Reading Comprehension

Author: Debbie
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters. They all belong to Melinda Metz, et al.
Author's Note: Credit and many thanks go to Kate for the concept, which she so graciously let me use as a jumping-off point. The opening scene with Isabel is quoted verbatim (with minor changes in pronouns for perspective) from her "Reading Japanese" Tess/Is fic. (Part of the Sugar Cubes and Alien Liaisons series). Thanks also to Bennie -- you are the best beta-reader!
Feedback: This was my first m/m slash fic. Let me know what you think!

"Isabel, I don't understand...this thing with Tess. I just don't get it, why are you doing this?"

"What right do you have to ask me that, Max? Why am I doing this? Why do you do anything with Liz?"

Max broke in immediately, "That's different..."

Before he could defend his relationship with Liz any further, Isabel jumped in, "No Max, it's not. Why is it any different? Do you think you feel any more for Liz than I feel for Tess?"

"'s just...different. You and Tess are..."

Angrily she cut him off, "What, the same sex? Yeah, maybe, but at least we're the same species!"

She knew that had hurt him. And she didn't feel bad this time. She wanted to make Max feel bad...and he looked like he felt pretty bad...she started to feel a little twinge of regret...

"Isabel...I...what about the dreams you were having with Michael...don't you think that means..."

"Max, we don't know what those meant."

"Yeah, but the book... you guys were paired together...and me and Tess..."

"Max...what if we're looking at it all wrong...what's not read like English...but like to bottom?"

A change came over Max's face. His brow furrowed as he contemplated what that would mean. He didn't say anything; just sat there looking disturbed and dumbstruck. Isabel raised her eyebrows and walked out.


And with that remark, Isabel shattered Max's last attempt to hang onto normalcy. After she walked out of his room, banging the door behind her, he flopped back on his bed and reclaimed the pose he'd been in when she'd first come in: flat on his back, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. He'd been furious with Isabel for hooking up with Tess. Not because he didn't understand the desire, but because he understood the desire all too well. But wasn't it enough that they were different by being aliens? He didn't want to add choice of partners to their list of "differents". They didn't need any more attention drawn to them. So he had managed to squelch his desires, to blend in. He had paired up with Liz. Everything was normal....

Until now.

Isabel's suggestion stirred up ideas he'd shied away from for ... well, most of his life. But seeing Isabel and Tess together at school had reawakened the yearning, and to now hear Isabel's notion that they might be SUPPOSED to be paired up that way... He didn't know if he could handle that.

He was too agitated to stay in his room. Jumping up, he left his room and headed for the front door. Liz. He needed to see Liz. He needed to reground himself, to remind himself that he was happy with her. Happy enough, anyway. He needed to put thoughts of Michael out of his head. And while he was at it, he would walk over to see her, rather than drive. It wasn't so far - Roswell wasn't exactly an enormous metropolis. Besides, the evening air might clear his head, the exercise might calm his nerves...

Liz. It wasn't a lie to say that he did feel strongly for her. She was a kind of kindred spirit - her quiet intelligence, her tendency to keep herself contained, to lay low. He respected her - her subtle sense of humor, her sense of devotion - and valued her as a person. That was why he had risked so much to save her that day at the Crashdown. And since then, he had enjoyed her companionship and, in a way, had grown to love her. And yet... and yet ... somehow he still felt like something was missing. The spark, the emotional soul-bond he craved...

Memories of Michael sprang to his mind, unbidden, as he continued to walk. The first time he saw Michael in the desert. He had once told Liz that upon first emerging from the pods, they hadn't spoken, but they had still communicated. And he remembered that sense of *connection* as he and Michael had looked at each other. That sense that they would always be there for each other, come what may.

Crossing another street, Max smiled inwardly as he recalled that his attempts to "be there" for the independent-minded Michael had often backfired. Michael didn't like to admit that he "needed" anyone, and thus they had often been outwardly at odds. But underneath the surface squabbling, Max had felt the connection with Michael continue to beat in tune to his heart. He suddenly remembered the day last Spring when Michael had asked Max to mend his black eye. The moment of healing had turned into a gentle caress, Max's healing energy meeting an answering warmth beneath his fingers. Did Michael feel that too? He secretly hoped so, although they had never spoken of it. There had been only the moment where they looked into each other's eyes, and then, as Max's fingers trailed off Michael's cheek, the moment ended and Michael looked away.

Now that he thought about it, though, who did Michael usually turn to first? Max. Whose window did he climb through countless times after troubled nights with his foster father? Max's.

And those nights when Michael HAD come through Max's window, even though it was to seek refuge from Hank, Max had always been pleased to see him. Those were always peaceful moments - no outward conflicts of any kind. Just sleep. The sensation of Michael's nearness always seemed to make him sleep better, like he was made more whole to have him so close....

Max suddenly stopped walking and looked up. This wasn't the downtown area where the Crashdown and Liz's home was. He had been thinking about Michael so much that his feet had carried him unconsciously to Michael's apartment. What was he doing here? He had meant to see Liz. Liz was who he needed now, to get his thoughts off of Michael. He set his jaw. Damn Isabel and her suggestions...

He stood a moment on the sidewalk outside Michael's apartment, undecided. A light breeze ruffled his hair as he thought about retracing his steps and heading back to his intended destination of Liz. Then he reconsidered. Maybe it was time he finally sounded Michael out on this issue, especially now that Isabel and Tess were together. Just casually bring stuff up and see how he reacted. They would just talk a bit, and he would move on to Liz's place.

But as he tapped on Michael's window, he suddenly froze up. What was he thinking? It didn't matter what Michael thought, what he felt. It didn't matter what Max felt. They were already attracting too much suspicion as aliens, despite their best efforts to blend in. Even if Michael felt as Max did, they could never do anything about it. Look where it was getting Isabel with her relationship with Tess ... unwanted stares, whispered rumors... more lies...

Quickly, he turned to go. Not fast enough - Michael had opened the window and was looking at him with a puzzled look on his face.

"Maximillian. To what do I owe this pleasure?" he drawled. Then, seeing Max's troubled face, he added, "What's up?"

Since it was too late to leave undetected, Max reluctantly answered "Can ... we talk? In there, not out here."

"Sure." Michael stepped back and made space so that Max could climb through. Once Max was inside, Michael carelessly gestured toward the unmade bed. "Have a seat."

Max sat gingerly on the edge, while Michael pulled up a kitchen chair, turned it around, and sat down, straddling it backwards.

Max looked down at the floor. "What do you think about Isabel and ... and Tess?" He glanced up to gauge Michael's reaction.

Michael instantly got angry. "I think it's stupid that they let themselves get caught like that. Now the whole school will be talking, making it their business to scrutinize them. Before you know it, someone will find out that they're aliens, and it'll be all over for us."

Max sighed. He figured that would be Michael's reaction. But he hadn't really answered the question either. "Besides that, though," Max pressed. "What do you think about THEM being together?"

Michael stopped his tirade long enough to consider. "I don't know. It all seems so complicated. I mean, we don't know anything about ourselves. I thought maybe those dreams Isabel and I had meant something, but now... I'm not so sure."

"Are you sorry? Did you want those dreams to be true?" Max asked gently. He had to know.

"I don't know. Kinda, in a way. They were pretty happy dreams, you know? But I don't really feel like I'm missing out, seeing her with Tess, either. Like there's something else meant for me."

Max took a deep breath. He was about to risk it all. "Isabel gave me this theory today," he began. "About that book Tess gave us, the one with the pictures of us. She thought that maybe we were reading the book wrong. We don't know how our language is supposed to be read. We assumed it should be read our way, left to right. But that maybe it should be read like Japanese, top to bottom. That would mean that Isabel and Tess were *supposed* to be together and that ... uh ..." He trailed off. He couldn't voice the obvious conclusion to the sentence out loud.

There was a very long pause. When the silence grew too loud, Max finally lifted his eyes up off the floor, and finally dared look at Michael. Michael was looking at him, a thoughtful expression on his face. *At least he's not punching me out for even suggesting such a thing.* Max thought. Finally, he couldn't stand it any longer. "Michael, say something. What are you thinking?" he pleaded.

Michael's response was to unwind himself from his chair and stand up. "I think," he said, "that you should go." His voice was expressionless, as if he was trying very hard to contain whatever thoughts and emotions he was feeling.

Defeated, Max didn't try to argue. In silence, he got up and left. Back on the sidewalk, he decided he felt too drained to go over to Liz's after all. He didn't want to talk, and as nice as she was, he didn't feel up to pretending tonight, pretending that there wasn't someone else on his mind, in his heart. With a sigh of resignation, he trudged home.


Dinner was uncomfortable for him that night. He answered his parents questions in one-word answers while Isabel chattered in an over-bright tone about her day at school, (leaving out events involving Tess, of course) in an awkward attempt to make up for his silence. He was too tired and depressed to talk and, as soon as he could, he made his escape up to his room, and climbed into bed. But he didn't sleep. He just lay under the covers and stared into the dark night, wondering if there would ever be any resolution to his emotional state. The trees outside his bedroom rustled a little in the breeze, creating a soothing tap-tap-tap as they brushed against the house.


Max sat up. That wasn't a tree.

He got out of bed and went to his window, brushing the blinds to one side with his hand. Michael stood there, outlined in the faint glow of the moon. Hurriedly Max let him in. Michael climbed through and, without speaking a word, stepped in close, put one hand on either side of Max's face, and kissed him, not forcefully, but lovingly and lingeringly. Max's heart spasmed at this unexpected turn of events, and, after recovering from his initial shock, he eagerly returned the kiss, bringing his hands up to tangle in Michael's hair.

When they pulled apart, they stood there, suddenly awkward. "I ... I shouldn't have come here..." Michael began, and hurriedly turned to leave. Max grabbed his wrist before he could disappear out the window again. "No, don't go. Please. I'm glad you did that." Seeing the doubt in Michael's eyes, he went on. "I mean it." He raised Michael's hand to his lips and pressed a kiss into his palm to show he meant what he said.

Michael smiled, transforming his usually serious face into something heart-stoppingly beautiful. "It's OK, Maximillian. I believe you. But I should still probably go. Or things might get a little too involved here tonight."

Max's first impulse was to say he didn't care, he wouldn't mind it getting *completely* involved tonight, but he supposed it was better not to rush things. After all, he'd just gotten more than he'd ever hoped to have. He was a little surprised Michael managed to show such restraint - usually he rushed into things headlong. "OK," he whispered to Michael, and released his wrist. Michael leaned back in for one more kiss, and then hopped back out through the open window. Max stood there for some time after he left, staring out into the night, feeling the aftermath of Michael's kiss on his lips. Only one thing nagged at him.

Now what?

TBC ...

Continue to "Out"

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