There’s a gun in his hand and regret in his eyes and everything but his heart is telling him to pull the trigger.
A hand gropes blindly, reaching out across the empty sheets, seeking someone warm. Alfred always sleeps curled up close, head resting more on Tommy’s pillow than his own, but the searching hand meets nothing but cold September air. Blearily, he cracks an eyelid open. The white orb revealed is far too pure and spherical to be anything found in nature, and it nearly glows in the dark for those few moments it’s there, until Tommy blinks and the pigment expands into place. Bright red dye fills in the socket, as always. Tommy’s eyes always need a few moments when he first wakes.
Alfred sits on the end of the bed, pulling on his shoes. He smiles over at Tommy, who’s pouting from his perch on the bed, and hurries to give him a quick kiss on the cheek.
“I’m right here, babe. I’ll be back in a few hours, okay? The lab called, said it was important and I had to get down there real quick.”
Tommy groans, pulling the sheets tighter around his head and cuddling into the pillow. “Wh’n’ll you b’back?” He mumbles, speech blurred by the bed he’s burrowing into. “S’ms like y’re alw’s leavin’ me.”
Alfred sighs, sitting on the edge of the mattress beside his boyfriend and threading a hand through Tommy’s hair. “I know, and I’m sorry, but it’s not my fault. We’ve been working on some really cool stuff at the lab recently-well, you should know, right?” Tommy just hides further under their comforter, and Alfred presses on. “Look, they might keep me for a few hours, they might keep me ‘till eight, I don’t know. I’ll try to be back as soon as I can, okay? Promise. Love you, Tommy.”
Tommy hesitates for a moment, then pulls his head out of the blankets to smile at the blond.
“Love you too, pork chop.”
Alfred feels alone.
“Wait, wait, I don’t understand- what are you saying? Tommy would never hurt anyone! He’s innocent, whatever you think is happening…you’ve got the wrong man!”
Alfred is alone, even as voices swirl around him, the stark faces and white lab coats they belong to all bleeding together in a thick, senseless void.
“I’m sorry, but Alfred, it’s killed some of our most prized scientists, some of your closest friends-”
“The project has hurt people, innocent people-”
“Alfred, I know it’s difficult, but AHI-02 is damaged. It-he, as you like to call it-has been infected. Are you going to put everyone in danger because you fell in love with something that was never supposed to exist- again? Don’t be unreasonable, Alfred-”
“It killed Natalia and Ludwig, some of our best techs. They should never have died, Alfred, or anyone else-”
“It might kill your brother-”
“It might kill you! Are you that far gone, that you would let that happen? Alfred, you’re better than this. Think, boy! Could you live with yourself if you didn’t go through with it?”
Their words surrounded him.
“I’m just so scared. I don’t want anyone to die but, I, I can’t live without you, I don’t know what I’m going to do after this…I know you’re blaming yourself and I can’t bear it. Please, don’t blame yourself-”
Protest wells in Alfred’s throat.
"I’m sure we can fix this! We’ve got the best team in the country- hell, in the world. Are we going to terminate our most successful project because of a damn virus?”
“It’s not a virus, Alfred, this is bigger than that-”
“It, he, whichever, he’s not the same. His personality chips are corrupted-”
“I don’t think we can fix AHI-02, some of these wires are completely decayed. It’s going to lose memory soon-”
“He won’t remember who you are, Alfred. The way this works…he’ll end up like Matt, Alfred, I’m so sorry-”
“You’ll be in danger. Soon he’ll see you as just another target, we can’t let that happen, Alfred. You understand, right?”
Protest, rolling like brambles from his tongue, catching at the back of his throat.
"I- He would never hurt me, he loves me, I know he does! I can’t do that to him, I can’t betray him like that!"
“It murdered innocent citizens, Alfred! Edelstein, Honda, even the little Kirkland boy. Zwingli and his younger sister, gone! The Vargas brothers are in comas! This is no time to be getting sentimental-”
“That’s enough, you’re scaring him, Alicia. Alfred…we’re just trying to help. We want everyone to be safe. Is that really so bad?”
“Alfred, who else is there to blame?”
"It’s not your fault! You had no idea what was going on, you’ve never hurt anyone on purpose, you don’t remember anything. It was me, all me. I built you. I created you, and now something’s wrong inside your head. I’m responsible, and I fucked up."
Alfred takes a deep breath.
"I never meant for it to end up this way, I swear. I tried, I did, the hardest I could but I couldn’t morally let another Matt happen when I can stop it-"
He pauses, letting out a stifled gasp.
The blur of white fades, replaced by the squeak of shoes on linoleum and muttered voices leading into the hallway.
Alfred’s world is closing in, reduced to his hummingbird heartbeat and the harsh edge of the laboratory counter he’s gripping, as memories flood his mind. The last time he faced a conversation like that, what happened afterwards-
“We know this is going to be hard to hear, Alfred, but we’ve got bad news about AHI-01.
We have to terminate the project.”
Alfred gasps, falls to his knees, and he’s suddenly aware of every inch of his clammy skin.
"It’s just- it’s a better alternative, right? Better…better than Matt, better than what he got-"
Here Alfred seems to break, face cracking, fingers appearing to melt into each other as they twist around the gun in an endlessly nervous cycle.
"All I ever wanted was to help."
The flashbacks solidify, and it’s as if Alfred was standing there in the rubble all over again.
A harsh, choked panting was ringing through the apartment, mixed with the gravelly sound of tears through a rough throat. Alfred stood shakily, unable to think straight with his head spinning so hard, headache pounding through his temples with every heartbeat.
The dust was beginning to settle, a shaking figure crouched a meter or so from Alfred quickly becoming visible, along with the rest of Alfred’s ruined apartment.
Oh, god… the techs had said Matt was having some ‘violent outbursts.’ They’d never mentioned it getting this bad.
Alfred began futilely trying to wipe the tears away, stopping when he saw Matt climbing to his feet, hands quivering.
Their eyes met, and Matt’s were full of terror.
"What did I do?" He whispered, his usual stoic exterior breaking as horrified shock and leftover adrenaline mixed in his veins. Sickly dread knotted ropes in his stomach at the sight of a swelling bruise on Alfred’s cheek, and when the American stepped closer, Matt retreated towards the kitchen.
"Matt, it’s fine, we’re gonna work this out, okay? Don’t worry, everything’s-"
"I can’t do this," he breathed, and the words, though quiet, staggered Alfred.
"Babe, no, it’s gonna be fine," Alfred tried, voice cracking even as his cheeks started to dry, and Matt shook his head.
"I was model one-point-oh, Alfred. I wasn’t supposed to actually work. They never expected…” Matt dropped his eyes to the floor.
"Al, I can’t live like this anymore."
"Then how will you live?" Alfred sniffled, his words wobbly.
Matt remained silent, stare boring holes into the carpet.
"Oh, god, you don’t mean-" Alfred choked out. "I- oh god."
This time, when Alfred moved forward and tugged Matt flush against his chest, he didn’t move away, instead tucking Alfred under his chin and steadfastly ignoring the tears dabbling his own eyes.
"The doctors can put me down. It’ll be quick, painless, useful even- they can do research on me, for the next time-"
"Next time," Alfred gasped, cutting him off. He was shaking. "Next time, I’ll do better- program them better, work harder- they won’t end up like you, babe, I promise. Oh god, I promise."
Matt just nodded, rocking him back and forth, pressing kisses to his hair and Alfred tried not to wonder if he’d ever have to do this again.
He felt sick, collapsing on his side on the linoleum floor. The scene changed, a different memory-
The day of Matt’s funeral. Bright, sunny, Alfred and his brother watching quietly, surrounded by emotionless labtechs. The only other people Matt had gotten the chance to meet.
Someday, Alfred would waste a thousand dandelions wishing it had rained.
Someone pulls him off the floor, gives him water, sticks him in a taxi. By the time he’s home his head is clear and clearly stuck in the present, but his fingers feel numb as he pays the cabbie.
The clock is ticking, and Alfred hates it.
The sound is harsh, sharp. It’s never really bothered him before, his mint-green analog often a quiet background noise in the tiny apartment. Tonight, though, the measured clicks are juxtaposed against Tommy’s soft attempts at conversation, too solid for the fragile atmosphere. Alfred doesn’t seem to be in the mood for talking tonight. He’s jumpy, nervous- watching Tommy out of the corner of his eye as though afraid he might explode.
Tommy can’t understand it. The apartment is Alfred’s safe place, a refuge from outside drama. In the few months since the techs first allowed Tommy to move here from his bland, white lab room he’s fast learned that Alfred is never stressed at home. If he is, something must be really, really wrong.
Tommy’s awkward attempt at small talk soon peters out, and the two nudge mac ‘n cheese around their plates in silence. Hesitantly, Tommy pushes a hand across the table and rests it on the blond’s, and Alfred immediately startles away, head snapping up, shoulders pulling back. Meeting Tommy’s worried eyes, he relaxes slightly, eyes still tinged with fear as they jump around the room, settling on everything but the worried cyborg across the table.
"You okay?" the brunet asks, teeth gnawing at his lower lip, a nervous habit. His voice is unsure, hesitating. Alfred has never acted like this before. It’s almost like he doesn’t trust Tommy.
"Yeah, I’m- fine. I…" Alfred casts a glance down at his plate, then sighs, pushing out his chair and rising. "I think I’m gonna pass out early today. Long day at work, you know?"
Tommy nods too quickly, standing up to join Al. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. I’ll probably watch some TV, then collapse. I’m pretty tired, so.”
Alfred leans forward, rolling onto his toes and then back to his heels, hands shoved deep in the pockets of his scruffy jeans. He looks like he wants to say something, but in the end he just nods and disappears into their bedroom.
That night, Alfred sleeps pressed tight into the other side of the bed, a good foot of space between them, and he’s gone by the time Tommy wakes up.
Tommy rubs his eyes and wonders what changed in twenty-four hours.
Alfred feels guilty for running out on Tommy, he does. It’s just that the flashbacks were getting to him- vivid, full color memories of Matt’s fists, pounding through his walls like it was nothing, Matt’s hair, matted with sweat and dust and blood, Matt’s eyes, broken and pained as he walked into that lab and never walked back out.
And Alfred’s afraid.
His coworkers’ words are washing through his brain, rolling back and forth, crashing to the forefront with alarming intensity over and over until they become an inescapable mantra.
He’ll end up like Matt, Alfred, I’m so sorry-
He’ll end up like Matt, Alfred, I’m so sorry-
He’ll end up like Matt-
Now, every moment Alfred spends around Tommy is nerve-wracking. He’d barely made it through dinner the night before. It’s like there are fireflies under his skin, crawling across his arms and up into his spine, their light like adrenaline in his veins.
It’s either let Tommy attack innocent people, or send him to his death.
He can’t do this again.
Alfred doesn’t need to be at work this early, so he takes a trip downtown, wandering in and out of little shops and cafés. The nighttime fog is still lifting, mist clinging to windowpanes and sleep thick in the vendors’ voices.
Finally he settles at the local Starbucks, idly sipping a coffee, entirely lost in his thoughts, and it’s because of the panic pressing against his skull that he doesn’t notice Gilbert in a nearby booth for a good ten minutes.
He’s shocked when he finally spots the German slumped over a pastry, picking at the edges of it. His hair is unwashed, his clothes are grimy and stained, his eyes are rimmed in red and he looks more defeated than Alfred’s ever seen him.
Suddenly, he’s hit by a memory- Alicia rattling off Tommy’s casualties, her voice sharp with anger.
"It murdered innocent citizens, Alfred! Edelstein, Honda-
-and Ludwig, some of our best techs-
-the Vargas brothers are in comas!"
Oh, god. Gilbert’s brother and a good portion of his closest friends taken out. No wonder he’s miserable. He lost so many people he loved, and half the city will soon be going through the exact same thing because of Tommy.
And Alfred can stop that.
The gun in Alfred’s hands is shaking, and so are his words, jumping off his tongue in a suicide mission.
"Do- you understand, at least? Why I couldn’t just let it be?" There are definite tears curling up in Alfred’s eyes, sticking there close in the corners like they can’t accept that they’ll have to go.
"You should’ve seen Gil, Tommy, God…he was destroyed, absolutely destroyed, a lonely kid in the back of a Starbucks realizing his life’s just been cut out from under him. And it’s my fault."
Finally, Tommy moves. He’s been perched on the edge of a counter through Alfred’s story, listening to Alfred practically read off his fucking death sentence in horrified silence.
"Alfred, no, don’t talk like that, c’mon-"
"Stop!" He cries, the sound torn out of him and god, it wrenches Tommy’s heart.
It’s like there’s nothing he can do.
One ring. Two rings. Three rings-
"Alicia, it’s Alfred."
"Oh! Listen… I know why you’re calling- I want to apologize for how I acted yesterday, I was rude and didn’t think about how you must be taking this. I’m sorry for putting so much pressure on you to do something so difficult, I was caught up in the fact that it’s such an important issue and didn’t stop to see if you were okay-"
Alfred cut her off. “No, Alicia, I’m not calling about that. Well- I am, but that’s not what I mean. I’ve made up my mind.”
Alicia sucked in a sharp breath.
"Alfred, I hope I didn’t-"
"I’m willing to do it," Alfred said quickly, talking over her. "But…I just. I know it’s standard protocol for the subject to be taken to the lab and ‘the process carried out by someone with minimal relations to the subject’- but just this once, Alicia, please, I need to do this myself, at home. I can’t let it be like it was for Matt, dying surrounded by strangers."
Alicia is quiet for a moment, and Alfred can almost see it, how she’d be fiddling with her wristlets and chewing her cheek, weighing protocol against the greater good.
Finally, when Alfred has almost given up, she speaks.
"How will you do it?"
This is it, his chance to give Tommy a final goodbye. His chance to make it personal. To say “I’m sorry.”
All the things he never finished with Matt.
"I’ve got a pistol, for emergencies. I’ll explain everything to him. He’ll go along with it, I know he will."
If Alfred’s voice wobbles a little on that, well, no one needs to know.
Alicia sighs, long and deep. “Alfred…I can let you perform the procedure,” procedure, it’s not a surgery, it’s fucking murder and Alfred at least can admit that- “but not at home, Alfred, at the lab. I want to be able to supervise, and besides, your neighbors could notice- this technology is too new for there to be any laws against termination but still, the less questions asked, the better. I don’t want an investigation. Bring him in tomorrow, tell him it’s just for a regular checkup. I’ll make sure a lab is open- I don’t think #3 is in use right now, and it’s soundproofed. You can explain once you’re there.”
Alfred nods quickly, lump building in his throat, recognizing that the deal is the best he’s gonna get, but it still feels wrong. Like he’s cheating Tommy to his death.
And at that, Alfred feels like he’s going to be sick, his throat tightening and stomach clenching and eyes watering and all the other inevitable clichés.
"Thanks, Alicia," he chokes out, and he can feel how uncomfortable she is, tenseness pulsing through the line.
"Listen, Alfred…you’re doing the right thing, okay? I know it’s hard, but think of all the lives you’re saving. We can end this, once and for all."
"I know," Alfred whispers, and as they say their goodbyes and hang up, he wonders why he feels so guilty if it’s the right choice.
Tommy takes slow steps towards Alfred, who’s falling apart, hands shaking, tears taking the leap and fumbling their way down his skin, just more lost souls rushing to get somewhere and anywhere. The brunet takes the gun and rests it on a side table and Alfred thinks that Alicia is just going to love that, the subject holding his own noose, and then he notices that Tommy is trembling as hard as Alfred, if not worse, and Alfred can’t stop himself from pulling his boyfriend close and kissing him for all he’s worth.
It’s desperate and messy and Tommy pulls too hard on Alfred’s hair and it’s possibly the worst kiss they’ve ever had and Alfred never wants it to end, because he knows what’s next. They’re out of time.
When the embrace ends, as all things inevitably do, they’re left spilling ‘I’m sorry’s and ‘goodbye’s and ‘wait, wait, we have to have more chances-’
But they don’t. Alfred can see Alicia and the rest of the team through the observation window, making motions for him to hurry it up, needing it to be over.
"This is it," Alfred croaks, stepping over to the gun, feeling like he’s wading through waist-deep water for how slow he’s moving. Alfred picks it up, weighing it in his palm. He never liked having it around, but his dad always promised he’d need it someday. Alfred had never expected it to be like this.
Lab #3 is soundproofed and big enough that they don’t have to worry. Alfred aims just like he’s been taught, flipping the safety and resting his finger on the trigger.
He makes eye contact with Tommy.
There’s leftover fear there, and anxiety; well, who wouldn’t be nervous when they’re moments from death. But there’s also peace there, acceptance. They both know it’s the right choice, the only choice. Tommy is a malfunction.
"I love you," Tommy mouths at him.
Alfred pulls the trigger.
It’s a quiet whisper in the dark.
Not bold, not brave, just a fear-tinged question with a million safety cushions. He’s prepared to not get an answer. In fact, he’s almost counting on it.
But Alfred wakes with a soft sleepy snuffle, rolling over drowsily to peer at his boyfriend.
"T’mmy? Mmmrgh, whas ‘p?" he asks, tongue thick with leftover dreaming.
Well-versed in the art of sleeptalk, Tommy takes a moment to consider his answer.
"Nothing, it’s just-"
The fear of a moment ago rushes back, irrational scenarios flooding behind his eyes.
But what if-
"You wouldn’t ever hurt me, right?"
Alfred blinks, dazedly. Tommy glances down at his phone, at the local news page still open, headliner screaming at him- LOCAL SCIENTIST LUDWIG BEILSCHMIDT KILLED IN MYSTERIOUS ATTACK. His hands shake below the covers and he draws them close to his chest, hoping Al won’t notice.
“What- honey, no, no, never, god, why? Are you…did I do something?” Alfred is sitting up now, and Tommy leans against the headboard, watching Al watch him with worried eyes.
"No, no, you’re fine, you’re- perfect, I just. I was thinking, and. M’mind got a little carried away-"
You’re nothing. You’re not even human. I bet
he regrets ever making you, just look at yourself, you’re just a monster-
"I could never." Alfred declares, pulling Tommy tight up against him. "I love you, honey, I would never, ever hurt you. You could do anything and that wouldn’t change. You could become a murderer, an animal, and I’ll never be able to hurt you."
Alfred presses their cheeks together, and Tommy feels it- the rage, the anger, boiling just under his skin like some disease. Something that makes him different. Something that makes him dangerous.
The day is coming, someday soon. These thoughts are a premonition, a warning- he’s going to snap, and what will Alfred do then?
"I promise," Alfred whispers. “I’ll never hurt you.”
Tommy nods and it feels like he’s choking.
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