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Posted to the Roswell Slash list September 11,2000

TITLE: Triad (3/7)
AUTHOR: Gale Dumont
EMAIL:'m fully prepared for flames on this one.
DISCLAIMER: The WB would never do anything this much fun with them. Thank God for fanfic, huh?
SUMMARY: Liz and Max and Michael. Oh my.
RATING: NC-17. Hoo boy, is it ever.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Inspired, at least in part, by Sandy's "An Unlikely Trio", as well as a few nasty thoughts Miranda put in my head and my occasional love of UC. Also, this isn't related to any of my other stories. Purely a one-shot. (As if I could top this. Shyeah.)
SOUNDTRACK: "Addicted" by Faithless, Janet Jackson's "Velvet Rope" album (especially "Go Deep", "I Get So Lonely", "Got 'Till It's Gone" and "Rope Burn").
HUGS GO OUT TO: Miranda, as ever, who pre-read most of this for me. Top *this*, sis.

One of the great things about Saturdays was that the Evans family scattered like deer during hunting season as soon as it was light out. Parents headed off to run various errands, Isabel planted herself in the mall like she was a sapling waiting for spring --

_-- and here I am, nine o'clock in the morning, knocking on my best friend's door to ask him if he's confused about his sexuality. Wonderful._

Max took a deep breath and knocked, not entirely expecting an answer. Michael could be out with Maria, or avoiding the rest of the world, or --

"Hey," Michael said briefly, opening the door. He was clad in a black Pantera shirt and boxers, and his hair looked like it hadn't been combed in a week.

_-- or he could be right here. That's fine, too._

"Hey," he returned, suddenly feeling awkward and helpless. It wasn't exactly comfortable. "Um, can I come in?"

"Sure." Michael stepped aside and let him enter. "I'm guessing this is about last night, right?"

"Right." Max took a deep breath and sat down on the couch, not waiting for an invitation. It would have been pointless; Michael wasn't one to stand on social graces. "You want to start?"

"Start what?" Michael said, walking into the kitchen. He flipped on the coffee maker and added water and beans. "Like I said last night, just forget I was there. It'll be better for both of us."

"Not if it's bothering you."

"Who said it was bothering me?" the other man said blandly, no tone in his voice. "I just said I was confused. That unconfused me. Everything is fine, Max. The stars are in alignment once more." He half-turned towards the living room. "If that's why you're here, you can go now."

"I'm here because I'm worried about you, Michael." God, why did he always have to make everything so damned hard? "Something's got to be wrong. If it's Maria --"

"It's not Maria. We're fine." His mouth quirked up in what could almost be considered a smile. "I...I care for her, Max. I think I might even love her. But don't quote me on that," he warned.

*That* was a revelation. "Good," he said, surprised. "I mean -- that's good. Isn't it?"

"You should know. You're the one always telling me that I need to start making emotional connections with people." There was no rancor in his voice, though, only mild amusement. "So yeah, I think it's good." He took a breath. "And...confusing."

Max opened his mouth to speak, but the sound of the coffee maker cut him off. Michael poured himself a cup, pouring a liberal amount of sugar, milk and hot sauce in it, and came back to the living room. He settled in beside him, legs up on what passed for a coffee table and mug resting on his chest.

"Why is it confusing?" Max asked, shifting to get a better look at him.

Michael didn't bother to look up from the back of the couch. "Because," he said patiently. "I've spent my entire life *avoiding* emotional connections. I live behind a wall so fortified it would put the Chinese to shame, and now I'm expected to leave it with no fuss whatsoever." He cocked his head slightly. "And I'm here to tell you, old friend, that it ain't gonna happen that easily. Some of us have soulmates to fall back on; the rest of us just aren't that lucky." Max opened his mouth to speak, but Michael held up a hand. "I'm not knocking Liz," he said quietly. "I like her. Not as much as you do, obviously, but...She's good for you, Max. She makes you happy."

"What is it, then?"

It was his turn to shift now, frowning a little. "Have you ever had a moment in your life where it's like you're standing at a crossroads, and you have no idea which way to turn?"

Silly question. He could have lied to Liz that September, passed it off as nothing. It wouldn't have been particularly hard; spend your entire life lying, and you develop a knack for it. But he hadn't. He wondered, sometimes, if there had ever really been a choice. "Yeah," he said aloud.

"Ok. So you're at this crossroads, and you *really* want to go down Path A -- you want it more than you've wanted anything else in your life, excepting little things like going home and finding your birth parents." Michael paused. "But there's this little voice in the back of your head, and it keeps whispering that you should just go take a teeny, tiny peek down Path B, just to see if you're really sure about Path A." He paused again, and something entered his eyes. What it was, he wasn't sure. "But there's a problem."

"Oh?" His voice was false-casual; if he heard it, he knew Michael did. But Michael didn't comment, just nodded and went on.

"Yeah. See, if you were to go down Path B, you realize that it's only wide enough for one person. And there's a person ahead of you. So if you want to get the view you want -- the view that a part of you insists you *need* -- you have to knock the person ahead of you to the side. It's not the safest area, though, and if you knock her aside, there's a really good chance it's going to hurt her. A lot." He took a sip of coffee to steady himself and put the mug aside. "So what do you, as an impartial observer, suggest that I do?"

Oh, boy. There was no way he was getting out of this one. Sometimes, being surrogate parent isn't just a thankless job, it's a crappy one.

"Well," Max said carefully, not meeting Michael's eyes, "that depends. What condition are the two roads in?"

Seemingly a silly question, but Michael gave it some thought. "Path A is new, but it's brightly lit, has a lot of rest stops. Path B...Path B is a lot more comfortable, seemingly, but it's not as bright and seems to be more like an escalator: once you're on it, you don't stop 'til the end." He shrugged. "Of course, I could be wrong."

"Ah. What about the person on Path B? Do you know her?"

He nodded. "Yeah. And it's awkward, because I like her. I don't want to hurt her, but I'm just selfish enough to have these occasional urges to shove her aside and start walking."

Max's breathing quickened just a bit. "Do you know if she's walked on Path A?"

Michael blinked. "I don't think so," he said, sounding amused. He grinned. "She...maintains Path A. She makes sure that it doesn't get dirty or too dark. And the thing is..." All mirth drained from his face. "In my less selfish moments, I know that she's better off on Path B than I am. I'm terrified by some of the darker parts, but she just keeps walking. She's not afraid of anything."

"Something to keep in mind," he murmured, swallowing.

"Something to keep in mind," Michael allowed, tilting his head a little. "So? Any advice, great and excellent one?"

Max shot him a look. "You never should have checked out that book of baby names from the library," he muttered, folding his arms across his chest. "And that's your problem in a nutshell. Two paths in a deserted wood, and the chance that someone else could get hurt."

"Basically." Michael shifted a little closer to him. "I'm still waiting on that advice."

"Michael --"

"Ok, another hypothetical. How would Path B feel if the person currently walking it was shoved aside and hurt?"

Not even a question. "He wouldn't like it very much. In fact, it would probably preclude the possibility of anyone else walking down it," Max said coolly.


"But...couldn't there be room for two people on Path B?"

"No. I thought about that already. There's just enough room for one." Michael leaned a fraction closer. "So? Any ideas?"

There was a very long pause. Max bit at the inside of his lower lip, thinking and trying to ignore the heat from Michael's gaze upon him.

"Is this person committed to walking on Path B?" he asked finally, still staring at the far wall. "Couldn't he just...take a peek?"

"He could. That's what he's thinking about doing, actually. He knows he doesn't want to walk down Path B for the rest of his life, but if he passed it by altogether...he doesn't think he could forgive himself." Michael cleared his throat. "So?"

"So...there are a few things you should take into consideration."

"Such as?" From the disinterest in Michael's voice, they might as well have been discussing the weather.

"Path B could never feel complete without her," he said carefully. "You know that, right?" Michael nodded. "All right. But...what if the other day, when he accidentally set foot on Path B --"

"That wasn't an accident, Max," Michael said softly.

" -- *what if*," he continued, ignoring what had just been said, "Path B didn't...mind. Not entirely."

Michael shifted closer still. "How 'not entirely' are we talking here?"

"Path B found his footsteps very...very pleasant, to be completely honest." He took a long, shuddering breath and turned to look at his friend. His best friend. His best friend with the remarkably skilled mouth. Max moved a little closer. "But he couldn't lie to her."

"I'm not asking you to lie to her, Max."

Well. That was it, then. All pretense of this being a hypothetical situation was right out the window. "So what exactly *are* you asking me to do, then?"

"I don't know!" Michael burst out, scowling momentarily. "I don't. Believe me, this is as new to me as it is to you." The scowl faded slowly, leaving quiet confusion in its place. "I know that I care for Maria -- a lot. I know that I don't want Liz to be hurt." He shifted even closer; now, their faces were almost touching. "And I know that I want to kiss you again."

Confession time. All the cards on the table, son. Ante up. "And I know that I want you to," Max said softly, his voice rough with -- what? Passion? Hunger? Anger? And since when was there a difference?

"Well, then," Michael said, his own voice just as husky, and kissed him full on the mouth.

And God, it was just as sweet now as it had been last night; sweeter, because there was no underlying confusion, no sense that the world had tilted and no one had warned him. Michael's mouth was warm and soft, and responded to his own mouth hungrily. Going entirely on instinct, he shoved the other man backwards on the couch, tangling his hands in his hair even as they fell. The quiet moans issuing forth from Michael's mouth were more than spurring him on.

Neither one of them heard the footsteps.

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