Max was eternally grateful for his old fascination with Dark Mayhem.
It had enabled him to narrow down where Phoebe must have been hiding out during their Hawaiian vacation. At first, a small part of him had been annoyed with the timing of her villainous possession. Their family was so rowdy and unpredictable, but their trip had actually been a welcomed surprise. He had initially wanted to surf and avoid nearly his entire family, maybe even pick up a hot chick or two—and while he kind of knew he’d end up being preoccupied with Phoebe in the end, never had he imagined it to be under such awful circumstances.
Quickly his slight exasperation had morphed into worry and concern, although he didn’t want to say it aloud too often. He had a reputation to uphold…which was rapidly falling the more he pushed himself to go after Phoebe.
Her (or rather, Dark Mayhem’s) hiding spot was well underground, but still away from any volcanoes, which was unexpected. Weighing the facts, Max could only surmise that even though Phoebe enjoyed warm weather, perhaps Dark Mayhem was intrigued by the cold, more like Evilman what with his IceBase and all.
He allowed himself to smirk for a second, descending deeper below the crowded vacationers above, closer and closer to Phoebe. Hawaii’s gotta be a challenge for ya, huh, you old hag? he thought smugly.
When the stairs he was heading down opened up into a larger, lit room, he knew he had arrived. His sister wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but she had retreated as soon as he realized what had happened and went to inform their family. They were counting on him to bring her back, and he was counting on himself to keep the Thundertwins together.
As soon as he got her back home, he’d enforce another Thundertwin swear to insure the other’s safety in situations like this. He’d try to save her every single time, with or without one, but it would still help him sleep at night.
“Phoebe?” he called out, cringing once the word bounced and echoed off the cavernous walls. “Hey, Pheebs, you in here? Still being possessed by Dark Mayhem and all?”
It was times like this he really wished he didn’t always have to sound so sarcastic.
A joyless laugh echoed from some corner of the room. He whipped around, assuming it came from the north corner. He was right.
There must have been more tunnels, because Phoebe emerged out of something thicker than just the shadows. Her red streaks glowed in the luminescent lights and his stomach nearly turned in on itself when her matching eyes flashed at him.
“Hello, Max,” she began, the smirk crawling onto her face showing she was still possessed. Never, never had she ever looked at him like that. While his smirk mostly succeeded in irritating whoever it was aimed at, hers looked semi-similar to bedroom eyes. “What brings you here so soon?
He cut his eyes at her and wisecracked, “Oh, you know; the bus. They make frequent stops here.”
Her eyes twinkled. “It’s a shame you had to turn into…what you are now. You would’ve been a great asset to him. So snarky. Really gets under people’s skin.”
Crows feet formed by his eyes as he smiled involuntarily. He really did live for their banter. “Yeah, well, that’s my main motive with you, Phoebe. Maybe if you come back with me Barb will ground me for it.”
Phoebe’s face went blank, emotionless. “I’m sure she would. But that’s not going to happen.”
She has been pacing when she first showed herself, but now even her newly acquired powers contained themselves and she was standing in place.
Max tilted his head at her. “Sure it will; you’re her favorite. She’s always loved you more than me.”
Her red eyes flickered to their natural brown for a moment. “Really? You’re trying to pull that card? Gosh, Max, you sure are a huge sob story just waiting to be told, aren’t you?”
He cautiously took a step forward, determined to bring those gorgeous brown eyes back to life fully. “No, not necessarily. You already know I’m right. Everyone has always been proud of you for your good achievements, and now we don’t know what to do without you, Pheebs.” He hadn’t meant to use his nickname for her right then, but her eyes flashed and he figured he’d keep going. “I have sticky notes from Mom telling me that my heart is bigger than my hair, and you’ve never needed the extra help like I did.” He locked gazes with her intensely. “And now that you do, well…no one’s going to treat you like a kid. No one’s going to think this is all just some big joke, some prank.” The reminder of how this predicament came to be hit home, and for a solid three seconds, her eyes were brown. “They just want you back.” The red was like fire, fighting to stay in the spotlight, but it was losing the battle. He took it a step further as he walked closer. “I really want you back, Pheebs.”
Her chin quivered and her eyes blinked, and this time, the brown stayed. “Max…” She pushed her hair back and bit her lip. “No one actually—no one wanted you to…we all wanted you with us, okay? And Mom and Dad love you.”
But that was an emotional chat for some other time. Max shook his head and stepped forward once more. “That’s not the point, Phoebe. I’m on their side now, and,” he reached out and gripped her forearms, their breath mingling in the shared air, “we need you to be, too.”
“I forgive you, okay?” He hadn’t realized he’d been leaning forward until he could literally see the confliction in her eyes. “Everything about cleaning up my messes…that’s in the past. I just want you to come back.”
Her eyes bore back into his. “Why…if this means so much to you, if I mean this much to you,” she ventured, his silence confirming it, “then why can’t you just let me be…happy?”
He ran his gaze over every inch of her face. “You mean like I was happy? Wallowing in my sadness and jealousy, and anger in secrecy? Making pity revenge pranks and putting random tricks on innocent people for fun? You mean to tell me that everything about the lifestyle you’re attempting to follow is happy?”
Phoebe’s eyes flitted away before returning to focus on his. “You kept claiming it wasn’t a phase, Max. And we didn’t take you seriously, just like you’re not taking me seriously.”
He removed his hands and threw his arms outwards instead. “Oh, trust me, Phoebe, we’re taking you seriously. We’re regarding you so seriously that we haven’t even told the Hero League about this, just in case they try to lock you up!”
Her eye color didn’t change, but her tone sure did. She snorted and mimicked his pose before crossing her arms over her chest. “Oh, really? I’d like to see them try.” With the look Max was giving her, she felt the need to keep speaking. “Isn’t this the kind of shit you would shrug off when you were evil? Nothing really scared you, did it? Because you knew you were too strong, just like I know I am.”
His eyes crackled. “Phoebe, if you seriously think nothing scared me then you’re a lot dumber than I originally thought.”
Her jaw tensed. “Excuse me?”
“I’ll have you know, I was scared plenty of times. How about when you were possessed by that evil ghost, for example? When we met the Hathaways?” She didn’t show any recognition, but he pressed onward anyway. “What about when I turned Dr. Colosso human and had to contact you through Chloe’s baby monitor because I was so sure I wouldn’t be coming home? Or when you wouldn’t speak to me after I left you to be found by Bradford, huh? I was terrified you were never going to talk to me again.” The walls were vibrating with each and every one of his words and his vision blurred for a second before he blinked, disregarding what that meant. He stared at his sister hard, and asked, “What about right fucking now?”
Her stoic posture had become slightly undone and her facial expression showed indecisiveness. He had definitely hit a raw, emotional spot, just like he had done for himself. She swallowed audibly and whispered, almost pleadingly, if he didn’t know better, “All…most of that was before when you were evil, and now you’re not.” Her eyes wandered for a moment before locking back onto his. “Maybe we just can’t be on the same side, and maybe that’s for the bes—”
His body jerked around as he yelled, cutting her off. “But the problem is that I don’t want you to be evil, Phoebe! Because I’m a superhero now.” He rubbed a hand over his forehead. “You didn’t want me to be evil either, once upon a time. And you know the only reason I was a supervillain in the first place was because you were a better hero than me.” He stared into her eyes, planting seeds he hoped would grow very, very soon. “And you still are.
“So come back, Phoebe. It’s always better when we’re on the same team. We may fight…” He shook his head at the unfitting word and corrected himself, a hand running across his chin, “bicker a lot, but we work together so well.” He took a breath, and in the next he admitted, “I don’t want to be on any side you’re not on, Pheebs.”
He had anticipated her response, but it still broke his heart, shattering it into a million tiny little pieces. “Then come to my side, Max. We can take down society together.” She almost sounded just like herself, if the emotion seeping out with her unlike words indicated anything. Phoebe was talking right then, through Dark Mayhem’s vice-like grip, through all of his devious wishes. “I like when we’re on the same side, too. But I’m not coming back.” Her arms were down by her sides, her fists clenching together as if to hold in the words pouring out her mouth. “So join me on this one, Max. Come to the Dark Side.” Her small, semi-hopeful smile tore a hole through his chest. From a certain angle, the exact same gesture seemed to already know the answer, but still she reminded him, “We have T-shirts.”
His hair was a mess and so was he, so he went about running his fingers through the only one he could fix in that moment. He sighed, quietly exhaling, his eyes lifting to meet hers despite her attempts to focus elsewhere. This conversation was draining her, probably as much as it was he, and maybe it was all the twin telepathy mumbo-jumbo, but he could’ve sworn she was thinking that if she didn’t look into his eyes, then she wouldn’t have to hear him say no.
He gathered the little courage he hadn’t lost in the short time down there. “You know I can’t, Pheebs,” he said softly, looking and feeling just like a sad little puppy.
She shut her eyes briefly, then swallowed again and glanced around them at their bright, unusual surroundings. “I know, I just…I just thought…” Her eyes closed again. There was a slight possibility he imagined the small tear slipping out from between her eyelids, but he doubted it. Maybe Phoebe was the girl, and maybe she was thought to be more prone to those types of reactions, but he felt like doing exactly the same thing.
She cleared her throat and swiped at the corner of her eye, looking at him directly. “I-I don’t know how long I’ll be able to talk, without…he really doesn’t like you, you know.” This was utterly real, completely Phoebe speaking. She was still being held, but she understood the seriousness of the situation just like she always did. Except when she got herself into this mess, Max noted bitterly. He truly was only trying to protect her, and she had went and done herself in anyway. It didn’t matter how appealing the red streaks in her hair were; he wanted her regular dark brown curls back, along with everything that came with them.
“You need to go,” she continued, obviously trying not to choke up, “because I don’t want to have to do something I’ll regret and I’m not sure how long I can hold it off if you stay here. I might…blast you with his powers or something.” She met his eyes before he could protest, but his mouth hadn’t even opened. He was already resigning to the depressing reality. “Please, Max.” Her voice was so hushed, but he heard her loud and clear, clinging to her words. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
He was not going to cry, not then, no matter how much he felt like it. “Okay,” he spoke quietly, meeting her eyes one more time before tearing his own away and heading out, trying to stop himself from sensing her movements behind him. She was already beginning to hunch her shoulders forward, tears falling freely. He felt the urge to do so as well, but forced himself to keep heading upward and gaining ground.
Meeting back up with the rest of their family had never been so disappointing. Most of their hopeful expressions came crashing down once they saw him arrive alone; even Chloe’s expecting look deteriorated, but Billy’s, of course, did not. That boy was too oblivious for his own good.
“Where’s Phoebe?” he asked, clearly perplexed. His ears visibly perked up a moment later. “Ooh, did she go to get ice cream without us? I specifically told her I wanted to try to superspeed everyone there together to freak out the employee!” Billy whined, bottom lip protruding in a pout.
A beat passed before Nora laid a hand on his shoulder, eyes heavy and upset. “Billy…”
But Max took the burden from his younger sister. She was tasked with Billy so many times, and while he knew she didn’t mind, this was more of a troublesome request. “Phoebe’s not coming back, Billy.” He didn’t look right at him. He couldn’t.
He could practically see the confused face Billy was making. “But she will later, right?”
Barb jumped in rather hurriedly and suggested they all go get that ice cream he had mentioned, and soon the family was off—on foot—to the little kiosk, shelving the inevitable conversation and distressing issue for later.
It was only when the couple in front of them in line ordered Phoebe’s favorite flavor that Max instinctively clamped his eyes shut and felt hot liquid pool out from them. Whom he could only assume was Barb noticed and put an arm around her son, rubbing his shoulder and leaning her head against his frame in a comforting embrace. She didn’t even say anything, because there was nothing to say. There was nothing she could do.
Phoebe wasn’t coming back, and now she and Max were back to being two halves of one whole.