“Avon...” Argus strode into the lab, barging in before the door fully opened. He stopped as his eyes took in the empty room.
A whiff of a strong earthy scent drifted towards him. Not empty.
“Keep your paw down on the switch,” said Avon’s disembodied voice.
Argus came around the workbench and saw them seated on the ground, working on a contraption laid flat on the floor. Red and green lights blinked in regular patterns around the edge. “What are you working on?”
Avon's lips thinned in irritation. “Ask the wolf, I’m busy.”
Sharp-Eyes gave a soft whine of query and tilted his head at him, his amber eyes full of curiosity.
Sinking down cross-legged across from Avon, careful not to touch the device on the floor, Argus said, “Have you had more memories about your past?”
Avon froze for a moment at the unexpected and highly personal question as he felt along the edge closest to him.
He and Argus had ‘therapy’ sessions in the past, usually involving him finding inventive new methods to avoid answering questions in any meaningful way, but the last one had been months ago. “This is not the right time.”
“It’s never going to be the right time.”
“Then why are you still here?”
Argus filled his lungs to bursting and let it out slowly, trying to think of a reply. He wasn’t sure why he was here but something had driven him until he found himself outside Avon’s lab. “It’s the boys.”
“Yes, the boys.” He rubbed the back of his neck, the stiffness never stayed away for long. “I...was talking to them earlier.”
Avon ‘stared’ at him. His desire to be left to work in peace was obviously being ignored. Why did people insist on wasting their time coming to him with non-technical questions? “If you have concerns, talk to Cally.”
Avon sent out a mental call. * Cally. *
* Yes, Avon? I’m a little busy right now. Can this wait? *
His lips parted in a half-grimace. * Yes. Go back to what you were doing. *
“It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” he asked half-gruffly and half in resignation. The sooner he could get this over with, the better for both of them.
Even sitting on the ground, cross-legged, Argus’s back was straight. The habits of the soldier were ingrained deeper than a laser scalpel could remove. “Some of them want to stay with us and I told them they couldn’t.”
That sounded reasonable to Avon. The ship had no place for children. “Then what’s the problem?”
“I...” Argus looked down at the oddly soothing rhythm of the blinking lights. “...want them to have a childhood.”
This sounded logical too. “They are children.”
“The one we never had, Avon.” Argus looked up at him, searching dim eyes for understanding.
“Ah,” Avon said guardedly. This was threatening to get personal, exactly what he didn’t want.
Argus’s throat constricted and the emotions were raw as the doors to the past shattered, catching him in a tidal wave of memories. He choked, drowning in them as he doubled over, his voice reverting to the one that had been taken away. "Kerr...I...remember what happened.”
Avon gasped, the familiarity of the voice opened up a sliver of a memory in his own mind; pain, a dull ache that made him grimace as his hand gripped Sharp-Eyes shoulder, burying his fingers into the shaggy fur. His breathing had quickened at the name that had been robbe from him. “Jack.”
Lifting tortured eyes, Jack looked at his friend and his fists clenched in anguish, ready to pound any enemy that came close. There was pain deep inside him, a knife churning. It had ripped away the most precious parts of him, separating what he was from what he could do. "Kerr, why did they do that to us?"
It was the voice of the young boy, the one who had never wanted to kill. He didn't understand, he couldn't understand, he did not want to understand the deep dark hearts of the men and women who could do this to him. His was an innocent soul.
Back to the past…
Young Kerr stood to the side, watching the other boys gathered in protective groups. He liked to observe before making his own decisions. Relationships were about logic, at least they should be. His parents taught him to always think first before doing anything. It saved valuable time in the end.
Another boy stood at the edge of the crowds, not quite apart like himself, but not with them either. The others seemed to respect him in a way that didn't have to do with his size. He was large, probably older than the others, but there was something about his physique that was beautiful, exceptional. Kerr would say abnormal but in this place, it was hard to say what that was.
Every one of the boys was 'special' in a way that would set them apart in the regular educational streams. Like himself, quite a few possessed superior intelligence. He could hear it in snippets of random conversations.
Kerr's eyes were drawn to the muscular boy again. His brown hair was cut military style and he stood with back naturally straight, like a soldier.
There was something about him; a quiet air of authority and strength. He would be able to stand before the fiercest storms and not bend. The boy dominated merely by standing in silence, his hands by his sides, even in a room of Alpha children.
The odd thing was, Kerr was certain he wasn't aware of it and seemed almost embarrassed by the attention. It was strange for someone with this kind of ability to not to use it to his advantage.
Power, wealth and influence, that's how Federation society operated. His parents had taught him that. They wished it was different and they'd often talked about something better, but they were realists; they knew it was only a hopeless dream.
There was something else that drew Kerr about this boy. His warmth.
A blond boy joined the large one, his pleasant, smiling face instantly made Kerr wary. He distrusted people who had such easy smiles; they usually proved to be masks that hid the truth underneath.
There was a quick intelligence in his watchful eyes, a sharpness that would cut through other people's facades while keeping his own in place.
"There's something strange about this place," the blond boy said.
"It's about to get worse," said the large one, his warm brown eyes troubled.
This was interesting. Kerr moved closer. It might be useful getting to know these boys.
“The name’s Kerr."
Later, after they were all settled in, Kerr came upon the solitary boy, standing in front of a window, staring into space.
The young Jack turned his head and looked at him, his brown eyes were clear but there was faint guardedness. "Hello," he said shyly, his voice a low, friendly rumble.
The caution gave Kerr a better impression than the other aspects. "Jack." He returned the guardedness with his own natural one. There was something sad in the other boy's eyes, a melancholy he tried to hide.
"You've been watching me."
Kerr started, and his head tilted as the studied the larger boy. "Yes."
"I like to observe."
Jack nodded gravely and his voice lowered to a whisper. "You don't want to be here."
"Neither do you."
The boy looked away for a second, his eyes focussing on something only he could see. His throat was tight. "Yes."
"We're the only ones in this program who don't want to be here."
Jack sighed heavily and nodded, looking out into space again. "You like to observe."
Eyeing him with curiosity, Kerr said, "You didn't ask me why I don't want to be here."
The warm brown eyes turned to look at him, searching deeply into his, looking for something. Kerr was doing the same thing.
There was steadiness in this boy. His mother would call it steadfastness.
It was a special quality few people had these days, she’d told him. You can expect most people to double-cross you, but not these. Kerr had not believed it until he looked into Jack’s eyes. They will go to death and back for those they are committed to, his mother had said. They were a throw-back to simpler, less dark days.
"You would tell me if you want me to know."
Kerr decided he liked this boy.
Avon shook his head as the memory faded. The young wolf nudged him, his moist nose tickling the side of his neck.
“Avon, are you alright?” Argus’s concerned voice gave him focus, and his hand resting lightly on his shoulder gave him a physical anchor.
“I...remember...the first time we met.”
“That’s good. More of your memory is coming back.”
“Fragments.” Avon absently patted Sharp-Eyes on the shoulder and let go of him, lightly shrugging off Argus's hand.
Argus said, “I wish...” A silence of regrets followed as they were lost in thoughts of the past.
The two of them had made a formidable team, with the young Charles tagging along. They were the golden boys, the ones who excelled past their peers, each in their own areas. They were a rebellious presence, refusing to accept what they were told at face value. It often got them into trouble, but they stood together.
Avon lifted his head, 'seeing' the face of the young Jack. "You never wanted this."
"You didn't either."
He 'looked' away. The past and the present seemed to exist together at that moment; their young selves and their current ones intersecting and their relationship crystallizing. "I only knew what I didn't want."
The young wolf's amber eyes observed them with interest, his soft breath puffing towards them.
The boy woke up to darkness and rough, frozen dirt pressing against his flesh. He shivered. His body was curled up against the cold and his arms wrapped protectively about him. Someone took his clothes and left him here? Was he robbed?
He was wearing shorts though and he felt something harder around his waist. A belt?
Pain pounded in his head and he pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead, groaning. Where am I? He uncurled, feeling a hard object pressing against his side. It was a knife in a black sheath.
I don't…who am I?
A low growl made him whirl quickly, popping up in a half-crouch, the knife instantly in his hand, like an extension of himself.
Bright amber eyes blinked at him in the darkness. Wolves! His pulse quickened and his body thrummed with energy.
A dozen lips peeled back from dark grey muzzles, showing fangs as sharp as his knife.
The boy lifted his head, a low growl forming deep in his chest as he brought his knife forward. It glinted menacingly in a flash of lightning as the winds howled around him.
The wolves circled him warily. One came closer.
Argus shook his head. "They…wiped my memory. Blocked it. And…put me with the wolves. They tried to kill me." His eyes closed tightly as flashes of red blinded him and he hissed, closing his hand over a phantom gash in his left arm.
"Jack…" Avon automatically reached a hand in his direction.
"It's alright. More memories." He rubbed his arm, feeling in his mind the depth of the grooves and the warm wet blood. With each drip flowing down his arm, there was growing anger. "I know what they did to me."
The young Jack had fought. He was a frightened animal desperately trying to survive.
Argus raised his head unconsciously, his mouth opening in a howl of bloody triumph, and stopped himself. The animal in him had won that day and joined the pack.
And he had lost.
"They used the wolves. It wasn't wrong to kill with them. I…" His head dropped in shame. "…became one of them…" Fists clenched and unclenched.
The agony in the boy's voice cut deeply, reaching Avon, touching the chords of pain in his own memories. His hand was still reached out towards Argus, not quite touching. He could feel the pull of gravity as it hung there, the weight of a decision that was his alone.
If this was Jack many years ago, he wouldn't have hesitated. He knew this without a doubt.
What did they do to us? Anger flared inside him. They took away his friends and made every act of friendship something alien to him. They made him barely human, a stranger, even to himself.
Avon stretched out with his hand until he touched the firm shoulder and closed his fingers around it. It felt strange and right at the same time. He forced his hand to stay there, squeezing, feeling the warmth and energy of the man beneath his fingers.
"Jack. We will find those responsible." It was a fact, tinged with something a little more human.
The tortured boy looked up at him, a film of mist over his eyes. "Kerr...What if…I don't want to kill anymore?"
Avon lowered his head and nodded. He knew this was a possibility. They needed this man to be what the Federation had made him into, the ruthless and perfect killer, a military machine, but…this was Jack.
It made no logical sense. This man's value lay in his military skills, just as his was in the brilliance of the mind.
The rational warred against the irrational. Sentiment versus cold logic. The need was great and it demanded this man's life.
Avon’s restless fingers kneaded the tightness at the base of his palm. In the past, the dichotomy would have frozen him in indecision, each force equally balanced inside him.
Needing to leave Blake on Cygnus Alpha but his feet would not bring him to the flight deck. Cold logic shouted at him to take the ship and leave Horizon, the others were dead. Cally was dead. But he stayed, and stayed, until a whim of circumstance made up a mind that refused to be made. He could no longer stand Blake, but he could not let him die.
He hated himself for being human, because it meant the flaw of the irrational, but he could not deny what he was. He was this man's friend. "Then I will kill them for you."
In that moment, they were what they had been to each other since the first day they met.
Argus sighed tiredly. The air seemed heavy with the responsibilities he could never throw off. "I can't let you do it alone. We're in this together."
They always were.
Avon's voice became steel, "They tried to separate us. They will not do that to us again."