A/N: Grr... I'm getting a little tired of getting beat out by some people who have nothing better to do than write day in and day out. You know who you are! If you could please just give my story a chance to get some much-deserved attention, I would greatly appreciate it. You know the drill - read and review!
Chapter 5: The Parting
"This may be goodbye, but this isn't farewell."
"W-What . . . ? No! No way!" Rex snapped, without so much as a second thought for the ludicrous idea. Cure Talon? He wouldn't do that, not to her. Though, he didn't really even know what would happen were she cured . . .
"You must," White Knight replied angrily. "I order you to eradicate this threat!" And with that, he clicked off the monitor.
Rex turned to Holiday. "What would happen if she was cured?" he asked.
"Well . . . I suppose that, considering her human DNA-infused nanites are the only reason she is human, she would turn back into a bird," Holiday said after some consideration.
Which would make the task of curing Talon feel even more like a crime—to Rex, anyways. She wouldn't want to go back to being a bird, this he knew. She was happy being human, and who was he to take that away from her? But he also knew that there would be consequences if he defied White Knight's orders. He became trapped in his own thoughts, combating the options in his head.
The object of his difficult decision startled Rex out of his reverie with a cheerful tweet of, "Hi!"
"Um, hi," Rex muttered, with not much else to say as he still debated his decision.
Talon immediately picked up on his confliction. "What's wrong, Rex?" Concern glittered in her silver eyes.
"It's nothing, really." He faked a smile, hoping to get her to back away and allow him to think about his decision some more.
Talon wasn't about to be deterred. She knew something was wrong; she could sense it, see it beneath the fake smile. "Come on, you can tell me," she insisted.
But before he could come up with something to tell her, an alarm sounded, snaring the attention of both with its insistent, earsplitting racket and red flashing lights.
"Another EVO attack!" Holiday announced, her usual calm rattled by the urgency of the situation. "A huge one, attacking downtown!"
"O-Okay, I'm on it!" Rex said, attempting to form The Rex Ride. But at the moment, he was understandably worked up over the whole ordeal with Talon, and since his biometrics—the level of the functionality of his nanites—had a tendency to be linked to his emotions and to flatline whenever he got upset, so naturally, the attempt at creating the machine failed. At most, all he could produce were pieces of scrap metal. And, as long as he was troubled by thoughts of curing Talon, it would remain that way.
Holiday gave him a sympathetic, understanding look, while Talon had confusion and concern on her expression. The former knew how hard this decision was on Rex, but the latter didn't even know what was going on.
"Are you all right, Rex?" Talon asked him.
"I'm fine," Rex said. "My nanites are just kinda going haywire right now."
"I, uh, don't know. Sometimes they do stuff like that."
Talon seemed skeptical, but she accepted the explanation. "So, if you can't fly . . ." A broad, somewhat sly grin broke out on her face as a thought struck her. "It's your turn to ride!"
"You gave me a ride. Now I get to give you one." She chirped a giggle, amused at this fact. She then turned her back to him, indicating for him to get on it, twisting her head around to look expectantly at him over her shoulder.
"Uh . . ." Rex hesitated. Her getting on his back was one thing, but him getting on hers? He wouldn't, couldn't do it—nope, he wasn't about to let a girl give him a piggyback ride. It just wasn't going to happen. "I don't think so."
She glanced perplexedly at him, but decided not to question him. "Would you rather I carried you?" she offered, trying to puzzle out the workings of a teenaged male's mind and his male pride with another mystified look.
Was that really any better? No, Rex thought, that's actually worse. " . . . Piggyback ride'll work." He got onto Talon's back with a defeated sigh.
Talon beamed at him, still decidedly baffled, but happy he complied. "Let's go!" She called out her wings, and took to the air with a running start and a few powerful wingbeats.
It took more effort for her to stay airborne with Rex on her back, but it wasn't too much trouble for her. Being half EVO, she was stronger than an average human and could handle the burden. In fact, Talon found herself free enough to play around a little. She twirled and spun in the sky, performing all kinds of aerial stunts—loop-de-loops, barrel rolls, among others—nearly throwing Rex off her in the process. He scrambled to get a better grip around her, just barely saving himself from falling.
"What are you doing?" Rex demanded, heart racing after the near calamity. After another terrifying barrel roll, he shouted, "Cut it out!" If he were to have fallen, he would not have been able to rescue himself, as his biometrics were still on the mend.
But Talon couldn't help herself—she had to do just one last thing. She tilted her body downwards, to the point where it was nearly vertical in a high-velocity nosedive, plummeting towards the earth below.
"Whoa! Pull up, pull up!" Rex yelled over the howling wind whipping by them, practically strangling Talon as he held on for dear life. The ground was coming up alarmingly fast, getting closer and closer with each passing second as Talon yet headed straight for it. "Talon, pull up!"
At the very last possible moment—just a split second away from crashing into the ground—Talon pulled up, working her way back up to the altitude they had been at before her reckless trick. Her body leveled back out to a horizontal position, and Rex relaxed. "That was a close one . . ." he sighed.
Between her crazy stunts and the added weight of her passenger, Talon tired more quickly than usual, and was forced to land about halfway to their destination. She and Rex walked the rest of the way, though they were slowed by Talon's curiosity, as she stopped to peer into every storefront window, particularly fascinated by the shiny objects displayed in the jewelry store window. Here, she lingered, staring wide-eyed at the sparkling pieces of jewelry. Then, without really realizing what she was doing, she stepped towards the objects that mesmerized her so. And she walked right into the glass window, thumping her head on it.
"Ow!" she yelped, more startled than injured. She examined the space in front of her, unable to see the transparent glass. "What is this?"
Talon looked so genuinely confused—over something so simple as glass—that Rex couldn't help but smile. He gave the glass a sharp tap, causing it to vibrate and reveal its solid nature to Talon. "I think that's called, 'glass,'" he said to her, still smiling.
"Glass?" She placed her hand on the window, feeling its solidity for herself. "Oh . . . That makes sense." With the confounding problem solved, she continued walking, as did Rex.
Finally, the two reached downtown. And right in front of them was the attacking EVO, impossible to miss—it must have been at least 50 feet tall. It had no specific shape, a monstrous blob with one eye—and what an eye it was. From that eye, the EVO was firing beams of concentrated energy that obliterated everything in its path. It shot a beam at a car—which instantly evaporated into a million different pieces, scattering in all directions to flee from the powerful blast. The EVO shot at a building, which also didn't stand a chance. "That's some serious firepower," Rex remarked.
Talon asked him, "Can you use your nanites now?" She hoped so; she didn't want to have to fight the laser-firing EVO alone.
Rex tested his nanites by trying to form the Smackhands. His nanites pulled through, building the mechanical fists around his hands. He didn't say anything to Talon; his forming the Smackhands was more than a sufficient answer. He launched himself at the EVO to face it head-on, while Talon flitted around to its rear to try a sneak attack. Rex made direct contact, slamming into the EVO and dazing it. Talon's feathers gained the gray sheen of metal, her talons formed, and she sank the claws into the EVO. But her attack was ineffective—the EVO was made of some kind of substance that absorbed shock, and Talon's claws slipped harmlessly into this substance. Surprised by the absorption of her attack, and somewhat disturbed by the feel of the slimy substance of which the EVO was composed of, she yanked her hands out hastily.
The EVO answered their attack with another laser beam. Directed at Talon, Rex was untouched, while Talon just escaped the blast, a hair's length away from losing one of her wings. Talon tried diving into the beast, to use her steel-cutting wings to cut through it. But again, she simply slid through the creature, leaving her more than a little bewildered and covered in an unidentified slime. It was painfully apparent that cutting wouldn't work with this EVO. Talon had no other choice but to leave it to Rex.
Rex also knew the fact that cutting was no good, as he watched Talon's claws and razor-sharp wings slip through the EVO to no effect. So, he thought, if cutting wouldn't work, maybe some good, old-fashioned brute force would work. He kept pounding at the EVO with his Smackhands, his mind on taking it down. But while he was focused on beating the EVO, the EVO was preparing to fire another devastating laser blast—aimed at Rex.
Talon saw what was about to happen. She knew Rex was in danger. With a shout of, "Rex, look out!" she zipped as fast as she could towards him. Before Rex could even look up, Talon threw herself over him, determined to protect him. Her metal wings became shields curled around the two of them, the feathers covering her torso a suit of armor.
Rex felt nothing more than a slight thud as Talon took the brunt of the attack meant for him. She cried out in pain, using all her endurance and resolve to keep from fleeing, from running away as every last instinct screamed at her to do so. The force of the blast launched her forward, of off Rex, tossing her to the ground.
Rex rose to his feet and ran over to Talon. "Talon!" he cried. She lay on her side in an awkward position, limbs twisted in such a way that was painful even to look at, the silvery luster of metal fading from her wings and torso. The durable metal of her feathers had deflected the worst of the blast, but her feathers couldn't protect everything. Her exposed back was burnt badly, the pale skin turned a fiery red, and her legs were also slightly burnt. "Say something, Talon!" Rex pleaded, desperate to know if she was still conscious.
By some miracle, she was. Responding to Rex's voice, she said, "Rex?" and looked up at him. Looking him over, she breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm so glad you're okay!"
"Yeah, but . . . but . . ." Rex stammered, glancing once more at Talon's injuries.
"I'll be fine . . . I think."
"Talon . . ."
The EVO behind them wasn't going to wait for the two of them to finish. It roared loudly, retrieving their attention.
"Hang in there, Talon," Rex said before turning to the impatient EVO. "You're gonna pay for doing that to Talon!" Forming his Smackhands again, he leapt into the air, flying towards the EVO. He crashed into it, the impact of his Smackhands sending the beast toppling down. Rex then pummeled the EVO continuously until it could take no more, losing consciousness. After a few more unnecessary blows, Rex cured the EVO, leaving in its place a young woman.
The matter of the EVO attack dealt with, Rex immediately turned his attention back to Talon. She lay in the same spot he left her, waiting patiently. "Let's go," he said to her.
"Okay," she said. After a great deal of effort, she forced herself to sit up, the idea that she could fly herself out of there in her head. But her wings hung uselessly at her side, bent at jagged, unnatural angles, bones crushed from the sheer power of the blast. "Looks like you're going to have to give me another ride."
Rex feared that she might fall off or get jostled around too much if he flew her, so he decided to use The Rex Ride, the hover cycle being comparatively safer. He assembled the vehicle with his nanites, and gently lifted Talon up and placed her behind him. He then zoomed off, racing as fast as possible back to Providence.
While the trip was relatively short, it seemed like forever to Rex. He constantly looked back to check on Talon, and what he saw wasn't good. As the seconds dragged on into minutes, Talon's condition progressively deteriorated as she succumbed to her exhaustion and the pain of her wounds. She lay slumped against him, arms limp around his waist as she barely clung to consciousness.
The two finally arrived at Providence. Rex deconstructed his machine, catching Talon as it disappeared from beneath her. He rushed Talon in, taking her to the med bay where he desperately hoped to find Dr. Holiday. Much to his gratitude, she was, and the doctor took Talon into her care straightaway. Rex followed, and watched as Holiday moved swiftly and with purpose around Talon, doing whatever was necessary to ease Talon's pain and help Talon heal. Soon, Talon was connected to several machines and monitors, and was sleeping peacefully under the influence of painkillers. Her wings were set with splints and her burns treated with soothing ointment.
"Those burns are pretty serious," Holiday reported, "and there are quite a few fractures and breaks in her wings, but, with time, she'll recover."
Rex would have expressed his thanks to her, but he ended up choking on his own answer, so he simply looked at Talon instead. She looked so helpless, so frail, so . . . broken just lying there, that he had to look away to keep himself from breaking into tears.
Out of nowhere, White Knight appeared on one of the various monitors, and he looked none too happy. He saw that Talon was still her half-EVO self. "I told you to cure that thing," he said with a thinly veiled glare aimed at Rex.
"Sir, I was just . . ." Holiday started to tell him the first half-formed excuse that came to her mind, but Rex cut her off.
"I will, sir," he said solemnly, his decision reluctantly made. "But, uh . . . But . . ."
"Talon has suffered some pretty serious injuries, and will need time to recover before we can attempt to cure her," Holiday finished for him.
Hearing that, White Knight seemed appeased. "All right," he repented. "But I expect you to cure that thing soon as it does recover." And like that, he vanished from the monitor.
It was at that time that Noah decided to drop by for another visit. "Hey," he said. Then he noticed the atmosphere of depression hanging heavily in the air. "Okay, what's going on here? It's like you two are waiting for the apocalypse or something." He caught sight of Talon, and gaped at her broken form. "Whoa . . . What happened to her?" He reached out as if to touch her, but then withdrew his hand, worried that he might disturb something important or accidentally cause her further harm.
"She protected me," Rex said, still unable to bring himself to look at her and the injuries she sustained to protect him. "From a laser-blasting EVO. And on top of that, White Knight wants me to cure her." Needless to say, things weren't going very well for him at the moment.
"Oh, man . . . I had no idea. Wait, why does White Knight want her cured?"
"He thinks she's a 'potential threat,' whatever that means. And, if I do cure her, she'll turn back into a bird."
"Aw, no way! That sucks, man." Noah was quite endeared with Talon; he didn't want to see her turned back into a bird, either. But, what could he do about it?
"I know. But right now, I just hope she gets better soon . . ." Yet at the same time, he also hoped she would take her sweet time to recover, because of what would have to happen once she did get better. He just didn't know anymore . . .
It took four days for Talon to simply regain consciousness, and several days more for her to recover enough to get back on her feet. In the time she spent recuperating, color was fully restored to her feathers. Now there was no trace of white left, only that caramel brown with light tan specks. Her hair was the same, silken caramel with streaks of soft sand. Her wings were still wrapped up with splints, but her burns had healed considerably. Where her skin had been bright red, it was now a faded, subdued pink. She was still safe under the agreement that Rex would wait until she healed completely, but it wouldn't be much longer before he had to cure her.
Mere minutes after Talon was up and about again, she started up yet another argument with Bobo. And in the duration of the time it took for her wings to heal, she'd instigated about ten more fights with the monkey. Even while Holiday was removing the wrappings from Talon's newly healed wings, Talon was bickering with him. Soon as Holiday released her, Talon snatched Bobo's hat right off his head.
"Hey! Give that back!" Bobo protested, reaching for the hat.
Talon held the hat just out of his reach. "You'll have to take it from me," she said tauntingly. When he jumped up to try and take the hat back, she leapt backwards and ran from him, making him work for it. But Bobo was surprisingly fast, and quickly overtook her. So, to keep the hat away from him still, she called forth her wings and leaped into the air, taunting him by hovering just beyond his reach. Then, for reasons unknown, she flew off in another direction, grabbing Rex to take along with her.
"Whoa! Talon, what are you doing?" Rex asked her, but she simply answered with a twittering giggle.
She took him to a peaceful, green meadow with a single tree standing tall, proud, and lonesome. Vibrant wildflowers interrupted the sea of beautifully green grass with bright splashes of color, and delicate pink blooms gently colored the darker green of the tree. A soft breeze brushed past, stirring the colors with the green and giving life to the picturesque scene. Talon set Rex down and climbed the tree in a few swift movements, making the task look easy. Rex followed in a somewhat clumsier fashion. Talon moved to climb higher, but Rex didn't want to allow her to. "Watch out, you might—" Rex started to say, but lost his words quite abruptly. She didn't struggle for balance as Rex would have, but instead remained gracefully upright, maintaining perfect balance as she bounced from branch to branch. "—fall," Rex finished lamely after witnessing Talon's evident grace.
Talon smiled down at him from the branch she perched on, about 10 feet above where Rex was. "Have you forgotten already?" she inquired, her sweet smile turning to teasing smirk. "I'm part bird. I've spent half my life in a tree. This is normal for me."
"Oh. Right." Boy, did Rex ever feel stupid.
Talon slinked back down the branches the way a snake slithers through sand, and sat next to Rex on one of the lower branches. Her smirk went from teasing back to a tender smile. She and Rex sat there on that branch for a while, lingering in and savoring the perfect, comfortable silence between them. Then that silence was broken with a shout of "Hey!" uttered by neither Rex nor Talon. Both glanced down to find Bobo, winded from running more than he ever had in probably his whole life, clamoring his way to where they were in stubborn pursuit of Talon and his hat.
"Gimme my hat back!" he shouted, climbing up the tree with determined speed.
"No, wait! Don't come up here!" Talon warned.
"Why the heck not? I want my hat back!" He edged his way to the branch on which Talon and Rex rested. Soon as he did, a loud crack sounded. The branch, unable to withstand the added stress of Bobo's weight along with Rex and Talon's, fractured, a visible crack appearing at its base. "Well, that ain't good . . ."
The branch gave way beneath them, and everyone fell to the ground to become a tangled mass of feathers, fur, and limbs. Talon was the first to extricate herself from the jumbled heap, dusting herself off and reaffirming her grip on Bobo's hat. Bobo was the next to get up, and he immediately lunged for his hat. Talon stepped to the side, avoiding his attack with that one simple motion, much like a professional bullfighter sidestepping a charging bull, not fazed in the least. Rex was the last to recover from the tumble, his body aching all over from being the one that ended up at the bottom of the unintentional dogpile.
Rex shook off his soreness and said, "That's the last time I'm ever getting in a tree with a half-EVO and a talking monkey!" At that comment, everyone collapsed into fits of laughter.
Talon tossed Bobo's hat back to him. "Here, take your stupid hat," she said snidely, though still laughing. And when he failed to catch the hat, she commented, "Try actually catching it next time, monky-brain."
Provoked by Talon's remark, he retorted, "Catch this, birdbrain!" and threw a fist in her direction, which she easily dodged and retaliated for with a swipe of her rapidly formed talons. The two wrestled and fought, but it was more in play than in anger. Rex laughed some more as he watched the comical scene unfold. But, as he continued to watch, a grave realization seared through his thoughts like a red-hot knife blade, singeing away his short-lived happiness: Talon had completely healed. Rex, as the agreement with White Knight stated, now had to cure Talon.
Rex broke up the fight and ensured that Bobo left, so he'd be alone with Talon. He didn't want any witnesses when he committed this moral crime. Bobo lost interest after he got his hat back, anyway, so he left without much provocation. Talon wandered the field, drinking in the breathtaking sight of the beautiful flowers and surveying the scene in a way she never had before. She knew this place as a bird, but then she didn't think to stop and take in the gorgeous landscape. Now that she was human, she could comprehend the concept of beauty, and identify this little meadow as "beautiful." Yes, it certainly was beautiful, and it filled her with the warm, bright light of happiness knowing that she could admire it as a human. Little did she know that she would soon lose that amazing gift to perceive and appreciate the world's natural beauty.
"Talon . . ." Rex started, getting her attention. But he couldn't think of the words to say. How was he to tell her that she was to soon lose her humanity?
"What is it, Rex?" Talon inquired.
"I . . ." Still, he was at a loss for words. He just didn't know how to tell her.
Talon sensed his turmoil, and asked, "What's wrong?"
Better to just tell it to her straight, Rex thought. Quick and straightforward, like ripping off a bandage to minimize the pain. "I have to cure you."
"What? N-No . . . No! I . . . I won't let you!" Talon backed away from him, now fearing his EVO-curing touch. She poised herself for defense, her legs bent in a low crouch, her fingers curling in anticipation of the transition from flesh to metal. Though, both she and Rex knew that she could never bring herself to hurt him, not on purpose.
"I'm sorry, but I have to." Rex took another step towards Talon, only for her to step backwards once more. "Please, just try to understand. White Knight's ordered me to cure you, so I have to. Or else . . . or else I lose everything. And then Providence'll probably kill you. But, I guess it's really your choice. Be cured, and live free . . . Or refuse, and die."
Talon rose from her defensive crouch and stepped tentatively towards Rex, her brow crinkled in thought. "I . . . When you put it that way, I . . . But, I want to stay human."
"You can't, not if you want to stay alive."
"B-But . . . I don't want to lose . . . all this . . ." Talon spread her arms out wide, as if to encompass her brief human life, and all the experiences that it entailed. Her emotions, her joy and her sorrow; being able to truly see the world in all its beauty; her memory, able to recollect every single vivid detail of all the good and bad times she'd had. She didn't want to lose any of that. She wanted to spend the rest of her life as a human, with Rex and Holiday and Noah and all her human—not to mention one certain non-human—friends. She stood there a few minutes in catatonic shock before the information sank in and struck her brain with the force of a freight train. She was going to be a human no longer. She was going to lose everything she wanted to keep, with no other choice but losing her life. Stricken with sudden, overwhelming sadness, she fell to her knees and clung tightly to Rex as she wept her first-ever tears.
Rex was unsure how to react. He wanted to put his arms around her and comfort her, but he worried that she would shrink away from his touch, so he simply let her cry until she could cry no more. When Talon finally dried her eyes, she stood, looked at Rex with red-rimmed eyes . . .
. . . and hugged him. She embraced him tightly, apparently now oblivious to the fact that he could, at this close proximity, cure her at any given moment. She whispered into his ear, "This may be goodbye, but this isn't farewell."
What did that mean? Rex had no idea. He just knew that Talon was looking up at him with her storm cloud eyes, a surprising, but shaky smile gracing her lips. Talon gazed deeply into Rex's eyes, and got lost in their chocolate depths. She found herself leaning closer and closer to him, pulled forward by some unknown, subconscious force, then leaned closer still until her lips met his. And, after a moment of shocked inaction, Rex returned the gesture, kissing her back. She hadn't quite realized it, but she noticed that she liked this feeling of her lips on his. After a few seconds, she pulled away, an exhilerated gasp escaping her lips as they separated from Rex's. That was even better than flying, she thought.
Then, she said something that came from a hidden, deeply emotional part of her that even she never knew of, yet was there all along: "I love you, Rex."
"I . . ." How could he possibly respond to such a confession? He couldn't. So instead, he did what he probalby should have done the very moment they met. "I'm sorry!" His arms tightening around her from the turblent emotions roiling within him and to keep her from escaping, he initiated the action of curing her. Like every other time he cured an EVO, the glowing blue lines spread from his hands on her back to all throughout her body. The feathers that typically covered only her torso spread to cover her from head to toe. The bones in both her arms cracked with a series of sickening snaps as they hollowed, thinned, and rearranged themselves, long flight feathers emerging from what were now wings. As her long hair receded into her now feather-covered scalp, her nose and upper lip melded together into a hardening mass to join her solidifying and elongating lower lip in forming her beak. The joints in her legs bent suddenly backwards with a painful pop to better suit her avian form. Then her enitre body shrunk to below a foot high, and finally the deed was done. Rex had cured Talon.
Now not a person, but a hawk stood before Rex. And, though she now had no recollection of her time as a human, Talon the hawk yet lngered, seeming almost reluctant to leave. She stared up at Rex, and Rex saw that her eyes were the same as when she was human, steel-grey, two crackling storm clouds staring up at him. That fact only broke his heart all over again. "Go on!" he shouted, trying to scare her away before the ache in his heart became too much to bear. But still, she stayed, and Rex couldn't but wonder if Talon really didn't want to leave him, or if she was just being stubborn. He then had to remind himself that she was a bird now, and coldn't possibly remember him. "Go on, get out of here!" he tried again to scare her off. She only chirruped and tilted her head at him in a curious look. The gesture reminded Rex so much of the human girl he knew that it brought him to the verge of tears, and would surely lose it if this hawk didn't leave him alone soon. "GO AWAY!" he shouted, the words coming out louder than he intended, a result of being at the edge of his self-control.
But, regardless, it did the trick. Talon took to the skies, flying high up where she was born to be. She circled the sky above the meadow a few times before soaring off into the horizon with a last mournful cry.
When Rex couldn't see her elegant form anymore, the tears he'd been holding back broke through, pooling in his eyes. He already missed her cheerful giggle, her sweet smile, and her clear grey eyes. Teardrops spilled soundlessly down his face as he stared longingly at the point in the horizon where Talon vanished, never to be seen again.
"Good riddance!" Bobo said from his hiding place in the surrounding foliage, where he had watched the entire scene play out. Rex jumped and hastily wiped away his tears before turning around to face the annoying ape.
"Bobo! What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"You two were like some kind of bad soap opera—I just had to know how it ended!"
"Whatever, man. Just leave me alone, okay?"
"Look . . . I know how hard it must suck for you, but . . . uh . . ." For once in his life, Bobo was at a loss for words, because he didn't know, and he had no idea how to console his friend.
"It's okay. I have a feeling . . . that we'll see her again someday . . ."
And that's all she wrote! Or is it...? I may or may not do a sequel, but I might be a little more motivated if you lovely readers out there would review, hint hint.