Author: Debbie
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: You don't honestly think I own anything, do you?
Spoilers: ARCC
Author's Note: Sorry for the angsty tone. I was in a rather low mood when I wrote this, and certain emotions and memories spilled over the surface, so I thought I'd let them spill into fic. I'm a glutton for punishment, what can I say? lol
Feedback: This is unbeta'd, so apologies for grammatical errors or any other rough feel to the story. Feedback and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

As soon as we returned to the house, I went straight up to my room and closed the door. I didn't even wait to help Mom serve the food to all the guests milling around downstairs -- I figured that's what all the aunts and cousins were there for. I just had to get away. Away to my room where I could be alone with Max.

Closing the door, I kicked off my black pumps and went straight to my bedside cabinet. I quickly found what I was looking for, and, hitching my skirt up, sat on my bed. Then I opened the heavy scrapbook and slowly turned through the pages.

Pictures of Max. Mementos of Max. Memories of Max. That was all I had now. All I had after he burned himself out trying to save every child in that Phoenix hospital. My wonderful, loving, giving Max. His greatest gift -- caring -- ended up being his greatest weakness. He gave until there was nothing left -- and nothing left in reserve for us to save. Not even the healing stones worked, although we tried. God, we tried. I didn't remember much of the past few days, but that stood out, clear as day. Standing there, tears streaming down my face as I willed the silent shell to wake up and take me in his arms as he always did. Feeling the ice seep into my soul as I realized that he would never hold me again.

All the others had banded together in their grief. Michael, Tess, Kyle, Liz, Alex and Maria all claimed to draw strength from each other. I'd seen them huddled together at the Crashdown, the funeral home, at the church, and, presumably, downstairs in our living room where the reception was. I wondered if they'd separated at all, even to sleep, or if they'd just collapsed en masse and slept like a litter of puppies wherever they happened to be any given night. I wouldn't know. The idea of being with any people -- even those that had been closest to me in the past -- was almost nauseating. I wanted to be alone. Alone with Max.

That's just the way we'd always been in life -- the two of us together. We shared a bond unlike any I'd ever known. From the day we came out of the pods, through all the new starts and new adventures and new dangers, we did everything together. We never really even had to say it -- we knew we loved each other. More than we probably should have as siblings, but I don't think we ever thought of ourselves as siblings anyway. What we felt was beyond definition. Brother, lover, mate, friend … he was all those things to me… and none of them. He was just Max. He was mine.

How could I relinquish such a bond into the abyss of group sharing? I couldn't.

"Honey?" It was my aunt, tapping on the door. She opened the door a crack. "Can I come in?"

"Sure." What else was I supposed to say?

She crossed the space and sat on the edge of the bed. "You all right, dear? Everyone downstairs is asking about you."

My stomach knotted up at the overly sweet tone. "Yeah. I'm fine." Go away.

"You want someone to talk to?"

"No, thanks." Please, please… just go away.

She didn't look convinced, but she got up again and smoothed her dress with her hands. "Well, all right, dear. If you're sure. "

"I'm sure." Would I be hiding here if I wanted to talk to someone?

Finally she left, and I rubbed my jaw, feeling the ache as the muscles unclenched. I felt a little bad at not being with my parents or with Michael and the others. I'm sure they needed all the support they could get. But I just couldn't do it. They would never have understood how I felt. They couldn't possibly know what Max was to me, what we had together. I didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to think about it. I didn't want all the fuss and bother and ruckus. I just wanted to deal with things my way. I just wanted my life to go back to normal. Normal with Max.

I retrieved my favorite picture out of the scrapbook and held it up. Then I pulled my knees up to my chest, trying to remember the feel of Max's warm body against me as he held me. If I looked hard enough at the picture as I hugged my knees, maybe I could pretend it was really him, really his face so close to mine, really his warmth pressing against me.

"Max?" I whispered, tracing a finger down his cold photographic cheek. "It's me. I -- We're alone now."

And then I wept.


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