Author's Note: Here it is, the one you've all been waiting for… the last chapter! Wow. I am both sad and relieved. I'm so glad that you all liked the last chapter as I had a lot of fun writing it. I hope, I hope, I hope that you like this one, too. It took a long time and a lot of effort. I think it's the right conclusion for the two of them.
If you get done with this story and want more Max/Eddie goodness, panic not, my friends, for I have just uploaded the first chapter of the sequel, Take Me or Leave Me, and it is waiting on my author's page, just begging for you to read it. If you get done with this story and want more of Max/Eddie, it's waiting for you ;).
Uh… I guess that's all I have to say! One reviewer said "Because I am feeling quite sentimental right now, I shall say thank you." As I am feeling quite sentimental right now as well, I shall also say thank you to all of you :)
Dedicated with much love to: Bloody Destiny, pplofthewrldeatcheese, F.E.L.L.'s A.N.G.E.L.S., Kohaku Cho, Esquirella (oh my God, please, please write that story), Morg (I want one too), BreathingFlames (I definitely squealed for the rest of the day after reading that review… thank you), diebyownhands, Prisoner-11, writerofdreams, Aikida (muaha!), ShadowKiteKitsune (oh, thank you! I'm excited for your romance too btw), Jayn, D.H. L'Orange, Sunshine Knight (the fate of the world?? Oh no!), BrokenDreamz-EmptySoulz (I agree), Green Eyes (thank you), cell4420022000, promiscuous girl, and to Shelley. Thank you.
Chapter Twenty-One: Act III
Max sat on the black iron bench, unmoving, watching the hands of his watch tick closer to the silver-embossed ten. The night was a montage of swirling gusts of wet snow and massive buildings and trees. Max tilted his head back and looked up at the stars through the sporadic patches in the clouds. Finding the brightest available, he squinted in concentration and made his wish. Feeling slightly foolish, he let his head fall forward again, chin resting on his chest in order to avoid getting the flakes of piercing snow in his hazel eyes.
He never thought that this would happen. Not in a million years would Max Kennedy have dreamed that he'd be sitting on a bench in the middle of a snowstorm, wishing on stars that some guy would join him out here in the elements and give him a chance to explain himself. The worst part was that he wasn't just waiting for some guy to show up. He was hoping for it. Praying. Wishing with all his heart.
Max knew that he was being a fool; after all, he figured that hell would freeze over before Eddie would meet him out here in the middle of the night and in a snowstorm. He knew it was stupid. He did. He would have left already, but something was rooting him to the spot. Max didn't know what it was, exactly – he could only describe it as a bizarre mix of stoicism and desperation.
He couldn't let Eddie go. This extraordinary boy with the captivating cobalt eyes had taken up all of his focus and become his entire world.
The watch face gleamed in the darkness by the light of a solitary streetlamp. 9:50.
The clock on the wall was mirrored in his eyes as he breathed in and out softly. It took all of his conscious effort to return his gaze to the textbook in front of him. The words blurred in and out and Eddie could not concentrate on anything but the ticking of the clock and the sound of his own shallow breathing. No amount of Buspar could handle this; he was on his own.
A hollowness was tunneling itself into the center of his heart. It almost hurt, and Eddie folded his arms over his stomach and bent over to try to stem the psychologically-rooted pain. It didn't work. The ticking of the clock only seemed to grow louder, and though Eddie could cover his ears, he couldn't seem to stop his eyes from wandering back to the relentless march of the big hand of the clock.
The wind blew against the windowsill, rattling the battered glass. Maybe Max isn't even out there in this weather, Eddie thought, tossing a hopeful glance outside. His heart sank again as he watched a lone passerby struggle through the sleet.
No. Max had said in his letter that he'd be on that bench at ten o'clock on Tuesday even if it was sleeting. In fact, Max's letter had gone on to say that Max would be on that bench even if the sky was falling on his head. If Max was ready to face the apocalypse for Eddie's approval, Eddie was sure that the other boy would be out there in a little bit of sleet.
The thought struck him roundly. Ready to face the apocalypse…
He was no poet, and he wondered where the phrase had come from. He didn't even know if it was true. His mind, however, had a cruel way of coming up with answers that Eddie really didn't want to face.
He turned his face from the window and forced his eyes back onto the notebook in front of him.
Act III, Scene II… The Scarlet Man watches in resignation as the Bird Man swiftly ascends the spiral staircase. The Scarlet Man's glowing red heart is evident in the Bird Man's hand. The Bird Man explodes onto the balcony, high on the stage wall. He braces his arms on the railing, the Scarlet Man's heart dangling perilously over the edge. He looks down on the Scarlet Man, who doesn't move. They –
Eddie groaned and dropped his pencil. It was no good; he couldn't continue. He had always known what would happen in every single play he'd ever written, but for some reason, this time was different. For once in his life, he didn't know how to end the play. He scrubbed his hands over his eyes and looked out the window. The voice of his high school drama teacher entered his mind unbidden.
Love is a game of pitfalls, my young friend. You must be quick and bold not to fall too hard. Why quick and bold? Quick to recognize the situation you're in, and bold to take the initiative.
Eddie stared out the window, eyes tracing the snow falling earthward outside his window.
Quick to recognize, bold to take. Bold enough to take what you want the most. It's not a hard concept, but sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn. That's when you truly suffer: When you take your entire life to learn those two simple things.
The individual flakes blurred together into a wall of white. Eddie stood, slowly and mechanically, and stuffed his room key into his pocket without looking at it.
Outside the snow whistled and groaned and peeked in at the empty room. A fluorescent light flickered and cast its baleful gaze on the stillness. A paper entitled Act III drifted in the wind of the radiator, and a black jacket gleamed on the bedpost.
The wind picked up and the snow came down in sheets. Still Max waited, unmoving. His face had gone numb half an hour ago; his hands fifteen minutes before that. The long hand of his silver Rolex pursued the big '3' relentlessly. 10:12 p.m. Max tilted his head back and looked at the stars again, cursing the brightest orb as it passed behind a silvery cloud.
Wishes on stars are supposed to come true. That was the whole point!
Max sighed and leaned forward, bracing himself to stand. Stupid stars. He sat with his head hunched down against his chest, elbows on his knees, willing himself to accept the shiny 10:14 on his prized watch.
Eddie wasn't coming.
He sniffled once and began to rise.
The shout was almost muffled by the insulation of white around him, but Max heard it. He looked straight ahead of him, not daring to believe it. He forced himself to take a deep breath, then slowly turned towards the source.
His knees went weak.
The boy jogging up to him was gasping for breath. His dark eyes were wider than normal and something was missing from his ensemble. Max couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he found that he couldn't care.
Eddie was here.
Max's smile bloomed, though hesitantly. Eddie stopped a foot away from him, panting softly. The wind blew up abruptly, and a shower of icy crystals raced between them. Max swore that Eddie was flickering. For that terrible instant, Eddie looked exactly like the phantom of Max's dream. Max felt his eyes grow wide.
Then the crystals were gone, and Eddie was giving him a strange look, and Max felt his unfounded fear receding in the lamplight. Eddie was solid, he was here. There would be neither horrifying nightmare nor sweet dream to follow this scene. This was the real deal. The realization shook Max to his core, but he clenched his jaw and steadied himself. He had to get this right, exactly right, and he had to do it on the first try. The imaginary glue between his teeth dissolved, and he gestured to the bench behind him.
"Want to sit?"
The bench was colder than before. Max curled his mittened hands into the intricate metal swirls and loops below him and fought to remember the speech he'd planned out in the darkness of his dorm room. Eddie faced in the same direction as he, but Max could still feel the force of the other boy's watchful gaze.
He tilted his head at Eddie and found the cobalt eyes round and watchful, gazing at him peripherally. The sight melted the icy grip of trepidation slightly; after all, if they were both nervous, they would both understand each other.
Max furrowed his brow suddenly, realizing what Eddie was missing. His voice held an odd, echoing quality, as if he and Eddie were encased in a snow globe, and the snow was making up the walls.
"Where's your jacket?"
Eddie gave him a startled look, then dropped his head to give himself a once-over. His tone when he spoke was confused and surprised, as if he had simply forgotten entirely what he was wearing, or rather, what he wasn't wearing.
"Oh, I guess – I guess I left it at home."
Max stared. "Huh."
Eddie looked back. "Yeah."
Max sat back against the iron behind him. Eddie shuffled backwards as well. Northrop Auditorium gazed back at them, lights extinguished for the night, face gleaming with snow. The pregnant silence stretched on and on, until Max felt that if he didn't say something he'd burst from the pressure into a million snowy crystals and float away. His throat constricted and he tensed, finally turning toward the dark form to his left.
Musical laughter echoed through the wintery air, and Max had to smile at the sound. Eddie's teeth glinted in the lamplight before disappearing again behind his lips. Eddie looked down at the ground again, but Max gathered his courage again and pressed on.
"Eddie, I'm glad you came, because you didn't let me talk to you last time. I know you said all of that stuff about how we wouldn't work together, but I just don't understand –"
"You don't understand?"
Max's jaw shut with a snap. Frustration rolled off of the boy to his left in waves. Eddie sighed, and the crystallized air from his mouth drifted up into the night in a white cloud.
"Max, I don't know how to make you understand. There are so many… things that could make us go wrong!"
Eddie was up in a flash of powdery crystals. He took two steps away from the bench before swinging around again. His eyes were bright and blank.
"Things like… like… Max, if we were to start dating, do you actually understand that you would have to deal with me as a boyfriend? I'm not a very good boyfriend, Max; you'd have to understand that first off."
Max was already frustrated. "Why not?" he demanded, digging his hands harder into the iron loops of the bench.
"Do you really want to date a clingy person?"
Max stared. "What?"
"Is that who you want to spend your time with? Someone who's always clinging to you? A guy who is always needy? That's what's wrong with me, Max, and you'll never be able to keep me from hanging on you and needing your attention!"
Max's eyes softened. "Eddie, all people are clingy and needy. It's just human to latch onto someone and want them to be there with you all the time."
Eddie laughed shortly. "Yeah, well if that's human, then I'm superhuman. Max, I used to get so jealous when Joshua even looked at another boy, and believe me, he looked at a lot of them. You're a popular guy, Max, don't try to deny it, and even if you just glance innocently at another guy – or girl, I guess –, I'm going to get angry! Do you want that in a partner?"
Max opened his mouth, but Eddie cut him off swiftly. "Of course you don't. That's ridiculous. Max, I'm messed up mentally, too. See these?"
Max leaned forward as Eddie withdrew a tiny pill container from the pocket of his jeans. Eddie waved it in the air for a moment, then tossed it onto Max's lap.
"I keep those with me at all times. It's Buspar. I have panic attacks."
Max turned the pill container over in his hands. The white pills gleamed up at him innocently. Eddie watched him for a long minute.
"So there you have it, Max. Do you understand now? It's not cute, sarcastic, self-confident Eddie you're dealing with now; it's clingy, jealous, mental Eddie. That's why we can't date. That's why I shouldn't even be out here talking to you at this absurd hour. Okay, Max? So just let it go."
Eddie turned on his heel and began to walk away, but Max wasn't having any of it. He flung himself forward, catapulting himself off of the bench and into the snow.
The cry exploded from his throat. "Wait!"
Eddie stopped and turned, and was that a flicker of hope in his eyes? Max couldn't tell for sure, but he was determined to say his piece. He pointed back at the bench.
"Sit down. You got to give me your speech, now you have to listen to mine!"
The other boy stood still, and Max was afraid for a swift and awful moment that Eddie was just going to ignore the directive and keep going.
"Eddie," he said softly. "Sit."
Eddie sat, and Max watched him and knew what to say.
"I can't just let it go, Eddie. You know that. I can't just let you decide that it's never going to work and then walk out on me! What were you thinking, that I'm just going to let you go without a fight? Is that really what you thought? Well, Eddie Calhoun, you don't know me half as well as you think you do!"
Eddie's eyes were disbelieving. Max narrowed his own eyes and continued.
"You think you can't trust anybody. You think nobody really loves you. Isn't that it?"
Eddie didn't speak, but his expression told Max everything.
"You think that just because you're a little bit different from the people I usually date that I won't be able to handle you. That's not true, Eddie! So what if you're a nervous wreck, or suspicious, or – or whatever –"
"God, Max, get it right!" Eddie pushed himself out of his seat and stepped up to Max's face, eyes on fire. "Clingy – needy – jealous – nervous!"
Max looked at him. The silence stretched until he broke it.
"Okay," he said softly.
Eddie narrowed his eyes.
Max felt the side of his mouth curve up gently.
"Yeah," he said quietly. "'Okay.'"
The blue eyes glared into his, waiting for an explanation.
"It is okay, Eddie. I don't care if you've got the 'clingy-needy-jealous-nervous' syndrome. You know why? You've got me so… tangled up in you right now that I can't care, and I just don't know how to explain to you that I'm not stringing you along!"
Max ran a hand through his hair, and his fingers came back wet with snowflakes. He reached out, set his hands on Eddie's shoulders, and pushed the other boy back onto the bench. Eddie sat, and Max knelt before him, resting his hands on the bench on either side of Eddie's legs.
"Eddie, I want you. I know I want you… even if you are a complete basket case. I just don't know how to prove it to you. Do you want me to write you another letter? Scratch our initials into a desk? Climb to the top of the physics building and shout it at the busiest passing time? I don't know what to do! You have to give me a hint or something, Eddie; I can't do this by myself –"
"Then tell me you love me!"
The outburst echoed off of the trees and the snow and the face of the buildings ahead of them.
Max froze. "What?"
Eddie wet his lips and straightened up. He leaned forward and let out a shaky breath.
"Look into my eyes," he whispered, "and tell me that you love me."
Time stood still. Max looked at Eddie and remembered a dream he'd had months ago…
"Then tell me…" The shorter sophomore's voice dipped lower. Max strained to catch it. "Tell me that you love me."
Max froze, though he couldn't say why.
Eddie's breath ghosted onto Max's face in short gusts. Max shook himself out of his reverie and smiled.
Eddie's brow furrowed. Max laughed and took his mittens off, tossing them onto the ground beside him. Eddie's face was warm against his fingers, and Max let his thumbs rest against the other boy's cheekbones. He dipped his head to catch Eddie's eyes again and felt a lump form in his throat at the brilliant blue.
"I love you," he whispered.
Eddie's breath shook as he exhaled. His voice was almost inaudible, and Max had to strain to catch it.
Max smiled again and ran his thumb down and over Eddie's lower lip. "Really."
Eddie's gaze bored into Max's eyes like a basilisk's would, and Max tried desperately not to blink. This was it – he'd done all he could do. The cobalt eyes searched his quietly, and suddenly, it seemed that Eddie had made his decision.
Max had never before bothered to recall a kiss, but as Eddie's lips met his, he knew that he'd remember this one for the rest of his life.
Author's Note: :) The End. Thank you for reading my story! It means a lot to me. Please leave me one last review?