Wash it all away.
Very definitely T.
Warnings for MARI, which many people find disturbing and possibly incestuous. This gets a little citrusy.
Dedicated to Supergirrl's 'Kindness' (this is her challenge), and Kiseki-no-neko's SnowWhiteQueen, simply because they're both brilliant Mari writers.
I don't own Maximum Ride, which is a pain. The song title and lyrics are taken from Evanescence.
There are two sequels currently to this piece – Burns Inside of Me, by Supergirrl, and Even in Death, by yours truly.
Bear in mind that this is written for a pre-book-three AU. Max and Ari are not related.
She forgets how long it's been since she's seen the sunshine, since she's breathed in fresh air, since she's felt the rain fall onto her skin and wash it all away. She's come to realise that she smells like him, and that the marks go further under her skin than can be ever removed. She's scrubbed her skin red raw more than once, more than twice. He's everywhere, her sheets smell of his sweat, the claw marks in the door, the holes in the painted plaster wall that show the bare concrete that is her prison underneath.
She's locked in this prison, away from the world. She can't remember how long it's been. She can't see the sun, or the stars, she doesn't even know where she is. The last time she saw the others was a life and a lifetime ago, and the hope that they're alive is a bright torch in the darkness that he sometimes leaves her in for hours, maybe days on end.
She doesn't know if she's sane, but she doubts it.
From the infrequent look of her face in the mirror, she knows that she looks old. Looks like it has been a life and a lifetime ago, but that face, the young, tanned, slightly freckled face of the girl she'd been was too far away in her memories to be compared with the frail wraith she was now.
You hold the answers
deep within your own mind.
He says she's beautiful.
She tries not to think about him, tries not to think about that maybe-love but mostly-shame kind of pain that she feels when he touches her. She tries to think about the flock, because that kind of pain, that uncertainty/anxiety/lost/hopeless kind of pain which is and isn't as painful because it reminds her of what she felt back when they were all together, and she was mother Max.
She needs the reminder because she was happy, and she doesn't because she's not now.
Not when her captor and her lover snores beside her.
That's the way the human mind works.
She slides out from between the sheets, she's practiced this so many times that it is second nature not to wake him. She knows better. She creeps to the door, and pauses. Ari snores, and she knows him well enough to tell he isn't faking.
The door's ajar from his not-so polite entry earlier, and she steps through into the dark and damp concrete corridor. This isn't like her room, there's no pretty painted plaster walls to hide what's really there. It's just plain, bare and necessary, and she likes that. She doesn't have to guess anything that he thinks she should know.
Her quiet-as-possible footsteps still echo somewhat against the concrete. She doesn't like that, but there's nothing she can do about it. The corridor's short, so she hopes he won't hear the quiet noise, even with his Eraser enhanced hearing. There are only three doors here, and she's stopped trying to get into the other room there. That door's always been locked, and nothing she does has ever been able to open it.
Whenever something is
too unpleasant, to shameful for us to entertain, we reject it.
She steps into the bathroom, resisting the urge to close the door, one borne of living for nearly six years with three boys. Even if one of them was blind and couldn't catch an eyeful. She knows it's pointless anyway, the hinges are rusted and they squeak if forced to move, if they deign to move in the first place. If he hasn't heard her walking down the hall, he'll hear the door close and wake.
She sees no reason to help him, no reason to wake him and shorten her too brief respite.
We erase it from our
Her bathroom's plain, tiled. There are 1477 tiles in here, and thirty-four are cracked. This is her space. If the shower starts the running water will wake him, but usually he stays away. He accepts that this is her space, and she doesn't know why he's done so. She didn't even need to piss on the walls.
She turns on the taps, listens to the hiss of the water. It's always clear, always warm. She's never had a problem with that, it has never run out, even after the frequent three-hour showers when she'd first got here, trying to scrub…Max stops herself, that train of thought, her first few days aren't worth thinking of.
She strips off, dispassionately noting all the old scars, and the soon to be new ones. Her body is a roadmap of her life, each event recorded in scars and in blood. She's forgotten how she's got most of them, consciously or unconsciously; they're not important, or she doesn't want to remember them. Three, she decides, will be new scars, the rest are only minor. She thinks the one on her shoulder will take two or three days to heal, the ones on her leg less. They're the best way she has of telling time, and she's smart enough to realise that she heals slower now.
But the imprint is always there.
She steps into the water. It's a tad hot for her tastes, but it will cool. She no longer likes hot water, too many memories of trying to scrub her skin free of him, and then she remembers why. So she stays away from it, and she forgets.
She's always had soap, and she cleans herself, wiping away the blood and whatever was under Ari's nails carefully. She knows his hygiene isn't the best, he's an Eraser, and that's not something that qualifies on his list of important. And then there's the fact that he's, somewhere, still a little human boy at heart.
At some point when she's running her fingers through her soapy, scraggly blond hair she realises that Ari's watching her. It's nothing big that gives it away, unlike usual, which is why it takes her so long to realise it. Usually he wants to be known, recognised, and worshiped. Something is different today, so something is wrong.
The pain that grips
The fear that binds you
She doesn't stop, slow, try to hide herself, or do anything to let him know that she knows he's there. If she's compliant, meek, maybe he'll just be content to watch her. If not, he'll resume his…attentions. She doesn't know why he just didn't burst into the room. She doesn't know why he's doing this, this is his castle, and he's king, and both know he can do what he damned well wants to.
She's nervous, and he can probably smell it by now, over the soap and shampoo. He steps into the room, and she takes the opportunity at the small sound of his bare foot grazing the tiles to turn her head just enough to put him in her sights. She knows how to look surprised and shocked, and hasn't forgotten the way to convince him of it.
He leans against the wall and…studies her. His eyes travel up and down her, from her face to her bruised and scabbing shoulders to her slightly showing ribs. They linger on the cuts and bruises, and she pretends not to notice, watching him back with the neutral face she's borrowed from Fang and perfected for her own use.
"You're looking…" He hesitates, and looks her over again. She doesn't know if she should say anything, but witty remarks, remnants of her old self don't quite make it to her tongue and freeze in her throat. Caged? Like some dog's chew toy? Like I want to get the hell outta here?
"Pale." He finishes. More sarcastic remarks add to the lump in her throat, and she doesn't quite know what to do, because it's beginning to slip. She doesn't want to say anything at all, knows how bad it would be to talk back, to make him angry. And then she stops trying, and genuinely smiles. She didn't realise she had it in her anymore. She's still Max.
Releases Life in me.
He thinks she's smiling at him, and he smiles back. It's more than a little surprising to her. Erasers don't smile, Erasers toothily grin, or they leer. But Ari's smiling, and saying she's pale. So they're talking again, like Max and Ari used to at the School, when he was just a curious little boy, who wanted to know why.
He's expecting some kind of an answer from her too, so she stretches out both arms and examines them mock-critically. "I was always pale." She says. How long had it been since they'd last talked? How long had it been since she was more than just his toy?
In our mutual shame
we hide our eyes
To blind them from the truth
"You were always beautiful," he replies in counter, and she now faces a very large dilemma. She's not beautiful, she never was, she's just plain old Max. She can't agree. But she can't deny it; she can't deny anything he says. What can she say?
Max ducks her head. This is Ari. He'll let it go, or he won't. She's surprised when he does, because this is Ari, who's always been so angry.
He just sighs.
She's never heard him sigh before.
He slides two fingers under her chin and makes her look up, look at him. She sees something in his face that she didn't think she'd ever see in any Eraser. Regret. It scares her so much to see it that she feels herself shiver, but she can't seem to pull herself away.
"I'm dying, Max." He says, his voice cracking, "I'm dying. Erasers only live for six-odd years, and I've been an Eraser for that long." He lets go of her chin, but she still can't pull her eyes away from his face. He touches his shoulder, runs his finger down a deep, red scratch that she'd noted the 'afternoon', if it was that, before.
"My immune system's shutting down, it has been slowly degrading for a while, but only now am I really starting to notice it. That should've healed by now. I got it a week ago, and it looks like it should be yesterday's." He looks back up at her. "I'm gonna die, so you've…" He stops at the look on her face, but she doesn't notice. She hasn't been listening at all.
I'm dying, he says, and her world begins to crack. Audibly. She can feel her hands curled around the sides of the bathtub, clenched so hard that they crackle under the force. She remembers to breathe, and lets go of the tub and wraps her arms around herself. She bites her lip, and closes her eyes and tries to think, tries to figure out just what it is that she feels.
Shouldn't she be happy?
She doesn't know.
That finds a way from
who we are
Please don't be afraid
"Max?" He asks, worried. His voice seems so far away. He touches her shoulder gently with his life-roughened hand, and she realises that he's so close. Why does she feel like this? The hand pulls her back into reality, and she opens her eyes and looks into his concerned face. She knows what he's thinking, and it surprises her.
"You're dying, Ari, and you're worried about me?" She asks him disbelievingly, eyes stinging. It's all real, she knows, and a tired but amused expression crosses his face. "When did you grow up from that little brown haired boy who used to tag along behind me at the School?"
He jerks back, surprised. They've never mentioned before at all during her 'stay' here. It's too painful for her, and he's too angry about it, but there, she's said it.
She regrets it.
Max closes her eyes, blinking back the tears that she tells herself have nothing to do with him, it's just that she's got soap in her eyes, and that's what's making them sting. Maybe if she tells herself often enough that, really, she isn't upset that the only constant in her life is dying, then she'll believe it.
When did she begin to care about him?
When the darkness
The dawn will break the silence
She lurches forward, awkwardly, onto her feet, and soapy, lukewarm bathwater splashes everywhere, spraying Ari and the muddy green tiles. She wraps her pale, thin arms around his neck, and presses herself against his body, grips him as tightly as she can so, maybe, she's holding him to this earth for just a little bit longer. Maybe if she holds on tight, he'll never go.
But she doesn't know what she'll do without him. He's been here, in her life, for so long that she doesn't know what she'll do. " You can't die," She hears her voice saying, over and over. "You can't die, what will I do, now?" She shakes herself, the air's cold on her bare skin, and she's shivering. His arms wrap around her. Max buries her face in his shoulder, and just breathes.
Because she's going to die, and she…her knees buckle and his arms tighten around her waist, gently lowering her only the damp floor. She feels him kiss the top of her head, and he strokes her back lightly with one hand. Surprise and sadness radiates off him, and she doesn't need enhanced senses to tell her that.
Screaming in our
"Aw, you'll be fine, Max," he whispers in her ear, "You always are. You're Max the Invincible," He tells her, and she smiles at the forgotten childhood nickname. It makes her cry that he's calling her that. She's not invincible, or her heart wouldn't be breaking.
And she still doesn't know why she feels like this.
His shirt is damp with water and tears and bunched beneath her fingers. He loosens her death grip on his shirt and sits her back slightly so that he can look into her face. He wipes away her tears with his thumb, and she wants to look anywhere but at him.
He slides his fingers under her chin again, and makes her look at him. He brushes her hair out of her face, and leans in. Gently, he kisses her.
She kisses him back.
My love for you still
This I do for you
He pulls her upwards to meet his body and she deepens their kiss. He growls, and pulls her against him tighter. Max runs her fingers down his back, annoyed at the shirt that's between her skin and his. It's in the way, and she doesn't like it.
She tugs at his shirt, and then gives up on the hope that she'll be able to nicely take it off as his mouth shifts from hers to her throat, nibbling and kissing. She takes the cloth in her hands and pulls. It tears and they both scramble to pull the remnant rags away.
He pushes her back with his body, leaning into her, and her legs meet the side of the tub. She grins, and reaches out to steady herself, one hand in his hair, the other propping her up against the wall.
Before I try to fight
the truth my final time
We're supposed to try and be real.
She lowers herself to the bathtub's rim as he shifts his attention to her collarbone and her knees go weak. He growls, the change in position forces him to step into the water and go to his knees. She kisses him again, and he forgives her, pulling her into the cooling water with him, with a grin. She never though that this could be so much fun.
She yelps, and tugs his hair.
He kisses her in retaliation, pulls her against his body. She can feel every muscle ripple under, feel every scar catch against her skin. She can feel that he very definitely wants her, and she very definitely wants him.
She doesn't want to wait for him to blaze his way down her body with kisses and bites. Max shifts herself to her knees, and lowers herself down onto his lap. He growls and lunges forward, pressing her body down in the tub, and pressing himself into her.
And I feel alone, and we're not together. And that is real.
She wraps her wings around them both, and she looks into his dark eyes, tracing his face with her fingertips and trying to memorise everything about him so that she'll have something to remember when he's gone. Her hips press up against his.
He shifts, and she gives a cry as he reaches deep inside her. She feels herself wanting to let go, give into him and the hands on her body and the lips on her neck. She tries to hold on a little longer, digging her nails into his back. She's going to hold on to him. She wants to hold on to him
She lets go with a sigh, and distantly she feels him cry out from somewhere above her.
Lying beside you
listening to you breathe
The life that flows inside of you burns inside of me
She falls back into herself. They both lie there, buoyed by water. His fingers run lazily through her damp hair, and her head is pillowed on his muscled and scarred chest. She's content to just lie there, the water gloriously cool on her skin. She doesn't feel like moving away from him like she usually does after, because that was just…wow. She thinks that, maybe, everything changes when you stop being angry and realise what's important.
"So, what now?" She mumbles, unable to muster enough energy to speak properly. Besides, he's an Eraser, with super Eraserfied hearing, and he can hear her, so it doesn't matter.
He chuckles morbidly. "Why are you asking me? I'm not going to be here." She turns her face away from him slightly, and he gets that this was not the answer she expected or wanted. He sighs. "Sorry, Love. What do you want to do now?"
"I've got no idea," She replies honestly. "For however long…how long has it been? …Well, my world has been you. I don't know where to start!"
Hold and speak to
Of love without a sound
He kisses her hair lightly. "It's…I'm ten years old, Max."
"So, I'm seventeen," She interrupts him, trying not to think about the ages and age difference.
"Yes. It's been two years. I can find out where your flock might be, you could start there, you could rejoin them." He tells her, trying, and failing to keep the jealousy out of his voice.
She's not sure if she should believe his offer and take him up on it. "How are they? The Flock, I mean," She asks him cautiously.
He snorts, and slides out of the bath. Water drips off his body, but he ignores it and pulls on clothes anyway. If he's getting dressed that means she can too. She stands as well, and walks to the cupboard to take out one of the sets of clothes she keeps there.
As she gets dressed, he starts talking. "You're precious little flock is doing just fine without you." He snarls, and she winces. He takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry," He tells her, "I'm just grumpy. They are doing okay, but we know they miss you. Blind boy's gotten together with the little brown motormouth, and those two blondie kids are fine, although that Angel's mind tricks are damned freaky."
Tell me you will live
And I will die for you
Cast me not away
Max laughs. "No kidding," She agrees, "Angel scared the hell outta me sometimes."
"Your little Fangie's just fine too, although I bet he's hating his Leader job really bad by now, and will be perfectly happy to hand it back over to you. He's not as good as you." He smiles at her. She smiles back. "Nobody's as good as the Maximum Ride. Come on." He takes her hand, and leads her out of the room and down the corridor to the big door that she remembers leads to the outside world.
He opens the door, and leads her through it. The sun is setting, and bright sunlight, unseen for two years, burns into her eyes. They begin to water, but she can't tear herself away from the sight.
"Max!" Ari calls her, and she replies without turning away. "Come and sort out this pack, I've got a few things for you, while I make a phone call."
She looks at him, surprised," You got me stuff?"
"You think I'd send you out into the world with nothing?" He says as she walks over and takes a look at what he has to give her. There's a sturdy pack, and some light food sachets and some warm clothes. She pulls a jacket-with-wing-slits on to protect herself from the breeze, she's not used to the wind anymore.
He steps away and flicks out a cellphone, and dials a number. She stuffs things in the pack as he talks, and she manages to finish when he does.
"What happens if they don't want me," She blurts out as he turns back to her. She closes her eyes, she hadn't really wanted him to know her worst fear. "Or what happens if they think I'm a clone or something? I don't know, it's been two years! Will they even recognise me or will they…"
He kisses her to shut her up. "Oh." She says. "I'm babbling."
He grins indulgently. "The freaky little telepath will know you're you." He tells her, and she has to believe him, because he's probably right. "She'll know," He says, and shakes her gently. "You've got to go, now. They'll be here soon, the others. Fly away. New York is only a few hours that way," And he points. "The flock is near your old home in the Sangre de Cristos, from what we last heard. Find them. Take care of yourself, Max. I always loved you."
"I know." She says. "I'll take care of myself. It's been hard. I never wanted to have all Jeb's attention. I'm sorry. I hated it." She tells him.
He pulls her to him and kisses her deeply. Shivers run up and down Max's spine. "I know. It's okay, I forgave him and you." He picks up her bag for her, and she pulls it on. "Go!"
Say you'll be with
For I know I cannot
Bear it all alone
"Goodbye, Max," he says to her.
"Goodbye, Ari," she says back.
She slides out of his arms, and takes the three steps to the cliff's edge. She shifts the backpack that he's given her, and unfurls her wings. Fifteen feet of brown, tan, and white feathers thrssh open and catch the wind. She's so glad that she managed to convince him not to cut them off.
He inhales behind her in shock, and she realises that, really, he's glad too.
She bends her knees, and then springs upwards with more force than is necessary. She's way out of practice, and she drops several metres before she recovers and sails upwards again. Muscles that are long underused are already burning, but she keeps her wings beating steadily anyway. She can stop later.
Once she's gotten far enough away.
She catches the first thermal she sees, and shoots up so individual trees disappear into a sea of emerald green. She's free, and on her way home.
She pretends that she can't hear the gunshot.
You're not alone,
But the imprint is always there. Nothing is ever really forgotten.