The Real Monsters

By BHG

A/N:  My thanks to bud and pal Baloo for Beta Reading this for me and making it flow sooooo much better. 

~ ~ ~

Awareness was slow in coming, like a fog rolling away in the early morn.  Sound penetrated slowly, unrecognizable at first, but then one by one he distinquished the noise as voices.  They were speaking to him.   No not to him…about him.  Their words a jumble of sounds too confusing for his mind to comprehend.  God his head hurt.  What did he drink last night? Then a soft moan, distant, filled with pain reached his ears.  Was someone hurt?  Who?  His mind seemed to come and go in a swirl, focus and concentration something aloof and elusive.  'Eyes,' he thought, 'need to open my eyes.'  But the command went unanswered.  The voices were becoming more distant now, moving away.  'God, I'm so tired. Don't want to try and understand.  Sleep…just sleep a little longer.'

"I thought he was waking up, but he seems to be completely out again.  What the hell did you hit him with?"

"A pipe!  Don't look at me like that.  I had to; he was going to kill Eddie.  I had to stop him."

"With a pipe! You could have killed him."

"Don't matter.  It's not like killin' a human.  He's a freak for God's sake! A monster!"

"Yeah a monster.  They don't feel like us.  They don't have blood like us.  Evil…isn't that what you been spewing at me?  Well it seems you were wrong about a few things.  It seems he felt everything you and your boys did to him and his blood is the same color as ours.   From what Emma said, if it weren't for him Jesse would be dead."

"Emma?!?  She ain't nothin' but a kid.  You gonna believe her story over me. Your own brother."

"She has no reason to lie to me and Jesse keeps talking about that man, in his words, 'who catched him.'  You gonna tell me that a three year old has the ability to come up with a wild story like that."

Hannah stared up at her brother who towered over her small frame, all 6'5" of him.  He was broad shouldered and handsome, but a mind too slow to comprehend right from wrong.  In trouble most of his life because of his 'boys,' as he called them, Hannah's parents had struggled for years to keep him in control and out of jail.  It had cost them everything they had.  But they were gone now and it was left to Hannah to keep an eye on him.  A burden that had held her back from living the life she craved.   His eyes gave her the answer she knew to be true as they darted about to look at anything but her.  He could never look straight at her when he was lying.  Setting her hands on her hips, she moved forward until she was almost up against him.

"Untie him now!"

"No…Eddie said to leave him there.  He'll be back to take care of him."

Hannah's right hand moved from her hip and poked him in the chest to emphasize each word.

"I. Can't. Treat. Him.  Tied. To. A. Pole.  Untie him from that pole NOW!"

Jeb bounced back and forth on his feet unsure what to do.  He hated it when Hannah was mad at him, but Eddie said they had to get rid of all the freaks.  An angry growl escaped his lips as he reached into his pocket and took the key to the cuffs out, throwing it on the ground.

"There! Happy now…just…just don't be mad at me no more, Hannah."

Letting her anger leave, Hannah placed her hand on his chest, fingers spread to calm them both and let him know she wasn't angry anymore.

"I'm not mad at you Jeb.  I'm scared for you.  I'm scared Eddie is going to get you into something that will take you away from us and I can't abide by that."

"He's my best friend, Hannah," he spoke more softly.

"He doesn't care for you like I do.  He doesn't love you like I do.  It would break my heart to lose you."  Hannah meant every word and knew that Jeb believed her. 

"I ain't goin' nowhere," Jeb replied, hanging his head.

A sad smile formed on Hannah's face, she knew he believed that.  He just didn't have it in him to understand.  Grabbing his shirt she pulled until he bent over enough for her to kiss his cheek.

"I know.  Help me bring him to the house."

Bending down she retrieved the key and moved over to the transgenic.  He was slumped forward, head bent low into his chest.  Raising his head up carefully she looked into his face. He didn't look like a monster to her.  In fact he looked incredible to her, despite the bloody mess seeping down the side of his face and neck.  She'd thought to call an ambulance, but decided that would probably be the same as signing his death warrant.  Hannah never believed all the crap the news spewed about them and now she had proof they weren't the danger they were said to be.   

Emma had told her what had transpired.   She and Jesse had climbed onto the catwalk of the warehouse to get away from the fight.  Eddie and his boys, Jeb included, had dragged the semi-conscious "Monster" inside.  They were going to get their fun in before getting rid of him permanently and didn't want the interference of the Sector Police. 

During some of their "fun" Jesse got away from Emma and stepped to close to the edge.  Emma's scream attracted their attention.  The so-called "Monster" looked up in time to see Jesse fall.  Emma never saw anyone move so fast as he shoved Eddie's boys away with a yell and moved forward just in time to catch Jesse before he hit the concrete floor.   But he was obviously hurt and stumbled to his knees.  Setting Jesse down he turned, Emma said, and tried to rise.  That was when Jeb swung the pipe hitting him with a sickening crack.   Emma said she'd never forget that sound and how blood splattered back all over Jesse.  Emma had climbed down from the catwalk and snatched a crying Jesse in her arms staring down at the too still figure.  She just knew he was dead, so she ran with Jesse in her arms all the way home, bursting through the door with a blood covered child in her arms. Hannah's heart had come up in her throat at the sight.  She'd left Emma to clean Jesse up and rushed over to the warehouse. 

She'd found him here with Jeb standing guard.  He was alive, but his breathing was ragged.  There was no telling what kind of damage they'd inflicted on him, but one thing was for sure, Hannah would do all she could to save him. 

~ ~ ~

"Set him down here, Jeb." 

"But that's your bed.  He can't be in your bed Hannah."

"It's okay, I'll sleep with Emma and Jessie.  Set him down."  Hannah watched the turmoil in her brother's eyes.  Putting a hand on his arm she entreated him again.

"Jeb?  Please."

Jeb complied…sort of…he just dropped the transgenic in a heap on the bed.  Hannah couldn't help wincing when a grunt of pain escaped his lips.  It was the first sound he'd made since leaving the warehouse.  

"Jeb!"

"Sorry."

Hannah pinched the bridge of her nose in an effort to control her feelings.  It would do no good to yell at him.  Sighing she gave him something to do.

"Jeb I need you to find some more cans.  Can you do that?  The recycling man comes by today and we need a few more.  Take Emma and Jesse with you."

"I don't want to.  I can't leave you alone with that!"

"Do you want to eat?"

"Well…yeah."

"I don't have enough for supper, Jeb.  I had to pay the sector cop so we could stay another week."

"Stupid cop!  This ain't his.  We shouldn't have to pay him."

"Well living in a condemned building is against the law and we can't afford a real home, so we'll just keep making do."

"I know all that Hannah.  Still ain't right."

"No it's not, but we have no choice. Get the cans, okay?"  Hannah watched as her brother turned and left.  She couldn't help the smile that crossed her face as Jesse's giggles reached her ears when Jeb grabbed Jesse up, flipping him on his shoulders. 

With Jeb gone she set about gathering what supplies she needed for the task at hand. Setting everything on the side table, she looked down at him for a moment. He was lying on his side sprawled across the bed the way he'd fallen.  Reaching down she shifted his legs into a more comfortable position and then carefully placed a pillow under his head.   Another moan reached her ears.

"Shhh…it's okay."

Sitting on the edge of the bed she reached out and pushed sweat soaked hair from his forehead.  He responded by moving his head further into the pillow, moaning once again.  

Taking advantage of his position, she moved around behind him and grabbed a pair of scissors…"Sorry, but I have to do this..." and began to cut through the material of his shirt along his back, assuring easy removal.   Hannah sighed heavily as she peeled the shirt away from his skin.  Dark bruises and blood stood out as a sad reminder of what her brother was a part of.  There was dried blood down the back of his head and neck and Hannah realized that this blow was probably what had brought him down to begin with, allowing Eddie and his gang to capture him.  This wound and the one Jeb inflicted would need stitched.  So Hannah began the task of cleaning his wounds and repairing what she could before turning him on his back and assessing his other injuries.

Hannah could tell that he was awake; but to his credit he didn't move, only flinching once, when she began to stitch the back of his head.  Hating that she was hurting him, she spoke soothing words of encouragement and continued her ugly task.  She'd worked quickly, concerned that his breathing had become more labored and his skin, cold and clammy.  Once done, she rose quickly to retrieve fresh soapy water before moving around the bed.

As she settled in front of him ready to begin again, her brows knit together in worry.    His eyes were clenched shut and fresh blood trickled from his lip, evidence of his effort to remain quiet.  Tears of shame fell unbidden from her eyes at the sight, as her heart ached for him.

"I'm sorry.  I am so sorry."

A frown formed on his face and dazed hazel-green eyes looked up at her through narrow slits.

He actually smiled slightly.  "Not…your…fault," came a raspy voice.

Taking a deep breath to gather her resolve, Hannah quickly wiped the tears from her face and reached out.  With great care she slowly turned him onto his back supporting his head and neck.  With no more words spoken, she began removing the rest of his clothes repeating the painful task of cleaning and treating his wounds, all while he stared hard up at the ceiling in concentration.  Long before she'd finished, his head fell limply to the side in unconsciousness and Hannah thanked God for this small blessing.

Grabbing some extra pillows and blankets, she raised his feet and covered him.  Droopy eyes opened and watched her as she tucked the blankets around his shoulders and head. 

"I don't want shock to take you," she said, feeling the need to explain.  His eyes darted around the room, soaking in their surroundings for the first time.  Concerned, Hannah sat on the edge of the bed and took his face in her hands, causing him to look at her.

"You can rest.  You're safe."

Exhausted eyes stared hard at her, studying her.  So she opened herself up to him, letting him see all there was to see.  Finally, to her relief, his body relaxed and his eyes closed. 

~ ~ ~

"Mama, I'm still hungry.  I want more."

"Jesse honey, that's your share.  If Mama gave you anymore than Emma or Uncle Jeb might not have any."

Jesse's lip jutted out in a pout and large tears fell on cue.  Hannah hated denying him anything, but had no choice.   Pulling him into her lap, she hugged him close to her breast and rocked.   "I'm sorry Jessie.  Someday you'll be able to eat all you want.  I promise.  Just not today, sweetheart."

"He can have some of mine."

"No Emma, you can't keep doing that.  Jesse will make do like the rest of us."  Looking around, Hannah continued, "Did Jeb say where he was going?"

"He said Eddie was looking for him.  He was going to tell him that the monster got away." 

Hannah swallowed the fear that came up in her throat and replied.

"He's not a monster, Emma.  Don't use that term again."

"I'm sorry."

"Clean up the dishes, please, and take Jesse outside for a bit before bedtime."

"Yes Ma'am."

Hannah had glanced over at the still figure lying in her bed from time to time and listened for any sounds of discomfort on his part.  He'd only just begun moving around, so Hannah took what was left of her soup and went over to him.  Realizing what he was doing she set the bowl down quickly, she gently grabbed his shoulders to push him back into the pillows.

"What do you think you're doing?  Lay still."

"I have…to leave," he rasped between labored breaths.

"You're not strong enough yet.  You need to rest."

But he struggled to rise again.  "It's dangerous…for me…to be…here.  It's…dangerous for…you."

"You will never get out of this neighborhood alive.  Not in the condition you're in.  You have a severe concussion, broken ribs and your knee is swollen twice the normal size.  I'm not sure, but it might be broken."  Hannah pushed harder, she couldn't believe he even had the strength to resist her.

"Please…" she begged, "if you leave now and something happens to you, I'll never forgive myself.  Please…please."  Finally his resistance gave and he fell back against the bed. 

A cry of pain escaped his lips. His knuckles whitened as he clenched his fists in an effort to gain some semblance of control.  Hannah quickly took a cloth from the basin and wiped his face and neck, then set the cloth across his forehead.  His breathing was becoming more ragged and desperate. Taking one of his fists in her hands, she caressed it gently in a soothing manner until it opened slightly.  Quickly gripping it tightly in her own hand, she continued to caress it. 

"You need to try and relax.  It'll pass.  I promise…it'll pass."

Dark watery eyes stared off across the room.  Hannah's heart clenched, motivating her to lean forward and move her other hand up his arm and to his neck, stopping finally at his face.  Cupping his cheek, she turned his head slightly to look at hers mere inches away.  His eyes were intense and filled with pain.  She could not resist moving her head in until her forehead touched his, her hand still cupping his face. 

"Hear my breathing.  Follow it…slowly in and out…not so deep."   She felt him tremble in the effort for control.  She squeezed his hand tighter.  "Hear it…slowly…good…yes, that's it…slow…deep…" After a time his breathing matched her own and came under control.  It wasn't until the trembling stopped, though, that she began to pull away, but he was not ready to let her.  She felt his arms reach around her back and pull her down into an embrace.  Hannah knew it was his need for comfort that compelled him.  So she allowed herself to be held close, his head now on her shoulder.  Finally his grip loosened and she sat up moving her hands to hold both his and smiled. 

"Thank you," his voice was soft, as he looked deep into her soul.

Suddenly uncomfortable, Hannah let go quickly and took the cloth she'd used on him earlier and dunked it in the basin, once again wiping his face, neck and chest.

"You're too hot," she quipped, "I need to try and cool you down."

"It's normal for my body to be hotter.  Especially when it's trying to heal."

"Sounds like you've been here before."

"I've had worse." 

Hannah stopped, shocked eyes staring intently at him.  The idea of him being worse was unthinkable, tragic even.  Catching herself, she continued her ministrations, running a cool rag down his arms.

"Well I'm sorry, but your body's way too hot for me. Wait that…um…didn't come out right…Oh God…" Feeling the rush of heat crawl up her face, she couldn't help looking at him with a sideways glance.

A laugh escaped his lips and he clutched his side.  "Ow." 

Throwing the towel in the basin, Hannah smiled at him.  "Well I guess that's enough of that."

"You should do that more often."

"What?  Wipe down a hot transgenic or make a complete idiot of myself?  I already do that on a regular basis…um that is the making a complete idiot of myself part.  I'm an expert.  The other is a new experience for me."

"No," he laughed again, "I mean smile.  You have a beautiful smile."

"What is this?" A shocked Hannah blurted, "Flirt with Hannah day? Go ahead amuse yourself by watching me turn three shades of red.  Honestly!" she said, an exasperated tone to her voice.

More laughter came from him. "I will…Ow, ow, ow."

"Ass."

"Well now you're really making me feel at home."  The confusion that crossed her face made him laugh again.  "Sorry…long story…ow."

"You need to stop before you hurt yourself too much."  Smiling even bigger, Hannah reached for the soup intent on feeding him.  "How about you try eating a little bit?  I have some soup." 

"Isn't that your share?" he spoke slowly.  Dark eyes pierced hers as she paused mid-stride with the spoon. 

"No," she said with determination, "it's your share…at least today."  Her face was now intent and serious, but only for about 30 seconds and then the smile was back and his hazel-green eyes lit up in response.

~ ~ ~

Jeb had returned home late and Hannah was too tired to inquire about Eddie and his gang.  Her mind was busy trying to figure a way to get word to the transgenic's people.   She knew he was in no condition to get himself home, so she resigned herself to the fact that in order for him to stay safe, she'd somehow have to contact them.   Her head hurt from thinking.  Walking over to him, she felt compelled to check on him one more time before going to bed.  He lay quietly, his eyes on her as she checked his bandages, changing the ones in need of it. 

"Why'd you help me?" he asked in a whisper.

Hannah's gaze met his, "Because you saved my son, when the others would have just let him die." 

Seeing his eyes become shiny at her words unnerved her.  Reaching up, she gently wiped a lone tear as it made a path down the side of his face.  Her heart ached for him.  Had no human ever shown him compassion before?  Letting her hand rest on the side of his face, she continued to caress his cheek with her thumb.  After a time his eyes began to droop.  She stayed with him until he fell into a deep peaceful sleep, his face relaxed, which pleased Hannah.  Most of the day his face reflected the pain his body was going through.   

Yawning big, she let her eyes drift to the bandage around his head.  Bruising from the blow trailed down the left side of his temple to his cheekbone.  Unbelievably, the swelling had come down considerably.  She attributed that to his being a transgenic, or genetically empowered as he'd explained earlier this evening.  She'd learned a lot from their conversation, but now it was time to rest.  Scrubbing a hand through her hair, she turned to walk away from her bed.  Exhaustion was claiming her now as she crept silently to where Emma and Jesse lay.   'Tomorrow,' she thought, 'I'll know what to do tomorrow.'

~ ~ ~

Hannah found herself pushed aside by a messenger on a run, when she tried to enter Jam Pony.  Remembering the news report, she decided to take a chance on a stranger.  Pushing her way through, she made her way to the office, where the man she'd seen in the news was handing out a package.

"Sector 5.  Make it snappy…and don't forget to get a signature!"

Hannah hesitated, thinking that maybe this was not a good idea, but steeling her resolve she stepped up to him.

"Mr. Ronald…"

"Sorry, but I don't have any openings."

"I'm not looking for a job, but I do need your help?"

"Do I look like a charity worker to you, Missy Miss?"

"Honestly? No, but I think you're a compassionate man."

"Oh really, and you know this how?"

"I saw that man two weeks ago in the news after he'd helped deliver what he called a beautiful baby girl."

Normal around him to see who was near, "Come to the back office.  We'll talk there."

He closed the door behind them once they'd stepped into the small room.

"What do you want and what makes you think I can help you?"

"It's not for me, but someone I hope is a friend.  Do you recognize these?"  Hannah held out a pair bicycle gloves.  Normal's eyes widened with recognition.

"Where is he? Where's my golden boy?" 

"He's at my home and he's hurt.  I need you to get word to his…friends.  Can you do that?"

"Tell me where you live.  I'll do the best I can."

~ ~ ~

Hannah made her way back home, but when she arrived her heart jumped in her throat.  The door was flung wide open and one of Eddie's men was dragging Emma out screaming. 

"Oh God, no!"  Running forward Hannah tried to get Emma back, but Jeb grabbed her from behind.

"No Hannah, don't fight them."

Horrified eyes turned to her brother.  "Jeb! What are you doing?  Jeb, no!" 

"I had to, Hannah.  I had to give him to them.  Eddie said he was bad and if I didn't turn him over, he'd hurt you.  I had to!"

Tears sprung from her eyes in disbelief, as the sounds of struggling reached her ears.

"Please no…don't hurt him.  Haven't you done enough?" she screamed. 

Eddie had come through the door and paused in front of Hannah.  "It'll never be enough with those freaks out there.  Today there's going to be one less." 

"No, no…please Eddie.  Don't do this.  You don't need to do this," Hannah pleaded.

Eddie moved aside from the door as the sounds of Jessie's cries reached Hannah's ears.  Her heart beat hard against her chest in fear.  She began struggling harder to pull away from her brother.  There was a loud crash and thud that came from inside.  A few seconds later Jessie came stumbling out the door, crying, his face and clothes bloody. 

"Jesse!  Let me go…Jesse!" Her cries went unheard.

All sounds of struggle from inside the apartment had suddenly ceased.  Two of Eddie's boys were still inside.  With the freak hurt, they should have been dragging him out by now. 

"Spike!  Jasper! What the hell are you doing in there?"  But no replies came from within, or any sounds at all.   

Confused and unsure of himself, Jeb let go one hand on Hannah and tried to grab the frightened little boy, but Eddie had snatched him up placing a hand over his mouth to muffle his sounds.

"Jessie! Oh God! Please what are you doing? Jeb! Jeb!  Help them…please…Jessie!" Hannah was in a panic now. 

Jeb's hold on Hannah was becoming precarious at best, as her desperation exerted itself.  All he wanted to do was to protect his family.  But Jesse's cries were making him more anxious and the sight of blood on him made him angry.

"Put him down, Eddie.  You're not supposed to hurt them.  Only the monster."

"Shut up, this is your fault.  We would've had him taken care of by now if your sister didn't stick her nose in my business.  So back off!"

"You promised, Eddie.  You promised."

Jeb pulled Hannah behind him and stepped toward Eddie.

"Don't Jeb, or I'll have Boxer kill the girl."

Jeb's eyes went to Emma.  Boxer held her mouth with one hand, but in his other was a gun.  Beautiful little Emma, whose dark eyes were now wide with fright, tears streaming down her dirty face.   Jeb's anger rose and he stepped forward.

"Let. Her. Go."

"Back off Jeb," Boxer commanded.  Emma tried to squirm out of his hand and bit down hard on his finger.

"Ah…you little bitch!" he screamed, letting her go.  Emma dodged away and ran toward Hannah.  Before he could get his bearings, Jeb was towering over him in a rage.   Boxer fired his gun, emptying the clip, but to no avail. 

Hannah grabbed Emma in a tight hug.  She couldn't help the scream that boiled up from inside her as she watched her brother break Boxer's neck, then fall to his knees.  He turned to look at Hannah, sorrowful eyes filled with tears.

"I'm sorry Hannah," blood seeped from his mouth as he tried to rise and move toward her.  "I'm sorry…"

Hiding Emma's face in her breast, Hannah watch with grief as her brother sank down to the ground.

"This is all your fault!" Eddie screamed, "None of this would have happened if you'd kept out of it!"   Eddie's eyes took on a crazed look as he moved his hand from Jessie's mouth to his neck.  Jesse's movements intensified, his eyes widened in fear as his air was cut off. 

"Please…please don't."  Hannah sank to the ground with Emma in her arms. "Please," she pleaded, but he wasn't listening.

Eddie never completed his ugly task as suddenly a shadow blurred into him from the apartment, slamming him into the ground.  Jesse was no longer in his hands; Eddie stared up into the eyes of the monster he wanted so badly to be dead.  In another blur of movement, it had him by the throat.  All air was suddenly cut off.

"How does it feel?" he growled, lifting Eddie by the throat until his feet dangled helplessly in the air.  He didn't care what Max had said, this human needed to die. 

Hannah rose from the ground, leaving Emma behind her.  She cautiously removed Jesse from his protective hold.  Jesse's small arms hugged her neck in a desperate effort to be close to his mother.  Hannah knew she should back away, but she couldn't.  Instead she moved closer to him. 

Fresh blood ran in rivulets down his face and neck, but it was his eyes that frightened her.  Where once they were bright and warm, now they were dark and cold.  He never looked her way, as she placed a gentle hand on his arm.

"Don't…You're not the real monster here.  Don't be like him."

She saw his jaw flinch at her words, his head turn toward her to stare hard and deep into her eyes.  The cold darkness left his eyes, to be replaced by the warmth she knew was there.  She shifted closer her hand moving up his arm to caress his face.  Closing his eyes and he let go of a now unconscious Eddie. 

With the immediate danger gone, Hannah felt him tremble, as weariness overcame him and he began to sink to the ground.  Hannah shifted Jessie to her hip and moved against him, reaching around to help.  She felt his arm come around her in return and all three of them came slowly down.  Emma had moved over to them and sat on the ground leaning her head against Hannah's back.  He brought his face close to hers and lightly kissed her lips, then buried his face in her neck, hot tears touching her skin.  Pulling him tighter to her, Hannah looked up to the body of her brother.  In the end he'd done what was right and Hannah would hold that in her heart forever.

Epilogue:

One week later:

Hannah looked up at the house in front of her and down again at the piece of paper in her hand.  A frown creased her face.  She read again the note that Mr. Ronald had given them with specific instructions directing them to a new place to live and where to find the key. 

"This can't be right."

"Hannah? Is this where we're gonna live?  It's soooo big," cried Emma.  Laughing, Emma and Jessie both ran up on the porch.

"Emma, be careful, I'm just not sure if this is the right place."

"But it's the same number isn't it?"

"Well…yeah."

"Oh Hannah, come quick there's a note on the door.  Your name's on it."

Hannah moved forward cautiously and stepped up onto the porch.  Reaching up with a shaky hand, she took the note from Emma.   Emma's hand reached out to touch her arm in concern.  Hannah looked over at her, a smile gracing her face.

"It's our house." Her voice broke as she reached up above the doorjamb retrieving a key. 

~ ~ ~

Hannah walked into the kitchen and found the table set with a pot of food sitting in the middle.  Looking around, a choked sob escaped her lips as she saw the open cupboards filled with groceries.  Reaching out to the pot, Hannah lifted the lid and couldn't help the laughter that escaped her lips.

"Emma, Jessie come eat.  It's your favorite…macaroni and cheese with little hotdogs."

But Emma's voice came quick and loud in reply.

"Hannah!  Hannah!  Come quick!  Look at what I've found!"

Hannah quickly hurried around to the sound of her voice to a hall door, which stood wide open. 

"A basement?  We have a basement?"

"Hurry Hannah! Come on!"

 Stepping down she stopped midway and stared in awe.  "Oh my God!"   

"A piano, Mama.  Come play Mama.  Come play," Jessie's giggles rose to her ears along with his banging on the keys.

"Yes, Hannah, play for us please.  Just like you used to.  Like before."

Hannah finished her descent and sat gracefully down between her two children.  Raising her hands to the keys she paused, her thoughts reaching out to someone special.  

"I'll never forget you."

~ ~ ~

Lying on the table in the kitchen was the note that hung in the door.  A simple message that she would hold dear for the rest of her life…

Thank you for saving my life…The Monster

~ ~ ~

Alec stood in the shadows across the street, leaning against a concrete wall.  His eyes twinkled with delight at the reactions that he saw and heard.   Closing his eyes he listened carefully to the sounds of voices coming from within.  A lump formed in his throat as the sound of music reached his ears. 

"Hey, you okay?"

Alec never turned around.  He knew she was there, that she'd followed him out of Terminal City.  But he had to come.  He had to see.

"I'm fine, Maxie."

"I was worried.  It's too soon for you to be out and about.  You're still healing."

Alec chose to ignore her, instead closing his eyes again and leaning his head against the wall as he listened.  

Max watched him for a few moments and then, as if making up her mind, she stepped closer, slipping her hand through his arm to give him support and feel his warmth.  Resting her head against his shoulder, she looked on toward the house and listened to the sound of music and children playing… 

…And for just a few moments on this day, they could push aside the worries that plagued them, the responsibilities that weighed on them and simple enjoy the feelings that rose from within their hearts at the sounds they heard.  The feelings of contentment, joy…family.

This really is the end. : )

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