Author's Note: This story is a (very) belated Christmas gift for my darling Sealink, whose AVP fanfiction I absolutely adore. This story is set after the first ending of Sacrifice Theory. Please be advised—this is basically a romance story (sexual situations to come later), so if Predator to human pairing isn't your thing, consider yourself warned.
They say what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. I don't know if it's true, though if anyone should know it would be me; through some unbelievable and perhaps cruel twist of fate I lived through circumstances that by all right should have killed me. I survived against odds that should have been insurmountable but weren't; I did what I'm certain no other human of my era has ever done and fought alongside one alien race while battling against another. I was alive after all this, yes, and in one piece for that matter, but had I become stronger? Risen triumphant from the hell I'd been embroiled in like a phoenix of legend, shedding my old form in order to make way for the new?
I didn't feel remade. I didn't feel reborn. In the days and the weeks after Bouvetoya—all that time spent in the hospital, and after that in courtrooms and offices fabricating a story so intricate it surprised me—I came to a realization that I had changed. My nights consisted of periods of broken sleep and nightmares; I had thought perhaps that once everything had been settled and the Weyland Corporation finally lost interest in me and my story that my life would regain some semblance of normalcy, and through that I could begin to feel like me again. But after the corporation stopped calling, and when the doctors told me they didn't need to see me anymore and that they had done all they could, my life remained in a strange sort of limbo. My stories had been believed, the Weyland father and son deaths explained away as the casualties of natural disasters brought on by human error. The company paid me for my services and even covered the cost of my hospital stay, and with the small fortune I abruptly found myself in possession of I did what it was I had to do. I disappeared.
My job had always been something I did at my leisure, leading expeditions as I saw fit, and so it was easy for me to step away from that aspect. Harder to separate myself from people I knew—Ana and Cora had in the days after my second return to the Piper Maru become almost family to me. I couldn't explain it to them, my reason for needing seclusion and isolation, and in the end though I tried I know they just could not understand. And so I let them believe what they wanted to believe, that I was working my way through post traumatic stress, that I would return when I had come to terms with everything. Easier to let them think that than try to detail out just why I had to go—that every day, every minute I felt as though I were drifting uncontrollably away from where I was supposed to be, wherever that was; that whenever there were shadows around me I searched them until my eyes ached for irrational fear of monsters that only I knew existed; that I simply felt as though my entire being had been shattered and key pieces of my self lost forever.
With the money I returned to the country I'd called home, forgoing the urban centres and settling in an area I recalled fondly from my youth. In a place called Blue River I found and bought a home; nestled securely within the cradle of the Canadian Rockies I lived twenty minutes from anything even remotely resembling civilization. I had hoped that, surrounded by nature's majesty and secluding myself that maybe, just maybe I could start the person I once had been. My body would never be the same; the scars I carried were innumerable and also served as everyday reminders to what I needed to forget. They didn't bother me, however, for somewhere along the way I'd begun regarding scars more as proof of my survival through tribulation more than unsightly mars. It was something almost inexplicable, this affliction of mine, but I knew what was causing it, and I knew that I could never erase the reason for it from my mind.
And so, for a long time, I simply existed.
The weeks spanned into months, and I drifted through them like an echo of a person, pretending to be whole but unable to make it completely real. When I was around people, which wasn't often, I smiled and I laughed and I functioned as I would have once not so long ago. But when I was alone I spent countless hours in thought or reading books whose words I just couldn't seem to absorb. The warm Albertan summer gave way to the slow, gradual grasp of cool autumn, which in turn led to the season I irrationally dreaded. As the sun sank beneath the looming peaks rising up all around my home, as dusk descended in shades of indigo and violet, I stood at my window one night and watched heavy snowflakes start their descent, unable to ease the tight, anxious feeling in my chest. The next day winter had arrived, and I found myself imprisoned in a world of white upon white and grey, and I knew then that I would never again be the same.
The snow and ice brought with them unwelcome recollections, and I discovered then that I had developed an extreme aversion to cold. I left my home only when necessity dictated, afraid of the world beyond my door enveloped in blankets of white. The nights were the worst—afraid to sleep for fear of dreaming I would doze in a chair in front of the fire, rousing now and then to keep the flames fed. The mornings would come and I would continue to play out my parody of life; eating, drinking, breathing, but never feeling normal. When people would phone I would keep up the pretense of being happy, of being the same Lex I had once been, and when I hung up I would stare at the phone and try and remember how it had felt to be the way I was. Like wisps of smoke on tempest winds those shreds of memory would be pulled from me, and I would revert to the pensive, despairing state that had descended on me and seemed unlikely to ever leave.
It was mid January before I grew sick enough of the confines of my house to venture outside. Christmas had come and gone and I had remained in Blue River, lying to anyone who had asked about my plans. The hollowness within me had grown to the point where it felt as though it would swallow me whole. As I stepped out into the frigid cold, wincing at the biting chill of the air as I inhaled, I realized I had become as barren as the landscape surrounding me. I tried not to think about it and instead began to walk, an aimless wandering that eventually brought me to the rise of a large hill overlooking the heavily forested river valley. And there under the shadow of snow-ridden mountains and a sun that shone with a harsh, haggard light I knelt in the thick snow and cried for so many reasons, and none of them I could understand.
I forsook the chair that night for my bed, hoping that perhaps my lapse on the hillside had drained me of the negativity that haunted me. I awoke in the dead of night covered in cold sweat, fighting against blankets and sheets that had wound themselves around me and kept me imprisoned. When finally I'd freed myself—ripping a sheet in the frenzy—I sat there in the dark, not knowing I was crying until the cool moisture fell from my face to land on my arm. And as I raised a shaking hand to brush away whatever other tears would follow, I heard a sound that stopped my heart and stilled my breath.
I lunged then for the bedside lamp; I turned it on but at the same time knocked it from the night table, and it clattered loudly to the floor. But I didn't care; I was standing, my eyes raking the now dimly illuminated confines of my room for the source of that low, raspy trilling I'd heard. Only shadows met my gaze, and further inspection of those shadows revealed nothing. Still I persisted, running through the house and turning on every light, searching every corner, every nook, for what I both dreaded and wished for. Only when I realized I was completely and utterly alone, only when I felt both dismay and relief pour over me, did I realize this was the most I had felt in a very, very long time.
When I returned to bed, I slept soundly until dawn.
I didn't dwell on what happened that night, although I dearly wanted to. The implications of both scenarios—whether what I had heard had been real or not—could and most likely would consume me. And so I pushed that memory along with the myriad of emotions it brought with it into the furthest reaches of my mind and locked it there. One day led to another and then another, and it wasn't long until I had convinced myself that nothing had happened that night other than dreams filled with nameless terrors.
I started to take long walks during the day; some of my aversion to the snow and cold had faded, it seemed. Winter had a beauty to it, a harsh, unforgiving splendor that was entirely its own and it was that that I had learned to love from an early age, and it was that that had beckoned me to work in the coldest, most remote regions of the world. It seemed I was regaining my love of the season and all it brought slowly; the fact that I could be stirred by what I saw was heartening. The evenings were still trials, and while some nights I would sleep, others I spent huddled in the chair before the fire, willing the glow and the heat to take from me demons both of this world and not. My daily sojourns cleared my head, gave me a little of myself back, and so I began to look forward to them. I hoped I was healing whatever internal, spiritual wounds that haunted me. I felt a little more human, a little more in touch with the shadow me that had existed for the past few months only in memory.
On a day close to the middle of February, I changed my routine, taking another a game trail through the forested back quarter of my land. It was unusually warm; a Chinook had come during the night and brought with it a strong, melting wind which carried the scents of impending spring. The sun at its zenith was bright and its heat I could feel for the first time in a long time. I strode through the trees feeling more at ease than I had in ages; the tall, thick pine and spruce loomed over me, their boughs laden with heavy snow made heavier by the Chinook thaw, and their smell I could detect with every deep breath I took. It was peaceful here, and even the sounds of the wildlife—the chirping calls of native birds, the distant bellowing of cows belonging to a farmer some miles away, the occasional swift rattle of a squirrel—were calm, soothing. Almost easy to forget who I was and why I had secluded myself here; almost easy to forget why it was I walked in a world full of only animals and nature; almost easy to pretend I was simply a woman in an uncomplicated world.
The squirrel fell silent first, which I barely noted, and the birds ceased their calls not long after; even the faint sounds of cows had faded. And standing alone then amidst ancient trees made young by the mountains surrounding them, I came to a halt in the sudden, eerie stillness. Wind brushed with gentle whispers through the boughs of the evergreens, and for a long tense moment I remained absolutely still. I shook my head finally at my silliness and snorted softly, but the racing of my heart betrayed my agitation. There were a million reasons why the animals had stopped their noise, why the forest had fallen quiet, I knew. I began to walk again, my footsteps crunching in the hard crust of the snow. Perhaps they had fallen silent because of my intrusion into their realm; perhaps they had spotted some woodland predator and fallen still for fear of their lives—
If I hadn't looked up then, if I hadn't almost stumbled over a root hidden by the thick blanket of white, I never would have seen it—that fluidic, rippling, displacement of air that made me feel in one mere instant as though the ground beneath my feet had crumbled away. My momentum drove me hard to my knees; stunned, I hadn't reacted in time to catch myself. My eyes were fastened on the watery apparition as it moved, distorting the trunks of the trees in its passage; between one blink and the next it was gone. I knelt there unmoving, unthinking, until the icy wetness of the snow melting beneath me drove me shakily to my feet once more. I pivoted on the spot, my eyes racing about in a frantic, desperate search for what couldn't be, but undeniably was. I saw nothing, and as I replayed what I had just witnessed over and over again in my head I realized that of the emotions I was experiencing in fast, furious succession, fear wasn't the one overwhelming me.
It was hope.
Hope that I wasn't imagining things. Hope that I wasn't going mad. Hope that maybe, just maybe, things would now fall into place and I could gain the closure, the final certainty, that I needed. Lost in my turmoil, I didn't move again until I heard it—that low, primal trill that incited my breath to cease and the blood in my veins to freeze. And then the air some seven feet before me wavered and something else bled into existence, and when all was said and done I stood face to face with my once hunter and repeat savior. He looked different; it took me a moment to realize that much of the armor I'd grown familiar with him wearing was gone; broad shoulders, massive chest and thick, trunk-like thighs were exposed almost completely to the air, but for the mesh covering them. Mask in place, long, dreadlock-like hair spilling over his shoulders and down his back, I was reminded instantly of the first time I'd ever encountered him, this fierce humanoid that had been hell-bent on my demise but had relented and became instead my companion, my comrade, my mentor.
I swallowed hard, then, and found that every feeling I'd though I'd lost had returned in full force. Tears prickled at my eyes and I didn't know why, nor did I know why half of me wanted to turn and run, run as fast as I could back to my house and lock myself within. I didn't know why it suddenly felt so hard to breathe, or why my legs trembled so badly that it became an effort just to stand in one place. All I knew was reality—myself, and the predator before me. When he cocked his head to one side in that oh-so-familiar gesture I made a noise that was half-laugh, half-sob, and when he spoke to me in a voice that belonged to a man I once knew, it was all I could do to bottle everything up inside me and not collapse.
"Lex," he said in a dead man's voice, and I smiled faintly.
"You found me." I said.