Maven had a moment to take in Max and Cracklepuss’ looks of shock before everyone stepped into action.
Sandoz snapped his fingers, and the walls round them elongated until the entrance and exit were blocked. There was no way that Cracklepuss or Max Shadow could get out of the room. Maven felt the air pressure change and knew that Dez had used whatever moisture he could find to freeze them in place. Cracklepuss let out a laugh that was cut short, and Maven knew that by the happy smile that came over his face, Carley was already inside of Cracklepuss’ mind. This was further confirmed when Cracklepuss spoke. “Oh baby, I can feel you inside me, that’s hot.” Carly looked like she wanted to throw up, but held Cracklepuss’ mind firm.
With a flick of her wrist, Finley short-circuited all the electronics in the warehouse so Cracklepuss could not use any against them, should he break free of Carley’s mind hold.
Max Shadow was proving difficult, however.
His form was erratic. The shadows that made up his body were unable to keep their form, the man-like shape that he normally lived within had come apart and he was nothing but the whirling of shadows and darkness. Maven could see his eyes, swirling within the shadows of his body. They were wild and frightened, and they were looking at everything and everyone.
“I feel you trying to find your way in!” the shadow man yelled, the shadows starting to whirl around Tara. The ice that Dez had created was not able to hold him, even though Maven could see Dez trying his hardest to pull the water from the air. “I can’t let you in! I need to maintain control!”
His face looked as if it were being pulled apart by the shadows that made his body. Maven knew that he only had a few moments to act. He took hold of Gregory’s hand and Gregory gave it a squeeze. “I love you, babe. You got this.” Gregory whispered.
Maven nodded and his staff of light began to shine brightly. The light looked so pure, and Maven knew that it was because of Gregory’s love that flowed through them both now. He increased the light and moved forwards, letting go of Gregory’s hand. He didn’t need to hold on to it, Gregory was here with him, and his love was within Maven.
“What are you doing?” Max screamed. The sound of his voice was shrill and terrified. “Please, look at what your light has done to me already!”
“Well, isn’t that something?” Maven said walking closer. “You being afraid when you’re a being made of fear. I wonder what all those children thought when you took them?”
“What do you want me to say?” The shadow man screamed. “Do you want me to say that I’m sorry? Fine, just turn the light off!”
Maven put a hand to his hear. “I’m sorry, what was that? You want us to turn on all the lights?” Behind Maven, all the others turned on the lights they had brought, every searchlight and flashlight. Max Shadow looked panicked and began to shift and move more than he had before.
“Stop!” He screamed. “Stop, please!”
“I’m sorry, what was that?” Maven walked even closer to the shadow man and moved his sceptre of light forward, pointing it at him, and thought of Gregory. The thought of his lover made the light shine even brighter than it had before and it became an endless stream of illumination. Maven stepped even closer, and then a few things happened so quickly that those who had seen it still had trouble believing what they had witnessed.
Max Shadow let out a bloodcurdling scream and then seemed to stretch himself, reaching for Maven. The shadow wrapped itself around Maven with a visible hunger. Maven had meant to fill the room with light, but he hadn’t realized that as soon as he had moved his sceptre of light closer to the shadow man, there was a tiny shadow sitting at Maven’s solar plexus.
With a frightening speed, Max Shadow wrapped himself even tighter around Maven and began to almost slide into the shadow on Maven’s chest. There was a difference, though. This time, Maven could feel Max Shadow moving into him. Maven could feel himself filling full of the darkness until his sight was clouded with the shadows of Max’s being. He turned to look at Gregory, his arms spread out on either side of him, and when he looked at the man he loved, the light shone not from his sceptre, but from Maven’s eyes. He opened his mouth to tell Gregory that he loved him, that Gregory was the reason that he had learned to love again, but nothing came out. The darkness overtook him, and he could no longer see.
Then he knew no more.
When Maven woke, there was darkness.
Gradually, the light around him began to brighten and he could see shapes moving around. He could hear voices, all pitched low. Then he felt a cold cloth wiping his forehead and he was looking up into Gregory’s eyes.
“You’re awake!” Gregory said. “Carley, Arnold’s awake!”
“Thank fuck!” She said.
“How are you, beautiful?” Gregory asked.
“I’m…okay?” Maven thought about it for a moment. “I think so? I’m not sure, really. Why am I lying down? The last thing I remember was Max Shadow and…” Maven’s voice went soft, and he brought his eyes back to Gregory’s. He had always found his centre when he could look upon Gregory’s eyes. The world felt like it was swirling around him even though he was laying still. Maven reached up and touched Gregory’s face as if to ground himself, and though Maven could feel Gregory’s skin, Maven’s whole world still felt like it was moving.
“What’s wrong with me?” Maven asked.
“Where do we start, honey?” Carley said.
“Hey!” Maven sat up and though his body still felt like it was moving, he was able to remain upright. He was surprised to find that they were sitting in his loft and that the lights were softly lit around them. He could even hear Christmas music playing softly from the speakers in the walls. Carley was looking at him with wide-eyed innocence. “I regret that remark,” she said.
“I know you do honey.”
“How are you feeling?” Gregory asked again.
“I’m not sure. What happened?”
Gregory shared a look with Carley and took a deep breath. “Well, everyone is all right. Carley was able to keep Cracklepuss occupied until the police showed up.”
“That man is really one sick fuck. He kept asking me to do dirty things to him in his head. Ugh!” Carley grimaced. “I needed to shower for three days until I felt clean again.”
“Three days?” Maven looked at both of them. “How long have I been out?”
“You’ve been out for five days,” Gregory said. “It was touch and go for a little while there, we weren’t sure you would make it.” Gregory’s eyes looked pained at the thought.
“But I can regenerate with light,” Maven said. “What happened to Max Shadow anyway? Tell me that we got him, that he’s gone!”
“Babe, don’t you remember?” Gregory asked.
Maven nodded. “I remember the shadow flying at me and then…” Maven thought about it for a moment. “Then I don’t remember anything after that. Did we get him? Is he gone?”
A look of pain crossed Gregory’s face. “No, he’s not gone. Not really,” Gregory said, running his hands through his hair. “Babe, I want you to look at something. Don’t be frightened, okay?”
“Why would I be frightened?” Maven asked, feeling a little kernel of fear bloom inside of him despite his wish to remain calm.
“Here, let me show you,” Gregory said, using a calm voice.
That was the voice that Gregory used when he was about to deliver bad news. “Oh no! Something’s happened! Something horrible, is everyone else okay? Are Tara and Dez all right? Is Tianado okay?” The kernel inside of him had blown into a full bloom of fear. It ran white-hot inside of him. They had gone there through his portal, if any of them were dead or hurt it would be his fault. “Thank goodness nothing happened to either of you!” He grabbed onto Gregory and held him tightly.
Maven was too wound up to notice how tightly he held onto Gregory until he gasped “Babe, I need to breathe!” Gregory looked at Carley. “Little help?”
“Already on it, sweet cheeks!” She said.
Maven suddenly felt his mind go calm. It was as if someone had flicked a switch within him. His mind was a sea of tranquility and he wondered from where the storm that had been within him only a moment ago had come. Maven looked at Gregory and felt so much love for this man, and turned to look at Carley and saw her looking back at him, her green eyes shining in the semi-darkness.
“Well, shit. Get out of my head!” Maven yelled at her.
“Sorry honey, but you were going a little nuts.” Carley told him truthfully.
“Here,” Gregory said, handing him a mirror. “It’s easier if I show you.”
“What do you want me to see?” Maven asked.
“I want you to look at yourself and tell me what you see. Don’t worry, because we’re both here with you, okay? We won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
Maven took the mirror and, not sure he wanted to, looked at his reflection. The first thing he saw was that he looked a little haggard and rough around the edges and he could certainly use a shave. Then he looked more closely and stopped breathing for a moment.
His eyes had changed from brown to black; but it was more than black. It was a blackness that moved like the night, given form, like shadows given shape. While he was looking at them, he saw a white flash of lighting and, for a moment, it felt as if something wanted to burst free of him. He looked at Gregory and Carley his eyes wide with understanding.
“He’s inside of me now, isn’t he?” Maven whispered.
“Tara is keeping him in place for now and I’m working on you. He’s stirring up some dark emotions in you because he’s such a fucking asshole, so it’s better that I keep you in check while Tara keeps him contained.” Carley explained.
“I thought that neither of you were able to hold onto him before?”
Carley nodded. “While he had no body, we couldn’t. He went into you to save himself from all of that light. As long as he lives within you, we can contain him.”
Maven didn’t know what to say. He knew that Tara and Carley’s powers were amazing, but they would only be able to stretch themselves so far. Maven wondered what would happen if they were no longer able to contain Max Shadow. Would the darkness become part of him?
As if reading his mind, Carley showed Maven his sceptre of light. “There’s this, too. See, Max Shadow has changed it.”
The scepter’s crystal end piece, which had been a brilliant white quartz crystal that he had cut and shaped himself, was now tinged with threads of black and grey and full of smoke. He reached out to touch it, running his fingers along the surface. Then he took it from Carley, and with Gregory’s help, stood up.
“I’ve dealt with shadows before,” he said. “I will do so again.” Taking the sceptre in hand, he lit it up, using his light from within. It was bright, but not as bright as before. “This will take some getting used to, but I’ve got this. I do.”
The words fell a little flat but neither Gregory nor Carley challenged him. He was glad for that. Looking at Gregory, he was struck again by how much he loved him. “Scratch that. We’ll get through this together,” he said.
Maven knew that he didn’t have to do it all on his own. It had taken him a long time to realize this, but it was better late than never. He looked at himself in the mirror again and smiled brightly. Inside his eyes, he saw a furious storm brewing, lightning flying all over the place. The love that he felt for Gregory was pissing off Max Shadow.
Serves him right, Maven thought. The bastard.