims. Although, interestingly enough, I do own Brendan Fehr…(kidding, kidding, please don't hurt me) anyway, used without permission, no profit being made, copyright infringement makes Buddha cry, blah blah disclaimery goodness.
'Sledgehammer' and 'In Your Eyes' were both written and released by Peter Gabriel. "Layla' belongs to the fabulous Eric Clapton. I own nothing, and aspire to much of the same in the future, therefore any litigious attempts will be snickered at. Although, if you want my collection of Happy Bunny slippers that badly, have at it.
I was heavily inspired by the fic 'Healing' by Queenie and Romantic Heart, since it was the first Polar fanfic I ever read, and is still one of my favorities. This is not in any way intended as plagarism! I like to think of it as a tribute. And, BTW, this is POLAR. Just so's you know.
Michael didn't bother moving when he heard the knock. He'd spent the last three days on his couch and saw no reason to ruin a record-breaking streak. Besides, when his two best friends-hah! his mental commentator retorted at the definition-could open locks with the touch of a hand and had no qualms about invading his privacy, he saw no reason to be polite by getting up and actually answering the door. Or even aknowledging them at all.
"Michael!" shouted the very last voice he would ever expect to hear. "Open the goddamn door!"
Michael moved, and fast. He had never heard Liz Parker swear before. A second later the locks were open. He jerked her inside, panning the hallway with one hand, looking for someone to blast. "What happened?"
"Nothing," she replied, standing in his entryway loaded down with backpacks and bags. "I just didn't want to drop this." She set a bag of chinese takeout on his kitchen counter, then piled her other provisions around it.
"You moving in?" he cracked, trying not to show how uncomfortable he felt having her there. Liz Parker saw too much, and she thought too damn much about what she did see. Max, Isabel and Kyle had all been easy to get rid of. Liz didn't let him push her buttons. She'd push back, and argue and logic at him until she was blue in the face, her brown eyes boring into his head and digging out all his secrets. "Cause I gotta tell ya, I'm the world's worst roommate."
"Michael, you smell," she stated bluntly. "You've been wallowing for three days. Go have a shower."
"I don't have any clean towels," he retorted smugly. She fished one out of her plethora of bags and handed it to him silently, meeting smug for smug.
He escaped to his bathroom and stayed there, hoping if he hid out long enough she would leave. He'd rather take on an army of skins than Liz Parker in a determined mood. It was like Christmas Nazi meets drill sergeant.
When he came back out, his apartment was clean. Vacuumed even. He hadn't thought he even had a vacuum. There were clean sheets on the bed and the couch cushions had been turned and straightened. She'd reheated the Chinese food and done the dishes-he could even hear laundry going in the background. He'd expected to find her pacing, fuming, waiting for him to hurry his ass up so she could verbally dissect his psyche in excruciating detail. Not that Liz was like that. But he'd only ever been close to one female person in his life, besides Isabel, and it was what Maria would have done.
He winced. Damn Maria. Apparently he hadn't known his girlfriend all that well either. He'd stayed on Earth for her and what did he get? Dumped. As if the past week hadn't already sucked hard enough.
Liz brought the cartons of Chinese food to the coffee table, along with chopsticks, tabasco and honey. She turned on the TV, sat down on his couch and started eating. Ignoring him completely.
It was like feeling a mack truck lifted off his chest. The only thing worse than being alone right now was company who wanted to talk about it. He remembered that Peach Snapple was Liz's favorite and snagged two bottles from the fridge, then sat down next to her. She'd put a movie on. Die Hard. And she didn't even look at him as she said, "Guerin, don't hog the prawns."
About halfway through the movie she stretched out, hogging more than her fair share of his couch, tucking her cold toes under his thigh and making him jump, while she picked all the water chestnuts, baby corn and snow peas out of one of the cartons, slurping at them with her fingers and dripping terriyaki sauce on her t-shirt. Liz Parker Unplugged. Not the perfect valedictorian but a normal teenager with a cowlick over one ear and frayed hems on her jeans. He wondered if anyone else ever saw her like this. Messy and relaxed, rivited by a cheesy action flick.
She reached for her fair share of the prawns and growled.
"I saved you some," he pointed out with a smirk, knowing they were covered in honey and hot sauce.
"I'm going to eat them just to spite you," she shot back, not sounding genuinely pissed the way Maria or Isabel would have been. Max would not have been here in the first place. He would have considered bad takeout and a movie he'd already been forced to watch over and over a complete waste of his time.
"Don't you have anything better to do?" Michael asked her, suddenly sure that she did. They weren't even friends, and yet she'd come over, fed him, cleaned up his shithole apartment and wasn't even asking about his feelings or any of that girly crap that drove him up the wall.
"No," she replied, meaning both hanging out at his apartment and choking down the prawns just so he didn't get them. "Shut up, this is my favorite part." She turned back to the screen, licking the sauce off her fingers. Honey spice prawns were actually pretty good. Maybe the Pod Squad had something there.
Michael tried not to decide if that meant she had just been incredibly bored, or if she really would prefer to be here making sure he didn't stick his head in the oven instead of out on a date with Max (sure, they were broken up, but it wouldn't last. It never did). He was going to go with boredom, with a soupcon of obligation and concern thrown in. It galled him to be pitied, but at least she wasn't throwing it in his face.
When the movie was over she handed him a stack of papers. "You might try going to school tomorrow, Guerin," she suggested. "Seeing as how your homework's done."
He reviewed it quickly. She'd done all his assignments for the past week. Something dangerously close to a grin crept onto his face. Anyone else could have brought his homework assignments. Liz had known that he would never in a million years do them, the way he was feeling right now. School was dead last on his priority list, even on a good day. Of course, the others knew that too, but this solution would never have occurred to them.
It bothered Michael that he wasn't smart. Oh, he wasn't stupid per se, but when it came to school, he didn't try, because even when he did it didn't seem to matter. He was good at some things, sports, art, cooking, and he liked to read, but calculus? Forget it. All the others were smart. Popular, well-rounded and well-liked. It just made his faults that much more glaring. One of these things is not like the others…
"The longer you wait, the harder it will get to go back," she said softly. "Besides, do you really want to be stuck at West Roswell for another year?"
He tried a smirk. "I think you know the answer to that one."
"A resounding 'hell, no,' " Liz finished for him, her lips curving. She didn't push him anymore, just picked up her backpack and the movie she'd brought over. "See you later."
"Sure," he replied, slightly bemused to realize that he actually wouldn't mind if he did.
Liz didn't know what had posessed her to go see Michael. Even after everything they knew about each other-he'd read her diary for Chrissake!-they were about as far from friends as you could get and still be civil. It wasn't like he'd wanted her company. Or had invited her back or hell, even thanked her. But if there was one thing she'd figured out about Michael, it was that he didn't talk just to hear the sound of his own voice. He wasn't given to meaningless words or grand guestures. After the trainwreck in her life that was Max Evans, it was kind of refreshing. At least he was honest, and when he did open his mouth, he said what he meant. She'd said, see you later. He'd said sure. In Michaelspeak, that meant he was okay with her coming over sometimes, because if he wasn't, he would have said so.
And-she winced, because he detested pity-she felt bad for him. First he'd had to go and clean up after one of Max's headstrong quests, this time in Arizona. Liz knew what 'cleanup' meant-collateral damage. Max had put more blood on his general's hands. Michael hadn't said a word about it.
Neither had Max, but then, that was expected. He only paid attention to the people around him these days when it furthered his purposes. Liz couldn't blame him, she'd had that same singleminded intensity after Alex died, but that didn't mean she had to watch, either, while he treated everyone around him, including his loving parents, like shit.
She'd been keeping a quiet eye on Michael for a while now, since it apparently hadn't ocurred to anyone else. School, two jobs, and the never-ending alien drama had been steadily wearing him down, and the events of the past two weeks had been his breaking point. More deaths on his conscience in Arizona, and then on top of that Maria, not just leaving him to go to New York and pursue her dreams and her ex boyfriend, no, first she'd had to twist the knife by telling him that he wasn't enough for her.
Liz had wanted to shake her and yell, He stayed for you! He believed you when we were divided over Alex's death! He loved you and he never betrayed you! What more do you want? It killed her to watch Maria throw away so much when she'd ripped herself to shreds trying to hold on to what she had with Max-which was nothing.
They were both raw right now. Liz thought she knew how he felt, a little-one of the last things she wanted was to talk about it, but the very last thing was to be alone with it, reliving the memories in insidious whispers that echoed through empty rooms. Talking about it made it real. Thinking about it made it painful. Being alone made all of it exponentially worse. And it hurt her to watch Max and Isabel so wrapped up in their own problems, and know that in all the years they'd known Michael, it never occurred to them that just because he spent his life alone, that didn't mean he liked it that way.
The next day, Liz got an envelope from Maria. It had a CD, a ring, a pair of pearl earrings, a key, and a sticky note in it. Liz, give this stuff back to Michael, okay? XOX Maria. Liz wasn't going to do it. Sure, friendship was sacred, but this was just cruel. The CD was a mix that Michael had made for her. The earrings he'd given her for Christmas the year before, and the silver-and-sapphire ring had been her birthday present. He wasn't going to want them-more painful reminders that nothing he did was good enough. They key, to Michael's apartment she assumed, she'd take back. The rest she put in a little oak box on her dresser.
That afternoon, Liz took over pizza. She'd used Scorned Woman hot sauce and pureed sundried tomatoes as a base, then spinkled on candied jalapenos, olives, green onions, honey pepperoni and Cream Soda Jelly Bellys. All topped off with something she'd found at the grocery store titled 'dessert mozzarella.' Liz thought it was completely disgusting, but she'd seen Michael put jellybeans on his pizza before. She took plain ham and pineapple for herself, and a copy of 'Braveheart' on DVD. He'd only seen it eighty thousand times-Liz had no idea why he didn't own a copy.
She used the key to get in when Michael didn't answer her knock. "Michael? Hello?" She set the pizza and her keys on his counter. "Are you home?" Liz shrugged out of her light cotton blouse, glad she'd worn a tank top underneath. They were having a freak November heatwave, and even the usually-icy floors of his poorly insulated apartment felt sticky and hot under her bare feet. She heard a noise from his bedroom and headed toward the open door. "It's no good ignoring me, you-" She stopped dead. Michael was sleeping naked. He was sleeping. And naked. He'd kicked off the sheet so that it was draped over his calves, lying on his back with one leg straight and one crooked, and one hand draped over his abdomen, doing absolutely nothing to hide the fact that he was very, very naked.
Liz couldn't stop staring. She was in shock. To have never seen a guy naked before, ever, and to have the first one be MICHAEL…her brain shut down, and she couldn't move. The feel of eyes on him woke him up.
"What the hell!" He jumped for the sheet and scrambled out of bed, wrapping it around his waist. "Jesus, Parker, I lock my front door for a reason!" he snapped, feeling his cheeks heat. "It's called knocking-or did you enjoy the show?"
Her wide eyes flew to his, full of shock and tears and silent misery, and she fled.
Michael dressed quickly and stepped out of his room, cursing when he saw the pizza boxes and the movie on the counter. She'd come over for another cheer-up session, and he'd yelled at her, insulted her. Pulled a Michael. Typical. Pretty much the only friend he currently had, and he'd gotten rid of her in less than a minute. Had to be a record.
He spotted her keys on the counter. Car keys. Can't leave without them. He bolted for the door, to find her sitting on the curb in front of his apartment, next to her parents' car, crying. "Liz, hey…" he said awkwardly. "I'm sorry. I know you didn't do that on purpose." He sat down next to her, dared to drape an arm over her shoulders, hoping she wouldn't shove him away.
"I'm so embarassed," she whispered, agony thickening her voice.
"And I wasn't?" He forced a chuckle. He was still mortified, but he knew he had to be the grownup about this. Innocent little Lizzie Parker would not be able to shrug off seeing him in the altogether without a little help. "I thought aliens were supposed to turn green, not red. Why do you think I yelled?"
"I never meant-"
"I know." He pulled her closer and kissed the top of her head. "Tell you what, you take off your top, and we'll call it even."
She shoved him so he lay sprawled on the concrete. "You jerk!" she gasped out between giggles.
He laughed too, surprised at the tsunami wave of sheer relief that flooded him when he realized they were going to be okay. "Come on, Parker, it's not like I'm asking for the full monty, here! You saw everything ."
No, I didn't," she retorted primly. "Your naked calves are still a complete mystery to me, Michael."
"Well, as long as you didn't see my calves." He stood and offered her a hand up. "I hope you brought tabasco, because I ran out last night."
"Aw, hell," he moaned, in true pain. "I love pizza. And now it's gonna taste like crap."
"I promise it won't," she replied, leading him inside. "I made it special." She flipped open the box lid. "Ta-da!"
He peered in, sniffed. "Ham and pineapple? Oh. Uh, thanks, Liz." He hated pineapple, but for her sake…he'd manage to choke one piece down.
"Oh. Oops, that's mine." She pushed the box aside and flipped back the other lid.
Michael inhaled greedily, his eyes darkening with desire. "Are those jellybeans?"
"Excuse me, I need to be alone with the pizza." He picked up the box and carried it to the couch. He picked up the first piece and took a bite. Flavors exploded. Most everything he ate was like stale cardboard with flavor on top. Half the time he didn't have any sugar and had to settle for tabasco alone. But this…a hundred variations of sweet-and-spicy danced on his tongue. Cream soda from the jellybean. Honey. Caramel. Pepper, jalapeno, the slightly sour bite of onions, garlic and black olives, a flood of delicious fire that was better than tabasco, wasabi and brown sugar in the crust. "Oh. This is amazing. Did you make this? What kind of hot sauce is it?"
"Scorned Woman. You like it? I wasn't sure about the jelly beans. I saw you eat them on pizza once, but I thought Isabel was going to hurl when you offered her some."
"It was something I used to do when I was a kid. Hank didn't bother spending money on sugar, but we had this neighbour who used to give me jellybeans to walk her dog. She was pretty poor, couldn't really afford to be paying anybody to do anything for her, even a seven-year-old, but she loved that damn dog, and she couldn't do it herself after her hip surgery."
"Dog got run over, and she didn't have the money to take him to the vet, even to be put down. She asked Hank to do it. He made her pay him for the fucking ammo. Then she killed herself," Michael replied matter-of-factly.
"I don't know why I told you that. I've never told anybody that." He set the unfinished slice back in the box and closed the lid.
Cautious, Liz sat down next to him, put one hand on his arm. "When I was little, I used to go stay with my aunt in Florida."
"The one you went to stay with…after."
"Yeah." Liz was silent. "I was friends with a little boy who lived down the street. His mom used to hit him. I knew, but I never told anybody. He was my friend, and I thought, if I told, they'd take him away. I wouldn't be allowed to see him anymore. Then one day, it was really bad. She was drunk, yelling. She hit him in the face-she never did that, because it would show. I thought, I'll take him to Aunt Marie, and she'll fix it. I don't know what I thought Aunt Marie could do, but I was really scared, and it didn't matter anymore that I wouldn't get to see him again. Well, I didn't."
Liz shook her head. "She killed him. She pushed him down the stairs. While I was running across the street, there was a horrible scream, and…it all came out after. Aunt Marie knew. That was why she always asked him over to play with me. She knew something was wrong but she had no proof-they were this perfect loving family, and she'd never left a mark. But I knew, I had proof, I'd seen it, and if I'd told Aunt Marie…he'd still be alive. I stopped going to Florida after that. I never told Aunt Marie that I knew. I never told anybody. She only told me about it, about how she'd been suspicious, when I was there last summer."
"What was his name?"
"Michael," Liz said softly. "His name…was Michael. I suppose that's why I never liked you-guilt. That day, when I went to see you about Topolsky…the way Hank acted was just how she used to act. Drunk and mean, and trying too hard to pretend she wasn't. I knew and I didn't do anything. Again. And I hated myself for it."
"Liz, it wasn't your fault. I wasn't five. I could have stopped him anytime."
"By killing him? You never would have done that. You're not a killer, Michael."
"I know." She shrugged. "That's because you're a soldier. Not a killer. There's a difference."
"So everybody keeps telling me."
"Then maybe you should listen."
"Yeah. Maybe." After a while, they put the movie on, reheated the pizza. After a while, Michael even let himself enjoy it.
Liz kept going over to see Michael, a couple of times a week. Sometimes she brought over a movie, or a game or a book. Sometimes she brought dinner. Sometimes he cooked. They talked about everything under the sun, even the dark painful stuff sometimes. Max. Maria. He bugged her about her budding obsession with tabasco, going so far as to check for antennae. She ragged on him for having typical guy skills when it came to house-cleaning, and more often than not picked up around his place. Sometimes they studied together when they had the closing shift and the Crashdown was dead. Liz teased him about the A he got on the last Bio quiz. He reminded her that he had plenty of blackmail material for revenge, so she'd better keep it to herself.
When his threats started getting creative, she rolled her eyes and pointed out, "Michael, who else would I tell? In case you haven't noticed, you're pretty much my best friend."
"Winner by default and still champion," he muttered under his breath.
Liz followed his train of thought easily. "I love Alex. And Maria, even when she's being pigheaded. They're my best friends too. You can have more than one, Michael. There isn't a rule." She bit her lip. In the month that they'd been hanging out, they hadn't talked about what exactly they were doing, spending time with each other.
"Oh," was all he said. It was a good thing that she wasn't expecting him to tell her the same thing, because he didn't.
But when she went over to his apartment the night after, there was something different. Little tiny velour bunny slippers in bright pink. The bunnies were wearing Canucks' jerseys. They were at the door, where she usually put her shoes, even though her feet always got cold in his apartment. It made her smile, just because he didn't make a big deal out of it. They were just slippers. But they were also an assurance of welcome. And it meant more to her that he'd gone to the trouble-how the hell had he found velour bunny hockey slippers, much less in her size?-than it ever would have if he'd just said it, that she was welcome there, in his life.
And damn but did those bunnies ever have it in for him! It seemed like he was tripping over them every time he turned around. And then they'd just sit there in a little bunny pile and mock him with their stitched-on grins. Liz thought it was completely hilarious. And the more he tried to avoid them, the more they seemed to turn up.
"I must have done something really bad in my last life," he grumbled as they entered the Crash together for their afternoon shift one Sunday.
"Maybe you should ask Kyle about your karma," she suggested. "I bet he has some ancient bunny wisdown he can share with you. Or maybe…" she couldn't hold in the giggles, "we should get you some remedial walking classes."
Max strode up to them. "Michael, we need to talk…Liz? Are you all right?"
Liz managed to nod, still trying to contain her laughter, picturing the General of Antar flat on his living room carpet not twenty minutes ago, laid low by an innocent pair of slippers. He still had rugburn on his chin.
"Michael, this is important." Max frowned.
"Don't worry, Guerin," Liz managed to gasp. "I'm sure it's not…an army…of…ho-homicidal bunnies."
His eyes narrowed, and his teeth flashed in what only the stupid or the suicidal would call a grin. "I don't cook for my health, you know," he retorted cryptically.
Liz tried not to beg. He'd promised her angelfood cake. She hadn't had the made-from-scratch kind since before her Gramma Claudia died. She was practically salivating at the thought, and he'd been dangling it before her all week. "Cruelty doesn't suit you," she mumbled.
"Funny, seems to work wonders on you, Parker. Better be nicer. I hear an angel calling your name."
"I'll get you back," she vowed.
"You can try," he suggested with a smirk.
"Two words, Guerin. Moto. Cross."
"Come on, Parker, I thought your Dad didn't need that extra ticket."
"He will if I use it." She raised her eyebrows menacingly.
"Hey, you two," Jeff Parker called cheerfully. "Lizzie, when are you going to stop dangling that ticket in front of his nose?"
"When he bakes me my damned anglefood cake." Liz crossed her arms.
"What happened to your impassioned speech last week when you and Michael wanted the night off for that Bruce Campbell triple feature? Something about how a favor isn't really a favor if something's expected in return?"
"That was different."
"Because you're my Dad," Liz replied, giving him a hug and a kiss before flouncing off to the breakroom to change into her uniform.
Michael smiled to himself. He hadn't seen Liz that happy, that carefree, since before the shooting that day in the Crashdown…first she'd been lying to Alex, then there was Tess and destiny and all the crap that came after. Thinking that he was at least a little responsible for that smile, made him feel good. For the first time in a long time. Like he could do something else while on Earth besides hurt people. Liz had called him her best friend. That had felt good too. "Hey, Jeff, look, about last week…" He and Liz had fallen asleep in front of a decidedly anticlimactic thriller following the Bruce Campbell festival and had almost been late to open the Crash the next morning. He remembered thinking Mr. Parker was going to come after him with a meat cleaver. It hadn't happened, but his brain was still stuck on apology like a CD with a skip.
"Michael, you're a good kid," Jeff Parker replied with a laugh. "I trust you. You wouldn't be spending so much time with Liz if I didn't. It's all right for her to stay at your apartment. Just don't make a habit of it on school nights. She needs a best friend right now, but she needs to keep her grades up, too."
"We study…" Michael trailed off. "While eating pizza and playing video games," he added sheepishly.
"I know that. Which is the reason for the no-weeknights rule until Christmas break." He clapped Michael on the shoulder. "Now stop apologising, okay?" He strolled off laughing. "Liz, what kind of stories have you been telling Michael about me?"
Max looked from Michael to Mr. Parker. "Did you mind warp him or something?"
"No, he trusts me, Maxwell," Michael ground out. "Believe it or not, the Parkers actually want me around her. They think I'm a good influence, that I'm responsible. I've never had that kind of respect, ever. From anybody. So I don't need to hear a lecture from you right now on how I don't deserve it."
"You don't," Max said quietly. "You want to be her friend, that's fine. But she doesn't belong to you, and she never will. She doesn't see you that way. You're a killer, Michael. Don't ever forget that. I know Liz won't." Without waiting for a response, Max walked out.
Michael went in the back to begin his shift, his mind racing. Despite what Max seemed to think, he wasn't stupid. And he wasn't crazy. And he'd have to be both to think he could ever be anything more to Liz Parker than a friend. What he had now was more than enough. He knew that he could tell her things about himself, the really bad stuff, and she wouldn't look at him any different. He'd always known. It had something to do with the light in her eyes.