The next week felt like a weird blur to me. I stayed in bed (well, Sam’s bed since he had the bottom bunk) barely able to leave to even go to the bathroom. Professor Summers sat by my side a lot, doing her best to take care of me. She didn’t really understand what was going on. Neither did I. She had tons of questions and Sam did his best to answer. Dad even came to stay a couple nights. I wasn’t like, dying sick… as far as I knew… maybe Summers knew something I didn’t.
My entire body felt exhausted and weak. I still felt the occasional rip of pain somewhere from deep inside of me. My head constantly hurt. I kept shivering, I woke up occasionally soaked in sweat. Often my breathing became uneven and labored.
At one point I woke up seeing floating bits of light through the air. I turned my head and I saw my friends lit up in various ways. Eli was drenched in the light, drowning, the lights spinning dizzily around his entire being. Blake had a lot of the light too though it seemed more inside him flowing through him like blood and weaving around his wings. Sam’s light seemed to go through him like veins and branching up through his head.
I rolled over and went back to sleep. When I woke up again the lights were gone.
“…some sort of magic…”
“…doesn’t make sense…”
“…ravaging his body…”
“…not a magic-user?”
I stirred and sat up slowly. Professor Summers and Mr. Hunter were talking quietly by my bed. When they saw me they turned towards me and Summers sat back down to check on my vitals or something. Mr. Hunter just stared at me and I flinched back, suspecting he wanted to enter my head.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“Tired,” I whispered. “I feel exhausted. Like I’ve been running a marathon.”
“It seems as though…” Mr. Hunter trailed off. His glance at Professor Summers made me think they had something to say but didn’t know how to say it.
I pushed myself into a better sitting position. “An illness is ravaging my body. I heard something about that. You can tell me. My dad’s been here too. I’m dying, aren’t I?”
Professor Summers gave a quick laugh. “No, dear, you are not dying, not from this. You heard correct, something is ravaging your body. Magic. It’s unusual since you aren’t a magic-user. I.. don’t know exactly what’s going on but it’s been fading. You should be completely better by Saturday.”
Saturday, which would be a week from when Sam and I went to the hollow. I didn’t know exactly what Sam told them about what happened in the woods. I didn’t offer any information either. I just thanked Summers and curled back up to sleep some more.
When I woke up again Dad was back at my side. I hadn’t really talked to him the last few times I woke up with him there so I managed a few words, assuring him I felt fine. I repeated what Summers had said; that I’d be better by the end of the week. I even felt well enough to sit up to give him a hug.
At one point Kiley came in and stayed for several hours. She brought snacks and made me eat some chicken soup. Before she left she tucked me in and kissed my forehead.
On Saturday I did feel a lot better. It was like shedding a very heavy blanket. Summers didn’t let me me do much even though I pretty much felt perfectly better. I had to stay in bed till Monday just in time for classes, naturally.
“I’m so glad you’re doing better,” Kiley said when she saw me and she threw her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek, amusing everyone else in the room.
Even though we weren’t supposed to go ‘out in town’ on school nights I requested permission from Professor V so I could go visit my uncles in town. He thought about it for longer than I would have liked but allowed me to go. Eli–the only one of us with a driver’s license–took me which I found to be funny since he looked sicker than I ever did though he seemed as strong as ever.
Uncle Royce answered the door and greeted me with a big hug, ushering me inside. Clifford bounded over and licked my cheek. Ugh.
“We’re so glad you’re doing better,” Uncle Royce said as we sat down in the living room.
“We were so worried!” Uncle Max added with a frown.
I looked down at my lap. This was going to be a bit more difficult to talk about than I previously thought. “Yeah, it seemed like magic was, uh, doing something to me for some reason. No one was sure why but it’s gone now. I guess I got infected with some sort of magic thing? Maybe? I don’t know,” I added with a laugh. “It was weird.”
We made some small talk while I tried to figure out the best way to bring the subject up. It probably didn’t even mean anything yet I still felt scared. Finally I managed to get the courage. “Um. Uncle Max?”
“Yeah, lil’ bean?”
I scowled at the nickname. “Well, when I got sick–uhh, I mean, right before I did, something did happen. I don’t know if Sam said anything to Professor Summers and, uh, I mean I feel like I should but I wanted to talk to you first since, erm, I was hearing your voice when it happened?”
“Oh? What’s up?”
“Well. Um. Sam and I took a walk into the woods and we found this… hollow? Like, a dip in the ground? With no trees? I went down in to investigate this big pile of like, uh, ash?” As I spoke Uncle Max’s eyes got bigger and bigger. Now he began to get paler. “I started hearing things. Someone screaming in pain. My body felt like it was being ripped to pieces. I couldn’t move. I–I couldn’t see. I heard you talking, telling me to heal myself and–“
“NO!” Uncle Max shot up from his seat. “NO! NO!” He rushed over and grabbed my shoulders violently. “DON’T YOU EVER GO THERE AGAIN, APOLLO, DO YOU HEAR ME?!” he began shaking me, ignoring my cries of pain. “UNDERSTAND?! YOU NEVER GO THERE AGAIN! YOU NEVER GO THERE!”
“Max, you’re hurting him!” Uncle Royce grabbed his husband and tried to pull him away.
Uncle Max was crying now and stopped shaking me but he held me even tighter. “You never go there again!” he hissed out and then tore away from me, running into the other room, swearing loudly through his crying.
Clifford sat ramrod in his seat, mouth a perfect ‘o’. I just slumped down and breathed heavily, rubbing my now painful shoulders. Uncle Royce ran after Uncle Max. I could hear them very clearly in the other room, they weren’t even trying to hide what they were saying.
“HE WAS THERE!”
“I know, shhh, calm down, it’s okay kitten.”
“NO IT’S NOT! HE WAS THERE! YOU HEARD HIM! HE COULDN’T SEE! HE COULDN’T SEEE-EEE!” Max broke up into sobs again.
“Shhhhh, kitten, hey, listen, it’ll be okay, Apollo’s okay now.”
Clifford and I looked awkwardly at one another. I had no idea what to say. I definitely hadn’t expected this sort of reaction. Uncle Max kept crying for a couple minutes before he finally began talking. Mostly reactions to Uncle Royce.
“Look, we should tell him–” “NO!” “–kitten, please. He needs to know–” “NO!” “I know it’s not easy but he deserves to be told–” “WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT IT!” “Fine, I’ll tell him.” “NO!” “He deserves this.”
Uncle Royce walked back in and I pretended like I hadn’t heard anything. He opened his mouth then hesitated and glanced at Clifford. “Hey, uh, Cliff, why don’t you go for a walk?”
Clifford sighed. “Finnnnne, I get when I’m not wanted. Hey, cuz, glad you’re doing better.” He licked my cheek again and scampered out the door.
Uncle Royce began rubbing his neck and I waited in silence, but before Royce could begin talking Uncle Max came in. He still looked pale and his lips were pressed tight together to form a thin line. Royce raised his eyebrows and Max motioned for me to sit on the couch so he could sit next to me.
“It’s really not easy for me to talk about,” he said as he looked at his feet. “I guess you shoulda been told sooner. Being here in Moonlight Falls.” He raised his head and while he wasn’t facing me directly I could see the pain etched all over his face. “Th–the spot in the woods where you were… tha… that’s where… Zaid died…”
All the air in me was sucked out as my chest tightened. I couldn’t breathe.
“There was so much magic, concentrating there for centuries. Zaid… destroyed… the thing that was s-storing the magic but… some of it, I guess, remained. You–you heard… things?”
I fought back the tears. “Yes. I could feel things too.” Oh. Watcher. I was feeling my father dying. “I heard you saying something about healing myself–yourself–um, ‘heal yourself’. You said it would be okay. I felt…” The ripping, the pulling. The blindness. My father’s death. “How could I feel that?! How could I–I hear all that?!”
Max sniffled. “I don’t know. It’s got so much magic and you’re psychic so maybe it just…”
“I’ve never seen the past, I’ve only ever seen the future.” I got up, doing my best to control my emotions. It wasn’t working. “I was so sick, Summers said that magic was destroying my body but–“
Max let out a cry. “That’s how he died,” he said so softly I almost missed it. I faced him, my blood running cold. Everyone knew he had died from magic saving the world. But I didn’t put it together with what happened to me last week. Could I have died, if I stayed there any longer? I had been experiencing my father’s death and that included the blindness. Would it have included the actual death…?
No wonder Dad came in oh Watcher. He had sat there and watched me be sick with the same thing that basically killed my father. Magic destroying my body.
“All the magic, your psychic ability, and the fact it was your father,” Uncle Royce said gently, “is why I’m guessing you had that experience.”
I heard his dying words. I felt him dying.
I hadn’t been in the Fluffs house often but thankfully I knew where most the rooms were. I took off to the bathroom and managed to throw open the toilet in time to vomit.
I felt very depressed for the rest of the school year, especially since my father’s portrait greeted me whenever I walked into the house. I thought about the hollow often and sometimes considered going back. Not going in the hollow, of course, but looking at it from a distance.
Soon the school year ended and Sam and I went back to Storybrook. I didn’t tell Dad about why I got sick. I couldn’t. After everything I put him through how could I make it worse for him by telling him what I had witnessed? What I had experienced?
I turned seventeen and felt both excited and weird about being just a year from being an adult. Sam had turned seventeen in the spring. Soon we’d be adults and… who knows what would happen after we left Hunter’s. And later in July Piotr came to visit and gave us a possible opening.
“What are your plans next summer?” he asked after requesting to speak with both of us.
“Uh. Nothing, as far as I know,” I said, scratching my head. “Why?”
“Well. I was thinking perhaps the two of you would like to come to Bridgeport and work at LWD? I know working at a wedding planning business doesn’t seem too interesting for teenage boys, but you wouldn’t be working with the weddings. You would be working in the filing room, organizing papers and the such.” Piotr gave us both big smiles. “Bridgeport is fairly open towards supernaturals so you wouldn’t need to hide your ears, Samuel, and I can warn the employees you’ll be working with about your visions–if you’d like me too, Apollo. I have some friends who own apartment buildings and I am certain I’d be able to find you two a good apartment to rent.”
Before either of us could say anything he stood up. “Please don’t give me an answer yet, I want you two to really think about it. Bridgeport is very different than Storybrook and Moonlight Falls.”
My brother almost immediately got on his phone as he walked out, kinda ruining the moment. I looked at Sam. His broad grin matched the one that formed on my face. What did we have to think about? It would be amazing!
It felt like hardly any time passed before our final year at Hunter’s began. We returned to Moonlight Falls, feeling really weird. We were the oldest students now. Last year many of our friends graduated, and our enemy–Casimir Ashen. Tal and Adva had graduated too.
Eli seemed a bit more like his old self. He definitely didn’t look as sick as he had the previous year and it made me wonder again if Casimir had been the spy, or one of the students a year ahead of us. I tried to talk about it but Eli just shook his head and confessed that he felt better thanks to his girlfriend. He and Varuna were now dating. They still constantly yelled at each other though.
The first couple of weeks dragged by. I spent my time working hard at my schoolwork, writing down my visions, and staring off at the sky debating whether or not to return to the hollow. Finally one night I decided I had to. I didn’t want to ask Sam to come with me, he wouldn’t approve, so I asked Blake. I didn’t want to go alone.
I tuned out Blake’s chatter as we walked through the forest on a bright Saturday afternoon. I had warned him that the site we were headed to was where I got sick so he needed to avoid going down in the dip. Although Sam had gone down to get me and he never got sick. It was just me… We arrived at the hollow and I stood at the edge. I felt fine. I didn’t hear any voices. Er, except for Blake.
“So what’s this place about?” he asked, hovering a foot or so off the ground.
I closed my eyes tightly. “This is where my dad died.”
Blake landed noisily next to me. “Your… oh… oh shit. You okay, dude?”
I rolled forward to my toes and wanted so bad to go down there. “Yeah. I think so. I just wanted to see it again.” The pile of dust is the thing that killed him. The woman died there too. My eyes scanned the dead grass. Where was the spot he stood in while he saved the world? I pushed back my bangs and shivered.
“Aaaaapollo?” Blake whispered right in my ear. “Someone’s over there.”
My head snapped around and I almost broke into a run. I would have, if she wasn’t clear on the opposite side. I didn’t recognize her but something told me I should. Her dark blonde hair flashed in the sun as she turned and hurried off. Blonde… could she be related to Matthew Briggs?
“Uh, Blake, I think we should leave,” I said and the two of us skedaddled back to town.
Shortly after my excursion in the woods I went on a date again. With Kiley. I hadn’t really planned on it but we had grown closer the previous year and I felt grateful towards her for the help she gave when I was sick. All through September we met up every Sunday afternoon to play chess and talk. Talk, laugh, joke. So when she asked me on a date in October I agreed.
Kiley had her license and her own car so she picked me up. When I hurried out of the house I saw her waiting in the passenger seat, her arms folded over the window, her head resting against her arms as she gave me a seductive look. I hadn’t seen that look in a long time. It didn’t bother me this time.
“I can’t drive,” I pointed out.
“I know,” she laughed, pushing the door open before scooting back in the driver’s side. “I looked good though, didn’t I?”
I slid into the passenger seat and shut the door, shaking my head. “Yes,” I laughed. “You did. You always do.”
“So do you.” She smiled and turned the car on. It took a couple attempts before it jerked forward. I gave a yelp. “Sorry! This car’s kinda touchy. I think I’m going to get Eli to look at it, he’s got an eye for this sort of thing.”
“He might be a bit too busy eyeing Varuna’s body than the car’s body nowadays.” Kiley threw her head back to laugh. Her hair rippled in the wind. She looked gorgeous but… “Uh, Kiles, please keep an eye on the road, huh?”
“Yeah, yeah.” She stuck her tongue out at me then winked.
We went to dinner at a fancy restaurant which she paid for and afterwards we went to a club where we were given bright orange bracelets to indicate we were underage. There weren’t many people there but the music pounding sounded pretty great. Kiley dragged me to the dance floor and put her hands up in the air as she began wriggling her body; I awkwardly shifted around, a poor attempt at dancing but the best I could muster.
A slow song came on and I put my hands on her waist. She pressed up against my, swaying to the music. Her head dropped onto my shoulder. “This is nice,” she murmured. I had to agree. Her body felt great against mine and I held her tighter. How long had it been since a proper date? Almost a year since my date with Eidan, two years since Tal and I dated.
At ten we left the club and Kiley drove us to a scenic overlook. I wasn’t stupid or dense anymore. I knew what she wanted and didn’t argue one bit when she gave me that look.
Our makeout session lasted quite a while as music drifted out of her car radio. Our tongues mingled and our hands explored one another. Then I felt guilty and pulled away.
She sighed and pushed her damp hair from her face. “Yeah, I know, time to go back.”
“It’s not that. I just… don’t want to lead you on.” Oh, the irony. Pretty much what Romance told me all those years ago. “I–I don’t think I can love you. Like that.”
Kiley touched her cheek, letting her fingers trace along her cheekbones. “I wasn’t expecting love you know. I mean, I like you a lot. I really like you. But I don’t think of love when I think of you. And I certainly don’t expect love in return.”
Now she giggled, her hand moving to my thigh. “I don’t mean to ruin your ego. I still want you. You’ve always been attractive to me. Unless… you’re the kind of guy who needs to be in love for this sort of thing.”
“What sort of thing?” I asked.
She reached into her purse and pulled a condom out, letting it dangle from between two of her fingers. She just twisted it around and let her eyes pierce mine.
“We’re young, Apollo. We’re sexy. We’re single. And we’ve just established that we won’t be a couple. Why’s it mean we shouldn’t have fun?”
I hesitated then reached up, taking the condom. She fumbled at a button and the car roof lowered, obscuring us from the world.