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Alex had been prepared for two things to happen when it came to the competition: to lose to Justin, and to win. Those are the only options she'd thought about since she'd started to really seriously understand what it meant to go through it. And if she's being honest, the only real outcome was Justin as the winner. He knew the most spells, and worked the hardest, and was the best. Hands down, he was the best.

And that's why she thinks she can't leave her room just yet. Because she needs time for it all to make sense. For the adjustment. To having no powers, and Justin not coming out on top, and Max being the one who gets everything and turns her whole worldview upside down.

He made dogs. Seriously, dogs, like that one week she'd come home to find the living room nearly buried in chihuahuas because he thought they might come with Taco Bell takeout. Except this time the dogs were huge and angry and she was scared of them. Scared of Max.

And now her head hurts and she feels heavy and empty at the same time.

She thinks about how Max had knocked on the door and apologized and she hadn't even responded.

She thinks about a lot of things.

&&&&&

"You've got to come out at some point, Alex," her mother says from the other side of the door. "I made enchiladas."

"I'm not hungry." She hasn't eaten since breakfast, but she's not.

"I know you're disappointed about what happened, sweetie, but I think you should join us."

"Maybe later," and she knows her mother's trying, but there's no way she can understand what this feels like. Alex doesn't even really know what it feels like.

"Alright, but I'm here if you need me," and there's a lot of things Alex needs right now, but her mother isn't one of them.

She rolls over and pulls the hood of her sweatshirt down over her eyes, and tries to go back to sleep.

&&&&&

She's never ridden a unicorn, or swapped places with a celebrity or even thought to put a bathroom in her room. And the first two are more cool, than necessary, but she's regretting the last one. Alex knows that someone is just waiting to ambush her with kindness and she just...can't right now. But eventually, her bladder wins out, and of course her dad's standing there like it's his turn on patrol. "You okay, kiddo?"

"What do you think?" she says a little more snottily than she means, but she's depressed and has to pee and is not really interested in an interrogation. She pushes past him into the bathroom and takes an extra long time washing her hands and looking at her reflection, but of course he's still out there when she finally finishes.

"Before you go back to the Fortress of Solitude, can we talk for a second?"

"I'm not Justin, Dad," she says.

"I know, just...talk to me. For a second."

"Fine, what do you want to say?" Alex slides down the wall to the floor, and she hopes he doesn't take this as a sign that she's willing for this to go on for long. She's just tired and supporting her body weight is getting old. Her dad sits across from her, and there's barely room for their legs.

"You can learn how to live without magic. I did," And he did. He learned to live without magic, but he did it for Mom and love and a life that he'd chosen. It's in no way the same thing as losing. And she wants to yell at him about how being denied is totally different than giving it up and how she hates Max for winning, and hates herself for hating Max, but then he puts his hand on her knee, leaning in to say, "I know it's going to be hard to adjust, but you can do this, Alex," and after that, she just kind of wants to cry.

"Can I go back to my room now?" she asks, feeling like she's going to lose it at any moment, already moving away from his touch. Turning her head so he can't see her face.

"Yeah, of course." He stands up and brushes off the back of his pants. "Thanks for listening."

She nods, and wants to hug him, but doesn't.

Back in her room, the sun isn't coming through the windows any more, and she feels like she can't breathe.

&&&&&

She wakes up to someone sneaking in her room. And pretty much failing at the sneaking aspect of it because he drops the jewelery box off her dresser, sending bracelets and rings scattering all over the floor.

"Hey," he whispers, like anyone in the entire house is sleeping through that.

"Go to bed, Justin," she kind of moans, squeezing her eyes shut and hoping he gets the message.

"I can't sleep unless I talk to you."

"Well, until you showed up, I was managing to pull it off."

He turns her light on and ugh, she hates him. "Just shut up and let me talk to you for a second."

"If I let you do that, will you turn off the light and leave me alone afterward?"

"Yeah, sure, whatever you want." And she wishes she was more in the mood to take advantage of that, but she's not. All she can accomplish right now is sitting up. "What are you doing in here, Alex?" he asks.

"Sleeping. Thinking. I don't know, stuff."

"And how long do you think you'll be able to just do that 'stuff' for?"

"How long do you think Mom and Dad will let me get away with it?"

"Alex, be serious! Come on. What are you doing?" He sounds pissed off, and that's the whole thing.

"Well, maybe I'm furious and disappointed and confused and I'm trying to feel all that without taking it out on people who don't deserve it You should try it sometime." She goes to pull the covers back up, but he grabs at them a little too forcefully for her to pull it off.

"I'm not mad!"

"Well, why don't you tell your tone that, because it apparently didn't get the message."

"Really, I'm not mad. I'm frustrated with you. About how you've been acting."

She's glaring at him, really hard, and she's not going to let this happen because it's one of like three things she's still allowed to have some control over. "You don't get to tell me how to feel, Justin."

"Well, look at it this way, what good is being mad going to do?" He comes over and sits on the edge of her bed, looking at her in a way she doesn't like because it's making her feel immature and young and like a child.

"But, you worked so hard! You worked harder than I did, for years! How can you not be losing your mind right now?"

"I'm just not."

"And it was for nothing, Justin! All of it was for nothing." Her voice manages to not crack while she says that, but he still somehow knows to touch her shoulder.

"It wasn't for nothing. I learned a lot of things."

The fight's mostly gone out of her, and she says the words like she's somehow still tired, even after all that sleep. "Like what? What words to say to help you read faster? You can't use any of that."

"Well I learned my sister can care about something." And she wants to tell him to shut up again, to turn out the lights and leave her alone, but he looks so genuine that she just can't.

"What are we supposed to do now, Justin?" she asks because that's really what she's been trying to figure out and has gotten no closer to any sort of answer.

"Well, I guess it's time for the back up plan."

"Which is?"

He says "Time to start a band," with such a large grin that she can't tell if he's joking or serious.

&&&&&

He had been serious, actually, a few weeks ago in her bedroom.

So serious that he had made her come downstairs to eat cold enchiladas straight from the refrigerator while going over possible set lists.

 

She hasn't played the drums in forever, since maybe the last time they were actually considering this as part of the plans for the future. And the thought of lugging a drum set around the city without a car is enough to send her right back to doing nothing in her bed for days at a time. So she looks on Craigslist for anyone selling a bass and eventually is able to get one in pretty decent condition from a guy at Hunter with her Sub Station tips.

Justin teaches her, because of course he can do this as well as play the guitar and write lyrics and know how to get them ad space through Facebook. They call the band The Sorcerer's Apprentice, after Fantasia and how magic bit him in the ass. But they're constantly trying to think of something else, should they actually make it big and be unable to really explain why that whole thing is important. Not even Justin is lame enough to say that Fantasia is his favorite movie.

And she thought her parents were going to hate the band idea, because it wasn't responsible or a viable career option or whatever, but she figures the fact that she's out of her room and working on something besides driving her brothers crazy is really what's helping. And speaking of brothers and crazy, the fact that neither of them are making her feel that way is pretty much a Christmas in July miracle. Max put a pool in off their balcony and magics in attractive lifeguards to apply her suntan lotion if she asks. It's going a long way in helping her get over her jealousy. And Justin, even more shockingly, isn't making her feel like an idiot.

He's a good teacher, and he doesn't mind showing her over and over again how to do something. So many times that even she can't understand how she hasn't picked it up yet, but he just says, "Let's try it again, I must not be explaining it right." She spends a lot of hours that summer with Justin. Getting the bass line to all the songs he already knows. Performing on the boardwalk in Coney Island to pick up money to cover their expenses and work on their stage presence. Helping him pack up his room to move in to the dorms at Columbia when August rolls around.

His last night at home, Mom makes all of Justin's favorites and Alex graces them all with a rendition of "Good Riddance" that she learned all by herself. Dad said, "That was really good! I had no idea how hard you two had been working," and her mom asks if Alex can play it again so she can sing along, and even though Justin doesn't say anything, the awed way he's looking at her can't help but make her blush.

&&&&&

The first time she tries to use magic after the competition, she's halfway through a spell before she realizes what she's holding is a pencil and not her wand. She'd gotten caught in a freak thunderstorm with Justin on their way back from getting denied performance space at the New School because neither one of them happened to be enrolled. And now the subway should have shown up at least fifteen minutes ago. Her shoulder hurts from lugging the bass around, and it's hot and she's sweating and dripping wet already and as the words are coming out, "You made us wait, and now we're late," she remembers all over again that she can't do anything about it.

She wants to, and she can't. And she knows that for most people, this is a part of everyday life. Dealing with discomfort and disappointment and frustration. But this wasn't supposed to be part of her life. And realizing that she's helpless all over again, on top of everything else, she just starts crying right there on the platform. Really full on crying with tears and snot and people are staring at her and she doesn't even care because it's not like she can stop.

"Hey, hey, hey, what's the matter," Justin asks, awkwardly shifting his guitar and trying to get an arm around her. "Is it about the rehearsal space? Because we'll get a space."

"It's not the space, not really. It's about...I don't know? Everything?" She wipes at her face with the back of her forearm and is sure she's smearing mascara literally everywhere. "This is ridiculous, I'm sorry." She sighs and attempts to get it under control. "I mean, I was just getting used to calling my big brother if I needed help, and now I have to call my little one?" And then she laughs, one of those stupid wet and shaky laughs. "Just, how stupid is this? All of this?"

He rubs her arm a little, in the same way her dad does, and says, "When we got back, after the competition, I said every single spell I knew. All of them. In case there was one of them that still might work. And when they didn't..." he trails off.

"When they didn't, what?" She looks up at him, then, his hair trickling rainwater down his jaw, and feels like they're really close in this moment. Like it's possible they're the only two people on the platform.

"Well, when they didn't, I came and found you and convinced you to start a band."

"And that's why I'm soaked and waiting for a ride that won't get here?"

"Come on, like you had anything better to do." She shoves him a little, and he wipes under her eyes with his free hand, and that's when, finally, the train pulls up. "You going to be okay?"

"Yeah, we'll be fine," she says, and he doesn't correct her word choice.

 

&&&&&

Once he's getting settled in to classes and she goes back to school herself, they actually start getting gigs. In the beginning it's small stuff, like the Foreign Language Potluck on his campus, and the Fall Social the high school hosts every year. But then the places get a little more legitimate and removed. They're at NYU one weekend and Hofstra the next and even little clubs here and there. Dives, all of them, but everyone starts somewhere and each time they're honestly getting better.

There was a split second where she'd thought Max was behind it, especially after last time, but he's been really busy with visiting the Wizard World constantly. Plus she feels like he gets how important this is for her. That she's able to do something and be good at it without magic. To prove to herself it's possible.

Every week she wants to learn a different song. Get the old ones tighter. Her fingers are constantly moving, trying to create that muscle memory so she can do things perfectly every single time.

Alex takes the subway uptown to Justin's dorm almost daily, more than she ever would have expected to before the competition, listening to her iPod the entire way and plucking out the notes she's trying to memorize on the top of her thigh.

&&&&&

It's a Tuesday night, and she has a paper due by Friday on a book she hasn't even started yet, and that was the reason she ran up here right after school, because she knew that Justin would of course have a copy of Mrs. Dalloway somewhere in his dorm room. That was three hours ago, before she had to listen to the new, leaked Miniature Tigers album, and grab a smoothie with him and his roommate, Grant, and practice this up-tempo, more metal version of "Romeo & Juliet" by The Indigo Girls because Justin's been angsting over Juliet a lot since it's getting close to Halloween. And all of that was way better than reading this stupid novel while they wait for pizza delivery.

"Ugh, I hate school," she says, chucking the book at the bed where Justin is clearly Facebook stalking some girl.

"That's not Virginia Woolf's fault."

"Is Virginia Woolf the one who's going to be a lesbian with this chick who's throwing the party?"

"I'm just going to pretend you didn't say any of that."

"What? I know there's going to be a gay kiss like this is sweeps week on the CW. I'm not stupid, Justin."

He holds up the book and taps at the front cover with a big grin on his face. "I'm not saying anything." And then he laughs and she's out of Grant's beanbag chair so fast and punching his arm with the strength of someone who lugs a bass all over the tri-state area. "Ow! What the hell?"

''How come even when I'm trying at school I can't pull it off?"

He closes the laptop and looks at her. "Are you really trying?"

She wants to say, "more than I have in the past", because that's a true statement, but more than the past doesn't really mean much. Even showing up every day would be more than she's managed in the years prior.

It's just that Harper's doing an internship in the fashion district, because she's got enough credit to graduate, and Justin's all the way uptown here at Columbia and Max simply has to utter, "Sophomore year, don't want to repeat, take my homework and make it complete." It all seems that much more pointless than it already did.

"What would you think if I got my GED? Do you think Mom and Dad would kill me?"

"Why do you want to get your GED?"

She starts listing off, "Well, it would give me a lot more time to practice. I wouldn't have to be worrying about gigs interfering with projects or assignments. I'd have an uninterrupted year to figure out what it is I want to do with myself before I'm even technically supposed to start college."'

"You've actually really thought about this," he says, sounding kind of shocked and she doesn't love that her dedication is so surprising to him.

"Yes, I've thought about it! It's my life, it's important to me."

"No, I know that, but I...I just forget that you're growing up sometimes."

She doesn't know how to respond to that because she can't believe that Justin could ever see her as more than the little pink blanket his parents brought home from the hospital. There's a picture of that, her mother has it displayed on the mirror of her dresser, little Justin being dwarfed by their old sofa, with Alex wrapped up tight on his lap. In it, he has that same inquisitive look on his face that he gets now when he's trying to master a science concept.

"And who knows, one of these days maybe my little sister will even figure out how to dress herself," he follows, flicking at her vest, and she punches his shoulder again, but thankfully for him the delivery guy shows up and Justin lets her have his crusts, so maybe he can live another day.

&&&&&

The conversation about the GED goes less well with her parents than it did with Justin. There's a lot of screaming from her mom in Spanish, and her dad saying that he thought all of this hanging out with Justin would have encouraged her to be a better student. But eventually she convinces them that it's a good idea just to try. "Look, the worst thing that will happen is that I don't do well enough on the test to pass and I finish high school the regular way." Justin's the one who told her to say that.

And he's the one who helps her study and takes her out for Thai when she scores a 3310 and tells her that he knew she could have done it, even without him.

It's another thing that goes on the list of what she can accomplish without a wand and some words that rhyme.

&&&&&

Guys buy her drinks while they're performing, because it's not like she wears a sign saying "I'm not even 18 forget about 21" and whatever, you're only young once. Justin doesn't like it, though. "You shouldn't be drinking," he says to her one night while they're recoiling cords.

"It's just a beer, Justin, I don't know what the big deal is."

"The big deal is that you're underage and my sister." He swirls the wires a little more swiftly around his bicep and through his palm.

She finishes off her mug in one gulp. "I think you just don't like it that the boys are paying attention to me."

"They're not boys, and that's part of the problem."

"Ugh, whatever, Dad. If you're allowed to hook up with gargoyles and werewolves, I can let some college guys buy me a beer for a job well done every once and awhile."

"I've never hooked up with a gargoyle."

"Give it time, Justin. Don't sell yourself short."

"Just promise me you're not going to get so trashed one night that I have to carry you home while you vomit down the back of my shirt."

"It would only improve any of the shirts you own, but I'll use this thing I have called self control anyway."

"Hate you," he says, throwing the finished coil at her.

"Hate you more," she singsongs back.

 

&&&&&

Part of the GED deal was that she couldn't spend a majority of her time sleeping or just traipsing around the city all day doing whatever she felt like. So, she picks up extra shifts at the Sub Station and signs up for bass lessons with some grad student from Fordham and splits the week up on other things. She paints on Tuesdays and hits up thrift stores with Harper on Sundays and even goes to the library to start researching colleges on Monday nights when Justin has lab.

She doesn't mind being busy when it's for things she wants to be busy with.

She joins a gym and tries to bring back all the Spanish she's forgotten, and her parents don't say anything about regretting their decision to let her take the test in the first place.

&&&&&

The week Justin's trying to pass his midterms, he pretty much bans her from coming uptown, and she wishes she was smart enough to know if there's a word for when you're beyond bored. She feels like she used to have a life outside of her older brother, right?

And by the time Max comes home from school on Wednesday, she can't even care that he has food sculptures melding under his bed and the ability to just pop by Melbourne if he wanted to. She even knows where Melbourne is now because she had so little to do this week that she read an atlas, which again, before this week was something she didn't even know they had in their house.

"You want to do something?" she asks him while he's pouring a bowl of cereal.

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Something." She thinks for a second, reaching for the box of Golden Grahams. "We could go to a hockey game." She's kind of in the mood to see some guys beat one another up. "I think the Rangers are home."

"Does it matter?"

"I'm not going out to Long Island or Jersey if they're not."

"Oh, I'm not saying we should," Max says, dropping his spoon and reaching in his back pocket for the family wand. "Don't want to have to bother sitting with strangers. Deliver us the New York Rangers!" he intones, and before she can even think to stop him, one wall of their living room has been replaced with plexi glass and they might as well be sitting at the Garden.

"What are you doing?!" she kind of yells and he looks at her like that's the exact opposite response he was expecting.

"Did you want them to be wearing away colors or something?"

"There's a hockey team in our living room!" she says and it's almost like her mother's voice is being transmitted through her mouth.

"Yeah, this way we don't have to put up with everyone else and can just sit on the sofa and enjoy it. It's awesome!"

But Alex kind of likes putting up with everyone else at a hockey game. They guys with their painted chests, and the little kids in too big jerseys and how she always chooses to keep her gloves on even though they're inside. And if she had mentioned to Justin that she wanted to go to see a hockey game, he would have probably made her walk to the stadium, and then when they got there, tell her that he wasn't going to pay $9 for a disgusting hot dog. She could convince him to get her a foam finger though. Without fail. And on the way back, she'd poke him with it until he got her a hot pretzel with extra mustard, and "Yes, Justin, I do happen to think you're my very own personal ATM, thank you for asking. It might be crowded or cold, but it would feel like doing something. Like she was actually living her life.

"I changed my mind, I don't think I want to watch a hockey game today," she tells him, and he snaps his fingers and only their coffee table is sitting in front of the couch again.

"That's cool. I was just planing on watching next summer's big action movie on my ceiling when I got home anyway. You want to do that?" She thinks about how even with a flick of his wrist he could clean his comforter, but doesn't, and declines. "Suit yourself," he tells her, taking a banana from the counter whose peel is going to become part of the compost heap in his closet.

For the longest time, she'd thought that post-competition she'd be hanging out with Max. Pulling pranks and taking food challenges at restaurants and mocking Justin with his full blown powers. Now she's just trying to figure out if she changed, or her brothers did, or if none of them came out of this thing the same way.

 

&&&&&

Alex finds out that Dean has a new girlfriend via Facebook. She's eating a giant chocolate chip muffin and is on her second cup of coffee of the morning, and then it's just there on her News Feed: Dean Morriarty is in a relationship with the stupid little heart icon.

And like every single time she's faced something upsetting since June, her first nine solutions all center on spells or magic. Teleporting in to see him, giving the new girl a beard or flesh eating disease, turning back the clock so she could have uploaded a new picture of herself two weeks ago and sent him a message. If it wasn't about a boy, she'd ask Harper what a normal girl would usually do in this situation.

But instead she sits there alone in Starbucks until Justin shows up after some meeting with his adviser, and she won't tell him what's wrong, even when he asks her for the third time.

 

&&&&&

After that, things aren't so great anymore. She feels like she's in a funk and has no idea why she dropped out, and whether people are going to think it's weird that she just spent what would have been her last year of school basically hanging out with her brother who before this she thought she couldn't even stand.

And then Max gets to go to Wiz Tech for some presentation, and she would be doing everything in her power to get out of it if she had to go, but because she can't, it's just leaving her feeling left out and useless and like a failure. This is her life, she's even missing things like Wiz Tech and graduation and all sorts of other stuff she only had negative feelings towards before.

She accepts more drinks from guys, and writes three angry songs that Justin lets them put into rotation and seven that he says would only get them in trouble if they happened to be performed in public.

 

&&&&&

There's a few people who start coming to their shows regularly, she guesses following the Twitter Justin set up for the band. One of the girls seems really into him, three seem to like the music, and there's two guys that she's just going to pretend are there because of her. One of them, the blond whose name she can't remember, he always wears one of those Mickey Mouse wizard hats from Disneyworld. Some nights she thinks it's funny and other nights it kind of makes her want to cry.

He's here tonight, at the show they're playing at "The Shrunken Head" and the way she's feeling is kind of a mixture of the two.

There aren't many people in the bar, but he's still up front, near the stage, which is kind of sweet. And, after the set, he brings her some drink with two umbrellas that she thinks is mostly rum. She thanks him and then says she has to help pack up, because Justin will kill her if she doesn't. When the guy glances over at Justin, apparently that's reading pretty well.

"What did I tell you about letting them do that for you?" Justin asks when she walks over to put away the equipment.

"And what did I tell you about reminding me how much you hate it?" She holds the drink out at him. "What do you think this is?"

"I think it's inappropriate," he says.

"Shut up, Justin," she says, taking a sip and smiling at the blond.

"Don't do that," Justin tells her firmly, and she's remembering why she used to hate him so much.

"Don't do what? Be nice to one of the six people who like our band?"

"We have almost a hundred friends on Myspace!"

"I'm just smiling at a guy."

"You're doing a lot more than smiling."

"What, Justin? Am I giving him sex eyes? Is that what you're worried about? I don't know what the big deal is. I could lose my virginity to..."

"Kyle! His name is Kyle, Alex! Do you even see what's happening here?"

She's so annoyed that she doesn't even ask him how he knows what this kid's name is. "Nothing is happening, Justin! I've had three sips of alcohol and I'm smiling at KYLE, who comes to see our band, okay? It's not a big deal."

"Alex, I want you to tell me, right now, what the hell happened a few weeks ago because I haven't really liked you since then. And if you don't tell me, then this is going to be the last gig we play. I'm serious." The steely way he's looking at him, she could have figured that out without him saying it. "Well?"

"It's embarrassing. I'm embarrassed about it."

"I don't really care."

"Dean has a girlfriend," she mutters and saying it out loud, it's even worse than just thinking it. She just admitted that Dean was seriously worth ruining over a month of her life and it's so lame, she wishes Justin would look away so she could down this whole glass of whatever.

"Oh sweetie," he says, all condescending and faux-sympathy like the asshole she remembers.

"You know what? I think this is going to be our last show anyway, because I don't want to do this with you any more. You're a dick."

"Alex..." he says, like she's being ridiculous. Like that's a way to get him back into her good graces.

"No, you know what, I didn't say anything when it was Juliet's birthday and you didn't want to schedule a gig. And when Mom wants to call you on Saturday mornings to see if you're alive, I'm the one that covers and say you already texted me that you were going to the library or breakfast with people from the floor. I know that school's harder for you than you thought it was going be and that you don't know if it's that you don't have magic anymore or you're just not used to not being the smartest in the room. Alright? So, with all of that, you can cut me a break for being seventeen every once and awhile."

"I'm sorry," he says, almost as quietly as she admitted the Dean thing.

"You're what?"

"I'm sorry. But that doesn't mean you can drink this," he takes the idol head shaped glass from her.

"What about having sex with Kyle? Can I do that?"

He ignores her and throws a cloth at her hand. "Wipe the equipment down," and when she actually goes to listen to him, he follows with, "And don't worry about Dean. You can do better than Dean."

"Thanks," she says, running the old t-shirt on top of one of the amps.

He comes back with a diet Coke for her and Kyle's phone number, but she never calls him.

 

&&&&&

"You were only supposed to come up here to get your gloves," he tells her after they've been lying on his bed for close to an hour.

"I don't need gloves if you would just let me sleep here."

"Mom and Dad are going to kill me if you don't come home." He says it like he's trying to decide if it's worse for that to happen or for him to have to walk her back downstairs and to the subway stop.

"I texted them before we even left the bar that I was staying here." She's slept in Justin's bed before, when he was at class, and she knows that even sharing it with him is going to be more comfortable than trying to take the subway back to Waverly Place in the snow at 3 in the morning.

"You've got to sleep on the floor, then."

"Ew, be a gentleman why don't you and take the carpet."

"Because I've seen where Grant cuts his toenails."

"Ugh, Justin, seriously, gross." She rolls over so how she's positioned would be called spooning if he was someone other than her brother. "We'll just share. Like when we used to stay at Grandma's."

"We were smaller then."

"I don't care."

Justin's dorm room is always too hot, and tonight is no exception. His window is all fogged up and steamed over, but occasionally a snowflake or two will land directly on the glass before swiftly melting away. She feels safe here, warm. His sheets still smell like home, from when he washed them two weeks ago over Thanksgiving and if she closes her eyes, she feels that same kind of little when they could have fit here easily.

"Tomorrow's going to be the six month anniversary of Max winning," Justin says, after it's been quiet and she was falling asleep to the infomercial he had left on the TV.

She hadn't thought about that in awhile, not having the powers, she guesses because she's been pretty content.

"Should we get him a cake?"

The way he sighs, it's almost like he's trying not to cry, and she doesn't like it when Justin's the one who's upset.

"Maybe just a cupcake?" she follows, trying to be funny, trying to make him laugh.

He pulls her in closer and kind of nuzzles the top of her head. "Is it selfish to say I still sometimes wish it was me?" he asks into her temple.

"No."

"Do you still wish it?"

"Yeah, but it doesn't matter. I can't make wishes happen anymore."

And as soon as it seems like she's the one who's sad about it, he's Justin her big brother again, stroking her arm and reminding her, "We're too awesome to need powers on top of it. The universe couldn't handle it."

Here in his room, while it's snowing outside in the middle of the night, she really realizes that out of everyone, he's the only one who gets what it's like to not have powers any more. He's the only one, even if he is her brother, so she kisses him half on the cheek and half on the mouth, and blames her misdirection on the angle she was coming from. "You've been really good to me," she tells him and he doesn't comment on the kiss.

"You're my sister. I love you."

"I love you too, Justin," she says. "If I could wish it now, I'd have it that we all still had the powers."

The radiator hisses as he hugs her again but she still catches him saying, "I always wished that."

&&&&&

They buy Max a cake, incidentally, and Alex likes that for a few hours, things feel like they used to feel, when Max wasn't different from them.

He has a meet up with friends in the Wiz World though, to celebrate, and Alex figures that's okay too, because her and Justin can work on the new song he's trying to hammer out, and the only wizards she'd ever want to celebrate with, she already got the chance to.