Author’s note: cussing, some mature talk
“I’m going to the safe house,” Royce said and I couldn’t move from absolute shock. Surely I had heard wrong. His pale purple eyes began watering a bit. “I’m g-going,” he stammered. “I have to.”
Max folded his arms, looking like he might murder someone. No, worse. I had seen him murder people before–he looked worse than that. Royce folded his arms too but instead of the angry stance Max had, his shoulders were hunched over like he might try folding in on himself. A tear dripped down, darkening his shirt.
“Why?” I asked, trying not to sound angry or accusing. “Do you not feel… comfortable enough… to stay where you are?”
“Go on, say it,” Max spat out. “He doesn’t feel safe, I can’t protect him.”
Royce turned, eyes wide in horror. “I never said that! I do feel safe with you, it is NOTHING to do with safety!” He tried to grab Max’s hands but Max backed up. “Damn it, Max, you know what this is about.”
Max gave me a look and I wanted to bolt. “They’ve lied to him.”
Royce’s cheek darkened and it looked like a sore spot had been hit. “They didn’t lie to me, Maxie.” He really sounded more like he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else. “You don’t know that–“
“They told him there’s a cure,” Max said simply, voice very clipped and angry.
Royce went even darker as my jaw dropped and Noah finally stood up, coming over with a puzzled look. Royce swallowed and opened his mouth to talk but I spoke first. “A cure for what? Lycanthropy? Is th-that what that woman said on the phone to you Addison?”
“Stop it!” Royce whimpered. “You don’t get it–“
“Addison–the woman who gave me the card and said she made this ‘safe house’ was talking to the man who turned you into a werewolf,” I said incredulously. At least now we knew why he wanted to go, as ridiculous a reason as it was. “You cannot believe they’re wanting to help.”
Royce jerked his chin up, eyes blazing now. “You don’t know that! Neither of you know that! Who says she’s the same woman who talked to the monster that injected me? It could have been someone else! Stop shaking your head!”
“There is no cure!” Max’s voice rose to a squeak, eyes squinting. “Royce, it’s nothing that can just be cured, they’re lying to you–“
“YOU DON’T KNOW THAT!” Royce yelled and all three of us flinched with Max physically jumping back, his hair fluffing up even more. I hoped Arty didn’t wake from her nap… “You don’t understand. You just–you don’t get it. Maybe there’s no cure but I have to go see! How can you guys say there’s no cure? You don’t–none of you know for sure!”
“Royce, half of what lycanthropy does is regeneration,” I said cautiously, groping for Noah’s hand, needing support. Our fingers linked together and I held tight. “From what I understand if you try to remove the genes they just… multiply or whatever.”
“No one knows how the genes work!” Royce gasped out. “That’s the thing! Nobody knows and they might have found something out, they–“
“If they found anything out it’s because they’ve been doing experiments like what they did to you!” Max exclaimed and Royce hunkered more. Any minute now I expected him to just cover his ears. “Why can’t you understand that?”
“Why can’t you understand what this means to me?!” Royce faced him now. “I would give anything to be human again.”
“Even running into the people who did this to you?” Max asked, all his muscles tensed.
Royce shrugged. “I don’t know. There’s no evidence that they’re working together, just–I mean, so what if Ms. Addison was talking to the guy who turned me, it could have been a coincidence? You talked to him,” he added to Max.
Max looked ready to explode. “What if they just want to experiment more on you? What if they tie you down and inject weird things into you just to see reactions?!” His face suddenly fell hard and most his hair settled down out of the floofyness. “I don’t want anything to happen to you. I love you.”
Royce didn’t move at all, I didn’t think he was even breathing. “I love you too,” he finally said. “I love you, Maxie. But… you of all people have to understand…” He gave Max a pleading look. “You hate being immortal. What happened to you was forced on you, just as it was me. Wouldn’t you want to change that?”
I held my breath, wondering how Max would react but also wondering if Noah and I could sneak out without being noticed. This wasn’t the sort of conversation they should be talking about in front of us but on the other hand, I wanted to help Royce get some sense in his head. >It seems really bad to me too,< Lumie said as she finally answered the knocks I had been sending her way. Ew she was in the shower. >EXCUSE ME IT SOUNDED URGENT! Look, tell Royce if he wouldn’t be willing to gamble with his life before all of this happened–<
“–why are you gambling with it now?” I asked, having said the entire question. Max looked triumphant while Royce scowled. “That’s what you’re doing.”
“It’s my life,” Royce said, reminding me more of a stubborn teenager than anything else. “And I don’t want to live forever.” I think if Royce had punched Max in the face it would have hurt him less. I had never seen my friend look so despondent, not even that night when he first kissed me. Royce was looking at me and Noah so he didn’t see it. “I know it sounds stupid but I will do anything for a cure. This is hell for me. This… ‘life’ in society?! Stuck as a gopher until they fire me? Maybe being tagged? Maybe if I had been born this way, I don’t know, but someone forced me into being a werewolf.”
“The same people you’re going to for a nonexistent cure,” I said rather harshly.
Royce glowered. “You don’t know. You don’t know if they’re the same, and you don’t know there’s no cure! I am going to do this. I need to do this! I need a cure! And I kinda hoped I’d have some support in this decision–“
“Stupid decision, stupid, stupid, stupid decision,” Max muttered.
“Fine! I’m stupid then!” Royce growled.
Max gave him an injured look. “You’re not stupid. It’s just a stupid decision! How can I support you to–to do this? There is not cure!”
“THERE MIGHT BE!” Royce yelled, tugging at his hair, looking beyond frustrated. “You guys don’t know, you don’t! I’m going! They expect me by tomorrow, and I will be going and if you can’t–can’t support me–” He stopped talking, all color draining from his face. “Max. I love you.”
“I love you too. I do.” Max slipped his arms around Royce and hugged tightly. “I don’t want to lose you. I can’t lose you too.” He began crying as Royce held him. “Please don’t risk your life, please…”
“I’m not risking my life,” Royce whispered, eyes closed. “I need this. I can’t be an immortal. I hate this. Please understand…”
After nearly a full minute and me and Noah trying to edge our way out of the room Max released Royce, his fingers lingering on Royce’s arms for a second until he let go completely. “I hate this but… if you want to go, then go.” He sank down to the floor. “You… you do what you feel is best for you.”
Royce’s eyes begin shining again. “Really?”
Really? I echoed silently, but kept my mouth shut.
“Really,” Max said, rocking back and forth slightly. “I love you. I want you to be happy. It’s a stupid decision and you’ll probably end up dead or locked up for experimentation for who-knows-how-long but, it’s your choice.”
Royce dropped to his knees, hugging him tightly, kissing Max. Max didn’t do anything in response. “Thank you, Maxie. Thank you.” He kissed all over Max’s face before realizing Max didn’t move. “It’ll be fine, if they have no cure I’ll come back. But they’ll have a cure. I’m going to be human again.” A few tears dripped down. “And then things will be great.”
It felt like time stood still. I knew what Max was about to say before he said it, somehow. The hairs on my body stood on end and I wanted to run over, to stop Max from speaking. But I couldn’t move. Max stood up and said, “I hope it will be great for… you.”
Royce stood as well, tilting his head. “What do you mean for me? You mean ‘us’ right?…. r-right?”
Max gently pushed Royce away, his face like a carving of anguish. “No.” I looked away and gave Noah a gentle nudge into the hall since it was clear they weren’t paying attention to us anymore. Unfortunately for my heart I could still hear them. “If you come back as a human then I’ll leave.”
“Wh-what? What?! You c-can’t mean that–“
“I told you I can’t lose you, Royce. I can’t do that again. I’m weak, all right? I can’t fucking have someone I love die in my arms again! Half th-the reason I accepted m-my feelings for you w-was because I knew I w-w-wouldn’t be going through that with you! I held Elizabeth as she breathed her last, sickly breath! I watched helplessly as Charles swung. I spent an hour shaking John’s body begging him to come back. I am not going to j-just watch you wither and die! I. Love. You. You are… so… amazing. But I j-just c-c-can’t… I’m weak… I can’t… c-c-can’t…”
Finally we couldn’t hear them anymore as we reached the dining room. I could hear sounds, painful, heart-wrenching sounds but no words. Noah pulled me into my lap and stroked my arm gently as I buried my face in his shoulder. How could Max say that? Just… leave the person he loved? Then again I knew it had taken him a lot to accept love again, after what he went through.
The door slammed. I glanced up then got off Noah’s lap, carefully going to the living room and peeking around to see Max curled up on the ground sobbing. I went over and knelt down, a hand on his arm. He pushed himself up a bit and launched into my arms, half screaming, half sobbing. I rocked back and forth, whispering nothing, rubbing his back, wishing I could do more to help him…
That night Royce left and Max moved back in with Grams.
September became an odd month for all of us, a calm before the storm I suppose. It felt like we were all just sort of drifting along without being part of anything. Royce called about five days after his departure to inform me in a rather distant voice that he’d be cured before too long. He hung up when I tried asking him detailed questions, and never once mentioned Max. When I related the information to Max his face blanched and he stopped talking… and stopped eating. Whenever anyone tried to get him to eat something he’d just say he could go a thousand years without food and nothing mattered.
Nothing new happened–the news stayed the same, nothing got worse, nothing got better. The only thing that changed was our constant appointments with the hospital and doctors until in early October when the implant worked and Glados became pregnant for the second time with our kid.
“Il sissy?” Arty asked when we told the girls.
“A little sister or a little brother,” I said and she narrowed her eyes a bit.
“You’ll be a big sister,” Noah added hopefully.
“No.” Oh dear. “Iohh aanna! Ehhn Enee uhhh mmauhb. No.”
“You’ll like being a big sister,” Reeny said from her spot doing homework. “It’s lots of fun. And you’ll have someone to pick on–“
“Reeny!” I said and she grinned.
“Just joking, Daddy!” she giggled, not sounding completely believable.
Arty reached up so Noah lifted her in the air. “Il sissy?” she asked again.
“Or brother,” Noah told her and her eyes narrowed again. “It’ll be fun!” he said but I began to think the narrowed eyes weren’t from uncertainly about the sibling but from the word.
“Brother,” I said very slowly.
“Bwuh…da… Bwuda. Bwuda.” She began bouncing happily. “Bwuda! Bwuda! Ayyyy bwudddaa!”
“Least she’s excited about learning a new word,” I said and Noah grinned.
The girls missed their Uncle Max and asked about him all the time. Reeny understood something happened with Royce so she at least didn’t ask too much, though I could tell she missed both the guys. But Max didn’t visit. According to Grams he still didn’t eat and barely slept. He just wallowed around the house staring mournfully at a photograph of Royce day in and day out. I did manage to talk to Max on the phone once at the end of September but as soon as I mentioned Royce’s name he hung up.
Royce had called a couple more times and each time he sounded so weird. Very… distracted. Distant. Almost monotonous. Actually, a bit like he wasn’t really talking to me and instead reading from a script. I asked about his health and the cure and he answered awkwardly that both were fine.
“And, they’re curing you of werewolfism?” I asked about halfway through October.
Silence. Then flatly, “Of course they are. I’ll be human soon. I can’t wait.”
“You don’t sound excited…”
Silence. Then flatly, “I am excited, why wouldn’t I be? I need to go.” Click.
Sighing I lowered the phone and sought out Noah to talk to. He agreed with my assessment that they had probably brainwashed Royce or something. “But what do I do about it?” I asked, pacing angrily in my room. “I can’t sit back and let this happen! He’s my friend, he’s Max’s boyfriend, he’s practically family!”
“I know, love,” Noah said, leaning against the wall, watching me with worried eyes. “But I don’t know what we can do. If we call the police they’d be more like to arrest Royce and fund the nonexistent cure!”
“Then I need to go get him myself.”
Noah jerked forward, his anxious face turning into one of rag in the blink of an eye. “Are you crazy?!” He began ticking off the points on his fingers. “One, you don’t know where he is. Two, you don’t know how dangerous the people who has him are. Three, you have no idea what situation he’s in. If he is brainwashed then there’s possibly a lot of other brainwashed werewolves there too who could attack you.”
Noah and I stared at one another then I slumped down. “I don’t know what to do then,” I said after he caught me. “I can’t sit back. I have to do something.”
Noah licked his lips nervously. “Then… what about asking those vampires for help? Maybe they can scout the area and see what you might need to do, or maybe even find Royce themselves and bring him back… Um. If we can even figure out where he is.”
His idea seemed to be very logical so after it grew dark I phoned Grams, asking her to contact the vampires for me. Within ten minutes my phone rang as Akua called me. I told her the situation, explaining that we had no idea where Royce was. She responded that she probably knew. Apparently two years ago a small building had been erected a few miles from the warehouse. A year ago several people moved in. Some humans, some supernaturals. Six months ago she noticed increased activity with werewolves being moved in. So he could very well be there.
Why didn’t you tell me SOONER?! I thought but Akua and Emilian had never been the sort to volunteer information without being asked. “Could you check it out, maybe? If it’s safe?” I asked, crossing my fingers.
“I suppose we could at least look,” Akua said with a yawn.
I expected to hear back relatively soon but a day passed with nothing. They could handle themselves well so I tried not to worry which didn’t really work. Another day passed, and then another before I finally heard back. When I saw the number on the caller ID I gladly answered. Maybe they had rescued Royce, maybe that’s what took so long!
Emilian’s voice floated from the other end. “It seems there is a problem.” What? No! “The place is very heavily guarded. We could not get close. There is a fence that runs around the perimeter which we could have gotten past however it set off an alarm. There were cameras in the trees everywhere. Our movements were recorded easily. Before we got within a mile of the house, someone spoke to use over a sound system telling us this information–that we were being recorded, we could be seen, and to please leave before they sent armed force after us. The voice said they had ways to handle vampires.”
With each word he spoke my hope diminished more and more until I wanted to punch the wall. “He’s gotta be there. I know it.”
“It would seem there are many supernaturals there,” Emilian replied calmly. “Including something Akua and I are unsure about. It feels… wrong. Exceedingly unnatural. Magic is being used there that should not be used. We did not sense this until we grew close to the area. Something is wrong with that place. We believe it is connected to the warehouse, to what happened to you before. The power… feels similar.”
Shit. No. I sunk down to the floor as dizziness overwhelmed me. The werewolf thing had to do with me? How? Why? “Th–thank you Emilian. Oh. Emilian? If–if I were to try and rescue him, do you think it’d be possible?”
“I think such a thing could be possible if he wished to leave,” was the response. “If he could leave the building himself I think you could get him away but I do not know if you could go in and extract him entirely on your own. Perhaps… with the aid of magic that Akua and I do not have. Magic to hide yourselves.”
I slid back up the wall, rubbing my chest as my heart felt like it might fail or something from extreme blood pressure and anxiety. “Thank you, Emilian. Thank Akua for me too.”
I hung up and began going back and forth, chewing at my thumbnail, staring out the window, rubbing between my eyes, thinking thinking thinking until it felt like my head might explode.
Fact. Royce had gone in himself.
Fact. Royce was like family.
“I can’t leave him there,” I whispered, and my choice was made.
“Listen to me. Just listen to me. You know we can’t sit back and do nothing. I know you don’t want to let anything happen to him. You know there’s no cure. We both know that. I can’t do this on my own. It’s risky. Hell, it’s… life threateningly risky. But I care about him and you love him. Stop glaring at me. You love him.”
Max turned away from me, fixing his hollow gaze on something else. “He doesn’t love me. He chose mortality over me.”
I marched over and grabbed Max by the collar of his shirt, yanking him to his feet. “Oh come off it, you were as rude to him as he was to you about this whole thing. You both said things you shouldn’t have said. It’s been six weeks and he’s in trouble.”
“You don’t know that…”
“He sounded so wrong,” I said tersely. “He’s in trouble. And Emilian says he thinks that place has to do with the people who killed… who tried kidnapping me before, and you keep insisting I’ve got an enemy out there. I’ve talked to Noah about this. He’s unhappy but he won’t be angry if we go. Grams says she can give us potions that will help us get through the cameras without issue. She also says you know magic that will help… dampen our presence or something?”
Max grit his teeth so hard I heard them creak. “I can if I wanted to.”
“But you won’t. You won’t go rescue Royce with me,” I said, purposely digging the mental knife in.
Max pushed me back so hard I hit the wall with a thud. “I want to help him but what if he doesn’t want help? He wants to be mortal–“
“There’s no cure. We both know this, Max. Come on.” I pushed my bangs back, knowing he would agree soon. “Royce did not sound right. They’ve done something to him. He needs us. He needs you.”
He breathed slowly, working it out for what felt like ages. “You’re right,” he whimpered. “You’re right. We have t-to go get him. Even if he… hates me… I want to save him.”
I pulled Max into a hug as relief and fear finally took over my entire body. This wasn’t going to end well, I suspected… Part of me didn’t even want to do this. But if we could get in and at least see Royce then we could determine for ourselves whether he needed rescuing–which I suspected he did. A place with armed forces. Possibly with whoever wanted me kidnapped. Possibly with whoever had caused the red light. Possibly the person I needed to get rid of before I could feel safe…
Possibly the person who wanted to end magic.
At that thought my mind went back to that old news article. Twisted and evil, she had written about the supernatural world. My stomach jumped into my throat then slammed down into my feet as the pieces finally clicked together.
Colette Addison. That blonde woman had to be behind all of this.
I pictured her in my head. Teenaged girl who won a trivia trophy for her high school. Young woman who wrote about how ghosts and the magical world should be destroyed. That sleekly coiffed hair and tailored suit. Her perfectly manicured nails as she held out the card that wound up taking Royce into her clutches. Injecting innocent humans with lycanthropy for an army. Having an army previous–a small army of mostly fairies and other magic-users who had been constantly going after me. Who had sent golems after me. Who had kidnapped and locked up the twins. Who had kidnapped and murdered Goose.
I had no idea what she wanted or why she wanted it but I suspected that when we went after Royce… it’d end up with me going against her…