Author's Notes: Sigh. I kind of hate myself for this. I don't know anything about this show and all I've seen is a few YouTube videos and the second half of the movie (IT WAS ON TV, OKAY.)
Also, can I just say how weird the chemistry between Alex and Justin is? Because, um. Siblings.
In conclusion, everyone should listen to Sondre Lerche every day for the rest of their lives. Oh, Norway. Let me count the ways.
everyone's a winner (if the stadium is right)
I know I dreamt that, hollowness aside,
everyone's a winner (if the stadium is right)
Sondre Lerche, Stupid Memory
When he figures it out, Max feels kind of cheated. Then he is grateful, for a brief, fierce moment, and that makes him feel bitter and selfish, so he goes back to feeling cheated because getting to keep his powers was supposed to be the best thing that's ever happened to him.
Now he just feels sort of left out.
A year before the competition, Justin announces at dinner that he's mastered the full five thousand spells. There's nothing else for him to learn; he knows the ins and outs of magic as well as he knows the periodic table of elements, the equation for time relativity, how many wizards it takes to screw in a lightbulb.
Max has never actually thought he was going to get to stay a wizard, but he loves magic, and it hurts to see the way that Justin stays so distanced from it, studying it with microscopes and safety goggles. Magic should be lived.
But he doesn't say anything. Alex announces that she's still going to whoop him in the competition and she's going to do it without studying, so Justin throws a roll at her and Max tries to conjure some pickles and mustard for his soup.
He sort of expects everything to be weird, after, like Justin and Alex will like him less or something. And for a couple of days, nobody really speaks to anybody else, but it's not exactly a tense silence, just uncomfortable. Max realizes that his family has spent so long angling their lives towards this one moment that without it, everyone is sort of at a loss.
Then Alex abruptly looks up from the magazine that she's hiding in her Math textbook and says across the table, "So, we're like, really happy for you, or whatever," and she sounds sincere, which makes him immediately suspicious.
He can't explain why he's relieved when she kicks him under the table and adds, "But don't think this means that I'm not totally going to abuse your power to get free stuff, because I so am."
Justin never says anything to him about it. Max figures he kind of doesn't have to.
Six months before the competition, Justin plops himself on the couch next to Max and says, "You're putting too much belladonna in that."
Max looks down at the potion in surprise and stops. "Oh," he says sheepishly. "Right. Thanks."
Justin shrugs. He's been spending more time on his robots than on magic, and sometimes Max thinks that he doesn't even like it anymore. It makes him feel sort of pathetic, because he wants to keep this so bad and Justin, like, doesn't even care. "Let me show you," Justin says. "The book is kind of confusing."
And it would figure that Justin would be smarter than books, but Max doesn't mind. He wonders if Justin realizes that they may have to use this potion later, that like, he's helping the competition, but then Max remembers that nobody really expects him to be actual competition, not even himself.
What happens is that he's telling this kid Gus at Wiz Tech how he won, and Gus shakes his head with a laugh. "Man, you're lucky you're brother and sisters suck so bad," he says. "I had to knock both of mine unconscious to win."
"No," Max says out loud, "No no no, they're usually really good, like way better than me, but—"
And then oh, there it is, like a huge giant hammer swinging the air out of his lungs with a soft whoosh.
Four months before the competition, Max overhears Alex and Justin arguing in the lair:
"If you don't want them, I don't want them!"
Max can see Justin rolling his eyes as clearly as if he was there with them. Alex and Justin have a lot of secrets and leave him out of most of them, but he's spent his whole life trailing behind watching, so.
"Alex," Justin says, exasperated, "don't be stupid."
"I don't want your, like, sloppy seconds," Alex snaps, and then her voice goes kind of soft for a second. "And anyway, it's not fair. They think that they get to just waltz in and tell us who we can and can't be, and you know what, they don't."
Justin sighs, but they don't start fighting again. Max isn't sure when Justin figured out that arguing with Alex is kind of like giving yourself a root canal. Max would know; he doesn't like brushing his teeth. It makes everything taste like mint and mint is gross, especially with sausage. And while Max understands the concept of personal hygiene, he also, like, really loves sausages.
He doesn't expect anyone understand.
When their Dad finds out, he gives this long speech about how powers are things to be cherished, and how by throwing them away they're throwing away a part of themselves.
Justin shrugs and folds his arms over his chest. He says sternly, "I'd rather give something away than have it taken from me," and then their Dad smiles and shakes his head.
"God, I'm proud of you both," he murmurs, and pulls them into a hug. Justin hugs back. Alex makes vomiting noises.
He sulks at first, refusing to use any magic because it feels cheap and stolen. Alex tells him to get over it, but Justin hunts him down and puts his hands on both of Max's shoulders and says quietly, "You won because you deserved to win."
Max shakes his head bitterly, something ugly opening its mouth under his feet and swallowing him. He's never been prone to shame, but it crawls all over him now, because his siblings loved him and each other enough to give up the most beautiful part of themselves, and it never even crossed Max's mind. "I didn't earn it," he spits, "I just--took it."
"You did earn it," Justin argues. "Max, the competition wasn't about winning your powers from me and Alex, it was about convincing the magic that you wanted it, needed it, more than anyone else." He lowers his voice. Max thinks that Justin sounds lighter these days, brighter than he did before, more free. "You won the magic because you loved it more than me or Alex ever did. I liked to study it and Alex likes free stuff, but you—you love magic because you think it's beautiful, because you like the way it feels flowing through you and around you. It wouldn't have mattered if I'd actually tried to fight you; you were always going to win."
Alex peeks up from behind Justin and rests her chin on his shoulder. He's taller, so she's on her tippy toes. "And don't say you don't want them, because you totally do," she says. "So stop sulking and be glad that Justin's a sucker and I'm opposed to learning."
Later, Max sneak down to the living room to watch pay-per-view. He supposes he could do it for free with magic, but sometimes he forgets that he has all of their powers, and more than that, he likes doing things the hard way. Magic isn't something that should be used for cheap tricks, though he's all about using it for mischief. It should be loved, cared for, lived with like its own person, its own living thing.
Alex is already there, eating popcorn and watching Sorority Row. Max doesn't know where she gets her fondness for movies where sorority girls die from, but he thinks it makes her cool, in an Alex-y way. He sits next to her and steals a handful. They both like extra butter.
"So, why'd you cheat for me?" he asks, keeping his eyes glued to the screen.
"You can't prove it," Alex retorts lightly. He casts her a glance and she sighs. "Look, twerp. Nobody gets to decide if I have my powers but me, okay? If I decided to give up my powers, then no one could ever take them. You didn't have anything to do with it."
Max grins, leaning into her. "Yeah," he says, "but you looooove me."
She snorts and ruffles his hair. "Only 'cause I have to," she lies, and kisses him on the temple.
Three months before the competition, Max realizes that he's in training. Justin is sitting on his bed quizzing him about spells and potions and stuff, and Max suddenly understands that he's not just being a big brother, he actually wants Max to do well.
"You're not, like, tricking me into learning stuff wrong, are you?" he asks, suddenly suspicious. Of course he should have known better; Justin just raises his eyebrows. Max amends: "Are you teaching me all this just because you don't think I'll really be able to beat you and you feel bad for me?"
Justin smiles down at the book in his hands. "Max, trust me. I think you're going to be amazing."
Max is pretty sure that he should be insulted when Professor Crumb launches an investigation into the Russo family's Magical Competence Test or whatever they're calling the competition these days. He's got enough of Alex in him that it bristles that no one thinks he could have done it on his own, but enough of Justin to shrug it off, because hey, as it turned out, he didn't. So.
Professor Crumb tells them that Alex and Justin, having cheated in order for Max to win, have gone against the spirit of the MCT and are banned from the wizard world forever. Max feels sick, but Alex and Justin look at one another like they're having a whole nother conversation, and it's hilarious.
"What are you gonna do, Professor?" Alex asks cheerfully. "Take away our powers? Whoops, too late."
Justin rolls his eyes, and it occurs to Max that they don't care, either of them, that there will be no more magic; they don't care that it is over. They gave up their powers, and whatever happens now, Alex just wants it to happen in time for her to make it to Suburban Outfitters by closing.
"You know what we should do," Justin says thoughtfully, after Professor Crumb leaves and the whole family is standing in the living room, waiting. Max doesn't know what for, but he knows that tears are probably expected, or anger, or disappointment.
Justin just looks at Alex and smiles a little as he decides, "We should start a band."
The first thing that Max does in the competition is to fortify himself, and hide behind a tree. Hiding is definitely the best route until Justin and Alex have destroyed one another. It's been his strategy for as long as he can remember.
But when he looks out, Justin hasn't managed to do anything but conjure some butterflies to flit around Alex's head. She's batting at them with one hand and sniping them out with her wand.
After a while, Max doesn't really know what's going on or why they're just sitting there bickering, so he takes the advantage and turns them both into turnips.
When Professor Crumb comes out of nowhere and declares him the winner, Max feels Alex's and Justin's powers flow into him and he thinks he might be flying, he might be turning into a cloud, he doesn't know. His whole body feels light and strong and free and he doesn't care, for an instant, that he took this feeling from his siblings, it just feels right inside him.
When Alex and Justin are turned right, he expects one or both of them to be bitter or angry, but Justin breaks into a grin and swings him around in a hug. "Amazing!" he yells.
Alex rolls her eyes and pops her gum. "Turnips, Max, seriously?" she asks, but she's grinning, and reaches for Justin's hand so that, for an instant, they're all connected, and for a moment Max is sure that they can feel the magic sparking through him, through them, like electricity finding a complete circuit. It's whole in a way it wasn't when they each had a part, aching this whole time to be united again, and now it is, in Max.
He closes his eyes and lets it connect them like string, woven and warm and white.