Underworld was created by Len Wiseman, Kevin Grevioux and Danny McBride. The Underworld film franchise is the property of Sony, Screen Gems and Lakeshore entertainment. This fanfiction was written without their permission but with a great deal of admiration. No party other than the submitting author may alter this work. This story assumes that the anime is canon, complete with a nine-year gap between UW: Evolution and UW: Awakening.
They are not out of order.
"Corvin," he said, still looking out the window.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You do have a real name. It's Corvin," he said. "Your last name," he amended.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because mine is," he said. "I'm Michael Corvin."
"Oh," she said, looking off to her right. "Does Mother have a last name too?"
He laughed, an outward-bursting hack of a sound, as if the chest wound had reopened.
"What? What did I say?"
"Nothing," he said. "It's only she really doesn't like that question."
(Seventeen years earlier...)
"We could, you know."
"Could what?" asked Selene, looking up. Michael raised an eyebrow. None of her weapons were ever visible through her clothes, but she always checked five times.
Michael inclined his head at the scene across the street. The photographers had finished adjusting the tripods, and the lights blared against the row of faces on the high stone steps. The gray-haired woman in the pink jacket was fussing with the lay of the dress again. Becoming a lycan had made Michael much better at reading lips. I am going to kill your mother, the woman in the dress seemed to say. No, honey, wait until after the reception, at least, said the man in the tuxedo.
"Well maybe not the hideous clothes and the three-hour ceremony, but the general idea of it we could do."
"You want to get married?" Selene asked.
Michael gave a false shrug, keeping his eyes on hers as he spoke. "We've been together four years now, Selene. We certainly could."
She gave something between a snort and a ...well, it pretty much was a snort, but she looked away, went back to checking her holster strap. Michael smiled. She wasn't so nearly indifferent to this idea as she let on, and they both knew it.
"You'd get a last name."
"What makes you think I don't already have one?"
Michael blinked. "You've never told me what it is," he said.
Selene shrugged and then she told him.
"What?" asked Michael.
She told him again, halfway between irritated and amused. Americans.
Michael shook his head. "One day I will learn to pronounce that," he prophesised.
"Can't you quiet your tongue for once?" she asked.
"You weren't complaining about my tongue this morning."
He hadn't figured it would actually happen. He'd been playing it smart, doing his job, never openly contradicting the company hard line. It had been hard. He'd been angry, so angry, but a man had to live in the real world, so what can you do?
You tell yourself what you'll do and what you won't. And then you can get up in the morning, look yourself in the eye when you get ready for the day, and you do every bit of good that they'll let you do.
He'd never expected it to actually happen. He'd kept his eyes open and he'd kept his little files, but deep down he'd figured he would hit his twenty year and get out without ever openly crossing them.
A mother and a kidnapped child.
There were worse places to draw the line.
Werewolf. Hybrid. Fugitive. Killer.
Four words, and they'd each of them knocked him for a loop in their own ways. At the time, he'd thought it was weird enough getting bitten by a full-grown man. Selene's touch had been more delicate, but it had still required its share of adjustments. He'd managed, though. He'd only started to accept the wolf bite before it had become irrelevant. Being a hybrid had given him the strength to keep Selene and himself alive, so he'd managed to wrap his head around that one pretty quick. Being hunted? That had taken more time. He'd hidden a minute or two of breakdown over that one. The hardest part was accepting that he'd directly caused the deaths of other living beings, lycans no worse than he might have ended up, vampires no worse than Selene.
He was a dad.
This one came with an asterisk, caveat, qualification. He had a daughter, but he'd barely spoken to her. He hadn't taught her or picked her up or nagged her to do her homework. He hadn't even been able to keep this building full of sons of bitches from cutting her up for spare parts.
If they'd made it out of the city that night, he'd have been a father. Period. They'd have had months to prepare and years to actually raise her, probably into the same kind of smart-mouthed modern-age brat that he'd been as a kid, not this little mystery.
Never left the lab. Thought her name was Subject Two. Good God. And he was worried about his own ability to adapt? This child probably had more psychological damage than he could even understand. In his youth, there had been stories of children from Romanian orphanages, made into little piles of pain by the worst kind of neglect.
He'd come to grips with it, like he'd come to grips with all of them. But the first step had to be staying alive.
"Sounds like a plan," said Michael in the same tone as always, "but I'm driving."
"What?" she asked, surprised. "Michael, I'll drive."
Except for those disastrous first few days, Michael always did what she said. "You know this stuff better than I do," he'd say to her, or "I have a lot to learn" every day for the eight months that had passed since Viktor's death.
Michael met her eyes, raising an eyebrow. Selene stared at him in amazement. The gesture was not aggressive, but its meaning was unmistakable—he had no intention of backing down.
"Because we are trying to blend in," he explained without being asked. Not apologetic. Not domineering. "And you have road rage issues."
"Means you get angry when you drive. Then you speed up and cut people off."
"You drive too slowly."
"I drive carefully," he said as he slung the duffel back carefully into the boot and reached down to make sure that the ice packs sat well.
He was arguing with her. He was actually arguing with her. And... and...
Michael had hardly contradicted a word she'd said. He followed her lead in all things—usually to fantastic effect. Their interrogation of Tannis alone... Truth be told, she'd spent some time wondering what was wrong with him, whether Lucian's blood had affected his mind to make him obey the pack leader no matter what.
No, that wasn't true, she realized. He'd done this before. She just hadn't noticed. His contradictions had taken the form of suggestions, of questions. And she'd done what he'd said as often as not.
That wasn't what she was used to.
There were men in the great covens who did not object to taking orders from a woman, especially one who'd proven her mettle and enjoyed Viktor's personal favor, but most of them would insist on having their own word in, make her give some token sign of submission before submitting themselves. Most would roll their eyes, cross their arms, lean one arm against the doorway to block it and say, "Hundreds. Really?"
"I'm driving," he repeated, lowering his chin but looking her in the eye.
This was not how Kraven got what he wanted. Kraven had oozed aggression from his every pore and he'd craved her obedience so often and so ardently that she couldn't help but think of him even now, even in broad daylight with the wretched man long dead.
He hadn't moved. He hadn't picked up the keys. He wasn't even standing between her and the driver's side door.
This wasn't anything to do with his personality, or rather, it wasn't anything to do with weakness. Michael hadn't been covering for anything. He followed her lead because she almost always knew better than he did. And this was how he acted when he thought he knew better.
"Michael, if this is about that time we ended up in the river, please remember that I'd just been stabbed."
"I do remember," he said, "but the way you drive is like catnip for cops."
"We also get where we need to be."
He paused, leaning back, and he jerked his chin toward the boot of the car.
"Do you really want us to get pulled over with six mason jars full of deer blood in the trunk?"
Selene said nothing.
And Michael waited. And then she realized that sometimes patience only looked like weakness. He could and would stand here all day.
She handed him the keys.
"Thank you," he said.
"For God's sake, Michael, use my name."
"Hello there ...Andrea?" he said, turning the name into a question. "Or are you Nyssa again today?"
"No," she said, smiling, "today I'm Samantha." Selene's hand went still on the sheet. From here, all she could see of Michael was the back of his head.
"Maybe not that one," Michael said in an unchanged, upbeat tone. She shrugged. "Why don't you let your mother and me talk a bit?"
"But she just woke up!"
"I'll come out in a few minutes. I promise," said Selene.
She smiled—and it still looked strange—and went outside.
"She learns fast," Michael remarked.
"How long was I asleep?" Selene asked.
"Maybe a day and a half," he answered. Selene's mouth narrowed. She'd spent more time asleep than she cared for lately. Her eyes went to the window, the heavy door. She could hear their daughter outside, talking to David.
"Things have been quiet," Michael said, answering the question that she hadn't given voice. "We probably shouldn't stay past tomorrow, but for now I don't think anyone knows we're here."
"What has she been doing?" Selene asked.
Michael gave a sad half-smile. "Climbing trees," he answered.
He looked down, and then back up at her. "I have trouble understanding it," he said. Two hurricane-green eyes met hers. "They would have given a dog a name."
"I know," she said. "Try not to think about it."
Michael nodded. "From what I hear, most of them are dead now anyway."
Selene exhaled, "Yes, most of them."
"I'm sorry I missed it," he said, eyes following their daughter.
He meant it. Selene could see it in the set of his jaw, in the hardness that looked so alien in his eyes. Michael did not often express desire to harm those who did not pose an immediate threat—and whatever else might be said of the late Dr. Lane, he could be no threat to anyone now—but this time he did. Only there was something else in his eyes.
"You feel ashamed," she said quietly.
"I'm her father," he said, and the words were heavy. They carried a lifetime of conditioning, centuries of tradition, and millions of years of biological impulses. That was where they all aligned: this moment, a girl, and a man who had not been able to keep her from harm. Selene touched the side of his face and said nothing. This was the human she'd seen that night in the subway. This was the lycan who'd told her his story in the safehouse. That Michael had lived to help others, and when he could not, he was ashamed.
Michael put his hand over hers.
"There will be other enemies," Selene said at last.
She'd never say it out loud. She was worried that they'd find out.
The real world was terrifying, even though she had both parents now. She'd felt safer in the lab. Nothing was ever the same out here. It was cold. She never knew when she'd get to eat. She never knew where she'd be sleeping that night.
On the fourth day, she'd shouted at her mother and David. Then David had said that she didn't really know why she was angry, and that made her more angry.
On the eighth day, the second time she'd done it, her mother had hit her back, just once, across the mouth. Later, Mother had explained that there might have been enemies near and that they might have all been killed if they had heard. She hadn't known what else to do, she'd said.
That first summer, she'd hit her mother. Before anything could register, her father had picked her up, pinning her arms to her sides as she kicked her feet in the air. He was the only one who'd ever been stronger than she was.
She'd overheard Father saying to Mother, "We don't know how to be parents," and she'd felt a new kind of fear, cold and melting inside her belly. For the next three days, she was docile as a lamb. (She knew what a lamb was now; David had brought her one to eat and it had hardly struggled.)
She'd had the dream again, the one where she woke up and everyone was gone, and she was made out of snow. (She knew what snow was now. It was cold and never dried out.)
On that day, the Terrible Day, she should have moved but didn't. She should have shouted but she never made a sound. And she could never take it back.
And Mother said she'd done well if she remembered how to take a gun apart and put it back together, or if she stayed still and quiet while she and Father or she and David got food. And Father smiled when he taught her things about molecules or airplanes or how to read. Sometimes she made them laugh, but she was always watching, and she knew they were always watching.
It couldn't possibly be enough. She couldn't possibly be enough. Sooner or later she'd be all alone.
It had been one hell of an afternoon, but he was finally alone. At least most of the bleeding had stopped. His ankle was almost certainly broken, and his left shoulder didn't feel too good either. That was nothing to the aches he'd be feeling tomorrow when he got up for work. Assuming he still had a job, of course. He was a damned good liar, but it was possible that someone would figure out that he hadn't really been trying to stop an attack on the Antigen facility.
Sebastian piled himself into the car. Selene had her daughter now. They'd have to make it the rest of the way on their own. The less he knew about it, the better it would be for everyone. As far as he was concerned, vampires, lycans, bigfoot, they could all take a number and call him back in the morning.
He closed his eyes, feeling the coolness of the key in his hand has he leaned back against the headrest. It was finally over. He'd managed to convince the officers on scene that they'd left heading east, but then, that might actually have happened. Why in God's name had Selene doubled back into the building? What could possibly be more important than getting the hell out of there?
There was an unmistakable click of an Antigen-issue Glock in the air behind his head. Sebastian looked into the rearview mirror straight into a pair of pale green eyes.
A guttural voice ordered, "Drive."
"Don't lock your arm!" said Michael.
"What?" she turned her head, shifting her weight in the wrong direction. Michael smacked a hand over his eyes as David went flying.
"I'm sorry!" she said as the young vampire pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, teetered for a moment, then collapsed back down into the leaf litter.
"Don't be sorry," said Michael. "Just give him a minute and then we'll try it again. Maybe we'll go back to getting out of a hold."
"But we did those all morning!" she whined.
"It's important," said Michael. "If your enemy gets the right grip, it won't matter how strong you are. I almost died in a necklock once. Now give it one more try," he said it encouragingly.
David muttered something not meant for man nor beast.
"I've never heard that word before," she said. "What does it mean?"
Michael shot David a look. The poor kid seemed to sink down into the shadows, like a chameleon changing its skin in the face of a predator.
Michael cleared his throat, "Um, it's a reference to the feces of a male cow, here used as an expression of displeasure, considered extremely rude."
"Oh," she said. "Don't be rude, David."
David got to his feet, moving gingerly. "She should really have a sparring partner her own size," he muttered.
"Well when we find one of those, let me know," said Michael. "I learned to fight with Selene as my only partner, and I turned out all right." It had been a cross between Judo, Krav Maga and I've-been-doing-this-for-six-hundred-years-and-don't-feel-the-need-to-call-it-anything-now-get-back-over-here-so-I-can-dislocate-your-elbow-again.
"I know it's not as much fun as practicing with a Beretta," Michael admitted, "but you need to get these reflexes down. Then when you're in a fight, you won't panic, and you'll win."
She looked down for a minute, then back up at him. Damn. He hadn't meant to bring it up what had happened, but it would be on her mind until it wasn't.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly.
"You don't have to be sorry about it," he said, nodding toward David. "Just try it again."
Sebastian didn't move.
"Don't make me tell you twice," he said again. "I'm not screwing around."
Keeping his eyes on the rearview, Sebastian slowly turned the ignition. As the engine turned over, the stranger looked to the right, where the lights of the squad cars blazed out from the Antigen parking garage.
Sebastian eased the car away from the sidewalk and into the seething city.
He could hear the stranger breathing in and out. This guy was either very out of breath or very angry. How long had he been hiding in the backseat? How had he known which car to break into?
"We're not going to get far in rush hour traffic," Sebastian pointed out in a steady voice. "You want to tell me where we're going?"
"Wherever she is," said the stranger.
Sebastian paused. "She," he repeated.
"Selene." The word blazed like a curse. "She's been in this car. Tell me where she is now."
Sebastian took a right turn. There was an on-ramp to the highway a few blocks up. "I don't know what you think you're getting into," he said, slowly forming each syllable of each word, "but I do not recommend going after that woman."
The tightness around the eyes in the mirror suggested a smirk.
"So kind of you to be concerned for my well-being," said the stranger. "Drive."
White male aged twenty-five to thirty-five with an educated accent. Educated but not affected. Well-being sounded like well-been. His hair was too long for him to be an Antigen employee. He must have gotten into the car while it was still daylight, but these days that didn't seem to mean he wasn't a vampire.
The on-ramp reached up and let him in. One lane change and he hit the accelerator, hard. The stranger's eyes narrowed. Sebastian held in a smirk. It looked like this freak wasn't dumb enough to shoot the driver when the car was doing eighty.
"I'd come out of this wreck better than you would," growled the stranger, but there was a new tightness in his voice. He didn't like being outsmarted. Or he didn't like car crashes.
"You're a lycan, then," Sebastian observed. Maybe not all of the packs had cleaned up and chucked their civvies when they'd joined Antigen.
"If you say so," said the stranger. Funny response. "Now tell me where Selene is."
Sebastian felt his lip curl as he answered in a halfway decent growl of his own, "I don't know where they're going," he said, "and even if I did, I wouldn't tell you. Selene and her daughter are where you can't follow them."
"Selene and her WHAT?"
The stranger sat forward quickly. Sebastian jumped, letting go of the wheel. The tires screamed as the car lurched to the side. Sebastian could empathize. By now, the highway was a solid mass of blaring horns, and the stranger was halfway across the center console, swearing hard as he pulled the wheel straight.
"Drive," he said again, retreating. Sebastian risked turning his head. The stranger was staring off to the side. The gun was still loosely clasped in his hand, but now lying flat against the backseat. He ran his free hand through neck-length, messy hair. Aside from the eyes, he looked utterly ordinary, maybe a little more muscular than average.
He hadn't known about the girl.
His clothes didn't look like they were his. He was barefoot. He looked like he'd escaped from someplace where they piped in the daylight through a sieve.
"Why were you at the Antigen building?" Sebastian asked carefully.
"That is something I would like to ask Antigen," he said.
"You didn't agree to help them?" he asked. Out of all the lycans in the world, some of them must have turned them down. What had happened to the ones who had?
"I still need to know where Selene is," said the stranger.
Sebastian met his eyes in the rearview. "I still don't know."
"This is going to sound like a stupid question," said the stranger, "but do you happen to know what year it is?"
Michael looked up at the crunch of gravel under well-worn boots. He'd already known she was there, of course, but he'd gotten into the habit of doing no more than was humanly possible.
David had unusual taste in friends.
"How long you think you'll need to stay?" she asked.
"We'll leave as soon as she can travel," said Michael. "Shouldn't be more than a day."
"Good," she said. Michael nodded, wondering which good she meant. Good that they were leaving before they could draw any enemies here. Good that they wouldn't be a drain on the food supply. Good that her injured guest would be up and about soon. Good that they would be gone.
Michael suddenly remembered his first trip to Hungary as a child. He had Hungarian blood. He looked Hungarian. He'd referred to himself as Hungarian in the presence of anyone who wasn't. But he'd landed in Liszt Ferenc International barely knowing the language and with none of the half-spoken, half-code understanding of the people and the way they thought. His parents had grown up with Vietnam and rock and roll, not Kádár and Communism. All the underlying meanings were turned in different directions. Michael Corvin had only been Hungarian in the dictionary.
She took a step closer, shoulders ducking as she looked at him from the side. Michael wondered when she'd got into the habit of looking submissive when she meant to take charge. "You aren't a problem," she said. "And the girl isn't a problem." She craned her neck, trying to see behind the house where they could both hear his daughter and David reacting to the sublime novelty of being outside during the day. "And he isn't much of a problem."
"I understand," said Michael.
Two hybrids and a millennial vampire were one thing. An actual death dealer. That was another thing.
"David thinks we're all in this together now," she said, meeting his eyes. Gray and glassy. She had that quiet kind of fear, the kind that helps you sit still.
There were two ways to survive contact with a predator. The first was to kill it. The second was to make sure it never knew you were there.
"David's young," he answered.
Twelve years could change a lot, but if what he'd figured out was true, this coven—clan, compound, outpost, whatever—had been here since before Lucian's death. Things like this made Michael realize how little he'd actually known Lucian or his men.
When he'd first gotten pulled into this mess, the vampires had had all the advantages in numbers, technology, organization and access to food, money and information.
Lycans, however, absolutely wiped the floor with them when it came to blending in. It looked like some things didn't change. Vampires could make a guy wonder why it had taken humankind so long to figure out that immortals existed. Lycans made him wonder why they ever had, especially these lycans. Meg and her sisters looked and sounded exactly like every other woman in this neck of the woods, down to the wear marks on their clothes. Probably bought in a secondhand shop. Considering the way lycans ran through shirts, that was probably their only option, budget-wise.
There was no sense trying to figure out how she thought, Michael said to himself. For all that he still woke up from dreams of anvils and Raze and Sonja, he still understood very little about what it meant to actually be a lycan. In Meg's eyes, he probably counted even less than those new-turned Antigen soldiers who didn't fear silver and had never known the lash or the war.
"There are twenty-two people living here," she told him, nodding toward the room where Selene slept. "People" meaning "lycans," he understood. At least some of them would have fought in the war. There was no telling who had or hadn't met Selene personally. "Met" meaning something else. This wasn't one of the great covens from Selene's day. The word of a leader wasn't law.
"I'll make sure someone's always with her," he said.
She nodded. "Just in case."
Michael watched her walk away. Maybe he understood enough.
Michael finally understood why he found Detective Sebastian so unnerving.
The smoothness was just starting to wear away. Lines forming at the corners of his eyes, movements showing echoes of pain from a tossup that had happened a whole week past. Michael was pretty sure this was what he would have looked like. It was what he felt like on the inside.
Sebastian was neighborhood of thirty-five, his best years spent and dropped down into a job that was alternately boring and scary as hell. Michael felt his teeth set. One swerve right instead of left...
He knew that look, too. He knew that look and he'd done his damnedest to get it out of the mirror. He'd thrown himself into the toughest program he could find to get that look out of the mirror. When that hadn't worked, he'd crossed a goddamned ocean.
Michael shook his head. None of this meant that Sebastian hadn't tried. Even if it did, who was he to say that moving on was what a guy had to do?
Then he thought about Selene. And he thought about his daughter.
Nothing he'd tried had worked, but when something else had come his way, he'd been ready. He'd had no control over the timing, but that hadn't mattered.
He was a guy it had fucking worked out for, that was who.
"Don't be late," said Selene that first time in Zurich. She would be dropping the payment while he retrieved the ammunition. He'd fought the urge to roll his eyes. This was serious and he knew it, or at least he'd thought he'd known it. Silver bullets were hard to find and Selene had said that her loose ends would be coming for them.
"Don't be late," she said, one hand on his arm to adjust his hold as he stared down the sights at the rotten stump that they were using for target practice. He nodded and then fired.
"Don't be late," she'd murmured against his ear and they'd shared one last kiss before he'd boarded the train. Damn but it was going to be a long two weeks in Slovenia, but her face was known there and his wasn't.
He understood by then. The when was as important as the where. Be in the right place at the wrong time and so would a bullet. Fail to be there and how would you ever find each other again in all the roiling chaos of the world?
"Don't be late" was the anthem of his life, it seemed. He'd been thinking it that day in the subway. Don't be late or Nicholas will have your ass in front of everyone. Don't be late or—and then he'd seen a beautiful girl with her eyes full of purpose, and suddenly Nicholas could take a number.
"Don't be late," she'd whispered, ramming the clip home as another round of gunfire tore into the wall above and behind them. Michael nodded tightly—he never could get used to being unable to speak—and ducked out from where they'd been taking cover and took the first of the soldiers square in the jaw. He mentally tapped out the count. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen... before Selene snapped up and eliminated the opponents he'd finally drawn out from cover. Michael flipped one of the bodies onto its back and read the insignia on the uniform. A hexagon with a stylized A...
"I'll have the boat ready, but they'll want to leave with the tide," he said. It would attract attention if they didn't, and leaving quietly was the whole point of this. He would miss the city, but home had been wherever she was for nine years. "And don't be late," he added.
"I won't," she said, smiling as if it were a joke.
"You don't scare me, Selene," the man's voice wasn't completely steady, but that gunshot hadn't missed by much.
"Well we're going to have to work on that." Holy crap, had she just told a joke? They'd gone over the basics on the ride over, but there was something to be said for improvising, and he couldn't have asked for a better cue.
It wasn't every day that he got to smash through a window and pin an informant to the wall ...or at least it hadn't been every day before.
Selene started the interrogation while he invaded Tannis's personal space—in this case, his closet. He had to hand it to him, the man recovered quickly. Pretentious taste in shirts, though.
It was a lot harder than he'd thought it would be. He'd never had the back of his mind scream at him like this. Something deep in Michael kept telling him, stand between Selene and the threat. He had to practically recite to himself that it wouldn't work. She had to appear to be in charge.
Because the more certainly Tannis believed that Selene held the hybrid's leash, the more frightened he would be.
Nicholas had said something once about the dynamics of the operating room, how the assistants, nurses, interns and techs all had to be where the surgeon wanted them. Michael had not understood. But in a modern hospital full of professional adults, that had not mattered. When everyone knew their place, no one had to be put in it, not when there was a patient on the table. Michael had heard horror stories, but that was it.
"He was after this. Why?" he said, tossing the medallion across the room. It hit Tannis in the chest like a blow.
His place was by her side, helping her take a man apart.
"I heard you talking to Meg," said Michael. "Something about a place here."
Sebastian looked up but didn't answer.
"You think I made the wrong choice."
Michael shook his head. "Maybe five years ago I would have thought so—I mean seventeen," he corrected. The arithmetic of his missing years would be easier to correct than the other problems it had caused. "But with the purges?" he shrugged. "I wasn't too happy about becoming lycan right when it happened. Might've felt differently if I'd had a choice, though. Or if the lycans who'd turned me had been more..."
"Civilized?" asked Sebastian.
Michael nodded, suddenly realizing that Sebastian probably knew more about what regular lycans were like than he did. When he'd met Lucian, there had been a war on, and a brutal one. Lucian had brought brutal men with him. Joining them had seemed degrading. But if he'd been invited to eternal youth in a compound full of lycan women interested in repopulating their species? It was practically the plot of an old Star Trek episode. It was a fantasy but it was an adolescent fantasy, and Sebastian was no adolescent. The only place he would boldly go was into that great unknown beyond the grave.
"It's not the purges," said Sebastian, narrowing his eyes against the light from the window. He breathed out. "Selene tell you?" he asked. "About my wife?"
Michael nodded. "Yeah."
If Sebastian objected to Selene's lack of silence, he didn't show it. Maybe he missed sharing everything with someone.
"Look, I can wait to see her again," he said, "but only so long."
Michael was quiet. So it wasn't just love for the human condition. It was specific.
"I used to be like that," he said.
Sebastian turned his eyes, only his eyes. "Lycans?" he asked.
Sebastian sat back. "Samantha," he said. "That's what that was about, with your daughter's name."
Michael laughed, only a little. "Yes," he said. "She could do worse for a namesake, but I'd rather she called herself something else. She looks more like a Nyssa anyway." He sobered. "I used to think what you're thinking," he said. "And I'm not telling you what to do. But when I was faced with it, when I had the end staring me in the face, I would have given anything for one more minute with the people who were still here with me."
"You think I'll meet someone else?" Sebastian asked with gentle sarcasm.
"Not what I'm talking about," said Michael. "I think your life is worth more than waiting for it all to end. So do the people here, or they wouldn't have had anyone talk to you."
There was a sound outside. Kay was arguing with Lisa again. Okay, so maybe the women on Star Trek had tended to be more demure. And their costumes weren't as frumpy. And you never caught any of them fussing about mundane things like how to make quota or where their next meal was coming from.
"You could say no to them," said Michael, "but you should say yes to something"
"You should think about how long you want to stay with us," she told him.
David looked up from the gun he was cleaning. The girl was asleep in the corner of the semi-truck, and they were making the most of the remaining daylight—daylight!—in case of another eventful night. "I can be useful," he said.
"I know," she answered, "and I am grateful for everything you have done."
"You saved my life," he said.
"And what you do with that life is up to you," she said. "Your coven needs to be rebuilt. You can't be the only vampire in this world that's worth saving."
"If not here, then where?" he asked.
Selene stared at him for a long moment. "I wanted to go back," she said. "The night after Viktor died, I was going to ask Marcus for amnesty for Michael and me. If it had been Amelia, or if Marcus had been the man he was during his last reign, it might have happened."
She'd said "after he died," not "after I killed him." And she'd mentioned Michael. She mentioned Michael in almost every conversation that lasted more than three sentences. The man was hard to find, but his name wasn't.
"But when that did not happen, it was very hard. I'd never been a wanderer, and neither had Michael. We both had to learn how to be alone."
David suddenly noticed how much she reminded him of his father, always talking about the foolishness of vampires who lived in the human world and how fortunate they were to have the coven for protection. Each life had a greater purpose, he'd said. Of course, that had always meant doing exactly as the coven leader wished. He couldn't imagine why someone as capable as a real death dealer would want to go back to that when they had a chance at real freedom. Surely someone that strong would make it.
"So it's true then?" he asked. "Marcus went mad?"
Selene nodded. "I never figured out why," she said. "Perhaps it was the lycan blood or the sudden freedom. Michael had some ideas about it," she shrugged. "But you should think about what I've said. Michael and I lasted nine years, but we were eventually caught, and much of our time was spent simply trying to get the food and supplies we needed. If you have a coven, then there are always others to watch your back."
David looked at his hands for a moment, considering the question.
"If you permit it, I will stay a while yet."
The first time, she'd been so surprised. She hadn't realized it was allowed. After that, she could not stop asking questions. And sometimes—sometimes, she would get a different answer if she asked a different person.
"Why are there more humans than us?" she asked.
"Because this world truly belongs to them," said Mother.
"Because they've existed longer," said David the next day. Then he'd told her about Alexander Corvinus and Marcus and the first covens and how there had been great human empires in Rome and Egypt.
"Because they can eat more different kinds of foods than we can," said Michael. Then he'd told her about farmland and cows and cooking and how, until he'd been turned, he'd never gone hungry a day in his life.
"Why doesn't it hurt when we touch silver?"
"Your Corvinus blood protects you, child."
"You're special. That's probably why they wanted you in the lab."
"A regular lycan immune system overreacts to the presence of silver, but something about the vampire physiology balances it out. Oh, it means all the organic processes in a— 'Organic' means carbon-based—We'll get to that."
She wondered what it would be like, ask the same question and get more than three answers, ask every person on a street, all lined up until the end of the world.
"When can we stop running?" she asked once.
No one said a word.
For a long time no one said a word. There was nothing but that sound inside her head.
"How'd they follow us?" she heard David breathe.
Michael shook his head. "I don't think they did."
"Do you think the detective's car was bugged?"
"This was an ordinary raid," said Michael. "These lycans have been getting supplies from the town for years," said Michael. "Someone must have figured it out. One of their neighbors must have told."
"They stayed in one place too long," said Mother.
David half-dragged her by her wrist. Her legs worked, but everything in the world was tumbling over itself. They were going away, away from Meg and Kay and Lisa and tear gas and silver grenades and something like a smashed origami crane that rasped when it moved.
She didn't say a word. She couldn't. Then she'd have to tell. Then it would really have happened.
He'd pushed her out of the way. She hadn't been able to move, not a bit, not a bit
She'd still been there, so still as to be invisible when the solider had muttered "Shit" and walked away. And he'd lain there with his head facing away and the fluid leaking through the sides. He'd looked like the bird they'd found on the highway with its wings sticking the wrong way. After all the noise had gone dead, she'd picked up a sound, a vocal hissing in time with breathing but not breathing, like something was sticking loose into his throat.
She'd seen people die before. She'd made them die, but this was the wrong person, and that made it terrible, terrible...
Kay had looked down at him, bleeding out.
"How bad do you want to live, Sebastian?" she'd said.
The noise stopped.
"I don't think she'd ever left the lab," Michael breathed. "She barely knew how to read. I can only imagine..." Michael closed his eyes.
"She said that one of the technicians took care of her. A woman named Lida."
Michael nodded his head. "One adult caretaker, who would have been completely passive against the others. No contact with the outside world or other children. She's suffered years of abuse, Selene. That doesn't just go away."
"What are you saying?" Selene asked, a bit of steel creeping into her tone. They could both hear her outside. There were maple seeds falling off the trees, apparently.
"I'm saying that we don't just have a child, Selene, we have a special needs child. We have to be prepared. At the absolute least, she'll need time to build the social skills that most people learn before the age of five."
"She has done amazing things, Michael. Once you see her—"
"I have seen her," he said, holding up one hand. "She is amazing," he said, feeling coloring the words, "
"What would you do?"
"If we could do anything?" Michael laughed. "Therapy?" he said. "A safe, stable environment with other young people around."
"Are you saying we should just find someplace and—"
"No," said Michael. "No, I never want to leave her—or you. She'll grow the rest of the way up with us," he said, "and we'll do the best we can."
There was a knock on the doorframe. David was standing there with a... no, not woman, not the way Selene would see it.
"This is a lycan safehouse?" Selene asked. Michael noted the finite tightening in her lower eyelids. Selene didn't look alarmed, but she was.
"David vouched for you," said the woman, chin jutting toward the young vampire. But her slate-gray eyes did not move from Selene's, giving the death dealer time to realize just what she was looking at.
I dare you, Michael read in her posture. This wasn't a young immortal like David. This was a lycan who knew exactly what a death dealer was.
"David?" Selene asked.
"A correspondent," David supplied, breaking the spell. "After the first purge, some of us saw the wisdom of keeping lines of communication open."
"Some of them," repeated the woman. She turned back to Selene. "You feeling better?"
"We'll be leaving today," said Selene.
"And thank you," added Michael.
She nodded, moving toward the door. After a moment, she turned and said, "Good luck." As she passed out of the room, Michael felt her mutter "We're all gonna need it."
"A correspondent?" Selene asked again. She slid toward the edge of the cot and got to her feet. "Where is my daughter?" Michael stepped back as Selene made for the door. David got knocked in the shoulder.
Michael sized David up. He had that stillness, that disciplined quiet that most of the vampires took on at some point. Even so, he could see the poor kid was confused.
"Consorting with lycans," Michael told him.
"What?" David asked, looking from Michael to the empty doorway and back. "Times have changed, and all I did was talk to her."
"Viktor was going to execute Selene for less than that."
"But I thought the two of you were—"
"That came later," Michael told him. Not very much later, but that was hardly the pup's business.
Both of them stopped at the sound of tires on the gravel road. At the edge of his vision, Michael noticed Kay nod to Lisa. This wasn't an expected visitor.
"What did they tell you about her?" asked David.
"Only that she was dead," she told him as they walked. He'd been showing her the basics of moving through the woods, but the only thing that really worked was practice. Of course, being a lifelong city monster, he only knew the basics himself. He squinted up at the blue between the cracked gray branches. The wild was no friend to a vampire, at least not a normal vampire.
"When I asked Lida to say more, sometimes she'd make things up," she went on. "If I'd been a good girl that day, she'd say that my mother had liked the color red or that she'd had a pet dog." She breathed out. "That thing we saw yesterday. That was a dog?"
David shook his head. "A fox. But a fox is like a dog."
"I'd only ever seen pictures." She closed her eyes. "Anyway, I always thought Mother could see me, the way I could see her. I'd always thought someone was—" there was a wet snap as a three-inch sapling turned to splinters between her fingers.
Thought someone was watching, David supposed. It was probably true, poor thing. That lab had been full of cameras.
"Careful," he said gently. "You'll have killed it. How did you know Lida was lying?" he changed the subject.
"I could just tell," she said, sitting down on a rotted log. She stood up again quickly as the damp reached her skin. She shook her head, probably annoyed. "At least I thought I could tell."
Of course she could just tell. That human woman had been her whole world. The only living thing there was to study. She'd probably learned to tell Lida's moods the way normal people knew whether or not it was raining.
"Do you miss her?" he asked.
She shook her head. She was lying. He could tell.
She shouldn't have been afraid. Mother had said it exactly twenty-six times, "You are stronger than they are," and "Whatever you do, don't panic," and she'd done it. She'd done it before. But this wasn't Dr. Lane, who could make her so angry that she could do anything.
There were echoes from the factory floor, gunshots, David's whip, the sounds of clawed feet. No one was coming to help.
It was moving toward her and when that smile—that put-it-in-restraints smile—stretched its mouth into a maw and its shirt into rags across its chest, then there was nothing to do but scrabble back and say she wouldn't bite Lida again, that she'd sit still, that she'd take the test, that she wouldn't make a sound, not a sound.
Its arms stretched and grew fur and claws clicked onto the concrete floor as a deep, massive growl filled the narrow space in the hallway and did it have to go so impossibly slow? Mother had said something about lycans, something about why they hunted, how they moved, but she couldn't remember any of it now.
Then something exploded in between. Someone was screaming, someone with a high, female voice. The clawed feet were scrabbling on the concrete and something dark and horrible clamped onto it like a vacu-tube to a needle. An arm locked across the half-furred neck. The muscles rippled and a terrible crunching sound filled the hallway, the building, the whole world.
The scream gave out, but her lungs still wouldn't work.
It let the dead lycan fall to the ground and it walked toward her. A sound came from its throat, barely making it through thick, needle teeth.
Its eyes were completely black—just like Dr. Lane's.
A clawed hand reached toward her, and her heart pounded so hard she was sure it would split open. With each step it took, the claws slowly shrank back into fingers and the dark pigment drew back until it was only a hand, and the face was only a face.
"Come on," the sound made sense this time. "You need to get up."
She tried to say something—one of the things that only sometimes helped.
"I know who you are," it said firmly, eyes still black as a nightmare.
She swallowed hard.
"Where's your mother?" it asked.
As if in answer, there was a report of gunfire and a heavy metallic crash from the factory floor.
He was looking off in the direction of the sound. She might as well not have been there. His throat was unprotected. Now she could reach out and kill him, just like she was supposed to. She could do it now.
"Wait here," he breathed, breaking the spell. Darkness spread from his eyes to the rest of him and then he was gone.
"I think she handled that well," said Michael, quickly changing out of the borrowed shirt. "Seemed to understand it at least." Their daughter was no fool, but her education had been intermittent, to put it kindly. The first time she'd seen snow, she'd asked what it was. Fortunately, she'd seemed to understand what was expected of her. And the dress had fit, though she'd said it itched.
"I'm not surprised," said Selene. She was already halfway back into her own clothes, the ones she'd worn earlier piled near her feet with the tags still sticking out. "She'd have read about it—or had someone read to her. It's in all the stories."
She held her hair out of the way and Michael stepped toward her and zipped up the back of her corset. "Yes," he said, "but it doesn't mean the same thing that it meant years ago."
She shot him a look that said, I know that
He answered with, But you didn't always, did you?
"Michael," said Selene, "you know we only did this because it will be more convincing if—"
"And you know we could have faked the paperwork much more easily," he said, putting his hands on her shoulders. "Come to think of it, we're going to have to fake it anyway. It isn't as if we can put our real names on the ID cards."
She didn't answer, merely holding his eyes, admitting nothing.
"I thought you didn't want to," he said.
"That was when I thought we'd never have children."
That wasn't the answer he'd been expecting. He had been expecting that it had been about them. For years, she'd been telling him that it was only a piece of paper, that she was Selene and he was Michael and that that was enough answer to any question.
"You said her last name was the same as yours, but that wasn't true, not until today," she said, shrugging into her coat.
"Yes it was," he said. "Children have whatever last name their parents want," he said. She shot him a look that said In your world. In America. In modern times. He gave her a look that answered, Yes, and we are in my world. In both time and place.
"Is this about what people like David's father will think?" he asked. Anyone who even knew about her parentage would probably shoot her full of silver rather than stop to call her names.
"Michael, you will be surprised how many people do not have modern attitudes about this sort of thing," she said. "Yes, it's about whether or not she can be called a bastard. They'll call her plenty of other things."
"And?" he said, taking a step toward her.
"What do you mean, 'and'?" she asked, lacing up her boot.
"I mean you said you wanted to go through with this so we could bluff our way onto a flight to Singapore."
"I did." She pulled the knot tight.
"Then you said this was about our daughter."
"And?" he asked. "We didn't have to bother with city hall and waiting five days for permits. We didn't have to bother dressing Nyssa as a bridesmaid."
Selene looked up, glaring at him like a bull about to charge.
"Selene, will you please admit that you just wanted us to get married?" he said.
She turned back to her boots. "So what if I did?" she muttered.
Michael kissed the back of her neck. "I love you too," he said.
She turned toward him with narrowed eyes, "Do you never remember when I ask you not to call me that."
He smiled. "I probably remember everything you've ever taught me." But that doesn't mean I'll do it, he let her see.
You will if you know what's good for you, she answered.
Fight it down, he told himself, and the words still sounded like her voice in his head. She'd said it to him enough when he'd been new. For the next few minutes, the only thing he could care about was neutralizing his enemies and maybe not taking a bullet. Every other concern had to wait. He felt himself finish turning as he moved. The world was sharper, obstacles shrank, and all problems had such simple, violent solutions that he had to fight to keep his head.
The van outside could have held eight humans comfortably, including the driver and the guard, and there were two more corpses on the factory floor. Add in the one he'd killed upstairs, and that meant no more than three. Maybe there had only been the six to begin with. But damn they were big, bigger than the loose end they'd killed together in Paris.
Michael heard the gunshot and counted in mentally, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen...
These lycans weren't the half-trained newlings that Lucian had left behind to guard Tannis. This one could count. It went for Selene just as she fell back to reload.
It never reached her.
This lycan wasn't like the one he'd pulled apart upstairs either—half changed and expecting easy prey in a terrified girl. This one had been focused on Selene, but it reacted quickly, thrashing as it tried to get a grip on him. Michael twisted and got his claws to its throat, but instead felt its jaws clamp down hard on his left arm.
She knew he was there. He heard it in her steps. She was circling to get a clear shot; that was how they'd always done it. But while she did, she left her back unprotected. Michael twisted both legs and kicked hard in the side of the jaw. It slackened its grip long enough for him to wrench the arm free and slash hard at the creature's neck, severing the artery. He jumped clear as it flailed. Even regular lycans could still do damage, even when they were dying.
He couldn't look at her. Not yet. If he did, he wouldn't look away.
They have problems with their shoulders, he translated in his head. They can't raise their arms past a certain point. Strengthen the blood all you like, but there was no overcoming the physics of the bones. It was what he did, analyzed the situation and stored up words in his head until he could speak again. Take the scraps of his old plans, his old mind and put them to work for them.
The other two didn't waste any time, blasting out of cover with shreds of their uniforms trailing like grotesque streamers. They'd been holding off. Probably thought that more than one of them was overkill. For anyone else, it would have been.
The next few minutes were a blur, a familiar blur of reflexes and pain and adrenaline all filtered through the new lens of new prey. Somewhere in all of it, a young, accented voice shouted, "Don't let it regenerate!" Michael registered it as the other vampire, the blond one with the whip.
One of them was still twitching. Michael walked toward it, fighting back a snarl and jerked his fingers between the trachea and the rest of the throat, pulling it loose. Didn't want this one getting up again, like that time he'd left the detective in the tunnels. Let's see you grow that back, he thought unkindly.
He caught sight of one of its eyes as it shrank back to human size and she was reflected there, her face a mask.
He stepped free of the body, and there was the sound of a boot behind him. Michael turned and looked at her straight on for the first time in twelve years, asking with his body language.
Are there more?
She shook her head, and he closed his eyes, willing the anger away, feeling his bones crunch and condense as he turned back into himself.
"They'll have guards outside," said the other vampire.
"Not anymore," said Michael. When he opened his eyes, he looked at Selene.
She pressed her lips together and took a step toward him, "Michael, I—"
There was a sound of running feet on the wet concrete as the girl from upstairs cut between them. "Mother!" she said, flinging her arms around Selene and burying her face against her shoulder.
Selene met his eyes over the top of the girl's head. "I can explain," she said helplessly.
Michael managed not to laugh. Selene didn't fluster often. "I'm looking forward to it," he said.
Selene's eyes narrowed. Michael let himself feel a little smug. She was probably wondering why he wasn't surprised to see their daughter. "How did you—"
The room shattered open with the sound of a single gunshot.
The fight isn't over until you're no longer there, she'd told him, long ago. Never allow yourself to become distracted. It can kill you.
The distance between them vanished as both his hands went to the wound in the side of her head. In the back of his mind, he remembered that he should care more about the shooter, look away and address the threat, but the whole world had boiled itself down to a space of about three feet. Everything else, the vampire firing on the last Antigen soldier, the girl screaming at the top of her lungs as Selene sagged in her arms, everything was somewhere far away.
Her eyes jumped, unable to track one thing, but he felt the palm of her hand on the side of his face. He shook it off, suddenly angry. No goodbyes. Not now. Not ever.
Michael split the fingers of his right hand into claws and slashed open his wrist. "Come on," he said, holding the wound to her lips. "Come on."
Somewhere underneath it all he could feel something that he recognized as bone knitting. Michael swallowed hard. Selene had been hurt bad before, but not like this. They'd never learned whether she could regenerate after organ loss the way he could.
"It's all right," he said quietly, not realizing to whom until the girl made a sound. "She's healing. It's bad but she's healing."
Shoes on concrete and the sound of a silver whip being shouldered.
"Is it dead?" Michael snarled.
"Yes," he answered. "I'm David."
I don't fucking care, Michael thought, working his arms under Selene's body. Her color wasn't any better, but the bleeding had stopped. "We have to get out of here," he said.
The young vampire nodded. "I think I know a place we could stay until—" Michael cut him off with a nod.
"Friends of yours?" he asked.
"In a manner of speaking."
As Michael got to his feet, he reached for Selene's holster and handed the girl her mother's weapon. "You know how to use this?" he asked.
She nodded. And what the hell was wrong with the world that an eleven year old girl even had an answer to that question? Michael closed his eyes, trying to focus on the immediate future.
"Good," was all he said.
"I keep forgetting," Michael murmured as the young man left the vestibule. "He's a ...great?"
"Great great," answered Selene. "There are worse things to forget. It shouldn't matter anyway."
Michael nodded. They didn't choose navigators for their DNA.
Selene made the short sound that he'd learned to interpret as a sigh. "How did we get so many of them?"
Michael laughed. "Well it did take us a while."
The airlock sealed, pressurizing the cabin. They both automatically braced for the shift in the gravity plate that meant the ship had decoupled from the atoll. From here it would be one long, boring trip out to the rim. A larger ship might have been faster, but certain things got difficult to conceal in close quarters.
Michael headed to the main deck to review the maps again. He wanted them memorized before landing. On the way, he nodded to Alexandra. She was a great. Then there was Caleb; he'd do most of the surveying once they landed. He said he'd wanted a change after spending the previous century as a lawyer. So far he'd done well. He was a grandson.
Over the course of nine hundred years, thirteen children didn't seem like so many. Only two of them had been young at the same time—Daniel and Sebastian. But aside from those thirteen and Nyssa and David's two boys... It became difficult to keep everyone straight. An entire coven made up primarily of people from one bloodline.
A callbeep sounded from the beryl on edge of his sleeve—most people wore them in the collars of their shirts, but that didn't tend to work out so well in this family. Wristbands didn't look like much but they could stretch and retract a surprising number of times before they broke. Also, he still had a habit of looking at his wrist when he wanted to know the time. "Yes?" he asked.
"It's me," said Selene. "You'd better get down here. Infirmary."
"Shit," Michael muttered under his breath. They didn't have much use for a traditional infirmary, but even on these older ships, it was a sterile place to store tissue cultures.
Michael pushed the door open carefully. It stuck a bit, but that was hardly their biggest problem right now. Selene and Daniel were already at the support unit, working on the power locks. Michael moved over to it to check the cultures. "How's the temperature?" he asked.
"Steady for now, " said Daniel. "If this one breaks, we've got to turn back." The boy had never learned not to state things that were already obvious and would only upset people.
As Michael had predicted, food was their biggest weakness, bigger than silver or sunlight had ever been. Cow's blood was hard to come by when the ruminants went endangered. Blood of any sort was hard to come by offplanet, especially if you didn't want to attract attention by turning or murdering a few dozen of your neighbors. Fortunately, scientists had figured out how to keep hovering sponges of bone marrow tissue alive sometime in the mid twenty-first century. With the right equipment, those busy little cells would give out pure supplies of A-negative and O-positive for the planet's medical needs ...et al.
Michael sometimes spoke of what he'd learned from Lucian's mind and from other lycans they'd met over the years. Selene spoke less, but she knew. First the war. Then the purges. Then the plagues. Then the exodus. There would always be a new crisis, a new dynamic, and the immortal lines would have to find a way to work with it, undermine it or wait it out, or they would all perish.
"Here," murmured Michael, adjusting the one of the tubes that fed growth medium into the tissue chamber. A few red lights flickered to green.
"I told you this model was buggy."
"You were right to check. It is better to be safe," said Selene, pointedly not looking at anyone.
Sebastian had been the first one to head to the outer systems. His captain had miscalculated the length of the journey, and he'd found himself out in the black with no food. He'd opened an airlock. Michael had never learned whether it had been an accident or if he'd done it to save the human passengers. To this day, Michael regretted not finding that incompetent navigator and making him eat his spine.
He wasn't the only one. Lucas had been in a rockslide in the Alps. The damage had just been too much for him. Andrea had made it back alone.
Elizabeth, captured by Pathogen during the fifth purge. They'd never found her body.
Kahn had been in Los Angeles the day they'd dropped the bomb. There had been no body to find.
Thirteen. Nine still alive.
Selene was right. There were worse things to forget.
They were his hands.
That was the first coherent thought to come out of this. He was standing in a darkened room, barefoot, wearing clothes that didn't fit, and if he didn't find something more convincing, he wouldn't be able to look like he belonged there. He held out his hands, turning them over, just to make sure they were his hands this time. Then things fell away again.
Drainage tunnel. He was still barefoot, still wearing those clothes, only now he was in a drainage tunnel. There was an itching, hot ice-crystal feeling in his head. No, it was lower down; he could feel it all through his chest as his heart started beating again, strong as the blades of the helicopter overhead. He just needed time. Then he heard sirens and moving feet.
Now it was a hallway, and they weren't his hands, and a woman was yelling not to be in the part of the building.
He was back in the tunnel, but he could taste blood, and he was running. His heart was steady as a metronome, but he was running fast. He didn't want to have to try the river. He had bad luck with rivers. He had to get her out of the car or they would both drown, and she'd already lost too much blood.
Alleyway. The low-level thrum of a city at night, none of it aimed at him. He had to stay still. He was waiting for something. He was waiting for 3:08 a.m., because that was when the guards changed shift, and then they could make it through the blind spot and cross the border into Germany.
Alleyway. He was waiting for something. He was waiting for her to get back and unlock these damned handcuffs. But it hadn't sounded like that Viktor person liked werewolves. And she had left him the gun...
Alleyway. He was waiting for the next one, because they weren't his hands, but they were the only thing he ever got to see, even if the things he saw were terrible, so he waited for the next one like a prisoner counting the minutes until visiting day.
Alleyway. He was waiting for something. He was waiting for that itching feeling to be over. He was healing. He was waiting for—
"Aaa!" Michael grabbed his head with both hands, feeling the world knit back together. He gasped again, knees hitting elbows as he gave gravity its due.
When he stood up, time was time again.
He looked around. Alleyway... He was wearing clothes that obviously weren't his. He was barefoot, and there was blood on his fingernails. They were his hands. He touched the side of his face. And on his mouth.
The last thing he could remember...
He'd jumped off the roof. Selene had told him to and he'd asked if she was kidding—no, a different roof, from higher. And he'd landed well, not on his knees like that first time. A corporate park, not an alley. Find the corners, find the sight lines and avoid them. Get to the edges. Disappear.
Shit, thought Michael.
It had been years since he'd called himself a doctor. More years since he'd been a student. But when he needed it, it always came back. Selene would smile, watching him pull up useless pieces of his former life, like the shining fragments of a some flashy broken toy.
Behavioral neuroscience. It had filled his psych requirement. Sensory deprivation, long-term. Even short periods could knock fifteen points of the victim's IQ. People had hallucinations as vivid as films, brain cells firing into overdrive to keep their host sane.
He stared at his hands. Grown. His. Not a child's.
They'd gotten caught. Someone had kept him in the dark for a very long time. Michael pressed his eyes together, willing the unruly memories to stay coherent. He remembered breaking partway out of the restraints and punching someone, but had that really happened? There were snatches of overheard conversations about experimental protocols, government contracts, ball games, test subjects, but when had he heard them? Had he heard them or were they all part of his neurons trying to keep from flying apart?
"All right, Corvin," he said quietly. "You're missing some time." He looked around.
Had it been at the docks? She'd been late. Had he gotten captured before she arrived? No... No, he'd heard her voice, changed...
She'd been at the docks when he'd gotten caught so either she had been captured too or she'd escaped or...
If he'd gotten caught, then it was highly likely that, wherever he'd been, Selene was still there.
Michael breathed in and out, putting the world back in order. Get cleaned up. Clothes. Shoes. Then he had to find out what the hell had happened. He had to find Selene.
Props to Firefly for the next to last segment, called "Dynamics" in the original. It was also inspired by the webcomic Drowtales, specifically by an early scene in the "Shattering Empire" chapter. When people don't get old, they find themselves adults at the same time as their children and grandchildren. The result? Three generations at the staff meeting.
The segment immediately before that was inspired by a friend of mine, who reacted to Dynamics by asking of Selene and Michael had ever actually gotten married. I hadn't thought about it, really. I figured that everyone who knew who they were knew that they were together and wouldn't have cared if they were human-married, like an immortal common law system that would kick in after about three hundred years. To my mind, no one in the immortal community would consider Subject Two illegitimate—by the time of Dynamics. I also figured that Selene would have been fixated on the pre-modern idea of marriage, in which the woman was signing up to be the man's manager or property depending on local laws. Her life as a death dealer wouldn't have given her much cause to update her views on the matter. It would take her a while to wrap her head around the idea that what Michael was suggesting, the modern idea of marriage, was very different. But Selene would certainly care about the b-word, and people like Thomas would care about the b-word, and Sub Two would care about it if she knew what it meant.