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Keeps

by The Inimitable Pooh Bah

Date: October 13, 2001

Rating: R

Summary: Billions in research, more than two decades of training, and suddenly your life was on the level of a cheap wristwatch. (Alec angst, "Proof of Purchase" post-ep.)

Spoilers: "Pollo Loco"; S2 through "Proof of Purchase"

Warning: Twisted violence, lurking insanity, second-person POV, spellchecker that hasn't earned the author's full trust.

Disclaimer: Maybe they'll give me Alec for Christmas, but until then everything belongs to Cameron, Eglee, and/or FOX.

Feedback: poohbah@gray-eyed.com

Website: http://www.gray-eyed.com/

Archive: List archives and by submission. Do not archive or repost without permission.


She smelled of cat, that spiky odor you've encountered in some of your comrades, but so much stronger. She had black fur, a long sleek tail, sharp claws, vicious teeth that your jacket still holds marks from even as the wounds on your shoulder have faded to almost nothing.

Hopefully she didn't have rabies.

You turn the corner of your lip up snidely at the thought, but your smirk fades quickly. It's not a laughing matter, no matter how hard you try to make it be, no matter what sarcastic thoughts bubble up in the back of your mind, no matter how much you want--no, need to be unaffected by it.

There was too much sick pleasure in watching her death throes, the last desperate hisses and swipes of claws, the spasms in her legs and subtly-patterned jaguar tail when she was beyond conscious control. There was something intoxicating about watching the blood flow so freely from the wound in her back, mingling with the filthy water in the puddle where she'd fallen, knowing you'd struck with such precision. They would have been proud of your quick accuracy, a few weeks ago when things were normal and they didn't want you dead.

You didn't mind killing her, didn't mind slicing away the skin on her neck and pressing it against the page in the book you'd been given. It was almost like pressing a flower to keep it beautiful forever, or pasting a newspaper clipping into a scrapbook so you could remember an event--but you don't need a memento to keep this fresh in your mind. You'll always remember it, the cold-blooded slaughter, the mutilation, the sick parody of saving cereal-box bottoms to cash in on a special offer. Just three UPCs plus $2.99 shipping and handling. . . . Billions in research, more than two decades of training, and suddenly your life was on the level of a cheap wristwatch. Fate has a warped sense of humor.

When they let you out of observation, they'd assured you you were perfectly sane. Maybe they lied, or maybe there's just no way to tell if a person's going to crack. Because you didn't feel sane as you climbed out of the sewers collecting your thoughts on where to find the next barcode. You've heard that 493 never showed signs of psychosis before the escape, and you'd bet money that nobody saw it coming when he was out here, either.

You still don't feel entirely sane, looking back a week later and a continent away in Toronto. But at least you're safe, and you can try to stop looking over your shoulder, stop startling at the slightest noises. There was a kid yesterday as you were walking aimlessly across an overgrown parking lot, about seven years old, mischievous twinkle in his eye--he snapped one of those little cherry bombs against the pavement, and you must have jumped ten feet. The little boy thought it was hilarious. It took you a conscious effort not to march up and strangle him for shattering your nerves like that.

You don't think you'll ever lose this paranoia. There's always going to be someone trying to clean up after Manticore, always somebody who'd kill you in a heartbeat, always more strategic value in your death than your life. You wonder if the twelve from '09 ever felt this way. You wonder if it's easier to live with the threat of capture, or the threat of certain death. One has much more terrifying possibilities . . . but the other is so terrifyingly final.

And then there's staying out here in the world, trying to scrape out a living, trying to avoid attention, trying to stay sane when all the structure and order you knew has been turned on end. But at least you're X5, you're adaptable, you can handle changes better than any of the later series.

You pull your jacket tighter around you as you walk down the street, and you think about the X6 you cut up. You took such advantage of the poor dumb bastard, of the trusting and stubbornly loyal psychology he was designed with. Low, it was so low of you. Like kicking a puppy dog. Like taking candy from a baby. . . . But you let him live, didn't you? Left him on the hospital's doorstep, and wasn't that a kind of redemption? You came back from the insanity, from the cold killer instinct, from your selfish willingness to trade three lives for yours, and isn't that worth something in the end?

But fuck redemption, fuck mercy. It almost got you killed when they found out you'd let him survive, and what good would that have done you? You don't know whether to believe in souls and an afterlife and eternal rewards for kindness. What you do believe in is staying alive so you can put off finding out.

And the other redemptive moment, sinking the knife into the ground instead of Max, rolling away sobbing and terrified for your life--that didn't amount to anything either. It hurts that she hates you now, and maybe it would've been less painful to have killed her and turned over her barcode and let the devil pay you with an extension on your life. Oh, he probably would have set the timer for another twenty-four hours, demanded another three scraps of flesh, and never let you out of doing his work for him and slipping bit by bit into something darker than 493 ever had to live with.

But it wouldn't have mattered; if you ever had a soul, you sold it to him the moment you tried to bargain. The devil's a liar, and he plays for keeps. And even if you've beaten him at his own game, narrowly avoided the little pop that would've ended everything, lived to run far, far away where he'll never find you . . .

Cat eyes or blind loyalty or snapping brown pain and fury, they're all your own. Even if you've won back your life, you lost your soul the moment you turned. And there's some things you can't ever earn back.

--

[ END ]


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