Castle Roland

Educating Max

by D'Artagnon


Chapter 11

Posted: 27 Nov 14

Running and Gunning

The trip north was not as exciting as Max had thought it would at first be. Michael had lifted the car up to the hospital roof, but wasn't of a mind to perform a "Harry Potter," trip back home. He found a quiet side street and brought his Mustang in for a gentle landing. The side street was a sleepy suburban roadway with the typical, picturesque archway of interlacing tree limbs that was so much a timeless feature of New England culture. This late into Fall, however, the bare branches intertwined without their leafy coats, looking skeletal and forlorn under the silvering moonlight.

They traveled fairly quickly, Michael not waiting to give the police a chance to catch them before the brothers could get to where they had to go. After navigating a few back roads, Michael turned the Mustang onto I 495, northbound. They found a classic rock station and cranked it up, both boys singing along with the songs, often badly. Max felt the pain in his bruises ease slightly, and tried to relax. He felt keyed up, nervous, hyper and wary all at once.



"You once told me that there was a lot a still didn't know. What do I need to know?"

"It's not as easy as all that, Maxy. We're under the gun here."

"And we have nothing but miles til we reach the Fen," Max countered. "Come on!" he whined. "Just give me a few answers." Michael looked sidelong at his brother and sighed heavily.

"Okay, what do you want to know?"

"What's going on?"

"Could you be a little less specific?" Michael returned, sarcastically.

"Oh," Max said, squirming his face into his thoughtful expression. "Okay, let me try that again. Who are we fighting?"

"Good question. I don't know. There have been lots of covens looking for that answer, but so far all we have are questions and missing people."


"Yeah, uh, a coven is a group of psychics that work together. I was gonna take us to see my teacher in southern Jersey. Other members of my coven are spread around the eastern U.S."

"Am I part of this coven?"

"Not yet," Michael smiled.

"So there are others like us?"

"Not entirely," Michael said. "Other telepaths, yes. Others who also have telekinetic powers, now those are few and far between. As far as I know there are only about 20 other reactive psis in the country, and maybe only 200 in the whole world."


"Yeah. We're a rarity, Max. Even among our own kind."

"Okay, that answers some of one question. Will your coven help us?"

"If they can. But really, I don't want to include them, Max. If we go down, I don't want them all to get caught either. Some of them are just barely telepathic. Most, actually. If the guys who took you down are on the case, most of my coven wouldn't stand a chance."

"So we're basically on our own?"

"We have each other," Michael returned. "And so far I've never been beaten."

"Looks like I have to work hard to get the family average up, huh?"

"Look, remember what I said about if you ever have to use your powers to fight?"


"That's not just a rule for you. I've survived because of it. Even as far back as the first time when… " Michael closed his mouth and made a show of looking at the outside mirror. "Max, I think I know how they tracked you."


"When you were with Cameron… did you link with him?"

"Yes," Max whispered, his face blushing bright red.

"Okay, lose the coy attitude, little brother. I know what you guys did, basically, and I'm not asking for details. I think they tracked you the same way they tracked me the first time."


"Max, the first time they came after me was while I was with Becky." The full implications of this took several seconds to sink in for Max. He glanced down and then looked over at his brother.

"So you're saying that… that because I was linked in with Cameron… because I was sharing everything with him… they found us… that they could track us by our feelings during sex?"

"I don't know, Maxy. But it's something we can't ignore. It may only be a coincidence but…"

"But there are no coincidences," Max sighed. "Poor Cameron. I've caused him so much pain." Max turned away from his brother and felt the tears coming on. He threw his arm over his eyes and leaned against the car door, unable to restrain his tears. Michael felt his own frown deepen and patted his brother on the shoulder, rubbing his back.

"It's alright, Maxy. You didn't cause anyone any pain. Don't take responsibility for someone else hurting you and Cam. Okay? You aren't at fault here."

"Then who is, Mike?" Max said, tears streaming down his face. "I can't even love anyone, boy or girl, without someone being able to track us down and try to kill us!"

"We aren't dead yet," Michael said with a silent fire in his voice. "Now listen to me. You are gonna have to get a little tough here. We aren't going into some wrestling ring. This time they may try to actually kill you."

Max threw his head back against the headrest of the seat, looking straight up. "Oh god, we have to kill people?"

"It's not a choice I like either. But we have to keep in mind the idea that we are on the defensive here. Our people are in danger."

"Right," Max replied, sniffling back.

"Okay. Now we have a couple of things to do to get ready, and the hardest is gonna be on your shoulders."


"You have to learn how to control that thing you nearly did to Cameron that first night."

"When I nearly killed him?"

"Max, that beam pulverized a boulder when you were calm. If you were angry that thing would probably be ten times stronger." Michael signaled and changed lanes, moving towards an off ramp. "If nothing else, you need to control it in order to keep yourself and Cam safe later."

"Loaded gun, huh?"

"All that and a bag of chips," Michael agreed. "I'm gonna gas up. You want anything?" Michael said, pulling off the highway.

"Just a coke. And I gottah pee."

"Okay, we'll take five before we take off again."

Michael pulled the car into the gas station and eased the old Mustang up to the pumps. Max hopped out and ran to the side of the building. The toilet door was locked, and Max suddenly felt he couldn't wait to go get the key. He took several steps around the back of the convenience store of the gas station and found a convenient tree. His stream was hard and loud as he released his bladder, steam rising in the darkness. The cold shivered his skin, chattered his teeth.

As he finished dealing with nature's call, Max felt an intrusion. Something, or more directly, someone was watching him. Fear coursed though him and he quickly zipped up, looking around. He called his body focus and drove a ground focus deep. He cast about with his senses and his mind, scanning for thoughts. He detected only two other minds within his range; Michael and the cashier in the convenience store. Some animal, he thought, a coyote perhaps, or a fox. Few other creatures would be prowling on such a cold night.

He walked back to the store front, still not able to shake the sense that he was being tightly observed. Michael was just tightening the gas cap as Max walked back under the station's lights. The harsh sodium glare cut a sharp divide to the darkness behind the store, but still the sense of being watched persisted. Yet there was nothing around him that seemed to be looking.

*Mike, how far can you feel?*

*Feel?* Michael thought, curiously. *What are you on about?*

*I think we're being watched.*

Michael closed his eyes and cast about with his senses, far sharper than Max's, with greater range. He shook his head. *I'm not reading anyone anywhere near here. Can you pinpoint a direction that you feel we're being watched from?*

"Kinda… I dunno, it feels like watching down. Like from overhead." Max said aloud, pointing up.

Max felt Michael link with him, accepting his brother's mental presence into his own shielded mind. Together they scanned up until they found a small, hard object that wiggled.

*A satellite?* Michael said in awe. *No wonder they've been able to track us, they're looking right down our throats!*

"Not anymore," Max said under his breath. He growled slightly and raised his hands over his head. "This is for Cameron, you son of a bitch! And it's only a down payment on what I owe your masters!" He sent a focus point up past the skin of the satellite and pushed, surging up with every ounce of telekinetic power he had, drawing on the energy of the Earth itself to sustain his attack over the distance to orbit. The gray beam leapt from Max's outstretched hands, distortion ripples of warped air spreading and planing out from the straight line of raw force, parting a hole in the high cirrus clouds overhead. Many miles away, straight up in the heavens, the satellite shattered in space, silently blasted into chunks and knocked far away from the Earth, actually becoming the first man made objects to achieve fully 1% of the speed of light.

Michael looked over at his little brother in awe as he felt the psychic blast wave swell and wash past him to its target. No other Gifted he had even heard legends of had ever attempted such a feat, much less accomplished it. Yet Max had done it almost casually, and without any more effort than sending a thought. Clearly, Max was growing in powers Michael himself hadn't even considered trying yet.

"Congratulations. You just fired the first shot of a war. How'd that feel?"

"Good," Max said with a feral smile. He looked smug and confident.

"Good," Michael said with a sad smile. "Because every psi on the planet just felt that. Our friends, and theirs." Michael patted Max on the back quickly twice and walked into the convenience store.

Max suddenly realized what he had just done. The satellite might have been tracking them from space, but he had basically unzipped their pants in front of the entire psychic world. He couldn't have told the planet where he was better if he painted himself glow in the dark orange and had megaphones at his heels broadcasting his steps like claps of thunder.

Eyes going wide in the horror of his actions, and what it might mean, Max slumped back into the car, securing his seat belt and slouching. Michael returned a few moments later with a small plastic bag and a 20 ouncer for Max. Michael sat down, opening his own drink and taking a long sip.

"You okay?"

"Yup," Max replied, sounding despondent.

"You ready to listen?"


"You sure?" Michael said, looking over, his eyes boring a hole in the back of Max's head.

"I feel bad enough, Mike. You don't have to pound it into my head."

"Actually, I do. Look at me." Max sighed resignedly and turned to face his brother. "We have got to be totally together on this. We are protecting our family, and yes, Cameron is part of that too. We can do this one of two ways. I want you to decide how we do it, right here, right now. We can either go in totally reckless and not care about the consequences or we can be careful and control how it goes. Your choice."

Max felt his tears but wasn't about to let them go. This was time for him to act grown up. He had just tossed down a huge challenge and now it was time to stand and deliver to the same. Max nodded, his lip trembling with his frown. *We do it careful and smart,* he thoughtcast. *For our family.*

"Right. Okay then. First step means we have to control what they know and what we let them know. So we don't go pulling stunts like reversing gravity on a satellite and throwing things around from ground to orbit or any other silly tricks you might think up. Understand?"

"Yeah," Max replied.

"I can't hear you!" Michael called back, smiling. Max licked his lips and smiled as well.

"Sir, yessir!" Max replied, looking up, grinning.

"Very well then," Michael said, turning to the wheel. "Then let's burn rubber before they send someone to investigate this spot."

The reaction in Washington was fairly predictable. Dr. Conrad got the call from his technical staff in Virginia. The news wasn't good. Even if you ignored the millions of dollars spent just launching one of those special surveillance satellites or maintaining the crew necessary to monitor and control the information it sent back, the fact was one kid, barely past 13 years of age, had just wrecked it, all by himself, with nothing but his bare brain.

The report about the local team he had sent up, along with their last blood hound psi wasn't reassuring. The poor bastard that they had long ago conditioned and beaten into submission for the job of hunting and attacking others of his kind was salvageable, and was even now regaining his wits. But the incompetence shown by the rest of the unit in not keeping an active watch on the subjects was inexcusable.

Now, the kid was loose, and apparently had the smarts to travel mostly undetected. That is, until the satellite went offline. Telemetry showed the remains of the satellite, in position one instant, beyond the orbit of the moon the next. Whatever had struck that system had been as powerful as an H bomb, although directed. Every sensitive psychic in his group had felt the massive rush of power from the north, but beyond that, they couldn't pin point it. Not that there wasn't enough energy to track, they said. There was far too much. The entire area around where the energy had surged from would be a psionic hot spot for several hours, making any kind of satellite tracking impossible, assuming they could get another satellite into position.

So that meant that they had to do this the old fashioned way. Conrad didn't care. If it worked, and he got the boy under his own control, he'd have a weapon the likes of which was only dreamt of by those Department of Defense morons. An innocuous little boy that could wipe out an entire army with a mere thought. No force on Earth would be able to stand against such a weapon. What good would all the cruise missiles in the world be against a kid that could crush them with a thought, reverse their course back to the ship that had launched them, even shove that ship straight to the bottom and a watery grave without batting an eyelash. Conrad had to have that power under his own control, for the sake of national security, of course.

His orders were fast and direct. He knew roughly where the kid would be heading. They had captured him once in Canterbury, Massachusetts. They'd find him gone to ground there again. He sent out his best this time, knowing beyond any shadow of a doubt that only his best agents, his most powerful psi-ops people, had a chance in hell against this kid. It was just a matter of time, now. A matter of time.

Hours later, and after several times switching highways and back roads, Michael pulled the Mustang up to Rocky Fen. Morning glow over the eastern hills was draped in mists of autumn fog. The fen was practically primeval in the false dawn light, the tall reeds and brown grass stalks casting odd, whipping shadows in the stillness. Max thought briefly of the campsite up at the Watch, and what the river would look like with the fog chasing lazy spirals off the calm surface.

They had stopped off at home to get some clothes and raid the refrigerator. Max took a quick shower to get the blood off his face and hands and to just give him a chance to cry through the stream of hot water, letting his body half relax. He was terrified of where his action was leading both him and Michael, and by extension, Cameron. But he wasn't going to back down. Love required bravery enough, Max thought. Fighting for love was just a step less brave than that.

They got out of the car and wandered about, scanning. There was no need to have anyone accidentally get hurt. This was their chosen battleground, their home turf. They intended to know every inch of it and exploit that knowledge. They had precious few advantages in this coming fight. This was their chance to make the odds a little more even.

After making sure that there was no one about, they found adjoining rocks and sat down. Max wondered if this was some sort of meditative thing that Michael had in mind. For some reason, he kept seeing their positions as that of master and student in some oriental "martial arts theater" movie, although thanks to their mutual telepathy, no subtitles or grossly out of sync over dubbing would be necessary.

"How you doing?' Michael asked, relaxing on his rock.

"I'm okay. Still mad at myself, but I'm okay."

"Good, I want you to focus on that anger. And on what happened to you and Cam."

"Isn't that a bad thing? I mean, wont it distract me?"

"Max, I need you to get a few concepts into your head, right now. This isn't Star Wars. There is no Dark Side of the Force, there is no Sith enemy. This isn't as clear cut as all of that." Michael looked sternly at his little brother, almost threateningly. "Your powers are all from within you. We may have to fight and kill. I want you thinking on that. If anger helps you strike hard, then keep that anger."

"I'm scared, Michael. I don't like fighting."

"I don't either, kiddo. But we both chose to make a stand. It's about time we got ourselves ready for all that that implies."

"Okay," Max said, but his mind drifted. He was ready to fight to protect his family and his lover, but he was still having difficulty realizing that he was the cause of their danger. "So, how do we start?"

"You wont like it, Max. But you need to be better prepared, in case they come at us with another psychic like us. Remember that southern boy that attacked you?"

Max remembered all too well. The boy had a feral look about him. Wild hair and eyes, a face that only a serial killer mother would love, twisted by years of hatred into a mask of rage. He had been on a thick, woven leather leash, led around like a bloodhound, or a military attack dog. The boy and Max had fought, directly, hand to hand and mind to mind. Max lost the raw physical battle, even had his telekinetic power blunted during the fight, but in the end, Max had triumphed in that battle, forcing too much power back through the feral boy's open mind, blasting him telepathically.

"Yeah," Max said, subdued. "He had muted me first, then he shook off a hard shot. I had to fry him from the inside out."

"We are going to work on your defense and your ability to counter-punch."

"Okay. What's that mean?'

"Do you know the difference between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones?" Michael asked, mentioning two famous champion boxers.

"Yeah. Tyson's a bull dog who can take anything you throw at him like a tank and takes you out with one punch, while Jones is a mongoose who moves too fast to hit and strikes when you least expect it."

"Okay, that's fairly accurate. But they both have another thing in common, although they approach it differently. Like you said, Tyson is super tough. He takes your hits and then pummels you. But it takes being super tough in the first place in order to do that. We don't have the kind of time to get either of us into that kind of conditioning, either physically or mentally.

"We are going to be more like Roy Jones. He makes you miss a strike and then hits you hard, fast and brutal when you try to cover up. He also makes you frustrated as hell so that you make mistakes. We are going to work on making you like that."

"Okay. How?"

"You wont like it. It's going to be wicked tough and you are going to have to fight against me in order to do it."

"I… I understand."

"Just keep thinking about Cam, and how hard you'd want to fight to protect him, about how hard you'd wished you'd fought when you both got jumped."

"I will," Max said, his voice suddenly coming out cast in iron.

"Okay, body focus up!"

Max felt his brother's focus energize and he hurried to match. "Ready," Max replied.

"Okay, now become totally aware of your environment."


"Just like it sounds. Feel everything, Maxy. Everything."

"And you said this wasn't Star Wars," Max smiled back. He let his mind drift and he could suddenly put a "touch" to almost everything with ten feet of himself. The rock he as sitting on, a clump of tall grass blowing in the wind, the Mustang's tire and hood and front fender… he was feeling details that his eyes couldn't even see.

"Good," Michael crooned from his rock, deep into his own meditation. "Now, all of this that you feel is your area. Anything that comes into that area I want you to control. All movement, all action, all reaction."

"All of it?" Max whispered back, uncertain if he could accomplish what his brother was asking.

"Every bit of it."

"I'll try," Max sighed. He let his mind wash over everything around him, even flowing over the bubble of force that was Michael's body focus. He felt calm, relaxed, passive.

Then a rock the size of a truck tire lifted off the ground and came flying right at Max's head. Without consciously thinking about it, Max blasted the rock with the gray beam, peeling it away in layers of flying granite sand before it could even reach inside five feet of his body focus. Another rock lifted and came right at his head from behind, much faster.

Max rolled over backwards, narrowly avoiding the rock and touched it with his own power, shoving it far away past his area. A collection of discarded beer bottles lifted and started rolling in his direction through the clear air. Max leapt in between the bottles, his body gliding as though on ice skates, and he assumed control of the bottles as they passed him. He altered their flight and hurled them right at Michael like bullets from a machine gun.

Michael merely smiled and shattered the glass bottles before they got within striking range of himself. He opened his eyes and the glow of energy was there, pulsing. Another rock, and another rose and came at Max, forming a pincer of boulders. Max leapt straight up, going far higher than he had intended and let the rocks smash into each other. But they didn't shatter. One caromed off and passed near to Michael's head, barely deflecting off his body focus, and the other zoomed up, chasing Max.

*I don't think so!* Max replied and he dove at the upcoming rock, dodging to the side at the last second.

As he came down, Max turned and whipped a tendril of telekinetic force around the rock and sent it hurtling earthward…..directly at Michael's Mustang.

The rock got to within three inches of contact and was bounced to the side. Max grinned as he watched two much smaller rocks, under his own control, tap against Michael's body field from behind. *How's that for counter punching?"

*Not bad. But if you'd hurt my car, there'd be hell to pay, Little brother.*

"Not so little anymore," Max said, returning to the ground. "I think I've got the hang of that."

"Yeah, you're picking things up quickly. Let's take a rest."

Max thought for a moment, as he stood by his stone and slowly turned to his brother. "Um, Mike? About your sword?"


"Will I need one?"

"You should probably concentrate on the strengths you already have, Max. We'll worry about giving you a metal edge later."

"Yeah, thanks Mike."

"Not ready for that kind of responsibility?"

"I… idunno. I just don't like the idea of having to kill."

"Me neither, " Michael said, bringing Max into a tight embrace. "But we've got to make a stand sometime."


"And I want you to remember one thing, Maxy. No matter what happens, I still love you, okay? Cameron does, too."

"It's all I've got to go on right now," Max said, smiling bravely. "It'll do." His eyes shot down again and then back to stare out over Michael's car. "This really is a war, like you said, huh?"

"Afraid so."

"Then we better fight to win. And I mean win back everything they've taken from us. You need to fight for Becky."

"She's out of this, Max. She's untouchable."

"No, I don't think so. If they'll hurt Cam they can figure out enough to find a way to hurt Becky."

"Leave her out of this, Max," Michael said, glancing up at his brother from under lowered eyebrows. "Last warning."

"But Mike, you love her still. And I bet in places she can't remember right now, she still loves you."

Mike pushed Max back and got down to eye level with his younger brother, holding his shoulders. "No, you listen, Maxwell! Leave Becky out of this! She's already suffered enough for loving me. I wont put her through any more pain than we've already lived through together. Understand me!" Michael said, giving Max a shake. Tears were threatening to break out on Michael's face.

A sudden image appeared to Max, not of Michael, or of Becky but of something else… someone… [Image: blue blanket/stork/wedding pictures]

"Oh, God, Mike. She was gonna have your baby?" Max blurted out. Michael looked suddenly enraged and then utterly devastated. He sank to his knees and fell back against the chrome steel bumper of the Mustang. Max stood helpless for a moment as his big brother wept like a child. He reached down and put his arms around Michael's head, letting his brother bawl out tears of pain, hidden for so long.

"I'm so sorry, Mike. I didn't mean to… oh god, that's horrible."

*She lost it,* Michael thoughtcast to Max, not trusting his natural voice. *Not long after we found out, she lost the baby. Her body just wasn't ready.*

"I'm sorry, Mike, I'm soo sorry."

"So you see, taking her memories wasn't just a mercy for what she might know about me. It was to help her forget that we were almost a family. That we were almost parents. Oh Christ, Max, I actually felt the baby's mind and shared it with Becky. It was the most beautiful thing… and it was part of both of us… and now it's dead."

Max drew his brother's head down against his own chest and held him there as a fresh set of sobs wracked Michael to the core. Little Brother comforting Big Brother, the two simply held to each other, letting the tears of Might Have Been flow. Max felt like a heel for having brought Michael to this point, as he stroked his brother's hair. But it was also a release that Michael needed. How long had he carried this burden without being able to share it with anyone? Max wondered. He marveled at his sibling's strength, and vowed that if he was even as little as a tenth the man his brother was he would count himself among the lucky. I've got a lot of growing up to do, he realized. And things to fix.

"You'll have other chances for babies, Mike. I swear to you. We'll make everything right again. We will."

They simply embraced for a long time, letting their tears and their hearts mourn a life that they would never get to know and Max steeling his resolve to protect the chance for that life again. Too much tragedy had happened because they had to skulk around in the dark. Well, now Max was ready to take back the light, about his love, about his powers, about everything.

Later that night, as Michael sat on the hood of the Mustang, playing his harmonica to the stars above, Max drifted into his own mind. Ostensibly, Max had crawled into the passenger seat to catch a quick nap, the remains of a quick trip to Barnie's drive-up burger joint filling his belly and making him sleepy. However, Max's mind was focusing inwards now. He let his thoughts linger on nothing, concentrating on nothing, being nothing. And suddenly, he popped free.

It was something he had heard Michael talk about once. Something he wanted to try for himself. Astral projection, sending his mind flying without his body. He suddenly realized he had done it and decided to make the most of it.

Michael seemed oblivious to it all, playing out a blues tune that he was basically making up as he played it, letting his heart and soul drip pain into the night sky. That was the thing that attracted Max to blues music despite his contemporaries preferring the edgier sounds of rap. Blues actually was nothing more than a good person feeling bad, and letting the bad go to feel good again. Crying and Smiling. Once all this was over, Max hoped that his big brother would teach him how to play an instrument. If it made Michael feel better to vent like this, it had to be something worth at least investigating.

He streaked southward, feeling his way back to the hospital and Cameron. The landscape blurred under him as he flew on the astral winds. He could feel Cameron in the distance, like a beacon. They were linked now on levels that even Max himself barely understood. He could have found Cameron in the heart of darkest Africa, lost in the Australian Outback, trapped in a frozen Alaskan tundra or stranded on an uncharted island in the shark infested South Pacific. In all the ways that mattered, they still had the most tenuous of connections, and Max flew back along that link like it was a rubber band stretched and released, springing back to proper shape.

Along the way, even though it took seconds to traverse the miles between, Max began to form a plan. He had powers others could only dream of, and he was no longer afraid to use them. There was a lot of good he could do with those abilities. Maybe he wasn't thinking about stopping bank robberies or chasing bad guys down in the dark streets of Boston, but he could seriously help put things to right in little ways. That was how you make the most difference, he thought, by making changes that don't seem so obvious yet help others to help themselves. Once this whole thing was over, he conceded, there would be a lot of help coming to his sleepy little New England river town. One life at a time, he would help make things easier.

He passed through the solid wall of the hospital room like a ghost, getting an almost chalky taste in his mouth. The room was dark, but that didn't seem to matter much to his amplified senses. Max hovered a moment, looking for Cameron, and found him still lying in the hospital bed. The constant drip and beeping noises and puff and fluff of the respirator still dismayed Max. Only fifteen hours before he had been strong and healthy, powerful and sensual. Now, because of people who were chasing Max and other telepaths like him, Cameron was barely sliding back towards health.

There were tears on his lover's face. The tracks were clear, even as Cameron slept. Cam's mother and father were also in the room, sleeping uncomfortably on the hospital chairs provided. Max saw their devotion to their only son and in that moment he loved them as well. They were a part of Cameron, after all. How could he not love them, especially as they were so devoted to his boyfriend.

*Cam? Eeyore?* Max ventured, floating closer to his boy.

"Elfffffff?" Cam spoke, his voice sounding parched and dry. His lips were cracked and chapped from too much licking.

*I'm here, Eeyore.* Max floated lower, bringing his astral body into contact with Cam's physical one. But the sensation of touch wasn't anywhere near the same. *I'm with you. Don't talk, just think. I'll hear you.*

Hey, Cam thought.

*Hey, what?* Max returned, giggling lightly.

Hey, I'm really fucked up. Body feels like a buncha broken rocks.

*Hey!* Max brought his astral arms up and around Cam's body, trying and failing to apply a slight hugging pressure.

I know, Cam thought.* Me too, all the way.* For once, the playful banter was dropped. Max could feel a serious undertone to Cam's thoughts and emotions. In this most honest of communication, Cam was letting Max feel all his fears.

*You're gonna get better. If you know what's good for you,* Max warned.

I know what's good for me, little elf. I'm just so scared of losing you.

*Don't be. Michael has a plan. At least, I think he has a plan. We're not gonna take it lying down though. We will fight.*

But, Maxy, fighting means a chance of dying, of getting hurt or killed or maimed or… or losing your mind, your awesome mind!

*I know. It's a chance I have to take. It's a chance for us to be together again, without having to worry.*

Max, Cameron thought, all of his pain and anguish and fear coming into just thinking his lover's name. Max, if it comes down to it, I want you to run rather than fight. If you are still alive, then I still have hope… if you die, even if you die fighting, I wont last long without you.

*I… I can't do it, Eeyore. I can't live like that, running all the time, afraid to live just because some joker might come around a corner to blow me away. You couldn't live like that either. If we can end this now, then things can be like they were before…*

Max, we've gone to far for anything to be like it was before, and you know it. And if the world can't take that, then let them deal with it. But to surrender to anger, to let them win by playing it their way… is that any better?

*I don't know, Eeyore. I just don't know. All I know is that the only thing they understand is naked force. And that's exactly what I'm prepared to give them!*

An image floated through Cam's consciousness, of a naked Max throwing punches and kicks like a martial arts godling. Max chuckled at the image and Cam kinda smirked inwardly. Naked force, you say?

*You know what I mean!* Max retorted back. *Hey!*

Hey what?

*Hey, I love you! More than life itself.*

Hey, I love you, too! My mighty elf warrior, Cam thought, giggling. If I weren't so fucked up right now, I'd make you all glowy again.


With all my heart.

*I'll hold you to that,* Max warned.

As long as you hold me, Maxy, there's nothing I wont do for you. Nothing.

*Oh good,* Max said, trying to rub his cheek against Cam's. *Because once this nasty business is over I have plans for us.*

Oh really?

*Yeah. We're gonna start making things right again. For us and for those we love.*

You've got a big heart for such a little guy, Cam thought, smiling.

*I get that a lot!*

I want you. I love you. I need you, Elf.

*Me too, Eeyore. Stay strong for me. Get well. I'll be with you again soon so we can get all kinds of stinky again.*

Be careful, my love.

*I will. I promise.*

And then Max gently placed a kiss and a memory of their mutual afterglow in the tent into Cam's mind and zipped back to Rocky Fen and into his body. Tears were streaming down his face but they weren't angry tears or painful tears. It was just the release of pent up frustration and worry and emotion and he let them flow freely, almost relishing the coolness of their tracks on his cheeks and the bitter kiss of wind on tear streaked skin.

Max exited the car, walking stiffly, as though he'd been asleep for hours. Michael was sitting on the hood, leaning back against the glass, staring upwards. His harmonica lay clutched in his hand against his chest, the ghost of a smile on his lips.

"That was great, Mike."


"The Bruins are winning, six to one against Buffalo right now, with just a few minutes left in the third period," Max offered. With an almost casual ease, he shifted on his body focus and a deep ground focus and floated up onto the Mustang, lighting himself next to Michael, stretched out on hood and windshield.

"You reading someone's mind to figure that out?" Michael asked cautiously.

"No. I think I can actually pick up radio signals. I keep getting sports radio ads." Max smiled.

"You're growing into this faster than I could have foreseen, Max. I'm kinda worried about that, I gottah tell you."

"Is that a bad thing?"

"Not necessarily. Just means you are developing faster than I predicted you would. I thought this would be a long drawn out process. You're making leaps and bounds that took me weeks, even months to master."

"Maybe I just have a better teacher."

"Maybe," Michael smiled. "How's Cam doing?"

"You felt that, huh?"

"Kinda hard not to when you pass right through me on your way out."


"Eh, it happens. So how is he?"

"He's great, Mike. He's getting better. He… he really loves me."

"I know, kiddo. I can tell."

"Is that a bad thing, too? That he loves me?"

"Max, there's an old saying from Mom and Dad's hippy days…"

"Oh, Jeeze," Max groused.

"…that as long as you have someone to put their arms around you, then everything else will be alright."

"Will you be alright, then?"

"I've still got my little brother, I hope."

Always, Mike. Always.* *And maybe someone else's too, Max thought to himself.

"Tomorrow we're reversing roles. I want you to teach me how to do that gray beam of yours."

"Okay. I still don't know how I do it, myself, though."

"Too bad. Rocks all over New England are scared of you," Michael said chuckling.

"When do you think they'll come for us?"

"Some time tomorrow, I guess. Probably around afternoon."

"Oh," Max said, relieved.

"What, you were picturing some sort of high noon Sunday throw down?"

"I dunno. I just… oh heck, I dunno, Mike. I feel like we're being watched again."

"Probably are. I don't think we should be knocking satellites about tonight, though."

"Yeah, me either. Careful and precise."

"That's the way, Maxy. We'll be okay as long as we cling to each other."

"I'm there, Mike. All the way."

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