I refuse to bore you all with monologing about how difficult or character-building or fulfilling it has been for me to write this fic (blah blah blah, like to thank my reviewers, readers, lawyer, pet armadillo etc etc). Here before you is the final chapter of CheckMate. Not really sure if this story came out as I had originally planned, but then again, what the hell does? ;) Thanks for reviewing!
(PS: Out of respect for the long-term wishes of a pal on this site *cough IceBox cough*, I will be commencing work on a Supernatural season 6 - either one long fic or a short series. It's already in the pipeline, so for those who are interested..stay tuned :D).
"You! Intern girl!"
Max's attention was drawn to the aging doctor in charge as he signaled for her to approach him. She swallowed and quickly complied.
"I'm assuming you must be an intern because if you weren't," his voice rose an octave higher and took on an angry bent, "you wouldn't have brought unsterilized equipment from the storage room into a biohazard area!"
Max was already looking over his shoulder at the conspicuous-looking panel in the corner of the wall labeled 'Disposal Chute'. She wondered absently what sort of disposal a biohazard area would be spewing out – and what it would mean for her should she decide that a nosedive with an armful of snake virus down that chute was her exit plan.
"Huh?" Max turned wide, brown eyes full of innocent surprise on the glaring man before her. He raised his eyebrows dryly, and she adopted a dewey-eyed expression of contrition.
"I'm sorry, I…you're right. I'm new."
"First day on the job?" The man seemed to be pitching false sympathy, and Max braced herself for an outburst – which, sure enough, came shortly after her minute nod.
"Well, let's get one thing straight. My team is a combination of some of the most brilliant bio-agent experts in the world. Their lives depend on everything progressing like clockwork. Now do you really think that you, with your bumbling newbie graces and Faline routine, are going to in any way alleviate their situation?" He leant in to loom over Max with angry eyes that were bloodshot from weeks of sleep deprivation, "Well, do you?"
Understanding enveloped Max like a sopping wet blanket. These doctors weren't Familiars. They were Ordinaries. Ordinaries White had duped into believing they were doing their country some sort of sick, undercover service. Duped and threatened, by the sound of it.
"Are you listening to me?"
The bolts had clicked into place in Max's mind. She had one shot. And yes, it was likely suicidal – but she had to take it. There was no other option.
"Hey!" The doctor was clearly angered by now as he snapped his fingers in front of Max's face in an effort to capture her attention. She reacted instantly, grabbing the man's wrist and giving it a toss that sent him flying a good few meters. His fall was broken by three of other doctors, and apparently Max had hit him hard enough to knock the others on their rears as well.
She didn't waste time pondering her newfound strength (or lack of control – she wasn't sure which it was). Instead Max blurred to the side of the weighty, deadly canister and snatched it up in her gloved hands. Biohazards weren't her area of expertise (although she had been schooled in the basics during her Manticore years), but Max wasn't going to let the minor details mar her recently-formed escape plan.
Max kicked in the vent and was about to dive headlong on what she was almost certain was a suicide run, when she was abruptly intercepted…
And thrown across the room. The canister flew from her hands and clattered noisily onto the metallic flooring. Max collided with the wall opposite her and ricocheted, bouncing off it as though she were a rubber ball and landing on her feet – to the amazement of both her and the enraged Familiar who had barreled into her with the full brunt of his strength.
"Don't you scumbags ever quit?" White demanded coldly.
"Right back at'cha." Max's eyes flickered, at the speed of light, to the canister rolling quietly to a stop against the inconspicuous leg of a stretcher table. She was fairly certain that the terrified doctors still conscious and fleeing the room would sound an alarm sooner rather than later. Which meant time was of the essence.
What the hell was new?
White's eyes had followed hers to the canister, and a wry smirk tugged at one of the corners of his mouth, "You're not going to do anything rash, are you, 452? Not when you've got a little trannie bun in the oven."
Max did her best to stave off complete shock underneath a mask of stony indifference, "What the hell are you smoking?"
"You can hide behind that indifferent little veneer you love so much," White took several steps forward, a smile of triumph Max had never fully witnessed burning hot across his face, "but we both know the truth is that you're carrying another transgenic piece of shit inside the body that I'm about to riddle full of bullets." A gun had suddenly been drawn. White's finger eased the safety off and his hands cupped the muzzle as it aimed directly at Max.
"Too bad." She shrugged, "Seems your father had other plans for how this should all go down."
"My father," White snarled, "was a madman, an altruistic looney with a dream that was never meant to be. You really think some beefed up blood cells are gonna score you any points? Well think again." With those final words Ames fired his gun. Max had moved in a blur of movement and disappeared into the labrynth of trolleys, desks and boxes that made up the makeshift underground lab.
White rolled his eyes and cocked his head around, gun still at the ready as he began to cautiously make his way through the room, moving slowly and listening for the whisper of breath he would need to let loose a fatal blow.
"Really?" He called out, a smirk dancing in his eyes as he leapt around one of the tables and came up empty, "Not this again, 452 – I mean, hide and seek?" White glanced up quickly as he heard the faint hiss of sliding doors and watched them touch panels softly as their exit closed.
He squared his shoulders and yelled after Max's evident departure, "AREN'T WE JUST A LITTLE OLD?"
Max heard the call echo down the corridor as she flipped up and grabbed hold of the piping lining the roof. She caught sight of particularly important set of wires and proceeded to yank them from their sockets. A shower of sparks descended and the harsh neon lighting flooding the building flickered and then dissipated into blackness.
As far as Max knew, Familiars were still on par with Ordinaries when it came to lack of night vision. At least, that was what she was counting on. White always seemed to tot the advantage in their little conflicts with a shiny firearm, which put Max in the position of relying solely on her cocktail of animal DNA and accompanying instinct to come out on top.
"Lights out, 452?" Ames' voice drifted closer to her as Max inched along the piping, hoping to double back on her sudden break for escape and nab the canister.
"You really think a little darkness is going to hide you? Not with that stench your kind carry around." White was close – almost underneath her directly. Max tossed between jumping him or waiting it out. She wasn't certain either option would profit her. He seemed to have come to a halt all of a sudden, and through the green fuzz of her night vision, Max saw White reached into his jacket with his free hand.
"I know why you're here. But you're not going anywhere – in fact, you're never gonna see daylight again, because I'm going to kill you, right here and now."
Max rolled her eyes. Goddamn Monologue.
"See, Sandeman predicted things, but he wasn't a prophet." White had pulled something sharp and malicious-looking from his coat, "He knew some things, a few things. But the truth is that his visions were based on a future he was only hoping for, not a future he believed in."
Max recognized the knife as being the Conclave's instrument of ailment, the tip being soaked in a dark liquid substance she was pretty certain was meant for her. Some losers were just really, really sore.
"We're making our own future, 452." White moved on, gun and knife at the ready, and Max wasted no time in inching back up the hallway, legs and hands working up the piping with silence.
"A future without unclean meat." White's diatribe was getting fainter, "That means you, by the way. Transgenics and humans alike. Hitler foresaw an Arian race, pure in blood, that would have put Earth on the universe's map for eternity. But then the weak somehow triumphed."
Max was almost there. She could see the sliding glass doors and realized that once she reached them, it would be a mad dash against time to grab the canister and get the hell out of White's range before he shot her in the back.
"Look what they've done with the world, 452." White seemed to have turned back and was heading towards her again, gun drawn and eyes scanning every shadow and doorway as he did so, "They've turned it into a pathetic excuse for a planet. Disease, poverty, war, UN goddamn peacekeeping. It's a load of horse-crap, 452 – and you and your kind are out with the old."
Max dropped, landing silently and taking a deep breath before she broke into a run. The doors whispered noisily as they opened, and Max didn't have to turn around to know that White was directly on her heels.
She skidded to a halt and snatched up the canister, pivoted on her heel and launched a graceful spinning leap into the disposal chute – all in a blur of movement. Max felt a bullet burn through her thigh as she flew down the metal tube, hands cradling the canister protectively. The weight of a second body hitting the chute made it shudder, and Max heard the thunder of a handgun spitting only milliseconds before her shoulder blade and then her spine were riddled with bullets.
She hit the pile of rubble at the end of the chute hard, landing on a heap of disposable syringes and empty metal cylinders with a painful crunch of bone.
White sprung neatly from the chute, landing on his feet and crushing a glass mixing tube to pieces with the toe of his dress shoe. He reached for the wall and flicked on two neon lights which hugged the grimy walls of the disposal container.
Max knew she was bleeding out, but her broken spine prevented her from feeling the warm flow of blood seeping through her cat-suit. She tried to moved but couldn't. The canister slipped from her fingers and bounced into a roll that was stopped by a gentle stomp of White's foot. He bent down and picked up the treasured object, turning to his bleeding, broken opponent with a victorious air.
"This is the future, 452." He waved the canister, and Max could only watch through eyes being stung with blood from her forehead as White leveled his gun and pointed it directly at her skull, "Thanks for breaking its fall."
He shot her in the head, point blank. Max jolted with the force of the bullet and then lay still once more, her eyes quiet with death and her temple leaking a thin stream of blood from the still smoking hole.
White knelt down, felt Max's absent pulse, then smiled at the notion that he couldn't actually believe X5-452 was dead. He straightened and then nudged her body with his foot, turning her from her side onto her back. Max's head flopped lifelessly, and White resisted the urge to reach down and close the dead girl's eyes.
"You were a worthless piece of shit," White muttered at the body sprawled unnaturally over a pile of rubble, "but you gave me a run for my money, I'll hand you that. So long, 452."
White sniffed and dusted a speck of filth off his suit sleeve, turning to a panel on the wall and punching in a code. A hairline doorframe clicked out of place, and he twisted the handle, pocketing his gun and turning to leave.
A hand grabbed his ankle. The grip was intensely strong, and as it twisted, White's body spun around, landing him on his back in an instant.
His eyes narrowed incredulously at the petite girl standing over him. The bullethole in Max's head was already scabbing over, and she looked more alive than before her death.
If that made any sense. Not that anything about the situation made sense.
"Impossible." He breathed, and Max reached down, gripping his throat in her slender, delicate hand and smashing the man against the door with enough force to crack his back in one go.
White's face was a picture of rage, but the ability to move had been taken from him. Max's hand tightened around his trachea, her eyes cold and unreadable as she pushed harder, depriving him of oxygen.
"We make our own future." She spoke between grit teeth, and just as White's eyes were rolling into his head from the pressure on his throat, Max released him. He slumped into the rubble, unconscious.
She reached down and took the canister from his motionless hands, stepped over his body and twisted the door handle. Max slipped through the doorway like a phantom in the dark, pulling it closed behind and frying the outside panel with a smash of her fist.
They would find him eventually.
The pier was abysmally cold and gloomy. Snow poured down in bucketfuls, soaking their jackets and hair. Their breath wisped out in puffs of smoke and clouded their vision. The icy December chill bit feverishly at their jean-clad legs and their leather-clad fingertips.
The water was the worst. She could feel its salty sting against her face as it whipped angrily at the docking and broke its waves against the rocks. Dead fish and rotting seaweed pooled around the ankles of the garbage piled along the shore.
Somehow, she knew she would rather be here, with him – with them – than anywhere else in the world.
Max hefted one end of the chest, padlocked and wrapped in chains, while Alec lifted the other. He'd wanted to do it alone – something about her needing to conserve her energy. Men.
They tossed it unceremoniously over the side of the dock, and it landed with a noisy belly-flop, sending more water splashing in their faces. Max didn't care. She watched it sink for as long as the milky, murky ocean would allow her and then smiled despite herself.
They'd done it.
"There she goes." Alec commented quietly, and Logan flashed him a curious look.
"What makes it a 'she'?"
"What, are you kidding me?" The X5 tucked his hands into the pocket of his heavy jacket, "Biohazardous agent bent on poisoning mankind? It's totally a 'she'."
"I can't believe it's really over." Max was pensive, and she wished she wasn't. Something about dying and not being afforded the luxury of staying dead just sort of did that to a girl, she guessed. If there was a scientific explanation for the way her brain had somehow pulled a Wolverine on her, spewed out the bullet and put the squishy gray thing between her ears back together…Max was damned if she knew how it worked.
Fortunately for her, the buzz was wearing off. Whatever Sandeman had spliced her genes with seemed to be sinking into dormancy – or extinction, if Max was lucky. She was just glad to be off the permanent caffeine drive.
"I don't know about over." Logan rubbed his gloved hands together before waving one at the small bulldozer that backed up down the pier with a load full of dirt, "But since White's secret facility got stormed half an hour after you made its location, I'd say its gonna take the Conclave a good few years before they resurface."
"Too bad White got away, though." Here Alec cast Max a pointed look, "I'd like to see their little Empire get anywhere without Darth Vader breathing down their necks."
"Yeah." Max was still staring absently at the bubbling water, watching as mountains of dirt was poured into the spot where they'd made the drop, "Too bad."
Too bad she'd let him go? Maybe. But Max wasn't a murderer. A freak of nature, maybe, but a cold-blooded killer? That just wasn't her style.
Logan glanced sidelong at her, "How you feeling? Johnston said you were pretty banged up."
I was dead. Max fought off the urge to inform him. That was a secret she figured she'd carry to the grave – or for eternity, if the grave never came around. Some of Sandeman's private journal had surfaced during the raid on the Conclave and Max had yet to take a peek. But the answers were there, she hoped.
"Just a few bullet holes that've already healed." Max turned to smile at him, and he reached out tentatively before he tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
"Good." Logan smiled quietly.
The miracle of the virus' sudden absence in Max's system could only have been chalked down to the cleansing burn her body had undergone during her transformation. Max had been checked and re-checked by Johnston and several biohazard experts. Her blood-work had come back squeaky clean every single round.
Max supposed she should be grateful. Whatever Sandeman had planted inside her genes had come with a lot of birthing pains (Max was also grateful her tryptophan levels had evened out and that the seizures and headaches had stopped the moment she awoke on that hospital bed). But it had done her the sweetest favor she ever could have asked for, and Max was inclined, despite her hostile nature, to accept the virus' elimination as a sort of belated apology gift from Sandeman.
Alec cleared his throat with a soft cough, "I'm gonna go check the coast's still clear." He was gone before Logan or Max could breathe a word in protest. Max smirked despite herself.
"Subtlety isn't really his thing after all." Logan quipped, and she shrugged, remaining silent.
The two didn't speak for what seemed like an eternity, both fighting for words and explanations and even understanding as they stood in the falling snow and listened to the faint foghorns of the ships out to port.
It was Logan who, with a deep breath, took the plunge.
"So am I." Max responded softly, and Logan nodded.
Max felt bittersweet tears well up in her eyes, and for once she didn't attempt to fend them off as she watched the waves roll in, "So I guess this is it, huh."
"I guess so." Logan agreed, and the emotion in his voice was stronger than Max ever remembered it.
"We finally get rid of the only thing preventing us from being together and then…" Max stopped, too upset to continue her sentence. Logan, ever the gentleman, finished it for her.
"And then we realize," He laid a hand on her shoulder and Max glanced up at him through angry tears, "it wasn't the only thing preventing us from being together."
Max shook her head, "I hate this."
"Me too." Logan reminded her with a gentle squeeze, "But it doesn't mean we can't be happy. I want you to be happy with him, Max. You love him."
"I love you too." She insisted in a sorrowful whisper, and as Logan nodded, Max watched his eyes moisten and his jaw lock.
"Same here. But clearly things are different now. We have to go on with our lives."
"Promise me something." Max grabbed his hand and squeezed it tightly, looking anxiously into his face.
"We'll never stop caring?"
Max let tears slip then, though she brushed them away just as quickly as they had come with the back of her glove. But she smiled, despite herself, and Logan returned the gesture.
"Well that settles it then." He held out his hand, "Christmas Dinner at my place, just the four of us."
Max had to laugh then, "And Joshua?"
"And Original Cindy." Logan agreed, "But they're the only exceptions."
"Wouldn't want a dysfunctional crowd of misfits spoiling the big day."
They shook on it, and Logan pulled her into a warm embrace that the two of them relished for as long as they possibly could.
Max felt his lips brush her ear, "Take care of yourself, Max."
"Yeah." She whispered, "You too."
He pulled away, and she let him go, tucking her hands into her pockets and smiling at the wave he sent her way before heading out of sight.
Max glanced around for Alec and found him by her side all of a sudden. She wasn't surprised at how right it felt to have him there. He'd been there for a while now.
"Logan okay?" Alec queried, and Max smiled.
"Yeah. He's fine."
There was a pause for a moment before Alec spoke again, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Max took his hand in her own and directed her smile at his face this time, and Alec took the invitation without a question, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and drawing her into his side.
"I'm good." Max meant it. She hadn't felt a sense of peace and purpose this ambient and strong for as long as she could remember.
They stood there on the dock for another full hour, watching the dirt pile into the water and bury the greatest threat the world had faced in years with a quiet sense of duty. They watched the Christmas lights glittering on the boats as they passed, transforming drab, ugly ships into wonderlands of yuletide hope and dancing off the reflective surface of the otherwise filthy and repulsive ocean.
Max leaned closer into Alec's warmth and felt a surge of it hit her insides as he kissed the top of her head gently.
Somehow, this was the most beautiful place on earth.
- FIN -