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Breathe Again

Reply to Jess A. or visit her website

Sent to the Roswell Slash Archive March 11, 2001

TITLE: Breathe Again
AUTHOR: Jess
DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters.
RATING: PG? I'm a wimpy writer.
CATEGORY: Max in the City episode tag.



        The phone rings and he answers with practiced disinterest.

        "Yeah."

        "Michael."

        "Max," he says, gripping the phone tightly in one hand.

        "I'm back."

        "In Roswell?"

        "Yeah." There's a clutter of noise in the background and Mrs. Evans's distant, tinny voice. "Listen, I've gotta go. My mom just got home."

        "But Max, what happened out there? Did you -- "

        "I'll tell you later. I have to go."

        The dial tone is loud in his ear and he's frustrated by the finality of the sound. He can't call back, of course. He can't go over either. He just has to sit and wait until Max deems it the proper time to inform him of matters that could very well define his existence.

        He not-quite slams the phone down (they're expensive, after all, and he blows up enough stuff as it is) and takes his head in his hands. It's infuriating, this attitude. But Max holds all the cards -- he always has. And it pisses him off. Max Evans regularly pisses him off. He's been back in town for how long -- hours? Maybe not even that. And Max has already pissed Michael off.

        But he can breathe again.

* * *

        He knows this feeling. It's a familiar one.

        He remembers the day they -- were born? Emerged? He's never quite sure what to call it. But he remembers it in a fuzzy way, remembers standing alone on a bluff and feeling something he would later give the name defiance, remembers watching the other two walk away. He remembers that, it was a good feeling. It felt what freedom sounds like it's meant to be. He looked away and stood alone and when he turned back, they were gone.

        And it first fell upon him, a heavy wrongness, and suddenly and he knew -- he *knew* -- things were not how they were meant to be. He remembers swinging his head around desperately, searching in the night shadows for the forms of the other two and failing.

        He remembers it was hard to breathe.

        It was hard to breathe for a long time -- so long that he forgot it was. Life is funny and a little bit kind that way, he realized later, it almost lets you get used to the hardness of things. The wrongness of things.

        Almost.

        He thought about the other two sometimes, but they didn't define his existence. Nothing did, really, except for the constant uncertainty, the sometimes vague and often pointed discomfort of it. A lot of the time he wondered if the other two even existed, if they had been a dream or a lie.

        And then one day on the playground he had looked up and they were there, the two he had seen and searched for long ago. He remembers it had been difficult not to run up and tackle them, hard to hold back the tears. He remembers seeing Isabel and feeling glad.

        He remembers seeing Max and being able to breathe again.

* * *

        Three hours later he calls and Mrs. Evans tells him that Max went to the Crashdown.

        "Thanks," he grunts and not-quite slams the phone down without a good-bye. He stares at his hand and grimaces. Nice. And he's surprised the Evanses don't like him?

        Actually, he considers, he's not surprised. Nor is he surprised that Max isn't there, that he's left and gone to Liz. He always goes to Liz, will always go to her. Part of him understands it -- he thinks of Maria and it's easy to understand -- but most of him refuses to. Most of him is angry.

        Most of him remembers another day at the Crashdown, a day when everything changed. He often wonders how many days he has had where everything changed -- someday he'll sit and write them down, he's decided, since it's probably an impressive number. One day a shot rang out and Liz Parker fell to the ground, dying, and the world he had known ceased to exist.

        He thinks, sometimes, of that day, and of the one moment that's etched on his brain forever. It's not the sound of Maria's voice or the shot ringing out; it's not even the moment he realized Liz had been hurt. The moment he remembers -- will always remember -- is Max rising from the booth, and reaching out to stop him.

        He remembers knowing that Max could save her before asking, and not wanting him to. Wanting to pull him back. Sometimes when he thinks of that he feels a little bit sick, because he knows he's not really a bad person and he had liked Liz Parker in a distant, jealous way. But in that moment he didn't care, would have and wanted to let her die.

        Because in that moment he knew what really mattered, and it wasn't Liz Parker.

        He remembers being furious at Max for risking so much, for risking it all. He remembers thinking: Doesn't he realize? Doesn't he know?

        Speeding away in the Jeep, Michael ranted and raved about danger and risks and all that Max had done wrong, terrified. He had risked everything, could and probably would be discovered. It would all be over. It was hard to breathe again.

        He can remember the look in Max's eyes then. He can remember it easily, really, since he's not sure it's quite left his eyes since. His eyes were apologetic at first, but underneath (where it matters) they were shocked and disbelieving and disappointed. They called him selfish and cruel and what bothered him most then and still bothers him now is that Max just didn't and doesn¼t get it.

        He tightened his grip on the steering wheel that day so that it hurt and tried to use the pain to distract him from the questions screaming in his mind. Doesn't he realize? Doesn't he know?

        All that really matters is him.

* * *

        When they call him Max's Second part of him stiffens, uncomfortable. Another part nods at the accuracy of the title. The first time he heard it he thought: That explains it. It's the cosmic order of things.

        Michael is Max's Second. It was so on some planet far away he's never seen but always dreamed of and it is so here, on the planet he's always known but never wanted. He wonders if he liked being Max's Second in that other place, in that other time. He wonders if the title chafed at him as it does here, wonders if it had boxed that other him in and suffocated him. He wonders if that other him had stood on a bluff as a boy and tasted freedom.

        There's a knock at the door and he's a little bit startled. It annoys him; Michael hates being startled.

        The knock comes again and is accompanied by a voice. "Michael, it's Max."

        He sighs and hauls himself up off of the couch and hears his knees crack. "Coming," he calls out and checks the clock -- an hour's passed and he barely missed it.

        He's still pissed off and now a little bit annoyed, too. He twists the locks harshly and yanks the door open, turning away before it reveals Max standing there. "To what do I owe this honor?" He tosses the question over one shoulder as he stalks into the apartment's tiny kitchen.

        He sticks his head in the fridge and hears Max close the door and cross the room. It's a while before he says anything, but Michael refuses to speak up first. He starts cataloging the many and varied contents of his refrigerator -- mostly leftovers from the Crashdown -- and is relieved at the sound of Max's voice.

        "I thought you'd have some questions."

        He stands and shuts the door. "Yeah," he says, turning to face him. "I guess I do. Starting with -- why are you here, Max?"

        Max is staring at his hands on the countertop and takes a moment to answer him. Finally, he looks up. "I couldn't go."

        "Did you want to?"

        He shrugs and begins to study his hands again. "A little bit."

        "But you couldn't." He can hear the challenge in his own voice.

        Max taps his fingers and then stuffs his hands in his pockets, shrugging. There's something funny about his posture, the half-hearted carelessness of it. It¼s something typically teenage-boyish and uncomfortable, something so far removed from intergalactic leadership that it almost makes Michael laugh. He realizes his anger is slipping away, but fixes an imposing face. He never stays truly mad at Max for long (and that annoys him), but Max doesn't need to know that.

        Max finally looks up. "I realized I couldn't make any agreement that would mean leaving you and Isabel."

        Michael had already finished the end of Max's sentence with 'Liz' in his head and couldn't cover his surprise. "Me and Isabel?"

        Max hears the unasked question and nods. "You and Isabel." He turns and walks a few steps. "You guys -- the three of us --" He turns back and fixes a confident gaze on Michael. "We're family. That's what matters."

        Michael nods and finds himself with nothing to say.

        Max looks satisfied and goes to sit on Michael's couch, but pauses at the final step. He shoots a cautious glance Michael's way. "Is it safe to sit? It looks like you've got an unidentified life-form growing here."

        Michael rolls his eyes as he goes to sweep the laundry off of the couch. "Not all of us are anal retentive, Maxwell."

        "I'm not anal retentive. I'm just . . . organized."

        "Whatever gets you through the day, Max."

        He smiles and collapses onto the couch. "I am . . . so tired."

        Michael tosses the laundry into the bathroom. "You all right, Maxwell?"

        Max opens his eyes. "I'm fine."

        Michael nods and thinks: Of course he¼s fine. Max could have a gaping flesh wound and be fine. He's always fine.

        There's a silence.

        But it's okay, Michael knows. Quiet with Max is okay, it's always been, and he likes that. When there's nothing to say - or maybe too much, and just no jumping off point -- nothing needs to be said at all. Max always rolled out the bedroll at the foot of his bed in silence for him, Michael remembers. Always handed half of his lunch over without a word.

        Max stirs and stands from the couch. "I'd better get back. Phil and Diane are probably flipping out."

        Michael wants to say more, but can't. So he just nods. "I'll see you tomorrow."

        "Later."

        Max is out the door and shutting it behind him when he finally speaks up. "Hey --"

        Max turns, pushes the door open. "Yeah?"

        He's suddenly aware that he doesn't know what goes after 'Hey.' He scratches his neck, squints his eyes, crosses his arms with a deep breath, and knows.

        "I'm glad you¼re back."

        Max doesn't answer. And the quiet's fine, Michael says with a silent nod. He just watches the door close quietly on Max¼s smile ‚ Max, who's here, alive, safe -- and can breathe again.

        That's enough.

        END

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