A silence like a tombstone fell over Max’s last comment.
“Huh,” Cocky said, finally. He tried to remain composed, but he was failing at it. “Yeah, I know you’re upset…”
“I’m not upset,” Max said, softly. “YOU are.”
Cocky went beet red. In that moment he was grateful for the dim lights in that place. He wished he had his helmet on, but his helmet was all bent out of shape. Besides, he had left it in the ship.
Max gave him a look that was so full of contempt Cocky started to actually get furious.
“Whatever you say, Cockwell. But try crying your little coward tears elsewhere. I’ve got 99 problems already.”
“I was going to say, I know you’re upset, but you don’t have any business calling me a coward. You really don’t know who I am or all I’ve been through. So yeah, better not go there. I’m trying to apologize, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass for anything you want.”
Max actually smiled a little this time.
“Oh, Cocky. Please, give me an excuse. The only reason you’re still alive is because your friends helped me when I needed it the most. I can’t kill you now. I can’t do that to them.”
Cocky felt his fists going tighter and tighter.
“And the only reason YOU are still alive is because I let you live.”
Max’s eyes went huge. His hands went theatrically to his mouth.
“Oh my God, Cocky, I HAD NO IDEA. Thank you so very much for not killing me. I am such an ungrateful little bastard.”
Cocky sighed. “That’s not what I meant at all, and you know it. My boss wanted to kill you. I saved your life. But I guess if doesn’t mean anything, next time I won’t.”
Max shrugged. “So don’t. But it’s great to know there’s going to be a next time where you basically ruin my life and then expect me to be grateful because it could have been a lot worse.”
“That’s NOT…!” Cocky stopped yelling. This was going bad, very bad. It was like falling off a cliff and hitting every single rock on the way down. “Max, c’mon. I’m trying, here. I… I don’t have to do this, you know.”
“Then don’t,” Max repeated. “Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it for yourself, not me. I’m frankly not interested. So you know. Stop. Go back to outer space and keep trying to wedge yourself like an awkward third wheel between your friends.”
Cocky’s ears went up. Had he even heard that?
“What the Hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re in love with her, ain’t you? And yet she clearly prefers tall guys. Cue the sad trombone.”
Cocky caught himself wheezing. His fist retreated by itself. He often thought it had a mind of its own. It was going to land one of its infamously perfect punches on Max’s face and Max would be spitting out his teeth along with his mocking little comments.
Max caught the movement with his side vision. He never moved to block or dodge. He didn’t even flinch.
In the very last second, Cocky changed the path of the rocket that was his fist and hit the wall between Max’s ears. The plaster cracked and crumbled. Cocky suppressed a scream and whimpered helplessly while nursing his fist under his armpit.
Max turned around to see the hole in the wall behind him. “What the Hell was even that,” he asked.
Cocky looked through him with eyes that were glazed with pain.
“A waste of time,” he said. Then he turned around and left.
Max looked at him go, unimpressed. He took the last drag of the cigarette. There were no ashtrays, of course, and he couldn’t simply throw the cigarette away, not in a house that was practically begging to be burned down. So he got out a coin and smashed the burning tip on JFK’s face.
“Idiot,” Max mumbled.