Title: Tactile Reasoning
Fandom: Wizards of Waverly Place
Rating: T-ish, maybe a bit higher.
Summary: Max's mistake, Justin and Alex's realization. Just another day in the Russo house. Written for a prompt at the omgjustinalex meme at Livejournal.
tactile (adj.): capable of being perceived by the sense of touch
reasoning (n.): the use of logical thinking in order to find results or draw conclusions
So sitting idly by while Max 'made up' his own potion for class was probably not the smartest idea in the world.
Alex stood and started shaking her limbs to get as much of the goop Max's concoction had spewed on her as possible to fall off. She glared at him, sheepish, and then they both ducked as the potion emitted another loud gurgle like the one it made before it erupted the first time.
This time, it was Justin, walking in to investigate the noise, who got coated head to toe with the purple sludge.
Alex stood and revealed her own slimy form. "It wasn't me this time. This," she swept a hand at the mess all over the lair, "was all Max."
Justin turned his attention solely on his little brother. "What exactly is this?" he flicked at a good sized lump of goo on his shoulder.
Max shrugged. "Dunno. I was just messing around."
Justin darted over to start examining the various bottles and boxes and pouches Max had scattered across the table, horrified look on his face.
"Did you know that you sound like Mom when you screech like that?" Alex said, saccharine smile on her face.
Justin sputtered at that for a few seconds, indignant, but not as surprised at his sister's comment. He made a face at her, sort of the 18 year old guy version of sticking out your tongue at someone, and then picked up the purple spotted wooden spoon Max had used to mix the concoction and poked at it like he expected it to bite him. "What kind of potion was this supposed to be?"
By then, Max had moved on to playing with a hackysack he pulled from his pocket. After bouncing it off his foot a few times, he managed to lobby it too far and it shattered a small red vase on the shelf beside the large table they sat at for magic lessons. With a sheepish look, he took out his wand and magicked it back together. "I was just kind of messing around," he said. "Just seeing what would happen."
Justin rolled his eyes and turned to his sister, crossing his arms over his chest, giving her an accusatory glare.
"What?" she demanded. "It's not like it was my fault."
"You should have been watching him."
"Oh yes, let's get a babysitter for our almost 15 year old brother," Alex deadpanned.
"It's Max!" Justin exclaimed.
Looking offended, Max scowled at his siblings. "Hey. I'm right here."
They both ignored him, Alex going back to her phone and the rapid text messaging she was engaged in, Justin opted to return to the table and the mishmash of ingredients Max had used in his potion. Sifting through the bottles, he noticed a particular smell and picked up one of the bottles, holding it to his nose and inhaling deeply. "Max, did you use holly leaf?"
"Which one is that?" Max asked.
Justin held up the bottle the smell was coming from up so Max could see it.
"Oh yeah," Max remarked. "Guess I did. I just liked the smell."
All stickiness aside, the potion did smell pretty good. Kind of like those overly scented candles his mom and Alex insisted on having all over the loft. Fruity, a little flowery, heavy though.
He guessed a lot of that came from the now empty bottle of blueberry root he found.
That was when something clicked in Justin's brain. Holly leaf and blueberry were both used for various protection potions, mainly to guard against dark forces.
Alex had come over to stand behind him at the table, leaning over his shoulder. "Is that belladonna?" She pointed to a dark red splotch on the table.
Justin shook his head. "No, Dad locked the belladonna up that time he caught you trying to slip it into my cocoa." He glared at his sister for good measure, wanting to remind her of the offense and how severely she had been punished.
Without even an inkling that she was remorseful, Alex simply shrugged. "I wasn't going to use much."
Grumbling under his breath about poison and attempts on his life, Justin went back to what he was doing. A beeping signaled that Alex had received another text message. She pulled her phone out of her pocket, reading it, and leaned her elbow on Justin's shoulder.
A sharp pain, like getting smashed in the face with a dodge ball and being shocked on a piece of metal combined, jolted between the point of contact. Both of them sprung apart and stared at one another in shock before turning their confusion onto their brother.
"Max," Justin began, "what was that?"
He shrugged. "Who knows? I kept going till I like the color."
Justin and Alex each snorted. Typical Max.
Experimentally, Alex extended her index finger and poked her older brother in the shoulder.
And just like before simultaneous bolts of pain shot up her hand and down his arm.
"Ow." Annoyed, Alex turned to glare at Max, crossing her arms over her chest. "Max, why does it hurt when I touch Justin?"
Again, Max had no idea. Which really was no surprise whatsoever.
Alex decided to test it, leaning close to her little brother and poking at him the same way she had Justin.
Frowning, she instructed Justin to try as well, and just like Alex, nothing came of it when Justin prodded his brother with the tip of his finger. Figuring it was a momentary thing, Alex looked at Justin, eyebrows quirked, expectant.
He extended his index finger towards her, pausing in wait for her to do the same.
Looking disdainfully at the proffered digit, she sneered. "This is not the time to be playing ET, Justin. Isn't that what you have Zeke for?"
"Just do it."
With a roll of her eyes, she mimicked her older brother's position and tapped the end of his finger with her own, only to be rewarded by another zap of pain.
Shaking his hand, Justin rounded on Max and demanded he tell him exactly what he had put in the cauldron before it exploded all over the room, going so far as to grip Max's bicep and bodily drag him over to the table.
"Jeeze, Justin. Relax." Alex stood on the other side of Max, bemused expression on her face. "It was just a potion."
"Oh really? Just a potion?" To prove his point, Justin knocked against her shoulder with his palm and smirked at her through the jolt that sizzled across his skin when she yelped.
Glaring at him darkly, she picked up one of the bottles Max had emptied and sniffed it. "Ugh, this smells like chlorine." She handed it over to Justin, scratching at her hand and wrist once he took it.
Both boys noticed. It was hard not to with the way she was furiously digging at her skin. "Alex," Max asked, "you have fleas?"
She swatted his shoulder, continuing to scratch. "Funny." Taking a step away, the itch finally died away and she rounded the table, leaning over the small black pot from the other side. "I don't see what the big deal is," she remarked. "So Justin and I can't touch. Is that really so bad?"
Before Justin could protest or defend his indignity, she sniffed the air in front of her face and he felt his eyebrows draw together in bewilderment.
"What is that?" Alex leaned further over the pot, face looming closer to the mixture congealing in the bottom. Inhaling audibly, she rose up frowning and smelled the air around it. "It smells…" She began checking each bottle one by one before dismissing them and searching along the shelves.
"Okay…" Justin drew the word out slowly, more disturbed than amused by his sister's imitation of a dog on a scent, he picked up a spoon and stirred what was left of Max's potion. "While Alex plays Huckleberry Hound, we need to figure out exactly what this is just in case there are any more side effects." Inwardly, Justin berated whoever it was that had failed to label the bottles.
Or, and it was very likely, whoever had pealed the labels off.
(And he had a feeling it was Alex.)
"Side effects?" Alex had reached his side again, sniffing the space around his head. "Like what?" Using her palm, she rubbed absently at her nose.
Justin was beginning to get seriously weirded out. Not even thinking about it, he pushed Alex away from him, gifted by yet another stabbing pain in his hand. He frowned, and honestly, sulked a little. Alex seemed undeterred and resumed her quest for the mystery smell, once again looming a little too close to her brother for his comfort and scratching at her face and neck.
Aggravated beyond the telling, Justin jumped up off the stool he was sitting on and stepped behind Max. Alex stopped scratching immediately.
Deciding to test the theory forming in his head, Justin stepped closer to Alex. At once she started scratching at her arms. He stepped away and she stopped. Repeating the process, Alex finally realized what he was doing. "Are you doing the hokey-pokey?"
Justin made a face at her. "No. Just watch." Extending his open palm towards her arm, he held it in air and watched as her fingers began a mad dash along the exposed skin of her forearm. When he pulled his hand back to hang at his side, she stopped.
"What are you doing?"
He rolled his eyes. "It's not me, Alex. it's the potion." Justin gestured at the thick purple that still coated splotches of both of their bodies. "That's causing it."
A look of confusion fell over her face. Justin shook his head. It made no logical sense to him whatsoever that she could grasp the fact that the pains that shot through them both when they happened to touch was a result of Max's potion, but not that it might cause other bizarre symptoms, like spontaneous itching.
Then Alex started sniffing again.
"Will you stop that?" Justin demanded. It was beginning to freak him out the more she did it.
"So why am I itching but you're not?" she asked, coming closer to him and worrying at her nose and chin. "That doesn't seem very fair."
Thinking about it for a few seconds, the only thing Justin could surmise was that it was had something to do with the fact that she was hit with the potion before he was, and judging from the fact that more of her body was violet than his, she also had apparently been exposed to more than him. When he told her that, she simply rolled her eyes, scoffing. "Typical."
And, of course, she resumed smelling the air around her.
"Alex, would you please cut that out?" Justin groused, more annoyed now than he had been before if that was even possible. "It's weird, and you look ridiculous."
"I can't help it," she whined. "That smell is driving me crazy."
"Well," Max, who had lost interest in whatever he was involved in after losing the hackeysack, finally piped up in the conversation, "what does it smell like?"
She shrugged. "I can't…really describe it. It's just…" Moving closer to Justin, the long inhales ceased, replaced by short, experimental inquiries of smell. She stopped, with a picture perfect look of disbelief and gaped at her older brother. "It's you."
Bewildered, Justin plucked at the fabric of his sweater and sniffed it. Max leaned over and took a whiff of his brother as well. Not noticing anything different or particularly great, he shrugged, moving on to the next thing to grab his attention.
Alex moved in closer to him, taking in a full, deep breath through both her nose and mouth, coming perilously close to Justin's neck. He backed away-or rather he attempted to. Alex followed right along with him though, taking in breath after breath.
"Stop." Justin batted at her. "That's just weird." He caught her by the shoulders, only to be rewarded by matching sharp pains in both palms. "This is ridiculous."
The door to the lair swung open and their dad walked in and stopped in his tracks when his eyes fell on the purple clumps covering the furniture and floor, and Alex and Justin both coated in the same film, Justin backing slowly away from his sister and bumping into things, each of them exclaiming spontaneous outbursts of pain at random.
"Do I want to know?" He sighed as he took in the scene unfolding around him.
All three kids spoke at once. "No."
"Okay," Jerry said. "Today's wizard lesson is how to get all this," he waved his hand in a circular motion to indicate the mess, "cleaned up, and then shower, before your mother sees you."
"Max," Justin called out. "I hope you know how to get this up."
Max's shoulders slumped forward. "Of course I don't."
Alex patted her little brother consolingly on the shoulder. "That sounds like a problem."
Both boys gave an exasperated look at her retreating back as she exited the lair, saying she was going to take a shower.
Dinner that night, for lack of a better word, was strange.
There had been more bumping in to one another as Justin set the table and Alex picked at the food, both of them grumbling and suppressing their sounds of discomfort since their mother was nearby.
And even after the shower, Alex was still itching whenever she got within half a foot of Justin-and now he was itching as well.
As well as scowling at his sister across the table. To which Alex responded by making faces at him and kicking him under the table. It didn't even matter so much that it was painful for her as well, Justin was acting as if the entire situation were her fault and he was getting a double dose of discomfort-from the spell and the kicks.
So it was worth it.
When they both reached out for the potatoes at the same time and were struck by the most severe stab of pain yet, they jerked as one and ended up throwing the food all over their dad.
"Okay, that's it." Theresa stood and turned her gaze on her two oldest children in turn. "You two have been acting weird all evening. What is going on here?"
Talking at once, Justin and Alex both tried to explain over each other what had happened and why they were behaving so weird-or rather why the other was acting strange as neither of them were willing to take the blame for Max's potion.
Holding up her hands, Theresa silenced them. "You know what, I don't want to know. Just fix it." She made to sit back down and then changed her mind. "But clean this up first."
Justin woke up at three in the morning sweating as if he were inside of an oven and not his bedroom. He sat up, confused. Justin made it a point to keep his room temperature regulated so that made no sense whatsoever. Grabbing the glass of water by his bed, he chugged the entire thing down in one gulp.
When the glass was halfway back to the table he realized something.
His hand was wet, but just barely.
Sitting the glass down, he looked at the glass on his nightstand. There was a thin layer of condensation on the outside, but only enough to indicate that the water was lukewarm, which had been ice cold an hour ago when he went to bed. To be as hot as he was, there should have been beads of water pouring down the glass. But there wasn't. And that meant one thing.
The room wasn't hot. Justin was.
He took a deep as he processed this. On the inhale he detected the normal, ordinary smells of his room; ink from his comics, the bottle of cologne on his dresser, sweat from being so hot. And something else.
Something heavy, almost fruity, a little smoky.
Justin knew that scent. He just couldn't place it.
Groaning with the frustration of not being able to recall something you know that you know, he rose up off the bed and headed down to the lair and the remnants of Max's potion.
Outside his door, he was struck with an out of nowhere urge to turn right, not left. Left led toward the stairs, his parents room, the bathroom. Right led to Max's and Alex's rooms. It made no sense that he would want to go right. He had to go downstairs, knew he had to go downstairs, it was vital that he figure out what was in that potion.
That didn't make moving his feet in that direction any easier though.
It took all night, but Justin finally deciphered what Max had put into his potion.
And it terrified him.
The door opened and Max and his dad walked in, talking about, of all things, trout.
"So they can really drown? But they're fish," Max said.
"Its true." Jerry noticed his oldest son sitting at the table in his pajamas, with books spread all over the empty space. "Justin, have you been down here all night?"
He bobbed his head, and then let it fall onto the table top. "Ow."
"What did you find out?"
Raising his head, Justin bit back a whine when Alex walked into the lair, and he noticed at once that she looked a little flushed, her eyes a bit wider than usual, a little glassy.
And they zeroed immediately in on him.
Alex gulped visibly, and Justin couldn't have pried his eyes away from the flex of the skin over her throat if he tried.
It took his father prodding at his shoulder to get him to pull his mind back to the problem at hand.
(Although there was more to the problem than he was going to tell his dad.)
"Right, um," he held up one of the five bottles from the table, "so it looks like Max inadvertently made a super duper keep away potion. Blueberry, to keep away undesirables." Justin set it down, picking up two of the other three bottles in turn. "Black Salt, also known as drive away salt, which is primarily meant to keep away bad neighbors, and Holly Leaf, for warding off malignant spirits and general evil forces."
Alex raised a finger, stepping closer to the table. "Should I take offense to that?"
No one answered.
Jerry picked up one of the other two bottles. "This smells like mandrake root."
Justin nodded. "It is. Since it intensifies the magic of any spell, this alone would have made the potion super strong. But then Max added," he pointed a finger at the other bottle with a glare at his brother, "calamus and that just pretty much made it fool proof. I'm surprised Alex and I don't bounce away from one another like we have force fields."
"Um, why?" Alex asked.
With a roll of his eyes, Jerry turned to his daughter and explained in a slow, overly calm voice. "Calamus strengthens and binds potions. Like using a spell lock."
"And Alex would know that if she ever used a spell lock," Justin muttered.
Alex made a face at him, taking a step forward. "I heard that." Her dad laid a hand on her shoulder and pulled her back away from Justin.
"Uh, you were meant to," he retorted.
Hopping up on the edge of the table, Max peered over the rim of the cauldron at the now dried film of what was left of his potion. "I did that?" He looked up at his brother and then his dad before jumping off the table with a loud shout of "Cool!" before bounding out of the lair.
Taking the briefest of seconds to look after his youngest child in bewilderment, Jerry picked up one of the books Justin had on the table and flipped through it. "So are you going to do a potion to counter the effects or just wait it out?"
Sighing, Justin shrugged. "I think it's too powerful for either option, really." He made a face, realizing how bizarre it was to admit that Max had made a potion too strong for him to counteract.
"So what," Alex asked, "we just live with this?" She shrugged. "Huh. Well I guess it gives me a reason to avoid Justin for…oh, let's say ever."
Justin grimaced at her, though he couldn't say it was an entirely unattractive idea. "I was actually thinking about a lessening potion."
He rolled his eyes at his sister's ignorance of things they had been taught everyday since they were seven years old.
"A lessening potion," he said slowly. "The more we drink it the more we'll become immune to the effects of Max's potion."
"And eventually we'll be back to normal?"
Jerry sat the book back down, patting his son on the shoulder. "That's the theory." He started towards the door. "Good luck." Stopping at the door, he turned back to Alex. "Don't poke your brother just for fun, understood?"
Alex bobbed her head.
And Justin had a sneaking suspicion she had her fingers crossed behind her back. Or possibly her toes. It was never simple with Alex.
"Explain something," Alex said and drug one of the stools over to the opposite side of the table from where Justin was sitting, "how will a lessening potion work on this super duper keep away potion, but a plain old potion to reverse it won't?"
Really, that was something she should have already known. "Because we use traces of the original potion. It's like a vaccine."
"How can you be vaccinated for something you've already caught?"
"The longer we carry it, so to speak, the longer the potion has a chance to work its way into our systems, and mutating. We make the lessening potion as strong as we can so it can prevent the keep away potion from growing further, and then it just kind of goes dormant until our systems eventually expunge it. How do you not know this?" Justin shook his head in disbelief. "You've only had science for what, eleven years?"
Alex's head titled over to the side as she processed the information her brother had just spouted at her, choosing, for once, to ignore the barb her threw at her. "You mean we're going to kill it? Like a virus?"
Pursing his lips, Justin nodded. "More or less."
"Well that answers that question." Alex brought her knees up on the stool and rested her weight on her palms on the table, leaning closer to Justin. Her nose started twitching but he suspected she was trying to look intimidating and was fighting the urge to scratch.
Wary, Justin arched his back so his face was further away and rubbed at his nose. When Alex didn't even gloat that he was itching more than the night before he knew something was seriously amiss. "Is there another question?"
"There are five bottles here."
Oh crap. "And?"
Alex narrowed her eyes. "There were seven yesterday."
Trying, and failing, to play it cool, Justin sighed and pulled the remaining two vials out from under the table and set them in front of the rest. "Cardamom and damiana, which Dad said he locked up with the belladonna and anemone."
"Why would he lock it up?" Alex was looming closer to him and her pupils were suddenly dilated.
Justin licked his lips, nervous, before he started speaking. "Damiana is extremely potent and produces a marijuana like euphoria."
Alex's nose wrinkled. "Dad locked it up because he thought we'd use it to get high?"
Shaking his head, Justin sighed. "I doubt it. It's an aphrodisiac, a strong one. It's used in sex magic."
All the color drained from Alex's complexion one second, only to flood back the next. Justin stared at her red face, alternating between amused and sympathetic.
Justin took a rapid breath. "Used in lust potions and to induce love."
Backing away from the table so fast she stumbled, Alex threw her hands up in exasperation. "Why would Max use something like that? Better question; why do we even have something like that? That's so gross."
He had to admit he completely agreed.
Alex turned her back to Justin and paced a few steps back and forth behind the red bench in the middle of the room. "You know," she remarked offhandedly, "if I believed that Max had any clue what he was doing, I would think this was some kind of ironic joke."
"What would drive someone crazier than giving them a potion that would make them want to be around a person and physically unable to at the same time?"
Justin chuckled. "Yeah. That makes sense. Especially since cardamom is feminine and damiana is masculine."
He stopped laughing at the same time Alex's mouth dropped open. "You don't think…?"
"Nah." They both said at the same time.
Two things became very clear to Alex over the course of the next few days.
One; she never noticed just how often she and Justin would touch, even accidentally, when they were around one another. Leaning her elbow on his shoulder, brushing hands when standing at the counter, using him a pillow while they watched television.
Two; she didn't like not being able to.
And she steadfastly blamed that on Max and his creepy keep away slash love potion.
Or rather, his creepy keep away slash hot for one another potion.
Which was disturbing on a level she couldn't even see from where she was.
Grouchier than usual for a Monday, Alex stalked into Tribecca Prep and slammed her locker door open. She hadn't been able to sleep the night before, feeling like she had a fever and unable to cool down, and then Max had been watching some new video on his iPod and kept knocking her against Justin-so much so that he'd gone to stand at the other end of the subway car.
So she had to face school, hot, her arm sore, with Justin avoiding her like the plague.
Which she had never before thought she would care about.
Harper bounded up to her, dressed head to toe in Dalmatian spots. "Hey, Alex. I tried to call you all weekend."
Alex snorted. "Yeah, blame Max for that."
"Did he use your cell phone as a spy camera again?"
She snorted in response. "I wish." She pulled out the bottle of soda she'd put in there before the weekend. "He made me want something I can't have-can't because it actually hurts. Fun, huh?"
Making a 'tsk' noise, Harper leaned against the locker beside Alex's. "That stinks. And you must be going nuts. We all know you think you can have anything you want."
"Hey!" Alex protested. "I do not."
"Of course you do." Harper insisted. "You believe that whatever you want should just naturally be available to you. In a charming way of course."
Rolling her eyes, Alex angled her body away and her eyes fell on Justin at his locker, talking to Zeke. Harper leaned over to see what Alex was looking at and sighed in that dreamy way that always drove Alex bananas.
"I'll see you later."
Justin was already in the lair when Alex walked in after school. She had actually planned on doing some research herself to stop the weirdness going on inside of her. Sign number one that she was growing desperate.
"I thought you had Space Dork Club today."
"Alien Language League."
She rolled her eyes. "Same difference." She peered over the cauldron where he had been working on different batches of lessening potion since Saturday. Her hand fell over the tips of Justin's fingers and the instantaneous sting shot up through her arm. She glared at him, repressing the urge to lean closer and…
Shaking her head, she snapped back. Justin seemed to know what was going on in her head. Blushing, he cleared his throat and bent over his work.
Catching a whiff of something she vaguely recognized, she picked up a vial and smelled it. "So tea is your big idea?"
Justin rolled his eyes. "Chamomile is often used to reverse spells and curses."
"Could you sound more like a textbook?" Alex sniped. "I thought we couldn't reverse it."
He shrugged. "It can't hurt." Pointing over his shoulder at the shelf behind her, he asked her to get him the Blue Salt.
One thing she did know about magic was that Blue Salt protected against spells. She didn't really understand how that would help but Justin annoyingly was often right when it came to things like that so she grabbed it. "Here." As she handed it over, their fingers brushed and, along with the usual pain, there was a flare of heat that went up her arm and down through her chest. She gasped, jerking back, and the vial shattered all over the table.
Alarmed, Justin stared at her. "Alex, you okay?"
"You didn't feel that?"
He titled his head. "Feel what, the pain?"
"Um no." She pushed at his shoulder with her palm. Again she felt both the pain and the warmth.
"Ow." Justin yelped. "Stop doing that."
Alex was tempted to hit him again. "You didn't feel any heat or anything?"
"Heat?" His voice was laced in doubt and he swept up the glass and salt on the table into a small garbage bin under the table with a sheet of paper. "What kind of heat?"
"The hot kind."
Narrowing his eyes, Justin gave Alex his best 'I can't believe I share a gene pool with someone of your IQ' look and started sifting through the bottles on the shelf himself, facing away from her. "Can you be a little more specific?"
Gritting her teeth, she sat back on her side of the table, drawing skulls on what looked like math notes with a pen laying off to the side. "Well, I didn't itch when I handed you the salt, but it felt like fire was climbing up my arm."
Justin turned back around, a look of interest on his face instead of the nonchalance of before. "Really?"
"Yeah." She pushed her hair behind her ears. "Do you think that means it's getting weaker? You know, because the itching is going away?"
"I don't know. Maybe." His eyes fell on the paper she was doodling on and yanked it away, glaring for good measure. "But I still think the lessening potion is our safest bet."
She had to concede that that was probably true.
Deciding she wanted to test it, Alex waved her fingers in front of his face. He flicked his eyes from them up to her eyes, not really seeing the point. Then he pulled back and scrubbed a hand over his mouth and chin. "That itches."
She smiled smugly. "Not me."
"Well yippy for Alex," he quipped. An odd look passed over his face. "What is that?" Taking in a few deep inhales, he looked at Alex head to toe. "Is that you?"
"Is what me?"
He stood and walked around the table, sniffing the air around her head. "It sort of smells like…pecan pie…and that bookstore on St. Mark's place…and fresh cut grass…and something else…" Alex, getting more weirded out by the second as he continued to smell at her, tried herself to pinpoint the smell, plucking at the ends of her hair but she only detected her apricot shampoo.
"What about the other day when you were smelling something? What did it smell like?"
She thought about it, trying to remember that scent that had all but driven her crazy. "Kind of like…chocolate chip cookies, that perfume Grandma used to wear, those Christmas candles mom always buys…"
"And something you can't pinpoint?" His eyes, Alex noticed, were very, very wide. And very, very dark.
All of a sudden Alex couldn't catch her breath. "Yeah."
Anticipation hovered in the air between them, each one drift closer, their blood heating up and spreading over their skin. Justin was naturally a little more pale than Alex and the flush rose up his neck as if he had internally been set to boiling.
As for Alex, it felt like there were ten thousand hummingbirds set loose in her stomach it was fluttering so bad. That just confused her. She had never had butterflies around a guy, not like this.
But it was all a side effect of the potion.
They sprang apart as Max walked into the lair, munching on a sandwich roughly the size of his head. "You come up with a potion yet."
A sound she couldn't quite name rumbled out of Alex's chest as she pushed away from the table and headed for the door. She stopped and tore off a hunk of Max's sandwich on the way. "Max, remind me to kill you later."
"For the potion?"
She paused as the lair door swung open and felt Justin's gaze on her back. "Among other things."
When Justin woke up just as dawn was breaking the next morning, after another sleepless night, he was so hot he was shaking.
He sat up, wiping at his forehead with the back of his arm. The longer the potion ran rampant through his system the more irritated he got. He got up to open his window and yanked his shirt off over his head. The early morning air felt cool against his feverish skin, but the internal heat caused by the cardamom and damiana coursing about in his bloodstream damped the relief almost at once.
There was no way he was going to be able to get any sleep now-not that he'd been able to before. Mostly he had just lain in his bed and dozed on and off, semiconscious. He thought about just going ahead and getting ready for the day, but the idea of a hot shower on his already warm skin wasn't exactly a pleasant idea…and he refused to take a cold shower. That would seem almost like crossing some line.
Because he couldn't stop thinking about his sister.
And that was just wrong.
With still no idea what he was going to do, Justin paced the length of his room, stopping only when his door slowly opened. Alex peeked in, glancing around until she spotted him standing by the foot of his bed. "You're up."
Scowling, Alex came fully into the room and closed the door behind her.
Justin's guard went up, the hair on the back of his neck standing to attention. "What are you doing?"
She shrugged and fell back against the sheets. "You're awake, I'm awake. Might as well be awake together."
That sentence should not sound that wrong.
But it probably had something to do with her lying on his bed.
Justin made a mental note to himself to kill his brother when everything was over.
"I don't think that's a good idea, Alex," he murmured, so low he doubted she could even hear him.
Only she did. And she propped herself up on her elbows to stare at him. "Why not?"
There really was no good answer for that. "The potion. We should just stay away from each other until it's all over."
"That could be days, Justin."
He snorted. "Guess you're going to have to find another elbow rest."
Her face contorted. "Huh?"
Justin sat on his carpet, pulling his legs up underneath him. "I've noticed over the past few days that you lean on me a lot, literally." Metaphorically too but he leaves that out. It doesn't really need saying. "Guess the pain zaps worked like negative reinforcement." Alex's face was even more confused than ever, but he didn't see the point in trying to explain it to her. It would only muddle things further.
She had noticed it too, how comfortable they were around each other physically. She had never thought about it before. He was her brother. She was allowed to touch if she wanted to. Max too. And not being able to…it just felt wrong. All sorts of wrong.
Alex didn't like not being able to do something. Even if she hadn't really wanted to do it beforehand the fact that she could always made her feel better.
She was selfish that way. And more than capable of admitting it.
"The only thing its reinforcing in me," she said flatly, "is that Max should never be allowed anywhere near the lair again without supervision."
"You were down there. You could have been watching what he was doing." Justin knew that reminding her of that wasn't the brightest idea, yet he couldn't stop himself.
Alex frowned, dark eyes flashing. "Again, this was not my fault." She stretched her body out enough so she could push at his shoulder with her foot.
Justin, per usual, hissed in pain.
She sat up, eyes wide, mouth dropped open. Justin regarded her, not sure what to make of her expression, and rubbed his shoulder where the sting of pain was still pulsing. "You look like a fish."
Snapping her mouth shut, Alex scooted down the bed to put her feet flat on the floor. "When I touched you just now-"
"You shoved me."
"Whatever. The point is," she said, face lighting up, "that it didn't hurt."
That made no sense to Justin whatsoever. "Uh, yes it did."
She shoved at his shoulder again. "Hey!"
Alex's entire face broke into a wide, somewhat goofy, grin. "That didn't hurt me. At all."
It finally sank in and then he had to dodge Alex because she made to hug him. Scowling, she pushed her lower lip out in a pout when he moved away from her. "It may not have hurt you, but it did me. So keep the hands to yourself." He pointed a finger at her to emphasize his point.
She stuck her tongue out at him.
"Really mature, Alex."
"As if I would want to touch you now I can," she stated. "At least when I couldn't I had the excuse of wanting to do something just because I wasn't supposed to."
Somewhere in all that, Justin found the sticking point. Amazingly enough.
"You…wanted to…touch me?" He hadn't actually heard that. Right?
Alex's already pink cheeks darkened even more, and she sputtered indignantly. "Um, no. I wanted to do something I wasn't supposed to do. There's a difference."
"You weren't supposed to touch me, and you wanted to," Justin reiterated, voice even and flat.
"You just happened to be involved."
Justin stood up, feeling his core body temperature get higher and higher as the seconds ticked away. He looked down at his sister, sitting on his bed, avoiding his eyes.
It was the potion. Justin knew that. He knew (because he was logical and rational and linear thinking, because he followed the rules, played by them) with every fiber of his being that the potion was the reason he wanted to go to Alex, as she sat on his bed, and do something he would never be able to take back.
"Alex…" His voice was hoarse and his throat hurt to speak. "You need to go. Now."
Without a word, Ales got up and walked out his room, slamming it shut behind her.
Alex would never admit that she sulked, but that was what she happened to be doing as she sat at the lunch table behind the one where Justin and Zeke sat and shot spitballs at the back of her brother's neck. Zeke kept throwing her looks over Justin's shoulder, brows drawing together when he realized that Justin wasn't going to turn around and yell at her. She simply smirked back at him, enjoying watching the skin of Justin's neck turn redder and the veins in his arms popped out like they always did when he was trying so hard to control his temper. Not many people would have ever guessed that Justin Russo had a temper. But he did. A nasty one. And no one knew that better than his sister.
Which was how she exactly how to exploit it.
Harper sat her tray down across from her, handing her the extra pudding cup she'd grabbed and a spoon. "Hey Alex."
"Harper, you may want to scoot down a little." Alex popped another piece of paper into her straw. "Or you may get spit on your watermelons."
Placing a protective hand on the tiny plastic watermelons on her headband, Harper slid down on the bench, once more giving Alex a clear path at Justin.
After watching Alex shoot several spitballs at her older brother, Harper shot a questioning look at Zeke. He shrugged and went back to his chicken fingers.
"What's up with you and Justin?"
Alex rolled her shoulders and reloaded. "Potion."
Harper leaned in and whispered, a little too loud for Alex's liking. "Max's potion is making you shoot spitballs at your brother?"
"Not really." Alex tried to clarify it for her friend. "It was this super duper, really powerful keep away potion, which he could never have made on purpose by the way, and now Justin and I can't be around each other because it hurts when we touch." She paused, took a shot. "Or it hurts him. I'm passed that stage. But the smell thing is getting worse."
Harper's nose scrunched up, as if preparing itself to be weirded out. "Smell thing?"
Nodding, Alex finally set down her straw and opened the pudding cup. "What's the best smelling thing you've ever smelled?"
After thinking about it for a few seconds, she set her face and declared, "Nana Frannie's apple crumb cake."
"Okay, so combine that with the second and third things best things you've ever smelled, and something else that is just absolutely amazing but you don't know what it is."
"Oh," Harper said. "Wow."
Alex nodded. "Yeah. Max put some other things in the potion that he really shouldn't and now that I can actually be around Justin, who has that smell, it's ten times worse than when I couldn't because it's still itchy and painful for him and he's giving me these looks like it's my fault since I wasn't watching Max while he played in the lair." She took a deep breath. All of her words had tumbled out in one breath, and it felt like a heavy lump of lead that had been settling on her chest had suddenly been lifted.
"Okay." Harper looked around, hoping no one else had heard Alex's outburst. She turned around and noticed that Zeke was gone, but Justin was still there, fists clenched on the table in front of him, still as a statue.
She took a bite of her chicken. "So glad I'm not a wizard."
Stomping into the sub shop, Justin scowled at his sister behind the counter. He didn't know how she had gotten home before him, but it really should not have been a surprise. Alex had loved nothing more than tormenting him since the day she was born.
"Neck dry yet?" she asked sweetly and popped a piece of brownie into her mouth.
Glaring at her, Justin walked past the counter where she was sitting and through the kitchen into the lair.
And of course she followed him. "You know, one would think that you'd have made a potion by now, what with all the no sleep you've been getting."
He gave her the dirtiest look he could manage. "I'm not the only one who's awake at night." He moved around her to get a book off the small round table in the middle of the room. "And I'm not the one barging into other people's rooms at dawn."
Her expression going stony, Alex reached her hand out and laid it on Justin's chest.
He jerked backwards, knocking several knick-knacks off the table. He lost his footing in the process, falling back and latched on to Alex in an attempt to right himself.
All he succeeded in doing was pulling her down on top of him.
"Oww…" He groaned, trying to roll her off of him. The impact had lead her shoulder to crashing against his sternum, her chin striking him in the neck. "Are you actively trying to kill me now?"
"Believe me," Alex said, "if I were trying to kill you, you'd never see me coming."
"Good to know."
Pushing herself up, Alex sat back on Justin's legs, peering down at him as if he were an object of extreme fascination.
And it was bugging him. "What?"
"Are you in pain?" She asked it without an ounce of teasing or irony. She was totally serious.
"You just caused me to fall flat on a concrete floor and then you jabbed me with your bony extremities. Yeah, I'm in pain." He huffed out a painful breath, feeling his lungs burn-a burn that seeped throughout his entire body, making his skin prickle uncomfortably.
Then, to his amazement, Alex beamed down at him. "But not from the potion."
"Huh?" Not his most intelligent response, but his brain wasn't exactly firing on all synapses.
"I'm touching you," Alex said, "and it's not hurting you. Right?"
Her face was so hopeful…he would hate to disappoint her.
And then he realized he didn't have to. Because she was right. She was touching him, she was sitting on top of him, and the only pain he felt were side effects from falling to the floor. Pushing himself up, he smiled at her, feeling the euphoria of relief flood his veins. "Right."
Squealing, honestly squealing, in the most un-Alex of ways, she threw her arms around his neck and tackled him back down to the floor. Laughing, he hugged her back, running a hand up and down the line of her spine.
Then she pulled back. And all the laughing stopped.
Alex's face lost its humorous expression. It looked as if she noticed everything at the same time he did; the heady scent of the cardamom, the sudden spike in temperature in the room, the damiana making them light headed. And, most importantly, the fact that she was still sitting on top of him.
"Let's test it," she whispered, voice impossible husky. She laid the heel of her hand flat against the v shaped line of his tee shirt, the tip of her middle finger ending up in the hollow of his collarbone.
It didn't hurt. The complete opposite in fact. It felt amazing, like she was putting a heating pad to a sore muscle and as she moved her hand over his throat and up the side of his face the heat followed, making his head spin and spin the hotter he got.
"Alex," he rasped out, cursing inwardly at how weak his voice sounded, "this is a bad idea…the potion…"
She clamped a hand over his mouth. "Seriously, Justin, keep it cute or put it on mute."
He frowned. Alex hadn't said that since she was twelve.
That was when it fully hit him that this was his baby sister sitting on top of him and making his blood boil.
No, he reminded himself. It wasn't Alex, it was the potion. Max's stupid, too powerful to be deliberate potion of erotic herbs. Once he was back to normal, and his head wasn't being subdued by his hormones, he'd look at Alex with the same bemused yet annoyed superiority he always had.
He would. He just needed to make a lessening potion.
And to do that, he had to get Alex to get off of him.
"Alex, please, get off."
Her eyebrows rose up into her hairline and he smacked himself in the forehead. "I didn't mean it like that."
She said nothing, only looked at him, all smug and mocking. Clearly, she was enjoying the entire thing much more than he was. Which made sense. She had already been through the same stages he was going through, had already faced what was going on.
He was only assuming this though. Although it made sense. If she hadn't already accepted it all she would be freaking the hell out-just like he was. But he was the one who was being used as a chair and stared at like he was dessert. That would freak anybody out.
"I have to make the lessening potion," he said, hoping that reminding her she was feeling the latent effects of a potion would get through to her.
It had been little more than a shot in the dark.
And when Alex slid her hand down his chest and back up his stomach, under his shirt, he knew that it had failed.
Sucking in a harsh breath, Justin felt every muscle in his body stiffen, rebelling against what was ripping through him. He closed his eyes and took slow, steady breaths. "Alex," he said a few moments later, "please, please let me up so I can make the potion."
The second he opened his eyes they locked onto hers. All emotion had left her face. Hot hands on his even hotter stomach, she just sat there, staring at him, until she blinked and moved to stand up. Justin propped himself up, feeling better now that he was cooling down without her added body heat, he chanced a look up at her only to find her gone.
It took close to a week before Justin felt he had the lessening potion right. He spent every free minute he had on it, forgoing the little sleep he was managing in favor of achieving the perfection of ingredients.
Alex spent her time moping around the loft and picking on Max because, well because he was there and partly because what was going on between her and Justin was his fault and she felt like taking it out on him.
Just as she had all but convinced him that Gypsies had left him on their doorstep, Justin trudged up the stairs holding a large vase in both hands. "Alex, I think I've got it."
"The potion?" She jumped up from the couch and all but ran over to him, letting Max slip from her notice. "So we just drink this for a while and then that's it-we're better?"
Justin bit his lip. "Um, not quite."
She opened her mouth to ask what he meant by that, but was cut off by him dipping his hand into the vase and slathering the potion all over her face.
Jerking away from him, she wiped at her face. "What are you doing?"
"We were coated with the potion, we didn't drink it," he stated calmly and smeared another handful down her arm.
"Ewww…" Alex knew that if she tried to leave he would only follow her, so she stood and let him rub his concoction on her other arm. "So we have to do this every day?"
"Yuck." At least, she thought, it smelled nice. That was when she noticed that Justin was wearing his new sweater. The sweater he'd seen at the mall and loved. The sweater he'd saved up for two months to buy because it was some fancy imported wool and insanely expensive. She grinned. He was such a girl about stuff like that.
So naturally she dipped her hand into the vase and plopped as much of the liquid as she could on his face, his neck, even his hair. And grinned wider when it ran in rivulets down the front of his sweater.
She smiled sweetly. "Necessity, Justin."
He glared at her and dropped a humungous dollop on top of her head.
"Oh…you are so going to pay for that." Grabbing the vase, she took off after him as he ran around the living room, slinging handfuls of potion at him the entire time. Max yelled when he was hit by an errant scoop but they ignored him. Grumbling, he got up and left, making sure to get the remote on his way upstairs so they wouldn't get it wet and ruin it.
Alex ran out of potion and dove for the couch, fearing that Justin was about to tickle her-the way their fights had usually ended when they were growing up.
Justin was a lot faster than the last time they had done this, and he caught her around the waist, stopping her before she hit the cushions.
She righted herself, turning so that she could look Justin in the eyes-or rather, glare. She wasn't used to him having the upper hand. Her glare died before it even formed though, when she saw the way he was smirking at her, laughter in his eyes. Each point where she was pressed up against him grew warmer and warmer and began to tingle. He had her arms pinned against his chest, so there was no way she could escape. But as his chest heaved with every breath and rubbed against hers, she realized she didn't want to move and, before either of them could stop her, she craned her neck up and kissed him.
"Hang on a second."
They sprang apart as Max's voice and footsteps grew louder as he descended the stairs. Justin's face was a dark red she noticed and imagined hers was as well, but she focused her attention on her other brother and tried not to look too guilty.
A skill she had honed long before.
"How come you guys can touch now?" Max asked.
Justin appeared to be having a moment of panic, but Alex figured he meant that they had smeared the potion on each other and not what had happened while he was out of the room.
"The um, the pain," Alex said, "and the itching stuff, that stopped a few days ago."
Max's forehead crinkled as he adopted his usually comical thinking face. (Alex didn't find much funny right now.) "Then why even bother with the potion at all?"
'Because you also put in herbs that are making us smell really irresistible to the other, and oh yeah, that leads to us wanting to jump each other.'
That was what Alex wanted to say.
But the prospect of driving her little brother into therapy for the rest of his life might come with that sticky little side effect known as guilt, and Alex really detested that particular emotion.
"It might start up again," Justin said quickly. "Just trying to be prepared."
That seemed to satisfy him, and he wandered off again.
She wasn't sure whether to be happy about that or not.
Alex takes the opportunity to look at Justin. He meets her eyes and the red that had begun to recede flared up again and he dashed off down the stairs, claiming he needed to make more of the lessening potion.
Three weeks later and Jerry determined that all effects of Max's potion was out of their systems.
Justin made massive batches of his potion, leading to the whole building smelling like a teahouse, and they had daily rubbed it all over themselves. For safety's sake, Justin generally had either Max or their dad put it on him in the places he couldn't reach. Not wanting to take any chances, he had taken to coating his entire upper body and most of his legs with it.
(Honestly? He had been tempted to bathe in it if necessary.)
Taking in so much of the lessening potion had lead to some interesting side effects, such as alternating chills and fevers, and at one point Max had declared that the excessive sweating smelled like flowers.
The sweating was good though, as their dad kept assuring them. It meant that they were purging the original potion from their bodies. Alex mainly complained that she would never be able to get the old lady smell out of her clothes.
"Well," Jerry declared, "I think its safe to say you guys are fine." He turned to Max and warned him not to make anymore makeshift potions without supervision. "I'm gonna go and see if your mother is finished with that cake yet."
Max's eyes lit up. "Cake?"
He followed his dad out of the lair, leaving Justin and Alex alone.
Justin gulped. "So…we're good."
Alex nodded. "Yup. All better. Yay us." She plopped onto the bench, sighing deeply.
Justin hated to see his sister looking so sad. Especially since the situation was a good one. She should have been happy.
Then why did she look so upset?"
Sitting down beside her, he bumped her shoulder with his own, almost having to force himself to act normal after close to a month of magic induced lust. "What's wrong?"
He frowned. "You're lying."
She bristled. "Am not."
Laughing, Justin put his feet up on the table. "I know you, Alex, better than you think I do. Tell me what's the matter."
Alex steeled his courage and looked at her brother, working up her courage to admit the truth. "I feel weird."
His brow crinkled. "Weird? How? Do you think the potion is still effecting you?"
He jumped so quickly into over protective big brother mode that it's almost funny she thinks.
Shaking her head, Alex raised her eyes up to his glumly and sighed out so hard her chest rumbled. "I don't feel the potion, but I feel…what I felt under the potion."
It takes him several seconds to work that out in his head. After he deciphered her meaning, he looked at her alarmed. "Wh-what?"
Blushing a particularly bright shade of red, Alex slouched down in her seat. "I knew I shouldn't have said anything."
"No," he insisted. "No, I'm glad you told me."
She glanced back up at him. "You are?"
Justin nods, relaxing his posture so their closer to the same eyelevel. "Alex, the potion made us feel things we've never felt before. It's natural that it's left us with some lingering questions."
She shook her head. "I don't think that's it." Pushing a stray lock of hair out of her eyes, she rotated her torso to look at him full on. "I didn't like not being able to be around you, not being able to just lean on your shoulder like I always do."
Smiling, Justin nodded his agreement. He'd missed it too.
"And," she went on, "I know that I tease you and pull pranks on you, but knowing that just being around me hurt you…that really sucked."
Justin's face sobered. It wasn't like Alex to be so candid. The only times in the recent past that he could remember her being so open with him were when they were in the Caribbean. In the jungle they had both opened up, and hadn't spoken about it since. After the battle, when he forget her, it had broken her heart and she bared her soul to him. That meant more to him than he would have ever been able to vocalize-which was part of the reason he never told her he remembered it. He was afraid she would say something to taint his memory of the event.
So he tried to lighten the mood. "Well, you don't have to worry about that now. You're stuck with me. At least until college."
A small smile turning up the corners of her lips, Alex leaned her head on Justin's shoulder, laying a hand over his between them. "I guess there are worse things."
Justin smiled, a new kind of heat washing over him. Worse things indeed.