by The Inimitable Pooh Bah
Thanks to M. Rose, ccwildgirl02, EC, Drea B, and Katie, for helping to clarify relevant canon.
She's close enough that you can smell her over the fumes of your wet nail polish. Her scent is soft and sweaty and warm, and a little bit like the orange tabby cat you kept as a child. Feline DNA, she explained when she first told you what she was. Whatever it is that's stamped on her genomes, the end result is achingly, devastatingly beautiful.
The telephone rings. She leaves you working on your manicure, and walks across the room to answer. She's all curves, all sway, all teasing flashes of skin--she's all the wonderful things that men just aren't.
It's Logan on the other end. You can tell by her posture. Her hips tilt so her weight is on her right leg while her left knee bends casually. Her free hand tucks into her pocket, her arm relaxed into a long, lean curve. . . . And she smiles.
Oh God, how she smiles.
She tries not to show it, of course. But it's hard to hide anything from you when you watch her every single move--you stare because you know that's all you'll ever get.
You shouldn't be here, girl. Doesn't really matter that you live here now--it's still really her place, her den. If she'd known how you felt about her, you're sure she never would've invited you here. No, she would've turned and run the other way, back to that sugar daddy of hers.
But she doesn't know.
It dawns on you one morning as you're pouring coffee into your cup: Chrisette looked like her. The hair, the lips, the walk--Chrisette was nothing but a substitute for Max. You lean against the counter and sip your coffee, and look back through the past few years, and count up all the other girls you've wanted just because they reminded you of your Boo.
There are far more of them than you'll ever admit, and from farther back than you thought a moment ago. You were sure you'd killed that desire stone cold after you first met her, when she said indignantly that she was straight and she only wanted you as a friend. You didn't kill it after all. You used to like quiet blondes with thin lips and flowery dresses. Since meeting Max, almost every girl you've really, truly wanted has been bold, or brunette, or pouty-lipped, or dressed in pants.
It worries you to think how obsessed you must be.
You hear the bathroom door open, and she's humming a little as she pads over to the kitchen. She doesn't usually hum. Maybe it's because she's in love--and you know it isn't you.
You should have let her go right then, when she first told you "no."
She will never want you. She's straight as a ruler. Even when she was in heat, ready to jump almost anything that moved, the idea of taking you into bed never crossed her mind.
Instead, she went out and found some man, some creature with its decision-making faculties mysteriously transplanted from its head to its crotch, some creature who used her and was probably relieved when it woke up alone.
But if she'd slept with you, she wouldn't have truly meant that either, and you two could never have gone back to what you'd been before. It would have hurt her more to destroy a friendship than to cheapen herself with a one-night stand. Would she have left you alone too, and never come back?
Maybe it's better that she found Rafer instead.
She never told you she was going to Wyoming. She just left you wondering when she would come home, waiting for her to call, worrying that she'd been hurt.
Nobody thought of telling you until now, a week later, just as you were drifting to sleep. You opened the door and found a cagey-looking blonde who says she's Max's sister.
She speaks for a long time, using detached scientific and military terminology, telling you everything she knows about what happened to Max. You don't hear most of it--you stop paying any attention once you realize that your Boo was so much more than hurt.
You've started crying and you can't stop. Max's sister reaches out to you, guides you into the bedroom--the wrong bedroom, Max's bedroom--and eases you onto the bed. She covers you with a blanket, and you clutch a fistful of it to your mouth. The fabric barely muffles your sobs.
Syl leaves the room quietly, and closes the door behind her.
You know it wasn't a dream, because Syl is still here in the morning. She has coffee ready for you when you stumble red-eyed and numb out of the bedroom. She makes you eat breakfast--cold toast, a glass of milk, an apple. She calls work for you, says that you won't be coming in today and that Max won't be coming in ever.
She lets you cry all you want, whenever you want. She doesn't talk much, just watches you and answers the few questions you ask.
She sleeps on the couch for several days, saying that she's staying to make sure you get through this okay.
You keep sleeping in Max's bed, where Syl first put you.
The sound of the couch's rhythmic creaking wakes you, and you step out of Max's room to find out why the furniture is making so much noise.
You turn your head aside and let out a groan of disgust--even in the near-total darkness, it's obvious what Syl is doing and what she's doing it with. You close your eyes until the frantic shuffling of cloth dies down, and then you dare to look again.
Syl is sitting on the couch, her tee shirt inside-out and the waist of her sleep shorts twisted to the right, her eyes cast down sheepishly. The man is standing, jeans fastened but belt still unbuckled, shoes on but untied, chest still bare, and you can't help but notice how much he looks like your Boo.
Syl points a finger at the floor near your feet. Her man swoops down to grab his shirt, and he's gone almost as if he was never here. It seems fitting--Max left about the same way.
You sink down onto the couch beside Syl. She glances up at you.
It's called survivor sex, she tells you. Her man almost got shot down by the sector cops half an hour ago, and there's a need to be sure of life after something like that happens.
After that, she just babbles about how she'd never been in love with him before, how that changed after they'd lost Max and barely escaped with their own lives--how maybe all this is just some kind of insanity, 'cause what she went through in Wyoming must've done crazy, crazy things to her head.
She's gone in the morning.
Eventually, you go on with your life. You go back to work. You clean Max's things out of the living room and bathroom and kitchen. You start looking at girls again, trying to concentrate once more on quiet, thin-lipped blondes.
You can't forget her, though. Already, you've stopped two new messengers from taking Max's locker. You've kept Max's room exactly as she left it, except that you've slept in her bed until you can't pick out her scent any longer.
The only two girls you've made love to were bold, pouty-lipped brunettes.
Max doesn't realize how much you missed her. She doesn't understand how your heart leaped when you saw her again, spoke to her again, hugged her again, knew that she was really and truly there.
She eats the pancakes you made for her, and shaves her legs in the bathroom sink, and thinks it's wonderful to be back.
She doesn't know how wonderful it really is. She doesn't know how much more beautiful her absence and her resurrection make her seem. She doesn't know just how badly your heart aches for what she went through on the way back to you.
If there was ever a right time to tell her how you feel, that time is now. But you just buff her nails, and listen to her voice again, and keep your silence.
She's gone to Terminal City, to stay. Because it's not safe outside, she told you, because they need her inside, because getting all of them together is the transgenics' only chance of surviving.
At least she said goodbye this time.
Maybe you should have been content with that, rather than following her here--but here you are.
Logan's come here too, and he says he's staying. You guess that means he loves her back, and maybe he has for just as long as she's loved him. It's funny, how she wants only the man she can't touch, how you shouldn't touch the only woman you want, how messed up this whole thing is, how the cards were stacked so that none of you three could end up happy.
You walk with her through the crowd of freaks, listening as she explains why you need to go back. She says that the destroyed biolabs are a threat to you and your normal immune system, and that she wouldn't want to see you sick and dying--that she loves you too much to let you go like that.
You don't think it's true. She says she loves Logan, but she's not sending him back--she loves him too damn selfishly to let him go. It could be that her devotion to a friend is deeper and purer. But you think instead that she's noticed the way you look at her, or wonders if following her here took more than just platonic devotion . . . and she's too scared of your feelings to let you stay.
And so you'll have to go. You want her to be happy. You know there's no room for you, when she's in love with Logan. There are other fish in the sea--but it's still so hard to throw her back into the water.
If she'd let you stay, you would have had to keep avoiding your love like you always have before. But she's not letting you stay . . . and you're not going to hide your feelings any longer.
You reach out to touch her. You lay a hand softly on her shoulder as she reaches to toss aside a crumpled steel panel blocking the way, and she straightens back up to look at you. Her cheek is soft and warm beneath your hand as you tip her face toward you and press your lips against hers.
It's the first kiss between you two, and it's going to be the last.
You take a step back to give her space. She stares at you for a long moment, and doesn't say a word.
Then she calls for Alec, and instructs him to take you back to the fence. She walks away, further into Terminal City.
You follow Alec toward the fence and the police barricade outside. He stays back, behind cover, as you approach the border with your hands raised. They aim a heat sensor at you, gauging your body temperature. Once they've determined that you're normal, they let you slip out through a gap in the broken gates, then hustle you into the back of a police cruiser to be taken downtown for debriefing.
You stare out the window, past the reporters crowding against the car screaming questions at you. You're looking back at Terminal City, hoping to catch a glimpse of what you're leaving behind. The only motion on the ground is Alec, retreating now that he's seen you out safely.
You raise your eyes to the flag, waving proud from the roof of Max's command center. There she is, looking down over the police and the crowd and a world she can't ever go back to.
Her eyes settle on you, looking between the reporters and through the window, and you watch each other as the car moves slowly through the parting crowd. You lose sight of her as the cruiser reaches the edge of the crowd and speeds up.
You'll probably never look at her again.
[ END ]
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