"Run away with me."
I knew it wasn't the first time he'd heard those words pass through full lips. She'd said it to him once after a brutal skirmish on T.C.'s borders. Command may be getting larger, but it was still incredibly small when transgenic hearing was added to the mix. And I couldn't help that when I saw them together, my ears unconsciously strained, ready to pick up any word that might pass between them. So I'd heard it easily enough, even from across the room.
She'd meant it as joke, she'd said it fairly sarcastically after all, but they'd both paused after the words had tumbled out. I'd paused too, stopping what I was doing as my heart had stuttered and stumbled. No. My eyes had burned into them from across the room, but he hadn't noticed. He'd stared at her long and hard as he'd tried to gauge her seriousness. A little frown had marred his forehead. She'd swallowed. In the end they'd pretended like she hadn't said anything at all, going back to the maps on the table, marking which buildings were burnt beyond repair. I'd shakily gone back to my work. I glanced up only once more and he was looking at me, but I gave no sign that I'd heard what had passed between them, waving him over to get his help with my own task. I pretended that I didn't see him glance at her before coming over to me. I pretended that I didn't see her shoulders tense. I pretended that I didn't know her own ears would be listening just as closely as mine had been.
"Run away with me."
So, really, it was the second time he'd heard that plea. I was no more sure if I was serious than she had been. If I had wanted to be honest I could have told myself, yes, in a small way, I was completely serious. I didn't want to be honest. I hadn't been honest in weeks and I wasn't about to start now. So I said it almost exactly the same way she had, soft and sarcastic, with a hint of bitterness at a future that wasn't anything but uncertain.
He pretended that my tones had been lighthearted. That I'd made a joke. That we weren't so broken.
"Oh," He smiled. "And where would we go, hmm?"
"Desert island?" I responded loftily. "Maybe an abandoned cabin or an empty valley? Anywhere's gotta be better than here."
He'd chuckled like I'd made a great joke and went back to what he'd been doing.
I couldn't help that I immediately began comparing the reaction he'd had with her to the one he'd had with me. What did it mean? Did it mean anything that when she'd said it, he'd paused and frowned at her? Did he only joke this time because he'd heard it before and this time he was prepared? If I'd asked first, what would he have said? Would he have said nothing, trying to gauge my seriousness in dark contemplation, or would he have responded exactly as he just had: with a joke, trying to pretend it all away.
Stop comparing yourself to her. It wasn't the first time my mind had hissed it. Wouldn't be the last, either. Stop comparing 'Us' to 'Them'. Just stop.
I couldn't stop though. She was me and she was not me. She was my mirror, if in a distorted way; we were both fractured and broken. Same genetics, different environments... Or, well, mostly same genetics. Which is maybe why she cornered me. She knew my body better than even he did because she lived in it every single day. The weeks kept ticking by and my body was still her fractured, broken mirror. She recognized the utter lack of change and she wasn't capable of letting the lie live.
"I should kick your ass so hard, you land back in Canada where you belong." Max had said it conversationally enough, but her eyes had been so hard they could have cut diamonds. I was tempted to agree with her, but I had resigned myself to this conversation months ago, some time after the night I'd found her drinking alone at Crash, the night she'd been trying so hard not to look at Alec's hunched back. It was during the time Alec had left me, left us. What Max hadn't known at the time, what I had known, was that Alec didn't spend every night drinking away his sorrow at the old bar. Most nights he was out hunting. Hunting for the cure, hoping for an end. That night we'd seen him take that stupid, vapid blonde home, I'd almost been tempted to tell her. To gloat. To let her know that if gossip was right, Alec had almost found the cure to all our problems, and soon Max would be getting her fairy tale ending and getting the hell out of mine.
Fractured fairy tale, I suppose, because she'd gotten her cure and had rewarded herself by leaving the man she'd claimed to love for so long. Or maybe Logan had left her. I didn't know and I didn't want to know. I didn't want to connect to her or feel sorry for her. I wanted her to be the Bad Guy.
So instead of agreeing, I asked her, "What are you talking about?" Because the Good Guy, or Girl, in this case, isn't guilty. The Good Guy doesn't lie, and doesn't cheat, and gets the girl anyway. Or boy, in this case. Man. Alec.
She wasn't playing though, fixing me with a hard stare. "Give it another month and Alec will know just as well as we do how not pregnant you are."
I knew that. I'd known that one day it would have to come out. Still, hearing it out loud made me go cold.
There was no helping it though. I had panicked. The time for my Heat had come and gone and nothing. And I'd thought... I mean...
So I'd gone to him, thinking I was pregnant, hoping for some comfort. I wanted Alec, I did. But a kid? Now?
If stories were true, after I'd gone to him for comfort, he'd gone to her. I didn't believe the stories. Or at least, I didn't want to.
And then it hadn't mattered, because Max had taken the cure easily enough, had started spending half her nights with Logan. Alec had started spending all of his nights with me. He was tender and playful and passionate and sort of like the best friend I'd never had. It seemed like everything had finally sorted itself all out... Until Max had left Logan. Or Logan had left Max. Alec's playful tenderness couldn't hide the fact that as soon as it was over, as soon as Max had moved her belongings solidly back into T.C., his eyes had lost some of their warmth. I could feel myself losing him to uncertainty all over again.
Shortly thereafter, I had realized the truth, had realized that my body was not changing, that whatever was delaying my Heat was not the child I had at once so feared and so desired. How could I tell him, though? I had the sinking sensation that if I told him now, with Max so unattached, that would be the end of us. So I hadn't broken it to him. One week had become two, and then a month, and I suddenly found myself trapped in an unintentional lie of omission. He was beginning to suspect, I think. Sometimes I woke up and Alec wasn't with me. A million times my mouth opened to tell him the truth, but I was stuck so solidly in quagmire, I wasn't sure how to pull myself out.
My brown eyes searched hers for a long moment. Would you tell him, if you were me?
She could have challenged me right then. She could have spat at my hesitation and told me that she was going to tell Alec herself...
But she wouldn't and we both knew it.
She was giving me a final chance to do it myself, before Alec figured it out on his own. For all her rough and gruff, there was always something a little noble in her. It always surprised me to see it, because I always tried so hard to find her faults, find the cracks that weren't mirrored in me.
I was going to tell him. I was.
But my body decided to do the telling for me.
A few months delayed, my Heat finally came and it came in a big way. I woke up sweaty and hungry and alone. Alec was gone and my cat yowled and railed at this betrayal, at his absence on a night that I needed him so badly. The human in me fought desperately for control; do not go out there! But I had to find him. Had to have him. Had to make sure he wasn't with her.
I walked through T.C. anxiously. No, not walked. Trotted maybe. Almost jogged. He wasn't in Command and I wanted to howl at the setback. Wanted to tear into something. Mole glanced up and saw me and his eyes narrowed, his mouth opening a little in surprise. The phone was dialed and halfway to the side of his head before I even turned and stalked out, hardly even registering that there was a man at my elbow, cajoling and charming. I ignored him for the better part of a block, eyes darting everywhere for Alec. Some eyes connected to mine in hunger, but I looked away quickly. The man was still at my side, still saying something and he was an annoyance and I wanted him to go away, he wasn't who I wanted. I turned to tell him so, but his grin was a little like Alec's, lopsided and roguish and it pulled all the breath from me. There the similarities ended: he was blonde and blue-eyed and lean and he was still talking, even though I didn't understand what he was saying. His hand came up, squeezed the side of my neck almost possessively and the human that was along for the ride wanted to weep, even as the cat started to smile in response to his obvious proposition.
Then the blonde was being ripped away, and Alec was punching him hard enough in the face that even through the haze I could hear Max shouting at Alec to 'stop!' He did stop, but only so he could look at me. The anger was melting away, and there was that lopsided smile, the one I'd really been looking for. It didn't disguise what I'd seen behind the smile. The flash of betrayal, the obvious disappointment, the tightness around his eyes. He knew now, and there was no going back. He lifted me and the kiss he gave me was a punishment, hard and angry, but the cat didn't care. The cat was just happy to have him there. I think I may have heard Max make a sound, something a little choked, but I couldn't be sure, because Alec was taking me back to my home and I was really only capable of focusing on him.
Nothing about Heat is tender. Estrus demands satisfaction, not love. I had hoped, one day, that when it was over we could turn and look at each other and laugh at the lightly fading bite marks and scratches. When it was finally all over, when I woke up on the other side of the hormones, the room was dark and he was already wide awake. There was no laughing. He was staring at me in the darkness, silent and solemn. I got up, grabbing at my clothing, and left the room because I didn't want him to see me cry. I dressed myself carefully, slowly, wishing my hands weren't shaking in the darkness. My designation is 453, I told myself. I am a transgenic and an X-5, and I cry for no one, not anymore.
But I was a liar and I was still crying when he couldn't take it any longer, when he came out of the bedroom to find me sitting on the ground below the bar. The keys were above my head, floating in darkness somewhere up there on worn wood. I'd made it this far but couldn't bring myself to take the last few steps. It felt like my whole world was stuttering and stopping and for once it wasn't all my fault.
He was frustrated and he was hurting and for all his anger, he didn't want me hurt either. I could tell be the way he carefully kept his distance and kept his voice so level. "How long have you known?" He asked, his fist clenching white-knuckled in his restraint. "Or was it all a lie from the beginning?"
He hadn't yet realized that last night had changed us in more ways than he knew. He didn't know that I wasn't just crying because my lie of omission had finally been found out. So he was surprised when my arms tightened further around my body, my fingers clenching into my leather jacket, I looked up at him, and I glared at him through the tears.
It wasn't a question. It wasn't even an accusation. It was just a statement of fact.
"You tasted like her."
He took a small step backwards, his fist relaxing just for a moment. Alec does not do theatrics, you have to gauge him by the small movements, the barest concessions. In the scheme of things, that small step was more like a stagger, and it was the closest thing I would probably ever get to an admission. I knew he would be honest if I asked him outright. But I wasn't going to. My own sin was terrible, keeping the truth from him. But how many nights had I woken up alone. How many times on those lonely nights had I wondered if he was with her. How many times had I reassured myself that even if he was with her, it wasn't like that.
How many time had I lied to myself?
He'd always been hers. Even before he'd been mine, he'd been hers. For a moment, in a flash of near hysteria, I wondered if that's why I'd wanted him so badly. I thought we had something in common. I thought we got each other. God, was I such an idiot? Had I just wanted what she'd had? Then another thought occurred to me... maybe he hadn't been with her, maybe the taste of her, of me, already on his lips, maybe it had been a fluke. Maybe I was desperate, hoping that I wasn't the only culpable party in this soap opera that had become our lives. I guess I'd never know for sure, because he didn't say anything and I didn't ask.
The tears were slowing now. My strength was returning. I didn't stand yet, but I would, soon.
"She came to me less than a week ago, telling me I had to come clean." I laughed, just a short laugh, quick and bitter. "I thought she was being noble, trying to give me a chance to sort everything out." I glanced at him once more, frozen in the doorway of what had once been our bedroom. I shrugged. My eyes were dry now, even if the skin below them was still damp. My designation is 453, I reminded myself. I am a transgenic and an X-5 and I never ran. I was trained to live and hunt on my own. I was trained to kill and I was trained to die. I know what it is to be alone and I am not afraid.
So I kept my eyes on his, fearless, as I said, "Now I realize she wasn't being noble. She was just guilty and she needed a way out, a way to put the blame for what you two were doing on someone else." That was steel in my voice and this was who I really am.
I didn't say the rest out loud: Maybe it hadn't just been guilt. Maybe it'd actually been a mixture of both. Maybe Max had been feeling guilty and noble at the same time, maybe she hadn't known what she'd been feeling when she'd cornered me, beyond some vague kind of need to protect Alec. In that moment, I felt like I knew her better than anyone else in the world. And I knew there was only one way this could end. We couldn't both have him. There was no room for two of us. Broken, fractured, we were never meant to be in the same room, never meant to reflect off one another. I stood then, the steel in my voice steeling my spine. I waited for him to defend her or to defend himself. I waited for something. Anything.
I waited for him to tell me he loved me.
I crushed that small thought.
My designation is 453. I am a transgenic and an X-5. My designation is only one number off from hers, but I am not her.
My name is Sam, and I never ran, but I am not afraid to walk away.
So I did. And I didn't look back, not once, not even when he finally said my name.