Date: April 26, 2010
Erin's got a few surprises up her sleeve, not as many as Max has up his… Cody? She's conflicted.
"My Beautiful Butterfly"
Erin's Posh Apartment
Max has been busy.
He didn't bother trying to clean up all the blood after he freed himself. There wouldn't be any point. The carpet and much of the furniture have been damaged beyond salvation. Besides, a blood-smeared background makes a psychological impact.
He has done some tidying. The lamps, coffee tables, and other sundries that were knocked over in his initial struggle with Erin have all been returned to their rightful locations. The bloodied photographs, on the other hand, remain in their places.
Presently, Max is putting the finishing touches on his bandages. His shirt and jacket are ruined and have been discarded, though he has retained his gloves. He's managed to scour up enough gauze and tape to patch the stab wounds in his chest and shoulder, though blood is already staining the cotton. He hmmms thoughtfully as he pastes the final piece of tape into place. Below his wounds, his ribs and back are a mess of fresh bruises from the kicks he sustained. Above them, there's a split in his brow that he didn't have the supplies to bandage.
Not bad for an amateur.
True to her word, but pretty much right down to the 24-hour mark that would end the virus' period of hibernation, Erin returns to her apartment, taking the elevator up to the ninth floor. She's not alone today, though. This is something she can't do alone.
She is, however, wary. Jumpy. She doesn't like the fact that he knew where she was all that time. It's going to be a hard-sell to convince Erin not to kill him, which she's so very tempted to do.
The syringes Max had were returned home to Cody, and after getting a positive ID on them, she's brought one back. No reason to take chances. The others are safe at home at the moment.
This is not the Erin that Cody's used to. This is more the woman that woke up in terror during their first nights as roommates. In some ways, Max has already broken her a bit more than she already was, and that was just from being in her apartment when she got there.
Erin opens the door, peeking inside, and when she sees him, it's instant rage. "How! How did you untie yourself!? Get on the floor!"
Erin didn't say much about her little guest, at all. There are suspicions on Cody's part, but mainly she's turning a blind eye to what she doesn't want to see or perhaps realize. The starlet is slipping back into her old habits and every time she speaks, there's a suspicion that's accompanied by the narrowing of the agent's blue eyes.
The solution wasn't exactly an easy test, Erin stabbed Cody with it while she was asleep. The positive identification was rewarded with the actress cleaning up all the hair that dropped off in the living room while Cody ate enough crap to regather her reserves.
When they finally return to Erin's old abode, Cody's taking inventory of all her power bars. Her supply has been greatly depleted by the guest in the basement and it raises her ire that they even have to feed the woman that they've now dubbed 'the puppy'.
"Who do you have in there?" Cody wasn't warned at all and when she passes Erin and marches through the door, she skids to a stop. Her eyes widen, her mouth drops open and all she can do is stand there, stunned.
There are rules for resisting torture. Especially when your torturer hasn't asked you for anything. Focus on what you will say, not on what you won't. Be unpredictable, but not too unpredictable. You have to keep your captor on his or her toes without pushing them so far that they kill you. If you're surprised, never show it unless it works to your advantage.
And of course, it helps to know the terrain. Smiling, Max glances at the kitchen sink, the coffee table, and several pieces of furniture. When the door opens, he crosses his arms over his bare chest and quirks an eyebrow. "On the floor? With someone watching? How delightfully dirty." His tone is aggressive and playful. He smiles wider, showing all his teeth as he glances back and forth from Erin to Cody. "Or is she here to join us?"
Speaking of puppies, Erin kind of looks like one. She's not cowering, but she looks atypically aggressive, as if she's willing to just jump forward and bite Max, if she had no other option.
She's got the knife in her bag, even still. When she pulls it out, it's much less pristinely white like it was before - after all, ceramic, even glazed ceramic, is porous. She holds it in front of her defensively, stepping past Cody and apparently unaware that her roommate is even there. "Now!" she yells, and it's a different illness entirely that Max will begin to feel. It's a creeping hotness, followed by intense pain. If he won't get on the floor, Erin's just going to have to paralyze him. Polio is wonderful at that.
The blonde really wasn't prepared for this and as Erin attempts to cripple Max, her blue eyes flit between them. Slowly, her eyebrows knit together into a vee and she clenches her jaw. In almost as much time as it takes for Dick Van Dyke to say "Bob's yer uncle", Cody's hair has grown out to a length of eight feet and braided itself into a long tail. it winds around her body before the tip hardens into a point.
"Erin…" she begins, her voice calm but fairly cold. Her eyes move over Max's half nude form and she purses her lips before frowning a little deeper and turning her head toward the other woman. "Why did you bring me here?"
Max takes one staggering step forward, then another. By the third he has sagged and fallen to the floor. Use and abuse of his power has heightened his pain tolerance, but even he isn't prepared for this. He flops down on his belly, rolls onto his back, and concentrates on not throwing up. Somewhat limply, he lifts a hand to wave at Cody. "Good to see you, too," he mumbles, grinning gamely.
Erin doesn't answer Cody, nor does she even give the other woman a glance. Her eyes are on Max, rolling around on the floor. It does bring her some satisfaction, seeing him like that, but it doesn't matter if he's not truly suffering from it. And if he's well enough to wave, then Erin's not trying hard enough.
Erin has an excellent reason for why she brought Cody here - a few, actually. "Tell her what you did to me," she says to Max. "I want her to hear it from you."
She'll make him more of a monster. Though she already has Cody's permission, she wants her blessing, her endorsement, to end Max's life. After all, if more than one person wants it and believe it to be the best course of action, it excuses the deed. It means that Erin is less of a beast than her former captor.
Frowning deeply, Cody casts a sharp glance between Erin and Max, then she looks down at him on the floor. Her frown tightens even further.
In an effort to remain calm, she pulls a power bar out of her pocket and unwraps it slowly, all the while staring at his massive, shirtless form. "What are you doing here, Swan?" Not Max anymore, that's saved for a more intimate time, it's back to Swan. Then she flits her gaze back to Erin, "Did you find him and bring him here?"
"Nnnng." Groaning, Max wipes blood from his mouth with the back of his hand and then lets it fall to the floor. He's taking in short, sharp gasps of air, as if even breathing is painful for him. The muscles in his left arm are spasming irregularly, while his steel prosthetic remains unnaturally still. He wavers on the edge of consciousness for a moment, his eyelids flickering open and shut, his tongue dabbing at his lips.
Silently, the fingers of Max's metal hand clench into a fist.
His eyes flash open and focus on Cody. He chuckles dryly after a few seconds. Slowly, he hauls himself to his knees. "I just came here to talk. Express my admiration."
To her credit, Erin does take a couple calming breaths. With Max so close, though, she's not going to fall into the cool, collected method of thought that she should, though. "He was here when I got here," she says, shuffling her feet across the bloody photos of herself on the floor. "These were here when I walked in. He was waiting for me. He found me. Got too close." Too close. Her breath hitches at the recollection, and as Max goes to his knees, she takes a half-step backward.
Max's explanation of why he was here earns a 'bullshit' from the actress. And it seems that's all she's going to say, before she quite abruptly lunges forward at him.
"TELL HER…" Erin shouts, aiming a kick at Max's rib cage, "What you did to me when the God-damned Protocol had me!" Maybe he misunderstood. Maybe Erin made sure he'd misunderstand so she could kick him again. "In detail."
Backing away, holding the knife in front of her like a blanket, she mutters to Cody. "I'm gonna kill him. I don't wanna kill anyone again, Cody. Make him stop. I don't want to have to kill him."
The blonde lifts a hand over her mouth and rubs her fingers across her cheek as she closes her eyes. The photos, all those photos, she just shakes her head and turns her back. "Stalking, Swan, I always thought that you might be better than that. You disappoint me." Her tone is fairly monotonous and quite unemotional. When she opens her eyes again, she looks directly at him and shakes her head. "You shouldn't have gone after her, you know how dangerous she can be."
Looking over at Erin, she tenses her jaw and her right eyebrow twitches upward. "I'm not going to relieve your conscience on this, Erin. You can kill him but you know that already. No one is going to make it alright for you."
Sometimes when you're being interrogated, you have to give up a bit of information to keep yourself alive. The problem is that you can't shop around. There's no way to gauge how much you'll have give up in order to get something back. Your only hope is to come up with a plan before you run out of interesting things to say.
Max hunches sideways and accepts the kick on the meat of his arm. He pinches one eye shut and grunts stoically. Wisely, his other eye stays focused on the knife. "I gave her the entry level treatment while she was on the inside. White noise." It's not much of an admission in their line of work. "And the photographs? I'm surprised you don't know a good psyops campaign when you see one."
The look Erin gives Cody isn't incredulous, it's pleading. Someone give her a reason not to kill this man. Somewhere, there has to be some good in him, like with Jo. For some reason, she can't help thinking that if she ends Max's life, it's just another step from which there's no going back. And when is she going to hit the ultimate point of no return? With him? With the next person that pisses her off?
"Entry level for who, you god-damned bastard?! GI Joe?!" She crouches down, shuffling through the photos until she finds one that's a little more revealing than the others. Getting ready for a shower, namely, with all that entails. "THIS?! What good did this do you??! You know what I look like! You— How many are here? A hundred?!" Her voice keeps rising until she takes a step closer, grabs a lamp by the shade in the same maneuver, and clubs Max across the back of the head with it, before standing over him, ready to strike again if she has to.
Max drops to the floor like a rock, out cold.
Cody actually flinches when Erin hits Max with the lamp and as he falls, she kneels down beside him. Two of her fingers press against his neck lightly to check for a pulse and then her hand slides around to the back of his neck lift his head to rest it on her lap. Looking up at Erin, she furrows her eyebrows and purses her lips. "What are you going to do with him?"
Almost subconsciously, she begins to pet his hair and it begins to grow. It seems that what looks to be a tender action, isn't quite that at all because the hair on his head isn't all that's growing. Looking down, she frowns at the metal arm and then flits her gaze up at Erin. "We're going to have to take that off. He won't feel any pain with it on… and he'll be able to get out."
With Max passed out, Erin settles right down, even kneeling down next to Cody to check and see if he's breathing. She's half relieved, half disappointed when she finds that he's still alive. Maybe if she'd hit him just a little harder… "I don't know," Erin says, shaking her head. "I have no idea. If I let him go, he'll find me again. If I keep him here, someone'll find him here. Or I'll kill him." The last choice is more likely, with how she's been acting.
For once, she doesn't make a face when Cody starts to grow his hair. Reaching into her purse, she pulls out the syringes she took from Max when she first encountered him here, and sets it aside. There's only two left since she used one on Cody, but at least she knows that it works. And it buys her some time, at the very least.
"So what, I cut it off?" Almost answering her own question, she presses the edge of the knife against Max's upper arm. There's probably an easier solution, but it wouldn't be quite as painful.
"NO! Don't cut it off… Erin you're better than this." Cody says, reaching over with her palm up, "Give me the knife and get the solution. It doesn't look like you have to cut anything it might just fall off if we inject him."
With her free hand, she continues to brush her fingers through Max's hair as the little curls winding around her fingers. "Just, listen to me. It's not going to do you any good to torture him. You saw what it did to me. Don't sink to that level."
She frowns, hesitating, still pushing the knife against Max's arm. Despite knowing what hurting Emily did to Cody, Erin's pretty sure she would sleep just fine at night if she made him hurt a little. It's fair. It's how the world should work, but it often doesn't. Karma just doesn't exist when you want it to, and people with consciences can't reciprocate pain with pain. Erin still has a conscience, but it's not saying too much at the moment.
Dropping the knife into Cody's hand, she reaches for the pouch with the syringes. Erin's injected people before… Cody, for example, even herself once, so she knows how this stuff works. Sure she jams the needle into Max's shoulder at the base of his neck a little harder than she has to, and by the grace of whatever deity Max worships, it misses everything remotely vital.
"It's not the same," Erin says, dropping the empty syringe. "I don't want anything out of him. I just want him to hurt." There's a subtle tone to her voice that indicates she'd like to be screaming all of this. "I'm not on any deadlines, there's no terrorists in the closet. I want him to be afraid."
Being unconscious is a lot like being underwater with no idea where the surface is. Sometimes you hear things, but the sounds are distended and distorted. You can try to fight the sensation, but that usually leads to panic. Better to relax and let yourself float to the surface.
Max is in the process of doing just that when he feels the distinctive jab of a needle. His eyes fly open, but he knows that it's too late to do anything. He designed the Solution to be effective and instantaneous. Already, he's losing the magnetic grip he maintains on his steel arm. Gravity takes over, bringing it to the floor with a thud and exposing a fleshy stump that's still raw, red, and healing.
He doesn't speak. Not right away. His face is flat and emotionless as he glances from Cody to Erin, then back again. There's a hard set to his jaw that wasn't there when he was being kicked around, or even when he was being stabbed.
Cody looks down at Max when he wakes, her eyes fly open a little wider in surprise. His relience is rather stupefying and quite amazing. Taking a deep breath, she closes her eyes and hunches over him, her hand runs over his head, down his face and neck, then down his shoulder and good arm. "I can't be a part of this.." she says quietly to Erin. Her tone is grim. Finally, she opens her eyes and looks across at Erin.
The long braid of blonde hair at the back of her head grows, and grows, and finally crawls to begin winding around Max, tangling with his own growing hair as it begins to cocoon him from the base of his neck to the very tips of his toes.
"I can't do it… Not after Emily. Not ever again."
Despite Max being de-powered and now cocooned, Erin can't shake the constant feeling of fear she has when she's this close to him. Fear makes people do stupid things, sure, but is she really going to regret all this later? Will she think it's stupid when she's married in ten or so years? Will it be a secret shame that she'll never divulge to anyone?
Or, more likely, will she find some peace of mind through cutting Max apart, not only literally, but figuratively? How far can she go before she discovers that he's not some nightmare monster, but a man?
All introspection aside, she manages to not back away when he opens his eyes. She doesn't gloat or brag or rub in the fact that he's incapacitated, because Erin herself doesn't quite believe that. Her eyes narrow, just slightly, before she looks at Cody, placing a hand on her arm. "You can go if you need to."
Her eyes, dangerously bright now, turn back to Max. "Ugly Duck and I have to have a little talk." …because swans are just too pretty.
The muscles in Max's arms and torso flex visibly as he tries to force his power to work through sheer desire and willpower. This, sadly, is unsuccessful. After a few seconds he pauses to catch his breath, leaning his weight more heavily against Cody for both comfort and support. He tries a second time, and a third before he finally gives up.
It's very difficult for him to remain still as he's wound up by Cody's hair, but he manages. At this point, he's injured, weakened, and offensively blunted. He has little left to lose. However, before his arms are completely confined, he reaches out to touch Cody's arm and give it a gentle, affectionate squeeze. It's a small, honest gesture.
It seems that the fight has gone out of Max along with his ability. He doesn't struggle. He doesn't even protest. In fact, he's doing something akin to smiling. After all, if he's about to die, he'll die wrapped in hair. Not many people can say that.
She would have left, she would have left him to whatever fate it was Erin had for him. Then he had to show that little part of him that Cody's seen a number of times. The blonde's features soften visibly as she gazes down into his eyes and she tries to hold back. "Why, Max? Why did you have to do it…" she whispers to him before leaning down to press her lips against his forehead.
She doesn't move for a very long moment, until she takes a deep breath in and raises her head again to look at Erin. "Just.. if you have to do it, make it quick. Don't let him suffer. He's done too much of that."
Erin visibly shivers as the affection is shown between the two. She can't understand it, but at the same time, it means that somewhere underneath the layers he's built around himself, there's a heart in there. Either that, or he's a spectacular actor, which Erin doubts, because she knows acting.
"Cody, don't…" she warns. Those two words convey a lot - don't get too close, he's dangerous. Don't make me feel guilty. Don't go back on your word. Don't stay. Something, everything. Meanwhile, her eyes never leave Max's. "I have enough solution for a couple days," she says. It's a countdown clock; Erin doesn't even know how this is going to end. There's a long silence before she agrees to Cody's request with a nod. He's likely still feeling the effects of the illnesses she inflicted on him earlier, but she won't make it worse.
There's no explanation for what Max does. No excuse. It's his constant, driving pursuit to know more. To accomplish and become more. To conquer more. He doesn't bother trying. Instead, he closes his eyes as Cody kisses his forehead. "I wasn't going to let you go, you know," he murmurs to her. "I was coming back."
Then he looks at Erin. Really looks at her. What she's become because of him. Usually, he takes what he needs from people, leaves them when he's done, and never sees them again. Revisiting the scene of his own crime is an unsettling experience. He wets his lips with the tip of his tongue.
"There's so much…" So much Cody never told him, so much she never took the chance to say to him. But with a deep breath, her face hardens to an expression of resolve and she pulls away. "It would have been too late, Max. I can't do what you do. I tried… I was too good at it and not good enough."
When she comes to a stand, her hair grows out while she walks, forming a small trail behind her to the bathroom. Out of sight, it drops from her head and when she comes out again, she's got a short crop of blond curls on the top of her head. "Just remember Erin, you're not a monster. You're better than that." Then she turns her eyes down to Max and knits her eyebrows together in some semblance of shame and sorrow. "You're better than that too."
"You're sorry?" she asks. The temptation to attack him again is powerful, but she gave Cody the knife, and isn't about to try to punch through hair. Even Jo didn't actually come out and apologise, but that was somehow less offensive than this. As he looks at her, she looks right back at him. And the fear in her eyes becomes pain.
She tries to find the words to describe what she saw. It's hard, though, because… "There was nothing to see. You were just there. You— were treating it like it was some sort of god-damned sadistic interview. I mean, you might as well have been asking me about my fu— " fucking resume. Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath so she doesn't start screaming at him. "About how the weather was outside," she finishes.
Cody is barely acknowledged at first, except to answer the statement as to Max's status as a monster. "No, he's not better than that. He wrote the fucking book on it." Her stare rests on the captive for a few more moments before she gets to her feet, eying the shed hair momentarily, before she reaches for Cody again. She has no words, because it's impossible to promise that she won't hurt Max further, or that she'll let him go. "I'll call you and let you know."
There isn't much that Max can say in his defense. Nothing that would do any good. At least he's given up his various facades. No more bravado. No more false cringing. Only silent acceptance.
He's not about to stay in his cocoon, though. Now that the immediate danger has passed, he started picking and pulling at it to free himself strand by strand. It's an arduous process, but Max has nothing but time. He's showing more interest in his surroundings, too. His gaze shifts from to two ladies to the coffee table, then wanders in the direction of the kitchen before returning.
Cody's breath hitches as Erin touches her arm and she purses her lips together. "He is better than that, Erin. He's too intelligent for his own peace of mind, don't underestimate him…" Looking down at the struggling man, he seems more like a butterfly trying to break free than a monster to her. "Max, I'm sorry."
Turning, she faces the front door and takes a deep breath as she strides toward it. Should anyone be paying attention, the new growth of hair is quickly shedding from her head and falling to the floor. Poor Erin, she's going to have to hire Molly Maid.
She opens the door to let herself out and as soon as she closes it, there's a thump against the wall.