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Chimera fic: Into the Bolivian Sunset 12/15

July 28th, 2011 (07:15 pm)

A/N:  Previous parts here.  I may add the italics later as LJ likes me more. 


CHAPTER TWELVE

Some people believed that life was defined by a beating heart. This covered many things, from a newly conceived fetus to an injured possum in the road. In this light, life was expansive, encompassing, both more valuable and less.

Others looked at sentience: the ability to reason, to be aware. This allowed people to eat the meat of animals, to appreciate zoos, to pull the plug on a loved one in an irreversible coma.

Michael knew the arguments for both sides, and more. He knew the biological factors, the psychological rationale, all of it.

But that wasn’t life to Michael. His heart had been beating during his entire existence, he had been capable of rational thought since he was very young, but existence wasn’t life.

No, Michael’s life began the night Stefan broke into the Institute and gave him a choice: to come or to stay.

Michael made the first choice of his life that mattered and came to life.

The following year had been a wonderful series of choices, both simple and profound. What to eat for breakfast, what pair of pants to wear in the morning. Whether or not to go to school, to flirt with girls, to accept a family.

Choices defined him. Choices made him real.

That was what Jericho had denied him, what Bellucci had taken from him. And it was what he was fighting for now.

The choice to be real--the choice to save a life--the choice to be the brother Stefan had wanted him to be all along, no matter what.

Even if it meant killing.

Michael’s mental acuity was sharper than ever, his vision almost looking beyond the third dimension. He could see Wendy so clearly, her head cocked to one side, arms at her side, looking almost passive in her stance.

But he could see beyond that. Beyond the little girl she should have been and into the heart of who she’d been warped into being. Her mind was an expanding canvas, filled with hate and power. It was written in her DNA, embedded into her psyche with every breath she took. The science that created her had been perfect, flawless, and the guise of a little girl was all that separated her from all the sociopaths in history.

Jack the Ripper. Jeffrey Dahmer. Charles Manson.

They had nothing on Wendy.

He could see the power she wielded, how it lurked inside of her, ebbing and flowing with every beat of her heart. She controlled it effortlessly, using it and holding it back on a whim, like the child she should have been.

But he could see more than that, he could see the coldness of her heart, the detachment of her reasoning.

He could see how much she enjoyed hurting Stefan. The way the blood flushed her cheeks ever so slightly, the endorphins firing in her brain. Even now, she was thinking who to kill first: Stefan or Michael.

All logic deduced something very plainly to Michael: to spare her life would be to forfeit Stefan’s. Someone would die here, and it was up to Michael to decide who. That was a choice no person should have to make, but it was his to make.

Choices defined him.

The choice to kill would show him for the killer he was.

The choice to let Wendy live would show him as the stranger he was genetically to Stefan.

The choice would define him. A killer and a brother. A normal person and a stranger.

Wendy’s decision was made. Her eyes set on Stefan and her intent was his heart this time, to burst it in his chest, watch him drown in blood--

The choice defined him.

And Michael chose Stefan. The loss of innocence was a fallacy anyway; he’d lost it long ago. But the loss of Stefan was one that he would not survive. At least, not one he wanted to.

His warnings were given. Her intentions were clear. Michael’s choice was made.

Steeling himself, Michael bared down, grabbing the power inside of him and pulling it up before directing it at the girl. It was an experimental effort, just to see how it worked.

For a moment, nothing happened.

Then, Wendy turned her eyes back to him, a small look of annoyance on her face.

Briefly, Michael glanced at Stefan, still bleeding and limp on the floor. He was in pain and immobilized but the frantic rise, fall of his chest was all Michael needed for now.

Suddenly, Wendy’s vague annoyance made sense.

Nothing had happened. Wendy had tried to kill Stefan and nothing had happened. Michael’s powers had thwarted her own.

It was a pleasing revelation, one that resounded almost giddily in the pit of his stomach, but as Wendy’s eyes narrowed, he came to realize that the joy was probably premature.

Her sights were set on him now, her pixie face set with a monstrous scowl. She did not speak, but he could read her intentions. To hurt him. Squeeze one of his kidneys until it exploded. Not immediately fatal, but incapacitating, even for him.

Self-preservation flared and he rallied. Something tingled through him, but it passed.

Wendy’s face registered surprise. She was surely used to instant success. Michael’s ability to fend her off was unexpected--for both of them.

Her surprise was momentary, and as her eyes darkened and her small shoulders squared, he realized with acute clarity that Wendy had only been playing before. She hadn’t even been trying.

The burst of power that came next was a sincere effort, strong enough to double him over quickly, the metallic taste of blood in his mouth.

She was working at his intestines, squeezing and releasing in even increments. Nothing permanent--yet--but perforation was likely and then he would bleed internally before help could even think of arriving.

Michael went to a knee, panting. This was beyond him. This amount of power, this amount of control--it was not something he understood--nothing he’d ever wanted to understand.

The pain spiked again and Michael felt himself weakening.

His impending failure fueled something inside of him. If he went down, Stefan would be helpless. Michael was not helpless. It was his job to protect. It was the only use of this curse that was worthwhile. He could not let Wendy win. He could not let Wendy be free to exercise this power on anyone else.

The resolve buoyed him, and he squeezed his eyes shut, feeling within himself. Beyond the pain, he could feel her power working and he focused on the cells and willed them to stop--not just stop--but to lash out--if there was a power to destroy, it could destroy, but someone else--

There was a cry, young and surprised, and Michael looked up to see Wendy go to her knees.

Blinking, Michael realized the pain was gone. Spitting blood, he got to his feet. “We do not have to destroy each other,” he said as strongly as we could. She was a victim, a child without a chance. No one had given her one, not like Stefan had given one to him. He pulled back his power. “Please.”

Wendy’s writhing stopped and she looked up at him through the fringe of her hair. There was blood on her lips and fire in her eyes.

This time, Michael barely had time to brace himself before the attack was launched. The force of her power threw him from his feet, propelling him into a wall with force that made his vision fade. Awareness did not leave him, and he became aware of the growing pressure in his head, building and building and--

Gritting his teeth, he got to his feet, taking a lurching step forward as he hurled her infliction back at her.

This time, she fought back, a new attack coming at him, trying to make all the blood in his body turn to sludge, but Michael doubled back, giving back what she threw at him with equal force.

He could feel her frustration mounting, her pain growing. She was almost crying now, a child throwing a tantrum. But this wasn’t a broken toy or a puppy in a window--this was life and death and sometimes monsters wore the faces of children, even when it wasn’t their fault.

Wendy’s next attack was at his heart, the place where life began. Where life ended. She sought to still its beat, to stop its rhythm, to squelch Michael out once and for all.

Maybe he deserved it.

But the choice was still his.

And it hadn’t changed.

The power was everywhere now, growing in him, pulsing through him with a vibrancy he couldn’t begin to understand. Whatever Bellucci had done to him, it had changed him irrevocably. The power was a real entity, almost impossible to ignore, even harder to deny.

The power was a curse, he knew. And power had almost taken Stefan’s life, almost made Michael lose his would-be brother forever.

Now it would save him.

Sometimes the end did justify the means.

It came out of him with astonishing force, so intense that the recoil sent him to the floor hard, head colliding with the tile. The pressure on his heart ceased and he heard the sound of Wendy’s heartbeat go suddenly still.

He blinked, realizing his eyes were open. The hallway was quiet now; the only sound he could hear was Stefan’s ragged breathing.

Stefan was going to be okay, he could feel it. He could feel his organs beginning to respond, the blood flowing to his brain.

Blinking again, Michael looked at the ceiling. It was the same tile as the examination room.

Then he saw the flaw, same as before. A small nick, hard to distinguish from the other intentional holes.

Not accidental. A defect. A mistake not of the installation, but the manufacturing. It was impossible to say if the design was problematic, or just the implementation.

Michael might never know.

But as long as Stefan was okay, he wasn’t sure it really mattered.

-o-

It was over.

It was really over.

Wendy’s bicolored eyes were open, but sightless, her body stiff and contorted, mouth open in an endless look of shock.

It was horrific--she was so young. Younger than Michael. She had never experienced a real life, she’d never had anyone to love her. She’d been taught to kill and to hurt, and she’d had no one to save her. Even after everything she’d done, Stefan almost felt sorry for her.

Almost.

But her body wasn’t the only one on the floor.

Michael.

Heart lodged in his throat, Stefan ran on heavy feet to his brother’s side. Unlike Wendy, whose features were frozen in death, Michael was totally limp, sprawled haphazardly on his side. On his knees next to Michael’s prone form, Stefan rolled the younger boy onto his back gently, cringing when he saw the blood.

Crimson stained Michael’s upper lip, leaking from his nose and trailing down his chin. There was another streak of red winding from Michael’s ear, wet and hot on Stefan’s hand as he tapped Michael’s face to revive him.

Michael’s head simply lolled, lifeless and loose.

“Michael,” he called out, voice almost catching in his throat. “Michael.”

There was no response. Not even a flicker.

Desperation threatened to choke him and Stefan felt the tendrils of denial begin to take root. It was a comfortable fallback, he realized distantly. When things got to tough, blocking them out entirely was easier. It was how he had managed not to cope with Lukas’ death. It was how he had managed to survive living without Lukas all the years after.

But Michael wasn’t dead. He wasn’t. Michael had won. They both had. Stefan had found Michael, defied the odds again, and gotten him out. Michael had faced down Wendy, faced his own doubts and fears and saved them both.

Saved them all. Not just Saul and Ava, but the other children.

More than that, Michael had survived.

That counted. It counted for a lot.

They couldn’t blow it now.

Hand gripping Michael’s shoulder, Stefan was almost begging now. “Please,” he said. “Wake up.”

The blood was still coming, a few drops on the sterile tile floor. Michael’s chest rose and fell, but there were no other signs of life.

“Come on,” he said, voice low and rough like gravel. He hoisted the younger boy high, catching his head as it threatened to flop backward. “Misha.”

Stefan was close to tears, almost blinded by his emotions. But then he saw it.

A movement.

Nothing more than a twitch.

“That’s it,” Stefan coaxed. “You can do it, little brother.”

Then again--a ripple through Michael’s entire body, twitching from his feet to his head.

Stefan’s mind struggled to keep up with it, to make sense of what he was seeing.

But then Michael twitched again, jerking harder this time, body pushing hard against Stefan’s tender grip. It was followed by another, just as violent, proceeded by another until Stefan could no longer avoid what it was.

Not a sign of recovery.

A seizure.

Stefan was well prepared for many things. He planned for as many contingencies as he could think of. But the thought of losing Michael--the thought of getting so close to him and then having him slip away--it was simply incomprehensible. Impossible. Not something he could deal with. Not now, not ever.

This was what it had been like with Lukas, he realized. The overwhelming disbelief, the gnawing, desperate fear, so visceral that it threatened to swallow him whole. It was happening again--he was going to lose everything. Only this time, it was in his hands and he still couldn’t hold onto it.

Stupid. All for a stupid lie. A well-intentioned lie.

He’d take it back. He would. He’d do anything for Michael.

Anything.

As suddenly as it began, the shaking stopped, and Michael felt deathly still in his grasp. The young face was colorless, lips tinted blue, starkly contrasting from the bright smears of blood on his face and in his hair.

He looked dead. He could be dead.

Stefan’s mind struggled to process it, to make sense of it, but he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

There would be no denial this time. No, this time Stefan would stay with Michael, no matter what. Lukas had died in a stranger’s arms. Michael would not have the same fate. If he died, Stefan would be there with him and he would die, too.

There was a noise behind him and a strangled gasp. Stefan didn’t even bother to get in a defensive position. He couldn’t move, not with Michael so carefully cradled in his grasp.

“Stefan,” Saul’s voice hissed. “Is he--?”

Stefan looked up blankly, almost surprised by the pained look on his friend’s face. Saul was looking at Michael, face scrunched up, a sorrowful expression on his features.

Saul’s eyes met his, full of a sympathy Stefan did not want. “Stefan,” he said, softer this time. Gently.

Stefan recoiled, shaking his head and pulling Michael closer. “He’s not dead,” he ground out, because it was true. He would know if Michael were dead. Dead people didn’t bleed. Dead people didn’t have seizures. “We need to get him out of here.”

Saul looked like he wanted to protest, but there was no counterargument to offer. Stefan was right, of course.

Resolved to that, Saul nodded, bending over as if to help.

But Stefan pulled away, his body stiffening, wrapped possessively around Michael’s still form. “I’ve got him,” he said roughly, the don’t touch him clear in his tone.

Saul backed off, a bit hesitant, but he did not question the boundaries. “Ava’s with the other kids, got them locked in the containment room. They’ll be safe until the authorities arrive. Her story’s already off to press.”

Stefan nodded woodenly, barely caring about the rest of the plan. Instead, he worked carefully to find his feet, lifting Michael’s weight into his arms.

Saul lingered, looking like he wanted to help, but kept his distance, even as Stefan faltered for a moment under the strain. “The car’s ready to go,” he said. “We just have to get him there.”

Stefan sucked in a hard breath, looking at Michael once again. The trail of blood had drifted down his cheek now, his blonde hair matted with it. There was no more twitching, and the movement in his chest was nearly indiscernible.

But it was there.

Michael was a boy full of miracles, and Stefan was counting on at least one more. For both their sakes.

-o-

Normally, Stefan was all about control. After all, in his old line of work, the only way to make sure he lived to see tomorrow was to do the job himself. No loose ends, no room for error. He had colleagues but he never had friends because there was always a vague, uneasy feeling that any of them could turn at any time.

But that wasn’t a life Stefan lived anymore. Even if his life was just as dangerous and he had way more to lose, that type of control didn’t exist without a cost.

So while Stefan would have liked to be driving the getaway car, there was no way he was going to leave Michael alone in the back seat. Priorities. They changed everything.

And more than that, Stefan didn’t live the isolationist lifestyle he had before. His life wasn’t a lonely condo and long hours on the job. His life was Michael, and everything that entailed. Settling down, making connections, establishing bonds. It started with Michael, but it went beyond that. He was on speaking terms with his father again, and Saul was an acceptable part of his life, in times of peace and in times of trial.

In short, if he could trust Saul with the truth about Michael, he could sure as hell trust him to drive the getaway car.

Even so, that didn’t mean he necessarily approved of the other man’s driving style.

It was all Stefan could do to keep Michael’s prone form on the seat as Saul took a corner at breakneck speed.

Stefan cursed, glaring at the back of the man’s perfectly maintained hair. “Easy,” he said harshly over the sound of squealing tires. “The idea is to make a discreet getaway, not attract every cop in the area.”

Saul glanced in the rearview mirror, his plucked eyebrows knitted together. “That place is going to be ground zero here soon,” he said. His eyes flicked to the road for a second before meeting Stefan’s eyes again. “And the kid doesn’t look so good.”

Stefan had no response to that, and his gripped tightened on his brother. Michael hadn’t moved since they’d gotten him out of the Institute, his dead weight malleable and awkward, even as he was hoisted and maneuvered into the back seat. Stefan hadn’t let go of him yet--and didn’t have plans to any time soon.

But keeping Michael close wasn’t making him better, no matter how much Stefan wanted it to. In the moonlight, Michael’s complexion was pallid, the smears of blood drying into garish smudges on his fair skin.

Unconsciously, Stefan let his hand linger on Michael’s chest, feeling for the unsteady, weak thrum of Michael’s heart, so clear to him even over the uneven road that Saul was navigating with rough driving. He could still feel the after-effects of Wendy’s creative treatments throughout his body, but he couldn’t focus on it--not with Michael in his current state.

With his other hand, Stefan swept Michael’s bangs off his head, running his fingers through the blood-stiff hair behind his ear. Michael didn’t flinch, not even with the intimate contact.

Maybe driving faster wasn’t such a bad idea.

Saul took another corner, almost tipping the car onto two wheels and Stefan had to use one hand to brace himself against the door. Michael’s inert form jostled, one leg slipping off the seat and Stefan grappled to keep him close.

Saul swore. “Sorry, sorry,” he called from the front. “We’re almost to the city now. We’ll slow it down there and once we get back into the open countryside, we should be good to go.”

Stefan could think of a dozen sarcastic comebacks, but none of them mattered. Nothing mattered except Michael.

“Any change back there?” Saul asked, his worry evident.

There hadn’t been any change. The bleeding had stopped, which was something, Stefan supposed, but not nearly enough. Michael hadn’t responded to voices, to touch, to pleading: he was just out of it. Still and unmoving, and it was all Stefan could do to keep himself under control.

But before he could find an acceptable answer for Saul, Michael answered for him.

Not a nice quip or even a plaintive response. But a twitch.

Stefan felt the tremor rip through him and his stomach bottomed out. He didn’t even have a second before another tremor followed, then another and another until Michael’s entire body was stiff and thrashing, head smacking hard against Stefan’s shoulder, legs kicking the front seat.

Saul swore again from the front, his voice tinged with panic.

And all thought and logic went out the window. Any planning, any sense of being careful, of practicing stealth--it didn’t mean anything. Nothing meant anything without Michael.

“Faster,” Stefan ground out, and he could have been yelling and he could have been whispering, he didn’t know, couldn’t know. His eyes were locked on Michael, transfixed on the contorted features, almost locked in pain as the body in his grip continued to buck against him. But his words were for Saul, and he counted on his friend to understand, even when Stefan didn’t have time to explain. “Faster.”

Whether it was the sound of Stefan’s voice or the uncontrolled thrashing from Michael, Saul got the hint, pressing his foot to the pedal until the car surged ahead, almost at an uncontrollable pitch, as they made their way to safety.

-o-

Running solved a lot of problems. It really did. In all, Stefan was a fan of running. Running kept them from being picked up by any backup the Institute my bring into play. Running kept them out of the pictures and the headlines when all the crap hit the fan.

But running didn’t solve every problem, and that fact had never been more abundantly clear to Stefan than now.

Because there he was, in the safe house, locked up tight, no one the wiser that anything had gone down last night. There was no one on their tail, no one tracking them--no one even looking for them as far as Stefan knew.

And it didn’t mean jack crap, not with Michael lying on the bed. The kid was still again, that deathly stillness that made Stefan keep his fingers on the pulse point in Michael’s wrist, just to be sure. The seizure in the car had lasted longer this time, almost two agonizing minutes and Michael had been almost blue when it was over.

Stefan didn’t remember the rest of the ride back to the house. He didn’t even really remember getting Michael out of the car or the awkward walk back up, Michael heavy in his arms. He just remembered lying Michael down on his bed, the one in the room Stefan had made up especially for his brother as a welcome home. The apartment back in the city had been cramped and they’d had to share a room. But the villa Stefan had arranged as their new digs under one of Anatoly’s aliases had ample space to spread out. He had thought Michael would like that, even giving the kid the best room, looking out onto the jungle.

Stefan had taken extra care to stock it well, instructing Ava to unpack Michael’s things herself: move Michael’s horrible selection of clothes into the closet, put up the eclectic assortment of decorations and books the kid had amassed in the last year. Stefan had figured it’d be the only time they’d see the room clean until they moved out. Zilla even had a first class view of the greenery, in a cage with fresh food, water, and plenty of wood chips to pee in. The little rat was probably the most comfortable one in the house.

But Michael hadn’t even opened his eyes to see it.

Hell, Michael hadn’t even moved.

That was hard to accept. To do everything right--to overthrow the Institute, get it exposed to the public, have its leaders arrested, get Michael free--and victory still wasn’t theirs. To have Michael back, but not have him there at all.

Stefan didn’t even know how to deal with that. He was used to searching, he was used to working for things--but he’d done that and won and...now what?

Waiting.

Sitting by Michael’s bedside and waiting. Not without hope, though. Even if Michael hadn’t moved, even if his skin looked dull and translucent, even if there was as much of a flicker of life as he breathed in and out, in and out--there was hope. There had to be. Michael was a chimera. That counted for a lot.

The rest was all taken care of. Ava’s article ran, front page news, picked up by syndicates around the world. By the morning, press from all over was flying in to get a glimpse of the compound and the Bolivian government has seized control in a desperate attempt to keep the situation under wraps.

For what good that did them. By the time the CIA showed up to try to clean up the mess, since the Institute was registered by American citizens, the news was out. Genetic testing. Children being kept in confinement. The government had had no choice but to sever its silent ties of protection and clean up the mess like any other illicit facility.

All staff were being held. The children were reportedly all doing fine, though one was killed in the crossfire. A little girl. They were calling it a tragedy.

In short, the Institute was gone. Its science shown for the evil that it was. It was hard to say what would happen to the other kids, but Stefan had done all he could for them. In some ways, he’d sacrificed more than he could afford, but there was no way to take it back now.

He couldn’t take any of it back. For all he’d accomplished in the last day, it still wasn’t enough. It really didn’t mean anything. Not without Michael.

It still came back to that--it would always come back to that. Stefan was glad they’d done the right thing, but getting Michael out safely had always been his primary concern.

And Michael was out, all right. But safe...well, that was still the million dollar question.

They’d put him on the bed, pulled off the covers and draped a sheet over him. Stefan had thought about putting him in a little more clothes, but eschewed it quickly. Michael would be awake soon; he could do it himself.

If Saul disagreed, he wisely said nothing. What would he say, anyway? Reason and logic--they’d never really been Stefan’s thing, and after what they’d all just been through, Saul would have no grounds to disagree.

That had been hours ago. The morning came, sun rising in the sky, and in the daylight, Michael looked no different. There was no change. Nothing. Stefan was still in his fatigues, the sweat dried in his armpits, drops of blood from his nose staining the front. His boots were hot and heavy on his feet, and not even the breeze from the jungle outside could do much to cool him.

He could shower, he supposed, but he didn’t want to be gone when Michael woke up. And it would be when, not an if. Stefan was sure of that.

It was a resolution, if only a desperate one. Stefan forged it by Michael’s bedside, solidified it while holding his brother’s hand in his own. They’d get through this. Somehow, they’d get through this together.

Shifting in his seat, Stefan worked for a better position. He’d tried pacing for awhile, but all that did was keep Zilla awake, beady little eyes locked on Stefan’s every move.

So much for pacing. Sitting was harder work than one would think, but Stefan was nothing if not dogged in his pursuits. And besides, after Wendy’s freaky-ass mental crippling, the pins and needles feeling of sitting in one spot too long was vaguely reassuring.

He thought briefly if he should talk to the kid, keep up some kind of conversation. Michael was big on useless chatter, more and more the longer he was away from the Institute. Maybe it would make the kid feel him, maybe it would encourage him to wake up and tell Stefan how wrong he was about anything and everything.

But Stefan didn’t know what to say. Looking at Michael, he could still see the betrayal on his face when he learned the truth. Stefan owed him much more than apology, and bedside vigils were too cliche for that kind of thing.

And all the other stuff--what had happened in the new Institute, what Bellucci had done to him. What Michael had done to Wendy to save both their asses. Too much had passed--lies, betrayal, kidnapping, torture--and Stefan didn’t even know where to begin.

They’d talk about it when Michael woke up--whenever that could be. It wasn’t unlike Michael to be contrary just for the hell of it. And he did like to sleep, tried and true teenager that he was.

Well, if Michael wanted to sleep, then Stefan would let him sleep. Stefan would let him do anything he wanted, and he’d always be right there for the kid.

No matter what.