Alex ran across the field, sending a mud spell in Max's direction. He easily saw it coming and quickly used an air spell to help him jump over it.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Justin looking at him in incredulity as Max fired off spell after spell with surprising ease and accuracy. He was blocking Justin at every turn, and Alex at almost every turn. She was much more inventive than Justin and could think on her feet much faster, so she was more of a challenge.
He drew his attention away from his siblings and instead focused on the ball of energy that floated in the middle of the field, waiting for him to take it. He could practically taste the victory already, and he couldn't wait to have that kind of power in his hands. After years of being the other one, the extra wheel that no one ever needed, he was finally going to get what he deserved. Suddenly, he was tripped up by her mud spell.
Dammit! He hadn't being paying attention, and she'd taken advantage of it. Oooh, he'd get her back for that.
Quickly he muttered his wind/fire spell and pointed it straight towards her, directing it to go in a spiral around her, preventing her from running any further. He bolted across the field, aiding himself along by causing the ground to ripple beneath his feet. A small earthquake that pushed him ever closer to his goal.
He saw the shock on Justin's face turn to one of anger, and he sped up the spell.
He reached out a hand towards the golden ball of energy…and then felt a hot spark run through his arm and hit the rest of his body with all the subtlety of a freight train. My god…he'd done it. He had beaten both of them.
He was the family wizard.
"It is finished! It has been determined that Max Russo is the rightful winner of this challenge, and is now the Russo family wizard!"
The voice was one of the judges that had been there to insure that no other spells besides the ones pertaining to the elements were used. He was glad that it was an impartial judge, because if it had been his father announcing the winner he would have had to deal with the shock in his voice, and the confusion in his eyes.
As it was, only the three of them were there from the family. Apparently, family members not in the competition weren't allowed to be there.
He stood in the center of the field and watched as both Alex and Justin approached him from opposite sides. Justin was silently seething; it was obvious from the way that his jaw was clenched and the way that he wouldn't look his little brother in the eye. Alex, however, seemed much more supportive, flashing Max a huge smile, a slight nod from her head silently telling him that she was proud of him and supported him.
As soon as the three of them were assembled, the judges looked at each of them in turn, and then returned their eyes to Max.
"Congratulations, Max Russo. You are now free to do whatever you wish. You may take a job here in the Wizard world, or you may live among normal people. It is your choice, but it is an important one. Do not make any rash decis-"
Justin cut them off. "Seriously? You're just going to let this go? There is no way that Max should have won! The only explanation for this is that he cheated somehow. It's the only explanation that makes any sense for what just happened."
The wizard that he'd cut off, wearing red robes, gave him a stern look. "Justin Russo, due to the fact that you have just lost, we understand your anger, but we have been following your family power for years, and it comes to us as no surprise that Max Russo won."
Justin looked up at the judges in shock. "What?"
A wizard in green robes continued. "We have followed your individual development and have come to the conclusion that Max Russo should have won due to the fact that he is the one with the most natural talent. In fact, he's one of the most gifted that this council has seen since your father. Before your father, no one had been so gifted since nearly eight hundred years before him."
He gave Justin a pointed glare, and Max watched in some amusement as Justin seemed to shrink a few inches underneath the judge's gaze.
At this point, Alex spoke up. "Well, I for one am proud of my little brother. At least Justin didn't win, right?"
She gave Max a wink, and he smiled. That was sister…competitive until the end. So long as Justin wasn't one up, he had a feeling that she would be happy with anything that might have happened, even if none of them had won it. Though that kind of incident hadn't happened in over two thousand years.
He leaned into her, gratefully taking her support, both literally and metaphorically. She continued to grin, and the both of them watched as Justin turned several shades of red and then went extremely pale. He gave Max a long look, one that neither Max nor Alex were entirely comfortable with. He leveled his eyes, and there was something in them that Max had never seen before. It went beyond hatred, beyond anger.
His words were so quiet, practically a whisper, but they cut him to the core.
"I won't forgive you for this."
With that, he turned and walked away, waiting for someone to magic him away as he no longer had his powers. One of the judges, who was wearing blue, waved his wand and sent him back home, leaving Max and Alex standing alone.
He looked towards his older sister, but she just shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, Max…I mean, you know Justin. Sometimes it's a grudge for a few hours, other times it's a grudge for…well, you know. He's Justin."
She shrugged again, and he let it slide. She was doing a cop-out, they both knew it, but he would let it go.
He gave a look towards the judges and all three of them nodded. He smiled, and then reached for his sister's arm. "Okay then…want to go back home now?" She looked up at him and smiled. With that, she slipped her arms through his and he flashed them both out.
As soon as they arrived in the living room, he saw Justin leave the room, fury written all across his face.
Alex gave Max a quick hug and then walked over to their parents.
Her voice was soft as she spoke. "Hey, Daddy…"
Jerry leaned down and gave his only daughter a tight hug, while Max looked on and watched, a small smile on his face. Suddenly, his mother ran across the room, wrapping her arms around him, holding him as though she hadn't seen him in months, when in actuality it had only been, at most, an hour.
He returned the hug, albeit halfheartedly.
"I'm so proud of you, mi hijo!"
His dad merely gave him a proud look, and he took it in stride. It was obvious that Max winning was a surprise for him, but he didn't want to seem unsupportive. Max decided to make it less awkward and broke the silence himself.
"So...guess who's secretly been plotting to win the entire time and now trumps Alex at being an evil genius?" He pointed at himself, letting a familiar and easy grin cross his mouth.
At that, all three of them laughed. This was the Max that they knew and were more comfortable with. He knew that they needed the illusion of him being the person that they were familiar with, because they all knew that to think otherwise would merely make things strained.
With that, he slipped up the stairs, packing his things up with a swish of his wand. He pulled off the uniform that he'd been forced to wear and pulled out his more comfortable wardrobe. As he pulled the black, worn-out jeans over his hips he wondered how Justin was coping. He could hear him in the next room, and didn't sound very promising. He pulled on a random button-up shirt and threw his black sport coat over top.
With a twist of his wrist all of his belongings were now in his backpack. Slipping the strap over his shoulder, he moved towards his door…and then stopped.
No. No more going back. Time to go forward.
He flashed out and smiled as he looked at where he was. He walked up the rocky shoal towards the house just beyond the dunes. He stepped inside the beach house and felt an instant sense of belonging. With a flick of his wrist this time, all of his things went to their rightful places.
Max walked into the kitchen, shedding his jacket and shoes, and then he saw the note on the counter. He picked it up, quickly unfolding it.
Dear Mr. Russo,
We are very pleased with your decision to purchase this home. We hope that you enjoy it and that you will make as many fond memories as we have over the past seven years that we've lived here. The spare key for the house is in the front table drawer, as is your housewarming present. We hope that you enjoy it! Best of luck.
Mr. and Mrs. De Lane
He smiled and folded the letter, walking to the front table and opening it, another grin crossing his lips as he pulled out the present.
It was nothing, really, just a disposable camera and a picture frame, but it was perfect. He looked out the front bay windows, staring at the steely gray waters that brushed against the shore. He lifted the camera and snapped a quick picture.
He was home.
A.N. - I LOVE all of the wonderful reviews that I got! Thank you so much for helping me out of my writing slump!