|Disclaimer: All Roswell characters are the property of UPN .|
Summary: Max returns from a very long journey to find that everything and everyone has changed.
Author's Note: Flashbacks are in italics. Feedback always appreciated!
Her words were accompanied by a sarcastic giggle that infuriated Max. Even after many light-years, and even though he was lying on the ground writhing in agony, Tess's voice still had the ability to cut straight through and get on his nerves.
"You don't need to breathe here," she continued. "There isn't any air here. For God's sake, Max, you look like you're about to gag to death. Just stop breathing."
Why should he trust her? Tess had a history of wanting people to stop breathing. But the pain in his lungs, throughout his body, was unbearable, so Max struggled to keep himself from inhaling. After a few moments, his thoughts became clearer and he was able to focus on his surroundings.
Everything had an odd reddish cast to it, almost like he was looking through a crimson photo negative. From his sprawled position on the ground, he glanced up into Tess's face. Over her shoulder, he saw the worm hole collapse.
"See?" she said, her expression one of utter condescension. "All you need to do is give in to your alien physiology. You don't need to breathe."
He couldn't breathe. Max opened his eyes and struggled to sit upright. His throat was constricting and he had a horrible pain in the center of his chest. His heart was doing that crazy jerking again, this time out of protest for more oxygen instead of less. Grabbing hold of the sheets, he squeezed his eyes shut and forced his lungs to pull in a deep gulp of air.
Immediately, his lungs revolted and he started the painful hacking once again. He gasped between each bout of coughing and shortly the amount of discharge he was expelling rose to a frightening level. Weakly, he stumbled from the bed and staggered toward a small bathroom that was attached to the room he was in, the blue glow of a nightlight guiding his way.
He knelt before the toilet and coughed up what he hoped was the last of his alien respiratory system. On that other planet, as he'd given in to his alien side, his lungs had formed a thick mucus layer that supplied his body with the gasses it needed to function. On this world, he didn't need the spongy material - he needed air. Max knew that his body was adapting itself to this planet, that his body was returning to being dominantly human.
The coughing ceased and Max sat back against the side of the old fashioned tub. He ran a hand through his hair and swallowed hard. It hadn't been this difficult to adjust to the other world. Coming back was harder than he'd anticipated.
Max looked around his surroundings. Where was he? A brief flash of panic warmed his body, then he remembered the events of the evening and he relaxed.
Martha Green did indeed make a terrific pot roast and Max and Hal had indeed been lucky enough to be treated to a nice warm apple pie. When Max met Martha, he placed her older than Hal, but then guessed he may have misjudged Hal's age. She'd been delighted to meet Max, had welcomed him into her home as if he were a lost puppy. She had chattered and clucked around him like an old mother chicken, caring for him in a way he hadn't experienced in what seemed like an eternity.
Shakily, Max rose to his feet and rinsed his mouth out with some cool water from the sink. He glanced into the mirror and stopped cold. This was the first chance he'd gotten to examine his reflection and what he saw startled him. Although his skin had a sickly gray cast to it and he looked tired, Max didn't appear to have aged a day in his absence. He ran a hand through his hair in search of grays. None. He examined the corners of his eyes for crow's feet. None of those, either. Max's skin was as smoothed and unblemished as the day he'd left. Not only had it seemed like he'd only been gone a few days, his body apparently thought so, too.
Back in the bedroom, Max sat on the edge of the bed and looked out the window. The horizon was already beginning to turn lighter and he knew the sun would rise within the next half hour. He was awake for the day. Between his dream of Tess and the bloody coughing in the bathroom, there was no way he was going back to sleep now.
Beneath his fingers, he felt the soft cotton fabric of the bed quilt. He glanced down at it and his fingers traced the intricate stitching between the blocks. When Martha had shown him his room, she'd proudly pointed out the quilt and mentioned that her grandmother had stitched the entire thing by hand. A small smile curved Max's lips as he imagined the old woman sitting in her rocker, lovingly sewing together scraps of cloth. This was what he'd missed about humans - they were the only beings in the universe that would put so much passion into creating something that's only function was to keep them warm. Martha's grandmother had loved her work - the stitches were neat, uniform and one of the most beautiful things Max had ever seen.
Unexpectedly, tears rose to Max's eyes. For an instant, he felt disturbed by the reaction, but then he realized that as his body was returning to being human, his emotions were also. But Max had never quite reached the level of non-human non-emotion that Tess had while on their home world. A little part of Max had always been emotional, had always had feelings. He laughed lightly to himself - another first since his return - and pulled a tissue from the box on the night stand.
The sound of an engine starting drew Max's attention back to the window. He looked down from his second-story perch and saw Hal climbing behind the wheel of the truck. Under his arm was a thermos. He tossed an industrial-sized lunch box onto the seat beside him and backed out of the drive.
Max suddenly became very aware of the smell of cooking bacon wafting up from the kitchen. He slid on his clothes and descended the stairs. In the kitchen, Martha was banging her hand on the top of a small TV whose picture was snowy and rolling vertically.
"Is your TV broken?" he asked softly.
Martha turned, a little startled, then gave him a wide grin. "Good morning, Max. Sleep well?"
He nodded. No need to let her know about his nightmare or his alien upheaval. He looked at the TV again.
Martha nodded disgustedly. "Ever since that freak electric storm two weeks ago. The picture just went that day."
Max hoped he masked his startled expression. "Freak electric storm?" he repeated.
"Yeah, don't you remember?"
Max shook his head. "I wasn't in the area two weeks ago." Or was he?
Martha thumped her forehead and moved to flip the bacon on the stove. "That's right, you've been traveling." She gestured towards the table. "Sit down. I'll make you some breakfast."
He sat down and waited for her to tell him about the storm. He didn't want to appear too anxious about it. Glancing around the comfortable kitchen, he noticed a calendar hanging on the wall. It was some time in June. Of 2007. Inside, Max leapt for joy. The possibility that his loved ones were still alive had just increased tenfold.
Martha cracked some eggs into a skillet. "Weirdest damned thing, Max. I was outside hanging laundry and all of a sudden the sky lit up off to the east. It was blinding. The alarm on Hal's car went off. The birds flew out of the trees as if the devil himself was after them." She moved to put some bread in the toaster. "Weather man said it was just some electrical disturbance of some kind. Fried the TV. Ruined my alarm clock. Seemed a bit strong for what they call a 'disturbance.'"
Indeed, it did. It had to have taken something cataclysmic to do that kind of damage. Something like a wormhole opening and closing.
Two weeks. He'd lain in that woods for almost two weeks before he'd gained enough strength to move on. No wonder he'd been so thirsty, so hungry. And it was a small miracle that some hunter hadn't happened across him…or some wild animal. Someone from above must truly love Max.
"Would you like me to look at the TV?" he offered.
Martha glanced at him, a spatula in her hand. "Sure, if you want. I don't think there's much you can do, though."
Max turned the TV around and pretended to mess with the wiring. "I used to play with electronics when I was a kid."
"When?" Martha laughed. "You're still a kid, Max."
Max gave a little laugh. He ran his hand along the circuit board of the TV and fixed it. "I think that might have helped," he said, then turned the TV back around.
Martha's mouth fell open. "The picture has never been that good! Son, you truly have a gift."
Max gave her a smile and slid back into his seat. She had no idea.
Within a few minutes, Martha placed a simmering plate of food before him. He looked down at it and his mouth watered.
"What do you like with your eggs?" she asked. "Salt and pepper? Ketchup?"
What were the chances? "Do you have any Tabasco?" he asked.
Martha gave a laugh. "That's new. But, yes I do."
While Max ate, Martha sat across from him and asked him questions about his life. The inevitable question arose. "Do you have a girlfriend?"
Max reddened and looked shyly down to his plate, though he was smiling. "Yeah, I have a girl." At least he thought he did. He smile faded away. "Her name is Liz."
"What a pretty name. And what a lucky girl."
Max had avoided even thinking of Liz, let alone speaking her name. He knew this time would come, and now that it had come it wasn't any easier than he'd anticipated. He gave a little frown, then concentrated on his breakfast.
Later, Martha drove him to the bus station. After they pulled into a parking spot and got out of the car, she reached into the back seat and produced a backpack. Max eyed it curiously.
"My son Randy went off to college many years ago," she explained. "I kept so much of his stuff. Stuff he won't use again. I put some clean shirts and a light jacket in here. And some lunch."
Max lifted his hands. "Oh, I couldn't - "
"Don't be silly. Of course you can." Martha's blue eyes creased at the corners as she smiled at him. "This stuff is just going to the Goodwill some day anyway. I couldn't help you out with the pants - Randy was much shorter and pudgier than you and we couldn't have you walking around looking like a dork, could we?"
Max gave an embarrassed laugh and looked at his feet, humbled by her kindness. But he needed to meet her eyes for his next comment. "Martha, thank you. And Hal. You've been more help than you can possibly imagine."
She smiled again and opened her arms to give him a farewell hug. Suddenly Max remembered another goodbye…
"You be careful," she said as she reached up to touch his face. "And you come back. Do you hear me?" Max nodded. "I will. I promise. Tell them…" his voice drifted off as he struggled for the right words. "Tell them I'm sorry. Tell them I will return. I promise." And with that, for the first time, for the only time, she kissed him. Then Max turned and lifted his hand to the sky to open the wormhole...
"You be careful," she said as she reached up to touch his face. "And you come back. Do you hear me?"
Max nodded. "I will. I promise. Tell them…" his voice drifted off as he struggled for the right words. "Tell them I'm sorry. Tell them I will return. I promise."
And with that, for the first time, for the only time, she kissed him. Then Max turned and lifted his hand to the sky to open the wormhole...
In the end, Maria had been the only one to see him leave. She had been the only one to bid him farewell.
"You take care," Martha was saying as she hugged him. "Godspeed, Max Evans."
Max gave her a smile and watched her back out of her parking spot. He turned to enter the bus station, but something across the street caught his eye. A public library. Before he could leave, he needed to do something.
|Part 1 | Index | Part 3|
|Max/Liz | Michael/Maria | Alex/Isabel | UC Couples | Valenti | Other | Poetry | Crossovers | AfterHours|