?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chimera fic: Into the Bolivian Sunset 15/15

August 3rd, 2011 (08:32 am)

A/N: And this is the end of it :) I'm very thankful to those who have read and reviewed. It's good to know there are others out there who love these characters as much as I do. Now we'll just have to see what really happens to them in the next book! Again, thanks to geminigrl11  for the beta'ing skills.  Previous parts here.

 

EPILOGUE

Endings were hard.

In truth, Stefan didn't really have much experience with them. So much of his life had been holding on and holding on tighter that the difficult art of letting go was something he was rather inexperienced with.

But the last year had been a crash course in the subject. Saying goodbye to Lukas, once and for all. Accepting his brother's death had meant the end of a ten year quest, and there were times when it still hurt to think about Lukas still and bloody on the beach that night so long ago.

Still. Even if his love for Lukas would never changed - never abate - his quest to find his brother was one he'd put to rest. He'd said his goodbye to Lukas the best he could, and started the difficult task of moving on.

One ending was something, but it didn't make him better at it.

Technically, saying goodbye to Saul wasn't the same thing, not at all. Saul was leaving on his own terms, and he was fine and fit, his pocket well padded thanks to the funds Stefan had procured from his father's hefty South American bank account. This was to be expected. Saul had a life, after all. A job and acquaintances, if not friends. He'd given more than Stefan had a right to ask for, so it wasn't like he was about to begrudge the guy the chance to finally go home.

It was still hard.

Having Saul around had gotten sort of comfortable, familiar. He was used to Saul's jokes, learned a taste for Saul's alcohol. And though things were getting better with Michael, it was still nice to have someone there as a buffer as Michael came to terms with everything that had happened.

"You look like you might cry, Smirnoff," Saul said with a smirk, as he put another bag by the door. He grinned at Stefan. "And here I thought you were just a heartless bastard."

Hard, but not impossible.

Stefan snorted, taking the bait for the olive branch that it was. He was leaned against the arm of a chair, arms crossed over his chest, watching as Saul packed the last of his things. "I just can't believe you're finally getting out of our hair," he said. "I thought you might try to stick around and milk whatever you could."

Saul shrugged. "Your charming hospitality isn't worth the indefinite handouts," he said.

"We gave you the master bedroom," Stefan countered.

Saul rubbed at his neck. "Yes, and the mosquitos that come with it," he groused.

Stefan rolled his eyes. "It'll make for a good story for the ladies back in Florida," he said.

At that, Saul's expression turned salacious. "As if I need anymore good stories," he said. "I can get them with one look alone."

Stefan had to scoff. "Then I wouldn't dream of keeping you here," he said, getting to his feet. He held out his hand. "Though you have had your moments."

Eyeing the hand for a moment, Saul took it firmly, giving it a shake. "You, too, Smirnoff," he said. "I can always count of you for one hell of a ride."

Stefan released the grip, smiling a little. "You make one hell of a wing man."

Saul raised his eyebrows. "You took down an unarmed doctor," he said. "I'm the one who handled the armed guards, if you'll recall."

Stefan groaned. "Yes, yes, the depths of your heroics cannot be fully exhausted."

Straightening a bit, Saul's smile was cocky. "As long as you don't forget it," he said. Then he glanced to the couch, where Michael was seated.

The kid had been watching Saul's departure as well, though with decidedly more reserve. Stefan didn't know if this was a good or bad sign - he didn't want the kid to be thrown off by Saul's departure any more than he wanted to keep Saul longer than he already had.

"Good seeing you again, kid," Saul said, and his tone was gentler somehow. "I'm going to trust you to stay out of trouble."

Michael nodded slightly. "No more getting kidnapped by psychotic scientists," he confirmed. "I think I can handle that."

Saul smiled. "And if Smirnoff here ever gives you any grief, you just give me a call," he said.

Stefan scoffed. "I'm not sure you're the kind of help he needs."

Saul quirked an eyebrow. "I am skilled in many things," he said. "Most of which, you can only imagine."

"Yet really don't want to," Stefan said.

Saul shrugged. "Your loss."

"I think we'll survive," Stefan said.

With a nod, Saul said, "Yeah, I imagine you will." He took a breath, nodding once again. "So, next time you need some information..."

"I'll know who to call," Stefan promised.

"Stay safe," Saul said, leaning over to pick up his bags.

"You know me," Stefan said.

Slinging one bag over his shoulder and holding the other in his hand, Saul rolled his eyes. "That's my point."

"You'd better go before you miss your flight," Stefan said, moving to the door. He opened it. "Your taxi's waiting."

At that, Saul grimaced. "Don't remind me," he said. "You'd think you could at least spring for a limo."

"Don't let the door hit you on the way out," Stefan said with a smirk as Saul shuffled through.

"You're lucky I tolerate you," Saul said from the stoop.

"You're lucky I pay you," Stefan shot back.

Saul laughed a little and, with a breath, nodded. "See you soon, Smirnoff."

"Not too soon, Scozinsky."

Saul's expression was almost thoughtful before it widened into a grin. "But soon enough."

With that, he made his way down the steps, moving toward the end of the lane where his taxi was waiting. Saul watched until he climbed inside, keeping the door open until the taxi went into gear and pulled away.

When the door was closed behind him, Stefan sighed, hand on the knob for a moment. Saul's departure seemed final, definitive. Not of the end of a friendship, but the necessary closure of the adventure they'd been through. Now it was time to move on. Now it was time to see where all the pieces were fallen and figure out where they were going to go from here.

Michael and him.

Letting go, Stefan straightened, turning to look at Michael-

Who was nowhere to be found.

Stefan's stomach lurched. It was not a positive sign.

It wasn't like Michael had gone far, but the fact that he hadn't stayed to talk seemed indicative of just how far they had left to go. Still, this was something they couldn't avoid forever, and he wanted to make sure that Michael was truly okay with Saul's departure. He had Saul's number, and if the kid needed a third wheel around for a while, he wouldn't hesitate to call anymore than Saul would hesitate to come back.

With a sigh, Stefan peeked into the kitchen, surprised to find it absent. Though Michael was slow to recover in other ways, his appetite had already returned with a vengeance.

Curious, Stefan poked his head into the den before looking out onto the veranda.

That was where he found Michael, curled up on one of the chairs, looking out over the forest.

It was clear that Anatoly had chosen the property because it was remote and well secluded. The fact that it was on a beautiful piece of land was just an extra perk, and Stefan liked that it made for a rich backdrop during Michael's recovery. The younger boy did seem to enjoy the views, spending long stretches of time just staring out at the trees, searching for things Stefan could never quite figure out.

Tentative, Stefan stepped out. The weather was characteristically warm, but since the sun was still out, the bugs were not quite in full force just yet. Carefully, Stefan made sure his footsteps were clear and discernible, exhaling deeply as he settled into a wicker chair across from Michael.

For a moment, they sat like that, both watching the forest. The trees always seemed vaguely alive, though Stefan rarely caught a glimpse of any wildlife. There was a continually hum of insects, punctuated by the definitive songs of birds Stefan couldn't identify.

Sometimes, this seemed to be the hardest part. Stefan could organize rescue missions, plot uncanny operations, but the sitting, the waiting, the being still - it was still something he struggled with.

But for Michael, he had to learn. For Michael, he had to try.

"I'm sorry," Michael said suddenly.

Of all the things Stefan had expected - anger, fear, sadness confusion - an apology hadn't even made the list. "What do you have to be sorry about? I already told you, the power surge or whatever wasn't your fault."

"No, I know," Michael said. "I mean, I am sorry about that, but that's not what I'm talking about now."

Stefan couldn't come up with anything. "Then I don't think I understand."

Michael swallowed, then looked up, his expression curious and sympathetic. "I'm sorry that your brother died."

It was so unexpected that it hit Stefan like a sucker punch. There was an inexplicable sting of tears in his eyes, and Stefan found that he didn't know what to say.

Michael blinked rapidly, seeming to work to hold himself together. "You must have loved him very much," he said. "To go through all the trouble you did, looking for him and breaking me out when you thought I was him. No one has ever loved me that much, and I. I...liked believing that maybe someone did."

And if Stefan's heart wasn't shattered before, that just about did him in. He swore. "Misha, that's not true."

"No, it is," Michael said, and he shrugged stiffly. "I mean, it was a fantasy and I always knew it. I was raised in the Institute. I remember every long day of my life there, every class I had to take, every test I was forced to pass. But when I looked at the pictures, when I saw the way you loved Lukas, I wanted it to be true. I was lying just as much as you were."

Stefan's heart was in his throat now, stomach twisting in real physical pain. "I wanted you to have it," he said. "That's why I didn't tell you the truth. I wanted it to be true, too."

Michael's looked was pained, and he nodded, head ducking down for a moment. When he looked up again, his eyes were glistening with unshed tears. "I think maybe you were right."

"Right?" Stefan asked. "About what?"

"What you told me about family the other day," he explained slowly. "That it's not DNA that defines it."

Stefan nodded. "I meant it."

Michael nodded, not responding for a moment. He fiddled with a piece of wayward wicker on the chair, not looking up when he continued. "I should have died, you know."

Stefan had to snort at that. He hadn't told Michael everything - not about the seizures and the blood from his ears and nose, but the kid still knew the long and short of it. "It's not the first time I've been thankful for those freaky ass chimera genes you have."

Michael didn't laugh at the joke, though. Instead, he kept picking at the wicker, face taut with thought. "I looked at the scans the doctor left," he said.

Stefan's stomach churned again. He would have to throw those out. It was a reminder neither of them needed. "They don't mean anything, Misha."

"No, they do," Michael said, pulling a piece of wicker free. He held it in his fingers, turning it carefully. "Injuries to the brain are not like other injuries. Some healing can occur, but serious damage is often irreparable. Brain death is considered to be a medical point of no return. I was essentially dead when you brought me here."

Feeling numb, Stefan's vision tunneled a bit. The memory was fresh, raw. Watching twenty-four hours slip by. Forty-eight and knowing what it was to have hope slip away right in front of him.

Michael flicked the wicker away, watching as it skittered across the patio. "Even chimeras can die. I've been doing my reading, and I know there are some things we can't recover from. I never should have woken up."

Stefan shook his head. "Then how do you explain it?"

Michael looked up finally, and his gaze was sure, almost peaceful. "If it wasn't my enhanced healing abilities, then the only other factor I can consider is you. I don't remember much, but I remember you. I remember you were there. I remember that even after everything I'd done to you, everything I wasn't, you still came back for me. You fought for me. So I did the only thing I could and fought for you, too."

The truth of it made Stefan's chest almost ache. The thing Stefan sometimes forgot, the part of family he sometimes overlooked, was that it was a two-way street. That meant the good and the bad, the giving and the receiving.

He fought for Michael.

So why was it so hard to understand that sometimes Michael fought for him?

It was hard to accept, because it was his place to protect Michael - always. Even if the kid rejected him, Stefan would never stop looking out for him. It would just make it harder.

And this family thing that Stefan wanted to preserve, that he tried to create for Michael - well, it looked like the kid had figured it out, one way or another.

Stefan swallowed hard, looking at his hands for a long moment. Then he looked up again, something of a smile hanging crookedly over his face. "Thank you," he said.

Michael's posture stiffened, and he shook his head. "I still almost killed you."

Stefan had to laugh. "For a kid who seems to know everything, you're pretty stupid about this one."

But Michael was resolute. "I almost killed you," he said. "I know you say it doesn't matter, but it does. It matters a lot. I don't know how to trust myself to let you close to me." His eyes darted away. "No matter how much I may want to."

And there was the crux of it, and why all the pain was something Stefan could easily take. For as much as this hurt Stefan, it still hurt Michael worse.

With a breath, Stefan straightened himself. "Then trust me," he said, looking at Michael steadily.

The words almost made Michael flinch, and he seemed to want to look away, but Stefan's unrelenting gaze held him fast.

"Because I trust you. Completely. With my life," he said, words strong and sure, stilling every protest he knew Michael still harbored. "And if you trust me to fight to come back to me, then trust me until you're able to trust yourself."

Michael's expression seemed uncertain, but then he nodded. Once, briefly, before looking away. He wet his lips with a shuddering breath, letting his eyes close. "I'm tired," he said, his voice no more than a whisper.

Getting to his feet, Stefan walked closer, putting a hand on Michael's arm. "Then get some rest," he advised gently.

Michael's arm felt stiff under his touch, but he did not try to dislodge it. Finally, he nodded again.

With a squeeze, Stefan lingered only for a moment more, before going back inside. He paused, glancing back, watching as Michael sat in the seat, eyes closed to the forest. He watched for a moment more as Michael's breathing slowly evened out, the backdrop of the forest soothing away the rest of the doubts and regrets for now.

-o-

Life was about the anticlimactic moments. The day to day struggle of living, growing, healing. Michael's physical rebound was a natural thing, and soon he was able to run laps around Stefan during morning exercise - quite literally.

Of course, Stefan tolerated the embarrassment of being shown up by a skinny kid with his usual grace - punctuated with coarse epithets and darkened scowls. It was worth it, though, to see the kid smile a little with muted glee. Michael always did enjoy besting Stefan, and it was good to see that, at least, hadn't changed.

Beyond workouts, things were still a bit strained, but improving. They fell into a rhythm, waking and sleeping, watching TV and reading books, eating and eating and eating. Even Zilla was finding a way to make his little ratty ass feel at home, finding new nooks and crannies to hoard Stefan's stuff. Part of Stefan wished he'd left the smelly thing back in their old apartment, but seeing Michael's contented smile when the ferret snuggled down for a nap on his stomach was worth having half his socks absconded for one of its many nests.

They didn't talk about the big things more than they had to, but they did start talking again. Michael being plying him with obscure facts about the forest and how certain beetles actually had more nutrients than a full-course meal. He even redecorated his room, shifting the posters in a manner that defied logic and lining up his knickknacks with a cluttered approach that would have made an interior designer quiver with her fabric swatches.

Michael smiled more, started making himself at home. There was a slow and steady acceptance that this was their home, this was their life, this was their family.

Days drifted into weeks, weeks into a month. Michael was looking into classes and had found a list of bars in the closest town that might even hire Stefan with his limited Spanish skills. The idea of letting Michael out of the house was still a little hard to swallow, but Michael had been imprisoned enough in his short life, and Stefan would never contribute if he could help it.

So if that meant working a crap-ass job just to keep an eye on the kid, well, then Stefan could handle the humiliation.

Because things were good. Not great, but good. And after everything that had happened, good was more than good enough for Stefan.

So it was a surprise the night Michael came out of his room with a serious expression on his face.

Stefan had been typing up a resume, something partly true and mostly fiction, based on the newest alias they were living under. If he was going to get a job, he needed these things, and he wanted to get something legit, even if none of his credentials actually were.

Though things were improving, Stefan still knew that Michael needed a push to start most conversations. Even though Stefan wasn't sure this was one he particularly wanted to have, he would give this kid anything he could - and then some.

"You look stressed," he commented. "Can't decide if you should put Kermit back over your bed or not? I was thinking, maybe we should find you a pin up girl for that spot. Wouldn't help your hormones any, but it'd be a bit more normal."

The joke was coarse and over the top, which was the point. As far as Stefan could tell, the more idiotic he sounded upfront, the easier it was for Michael to say anything and feel less conspicuous afterward.

But Michael didn't seem to be going for the jokes that night. Instead, the kid's brow was furrowed, his mouth frowning just a little.

"I think you should have this," he said, holding his hand out.

Stefan's joking demeanor faded and he looked at Michael's outstretched hand. It was the picture, the one of Lukas and Stefan at their last Christmas together. Stefan's heart panged the memory then ached again when he realized that Michael was giving it back to him.

"This isn't mine," he said simply.

Heart in his throat, Stefan didn't know what part was worse - that Michael was giving it back to him or that he'd never done Lukas justice. "Misha-" Stefan said.

Michael just shook his head. "I don't need it anymore," he said. "I mean, not like you do. It's your memory of Lukas. I want you to have that. It's important to you."

The kid knew how to go for the jugular. Stefan swallowed painfully, almost afraid to go on, but knowing he had to. It was time to make amends - real ones. "I don't mean to belabor the point, but you're important to me, too," he reminded Michael.

Michael gave him a cocked half grin. "Yes, but you don't need a picture to remember me by. You'll be stuck with me every day for the rest of your life."

Stefan's face split into a smile. He reached out, rustling Michael hair. "Damn, I think maybe I should take a picture. It'll cost me less money in the long run."

Michael ducked away playfully, giving a patented little brother scowl. "Careful with the hair," he squawked.

"Ah, what?" Stefan asked mockingly, reaching for the hair again. "It's getting too long anyway."

"I like it," Michael protested, stepping clear of Stefan's reach and using one hand to put the mop back into some semblance of what Michael deemed order. "Though I'm going to have to get some more blonde dye soon."

Stefan squinted at it, considering the observation. "You know, we're not really on the run anymore," he said slowly. "You can let it go brown again."

Michael looked surprised. "But...I thought..."

They'd both thought. Turning Michael into a blonde had been the most natural thing in the world, and Michael had accepted it just as readily as Stefan had doled it out. It was a comforting part of the illusion, a visual marker that made Michael into the little brother he wasn't.

But Stefan didn't want Michael to be the little brother he'd lost. He wanted Michael to be the little brother he'd found. Complete with a sugar fetish, bad taste, horny pickup lines, and brown hair.

"The brown is you," Stefan said, shrugging a bit. "Besides, the blonde makes you look too much like a flake. You're attracting all the wrong kind of girls."

"Hmm," Michael said, contemplatively. "So what's your excuse?"

"I'm too busy keeping you out of trouble to mind my own issues," Stefan said.

Michael looked nonplussed at that, frowning a little. "That's really the best excuse you have?"

Stefan scowled. "You need better?"

He shrugged a little. "I just might have expected more," he said. "Even from you."

"Do I need to remind you who supports who around here?"

Michael looked around the room skeptically. "I'm guessing your father," he said. "I saw your paychecks back in La Paz."

"You think you see a lot of things, don't you?" Stefan asked, irritably as he could. Not because he was really annoyed, but because this was their thing. This was what they had, a back and forth, a smart ass and a hard ass - what made them them.

Michael's expression beamed smugly. "More than you think."

Stefan grunted. "But not as much as you'd like to think."

Before Michael could come up with an undoubtedly clever response, Stefan launched himself off the chair, throwing himself at Michael full force. Michael's reflexes were quick enough to soften the impact, but they still tumbled hard toward the living room, toppling over the edge of the couch.

They landed in a twisted pile, but Stefan had the obvious advantage. Arm wrapped around Michael, he used his free hand to rub a hard noogie into the darkened mop of hair.

Michael squirmed, squirreling as best he could, but his lanky body was no match for Stefan's optimized grip.

Bearing down, Stefan grinned. "You like to reconsider your position?"

The humor in Michael's voice was evident. "Not for a second."

Stefan grinned, rubbing again with new strength. "Yeah," he agreed. "Me neither."