|The Seventh Sun
Author: Eriala PM
Sometimes, Max lies awake at night, and wonders if he did indeed die in Vietnam. Sometimes, it feels like the only explanation for this senseless disaster that he calls life. - Max is having trouble coping, and it’s up to JoJo to talk some sense into him.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst - Words: 4,167 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 7 - Published: 06-20-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4338163
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I making any money.
Author Notes: As you might guess from the title, this is compatible with my fic "Six Suns in the Sunset," although they aren't quite companion stories. Chapter six of "When You Dance," is referenced in the first scene here, but this story is still standalone. I wrote this intentionally without a ship, although if you would like to read into it that way, you can by all means do so.
A/N 2: In order to keep this fic Max-centric and angsty, I had to delete a scene that was too cute, and had too much Jude. Anyone who wants to read it can go to http : / / yourlovingfeta . livejournal . com /6783.html#cutid1 (take out the spaces, obviously).
Thank-you: To Gigi, who is very likely the coolest beta there ever was.
The Seventh Sun
March 17, 1968, 9:37 p.m.
"It's not just fucking right." Private Shears is facing the wall of the tent, but not for long. He turns, and his grey eyes are icy and hard. "It's not, is it, Sergeant?"
"Hmmm?" Max is holding a crumpled photograph with both hands, so tightly that his knuckles are white. In the photo, he is clutching a beer and attempting to kiss Jude on the cheek. Jude is dodging away. They look so much younger, many years younger, which can't be right because they didn't know each other back then. Max cannot remember when it was taken. He cannot remember a lot of things.
"Nothin' really. Just thinkin' that, you know, maybe we're not… maybe we don't belong here. Maybe we shouldn't be doing what we do."
Now Max's attention is caught, though a blaze of incredulity makes it difficult to answer at first. "You always were a smart one," he says finally. His sarcasm is masked. Max finds himself wishing, out of nowhere, that the Jude in the picture was not attempting to evade his own picture-self. Someday, he thinks, someday when he does not know who Jude is, or even Lucy, when he cannot remember his own first name or that there is a world outside this hell, he is going to need some record that there was once a friend who would follow when he would lead.
Max wishes that the other man would shut up. It's late, and he's getting a headache.
"I'm thinkin' that maybe, back home…" Shears is looking at him, now, and it's not the look of a soldier who had been firing at children only twenty-four hours before. He reminds Max of a woman he once saw as he was driving over a bridge. She was seated on the railing, looking down at the murky water below, hair in her face, trembling.
He buries his face in his hands, photograph pressed against his forehead.
"…maybe they'd think, you know, we shouldn't have done it."
Rather than comment that the man's intelligence clearly knows no bounds, Max lifts his head, but flips the picture over so he does not have to look into Jude's eyes. It is good that Jude didn't consent to be kissed on-camera. There will be no evidence that he was ever more than acquainted with a fuckup named Max Carrigan.
"Do you think so, Sergeant?" Shears questions, and his tone is earnest, now. "I, I've got a wife. And I wanna know, d'you think she'd be ashamed?"
This would be the perfect opportunity to dwell on the image of Shears, yesterday or a lifetime ago, setting up that infant like he might set up an inanimate target shoot at. It would be the appropriate time to remember that Sergeant Maxwell himself was not blameless, that day. When he answers the inquiry, the bitterness in his tone is unintentional. "You'll find out, won't you?" A pause. "When you get home." He does not say we. For Max, the concept of home is unthinkable.
"I have to take a piss," Shears says, and excuses himself without another word.
It is Max who finds his body, sometime before sunrise the next morning. He does the only decent thing he can, hiding the weapon the man used to take his own life. It must have been a scout, he tells the lieutenant. Everyone is satisfied with this explanation. "He was a good man, Billy was," one private says.
Max waits until no one is watching, then darts behind some nearby flora to vomit.
July 28, 1968, 8:15 p.m.
"You have a visitor." The nurse's voice is more strict than kind.
Max keeps his eyes closed. It is easier that way. He does not want to see Lucy right now. Maybe if he pretends to sleep, she will go away. A few moments pass.
"Hey, man… You going to look at me or what?" It is a male voice, not at all like Lucy's, one that he almost recognizes but cannot quite place. "You think I'm missing band practice to watch you sleep?"
Rolling over, hazarding a glance at the newcomer, Max is more than surprised that it is JoJo. He blinks a few times, but the man is still there. "Am I seeing things again?"
A low chuckle. "I dunno. You tell me."
"I think you're real." He speaks in simple sentences. It takes too much effort to say more. "You gonna sit down, or what?"
JoJo perches elegantly on the edge of the bed. He looks so out of place against the starkness of the hospital that Max wants to laugh. It's been such a long time since he's laughed that even the idea of it feels strange.
"Band practice?" Max questions, more to pass the time than out of interest. "You're still with Sadie?" It feels unnatural to carry on a normal conversation. With Lucy, there is a lot less talking, and a lot more of her stroking his hair and crying. Needless to say, this is never too enjoyable.
"Nah… didn't work out that way. These are just some other guys I'm messing around with." JoJo's carelessness is not at all believable.
"Oh." There is a silence. Or at least, there is a lull in their dialogue. It is never really silent here, even at night; someone is always whimpering or muttering to himself. "Lucy won't talk about Jude," he says at last.
"Not at all?" JoJo, despite his serene front, cannot keep his hands still. It surprises Max that even the ever-composed JoJo is uncomfortable in this place, but he does not blame him. Max would fidget, too, if it didn't hurt so much to move.
"She said he couldn't come to visit me."
"Well, it would be rather difficult." A pause. "Seeing as he was deported."
Max winces visibly. "Shit." He wishes he were not so transparent.
"Hey." JoJo looks him right in the eyes. Max half wants to look away. "Don't give up like that. Give it time. You came back. He could, too."
August 25, 1968, 4:27 p.m.
"What a charming place you two have," Mrs. Carrigan comments lightly, looking around Lucy's apartment. Max can tell that she is just being polite. For all the hours he's spent attempting to make the place presentable for their parents' visit, it is still very much the home of two siblings who have not devoted themselves to a particularly proper lifestyle.
Any obvious transgressions, at least, are hidden. The weed he stole from one of Sadie's tenants is hidden beneath a pillow on the couch. He hated to steal it, he really did, but Lucy has been firm in insisting that he stay away from such things, and he doesn't have the heart to argue with her. His more objectionable albums are hidden away in a bureau drawer, along with the various photographs that he does not want his mother to see.
"And you, Maxwell," their father adds. "You're looking much more like… yourself." It sounds like an accusation.
"It's good to see you," Lucy tells Mr. and Mrs. Carrigan, swiftly intervening before Max can make any one of the sardonic comments hiding behind his lips. His temper, never an issue before, has been constantly on edge recently. "Come, sit down," his sister continues. "Would you like some tea?"
Jude is not just in the drawings he's scrawled across the walls. He is in Lucy's speech and Max's now-rare smile. He lurks around every corner, never mind that he is actually thousands of miles away.
They settle down at the small table with their tea and some lumpy cookies. Lucy never was much of a cook. Even Jude was better.
"Will you be starting work again soon, Maxwell?" his mother questions him.
He looks at her impassively.
Lucy gives a blatantly false laugh. "He's been living here less than a week," she says sharply, and her voice isn't laughing at all. "Give him some time, won't you?"
Mrs. Carrigan's tone is equally pointed. "I just don't like to think of him sulking here all day," she responds. She speaks as though Max is not present. "I know you love your brother, Lucy, but I'm starting to think that maybe he would be better off back home with us."
From the way she says it, Max gets the sinking feeling that this conversation has been had before, behind his back. It makes him feel mildly sick.
"Mom!" Lucy is clearly aggravated. "We've been over this. I can handle things just fine. It's going to be alright."
Mrs. Carrigan sighs. "I worry, that's all. You know how I worry." There is a pause.
"What do you think, Maxwell?" Mr. Carrigan joins in, speaking directly to his son. It does not feel like an act of familial thoughtfulness so much as a means of further humiliation for an already irritated Max.
He does not chose his words carefully. "I guess I'm kind of wondering why you think you can argue over who gets to take care of me like I'm some kind of child. Or, for that matter, why you suddenly give a fuck about me."
"Language!" his mother scolds.
He uses his most juvenile voice. "Well, that settles it. Lucy lets me swear. I think she should get to be my mommy."
His sister is grinning slyly at him, as though he is Max again, and they have shared in some kind of private joke. It should feel pleasant, but it doesn't.
Max was the kind of slothful American who wouldn't bother to eat if all the dishes in the house were dirty. He was a boy who would join in games of truth or dare when his sister's friends came over for sleepovers. He is someone different now.
Their parents leave shortly after. "I hope you'll come visit us for Thanksgiving," Mrs. Carrigan comments pleasantly, while her husband guides her out the door. "It would be so nice to be a family again."
October 3, 1968, 6:01 a.m.
The city sunrise is tainted by smog, today, reds and golds turned grayish and ugly. Max stands at the window, his forehead and both hands pressed against the glass, fingers splayed, taking shallow, ragged breaths.
Lucy is asleep on the bed nearby, undisturbed. Jude is off on one of his artist's walks, gleaning inspiration from this endless mass of parked cars and brick buildings. Max sometimes wishes that he could be Jude. He envies the ease with which the man glides through life, as content at the wildest parties as he is in a dark corner with a sketchbook.
This dull daybreak is a common sight by now, one that he has seen every day since his return home. When he did not have the freedom to sleep as late as he pleased, he longed for every moment of rest. Now, a couple haphazard hours a night is all he can manage. He wakes up trembling, most mornings, and it takes him a while to calm himself, but he never remembers his dreams.
There comes a sound from behind him, and it might be his name, or maybe just a groan; he can't quite tell. Slowly, very slowly, he turns around. The cold of the glass still lingers in his fingers. Sure enough, Lucy is watching him groggily.
"Again, Max?" she questions blearily.
"You're up so early."
He does not compare her to their mother, or make a remark about the free cups of coffee she provides him with when he stops by to see her at work. "I thought I might go for a walk," he comments mildly. "It's so nice out, this time of day."
Sometime long ago, this would have been an excuse to go find Jude, to creep up behind him, to childishly put his hands over the other man's eyes and ask, "Guess who?" The question might have been met by a laughing, "Get off me, you scrawny bastard," and then some playful banter before Jude would show him some new drawing of Lucy and ask, "D'you think it's alright, mate?"
Now, however, going for a walk means quite the opposite. "You want me to come?" Lucy inquires, and Max shakes his head.
He does not bother to change out of the clothing he's been wearing for two days already; he pulls on a pair of boots without stopping to check if they belong to him, and makes for the door.
In the dingy nearby basement of some friend of a friend whose name he's forgotten, he gets thoroughly drunk before the sun finishes rising.
December 6, 1968, 9:59 a.m.
When he awakens, Max's first word is, "Fuck." He is not exactly sure where he is, except that he is definitely lying on someone's floor, and that it is freezing cold.
"Good morning to you, too." There is no mistaking JoJo's voice. Max opens his eyes. JoJo is lying sprawled on a nearby couch, guitar resting on top of him. They are in Sadie's 'whatever room.' No one else is around.
"Hey, man," Max mutters in greeting, sitting up. "How, ah… how did I get here?"
"Stumbled in last night." JoJo strums a chord on the guitar, then puts his hands over the strings to silence it. "I think you'd had a fight with Jude."
"That's a surprise," Max thinks to himself.
JoJo is obviously listening, but does not respond.
Max sighs, frustrated. "I just said that out loud, didn't I?"
JoJo makes a noise of assent. He half smiles, respectfully, waiting for Max to continue.
"It's just…" Max stretches. He aches all over from his night spent on Sadie's floor. "…he's not been the most pleasant guy to be around. Neither has Lucy. Not lately." Max gets to his feet. "It's morning, you said?" he asks unnecessarily. To confirm this, he looks to the window, thorough which streams thin, wintry sunlight. "I should go to work, shouldn't I?"
"Could be a good idea."
"And you… you're just going to sit here with that guitar for the whole goddamn day, are you?"
"Music," says JoJo. "Think about it, man. You think there's somethin' better out there than music?"
Now, Max can return that slight grin. "Yeah," he says sardonically, "driving a taxi full of ignorant fuckers who can't be bothered to walk a couple blocks. I'm pretty sure that's the meaning of life."
Some part of him can't believe that he is actually complaining; he is living and breathing and that should be enough.
"Don't suppose there's any coffee around here, is there?" Max inquires mildly.
"A few hours ago there was. You really can sleep through a lot, huh?"
This makes him stop and think. "No," he says, very slowly, "it's not really a habit of mine. I must have been on something."
"It's possible." JoJo is obviously biting back a chortle.
The temper that Max never had until recently now flares to the surface. "Something funny?" he inquires.
"Oh. Well, you… you told me your name was 'Lucy.'"
This is Max's cue to laugh, or make some insipid joke about pulling himself together. He stands frozen for a long moment, then strides out the door without a word.
January 3, 1969, 3:47 p.m.
The recording studio is cold, but Max is not. He sits on a chair in a corner, occasionally lifting his head to peer through the glass at Sadie, whose wild hair flies everywhere as she sings. He feels like he is on fire, and it might be from exasperation or from the warmth of the music itself.
Sadie didn't want him here. He knows her well enough to be sure of that. She likes to be able to lose herself in the sound of her own voice even more than she likes her beauty rest. Lucy and Jude, however, are at their respective jobs, and they insist that he needs looking after.
He quit his own work a few weeks ago. For all he used to complain about rude tourists and haughty city-dwellers and his own inability for find his way around, some part of him misses his taxi-driving days. There was something infinitely relaxing about shouting at ignorant pedestrians and leaning on the horn when traffic was slow. He relinquished that particular occupation when a customer spent an hour-long ride lecturing him about the merits of the War, and then neglected to give him a tip. He'd had enough.
Lucy maintains that she's insisted on Sadie's babysitting him once more, an old phenomenon that was common in the time right after he was let of out of the hospital, because he'd be lonely spending all his time alone.
He knows the real reason. Two days before, Jude caught him sitting in the window of their apartment, clutching the window-frame, legs dangling over a dangerously lofty height. Max didn't bother trying to explain how the utter safety of his current, idle existence, was even more uncomfortable than the raging hangover he was experiencing at the time. He knows that Jude thinks he was going to jump.
A week before that, Lucy found him passed out on the floor, and panicked when at first she couldn't wake him. She claims he must have overdosed on something or other, and she might be right, because he can't remember. She believes that he did it on purpose, but would never say so out loud.
They think he's lost his mind. They think that maybe he was never really getting better. They blame themselves, because they think they aren't enough for him. He finds this all to be rather stupid.
The thing is, if he could account for his own actions, he could get out of this mess. If he could settle down and admit to himself that he is home and there is little or no danger of his being once more torn away from everyone he cares about, things would get better. Sometimes he feels like he is afraid of his own shadow. And as hard as he tries to be Max, he doesn't remember who that is, not anymore.
And that is why Maxwell Carrigan dutifully sits in the studio where he clearly does not belong, reading an old newspaper to pass the time. He remembers liking the police log in his hometown's own paper. It was enjoyable to mock the seriousness with which someone had dutifully recorded such things as "traffic violation" and "woman finds trash in backyard," but it does not feel so amusing anymore. Peace is too precious a thing to ridicule. Now, almost everything is about the War, and the only relief he can find is in the music reviews. Sometimes he wishes that his life were a musical.
He reads reviews about the atrocity of bands who dared to perform war-protest songs. Reviews about the obvious lack of talent displayed by all these newfangled hippies and their experimental sounds. There is an insult for just about every kind of music imaginable. Max scans the paper, twice as annoyed as he was when he first sat down.
Quotes jump up at him. "…but why has it all got to be so terribly loud?" He continues on down the page. "The Random Concept have taken out their noisemakers in the Purple Onion…"
Jojo has said on many occasions that music is the only thing that makes sense anymore. It seemed logical at the time, but Max is beginning to disagree. Nothing is rational, now. Nothing is real.
Sometimes, Max lies awake at night, and wonders if he did indeed die in Vietnam. Sometimes, it feels like the only explanation for this senseless disaster that he calls life.
February 22, 1969, 8:55 p.m.
"Shit, man, are you ever going to stop playing that goddamn guitar?" Max is in a bad mood. Max does not wish his life were a musical. Max does not wish his life were anything. And Max is obviously not Max at all, because under normal circumstances, JoJo is a presence who demands respect.
JoJo looks at him appraisingly. "I'll put down the guitar if you'll put out that joint."
Leaning against the wall, arms crossed, Max glares at the other man; he stares back coolly, without a hint of accusation. Max does as he is told. JoJo leans his guitar up against the wall. They are the only two in the apartment; with Doctor Robert back in town, there is some kind of colossal party in his honor, which Max has decided not to attend. Just because some loser could go on about walruses and masturbating alligators was no reason for a celebration, Max had said.
Then again, Max doesn't really like anyone, these days.
"I had a brother who would never let me put away that guitar," JoJo says conversationally, something faintly wistful about his tone. "He used to sit and listen for hours."
"What happened to him?" Max asks dully, trying not to seem interested.
"There was a riot, back home. He was killed… he was just a kid. I don't know if it was an accident."
Max fidgets, uncomfortable. "I knew a guy who blew his brains out 'cause he felt guilty about murdering a bunch of kids." His tone is aggressive.
JoJo raises his eyebrows. "Is this a competition?"
Max kicks a nearby empty beer can across the room. There is something oddly satisfying about the sound of it hitting the wall. "You think someone cares," he says slowly. "You really think so. Maybe they've been with you all your life, or maybe it's not been that long… maybe it's only been a year or two. You think there's a difference. But there isn't. 'Cause they all think they know you, but they haven't got a clue."
JoJo makes an indefinite noise, somewhere between agreement and curiosity. "You mean Jude," he says, and it might or might not be a question.
"Do I?" There is nothing else to kick but the wall, so Max does so. He bites his lip, and then sits on the floor across from JoJo's chair.
"Can you blame him?" asks JoJo rationally. "He just wants to do the right thing."
"You two been having some cozy talks about me?"
JoJo shakes his head. "D'you think I would do that?"
"No." Max wishes his own voice weren't so resentful. He digs through his pockets, and pulls out a crumpled photograph. It's been halfway around the world with him; and it looks like it, too, but he and Jude are still distinctly visible. "Tell me," he says, passing it over. "Tell me why he's dodging away. Tell me why he couldn't stand being in a goddamn picture with me."
"That's not really what you're concerned about." Once more, it is not a question.
Max wants to glare, but he can't. He curls up, hugging his knees to his chest. "It's not him, is it?" he asks. "It's me." He is not talking about the picture.
"You ever think of taking up the guitar?" JoJo asks casually, and Max knows that he isn't trying to change the subject.
He answers carefully. "I don't think it's really my thing."