|After the Fires Fade
Author: Laluzi PM
Two months after the catastrophe, Alex Mercer is just trying to find his own niche in the world. Old secrets and new enemies are determined to make things hectic again… luckily, he wasn't that fond of the peaceful life anyway. -Disregards Prototype 2.Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror/Suspense - Alex M./Zeus & Dana M. - Chapters: 15 - Words: 132,265 - Reviews: 249 - Favs: 208 - Follows: 207 - Updated: 02-17-13 - Published: 10-09-11 - id: 7450063
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: I don't own Prototype (no, really?) Also, I may as well mention this in advance. I've made a few canon screws; for the purpose of this story, Captain Cross is alive, and the Supreme Hunter was masquerading as a random mook on the Reagan rather than said Captain.
Some things in life never changed.
It could always be said that the sun would rise in the east and set in the west, that you could never please everyone, and you would always have at least one annoying coworker. And people in Manhattan would always go about their lives, running to and from their jobs in droves, grumbling about taxes and slamming their car horns at the traffic that never managed to flow faster than corn syrup. Some things never changed, even when everything else in life did a complete one-eighty and overturned everything you ever knew.
The crisis that had wracked New York wasn't at its peak, but neither was it over, by any stretch of the word. A project enshrouded in secrecy had gone horribly awry through a mix of renegade members and poor security, and as a result, the residents of Manhattan had one day been brutally introduced to hell. A virus known as Redlight had spread through the city like wildfire, twisting people into mindless monsters in a matter of days. Residents and vacationers alike were trapped in the resulting quarantine, and were forced to huddle helplessly in the city as the situation deteriorated, going from waves of shambling archetypal zombies to brutish, hulking beasts with gaping jaws and empty sockets, and giant, skinless tentacles that forced their way from under the streets, shrieking weirdly human cries as they hurled around cars as if they were tennis balls. At the worst point of the Infection, about two weeks in, nearly ninety percent of Manhattan's population had succumbed to the virus.
And then? Something had happened, but the details around that something were highly sketchy. Regardless, it was the stroke of luck everyone had been praying for – at its farthest encroach into the city, Redlight suddenly stopped its advance, falling into disorganized chaos amongst itself. Mere hours after the Infected had begun to scatter, an unexplained nuclear weapon had gone off in the Atlantic, only a few miles away. Panic had run higher than ever before – nearly everyone was certain that in the midst of both nuclear and biological terrorism, they were all about to die.
But they didn't. After that… nothing changed, and everything changed. The monsters were still there, and the virus still flared up in certain parts of the city, refusing to be entirely eradicated, but it did not spread as uncontrollably as before. The Marines and more shady special ops agents were slowly working away at the Infection wherever it was found, and life was beginning to pick itself up again in the battered city.
Things weren't normal, not by a long shot. Many neighborhoods were in ruins, and others still crawled with the virus. Overall, the north end of Manhattan was more sparsely populated than the rest, and was generally less desirable to live in – the main military base on the island was on the southern tip, and in a city where the zombie apocalypse had become reality and was far from totally stamped out, people wanted to have a sense of security, even if that meant foul-mouthed and trigger-happy soldiers marching through the streets at all hours.
As such, many of the homes in Harlem had been abandoned, either by untimely death or simply fleeing to a safer area. But for the residents of number 604 in Liberty Terrace, the location was just fine.
The apartment was not the pinnacle of luxury, but there was a warm, well-used air to it, and it was clear that the shabby furniture and cluttered desks had been marked down as somebody's home. Like every other residential spot in New York, exorbitant prices didn't get you much in the way of living space – a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom branched off from a moderately-sized living room, and that was all there was to it. A battered couch faced a television set, a thin film of dust covering the inert screen. Books and newspapers oozed off of a buckling coffee table, having given up hope at ever being forced into the jam-packed shelves that lined the walls. The packed ledges had a single break – a wide double window that gave a rather uninteresting view of the back of another apartment complex, but at least there was a window. On the other side of the room, a cluttered desk hoisted up a computer that looked much sleeker and newer than anything else in the room. In direct contrast, the swivel chair before it was torn, and bled stuffing from its back.
One of the apartment's two occupants was in said swivel chair, hunched over in an intense bout of internet surfing. Her knuckles above the mouse were taut and white, and her visage was bathed in the screen's harsh glow. Blue eyes scanned the computer with scrutinizing intensity. Her skin was smooth and full, but the normally soft angles of her face were thrown into fierce clarity in the alternating glare and shadows. Medium brown hair stood in spiky disarray atop her head, somehow managing to look stylish in its haphazardness. She wore a tank top and rumpled jeans, apparently oblivious to the dawning autumn chill. Her clothes clung tightly to her slim frame, accentuating her figure.
The other person was much less defined under his swathe of clothing. He was sprawled lazily on the sofa, his shoes propped up on the armrest and his one hand dangling bonelessly off the side. His outfit was probably too warm for the weather, and decidedly punk; he sported several layers, starting with an unbuttoned and wrinkled dress shirt that no amount of ironing could ever restore. Over that was a gray hoodie, and covering that was a rather sleek black leather jacket with cuffed sleeves and some esoteric red insignia scrawled across the back. His jeans were faded, and his loafers looked extremely worn. All of the garments left him quite obscured; very little of his skin was exposed, and what could be made of his face, hands, and chest was a distinctly unhealthy pallor. His features were similar enough to the apartment's other resident to be a sibling, but only just. He was much bulkier than his sister, although not buff – the tightly coiled muscles in his limbs were only prominent when he moved. The insouciant flop of his unbuttoned jacket revealed a decently muscled chest, looking strange and out of place against skin that was impossibly far from tanned. His face was broader and more harsh than his sibling's; his brow was heavy, giving his neutral expression the look of a scowl. His cheekbones were lower, and his face was gaunt, lacking the youthful fullness his sister still possessed – it was clear he had a few more years on him, and the sharp gray shadows that shrouded his features suggested that that time had not been gentle with him. Colorless lips rested beneath a slightly pointed, sloping nose. A fringe of curly dark hair peeked out from the rim of his raised hood. Most striking about his features, though, were his eyes – slightly narrowed and almost predatory in their angle, they were an ethereal blue, more silvery than his sister's, and so fierce they seemed to glow. They stared dispassionately at the ceiling, as if all of life's answers were etched in the stucco – and he disagreed with them.
Overall, he looked human, except for the eyes. They were wrong. They had the right shape and maybe the right color, but they held a quality no human eyes would ever have – a coldness, a calculating, unfathomable logic. They were the eyes of a hunter.
And a hunter he was.
His name was Alex Mercer. It wasn't really his name, nor was it the only thing he'd ever been called. Indeed, he had a plethora of names – Zeus, Blacklight, DX-1118 C, germ, murderer, killer, monster, terrorist. He was known, but not by any unanimous words; he was a presence, both ghostlike and tangible, that haunted the occupants of Manhattan. A vengeful specter, a demon from hell – something that could never be pinned down, but was undoubtedly and horribly real. Few knew what he actually was – even among the elite of the military, the most filtered and distorted remnants of the truth were scarce – but the fear he solicited was absolute. To them, he was death and destruction given a face.
Ironic, then, that what he'd come to consider his true form, the disguise that had been real enough to fool even himself once upon a time, went unnoticed among them. People knew him when he shed his humanity for blades and claws and chitinous armor, but they didn't know the real him - as real as something like him could ever get, anyway. They thought he loved to kill. And they were right, in a sense – he reveled in the visceral feeling of talons through flesh and the dominance of being an apex predator, the brief reprieve from his burning hunger. But he hated it too, sometimes even wracked with varying levels of guilt over the aftermath. He hated himself for doing what he'd been made to do, for becoming nothing more than a weapon for an endless moment in time. The memories of the dead tormented him, crying out in horror until he too reviled himself for enjoying the act. How could he not, when an endless store of human memories told him that what he did was wrong? He couldn't help the carnal satisfaction that he felt, because that was what he was – the anathema, the modified and weaponized version of the virus that had been released upon Manhattan, the embodiment of a plague meant to kill everything it touched. He was a formless shapeshifter comprised of viral biomass, something that preyed on humans, pulling them in, filing, and then tearing apart their identities. Everything from their defining memories to their smallest strands of DNA became a part of him.
But he was more than that. It had been said that he who fights monsters must take care to avoid becoming a monster himself. Alex Mercer had learned this phrase through his stolen memories, and knew through jaded experience that the opposite was also true. Through preying on humans, he'd slowly embossed their mindsets around his. They hadn't necessarily been good people – he'd killed some of the vilest – but they all thought he was something twisted and wrong, and now they were in him. They were him. He couldn't escape that hatred, or blot out the families the soldiers had fought for, the children he'd left orphaned. He hated them for confusing him, for forcing him to care, but he cared nonetheless. They meant something to him, and it tormented him because he could no longer tell where he ended and a thousand dead men began. But he acted anyways – fought to undo his mistakes, risked his life in the end to save others instead of destroying them. It hadn't changed anything. He was known by the persona he donned in combat, and only that… Except by the girl he shared the room with, who was quite possibly the only joy in his life.
To her, he wasn't a monster that should have never escaped its petri dish. He was just Alex; a rather disgruntled and awkward older brother that she was only a bit afraid of. To him… she was everything, the sole purpose in his life, his only tie to humanity – probably sanity as well – and the only person allowed to see his gentle side.
But that deep bond also served to keep him from total honesty. Dana Mercer was twenty-one; technically eight years younger than her brother, but also technically twenty-one years older. She was blissfully unaware that the person she shared an apartment was not actually her brother, but something that had been born from her real sibling's cooling corpse. She knew of his… oddities, those could never have been hidden, but as far as she was aware, her brother was amnesiac – true – a vast deal more likeable than he'd been before – also true – and still fundamentally human.
Not so true.
The real, original Alex Mercer was dead, his last gesture having been a maddened 'fuck you' to the world. That Mercer was a different entity, a different person; one who shared virtually nothing more than appearance with the newer version. Perhaps he'd even been more of a monster than Alex 2.0. He'd wanted to see the world burn just because he was no longer allowed to live in it. He'd meant to kill everyone. Everyone, even his sister. His little sister…
He knew he couldn't lie forever, but… he shifted his head, turning to look over at the one person he cared about. She was an investigative journalist. She knew how to put pieces together – it was inevitable that she eventually would. But he couldn't bring himself to face that confrontation any sooner than he had to.
Alex turned back restlessly. He'd just gotten back to the apartment a mere fifteen minutes ago, and already he was bored. But he knew Dana would give him an earful on 'traipsing through Manhattan like fucking Superman' without spending any time at home. Home… the entire concept had a strange feel to it. He'd gotten this apartment as a primary place of residence for himself and his sister about a month ago, bought with the contents of several bank accounts that had never been closed post-mortem, but whatever home was supposed to be just wasn't clicking for him. He liked the place, mostly because his sister could usually be found there, but he felt neither safe nor at ease within its walls. He was still more calm and secure gazing from the high periphery of any of Manhattan's numerous skyscrapers, where there were no constraints on his actions and he stood king over all he surveyed.
It had been two months since the crisis had taken place – the Outbreak was still in the city, but it was more controlled, the military managing to chip away at the remaining hives and centers. Of course, he was doing a lot of the heavy lifting in fighting the Infection, but those deeds were always done incognito or off the record. The disaster had reached its climax on the U.S.S. Reagan, where he and his unlikely ally Cross had battled the gargantuan Supreme Hunter while Blackwatch's last intended hell for New York had ticked away in the background. Everything had culminated in that one final fight, with Blackwatch attempting to glass all of New York City to deal with Redlight, and the most powerful of the virus's creations trying to tear everything to pieces. But while the Supreme Hunter had been the pinnacle of Redlight's beasts, Mercer was Blacklight – a manmade variant of Redlight, created to be myriad times deadlier, and it was his strength that prevailed. Without having time to disarm the nuclear bomb, Alex had taken a docked helicopter and flown it over the Atlantic – the water had muted its detonation, but his unfortunate proximity to the weapon had nearly killed him anyways. In the wake of the explosion, he'd been reduced to so much primordial slop. The amount he'd had to consume to return to only a part of his full strength afterwards had been unsettling, even for him. But that was all in the past now.
He'd returned to Ragland's morgue as soon as he was in any shape to, for a trepid check on his sister's health. For perhaps the first time in his life, Alex Mercer's unease had yielded joy. The moment was engraved deeply in his mind's eye; his sister had been sitting cross-legged in a chair, her eyes so startled at the creak of the door as she looked up from an outdated magazine… for that long minute where they simply embraced, holding each other tightly as Dana sobbed into his shoulder, Alex had felt human. According to the doctor, Dana had woken up from her coma nearly a day prior, a time that Mercer had cross-referenced to correlate with when he'd finally brought down Elizabeth Greene.
Two months later, Manhattan was beginning to recover, to heal from its scars and move on… but where did that leave him? Alex wasn't so sure. There was no question of a normal life for him, of that he was certain – but where was he supposed to belong in a world that reviled him? Dana accepted him as family, Ragland aided him in some semblance of poorly veiled fear, and Captain Cross worked with him out of necessity, but he wasn't going to fool himself into thinking there might be any sort of understanding. There was none to be found, and he doubted there ever would be. He was, when it came down to it, an entity beyond their comprehension.
On the other tentacle, he was pretty sure he didn't care.
He had Dana, and as dysfunctional as their little family was, he was as content as anyone with no inherent capacity for happiness could be. He really wasn't sure what to do or say, or how to act normal, but she took his awkwardness in stride, with the occasional joke at his expense. Many of his hours in the apartment were spent wordlessly, but there was something in that silence between them, the clicking of her fingers on the keyboard and the hum of the heater, something that didn't need words to be conveyed. They were together.
It wasn't that they didn't talk, but any conversation with Alex Mercer was bound to get either extremely freakish or extremely absurd if kept up long enough.
"Hey, Alex. Get a load of this."
With a sort of tired obedience, he disentangled himself from the sofa, the springs groaning in protest with his every movement. He stretched briefly as he rolled to his feet; a quick flicker of black shivered at his fingertips before he let his arms drop. He rolled his shoulders as he made his way over to Dana's chair. This quiet and unassuming life was… nice, in a way, but the less conscience-bound fathoms of his mind felt awfully cramped and restless. It was not a pleasant sensation. He felt torn between two drives – one to be with his sister, to catch up on a lifetime's worth of bonding, and alongside it, the fiercer need to keep her in his sight at all times, to protect her and ensure she never got hurt again. But there was another part of his mind that… hell, he wasn't really sure what it wanted, but from how twitchy and edgy he was when he tried to stay indoors for prolonged periods of time, it involved a lot more running and jumping than he was getting in as of late. He didn't really know how he was supposed to feel, being the self-aware personification of the virus – was simply sitting in this room stressful because Blacklight had other ulterior motives by design, or because he'd become accustomed to war, and every moment brought with it the possibility of Blackwatch troops storming in with guns ablaze, or any one of the fragile walls shattering inward with a Hunter's blow?
He leaned forward against his sister's swivel chair, hands splayed against the tip. Dana was blogging, or whatever it was called.
After a moment's worth of scanning the screen, he was about to ask her what was so unique about what was apparently a SoHo resident's rant about the government. But before he could open his mouth, the post turned towards 'some seriously fucked up shit' that the feds were failing to do anything about, complete with an embedded video that had a rather unmistakable person on the teaser.
At his gesture, his sister followed it back to Youtube, and with growing amusement, he observed shaky camera footage of himself practicing backflips off of the side of a movie theater.
"Okay, not that I think you actually paid to fix all the broken glass, but I have to admit, that's kind of awesome. No, it's straight up awesome. I have no idea how the hell you do it."
Alex shrugged, trying to read the comments below. There was no way to explain things that just came naturally. He'd been working on his maneuverability yesterday, trying to streamline his evasive techniques. He never really cared who saw him unless they started shooting him or tried to follow him home, so he wasn't surprised that somebody had caught him on video camera. Seemingly done with watching her brother flip around, Dana scrolled down so they could read the comments together.
-Holy shit. This for real?
-Dude, they're going to take your vid down. It's some kind of cover up.
-no I think its legit, this isnt the first thing ive seen of that guy
-probably just something from a movie, you gullible dumbasses
-A little girl lost her parents to the infected. She prayed for Mommy and Daddy to come back, but instead a hooded man came to her and slit her throat. Now she wants others to feel her pain. You've read this and now she's watching you. Post this message on ten other videos within the next three days or the man will come for you too.
-Can't believe people actually post this shit…
-That's really not funny. You shouldn't make up chain letters like that. Whoever this guy is, he really is out there. My friend swears she saw him in Central Park – says he just showed up out of nowhere, except one of his arms was a sword. He chased this poor elderly man down and beat him to death. Then he
He stopped reading as Dana sucked in a harsh breath. Some things, he really wished his sister wouldn't see. Even now, he could feel the omnipresent smolder in his chest, a dull burn that refused to be ignored. His mass inside was always shifting, yearning to break out into barbed tendrils and convert the soft and yielding flesh around him into viral biomass to assimilate. The need to consume had diminished somewhat now that he didn't weather dozens of machine gun rounds and javelin missiles on an hourly basis, but it was far from gone.
Dana turned to him, her expression pained. Alex cringed. Were he human, his cheeks would have been crimson with embarrassment. As it was, he was inclined to literally melt into the floor. But he was a man, and men were supposed to face their problems. At least, that's what a lot of his memories told him. Actually, technically speaking, he wasn't a man. Did that give him license to turn tail and run away? Or maybe he could try the melting?
"Yeah, Dana, I know. Look, we've already talked about this…"
"Can't you, like… you know… not eat people? You know I love you, Alex, but I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty damn creepy just thinking about it."
Alex tossed his hands in the air in exasperation. "What do you want me to do about it? I can't eat like you do. It'd be a lot easier if I could. I need living matter to consume."
"Isn't there anything else? Like… I don't know, cute fluffy animals or something?"
Alex sighed. "This is Manhattan, not the suburbs. There's no wildlife around here besides rats and birds. I need more biomass than that. It's not like I can just go to the zoo and hope that nobody notices their exhibits systematically emptying themselves on a daily basis. Or if I went to a pet store and bought a dog every day. It's… look, I know it sounds really sick, and it is, but people go missing in New York a lot more conveniently than decent-sized fauna." He rubbed his chin, feeling suddenly tired. "I'm doing all I can. I'm trying to stick to the straggler Infected… I can't help what I am."
Shame wasn't something he normally struggled with, but Dana tended to evoke it within him on a troublingly regular basis. It was like she knew exactly what to say and what look to give him when she wanted him to see things her way. And that wasn't good, because no matter how much he tried to follow her perspective, he wasn't her - wasn't human. And a lot of his issues probably would be a lot simpler through the human outlook; things that never had to be dealt with, ever. But they did, and that was just a fraction of what it meant to be Alex Mercer.
"I love how you can casually just talk about getting away with homicide," his sister muttered under her breath.
"…What?" He ceased his studious examination of the carpeting to look up, perplexed by the incongruous statement. He was pretty sure that was one of the inevitable kinks in their relationship, and not a plus.
She exhaled, looking exasperated but also faintly amused – that was good, right? "That was sarcasm."
She leaned back against her chair, looking thoughtful as she chewed absently on her lip. Alex frowned. That pensive face usually preceded some well-meaning but generally poorly thought-out attempt to 'help' him. He thought he'd managed to get across to her that he just needed time to ease himself into the role of being 'human', and if she really wanted to get him a stress ball, it had to be made out of at least steel for him to get anything out of it… but apparently she still hadn't gotten the message. "What is it?" he asked guardedly as she stood up, snatching her purse up from its nest of papers. She was definitely up to something.
"I'm going to the supermarket. There's got to be something there that isn't processed and in a can."
He snorted. "Good luck with that."
Dana crossed the single room like a determined storm cloud, sending dust and loose articles scattering in her wake. Almost out of the room, she paused in the doorway. "Stay here," she demanded, imperiously pointing a finger at him. "You'd better be here when I get back."
"Of course, sis," he agreed blandly, settling back onto the couch.
As soon as the elevator in the hallway gave its arriving 'ping', he was running up the side of the apartment's wall, leaping around the scaffolding and savoring the harsh tang of Manhattan air.
Thank god for windows.
He wasn't disobedient for the sake of being disobedient, he thought somewhat guiltily as he slid back into the window a perfect seventy-five minutes later. Dana just didn't understand that her viral monstrosity of a brother didn't deal well with enclosed spaces. He needed his fresh air. Besides, he'd worked out all of the calculations in his head and made sure to return to the apartment before she did – five minutes before the third standard deviation below her average shopping time at the grocer's, just to be safe – so it wasn't like he was standing her up or anything. What she didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
Alex scowled at the last thought. From his experience, that was a very poor choice of words… but whatever. He wasn't a philosopher.
Okay, so he was definitely too early, he decided fifteen minutes later, perusing a newspaper without really reading it, but he'd rather face Greene, the Supreme Hunter, and a well-armed Blackwatch battalion all at once than his sister's wrath. Or even worse, the disappointed face. He couldn't stand the disappointed face. Better to wait it out.
So while soldiers tore up the streets and Blackwatch helicopters scanned the remaining Red Zones for traces of the elusive viral monster, it occurred to none of them that Zeus was holed up in an apartment in East Harlem, sprawled on a sofa and clockwatching.
He had Captain Cross to thank for that, actually – while he and the experienced veteran were by no means amicable with each other, they were on relatively good terms. Mercer would never admit it, but he had a grudging admiration for Cross. He'd been the only human to ever walk away from a fight with him, and he was also the only Blackwatch member that Alex had a modicum of respect for. Cross had been the only one of them to think beyond what they'd been told; he'd realized past his preconceived notions that Zeus was fighting against the Infection, not for it, and had unwound his pride enough to work with Mercer in secret, refusing to allow his commanding officer to nuke Manhattan. They were hardly comfortable around each other, and both harbored a small but wary expectation that the other would turn on them, but their unlikely partnership had never ended. The captain wasn't a fool enough to think he could actually convince anyone in his organization that the Blacklight virus was relatively safe – as long as he had superiors, he'd be shot immediately for enunciating such sentiments – but he hadn't forgotten Mercer's help in stopping the virus. Having a relatively high position, Cross was able to manipulate Blackwatch from within. He couldn't do anything drastic for fear of compromising his position, but he nudged searches away from the Mercer residence and planted false leads whenever necessary. Alex was surprised by this continued loyalty, but refused to give the captain his complete faith. Blind trust had not served him well in the past. Still, he returned those favors in his own way, aiding Cross and lending his firepower against the Infected whenever he ran into Cross in the field. Actually, that sounded pretty fun right about now… but getting eviscerated by his sister did not. Home life was downright brutal sometimes…
Dana finally returned after an hour, bearing a triumphant expression and a bulging grocery bag that may or may not have been squirming.
"I'm back," she announced, somewhat redundantly, as she unceremoniously dropped the bag on the kitchen table. Tired of lounging on the couch and both curious and trepid as to what his sister had found on her mission, Alex get up and followed her into the other room.
"Find anything?" he asked, hoping the answer was a no.
"Yep," she said triumphantly. "I was totally right. As usual."
He watched as she unloaded a few boxes of cereal, some canned soup, a bag of truffles, some generic ingredients, a handful of frozen dinners, boxes of pasta, and two… things.
She plucked them up, putting one on the countertop near the stove and the other on the table in front of him; the odd thing wriggled in protest. It was dull and dark in color, and had a segmented, shelled body. It had more legs than he thought was necessary, and two large pincer-claws that were held shut by generous application of rubber bands. Eyes on stalks swiveled to stare at the confused Blacklight entity.
Alex eyed the grayish crustacean dubiously.
"And this is…?"
"Lobster. What, you've never heard of it? Freaking delicacy. They sell 'em live, so they'll be fresh when you steam them. I figure you'd skip the cooking. Probably not too great like that, but hey, I'm trying not to judge here."
The viral monstrosity was not so sure about his new meal. It did not look nearly as soft and meaty as his feeder tendrils were used to.
"They cost a fucking fortune too, so you'd better be grateful."
He didn't care enough to mention that it was his money that supported the two, and was too absorbed in sizing up this new 'lobster' to be paying much attention anyways. He tilted his head. It waved a claw at him. It looked distinctly unhappy – imperceptibly, Alex tensed, getting ready in case the beast made a lunge for his sister, who was still hovering over his shoulder. It didn't look very dangerous, and Dana didn't appear to be afraid, but humans did seem to die ridiculously easy, and he wasn't taking any chances.
Alex paused, hesitating. He was ambivalent as to whether or not he wanted to eat the lobster. It wasn't inciting the usual urge to consume he got around living beings; that weird, hard-to-define instinct was reacting indifferently at best. He wasn't even sure he'd be able to convert it into biomass – Blacklight had been made to infect humans, and he'd had some difficulty trying to assimilate crows and vermin. But if he refused this thing, then Dana would be sad. And he was not going to make Dana sad. If he did take it, then Dana would see him consume, which would probably freak her out. Deforming into a mass of red and black tentacles tended to have that effect on people… Inwardly, he sighed. He missed the days when all of his dilemmas could be solved by just killing somebody or something.
"Earth to Alex?"
"Oh." He glanced back over his shoulder; his sister had an expectant look, mingled with a dash of hopefulness that made him feel like something in his chest was getting strangled. Dana really shouldn't have to feel like she needed to take care of him… but the sentiment evoked a rare rush of affection. He didn't deserve to have her… saying 'no' at this point would be like smacking a kitten with a grenade launcher. That was on fire. Off the empire state building. Dammit, he didn't have a choice, did he?
"Thanks, Dana." He hoped he sounded convincing.
The smile he got in return was downright adorable. Dana might have been the snarkiest and most fiery person on the planet, but to Alex, she was his little sister, and carried most of the emotional strings included in that package.
"Ah, you might not want to watch this." His eyes flicked back to the crustacean on the table, wondering where the hell he was supposed to start with it. He could pierce Blackwatch raiment and tank chasses, and a shell really couldn't be much trouble after that, but… where was the edible part? "It's sort of disturbing…"
"It's that tentacle thing, right?"
An eyebrow was sharply lifted. "…Dana, where did you see that?"
She shrugged. "Youtube. Gateway to the world, I swear."
"I…" He shuddered. Damn it, maybe being as blatantly open to the world as he tended to be was not such a good idea. Hell, what else had she seen? He wasn't ashamed of what he was, but he hardly wanted his little sister seeing him in all his glory. Sighing, he returned his attention to the lobster, prodding the junction between two of the plates to see if there was any space between them. "I really wish you hadn't looked for that."
"Honestly? The video wasn't half as scary as the comments."
"…I do not want to know." One of the things he'd learned very quickly about humanity was that the race had a positively terrifying imagination. The twisted directions their hormone-addled minds launched off in were enough to make him cringe at times.
Dana seemed inclined to talk anyways. "I have no idea what makes shmucks look at homicide and think hentai, but-"
"Okay, enough." With more vigor than was strictly necessary, he let his consumption appendages emerge and plunged them into the unlucky crustacean. The tendrils growing from Alex's chest mercifully served as conversation stoppers, and Dana dropped the subject as her brother's skin erupted into a dissonant blur of red and black. The tentacles wrapped around and into the lobster, melting what was once a fully functioning organism into a Blacklight-style primordial soup. Once he'd converted as much of it to viral mass as was possible, he pulled his tendrils back, drawing the indiscernible stuff with it. He frowned. As far as consuming went, that had been terribly underwhelming. The term 'fun-sized' occurred to him from somewhere in his jumbled mess of memories. He wondered what was supposed to be fun about it.
A few moments passed as Alex recalibrated his appearance and wondered if he'd even gained anything from the whole attempt.
"Huh," Dana finally said. "Well, that's something you don't see too often."
He looked at her askance, his expression almost apologetic. She seemed a little pale, but thankfully was not shrieking, pointing at him, fainting, or throwing up, which was what he usually got from passerby when he started consuming things in the middle of the street.
There was a persevering awkward silence, which was usually the dominant species of silence in the Mercer household.
"So, that's settled then?" Dana cut in.
"Food arrangements. Like, you can stop running around eating people now, because there are other alternatives. Work with me here, Alex. You're not exactly the easiest person to cater to."
What? No. No, that was a dangerous assumption, and he needed to nip it in the bud before she took it upon herself to micromanage his diet. "Uh, no, it's not. Look, I appreciate everything you do for me, sis, but… it wasn't very big."
"…damn it!" Apparently, she genuinely hadn't noticed.
He shrugged apologetically, then winced. It felt like a fragment of shell was floating around where his collarbone appeared to be. He'd have to get rid of that later.
"Well, I'm gonna go cook mine. Do you have any idea where the steamer is?" He shook his head, and she crossed over to the cabinets underneath the countertop, rummaging through the pans and kitchenware. Eventually, she must have found it, for the jarring sounds of his sister's aggressive cooking resonated through the room. The thought of dinner made him uncomfortable – the lobster had done very little for his biomass, and now his feeder tendrils were awake, so to speak, and wanted something for their effort. A few deep breaths didn't settle that desire – the hell, he'd actually been doing well today, for once. Well, that was gone now.
Alex left the kitchen, milling around the living room in a would-be-aimless fashion that had a specific objective in mind. He gradually edged towards the door, looking as nondescript as possible. His hand was on the knob now – he could just turn it and slip quietly out of scrutiny. It would be so easy. Fingers curled around the handle, then hesitated. Dana hated it when he left unannounced. Damn it, why was he going so soft?
"Look, I, ah…" he mumbled, fidgeting. "…gonna go out, get something to eat."
She bit her lip and looked up at him; Alex paused, halfway out the door. Her plea didn't need words – he knew what she was afraid of.
He gave a half-smile, trying to reassure her. "Infected. I promise."
The Outbreak was not a good thing, they both agreed on that. But neither of them wanted to think about what would happen after the last remnants of the Redlight virus faded away.