8. The better man

This piece is Borderlands fan fiction, it contains spoilers for BL2 and makes no sense if you aren’t familiar with the franchise.

Maya sat on the ledge of her balcony, her legs dangling down. Her arms were still stinging from the burn marks she had received only a day ago, and all her muscles were sore after the lengthy fight on the lava surrounded platform. It all still felt surreal to her, everything that happened since her getting on that damn train to Pandora, thinking she was escaping something, when really she was only running into someone else’s trap. And all the while she hadn’t learnt a damn thing about who or what she was – the sole purpose of her journey – only that she had been forced to kill one of her sisters. A tyrant had been removed from his position, she had played an important part in saving the planet. But had the cost been worth it? And more importantly, how much better was this planet now with anarchy running rampant until a new dictator would take Jack’s place?


“So, what now?” she asked, her voice sounding oddly hollow between the walls of her balcony, echoing out into the street below her where the citizens of Sanctuary were going their own peculiar ways. Was this life?


“What do you mean?” Axton’s voice sounded far away, but when she turned around, she saw that he was right there, in the room behind her, still polishing that damn pistol of his. He had been right there with her through it all, and yet he still seemed so infuriatingly detached from it all, like he would blow a Hyperion worker’s brains out without a second thought and then complain that it had been ‘too easy’. She saw this in Salvador and Zer0 too, and it was something she never understood. How is killing someone ever ‘too easy’?


“Well, we killed the big bad boss and his little pet, what’s here for us now?” The annoyance must have sounded through despite her rather innocent question, because it caused him to stop focusing in his gun and look up at her, actually meeting her eyes. There was still a small smirk on his face, making the right corner of his mouth curl up ever so slightly. “I don’t know about you, but I’m sure there is lots more to do. Cleaning duties, if you will.”


Maya wasn’t able to see the funny part of that. “So you want to be someone’s cleaner for the rest of your life? Doing all the jobs someone else is too lazy to do just to get by? And then you complain when there isn’t enough of a challenge killing some guy who is only doing a stupid job that someone else is too lazy to do to get buy? Nice morals there, cowboy.”


Axton caught the sneer, and looked confused for a moment. “Hey now, I…” He frowned, put the gun down and got up to join her on the balcony, hip leaning against the wall. She looked at his face closely, the green eyes that now drifted into the distant sun burning over the desert, showing a depth she usually didn’t get to see. “Okay, I see where you’re coming from.”


“Yeah?” Maya was still sceptical, and she narrowed her eyes, waiting for him to say more, and it took a while for him to do so. When he did, he still didn’t look at her. “So you think I’m no better than any of them, am I right?”


Maya wanted to lie to him, but she couldn’t. “I’m honestly not sure.”


Finally he turned his head, piercing eyes looking straight at her. He was hurt by her answer, it was clear to see. “How about yourself then? Do you think that because you’re into books and knowledge and nerdy things you’re too good for this? Then why did you do it?”


Maya had asked herself the same question many times, ever since she had been running for her life and quickly got sucked into this epic battle for the freedom of an entire planet. As much as she wanted to snap at Axton to avoid getting deeper into the subject, she realised she had no strength left to fight anymore.  “Because I thought it was the right thing at the time.”


“But now you’re not sure anymore?” Axton inched closer to her, slowly, cautiously, as if he was expecting her to phaselock him into another dimension just like he had watched her do to from everything from skags to robots so many times. It was her turn to be silent for a while now. “Maybe it is. But I killed so many people…  It’s hard to imagine that that’s been worth it.”


Axton was close enough now that she could feel the warmth of his body next to hers when the sun was slowly setting, and suddenly she noticed how much colder it was now. “Look… I know we don’t see violence the same way, and we probably never will. That’s okay. But this is a war, and during a war casualties happen, on either side. That’s the sacrifice that you have to make, you kill people who might be innocent – even though I doubt that – along the way. You go into it knowing it’s going to happen, because if it’s not you shooting them, it’s them shooting you. It becomes a much bigger thing than doing good for all mankind when it’s your own life at stake, and you realise you’re just one of the many.”


“So it was all worth it, hm? The lives we took, the families we destroyed… The girl we killed…” Maya swallowed as she heard how her voice trembled a little at the memory. She had wanted to get to know her ‘sister’, she would give almost anything to get that chance.


“Yeah.” Axton’s voice was clearer than ever. “Killing Angel was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I’m not going to lie. But I don’t see how we had a choice, it was either leaving her hooked on those machines to be used by her own father, or ending her misery. I would have wanted there to be a way she could have survived away from the eridium, but Jack had made sure that was impossible. And someone who does that to his own daughter deserves to die. So in the end, it wasn’t just about saving Pandora from a psychopath, from the moment I learned about Angel, it become personal. And I have no regrets. I believe in fighting fire with fire.”


She listened, drinking up his words, wisdom that she had always known but it sounded so different coming from his mouth, in his voice that she had come so used to hearing close to her, even in the middle of a battle scene. And suddenly she realised how he had always had her back, those moments when she was more vulnerable, it was usually him staying close to her, making sure to act fast in those few seconds she was charging up her powers and didn’t have a steady hand on her gun. She also remembered how he had been the one to instantly take the lead once they realised they were trapped in a train car with nothing but explosives, and immediately after they had survived that same explosion. And maybe without him, none of them had started that journey that had ended up where they were now, alive and safe, despite all odds, despite the terrible journey. If she had to fight the rest of her life, maybe being part of the Crimson Raiders wasn’t such a bad thing after all. And maybe she was wrong about Axton too. “It’s not that black and white for me, but I get what you’re saying. In the end, we’re nothing more than tiny links in a massive chain of events. Our world is only as small as the distance to the next link, but at the same time, we cause the ripples that makes the tidal wave happening at the end of it all.”


Axton frowned. “Er, yeah. Something like that, I guess. Nothing wrong with our own little world though. We make our own tidal waves happen, we don’t always have to be the heroes.”


She chuckled, suddenly feeling like a weight had fallen off her back, and she gently leaned to the side until she felt her head resting against his broad shoulder. “Are you sure you can deal with not being the hero? It seems to suit you, you know.”


Axton laughed as well, a soft but open sound that she so rarely heard since they got off that train, and he dipped his head down to rest it against hers. “Thanks. But sometimes being the better man is all you can be.”


“That, you definitely are,” Maya murmured, the smile still firmly on her lips, as she watched the last part of orange fade into black. Cleaning up duties could wait until tomorrow, but she wasn’t going to put the planet first this time.


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