1: Trial and Error
A young boy sat on a large, luxurious chair. It was made of exquisite leather that failed to provide him any comfort, angled to provide a relaxing pose that likewise faltered to ease him. Indeed no aspect of the chair or the room gave him any respite from the ache.
“You can beat this, I know you can.”
“I'm trying to...Mom...”
“Breathe.” The quiet, calming voice of his mom spoke in front of him, only barely alleviating his pain. That ache, the terrible burning, throbbing ache. It coursed through him, a burning pulse that singed his nerves. From the back of his head down to the tips of his fingers and toes, flooding to every inch of his body. Each pulse was worse than the last, growing mercilessly. The pain of it was taking a visible strain on him. His forehead was coated in sweat from his efforts. His eyes were clenched shut, his feet shifted against the chair legs, and his hands clenched on the chairs arms, creaking the leather under his white-knuckled grip.
“Focus on my voice. Breathe dear.” Again she spoke, and her voice reached his ears, washing through him. Calm, cool, and soothing. But the ache remained strong in his head, and his body remained tense. His hands risked tearing through the leather, fueled by both terror and anger he felt toward his condition. The unbridled pain, the mornings where he'd wake up screaming to the sensation of cold, jagged blades rammed into his eye sockets.He still had the scars. Those terrible wounds that stretched the length of his arm down to his hands.
His older sister once said that he'd probably carry the marks for the rest of his life, as a reminder from God of his foolishness. Their mother had swiftly responded with a fierce and icy tone, silencing all those who would dare deride Axel’s future with her voice, and a gaze that could paralyze Grimm of countless number.
But now, she spoke with words to soothe the nerves and focus the mind of her son. The passion in her tone, the gentle grip of her hands resting on his own. Her entire being was focused on aiding her son to resist and overcome his pain.
He tried to regain focus, to push aside the pain and move past his accident. He tried and so many times before he had failed, scrunching into the fetal position while he cried uncontrollably, his cybernetic eyes failing to produce any tears. His entire being ached in pain even with his mother coaching him to calm his senses. So many days spent with these exercises in preparation for when the pain hit, so many attempts to reach a zen-like state above pain.
“I'm trying mom.. But...Everything's burning. It feels like it could burst any second!”
“I know sweetie. I know how this feels...” she whispered.
Another pulse crackled in him. The pain began within his eye-sockets, piercing him with the sensation of thousands of thorns embedded in his flesh. Within an instant it shot through what remained of his optic nerves, traveling to his brain, where it sparked and electrified through his body as one paralyzing shock that made him jerk out of his chair from the sudden agony. He stifled a pained howl, biting on his lip to keep from screaming his lungs out.
“It's okay to scream.” His mother whispered in his ear. He sniffled as tears poured from his eyes, and his arms wrapped around her and holding her as if it life depended on it. But unlike when this ordeal began, it wasn't his life on the line, but his sanity. He knew it, and his mother damn well knew what this could bring him. A shiver passed through her spine as she rubbed her sons deep blue hair.
“It's okay to scream Axel. It's okay..”
Day 1089: Its been almost three years.
Nearly three years that Axel has spent with the pain from his augments. Despite Katherine’s best efforts, the meditation sessions have yet to prove fruitful. Today they spent exactly three hours, twenty-seven minutes and fifty-four seconds in his room. This attempt ended no different to the others. This method has worked only two times in the past, results have produced minimal useful data.
Scans of his eye implants have yet to produce any useful data, or comprehensible data for that matter. Medication has yet to have any effects, even when Katherine allows it. Drugs would only disrupt their meditation. I can’t disagree with her assessment, as much as I wish she was...Incorrect. No amount of morphine, could possibly counteract the symptoms. Migraines, inflammatory pain in the eye sockets and frontal lobe. My brother expected some initial soreness as the body integrated the implants, but none of my staff anticipated this. While Axel’s body has fully accepted the eyes (Katherine attributes this to the Damon Healing Factor) thus preventing scar tissue, there is some chemical imbalance affecting the circuitry. Hormonal possibly.
Personal Note: I can’t stand seeing my son in such pain. This whole ordeal...I’m beginning to think that maybe I should have never
“Interesting writing there Alex.”
Alexander jumped out of his seat when he heard Katherine suddenly speak in his ear. With his typical grace and finesse, the prodigy of humanity tripped on his chair’s wheels to slam his face onto his desk with a painfully audible slam. His journal was knocked to the side and closed.
“Honey, I know you love hide and seek,” Alexander lifted his face from the desk, sporting a red blotch on his forehead. “But we’re both way past our school days. I’m running a corporation now, and you’re the legendary “Grimm Reaper,” so please try to show some maturity okay?” Alexander dusted his labcoat while he steadied himself, looking back at Katherine with a frown. He crossed his arms as a show of his maturity, a courageous gesture that utterly failed in the force of Katherine’s own amused eyes.
“What?” Alexander questioned, to which Katherine could only smile as she let out her signature giggle.
“You’re just as geekishly adorable as the day I met you.”
Alex groaned as he rested his forehead in his palm, running it down his face as the day’s challenges refused to lift themselves from his shoulders. He could feel the weariness and exhaustion like it was in his skin, weighing down on him. Katherine herself could see the bags under his eyes, the frazzled hair, and his horrendous posture that he normally maintained with the utmost diligence. The sight of him like this made her good mood sink. The presence of his journal on the table only more so.
“Honey…” Katherine strolled to lean against the desk, gingerly picking up the journal. Alexander remained in his slouched position next to her, not even bothering to hide information. Whatever Katherine wanted to know, she could always find out. Her hands flicked through dozens of pages as her eyes scanned, her incredible brain capacity processing pages upon pages in seconds.
“I thought you stopped writing these after the first year.”
“Well, you know me. Always taking notes.” For once he took no pride in fastidiousness.
“...Always a good thing to do.” Katherine responded with neutral tone. Upon reaching the last page, the last little spark of optimism she had been cultivating since her session with Axel began to flicker, to lose its light. The words in front of her showed that like her, Alexander was succumbing to doubt.
“It's not your fault, you know.”
“I know Kath.”
“The damage was too severe for any healer to fix, cybernetics were our only option.”
“I know that.” Alexander rose from his spot on the desk, running his fingers through his greasy hair as he strolled toward his chair.
“I remember every detail Kath. The rust shavings and bacteria would’ve resulted in severe necrosis that could have spread to his brain tissue. Statistically there was an eighty-five point nine percent chance he would’ve lost more than his eyes if we hadn’t operated as quickly as we did. Without the augments the chances of his survival were less than fifteen percent, twenty-five if his body rejected them.”
“Damon blood is quite resilient.” Katherine added. Though she noticed her words fell on deaf ears, for Alexander continued pacing.
“But then again if we had acted fast enough and removed the damaged tissue, perhaps called up Glynda to operate herself then Axel could’ve regained his sight in a year or two. Statistically he could have even...Even…” Alex’s pace slowed to a halt when noticed the eyes of his wife looking at him. She sat on his desk like a perched cat, leaning on her side with the same seriousness she usually afforded her daily affairs, practically nonexistent. But her eyes betrayed her body language.
In those gray pools that were the windows to her soul, he saw everything in his wife, every opinion and emotion. Wisdom and innocence. Pride and humbleness. Courage and self-doubt. All that made Katherine Krieger.
He saw the eyes of a mother, one willing to rip armies of Grimm with her bare hands, or take on an entire kingdom if it meant her child was in danger. That quietly reserved wrath only meant for her enemies, the side she had kept hidden since she left her clan. But most of all, these orbs before him were eyes bearing the greatest love for her children.
Love she had shown to them every day since they were born, and heaped onto Axel whenever he woke up in the night screaming, comforting him. Love that had driven her to keep trying to impart her clan’s technique onto her son, despite the odds it may never succeed. But Hunters, the truly skilled ones, never did listen to the oods. She didn’t care about the numbers, she would keep trying if it meant it could help her son.
And here he was, rambling to himself about statistical evidence.
“Sorry Kath,” he mumbled in shame. “I went nuts on numbers again.”
“Like you always do.” She added, without a hint of malice in her tone. Alex closed his eyes as he slumped back into his chair, resting his head on the leather that utterly failed to provide any real comfort, resting for a minute to calm his mind while Katherine sat, patiently.
“I know what you’re going to say.” He spoke, earning a raised eyebrow from Katherine.
“I shouldn’t blame myself for deciding to go with the operation. That I can’t be ashamed for choosing to do what any parent would do, trying to save their child. Am I doing alright so far?”
Katherine gave a slow nod, signalling him to continue.
“None of my team or even me could’ve expected such a...Potent stimulation in his optic nerves. The pain he’s feeling isn’t my fault. But Kath...I just, I-”
“You still feel guilty.” she concluded for him, and he nodded in response.
“Our son is in pain, and for once there’s nothing I can do about it.” He grumbled. “Whenever Katja would bruise her knee or Anton cut himself on his ax I could swoop in like a goofy guardian angel, patch them up and get them laughing within an hour. I can always, always fix things. Give me a broken washing machine, I could make it fly and shoot explosive scattershot rounds.” Katherine sighed, remembering his experiments with weaponized household appliances.
“If a person is suffering from a disease I can create a machine to reverse it, even if its cancer. Heck I can patch up a broken spine in five minutes if I have to.” Alex thumped his head against the chair as he spoke. “But. I can’t. Do. A damn. Thing.”
For a minute there was nothing but silence between them. He sat in his chair and wallowed in his abject failure. Katherine however, looked on at her husband, and a frown appeared on her lips.
“Alex. Do you know how I feel?” she questioned. Alex looked up at her with a glint in his eyes that invited her to continue.
They always knew when the other needed to speak their mind. If one of them was worried or angry, they owed it to each other to state their feelings; it was one of the pillars of their relationship, even their time as team KAMO in Beacon Academy. One had spoken, now it was the other’s turn. Alex had let out his frustrations, now Katherine needed to state her own.
“No offense dear, but you aren’t the only one tearing their hair out. I’ve sat with Axel every time he’s had an episode. Whenever he’s feeling even the tiniest amount of discomfort, I rush to him thinking that this time would be the one he couldn’t take it anymore. That it would be the last night he could bear waking up screaming his throat hoarse, or not wanting to crawl out of bed, to shut out the world.” Katherine’s hand clenched the side of Alex’s desk, gripping it with white on her knuckles.
“I’ve heard the screaming...The crying..” Katherine’s eyes watered. “I’ve heard him begging me to make it stop, to make his pain go away. Her grip tightened on the desk, and Alex heard the fine oak wood start to crack. “I can always destroy an enemy Alex. I could take an army, in fact I have. Several times.” Katherine chuckled bitterly. “Whenever I see I problem I do anything I can to fix or annihilate it.”
“It’s why we’re such a good team Kath.” Alex added with a smile.
“Yeah,” Katherine chuckled, but it swiftly faded as she wiped her eyes with her free hand.
“But this is an opponent I can’t face. I fight it.” Her other hand crunched straight through the desk as she looked at Alexander like a bear afraid for its cubs, unable to save them.
“I can’t do anything against this enemy.” She slumped. “We can’t...”
“You’re right. Maybe we can’t...” Alex spoke. Katherine gaze jumped up to affix to his.
“What are you saying? That we just let him keep suffering like this?” she snarled, but Alex rose from his chair with surprising speed and strength. With quick, brisk strides he walked up to Katherine, unafraid of the woman who could smash mountains with a pinky, and looked deep into her eyes.
“You know me Kath.” he whispered. “You know me better than to let a child endure pain like this.” His hands gently wrapped around her own, squeezing them. “We should not, we cannot stop trying to help Axel no matter what we feel. I won’t, and I know all too well that my wife the ‘Grimm Reaper’ will never back down until she finishes the mission.”
“We can’t fix this problem. There’s no magic spell or technology to solve it.” Alex said.
“So what can we do? If we can’t solve this, who’s going to help?”
“Axel is.” Katherine suddenly saw a smile forming on her husband’s lips.
“That little guy has more courage and nobility in his thumb than most men have in their entire body. He’s been climbing around the mansion since he was...Eight I think?”
“Four, since he was four.” Katherine corrected with another smirk on her lips. “He climbed to the top of those towering bookshelves in the library and shouted ‘I’m the book king’ and wouldn’t come down cause he was having too much fun up there.”
“More than that Kath.” Alexander’s tone turned serious while he tightened his grip on her hands, an effort she wouldn’t notice even if he clenched with all his might given her strength. But was she did notice was the glint in his eyes that spoke of immense pride in their child. “When a little black cat faunus girl risked falling to her death, our son jumped to save her knowing full well what would happen if he acted. So many others today would have denied involvement, to ignored the death of yet another faunus. But not our kid. He leaped to save her. Not once have I heard him regret that choice. Not in all my talks with him or the other kids have I heard him say ‘I wish that girl was gone’ or ‘I should never have helped her’ Have you?”
Katherine sniffed as she looked back at her husband. Her head tilted, her mind recalling every one of her sessions with Axel down to the most minute detail. Every day he spent undergoing meditation passed through her brain in an instant. When she looked up at Alex, it was not with a frown, but a sad if proud smile.
“Not once.” she said. “He doesn’t regret it at all.” Katherine raised an eyebrow. “So what are you getting at Alex? His emotions won’t stop his episodes.”
“I mean....It might.” he countered with a chuckle. “I only have a hypothesis on this, but I think there’s a chemical imbalance in his brain caused by the accident. Either his Damon blood activated before it was ever supposed to, thus causing an erratic spasm of some power or energy frequency that the eye implants cannot account for. Of course there’s so much of your clan’s power I don’t understand. For all I know it could be an upset in his cortisol levels or his adrenal glands are causing some kind of involuntary spike of-”
“You did it again.”
“Oh. Woops.” Alexander could only faintly smile, gently pulling Katherine up from the desk and into his open arms. Despite her initial surprise at him, the embrace was a very welcome gesture. She quickly settled into his arms, wrapping her own around her gadget genius. The settled in each other’s presence. Katherine could feel and hear her husbands heart. A constant beat. Something she could always depend on.
Strange, his heart rate was elevated...
“I miss having these hug sessions Kath.”
“Me too…” she responded.
“When do you think we’ll get back to our...Normal routine?”
Ahh, so that was it.
Katherine couldn’t help but laugh at her husbands eternal appreciation for their long nights - and days - spent together. It was a quiet laugh, more of suppressed chuckle actually. Music to Alexander ears, and the music only grew when she whispered in his ears.
“I’ve been wanting to have a private session of our own this whole week Alex.” The notes and melodies of her voice rung in Alexander’s ears. But the song fell flat when Katherine’s mouth opened wide, letting out a long and thunderous yawn. She slumped into her husband’s arms. Alex could make out a cat-like grin as she leaned on him, too tired for anything strenuous. “But I think we’ll just have to wait till later. Maybe when I’ve got more energy. Sorry.”
“Don’t sweat it dear.” Alex released her from their embrace, pulling gently for her to follow out of his stuffy office to their bedroom. “Coffee’s the only thing keeping me up this late.” The two meandered out of the office, With a quiet yawn, Alex closed the door behind him lazily while Katherine leaned against the railing.
Her eyes looked out on the main hall of their house, glazing over the podiums of her husbands inventions decorating the main hall. She passed over the furniture and paintings, the old playset for Nadja sitting in the corner. Memories and fragments of the past. Shards of a happier time she sorely missed.
When she would return from her missions to the voices of four fun-sized humans, her fun-sized humans shouting and screaming in joy for her return. The twins would always be just behind Axel and Nadja. Those two kids had the fastest legs, practically tripping over themselves to get to her and leap into her arms, asking so many questions. How many Grimm had she defeated? What kingdom did she visit? Did she had any presents for them? Would she want to see Axel climb the bookcases, or Nadja’s new drawings? Could she read them a bedtime story?
Her gaze drifted up in the direction of her kids bedrooms across the mansion. Even on this side she could hear and smell everything going on in that room. At this late hour, there was only the breathing. The steady inhale and exhale of children fast asleep, dreaming of god knows what. Adventures on the high sea, or fighting against the Grimm in protection of their friends and family perhaps. When they were younger, she was sure their dreams were nothing but joyous explorations into the possibilities laid out before them, the wonder of seeing the world one day as she had.
Now there was one who dreamed nothing of that. Her son, so curious and adventurous, now had dreams of pain. Of loss. Of an uncertain future. The idea that he may never have the chance to explore as she did.
“How long is this going to take Alex?” Her husband leaned up against her.
“I don’t know Kath.” The two rose, beginning their stroll to the bedroom.
“We’ll keep trying though.” she spoke matter-of-factly, earning a chuckle.
“No question...Do you think Axel will?”
“He’s our son. I have to believe that no matter what happens, he’ll keep fighting.”