Warnings: Some violence, little gore, and character death. Don't freak out though.
A/N: Had to take a sudden break for holidays and other stuffs in my life. Finally got back to this and if it feels a bit short, it's because I felt so bad putting it off for so long. I honestly can't think of what else to put here so please enjoy this semicolon ;
"Keep your meat sleeves inside of the vehicle at all times," Krieg tells her in a way she assumes he thinks is professional as he drums the steering wheel lightly. "VROOM VROOM!" He adds with each roar of the engine and Maya's confidence in his ability to find the brakes drops down a few notches.
Axton spares her a smug look in the runner next to theirs and she can only imagine what he thinks about letting a psycho drive. She can hardly believe she's climbing into the turret either, but if she wants to cement the fact that Krieg's not going anywhere, she has to put on a brave face and trust in him. She ignores the commando and searches for something to strap herself down just in case.
"There's no seat belt," she says disbelievingly when she fails to find anything that can guarantee walking away from the worst possible scenario that will undoubtedly happen. "Why is there no seat belt?"
"Nnnope! Perfect mobility, ain't it great?" Gaige laughs and spins around in her turret seat. Easy for her to say, her driver isn't humming "The Wheels on the Bus" and probably blowing spit bubbles behind the mask.
"Oye, linda!" Salvador shouts up from his steering wheel and she wonders if Sanctuary would really let them in considering who's all driving up to the gates. Us? Bandits? Never. "Let's race!"
No, let's not. That is not a good idea at all, but she doesn't have the chance to draw breath before Krieg puts the runner in drive and floors the gas pedal. "GREEN MEANS GO!"
Maya's scream is lost to the wind and she grips the turret for dear life. All she can hear is the roar of the motor and Krieg's laughter as the ramp shrinks closer. For one wild moment, she's sure that the empty space of air stretches on for a hundred miles and there's no way possible they're going to jump the gap. Her heart thuds in her throat when Krieg slams down the boosters and she clenches her eyes shut, waiting for it to be over, and her stomach sinks curiously when they run out of solid ground.
When the runner finally crashes down, tires squealing, the impact shoots through her body and nearly unseats her. Her hands are numb from how tightly she's held on but she's afraid to let go least she wouldn't have the strength to hold on again. Vaguely, she thinks she hears a voice crackle over the ECHO but it all sounds like noise to her and Maya's sure she's dropped it somewhere down at her feet.
Krieg briefly looks up at her before speeding off into the icy tunnels and she doesn't have to see his face to know he's grinning behind the mask. "You scream so pretty!"
Maya doubts her ability to speak at this moment and promises herself that psycho or not, she's never, never going to let Krieg drive again.
Run. Kill. Repeat. Big and bold like ransom letters cut out of magazines in his mind.
When the blood is hot in the air, nothing else matters but sinking his axe into the organ-pinatas all around him until they spill out their red sweets across the snow. His Siren is at his side and she strings them up kicking and spitting and he gives her every last drop of candy they have. He doesn't know what they're there for, or maybe he does but it's so, so hard to remember because it's a sizzling meat fiesta all around him and he might have swallowed the worm.
The girl's robot sweeps a laser of death across the last wave of screaming enemies and Krieg inwardly seethes at the sight. Sharing is caring! That was his enchilada and he's still hungry. Just when he thinks he should string the robot up and slap it for being such a kill hog, someone whimpers out in pain behind him and Krieg wants it to stop because no one is supposed to cry at parties and they're ruining all the fun.
A man lies curled up on the ground, staunching a sucking chest wound, and Krieg thinks of delivering a beautiful coup de grâce and until his arm meets resistance. That's Corporeal Riess – the man we're meant to save, the little man echoes in his mind and Krieg's slightly annoyed because the guy doesn't look like he's gonna get up any time soon and it's bound to ruin the after party.
The others crowd around the man and Krieg faintly listens to Riess' choking last words from a distance. Several corpses of wasteland psychos litter the floor around the solider where they shot them down hoping to save the man, but their efforts were for nothing. After finally tasting a drop of blood on his axe, nothing sours the moment faster than this and for some unexplainable reason, this random guy's death weighs heavier than it has any right to.
"Wake me up when… I'm not on Pandora anymore..." And Corporal Riess is gone. It wasn't as sudden as an axe to the face or in the middle of glorious combat. It was slow; beaten and carved within an inch of his life, overwhelmed and alone.
A strange, uneasy feeling crawls into his gut and he feels like the odd man out in a line up next to his team mates. And for the first time, he wonders what he's really doing here and why he still stays. Once, he thought having these dim moments of lucidity made him better than the other maniacs that roam the wastes. Now, standing here and knowing his kind was the cause of all this, he's not so sure. He blames the little man's influence in his head. At least if he were fully mad, he wouldn't feel weird about a guy he didn't get a chance to murder.
"Quick, someone help me get his helmet off," Gaige says as her knees hit the snow and her fingers fumble around the soldier's head. No one does, it's clear Riess isn't coming back. "Guys, come on! We can still do something!"
"Gaige... he's gone," Maya says finally. "There's nothing more we can do."
"Screw that," Gaige snaps. "We're supposed to be the heroes, right? Don't just stand there! Someone give me a med-hypo!"
"Sometimes heroes can't save everyone, kid," Axton says quietly.
After a few moments, Gaige sighs and her hands fall away. She licks her lips against the cold, eyes on the rakk high above them, drawn by the scent of blood and already circling at the sight of a fresh meal. A part of him wants to say something. Maybe offer some sorta comfort to the girl or make her laugh and forget about it, but he doesn't know how. He stalks off, ready to find some more throats to bleed since that's the only thing he knows how to do best.
"So lemme get this straight," Axton's voice carries from downstairs. "Bandits managed to breach the walls to steal tech, the leader of the Crimson Raiders got himself caught by some demon bounty hunter, and you still think it's a good idea to get involved? I mean, hate to break it to ya sweetheart, but it sounds like you're betting on the losing side here."
"Yeah, that part really sucks," Salvador grunts.
"It looks bleak indeed," came Zer0 with a creak of a mattress. "But Jack will fall from my blade. Success will be sweet."
"Agreed," Gaige manages around a mouthful of pizza, her earlier grim mood directing her robot ruthlessly to retrieve the power core behind her. It didn't bring Reiss back, and maybe he would've rather have wanted to live than be avenged, but it seemed to satisfy her and she didn't mention him again after informing Private Jessup where the body was for a proper burial. "Kinda reminds me of the science fair. Marcie was way popular, her dad bought off the judges, and I still came away the winner. We might be the underdogs, but we're sexy underdogs."
"Thought you got third place," Axton again, a smirk in his voice.
"I said kinda. Marcie got blown up in a million pieces so I count that as a win."
Salvador laughs and says something Maya can't quite catch, and she hesitates on the stairs. She doesn't want to go down there, not right now. They might ask her questions she doesn't care to answer and it's hard to keep the simmering resentment from boiling over. They know who they are, they know where they came from. Maya wasn't given that luxury and she's spent the last half hour hearing from Tannis that she has no idea either. Tannis rambled on at length about the Vault and Eridians and something about a vending machine apocalypse and other than the last part, Maya had read it all before in her own research.
She had come for information and found nothing but bullets and baseless theories. In some dark secluded corner of hell, Sophis must be smiling. Child, you have so much left to learn... shame you won't find your answers here.
It was a disappointing setback to say the least, but Maya doesn't feel as defeated as she once would have been. Giving up now will only prove that Sophis was right all along and she won't let that happen. Not when she's come this far. Maya takes a steadying breath to calm herself since there's no point staying angry about it now. Tomorrow, she'll talk with Tannis again and listen to her theories more closely with a clear mind. Even though the thesis notes Maya read so long ago sound like it came from a whole different woman, Tannis' genius is still there beneath the ramblings. There's still hope they can find some answers together if it's hidden in the Vault and Maya's willing to wait for as long as it takes.
Maya soothes back her hair and makes her way down the stairs. Salvador greets her with a raised bottle of rakk ale and she tries her best to smile sincerely back. She's starving, worn out, and some relaxation is just what she needs.
"Manage to save me any pizza?" Maya asks the room at large as she picks up two bottles of ale and scans the cluttered desk.
"I squirreled some away for you and Krieg," Gaige nods towards the swivel chair and Maya lifts the lid briefly to check if it's still warm. "I was just going to bring him some."
"I'll do it," Maya offers. "I uh... need some air anyway."
"Don't worry, chica," Sal says and she stiffens, hoping he hadn't overheard her discussion with Tannis. The search for her origins feels like such a personal thing and she's not altogether ready to share with the others about it yet. "When we find the leader guy, we'll set everything straight about the big guy."
Maya relaxes only to swallow down a fresh flare of anger remembering the way Lieutenant Davis flat-out refused to let Krieg enter the town. Citizens would panic since the man looked like a walking murder spree waiting to happen and he needed Roland's go ahead to allow an obvious psycho to wander freely. All understandable if their places were reversed, but harsh when it was a psycho that helped bring back their power core in the first place.
She expected Krieg to be angry, feared he'd prove him right and headbutt the solider right there or worse, but he didn't. Surprisingly enough, Krieg didn't seem to mind. It feels wrong all of them together inside the headquarters as a team without him and she couldn't shake off the guilty feeling that she knew all along that something like this would happen.
Before when all she knew was a vague description of the masked psychopaths that roam Pandora, she thought Axton's initial refusal to let Krieg on the train was an overreaction. After witnessing how twisted they can be and killing a number of her own, a part of her sincerely doesn't blame the Lieutenant for judging so harshly. It was wishful thinking to pretend Krieg could easily walk in through the gates anyway. And so, Krieg stayed in the small bandit camp right outside the gates. It was rough with the bare necessities, but at least he has a roof over his head for the night.
"Yeah," Maya nods absently, too tired to work herself up into feeling upset about it again. In the end, it was their town and their rules and there was nothing to be done until Roland would clear him. "My channel's open in case you need me. Later guys."
They murmur back their goodbyes as she balances the pizza box with one hand and hopes Krieg doesn't mind jalapeños on his pizza.
"Not hungry?" Maya asks and Krieg spares her a glance where she sits cross-legged on the floor, pizza box between them and a pool of half congealing blood not two feet away she was polite enough not to notice. If he had known she was coming he would have maybe prettied the place up and scraped away the brain matter off the ceiling.
Before she appeared with the pizza box in hand, he had cleaned house of the vermin that lived here and considered leaving. Just walk off into the bone fields and maybe ride a bullymong into the sunset. Or eat it. Wear its skin and live among them. Much easier to pull off than living with the others in Sanctuary. He doesn't belong there. Or here. With her. There's a strange domesticity to it all; the way she knocked on the beaten iron door, the food, the cool bottle of ale condensing in his hand. He could get used to this. Her presence. He could stay and everything will change.
He decides right here and now to get up, spit out some random excuse, and get gone. No amount of whining from the parasite in his mind could make him turn around.
A minute ticks by and no excuse is forthcoming, her eyes still on him and on her second slice.
"WHY are you here?" he blurts out suddenly, and it comes off as more accusing than curious.
This time, Maya doesn't startle at his voice but chews slowly, eyes still trained on him. "Because I need to know who I am." Krieg stares and she gives a small laugh. "Sounds cliché, right? I mean, I grew up believing in something and... well, everything I knew was wrong and I need to find the part of me that's real."
Real. He guesses he could appreciate that. Reality has a way of escaping him like a skag in a dishwasher, bruised and clawing out at every opportunity. Being around her is about as real as it gets before the mask comes off, but it's a different sorta real that screams at how wrong he is and it doesn't bode well to get hung up on the differences between what's real and what's not. Cogito ergo sum. Real... isn't he?
That voice just laughs. Are you?
Definitely real he decides. He's the one with the voice in his head and not the other way around. Touché.
She's still staring at him and for the first time, he wants to say something clever. Something normal. But the whispers fill his mind with white noise so he pries up his mask a few inches to take a sip of his ale instead. It's warmer now, clenched in his fist for so long, but still refreshing despite its bitter aftertaste. He can't see her, not like this with his mask over his eye, but he's suffered such exposure before in her presence and he remembers how hungry he really is for something hot and not bleeding for a change.
"What about you? Why are you really here?" she says when he lifts the lid of the pizza box, his view limited to the dusty floor between them. "I know I asked back in Liar's Burg but... I don't buy it. You're not like the other psychos out there."
Krieg feels her scrutiny on his mouth more than ever now but resolves to take a bite of pizza to stall. Ever since that soldier died, that same question has surfaced through the chaos of his mind over and over like a mysterious rash and he's picked at it raw. She's right, he could very well go on killing all on his own until his arm detaches at the shoulder and whirls away like a Catherine wheel. He knows why that other part of him here. There's hope and redemption when his muted thoughts linger over the Siren. And... longing. Nothing particularly ambitious, but enough to feel... he doesn't know what to feel.
You stay for her, that voice rings clearly in his mind and Krieg couldn't argue that even if he tried. It's true. It's the way her beauty shines beneath the decay of this planet, the way the blood streaks on her skin, and the way she makes him feel real.
And that heartburn-like ache in his chest makes a comeback when Krieg guesses she'd likely run screaming if he'd ever say it out loud.
"It's okay y'know, if it's private," Maya says, misinterpreting his silence for reluctance. "Not like I've –"
"Bloodsauce," he says at last and slaps down his mask to look over at her. "On this pizza. Very ROBUST."
"You're risking your life fighting in a losing rebellion for… Moxxi's pizza sauce." Her lips twitch up in an unconvinced smirk and he knows he's never been a good liar but it's likely crazy enough to be believable.
"RoBUST," he reminds her since it's the only describing word for such food stuffs he vaguely remembers reading somewhere on a label. "The MEATY marinara sings down my gullet like a FIVE SPEED DRILL." He should write food columns, he decides. Krieg: psycho and sauce connoisseur.
She snorts out a little laugh and for a moment, he was real.
A/N: Okay so you've all prolly noticed the lack of Sane!Krieg in this chapter. I wanted to fit some more of Krieg's backstory in the experimental facility and since writing them in flashbacks is kinda awkward to do, I thought I could devote a full chapter to it. The next one in fact. Any thoughts on this or should I stick to how I was doing it before? Any comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for the patience and continued support!