A/N: Hey, all. I watched my sister play this entire game over the course of three days and I couldn't get it out of my head. Monkey and Trip are such an awesome couple. :3
This story is mostly an insight into what they are thinking and feeling during the game, Trip in particular, with a minor modification at the end. Mainly because I love them and damn it, I wanted more relationshippy stuff. So I made my own. :D
Disclaimer: Don't own it.
There is No Such Thing as Part-Freedom
The automated voice echoes in the confined space but she ignores it, working feverishly at the access panel in the wall. It shouldn't be possible to access the wiring from inside a slave pod but Trip's always had a knack for electronics. The thought makes a slightly hysterical laugh rise in the back of her throat but she bites her lip fiercely to hold it back.
The lock disengages and the holding cell unfolds like a metal flower. Trip jumps down, almost falling in her haste. A quick look both ways reassures her that no one else is around; the only other things present are the rows of slave pods lining the walls. She sprints to the nearest control panel and within seconds she has accessed the mainframe computer. A quick scan shows that of the small group of people snatched from her community, she was the only one taken abroad this particular ship.
Emotion clogs her throat and Trip isn't sure whether its relief or grief. She only has responsibility for her own life. She looks up and down the row of slave pods and bites her lip again, this time hard enough to draw blood. Precious, agonising seconds tick by and panic curls in her chest. She can't save all of these people. It's not possible. And she doesn't know any of them.
Guilt still sits heavily in her chest as she turns back to the computer terminal. Within seconds, Trip has expertly hacked the controls of the slaver ship and sabotaged it beyond all repair. Locking down the system to prevent any attempts at fixing it, she then turns and runs.
The next minutes are full of flying steel, sparking machinery and the bitter taste of fear in her mouth. At one point, she thinks she hears someone yell and, turning, catches a glimpse of another person running behind her; then a piece of the roof crashes down through the walkway and all thoughts except run are wiped from her head.
Panting with exertion, she arrives at a locked door and hacks the keypad next to it. Her hands are shaking so badly it takes her three tries and the automated voice warning that there are only six escape pods left doesn't exactly help. But the door hisses open and she runs through. It seals behind her and Trip quickly checks the ship's schematics on her handheld computer. She needs to make a right, go up a flight of stairs and she'll be at the pods in no time –
There a muffled thud from behind her and she swings around, startled.
There's a man on the side of the door. She only see him from the chest up through the glass portal and the part of her brain that's having hysterics points out that he kinda looks naked. The rational part notes that he also looks furious. A huge fist pounds on the glass and he's clearly yelling something. Her brain as a whole says dangerous.
Trip shakes her head, backing away. It's every man and woman for themselves out here; he's just as likely to harm her as he is to help her. She turns and flees; again, some part of her mind points out furiously, and she hates it, hates running away, but it's all she can do.
She reaches the pods and straps herself into one. Trembling fingers run over the control panels and they light up at her touch. Trip is just about to press the launch button when a shadow falls across the glass porthole in the top of the escape pod. Her eyes widen in disbelief as she sees the same man from before clinging to the outside of the transport. He looks down and shakes his head violently when he sees the button that her finger is hovering above.
The shout is muffled but still audible. Guilt wrenches at her heart. But there isn't enough room for two people in the pod and the slaver ship has seconds before it plows into the ground.
I'm sorry. She glances up for a split second and she thinks he must see the apology in her eyes, as his own eyes widen and he shakes his head again.
"No, don't do that!"
Survive. Her father's voice whispers through her mind. Unexpectedly, her brain pulls up an image from when she was young; his hands clasped on either side of hers, holding them steady on the butt of a rifle. They had radiated warmth, a sharp contrast the cold metal of the weapon. Live to fight another day.
Trip closes her eyes and, steeling herself, brings her finger down on the eject button.
The impact of the crash had been tremendous. Trip can only slump limply in the harness of her seat for a minute, trying to push her unresponsive body into motion. It eventually complies and she crawls out of the wreck of the pod with a groan, her various limbs waking up and beginning to complain. She's tired, but she can't rest. Who knows how dangerous the area is? She needs to find a safe place to hole up in and start planning how to get home. Her heart sinks at the mere thought, the sheer difficulty of the task she has to accomplish. Three hundred miles of mech-infested terrain, every one of them happy to kill her in a variety of horrible ways. Thinking about it makes panic start to rise in her chest again so she takes a deep breath and forces herself to calm down.
One step at a time, Trip. One step at a time.
She sits up and orientates herself, scanning the surrounding area. And freezes in shock.
He survived the crash.
The blond-haired man is lying upside on chunk of concrete that slopes down to meets the ground at a gentle angle. The slight rise and fall of his broad chest is the only indicator that he is still alive and the sight fills Trip with a contradictory mix of relief and fear.
Thank God, I didn't kill him.
Oh, God, I have to get out of here now. If he wakes up and I'm still here…there's no way he won't be angry at what I just did.
People kill for less. Trip knows. She rises into a crouch, wobbling a little at the blood rush to her head and begins to move away stealthily. Her foot knocks against something made of metal and it clinks loudly against the concrete floor. She winces and glances down at the object automatically.
A slave headband.
An idea sparks in Trip's mind and she is rooted to the spot by the strength of feeling that accompanies it. It was simple. It would work.
It was also wrong. Completely and utterly.
She casts a glance at the unconscious man. There is no doubt in his strength; his shoulders are broad, his arms and torso muscular and littered with scars. Her gaze flits over his red gauntlets, the extendable staff fitted to the back of his right forearm. This man is a warrior and his body bears the marks of previous battles with mechs. It will be well within his ability to protect her.
It would also be enslavement. Something which she despises with her entire being.
Trip bows her head, wrestling with the impossible decision. She is excruciatingly aware of the seconds ticking by, the fact that he could wake up at any moment.
It wouldn't be forever. Just until I get home. Intense longing rushes through her at the thought of home and the ache is so strong it brings tears to her eyes. She blinks them away fiercely. I'll let him go as soon as I set foot in the village. It is a justification and she knows it, but it is the only option she can see that doesn't end in her death.
And she wants to live. Badly. So much so that she escaped from her cell and sabotaged an entire ship to gain her freedom.
And now you will take the freedom of another, hisses the insidious voice of guilt at the back of her mind.
She picks up the slave headband.
It won't be forever. I need him.
I know. The thought is laden with misery.
It takes fifty tense minutes for Trip to hack the headband and rewire it to her satisfaction. Then she approaches the unconscious man and kneels by his head. Up close, she is more aware than ever how massive he is and a part of her mind points out in a panicked fashion that if this doesn't work, he's not going to have much trouble killing her for it.
With shaking fingers, Trip carefully lowers the headband onto his forehead. Her fingertips brush his skin and for a moment all she is aware of is the heat of his body. She banishes the distracting thought and works quickly and nimbly, careful not to do any damage as she wires the headband into his body. She does a final check, then sits back on her heels to take a long look. It is the first time she can't take pride in her work and shame rushes through her. Trip quickly retreats to a safe distance, before settling down to wait.
The block of masonry she is perched on is cold, but she doesn't mind. Sunlight is falling through the holes in the roof of the abandoned building and the warmth of the rays seep into her skin. A cool breeze stirs her hair, bringing with it the scent of fresh water and the quiet rustle of greenery, the plant life all around her that is reclaiming the human structure for the earth.
A groan breaks the near-silence and Trip jumps, startled. The massive man is stirring, shifting a little amidst the rubble, and her heart starts to pick up speed. She draws her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them in an unconsciously defensive gesture.
He rolls over with another growl, an animalistic sound filled with pain and effort. Pushing himself up with his arms and breathing deeply with the struggle, he happens to glance up and his gaze lands on her.
Trip draws back a little as his eyes, lined with some sort of red warpaint, narrow in recognition. "You," he growls in obvious anger – and it is a growl. His voice is deep and rough, as if he gargles with gravel, and it matches the rest of him perfectly. Then he groans again, his attention deflected from her by a stab of blinding pain in his skull. "Argh…my head." He gets to his hands and knees, trying to push himself to his feet, before slumping back against the rubble. "Feels like it's ripped open."
"It's the headband." Trip is shocked by how steady her voice is. Fear is wound so tightly in her chest that it's a miracle she can speak at all.
The muscular man raises his head slightly to look at her again. "What?" There's anger and confusion and pain in his voice, but no more than there was before. He hasn't got it yet.
Trip swallows tightly. She doesn't want to tell him, wishes she could snatch the words back but he's going to find out very soon anyway and she might as well get it over with. "The slave headband." She pauses, takes a deep breath. "The one I fit on you." The words taste wrong in her mouth and shame and regret fills her.
The pain creasing his face suddenly disappears and his eyes widen. His hands come up to tentatively touch the sides of his head, feeling the metal and the truth of her words. Trip flinches at the expression on his face. "You put this on me?" His voice is an ominous rumble, like a volcano just about to erupt.
"Let me explain –!"
"Get this thing off, or I'm gonna rip your head off."
Trip swallows back the fear that rises at the anger in his voice. His hard stare leaves no doubt as to whether he'd carry out his threat or not. But she's far more afraid of the mechs than she is of him. Summoning her courage and steeling her resolve, Trip hardens her heart and her face. "No."
"No?!" His head snaps up to stare at her and his voice grows louder. Panic kicks in a little at the fury on his face and her arms unwind from her legs, muscles tensing in preparation to spring away. "You think I'm screwing with ya?!" This last is a roar of rage and he clambers to his feet.
Trip gives an undignified shriek and scrambles off the block. He only gets a few paces forward before she manages to engage her brain through her panic. "Command, stop!"
The headband lights up in a blaze of red light and the massive man sways to a halt with a guttural cry of pain. Trip stares, wide-eyed, her heart racing like a terrified rabbit. "Command, move away from me!" The words trip over themselves in her fear.
He staggers away with another roar of pain, still clutching his head. "What the hell are you doing?!"
"I hacked a slave headband, so it could be activated by my voice commands. Activation triggers a systemic pain response. It's what controls the slaves." Though the detached facts tumble rapidly from her lips, her voice is filled with emotion as he collapses to the floor, groaning in agony. A slave. That's what he is now. The realisation is stark and painful.
The muscular warrior raises his head enough to lock eyes with her, and snarls between gritted teeth, "I'm gonna kill you."
The fury and pain in his voice is clearly audible. "You can't," she replies. Her fear has receded a little with the knowledge of his inability to harm her, and her voice is calm, though filled with regret. "If my heart stops beating, for any reason, the headband will discharge a lethal dose." He looks up at her, the red light fading from the headband. Her voice remains steady as she meets his stare. "If I die, you die."
He stares at her for another second, before slumping to the ground with a groan of both pain and frustration. "Why?" his words are bitten-off, his voice a rough growl.
"I need your help," Trip worries at her lip as a little bit of desperation leaks into her voice. "I come from a windfarmer community; it's about three hundred miles from here. I'll never make it on my own." Admitting such a weakness is abhorrent but it's also the truth and she's desperate for him to understand. I would never have done this if I'd had another choice. "If the slavers don't get me, the mechs will." He's been slowly shifting onto all fours as she's been talking but Trip can't tell if his continuous glower is because of her words or the pain of moving. "That's the deal." She's talking fast, low but intense, never breaking their gaze as he pushes himself upright. "Get me back to my home and you can go back to yours."
She shifts back a little as he finally regains his feet. His muscled shoulders move up and down with every strained breath, tired from the effort and from his injuries. He looks away, clearly thinking, and then back at her. Trip isn't sure what her face is betraying. Eventually his eyebrows lift slightly, losing their angry furrow, his expression becoming resigned. "Looks like I don't have a choice." His voice is gruff and clearly unhappy.
Trip exhales shakily. "Neither of us do," she murmurs, looking down, ashamed. "I'm sorry." Sincerity rings clear in her tone.
The massive man looks at her for a moment. Then he glances away, breathing in and out in a sharp burst that speaks of restrained anger and resignation. "Okay," he nods, as if to himself. Then he looks back at her, raising his eyebrows and his shoulders in a quick, impatient motion. "Then let's go."
"…I'm recording this message for you, just to say this: it's a blessing for me at this moment, to know you're alive. I love you, Trip."
The recorder clicks off. There's a brief squeal of rewinding tape. Sssh-crackle.
"My daughter, my beautiful daughter…"
An entirely different voice rumbles behind her but she continues to stare at the recorder, the little black box with the blinking red light that has captured her father's last words to her. He's gone. They all are. The chasm of grief yawns widely, threatening to swallow her up.
"I know how resourceful you are, I know there's a chance you will come back –"
Monkey switches off the recorder but Trip barely notices. The words continue to circle in her head.
"…somehow escape the slavers and make your way home. In case that day comes, I'm recording this message for you, just to say this…"
Grief and rage beat a fierce tattoo in her chest, demanding vengeance. It feels like fire in her heart and claws in her throat and manifests as a burning pressure behind her eyes; the angry tears that she refuses to give way to.
She's so wrapped up internally that she jumps, badly startled, when Monkey's hand lands on her shoulder. Trip looks up at him, blinking away the tears collecting in her eyes. His face is difficult to read but his hand is gentle and clearly meant to be comforting. A distant part of her mind dedicated to observation even in moments of emotional crisis, is struck again over how massive his hands are. One wraps easily around her entire shoulder and she feels tiny and dwarfed.
Then the world crystallises around Trip in a single moment of realisation. Monkey has brought her home. Not the same home that she left, true, but home nonetheless. He's upheld his end of the bargain.
Get me home, and I'll set you free.
The thought of losing him drives into her with the force of a mech, taking her breath away.
Vengeance snarls in her chest. No. We need him.
Grief whispers in her heart, already heavy with loss. No, we'll be alone.
But stronger than both of them, surges guilt and her conscience. Yes. You promised. This is wrong and I will stand no longer for it.
Trip presses the heels of her palms against her head as a headache begins to pound against the inside of her skull. She can take her revenge on the slavers without him. It's not impossible. Extremely difficult, yes; but not impossible. Her mind skims ahead, running over options. Pigsy will almost certainly help and that takes her chances from slim up to plausible.
Vengeance is still hissing furiously over the fact that with Monkey's help, the odds are far more in her favour, but the larger part of her mind is tired. Tired and grieving and unable to take the weight of any more regret or guilt.
And not only that. As Trip looks up, into his now-familiar face, her emotions strike her once again. He's no longer a stranger she can harden her heart against. She considers him a friend, at the very least, although she's aware that her feelings have grown into something not exactly platonic.
She realises that she's still staring into his face and he's starting to frown slightly, clearly worried. The expression makes memories of the past few weeks flare vivid and bright in her mind.
"See the dragonflies? I need you to catch me one." Her excitement bubbles just under the surface of her voice, the triumph of a brilliant idea singing through her.
He scowls furiously, narrowing his eyes. "What the hell are you talking about?" He clearly suspects her of deliberately messing him about.
Trip straightens up, her excitement fading a little. She paces forward and looks earnestly up at him, aware again of the huge difference in height between them. "I'm not commanding you. I'm asking you." She lets that hang between them for a moment. "Please get me a dragonfly. I promise it's a good idea."
He holds her gaze for a minute and she stares steadily back, unflinching. Then he tears his eyes away and glances in an assessing fashion at the tree. "Branches look pretty high."
Trip breathes out again, aware that this is his gruff acceptance. "Well, there's a ladder over there. If you lift me up, I could probably drop it down for you…"
"Are you okay?!"
He ignores her question, leaning against the pillar, breathing heavily and surrounded by the sparking remains of a half a dozen mechs. She hesitates at his lack of response, and then kneels down to quickly scan the robotic bodies. "Every time you kill a mech, I can download its schematics and figure out what makes it tick." She straightens out of her crouch. "It will make life a lot easier for you."
He does turn his head to meet her gaze at that. "If you wanna make life…easier for me, why don't you go ahead and take this thing off?"
Trip breaks their gaze first, dropping her head and looking away.
She hears him make a noise under his breath as he pushes off from the pillar and stalks away. She remained rooted to the spot for a moment, flooded with guilt and misery. "I'm sorry," she whispers and the way his shoulders twitch slightly makes her think that he heard.
"If we're going to be travelling together, maybe we should exchange names?" They are navigating a ruined building when Trip brings the subject up. She needs something to call him. 'You' isn't going to work very well in the long run. "My name is Tripitaka, but I often get called Trip. I mean, pretty much always. People call me Trip." She's aware she's babbling slightly and hastily refocuses the conversation on what she wanted to know in the first place. "How about you?"
"I don't have a name."
She nearly falls over a piece of debris at that. "You must. Everyone has a name." Trip can't keep the disbelief from her voice.
"Not everyone," he growls back.
She wonders if he's deliberately being obtuse to get back at her in the only way he can. But he doesn't seem like a subtle kind of person in slightest. She tries again. "Well, what did your parents call you?"
"They were killed in a mech attack when I was a kid. I grew up in the wilds – alone." His voice is gruff and matter-of-fact. It's not uncommon for people to lose family members with horrible regularity and indeed, Trip lost her mother to a mech when she was eight. It never makes it any less terrible or easier to bear.
She winces at having unwitting touched on such a personal subject and tries one more time. "Well, what do other people call you then?"
There's silence for an instant. "Monkey," he finally replies. "In the communities I trade with, some of them call me Monkey. If you want to give me a name, you can use that."
Trip is surprised for a minute but the more she thinks about it, the more she realises how strangely apt the moniker is. His climbing skills, his strength and agility; even aesthetic things like his hair and the way the sash tucked into his waistband resembles a tail when it ripples in the breezes. She feels a smile tugging at her lips and he looks at her, raising an eyebrow. "What?"
"Nothing." She hurries ahead a little, hiding the smile which is threatening is become a full-blown grin. "It suits you. Monkey."
The first time he swings her onto his back it startles her badly. Trip is carefully skirting an area of uneven terrain, unaware that he is watching her with exasperation. Suddenly, his hands clamp down on either side of her waist and lift her off the ground. Shock shoots through her, closely followed by fear for her life and she's on the verge of shouting a panicked Command when she lands on his back. Instinctively, Trip grips on tightly. "What – ?" she barely manages to get out, her heart still beating too quickly from the sudden shock.
"Faster this way," he growls by way of explanation, and indeed he's still jogging easily over the broken ground, even with her added weight.
"Um, okay." Trip shifts a little, trying to get comfortable but she's acutely aware that she's pressed against the bare skin of his broad back. Her arms are looped around his neck and she can feel his warm breath fanning against her fingers, the ghostly sensation making the hair on her forearms prickle. Her legs are clamped around his waist and she can feel the shift of powerful muscles underneath his skin as he moves. Heat rushes to her cheeks as she realises where her thoughts are wandering and she's suddenly extremely glad that he can't see her face.
It's only as time passes that Trip finally relaxes a little. He's showing no signs of slowing or putting her down, and fatigue from holding her body in so rigid a position for such a long time is eventually what makes Trip cave. She slumps forward a little, allowing her head to fall on his shoulder. She feels him turn his head a little to look at her with his peripheral vision. She waits for a comment but it doesn't come. Instead, he turns to face the front again, concentrating on his path, and it isn't long before Trip is dozing lightly, his skin warm against her cheek, a sense of security stealing over her softly for the first time since she was captured.
"Are you crazy?!" Her voice is a disbelieving hiss. "Scan the dog? It's not even dead!"
The mech in question shudders angrily below them on the floor of the ruined theatre, straining against the metal beams pinning it to the ground. Monkey turns to look at her full in the face and she fights a startled flinch as he gently takes her by the shoulder. She's hyper-aware of his massive fingers resting lightly on her bare skin, as if her entire body is focused on that sole sensation.
A slight smile curls his lips and he raises his eyebrows, as if daring her to –"Trust me."
She looks searchingly at him and he holds her gaze steadily.
Seconds later she's leaning out dangerously over the edge of the platform, scanning the thrashing mech below. Monkey's reassuringly strong grip on her arm is the only thing preventing her from falling. "Okay!" she gasps, her body shaking a little from both strain and fear. A swift pull brings her back to safe footing. She looks up at him, and is surprised to see him regarding her intensely. She returns the stare, refusing to be the first to break eye contact. When the silence lasts a few seconds too long, Trip eventually has to say something. "Let's go, then."
Monkey nods a little. "Yeah."
She gives him a last, searching look, before turning and walking away through the ruins. She feels, rather than sees, him fall into step behind her.
The bridge is falling to pieces and it's terrifying. Trip's heart is in her throat and when the rickety, haphazard route they are following up the side of the bridge starts to collapse, she is certain that they are both going to die. But Monkey is beside her every step of the way, ignoring her panicked exclamations with his usual exasperation. With one heave he sends her up to the next level. By the time she's picked herself up, he's there again, swinging her onto his back and scaling the wall of wire mesh with impressive strength. Then he boosts her up to the next platform and repeats his actions, so quickly and easily that the urgent motions born of the need to survive seem to settle into a rhythm that soothes, rather than excites worry.
Trip's fear recedes further as they continue to ascend, so smooth and fast and fluid that the constant upward motion could almost be mistaken for flying. When they finally reach safe ground, she slips off him to allow him to recover his breath. When he does, he simply beckons Trip to come closer and then hoists her onto his back again. "What –?"
"I'm hoping the rest of this thing holds together, but I'm not sure how much hope is going to help," he growls, starting to jog once more. "I rather not have you standing too far away, if this bridge decides to give up the ghost."
Trip tightens her grip a little in acknowledgement but doesn't ask the question hovering on her lips, though she badly wants to. She can't help wondering how much of that concern is actually for her life, rather than his own. She had deemed it unimportant before but, for some reason, his potential reply now seems of vital consequence.
Despite this, she still doesn't ask. Perhaps it is because she is afraid of the answer.
The dog mech finally dies, giving one last shuddering motion before the blue lights of its eyes dim and then wink out. Monkey moves back a little, catching his breath and observing the dog to make absolutely sure that it will not be getting back up again.
That – was – in – credible!" Trip's awe is clear in her voice and her expression, as she moves tentatively forward to look at the remains of the formidable mech. "Has anyone ever killed one of these before?!" Her body is still swimming in shock and adrenaline, and she feels strangely giddy.
"Not that I know of." It's not a boast, as it would have been with almost anyone else. From Monkey, it's a statement, a matter-of-fact growl.
"You did it!" She beams, impressed by and proud of him.
"Yeah." A brief nod, and the warrior turns and begins to walk away. "Truth is, though…we did it."
Trip swings around to look after his now-retreating figure, surprise blanketing her features for a moment. Then a pleased smile spreads across her face at the unexpected compliment, and she jogs after him, moving quickly to catch up.
They are sitting around the fire, the sole source of illumination in the dark landscape. The music of the cicadas and the crackle of the flames are the only sounds to heard, apart from the tapping of Trip's feet against the ground. She can't stop the nervous, excited motion, no matter how hard she tries. "At this rate, we'll reach my community by midday."
She glances at Monkey when he doesn't respond; his face expressionless as he stares into the fire. "What will you… do when we get there? After I take the headband off. Apart from break my neck, I mean." Her tone is light but in all honesty, she isn't one hundred percent sure that he doesn't still intend to keep his promise to kill her for enslaving him. How could he not be holding a grudge about that?
"Go back I guess." His voice is a quiet rumble.
"Go back where?"
There was silence for a few seconds. "Wherever. Depends where I can find food and fuel." He glances at her, once and then away again. "I…I usually keep moving."
Trip looks down, biting her lip. He doesn't have a home by the sounds of it and she doesn't want him to leave, but at the same time she has no idea how he'll respond to her offer. She has no idea how he regards her. "You could p-probably stay. If you wanted." She feels his gaze land on the side of her head and flicks a brief glance up at him. "I'm just saying…when my father hears about all you've done for me, I know he'll offer you a home. If that's what you want."
Monkey's eyes return to the fire, his face unreadable. Trip waits a few seconds but it doesn't appear he's going to reply. Disheartened, she gets up and walks over to the blanket designated as her bed, before curling up on it and pillowing her head on her arms. She looks through the flames at Monkey. "Just think about it, okay?"
She can't be entirely sure; she is tired and the heat from the fire makes the air dance and waver. But she thinks she sees him give just the slightest nod of his head in reply. Smiling slightly, Trip rolls over and sinks into sleep.
She is jolted back to the present by the sound of his voice, rough, deep and familiar. The memories still burn bright in her mind and she cannot ignore them. She doesn't think he'll harm her, not really. Despite how difficult he is to read normally, his attitude has softened over their time together and she thinks he respects her, if nothing else. No, she doesn't think he'll harm her. But he has no reason to help either. After all, she is only his captor.
And I can't enslave him any longer. I could barely conscience doing it in the first place. I can't renege on the deal now, not after everything we've been through, not just because of my desire for revenge.
He is crouched beside her, and so she turns to face him, pushing herself onto her knees and bringing up the luminescent screen of her handheld computer.
"Trip? What are you doing?"
Her fingers flit over the screen and she talks as she works, not looking up from the computer. "You got me home, Monkey. That's what I asked of you. It's not the home I was expecting –" her voice shakes slightly but her hands are steady on the screen "– but it's what I asked for. If you're asking personally what I'm going to do now, I'm going after the people who did this. But I don't expect you to come with me; it's not your fight and I won't force you. Not anymore. It's wrong and this isn't just a matter of survival anymore." She took a deep breath. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. I'm not trying to excuse myself; I just hope you can understand why I did what I did, even if you can't forgive me. I will uphold my end of the bargain." Trip hits the final key and the red light in Monkey's headband flares once and then winks out completely.
He stares at her, his face unreadable. His hands slowly come up to touch the sides of his head. "You…?"
"It's no longer active," Trip confirms, her hands falling to rest in her lap.
"I…I can just leave?"
Her heart aches at the thought but she nods, her gaze dropping to the floor. "If that's what you want. You have your freedom back. You can do whatever you want with it."
The silence seems to last an age and Trip is just about to risk a glance up at his face, when suddenly his arms are around her, crushing her tight enough to make her bones creak. For an instant, she's paralysed with shock and a trickle of cold fear runs down her spine. Perhaps she was wrong. Perhaps he is making good on his promise to kill her after all.
Then his grip slackens into a gentler embrace and Trip suddenly realises he is hugging her. Her body goes weak with relief and she leans into him, accepting the support. Her hands, she notices, have flown up in a defensive gesture; they still lie flat against the bare skin of his chest, as if ready to push him away. She wraps her arms around him in return instead, and leans into the hug. Her head rests against his chest, her cheek pressed against warm skin, and he draws her up closer, resting his head on top of hers.
Trip's not sure how long she stays like that, his strong arms holding her tightly to him, listening to the steady rhythm of his breathing and the beat of his heart, too content to break the silence. Then he speaks. "I'm coming with you."
His voice rumbles through his chest and she feels it as well as hears it, vibrating against her ear and all around her. It takes her a second to register what he's actually said. "What?" she lifts her head and tilts it back to look up at him.
Monkey regards her with serious eyes. "You heard me. I'm coming with you."
She doesn't ask why. The relief and happiness filling her are too strong for words. Instead, she leans up and lightly kisses him on the lips. They taste of salt and are surprisingly soft. Trip breaks away and smiles at him, one hand coming up to gently touch his cheek. "Thank you."
He has remained still, frozen with surprise, throughout the whole thing. Then a hint of a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth too and he leans down to return the kiss. It isn't nearly so chaste this time. "No problem."
A/N: So would things have turned out differently? No, not really. xD Except we would have gotten to see a kiss, for one. :P
Thanks to everyone who reads and reviews this story, I hope you enjoyed it. :D