2010-04-26: Salve Veritate



Date: April 26, 2010


Two sides of the same coin struggle to help yet another find compassion.

"Salve Veritate"

Erin's Apartment

For Max, the last several hours have been… complicated. Freeing yourself from a cocoon of your own hair is a delicate process. As soon as he was left alone, he rolled over to the coffee table, where a strip of duct tape kept a pair of scissors concealed against the underside. A few hours later, he'd managed to hack away the worst of the mess. With no electric razor in sight, he's been forced to make thorough use of his scissors and the bathroom mirror.

Getting his beard back in order was pretty easy. He's been doing that for a long time. Cutting his hair was more difficult. He's clipped it as short as possible for sake of simplicity.

After that, he turned his attention to body hair. Still in front of the bathroom mirror, he's putting the finishing touches on his unmentionables. Everything else has already been attended to. And, with a final snip, he's finished. Everything is smoothed into place and checked one last time in the mirror before he heads out to the living room in search of his pants.

Since leaving the apartment, Cody hasn't been far away at all. In fact, she's been watching from across the street. Four cups of coffee after Erin left, Cody's conscience has wrestled her to at least go back to see what state the actress' prisoner was left in. She honestly doesn't know what to expect when she goes back inside.

She still has the cermaic knife, one small mercy in Max's favor, at least Erin wasn't able to cut him up with it. Though it may be her only means of defense, she tucks it into a plant just inside the door to the building. Then, taking the stairs two at a time, she makes the slow climb back to the apartment.

Rather than just breaking in, she knocks. It's a tentative one, soft, followed by a few paces outside the door. She really shouldn't be doing this, but it's too hard to simply stay away.

Max glances down. Not just at his… self. At the ruined stump of his left arm. Which of them to cover is a more difficult decision than one might think. In the end, though, there's one situation he can fix and one he can't.

"Coming," he calls out as he struggles into his pants. He's still zipping as he opens the door. He blinks and licks his lips apprehensively when he lays eyes on Cody. A part of him warms at the sight of her. A familiar face, a potential friend, a person who protected him. Someone he cares for. He's conflicted for the same reasons that he's pleased. He's let someone glimpse a crack in his armor. Still, he can't help but smile as he touches the stump of his arm self-conciously. "I'm glad you came back. Come in."

The short bob of her blonde hair waves a little as she turns her head quickly to glance down the hallway in both directions before she makes her way inside. The stump isn't even given a glance, she's not as conscious of its presence as he is. Perhaps because it's something she's used to seeing. Not on him but on other compatriots overseas.

"Are you? How do you know that I'm not here to finish — " She stops in mid sentence as she closes the door behind her. There's no use finishing it, he knows very well that she wouldn't be able to do anything to him. Perhaps it's a failing, maybe it's something else.

"I don't know why I'm here," she starts, truly, she doesn't. "Maybe I just needed to know that you're still alive."

Max reaches out to cup his hand against Cody's cheek. He lets it linger there for a moment, gliding his thumb along the curve of her cheekbone, mapping the contours of her face with his fingertips. "I am," he finally says. "I plan to stay that way, too. I don't think she's ready to kill me. She's scared, is all."

He lets his hand drop with a sigh. "I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this one. No clue that she'd cracked that much while she was with the agency. I actually feel bad about it, if you can believe that."

Leaning her cheek into his hand, Cody's eyes half close as she just listens to his voice. Then he draws away and her eyes open again. Then she raises her right hand to his shoulder and rests it there, her thumb drawing a little circle on his skin. She studies him carefully, part of her wants to believe that he is completely sincere, but still a lingering doubt remains.

"She was worse," Cody finally admits, letting her hand slide down his chest before dropping it to her side again. "It took a lot of work to get her to this point. I just hope… I just hope that she's not so damaged that she can't get over this. Max, what were you thinking?"

Big sigh. Big, heavy sigh. Despite a twinge from his wounds and bruises, Max curls his arm around Cody's waist and pulls her against his chest. "What am I ever thinking?" he mumbles into her hair. "I always have to know more. Achieve more. With me, it's always more."

Another sigh, this one longer and quieter. "I didn't realize she meant so much to you," he continues. "I'm sorry."

Relenting to the embrace, Cody wraps her arms around his waist and rests her head against Max's shoulder. "I didn't realize I meant enough to you for this," comes her murmured reply, "Not after the last time."

She closes her eyes again and turns her head to fit into the crook of his neck. "I don't think either of you realize what both of you mean to me. Though, I've been trying to make you mean a little less, it's really not easy."

Max can't completely hide a self-satisfied smile. He gives Cody a gentle squeeze. "We're different sides of the same coin, you and I. I like it." Absently, he runs his fingers through her hair. "It feels nice to let my guard down."

They haven't known each other long, these two, but they've been around together. Patching battle wounds, teaching interrogation techniques, and fine dinners at expensive restaurants all bring people closer.

"Are we?" Cody asks as she lifts her head to look up into his eyes. "Which coin, Max? There's a lot of them to choose from." Her expression smooths and she takes a really deep breath only to let it out in a long sigh. She tightens her hold and curls her hand up to grip his shoulders from behind.

"Don't let it down too far," she says with a small smile, it's not quite a bright one. Not the smile she used to have for him, it's a sadder expression. "So what are you going to do now?"

Max puffs up his cheeks and then lets out a breath. "Don't really know," he admits. "I'm still working on a way to get out of here without killing your friend. Or her killing me, of course." He shrugs, then grunts when the motion pulls at the bandaged wound in his shoulder. He muscles tense for a moment, then relax again. "Something about all of this is… distasteful. I don't like seeing the mess I've left behind."

"You can fix this," Cody murmurs softly as she slowly pulls away. Her arms slide down his back until they finally swing into place at her sides. "I know you can fix this, you just have to humanize yourself and her.

She looks at his bandages and frowns a little, pursing her lips tightly together. "Is this the first time that you've seen it? The mess you've left?" Slowly, her hands move back up to check the bandage and then she runs her hands gently over his other wounds.

Like a trained warhorse, Max stands and allows himself to be inspected. There's an occasional wince whenever Cody's fingers make contact with a particularly sensitive area, but he remains stoic for the most part. Slowly, he lets his eyelids drift shut. "It is," he admits. "Usually I do my damage, take what I need, and I'm off. I can't say that I care for what I've created."

It's a difficult admission. Somewhere in his brain, a tiny voice is crying out that he's doing it wrong, that using these means to achieve his goals defeats the goals themselves. Mercilessly, Max shoves the idea aside for later consumption.

Like the way he first greeted her, Cody's hand finds its way to cup his cheek and she holds it there. Her fingers scratch softly through his beard for a short while before they still. "It's hard to see someone in pain. I did it fairly recently and I can't say that I like it at all. A necessary means to an end but… if there'd been more time, I probably would have gone an alternate route."

"Maybe it's time I started being more flexible," Max replies, smiling. "I'm glad you came back. You've given me a lot to think about. And… I missed you." His hand comes to rest comfortably on the curve of Cody's hip. Slowly, he leans down to kiss her.

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