Make or Break
The ground rose up to meet Max's face, with the solidity of granite. He rolled over and felt blood tickling through a nasty gash at his scalp line. The throbbing agony in his head was punctuated on every pulse beat by a stabbing sensation that seemed to pour out through his eyes, his ears, his temples, the edges of his jaw, under his eyes, through every cavity in his sinuses, and through the mask of his face, above his nose. The pain even extended backwards, radiating through his scalp and hair, every follicle on fire as if pricked with an acid tipped needle.
As he rolled, trying not to breath, for that sent shivers of pain running through his spine, his hand touched his brother's still foot. Pain and rage built up in Max and he knew that this was it. He either won here and now, or he'd be on a table somewhere, his head popped open with clinical precision to see what made his powers tick.
His mental senses were dead. He couldn't feel his brother, just inches away, likely dying, bleeding to death. The pain was clouding his ability to feel beyond the edge of his skin, and even his eye sight was blurry, doubling at times. "I'm not going down easy," he whispered, gritting his teeth against the constant, flaring onslaught of pain in his head. With some difficulty, he re-established his body and ground foci, and found the sword close at hand. With a feral growl, he rose to his feet and let his power surge.
A brace of bullets shattered against his body focus, even as his winding, unfocused telekinetic power started rising about him, building. He barely felt the onslaught without, the pain in his head demanding much of his attention as he fought against it, even as he fought to increase the strength of the forces at his command. The pain and power rose as one, tearing at his sanity with razor talons of slicing, pure white pain.
An explosion rocked Max's body focus, nearly throwing him to the ground. One of the soldiers had unloaded a grenade launcher at Max, and the blast seared pain into his side as well as his head as his body focus reacted to protect him. His powers were virtually on automatic now, his only real opponent the driving pain that filled his consciousness, threatening to drive all thought from him. He could feel animal instincts slowly coming up and taking control over him. He lost most of his ability to make sense of his vision, and he closed his eyes, the kaleidoscoping colors of light in the darkness easier to handle than the pain inspired warping of his sight from the sheer volume of pain.
Growling in anger, rage, and the raw fear that had been nipping at his heals since the attack at the Watch just a day and a night before, Max took hold of his agony and instead of fighting it, he embraced it, let it fuel his intense anger and give him a point of reality to grip tightly to.
The pain flared as he brought his power up. His unfocused telekinetic power was swirling about him, ripping at the ground, kicking small boulders away with brutal force. He screamed in rage and shot into the air, flying up over 80 feet before turning. A hail of lead and ceramic projectiles bounced off his body focus, not even touching him. The pain was nearly blinding now, and he felt a trickle of something wet run out of his left nostril. A small voice in the back of his mind screamed "RUN!" but Max ignored it. He had no where to run to. And more to the point, he was too angry and too hurting to think straight anymore.
He lashed out blindly, an arc of brilliant telekinetic force shimmering a distortion through the crisp autumn air. The wave slammed into the ground shattering a boulder the size of a small work shed. Soldier's scrambled for cover as the hot edges of fragmented granite showered through the fen. Two soldiers were unfortunate enough to be in the path of the arc itself, one losing his left leg, the other being split in half at the waist.
Still the pain continued, and in fact started to grow worse. The soldiers that remained kept up a steady barrage of gunfire, peppering Max's body focus. That little voice in the back of his head screamed "They wont stop until they kill you, now! RUN!"
But still Max resisted, tears of pain and rage flowing down his face, mixing with blood from his nose. Snarling in agony, and reveling in the pain that racked his body and mind, Max unleashed the Beast. He felt the power gush out of him and he hurled it blindly, simply blasting with everything he had. He lashed out wildly with three more arcs, each of them hideously more powerful than the first one, rivaling the relentless power of Niagara or ancient Vesuvius. One arc sailed out past the eastern hills and its passing would alter weather patterns at sea for days. Another arc found a closely grouped fire team of soldiers and dashed their cover, injuring three more.
But his third arc had a much more immediate and devastating effect. It wasn't as powerful as the first two and was much smaller. Its distortion wave was barely a ripple in the air as it passed across the ground and shot boulders up from deep under the muddy earth of Rocky Fen.
Suddenly, the pain ceased. The throbbing and pulsing agony faded almost at once, the sharp stabbing pains quieting down shortly after that. Max's vision cleared and his senses flooded him with hyper sharp details about the world again. He nearly lost his concentration in the absence of the pain. He shook his head to clear out the cobwebs and focused his eyes on the scene below.
Rocky Fen looked like a bomb crater, ten feet deep and forty feet wide, steeply grooved up the sides from ejected rocks and stones. The muck was ripped open and rocks that had only their barest tips above the surface had been launched about like the toys of an angry child. Plants and sleeping tree boles were swept aside and tumbled together in spots, like log jams in a river. As he watched, wary for further attack, he was reminded of moon craters he had studied in school science classes.
Max's mental awareness of every living mind within half a mile flooded back into him and he could feel the panic and pain of the soldiers trapped behind massive stones and the thick caking mud of the Fen, injured by the passing of rock shrapnel and the quiet cries of the dying. He let himself drift ground ward, seeking the leader of this group.
He wasn't hard to find. His mind had the strongest will and energy behind it. His leg was trapped behind a boulder, his ankle broken. Max lighted near him and took three small steps in his direction, a sudden calm overcoming the boy. His brother's sword was still clutched firmly in his hand. A he approached, the leader looked up, panic lighting in the officer's eyes.
The man reached for his side arm and pointed it at Max, pulling the trigger. But already, that move was too late. The gray beam leapt out from Max, almost casually, and disintegrated the weapon before the officer could even get it lined up, or think of pulling the trigger. His panic got wilder and he looked around for any kind of weapon he could use. Max called on the sword, drawing upon the skills embedded in it from Michael's own hand. The tip of the blade was under the officer's chin in a fraction of a second, flicking up and under, stopping just shy of breaking the skin.
Max turned the tip, using the flat, chisel point to lift the officer's chin, exposing his throat.
"I could so easily kill you right now," Max said, his little boy voice sounding flat, distant. "It would only take me a quick flick of the wrist and you'd bleed slowly onto this ground, and not one of your men is in any kind of position to help you. I could go to them one at a time, look them all in the eyes and slaughter them where they lay. And you know that I can."
"So go ahead," the officer said, his eyes quivering with both anger and fear and helplessness. "Finish me and get it over with."
"No." Max said, letting the sword tip fall back beside his leg. "That would make me the monster everyone thinks I am. I'm not so different from you. I never wanted to be hunted, to hurt your men. You brought this on yourself. I hope the lives of these men was worth what you hoped to learn from me. Because you may have just killed my brother, and that is a cost I cannot bear."
"We had to make certain," the officer started. "Certain you weren't a threat."
"I wasn't, until you threatened those I love." Max turned from the officer and let his power flow into the ground, seeking the edges of the rocks that held the soldiers to the ground. "Let it end now. Let there be no more bloodshed. If you come for me again, if your Dr. Conrad sends more killers after me and those I love, tell him I'll be coming for him." The boulders lifted off all the soldiers at once, flying to fill in the center of the fen. Max felt the Beast feeding off his emotions, off his barely controlled rage, but he kept the leash short on his Beast. His hands shook with the fury and contained sadness filling him, but he maintained control.
"Tell them that I could have killed you all once the fight was over. Tell them that I didn't because these men were just doing their job, and I understand that. Tell them that I love my country, but if my country continues to act this way," and he turned back to the officer, his eyes glowing with power briefly, "I'll tear it all down. All I want is my freedom and my life back."
Max quickly floated up the escarpment of the crater and dropped beside his brother's body. His chin quivered as he struggled to remain in control. He still had a task to deal with before he could let his emotions out, before he could cry like the little boy he still was. With a subtle hand motion, he willed Michael's body to rise into the air, trying desperately to hold what little of his brother's precious life blood remained inside his body. Max flew south, quickly, Michael beside him the whole trip, outpacing jets flying far overhead.
He touched down inside the emergency room at Cranston hospital, carrying Michael in his arms. He walked right into the emergency ward and dropped Michael gently on one of the hospital beds there, his mind gently nudging the medical staff that there was an emergency. They came in without hearing any alert, but quietly got to work, trying to revive Michael, dealing with the bullet wound. Later, they would report that they just knew they had to be there, not why. And none of them could shake the feeling that their own sense of urgency felt alien.
Max stepped back, letting the staff do their jobs. He felt too weak to leave yet. He had to see that Michael was okay before he could let himself be human again.
"Okay, he's stable, let's get him up to OR 5 and get that shoulder checked out. Let's move people," the head doctor said, getting the team motivated. He noticed Max in the corner, the blood stains and mud all over Max's clothes, the look of stoic control starting to slip off of Max's face, replaced by a very scared, very angry kid look. The doctor walked over and knelt before Max, putting his hands on the boy's small shoulders.
"Hey, you okay, buddy?"
Max just slowly reached out his arms and wrapped himself around the doctor's neck and shoulder, and cried, silently at first, but then suddenly louder, inhaling enough air to get out all his emotion at once. For several minutes the doctor just knelt there with Max, calming him, patting his hair. When at last Max could talk without breaking down again, nearly twenty minutes had passed.
The doctor recognized Max from before, when he had brought Cameron in. A page went out and Max's parents were down at the emergency room in a few moments. After a very tearful reunion with his parents, the doctor took Max's father to the side and explained about Michael. Max just lay in his mother's embrace, feeling very small again, very young. His body still trembled with the horrors of the fight, or the power he had unleashed from his own anger, and the fact that no matter his gestures of mercy, he still felt that the world would view him as a monster. A freak.
He fell asleep in his mother's arms, and thankfully, his dreams were vacant of horror and death, of anger and pain. In his dreams, Max was the elf again, riding the night on his bond wolf, Twin Star, his lovemate awaiting him. He was simply one with the world in his slumber, not a terror that could rip aside the landscape with a barest whim. He could be simple and small again.
Max woke in a hospital bed, a tube of clear plastic embedded in the back of his left hand. His gaze followed the tube up to a clear plastic pack of some liquid. He used a bare fraction of his power and plucked the needle and IV drip tube out of his hand and sat up in bed. He threw back the covers to find he had been dressed in a hospital gown, his minor scars and cuts washed, his whole body clean. He climbed out of the bed, despite an alarm near him beeping pleasantly. He felt steady on his feet again, and didn't bother to tap into his powers to walk, but he felt a slight weakness in his entire body.
He had to find out where he was, if the whole battle at the Fen had been just some kind of fever dream. If Cameron was alright. If Michael had survived the surgery. He walked into the hallway and a nurse immediately walked over to him, calling his name. With an almost casual wave of his hand, he erected a barrier of force, blocking the nurse from even getting within arms length of him. He walked towards a bank of elevators, using a subtle telekinetic touch to tap the call button while he was still some twenty feet from it.
He quickly keyed in Cameron's floor once he was inside, feeling his tears starting to well up. He had become a monster. He had ripped open the fen and used his powers to kill. He had become something that was only barely human, and not fit for the company of loving souls. He wasn't controlling the Beast now, he was the Beast.
And since he was a Beast, and a danger to those he loved, there was one duty he had to perform. In his own mind, there was no other way. Everyone he loved would get hurt if he was still around for them to love, to try to protect. So, just like Michael had given up everything in order to protect his family, so would Max.
He walked right past Cameron's parents, despite their standing up to embrace him as he rounded the corner of the ICU unit. He strode to the door, using his talent to open the door before he was within arms reach to touch the knob. He walked in unimpeded and mentally locked the door behind himself.
Cameron lay there, no longer on the life support machines that regulated his breathing, his eyes open and smiling at first as he saw Max. Then the look on Max's face touched Cameron to his soul. He'd never seen his Maxy look like that before, so cold, so lost.
"Hey," Cameron said, forcing a smile.
"Hey, what?" Max replied, a large tear slipping over the corner of his check, sliding down to his pointy, quivering chin.
"Hey, I love you, little elf," Cameron said, reaching out a hand.
Max fell into Cameron's embrace, his tears coming out again, soaking the bed sheets.
"Oh don't cry Max. Please don't cry. You'll make me bust out in tears, too."
"Hold me, Eeyore. Hold me one last time before you forget me forever."
"I'll never forget you, Maxy. I love you too much, I…"
"No!" Max said, backing away from Cameron suddenly. "You can't love me! No one can ever love me again! They'll only hurt you, Cameron! They might even kill you next time! And I couldn't bear that. I couldn't! So… so I have to take away all your memories of me."
"It's the only way, Cameron. If you don't remember me, then you can't love me, then they will leave you alone."
"I don't want to forget you! I love you, you dope!"
"Cam, don't make this any harder on me than it already is. I have to do this! It's the only way!"
"It's a cowards way! I know that the boy I love would never take the coward's way out. We can beat this, Max!"
"No!" the smaller boy shouted, the power starting to gather behind his eyes. His hospital gown lifted at the hems in some phantom wind, his eyes starting to spark past the tears with power. "This is the only thing that will save you, Cameron. I love you too much to curse you with loving me! I'm a freak! I'm a beast, a weapon."
"Max, no matter what you do, I'll always love you. That goes beyond any power you might have."
"Maybe, but if you don't remember you love me, then they can't hurt you. Good-bye my love. My Eeyore," Max said, tears streaking down his face. "I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, but the world wont let us. So in order to save you, I have to let you let go of damned me!"
"I love you, Maxy," Cameron said as Max's raw telekinetic power flowed over Cameron, holding the older boy still, letting Max trace every contour of his lover's sweet body with his mental senses one last time.
"I love you, Cam," Max replied, his hair flying in the unfocused aspects of his power, readying himself to dive into Cameron's mind and rip away all their memories together. "Good-bye."
The door lock and handle shot across the room, breaking the window on the farther side of the room. A sharp kick and Michael walked in, his eyes similarly glowing with power.
"Don't do this, Max. It was wrong for me to do it to Becky, it's wrong for you to do it now."
"But they wont ever stop!" Max shouted. Michael hobbled into the room, his arm held tight to his body in a shoulder sling. He stepped between Max and Cameron, staring down his little brother.
"You didn't turn into a killer, Max. You defended yourself. You aren't a killer now either. And taking Cam's mind wont make us any safer. Any of us."
"It did for Becky!" Max cried out. "Stand aside Mike. Just like you had to for her I have to for Cam. It's for his own goo…"
"Max?" a slight female voice said from the opened doorway. "Maxy, is that you? You've grown." Max's eyes flew open in surprise, and slowly tracked over to the entrance of the room. A willowy teenage girl, tall and proud, with golden highlights in her blonde hair, cautiously entered the hospital room.. Her sharp green eyes easily picked out Max's and held them. She walked slowly and stood beside Michael, slipping an arm around behind Michael's back and leaning against him.
"Becky?" Max said, his power nearly faltering. The glow left his eyes, replaced by a look of incredulity. She couldn't be here. Michael must be messing with his senses, he thought. He let a portion of his telekinetic force flow out to her, just to make sure she was real, that she was here. His metal touch contacted warm flesh, a quickening heartbeat and a sense of breathing.
"But, I thought Mike had…" Max said, relaxing his grip on Becky, feeling his grip on Cameron drop to more of a gentle contact than a forceful cocoon.
"He did," Becky said, coming to stand near Max. "And it took, too. I nearly didn't recognize him. But then he uncorked my memories and it all came back to me. Max, we were both wrong before." She knelt in front of Max, looking up into his eyes. "Remember what you told Michael? Love is worth fighting for, worth dying for?"
"I didn't know. I nearly lost Mike, and I nearly lost Cameron. It was too much. Love hurts to much!"
"Love is only love if it hurts like that," Becky said, putting a hand on Max's tummy. "Love is what happens when you care so much that someone else's pain means more to you than your own. Michael and I were both selfish after I lost the baby. We let the hurt overpower the joy of love. Don't make that mistake here, Max. Don't inflict more hurt on yourself so that Cameron wont feel any. Share the hurt and the joy with him, as he wants to do with you."
"Maxy, love isn't just worth fighting for, and worth protecting," Michael said, moving to stand beside Becky, a hand coming up to Max's cheek. "It's worth risking everything for. Love is worth your whole life, not just the dying, but the living too."
"Don't rob both of you of the time that Mike and I lost," Becky said.
Max's chin quivered and he turned his head down and to the left, unable to face them. "I want to believe you," he said at length, his tears snuffling in his nose. "But how can I be sure? How can I know what's right anymore?"
"Max?" Cameron said from his hospital bed. "I have faith in you. I trust you as much as you trusted me that night in the tent. More, even. I love you, Max, and I don't care who knows it. I only want you, forever." And he slid his feet over the edge of the bed and stood up. A grimace of pain shot across his face, but Cameron stood up, and walked to Max.
Max cried openly as Cameron picked him up in a fierce embrace. "Oh, god, Eeyore! What did I almost do?"
"I don't know, my love. But we'll work things out in our own way. And we'll do it together, little elf."
The editor looked up and glanced at the writer as he read the last paragraph. "What is this crap?!"
"What do you mean?" the writer said, looking over at the laptop and then back at the editor. "What?"
"You left the story ended there? Like that?"
"Hey, you said you wanted the truth about what happened up there in Canterbury last Fall. That's what happened."
"But it's unfinished! I mean, you just leave the reader hanging, staring out at nothing."
"I just told the truth," the writer said, defending himself.
"But there's no dramatic ending motif. No pizzazz, no flourish. No happily ever after. I can't put this into the mystic archives of this town like it is. There's no moral lesson or strong ending. It just drops."
"That's the point," the writer said with some slight disgust in his voice. Why don't editors ever understand the creative process? he thought, angrily. "Look, the point of the story, of those events, was never about Max's powers, or about graphic depictions of teenage sex. I mean all that was important at the time, but it's not what the story is about. It is about love conquering fear and hatred."
"But they didn't win. He walks away from the fight, Becky just suddenly gets her memory back…"
"Ah, no, Michael went back and restored her memory."
"Whatever! The point is, there was so much foreshadowing about what Max should and shouldn't do, about the covens, about the government conspiracy against the telepaths, all of that doesn't get addressed at all. Don't you see how that's a problem. The story is unfinished."
"You're right. I'm glad you see things my way," the author smiled.
"Whoa! Time out! What do you mean, I see things your way? I want you to put a finish to this before it goes into the archives. The supernatural community here deserves to know the whole truth."
The author drew a heavy sigh and then took off his glasses to wipe at his eyes. This was the uphill fight he had been worried about.
"Okay, first off, that story is complete all by itself. It tells of how Max learned to beat his own fear with love and learned about the nature of love itself. It also tells about how he came to be what he eventually did become to Canterbury. It's complete in what I intended for it to do. But all those other plot points you are so keen to point out, that any casual reader of the story will get ticked about because they aren't finalized, well, that was done on purpose."
"Why, in God's name? Why?"
"Because, just like life and love themselves, everything doesn't just resolve into nice neat little stories all the time. This thing with the government, well that's still going on. The problem with the disappearing telepaths and the covens, that's still there too. The fact is, this is only one facet of Max's story."
"You didn't think that just because one part of a life, one lesson learned, reaches a logical conclusion that it's automatically happily ever after, did you? This isn't a children's story here, although it features children. This is serious stuff. Love, life, death, sex, family, responsibility… these are big issues and you can't just stick them all together like that and make it into a 27 minute after school special. Life doesn't happen at that pace, and neither does Max's story."
"Oh, Okay, I get you. So when can I expect the end of the story. How soon?"
"Could take a lifetime," the author replied, tilting his head to calculate. "Yeah, a lifetime sounds about right."
"You're putting me on, now. No really, how soon?"
"I don't think you get it yet." The author shifted in his chair, uneasy about having to dispense wisdom to someone who probably should already understand human nature far better by now. "Max's story, whether or not he tells the rest of it, will take all of his lifetime to write. This little incident in Canterbury's Rocky Fen was just one of several paranormal events that happened up there. And Max is tied to a few of them. But they have to come out in their own time. Besides, I think that Max and Cameron deserve a little time on their own to get things settled, don't you?"
"Oh come on! Now you're gonna tell me that they are real people. That this whole thing in Canterbury actually happened, exactly as you say it did. What a laugh!"
"I wouldn't laugh at it if I were you," the author warned. "There are more wonders betwixt heaven and hell than are even dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio."
"Paraphrasing the Bard does not make you a Shakespeare," the editor quickly prompted, pointing his pudgy finger at the author. "Speak plainly, man! What is going on with the rest of the story?"
"Honestly, I don't know right now. When something does happen, however, you'll be somewhere near the top of the list of those who find out what that might be."
"You realize, the readers are going to be very ticked at you."
"Not my problem. I only have to tell them the truth, and they'll sense if I don't. Don't think that readers don't know what's going on, my friend. Sure, many will think I just punked out, took my royalty money and left for three weeks in the Caymans. And some may actually curse my name for leaving them hanging on an ending to this part of Max's life. Fact is, it's what Max wants."
"Oh this is rich! You drop this fantastic tale, filled with characters that people have already written me scores of fan mail about, and now you're gonna stand there and bold faced tell me that it is only an ending for now? You did punk out! You couldn't come up with what was gonna happen next and you folded!"
"Listen here, you fat faced, fat assed, fat head bastard!" the author said, standing suddenly and slamming the lap top closed. "The truth of the matter is that I felt sorry for the guy. He'd been through enough for a while. Sure there's more story to it. Lots more! But just as in everything else in this life, you have periods of intense activity and then long stretches of nothing significant. You want to know what's going on in Max's life right now? He's learning how to be happy. He's learning to be in love. And if you can't keep your filthy nose out of his business long enough for him to come around to understanding himself before he tries to tell you, then you haven't figured out anything about life yet. Max's story will continue, you dumb fuck! But only when Max is ready to tell it."
"Jeeze, get a grip!"
"You have the story," the author said, picking up his laptop. He tugged the thumb drive out and it landed unceremoniously on the desk. "Next time I write something about Max, I'll e-mail it to you. I think I've earned that vacation in the Caymans now, so I'll be out of touch for a while. Don't worry your greedy, beady little eyes out. Max's story will be told. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a short hop to make to paradise. Good day."
The author started to leave, taking his laptop with him, before the editor could get another word in edgewise. In his haste, the author spun his jacket up around his shoulders, bumping into things lightly. As the editor stared at the authors retreating figure the lamp by his secretary's desk in the outer office caught a sleeve of the authors coat, and started to fall over, casting a shadow of the author against the office door. Almost as if by magic, the lamp seemed to right itself in its wobble and for a moment, the editor had to shake his head in disbelief. He got up from around the desk, moving his thick frame around the furniture as quickly as he could, just in time to see the author's face occluded by the closing elevator doors.
He shook his head and stared at the lamp. It didn't' seem possible that the lamp might roll around like that and right itself. Too much like a basketball that zips in and out of a net from a bad shot. On impulse, he set the lamp over on its side and stared at his own shadow against the door. He was a few inches shorter than the author, but he was almost certain that his own shadow was much taller than the author's had been against the door.
Fairly positive of it, in fact.
Eyes must be playing tricks on me, he thought, heading back to the desk. He picked up the thumb drive and looked it over in his hand, turning it edge on, watching how light caught on the shiny surfaces of the plastic. "Well, Maxy, ole boy. I guess we'll hear the rest of your story when you want us to. Don't keep us waiting too long, Kiddo. I got the feeling you got a lot to say."
At the bottom floor, Max stepped out of the elevator, his laptop still clutched tightly in his hand. He moved with a smooth stride to his steps that he hadn't felt in a while. Like a great weight had been lifted off his small shoulders. He jumped into the waiting, open door of the car parked out in front of the building, gave Cameron a sly look and a quick kiss, and they were off into the night, driving back home.
For now, a conclusion. But the adventure continues.