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Title: War Is Over (If You Want It)
Fandom: Across the Universe
Pairing: Max gen, with some Max/Jude and Max/Prudence hints
Rating: R-ish
Length: 4,096 words.
Summary: You were only waiting for this moment to be free.



Lucy: So you live with my brother, too?
Prudence: Yeah, I just moved out of his and Jude's room a little while ago.
Lucy: Oh?
Prudence: Yeah, I quit sleeping with him, though.

**

Jude: I love the bugger.





Jude is gone. Lucy tells him this much as she smoothes nonexistent wrinkles out of his hospital bed sheet, brow furrowed in concentration. Her voice is neutral, steady and trained, but when she finally looks up at him, her eyes give her away. That’s no surprise-- they always do.

“Oh,” is all he says, shakily, before he turns his face to the side. He doesn't press for details and she doesn't offer them.

Lucy brushes her hand across his bandaged forehead and threads her fingers through his hair with a maternal gentleness that almost hurts. She looks so different. Older. Sharper. Lines and creases in her face that weren't there before, her eyes hardened like diamonds.

She opens her mouth to speak, but the guy next to them makes a sudden strangled gurgling sound, and she cringes instead. Her lips are pursed in a thin line, like there's more that she wants to say, but has no way of saying it.

He knows the feeling. There's a lot he wants to say, too. What he wants to say is, Why the fuck are you being gentle. I have killed. I have killed without flinching. How the fuck can you even look at me.

But he doesn’t. He swallows it down instead, holds it in until he's just sitting there vibrating with unspoken words. Watches her leave.

That’s not a surprise either.

**

Lucy is endlessly apologetic about her new apartment, though Max doesn't understand why. Yeah, okay, so maybe the second room looks like less of a room and more of a closet, and the bathtub takes hours to drain, and the only thing the dishwasher is good for is storage-- but it's luxury housing in comparison to his prior accommodations for the past year, and, well, he doesn't have the energy to complain about a lot, these days.

Here, at least, he doesn't have to worry about getting shot at, or rained on, or it being too humid to breathe, or-- it cannot be emphasized enough-- getting shot at.

Unlike the hospital, it doesn’t smell like piss and shit and antiseptic. No one babbles and screams in the middle of the night for their mothers or for morphine or for Jesus. Sometimes he hears the couple next-door through the paper-thin wall, muffled, either fighting or fucking, depending on the day. When Lucy comes home from late shifts at the diner or meetings with Paco, he can hear her switch on the television, the muted tinny sounds of news anchors and accompanying war footage.

The nightmares come like clockwork. During one of the first nights, they’re so vivid that for a few paralyzing seconds after he’s awake, he can still smell gunpowder and damp soil and burning flesh, and his ears ring with the whistling echo of mortars-- Lucy’s clutching him by the shoulders, shaking him, her eyes wide and alarmed. His vision focuses on her, and he imagines a bullet through her head, blowing the back of her pretty little skull out into tiny fragments of brain matter. Her blood splattered against the wall, pooled on the floor.

He pushes her away from him with more force than intended. She goes staggering back, almost trips, and when she regains her balance, her expression is both wounded and fearful.

He hates her for that. He hates her so fucking much, it's almost blinding. It's the first thing he's felt in a long time, and he tries to hold onto it, except it doesn't really work, because it turns out any anger he harbors toward her is far outweighed by his own shame and self-hatred. The flash of rage dissipates even more quickly than it had set itself upon him, and when he glances up again, he sees only his sister. No blood.

“Max?” Lucy says, her voice small; she is tenderly rubbing the wrist he had grabbed as if to make sure it is still in one piece. With her hair loose around her bare shoulders, she looks young again, closer to her age. She used to sleep with it in two braids as a little girl.

He locks himself in the bathroom with a fifth of vodka for the rest of the night. Ends up vomiting until there's nothing left but painful dry-heaves. Lucy keeps knocking and calling for him, but he ignores her, and soon enough she surrenders to her room and lets him be.

When he wakes up, he's curled tight around the base of the toilet in the way that you would curl yourself around another person, and every bone in his body aches from sleeping on the linoleum, and his head feels not unlike it is going to explode. But he doesn't remember dreaming.

**

After that, he makes a new rule for himself:

No sleeping.

The clause to that rule is: No sleeping, unless having recently consumed massive quantities of liquor. Easy enough.

It doesn't matter that he sees ghosts during the day, too. He accepts it as well as he can, learns not to bat an eye when he envisions torn and bloodied limbs arranged across the sidewalk, the faces of those he killed in various passerby. He learns to ignore the stares when he steps over the dismembered, mangled corpses strewn in front of the subway car doors, their long black hair matted with blood. The corpses no one can see except for him.

**

Over and over again, Lucy tells him that things are changing. "They're going to listen to us. It's going to get better. It has to," she vows with such a fervor that her voice wavers, but looking at her he can tell she hasn't really convinced herself.

His mother calls and says, "I'm so glad that you're safe," the words choked with emotion and relief.

When his father takes the phone, he speaks in a tone that Max does not recognize, low and gruff and hesitant. "I-- I'm proud of you, son. You-- uh-- you did a good thing."

Max hangs up before he can hear anything more and walks out of the room. He walks out of the apartment, down the street, doesn't stop walking until he's a few blocks off, ducking into the corner bar and sitting on a bar stool, draining cheap beers by the mug.

He is such a cliche that it's laughable; poor little rich boy, thumbing his nose at convention, defying authority at every possible turn (until it caught up with him, which he should've realized would happen-- he was too convinced of his own infallibility). And now he is destined to sit here, to die here, to drink himself to death, if he's lucky: reflecting on Princeton and poets, and boys with brown eyes and needing music like breathing, and living like you're on the best acid trip ever twenty-four-seven, and wars that may not kill you but leave you only half-alive, and what-could-have-been.

His ending will be spectacularly unremarkable. No bang. All whimper.

**

He remembers fucking Prudence, not long after she had moved in-- more due to convenience than any particularly strong desire or connection. Sadie, however unattainable, was more of his type, with her luscious curves, that raspy battered drenched-in-whiskey voice, the kind of woman who sets you on fire with a single look.

And out of all of them, it was Jude he had always felt most connected to. They had belonged to each other, in a way not even Lucy could touch or understand. He had never felt so in step with another person before the way he did Jude, never had felt so close to anyone; he couldn't fully explain it, not even to himself. He wasn't so sure he wanted to examine those feelings too closely.

Prudence had happened early on, both of them sloshed on boxed wine-- he'd happened to have spilled some on himself and went to his and Jude's room to change, ended up in one of Sadie's silk blouses. Prudence had twirled in, lithe and graceful, and then stopped and stared when she saw him perched on the bed, lips curling into a coy smile.

It was something they stumbled into, literally. He wasn't sure what his intentions really were when he reached out and pulled her into his lap, only that she had spread her legs and straddled him eagerly, and they had wasted no time in undressing one another-- except for the blouse, with Prudence had requested he keep on throughout the act.

This happened on a few occasions, until they somehow transitioned from fuck buddies to actual buddies, a kind of friendship-in-reverse, and he grew to care about her too much in a platonic way for random meaningless fucking.

He knows he enjoyed himself well enough during their stint, though if Prudence had ever looked bored afterward, he hadn't noticed. Sometimes she'd lie with her back pressed into his chest, dressed only in one of Jude's old shirts picked off the floor, and he'd bury his face between her shoulder blades, into the cotton fabric. He thought it was the best smell in the fucking world-- sex and sweat and sweet pot smoke and ink, and underneath that, something that was inexplicably Jude.

**

The first time he saw Prudence again, it took him a minute to realize he wasn't hallucinating. He'd been feeling claustrophobic, and nicotine-deprived, and decided to take a long walk to pick up some cigs, get some air. Along the way he passed by one of the shops that'd set up a display on the street-- racks of clothing and tables with all of kinds of jewelry. Mostly this served as an annoyance, slowing down the foot traffic, and he really was quite desperate for a cigarette.

Just as irritation really began to flare in him, he turned his head at just the right angle and caught sight of her. She was wearing a red patterned dress with long sleeves, her hair spilling down her back, laughing with another girl-- possibly the contortionist, he couldn't quite remember what she had looked like-- as she slid a purple feather boa off one of the racks and wrapped it around her neck with a flourish.

The sheer unexpectedness of seeing her again stunned him to a halt. A man in a business suit promptly bumped right into him from behind, shot him a withering glare before brushing by. Max was still unsure as to whether or not he was merely seeing things when Prudence, mid-spin, noticed him staring right at her like a gobsmacked idiot. Her nose wrinkled for a brief moment with confusion, and then almost immediately lit up in recognition. She discarded the feather boa without a second thought and all but leaped into his arms with a sort of wild abandon.

The sudden physicality of the situation caught him off-guard, and made him a little nervous, truth be told. He isn't as good at faking things as he used to be. But then Prudence tugged on his arm and smiled up at him so brightly, unreserved, and it had felt like pulling on an old comfortable sweatshirt you'd just rediscovered, balled down at the bottom of your drawer.

Prudence is the one who informs him that Sadie is back in town-- apparently she had cut her tour short and was holed up recording a new album.

The next evening, Lucy has the night off and makes spaghetti for dinner. He doesn't know why she bothers when they can get takeout just as easily. The garlic bread is mostly black, and the sauce tastes a little weird, but he knows better than to say anything. She's a lousy cook but she tries. She is trying so hard.

"Sadie's back," he tells her as he takes a sip from his glass of water. Wishes it was filled with something else.

Lucy freezes with her fork halfway to her mouth. "What? I mean-- when did you find out?"

"Yesterday."

"You went out yesterday?" she asks, frowning. She gets nervous when she has to leave him alone, even though she has no choice, like she's afraid he's going to fly off the handle at any moment, go streaking down Broadway or jump off the Chrysler Building. He doesn't really blame her for that. He knows he has to be really fucked in the head if even the Army no longer has any use for him.

He ends up talking about running into Prudence, and how she told him about Sadie and said he and Lucy should come to one of the recording sessions being held at the old apartment.

Lucy considers this as she wipes her mouth with a napkin. To his surprise, she nods and says, "We should go. We should do that."

They do, a few days later, stomp up those old familiar stairs and let themselves in. The main living area has been transformed into a makeshift studio, recording equipment substituting as furniture. Everyone chills on the floor on top of pillows and in bean bag chairs, watching as Sadie rocks out with the mic, tossing her long hair wildly, swaying to JoJo's guitar, grinning like a cat as she sings. When she sees Lucy and Max there, she lets out an excited yowl, cuts off mid-song and rushes over to throw her arms around them.

"Miss us?" Max asks dryly when she finally pulls back enough for them to breathe.

"Oh, baby, you have no idea," she drawls with a breathless laugh.

And just like that, they're a group again. Not completely whole-- Max is achingly aware of Jude's absence-- but it's close. Things get a little better. There's more of a pattern to his days now; he picks back up his job driving the cab during the day, spends his evenings either at home, the bar, or Sadie's apartment. He stills drinks too much, still sees ghosts where he shouldn't. But it's easier than it was before.

He knows Lucy still worries. She works too hard, spends too much time planning protests and rallies. The lines on her face haven't softened. She doesn't believe anymore that love alone can save the world. He hates what life has changed her into, but he's come to think that it's just inevitable. It's the way the world works and nothing he can do is going to change that.

**

He hates Paco. Hates him at first sight. He hates his stupid beard and his stupid voice and his stupid smug self-righteous attitude. He totally understands why Jude clocked the asshole. It's probably irrational, but Max never really cared much about being unfair before, has even less reason to start caring now. He's wrong about a lot of things, but his gut tells him that Paco is a straight-up dick, and it doesn't take too long for Paco's actions to justify his intuition.

Paco comes over a lot to go over strategies for protests. Or something. Max thinks a lot of the time it looks more like he's hitting on his sister, but Lucy insists that it's strictly political discussions, figuring out how to develop radical consciousness in the mainstream. Whatever it is that they do, Max prefers not to be there when they do it, but sometimes it's unavoidable.

One night he walks in from work to find the two of them huddled over the kitchen table, studying a map spread out before them, plotting out a route for one of their marches. He shuts the door and looks at them apprehensively.

"Hey, Max." Lucy spares him a distracted smile as she marks something on the map with her pen. "Oh, if you need the table, we can move. We're just getting ready for this thing on Saturday--"

"You should come," Paco offers. He looks right at Max, almost challenging. "We've got some other vets who are coming to speak out against the war, talking about the atrocities the government forced them to commit. I'm sure you have some stories to share."

Max clenches his jaw and goes to the refrigerator. "I don't think so."

"Really?" Paco questions, each syllable dripping with skepticism. "Because, you know, Lucy says otherwise."

"Lucy says, huh?" Max cuts his eyes over at her. Her cheeks are flushed red with embarrassment, mouth gaping. "Well, neither of you know what the fuck you're talking about."

This, more than anything, seems to get a rise out of Paco. He pushes past the table, advances on Max, his fists balled at his sides. Max stands perfectly still and stares right back. There is no fucking way he's going to let some wannabe revolutionary pile of shit try to intimidate him.

"I don't know what I'm talking about?" Paco laughs humorlessly. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I can't understand. Maybe it's not until I've killed some Viet Cong and burned down their villages and raped their women and slaughtered those gook babies--"

"Paco!" Lucy shouts, upset, and when she meets Max's gaze, her eyes are horrified and shocked and sorry, so sorry, but it's too late.

It's too fucking late.

"You can both go to hell," he tells them quietly, and turns around and leaves.

He keeps going and doesn't stop until he's at Sadie's apartment. Everyone is gone, down at the diner, except for JoJo, sitting in a corner and practicing with his guitar as usual. That's okay. The only friend Max needs is Jack Daniels, who is conveniently stored in one of the kitchen cupboards. He grabs the bottle and flops onto one of the floor pillows. Unscrews the top and gulps it down.

A long time passes, Max working his way through the bottle at an impressive speed, staring at the ceiling, anger and guilt brewing inside him, and JoJo doesn't say a word. But he keeps looking at him and somehow that's even worse. Max doesn't like to spend a lot of one-on-one time with JoJo because he's pretty sure that out of everyone, it's JoJo who sees through the bullshit, JoJo who has been the closest to where Max is now.

After awhile, Max sighs and sets the mostly empty bottle down, almost spills it in his drunkenness, scratches at his stomach.

"I'm never going to get back, am I," he states, not asks, because it doesn't really feel like a question at all.

JoJo strums a chord and responds sagely, "It's a long and winding road, brother."

And ain't that the fuckin' truth.

JoJo offers to let him crash for the night, but Max shrugs him off, decides to go back home. He takes his sweet time, and he assumes Lucy will be sleeping by the time he comes through the door-- except she isn't, she's sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands. He can tell by the way she's taking shuddery breaths and blinking too much when she looks up at him that she's been crying, or trying not to.

"I didn't mean for that," Lucy says, desperate for him to hear what she's saying. "What I told Paco-- I was just worried about you, and I guess I thought he'd be able help. It's just... I don't know. I don't know what to do anymore. The system fucked Daniel over, and it fucked you over, and it fucked Jude over, and nothing ever changes--"

All at once Lucy seems to cave in on herself and begins to weep freely, her face contorted, shoulders heaving. Max sits down across from her. Takes her hand in his and clasps it clumsily. He does not know what to say.

Eventually her sobbing dies off as suddenly as it began-- whether this is due to her calming some, or because she is too exhausted to carry on, Max is not certain, but in either case she stills, sporadic tears escaping from the corners of her eyes and trailing silently down her face, dripping off of her chin. She covers the hand that is clasping hers with her other, and laces their fingers together, the fine milk white of her skin in stark contrast to his ruddy calloused palms.

"Max. You are my brother. I love you." Her mouth trembles. "I miss you."

He stares at her for a few silent moments. "Yeah. Yeah, so do I."

**

After that, Lucy finds more time to join them at the apartment for the recordings. There's one night where everything is feeling good-- everybody's jamming, getting into the vibe. It's exciting to witness JoJo and Sadie create. There's almost a surrealness to it-- watching, you can feel the crackling chemistry between them, her wailing and him holding the guitar behind his head as he plays, guitar pick clenched between his teeth.

They pass a joint from person to person. Pru is painting Max's toenails submarine yellow, and Lucy's head is in his lap. He braids her hair and listens to her hum softly. It's one of those times where no one is thinking about the war, or about everything that's fucked up-- there's just the music, and each other.

When they walk to the subway, Lucy links her arm through his. All of a sudden she stops and hugs him impulsively. She presses her cheek into his neck, holds onto him for a long time.

"What's that for?" he asks curiously.

She shrugs. "No reason."

He bumps into her shoulder, playfully pushes her toward the curb. She gasps and swats him in the stomach as she giggles. He slings his arm across her shoulders and pulls her in tight. He loves her fiercely in that moment, has the sudden brotherly urge to shield her from all of the bad and ugly in the world. He wants to shield her from his own ugliness, the broken shards of him that he knows she is desperate to piece back together, but can't.

She doesn't stop smiling the entire way home. He takes what he can get.

**

The phone call comes on one of his days off. Lucy has an all day shift at the diner, and he's pretty pissed about being woken up by the phone ringing, but he thinks it's probably Lucy checking up on him, or maybe Pru, which is the only reason he bothers to answer in the first place.

The voice on the other end is male, and older, so when the guy asks for Lucy, Max is immediately suspicious.

"Who is this?" he asks warily.

When the man identifies himself as Wes Huber, Max actually does drop the phone in surprise. Of course he scrambles for it, sits against the wall and presses it to his ear, listens as Jude's father tells him the story, certain words filtering out-- Jude. Green card. Shipping out. New York. Jude.

Jude is coming home.

**

It's a crisp day, a slate gray sky and cool wind. He sits Indian-style on the hood of the cab, chainsmokes cigarettes one after the other, not waiting until the first is even stubbed out before lighting the next. He's early, which is unlike him, and now he remembers why-- he has always hated waiting, and the impatience and his fraying nerves are killing him. He stares at his watch and wills time to move faster.

Just as Max is sure that if one more second passes, he is going to completely lose it, he hears distant voices over the sound of gulls. He jumps to his feet, throws himself at the gate. His heart is in his throat; his fingers grip the cold iron bars so tightly that his hands begin to go numb. There's a part in the clouds, and then there's just the high noon sun on his face, the salt-stung breeze whipping off the water, and-- Jude.

Jude, walking toward him, duffel slung over one shoulder. Squinting at Max underneath his unruly brown fringe, slow easy grin spreading across his face as they make eye contact.

Jude's name suddenly bursts out of Max's chest like something wild clawing its way free-- the most effortless thing that's come out of him since the war. He shouts it, over and over, his voice raw and absolutely jubilant as he rattles the fence like mad.

When Max tackles him and pulls him so close he can breathe in the crook of his neck, where his blood beats against his pulse, he’s almost surprised at Jude’s solidity, at the fact that he is here, that they are both here, in this moment, laughter spilling out of them like music, warm and real and-- alive. Painfully, beautifully, inescapably alive.



~end

A/N: Probably no one will want to read this, but it's the first thing I've written and finished in ages (though it could be longer), so I'm posting it. I've never written movie!fic before, but Joe Anderson owns my soul, if it isn't obvious enough already. There are a few Beatles references-- you get a gold star if you catch them! Feedback will get you a pony. (Okay, not really, but it will get you my eternal gratitude and appreciation.)

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