|"Lives in the Balance"
Disclaimer: This is a work of speculative fan fiction for enjoyment, not gain, and no copyright infringement is intended on anybody holding copyrights to "Roswell."
Summary: The (UFO) Convention Ė Filling in a missing scene of Michael going to Bitter Lake. And, an alternative/what if story: What if Sheriff Valenti was late?
Authors Note: For Elizabeth S, for making me appreciate Michael, and for inspiring me to start writing again!
|Michael Guerin ran. He ran down the road out of Roswell, ran faster and harder than he thought possible. It seemed like heíd been running for hours.
ĎMax... have to find Max,í his worn-out boots beat in rhythm. Where had Hubble taken him? Why had Max gone with him?
The pain tearing at his lungs and stabbing in his side was nothing compared to the terror he was feeling in his heart, the icy chill of fear in his gut, the overwhelming urgency to find Max, to be there for him, to help him...
He stopped, bending over at the waist, shaking hands braced on his knees, gasping for breath, wishing he hadnít cut all those PE classes. He squeezed his eyes shut to concentrate... tried to free his mind from the fear and reach down to that link, that tenuous link theyíd had as children, before they had speech, still newborn and naked and innocent, under the desert stars. When they were connected. They hadnít used it much, over the years, but the awareness of each other was always there, way down inside. If he could only reach it.
He damned his erratic powers, tried to concentrate while he gulped in air, almost gave upóbut then, he caught it, very faint, like a radio station coming in really badly from far away, with lots of static: Max... confused.. wondering.. nervous.. a little worried.. starting to get frightened. Oh, god...
Yes.. he was heading in the right direction. Michael sucked down one more big breath of air and ran on into the waning light. ĎMax.. gotta help Maxí his one thought sang along with the rhythm of his pounding heart.
Max... he was so damn trusting, so naive. He hadnít really changed much from that scrawny big-eyed alien child in all his 16 years. He hadnít had to learn what Michael knew: about pain, about betrayal of trust, about how to be a rock and survive. Max was so pure...
Michael heard the sound of an engine behind him. He couldnít believe itóthis wasnít a busy road at all, didnít get much traffic. He turned around and kept running backward, facing the oncoming vehicle, stumbling a little, right arm flung out, thumb extended towards the sky. A dusty pickup truck was approaching.
Michael had all but given up on hitchhiking. Aside from it being dangerous, he knew he looked so wild and raggedy that people rarely picked him up... and that was when he wasnít all red and dripping with sweat. He narrowed his eyes and willed the driver to stop. He couldnít actually do stuff like that, but it was worth a shot. It was that or jump in front of the truck and risk getting hit. He had to get to Max...
The truck slowed down and stopped. A middle-aged Native American guy leaned over and shoved the passenger door open. "Need a lift?"
Michael wiped his sweaty face with his hands, dried them hastily on his thighs, and hopped in, sucking down great gasps of air. The old pickup pulled out, not driving that fast, but faster than Michael could have gone on foot. Michael fidgeted, resisting the urge to shove the guy out of the truck and floor the accelerator. But heíd already stolen one car in his career, and he didnít think this guy would be as understanding about it as Maria had been. And look what had happened with him and Maria...
Michael was glad the guy was an Indian. Indians were cool. They were stoic, like he was. They didnít feel the need for idle chitchat. They minded their own business.
"You running from something?" the driver said. "You seem to be in an awful big hurry."
Michael worked on steadying his breath, keeping his heart from pounding out of his chest. He glanced at the manís round dark face, long black hair with some gray in it pulled back into a ponytail, his dark eyes fixed on the highway.
"Gotta get someplace," he finally said, "Iím.. meeting someone.. and Iím late. Itís real important." His eyes scanned the road ahead, searching... trying to reach out to Max. ĎIím coming, Max,í he thought.
"Must be a girl," the man said. "They do give you hell if you show up late," he chuckled.
Michael wished it were something that simple. Not that heíd break a sweat running to see a girl.
They drove in silence. The sun was starting to sink lower. Michael wished he were still running. At least then, heíd be doing something. Sitting still in that truck, worrying about Max and doing nothing was driving him crazy. Then he saw a building up ahead, off to the right. Maxís Jeep. Two figures standing in the dark.
"Hey, pull over! This is my stop!"
The driver braked with maddening slowness. "Ainít a bus, you know."
Michael had the door open and was halfway out before the truck had slowed down. He spared a moment to glance back and say, "Hey, thanks," before he slammed the door and started running across the dirt toward the building. He could hear the truck drive off slowly down the road behind him.
As he got closer, he forced himself to slow down, to move quietly, to size up the situation. To think first, for a change, like Max always told him. Jesus... the guy had a gun! Max!
"Hey!" Michael shouted. Hubble turned to look at him with crazed eyes. Max jumped Hubble... they scrabbled for the gun. In desperation, Max focused his powers and the gun slid away, out of Hubbleís reach...
"I knew it was you, you bastard!" Hubble cackled wildly, "I knew it!"
Michael stood there, frozen. Should he help Max with Hubble? Should he grab the gun? Jesus, a gun-- what was he going to do with a gun? Michael went for the gun, but Hubble was crazy. That made him extra strong, and quick for an old man. He slithered out of Maxís grip, and got the gun again, a few seconds ahead of Michael. Hubble spared a glance at Michael and then looked at Max.
Max held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, of supplication. "Youíre making a mistake!" Max cried, "Iím not who you think I am! I didnít kill anyone!"
"This is for Sheila... and my baby... and the 30 years of hell you put me through, you bastard!" Hubble cried. The gun went off.
It was loud.. so loud. Michael flinched at the sound. He looked, and Max was lying on his back on the dirt. Max!
Michael didnít know if the agony he felt was his own or Maxísóor both. "Max!" Michael ran over to him, fell to his knees beside him. He didnít care about Hubble or the gun. Heíd kill Hubble later...
"Max, oh god, Max..." The black shirt was dark in one spot over his chest...soaked in blood. Max...
The dark eyelashes fluttered and Max opened his eyes a crack. "Michael? He shot me.." he whispered, sounding like a surprised child.
"Shh.. I know.. Itís okay." Michael pressed both hands against the wound, trying to hold in the blood. "Stay with me, Maxwell."
"Step away from him, son. Donít make me shoot you, too," Hubble said. "Let me finish him off. He ainít no friend of yours son. Ainít even human."
"Heís my friend, you crazy son-of-a-bitch! You just shot my best friend!" Michael cried, his voice strangled with emotion. Then he ignored Hubble and turned back to Max.
Should he try to heal him... in front of Hubble? But then, Hubble would know, and then heíd kill both of them. Could he just sit there and let Maxís life dribble out between his fingers? Better to die here with Max than to go on living in his hell without him. But, could he do it?
"Save yourself," Max whispered with a cough. "Tell Liz... Iím sorry. Take care of Isabel. Tell Mom..." Max groaned. "Oh.. it hurts."
"Shut up, Max. I wonít let you die." Michael wished his powers werenít so damn hard for him to control. His whole body was shaking. He tuned Hubble out, the gun at his back, everything but Max. He focused. "Look at me, Max... stay here with me. I canít do this alone."
Tears mingled with the sweat on his face, but he didnít notice. He concentrated... wished he had paid more attention in biology class. The pain seared through him then like a dull knife... Maxís pain. Maxís fear and sadness... It was almost too much. How could Max have done this for Liz, Michael wondered. Max was so much stronger...
He saw Liz... Did Max ever think of anything else? He saw himself, in Maxís eyes... the mixture of love and exasperation Max felt... Gee, did he really look that bad? Maybe he should get a haircut...
He went deeper.. down through the torn flesh, the shattered arteries, the chipped bones.. looking for what was out of place, what didnít belong there. That little chunk of metal in Maxís body that was making him die. Drawing it up, up out of the wound, mending the damage along the way as best he could, weaving Max back together.
Michael worked with care, with love... It was so hard.. like making that napkin holder for Maria... It had to be perfect... The pain of it.. Maxís pain, his own.. made him gasp and sob, but he hung on. He could feel Maxís life force retreating. No! He went deeper and deeper after it, calling him back. Max! Stay with me!
Somewhere far away there were voices. Heíd forgotten all about Hubble and the gun. Michael heard another shot. Part of his mind braced himself to feel the slug tear into his bodyónow that he knew exactly what it felt likeóbut it didnít come. Max! Stay with me, buddy... Donít leave me!
* * *
Michael opened his eyes, panting for breath. It was like coming up from being underwater way too long. Max was looking up at him; his eyes were smiling. The pain was goneófrom both of them. "Hey," Max said softly.
"Youíre getting pretty good at this stuff," Max said quietly. "Thanks."
Michael bent over and rested his forehead against Maxís chest. He was totally spent. Max put his hand on the back of Michaelís neck.
"You boys okay?" Michael looked up. Sheriff Valenti was standing there. Hubble was lying on the ground behind him.
"Yeh... weíre fine," Michael said, helping Max sit up, pulling his jacket over the hole in his shirt. Max grabbed Michaelís wrist and willed away his blood that covered Michaelís two hands, before the Sheriff could see it. Max hoped the darkness and the black shirt hid the blood that drenched the front of him.
"Hubble was crazy! He knocked me down!" Max said, his voice breaking with emotion, "If Michael hadnít shown up.. he wouldíve shot me!"
"Iím sorry... I didnít know he was so dangerous," Valenti said, sounding shaken.
Max got up, still wobbly. Michael steadied him. Max was suddenly angry.
"What did you tell him? Why did he come after me? Youíre the sheriff... youíre supposed to protect me!"
Michael put a restraining hand on Maxís arm, but he flung it off. "You want me? Well, here I am! Take me!"
ĎGreat, Max,í Michael thought, ĎI didnít just give you your life back to turn yourself in , to the sheriff.í He tried to pull Max away.
"Now son..." Valenti began.
"Would you treat your own son this way?" Maxís voice blazed with pain and indignation. He had almost died. He wasnít going to take it anymore.
Valentiís blue eyes looked haunted, staring at Max. Michael was almost afraid to breathe...
"Get out of here, the both of you. You were never here..."
Michael led Max away, putting a protective hand on his shoulder.
"Itís not your fault.. the guy was crazy, Max."
"I donít think so Michael. The guy we are looking for has killed a lot of people."
"No shit. Give me the keys, Maxwell. Iíll drive you home."
Max handed them over wearily, and Michael helped him into the passenger seat of the Jeep.
"Hey, Michael, Iíve gotta tell you something. You really need to take a shower, manóyou stink."
"You donít smell so great yourself, near-death-experience boy. At least you didnít shit your pants."
"Then maybe you could show up a little sooner next time?"
"Maybe youíd like to buy me a car. Geez, I canít believe you were dumb enough to get in a car with that whacko!"
Max smiled and leaned his head back against the seat, and shut his eyes. His life had been in Michaelís hands once already today. He figured he could relax and trust him to drive him home safely.
Valenti stood over Hubbleís body, calling in to report the shooting. He watched the tail lights of the Jeep disappear in the darkness, heading up the road, back to Roswell.
He let out a shaky sigh and looked down at the dead man at his feet. He hadnít shot many men in the line of duty. Roswell was a quiet place. This was the only time thatósick as he felt insideóbut, God forgive him--he wasnít sorry. In fact, he was glad. He only wished his dad had done it, 30 years ago.
- End -
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