Disclaimer: Roswell, its characters and situations, are owned by the WB. No
Summary: Kyle and Max come to terms.
Authors Note: This story is the part of an evolving future storyline that currently includes (in order): "Decisions," "Looking In," "Christmas Envy," "From Another Place," "Husbands and Fathers," "Claudia and Nicole," "Stars," "Going Home," "The Ethics Lesson," "Redefining Terms," "Beginnings," "First Date," "A Quality Heart," "In Every Ending," "Birth," "Rose Petals," "The Littlest Czechoslovakian," "Joshua and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," "Guysí Night Out," and "Girlsí Night In." More stories may be forthcoming.
Mr. Raddishís productions were famous. That was why, Kyle Valenti suspected, no matter how often the fifth-grade teacher complained that he didnít want to be stuck with another play or pageant, the school administration at Roswell Elementary always gave him another one to direct. Even though it was only his first year back after twenty-five years away from the school, he was still the administrationís first choice.
Kyle and his wife Bethany sat in the fifth row of the auditorium, eagerly awaiting their son Jamieís big moment as the star of Mr. Raddishís latest theatrical extravaganza. Kyle smiled in anticipation. Beth was practically quivering with excitement. Curious to see if anyone else was as excited to see their little angel trip on to the stage, Kyle glanced around the auditorium.
His eye fell on a familiar group of people sitting two rows in front of them. He supposed it made sense that they would be at the play, considering that Nicole Guerin was in Jamieís fifth grade class and was, according to Jamie, one of the other star actors. The Guerins and the Whitmans and the Evanses had always seemed to run in a pack, even in high school.
Without knowing what compelled him, thinking maybe that it was the boredom of waiting, Kyle wasted a couple of minutes reflecting on his former classmates.
Of the three couples, Michael and Maria Guerin had surprised him the most over the years. In high school, heíd been sure that Michael Guerin was heading straight to nowhere. But Michael had tapped a part of himself that no one had credited existed, and he had been rewarded with public and critical acclaim as an artist. These days, the brooding loner from the wrong side of the tracks actually gave back to the Roswell community by teaching art to its elementary school-age kids. And if Michaelís success was surprising, Mariaís was only slightly less surprising. Flaky, cypress-oil-smelling Maria DeLuca had morphed herself into a savvily astute business manager, under whose stewardship the Crashdown Cafť was flourishing. But maybe the most surprising of all -- especially if anyone had ever seen one of their epic battles -- was Michael and Mariaís incredible happiness together. Kyle caught it hovering around them like an aura whenever he saw them with their large, rollicking, happy family of four children: Nicole, who was in Jamieís class; their twin boys, Stephen and Leo; and their little girl, Mikyelah; all of whom seemed to be bright, well-adjusted, normal kids, if a little on the rambunctious side.
Compared to Michael and Maria, Kyle reflected, Isabel and Alex Whitman were less surprising. But perhaps that was because Kyle hadnít thought about them as much. Alex, a precocious computer hacker in high school, had become an in-demand computer security expert not long after graduating from CalTech with his degree in electrical engineering. Isabel, who had grown even more beautiful over the years if that were possible, had chosen to follow in her parentsí footsteps and was a successful lawyer. Kyle knew that Isabel was already a full partner in her parentsí firm and expected to take it over when her parents retired in a couple of years. As far as Kyle could tell, Isabel and Alex had a quieter, more peaceful happiness than Michael and Mariaís. But like Michael and Maria, their happiness seemed to be tied up in their children: their son, Matthew, a quiet, studious boy they had adopted a couple of years into their marriage; and their daughter, Anna, whose capacity for mischief was rivaled only by Nicole Guerinís.
Hesitating in his reflections, Kyle grimaced at himself, knowing he had left the last of the three couples last on purpose. Perhaps that was because Kyle thought about them more than he would have ever liked to admit.
By anyoneís estimation, Liz and Max Evans werenít at all surprising. Liz, the class valedictorian, had achieved her dream and was the molecular biologist she had been determined to become in high school. Quiet, unassuming Max Evans was a doctor, well respected by all accounts. Liz and Max had been together since high school, had attended the same prestigious universities together, had married relatively young, had had one apparently perfect child, their daughter Claudia, and were as intensely happy and as intensely connected as they had ever been in high school, even after all these years.
Kyle looked away then, deciding heíd rather study his wing tips than his old classmates. He couldnít help thinking that even though heíd heard that Liz and Max had moved back to Roswell six months ago, and it was his first time seeing them in a couple of years ... no matter how long it had been since high school, he still got that old, achy feeling in his chest whenever he saw them. Even though he and Liz had made their peace and become friends again back in high school. Even though he and Max had actually reached a respectful truce. Even though he had Beth and Jamie.
Deciding he didnít want to dwell on the past anymore, realizing that his feelings were somehow disloyal to his wife even if he couldnít seem to help them, Kyle looked up from his shoes, took Bethanyís hand, and waited for the curtain to rise.
But instead of the near-silent swoosh of the curtainís ascent, there was a loud crash from backstage, then the sounds of shouting and running feet.
And then Nicole Guerin came flying from backstage, her elaborate medieval costume half-on and paint-stained, her blonde curls wild and uncombed, calling frantically: "Daddy! Mama! Jamieís blue!"
His heart in his throat, Kyle was out of his seat and running down the aisle as soon as he heard his sonís name. He could hear Bethany behind him as he ran up the steps into the backstage area; without thinking, he reached for her hand to ensure that she wouldnít get left behind.
The backstage area was a mess. Kyle tried to push through the maelstrom of people between him and his son, but someone grabbed his arm, keeping him from moving forward.
"Just stand back," Michael Guerin said in the calmest voice Kyle had ever heard him use.
Kyle tried to yank his arm out of Michaelís grip. "Thatís my kid, Guerin. Let go of me, and get out of my way."
Michael shook his head and just held his arm tighter. "Max has got him," he said in that same spookily calm voice. "Max is a doctor. Heíll take care of him."
That was when Kyle saw that Max Evans was kneeling over Jamieís prone form. Jamieís face was so white, it did look blue in the dim backstage lights, just as Nicole had described it. His lips were completely blue. He didnít appear to be breathing.
For Kyle, the next second or minute or couple of minutes were surreal. He looked around and suddenly saw that there was no one left in the backstage area. Alex Whitman had ushered everyone else away but him and Bethany. In a daze, Kyle glanced over Michaelís shoulder and saw that Liz Evans and Isabel Whitman were trying to soothe his wifeís near-hysterics. His gaze shifted a split-second later, and he saw that Maria Guerin was trying to comfort her daughter Nicole, who was saying tearfully over and over again that it was all her fault because she had called Jamie a lamebrain boogerbutt who was going to fall on his face as soon as he got on-stage. Another split-second later, and Kyle was focused entirely on the drama unfolding on the floor in front of him. On Jamie. And Max.
Kyle watched Max place a hand over Jamieís chest, then lean in close to whisper something into Jamieís ear. Max appeared to be oblivious to his surroundings. He was completely concentrated on Jamie. As Kyle watched in growing amazement, Maxís hand glowed against Jamieís unmoving chest, then faded. And then Jamie began to breathe again.
Kyle thought briefly that his father would have given his eyeteeth to see this.
He looked around to see if anyone else had seen what he had just seen, then remembered that Alex had shooed everyone else away. As he looked around, he noticed that Michael was glaring at him, almost as if he were daring him to say something.
Kyle didnít take the bait, even though he was still mentally reeling from the shock of seeing that glowing hand, even though he really wanted answers about what that glowing hand could have meant Ö answers that would explain that glowing hand in a way that absolutely repudiated what he was thinking. And, of course, the glowing hand thing was just another worry on top of his worry about Jamie. Which he also needed answers about.
So Kyle didnít take the bait. Instead he turned back to his son, who needed him at that moment. And that need meant that all his questions about life, the universe, and everything would have to wait.
Kyle watched as Max helped Jamie sit up and said gently, "Youíre all right now. How are you feeling?"
"Better, thanks," Jamie croaked. He was staring up at Max in awe, an awe that mirrored Kyleís, although Kyle was trying to heed the warning in Michaelís fierce expression and was therefore working harder than Jamie at keeping his face blank and his thoughts to himself.
He didnít have to work hard at looking like a concerned parent, though, unlike his own father. When Jamie reached for him, Kyle immediately fell on his knees and gathered his son into his arms. No one could ever accuse him of being a remote dad. No one could ever accuse him of falling into the Valenti curse.
Jostled out of his concentration on Jamie by Kyleís dropping down on the ground beside him, Max twisted around and shot an uninterpretable look at Michael. Transferring his hooded, wary gaze to Kyle, Max stood up. Brushing off his knees, he said, "Kyle, Jamieís fine now," and paused to let the words sink in. Then, as if Kyle had not seen him do anything out of the ordinary, had not seen his hand glow and then his son resume breathing a couple of minutes before, Max continued calmly: "Did you know that heís asthmatic?"
Kyle shook his head. Holding Jamie close, he knew that Jamie was totally fine, as if nothing had ever been wrong with him. But then he remembered the glowing hand thing. Kyle stared up at Max and felt stunned all over again by what heíd witnessed. By the glowing hand on his sonís chest, and by what that hand could have meant.
"Has he ever wheezed before?" Max asked, still in that cool professional voice, still pretending that he didnít see the questions and suspicions in Kyleís eyes.
"No, I donít think so."
"Okay," Max said tightly. Kyle interpreted the different note in his voice as a sign that Max was beginning to lose some of his control. When Max ran an agitated hand across his face, Kyle knew he was right.
Not looking at him, Max said, "Look, Kyle. You should bring Jamie by my office tomorrow. He needs medication to control his asthma. And we should talk."
Kyle nodded, still staring at Max. "Yeah, we should, Evans."
* * * *
"You okay, sport?" Kyle asked Jamie as they walked into Max Evansí medical practice in downtown Roswell the following afternoon.
Jamie nodded silently, and it occurred to Kyle that Jamie had not spoken much since the asthma attack.
The waiting room they walked into was almost empty. Its only occupant was a slight, dark-haired girl who was sitting perched on the edge of a chair, swinging her skinny legs back and forth, reading what looked like a scientific journal. She was wearing jean shorts and a crimson Harvard University T-shirt. Her hair was loosely braided, with wisps of straight hair falling around her face, and the two plaits of hair tucked behind her ears, which stuck out a little. Her face seemed familiar to Kyle, but he couldnít place it.
"Hey," she said when she noticed they had come in. She smiled at them, and Kyle realized why her face seemed so familiar. He couldnít believe he hadnít realized sooner. She had her fatherís smile in her motherís face. Her fatherís eyes and her motherís hair. And she just happened to be sitting in her fatherís office. Her next words confirmed his recognition of the obvious. "Iím Claudia. Dadís office is not really open today, but he said you would probably stop by, and that I should keep watch. Are you Mr. Valenti?"
Kyle nodded as he studied Claudia Evans. He had met Max and Lizís daughter once before, and then as now he noticed how much she resembled both her parents. And not just in looks, he thought as he watched her crouch down beside Jamieís chair and say gently, "Hey, Jamie. Howíre you feeling today? Dad said your chest would probably be hurting."
Jamie gave her a shy nod. "Youíre Nicoleís cousin, arenít you?"
Claudia laughed and sat back on her heels. "Yeah. And youíre Nikkiís Jamie. Iíve heard all about you."
Jamie perked up. "Really? She talks about me?"
There was a teasing glint in Claudiaís eyes as she bounced to her feet. "Sure. But thatís all Iím going to say about it."
"Thatís hardly fair, sweetie," Max said quietly from the doorway. Kyle was unsurprised to hear the echo of a soft, teasing note in his voice. Claudia and Max seemed to be a lot alike. It was not that unexpected, he thought, that they would both try to set Jamie at ease in the same way.
Studying him as he stood in the doorway with his hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his white lab coat, Kyle realized that Max Evans actually looked like a doctor. And all of a sudden, he felt relieved that this calm, reassuring person had actually been there yesterday, had known how to and had been willing to save his sonís life. Whatever way he had done it. Whatever that glowing hand had meant.
"Hey, Kyle," Max said after a minute, and Kyle could hear the wariness in his voice.
But the wariness was replaced by warmth and caring when Max addressed Jamie. "Hey, Jamie. How about if we go back to my office so I can check you out?"
Jamie stood up obediently. "Sure, Dr. Evans. See you later, Claudia."
Claudia smiled and nodded, then resettled her tiny frame into her chair. "Iíll just be out here reading my journal until youíre finished." She smiled reassuringly at her father. After he returned her smile, she nodded again in understanding and what looked to Kyle like encouragement.
Observing their silent communication, Kyle was more certain than ever that he needed to get some answers about what had happened the day before. He especially needed some kind of explanation for that glowing hand thing.
Max turned to Kyle and Jamie. "Okay. Why donít you two follow me?"
He led them to a small, antiseptically-white room where he helped Jamie up on to the examination table and asked him to remove his shirt.
Leaning against a wall, Kyle watched Max check Jamieís vital signs, noticing that he spent most of his time listening to Jamieís chest. He asked Jamie to breathe into a clear plastic meter-like contraption. After about fifteen minutes of listening and tapping and measuring, Max removed the stethoscope from his ears and handed Jamie his shirt back.
"Okay, Jamie. Weíre all set for now. How about if you go talk with Claudia for a bit? I need to talk to your dad."
Jamie nodded, glanced quickly at Kyle, then left.
As soon as Jamie had shut the door, Max started to tidy the examination room. Kyle had to admit to himself that he admired Maxís professionalism. All of Kyleís law enforcement instincts told him that Max was seriously on edge. He was clearly concerned about what Kyle might have concluded from what he had witnessed the day before, but he was determined not to let that concern interfere with his responsibility to his patient or any of his other duties as a doctor.
Kyle decided to wait for Max to speak first. He had waited to get answers yesterday; he could wait a little longer. He wondered absently which issue Max would choose to tackle first -- the diagnosis issue or the glowing hand issue.
Eventually Max invited Kyle to sit down, sitting down himself in a chair opposite. Based on the compassion he could see in Maxís face, Kyle guessed that Max wanted to address the diagnosis issue first.
Max began gently, "Kyle, weíll still need to do x-rays to make sure, but all the signs are there. Iíve seen numerous cases like Jamieís before. Jamie has severe asthma--"
"Asthma?" Kyle exclaimed, even though he knew he shouldnít have been surprised given what Max had said the day before. "I know you said that yesterday, and I had a feeling you were going to say that today, but he canít have asthma. Itís an inherited disease, isnít it? No one in my or Bethís family has ever had asthma that we know of. Besides, shouldnít Jamie have had an attack before now?"
Max shook his head. "Not necessarily. Often there are triggers, but we donít always know what they are or how they work. And asthma is becoming increasingly common in children, regardless of family history. Current literature usually cites increases in air pollutant levels." He looked at Kyle seriously. "Look, Kyle, this doesnít have to be a big deal for Jamie. Asthma is controllable, like diabetes is controllable--"
"Wait a second. Asthma is like diabetes?"
Max gestured awkwardly. "Probably not the best analogy. What is similar about them is that theyíre both the results of the bodyís getting confused about its own immune responses and causing self-damage. Asthma is the bodyís hyper-immune response to exogenous antigens, better known as allergens."
Max got up from his chair to retrieve a blue plastic, vaguely L-shaped device from the cabinet behind Kyle. He handed the inhaler to Kyle. "Jamie will be able to control his asthma attacks with a couple of puffs of this albuterol inhaler. Iíll show him how to use before you leave today." Max smiled reassuringly at Kyle. "I should probably tell you that an inhaler isnít the optimal way to control the inflammation in Jamieís lungs since inhalers only address the symptoms, not the cause of the asthma. But inhalers are convenient and effective, especially for children."
Instead of sitting down again, Max scribbled some notes into Jamieís file, which was lying open on the work surface nearest him. Not looking up from his writing, he continued, "When we see the x-rays and run some more tests, particularly allergy tests, we may decide that we should also try steroidal drugs--"
"Steroids?" Kyle interrupted, prompted by his lifelong-athleteís aversion to even the thought of steroids, and feeling suddenly that this conversation was going too fast for him to follow. And they hadnít even gotten off the diagnosis issue and gotten to the point of discussing the glowing hand issue yet.
Max looked like he was trying not to smile when he looked up from the file. "Kyle, theyíre not that kind of steroids. Although if it comes down to using them, we will need to talk about possible side effects. These particular steroids are the best drugs available for reducing the number of inflammatory cells in the lungs."
When Kyle looked confused, Max explained: "Itís what I was talking about earlier. Steroidal drugs get closer to treating the cause of the asthma where that inhaler in your hand only treats the symptoms."
Max reached for a thick, hard-backed book on the shelf above his head, opened it, and flipped the pages until he found the diagram of the respiratory system he was looking for. As he explained, he traced what he was describing with his finger on the picture in the book. "Asthma is caused by inflammatory cells that invade the lungs in response to certain factors, like histamine, which are released by the lung cells. If youíve ever seen an allergy medicine commercial on television, you know that histamine is the bodyís response to the presence of allergens. In any case, inflammatory cells in the lungs are a problem because they inflame -- hence the name -- tissue in the lungs to the point that airways become constricted. That constriction causes the wheezing you hear when someone is having an asthma attack. And in severe cases, or if the asthma is left untreated, that inflammation can lead to suffocation. Which is what was happening to Jamie yesterday."
Kyle digested Maxís explanation. "So, Jamie should start with this inhaler?"
Max nodded. "Although we still need to do x-rays and allergy tests to be sure itís not something else. And we should probably track how heís doing on a regular basis." Maxís voice trailed off as he bent his head to note the key points about Jamieís treatment in Jamieís file.
Silence fell between the two men while he wrote.
After a couple of minutes, Kyle broke the silence. "Max. We still need to talk about what happened yesterday. The other stuff. The glowing hand issue."
Max froze, then put down his pen and closed the file folder. He glanced at Kyle warily, and Kyle thought he saw Maxís professional self-control slip a little.
Kyle took a deep breath, thinking that what he was about to say seemed unbelievable even to him in the cold light of day. But he knew what he had seen. And he needed to get some answers. Answers that would hopefully explain away the glowing hand issue. "Max. I saw what you did to Jamie yesterday. I also saw your handprint on his chest before it faded when I put him to bed last night. It was the same silver handprint I saw on Liz Parkerís stomach nineteen years ago. And I knew, Max. I knew."
Max was very still. The only emotion in his face was in his eyes, and Kyle couldnít read it.
All of a sudden, Kyle realized that Max couldnít explain away the glowing hand issue. Kyle didnít know where his certainty came from, but he knew he was right. That his father had been right all those years ago.
Feeling curiously buoyed by his discovery, Kyle said, "I donít know what you are, Max. But Iím guessing youíre probably not from around here." Kyle paused when he heard what sounded almost like a startled laugh from Max. Deciding to ignore the outburst, Kyle studied Maxís once-more impassive face. "And I donít know why, but I can guess that fact Ė the fact that youíre not from around here Ė has something to do with why you and Liz are back in Roswell after all these years."
Max looked vaguely surprised this time, but still he said nothing.
Kyle decided to be honest. "But I donít care why you came back, Max. Iím just glad you did. Beth and I wanted to thank you for saving Jamieís life yesterday."
Max nodded thoughtfully. "I couldnít let him die." He looked Kyle in the eye. "Just like I couldnít let Liz die."
Kyle was quiet for a while, thinking back to another time and another place. Another thought long-buried surfaced in his mind. He said slowly, "I remember back in high school, you said that the best thing that ever happened to you was getting adopted."
Max laughed softly, as if he understood how Kyleís statement was a perfectly logical segue in their conversation. "I actually meant to say that Liz was the best thing that ever happened to me," he admitted. "That saving her was the most important and best thing Iíd ever done."
"Yeah, I knew," Kyle said and realized he was telling the truth.
Max nodded. "I had a feeling you did."
They were quiet again.
Then Kyle continued his last thought: "I was mad, but I knew. I even knew that your answer to question number eight was a lie. You always were a terrible liar, Max." Kyle grinned at Max and was gratified when Max grinned back, although his expression was still mostly inscrutable, and there was still a shadow at the back of his eyes.
So Kyle grew serious again, knowing that he had one thing left to say, the one thing that might remove that last of the shadows between them. "You donít need to worry, Max. For yourself or your family. Put it down to the least we can do in return for what you did yesterday."
Looking at Maxís still too-serious face, Kyle decided that he needed to say yet another thing, something that would break the somber mood in the room. "So," he began, striving for flippancy, "should we shake on it or something?"
And Max laughed, his first really open laugh in Kyle Valentiís presence.
And that was how a friendship, predicted by an old truce and redefined by an almost-tragedy, started with a simple handshake.
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