Title: The Difference

Title: The Difference (pt 1)

Takes Place: Immediately after "Baby, it's you" (spoilers up through this episode only)

Plot: When the aliens return from their home world, the impact of the sacrifice Liz made 13 years earlier could mean the difference between Earth's salvation….and it's destruction.

Written: 05. 10. 01 – 05. 15. 01

Feedback: Don't make me beg ; )

Obligatory Disclaimer: I don't own 'em…and I don't even want Max anymore, after what they've done to him. Bah!!

Note: This fic is in NO way, shape, or form related to my other Roswell fic, "Sacrifices". That one will eventually be a trilogy, but this one's totally separate.

"The Difference"

~ pt. 1: 2001 ~

~*~*~*~*~

~ Earth ~

Liz's haggard face stared back at her from the mirror above the sink in her bathroom, and she evaluated herself. Her arms bracing her upper body from along either side of the sink, she peered at her reflection and sighed at what she saw. Her long dark hair was pulled back haphazardly into a pony tail, but numerous strands had escaped and fallen into untidy tendrils around her face. She peered into the mirror, noticing the redness in her glassy eyes. It would be obvious that she'd been crying.

Breathing deeply to try to steady herself against the onset of more tears, she bent to the sink and turned on the faucet. Cold clear water streamed out into her cupped hands, and she brought it up to her face…rinsing away the tear stains on her cheeks, and cooling the heat there. She hoped it would be enough to mask the puffiness under her eyes. How was she going to get through this without breaking down? It was just…too much. Too much on top of everything else. Too much on top of the death of one of her best friends since childhood….

Alex…she thought. I miss you. I miss your wit, and your kindness, and your compassion. I miss your friendship. And I wish I knew what you were thinking when you went to translate the book. Why didn't you tell us what you were doing? Did you know what it was? Did you know it would be exactly what they needed to figure out how to get home? Her thoughts turned melancholy as she continued…did you know it would come just in time to save his baby?

At the thought, tears welled again in her eyes, and she clutched at the sink to keep herself from collapsing. Struggling silently for a few moments, finally a tiny sob escaped her. A moment later there was a knock on the bathroom door.

"Liz?" Maria's voice sounded from the other side of the door, "babe, are you okay?"

Hearing the worry in her friend's voice, Liz straightened and brushed the newly shed tears away from her face, composing herself. "Yeah…Maria, I'm okay. I'll be out in a minute."

She could almost hear Maria thinking on the other side of the door. Finally the other girl spoke again. "They'll be here soon."

Liz nodded, even though there was no one there to see her, save for her reflection, which looked at her beseechingly from the mirror. "I know."

A beat later, Liz heard Maria's footsteps as she walked away from the bathroom, and Liz took a ragged breath. Looking again into her reflection's eyes, she tried to prepare herself for what was going to come. She tried to prepare herself to say goodbye to the only person she'd ever loved. To say goodbye to Max.

Knowing that they'd be there soon, Liz washed her face clear of tears again, and gently patted it dry with a towel. She then went to work trying to put her hair into some kind of order. As she worked, she knew that she was merely trying to delay the inevitable. And when the faint knock came from downstairs, her heart leapt into her throat. Suddenly nothing seemed to work. She couldn't make her hands move without shaking, and she couldn't force herself to turn toward the door to enter her bedroom. She merely stood, holding on to the sink for all she was worth, doing everything she could to keep from falling to her knees. I can't…she thought. I can't do this…I can't believe this is happening…

~*~*~*~*~

Michael looked up as the door opened, and searched Maria's eyes. She was playing it cool, he could tell, because Max was there. His own expression was just as empty, but he thought he saw a flash in her eyes for him, and he nodded slightly to show he understood. She stood back to let them enter, and then closed the door softly behind them. The whole affair was carried out with the quiet and solemnity required for a funeral, and Michael shivered as he felt a chill.

Someone walking over my grave, the old phrase went. Except my grave won't be on this planet. Michael and Max followed Maria through the dining room toward the back, and Michael wondered if she was taking them all the way upstairs. When they reached the landing, however, they saw that Liz had come down and stood uncertainly a few steps up. Max stopped abruptly when he saw her, and Michael nearly ran into his friend's back. They all stood there silently for a moment, none knowing what to say, and afraid to go first. Liz's hand clutched tightly at the banister running down the stairs, and Michael suddenly realized she looked terrified. He cleared his throat and decided to dive in…time was a factor, here. "We uh…we came to say goodbye." he said, stating the obvious.

Liz's stared at the floor…unable to meet Max's eyes. Her mouth opened, but nothing came out, and she couldn't make herself do more than stand there and listen as Maria broke the silence next. "When do you leave?" she asked.

Max glanced at Liz, and then turned back to Maria. "We head into the desert from here…and we leave at daylight tomorrow." Maria nodded, and the four lapsed back into uncomfortable silence. Michael looked at Maria again, but she was looking with concern at Liz and didn't see. Michael didn't mind…this wasn't going to be his final goodbye, anyway. He would be back tonight, after the others had gone to sleep and all of the preparations had been made. He would come back then, and see Maria on his own, for the last time. So he looked at her silently as she reached out to touch Liz's hand on the banister.

"Liz?" she asked.

Heart pounding in her chest, Liz finally raised her gaze to look at Max…and she went cold when she saw his expression. It wasn't cruel, as she feared. It wasn't angry, or resentful, or sad… It wasn't anything. No sarcastic anger in his eyes today…they stared back at her unfeelingly…with no emotion at all. The way he looked at her…it was like she wasn't even there. Like he had never saved her life; like they hadn't been in love. Like they had never meant anything to each other.

Liz met his unfeeling gaze and the words she'd had prepared for him died on her lips. In horror at his lack of expression, she choked back everything she'd been going to tell him, and tried desperately to mask the emotions on her face…the pain, the love, the hurt, the desperation. Tried to make it as blank and apathetic as his was. And failed. His continued gaze upon her brought a flush of embarrassment to her face, and she finally managed to open her mouth and speak…just to try to get this over with as quickly as possible.

"I just wanted to say goodbye," she said haltingly, quietly. "Goodbye and…good luck. I…" Liz stopped. She wanted to say so much more…she wanted to tell him everything in her heart…but she couldn't. How could she now? Now when he was leaving? Now when he was with Tess, and they were expecting a child? How could she tell him she'd never stopped loving him?

Max stared at her, and gone were all of his attempts to see past the feeble lies she'd told him to protect them all, gone was the love and trust in his eyes; gone was any spark of emotion toward her at all. His gaze swept over her and Liz felt as if a cold wind were blowing through her when his eyes came to rest on her own. "Thanks," he said.

And that was it.

And for a moment…the moment right before turned away, she could almost do it. For that moment she wanted to throw herself at him and tell him everything…tell him the truth that she'd been hiding for so long. Even if it changed nothing…she wanted him to know. Wanted him to know that she would rather have died than betray him the way he thought she had. She opened her mouth to speak in that moment, and then the moment was gone. Max was turning away from her to leave, and the moment was gone. With a sinking realization, Liz knew that it didn't matter…the truth would have mattered not at all. Nothing would change, and it could only cause more hurt. He mouth closed again, and she left the words unspoken.

As Max started to leave, Maria glanced at her friend. "Liz…" she breathed. "Tell him!"

Liz shook her head, but Maria persisted. "You have to tell him!" she said again, more loudly this time. Max heard her, and turned around.

"Tell me what?" he asked.

Liz shook her head again, dropping her gaze in defeat. "Nothing," she said. Max looked at her derisively and started to turn away again, but Maria cut in.

"NOT nothing!" she objected. She stared at Liz, trying to make Liz see how important this was. "Liz, you can't let it end like this."

Liz's head snapped up, meeting Maria's gaze angrily. "Yes I can," she said firmly. "It's over, Maria. It's done. Let it go."

Max watched the exchange in silence, and noted Liz's set shoulders. Whatever it was that she had to tell him, she obviously didn't feel it was important enough to tell him in the last few minutes they'd ever see each other. He started to turn yet again to leave, but yet again stopped short when Michael took hold of his arm and pulled him back.

"Not over, and not done." Michael said with determination. He looked into Liz's startled brown eyes. His voice was softer when he spoke next. "He needs to know, Liz."

Liz stared back at him, lower lip trembling as all the words she'd wanted to say to Max before hovered there, just waiting to be released. But she couldn't…she couldn't do it. Not when he was looking at her like that. Not when Max was looking at her like he didn't give a damn about her or whatever she had to say. Like he just wanted to leave. Silently she shook her head, as tears threatened in her eyes.

Max was getting angry. "Look, tell me what you have to, or don't. But we've got preparations to make. I don't have time for this."

Michael looked from Max to Liz, and back again. He considered for a moment just letting it go…but he knew that he couldn't. He couldn't let Max leave without knowing the truth. With Alex's death, and Liz's blatant refusal to stop investigating it, he knew that Max was angry at Liz. He was angry at her for going against him, and for sleeping with Kyle, and for being human. He was angry at the planet that was causing his unborn child to die…it was unable to exist in these conditions; not meant for life here. He had all of this seething hatred for everything around him, and Michael didn't want him to leave with that. Didn't want this malevolence to be all Max took with him from Earth. And Michael made his decision. "There's something you need to know," he started.

~*~*~*~*~

~ one week earlier ~

Michael heard Maria's voice as he climbed the ladder to Liz's balcony, and he felt his heart constrict in his chest. What he had to tell them both was not going to be easy…for any of them. He tried to tell himself it was mostly their reactions he was worried about, but he knew that it was going to hurt him just as much as it was them. The future yawned before him like the mouth of a great cave…the light barely penetrating the opening. Secrets and the unknown in its depths, and Michael was more than a little afraid to find out what was inside.

He rounded the top of the fire escape, startling Maria and Liz with his sudden appearance on the balcony. Maria recovered first, and took in his disheveled appearance. He watched her lean closer in confusion. "Is that snow in your hair?" she asked.

Michael ran a hand through his hair distractedly, impatient and on edge from what he'd just learned. He glanced at Maria and Liz. "I have to tell you something," he said, then paused. "Maybe you guys should sit down."

Maria looked at him quizzically. "Why would we need to sit down?" she asked.

"Because," Michael said in exasperation, "I have something I have to tell you, and you might wanna be sitting for it." The girls stared back at him, dumbstruck, and he snorted. "Fine, don't sit down. But I'm going to, because this is some heavy stuff."

With a weary sigh, Michael sank to a lounge chair against the wall, resting his head in his hands as he tried to find a way to say what he had to. He knew no matter how it came out, it wasn't going to be good. Finally, he decided on the direct approach. He brought his head back up. "We looked at the book." he said.

Liz perked up…the book was what Alex had been deciphering before he died…it might hold clues to his death. "And?" she asked.

"And," Michael continued… "it's basically instructions." He paused for a moment, and then finished, slowly. "To get home."

Maria started, and Liz just looked at him like she didn't understand. "Home?" she repeated, "like…like home home?"

Michael nodded. "As in the home planet" he stressed. His eyes dropped to the floor, and then slid over to Maria to gauge her reaction. She was staring off into the distance, and he couldn't tell if she was upset, or just being quiet. He went on. "It's the granilith…that's the key. We've had the way to get home this whole time…all we needed was the granilith. And…and the book."

"Which Alex provided for you," Liz said with acid in her tone. "Alex may very well have died for that information."

Michael's voice was quiet when he answered. "I know," he said.

Silence fell upon them until Maria finally spoke…her voice detached. "So," she said, "when are you leaving?"

This time it was Liz's turn to be startled. "Leave? Why would they leave right now?"

Maria's laugh was anything but amused. "Why would they stay? What is there to hold them here? This is what they've been waiting for all their lives, Liz…they're not gonna stay." she said. She stopped for a moment, and then looked at Michael for the first time since he'd told them the news. "Are you?" she asked.

Michael looked back at her, and he knew she could see the truth in his eyes before he even spoke. "No," he said. "We've already decided. We leave in a week."

"A week?!" Liz exploded. "But…that's too soon! You guys haven't even had a chance to read the whole thing yet…you don't even know if it will work…you…."

Michael cut her off. "Look, we don't have a choice, all right? We have to go. It has to be soon."

Liz stopped. "Why?" she asked, genuinely confused. "Why do you all the sudden have to go? Yesterday you guys had no clue the book had been deciphered. Why the rush now?"

Michael took a deep breath. He just knew that this was gonna go over well…..not. "It's Max," he said. "He…well Tess…they….." he stuttered, before finally giving up and just blurting it out. "Tess is pregnant." he said.

Liz stared at him, not understanding, as Maria's gaze flew to her friend. Oh God, she thought…Liz…

Liz continued to stare at Michael like she'd never seen him before. "What? Tess is what?"

Michael took another deep breath. "She's pregnant," he said again. "and for some reason, the baby is sick. It's dying. It can't survive here. We have to get it back now, or there'll be no chance for it to live."

Maria took her gaze off of her stunned friend for a moment, and looked at Michael. "How do you know that?" she asked.

"Max is able to communicate with it, or something. He can feel that it's dying…he can tell what's wrong with it. He even knows it's a boy."

Liz stared at them both as the truth finally sank in. Tess was pregnant. She was pregnant with Max's child. Max and Tess had slept together. Her face crumbled. "Oh God!" she cried.

Maria jumped forward to support Liz when the petite girl collapsed to the floor of the balcony. A pitiful wail started somewhere within her, rising up and bursting from her throat in a pathetic cry that tore at Maria's heart.

Michael was startled when Liz collapsed, and jumped forward to help her without thinking. He tried to help Maria pull the moaning girl upright and onto the lounge chair, but Liz broke away from them, sobbing. Michael was surprised again at her strength when she pulled away, and her grief struck a chord in him. He'd known she wasn't going to be happy about it…but he had no idea that she'd get so hysterical over it. As far as he knew, Max and Liz were pretty much at war right now. Why was she so upset? He looked quizzically at Maria, but she was too busy trying to calm Liz to notice.

"Honey, I know," she said placatingly, trying to get close enough to Liz to hold her, but Liz backed up against the wall and just stood there…shaking her head and sobbing. Maria tried without success to draw Liz into her arms, and could only look at her forlorn friend with pained sympathy. "Babe….Liz please."

Liz cried, her chest heaving with great wracking sobs. "She…she's pregnant. They….he slept with her. Max slept with her."

Maria finally succeeded in pulling Liz to her, and they both fell to the floor of the balcony, Maria rocking Liz back and forth, her arms protectively around her. "I know, Liz…shhh, I know."

Liz trembled, and the words shook as they spilled from her mouth. "All this time I've wanted so much to tell him the truth, but I couldn't…and now, even if I could…it wouldn't make any difference…."

Max froze at Liz's words, senses alert. The truth? The truth about what? What didn't the aliens know? Self preservation and the protection of his friends reared up within him, and he stepped closer to Liz. "What truth?" he asked.

Maria looked up at him distractedly, shaking her head. "It's not important, Michael…just…just leave, okay?"

Michael stared down at Maria, still rocking Liz in her arms and trying to calm her. "Maria," he said. "What truth? What's she hiding?"

Maria blew air out between her lips in exasperation. "Michael!" she snapped. "It has nothing to do with you, I promise. Please, just…trust me. I need you to go right now, I have to take care of her."

Michael saw the sincerity in her eyes, and knew she was telling the truth. Whatever this thing was, it wasn't his business. But damnit, he had to know. He knelt down beside them. "I need to know, Maria," he said over the sound of Liz's sobs. "If this is something that can hurt us, I need to know about it." He glanced down at Liz's moaning form, and spoke again. "And…what the hell's going on here, anyway? Liz and Max haven't been together since last year…and we all know that Liz was the one who moved on first…to Kyle."

Maria finally snapped at him. "Liz didn't sleep with Kyle!"

Michael's brow furrowed, and he looked at Maria with questions in his eyes. Maria's voice grew resigned and quiet and Liz stilled a bit in her arms. "She didn't sleep with Kyle," she said again. "It was….what Liz had to do. She had to make Max fall out of love with her. She did it for him, and you, and all of us."

Michael stared at her. "What do you mean?"

Maria sighed, and then pulled back a bit in surprise when Liz shifted in her arms. Her face wet with tears, and her hair a mess, Liz spoke quietly, tiredly, as if she'd told the story a hundred times, and she spoke with a broken voice.

"In the original timeline…Max and I were together. We eloped at nineteen, and we were married for twelve years. Tess felt isolated from the group, and she grew away from you. She eventually left. This…was bad for you guys. Apparently, you're stronger together…the four of you. And when the time came…it turned out that you needed her. I…don't know what happened, exactly…but there was a war. People died…a lot of people." Liz looked up at Michael, and took a deep breath. "Including you…and Isabel. You died in the war."

Michael felt a shiver when she said that, and listened with foreboding as she went on. "The year was 2014… and all was lost. It was decided that Max would try to go back in time and change things…change them so that he and I were never together, and that he and Tess fulfilled their….their destiny together." Liz's eyes closed as she remembered. "And so he came back."

~*~*~*~*~

~ the present ~

Michael finished speaking, and silence fell again upon the four. Liz fidgeted on the stairs, but peered at Max surreptitiously from beneath her eyelashes...waiting for a move or a word that never came. Max stood stunned on the landing, and Michael watched him closely. He knew that the events of the past year had taken their toll on Max...it seemed like it was one thing after the other, with them. Someone was always chasing them, trying to find them out. Trying to hurt them. And there was the destiny...finding out that he wasn't supposed to be with Liz, whom he loved...but with Tess instead. That he was the supposed leader of a whole nation. And then Liz had slept with Kyle, or so he'd thought...and things had spun out of control from there...tumbling downhill; snowballing into the current situation. Tess pregnant...the baby dying because it couldn't live under the conditions on Earth. Max lost and confused, and angry. Michael hoped that this would restore some small portion of his lost faith.

It was not to be so.

Max turned cold, baleful eyes on Michael. "What good did you think it would do me to know this now?" he bit out.

Michael actually took a step back from the hostility he sensed seething in Max. He'd never seen him like this. Sure, he'd seen Max mad...seen him angry as hell. But he'd never sensed....hate from him before. Broken words tumbled from his mouth. "I...I thought you should know the truth."

Max's jaw clenched. "What good does the truth do me now?"

Michael looked back at his friend, stunned. "I just...didn't want to you leave still believing a lie."

The dark haired boy laughed humorlessly. "But you thought it was okay to lie to me about it up until this point. You thought it was okay to lie to me about helping them in their investigation."

Michael hardened at the bleak, angry tone in Max's voice. "Okay first of all, I didn't know about this whole alternate timeline thing until last week. I didn't tell you because I was hoping Liz would tell you herself. And as far as this Alex thing goes, it paid off. Because of their investigation we got the information we needed about the book. The information that's gonna get us home. Including you and your queen, and your - "

The blow came out of nowhere. One moment Michael was yelling at Max, and the next he was flying across the landing, hitting the wall with a thud. His feet suddenly couldn't support him, and he found himself on the floor, staring up at Max in bewilderment. Max stood above him, enraged, his hands clenched in fists at his sides. Liz gasped, and Maria started forward...then hesitated at the look in Max's eyes. Her own features hardening, she continued on to Michael's side, placing a hand on his arm. She looked from Michael to Max and back again, and realized that there was some sort of communication going on here. They weren't speaking, but she felt that somewhere, somehow, a line had just been drawn. Some irretrievable moment had just passed, and things would never be the same again.

Slowly, Michael got to his feet as Max glanced again at Liz, still on the stairs. Her eyes were wide with fear and confusion, but his expression never changed as his gaze swept over her and moved on. It came to rest again on Michael, and his voice was flat when he spoke. "Let's go...we've got a lot to do before nightfall."

Michael looked at the stranger before him who he'd once called 'friend'. He too had felt the communion between them...the unspoken words; the bending of his will to Max's own. And some primitive part of him recognized it as the loyalty he had had for Max in that other life. He knew that his role was to acquiesce...that there was really no other choice. This was the destiny that they had to live out.

Standing tall, Michael leveled his gaze on Max. When he spoke his words were measured; formal. As if he were older than he was, and he had lived more memories than he truly possessed. "You are the king," he said. "I will follow you."

Maria watched as Max – without another word – turned on his heel and walked out of the diner. Michael stood for a moment staring at the floor, and when he finally looked up at her it was like he didn't know her. Like he was someone else than he'd been only a few minutes before. He made as if to leave, and she spoke his name in a desperate whisper...hoping to God that he wasn't going to leave like this. He turned slowly and looked at them again, and after a moment Maria saw a flicker of recognition in his eyes. A flash as he nodded imperceptibly at her unspoken question. He would come for her tonight...he would come to say goodbye. Whoever he was going to have to be now...he would still come tonight.

His eyes sliding away from Maria's, he couldn't stop himself from looking at Liz. Tears trailed freely down her face...coursing over her cheeks and falling, one by one, onto her shirt. Her eyes were anguished, and Michael had never seen such an expression of pure pain before.

"I'm sorry," he said feebly...wishing he could undo what he'd done. "I thought...I didn't know he'd react like that. I thought it would make things better. I thought he'd want to know what you did to protect us." Liz shook her head...too wracked with sobs to answer him...but Michael thought he knew the answer himself as he watched her. That person...that thing that had just walked out of the Crashdown...it wasn't really Max. It wasn't the same person that Michael had grown up with; wasn't the same person that Liz had fallen in love with. He had been changed. Altered by the past year's events, and Michael wondered if the Max he'd known as his friend was gone for good.

As he looked at Liz he wondered if she was thinking the same thing. But then he registered the loss and mourning on her face, and realized that she'd already known. That she believed that Max was already gone. When her eyes met his he experienced another moment of clarity, and he was finally able to see all that Liz had done...the way the aliens had effected her life, and the way that she had responded. He realized belatedly how much she had actually given up for them. The risks she had taken; the lies she had told; the sacrifices she had made. All for love of Max...and for them all. Finally, and with all pretenses aside, he was able to see that she'd done the things she had because she'd cared for them, and because they were the right things to do.

In that moment, Michael knew that that was just the kind of person she was, and how much he and the others really owed her. Even this trip home...due only to her persistence. And it made him ashamed for the way Max had treated her...as he himself had been known to treat her.

And in that moment of clarity, his unspoken feelings were conveyed to Liz, and she smiled a little, painfully through the tears, to show that she understood. She managed to compose herself enough to speak, shakily, and said "Take care of them."

Michael nodded. He understood. With one final glance, he turned and left.