"Max!" the voice said, insistent. He knew that the voice was speaking to him, but couldn't make the connection quite yet. He fumbled around in the dark of his mind, looking for some beam of light. Some switch that seemed to be turned off. It wasn't right, somehow, and he rebelled against the darkness.
"Max, don't make me come in there and pull you out. Come to me. It's Mike."
The switch in his mind slowly slid on, a gradual lifting of the light bringing him back to his senses. He fluttered his eyelashes against the sudden stinging of the light and saw a blurry figure standing beside him. Max opened his eyes wide and recognized Michael standing beside his hospital bed, holding his hand and stroking the inside of his arm.
"It's me, Maxy." Max leapt into Mike's arms, hugging fiercely. His tears wouldn't flow, as much as he felt himself still trying to cry. I'm all dried up, he thought, savagely.
"Mike, I'm so scared. Cameron, is he…?"
"The doctor's are examining him now. He's made it through the surgery all right. He lost a lot of blood and there was a small rupture in one kidney, but he'll be okay." Max clung tighter to his brother. "They said you'll be okay too, just some bumps and bruises."
"Did you call Mom and Dad?"
"I had to. So far, they're just really worried about you. Cam's parents are here too. So is an officer from the state police."
Max bit his lips between his teeth. *What do they know?*
*Nothing yet. Cam hasn't regained consciousness long enough to say any more than ask for you, Little Elf.*
*We got attacked,* Max sent back and then [Image/Cameron hurt/attackers/cube truck escape/Cameron peeing blood/flying to hospital].
*Fuck!* Michael swore, mentally. *I was afraid of something like this.*
"Who are they?" Max asked, partially whimpering partly regaining his anger. Michael's hand went to the back of Max's head, cradling him as he walked into the waiting area, holding Max under his butt. Max held on, the heat on his cheeks belying his lack of tears.
*Honestly, Maxy, I wish I knew. But telepaths have been suddenly disappearing for a while now. We've been trying to find out who's behind it, but so far no luck You're the only one to escape so far.*
*I don't understand,* Max admitted, regaining some control over his breathing. His sobs quieted to a sniffle and a sigh.
*We'll talk about it later. The folks will want to see you now. I'm right here, Max, if you need me.*
"My baby!" their mother said, rushing over to Max and Michael. Dad got up ponderously, his work coveralls still on. Apparently he had driven from work when he had heard that Max had been hurt.
"Mom!" Max cried, suddenly needing to be held by her. Michael transferred him over to his mother, keeping one of Max's hands in his own.
"What happened, son?" Dad asked, his voice barely containing a mixture of rage, fear and concern.
"We…we we're tenting out. We went down by the river to wash up when…when these guys jumped us!"
"What guys?" Dad asked. Max's mind reached out and touched his father's surface thoughts. He was boiling, mostly at what had happened, but a good bit of it was at not being able to do anything about it. Helplessness, Max reasoned, was almost as much frustration as being held back.
"I dunno," Max replied. "I only got a few looks. They were all over us before I could do anything. They had Cam down on the ground and were kicking him….is he alright?"
"He's doing much better," Mom replied, rubbing Max's back as she let him down. He quickly found a chair and sat down, feeling suddenly very weak, very small. "The doctor's got to him in time," Mom finished.
"How'd you get all the way out here?" Dad asked, getting down to Max's level.
"We escaped. They had us in the back of a cube truck. We broke out while they were on the highway and ran for a while. Cam was hurt though, and we could only go so far. Then I carried him. I found the hospital and came right in."
"That was very brave of you, sweetheart," Mom said, patting his back. Max looked to where Michael paced, looking like a tiger trapped in a cage at the circus. Prowling.
"Did you see their faces?"
"They had on ski masks. I couldn't see them."
"Okay. You'll have to talk to the cop over there in a little while, Maxy," Dad said. "But I think we can wait for that until you go see Cameron. His parents want to meet you."
"Can I see him?" Max asked.
"I'll take him up, Dad." Dad nodded as Michael walked over and held out his hand. Like a little kid, Max took his brother's hand and followed as Michael led to the elevators. The cop started to move towards the brothers, but suddenly stopped and looked into his half full coffee cup. Max heard the cop inquire about a coffee maker as he and Michael rounded a corner to the elevator bank.
"Did you do that?" Max asked, looking up.
"Just a little. You need time to get your head together, little brother."
"I understand," Max said, looking at the ground. "No bullshit, Mike. How is he?"
"It's pretty bad, Max. You were out for six hours. They had to operate on him twice, once for a blood clot in his kidney and then to re-inflate a lung. He died on the table once, just before they sent him up to surgery." Hot tears finally found an out on Max's face. "He's not giving up, though, and the doctor's think he will make a full recovery, in time."
"Love is worth protecting," Max said, calmly. "Mike, I wanna go get these guys."
"Revenge isn't a good idea, Max. We don't even know who these guys are, or what they are capable of. The ones that went after you could just be the low men on the totem pole."
"I want them!" Max said, his voice a low growl, at least as low as his voice could reach. "Mom and Dad could be next. Or you. Or Becky."
"That's a low blow, Max," Michael said, after a pregnant pause. *Besides, Becky is safe. She doesn't remember anything.*
*That doesn't make her any less important to you.*
*Look, let's work on one thing at a time now. Chances are they are tracking you. That means that every moment we are around Mom and Dad and Cameron we are putting them in danger.* Michael shuffled as the elevator door opened. *We need to figure out how they're tracking you and then block it.*
*Then what? We run? Just leave the people we love so that the bad guys can chase us forever?*
"I don't know," Michael whispered. "What I do know is that it's probably going to get harder before it gets easier. And you need to meet the others."
"Others?" Max said. Michael stabbed the button for the fourth floor and the doors closed.
"You didn't think I learned all this by myself, did you?" Michael smiled.
"Never thought about it."
"Well, get used to thinking, because we aren't the only ones in danger."
The lift doors opened and Max and Michael stepped out. Max followed Michael to the left and they walked into a waiting room. A man that looked like the spitting image of Cameron stood up as the boys entered. Michael held out his hand as they approached.
"How is he?" Michael asked, shaking hands.
"Better. He's resting now. His mother is visiting with him. Is this Max?"
"Yes. Max, this is Mr. Durman, Cameron's father."
"Hullo," Max said, extending his hand as well. At the touch of the older man's hand, Max felt a flood of images and feelings rush him. Anger; deep concern for his son; an image of Cameron at about eight years old, riding high on a playground swing; a high school play where Cameron gets to "die" in a staged sword duel. Max shook his head to clear the images as he shook Mr. Durman's hand.
"Sorry, I have a strong grip. Sometimes too strong," Mr. Durman apologized.
"Can we see him?" Michael prompted.
"I think so. I need to get Marion downstairs, get her to eat something." Mr. Durman walked into the intensive care ward and came out with a pleasant looking woman in her mid forties who looked as though she hadn't slept in days. Mr. Durman nodded as he took his wife, Cameron's mother, to the elevator bank around the corner. Max nodded back, trying to put on a brave smile. Somehow, he felt he failed.
"This way," Michael said, his even and quiet tread angling towards Cameron's room. Max followed, not really focusing on anything other than keeping his brother's back in sight. Hospitals were bad places for Max. He had always felt odd around them, as though the pain that was healed away there also reached out to leach color from his soul. The stark whites and chrome fittings, the scent of antiseptic on plastic and hard rubber only added to the effect.
But nothing prepared Max for the sight of his lover strapped to an inclined platform bunk with tubes running into his arms and chest, a swath of wires attached to his bare skin, bandages swathing his face and about his trunk, and the paleness of his flesh. Max stopped at the entrance of the room, his eyes going wide as dinner plates. Cameron was wrapped and bandaged and attached and strapped and all together looking in intense pain. The image Max had of Cameron didn't make any sense when compared with the reality before him. For all Max could tell, Cameron was only clinging to life itself due to the assistance of the machines that hummed and whirred and beeped in the cramped space.
*Come into the room, Max,* Michael thought, adding a strange impetus to the thought, making it just shades shy of impossible for max to resist the urge to walk. Shocked as he was by the sight before him, Max simply floated in, his feet acting of their own accord, to stand by Cameron's side.
"Eeyore?" Max asked, uncertain. He felt numb and stultified, all at once. Like someone had dropped the heavy end of the hammer right over his head, several thousand times in a single heartbeat. He knew his tears weren't far off."
"My little…..ungh! My Elf," Cameron gasped, his hand reaching out. Max quickly took Cameron's hand, brining it up to his face, nuzzling the back of Cam's hand. "You saved me twice now."
"How….how you feeling, Cam?"
"I'll wait outside," Michael said, heading for the door. In the manner of a concerned older brother, Michael patted Max on the shoulder as he exited the room, squeezing one time for good effect.
"I've been better. I'll be better, knowing you're safe."
"Cam, I'm so sorry. This is all because of me. I should have told you. You once said you were a freak, but I'm the real freak. You got hurt because of me," Max said, silent tears slipping around the high curves of his cheekbones.
"Elf!" Cam whispered, harshly. "Don't! Don't second guess….yourself. You didn't do….anything wrong."
"But I couldn't protect you and I should have," Max cried. He buried his face on Cam's hand, wracked by sobs. Cam took his hand out of Max's grasp and placed it weakly on Max's head.
"My elf, don't cry. Gonna….make me cry too. I don't know all that's going on yet, not yet. But I wan' you to know…an' never forget. I trust you. I will always trust you and love you."
Max looked up and let Cam's hand slip down the side of his face, holding his cheek. Max kissed the palm of Cam's hand and leaned into Cam's caress. Biting his lip, Max made a decision.
"Cam? Eeyore, there's more. I don't know all of it yet. It's been a long weird week and I've learned so much, changed so much that it's all still catching up with me. But I have a secret to share with you. Don't be frightened, okay?"
"You….you don't have to…."
"This time, I do, Eeyore," Max said. He swallowed hard and kissed Cam's hand again before sending a brief message to Cam, directly mind to mind.
Cam's eyes opened wider, his gaze meeting Max's clear green eyes. "Was that….ughn!....Was that your voice in my head?" Max nodded. "Oh, Maxy, yes, I do love you," Cam whispered. "I can keep your secret. But, why didn't you tell me?"
"Michael and me, we're the same. It's a secret we've had to keep, just to stay safe. Now, I dunno if there is a way to stay safe, secret or not. I just want you to know, in case something happens."
"This part is not easy for me, Eeyore. It's tearing me up inside just thinking of it. You said you loved my dark side, too. Well, I'm likely gonna be letting it out for a while."
"Cam, they may have tracked me when they attacked us. Chances are they are still tracking me. I wont let them hurt you again. Or my parents or your parents…or anyone." Max placed his hand on Cam's against his face and ground his chin and cheek into Cam's palm. "Cam, I might have to go away for a while."
"No!" Cam whined, his fingers clutching at Max's hair and ear.
"I have to, Eeyore," Max said. "I don't want to leave you, especially not now. It makes me sick to even think about being apart from you. It's like cutting off my own hand. But if Michael and I have a chance to save you, to save all those we love, we have to take it.
"I love you so much, Eeyore. I want to stay here and help you get better, but I have to do this. I can't explain."
Cam remained silent for several minutes, a pained expression on his face, fighting back the tears. "I don't know when I'll be back. I don't even know if I'll be back." Max stood and leaned over Cam's face. "All I know is that in order to protect you, I'll do whatever I have to do. Love is worth protecting with my life. You are worth protecting with my life, Eeyore. Always."
"Don't leave me!" Cam cried, keeping his voice low, urgent. Max felt his own hot tears streaking down his cheeks and chin.
"I have to," Max said, gripping Cam's hand tightly. "But before I go I'm gonna leave you with two gifts. The first one is this: Know that I'll be back. I swear it on my life and, I will not forget you."
"I love you, Elf."
"I know, Eeyore. The second gift I'm gonna give you is a little more special." Max closed his eyes, leaned forward and kissed Cam on the lips. At the contact of their lips, just a gentle, dry kiss, Max opened his entire mind to Cameron. He shared all the experiences, feelings, thoughts and truth of his last week with Cam, flooding his mind, gently, with all of Max's hopes, fears, desires and feelings. Several long moments stretched between them, as Cam adjusted to a total understanding of Max.
"Wow!" Cam mumbled as Max leaned back slightly. "You love me that much?"
"Well," Max smiled through his tears, "Someone has to," he grinned. His lips curled painfully through the grin.
"You ….ughn! ….you better come back to me Maxy. It took me forever to wait for you. I can wait again. But I wont live if you don't come back to me. Somehow I know it."
"Then you better prepare to put up with me forever," Max said, defiantly. "Cause nothing on this Earth is gonna stop me from coming back to you! Even if I have to haunt you!"
"You better not," Cam whined, half smiling. "I can't hold a ghost."
"When this is all over, Eeyore, I'm gonna make you so happy I'll have to give you a new nickname."
"Nope. I'm your Eeyore, now and forever, Elf."
"Hey!" Max said, pressing his forehead to Cam's.
"Hey, what?" Cameron replied, half grinning though the fog of pain killers.
"Hey, I love you," Max whispered, falling into their usual banter, although his throat tightened. *Head, heart and soul, I love you!*
Can you hear me? Cam thought.
*Yes,* Max returned.
I love you too, Little Elf. You better come back to me.
"I will, I swear it!" Max said softly, kissing Cam's forehead. "You work on getting better. I have things to take care of. Okay?"
"Okay," Cam whined. His re-inflated lung making it harder and harder to talk through all his emotions. Max kissed Cam's forehead and then his hand as he started to walk away. With an almost painful release, they dropped their hands apart as Max headed out of the room. Michael was waiting just outside the door, leaning against the wall.
"Let's go," Max said, sniffing back the tears. His expression hardened and he took a deep, shuddering breath. They took the elevator to the roof, Max gripping hands with his brother as they rode up the six stories to the top floor. With a simple telekinetic lock pick, they strode up the service stairs to a roof access.
"You ready for this?" Michael asked.
"We don't have much choice, do we? Where are we going?"
"Southern New Jersey," Michael said, rolling his shoulders. "It's a long trip, but it'll get us out of the area and to somewhere we can get some help."
"I don't want to leave him," Max said, still feeling Cam's presence in his mind.
"I know. Max, you may have to consider…..for his own good….."
"What you did to Becky?!" Max asked, shocked and angered. He dropped Michael's hand and stood apart, defiantly. "No! I'll never do that! I'd sooner die than have him forget about me! Not after what he means to me now!"
"Listen to me! Okay? Think! You aren't acting like a responsible person taking care of things for the best, you're thinking like a kid in love!"
"I am a kid in love, Michael! And love is worth fighting for! It's worth preserving, and it's worth dying for! And if you truly loved Becky you'd never have done that to her, no matter that she asked you to!" Max looked at his brother with smoldering eyes. "Love is worth any sacrifice," Max said, softly, staring his brother down. "And you should know that by now."
Michael turned and faced the southern constellations, his eyes misting over. "You have no idea what it did to me to have to do as she asked," Michael said. "Or how much I wish I could just turn back the clock and hold her in my arms again." Michael turned suddenly and fixed Max with a look that could melt glass. "And before you judge me, walk a mile in my shoes, little brother." He relaxed visibly after that glance, and stared back south. "I know about love and sacrifice, kiddo. I am afraid you are about to learn."
Max let the air between them hang in silence, feeling that somehow he had almost gone too far in trying to provoke his brother. There was something left unsaid, palpable, yet still simmering in the air between them. Max couldn't quite determine what, but he had a feeling that too many answers were about to come at him, again. Answers and questions.
"It still feels wrong to leave like this. If they're tracking me, we could set a trap."
"We're the ones having to scramble and play catch-up here, Maxy. And you're powers are still new to you. Just because you can crush a boulder with your mind doesn't mean you're ready to take on whoever these guys are head to head."
"You have your sword?"
"It's in the car. The cops have all the entrances covered, but we wont have to be seen leaving."
"Why's that?" Max asked, and was suddenly shocked by the image of his brother's Mustang floating up to the roof of the hospital, some ten stories up. Max felt his mouth drop open in shock and surprise, then he smiled and looked over at his brother. "Size matters not?" he asked, quoting Yoda.
"Not the size of the kid, anyways," Michael said, looking down at Max as the car settled on its tires. "Just the size of the heart in that kid. We're not running, Max. You're right. It's time we do something about it, but we aren't running anymore."
Max's eyes shown with a fierce light. "Mad awesome! So what's the plan?"
"We choose the time and place," Michael said, getting into his car. "Rocky Fen should do nicely."
"What made you change your mind?" Max said, jumping into the passenger seat, easing the door closed.
"I thought about what Becky would say. She'd want me to fight back. Taking her memories was to protect her. This is to protect all of us." Michael looked over and placed a hand on Max's shoulder. "This isn't going to be easy. And you have a lot to learn in a short time. Understand?"
"I'm not running anymore, Mike. I'm doing this for you, for Mom and Dad, and for Cameron."
"Keep that in mind," Michael said, ruffling Max's hair. "Because the next few days are gonna be like hell."
As Michael lifted the car, with the power of his mind alone, Max directed his thoughts down and touched Cameron's mind. *I love you, Eeyore! Hang on for me!*
Maxy! I love you!
*Me too. Always, my love.*
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