Chapter 17


Although he had been warned to leave Julian alone until further notice, and had really had every intention of doing so, Phineas still managed to find himself crouched on a chair next to Julian's bed, fiddling with a three dimensional puzzle he'd made while he waited for his brother to wake up. He'd been told very little about the situation, other than that Julian had gone missing and that whoever was responsible for his absence had done terrible things to him. That wasn't enough to satisfy his curiosity, though, and he wanted to know what had been done to his brother, and why Julian, and if Julian was okay, and did he need to blow anyone up for him. Though he'd never blown anyone up before, he didn't think it would be difficult to accomplish, and the somewhat frenzied way his father was behaving indicated to him that explosions might be necessary and even imminent. If that were the case, he wanted in on the action.

He didn't watch his brother sleep or really even think about him while he waited for him to wake up; he didn't want his normally ambiguous feelings toward his brother to override his current concern. It wasn't until he could hear the sound of his brother stirring in the bed next to him that he looked up at all.

Meeting Julianís eyes, he grinned. His fingers were still moving on his puzzle as he asked, "Okay?"

"Huh?" Julian's eyes left him and roamed around the room. Phineas got the distinct feeling that he was gauging the distance to the exit. "Oh, yeah. I'm okay, I guess."

"Feeling better anyway, I guess."

"I guess," Julian agreed.

"Dad's going nuts, you know. He's following Ashe around everywhere, asking him a million questions about the guy who brought you here and why the two of them look alike, and about your condition and stuff."

"Well, we don't want him to be upset."

Julian's voice was only half sincere, but Phineas chose to ignore that. He put down his puzzle and focused his full attention on Julian. "So what did you do?"

Julian's gaze flickered back to him and his eyebrows drew together. "What do you mean?"

"You live on the edge," Phineas said by way of explanation, giving a flourishing gesture with one hand. "Things happen to you."

"You think this was my fault?"

The dangerous tone gave Phineas pause, but rather than deter him, it only magnified his curiosity. "Well I haven't exactly been given a lot of details." His tone implied that he was expecting to be filled in.

Julian seemed to be put on edge by the avidity in his brotherís eyes. "You know how when you want to find out how a machine works, you take it apart?"

Phineas nodded.

"Someone wanted to know how I work."

Despite his concern at the way Julian's gaze slid sideways when he said this, as though looking for someone to help him, Phineas leaned forward as a million questions sprang to mind, looming over his brother. Julianís gaze snapped back to him, wary, and Phineas wasnít sure why, but didnít have enough of a sense of sympathy to give it much thought. He withdrew only far enough to ensure that his brother would still cooperate.

"So what exactly happened?"

There was no answer. Julian seemed to be examining him.

Half playfully, Phineas held his hand out toward Julian's head. "I'm going to rub your head if you don't tell me."

"Back off," Julian said. The threat in his tone was lost on Phineas, who didnít know what caused it and so ignored it.

"Tell me." Phineas insisted because he wanted to know, but also because he hated the way his brother shied away from the subject. Julian had always seemed fearless to him--foolish, but fearless--and seeing him like this was harder than Phineas would have expected. And it stung that it seemed to be him that was making Julian uneasy and not the memory of whatever had happened to him.

"I'm not in the mood to talk." Julian turned his face away. "Could you just leave me alone right now?"

The dismissal stung even more. "I'm here to make sure you're okay!"

"Well I'm not. Now can you go?"

Phineas climbed down from his chair. "I guess being an ass to your family is genetic," he mumbled, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

"Like you're exempt."

Unsure whether Julian meant exempt from family problems or from genetics, Phineas peered at his brother, sidling closer to the bed. "What's that mean?"

Although Julian's head was turned, Phineas could see a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth. "Nothing. Never mind."

"No, seriously. What are you saying?"

"You don't want to know."

What a stupid thing to say. Obviously he wanted to know, or he wouldn't have asked more than once. Phineas eyed his brother for a moment, then reached out toward him, not sure what he would do but sure that bugging Julian was the only way to get what he wanted.

The blow to the chest he received sent him stumbling back several steps and it was a moment before Phineas realized that Julian had somehow managed to kick him in the sternum. Anger flooded through him, overriding both concern and curiosity.

"You...you complete self-absorbed asshole!" He stalked back over to the bed, looming over his brother.

"I'm self-absorbed?" Julian shot back, sitting up. He wrestled with the now-twisted blankets, trying to throw them off as he glared. ďYouíre only here because you want to satisfy your curiosity, not because you actually give a damn!Ē

Phineas glared back. "You don't care about anyone outside of how they can benefit you!"

"At least I'm not a loser who only has machines for friends." Julian's eyes were on fire. Looking into them, Phineas noted that it was a different kind of fire from their father's. Julian always burned hot, and Maxwell cold. Either way, the eyes were the same, and Phineas felt himself channeling his anger at his father together with his anger at Julian.

"At least my self-image isn't based on how many people want to fuck me!"

Julian gave him a terrible look, but he didn't stop; it was as though something that had been kept under pressure a long time had finally reached a critical state and wouldn't be contained any longer. And he was both alarmed and pleased to find that he didnít care about the fool he was making of himself if it meant he got to explode just this once.

"You're so jealous of me and the fact that dad likes me better than you that you can't even think straight! You spent years trying to be his perfect son and you failed miserably at everything, but I only had to build one machine and it's like I'm the best thing that ever happened to him."

That was more than an exaggeration: Maxwell hadn't expected the machine to work, and he was only moderately pleased by its success. Julian didn't know that, though.

Julian, however, was also not rising to the bait and sat glaring at him in silence, so Phineas added the worst insult he could think of for his brother: "You're just like dad!"

Julian's expression immediately settled into a smug smirk, the fire in his eyes cooling in an eerie way. "You think you're any different? We're all the same." As Phineas began to protest, he added, "You're his son, too, so just shut up."

Phineas paused, closing his mouth again. Obviously Julian meant biologically. For a moment he was silent, uncertain how to react to that news. He'd built a significant part of his self-image on not being a real Maxwell, but he didn't see why Julian would lie about it, even if they were in an insult shouting match.

"That's not true," he said after a moment. "He'd have told me."

"Why? The fewer people who know, the fewer people who can leak to the press that he spawned a bastard." When Phineas didn't say anything right away, he scoffed and continued. "Your mom was his maid--she was fucking him, obviously."

"At least my mom didn't get herself killed."

Julian backhanded him, whipping his head to the side and forcing him back a step. Phineas somehow hadn't been expecting this blow either, but it was different from the kick earlier. That had the feeling of instinctive self-preservation about it, brought on by whatever had happened to Julian and his uneasiness in his brotherís presence. This was not like that. This was violence induced by anger. Phineas clenched his teeth and his eyes narrowed.

"Don't you ever say anything about my mother again!" The anger was back in Julian's face. Phineas turned his head slowly to look at him. His voice, when he spoke, was low, almost a whisper.

"Your mother," he said, enunciating his words deliberately, "was a stupid cunt who wasn't smart enough to survive. And apparently, you're the same way."

Julian launched himself at his brother, knocking him to the floor and straddling his waist. Phineas, who had thought he was bedridden, yelped in surprise and lifted his arms to shield his face and head from his brother's fists. Even weaker than normal, there was still strength behind Julianís punches; he was bigger than Phineas and stronger, and the sharp stabbing pains in his ribs and face were frightening, even after Julian finally ran out of steam and sagged forward with his hands planted on either side of Phineas's head.

Phineas looked up at his brother, panting above him, but had to squeeze one eye closed against blood trickling into it from a gash on his eyebrow. He could taste blood in the back of his throat and found it impossible to breathe through his nose--not that the pains in his ribcage were making breathing pleasant anyway.

"Get off," he finally said, swallowing blood as he spoke. He hoped that the noise would cover the way his voice quavered.

Julian moved slowly, but Phineas scrambled away from him and got to his feet as soon as his brother's weight had lifted from his midsection, ignoring the pain it caused him to move quickly. He turned away, scrubbing indelicately at his eyes with one arm to wipe away the blood and the imminent tears that were forming. He didn't want to cry in front of Julian.

He'd have to use the first aid supplies in his room, he realized. He couldn't get Ashe to help him, because then his father would find out what had happened. The thought of Maxwell knowing about this seemed like poison to him--his mental capacity was supposed to be superior to Julian's penchant for solving things physically. He couldn't stand the thought of the ridicule this would earn him. Of course, there was the chance that Maxwell would just ignore the incident altogether, but that seemed just as bad as the alternative. He decided not to even think about the fact that hiding his injuries from his father wasnít going to be possible no matter what he did.

"Give me your hand."

Phineas looked over his shoulder at Julian. Though he wasn't looking at him, his brother was holding out a hand to him. He looked exhausted.

"No." He could stay on the floor for all Phineas cared. It sounded childish, even to him, but he wanted nothing to do with his brother any time soon.

Julian sighed. "Suit yourself." Whatever that meant. He sounded tired and didn't move from where he was sitting on the floor.

Phineas stayed where he was a moment longer, then hurried out of the room. He'd get his puzzle back later, from one of the maids. For now, he had to get cleaned up and see if he could fix his broken nose by himself. Anything to keep from thinking about everything that had just transpired.