2010-02-15: Hard Pressed



Date: February 15th, 2010


Tracy hunts down one of the names on her list that means the most to her to take down: Maxwell Swan.


Max's Apartment

New York City

Max is groaning very quietly as he limps up to his apartment door and flicks a finger, unlocking it with a minute exertion of his will. Bleary-eyed and bedraggled, he staggers inside for a badly needed drink. He has the look of a man who has spent far too long at the office. His slate grey suit jacket is slung over one shoulder, his tie has been loosened nattily, and the sleeves of his white shirt have been rolled back to the elbow.

The apartment and tenant couldn't cut a sharper contrast. It's spacious, luxurious, and obessively tidy. Every pot, pan, and utensil in the kitchen nook has an exact place. The magazines on the table by the door are arranged in a flawless fan. The thick-knapped carpet in the living area is spotless. There isn't a single speck of dust on the enormous television. The bedroom is perfectly clear of clutter and the bed is made with crisp corners.

At least that's how he left it.

There is one thing out of place in the otherwise immaculate residence: the bathroom door is ajar, and crystal clear water trails from the bathtub in a slender puddle that extends from one room to the other, as if there's been a leak. All is silent, though — there is no telltale sound of running water. The pooling water fades out only a foot or so outside the bathroom door, dissipating into what almost looks like wet footprints that eventually disappear into the carpet, but seem to lead in the general direction of the bedroom.

Max either has a strange plumbing problem, a ghost … or another sort of intruder.

Max might have noticed something was amiss on a better day. This is most emphatically not a better day. He limps his way to the kitchen's bar to pour himself a drink. The sound of ice cubes cracking as ice hits them pulls a happy sigh from between his lips. He turns around and pads toward the television, but pauses when he hits a wet, squashy patch of carpet.

Drawn out of hiding — and snooping — by the sounds of life, of an opening doors footsteps and clinking ice that mean Max is home, a figure steps out into view from the bedroom. The woman is soaking wet from head to toe and wearing nothing but a stolen bath towel.

Reports say she died a month ago, shattered into a million pieces thanks to her own doing and the gun of a Protocol agent — maybe she is something like a ghost. One thing's for certain: Tracy looks altogether real and none too pleased. She does look happy — in some regard — to see Max, but it's a dangerous sort of satisfaction that glints in her eyes. Mostly, she looks determined. Out for blood. "Miss me, Max?"

Thoroughly surprised, Max squeezes his glass and shatters it between his prosthetic fingers. He pinches his eyes shut for a half-second to quell his irritation, opens them again, and takes a breath. "That's quite a trick, Ms. Strauss," he says, his voice dry and unamused. "It would appear that the rumors of your death have been greatly exaggerated."

Tracy's demeanour would be deadly serious save for a smirk that is amused where Max isn't; there's no levity to it, however, and it's almost forced. She's on a treacherous edge. The woman makes a small, considering, scoffing sound under her breath, rolling her eyes though she doesn't dare look away for more than a split second. "The rumours of your death won't be so exaggerated."

The retort is all the warning Max receives before Tracy reaches a bare arm out toward him. Never mind the distance, it doesn't matter: her hand takes on a shimmer, dripping with the water it's suddenly made of. A torrent of it sprays at the agent with angry, calculated force. She aims for the face — the mouth. She wasn't bluffing. Tracy isn't kidding around.

Max lets out a huff of laughter and holds up his own hand. He has no water to fire, but he does have a trick up his sleeve. More accurately, in his glove.

His metal arm, courtesy of Ms. Strauss.

His glove shreds as his new arm melts from the elbow down and reforms into a half-sphere that deflects the water away from his head and torso. His lower body is soaked and he is pushed backward by the impact, but he's alive and intact. "You'll have to try harder than that, Ms. Strauss," he calls out from behind his improvised shield.

Tracy scowls at this turn of events, annoyed — especially annoyed, and even a bit alarmed, because it's he fault he has that damn metal arm in the first place — but she's not dissuaded too much. Try harder? Sure, she can do that.

At first, it seems like she's going to do no more than stare down Agent Swan, her hand still stretched out though it's once more solid and no more water attacks Max. It becomes evident, however, that a cold chill is sneaking along the soaked floor when Max's wet clothes start to crystallize with ice, starting at his shoes and working upward over his lower half, rapidly becoming a deeper freeze — soon it'll feel like the familiar icy grip that lost him his arm. He wanted harder.

As intrigued as Max is by the possibility of crafting new metal limbs for himself, he's not eager to start right now. He narrows his eyes and grits his teeth as he thrusts his shoulder toward Tracy, sending the steel half-sphere sailing through the air toward her. En route it reforms, once again taking the shape of a hand clenched to a fist. He's right behind it, loping unevenly toward Tracy and then launching his heavy body at her.

The agents without abilities are so much easier! Tracy is fast on her feet but not fast enough to get out of the way in time. Not quite elegantly, she rushes to side-step, swinging her shoulder back away from the oncoming metal, but it smacks her solidly anyway, ducking off her chin and hitting her opposite shoulder. With an unwitting mmph of pain and surprise, she goes down hard, falling on her back with Max undoubtedly not far behind. Tracy is many things, but a brawler is not one of them by any means — so when she instantly tries to grab for the man launching at her, she probably has other plans.

Comically, Max realizes his mistake in mid-flight. He's groaning before he hits the ground. And Tracy. While the impact isn't pleasant, his numb legs and lower back are even less so. Rather than press his advantage, he scoops up his prosthetic and rolls away awkwardly on his hands and knees. "You're awfully firm under that towel," he gasps. "I like that. Why don't we finish this massage with a happy ending?"

There seems to be little but hate in the eyes that stare coldly up at Max and follow him as he rolls away. Her hands, having slipped away from him, press into the floor as she scrambles to her own feet, bracing in flight-or-fight stance. "Why do you do this," she forces out with a heavy dose of blame weighing her words down. "Why do you work for them if all they do is lock up people with abilities?" Like her; like him, but as they decided back in Building 26, they're not like one another. Though the fight's been put in momentary limbo, her fingers curl in, taking on a hiss of cold and blue.

Max blinks, and for a few seconds a shred of humanity peeks out from within him. Stiffly, very stiffly, he hauls himself to his feet. "To survive," he admits. "And to protect someone else, so she won't have to live her life the way I live mine. The closest I get to people like us is when I study them. Or kill them."

Slowly and deliberately, he turns his back on Tracy. It would appear that the fight has gone out of him. "I find myself disinclined to kill you at this time. Care for a drink?"

"I'm not thirsty." The fight may have gone out of Max, but it hasn't gone out of Tracy. While her revenge-driven hate has simmered down slightly, giving way to a careful studying of Max below scowling dark blonde brows, she's not convinced this man doesn't deserve every bit of what's coming to him. For a few paces, she follows his turned back, then stops. "And what happens when they stab you in the back?" Tracy counters, speaking as if it's a certainty, not a possibility. Accuse experience for making her bitter on the subject.

"I die. Or if I'm lucky, I get away and move on." Max doesn't even try to argue the point. It's inevitable. "If I'm very lucky, it'll be a few years before the Company has the resources to lock me up again." He doesn't sound angry or bitter. Just tired. Resigned. He shambles back over to the bar on numb, unsteady legs and pours himself another whiskey. No ice. He's shivering so hard that the rim of the glass clatters against his teeth as he takes his first sip. "I'll kill as many as I can, of course," he continues. "It's only fitting."

Tracy steps closer, bare feet moving with a purpose across the carpet. Maybe she shouldn't get close to someone such as Max, but the way he's talking…

She hesitates, considers what he's saying. Her cold gaze falters, narrows, as unsure as it is calculating a she watches the man shiver. This was supposed to be easy. Cut and dry. (Well, not dry, but you get the picture.) Damn Agent Swan.

"That's great, but you're just as bad as the rest've them," she insists, laying on the blame again. She convinces herself firmly. Max doesn't seem like a good person. She reaffirms her reasoning easily enough. "Everything you've done for them? Locking … people away — testing them — you helped put away children. And by the sound of it, you don't have a fabulous track record even before that, so no. I can't walk away." The chill in her hand intensifies visibly.

"You're right. I'm not a nice man and I'm not sorry about that," Max replies. "Also, I could kill you. I don't want to. It'd be a waste." It's not a threat. In his estimation, it's a calmly stated fact. He knocks back another slug of whiskey and then sets his glass aside. "Let me get you a robe and we'll watch some figure skating while you decide wether or not you're going to kill me."

Tracy isn't so sure that Max could kill her as nonchalantly as he says, but then, she's not sure that he can't — a conflict that plays on out on her otherwise restrained, cool features. She weighs her options, none of which involve figure skating, and she decides.

"I can't risk not," she says to Max, pointing it out as if it ought to be obvious. Leave him here, he could tell the Protocol she still exists; he keeps doing what he's doing, working until the them until he doesn't; he kills people, some of whom deserve it but some of whom probably don't. Maybe. She only knows what she knows. It's a logical train of thought that focuses her tunnel vision once again, aimed on her goal. Tracy runs toward Max by the bar, trying to block him off. Already, her arm is rippling into water, but this time it starts to freeze, a spike of ice that spears at the part-metal man.

Max lets out a long sigh, clearly disappointed. With his lower half numbed, he's even less mobile that usual. He leans to the side, causing the ice spear to skip off of his ribs rather than impale him completely. He gasps and knits his eyebrows in consternation as he digs in his pocket, withdrawing a tiny canister that closely resembles a breath spray. Grimly, he aims it at Tracy's face and spritzes several times.

Tracy's been learning a multitude of other tricks. She's well-prepared to use all of them on Max until he stops breathing, but her plans all come crashing down in one, simple spray of liquid. She instantly turns away, squinting, expecting the burning sensation she assumes comes with pepper spray, but instead, she finds the length of ice that slid off Max breaking and shattering to the ground as her flesh and bone reforms almost instantly into a normal hand, a normal arm. In her sudden alarm, she tries to use her ability to lash out— to get away— something. Nothing happens.

Gaping and suddenly realizing she is very, very vulnerable, transformed instantly from a high-powered weapon to a high-powered… lobbyist, in a towel, Ms. Strauss backs up, blinking resentfully, angrily at Max through bleary eyes, narrowing against the Solution she's been attacked with. She has nothing to say to him anymore; she just backs up, and up, and up, and finally, begrudgingly, is forced to run to his front door and throw it open, hoping against hope that he was telling the truth in not wanting to kill her.

"Come back when you're ready for that drink!" Max calls after her cheerfully. He chuckles under his breath and shakes his head as he dabs a finger against his bloody ribs. He lets her go, though. He wasn't lying. It'd be a shame to waste all that… talent.

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