With a scream, Tristan fought against the light encasing his arms and legs. They shouldn’t have been able to hold him in place; he should’ve been able to move them, they weren’t anchored to anything, but all he could do was scream and fight against them as Alex got hurt by the other human, Anders.
Alex was wrong. None of this was real, it was the drugs; he knew it. It was the only explanation for light holding him in place. Light couldn’t be solid when things were real.
He had to escape. He had to go protect Alex. Rage gave him strength, but all it did was make the armband dig into his arm. The pain made him fight harder, and the thin one cracked. The other one had gotten broken while he fought the army of Alexs, and now it was falling to pieces.
Alex should stop this. He should tell the computers to end this; it was what he did. Except he wasn’t wearing the earpiece; Anders had taken it from him, broken it. He’d rendered Alex powerless.
He shook his head. No, that wasn’t right. Alex didn’t need the earpiece, he was sure of it. He’d gotten him to replace it because of situations like this, where he didn’t have the earpiece.
But Alex had told him he needed it. Which one was real?
Neither, of course, none of it was real. His Alex, the real one, was dead. He hadn’t been there to protect him.
The drug told him there was no use fighting. He needed to give up. His strength ebbed. Yes, what was the point? With Alex dead, he should simply stop fighting, give into the drug and let things end.
Alex blocked a blow from the man with his arm, and the look on his face made Tristan scream. Alex was hurt. He might be dead, but this was the only Alex he had left, and the other human had hurt him. He wouldn’t give up. He would get free and protect him.
Tristan stopped listening to the drug, listening to anything but the rage. He ignored the pain he was causing himself as he pulled on his arms. Alex had flown back and landed badly. The other human was standing over him, holding a sword.
Tristan snarled, felt the spittle fly. He was going to kill him; he was going to rip him apart, feed him his own heart, strangle him with his intestines.
He tried to understand who the woman was. Someone else he’d killed? Except he didn’t remember her either. It didn’t matter. He was going to rip her apart too, just to be safe. He didn’t hear what she said over his snarling. He thought he saw some of the other dead, but he couldn’t be sure.
The woman was gone; the man had struck Alex again. Alex was in pain, but he was laughing. That was good. Alex was at his deadliest when he laughed.
Tristan kept fighting. The drug was feeding him rage now, and he relished it. He was going to kill everyone on the ship, and then the universe itself was going to pay for what it had done.
The darkness was absolute as Tristan fell to the floor. He was in a crouch, sniffing the air, ears forward. There was a moan of fear and he headed in that direction. Before he’d taken a few steps, light appeared around Alex, as if he was glowing.
Tristan looked at him, awed. Even pained he stood straight, defiant. He was so proud of him.
The other human yelled something and Tristan’s gaze locked on him, a growl starting deep in his throat. His hands flexed, extending his claws.
He was off, was going to make the other human pay. He roared moments before colliding with him, carried him out of the light to the human’s terrified scream.
He bit the human’s neck to silence him as they crashed to the floor. The human hit him, his scream becoming garbled as Tristan tasted blood. He bit down harder and something cracked. There was bubbling in the blood he was swallowing now.
He let go before the human was entirely gone. Tristan had promised him something. He grinned at the terror in the man’s eyes and brought his claws down on his chest, digging through the clothing, through the flesh. He grabbed the ribs and pulled. The sucking sound as the flesh tore and bones broke and snapped was almost as satisfying as the attempts at a scream the human was making.
The life was fading out of him faster than Tristan expected. He’d bit the jugular, so he had to hurry if he wanted the human to taste his own fading life. He closed a hand around the beating heart and forced the man’s mouth open with the other.
He pulled and then shoved it in there. The man’s protests died quickly, as did his struggles. Tristan leaned in and whispered. “This is what it felt like when he died. I’ll never let you hurt him again, do you hear me? I don’t care how often I have to kill you. You are going to leave him alone.”
The man’s lifeless eyes stared back at him. Tristan grabbed him by the collar. “Do you hear me? I will break every bone in your body if you ever think of touching him again. I am going to kill you slowly. I’m going to make you suffer. He’s mine! Mine alone!”
Tristan shook him, slammed his head on the floor. “Answer me! Don’t you dare ignore me! You’d better be paying attention or I’m going to hurt you!”
He froze. The voice was Alex, but the tone was tentative, almost scared. He looked down at the body, at the blood all around it, the broken-off rib cage. Alex had seen him do it.
Did he sound more scared? How could he do this in front of him? Alex had never been there for the other massacres. Alex stepped closer, and he bolted into the darkness. He didn’t want Alex to see him like this. He was supposed to be better than this for him.
Why? Why had he let the rage out? He should have controlled himself. He was Tristan, after all. He was always in control. He had to get control again.
“Illumination, room-wide,” Alex said. “Stop.”
A soft glow lit the expanse that was the room, showing it for the empty space it was.
Alex was looking at him, concerned? Afraid? The body was still on the floor, but Alex didn’t seem to see it. Why was it still there? It should have vanished like all the others.
Alex stepped in his direction and Tristan looked for a place to bolt to. There had to be a place he could hide in. How could he get back to the canyon? No, he didn’t want to go back there, with the other Alexs.
“Walls,” Alex said, “box-shaped, eight feet…”
A box? Alex wanted to cage him? Tristan bristled at the idea. He was never going to be caged again. He growled at Alex, who straightened.
What was he doing? This was Alex. He couldn’t fight him. But he didn’t want to be caged again. “Please, don’t put me back in the cage.”
“Tristan, you need to calm down. The armband you made broke, so you have to stay calm until Mary can examine you.”
He touched where it had been, and the blood on his arm was dry. Had that been important? It had to have been important if Alex was worried about it. Why had he broken it? Why couldn’t he do anything right?
“Tristan.” Alex took another step toward him. “Just stay calm.”
Tristan laughed. “How? I keep messing things up. I was supposed to be better.” He ran his hands through the fur on his head. “I want to be better for you. Alex, you have to believe me. I only killed them because I didn’t have a choice.”
Alex looked over his shoulder. “Is this because you killed Anders?”
He doesn’t believe you, a voice whispered.
“No, no, no. Not again. You were gone.”
It’s the cage for you, boy, his father whispered. Even he knows that’s where you belong.
“Leave me alone!” He looked around for him. If he could find him, he could kill him and have some peace for awhile. The cage, he couldn’t go back in it. Was the room getting smaller? Was it going to be the cage? He had to get out. Where was the door? There had to be a door somewhere.
He couldn’t stop. He needed to find a way to leave the room before it crushed him.
“I don’t care that you killed him!”
Tristan froze. That couldn’t be true. It was a trick, something to keep him still while he got him in the cage. But he couldn’t see any duplicity in Alex’s face. “You don’t?”
“I’m a little annoyed you stole my chance to kill him, but that’s just my pride talking. He was going to end up like that anyway.” Alex grinned, and Tristan recognized the mischievousness in his eyes. “Well, I wouldn’t have made that kind of mess; I’d have settled for a planting a knife in him. The heart, throat, or the ear, whatever would have been closest.”
Alex stepped closer, in small, cautious steps, hands away from his body. What did he mean, he would have done the same? He’d never spoken of committing violence before. The words were confusing, but the tone was calm, comforting.
“I’m afraid of losing you again, Alex.”
Another step. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Yes, you are.” He hated the whine that slipped in his voice. “You always vanish. It breaks me every time I lose you.” He closed his eyes. “None of this is real, Alex. You’re not real. This is going to end and I’m going to be back in the cage.”
He felt fingers against his chest and his breath caught. He opened his eyes. Alex’s hand was pressed in his fur, coating it with the fresh blood in it. Alex looked up at him and didn’t show any revulsion at what he saw.
“I’m real. I’m here, and you got out of that cage. You’re going to get out of here.”
Tristan smiled, but didn’t feel any joy. He wanted to be happy at hearing those words. “You always say that. You always tell me I’m going to survive, that I can find a way out, that I’ll manage to kill Justin, but it’s just what I want to hear. It’s no more real than this.”
“This is plenty real. Look. I can prove it to you. The ship is waiting in the hangar. Let’s forget about killing everyone here. We can blow this ship up after you’re better.” Alex took his hand and pulled on him. “Let’s get Mary to look at you, and in the meantime I’ll go find Will and Victor, bring them here. Then we can get out of here.”
Tristan didn’t move. “Alex, there isn’t anyone here to rescue me. You’re just a hallucination from the drugs that doctor gave me.”
Alex let go and placed his hands on the sides of Tristan’s head, digging his fingers in the fur, gripping tightly.
Alex looked him in the eyes. “You have to believe me when I tell you I’m real.”
“Alex, I want to, but—”
He tightened his grip. “I am here, Tristan. I am real. You said it hurt when you thought I’d died. Do you have any idea how I felt when I thought the explosion had killed you? You’re not just a partner to me. You’re not just my master, the one who—”
“Alex, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t—”
“Shut up. You fucking know how much I love you, considering how often you’ve used it to nearly drive me insane. In those few seconds before Jacoby told me you’d been taken, that you weren’t in the debris, I unraveled. I’m nothing if I don’t have you.”
Tristan searched Alex’s eyes and saw pain there. Had he looked at him with pain before? While he visited in the cage? He didn’t think so, but it was all so fuzzy. The drugs made it difficult to remember.
But what if… He was dropping. Arms tried to hold him up, but Alex let out a gasp of pain and Tristan dragged him down too. Had he hurt him?
Aren’t you always? a voice asked him, and it sounded eerily like his own.
He held onto Alex. “I don’t know how to tell anymore!” Tears were falling.
“Then just trust that I’m telling you the truth. I am real.” There was none of the pain in Alex’s voice, just determination.
Tristan let out a mix of a chuckle and a sob. “But you always tell me what I want to hear.”
Alex tightened his arm around Tristan. “That’s your own fucking fault for being so damned efficient in making me what you wanted me to be.”
A sob wracked his body, then another one, and another. He held on to Alex. Let him be real, he pleaded with the universe. Take anything else, take my life, but let him be real.