Dust particles lazily danced in the light that entered at the edges of the heavy drapes. It was so quiet that there was not even the slightest noise to disturb the five people sleeping in the penthouse. From his vantage point by the window in the wide living room, Max smiled. It reminded him of that Las Vegas hotel room so long ago, and the circumstances that had brought them here were as bewildering as the need to blow 50 grand had been back in the day.
He stifled a yawn. He'd slept far more in the past week than he'd done in an entire month, and he felt more than ready to stay awake for at least a couple of days. Besides, he had a long list of questions to answer, the folded sheet of white paper on the table waiting for him to write down all his secrets. He contemplated it with a thoughtful look.
It had worked. It had taken a couple of hours to iron out the details of their deal, and a couple more for Max and his merry band to disappear, not before promising to answer Anders's hastily handwritten questions, of course. In the end, Max had fled the area the minute he'd been let out of the hospital, and not just to see if Anders would keep the Unit at bay as he watched them go. With Harrington waking up any minute and Washington in a corner with its watchful and shadowed eyes, the probability that all would go to hell regardless of Anders's words was quite high.
Max took a deep breath. As far as he could tell, Anders had kept his word and had not ordered them followed, a point that gave Max some hope that this negotiator would keep his side of the bargain. The taste of a semi-free life was sweet. The idea that someday the Unit would be at his doorstep not with guns but with some sort of treaty was but wishful thinking at this moment, but still… Time would tell.
A knock came from the door. "Room service!"
His stomach answered with embarrassing clarity, and for one second he thought Liz would come out of their room to hunt down the sound. She was so worried that only sheer exhaustion was keeping her asleep. God, he loved her.
When ten seconds later no one woke up, and his guilt for putting her through the past five days abated, he walked to the door. His balance was a bit off, and his legs didn't feel exactly solid, but he managed to open it just before the bellboy knocked again.
The smell from the cart was mouthwatering. His stomach growled some more.
"Just in time, huh?" the young man said, good-natured, stepping into the room. Right behind him, Max saw his unlikely benefactor was coming in.
"You're awake!" Dr. Hayden said, wearing a t-shirt that shouted to the world Geek at heart, his green eyes alive with unstoppable energy. Hayden hadn't slept in two days, and he still looked ready to take on the world. Max longed for that energy.
"Ah… I just couldn't stay in bed any more…" Max said, almost hearing Isabel, Michael and Liz yelling at him to go back to rest. Thank God they were all asleep.
Entering the room, Hayden tipped the bellboy, the door closing quietly. The doctor placed his backpack on a sofa, while Max went scouting the wonderful food the pediatrician had ordered half an hour ago. Everyone had been too tired to wait for it, though, so now there was enough to feed half a dozen people and only two lonely, hungry figures ready to rise to the occasion.
"I hope everything's okay with the place?" Hayden asked, joining him in front of their small buffet.
Max nodded, looking at the closed doors, thinking how badly they all had needed a place to feel safe. "We couldn't have asked for anything better."
"Mom got it from her second husband. The third paid Med School. She sure knows how to pick –'em," Hayden said with a chuckle, going for a cup of coffee
Picking a fork, Max's eyes swept over the sandwiches, the croissants, the scrambled eggs and went right for—
"You're not eating that bacon!" Hayden said with all the parental authority in the world, the coffee forgotten in midair. Max's stomach protested loudly at the intrusion. "You haven't eaten more than one solid meal in six days. Here, let's start with something easy. Don't look at me like that, you have a lifetime ahead of you to have greasy, spicy food. A couple of days of a bland diet are not gonna kill you."
How come I went from World Leader to a forced bland diet?
"It really wouldn't kill you, right?" Hayden asked, for a moment looking nervous. It had been so long since Max had shared this secret with anyone, that it was weird to be back to the 100 questions and the staring. Especially the staring.
"I don't think so," he answered a second later, settling for toast and honey. Breakfast had been what he'd been going out to buy with Michael almost a week ago when the Unit captured him. That he could be here eating in companionable silence with a relative stranger who knew his secret—and was housing him—was nothing short of a miracle. In fact, as he started eating, the whole thing tasted like victory.
"What did you tell them, that they would let you go?"
"That I would take over the planet if they didn't."
The silence that followed made him looked up, toast barely getting to his mouth. Hayden had gone pale.
"Could you?" he whispered.
The question hung in the air as Max chew on his toast thoughtfully, his eyes going to the forbidden bacon. Hayden looked paler.
"Not really," Max said, smiling sheepishly.
"That's a relief," Hayden said, smiling nervously. It really had been a long time since a new person knew about the whole thing. The fear was always the worst part of it.
"Thank you, you know…" Max said, "If anyone at that hospital had turned me in…"
"Hey, you deflected a bullet that was coming my way. And—Oh crap! I almost forgot!" Hayden got up in a hurry, going for his backpack. Max took the opportunity to grab the tabasco sauce. What was the point of tasting victory if he couldn't do it properly?
Two minutes later, Hayden returned with a thick manila folder. "Here, this is a summary of everything we gathered in Phoenix, after your miracle healing spree," he said, taking sheets and photographs out, this time smiling genuinely. "This is Charlie, he's eleven years old, and quite the athlete," he started, a picture of a kid in baseball uniform smiling for the camera. "He only had a couple of months to live when you healed him."
Max took the photograph, remembering Charlie had been the last kid he'd healed. He'd connected with him, seen flashes of his short life before collapsing.
"The parents… they didn't believe we didn't know what had happened at first. And Charlie's mom, she's this incredibly reserved person, totally stoic and never letting her son see her cry… Well, she came to me about a month later and gave me this," Hayden said, showing Max the picture. "And she said, 'you may or may not know what happened here, and who did it. But if you happen to cross this man's path, I hope you will give it to him.' She's given me a new one each year for the past three years, and I kept them around, always wondering where you were."
Max stared at a smiling kid, trying to picture his mother and the answers she would never get.
"It's interesting, you know?" Hayden said quietly, "How it all came full circle?"
Max smiled self-consciously. If these kids developed powers, how interesting would they be?
"Are they okay?" Max asked, the photograph feeling heavier in his hands. He'd touched those lives for just a moment, without a plan before or after the fact. It had almost cost his life, and Michael's life as well. It was strange to think that night in Phoenix had been the foundation of the bridge that would get him out of Saint Paul's Hospital today. That his healing there would incline the balance in his favor here, not to mention bringing Hayden to their aid.
"They are a tight bunch. They live in different places, but the parents keep in touch. I see them for regular check-ups, and I gotta admit, they are some of the healthiest kids I've ever seen."
Max nodded, giving the photograph back. Hayden raised his hand. "That's yours. Besides, I will probably never see you after this week but this will remind you that good things do happen to good people. And good deeds do go unpunished."
That reminded him, "Did you talk to them? To McConnell and the others?"
Hayden nodded with an enthusiastic smile. "Cramer and McConnell were still in surgery, and Holt was having one hell of a time with Harrington waking up to find you gone, and his Unit without any purpose anymore. But, Anders is keeping his word. They are taking all the records quietly, and Lake said she's expected for debriefing tonight, but he's been nothing but polite to all four of them. You know, I think I should use 'taking over the planet' next time I'm negotiating stuff."
They both laughed, a good, heartfelt laugh that felt like a spark in his soul. He hadn't laughed the entire week, and somehow that gesture finally confirmed for him that he was free, even if the terms of his freedom were a bit sketchy right now.
Another question was cut short as one of the doors opened. With eyes barely open and dark circles under them, Kyle looked like he needed that week of sleep as much as Max had disdained it. "You 'kay?" Kyle asked, not entirely awake.
"I feel better, thank you," Max answered, feeling guilty that he was the reason why Kyle looked like that. If Kyle hadn't been able to hold on to the security image and hadn't later short circuited the compound, his escape would have never happened.
"Good," was all his answer before he closed the door. Opening it a second after, "Is that bacon?"
Five minutes later, Max was unceremoniously shoved aside on the couch as Kyle started to inhale more than his weight in bacon and eggs, Charlie's photograph falling face down on the carpeted floor.
Max reached for it and saw that there was something written on the back, something that completely went against his nature but that would define the most important moments of his life from that day on. He would think of it two years later when he sat down with Anders as an official Antarian Representative to sign a very official looking treaty. Again when he went home to Roswell a year after that for his first family Christmas as a free man. Even when he reunited with "his" doctors a couple of years later to attend Hayden and Lake's wedding.
Definitely when he sat down with the President of the United States. And more so when Shore, ten years later, unintentionally outed him to the world.
But back in that moment, all that really mattered was having breakfast. So he thoughtfully put the picture aside, glancing at it just once more.
Don't let yourself be unknown.
I can't believe it really ended.
I'll be back tomorrow with all the wonderful thank-you's and a sneak preview of my next new fanfic, "Of Journals and Journeys", (so you'll get another alert) but know that this story wouldn't have happened without your continuous support and feedback :D
Now, can anyone recommend a good story where the world knows they are aliens? XD