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Stitching and Rewiring

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King couldn't tell where he was going, except that he couldn't stand to be around people.

The base and Lee Industries were out of question. He sped out of the city, leaving its lights behind, and found himself on the road to Lee's mansion. At the back entrance of the park he got off his bike and headed inside with no particular destination in mind.

Unlike the previous time, there were campers in the area, and he shuffled into the trees to avoid the tents he encountered, directing the light of his torch downwards so that it wouldn't give away his presence.

He didn't have any particular purpose, but his feet led him to the same spot they did the last time, except instead of the sunset there was a vast ocean of stars above him. They shone so much brighter here, not dimmed by the smoke or the street lights.

At a different time he would have been awed, but the sight brought him no comfort now.

He was tainted. He had been used, made to do things that made bile rise to his throat, things that he'd never be able to take back or undo. It had been his hands that did it. He remembered what it felt like, to feel his hands doing these things while his eyes watched, unable to turn away.

He remembered ramming against nothing, not even having enough control to blink when he felt like it. First replacing items, then messing with the engines, then with the fire sprinklers. Knocking on Shark's door on the beach in the middle of nowhere, where no one would see him or be able to interfere. Desperately trying to regain control as Shark opened it, looking up at him in a relaxed manner, then turning his back in a casual display of trust.

It was so odd to realize that apart from King himself, Shark had been the only one not to spy on the other members of the team. That in spite of everything that had been happening he had been the one to ultimately trust them where it mattered.

He hadn't expected the first blow. King's hand moved on its own, sending the surfer flying cleanly through the wooden wall. Even as King walked to Shark struggling to his knees and looking up at his approaching figure, the expression on his face was more confusion than apprehension.

"Dude… I don't get it… What are you?.."

Inwardly King was panicking and yelling at him to get up and run right the devil right now, but his heartbeat was as calm as ever as his body moved on its own accord.

A sharp kick to the ribs sent Shark onto his back, struggling for breath. There was something else in his eyes as he looked at King now, a hint of betrayal with a mixture of fear. He tried to roll over on his side, tried to say something, but with the wind knocked out of him only managed a choked cough.

King's hands arranged themselves into a specific hold. He recognized the move for what it was and inwardly screamed, moments before it was completed. Bones snapped under his fingers. The sound of pure agony that erupted from Shark's throat chilled him to his very core.

Inwardly he wanted to cry, to be sick, to beg for forgiveness, to say that he hadn't meant to, never meant to. Outwardly he watched Shark shaking and sobbing with pain, clutching at his deformed arm. Then his hands moved to his throat and squeezed.

Shark's eyes flew open, and for the first time King saw raw uncovered panic in them. His undamaged hand struggled to unclench King's fingers, his legs bucked, trying to throw off the weight, and his face began to take on an unhealthy purplish tint. Even as King's terror and revulsion reached their absolute peak, his hands still held on. Even as Shark's struggles grew from desperate to feeble to stilling entirely his hands still held on.

It may have been cowardly, but he couldn't face what his hands had done just yet. He couldn't face Shark or the team's accusing stares. How could they forgive him if he didn't know if he could ever look at himself without shame again?

If only he could come back in time and switch places with Shark, he'd do it in an instant.

He didn't know how long he sat there until soft footsteps announced another presence and Lioness quietly sat by his side, close enough for their shoulders to touch.

He didn't ask how she got here or how she found him. He hadn't disabled the homing equipment on his bike and it wasn't like she was unfamiliar with the place.

She didn't say anything, and he was grateful for it. Too fearful to ask the question, he closed himself away behind his ignorance, at least for a little while. They sat on the cliff in silence until the first light of the morning touched the sky. By King's estimation it was about 4 a.m.

"You know it wasn't your fault, right?" Lioness finally spoke.

"Doesn't change what I did."

"It wasn't you."

Anger washed over him. "Yeah? Must have been someone else who beat Sharkman to a bloody pulp then."

Her face softened. "He's alive, King. Still unconscious, but alive."

Some of the weight lifted from his chest, but almost immediately he realized there had to be a reason she waited this long to tell him. "It's bad, isn't it."

"It's too early to tell," Lioness responded a little too quickly. She then sighed and backtracked: "Well, the arm looks bad, but it's nothing surgery can't fix. And there's no internal bleeding."

"The ribs?"

"One broken, but I think Hawk did it when he had to…" Lioness's eyes widened as she hurriedly covered her mouth.

Something cracked inside him. He couldn't trust himself to speak.

"King… King, I'm sorry."

"He'll never talk to me again." Assuming that he made it. The realization was finally hitting him full-force.

"Shark doesn't hold grudges. Give him time…"

"YOU WEREN'T THERE!" The scream scared a small flock of birds out of the bush, echoing in sudden silence. Lioness was looking at him with open worry that bordered on desperation. King was breathing like he was in a middle of a major workout.

Then he saw something else in Lioness's expression. Maybe it just appeared, or maybe it was there to begin with. Or was he just imagining it? He could no longer tell.

He staggered away from the fear in her face even as she reached out for him.

"King, wait, please!"

He turned and ran, heedless of the destination. He didn't want to hurt her too, he couldn't…

He burst out of the bushes into the clearing when she jumped right in front of him, causing him to brake abruptly to avoid a collision. She looked up at him, and there was worry in her face, but also confidence in her posture, in the way her feet position kept her rooted to the ground. She wasn't about to run. She wasn't scared of him.

He exhaled, deflating, now somewhat embarrassed about his outburst, and suddenly realized how bone-tired he was.

"King, please, let's return to the base." It was as if Lioness read his thoughts. "I know you don't want to hear it right now, I know it feels like it never be alright. I know. I'm sorry. I can't imagine what that mind control did to you, what it felt like. But you can't carry on like that. You need to rest, to sleep... Even if it's just for one day… please…"

She was rambling, and it became clear that the night took its toll on her too. A little more and driving would become dangerous. In a different situation it would be more prudent to ask Axel to pick them up, but King doubted the man had had any sleep either.

The base wasn't where King wanted to go. He felt unworthy of it and of the memories that had been originated there, as if his very presence could corrupt them and by cutting himself away he could somehow keep them pure. Which wasn't strictly true, of course. The memories were going to follow King wherever he went, the base, the park, another city or another planet. They had already been corrupted.

His exhausted mind slowly processed the fact that Lioness had stopped talking and was now looking at him hopefully. Something that he absolutely couldn't do in this situation was to allow her to carry on like that, chasing after him on highways and in the woods. She had spent the entire night with him, losing her sleep, to give him comfort that he didn't deserve. If she wanted him to come to the base so that she could finally catch a break, it was the least he could do.

He sighed and nodded and found himself enfolded in a hug. Strangely, it left him hollow, as if all emotion had been squeezed out of him. He hugged back out of habit and found himself on a long stumbling track out of the woods in the gradually brightening twilight.