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december sun is setting

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Felix wakes up with a deep-set chill in his bones. 

The ship is always so fucking cold. Felix habitually needles Locus for all he’s worth, trying to convince him to take a crack at the broken heating system, but it always ends the same way: in failure. Locus gives him that disgruntled, constipated look, shoves past him, and continues on with whatever job he had already become dead set on completing. “That's a waste of time and resources, Felix” or “put on a sweater, Felix” or “do it yourself, Felix.”

Jackass. 

So the ship is always cold, and Felix makes it his job to ensure that Locus always has to put up with constant bitching about it. Because it's fucking cold, and any moron with two brain cells to rub together would know that power armor is not the most efficient heating device. 

Not that Locus seems to care. He never even has the good conscience to act like he feels bad about it. Not that Felix knows jack about “good conscience,” but it's the thought that counts. 

Fucking Christ, it's cold. 

Felix tries to blink his eyes open, but everything feels so heavy. It's unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and it would be irritating if he had enough energy to put into emotions right now. But he doesn't; he feels exhausted and like he’s got bruises on his lungs, like every inhale ignites something inside him that flares white-hot before being replaced by a rush of ice. His spine feels like someone keeps lovingly jabbing at the base of it with a cattle prod. 

He takes stock. He's used to the cold, but not to the numbness or the fuzzy, disconnected sludge of his thoughts. He can't help but feel like he's forgotten something. Something important. Tip-of-the-tongue type shit. 

He's in his armor. Maybe that's it: Felix never falls asleep in his armor. 

When he finally pries his eyes open, he has to fight to keep them from snapping shut again. His HUD is awash in glaringly bright, blinking red; he can't remember the last time that it did that (he can, actually, but those memories are so deeply buried that they might as well no longer exist). It makes his heart skip painfully, the breath catching in his throat and ripping a groan from deep within his gut. 

Something is wrong. His armor must be damaged. Is the ship under attack? How the hell could Felix sleep through something like that? Why hasn't Locus sounded the alarm? 

He tries to push himself up, unease welling in his lungs, but pauses at the bright tumble of pain that scours an ashen pathway through every limb. The sudden agony leaves him shaken, breathless and confused. The give of the floor beneath him is unfamiliar, grainy and shifting beneath his shoulders; far cry from the soft layers of his mattress. He’s flailing against the pain, struggling to see past the cracked redness of his visor and the blinking panic of his HUD. His heart is pounding, and his HUD isn't registering the elevation in BPM. Definitely broken. Shit. 

What the fuck is happening? And where the fuck is Locus —

One hand slips out from beneath him and his shoulder smacks back to the ground. The sudden movement seems to shake something loose from his brain, and as he lies there, dazed, memories like firecrackers pop to life in the corners of his mind. Chorus. The Temple, the Purge. The Reds and Blues. Anger, hot in his veins. Panic; a grenade on his shield. And Locus —

Locus. 

The name ‘Locus’ and the word ‘betrayal’ mix like oil and water in his thoughts, slipping and separating more and more as he tries to push them together. Refusal to associate. Because how could he? After all they survived, after all that they endured. They need each other. 

“I'm a monster. Just like you.”

Christ. Fucking Christ. 

He tips his head back and inhales a wet, shuddering breath. Fog gusts around him and weaves through the jungle foliage that cants upwards and hides the sky, concealing the Temple’s peak. His stomach clenches painfully. He shouldn't be alive, not after a fall like that. He's either extremely lucky or the exact opposite. As he squints, coughing heavily into the flashing light of his HUD, he realizes that he's banking on the latter. 

The sky, where it pokes through the leaves above, is a deep, unchanging gray. 

Felix swallows, his throat dry and stained with the taste of iron. His jaw is clenched so tight it aches. Deeper still, his chest feels thick, bogged down by something so heavy and discordant that it actually robs him of breath. His eyes burn.

He chalks all these things up to the fall from the Temple, kills the part of himself that suddenly, desperately wishes that he had died from the fall, and throws himself onto the sword that's driven him forward his entire life. 

Ashes for ashes. Blood for blood. Revenge is a toxin, rich and sweet. And Felix plans to fucking collect. 

The first step is always damage control. He's very much aware of the fact that he has no supplies: no biofoam, no radio, not even a bandaid. And, based on the crunchy, on-fire feeling that he gets every time he tries to move his legs — he can't bring himself to look, they feel so wrong, fire and ice and disconnected from every other part of him — one or all of those things would be very much appreciated. 

He lies on his back, fumbling with his visor to try and reactivate the HUD controls, attempting to assess his situation as best he can. The shifty feeling of the ground beneath him is a shallow riverbed; water laps periodically at the edges of his fractured armor, leaking through his bodysuit and adding to the chill of his bones. Something digs uncomfortably into the soft meat of his inner arm every time he twists his fingers. The thick cloud layer decorating the sky blocks out the heat of Chorus’ sun. Suns? He doesn't remember. 

Motherfucker

His HUD is fractured to all hell. After several drawn-out minutes of frustrated, fumbling tinkering, he gives it up as a bad job and yanks off his helmet. Some fractured part of it catches on the skin of his throat and scores a deep line all the way from his chin up to his forehead — he has a brief moment of regret, followed by pain and a series of hissed curses as blood begins flowing afresh into one of his eyes. He slaps a hand over what part of the laceration he can cover and gets to unbuckling the rest of his armor, sweat gathering beneath his damp bodysuit. 

Shit. Is he getting a fever? That is the absolute last thing he needs right now, infection from the jungle stream seeping into his blood through the gouges in his skin. Shit. 

He shrugs off the heavy weight of his chest plate and  finally looks down. One of his legs lies at unnatural angle, the other straight but unresponsive as he tries to wiggle his toes. The armor is in the way of any further inspection, but he couldn't be bothered to check for a pulse anyways. 

He detaches the remaining armaments that he can afford to lose and tosses them into the river, wincing as every movement jostles his bruised and likely-broken-slash-possibly-even-crushed bones, pointedly not looking at the torn, blood-soaked material of his bodysuit. The heavy pieces float downstream, one after another. 

He pauses on his helmet to remove the microchip. The tiny piece of plastic is frail between his shaking fingertips; he stares at it for a moment before shoving it deep into his mouth, wiggling it easily between two of his molars. If he swallows it, so be it; but at least this way he has a chance of keeping track of it. 

He tosses the helmet into the river, and is surprised by the lack of anything that he feels as he does it. That armor - that helmet - has been with him for years. Longer than he's known anyone or anything else, really. But as he watches it float downstream, bobbing broken in the choppy, rain-sprinkled waves, he only hopes that it ends up somewhere that no one will ever find it. 

Including himself.  

His whole body tenses and relaxes in an instant, an instantaneous flinch that returns him from his drifting thoughts. Something cold and full and unrelated to external temperature streaks down his spine. Adrenaline, maybe, or shock fully setting in; all Felix knows is that he has limited time before the real pain starts. And he's gotta get out of here before it does. 

Felix needs a plan. He needs a plan, he needs a plan, he needs a plan. 

He needs —

Shit

His heart is pounding wildly, setting him alight with some nervous frantic energy, and before he knows it, he’s dragging himself along the riverside. His legs are screaming in protest and his lungs are full of something like pain, but he moves anyways, no plan in mind but to move until he finds a solution or drops dead. 

Blood keeps getting into his eyes. He’s never really been alone before. Not like this. Not ever. 

And he realizes, gulping in icy air and dragging himself through silt and his own blood as the sky splits apart and rains, that he's never been so scared in all his life. He may not make it through this. He's running on pure adrenaline and hatred and not much else. He feels hollowed out and insubstantial, the heat of his anger popping bright and dying quickly. 

He's terrified. 

It's pathetic. Weakness is no place in the life that Felix has crafted for himself. Weakness means mistakes, attachments, failure. 

That same weakness manifests in his fists as he claws, desperate and fainting, through the muddy surface of the riverbed as rain blends with the crimson grime that coats his cheeks. Fear is an icicle in his throat, a rush of fullness in his chest, a concoction of fury and pain and something else that he hasn't felt in a long, long time. 

The trees are never ending. The river winds and bends. His hands bleed, scratched raw by the increasing rockiness of the riverbed. Thunder calls in the distance and lightning ignites the sky. 

And Felix is lost. Literally, because Chorus is a mess of wilderness and broken battlefields, and metaphorically as well. Alone, his purpose is shot. How the hell is he supposed to do his job without a partner?

Without his partner?

His partner. 

Rage is a force that energizes his dying limbs. He's needs to find Locus. He's got to see him, to prod him for answers if nothing else. Maybe all of this is some sick joke. Maybe Locus will round the corner with one of those idiot blue’s confetti guns and call his own bluff, and Felix can clock him in the jaw and forget the whole thing ever happened. 

“Sike!” Pop. 

Maybe Locus will grovel for forgiveness. Maybe he'll beg Felix to take him back. Maybe he'll try to kill him again. Maybe he'll be too busy kissing Washington to even notice that Felix isn't even fucking dead. 

For a moment, he imagines Locus’ face, pale and shocked as a bleeding Felix stumbles back into his life. Yeah, how about that. You fucked it up, asshole. Nice try. 

Felix digs his fingernails into the ground and drags himself forward. He’s got to find a way out of this mess. Fix his legs, find a ship, maybe get some new armor, and go, go, go. 

He's got to get off this planet before someone finishes what Locus started with a clean bullet to Felix’s forehead. The lack of armor should provide at least some autonomy, should he run in to anyone, but that's no guarantee. He has to get off planet. If he has some time, maybe he'll destroy it in his wake. A nice, clean end to this chapter of his life. 

That's his first step. 

From there, things get pretty straightforward: Felix is going to find Locus. He'll track him to the end of the fucking galaxy. He knows his hideouts, his patterns, his habits, his everything, down to his favorite brand of toothpaste. Felix will find him. And if Locus sticks with the Reds and Blues, all the better. Those idiots know nothing about being discreet. Their trail will practically be a neon streak from planet to planet. 

And Felix will kill everyone that Locus loves — Wash, all those stupid sim soldiers, and every single person that tries to get in his goddamn way — and then, he'll make Locus suffer. He'll slice him limb from limb and shred the bloody pieces. He'll disembowel him  with clinical precision and make him beg for mercy. Felix will cut out Locus’ tongue and make Locus eat it while it's still warm and squirming. 

Oh, yes. Felix will get his revenge. 

But now. Now, fever rages beneath his skin. The muddy riverbank builds up around him, comfortable and softened by the gentle rain. Everything blurs, fog and exhaustion concocting into a white, muted static. He's gone numb. 

It's so cold. 

His last thought before the world fades into nothing is a simple one, tattooed behind his eyelids and bright even amidst the hazy blackout of his mind. 

Felix will fucking burn Locus alive. 

Felix hates hospitals. 

His first experience with hospitals had been at the age of ten; his mother, wasting away and clutching at his hands while his father stared, empty and broken, out the nearby window. Flowers, their smell cloyingly sweet, rotting to nothing on the nearby table. Cancer or bullet holes or overdoses, who cares what killed her. She died anyways. 

They're useless memories. 

But he still hates hospitals. 

The first thing that tips him off is the smell — iodoform and chilly misery — and the second is the sound of beeps, low and consistent and annoyingly shrill. His fingers are icy cold. Something prickles in the back of his hand when he experimentally clenches a fist. 

He shifts his arm and it moves easily. He's not tied down. Sweet. Rookie move for whoever the fuck dragged him here, and a bonus for Felix. He won't complain. 

Felix blinks his eyes open, trying to focus them on the dim scenery of whatever room he's been dragged into. How the hell did he get here? He feels exhausted, achy and unusually distant, and for the life of him he can't remember anything contextual. His throat feels raw and dry; the machine beeping erratically beside him is definitely a heart monitor. 

He blinks, allowing his eyes to adjust to the light. The room sharpens into dimmed shadows and white walls and faint shapes cast by LED screens. The window to his left is curtained. Outside his room, a telephone rings. 

It's a hospital, alright. Score one for Felix. 

Felix coughs. The hand that lifts to rub at his dry mouth is littered with tubes. He has half a mind to tear them out, but not even drugged-out Felix is a big enough idiot that he'd try ripping out an IV… or four. Seriously, why does he have so many needles in his skin? 

Why is he here?

Actually, scratch that. Where is here?

He has half a mind to either start screaming or start pulling his IVs out, consequences and blown veins be damned, when the door to his room clicks, hissing sharply as it slides open. It almost sounds like the opening of an airlock. Felix straightens, craning to see who it is entering his space, and is more than a little bit frustrated when he doesn't recognize the woman who opens the door. 

“Where the fuck am I?” He says, the words practically falling out of his mouth. He feels jumpy, skin crawling, and his voice sounds strange, scratchy and hollow and quiet. The heart monitor at his bedside steadily picks up the pace. 

“No need for alarm,” she says, the door whooshing shut behind her. A clipboard rests in her arms. “You're perfectly safe, I assure you.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Yes, need for alarm!” He snaps. Not his best comeback, but he feels like there's cotton lining the connection between his cerebrum and his mouth. Goddamn, he's tired. “Where the fuck am I?! Who are you?” 

“One question at a time,” she says sternly, eyes flashing to his. She scribbles something down on her board before turning to an info station along the far wall. Her fingernails click as she taps something into one of the small, glowing tablets. Felix is too far away to read any of the dim blue screens, but the info listed looks extensive. 

Great. Fantastic. 

“I understand your confusion,” she says, cutting Felix off as he opens his mouth to protest, “and your frustrations. But kicking up a fuss will only put unnecessary strain on your body. And that is something that you most certainly do not need.”

The woman’s tone leaves no room for arguing, a strange blend of firmness and concern that leaves Felix feeling like he's been scolded. His hands fist a little tighter in the bedsheets. The will to fight smolders beneath his ribs. 

“Okay,” he grits from behind clenched teeth. “Okay, fine. Fine. Where am I?”

“We are currently at Doyle General Hospital,” she answers, giving him a little nod as if pleased by his acquiescence. “On planet Chorus. The year is 2560. What do you remember?”

She taps a pen against her clipboard. Felix, on the other hand, freezes. Something about the year ticks off a warning bell, but that particular red flag is clouded over by a different flash of recognition.The name — Doyle, what sad motherfucker does he know named Doyle — sends alarm bells ringing in the back of his mind; his memories remain fuzzy, but after a few stilted moments, the name finally sends a jolt of clarity shooting up his spine. 

Donald Doyle. Chorus.

Shit. 

“Hospital?” He asks, though he's not sure why. 

“Yes,” she confirms, and then, for a second time: “What do you remember?”

What does he remember? Out of principle, Felix usually keeps those kinds of details to himself, especially on the rare occasions when faced with nosy medics or hospital staff. How he gets his ass handed to him is no one's goddamn business but his own. 

Of course, the whole silent treatment method is soured by the fact that, with a sickening atrophy of the remainder of his confidence, he can't actually remember what happened to him. He remembers Chorus, sure; Chorus and Hargrove and Donald goddamn Doyle, for some reason, are all things that he can dredge up from the recesses of his memories. The rest of it, including how and why he woke up in this hospital, is murky.  

The icy chill of fear rises in his throat. He tries to tamp it down, but he still feels it knocking, impatiently rattling around in the confines of his lungs. 

“How did I get here?” 

He knows they're his words, but they feel distant, as if someone else spoke them for him. Disconnected. 

The woman purses her lips. “I assume you mean the hospital. You were found floating in the Juvo Tributary by a New Republic patrol. Luckily, they had a skilled medic on staff at their nearby base, or you would've bled out. That, or died from infection. Your wounds were… well. I'm sure you know.”

Felix scrunches up his brow. Even through his confusion, that stabbing sense of wrongness persists throughout her explanation. “New Republic?”

“You're obviously a soldier,” she says. “I'm sure you were picked up out of a sense of duty. Towards the end, most of our civil war’s soldiers were mere children in helmets. I'm sure they never considered any option other than helping you, whether or not you were on their side of the conflict.”

Felix opens his mouth and closes it again, lost for words. He doesn't feel bad, per se, but the strange accusatory edge to the woman’s voice makes him feel like he should. She's got the whole “not angry, just disappointed” vibe down to a perfect, wholly unpleasant science.

The woman merely watches him, her expression unreadable. It's almost as if she's giving Felix time to dwell. 

Joke’s on her. Even if he did know what the fuck she was intimating, Felix wouldn't know guilt if it stabbed him in the nuts. 

“And?” He prompts. It's not like he's about to fall to his knees and tearfully thank some nobodies for saving his skin. 

“And,” she looks like she's resisting the urge to roll her eyes, “After the Civil War ended, you were transferred to a central military treatment facility along with every other wounded individual needing further treatment. Eventually, alongside the acquisition of more proper facilities, that MTF became this.”

The timeline makes him pause. Just like that, Felix has another weird feeling, an inkling of suspicion that creeps beneath his tongue and in his gut. He looks around the room for a second time, hands tight on the starched hospital sheets, and when his gaze resettles on the woman, asks, “how long?”

The doctor — nurse? lady — looks at him. Straight at him, her jaw set firmly in a way that reminds him of his mom. Something like reluctance and quiet, controlled irritation at Felix’s lack of cooperation. And holy shit, how fucked up is he that he's thinking about his mom. 

“How long have I been here?” He repeats, slowly. She's certainly taking her sweet time to respond, almost as if she's reluctant to. 

The unsettled feeling gets worse. 

She taps her pen against her clipboard. The cork surface stands out against all the white, clean cut technology, a brown and simple foil for the blue lights of the holo screens. 

“Seven months,” she finally says, and Felix’s stomach jumps into his throat. 

Se—” he can’t finish the word. It stutters off into a huffed breath. Seven months in a hospital and he remembers none of it. 

He licks his lips and tries again, but what comes out is a stunned, “what the fuck.”

“You've been in a medically induced coma,” she begins, launching into her spiel as if speaking quickly will somehow keep Felix from flipping the fuck out, “Cryosleep, essentially. We managed to procure several pods for this site, and you were an ideal test subject.” 

Her words are void of emotional attachment, as if Felix’s life means nothing more to her than just that: a disposable, dying body that just happened to be the perfect size for an alien freezing box. 

Although, hell, it probably doesn't.

“You were released yesterday. 214 days total.” She clicks her tongue. “Your rehab will be extensive.”

“I didn't consent. There's no way that's legal,” he deadpans, both to hide the panicked beating of his heart and because it just feels right to be difficult. 

“There wasn't an alternative option. You would have died otherwise,” she says. Her gaze flickers from his face downwards, and Felix has a sudden fear that his dick went missing in whatever accident was bad enough that it lead him to be frozen for seven fucking months.

He glances down. Wiggles his hips. Still there. Thank fucking Christ. 

But then his eyes slide a little farther downwards, and part of his brain just stops. Stutters into nonsense, into that empty, thick confusion that feels as all-encompassing as it does hollowed out. 

Felix isn't one to get robbed for words. He monologues through confusion, through shock, through all levels and stages of emotional turmoil; he can filibuster death with it staring him in the face. 

But now, staring down at where the sheets lie flat along the bottom of the cot, he comes up empty. His words are missing, just like his legs from mid-thigh downward. 

How fucking poetic. 

Felix swallows, and his throat clicks. 

“Two-hundred and fourteen days,” he echoes. If his voice is faint, he doesn't notice. He's too busy trying to keep from ripping out one of his many IVs and slicing open his wrists with the sharp edge of the needle. 

Instead, he pulls back the blankets and ignores how his hands are less than stable where they fist in the thin cotton material. His upper thighs lie there, pale and dusted with freckles, but where his lower legs used to be are mere stumps: messes of raw, pink skin run through by a network of white spiderweb scars. 

His brain isn't sure how to make the connection; he keeps blinking and trying to wiggle his toes. Some stubborn part of him doesn't understand why it isn't working. Another part — a stupid, naive part — is wondering why losing a foot wasn't enough. 

That fucking quarry.

His doctor — nurse? She's got a fucking clipboard — is saying something, but Felix isn't really listening. He catches something about femoral arteries, but his attention is definitely elsewhere. On his legs, mostly. Or lack thereof. 

Son of a bitch. 

“We took the liberty of installing some preliminary nerve connectors,” she’s explaining when Felix finally clocks back in, ignoring his lack of response and bulldozing straight to business. Felix looks up at her, unsure of how he must look; the grimace that she gives him provides him with a good enough guess. 

The corners of her eyes are tight. 

“For what it's worth —”

Her voice finally loses its blank edge, but that professional detachment is relaxed by an unwelcome edge of gentility that makes Felix bristle. He doesn't want her care, and he sure as hell doesn't want her pity. He lifts a hand — a silent request for something that he isn't sure how to identify yet — so quickly that she blinks, hands poised on her clipboard. As if he could even reach her from his cot across the room. 

Looking at her, at the waves of uncertainty that tint her expression, he's suddenly struck with a strange sense of displacement. Images of Chorus — blurred beyond recognition, filled with names and colors and emotional that he can't figure out how to assign labels to — trickle one after another through his stream of conscience. His vision swims in a perfect mirror of his thoughts. 

Something inside his chest suddenly buckles. 

“Get out.” The words tumble from his mouth, one after another, tripping from his tongue before he even realizes that he's saying them. But they settle easily, a rasp that he means to the core of his being.

The woman sighs, but the set to her shoulders tells Felix that she expected this exact response. With a flick of her finger, she powers down the blue data-cluttered screens that surround her. The woman steps towards the door, boots sturdy against the linoleum floor, but something gives her pause. She stops and glances back at Felix, her eyes narrowed, before looking away to fiddle with something on her clipboard. 

“Before I go,” she says after a pause, shooting Felix a stern look that just keeps him from flipping his shit at how long it's taking her to leave him alone, “I found this before we put you under.”

She steps towards him, cautious as if expecting him to lunge, and sets something down onto his bedside table. The ID card clipped to her scrubs reads ‘Dr. Philips.’

“I'm the only one who knows about it,” she explains, and pulls her hand away to reveal a tiny microchip encased in a plastic bag. Innocuous, sure, but Felix recognizes it immediately; if his heart was pounding before, it's racing now. 

His HUD data.

“I —” he tries, but his voice breaks. He can't tear his eyes away from the chip. 

“If you're truly struggling to remember,” she says, and taps a finger against the table, “start here.” 

She's gone before Felix can speak again. He picks up the chip as if it's made from spun glass and holds it in the palm of one hand, turning it this way and that to inspect it. It looks unharmed and untouched.

It looks — feels — like the only good thing that's happened to him in a long, long time. 

He glances down at his legs, pondering, and then back at the chip, and realizes that she gave him nothing to watch it on. 

“Goddamn it.”

Five hours, several cups of water, and one borrowed holo pad later, Felix uploads the files from his HUD chip and flips through them, one after another. What he finds is interesting, but more or less irrelevant: records of his vitals, scores of personal notes, even one buried grocery list labeled with a date from over six years ago. It's the HUD cam that interests him, along with finding out whatever the hell left him dying in a ditch in the jungles of Chorus. 

Another four hours and two more cups of water later, Felix stares at the paused image on the screen — of the temple, of Locus standing amidst the Reds and Blues, of choosing a side that isn't his partner’s — and wonders where the hell everything went so wrong. 

Dr. Philips and her clipboard return early the next morning. The sunlight is pale and post-rain soft where it filters through the curtains, and nothing can clear out the gloom that's settled over Felix and his abode. But he’s finally starting to feel more like himself, misery be damned, and he sits up a little straighter the second that the door slips open. 

“Done already?” Philips asks, brow raising pointedly in the direction of the loaned holo pad where it sits, face down, on Felix’s nightstand. 

“Died on me,” he gripes, picking the pad up just to have something to hold. He flips it upside down and rubs a finger over the microchip port. “The core processor in this model’s old as hell, by the way. And the logic board is on its last legs; must have been dropped in water at some point. Did you mean to give me a shitty holo pad, or is this whole hospital just outfitted with gear from 2400? If it is, that shoots my confidence in your professional competence right in the ass.” He leans back against his pillows and sighs, low and raspy. “Good God. This place is going to give me tetanus. I need to start writing my eulogy.”

Dr. Philips’ eyes narrow. “You talk too much.”

“And the sky is blue,” Felix retorts. “Didn't you watch my HUD footage? You should know how much I enjoy the sound of my own voice.” 

“Unfortunately, yes,” she grumbles, settling her clipboard in the crook of her arm to fiddle with one of his IV bags. “I suppose I do. Intimately.”

She says the last word as if it's a living thing that she's desperate to be rid of. Like a cockroach. Or a handsome, legless mercenary that killed half her planet. 

“Woah there,” Felix gripes. He settles the pad in his lap in favor of leaning back against his pillows. He leers up at the good doctor as she changes out the drip. “Buy me dinner first, would you? I'm partial to caviar.”

“Speaking of food,” she says, securing the full bag to its hanger, “Do you plan to eat anything along with the copious amounts of water you requested last night?”

“I'll eat when I'm dead.” 

She rolls her eyes. “Apparently.”

Dr. Philips finishes checking Felix’s immediate surroundings and heads over to a whitewashed cupboard on the other side of the room. Felix stares at the rumpled blue fabric of her scrubs and finds himself wishing it were gray and green armor instead. 

He shakes his head and shuts his eyes against the unwelcome wave of longing that crests, warm and uncomfortable, in his throat. Felix doesn't pine, especially not for some backstabbing asshole who deserves nothing more than a bullet in his head. He stares down at his hands, following his freckles up to the purple lines that trail along a vein on the inside of his left elbow, and wishes for something he doesn't know how to name. 

Something smacks into the side of his head. 

Ow, shit!” Felix yelps, flailing a bit as he grabs the offending item out from where it dropped onto the mess of his bedsheets. “What — is this — is this a jello cup?”

“Here's this, too.” Dr. Philips drops a long power cord into his lap. It curls like a snake between the twin stumps of his legs. He's a little surprised by how close she got without him noticing.  

Philips points to the cup. “Eat that.” 

“With what?” Felix stares at her. “My hands?” 

“You've still got both of those, don’t you?” Felix stares at her, mouth slightly agape from pure disbelief. She shrugs her shoulders. “Use them.”

“Wow,” Felix drawls, “that hurts. I'm hurt, honestly. Look into my eyes. I think I might cry. Are you sure you're a doctor? That was a low blow.” He keeps talking just to see how low her eyebrows can drop. That, and because the familiarity of bothering the shit out of someone results in a nice little curl of satisfaction in his gut. “Well, actually, maybe not low, since I don't really have anything to take low blows anymore, do I? More of a mid-blow. Straight to the pelvis.”

“Do you ever shut up?” She growls, treading back over to the cabinets. 

“I guess I wouldn't mind any kind of blow at this point. Can't be picky. Not that I ever was, to be honest,” Felix continues, a dark part of him twisting in glee. It's comforting to know that spending six — seven —months in cryosleep hasn't stolen away his charm. “Actually, a blow to the pelvis is probably my favorite kind of blow. Fire away, doc.”

When she returns to his bedside table a moment later, she's holding something small and white in her hands. She stops in front of Felix and looks like she wants to say something, anger and frustration clear in the set of her brow. He waits for her to react — to throw whatever it is at him or at some unfortunate wall, or to maybe stab it into Felix’s bicep. All reasonable, all likely. It's a roulette of options, really. 

Whenever Locus used to want Felix to shut up, he would growl meaningless threats under his breath and act pissy during downtime. Relatively harmless. But damn if the man couldn't hold a grudge. He had the singular skill of driving Felix stir crazy with the lack of responses to his rants; out of all the people in the universe, it seemed that Locus’s voice was the only sound Felix ever decided he liked better than his own. 

Sure, Locus would snap sometimes. Felix would say something over the line that he didn't always mean, and Locus would react physically. He'd shove Felix into the closest solid object or point a gun at his head or choke him until Felix’s voice was hoarse for days afterwards. But for the most part, the silence was his weapon of choice. It certainly worked; besides, physical violence only ever served to stir up the agitation in Felix, not tame it. 

Locus could break Felix faster than he would ever admit aloud, and it used to scare him more than anything else. Part of him thinks that that's why things became so twisted; the only thing that Felix hates more than fear is silence. He’d do near anything to keep both at bay. 

Maybe he just hadn't been as careful in doing so as he'd thought. 

He watches Dr. Philips, tamping down the urge to brace against the blow that he knows must be coming. He'd had Locus’s reactions plotted to a T; the singleminded way that Locus planned out missions was the way that Felix studied his partner. A twitch in his left brow used to mean he had a stress headache; if the twitch was around his eye, the headache was from exhaustion. Before Locus threw a punch, he used to squint and minutely roll his shoulder. When he was pleased, he used to lift his chin just a bit and crinkle the corners of his eyes. 

Felix doesn't know Dr. Philips, but he knows better than anyone else what thinly-concealed anger looks like. 

But instead of what Felix expects — instead of hitting him, or throwing something, or storming out — she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. 

Felix watches her, confused. He feels thrown off center and wishes she would just yell or something. “The fuck are you doing?”

When she opens her eyes a second later, the anger is gone. Her brow is smooth, and her expression is clear and calm. It's worse than if she had socked him, because Felix can't seem to fucking get his feet under him. Every time something feels remotely familiar, the rug gets yanked out from under him and he crashes back into confusion. 

She holds out the object in her hand and Felix hesitantly takes it; it's a plastic spoon. 

Felix watches her, stupefied. He doesn't react when she leans towards him and takes the jello cup from his lap. With a practiced ease, she pops it open; the green contents are neon-bright. She hands it back. 

“Eat, Felix.”

Hearing his name aloud throws him even more. He feels completely lost. Is this Chorus, or some alien look-alike determined to torture him with bewilderment until his ultimate untimely end? 

Felix needs a drink. Or two. Possibly even three. 

He sticks the utensil into the jello cup and stirs it slowly, breaking the gelatinous cube into smaller, squishy pieces. When he finally spoons a bit into his mouth, he grimaces. Green apple. 

“Couldn't find a cherry one, huh?” He jokes, smacking his lips to try and rid his tongue of the aftertaste. Dr. Philips doesn't so much as twitch. Still straight-backed and collected, she watches him cooly, hands in her pockets, until he feels downright shamed into eating another spoonful. 

Still gross. 

He eats another. 

“Cherry flavor,” she finally says, “is for patients who aren't galactic criminals.”

Felix coughs, just barely managing to swallow down the jello in his mouth rather than spitting it out. The action is almost like a laugh startled straight from his lungs; it burns. 

“Wow,” he’s almost smiling as he stirs his jello some more.  He's reaching the end of it, thank God. The clear plastic bottom sticks out from beneath the green, gelatinous slime. 

He takes another bite. It's just big enough that it muffles his next words. He looks up at Dr. Philips and waggles his brows. “Galactic criminal, huh? Pretty romantic.”

“Would you rather I called you a murderer?”

Her voice is ice cold, slicing straight through whatever haze of amusement Felix had been clinging to. He can feel the teasing grin drip from his face in one smooth movement. The plastic spoon creaks between his fingers. He wants to respond, to deny or deflect or something that he used to do so naturally, but another part of him is both lost and curious. 

Curious to know what she knows. Curious to know what she thinks of him. Curious to see if she'll do something about it. 

He doesn't know why. He just is. So he doesn't even try to stop her when she opens her mouth to speak again. 

“You killed so many of Chorus’ people. Good people, and some of them — many of them, by the end — barely more than children.” She narrows her eyes, expression critical as her gaze slips up and down Felix’s face. His lack of reaction seems to piss her off. “Did you feel anything as you watched them crumble for your worthless cause? As you watched them struggle for years against strings that you tied to them with your own blood-soaked hands?”

Felix doesn't feel guilty. He doesn't, really — he'd known what he was doing every moment that he had worked to execute their meticulous plan. He wasn't in some false throe, he wasn't being fooled. He'd enjoyed manipulating those people. He'd enjoyed killing them. He still wishes that he and Locus had succeeded; he doesn't give a damn about the well-being of Chorus. If someone were to walk in and hand him the Purge , he'd blow it all to hell without a second thought. 

But her words still make some part of him burn. In anger or something else, he can't quite figure out. 

But he still burns. 

She tilts her head, almost as if sensing the thoughts racing through Felix’s head. His glare does nothing to shake her; if anything, she seems bolstered, her voice even and unbreaking as some central part of Felix slowly begins to corrode. 

“Perhaps I should call you a mercenary? Since that seems to be the title that you so prefer.” 

It stings, hearing it from her mouth. As if it's something dirty and shameful. He used to be so proud of the title. The fact that he feels anything from her words is a red flag. His walls have been stripped to bare bone nothing if some doctor is successfully lecturing him. 

Fuck. He's just so tired. 

“Fuck off,” he mutters. 

Her gaze is so sharp that it seems to solidify in Felix’s lungs. “If you ask me, Felix,” she says, and pure malice drips from her lips, from the snarl of her mouth, “I think that the word monster truly is the most apt description for what you happen to be.” 

I'm a monster. Just like you.

Felix’s whole body tenses, adrenaline rushing from his throat to his fingertips until his whole body feels like it's on fire. Fight or flight, except flight is immediately torn apart by the acid in his underworked muscles that are screaming at him to fight. His hands ache to tear Philips’ throat into ribbons. His jaw burns from how tightly his teeth are clenched. 

He's not sure why he doesn't do it, why he doesn't just grab her and wring her unblemished neck until he has fresh bloodstains beneath his fingernails. She's within arms reach. It would be so easy. He's done the same for less. 

But a part of him just isn't into it. His chest feels a hell of a lot emptier than it used to feel whenever someone unimportant made the stupid mistake of insulting him. It's like someone scraped away the tissues that used to make him feel whole, that used to make pleasurable, bolstering fury bloom in his chest whenever he was faced with dissent. 

But his confidence — if you can even call it that — is gone. There's just… not much left. No familiar rush of heat, no starburst pop of bloodlust between his lungs. His hands twitch and clench around the jello cup still clasped between them, but without a fiery thickness of hatred in his lungs to burn as collateral, they lie motionless in his lap. 

Stuck. In limbo. 

He feels so wrong. 

Felix tips his head back and closes his eyes, swallowing against a sudden thickness in his throat. This isn't him. This isn't Felix. Felix is anger and vengeance and cold, unadulterated cruelty wrapped up in one comfortable, ruthless package. Felix doesn't hesitate when it comes to making sure those who talk shit never get the chance to talk again. He's got a skin that's hard as steel and conductive as copper. 

Six months in cryo has made him soft. 

Sorry, seven months. Christ. Soft and stupid. 

He doesn't want to think about what any of that means for him. 

At least one thing is familiar; the lack of desire to pursue something that disinterests him. He changes the subject with an ease that feels good to recover.

“You watched all the footage, then. On my HUD.” Felix heaves a sigh. “All of daddy’s dirty laundry.”

Philips tsk’s. “I know who you are, if that's what you're asking.”

Felix opens his eyes just so that Dr. Philips can see him roll them. 

“And?” He asks. 

“And what?” 

Felix rolls his eyes again. A part of him rejoices when Dr. Philips’s left eye twitches minutely. “If you know who I am,” he drawls, nice and slow, “then why haven't you killed me yet?” 

“I meant what I said yesterday. You were a valuable test subject for the cryo pods. Calibrating alien tech can be tricky; humans don't always react well to them.”

Felix nods. “And you didn't care whether I lived or died.”

Her mouth quirks into an almost-smile. “Precisely.”

“I appreciate the honesty, doc.”

Dr. Philips shrugs. “I don't care enough about your wellbeing to lie to you.”

Felix clutches his chest as if wounded by the curt tone of her voice. She ignores him in favor of reading some scrolling line of text on a nearby beeping monitor. 

Felix drops his hand into his lap and stares up at her, casually trying to draw her attention. “So…. While we’re on the topic of honesty…”

“I don't know where Locus is,” she deadpans without a wayward glance. 

Hearing his name aloud, even if it's just his moniker, stings like someone just slipped a knife into his gut. It's like the fact that someone other than Felix acknowledged his existence makes the whole situation all the more real. More tangible. It's harder to deny spoken word than it is to deny foggy memories and fractured emotions. 

Locus left him to die. 

I saw shit straight out of my nightmares. 

“I don't give a damn. I'm more concerned with me, if you don't mind. You know. The one in a shitty hospital missing his legs.”

He wiggles his stumps and her gaze flickers down to them. 

Dr. Philips blinks and looks back up at Felix, brow creased as if she doesn't totally believe him. There's an air of suspicion between them that travels both ways. “Okay, well. What do you want to know?”

“Let's start with the most basic question, shall we?” Felix leans towards her. “What do you want from me?”

She has the audacity to look scandalized. “What?”

“Oh, come on, doc. I've been in this business a long time; no one saves the ass of their enemy without some ulterior motive. And don't,” he says, cutting her off as she tries to retort, “give me more bullshit about being a good test subject or whatever. I’m sure you had plenty of fodder for that particular line of testing. The only reason why I'm not six feet under is because you want something from me.”

“I don't want anything from you,” she snaps. 

Felix throws up his hands. “The fuck do I look like to you? Someone that would believe that bullshit? You've had a gun in your pocket since day fucking two-fourteen! Normal fucking doctors with normal fucking motives don't walk around packing fucking heat!”

She's standing still, wide eyed and gaping at Felix’s accusation. Her right hand twitches minutely the moment he references the stupid little peashooter she's got tucked in a holster beneath her scrubs, almost as if she's resisting the urge to grab it. 

“Felix,” she warns, and for some reason the sound of that name on her tongue sends him reeling. He sees red. 

“Try it!” He snaps. “Just make sure you aim correctly! Wouldn't want you to miss my forehead and shoot one of my legs off! Oh, wait —”

“Felix!” 

“I don't have any!

“Felix! Shut up!” 

“Don't fucking call me that!” 

Instinctively, he lunges for her. She flinches backwards, but Felix is faster. His fingers catch her, outstretched and iron-wrought where they fist in the collar of her shirt. He drags her close, intent on — he's not sure, but giving her a black eye sounds pretty good right about now — but freezes at the feeling of cold metal pressed against his chin. 

Her stupid little gun, pressed intimately against his throat. 

F— let me go,” she says, the safety audibly clicking off. 

Felix desperately wants to challenge her, to tell her to pull the trigger. It's partly because he's genuinely curious if she even could, and partly because he's quickly becoming sick of all the turmoil roiling in his gut. Being six feet under doesn't sound so bad right about now — at least he'll have feet in some capacity. That, and he won't have the oncoming dread of life re-evaluation looming over him. 

But there's a small part of him that knows confidently that she would do it, and that same part clings to his remaining sense of self preservation like a vice. 

He's got unfinished business. He can't die at the hand of some nobody. 

Not yet, anyways. 

He releases her and she stumbles backwards, trying and failing to look composed as she straightens up and swipes a hand over the wrinkles that Felix’s grip left in her scrubs. She keeps her gun leveled on him; her hand is trembling, but her eyes hold no hesitation. Felix looks away in favor of staring at his own hands. 

Motionless. 

When she finally lifts her shirt and holsters her gun, the break in the stillness is a welcome reprieve. When she speaks, she sounds exhausted. 

“I want you to leave Chorus.”

Felix blinks. “What?”

“That's what I want,” she says, and when he looks up at her, she merely shrugs. “I want you to leave, and I want you to never come back.”

“That's not really what I meant by wanting something,” he says, watching her closely as she bends to pick up her clipboard from where it rests on the floor. He has a distant flash of her dropping it earlier in her haste to draw her gun. 

She dusts the surface of it off and tucks it beneath her arm. It settles over where the gun rests, almost as if she's still trying to hide it. As if she's ashamed. But when he meets her gaze, looking for truth, for answers behind her actions and her simple request, she simply shrugs again, resigned. 

“I want a lot of things that you can't give me. Never seeing you again is the next best thing.”

Felix has just about had enough of this place, so he's not about to argue. Leaving Chorus would be a breath of fucking fresh air; and if this lady will help him do it, he’s not about to complain.

“That's fair,” Felix shrugs. “I guess.”

The surprises follow one after another. 

Case in point: Felix gets a leg back. 

Felix supposes that he should be.... well, grateful doesn’t seem the right word, and he definitely doesn’t feel anything even remotely in the same realm as gratitude, but... something along those lines. He actually feels a bit vindicated when he wakes up with a limb reattached, wrapped up in gauze like the world’s sickest present. And then angry, because what the actual fuck. 

Dr. Philips explains, in that too-cool voice of hers, that he’s a subject for this test as well — whether he can survive a replantation of a long-removed limb. They had to take it off, she assures him, or he would have bled out. There’s no reason to be so angry — they fixed it, and he can have it back, and he’s not rejecting yet, so what’s the fuss?

Felix throws his pillow at her and tells her, in layman’s terms, to get out before he snaps her neck. 

Later, lying in bed, he reflects on the carefully stated yet, and is filled with dread by the prospect that he knows more about limb replantation than his doctors, because a replanted limb shouldn’t reject, not like a transplanted one, unless it’s dead and simply refuses to reconnect, in which case Felix has been attached to a dead limb and is in danger of sepsis, and Christ Felix needs to get out of his hospital bed before he loses his goddamn mind.

Whatever, he eventually decides, fuming into a pudding cup and staring morosely at the wall; at least if he dies he’ll die with a leg. 

He does ask if the other will follow in a similar manner. He gets bad news, of course. The other leg, a nurse explains as she draws several small vials of blood from the crook of his arm, was totally mangled; practically inseparable from the plates of his armor. Very gory, she assures him, when Felix asks if his pulverized leg at least looked cool. Very abstract. 

Very poetic, Felix thinks. He finds that he respects her artistic sensibilities. 

He begrudgingly does not slam the nurse’s head into the nearby nightstand when she blows a vein in his inner elbow and adds yet another bruise to the menagerie already clustered up his arm. 

 

The nurses take off his bandages a week later. His old — new? Christ, whatever — leg looks freakish. Pale and mangled, the puckered scars that rise from where they repaired his ruptured, well, everything, make the limb uneven and achy. It hurts, way more than the opposing stump does; but it’s his, goddamn it. He grew it and he’ll keep it for as long as he can. 

They rebandage it, and at least he doesn’t have to look at it anymore. 

The other leg — it’s a stump, who the hell is he kidding — looks like someone slapped some rusty plate metal on it and called it a day. It’s uneven and freakish. It kinda matches the other leg, Felix guesses, and the thought makes him laugh for the first time in a long while, because at least this way his legs can be freakish together. 

Which brings him to surprise number two. 

“Right,” Philips says, standing a safe distance back from Felix’s bed with an armed guard at her side; a precaution she’s taken ever since Felix decided that he was getting sick of being used as a science project. She has that stupid clipboard, and she’s crinkling the corner of a page between her thumb and forefinger. She actually seems nervous, almost a little bit guilty. It's a good look on her. 

“Well,” she says, “unfortunately we don't have any prosthetic professionals on staff, but we've got a doctor with professional experience in nerve hookups and artificial joints—”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Felix says, bewildered. “You’re kidding. You’re gonna make me hobble out of here on crutches? Seriously?”

“And that doctor is the one,” she snaps, glaring at Felix as if daring him to interrupt again. She points her clipboard at him as if she could shoot him with it. “Who installed the joint on your leg. Pro bono, you selfish bastard.”

The armored prick standing behind her coughs into his fist, obviously smothering a laugh.

“Whatever.” Felix deadpans. “Do you have a leg for me, or what?”

He waves a hand, allowing it to complete the thought for him. He pointedly does not mention the fact that the metal part of his leg looks like it was reconstructed by a toddler. Professional experience his bedridden ass. 

“Yes,” Philips says through clenched teeth, tucking her clipboard under her arm. “We have a leg for you,” 

“Cool,” Felix says. “Am I getting some more weird alien tech? I honestly wouldn’t mind that. Like, fuck cryo, but, you know. I’ve got low standards. I’d bet money that it’s shitty, though. Like some leg you pulled off a corpse; that seems more within your budget.”

Philips sneers. 

“Reduce, reuse, recycle,” she says, and the man standing beside her holds up the shittiest, most rusty, most blood-stained metal leg that Felix has ever seen. 

“God, I hate you,” Felix mutters. 

 

His new leg fucking sucks. 

Relearning to walk, Felix decides, unsteady on his feet as he grips the bars beside his hips, also fucking sucks. 

He’s alone in the rehab center, which seems pretty unprofessional, but, hey, it’s not like he could run out of there anyways. Besides, the peace and quiet is nice. Felix thinks he’d lose it if some nurse was cooing encouragements at him as he shuffled gracelessly across the floor. 

The whole situation is infuriating. His new leg is shaky and messily resized; it clunks with every step and still has spots of grime between the seams of the outer playing. It’s an effort to lift it, and an effort to put it down again. His other leg also hurts like a son of a bitch, alternating between totally numb and full of pins and needles. 

So, in essence, Felix is really starting to think that he’s truly and totally fucked. 

Later, when he falls and can’t get back up again, fingernails gouging at the linoleum as he stares at the ceiling and sees not sterile white, but a jungle temple stretching tall above him, the idea is pretty much solidified. He thinks he’s having a heart attack, can practically feel the warm sensation of blood as it slowly leaks from his chest. He’s dying. He can’t feel his fingers. 

Later, when a nurse returns to find him wheezing and hoarse, and when more help arrives to peel Felix off of the floor and stick another needle into his arm, he feels like he’s died and then been dragged out of hell by his goddamn throat. 

Later, buzzed and exhausted, he hacks his file with his holo pad and finds an unfamiliar record of sedation treatments. 

And that is when Felix learns what diagnosis code F40.0 means. 

It’s a long process, but Felix learns to walk again. The moment he’s able to cross the halls without wheezing or crumbling to his knees, his flesh leg finally reattached enough to feel more than pain and patchy numbness, Phillips begins prepping him for discharge. She doesn’t want him there any longer than necessary, and Felix doesn’t want to be there any longer than necessary. 

For once, they agree on something. It’s almost nice. 

“You and me, babe,” Felix says one evening as she lists off the equipment that has been squared away for his planetary departure. All second-hand, of course; nothing that will be missed, and nothing that has any real value. “We’ve got a connection. I feel it in my bones.”

Phillips sneers at him like he’s something that’s crawled in from the sewers. In all fairness, Felix can’t remember the last time he took a shower. 

“That’s the blood thinner,” she says, and returns to her list.  

“It’s the benzos,” she says another time, when Felix prods her with more barbed retorts disguised as flirting. Always so matter of fact, her sharp eyes quick to examine the exhausted, worn-thin slump of Felix in his shitty hospital bed before marking something down on her clipboard. “Did you have another panic attack today?”

She cuts to the heart of his posturing with an accuracy that both bothers the absolute shit out of him and fills him with the most confusing sort of nostalgia. It pisses him off and makes his chest ache. Felix finds he wants to bite her in the least sexiest way possible. 

As it is, she’s his sole ticket off of Chorus, so he figures he has to play nice until then. 

The ship that Phillips’ little team procures is insultingly bad, and what’s sad is that no one seems to realize just how shit it is. The Chorus mechanic that leads them into the hospital hanger gestures to it with an almost proud sort of flourish. Even Philips seems impressed. 

It looks like an unholy amalgamation of scrap metal and pipe dreams. It looks like someone took a pelican, smashed it into pieces, and then threw the pieces away and tried to recreate the carnage with dumpster scraps. To call it ‘ugly’ would be a kindness. Screw burning up in orbit: Felix doesn’t know how the damn thing will get off of the ground without imploding. 

But he’s being — well, he’s not being nice, per say, but he’s trying to not complain too terribly much about the whole thing. He still wouldn’t put it past Philips to whip out a pistol and put a bullet in his brain if he becomes too much trouble. 

So, instead of telling the mechanic that the ship looks like hot rusty garbage, he bites his tongue and chokes out an insincere, “It’s..... it’s a ship. Cool.”

The mechanic actually looks pleased at that, which probably isn’t a good sign, but whatever. Everyone on Chorus is a hack, apparently. Felix is really starting to get used to it. 

Two days before his scheduled discharge, Felix gets a visitor. 

It’s late as hell when it happens, and Felix’s eyes are burning in the dim light of his room. He’s eating a pudding cup, scouting out points on a low poly galactic map as he tries to remember the locations of his safe houses, when, without preamble, the door to his room slips open. 

“It’s me,” the familiar voice of Dr. Philips says before Felix can move to throw something at his unexpected intruder. He does jostle his pudding cup though, and the spoon drops from his hand and smears chocolate-tasting goo all over his sheets.

“Fuck,” Felix mutters, snatching up the plastic utensil before it can do any more damage. The glare he levels Philips with feels sharp enough to peel paint. “What?

Philips moves about the room, saying nothing and looking as if she’s trying to find some reason to be there.  Felix rolls his eyes, glancing pointedly at the analog clock that sits on his shitty excuse of a nightstand. 

“It’s 3 AM,” he complains, tossing the (mostly empty, anyways) pudding cup onto the floor. “Why —“

“You know there’s maps saved to your HUD,” Philips says, glancing at the map projected from the pad sitting in his lap. Felix defensively powers down the screen; the faux galaxy blinks off. 

“Maybe I like to test my memory every once in a while,” he says. “Make sure your shitty hospital didn’t give me brain damage.”

“Or you forgot,” Philips corrects, walking over to stand at his bedside. Felix wants to smack her with the pad, but the thing is so damn old that he’s pretty sure it’ll shatter upon impact. And he needs it. For maps. 

Felix rubs his forehead with the back of his wrist. 

“It’s 3 AM,” Felix says. “Can’t this wait until tomorrow?”

“No,” Philips says, deadpan. No room for arguments. Felix is too tired to try and argue anyways; besides, the sooner Philips talks, the sooner she leaves him the hell alone. 

“Whatever.” Felix shrugs. “What do you want?”

“I want —“ she inhales sharply. Felix waits, but instead of finishing her statement she turns away. Like that, Felix can see how tightly her hands are clenched behind her back; white knuckled against the soft wool of her sweater. She goes a long time without saying anything. The longer she stands there, the more Felix just wants her to hurry up so he can get back to his maps. 

“You want...” Felix prompts. “What? To get me more pudding?”

“I want you to kill someone,” she says. 

Philips turns, and her face is unusually pale, bathed electric in the dancing blue lights of Felix’s monitors. Felix leans back against his pillows and wonders briefly if he heard her correctly, or if the whole thing is some weird fever dream. 

“You want me,” he echoes, “Am I hearing you right? You want me to —“

“Kill someone,” she finishes. Her hands drop to her sides, fists still tightly clenched. “For me.”

Felix stares at her. Philips stares back. For a long moment, neither moves. 

And then Felix slumps back into his pillows, hand thrown up to cover his eyes as he sinks against the mattress and exhales. 

“I knew it,” he mutters. 

He’s not sure how he feels, but it’s almost cathartic, how much he means it. Something tight in his chest loosens at her admission; it’s a fantastic feeling, the simple pleasure of breathing easy. The world feels like it’s been righted, clicked back into place where it had once been misaligned and grinding. Beautifully predictable. 

Philips does not seem to feel similarly. 

“Excuse me?” Philips snaps, face twisted in anger. Felix ignores her, shaking his head in mocking disbelief. 

“I knew you had an ultimatum,” he tsks, scolding. He opens his eyes and parts the fingers draping his face just enough to see her scowling through them. “‘All I want is for you to get off planet’ my ass. You’re a backstabbing bastard just like the rest of us.”

Philips flushes angrily and crosses her arms. Felix smiles to see it. He feels good. 

“Will you do it or not?” She demands, voice low. Mindful of the hour. Felix suddenly finds he could not give a damn. What a stupid question. 

“Yeah, I’ll do it,” he says. “I don’t give a shit.”

Felix flips over his pad and powers it back on, clicking away the map when it loads and replacing it with a simple note program. “Who’s the lucky victim?”

Philips shushes him, hands uncrossing to wave nervously at him. Felix rolls his eyes. He’s too tired for tone control; if she wanted mindful she should have cornered him before midnight. 

“God, don’t — don’t say it like that,” Philips says. 

“Seriously?” Felix rolls his eyes again. He’s starting to wonder what’s going to give him a headache first: Philips, the eye rolling, or sleep exhaustion. He’s banking on a yummy cocktail of all three. 

“O-kay...” he drawls, drumming his fingertips on the screen. “Who’s the lucky target?”

“One of the hospital patrons,” Philips says and pulls the pad from his hands. A few moments later, it thunks back into his lap, knocking painfully against his knees. The unsmiling face of a balding man stares back at him, grim and pasty. His frown is severe, and his suit looks expensive. Felix is almost disappointed. 

Old, rich, boring. 

“Heathcliff P. Mountbatten ,” Felix reads, and grimaces. “Yeesh. You said patron? What are his crimes? Other than having such a shitty name. Too rich and too ugly?”

“He believes strongly in the UNSC, and he’s not happy about Chorus’s decision to remain independent. Based on a few intercepted messages and a lot of painstakingly substantiated rumors, I have strong reason to believe he’s planning a coup of our fledgling government. One that could potentially stir up another war. Obviously, I can’t let that happen,” She finishes with gusto, looking determined and grim. As if Felix would care. 

Well, he kind of cares. Not for the reasons she wants him to, though. 

Felix grimaces. “I don’t like political entanglements. Too messy.”

“I don’t care,” Philips says, taking on that cold, no-nonsense voice that Felix so loves to hear. “Will you do it or not?”

“Do I have a choice?” 

“Do you want me to turn you over to the authorities?” 

“Chorus authorities,” Felix huffs. “I think that’s an oxymoron.”

“I could kill you,” she offers. “It would be a waste of time and resources, but I could do it. Save the universe a lot of trouble.”

“So I’m just supposed to be your lackey now, huh? Your secret ace in the hole, huh?” Felix says. “Throw me at a target and hope I hit every ring. Checkmate for Chrous’ own little Earl of Burma.”

“I just need you to kill him,” she scoffs. “No need to be so melodramatic.” 

If Felix were to write up a list of words that should be burned at the stake, melodramatic would probably be one of them. Serendipity would probably be on there as well, for no particular reason other than it sucks. Phlegm. Wellness. Condolences. Monster. 

Felix has never done a job like this alone before. 

“Political assassinations are never simple,” Felix grumbles, but he knows that he’s gonna have to give in. The fact that he can’t shoot his way out of situations anymore is really starting to eek at him. “They have baggage. It’ll probably get traced back to you.” 

“I thought you said you were good at your job?” It’s mocking, but the fact that there’s an undercurrent of genuine curiosity almost makes Felix feel bad for her. She has no idea, he thinks. No goddamn idea. 

Felix grimaces. “I’m good at killing people. Political espionage is... apparently not my strong suit.”

You talk too much, a voice in his head says, deep and low with quiet fury. Don’t you ever shut up?

“I talk too much,” Felix echoes.

“Then just keep your mouth shut,” Philips says. 

Easy enough. 

He’s allowed to shower before he leaves. 

It’s like shedding a second skin. He turns the water as hot as it can get, gets dizzy and falls over twice, spends twenty minutes detangling his hair and twenty more scrubbing every crevice of his body, loses hot water about fifteen minutes in, and it’s still the best thing that’s happened to him in months. His leg is slowly starting to look less purple and mangled and more like a leg, and he’s getting used to the other one. Little by little, he’s coming back together. Standing beneath the water, enjoying the simple experience of something pleasant on his skin — it’s like a release of something he’s been carrying for a long time. 

But when he sees himself in the mirror afterwards, the glass clear and hauntingly real, he thinks maybe he should step back into the shower and never get out again. 

Felix isn’t vain — well, maybe he is vain, but it’s not as if looking good doesn’t serve a purpose. Looking nice makes everything so much easier, and Felix always knew when he looked fucking nice — maybe a little thin, a little sharp, but good all the same. The kind of thin and sharp that could be dangerous in all the best ways. 

Now he looks just looks emaciated, skinny and almost feral. His hair is long and limp, dulled and streaked with gray. Yellow and red bruises ring his eyes like he hasn’t slept in months, his skin blotted and purple. His freckles are almost totally gone. And he’s got a scar that he’s never seen before, one that starts at the right side of his forehead and ends just before his jaw; a deep, angry line that bisects his face into two uneven, severe halves. He presses his fingertips to it and it stings with a weird sort of numbness. The scarred skin is inflamed, not yet paled with age.

Scars are sexy, he thinks, but. 

He doesn’t even remember how he got it. 

He doesn’t smash the mirror, but it’s a close call. He keeps the lights off the next time he needs to use the bathroom. 

Felix leaves the hospital in the dead of night, still a bit shaky on his patchwork legs and struggling with a ship that, for some impossibly stupid reason, had an exorbitant amount of pedals. He sails out of the hospital’s hanger and vows to never fucking return. 

The next day, he stands on the top floor of a newly erected building, a penthouse view with a wall of windows facing east. The cameras had been stupid easy to take out, and then it’d been a quick ride to the top floor; the elevator is gilded chrome and so fast that it made Felix’s stomach swoop. 

Blood paints the crystal windows, mixing quite nicely with the dying sunset. The late chairman Mountbatten lies still, silhouetted against the view; eyes blown open, blood dripping neatly down his forehead. Twin suns sink below the Chorisian horizon. 

And Felix should never work alone, because he gets so damn curious. And he should have hightailed it the hell out of there the second the job was done, but instead he’s standing between a corpse and a mahogany desk, bumping an open cabinet with his rusty knee, cradling a file in his hands like it’s a baby, or a block of solid gold. The outside reads CLASSIFIED; the inside is personal. 

Photos. Notes. Hypotheses. Warnings. A collection of facts, some true and some laughably false. Two separate, unsuccessful manhunts and one recovered orange and black chest plate, pulled from the Juvo Tributary

MISSING, the file reads. PRESUMED DEAD, it also reads. 

Felix doesn’t take it with him. He can’t. It would be too obvious. There’s too much information from several long, wasted years; the file’s too thick to be some personal project. He can’t take it. 

But he gives Mountbatten an extra hole in his head for the trouble, and he steals his overfull keyring. 

Within the hour, in a shining personal vessel that has leg room for days and an engine that fucking purrs, Felix breaks through orbit and leaves Chrous in the goddamn dust.