Author: Calic0cat
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Fragments + Chapter 15

I held Max stiffly as we danced. He was right, we needed to do this in order to keep our cover intact, but... 'But dancing together like this *hurts* after how wonderful it was before...'

Before Max told me that we weren't really married. Before I'd started to remember. Before I'd had to think about whether Max was telling the truth. About whether we were partners, whether I should trust him, whether my love for him had any chance of surviving the return of my memory. Any chance of surviving in the face of reality.

Whatever the hell that might be.

I didn't know what to think. What to do. Whether this horrific conflict between my head and my heart had any chance of being resolved in a way that would leave me in a state anywhere even close to happiness.

In the absence of any sure knowledge of the situation, all I could do was fall back on my training. Training that said to wait, to watch, and to maintain my distance. Not to allow emotions to cloud my judgement. Not to reveal my emotions to anyone.

Because soldiers weren't supposed to have emotions and if they did, they'd better make damn sure that no one found out. 'Because showing emotion has consequences...' My hands tightened involuntarily as memories of those consequences flickered through my mind, vague and fragmented, but still far clearer than I liked. 'A man's voice, sharp and annoyed, saying, "Weapons have no need for human kindness" and J agreeing... And then the retraining began...' All because I'd been foolish enough to show regret for the training accident that destroyed that apartment building and took innocent lives...

"Odin. *Odin!*" Max hissed sharply. I blinked and focussed my eyes on his face with an effort, temporarily pushing aside the painful memories that I'd just encountered. "You're holding on too hard," he said in a tightly controlled voice.

"Sorry," I managed to force out. With an effort, I loosened the grip I had on him, appalled at the force I'd been applying without realizing it. "Sorry," I repeated apologetically, knowing that I'd probably left bruises. He just gave me a tight nod in response.

'See what happens when you lose control? When you let emotions get in the way?' I blocked out the echoing memory rebelliously. It wasn't the emotional response to the memories that deserved the blame for me inadvertently hurting Max. It was the damn genetically engineered strength in combination with the pain of remembering some of the nastier bits of my training that did.

Dealing with the memories was - odd. Remembering the response of a child, then a teenager, who'd been thoroughly indoctrinated to unquestioningly and unswervingly believe and obey from the perspective of a far less gullible, less easily manipulated adult, one who had been free of that indoctrination even if only for a few brief, wonderful days...

It was difficult to deal with. Part of me was pulled towards falling into the pattern of that training, towards unthinkingly accepting the lessons that I'd been so thoroughly and painfully taught. The rest of me... The rest of me wanted to say 'to hell with this crap', forget it all, and go back to the way things had been before I'd started to remember. To go back to a time when loving Max had been enough.

But it wasn't quite that simple. If I accepted the things that Max had told me as truth or even partial truth, then I still was involved in missions that required much of my training. And if he was lying, then that was almost certainly the case as well since I would have no value to anyone outside of my skills and knowledge. There would be no reason to attempt to trick me if I wasn't involved in some sort of mission.

So at least some of my training was necessary, I couldn't simply reject it all. 'And even if I were to choose to reject it, to try to be the person I was before I started to remember, it isn't like I could just - flip a switch - and have it all go away again...' No matter how much a part of me wished that I could...

The song drew to a close and we stopped dancing. I released Max. "I want to leave. Now," I said flatly. Cover or not, I couldn't do this anymore. Time and privacy were the two things that I needed at the moment. The memories were still returning piece by piece and I needed a chance to put them all in their proper places and figure out what the hell was really going on. Turning, I stalked off the dance floor and headed towards the exit. A subdued "Okay" reached my ears as I went and I could hear Max's light steps following me.

I knew that I was hurting Max with my cold, distant attitude. Either that or he was one hell of a good actor, and after seeing the "ditzy American" routine that he'd put on for Mattis, I wasn't completely ruling that out. But I really didn't know what else to do. Falling back on my training was the only thing keeping me from breaking down under the continual influx of memories. None of them were good ones; about the most I could say was that some were at least not as painful or revolting as others. My hands were so stained with blood that I half expected to actually see it on them. All I really *wanted* to do was curl up on Max's lap and let him soothe the trembling the way he had - god, was it only last night?

But I couldn't. The conditioning I'd been through and that I now actually remembered wouldn't let me show that much vulnerability. Particularly not to someone that, despite my love for him, I wasn't even sure could be trusted.

When we reached the arena's main entrance, the area was roped off and the floor was wet. A woman in the resort's guest services uniform apologized for the inconvenience and directed us down a hallway to another exit. I could feel the tension rising in both Max and myself as we followed her instructions. Innocuous as the situation seemed at first glance, it felt - wrong. Max dropped back to walk just behind me as we headed down the hall. Both of us were moving lightly and cautiously, making as little sound as possible in the dress shoes we were both wearing.

The dim glow of the "EXIT" sign was in sight when the wrongness that I'd been feeling was confirmed. "Leaving so soon, gentlemen?" Mattis enquired. I turned towards his voice in time to see him stepping into the hall from one of the rooms. His bodyguards, guns drawn, flanked him immediately. Max swore sharply, looking over my shoulder towards the exit. I followed his gaze to spot two men, guns in hand.

"Somehow, I don't think they're with guest services," Max muttered grimly, his voice so low that I doubted anyone else could hear him. More loudly, he demanded in an agitated, querulous voice, "Mr. Mattis, Jules, what's this all about? Who are these people and why..."

Mattis clapped his hands, interrupting Max. "Good show and a nice try, my dear 'Mr. Wells', but it's a little too late." He drew his own gun and motioned with it, saying, "Come along quietly now, I really don't want to disturb the other guests."

Max's eyes met my own. His gaze flicked towards the exit and he raised an eyebrow questioningly. I nodded infinitesimally in response and we both flung ourselves at the armed men standing between us and the exit. They were big and burly but we caught them by surprise. It was the work of a moment to wrest the gun from my target and drag him into position between myself and Mattis. Beside me, Max disarmed his man and did the same.

"Go!" he ordered sharply.

The soldier in me heard the snap of command and went. I held my living shield between me and the unknown as I flung the door open. No one was outside. "Clear!" I barked.

Max backed through the door, then shoved his hostage back inside and slammed the door shut. "Ditch him and run, don't look back!" he snapped as he pulled something from his braid and began to fiddle with the lock.

I reversed the gun and rendered my prisoner unconscious with a single sharp blow to the head before dropping him unceremoniously. Seeing Max still working frantically over the lock, I hesitated. "Max?"

"*GO!*" he ordered.

I went. Gun in hand, I ran down the stairs and headed for the dubious shelter of the next building. The sensation of movement beside my face and the sound of a bullet hitting the pavement sent me into a diving roll. 'So much for not looking back...' Half-crouched, I looked back towards the stairs. My mind barely registered the body tumbling down the steps; it was too busy dealing with the memories triggered by the braided figure standing on them, backlit by the lights from the arena. The figure with the gun pointing in my direction.

"He *shot* me... Max *shot* me..." My fingers touched my arm, tracing the faint scar that I knew was there. The pain and betrayal threatened to overwhelm me and I reached for my training. Reached for an anchor that wouldn't betray me. Unlike Max.

"*RUN*, dammit!" he screamed. His gun raised slightly. My own moved in automatic response, sighting on the man I loved. The man who'd shot me in the past. Who had obviously been lying to me. Friends and partners didn't shoot each other. I couldn't believe a damn thing he'd ever told me.

'He doesn't love me...' flickered through my mind. Reflexively, I pulled the trigger of my own gun as I heard the tiny sound of his firing.

He crumpled and fell even as I heard a noise behind me. Spinning, shocked that Max's bullet hadn't hit me, I found myself gazing in horror at the fallen body of the woman it *had* hit. The woman who'd sent us down the hallway and into the trap. And at the gun that she'd dropped as she fell.

'He wasn't aiming at me. He was aiming at her. Protecting me. Oh god, what have I done...'

Shouts and a bullet striking the ground all-too-near prodded me into action. I had to get away and try to fix this mess. Somehow...

'Run...' Max's order echoed in my head. And I ran.

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