Endings are difficult. Sometimes you read a story that you might like and once you get to the end it leaves you wanting. It's not satisfying; it's not what you had in mind for it, even if you can't quite pinpoint what it is that you did have in mind.
I am aware that this might not be what you'd have wanted to be the end of this particular story. I'm not even sure it's what I wanted. Then again, at times I wasn't even sure I could give this story a proper (or not so proper) ending at all. Therefore I choose to call it a success of sorts. Especially since you guys turned this whole thing into a real blast. THANK YOU!
A note on this last chapter (and the previous): I just realized that Gem's kid - on the show - is in fact a little girl - I tried to change the story accordingly, but I might have overlooked a few references here and there. If you find them, please do let me know.
Alright, this is it then: the end...
After Joshua had gone back inside, Alec stayed outside for a little while longer. "I'll be right there," he had told his friend without looking at him. The big fella had lingered on for another moment before reluctantly leaving him alone.
They had laid Gem's body down in one of the abandoned shacks nearby; there was no time for a burial. Alec stared down at her, his jaw painfully clenched. He closed his eyes, pressed his thumbs into them and tried to force that lump in his throat to go away.
He remembered how Joshua had looked at him only a few minutes ago, like he was worried about him. The big fella had actually asked, "Alec alright?"
"What? - Yeah. Yeah, big fella, I'm alright," had been his automatic reply while he had been busy trying to wrap his mind around what had just happened.
"No. Joshua can see Alec not alright." Alec hadn't even had a chance to deny it before the big guy had walked over, patted his shoulder and reassured him that it was not his fault.
"Uh uh. Not Alec's fault."
This time, Alec had merely stared at him, then at the giant hand still placed on his shoulder. "Not Alec's fault."
"I told her I'd kill her. If I hadn't, maybe..." The words were out before he could stop them. How did the big guy do that? Made him talk when he shouldn't, didn't want to. He had raised his head and stared up at his friend, feeling something traitorously tug at his features. "Might've just done it myself. I'm a soldier, I kill people. I was trained to do it. It's ingrained in me. Still."
"Joshua knows Alec. Alec not a killer. Manticore did bad bad things. Alec not one of them." He had glanced down at Alec, and Alec had felt like he had been looking straight into his soul. Then Josh had patted his shoulder one more time and said, "Alec go back inside with Joshua now? Or Joshua could get Max..."
That latter suggestion had startled Alec enough to make him blink at his friend, but he hadn't said anything, he hadn't even declined the offer, just told the big guy he'd follow in a minute...
Alec took a deep breath, his gaze still glued to the body. Joshua had spread his coat over her, but to Alec, Gem's face was still all too visible. How she had looked at him, like she had seen him for what he truly was. She had been so hopeless, so afraid that she had decided to kill herself, right there, on the spot.
What she had seen had been that bad.
Alec's face scrunched up, he couldn't help it. He was only glad that nobody was there to see him break down. He tried to fight it, forced himself to breathe through it, but somehow it just didn't want to work.
Then he heard footsteps and her voice, calling his name softly.
He had his back to her. There was something in his posture, though. She couldn't quite put her finger on it but it scared her.
Joshua had told her to come out here and look after him. She had been a little bewildered by his request, but when he had simply taken the littlest fella out of her arms and nodded at her once more, she had seen the worry in his eyes...
"Alec," she tried again.
"Go back, Max, I'll be right with you." His voice was thick, almost as if he...
She was by his side in seconds. Trying not to look at Gem's body too closely she focused her gaze on him instead. He averted his face, didn't meet her eyes. "Go, please." The words came out so quietly, they sounded so different from the speech he had given earlier. She wasn't sure whether she should just go back, do what he asked of her, or whether she should make him talk. She had never been good with this social interaction kind of thing. What was expected of her? Logan could have told her, but he wasn't there. In fact, Mole had taken him home so that he could help getting their plan under way - a plan she had yet to tell Alec about.
Suddenly she remembered another time when his posture had looked a little like it did now. An unfamiliar aching feeling spread inside her.
"Remember when I told you about Ben?" she asked and didn't wait for a reply. She knew the question seemed strange and out of the blue. "You just knew what to do, like it was the most natural thing in the world. You put your arms around me and just let me cry. You didn't joke about it, you didn't just go over it. You were there for me, Alec. Really there." As if of its own accord her hand slowly moved up until she could touch his face, gently.
"What I never told you, though, is how I failed at doing the same for you. Back when Rachel," he visibly flinched at the mention of the girl's name, which told Max more about the state he was in than anything else could have done, "When she died, I was there. I saw you..."
He did turn to face her then and even in the dusty light of the shack she could see trails run down his cheeks.
"And I'm sorry," she continued, her voice breaking, her eyes starting to well up, "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you then. I just didn't know how to. - But now I do. You taught me..."
With that, she simply wrapped her arms around him and held him. At first he remained tense, distant, almost long enough to make her regret her move, to make her feel incredibly awkward. But she held on regardless until finally she could feel him relax into the embrace, his hands gripping her almost like those of a person drowning. She felt his breath against her neck, but he didn't make a sound.
She didn't know how long they stood like that before they eventually broke apart.
They looked at each other a little sheepishly. Alec smiled a small half smile as he wiped away first his, then her tears with his thumbs. "Thank you, Maxie," he whispered and kissed her forehead lightly. Then he turned away briefly and pressed his palms to his eyes.
"Just gimme a minute," he muttered, but already she tugged at his arm and he looked at her. "I'll be right here," she simply informed him, "I'm not going anywhere - ready when you are." She smiled up at him and squeezed his hand.
Of course it had taken much longer than an hour to get to Seattle. By the time their car finally reached the outskirts of the city, Ames White's patience had waned completely.
When they came close enough to Terminal City a few minutes later only to see that the place seemed to be abandoned, he therefore exploded at Otto, shouting at the poor man, cursing his driving abilities and everything else.
"Please tell me that someone was monitoring 452 and her damn parade of freaks and that they didn't just escape. Again!"
He saw Otto flinch but then open his mouth anyway. "Actually, Sir," he started, "we do have that - uh - informant..."
"Indeed, we do." Ames nodded, only now remembering. "Idiot still thinks we're Manticore?" He had gotten out of the car and flung his coat onto the seat. It was strangely hot and the thick fabric seemed to make his skin itch. Rubbing at his arms, he turned to Otto, who answered his question in the affirmative.
"Good. Any chance to get a status report from the inside then?"
"Uh, I don't..., I'm not sure, Sir," Otto stuttered. His sunken cheeks had taken on a flushed hue. White rolled his eyes, annoyed. Great, he thought. Things were always going south when it came to 452. "What about that GPS implant? I do hope somebody already got to checking the signal. I want to know where they are. ASAP."
"Of course, Sir, I'll get right on it. - Do you need anything else, Sir?"
White's glare was answer enough and the taller man quickly turned and got on the phone. Ames took in the eerie quiet surrounding him, the once more abandoned ruins of TC, the gray sky above him.
"Where are you, 452?" he wondered aloud, absently scratching the back of his hand.
Fawn saw two men exit a car just outside of the nuclear wasteland in the heart of the city. She could tell that they instantly noticed it was empty, just like she had about half an hour earlier. The smaller one did not look pleased at all.
It hadn't taken her long to get here, despite everything. Being by yourself had its upsides after all. It was easier to blend in, easier to sneak by unnoticed.
She had tried to report to command, but no one had answered her calls. It seemed that it was only her now. Good, she figured, she had always been better on her own, like the predator whose DNA she shared...
For a few more seconds she watched the two men. Were they the ones who were behind all this? She was certain of it. Yet she was alone and not ready to take them out on her own. Right now she couldn't stop any of it anyway. What she could do, though, was find 452 - and use her as bait to make them stop. Their plan was not completely dead yet. As long as she was still alive, she'd do everything in her power to keep it alive as well.
It was time for her to leave. There were traces she needed to follow, a certain scent, a few things here and there. She had to search TC as quick as possible and then set out to find them. 452 wouldn't fool her a second time. She wouldn't escape again.
Before she could so much as begin to get past the fence, though, the sound of one, then two, then three explosions tore at her sensitive ears. She ducked down, momentarily stunned.
Too bad, she thought and wondered whether this was the man's doing - or the rogues'. She couldn't stay to find out, though; she had her orders. Even if with the destruction of TC valuable traces had been destroyed, she'd get to 452 soon enough. She had to.
When Max first told the others in command about her idea they looked at her curiously without saying a word. She was ready to discard it, in fact she had already begun to do so with a loud, "Alright, maybe it's a stupid-," when Mole interrupted her.
"Should have listened to you right from the start, Max," he declared matter-of-factly, shaking his head. "Maybe if we had stayed with you back then things would have been different. We could've had most of society on our side, who knows... Couldn't have been worse than the mess we're in right now. I'd love to blame it on the smart-ass, but I figure he's not really responsible. - Don't tell him I said that," he added so sharply and looked so genuinely worried that Max almost burst out laughing.
It was as close to an apology as he'd ever get.
Max simply said, "I won't."
Mole nodded quietly. "So, how should we go about this? - Cale, you're the one with the money and the connections. I'm sure you know someone-"
"Er, yeah. I mean - the money situation isn't like it used to be, but I'm sure I can still... I mean, my name still opens quite a few doors. In fact, if someone could help me get to my house, I could probably start contacting a few people. My uncle had this friend who owned a shipping company somewhere, not quite sure where - Port Angeles, or Los Angeles... I really hope it's the former, it'd make things a lot easier for us... Anyways, what I'm trying to-"
"I'll take you home, Cale. Save the words for those contacts of yours."
Logan reddened at the somewhat harsh interruption. "Right," he said to Mole, "Thanks, man." He felt even worse about the lizard man picking him up like a kid and carrying him outside. But it couldn't be helped, his wheelchair was still at home, and the exo gone. Besides, pride was the least of his worries...
Max smiled at him absently and returned his parting wave halfheartedly. "Thanks, Logan." He was almost out of sight when she added, calling after him, "Oh, and Logan?"
"Please, can you tell the others? OC, Sketch... I don't want them to think we just vanished, without..."
"I'll make sure they won't."
Shortly thereafter, the plan had already been widely communicated. They had sent Dix out to spread the word and get everyone ready to leave in half an hour. They had appointed a meeting point a few miles outside the city limits.
What if Logan couldn't make any arrangements on their behalf though? Max was worried, but by the time she found herself informing Alec about the plan, that worry had already taken a back seat in her mind. If Logan couldn't make those arrangements, they'd just have to find a way. They'd have to use their training like they'd done so many times before and take whatever they needed by force.
The plan was no longer to live peacefully among the ordinaries. The plan was to start over, somewhere else, another continent even. They'd board a ship - or as many as they'd get, and go from there. Asia, Europe...
Max was well aware how after the Pulse reports about life in the other parts of the world had been scarce at best. She had no idea what going there meant, what life was like, worse, better, different, or the same. She knew that some of their fellow soldiers had been sent out on missions there. Few of them had ever come back, or not that anyone seemed to recall. Whether that was due to PsyOps or because they had been lost overseas nobody knew. But did it matter? They definitely couldn't stay here.
That was day one.
In the small hours of day two, when most of her people were already on their way, Max eventually had to say goodbye to Logan and her friends, to Sketchy, to OC... Logan had been reluctant to stay behind, but OC had been too smart for that. She didn't argue with Max, she simply accepted it when Max told her she'd be safer back in Seattle, and Max was incredibly grateful for that.
She wasn't sure she wouldn't have caved in the end had they all begged her to come with.
For the rest of the journey, Max would find her thoughts wandering back to the moment when she had hugged OC for one last time. How they had clung to each other, crying and laughing at the same time; OC's warm, comforting touch... How they had been trying to make light of a situation that was dangerous for all of them - for the ones staying behind as well as the ones moving ahead.
"OC ain't gonna say goodbye to you, boo," her friend had declared eventually, then kissed her, until finally allowing Sketchy to escort her away. On their way to the waiting car, OC had even made a little detour and given Alec a smothering hug, whispering something in his ear that had made him smile and chuckle somewhat sheepishly. Then she had given him one last slap for good measure. "You keep my girl out of trouble or this won't be the last one," she had announced, her finger digging into his chest almost accusingly. "Don't think I won't find out..."
Then there was Logan. Their parting had been painful, awkward, necessary. Now, afterward, she felt like with saying goodbye to him she had eventually laid her dream to rest, being normal, living a normal kind of life.
"I love you, Max. I always will," he had whispered unselfconsciously. It had seemed like he had been waiting for her to say something in return, but all she could say was his name. "Logan..." He had smiled then, a slight blush creeping into his cheeks. "You'll always have a home here, you know? I want you to remember that. No matter what, you'll always have a home here, Max." With that, he had turned around and followed the other two, acutely aware that he wasn't even granted one last hug. Even then, in their last moment together, the virus had been a greater barrier than any distance counted in miles could ever be...
Soon they were already well on their way to the coast. They traveled in small groups, each of which was using a different route to get to where three big freighter ships were being made ready for them thanks to Logan's efforts.
They reached the harbor on the sixth day, Max, Alec, Joshua, and the little one, the second group to arrive after Mole's. The plan was for everyone to get there by day seven, leaving them with a full 24 hours to get everything ready. Those of them who didn't make it by then would have to be left behind.
Max had to force herself not to think about it, and once the day for their departure came she was relieved to see that each and everyone of their TC group was accounted for.
Days later, and Dalton still couldn't believe she was dead. He had followed the others in an almost trancelike sort of state. Now that they had finally reached their first destination and had boarded the ships, the truth eventually caught up with him. She was dead, she wouldn't be coming back.
They had spent so much time together; she had been there for him all this time, making everything more bearable, and now she was gone and he had to deal with all of this by himself.
And what if they found out about him, too?
He knew why she was dead; they had told him. He had learned all the details, what Alec had said to her, how he had wanted her gone. Only Joshua had not been mad at her, had seemed to understand. He had been the one to tell Dalton about it. Yet Dalton couldn't confide in him, no, not even in Joshua.
He had never reported back to Manticore, unlike Gem, though he doubted that they'd care about that little detail.
He and Gem had been captured that one time, shortly after they had left TC. He remembered them doing stuff he'd rather not remember, and once they'd released him - to his surprise - he hadn't dared say anything to Gem, for fear of... yeah, for fear of what? Of her thinking of him as a traitor?
Coz that's what he was, wasn't it? Knowing that Gem hadn't been any better didn't change anything.
He knew they had implanted some sort of signal in him, close to the brain stem - too close to get it out if he wanted to live through it. And he did want to live.
He had been too afraid to die, so he hadn't told anyone. He still couldn't. Deep down he knew he should stay away from them all to keep them save. Because they were the closest thing to a family he had. But he was too afraid.
So he stayed.
Staring down into the dark water that opened up below him now he could only hope that maybe, just maybe, they could no longer follow the signal. That he and his friends were finally safe.
Fawn reached the harbor almost at the same time Ames White and his chauffeur got there.
As the sun started her descent into the water, they could only follow the dark silhouettes of a couple of freighters with their eyes, feeling immobilized standing on the shore.
452 was gone. Fawn heard White curse, curse his father, curse 452, curse Manticore, curse the conclave. He was standing close to her yet was unaware that she was there. He screamed to the wind that he was supposed to be a survivor, a better human. That it was all about the right genetics.
That it was not supposed to be like this.
He was right about that last part.
It was not supposed to be like this at all. Manticore was supposed to be back to its old strength by now. No, it was supposed to be stronger than ever. Instead, nothing was left but a few scattered soldiers. She hadn't reached anyone in command for over a week. Instead, she had come across White and his ridiculous troop of conclave members more than once during the last couple of days.
She had seen him slowly decline, looking worse from one day to the next, turning from a strong proud man into what he was now: another sick ordinary. It seemed to be his skin, mostly, which had started to come off in flakes, then bigger chunks, just like she had seen it start happening to so many other mere humans. Yet his obsession with 452 had never stopped. If anything, it had grown stronger...
"I - we need her, Otto. Get me a damn boat! Something!" he seethed. "She's the key. It's always been her, and he knew it. That's why the coward killed himself and all his useless creatures. It's always only been her! - I need a goddamn boat! Now!"
There were no boats anywhere in the vicinity. She had checked that herself. Fawn almost felt sorry for the man.
Now, with people growing sick everywhere and Manticore pretty much gone - at least to her knowledge - she didn't quite know what to do. There was no one waiting for her to fulfill her orders. There was no plan of taking over the government. All of that was obsolete.
She had to continue along her given path, though, no matter what. Therefore she stepped out of her hiding spot into the open and dove into the water in one lithe and quick movement so that White never got the chance to attack her. She didn't look back once.
She could swim for hours, days even, if she had to. She would reach them soon enough. She would decide what to do next once she got to them...
She was a shark after all, and she loved the water just as much as she loved to hunt.
Max couldn't believe they had made it this far. She stood facing the wind, letting it play with her hair, tug at her clothes, and looked out over the gray vastness of the water surrounding her. She closed her eyes and raised her face to the pale sun above her, half shielded by hazy clouds.
On a minute's notice the TC inhabitants and her other - ordinary - friends had gathered and set out to make her plan work. For lack of an alternative they had all agreed to it - and they were still alive.
Only a few days had passed since it all had started, days in which Alec had re-entered her life, in which he had needed her saving, in which they had learned of Manticore's plan to take over the world. TC had come to life one last time. Then the killing had started, and they all had been busy trying to get out of Seattle unnoticed and unharmed - not an easy feat for such a large group of people, especially when everyone was out to get them and not few of them looked anything but ordinary.
But now they were finally on their way, even though the shore was still all too close and they didn't really know where they were headed. They weren't out of danger, yet, and she couldn't allow herself to let her guard down till they were.
Her shoulders tensed as OC's face appeared before her mind's eye. What would become of her, of everyone else?
"Hey Max." Thankfully, she was jolted out of her dark thoughts and turned around when she heard Alec address her. She smiled. He was balancing littlest fella on his arm like a pro, the kid grabbing his nose with obvious delight. Still, he managed to look almost dignified. "I know, I know, kiddo, my nose is super cute," he said to the little one, then looked to Max for confirmation, "Right, Maxie?"
"The cutest," she said earnestly, then grinned. The expression was replaced by one of sadness all too quickly though and Alec nudged her side lightly once he came to stand right next to her. "Hey," he made.
With his free hand he grabbed hers, and she was grateful for the touch.
She thought of her siblings, the dead ones and the living ones she had had to leave behind. Seeing as they didn't know who to trust they hadn't been able to send out a signal to anyone. She wondered what would become of them. Whether and how they were involved in all of this. A tear made its way from the corner of her eye down her cheek.
With a gurgling sound, the little girl bent over and placed her pudgy hand on Max's face, looking concerned. She had to smile then and gently took the little one's hand in hers. "I'm alright, kiddo," she said. Yet the child seemed to see right through her and pouted. "Well, I will be," Max amended. "We all will be."
She allowed herself to lean into Alec then and feel his warmth as the wind got stronger and stronger the farther they got from the shore. They stood like that for a long time, neither of them saying anything. Even little Evie remained almost silent, contentedly playing with Alec's nose, and ears, and lips, smiling at him, making a few sounds of delight now and then as he smiled at her too.
The sky was turning dark already when Max eventually broke the silence asking, "You think we're ever gonna find ourselves a home? Where nobody comes to wipe us out? A real home? We don't even know where we are going..."
He tightened his hold on her. She was almost certain he'd reply with some joke or other. Instead, he said, "I don't know, Max. But I'm sure we'll make it work somehow... We have to."
"For Eve," Max muttered and ruffled the little girl's hair.
"For us, Max, you and I and Evie." There was the briefest of pauses that Max wasn't sure meant anything before he added, "For all of us."
He sounded so certain. Snuggling up even closer to him, his body shielding her from the wind, she almost felt certain herself. There was hope. They were going to make it somehow. She and Alec and Eve, and everyone else.
Max closed her eyes and allowed herself to finally enjoy this moment of quiet peace, to enjoy the warmth of his body against hers and the cool salty air caressing her face.
She could feel Alec's lips at her temple, a light breath, an almost kiss...