[Seven days to impact…]
One week to the end of the world, Logan thinks idly, if Max fails that is. Or he succumbs.
Morning rolls in dank and dreary, thunder rolling somewhere in the background and no sun in sight. Personally, if he were the architect of the human apocalypse, the least he’d have done for the poor bastards is made their last few days on this planet bright and sunny.
He crouches in the far corner of his floor mattress, back against the wall of his usual cell. They gave him his grey t-shirt and camouflage pants back for which he’s thankful, even if he’d never admit it. One of his ankles is chained to a hook on the floor, allowing him movement to the toilet bowl and back but not to the door or the chair where he’s usually interrogated. And not to the jug of water sitting on the table either.
Logan rests his hands on top of his knees pulled up into his chest, and looks up at the only little square of dull blue sky visible through the ceiling.
He thinks back to the day before when he was hanging from his chains right in this room, again, naked, ankles spread and locked into steel hooks in the floor. He remembers how the electrodes taped to various places on his body had heated up when current flowed through them. How he’d screamed without inhibition, screamed like he had no pride, no dignity left to speak of.
That pain… that searing electricity that fried every nerve ending in his body and nearly stopped his heart… he’s never experienced it before and God knows he never wants to again. For the first time since this ordeal began, Logan had wanted to just… give in. His capacity to bear any more torture diminishes with every passing day, and if something doesn’t give soon…
Logan sighs and hugs himself harder.
He remembers the incredible rush of relief when a power surge knocked all the lights out, and the momentary hysteria it caused among his captors thinking Max had caught up with them after all. They couldn’t restore the power all night, which amuses him to no end.
What he tries really hard not to think about though, is what happened later, when Ben crept up behind him in the dark after the others left him still hanging from his chains. How Ben’s presence, while intimidating and abhorrent to say the least, was still more welcome than the alternative he’d just been spared from. How he’d forced himself to lean back and rest against the relative warmth of the transgenic.
If that singular action took Ben by surprise, he hid it well.
Logan instructed himself to think of it as an undercover mission, a strategy to neutralize a key enemy asset… one that required he allow the X5’s hands to rove all over his naked body without complaint. He tried his damnedest not to shake when Ben worried and pinched his nipples, and bit the corner of his neck leaving two neat rows of teeth impressions. He couldn’t help but whimper when Ben took his flaccid cock in his hands and stroked it, humping his own leather-clad erection against Logan’s ass.
Logan knew this was a test. This was Ben checking to see if Logan actually was developing an attachment to the X5 (he obviously didn’t care that even if he was, it was probably just Stockholm syndrome and nothing real) or if he was faking it. So in order to garner the ‘right’ reaction, Logan closed his eyes and pretended it was Alec behind him, Alec’s hands on him, Alec whispering in his ear, commanding him to come…
He tries not to think about how willingly he’d obeyed.
He is jarred out of his thoughts (and is grateful for it) when the door swings open to his left. Ralph and Ben walk in, dragging in with them a mousy middle-aged man with greasy hair, three-day old stubble, and dirt under his fingernails. Ralph shoves him forward until he’s barely a feet away from Logan.
“Look carefully, is this the guy?” she asks him, pointedly ignoring the guy in question himself.
For a second Logan feels mildly sorry for the poor man, until he fixes his shifty eyes on Logan and nods his head. “It’s him. This is Eyes Only.”
His last line of defense just crumbled, and he’s now more exposed and vulnerable than ever. Like everyone else, all Ralph knew before was that Logan worked for Eyes Only. He sees the smug look on Ralph’s face, wondering what exactly she planned to do with this information now. Without wasting any more time though, she turns and stalks out of the cell with the little snitch in tow. That leaves him alone inside his cage with the other X5 – Ben.
They look at each other for several moments, each unwilling to back down from the stare-off. Ben is the first to blink, though Logan can’t be sure why. He walks to the table, pours that delectable looking substance called water into a tall glass, and wordlessly brings it over to Logan. The human’s eyes go wide but he accepts the water without a word. Ben drags the chair closer to sit beside him, watching him drink.
Logan licks his lips, and tries his luck again. “Who is that man?”
Ben doesn’t hesitate. “His name is Engel. He was part of Renfro’s inner circle, apparently, one of the scientists who helped design some… virus, I think he said, that he personally injected into Max’s bloodstream to kill the big bad Eyes Only aka… you?”
Logan sighs and looks away, this just keeps getting better and better.
“That’s what happened four years ago didn’t it? – You got infected, and Max broke into Manticore for the cure. That’s the day she burned Manticore down.”
Ben leans forward, puts a finger under Logan’s chin to make him look up. “That cure - that’s the ‘dote’. Isn’t it?”
Logan keeps his mouth shut. But Ben smirks anyway, not needing any further confirmation. He leans back into his chair, no longer touching the human. “Guess they know where to start now. You might be exhausting your usefulness to us sooner than you think, baby.”
Logan leans his own head back against the wall. “About time,” he says, meaning that at least the torture will be over.
“You don’t get it, do you? If this Engel is able to isolate the cure they’ll have no need to keep you alive. They’ll just drain all your blood into plastic bags and get rid of you.”
Logan smiles tiredly. “In eight days, I’d be dead anyway. The comet is still coming, and I’ve got the ‘dote’ in me, remember?”
Ben frowns. “But you have transgenic blood. You’re… resilient…”
Logan snorts. “Not enough. I was one of Sandeman’s first guinea pigs when he brewed the antidote, trust me, it didn’t stick. Ralph knows this, she was there.”
“So… you’ve always known that you wouldn’t survive?”
Logan looks up at Ben with half-lidded eyes, and something occurs to him then. “You know, I just realized this might be the first ‘civil’ conversation that we’ve ever had.”
The look on Ben’s face is unreadable, but when he speaks he completely ignores Logan’s last statement, just like Logan ignored his. “So all this time, you and Max and Alec, you’ve all been fighting for… what… complete strangers? People you don’t know, people who hate you just ‘cause you exist?”
Ben shakes his head, and there are a hundred different emotions flitting across his face even if Logan can’t completely figure them out with his poor eyesight. He gets up and leaves abruptly, leaving Logan alone with his thoughts.
Every cloud has a silver lining, allegedly. Because they think Engel can give them the answer, they leave Logan alone for a couple days, coming in only to draw more vials of his blood every now and then.
Oddly enough, Ben doesn’t show for the next few days either.
Logan wonders if they are trying a new torture tactic – isolation, or reverse psychology maybe. A part of him, a really tiny one, actually misses Ben… or maybe he just misses his face, one he’s been relying on for the strength to endure. He misses the discreet acts of kindness that only Ben offers to him in this desolate place – like bringing him food and water, saving him from the snake, possibly electrocution, and other X4s who try to rape him.
He also misses the challenge of trying to uncover Ben’s humanity, little by little, without speaking a word or raising a finger. He’s seen glimpses of it, and despite everything that’s happened, Logan is convinced it’s there. Buried underneath all the Manticore re-conditioning and the psychotic breakdowns, there is still some of that curious wide-eyed kid Max once described, the one who had so many questions, one so desperate to find answers he wasn’t above making them up.
It’s that kid, Logan thinks, that volunteered to this assignment. Hell, even the adult Ben shows no real interest in human genocide. No, he volunteered because Logan is his only connection to the people that are supposed to mean something to him – like Max, and even Alec.
So yes, Logan does miss Ben. And after three days and three nights pass and no one comes to torment him or ask him any questions whatsoever, he is quietly horrified when he realizes that in this very moment, he might even miss Ben more than he misses Alec.
“Do you know where he went?” Alec asks calmly, sounding surprisingly objective while Logan is starting to freak himself out with some of his own mental musings and retrospective realizations.
“No.” But something in Alec’s eyes tells him he does.
“The attacks from the Familiars were relentless. They kept trying to destroy our shipments both domestic and international. But never had we seen a transgenic on their side, until that day in Anchorage, Alaska.”
Logan is so shocked he rises from his spot on the couch. “You saw Ben in Alaska? You… you fought him?”
Alec runs a hand through his hair. “Not directly, no. While we were fighting the Familiars, one guy managed to break through our defenses. But he didn’t destroy anything, just grabbed a case of vials and… left. Max and I were back-to-back when we spotted him but we were too shocked to react. And by the time we moved, he was in the wind.”
He doesn’t tell Logan how Max was so shaken, she didn’t utter a word for hours.
Logan frowns. “But that doesn’t make sense. The antidote had been in the water for days, it’s not like Phoenix couldn’t get it right out of the tap?”
“I don’t think Ben was there on behalf of Phoenix or the Conclave.”
“Then what was he…?”
And then he stops, realizing he already knew the answer to his own question.
Alec scowls a little sulkily because he is thinking exactly the same thing. A big part of him is jealous and resentful, but not enough to not feel grateful.
Ben was trying to get the antidote to Logan. Maybe he wanted to try it himself; maybe he thought one more dose would do the trick.
“That’s the first time we realized the Conclave wasn’t working alone. All the pieces started to fall in place. We realized Ralph and you hadn’t been kidnapped together, that Ralph was actually working with them. Remember how she’d go missing for like three-four days, supposedly to go see her human foster family in Montreal, Canada?”
“Let me guess, she was skipping town to meet up with her Phoenix buddies?”
“In Portland, Oregon to be exact. I followed her trail and it led me right to their fucking doorstep. There were a bunch of other X6s and X7s we’d never met before. I even offered to surrender hoping they’d take me to you, but they just wanted me dead.”
Logan understands now. “And that’s where you found a clue that led you to Wisconsin?”
Alec nods, “Was a goose chase at first but eventually we found someone who led us to that facility in the mountains. But by that time…”
Logan completes his sentence in a voice that’s barely more than a whisper. “It was too late.”
[Two days to impact…]
Logan paces back and forth as much as the length of chain lets him to in his cell. He hasn’t seen or heard from anyone, except the X4 who leaves him food and water each morning, or occasionally comes in to draw some of his blood.
The first couple of days he’s relieved, obviously. But after that he starts getting antsy, wondering what they might have discovered and if they’re any closer to foiling Max’s plan to save humanity.
He’s acutely conscious of the clock ticking away to doomsday, as if in a rush to just get it over with already. With every day his frustration grows, stuck in this cage being useless, being a liability, while Max is out there fighting the toughest battle of her life. He can only hope she isn’t doing it alone, that Alec and Joshua and the others are there by her side, even if a part of him secretly wishes at least one of them is maybe still looking for him, off the side of their desk…
There is a constriction around his chest that tightens with every hour: an unexplainable fear that grips at his throat and makes him sweat and pace until he’s too worn out to move. But he isn’t quite sure what he’s so afraid of, or for.
Clarity returns two days before the alleged ‘coming’ when the door swings open and Ben walks in. What happens next involves no strategic intent on Logan’s part whatsoever, not even a rational forethought. Logan will never fully be able to explain, or even understand what madness drives him to practically charge the X5 and throw his arms around him.
He doesn’t know who is more taken aback by Logan’s behavior: Ben or himself. Ben doesn’t return the hug though, keeps his hands entwined behind his back and basically just waits it out. Since there is no easy way to get out of this, Logan pulls away awkwardly, turning away so he doesn’t have to acknowledge the amusement in Ben’s eyes.
“No, they haven’t figured it out yet. You can relax.”
Logan looks back at Ben then, startled that the X5 had practically read his mind. Just like Alec does, all the time.
And then out of the blue it hits him… that morbid fear he couldn’t explain before, returns with a vengeance and now he knows why. It’s like his legs are hacked off from under him and he collapses to his knees, struggling to breathe against a weight that’s getting ready to crush his lungs.
Ben doesn’t immediately react, hanging back skeptically to gauge what Logan might be up to. “What’s wrong?”
Logan looks up into the face that’s been his beloved for so long, and starts to laugh hysterically, struggling to contain his breakdown.
“I-I just realized… I’m about to die, here, alone. All alone. I won’t even get a chance to say goodbye to Alec…” And then he laughs some more, clutching his stomach with both arms, hunching over until his head nearly touches the floor.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he stutters through his fits of laughter, “I’m… I’m ready. I’ve expected this for weeks but… oh God…oh, f-fuck. Fuck fuck fuck…”
Ben closes the distance then and lowers himself to the floor to sit behind Logan. He hesitates for maybe a second before wrapping his arms around the human and pulls him back into his chest. Logan doesn’t have the energy or the will to resist. He simply goes where he’s led, leaning back into the X5’s chest behind him and that’s where he stays, concentrating on nothing but the spasmodic flow of air in and out of his lungs.
A small plastic bottle is pushed under his nose. Logan doesn’t care where it came from, just accepts the offered drink and gulps it down in one swig. The water calms him down a bit.
“You’re not going to die,” a voice whispers softly into his hair.
Logan scoffs. “Really, and you know this how?”
Before Ben can answer, they hear two sets of footsteps approaching. The X5 quickly moves away, leaving Logan on the floor while he takes a seat at the table pretending to be in the middle of an interrogation. The door opens and Moorehead and Ralph walk in, looking like they haven’t slept in about as much time as Logan’s been in isolation.
“493?” Moorehead is surprised to see him, and Ralph just looks miffed. “Good you’re here; we’re heading to the lab for the demonstration. How about you accompany us, Mr. Cale?”
Like Logan has a choice? He’s not hyperventilating anymore, but he is worried. Ben locks his wrists in handcuffs in front of him and leads him out of the cell after the women. It’s a long walk to the end of the corridor where Engel’s lab is, especially barefoot on a cold and suspiciously wet floor. Logan uses the time to scope out the place, not having seen anything but his cell and the operating theater, and memorizing what he can in the off-chance he gets to escape.
The lab is… like a lab. It’s pretty well stocked and up-to-date for an ‘underground’ operation, which speaks to the massive monetary infusion Phoenix has gotten from the Conclave. Engel slouches in a corner with a tray full of syringes, and four transgenic soldiers stand beside him. It’s the shorter line of kids standing in front of, and being restrained by the soldiers that startles Logan. And now he’s very worried.
The four kids – two boys and two girls, couldn’t be older than thirteen. Their faces are marked with bleeding scratches, tear tracks and undisguised terror. They’re dressed in casual clothes, like they’d been snatched right out of a school or a weekend barbecue party.
“Ready when you are, Dr. Engel.” Moorehead commands, and right on cue, the soldiers force the kids to their knees.
“What’s going on?” Logan asks, absently trying to get closer to the kids but Ben holds him back.
“Engel re-created Renfro’s cure,” Ralph informs him, looking too smug for his liking. “And we’re about to run our first tests. Thought you might like to watch what happens when they’re exposed to the snake of the Coming…”
“But, w-why can’t you just take their blood to run these tests?”
“Hmm, let’s see…” Ralph pretends to think. “Maybe because someone wasted three weeks of our time so we have no choice but to go straight to human testing! Or maybe because, this is so much more fun.”
Logan ignores the taunt that is obviously meant to make him feel guilt he does not deserve. “But you need to give them the antidote first to be able to test neutralizing it, right? H-have they had it yet?”
It’s Engel who responds. “Yes, their drinking water’s been doctored for weeks.”
Logan sighs in relief, but it doesn’t last once Engel starts injecting the children with his… whatever it is he’s got in those syringes. The children are crying and panicking, and one of the guards smacks the youngest boy on the back of his head.
Logan tries to go to him but Ben grabs him from behind and holds him back. Silently he struggles, feeling betrayed because he thought Ben was on his side now. And then Ralph brings in the snake.
“Ralph, don’t do this. You don’t have to… please…”
His pleas fall on deaf ears. One by one the guards hold out each kid’s arm to be bitten by the Chilean Taripan. The girls scream and try to escape the death grip of the soldiers holding them down.
“God, this is madness! Stop this, please!” Watching the kids writhe in pain is the worst thing they could have put him through. Logan trembles in Ben’s grip violently, praying the antidote works and Engel’s pathogen doesn’t.
When the first fits begin, Logan starts talking to the kids, encouraging them to be brave. “Hang in there, just… ride it out, okay. You’ll be alright, I promise you… you will be okay…”
He is lying through his teeth of course – he has no fucking idea if they’ll live or die. But they don’t need to know that. In his rage, he turns to Moorehead. “Whatever you do, you’re not going to win.”
“Won’t I?” She smirks. It doesn’t escape Logan’s notice that she uses a singular pronoun and not plural.
“Do you want to know how we intend to get Engel’s pathogen into the population? Well, I’ll tell you! Our dose, unlike your beloved Sandeman’s antigen, is airborne. Even as we speak, my people are in position all across the globe, ready to receive the shipment and fire it into the sky on New Year’s Eve. Stupid humans will think they’re looking up at fireworks, when in truth they’d be admiring the instrument of their own agonizing demises.”
Logan narrows his eyes. “You don’t have enough time. It took nearly a month for Max to…”
That’s when Moorehead completely loses it. She strides up to Logan and screams right in his face. “I will not have my people’s sole purpose of existence negated by transgenic filth like your Max and her equally abominable pack of friends!!”
Obviously she feels no regret for insulting her own allies currently present in the room. The youngest girl screams the loudest against the unbearable pain and Logan loses all interest in Moorehead.
Fifteen minutes later, three kids have made through the worst of it and now sit cross-legged on the floor, panting heavily. But the youngest girl is pale and unconscious, drops of blood dotting her lower lip.
“No,” Logan whispers silently willing the girl to keep fighting, to live.
He can feel his heart sinking – does this mean Engel’s cure will kill one in four people? That number is way too high for his liking. His only consolation is that Moorehead doesn’t look too happy with the experiment’s results either.
“Explain!” She screams at Engel, who cowers and looks down at his notes, muttering nonsensically about how he needs more time and better test subjects and such.
Ralph looks just as red-faced.
“You have one more day, Doctor,” the high priestess informs him. “After that, I can assure you the antidote you went to such great lengths to consume yourself, is not going to be enough to keep you alive.”
She turns to Logan then, “That goes for you too. Unless you change your mind about wanting to live – in which case you know what to do.”
Without another word, she rushes out of the lab with both Ralph and Engel close on her heels, both looking very scared indeed. The four guards start to round up the kids, probably to take them to a holding cell of their own or worse. Logan turns to look at Ben, a look that the X5 responds to with annoyance and pouting. He lets go of Logan then and walks up to one of the guards.
“Comrades! The test subjects can wait. Why don’t you go make sure our esteemed employer finds her ride comfortably?”
He outranks all four soldiers, so they promptly throw him a “Yes sir!” and run out to escort Moorhead to her helicopter.
Logan watches, heart pounding, as Ben gathers the unconscious girl into his arms. He’s nearly on the verge of bursting into tears when the transgenic looks up at him and whispers, “She’s breathing. She’ll be okay.”
Logan exhales in relief and collapses to the floor on his knees, much like he did back in his cell not too long ago. Ben tilts his head towards him in amusement. “You’re making a habit of that.”
“What will happen to these kids?” Logan can’t help but ask.
Ben swallows and looks back at the other three teenagers huddling together.
“I’ll do what I can.”
Alec walks into the living room from the kitchen with two mugs of steaming coffee in his hands.
“We found about a dozen kids hiding in the caves by the river. They’d been kidnapped from summer camp not too far away, but they were okay. Said one of the Phoenix soldiers apparently let them go.”
Logan gratefully accepts the offered beverage. “Good to know.”
Once Alec is settled beside him on the couch, Logan asks. “So, exactly what happened with Ralph again?”
“That wasn’t part of the plan.”
“What was the plan, exactly?”
Alec looks anxious. “Remember I said we finally found someone who led us to the Manticore facility?”
Logan waits while Alec bites his lip, “We tracked down Ames White, and offered him his son in exchange for getting you out.”
Logan nearly drops his coffee mug. “WHAT?”
“I knew you’d react like that but we weren’t going to go through with it! M-Maybe! I, I don’t know.”
Logan sighs, this feels worse than when Alec had said before they wouldn’t have negotiated with the Conclave for his return. Max and he had been through hell and back to save that boy. It’d been his brave mother’s last and only wish.
“But why White?”
“The facility was locked down harder than Fort Knox. So they say, I don’t even know what Fort Knox is. There was no way we could get in past the drones of X7s covering the forest – you know those brats with too much bat in their genetic cocktails, who can communicate wordlessly via ultrasound waves?”
Yeah, Logan remembers them. They can be a pain.
“They also had those body heat detection monitors installed all around the perimeter. Only these systems were modified to howl like freaking banshees if an X5 got within zero point five clicks. We needed an inside man, and White was the only one we had any leverage on.”
“And White agreed to help? After so many years, why does he suddenly want his son back?”
Alec grimaces and finally admits the whole truth. “We told him we would kill his son if he didn’t cooperate.”
Logan shakes his head, his disapproval plainly evident for Alec to see.
“Look, it didn’t come to that. Besides, White wasn’t exactly selfless here. With only four days left to the Coming, he’d given up hope that you’d be any help. So from his perspective he wasn’t losing anything, just getting his son back.”
“So what happened?”
“He made an appointment to see Moorehead at the facility, and we followed him. He was supposed to switch off the monitors and call off the X7s then signal to us, so we could bust in, grab you and get out.”
“But that’s not what happened?”
“Ralph – she walked in on White switching off the monitors.”
“So he killed her?”
Alec shrugs, “I guess. She may have also remembered him as the guy who once lured her and her friends in front of a firing squad, who knows? I’m not losing any sleep over it.”
The X5 takes a sip of his hot coffee, slurping loudly as if to accentuate his indifference. Logan scoffs but lets it be because truth is – as much as he believes everyone is worth saving, after what Ralph did, he’s not exactly cut up over her death either.
“So what happened then?”
“I guess, in the ruckus the two of them created, Moorehead was alerted. We were in position just on the outskirts of the forest waiting for White to call. But instead Moorehead ordered the X7s in the forest to come after us, and then… all hell broke loose.”
Logan squints at his half-empty cup. “So, White was supposed to be on our side.”
Alec narrows his eyes. “Why? What’d he do?”
“He tried double-crossing us, I think.”
Logan sighs deeply. “Let’s just say, once again, I was glad that Ben was there.”
[Four Hours to impact…]
Ben sits on the chair straddling it backwards, his gun lying beside him on the table. Logan sits on his mattress trying to read a scrap of newspaper on which his last meal arrived, holding the sheet two inches away from his blurry eyes.
Any information on what’s happening in the outside world would be welcome today. Ben’s told him everything he knows but the X5 is just as isolated here as Logan so it isn’t much. Hence the struggle to read that faded piece of paper which he’s getting nowhere with. He could ask Ben for help, of course, but he’s just too proud and Ben is, of course, just enough of a bastard to make him ask for it.
“Sorry we don’t keep any corrective lenses around here,” Ben teases, making Logan scowl. Way to show their genetically superior eyesight off to a half-blind man.
“It’s fine,” he replies, folding the newspaper and putting it away. “This way I can pretend you all aren’t as awesomely cut as you really are.”
Ben looks confused, “Cut?”
“It’s… never mind.”
Logan is smiling, but he’s also lying, sort of. He’s just glad to not see the minute differences between his lover and his… captor. The blurriness helps him pretend, which helps him survive.
Conversation stalls when the comm-link in Ben’s ear suddenly crackles, and his face hardens.
“What is it?” Logan asks.
“Moorehead just ordered me to shoot you in the head.”
Logan rolls his eyes, tired of these daily threats to his life to the point where they don’t matter anymore. “What’s the rush? I’ll be dead in a few hours anyway.”
The door is pushed open suddenly and Alec instantly stands up taking a defensive stance. It takes a second for Logan to recognize the man walking into his cell.
“Ames White…” Logan slowly rises to his wobbly feet. His strength has whittled down substantially in the past month; he’s lost a quarter of his body weight, and Ames White can see it too. “I’d expected you to come around sooner…”
White gets right to the point. “I’m not going to waste your or my time, Cale. Just tell me where my son is.”
“I-I don’t know.”
“Don’t play games with me,” Logan takes a step back as Ames charges forward. “WHERE IS HE?!?”
Before White can close his hand around Logan’s throat, which is what he was obviously intending to do – the Familiar is grabbed from behind and effortlessly flung to the other end of the room.
Stunned, White looks up to find Ben standing in front of Logan, guarding him protectively.
“How dare you!?!” He yells at the X5, “You fucking mutt! Have you forgotten you work for me! Don’t you know who I am?!”
Logan is amazed by how unfazed Ben looks. “I don’t care who you are. My orders are to safeguard the asset so you better keep your distance or else.”
White picks himself up from the floor, glaring at Logan this time. “Looks like you’ve done it again, Cale. Haven’t lost your tranny-magnet mojo yet, I see…”
Logan crosses his arms and tries not to feel slighted for basically being called a slut for transgenics.
“493 – right?” White turns to Ben again. “This asset you’re so eagerly protecting, belongs to your genetic clone 494, did you know that? Before that, he was fucking your dearest sister, 452. Ever wondered how an Ordinary hero-wannabe gets to be at the center of the longest and bloodiest civil war this country has known since the 1800s, and survive it?”
From his vantage point, Logan can only see Ben’s back and heaving shoulders. He has no idea how the X5 is reacting to White’s words. Rationally he knows he has only four hours to live but survival instinct is a stubborn thing, and he can’t help but worry he’s about to lose the only ally he has left.
“I don’t see how any of that is relevant to my orders, Sir.”
Atta boy, Ben.
“He’s playing you for a fool, you idiot! He’s taking advantage of you, it’s his standard MO! Don’t you get it?”
When Ben doesn’t reply, White scoffs, “I don’t have time for this.” And he starts for the door. “You best be ready to protect this ‘asset’ of yours alone, freak, because all hell is about to break loose.”
Soon as he’s gone, the sound of an explosion in the distance startles them. Ben turns to Logan with murder in his eyes. Thankfully, it is not directed at the human. He unlocks the chain from around Logan’s ankle and sets him free.
“Time to go.”
They’ve barely made a few feet out the door when they hear a set of footsteps running towards them. Ben pulls Logan into what seems to be a storage closet nearby, pulls out his gun and waits. A dozen X6s descend on the holding cell with their weapons drawn. But finding it empty, one of them shouts into his comm-link.
“Ma’am, the prisoner is gone. And so is X5-493.”
Moorehead’s agitated voice crackles over the walkie-talkie device. “Find them! I want that Ordinary dead. They’re not getting him back alive, no matter what!! And capture the traitor while you’re at it.”
They spread out in all directions, armed with deadly weapons ranging from short knives to AK-47s. Logan gasps, only for Ben to put a hand on his mouth and silence him. But they could only hide and evade for so long. Before long, and despite Logan’s misgivings about the plan, Ben goes on the offensive. He engages the X6s one by one, taking them out to make way for Logan and himself to get out of the building, although Logan really isn’t sure what his plan is after that.
“Come on, keep moving!”
Ben pushes and prods him in harsh whispers and Logan complies to the best of his ability. He’s not in a position to walk very long distances though, and Ben is practically dragging or carrying him along. They pass a tall rectangular window at the staircase through which Logan sees gunfire and more explosions outside, in the forest and as far up as the mountains.
“What’s happening out there?” he wonders out loud.
Ben follows his line of sight. “Your friends are here for you.”
Logan’s heart starts to race manically. He turns to look at Ben to see if he’s toying with him, but the transgenic looks dead serious.
“Ben…” he whispers softly, but doesn’t know what to ask, too afraid to even try.
Ben looks straight into his eyes. “I’ll get you to them,” and then a second later, he smirks, “so you can say goodbye to your loved ones before you die.”
Logan smiles sadly, that’s all he really wants.
But the battle has only just begun. It’ll be days before Logan finds out all the gory details of how his friends – Max, Alec, Joshua and Mole to name a few – broke through the impenetrable formation of Phoenix X7s surrounding the facility. Meanwhile inside the building, Logan concentrates on not keeling over and keeping up with Ben as he fights the endless string of X4s and X6s being sent by Moorehead to get them. And he’s doing it all by himself.
He’s taking bullets, knife wounds, punches and kicks and nail scratches, but nothing manages to slow him down… that is until he runs out of ammo. They hide and take defensive positions several times, and those are the moments in which Logan is crouched up against Ben, or being held by him or something. Logan wonders in those moments if he’s simply hallucinating again because none of this makes sense… why is this transgenic not only helping Logan, but risking his life and committing treason to his own organization to do it?
“Ben,” he whispers when he can’t take it anymore, pressed up against one door to an abandoned lab while the X5 is standing guard at the other one. “Why… what… what are you doing?”
Ben looks at him, jaw clenching hard. “Playing the fool, I guess,” he whispers back, and that’s all the conversation they have the time for.
Emergency alarms suddenly go off all around them, and they can hear footsteps running in the corridors, like everyone is evacuating the building. Ben sniffs the air a couple of times, “Looks like your girlfriend is back to finish the job.”
After a while, Logan smells it too… the facility is burning, again.
“Come on, this is our opening.” Ben grabs him by the arm once the hallway is clear and the two of them get out of the lab to make a dash for it.
“Hold it right there!” A female voice screams behind them, and with their guns empty they have no choice but to freeze and turn around. It is Moorehead, bloody and injured from whatever fighting she caught herself in, holding a long range assault weapon trained at Logan’s forehead.
“YOU,” she grinds out, blood dribbling from one side of her mouth, so much loathing in her voice it scares Logan.
“All this time wasted, all because of you! You did this on purpose!!” And she fires, but Ben pushes Logan aside just in time so the bullet grazes the transgenic’s shoulder instead.
The next instant, Logan sees nothing but a blur super-speeding across the hallway until it reaches Moorehead where, without hesitation, Ben grabs her from behind and snaps her neck in two.
Someone is shaking him, asking him (not ordering him) to walk away, he doesn’t need to look at this dead body anymore…
“We have to keep moving. Come on…”
He’s numb. He should feel elated, avenged, relieved at least… but he feels absolutely nothing.
“What did she mean?” Ben asks him later, once they’ve made it to the rear exit. Logan will find out later that Max and Alec were entering the burning building from the front at exactly the same time as he and Ben were leaving it from the back.
Logan tries to shrug while concentrating hard on walking, it’s not as easy as people think. He should know – he was in a wheelchair long enough to appreciate the effort it takes to put one foot in front of the next against the pull of gravity and propel a six-foot tall frame forward.
“Engel must have finally figured it out.”
“Figured out what?”
“That there is no antidote to the antidote.”
Logan smiles, “It was just a figure of speech, a joke really, that Ralph must have overheard me or Alec make, and she latched on to it.”
Ben’s eyes are wide with shock when he turns to look at Logan. They’re in the forest now, cautiously making their way through the X7 territory, although they’re yet to encounter any of those freaky black-eyed buggers so far.
“But what about… what you said? About the Manticore database from four years ago?”
“I figured all my conversations were being taped in that room so I… I fed the lie, fueled the rumor.”
“To keep them running around in circles, chasing a false lead?”
Ben frowns deeply, still not sure what he’s hearing. “Let me get this straight, there’s never actually been a ‘dote’ at all?”
Logan shakes his head.
“Then… that means you won’t die?” There is so much hope in Ben’s voice it makes Logan smile.
“I just happen to be that one-in-a-millionth person who’s rejecting the antidote because of my own freakishly defensive genetic makeup. Something in my DNA…”
“So all this time, they were studying your blood when they actually should have been looking at what in your DNA makes you resilient? And you kept encouraging the ‘blood antigens’ theory to waste their time?”
“Sonofabitch,” Ben mutters.
Logan looks for signs he might have angered the X5 somehow, signs he might turn on him now that he knows the truth. Panic sets in for a second, until Ben turns to look at him, a thoroughly amused smirk on his face.
“Yeah, the money wasn’t that good anyway,” he quips, before continuing to go deeper into the woods, Logan following close behind.
Feels like he’s been walking forever and maybe he has. Logan is exhausted and cold; his feet hurt and his vision is murkier than ever. If it weren’t for Ben prodding him along, he wouldn’t be upright at all.
And then it begins… the Coming. The hour sneaks up on them quietly while he was so busy putting one foot in front of the next…
The sky starts to light up, not with the sun, but with comet Kramer entering the earth’s atmosphere. Logan looks up and freezes in his tracks. Ben realizes a second later that Logan is no longer following him, and runs back to him.
“Logan, come on! Come on!”
Logan doesn’t want to run anymore. He looks at Ben and shakes his head. All he wants to do at this point, and he doesn’t give a fuck how wrong or right it is… is to pretend Ben is Alec, just so he doesn’t have to die alone. He wants to forget all the horrible things that have happened in the last month, and only remember the beautiful memories of the six months that came before.
He starts to collapse onto his knees on the moist green forest floor but Ben catches him before he’s halfway there. “No, no, no… you’re not doing this again. We have to keep moving, come on!”
Logan doesn’t understand why. What is the point? He tries to tell Ben to let him be, he’d just like to rest for a minute and look up at God’s fireworks in the sky – it looks so beautiful. He isn’t sure if any actual words leave his mouth or not, but it’s no matter. He finds himself taken by the gorgeous and incredibly long tail of the comet… even blurred, it’s so beautiful…
Suddenly, Ben hauls him up and throws him over one shoulder then starts to run.
“No, w-what… are you doing?”
Logan looks up at the Manticore building still burning behind them. Maybe it’s a figment of his clearly shorted imagination, maybe not, but he sees Max at the staircase, standing by the same tall window he’d been at not so long ago… exactly how long ago was it?
“Max… Max! Max!!”
He starts to struggle, wondering why Ben is taking him so far away from the people he wishes to die in the arms of. He screams at Ben to let him go, screams for Max and Alec, making more noise than he should be if the strategy is to try and be stealthy.
Suddenly he is hurled back on the ground, and Ben is hovering over him. “I told you before, baby, you are not going to die.”
With that he’s rolling Logan over until he tumbles into the river behind him, and Ben follows right after. The human gasps painfully because the water is cold if not as icy as the one he’d been dunked in few days ago. Strong hands grab him, set up upright in the water so his toes are barely touching the riverbed.
“Take a deep breath, exhale, and take a deep breath again.” Ben commands and Logan robotically obeys.
Then Ben pulls him down under the water and holds him there. A minute later when Logan starts to struggle for breath, Ben closes his mouth over the human’s, transferring his breath to Logan. Every minute or so, Ben goes up and gulps in more air to bring it back and feed it to the human. An Ordinary couldn’t possibly keep this up for more than a few seconds, but Ben is anything but ordinary.
Logan on the other hand, is weaker than ever, and there is only so long he can keep with the program. He fights the darkness creeping around the edges of his consciousness with all his might; clearly it’s what Ben wants him to do. At some point though, he loses the battle and starts to drift away.
His last thoughts are about his mom who loved him unconditionally and his dad who never could; about his ex-wife whom he loved unconditionally but she never could; about Max who he’d hoped to ask to be his ‘best man’ when he asked Alec to marry him; and about Alec – who went from annoying colleague to trusted friend… to become the one true love of his too-short life.
He smiles, and then he thinks of the other X5 with the face of his one true love – Ben. He’ll never forgive Ben for the things he did. But Logan will always be thankful to him for trying… trying to be different from what the world expected him to be, trying to right some of the wrongs of his past, trying to save a lost cause like him…
“No, no, no… don’t give up yet…”
“Breathe… just breathe. Come on!”
“Stay with me, baby… please…”
Forgive me… if you can…
Oh my God, Logan! …
… He’s here …
… Someone get me a blanket …
“Shh, you’re okay Lo’… you’re okay…”
“Logan? Open your eyes, sweetheart.”
Logan comes to with a quiet gasp. Or at least he tries to.
“Hey, take it easy, you’re okay…”
He has trouble opening his eyes but finally manages it, only to quickly close them again against the broad daylight streaming through his full-length windows. He frowns; his holding cell does not have any such windows, definitely not this much sunlight. His penthouse on the other hand…
He blinks his eyes open again and finds himself on his back in a soft, clean bed. Three familiar, smiling faces hover over him at an uncomfortably close distance.
“Welcome back, sweetheart,” Max whispers stroking the hair out of his face and dripping hot tears on Logan’s neck, then using her own sweater sleeve to wipe them away. Glad they don’t have the virus between them anymore or surviving such a long ordeal only to be put down by more genetic bio-warfare would just… suck.
Joshua’s face is bobbing up and down as do his long golden curls, decidedly happy to see him. “Logan back, Logan back! Back in the fold… never letting out of sight again!”
Max punches Joshua lightly in the arm. “He’s kidding! He doesn’t mean never…”
Logan can’t help but smile. The big lug would slobber all over Logan if he could, if the third person in the room wasn’t resolutely holding him back. His smile fades just a little as his eyes land on Alec’s face.
The blurriness starts to bother him, and as if reading his mind, Max reaches across him to the bedside table for his glasses. She doesn’t hand them to him, instead gently places them on the bridge of his nose herself. Logan blinks a couple of times as his vision sharpens and becomes clearer than it has been all month long. Max and Joshua are still talking at him but he tunes them out. He looks up instead to the only person who hasn’t said a word yet.
Alec… this really is his boyfriend, his partner, the love of his life…
Logan turns away from him, all of them, eyes brimming with tears.
“I’m still tired, guys. Can you please… give me a minute?”
“That really sucked,” Alec recalls, sighing heavily and rubbing his eyebrows.
“You kicked us all out and didn’t even let me stay. But, I understand now, why.”
Logan puts his coffee mug aside; it got stale and cold two hours ago anyway. He knows he’ll have to talk to Max and Joshua soon too, especially Joshua. He might be older to them all in years, but his inherent innocence, the canine in his cocktail and less exposure to the real world makes him a lot more childlike. He must be taking Logan’s odd behavior personally.
“Don’t worry about Big Fella,” Alec says, reading his partner’s mind accurately. He sits on the coffee table in front of Logan, maintaining a reasonable distance.
“He whimpered a lot the first few days, after that he growled a lot. But he worked all his issues out once we caught up with Barton.”
Logan frowns. “Did Joshua…”
“Uh-huh. It was probably self-defense though – you can’t come at Joshua with a machete and live to talk about it.”
Alec smirks, and Logan can’t claim to feel any sympathy for his torturer either.
So Barton and Ralph are dead, as is Moorehead. Alec goes on to speculate about how the Phoenix probably still exists, at large, somewhere. The comet came and went, taking a hundred odd lives across the planet. That number is way too high as far as Logan is concerned but not nearly the extinction level event the Familiars had hoped for. To the best of their knowledge, the Conclave seems to have gone underground as well, if not completely disintegrated.
“In short, we’re safe, for now. Hell, we might be safer than we’ve been in four years,” Alec finishes quietly, and Logan nods. Of course his definition of 'safe' has taken quite a hit these past few weeks, so Logan isn’t really sure what that means just yet. He used to feel safe in this penthouse; he wasn’t supposed to be safe with Ben…
“So, where did you find me again?”
“Right by the river where he…” Alec exhales heavily, “where he left you.”
“He must have kept you alive underwater for twenty minutes at least.”
Logan nods subtly, though his memories of those crucial few minutes are nothing more than a thick cloud of fog stuck inside his head. He turns to his boyfriend and sees the sadness, the rage, the guilt and the helplessness he must have felt all month long, splattered all at once across his face.
“You kept me alive for twenty-five days, Alec.”
Alec turns to him then, eyes growing wide.
“If it weren’t for you, I might have offed myself on day one. But I didn’t want to disappoint you. I wanted… I hoped… to see you again and that – that kept m-me going…”
The tears come out of nowhere, not in Logan’s eyes but in Alec’s.
The younger man rushes to Logan’s side, kneeling beside the couch with his arms outstretched, begging Logan to break this glass wall that’d risen between them. And Logan does. He lets himself fall forward and into Alec’s embrace, shaking with the force of his own long-overdue tears.
It’s still raining, feels like it’s been raining for years. But nothing can stop the sun to rise, and for daylight to chase the darkness away. Hopefully this time, Logan will allow it to dispel his own shadows of doubt and distrust.
Hopefully, come morning, he will remember, and believe, that in their ongoing saga of darkness and strife, the chapter of the Phoenix is closed and behind them, for now.
Hopefully he will believe that Alec is Alec, who doesn’t deserve any less than the love and trust he has for Logan.
And hopefully, he will no longer feel this irrational, shameful, conflicting mix of relief and disappointment every time he looks at him and realizes that Alec is Alec; and Ben is gone forever.
[Twelve days after impact…]
A tall figure dressed in black leather from neck to toe stands atop the skyscraper opposite Logan’s building.
He digs his hands in his jacket pockets, not caring a bit for the rain that’s slapping down against him, hard, clearly displeased with his presence here, in this place.
With his genetically engineered eyesight he zones in on the penthouse. He watches the two figures crouching on the floor, wrapped around each other gracefully despite their six-foot plus heights and sharp angles. The green-tinged veins in his neck pulsate as he watches the two men rock gently, back and forth. It’s hard to tell who’s consoling who in their little huddle; maybe they’re both consoling each other.
He’s been watching them for several days now, watching the distance grow, then shrink, then widen again. This is the first time they seem to have finally succeeded in putting the past where it belongs, behind them.
Part of him wants to unsheathe his weapon and shoot a bullet through the transgenic’s head right now. But another, bigger, newer, part of him feels an odd sense of relief… and absolution, something he doesn’t quite understand himself. Like a weight he didn’t realize he’s been carrying around for weeks has suddenly lifted off his shoulders.
After a while, he watches his clone carefully scoop the human into his arms like he was made of fine-cut glass, and carry him to the other end of the penthouse into the master bedroom.
They’re not going to be intimate for many more weeks to come, and he feels a muted and perverse satisfaction at the thought. It’s followed up instantly with bitterness, because the intimacy they share tonight is a thousand times stronger and more beautiful than he’s ever known himself.
No one will ever look at him again the way Logan did. Of course, the bitch of it is, it wasn’t really him Logan saw when he looked at him anyway.
X5 493, Ben, inhales deeply and continues to ignore the cold rain insisting he be on his way. He resolves to watch over Logan, now and forever, but do it in a way so their paths never cross again. He wishes his memories of Logan Cale weren’t so marred with guilt, but it is what it is. No matter what he did after, or what he does now… it can never make up for the horrors he subjected that man to for several days. But if memories are all he has left of this man, he will cherish them forever.
No matter how grotesque and horrifying they might be.
*** THE END ***
A/N: Would love to know what you think!