To Do and Die (Peregrine X DotCom)

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Peregrine, Oct 31, 2015.

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    “Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die.”
    Alfred Lord Tennyson


    What started as a silly plot line with throwaway characters to keep DotCom entertained over the weekend quickly transformed into one of the most heartfelt and natural roleplays ever written by the pair, who have tackled well over 8 different roleplays in their partnership.

    Nearly 100,000 words, written over the course of 37 days, To Do and Die tells the story of Jack Coulson and Andrew Kreuger, two former marines who each faced a different kind of hell, and survived a different kind of battlefield.

    Plot Summary:​

    When Andy finds himself on the hit list of a gang of for-hire criminals, he never dreams that one of those people sent to kill him would be his former best friend, Jack, a man who's body he buried, and who has been dead for well over a year.

    But Andy soon comes to learn that his friend did not somehow miraculously survive, but was rather the subject of horrific experiments, which transformed him into something not quite human. Experiments Andy had discovered buried in the depths of his Military Contractor company, CERT.

    An ultimately optimistic story, despite it's many dark periods, To Do and Die is a story of friendship and revenge, of spiraling to the very edge of what it means to be human, and coming back again.

    The barrel of the gun was cool in his hands, and in that moment it felt so cold that it might have sent shivers up his spine. He dismissed the sensation, dismissed the static buzz in his ear that accompanied any electronic device that drew too close to his head, whether people were speaking to him or not.

    He dismissed it just like he had dismissed the scope that had been in the case of the sniper rifle he had been handed earlier that day by a woman in a pencil skirt, a woman who had also handed him an envelope with basic instructions.

    Who he was going to meet. When. Where. Who he was going to kill.

    Now all that was necessary was to wait. Wait for the target to walk into the vision of eyes that did not need a scope to hit a target from half a mile off. Whoever this target was, today he would take his last breath.

    And the prisoner would be one step closer to freedom.
    #1 Peregrine, Oct 31, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2015
  2. There it was, just like clockwork. Funny, how predictable he could be, even down to his habits, his nervous fucking tics he still couldn't think his way out of. Once military, always military. At least in all the ways that mattered.

    Ignoring the full ache in his gums that had started the whole familiar chain of self-deprecation -- his doc swore up an down all his withdrawal symptoms were psychosomatic, which was bullshit -- he glanced down at his wristwatch for the tenth time in half as many minutes. He'd been early, of course. Mostly because he couldn't stand waiting.

    But his contact should have been here by now. Well. Not here, exactly. The empty storefront across the street. He knew better than to be the first one on the scene in a set-up like this, and yet...

    With a muttered curse, he threw back the last bitter dregs of his cold coffee, choking on the grounds that had settled at the bottom. He dropped a dollar on the counter, pulled up the collar of his raincoat, and stepped out into the street.

    He forgot, sometimes, how much he hated his job.
    #2 DotCom, Oct 31, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  3. His breath fogged around him as he released the air that had been trapped within his lungs. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting was always the worst part. When all there was to do was wait, all there was to do was think. And thinking never resulted in anything good.

    But now the wait was over. It was time. His watch told him it was time. More importantly, his eyes told him it was time. His fingers told him it was time. They slipped forward onto the trigger, rested along the length of the gun.

    The figure was walking across the street, in a half-shuffle that caused something bitter to build in the back of his mouth. It was familiar. It was so far away from this present moment in time, one of the cruel memories he dared not think about, yet it was also familiar. Nostalgic, almost. He had once seen a person who walked like that. He had once known a person who walked like that, almost better than he had known himself. He had...

    His finger trembled on the trigger. He knew the shot was clean. In his ear, a burst of static transformed into half intelligible words.

    Target confirmed. Take the shot.

    His finger trembled. It twitched, and curled. But there was no report, no echoed bang that had become so intimately familiar. There was only silence.

    Take the shot.

    He knew that walk. Knew the man it belonged to better than he knew himself. But that man was dead. He had seen the grenade go off, seen it blast him into tiny pieces. He had...

    Turn this way. He longed to shout it, to hurl the words across the empty space. Turn this way. That way I can be sure.

    Take the shot!

    Turn this way.
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  4. He hadn't even made it to the door yet when his chest began to ache with the ferocity of his heartbeat. The rain had been bad. The streets were empty. He had never been afraid of open space, not Before.

    He kept his eyes in the door, now thirty feet away, now twenty five, now twenty. Just the door and it's little brass handle, shining like a beacon in the post-rain dew. He could feel his breathing quicken even as he fought to keep his pace from doing the same. A bead of sweat ran into his eye and it burned. The air was cool but he could hear fire cracking behind him. His vision narrowed to a pinprick, all blacks, grays, blues. And the brass.

    "C'mon," he growled to himself. "Just get to the other side of the street. Out of traffic, you idiot. Go now. Move, soldier!"

    He reached the door without any memory of how he'd gotten there. His back was slicked in sweat beneath his coat. He licked his lips, tasted salt and iron. Raked his through thick, sandy curls of hair.

    And then, without knowing why, he turned to greet the cool, damp wind.
    #4 DotCom, Oct 31, 2015
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2015
  5. It was like getting smothered with a damp towel, like having his head shoved underwater until he knew he simply had to explode or die. Almost as though moved by the very force of his will, the figure on the street had turned, turned to look directly into the barrel of the gun.

    He knew that face. There was no question he knew that face. Not even a trace of doubt in his mind he knew that face. That face was dead. That face was a ghost. That face had haunted his memories for the last year, and had threatened to linger there forever. He could never forget that face. Never forget that broad chin, flat nose, wide forehead. Never forget that short, wavy, sandy brown hair that seemed to stand straight up all the time, even without gel.

    "Andrew." His voice was only a whisper, but it echoed in his ears like a scream.

    Dammit, what are you doing? The voice of static in his ear seemed so detached from the current moment. Respond. Respond!

    What would they do if he just did nothing? If he just waited, silent and invisible?

    They would kill Andy, there was no doubt of that. And it was impossible, but he couldn't allow that. Not now. Not when the man now floating before his eyes like a shadow had somehow managed to appear from the grave. He would not allow him to be sent back there so suddenly.

    Plan A has gone to shit. Plan B. Move in.

    Now the gun moved. Now his fingers, his shoulders, his eyes moved. The gun leveled. He waited, not even taking a breath. He knew what was coming.

    A cloaked figure moved out into the street, low and smooth and utterly unnoticeable. Only he, up here, with the eyes of a raptor, would see the hilt of a knife in his hand. This time, when the finger curled, the trigger moved with it. The shot echoed out. The man in the street crumpled. But not Andrew. Oh, no. He was safe. He would stay safe.

    What the fuck! ... Dammit! ... Alpha's gone rogue! ... Fucking HIDE!

    It was no good. The gun went off again. Another man crumpled. Went off again. Another man. Again. Another. Until there were none left.
  6. Down on the street, Andy -- or Drew, as he'd been known for nearly a year now -- did not move. Could not move. He knew what movement would bring. He had been there many, many times, and it never got any easier. The panic, the fear. The smell of smoke and the taste of ashes. All of it so real, he could swear he was back across days and miles of terror. Like he was in one of these new science-fiction stories his nephew kept talking about. Time travel, that's what it was. Andy couldn't move, because he didn't want to go back.

    So, he told himself it was a dream. The sudden ricochet of gun fire, men crumpling in the street around him, blood pooling around their bodies, turning black pavement blood red. It was one of the more realistic ones he'd had in a while, sure. But he'd wake up. He always woke up. Sometimes screaming, usually drenched in sweat. Once, humiliatingly, wet with his own urine. But always back home. Not back there. Never back there.

    He froze and he waited, one hand on the door knob, working it between shaking fingers. That's what the doc had told him to do. Ground himself, focus on physical sensation until he could wake. The sensation of cold came first...which was different than most dreams.

    Then there was quiet, tempered only by the sound of his breathing, and maybe, far away, the sound of sirens.


    Andy exhaled, a strangled, almost hysterical sound.

    This was no dream.

    He'd have thought the realization would undo him, and was surprised to find himself moving, hurling open the door, dropping to his side just inside the building, ducking below the window to wait for his brain to give him another signal.

    This was his drop. It had been a trap, that much was clear. What was not so clear...the target of the trap. Himself? Or the men who had fallen around him?

    Who had let the trap spring shut, he wondered?

    And who had pried it open again?
  7. The barrel burned between his fingers now, the metal had given up any traces of cool it still possessed. Once the last man had fallen he was moving. He left the gun. It didn't matter anymore. He didn't need it anymore. Someone would find it eventually, but it would offer no information. He had no prints to give anymore, no DNA that would be even remotely intelligible by scientific analysis. Instead he hurled himself down the stairs, landings at a time, rolling out at the bottom and feeling the scream of pain in a body that could not withstand such force, only to have it knit itself back together in an instant. He could have jumped from the top floor, but that kind of damage would take longer to heal. This was quicker, in the end.

    He had to get to Andy. That was all that mattered right now. He had to get there before the cops showed up, before the inevitable backup that would be waiting somewhere nearby was able to radio back to headquarters and tell Altman that his trump card had finally gone wild.

    What would Andy think? Would he even be able to process this? Could he accept that the man who would shortly be standing before him was still alive? Maybe. It didn't matter. If he didn't accept it, if he chose to stay, he would wait in the shadows, watch as they took Andy away, and then break him free of the trap all over again. That was all that mattered.

    He knew where Andy would be hiding. He ran hard, ran fast, so fast that it seemed anyone who blinked might have missed him. Good.

    "We've got to go. Now."
  8. "Jack?"

    He hadn't meant to say it. He hadn't meant to say anything at all, he knew better than that, but he wasn't supposed to say that especially. That name burned like fire on his lips, made his throat swell and ache, made his belly ache, and his thoughts turn dark. He had lost a lot of men, a lot of friends and much more that day, but Jack...Jack had...had...

    ", you can't be here, Jack. You're dead. I saw you die, goddammit. I saw -- "

    What? What was it that he'd seen? He'd "seen" it half a hundred ways over the last year. Seen it the way his commanders had told him it had happened. The way first his parents, then his sister, then the doctor had gently insisted it had happened when he woke up screaming. Had seen it painted in bright colors when he was drinking, and in dizzying pastels when his was hungover or shaking through withdrawals. There were a hundred different truths to what had happened.

    Not a one of them had ever involved Jack being alive.

    Andy swallowed hard then got to his feet slowly. He never once took his eyes of the lean, red-headed man who stood before him. He wasn't sure whether he wanted his old friend to disappear or not.

    "Alright," he said finally. "If this is a dream, it's the best one I've had in a long time. I'll trust you, Jack. But you better have a hell of a story for where you've been."
  9. A faint chuckle slipped from between Jack's lips. It was the first cheerful noise he could remember making in the last year. "Oh, yeah. One hell of a story." And then they ran.

    It was so easy, so familiar. It was as if they had never been apart. Even though they were an ocean away from the battlefield, even though neither of them had the support of a team or a commander or even basic information of what was going on around them, it didn't matter. They had each other. They, who had thought they were immortal as long as they were in each other's presence. They, who had been so innocent, who had never dreamed how drastically wrong things could get.

    They ran from the sirens of the approaching fire trucks and police, from the illusionary shadows that followed after them to complete their task of killing Andy, and detain Jack so that his boss could once more "train" him to be nothing but a loyal dog. He would not allow it to happen. Even the boss knew so little. He could never dream of what Jack could do, and Jack would bring out every weapon in his possession to keep Andy safe. He would rip the world apart.

    They ran, ran until the sounds began to disappear, until he suddenly realized that he could hear the desperate sounds of Andy heaving for breath behind him. It hadn't even occurred to him that Andy couldn't run forever. They would have to find somewhere to stop. Every place Jack could think of, every safehouse he knew or deserted corner he could adopt, there would be people there. People who knew he was a dog that had gone off leash He would have to simply pick somewhere, and hope they could hide there.

    He slowed down. "Just a little further. We've got to find somewhere to hide. Somewhere they won't find us."

    He hadn't taken the time to look for abandoned places. He hadn't thought he would ever need them. Yet an abandoned place found them anyways, an old, small, ruined warehouse with posted warning signs about the price of trespassing. The fence was closed with a chain and padlock. Jack twisted one of the links until it gave, before unhooking the chain and unwinding it from the gate.

    "In here. We should have time to talk. At least for a bit."
  10. Jack kept three paces ahead of him, exactly where he always had.

    It was almost surreal how completely normal it felt. Sprinting through the streets, hell, sprinting at all, nearly for the first time in a year. There were men with guns outside, sirens beyond that, and if any of this was real at all, then both he and Jack were probably in way, way over their heads.

    But he couldn't make any of it matter. Jack ran ahead of him, and Andy, maybe in shock, could only stare in disbelief. Because it was Jack. He knew that, knew that swift and easy gait, the way he seemed to fall into it like some predator of the wilds. He'd been the faster in their garrison, and death hadn't slowed him down at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. The stitch in his side seemed to crop up from nowhere, but hell if he was letting Jack get anywhere out of his sight. So what if he was chasing a dead man? Even a ghost was better than nothing.

    When Jack finally stopped, Andy stumbled in after, checking over his shoulder on instinct. He didn't feel afraid, he realized, or at least not directly. That, too, was a first. He wondered if it was adrenaline. He guessed it was something else.

    Leant up against the wall, gasping, staring up at Jack with an expression of amused disbelief, Andy laughed.

    "Y-you," he gasped, "you're not even breathing hard." He wanted to laugh or make a joke or something, but nothing came to mind. He didn't have the breath to spare for it anyway.

    "A-always were...s-sarge's first choice," he said instead. He straightened after a moment, hiding a wince. If this was real, if this wasn't a dream, or some weird vision of death, he'd be sore as hell in the morning. But maybe that would be okay. A year ago, they were telling him he wouldn't be able to walk again, let alone run.

    Then again, a year ago, Jack had been dead. A day ago Jack had been dead. And now?

    Now he was looking at a ghost. If he was lucky.

    "Jack...what the hell is this? You can't really be here, right? They...they pronounced you dead almost twelve months ago. I -- Christ, Jack, I took your boots to your mother. I was at your funeral. You're supposed to be dead. So what are you doing here, Jack? What is this?"
    #10 DotCom, Oct 31, 2015
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2015
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  11. Jack's eyes flitted from point to point with an almost alarming efficiency. First the building, looking for cameras or detectors, looking for any traces of life-heat that might be seeping from out the broken windows or under the warped door. Then the street, checking for passers-by, for eyes that might be shadowing them. Then the sky, for helicopters or drones. Then the roof of each nearby building. Back to the abandoned complex, back to the street. Finally, they turned to Andy.

    "Inside," was all he said.

    They moved towards the building, ducking through a ruined doorway. Jack led them in a dance through the main floor, avoiding rotten beams that would collapse under their weight and the holes in the floor. They came to rest in the center of the building, near the massive concrete pillar that held the whole place up.

    Jack sat down, inviting Andy down next to him. For a moment he simply stared at the man, blinking. Then he began to speak.

    "I can't tell you everything that has happened in the last thirteen months. It would take far too long. Normally the easiest solution would be to simply show you. Unfortunately, we have a problem. You don't believe that this is real. Not really. The fact that you are going along with it anyways means this isn't the first time you've hallucinated something like this. So, before I can move on with show and tell, we need to take care of that first. What do I need to do to convince you this is real?"
  12. For a moment, he could only stare. The whole situation -- Jack's calm, demeanor, his brisk, matter-of-fact approach to the maybe possibility of his one-time best friend being half out of his mind -- it was all so wonderfully familiar, Andy couldn't find it in himself to be scared or even concerned. He kind of wanted to laugh. He did laugh.

    He laughed until he was breathless all over again, until his belly ached and his face flushed, and tears ran from his eyes. He laughed until he was sure he'd wake up, definitely sweating, probably screaming. Again.

    "Well, that's a first," he said when he finished. "You, pointing out that you're not supposed to be real."

    He exhaled and leaned back and shut his eyes and tried to think.

    Was it possible any of this was real? Hell, he supposed it was possible, technically. Just...extremely unlikely. In the last year, he'd had nightmares, visions, hallucinations, and everything in between, and all of it had been bad, but none of it worse than waking up to learn he'd been the only survivor. They'd told him Jack had died. They'd had the funeral and everything, though...though of course there had been no body. Andy had barely made it out himself. And he could remember thinking, standing at the edge of his grave, listening to Jack's mother sob quietly, thinking, promising somehow he would bring her son back, because if there was no body, there was no guarantee.

    That had been before things had gotten bad. After that, Andy had let go of a lot of things.

    Now, he opened his eyes slowly and looked over at his ghost of a friend, a new expression coming over his features. Mixed hope and horror.

    "Jack, if this is really you...if you're really here, really alive...just...Jesus, Jack, just tell me why you never came before?"
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  13. Jack watched his friend laugh with an almost sad detachment. Once upon a time, the sound of such open, honest laughter would have been enough to get Jack laughing too. It wouldn't have mattered what Andy was laughing at, or whether or not Jack would have found it funny. He would have laughed because his friend was laughing, and that was the best, the funniest thing in the world. Now, however, there was only emptiness and silence. It was almost a relief when he finally stopped.

    When at last Andy finally settled, when he turned his sparkling eyes back to Jack and finally spoke, Jack's shoulders slumped slightly.

    "Why I never came back?" Jack repeated, quietly. It didn't sound like he didn't believe the question hadn't been asked, but more like he had been hoping the question could wait a little longer. "Damn. I guess we are moving on to the show part of show-and-tell already. I'm sorry, Andy. You aren't going to be ready for this. I can see it in your eyes. But there's no easier and quicker way around this."

    For a moment Jack hesitated. It wasn't because of the pain. That wasn't to say this wasn't going to hurt, it was going to hurt like fucking hell, but Jack welcomed the pain. He sought it. No, he had already said exactly why he was hesitating. Andy wasn't going to be ready for this. He still didn't believe this wasn't a hallucination. And what Jack planned to do... well, there was no way to explain it except a hallucination. For a moment he thought desperately, looking for another solution. There wasn't one. Not one that would prove the point so perfectly, and with no room for doubt or questions.

    The hesitation was over. Jack locked eyes with Andy once more. "Sorry."

    He was moving in the blink of an eye, so fast it was barely possible to track his movement, let alone stop him. The gun in his waistband was suddenly in his hand, and an instant later the barrel was at his throat. The trigger was pulled. The gun sounded.

    The bullet cut all the way through his head, to explode out the back of his skull. It struck the ceiling, digging out a sizable chunk of old plaster. Jack's jaw was clenched closed, but even as his hand fell limp to his side, letting the gun fall to the floor with a clatter, his body didn't wobble. He didn't slump to the floor. He held himself upright with an impossible rigidity that was almost terrifying to see, even without the dark blood slowly oozing its way down his neck.

    Only a few moments later, his head tipped forward. The glassy look left his eyes. His fingers came up to gently probe at the underside of his chin, followed by the back of his skull. When that was done, he tipped his head back, staring straight up at the ceiling, allowing Andy to get an unobstructed view of the underside of his chin. Of the flawlessly clean and perfect flesh that lay in the middle of a ring of blood and gunpowder burns; burns which were likewise fading with every moment.

    His head dropped. He locked eyes with Andy. "How much of a freak out are you about to have?"
    #13 Peregrine, Oct 31, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
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  14. Andy stared, wide-eyed, his expression neutral, at his friend, and he didn't answer. Not with words.

    He nodded once, as if something had been affirmed for him, then stood abruptly, jaw clenched. He wavered on his feet, shut his eyes and reached blindly behind him to steady himself against the wall as color rapidly drained from his face. If he'd been awake, he'd have guessed he was about to throw up, or pass out, or both. The buzzing sensation in his ears was familiar enough. The air felt heavy around him, pressed too close, like someone was pressing something down on his face. He wanted to lifted his hands and push it away, but he didn't dare let go of the wall.

    Instead, he opened his eyes and leaned back against the wall, now watching his old army friend almost warily. Mistrustfully. He would never mistrust Jack. He had -- he did -- trust Jack with his life, but this wasn't Jack. Couldn't be Jack, because Jack was dead. If he hadn't been before, then he ought to be now, he had just fired a bullet through his head, and no one, no one survived that so --

    "...need to wake up," he choked out finally. They certainly hadn't been the words he'd meant to say. Granted, he had no idea what he had meant to say, but it hadn't been that. He'd intended something with bravado, something to make his ghost of a friend laugh, and why shouldn't he? It was his dream, wasn't it?

    Or his nightmare. Yeah. Nightmare sounded better.

    That 'need-to-puke' feeling redoubled abruptly. Andy swallowed hard.

    "Gotta...gotta wake up. Wake up, goddammit, wake up." Yes. Yes, this was a nightmare. He was very familiar with those, knew them well, though this one was new. And dark, so very dark. Stress, maybe? He had that big mission coming up, some recon shrouded in mystery. Nothing major, but ostensibly his first time in the field in over a year. So, yes. Stress dream. He'd tell the doc about this one in the morning -- he would be seeing her in the morning. He'd have to call out of work. Again. They wouldn't like that. But he'd had nightmares tamer than this that had left him a quivering fucking mess for days at a time.

    And this...this was Jack. Jack who had been alive, and then dead, and then alive again. Jack who had just tried to kill himself in front of a shell-shocked Andy. Jack who was...somehow still alive.

    Wasn't he?

    Andy's eyes flicked toward the blood spattered ceiling, then back to Jack who was still watching. Waiting. For what? When did the earth erupt into fire and flame? When did Jack become a tower of blood and rotting flesh? When did he start screaming, start blaming Andy for his death? He had been here before. It was going to get worse and soon, if he didn't wake. Up.

    Why couldn't he wake up?

    Andy felt himself drop into a crouch, still leant up against the wall. He braced his elbows on his knees, raked shaking fingers through his hair, folding into an almost fetal position without even thinking about it. He dug the palms of his hands into his eyes until his saw stars.

    And still there was nothing.

    "Wake up," he growled. "Wake up. Wake up." He could feel his composure slipping. The panic would start soon. Back in the real world, he was already screaming. Someone would be in soon. His roommate or his landlord or his sister or his parents. He'd be back in the hospital by morning. He didn't want it, but it was preferable to this. Anything was.

    "Wake up. C'mon, An - Drew, wake up, wake up, wake up. You are better than this, soldier. B-better than some stupid fucking nightmare. You owe them that much. owe yourself that much, so wake. Up."

    It wasn't working. He wasn't waking. He was running through lists a dozen items at a time, doing everything he could think of to wake himself, and precisely none of it was working, and in the back of his mind, he knew why. He had known why the second, the very moment, Jack had found him hiding in that abandoned bookstore.

    This wasn't a dream. It wasn't even a nightmare. This was real. Jack -- who was dead, had been dead -- had just shot himself through the skull. And lived.

    And somehow, that made it all much, much worse.

    Yeah. Yeah, he was definitely going to puke.

    Still crouched on the ground, Andy looked up at his friend and offered a weak laugh. His chest hurt. He wondered if he was having a heart attack. It would have been less embarrassing. Almost.

    "S-scale of one to ten?" He swallowed. "Fifteen."

    And then he threw up.
    #14 DotCom, Nov 1, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
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  15. There was nothing Jack could do except sit there and watch his friend as the freak out began. Friend. Was that word even applicable anymore? There was no saying, not yet.

    Jack could not help Andy through this. There was nothing he could offer that would lend the man the support he might need to get over this. At the moment, Andy believed Jack was just a hallucination, and a hallucination could do nothing to affirm its own existence. So he sat, silent and stone-faced, doing nothing but waiting for the facts to assert themselves in Andy's head. That, and make sure that Andy didn't hurt himself before that moment arrived.

    When at last Andy calmed down somewhat, Jack moved forward, helping him sit up and then moving him back over to the pillar, where he might be able to get some trace of support from the solid concrete pressing against his back. Jack sat down between Andy and the puke, his hand moving backwards slightly. Abruptly, the smell of vomit vanished. Jack didn't let his disgust show on his face, but he did bring his hand forward again, shaking it slightly. He'd certainly absorbed many more disgusting things than a little bit of bile and half-digested food at this point, and he didn't want to sit in the smell of it any longer than was absolutely necessary. Didn't want Andy to sit in the smell of it.

    "Do you want me to start talking now? Or would you like a few more minutes?"
  16. And there it was again. Or rather, there he was.


    Just like he'd always been. Except that year or so when he'd been dead and gone, and Andy had been...alone wasn't the word for it. Dying felt closer.

    He shook his head weakly and stared up at his friend again. Stony-faced and impassive, even though Andy had a very strong suspicion it had been him, Jack, who'd killed all those men in the streets. Had he been the one to arrange the drop This could not be mere coincidence...could it? Whatever it was, it was clear Jack had a better handle on it than Andy did. As usual.

    Andy wanted to laugh, make a stupid joke, because it was his default, and because that had always been his role in their relationship. Jack kept him grounded -- hell, kept him alive half the time...and more now, if those bodies in the street were anything to go by -- and he'd kept Jack from getting...getting...

    Well. Andy had been wallowing in self-pity for a year and took a certain kind of man to shoot himself in the head, even if he knew he was going to survive.

    Andy felt his belly tighten again with guilt instead of nausea this time. So much for the joke.

    "What..." he started, then had to clear his throat and start again. "What did they do to you?"

    That he didn't know who 'they' were didn't matter. Not yet. His friend had returned...and Andy was scared. Not for himself. Never for himself, not around Jack. He knew Jack, trusted Jack.

    Didn't he?
  17. "I have no fucking clue, but they did something. Something..." Jack swallowed slightly, swallowing the lump that rose in his throat and threatened to keep him from speaking. "That body they sent back, about five months ago? It was mine. Placing emphasis on the word 'was'. It was also true enough that I'd been kept in a POW camp since that ambush, and that they sent my body home when I died. What they didn't say is that I was reborn after I died. My body... that body died because I no longer needed it. I... molted it, I guess. Shed it to make room for this abomination." He gestured to the flawlessly perfect body that sat in front of Andy, before running his fingers across the stubble of his red hair.

    "I was the first success their gene mutation shit had produced, and now that they had a process that would actually work they wanted to... test me. To see how far they could push me before their work gave out, so that they would know what corrections to make for the next test. They started small, incisions and wounds that would heal almost immediately. But they got bigger quickly."

    Jack wanted to stop. He could see the horror in Andy's eyes. Yet the words didn't stop. He'd never been able to tell anyone, and it was somehow satisfying to see the desperate pain in someone else's eyes that his words brought around. It somehow validated what he had gone through, to push his suffering onto someone else. He only wished the person wasn't Andy. Yet he didn't stop.

    "They took off my head at one point. Chopped it completely off at the neck. I grew another." There was a faint trace of desperate, broken laughter in his voice, and it was somehow worse than the deadpan voice he had been using to speak up until that moment. "What they didn't know was that every time they pushed me I grew stronger. And, after two months, I was strong enough to start controlling it." Jack lifted his hand, showing it to Andy. For a moment there was nothing, until his pinky finger began to bubble and stretch alarmingly. A moment later, it split into two, and a perfect sixth finger formed on his hand. He dropped his hand, shaking it out slightly. The extra finger folded back into his hand.

    "After three... they had no idea how fucking strong they'd made me. When I was certain they could no longer contain me, I destroyed the entire place, killed them all."

    Finally, finally, Jack was able to bite off his words. He held the secrets of that escape to himself, of how the scientists had tricked him into a room full of acid, dissolving every scrap of his body and every trace of DNA along with it, but how they hadn't known he'd bitten off a chunk of his own finger before starting his escape. He didn't say how his consciousness had somehow arrived in that scrap of his own being, how he had rebuilt his entire body from it. He didn't tell how reason had abandoned him, how he had grown another body, and another, and continued on his rampage, sacrificing himself over and over like a pawn in a giant game of chess until the only thing left alive in that building was him. If he could even still be called alive.

    His voice didn't hint at his internal torment as he continued to speak. "After that, all I wanted to do was get home. But I didn't have a home anymore. I didn't even exist anymore. I was dead. So I ended up signing on with a group of people who promised to get me home for the very small price of my becoming their dog until I could pay my debt. When they realized what a damn useful dog I was, my debt kept getting larger and larger. And that's what I've been doing for the past month and a half.

    "Of course, they don't know everything. They barely know anything. All they knew was that I could kill anyone they wanted, in whatever manner they pleased. And now they know I've gone rogue."
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  18. Andy blinked dumbly at his friend, expression blank. Only it wasn't like it was with Jack. Jack was better at that veneer of calm, at thinking things through, at finding himself six steps ahead when everyone around him hadn't even realized they'd stumbled yet.

    Andy had never been that. And Jack had always been okay with it, which made Andy okay with it, too. It left him room to be pissed as hell when they got latrine duty because Andy had forgotten to fold down a corner of his bunk. It made it okay when Andy got quiet and moody before a big mission, and when he couldn't stop laughing at the end of one. He knew Jack had a handle on things -- so why worry?

    That wasn't the case now. The things Jack was telling him...gruesome, horrible, impossible things, shit ripped right out of the fucking tabloids, and not even the real ones. This was shitty-1970s-B-list-scifi movie, the stuff they saved for back episodes of Mystery Science Theater. This wasn't real. How could it be? This...this was torture. This was X-Men crossed with Guantanamo, with a dash of what-the-actual-fuck mixed in, and Jack...still hadn't so much as bat an eyelid. Not really.

    Andy didn't buy it for a second.

    His voice didn't betray it. His face gave no hint of any emotion behind what he was saying. He may as well have been reading a script from some late-summer gore porn. Not even a good one. He was reciting his own eulogy in perfect monotone, and Andy...was starting to feel sick again.

    A year of hating himself while everyone promised it wasn't his fault. While friends and family and even the fucking army pretended like he'd done anything special except not die, and he couldn't even take credit for that. A year of whiskey-soaked apathy and trying not to see Jack every time he closed his eyes. And now Jack was here, and telling him how he'd died.

    "I can help you," he blurted, and at first, Andy was so stunned by the words, he hadn't even realized he'd spoken. But then he was lurching to his feet, vaguely surprised by the fact that his legs could hold him when they felt like water beneath him. It didn't matter. Nothing matter. Either Jack was alive and real and sharing a nightmare...or Andy had hit bottom. Either way, he sure as hell wasn't going to sit still and wait for night to come.

    "I got -- I have...Look, we'll take care of this, okay? What you said, this shit you're sharing, man, that's...that's illegal. They can't -- that violates every fucking -- We'll get them. We can shut it down. I have...people I can go to, the people who sent me out here today, they -- "

    In the excitement, he'd forgotten all about his failed mission. If it had been that. It had been a trap, clearly. But laid by whom?

    Whatever. That part didn't matter. What did matter was that he had his best friend back, and he wasn't going to lose him again.

    "Jack, I...I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Again, his mouth was working without permission. That part he was used to. It had gotten him in trouble more than once, even before he'd met Jack.

    This, though. This felt different.

    "I'm so sorry I left you. I didn't...I couldn't...if I had known, man, I would have...shit. Shit." He was moving suddenly, turning away from his friend in shame and anger and disgust to drive one first into the pillar behind him. It hurt, he guessed, but he couldn't feel a thing.

    "Jack. Are you alright?"
  19. "It's alright. There was nothing you could have done." It would have been funny, if it hadn't been so damn depressing. At the time he had been speaking, Jack hadn't known why he couldn't shut himself up. He hadn't known what he hoped to gain from sharing all this. Now he knew what he had been hoping to get. He had hoped for some comfort, for some form of acknowledgement and acceptance. What he hadn't expected to have happen was for his words to send Andy spiraling into a pit of self-disgust, and for it to be him, Jack, who ended up needing to offer the comfort.

    Jack moved over quietly, briefly rubbing the spot on his chin where he had once had a scar from a childhood injury. The action had once brought him some strange form of comfort. Now it only served to remind him that he wasn't the same person anymore. He gently grabbed Andy's arm, dragging him away from the wall, straightening out his curled fist and wiping away the blood. The last thing he expected to have happen was feel a tingling in the tips of his fingers, the sensation that had become so familiar as his body shifted, altered, and healed itself, and see the wounds on Andy's fist vanish accordingly. He blinked. It had never occurred to him that such a thing would even be possible. He'd absorbed people before, swallowed them whole, taken everything they had to give, but he'd never given anything back, reconstructed, built. Then again, this was the first time he had been near someone he cared about enough to even bother to try.

    It was one more anomaly, one more irregularity. He took it in stride, and simply added it to the list of things that made him a freak. At least this one was somewhat useful. He settled back down, pulling Andy to the floor with him. "Even if you had found the place, somehow, it only would have meant the capture of everyone who went there. And that would have been more bodies they could have played with.

    "I can't say I'm fine. That would be a lie. I'm so cold it feels like nothing can touch me anymore, masochistic as fuck because it's all that gets through to me anymore, and there's no way out of this fucking nightmare. But if it had to be someone, I'm glad it was me and not..." you "... any of you. And if it hadn't worked out this way, the hit that just got placed on you would have gone through." Desperate to change the conversation, Jack grabbed this trail of thought and followed it. "Speaking of, what kind of shit did you get into to get a price on your head?"
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  20. "Fuck that," Andy grumbled abruptly. He was surprised how fast the real annoyance came upon him. He wouldn't have thought there was room for anything else. Disgust. Exhaustion. Awe again -- he'd just been cursing his own stupidity and his newly cracked knuckles when Jack had waved a few fingers and washed away the pain. Again.

    But Jack had always been able to get him to do the impossible. Like feel mildly pissed in place of nauseas and scared out of his mind.

    "Fuck it," he said again. "You think I'm just gonna let you change the subject? What, did you hit your head when you..." He trailed off abruptly. The joke he'd been about to make...well, nothing was reverent for Andy, but that seemed a little too close for comfort, even for him.

    "Jack. You're back from the dead after surviving God knows how long as a POW. They basically fucking tortured you to death, and you walk back in here like a member of the fucking Justice League, and I'm just supposed to...what, overlook that? I mean, have you...have you been to see anyone? Your parents? Your friends? Jesus, Jack, do you even know if you're alright? You shot yourself in the head and you want to know what I've been up to?"

    He'd been sitting again, because Jack wanted him to, and who was he to argue? But he was angry now -- no, not angry. Scared fucking shitless and...somehow relieved, God damn him, fucking relieved -- and he couldn't sit still anymore.

    "Are they going to come after you? These...killers you've been working for? I mean, you're an asset, right? Prized fucking hen, top dog, whatever the hell kind of farm animal analogy you need, you were theirs and they lost you, and you think they won't come find you? Fuck what I did, Jack, we need to get you out of here."

    He stopped his relentless pacing abruptly, realizing he was shaking again, and made himself exhale and face his friend. Friend. How long had it been since that word had meant anything?

    " involved with some ex-military group," he said eventually. "Well. Military intel, mostly retired guys. Us and our fucking Purple Hearts," he added in a low grumble, before realizing he was still speaking aloud. He cleared his throat and turned away to hide the flush of shame that crawled up his neck.

    "Mostly high octane office work, y'know? I was -- I am -- working on their tech. This was my first field mission after..." He trailed off again. Jack didn't need to know about that. You didn't listen to your best friend talk about his life as a POW then come back with I have nightmares sometimes. "It was my first field mission. Just picking up intel from one of our free agents, I thought, but..."

    He gestured in a way he hoped meant 'but then I ran into my dead best friend who is also now a superhero with a dark past'.

    "So, here I am. And here you are." He glanced back at Jack and gave an honest, tired smile. "Just like old times, huh?"
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