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The New Houdini 21

He took the Blue Line. He sat in a corner and focused on the smooth motion of the train, the bounce in his seat and closed his eyes. Every time he opened them he was surrounded by new people, and had to look at a map to figure out where he was. He got off at the airport because everyone else was getting off, and he acceded to the impulse to follow them. They crowded on the escalators, jostling each other with wheeled luggage along white gleaming walkways. If he filmed a movie here he would take advantage of the bright lights, the reflective surfaces that cast a pallor on everyone's faces and highlighted the sleepless circles under their eyes. Announcements rang over the intercom.

There was a knot of anger in him, fierce and tangled, and he didn't know where to direct it. Right now it was aimed at himself, at Max, and inexplicably at his brother. He wandered the terminals and bought a bag of gummy bears at a newsstand. He stood at a decorative Rube Goldberg machine encased in glass, watching as a marble slid from the top to a series of spinning wheels and pulleys. He could see his reflection in the glass: his lank blond hair, the dark circles under bright blue eyes. His clothes were mismatched, torn jeans and an old shirt; he hadn't put a thought to dressing well. A grimace turned his otherwise charming features ugly.

He had never felt such despair in his life, not when his first film was mocked by his professor, not when he listened helplessly to Ben's screams in that museum as his younger brother's eye was ripped from the socket. He had demanded details of how he looked, how he seemed, from Max, ignoring how recounting them hurt her. She had complied quietly, a deadened, white edge to her lips. The blank look, the silence, the obedience to the commands of a stranger -- insulting, heinous! The nerve of that bastard. How could anyone work for a ghost anyhow? Was there an ad in the paper, were there interviews? The rage boiled in his belly. Quentins didn't bow to anyone, let alone their kidnappers. The marble clanged against a steel wire to rest at the bottom of the glass tank, before rolling to the top of the contraption on a plastic lift and beginning its descent once more. How could Max leave him alone? How could Ben, a boy smart as a whip, not fight for control of his brain? And – the thought sent bile rising to his throat – the whole time, Chuck had been less than ten yards away, engaged in a battle for an Artifact no one could determined the use of.

A useless group, the lot of them, he determined. He crumpled up the empty bag of gummy bears, aimed for a bin and missed the shot. A janitor nearby shot him a dark glare. He sauntered away to the windows, fat airplanes parked at the gates. Aderyn had spent an entire day poring over the amber, poking it with gloved hands, studying the carving. The amber was hinted to be a flame of power, but no one knew what kind of power nor how to activate it. It was a blow on top of other blows, and finally Chuck had taken it back to store in the Quentin home, unwilling to trust it to the fools. For once, Aderyn had not argued with him. Max had only looked at him with tired eyes before disappearing into the stacks to look for books. Leigh Anne, tossing Chuck a reproachful glare, had followed her to help. The angry knot in Chuck tightened. He paced, but the airport wasn't soothing him in any way. He kept imagining he saw the dark brown head of his brother among the bustling travelers. He took the Blue Line back but switched to the Red, letting his feet decide the direction.

As the train crossed the Charles River into Cambridge the knot in his chest began to ease. He could breathe a little easier. Glumly he did not stop himself, but let his feet take him to Max's apartment building. The sun was beginning to set and lights were on in the Pilars' windows. The house was outlined in the gray of the late afternoon and he stood outside looking up at the windows, unsure whether he wanted to ring the doorbell or not. Then he heard a sigh behind him.

Max stood watching him a careful distance away. Her hair was down, flowing in dark waves over her shoulders, and she looked as bad as he did. The street lamps along the boulevard began to flicker on, casting shadows over her drawn face. She was lovely, dark almond eyes and a full mouth pulled tight in an expression of brave resignation for what he might say. And she was small, the bones of her cheeks and nose delicate as she cocked her head at him, and the knot burst in Chuck's chest and dissolved into relief and a heady, warm affection that frightened him. Max's face softened to one of concern. Chuck crossed the space between them to take her hands and press them between his own, trying to convey his regret, his sadness, and his tenderness in the pressure of his palms. She let him.