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Something to Protect

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The fact was, Michelle loved being a Z.

She had discovered the fact by accident, as she figured most Zs did. No one told her that you get the two-for-one loss of both your virginity and your dignity when you do it in the back alley after school with some college guy who makes you feel pretty just because you're sixteen and stupid enough to fall for his lines. But that was her trigger, whether she liked it or not. The wet dreams started soon after. She learned she could stop her period mid-cycle by making out with the guy in trig who followed her around like a love-sick puppy. He was useful. Chemistry, ugh, was the hardest -- no pun intended; she was jerked out of many a daydream by the pain of a throbbing erection. (Thank god she usually wore pants.) She'd endured the teasing of the other girls in the locker room for her noticeable flatness after a sweaty hour of PE, thanks to her damn hormonal overdrive. She was young, and she wasn't in control then. But whatever, she'd left that shit behind in New York. Now she was her own person, or people, rather.

She loved being Max. She loved the power in it. She loved being tall and strong, and yeah -- she could admit it -- she loved having a dick sometimes. She fucking hated privilege, but damn if it didn't feel good to have it when she wanted. Max walked into a room, and girls stopped and watched. He was like this gorgeous costume she could put on when she wanted to run the world, or escape from it. She knew her body well enough to be able to switch relatively easily, and god knows as a teenage guy it didn't take much work to change back. It took all her strength to not change back when she let Jenna from the diner give Max his first blow-job. (If she'd looked up, she'd have seen the breasts trying to come back in.) It was a close call, too close, so Max stayed hands-off to others when he could help it for the first year or so.

As Michelle withdrew from the inanity of adolescence, she let herself enjoy being Max more and more. Crappy day at school and feel like grabbing a beer without sleazy guys creeping all over her? Done. She knew the asshole owner of the garage would never have hired Michelle, but Max? Sure. And she got to play good cop / bad cop against herself -- how fun was that? But it was more than that. She loved the rush of testosterone, the leveling of the emotional rollercoaster, and just how damn good it felt to get angry instead of sad sometimes. Like when Luke had slept with that psycho doctor, god. It was easier to sulk as Max, to throw rocks against the wall and stare into the sunset, than to curl up on the bed and cry as Michelle. There was something about not letting Luke get to that part of her that seemed important, like she couldn't let Luke hurt the "real" her. There was something deep down that she had to protect. Or maybe, she was letting Max protect her. He was always a good brother that way. And at this point, they were all each other had. They kept each other's secret and trusted no one else. It made true friendships hard, if not impossible, but their safety had to come first. Fucking Luke, man. Making everything complicated.

She knew she hadn't been the best friend to Luke in all this. She couldn't tell him that yet, though. Not until she'd sorted through it. The truth was, the moment Max met Luca, the moment Michelle knew she wasn't the only Z in town, there was no way Max was just going to back down and leave Luca alone. No, it was too good. Seeing her scurry around in that sheet, freaked out of her mind and totally off her game, no, it was too much fun. Luca was clearly into Max and clearly not handling that well, but Max knew exactly what he wanted. He'd known ever since Luke first showed up to the garage with that ridiculous truck. That day, Max decided the chance of a date was worth more than a few hundred dollars for whatever T-sprocks were. Now, after these last few days, he wasn't so sure anymore.

Over the years, Michelle and Max's interests had never been too different, just manifested in different ways. Max strutted around flirting with the same people Michelle liked and vice versa. She assumed it was like this for all Zs -- you like what you like no matter which "you" you are. Underneath, you're still the same person, after all. Michelle had been into both guys and girls before she started changing, anyway. The testosterone just brought it all much closer to the surface, intensified. Max hadn't had a girlfriend -- too risky -- but he'd definitely fooled around, dangerous as it was. Michelle couldn't deny there was something damn amazing about the feeling of being with a girl like that. (She also knew that even without going all the way, Max was a damn good lay, what with knowing what to do and all.) And while she was curious to be with guys as Max, she preferred dating as Michelle. It could go either way, really, and she was comfortable adapting to the situation. You do what feels good. But it seemed like Luke and Luca wanted different things, and this was new and confusing territory for both of them.

And that was the thing -- why hadn't Michelle been more helpful? Why had she been such a bitch to Luke and kept her Z-ness a secret for so long? She still didn't quite know. All it would've taken is a simple, "hey, I know exactly what you're going through," or "I'm a Z, too." But no, she left him hanging out to dry to solve it himself, just because she'd been on her own to sort it out, too. It was a little ironic, of course -- you deal with this by yourself, and then there are two of you. No one can tell you who you are, so she wasn't about to try to tell Luke who he is. Hell, that's such a cop-out, though. He needed her help. Maybe she resented how uncomfortable Luca was being a girl. Maybe she just liked having the power of knowledge and watching Luke flail around trying to figure it out. She knew she resented Luke for not trusting her enough to tell her what had been happening to him, but that was unfair. Maybe Luke's struggle reminded her a little too much of things from New York she was trying to forget. Her life had improved significantly when she stopped fighting her nature and learned how to work it to her advantage, so why couldn't Luke just shut the fuck up and do the same? Or maybe -- and she wasn't ready to admit this to herself yet -- maybe she was just too selfish.

One thing she did know, Michelle was pissed Luke slept with that goddamn doctor. Why the hell was he so willing to give up his freedom and lock? He'd barely only gotten started! Giving up your changeability was a big fucking deal. It was the key to Michelle's control over her life, and she didn't want to just throw that away. She had become such equal parts Max and Michelle, it almost didn't matter anymore which one came first, but it did matter that she got to be who she wanted every day. If she was going to lose that, it better be for someone who was worth it. She'd thought maybe Luke was that person, but clearly he didn't feel the same way. He was just looking for a means to an end with the first Z he could find. Fine, fuck you. Get locked. Throw it all away. And there she was, pissed at him for being so scared and stupid, and pissed at him for not saving himself for her. She'd been so sure that she was something special to him, that this was something they could share together. Once you go there, there's no going back. Maybe he wasn't worth it after all. And maybe, just maybe, that's truly what she was so damn upset about.

She had been willing to give that up, to put the control over her appearance in someone else's hands forever. It terrified her. It downright scared her shitless. She knew she'd be taking the same power from Luke, only, Luke didn't give a shit about his own power. He resented the very thing that Michelle enjoyed most about herself. He wanted to be rid of it like a damn disease. Hearing Luca complain about how horrible changing was felt like a slap in the fact to Michelle. A scared, self-loathing slap. Why would Michelle ever give this person power over her ability to change? Why had she even been considering it? God, what a stupid thing love is. Neither Luke nor Luca could fully comprehend what a big deal this was to her, and that just made Michelle all the more angry. They wouldn't get it. Michelle was willing to give Luke the most precious thing she had, and he wouldn't even fucking understand it. But it didn't matter anymore. If Luca wouldn't get her head out of her damn ass and try to fix all this, it wouldn't matter anyway.

Which all led back to the fact that Michelle was too damn stubborn and proud to tell Luke she's a Z. At this point, it felt like if Luke couldn't figure it out, he didn't deserve to know. It tore her up inside, knowing she might walk away from someone she thought she could truly love, all because they're both too damn scared. But Luke didn't seem ready for all this, that much had been made clear. It didn't matter how much chemistry she and Luke had, or Max and Luca. Except it did, though. It had to. There was something there, right? She wasn't just making all this up. She couldn't be. There had to be a reason they'd found each other in this random-ass small town. There had to be a reason for all of this.

For now, it was time to retreat. It was time to hide how hurt Michelle was behind the tough Max facade once again. She'd told Luke point blank that it was all an act, just a shell of bravado, and it was time to put it into action. She didn't know if Luca was somehow smarter than Luke and would figure it out, or if she'd even try coming to talk to Max, but whatever. It hurt too much to think about Luke and the doctor, so Michelle would hide and Max would work and eventually the pain would go away. They'd fallen in love as Luke and Michelle, so maybe with both of them out of sight, it'd be easier to move forward. Max seriously doubted it, but it was worth a shot. And if Luca did come around, maybe she'd buy some T-sprocks.