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Damaged Like Us: Chapter 35

FARROW KEENE

SPRAWLING green fields bleed into a bright blue horizon, oak and spruce trees jutting to the sky. Leaves are orange and red as the fall season nears an end. From a hill, I spot the glittering lake and canoes stacked on a rack, inner-tubes tied to a wooden dock.

Maximoff uses the acres and acres of land from Camp Calloway, his aunt’s summer camp in the Poconos Mountains, for his December Camp-Away event.

It’s majestic, serene, but I’m also very much on-duty. I’m not about to be swept up by nature. Not when there are three-hundred raffle guests ranging from eighteen to forty-five in age.

And they’re all playing the first group activity that Maximoff scheduled: a massive game of capture the flag.

Hundreds of people are split into four teams, denoted by red, green, blue and yellow shirts and bandanas. While they run around the field and forest, screaming out strategies and searching for other team’s flags, security meanders through the crowd.

We all wear black T-shirts with SECURITY in bold neon-green letters.

My arms haven’t uncrossed. For the past twenty-minutes, I concentrate solely on Maximoff, my guard not lowering. Earlier, I confiscated a knife that someone tried smuggling into the camp. Apparently they believed they’d be “fishing” and cleaning their own dinner.

Okay.

Sure.

My earpiece buzzes with nonstop chatter.

“I saw where Yellow Team hid their flag,” Donnelly says. Even though Beckett Cobalt is his client, the Tri-Force enlisted most of the seasoned bodyguards for the event. The Meadows, Cobalts, and Hales without their regular 24/7 bodyguards have temporary ones for three days.

Akara is on the mic. “Are you really using coms to help Jane cheat?” He assumes it’s Jane, but any way you toss it, Donnelly is Team Cobalt.

“I’m doin’ nuthin,” Donnelly says, accent thick on the word nothing. I spy him circling a wooded area, blue bandana on his tattooed forearm even though he’s not playing.

Maximoff sits casually on a tree stump. Stuck in blue team’s “jail” until one of his red team members tags him out. I relax for a second, propping my shoulders on an oak tree.

His eyes flit briefly to me, a smile in them.

He runs his fingers through the dark brown strands of his hair. Somehow, he appears a few years older with his natural shade.

I still can’t get over it.

And he found an alternative to lightening his hair. He’s wearing Thor camping socks right now. Plus, he had Luna draw Spider-Man figures on his Timberland boots. It’s his way of shouting I love my dad to paparazzi who’ll take money-shots and to anyone who’ll listen.

My lips begin to rise back at him.

“Quinn to security.” Another voice is in my ear. “I just overheard some girls talking about dragging someone. Should I intervene?”

“Nah,” Donnelly pipes in again. “That’s just fandom talk.”

“What?” Quinn asks.

I click my mic. “It’s not a threat. Don’t engage.” Did I just naturally “guide” Quinn right there? Fucking hell, I’ve turned into a teacher.

“Ugh, I forgot my snack,” Oscar complains. “Does anyone have anything on them?”

“Bro, you just ate,” Quinn refutes. “Like fifteen pancakes.”

“I don’t see your point. Snacks are an essential part of life. And you know what, if you haven’t learned that by now, we’ve encountered a real serious problem—guys, my brother needs fucking help, like a Snack Awareness Meeting.”

Voices pile onto one another.

I lower the volume.

Maximoff is out of “jail” and he runs into a safe zone. He slows down as a huddle of eighteen or nineteen-year-old girls in red shirts ogle him.

I don’t blame them.

He’s gorgeous. And my cock definitely agrees.

I’m more hyper-aware of people here who are apathetic towards him. It means they’re most likely at the Camp-Away for wrong reasons. Akara already red-marked twenty-three names for us to watch. Their motives for entering the charity event seemed suspicious.

Maximoff approaches the girls, and they squeal in glee, bouncing on their toes and grabbing onto his arms excitedly.

Easy there.

I raise the radio volume and catch the tail-end of Oscar asking for food.

I click my mic. “I have a protein bar. I’m by an oak tree.”

“There are trees everywhere, Redford.”

I roll my eyes. “Man, how badly do you want that snack? Because I’m not drawing you a fucking map.”

“…I see you.” Oscar sprints past a gaggle of green-shirted guys and then stops beside me. Curly pieces of his hair fall over a rolled blue bandana.

I grab a protein bar out of a first-aid bag. The medic stand is on the other side of the hill. So we’ve dropped a few emergency bags throughout the area.

“This is nuts.” Oscar bites into the bar. “Legitimately stressed right now.”

I shake out my crossed arms, my muscles tight. “Did you see how much money he made from the raffle?”

Oscar swigs his water. “The numbers are already in?”

“Seventy million.”

Holy shit.”

Maximoff was glowing all morning. In truth, if he were stabbed in the middle of the night and wheeled into the hospital, he’d still declare this a success. Very few things can happen to where he’d call the Camp-Away a failure.

But him, being stabbed, would be my fucking nightmare.

“Quinn to security. They just said drag her again. And I know they’re talking about Jane. That’s violent.”

Donnelly answers, “Still fandom language.”

“I don’t like it,” Quinn says, making his opinion known.

“Bro.” Oscar clicks his mic next to me. “Get yourself a Twitter account.”

“You’re not on Twitter?” Donnelly questions.

“He’s only on Facebook,” I tell the team, grinning.

Donnelly lets his laughter filter through the coms.

“Facebook is where it’s at,” Quinn rebuts.

Akara says, “This isn’t the best use of the coms.” He pauses, then adds, “But Facebook is better.”

Oscar wolfs down the protein bar and laughs.

“They just said Jane and Sulli are cancelled,” Quinn adds.

“They’re just passionate stans,” Donnelly explains.

“What the fuck is a stan?” Quinn asks and adds, “Alright, I really don’t like this anymore. They just said Jane should go choke.”

I cut in, “Go talk to them.” That could be a threat. Or they could just be fans. When fandom culture comes into play, the lines blur.

Oscar knocks his arm with mine. “Look at you, helping my baby brother out.” He chews the protein bar with a wide grin. “You keep that up, Tri-Force is gonna put all the green ones with you.”

“Fuck,” I curse.

Quinn repeats another possible threat, but Oscar and I don’t bat an eye.

He tosses the protein wrapper in the red first-aid bag. “I hate how desensitized I’ve become to some of this shit. How do we even think that’s normal?”

know.”

I watch Maximoff depart from the huddle of girls. He lifts the corner of his red shirt and wipes sweat off his brow. Revealing his front-page-worthy abs—then he pulls the shirt up and over his head.

Damn.

Camp-goers shriek and whip out their phones. Some must be Snapchatting a video, their cameras pointed at him for a while.

A girl strolls nearby and stops dead still. Wide-eyed. “Oh. My. God.”

know.

I stretch my arm, my blood rushing down to my dick.

She whips out her phone and narrates. “He’s more beautiful in person.”

Accurate.

“Are you guys seeing this?!” she shrieks in glee to her video followers.

“Boners and wet pussies everywhere,” Oscar whispers to me.

I shove his arm.

He laughs.

Then we both quiet and watch a redhead simultaneously sprint and gawk at Maximoff. Completely not paying attention to her feet. Like slow motion, her ankle catches on a tree root. She collapses hard with a loud thunk.

Maximoff saw the whole thing. And of course, he’s the first one sprinting to the girl. I already grab the first-aid bag.

“Akara to Farrow. You’re the closest with first aid. Doesn’t look bad enough for a real doctor.”

I roll my eyes and click my mic, mid-jog. “I am a doctor.” I have an MD.

While I slow down to the girl and Maximoff, Donnelly has to chime in, “Anyone else think it’s strange he only reminds us that he’s a doctor when we say he’s not a doctor? Any other time, he’s the one telling us he can’t prescribe medicine. Can’t work in a hospital. Can’t

I swivel my radio’s knob. Cutting him off in my ear. I squat down beside the girl. She clutches her ankle, wincing.

Maximoff is knelt close. Me and him exchange one look in brisk greeting.

“Hey, sweetie,” I say to the girl. “What’s your name?”

“Ella.” She winces through her teeth.

Maximoff says to me, “I think it’s just a sprain,”

I tilt my head. “And what year did you graduate medical school?”

“What year did you finish that residency?”

“Still better than you.”

He gives me a middle finger and a few cameras flash. #HMCCampAway has been trending on Twitter all day. Maximoff even has a link on his profile page to donate to One More Day.

I focus on Ella. She came down on her hands, then head. “Are you dizzy?”

“A little.”

I slide the first-aid bag to Maximoff who is dying to do something. He’s such a fixer. “Find an ice pack.”

I inspect her ankle: reddened skin, not a lot of swelling. I press a few fingers on the area. “Does this hurt?” I ask, but she’s already shoving my hands away.

Then she bemoans like I stabbed her throat.

Okay.

I’ve seen my fair share of dramatics. I can discern what’s real and what’s bullshit. She turns toward Maximoff. “I can’t…” She tries to produce tears that don’t come.

“You’re going to be okay,” he assures her. He wraps his arm around her shoulders in a side-hug. Then he hands me the soft ice pack.

I don’t even touch the pack to her ankle before she winces.

“On a scale of one to ten,” I ask, “what’s your pain like?”

“Nine point five.”

Okay. Sure. I felt enough of the area to know the bone’s intact.

Maximoff looks seriously concerned. “Maybe we should just be safe and call an ambulance

“No, no, no.” She raises her hands. “Really, it’s not that bad. I could…walk on it…or try to.”

I place the ice pack in her hand. “Use this for your head. I can wrap your ankle, and we can find you crutches if you need them. How about that?”

She nods vigorously. Then bites her lip at Maximoff. “Would you…could you stay with me for bit?”

My brows spike.

“Of course,” Maximoff says, sincere and offering another side-hug. I dig through the bag for a wrap, and then I glance up.

In earshot next to a drink station, a group of white guys in their early twenties talk shit about Jane. She’s chatting to a few girls further in the forest.

“Jane Cobalt is disgusting,” a guy says. His familiar angular face and aquiline nose sparks my memory. The red-marked sheet of possible threats. He’s on it. His name is Tyler.

“She wants to get banged so badly. It’s kind of pathetic.”

“I’d fuck her. But I’d have to tie her down first.”

They laugh.

My nose flares, jaw tight.

Maximoff is busy listening to Ella, but his cheekbones are sharpening. He hears.

I glare at them as I search through the first-aid bag.

“The BDSM shit is such a lie,” a blond says. He’s also on the sheet. Brad. “Anytime she gets shoved in this capture the flag game, she practically has an orgasm. Just watch her.”

Fuck you.

Oscar starts approaching the guys. He clicks his mic. “These yellow T-shirt twats need to be watched. I’m going to keep an eye on ‘em.”

I turn my head and whisper into my mic so Ella can’t hear. “Give them a fuck you from me.”

“We’re all thinking it,” Oscar says.

I rip plastic off a wrap and return to the girl. “How are you feeling, Ella?” I ask before I touch her ankle.

She shrugs uncertainly.

Maximoff drops his arm off her shoulders. That was odd for him.

I set the wrap down and near him, my hand on his bicep. “Maximoff?”

He palms his collar, rubs his throat, struggling to breathe—and know.

He’s going into anaphylactic shock. I rapidly dig through the first-aid bag while he wheezes, the sound very close to someone being choked to death.

His throat is swelling closed.

He tries to say my name.

“You’re okay. Stay calm,” I tell him like I’m at complete ease. No care in the world.

Where’s your fucking EpiPen? I touch my mic. “Get me an EpiPen.” It’s not in this bag.

“Oh my God, Maximoff?!” Ella almost clutches onto him, but I gently push her back. Maximoff grasps the back of my neck. His head hung, his sporadic breaths cut off short.

You’re okay.”

He’s not okay. I react calmly in any medical crisis, even when I know the person. Even when my heart wants to lodge in my throat. I swallow it down, and I have one mind that says, fix this. Help him.

Help him.

Do not leave him.

I can’t leave him. In the distance, Quinn sprints urgently towards us with an EpiPen.

“He’s allergic to fire ants!” Ella yells at me.

“I know.” I cup his jaw. His narrowed eyes are determined to breathe when he can’t. He tries to open his mouth for air.

If I could give him mine, I would.

I would in a fucking second—but his passageway is closing, tongue swelling. His blood pressure is dropping, his heart rate slowing. CPR solves nothing.

He needs epinephrine.

I should’ve had an EpiPen on me. It’s the first week of December. We both thought there wouldn’t be any fire ants.

His face reddens. He wheezes, eyes watering. I tighten my grip on his jaw. “I’m here. You’re okay.”

Maximoff wears no fear. He’s just fighting his body to stay conscious.

“He’s going to die!” she screams and bursts into tears.

“No he’s not.” I stare right at Maximoff. “You’re not dying on me, wolf scout.” promised you.

Maximoff can’t breathe anymore, close to passing out.

Quinn drops the EpiPen on my lap. I bite off the cap and stab Maximoff’s thigh. I hear the click. A spring-loaded needle pierces through his clothing.

And he gasps a lungful of air. Like he’s breaching the surface of a pool after almost drowning.

I hold the pen in place for ten seconds.

He tries to speak.

“Don’t talk,” I say and click my mic. “Akara, we need to call an ambulance. His vitals need to be checked at the ER.” And I need to find where he was bitten.

Maximoff doesn’t argue. For once.

Really, that just concerns me more.


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