Hatred

His skin burned.

Hell stretched around him in all directions. Twisted rebar and molten concrete formed a sea of purgatory, spreading out in all directions. Fires roared from the ground, twisting and clawing at an orange sky. Through the gloves, the body armor, and the fatigues, he could feel heat beating against his skin.

He knew it was hot. Searing fires licked and tore at his skin, yet there was no pain. It was a horrific, surreal sensation, to have such fury hammering him, clawing deep inside of his body, yet not to feel the slightest agony from any of it.

He turned, slowly staggering across the little platform, the metal shivering in the broiling heat. He couldn't see the horizon past the flames, nor could he see the dirt for all the roiling molten stone. His touched one hulk of broken steel jabbing into the air before him, and could feel the red-hot metal through his gloves, as if they weren't there.

He continued his circuit around the platform, hands brushing the leather chair, the device in the center of the hellscape unperturbed by the armageddon surrounding it. His boots rang on the metal like it was still solid, still sane, and as he came back around the other side, he saw . . . .

Her.

She was staring out over the landscape, the same as he was. The pale, nearly translucent skin caught the orange and yellow light of the storm, casting her in a surreal light. Her black hair draped over her shoulders and ample bosom, and her slender, delicate fingers absently rubbed-

He closed his eyes, hissing to himself at the pain.

Fingers pushing against his face, the twisted, horrified expression right as he pulled the trigger.

" . . . . help me!"

Keegan.

She reacted. Her head rose, those black strands waving faintly in the hellish wind, and she slowly turned to face him. Behind the dark wreathing her face, falling across her features, her red eyes gleamed at him, even as her hands continued rubbing the-

A bloodied woman, holding a pistol and looking at him with tired old eyes.

"I'm sorry. Really, I am. I'm not a bad person . . . ."

Aristide.

He stared back, feeling a dozen equally brutal emotions battling for control in his mind. Hate. Revulsion. Sympathy. Horror. Desire. Terror.

Gutshot, gasping, dying on the floor as she crawled along in her own blood . . . .

Kiera.

She peered back at him, her expression unreadable. He didn't know what she wanted, from him or the . . . .

His fists clenched.

"What now?" he whispered, and the specter peered back, head slowly cocking to one side. In the back of his mind, he realized that this was the longest he'd actually had to look upon her before; every other time he'd seen only a glimpse, or a few brief seconds of her before she'd attacked or vanished.

She didn't answer him. He wondered if she even could. What kind of mind lurked in there, or wherever it was she lurked in the first place? The form and shape she took was as human as he could imagine, but the will behind it seemed as twisted and alien as the Replica.

He turned away, and she was sitting on the chair.

They weren't the same. One was tall and slender, feminine and swollen with the . . .

This one was familiar. Small, clothed, clad in crimson with glittering red eyes and a mournful look on her face. A few strands of her black hair were caught in her mouth from the hellish winds, and her little legs were waving back and forth.

Those white hands, reddish-gold in this light, were clutching the doll.

She stared up at him, her sad face baffled, and something about it filled him with revolted rage.

Fingers brushed him, passing right through his vest and sliding across the skin of his shoulder. He recoiled from her touch, the same touch that had drawn his fingers to her stomach and . . . .

He stepped around the chair, away from the little girl, and stared back out over the landscape. He didn't want to feel sympathy for her. What she'd done, the lives she'd taken, the ruins she'd inflicted, the . . . what she'd done to him. He only wanted to hate her, not feel anything like sympathy for her.

He hated the fact that he did feel sympathy for her.

He felt sorry for the fact that he hated her.

He didn't know how long he'd stared over the fires and heat and ruins, wondering how much was real and how much was just her. Time passed, and then he felt her close, just as he'd sensed her in the subway, or in the movie theater. The throbbing in his head came and passed, and then she was behind him. She inched closer, and a sudden prickling slid up his back, her fingers brushing his spine.

He shivered at that touch, hating it and wanting to pull away. He could pitch himself into the fires below, forgetting her and all this madness, and the idea appealed to him. If only he knew if he could commit suicide here, in her world.

If it was her world, and not his, twisted in her image.

Her flingers slid outward, folding around his sides and over his stomach. They traced over his abdominals, and closed together. He could sense her pulling close, her chin touching his shoulders, breasts pressing against his shoulder blades, and his lower back feeling the . . . .

He closed his eyes, shivering at the contact, even as she gently laid her head against the nape of his neck. Her black hair tickled his skin as it slid through his clothes.

He had to stop himself from clutching her hands in his own.

"Why?" he whispered, gritting his teeth. Though he couldn't feel pain from the boiling heat, somehow her warmth flowed through his body. His skin both crawled and was soothed by the presence.

safe now

He jerked, only slightly, as he heard her in his ears and deeper. In this place, his physical body seemed to mean nothing except what she wanted of it.

"Why the . . . ." he couldn't speak the word. The voice. The child. The . . . the thing she'd . . . .

you

"Why me?" he hissed. Several seconds passed, and her fingers gradually detached from his stomach. They withdrew, and moved upward as she pulled away. She touched his shoulders, and gently turned him to face her. He saw no point in resisting.

As he came around, the little girl was sitting atop the chair's headrest, still staring at him as she held the doll, clutched to her chest. Then, his eyes fell on the woman's face, and the red eyes hidden behind the strands of her hair. Her lips slowly separated.

breathe

He didn't understand. He couldn't understand, either her or any of the madness associated with her.

He wanted to ask her what she wanted, but he already knew that. And what she wanted, she took. But at least she could tell him the fuck why.

why me

He blinked, and she turned her head to the side, looking away for a second. Her hands slid down his chest, and one detached to touch her belly.

"why me?"

He looked up, hearing the girl speak, her voice a sobbing gasp. She held the doll out in front of her, peering at it like it was some ancient mystery.

He'd seen it, lying in the mud beneath the tree outside Still Island. And before, he'd seen her lose it, when they'd . . . .

why me

He stared at her for a long time, eyes moving between both of them.

He'd read the reports. He'd seen Armacham's cold, analytical studies of her abilities, and he knew what she'd been through, but that . . . .

No. No, that wasn't it. That couldn't be . . . .

She looked back up at him, and flashes of the material he'd read on Harbinger, Origin, Perseus, and Paragon flew through his mind.

They were the same. Neither of them had asked for this. She hadn't asked for the curse that had rendered her a broken child, dumped in a sealed room to waste away and die because she wanted her children. He hadn't asked for this perversion that was the link that brought them together.

They were both victims.

His mouth twisted as the rage fought its way back to the surface.

"I don't give a damn," he hissed, and his eyes met hers. "You took them away from me. You killed my team. You."

She stared back, and he wondered if she could even comprehend what he was saying. She was a child, a twisted, broken child, violent and psychotic and murderous, yet still a little kid.

I just want to be

Silence filled the endless hellscape as she whispered those words.

He wanted to blame her. He wanted to hate her. He did hate her, for all the people she'd killed, good people he'd cared about. He especially wanted to hate her for what she'd done to him, for the . . . thing whispering in her stomach.

But she was a child. A lost, confused, sobbing child.

It wasn't just the treatments that had drawn her to him. That had just given her something to focus on. It was the similarity between them. Armacham had used them both to their own ends.

But that didn't mean . . . .

"I don't want you," he whispered, taking a step back to pull away from her.

Two sets of red eyes bored into him, one sad and mournful, the other confused and uncertain.

The woman took a step toward him, raising her hands hesitantly. He wanted to move away, but the sadness in those horrific red eyes made him do otherwise.

"Stay . . . " he whispered, ordering her to keep away, but he didn't fight back. His skin shivered with revulsion and something else he hated almost as much: desire. She slid her arms around him, and his stomach felt the bulge of the thing pressing against him. He stared at her face, inches from his.

He could smell fresh grass, blowing in the wind.

Part of him hated her, absolutely and totally. Part of him felt for her, understanding what she'd been through. Part of him feared her, for what she wanted and for what she could do.

His hands slid up her back, inside her hair, and pulled her head close to him. Her lips met his.

Part of him wanted her, and that was the part she'd used, which made him hate her all the more.

Fuck you, he thought, letting his rage at her feed him as he explored the specter's mouth, and felt the heat of her against him, nothing compared with the hellish fires all around them.

Fuck you for making me feel this way, Alma.

The little girl watched them, clutching her doll, and began to sing.

Ten miles away, in another reality, amidst the ruins of a penthouse complex riddled with bullet holes, a music box began to play.


-


Author's Notes: This story was a quick drabble that came to me when I considered just what might have happened at the end of Project Origin, and considered how Alma and Becket would, um, interact considering she had, y'know, kinda . . . well. The idea was to explore the jumbled emotions Becket would no doubt be feeling, on top of the sheer level of sanity-straining stress he'd been through, as well as getting a glimpse at why Alma would be so . . . uh, coveting of Becket. On top of that, I wanted to explore Alma's motivations and how she and Becket would interact if things between them weren't as violent as normal.

And no, I don't think Becket loves Alma, or even likes her. This isn't a shipping fic, and I don't think murdering a man's friends followed by a half-dozen near-lethal rape attempts followed by an actual rape makes for a stable relationship. What Becket does feel in this story is a chaotic jumble of honest sympathy mixed with raw hatred and sexual desire, which is just fine for Alma's purposes. Because let's face it: as violent, brutal, and terrifying as Alma is, she's got some nice hips. :P

Until next story . . . .