A/N: This is post "Death March" and pre "Price of Greatness", so anything that happens in that episode will be ignored. I was severely underwhelmed by Maggie's "confession" to Hal about her so-called terrible past. After hers and Pope's vague conversation earlier in the episode, I'd really expected there to be something bigger than a bit of drug use, light theft and a pregnancy, so I concocted my own much more serious and dark pre-2nd Mass past for Maggie.
The thrill and exaltation of Charleston settled in upon the 2nd Mass, prompting spontaneous laughter, hugs and the occasional, ill-advised shout of long bottled tension. From her place near a shadowed barricade of broken down cars, Maggie felt Pope close in on her. She smelled him before she saw him – not the sick, dirty stench you'd expect from just knowing him. Pope kept himself surprisingly clean, given the circumstances. Even back before the 2nd Mass had rolled in, the man had insisted his group scrub themselves any time they ended up covered in more than a bit of dirt. Maggie'd never been sure why that mattered when the world had been smashed to hell, but it was a rule, and one of the gentler rules imposed by the post-apocalyptic gang's leader. Maybe something about him being a chef, having a sensitive nose. Whatever.
But anyway, when Pope slid up to her now it wasn't sweat or grime that tipped her off, but a faint, ever-present cologne of alcohol and gunpowder. Back at the start of things it'd been whiskey, but liquor stores weren't exactly on Weaver's stop-and-search roster, so the scent had evened out to cheap beer.
"Not off celebrating with Galahad, Mags? Could it be that maybe you're not as thrilled with the prospect of Paradise on Earth as the rest of this sorry outfit?"
She flicked a cutting gaze away from the Mason trio – laughing and teasing as they knelt over one of the cleverly constructed indoor gardens – and eyed the older man scathingly.
"They promised a government, a society, in Charleston and here one is. They proved you and your angry little suspicions wrong, Pope, so either shut the hell up or leave. I look forward to seeing your corpse splattered across a roadway next time I'm out on patrol."
"Touchy." He seemed mildly surprised by her reaction before his eyes flicked to the golden family and back again. Putting it together. Her hand twitched against her gun and for one glorious instant Pope was being pumped full of lead pellets – body jerking backward along with the rat-a-tat rhythm of rapid-fire bullets, his expression slipping from smug to surprised as he tried to wrap his head around the sudden panic-signals being sent from his increasingly ravaged body. And if, by chance, one of the stray bullets happened to go wide and nick the cheek of that self-righteous, goody-two-shoes Hal Mason then maybe…
She blinked away the blood-soaked fantasy and forcibly relaxed her grip on the handle of her converted semi. Pope's eyes were dancing.
"Oh… maybe Prince Charming doesn't want you celebrating with him. Trouble in paradise, dear? Don't tell me you actually came clean."
She couldn't help the way her finger twitched then, and decided it best, for security's sake, to release her grip on the weapon and let it hang by its strap instead. Darting a glance around – no one was listening, everyone too busy exploring the underground parking garage or celebrating their miraculous return to civilization – she hissed: "Just… quit it with the damn fairy tale talk, Pope. He's not a prince or a knight and I am most definitely not a princess."
"Got that second one right." He smiled, not missing a beat. His teeth gleamed too white for any self-respecting post-apocalyptic gang leader. That was the problem with real-life bad guys… they weren't as ugly, as obviously vile, as the ones you saw in the movies. You could get caught up by them, sucked into thinking they weren't as bad as they were. White teeth, clean hair, smelled decent. Look at Hal – he'd ended up with two evil girlfriends in under a year, and he hadn't even realized it.
Maggie broke Pope's gaze, snorted out a quiet laugh because, honestly, what the hell else were you supposed to do when things started falling apart?
"I never claimed to be." And for a second, just a second, she thought that might be it. Maybe for just once Pope would be able to let things go and she could get back to seething in peace. And then she surprised herself by blurting – "He just… he sees everything that way, doesn't he? The whole world, in spite of everything, is just this pretty little black and white fairy tale; it's disgusting. He just ignores what's right in front of him and pictures me as this damsel, you know? Someone who's hurt and weak and needs saving. It was the same way with Karen, the same way with his brother, even, before he got him back. I mean…" she shifted her gaze again, teeth grinding from trying to keep her voice level, and waved an arm across her body in a sharp, clipped motion, "do I look like a damsel to you?"
His eyes slid up her slowly and she suddenly remembered, past the blinding frustration, that this was Pope she was talking to. But he surprised her by only minimally leering.
"You are definitely not a damsel." Then he shrugged, slid his gaze away, his fingers drumming idly on the barrel of his own gun. "Though I've gotta say, you've kinda been pushing the image."
"Right. Let me go braid some pigtails and sit in my tower now, shall I?"
But Pope had – infuriatingly – already begun moving off at a casual stroll. And, damnit, count on him to hang around making comments every time she absolutely didn't want him there, but as soon as she needed to throw a retort his way he was drifting away, smug as you please.
Not that it mattered what Pope thought of her. But, hell, how was she supposed to just let that one go? Snarling under her breath, she swung the gun under her arm so it hung against her back and turned to stride after him. Pointedly ignoring the touch of a grin he was failing miserably at hiding, she snapped, "What the hell are you getting at, Pope? You think I need some white knight to swoop in and save me, 'cause I swear to God I'll have no trouble beating the idea out of your head right here…"
And just like she wasn't threatening him with bodily harm, he snagged a pair of apples from a nearby barrel (how the hell did these Charleston people have fresh apples in the middle of December, anyway?) and tossed her one. She caught it without thinking, and he smiled as she glared at him.
"I don't think for a second you're a damsel, Mags. But I think maybe some little part of you would rather have Prince Hal over there thinking of you that way than knowing the truth." He took a bite and grinned at her, apple skin gleaming red between those too white teeth. "I mean, come on. 'Oh poor me with my sad, childhood cancer.'" Blind rage surged through her... it was a good thing the gun was safely behind her back.
"That happened, ok? And it sucked. And I sure as hell don't whine about it; barely anyone even knows."
"Right. Just me and your little white knight. I wonder… why did you confide that sob story to him but none of your… shall we say, darker moments?" She flinched.
"It wasn't for pity, if that's what you're thinking. It just takes a while to be honest with people… which is a concept you'd know nothing about, since you never are."
He took another bite and shrugged, and the pair lapsed into an uneasy silence as they strode past a cluster of Charleston civilians. If she'd been talking with anyone besides Pope, she might've thought he was respecting her request for privacy. As it was, she decided he must've just had an awful lot in his mouth to chew. Finally, he swallowed and responded absently.
"Well, if I'm King of Lies then you're my Lady MacBeth lurking behind the throne, aren't you?"
"What are you talking about?" His eyes rolled, but for the first time she sensed a sort of tension behind his words.
"Come on, Maggie Beth. 'Oh, ahm just a poor, innocent girl been captured and abused by Pope and his dark, twirling mustache.'"
"I'm not Southern," she commented on his high, drawling parody. And then, tersely: "What the hell did you expect me to say? You guys were scum."
"And you, my little scumlet, were right in the heart of it." Her grimace seemed to ease him out of his tension, and he barked a laugh. "I mean, come on. We mighta' been a little handsy, but you weren't our captive, Mags."
"And where the hell was I gonna go?" He shrugged.
"The world was ending; no one had any good options."
She shot him a glare that could've melted steel, and almost broke stride with him right there. But she'd started this debate and she damned well wasn't going to allow Pope to scare her out of finishing it.
She wasn't the goddamned damsel.
He played dumb for a second before grinning and amending, "Ok, sure. For me the end of the world was a hell of a good option, at least back at the start. But all I'm saying is the door was there, Mags. You could've walked any time, but you stayed. And whatever you've decided since we got drafted back into this so-called excuse for civilization, every time you walked in through my door, you did it of your own free will."
He said it so casually, so nonchalantly, that the words slipped under her skin instead of scraping against it like sandpaper, and her only response was a pair of tensed shoulders and an averted gaze. He gave her a few minutes to stew in that, which she decidedly didn't do, instead allowing her attention to drift over the network of odd, underground pathways that made up the new Charleston society. They'd drifted out of the central parking garage area and into the well-scouted tunnels leading to who the hell knew where under the city, out of any Skitter patrol's view. They were dark, generally damp and more than a bit musty – safe, but not much in the way of a distraction – and when Pope finally spoke up again, she was almost desperate for a diversion from the web-like memories that threatened to tangle her up if she strayed too close.
"You didn't actually tell him about your past, did you?"
And there she was, back to wishing he'd just stayed quiet. But refusing to say anything would be as good as an answer. Better, because he'd know how much the question got to her. So she did the next best thing: lie.
"I told him." She was gazing down the shadowed passage ahead of them – scouting, she told herself. Just because the militia assured them Charleston was a haven didn't mean it was immune to new attacks by Skitter scouts or those awful, insidious Crawlies. But even as she actively avoided his gaze, she felt the weight of his brow quirk like a physical presence. Digging into her, through her spine. She clicked her tongue softly, agitatedly. "Sort of, ok? I sent out… feelers." And hated the admission, even as she spoke it. "And he's still not talking to me. I mean… he couldn't even handle the PG-rated preview to my life. What the hell does that say?"
Another casual crunch made her flinch, look back at him sharply.
"About him," he asked mildly, "or you?"
She clicked her tongue again softly, wished for about the thousandth time she hadn't removed her tongue piercing during the chemo. The feel of the tangy metal rattling against her teeth had always been soothing. Then again, it would've killed her on scouting missions, the telling rattle almost as loud as Hal's dragging fee- no. No need to think about that right now.
Pope, on the other hand, seemed to feel no need to keep quiet. His fingers continued to drum in their casually confident manner along the base of his gun. They weren't on patrol, Maggie had to remind herself, cutting off the small voice insisting on tugging free her knife and amputating the offending digits. They were in the tunnels under Charleston. These places had been thoroughly scouted, mapped out by the militia. No need to keep eyes out for Skitter attacks. But strangely enough, the thought was less than comforting.
Softly, evenly: "What'd you tell him?"
And Maggie surprised herself by laughing again.
"I don't know. Some crap about drugs, petty theft." But the next lie sobered her, fingers twitching to her abdomen and the ugly scar hidden under a layer of thin cloth. "I told him I had the baby."
Pope whistled softly, his gaze following her uneasy motion.
"Queen of Lies, I humbly abscond from my throne."
And the need for something solid, something powerful in her hands started to be too much again. Damn the risks to Pope and her over-happy trigger finger; she started to reach over her shoulder to pull the semi back into her grip… and was stopped by Pope's hand on her wrist.
His own eyes were sharp - deadly focused - and the expression shocked her out of her anger. He thought she was going to kill him. She hadn't been planning on it… yet. Though it had been a few days since the last Skitter head had exploded in her sights and she couldn't deny that pulling the trigger would feel damn good right about now…
He drew a breath, and his voice was surprisingly calm despite his intense gaze.
"I think he is a naïve idiot. I think living high up in his fairytale castle has deprived his brain of a little much needed oxygen… and I think you've been visiting up there too long too if you think for a second that you need his approval."
It had been a long time, a year now, since she'd seen a hint of that level of sincerity in Pope's eyes. The last time, her belly had been gouged open and bleeding, and the phantom pain that hit her with the memory made her flinch. But he wasn't done.
"You tell him all these sad, 'my life is so miserable' stories because if you play the victim, that means there's something to save you from. It means you've been lost and little Sir Mason can swoop in on his shining horse and carry you back home to Pleasantville, where all the happy Stepford families go. It means you're not responsible for your choices, that you've got something else to blame."
She jerked her arm uselessly against his grip, snarling "I'm not the damsel."
"You're right." He held on for an extra second, pointedly, just to prove that he could, before shoving her back against the wall and turning around, tense shoulders silhouetted against the light of the parking garage down the tunnel. "You're not." At some point, his voice had lost its calm, devil-may-care edge and had taken on a lilt of low, seething bitterness. "And on some level, that pisses you off, doesn't it? That's why you're so goddamned angry, Mag. Its not 'cause big brother Mason wants you to dance on sunbeams; it's cause you know you don't. What you did since the Cooties came, you did. It's why you survived."
There was nothing to say to that, not really. Not like it wasn't true. But the memory of those smiling, trusting faces, the sounds of screams reverberating off her turned back… the feel of the screwdriver plunging into her swollen abdomen…
The cancer had turned her into a survivor. The endless battles with chemo. The years of double-takes, of sickeningly sympathetic glances. The feeling of surrender in that last, horrible instant before victory. If she survived that, she could survive anything.
"Then maybe I shouldn't have." Her hand clenched around something hard, bit in. And blood was on her hands: so much blood, sticky and damp, running down her fingers, staining. "Maybe there are some prices that are too high, even for survival."
For a while she thought she'd been through with feeling things like guilt. That maybe remorse had gone the way of the dinosaur, the dodo, and the Fast-Food Nation. And then there'd been Hal Mason. Blinking at her with those big, brown, way-too-innocent-and-sincere-to-still-exist-during-the-apocalypse eyes and telling her wild stories about hope, resistance and some semblance of remaining society. And she'd seen the way he looked at her, like this half-broken puzzle he would just die to put back together, and she'd realized she wanted nothing more than that simple chance at redemption.
All she'd had to do was lie about everything she was.
Pope had turned back to her, and she wondered for a second if anyone left alive had ever seen him this way besides her. He wasn't being sarcastic, wasn't gloating or joking. Wasn't even brutally vengeful. For the moment, he just was. It unnerved her in a way nothing he'd said about her could. If Pope was more than a show, more than a collection of mismatched parts, more than a half-serious scumbag she could just dismiss when his taunts rubbed her the wrong way, then…
"You and I are the same person, Margaret. I could play it like you do, fuss and guilt and claim we had no other choice. That we didn't have a… a whole damn militia to watch our backs and help us survive, and the only way to keep breathing was to take from those too weak to use what they had anyway. But that's just loose change in the duck pond, isn't it? Truth is, we acted the way we did because there's a thrill in being the survivors. The more people didn't make it, the more we felt like we'd earned our place."
She bit back on the instant denial. Felt the 'not true' forming on her lips, the 'I had to' drumming in her brain like a tired mantra and realized that… god damn it… that was exactly what Pope was talking about. What Hal had gotten himself wrapped up in when he'd looked at her. The victim she refused to be, but halfway wished she was.
The blood had spread to her wrist and began to dampen the sleeve of her shirt. Stain it. Indelible.
"I didn't kill anybody."
His eyes flicked downward. Phantom pain.
"That's debatable. But if you don't have to explain yourself to Prince Mason you sure as hell don't have to explain yourself to me."
To give her eyes something to do besides hanging in the air guiltily, she lowered them slowly to her stained hand. But there was no blood.
Not blood… the apple. Her digging nails had pierced the skin. No blood on her hands. Not literally, anyway.
"How'd you know? That I didn't tell him." When she dared a glance back up toward him, a hint of familiar humor had filtered back into his expression.
"Well, for one thing, mini-Mason didn't pull the truck over and try to beat the crap out of me for my part in the whole screwdriver incident…" It was vague but not vague enough, and the reference, the sound of the words being spoken aloud, was enough to make bile rise in her throat. "But also… for all the reasons I just said here, Mags. You tell him the truth, you lose your innocent mask. Not just the boy, but everything you've been pretending-"
"Trying," she cut in. He quirked a brow, then continued, adding emphasis to the word in question.
"-Pretending to be will go right out the window. They'll probably keep you around – hell, they keep me around so why not you? – but every ally, every oh-so-adorable friendship you've formed since you joined this little outfit, will break ties from you so fast you won't know which way to flip the bird first."
The words bit into her, chilling her deep inside. She lifted her chin, leveling her gaze with his, frigidly.
"So what are you saying, I can't win?"
He shrugged, lifting his apple back toward his mouth before pausing, a thoughtful smirk touching his lips.
"I'm saying people like you and me, we don't belong here in paradise, Mags. We haven't been back in this civilized little society for more than two hours, but tell me you're not just itching to get back out on the road, to the danger, the action. Freedom."
Was that why her eyes had been darting to corners, why her fingers had been itching at the lack of a gun? She'd been able to handle the common-sense survival laws laid down by Weaver in the 2nd Mass, but even back before the war, the idea of government, of some faceless, god-like figure dictating the laws of her life, had eaten at her like its own emotional cancer. When the Fishheads had dropped in, when society had splintered, hadn't some part of her felt a sense of relief at finally being free?
"You're leaving again, aren't you?"
The man's eyes danced.
"Come on, Mags – I could barely handle Weaver dictating my life. Now I'm supposed to, what, take shifts farming? Rebuild civilization? Become a respectable citizen?" When he said it, sneering, it sounded worse than a prison sentence. "I thrive out there, where the wild things are. And if you just stop looking at yourself through Hal Mason's starry eyes, you'd realize you do too."
She swallowed, looked down, and for the first time in a year, she allowed herself to feel it. Without the echoes of guilt weighing her down, without the pressure of who she was "supposed" to be. He was right. Hal had barely heard anything, had heard a few gentle lies about drugs and a bad-influence boyfriend, and he'd completely closed her out. He thought she was a monster and he hadn't heard more than the smallest taste of her story.
"So are you going to hide here and keep lying?" Pope stepped in closer, ducked down a bit to catch her eyes, and held them firmly. "Or are you gonna taste that apple and get the hell out of Eden with me?"
Maybe, in the end, she was just like Pope after all.
Straightening her shoulders, she swallowed back the phantom pain burning in her belly, lifted the fruit to her lips, and bit.
A/N: Alright, so that's it for this one. I know there was a lot of stuff that was left vague or only partially answered, such as what exactly Maggie did in the past that was so awful. I kept it that way purposely, though I might end up posting a second chapter that goes into depth a bit more if there's interest.