Date: April 26, 2010
Max realises his mistake. Maybe it's too late. No guarantees.
It's anyone's guess as to how, but Max has managed to free himself from the hair cocoon he was left in. It was a delicate process, to say the least. He's trimmed himself back into a ragged semblence of choppy, functionally short order with a pair of scissors. Since then he's washed, eaten, and discarded the hopelessly fouled bandaging from his wounds. Neither stab was minor, and neither was properly treated. Angry, puffy lines of infection fan out from from them both.
Without his magnetic ability, Max is finding it difficult to focus. He's back to only having one arm, which is frustrating. With the exception of the television and a few magazines, the apartment doesn't offer many distractions. Still, it's nicer than many cells he's seen. And so for now he sits on the stained couch. And waits.
Erin's return isn't terribly long in coming. After all, she isn't just going to leave Max tied up with no food or water. Despite her best efforts, she can't deprive him of basic necessities, and yet, the necessities she brings are meager at best. A loaf of bread, some packaged salami, and a couple bottles of water are all she brings for him.
She's careful entering her own apartment. And then, she's downright scared when she sees that Max isn't where she left him. Risking nothing, she doesn't wait to find out where he's hiding, obviously waiting for her, perhaps with something sharp - a knife from the kitchen, broken glass, a rope…
She can only picture him as pain.
Before he can jump out at her, she preventively reaches out with her ability, seeing to disable him, making him horribly sick, and if necessary, kill him before he can kill her. "I don't know what the hell you're playing, but it's ending now," she snaps.
That's just before she sees him sitting on the couch. "How did you get out. What are you doing?! Get back on the floor!" Closing her door, bolting it, she maintains the projection of illness on him. He's up to something… He must be!
Max is accustomed to this by now. He's already moved the coffee table out of the way so that he won't hit it when he pitches forward. He hits the ground groaning. One of his stab wounds has broken open and started bleeding again. He grits his teeth hard enough that the grinding is audible in the small and quiet room. "I-I-I'm just sitting— sitting here," he gasps, clutching at his chest.
In the time he's been here, Max has had little to eat or drink and virtually no medical care. He's been stabbed, kicked, tied up, and inflicted with diseases that only exist in third world countries. He makes a brief attempt to grab at the couch and pull himself upright, but he doesn't have the strength. Defeated, he slumps back to the floor as ordered.
"I didn't tell you you could move!" Erin says, her voice quiet, but desperate. If he can get out of whatever she ties him up in, what's the use in even keeping him alive? All he's going to do is— "How do I know you're not just going to be waiting to — God, I don't even know what you dream up to do to people in that one-track mind of yours. I don't want to. I don't want to know, just…" She pauses, taking a few breaths to calm herself. "Do you have anything on you? Put your hands where I can see them."
She drops the bag of groceries off on the counter. There's medical supplies in the bag, as well; she planned on letting him out of Cody's cocoon, even though she had no idea how, at first. Looks like Max has taken care of that for her.
"Why are you doing this to me? Isn't enough enough?!" Obviously, he's scaring her on purpose! This is all part of his elaborate plan to… Who knows? As soon as he's on the floor, though, she relents, allowing the disease to once again burn itself out, slowly, so he doesn't jump up and grab her.
Still gasping for air, Max remains where he is, though he does roll over onto his back to make breathing easier. He coughs wetly, catches his breath, and fixes his unfocused gaze on the ceiling. "I didn't come here to hurt you," he repeats for what feels like the thousandth time. He reaches up and applies pressure to the wound in his chest, hissing when he makes contact with open flesh and sensitive, infected skin. "I came here to talk. And no, I don't have anything."
He lets the silence hang in the air for several seconds. Then, abruptly, he clears his throat. "Are you going to kill me?" he asks. "If you are, please just do it."
"That's not— That doesn't make any fucking sense," Erin snaps. Slowly, she comes around the couch and crouches in front of him. "I really wish I knew how your mind works," she says. It's kind of amazing to her, whatever goes on in there. "I don't just forgive and forget. Maybe you did, though. You remember what you put me through? I know what you're capable of. And I am not going to let it happen again. You lost your right to just talk the moment I met you."
Standing again, she heads back for the counter, continuing to pull the disease away from him until there's only enough left for him to realise that it's there. When she returns, she drops the food and bottled water next to him. "At least I don't have to feed you. I'm sure you can do that on your own," she says, even as she looks at the stump of an arm. "I really don't get it. You are like me. You… Obviously knew Cody had an ability. You didn't try to ruin her, did you? Was it just me?" Resisting the temptation to kick him again, she kicks the nearest wall, instead.
Mistake. "Ow. FUCK."
"Just you," Max agrees, nodding raggedly. He crawls over to the bag, digs out a bottle of water, and cracks it open. It's difficult to force himself not to gulp. Before he drinks, he looks Erin in the eye. "Thank you."
When he's finished half of it, he starts bathing his wounds and scouring them with his fingertips. Yes, it hurts. And yes, it's very gross. "You're special," he elaborates. "Powerful. I was going to try and scare you into doing something for me." There's no reason not to tell the truth now. Except for his life, he doesn't have much left to lose.
Leaning against the wall, Erin rubs her foot. "Well it worked. I almost did it. And then what, you use me against the world? Make me into a weapon?"
Erin can handle gross. She barely even flinches when he starts digging the infection away from the stab wound… But she can only take it for so long before she looks away. "You could have gotten me out of there," she goes on. "You know what I did later? I actually asked my own sister to kill me. And I still— I can't be in a quiet room. You'd think it'd be the opposite, but it's not. There has to be some noise or it feels like there's something wrong. And I have nightmares." She pauses, cutting herself off before she spills everything. "You don't care about any of that. I know. I'm just an animal to you. Livestock, like a pig. Hah, you use me like most people use pigs. Oink oink."
Turning away, she walks back toward the kitchen, hopping up on the counter. Erin watches Max out of the corner of her eye, so she knows he's still there. "You coulda set me free," she repeats. "Anyone there could have. I don't even feel human anymore. I don't think I ever really will ever again."
When his wounds are as clean as can be expected under the circumstances, Max sets aside the water bottle and pulls more supplies from Erin's bag. Bandages, which he sets aside, and peroxide, which he immediately and liberally applies. It foams, crackles, and hisses when it makes contact, then the froth runs off his chest and drips toward the floor. It hurts. A lot. Which is actually a good thing. It gives Max something to focus on.
"I can't defend what I did," he says, his voice taut and pained. "This is the first time I ever thought what I did needed defending. I am sorry, though. I wanted something from you and I tried to take it. Even I know that isn't right."
Her eyes narrow as he speaks. She doesn't believe him. Seriously, Erin would say about anything to get out of a situation like this. "You're trying to appeal to my better half. Well, you're out of luck. I don't have one anymore." At least she isn't attacking him, which is progress, at least. Erin kind of feels like she's already won.
Whether or not he's putting her on, in the end, she's the one who decides whether he lives or dies, and that's a kind of power she's never really had before - with Hamm, it was out of necessity. With Cody, she made a very good appeal as to why she should remain alive. With Max, no matter what he says, whether he's alive or dead when she leaves is solely up to her.
"What do you want?" she asks suddenly. "If you say you came here to talk, then… What do you want? Why the pictures and the stalking? That seems like you were trying to scare me again," she states, accusingly. "You weren't just coming here to talk, you were coming here to scare me into giving you what you wanted."
Max uses the last of his bottled water to rinse the foam from his chest wound. When it's clean, he carefully pastes on a square bandage and starts working on his other injury. He sighs, more because of Erin's words than because of the pain. "You're right. But I didn't come here to hurt you. I came to learn everything I could about your ability. And to try and force you to make a virus for me."
He takes in a slow breath, holds it, then lets it out. "You saw what they did to us. The regular people. They turned us against each other. Kidnapping people. Killing them. Interrogating them. I don't want the future to be like that."
"Why would you want me to make a virus for you if you don't want the future to 'be like that?'" Erin asks, turning to look at him more intently. She laughs then, running her fingers through her hair. "And you know you pissed me off in there. You actually thought I'd just… let you manipulate me? I'm done with that. I'm done being used. If people want anything from me, they ask. No, I'm not making you a supervirus to kill everyone on the planet. Fuck that. I like living."
That's really all she can picture Max doing with it, after all.
So now the conversation is over. She just kills him, right? When she looks at him, she has every intention of doing so. Just like she promised Cody, she'll make it as quick and as painless as she's capable.
Except instead of killing him, she sobs. This lasts for a good while. "Why do people do this to each other?" she asks.
"As steel sharpens steel, so does man sharpen another man," Max quotes quietly. "Proverbs. I did this to you, just like someone else did it to me."
"You're right," he says, this a bit more tentatively. His cleansing and bandaging is forgotten. If he had two hands, he'd be wringing them. As it is, he massages the stump of his bad arm and keeps his eyes downcast. "I could've helped you. Should've. I still can. I can teach you never to be afraid of someone like me again. Maybe you can teach me to be someone you don't have to be afraid of."
He doesn't look up. Not once. Slowly, he goes back to his cleansing and bandaging.
"Yeah, well." She sniffles, rubbing her arm across her eyes. She doesn't like crying, but she seems to be doing more and more of that lately. It's not that she's letting Max get to her, though. It kind of feels good, in a way, like this is something she should have done weeks ago, when Cody was helping her get past all this. "Cody already helped me. And I don't know how much you'd have to pay me for me to trust you. It'd be more than you have, though. But if you really want my help? Then you're going to have to listen to me."
Drawing her knees up, she hugs her arms around them. "Stop assuming people are there to be used. Stop taking what you want. Stop acting like you're better than everyone. Stop smiling." Erin hated that calm smile most of all. "At least act like you care about someone other than yourself. Don't just admit you're wrong when you're caught. Be a better human being. And since you can quote the Bible, maybe you should read it through again. Especially the whole 'do unto others' part, 'cuz— yeah, there's a good place to start."
Rubbing her arms, she adds quietly, "Don't underestimate the people you butcher." It wasn't that bad with her. A lot of people have seen worse. But who's to say that that wasn't Erin's very worst? "If you want to know something, ask. If you want to know how I work, then just ask."
A long, stunned silence follows. Max freezes, the bandage falling from his suddenly limp hand. His lips work for a moment, but no sound comes how. He pauses, licks them, and clears his throat. He pulls in a breath to steady himself and looks Erin in the eye.
"Okay. How do you work? Wait. Do you want to tie me up again? I won't get away this time. There's an extension cord in the closet. If you tie my hand to one of my feet, I won't be able to get myself out."
It's genuine advice. Honestly offered. Quickly, he slaps the second bandage on and curls his body around to make things easier.
"Don't know what good it'll do," she says. "I have one dose of the solution left. After that, what does it mtter if you're tied up or not? No, I'm not gonna tie you up. But if you mean what you're saying, then prove it." Erin's not so sure he's up to the challenge.
"Besides, I made sure I can track you now. I could close my eyes and see exactly what you're doing. So if you're waiting behind the door with a baseball bat next time I come by, I'll know. If you're not here, I'll know. Then the next time I find you, I will kill you."
There's a pause before she goes on. "I can see viruses like normal people see colour," she says. "I can make them do what I want them to. Like tracking. I can make my own." That's really all there is to it, actually.
"I have more Solution," Max offers. "There's enough for weeks in my old lab. Months, maybe. It's in an abandoned subway station in Brookyln."
It would appear that he's not bothered by the idea of being so closely monitored. If anything, he seems relieved that there's such a simple way to resolve the issue. He straightens out and hauls himself back up on the couch. He snags the grocery bag and pulls it up, too. When he locates the salami, he forgoes the bread entirely, rips open the package, and stuffs a slice into his mouth. Again, it takes willpower to chew it properly before swallowing.
"I can draw a map for you," he says between bites. "Show you where it is."
The idea that she could get more of the solution is enticing. She doesn't entirely trust that there isn't going to be something there waiting for her, though… Some sort of Rube Goldburg device that when she steps on a switch, it'll tie her up and then start a chain reaction to release Max. Yeah, paranoia creates an active (And nonsensical) imagination sometimes.
It takes a little while for her to approach the couch. From somewhere in the apartment, she's found a Crayola crayon, along with a torn-off portion of the bag she brought the food in. "Yeah, show me where it's at," she says, leaving the crayon on the couch and within his reach, before backing away. "When I come back, you can tell me what the hell you planned to do with a custom-made virus."
Max trades his salami for the crayon and quickly sketches out a map. "This is where the door is," he explains, tapping the paper. "Open it a crack, reach inside, and grab the string from the back of the knob. Pull it down. Don't worry, it's easier than it sounds. Don't forget, though. That disarms the security system."
He taps the paper a second time. "This is where the vials are. The red ones are the Solution. The green ones are the counter agent."
Security system. Right. "I'm not going to find skinned rats running around in cages, am I?" she asks. "Or human beings floating in big glass tubes, like in Alien? I just want to be prepared." When he's done with the map, Erin takes it, looking carefully at what he's drawn. "The green ones can just stay where they're at, huh?" she asks rhetorically. "I'll be back. You can stay or leave. But if you leave, I'm not asking questions next time."
"I'll be here," he promises, tucking back into his salami like a savage. After a few seconds, he gulps down his current mouthful and clears his throat.
"Uh. While you're there, would you mind grabbing me some clothes?"