Warnings: Violence- Very/to Slightly-AU
AU- What if Alec had met Ben before his twin was discovered and sentenced him to half a year in Psy-Ops? Because it is set before Max gave Alec his name, in this fiction they are referred (mostly) by their designations. Alec= 494. Ben= 493. (I know most know, but some may not.)
Disclaimer:All DA characters are copyrighted by their respective owners.
Other: Please do not repost without permission. And a thank you to jinkamoo.
494 had always been a quick learner.
He attributed this to his unnatural makeup, par for the course for an advanced life form. Nonetheless, privately he thought the wonder his Manticore researchers exhibited towards him was unwarranted. Retention was easy. They didn't admire their computers for doing what they were designed to do did they? It was concepts that really mattered and something he knew well enough about himself was that he didn't always quite grasp the true meaning behind all the data he was fed. For instance, he had never really taken to the concept of belief. It was easier merely to appraise the outcome of it. War. Cathedrals. Cities. Books. Even art.
In a way, he felt he should thank his brother for his efforts. This education was much more effective than any dim classroom with a video feed. His first lesson was humility. Suffering was a suitable language for the metaphysical.
It was better not to fight cold. In training they were taught that heat expended by shivering should not be wasted. Though he could not help the involuntary spasms that took him at night when the wind howled and the snowflakes melted one by one on his bare skin. He knew that if one simply did not believe in being cold, one was not cold. Give in to the chill and it settled within you, cut your body from your mind, stopped the shakes. Pain worked in similar ways.
He found it incredible that after all the gifts he'd been given, here in the thick of things, the mind would still be his salvation. Even humans, simpler and less refined than he, had this ability. The gift of delusion. Somehow belief gave all living creatures strength to endure.
Though he would have preferred to learn this lesson in a church. Not in Her arms.
Faith had harmed Ben, damaged his reasoning, destroyed any scrap of humanity he had ever invented for himself. He was going through the motions, pouring love into a faith that desired blood.
Or maybe the blood was all him. Not his Lady's desire at all.
"Know what you look like?" Ben's voice was soothing, arms folded across his chest. "The Pieta. The dying lamb."
Even after it all, he again had to smile a little bit at the strange synchronicity. They had both been thinking of the art in this. The beauty of the extreme. The true perfection of anything, even suffering, was something to marvel at and admire.
"W-What was that..." 494 stammered, willing his mouth to form the words coherently enough to be understood. "What was that about …about compassion again?”
"There is no God of mercy. Mercy is the providence of man. Man that forsakes Her. They will beget only suffering,"
"Yeah, yeah, I noticed." 494's breath steamed in the wind.
Sunday had arrived. Some internal measure of his own knew it even if he had no means to confirm it.
He groaned. Without opening his eyes he knew he was indoors once again. The musty rot of the barn and the sharp crackle of wood burning in the iron wood stove replaced the frigid silence of the bone yard. It was the first time he had felt warmth in days. The hard planks of the floor under his back were a respite from the stone that had cradled his body all week long. He had also been given back some clothing.
494's hands explored himself, letting the wonder at why he wasn't bound again fade as he realized the garments he was wearing were not his own. The ceiling came in and out of focus as he tried to open his eyes. A jacket had been put on him, and his fingers trembled on the waist and feel of denims jeans.
He heard his brother whisper.
494 groaned again when he felt the sting of another needle in his flesh, not from pain but the dread of the effects of the narcotic had had on him for so many days. But instead of the sickening lurch of confusion, he felt his heart rate increase and a static spread across his skin like electricity. He experimented with his fists and found his motor control suddenly and swiftly returning.
494 took a deep breath, expecting his arms and legs not to obey him, but to his bewildered surprise, he righted himself, and shakily stood. He swayed on his feet, noticing for the first time that the boots he wore weren't his either. The shiny nylon black jacket. The jeans. A black T-shirt. He looked down at the clothing that fit him so well.
Even the feel of his boots. They were broken in as if he'd been walking in them for weeks.
He looked to his brother who now stood in the barn's open door way.
Ben gazed back at him. The gray and black camo of his trousers had been cleaned and pressed, the regulation gray T-shirt the same. Issued combat boots were polished and neatly laced.
For a moment, 494 had a dizzying conviction that somehow 493 hadn't just exchanged their clothing, but everything else besides. The drug pumped through him. With every second that passed he felt his functions return. His heartbeat was thudding violently in his chest. Adrenaline, he was sure of it. The stuff coursed through him like fire. Clearing his mind, unclouding his eyes, and making all his pains distant and unimportant. You could run all day on broken legs under chemical magic like this. His brother clearly wanted him to function no matter how crippled he might actually be.
"Are you ready?" Ben asked him sincerely.
"Ready for what?"
To die? To pray? Light some candles? 494 honestly had no idea how this dance was supposed to go. His hands felt at something metallic hanging in his shirt and pulled it free. A small charm with the likeness of the Lady hung from a chain around his neck.
“You have 15 minutes.” Ben gestured to the forest behind him. “If you are able, arm yourself as well as you can. I’ll be right behind you.”
So that was how he wanted it. After all of this, after so many days of this lunacy, 494 felt himself start to slip. “You sure you want to do this?” He realized he had started smiling.
Ben nodded, the mirror of the grin reflecting right back at him.
494 felt his hysteria falter as he realized that just at the moment they might really look identical in all senses of the word. Both calmly maniacal and ready to end this. 494 tapped at his newly found undulled rage, like pressing on a paper cut.
“I don’t know what you’re used to hunting, but you’ve been away from Manticore for a real long time.” He told his twin carefully.
"I have Her on my side." Ben explained. "So go ahead, run."
494 felt his smile return and before he could help it he laughed, deep and hard, leaning backwards a little towards the ceiling.
Ben cocked his head in genuine confusion. “What’s so funny?”
494 leveled his gaze back him, his hands flexing and tightening into fists. "I'm not the one that's going to be running."
It had to be the best feeling in the world when Ben’s smile died and was replaced with an odd mixture of worry laced with the simmer of his anger. 494 resisted the urge to ask what old Sun Tzu might have had to say about releasing and enabling your enemy.
“You can have a head start if you want?” 494 winked.
He felt the ground, noting the texture of the terrain. The soil was hard from the climate drop, sub zero temperatures leaving the surrounding woodland unstable with hidden patches of ice or mud. His largest concern depended on whether or not his brother was as familiar with the area as he was. His second largest concern was how long his body would keep going until it burned out on the adrenaline he’d been given.
494 felt his lip curl at the thought, teeth gritted hard. 494 had been ready right there, he was going to finish it with his life if need be. The unanticipated powerful contacts of his closed and open hand strikes had sent Ben skidding across the leaf littered floor.
Ben hadn’t liked that too much.
He had refused to play the game and instead of calling the game off, Ben had just changed the rules. 494 wouldn’t be cooperative? That was fine, 493 could make him play. There had been a moment, after the initial surge of his body’s power, where 494 felt the pain laying underneath the drugs. He knew what waited after the uncertain limit to his borrowed strength was reached. After what he had endured, he wouldn't be able to keep it up forever.
Ben knew it too and was decidedly unhappy with the prospect of a level playing field with someone who wasn’t willing to run and hide. So, instead of coming back at him, Ben had done exactly what 494 had suggested.
He turned around and vanished into the forest.
“Damn it.” 494 growled. There was no way he was leaving this unfinished no matter how uneven a match it would turn out to be.
His brother wanted an effigy to be hunted. A sacrifice. Ben took prizes but he wasn’t getting one this time. 494 tugged at the clothing he wore, disgusted by it. Even with his reflexes and stamina reduced, he would let his twin understand that he wasn't going anywhere until Ben learned a little about what 494 thought of his new found understanding of belief.
Of course, there was no sign of his brother. His sharp eyes scanned the endless maze of evergreens, instantly analyzing and assessing his surroundings. Above and below. In the trees.
If he could just get to higher ground he could better rely on his senses to do the rest. He could hunt his hunter.
Most of hunting was the wait.
Years of the ways of assassination. Years of stealth. Years of Manticore Ben simply never had, might work to 494's advantage. Failing that there were always ideas. Run out of ideas and the game is over. Ben had obsession and madness fueling him, 494 worked with tenacity and a vivid imagination.
It had been just a matter of time before Ben had moved almost silently into the area. The sounds of his passage undetectable to most, but not to his twin. 494 almost couldn't believe his luck that the snow had shifted to the near freeze of rain, the sound of it covering him almost completely when he dropped quietly down behind his twin.
494 let himself experience satisfaction that he would now take him completely by surprise, he would snap his neck like a stick and send him right back to his Lady up on High--
His back hit the forest floor, knocking the breath from his body. Swiftly he rolled left, narrowly missing the downward kick his brother sent down to where his throat had just been.
So much for surprise. Ben had been aware of his location after all.
It was a wonder and credit to Manticore that perhaps even a decade out of their hands their soldiers could still perform as if they had never left. His brother still had every idea what it meant to go head to head with another X5. He was even holding back just a little. 494 could tell. His twin wanted to prolong his game, an incapacitated X5 could only last so long. The drugs that had gotten him back on his feet weren’t meant to last. This fight would be rough even if he was at full speed, but like this, 494 didn’t stand a chance in open hand to hand.
Fighting his grin, 494 knew exactly what to do. Ben might remember how to fight an X5 but he had never fought X5-494 before.
His brother launched himself at him again, three strikes to 494's vulnerable pressure points. Instead of ducking them as he could have, 494 took the full brunt of it and stumbled backwards against a tree. The unexpected and ungraceful move did exactly what he had predicted. It made Ben pause. It made Ben reassess his next move.
Bracing himself, 494 waited for the next series of blows. The frozen ground was at his back once again. He made to block but did it clumsily and haphazardly. He used enough skill to save his own life, but not to ward off the barrage as he knew he could. With each fluid strike of Ben's hands he felt bone crunch, with each sharp kick he saw his own blood fly.
A dizzying full contact punch to his face and he slumped down limply into the churned up soil, bloodied and battered. There was something else years of Manticore had given 494 that he knew Ben hadn't learned out in the big wide world. Whether or not his keepers had intended to or not, they had taught 494 quite a bit about the terrible business of biding time. They had unwittingly tutored him in true patience.
Ben considered him before he appeared satisfied that this hunt had gone on long enough. He lowered his fists and nodded down to him.
There was an art to taking so much that you didn't think you could take one more single god damn thing. But you did. You had no choice. If he couldn't count on his body he could always count on that quiet muted flood of frustration and rage that he kept pent up day after day after day. A lifetime of Manticore had taught him how to wait through anything.
Ben looked down to his belt, unbuckling the large bowie knife he had not yet seen fit to use.
He felt the satisfying contact of his fist landing up under 493's jaw. Ben staggered backwards, the unexpected strike providing the opportunity his weakened twin needed. Finally on the offensive, 494 let the machine he was take over, dropping the guise of his helplessness like a cloak. The power in his limbs came unrestrained. The brutal strength went unchecked as he flowed and moved without thought or consideration. The blur of his body went unhindered until he no longer felt any resistance from his opponent.
By the time he stopped, he knew it was over.
Ben lay panting painfully on the ground in front of him. One eye swelling shut, the side of his head red and wet with blood, his lip split, knuckles scraped and raw. Probably several broken ribs and undoubtedly defense fractures in his arms.
494 fought to catch his breath while he used his sleeve to wipe at a trickle of blood that had pooled above his lip from his own broken nose. After seven days of torture he had still managed to reduce his perfectly healthy twin into this. He had a wave of nausea at the sight of his brother, his hands beginning to tremble, splattered with blood that came from the both of them.
Ben watched him wearily, fear flashing in his eyes, his panic as uncontrolled and frenzied as the surges in his madness.
494 watched him, the edge of his exhaustion fighting with something else flashing in his head that wasn't fading away. The rage that had fueled his body flooded his vision and turned it white. Who exactly had been driven more insane he wondered? Ben out on the world with his Lady or himself, deep and safely cocooned in the belly of Manticore? Maybe neither of them won the contest. If they were perfectly and utterly alike then they were also equals as monsters. One on a short Manticore leash and one roaming the world like some waking nightmare. His gaze flickered to a rock that lay near by. It was jagged and heavy, the size of his brother’s skull…
494 lifted the stone from the damp soil. He stood over Ben, raising the rock over his head.
“Tell the Lady I said hi."
He swung around, so consumed with the fight that he had somehow not heard a thing until the simultaneous click click click of semi auto weapons sounded around him. There were ten of them. Forest camouflaged Manticore regular infantry.
494 dropped the rock in stunned disorientation. It took several seconds for him to come back to himself and even remember why they might be there in the first place. The armed men were studying him intently, the buzz of their hand held radios whispering Manticore code commands. The search and recover was for X5-493. So they finally had tracked them down.
“I never thought I’d say this..." 494 had to stifle the strange laugh that threatened to erupt from him. "…but where the hell have you been-“
Ben weakly pushed back and dragged himself away backwards from him.
“I-I’m clear!” He called out to the Manticore soldiers.
He looked at the gray issued camo Ben was wearing and suddenly realized with a sinking feeling what would happen next.
494 fell sideways and away anticipating their aim, the first, second and third bullet slammed into his shoulder and chest instead of in the heart as they had targeted. By the time he had hit the ground and rolled to the right he was already moving through the foliage. He could hear more of them in the surrounding forest cover, there were too many of them, he'd never get through their formation. Three more bullets exploded against a tree next to him, and then another one-two-three-four bullets took him out just above his knees.
“Hold! Hold yer fire!” Someone commanded.
The synthetic adrenaline mixing with his natural flow helped him get him back up one more time before his body gave up without his permission. He could only use one good arm to try to sit himself up, his legs twitching from the deep muscle wounds in his thighs. 494 fell back face first onto the ground knowing that he was rapidly going into shock. One of the bullets had collapsed his right lung. He gasped as it started to become more difficult to draw in air.
“Is it alive?” Some one asked in annoyance.
494 was rolled onto his back. His vision swam sickeningly, his limbs slowly going numb. He wondered vaguely if his leg wounds had ruptured any major arteries.
“Yeah, he’s alive.”
“Get the medic over here an' keep him that way. We got to load him up, Renfro wants him breathing.”
494 stared up at them, unable to take in enough breath to speak.
Ben was standing amongst them. Looking down at him, his bloody shirt and his bruises spreading like a sunset across the swollen flesh of his face. The grin they had shared was back.
494 had to admit he understood the Manticore guard’s collective mistake. Ben did look like a perfect X5 solider.
It was disconcerting that the sight of these stark white walls actually gave him some comfort. He had mused that the term 'home' had never had any meaning for him but in its own ways, good or bad, if he had one, this was it. Ironic that familiarity would have any sentiment for him at the moment. Casting the thought aside, he tried to focus on the conversation that was going on above his head.
“Mam, during the surgery, we noticed....” The medic cleared his throat. "...an oversight."
Like a mechanic that takes pride in a car, they always recognized their own work. 494 felt a strange measure of relief. He had wondered how long it would take for them to figure out what had happened out there in the woods.
Doctor Renfro studied the clip board that had been handed to her. Her expression darkened as her eyes flashed over the information written there. She turned her attention down to 494.
“So I guess you didn’t run after all.” She half smiled, but there was no humor in it. “When they told me X5-494 had vanished from the convoy, I have to admit, I was a bit taken aback.”
So Ben, in his guise, had taken off. Big surprise.
494 watched weakly as a lab technician slid another needle attached to an IV into the inside of his strapped down arm. His shoulder was on molten fire, every nerve frayed and singed if he made the merest move. He had overheard them say his collar bone was shattered which explained why his upper body was firmly placed in a brace and set in traction. His legs were elevated on the hospital bed, his thighs encased and wrapped carefully in gauze. How long he had been under the knife getting patched up one more time, he wasn’t sure. Soon to be good as new with a brand new set of scars to wear.
“Did you have fun out there in the woods with your brother?” Doctor Renfro asked.
Even if he didn’t have a plastic mask taped across his mouth and a breathing tube snaked down his throat, 494 knew better than to answer her. He had no choice but to lay still and wait. The steady hum and read of the machines connected to him and the slow hiss of the ventilator were a repetitive cold comfort to remind him that he had somehow survived.
Renfro leaned down over him, her voice was low and flat.
“I’m forced to wonder 494, why you left with him in the first place.”
494 wondered that too.
The Doctor addressed the awaiting lab techs.
“When he gets all better, make sure to set him up in a restraint cell in Psy-Ops.” She said flipping the metal clip board shut. “If we can’t get a good study on X5-493, he’ll do just as well.”
494 squeezed his eyes shut.
“You’ll like it there.” She assured him. “It’s nice and quiet.”
He felt a sickening race of anxiety under his sedatives. The Psychology and Operations department was not a branch of Manticore he had any desire to experience. Seemed Manticore still had some things left to teach him. In fact, they never seemed to run out.
"We can get to know you better.”
Doctor Renfro saw the look in his eyes when he opened them again. Oddly enough, she smoothed back his hair from his bruised face with a gentle hand. Her eyes regarded his own thoughtfully.
“We’re going to find out everything that's going on in that head of yours."
494 closed his eyes again. He was so tired.
The noise and lights of the room began to fade. As he slipped into the blissful numb gray of sleep, he thought of Ben. He wondered where he had gone and where he may be going next. He imagined him moving alone through the mountain passes until he found a service road and relieved some poor soul of their car. He envisioned his brother walking unnoticed and anonymous down a city street at night. Just like everybody else.
He could conjure the face of the next unsuspecting man who would be wearing a medallion of the Blue Lady around his neck. 494 saw his blood run and his wide lifeless eyes. One after another after another. He could see it as easily as the men he himself would end in the dark, in their beds, in alleyways, just as soon as Manticore deemed him fit to resume his duties.
From his recent brutal lessons in certainty, he knew if he could ever believe in anything, that he himself and his brother would continue on like they always had. It was why they had been made.
In that, at least, he could keep faith.
Cross posted to x5_darkangel_x5
Cross posted to darkangelfic