Disclimer: i don't own any of it.

Warnings: slash, incest, polygamy, nudity, language

Author's Notes: this was not meant to be a chaptered fic, but after two weeks' hard writing and fourty-two pages in msword, i really had no choice but to break it up. so i'm sorry if putting it in segments makes it rather choppy; at over 20,000 words, it simply could no longer be considered a one-shot. :p

also, i printed out a copy of this fic, edited it, and promptly left it at school; i appologize for typos and mistakes, and will fix them as soon as i can.

my first reviewer will recieve a cookie, as will the first person to tell me who wrote the song in the title. (hint: it's not the beatles!)

alright, you know the drill: read, review, and repeat! (it's almost like shampoo.)

A/N (3/24): i am incredibly pissed off at ff.n for messing with my formatting; i'm fixing problems as best i can.

(Take Your Clothes Off) When You Dance

Chapter One

There is one chronic difference between the Max of now and the one before. No, it's not the moustache, the Moustache of Angst, as it has been dubbed. Guess again.

You're wrong once more, it's not the drinking, he did that before, remember? Maybe not with the same reckless abandon, but it's an ancient habit nonetheless. You can have one more try. C'mon, it's not that hard. The answer is obvious.

Ha! You think the whole gay thing is new? It started ages ago. You can hear the full story later, if you like. But now you've used up your three questions. It seems only right that you should be told the correct answer.

He won't take off his shirt in front of me.

"Aw, c'mon man, jus' one mooore," Max slurs, lifting his left hand lethargically and placing it atop Jude's right, interlocking their fingers on the cold surface of the bar. He makes to nod to the bartender but instead merely rolls his head around on his neck, looking rather foolish.

Jude saves the day, slapping a hefty amount of the money onto the counter, using their linked hands to pull the other man to his feet. They teeter in an awkward sort of drunken waltz, the former, dark-haired one dragging his blond friend's arm over his shoulders to lead him toward the door. "I honestly don't know why I put up with you anymore, mate," he mumbles good-naturedly, fumbling with the doorknob.

Staggering and nearly pulling Jude down with him, Max lands with one knee on the pavement. With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Jude catches him as he falls and swings him up into his arms. Shaking his head, Jude murmurs, "You're bloody lucky you only live a street away," but he isn't really all that annoyed. "Now tell me," he says, utilizing the blond's vulnerable state because he knows the other will remember none of this in the morning, "why so many? Looked like you were playing a drinking game with an imaginary friend."

Max nuzzles into the British man's shoulder. "Was tryin' a drink them back t' life. Didn't work so good."

No further explanation is requested. Jude stumbles in near silence around the corner and through the door of Sadie's building, muttering various nothings under his breath: "God, you're so light… Only a few more steps now… you'll be repaying me for this someday…"

Inside finally, at the bottom of the endless staircase, he drops the insensible Max to the ground, then gets down on all fours. "Can't carry you like that a second more, mate," he says, and does his best not to sound exhausted. "Climb up on my back now or I'm leaving you here for the rest of the night."

Somehow, Max obliges. Somehow, they mount the flight of steps, one at a time, to the music of Jude's panting. Somehow, they find themselves in Sadie's "whatever room," where Prudence has passed out on the couch, Rita in her arms. They make their way to Max's bed, where the two collapse. "I hate to leave Lucy all alone for the night," Jude manages, fatigued, rolling out from underneath the other man. "Maybe I'll just…"

"Stay." Suddenly, Max is lucid, and pleading. "Stay." He doesn't say more.

"Alright then," says Jude, fumbling to cover himself with a blanket whose color is indiscernible in the dim light that comes through the window. He remembers from somewhere in the deep reaches of his mind that Max is wearing a denim button-down shirt, and thinks it must be uncomfortable. "You need any help getting that shirt off?" He knows Max never asks for assistance unless it is offered.

"Nah… no, I… I don't want you to s…"

"Don't want me to what?"

Max's face is buried in a pillow, rendering his next speech incomprehensible.

"Well, g'night, mate. If you wanna be uncomfortable that's not my business."

"Are you tryin' a tell me ya love me, Judey?"

Jude pulls the blanket up to his chin. "Get to sleep, you drunken sod."

You're worried about him, aren't you? Do you want to know a secret? I am, too. And do you want to hear another? Ah… maybe some other time. I'm not really at liberty to say.

Lucy awakens to a pounding on the door of her apartment; she pulls it open, dressed only in a baggy red t-shirt, to find an apprehensive Jude with a bubbly Max bobbing up and down behind him. "Sorry to wake you so early," says the first man, "but I wanted to make sure you were up in time for work."

"'S alright, it's alright," she answers, speaking to him but nodding in recognition to her brother. "But, ah… Is that all you're sorry for?"

"Oh." Here Jude tenses, almost nervous. "I should have come home last night, but Max was pretty smashed… didn't seem right to leave him alone."

"Seems fine now, doesn't he?" she inquires, but she's not really angry; when it comes to her brother, she would do anything. "Oh," she adds, realizing that they are still standing on the threshold, "come on in. I'd apologize for the mess, but, ah, one of you lives here and the other might as well." She disappears into the bedroom, shutting the door lightly behind her; Jude turns immediately to Max.

"You, well, you don't remember last night, do you?"

"Not a thing," Max assures him, but something isn't right, he's more jovial than he should be, there's a gleam in his eye like he gets when he comes back from spending the night with his girlfriend, Rose.

"And by last night, I mean, you know… when you woke up… early this morning."

Lucy reenters the scene, now even more scantily clad but with a blanket wrapped around her thin form. "What happened early this morning?" she asks distractedly. Jude freezes and begins awkwardly: "Well – we… " but Max grins sheepishly and cuts across him, "I threw up all over Jude's shoes. Nothing to worry about, he cleaned them off just fine."

Lucy looks at Jude's scruffy-but-unsoiled boots and gives him a look that says she doesn't believe a word of it. "I should have known. Jude, you seen my uniform lately?"

"Yeah." He nods distractedly. "Ah, it was crumpled in the corner, behind the turntable."

"Thanks." She vanishes again.

"Um, about this morning," begins Max, concentrating on the floorboards, which Jude has painted in an assortment of bright colors.

"We'll talk later, mate," Jude assures him. "You want to walk Lucy to work? I've got some painting to do. I've been making a poster for Sadie and JoJo's gigs. The two of them inside a strawberry. It's coming along quite nicely."

"We'll talk later," Max echoes with a tense half-smile. "Right." When Lucy emerges he links elbows with her and leads her away with a bright smile that Jude doesn't quite believe.

You probably want to know what really happened that morning. I'm not sure that I should tell you. He may be your brother, but, well, what happened, happened. It's nothing to worry about, anyhow. Everything's just fine. Let's concentrate on the shirt issue, shall we?

"Can I help you, Sir?" Lucy the hassled waitress inquires, rubbing at her long-lashed eyes before realizing that the man at the table is Jude.

"Yeah, love. Just a coffee, if you don't mind. I'll even pay and everything this time."

She leans down to peck a quick kiss on his lips. "Coming right up."

He waits for what must be five minutes though he's never owned a watch in his life. She slides onto the seat across from his. "I'm on break," she announces, pushing a paper cup of coffee into his waiting hands. "We've got ten minutes, and I've got some questions."

He raises his eyebrows suggestively. "Naughty questions?"

Reaching over to playfully slap his arm, she snaps, "Jude, be serious."

"I've just spent three hours painting a strawberry. How could I not be serious?"

"I want to know about my brother," she says, pushing a lock of blond hair behind an ear. "He hardly ever speaks to me anymore, you know, especially when we're alone together. I worry… you know how much I worry."

"What do you want me to tell you?"

"The truth."

"He's doing great, you know. No nightmares in three or four nights, no more hallucinations, hardly any flashbacks…" As he speaks of Max his eyes light up and his smile becomes more genuine. He doesn't touch his coffee but fiddles with his hands in his lap.

"Yeah?" She is regarding him accusatorially, and it makes him fidget all the more. "What happened this morning, Jude?" She pauses and chews on her lip. "What aren't you telling me?"

It is a moment before Jude speaks, but when he does it is with an easy, lighter air, though there is a tightness around his eyes. "Just like he said. He woke up early, hung over… threw up on the floor and I cleaned up for him. He missed my shoes, though. I'm sorry, on his behalf, it was a stupid lie."

"Don't apologize for him," she says, "he's my brother, isn't he?" She stands. "Tell me if anything changes," she murmurs, standing and pulling him into a half-hug.


"Yeah?" She's already turning to go.

"He loves you."


"I do, too."

Teetering between striding away and leaping into his arms, she compromises, leaving him a second kiss with strawberry lips.

Finally, he lifts his coffee and takes a sip.

I know what you want. I know it better than you yourself. You want the same Max who you've known all your life. You want him in your arms; you want to cuddle him and tell him everything's going to be alright. You don't know why he's been so distant, when all you want to do is help him. I know, or I think I do, but for now I'll keep that as one more secret.

Max has been working all day, and finds his job even more impossible than usual; he is so busy thinking about Jude and this morning that he nearly drives into a telephone pole, then a trashcan. He finds himself outside a fancy hotel and is surprised when his next customer climbs into the front seat of the taxi beside him and smirks.

"Hey, Jude," he says cautiously, and then nods toward the hotel. "What were ya doin' in there?"

"'S where Sadie's manager's living. I finished that poster and he wasn't in his office so I had to go searching."

"Rich bastard," Max mutters, but he doesn't seem too upset. "It's getting colder and Sadie can't even pay her goddamn heating bill. Well, she could have if I'd been paying my rent. But you know me, I don't get tips, I still haven't got a fucking clue how to find all these uppity places they ask me for. If I had a customer who needed a ride to Café Huh, I'd be making a bit more."

"You're in luck, mate," Jude grins. Drive me somewhere private, have that talk with me, and I'll pay your next two weeks."

"You don't hafta – "

"Yeah, well, I wanna."

"Jude – " He breaks off, surprised and possibly pleased, when the other man's chapped lips meet his. The kiss is brief, but personal, and when they break away Jude is shaking his head.

"I'm so sorry, mate," he says, "I didn't mean to do that again. This morning should have been the first and last – "

Max starts the car. "This isn't the place," he says abruptly. "Let's get back home; we can deal with this there."

Five noiseless minutes later they arrive at Sadie's; Max parks on the street outside and they exit in silence, entering the building and climbing the steep steps. Somewhere along the way Jude's hand slips into that of his companion, who does not pull away.

Once inside the apartment they are ambushed by Prudence, who jumps out from behind the couch and startles Max into reaching for a nonexistent gun. "Shit, Pru."

Prudence, not at all uncomfortable, announces, "Rose came by. She said to give you this…" She leans forward and pecks a kiss on his cheek. "…and to tell you that you're over. Something about you calling her 'Lucy.'"

Max stutters. "That – that was a mistake… I haven't seen her in two days… why now…?"

Prudence shrugs. "I heard a voice in the background," she admits. "And, well –"

"Pru! Darling!" Rita's sharp voice comes from behind the couch.

Prudence giggles. "See you guys," she says, disappearing back behind the furniture.

"Well… shall we…?" Max asks, gesturing toward a nearby door. Jude nods and follows him into the bathroom.

"Max – " Jude begins, once the door has a milk crate full of albums holding it closed.

Max seats himself on the counter. "Judey," he says," with a bit of his old spunk, his playful air, "there's nothing to talk about. We kissed this morning in my bed. We kissed again in the cab. It was wrong. It was bad. And I want to do it again."

Jude drops his head into his hands. When he reemerges it is with an air of finality. "You may be free, mate, but I've got Lucy. Let's just… let's just hang out here for a while, and then get ready for Sadie and JoJo's gig tonight."

Max bites his lip, but nods. "Hey… d'you think Prudence and Rita would let us watch?"

It happened again. The shirt thing, that is. At least this time I was prepared for it. I'm having a hard time getting used to the new Max, but like you've told me, I didn't see him in the hospital, I didn't see him when he first came home, I wasn't there for him to lean on and I'm now reaping the consequences. That's right. Just keep twisting that knife.

Max is in his boxers and Jude is naked to the waist. The shiny new bruise on Max's shin where Rita kicked him when she noticed him watching her with her girlfriend is plainly visible.

"That looks nasty," Jude says casually, careful not to tread on his friend's pride.

He shrugs. "I've had worse. Luce might have been an angelic child, but Julia was a little monster for a while." It is evident on his face how much he cares for his sisters; his features are alight, and it makes Jude feel just a bit warmer in the unheated apartment.

"We'd better get dressed before someone think's we've been doing something else, mate," Jude suggests with an eyeroll. They have been merely getting changed in preparation for the gig, but it is obvious how their current states of undress could be misinterpreted.

Max grabs a pair of jeans and shuffles into them, stating, as the other man opens his mouth, "Yeah, man, I know these are yours. I just wanted to say I've gotten into Jude Feeny's pants."

"You dirty bastard," Jude scolds, grabbing a black t-shirt with the "Dark Side of the Moon" logo printed on the front. He pulls it over his head. "That's all well and good, mate," he smirks, "but I've gotten under Sergeant Maxwell Carrigan's shirt."

"Yeah, you and the rest of the world," Max mutters distractedly, and now he's paler than usual, if that is possible; "Hey, Judey," he proposes, a bit too casual, "you go ahead, man. I'll catch up."

"Nah, it's alright. I'll wait."

"Judey." Max speaks as though to a naughty dog. "Go on. I'll be right there."

"I'd rather walk there with you, you know, if you don't mind."

"Not at all. Just wait outside for a minute, I've got to change my shirt."

Jude raises his eyebrows. "Did I say something wrong?" He swallows rather audibly and watches his friend with wide eyes.

"Quit the melodrama, man. Just give me a moment's privacy, will ya?"

"I've seen you bloody naked before."

"Yeah, before. Now, out you get."

Jude waits in the main room where everyone is pulling on jackets or wigs or boots and making their way toward the door. The hippie guitarist with the hair approaches him. "Max having a hard time again?" she inquires.

"What? No, he's just changing his shirt." For some reason he feels more embarrassed than he has in years.

"And you're not in there to admire the view?"

Before he can begin to form an answer, Max's arm is around his shoulders. "Let's get going, shall we?"

You want to tell me something. That much is clear. I wish you'd told me sooner, but I know it wasn't really relevant then. Let's make a trade. A bit of your knowledge for a bit of mine. Between us, we'll figure him out. Maybe we'll even get him to take off his goddamn shirt.

The gathering at the gig gradually migrates to a party in the apartment, where the air grows thick and heavy with various types of illegal smoke. Rita puts an album on one of the dwelling's many turntables: Sadie's first EP, the solo one in which JoJo's absence is almost physically painful. Jude stands back in one corner and watches Max dance from person to person, taking a drag of whatever each one is smoking; when he reaches Rose he pulls her out into the middle of the floor. "…just a goodbye dance…" Jude hears him say.

Next Jude hears another voice, right in his ear: "I'm not blind, you know. I can see you watching him." It is Lucy.

Unsure of whether to deny the claim or make a joke of it, Jude compromises by blushing furiously.

"I know what you see in him," she whispers, her breath tickling his skin and making him shiver. "Come on, let's take a walk."

To be outside is a relief to Jude, who celebrates when necessary but prefers open spaces and quiet. Emptiness can be filled with art, and art is all that he is. Lucy grabs his hand and tugs it, leading him to a nearby deserted alleyway. She sits against the grimy brick wall of a building and pulls him down onto her lap. "When I was fourteen, Max was… Max," she begins, and Jude realizes he is about to hear a story best left untold.

"Hey," he says, nuzzling into her neck. "I'm too sober for this. Let's get back inside."

"Yeah, well, he wasn't. Mum and Dad were at his school one afternoon, they had some meeting about his behavior, and they'd grounded him. I… I… well, I had this weird habit. I would do my homework on the doormat by the front door, every day. I think I just wanted to be the first one to know, if anyone came… I don't know. Anyways, there was no homework, that day, and one of my friends was due to come over any minute, so I just sort of sat there. And Max…

"He came up to me, drunk – I was still on that goddamned itchy doormat – he said had I ever kissed a boy. I told him I hadn't. And he leaned down and kissed me, on the mouth. That was my first kiss, and he was quite good at it – you know. I kissed back, looked up, and there was my friend's face in the door's window. She ran, never spoke to me again. At least she didn't tell anyone, or I don't think she did.

"Max and I, we never talked about it, after that, but I looked at him differently. I looked at every detail I'd passed over before. His lips, his ass. I thought he was my soulmate until I met you, I really did. I think I still do. But you complicate things, you know. I'm torn. And the worst part is, the two guys I'm torn between, they both avoid me now. When's the last time you slept in my bed, Jude?"

He doesn't answer because he is remembering the first time he saw her, how she leapt into her brother's arms, squealing, "Max!" as though blind to every presence but his.

"I don't blame you for loving him. That would be hypocritical. And I can't help him anymore, Jude. He avoids me at every turn. You've got to…"

"He loves you, Lucy. You've seen him at his worst, and he hates that. He just wants to be your big, strong brother, and now he's taking a break from you until he can fill that role again."

"And what's your excuse? You're 'taking a break' as well, I suppose."

"I've just been trying to figure things out, you know, find my place in the world."

"Is that place next to me?" She shakes her head. "Don't answer that. Just… don't." And then she has pecked a kiss on his pale lips, pushed him off of her; she stands and turns back for final parting words: "It's your turn to help him, Jude." She disappears. He rejoins the party, but doesn't find her there, and doesn't expect to.

The next day he stops by what was his and her apartment and gathers together what of his belongings he can, and brings them out to Max's waiting taxi, which he has taken without permission despite not having an American driving license. He drives the short distance back to Sadie's and has moved into an unfurnished, unused corner before Max awakens, paying Sadie for two weeks just as he remembers doing on the day they first met.

He lays his head down on a pillow stolen from the sofa and doesn't let himself cry.

You should have thought of what it would do to him, us no longer together. It's trouble in paradise, and that's hard on him. He can't stand to be alone near you anymore, and if you don't know why you're blinder than I thought.

I'll give you a clue. It's the same reason I dream of him every night.

It may be the reason he can no longer stand my presence. It may even be the same reason that he won't take off his shirt.

Jude awakens to two wide blue eyes staring into his own. For a disoriented moment he thinks he is back with Lucy, lying around in the bed with her watching his every move and smiling as though he is the cutest thing she has ever laid eyes on, but those days are over.

Max tilts his head to the side. "Awake?"


"A little birdie told me you've left my sister."

Jude winces and sits up; his companion backs off slightly. "She all but kicked me out. I didn't have much choice in the matter." His voice is hollow.

Max helps him to his feet; it could be a friendly gesture but those scrawny features are hard-edged and his tone is cold when he speaks. "Would you care to tell me what the fuck you did to deserve such treatment?"

"It was mutual, really. In the end, I think we both realized we had only one thing in common."

"And what would that be?"

"We're both in love with you, mate."

"Aw… thanks, Judey. Seriously, though, what is it?"

"Wasn't a joke. We're head over heels."



"You didn't break up with my sister for… for me?" Max's demeanor has changed drastically; he fidgets with his hands and taps his foot nervously on the floor. "Cause, man, I'm not worth that."

"No! I mean, I didn't. But, ah, that's not to say I wouldn't. D'you want me to go back and break up with her again, for you? I'd do that."

Max shakes his head. "You'd hurt my sister just for me? I'm thrilled, truly. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like you to get the fuck away from me. I can't look at you, man. I think you've done enough damage in our lives."

Jude doesn't need telling twice. He slings his pack over his shoulder, the one with a change of clothes, a blanket, a few pencils and a sketchpad – all he really needs in life – and makes for the door. He wishes blandly that he hadn't already paid Sadie so much for lodgings where he is so obviously unwelcome. The November air is cold and he doesn't have a coat.

I don't have anything to say for myself. I don't have an excuse. All I can say is that I love you, and that I hope you love me too, and that when times are hard we do things we would never previously expected of ourselves. Max is the one who told me that, but he never explained himself. He didn't really need to.

Rose may attend American parties like there is no tomorrow, but before aught else, she is British, and a Brit does not abandon a fellow Brit in a time of need. "Jude," she greets, stepping back to admit him into the imposing old house. He opens his mouth but she interrupts, "Can this wait? I've got to get to class. Mum and Dad are away for the weekend, so you just make yourself at home. I'll be back in two hours, I promise." She wraps him in a tight hug and then pulls away again. "See you soon," she calls as she heads out the door, and her accent is warm and familiar and reminds him of home.

Jude has never been inside this majestic house before, preferring to wait on the sidewalk when coming with Max to pick her up, back when they were an item and Jude had a place in the world. The very walls scream of money, and it makes him uncomfortable, though he is not too nervous to explore. To the left of the entry hall is a kitchen, one that even his very kitchen-savvy mother would get lost in; to the right is a living room, impressive and spotless, with high-backed chairs and an empty fireplace. He remembers the electric heater in the fireplace back home, how it never warmed the house properly, how whenever his mother was between lovers he would sleep in her bed for warmth. Jude settles himself down on an uncomfortable sofa and wonders why he came here. It's not his part of town at all; the bus ride was long and used almost half of his savings; he and Rose have never been close, except for a couple casual late nights of mocking American governments and accents and beer. He supposes he has come to this place because it is better than the streets, or because he knows that Rose can keep a secret.

A gentle humming sound comes closer and closer, along with light footsteps; Jude stands up too quickly and hits his head on the mantelpiece, and the resounding crack is most likely what draws the stranger into the room. A voice calls out in an unrecognizable language, and then asks: "Miss Rose?" with a thick accent that reminds Jude of honey and spices.

The young, dark-haired woman follows her voice into the room, dressed in a traditional maid's uniform and clutching a cleaning rag, which she grasps so tightly that her dark knuckles become paler. "Sir?" she inquires.

"Oh." Jude is unsure of what to say. "I, ah, didn't break in or anything. I'm a friend of Rose."

There is no answer.

"And you are…?" he questions.

She shakes her head and he doubts that she can understand a word he says.

"I'mJude." He gestures toward his chest, then holds out a hand for her to shake. Taking the hand in her own, the woman instead places a delicate kiss on his slender artist's fingers. "Hey," he says, because it seems the right thing to do, "you need help with anything?"

The woman shakes her head vigorously; she leads him into the kitchen, where she proceeds to hide her rag in a cabinet beneath the sink, and fill the teakettle with water. "You don't have to…" Jude begins, but trails off when she comes and sits next to him, placing a hand over his and meeting his awkward gaze. They sit like this in silence for several long moments before a shrill whistling fills the room, and she leaps across the linoleum to pull two china teacups from one cupboard, and teabags from another. When she lifts the kettle it sways dangerously in her thin hands, and water splashes to the floor.

Jude rushes forward to help her, but slips on the slick, damp ground; he grabs her to steady himself, but only succeeds in pulling her down on top of him. For a moment, he just lies there, feeling her breasts against his stomach, her arms entangled with his own; before he knows what he is doing he has drawn her lips up to his and he is kissing her like she is his lifeline. She responds well, slipping her tongue into his mouth as though it is her second nature, stroking his cheeks. He can feel the water soaking through the back of his shirt but doesn't care, because he shuts his eyes and she is Lucy – no, she is Max – no a combination of the two – no, more than anything, she is Molly, Molly who was there for him until the day he stopped writing, and he can't get enough.

I assumed that once you had banished me, the two of you would hole up together and become one, forgetting that a stranger named Jude had ever come into your lives. Even in my fantasies, he would keep his shirt on, sometimes even his thick winter coat. You would burrow into the cloth that covered his torso like a child with her favorite teddy bear; the two of you, both halves, would become a whole. I couldn't have been farther from the truth.

"Max? Max, you still with me?"

He looks up at the woman, Jude's ex, he can't remember her name, and though he's only a foot away it seems a great distance. Letting out a hysterical giggle, he bends almost double, hands over his mouth, before straightening again. "Yeah, I'm with ya," he responds belatedly. "Man, I'm fucked right now. What was that stuff?"

She laughs, and now she is tinged with rainbows. "Best not to know, I think…" She shimmers and her eyes are like diamonds and for once he isn't thinking of doing anything dirty with her, he only wants to watch her and watch her because any moment now she's going to grow wings and soar and he will ride on her feathered back and the whole of New York will swim beneath them.

"I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together." He holds out his arms and spins in dizzying circles, reminding himself of Julia's ballet recitals, a world or two ago. "I'm flying," he breathes, and wonders if this is how Prudence feels when he carries her on his shoulders. Prudence… "Tell them you're a pedophile. Tell them you want to go into the villages and rape and pillage all the little girls who look like me." Had she really said that? In another life, another life when he'd burned a letter, and suddenly he isn't flying anymore and when he looks at Jude's ex once more there is blood dripping from the corner of her mouth. Her hair has darkened and her eyes gone bloodshot and as she advances as though to kiss him he does the only thing he can think of and runs. Brightly-clad crowds part to let him pass, and he reaches Sadie's building before he fully registers that he has left Café Huh behind.

Max stumbles up the steps as if trying to outrun the wind that drifts in through the open door at the bottom. He staggers into the apartment and glances around wildly as though seeing ghosts, murmuring a mantra of swearwords beneath his breath. In a corner between a vividly-painted chair and the blank wall he drops to his knees and rests his head in his hands.

"Max?" Rita approaches. "Hey, man, what's the matter?"

He peers at her with his fingers. "Well you're okay," he mutters.

"Yeah, and you're not," Rita replies matter-of-factly. "D'you wanna tell me what's wrong?"

Before he can answer, Prudence approaches; "Rita, sweetie, what's going on?" she asks, and her girlfriend inches back a ways so that Max becomes visible.

He stares at the petite Asian girl with something akin to horror. "I didn't mean to," he gasps, "I didn't want to, I didn't mean to, I didn't mean to kill you…"

Prudence squats down in front of him and tugs one of his hands away from his face. "Max. Can you hear me?"

"I didn't mean to do it," he whimpers.

She winces. "Max, have you taken anything today? Anything strange?"

He closes his eyes. "That old girlfriend of Jude's… she was in Café Huh… she gave me some stuff. But… you're talking… dead people don't talk… I want Judey."

Rita turns to Prudence. "I think you're freaking him out, darling… I'll take care of him, alright? If he gets any worse you can go find Lucy."

"Lucy…" Max mumbles. "She hates me, doesn't she? Did I kill her, too?"

"Lucy's fine," Rita answers patiently. "Now, how about a nap?"

She nods to a nearby hippie who brings them a few pillows and a ratty blanket, and doesn't leave Max until his eyes are lightly closed and his breathing even. As she stands, Prudence approaches once more; "He asleep?" she whispers.

Rita nods, pulling her lover into a tight embrace. "I thought he was through with all that."

Prudence nuzzles into the other woman's shoulder and doesn't answer at first. After a minute she lets out something between a sigh and a laugh. "Only Max could get that fucked at two in the afternoon."