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Crawlout Through The Fallout

Chapter Text

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Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Nudity

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He screamed as they fought to strap him down. He screamed for someone, anyone, to save him. Someone, please, help him. He couldn’t do this anymore; he couldn’t take the pain, the needles, and the experiments!

Someone just save me please!

He screamed, screamed till they shoved the tube down his throat. He struggled till they stuck the needles into his skin and the sedations kicked in. Weakly tugging as he was forced into a circular tube …locked down…….

 A chilling …..Liquid splashed against his legs….. slowly rising higher….

Then there was nothing.


 

"Baby crawl out through the fallout back to me~”

“Gill , I swear to God is there no other station we can listen to. I hate that song!”

Lukas sighed, here we go…

Gill stopped from his work, looking away from his box shuffling. “It’s the only station that gets to out here, you know that.”

Aiden scowled, flipping his hunter knife in the air once then caught it again.

 Lukas looked over, “Be patient, we’re working on it.”

“We’ve been working on this damn bunker for three months,” the brunet answered. He looked at the fourth member of their team. “You can’t go any faster?”

“Aiden I swear to God, you ask me one more time and we’re going to use Gill’s method of opening this door.” Maya snarled, “And I elect we use your thick skull as a battering ram.”

Aiden flipped her off.

“Guys, lay off.” Lukas warned, “We’re so close to getting in there, let’s not lose our heads.”

“We’ve wasted resources is what we’ve done,” Aiden scoffed, slamming his fist against the door. His metal hand clanging against the titanium, “Three months we’ve been clearing out this fucking facility. It better be worth it.”

Lukas flashed him a look just as Maya cackled triumphantly. “Got it!”

“That’s our girl!” Gill laughed by his bags, “I knew the moment I started unpacking my bombs you’d get it.”

“Don’t I always?” Maya grinned as the door slid open.

Lukas smiled and patted her on the shoulder, “Be ready guys, just because the door was sealed doesn’t mean there wasn’t a breach inside. We don’t need a bite from a radioactive rat.”

The team nodded in a silent agreement, loading their weapons and cautiously entering the cold and foggy room.

There were crates, a potential sign of goods to sell. A few sealed off round containers, but no sign of anything extremely valuable.

“Guys this isn’t a weapons vault.” Gill frowned.

“Fuck.” Aiden said, moving farther ahead, “Of course it isn’t. We couldn’t be that lucky could we?”

“Aiden, we just go in here, there can still be more.”

“I’m just saying, would it kill us to have a lucky break now and then? These past few jobs have been a bit too risky with too little turn out and I think- Oh… Shit!”   

Lukas jogged over, “What’s wrong.”

Aiden pointed.

Tubes, dozens of them, all lining the wall. Some covered in layers of ice, others full with slowly melting liquid.

Every single one of them had a person inside.

There was a moment of stunned silence.

“Guys I don’t think we can sell this.” Gill mumbled.

“Shut up Gill!” Aiden was cursing, “I knew this was some damn research facility and not a weapons vault! Fuck!

“Aiden calm down, we’ll…..we’ll figure something out.” Lukas sighed, looking solemnly at the people in the tubes.

 Aiden glared, storming off to the other end.

“Maybe we can find meds,” Maya said, “To keep people under like this would require drugs.”

Lukas joined her in front of a containment unit. “Aren’t they in cryo?”

“No, bacta.” the female explained, “But they were frozen over. The facility’s main power must have failed when the bombs fell. The heavy nuclear winter that followed would have put everything – everyone - on ice.”

 “So when we got the power back on, and nothing worked,” Lukas mumbled, “It must have directed the power here.”

“It was probably top priority. Everything in here is slowly thawing out.”

 Lukas wiped the frost off the bacta tubes nearby control panel.

System Error: Life Support Systems Failure.

 “Lot of good it did them.”

“They all say that,” Gill walked by, “Least the ones I’ve checked. Hard to keep nuclear fallout in the life support system plan eh? Wonder what these people were doing? Fallout bunker?”

 “It wasn’t built well enough to be a fallout bunker, nor deep enough,” Maya countered.

“Then what? They were experiments?”

“Who knows.”

Lukas looked at the bodies beyond the foggy glass and cringed. “Yeah…”

“Maybe we can salvage some parts?” Aiden mumbled.

“There are people in there,” Lukas frowned.

 “And they’re dead.” Aiden scoffed, “Besides, who knows if they were even people. Like Gill said, they probably were tested on.”

Lukas’s temper flared, and he stormed towards Aiden, “Would you quit being such a di- woah!”

 A patch of ice took Lukas down and he crashed hard his loaded gun going off in the fall. It fired into a nearby control panel. Sending the system’s alarms blaring.

“Bacta Tank 32 Release Activated.”

Shit, Lukas thought.

“Warning, System Failure. Emergency Ejection Initiated.”

 The tank’s lid flew open, not even allowing the liquid to drain. Slimy fluids spilled everywhere and Lukas scrambled up and backwards, trying to not touch it.

 A body fell from the tank, a young male. He was about the same age as Lukas. Dark brown hair, slender in some places. In the splint second Lukas saw his face, he swore he saw the other’s eyes open.

The male hit the floor with a hard thud, body stiff and immobile from metal restraints keeping his arms pinned to his side, with thin wires and tubes, sticking into his skin. Mostly around his arms, hands and back.

 “Holy shit!”

 “Lukas what did you do?!”

 Lukas moved over to the body, perplexed by why the person was restrained in such a way. Had….had he been unwilling?

 “Lukas get away from it!”

“It’s not an ‘it’ Aiden, it’s a ‘he’. I just want to see why he’s –“ That’s when Lukas saw it, “Guys! He’s alive!”

 “He’s what?!” Gill gaped.

 Lukas dropped to his knees, quickly unlocking the wrist cuffs through the tangle of hoses and cables. “He’s breathing!” he flipped the male over onto his back holding him in his arms.

Maya dropped to her knees next to him, able to see the shaky rise and falls of his chest, “How could he still be alive?”

 “I don’t know,” Lukas mumbled as he gently pulled free the needles from the stranger’s skin, “We don’t even know how long he’s been under.”

“Who cares?! We shouldn’t be touching him! He-“ Aiden had moved over to the dripping tank, wiping off some residue on the side. He went white, “Fuck! Lukas we have to put him back!”

 “What?!”

“This tank says PAMA!”

The word dropped the temperature in the room drastically.

“W-what?” Maya whispered.

Aiden was shaking his head, “He has to go back in!”

 “Are you nuts?!” Lukas demanded, “He’s alive! He’s a human being! We can’t just put him back in the tank! This facility won’t be able to keep him alive!”

 “P. A. M. A.!” Aiden hit the tank for each letter, “What part of PAMA, doesn’t make sense to you! We are in one of their bunkers! You know what happens to people who touch their stuff!”

 “If that was the case why is no one here?! If this facility was important you think they would have reclaimed it?!” Lukas pushed bacta slimed hair out of the unconscious male’s face. The skin was flawless; quite literally, even the patches already dry from tank fluid were soft as a newborn. He placed two fingers on the other’s throat, checking to make sure the pulse was still there, “We’re not leaving him here.”

“I don’t care! We are not going to get involved with them, past, present or in the damn future either! Which will be nonexistent, if we take him out of here! He’s probably not even human; PAMA could have done anything to-”

The male groaned in Lukas’s arms, shifting.

 Aiden cursed, lifting his gun up. Lukas winced at the clicking noise it made.

“Put, the, gun, down,” Lukas warned.

Maya leaned in for closer inspection, “These needles are still pumping drugs into him, hold on a sec,” she pulled the last of the long needles from the boy's arms and back, “Maybe when the drugs kick, he’ll hopefully wake up. But it could take a few hours at-“

The stranger’s eyes shot open.

 " -Most?!”

He lurched in Lukas’s arms, a blood curling muffled scream escaping his mouth.

“I thought you said a few hours?!” Gill cried.

 Maya jumped back, slipping a little on the slimy floor, “I did!”

Lukas struggled to hold the writhing male in his arms, “Hey calm down! You’re safe we’re not going to hurt you!”

The other continued to scream and struggle, fighting against the metal leg bindings still locked in place. He pushed against Lukas with shaking arms. He seemed to be choking on the muzzle around his face.

 “Hang on! Stop-“ Lukas unlocked the clasp, pulling the gag off, “We’re-“ he proceeded to pull out roughly three feet of breathing hose that had been shoved down the male’s throat, “Holy shit!”

When the last of the tube came out with a wet pop, and the male let out a weakened gasp, head rolling for a second.

Lukas adjusted him in his arm, “Hey! You’re okay, Can you hear me?”

While he seemed distant at first, soon tears of fury and fear pooled in the brunet’s dark green eyes, “Get away from me!” he rasped out, struggling to be louder, and “I won’t go back! Don’t touch me! Let me go!”

 “We’re not here to hurt you!” Lukas assured, “We’re here to help let us- Gah!”

 “I said...Get away from me!” The other had taken hold of the one of the bacta needles, wielding it like a knife; he slashed it across Lukas’s cheek. The blonde immediately let go, leaning back as he placed a hand on the thin cut line.

 “Lukas!” Aiden raised his gun.

“No don’t!” Lukas quickly lifted his hands, “Aiden I’m fine don’t shoot him!”

 “But he-“

 “Don’t shoot him!”

 The stranger was struggling to crawl away, best he good his legs still locked, “I….I won’t….” He gagged, “I won’t….go…back. I-“he choked on the last word. He coughed a couple of times, before heaving up a great amount of fluid onto the floor, gagging once, then twice, before collapsing weakly into the pile of fluids, going still.

 Lukas scrambled up placing a hand on the unconscious male, “He’s still alive!”

“Lovely,” Aiden said dryly, “Now, can we shoot him?”

Lukas whipped around to stare at Aiden “Are you insane?!”

“He just tried to slit your throat and you still want to help him?!” his team mate argued.

“He was just acting out in self defense,” Gill mumbled.

 “Shut up Gill!”

Lukas turned back around and silently unlocked the last of the restraints on the male, allowing for his legs to be moved properly. Lukas then looked over to one of the many bins in the room and looked at Gill, nodding his head towards them. “Gill could you see if there is a blanket or clothing in one of those units?” Lukas gingerly moved around a metal plating between the bare male’s legs ; only pausing to unlock a hose from it, “I don’t want him freezing to death after we get outside.”

Gill awkwardly turned around and started towards the nearest patch of supply crates.

“Are you fucking crazy?!” Aiden raged.

“Look, he needs help. We’re going to help him,” Lukas stated, not looking at Aiden “If you don’t like that, fine, frankly I don’t care. You can either help me get him to the base, or you cannot. Either way doesn’t matter.” He extended his hand as Gill returned with some hospital garbs, “Maya mind giving me a hand with this? Unless you’re with Aiden?”       

“Um….yeah,” she mumbled. She kneeled down, beginning to assist Lukas in dressing the mostly nude human.

Aiden growled and turned away.

Lukas sighed, wiping a tear off the stranger’s cheek, “We can’t leave him Aiden.”

“You sure you’re not just smitten much?” Aiden scoffed, eyeing Lukas’s gentle treatment.

Lukas glared, “Can you go make sure the bunker is clear? Something might have been attracted by the all the noise.”

“Fine,” Aiden reloaded his gun, gripping the rifle tight in a silent testament to his fury. He stalked out of the vault, muttering “But let me tell you, things are only going to go downhill from here.”

           

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Sexual Themes

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Aiden casually adjusted his coat, before firing at the radioactive rat sneaking up behind him. He didn’t turn around; he simply readjusted his rifle and shot. The silencer muted the bang, the bullet hitting the creature in the head right between its glassy black eyes. He looked over his shoulder as the creature slumped into the ground “Tch,”

Even the animals here weren’t any good for scavenging.

Aiden to be honest wasn’t really keen when they picked up this bunkers location from a local druggie. It was too far out, too tightly sealed. But everything should have been pointing to a potential post war gun haul so they took the chance. But there was all the little details that sent Aiden’s nerves straining.

The security on this joint was his biggest clicker. When the bombs fell the fallout wiped everything out, no argument on that. Then the nuclear winter that followed buried almost everything. But you could still after all these centuries and get a rough idea of how everything used to be.

Looking out at the waste’s he could still see a lot of them. There was a fence around an old gated community. Or all those upside down houses? Used to be a trailer park flipped over by the heat wave. The melted metal sign was in front of a grocery store, the store was gone but the sign was still standing.

There hadn’t been a single sign of military security for this bunker. No barbed wire fence bent and melted gates, no gutted security turrets. Getting inside the facility they only had to deactivate three- maybe four sweeper bots that still operated. The group had a tougher time dealing with the rad rat infestation then they did the security.

Aiden had seen his fair share of military bunkers, and those were always a bitch to get into. But now that he knew this place belonged to PAMA….Well, now, now it made sense.

Looking out on the terrain he could easily put the story together. A small community, but a good one, homely, with roughly ten thousand – maybe less- people living in it. But PAMA was there too, doing whatever it was they did before the war. They probably arrived under the guise that this bunker was a presentation for fallout survival. From what Aiden understood in stories people back then had been fearful of the end of the world. They would have accepted PAMA’s story, and PAMA would have done everything to make this bunker look as friendly as possible.

People probably started to go missing after that…..

Aiden sighed, rubbed his metal arm, and proceed to shoot another rat.

The wastes were not a pretty place. The entire world was a poisoned and on a slow crawl towards inevitable oblivion. Bleak perspective, but it was truth. Humanity stumbled when the bombs fell, and all traces of it died when the winter set in. The world was a garbage cocktail of kill or be killed philosophy, monsters, radioactive storms, and cold residual winter. Survival was hard, adapt or die was the short gist of it.

But no matter how desperate people became, only the truly vile or truly dumb were desperate enough to go to PAMA. You worked for PAMA you were a PAMA bitch. You messed with them, or touched something that belonged to them; it was probably the last mistake you ever made.

Now his dumbass teammate was ten stories down smitten and helping a PAMA experiment who probably wasn’t human at all.

Aiden did admire Lukas’s rare attitude that many didn’t see out here. He helped out people who needed it, and wasn’t afraid to give to those who had less than him. He was a rare special stupid snowflake like that, but Aiden did find it endearing. He just wished Lukas knew when too far was too far.

Helping someone entangled in PAMA was too far.

“They’re on their way up,” Gill said, trudging out of the base.

“Why aren’t you carrying him?” Aiden asked, not bothering to look away from the green cloud horizon and the storms in the distance. “You’re the tanker.”

Said six foot tanker looked down at him, “Lukas insisted he’s got him.”

Aiden scoffed, “Idiot. You think he’s smitten much? Must be since he is willing to risk PAMA.”

Gill scoffed, raising an eyebrow “What the hell makes you say that?”

Aiden looked over his shoulder as Lukas and Maya came up the last set of stairs. The stranger was cradled gently in Lukas’s arms. Lukas had taken off his jacket, and wrapped it around the other, protection from the constant winter chill.“Call it intuition.” he muttered

Gill sighed, “Look man we all hate PAMA, but they probably don’t know about this place. We’ll be okay.”

“We don’t know what they’re capable of either.”

“Come on man, it can’t be that bad.”

Aiden clenched his hand, feeling the metal scrap against his gun. He looked over at Lukas. The blond made eye contact with him, eyes looking -silently begging- for support in his decision. Aiden looked reluctantly away, “Yes…..they are.” Then before Gill could put another word in, Aiden moved swiftly away from the bunker to scout ahead.


“He doesn’t really seem to be hurt anywhere,”

“We don’t know how long he was in there,” Maya answered.

“I just don’t know if we should give him meds or-” Lukas sighed.

The female walked around the medical table, “I don’t think so, the bacta was probably infused with medicinal drugs, he could have been in there ten or thirty years and come out unfazed and healthier than when he went in,” She picked up the box of discarded tubes and restraints, “But as the unofficial team medic, I wouldn’t, we need to get them out of his system so we can wake him up and figure out exactly who he is.”

Lukas ran a hand along the sleeping males arm, “Doesn’t it bother you that he was restrained like that?”

“They all were Lukas,” Maya said. She looked at the box in her arms, “Who knows what PAMA did to those people.”

“Yeah~” Lukas sighed, “…. His skin is really soft, is that from the fluid?”
She gave him a teasing look, “No, and as your friend I recommend you stop feeling him before you look like a creeper.

“Too late.”

Lukas turned around as Aiden entered the room, he didn’t have his rifle or most of his combat gear on anymore. But Lukas could still see the pistol holstered to Aiden’s hip, and of course the knife attached to his other thigh. He took notice the gun was cocked and loaded.

“Aiden...” Lukas began

“Sleeping beauty up yet?” Aiden asked gruffly.

“It will take a few hours there were a lot of drugs in his system, he probably only reacted the way he did from an oxygen overload courtesy of the emergency ejection.” Maya explained, “Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me. Gill and I are going to get some sleep; this…..has been a long day.”

“So no sleep for the rest of us then?” Aiden asked.

Maya growled and flipped him off, stalking out of the room.

“You’re a dick, you know that?” Lukas said.

Aiden ignored him and strode around the table, inspecting their unconscious guest. He grabbed the male’s chin tilting it to the one side then the other.

Lukas frowned, “What are you doing?”

“Checking for mutations…”

“He’s normal, Aiden.” Lukas frowned, folding his arms “Maya and I have already looked over him, and he’s healthy as can be.”

Aiden stepped away from the table and picked up Maya’s notes, “You already took blood samples?”

“Yes.”

“Anything yet?”

“We don’t exactly have the fast advantage of tech anymore you know,” Lukas answered dryly.

Aiden sat down, on a chair and leaned back against it, throwing the paper work back onto the table. “We need to know he’s not freakish.” He said, pulling out is knife and fiddling with it.

“I really wish you’d be a little more supportive with me on this,” Lukas said, “He needs our help Aiden-“

Aiden stopped fiddling with the knife, pointing it straight at Lukas “Your help. Don’t drag me into this. The only reason I’m still here is to see you proven wrong.”

Lukas snarled, walking over to the table Aiden was at “God Aiden! You act like bringing him here is the end of everything! PAMA didn’t care about that bunker! They probably don’t even know that it was there!” Lukas slammed a hand down onto the table, eyes boring holes into Aiden, who was glaring “Everything went to hell when the bombs fell! Any record of it probably was destroyed! What’s the worst possible thing that could-“

Suddenly Aiden dropped his glare, eyes widening, “LUKAS WATCH OUT!”

Lukas’s whipped fully around facing the medical bed, just as he saw the glint of metal. “Shit!” he lurched back and the stranger stabbed at open air. His eyes were wild and he was very much awake, a scalpel was now his weapon. He swung again, the small medical instrument caught Lukas’s cheek slicing the skin and immediately drawing blood.

The stranger swung back for another blow, Lukas successfully was able to dodge the third time, “Hold on! Wait a second!” Lukas attempted to slowly get near the stranger, his hands up as a sign for peace. “We’re not going to hurt you-”

“Get away from me!” the male screamed, kicking him square in the chest.

Lukas gasped, crashing back hard through the table and into Aiden, sending them both falling against the wall. “Augh!”

The other leapt off the table, stumbling a little on shaky legs and dropping the weapon in a mad rush to escape. Aiden yanked out his pistol, Lukas’s eyes widened, knowing the gun was already cocked.

“Aiden no!” he cried, shoving his partner’s arm down. From the corner of his eye he saw the other brunet flee.

Aiden shoved him off, “Are you nuts?! He just tried to kill you.” he paused, “Again!

Lukas pulled himself off from the ground, looking at the door where the stranger had just escaped from. “It doesn’t matter! We have to bring him back! Who knows what will happen to him if he gets outside!”


Jesse raced down the hallway, lungs heaving heart racing.

Where am I?! What’s going on?!

He couldn’t remember anything; he didn’t know where he was. This wasn’t the same facility he recalled being in last time. Oh God have mercy they moved him, they put him in that God forsaken tube and they took him somewhere. Somewhere farther away from home.

He took a random turn into another unfamiliar hallway, bare feet slapping onto filthy and broken tile. This building looked old and decrepit, even the air smelled bad; it made Jesse’s lungs burn and his head spin, but he still pushed on. There was a faint light at the end of the hall, glowing through the cracks on the door. His way out.

Escape! Freedom!

He burst out of the building sliding out as sharp gravel and broken debris tearing into the bottom of his feet. He stood there frozen and gasping, taking in with horror the sight before him.

Desolated buildings were everywhere, the horizon was smoggy green sky crackling with lightning, the air thick and painful on his lungs. People close by looked up through their layers and rags, curious at the sudden ruckus. Jesse choked on a scream, staring in fear and terror as one of them – a female- looked at him with burnt skin and white blind eyes.

This was hell

Where am I?

“Hey stop!”

Jesse whipped around, seeing the blonde male from earlier racing down the hallway. “Stop!” he yelled.

He had a gun.

Jesse’s heart skipped a beat, and he took two steps back.

“Don’t run!”

Jesse turned and fled running down the nearest street, “Someone help me please!” he cried. He rounded a corner, screaming in fear at the sight of a small child with a horrid growth on the side of her face. He scrambled away, racing down an alley, “I don’t know where I am! Someone please!”

“Hey where are you going sonny?” a man stumbled out of the shadows, his skin blotchy and withered, almost like staring at a ghoul, or a dried out zombie, “Why don’t you stick around?”he slurred grabbing Jesse’s hand.

“No! Let go!” Jesse wrenched free, crashing into the building behind him.

“Oh don’t be that way sonny.”

“No! Just- someone help me please!” He fled, tears pooling in his eyes, “Mom! Dad! Olivia?! Axel?! Anybody?! God just help me! PLEASE!

He stumbled out into a clearing, wheezing and choking on the vile air. “W-where am I-“ he fell to his knees coughing hard. The sharp gravel ripping the thin cotton hospital pants. He wheezed, head spinning as he struggled against delirium, “Someone I-“

“Well, well, look what we have here...”

Jesse gasped in a mixture of surprise and pain as he was roughly yanked from the ground by his arm. He was pulled into the unwelcome embrace of a filthy and ragged young male. The stranger grinned maliciously at him, teeth rotted, some missing, “Look at this little pretty face.” He teased.

“He’s like a little mouse,” cooed a second male from behind Jesse, hand coming up to rest on the back of Jesse’s neck, “A scared little mouse.”

Jesse jerked away, despite his extreme dizziness, “No-no- let me go!”

“Where you going little mouse?” the first asked holding tight.

“I-I’m just trying to find home I-“

“Awww poor wittle thing is lost!” the man behind him sneered, hot breath tickling Jesse’s ear as he pushed closer to his back.

“L-let me go! Please, I don’t want trouble! I’m lost and confused and I don’t know what’s going on!” Jesse struggled on near tears and terrified from the grip holding him in place, “Please, let me leave!”

“What you do think Earl?” the first said, “Pretty face like him would be real hot in the ring,”

“Don’t know Buck,” Earl answered, “I think that pretty face would do better elsewhere if you get my drift?”

Jesse felt his blood run cold and he choked on a heightened spike of fear, adding to his already incredible amount of terror.

Buck chuckled, gripping tighter onto Jesse’s wrists, “Suppose you’re right. Soft skin like this shouldn’t be cut up.”

Jesse struggled, lungs heaving as he fought; inhaling more of the foul air with each rasping breath. “Let go!” he cried, fighting to stay conscious.

“Oh don’t struggle little mouse,” Earl purred, “It’s gonna be okay-“

“Hey assholes!”

The trio froze, all looking towards the alleyway entrance of the clearing. Jesse immediately recognized the blonde from before. He stood there, panting a little, blood running down his cheek from where Jesse had cut him.

The male pointed his pistol casually at the two assailants, “Let him go.”

“Fuck off Lukas, we ain’t afraid of you!” Earl snarled.

Lukas.

Lukas sighed, rolling his eyes. “Earl you chem addicted dumbass, he’s with me.” The azure blue eyes flashed in hostility, “I suggest you let him go.”

Earl growled and grabbed Jesse by his hair, wrenching his head back and making him cry out in discomfort, “This true?” he demanded of Jesse.

Jesse flinched, “I-I-“

“He is,” Lukas cut off, “And unless you want trouble I suggest you and Buck go on your merry way.”

“The world ain’t puppies and rainbows anymore, you delusional punk!” Buck spat, “Helping every sob story don’t get no one nowhere! Pretty boy here will do nicely at the casino,” he shoved a hand up Jesse’s thin shirt, running his grimy hands along his stomach, “Should fetch us a mighty fine price of credits”

Jesse held back a yelp, and flinched. He struggled against the unwanted administrations.

Lukas seemed unfazed, but there was a silent fury in his posture, “I don’t give a damn about your opinions, now,” Lukas raised his pistol, cocking the weapon, “Let my team member go.”

The other two acted in unison, swiftly yanking out their guns, Earl putting his against the back of Jesse’s neck, causing Jesse to still his struggling. “We ain’t afraid of you blond bitch! Without your team, you ain’t nothing!”

Lukas seemed to relent after a moment of tense silence eyes shifting between the two hostiles. He lowered his gun with a heavy sigh, then rather loudly he stated, “Two?”

“One!” someone else answered.

There was a sickening crack and Earl was screaming. He fell to the ground, gripping a broken arm. Jesse was forcibly yanked away from Buck, stumbling behind the other male from earlier who seemed to be teammates with Lukas. Jesse watched as the brunet kicked the cursing Earl’s gun away, a gleaming metal fist coming up and smashing down to break his nose. Earl’s head snapped back, knocked out cold.

The larger male shook the dark blood off his metal hand, “Take that you drug addicted sicko!” He snarled,giving Earl’s body a decent kick.

“You fucker!” Buck yelled, only to go down as Lukas’s pistol was instantly back up sights already set and firing. Buck screamed as he took a bullet to the thigh. “Augh! Shit!”

The other male kicked again, this time knocking Buck out cold, “God these bastards never cease to disgust me.”

Jesse took a shaky step back from the other male, hands clenching his shirt tightly.

“Warned ‘em,” Lukas sighed and put his gun away, He looked over towards Jesse, with honest concern in his features “Are you alright?”

Jesse slowly turned to face him, unsure of how to act next knowing Lukas was armed and the other could break a man’s nose. “I-“ his knees buckled, sending him falling down.

“Woah easy!” Lukas lunged forward, catching him in his sturdy arms, “Take a second okay?”

“I- I- what’s going on I-“ Jesse stammered, shaking hard.

“God he’s broken,” the other scoffed from somewhere behind him.

Lukas glared over Jesse’s shoulder, “Lay off Aiden,” he warned, slipping off his coat. “Here,” he wrapped it around Jesse, “You gotta be cold – um- “

“Jesse.”

“Jesse...Look,” the blond soothed, “We’re not going to hurt you, okay? My team and I found you still alive in a bunker vault. We took you out of there to take care of you.”

“T-took me? w-where did y-you,”

“This is Founder’s Town.” Lukas said softly.

Founder’s Town?

“I… I don’t know where that is...” Jesse cringed.

Lukas nodded, patient, like a parent to a child. “Do you know where you are from? Do you know what happened to you?”

“I- I-“ Jesse struggled to process, “I-PAMA, they kidnapped me. I – it was Oct 28th when I went out-“

“What year?”

“2047?”

Lukas’s eyes widened and Jesse flinched. “W-What?”

Behind him Aiden, cursed, “Oh fuck.

Jesse squinted, confusion hacking at his shock, “W-why? What happened? Why is everything so-“ he fell into a fit of coughs, gripping his throat as he choked, eyes watering.

Lukas’s eyes immediately softened masking whatever shock had been there moments before, “The air isn’t as clean as it was….um…in 2047, here I’ll-” he reached down pulling out a strange looking mask from his side pouch, it was connected by a hose to a small tank, “Let me-“

Jesse’s heart stuttered to a halt at the sight of it and he tried to pull away, fear once again taking over him. “NO!”

“What?”

“Get that thing away from me!”

Lukas grabbed his shoulder, “Jesse calm down! I’m trying to help I swear-“

Survival instincts and overwhelming fear again took control.”You work for PAMA!” Jesse screamed, he shoved against Lukas, yanking out a knife from his thigh strap.

“Jesse wait!”

There was then a sharp agonizing pain in the back of his neck and Jesse’s world went dark.


Lukas cursed as Jesse slumped forward into his arms, knife slipping out of the brunet’s fingers and onto the ground with a clatter, “God dammit Aiden!”

Aiden lowered his pistol, slipping it back into his holster, “It shocks me that you still get mad at me even though this is the third time he has attempted to murder you.”

Lukas snarled, adjusting Jesse against him as he scooped back up his knife from where it had dropped and angrily sheathed it, “He was scared for some reason! You didn’t have to knock him out cold with your gun! What if you had killed him?!”

Aiden scowled, “I didn’t kill him, I just knocked him out!”

“We’re trying to get him to trust us! Not this stupid bull crap you’ve been pulling.”

The mercenary jabbed a thumb towards the bleeding and unconscious druggies, “So me helping you just now….that’s just bull crap then?”

“God you’re so...” Lukas scooped his other arm under Jesse’s legs, before lifting him up in his arms. Lukas grimaced as Jesse was a limp dead weight in his arms, head rolling loosely against his shoulder, “Let’s just get him back to the base.”

Aiden stepped into line next to him, the pair quickly leaving the clearing behind, “Do…do you think he’s delirious?” he asked after a tense moment of silence.

Lukas cringed, but didn’t say anything to Aiden.

“He said 2047 Lukas.” Aiden spoke again, voice tense and low.

“I heard him just fine Aiden. But...those tubes were frozen,” Lukas said slowly, “There is a chance he could have-“

“No one can survive frozen that long, none of the others did.” Aiden warned. “There is no way he could be from 2047, no way in hell. It would be...impossible.”

Lukas flinched again, his mind wandering to the current date and what this meant about Jesse.

It was currently the year 330 P.B – Post Bomb – the world that had been there previously ended in 2049. So officially by pre-war standard time is was 2389….

Which meant Jesse was frozen for over 300 years…..

Lukas looked at the unconscious male in his arms, the male's eyebrows scrunched together, he was trapped in a nightmare of some kind.

What happened to you?

Chapter Text

 

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing,

-


 

The trees quivered in the howling wind, the weaker ones bending in the gale. The constant green clouds of the sky had gone black, closing in. Lightning danced across the dark folds, constant, never ending.

A storm was coming.

“Hurry up! We don’t want to be stuck out here when the radiation storm hits!

A tall imposing woman, turned her gaze away from the sky, setting her sights back down onto the fake fallout base before her. She turned to the man beside her, “Progress?”

“The rad rat infestation was high-“

“I need vault status, I could care less about some damn rodent problem.”

The man shifted uncomfortably, and he should be. Failure would cost him his position, possibly his life. All she had to do was say, “W-we’ve got men down there right now.”

“Status,” she repeated again, ice in her voice.

He quickly grabbed his walkie talkie, taking a few steps to get away from her, “Markus what’s the status on the vault?”

The radio crackled, “It was already open when we got down here?”

She raised an eyebrow, “ What?”

The supervisor flinched “Status, Markus, now

“I’m sending my team up with the catalog as we speak.”

As if on cue a group of men and woman exited the building, one unlucky soul quickly handing a pad over to the supervisor. “It mostly contains old medical drugs, most of them are expired, only a few missing.”

She walked over, heels clicking on the concrete.

The employee stammered, nervous at the sight of her, “We-we think whoever broke in probably took the missing medical product. From the records we recovered, it showed that this was also the location for the original Project Lifeline .”

She let out an exhale, finally. Then speaking out loud, “Were any of these subjects successful?” she asked.

“A-a few,” the female swallowed nervously, “But the b-bunker- suffered a system failure,” she gestured, to another research member who carried a large armful of faded yellow folders.  “All we have left is their subject files.”

“What about tissue samples?” the supervisor asked.

“Not possible, The corpses are too far gone, they rotted the bacta fluid.”

The woman gave a terrifying glare and the lower ranked female flinched. “Almost all are dead, I’m sorry! I-“

The woman raised an eyebrow and held up a hand, signalling her to stop talking “Wait, what do you mean almost all?”

She handed a folder to her, “O-one of the subjects is missing my lady.”

“Missing?”

“System records say the tank was opened recently, the exact date didn’t show, but it is this year. We couldn’t find the body…..”

The woman opened the folder, eyeing the subject brief notes. She noticed the file was extremely thick compared to the others. He was the most successful out of them all…so was it possible that he….” Where is the nearest outpost?” she asked as she dismissed the research member. The female left swiftly, relieved to be away from her.

Confused by the sudden change of topics the supervisor shifted nervously, “Founder’s Town ma’am.”

“Start sending teams to Founder’s Town, I want them to start looking for anyone out of place and anyone who might have been over here in the past month.”

“May I ask why we would be looking for someone out of place?”

She turned on her heel, leaving the bunker behind, “I doubt the thieves who broke in would take off with a corpse, would you?”


 

Jesse rolled over, groaning, fighting the faint ache behind his eyes.

“Oh …….you’re awake.”

Alertness struck Jesse like a bolt of electricity and he quickly sat up. He immediately spotted Lukas, opposite to him in the room. This wasn’t the medical room like before; it was a simple furnished room. And from the obvious telltale signs, Jesse noted that he was in a bedroom, on a broken down but soft mattress.

Lukas was sitting in a worn, but comfy looking chair across from him, his coat hanging over a nightstand nearby him. The blonde then closed the book that he had been reading and set it down on the dresser. His face was blanketed in genuine concern,

“You’ve been out since yesterday” Lukas informed, in a gentle tone, leaning forward in the chair and gripping his hands together. “Are you feeling ok?”

Jesse cringed as his neck and head throbbed as he attempted to move it. “Did someone hit me?” he asked, rubbing the aching spot on his neck

Lukas’s eyes shifted towards the bedroom door, “You passed out, from the air we think.”

He was lying, he was pretty sure Lukas’s teammate from earlier had hit him from behind when Jesse had taken the knife from Lukas.

Jesse noticed that Lukas was clearly making an effort to seem non-hostile. The male was in a simple tank and cargo pants. There was no pistol at his hip, nor a knife on a thigh strap. Jesse even noticed a funny looking rifle was far from Lukas’s reach. Instead it rested against the bed, the ammo cartridge removed and sitting on the dresser.

Lukas was now as unarmed as Jesse. But he was still capable of doing something, that Jesse knew.

However, Jesse accepted the lie, and readjusted himself on the bed, “This isn’t the same room as last time,” he said softly.

“We decided to put you in a bedroom – well, mine anyway,” Lukas answered, “’I thought maybe you wanted to wake up somewhere more comfortable for a change.”

Jesse glanced around and noticed that despite being meticulously clean and well organized, the room still was worn down. The carpet was faded, nearly threadbare, the wall paint dirty and peeled.

The air still smelled bad too, but it was more tolerable now. it didn’t burn Jesse’s lungs as much as before. Of course he still felt dizzy from it, but only ever so slightly. “I appreciate that,” he mumbled out. “I’m….I’m sorry for freaking out on you earlier.”

“No I get it,” the blond replied quickly, “I would have freaked out too.”

They fell into an uncomfortable silence. It was clear to Jesse that Lukas had questions, and Jesse himself was full of them. But it was Lukas in the end that broke the ice.

“How did you end up involved with PAMA?” he asked.

Jesse flinched hard, fuzzy memories, and soft aches of pain seeping their way into his brain.

“I…they took me.”

He watched as Lukas’s eyes darkened, and he turned his head towards the curtain covered window, “Yeah…they’re good at doing that.”

Jesse looked away, eyeing some chipped paint on a nearby wall, “I- I don’t remember a lot, I remember they put me in some weird tube, and then I woke up and you were there.” Jesse rubbed his arm, “I think you saved me?”

From the corner of his eye he saw Lukas cringe, and the very gesture made Jesse nervous. He readjusted on the bed, swinging his legs over the side. His nerves tensing up and he was already mentally preparing to run.

Jesse swallowed slowly, his throat thick, “Thank you for saving me,” he repeated.

“Oh, yeah, no problem,”

“I’m kind of surprised, you found me so easily,” Jesse mumbled, “I could never get out a room, much less the whole building, how did you get past the security?”

Lukas flinched again and Jesse’s stomach twisted into knots.

“Lukas?”

The male seemed to be struggling to form a sentence. It didn’t take much to put together he had something to say, and he was reluctant to say it. But finally Lukas adjusted in his seat, “Jesse- I-“

Suddenly the bedroom door opened and a female quickly entered the room, “Lukas we need to talk-oh!” she stopped at the sight of Jesse, eyes widening in surprise. “Oh- I – um….”

The female was small the same size as Jesse in height. Her hair was short and dark brown, but it a pristine bob, a small braid running down the right hand side.

Behind her Jesse spotted the male he was sure knocked him out earlier, didn’t Lukas call him Aiden? He was now without his jacket, Jesse could clearly see that Aiden’s metal hand was actually a metal arm, going all the way up past where his left shoulder should be. The dark silver metal was engraved in black tribal markings, almost mimicking a tattoo. The male looked in a worse mood than the last time Jesse saw him.

Next to him was another male, this one Jesse was unfamiliar to. But the newcomer was huge, easily passing six feet. His hair was shaved military buzzed, his face covered in dark thick facial hair.

Lukas seemed, relieved to be interrupted with whatever he was about to say to Jesse, but at the same time he didn’t seem too happy to see the arrivals, “Maya, Aiden, Gill,” he said dryly.

Maya turned to Lukas, “I wanted to talk to you,” she stuttered out, eyes occasionally glancing towards Jesse, “But I wasn’t aware he was awake, so I- we, can wait,” she mumbled.

Jesse fought on the sickening feeling that whatever it was the female had wanted to say, it was about him.

Lukas’s frown deepened.

“I-I can go outside, so you can talk-“ Jesse began to stammer.

Aiden scoffed, “I take it you haven’t told him,” he said dryly.

“I was working on it Aiden, it’s kinda hard to explain,” Lukas said, temper flaring.

Jesse looked back and forth between the two sets, “What? What do you have to tell me? Is something wrong,” his fingers clenched into the sheets, “Did I do something wrong?”

Aiden went to open his mouth but Lukas cut him off, “No Jesse you haven’t done anything wrong.” He rubbed his temple struggling to form what he needed to say, “I wanted to tell you when you were feeling a little better, this is going to be a lot.”

“I-I feel fine,” Jesse said weakly, “What’s wrong?”

Lukas sighed, dropping his hand defeated, “It’s not exactly safe to go outside anymore.”

Jesse’s mind flashed back to his most recent experience, and the two men who clearly didn’t have his best wellbeing in mind, “I noticed,” he remarked, “Are we in a bad neighborhood right now?”

Aiden scoffed again, “We’re in a bad neighborhood period.”

Lukas flashed Aiden a warning look, a cold fury turning his blue eyes steely. Aiden glared back, much to the discomfort of Maya and Gill, but he eventually turned away with a scowl, exiting the room.

“Look Jesse, outside, as in the whole world, isn’t as safe as it used to be. You were trapped by PAMA I think a little longer than you realized,” Lukas said slowly.

Jesse’s heart skipped a beat, “W-what do you mean?”

“I know this is sudden, and I wish there was a better way to tell you-“

“Lukas, what do you mean?”

Lukas sighed, going silent for a moment, unsure of how to phrase it.

Maya looked up, a look of pity in her eyes, “There was a war,” she said softly, “No one really knows what happened, all anyone knows any more is that it was bad.”

“They dropped bombs, nuclear bombs,” Lukas explained, “A lot of major countries were hit, all forms of government began collapsing all over the word. The bombs killed a lot of people, the war ended because there was no country capable of fighting any more. The radiation killed even more, and then the ash….” Lukas cringed, “All the radiation, ash, smoke- everything, it clogged the sky. The sun couldn’t shine through, everything got cold, and the world fell into a winter….”

Jesse was getting off the bed, arms shaking, “This, no- bombs? You can’t be serious,” he struggled to breath, “This is just a joke isn’t it; this is just some sick joke.”

“It’s not a joke,” Lukas pressed, “Jesse-“

“Something like that doesn’t just happen!” Jesse shoved off the bed, not making his way to the door, but to the window, yanking the curtains open. He gasped, startled by the sight before him, “W-what?”

The atmosphere was a dark smoggy green, the sky covered thickly in black clouds. Everything was dull and dim, and cold. Only the smallest traces of sunlight broke through the dark folds. The city –if you could call it that- was a derelict mess of mud brick homes, crumbling buildings and makeshift sheet metal. The land beyond the city was a grave of dead trees, brown plants and rotted grass. There was the occasional watering hole, the liquid dark and murky. The far horizon was a haze of green, with no end to it sight.

A total wasteland.

Jesse staggered away from the window, “Wha- how- when-“ he choked on the words, stumbling back.

Lukas caught him, guiding him back to the bed, sitting him down “I wish it was as lie Jesse, but it isn’t. The world ended, in 2049….then the world froze over-”

Jesse jerked away from Lukas, “ 2049?! I was with PAMA for two years?!”

“Well-“

“We shouldn’t be above ground!” Jesse panicked, “Nuclear radiation is dangerous! It’s going to take centuries for this to clear out, the air is going to be polluted and-“

He froze as Lukas gently took hold of his arms, in a attempt to be soothing and gentle, “Jesse,” he said softly. “It has been centuries.”

“W-what…..”

“That tube you were in, it froze. We don’t know how you survived,” Lukas explained, “But you were in there for over 300 years.”

Jesse felt as if his breath had been stolen, “N-no, there is no way! I should be dead, I- there is no way,” his voice cracked.

Lukas’s eyes were full of genuine pity, “It’s 330 P.B. what we call post bomb, in the original time, it’s the year 2389, Jesse you were frozen. We just don’t know how you manage to stay alive-“

“No!” Jesse wrenched Lukas’s arms off him, “You’re lying, please tell me you’re lying!”

Lukas’s expression clearly stated he wasn’t, and when Jesse looked at Gill and Maya he could tell they were not lying either.

“No-no-“ Jesse choked on a sob, “I should be dead. I should be-“

Two years of his life, what should have only been two years-

Jesse let out a wail, bending forward into the mattress, large wet tears falling from his face and hitting the cotton sheets. His life, his friends, his family; all of it was dead, all of it was gone.

Gone for over three hundred years.

“M-my parents, my home- I – I- Oh God no please!”

Lukas placed a gentle hand on Jesse’s shoulder, “ I didn’t know how to tell you Jesse, and I really wish it wasn’t true.” He gave a soft rub, “I’m so, so, sorry. I’ll try to help you through this, I just…..I’m sorry.”

Jesse didn’t answer, he merely sobbed. He cried at the prospect of his future, and the wastes that awaited him beyond the bedroom walls. He sobbed, for the family he never got to say goodbye to, the family that never knew what happened to him. He grieved for the world and life he had lost.

A world that no one alive now even recalled….except for him


 

A few weeks had passed since he found out, and Jesse still struggled to adjust to the harsh truth. He looked for days, a week even for someone in the group of strangers to slip up, to reveal that this was indeed all just some sick joke.

But it wasn’t.

He’d stay mostly near Lukas, the one he felt safest with, and watch everyone.

Everything about this world was odd, and strange. The weapons they carried were a  hodgepodge mix of metal, scopes, anything capable of being turned lethal. He saw Gill once reassembling was appeared to be a sawed off shotgun.

Maya worked with medical remedies that Jesse wasn’t familiar with either, taking old drugs and pills, she would boil them down make something new out of them. Most plants were toxic and beyond use, but she would occasionally use a weed for something.

Lukas did his best to explain all he could to Jesse. He talked about the nuclear winter that followed the bombs, how the wastelands were a dangerous vast space between struggling settlements and towns.

From what Jesse understood, the world was simply out for themselves, most towns used each other for trade and business and that was that. It was a constant battle, a fight to survive. There were raiders - vile humans picking off others on trade routes-  and radiated creatures hiding out in the wilderness.There were constantly going storms, carrying with them radiation and ancient poisons from the war. Then, the dreaded radiation sickness, almost everyone succumbed to it sooner or later, and all of them feared it.

Life was harsh, and the world was no longer friendly and warm, it was out to destroy everything that breathed.

Everything was stripped down to just that.

Lukas was out today, something about needing to do an supply run to a trader outside of town. He already gently informed Jesse that the city was dangerous, the wastes were even worse. So Jesse stayed behind.

It was hard, Lukas made every effort to make sure Jesse was comfortable, and Jesse found himself needing that comfort. He didn’t remember much with his time in the PAMA institute, but he knew it was painful, and cold. He relied heavily on Lukas for that safety. A strange relationship considering the brief time that they had known each other. But Lukas still had a life, a job, and it couldn’t be ignored, so Jesse waited.

The gang lived on the third floor of what remained of a multiple story apartment building. It was at the edge of town, highly exposed to the wastes and the threats it carried. But Lukas’s team didn’t have to do a thing to prove they can handle the danger. There were guns in almost every room, especially in the room that doubled as the living room/gathering area.

Jesse was sitting there currently, attempting to put on a very large, sweatshirt. Finding proper clothes had been difficult for Jesse. Lukas’s team was tight on credits, each had their own savings, and apparently had been relying on a good find in the PAMA vault.

The vault that produced Jesse instead.

Maya helped him pull the large sweatshirt over his head, his hair frizzing with static. “I figured Gill would be too big for you,” she sighed.

“He is kinda large,” Jesse said sheepishly,”But I’m thankful he offered to give it to me.”

“We need to cover you more though,” Maya frowned, “It’s cold outside,”

“It’s cold in here,” Jesse said.

Maya  laughed a little, even though it was indeed cool inside building she and her friends usually were in single layers of clothes, tank tops, even cotton pants when indoors. They were used to the world around them. However, the temperature was something Jesse had yet to adjust to.

“Well we need you bundled, cause it’s even colder outside.” she said. She got up tapping her chin, “You’re pretty small, I think I might have a pair of jeans that might fit you.” she stopped at the hallway, “Are you okay with wearing “girls” clothes?”

Jesse shrugged, then quickly grabbed the shoulder of the sweater as it slipped down on his skin, pulling it back up. “I don’t think I have a option to be picky,”

Maya gave another soft small smile and exited down the hall.

Jesse was left to his thoughts, kneading his fingers along the sleeves of the thick sweatshirt. Across the room Aiden sat in the kitchen area, silently sharpening his hunting knife at the table. Out of all the members of the team, Jesse had yet to speak to Aiden about - well, anything.

The male didn’t really give him a chance either, he went out often, not coming back for a day or two. When he was at the base he was reclusive to his room most of the time, and never said a word when he was outside of it. He was intimidating to be sure, and seeing him break a man’s arm during their first meeting left quite an impression on Jesse.

Deciding to at least try and thank the male for his part in Jesse’s rescue; Jesse got up, meekly making his way into the kitchen. Aiden’s eyes shifted ever so slightly his way, but other than that he didn’t react.

Jesse went to sit on the seat next to Aiden, “I haven’t had the chance to say this yet, because you seem to be busy; but thank you-”

Aiden suddenly stood, stabbing the hunter’s knife into the table, Jesse yelped in surprise, taking a step back as Aiden towered over him.

“Let me make one thing perfectly clear,” the other brunet snarled, “I did not, agree to bringing you here, I do not, want you in our lives. You are putting us all at risk and the sooner Lukas gets that through his thick skull the better.”

Jesse stared, stunned and terrified.

“You are going to stay out of my way,” Aiden hissed, “You will not talk to me, you will not even think about getting close, because if I have my way, you’ll be out of our hair in a month. Am. I. Clear?”

“I-I-” Jesse flinched.

“Aiden!”

Both of them turned to see Maya at the entrance of the kitchen, she glared at Aiden, “Fuck off!” she said.

Aiden snarled, yanking his knife from the table, splinters of wood flying as he removed the blade. He gave Jesse one last glare and departed. He bumped Maya in the shoulder as he passed, she kicked her foot back at him in response, “Go get a drink or something you dick!” she hollered after him.

Her gaze softened as she looked at Jesse, still shocked and shaking in the kitchen. “Don’t pay any attention to him, he’s like a dog, he bites at strangers,” she said gently, setting the clothing on the table.

Jesse slowly sat down, “I don’t understand, what does he mean, a danger?”

Maya hesitated, then she grabbed her first pair of jeans, “Let’s just see if these fit okay?”

She clearly dodged the question, but Jesse relented and allowed her to do so. He looked at the darkened hall where Aiden had retreated to, struggling to fight off the guilty sensation pooling in his stomach.


 

The bar was the only decent place in town to get food. That was because the people eating were usually drunk. As Gill had quickly learned in life, everything tasted better when alcohol had already destroyed your taste buds.

He needed it too, this had been a rough week. He was signed up for an escort job yesterday, but the man who hired him to do said escorting died of radiation sickness the day prior.

So there went that ticket meal.

Luckily he could always get a good break at Charlie’s place. Charlie was a good guy, rough, old, used to be a mercenary back in his prime. Gill helped him clear out a bad gang that had been roughing up the joint a year or so back and Gill had been on Charlie’s good side ever since. So Charlie was always happy to give Gill a decent meal for a price that didn’t cost Gill a vital organ.

The bar was loud as was the usual for this time of evening. Most people - the ones who had jobs anyway- got off work about this time. Once it got dark, most loud activity ceased outside. Rabble had a nasty tendency to draw in the nocturnal monsters of the wastes, and even though there were fences and watchtowers, it was still a risk.

Charlie had worked for years making his bar’s walls thick and therefore sound muffling. Which made the joint a popular spot to get wasted and loud.

Gill sat in his usual corner of the bar, slurping his soup, drinking the cheapest but most edible drink he could muster. He listened to the gossip and mulled over his own issues at the moment.

To say things weren’t…. tense, a t the base would be an understatement. Jesse was a sweet kid, kind and friendly when he knew you weren’t with PAMA. Maya warmed up to him pretty quick and Gill was always one to follow his lady’s cue.

It was Aiden and Lukas who were the problem. Multiple times this week Aiden again brought up the issue of PAMA and what if they came after Jesse. Lukas was dead set on keeping Jesse safe with them.  More than once when Jesse was asleep did the two face of in a heated exchange of words.

Gill tended to stay out of it, he followed either Lukas or Aiden, depending on who took charge of the situation. The problem was both of them were fighting for that control at that moment. Another reason Gill needed that drink.

Charlie set a bottle of beer in front of Gill. Gill slurped up a noodle, eyeing it. “I didn’t order that Charlie,”

The gruff male smiled, a gap in his teeth, “Yeah looked like you needed it though,”

Gill snorted and snapped the cap off the bottle.

“Rough fews runs,”

“That’s putting it lightly,” he replied, he glanced around bar, noting despite how loud it was there was very few people in the bar this evening, “Little short on customers tonight?”

Charlie scoffed, “Patrons got scared off.”

“Oh?”

Charlie jabbed his head and his voice dropped low, “See those two men in the corner of the bar?”

Gill paused from his drink and slightly looked over his shoulder. He eyed two strangely dressed men in the darkened corner of the diner. The looked a little too high class to be in the joint, much less locals of Founder’s Town. “They giving you trouble?”

“Not yet, but they’ve been asking a lot of questions to patrons, particularly hired hands or anyone going out into the wastes.” the barman spat on the floor, “Don’t know what they’re asking yet, but they’re scaring people.”

“Want me to deck em if they get out of hand?”

Charlie laughed and patted Gill on the shoulder, “I’ll let you know, holler if you need anything kid,” he smiled as he returned to his work.

Gill went back to his meal, continuing to listen to the idle gossip of the locals. He would occasionally sneak a glance at the strangers. They seemed to be gossip fishing as well.

“Did you hear PAMA is over by old Founder’s Town?”

Gill paused, looking at a group of people at one of the tables.

“No, what have you heard?” someone asked.

“They’re digging around by that old bunker in the area. Everyone thinks they’re trying to find stuff.”

Gill shifted his gaze to the two strangers, who also listened with interest.

“Stuff like what?”

“I don’t know, but I think they are missing something. I saw two soldiers yesterday asking around if anyone had been up there lately. I bet you someone got into that vault and took something. One of them asked me if I had seen any new people lately. I think they’re after someone.”

Gill choked on his soup, taking a particularly loud slurp. The noise caught the attention of a few patrons. Gill quickly let out a drunken giggle and slurped again. They looked away uninterested in a drunken fool.

Gill went to look back at the gossip but made the mistake of eye contact.

“Hey Gill weren’t you up there recently?” the female called.

Gill reluctantly turned his chair around, knowing the strangers were staring at him. “What?”

“Didn’t you have a run in the old town?”

“Naw,” Gill said, “Nothing good left to pick through there. Passed by on a caravan escort but that was a few weeks ago.”

The group accepted his tale and went back to their chatter. Gill didn’t look at the corner of the bar as he turned around, “Hey Charlie,”

Charlie slid down the bar. “What can I do ya kid?”

“What do I owe you?”

“Running already?” Charlie asked as he pulled printed receipt out.

“Running already,” Gill answered, dropping the required credits on the table.

“Stay out of trouble,” Charlie warned.

Gill waved, That’s the plan, He thought. He noticed the two suspicious characters whispering to themselves and standing.

He hurried out of the bar and took a sharp left, already trying to plot out a way to get home without leading his stalkers there.

He looked back just as the two men exited the building.

Shit .

Gill rounded the alleyway, heart pounding as he could hear the crunch of gravel behind him. He turned his head forward, keeping his head high and casual, supposedly unaware to his followers.

Aiden was coming his direction, looking irked as usual. The male was tightening his coat as he walked, a weak attempt against the constant cold, “Gill where the fuck have you been? I have been-“

Gill grabbed his arm and turned him around, “Keep walking,”

Aiden stumbled slightly, but managed to keep upright, “What the hell Gill? The base is that-“

“We’re being followed, well, I am anyway.”

“What?”

“The men behind me are from PAMA,”

Aiden stiffened, but only momentarily , he soon casually stepped into pace with Gill, taking a random right down another path, “What do they want?”he asked, voice hushed and tense.

Gill let his eyes shift as he turned, seeing the two men following still, “They were chilling around the bar, listening to see if anyone had been to Old Founder’s Town. I guess PAMA has been digging around the bunker.”

“And?”

“I didn’t say anything, but a loudmouth  asked if I had been up there, he brought up the job we had. I blew it off but these men didn’t buy it.”

“Shit, that’s what they’re after aren’t they? They know we took Jesse.”

“The gossipers think they’re looking for a person. But I don’t know if they meant us or Jesse,” Gill shrugged, “I don’t know, I just played it dumb, said we had a caravan job that passed through the area but we didn’t stick. Still the bunker got these guys’ attention, they’ve been following me since the bar. I’ve been trying to lose them.”

Aiden snarled, “Keep up with me,” he mumbled before increasing his pace and making a sharp left.

Gill followed hot on his heels, Aiden leading him around in twist and turns soon entering the dredge of Founder’s Town. Aiden rounded a corner, a little beggar girl sat on the floor.

“Hey Mia, do us a favor?” Aiden asked, kneeling down to her level,  “The two men who follow after us? Point them the wrong way if they ask where we went?”

The little girl raised an eyebrow, “Why should I?”

Aiden held out ten credits.

She took them.

Aiden straightened back up and shoved Gill into a nearby building, the two vanishing into the shadows just as their pursuers entered the alley.

“Hey you, girl!” one of them gasped out, winded from their trailing, “Did you see two men go through here?”

“Lotta men come through here,” she answered simply.

“Six footer? Bald? The other one is a little shorter, brown hair?”

The little girl tilted her head, “That narrows it down,” she said dryly.

The second man scowled, pulling out a prime handful of credits, easily fifty strong, and handing it to Mia, who in turn had her eyes widen. From the corner of his gaze he saw Aiden frown, hand slowly reaching towards his hunting knife.

“Tell us which way they went, now ,” the man said icily.

Mia ran her fingers over the credits, and slowly looked up.

Gill’s heart was pounding, he reached over his shoulder, hand gripping his shotgun.

Mia pointed – the opposite way- “I saw them go that way, they’re headed down to the prostitute lane.” She said.

Gill and Aiden both relaxed as the two PAMA lackeys retreated towards their new direction,

“Lotta credits to lie for,” Aiden said as he stepped out of the building.

“Better to lie than be a PAMA bitch,” Mia answered with a shrug.

Gill reached into his pouch, “We owe you,”

Mia got up, tucking her new earnings into her own bag, “Keep your credits, looks like you’re gonna need them here soon,” she said, scooping up her mat, “And I don’t want to be here when they come for you.”

Gill watched her go, “You think they’re really looking for Jesse?”

Aiden scowled, hand gripping his knife tight, “Everything in that bunker was useless Gill, everything except what was probably used to be in that vault. I don’t have a single doubt they're looking for Lukas’s little crush right now.” He turned away, quickly putting distance between them and their new enemies, “Let’s go, we have to tell Lukas the problem is serious now.”


“Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

“Markus relax,”

Markus turned around, looking at his partner, “ This, is why I am in the research department, not, recon!”

His partner looked around, “We’ll find him, how hard could it be to find a large six foot giant with no hair?”

Markus pointed as a mercenary easily six foot with no hair walked by.

“We’ll find them,”

“Your job isn’t on the line here.” he stressed.

The other male crossed his arms, “You can’t even be sure if they know anything.Remember, we’re supposed to be looking someone who has confirmed been to the bunker and has a strange person with them.”

“This town is full of freaks,” Markus scowled, “How the heck are we supposed to find someone who sticks out. Even if we payed people they wouldn’t talk.”

“Excuse me gentlemen?”

The pair turned to see a greasy druggie stand up from his spot on the muddy ground. His arm was broken, and his face looked like it had been on the wrong -and possibly losing- end of a fist fight.

“What do you want?” Markus scowled.

“Name is Earl my fine sirs, and for the right price, I can help you.”

“Oh?”

“You might want to bring whoever you need in gentlemen,” The stranger smiled at the pair, gaps in his rotted teeth, “I think I know who you are looking for.”

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Death, Murder, Blood, Gore

Trauma, Shock, Exteme Levels of Violence

-


 

Lukas jumped as the door to the apartment slammed shut; the sudden bang interrupting his gun cleaning. Across the kitchen, Maya almost spilled a bottle of chemicals she had been mixing.

Aiden stormed into the living room, followed by Gill.

Lukas tried not to scowl at him, here we go…..

“We need to talk,” Aiden said, tensely through gritted teeth.

“Slam the door a little harder why don’t ya?” Maya answered before Lukas, “I think you can bring down the building.”

“We, need, to, talk,” Aiden repeated, ignoring the female.

“Don’t we always as of late?” Lukas responded dryly, putting his weapon down, turning to face Aiden “I have told you a thousand times Aiden, we are not, going to just drop Jesse-“

“PAMA is here,”

Lukas froze and Maya nearly dropped her mixes again. “What?”

“They’re asking around,” Gill piped up, “They have employees and soldiers snooping everywhere. I think they’re looking for-“ his voice dropped down as he cautiously looked around for the young male. He brought a hand up to his mouth, and said in a poor whisper, “I think they’re looking for you know who-“

“God dammit Gill they’re looking for Jesse!” Aiden snapped. He turned to face Lukas, “He has to go! Now!”

Lukas stood, “We are not, leaving him for PAMA, we have discussed this enough!”

“We haven’t discussed it at all!” Aiden snapped, “You made a brash decision and forced the rest of us to accept your actions!

Lukas crossed his arms, in retaliation. “I’m not forcing anyone to accept anything!”

Aiden jabbed a finger at Lukas’s chest,  “You are putting everyone in this room in the path of PAMA because you won’t leave some stranger- who you met less than a month ago- alone!”

“What am I supposed to do Aiden?” Lukas demanded, smacking the finger away. “Let him figure out to survive out here on his own?!”

“The rest of us had to!” The brunet snapped.

“He wouldn’t last five minutes in the city much less out in the wastes!” Maya cut in, “He’d be three feet out that door and there’d be some raiders who would snatch him up for the prostitution ring, or worse! Maybe they’d turn him into an organ harvest!”

Aiden snarled, “Shit, Really?! Not you too!”

Maya stormed across the kitchen, coming nose to nose with the taller male, “I’m with Lukas on this one you selfish prick! We are not leaving Jesse to PAMA!”

“Oh, so me, trying to look out of the well being of this team is being selfish is it?!”

“It does when it involves leaving an innocent person behind!”

Aiden cursed, looking over his shoulder, “Gill back me up here, tell your lady she’s crazy!”

Gill’s hands shot up, “That’s asking for a rifle up my ass man. Leave me out of this!”

“Enough!” Lukas snapped, “We are not going to do this here!” he crossed his arms, “Look no one in this town can stand PAMA, they all hate them, we don’t have to worry about snitches. We keep ourselves low enough for a day or two, and PAMA will move out of the area. All we have to do is lay low for a bit. Okay?”

Aiden’s eyes were burning in a hell worthy fury, “And Jesse?” he demanded stiffly.

“Jesse,” Lukas says firmly, “Stays with us, or me, if you would rather have it.”

His friend’s lip curled in disgust. “Fine,” he spat, he turned on his heel, shoving past Gill mumbling about how the team’s brain was full of radioactive cotton and so on.

“Lay low!” Lukas called after him.

Aiden flipped him off.

Lukas pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes for a moment. He let out a heavy sigh, in an attempt to not slip into his own spell of cursing. He opened one eye, “Gill….are you sure?”

Gill let out his own sigh, slowly nodding, “I’m sorry man, but I’m a hundred percent sure that the men who tailed me today work for PAMA, they showed way too much interest in that bunker vault.” He offloaded his gun setting it on the kitchen table, “I don’t know if they’re after Jesse specifically, but they are looking for people who were there.”

“Lukas?”

Lukas turned around, spotting a disheveled but very much awake Jesse in the doorway at the edge of the hallway and kitchen. “Jesse?” he stammered, “You’re uh- up….”

Gill and Maya took this has their cue to leave the room. Maya patted Lukas encouragingly on the shoulder as she passed, she did likewise of Jesse, giving him a gentle hand squeeze. Jesse watched them go, slowly turning back to Lukas.

“You were kind of loud,” Jesse said meekly, he was pale, hands clenched at his sides, gripping the fabric of loose fitting pants. “Y-you said PAMA?” he asked fearfully.

Lukas cringed, “Yes,”

“I don’t understand,” Jesse whispered, “How can PAMA be here still, I-”

“PAMA...didn’t dissolve when the bombs fell,” Lukas reluctantly explained, looking away. “They still operated after the war. People might even say they are the only power anymore.” he flinched, before looking back at Jesse “I was working on figuring out how to tell you.”

“How can they still be going?!” Jesse stressed.

“No one knows how they made it through,” Lukas said, coming closer to Jesse. “A lot of people think they’re the reasons the bombs were fired to begin with. But whatever the case was they still made it, and they still operate today. No one trusts them, they don’t know what they do, but whatever it is it never is good. They’re in the area, they’re looking around and-”

“Aiden said to send me back,” Jesse turned white, “Oh God, they’re going to take me back. Dear God-”

“What? No no!” Lukas took Jesse’s arms, “”I’m not going to do that to you!”

“Please don’t!” Jesse begged, “I can barely remember what they did to me, but please!” tears pooled in the poor boy’s eyes, “Please Lukas! I can’t, not again, I-”

“Jesse, look at me.” Lukas said firmly, grabbing him gently by the shoulders, grounding the other male in front of him. “I am not, going to let them have you. We have no idea if they are looking for you, and even if they were, I am not going to be the one to send you to them. I won’t let them get you.”

“But Aiden-”

“Aiden is just worried about PAMA, everyone is. They’re a group people usually tend to avoid. No one wants to mess with them, Aiden included. Look,” Lukas took Jesse’s hands giving them a soft squeeze, “I don’t know what they did to you in that vault, I don’t know why you were in that tank, and I don’t know how you survived the ordeal. But we- I won’t let them do anything to you again.”

Jesse looked down, tears running down his cheeks, “I can’t go back, I can’t….. ” he whispered brokenly.

Lukas hesitated unsure of what to do with the smaller male, who clung onto him with shaking unsure hands and wobbling fingers. He took a breath, wrapping his arms around Jesse’s shoulders, “You won’t…” he said softly.

Jesse stiffened, for only a moment, before latching onto Lukas and letting out a sob.


 

Aiden stormed his way down the barren block, pushing his way past druggies, beggars and prostitutes.

Almost a week and he was still steamy, the alcohol didn’t help either. Couldn’t go to Charlie’s cause PAMA was too busy sticking their noses in places such as there. PAMA was sticking their noses everywhere in fact. Couldn’t walk three blocks without seeing some little sneak working for PAMA.

Almost suffered a week in that apartment, watching Lukas constantly assure their little guest that PAMA wasn’t going to take him. It was downright suffocating and irritating to watch.

Luckily food was needed, and Aiden was the first to go to the market, just to get away.

Damn Lukas, damn PAMA, damn that little dweeb. That blasted, weak, sensitive-

He was on his way back now, carrying with him what food their limited budget could afford. Aiden rounded the corner and stopped in his tracks.

Aiden recognized Earl’s bruised face from a block away. The greasy weasel was in front of the apartment building that made up their base. But what bothered Aiden was the group of men with him. It was clearly obvious even from a distance that the pack was heavily armed, organized and ready for a gun fight. He eyed the patches on their uniforms.

PAMA.

Aiden immediately dropped his bag of food, unlocking his pistol from his hip and tucking behind the corner again.

“Are you sure this is the place?” the head man of the group asked.

“Course,” Earl assured, “I know they’re the group you’re looking for.”

“And the boy?”

“Money,” The druggie answered instead.

The man snarled. “The, boy.”

“He’s with them still,” Earl said sticking out his hand.

Aiden growled, fucking bastard sold us out!

Not that Aiden was surprised, he and Lukas kinda messed him and his pal up pretty bad. They had crossed paths before, Aiden was frankly surprised Earl didn’t throw them to the dogs sooner.

The PAMA soldier smirked, “Ah yes, your payment.”

Aiden jerked slightly as the man pulled out a gun, and faster than anyone could blink shot Earl in the head. Nearby locals screamed in terror, scrambling away from the source of the sound.

The head PAMA soldier yanked out a radio, “We have the location, I want soldiers on the perimeter get it closed off now!”

Aiden cursed, grabbed the food bag and backed away from the corner, “Shit~” he scrambled away, cutting down a side alley. PAMA had the front of the building but there was hopefully still the side entrance. He could go up that way and warn Lukas and the others.

His hopes were dashed as upon getting to the back of the building he spotted more PAMA dogs prepping to enter the complex.

“Fuck…” he back away looking around.

Both doors were blocked, and taking them on….

He warned Lukas, he warned him.

But leaving them behind isn’t an option, Aiden thought, that would really make me a dick.

He hoisted himself up onto a nearby shack, the sheet metal creaking and groaning in protest. Scaling the roof he moved to the next deteriorated building, going higher.

The second floor of the apartment complex had a still solid, sturdy- ish balcony, if he got high enough he could jump and probably- hopefully make it. He could get to the third floor from there.

Down below PAMA was gathering its forces, there had to be roughly twenty perhaps thirty men and woman ready to raid the building.

Aiden got to the top of his climb and hurried to the far edge of the roof. Here goes nothing, he thought. He raced across the metal top of the building, his boots crashing loudly against the layered tin and aluminum. He jumped just as PAMA broke into the apartment complex below.

Aiden landed on the balcony and rolled, smashing through the weak wooden door unintentionally.

The naked hooker and her equally naked partner both screamed in terror.

“Sorry!” Aiden scrambled up, pausing at the bedroom door, “Uh...you ladies might want to leave the building….Just a suggestion.” then he ran.

He could already hear PAMA barging their way through the first floor, tearing through room after room in search of their target. People on the first floor were beginning to scream as they realized what was going on. People on the second floor were opening their doors, curious and frightened of the noise.

Aiden raced up the stairs. The gang had the entire third floor to themselves. Once PAMA cleared the second level there would only be them left. He barged through the door of the the third story. Maya yelped, nearly dropping a sizzling bottle of whatever.

She turned around, face red and curled a fist at him, looking ready to pummel, “Aiden! how many flipping times to I have to tell you-”

He cut her off, tearing open the weapons cabinet in the living room and yanking out the guns, “We have to go!”

“What! Why?! What is going on?!”

“PAMA is here!”

“We know they’re in town Aiden, all we have to do is lie low-”

“No! They are in the building right now . They know we’re here and they’re after Jesse.”

Maya went white, “Oh my God.”

“So if you wanna help the special snowflake I suggest you arm yourself.”

“Throw me the automatic!”

He tossed it to her, followed by the cartridges. “Where are the others?”

“Gill is on the other side of the floor and Lukas and Jesse are in Lukas’s bedroom trying to find clothes that fit Jesse better.”

“Well tell them to find them faster!” Aiden ordered, “We gotta grab our credits and whatever else we can carry and book it. Now!”

Maya nodded and booked it, while Aiden returned to the cabinet. Loading gun after gun and arming himself. He found Lukas’s hunting rifle and Gill’s shotgun, loaded them and set them on the nearby table.  He slid a secondary pistol onto his other gun strap, and flung the team's only sniper rifle over his shoulder before grabbing a AK-47 for his primary.

His heart was pounding, hard . A cold sweat ran down his neck. It took all his skill and nerve to keep his hands from shaking as he hastily shoved bullets into empty cartridges.

Next to him Gill snatched up his shotgun and dropped down next to Aiden. “Maya is getting our group credits,” he said swiftly. “Hopefully you have your personal ones already on you.” He dropped a satchel down between them, “We can throw the extras in here.”

They dropped the remaining boxes of ammunition in, followed by any extra guns. Double checking the safety as quick as they could.

A shot went off on the first floor. It was responded with a rapid loud succession of bullets.

Gill cursed and started packing faster, “How’d the hell they know to look here?!”

“Earl snitched us out,”

The large male snarled, cocking his shotgun, “I’m gonna put a shell in that drug addicted grease monkey-”

“No need, PAMA already did it for you,” Aiden said dryly.

“Damn. Karma works quick.”

Lukas raced into the room with Jesse right at his heels. The latter was pasty white, shaking visible even through his running.

Lukas snagged up his rifle and cocked it, “Are they up yet?”

“Second floor,” Aiden said standing. He glanced over to Jesse and extended a pistol towards him to take, “Be useful and arm yourself.”

Jesse’s arms remained attached to his body, hands clenched against his sweatshirt, “I- I-”

“Do you know how to shoot a gun or not?”

“I don’t know how!”

“It’s a pistol ,” Aiden gaped, “How could you not?!”

Jesse turned pink in the cheeks, “Why in the world would I need to learn to shoot any gun?! I wasn’t raised in this!”

Maya snatched the gun out of Aiden’s hand, “Talk about this later guys!”

Lukas walked quickly back to Jesse and took a hold of his arm, pointing back down the hall, “Head for the other side of the floor! We have a back exit we’ll take.”

Maya zipped up her coat as Jesse hastily fled back, down the hall, “What if they’re on the back set of stairs?”

“We’ll deal with that when we-”

A series of shots tore through the apartment door and the entire group scattered. Aiden dropped jumped over the kitchen island Maya right on his heels.

Lukas dropped to his knees as Gill grabbed the massive cabinet and dropped it down as cover.

“Come out with your hands up!” someone yelled beyond the desecrated door.

“We don’t want any trouble!” Lukas yelled. “We’ve always stayed out of PAMA’s way!”

Till recently, Aiden thought bitterly.

“You have invaded private property and  stolen items belonging to our organization. Return them and you won’t have any trouble.”

“We don’t have any items!”

“Return Subject RB-32J and you will be spared!”

Subject RB-32J ?

Aiden glanced at Maya; her eyes widened slightly. Mouth parting in question.

Jesse ?” she mouthed.

Aiden shrugged and looked over the counter at Lukas. The blonde had gone silent, his cheeks red with an angry heat. His eyes were hardened and steely and his posture tense and shaking from a quiet rage.

“You can’t have him! People are not subjects!” he snapped, tense.

“This is your final warning, give up the-”

A set of shots rang through the apartment, followed by a scream.

“Jesse!” Lukas gasped.

“Open fire!” the PAMA soldier yelled.

A rain of bullets and smoke tore the tender remains of the door and part of the wall apart.

Lukas cursed and slide deeper down the cabinet.

Aiden spotted the first man coming in, quickly shooting him in the exposed throat. “So much for negotiations!”

Maya grabbed her previously abandoned bottle of mixes, “Gill, Lukas stay down!” she screamed.

The two addressed males immediately ducked as Maya hurled the mysterious jar and it’s content across the kitchen, past the living room and out the door. Screams of pain and agony poured out of the smoky haze, and a horrid smell wafted into the room.

“What was that?” Aiden asked as he recocked his pistol.

“Acid compounds,” Maya answered.

He actually gave her a crooked smile, “And what in the world were you mixing acidic compounds for?”

She grinned, “Thought I’d mix it into your coffee.” then she flinched as the bullets continued once again shredding the walls, “Thought I’d save you the suffering of this!” she hollered over the sound.

Aiden fired a few more shots in the toxic miasma, hearing cries of pain and death rattles call out from within. “I think I’d rather be shot than drink acid!”

Lukas fired his rifle till he ran out, the shells clattering on the ground around his feet. He kneeled back down as Gill took over, his shot gun making Aiden’s ears ring. Lukas hastily was loading bullets back into the rifle, “Aiden!”

“Yeah?” Aiden asked as he emptied his pistol, dropping the clips and shoving a new set in.

“Gill and I are pinned! Go catch Jesse at the back stairs!” Lukas flinched as  bullet cut through his cabinet cover, the hole inches from his head. “We got your back!”

Aiden waited for a pause in the firing squad, before dashing like a marathon runner beyond the safety of the kitchen. The shots immediately picked back up again, bullets whizzing all around him.

The remaining trio returned fire, Maya grabbing onto another bottle of mixes and hurling it. Lukas shot the bottle as it vanished beyond the door, the entry way glowing bright as fire erupted from the shattered glass and poured down on their attackers.

Aiden rushed into the living quarters of the complex. He spotted bullet punctures on the hallway’s walls.

That must be where the first shots came from . He concluded.

Aiden slid to a stop as he approached the steel back door. It was latched and bolted shut. He could hear voices on the other side. Aiden quickly looked around confused. There was no latch on the other side of the door. You could only do it from this side, however Jesse - the only one who could have bolted it shut- was nowhere in sight.

“Jesse?” Aiden turned around, inspecting the area, “Jesse?!”

A crunch of glass caught his attention and Aiden lifted his boot. Eyeing the object on the floor. It was a now broken sedation needle, the contents spreading out across the old wood. Alarmed Aiden looked around, waving the air as smoke was slowly filling the floor “Jesse!”

A muffled thump cut through the sound of gunfire and Aiden rushed towards the sound. It was coming from his room. He shoved open the door and immediately froze. Aiden was shocked at the scene before him, unable to move an inch.

Just like when…..

He stared at the sobbing male on the floor. “Holy…..”


Earlier ……

“They tattooed you?”

Jesse finished pulling his shirt off static frizzing his hair. He turned around seeing Lukas staring, “What?”

Lukas turned a little red in the cheeks. “Sorry I didn’t mean to peek. I just...your hip….”

Jesse paused, then looked down at his side, having to twist slightly. The symbols on his exposed hipbone where hard to read from his angle But he didn’t need to read them, he already knew what they said.

RB-32J.

“Yeah, it was my number. My label .” Jesse explained as he folded the shirt and put it on the bed. “It’s nice to use my name again.”

“Well I like your name.”

“I like yours too,” Jesse said softly, he ran his hand along the ink, sighing. “Just another bad mark on a bad body I guess.”

“I don’t think your body looks bad,” Lukas debated, “It’s a fairly good one actually.”

Jesse looked up at Lukas, raising a curious eyebrow. “What?”

Lukas’s jaw dropped and he turned scarlet, “I um- well, you look good, I mean uh-” the poor blond became a blushing mess as he struggled on words, “I wasn’t meaning to stare- I just observed- Pants. We were getting you better pants.”

Jesse smiled brightly as Lukas hastily turned around

“Sorry!”

“No no! It’s okay,” Jesse said, turning away as well and slipping off the belt that kept his baggy pants up, “It’s….nice to know.” he mumbled, fighting an unfamiliar warmth in his cheeks.

It was hard, Lukas’s words sent a hot river of sensations rushing through him, making him grin despite the jaw ache from the result.

Olivia always used to say he had a thing for blonds. Jesse remember there had been a really cute guy at the party. Olivia and Axel were so excited to have him there, they kept trying to get him to-

Jesse’s smile dropped.

“Jesse?” Lukas asked, sensing the dip in his mood. “Jesse are you alright?”

He took a shuddering breath, swallowing down the impending tears, “Y-yeah I just-” he rubbed an eye, “I was thinking about my friends….”

Lukas paused, and Jesse heard him shuffle; then a warm hand rested gently on his shoulder. “I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.” he said softly. “But….I’ll be here to help you the best I can.”

“I appreciate everything you are doing Lukas, really, I do…..”

They looked at each other, if not kinda awkwardly, before Lukas coughed, “I’ll uh...let you….change.”

Jesse took the clothes and slipped into the bathroom, while Lukas settled down onto the recliner.

“So,” Jesse asked, as he shimmied out of the loose pants, “How long have you known your friends?”

Lukas snorted, “Oh a long long time. Since we were kids.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, we all grew up in Beacon Town together,”  the blond explained, “We all learned our skills there, well Aiden went to Ground Town. But for the most part we all grew up together.”

“Where is Beacon Town located?”

“It’s across the wastes,” Lukas said,”Really, really far away. We came to Founder’s Town a year or so ago for jobs. There were more opportunities over here.”

“Oh,” Jesse said, coming out of the bathroom. He awkwardly, adjusted the pants around his hips, “These seem to to fit better.”’

Lukas gets up, grabbing the belt, “Looks like we might still have to use the belt. Is it comfortable though?”

Jesse nodded and grabbed the long sleeve shirt, he folded earlier, “Yeah, thank you,”

Lukas smiled as Jesse started to apply his layers, “This should do you until we get you some clothes that don’t fall off your hips.”

“Guys!” Maya called suddenly, the door swinging open and hitting the wall with a hard smack.

Lukas jumped as did Jesse, “Jesus Maya! Break my door why don’t you?”

“PAMA is here,” she gasped.

Jesse felt his heart stop, “W-what.”

Lukas took gentle hold of Jesse’s shoulder. “Maya what are you talking about?”

“PAMA is in the building Lukas,” the female explained, “Aiden says they’re raiding the bottom floor right now.”

“Shit!”`

Jesse was struggling not to slip into a panic, “L-lukas-”

“It’s going to be okay,” Lukas assured, “I’m not going to let them get you.” He turned to Maya “Where is Aiden?” he asked.

“Getting the guns.”

“Kay, we’ll join him, you go to the safe and get the team credits.” He took Jesse’s hand, “Jesse come on!”

Jesse was frozen in fear, glued to the floor. He couldn’t breath, he couldn’t think, “L-lukas I can’t- I-”

“Jesse,” he soothed, “I will be here for you.” he gave a gentle tug with his hand, “ Trust me.”

Jesse slowly nodded and followed Lukas out of the bedroom. They ran down the hall entering the living room area where Gill and Aiden were rapidly loading the weapons. Lukas rushed to the nearby table and grabbed a rifle and cocked it, “Are they up yet?”

“Second floor,” Aiden answered hastily. He stood up, extending a loaded pistol to Jesse, “Be useful and arm yourself.” he ordered.

Jesse’s froze arms clenching his shirt, “I- I-”

Aiden’s eyes flashed in irritation. “Do you know how to shoot a gun or not?”

“I don’t know how!”

“It’s a pistol ,” Aiden snapped, “How could you not?!”

Jesse felt his face heat up in embarrassment, “Why in the world would I need to learn to shoot any gun?! I wasn’t raised in this!”

Maya had returned; a satchel full of important items in her hands, she snapped the gun out of Aiden’s hand, “Talk about this later guys!”

Lukas walked quickly back to Jesse and took a hold of his arm, pointing back down the hall, “Head for the other side of the floor! We have a back exit we’ll take.”

Jesse shakily nodded and turned away, running down the hallway to where the back exit waited.

You’re going to be okay, you’re going to be okay, He kept repeating himself over and over again. Lukas is going to help, he won’t let me go. PAMA won’t get me.

He pulled the bolt free, opening the door as to have it ready for the team’s quick escape, and gasped as he found himself staring down the barrel of more than one gun.

Jesse lurched away from the door, shoots firing through the gap, and he screamed in terror. Slamming the door shut and shoving the steel bolt through the slot. He shakily yanked the padlock and key from wall sliding it through the slot as the soldiers slammed on the other side of the door. He locked it, tightly and began backing away from the exit.

He turned away from the door, shaking hard, “Lu-mmmph!”

A hand clamped over his mouth, and Jesse was forcefully pulled back. He dropped the back door keys in surprise and grabbed at the hand covering his mouth. Jesse let out a muffled scream as he felt another hand grip his wrist.

“Gotcha!” They said triumphantly. It was another PAMA soldier, someone who had already snuck in before Jesse had gotten to the door.

Jesse screamed and struggled as he was dragged towards the door.

“Easy now,” the  man said, “Let’s get you calmed down eh?”

From the corner of his eye, Jesse saw the flash of a needle. Energy surged through him and Jesse fell into a blind terror. He slammed his elbow into his attacker’s gut, wrenching himself free as the man gasped in surprise and dropped his needle.

“Lukas!”

“Get back here!”

Jesse snatched up the door keys and raced down the hall, nearly crashing straight into a nearby wall. He took a sharp left instead of heading for the living room as the man made a dive for his legs, “Stay away from me!”

“You’re not getting away!”

Jesse raced into the nearest open door, trying to close it behind him before the other caught up. He cried out in pain as the soldier slammed into the door, the handle shoving into Jesse’s back. He fell to the floor, the keys once more falling from his hand and landing on the nearby bed.

The male kicked the door the rest of the way open, reaching towards Jesse, “You have nowhere to go.” he sneered. He closed it behind him cutting off Jesse’s escape.

“NO!” Jesse scrambled up, and grabbed a hold of a close by chair. He swung it hard, the soldier grabbing hold of it and grunted in pain as Jesse tried to shove the legs into his ribs. The male angrily shoved back, sending Jesse sprawling into the nightstand by the bed.

Jesse cried out in pain as the weak wooden structure collapsed under his weight, sending both him, the smashed wood, and the former nightstands contents crashing to the floor.

“You’re going whether you like or not kid,” the older man sneered, grabbing Jesse by his shirt. Jesse gasped out in terror, his hands reached desperately behind him, looking for something- anything, to arm himself with.

His fingers came into contact with something stiff, and solid. He quickly wrapped his fingers around it as he was hoisted up, bringing his new weapon around.

Jesse hardly registered the gleam of the long hunting knife as it flashed by him. Then with a frightened scream and faster than neither Jesse nor the PAMA soldier could register, he sent the blade deep into the chest of his attacker.

The man froze, going stiff as a board, and he wheezed, a pained breath escaping his lips. Jesse stared in horror at the last visible bits of the jagged weapon, blood already making it’s slow run down the silver steel.

The soldier staggered back and collapsed, and Jesse with his hand still gripping the weapon tight, went down with him.

The stranger released Jesse’s shirt, shakily reaching up towards Jesse’s throat. “You - you- can’t-”

Jesse screamed and jerkily yanked out the blade, bringing it rapidly back down, this time into the male’s throat.

The man lurched, blood spewing from the severed artery, he gasped and wheezed for air, still moving, still alive, still after Jesse!

Jesse yanked out the blade, ignoring the hot wet splatter on his face and clothes. He brought the knife back down, stabbing once more. Then he yanked it out, then back in-

He was going to take him away! He couldn’t go back! He wouldn’t go back!!!

Out in, out in!

The knife kept going, the man kept jerking, twitching.

I can’t! I can’t! I - I-!!!

The blood pooled on the floor and the body went still. But the weapon didn’t stop.


Lukas was in a mad race through the apartment complex, distressed enough as he was, he was now even more so upon discovering neither Aiden nor Jesse were located at the back entrance.

“Jesse!” he called.

“Down here!” Aiden yelled.

Lukas readjusted, hurrying down the side hall towards the source of the sound. He found Aiden stiff and immobile just outside of his bedroom.

“Aiden where is Jesse?!” Lukas near shouted

Aiden’s eyes were wide with shock. “He- I-”

Lukas rushed into the bedroom through the door, fearing the worst, but instead stopped, stunned by a gruesome sight.

Jesse was on his knees, straddling the still form of a man. Or what was left of a man. The body was a crimson mangled mess of blood and stab wounds. The face was no longer identifiable, merely a gory concoction of fluids, sinew and impaled flesh. Jesse was sobbing, clutching a bloodied knife with both hands as he continued to stab at the corpse.

“I can’t go back!” he cried continuously as the weapon went down over and over.

Lukas scrambled forward, “Jesse! Stop!” he wrapped his arms around the male. The latter screamed in terror, sobbing as he blindly tried to stab at Lukas.

He caught the blade easily with Jesse’s weakened swing, “Jesse! Jesse! It’s me!”

Jesse stiffened, blinking though bloody eyelids. He was covered in the red substance, the precious bodily fluid having thoroughly stained the front of his sweater, sticking to his face and his hair. “L-lukas-” He whispered, staring straight at Lukas

Lukas nodded, “It’s me Jesse, it’s me.”

“I-” Jesse looked back down, paling at the sight of the mangled corpse before him ,”Oh God.”

“Don’t look at him-” Lukas started, attempting to pull Jesse’s attention away from the mess, but it was too late, Jesse had seen.

“I- I killed him!” Jesse dropped the knife, the metal blade clattering to the floor loudly. “I killed him- Oh my God - I”

“Shhh, shhh.”

Jesse broke into a wail as tears streamed down his bloodied face, horrified by what he had done as the cold prospect of reality came crashing back down onto him. Lukas pulled Jesse in close, cradling him and allowing the dirtied male to cling onto him and cry.

He glanced up at Aiden, who stood silently, still stunned by the doorway and for a second Aiden’s eyes seemed to flash a pang of sympathy, but the emotion quickly vanished, as Maya and Gill joined them, both out of breath.

“Okay so the living room is on fire, and I caved in the roof over the hallway entrance,” Gill panted out, “But they’re all going to come up the back way now, and whaaat happened here?”

“Oh my God Jesse!” Maya dropped down next to Lukas, reaching out towards Jesse’s shivering form, but hesitated touching him in case he reacted poorly “Lukas, what happened?!”

“He’s in shock-” Lukas began.

“We don’t have time to talk!” Aiden cut in impatiently, “we’re in a burning building and we have company coming up the back.” He snatched his knife and its cover from the floor. He cleaned the blade on the bed and shoved the sheathed blade into his cargo pocket.

“How do we get down then?” Maya asked.

“We climb.” Aiden said bluntly.

Jesse stared numbly at the floor as he laid against Lukas, “I killed him….” He whispered softly

Aiden tore the sheets off his bed, “Welcome to the fallout,” he said flatly.

Lukas growled, “Aiden-”

But Aiden was already tearing his sheets, twisting and tying knots down the strips, “Gill get me more blankets!” He ordered.

Gill left the room and Maya joined Aiden in trying random knots. The male brunet flashed a look at Lukas, gesturing to Jesse still in his arms “Can he move?”

Lukas took a quick inspection of Jesse. The smaller male’s eyes had gone glassy; he mumbled incoherently into Lukas’s shoulder. “I’m going to have to carry him.” He stated, wrapping an arm securely around Jesse.

“Can you carry and climb?”

Lukas frowned, tightening his hold on Jesse slightly “I’m not leaving him here.”

“I wasn’t suggesting that.” Aiden scoffed and flipped his bed over, tying one end of the makeshift rope to the metal frame. He cursed as the knot slid off the slick steel. “Shit….” he looked around the room, then kneeled down and tied the sheets around the waist of the corpse. He then wove the rope under the bed and started feeding it out the window.

Gill was hastily ripping more sheets handing them to Maya who rapidly began tying them to Aiden’s line.

Lukas turned his attention back to getting Jesse back to him. “Jesse, Jesse ,” Lukas urged, shaking Jesse gently “We have to go.”

Jesse flinched and glanced up, eyes shifting towards Lukas timidly “I….L-Lukas-.”

Lukas gave a tight, but reassuring smile. “It’s okay, I’ll carry you, but I need you to hold onto me.”

“Hurry up!” Aiden snapped, “It’s all the way down and I’d like to be gone before anyone notices!

There was a smashing of wood,followed by a solid metallic thunk. PAMA had broken through the back entrance. Gill quickly closed the bedroom door and shoved the dresser in front of it.

Lukas scooped up Jesse, who luckily still seemed together enough to understand what Lukas needed from him. He hooked his legs around Lukas’s waist, wrapping his arms around Lukas’s shoulder, clinging tightly to him.

Aiden tugged the sheets till the corpse hit the bed. Then he climbed out the window and rested his heels on the side of the building. “Maya?”

“On it,” she picked up her gun and moved to the window.

Aiden began his rappel down, Maya.covering his dissent.

Gill patted Lukas on the shoulder. “You go ahead of me, I’ll cover you.”

Maya let out a yelp of surprise as a spray of bullets splintered the window frame. She jerked away from the opening as strips of wood struck her face. Maya quickly rebounded however; returning to the window and letting loose her own ammunition

Jesse lurched in Lukas’s arms, whimpering at the sound as Lukas gently rubbed his back, trying to calm Jesse down a bit.

There was another shot and outside Aiden let out a pained shout.

“Aiden!” Maya shouted

Lukas looked out and down just in time to see Aiden drop the last story. He hit the ground and rolled, blood already staining the left shoulder of his jacket. As he came up onto his feet he drew his pistol. He fired exactly six shots, all with deadly accuracy.

Seconds later six bodies fell from various windows of the opposite building to theirs. They all hit the ground with a sickening thud and Lukas grimaced as their bodies bent unnaturally.

“Aiden!” Maya called, “Are you alright?!” She asked as Aiden reached up and gripped his shoulder with gritting teeth.

Aiden grabbed the end of the rope and pulled down, keeping the tied sheets stiff against the building, “Just get down here!” He shouted up to her, obviously in a bit of pain.

Maya swung  her leg over the side, quickly scaling down the building. Gill took her place at the window, cocking the shotgun. On the other side of the bedroom door the shouts were getting louder. Lukas could hear the men of PAMA tearing through the floor.

“You got him?” Gill asked, worried as he took note of Lukas’s human luggage.

“Yeah,” Lukas said, nodding, before taking hold of the man-made rope and awkwardly swinging his legs over the window. But then nearly fell as he didn’t take into consideration the added weight from Jesse clinging to him.“Shit!”

Jesse whimpered from the sudden turn of motion, clinging tighter to Lukas

“It’s okay, we’re going to be okay.” Lukas gripped the sheets tight. The fabric creaked, threatening to snap, but the knots woven through eased the tension and the blankets held. Lukas felt the immediate strain on his shoulders, his hands shaking as he clung to the makeshift rope. While Jesse wasn’t all that heavy, This was a far heavier weight than he had anticipated, but he struggled to keep a cool composure.

Lukas swallowed thickly, adjusting his position on the side of the wall “Okay Jesse, just hang on we’re heading down.”

He took the first step down, gripping on to the knots with his hands, and using the lower ones to support his feet. Jesse clung to him like a baby gorilla. His face was buried into the crook of Lukas’s neck, refusing to look down.

Maya’s automatic went off. But Lukas refused to look, he just kept descending faster.

“We’re okay, it’ll be okay.” Lukas continued to repeat these words like a mantra, whether it was to himself or Jesse he didn’t know.

Above, the top floor was beginning to smolder as the smoke escaped through the cracks in the building. The ancient structure was quickly going up in flames.

“Hang in there Jesse, we’re almost-”

A window in the second story smashed, and a soldier gripped onto Lukas’s leg, yanking part of his body into the building.

“Lukas!”

Lukas cursed and struggled to pull his foot free. Jesse cried out in pain and terror as the soldier reached up and grabbed hold of the male’s hair, trying to yank him off Lukas.

“No!” Lukas pulled back hard, kicked the man in the chest. He and Jesse launched free of the window, Lukas briefly losing his grip, sliding rapidly down the rope. He regained his hold, fingers screaming from the strain.

The soldier reached out of the window, trying once again to get hold of Jesse. Then there was a loud bang, and the man slumped, blood oozing off his skull as he slid off the sill and fell from the window.

Lukas watched the body fall past him, following it down. Below Aiden lowered his gun and stepped aside as the body smashed into the dirt.

“MOVE!” he hollered.

Lukas loosened his grip on the rope, sliding rapidly down the side of the building, “We’re okay Jesse, we’re going to make it. Shh it’s going to be okay.”

He landed on the ground, feet tingling with shockwaves from the impact and he stumbled. Aiden quickly was there to support and steady him.

“Gill go!” Maya yelled.

Gill leapt out the window just as a loud bang came from the building. “Cover MEEEEEE!” he yelled as he practically fell from the third story.

Maya and Aiden redirected their guns, aiming for the window as PAMA soldiers foolishly stuck their heads out.  Gill hit the ground unable to contain his balance and falling back onto his ass.

“Gill?!” Maya asked, worried.

“I’m good!”

“Good now move!” Aiden yelled.

The team scrambled, racing away from the growing inferno as bullets rained down upon them.

“We’re never going to outrun them like this!” Maya cried.

“They have car!” Lukas yelled, spotting the said military vehicle parked on one of the wider paths in town.

Gill actually cackled , “Everyone to the vehicle!”

“Are you nuts?!” Aiden raged.

Gill raced to the car, “I can hotwire it!”

Maya yanked open the unlocked door, and wrenched down the sun shield. The keys fell into the palm of her hand, “ Or, we can use the keys. Since men seem to leave them all in the same place.” she said icily.


 

“Shame we can’t keep it,”

Lukas looked over as Aiden and Gill shoved their brief getaway vehicle, down the hill. The armor truck racing down the slope and hit the acidic waters below. The metal immediately bubbled and hissed as it made contact with the dangerous lakes.

“They got a tracker welded to the engine,”Aiden explained bitterly, “and I’m done with gunfights for now thanks.”

After making a very stressful getaway in the PAMA vehicle - Maya and Gill arguing on directions not helping the situation- the team finally made their way clear of Founder’s Town and PAMA forces. They quickly scrapped the car for any useful supplies and were now disposing.

Lukas glanced briefly to Founder’s Town in the far off distance, a pillar of smoke added to the black sky above. He returned his gaze to Jesse, who was sitting in front of him, and ran his fingers along Jesse’s hairline to push bloody tresses out of his face. “Jesse?” he whispered softly. “Jesse?”

The other male looked up at him slowly through dull eyes, “I’m sorry,” he mumbled out weakly.

“Shh, don’t be.”

“You’ve….lost your home.”

“It wasn’t home Jesse,” Lukas soothed. “It was just a temporary living space.”

“But-”

“Lukas!” Aiden snapped, Lukas could feel his eyes glaring holes into his back.

Lukas sighed, “I’ll be right back.” He stood up and stepped away from the brunet, walking towards his team. Aiden came forward to meet him.

“What-ghk!” Lukas lunged back as Aiden swung a fist at him. “Aiden, the fuck?!”

“I have only been shot three fucking times in my life! Today being the third.” Aiden snarled, “How is it every damn time it has been your fault?!”

“My fault?! We got sold out!” Lukas snarled, “But we made it out alive!”

“It’s your fault because you didn't’ listen! PAMA is after us now! I told you but no one ever listens to me do they?!” Aiden pointed angrily at the smoke stack in the distance, “What the fuck do we do now?! Obviously leaving Jesse isn’t an option.”

“No it isn’t!” Maya said. “If it was we would have let PAMA take him.”

“Everyone just stay calm, we’ll figure this out,” Gill said, raising his hands to act as the peacemaker

“Shut up Gill,” Aiden hissed, cutting off Gill’s words. He looked at Lukas, “If you had just listened, for once in your goddamn-”

“We couldn’t just leave him there Aiden-”

“I’m sorry.” Jesse’s small voice cut through the heated debate.

Everyone turned or adjusted their gaze to the said male. He had stood up, bloodied fingers clutching the dried blood caked sweatshirt, “I’m sorry,” he repeated, tears pooling in his eyes, “I- I didn’t mean for- for you to lose your home and your lives. I didn’t know PAMA would come after you because of me,” he took a shuddering breath, struggling not to cry, “I-I can go, and you guys- you guys-”

“Jesse we’re not going to do that,” Lukas cut in.

Maya’s tender side was back out and she crossed over placing a hand on Jesse’s shoulder, ”Too late now anyway,” she said in a gentle playful tease, “Even if we dumped you out here for all the monsters to have you, PAMA would still come after us. We killed lot of them today, they’re probably pretty mad.”

“But-”

“Jesse, you’re part of this team now,” Lukas said, before giving a sideways glance to Aiden “Whether certain parties like it or not.”

Aiden didn’t respond to the statement, but Gill clapped his hands loudly together, “Looks like we’re the fantastic five now. So what’s our game plan. We need to figure out where we are going as soon as morning hits, I’d hate to be out here when PAMA starts crawling all these hills looking for us.”

“We can go to Beacon Town.” Lukas said. “We’ve ruined our prospects out here, but we have connections back home. Better yet, people who know us well enough they won’t snitch us out.”

Gill cringed slightly, “You sure man? We can’t take the main paths, because PAMA will probably be searching on them. So without the safety of the roads or the ease of the caravan travel; it’s gonna take us easily 3 months to get back. Are you sure?”

“Do you want to move to the coast instead or?”

Maya cut in, “Home sounds nice, we can pull our old connections, and even if we can’t get a job has hires, Ground Town is not too far and they are always in need of trail guides. We have a better chance of getting back on our feet if we head to home.”

Lukas glanced warily over to Aiden. The male was gingerly rubbing his wounded shoulder, silent as stone, “Aiden? What’s your say?”

Aiden’s eyes flashed briefly, and he let his hand drop down with a heavy sigh, then, “I have the wasteland maps in my satchel. We’re going to need to plot a good route to use for the morning. I suggest we look at them before it gets dark.” he said turning away.

Lukas sighed, having the caught the bitterness seeping off of Aiden, “Aiden-”

“Ground Town works just fine Lukas, afterall, you’re in charge,” Aiden said dryly, trekking off to get his stuff.

Maya patted Lukas on the shoulder, “I”m going to pry that bullet out of him before we lose light and his agreeableness.”

Lukas nodded and watched Maya go off after Aiden, he then trekked over to Jesse and sat down, with the brunet sitting down beside him moments later.

“Are you okay?” Jesse whispered, tucking his legs to his chest as he looked at Lukas

“Tired,” Lukas mumbled, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

“I’m sorry…..”

“Don’t be, we stand by our decision, and you’re part of this team now,” Lukas said, looking back towards Jesse “So don’t ever be sorry,”

Jesse looked stressed, “Gill says Beacon Town is far, really far”

“It is, but we’ll make it.” Lukas forced himself to smile brightly. He rubbed Jesse’s shoulder, “But when we get there and we’re clear of PAMA everything is going to okay, you’ll see. I think you’ll like it there.”

Jesse still seemed hesitant.

“Hey,” Lukas gave him a squeeze, “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay. Everything will go back to being better, because between you and me, things really can’t get any worse.”


 

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Mentions of Murder

-


 

Sleep did not come easily to Jesse that night. Every time he closed he eyes he saw the face of the unknown soldier. He saw what he did, he saw the blood and the marks and the mangled flesh-

He murdered a man.

Jesse’s mind was splitting itself apart over the ordeal. He tried to tell himself the soldier was bad, that he was going to drag Jesse kicking and screaming back into the clutches of PAMA. But what if he had only just been following orders, what if he had friends, or even family. Jesse took it all away in that moment he suffered that emotional break.

He tried to lay there and focus on other things, but exposed air of the wastes was bitter cold, the tense air between the team was even chillier.

Lukas was continuously supportive and soothing, and Gill and Maya were too. But Aiden’s frustration weighed upon Jesse’s mind. He felt awful that Aiden had been shot in their escape. He wanted to apologize profusely to the male. But watching Aiden meticulously clean the dried blood from his knife and how irritably he made plans with the others told Jesse he’d best stay away.

So when sleep did eventually come to him, it was fitful, it was hard.

When Jesse awoke, it was to a gentle rocking sensation. The area around him was still dark and dim, only the smallest traces of sunlight peeking between the thick clouds and the mountains in the distant.

“Mmm….”

“Morning sleepy head.”

Jesse’s eyes flicked fully open and he looked up to see Gill above him, “Gill?”

The tall male smiled down at him, “Sleep a little better?”

Jesse groggily blinked, “Are you… carrying me?”

The other nodded, shrugging, “Oh yeah,you were out when we all got up this morning. Lukas felt bad waking you. But we needed to get a headstart on PAMA- we have a long ways to go as you know- so I offered to carry you. You must have been super tired because you didn’t want to wake up.”

Jesse looked around, spotting Maya head of them and even farther still Aiden and Lukas, “When did you guys get up?”

“About two hours ago.

Jesse’s head snapped back towards Gill, “WHAT?!” he felt an embarrassed blush spread rapidly across his face, “You’ve been carrying me for two hours?!”

Gill smiled crookedly, “It wasn’t too bad don’t worry. You’re as light as Maya, which on my word of honor - and the fact she will kick my ass if I say otherwise- is pretty light.” He stopped walking to let Jesse down, “So don’t worry, I didn’t mind. I’ve carried a lot heavier, believe me.”

Jesse smiled sheepishly as his boots touched the ground, the soil and gravel crunching under his boots, “Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah. I had to carry Aiden all the way back to base once. Now that was hard. Cause he didn’t want to be carried, but he had stepped into ancient raider trap and really couldn’t walk despite what he said. You are a lot more agreeable.”

‘Well, um, thank you.”

“No problem.”

Jesse joined Gill in a steady pace, trying not to lose his footing on the loose gravel everywhere. He looked around eyeing the dead terrain and the rotted grass everywhere. “The bombs really did a number on the world,” he observed sadly.

Gill bent over briefly, scooping up some of  the soil, “The bombs didn’t do this.”

Jesse leaned in, “How do you know?”

Gill ran his thumb through the dirt revealing the blackened mess in his fingers, “See how it’s black,” he grabbed Jesse’s hand and dropped some of it in, “Do you feel how gritty it is?”

Jesse rubbed the dirt between his fingers, the contents leaving black smears on his pale fingers, “Yeah.”

“There was a fire here, a long long time ago.” Gill explained, “Judging by how much petrified wood there is in the dirt here, there might have been a whole forest here at one point.”

Jesse flicked away the rest of the soil, thinking on the other male’s observation, “What direction are we going?”

“North east, why?”

“I grew up in the original “Founders Town” I mean it wasn’t called that but- ” Jesse said smiling, then his smile dropped, “There was a whole forest, full of giant oaks in that direction from town…..My friends and I used to go play in those woods. There was a huge oak tree on the county line, everyone would go there and carve their names onto it.” he looked around at the dead terrain, “It’s all gone now.”

Gill gave him a look of sympathy, “I’m sorry…”

“It’s not your fault,” Jesse said, “It’s still just a hard pill to swallow….” he took a deep breath, then wanting to change the subject, “How did you figure out what happened just by the soil.”

Gill whistled, “Well, no one really knows the exact details after the bombs dropped. When the world is ending there isn’t a lot of time to write the future history books. But there were stories passed down. According to what I’ve heard, the bombs killed a lot of people, lot of major cities. Then the fallout brought down ash and radiation and there were a lot of fires and people died from the debris. Naturally the governments all collapse, there was mass hysteria, then you have the many many assholes who looted and killed. All the while the sky was getting clotted with all the radiation and the smoke and the ash, lots of it.” he sighed, “I guess the sky got blocked out, the sun couldn’t get through and things slowly got colder. The weather and climates changed and everything plunged into winter. Humanity was divided into sections, gangs, settlements, all fighting to survive. The snow was so bad for almost 300 years you couldn’t get anywhere.”

“That sounds awful.”

The tall male shrugged, “My dad would tell me stories how him and his dad had a tunnel exiting their home. You had to stay underground, where it was warmer. The snow didn’t start easing up until he was a teen. And as you can see it’s still pretty cold.”

Jesse nodded, the statement reminding him that he couldn’t feel his nose at the moment.

“The snow buried all the evidence of what happened,” Gill gestured around, “And it waited, untouched till the snow melted. One of the skills my uncle taught me was how to read the terrain. I’ve seen a few raider burns in my short miserable life, so I know what ash and other burns signs look like.”

“That’s really cool,” Jesse complemented, “Maybe you can show me, so I can learn?”

“Well it looks like you are sticking with us, so maybe I’ll do just that,”

“Hey!”

Jesse looked forward as Lukas walked up to him and joined him by his side as the continued trekking. The blond placed a gentle hand on his arm, “How are you doing?”

Jesse forced a weak smile, “Better. I still feel awful about everything.”

“It wasn’t exactly home Jesse,” Lukas said.

“I know, but I was dead weight to you, I -”

“You went into shock,” Lukas soothed, “I know you were losing sleep over killing that man from yesterday.”

Jesse cringed, looking away to stare at the ground

The other sighed, “Look, it’s never easy. I was really upset the first time I had to kill someone to survive,” he admitted, “I was awake and sleepless for almost a whole week. I felt awful, I didn’t like the feeling of severing someone’s life like that.”

“But it got easier for you?” Jesse softly asked.

“Not exactly,” Lukas mumbled, “I….When it comes down to them or me, and we’re both aiming our guns at each other. I have to tell myself that they can and will kill me, if I give them the chance. So despite the fact I don’t like the violent route, I will kill if I have to...to stay alive.” he looked at Jesse, concerned, “Do you understand?”

Jesse rubbed his elbow nervously, “So it’s like this for everyone then?”

“Well…..everyone’s reaction is different,” Lukas said, “Some people take it really really bad, others okay. And some people thrive off it.”

“Oh God I blubbered,“ Gill commented from ahead of them.

“So... Everyone in this group had a hard time then?” Jesse asked, looking both Lukas and Gill

Gill paused, looking ahead, “Well…..almost everyone.”

Jesse followed Gill’s gaze, he was staring up at the oncoming hill.

He was staring straight at Aiden.


“We’re going to have to hit a trail for a bit,”

Lukas took another sip from his canteen, “I thought you said we should stay off them?” he asked.

“I did,” Aiden rolled up the chart in his hand and shoved it into his pack, “But there are too many acid pockets up ahead, acid and sulfur fields. We need to be on stable ground, last thing we need is someone stepping into Mother Nature’s landmine.”

Lukas sighed, “Alright, you know what’s best.”

“Do I?” Aiden mumbled icily.

“Aiden…..Hey- Aiden!” Lukas called after as Aiden threw his pack over his shoulder and trekked up the hill, “God dammit Aiden, wait!”

Lukas shoved his bottle into his pack and rushed after Aiden, “You can’t keep staying mad.”

“Watch me,” Aiden said, ignoring Lukas.

Lukas looked down the hill,  watching as the others packed up their stuff. Jesse was giving it his best to help Maya and Gill get everything together, “Aiden, he isn’t a bad person. I don’t regret helping him. Just-”

“No, he’s good,” Aiden said with a sigh. “and kind, and that’s just the sort of person who doesn’t belong out here.”

“That was almost a compliment,” Lukas observed.

Aiden huffed, rubbing his shoulder, “I’m going to scout head, make sure there isn’t anything ahead of us.” he gestured to the path, “Just stay on the trail and hopefully nothing will explode.”

“Will you be okay with your shoulder,” Lukas said, “I can go-”

“I can shoot a gun Lukas, your new friend however, cannot,” the brunet stated dryly, “So I suggest you help him, like you’ve been doing.” Then he turned on his heel and trekked away.

Lukas sighed.

“Are you okay?” Jesse asked hiking up to him, one of Gill’s smaller bags slung over his shoulder.

Lukas smiled for him, “Oh yeah, just working on a route. We’re going back on the trail for a bit.”

The male looked nervously up and down the faded path, “Will we be okay?”

“This is an old old path,” Lukas assured. “Aiden is scouting ahead for us though just in case.”

That seemed to appease Jesse and he stepped into line next to Lukas as the trek continued. Maya and Gill fell farther back behind them, doing their own scouting and discussing amongst each other.

“So I overheard you talking to Gill about a whole forest being here once?”

Jesse’s eyes went sad, and Lukas immediately regretted bringing it up. “I was just curious,” he stammered, “There are hardly any trees out here anymore. I was just trying to picture what that would have looked like.”

“Beautiful,” Jesse said softly, he looked ahead, “And something I definitely took for granted I guess…”

Lukas flinched.

Jesse noticed, “Sorry, didn’t mean to get sappy.” he gestured ahead, “What about those mountains in the distance. They look green still. Those have to be trees.”

Lukas glanced to where Jesse was pointing, he frowned, “They are.”

“Have you been over there?”

“No,” Lukas shoved his hands into his coat pockets. “No one goes up to those mountains,”

“Why not?” Jesse asked curious.

He eyed to looming giants far away, even at this distance they still looked huge. He remember his grandma saying when he was little the mountains were called the Continental Divide before the world ended. But like everyone else he heard the stories of now, the stories of-

“Lukas?”

Lukas looked at Jesse, his new friend’s eyes were full of questioning, “Because no one ever leaves them.”

His eyes widened. “What?!”

“People go in and they don’t come out,” Lukas stated simply, “There are tales of monsters in those woods. I’d like to say we’re not superstitious folk. But I’ve seen the creatures out in the wastes so I wouldn’t be surprised if those forests also held something nasty.”

“Oh….”

Lukas shrugged, then wanting to change the subject pulled his pistol free from his hip, “So you have never fired a gun before?”

Jesse flushed in embarrassment, “I didn’t exactly have a reason to learn to shoot one back then, you know?”

“No,no, I understand,” Lukas hummed, “Makes sense really.” he took a step closer to Jesse, “Are you alright if I show you how?”

Jesse stiffened slightly.

“We won’t shoot it!” Lukas said quickly, “I just want to show you how it works.”

“I don’t know….”

“Jesse, I just want you to understand. I’m not going to make you shoot or use a gun if you are not comfortable. But if something happens where you have to- and I mean there is no other option, I want you to know how.”

Jesse stared at the weapon. For a moment there was silence, just the crunching of dirt and woods under their feet as they walked. Then Jesse nervously nodded, “O-okay.”

“I don’t want to push this on you.”

Jesse shook his head. “N-no, you’re right. I should know, I need to learn,” the brunet paused, biting his lip “It’s a different world now, like you said...”

Lukas nodded and popped out the clip, “Alrighty then….”

Lukas spent the next half hour or so showing Jesse what parts were what. He showed him how to load the clip, put the clip in and so on. And while Jesse was tense at first he eventually released his nervousness, even holding the gun and getting a feel for its weight.

“You hit this switch here to turn off the safety,” Lukas said, “You can have it loaded and ready to shoot but as long as the button is out you won’t be able to fire.”

Jesse ran his thumb along the button on the side of the weapon, “Here?”

“Yeah that’s the one.”

Jesse raised the pistol, looking down the sight.

“You just line up the points…” Lukas said slowly. “Then you fire.” he blinked in confusion as Jesse sadly lowered his gun, “Jesse what’s wrong?”

Lukas followed Jesse’s gaze eyeing a solitary burnt but still standing oak tree. He recognized it, he had passed it on a few hunting trips out this way, travelers used it as a marker.

Jesse placed the gun back into Lukas’s hands and walked towards the dead oak. Once he reached it, Jesse rested his palms on the burnt wood, “This is it.”

Lukas holstered his gun, “This is what?” he asked as he approached it.

Jesse ran his hand over the burnt wood, flaky charcoal chipping off and falling down onto the ground in front of it , “This was the tree...The tree that everyone would carve their names into.” He traced his fingers along ancient markings.

Lukas leaned in, actually able to see faded names in the wood.

Gill and Maya passed them, “Everything okay?” the latter asked, looking at the two of them.

Lukas nodded to her then tilted his head to Jesse. Maya’s eyes flashed in sympathy and she nodded, continuing on with Gill.

Jesse still hadn’t moved away from tree, his face had this look on it, as if he was pondering something.

“Hey, Lukas? Can I borrow your knife?” He asked, turning his head to look at Lukas

Lukas raised an eyebrow. “What for?” He said unsure on what Jesse intentions were and what he was going to do.

“I want to carve something, into this tree.” Jesse stated, looking back at the bark. “It might be dumb, and it may have no meaning whatsoever.” His hands curled into fists against the wood “But it might help, with moving on that is…”

Lukas was silent, and for a moment Jesse thought he was going to say no, that they needed to move on. Jesse turned back to Lukas, mouth open with the words ready in mind to apologize for being a problem

“Jesse, here”

Lukas was holding out a small knife to Jesse. He then took Jesse’s hand and placed the object into it, closing his fingers around

“If it helps with moving on, well. I want to help and support you with it” He said, looking back at Jesse

Jesse blinked, as he looked at the small blade. With what condition the tree was in, it wouldn’t take too long for him to carve something. “Thank you.” He said turning back to the tree and began slowly carving into it.

It didn’t take him a long time to carve what he needed into the bark, the dead wood chipping away and breaking with ease with every scratch of the knife.

Once he was satisfied, Jesse stood back a bit, handing the knife back to Lukas, who took it and stored it away again

Under some markings, Jesse had written a series of numbers and letters.

Jesse October 5, 330 PB

The sight of these numbers and letters made Lukas’s heart clench.

Jesse looked out to the horizon, holding the tree, “The next step I take will be the farthest I’ve ever been from my home town.”

Lukas felt his face drop, and he placed a hand on Jesse’s shoulder. “Jesse-”

“Then again,” Jesse sighed softly, “Home’s been gone a long time.” he pulled away from the tree, giving one marking a good rub. Then he departed, trekking back onto the trail.

Lukas lingered there a moment, before going he took one last glance at the engraving Jesse had silently wished goodbye to. The groves had been cut deep and despite the colossal amount of burn damage the writing was still legible.

He could see what Jesse had changed on it.

Axel, Jesse , Olivia,

June 13, 2035


 

The wind howled across the abandoned town. It shook the weaker buildings, making the structures groan and creak in protest. It whisked through hallowed halls, and rattled shattered window frames. It kicked up dust and further buried the ancient reminders of a civilization long gone.

But to Jesse, the wind was just another reminder that he was very, very cold. Therefore he shivered as the unforgiving gale blasted him.

After three long days and even longer nights being out in the true wild of the world, Jesse was very tired and very cold. He was staying quiet about it however. He knew Lukas was stressed out, and Aiden was still very bitter. He didn’t want to burden the team any more than he had to.

But as they trekked through the abandoned city, they were no longer any hills to provide protection from the infinite winter cold. Jesse struggled not to shiver, but it was hard. The sweatshirt was uncomfortable and still caked in grime and dried blood.

Lukas noticed his shaking and Jesse cringed as he immediately stopped walking. “Jesse are you cold?”

“D-don’t worry about it, I’m-m, fine,”

Lukas unzipped his jacket, “You’re freezing aren’t you?”

Jesse stopped Lukas from taking the article of clothing off, “No, no, don’t take it off, you’ll be cold too.”

“Jesse I’ll-”

“He’s got an excellent point,” Aiden said dryly.

Lukas flashed him a look, “Aiden-”

“We could scavenge the buildings?” Maya cut in quickly. Everyone one looked at her, as she gestured around to the ruins, “I’m sure there are a few raider caches lying around.”

“Isn’t that stealing?” Jesse asked softly.

Jesse swore that everyone in the group expression changed to humor the moment he let the words slip out. Lukas’s expression however quickly switched to soft, “The raiders are gone now Jesse, no one has been in this town a long time. Whatever got left behind they probably aren’t coming back for.”

Jesse blushed, “Oh.”

“And you need more clothes cause it’s freezing, and we probably should get you out of those blood covered ones.” Maya clapped her hands together, “So it’s settled. Gill and I will check the multi story building over here first. Lukas, you Aiden and Jesse can go check that old building over there.”

Aiden’s reaction was immediate, “Now hold on just a second I’m not-”

“You can’t come with us,” Gill said, “If something bad happens, then Lukas will have to protect himself and Jesse, you going with Lukas will help make sure everyone is safe. We can’t all search together cause we need to move fast, PAMA is looking remember?”

It was a fair point, and Jesse could see Aiden was struggling to come up with a solid counter. But the male eventually caved in, turning on his heel grumbling and walking towards the derelict building across the street.

Jesse looked over the length of the building as the trio approached, “This used to be a school,”

“Yeah?” Lukas asked.

“Mhm, the sign said elementary-”

Fascinating, can we please just move?” Aiden cut in.

Jesse clamped his mouth shut, eyes going downcast. Lukas gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder, mouthing a gentle it’s okay; before he moved on down the hall. Jesse took his time trekking after, stepping over rotted beams and forgotten objects of the former school.

The long winter had done a number on the building, parts of the roof were caved in, and most of the floor was damaged beyond repair by residual water. But parts of the school’s past life could still be seen. There were still one or two struggling pictures on the wall, ones that hadn’t been defaced by bandits or destroyed by nature. They fluttered in the wind, hanging there by their little wall pins. It was almost a silent testament of strength, something so small and frail having held out all these centuries.

Jesse moved on, eyeing a faded but still slightly inflated soccer ball a memento of a forgotten past. He gave it a kick, the flattened ball hit the wall with a solid thunk and slid down the side, unable to bounce. The sound carried loud and strong through the stone silent place, adding to the eeriness and sad feel of the building.

Aiden stuck his head out of nearby room, “What the hell do you think you're doing?”

Jesse sheepishly pointed to the ball, “It’s a soccer ball, I’m sorry I-”

The other male eyed the ball, eyes going cloudy for a split second. Then he scowled and looked back to Jesse, “Let’s just find you clothes,” Aiden said, “We don’t have time.”

His tone wasn’t as harsh this time around, but it still made Jesse feel guilty, “I’m sorry.” he hurried into the nearest empty room.

His breath hitched as he sighted a corpse leaning over the desk, the flesh and muscle had long since rotted away. The clothes hung in mangled discolored shreds over the yellowed bones. Sickened and horrified, Jesse quickly scooted wide around the desk trying not to throw up. He looked around the debris of the room, but the only articles of clothing were on the bones, and they were hardly usable.

He went to turn around and bumped right into Aiden, crashing into the male’s much more solid form. He gasped slightly, but relaxed after he realized it was someone he knew..

In Aiden’s hand was a heavy duty jacket, dark green and a little grimy, but still very well intact, “Here, this is a start,” he said shoving it into Jesse’s hands.

Jesse awkwardly adjusted it in his hands, he and Aiden were right in front of the desk and he was desperately wanting out of the room, but Aiden was in his way, “This- this didn’t come off a dead body did it?”

The other male gave him an irritated stink eye, “And this matters, why?”

“I-I it feels wrong to take things from someone-”

Aiden looked at the barely together body on the chair, “Jesse they’re dead, they have absolutely no use for them anymore. But no, this didn’t come from a corpse. It was hanging on a coat rack in the back of the other room” he said dryly. “It’s small, but so are you so it will probably fit.”

The insult was blatantly obvious, but Jesse didn’t respond. He turned the coat over in his hands, eyeing the inside of the collar and what was inside. Even after all these years the ink had been protected from the elements, and Jesse could still read the tag just fine.

Billy.

The tag said Billy, with the y flipped in the wrong direction. This coat had belonged to a boy, a young boy judging by the handwriting. He ran his hands along the coat shaking, even finding marbles tucked into the pocket. It made Jesse’s heart clench and his lip quivered. “I- I can’t take this coat-”

“What?! Why the hell not?!” Aiden demanded.

“I’m not trying to be picky, I-I’m sorry,” Jesse set in on the desk with shaking hands, “It belonged to a little boy, Aiden. I - I can’t take his coat, this is just wrong - I know everything is survival out here but-

During Jesse’s yammering Aiden’s expression suddenly shifted from impatience and irritation to something entirely new, something Jesse hadn’t seen before on the male.

Fear.

Jesse yelped as Aiden lunged at him, sending them both crashing to the floor. Jesse’s head banged against the wall and he struggled to get away from Aiden who was trying to get a grip on him. “Aiden stop, what are you doing!?”

Aiden took hold of his shoulders, pushing him hard against the support beams, “Just shut up!” he hissed.

“Is this about the coat, I’m sorry I-”

Jesse let out a muffled cry as Aiden clamped his metal hand over his mouth, struggling violently against the ice cold contact. This was it, he thought, Aiden had enough and was just going to kill him.

“Don’t move!  Be quiet!” Aiden whispered fiercely, and Jesse actually caught the desperation in his voice, “Or it will be the last thing you and I will ever do!”

The statement made Jesse freeze, and he stared at Aiden in fearful confusion. Aiden didn’t remove his hand from Jesse’s mouth. “ Don’t make a sound,” he repeated. He pushed Jesse more firmly against the wall, keeping him pinned between Aiden and the wood. Then very slowly Aiden looked over his shoulder towards the classroom door.

Jesse stiffened when he heard the noise, the sound Aiden must have heard before him. It was slow, scraping, almost like someone dragging something along the floor of the school. Now that Jesse had been forced into silence the noise was painfully loud, and it was getting closer.

Then suddenly as the noise began it stopped, and Jesse almost went to attempt to speak. Had Aiden not tightened his grip. Jesse’s eyes widen, and his heart seized, as he spotted the looming shadow hovering beyond the doorway.

A long black limb curved around the frame, followed slowly by four more slender limbs, claws. There was the clicking of teeth, and a head peeked down from above the top of the door-

If Jesse had been alone, if Aiden wasn’t here, there would have been nothing on this earth to suppress the terror that surged through him.

The creature was slender, and freakishly tall, easily eight feet in height. It looked into the room with milky white eyes. It’s mouth was a complex sharp network of teeth overlapping each other and the lip. It hissed, sliding into the classroom as silently as death. It’s long arms reached all the way to the floor, the foot long claws dragging against the tile. The body was blackened almost like a burn, the skin mottled with rot and wounds, the skin was stretched so tight you could see the ribs. Immediately upon entering, the room filled with a stench of decaying flesh, drowning Jesse in the scent of the creature.

The creature looked slowly around the room, even directly looking at the pair of males, but it didn’t act. It took Jesse a second to realize that the creature must be mostly blind, relying on sound and movement to hunt.

It took another slow step into the room, hissing. Saliva hit the floor, the tile bubbling on contact with the fluid. It clicked it’s teeth together rapidly, nose sniffing. It took hold of the desk and bent over, sniffing the abandoned coat, forked tongue reaching out and licking the fabric.

Suddenly the creature lifted it’s head up and it’s jaw unhinged and it let out an unearthly screech, and Jesse flinched, his movement minimal due to Aiden holding him firm.

Aiden himself had gone pale, but remained still and stiff. He didn’t even flinch as the monster looked right at him and screamed again. The animal snapped at the air by Aiden’s face, clicking it’s teeth and snarling aggressively.

It knew someone was in here, it was trying to find them.

And just then at that moment, a marble slid out of the coat and hit the floor with a loud clatter.

The creature reacted immediately, clawed hand swinging down with a roar. The claws cut through the wood, the coat, and the corpse like they were nothing. It grabbed hold of the boney body, tearing into it with it’s sharp teeth.

Oh God, Jesse was struggling not to panic, he gripped onto Aiden’s jacket with as much force as Aiden held him still. Jesse’s hands were shaking violently and was forcing himself to breath as steady as he could.

The animal moved back towards the pair, bones crunching between it’s sharp teeth. It spat them out, inching towards Aiden’s face hissing-

The was a loud crash somewhere in the school and the monster shrieked, shooting out of the room with incredible speed for a creature so large.

Jesse went lax, head spinning, lungs straining for air. Aiden quickly rose, pulling Jesse up to his feet. Jesse stumbled against him, still shaking and terrified.

Lukas rushed into the room and with a military jacket in his hand. He threw it around Jesse’s shoulders helping him get it on. He was deathly white, as he rushed to zip up the article of clothing with shaky hands.

“Lukas we have an enderman-” Aiden began.

“I know,” Lukas stammered out.

“We have to get out of here,”

“Out the window,” Lukas said briskly, “There is more than one awake now. It’s coming down the hallway!” he whispered fiercely.

Aiden swung his leg over the broken window, silently coming down on the other side. Jesse went to follow after only to be suddenly scooped up by Lukas, passed hastily over the sharp frame into Aiden’s arms. Then before Jesse was even back on the ground Lukas was over and out.

He took hold of Jesse’s hand, “Don’t let go, do everything I say.”

“O-okay.”

Then they were running. Gill and Maya were at the end of the street, armed and very pale.

Somewhere behind them more screams echoed from the school.

“Get over the hill, we get out of their range and we’re clear!” Lukas gasped out.

“Well now we know what happened to the raiders,” Gill said as he joined the run.

Maya had a heavy scarf in her hands, she quickly tied it loosely around Jesse’s neck, “At least we found you clothes,” she smiled weakly, before joining the full sprint.

“Had to be fucking Enderman,” Aiden hissed as they ran, “At the rate this week has been going I’m surprised they didn’t show up sooner!”

“Hey,” Gill wheezed and chuckled, “They could be chasing us, so it could be worse.”

Aiden punched a wooden board against a gutted car as he passed it. It smashed in half, a violent example of knock on wood, “Shut up Gill!”

The enderman screamed again, and even though it sounded farther away it was still unnerving. The group of five ran faster, hightailing it out of that part of town, putting as much distance as possible between them and the monstrosities in the school.


 

They had run through the day and well into the night. Lukas finally stopped the team in a new town. They found a brick building mostly intact, and settled there for the night.

Jesse woke up the following morning exhausted, worn, and very sore. He sat up with a groan, popped a stiff joint on his neck and let out a heavy sigh.

Maya looked up from across from him, she had Jesse’s former bloodied sweater in her hands -he had given it back to her the night before. She was scrubbing it down with filtered water that came from the endless snow piles around this part of town, “Morning sleepy head.”

Jesse gave her a weak smile.

Gill chuckled, “Looks like someone has wasteland woes.”

Jesse cringed, “I guess, didn’t sleep very well last night.”

“Meeting your first enderman will do that to you.”

Jesse sighed, “Yeah,” he stood, “Is Lukas-”

“Outside. We’ll be heading out pretty quick.”

Jesse waved and walked out. Lukas was by a few cindered stumps, checking the maps. Jesse quietly approached him

“One thing about enderman,” Lukas said without looking up, “Is running into one really puts the energy back into you.”

“That was something created by radiation?” Jesse asked.

Lukas folded the map up, “Yeah, no one knows what they used to be. Some people theorize they were humans once, but we have ghouls for that. They’re extremely dangerous. They rely heavily on movement and sound. They are freakishly fast. If the claws don’t kill you the radiation will. We tend to avoid them best we can; but they can pick up blood like a hound dog. Aiden thinks that one you met smelled the blood on your sweatshirt.”

Jesse tightened his scarf, silent.

“You got lucky,” The blond said, looking up to Jesse “considering you’ve never seen one before.”

“I’ll have to thank Aiden, without him I….” Jesse glanced at the building as Aiden exited, “I wouldn’t have….”

“It’s okay now,” Lukas assured, standing up next to Jesse “They migrate only certain times of the year. They rarely leave dark places unless they smell a meal. It won’t follow us this far.”

Jesse nodded, giving a small smile “You know best.”

Lukas smiled, patting his shoulder, “We’re closer to home for it at least.” he nodded past Jesse, “And look, we even got a sunrise this morning.”

Jesse looked over his shoulder, sighting the break in the usually bleak horizon. The skyline was beginning to glow a fabulous oranges and pinks. It was beautiful.

Lukas let out a happy sigh, “Sunrise, That’s a good sign. See? Today is already getting better.”

Jesse smiled and leaned against the side of a tree as Lukas walked back to the building. “Maya, Gill! Get out here we have a sunrise!”

“Serious?!” the female gasped from inside, before coming out.

From the corner of his eye Jesse saw Aiden was looking at the colorful display as well. There was a rare smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

Jesse looked at mother nature’s fleeting masterpiece. He realized something he saw every day once, was so precious to the people of now . They were trapped living in a endless cold dark, and genuinely appreciated the sun’s small even though temporary blessing. It warmed Jesse at little, as he also realized he hadn’t seen a sunrise in quite some time. So he continued to watch, allowing the glorious wonder before him to warm the “wasteland woes” away.

There was the crunching of gravel, “Well what do we have here?”

Before Jesse could look behind him. Lukas was crying out, “Jesse!”

There was a sharp yank and Jesse cried out as he was pulled away from the tree. His back crashed into someone fairly larger than him. A large burly arm wrapped around his throat locking him against this stranger.

Lukas was tearing his gun out, and so was the rest of the team, “Let him go!”

It was then Jesse felt the cold steel of a gun barrel press firmly against his head. He ceased struggling immediately, heaving for air as the arm around his neck tightened.

“Now friends,” a very unfriendly voice sneered, “Let’s not get hostile,”

Jesse heard the cocking mechanism click.

“I’m sure we can work something out.”

 

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Violence, Sexual Themes, Inappropriate Gun use

-

Lukas’s heart froze the moment he saw the raider.

It had been a perfect moment, not seconds before. The sun was out, and for the briefest of seconds everyone was happy, everyone was okay. Even Aiden ceased his bitterness to take a moment to enjoy the rare wonder on the horizon.

Lukas had looked to Jesse, smiling to himself as he saw this rare first time happiness in the male’s eyes, this content, soothing expression on his face. The male stared at the rising sun and for the briefest of seconds, Lukas could see the true Jesse beneath the pain and trauma of PAMA.

Then that raider came around the corner of the building, he already had his gun out, he was already too close-

JESSE!

Jesse began to move, maybe he heard the raider coming, or maybe Lukas’s cry had startled him. But it was too late, the stranger yanked Jesse back into him, pulling him close and hooking his arm around the smaller male's neck.

Jesse cried out in terror, writhing against the other man’s grip.

Lukas whipped his rifle from around his shoulder, “Let him go!”

Gill and Maya pulled out their weapons as well, and from the corner of his vision, Lukas could see Aiden had drawn his pistol and repositioned to a better angle, already aimed at the intruder.

Lukas stiffened as the burly male lifted his own pistol, placing it firmly on the side of Jesse’s head, “Now friends.” he gave toothy grin, “Let’s not get hostile.” he cocked the gun, “I’m sure we can work something out.”

“We don’t want any trouble, just let him go,” Lukas said firmly, masking his fear the best he could. He tried not to look Jesse in the eyes, he couldn’t. The other was stiff and pale, looking at him fearfully, looking for help.

“Shit-” Gill hissed behind him.

“Lukas!” Maya whispered fiercely.

Lukas glanced around, looking briefly over his shoulder, there were three raiders on the other side of the building. When he looked forward again there were two more next to the original. He swallowed slowly, fighting the lump stuck down his throat, “Just let him go,” he repeated.

“Now, I”m afraid I can’t do that,” the man said, “Seeing as if I do that you’ll probably shoot me.”

“We won’t,” Lukas assured, “Just let us leave.”

“Can’t do that either son,” he looked over to Aiden, “Don’t think I didn’t notice you, stay where you are or your friend here gets lead for brains.”

Aiden shifted, hand adjusting on his gun, but then much to Lukas’s relief, he took a step back.

The man smiled, “Good boy.”

Aiden snarled, “Fuck off,” he spat.

The stranger ignored him, “Now here is what we’re gonna do,” he looked at Lukas, “You and I are gonna have a little chat. Your little team here is gonna give mine what we need, then and only then, will we let pretty boy here go.”

“And why the hell should we trust you?”

“Because I am a businessmen, and killing isn’t good for business.”he smiled a vicious smile, “My name is Blake, and these are my men. You, my friend, have wandered into the turf of the Dead Enders gang.”

“Is that supposed to impress me?” Lukas hissed out.

Blake huffed, as if he was used to people saying that. He took a few steps around the tree, dragging Jesse along with him. “It means you’ve invaded the wrong territory. We don’t take kindly to people stealing our land.”

“We’re not stealing, and we’re not here for a land war.” Lukas said icily, “We’re just passing through.”

“Hmmmm, and where exactly would you be heading to?”

“The western hills, just past the dead birch woods,” Aiden cut in.

The location was real. Aiden probably assumed the same thing Lukas did- that Blake knew the land just as well as anyone else who worked out here. It was a clever move, in case things ended in a chase, Beacon town was roughly fifty miles east of the western hills. Well away from their “destination”.

“To the ranches huh? Got a job then I take it,” He flexed his arm slightly, drawing a whimper from Jesse.

“Escort job yeah,” Aiden said stiffly.

“You’re hired hands then….” Blake smiled. “In that case, I think we can work this out.”

Lukas frowned, not appreciating the man’s tone.

“Well, since you aren’t out here land claiming, we don’t have to kill ya. But,” Blake chuckled. “You all are still trespassing, passing through or no.”

“Just let him go and we’ll get off your turf as fast as our legs can go.” Lukas stated, clenching his fists, his nails digging into his palms

“I think not,”

“What?!” Aiden hissed through gritted teeth

“You’re a group of hirelings, which means between ya’ll, you probably have a decent amount of credits on you. Hand over your guns, money and supplies and we’ll let you all leave.”

Jesse’s eyes widened, “Lukas don’t-gak!”

Blake had swiftly released his arm from Jesse, hand coming up and gripping the smaller male’s throat tight. Jesse gasped as he choked, hands feebly clawing at Blake’s much stronger limb.

“Stop it!” Lukas demanded.

“Give him what he asked for and he will!” one of the raider’s piped up.

“You take all of that and we have nothing,” Aiden snarled, “What kinda fucking trade is that?!”

“Your friend gets to live,” he sat down, taking Jesse onto his lap, “Or are you not as close as I think?”

Jesse whined as Blake adjusted his gun, shoving the loaded weapon’s barrel into his mouth. Tears sprung in his eyes and he squeezed them shut. He was shaking hard as he feebly clawed at Blake’s hand.

Aiden growled, looking to Lukas.

“Tell you what,” Blake said. “Since you seem to be hesitating. I can keep pretty boy here, and you all keep your supplies and leave.”

“That’s not an option!” Lukas snapped.

“I don’t see why not. Looking at the five of you, this one here is the only one who doesn’t look like he belongs. I mean look at him,” He forced Jesse to tilt his head back to get a better look at him. He pushed the barrel of his weapon a little farther down, producing a whimper from Jesse, “He looks like he hasn’t fought or worked a day in his life.”

“He’s with us regardless of what you think!” Lukas hissed.

Blake smiled, “I bet a few rounds in the Wasteland Games could fix that.”

Maya gasped and Lukas felt his own heart seize. The Wasteland Games!!! Jesse wouldn’t last a single round in the games, much less a few! He’d be-

“I don’t know Blake,” another one of the hostiles laughed, “Think he’d sell better in the credit rich pleasure department don’t ya think?”

Blake hummed, “Fair point,” He grinned at his mates, “Maybe after I go a few rounds first!”

The raiders laughed and Lukas’s blood boiled high, he loaded the rifle angrily, “Let him go! Now!

Blake stopped laughing, he quickly stood, yanking Jesse up with him. “Or what?” he sneered, pulling the gun out and shoving it hard against the brunet’s skull. “You’re going to shoot me?”

“You’re not a hard shot!” Gill threatened.

“Even if you do take me out, my mates will kill your little pal and all you fuckers caught in the crossfire,” The raider leader snarled. “You got nothing!” He placed a finger on the trigger, “You’ve stepped into the wrong fucking territory you little punks, you’re in a dead end-”

There was the sound of a muffled gunshot- a silencer.

“Sniper!” Aiden yelled.


Jesse had been focusing on breathing, just breathing. He focused on getting out of this, staying alive, staying calm. He had to convince himself that Lukas would figure this out, that his team would figure this out. But his mind was dizzy, almost sick. The gun had left a metallic residue in his mouth, he wanted to vomit.

No! Just breath, just breath.You’re going to be okay. You are going to be….okay.

Then he saw a man die.

The raider to the left of Blake buckled, a scarlet blossom bursting forth from his skull.

Jesse had not heard a shot, there was no discard from Lukas’s gun, nor the rest of the team. The raider’s hadn’t fired either.

Suddenly Aiden was yelling, “Sniper!”

Blake was cursing, realizing that there was an attack upon him and his men. His guard was down on Jesse, his focus on this unknown sniper. His grip on Jesse was loose and Jesse jerked forward, struggling to get free as Blake began losing grip on his throat.

“Oh no you don’t!”

Blake latched onto Jesse’s arm, wrenching him back, trying to keep him close.

There was a another shot, and Blake was screaming, a bullet through his thigh. As Jesse staggered away from him another shot went through the raider leader’s ribs, then he was down.

“Jesse!” Lukas caught Jesse before he could fall, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him close, “Jesse are you alright?!”

His voice sounded distant in his ears, almost echoed, faded even. Jesse found himself staring numbly at Blake’s still form, stunned.

“Jesse?! Jesse! Jesse can you hear me?!”

Another shot, this time through a raider’s throat, he was dead before he even hit the ground.

“JESSE!”

“Move!” Aiden’s voice cut through the shouting and the chaos. He shoved hard against Lukas and Jesse, “In the building! Go!”

Gill and Maya were already pulling the retreat into the safety of the old brick structure. As Jesse and the others ran into the dimness, Jesse saw the fourth raider die.

Five.

Six.

The shots ceased when they disappeared into the building. Lukas dropped down next to Gill and Maya taking Jesse with him.

Maya reached out, cupping his face, “Jesse, Jesse! Are you alright?”

Jesse looked slowly to the door, “Who….who….”

Aiden was by the door, cursing, “It’s a sniper.” he hissed.

“What building?” Lukas gasped out.

“North west, hiding in the sun rise.” Aiden squinted as he risked a peek outside the frame.

Lukas swallowed, “Okay. Gill, any other way out of the building?”

The larger male shook his head, “We’re looking at the only door out.”

“Windows?”

“Nada.”

Lukas cursed, growled, cursed again, and turned his attention to Jesse, “Are you okay?” he asked, running his hands swiftly but gently across Jesse, searching for any injuries, “Are you hurt? Did he hurt you?”

Jesse finally blinked back into reality, “Y-yeah, I’m - I’m fine.”

Lukas ran his hands along Jesse’s face, pausing hesitantly along Jesse’s bruised lips and neck, “He hurt you...” Lukas whispered

Jesse slowly pulled his head away, “It’s okay, I’ll be okay.”

“Guys...” Aiden slowly cut in. “Our shooter is signaling us.”

Lukas briefly looked away, “Friend or foe?”

“Who is it?!” Maya asked as well.

“Give me a sec!” Aiden yanked out his flashlight. He pointed it outside and rapidly began turning it on and off in a random pattern. Then stopped, looking down at a blinking red light on the floor.

“How are they talking?” Jesse asked.

“Morse.” Gill answered stiffly, “Aiden are we good?”

Give me a second!” Aiden repeated with a hiss, “I’m asking for their call sign.”

There was a moment of tense silence, just the clicking of the flashlight as Aiden tried to speak with their mystery shooter.

The red light came back, blinking rapidly on the floor.

“Oh fuck,

“Who is it?” Lukas asked.

Aiden started to laugh, actually laughing, “We’re good guys, friendly.”

Everyone visibly relaxed. Maya stood brushing the dirt off her knees, “Thank God,” she breathed out, “Who do we need to thank?”

“Good ole Petra,” Aiden said with a chuckle, leaning against the door frame.

Gill grinned, “Oh Jesus, Petra’s out there?! Damn what’s that woman doing out here?!” he laughed as he stood.

Lukas stood, extending his hand down to Jesse, “We’re okay now Jesse.”

Jesse took his hand, “Who’s Petra?”

“Who’s Petra?!”

Jesse looked over to see Aiden grinning in delight, “Who’s Petra?” he repeated. “Kid, you are about to meet the most badass bitch of the wastes there ever was.”


Badass was roughly a good description. Least from Jesse’s perspective.

Petra was a female, establishing the ‘bitch’ bit very quickly. But she was tall, nearly as tall as Aiden, easily as tall as Lukas. She was built tough and strong, wearing her heavy combat gear with ease. Even through all the fabric and layers, Jesse could see she was well defined and muscular.

Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail, it was about mid length, and auburn red in color. A striped bandana wrapped around her head, still allowing space for the pony tail to weave through. Her skin was on the paler side and her face blanketed in freckles.

Despite carrying a large and intimidating sniper rifle, as well as being armed from top to bottom with quite a few more weapons. Petra looked kind, delighted even. She seemed just has happy to see the group as they were to see her.

Petra gave a brilliant smile as she approached the gang, her sunglasses flashing in the limited light, “Sup guys?!” she grinned as she spread out her arms.

Gill came to meet her first, “You crazy bitch how are you?!” he asked as he moved in to give her a crushing hug.

“Good to see ya Gill!” She lowered her sniper rifle and accepted the gesture. Then she took a step back, lifting up her shades, revealing a stunning set of light blue eyes, “Hey Lukas my man!”

“Hey Petra,” Lukas smiled.

“Maya, looking fine as always,”

Maya hugged Petra next, “Hey girl!”

“Kicking the boy’s asses still?”

“Damn straight!”

Petra laughed and moved on, “Aiden!” she grinned broadly, “I think you got taller!”

“Petra~” he stated gently, smiling a little.

Jesse raised an eyebrow, was that-

“Ah,” she grabbed his hand and hugged the slightly taller male, “It’s all good to see you! But I gotta ask.” she pulled away, “What are you all doing out here? And messing with the Dead Enders on top of it?”

Aiden’s grinned turn forced, “We’ve run into some issues.

“Work run out in Founder’s Town?

“Nope. Lukas-”

Petra spotted Jesse then, “Oh!” she looked at Lukas, “Who is this?”

“This is Jesse,” Lukas said.

Jesse extended his hand, “Pleased to meet you. Thanks for saving us back there.”

She shook it, “Yeah, no problem.” she grinned crookedly, “Pardon my bluntness but what hole did you pop out of? Cause you are seriously pale man.”

“So I’ve been told,” Jesse smiled timidly.

Petra nodded, slowly looking to Lukas, “Why were you guys running through gang turf?”

“We were passing through,” Lukas explained, “We ran into a set of endermen in the last town back. We stopped here for the night. We were getting ready to leave when we ran into the raiders.”

“You’re lucky I was here,” Petra said, “I’ve been after those bastards for a week now. They stole some gear, including Miss. Butter-” she paused to pat a knife strapped to her thigh, “While I was out hunting. I got it back when I noticed their camp was empty, which was in the building I was shooting from. You’re lucky I stepped in or you guys would have been in a bloodbath.” she pointed to a large structure about three miles away, “There is a haunting of enderman living in the building right now. Had they heard a gun fight they would have slaughtered you.”

“Well then we owe you big time.”

“Eh, will call it even for the ghoul incident,” Petra flipped her rifle over her shoulder. “So….passing through huh?

“More like…..trying to get some distance,” Maya said slowly.

Petra laughed, “Seriously? From who?”

Jesse watched as Aiden glanced his way, “From PAMA.” he said icily.

Petra’s eyebrows shot up “What?!


“Here,”

Aiden glanced up, from his gun cleaning to see Petra standing above him, holding a thermos in her hand, “What is that?”

“Coffee.”

Aiden gratefully took the mug, “Oh I could kiss you,” he groaned, as he took a sip.

Next to him Lukas mumbled. “Bet you would.” he said, not looking up from his maps.

Aiden stepped on his foot, drawing a hiss from the Lukas. The sensation sent painful zings up his foot. Lukas’s boots were not a sturdily built as Aiden’s and Aiden knew it. He put extra effort into the step, making Lukas’s toes scream in protest.

Lukas kicked back, hitting Aiden’s ankle. The brunet flashed him a look, but left it at that.

Petra settled down across from the pair, aware of the brief foot war that just went down. “So.”she looked across the campfire where Gill and Maya were trying to teach Jesse how to campfire cook.

The results were interesting, seeing as Gill wasn’t much of a chef to begin with. He prefered the wing it method, which is the way he was trying to teach Jesse. Maya on the other side, did not appreciate this form of cooking and was trying to show the male how to do it right the first time. This left Jesse fairly confused as the wave of instructions overwhelmed him. The group had stopped for the night, allowing Lukas and Aiden time to explain the details of the past few weeks to Petra.

“So Jesse is a PAMA experiment?” she hummed.

Lukas sighed. “He was in that tube for over three hundred years.”

“How did he survive?” the ginger asked.

Lukas shrugged, “No idea. But he did, and he’s with us now.”

“And PAMA wants to get their hands on him.” Aiden added, “Badly. We’ve been trying to make our way back to Beacon Town since then.”

Petra took a sip of her coffee, “Damn.” she raised her eyebrow, “I”m surprised you let Lukas get involved in PAMA Aiden.”

Aiden frowned, “I didn’t. He made some stupid decisions-”

Lukas scowled, “I’m not changing my mind for a second of it, we have discussed this a thousand times. Drop it.” he sighed, looking to Petra, “I don’t know what they did to him, but they fucked him up Petra, bad.” He looked at Jesse sadly, “He’s terrified of them, whatever happened in his time with PAMA his brain blocked it out. He can’t even remember.”

Petra’s eyes softened a little, “Poor guy.”

“Whatever the case now,” Aiden said, running fingers through his hair, “He’s coming with us to Beacon Town, we hope to lose PAMA by that point.”

Petra hummed, reaching up and twisting the very end of her ponytail. “It’s not a bad plan, you all have family and connections you can use….”

Aiden caught her tone, “But?”

She glanced warily to the campfire, “How good are you guys on supplies?”

Lukas cringed, “Pretty low, we grabbed as much as we could before we fled. And we scrapped the PAMA vehicle for any goods before we moved out. But a lot of it was perishable, not exactly good for long road trips.”

“Gill and I were going to hit the next outpost for a food run,” Aiden said, he glanced at the maps in front of them, “Pike Point I think is the next one.”

“Pike Point got scrapped by PAMA,” Petra sighed.

Aiden groaned and Lukas’s eyebrows shot up, “What?!”

Petra shrugged, “Outpost Master made a very bad move. PAMA wiped out the entire settlement over a year ago.” she pulled out a pen, slashing the point on the map that had been their next goal.

“Mother-” Aiden hissed.

“What about the Bear Claw settlement?” Lukas cut in. He tapped the paper, “That’s the next one. We can push our food to there.”

The female clicked her tongue, eyes going sad. She shook her head, reached down and crossed that one out too, “There is nothing there burnt cinders now. Bear Claw fell to a radiation sickness epidemic.”

Now it was Lukas’s turn to groan. He dropped his face into his hands, shaking his head.

Aiden turned his head to gaze at the fire, “We’ll never make it to the next outpost. Even if we hunted the whole way. Game is going to be scarce with heavy winter coming soon.”

“And we can’t rely on the game to get us through, and if we go back to the last outpost we might run into PAMA,” Lukas groaned.

Suddenly from the other side of the campfire, Jesse yelped and Lukas sharply looked over. The sound was followed quickly after by Maya cursing, which eased Lukas greatly when he realized, it was only Gill having lit his pants on fire.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Jesse cried out.

“It’s not your fault!” Maya snarled, “It’s this idiot over here!”

“You wanted it done fast didn’t you-ack!” Gill yelped as Maya took her heavy coat of and slapped it between his legs. Hard. “OW! Come on babe that’s-”

“Don’t babe me! You’re on fire!”

Aiden hissed out a curse and got up, “I’m gonna go take care of dinner before they burn the last of our rations.”

Petra watched him go, “Lukas?”

“Yes?”

Petra was eyeing Jesse scrambling to help Maya put out the fire, “You just met this kid right? You’ve only known him a little over a month?”

Lukas nodded, “Yeah?”

“So you don’t know him that well, you hardly know what happened to him much less who he is?”

He gave her a funny look, “I guess…”

“But you still want to help him? Help keep him away from PAMA?”

“I can’t explain it,” he answered, “I….yeah maybe it was a moral thing at first. But….I heard things coming from him, he talked in his sleep. I know he says he can’t remember what happened to him in PAMA. But I think some deep part of him still does….” Lukas cringed. “He’d be screaming. He’d say the strangest things, they hurt him. But I never saw any scars…..I don’t know what they did to him, but…” He looked at Petra, “I’m not going to let them finish whatever they started.”

“Hmmm,” Petra’s eyes glinted, “Definitely more than a moral thing,” she mused.

“What do you mean?”

She didn’t answer. She glanced over at the chaos by the fire pit, hummed, took a sip of her coffee, then, “I know, how about I give you guys a hand?”

Lukas’s eyebrows shot up and he immediately straightened back up, “Oh no we couldn’t-”

“Lukas, dude, we grew up together.” the ginger scoffed, “Do you honestly think I’d leave you guys hanging?”

“Petra-”

“I got enough dry rations in my pack,” Petra said, “If we spread them out, we’ll make it the outpost beyond Bear Claw.” she glanced at the map, “That’s Joe’s Tradeoff. It’s a good place to pick up supplies and better yet, PAMA won’t touch it.”

“We couldn’t do that to you,” Lukas countered.

“It’s not an issue,” she smirked, “I’ve been meaning to head back that way anyway. Your little pal needs help. I’m may be a badass bitch, but I’m not a PAMA bitch. Even if it wasn’t for him, I’d be helping you anyway. If it is that much an issue, you can pay me back the amount you guys eat on the way there.”

“Are you sure about this? I hate to be a bother-”

“Dude you’re not.” Petra laughed, “Cutie boy looks like a sweetheart anyway, wouldn’t want to ruin that.” she stuck out her hand, “Sound like a plan? Feed you now, pay me later?”

Lukas eyed her hand, then smirked slightly, “Does that come with interest?”

Petra punched him lightly, “You dick!” she laughed.


“Is your gun named Miss Butter?”

Petra paused from her trekking, sinking into snow slightly. “What?”

Jesse stopped next to her, his face flushed a rosy red, snowflakes in his hair. He gestured to Petra’s sniper rifle. “You said the other day the raider’s stole supplies, you mentioned Miss Butter.”

Petra blinked, “Miss- Oh!” she patted her knife on her hip, “No this is Miss Butter.”

Jesse smiled, curious, it was a cute smile. Didn’t take much for Petra to see why Lukas was so easily smitten. Three days into the trek and Jesse revealed to be this tender little doll. “Is it a butter knife?”

She laughed, “No, it’s an energy blade.”

“Energy blade?”

“Yeah, super rare find,” She pulled it out, the weapon turning on and the metal crackling with energy. “It’s got pre-war power woven through it, it’s like a taser and a knife put together.”

“Oh-” Jesse paused and sneezed, the motion making his entire body jolt. He straightened, rubbing his nose and sniffing. Petra smiled, humored by the overall delicate being that was Jesse.

“I know those, my dad owned a few,” Jesse continued, he looked off, “But that was a long time ago…”

“They’re pretty rare now,” Petra said softly, “I’ve had people try to kill me for this thing.”

“Why don’t you sell it?”

“Too useful. Even though I could get a pretty penny for it. I had a collector offer me three thousand credits for it.” she flipped the blade in the air, catching it with ease, “But Miss Butter has gotten me out of tough scrapes. Ropes, scrapes, even got away from an enderman using her.”

His eyes widened in wonder, "Are you serious?!

Petra glanced at him, “I heard you met one?”

“Yeah-” the male said slowly, cringing at the recent and no doubt frightening memory, “It was….” he glanced at her, “How did you-”

“Well, I’ll be honest with you,” she hummed, “It was injured and sick, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. It was starving and on top of me.” she jabbed her knife forward, “Miss Butter was sharp enough to cut through it’s skin. So I gutted him.”

“Woah!”

“Yeah, I don’t recommend it. I was sick with an overdose of radiation. Luckily it didn’t turn into anything serious. I had enough meds to stem it thankfully.” Petra coughed, “I don’t know if Lukas told you, but enderman are radioactive as hell. Every bloody part of them.”

Jesse slowly nodded, “Oh….So the raider’s stole her.”

“I was hunting, and I accidentally left it at my camp. Good ole Blake took it when he looted me.”

“Were you on his turf too?”

Petra scoffed, “Hell no, far from. I tracked that son of a bitch all the way to where you guys were.” she pushed a tree branch out of the way, so Jesse could pass, “I wasn’t planning on shooting him. But you guys were in a rut, and he did steal my stuff….”

Jesse rubbed his arm “I’m glad you got your knife back then.”

“Yeah……” she put her knife away, taking a deep breath, “So,” she smiled at him, “How are you faring?”

Jesse went quiet.

“I can only imagine how hard it is,” she said softly. “I mean….”

“It’s hard,” Jesse sighed, “I..I miss my parents the most.”

“I lost mine when I was little,” Petra patted his shoulder, “It was hard for me too. But I guess it was harder for you wasn’t it?” Her face dropped sadly, “You didn’t even get to say goodbye did you?”

Jesse’s lip quivered, “N-no. The last time I saw my dad I - woah!”

A branch hidden beneath the thick snow made a go at Jesse’s boot. The poor boy went down as his foot snagged and he got a mouthful of snow as he landed into the piles of powder.

Uphead Lukas looked back, “Jesse?!”

“We’re good,” Petra hollered, “He just tripped!” She kneeled down as Jesse lifted his head, coughing and sputtering on the snow. “You okay?”

“Y-yeah,” he stammered, before sneezing violently.

Petra stared at the flush face and the snow blanketed tresses, watching as he sneezed a third time; blinking up at her with big bright green eyes.

“What?”

Petra blinked back, Shit….I gotta protect that. She thought to herself

Chapter Text

 

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing

-

“Well….you do look capable….” the trader eyed them over. “You said there were six of you?”

“Yes,” Aiden said, “Five of us are trained in escorting and combat. Then my…. younger brother is good with kids if there are any.” he gritted out in forced politeness. “He keeps them calm and entertained. You know how kids can get on road trips.” Aiden smiled.

Next to him Gill’s lip quivered, very, very humored.

The male hummed, “We do have kids, and I’ve heard of your group….

Aiden’s heart skipped a beat, Yes! Please, please please! God let this be a break.

The stranger sighed, “I’m sorry though boys.I’m heading the other way.”

Well screw you too God… ..

“Are you sure you can’t head to Founder’s Town?”

Aiden cringed, trying to think of an answer when Gill piped up. “Sorry sir, too many issues that way.”

“Oh?”

“Yes sir. PAMA’s causing problems all over that way.”

This made the trader pause, “PAMA huh?”

“One shot at me for making eye contact. They’re making it hard for a man to make a living.”

The trader sighed, “Well I still got to head that way. I got family I need to get to.”

Aiden finally managed to come back together. He smiled politely and shook the man’s hand, “Well thank you for considering us. We hope you find someone to help you and may you have safe travels to your family.”

“Mighty kind of you boys. Best of luck finding a gig.”

They waved as they walked away, Aiden frowned as they rounded a building, “Fuck us.”

Gill raised an eyebrow, “Hey! Language man there are kids around!”

Aiden huffed, “Fine. Frick , us.” he rubbed his nose, “That was our last shot at earning credits Gill. That was the last available job at this post.”

“I know.”

“What are we even going to tell the others?”

Gill flinched, “I don’t know.”

Aiden ran a hand along his front coat pocket, where he kept his personal supply of credits, “I guess if we compile our private accounts to supplies….We might make it to the  next outpost. After that….” he dropped his hands with a sigh.

“Maybe everyone else is finding us some game,” Gill said, shoving his hands into his coat pockets, “That’ll help.”

Aiden huffed, his breath a puff of cloud before it too was absorbed by the rapidly dropping temperatures of the wastelands. “If you think anything is still alive and out for this weather. Think PAMA could have at least waited till after heavy winter to drive us out from Founder’s Town?”

“Aiden, man,” Gill sighed, “I know you are still mad, believe I’m not too peachy keen about having PAMA on our asses either. But...can you at least give Jesse a chance. Other than the fact he’s wound up in PAMA, he’s done nothing to you. What do you have against Jesse?”

He bit his lip, looking away, trying - struggling to answer Gill’s question.

“Aiden?”

“Let’s just get back to the group…” he mumbled, trekking towards the outpost gates, “Before it gets any darker yeah?”


 

Jesse turned away, gagging slightly.

Lukas laughed behind him, “I wondered how long you’d last.”

“I’m sorry-” Jesse stopped, gagging again as he listened to Lukas gut the poor rabbit. “I’m - I’m trying I-”

“Jesse,” the male soothed, “We don’t expect you to learn all of this in a short time. It will take some getting used to. I understand if you can’t stomach it right now.”

Jesse glanced warily over his shoulder, flinching as Lukas slit the throat, hanging it upside down to drain the blood. He quickly looked back forward, “Are you sure this won’t attract anything?”

“It’s why we’re out in the open, that way we can see anything if it comes.”

Jesse glanced at the treeline, the few trees in this pass hid secrets in their shadows. He rocked nervously on his heels, rocking back and forth on his feet. His boots crunched and packed down the thick and heavy snow, slowly sinking him deeper as it became more compact, “It didn’t suffer….did it?” he whispered.

He heard the smile carry across Lukas’s voice, that gentle Lukas smile, “No Jesse, I shot it where it didn’t feel a thing. It didn’t know what hit it.”

“O-okay…”

He heard Lukas chuckle and he blushed, “I know, it’s stupid I-”

“I think it’s sweet.” Lukas corrected, “We need more people like you out here.”

Jesse rubbed his hands against his cheeks, acting as if they needed warming. When in truth he was just trying to hide the deeper blush. “I think we need more people like you.” he mumbled out.

Lukas laughed, “Thanks, not a lot of people would agree.”

“Well they should,” Jesse stated, eyes lighting up, “Like Petra! She’s pretty neat!”

“I think she likes you too,” Lukas hummed, “You guys have been talking a lot.”

“Oh she’s told me lots of things,” he grinned, “I got a whole lot of info on little Lukas and his adventures.”

“Oh dear God, what did she tell you?”

“Well not too much, something about not wanting to destroy my opinion of you. But there was something she mentioned about a glow worm incident.”

Lukas groaned, “I didn’t know they lit of fire I was seven.”

Jesse whipped around, eyes wide, “Your glowworms light things on fire?!”

“Mmmmhmm,” the blonde said, tearing the skin off the rabbit. “They are about six inches long. Their bodies are covered in magnesium powder. They have flint like pincers at their mouth. It’s a defense mechanism. They light themselves on fire when frightened.” Lukas listed off to Jesse “Just another amazing creature created by radiation.” he coughed, “Anyway, I put one under Petra’s pillow. Our family’s shared a house in Beacon Town. She annoyed me so much, so I found a worm - I knew she hated bugs- and hid it under her pillow. But I didn’t know they lit on fire. So when she dropped her head onto her pillow…”

Jesse covered his mouth, “Oh my God,” he squeaked.

Lukas laughed, “I felt super bad afterwords. I was grounded for a month. And Petra...well, let’s just say she never grew her hair out past the length it is now.”

Jesse burst out into a fit of giggles, “Oh my God that sounds like the time Olivia put a spring trap in Axel’s lunchbox and-” he flinched, halting his sentence.

Lukas noticed, smile dropping, “I’m sorry Jesse.”

Jesse shook his head. “No, no, I need to be better at this,” he said, scolding himself more than anything, “They’re gone there is nothing I can do and I-”

“Jesse,” Lukas got up, momentarily forgetting the rabbit, “It’s okay to talk about things you no longer have,” he said softly. “I find it helps with the pain,” he mumbled, taking Jesse’s cold hands into his own.

“But…” Jesse whispered softly, looking down “It feels like…I’m just trying to hang on….”

“It doesn’t hurt to look back fondly,” Lukas said, tilting his head, trying to look at Jesse’s face

Jesse sighed, “Yeah….”

Lukas looked sadly at him, pausing as he looked down at his hands, “Your hands are freezing,” he blew his hot breath on Jesse’s fingers, “We need to find you gloves.”

“It’s- it’s not so bad,” Jesse pulled his hands free and shoved them into his coat pockets. “Really, it isn’t.”

They stood there awkwardly till Lukas took a step back and scooped up the rabbit, before looking back at Jesse “If you ever want to talk about them Jesse, I’d love to hear stories about little you.”

Jesse kicked at the snow, “As long as you give me tales of little Lukas?” he smiled sheepishly, “And the adventures of his gang?”

“Do you want to take turns?” Lukas asked, smiling.

“I like the sound of that,” Jesse said, taking a step into line with Lukas as they trekked back towards camp. “Can you go first?”

“Is there a particular story or target I should be speaking embarrassing things about?” Lukas asked.

Jesse slowly grinned, “Does Aiden like Petra?”

Lukas laughed, “Oh damn, good thing he isn’t here right now.” he adjusted the rabbit in his hands, “You’re going to like this then.”


 

“Rabbits,” Petra teased, “You caught  rabbits?”

“And you did better?” Lukas asked, entering the camp with Jesse.

Petra cut another slice of meat off the already gutted and drained deer, “I think I did alright.”

Lukas set the rabbits down by the campfire, “Fair enough.” he inspected the bag next to the burning pit as well, “What did you find Maya?”

The female was downwind of the camp, digging into the snow with a small shovel, “Some herbs, a few roots and truffles. I already have the base line for the stew going. I was going to cook part of Petra’s deer, and we could carry the rest.” She pushed her snow wet bangs out of her face, “I wished PAMA had given us time for me to at least grab by drying kit. Deer jerky would have lasted us a good while.” she laughed, “But alas.”

“Well can we cook the rabbit tonight and take the deer with us?” Lukas asked.

“Sounds good to me,” Petra said, “I like rabbit stew better anyway.” she mused as she cut clean another slice. “Did you save the hide?”

“Yeah?”

“I have a hide needle and some thick cotton, we can whip up some temporary gloves for Jesse here.”

Jesse found himself blushing profusely, “Oh you don’t have to,”

She looked at him, “Do you want to keep your fingers?”

“Well yes,-”

“Then congrats, you get rabbit fur mittens.”

“Never deny a gift from Petra,” Lukas told Jesse with a wink.

Jesse covered his  mouth, suppressing his giggle.

Unfortunately Petra noticed, “Lukaaaass.” She said slowly. “What does that mean?”

Lukas kneeled down by the campfire, already cutting off bits of his rabbits and throwing the chunks into a bubbling stew pot, “Nothing.”

“Lukas what did you- Wait a second! You told him about the brick incident didn’t you?” Her face turned red in embarrassment as Lukas choked on a snort, “You did! Oh my God you little twerp!”

“Jesse go help Maya dig will you?” Lukas said as he held back laughs.

Jesse quickly turned away trotting down the hill as Petra moved in on Lukas, “One time man! One frickin time!”

Maya only looked up from her work for a second, “Retreating the war zone?” she asked as Jesse kneeled down next to her, “Well, welcome to the trenches, we’re digging snow, to bury the food, to keep away the bears.” she laughed as she handed him another small shovel. She smiled, “So….Lukas told you about the brick incident.”

Jesse smiled back, “He didn’t give me the details, but I guess it had to do with a brick, and a gift, and Aiden broke his nose in the end?”

Maya chuckled, “Yeah, those are the highlights.” she shoved some snow aside, pausing to pull out a pickaxe and ship away the ice. “If Aiden was here, he’d tell you he didn’t believe in fighting girls, which is why his nose got broken. But between you and me, Petra just kicked his ass.”

“Lukas didn’t tell me they fought!”

The female’s eyes glittered, “Oh hell yeah, fought like cats and dogs. When they got older, those two would practice and wrestle all the time. Petra was the first person he really opened back up to after-” the light snuffed out of her eyes, “After…”

Jesse leaned in, “Maya? After what? Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she slammed her pick into the ice. “Just don’t like thinking about the accident.”

“What accident? What happened to Aiden.”

Maya was silent for a moment, silently chipping away at the ice, “I’m gonna assume you’ve noticed his metal arm by this point.

Jesse nervously readjusted on his knees. “Yeah?”

That was the accident.” she sighed, “He never really ever gave anyone the full details. One night a few years ago, when we all were still young; Aiden vanished one night. No one could find him. His dad went out into the wastes, he never came back. His mother had radiation sickness and with Aiden and her husband gone, she didn’t last long and….and they couldn’t even bury her. They just burned the house.”

“Oh my God…” Jesse whispered.

“He showed up three months later, with that arm. Telling everyone he had been scavenging out in the wastes, said there was an accident. He told everyone a good samaritan fixed him up with the prosthetic.” she looked off, “He was never the same after it though, and no one could get anything more out of him.”

“So you don’t exactly what happened?”

“No, only that he changed.”

Jesse flung some snow over his shoulder, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, not like you were the result of it.”

“I wonder why he doesn’t talk about it though?” Jesse said. “Maybe he doesn’t remember.”

Maya shoved some canisters full of deer meat into the snow, “Maybe. Guess we’ll never know.” she brushed snow out of her eyes, “Enough about us, I’m sure your childhood had plenty of bumps.”

“Well-”

“Honey we’re home!”

Jesse and Maya looked down the hill, spotting Gill and Aiden hiking up the slope. Maya got up coming halfway to meet Gill. “Welcome back,” she hummed, hopping up onto her tiptoes to kiss him, he still had to bend over to meet her, but Jesse still found the gesture to be adorable. “Any luck?” she asked.

Gill shook his head, “No. The only job opening left was an escort job and they were heading to Founder’s Town.”

Maya hesitated, “Well….” she patted his shoulder, “We found some more food, so we have a little longer to figure it out.”

Aiden stopped by Jesse, “Are you burying some of the meat then I take it,”

Jesse meekly nodded. The other male looked even taller from this low on the ground, which only added to his intimidation. “So the bears don’t smell it I guess.”

Aiden scoffed and continued walking, “Lot more to worry about up here than just bears. At least we can eat the bears.”

Lukas walked towards Aiden and shoved a mug into Aiden’s hands, giving him a warning look, “How about you eat this, cause unlike the bear, the rabbit doesn’t fight back.” He stepped away, letting Aiden continue on, looking over to Jesse. “Jesse come eat.”

Jesse quickly finished covering the containers, Maya rejoining him and stabbing a long neon orange post into the snow next to the buried food so as they may find it again. He got up brushing the powder of his knees and headed on up.

“Petra didn’t hurt you too much I hope?” He smiled.

Lukas threw an arm over his shoulder, “Naw, I handled it fine-”

“She punched you didn’t she?’ Maya cut in as she passed.

The blond sighed, “She punched me.” he admitted, Jesse laughing as he flushed.

Gill scooped himself a bowl of bubbling stew, “Gotta love home cooking.”

“If there is a home to have it at.” Aiden said dryly from the log on which he was seated, clearly his mood had not improved from the lack of income today.

“Aw, home and family are where you make it,” Petra said, sitting down right next him, smiling brightly, resulting in him smiling awkwardly into his mug. Petra took a bite of stew, “I mean, we’re here, we’re together, best bit we’re alive . As Jack would say, all we need is a good story.”

“How about that time in New Denver,” Gill laughed.

Maya choked on her food, slapping his arm. Lukas laughed heartily next to Jesse, “Now there is a story.”

“We are not talking about New Denver!” Aiden warned.

“Agreed,” Maya wheezed out.

Petra chuckled, eyes sparkling with the embers of the fire, she looked across the circle, “What about you Jesse, any of you and your friends have any regretful stories to share.

Jesse hesitated.

It’s okay to talk about things you no longer have......

“Well um,” he glanced at Lukas, who smiled encouragingly, “Um...I’m sure it’s not as exciting as New Denver but…..The first time, I ever had my friends spend the night at my house um…..Things got really out of hand.”

“Tell us,” Maya grinned.

“Well…” Jesse bit his lip, “It started with a bag of marshmallows.”

That sentence turned into two, followed by another, and then a few dozen more. Till about roughly a half hour later, almost everyone at the campfire was laughing, even Aiden had a funny little wiggle on his lips, humored.

“And that’s why…” Jesse gasped out between tears of laughter, “That’s why I wasn’t allowed to have marshmallows after eight p.m. for the next three years.”

“That’s waaaaay better than New Denver,” Gill laughed.

“God I am so jealous of you Jesse,” Petra giggled, “The world before the war sounds so much fun.”

Jesse sighed, slightly melancholy, “Yeah….it was pretty neat.”

Lukas patted his back, then stood, “I say we get some sleep now before it gets any colder.”

“I’ll put the food away,” Maya volunteered. “Gill how cold is it going to be?”

Gill pulled out a long narrow tube from his coat, sticking it into the air, “Mmmm, pretty damn cold. I know we found a cave, but I suggest we bundle and huddle.

Aiden turned on the flashlight and kicked snow onto the fire, “I swear to God Gill you snore again-”

“Drama king.”

“Can you stay away from Gill?” Jesse asked.

“I’m the second tallest in the group, so sadly, no.” Aiden frowned, “I usually end up on the bottom.”

“Bottom?!”

Lukas gently took Jesse’s hand, “You’ll see.”

He followed Lukas up to the cave where they had set up their bedrolls, Petra was at the entrance, “Watch the tripline.”

Lukas flicked his flashlight down, allowing Jesse to see the thin wire in dark. They stepped inside, heading deep into the cool but protected cavern.

The rest of the gang followed suit moments later. Gill unzipped his sleeping bag, throwing it over his shoulders, Aiden doing likewise. Both the males settled down against the cave wall.

“What are-”

Maya settled down on Gill’s lap, her blanket already wrapped around her. She snuggled against the larger male, smiling up at Jesse, “Bundle and huddle,” she explained.

Petra jumped onto Aiden drawing a grunt from him, “Sorry!”

“S’all good,” he mumbled from underneath.

Maya patted the place between her and Petra, “Right here Jesse.”

Jesse settled down awkwardly into the pile, Lukas handing him his sleeping bag. Then Lukas settled down next to him. Jesse tried to adjust but Lukas stopped him, “It’s okay to lean into me Jesse. One can’t really have boundary issues or we freeze to death.”

“Oh…” he shifted, settling against Lukas, “Okay…”

It was a bit smothering, and a little uncomfortable. But only slightly so. Gill was out in a heartbeat, snoring slightly.  Aiden groaned, adjusting away from the large male, soon slipping off into his own sleep.

One by one they faded out, till Jesse was the only one still awake. He lay there, snuggled into the pile, listening to everyone’s breathing. Watching quietly in the dark how they all adjusted around each other.

It was warm, comforting, the huddle helped greatly with the fight against the cold. It felt safe, trapped between everyone.

It reminded Jesse of home….

He yawned, resting his head against Lukas’s chest, soon slipping off to sleep.


 

“Okay so I sold some of the game we couldn’t take.”

“I finished selling the raider gear we scrapped from Blake’s gang.”

“And I managed to sell the deer hide,”

“Okay so what do we have between us?”

Aiden tallied up the numbers, “Eight thousand five hundred credits.”

They all looked to Lukas, who was writing his own notes.

“Well?” Gill asked.

Lukas shook his head, “We’re still too short to take a caravan.”

Everyone groaned.

After getting down the ridges, the gang made it to the next outpost on the food they managed to scrounge out of the woods. But it was clear that they wouldn’t make it through the pass before heavy winter on the off trails they were using. It was Lukas who suggested they try to get hired onto a caravan.

Unfortunately the only caravan heading their way out of town, had already filled its roster. Lukas managed to bargain with the caravan master, that if they joined the wagons heading out, two members of the team would add the the entire party’s protection if they only had to pay for four more riders.

But they were still short credits.

The next two hours were spent trying to sell, bargain and get what they could out of the supplies they didn’t desperately need.

Lukas tallied the numbers, “We can’t afford the dried goods we need and the spots in the caravan.” he crumpled the paper and threw it into the nearby burn barrel. “So we can either stock up on food and hope we make the pass on foot….”

“Or we stay here for the winter?” Petra suggested.

“I’m not comfortable with that,” Gill threw in, “I know we haven’t seen any PAMA soldiers yet, but I don’t want to risk them catching up with us while we’re stuck here. Unlike the rest of mankind I don’t think they have to rely on wagons and good weather to get where they need.”

“But if we get stuck up the divide when the snow hits we could be dead then too,” Maya sighed.

“The caravan master says we have two days to decide, or they are going to leave us here and then we are really stuck.”

“Maybe if we scavenge the nearby ruins?” Petra said.

“There might not be a lot left but we could maybe find old world objects to sell or some loose credits” Aiden admitted.

“I saw a woman with like twenty kids,” Maya said, “I think she runs the local orphanage, better yet, I think she needs a break.” she smirked, “I see a job for a woman’s touch.”

“You’d rather babysit than scavenge?” Petra asked.

“Money is money,” the female answered.

Lukas rubbed his eyes, “Okay so Maya is babysitting, Petra and Aiden are scavenging. I’ll try to see if I can talk the caravan master down a little lower. Pull a pity card or something…” he mumbled. He dropped his hand, looking to Gill, “What about you?”

Gill jabbed his head to the city’s gate, “I’ll head out and scavenge, I think I saw a old mall on the way in, might find something there.”

“Just watch out for enderman.”

“I can go with Gill,” Jesse piped up.

Lukas hesitated.

“It’s probably safer out there Lukas,” Aiden said, “Jesse still kinda sticks out…” he gestured at Jesse

Lukas swallowed, and slowly nodded, “Alright, just-.......just be careful.


 

“So what do credits look like?” Jesse asked as he pulled open a drawer in the clothing store.

Gill gave him a funny look; “Did they not have currency 300 years ago?” he asked with a hint of tease.

Jesse closed the drawer after seeing it was only full of rotted clothes, “Of course we did,” he blushed, “But we called it dollars, or cash, or coins. Not credits.”

“What did it look like?”

“The dollars? Um, I dunno, about this long and this wide,” Jesse displayed the dimensions the best he could with his fingers, “They came in ones, fives, twenties- This!” he scooped a muddy bill from the floor, “This is a dollar! This one is worth a hundred see the number?”

Gill eyed the paper in Jesse’s hands, “Oooh~ those. Naw they’re not worth anything anymore.” he reached into his pouch, “These are credits.”

Jesse looked at the objects in Gill’s hands, “These are coins and casino tokens,” he stated slowly.

“Yep, this is one credit,” Gill pointed at a faded penny, “This one is twenty five, and this,” he tapped a casino token marked fifty, “This is is fifty.”

“So you have a lot then?” Jesse asked.

Gill sighed, “Hardly, crackers cost this much.”

“Oh. So we’re looking for more?”

“Yep. Sometimes you get lucky and find the metal credits in old stores.”

“Ooookay.” Jesse said, finally understanding. He spotted a cash register and moved towards it.

“Empty,” Gill sighed, “All of them are.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah….” Gill groaned. “This joints been picked clean.”  he rubbed his temple, “Even if Lukas talks the shopkeeper down a bit we still won’t have enough to afford the tickets and for food to last us to even Ground Town.”

Jesse looked at Gill sadly, noting the larger male looked extremely distressed.

“Well,” Gill reached into his coat and came back out with a large bottle cap glued to a safety pin, “Guess we got no other option.”

Jesse moved in beside the other, noting the cap had a solid cover on the back. Gill popped it open, revealing a secret compartment.

“Gotta keep them hidden, people have murdered for less than this.”

Three casino tokens fell out into Gill’s palm. Jesse quickly inspected the numbers printed on them, “That’s fifteen hundred credits,” he observed.

“Should get us enough,”

Jesse glanced at the other, “Gill….what were you saving these for?”

The other gave a slight weak smile, “I was working on getting a ring for Maya,”

“Ring?! Like a wedding ring?”

“Yeah, most people can’t afford to ever get one. But I figured if I could get her one good thing…” Gill dropped it into the pouch with the rest. “Teams needs it more though.”

Jesse stared sadly at the pouch, then looked around the store. His eyes widening slightly at the sight of a grimy object across the floor, “Gill wait!”

Gill blinked as Jesse darted away, “Jesse what the hell-”

“Over here!”

Gill followed after as Jesse slid to a stop by the broken soda machine. He sighed, “Dude drinks are long gone.”

Jesse ignored him kneeling down. He ran his hands over the locked slot by the soda dispenser. It seemed intact.

“Jesse-”

“Gill break this!”

“What?”

“Help me get this open! Please!”

Gill gave him a funny look, “Ooookay...” he flipped his shotgun around, bashing the panel in.

Jesse tugged at it, Gill ended up having to come down and help him pull the metal free.

The moment the covering snapped, roughly thirty quarters fell out; not including the ones still piled inside.

Gill stared.

“If this one is still intact, I bet the rest of the vending machines in the mall might still have their quart- I mean credits,” Jesse grinned brightly, “Might even be enough leftover to add to the ring savings?” he asked.

Gill blinked, once, twice. Then smiling brightly he pulled Jesse into a lung crushing hug, “I will never ever let you leave this group!” he laughed, “Ya little leprechaun!”

Jesse laughed as well, returning the hug before he and Gill worked on adding their newfound credits into the money pouch.


 

They headed straight back right once they finished; after checking every machine in the mall. They checked down every hall, every store, even all the breakrooms, and one that was jammed in a maintenance room.

The group met up behind the local bar, across for the orphanage so Maya could come check on them. Aiden and Petra were already there, Aiden looked more distressed than moody. Petra  had a gash on her arm that she was currently treating.

Jesse hurried up, being careful not to let his bag rattle around. “Oh my god what happened?!”

“Bear,” Petra laughed, though it sounded forced. “Good news is we sold the hide, bought some canisters to hold more food, and sold the rest. Bad news is that we had to put money down on antiseptic. So hopefully Lukas talked that caravan master down really low. Cause we might make it.”

“I made two hundred, up front.” Maya said, “But that’s all I got.” She grabbed Gill’s hand, “How did you do?”

“We-”

“Hi guys,” Lukas sighed approaching. “How- Oh my God your arm!”

“Don’t worry about me, it won’t even scar,” Petra scoffed. “How did the barter go?”

“Talk him down?” Aiden asked.

Lukas cringed, “A little, how much did you guys make?”

Petra and Aiden once again shared their story and their numbers, and Maya repeated hers. Lukas’s expression spoke louder than any answer. “Gill, Jesse, I hope you did good cause we’re gonna need it.”

Gill winked at Jesse, “Little guy here scored us big time.”

“Oh?” Lukas raised an eyebrow, “How big is big exactly?”

Gill looked around and whispered the number in Lukas’s ear, Jesse grinning proudly.

Lukas’s eyebrows shot up, “You what?!”

“What?” Petra asked, “What did you find?!”

Gill grinned as Jesse leaned across to whisper the amount to Petra, Maya and Aiden, “Enough for us to pay the caravan, have food, repay Petra, put our usual stock in the team credits, and-” he winked at Jesse, “Enough to throw some in the private savings, I think.”

Maya gasped, covering her mouth when she heard the number.

“You’re bullshittin us,” Aiden gaped.

“Nope!” Jesse smiled brightly.

“How did you ever-” Maya began.

“It was Jesse’s idea,” Gill stated proudly, “Snowflake here had some pretty good pre war info and tips.”

Maya squealing in delight throwing her arms around Jesse, “I could kiss you!” She cried. Jesse blushed horribly but returned the hug.

“Hey~” Gill pouted, “I helped get them to you know?”

Maya let go of Jesse, jumping up to latch onto Gill’s shoulders. “Thank you too handsome.”

“Are you actually gonna kiss me though?”

Maya smiled.

Aiden rolled his eyes, “Jesus you two, get a room,”

“Maybe I will,” Gill wiggled an eyebrow, “We can afford one.”

“Ugh!”

Petra laughed, whooping loudly, “Way to go Jesse!” she cheered.

Lukas’s eyes were sparkling and he reached across to give Jesse’s hand a squeeze, “Yes, thank you.”

Jesse blushed, “It was nothing,” he felt warm inside. “It was nice to be help for a change.”

Lukas smiled, letting go, “I’ll go tell the caravan master.” then he departed, a new air about him.
Petra was still cheering, “Beacon Town here we come!”

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing

-

“What do you mean you’re not going to Beacon Town?!”

“It means we’re not going to Beacon Town!” the heavily accented man said angrily.

“You said this caravan would get there before winter sets in!” Lukas snapped, “And I quote ‘Getting to Beacon Town will be easy’.”

“Plans change, that small blizzard yesterday was the change!”

Aiden crossed his arms, growling in a low simmering fury. He looked ready to punch someone. “The blizzard blew through in less than two hours! It was small!”

“Doesn’t mean another one isn’t right behind! I’m not going to risk the pass and the entire caravan just because you and your party are in a hurry to get to Beacon Town. We’re waiting the winter out here!”

Petra flinched from her resting place against the nearby building, looking away as the three men continued to bicker. So much for making it to Beacon Town, she mused. She supposed they could go by foot, but she wasn’t too keen on getting stuck in the snowstorm. The caravan master had been right about the blizzard, small as it may be it was only the first of many to come.

True winter in the wastes was every colony, every soul’s, nightmare. Petra spent a winter or two on her own out in the wilderness. It was hard, most places got nine feet in snow at a minimum. Some places, like higher grounds and the mountains got even more, burying roads, paths and settlements alike. Last thing anyone wanted to be was stuck in a mountain pass with limited food and supplies in quickly dropping temperatures.

When winter hit, you didn’t move. You were stuck.

Lost in her thoughts, she glanced over to another source of commotion, Jesse. The brunet was amidst a pack of little kids. He clicked well with the little ones, entertaining them throughout their trip. Now the children were distraught that he might be leaving, so he was allowing one more last little game. Something the male called duck, duck, goose.

She hummed, watching as Jesse playfully chased a little girl around the circle of children. She squealed in delight as Jesse tickled her sides, laughing loudly as he scooped her up.

Petra sighed. How could someone so sweet have had so much suffering?

Jesse stayed in the wagon most of the trip - at Lukas’s insistence- seeing as he wasn’t as built as strong as the others. The rest of the group took shifts sleeping and resting, while the others walked. Petra recalled late one evening, Gill was out like a light, heavy sleeper that he was he didn’t hear Jesse’s noises.

But she did.

Petra woke up to him crying in his sleep, sounds of pain, begging.

What could have been done to him- what did PAMA do- to haunt his dreams so?

In the short time she had known Jesse, Petra found herself with this unnatural urge to protect. Is this was they called maternal instinct? No…..It was something more than that. Perhaps it was the boy’s kindness, his gentle soul she wanted to save. But whatever the case was, she was determined to keep them from getting him again.

The big question on her mind however, was why did PAMA want him? How did they even know about him? Jesse was born over 300 years ago. He was the only one alive today from the world before, so how could-

“Well.” Petra jumped slightly as Aiden leaned against the wall next to her, “We’re stuck.”

“Damn,” Petra huffed.

“Damn indeed,” Aiden growled, “We’re getting half of our credits back though. Since he’s not taking us all the way.”

“Does Lukas want us to try and hike it?”

Aiden shook his head, waving Gill and Maya over to the group, “No, while he wants just as much space between PAMA and our group as the rest of us, he isn’t stupid. We go up there, one of us -if we’re lucky- is gonna come back down a cannibal.”

Petra’s lips quivered, despite the seriousness of the topic, she snorted.

Aiden raised an eyebrow, “What?”

“Nothing.”

“Seriously, what?”

Petra struggled to suppress her laugh, “Do….pffft...do you think Maya’s eating Gill, or Gill is-”

“EW!” Aiden shrieked and elbowed her, but there was that rare glint in his eyes, “Petra! Jesus that is disgusting!”

Petra laughed heartily, elbowing him back. “Don’t worry man, I’ll be nice and let you eat me.”

Aiden turned a cherry red, all the way up to his ears, and nearly shoved her sideways into the snowbank.

“Hey guys what are you laughing about?” Jesse asked, jogging up and panting, grunting slightly as one of the kiddies tackled his knees. He managed to remain standing though surprisingly, “Aiden are you alright? You’re kinda red.” he asked worried.

“It’s cold,” Aiden said bluntly and very quickly.

“Are you sure, you seem-ack!” Jesse yelped as another kid caught his midsection and took him down. He was soon buried as the rest of the pack of kids proceeded to tackle him.

“Aw, damn, we lost Jesse,” Gill said rather loudly.

Lukas’s reaction was instant, he immediately joined the group, “What? How did you lose him?! Gill-”

“Down here…” Jesse moaned.

Lukas yelped in surprise, then laughed as he realized what had happened. He reached down, pulling Jesse out of the giggling and squealing pile of youngsters, “Are you alright?” he chuckled.

Jesse nodded, his hair disheveled and his scarf askew, “Yeah,” he smiled brightly, “Guess I had that coming.”

Lukas smiled once more before turning to the others, “Okay, so it’s obvious the caravan isn’t going any farther, I got all the credits I could back. But now we have to think of a new plan. I think I speak for all of us that taking the pass by foot shouldn’t be an option.”

“Agreed,” Maya said, “but I’m not to keen on staying in this little trader post either. I mean,” she looked around, “It’s made of wood. PAMA could rip this place to pieces easily...”

“And if PAMA somehow finds us,” Jesse said, ruffling a little boy’s hair as he clung to his leg,” I don’t want these people getting hurt.”

“So not going forward, not staying here,” Gill hummed, “No way in hell we’re going backwards. What do we plan on doing?”

“We can go to Ground Town,” Aiden piped up.

Jesse looked curiously at Aiden, “Ground Town?”

“A large settlement tucked against the Divide,” Petra briefly explained, “It’s often called Beacon Town’s sister city. It’s got the largest and richest trade on this side of the mountains.”

“Are you sure?” Lukas asked Aiden.

“It’s not far from this outpost.” Aiden shrugged, “Three day hike at most-”

“Three?” Lukas asked skeptical.

Aiden paused, looked at the group and reconfigured his numbers, “Okay, with our group it should take at least five. But it’s a well traveled road, and the raiders got cleared out long ago. It will take us through the woods yes, but it’s sheltered. In case we hit any blizzards-”

“TAG!” a little girl squealed, interrupting the discussion. She slammed her hands into the small of Jesse’s back, causing him to stumble slightly. then raced off in delight. “Can’t catch me!”

Jesse flushed and stepped away from the group, “I’ll uh- let you guys work it out so these kids don’t bother you.”

“Stay close,” Lukas stressed and Jesse gave him a smile before walking off towards where the girl ran.

Sensing Lukas’s worry, Maya came up behind Lukas, patting his shoulder. “We’ll go keep an eye on him, come on Gill” Maya tugged on Gill’s arm, “I’m game for Ground Town, but it’s up to you boys.”

Petra crossed her arms as the pair departed, returned her focus back to Aiden and Lukas.

“Are you sure Aiden?” Lukas asked. “You know PAMA could find us there.”

Aiden hesitated, “They…..We haven’t seen any yet so far. Ground Town is heavily fortified, they have to be with all their resources,” He looked around the small outpost, “I still have my place there too. I mean do you really want to be stuck here all winter in this rinky little joint? We go there we can have at least a solid break.” then he added with a mumble, “Lord knows we need one.”

Lukas rubbed the back of his neck, “You’re right, I don’t want to stay here. Ground Town would be a good place to hole up for the winter.”

Petra glanced over as Jesse scooped up one of the kids, tickling them under the armpits as they squealed. “Um, I think I might head with you guys.”

They both looked at her surprised, “Really?” Lukas asked.

“Yeah…” She smiled at them, “I mean, I’m not in a rush to get to Beacon Town, and I sure as hell ain’t trekking the pass by myself. I know PAMA isn’t after me personally. But I still want to give you guys a hand. I mean…”

“No, no, you’re welcome to,” Lukas stammered, “We- I appreciate it.”

Petra grinned, “It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Ground Town anyway.”

Aiden crossed his arms, glancing at the blond, “So, Ground Town?”

“Ground Town.”

“Excuse me mister?”

They all looked down, to see a small girl with a gap in her teeth staring up at them with large brown eyes, “Are you taking the angel away?”

Lukas laughed, “The what? What makes you think that?”

She pointed over to Jesse, who was wrestling out in the snow. His skin was pale and flushed, he seemed to glow. The pure skinned, outwardly unmarked male really did, look like an angel, especially to a small child.

“He says he is going to have to leave with you soon.” Her eyes bubbled with tears, “Are you taking our angel away?”

Lukas stared, stunned.

Petra chuckled and kneeled down, placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder, “Sweetie, we’re not taking him away, he’s coming with us.”

“Why?”

“So he can stay safe, from bad things,” Petra explained, "Bad people are after our angel, so we're keeping him safe from them."

“Ooooooh,” the little one’s eyes widened, “Like papa keeps me safe?”

She smiled, “Yeah, something like that.”

The child looked at Jesse, then looked back at Petra with a very serious expression, “Will he be okay?”

“But of course kiddo,” Petra smiled, winking at Lukas as she pushed snow wet hair out of the girl’s face, “We’re going to take very good care of our angel. We promise. Isn’t that right Lukas?” she looked up at him.

A faint flush danced across Lukas’s cheeks and he glanced fondly over at Jesse. “That’s right…” he said softly, “We’ll do everything we can to keep him safe.”

Petra looked to Jesse as well. Deciding that yeah, protecting an angel is exactly the thing she needed to do.


“So what can you tell me about Ground Town?” Jesse asked. Each word sent a hot puff of steamy breath floating into the freezing cold air, quickly absorbed by the brisk winter atmosphere.

He watched as the ginger tightened her jacket and adjusted her headband over her ears, “What do you want to know about it?” Petra asked.

“Everything I can!” Jesse stated happily. “I might as well learn since this is my world now as well.”

Petra snorted. “Alright, hmm where do I start...” she hummed.

“With how it was founded?” Jesse suggested.

“Well roughly a hundred years ago the people of Ground Town didn’t exist.” Petra began to explain, “The story goes that the residents originally lived in a dirigible, one that had survived the war.”

“Wait, hold up, a dirigible?” Jesse asked, very skeptical. “Are you joking?”

“I know it sounds crazy,” she smiled, “But I guess a bunch of snobby and slightly crazy rich folk builts hundreds of them, powered by steam and other energies unaffected by nuclear black out. So when the world went dark they could fly over it all, safe. I guess a lot of them were destroyed by the immediate blast. Some passengers got wiped out by radiation, and even more by the storms and weather that followed. But the one that became Ground Town, somehow survived all that. It was called Sky City and for almost 200 years it flew over the world.”

“Anyway, something bad happened one way or another. No one then really knew how, and no one now really cares. But Sky City wrecked, a few miles into this forest against the Continental Divide. A lot of people were killed, but a lot of them survived too. The people - who had no experience fighting or working the land whatsoever- rallied together. They fended off monsters with guns on the ship, built walls from sheet metal they tore off it. They read their ancient books and learned to farm, and learn the way of the land. So very slowly Ground Town came to be. When we get there you’ll be able to see the remains of the dirigible, and the original wall around it. It's in the center of the town, the people made it a monument of sorts.”

“That sounds amazing,” Jesse said in awe. “But how did it become a rich trading hub? Lukas said that Ground Town is relied heavily on for all the traders.”

Petra nodded, “Shortly after establishing their spot. The people realized their crash cracked open an natural underground spring. It was pure water, no lethal levels of radiation. Now I don’t know if you’ve noticed but water is valuable, we can’t exactly eat the snow here. Ground Town was on top of the largest purest known source for miles. It was a river, and as far as anyone can figure, it keeps going, it stays fresh. So about fifty years ago, after they established a method to harvest and contain the water they started to trade. Anyone will trade anything for water, food, supplies, weapons, meds. You name it.”

“Unfortunately, this prime source of supplies attracted some pretty nasty raiders. They clogged up all the trade routes, stealing everything including the water. It became really dangerous to pass through here. You wanted to trade, you had to arm and guard your caravans. Precautions get expensive, especially if there is a chance it doesn’t keep the raiders away anyway. So needless to say Ground Town was hurting a bit.”

“But it’s not now?”

“No, a few years ago, the raiders started getting picked off. Till one day I guess they up and left. Whatever drove them off kept them away. Rumors spread around that there was a monster or something in the woods so no raider has been here since. The trade was unsteady at first too, nervous by the rumors. But Isa wasted no time on scary little tales, and started sending out trade caravans right away, which soon brought the trade back in.”

Jesse nodded slowly, “Isa huh?”

Petra’s eyes glittered, “I think you’ll like her. Isa’s great great grandfather was one of the founders of Sky City, and her grandfather helped establish Ground Town. Isa is the current mayor. There is really no official position yet actually, but everyone goes to her regardless. I may be the badass bitch of the wastes; but Isa is the badass queen of the badass bitches.”

Jesse smiled timidly, “She sounds…..nice.”

“Hey guys!” Lukas stepped into line next to Jesse, rubbing his gloved hands vigorously together in an attempt to keep them warm. “What are you guys talking about?”

“Jesse was asking about Ground Town and its history,”

Lukas smiled, “Did you tell him about the dirigible?”

“You guys aren’t joking about that are you?” Jesse turned red in the cheeks, “Because I don’t know any better. I’ll fall for it.”

“No it’s real,” Lukas confirmed.

“See?” Petra teased, pushing ahead of the pair. Her gaze turned towards Aiden, who was at the front. As a plan formed in her head she smiled and winked at Jesse before turning away.

Jesse watch as she scooped up some snow and packed it together, “Hey Aiden! Duck!” she yelled, hurling the snowball before her sentence was even finished.

Aiden titled his head sideways, not even looking back as he succeed in the last second dodge. The snowball flew past him, instead hitting Gill in the shoulders, who yelped.

The large male whipped around, “Who did that?!”

Aiden turned around then, walking backward and grinning cheekily, “Yeah Petra? Who did that?”

“You’re a dick Aiden!” Petra cursed as Gill hauled after her, chasing her off the trail into the snowbanks.

The brunet male smirked again, and continued walking forward.

Jesse chuckled as Petra raced to get away from the snowy brute that was Gill, “Everyone seems to be in a really good mood.” He commented

Lukas nodded, “Yeah, Ground Town will give us the break we need. We all like it there, it's a good town. There are a lot of people there we can trust. So no one snitching us out this time,” he smiled.

Jesse watched a Petra raced around Aiden just as Gill tossed a colossal handful of snow. Aiden wasn’t so lucky in his dodge this time. The compact ball hit him square in the chest, sending him back into the drifts, “Gah Gill! Petra!”

Gill slid on his heel, “Shiiiiit!” he quickly turned around kicking up snow as he fled after a laughing Petra up the trail.

Maya cheered as Aiden scrambled up and after them, “Run babe! Run!”

“You guys are screwed!” Aiden threatened, even though he was smiling.

“Even uh….” Jesse trailed off, blushing “Never mind.”

“I know,” the blond laughed, “Even Aiden is in a better mood. Every time we’re in the area we go to Ground Town. He never fails to visit. This is going home for him.”

“Home? But I thought-”

“We grew up together?” Lukas asked, “We did. But Aiden moved to Ground Town when he was fourteen with-” he paused, glancing down the way, “Guys?” he called, “What’s up?”

Gill, Aiden and Petra had stopped on the trail. Gill was in the front of the trio, holding a small device in his hand. All three of them looked uneasily at the unmarked snow covered path before them.

The rest of the gang caught up with the trio. Lukas stepped protectively in front of Jesse, “Guys….?”

Jesse peeked over Lukas’s shoulder, eyeing the small walkie talkie shaped device in Gill’s hands. There was a tiny screen on the piece of machinery, it clicked and crackled, almost like a metal detector. Numbers on the screen blinked and shifted, going up and down.

“What is that?” Jesse asked.

“A radiation detector,” Gill explained, “It let’s me know when our usual levels of radiation spike….” He extended his arm and the detector beeped, the number’s flying up. “The area in front of us is higher than usual.”

Aiden frowned, “It shouldn’t be, when they cut down the trees for the trail they checked the radiation levels as they plowed. The toxicity shouldn’t be any higher than usual.”

“Is it a lethal amount?” Lukas asked.

“Nooooo…..” Gill frowned, “It’s just a higher than normal….”

Petra eyed the trail, “Maybe a haunting of enderman passed through here? They tend to leave a residue of radiation behind.”

“That consistent though?” Aiden pointed out, “Across the whole trail?”

Jesse watched as Lukas eyed the untouched snow nervous and tense, “The snow storm must have covered up the tracks of whatever passed through here.”

Jesse gently took hold of the back of Lukas’s jacket, thinking worriedly back on what Petra has said about the raiders and a monster in the woods.

Could this be it?

Lukas looked over his shoulder, “It’s okay Jesse, whatever it was it’s long gone. The radiation isn’t enough to hurt anyone unless we camp here like idiots, which we’re not.” he looked to the others, “No point in sticking around, I say we just get going.”

The gang moved on, but the strange and mysterious cause behind the radiation dropped the mood drastically. Almost all of the members walked with their hands on a trigger, or a gun in both hands.

Jesse walked tensely next to Lukas, looking nervously at the thick waves of trees on either side of the road. He hoped - prayed, there wasn’t a true monster hidden in those dark shadows. He jumped slightly as he felt a brush against his hands, and looked sharply over as Lukas pulled his hand away.

Lukas flushed slightly but he was solemn, “Jesse, it’s okay,”

“Y-yeah….” Jesse replied, he took ahold of Lukas’s hand weakly, relaxing just a bit as the blond wove his fingers between Jesse’s and tightened his grip.

They had to walk another twenty feet before Gill’s radiation detector stopped beeping.


Five days later and Jesse could hear the bustle of Ground Town before he actually saw the city itself. Even at the rise of dawn the citizens were beginning their day, as all people of the wastes had to.

As the road led the group to a break in the woods Jesse marveled at the magnificent sight before him. Ground Town was a wonder to behold,well built and well designed, it almost didn’t belong in the fallout.

The break in the forest was massive to begin with, able to hold the city and all its outlying farms with room to spare. The farms covered now in snow, held barns and storage for the cattle and other possible farm animals. The area was protected by thick wooden beams, a fence going twenty feet high, made by the trees that had been cut down during the clearing. The gaps in the wood were fortified with steel bars, and those gaps were filled with wire. Sentry towers were positioned every few hundred feet around the entire ring, protecting the livestock - and the farmers when they were working - from any wasteland creature stupid enough to climb the outer fence.

At the opposite side of the farmlands, partially built into the mountains, was the city itself. With colossal stone walls surround the town. Fortified with steel and gunner towers. There was one gate - currently barred shut and closed. According to Aiden’s info however, there were multiple tunnels underneath the city that either came out in the farm lands or deeper in the mountains if an alternate route out of the city was required.

The city was mostly built in layers, with strong concrete buildings and steep roofs to keep off the snow. Most of them were multi level. Aiden had explained that the market and inns were located closest to the gate, allowing for maximum trade and easy access for guests to stay. The rest of the city was a grid network of large apartment complexes, multi-story homes, and private businesses such as taverns and restaurants. Because of the layered design, Ground Town could easily house its five thousand plus citizens and not give the overwhelming sensation of being crowded and cramped.

At the very heart of the city was the skeletal remains of the dirigible towering high at the peak of the hill. The thick metal beams had rusted and turned brown after years of exposure to the elements, but even in the distance it still resembled a testament of strength to the original founders of the city.

Next to the monument was a tall cement building, steam pouring forth from it’s windows. Jesse eyed the strange building in wonder, it kind of looked like a factory. Lukas noticed Jesse’s curious stare as they trekked through the farmlands.

“That’s the building that accesses the spring,” Lukas explained, “It works like a pump, bringing water to the surface. Inside there is more machinery and hundreds of people who work every day filtering and storing the water for supplies of trade. It provides the most jobs in town.”

“Do the rest own their own businesses then?”

“A portion of them do,” the blonde answered, “You can’t see the building from here, but located behind the factory is the small hospital. That provides jobs as well.”

Jesse’s eyes widened, “They have a hospital?”

Lukas nodded. “It’s built against the mountains to protect it from landslides, there are also passages in the hospital that lead deeper into the mountains and houses their largest fallout bunker. The city had a grand total of eight tunnels, that lead to four bunkers in case of attack. They house the majority of their food supplies and over half of their medical supplies as well. They put the largest one closest to the hospital so it would be easy for them to evacuate.”

“How can a city have built up so quickly in such a short time?” Jesse wondered.

“Well the trade helped. But when the town was first founded, the original wall only went fifteen feet out past the dirigible. The people actually built into the mountains first for protection. Winter was still heavy back then, and they used tools from the ship to provide deeper protection into the earth. Once the city began to build up, they used most of their supplies fortify the bunkers first. Then the new stone wall. The houses started at base level and slowly built up. As more people came to live here, the faster things began to build. Ground Town is a fairly large settlement.”

“It really is an important trade port then.”

Lukas nodded, “Because of it’s rich trade value, Ground Town has access to some rare and quality items that can only be found on this side of the mountain range. They trade these items to get rare items from Beacon Town that can only be found on the other side of the range. People come from all over to get those rare items as well as water.”

“What does Beacon Town have that is so important then?” Jesse asked.

“Beacon Town isn’t special on it’s own,” Lukas admitted, “It’s sort of a melting pot of people. However, the other side of the range is known to be warmer, and is just warm enough to produce valuable crops you normally wouldn’t have on this side. All this farmland you see right now can only grow cold crops, like lettuce. The other side of the mountain range however has corn, tomatoes and all kinds of other fruit and vegetables.”

He continued on, “So shortly after Ground Town was trying to get on it’s feet, a few lost travelers from Beacon Town stumbled onto this place. The people of Ground Town gave the starving strangers food and medicine till they were well enough to travel again. In debt, the traders swore they would come back to help them.”

“Did they?”

“Yep! Brought food, guns, supplies, and helped the struggling settlement get off to a safe start. Ground Town was pretty grateful to Beacon Town, and promised exclusive trading items to Beacon Town whenever they had the chance, starting with the water.” Lukas hopped over a large pile of snow, “Once the other side got wind that Beacon Town had access to rare items on this side of the range, Beacon Town became the hotspot to get them. So both cities rely heavily on each other for goods and trade.”

“Wow…” Jesse looked at the city, the large wall now towering over them, “That’s incredible. Almost like an underdog story.”

“It is incredible,” Lukas agreed.

They approached the large gate, they could hear the din of the waking city beyond the oak and iron doors. But the massive twelve foot high gates were closed, and most likely still barred. Jesse looked around, eyeing all the tents and the caravans parked and dormant beyond the walls, all full of traders and people waiting to get in for the day.

Aiden walked up to a smaller built in door in the corner of the gate and banged on the wood. As he was knocking Lukas let out a small chuckle. “Alright, so what’s the rule everyone?”

Confused, Jesse went to ask what he meant when the rest of the group answered in unison. “No cussing in front of Isa,”

Jesse blinked, confused by this statement

Gill leaned in close to Maya, “You’re gonna have to help me out, my filter is broken,” he whispered.

She laughed, “I’ll kick you if you start to slip.”

Jesse looked nervously once more at the town’s gates. It worried him, Isa must be an intimidating woman for Lukas and the gang not to curse in front of her. He was scared how he would handle her.

At the door Aiden huffed, switched to his prosthetic arm and banged once more on the wood. The sound was much louder this time around, echoing beyond the walls.

“Gates are closed! Trade opens in an hour, go away!” a gruff voice responded.

“Reggie, let us in,” Aiden said dryly.

A slot opened in the door, “Aiden?!”

“Yes~” Aiden rolled his eyes.

There was the sound of latches unhooking, and the door opened.Beyond the entrance was a tall man with black hair and a mustache. Dressed from top to bottom in what Jesse assumed was the military garb of Ground Town.

His eyes lit up at the sight of the group, “Well look who we have here!”

“Hi Reginald!” Maya waved.

Reginald stepped aside, allowing for the gang to slip through the door, “You should have wrote ahead! We would have been ready for you then!” he laughed.

“We’re really sorry,” Lukas said, “Things have been really insane, we would have sent a messenger ahead.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” the older male waved it off, “You know you kids are always welcome here.” he closed the door behind him.

“Is Isa up yet-” Aiden began.

“Aiden you know Isa, she’s up before anybody.” the guard laughed. He turned around spotting Jesse timidly tucked in behind Lukas, “Oh? Who's this?”

Lukas put an arm around Jesse and gently guided him forward. “This is Jesse, he’s the newest member of our team. Jesse this is Reginald, the head guard captain of Ground Town”

“Member” was putting it loosely. Jesse had been trying to help out with everything and anything he could whenever he could. But all he had to show for it was a few small blisters on his hands and feet. The feet were really only from walking, and they never lasted more than a day or two all together.. He couldn’t lift heavy things, like the guys or Petra. He couldn’t treat wounds like Maya, or read the land like Gill. So yes, “member” was putting it lightly. Seeing as Jesse still stuck out in a crowd - though he hadn’t been really clean clean as of late. He still seemed out of place amongst the others.

He extended his hand to the stranger. “Please to meet you,” he said meekly.

“Likewise,” Reginald responded, shaking Jesse’s hand. His grip was firm and tight, a testament to the man’s strength. Jesse caught his expression however, the slight raise of his eyebrow and the twitch of his mustache. The man was curious, suspicious even, that Lukas would allow a stranger into the group.This did not help ease Jesse’s nervousness and tension, at all.

What if the people of Ground Town wanted him gone? they clearly cared for Lukas and his team. What was the safety of one complete stranger over the safety of their own? Jesse wouldn’t blame them if that happened, but the thought still terrified him down to his core.

“Well,” Reginald turned away, a smile back on his face, “I’m sure Isa will want to know you are here.” he said as he began walking. He gave Aiden a look, “You haven’t written a single letter to us in months. You should know better.”

Aiden actually looked slightly embarrassed, perhaps even apologetic as they hiked through the still empty markets. “Like Lukas said,” he replied, “Things have been insane and we have been busy.”

“Too busy as to not touch base now and then?”

“It’s complicated Reg,”

“Well, alright.” He relented as they continued their walk, “Have you been to Ground Town before?” he asked looking back briefly at Jesse.

“Um,” Jesse flushed, “N-no,I haven’t.”

“Jesse’s not from around here,” Lukas said, cautiously eyeing a group of locals as they passed.

“Oh? Where are you from kid?”

“Uh, outside Founder’s Town?”

It wasn’t a lie, his old home was outside of the settlements limits. Also Lukas and the others did technically find him outside of Founder’s Town.

“Oooooh so that’s how you kids met,” Reggie nodded, “You kiddos were working out that way were you not?”

“Yeah….We were” Aiden answered, glancing back over his shoulder at Jesse.

Jesse shamefully averted his gaze, taking a step closer to Lukas as they made their way through the city. He did occasionally look around, silently admiring the buildings and the lights that illuminated the streets. He recalled on the trip here that Ground Town had generators according to Petra, able to light their roads and warm their buildings.

They passed by shops and taverns built in underneath the apartments. There were small gardens with now empty beds, hibernating for the following warmer weather. Even the occasional bench for a traveler to rest.

Reginald led them to the heart of the town, and Jesse paused as they passed by old rusted metal walls. The gates were open, possibly stuck that way, but Jesse realized they must be the original boundary of Ground Town, made from the dirigible itself.

He looked forward, able to see said dirigible tall and proud. The largest part of the ancient wreck had long since been cleared. But the broken half that remained stood proud and tall aiming for the sky. Next to it was the waterworks, dozens of employees going in and out of the building, hauling barrels of their precious water.

Just outside of the building was a crowd of people. Many of them were conversing, others were addressing a woman in the center of the pack. The woman was of decent height, perhaps a tad shorter than Petra. She had thick black hair; silky and all the way down to the middle of her back, speckled lightly with fallen snow. She was pale, but beautiful, with stunning forest green eyes and firm lips.

The female was bundled up in a faded long and flowing coat cloak that reached all the way to her feet. Dark green and lined with fur, she looked comfortable in it. She payed no mind to the cold as she delegated with the crowd around her.

It was Isa, mayor of Ground Town.

“Isa!” Reginald called.

She glanced over at the sound of her name, nodding to Reggie then pausing at the sight of the group. Her eyes lit up, and after allowing a few more sentences from the people around her before gently excusing herself from the pack.

Isa walked towards them, hands crossed over each other as she moved steadily towards them like a refined empress.

“Oh stop with the etiquette!” Reginald hollered.

Isa burst into a grin, breaking the illusion and hurrying forward towards them. “Welcome home!” she embraced Aiden first, having to get up onto her tiptoes to kiss his forehead “Oh my God look at you!” she pulled away, eyes sparkling, “I swear you’ve gotten taller.”

“Highly unlikely,” Aiden hugged her again, “How have you been.”

“Oh, same song and dance I’m afraid.” Isa sighed, “The town always gets worried around heavy winter, but you would know that. What about you?” she crossed her arms, raising her eyebrow in a mock scold, “Would it kill you to write every so often?”

Aiden shrugged smiling sheepishly.

“He says they’ve been busy,” Reggie teased.

“Is that so?” she glanced at the rest of the group, “Kids, good to see you again.”

“Hello Isa, it’s good to see you too,” Lukas smiled.

She grinned, giving him a soft kiss on the cheek, “Staying safe I hope?”

“Well-”

“Oh hold that,” She adjusted her coat, “You all must be cold. If you came from the pass outpost you’ve been out in this dreadful weather for days. Let’s get inside and get warm?”

Lukas gave Jesse a wink then nodded to Isa, “That sounds wonderful.”

“To the apartment then.” Isa waved, gesturing for the to follow. She led the pack around the old dirigible and towards the hospital.

“Lukas?” Jesse whispered.

“Hmm?”

“Are Isa and Aiden-” he began, eyeing the pair as they happily chatted away at the front of the group.

“Remember when I told you Aiden came to live here?” Lukas explained, “Well, Isa was the one who took him in. She taught him a large majority of his skill set. He learned a lot from Reggie too, and Milo. You haven’t met him yet, but Isa, Milo, and Reggie are very close to Aiden, almost like family.”

“Oh~” Jesse nodded, seeing that Aiden seemed genuinely happy to see Isa. He said something snarky and she laughed, slapping his arm scoldingly.

They followed Isa to a comfortable sized building not too far from the hospital. Well lit with windows and a few stories tall. Isa unlocked and opened the door. “Welcome back home,” she smiled, “How’s tea sound? Or is it still that horrid coffee of yours?” she smiled at Aiden.

“Coffee,” he said, before sticking out his tongue.

“Tea sounds awesome,” Gill agreed, “Honestly anything hot.”

“I still have the guest rooms, you kids are welcome to stay here.”

“There is a bit more of us this time,” Maya blushed.

“Oh we’ll make you fit,” Isa said, her eyes sparkled slightly as she looked Jesse’s way, “I am eager to hear about your new friend Lukas.

Jesse smiled timidly.

Isa led them to the second story, the first floor being her offices. The second floor consisted of a large living room, a kitchen, and Isa’s private bedroom that she shared with her husband Milo. The third floor contained Aiden’s old room and the guest bedrooms.

It was well decorated and comfy - but much to Jesse’s relief- it was warm. Already he could feel the warmth seeping back into him, pushing away the effects of being outdoors for weeks. He joined the others in shedding coats, gloves, and muddy boots in the parlor of the home.

Jesse glanced down a hallway, “Is that a bathroom?” he asked.

Lukas smiled as he slipped off his coat, “Yes, it has a shower too.”

Isa was in the kitchen, pulling an already warm kettle from the burner, “I take you all have been on the road for awhile?”

“Almost three months,” Gill answered.

“Hah, not me,” Petra laughed, “I’ve been out in the wastes since last winter.”

“Well not all of us are as badass of a bi-” Gill paused, “Impressive of a woman as you are.”

Isa smiled knowingly as everyone laughed at Gill’s attempts against his profanity. Jesse smiled to himself, enjoying seeing this relaxed sight of the group. But knowing it was brief, and that Lukas would have to explain Jesse’s presence in the team and more importantly why they were here now.

“So who is your friend Lukas?” Isa asked, after everyone had their drinks and settled down in the living room.

“This is Jesse,” Lukas explained.

She reached across the couch shaking his hand, “And how did you get into this little group Jesse?”

“Um, they found me.” Jesse began slowly.

“Found you?” Isa asked, eyes squinting in confusion.

The room relapsed into silence, and the mood dropped drastically from the group. Gill and Maya looked nervously at each other. Jesse knew they were wondering who would speak first; Lukas or Aiden.

Aiden however, took a sip of his coffee.

Isa was the one who spoke first however, “Did something happen?” her fingers tightened around her mug, “Are all of you alright?”

Lukas took a deep breath, placing a temporarily but encouraging hand on Jesse’s knee. “We ran into some trouble I’m afraid. We were run out of Founder’s Town and were hoping to make it to Beacon Town before winter, But unfortunately our caravan wouldn’t go any farther after a passing blizzard, so we came here instead. We were hoping to stay but…..we needed to make sure it’s okay with you.”

Her eyebrows shot up, “Okay with us? Why would you ever- What happened?!”

“They helped me,” Jesse said, the words slipping out faster than he could stop them, “A-and they got in trouble because of it, I’m sorry I-”

“Woah, woah, wait." She lifted her hand, and Jesse went silent "Calm down, it’s okay” Isa’s grip returned to the glass.

“That’s kind of you kids to help your friend here,” Reginald piped up, “But how could that have possibly run you out of town?”

“Who did you possibly piss off to be so afraid you feel the need to ask permission to stay here?” Isa looked genuinely upset and worried, “Are you being followed?”

“We don’t know, we hope not.” Lukas said and shook his head

She eyed Jesse, “Lukas….who was your friend tangled up with?”

“It’s not his fault-” Lukas began.

“PAMA.” Aiden stated and finished drinking his coffee for the moment. He set his mug down on his knee, “Jesse was an experiment and apparent property of PAMA.”

Reginald choked on his coffee. He sputtered and hacked, droplets of his drink sticking to his mustache.

Isa slowly set her cup down on the coffee table, the liquid in the glass shaking ever so slightly. She slowly looked to Jesse, whose head had lowered in shame and then back to the group.

Everyone was stone silent, waiting for her response.

Isa was silent a moment longer, then with a level, even, but very tense voice; the female said, “What?

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Emotional Breakdowns

-


 

 

What?”

Oh boy, Aiden took another drink of his coffee.

It was a dick move, cutting Lukas off. He knew that much. But he also knew that Isa was not one to beat around a bush. Lukas would have began with the bunker job and the vault and all the little details, trying to ease Isa and Reg in.

Aiden knew that it was more important to get the big piece of information out first,  ie. PAMA. Then give Isa all the smaller bits.

But he could tell by her tone, Isa was not pleased.

Isa waited till Reginald regain control of his lungs, then “PAMA?” She asked, “Did I hear you correctly?”

“Yes,” Lukas said, “But-”

Isa held up her hand, and Lukas immediately stopped his sentence“Upupup,” she stared firmly at him, “Just….start at the beginning.”

They did, for the next two hours they panned out everything that had happened in the past three months. Lukas explained the bunker, how they found Jesse and discovered the location belonged to PAMA but brought him back to Founder’s Town regardless. Gill threw in his bit on the moles at the bar. Aiden explained about how they got snitched, keeping his opinions as passive as possible. Petra even added in when she was added to the gang, the story continuing all the way up to this morning.

Reginald and Isa were mostly silent throughout, occasionally asking a simple question for clarification. Isa would drain her tea, then get some more. Aiden picked up on their tension however. Especially after Reg started adding shots of whiskey to his coffee, soon foregoing the coffee all together and just drinking the whiskey. Aiden was pretty sure he saw Isa drop a shot into her tea at one point as she listened.

“And now we’re here,” Lukas finished. “We understand the risks if they find Jesse here. We wouldn’t have stopped here but the caravan stopping at the outpost changed plans.”

“Mmmm,” Isa took a long drink from her tea, glancing at Jesse, “And you can’t recall exactly what they did to you? Is that correct?”

Jesse’s hands were clenched tightly on his blood splattered faded jeans, he slowly nodded, “Yes ma’am.” he said quietly. He was shaking, nervous, terrified.

“Okay,” Reg said, “So you found Jesse, in a vault. You kept him, even though you knew PAMA owned the vault. You hoped they had just forgotten about said vault. But they didn’t. They somehow knew you took Jesse and were looking for him. You got ratted out and had to flee. Now you’re here and you are hoping PAMA didn’t follow. Did I understand everything correct?”

“Sounds about right,” Gill said.

“Jesus Christ.”

“Reginald!” Isa warned as the guard got up and went into the kitchen.

“It’s a large pill Isa,” the man replied.

“Look, we understand the risks. But we’re not backing down on this,” Lukas said, “If you want us to leave-”

“It’s not my place to decide that,” Isa rubbed the bridge of her nose, “Why don’t you all just rest here tonight and we’ll sort this out after everyone is warmed and well rested.

Dodging the bullet , Aiden mused. How unlike her.

“Gill, Maya, why don’t you go show Jesse the guest bedrooms, and get the living arrangements sorted out. I’m afraid Reginald is currently living here after he gave his home to a family. So we’re down a bedroom.”

“We’ll work it out,” Maya assured. She stood, “Petra wanna come?”

The ginger was quickly up on her feet, “Yep,” she waved to Jesse, “Come on man.”

Jesse was stiff in his seat, only moving when Lukas squeezed his hand encouragingly. “It’s okay, it’ll be okay,” the later whispered soothingly.

“Mmmkay…” Jesse whispered back, reluctantly standing and joining Petra. The ginger threw an arm over his shoulder, giving it a rub and together they followed Gill and Maya out of the room.

Lukas sighed, and Aiden stood.

“Boys.” Isa said, “Join me on the balcony a moment?”

There it is, Aiden frowned inwardly, following Lukas and Isa onto the living room balcony.

The air outside was crisp and cold, despite it being high noon at the moment. It didn’t help they left their coats inside. But Isa needed to have her little private discussion,  so going back inside wasn’t currently an option.

Aiden settled to the left of the female while Lukas took the right. The blonde set his elbows on the railing with a heavy sigh, “Isa I understand if you-”

“I haven’t decided anything,” the woman cut him off. She glanced over at him, with stern eyes, “I just need to know, why?”

Lukas seemed momentarily thrown for a loop, “I’m sorry, what?”

“I’m trying to understand your need to help this person,” she explained, “If it was a member of the gang, or someone you knew, that makes sense to me. But he is a stranger Lukas, he’s from a world that’s been dead for over three hundred years and I need to know why you are helping him?”

Lukas thought her statement through, pondering her words. “I don’t know I-” He looked to the streets below, now bustling and full of the town’s citizens and traders. “I…..same reason you are always helping people I guess.”

“I see,” Isa hummed, “Well, thank you hun. That’s all I need.”

“Well then if you excuse me,” Lukas pulled away from the balcony, “I need to go check on Jesse,” then he departed.

Aiden watched him go, then straightened as well.

“Aiden sweetie?”

“Hmm?”

“You have a moment to spare?” Isa asked softly.

Aiden leaned back down. “Yeah of course,” he glanced at her, “What do you need?"

She rubbed his shoulder, “How are you doing in all this? Hopefully that bullet wound healed fine.”

“Oh. Naw it’s good now.”

“So that’s not what’s bothering you?”

“What else would be bothering me?” he asked slowly.

Isa smirked, just ever so slightly, even though her eyes were still clouded with worry. “I can tell you didn’t agree with Lukas’s decision about Jesse.”

Aiden looked away. “ I would have written ahead Isa, really I would  have. I-”

“That’s not it Aiden,” the woman replied, “I could care less if you wrote six months or six minutes in advance. I know you two operate in different ways, you work as a team to decide on who is needed to take charge of the group, you play it quite well. But it’s obvious to me that your say was overridden for this little adventure.”

Aiden frowned, flicking a speck of snow off the railing handle.

“He’s quite smitten with him actually,” Isa mused, “I’m sure that’s not what drove him to help at first. Lukas has always been an admirable and helpful lad. It’s in his nature to help people, so frankly I’m not surprised he helped Jesse, PAMA experiment or no.”

“Yeah…” Aiden scoffed.

“But I know your opinions on PAMA, you’ve always spoken strongly against them. I’m honestly surprised you didn’t lose your temper and try to shoot the poor boy.”

“Gee Isa , thanks.”

“Oh quit being a child, I’m teasing,” her smile dropped, “You’re afraid of PAMA…..aren’t you? You’re not one to hold grudges Aiden unless something is done against you, and Jesse has never-”

“I’m here for my friends, it's the only reason I’m still here,” Aiden cut off roughly, casting his gaze irritably to the markets. “Despite my opinions on PAMA, I….”

“Alrighty then, well…..” Isa ran her fingers through her hair, “I’m still going to have to think this over, the city council might not like Jesse’s presence, especially if they know PAMA is after him.”

“Lukas isn’t going to leave him,” Aiden warned.

“I know that. But you won’t leave Lukas.” Isa looked at him, “I’d hate to force you into a spot.”

“You mean picking between my friends or risking here?” Aiden asked dryly.

Isa remained silent.

“I’m sorry,” he quickly apologized, “It’s been a long trip.”

“I can only imagine,”

“Sorry for interrupting but-”

They both looked over their shoulder, Petra pausing at the door, “Um Aiden, there are only two beds and,” she shrugged, “Gill and Maya being practically married are sharing a bed, and I suggested Jesse stay with Lukas. Reg said I should crash in your room, but I thought I’d come talk to you.”

Aiden tried to ignore the heat in his ears, “I have a couch, we’ll make it work-”

“I can take the couch,” she offered.

“No, ladies first,” Aiden said.

Isa patted his shoulder smiling, “I’ll let you two figure it out. I need to go talk to the hunters about the field traps.”

“Traps.” Petra asked.

“Yes, something's coming and killing off livestock.” the adult frowned, “They think it’s an enderman. We’ve laid out blood bait traps, but so far the only thing we’ve caught it a few bears that haven’t slipped into hibernation yet.” she walked past the pair, “I advise you not to go off the paths in the field if you happen to go beyond the city. We have a lot of traps out there.”

“Alright, we’ll be careful.”

Isa smiled at Aiden, “We’ll talk some more later. Welcome home,” then she departed.

Aiden watched her go, rubbing his metal arm. He was starting to wish they had remained at the wooden outpost. But would that had been any better?

“Dude you alright?” Petra asked.

“Mmm? Oh yeah,” he stepped off the balcony, back into the warmth. He closed the door behind him, “Let’s just get the bedroom set up.”


Isa didn’t sleep much that night. Busy all day physically, she should have fallen into a deep and content sleep. But unlike her body, her mind had been just as busy, if not more so, and continued to be well past the drop of the sun.

She lay there for the longest time, listening to Milo’s whistling snores. She would count every time his nasal passages squeaked; just like counting sheep, all in attempts to sleep.

But her mind always wandered back, always back to Jesse. The strange boy who’s story defied all science, all logic .

How could he have survived over three hundred years deep beneath the earth? The vault was deep and the country wide fear of PAMA would have kept people far away, lessening the chance of discovery. But frozen? Nearly naked of all things.

How could it be possible?

There was a chance Jesse could be lying. That there was no way he could be from 2037. But Lukas seemed sure - insisted he wasn’t lying . Jesse truly did not know a thing about how the world now operated. Lukas apparently had to help him turn the shower on according Reginald.

So Isa tried the PAMA angle. The boy certainly looked normal. She had seen a discarded PAMA experiment corpse before. The remains were far from human by the time they dumped the body. Jesse however looked untouched, she spotted the serial number on his hip when he shed his coat. She presumed it was highly unlikely he tattooed himself with random numbers.

Then there was the trauma in his eyes. Despite lacking physical evidence, Jesse’s eyes spoke great volumes. Isa watched him occasionally as Lukas spun his tale. Everytime PAMA was mentioned…..

You couldn’t fake fear that looked so genuine.

It left Isa a jumble of thoughts and confusion. She didn’t realize she fell asleep to these thoughts until she was waking up again. She felt like she had been hit by a brick, and judging by the darkness beyond her windows, it was very very early.

Milo was still snoring; least he got a good night’s sleep.

She slid out of bed and got dressed, there was no point in going back to sleep now. But it was still too early to do anything. No one else was probably awake at this hour, and she certainly wasn’t in the mood to do any paperwork.

But her mind was still in turmoil, she needed to find a release.

The soft falling snow of outside drew her attention. Perhaps a walk, she mused.

Exiting the bedroom and slipping down the hall, she was hardly surprised to find Aiden snoring on the couch, body contorted slightly on the smaller than him furniture. Assuming he was here, he must have won the debate with Petra. That, or the female was also asleep on a chair somewhere which that wouldn’t surprise her either.

Isa leaned over the side of the couch, watching him snooze away for a moment. She smiled running her fingers through his hair. Aiden didn’t stir, weeks on the road and probably little sleep, the male knew he was safe here. This pleased her, he was due for a recharge and was much more agreeable with a few good hours of rest.

She ran her fingers through his hair one last time and headed down the stairs towards the building exit. Making a mental note to work on getting another bed, Isa slipped on her cloak and stepped out into the winter cold.

The air was brisk, freezing, it was probably below freezing point at this time. But whatever sleep still clung to Isa was gone in a instant with the first cold inhale. It did little to ease her headache, but it did ease her mind.

She passed by the hospital, silent as the stone it was made of. It was pretty empty inside at the moment. There had been no accidents as of late, and only a few people were sick. Which was a good thing, winter always was a hard time for the world. Last thing needed was a full hospital.

Isa trekked passed the waterworks next, hearing the hiss and clunking of the machinery inside. She was due to meet with the foreman this afternoon. Assuming she could work past her current situation.

Don’t think about it Isa, she frowned as she followed the curved path towards the dirigible monument and it’s dedication plaque.

But apparently, that was not the plan for this morning. Because Isa was quite surprised to round the corner and find none other than Jesse.

Jesse’s was curled up on the traveler's bench with his arms wrapped tightly around his knees, face buried into the fabric of his pants. His shoulders shook with each quiet stifled sob. Isa looked around, now noticing Jesse’s tracks in the snow before her own. Judging by the light layer of powder that was built up in the imprints and the light dusting of snow over Jesse, the boy had possibly been out here in the cold for little over an hour.

She stood there unsure for a moment, trying to work up something to say to the male; when a particular puff of wind sent her sneezing.

Jesse’s head snapped up in an instant, stunned like a deer in the headlights, his eyes rosy and puffy from crying. Some of his tears had froze to his eyelashes, sending little crystals rolling down the side of his face.

Isa rubbed her nose, “Excuse me,” she mumbled.

“I-I’m sorry- I” the male was trying to uncurl his stiff limbs and get off the public bench, “Am-am- I not s-supposed to be here? I’m s-s-sorry, I’ll - I’ll,” he choked on the words, struggling get them out as he also fought to suppress his tears.

Isa gently waved her hand, “It’s a public seating, there is nothing wrong with sitting there,” she assured.

Jesse froze, unsure, one leg already down on the ground the other still tucked against his body.

“May I join you?” she asked.

The other blinked, more spare tears sticking and freezing to his cheeks. Then he nodded, “Y-yeah,” he tucked his exposed leg back in and scooted to the corner of the bench, resting slightly against the iron bar arm rests.

“What are you doing out here in the cold so early in the morning?” Isa inquired as she settled down on the wooden seat.

He wiped his eyes with one hand, while using the other to adjust his coat tighter against him. Isa noted that is was a fairly large jacket on him, it possibly belonged to a raider at one point. Lukas and the team probably scavenged it from the wastes on the way here. The sleeves hung a few inches past his gloved hands, the bottom hem of the jacket stopping just above his knees. Large as it may be this left multiple gaps in the collar and waist, because Jesse was so much smaller than the intended size the jacket was designed for. This resulted in easy access for the wind, which in the long run meant the coat probably did little to warm and keep the air out.

“I’m just trying to clear m-my head,” he sniffed.

“By sitting out here in the cold?” she observed, “A walk would have been better.” she tilted her head, “Did you not sleep well last night? Were you uncomfortable?”

“No..I-” Jesse stammered, “I- I just couldn’t sleep.”

Makes two of us, she thought, then out loud Isa said, “Penny for your thoughts then?” she watched as he hesitated, “If you’re not comfortable, I’m sure you can always talk to Lukas.”

Then, surprisingly, Jesse flinched. “Can you….not, tell Lukas? I-I don’t want him to worry,” Jesse whispered, “He’s got too much on his plate anyway.”

Isa raised an eyebrow, “How so?” She questioned and for a moment, Jesse was silent. Then he spoke.

“I wish they had just left me in Founder’s Town,” Jesse looked away, lips quivering, “They wouldn’t - Lukas wouldn’t- He’s risking everything he cares about just for me. He shouldn’t.

“He sees something in you worth protecting,” Isa said, “And he certainly doesn’t feel burdened by you. He wants to help you Jesse.”

“But people are scared, they’re scared of- of- “ the boy cringed, hands clenching tightly on the sleeves of his coat, “I can’t - I don’t -  Lukas shouldn’t be risking their wrath for me. People will get hurt and I- I can’t-”

He relapsed into silence, and Isa did not attempt to pick the conversation back up; instead choosing to quietly ponder on his words. She blinked as she spotted one of the first shops beginning to open across the street. A simple little place - one she usually stopped at during walks.

“Do you like coffee, or tea?” she asked.

Jesse sniffed, “I’m sorry what?” he asked in returned.

She repeated the question, “Do you like coffee or tea?”

“T-tea is nice, but I don’t-”

Isa was already standing, “Plain, sugar, cream?”

“Um….” he rubbed his eyes, still clouded in confusion, “I- a little sugar with a squeeze of lemon but-”

“Stay here if you don’t mind?”

“O-okay?”

She departed, coming back quickly moments later, hot steaming cups of warm drinks in each hand. She was pleased to see Jesse still sitting where she left him, confused but compliant to her request.

“Here we are,” she handed him one of the cups, “Something to fight off the cold, yes?”

“O-oh-” Jesse took the cup, nearly dropping it with his stiff fingers, “Thank you.”

She settled back down next to him as he took a small sip, “How is it?”

“S’good,” Jesse whispered, taking a longer drink, “Thank you,”

“A good warm drink clears the mind and helps you relax, at least I think so,” Isa hummed.

The other choked on a laugh, “My mother used to say that. She liked tea too, that’s why I drink it….”

“Your mother sounds like a wise woman.” Isa mused, giving a small tender smile

Jesse’s stared at the dark liquid in the cup, “She’d drink it when she was worried. Whether it was about dad or I. If dad had to go someplace far away, she’d give him a certain time to call and when that time got close, she’d get herself some tea, and sit by the window where the phone was.” he sighed, “She’d either wait for the phone call or for him to come up the driveway...The tea helped soothe her, or at least ease her worries. That’s what she told me anyways.”

“I find tea does help,” Isa agreed.

Jesse took another drink, lips shaking, “This tastes like hers.”

“Well that’s a good thing,” Isa sighed, she glanced sadly his way, “I can only imagine how much you miss her.”

“Everyday,” Jesse sniffed, “I miss them everyday, and sometimes I wish I-” his voice cracked and his fingers clung to the cup, the remaining liquid shaking in his unsteady hands.

Isa flinched, regretting unintentionally ripping open Jesse’s tender emotions, “Shh, sweetie it’s alright.” she lifted the cup from his hands before he dropped the scalding liquid on himself accidentally. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”

“How many hours did she sit in front of that window?” Jesse choked out, his tone weak and questioning.

“Jesse-” Isa’s words were unheard as Jesse continued to ramble on.

“How many hours did my mom wait for a phone call or look for me coming up the drive, waiting for me to come home cause I- I-” He paused, taking a shaky breath, gripping his arms as he tried to gather himself together to continue talking.

He couldn’t. Jesse broke into a sob, chest heaving as he doubled over, as if in pain. His body trembled with the onslaught of restrained emotions and tears as he broke down.

“She never knew!” He cried out “She probably died with the bombs and she never knew what happened to me!”

Isa, in shock, dropped both the cups to the ground; the liquid melting the snow as it hit. Her heart melted as well as she reached out rubbing the sobbing male’s back. “Shhh, shhh, it’s not your fault PAMA stole you away honey.”

 

Yes it is,” he wailed, “And she never knew!”

“Oooh..” Isa pulled him into her arms, Jesse clung to her cloak, body jerking with each gasp and sob as he cried. “Ohohoh, shhhh, shhhh,” she ran fingers through his hair, gently rocking back and forth.

Then just like that, right after a cup of tea - though it didn’t quite go the route she had planned - Isa’s mind knew exactly what it wanted to do.

“It’s ok...We’ll take care of you Jesse, we’ll take care of you…..”


 

“I wonder what changed her mind?” Maya mumbled.

“How do you know she changed it?” Gill asked.

“Well she didn’t seem to keen on him staying here when we first got here,” she replied.

Lukas shrugged, “Are you really going to ask her?”

“Heck no,”

“Then we’ll never know,” Lukas said, looking away.

He had been pretty surprised a few nights ago, waking up early that morning to find Jesse nowhere in sight. It had put him in a bit of a panic, discovering Jesse’s heavy winter clothes were not present.

He knew Jesse had been upset, they had talked about it before going to sleep. Jesse didn’t want Lukas to risk friends and essentially family for him. Lukas trying to assure him that it wasn’t like that .

But Jesse running away? Would he do something so drastic?

Lukas had been on his way out of the building, everyone not to far behind since he woke them up with his crashing around. But as he went out, Jesse with Isa, came back in.

Jesse’s eyes had been red, puffy from heavy crying. Isa’s cloak had wet stains in the front. Both were damp and covered in fallen snow.

Before Lukas could even ask, Isa had shushed him, “He’s fine, we just had a little chat, go back to bed.”

“Chat- what-”

But Isa kept going, whispering things to Jesse as she led him upstairs back to warmth.

Aiden said only one thing. “Fuck, she adopted .”

Isa told them later that morning they were welcome to stay all winter, Jesse included.

And that was that.

No one dared asked what had happened, and Isa didn’t share. Lukas pondered asking Jesse a few times, but whatever happened had obviously been emotional to him and Lukas wasn’t keen on ripping open his emotions for curiosity's sake.

Isa welcomed Jesse, and Milo and Reginald went along with her decision. Nothing was brought up to the city council, PAMA wasn’t even mentioned. As far as anyone was concerned, Lukas and the team were here for the winter; just a few more members than before.

Aiden seemed to grumble about it a little, Lukas only caught bits. Something about protectiveness and better hope PAMA doesn’t find them cause it’ll be war.

“Waterworks,” he grumbled as he went by with his sixth cup of coffee that morning, “She always melts at the waterworks.”

“She’s on our side Aiden” Maya said, “That’s a good thing.”

“That’s a scary thing,” He corrected, as he trudged up the stairs to the third floor, nearly bumping into Jesse.

Jesse quietly stepped aside, waiting for the larger male to pass before hopping the rest of the way down the stairs. He had taken advantage of the shower a few times since they got here and was now as clean and as fresh as the day they found him. His skin was rosy and colorful since he wasn’t stuck outdoors at the moment.

“Good morning!” he said cheerfully.

Lukas smiled, “Good morning, sleep well?”

“Mmmhmm,”

“Did you sleep well Lukas?” Petra teased, knowing Lukas shared a bed with Jesse and it was a bit awkward for him.

He kicked her under the table.

Jesse looked at him worried, “Are you not sleeping well? I can take the couch-”

“No,no it’s fine. I slept fine.”  Lukas said reassuringly.

“Good, we have a lot to do.” Isa cut in entering the dining room. She handed Jesse a cup of tea, “Sugar with lemon,”

“Thank you,”

“Busy how?”  Lukas inquired.

“Jesse needs clothes, we’re going to the market.”

Jesse sputtered into his tea, “Oh you don’t have to.”

“We’ll get him sorted out-” Lukas began.

Isa raised an eyebrow. “He’s been here a week, granted I know you cleaned them. But he’s in a giant sweatshirt, Maya’s pants, and a oversized raider’s jacket you can hide a body in. Don’t even get me started on those snow boots.”

Lukas blushed.

Isa smiled knowingly, “I know you are working on it. But you’ve hardly had time have you not?” she nodded towards the door, “We need to get him clothes. Allow me to help. We can at least get him something that fits him.”

“Uuuuh- Jesse?” Lukas asked instead.

Jesse nodded, having quickly figured out arguing with her was not a option, “Kay,” he squeaked. “Thank you.”

“We’ll get you some new clothes in no time, it will be a piece of cake.”


 

Which is exactly what it ended up not being.

There were plenty of clothes in the market, many that could easily fit Jesse’s size. But every time they turned around Jesse was befriending some little boy or girl.

“He’s like a kiddie magnet,” Isa observed, as she fingered through shirts in one of the shops.

“You should have seen him on the way here, he was telling stories to the kids in the caravan the whole trip, and playing games and entertaining them. He’s really quite good with them.”

“Or he’s easily distracted by them,”  Isa chuckled, “There are those who just adore children.”

“We’re making progress Isa-”

“We’ve been out here three hours and he has one pair of shoes and we’ve had lunch.” she corrected. “We are crawling.”

“Well let me help then,” he pulled a cotton white shirt from the pile, turning around, “Jesse what do you think of this one-? Gah! Jesse!”

Jesse was at the entrance of the shop, once again crouched down and surrounded by the pack of little ones. He kept them enthralled as he wove - what was probably a marvelous- tale, hands waving about as the words flowed.

“Told you,” Isa hummed.

Lukas chuckled, taking a moment to admire Jesse. He seemed to glow underneath the beams of the street lights. His eyes sparkled and his lips smiled as his story flowed from his mouth. His shoulders were loose, his body relaxed. Jesse was in a rare happy mood today.

He approached the male, reluctant to disrupt the picturesque moment, but Isa was on a mission and heaven help them if that mission wasn’t completed by sundown.

“....and then the giant metal man leaned down to the officer,” Jesse said, his voice mysterious and tense, adding to the suspense of the scene. The children moved in, eyes wide and full of worry. “Its pitch black glasses flashed in the overhead lights, his posture stiff and inhuman, he then droned out three simple words.”

Jesse smiled as all the children’s breath hitched in unison. Lukas suppressed a snort as Jesse leaned in, hands creeping up.

I’ll be back.

The children squealed in delight, some looked ready to faint. They soon began pestering Jesse with questions upon questions upon questions

“Did he come back?!”

“What happened to the officer?!”

“How was he made out of metal and still look human?”

“Is it a true story?”

Lukas chuckled finally moving in “Sorry kids, but Jesse has some work to do,”

Jesse looked up and blushed profusely, “I didn’t mean to wander off, but they wanted to hear more.” He apologized, stammering

“It’s fine, I’m glad you’re having fun, but we really do need to get you some clothes Jesse before it gets any closer to winter.”

The brunet smiled and stood, dusting himself off. “Alright, l’ll finish later kids,”

The kids all voiced their displeasure loudly, not wanting Jesse to go and wanting to hear more of Jesse’s story.

“Don’t worry,” Lukas laughed, gently steering Jesse away, “ He’ll be back ,” His tone was light as the kids laughed at his words.

Jesse snorted as they walked back into the shop, “I really didn’t mean to, they’re just so cute.” he apologized.

“It’s fine Jesse,” Lukas assured, “I’m glad you’re having some fun.”

“It is kinda nice,” he admitted, “I used to baby- oof!” he stumbled back slightly as Isa bombarded him with a pile of shirts.

“Go try these on please,” she said, pointing to the dressing room.

“Yes ma’am,” the male said, voice mumbled by the cloth.

Isa watched him go, then she looked to Lukas, “What was he doing?”

“Telling the kids a story.”

“Oh?” she asked, “What kind of story?”

“I don’t know, I’ll have to ask him about it when he comes back. Something about a robot that looked human.”

Isa scoffed as she folded up a discarded shirt and set it back down on the display table, “Sounds like old world logic to be sure.”

Lukas leaned against the wall, “I think it’s kind of cool really. Jesse knows things that no one here knows or even remembers. He showed Gill what their old currency was, talked with Petra about all the kinds of sports they used to have. He has a history that I find fascinating,”

“I am aware Lukas, you’ve read all the books we salvaged from Sky City remember?”

“But that’s different Isa, Jesse literally lived in it.” Lukas leaned in, “The world used to be covered in trees Isa, covered. The air was cleaner, you could see sunsets almost every day. The sky wasn’t always cloudy, you could swim in lakes. That was his world.” he sighed, ‘And the way he talks about it, it…..it sounds so beautiful.”

“But clearly not appreciated,” the female remarked, folding her arms. “They burned their world to the ground and left us with….” she gestured out the shop window, to the sky “Well with this.”

Lukas looked out at the sky, green and filled with chemicals. A testament of what had happened centuries ago. “I know that, but it bothers me...you know?”  Lukas said sadly, “He had a beautiful world….and PAMA took it all away from him, they took everything. Now he’s stuck to live out here, in a world where you have to fight to survive, kill or be killed. They didn’t have to worry about that sort of thing back then. Now he does, because of PAMA.”

“Well, the best you can do is be there for him,” Isa answered, “This world has good people Lukas, he’s lucky you’re one of them. Now help him find the rest.”

Before Lukas could answer, Isa turned away from him, greeting Jesse has he returned to the group, the clothes folded in his arms, “Ah there you are, any of them fit?”

“A few yeah,” Jesse answered, showing her the ones. “Sorry I took so long, I’m not used to shopping.”

“The world may have ended but people’s opinions on shopping hasn’t changed,” Isa mused as she looked over the clothes Jesse showed her. “Why don’t you pick three of those shirts and-”

“Oh I couldn’t that’s too much-”

Three, of those shirts, and then we’ll go down the road to find you a coat.” Isa finished, not acknowledging Jesse’s minor protest.

Jesse looked at the shirt he had on at the moment. “I- what about the one I have?” He asked, looking at Isa.

Isa sighed. “Jesse honey, it’s much too big. The sweatshirt has holes and bloodstains and so do your jeans. We’re almost done, then you can go back to entertaining the children.”

Jesse relented, picking out three of the shirts for Isa to pay.

“Wonderful!” she grinned, “I’ll pay for these and Lukas you take Jesse down to that stall at the edge of the market, they have wonderful coats.”

Lukas gently took Jesse by the arm and together they exited out of the shop and headed down the path to the next location.

Children swarmed around them as soon as they left the building, “Can he finish now? Can he finish now?”

“Not yet,” Jesse assured, “But soon.”

“Aaaaaaaw~” they whined as Jesse and Lukas continued on.

Lukas smiled, “What’s this story about anyway? Something to do with a metal human?”

Jesse gave a smile. “The Terminator?”

Lukas’s eyes widened “Terminator!?” he gaped, “What kind of name is that!?”

Jesse laughed, “It’s not a real thing, it’s just a movie.” he paused as Lukas gave him a look of utter confusion, “Um….do you know what a picture is?”

“Yes, I’ve seen a few.”

Jesse thought for a moment. “Well a movie is like a picture but with motion and sound.”

“Interesting….” Lukas said.

Jesse flushed, “It’s hard to explain,”

“I still find it fascinating, your world sounded wonderful,” Lukas smiled.

Jesse smiled softly back, “Yeah….it was.” he agreed, letting go of Lukas’s arm as they approached the quiet shop in the quieter part of the market.

The elder woman looked up from her cross stitching. “Hello young man, how may I help you?”

Lukas gestured to Jesse, “We’re looking for a coat for him please.”

She looked through her spectacles, “Ah, well you came to the right place,” she placed her needlework down, squinting. “You’re Lukas, aren’t you?”

“Yes,”

“Isa sent a messenger this morning. I believe I have the perfect coat for your little friend.” She said and stood up slowly.

Lukas smiled as the old lady turned around, shuffling towards a large and high cabinet full of boxes. “Ever since I made that cloak for her she always comes here.”

“Isa likes to shop off the main route,” Lukas agreed.

“That she does,” the lady said as she set down a wobbly step stool.

“Oh! Let me help you!” Lukas stepped away from Jesse and went around the stall, “We don’t want you to fall.”

“Oh thank you honey,” she pointed high up on the shelf, “That box there dear.”

Lukas did a small jump, as while the shelf was within his reach, he still couldn’t get a good grip on the box. He caught the box and brought it back down with care “This one?” He asked, holding out the box to the lady.

“Yes,” she smiled, taking it from him and opening it. She produced a well made and sturdy heavy coat jacket. It was a dark forest green and was thick and durable but still very mobile friendly to the wearer.

“Woah!” Lukas lifted it up, “Jesse what do you think? Jesse?”

Jesse was gone, but there were no children in sight. During the whole day no matter how distracted he became Jesse always remained in line of sight.

But the street was empty save for a few idle traders all busy with their work.

Lukas set the coat down, “Jesse?” he called, a little more loud and urgent this time. “Jesse?”

No answer.

Jesse?!!”

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Major Cursing, Extreme Levels of Violence, Violent Deaths,

High Levels of Gore, Horror, Sexual Assault, Inappropriate Themes

-


Jesse awoke screaming.

He remembered being at the stall, seeing Lukas helping the older woman. He thought it was so sweet how kind he was to everyone. It was endearing how much Lukas cared and helped in anyway he could no matter if he knew you or not.

There had been footsteps behind him. But that was no cause for alarm, the market was a busy place, Jesse thought nothing of the sound.

Then there was a hand over his mouth, and before he could even scream Jesse felt the sharp prick of a needle on his neck and everything went dark.

So it was natural when he awoke -knowing things were wrong- to finish that scream. He let out a sharp loud cry , thrashing about, panicking as he failed to move very far.

Strong hands with tight grips held him down, dropping him in the cold snow, but still holding him firmly.

“Fuck!” someone said, “I thought you drugged him?!”

“I did drug him!”

“Let me go!” Jesse screamed, lurching against the hands holding him tight, as he was dragged across the snowy and rocky ground. “STOP!”

“God dammit hold him tighter!” one of the men said.

“I’m trying he’s kicking too much.”

Jesse cried out in pain as a fist made contact with his face, his teeth biting down on his tongue and his whole world blurring in pain and foggy from the fading drugs, “Someone help-mmmph!”

A hand clamped firmly over his mouth, the hand covered in filthy rags to protect the fingers from Jesse’s teeth. The teeth that he did attempt to bite with as the thick digits shoved into his mouth, stifling his cries for help. Another hand yanked Jesse’s own arms behind his back, pulling them firmly against one of his attacker’s chest. The second man took a tight hold of Jesse’s legs. They together hefted him up, carrying him onward towards their destination.

Jesse realized in despair during his struggle that he was now outside Ground Town, tucked against the rocky cliff face of the mountain and quickly being carried towards the dark and frightening forests.

He let out a muffled wail, trying his best to kick and pull free, “Mmmm! Mmmm!”

“God fucking dammit Hank! Do you have any more of those drugs?!”

Shoving his hands deeper into Jesse’s mouth the other raider hissed, “I only brought enough to knock him out, he should have been out for hours.”

“Well obviously you didn’t get enough, you dumb fuck!”

“What’s what you say or I’ll- Augh!” ‘Hank’ screamed in pain as Jesse swung his head back smashing his skull into the raider’s nose. He dropped Jesse in an instant, clutching his bleeding nose and cursing in rage.

Jesse wrenched his legs free of the other male, rolling away before he could make a grab at him.

“Hey get back here!”

He kicked up gravel and snow as he scrambled up and away, “Get away from me!” he raced across the field, leaping over snow covered stumps and logs. “Someone help me!” he cried, “Anyone please!”

“Don’t let him get back to the city!”

His lungs gasped and strained to get oxygen in the freezing air, his screaming not helping the situation. But he had to get away from these people- whoever they were- he had to get help. His heart seized at the thought that these men might be with PAMA. They found him! They were going to take him away!

He hollered even louder, hoping to draw attention from one of the watchtowers. The city’s gate was on the far side of the wall, and he was still far from the wall itself, he wasn’t even sure if he could make it all the way there. “Someone please! HELP ME!”

“Catch him!”

“Come back here!”

“Help-AAAH!” Jesse screamed as another male slammed into him, pinning him against the nearby rock face. His head spun as he smashed into the rocks, the sharp edges cutting into his skin and tearing his jacket.

He struggled and twisted in the large man’s grip, slapping, kicking and punching, “Let me- ghk!” he gasped as the stranger gripped him tightly by the throat lifting him off the ground.

Jesse wheezed for air, his oxygen limited- nearly cut completely off - as the man tightened his grip around Jesse’s narrow neck. He whimpered, clawing weakly at the other’s hands, legs flailing and pushing against the mountain’s walls, trying to relieve the pressure.

The two men from before caught up, gasping and heaving for breath. They were joined by five more men, all of them grungy and filthy in their gear. Including the man choking Jesse, they made a group of eight in all. Every single one of them wore similar gang marks on their jackets.

They were raiders.

Jesse’s eyes watered as he pushed against the large arm holding him high in the air, “W-who- who- ghhh- why-”

The man before him wore dark goggles and a half faced bandanna, making it difficult to identify him. But he chuckled to Jesse’s struggling words. He pulled down the mask and lifted the goggles giving Jesse a gaped tooth smile.

“Hello pretty boy.” Blake crooned

Jesse choked out a gasp, “B-Blake?!”

Blake laughed viciously and let Jesse drop, the male leaning against the rock heaving for air as oxygen rush into his lungs. Blake slammed his hands on either side of Jesse’s head, towering over him, “That’s right, it’s me.”

Jesse pressed against the stone, hoping for it to swallow him whole, but no such luck, “H-how- I you were dead.”

“That’s what you like to think,” Blake snarled, pulling a knife from his hip holster and slamming it into the stone beside Jesse’s head. The blade chipped the rock and Jesse flinched in terror. “You thought I was dead after you and your little team set me up! But I lived and followed you all the way here.”

“S-set you up?! I don’t understand!!” Jesse stammered out, “We didn’t set anyone up!”

Blake grabbed hold of Jesse’s jaw, wrenching his head up. “You played all sweet an’ innocent didn’t ya? Your group was all playing pretend, waiting for the right moment for your teammate to shoot my men. Then you looted em.” he twiddled the knife around Jesse’s cheek, “That’s what you were counting on.”

“What?! No we- ahhh!!” Jesse cried out as Blake sliced his cheek. The wound wasn’t deep, but it was long. Blood oozed out of the wound immediately running down the side of his face and dripping off his jaw.

“Stop lying!”

Jesse clenched his teeth through the pain, stifling a whine of extreme discomfort.

“Aw, don’t whine pretty boy,” Blake teased, running his thumb along the injury, smearing the blood along his skin, “It will heal up well before we get to Champion City.”

“C-champion-” Jesse whimpered, confused and trembling

“Never been there? Oh it’s a long ways away, all the way out by Founder’s Town.”

Founder’s Town?!

“Course,” Blake scratched his chin idly with his knife, “Got some business to take care of here first. We gotta take care of your little friends, show them what happens when they mess with the Dead Enders gang. I’m not too keen on you and your little team wiping out some of my men.”

Jesse struggled to pull his jaw free from Blake’s grasp, “We didn’t wipe your men out, that was Petra!”

Blake barked out a laugh at Jesse’s words “That bitch?! Psssh, knew you were in cahoots with her. Had to be.” He then shrugged, “But no matter, what we lost in men, we make up in money. And you’re going to fetch a fine price at the pleasure ring.”

Jesse lurched in terror, wrenching his jaw free. “No! I’m not going anywhere! Just let me go! We didn’t want trouble then and we don’t want it - Augh!”

Blake punched him in the head, sending Jesse sprawling to the muddy and snowy ground. “Your little friends will have their brains blown out and bodies hacked up for a parts harvest. And you, well…” Blake said, walking over and crouching down next to Jesse

In pain and slightly delirious, Jesse was still coherent enough to feel Blake place his hand on the small on Jesse’s back.

“We’re gonna have to break you in first.” He said, giving a dark grin.

An unknown but almost instinctive terror shot through Jesse like a bullet. He screamed, crawling forward in a mad attempt to get away, “NO!”

“Looks like we got a wild one boys!” Blake hollered in delight, grabbing Jesse by the hair. He pulled him back thrashing and yelling, sitting down and pulling Jesse onto his lap, “Let’s have some fun yeah?”

NO! LET ME GO!” Jesse begged desperate and horrified as the raiders moved in laughing, “ SOMEONE HELP ME!”

A raider yanked off his bandanna, shoving the grimy cloth into Jesse’s mouth. Jesse let out a muffled cry, shaking his head in a futile struggle as they tied it behind his head. He reached up trying to tear it off.

“Oh no we don’t,” Blake grabbed his arms and wrenched them back as another raider forced Jesse’s legs down “We’ll just keep those pretty sounds of yours subdue mmm?”

“It’s a shame he’s so wild,” a raider mused grabbing Jesse’s blood stained jaw, streaked with tears, “Would have liked to use that beauty of a mouth.”

“Don’t worry, there’s still next time,” Blake chuckled running his knife down Jesse’s throat, “I’m sure you’ll learn to behave. Won’t you pretty boy?”

“MMMMMM!!!” Jesse cried, kicking and twisting, not even acknowledging the weapon.

“Looks like he don’t care for his own health and safety boss,” someone said.

“Maybe,”  the raider leader agreed, “Or,” he slid the blade down one of Jesse’s legs, the sharp edge cutting his jeans and wounding the skin on his thigh. He laughed as Jesse cried out, “Or maybe he’s the sick twisted kind who likes pain.”

Jesse sobbed as Blake cut his legs again, desecrating the jean fabric and damaging his skin. A fresh wave of tears were produced with the pain, and he cried harder. He continued to struggle as the hands holding him down increased.

“Wonder where those kids found him?” the raider directly in front of Jesse stated curious. He produced his own knife cutting down Jesse’s sweatshirt. Just enough to expose his chest to the cold air. Jesse cried out in response, his voice muffled as he shook from terror

“Look at him,” he observed, “Damn near perfect,” he said as he ran the point of the blade on Jesse’s chest leaving a thin trail of blood behind.

“Wonder if his boyfriend had a taste yet?” Blake mocked, running his tongue along Jesse’s neck, “I mean, how could he not?” then he bit down on the skin.

Jesse cried out a mixture of horror and pain and tried to pull his arms free of the other raiders.

“I know I wouldn’t~” the other agreed, running a hand under the remains of the sweatshirt. He nipped his collar bone, “Tastes damn good too.”

“Fuck yeah he does,” Blake said licking the bloodied bite wound.

Jesse whined trying to pull away only for Blake to pull him in again, running his hand down Jesse’s back.

“Shhh, you’ll get used to it,” Blake stabbed his blade into the dirt, grabbing hold of Jesse’s hair and tilting his head back. “Probably your first time.”

Jesse shook his head in desperation, tears running down his cheeks, freezing in the cold air. Jesse was shaking, hard, a mixture or terror and cold. He weakly pulled against the hands that held him, letting out a mournful cry as another raider latched onto his exposed neck.

Not this dear God not this, how could this be happening?!

His body answered with screams of pain as Blake’s hand slipped past the jeans loose waist band going down and between his spread legs, Forcing two of his fingers into Jesse. Jesse lurched, a agonized scream stuck in his throat as Blake scissored deeper, relentless in his intrusion.

The pain was immense, Jesse felt like his whole lower body was engulfed in fire. This was only two fingers and he knew Blake wouldn’t stop here.

He screamed, cries muffled as he begged for it to end, for it to stop! But Blake kept going, cackling in delight as he twisted his large fingers around and watch Jesse whine in pain.

“It’s going to be like this everyday for the rest of your life pretty boy,” he whispered in Jesse’s ear. “So I suggest you best get used to it.”

“You son of a bitch!!!” an enraged voice roared, cutting through the raiders laughter like a knife.

Multiple gun shots went off, and the raiders scattered like rats, some of them went down with bullet wounds in their skulls. Even Blake let go of Jesse, letting him drop to the wet snowy ground as he rolled away.

Lukas came into view, pale and worried but also furious, “Jesse!”

Jesse shakily yanked the gag out of his mouth, “L-lukas-”

“Get them!” Blake yelled.

Lukas quickly shot another raider with his pistol, reaching down and pulling Jesse from the ground, “RUN!” he cried.

Jesse staggered for a moment, entire lower body wracked in pain, and he cried out, going down on one knee. The lacerations on his legs where he had been cut throbbed with each adrenaline surged heartbeat.

Lukas pulled him up, urging him to run as he attempted to shoot another raider, but cursed as his weapon jammed. He swung it around, smashing it into the face of another who made a grab for Jesse.

“Don’t let them get away!” Blake yelled as they fled from the mountain face.

“Lukas we won’t make it to the gates!” Jesse gasped out, jerking in terror as the raider’s began to open fire.

“We’re not aiming for the gates!” Lukas yelled.

Jesse followed Lukas’s gaze to a large barn in the field about about mile off their pathway.

“There is a tunnel entrance that leads to the city inside that barn!” Lukas explained, holding tightly to Jesse’s hand as they leapt over a broken fence post.”That’s where the those sons of bitches brought you out from.”

“How did you find me,” Jesse wheezed, still choking on tears.

Lukas looked at him worriedly, “No one at the main gate saw you leave, Isa mentioned there was a tunnel by the shop we were at. I knew you wouldn’t have-” he flinched as a bullet whizzed by, “I knew you didn’t know about the tunnel.” He looked firmly ahead, lips set in a grim line and eyes full of clouded emotions, “I should have kept a better eye on you I’m so sorry I-”

“I’m okay,” Jesse managed to speak out between heaving breaths.

Lukas didn’t look back, “No you’re not.” he said stiffly.

Jesse’s heart skipped a beat, realizing in rescuing him - Lukas saw exactly what Blake and his men were doing, what they leading up to.

They both yelped as one of the raider’s released open fire with an automatic, and Lukas shoved Jesse down, both of them rolling into a nearby ditch as bullets were fired above them.

“I want them alive!” Blake was screaming, “Go around cut them off! Don’t let them get to the barn!”

Fuck!” Lukas cursed, looking around. He once again took a tight hold of Jesse’s hands and pulled him up, “Follow me! Stay right behind me!” he ordered as they raced out of the ditch.

“Where are we going?!” Jesse cried, confused as instead of running towards the barn - now blocked off by raiders-  Lukas began to run at a angle towards the fence line going wide.

“Trust me!” Lukas yelled, making awkward leaps and bounds across the snow and remaining wheat. Jesse did his best to follow, lungs straining for air in the cold climate as they continue to run.

“Fuck!” Blake cursed, “Catch them! Get after them!”

Jesse looked back as one of the raiders by the barn -now parallel to them- bolted at them like a marathon runner, covering high levels of ground in a matter of seconds. But then the male was screaming as his foot came down on a crud, very large, bear trap.

The man screeched and screamed in pure agony as the metal contraption cut through cloth and skin embedding all the way to the bone of his leg. He went down, thrashing and hollering against the unyielding trap.

“Jump!” Lukas yelled.

Jesse looked sharply forward just as Lukas leapt over another trap, full of dried bloody objects. Heart racing Jesse barely made the jump in time, legs lunging over the wide trigger pad.

Blake was in a rage, “Shoot them! Just fucking shoot them!”

The pair leapt over a low stone wall crashing on the other side as the raiders open fired.

Lukas pointed down the path on which they were now on, it led directly to the barn, “When I say run. You run, okay?” he said between gasps.

Unable to form words, Jesse shakily nodded.

Lukas waited till the firing seemed to lessen, then, “Go!” he cried pulling Jesse up.

But before either male could run however. Flying through the air like an arrow, came the most unearthly terrifying scream.

The entire field froze, the birds went silent, the raiders stopped shooting, and Jesse and Lukas froze in their spots as the scream came again. Even the trapped raider fell into silence.

The raiders were to their left, and Jesse and Lukas slowly looked to the right. Just as a massive creature burst forth from the tree line leaping through a hole in the city’s foremost fence.

An enderman.

It stopped about a hundred yards from the humans. Screeching loudly, clacking its teeth together.

It was even taller than the last enderman Jesse encountered. It’s eyes large and white, teeth bloody and full of rot. This one had horns protruding from the top of it’s skull, curving back like a beast from fairy-tales.

Lukas didn’t speak, he didn’t move, but he squeezed Jesse’s trembling hand.

Don’t move, his gesture seemed to say. Jesse heeded the small command - the plea, staying as immobile as possible, though he felt he could collapse at any given second.

Everyone was frozen, no one seemed to breath as the creature inspected the land. It clacked its teeth together, snarling menacingly.

Jesse was terrified, he was covered in blood - his fresh blood. Each flare of the creatures nostrils, each sniff sent Jesse’s heart surging in fear.

It would smell him.

The horned enderman took a step forward, sniffing about. But it didn’t charge or rush. Perhaps it was the clouded daylight that made it hesitant. The whole world was a blur of grays and whites. Perhaps it didn’t like the open field, the exposure.Maybe it smelled the baits, the traps.

Still, nobody moved-

A gun went off and Jesse screamed in agony as a bullet tore through his legs, right in the thighs, and he collapse to the ground wailing in overwhelming pain.

“Jesse!!!” Lukas cried out

“You dumb fuck!” Blake yelled at whoever fired the gun.

The enderman roared, a ear splitting, hair raising scream. Then it charged, bounding across the field at a rapid pace. It closed the distance in a matter of seconds.

Lukas fell on top of Jesse, hitting the ground just as the monster rushed over them and beyond the stone wall. Shots began to rapidly go off, men were screaming.

Lukas cupped Jesse’s face, “Jesse?! Jesse !”

Jesse’s world was a blur as tears rolled down his cheeks. His legs felt on fire, a sticky wet heat rolling down his skin. He couldn’t think straight, he couldn’t speak, it hurt too much! “L-l- Lu-”

“I’m gonna get you out of here, just hang on!” Lukas looked nervously over the wall, flinching at whatever display was before him. He looked back down, “I’m not gonna lose you.”

The larger male scooped Jesse up. Jesse let out a whine as Lukas unintentionally touched the wound where the bullet tore through.

Lukas began to run, making a mad dash for the barn.

Jesse’s head rolled back and he could see past Lukas to where the raiders were.

Many of them were dead, gutted and lying in the snow. Their innards were split everywhere, some of them were missing limbs, or parts of their faces torn clear.

The remaining survivors were in a panicked frenzy, shooting madly, all skill and strategy were gone, replaced with only a blind panic.

The raider still stuck in the bear trap was screaming as he fired, “Get away! Get- ghk!”

The enderman lunged, embedding its foot long claws all the way through the man’s stomach. It wrenched him from the trap, the lower half of his leg remaining behind. The man let out a blood curdling scream and continued to scream till the enderman bit down on his throat, ripping his head clean off.

Struggling not to vomit from the horror and his own pain Jesse quickly looked away, moaning.

“We’re going to make it,” Lukas urged, “We’re almost there just-”

“No you don’t!” Blake leapt over the wall, sending his already swinging fist into Lukas’s jaw.

The blond went down with a shout, falling into the snow and dropping Jesse. Jesse himself cried out in pain, his blood staining the snow below him.

“You ain’t get away this time!” Blake sneered, pulling out a silencer pistol.

Lukas kicked the gun up before Blake could shoot, the bullet firing harmlessly into the air. Then he kicked his attackers legs out from the brutish male, sending the raider down.

Jesse tried to get up, to move, to help, something. But the pain in his legs sent him back down to the ground, back landing against the stone wall.

Blake cursed as he fell, the gun flying out of his hands. “Just fucking die!” he yelled.

Lukas lunged for the gun wrapping his hands around the weapon, “After you!” he yelled, “You fucking bastard!”

“Oh~” Blake mocked, as he tackled Lukas pinning him to the ground and grabbing hold of the gun as well “Did you not like me fucking your pretty little boyfriend?” he teased.

Lukas snarled, slamming his forehead into Blake’s nose. Blake roared, blood pooling down his broken nose. Lukas’s took the moment to fight back, now in a mad wrestle for the gun.

“I’ll fucking kill you!”

The enderman roared.

And just like the first time everything froze. Jesse stiffened against the wall.  Blake and Lukas froze, the brutish male atop the blonde.

Neither moved.

Blood ran down Blake’s nose, dripping off his chin and landing on Lukas’s face. Both of them were struggling to control their gasps for oxygen.

Jesse nearly whimpered as from the corner of his eye he saw the enderman climb up onto the wall right next to him, easily at arms length from Lukas and Blake.

It hissed, fresh blood splattered all over its skin, the red patches darkening against the black mottled body of the monster.

The smell of blood was thick and heavy everywhere, and with no obvious movement  at the moment, the creature of the wastes was having difficulty pinpointing its next victim.

Jesse heard a soft grunt and deliriously looked forward.

Lukas and Blake were in a silent wrestle for control of the pistol between them. Lukas had the upper band, while Blake only had hold of the barrel Lukas had his hand on the grip, finger already on the trigger.

Blake’s eyes widened as Lukas ever so slowly pulled back the cocking mechanism.

You wouldn’t, he mouthed.

Lukas’s eyes were dark, fueled by a cold harsh fury. He stared at the raider for a moment.

Watch me. Was written in his eyes

Blake screamed as Lukas fired the gun into his abdomen, the shot muffled by the silencer and his cries.

He wrenched the gun free from Lukas, staggering up, “You fu-”

The enderman roared, already swinging. Blake turned to shoot it, only to meet the sharpened claws of the beast.

There was a stomach twisting sound as blood and guts fell from Blake’s body onto the ground with a sickening squelch . The raider was already dead on his feet, eyes wide, mouth gaping like a fish.

Then the enderman was yanking him over the wall, bones snapping as he hit the stone edge brutally.

Blake, leader of the Dead Enders gang, had met his own deadly ending.

Jesse and Lukas remained frozen and immobile where they lay, listening to the sound of the enderman tearing into Blake's corpse from the other side of the wall.

They didn’t move till the creature was drawn away, attracted by the noise of a fleeing raider who was now screaming from springing a trap.

Jesse vomited, hacking up from the smell of blood and sight of guts on the muddy path.

Lukas immediately scrambled up, “Jesse!”

“Don’t fucking move!”

Lukas cursed and turned to face a young, but armed raider, “Are you kidding me?!”

“Y-you killed my team, you killed my boss!” the young man stammered.

Lukas held up a hand  “Look, you can still live this, just let me-”

The raider cocked his gun shakily. “You killed them!”

As Lukas tried to talk the man down, Jesse took a shaky hold of the top of the wall, parts of it wet and sticky with the late Blake’s blood. He pulled himself up weakly, leaning on the low wall for support.

“There is an enderman out here!” Lukas cried, angrily pointing nowhere in particular, “Do you really want to do this now?! Follow me into the city we can-”

“No!” the male yelled, “You killed them! You piece of shit, you killed them!”

“I’m not the one who fired when a enderman was standing right there!”

Jesse groaned, pulling himself higher. Gasping in horror as he saw the enderman was coming back. “Lukas!”

But Lukas didn’t hear, and neither did the raider, they were to busy going at odds.

“Lukas!” Jesse attempted again

“Just listen-”

“I’m going to fucking kill you!”

Lukas!” Jesse screamed

The enderman jumped, fifteen feet from the wall. It’s arms were back, ready for the swing, aiming right for it’s unaware target.

Using the last of his strength Jesse shoved off the wall, “ Lukas look out!” he screamed, shoving hard against the blonde’s back just as the enderman swung.

There was a searing pain across Jesse’s torso, and everything went red, then black, then there was nothing. Absolutely nothing.

JESSE!!!”

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Death, Horror, Gore, Violence

Body Modification, Blood, Trauma

-

Aiden plowed through the market square like a rhino, not stopping not even slowing, “Out of my way! Move!”

To the unfamiliar passerby, Aiden might have looked on the run, in trouble with law one might think.

Honesty if Aiden were the one in trouble this mess would have been over by now.

He had been relaxing in the apartment. Gill and Maya were somewhere doing their thing, and Petra was in the kitchen tediously sharpening Miss Butter. He was enjoying being ‘home’ and for a moment he was actually not thinking about the reason they were there to begin with.

Then Isa came rushing in breathless and her nerves strained. “Is Jesse here?!”

Petra set down her knife, “No, I thought he was with you.”

Isa cursed and turned on her heel, heading back to the stairs.

“Wait! What’s going on?!” Aiden asked, springing off the couch.

“Jesse’s missing! We can’t find him!”

So that’s what Aiden was doing now. He was looking for Jesse. Petra joined Isa in scouring the city itself, while Aiden was headed for the wall. He knew that if by some grace Jesse was outside the city he’d be able to see him from up there.

He hurdled over a small child that moved into his path, “Sorry! Move!”

Aiden could hear Isa somewhere within the market, calling Jesse’s name. He could hear Petra too, yelling for a boy yet to be found.

There was the lingering thought in the back of his mind, that frightening little thought. Was this the work of PAMA? He certainly hoped not, it would mean everyone here was in danger, he didn’t want to risk this place getting hurt. If PAMA was here they’d be forced to leave, either by their own choice of by the fear of the locals; regardless of a heavy winter looming over their heads. Things would go bad if PAMA appeared. He knew Isa would probably try and speak out for them - considering how fondly she’d become attached to Jesse- but the thought of her getting hurt to fight PAMA made him even more sick to his stomach.

That, and despite an overwhelming amount of evidence against him. Aiden really wasn’t fond of telling Lukas, ‘I told you so’.

But that was the last thing he was thinking about.

Aiden raced up the first set up stairs, leaping and bounding, going two steps at a time. He shoved open the watchtower door. He was surprised and extremely furious to find the guard posted at this tower asleep, in his chair.

“Wake up you lazy asshole!” Aiden kicked the chair out from under the large bearded male. He hardly had time to read the soldier's id - Greg something or another- tag before he hit the floor with a loud crash

The man woke up in an instant, “What the hell?!”

Aiden yanked open the tower door that led out into the battlements, “We have a person missing! Get up and help me find him!”

The guard staggered after, “What does he look like?!”

“Small, brown hair! He’s a frickin snowflake!”

“Snowflake?!”

“You can’t miss him! Just help me find him!” Aiden snapped looking out on the field.

Greg looked around, “I thought we had guards at the gate. Someone would have seen him leave.”

“No unless he took the tunnels,” Aiden answered, scoping the fields, “But Jesse doesn’t know where the tunnels are, so therefore, the only way he could have gone out those tunnels, was if someone- There!”

He spotted Jesse and Lukas fleeing from the the mountain rock face on which Ground Town was tucked up against. Aiden sighted the raider’s giving chase two seconds later, “Shiiiiit”

The Dead Ender’s gang. They must have been bitter about what happened back in the wastes and followed them all the way here. Which admittedly was a rather impressive grudge. Aiden would have just hired new men and moved on.

“Do you have a rifle?!”

Greg looked at him, “What?”

Aiden’s frown deepened and his temper flew, “Do. You. Have. Your. Fucking, rifle?!”

“Oh! OH!” Greg raced back into the tower, coming out seconds later with his weapon in hand.

Aiden took it, “Go get Isa, tell her we have a serious problem, that we need help! Go!”

Greg ran back to the stairs and Aiden ran along the wall. He could tell from here that Lukas was trying to get a good angle to get to a barn, having lured the raider’s off the path and into the the trap riddled fields. One man had already stepped into one, screaming and thrashing in agony.

Smart, there must be a tunnel entrance in that barn. He concluded. And he’s slowing down the raiders with the traps.

Aiden set the rifle on the wall looking through the scope and targeting the first raider. He aimed at the large man who seemed to be in charge. He stiffened-

Was that…...Blake?

“Aiden!” Petra yelled from somewhere, “You found Jesse?”

“YES!” he yelled back, not taking his eye from the scope, “We got raiders! Turns out you didn’t kill Blake as well as we thought.”

He didn’t exactly hear what came next, but Petra burst into quite the colorful vocabulary. Aiden tuned her out and adjusted the rifle, setting the target steady at Blake’s head. He put his finger on the trigger and clicked off the safety.

A scream tore through the air and Aiden immediately felt his blood run cold and he released the trigger. He pulled his eye away from the scope, looking out into the field. “Oh, fuck.

A enderman was out there, horns prominent from the top of its skull - an alpha.

No one in the field was moving, Lukas and Jesse were closest to the deadly creature. On the other side of them beyond a low stone dividing wall was some of the raiders. They stood frozen in fear, unmoving, no longer shooting. Even the entirety of Ground Town fell into silence. Everyone had heard that dreaded scream.

There was nothing, deathly silence, save for the distance clunking of the waterworks on the far side of town. Aiden could hear his own heart pounding in his ears it was so quiet.

Then, much to Aiden’s horror, a gun went off. Jesse collapsed to the ground with a cry, gripping his thigh in agony. Blake started yelling and the enderman roared, racing across the field faster than any other creature in the wastes.

Lukas managed to fall on top of Jesse, just barely able to get down in time before the creature reached them. It did a bounding leap over the pair, flying beyond the wall and into the shooting raiders.

“Shitshitshitshitshit!” Aiden brought the gun back up, setting his sights on the enderman. He wasn’t shooting it for the raiders sake. But as soon as that thing got done killing those scumbags it was going to smell a bleeding and wounded Jesse.

He fired the gun, the bullet making its mark in the back of the creature’s hip, but it didn’t slow it down. He fired again shortly after the enderman severed a raider’s head from his body. This second shot once again was a direct hit, striking the creature in the shoulder, but the monster kept going.

Petra got up the stairs just as Aiden kicked the wall in anger, “FUCK!”

“Where is Jesse?!” she gasped out.

“Out there with Lukas, and a fucking enderman!” Aiden yelled, pacing in a small circle

“What!” She leaned against the wall, looking out to the field, “Oh shit!

“I’m too far away, and this gun is too weak for distance! It’s meant for humans not enderman hide!” Aiden snarled as he turned back to the chaos, rapidly reloaded the gun.

Suddenly Petra’s breath hitched, “Lukas just shot Blake!”

“What?!”

“He was on top of Lukas and-” the ginger stopped talking and Aiden looked up just as the enderman disemboweled Blake, yanking the dead man over the wall and tearing into his corpse.

The creature soon raced off, giving chase to a raider who had tried to flee the carnage only to be stopped sort by one of the field traps.

Petra turned and ran back to the steps, “I’m going out there to get them!” she yelled.

“Petra wait!” Aiden yelled after to her

“Aiden!”

Aiden glanced briefly over his shoulder to see Reginald running up the street, a long barreled gun in his hand, “Reg! We have an enderman!”

“I know that’s why I brought this!” The guard captain yelled.

Aiden looked back at Reginald and the gun. “What is it?!”

“Anti-tank gun!”

Aiden looked back out onto the field and his heart seized, sighting immediately that the enderman was coming back. Lukas didn’t see it coming he was trying to talk down an armed raider, “Reg, hurry!

He didn’t know if the man caught his urgency but he didn’t have time to look, Aiden quickly raised his gun and fired at the enderman.

The creature staggered as the bullet glanced across it’s skull but kept going.

No.

Aiden loaded and fired again, glancing the creature again.

No no no no..!

“REG!” Aiden cried.

“I’M ALMOST THERE!”

The enderman leaped, and Aiden once more shot the creature. But it didn’t stop! From the corner of his eye he saw Jesse shove off the stone wall, shoving hard into Lukas-

The enderman swung, there was a scarlet spray of blood and both the males went down.

“NO!” Aiden yelled.

The enderman caught the raider with its other hand, easily decapitating the human as it rushed passed.

Reginald made it up to him and Aiden grabbed the gun just as the enderman turned around, aiming for the fallen males.

Reggie gasped for breath as Aiden clicked off the safety, “Oh God in heaven don’t miss!”

Aiden didn’t answer, but he did think it.

I don’t miss.

The alpha enderman lunged arms outstretched and reaching-

Aiden fired.

The creature’s head blew open in a morbid spray of brains and blood; the body hit the ground, twitching and spasming

“A direct hit-” Reginald gaped.

Ears ringing from the loud shot, Aiden was already dropping the gun back into the elder male’s hands. He raced down the stairs and onto the street. Isa,Gill, and Maya were down there, but even though they called out to him he didn’t stop to acknowledge. He turned and ran into the underground tunnel that led out of the city.

Racing like a marathon runner, Aiden caught up with Petra just as he reached the end of the tunnel.”

“Aiden!” she gasped alarmed, “The enderman-”

“Dead!” he cut off racing up the short steps to the surface and kicking the door open. “Lukas!” he yelled.

Petra followed after, running out of the barn, “Lukas! Jesse!”

Lukas himself was just in front of the barn, covered in splatters of blood. His back was to them, his shoulders shaking as he held Jesse tight.

Petra slid to a stop, “Oh God!”

Aiden ran around dropping to his knees in front of Lukas. The blond was holding Jesse closely, face buried into his neck; he had wrapped Jesse in his coat. Jesse himself was pale, unmoving, his stomach and chest covered- no soaked, in blood.

The brunet’s eyes were rolled back and blood was dripping out of his mouth, he seemed to not be breathing as he lay as a limp dead weight in Lukas’s arms.

“Lukas? Lukas!” Aiden yelled out

The blonde shook his head, body trembling, “He pushed me,” he moaned.

Aiden grabbed his shoulders, “Lukas! Did it hit you?! Are you hurt!”

“Jesse, it hit Jesse,” his best friend mumbled out. “He shouldn’t have-”

“Let me take a look.”

Suddenly Isa was right next to Aiden, hastily reaching her hands into the bloody mess. She peeled back the bloody edges of Lukas’s jacket, face going a stark white. “G-gill-” she stood, urgently gesturing for the large male to move, “Take Jesse, now.

Gill dropped down to to one knee, gingerly reaching in for Jesse, “Lukas man..”

Lukas didn’t respond, mumbling incoherently to himself.

Aiden gently took hold of Lukas’s hands, peeling his bloodied fingers back. It allowed Gill to move in and take Jesse’s body from him..

“We might be able-” Isa placed a hand on Gill, “Aiden?”

“I got Lukas, just get to the hospital.”

Isa nodded, taking off with Gill in a a mad rush to get Jesse treatment. Aiden didn’t want to think about how hopeless the scenario was. He saw the expression in Isa’s eyes.

No matter what they did, Jesse was going to die.

Even if they did somehow treat his wounds to prevent him from bleeding out, the radiation from the enderman would doom him to a slow painful death.

“Lukas?” he said quietly, trying to get the male to look at him, “Lukas?” He tilted his head up, cringing at the glassy expression in Lukas’s eyes.

The blond had blood all over his face, splatters- most likely not his own blood. There was a large bruise forming on the side of his jaw. Judging by the size, whoever made the swing was large and hit hard.

But Aiden was most fearful of any lacerations the enderman might have left behind. It would mean that Lukas’s body was poisoned with high levels of radiation, and….and….

Aiden wouldn’t be able to live with that.

“Lukas, Lukas come on man answer me please.” Aiden begged “Did it hurt you? Are you cut anywhere?” he asked, desperate and hoping for an answer.

Lukas slowly let his eyes shift up, and his expression killed Aiden. He couldn’t believe how devastated his friend looked.

“I should be….” Lukas whispered, voice cracking, “It should have been me.”


Lukas sat in the waiting room of the hospital with his arms wrapped around his knees. It had been several hours since the incident, and he and the others had yet to hear of anything from Isa or the doctors.

Lukas was out of his gear- they had to clean the blood off of it, and clear it of any radiation residue that would have mixed in with…..with Jesse’s blood.

He was in a thin cotton long sleeve, with a pair of sweatpants, and a set of socks - they took his shoes too. And despite the warm material, and the fact the hospital was well heated, Lukas was numb.

Jesse had pushed him, pushed him out of the way of the enderman that he should have seen coming. That he should have been focusing on instead of the raider. But Lukas hadn’t, and now Jesse was dying. Because of him.

A nurse entered the waiting room and everyone looked up from whatever they were doing, but the female continued on, heading out the next door.

“It’s been five hours now,” Gill mumbled, throwing a ball over to Petra, who passed it back.

“You don’t think….” Maya began to say, but unable to finish.

Aiden was whittling away a piece of wood with his hunting knife, “They would have told us already if that was the case, Isa wouldn’t leave us hanging like that.” he stated grimly.

Lukas flinched and looked away, trying to block out the memories of Jesse’s bloody form in his arms.

The enderman had torn him open, wide open. Lukas could see everything as he struggled to put his jacket around Jesse. There had been blood everywhere, the ribs were damaged, his stomach-

Lukas cringed again, shaking his head and burying it into his knees, his hands gripping his hair.

Another doctor came by, his hands covered in blood. But just like the last dozen people to pass through, he didn’t stop.

Maya stood, “I need air,” she said quickly departing the waiting room.

Gill got up, casting the ball to Petra, “Babe wait!”

Petra watched them go, the ball clenching in her hand, “I-I……” She looked at Aiden and Lukas.

“I can keep you updated,” Aiden said.

The ginger gave a unsteady nod of her head, “Y-yeah,” then she quickly departed.

Then there was silence, just distant monitors beeping and various people in different rooms talking in hushed whispers.

“Lukas?”

Lukas looked up to see Aiden set his knife down, “Lukas?” the brunet asked again.

Lukas didn’t respond, choosing instead to go back to facing his knees. He heard Aiden get up and cross the waiting room, kneeling down in front of Lukas’s chair.

“Lukas man, look at me,”

Lukas reluctantly lifted his head, seeing his friend gaze back in genuine worry. “This isn’t your fault,” the brunet began, reaching out to place a hand on Lukas

Lukas flinched at the cold contact of Aiden’s metal arm and the male hesitated. He switched hands and placed it on Lukas’s knee.

“You can’t blame yourself for this.”

“I should have been taking care of him.” Lukas muttered, glaring at the ground.

“You were! No one knew Blake followed us here. He probably scoped this place out for days before he decided to use the tunnels.” Aiden stated, trying to meet Lukas’s eyes.

“But the enderman-”

“No one plans for an enderman. If that were the case, we would never see an enderman,” Aiden urged, “This isn’t your fault.”

“But I should have seen it coming!” Lukas protested, sitting upright. “He pushed me out of the way Aiden! He shouldn’t have done that!”

“He was protecting you the same way you would have done for him!” Aiden countered.

“He shouldn’t have to though!” Lukas flinched, “He- I - “

Aiden was silent for a moment, then,” Lukas….” he said softly with a sigh, moving his hand to Lukas’s forearm, “Maybe...maybe this is for the best.”

Lukas’s’ heart throbbed, and he shook his head “Don’t-” He said, voice breaking.

“I know you wanted to take care of him, you tried your hardest.” the brunet tried to sooth, “But you have to think about this. Is this really a world he should be living in? He came from a different time, a different way of life. Even if he did learn to survive out here, what kind of life would this have been for him Lukas? Did you really want him to live the rest of his life out in this?”

“I - I don’t know,” Lukas said sadly. “I...I just wanted him to be safe- to feel safe. But I failed him.”

Aiden’s eyes were filled with genuine sympathy, “We know you tried man. I know this isn’t-”

Suddenly the door to the waiting room open. But unlike before this was no doctor, nor a nurse, but Isa.

They both stood, Lukas being the first to speak, “Jesse?” he asked.

Isa stared at them for a few seconds, blinking, almost as if she was struggling to process something. Her expression did little to ease Lukas’s nervousness.

Lukas took a step closer to the female, “Isa….Is Jesse alright?” he asked.

She finally focused her eyes on the both of them, “I think…..I think it’s better if you both come with me.” Isa then turned, and went back through the door.

Lukas glanced at Aiden, confused. Aiden was equally so, but they followed her regardless out of the waiting room and down the hall.

“Isa is he-” Aiden tried asking, to break the tension.

“No,” the female answered stiffly.

Lukas felt this overwhelming weight fly off of him, “The radiation then? How is he handling that?”

Isa stopped in front of a door, as if the question bothered her. “That’s…..” she opened the door for them “Just look.”

Both of them entered the room, and sure enough there was Jesse. He laid unconscious and propped up in the hospital bed. There was an oxygen mask on his face, giving him a steady flow of air as he breathed in and out. He was hooked up to IV’s the little bags full of painkillers and other helpful substances.

Patches of Jesse’s skin were still stained red, from where the blood had settled longest. But for the most part he was cleaned up fairly well. His chest and stomach where the enderman had lacerated him were covered in pristine white bandages.

Aiden’s breath hitched, “Your doctors were able to fix him?” he gaped.

“No,” Isa said, “Our doctors cleaned up the blood.” she explained tensely.

“Cleaned up the….” Lukas looked at her in confusion, “But his wounds-”

“He,” Isa walked over to the bed, “Did that himself.” she peeled back the bandages.

Underneath the cloth where there should have been ragged stitched up skin were nothing but large angry scars running across Jesse’s body.

What?” Lukas asked slowly.

“You wondered what PAMA did to him?” Isa said, gently running her fingers through Jesse’s hair, “Well now you know. Jesse’s body healed at an accelerated rate, faster than any known person alive. We had him on the operating table and the injuries were healing themselves right before our very eyes.”

“Christ,” Aiden stared, “He was experimented on.”

Lukas moved closer to the bed, leaning in. Despite the severity of the wounds, Jesse’s obvious scars were very clearly healing, inch by inch, smaller and smaller. Gradually returning to the perfect flawless skin he had the day Lukas met him, “Oh my God.”

“That’s not all of it,” Isa said, placing the bandages back, “We tested his blood. There is no radiation.”

“What?” Aiden asked. “None? But the enderman-”

“None,” Isa confirmed. “Every contaminant that is in his body has been cleared out. If his body considers it bad, it heals it. All the radiated air he’s been breathing the past few months, his body has literally filtered out. There isn’t a spot of radiation on him. Even drugs, it accepts the healing benefits of painkillers and other medicines, but it flushes them out ten times faster than the average human body. We had to give him a higher dosage, he kept waking up on the operating table.”

“How could PAMA have done this?” Aiden questioned, “This is physically impossible.”

“We don’t know,” the female said, “Perhaps they had access to technology that has long been lost to us. I’m sure PAMA even suffered technological fallbacks when the world ended.

“This all makes sense now,” Lukas said softly, staring at Jesse completely stunned. “This is how he managed to stay alive frozen all these centuries. This is why he woke up so quickly after we pulled the needles out of him. PAMA turned him into this superhuman with this amazing healing ability. That’s what has protected him from everything so far.”

“You’d think Jesse would recall something this!” Aiden said irritated and tense.

“Maybe he wouldn’t!’ Lukas argued, “Some people have memory blanks after experiencing extreme levels of pain or trauma. To get his body to do this, to be like this, PAMA would have had to experiment on him constantly. His brain may have had to shut those memories out to cope with the stress.”

“He shoved you out of the way of an enderman and let himself get gutted,” the brunet stressed, “He had to know he was going to be okay.”

“How could he? He knew nothing when we woke him up remember?” Lukas looked back to Jesse, “This has to be why PAMA is after him. They need him for whatever reason, because his body can heal.”

“So you realize what this means?” Aiden said, “They’re not gonna stop till they get him!”

“Just think about this for a second,” Lukas turned to face Aiden, “Jesse’s body can cure itself of - as far as we know- nearly everything! He’s immune to radiation! It has no effect on him, he is the only person in the planet who cannot get sick from radiation or any of its diseases. PAMA wants him and the traits he has for a reason!”

“Who cares what reason!” Aiden stressed.

“He’s a cure Aiden!” Lukas blurted out, voice levels raising slightly. “I bet if Jesse’s blood was studied and modified properly, it could cure radiation sickness!”

Aiden and Isa both went stone silent, glancing at the recovering male.

“If PAMA controls that cure, they’ll control everyone!” Lukas pressed, “We cannot, let them get their hands on Jesse.”

“Are you nuts?” Aiden hissed, his voice tight and even. “We just found out that Jesse is a genuine experiment of PAMA and you still want to help him?!”

Lukas gritted his teeth and clenched his hands. “We can’t let PAMA get him! Imagine what they will do to him-”

“Imagine what they’ll do to us Lukas!” Aiden snapped, “Imagine what they’ll do to the people we care about just to get to him! If he really is the cure for humanity, and they want to control that, they will stop at nothing- and I mean nothing, to get him back!”

“But imagine if we got the cure first!” Lukas said, “We protect Jesse, and we can help people! Imagine a place where no one had to worry about radiation sickness anymore. We could help people, people like your mom Aiden!”

The room fell quiet, save for the noise of oxygen being pumped. The statement made the other male stiffen, and Lukas immediately regretted bringing it up, “I’m sorry I-”

“He is wanted, by PAMA.” Aiden said livid, “And you are willing to risk everything?

“It’s not a risk if we work together on this.” Lukas begged, “Aiden we can do this.”

Aiden opened his mouth when Jesse suddenly let out a whimper. Everyone looked to the sleeping male. His eyebrows were scrunched together, fists clenching the sheets.

“No…..noooo-”

“He’s waking up!” Isa said alarmed. “He has drugs levels in him that would kill a normal person, he can’t possibly filter that-”

“NO!” Jesse’s eyes shot open, tears springing forth and he thrashed against the sheets. “Where-Let me go!”

“Jesse! Jesse!” Lukas dropped onto the bed, quickly pulling off the oxygen mask.

Isa hurried to the door, “We need doctors in here! Right now!”

“No don’t!” Lukas looked to the female, “That will only make it worse!” Lukas turned back to Jesse who was still in a state of panic, his heart readings causing the machine to go haywire.

“Jesse! Jesse you’re safe!” he cupped the brunet’s face, trying to ignore how ice cold Jesse’s skin was to the touch. “It’s me Lukas!”

Jesse paused, breathing heavily and grabbing tightly to Lukas’s hands, “L-lukas?”

“Yes, it’s me.” Lukas soothed. “You’re in the hospital at Ground Town. You’re safe now.”

Jesse’s gaze was distant and unfocused. “I- I-,” Jesse began, but his face contorted and he moaned as he rolled towards the edge of the bed.

Sensing what was about to happen. Aiden quickly grabbed the nearby trash bin and passed it to Lukas. Lukas barely got in underneath Jesse just as the male heaved a substantial amount of watered down blood.

“T-the end-enderman-” Jesse tried to say between heaves.

“It’s dead Jesse, so are the raiders,” Lukas said, holding Jesse’s torso up and steady to keep him from falling out of bed.

“N-no-” Jesse moaned, gagging as more blood spewed from his mouth into the bucket.

Lukas gently rubbed his back, trying to sooth him. “Shh don’t talk, just focus on breathing okay? You’re going to be okay.”

Jesse weakly shook his head. “That’s n-not-” He sobbed as tears ran down his face, dripping into the bucket as he continued to heave.

Lukas paused, his worry seeping back in, “Jesse what are you talking about?”

Jesse shakily pushed the trash bin away in silence, curling in on himself. Aiden took hold of it, shoving it into the arms of a doctor who finally arrived. “Take that and be useful,” he stated grimly, staring solemnly at Jesse.

“Jesse I need you to talk to me,” Lukas stressed as the smaller male leaned into him, crying bitterly into his shoulder, “I need you to tell me what you mean.”

“The enderman,” Jesse wept, “I remember what it did to me”

Lukas paused, then holding his shaking friend closer he soothingly rubbed his back, “Jesse, you’re okay now. It’s -”

“No, I was dying,” he whimpered in discomfort, “My body, I- I can feel what it’s doing. I- I should be dead, but I-...It hurts Lukas….” Jesse clutched his stomach, letting out a pained whine which soon dissolved into sobs

“Lukas...Lukas what did PAMA do to me?” he cried, his sobs wracking his frail body.

Lukas found himself for once at a loss of words, unsure of what to say that could help Jesse.

“I-I’ll,” Isa cleared her throat, “Boosters seems to help his healing a little, even if his body does filter it out, I…” She stepped out of the room, “I’ll go find him some.”

Lukas looked to Aiden, who was still standing silent and tense in the corner. He could feel the mixture of emotions radiating off him. He could especially sense his tension on discovering these new traits of Jesse’s. “Aiden-”

“I’m going to find the others,” he cut Lukas off, voice tight. Aiden headed for the door, “They’re going to want to know he is alright,” he paused at the exit, only looking back slightly, “We have a lot to talk about.” then Aiden departed.

Lukas sighed, adjusting the blankets over Jesse’s shaking shoulders and pulling him closer, “We’re going to figure this out Jesse,” he whispered, “We’re going to figure this out I promise.”

Jesse continued to weep, leaning closer into him, “What did they do to me?” he mumbled over and over, tears running in little rivers down his cheeks, “What did they do to me?”


Markus was a dead man.

At least from his standing it felt like it.

She clicked her nails angrily on her desk, the sharp manicured tips clacking loudly on the metal piece of furniture.

Markus swallowed, adjusting his position. His feet were going numb, namely for his nervousness. But he dared not take one of the chairs before her. She hadn’t offered, and Markus knew that she wasn’t squeamish about getting rid of people for such a pathetic mark against her.

“You lost them.” she said. It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. She read the report.

“There are m-many outposts beyond Founder’s Town M-ma’am.” he stammered. “My men and I are looking as well as we-”

“They got into a military vehicle and drove off with it!” she roared, slamming the yellow folder hard against the desk, “You might as well given them the fucking keys!”

He flinched, “I- I know ma’am but-”

“I told you to bring him to me Markus!” she sneered.

“I know ma’am.” he answered.

Her temper cooled, “Do you....do you really?” She got up, walking casually around the desk and sitting against it. “Because I don’t think you do Markus.”

“Oh I do ma’am. I do.”

“No I really think you don’t.” she argued, voice as cold as ice. “Perhaps a few hours outside the facility-”

Markus’s heart raced, “Ma’am not all my agents have reported in y-yet. I still might find the group-”

“And how lucky do you think you are Markus?” she asked. “There are thousands of differents paths they could have taken out of the city, dozens of outposts they could have traveled to. It’s been weeks Markus. For all we know , they could have walked right over the Divide on past Beacon Town.”

“We-we concluded the group the boy is with are h-hired hands ma’am.” Markus said stiffly, “Which means they might not have even taken the caravan trails. They could have gone off path.”

“Which means you lost them.”

Markus shook his head “Not exactly. I have agents at multiple outposts. They are reporting anything unusual, and so far-”

“You have nothing.” She turned away, “Honestly Markus this was you one and only chance. I told you to get the boy and you couldn’t even do that. Honestly your of better use to the wretched creatures out in the woods than you are to me as a janitor.”

Markus didn’t get to answer as a young secretary came in, quickly handing him a envelope and retreating. She was frightened of his boss as well, but unlike him could flee her wraith.

She sat back down, nails once more clicking in rhythm on the steel desk, “The last report I assume.” she hummed. “You better pray to whatever non existent deity you believe in Markus. That envelope decides your fate.”

He shakily opened the piece of paper, quickly reading the contents. He took a loud exhale.

Markus wasn’t a dead man...yet.

“ Well?” she demanded, impatient.

Markus extended the paper to her, trying to not smile in relief, “It looks like our agent in Ground Town has reported an unusual incident that might be of your interest ma’am.”

She looked over the report, eyes barely shifting as she scanned the little black print, “Well,” she set the paper down, lips lifting ever so slightly, “Isn’t it nice that Ground Town is so close then?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Get your men.” She ordered. “And bring me subject RB-32J. Now.

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Mentions Objects of Sexual Nature

Alcohol Consumption 

-


 

“Jesse?” Lukas walked into one of the guest bedrooms, looking about, “Jesse I need to-”

Jesse was seated on the giant arm chair in the the corner of the guest bedroom, buried in a massive sweater hoodie that Isa had bought for him to relax in. Even though Jesse did wear the clothes that were his size, he seemed more at ease in the large hoodie. It worked as a place to tuck away and hide from something.

Or to keep something hidden, as this case turned out to be.

Lukas entered the room and Jesse’s hands jerked up into the long sleeves, a blood stained butter knife hitting the floor.

Lukas sighed, “Jesse…”

Jesse looked away shamefully, tears pooling in his eyes, “I know I’m sorry, I - I was hoping-” he stifled a sob as he tried to duck deeper into the hood of the large article of clothing, as if hoping to be devoured by the fabric.

He kneeled down, picking up the knife and setting it on the nearby dresser. Lukas knew exactly what Jesse was hoping for. Jesse had been hoping for it all week, ever since he got out of the hospital….

Jesse was hoping he wouldn’t heal.

Jesse never went to great extremes to test his newfound ability, but he still tried. He somehow got it in his head that if he hurt himself enough, if he just kept at it…..

Everything would eventually stop.

Much to Lukas’s dismay, Jesse had developed this disgusted illusion of himself, that he wasn’t Jesse, at least not the Jesse he was meant to be. PAMA had changed him

In Jesse’s eyes, he was now a freak of nature, and Lukas intended to fix that.

The team also helped the best they could. Maya, Gill and Petra were very surprised to receive the latest development on Jesse, but on the same coin they were not. Everyone knew how bad PAMA could be, and since Jesse was once a captive of PAMA, the fact something had been done to him came with little shock factor.

But they still tried however, someone was almost always with Jesse. They treated him no different from before, talked, tried to ease the tension, and all of them did their best.

Well...almost all of them.

Whatever slight progress Aiden had made opening up to Jesse had quickly retreated upon this revelation. The male was never alone with Jesse, rarely in the same room for that matter. He spent most of his time either in his room, or out on the walls, looking for the organization he was so sure was coming.

Lukas didn’t attempt to ease Aiden back in, he figured some of Aiden’s earlier statements were true enough. Aiden could take care of himself, Jesse could not, so Lukas focused his attention on Jesse- even though it did bother him to turn his back on a long time friend.

He hoped Aiden would warm back up eventually and come back into the folds, but he need to focus on Jesse more right now.

Lukas took Jesse’s hands and rolled back the large sweater sleeves, careful not to allow the fabric to touch the fresh blood. Jesse didn’t protest once at all.

Lukas looked at the rapidly receding marks on Jesse’s skin, and when he looked up at Jesse, he could see Jesse’s guilty gaze upon the self made wounds.

“Jesse, we talked about this.” Lukas said with a sad sigh.

“I know I just-” Jesse sniffed, “I was really hoping that this time I- that they….” Jesse tucked his hands back in. He pulled the sweater over his tucked legs and proceeded to wrap his arms around his knees. “I just want to be normal.” Jesse mumbled softly

Lukas frowned. “Jesse just because you can heal faster than any human or creature alive, doesn’t mean you’re not normal,”

The brunet gave him a look from under the hood, “I’m a freak,” he hissed, tears stuck to the corners of his eyes as he glared daggers at Lukas. “I overheard Milo and Reginald whispering in the hallway. They were talking about the guards who saw what the enderman did to me. They know I should be dead . The doctors know I should be dead . This whole town knows you’re hiding a monster in here.”

Lukas kneeled down a little farther so he could look under the larger patch of fabric over Jesse’s head, “Jesse,” he whispered soothingly, “We’re not hiding you in here, you just won’t come out and no one wants to force you.”

“Because I’m a freak!”

“You are not a freak,” Lukas pressed, he gently pushed Jesse’s hood back, placing his much warmer hand on Jesse’s cold cheek, “Jesse. You can heal from anything so far, everyone else would probably think that’s a nifty trick to have.”

Jesse flinched at the warm touch and pushed Lukas’s hand away “It’s not.” He muttered “It’s painful. It hurts getting wounded, it hurts feeling your bones snap back into place, and it really hurts having your skin and muscles grow back.” He curled tighter into his ball and pulled his hood back up, “On top of it all, I’m also cold when it’s healing. This isn’t a blessing, I’m a freak who’s been cursed.”

Lukas let his hand go lower, placing it on Jesse’s covered forearm, “I don’t think you’re a freak.”

Jesse remained silent.

“This is the only Jesse I know, so as far as I’m concerned this is normal to me,”

Green eyes shifted in his direction, “Painful healing powers is normal to you?” he mumbled.

“Jesse….if you really feel like a freak, this is the world to be one in.” Lukas whispered, looking away, melancholy in his thoughts. “Everyone here is affected by radiation one way or another. Some people are blind, there are people with boils on their skin or they looked withered away. There are two headed animals, carnivorous monsters who used to be something else. I mean…..Everyone here is a freak in their own way.”

“You look perfectly normal,” Jesse mumbled

Lukas rolled up his sleeve, revealing the dark lines that were his veins, “That’s not normal to you is it? That’s how bad everyone’s blood is, and the older we get the worse it will be. It’s a cancer we all carry. Jesse, if I lived in your time, I’d be the freak. But out here, out here in the world we live now, you’re just another odd ball like the rest of us. Which makes you pretty normal.”

Jesse slowly reached out, tracing some of the vein lines he could see on Lukas’s exposed wrist.

He allowed Jesse’s gentle inspection,“You’re not a freak,” Lukas said, “You’re just Jesse.”

The male sighed, and slowly peeked up.

Lukas gave him a little smile, giving Jesse’s hand a squeeze.

“.....Thank you,” Jesse whispered, he pulled his hand back in, “I’m sorry that I’m such trouble.”

“You’re not.” Lukas urged.

There was a moment of silence, the two males left pondering in their thoughts.

Jesse rubbed his eyes, “Were you coming to tell me something?”

“Oh, oh, um, I- what was I…..” Lukas trailed off, he flushed, “Oh um, right. So there is this place, and I was hoping if you wanted to get out that maybe….” He stood, “It’s kinda stupid. I just thought maybe you wanted a change of scenery since you’ve been cooped up in here. There won’t be any people, just the gang but….Yeah.”

Jesse grabbed Lukas’s hand, “N-no- um….” he paused as Lukas glanced down at their joined hands, quickly letting go and blushing profusely, “What...what do you have in mind?” he asked quietly.


 

“Watch your step, the stairs are a little steep.”

Jesse yelped as he proceed to trip on a said step, Lukas catching him before he could fall farther.

“Are you alright?” the blonde asked.

“Y-yeah,” Jesse stammered out, “Still a little stiff I guess.”

“Well, you haven’t been out in awhile.” Lukas said as he finished helping Jesse back upright.

“So where are we going?”

“To this private place,” Lukas smiled, “I know that man who owns this building, he lets me come here when I want to.” He paused at a old door, long enough to open the creaky object.

Inside was a large dim room, full of dusty boxes and display cases. Gill, Maya and Petra were already in there rummaging through boxes and chatting amongst themselves.

Petra looked up, eyes lighting up, and she waved, “Hey Jesse! Glad you could make it!”

Jesse looked around after he waved back, “What is this place?”

“Some of the richer folk like to collect pre-war memorabilia-” Lukas began to explain.

“Lukas is a nerd who is obsessed with stuff from the before the bombs fell. He’s read books, asked historians and found everything he could,” Maya cut in. “A lot of our knowledge has been lost since the world ended, and no one really knows what anything is anymore. Some collectors gather up materials from your time and keep them in a collection. Lukas made acquaintance with Ground Town’s local eccentric and was hoping you would be willing to talk about the stuff in here since you would know better than anybody.”

Jesse blinked once, then twice, glancing over to Lukas who was blushing horribly and rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment.

“Y-yeah,” he mumbled out.

Jesse smiled, finding his blushing cute.

Lukas cleared his throat awkwardly “I- I mean only if you want- I know it makes you happy and…...” he trailed off.

Jesse timidly nodded, hooking his arm around Lukas’s elbow. “What do you want to know?” he asked softly.

Lukas’s eyes lit up and Jesse could tell he was struggling to contain his excitement. He guided Jesse over to where the others shuffled through. The outside of the box was labeled Potential Weapons.

“So obviously keeping record for history books wasn’t a priority after the bombs dropped.” Lukas explained, “A lot of books were burned to keep warm in the winter. A few important things were held onto, namely things we use today. But a lot of things we know very little about. You probably know way better than anybody.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Jesse said with a smile.

Maya pulled out an item first, “We have bets going on how many things in this box are actually lethal,” she said with a smile, dropping the item into Jesse’s hand.

Jesse inspected the small round object.

“Weapon or not?” Petra asked with a grin.

“It’s a wheel,” Jesse answered, passing it over to her, “Judging by how small it was it might have belonged to a rollerblade, skateboard, or a scooter.”

She inspected the object, “And what are those exactly?”

“Um,” he thought on in, “Modes of transportation? They were really popular with kids. You could use them to get around faster, but you had to be on a mostly smooth surface.”

“Ah,”

“How about this one?” Lukas said pulling out yet another round object, “Gill thinks you swing it at people.”

“Well considering Petra swung it at me earlier,” Gill defended, “I think that’s a good enough weapon as it gets.”

Jesse choked on a laugh as Lukas dropped it into his open palm. His cheeks turned red and he snorted to contain the giggles.

Lukas gave him a quirky smile, eyebrows angling slightly in confusion, “What?”

He continue to struggle on laughter, “Lukas, this- this is a yo-yo . It’s-” he burst into laughter.

Jesse’s laughter amplified as the group all looked at him in a mixture of curiosity and confusion.

“A what?”

Jesse hooked the string around his finger, wiping away his tears of laughter, “It’s a toy.” he grinned. He flung the object out, watching as their eyebrows shoot up as he flicked his wrist and pulled it back. “See?’

Lukas took hold of it as Jesse passed it to him, “How did-”

“It’s kinda hard for some people, while others are really good, they can do all sorts of tricks with it. I only know how to make it go up and down though.” He watched as Lukas attempted to recreate his trick, and his lips wiggled.

Lukas handed it back, “Could you?”

Jesse once again, flicked the yo-yo down and back up again multiple times. Their reactions were the same as before, curious and in minor awe.

Lukas’s eyes were sparkling. “That’s so cool Jesse.”

He smiled timidly, running his thumb along the worn wooden toy, “Yeah…”

“What about this?” Gill asked, yanking out an object.

Jesse felt his cheeks explode in an embarrassing heat as he eyed the phallic mimicking object, “Um- I- Uh- That’s junk- I mean-”

“Uh, Gill maybe a different one...” Lukas suggested, sensing Jesse discomfort.

“Alright if you say so,” he shrugged and hurled it over his shoulder where the silicone object hit Maya between the shoulders as she had moved on to another box.

“Ow!” she whipped around, “Gill what the hell was that?!”

“Nothing!”

She looked at Jesse, “He’s screwing with me. Jesse what was that?”

He had his hands over his mouth, still scarlet, “N-nothing,” He squeaked out.

“Jesse-”

“Woah guys look at this!”

Everyone looked up at Petra jumped.down from a stack of crates, a new handful of objects in her arms. She shoved the first doodad to Jesse, who quickly dropped his hands from his mouth in attempt to catch. “What’s this?”

Fidget Spinner ,” He quickly answered.

“What’s it for?”

“Appealing to the mindless masses.”

“Oh…..Then how about this?”

Jesse inspected the new target, lips quirking into a smile. “ Magic Eight Ball .”

That got everyone interested. “Magic?” Maya asked.

Jesse shook it, listening to the liquid slosh around, “Yeah, it’s supposed to answer a question and possibly tell the future.” he smiled cheekily, “Kids loved them.”

“What kind of questions?” Lukas inquired.

“Simple things. Like, ‘Am I cute?’ or ‘Will I win the big game tonight?’ or -”

“Is Lukas gonna hook up with Jesse?” Gill asked bluntly, earning him a kick from Maya, “Ow!”

Jesse stopped shaking the ball, namely because he was slightly stunned by the question. Everyone looked down at the scratched up window as the eight ball produced its answer.

In the near future….

Jesse blushed horribly.

Lukas was red in the cheeks as well, all the way up to his ears, “You said it was for kids? R-ight?” he stammered.

“Yep!” Jesse forced out quickly shoving the ball into the nearest box, “Silly superstition.”

“Cool beans,” Lukas mumbled.

“What about this one?” Petra smiled, trying to change the subject for him.

Jesse yelped slightly as she dropped the furry object in his hands, then started laughing, “Oh my God!” he giggled out between his laughter.

“What? What is it?!”

Jesse wiped a stray tear aside, “It’s a furby .” he chuckled

“A what now?”

“A furby,” Jesse repeated, “They were this little animatronics that you could play with or just keep. They would talk gibberish, make noises, blink, wiggle, that sort of thing. Except they kinda freaked a lot of people out so most people never even turned them on. One kid I went to school with had one, and his would randomly turn on in the middle of the night and start squeaking and speaking. It really freaked everyone out.” his lips wiggled. “Everyone was too afraid to spend the night at his place because they were afraid it would go off. They said the furbys were activated by loud noises or motions sensors, so their was the running joke that they could see ghosts. That and they reminded everybody of gremlins."

“What’s a gremlin?” Lukas asked.

Jesse fiddled with the control panel on the bottom of the furby. He snorted, “Now that, was the interesting movie. It was about these little furry creatures called-”

The furby’s eyes flicked up and it squeaked at Jesse.

Startled, Jesse screamed and dropped the robotic toy on the ground, “It still works!!”

Everyone leaned in with a mixture of shock and disturb as the creature wiggled and gargled on the floor. Time and wear had warped the voice box and the furby now sounded faintly demonic, which was unsettling.
“Those were toys?” Gill gaped, pointing at the furby

“Yeah….”

“Oh fuck no!”

“Lukas are you up here?”

Everyone turned around just as the warehouse door opened and Aiden peeked his head in, “Lukas I-” he paused at the sight of seeing everyone in the room. “What are you guys doing?” he asked, eyes glancing briefly over at Jesse.

“Jesse is showing us what some of this stuff is,” Lukas gestured, then he paused, “Would you care to join us?”

Aiden frowned immediately, “I’ll just talk to you later I-”

“Oh come on man, some of this stuff is super cool!” Petra grinned, “I mean, Jesse is a living history book. We can learn things here that no one else in the wastelands is ever going to know! What kinds of kickass bragging right is that!”

Aiden hesitated, then jerked in surprise as the furby went off. He had his pistol drawn and aimed in a heartbeat, already pointed at the creepy toy. This earned a giggles from the others, save for Jesse who dare not laugh in front or at Aiden.

“It’s a robot toy,” Jesse explained quietly.

The other brunet eyed the toy then slowly looked at Jesse, “Who the hell makes a toy, like that?”

Jesse shrugged. “I honestly don’t know.”

He let out a scoff and clicked the safety of his weapon back on, shoving it irritably into its holster. He walked a little closer to the group, leaning against a set of crates.

Jesse turned around and picked up the furby, hitting the off switch as so not to have it go off again.

“Gill, what the hell are you doing?” Maya suddenly piped up.

Jesse looked up to see Gill carefully inspecting what at first looked like an automatic rifle in the large male’s hands. He popped the clip off of the weapon, looking into the compartment.

“I’m trying to figure out how the hell they got bullets into such a tiny hole, and why the hell this thing is made out of plastic.”

“Plastic?” Lukas asked, skeptical.

“Dude, I’m serious.” Gill repeated, “This thing is made out of plastic.”

“If that’s the case then it’s probably an air-soft of a paintball gun,” Jesse piped up.

Maya leaned back on one of the crates, “And what were those used for?” she asked with a grin.

Jesse moved over to Gill, taking the fake gun into his hands, “Well we had play fights with them. If it was a paintball fight, there were little balls about the size of marbles, and when they hit you they would explode the paint they had inside. Air-soft was little plastic balls as well but they were much smaller.” He looked at the clip, “I think this is air-soft. But anyway, people would hold competitions and battles all the time.”

“And no one died?” Petra asked.

“Not that I know of,” he answered, “They were just for fun.”

“‘I’m sorry, but who shoots at each other for ‘fun’?” Aiden piped up, a pinch of disapproval carrying through the statement.

Lukas glanced over frowning, “Well, things were different back then.”

Aiden returned Lukas’s frown with a shrug of indifference, leaving the air slightly tense.

“Hey Jesse,”  Petra tugged him over to a stack of crates. “Why don’t you pick something out to tell us about, so we don’t bombard you with everything.

Jesse followed her over to the first nearest box, looking inside at the dusty and rusted contents in the wooden crate. “Oh!” his eyes lit up and he pulled out the large source of his delight, “I haven’t seen one of these in- well...a long time!”

Petra threw her arms over his shoulders inspecting the object that was clearly foreign to her, “What is it?” she asked, raising an eyebrow

Jesse grinned running his hands along the steel blades at the bottom of the wooden boards. “It’s a old fashioned sleigh,” he said fondly. “My dad used to own of these, we would play on it all winter.”

“What does it do?” Lukas asked, coming to join them.

“If we have any hills nearby and if the owner is okay with it, I can show you.” Jesse smiled


 

“WOAH!”

Jesse and Lukas let out a cry as they flew fast into the snowbank, disappearing into a flurry of snowy white.

Lukas came out laughing, cheeks rosy from the cold and eyes sparkling in delight. His face was numb from the brisk winter air, but the crispy cold could not contain nor kill his laughter.

Jesse came out a few seconds later, sneezing icy snow. He giggled as he sneezed again, cheeks red and flush. Lukas smiled to himself as he spotted a return of the beautiful spark in Jesse’s eyes

There it is.

Lukas was aware it took Jesse a bit to warm up to this little venture to the warehouse, but being able to do something from his childhood really helped Jesse.

Lukas could tell just by looking that in this moment Jesse wasn’t focused on the raiders, or the enderman, or PAMA. Jesse was instead focused on the cold, the snow, and probably going another round on the sleigh.

Not that Lukas minded, this old world tradition was insanely fun.

“You alright?” he asked, pushing snowy dark locks out of Jesse’s face.

Jesse nodded still giggling, “That was fun!”

“We hit the snowbank kind of hard-”

“That was the fun part!”

Up the hill by the hospital, Petra hollered down from the top. “Hurry up guys! I wanna drag Aiden down on it!”

Aiden said something to Petra, Lukas didn’t quite hear, but is sound something along the lines of ‘Oh Hell no.’.

Lukas chuckled and got up. He reached down and pulled Jesse up as well, “We better head up so Petra can have her turn.”

Jesse took hold of the sleigh, “I’m glad it still works and held up all these years,’” he said.

“I wish I knew about these as a kid,” Lukas grinned as they began their trek up the hill. “Beacon town has a lot of good sledding hills, it would have been really fun.” he glanced back at Jesse, “Maybe we can do it again when we get there.”

“Yeah…”

Lukas tilted his head, “Jesse are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Jesse looked up at him, it was then Lukas noticed the brunet was rubbing his wrists, “I just….Thank you.”

He stopped walking for a moment, “What do you mean?”

“Thank you for just treating me as me, I guess?” Jesse explained, “I don’t know how to explain it, but, ”  he turned pink slightly, looking up at Lukas with that rare glint in his eye. “I know I haven’t been easy to deal with but this really helped me today.”

“I know it’s been rough. Believe me, if I could change what happened with the raiders, the enderman, even Pama-” Lukas began.

“But this helped,” Jesse pressed, “I’m grateful that you’re here, really I am.”

“We’ll make this work Jesse,” Lukas assured, “If you like we can go down to the warehouse again sometime and you can tell me about your world some more, or we can go sledding again.”

Jesse smiled, “I’d like that.”

They got to the top of the hill, and Petra hurried up, “About time,” she laughed, cheeks red from the cold and the delight.  She raised an eyebrow, “Are you guys alright?”

“Yeah,” Lukas smiled, patting Jesse’s shoulder, “We’re good.”

Her eyes glinted slightly, as he passed her the sleigh, “Good to hear,” she twisted on her heel with a grin, “You going down Aiden? Or are you too chicken!” she called.

“Who the hell are you calling a chicken!” He gaped, ego clearly wounded.

Lukas snorted and turned to Jesse, “I’m glad you came out today.”

Jesse smiled, “I am too….” he looked at his hands, “I want every day to be like this. I’m not going to let this new…. trait, control me.”

A yelp drew their attention down the hill, Petra had successfully coaxed/teased Aiden onto the sled, but the pair were now on a hide speed slide towards Isa, who had just exited her home.

Isa gasped in surprise as the pair managed to steer around, but wiped out as a result. The sleigh toppled over and Aiden and Petra rolled into the snowbank, immediately buried in the drift.

Petra came up laughing and Aiden came up looked slightly dizzy.

Isa pried herself off the building wall, looking at the drift then up towards the hill, her eyes wide, “What is good heaven’s name are you doing?!” she gasped.

Everyone burst into laughter, and Gill called down, “Hey Isa wanna go for a sleigh ride?” he called.

“A what?”

“It’s a bad idea,” Aiden groaned, picking snow out of his ears.

Everyone burst into another wave of laughter, even Jesse let out a joyous laugh.

Lukas grinned, giving Jesse a squeeze of a hand, “We’ll make this work,” he assured, “I promise.”


 

The weeks that followed continued much the same, Lukas and the gang took Jesse to the warehouse as often as he liked. Jesse would spend hours with whoever was with him - usually Lukas- talking about things from his time. He’d talk about items that Lukas was curious about, or he talk about a memory that was sparked when he saw something special.

Jesse suffered dark nightmares still, but less so that before. The knife no longer appeared, and the stained sleeves ceased to be.

It was slow, but he was recovering, having come to accept his new state of being a little more.

Winter had begun its slow crawl across the wastes, slowly blanketing everything in heavy snow, or a least more that usual anyway.

One particular evening, when it was late and darkness had long since fallen, Jesse was on a slow slightly sleepy trek back from the warehouse. He had asked Lukas to take him there earlier that morning and they had discovered a deck of cards right out the gate. The whole day had been spent with Jesse teaching Lukas every card game he could probably remember, from Go-Fish to Poker.

They were on their way back to Isa’s home that when a large bonfire in front of the dedication plaque caught Jesse’s attention. It startled him at first, he thought someone had lit the dirigible on fire. But Lukas did not seem bothered by the display so he assumed everything was okay.

“What’s going on?” Jesse asked, spying the large groups of people chatting and laughing around the fire.

“They city is celebrating another year,” the blonde explained.

“It can’t be New Year’s Eve already?”

“No,” Lukas laughed, “It’s not, everyone in town is just celebrating another year they survived, and celebrating in remembrance of those they have lost.

Jesse glanced over his shoulder, easily spotting the other glows of fires throughout the city.

He and Lukas stopped at the large roaring fire, Gill and Maya were already there, laughing and talking over a hot drink. Gill spotted them first, he waved, “Hey you two!” he called, gesturing for them to come over.

He grabbed two hot steaming mugs from one of the nearby tables, and passed it to them, “Where have you two been? Down at the collector’s place again?” he asked.

“Something like that,” Lukas smiled, taking his mug, “Jesse was showing me some new card games.”

“Oh I love cards!” Maya smiled, “Those make caravan trips so much faster. You’ll have to teach me Jesse!”

“Sure!” Jesse grinned, taking a sip of his drink. He coughed as the warm strong liquid hit his throat, “What kinda cocoa is this?!” he wheezed.

“Honestly I think someone spiked it,” Gill said with a shrug, “But little alcohol never hurt anyone.”

“Oh God, my dad would kill me,” Jesse laughed, still coughing, “No heavy drinking before you turn twenty-one.” he said, mimicking his father’s voice

“Your dad made you wait?!” Gill asked.

“No it was the law,” Jesse explained, “You had to twenty-one in this country to drink liquor. Some countries let you drink at eighteen though.”

Gill looked horrified, “Well screw that, liquor is the only reason half of us are still sane around here.”

“That’s debatable,” Lukas teased, he gave Jesse a worried glance, “I can go find you a different drink if you want.”

“No, no it’s fine,” Jesse took another -smaller- drink, slowing swallowing the strong chocolate drink which burned its way down his throat, “Is this whiskey?” he asked.

Gill took a long swig of his own drink, gargling the liquid for a second, much to Maya’s displeasure, then, “Yep!”

“Hmmm,” Jesse took another sip, still keeping it small. “Whiskey and chocolate make for an interesting combo.”

“By the way Jesse, Reg, Milo and I kind of have this bet going that your body can filter out alcohol as fast as it can drugs,” Gill said.

Jesse sputtered into his mug.

Maya kicked her boyfriend, “Gill!” she snapped, “Don’t bring that up.”

“It’s okay!” Jesse coughed/laughed. He wiped away the chocolate that had splattered all over his nose, “Only one way to find out,and if I end up wasted I’d rather be around people I trust than people I don’t.”

Maya gave him a soft smile and hugged him, kissing him on the cheek, “I’ll make sure Gill won’t waste you,” she whispered in his ear.

“Good to know,” he whispered back as he returned the hug.

There was the happy sound of a fiddle cutting through the air, followed by a fabulous array of other instruments and people cheering in delight.

“Looks like they got the musicians playing finally.” Lukas smiled.

Jesse watched as people began to dance to the merry tune. They spun around the bonfire, stepping in time with the jig.

Gill set down his mug and with a graceful flourish of his hand extended it out to Maya, “Would you care to dance?”

“Thought you never asked,” she teased.

Lukas let out a low whistle as the pair joined the crowds in the growing dance, “They might have had one too many drinks already,” he chuckled.

“Do they not dance?” Jesse asked as he and Lukas moved to find a set at one of the many tables that had been set up for the evening.

“Not too often,” the blonde admitted, “They tend of avoid it.”

“Do you dance?” Jesse asked

“I have two left feet,” Lukas admitted.

Jesse laughed, “Well that makes both of us.”

Petra, Aiden, Isa, Milo and Reginald were already at a table, so that is where Jesse and Lukas settled down.

“How do you like the whiskey,” Petra grinned, noting Jesse’s mug.

“Did you spike it?” Lukas asked as they sat down.

“Do I look like the kinda woman who would share her whiskey?” the ginger grinned. “Noooo~ I’m a greedy little girl.” she laughed. “I have no idea who spiked it, but all that matters is someone is down a bottle of Daniel’s and I’m buzzed.

Lukas snorted taking a swig of his mug.

“Where are Gill and Maya?” Aiden asked, as he scooted over so the two males could be comfortably seated. There was a slight looseness in his shoulders,  Aiden had just enough in his system to take away his usual tense demeanor that for awhile there seemed to be permanently in place.

“Out dancing,” Jesse answered.

“Ah,” Aiden took a drink, “You mean out drunk.”

“I guess they have to be to dance, according to Lukas, who was saying he can’t dance either,” Jesse smiled.

“Anyone can dance when they drink enough,” Aiden glanced at Isa, “Least that’s what a certain person I know keeps saying.”

The woman laughed, giving Aiden a wink, “I’ll get you out there yet.”

“You out drank me when I was a kid Isa, it’s not that easy now,”

“If I fail, then Petra will just have to get you out there,” Isa elbowed the ginger, “No one says no to her!”

“Damn straight!” the ginger declared. “Even if I have to fucking waste Reg, Milo and use a rope, we’ll get you out there Aiden!

Everyone at the table laughed as Aiden choked on his drink, “You don’t even dance!” he shot back.

“Anyone dances when they drink enough,” she teased, winking at him.

He actually laughed, reaching across the table in a weak attempt to shove her backward.

“Hey! I said I’m buzzed not drunk! I ain’t going down that easy.”

Jesse giggled and leaned closer to Lukas whispering, “Is Petra always like this when she drinks?”

“I haven’t actually seen her drink that much,” Lukas smiled, “But from my experience it’s just a more aggressive form of what she already is. Which as you know is pretty aggressive.”

The music shifted and Milo’s eyes lit up, “Oh! Isa we can do this one!” he stated in delight.

The female nodded in agreement, “This was at our wedding Milo,” she smiled.

He got up, pulling her from the bench, “We haven’t failed to dance it yet, we’re not stopping now!”

Reginald drained his drink and stood after they left, “Well, I’ll take my leave.”

“Where are you going?” Jesse asked.

“To walk the wall,” the guard captain answered, “Make sure all the men swap their posts. I’ll be back in awhile.” He frowned to himself, “Assuming I’m not chewing ass again.”

“Still getting on the sleeper?” Aiden observed.

“Damn straight I am, and Greg wasn’t the only one doing it!” Reginald turned his back to the fire, “You kids have fun!” he said as he waved and departed.

“See ya Reg!” Petra yelled out, before giving a yelp as Maya pulled her off the bench,

“Come on tough girl dance with me!” the brown haired female pressed.

“Aw come on Maya my drink!” Petra whined, referring to the slightly spilled liquid

“Gill will have more, come on just one song!”

The slightly reluctant female let out a huff, setting her drink down “Fine, one dance.”

“Go get em tiger.” Aiden said dryly.

Petra pointed a finger at him as she and Maya headed towards the crowds, “ Watch it , I’m coming for you next Bucko.” she warned.

Aiden responded to her threat with a little wave, wiggling his fingers mockingly.

Gill slid into the bench, setting down a bunch of drinks, “Buzzed yet?” he asked Jesse.

Jesse looked at his empty mug, then slowly taking the new one Gill handed him, “A little,” he admitted.

“We’ll build you up,” he laughed, “Get a good resistance, and with your healing factor-”

“You better not being trying to waste him.” Lukas warned.

“I’m not!” the large male laughed, “I’m just trying to get someone to compete with Mr. I-Can-Hold-My-Liquor-Better-Than-You over here.”

Aiden grinned cheekily into his mug.

Gill leaned across the table in a poor attempt to whisper to Jesse, “I almost beat him one time, but the asshole didn’t even have a hangover in the morning. I’m thinking if we can filter it out of you and take it slow , you can own his smug ass.”

“Gill,” Aiden pointed, “Sure he might be able to beat me in the long run, but if we were to put a keg of beer in front of each of us right now, Jesse would be the one wasted in the snow, healing factor or no.”

“Aw, we’ll get him there,” Gill teased, “You watch, next spring, he’ll own you.”

Aiden shrugged, then much to Jesse’s surprise, “Guess we’ll see next spring,” he said.

“Ha! Hear that little leprechaun?! We drink!” Gill cackled, slapping Jesse’s shoulder.

“We’re not going to to waste him!” Lukas argued, clearly not liking the sound of this idea

“Lukas you’re such a lightweight, I bet you’ll be long gone before Jesse is even drunk.”

Jesse took a sip of his drink, tuning out the pair as they continued to bicker. His thoughts were focused on what the other brunet had said.

Next spring….

Had Aiden accepted him into the group? Or did he mean that Jesse might not be part of said group come spring.

Before he could come to his conclusion however, Isa returned to the group, tugging on Aiden’s arm, “Up!” she ordered.

“Oh come on Isa, you know I don’t-” Aiden began.

“You do and you’re starting with me, now up!” Isa grinned. “Before I die! We’re celebrating being here remember? I might be gone come spring, get on your feet and dance.”

The statement seemed to work and Aiden dragged himself from his seat, Isa looping her arm through his. Aiden flipped Gill and Lukas off when Isa wasn't looking as they chuckled at him,

“You’re next Lukas~” he threatened.

“Highly unlikely,” Lukas smiled.

Isa looked over her shoulder and Aiden quickly dropped his finger, her eyes sparkled, “I wouldn’t be so sure about that Lukas,” she smiled.

“What is that supposed to mean?” the blonde asked.

Isa didn’t answer, instead she winked at Jesse and continued on with Aiden to the bonfire ring.

“Quick someone find whiskey, let’s amp up Aiden’s drink while he’s not looking.” Gill cackled.

“Low move,” Milo chuckled as he slid into the table, but he slipped out a flask, “But you didn’t get this from me.” he grinned, earning a whoop from Gill.

Jesse snorted and looked to the bonfire. The music had gone slow in tempo, relaxing and soothing. Even with all the noise and chatter the atmosphere was calm peaceful. He watched as Aiden and Isa rocked back and forth, gossiping in their dance. Isa seemed highly humored, Aiden feigned boredom, but there was smirk tugging on the corner of his mouth.

“The dancing looks fun,” Jesse admitted.

“You should go out there,” Petra was back, a little breathless from her dance with Maya. She took a drink, “I bet you’re good at it.”

“Noooo!” Jesse laughed, “I have two left feet.”

“Oh then Lukas should take you out,” Maya teased, “He’ll make you look good.”

“Oh screw off!” Lukas blushed. He looked out to the bonfire, “It can’t be that hard, it’s a slow dance!”

“Then do it,” Maya said, “If it’s so easy.”

“With who?”

“Jesse of course,” she answered, “He just said it looked like fun,”

Lukas glanced at Jesse, “Only if he wants to,” he said, “I’m not going to force him to do anything.”

Jesse took a drink, struggling to hide a intense wave of blush that attacked him for reasons unknown, “I mean….I kinda….yeah?” he squeaked out.

“Alright then,” Lukas got up, extending his hand, “Jesse would you like to dance?” he asked.

“S-sure.” Jesse mumbled out, taking Lukas’s hand and trying to ignore the heat on his cheeks. This heat intensified with Petra whistling as they walked closer to the bonfire.

“Okay what do I do?” Jesse asked.

“Do you want me to lead?”

“Yeah..T-that sounds fine,”

Lukas took one of Jesse’s hands and guided it up to Lukas’s shoulder, “You hold this here,” he began, he took hold of Jesse’s other hand then placed his own free hand on Jesse’s hip, “Then we just kinda rock back and forth.”

Jesse glanced down at Lukas’s hand, “Kay.” he squeaked.

“Do I need to move my hand?” the blonde asked.

“No! It’s fine!” Jesse blushed, “My shoulder is too small for your hand anyway.”

Lukas laughed, “You’re not that small Jesse. It’s not like you’re a china doll,” he grinned, “If you need to stop we’ll stop.”

“No, no, I got this.”

“Alrighty then…”

Jesse glanced around, “Have you been to a lot of these?” he asked, in attempt to fill the awkward silence between them since the music wasn’t quite cutting it.

“One time other than this. It was quite a while ago though, I came here to get Aiden.”

“Oh?

“Yeah, I was starting a team.” Lukas explained. “Or get together a group anyway. It’s easier to establish your name out in the wastes when you’re effective. You have to be really good to run by yourself…...Anyway I already had Gill and Maya with me at the time, but I thought it couldn't hurt to have one more member of the group. Petra was already out on her own by this point, no one knew where she was. But I was looking for Aiden first anyway. We would exchange letters growing up after he moved to Ground Town. So I knew he had been training under Isa. I showed up just before the town’s yearly harvest celebration.” he looked off, “That’s the last time I danced.”

“Who did you dance with?” Jesse teased.

“Oh some pretty little blonde who didn’t speak the same language as me,” the other answered simply.

“....Oh.” Jesse said, looking off.

“Trust me, it didn’t go anywhere, she somehow got it in her head that I must have been taken. She kept say, ‘Matrimonium’ and pointing to my ring finger.”

Jesse glanced at Lukas’s gloved hands, “She thought you were married,” he explained.

“How do you know that?”

“Well I did take a little Latin in school. But the ring finger was a give away.” Jesse looked up at Lukas, “Did you have a ring?”

“My Dad’s wedding ring is on that finger if that is what you are asking.”

“So you weren’t married.”

Lukas shook his head, “No, I have both my parents rings after they passed away from a radiation epidemic. I wear my dad’s on my finger, and,” he paused to briefly let go of Jesse, lifting a small chain with a delicate golden band on the necklace, “I keep my mom’s on this.”

“Well….” Jesse smiled, “Maybe it will find a finger for you someday.”

“Maybe…” Lukas shrugged.

The music shifted to a high beat tempo and suddenly the slow dance ended, everyone on the floor rapidly began spinning around the bonfire.

Lukas laughed and dodged a couple, “Should we get off?” he asked Jesse.

“Are the other’s watching?”

“Well yeah but-”

“Can’t show the girls you’re a quitter now can we?” Jesse laughed.

Lukas grinned cheekily, “Alrighty then!” he took a tighter hold of Jesse’s hand and they began a rapid spin around the bonfire.

Jesse laughed, the warm fire air flowing through his hair as they twisted and spun about, feeling the happiness radiating off of everyone and warming him to his soul.

This was fun, this was-

A sharp high whistle cut through the air and someone yelled, “SWITCH!”

Jesse yelped as he was pulled from Lukas, “What’s going on?!”

“Partner swap!” Lukas hastily explained, laughing as he was spun away by a older woman, “Don’t worry I’ll find you!”

Jesse laughed and nodded trustingly, accepting the lead of his new dance partner.

Over and over the whistle rang out and over and over Jesse switched. He aimed for the little children, they were the most fun to dance with. Every step was a delight to them as they celebrated with the purest of joy.

The next whistle caught Jesse in a spin and Jesse crashed into his next dance partner, “Sorry!” he laughed, “I’m not the best dancer I- Aiden!”

Aiden turned scarlet, just a bit in the cheeks, “Still out here?” he asked.

“Y-yeah I um-” Jesse felt his face go horribly red and he cast his eyes away, “I- I-”

They were still moving and dancing, but it was awkward and stiff. Jesse was struggling on stepping almost as much as he was struggling to form a coherent sentence. “Look, um Aiden I-”

The music ended then, and Aiden let go of his already loose grip of Jesse’s hands, taking a step back. “You’re not bad,” he mumbled stiffly, turning on his heel.

“Wait!” Jesse called out. “Aiden!”

But Aiden was already weaving through the cheering crowd, on a quick depart from the party.

“I….” Jesse sighed

He felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked over to see Isa next to him, “Don’t feel bad honey.” she soothed.

“I just want…”

“I know, but it’s not your fault don’t forget that.” she smiled, “I’ll go talk to him, you go have fun.” Isa said as she passed by.

“Okay.” Jesse sighed, but his mood had already dropped.

Lukas hurried up, out of breath a wheezing a little, “There you are.” He tilted his head at Jesse’s body language “Everything alright?”

“Yeah.” Jesse rubbed his arms, “Just…..cold.”

Lukas threw an arm over his shoulder, “After all that dancing?” he guided him out of the dance ring, “We’ll find the others and go inside to get warm, how does that sound? We’ll continue the party there.”

Jesse looked down the way where Aiden departed, sighing inwardly, “Sounds good….”


 

Aiden kicked his bedroom door shut behind him, dropping his heavy coat onto the floor.

“God dammit,” he let out a heavy sigh, moving towards his desk.

He paused as he approached the piece of furniture, eyeing the chair slightly pulled out. There was a snake curled up in the chair, still and unmoving.

“Hey Bites,” Aiden mumbled, scooping up the viper.

The reptile jerked slightly in surprise, all four of its mutated eyes inspecting  Aiden over. It flicked out it’s tongue -with a double fork- at it him in irritation, not pleased to be awakened from its nap.

“Where have you been hiding?” Aiden asked softly, lifting the three foot snake up, “I’ve been home for weeks and you haven’t even visited once.”

The snake flicked out its tongue again.

“You’ve probably been eating all the rats that are hiding in the vents now that winter is here haven’t you?”

Bites’s tongue shot out again, licking Aiden’s palm.

“You want me to put you down don’t you?” Aiden stated more than asked.

Bites gave him a cold stare, similar to the one Aiden himself had probably given Jesse not five minutes ago.

“Fine.” he released the snake onto the carpeted floor, watching as it slithered away and disappeared into the nearby ventilation shaft.

Aiden called after as the tail vanished, “Yeah, nice to see you to,” he sat down on the bed, “You damn reptile…”  he mumbled.

He sat on his bed alone and in silence, suffering from this unfamiliar sensation - no... feeling, coursing through him.

He was still struggling with the latest development about Jesse. The healing factor wasn’t really a shocker anymore, considering it was PAMA’s work. But that was the thing, it was PAMA. This wasn’t some lie, some hoax or sick joke. Jesse really was tangled up with them. Every day Aiden walked the city walls looking and…….

And Jesse was still being Jesse. He was staying quiet, and kind, and was slowly worming his way into everyone’s hearts, and this just made everything hard and-

Aiden growled at nothing nor no one in particular.

God Dammit!

His bedroom door opened and Isa peeked her head in, eye lighting up when she spotted him, “There you are,” she said. Her voice sounding like a mother speaking to a small child she finally found. She entered the room, closing the door behind her, “Are you alright? You left in a rush.”

“I’m fine.” Aiden answered shortly.

“Got cold?” she asked, and Aiden knew she caught his tone.

“Yep.”

Isa placed herself at the head of the bed, resting her back against the wall. “Would you like to talk about it?”

“Not really,” Aiden said.

She clicked her tongue, nodding her head, “I see.”

They sat there in silence.

“But you’re not leaving,” Aiden finally said.

“I may not be your mother, but I put at least forty-five percent into raising you.” she replied softly, “I have a small right to worry for you, don’t I?”

You did a lot more than that forty-five. Aiden thought, then aloud he said, “Whatever makes you feel better.”

Isa sighed, “Aiden sweetie, are you alright?”

“I’m perfectly fine.” Aiden stated.

“No, you aren’t. Back there, when we were dancing and you dipped me and nearly threw out my back, you were fine.” Isa said, “But now you’re back to being….. scared.”

Aiden glanced her way, “What makes you think I’m scared?” he asked tensely.

“Are you afraid of Jesse?” she asked, never one to beat around the bush when it came to questions like that.

Aiden fell into silence.

His silence spoke volumes to her and she nodded,“Hmm, so you’re not afraid of him then. But you treat him like radioactive material.” She pushed snow damp hair out of her face. “He’s done nothing against you, and I know you, you don’t….” Isa leaned in a little, “Aiden you have nothing against Jesse, I know he’s not the reason you’re pushing him away so hard. But you are afraid of something. This was never a problem with Jesse.”

He looked away from her, throat thick, feeling tight and constricted like a cable was wrapped around his neck and pulled tight.

“I’d wish you’d tell me, I worry when something bothers you.”

Aiden stood up, running a hand through his hair with a sigh and rubbing his temple, struggling to fight down a growing headache.

“Aiden…..what’s wrong?” Isa asked.

He looked back at her, seeing the genuine worry radiating off her. All she was doing was caring, worried, scared...for him.

Maybe it was time that she knew….

“You’re right,” He started, “It was never-”

There was the sound of shattering glass and a loud crash down the hall, Aiden looked sharply to his bedroom door just as there was a blood curling horrified scream.

GILL!!!!”

“That was Maya!” Aiden gasped, looking back at a wide eyed Isa, “Something’s happened! We-”

Those were the last words Aiden got out when there was a loud deafening boom. He saw a wall blast open, and his bedroom ceiling then came crashing down upon him and Isa and-

Everything went dark.

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Extreme Levels of Cursing, Violence, Death, 

Blood, Minor Gore, Emotional Trauma,

-


 

 

The snow crunched under everyone’s boots as they trekked up the hill.

The waterworks still chugged away in the night, steam rising from the building. But most of the workers were out celebrating and the last of the staff was beginning to head out.

Jesse nodded as some of the employees waved to him and the others. Their eyes sparkled and their smiles were bright, eager to join the fun.

Jesse unfortunately, had the fun sucked out of him.

He was sure Aiden hadn’t meant to blow him off. Or maybe he had. Okay, Jesse wasn’t really sure.

But he had been so close. He wanted so badly to get a connection, to get something. He had been so close to opening his mouth to getting that need- to try and connect with the one member of the team he had yet to have really any connection to. But he lost it.

“Jesse are you sure you’re okay?” Lukas asked, clearly able to sense his mood drop.

“I fine,” Jesse lied, “Just tired.”

“Just tired?”

“Yeah, I’m not used to this much activity.” he assured. Last thing he needed was to tell Lukas what happened. He wasn’t blind to the strain in Aiden’s and Lukas’s relationship. Jesse didn’t want to make it worse.

Lukas seemed to accept his excuse, “Ah, that makes sense.”

“You guys danced pretty well,” Maya called out from the front of the pack, Gill’s large arm cast over her shoulder. “For two left feet.” she jested.

“You’re just jealous cause Jesse and I danced better than you and Gill!” Lukas shot back laughing.

“Oh damn you really are drunk,” Gill scoffed, “Nobody beats my baby girl and I.”

“Please,” Petra teased as she pulled open the door to Isa’s home, “Everyone knows I am the best dance partner.”

“In your dreams girl!” Gill laughed.

“Watch me! Jesse who was best?” Petra asked as they entered the building.

Jesse shed his coat and hung it on the nearby rack, “All I know is that it wasn’t me.” he answered softly forcing a smile on his lips.

The group laughed, “Good answer as any I suppose,” Maya chuckled.

“If Isa was her she would tell you otherwise,” Milo smiled, flicking on the lights as they came upstairs.

Jesse glanced at the stairs across the open floor, knowing Isa was probably upstairs right now….

Everyone settled into the kitchen, around the table winding down but still in high spirits.

“Oh, here you go Milo,” Gill said, handing Milo’s flask back the older male.

He tilted it upside down, “You emptied it.” he observed.

“Whole bottle into Aiden’s drink,” Gill snorted. “Jerk walked right by and drained it without even blinking. Hopefully he’ll feel it in the morning.” he mumbled.

“Where is Aiden anyway?” Petra piped up looking around.

Milo glanced towards the stairs to the third floor, and Jesse realized with shame that Milo probably knew- perhaps even saw- what had happened at the bonfire. “He and Isa are having a private moment.” he said getting up and going to the cabinet.

Lukas raised an eyebrow, “Wait, did something happen?”

“Oh everything is fine I’m sure,” Milo grabbed a bunch of small glasses and set them down in front of everyone.

That seemed to symbolize something because everyone nodded in understanding. Maya clicked her tongue, “Oh! I didn’t even hear the music stop!”

Confused Jesse tilted his head, noticing that in that moment he couldn’t hear the waves of music carrying through the night.

“Damn how could we forget?” Gill said, “Shoot and we’re out of liquor!”

“Who’s fault is that?” Milo laughed as he poured water into the small glasses.

“Forget what? What are we doing?” Jesse asked.

Lukas handed him one of the small glasses, “Remembering,” he smiled softly, even though the smile was a little sad.

“Milo you want to go first?” Petra asked after everyone had a glass.

The mustached man nodded, “Sure,” He lifted his glass, “To another year!” he declared, “To the harvests we’ve gathered, the trades we have made and the trials we overcame. To those who made it, and those we remember…..” Milo took a deep breath, “To my sister, whom I will always adore, and to my parents….” he gestured for someone to go next.

“To my Pa,” Gill joined, “And to Gramps, both who made those ghouls work for it.”

“To my Mom, Dad, and my cousins,” Petra said softly, “I miss you guys everyday.”

“To my Dad and Mom,” Maya sighed, “And to the little brother I never got to grow up with. To my Aunt and Uncle, who took the reigns and raised me.”

Lukas fiddle the glass between his fingers, his other ringed hand twisted his mother’s ring. The golden bands glinting in the firelight from outside. He took a deep breath, then“To my own Mom and Dad,” he said softly. “Miss you guys…”

Jesse swallowed thickly as Lukas glanced his way, “Do I?”

“If you’d like.”

Jesse took a shaky breath and lifted his glass slightly, “T-to my Mom and Dad…..To-” He choked slightly, “To Olivia and Axel my best friends. And to the world, I-I took for granted.”

Milo gave him a sad soft smile, raising his glass high he looked at the others. “We remember those we treasure dearly and have lost. We give thanks to the life we still live. May our new year keep us together, and may we look to our future with a bright hope. To tomorrow.” he toasted.

“To tomorrow,” everyone echoed, taking a drink.

After a moment of silence, Gill let out a loose chuckle, swirling the remaining water in his glass around, “Can’t say I ever toasted my old man with water before.”

“I knew he died protecting a caravan,” Petra leaned in. “But I never got the details.”

“Yeah, Dad and Grandpa were in a escort job,” Gill said, weaving his story like he had done it a thousand times before. “Caravan ran into a pack of feral ghouls. My Pa and Gramps held them off while everyone fled, bought them time. They went down fighting, took out nearly fifty ghouls between them. The rest of the escort and the entire caravan made it though.” Gill got up, grabbing his glass and Maya’s as he went to get more water.

“Damn,” Petra complimented.

“Damn indeed. Like I said, ” Gill grinned as he walked around Jesse towards the kitchen, “They made those ghouls work for it-”

There was the sound of cracking glass, and Jesse looked sharply past Gill to see a series of spiderweb cracks spread out across the kitchen window. There was a single hole in the upper half of the window.

Gill let out a sharp intake of breath, dropping both the glasses. They shattered as he went down, blood already oozing from his ribs.

Maya screamed in horror, “ GILL!!!!” She shoved off the chair, knocking it back as she scrambled towards him.

Petra and Lukas were up on their feet in an instant, “What happened?!” Petra gasped.

Jesse pointed to the window, “Lukas the window!”

Milo looked sharply towards the window, he yanked the curtain closed, “That window faces the mountain wall there is no way-”

There was a loud bang, and Jesse screamed as the entire building shook and windows vibrated and shattered. The deafening boom came again and Jesse fell to the floor, Lukas falling on top of him and covering him as dust and drywall fell from the ceiling.

“We’re under attack!”

“Get out of the building,get out of the building now!” Lukas cried pulling Jesse up.

“Gill! GILL GET UP!” Maya cried.

Gill was making weak wheezing noises, his eyes had rolled back and blood was oozing out of his mouth.

“Gill! GILL!”

Lukas and Petra helped her heft him up, stumbling as the building was hit with another loud bang.

Jesse fell against the wall as he lost his footing. The lights flickered and the air was quickly filling with smoke. It smelled thick and heavy, and reminded Jesse of the burnt smell of fireworks.

Rockets, whoever it was had to be hitting the building with rockets!

“Go go!” Milo grabbed his arm, pulling him towards the downward stairs.

Jesse looked back, “Wait! Gill-”

Lukas waved him on, “Jesse we got him just go!”

They raced down the stairs, stumbling and tripping. Jesse and Milo fell the last few steps, crashing hard on the floor.

The remainder of the group wasn’t far behind, their fall briefly bringing Gill back to reality.

The large male groaned as he hit the floor, “ Fuck-” he hissed, “Who s-shot-” he groaned body shuddering in pain.

“Hang on!” Maya begged, tears streaking her dirty face, “We’re gonna get you to the hospital just hang on for me!”

“What if they attack the hospital?!” Jesse gasped out as he grabbed Gill’s coat and helped Maya put it over him.

Milo shoved open the door, “The hospital has the bunkers inside the mountains, so unless the bastards brought a drill I-”

Everyone cried out as a rocket hit the ground not too far from them as the exited the building, the heat wave sending them crashing onto the snowy ground.

Jesse looked up through snow caked hair to the dark mountains at the back of the city, seeing the flashes of the launchers, and hearing the pop of the rifles. A woman ran by him, her skirt was on fire, and Jesse stared, petrified with horror as a sniper took the female out, a clean shot through the head.

“Who would do this?!” Petra gasped out, as she helped Lukas heft Gill back up.

Jesse looked numbly down the hill towards the rest of the town. The bonfires were still burning, but so were many parts of the city. He didn’t have a solid answer to Petra’s question, but then again, some sinking feeling inside him already knew.

PAMA.

The city was burning, people were dying, and Jesse knew, he knew, this was all his fault.


 

Aiden awoke with a start, he recalled exactly what happened, he knew who he was with-

“ISA!”

He went to sit up, groaning at an intense pressure in his lower back. He glanced over his shoulder, seeing the roof debris that had fallen on him. One of the bars had sliced his side, his shirt was ripped and the skin was irritated and red.

With a heavy grunt and a push Aiden shoved himself up, the rubble rolling off him and falling into the other piles. “I-Isa?” he called out, flinching at the building shuddered and shook from another rocket impact.

He blinked as a warm sticky substance invaded his eye and his vision turned red and blurry, “S-shit.” he rubbed the blood away, running his sleeve against the cut on his eyebrow, “Isa where are you?!” he called out again.

His room was a disaster, or what remained of it anyway, most of the roof and back wall had caved in. Aiden now had a crystal clear view of the outside and the dark mountains of the Divide. The heat from the building was rapidly receding, the snow and cold working its quick invasion with the cave in.

Bites slithered over his hand, making a rapid retreat towards his bedroom door, unable to handle the dropping temperatures.

“Isa!” Aiden yelled, his fear and growing desperation cutting through his pain and delirium like a knife. “Isa answer me-”

A hand.

Aiden stared in horror at the bloody arm limply hanging out from under all the debris piled from the lost back wall. It was over the bed- his bed! Isa had been on his bed!

“No,no,no,no,no!” Aiden scrambled up grabbing at concrete and rebar and hurling it as far away from the mess as he could, “ISA! Answer me! Isa!” he shoved a large chunk away, “ ISA!”

Isa groaned weakly on his bed. Trapped under a giant cross beam, the cushioning on the mattress had prevented her body from being completely crushed underneath the weight of the building. But she was hurt, bad. The side of her head was covered in blackening blood, her dark black hair streaked with the sticky substance. Her other hand was wrapped weakly around her abdomen where a rebar was shoved deep into her by the weight of the support beam on top of her.

Tears of fear threatened to escape from Aiden’s eyes, but he forced them back down as he struggled to wake her. “Isa! Isa come on!” he begged.

But the female remained unmoving and silent.

He placed two fingers on her throat feeling the faint pulse throb against his fingertips, “No-” he shakily pulled his hand away trying to not pay attention to the blood that followed, “ Fuck!”

Shoving both arms under the beam he yanked, the metal groaning slightly but not moving. “God dammit! Someone help me!” he yelled. He knew it was of no use however, there were thousands of voices beginning to scream in the night, no one was going to hear him. He adjusted his hold on the cross beam, shoving his shoulder under it. Come on Aiden you got this! He took a deep breath and pushed.

The beam shifted, and the rubble at the head of the bed groaned.

Come on! Come on!

Another rocket hit the building and more debris fell from the roof, Aiden grunted as more was added to the pile, and he felt himself sinking slightly. No!

He pushed, arms shaking, slowly sliding his body under the support so the beam was on his back. The pressure was immense, hundreds of pounds of metal and concrete trying to shove back. But Aiden kept pushing, slowly inching his way under.

Underneath him Isa let out a weak moan, shifting.

Aiden finally got his back under the beam, supporting it with his shoulders he let his arms drop. Ignoring the intense pressure now weighing down on him, he took hold of Isa and cradled her into his arms. “I gotcha, hang on.”

The building groaned. Aiden holding Isa close, shoved off the beam and stumbled towards the door. The pile collapsed behind him crushing the bed frame as it gave out under the weight.

He immediately kneeled down laying Isa on the floor. “I’m here, I’m here,” he choked out. He reached shakily down and took hold of the rebar embedded in Isa. “Just-” he cringed.

Isa gasped in pain as Aiden pulled the bar out. Her eyes shot open briefly before rolling back.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” he rapidly whispered out. He tore out a shirt from the nearby dresser, tearing it to strips and packing it against Isa’s bleeding wound. “Don’t die, please-”    he couldn’t even finish his sentence as he shakily wrapped his coat around her.

Don’t die!

He scooped Isa back up and hurried out of the bedroom, pausing only long enough to grab his sniper and the ammo hollister.

He ran down the stairs, spotting the blood on the kitchen floor and prayed to God that none of his friends were dead. He knew uninjured was too good to be true, but Aiden remembered Maya’s blood chilling cry just before he had been knocked out.

Please let Gill be alive, please.

He headed out down the hall towards the doors, easily able to tell that the town was in no better shape than his late bedroom. There were buildings burning from rocket damage, and alcohol hindered citizens being shot down by snipers in the streets.

He saw his friends the moment he exited the doors. The freezing temperatures raising the hair on his arms and sending a wave of goosebumps along his skin.

“Just stay tight while I go get the guns!” Lukas was ordering, “I’m going to go back for Isa and-” he turned around, “Aiden!” he gasped in surprise.

Milo whipped around, “ISA!” he cried, rushing over.

“What happened?” Lukas asked running up, “Are you alright.”

“My bedroom wall caved in when the first rocket hit,” Aiden said, “I’m okay, but Isa had a rebar go through her, we have to get her to the hospital right now.”

“Gill was shot,” Lukas hastily explained, “We’ve been trying but we can’t make a clear run the hospital. The snipers take out anyone heading in that direction.”

Aiden peeked around the corner of the building, looking at the pitch black treeline hundreds of feet above at the top of the cliffs. He occasionally spotted the flash of rockets, but if he looked hard enough….

“Lukas go back inside and get your rifle.”

“What are we doing?”

“I’m going to shoot the bastards, but I need you armed too.”

Lukas glanced towards the cliffs, then slowly nodded, “Alright, since you seem to have a plan.” he turned and ran back into the building.

Aiden turned around, gently passing Isa over to Milo, “You’re going to be okay,” he whispered to her, then louder he said, “Milo, wait till I draw their fire and give you a clearing. Then you, Jesse and the girls get Isa and Gill to the hospital.”

“What do you want us to do after that?” Petra asked.

“Join the fight if you can.” Aiden answered, loading the clip, “Now get ready.”

“It’s pitch black up there!” Maya began, “How are you going to-”

But Aiden was already walking around the corner, already pulling back the cocking mechanism, I already know where they are. He stared down the scope and not wasting a single second fired the gun.

One man dead.

God only knows how many left.

Load, fire, load, fire!

“Guys go!”

The others didn’t need to be told twice. “We’ll come back!” Petra called as she and Maya and Jesse hauled Gill towards safety.

Jesse looked back for the only a split second, “Be careful!” he said, his voice barely hearable over the turmoil and the screaming.

It made Aiden pause, if only for the slightest of seconds, till the enemies were shooting back and his focus was forced once more down the barrel of the gun.

Lukas came up behind him, already armed and ready to fire, “Where-”

“Cliffs, they’re rappelling down the wall!” Aiden said swiftly.

Lukas fired, the bang of the rifle leaving the Aiden’s ears ringing. The blonde yelled at the civilians as he fired towards the cliffs, “Everyone get to the hospital! Get to the bunkers!”

Part of the initial shock had ceased, and certain citizens of Ground Town - who were armed and sober enough- began fighting back. They followed Aiden and Lukas’s cue or caught on to their own accord, firing rapidly up into the cliffs. The rockets and sniper shots were beginning to cease, so some had to be hitting their marks.

“No one’s ever attacked from the cliffs before,” Lukas grimly observed.

“No one should be stupid enough to try,” Aiden replied, looking through his scope and freeing a man’s brain from his skull as he fired the rifle, “There are traps in those woods.’

“Traps-”

“Boys!”

Aiden didn’t turn around, still firing up on the cliffs. But he did tune in as Reginald ran up to them.

“I’m glad you boys are alright. Wait- Where are the others?”

“Gill and Isa were hurt, they’re at the hospital.” Lukas hurriedly answered.

“Fuck!”

“What are you doing up here Reg?” Aiden asked between shots.

“I came to get help, the attackers broke through the farmlands wall.”

What?!”

They-” Reginald wheezed, “They’ve got cars.”

Aiden killed the last sniper and whipped around, “Cars?!”

“Armor trucks with snow wheels.” Reginald said as he began to run back down in the direction of the cities defenses.

“What kind of gang is coordinated enough to own armored vehicles?” Lukas gasped as he and Aiden followed after.

“Do you seriously still think this is a fucking gang?!” Aiden snarled.

Lukas frowned deeply, his silence speaking volumes.

“Lukas this-”

“Don’t-”

“This is PAMA,” Aiden hissed out. “And why the fuck do you think they’re here?”

Lukas didn’t respond.

“Lukas-”

“They’re here for us to send them to hell!” Lukas spat, slowing near the armory to accept a rocket launcher from a soldier distributing weapons.

“They hit the armory,” Reginald said, “The ammo we hand out is all we go until we salvage the rest. Use it wisely.”

Lukas nodded in understanding and the trio was running again, Aiden pausing just long enough to grab the anti-tank gun along his way. The scope had been smashed but it could still fire.

Reginald led them up to the nearest rampart by the city’s gate. Pointing out to the snowy abandoned farmlands, Aiden and Lukas could see the newcomers.

There were at least 7 heavy armored vehicles making their way over the blasted and demolished wooden barrier gate. The snowmobile style tires kept the vehicles from sinking in the snow as they inched closer to the city.

Some of the transports had turrets mounted on the top of them, while one or two had men with rockets. Aiden had no doubt that there were men safe inside the vehicles as well. The men were dressed in white and the vehicles painted like-wise. Out in the snow and the dim of night, even the sharpest of wall guards would have had difficulty spotting the attackers beyond the once secure barrier.

“They’re going to try to get close and break down the gate and try and shoot down the defense towers.”

Lukas set the his rocket along the walls edge, “They can try,” he stated icily.

Reginald pointed out into the growing winds and snow, “We have to stop those vehicles from getting into range, those turrets will rip us apart!” he yelled down the wall, “Men aim for the vehicles!” he barked.

The battlements roared to life as dozens of men and woman, with their limited ammo, fired upon the advancing intruders. The PAMA soldiers fired back, firing their own rockets at the wall. The turrets were let loose, though still well out of range and the accuracy week, the bullets flew. Hundreds of shots in a matter of seconds pelting the wall. People screamed in pain as some were wounded, others didn’t get a chance to make a sound as they were killed.

Aiden fired a shot at one of the turrets, hitting the gunman head on. But he spotted in dismay as another man took the dead one’s place, shoving the corpse off and into the snow before taking over the turret. The act reminded Aiden of tales some of the older ladies would spin on late nights; about a monster of legend that when you cut off its head a new one took its place, just as deadly as before.

Damn it!

Lukas yelped, dropping to the ground and a torrential wave of deadly bullets, onslaught the section of the wall he and Aiden were one. Aiden dropped down next to him, flinching as the ammunition smashed into their defenses.

“Did you manage to hit anyone?” Aiden asked, having to yell over the assault.

“No!” Lukas yelled back, “We don’t have enough rockets to break down the armor! There are no large windows either so we can’t get in that way!”

Aiden peeked over the wall, flinching as bullet shells flew past his face. He eyed the armors vehicles closer approaching, “Lukas the axles are exposed!”

“What?!”

“In the front of the vehicle, just under the bumper!” he tried to point and nearly got his arm shot off, “Fuck! Look between the tires!”

Lukas peeked over the side, “I see it!” he called.

“Reginald!” Aiden yelled.

Farther down the battlements the guard captain looked over alarmed, “What?!”

“Have you men aim under the vehicles! Aim between the wheels!”

“Are you sure?!”

“Yes!” Aiden jerked as a rocket smashed through the concrete, nearly taking both him and Lukas out in the debris, “FUCK!”

Reginald got the point thankfully, “Aim under the front!” he roared to his men, “Rocketers! Aim between the tires! Gunners shoot anyone on foot!”

The ramparts once more came to fiery life as the valued rockets flew down to the ground below. Aiden looked over the wall just as someone managed to take out the first oncoming truck.

The axles snapped upon the impact of the rocket fire and the tires stopped spinning. Another vehicle had the damage go to the engine; the truck flipped back on the explosion, landing upside down and crushing the unfortunate gunner on the top.

Aiden took his cue, rearming himself with his sniper rifle. The flipped truck opened its doors, soldiers scrambled out, armed and ready, but Aiden was ready first. He and the other snipers left no quarry as the they laid waste to their unwelcome guests.

“Take that you sons of bitches!” Lukas snarled more to himself that the attackers, as he fired his own weapon down upon them.

With the battle quickly taking the upper hand to their favor, the soldiers of PAMA began a hasty retreat. Their only vehicle slowly turning and making its way out of the farmlands as those on foot struggled to flee over the snow.

Aiden spotted a soldier unfortunate enough to step in a leftover enderman bait trap, he was struggling and screaming in agony. Some part of him thought it would be good to leave someone alive for interrogation, but then his thoughts wandered to Gill, to Isa.

Aiden fired the gun and the screaming stopped.

Lukas heaved out a sigh and lowed his rocket, looking over his shoulder back into the city, “Looks like we won.” he mumbled wearily.

Aiden looked over his shoulder as well, seeing that the fires were quickly being handled. But the damage was already done, and there were many dead.

Aiden took a shaky breath and looked away, watching as the armored truck vanished into the white gloom. “We lost a lot of people from this. A lot of good people.”

“I know,” the blonde sadly agreed, setting the heavy rocket down.

Reginald walked up, looking grimly out to the city. “They gave up pretty quick once we got our bearings. Showed those bastards really quick why they never mess with Ground Town, whoever they were.

“They’re gone and dead, that’s the important thing. It’s over…..Right?” Lukas asked.

Aiden stared at the white - now menacing- fog in the distance. He got up and made his way towards the stairs, growling, “No, it’s not .”


 

Jesse sat in the hallway floor of the hospital, arms wrapped around his knees. He had been there for awhile, trying to block out the sounds of grief stricken wailing and cries of pain carrying through the building.

He overheard the doctors saying the body count was up to forty-seven, and that was at risk of increasing; depending on how successful those struggling to live on the operating table were.

Hundreds of people had been hurt, and as the smoke and fire’s were settling, many were discovering they had lost someone.

He was in a quieter wing of the hospital but he could still hear the cries and he blamed himself for this disaster.

The doctor’s had already told the group Gill would be fine. Apparently it was a ‘poor sniper shot’. The bullet had gone through his ribs, clean shot and didn’t even damage a vital organ.

But Jesse recalled how Gill had passed by him, and he couldn’t help but feel, that sniper hadn’t been aiming at Gill.

It was PAMA he was so sure they were behind this, they were here for him, somehow they found him.

“...I just need to know is she going to be okay.”

Jesse readjusted his focus down the hall. Petra and Maya were waiting for Gill to wake up in his room, and Lukas had gone to get Jesse some water. So Jesse had settled out in the hallway to wait for the news on Isa. Milo and Aiden had been fretfully waiting for news for a few hours now.

“Milo she’ll be okay. The bar hit nothing vital, and her head damage is only a minor concussion.” the doctor explained as he, Milo and Aiden walked up the hall to Isa’s room.

“Are you sure?” Aiden stressed, “She-”

“She’s going to be sore for awhile, and the wound will probably scar. But I have no doubt that by the end of the week I’ll be fighting to keep Isa from discharging herself.”The doctor gave a weak wry smile, “You got her here in time, she’s going to be okay.”

Milo let out a shaky breath, “Oh thank God.”

“She’ll probably be awake within the hour.” the doctor said, “I gave the okay for you to be in her room. Now if you excuse me, I have a lot of people I need to see.”

“No of course,” Aiden stepped aside, “Thank you so much.”

Jesse watched as Milo let out another unstable breath after the doctor departed, “Christ I thought that was it for a moment,” he stammered, fighting back tears of relief, “I thought I was going to lose her.”

“I’m sorry Milo, I-” Aiden began.

“No! Don’t be sorry,” Milo urged, placing a hand on Aiden’s shoulder, “You got her out of there. I don’t know how you got her out of that debris, but you still saved her Aiden.”

Aiden looked down, “She shouldn’t- If she hadn’t been in my room to begin with….”

The older male lifted the younger’s head back up, “No one plans for a rocket to their bedroom.”

Aiden flinched.

“Why don’t you get some rest,” Milo whispered.

“But-”

“I promise, I’ll come wake you if she comes to. She’s going to be okay, rest easy now.”

Aiden looked nearly grief stricken as Milo slipped away into Isa’s room. His eyes filled with this intense, turmoiled emotion; his fists clenched tight.

Jesse felt his heart throb as he eyed the distressed state of the other male.

Finally Aiden turned around, his eyes flashing as he sighted Jesse. His expression hardened as he strode down the hall.

Jesse got up as Aiden passed him, “Aiden-”

Leave me alone Jesse,” He hissed.

He struggled to keep up to the male’s long strides, “Please just wait! I’m sorry this happened! I’m glad Isa is okay, but had I known-”

“Just shut up !”

Jesse cried out as Aiden suddenly snapped back around. Catching Jesse’s sweatshirt with his hands, he hefted Jesse easily up and slammed him into the wall. The bang was loud and echoed down the empty hallway.

“Okay?! Okay?! ” he raged, “That rebar almost severed her spinal cord. She nearly bled to death on the operating table!”

Terrified and white with fear, Jesse struggled to form words. “I-I-” his hands shook violently as he clung onto Aiden’s tense wrists, fighting tears.

“The reason she was hurt, the reason why Gill was shot- is because PAMA came here for you!” Aiden yelled with increasing ferocity, “They’ll kill everyone who gets in their way till they get what they want! If you weren’t here-”

“Aiden!”

Jesse jerked in surprise but Aiden didn’t put him down as Lukas stormed down the hall behind them.

“Put him down!” Lukas snarled.

“Lukas i-it’s okay-” Jesse began.

“No, it’s not!” the blonde spat, his venom aimed at Aiden, “Aiden’s been a dick long before this whole mess started. Jesse isn’t the reason this happened Aiden! Put. Him. Down. Now!”

Aiden’s teeth flashed as he ground them together, lip curling in anger. Even though he didn’t turn around, the larger male’s eyes shifted to the direction of Lukas’s voice.

“You’re right,” Aiden hissed, and Jesse felt his blood go cold at the amount of anger- of fury- dripping from his voice. “This isn’t his fault,” Aiden agreed letting Jesse go and drop to the floor

Then suddenly, Aiden spun around, fist already swinging, “It’s yours!” he yelled.

His fist made contact with Lukas’s jaw and the male let out a  cry as he was knocked back, sprawling to the floor.

Luka quickly recovered, sitting up. “Aiden, what the fuck?! ” he demanded, blood oozing off his split lip.

“Every fucking thing PAMA has done to us is because of you and your stupid decisions!” Aiden was nearly screaming.

The blonde jumped up, fists clenched, “How the hell are they stupid?!”

“You knew what PAMA was capable of! You knew! I even fucking warned you! But you - Mr. Dick for Brains- you just had to stick your nose in didn’t you!” he jabbed a finger into Lukas’s chest.

Lukas shoved his hand away furious, “He needed our help!”

“Stop fighting!” Jesse begged.

Neither male heard his pleas.

“We lost our set up in Founder’s Town! We’ve been running for our lives! It’s a miracle there isn’t a bounty on us! We are endangering every person who is helping us! PAMA nearly destroyed Ground Town! Because you won’t give them fucking Jesse!”

“He can save all of humanity from PAMA!” Lukas argued, “And you just want to hand him over to them?!”

“PAMA is going to kill everyone we care about to get to him!” Aiden went to shove, only for Lukas to grab his wrists leaving both males in a struggling deadlock. “I told you what would happen if they found out he was here!”

“Then why did you suggest we come here!”

“Because I took a chance!” Aiden snapped, “Instead of listening to my gut and letting us stick out the winter in that shithole of a outpost!”

Lukas shoved into him, “PAMA can’t take Ground Town!”

“People were killed Lukas! Gill was hurt! Isa was hurt! They’re not going to stop till they get Jesse!” Aiden raged shoving back. “You’d be singing a different tune if people you cared about were hurt!”

“Please Lukas it’s okay just-” Jesse stressed.

“What do you mean?! ‘If I cared’?!” Lukas yelled, “I care about Isa, and I care about Gill!”

“Clearly fucking not-”

“I’m not going to let this world spiral into a hell where everyone is out for oneself!”

“It’s already like that! Get with the program!” Aiden stated harshly, “You have to focus on the people you care about! You can’t just go helping every special little snowflake, because you can’t help everybody Lukas! You can’t fix the world! You help too many people and you stick your head in the wrong things; and people will get hurt, people will get killed !”

“So that’s how it is then? Eat or be eaten!”

“Yes! Hell, you help people you’re going to end up missing body parts!”

Lukas wrenched one of his hands free then, swinging back and punching Aiden -hard- into the male’s metal shoulder. The impact made a loud metallic sound as Lukas’s fist struck, “Is that how you lost your own fucking arm!” Lukas brutally yelled, “Or did you lose it out of your own fucking stupidity instead!?”

Aiden immediately let go of Lukas taking a shocked step back. “I-” he gripped his metal arm, taking another step back.

The hallway fell into silence, no one moved, no one spoke. Aiden and Lukas both stood there, breathing hard from their wrestle. Jesse remained stiff, his hand shaking over his mouth. Jesse looked slowly from the shocked expression in Aiden’s eyes over to Lukas, seeing the flashes of guilt in the azure blues.

Lukas was shaking from head to toe, every fiber of his being radiating with rage and other extreme emotions.  “I care about Jesse.” he stated, voice unsteady. “I don’t care what your fucking opinion on the world is.”

Aiden’s eyes widen, if only for a second. Then they narrowed and he gritted his teeth, “ Fine.” He spat out.

Lukas’s aggressive composure briefly cracked and a scared expression slipped through, “What-”

“I see what we are to you now,” Aiden whispered. He let his posture go slack, and suddenly Aiden looked very tired. He took another step away still holding his metal arm close to his body, “Well consider me done.” he glanced over at Lukas, “I don’t care what you do or where you go with Jesse. Count me out of the game, I’m through.”

“Aiden-” the blonde began with a flinch.

“I can see whatever friendship we had meant nothing to you anyway.” Aiden turned away.

“Where are you going?!” Lukas yelled out.

“Far away from you.”

Lukas’s fists clench and his posture went tense, “Fine! Go away then!” he snapped, turning sharply away.

Jesse looked both ways in panic as the males departed from each other, “W-w- Lukas-”

Lukas kept walking, his shoulders shaking.

Jesse looked desperately in Aiden’s direction, the male was making fast tracks towards the building’s exit stairs. Whimpering slightly Jesse ran after him. “Aiden wait!”

“Go away Jesse,” Aiden snarled, the sound weak and weary, “Go be with Lukas,” he spat.

Jesse struggled to catch up to the retreating male. He didn’t even stop to untie his coat from his waist as the agitated male exited the hospital, kicking the door open with a hard shove of his boot.

“Aiden!”

The other ignored him taking a hard right and yanking open a heavy metal door on a concrete slab that was built not far from the hospital. Jesse froze as Aiden vanished beyond the black gloom, looking worriedly back at the hospital behind him, “Aiden! Stop!”

“I said leave me alone!” Aiden snarled, making a fast pace up the steep tunnel. Jesse could barely see in the darkness, there was only a light ever ten feet or so, and keeping up with Aiden was difficult.

Aiden finally slowed long enough to unbolt a heavy metal door. Steeping beyond the safety of the tunnel into the howling winds, snow whipping in the gale. The dark forests of the mountain were beyond the door, dark and menacing as the snow flurried about.

A storm was coming.

Aiden!”

Aiden spun around again, but unlike before, he didn’t slam Jesse into anything, not even approach him, “What the fuck do you want?!” he demanded angrily.

“You can’t leave! You’ll freeze to death out here!” Jesse begged, trying to ignore the sub zero temperatures and the winds cutting through his thin sweatshirt, “Aiden please! Lukas needs you!”

“Oh does he now?!” Aiden spat, “I think Lukas made it very clear back there exactly what my help means to him!”

“He’s scared! Everyone is scared!” Jesse stressed, “You’re scared too! I know you guys didn’t mean what you said to each other! Just please, please come back!

“What’s the point Jesse-”

“Because it’s all my fault!” Jesse cried.

Aiden stiffened.

Jesse’s tears froze on his cheeks as the fierce wind whipped through his hair and body. “You’re right, this is my fault. If I wasn’t here none of this wouldn’t have happened to anyone. People wouldn’t be dead because of me! I didn’t want anyone to get hurt!” he cried. “I don’t want to get between you and Lukas. You’re friends and I can’t stand to ruin what you and Lukas have! I’ll leave if you want me to!”

Aiden turned around with a huff, “Jesse…” he sighed.

“I don’t want this to keep going!” Jesse blubbered out through tears, “I just want this to end for you guys! I don’t want people to get hurt, and I don’t want Lukas to lose you! He needs you. I….just want things to go back to normal…..”

He wrapped his arms around himself, trying to fight off the chill, “I’m sorry you hate me, I don’t know what I did to anger you. I don’t want you to hate me, but I’ll leave, because I don’t want you to lose Lukas more. I don’t want you to regret losing your friends.”

Aiden didn’t respond, the wind filling the silence between them. The gale almost sounded like a mournful cry, a sad song dancing through the trees.

Aiden sighed, looking over his shoulder, “Jesse I don’t-”

There was a foreign sound cutting through the wind, like the sound of cork shooting from a bottle. Aiden let out a sharp exhale and stiffened.

“Aiden?...” Jesse whispered.

Aiden slowly looked down, and shakily reached up to his side, pulling out a tranquilizer dart from his upper ribs. The two inch needle gleamed in the dark. Aiden stared at the needle and then looked over to Jesse, already wobbling slightly, “Jesse, run-”

Another dart flew out of the dark, this time sticking to the back of Aiden’s neck. Aiden immediately dropped, collapsing in the snow.

Aiden!” Jesse cried, rushing forward. He dropped down next to the still male, try to shake the unconscious male awake. “Aiden! Aiden!”

Behind him Jesse heard the rapid compression of snow as someone ran up behind him. A cloth covered hand clamped over Jesse’s mouth, another wrapping around his chest as he was wrenched away from Aiden.

Jesse let out a blood curdling scream the sound muffled by the fabric. He writhed and struggled in the grip of his attacker, noticing in horror as more white coat figures moved into the clearing.  Jesse managed to wrench his head free as one of them kneeled down next to Aiden.

“Get away from-mpph!” he cried out again as the cloth returned, this time noticing a sickly sweet smell that sent his senses spiralling into numbness.

His attacker lowered him down into the snow, keeping his hand firmly over Jesse’s nose and mouth. Jesse looked weakly up, eyeing the logo on the man’s coat just before darkness closed in.

P.A.M.A.


 

“Well,” Markus threw the hand explosive into the hands of a nearby worker, “That was easy.” he observed. “Much more convenient than infiltrating the hospital.”

“Yes sir.” the man agreed.

Markus walked over to the now unconscious male. He eyed the pale flawless boy, almost glowing in snow.

Finally got you.

Load him in the truck,” he ordered, gesturing at the nearby vehicle.

The soldier holding the target nodded, scooping the boy up and heading towards their armored transport..

Markus turned to one of his men, “Are you sure no one is going to notice us leaving?”

“Yes sir,” the man answered, “Our agent assured us that the guards are busy keeping an eye on the outer wall, and the sentries won’t look any further than the cliffs edge.”

“Good.”

“Sir?”

He turned around, looking to the other male who addressed him. The soldier pointed to the other unconscious male on the ground, “What about this one? Do you want us to kill him?”

Markus walked over, the snow crunching under his boots. He kneeled down eyeing the stranger out cold in the snow, “Interesting prosthetic.” he hummed. He took hold of the brunet’s metal arm, watching as the fingers twitched an effect of the drugs. “ Very interesting. Give me a light.”

One of his men turned on their flashlight and Markus took a closer  look at the grey titanium limb, decorated in black tribal markings. But Markus wasn’t interested in the metal envraged work, he was interested in the make of the arm itself. “This is too fine a quality to be some wastelander’s homemade prosthetic.” he frowned.

Markus shoved the younger male’s jacket open, lifting up the shirt and tugging the jean hem down just slightly.

PANDORA - 06A

“Hmmm, thought so.” Markus stood, “Looks like we have another lost experiment in our midst gentlemen. What a pleasant surprise…... Load him in the truck! B Team drop some of our dead in the traps and meet us at the brickyards.”

“We’re not going to the main facility?” Someone asked.

“No, I have orders to start testing as soon as possible. These hills are going to be swarming with search parties here soon. They’ll find our vehicles if we transport him to the primary facility. We wait a few weeks then we move him.” He stepped into the vehicle, pointing to the men treating the original target, “Keep him sedated, I don’t want him waking up on the way there.”

“What about the other one?”

“I recognize his serial number,” Markus said, “Keep him sedated till I have his files sent to you, then we’ll continue testing.”

He settled down in a nearby seat as the truck began to move. Smiling to himself and his two new passengers. You’re not a dead man yet Markus.

“Welcome back to PAMA boys.”

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Violence, Extreme Levels of Pain, Body Horror

Body Modification, Trauma, Human Experimentation

Death, Murder, Kidnapping, Blood

-

Jesse groggily opened his eyes, “Wh…” he groaned, eyes blinking back tears at the bright light glaring above him, “Where am I?”

A doctor stuck his head over him, blocking out the glare, “Welcome back,” he grinned. “My, you do kick those drug fairly quick.”

Jesse hissed in discomfort, trying to fight down the throbbing pain in his skull, he went to reach up to touch his forehead, “Where am I? Is this the hospital? W-where is Lukas I-” he froze as his wrist stopped moving roughly three inches from where he started.

The doctor’s face quirked into a sneer “I’m afraid ‘Lukas’ isn’t here.” he said.

Jesse slowly looked down his arm, spotting the thick leather cuffs wrapped around his wrist-

It all came rushing back in a millisecond.

“NO!” he cried lurching against his bindings, quickly finding more keeping him strapped to the bed. He strained against the one on his chest, his legs yanking violently against the cuffs on his ankles, “NO NO NO!!”

“Now calm down young man,” the doctor ordered firmly, “I am Dr. Roberts and you are back at PAMA subject RB-32J.”

“No!” Jesse cried thrashing, “Let me go!” he screamed, “Someone help me please!”

“No one is going to hear you,” Roberts sighed. “Stop struggling or we will have to sedate you…...again.”

Jesse choked on tears and air as he continued to writhe, “Where is Aiden?!” he yelled, “Let us go!”

Roberts sighed, “That’s not going to happen, you’re a property of PAMA and we must keep all our inventory in line.”

“I’m not your property!” Jesse cried, back arching against the straps, “I can’t be here! I won’t stay here!”

Roberts slammed his hand down on the iron bar of the bed, and Jesse briefly stilled, “We can’t let our biggest success leave, Jesse.” He stated icily. “You are the next evolutionary step for humanity and we can’t very well have you running amok out in the wastelands now can we?”

Jesse shrunk back against the bed, “Wh-what are you going to do?” he whispered.

“The same thing PAMA always does, we’re going to run tests, till we reach the next step. And we’re starting with you.”

He let out a cry, returning to his violent struggle against his bindings, “NO! God no please! Someone help me!!!!”

Roberts stepped away from the bed, “Welcome back to PAMA kid.” he turned his back on Jesse, pausing by some nearby employees, “Gag him,” he ordered them firmly, “I don’t want to hear him screaming from my office.”

They moved in on him and Jesse jerked and twisted in blind desperation, “Please no! Don’t touch me! Just leave me alone!” he begged. He let loose a muffled wail as they shoved a leather bit into his mouth, locking the panel gag firmly behind his head.

NO! GOD PLEASE! PLEASE!

But God didn’t answer.


 

Roberts closed the door behind him rolling his eyes as the boy continued to cry out and struggle inside the room.

“What would you like us to begin with Dr. Roberts?” a male nurse asked.

Roberts picked up the nearby clipboard on the door. “We have orders begin to running some preliminary tests. We need to see what level his body is operating at before we can move on to future testings,” he thumbed through the paperwork “Sensory deprivation, nerve testing, blood cell adaptation, body adaptations….”

His lip curled in disgust, “Jesus they wasted a month on internal insert adaption.” he circled specific notes on the clipboard. “Start with these,” he ordered, “As for the internal insert, skip to the largest insert they left off with and go from there. Monitor his body and see how long it takes to adapt, as soon as it adjusts move to the next insert. We can work on the other tests at the same time. I want him mute and blind for this, we’ll work on the nerve sensitivity as well..”

“Yes Dr. Roberts,” the man nodded, accepting the clipboard as it was handed to him.

“What would you like us to do with the other subject?”

“Markus is sending me the files from the main facility. It might take him a while though, so keep our newcomer sedated until we get them. As soon as they arrive, read the notes and start up the test.”

“Yes sir,”

Roberts went to walk off but paused, “Oh, and one more thing.”

“Sir?”

“I want them marked on their necks. RB-32J is going to have to have it redone every morning till his body stops rejecting the ink. But I want them remarked where they can easily be spotted.”

“In case they get out Doctor?”

“For easier identification yes. But,” Roberts laughed as he walked down the hall, “Trust me, no one leaves PAMA twice.”


 

For when they broke you, and tore you open; how could they know what was inside? But they made you a soldier, yet you became so much more that….

In the end, you were a weapon that turned on them.

Many Years Ago….

“There you go, just like that,” Isa instructed.

Aiden twisted the blocky chipped piece of wood around in his hand, “It looks like a lump.” he stated.

Isa laughed, “That’s because you haven’t carved everything out yet.”

“Yeah but nothing is smooth, its got nicks.”

She took his knife from his hand, “We’re using a hunting knife hun, it’s not exactly built for detailed wood carving.” she handed it back to him, “I’ll bring you a smaller knife when I visit next time, how does that sound?”

“Yeah….” Aiden looked up at her, “Do you have to leave?” he asked.

Isa ran a hand along his shoulder, “I’m afraid I do, we’re getting close to harvest time and my town needs me. But we’ll see each other again soon I promise. Maybe you’ll have your little carving finished and we-

The front door opened and Isa and Aiden immediately looked over just as Aiden’s father walked wearily into the house.

Aiden got up, “Dad!” he hurried over, “How did it go? Did you get the job?”

His father looked at him and Aiden felt his stomach drop, “No kiddo, I’m afraid I didn’t.”

“W-why?”

“They said I was too old,” the adult answered simply.

“What?!” Aiden’s temper bubbled up, “That’s why they wouldn’t hire you? That’s the biggest piece of bull-”

“Aiden,” Isa cut in gently, getting up from her chair.

He flushed, “I’m sorry.”

His father sighed, “Aiden can you give Isa and I a moment?” he asked.

“Can I go see Mom?” Aiden asked meekly in return.

The man gave him a sad look, “You need to let her rest.”

“I know, I won’t make a sound I promise I-”

“I don’t want you getting sick too. Please go to your room Aiden.”

From the corner of his eye he saw Isa give him a sympathetic look, and with a heavy sigh Aiden took a defeated step back. “Yes sir…” he mumbled out, quickly turning on his heel and retreating to his room.

He wanted so badly to slam his door behind him in frustration, but knew that would only make matters worse. So instead he let it quietly click shut, leaning against it.

“You can’t blame him,” Isa said, voice muffled through the thick wood, “He just wants to see her Richard.”

“She’s getting worse Isa, I don’t want him to see her like that. And if she does become infectious-”

“That’s why they didn’t give you the job wasn’t it?” Isa cut in, “They’re afraid her sickness has turned to the disease. They fear you are carrying it now too.”

“I tried to tell them it the cancer from the radiation we all carry. But I can’t honestly blame them. They are still fearful from the last epidemic that swept through here. We lost almost half of Beacon Town. All it takes is one person….” his father groaned. “We’re not going to make it through the winter if I don’t find work soon.”

“I wish I could help more,” the female stressed. “But we’ve had a flu outbreak and medicine is tight and-

“I can’t keep taking credits and medicine from you Isa! I owe you enough!”

“I grew up with Heather, do you honestly think I’m going to stand by and let her slip away?!”

“Heather is dying!” His father shouted and Aiden’s heart stopped. “There is nothing I can do about that. Unless I get her miracle treatment before winter, she isn’t going to see next spring! On top of it all my own child will either freeze or starve to death. The medicine you have provided has ebbed her pain Isa. But Heather gets weaker everyday, she doesn’t even open her eyes anymore.”

Aiden flinched, sliding down the door.

“I wish I could get you to Ground Town-” Isa sighed.

“The trip is too far, the cold would kill Heather. I don’t dare go there for work and leave Aiden here to take care of her. He’s offered to go find a job, but I don’t want him to be burden by this.”

“Richard, he clearly doesn’t see it that way.”

“But he’s just a boy. He shouldn’t be forced to go work just to take care of his mother…..I don’t know what to do Isa.” he groaned, “I suppose there is always PA-”

“Don’t you dare go to them!” Isa gasped, “That’s asking for a death wish!”

His father pressed back, “No all men disappear! They’re in the tavern all the time, with no shortage of credits!”

“But what if they don’t hire you! Everyone in town will know you went to them. No one will trust you again, you might as well have the plague because they’ll never let you near them. Only the truly desperate or foolish go those dogs-!”

“Then what do you expect me to do!” his father cried. “Let me lose my family?!” Aiden heard his father sit down on a chair, “I’m out of options!”

There was a moment of silence, then Isa was moving, probably closer to his father.

“Shhh it’ll be alright,” she soothed, “We’ll figure something about.”

Aiden stepped back from his door. He set his unfinished carving down on his bed and sheathed his knife into his thigh strap. What option do we have? Aiden thought, he opened his bedroom window, then with a heavy heart hopped out of it, closing it behind him.


 

Lukas chucked a rock from atop Beacon Town’s wooden defense wall. He watched as the little rock flew down the embankment, “So he didn’t let you see your mom?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Aiden sighed, leaning against the railing, “He told me he doesn’t want me to get sick.”

“I thought you said she wasn’t infected,” Lukas observed. Most people might have put a few feet of distance between Aiden upon this realization, but Lukas didn’t roll that way. He wasn’t one to jump to conclusions.

“She’s not,” Aiden answered bitterly, “She’s just getting really bad, Dad doesn’t want me to see.”

Lukas paused from throwing his rocks, giving Aiden a sad look, “I’m sorry.” he handed a rock to Aiden, “I wish I knew how to help you.”

He took the rock, “This helps a little,” he mumbled, hurling it out into the wastelands. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to.”

“What are friends for?” Lukas smiled as he unhooked a bag from his belt, full of small rocks and rested it on the planks by their feet.

Aiden smiled, just a little, and flung another pebble, “So what’s the news in town?”

“There was a gunfight last night,” the blonde hummed, “Rioli brothers went at each other again. Drunk as usual. But this time I guess they meant business. The older one got shot by the younger one. No one really cared much about that since they were not the nicest of raiders to begin with. But I guess one of their bullets with through Old Gramma Addie’s shack.”

“Oh damn is she okay?!”

“The bullet hit her parakeet. You know the one that could mimic a radio? Killed it. She was pretty upset. They drove the younger brother out of town and threw his brother’s corpse over the wall.” he gave Aiden a lopsided grin, “Sometimes I envy the fact you live on the outskirts. It’s a lot quieter where you are.”

Not willingly, Aiden mused, then, “Yeah, well if you like being cold, come on down sometime.”

“Heh,” Lukas threw another one, “Petra got a job.”

Aiden froze, “What? Really?”

“Yeah, she training under Jack now.”

“Jack as in the one with the eyepatch and has a mute roommate? Huntsman Jack?”

“Yep!” Lukas popped the ‘p’, “I guess she managed to convince him to let her be an apprentice. Since she has no family now, Jack is having her move into his place. She left my family’s home this morning.” he sighed, “I’ll be honest it was kind of nice having her around, like the sister I didn’t want.”

“Well,” Aiden hummed. “It’s not like she is leaving town. It will probably be  few years before Jack even lets her go out into the wastes.”

“Yeah….”

“Lucky her though,” Aiden grumbled, “At least she’s got work now.”

“Hey, you’ll find a job,” his friend encouraged.

“I’m not strong like Gill is, and I don’t have family connections-”

“Gill had his growth spurt early,” Lukas muttered.

“-None of the tradesmen need an apprentice, they have their own kids to take up their skill set. No one was even going to touch Jack he’s so damn scary and Petra nabbed him anyway.” Aiden scowled, “I have like, two options, sell an organ or sell my body, both of which would kill my parents if they ever found out.”

“I was afraid you were going to say PAMA there for a second.” Lukas sighed, “Come on man, you’ll find something.”

Aiden chucked another rock, this one flying a great distance, nearly hitting the river outlet from the acid lakes.

“Woah! Little farther you would have hit the water!” Lukas complimented.

Aiden stared grimly out into the dead wastelands, and eyed the miles of dark trees in the mountains in the far off distance. “What if I went out there?”

Lukas’s eyebrows shot up, “Into the wastes?! Are you nuts!”

“Scavengers go out there all the time!” Aiden pointed, “They find stuff and people buy it from them, they make good money!”

“Aiden the areas around Beacon Town have been picked clean for supplies, do you know how far out you’d have to go?! There are monsters out there, and enderman, and radiation storms and-” Lukas stressed, “You could lose an arm, or worse, you could get killed.”

“Or I can find something and use it to help my mom.”

“But if you die, she’ll lose you.” Lukas grabbed his hand, “We’ll figure it out okay. Just please don’t go out there by yourself. You’ve only got your hunting knife, that won’t help you out there.”

He looked longfully out into the wasteland than reluctantly back to Lukas, “Okay….I won’t go out.” he promised.

Lukas let out breath of relief. “Good.”

“You know the only reason Petra probably got the apprenticeship is because she’s taller than me,” Aiden grumbled after a moment.

Lukas burst into a fit of laughter, “She’s taller than me too man! Just relax, girls always start out taller. We’ll catch up.”

“Unless we’re Maya.” Aiden grinned cheekily as they both stepped away from the wall.

“Oh God, that would suck!” Lukas groaned as they headed down the stairs. “I mean I would die if I was a small as she is right now.”

“Her aunt says she’s got a few years, left so she might get taller.”

“Well her aunt is practically her mom so she would-” Lukas’s eyes widened, “Oh shoot! What time is it?”

Aiden glanced upward to the dark green clouds, eyeing the little rays of light barely escaping through them. “I don’t have a clock but I’d say about high noon?” he mused.

“Gah! My mom is going to kill me!” Lukas freaked, “I’m supposed to help her take trade items to the market this afternoon.”

“Better get running,” Aiden chuckled.

Lukas already was, “I’ll see you later?” he called.

“Yeah!”

Lukas waved and bolted down the street.

Aiden waved till the blonde vanished around the street corner and dropped his arm with a huff. “Whelp.” he kicked up some mud and turned on his heel.

“Hey kid,”

He looked over to a nearby shack with an expression of little interest, eyeing the man leaning against the derelict building, “May I help you?” he asked.

“I heard you and your little friend back there,” the man said, “You looking for work?”

“Maybe,” Aiden frowned.

“Oh you’re cautious I like that.” The man laughed.

Irritated, Aiden’s manners dropped, “Look dude, I’m not looking for that kind of work. You want that, go find a prostitute in the slums-”

The stranger burst into a heavier wave of laughter, “Damn you could get killed with a attitude like that,” his teeth gleamed, “Relax kiddo I ain’t out here for that kind of help. I’m associate of PAMA-”

Heart skipping a beat Aiden cut him short, “Screw off,” Aiden hissed out, quickly turning away, “I don’t think so-”

“Five hundred credits,”

He froze, slowly looking over, “What?”

“You do this job it’s five hundred credits in the pocket,” the man smiled.

Aiden looked nervously around, then slowly approached the man, “W-what kind of job?” he asked hesitantly.

“Cargo delivery.” The stranger answered. “Cargo gets delivered safely, it’s five hundred credits up front.”

“Why me,” Aiden questioned,  suspicious, “Why not some of the thugs down in the taverns?”

“Because kids don’t raise attention.”

“Sounds illegal.”

“No,” the other argued, “It’s subtle. You see an armed thug walking through the streets at night, you know there is something valuable in the box he’s carrying. You see a kid carrying a box at night, he’s just on his way home, or running an errand for Ma and Pa. My cargo is valuable, and therefore I want it safe, and subtle….is safe.” he explained.

“I don’t know…” Aiden sighed. “Only the foolish go to PAMA….”

“And the desperate, don’t forget the other half of the insult.” he leaned in close Aiden’s face, breath laced with cigarette fumes, “But only the very foolish turn down that many credits. You may be a little desperate.  But you sure as hell ain’t stupid.”

Aiden tool a step back, “I-”

“Here,” the stranger yanked out a pencil and paper, scribbling away on it. “My name’s Harris kid. I’ll give you till tomorrow night to come down for the job- that’s when I need to deliver. You don’t show up that’s fine, I can always find someone else.” He handed Aiden the paper, “You know where they bring in the large loads right?”

“The merchant’s gate?” Aiden took the paper, eyeing the time and exact location, “Yes, why?”

“Well, I’ll be at the place written down not to far from the gate.” Harris explained, “You’re there, you got the job.” He shoved off the wall, waving, “See you there kid.”

“How do you know I’ll be there?” Aiden scoffed. “What if I don’t need the money.”

“Maybe not for yourself.” Harris smiled vanishing around the corner.

Aiden’s eyebrows shot up and he looked down at the paper.

Five hundred credits…..

“But only the foolish….” he mumbled.

Aiden chewed on his thoughts all the way home, struggling between the rumors of PAMA and helping his Mom.

He opened the door to his decaying home, “Dad, I’m back-”

Isa was no longer here, she probably took the last caravan out to Ground Town for the day. His parent’s bedroom door was open. Bloody rags haphazardly thrown on the floor just outside the ajar door.

“Dad?!” he gasped, rushing towards the bedroom.

“Aiden stay out!” his father ordered.

“B-but-”

“Stay, out!”

Aiden’s heart wrenched as he heard his mother’s agonized cry, listening to her vomit and sob in pain. “M-mom-”

“Room Aiden! Now!”

Aiden backed up and hurriedly retreated to his room. He slammed the door shut, sliding down the wood. He covered his ears, desperately trying to block out the cries of his mother, and his father’s feeble pleas to God.

Tears of hopelessness burning the corner of his eyes Aiden lowered his one hand and eyed he paper. The fragile object crinkled as he clenched his shaking hand tight. “O-okay then….”

Only the foolish go to PAMA…..but maybe this was God’s answer.


 

Aiden jerked in a mixture of surprise and fear as a gunshot went off in the night. He relaxed slightly has he heard the drunken laughter that followed after. It was only the late night patrons from one of many of Beacon Town’s taverns. But still his heart raced as he slipped down the dark roads.

He’d gone to the market multiple times that day, checking the address over and over. Harris did not appear even once, Aiden had to convince himself the man was waiting for this evening.

He jerked again slightly as another gunshot went off, his nerves already strained and at their limit from his anxiety.

Just breath Aiden, you’re doing this for Mom, think about Mom.

He rounded the corner into the darkened alley, looking off to his left he could see the dark and ominous merchants gate down the road. The watch towers beside them were dark tonight. Beyond the safety of the wall, the night time creatures of the waste had come to life. Faint screeches, roars, and screams carried their way through the night, added with the occasional death rattle, it did little to ease Aiden’s nerves.

He did a slow circle around the alley, “Harris?” he whispered harshly into the darkness. “....Harris?”

No answer.

Aiden swallowed nervously, his throat thick and his limbs stiff.

“Hey kid.”

Aiden lurched, whipping around, “Jesus!”

Harris grinned, his teeth glinting in the limited night light, “You scared?”

“N-no.” Aiden stammered out, till he got his voice. He adjust his posture, defensive. “You just- you just startled me.”

“Glad you made it,” Harris stated happily.

“Money is money,” Aiden admitted.

“It’s the only thing that runs this world,” The tall dark haired male declared, he turned on his heel and began walking down the alley, “That, and medicine,” he glanced over his shoulder at Aiden, “Don’t you agree?”

Aiden frowned but didn’t say anything.

Harris led him around the corner to a small pocket behind a set of buildings tucked right up against the city’s wall, “This is it.”

Aiden eyed the odd shape before him, “Is….is that a truck?”

“Yep, cargo is in there, it’s gonna take it out of town.”

Aiden stiffened, “You didn’t say we we’re going out into the wastes.”

“You don’t think you can handle it?”

“No, I can,” he scowled. He walked towards the truck, “I’m just a little surprised, I’ve never seen one before.”

“That’s fine, you’re not driving.”

“What am I doing then?”

“You’re part of the delivery.” Harris said.

Aiden tugged the canvas covering the tuck to the side just slightly, looking through the small window in the back, “What are we-” he let go of the curtain and scrambled back, “There are people in there!”

“That’s the cargo kid.”

Aiden whipped around glaring at Harris, “I’m not going to help you deliver people to whatever sick experiments you are going to do!” he yelled. His heart was racing a thousand miles a minute, this felt wrong.

Harris picked at his tooth, “That’s fine, that’s not your job.”

“W-what?”

Aiden heard the crunching of gravel, and he looked over his shoulder to see two more heavily built men behind him, he looked sharply back at Harris. “You-”

“I said five-hundred in pocket,” Harris smirked, “I didn’t say who’s pocket.”

Aiden cried out as the men from behind jumped him, grabbing tight, “No-mmmmph!!” he screamed as one of them clamped a hand over his mouth. He kicked and thrashed, struggling to escape.

“I told you your job kid,” the PAMA worker smiled. “You’re part of the delivery.”

Aiden screamed, trying to get his muffled cries to attract some kind of attention- any kind of attention.

“And may I say you are doing an excellent job, but you are wiggling too much.”

There was a sharp prick in Aiden’s neck and in an instant his limbs went numb and Aiden collapsed into the arms of one of his ambushers weakened and groaning. “I-I-”

One man picked him up, the other moved ahead and tore the canvas off the truck. Harris opened the door to the back, smiling darkly. “Relax kid,”

He felt them settle him on the floor, someone roughly binding his hands. His senses were failing, his mind was slowly going black and foggy

Harris leaned in and grabbed his chin, “Word of advice?” he asked as Aiden’s body went numb, world dimming,“Stay strong, keep your head,” he mocked, “And you just might live whatever the fuck they plan to do with you.” He let go of Aiden’s head laughing.

Harris turned away, closing the door behind him, “Let’s move out. I only paid the watchtower guards so much to look the other way.”

The engine roaring to life was the last thing Aiden heard before his entire world went dark.


 

Aiden’s world relapsed in and out of darkness quite often. He would hear cries and pitiful sobs. There would be begging, and crying for loved ones. He would hear the shouts of men, and the shots of guns, the rumble of engines, and then it all went dark again.

The next time he opened his eyes he could see pristine white, hot bright lights glaring down on him. The air still carried cries, but this time they were screams - begging- pain….

He faded back out, dreaming about home, people he knew. At one point he was in a memory, recalling a rare time when his mother wasn’t sick, they were at the kitchen table. Isa was there too, they were playing with the little wooden carvings she had brought for him. There were little horses, and cows- he was smaller then. But then his mother started coughing and she-

A searing hot pain cut into Aiden’s delirium. It was increasingly getting worse, stronger - agonizing!

Aiden’s eyes shot opened and he let out a cry of pure anguish, “AAAAAAUGH!”

There was this unholy, unearthly, unbearable, pain in his left shoulder. Spreading like a fire it ripped into him and it felt like it was tearing him apart.

The bright light was still in his eyes, hot, blinding-!

“AAAH! STOP!” he screamed, trying to lurch forward in his blindness, only to find he couldn’t, “STOP! STOP!”

“Fuck! I thought you sedated him properly!”

“Put him back out! He’s thrashing blood everywhere! Do you want me to sever the artery wrong?!”

Hot tears rolled down Aiden’s cheeks as the tearing pain momentarily ceased but the residual pain was still past the point of bearable, “What are you doing?!” he cried to the phantom voices surrounding him, “Stop! Please!! Oh God it hurts!”

“Sedate him! Sedate him now!”

“Restrain him tighter!”

There was this tight pressure around his chest and he was being pushed down. A constricting pull on his throat- a tight grip in his hair.

“Stop! Stop! Aaaaah! God please! SOMEONE HELP ME!”

The pain got the better of Aiden’s body and he let his head fall to the side, tears streaming down his face as he heaved.

“FUCK! Sedate him now!!!”

He wailed as there was a sharp pain in his neck, feeling that numbness attacking and taking control of his body and mind once more.

“No-no! God help me!”

Someone shoved something into his mouth, forcing it behind his teeth, thick and solid. It mixed with the vomit residue on his lips, leaving the sickly sweet bile on his tongue. He bawled as he gagged once more, his head forcefully yanked upon. The foreign object was locked in place as the straps were tightened at the back of his head, pulled far too tight.

“God isn’t here!” someone hissed harshly in his ear.

He screamed in agony, cries stifled as the agonizing fire in his arm attacked once more.

No, no, no, no! HELP ME!

The pain didn’t stop, and soon the anguishing torture and the drugs drove him into oblivion.


 

When consciousness reclaimed Aiden once again his body was in a world of pain, and hot with fever.

There was a beep of machinery.

He whimpered, trying to blink out the harsh fluorescent lights glaring down upon him. All around him there were cries and sobs, sometimes loud wails. It hurt his ears, it hurt his head.

Next to him was a heart monitor beeping faintly away.

He was in a hospital? Aiden struggled with his confusion. Beacon Town didn’t have a hospital….

He stifled a pained sound, trying to reach up and grip his head, to try and ease the feverish headache pounding away at his brain.

His wrist was stopped short just inches from his forehead, metal clinking loudly, and interrupting his attempted gesture. He looked numbly up at his arm, staring expressionless at the handcuff on his wrist.

Aiden tugged at it weakly, the long metal chain rattling against the bed’s bar. He moaned, head swimming, trying to adjust on the bed.

The movement sent his stomach twisting and he choked on bile. He tried to lean over the side, trying to heave, but he only gagged on air.

Sweat ran down his skin, he was so hot. Everything hurt, his nerves tingled , like nails were rubbing against his skin.

Letting out another pained whimper he tried to move his other arm, he couldn’t feel a cuff on that one….

His left shoulder throbbed, he felt so numb all along the limb. He couldn’t even feel his fingers. Had his arm gone to sleep?

Rolling groggily onto his back Aiden let his head fall to the left, trying to access the reason behind his numbness-

Only to find his arm was gone.

The heart monitor spiked.

Suddenly Aiden was very much awake. He sat up with a jerk, the motion sending his stomach gurgling.

Oh G-God-

That pain from earlier, that fire. They- they-

It’s a trick I’m drugged! I have to be!

Aiden shakily reached up with his right arm, the cuff chain just long enough for him to reach around.

His trembling fingers grabbed the spot where he knew his elbow was, where he swore he could feel it.

But his fingers brushed through only air.

“N-no-”

He swiped again. Nothing.

Noooooo-”

Tears pooled in Aiden’s eyes and he gripped his left shoulder -covered in blood stained wrappings- feeling the agonizing pain shooting like lightning on contact.

H-his arm! They took his arm- they-

The heart monitor was off the hook now, the beeps a continuous screech in his ears.

He looked around the vast white room, spotting easily a hundred or so youth, all around his age bracket. All slowly waking up and realizing parts of them were missing.

Legs. Arms. Hands. Feet. Entire-

Aiden bent over, his head falling  between his knees. He gripped his shoulder desperately begging for him to feel flesh- He could feel  what was still there! It had to be there!!!

Aiden tightened his grip, ignoring the hellfire pain that followed and screamed.


Aiden lay on that bed for hours, maybe days? He didn’t know anymore. His amputation had left him in a state of shock while his sickness stirred in delirium.

He just lay on his side, brain numb as he continued to run his hand over the remainder of his lost limb.

The screams and cries had dulled some. But hadn’t stopped entirely. Some had gone in to shock, like Aiden. Some youth continued to scream and sob. Others…..others were simply broken.

He didn’t try to escape or go anywhere. If he tried hard enough he might have been able to slip out of the cuff. But he was so weak, and what good would he be? Down a limb that he was.

The sounds of footsteps eventually cut through his fever state and he let his eyes shift to the pathway between the dozens of beds.

Three men and one woman all wearing white doctor garbs and one man covered in military gear were making their way down. Stopping at each bed, inspecting each person and taking notes.

They stopped at the bed next to Aiden’s. She was a young female, little older than him, maybe seventeen. She had been amputated on both legs, from mid thigh down.

The first time she woke up she had screamed for what felt like an eternity. She passed out after awhile. Second time around was a similar reaction. Screaming until her voice gave away to a weak rasp.

She only lay there now, staring blankly at the ceiling and mumbling incoherently. Her heart monitor barely beeping.

The leading male doctor, a strong jawed man with sandy blonde hair took the clipboard. He inspected the information on the sheet. “Where is she from?”

“Red Mesa.” another doctor answered.

“That’s a ways away…”

“Our teams found the caravan she was on completely slaughtered. Possibly endermen. She was the only survivor.” the female doctor said.

“That would explain the shock before the operation.” the blonde observed. He clicked on a small flashlight in her eyes, frowning as she didn’t even blink. “Miss?”

The girl only mumbled on and on.

The doctor sighed, “She’s too far gone,” he said with a wave of his hand.

The militia male moved in, and Aiden lurched as the armed man swiftly pulled out a pistol and fired it into her brain.

The heart monitor flatline and Aiden’s own spiked.

“ Have the clean up team dispose her in the hills somewhere. Let the monsters chew on her bones.”

Aiden took a slow exhale as the doctor moved to his bed. Trying to look away and not eye the gun in the guard's hand.

“Hmmm…..Is this one of the ones who woke up on the table?”

“Yes sir. Harris brought this one in with his load.”

“He’s from the lakes then.”

Aiden flinched, blinking back tears as the doctor flashed the light into his eyes.

“In shock as to be expected, but still responsive.” he pulled away eying the clipboard. His eyebrow raised, “Rare blood type, interesting.”

“What should we do with this one?”

The blond male didn’t answer right away. Tapping his pen on the paper as he thought things over.

Aiden was too out of it now to even have his heart race, to even think . They could kill him right now, if they wanted. He looked over to the dead girl, he could end up just like her.

Finally the doctor clicked his pen and scribbled on his sheet. “I’m initiating project Pandora, on this one. Let’s open him up and see what’s hiding inside.” he hooked the clipboard back on the foot of the bed. “I want him marked and recovered for cross testing asap. Start with the growth enhancements till he’s maxed then begin prosthetic placement.”

“Yes doctor.”

“Here is hoping we get something out of this one,” the man said, before moving onward.

Aiden didn’t even turn to watch them go, weariness over came him and the thought he wasn’t dead just yet slipped him off into a dreamless light limbo.

Occasionally a muffled gunshot would go off. Another soul who didn’t make it. But Aiden didn’t even flinch to the bullets. His mind had wandered away.

Eventually someone came and unhooked him from his monitor. He was rolled somewhere - God knows how far- into some new place.

There was the heated warmth and a brightness beyond his closed eyes. There were touches on his arms, pricks in his skin; A stinging sensation on his left hip, then that too eventually faded.

He came about shortly after the bright light subsided and the air fell into silence. No one but him in a now dimmed and small room. There was an IV of meds stuck in his arm, the bag full of tiny bubbles. He was set up to a new heart monitor, faintly beeping away.

Aiden shifted looking at his hip, able to read his new tattoo despite the dimness.

Pandora - 06A.


 

Current Day…

The wind howled and Lukas tightened his jacket, “Jesse!” he cried over the wailing air currents, “Aiden!”

“It’s been three days!” Maya yelled, having to raise her voice over the incoming storms, “They couldn’t have lasted out here!”

“This exit is closest to the hospital!” Lukas stressed, “They have to be out here.”

This is the last place! They have to, they just have to be here!

After his fight with Aiden, Lukas has festered in guilt and fury inside the hospital for a good half hour. It was only when Milo asked him where Aiden was -because he wanted to take him to see a revived Isa-  that Lukas’s anger had cooled and his rationality had settled back in.

He remembered Jesse had gone after Aiden, probably attempting to fix the horrible rift between the two males. Why he choose to go after Aiden, Lukas would never know. But then the terrifying thought came to him that Jesse might leave in an attempt to make Aiden stay.

Lukas had tried to assure himself that nothing bad had happened.

But then neither one came back.

The search parties were spread everywhere the past three days. But with it getting darker and colder faster the window was shrinking fast. Lukas, Maya and Petra were up in the cliffs today. One of the few places yet to be searched.

“Aiden!” Maya screamed into the howling dark, “Jesse!” she tightened her coat and moved closer to Lukas. “God what would drive them out here?! You don’t think they would leave would you?!”

“Aiden wouldn’t go out here without gear,” Lukas answered, “And Jesse always sticks close to someone.” He looked desperately around, “They’ve got to be out here, or something happened.”

“Guys!” Petra yelled, “I found a body!”

Lukas’s’ heart skipped a beat, he and Maya exchanging the scarcest of glances before rushing over to where Petra was.

Petra had her lantern on the ground, shoving aside piles of snow, “It’s not them,” she assured as she cleared a view for them, “Look at the coat.”

Lukas leaned in, eyeing the printed logo on the coat collar.

PAMA.

“Pama took them-” He hissed.

“We don’t know that-”

“Do you really think anyone else could have done it?” Lukas stressed. “They somehow took Jesse and- and, Jesus they might have killed-”

“Hey,” Petra took hold of his arm, “Take a deep breath if they killed Aiden we would have found him by now.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I don’t need to know Lukas, I feel it.”

“But it doesn’t make sense!” Lukas cried, “How did the lookouts not spot them on the cliffs. We had a post watching from the hospital.”

“To make sure no one came down them,” Petra corrected, “This tunnel entrance comes up about a hundred yards from the cliffs. There is no way they would have seen any PAMA soldiers in this spot. Reginald had the majority of able guard posted by the wall keeping an eye on the collapsed section in case they came back. He figured the traps would slow PAMA down up here,” she gestured to the corpse, “Which it did-”

“But the tunnel door is barred from the inside- and hidden, even Reg has trouble finding it-”

“There was muffler putty stuck to the door frame,” Petra said, “Which means they were planning on busting in with explosives, but then Aiden probably came out here - why he would walk out here I don’t know - and Jesse followed him, maybe to try and bring him back. They were then jump by PAMA and taken away, having to fight the traps again on their way out-”

“I don’t think so.” Maya cut in.

The ginger looked at her, “What do you mean?”

Maya was inspecting the corpse, “They didn’t have issues with the traps.” she pushed more snow aside, “Look at this man, what do you think happened?”

Confused, Lukas leaned in, inspecting the corpse. The man’s leg had been ensnared in a massive claw trap, the large metal clamp strong enough to snap the clave. The bone was protruding grotesquely from the flesh. “It looks like he bled to death when the trap snapped his leg, probably took out the artery if he’s lucky.”

“Right,” the female nodded, “But now what do you not see?” she asked.

“Blood.” Petra said.

“Exactly, no thrash tears either.” Maya explained, “Now I’m not a doctor, but I feel like if a giant bear trap snapped my leg in half, I might be tearing around, losing some blood and making more damage. There is no blood on this wound. I mean- there is a little, but not an excessive amount.”

“Maybe it got buried in the snow?”

“But what about his clothes, what about the trap? Hardly any staining. Which confused me, till I spotted the hole in his coat,” she yanked back the man’s coat hood, “Then I found this.”

There was a massive red stain on the back of the dead man’s head, the bullet wound still visible in the hairline.

“He was shot in the head?” Lukas said.

Maya tapped it, “Aiden shot a lot of snipers in the gun fight.”

"So they dropped a corpse in the trap?” Petra asked, thoroughly confused. “Why?”

Maya pulled a map out of her coat, “Reginald said that this place is swimming with traps. So many in fact they have to keep a map of the safe paths only because there are too many traps to keep count of. Now what I found interesting, is according to our Captain, some of these traps are rigged with tnt explosives. It kills the person who stepped on it -obviously- and anyone near them. But most importantly, the explosion alerts Ground Town when someone is sneaking back here. That was how the city managed to secure the cliffs and they don’t keep guards posted up here. It’s kind of hard to miss an tnt explosion. Now tell me, did either of you two hear any dynamite explosions these past few days?”

Lukas thought on it, “No, no I haven’t.” he finally said after a moment.

“So, PAMA comes into these woods, supposedly sets off plenty of traps on their way in -none of the explosive one’s however. Then they find our hidden door - that even Reginald, who has a map has trouble finding - with a bit of luck?”

Petra let out a gasp, “They knew where they were going.”

“But how?!” Lukas gaped.

Maya rolled the map back up, clenching it in her hand, “Only the militia of Ground Town has this map….” she said slowly.

“Which means….” Petra began.

Lukas looked back into the direction of the city, able to see the glow of the street lights faintly in the howling wind. His heart clenched, and a feeling of coldness even more brisk then the air around him took a hold of him, “It means Ground Town has a spy.”

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Violence, Gore

Sexual Assault, Murder

Body Modification, Trauma

-

“To have a spy within our midst,” Reginald hissed, “Would mean-”

“Would mean that PAMA knew everything before we even knew they hit us. PAMA probably had no idea where we were. Then the incident with the enderman happened-” Lukas stated.

“Lukas darling,” From her hospital bed, Isa rubbed her forehead with a shaking hand, “Volume, please. I understand the urgency but everyone outside this room is now a suspect.”

Petra watched as Lukas flinched lowering his voice. “No one, outside of us, knew Jesse was from PAMA. After the enderman incident, someone who saw what happened probably reported the event to PAMA, who in turn figured it must be Jesse.” he explained in a hushed tone. “The festival happens on different days every year to avoid attacks, someone on the inside had to let PAMA know the day so they knew when to attack.”

“That’s dozens of witnesses!” Milo hisses, “All the guards who saw the incident. All the doctors-”

“PAMA was able to navigate the cliffs without setting off the traps,” Maya explained, “It had to be someone with access to those maps.”

“Only guards have those maps for patrols,” Isa said, “None of the city officials have access to them, because those posh pricks wouldn’t leave the safety of the walls unless you lured them out with credits.”

Petra adjusted her lean on the wall, “Is there any way anyone else could have gotten access to those maps?”

“Not that I know off,” Reginald said, “The guards have to keep their maps on them at all times. I mean, if any trader or person wants to go up there they have to take a guard. They might be able to pay man for his map, but I’m not sure.”

Gill piped up from his seat, “Either way, we either find the guard who did this, or possibly the person who got the map from the guard.”

“What if they stole it,” Reginald asked, “The spy will find out we’re looking for them far faster than we’ll find them if that’s the case.”

“We need to start somewhere,” Lukas stressed, “Anything we can to help us get a lead! The longer we try and sort this out the more likely we’re going to lose Aiden and Jesse!”

Petra cringed, pulling her arms closer to herself as she watched the stress and panic worm its way across Lukas’s face. She cleared her throat, “What if we went subtle?”

Everyone looked her way, and Petra cleared her throat again, “The safety of the cliffs has been compromised right? Ask all the guards to turn in their maps- say that they have to be reconfigured for the new trap layout-”

“New trap layout?” Reginald, “We don’t- Oh! A bluff!”

Petra nodded, “We find which guards don’t turn in their maps and direct our focus to them. But this way, the spy has no idea we’re looking for a spy. It would make sense that we were trying to focus on the safety of Ground Town.”

“What about the search parties though?” Milo asked, “PAMA has to be keeping an eye on us. We stop looking and they might make their move. But we can only look so long, the men are getting tired.”

“We have to try,” Lukas pressed, “What other choice do we have? We-”

There was a knock on the door and it made Petra jump just slightly, everyone else falling into silence.

Reginald got up and opened the door. Petra eyed the tall burly man at the entrance, she recognized the man. He was the guard Aiden had found asleep on the watchtower when the raider’s had kidnapped Jesse. She glanced down at his name tag, Greg, that’s right...

“What is it man,” Reginald asked irritably.

Greg momentarily hesitated, and Petra raised an eyebrow as he slowly scoped the room, before redirecting his attention to his captain, “The men would like to know if we should proceed with the salvage,” he asked.

“Ah,” Reginald looked over his shoulder to Isa, “Isa?”

Isa groaned from her bed, “I swear they’re trying to kill us Milo. Work never stops, even after impalement .”

Milo gave her a weak smile and patted her hand, “We’ll fight through this. I guess a week recovery is enough in the council’s book.” he nodded to Greg, “Go ahead and begin scraping the broken vehicles, Greg.”

Greg nodded, and Petra watched as his eyes shifted slowly about the room as he did so, before he departed the room.

Petra raised an eyebrow.

Petra didn’t spend a lot of time with people, but she knew suspicious when she saw it. Greg was tense, and curious as suspicious as Petra was at the moment, she wanted to know why.

But one wrong move and it was all over….

“I can have the fake maps ready by this evening, if I have help,” Reginald said.

“We have to hurry, we’re running out of time,” Lukas stressed.

Petra pushed herself off the wall and tread across the room as the group continued to chat, she positioned herself in the other corner. She had her body at the angle to look like she was looking towards the rest of the group; but in reality Petra was able to see out the patient room window from the corner of her eye.

Well, well, well….

Greg, was hovering just beyond the door.

He was leaning in closely to the wall, listening.

Could we be that lucky? He could be just looking for gossip-

“Petra?”

Petra let her eyes sharply look forward, Lukas had paused from his conversation. Eyeing her undoubtedly tense expression, “Everything alright?” he asked.

Petra nodded, waving at Lukas to continue, “I’m tired but I’m listening,” she pressed, “Keep going.”

Whether or not the blond caught her tone, he obliged, looking back to the others, “If this works, PAMA won’t know we’re onto them until it’s too late.”

From the corner of her eye, Petra watched as Greg visibly tensed and back away from the door. He looked cautiously around and quickly began walking away.

He has to be the spy!

Petra shoved off the wall and rushed to the door. She yanked it open, dashing out, ignoring as Maya called after her. “Petra where are you going?!”

Greg looked over his shoulder as she exited the room, and immediately picked up his pace, taking a random right.

Petra followed just behind him, neither of them running, but they were both moving fast. It was clear now Greg was desperate to lose her. He would turn sporadically and didn’t seem to have a generic idea to where he was going.

Greg disappeared around a corner and Petra heard him curse. She slowed down to a stroll and eased her way casually across the bend.

Greg had cornered himself in a small waiting room, with only one exit. The exit Petra was currently standing in.

“Lost Greg?” she smiled.

The burly guard tensely laughed and slowly turned around, “I don’t come in here a lot,” he answered, “So I get turned around in here easily.”

“Tell me about it,” Petra hummed.

Neither pair moved.

“So…..Can I help you,” Greg asked stiffly.

Petra shrugged, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall, “Oh I don’t know,” then she looked directly at him, glaring, “Heard any gossip lately?”

Greg’s lips curled into a sneer, and Petra’s heart stopped as she saw him reach for his gun.

Fuck! She didn’t have her’s!!!!

There was the click of the safety mechanism, and Greg froze. Petra looked over her shoulder to see Lukas and Maya both standing behind her, each armed with a pistol.

“Yeah, Greg,” Lukas said, voice dripping with venom, “What’s juicy little tidbits have you picked up lately?”


Isa paused from her walking as a doctor walked by. She averted her eyes as to not make eye contact, but  the doctor was in a rush and hardly noticed Isa. There were too many people injured and still at risk from the accident last week. One woman walking stiffly down the hallway wouldn’t be much notice.

She had thanked God’s grace upon the discovery that their spy had been caught. Knowing his cover had been blown Greg wasted no time in revealing his sinister gastly nature to the youth. But as the hours had carried on, Greg had given up no information concerning the  whereabouts of Jesse and Aiden.

They were keeping Greg in an isolated room in the hospital, seeing as the jail had been damaged in the PAMA attack. So Isa was making her way down to the others to help. Contradictory to the fact that she should be resting.

Her abdomen gave a sharp pang of protest, but Isa took a deep breath and continued on her way.

As she approached closer to where they were keeping their prisoner, she could over hear the young adults talking amongst themselves.

“Fuck, we’ve tried everything, Lukas,” Gill stressed.

“Not enough!” Lukas pressed back, “We have to get him to talk.”

“We’re not a interrogation style of group!” Maya groaned, “We never do that to anybody. And even when we did need to get information Aiden was the one who did that!”

“But Aiden is one of the people we’re trying to get back!” Gill moaned.

“Guys we have to keep pushing him for this-” Lukas began.

Petra cut in, having spotted Isa as she approached the group, “Hold up a second guys.” She said. She skirted around Lukas, “Isa what are you doing here?”

Lukas looked over, eyes widening, “Isa?! You should be resting! Where is Milo he-”

“He’s asleep and I temporarily discharged myself.” Isa replied, she gently pushed away Lukas’s arm offering support, “I’m fine I’ve had a good week to rest. How is our guest coming along?” she asked.

Lukas flinched, “We can’t get him to talk, he just keeps hurling insults.”

“Hmmm,”

“The guy is tough,” Gill frowned, rubbing his fist, “Even if I punched him to second doomsday that bastard might not crack.”

Isa rubbed the back of her neck, “May I try?”

“What?” Lukas gaped.

“Isa,” Maya began, “No offense but….”

“I’ve faced many tough challenges in my life,” She said, “Let me try and see if I can get him to open up.”

Everyone in the group seemed skeptical, which was understandable. Isa stepped past them, heading for the closed door.

“Isa I really don’t think-”

She stopped for a moment, hand gripping the door knob, “Lukas darling,” Isa looked briefly back, “Who do you think taught Aiden all of his tricks?” Then she opened the door and went inside.

Greg looked up, both of his hands were shackled to an armchair. There was a table, and another chair opposite of Greg, other than that, the room was barely furnished.

He scoffed at the sight of her, “So now they send you.” he sneered, “First the half shot brute, and now a feeble pathetic woman.”

Isa said nothing, simply sitting down on the other chair.

Greg leaned forward, the cuff chains going taunt as he rested his hands on the table, “So what’s your plan Isa,” he asked, “You going to diplomatically bore me until I talk?” he mocked.

“So you work for PAMA,” she asked instead of answering, casually brushing hair out of her face.

He raised an eyebrow and leaned back slightly. “I think this has already been established.”

“How long have you been working for them?” she asked.

“Longer than I lived here,” he sneered, “I already told this to your little kids outside, and that’s all they are going to get from me.”

“So you were working for them before you came to Ground Town.”

“They planted me here.”

“Sleeper agent?”

“They know Ground Town can’t be taken, not that easily,”  The guard spat, “You’ve worked up this town to be quite the fortress. But that doesn’t stop PAMA from picking up a little juicy tidbits now and then.”

“So after the enderman incident, you gave them a call,” Isa sighed, “And you told them about Jesse. You told them in return when our festival would be, you gave them the maps, and I’m betting if Jesse and Aiden hadn’t gone outside the city, you were going to give them an easy trip into the hospital.”

“Clearly you know everything.”

“So where did they take them?” Isa asked icily.

Greg smiled.

“Where, are, they?” She asked again.

“You don’t frighten me Isa,” he hissed, “PAMA has what they want and they are never going to give him up. You can torture me to the brink of death and I wouldn’t tell. Whatever you do to me is nothing compared to what they’ll do to me if I talk.”

Isa’s lip curled in disgust, “We let you in, we welcomed you into our arms. Yet you still threw us to the rabid dogs. What would drive you to do such a thing?”

“Because this world is full of filth,” Greg hissed, “PAMA is the only cure for this wretched disgusting world. You, are, garbage .”

The room filled with a tense hot silence. Isa sat there, hands clenching and unclenching in her lap processing his words. Greg remained casual in his chair, his nails clicking on the table.

Finally Isa stood, hands slapping down on the table, Greg jumped slightly at her sudden motion, and she smiled tensely at him, “You’re a liar Greg.”

His eyes darkened, “What makes you say that?”

“I’m a diplomat Greg,” Isa stated simply, “I worked myself to the bone everyday keeping people rallied together, getting them to do what needs to be done for the greater good of this city whether they like it or not. I’ve learned how to read them, how to play them like pawns if you will. Do you know how I know you’re lying?” she asked as her hands danced across the table, nails clicking like shoes on hardwood.

The man remained silent.

She leaned in, “Eyes. I can see it in your eyes Greg. You are very afraid right now.”

Rage pooled in the man’s expression, “What the fuck makes you think-”

Isa grabbed hold of the first finger on Greg’s right hand and snapped in back the bones crunching in her grip. Greg screamed in surprise lurching in his chair from the pain.

“What the fuck woman?!” he cried. He screamed again as Isa snapped another finger, “God!!!”

“PAMA is your ‘god’ now Greg and they are not going to save you!” Isa raged, “You have hurt my city, you hurt my people, you killed them! You took part in Jesse’s capture and you took my Aiden from me! You are going to talk, because hell hath no fury like the wrath I am going to bring down upon you!”

“I’m not going to break to you!” he snapped.

“Good! I like the fight!” she yelled back, breaking another finger. “But I assure you officer, you will wish PAMA had been the one to do this to you instead of me!”

Greg gritted on another scream as she smashed her palm into his already mangled hand.

“There are two hundred and six bones in the human body, maybe more, maybe less if mutation is taken into consideration,” Isa explained, “Now I’ve given us a pretty good jump start, you’ve broken roughly twenty bones now, and I have yet to touch your other hand.” She leaned in, “And for every question I don’t get an answer to, I will be breaking a bone.”

Greg took a shaky breath, and Isa could see the fear in his eyes, amplified and raw.

“Now tell me.” She hissed, “ Where. Are. They?”


 Many Years Ago….

Aiden was in a world of pain. Nowhere nearly as agonizing as it had been when PAMA so generously removed his arm, but painful nonetheless.

PAMA waited till Aiden had been treated and cured of his trauma induced fever. The moment he had been healthy they wasted no time initiating their “ Project Pandora”.

Aiden had been placed in a large room with roughly a hundred people in his age bracket. Both male and female and of any and all demographics. All of them were missing some part of their bodies.

Whispers and gossip from the braver ones had revealed they all had been nursed back to health.

PAMA wanted healthy subjects.

Then all had been injected, and it hurt a lot. Doctors and scientists working together to burrow a long syringe and needle all the way down to Aiden's bones.

He had received multiple over a course of two days. The most painful one had been in Aiden’s spine. At least in his opinion. He had screamed long and hard into the mattress he was strapped to as six needles - all down his spine- were injected into him.

PAMA then proceeded to divide its subjects into groups of three or four. Binding them in various restraints and leaving them in white cushioned rooms.

Then nothing.

It was frightening, it left Aiden sleepless most nights. His bodily pain and paranoia working against him.

Was he going to turn into some rabid monster? Would he lose his mind? Is that why they kept him bound?

However it wasn’t till a few days later Aiden finally realized what the injections were for. A doctor came in and was inspecting everyone in Aiden’s room, taking measurements and such.

Aiden had grown taller, much taller. Nearly a six inches in fact. His muscles had defined out, arms- arm thicker, and his legs too, any baby fat was long gone.

The bodily pain he had experienced and was currently still experiencing was a very painful case of growing pains.

For the most part Aiden stayed curled in the corner of the room. He could stand if he wanted, but it hurt his legs to do so. So he remained in his ball, his shock having eased back only to be replaced by anger and regret.

If you hadn’t been so desperate, you wouldn’t be in this mess Aiden. You’d still have you arm!

He wondered often about his parents. Was his mom alright? What about his father? It killed him to think that he might be looking for him. Searching for the son who had no doubt vanished without a trace. Aiden hadn’t even left a note, he stupidly believed that he would be home in the morning long before his father would wake up.

How long had he been gone from home? Time was such a blur now…..

“Hey, mate?”

Aiden peeked open an eye, seeing that his only two roommates were staring worriedly at him. He had yet to talk to either of them since they had been placed in the room together, having been caught up in too much pain. The one who spoke to him was the male, taller than Aiden, even though he had been before the enhancements. The stranger was tan, with an unruly mop of chocolate brown hair and dark green eyes.

He inched a little closer to Aiden, a motion that took effort because he was missing his right leg from mid thigh down, “Kid, are you okay? You were crying.”

It was then Aiden noticed the rapidly cooling wetness trailing down his cheeks.  He sniffed, rubbing his cheeks on the wall. He was unable to use his remaining hand, as it was handcuffed to his side at the moment. “I’m fine,” he hissed out, cringing at how his voice cracked. It sounded so foreign, deeper now, it didn’t feel like his voice.

The male gave him a sympathetic look, “Look, buddy I know how you feel, if we can see what stupid mess all our decisions get us into believe me, we wouldn’t be here.”

Aiden sniffed again, casting his eyes downward.

“How old are you?” the other asked, “You were pretty small when they dropped us in here.”

“Fourteen,” Aiden mumbled.

“Jesus,” He scooted a little closer, “What’s your name kid?” he inquired.

“A-aiden,”

“I’m Jamie,” the male smiled.

“Jamie?”

“Well, my real name is Jameson, but my friends call me Jamie. I’m nineteen. “ he tilted his head over to their other occupant, a female, “This is Bria.”

“Hi Aiden,” she said. Bria was dark skinned, with equally dark and rich hair. Both her legs had been amputated below the knee, “I’m seventeen. Where are you from?”

Aiden forced himself to uncurl, ignoring the agonizing streak of pain that ran through him as he did so, “Beacon Town,” he whispered.

“I’m all the way from the the other side of the Divide,” Bria said, “I’m from a little place called Bear Claw. I was over here with my family seeing relatives when I got kidnapped.”

“I’m from the Crimson Hills,” Jamie said, “They snatched me from the bar I snuck into.”

“They offered me a job….”

Jamie raised an eyebrow, “You took it?”

“I...I wanted to help,” Aiden cringed, “My mom is sick she….” he scrunched his nose in attempt to fight back the next wave of tears.

“Woah woah kid it’s okay, it’s okay,” Jamie soothed, “I get it, you didn’t do anything wrong. Take a deep breath okay. You just wanted to help your mom, there is no crime in that.”

Aiden did take a deep breath, “Do, do you have any idea what they are going to do to us?”

Jamie shrugged, “Not exactly sure, but I’ve been hearing gossip, I think we’re some kind of cross testing program. I don’t know how awake you were about a week ago. But there were a lot more of us. I think they broke us into groups.  I was awake when they brought us into the facility, there were hundreds of kids.”

“But why did they take my arm, your legs,” Aiden stressed.

“We don’t know,” Bria whispered.

Jamie looked around, “We’re gonna get out of here, but until then, we’re stuck together. I think it’s best to say the three of us better buddy up. We gotta be strong if we’re gonna survive this.”

Harris’s words tugged at the back of Aiden’s mind and he tried not to cringe at the dark future ahead of him. But looking and Bria and Jamie, it helped, it helped to know he wasn’t alone in this.

“So,” Jamie smiled softly, “How about we get to know each other better?”


 The next few days went on almost on repeat. More injections, more bodily pain. Day in and day out, it didn’t stop or ease.

Aiden and his fellow captives continued to get taller, and fill out. But it helped to have fellow captives. As much as Aiden would never wish this fate on his worst enemy; it helped to have people to talk to.

“I think you’re almost pushing six foot,”

Aiden groaned, “Duly noted.”

Jamie gave him a toothy smile, “Well, it’ll catch the ladies attention.:

“Not unless I’m a freak of nature,” Aiden answered, thinking painfully of home, “How long do you think-”

The door to their cell opened and an armed escort entered carrying Bria. Both Aiden and Jamie remained silent, waiting as he set her down and quickly left.

Bria burst into tears as soon as the door closed.

“Hey B, don’t cry,” Jamie soothed, “Did the injections hurt today?”

Still crying Bria shook her head, “I- I heard the doctor say I’m ready for the next stage.” she broke into a sob. “I’m so scared! What are they going to do?!”

Aiden’s heart skipped a beat, fear for his own life kicking in. But he tried to assist Jamie in soothing their female friend, “They wouldn’t be keeping us healthy if they wanted to kill us Bria, we’re gonna be okay.

“The kid is right,” Jamie pressed, “We’re sticking together on this.”

“I won’t get out of here!” Bria cried. “They’re going to kill me! I can’t take it! I already see how the some of the guards look at me. I’m going to die here,”

“We’re not going to let anything happen to you!” Jamie pressed. “We stick together!”

Aiden nodded in agreement.  Even though he was still fearful and unsure himself.

Bria sniffed, “I……”

“B, it’s gonna be okay.” Jamie insisted softly.

Bria nodded weakly, her cheeks streaked from her crying, but her tears ceasing. “Thanks guys…” she whispered, voice weak.

She leaned back, rubbing her cheek against the wall, “I overheard the doctors talking about enhancements, and prosthetics . I don’t know what that means.”

“Maybe we’ll get fakes for our taken limbs,” Jamie suggested. “I know a few guys back home who had them.”

“A few raiders back in Beacon Town had peg legs,” Aiden said.

Jamie cringed, “Oh fuck no! I ain’t peg legging it.”

Bria actually giggled a little, “What about me?!” she wiggled her amputated legs, “I’d have two!”

Jamie laughed, then he looked off eyes distant, “Wonder what they mean by enhancements…”

Aiden bit his lip, “Maybe it means-”

The cell door opened again and a scientist and a guard entered the room.

Bria’s face immediately fell and her skin dropped a shade.

“This one?” the scientist asked.

The guard nodded, handing the man a handful of credits. “That’s her.”

Aiden eyed the credits then looked to Bria, Oh no.

“Remember no breaking bones. They're delicate from the growth serums.” the scientist warned.

“We’re just going to have fun,” the guard laughed as he stepped into the room.

Bria choked on rapidly pooling tears, “G-go away!”

He ignored her, “You boys don’t mind if she puts on a show, do you?” he asked.

“Leave her alone you sick bastard!” Jamie yelled.

“Don’t touch her!” Aiden threatened.

Bria was violently yanking on her cuffs trying to roll away as the menacing man approached, “Leave me alone! Please!” she screamed in terror as he kneeled down and grabbed her hip, “No! Please!!!

Get away from her!” Jamie raged, trying to crawl towards the pair. But all he could do was inch.

Heart racing Aiden pushed his back against the wall, using his legs to shove himself up.

The guard didn’t notice, instead laughing at Jamie’s feeble crawling and Bria’s sobs, “You’d tap this if you were me.”

“Fuck you!”

“I didn’t pay for alone time,” the other mocked.

“Please don’t!” Bria begged.

Aiden quickly advanced across the room, “She said-” he yelled as he pivoted his hip, “Leave her alone!” then with a hard snap, Aiden kicked the soldier on the side of the head.

The impact sent immediate ripples of pain rolling up his already tender leg. Aiden went down to one knee, gasping from the extreme discomfort.

The guard himself cursed,nearly falling over from Aiden’s kick. He snapped his head around, “Who the fuck do you think you are?!”

Aiden cried out as the guard got up and grabbed him by his hair, dragging him to the far end of the room, “You wanna play that way?! Fine!” he yelled slamming Aiden’s head into to the padded wall

“Leave him alone!” Jamie roared.

“I prefer two legs anyway,” the man sneered in Aiden’s ear.

“Fuck off,” Aiden snarled back.

“I intend to fuck something. You’re gonna be screaming when I’m done!”

“I’m not going to scream for a scumbag as disgusting as you!” Aiden cringed as he felt the guard shove hard into his shoulder, gritting his teeth.

“Leave him alone! He’s just a kid! Come back to me! Leave him alone!” Bria begged.

Aiden struggled to suppress his shaking and closed his eyes, trying to ignore the vile hands on him.

Keep your head Aiden, don’t let up. Think about home, you’re going to get home!

Aiden refused to scream or cry out, much to his attacker’s growing fury; who in turn pushed his onslaught harder and harder. Aiden did eventually pass out from the pain, Bria’s and Jamie’s cries and desperate pleas riding with him to oblivion.


 Present Day…..

Lukas glanced warily over that the interrogation room door. Isa had been in the room for roughly an hour, maybe an hour and a half now. Lukas and the others would hear an occasional scream of cry but as of the past twenty minutes all had gone silent.

Maya had knocked a little bit ago and was briskly told by Isa everything was fine and to leave them be.

So now they continued to play the waiting game.

“Do you really think she can get him to talk?” Gill asked,  possibly the twentieth something time he had inquired this.

Lukas shrugged, “I don’t know, but at this point I’m desperate.”

Petra placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, “We’ll find them don’t worry.”

Lukas simply looked away, festering in his own guilt and fear. With each passing hour he knew the chances of seeing Jesse and Aiden ever again were slimming. He didn’t want Jesse to live out the rest of God knows how long suffering experiments and torture at the hands of PAMA. Then Aiden…..

He didn’t want the last exchange of words he ever shared with the male to be ‘ Fine leave.’

Petra noticed his stress and gave his shoulder a deeper rub, “Lukas we are going to find them.”

“I hope so….”

Suddenly Reginald rounded the corner looking rather pale and quite winded, “Have any of you kids seen Isa?!”

They all pointed to the closed door, “She’s with our mole,” Maya mumbled.

Reginald’s eyes bugged out like a fish, “ She’s what?!”

“She’s interrogating him, we think,” Gill said.

“She shouldn’t even be out of bed yet!” Reginald gasped rushing towards the door, “How the hell is she supposed to-”

Just as Reginald reached the door, Isa came out, “Isa?!”

Isa looked weary and tired, “Oh hello Reggie,” she sighed.

Lukas stood, “Did you-”

Isa gestured for him to follow her as she turned on her heel, “This way.”

Lukas glanced warily at his gang, and entered the interrogation room.Lukas’s eyes widened at the sight before him. Greg was still seated in his chair, but now his hands and forearms were heavily damaged, all of his fingers broken. There was a large bruise on his face, and a tooth was missing.

Isa crossed her arms, “Care to tell them what you told me dear?” she asked.

The guard looked stiffly over at Lukas.

“Well?” Isa said.

“The brickyards,” the man finally said, “The abandoned brickyards on the other side of the passout post. They took your little friends there.”

Lukas hesitantly looked to Isa, “How do we know he’s not lying?” he asked.

“He isn’t, these are the exact coordinates,” Isa assured, as she handed Lukas a slip of paper. “Trust me, he’s already tried a few times. He knows better now. Don’t you Greg?”

Greg looked away, and Lukas found it unnerving how meek the man was before Isa.

“The brickyards…” Reginald frowned, “That’s a four day run on foot. There is a storm coming from that direction!”

“I don’t care!” Lukas turned on his heel.

“They’ll be nothing when you get there!” Greg snarled.

Everyone froze and all eyes turned to the guard.

“Want to repeat that?” Isa hissed.

He spat blood down on to the table, “PAMA has contacts waiting around, and they’re gonna know you caught me. By the time you get there, Jesse is gonna be long gone and they’ll probably have your boy dead and mutilated on the ground waiting for you.”

Lukas felt his blood run cold.

Petra snarled, taking a step forward, “You son of a bitch-”

Isa held up her hand, “Greg is right though.”

What?”

“If PAMA does have contacts outside the city waiting for an update on our progress, and I have know doubt they do. PAMA will be suspicious if their man here doesn’t check in.”

“We can’t let him walk out of here, he’ll just tell them he snitched and we’re no better off than before!”

“Well, unfortunately for PAMA,” Isa, pushed hair out of her face, “Their contact will not be available to them.”

Lukas moved closer to the female, “What do you mean.”

Greg shifted nervously in his chair, “How are you going to do that exactly?” he sneered.

“Unfortunately,” Isa sighed, “Honorable Officer Gregory Burgess, was killed today. He was leading a search party over in the eastern ridges, and was the unfortunate fatality of a enderman haunting attack."

The man’s eyes widened, and before anyone else could really react, Isa took hold of Lukas’s hip holster pistol. She pulled it free and aimed it at Greg, firing it clean into the man’s skull. The room echoed from the loud bang, blood and brain splattering against the back wall.

Screams echoed from down the hall by people who heard the gunshot, and the gang jerked in surprise by the sudden motion.

“Holy shit!” Gill gaped.

“Reginald, as much as it will kill me inside, give this man a proper funeral. PAMA is going to be watching and as far as they are concerned this was an accident. We want them to believe it.” Isa wearily handed the gun over to Lukas, “Here.”

Lukas hastily shoved the gun safely away. He reached out gently taking hold of her, “Are you going to be okay?”

“You have a location Lukas,” she said stiffly, “Just bring them home.”

Lukas weakly nodded, waiting till Reginald took hold of Isa before stepping away.

“I can get a team together,” Reginald said.

“We have to move fast, I’m leaving now.” Lukas stepped away, and hurrying out of the room.

“Lukas!”

Petra, Maya, and Gill hurried after, “Lukas hold up.”

“I’m not asking you guys to come,” Lukas cringed, “I know that blizzard might kill us if it we don’t beat it.”

“You don’t have to ask us, they’re our friends too.” Maya said.

Lukas slowed down just enough for them to catch up, arms shaking, “You guys were almost hurt. Gill was almost killed and now they got Aiden too. He was right, PAMA isn’t going to stop, they’re going to hurt everyone."

“Dude, shot or not,” Gill placed a hand on his shoulder, “I”m not letting you walk by yourself into a PAMA facility with a major winter snowstorm coming down on your head.”

“We’re a team in this.” Petra agreed, “We’re going to bring them back.”

“Are you sure-”

“Positive,” Maya pressed.

“We’ll be able to keep up,” Gill assured. “You say the word, and we’ll have them back in four days.”

Lukas smiled weakly but gratefully at them, “I’m hoping for three cause we’re not going to stop unless we have to.”

Petra squeezed his hand, “Let’s get the boys!”

They left Ground Town that afternoon. Greg’s funeral pyre burning brightly in the fading light behind them. Before them was the roaring storm and hopefully, hopefully….

Their friends.

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Violence, Trauma

Murder, Death, Human Experimentation

Body Modification, Blood, Gore, 

-

 

Many Years Ago….

“AAAAAUUUGH!”

Aiden let out a blood curdling scream as the doctor cut into his amputation scars, “STOP! STOP!”

“Someone hold him down!” the surgeon cursed.

A nurse moved in with a sedation needle but another surgeon shoved her back, “No! I need the subject awake for this! I have to properly connect the circuitry to the nerves and I need him awake to make sure they are working correctly!”

Aiden cried out again, sobbing in pain as they resumed cutting open his still sensitive wound. “Stop! God please stop!”

He wrenched violently against the straps keeping him down, “STOP!”

“Fuck! Gag him! I’m not going to listen to that!”

Tears ran down his cheeks as he tried to turn his head away, “NO! Get away from me!” God someone help me!!!!” he begged. “SOMEONE PLEASE!”

But like the last time Aiden was strapped to a table, no one came.

They shoved the leather bit behind his teeth, muffling his desperate screams to stifled whines. He struggled weakly against his bindings. The pain in his amputation was as hot and as painful as when they removed his arm. Already he was struggling not to vomit, knowing if he did they’d let him choke on it.

Someone pulled on his hair, wrenching his head back, “We’re making soldiers boy, but we gotta break you and rebuild you first,” he mocked.

Aiden tried to glare through his tears, but the pain got the better of him and he crumbled down into a whine.

Keep your head Aiden. K-keep- Keep-

He sobbed pitifully as the pain amplified, screaming into the leather bit. They continued to cut him open, they peeled the skin back; exposing his sensitive insides. He could feel them pulling on exposed muscle and nerves. Each painful tug and probing drawing him to scream and once again attempt to beg.

Maybe it went for minutes, maybe it went on for hours. But Aiden was still crying out when darkness closed in on him.


 

He awoke again to the faint sound of thunder far away and warm hands on his face.

“Aiden, Aiden wake up! Come on kid!”

His eyes fluttered open and he looked weakly up at the worried faces of Jamie and Bria.

Jamie was the one cupping his face, “Oh thank God,” he breathed out as Aiden’s eyes slowly continued to focus, “We thought we lost you. You’ve been in and out for a week now.”

Aiden tied to sit up, struggling to ignore the raw ache in his left shoulder. He dared not look at it, he didn’t want to see what PAMA had done to the injury. “What…” he cringed as his vocal cords strained to make a sound, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Shhh,” Bria brushed hair off of his sweat plastered forehead, “Your voice is shot, take it easy.”

He looked numbly up at Bria, “You’re….st-st-”

She gestured down to her legs, still wobbling slightly. Bria’s amputated legs, which used to be nothing but scars and air; were now replaced by larger scars and a matching set of prosthetic legs. A dark grey steel, they mimicked legs and feet perfectly, even down to toes.

Aiden glanced at Jamie and noticed the male had the same treatment as well.

“Bria can stand already,” Jamie said, “I’m taking a little longer because I was amputated above the knee joint.”

Aiden looked sharply at his own arm. There were bandages over his shoulder, stained with blood. He had no doubt he would have larger scars there than from his first operation. But PAMA had given him an arm. Aiden slowly eyed the dark grey metal, the bolts and inlays smooth almost like silk. Even the small ridges to even out the pressure were so fine they hardly were exposed. The wrists looked as flexible as his old arm, if not more so. The fingers even looked like they were built to move-

The wrist twisted, just slightly.

Aiden jerked in surprise.

“Easy!” Bria gasped.

Aiden stared speechless at his arm. Did it really just move? Ever since he lost his arm he would have ghost sensations. He could imagine his elbow bending or his fingers grasping, unfortunate side effects of losing the limb. But that just then, he could have sworn he felt it move, feel the pull on his shoulder muscles.

He ever so slowly adjusted his body, Jamie keeping an gentle support on his other shoulder. Aiden took a deep shaky breath and focused on the limb-

His hand lifted and his elbow bent- He could feel the pull in his arm. It hurt to move it. But his arm was moving! It was actually moving!

Gasping and feeling winded Aiden let his arm drop back to his side, fingers still flexing.

“They connected it to your muscles, it mimics an actual arm anatomy on the inside.” Jamie slowly explained.

“H-how?”

Bria shrugged, “We don’t know.” she wearily sat down rubbing her own legs. “But I heard the doctors talking about it before they operated on me. They said something about it being tungsten mixed with steel. So they’re strong….”

He wasn’t really listening to her as interesting as it probably was. Aiden once again reaching up, this time clasping his hands together, feeling the cool metal against his skin.

“You got an arm….”Jamie whispered.

This might have been good news to a lot of people. It should have been good news to Aiden. But his mind now wandered back to the operation table, what had been said. He thought about the future that this new limb brought him and it filled him with dread.

We’re making soldiers boy……


 

Soldiers indeed.

PAMA went straight to work on all their test subjects, excluding the ones who didn’t break down from trauma and shock from their prosthetic surgery.

They started with athletic tests, to see who was physically capable of what.

“I’m going to break you down and see what you're made of.” the captain in charge of Aiden’s group -a pack of fifty youth which unfortunately didn't include Jamie and Bria- said.

“I’m going to make you fight. But you fight us, we shoot you. You try and escape, we’re gonna shoot you. If you decide you are not cut out for this and fall into a puddle of tears and snot- I’m gonna fucking shoot you! ” the man sneered. “PAMA is the force that runs this world. You are blessed to be picked for a higher cause.”

Aiden frowned to himself, picking up the painfully obvious signs of a cult like mind.

“Your families will get you nowhere in life! You’re either gonna die out there in the fuckin wastes! Or your gonna die in here! You keep your head, you stay smart, and you may survive to be the weapon we’re building you to be.”

He paced across the floor. “We’re gonna see what you can do and you better do it good. The white coat scientists who picked you may have chosen you because of “healthy” and “ideal” genes. But I’ll be the one to decide if you’re worth this blessing we have so generously bestowed upon you. Now start running before I start shooting.”

The ‘fitness assessment’ went for hours, going on and on till Aiden felt like he was going to drop. God knows how long being cooped up and restrained left him little energy and strength. But he dare not stop or slow. The air was thick and heavy with fear and Aiden was part of the masses that made fear. He had no doubt if he showed weakness they’d kill him.

He struggled to pull himself over an obstacle wall. Any test that required the use of his arms put the largest strain on him. It was extremely difficult to pull, lift or push.

From the corner of his eye he could see the large observation platform high above the room, there were four or five doctors beyond the safety bar. They would occasionally whisper and point, talking to the captain at times.

Aiden’s prosthetic hand slipped just short of the wall’s top and he struggled to remain hanging on with his good arm. The wall was only ten feet high, falling wouldn’t physically hurt him too much. But he feared the possibly fatal consequences if he did.

The scientists were looking his direction, he could feel their eyes boring down on him. The captain had his rifle resting casually in both hands, finger on the trigger.

Climb Aiden climb!!!

As he struggled to bring his left arm up, down below him another young male arrived at the base of the wall.

He was gasping and wheezing. Aiden had passed him a few times on the obstacle track. The boy was weaker than others, amputated from his right shoulder down. Everytime Aiden had passed him he caught wind of a horrid smell. Having his sick mother in the house, Aiden recognized rotting flesh when he caught whiff of it.

He could smell it now as the boy leaned wearily at the base of the wall. He clung to his prosthetic whimpering softly. Aiden risked a peek down, spotting the blood and pus oozing down the metal. The youth’s wound was infected.

One of the scientists whispered something to the captain, expression clouded in disapproval. The captain laughed and lifted his gun.

Aiden sharply looked away just as the gun went off, feeling the faintest spray of blood splatter his bare ankles.

Multiple children in the room screamed and jolted in terror. The scientist yelled angrily at the captain, the former clearly had no intention of killing that boy.

But the gunman had made his choice. The boy hadn’t been worthy.

He was staring at Aiden now, watching him struggle in the wall, daring him to let go.

Groaning in pain Aiden got his left arm up and took hold of the ledge. He took a huge breath and hefted himself over the side letting himself fall down to the ground below. He landed on his feet but quickly collapsed to his knees gasping for breath.

No bullet came, the captain had apparently been satisfied with Aiden’s display, lowering his gun as the scientists whispered and took notes.

Aiden remained kneeling there, struggling for air and feeling like he had climbed a mountain. He struggled not to think about the now cooling corpse on the other side of the obstacle wall.

Keep going Aiden….

Shakily getting up Aiden began running to the next test. He dared not look down at his ankles, he couldn’t stand to see the sticky blood on his feet.

The gun went off multiple times in the next few hours, sometimes to ‘motivate’ them, sometimes to end them.

Five more children didn’t leave that room that day.


 

“Don’t struggle this is necessary for the tests.” the female ordered.

Aiden sat on a bench with three others, watching as the nurse strapped a young female down to an examination chair.

“I wonder what they’re doing?” another female seated next to Aiden whispered.

“I heard something about bodily enhancements.” a male whispered.

A doctor was on the other side of the room, writing down notes as he inspected different vials. “We have orders to test them each with a different formula. Unless we find a successful concoction.” he handed the first vial to the nurse. She in turned attached it to a large needle.

Aiden struggled to keep his heart rate down at the sight of the needle, uneager to be subjected to more injections.

The nurse slipped the needle into the base of the female’s neck. The youth squirming in discomfort against the chair straps, whimpering slightly. Aiden and the others waited nervously to see what would happen, tension thick in the air.

After a moment the female began to whine, and moan, straining against the chair. Then just as suddenly as it started, she began to scream writhing in her bonds, “AAAAAAH! MAKE IT STOP!” she begged, blood starting to trickle out of her nose.

The nurse looked hastily to a small screen attached, “Vitals are still stable!”

“She’s bleeding how is she stable?!” one of the boys next to Aiden shouted.

“Keep quiet or we’ll cut out your tongue!” the doctor warned.

The female continued to scream until she suddenly passed out, face bloodied around her mouth and nose.

The doctor checked her vitals, “Look like she’ll be fine.” he signaled an officer waiting outside the medical room. “Take her back to her block and keep her under inspection for the next forty- eight hours.”

The soldier did as he was ordered, carrying the limp girl out of the room  like she was a bag of garbage.

“You,” the doctor pointed to the remaining female, “You’re next.”

She was nervous, but she obliged to the order, knowing there was no point in resisting. She settled down into the chair, allowing the nurse to strap her in. The doctor briefly went back to the counter and the viles, writing down notes on a slip of paper before closing it into a folder.

The doctor grabbed another folder and a new vial, handing the vial to the nurse, “Let’s see how this one works.”

The same procedure was repeated as before, and there was that tense moment of silence-

The female began screaming immediately and the computer started to screech its warning. The young girl thrashed and writhed in her chair, blood running out her nose and mouth. Then it started to come out her ears.

“Vitals!” the doctor ordered.

“Failing sir!” the nursed stressed, “Her heart rate is-”

The female vomited, a torrential wave of blood pouring out of her mouth. Blood leaked out her eyelids and her ears were bleeding heavily now. Foam joined the blood as she vomited again, she spasmed once, then twice and collapsed weakly against the chair, wheezing.

She twitched a moment longer, foam and blood nearly engulfing the lower half of her face. Then the female went still, eyes rolling back.

The heart monitor on the computer flatlined.

The doctor cursed, seemingly unaffected by the dead girl in the chair. He wrote a few notes in his the file folder and closed it. He picked up certain vials and tossed them in the trash. “Compound 82B1 is fatal, dispose of all enhancement batches containing the serial number.”

The doctor proceeded to click on a wall speaker, thumb pressed firmly on the button. “Get me the disposal crew to medical testing Sub Level 3 Room 8.” he released the button and gestured to the nurse who, like the doctor, was indifferent to the bloody mess, “Get some coffee till the disposal crew gets here.”

As the nurse nodded and departed the doctor turned to Aiden and the remaining boy, “As you have clearly seen, the enhancements we are adding to your body do not have a confirmed success rate.” he lit a cigarette and took a deep breath. “You have two options now. Either you get on that chair after we clear up the corpse. Or we shoot you.”

Aiden looked warily at the chair, heart racing.

The doctor stepped aside as the cleaning crews entered the room, working as an effective machine to clear out the blood and the body.

“Now if you get on the chair, you just might make it. Or you can let the guards have at you. Your choice.” He glanced at the blood stained chair as the team left, “So….who’s next?”

The other male didn’t volunteer, in fact he leaned away, into the wall. It was as if he hoped the wall would swallow him and take him away from this place.

“Well?” The doctor asked.

Taking a deep shuddering breath, Aiden silently stood up.

The man smiled, a twisted smile, “Atta boy.”

Aiden uneasily slid in the chair that now smelled strongly of chemicals. He noticed now the faded red stains deep into the fabric. The new stains would be like that soon enough. It made his heart race to think that his blood might join it soon. But he allowed them to strap him in, and hook him to the monitor.

The doctor ran his hands over the vials, opening what Aiden assumed was his file folder. “Which to pick, which to pick…..”

Aiden watched as the doctor chose a random vial, a fifty fifty chance that he would live or die. He refused to watch the nurse load the needle, trying instead to focus on something warm, pleasant.

Home? Friends? Something!

The needle pricked his skin and Aiden let out a shuddering exhale, letting his eyes slip closed.

Keep breathing, k-keep breathing.

It took a matter of seconds, maybe it was minutes, but an unbearable pain ripped through his core. He choked on a scream, leaning weakly back in the chair.

God don’t let me die!

He could feel something happening inside of him, he could feel the raw burn on his nerve ending. It invaded all of his senses and left him breathless even though the pain continued to tear screams from him.

Don’t - Don’t let me-

He could feel blood running down his face, and hot stinging tears on his skin. He cried out again, wrenching against his bonds. He had two options, he knew death would be a release. Yet he didn’t- not yet, not yet!

PLEASE!

The pain eventually became too much for Aiden, and everything went dark.


Thunder rumbled loudly in Aiden’s ears and he reluctantly opened his eyes, hissing at the bright light.

“Aiden!” Bria was painfully loud as she touched his cheek, “Aiden?!”

He slowly let his eyes slip back open, “Bria you’re loud.” he groaned.

“I’m not that loud,” she replied helping him sit up, “You’ve been out since yesterday. They just took Jamie to start the enhancements.” she rubbed his back, a motion that made his nerve endings ache.

He felt so sensitive, thunder boomed and Aiden flinched.

“What did they do to you? Are you okay?” the older female stressed.

“Y-yeah I think so,” Aiden cringed, “They enhancements can kill you if-” he flinched at the thunder again. “Did they move us to a level closer to the surface?”

Bria gave him a strange look, “What do you mean? This is the same room.”

Aiden rubbed his head, “Then why is the thunder so loud? That storm must be vicious.”

The female now looked startled, “Aiden…..” she said slowly, “I can barely hear the storm…..”

His eyes widen slightly, “What?”

“I can barely hear anything.”


 

The enhancements and physical assessments only continued to come. Everyday PAMA pushed their subjects to the limit of their athletic ability. Running, climbing, lifting weights.

One soldier forced Aiden to punch a bag until his flesh hand bled. Another time he ran until he vomited.

Every few days there would be more injections, and each one either hurt, or it killed.

Aiden’s hearing became sharper, his vision enhanced, they worked on all his senses boosting them to the max.

He recalled at the beginning of this stage, they had given him a gun and ordered him to shoot a target a hundred feet down a shooting range.

He couldn’t even spot the center then.

Now they had it at three hundred yards.

Bull’s eye every time.

They would test him in the dark, see how well he could shoot then. They would order him to tell them what door hid someone. He would have to listen for their breathing.

His immune system improved, also enhanced by the injections. His reflexes had become faster too.

Everyone was getting stronger, faster, better.

They were weapons.

But death was a frequent visitor still.

Rarely it was the captain, he was satisfied for the most part. There was only a few incidents on his end now.

“The girl next to me drew a gun on a guard at the shooting range today.” Jamie said one evening, “I don’t know what she planned to do after she shot him. They shot her in the leg but didn’t kill her. The captain ordered his men to get her roommates. He ordered them to beat her to death or PAMA would kill them too.”

“What did they do?” Aiden asked.

Jamie rubbed his eyes and cringed “They beat her to death, and he made us watch.”

Jamie was silent for a short while before talking again “Guys, promise me when we get out of here, we’ll use what PAMA turned us into to help people?”

“We’ll be like wasteland heroes,” Bria assured, “We prevent PAMA from hurting as many people as we can.”

It was the enhancements that claimed the most lives. Almost every session Aiden was forced to partake in, someone died. Yet he found himself slowly becoming immune to the death every time they put him under the needle.

One day, after bench pressing an unbelievable two hundred pounds, Aiden was the only one in for enhancements that night. Apparently, benching pressing two hundred wasn’t impressive enough. It wouldn’t be the first time they doubled his enhancements. They had already injected him for reflexes three times now.

He was numb to the situation he was in for the most part, his heart did not race anymore, his mind didn’t seize. He was slowly breaking down, immune to the death, numb to the treatments…..

Just like the soldier that they wanted.

He was sitting on the bench, waiting for the doctor to mix up the chemicals when another doctor rushed in.

“Get to medical room 32 now!” the new arrival gasped. “One of the experiments...She’s turning it into a bloodbath!”

The doctor ordered Aiden not to move and closed the door shut behind him.

Aiden eyed the door, he had been forced to punch through concrete earlier, breaking the door wouldn’t be hard.

But Aiden waited.

For hours.

Eventually the doctor came back, finished his work and hit Aiden with the new dose.

It hurt like hell as always. Aiden luckily didn’t pass out from the pain this time.

He followed the guard back to his cell, long since having tuned out the screams and cries of the facility.

The door closed behind him and Aiden was thrown for a loop as across the room Jamie hastily got up. The slightly taller male turned around, his eyes red and puffy. The orbs widened however upon seeing him, “A-Aiden?”

Jamie moved towards him and soon Aiden found himself suddenly in a tight embrace. He was stunned, “Jamie?! What-”

“When you didn’t come back I thought-” Jamie’s voice cracked, as he held back tears

Aiden frowned, confused and concerned. “I had to wait for my injections, something happened in one of their medical rooms-”

Jamie let out a shuddering exhale squeezing tighter.

Aiden noticed something then, and it cut through his usual numbness like a knife. He pulled away and reached up with unsteady hands to Jamie and took a firm hold of the male, “J-Jamie, where is she?”

Jamie stifled a cry.

“Jamie, where is Bria?!”

“She wasn’t going to make it. She decided to take out as many- as many as she-

Aiden took a sharp breath, clinging tighter and shaking his head, “N-no. No,no, no~”

She’s turning it into a bloodbath…...


 

Days turned into weeks, and from there it turned into a blur.

There were more enhancements, and the whole way death would take another broken soul into its embrace. It was a blissful release no doubt. Each day got more difficult to handle, to cope.

Aiden was breaking down, and some part of him knew it. But he was no longer fighting it, he wasn’t even afraid anymore he was so numb.

He was stronger than the average man, faster, with reflexes sharp and sure. They had trained him to use guns, and forced him to fight and kill with his bare hands. After so much time of being shaped and molded and changed, Aiden was finally the weapon PAMA said he would be.

He was a hollowed out tool.

Jamie continued to remain Jamie. Aiden asked him  once how he could manage to keep his mindset going in such a horrid place, how he could not break down.

“I keep going, because I know if we reach the end they’ll probably kill us anyway. Start anew with new kids, people who are like we were before all this.” Jamie had told him sadly, “I keep my head, because if I get to the end, I’m gonna fight to make sure this isn’t repeated on anyone.” he placed a hand on Aiden’s shoulder. “Promise me if you get to the end, you’ll fight? Fight for everyone PAMA tries to get their hands on. Fight for me?”

Aiden looked weakly away, “I’ll try Jamie…”

The tests continued on, and the numbers went from fifty, to twenty, ten and down. On this progressed, and soon Aiden and Jamie were the only two left.

The female - blond hair pulled back in a rigidly tight bun with steely blue eyes - looked them over with absolute disdain. “This is it Howard?” she demanded.

Howard- Their Captain nodded, “These are the only two to survive this far.”

Her lips curled in disgust, “What a waste of my time and effort.”

“We’ve taken notes on what serums were used for both, we can replicated the process should it-”

“One hundred fifty test subjects Captain,” she scoffed, “And you bring me two.”

Aiden didn’t move, but from the corner of his eye he saw Jamie flinch, clearly bothered by the number.

The female doctor turned her back to them, “However, Pandora must continue.” she pulled out a series of vials from a sealed storage unit, “Let’s open the box then shall we?”

They were ordered to lay down on tables, Jamie took the right while Aiden took the left. Jamie piped up as they were being strapped down, “Hey, see you through this.”

“Yeah…” Aiden mumbled back, weary.

“Shut up both of you,” Captain Howard hissed.

“Let them have their speeches soldier,” the female doctor sighed. She brought a vial up to her face, swirling the dark liquid around as she inspected it, “It won’t matter if the test is a success.” She pulled out another vial and handed it to the nurse, “These two compounds have the most chance at success. I want them tested one at a time, no point in killing them both if it can be avoided.

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’ll be nice,” the woman said in a tone that stated the exact opposite, “Which one of you gentleman would like to be first?”

“I will,” Jamie said before Aiden could even open his mouth, he glanced Aiden’s way, “Let’s get it over with.”

The head doctor obliged, handing the nurse the first vial. They wasted no time and hooking it up and injecting it into the male.

Jamie let out a hiss as the injector shoved every last drop of the formula into the base of his neck. He looked over at Aiden giving him a shaky smile, “Here goes nothing.”

It took a minute before anything began to happen, Jamie started to shift grunting in discomfort. Aiden took this as a good sign, all of the injections were painful to begin with, so this was normal.

Jamie strained slightly against the leather cuffs on his wrists, the fabric creaking in protest, “F-fuck-” his heart monitor spiked slightly.

Aiden’s own heart seized, “J-Jamie?”

Jamie cringed, letting out a low moan, blood oozing out of his nose.

“Vitals,” the woman asked.

“Holding for now-”

Jamie jerked against his restraints, and the left cuff actually snapped off the bed he pulled so hard, “AAAUGH!!!”

The scream cut through Aiden’s numbness like a bullet through skin. He tried to sit up only to be stopped by the straps, “Jamie!” he cried.

Blood was oozing out of Jamie’s ears now, the telltale sign that it was all over. He thrashed against his bindings, his free arm flailing about. He vomited, blood pooling down his neck as he choked on his own bile. He turned to the side spitting out as much as he could before he vomited again. “A-a-a-” he wheezed.

Tears pooled in Aiden’s eyes and he struggled to reach out to his friend, to touch him. “ Jamie!!! Jamie hang on!!!” he begged, “ Please hang on!”

“I’m-I’m-” he lurched, entire body spasming. He choked as the nurses and doctors struggled to hold him down, to keep him contained.

The lead doctor was screaming something, there was so much shouting. The heart monitor was going haywire, the machinery was screeching its alarms.

No one heard what happened next.

But Aiden did.

Jamie’s head fell to the side, tears mixing with blood leaking out of his eyes. He looked at Aiden sadly and Aiden could see Jamie was scared, he wasn’t ready to die. “A-aiden…” he managed to whisper, his free hand extending out to Aiden. “P-promise-me-”

Aiden struggled not to cry, still trying to reach out,  “No, no,no! Jamie please!”

Their fingers touched if not for the briefest of seconds, Jamie held on, the tips of his fingers locked with Aiden’s.

“Aiden- Don’t-don’t let them,” he urged, voice failing.

“Jamie!”

Jamie locked eyes with him, his fingers straining to hold on to Aiden a moment long, “ Get out of here…..L-live...”

The light faded from Jamie’s eyes and his hand dropped. Then with a weak exhale, Jamie went lax, and the heart monitor went flat.

JAMIE!”  Screaming in grief. Aiden fell against the headrest of the medical bed, sobbing. “Jamie!”

God no not him! Please not him!

The female doctor cursed and stepped away, “Well, onto the next batch then.” she didn’t even care. None of them did, Jamie didn’t even have a name to them. He was a tool, a disposable tool. The female doctor turned on the radio mounted to the wall, “Get the cleaning crews ready to dispose of subject Pandora-07J.”

Aiden looked tearfully over at Jamie, unable to stomach the lifeless expression in his friend's face. He didn’t want to die! Jamie didn’t want to die, he wanted to get out of here! He was going to get out of here!

“Alright, here is hoping you do better than him eh?” a male doctor teased Aiden as he loaded the needle and brought it down.

Aiden took one last look at Jamie, looked at his lifeless eyes and the blood staining his once lively body. His gaze fell down to his own hand, looking at the ruby stains on the tips of his fingers. The fingers that Jamie held onto, that he said goodbye with-

Aiden looked at the needle coming down to his neck.

Get out of here!

“No!” With lunge and a great heave Aiden snapped every single one of his leather bindings without even slowing. He took hold of the doctor’s hand, twisting his arm and jabbing the needle into the man’s own throat.

The other doctors and nurses took a hasty step back as Aiden yanked the needle along the man’s throat, tearing it open ignoring the spray of blood that followed.. The male dropped clutching his desecrated neck and choking on his own blood. He fell to the floor gurgling as Aiden gripped the needle and turned to face the others.

Captain Howard and the lead female took a step forward, the later slowly raising her hands, “Now son,” she said in a tone that was meant to be soothing, though her voice was  full of venom, “Get back on the table.”

Aiden didn’t move, still wielding the needle like a weapon, his stance tight and defensive.

“Get, back, on, the, table.” she ordered, a little more tight,

Still Aiden didn’t move.

The captain tried to flank him, “She said get back on the table-”

Aiden dodged as Captain Howard tried to hit him in the head with the butt of his gun. He ducked under the male and slammed the needled into the man’s exposed armpit, hitting the injector and emptying it into his system.

The effects were immediate and the captain collapsed to the floor choking as foam poured forth from his mouth.

Aiden grabbed the man’s gun as he dropped, clicking off the safety and aiming it at the remaining men and women. He pointed it directly at the leading woman, staring at her enraged yet fearful eyes,

Their soldier boy, their weapon, had turned on them

“I’m not getting back on that fucking table,” Aiden hissed, “Ever, again.”

The gun went off.


 

The truck rumbled up to the hidden PAMA facility and Harris kicked open his door and hopped out of the truck.

He tightened his coat as he walked up to the security cameras posted outside the complex walls. “Hey! It’s me Harris!” he yelled into the camera, having to raise his voice to be heard over the wind, “You called me here so open up!”

Nothing happened.

“I know you fuckers can hear me. Open the gates!”

With a low groan and a heavy creak the seals on the gates released and began to steadily swing wide.

“That’s more like it,” Harris mumbled, spitting into the snow. He headed back to his truck and drove it into the complex.

The security office was quite as he pulled of the facility doors. The loading bays were sealed shut but that was hardly unnatural. Looks like I beat everyone else here. Harris mused.

He hopped out of the truck and walked up to the security office, already unloading his guns from their hollister. “You guys need bodies already eh?” he asked as he walked through the doors and threw the weapons on the table, “You went through this kids pretty quick, has anyone taught you to savor?”

He laughed when no one answered, “Alright fine, be that way. So,” he crossed his arms, looking around and waiting for the security guards to show, “Where do they want me this time?” he asked.

No one answered yet again and this time it made Harris uneasy. He glanced down the hall, the one that led inside of the facility, “Are you all asleep or something….”

No answer.

It was then, Harris spotted the puddle of blood leaking out from underneath the office of the head security guard.

“Jesus Christ!” he quickly backed up and went for his guns-

There was the click of a trigger and he felt the cold barrel press against the back of his skull. “Hey I’m not armed!” he slowly turned around, keeping his hands up, “I’m not-”

Harris’s eyes widened as he looked at the hardened face before him, “Kid?!”

The kid- Avery- Andy- Aiden? Aiden! Glared at him, eyes steely and cold. There was blood all over the male’s face, his hands, his body-  “Harris.” he said.

Harris laughed nervously, “So they couldn’t kill you eh?” he forced a smile, “I knew you’d make it! Remember what I said? Keep your head am I right?”

“Yeah,” The kid pulled back the cocking mechanism, “Thanks for the advice.”

The barrel of the gun, and that kid’s unforgiving eyes was the last thing Harris ever saw.

Aiden let the gun drop with the body and quickly retreated out of the room. He climbed into the still warm truck and turned on the engine. He’d never driven a vehicle before, but he figured after fighting his way out of three levels of armed men he could probably-

Aiden froze staring at his hands on the steering wheel.

Since the operating table everything had been mostly a blur. Aiden didn’t recall how or what he did to get out of there. But now he was out, freedom was in the form of the gas pedal and the wheel- and Aiden was only  staring at the dried blood on his hands.

He had killed a man, he had killed men, he - he had killed. Aiden had never killed before and now-

There was a whole faculty of dead people inside that bunker, and the reality of that drove the air out of him.

Hands shaking and not from the cold, Aiden brought his hands into his chest. He curled into a ball choking on impending tears and screamed.


 

Aiden was in the outskirts of Beacon Town.

He had managed to drive himself home, able to locate Beacon Town by checking his position from the mountains. It had taken him a few days, but he was home.

He dumped the vehicle into the lakes, it wasn’t hard to push the truck into the acidic waters. He had walked the rest of the way from there. Stolen boots rubbing at his heels because he had been in too much of a rush to grab socks.

It was dark, the gates were already closed so Aiden had scaled the wall, incredibly easy, courteous of the super soldier enhancements. But he was so close now, he would see his dad, maybe even his mom. He would be safe and warm and……

Instead, the cinders of a burnt down hut were there to greet him.

No house, no parents.

Just ashes.

He was trekking along the outskirts now, not sure where to go or what to do. He didn’t even know where to begin searching. He stopped at the wall, looking out into the dark lakes below. Silently he pulled out his subject folder from his also stolen jacket - he had managed to grab his subject folder on his way out

PAMA did not need to know he existed. Everything about Aiden was in there. His physical description, blood type, his subject number. Everything that had been done to him, everything that he was turned into…... Was inside that folder.

Aiden tossed it over the wall, the papers hissing as they made contact with the dangerous liquids below.

He didn’t have a home to connect to, nor a family, and he certainly didn’t want to be connected to PAMA. As long as he could help it, he would steer clear of anything and everything connected to the accursed organization. Aiden would remain an anonymous human struggling to survive out in the wastes.

No one could ever know that he had been desperate enough, stupid enough.

Aiden was trekking down the stairs unsure of where to go next when suddenly the door opened from a nearby shack.

The female inside the door shivered slightly at the cold as she hurled a bucket of ashes into the snow. Aiden recognized her immediately and the words slipped out faster than he could stop them, “Petra?”

Her head snapped up, and her blue eyes widened in shock, “Aiden?!” she gasped.

Petra was taller than he remembered, her mid length hair was pulled back into a tight braid. She looked stronger too, Aiden vaguely recalled she was apprenticing under Jack now. She dropped the bucket in surprise, clearly stunned by what was no doubt a unrecognizable Aiden. “Oh my God! It is you!”

“Y-yeah,” he stammered.

She ran out to him, bare feet dancing across the snow and stones, “Where have you been and- oh my God? It’s - it’s-” she took hold of his arms, “Come inside right now!”

Aiden followed her into the shack, no one else seemed to be home. But Aiden was too busy enjoying that frost killing warmth seeping slowly back into him.

Petra turned to face him, eyes filled with a mixture of emotions. “Where have you been?!” she cried, “It’s been over three months! We looked everywhere for you- we- we-” her voice cracked. “Everyone thought you were dead.”

“I’m sorry I-”

“God look at you,” she choked on her words for a bit, “You’re so much taller now, and your voice. I hardly recognized you…..” she ran her hands along his arm, hand stopping at his metallic one. Petra shakily took hold of his hand and pushed up his sleeve, “Oh my God. Your arm….what happened to your- to-”

Aiden stiffened, he couldn’t tell her about PAMA what would she say? “I- I went out into the wastes,” he said shakily. “I- I got hurt, there was an accident. I don’t really remember what happened but- I lost my arm.” he cringed, it was a weak lie but he wasn’t sure what to say.

“Oh Jesus….”

“I woke up on some scrappers table, he-he put this on me. I’ve been with him recovering...I - I just got back I-”

His story momentarily forgotten Petra’s eyes widened, “Oh my God,” she whispered, ‘You’ve been to your house.”

“Y-yeah-” Aiden’s felt tears pooling in his eyes but he forced them down, “Is my mom-”

Petra looked sadly away, “We lost her shortly after your father.”

Aiden’s heart seized, “ W-what?”

“Your father refused to stop looking, even after the city declared you dead. He...He went out into the wastes one day by himself.” Petra cringed, “He didn’t come home. Jack went out there and he found-”

“Oh God.” Aiden felt like he was going to vomit. His legs wobbled and he struggled to stand, “Oh God-”

Petra quickly helped lower him down to the floor, “With no one to take care of her, your mom she…..” She squeezed his hands, “I’m sorry Aiden, but everyone panicked they didn’t even bury her, they thought she was contagious. I- I’m so sorry.”

Aiden looked numbly at the floor.

If he hadn’t gone to PAMA, if he had just stayed home……

Petra ran a hand along his jaw, “We’re gonna figure this out, I’m so sorry this happened.” she said shakily. “We can get Lukas’s mom in the morning. You can stay here tonight. Jack and Nurm aren’t here,  but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.” she flinched at how cold his skin was, “I have stew, let me get you food….. I’m so sorry Aiden,” she stressed as she stood.

“I should have never left….” Aiden mumbled weakly. He looked at his metal arm, and hate surged through him. If he had never left! If he had just stayed- now he was going to be permanently reminded of the consequences every time he looked at himself and he- he- “I should have just stayed home!”

Petra stood there for a moment, staring as he remained on his knees numb and trembling. Then suddenly Petra dropped her to her knees and pulled him into a tight embrace.

“I can’t fix what happened Aiden,” she said, voice filled to the brim with sorrowful emotion, “But-but I thank God you're here.” she whispered squeezing.

Aiden accepted her hug, even held her back. But his other arm remained out, he didn’t touch her with it. He couldn’t even grieve as he stared at the dark silver metal, and no matter how much he will it, it would never go away.

“This isn’t your fault Aiden.”

If only he could tell her….if only she knew….


 

Aiden spent the next few weeks recovering, healing, and trying to pretend he hadn’t been forced to suffer though human experimentation.

He repeated his lie over and over. To all his friends, to all the people who pressed and inquired. He didn’t know if they believed him, and he didn’t try to act as if he cared. Aiden continued to repeat the tale till he became weary and worn of it. And as the time passed Aiden’s heart hardened to PAMA and all it meant, and his fear of them continued to grow.

He tried his best to fall into obscurity. It was a difficult feat for the longest time, Aiden was quite the hot gossip for awhile. It wasn’t often someone survived a three month visit to the wastes after all.

He kept his new traits a secret, drew as little attention to himself as possible. The less he stuck out, the less likely he was to be noticed by someone working for PAMA.

Aiden hurled a rock off the wall, it flew across the clearing landing in the river running out of the acid lake.

“Wow, you’ve never made that before.” Lukas observed.

Aiden tried not to cringe, reel it in Aiden, reel it in.

Aiden was staying with Lukas’s family now, having stayed with Petra for a little while as Lukas’s family worked on setting him up.

Lukas was taller than before, having grown some since he had last seen him. He wasn’t necessarily pleased to discover Aiden to be taller than him but Lukas was still Lukas down to the core, loyal and there. He didn’t pester Aiden with questions, he was just there for silent support.

“Yeah well….” Aiden couldn’t think of a excuse for the impressive throw.

Lukas shrugged, “Guess that’s what happens when we get bigger.”

Aiden relaxed, running his hand along the wood posts, “Yeah…”

Lukas gave him a sad smile, he slowly reached over. He ran his fingers along the new metal engravings on his prosthetic. Petra had taken notice of Aiden’s disdain to his new limb. So using one of Nurm’s engravers and with Aiden’s permission, gave him a tattoo of her own design.

It really did help, and Aiden had been deeply touched by the gesture. Looking at her hard work would give him an unfamiliar warmth, instead of the anger that usually came with inspecting his arm.

“Aiden!” someone called.

The both turned around just as Maya bounded up the stairs, her short cut hair bouncing with each rushed stepped, “Aiden someone is in town looking for you!”

Aiden’s heart skipped a beat. Had PAMA found him already?!

“She looks familiar,” Maya wheezed out, “I think I’ve seen her visit her before.”

She?

Aiden peeked down the stairs, eyeing the woman making her way down the street. “That’s….”

“Aiden?!” Lukas called as Aiden took off down the stairs.

Isa spotted him coming down the way, and her eyes pooled with tears.

She cried out as he reached her. The woman he used to gaze up to, now only reached his chin. But she held him as tight as she always did and tighter still. Isa pulled Aiden into a warm, loving embrace.

“I thought we’d lost you!”

“I’m sorry,” he said, voice muffled by her shoulder, “I’m so so sorry!”

“Don’t be, don’t be.” She pulled him closer, running her fingers through his hair, “ I swear by your parents Aiden, I’m never going to lose you.” she promised, “I will take care of you if you let me.”

He simply leaned into her, and held safe in her arms he could forget everything. He could feel safe.


 

Present Day…..

Somewhere a system monitor beeped.

“Alright let’s see what we got here….”

Aiden didn’t open his eyes right away, he took a slow deep breath as to not be noticed. He knew already where he was. He was groggy, but he remembered what happened.

PAMA.

“The Pandora Project huh?” someone said. “Wasn’t that one of the experiments that had a 99% kill rate? Nearly all the subjects died from what I heard. Didn't they drop that project?”

"Yeah, doctor leading it was killed."

Aiden slowly peeked open his eye, thankfully there were only two medical officers in the room and no one else, and both had their backs to him.

“My question is, Why did the main facility take so long to get the files?” the second man asked.

“I don’t know. Dr. Roberts said the curators had difficulty locating the files, something about a accident at the facility.”

“Accidents happen all the time that’s hardly new.”

“Let’s just see what we have here.” the head man said.

Aiden let his eye cast down his arm, spotting only leather cuffs keeping him locked to the bed. His lips quirked into a smile.

“Alrighty, here it is, subject Pandora-06A, let’s see what we have-”

The doctor stiffened as he read the reports, he turned to his partner, face pale and eyes wide. “Get me steel restraints in here now-”

"You’ve made a huge mistake.”Aiden piped up as he started laughing and the two men whipped around in shock. Aiden sat up, snapping off his cuffs as he went. Both men backed up horrified as Aiden finished laughing.

He grinned at them both, “You should have read the file before you woke me up."

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Nudity, Trauma,

Violence, Death, Blood

Gore, Human Experimentation

-

“You should have read the file before you woke me up.”

“Get him!"

Both men lunged at him as Aiden jumped off the bed. Aiden wobbled slightly, just a tad disoriented by the drugs, but he quickly recovered.

Aiden skirted around the first man, punching him hard in the back of the neck, snapping the spine. The male dropped like a rock, hardly able to make a sound as he wheezed from the floor.

“You son of a -”the second male began, sedation needle in his hand.

Aiden shoved the man’s arm up, then snapped his neck. This one too dropped to the floor dead. “Yeah I know, bitch,” Aiden hissed.

With his two opponents dead, Aiden leaned wearily against the wall breathing hard. He gingerly pulled out the IV needles from his arm, and shut off the heart monitor before he removed the cables from his chest. He took another deep breath inspecting himself over to access the damage.

He still had both his arms, that was a good sign. All of his clothes were gone, replaced by standard hospital garb which was a set of loose cotton pants hanging on his hips. No shirt, no shoes, he could get those off someone else though.

Legs weren’t broken that’s good. His arms, were okay. His chest-

Aiden hissed as he looked down at his exposed chest, feeling a sharp sting where his collar bone was. He tilted his head down, straining to see the damage from this angle. It was difficult to spot, but Aiden could see the red scabs and the stark black on his skin. Even though the lettering was upside down Aiden managed to put two and two together.

In big bold print, right in the center of what was no doubt the company logo, were the letter’s P.A.M.A. and in a finer print underneath was Pandora-06A.

They had tattooed Aiden a second time.

“Dammit!”

Aiden kneeled down, yanking off the lab coat from the scientist he had broken the neck of. The other scientist had started choking blood, and Aiden wasn’t in the mood nor eager to put on bloody damp clothes.

He checked the shoes as he put on the coat, neither dead scientist had his shoe size so that would have to wait. He didn’t mind wearing shoes too big if push came to shove, considering the scenario he didn’t have time to be picky. But in this case both sets were too small and wouldn’t do him any good.

Voices appeared from the hallway,  and Aiden ducked into the corner struggling to control his nervous breathing and racing heart.

He had to get out of here!!

Aiden waited till the voices receded and cautiously cracked open the door. The hallway was empty, Aiden spotted lab coats as they rounded the corner. He glanced around warily once either way and dashed down the corridor opposite to where the scientist where went.

There were no signs, Aiden was completely in the dark on where he was going, but he figured he’d eventually find a sign or a level marker. He rounded a corner, bare feet sliding out on the linoleum.

A man yelped in surprised as Aiden ran into him, immediately spotting Aiden’s latest tattoo marker.

Fuck!

“Just what do you-”

Aiden slammed his hand onto the man’s mouth, shoving him to the floor. The other let out a muffled scream struggling against Aiden.

Aiden in turn was struggling not to fall into a panic as he fought to subdue the man. PAMA messed up once and it was highly unlikely they would repeat that mistake. Aiden had one shot to get out of here alive and that window was shrinking.

If they caught him, he’d probably never see daylight again.

He got his knee onto his opponent's throat and shoved. He heard the crunch of bones and the stranger went still.

Aiden hastily got up and raced onward, finally spotting a sign on the wall.

Sub Level 7

Dammit! Seven stories underground?! How was he supposed to-

A woman screamed. The sound coming from the direction where he had left the body.

“Someone get help!”

Aiden found the signs for the stairs and took off running as more voices of alarm started to join together.

The stairs were next to an elevator. But the elevator required a key-pass anyway. Aiden ran for the door that led to the stairs bursting through it without slowing.Hitting it so hard he knocked it off the hinge.

He bounded up the concrete stairs, taking two steps at a time. He was almost to level five when the alarms started blaring.

Keep going Aiden!

He’d die fighting to get out of here if he had to. Better to die instead of being dragged back down into that hell!

He reached the fifth level just as the door on level four slammed open with a loud bang.

“Get to level seven! Go! Go! Go! Patient out of containment! Move!”

Aiden skidded to a stop, not wanting to face off against multiple - no doubt armed- individuals he yanked open level five’s door and ran in.

Aiden quickly turned and caught the  door before it could click shut. He held the lock down and gently pulled the door closed muffling the click. Then he dropped down, leaning against the metal frame just a many sets of feet reached his level and raced by the door.

He waited till the footsteps receded,and went to open the door-

“Get me another team down there! I want the floor swept through! Find the subject!”

Peeking through the window Aiden saw the fourth floor door once again open from high above. Seconds later more boots echoed in the hallowed chamber.

He wouldn’t be able to keep going that way.

Backing away from the door Aiden turned and ran.

The facility was a maze of hallways and doors. But Aiden just kept running straight. Straight had to lead to the other end eventually, the end just had to have another set of stairs.

At least he prayed it did.

Some doors had viewing windows next to them, allowing Aiden to inside the rooms as he passed. Some were filled with examinations tables, or chairs. Aiden tried to suppress his terror as he passed one room and saw blood staining the floors and walls.

Just keep going Aiden!!!

He couldn’t help but notice that the facility was fairly empty, he had yet to see many doctors, or prisoners for that matter. He only prayed that the staff was a minimal as he was led to believe.

The alarms had been silenced, and that did little to ease Aiden’s fear. Did they know where he was? Were they waiting for him?

As he approached another hallway crossing Aiden spotted shadows on floor. He was so stressed by his terror he failed to hear the approaching people.

“Dr. Roberts!”

Aiden side stepped to the first darkened door he saw. He slipped inside relieved to notice it was only an office.

He dropped behind a desk shoving himself into the area where the chair usually slid in.

The voices stopped outside the door, “Can’t you see I’m busy?!”

Please keeping walking, just please keep walking.

The door opened and the lights flicked on.

Shit!!!

Aiden took a deep breath and struggled not to panic as he scooched deeper into the desk.

The two sets of voices entered the office space.

“How the fuck did he get out?!” the male, presumably Dr. Roberts demanded.

“We don’t know-”

“We have three men dead and we don’t even know where he is!” Aiden flinched as the man slammed his fist on the table. “I want the subject found and I want him found now! Kill him if you have to! He does not get out of this facility.”

As the pair exited the office? the female spoke, “What about-”

“Keep the testing going. We have strict orders to not stop under any circumstances….” The lights turned off and the door closed. The voices became muffled, but remained just beyond the door.

Aiden cautiously peeked over the corner of the desk, eyeing the shadows underneath the door.  He couldn’t leave the office as long they stayed outside the office.

He paused as he spotted a folder on the desktop. Even in the dark room, Aiden’s sight was sharp enough to see the bold print labeled on the folder.

Subject Files.

Aiden glanced warily at the door, then reached out and took hold of the file. The doctor who bled out in the testing room Aiden woke up in had soaked Aiden’s folder in blood having dropped it on the floor in the scuffle. But Aiden had no doubt this was possibly a backup. He hastily folded it in half, and shoved it into his lab coat pocket. He’d find a way to dispose of it later.

If he got out of here, the less info PAMA had on him the less likely they were to find him again.

He picked up a few more papers from the desk, checking over them incase any of them might have information on him. Instead they were only correspondence.

Dr. M,

Agent Burgess has become a fatality in an enderman accident. Ground Town has yet to cease their search efforts. Proceed with transport? Subject has shown a higher recovery rate than from original notes,  I believe you will find it very promising.

Dr. R.

Aiden frowned, Burgess? He had no idea who that was. But it was clear that Ground Town was in PAMA sights. He glanced at the door warily again, before flipping to the next letter.

Dr. R,

Do not proceeded with transport. While results are indeed promising, there have been minor setbacks. High activity around HQ as drawn the creature back into the territory.  It has already destroyed three shipment caravans and an armed escort. My superior does not want you to risk losing subject RB-32J. The impending storm may cut Ground Town’s search efforts short, but will also increase transport risk. Your facility has the proper equipment to continue on with the testing. Send us the results and we will proceed from there.

Dr. M.

RB-32J? They had still had Jesse here?!

Aiden flinched as the shouting in the hallway escalated, “Dr. Roberts he’s not in sub-level seven!”

“Blast it!” Roberts cursed, “Scour levels eight and nine, in case he’s back tracking. Send a man to the security room to get the cameras working! Damn blasted facility, everytime a goddamn storm passes through here the fucking systems short. I want you to find that subject! He does not get out of here alive! Check every fucking nook and cranny if you have to! Find him!”

The voices receded, and Aiden swiftly made his way to the door, peeking out beyond the threshold. No one was out there. He glanced up to the ceiling spotting the security cameras mounted on the wall. All their lights were out

Dr. Roberts had been right about the storm messing with the facility.

At least he would be able to use that in his favor. He could hear the storm even five stories down. There would be the occasional rumble and the hallway lights would flicker.

Aiden took off down the hall, running the rest of the way till he reached another set of stairs. He peeked open the door, the stairway was silent, everyone was busy scouring the levels for him. He had a clear shot to the top and to freedom if he ran fast enough.

“PLEASE STOP!” a desperate voice cried out sudden and sharp.

Aiden stiffened, glancing sharply down a corner corridor. No one was in the hallway.

“STOP!”

Jesse!

Aiden glanced at the stairs, but against his better judgement he hurried down the hall towards the source of Jesse’s cries.

He found himself at a viewing window, and he cautiously slowed as he approached the glass peeking inside.

Jesse was strapped down and completely exposed on a medical table. Multiple needles and hoses were protruding from his skin along with several wires hooked to a heart machine which was beating rapidly. Between his legs, there was a rather large cylinder that appeared to have been forced deep inside of him. Jesse struggled blindly against his bindings, his blindfold soaked with tears. Jesse was covered in slowly healing marks and bruises. PAMA hadn’t wasted a second on picking up where they left off three hundred years ago.

“Let me go!” he cried.

There was a team of four doctors inside the room with him, two were working on paperwork, the other two were setting up a vicious piece of portable machinery. It was meant to be held by hand, round jagged blades hooked to the gears and motor. It was a saw of sorts, and judging by the marker lines on Jesse’s body-

Aiden felt his stomach twist.

“Just let me go!” Jesse begged, thrashing, “Please! Please!”

We can’t have him moving around like that for the test.” one of the men stated. “It’d cause one big giant mess and mess up our cutting”

Another one of the doctors rolled his eyes and stepped away from his paperwork, he picked up a needle from the nearby medical tray already full of liquid. He flicked his finger on the glass tubing once. He reached the table and took a forceful hold of Jesse’s hair.

Jesse cried out in pain as the doctor wrenched his head to the side, stabbing the needle into the younger male’s neck. “Aa-aa-!” Jesse jerked, before his limbs went lax, leaving him limp and quivering on the table. “ P-please.” he whined.

“Gag him, I’m not going to listen to this,” one of the doctors hissed.

Jesse whined, “No no please!” he cried, struggling his hardest to move, but only able slightly strain his arms. “GOD SOMEONE HELP ME!” he sobbed.

“God isn’t here!” The head doctor sneered as he jerked Jesse’s head to shove the gag into the male’s mouth.

Aiden stiffened.

God’s not here.

“Dr. Roberts wants us to hack off an arm huh?” said one of the men.

“Apparently so,” the one holding the saw replied.

“Should we sedate him?”

“I don’t think so,” the head smiled viciously, “Why waste meds? After all he supposed to grow it back.” then he turned on the saw, the blade spun sharp and fast, whirring loudly.

Jesse let out a muffled wail as the saw powered up. He shook his head desperately in his only attempt to beg. Tears ran down his cheeks like small rivers past the blindfold.

Aiden found himself frozen, glued to the floor as it may be. He slowly looked over his shoulder, looking to the open door that led to the stairs, to freedom .

Crazy and immoral as it was, he had an opening. If he left right now, if he turned away from what was happening, he could get out of here. He knew he could get out here. PAMA wanted Jesse, not him. If he left right now, PAMA would probably not come looking for him. Lukas and the team would be safe and- and-....

Jesse let out another heart wrenching sob and Aiden looked back in the room. He could clearly see what they were going to with the saw, they were going to cut off Jesse’s arm. He could see Jesse straining, begging for help for anyone to come help him.

In that second Aiden could see himself on that table. Begging for help that never came-

But this could be over! If he just- if he just-

One of the men got sick of Jesse’s muffled cries. “Shut up!” he hissed. He took a firm hold of a large black object inserted up between Jesse’s legs, and gave it a firm hard shove.

Jesse let out a agonized cry, entire body jerking and trembling from the pain. A trickle of blood ran down his legs, staining the silver table.

Aiden stared. Then, his lips curled, disgust, anger- no, rage - pooled up inside of him.

Fight for everyone PAMA tries to get their hands on. Fight for me?

Aiden’s hand clenched and he took one more look at the stair door, Okay Jamie.

Aiden got up, moving to the center of the window, “Hell, Lukas wouldn’t want me leaving you here anyway,” he mumbled.

One of the doctors looked up just as Aiden drew back his metal arm, eyes widening in surprise and shock. Then with a hard swing, Aiden punched, fist smashing through the glass.

The glass shattered into thousands of pieces, the doctors who hadn’t seen Aiden coming yelled and cried out in various levels of surprise Jesse screaming in blind fear from the sounds as well. Aiden’s borrowed lab coat caught on the jagged edges of the glass window as he leapt through. He rolled with it, slipping out of the fabric and catching the first doctor in the stomach. They both sprawled to the floor, Aiden using his target as a cushion protection from the shards of glass littering the floor.

“The fuck-” the leading doctor began, twisting the bone saw Aiden’s way.

Aiden launched off of his original target, catching the head man in the elbow, “We’ll see how you like it without the meds!” He snarled, shoving the bone saw back and into the face of the much weaker male.

His victim let out a blood curdling scream, which rapidly became ragged and disoriented as the saw continued to tear through skin, muscles, eye and bone. Blood, brain and bits of flesh scattered everywhere as Aiden forcefully and somewhat messily continued to shove the improve weapon into his target.

“Jesus Christ!” one of the men cried.

“You son of a bitch!” Another raged, he snagged a scalpel from the table and lunged at Aiden.

His attacker caught him briefly in his exposed ribs, running a harsh jagged line from his hip upward. Snarling, Aiden released his now dead man, leaving the saw spinning in his skull. He kicked his attacker into the wall, and before the man could recover, spun around, and using his whole body as weight, slammed his metal arm into the man’s face.

There was the loud crunch of bones, and the second man went down twitching, his entire face caved in.

Snapping his arm out and flinging off the excess blood and brain from his elbow, Aiden turned to face the other standing male. He noticed, as the man cowered against the wall, there was a suspicious liquid dampening the inside of his pants.

Aiden’s lips quirked every so slightly. The cowering male noticed, and perhaps he had a change of attitude, or perhaps Aiden’s mocking gaze drove him to a rage; but he quickly pushed off the wall. “You’re just a fuckin test subject!” he hissed.

Aiden lifted an eyebrow, and silently raised a finger.

“You’re just dirt!” the other screamed, lunging at Aiden.

Aiden waited till the last second, then casually stepped to the side and snapped the third man’s neck.

By this point the man Aiden had knocked the ground was beginning to get up, or at least struggling to do so. The doctor had dozens upon dozens of glass shards stabbed into his back and arms, even parts of his neck. Blood stained his body as he struggled to breath and rise.

Aiden silently walked over, he pushed the man down by his throat with his foot, and before the man could even say a word, Aiden shoved.

The fourth and final man went silent.

Aiden took a short, but deep breath, trying to sooth his racing heart.

Jesse still cried pitifully and struggled from the table, drawing Aiden’s attention as the heart monitor raced off the hook. He strained, pushing, his attempts futile against the straps. Faint splatters of blood and other…. bits, littered Jesse’s skin. He no doubt had felt them hit, hyper sensitive as he was with the blindfold on, it did little to help sooth his terror.

Aiden gingerly dodged stray shards of glass as he hurried over. “Jesse! It’s okay!” he said in a voice as calm as he could manage.

Either Jesse didn’t hear him or was too choked up in his own terror to notice. But the smaller male let out a pure terror scream as Aiden’s hands briefly touched him as he made for the straps.

Aiden yelped as Jesse’s arching spine pinched his fingers under the thick leather, “Jesse calm down!” He reached up, managing to grab hold of the thrashing head’s blindfold.

Jesse wailed in fear, tears streaming out from under the cloth.

Aiden yanked the fold off, “Jesse it’s me!”


 

If it was possible to die from pure fear, Jesse almost did.

The sound of shattering glass had cut through the sound of the saw like a gun going off. At first some small part of Jesse thought that one of the doctors had dropped a vial, but the sound had been so loud it couldn’t have been.

Seconds later the screams happened, screams that Jesse wasn’t expecting.

Then they kept going, Jesse thought he had heard another voice among the levels of sound. But then there was this God awful sound, a painful death rattle, and Jesse had felt this sticky wet warmth splattering his skin.

Something was in the room, it was killing everyone!

One by one the screams went quiet and then there was nothing. Jesse was in a panic, he had to get out of here! Whatever it was would come for him next and God he didn’t want to die!

Hands! Oh God there were hands touching him!

He screamed in fear, struggling- fighting- he didn’t want to-

“Jesse it’s me!”

The blindfold was torn clear from Jesse’s eyes, and he blinked up at the harsh lights, eyes full of tears. He couldn’t believe his eyes, really , he could barely see he had been in the dark so long. “Mmmm-!”

The figure above him adjusted blocking the light and Jesse saw Aiden’s form take shape. At least, he assumed it was Aiden, the male was covered in…..various substances.

“Hey, Jesse, Jesse it’s me.” he urged, he gently reached behind Jesse’s head, unclasping the gag.

Blinking back more tears and struggling on shock, Jesse managed to gasp out, his voice hoarse, “A-Aiden, h-how-”

“They had the wrong restraints,” Aiden said simply, which did little to ease Jesse’s confusion, “Let’s get you out of here,” he whispered as he worked on undoing all the table straps holding Jesse down.

“Y-you’re here -” Jesse choked, he felt like he could cry again as Aiden helped him sit up. He gripped the sides of the table trying to suppress the salty tears. “W-what happened did you kill-” he looked around the room. His heart seized at the gory sight all around him. “Aaa-”

“Don’t look at them,” Aiden gently took his jaw and guided Jesse’s gaze back to him, “Don’t look,” he repeated.

Jesse was sure he had lost his mind now. He was in so much pain from whatever the doctors were doing he was delusional. This was Aiden but this wasn’t an Aiden he was used to, it was too soft too gentle too- He tried to shift off the table, letting out a sharp cry as a burning pain shot up his spine, “Aaah!”

Aiden was busy pulling out the needles from Jesse’s skin, but he hesitated when Jesse cried out. He looked down, cringing, “Shit…” he hissed, “Hang on just a sec.”

Jesse whimpered as Aiden took hold of the larger insert crammed up inside of him, hands shaking feebly on the table, struggling to find something to grip.

Aiden paused just long enough to silently guide one of Jesse’s hands up to his shoulder, signaling it was okay to hold on to him. Jesse didn’t waste a second, clinging shakily on to Aiden with a whine as the larger male tugged at the large object inside his body. Tears pooled in his eyes and soon ran down his cheeks as he felt the sharp pressure build, “Hnnnnn!”

“PAMA you sick fuck,” Aiden growled under his breath as the item slowly began to slide out. Jesse clung onto Aiden’s shoulders, shuddering, gasping, crying in pain as the blood slicked insert moved. He could feel the sticky warmth running down his thigh and he let out a weak sob.

“It’s almost out, just-”

“Aaah!” Jesse jerked as the last of the tubing popped out, feeling faint muscles spasms from between his numb legs, “Ooow” he whimpered.

“I know, but we’re going to get you out of here it’s going to be okay.” Aiden soothed, using his bloody thumb to push some of the the tears on Jesse’s cheeks away. Then he quickly but gently continued pulling out the remaining needles from Jesse’s skin.

Jesse glanced weakly around as Aiden worked, trying not to look at the morbid display of bodies and blood on the walls and floor. He looked at the shattered observation window. Still somewhat numb in his mindset, Jesse knew however that glass was thick, “How did the window-”

“I punched it.”

P-punched? ” Jesse began, blinking his sore eyes in delusional confusion “How d-did you-” his eyes widened as an armed soldier appeared in the view of the window, “AIDEN!” he screamed.

“Freeze!” the man ordered.

The guard raised his gun, but faster than Jesse could react, Aiden was already moving. He yanked the still spinning bone saw from a corpse on the floor, and with one smooth hurl sent the sharp object flying.

Jesse choked on a terrified scream as the soldier dropped, head severed from his body, a spray of blood immediately pooling on the tile.

The saw embedded itself in the far wall where the motor promptly shorted and died, grinding to a halt.

Aiden straightened back up, reached silently across and pulled the last needle from Jesse’s leg.

“H-how-” Jesse squeaked out. He stared fearfully at Aiden with water clogged eyes.

“It’s okay’ Aiden said reaching out, hesitating as Jesse flinched. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he assured, seeing the fear no doubt pouring off of him, “I’ll explain eventually but right now we need to get out of here.”

Aiden did a rushed scan of the room, making a face, “Fuck, I should have laid off the messy kills, something's gonna smell us when we…” he trailed off. Jesse noticed Aiden was staring at a lab coat that was hooked on the remaining glass of the window. It was spotless -mostly- unlike the rest of the clothing in the room and only  had a minor tear where it snagged the glass.

Aiden yanked off a pair of boots from one of the dead men, slipping them on before marching over the piles of glass to retrieve the coat. He came back, extending it out to Jesse.

Jesse tried to move his arms, but found he couldn’t , they remained glued and shaking close to his body.

With surprising patience, the larger male moved in, and quietly helped Jesse pull the coat over his bare form. As Jesse tried to get some of the coat buttons to shut with shaking hands, Aiden lifted up the least bloody body in the room. This man didn’t have a lab coat,  he wore a surgeons cover, but after Aiden tore it off it revealed a loose fitting undershirt. Aiden took that, slipping it over his blood stained skin. It was a bit too big, the tank top arms exposing a lot of Aiden’s sides, but he apparently didn’t feel the need to find a better item.

“Okay let’s go.”  he said, getting ready to move and signaling Jesse to follow

Jesse let out a whimper as he twisted to slide off the table, moving his lower half to stand up on the cold tiles. But his legs gave out underneath him, twisting at an awkward angle and Jesse crashed onto the floor. He let out a pained sound as stray chunks of glass became embedded in his unprotected legs and feet

Aiden turned around to the crash, looking to the ground where Jesse was. “Jesse?” He asked urgently, confused, and even concerned at Jesse’s state

“A-Aiden, I can’t... ”Jesse cringed, shuddering and breathing irregularly.

Aiden’s forehead furrowed, confused at what Jesse was spouting. “You can’t ? What the hell are you saying?”

Jesse sucked in some shallow breaths, trying to get enough air in his lungs to ease himself. To calm down

“Aiden, I-I can’t walk !”

Aiden was helping him escape, But Jesse couldn’t even stand, let alone walk and they were running out of precious time.

Aiden stared at Jesse and for only a split second,Jesse was hit with this overwhelming wave of fear. Was he going to be left behind? To die? Or to be forced to bear more painful testing as a result?

But then, much to his shock, Aiden came back to him. He dropped down and began to gently pluck the large shards of glass from Jesse’s legs and feet. Then he twisted around till his back was to Jesse, “Grab on,”

“W-what-” He hiccuped, arms and shoulders trembling as he stared at Aiden’s back.

“Jesse we don’t have time,” he urged. Aiden reached back, guiding Jesse’s hands to his neck, “Hang on!” he ordered, as he then took hold of Jesse’s thighs and hefted him off the ground and onto his back.

Jesse clung tight as Aiden hurried out of the room, only slowing to gingerly climb out of the window as not to cut Jesse.

“Don’t look,” he whispered as he knelt down next to the decapitated soldier. Jesse looked away, struggling on tears and whimpering; trying keeping his stomach contents down as he heard Aiden shuffling about. He only opened his eyes when he felt Aiden rise and move again. Aiden now kept one arm firmly back and holding Jesse up while the other hand was now armed with the dead man’s handgun.

Aiden kicked open a door with his foot and Jesse immediately could hear shouts and orders in the hallowed stair way.

“Keep an eye behind me,” Aiden tasked, “And don’t let go!”

The moment they stepped into the stairwell shouts from all around immediately rose up.

“There he is!”

“He has the other test subject!”

“Stop them, don’t let them escape!”

Jesse jerked as Aiden raised the gun, firing multiple times down below. Each shot successfully hit someone, lethal and sure with each bullet.

Aiden then redirected his aim upward, shooting a slew of soldiers and doctors running down towards them. Jesse whined, gripping tightly onto Aiden as the  male began to bound up the stairs.

Jesse recognized the voice of Dr. Roberts rising over the yells and shouts, as they ran towards the surface, “Don’t let the subject get away! Shoot the other one, I don’t care! But don’t let RB-32J get away!”

Jesse cried out as bullets began raining down up them, “A-Aiden!” he blubbered.

Aiden didn’t answer, tilting his head slightly and aiming the gun once more.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Went the gun!

Three more bodies hit the floor.

“Stop them!” Roberts roared.

“Hang on!” Aiden yelled, Jesse looked sharply forward to see a large handful of men blocking the stairs before him, “Don’t let go!”

Jesse screamed as Aiden dropped his arm, leaving Jesse to just be clinging to Aiden without support as he jumped onto the stair railing. He shoved off with ferocious strength, catching the next level’s railing with his metal arm. Aiden heaved a grunt and hoisted them both over the side. They landed safely on the ground once again, and on the other side of the pack.

Aiden pivoted, returning his arm to support Jesse and raced up the stairs. Leaving behind a raging Dr. Roberts and brazen bullets.

At least two dozens men were giving chase firing after them. But Aiden just kept running, shooting and fighting his way to the top.

“We’re almost there Jesse just hang in there!” Aiden urged, shooting another man that got in their way. He hurled his now empty pistol down the stairs hitting a doctor square in the face, before snatching up his latest kill’s pistol.

They got to the first floor, Aiden wrenching the door open and racing through. He slid to a stop in the empty hallway, looking desperately around for something to block the door with.

“Aiden they’re coming-” Jesse stressed.

“I know I know!”

Aiden ran his hands along the wall, tapping the concrete. Then suddenly Jesse yelped as Aiden temporarily let go of Jesse again and slammed his metal arm through the wall. He wrenched out a steel pipe, steam spewing out from the damage.

Aiden quickly shoved it through the handle in the door just as the first group of men yank upon the steel door. The bar prevented them from pulling through. Both males yelped as the door jolted and Aiden backed quickly away from the door.

“That’s not going to hold them,” he panted out, “Not for long.”

“Where do we go?” Jesse whimpered.

Aiden didn’t answer instead racing down the hall, yanking open doors and looking inside of them, “No, no no!” he stressed, continuing on his run. “Trucks! Where is the fucking garage?!”

Beyond the confines of the facility, the wind was howling and the lights of the bunker flickered and the ground vibrated. But Jesse and Aiden continued to desperately try and search for a way out.

But so far their chances were looking grim.

Jesse was struggling not to fall back into a wave of tears, heart racing a thousand miles a second, “We’re never going to get out of here!” Jesse choked out. Flinching as he could hear the distant banging on the door they left behind.

“We will! We just have to keep moving!” Aiden assured, “We’re going to-

The gun went off with a loud, heart stopping, bang.

Aiden let out a cry of pain, and he and Jesse both went down to the ground. Jesse gasped in terror as he rolled off Aiden, sliding across the floor and hitting the wall. Aiden hit the ground hard stifling another cry. He clutched his right shoulder spasming in pain. Blood oozed between his fingers as he gripped his wound.

Aiden had been shot.

Dazed, Jesse looked weakly down a hallway juncture. About fifteen feet down the hall a large burly security guard stood with his weapon held high and smoking.

“I suggest you boys stay down.” he snarled.

Aiden let out a feral growl, eyes shifting down the way to where he dropped his own gun. The pistol was about halfway between him and their attacker, “Like hell we are!” he hissed.

Aiden shoved up and rushed for the pistol.

The guard fired again, this time aiming it at Aiden’s target, the gun. The shot missed the pistol, but the close impact sent the weapon sliding out underneath Aiden’s gasp.

Aiden recovered from the move, instead of going back for the weapon, he kept his momentum and continued for the guard.

Jesse yelped out, flinching as the guard fired multiple times at Aiden. Aiden managed to dodge the first set, but staggered as bullet tore through him, just grazing his rib cage. “Aiden!” Jesse cried.

With blood rapidly staining his stolen shirt, Aiden dodged the last shot and slammed into the large male, sending them both sprawling to the floor.

What proceeded after was a mad wrestle for power. Both men were fighting of the weapon in the guard’s hands.

“You can’t win!” the man snarled.

 “We’re not going back into that fucking hell hole!” Aiden yelled back. He slammed his forehead into the guard’s nose, breaking it easily and sending a spray of blood out of his attacker’s damaged nasal passages.

The man roared in rage, swinging his free fist and catching Aiden in the throat. Aiden gasped in pain, eyes widening as the man twisted the barrel towards his face. Aiden yelped, shoving the barrel as the gun went off, bullets embedding into the far wall. Aiden hissed in pain, the hot barrel burning his palm, but he refused to let go. He jerked his opponents wrist, forcing him to fire over and over and empty the entire clip.

The other cursed, and tried to throw the now empty gun at Aiden. He missed, but with his hands now free, he took one hand and dug it into Aiden’s shoulder, thumb shoving deep into Aiden’s fresh bullet wound.

Aiden roared in pain, the agony of the wound enough to loosen his grip on his attacker.

The man slammed his head into Aiden, dazing the younger male and shoved him off. He quickly scrambled up, racing down the hall towards Aiden’s original gun.

Jesse run!” Aiden cried to him.

His racing heart nearly bursting from his ribs, Jesse struggled in a panic to rise. The drugs from earlier still had an effect on his body and he only managed to collapse from his efforts, “I can’t!”

Aiden scrambled up, racing after the male and managing to catch him just as he reached the dropped pistol. He slammed into the other. The man’s boot nicked the weapon, sending the pistol sliding over to Jesse as the two crashed through a door window.

Jesse felt his hope rise as Aiden punched the man and for a moment seemed to be gaining the upper hand. But then his larger attacker spun around and  returned the attack by punching Aiden in his bullet grazed ribs.

Aiden cried out, staggering back.

The guard grabbed hold of Aiden by his hair, slamming him into the concrete as hard as he could.

“AIDEN!” Jesse cried, once more he struggled to get up, to move. If he could get the gun to Aiden- if he could help!

Dazed and with blood oozing on his forehead, Aiden was barely able to fight back as the man yanked him away from the wall. Then just as quickly as he pulled back, the guard shoved Aiden forward again, this time towards the jagged glass in the broken window.

Aiden gasped, eyes widening, and his hands shot out pushing hard against the door frame stopping the other. He was at a serious disadvantage, the guard was forcing him to bend at the waist, and he was putting all his weight into it. Keeping his grip on Aiden’s hair he slowly shoved the brunet’s throat closer to the sharp and lethal shards.

He was going to kill Aiden! Jesse realized with growing horror. “No! Don’t-!”

“Jesse run-Aaaaah!” Aiden cried out as the man took one hand and forcefully punched him hard in his wound. His arms buckled slightly from the pain and Aiden almost went into the glass.

“You, can’t, win,” the man hissed, punching again, grinning viciously as Aiden writhed and struggled to push back.

“N-no-” Aiden sneered shakily out, but he was losing ground slowly inching closer to demise.

The guard laughed, and twisted his fingers into the fresh and bloody injury drawing a scream from Aiden.

“Aiden!” Jesse shakily tried to push himself up, only to collapse back down to his knees, tears ran down his cheeks as he tried to get closer, “Leave him alone!” he begged.

But the guard paid him no mind and continued his assault. He lifted his boot, slamming it into the back of Aiden’s knee, “Die!”

Jesse looked down at the revolver by his thigh, the metal cold and steely against his pale and clammy skin.  He quickly snatched it up, hands barely able to hold onto the the heavy weapon. He shakily raised it pointing it at the pair.

Oh G-god I can’t do this! He was gasping for air, struggling to aim the weapon, I’ll hit Aiden- I’ll-

Aiden screamed as the man punched his wounded ribs once again, his arms quivered and bent in from the pain. His throat pricked by the longest tip from the glass, “Aaaaah!”

Jesse pulled back the cocking mechanism, it took both his hands to do it he was trembling so bad. He struggled to remember what Lukas had said, what he had shown him.

Line up the sights, pull the trigger back slowly, make sure the safety is off…..

Jesse hardly glanced the safety, it was already off, courteous of Aiden already handling it earlier. But even for the briefest of seconds Jesse froze, entire body quaking in fear.

Him or us, Jesse, him or us! He fought to tell himself.

Aiden choked on another shout, throat that much closer.

Jesse had never fired a gun before, he wasn’t even sure he was doing it correctly in this moment. But he didn’t have time to check, he didn’t have time to learn. He aimed, and with tears running down his face squeezed his eyes shut.

God …..Please!

The gun went off with a deafening crack.

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Partial Nudity, 

Injury, Trauma, Blood

-

 

 

Aiden lurched when the gun went off. Thankfully he didn’t lurch downward and impale his throat. But the sound was so sudden and unexpected he almost did.

He tensed up even more than he was now, waiting for that pain to blossom somewhere on his body. Aiden was sure their pursuers had caught up with them, and shot him-

Instead, his current attacker’s grip on him loosened- maybe he was just as surprised- but it didn’t matter to Aiden. Heaving in a great breath Aiden shoved the other male off him, and twisted around. He kicked his attacker in the gut to push him farther away.

The guard staggered backward, hands shakily coming up to clutch his throat, which was now dripping dark blood from a bullet hole in it.

Aiden’s eyes widened and his gaze immediately snapped towards Jesse’s direction.

The smaller male was holding out the still smoking revolver with quaking hands. His eyes were wide with shock, pools of salty tears bubbling at their edges. Jesse stared in horror as the man backed up. “Aa-aa-”

The guard hit the opposite wall wheezing, then eyes going glassy he slid down to the floor. His wound leaving a streak of red on the white painted concrete.

“Oh-m-my - aaa-” Jesse shook with such ferocity now that he could barely keep his hold on the pistol.

Aiden limped over, legs aching from where the guard had kicked him. “Jesse!”

Jesse’s eyes unsteadily moved to stare at Aiden. The bright green orbs were numbed and dull from his shock, “I-I-”

Aiden gently pried the revolver from Jesse’s hands, “Are you okay?” he whispered, despite already sure what the answer would be.

“I- I killed him, I-” tears threatened to fall down the pale male’s face.

“You saved my life,” Aiden tried to sooth. He set the gun down on the floor and gently clasped Jesse’s shoulders, “You saved me Jesse.”

“I-I have to be dreaming,” Jesse blubbered out, “T-this can’t b-be real. I’m s-still back on that t-table. I’m- I’m- this isn’t-” he choked.

“You’re not on that table Jesse,” Aiden urged. “We’re breaking out. We’re not going to be trapped here. I’m going to get you out of here and back to Lukas.”

Jesse’s lips quivered. Maybe the information was to much to take; or maybe it was the shock of his second kill settling in. But Jesse reached out to Aiden, breaking down with a heart wrenching wail.

Aiden stiffened slightly as Jesse latched on to him with incredible strength for being in such a fragile state. He paused for the briefest of seconds then pulled the male tighter into the awkward embrace.

“I just want to go home...” Jesse sobbed as he clung to Aiden. Each heaving cry wracked his frail frame, “I want to go home !”

Aiden flinched, running a hand along Jesse’s back. He knew Jesse could never go home, no matter how much he wanted to.

Kind of like how Aiden couldn’t…..all those years ago.

The hard slamming of the door far away pulled Aiden from his thoughts. They couldn’t linger right now, not when their fears were banging to get in.

“Let’s get out of here,” Aiden whispered. He adjusted his grip on Jesse and grabbed the pistol next to him. Very carefully, Aiden scooped the smaller male up into his arms.

Jesse shifted to the movement, still crying heavily into the crook of Aiden’s neck. His clinging put a strain on Aiden’s wounded shoulder, but he did his best to ignore it.

Aiden then took a few slow steps forward, working through the painful stiffness in his legs before breaking into a sprint.

He checked on door after door, desperate to find a gun room or a garage or an exit. The longer they searched the less time they had. That door would break at anytime.

The wind was howling loud now, all the lights were spazzing and occasionally shorting, drowning Aiden in temporary darkness. Everytime blackness would close in, Jesse would let out a whimper, his grip tightening. His clinging was almost like an confirmation, proof that Aiden was still there.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” Aiden tried to sooth. “We’re gonna make it.”

But they were running out of time.

Aiden yanked open a door and was relieved to see this was a loading bay, the hanger doors rattling on the far wall. It was full of a long line of armored trucks. He ran to the first car and wrenched open the door.

Keys! Keys! Where are the God damn keys?!

Jesse let out another pitiful sob as Aiden jostled around for keys. “A-Aiden-”

“We are going to make it Jesse,” he stressed, “We just need to- Fuck!” he slammed the car door shut. He regretted that as Jesse whimpered, clinging tightly.

Aiden turned slowly in a circle, he wasn’t going to waste time looking elsewhere when all the cars were probably all set up the same. So he searched for a cabinet, something, anything!

Nothing!

Cursing Aiden ran to a door tucked into the corner, hoping for an office. He lifted the latch and instead of being greeted with another room, he opened the door to the storm.

Jesse and Aiden both cried out as they were blasted by the howling wind and bitter cold. It sliced through Aiden’s adrenaline warmth, freezing him to his core. His injuries ached as the cold cut into the exposed skin.

Aiden struggled to push the door closed using his back. Clinging onto him Jesse shivered violently, lab coat whipping in the gale.

As Aiden pushed a sound cut through the facility, muffled by distance and the wind. He almost didn’t hear it. But there was a metallic bang.

Their pursuers had broken through the door.

Jesse had not heard the door breaking down. But he did hear the shouts that rose up after. He tensed, nails digging into Aiden’s skin.

“Find them! Don’t let them escape!”

Aiden stared fearfully at the closed hallway door. He lifted the revolver, checking it.

One bullet left.

The lights were off in the garage. Their pursuers didn’t know where they were yet. But when they looked in here, and they would look….

Aiden would have one shot and too many bodies to aim at. He wouldn’t be able to fight everyone off while holding Jesse like this. But with the state Jesse was in, he wasn’t too keen on putting him down. They could hurt Jesse or take him away if Aiden got overwhelmed.

Aiden glanced over his shoulder looking at the howling dark

They’d freeze to death if they went out there. That, or something might eat them.

But….

Jesse’s grip clenched tighter and Aiden looked down to see Jesse staring fearfully in the direction of the hallway, his tears gleaming in the dark.

Aiden saw what they were going to do to Jesse and he had no doubt that if they got him back they would continue on to worse things.

“Aiden- I- I can’t- ” Jesse whimpered out.

Aiden pulled him closer, “We’re not going back in there.” he said firmly.

Aiden spotted a heavy coat draped over a nearby workbench. Casting the gun aside he stepped away from the exit, letting the door swing back open wide with a bang.

“I heard something!”

“This way! This way!”

Aiden snagged up the coat and wrapped it around Jesse, “Hang on,” he whispered.

Jesse nodded, wrapping his arms tightly around Aiden and burrowing his face into his neck.

Aiden took a deep shaky breath, then, without daring to look back behind him; Aiden ran carrying Jesse out of the exit and into the blizzard.


 

The wind howled, blowing with such force that a certain well aimed gust sent Lukas falling down onto his knees.

“Lukas!” Petra cried, having to practically scream to be heard over the horrible blizzard.

“I’m alright!” he yelled, tugging on his waist rope to signal the rest of the group he was still attached. After the storm had hit them like the behemoth that it was, the gang took a long rope and tied it to their belts, which was a good plan in the long run. Lukas could partially see Petra through the haze, but Gill and Maya - who were farther ahead on the rope- were not visible at all.

Petra reached out, helping pull him up, “Gill says we’re in the brickyards, so watch your step!” she hollered into his ear.

Three days of hard travel and running and Lukas and the gang hadn’t quite beat the winter monstrosity to the hidden PAMA facility. Lukas was hoping to get there before the storm buried it away. But now that hopeful urge was replaced with a fearful panic.

How were they ever going to find Aiden and Jesse in this ?

The snow flurried around almost like waves in the ocean. One moment Lukas would find himself in ankle deep snow as he trekked, the next he would be up to his waist in the bone numbing flakes.

The temperature itself was cold enough, added with the wind and snow, anyone out here without proper gear would be dead in the hour.

The only thing Lukas took comfort in being in this white out, was that the likelihood of running into some radioactive monster would be slim. Most creatures hibernated before heavy winter set in. But that also meant that if the gang took shelter in any of those skeletal brick buildings all around them, there might be a ghoul- or worse, an enderman- inside those dark and frightening structures of stone.

“We gotta be close!” Petra yelled as she and Lukas climbed over a jagged pile of rebar and brick, having to be careful as to not impale themselves or cut the rope. Lukas stumbled again and Petra took a firm hold of his arm, “Lukas?!”

“I’m fine!” he took hold of his goggles and shoved them up onto his forehead, the lenses were coated in a thick layer of ice. “I can’t see a damn thing in this storm!”

Petra stared at him and Lukas figured he must have had a nasty expression, probably, considering his stress. He had to find Jesse! He promised he would take care of him. He had to find Aiden, say he was sorry and -

Petra cupped his face, the gesture was cold, her thick gloves covered in snow. But Lukas hardly felt it, his cheeks were numb already. Petra brought her forehead to his.

“We’re going to find them Lukas!” Petra assured, “We’re going to bring them back!”

Lukas closed his eyes, leaning into her touch. He struggled not to succumb to a wave of emotions, “But what if-  what if Greg was right? What if-”

“We’re, going, to, find, them.” she repeated firmly.

Lukas shakily nodded and followed Petra up the hill to where the rest of the gang were.

Gill was holding a ice covered GPS, his fur lined coat hood covered in snow. He had taken off one of his gloves. With shaking fingers he was struggling to wipe off the GPS screen.

“We’re right on top of it!” Maya said to Lukas.

“Then where is it?!” Lukas stressed.

“Who fucking knows!” Gill snarled, shoving the GPS into his pocket, “Damn thing is frozen now!”

“Are you sure we’re in the right spot?”

“I had that thing out for the last mile till we had the correct latitude and longitude. We gotta be here, that or Greg set us up!” he stated frustrated and scared as he yanked the glove back on.

The wind picked up with a loud howl and everyone cowered together as they struggled not to be buffeted over by the gale.

Lukas felt something strike his back and he looked sharply over his shoulder to see a dark shape flying away, vanishing into the whiteout. “Petra did you see that?!”

“See what?!” she hollered.

“Something just-”

“Guys!” Gill yelled, “I see a light!”

“Where?!”

Gill pointed, everyone following his arm to the the direction he was aiming. In the far off distance was a glow barely visible in the white out. But it was there, orange and indicating warmth in the freezing grays.

“Is it a fire?!” Petra called, “It looks like it’s moving!”

“What if it’s the bunker?!” Maya observed.

“They wouldn’t leave a door open though!”

“Only one way to find out!” Lukas answered.

The team staggered through the drifts, and Lukas struggled on panic as the wind carried ominous sounds all around them. There was wailing, and structures groaning, Lukas thought he heard metal banging at one point.

He just hoped the sound wouldn’t draw something out.

As they trekked closer to the glow, Lukas was slowly able to see what it was as a form took shape. It was a door, inside was a hot orange glow, added with a God awful, but familiar smell.

Burning flesh.

Lukas slowly eased up to the closed entrance, trying to peek through the black smoggy window, but unable to see anything.

“Is this it?” Maya whispered, they were sheltered by a structure now, it was a little easier to hear.

“I don’t know.” Lukas whispered back.

Gill eyed the structure, “We’re by a furnace house, it looks just like the one by the crematorium back in Beacon Town.”

Lukas glanced back at the door, that would explain the burning flesh smell. With the ground nearly frozen solid all the time the only way to dispose of the dead was burning them. Some towns did it with funeral pyres, while others just dumped the bodies in a crematorium like this one.

To have bodies to burn would mean people had to be close by. Lukas figured even an underground facility had to have somewhere to dispose of their dead. Even though the thought of PAMA even taking the time to burn their own was surprising.

Lukas twisted the handle, peeking inside the room. The furnaces were burning full force, driving the ashes up the shoots and into the blizzard. But the smell was still strong, the air reeked heavily of blood as well and it took Lukas a maximum of two seconds to figure out why.

Bodies.

Roughly twenty to thirty bodies were piled up in the far corner of the room. Some had been dragged out, stripped of clothing and any personal belongings getting ready to burn. The clothing was cast into another pile. As for the blood smell, Lukas could see the streaks of red dragging across the floor from another door even from his end of the room. Lukas stared in horror at the condition of a man towards the edge of the pile, his face was shredded as if someone had taken a knife or saw and tore through flesh and bone. The blood was slowly drying, evidence of a awful piece information and it chilled Lukas to the core.

All these people had died very recently.

Excluding the corpses, no one else seemed to be inside the makeshift morgue so Lukas slipped inside, the other’s following after.

“Guys there is cameras!” Petra hissed out.

Lukas sharply glanced up at the cameras mounted in the corner of the room, “The lights are out.” he observed.

“Are they not working?”

“I don’t know.”

Gill had crossed the room, kneeling down by the pile of dead people, “Well,” he thumbed a coat on one of the men, “These guy’s all work for PAMA.” he stated, he shook his head, “Jesus some of them are still warm. What happened?

Lukas moved over to other door, cracking it open just a hair. Beyond the steel frame was a dark set of stairs leading down underground. “This has to be the facility.” he stressed, “But what if whatever killed these people got to Aiden and Jesse?”

“Maybe Aiden was the one who did this?” Petra cringed.

Gill gingerly stepped around a corpse whose head was missing, “I highly doubt that, this has to be one of PAMA’s freak experiments gone wrong.”

“Guys!” Maya suddenly gasped out.

Lukas spun around to see the small brunet holding two familiar articles of clothing in her hands. In one had she held Aiden’s leather jacket, and in the other Jesse’s heavy wool turtleneck sweater, “These belong to them!” she said, voice strained, “They’re here!”

Lukas was gripping the door still, hands shaking horribly, “But- but their stuff is in here-”

Petra, who had taken Aiden’s coat into her arms, turned to face him. Seeing how shaking and white he was she hurried over, “They probably took their things from them Lukas, they’re not going to kill Jesse remember? He’s too valuable.”

He shakily ran his hand along the faded coat, “But A-Aiden-”

Petra placed a still cold hand on his cheek, “I know Aiden’s still okay, I can feel it Lukas. PAMA isn’t going to pass up another easy test subject. I have no doubt they are both here somewhere.”

Lukas went to answer, when suddenly his ears caught hold of the distinct sounds of boots trekking up the stairs. “Hide!” he hissed.

The team scattered, Maya and Gill hopped into a nearby storage closet, Petra tucked herself in  nitch behind one of the furnaces and Lukas himself chose to hide behind the massive pile of bodies. Seconds after he hid himself away the door opened, and a short and stocky bearded male dragged himself into the room hauling another body by its feet.

The man bore an unmistakable PAMA logo on his overalls, said article of clothing was stained with blood and ash. Dropping the new body off at the mound of corpses, he opened up the furnace, the smell of burning flesh increasing in the room. He peeked inside the hot inferno, mumbling something to himself before turning around and moving towards one of the naked corpses.

“You there!”

Lukas jerked and dropped down lower as another man entered the room. His eyes were blazing with a fury hotter that the fire.

The first male immediately straightened, “Dr. Roberts!” he gasped.

‘Dr. Roberts’ stopped just shy of the pile of dead. “How many do we have dead?” he demanded.

“Um,” the furnace keeper paused, then, “The final count was thirty-six.”

Robert’s cursed, “That’s half our fucking staff!” he turned around, foot tapping angrily on the floor. “When I get my hands on that test subject I’m going to make him fucking suffer!!”

“Yes sir.”

Roberts face forward once again snarling, “Get out there with the other two trucks!”

The other male was stunned, “Sir?”

“We have less than twenty men and women left,” Roberts explained icily, “And our most valuable test subject in the entire network of PAMA is out there running in a blizzard! Subject RB-32J may be able to heal at an accelerated rate, but I highly doubt even he can handle hypothermia! HR will have my head if he dies!”

Lukas nearly gasped, he glanced over to Petra, seeing her eyes wide with shock.

Jesse escaped!!!

“We need all available staff members in on this! Now get a coat on and get out there with the search teams, we'll burn the bodies later!” Roberts ordered.

“Y-yes sir!” the other scrambled past, “What about the other subject?!”

“If he’s alive,” Roberts hissed, “Bring him to me. I’ll tear out his prosthetic myself!”

Prosthetic?....Aiden!!!

Roberts and the other man retreated back into the facility the door closing with a slam. Lukas and the others immediately scurried out of their hiding places.

“They got out!” Maya was struggling on tears of relief, “They got out!”

“I knew they were okay!” Petra said. “We have to beat PAMA to them!”

“How did they even manage to escape?!” Gill said stunned.

“I don’t know,” Lukas answered.But then he felt his heart drop as he looked to the door, listening to the wind howl, “But that means Jesse and Aiden are out there and,”  he kneeled down and picked up Jesse’s sweater that Maya had dropped while hiding, “they have nothing to protect them from the storm.”


Aiden had lost sight of the door seconds after running away from the accursed facility. Twenty seconds out he was numb.

But he didn’t stop, he kept running his fear and paranoia carrying voices and shouts through the wailing storm. He did’t know if the people of PAMA were following him, but he didn’t dare look back to see.

The storm was a whiteout, he could hardly see to either side of him, and he certainly couldn’t see in front of him. Even with his enhanced sight, Aiden tripped and staggered blindly over uneven terrain. More than once did he stumble, or his frozen feet would catch on some unknown object.

Against Aiden, Jesse shivered violently. His entire body had been cold to begin with, courtesy of his healing effects. The only part of him hot was his breath, panting and whimpering into Aiden’s ear as he fled. He let loose a weak whine as Aiden took a step and suddenly found himself waist up in snow. Jesse’s bare legs dipped into the icy substance and he clung to Aiden tighter, entire body shuddering.

“Hang on Jesse,” Aiden urged, “We’re going- going-” he staggered, the wind buffeting him with shards of tiny ice, stinging his exposed skin. He struggled to suppress his own whine, entire body shaking and frozen in the gale. “F-fuck-”

Snow had filled his stolen shoes, he couldn’t feel his toes. He knew he was still holding Jesse, the male’s tight grip he had on Aiden confirmed that. But his non prosthetic arm couldn’t even feel the body. He was so cold, he could barely feel the weight.

But he had to keep telling himself it was either this or be back in that hell hole with PAMA. He’d rather freeze to death then be back there. He wasn’t sure Jesse would share the same sentiments, but figuring how intense Jesse’s fear was of the organization, if was safe to say Jesse would probably rather be here than there as well.

Aiden stumbled as a particular gust knocked hard against his already weak and aching legs, and he went down to his knees. He heard the telltale sound of fabric tearing, followed by the stinging sensation on his exposed knee as cold hard gravel scraped his skin. Snow drifted in, soaking the already damp weak cotton garb with freezing cold moisture.

Jesse tightened his grip, “A-Aiden?” he wheezed out weakly, “Are y-you-”

“I-I’m o-okay,” he answered, teeth chattering together so hard his jaw ached.

Aiden staggered up, forcing himself to keep moving. You can’t let PAMA find us, just keep moving Aiden, just keep moving.

Nature seemed to be challenging them, he could have sworn the wind was blowing more fiercely than it had moments before. He adjusted his arms around Jesse, relying on him for warmth just as much as the smaller male needed him. Jesse kept his arms wrapped tightly around him, face buried into Aiden’s neck. His breath was a stark contrast compared to the sub zero temperatures all around.

“W-we’re gonna be o-okay,” Aiden mumbled out for - God only know the true number- dozenth time.

Jesse didn’t answer, he simply moaned, voice weak and faint.

Both of the male’s did however cry out as Aiden’s next step sent them tumbling down a small incline. Jesse fell out of Aiden’s arms, the heavy coat they had stolen snapped away by the wind in an instant.

Aiden fell face first into the icy drifts. The blast of cold sending shock-waves through his numb body. After landing he immediately struggled to get up, “Jesse!”

Jesse laid curled up in the snow, the white lab coat he still had was now soaked by the winter storm. His skin was pale, clammy as he trembled in the cold.

Aiden weakly staggered up and hurried over. He scooped Jesse back into his arms, the action much more difficult than it had been before. Aiden took a deep breath and hoisted Jesse up the rest of the way, pulling the much more exposed male into his arms.

“Aiden…..” Jesse moaned weakly.

Aiden didn’t answer, he took a slow scope of his surroundings. They couldn’t stay out here, they needed to hide. He spotted a large brick structure looming not a hundred feet from where they were.

“A-Aid-”

“Hang on Jesse.”

Aiden had to force himself to move, he just felt so heavy. God help him he was tired. His heart still raced, adrenaline still pumped through his body. But he was just so…. cold .

The large brick building had one entrance, and for the most part seemed completely intact. The steel door was held firmly on the frame, which Aiden took as a good sign. Monsters weren’t prone to close the door behind them.

It took all his strength to bust the door off its hinges, but he did it. The door gave away with a loud metallic bang and Aiden and Jesse staggered into the building leaving the wind howling behind them. Aiden shoved the door back into place, instantly muffling the storm.

The inside of the building was dark, musty, and cold, though nowhere nearly as cold as the blizzard outside. Aiden took a few slow steps deeper into the gloom, listening for any signs that something else might be in the structure with them.

But there was nothing.

Aiden let loose a weak exhale shoulders sagging as he stumbled. He leaned wearily against the wall, fighting the overwhelming wave of exhaustion weighing down on him.

Gotta keep...going….gotta….keep-

Aiden stumbled again, he bumped into the sides of the hallway as he moved, the wood groaning under his and Jesse’s weight.

Jesse whined, head rolling loosely on Aiden’s shoulder. His eyelids weakly fluttered open, “C-cold…” he mumbled.

“I k-know,” Aiden whispered, “Let me just….” he trailed off, struggling to stay upright as he tripped over his own numb feet.

By some miracle, Aiden managed to get to the top floor of the building five stories up. It was a hard climb, each step he felt a little weaker, each floor Jesse felt a little more heavy. But if PAMA came searching he need time to know they were in the building, he need space and leeway, and a good place to hide.

Aiden dragged himself down the dreary and desecrated hall, a few telltale signs on the way up showed that this building had once belonged to raiders as some point. He assumed PAMA took care of them.

He found a door with a lock that could still be used and gently popped the door open. There was one window in the room, but it was mostly blocked by a pile of snow, keeping the wind to a minimum. A broken table, a dresser, a few dozen bottles and scraps of deteriorated cloth were in the room as well. But it was the old filthy mattress shoved in the far corner that really caught Aiden’s eye.

After moving in on it, one press with his hand confirmed that the dirty cushions were dry. He went to set Jesse down on it-

Jesse let out a whimper, clinging tightly to Aiden, “Don’t!” he begged.

“Jesse, I need to see if this place has blankets,” Aiden whispered wearily. “We’re gonna freeze if I don’t and I need to make sure PAMA can’t get in.”

Jesse looked up at him with tear filled eyes, but he did eventually let go, albeit reluctantly. He curled into a small ball once he was set down, shaking arms wrapped around equally trembling legs. “Y-you’re not going to l-leave?” he asked.

Aiden gently pushed snow soaked hair out of the smaller male’s eyes, “I’ll come right back.”

The brunet nervously nodded and buried his head into his knees.

Aiden got up, and as quickly as he could manage, swept his way through the top floor of the building. He checked all the rooms, looking for anything that might help them. Thankfully all the rooms were empty of monsters. But unfortunately there wasn’t much he could use.

He found an old bat, with nails sticking through the top. The wood wasn’t too rotted so he grabbed it. He’d worked with worse weapons. He found two thread bare blankets, long, but hardly much thickness to help with anything. Aiden was mostly relieved to open one of the damaged trunks to find a oversized t-shirt that hadn’t been eaten by nature.

Gathering his measly goods into his arms Aiden made his way back to their little hiding place. Jesse jerked in surprise when Aiden opened the door, “Shhh, just me,” Aiden soothed, watching Jesse returned to a slightly more relaxed state.

Aiden paused long enough to close and lock the door. He pushed the dresser in front of it. It wasn’t much of a barrier, it was empty and very light. But anyone who came flying in would surely knock it over; alerting them immediately.

Aiden kneeled down in front of Jesse. Jesse almost latched back onto Aiden, but Aiden softly prevented him from doing so. “Hold on one second,” he whispered, dropping the bat onto the floor and the blankets and shirt onto the mattress.

Jesse looked almost relieved to see the blankets, absentmindedly running his hand along the soft fabric.

Aiden gently reached in, “Jesse I have to get this coat off you before it freezes you to death,”

“What about you?” Jesse mumbled slowly.

“I’ll worry about me in a minute,” Aiden replied, unbuttoning the soaked lab coat. He quickly slipped it off Jesse, somewhat relieved to see the cuts and marks on the male were mostly gone. His healing ability still worked, Aiden only hoped it held up against freezing-

Aiden paused, noticing dark marks on the back of Jesse’s neck as the male’s head dipped wearily from exhaustion.

A tattoo.

PAMA must have tattooed Jesse a second time as well, some part of Aiden realized.

Not wanting to waste time on closer inspection however, Aiden slipped the shirt over Jesse. It was much too large going down to the other’s knees. But it was dry and much warmer than the wet lab coat.
Jesse was in a dazed state during the clothes swap for the most part but when Aiden went to cast the blankets over him he suddenly snapped out of it, “Wait what about you?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Aiden, there are two blankets!”

“Jesse,” he huffed, “They are too threadbare to keep us warm if we each use one, you’ll need both of them.”

Jesse grabbed Aiden’s wrists as he went to cast it over the smaller male’s shoulders again. “But you’ll freeze!” he protested.

“Jesse I’ll be okay,” he assured, trying to force his teeth not to chatter.

Tears pooled in Jesse’s eyes and he shook his head, “No I’m not- no!”

Aiden leaned back, frowning, he inspected the two blankets in his hand, then, “Come here.”

The other blinked, “What?”

Aiden was peeling off his shirt. He hissed , feeling the sharp sting of the bullet injuries in his shoulder and side. Jesse let out a soft gasp of concern. His hand shakily reached out and touched the blood trail running down Aiden’s arm. “A-Aiden-”

“It doesn’t hurt,” he mumbled out.

It took a lot of his his failing strength, but Aiden managed to tear his tank top, he handed the strips to Jesse, “I need to you tie this around my shoulder,” he whispered.

Jesse did as he was told, struggling to bind the the injury with shaking hands. He spotted Aiden's own tattoo and he faltered.

“You can pull it tighter, we need to stop the blood,” Aiden urged.

“O-okay.”

Once Jesse was done, Aiden grabbed the lab coat, freezing cold and wet as it was; he still took it by the sleeves and tied it tightly around his ribs, stemming that wound, “Okay…” he sighed heavily, still struggling to fight off his exhaustion. “Cm’ere….”

Jesse crawled forward, “Bundle and huddle?” he whispered.

Aiden weakly nodded, pulling Jesse onto his crossed legs. He threw the blankets around them, though thin, they were long enough to effectively cover both males. Aiden settled into the corner of the room and Jesse snuggled into him, head coming to rest on Aiden’s shoulder. The moment they settled down, both males went lax, the adrenaline snuffing out immediately.

“Y-you don’t mind my head on your shoulder, do you?” Jesse whispered.

“I’m okay.”

They sat there in silence, listening to the wind howl.

Then suddenly, Jesse weakly lifted his hand, running his fingers along the cool metal of Aiden’s prosthetic, “You punched concrete…” he mumbled, eyelids slowly opening and closing over and over.

“Yeah…” Aiden mumbled out.

“H-how?”

“Long….story…” he yawned.

Jesse’s small and slender fingers ran a track along the fine metal markings on Aiden’s arms, dancing across the metal engravings. His hand eventually came down, intertwining with Aiden’s own hand. He twisted Aiden’s hand around watching the fine crafted fingers twitch and adjust.

“You saved me….” Jesse whispered.

“Mmmmmm…..”

Small pools of tears rose up in Jesse’s eyes, “You saved me….” he repeated. Tiny droplets broke free, freezing into small balls of ice as they ran down his cheeks, “You...you didn’t leave me….”

Aiden let his eyes cast away, watching the black shadows dance in the darkness.

Jesse gripped Aiden’s hand, his own hands trembling, “You-you came back-” he hiccuped out.

“Yes,”

Jesse’s eyes were cloudy, and Aiden was pretty sure the smaller male had slipped back into a delirium ruled state. Jesse probably wasn’t even aware of what he was actually saying at the moment.

“Why didn’t….why didn’t you leave?” Jesse whispered.

Aiden glanced down at Jesse, staring at the chocolate brown locks that tickled his neck when Jesse moved in closer. “....I.....I couldn’t.” he mumbled.

Jesse let loose a yawn, snuggling into Aiden, hands still clutching Aiden’s prosthetic one. “Aiden….” he whimpered, “What if PAMA comes looking?”

“They’re not going to find us in this storm Jesse.” he assured.

“But what if they do?”

Aiden adjusted his grip, shifting slightly, “I won’t let them get you.”

“You’ll…..keep….watch?” Jesse slowly slurred out. His eyelids were beginning to droop, head heavy on Aiden’s shoulder.

“I’ll stay up….” he replied, nearly as slow.

“You….came...back….” Jesse whispered out one last time, before his eyes closed shut. He went lax against Aiden, breathing slowed as the cold pulled Jesse into a sleep.

His breath was hot yet soothing on Aiden’s exposed neck. His head rolled wearily as he looked at the closed door across the room. “Yeah…...I did…..”

Then with a heavy exhale, the cold and exhaustion finally led Aiden into darkness.


 

“Jesus they could be anywhere!” Petra hollered.

Don’t think about that, Lukas told himself,  “They can’t have gotten far, not without proper gear!” he brushed snow out of his eyes, “If I was Aiden, I’d hide in a nearby building for safety and shelter. We have to keep checking all of them.

“Lukas there are dozens of buildings,” Maya stressed, “We’ve already searched through six, we have no idea which direction Aiden would have gone with Jesse. This is assuming they are together!”

Lukas stumbled against their next target building, “I’m not stopping.” He said while attempting to push open the door, before realizing he was gonna need some extra help. Lukas looked back to the party. “Gill, give me a hand would you?”

“I’m not saying we should,” Maya rubbed her eyes, “I’m just worried,” she struggled on tears of frustration, “We’re on limited time and odds are against us and-”

“Babe it’ll be okay,” Gill assured, trying to sound hopeful, but Lukas saw the stress in his eyes. He moved over and helped Lukas shove open the door.

The team staggered inside the cold building, though grateful to at least be temporarily out of the wind. Lukas hastily untied himself from their connector rope, looking around quickly “Check all the floors!” he said, finally freeing himself along with the others.

They quickly swept through the bottom level, then took off for the stairs. Gill and Maya broke off at the second level, “We’ll see you in the middle.” Maya said, as she departed off to the right

“We’ll find them first,” Petra encouraged,  following Lukas up to the top floor.

Lukas did a slow scope of the hallway as they came to the top, looking for any signs that a person might have gone through here. He couldn’t see any, but he only hoped that Aiden may have been together enough to to cover their tracks.

Assuming he and Jesse were together.

Lukas cringed, harshly chiding himself for even thinking such an awful thing. He was sure Aiden was with Jesse. They had said some cruel things to each other back in Ground Town, but he didn’t believe Aiden would do something so cruel as to leave Jesse. He knew Aiden deep down- well…..he hoped….

Petra headed to the far end of the hallway, and Lukas moved to his first door. Popping it open revealed an empty room and only added to the fear lingering inside him. Maya was right, they had searched for over an hour now and Jesse and Aiden wouldn’t have a lot of time left.

The next door was locked, but the hinges were loose. Lukas went to push it open, noticing there were fresh scrape marks on the floor. Heart skipping a beat he quickly pulled it wide-

Nothing.

Heart sinking Lukas hurried to the next door. He grabbed the handle, locked.

“Anything?” Petra asked as she moved to another room.

“Not yet….” He answered, voice saturated with worry.

“This room has an attic ladder, I’m going up okay? We’ll find them Lukas,” the ginger assured.

Lukas didn’t answer, he flipped out his knife and slid it between the door and the frame, shoving the lock back in. He pushed on the door, opening it and felt it stop short of an unknown object. Frowning, Lukas fixed his position and  gave the door a hard shove.

A large rotting dresser toppled over inside the room, crashing to the ground with a large bang. “Fuck!” Lukas cursed, jumping back, his hand on his gun

“Are you guys alright?” Maya yelled from a few floors below.

“Fine!” Lukas replied, “Just knocked over a piece of-” he turned his attention back into the room and his heart froze, at the sight of something familiar

Aiden and Jesse were curled up in the corner of a room, seemingly unconscious underneath blankets.

Lukas felt his breath leave his lungs, before shouting to the others. “Guys! I found them! They’re in here!!!”

“What?!” Petra exclaimed from up in the attic

Lukas rushed into the room, not paying attention to the trampling off feet as the rest of his friends were rushing to join him. He slid to his knees before the pair, coming to rest on an old mattress. “Aiden! Jesse!”

Jesse didn’t respond he remained still and tucked up against the larger brunet, but Aiden let out a weak moan shifting.

Fighting back tears, Lukas grabbed hold of Aiden, “Aiden?! Aiden!”

The other’s eyes flicked slightly open, “L-Lukas?” Aiden whispered out as Lukas’s breath hitched.

The sound of rushing feet halted behind Lukas, signalling that the others had finally arrived, “Oh my God!” Maya gasped, she dropped down next to Lukas, already dropping her pack and began yanking out Jesse and Aiden’s recovered clothes.

Lukas was trying to find any signs that the two were hurt. Jesse’s healing still seemed to be working, he was freezing cold to the touch, but his skin was flawless. Aiden’s state frightened Lukas, there was patches of dried blood all over the male. His shoulder was wrapped in a grimy shirt and a blood stained lab coat was tied around his ribs.

“Lukas…” he mumbled out a second time.

“We’re here Aiden, we’re all here,” Lukas choked, “You’re going to be okay!”

“G-get...Jesse a coat,” the other slurred, “He….he needs-” Aiden trailed off head rolling.

“No no!” Lukas cupped his friend’s face with his trembling hands, “Stay with me Aiden! Stay with me!”

Petra scooped Jesse gently out of Aiden’s lap, taking the frozen boy to Maya and began hastily trying to get Jesse’s clothes on over the singular oversized t-shirt Jesse wore. Jesse let out a weak moan finally, shifting to the sudden movements.

“It’s us Jesse,” Petra whispered, shaking his arm slightly. “We’re here! Just keep with us!”

Jesse mumbled something, but it wasn’t legible.

Maya tucked Jesse into her arms rocking him back and forth as Petra went to get boots on the smaller male’s feet. She fought off tears, fingers coming to his throat to find a pulse, breathing a sigh of relief when she felt it, “His heart’s still going.” she looked over teary eyed at Gill and Lukas who were next to Aiden. “G-guys? What about Aiden?” she asked.

“He’s been shot,” Gill hissed at Aiden’s injury as he and Lukas tried to cover up the delirious male. “Don’t take the bindings off we’ll just pull the clothes over it for now.” Gill instructed.

Aiden let out a weak whine as Lukas tugged the shirt over, entire body shuddering in pain.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Lukas blubbered out, “Just- just-” he pulled the coat over Aiden, flinching as Aiden moaned, “I’m sorry!”

Gill yanked a foreign pair of boots off of Aiden’s feet, teeth gritting at sight of obvious discoloration around Aiden’s bare toes. “Jesus how did they manage to get this far?” he stressed, tossing the boots away.

“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Lukas stressed, shaking his head “We just have to-”

A low rumble carried over the wind and everyone in the room froze. Petra got up and moved to the snow-pile covered window in the other corner of the room.  Shoving some of the drifts aside she peeked out the window. “Fuck.”

“What is it?”

“Headlights, PAMA’s got a truck out there.” Petra hissed.

“That doctor seemed dead set on getting them back, he’s gonna risk that storm looking for them.” Gill growled.

“We can’t stay here,” Petra informed, “This building has too many angles that they can use against us.”

“We can’t take the boys back out there!” Maya protested.

“We stay here and we’ll have roughly twenty people we have to hold off and no quick way down. This building has two doors but only one set of stairs.” Petra explained, “We may have the high ground but if they get up here we’ll have no safe way down. I saw a structure on our way in that would work well to hide and hole up in. It’s about a mile from where we are now. We can make it.”

Lukas glanced at Aiden and Jesse, worried.

“You and I can carry them,” Gill offered, “The girls can cover us.”

“We can’t let PAMA get them back,” Petra said. “They take them we’re not going to find them twice. I don’t know how they escaped the first time, but PAMA probably won’t let it happen again either.”

Lukas took a shaky breath and nodded, “O-okay, we’ll move them. Petra take point, you know where we’re going.”

Gill scooped up Aiden, having to grunt slightly to hoist up the other who was nearly as tall as him. “No protesting Aiden?” he jested weakly.

Aiden moaned, head falling onto Gill’s shoulder.

Gill cringed, the lack of Aiden’s usual snark stressing him, “Dammit, he can’t even tell me to shut up,” he adjusted, making sure his grip was sure and firm.

Maya passed Jesse to Lukas, who picked him up and held him with a little more ease than Gill had for Aiden. Jesse whimpered into Lukas’s neck, wiggling subconsciously into him.

“Hang on a bit longer Jesse,” Lukas whispered. “We’re gonna be alright.”

“Once we get to the structure we can start a small fire,” Petra assured, as she took their rope and hooked everyone back together, “We’ll have enough cover for it.”

As they hurried down the stairs Jesse let out a sudden moan, eyes flicking open just a hair, “A-aiden?” he slurred.

Lukas cradled the smaller male closer, “It’s me Lukas.” he soothed.

“L-lukas?”

“Yes, we found you Jesse. The whole team. We’re going to get you somewhere safe.”

Jesse’s nose scrunched and he weakly shook his head, “N-no not me…” he drooled out.

“Yes you, you’re going to be okay-”

“No,” Jesse stressed, “Not me,” he tried to look around only for his head to fall wearily back to onto Lukas, “A-aiden, where is-”

“Gill’s got him Jesse.”

“H-he’s hurt L-lukas, you need to help him, not- not-”

Lukas’s lip quivered, “We’re gonna take care of him Jesse. We’re going to take care of both of you.”

“He….came….back….” Jesse slurred out before slipping back into unconsciousness.

Petra pointed as they came to the main level, “Back door is hidden behind the stairs, we’ll go out that way.”

The team followed her out, Petra paused slightly too look out past the open door. They could hear the rumble of the truck somewhere in that white out. But discerning where it was coming from was difficult.

After a moment, Petra waved her hand, “No lights let’s go!”

They raced out into the storm, immediately buffeted by the wind and the cold. Against him, Jesse let out a whine, burying his face into the crook of Lukas’s neck. Lukas paused long enough to grab the hood of Jesse’s coat and pull it over the male’s head.

Just hang in there!

They were about a hundred feet out when suddenly, the PAMA truck came barreling around the building. The engine roaring as the spotlights bore down upon them.

Fuck!” Petra cursed, “Back! Back! Back!”

The team staggered away as the truck rolled past them. The girls had their guns up, ready to open fire. Lukas’s heart was racing, knowing that in this storm there was no possible way  to outrun the multi terrain vehicle. Lukas kneeled down, taking part of Jesse’s weight on his knee and yanked out his pistol.

“Kill every damn one of those PAMA dogs!” he hissed.

The door in the back cracked open slightly, but before anyone can shoot a familiar voice cut through the howling wind.

“Don’t shoot!”

Lukas stiffened as the door swung fully open, his eyebrows shooting up, “Isa?!”

The female’s hair and long coat billowed about in the storm, “Get in!” she hollered.

The team stumbled towards the vehicle, Lukas wasn’t even in the truck yet and he could feel the warmth just radiating out of it. He could see Reginald in the driver seat, Milo sat next to him working on various other things.  “H-how? What-”

“We managed to fix one of the abandoned vehicles PAMA left,” Isa threw her handheld GPS onto one of the seats.”We took off this morning after you using the tracker’s and-” her voice shook, as she spotted Jesse and Aiden,  “Oh God you found them!”

“They escaped somehow,” Petra hopped into the truck and turned around so Lukas could pass Jesse up to her while he climbed in.

“How?!”

“No clue,” Gill climbed in, having to duck his head as to not hit the roof, “But they were out in this storm for over an hour without protection, we got to warm them up!”

“We brought blankets!” Isa moved to the back corner of the vehicle as the doors were closed. She grabbed from the stack, “Reg we have them! Get us home!”

With the doors closed, warmth filled the compartment, and Lukas sat down wearily as the vehicle began to slowly turn. He adjusted in his seat unsure of who to go to or help with-

“Gill give Aiden to me,” Isa ordered shakily as she sat down.

Gill obliged, setting the unconscious male down on the bench, head resting on the female’s lap. She ran her fingers through his snow frozen hair, lips quivering.

Maya hurried past him, medical kit in hand that the others had brought. She peeled off one of her gloves with her teeth, “Gill don’t cover him up too much yet, I have to get that bullet out.”

Lukas watched Isa flinch but assist Maya in peeling back Aiden’s coat and shirt sleeve. “Oh my God, there is so much blood! Is-Is-”

“We only found two bullet wounds, and only one with a bullet.” Maya explained, “I don’t think all that blood is his.”

Lukas looked over at Jesse prone form, thinking about what the smaller male had said before to Lukas.

He came back….

Aiden let out a hiss of pain as Maya’s bullet prying yanked him out of unconsciousness, “W-wh-”

“It’s alright,” Isa soothed, “You’re safe, I’m here Aiden honey, just stay still while Maya get’s the bullet out.”

The male squinted, eyes clouded in delirium, “All my fault,” he mumbled. “All of it’s-”

“Nothing is your fault Aiden,” Isa corrected, lips quivering.

“If- if I just... listened… ” he stressed. “Why don’t I ever listen?! Wear a coat Aiden, slow down Aiden… You’re always telling me…..” his head rolled against Isa,  trying to grab hold of her, moaning wearily. His body went lax as Maya pulled the bullet shell out, the small bit of metal hit the truck floor with a loud ping. Aiden’s eyes fluttered weakly, mumbling out his last statement as he slipped off, “Only the foolish….n’ desperate…..go….go to PAMA….”

The statement caught Lukas’s attention, it seemed out of place in the rest of Aiden’s ramblings. He was suffering from hypothermia and most likely delirious, what ever came to mind he was probably saying. But he wondered if there was some truth to it somewhere.

Isa however, seemed to find something in the statement, her eyes pooled with tears. It was unnatural, Lukas had never seen Isa cry before. “Oh, honey…” She gripped Aiden’s hand, bending over, cradling him close. Then Isa sobbed, as she rocked Aiden gently as Maya began to patch up Aiden’s injuries.

Lukas breathed a sigh of relief, now knowing Aiden was in good hands and was most likely going to be ok even if he wasn’t there with him. He has Isa afterall.

Lukas got up and joined Petra who had just finished getting Jesse bundled up. He was wrapped up in thick blankets, with another blanket bundled up and cushioning his head where it laid on the seat. His eyes were closed and his breath was steady, a good sign that he was at ease.

“How is he?” Lukas said in a low whisper.

“Cold, but stable.” Petra answered in an equally low tone. “I think it might just be from the healing”

“Yeah...I’m seeing a lot of blood on him, but like Aiden I don’t think most of it is his, if any of it is.” Lukas sighed, rubbing his neck. “We’ll check Jesse when we get back to Ground Town, just to be on the safe side”

The redhead nodded, but was quiet, as a question weighed down on her mind. She sat down on one of the seats inside the vehicle

“Lukas?”

Lukas looked up at her, at the mention of his name. “Yeah?”

“Do you think Jesse’s going to be fine? After being taken back by PAMA again? After having to relive whatever trauma he experienced before?” Petra frowned, as her arms crossed against her chest and she stared at the floor.

Lukas was quiet, turning his gaze back to Jesse’s peaceful face.

“I….I’m not sure Petra...We don’t know what exactly PAMA did to Jesse” Lukas admitted. “I’m just as lost as you on what to think…”

“Lukas…” Petra softly said

“But.” Lukas looked back up at Petra “We need to stay strong, Jesse’s counting on us to be there for him”

Petra’s lips quirked into a small smile.

The entire vehicle dipped suddenly, shaking about with a low rumble. “Sorry!” Reginald explained, “Just got clear of the brickyards.” he picked up the speed on the vehicle, “We’re on the flats now we should be okay.”

Lukas then heard a small moan next to him, coming from Jesse who was woken by the sudden jostling. He turned his head back to the brunette as Jesse’s eyes weakly flickered open, looking albeit slightly unfocused, straight at Lukas

“Lu...kas…?” Jesse mumbled, his voice soft and barely above a whisper from exhaustion

“Hey...I’m right here.” Lukas said softly, reaching a hand out to gently brush Jesse’s wet hair from his face. “You’re ok.”

Jesse mumbled something unidentifiable, before trying to sit up enough to look around, trying to figure out his surroundings. But his head fell back down and hit the makeshift pillow as he let out a soft whine.

Lukas, sensing the brunette’s partial distress about his surroundings, stroked Jesse’s cheek, “Shhh, sleep. We’re going home Jesse. We’re safe, we got a ride and we’re going home.”

“Home...” Jesse sighed, the word seemingly soothing him.  He snuggled into Lukas’s hand, closing his eyes, giving a smile. “I can’t wait for you to meet Mom….and Dad,” he yawned, “I think they’ll like you….I think they’ll like you lots….”

Lukas flinched, running his fingers through Jesse’s hair and trying to ignore the sad expression Petra gave him, “Yeah…..” he sighed, giving a sad smile.

As the snow storm continued its relentless assault on the land, the single truck and its passengers slowly rumbled onward,

Towards Ground Town.

Towards…home.

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Mild Cursing

-

The beeping of monitors was the sound that greeted Jesse as he slowly shifted back into consciousness.

He almost panicked, those notorious beeps nearly putting him into a frenzy.

But though groggy, he noticed a few things. Things that even though his heart raced, gently calmed him down.

No cuffs, no rough abrasive leather keeping him strapped down anywhere. No pain, no aches, healing wounds or stinging needles. No cold, he could feel the heavy sweater wrapped around him. The only pressure that confused him was a warm press, wrapped around his arm.

Curious, Jesse slowly peeked open one eye.

He was in a dim room. It was simply furnished, two chairs and the bed he was in. Beyond the singular closed door was the telltale sounds of a hospital-

Hospital! Ground Town?! They were back?!

Jesse tilted his head up, a soft startled noise slipping past his lips as he realized the primary source of his pressure and warmth.

Though in a bed, Jesse was not alone. Propped up with him, a protective arm around Jesse’s shoulder was Lukas.

Lukas slept away, soft little snores escaping a parted mouth as he dozed.

Jesse’s wide eyes blinked once, then twice. He looked down at his arm, Lukas’s reassuring hand rested comfortably there, his thumb subconsciously moving in gentle circular motions. Jesse felt a faint heat on his cheeks, a small smile tilting up-

Then it dropped.

Because he slowly began to remember.

Jesse didn’t move. Little memories bubbled up in his mind, fuzzy, frightening and confusing.

PAMA had him captive. He vaguely recalled some of the experiments. It was hard to remember what they did exactly. But he wasn’t attempting to try and bring it to light either. It’s what happened after that still befuddled him.

Escape.

He had been on a table, he remembered that, then he wasn’t….There had been gunshots - shattering glass? Faint flashes of scarlets and whites. A strong secure warmth, carried, sure-

Aiden!

Aiden had been with him! Aiden had been there!

Jesse glanced around the dim room, other than him and Lukas the room was empty. No sign of the metal armed male.

But Jesse needed to find him, he had to!

Sneaky and slow as a thief, Jesse slipped out of Lukas’s comforting embrace. Lukas let out a soft mumble as Jesse’s bare feet touched down on the cool tile. The blonde shifted on the bed and Jesse paused, waiting till the blonde rolled over and slipped back into a deep sleep.

He didn’t want to wake Lukas, not just yet. His cherished friend looked exhausted, and Jesse didn’t want to him to lose any precious sleep fretting over him.

Giving Lukas an affectionate last rub on the shoulder, Jesse backed away and tiptoed towards the door.

There were a pair of boots on the floor by the exit, but Jesse didn’t stop to put them on. The hospital was fairly warm and he didn’t want to risk waking Lukas by putting on the thick and heavy footwear.

He opened the door and slid swiftly out, closing the door behind him with a muffled click.

Beyond the quiet confines of his room, the hospital was abuzz with activity. There were many patients having recovered from their minor wounds, milling and stretching about in the hallways. There were busy doctors and nurses hurrying to and fro aiding those who needed longer to recover from PAMA’s vicious raid. But Jesse saw no sign of Aiden or anyone he knew.

A little girl ran by Jesse and he tucked himself against the wall not wanting to trip her as she passed. Her arm was in a cast, in the other hand she clutched a pen, running about like a little bee to all the patients and doctors getting them to sign her very well autographed bandages.

She spotted Jesse on her comeback, “Sign my cast?” she asked as she bounded up to him.

Jesse kneeled down, giving her a gentle smile, “Of course.” he inspected her bandages, trying to find a blank spot. It was extremely difficult as the girl continued to twirl side to side so her hospital gown flowed about.

“My name’s Lily!” she piped up, when Jesse finally found a spot on her elbow.

“You have a very pretty name,” Jesse smiled, trying not to cringe on how stiff his hand was while writing.

“My arm broke.”

“I can see that.”

“Why are you here? You’re not hurt.”

Jesse handed her pen back, “I’m looking for someone.” he answered. Who I hope is still here, he inwardly stressed.

“Oh…..okay!” then the little tike was off, pigtails bouncing.

Cute, Jesse thought. He got up, looking around, Now onto Aiden.

He checked the rooms on either side of his own. He figured close by was logical. Instead one room was empty and the other had a elderly man snoozing away.

Frowning Jesse peeked into all the other rooms in his hall, but was distressed to find not a single one held the person of his search. He checked the entire level, but there was no such luck.

He stood there in the hallway scared and lost as strangers bustled by. Where could Aiden be? Why wasn’t he on the same floor? There was the possibility that Aiden was in a different part of the hospital but there was another option as well; one that made Jesse’s heart race.

Had …… Had something happened?

The morbid thought stressed him further. Fretting and worried, Jesse turned on his heel to locate his original room. Lukas would know. Lukas could tell him-

“Sir?”

Jesse let out a small startled yelp. He turned around again, spotting Lily behind him.

“Are you still looking?” She asked.

Jesse smiled sadly, nodding to her, “Yes, I am.”

The little girl looked up at the nurse beside her, “He’s looking for his friend.” she explained.

The nurse, though clearly knowing what Jesse was doing, smiled and stroked Lily’s cheek. She looked to Jesse, eyes soft and kind, “Who are you looking for darling?”

“A-aiden.” Jesse stammered.

The nurse went through her clipboard, “Last name?”

Jesse felt his cheeks flush in embarrassment, “I-I don’t know it. He’s um got brown hair, um.” When the detail failed to strike any memory on the nurse he went for Aiden’s more unique feature, “He has a metal arm-”

Her reaction was instant, “Oh! Isa’s boy!” the female gestured for Jesse to follow, “This way.” she looked at the young girl, “Head on back to your room Lily.”.

“Ooookay~” she said, she waved to Jesse, “Bye!” then she bounded off.

Jesse waved to her and quickly followed after the nurse. “Is Aiden okay?” he pressed.

“He’s not on my watch list darling so I’m afraid I don’t know his condition. I’m sorry hun.”

Jesse’s expression must have revealed his inner turmoil because the female gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder, “Don’t worry darling. I do know he is still among the living.”

Jesse followed the female up two more floors and to a far corner in the hospital.

“Here we are.”

“Thank you,” he whispered.

She patted him on the shoulder once again before departing.

Jesse gently took hold of the handle, slowly pushing it down and sliding the door open.

Aiden was in the room, hooked to IVs. His heart monitor thumped away as he slept on the singular bed. But he was here, he was alive.

Isa was curled up in a chair pulled close to the medical bed. Her hair was disheveled and pulled messily back. She was in pajamas wrapped in a thick heavy bathrobe. In one hand she held a book, that she read away as the other hand held onto Aiden’s own hand. She hummed to herself as she read, thumb running little circles on the back of the sleeping male’s hand.

She looked up as Jesse slipped into the room. Her tired and weary eyes widened slightly in surprise. “Jesse,” she whispered. “You’re awake.”

Jesse meekly nodded, standing closely to the door.

“Where is Lukas?”

“Asleep still.”

A spark of humor flashed through her dull eyes, “Heh, figures.” she closed her book with a light sigh, “Almost week of fretting and you wake up when he’s asleep.”

“A week?” Jesse gaped.

Isa set her book on the nearby dresser and gestured for Jesse to come deeper into the room, “You’ve been delirious all week.” she explained taking a soft hold of Jesse’s hand as he approached. “In and out of consciousness constantly.  You slept fitfully when you were out, and you rambled when you were awake. Lukas was the only person who could get you to rest peacefully.”

Jesse flushed, “I’m sorry,”

“Lukas didn’t mind sweetie, he was just worried.”

Jesse didn’t know what to say, he glanced fretfully to Aiden.

“Aiden will be okay,” Isa assured.

“He looks awful.” Jesse whispered.

“He doesn’t have a healing ability, but he’s recovering fairly quick. A few cracked ribs, skull fracture, and of course the bullet wounds. He took a bit of a beating but we took care of him.” Isa said, “Even saved his toes.”

Jesse sharply looked at Isa, alarmed.

“Frostbite dear. You both had hypothermia and a bit of frostbite. Don’t stress Jesse he’s going to be okay. Aiden’s always been quick to get back up. He’s already woken up a few times this week. He’s just tired.”

“Well,” Jesse bit his lip. He glanced momentarily at Aiden before looking back to Isa. Giving her hand a squeeze he asked, “What about you? Are you okay?”

Isa gave him a tired smile, “The doctors are mad that I checked myself out of the hospital to go after you and Aiden. I am a little sore, and most certainly tired, but I’m fine.”

Jesse gave her a look of utter confusion and her eyes glinted. “We fixed up a truck from the PAMA raid and drove after Lukas and the others to where you were held. We picked them up shortly after they found you and Aiden and brought everyone home.”

“How did you find us?” Jesse asked, amazed.

“There was a spy in Ground Town.”

“And the spy actually told you?”

Isa’s eyes shifted away, “More or less…” she mumbled.

Before Jesse could ask what in the world she could have meant with such a statement - his stomach rumbled.

“Goodness you must be starving!” Isa stood, albeit stiffly. “How about I get us some food?”

“Oh no I couldn’t I-”

Sit,” She stepped around him a firmly pressed him into the chair.

Jesse sat.

“You’ve been on IV and mush for weeks now no doubt. Lord only knows what trash PAMA was forcing you to eat. You keep an eye on Aiden and I’ll be right back.”

“You should be resting,” Jesse squeaked out, though not very firmly or with much bravado.

Isa paused just as she pulled the door open, she glanced back at him smirking, “I’ll be right back.” she repeated, closing the door behind her with a soft click.

Jesse shifted awkwardly in the chair, looking left then right.  He picked up Isa’s book, he recognized the label as a piece from his time. The hard backed cover was worn, very old, but had been handled and treated with the utmost care. Even after easily three hundred years, it was still intact and readable.

He thumbed through a few pages, recognizing bits of the story. He’d have to read it again and maybe when the kids came back he could tell them the whole story-

Aiden let out a soft sigh, and Jesse looked sharply up. He watched as the male adjusted in the sheets but did not wake. His metal arm slipped off his stomach, resting on the mattress beside him.

Jesse stared at the arm.

Small flashes of blurry memories danced about in Jesse’s mind. He remembered that arm. Aiden fought with that arm. Or did he? Closing the book and setting it back down Jesse leaned in, eyeing Aiden’s prosthetic. He wasn’t familiar with what it took exactly to make a metal arm, but the detail was incredible. He could see all the little joints where Aiden’s fingers bent, the little flexible angles where the wrist could twist and curve.  Tiny scuffs marked the relsiliant limb, more prominent on the black tribal markings than the original dark grey.

Jesse ran his hand over the markings, touch as soft as a ghost. He could feel the faint roughness where the metal engraver had made its mark, feel the smooth finesse of the untouched steel-

Aiden shifted again, and Jesse let out a small yelp as Aiden’s eyes opened. They looked immediately at Jesse, dark green and unblinking. But not cold, not harsh, just…..tired.

“You’re awake.” Jesse whispered.

“You are too,” Aiden whispered back, voice a little rough. He pulled his arm in, Jesse’s fingers sliding away as well. Aiden gingerly sat up, and Jesse felt guilty watching the male cringe with the smallest of movements. “Good to see you made it.” the male said.

The shoulder of Aiden’s shirt slipped, and Jesse saw the briefest glances of black ink on the tan skin. He spotted the letters PAND before Aiden hastily pulled the shirt back up. Jesse wondered if Aiden had been tattooed along with Jesse at the bunker.

“You too,” Jesse mumbled meekly, rubbing the back of his neck.

Aiden rested his back on the headboard of the hospital bed, he flexed his other arm, extending out and stretching the stiff limb, “Got close there a few times,” he stated.

Jesse said nothing, watching Aiden extended the limb. More little memories bubbled up, an outstretched arm- Throwing. Aiden threw-

“Jesse?”

Jesse blinked, slowly turning his gaze back up. Aiden stared back. Unlike many times before there was no hostility radiating off the male. There was no inclination he wanted Jesse out of his airspace, or out of the room period. The air in the room in fact was almost uneasy, as if they were meeting for the first time. Jesse couldn’t help but wonder if that really was the case.

“Are you alright?” Aiden asked, in a awkward attempt at small talk.

Jesse nodded, “I’m all healed up.” he said softly. “How...How are you?”

“Not...um...healed up.” the other answered.

“I’m sorry.” Jesse pushed hair out of his eyes, “Isa said you had frostbite.”

“You did too.”

“Y-yeah, but, I….healed.” Jesse replied.

Aiden glanced off, “I still have all my toes.” he mumbled. “But I’d rather lose all my toes than be back with PAMA.” he stated bitterly. “I wasn’t going to be trapped there.”

We’re not going to be trapped here.

Jess bit his lip, “Aiden?”

The brunet glanced his way again, raising a weary but inquiring eyebrow, “Hmmm?”

Nervous and trying to keep his courage from relapsing, Jesse took a deep breath, “Aiden did you-”

Suddenly the door opened once more, and it wasn’t Isa who entered the room, but Lukas. The blonde looked a little winded and pale, already talking even before fully entering.

“Isa! I can’t find Jesse anywhere- aaaaannnd you’re right there.” he gaped, going wide eyed at the sight of Jesse. He remained fixated to the door, hand still gripping the handle, “You’re up?”

“Yeah, sorry I didn’t want to wake you.” Jesse flushed.

Lukas glanced nervously between the two stiff males, “Is….is everything alright?”

Jesse didn’t get to answer when Aiden piped up, “Everything is fine, we were just talking.” he stated simply.

Lukas blinked, “Talking?”

Aiden glanced briefly at Jesse, “Yes, just talking.” he confirmed. He shifted on the bed, “Jesse you should go with Lukas, I’m sure the doctors are going to want to make sure you’re operating properly.”

Jesse inwardly cringed, “Y-yeah, but what about-”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Isa said I should keep an eye on you while she got food….”

“I’m awake now,” he pushed his disheveled hair back with a hand, “You don’t have to stay.”

“Oh. O-okay.”

Jesse reluctantly got up, crossing over to where Lukas was waiting, “Get better soon,” he whispered out.

“You too,” Aiden mumbled back.

Lukas gently took Jesse’s arm, “I’ll get the doctors to bring you something to eat.” he told the bedridden male.

“Sounds fine,” Aiden said, already looking away and reaching for Isa’s book.

Jesse glanced sadly back at the male one last time before the door closed behind them. “We’ll go down to the cafeteria and meet Isa, let her know Aiden is awake.”

Jesse didn’t address the statement, still looking sadly back as they headed down the hall, “Is he going to be okay?” he asked turning his gaze to Lukas.

“Yeah,” Lukas replied softly, “We were really worried, but he’ll be fine. Fine as he can be I guess…” Lukas gave Jesse’s arm a faint squeeze, “You scared me. I thought I was going to lose you both.”

“Did you get a chance to talk with him?” Jesse whispered.

Lukas wearily nodded, “We both talked about- well you know- what happened before this whole mess. We worked past it. Mostly, I still feel like…..” he let loose a sigh, dropping the subject “I can’t tell you what I felt when I found out you two escaped, knowing you both out in that storm.”

Jesse frowned, “I remember he was hurt trying to get out and-” he squinted in frustration trying to remember exact details.

“Aiden said his cuffs were faulty, that’s how he got out.” Lukas said in a tone that seemed to be skeptical, “He said after he got you he just ran out for all his worth.” the tone dropped from Lukas’s voice with a heavy sigh, “He says he doesn’t remember much.” he gave Jesse a weak smile as they walked down the hall. “I’m just glad that you got out before they did anything permanent to you or him.”

Jesse glanced back as they rounded a corner staring at the door till it vanished from sight. One of his hands reached up,  brushing up to touch the back of his neck. No…..that’s not…..that’s not all that happened.


“He escaped?!” she sneered, teeth gritted and tight.

Markus shifted, watching as her nails dug into the steel desk, watching the metal give- “Yes ma’am. Apparently the other recovered subject was from the Pandora initiative. They didn’t have him properly restrained and-”

“He escaped….into a fucking blizzard no less.” she hissed.

Markus flinched, “Y-yes ma’am.”

She remained silent for a minute, maybe too. Then she looked at him, eyes holding all the fury of hell in the steely, cold and merciless orbs. “That subject was the future of PAMA. The future Markus.”

“I - I know ma’am-” he began.

“I want your men posted in every fucking dirt hole town from here to the ocean!” She raged. “If by some miracle that boy makes it I want him dragged here! I want him locked away in a steel room where he will never see the light of day till Armageddon comes again!”

“Understood ma’am!” he cowered as she turned her back to him, “I’ll put men everywhere. Champion City, Hollowsville, Red Mesa, Two Moon Valley. Where there are people ma’am we will be. We will find him!”

“You better hope he survived the winter storms, Markus,” She hissed, “Or the new sessions will start with you.”

His heart skipped a beat, “I understand ma’am. Dr. Roberts does not believe he has gotten far. He is sure they’ll find him. Maybe we can still work with the body-”

She snarled.

Markus flinched, “Dr. Roberts is certain something will turn up soon. No one could have gotten that far in that storm.”

She didn’t answer, instead reaching behind her and running her nail along the desk. Beyond the confines of the steel walled office the facility rumbled. The storm had now come to them, hitting their base with an unrelenting force.

There was a muffled sound, deep but still loud, and the walls vibrated.

Markus gulped.

There was more than wind and snow out there right now….

Finally his superior removed her nail from her desk, flakes of steel falling off the tip, “What, Dr. Roberts?” she whispered icily.

Markus swallowed once, then bowed, “Understood ma’am.” he turned on his heel, already knowing his order and that he was dismissed.

“Oh and Markus?” she said, just as he reached the safety of the door.

He froze, not daring to turn around, “Y-yes Ma’am?”

“After you’re done. I want you researching Pandora for me. I want to see where Dr. Teresa left off. Is that clear?”

Markus nodded. “Yes ma’am.” then he opened the door and quickly left, leaving the nightmare in that office behind.


 

The next few days were….bothersome for lack of better word.

Jesse visited Aiden often. Sometimes for several hours a day. Aiden seemed, for the most part, tolerant of Jesse’s visits, even holding conversations with him. But the air between them still held an uneasy feeling. An unspoken problem that needed to be addressed.

As more memories clicked back into place about that terrible night Jesse desperately wanted answers to the questions festering inside him.

Why did Aiden come back?

How was he able to do what he did?

Most of the time however someone else was in the room along with Jesse. Isa, Lukas, etc. The few rare times they were alone Aiden was either too tired to talk by this point or Jesse’s courage failed him.

Jesse decided he had to do it soon or never do it all and finally, finally he got his window of opportunity.

The hallway was quiet for the most part, almost all the doctors and patients were settling down for dinner. Everyone in Jesse’s social circle was busy. Isa was resting. Reginald was out with his men. Lukas and the gang were helping the town put down a temporary blockage in the far wall so nothing else would come in for the winter. And Milo was getting dinner ready.

So Jesse knew Aiden would be alone.

He held the handle on the door for maybe a minute, fingers shaking violently as he tried to rally his courage together.

Now or never Jesse, just do it. He’s not going to hurt you for asking-

Jesse flinched recalling all the people Aiden killed to get out of that bunker. But Jesse reminded himself that Aiden did it to get Jesse out too. He could have left him, he should have left him….

Taking a deep breath Jesse softly knocked then pushed the door opened. He blinked in alarm upon entering the room to see Aiden wasn’t in the bed. He closed the door behind him, looking around fretfully, “Aiden?!”

“In here.”

Jesse moved to the bathroom, where Aiden’s voice had carried out from. “Are you okay? Do I need to get the doctor?! You-”

Aiden stepped out of bathroom, gingerly walking across the floor. “I was just changing the bandages on my burn, one of the blisters ruptured.”

Jesse stepped aside as Aiden stiffly passed by, looking at Aiden’s freshly bandage hand. “You should be resting,” He stressed.

“I didn’t want to call in a nurse, they’re busy enough.”

Aiden sat back down on the bed reaching for his shirt thrown over the railing. Jesse eyed the now prominent tattoo on Aiden’s exposed front.

Pandora-06A…..

He had seen it fully a few times already this week. Aiden never spoke about it of course. It was another mark added to the canvas that was Aiden. Without any clothing hindering Jesse’s view he could see the scars sneaking out from where Aiden’s prosthetic ended. There were small bullet marks from the few times he had been shot and scars from other scrapes.. That tattoo was just the newest edition to Aiden’s history.

Jesse rubbed the back of his neck, knowing his own tattoo was still back there. “Um Aiden-” he paused.

“Hmmm?” Aiden replied as he pulled his shirt over his head, arms lifting up over his head.

Jesse continued to stare, because he had spotted something he had yet to see before.

The loose hospital pants on Aiden’s waist had slid down slightly and right there on Aiden’s left hip was another mark. Faded by time, simple and black it was easily hidden by jeans or any pants really. Jesse recognized the style, though this time there was no PAMA logo. But printed out in bold simple font, was the exact same label. Pandora-06A.

Just like the one on Aiden’s shoulder. But far far older.This puzzled Jesse because that meant….

Aiden slid the shirt back on and the tattoo vanished underneath the long loose garb. He shoved his disheveled hair back and gazed at Jesse, eyes tired and worn, “You were saying something?”

“Uh-” Jesse’s mouth failed to achieve legible speech, still trying to understand what he had just seen.

Aiden cleared his throat, drawing Jesse back to earth, “Jesse? Are you alright?” he asked.

Jesse swallowed then sighed, “I - I need to ask you something.” he said moving to the cushioned chair by the bed.

“You’ve been wanting to all week,” Aiden replied.

Slightly surprised, Jesse gaped, “How did-”

“I’m tired but I still caught on.” Aiden ran a hand through his hair again, weary and worn, “What do you want to ask Jesse?”

Jesse bit his lip, “I….” he could already feel whatever bravado he had slipping out of his fingers and going fast, “I-”

“Yes?” the other asks with surprising patience.

“I’ve…..I’ve had these memories,” Jesse stammered, “Of back in the bunker and- and I wasn't sure if they were delusions or not.” he hesitated as he watched Aiden’s eyes shift away. “I remember you doing things that…...Aiden I know they were real, I know we didn’t just run out of there.”

Aiden sighed.

“I d-don’t understand why you told Lukas we just ran out and I…..” Jesse looked away, heart racing. “But I guess that’s not what’s really the question I want to ask.”

He could feel Aiden’s eyes staring at him, and when he risked a peek over he was greeted with a simple non hostile gaze.

Jesse swallowed, voice thick, “I don’t want you to take this wrong. I- I’m so grateful you saved me Aiden.” he fought on tears, “I don’t think I could have lasted much longer, I-I was so close to breaking. B-but I don’t understand-” Jesse looked fearfully at Aiden, “Why did you save me?”

Aiden visibly flinched, looking quickly away.

Scrambling to recover from what Jesse assumed was a horrible mistake, he reached forward grabbing the sheets by Aiden’s leg. He didn’t dare touch the other male, “I-I’m sorry! I’m grateful you saved me Aiden! I just didn’t know why. Considering you and I-” tears pooled up in his eyes, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! P-please don’t be mad, I don’t want you to hate me-”

Aiden suddenly placed his hand on Jesse’s own trembling hands, effectively silencing and freezing Jesse in the motion. Aiden slowly looked at Jesse, and he looked so tired, “I don’t hate you Jesse,” he said, voice barely above a whisper, “I never did.”

Wide eyed and still crying, Jesse blinked away the large drops in his eyes, “W-w-, B-b-ut I thought.”

“I never had a right to hate you. I was just a coward, and lashed out because of it.”

“Aiden...I don’t understand.”

Aiden let go of Jesse’s hands, heaving a great sigh, “You’re not the only one to be screwed over by PAMA.” he whispered, hand coming to rest on his metal arm.

Jesse’s eyes widened further with shock as the stunning realization dawned upon him, “Y-your arm? PAMA took your arm?! When? How? I-”

“Are really long time ago,” Aiden answered, his eyes dark and clouded as he thought about the no doubt dreaded memory, “Almost eight years ago now. Project Pandora….

“But Maya said you were out in the wastes-”

“That’s what I told her, that’s what I told everyone.” he gripped his arm tighter, “I never told anyone what really happened.” he let go of his arm, pushing down the hip of his pants slightly. He looked at the faded tattoo there with heavy disdain, “But a long time ago, I had a run in with PAMA, and I ran from them ever since.

Jesse looked at the old tattoo then, “Aiden?” he whispered, he reached out softly touching the male’s arm and cringing as Aiden flinched, “What happened?” he asked.

The larger male was silent for a moment, pondering on some things ,  hands clenching and unclenching, then, “When I was fourteen, my dad was jobless, my mom was dying, and I was young, stupid and desperate. Which I guess made me a good candidate…..”

What poured out of Aiden in the next hour made Jesse’s heart ache. Aiden told him everything. How Harris tricked and kidnapped him, how PAMA took his arm. Jamie, and Bria. Everything that PAMA forced him to go through. How they made him stronger, and faster, and how they nearly broke him down.

He watched Aiden struggled to keep going when he talked about losing Bria, and he could see the lingering trauma of having to watch Jamie die. He spoke of how he got out, the body count that went from the first kill to over dozens in a matter of a single escape.

How he had no home when he was finally back…..

“I never told anyone,” Aiden finished up, voice trembling. It was clear now to Jesse, Aiden had been carrying this alone and he had been carrying it a long while. Unlike Jesse who could barely remember what had happened to him, Aiden remembered it all. But it was the secret he carried around like a heavy weight that did the long term damage. The dark effect of his lies and fear had been creeping around in his soul for a long time.

“Why?” Jesse whispered.

“I didn’t want to know what they would think,” Aiden hissed more to himself than anything, “Only the foolish and the desperate go to those dogs. You go to PAMA and you are marked for life. I didn’t want people to know I had gone to them, I didn’t want to hear what they would say. I was afraid what people would do if they found out.”

“Lukas wouldn’t think any less of you, none of the others would.” he encouraged.

Aiden shook his head, “Even if he -they didn’t. Gossip would still pass around. PAMA would eventually have gotten wind of the super soldier boy with the prosthetic running around in the wastelands. They would have found me, taken me back…” his eyes squeezed shut, breath trembling, “I couldn’t go back.”

Aiden’s shaking hands gripped the bed sheets beside him desperate for a secure hold. “I was scared Jesse, I didn’t want them to find me. So- so when Lukas found you- I-” he trailed off looking shamefully away.

Jesse stared. Suddenly everything made so much sense now. Oh God…..

“I’ve been running from PAMA and everything connected to them for a long time. I pushed you away because of it,”  Aiden bit his lip, “I don’t have an excuse honestly. I should have been someone who understood what PAMA’s effect was on you. But I was a selfish bloody coward, I was only looking out for me, and I am so sorry that you were hurt because of it.”

Jesse scooted closer in, “Me? Forget me ! Aiden you were scared!”

“I should have helped you!” Aiden snapped, again not at Jesse, he was tearing himself apart, “I promised Jamie I’d help people who were hurt by PAMA! I should have been there for you!” Aiden looked up at Jesse, tears of frustration struggled to escape his eyes, “I should have been there.”

“Aiden-”

“When I saw you on that table, for one split second, I thought I could leave! And just put this behind me again and go back to hiding! Jesse I was going to leave you in that lab!

Jesse didn’t say anything to this piece of information, instead, “But you didn’t” he whispered.

“Because I saw me,” Aiden answered, “I saw you begging for help, for God. That was me…..I screamed when they put this goddamn arm on me, I screamed till my voice gave out. But nobody came.  And when I saw you, I saw me…...I couldn’t leave you on that table…..” he dropped his head in defeat, “But I should have been there for you long before that point. It should have never even gotten to that far. I should have been there from the start and I am so sorry.”

“Aiden-” Jesse began.

“I let you get hurt, because I was a coward. The fact that I was even thinking of leaving you on that table- it makes me a monster.”

“You’re not-”

“PAMA hurt you because of me Jesse, I should have just-”

Jesse shoved off the chair then, climbing onto the bed in an instant. He wrapped his arms around Aiden and pulled the larger male into a trembling embrace faster than the other could react. “It’s not your fault Aiden,” he said, voice muffled as he buried his face into Aiden’s hair, “PAMA hurt you too.”

Aiden was stiff against Jesse, unmoving, unsure.

“But unlike me,” Jesse said, “You never got the chance for anybody to help you.” he solemnly pulled Aiden a little closer, “Let me help you.”

Aiden shifted, some part of that ancient barrier cracked.

“I know we didn’t get off to the best start, but let’s be there for each other now,” Jesse whispered, “I understand Aiden….And I’m so sorry you’ve had to carry this by yourself this whole time. I get it.”

Whatever barrier that had been between them crumbled in those three little words. The forgiveness to the apology Jesse didn’t feel needed to be there to begin with filled that space between them. Aiden went lax against him, arms wrapping around Jesse.

“I’m here, and you’re here too,” Jesse encouraged, “We’re going to help each other.”

Aiden didn’t answer, he clung tighter to Jesse face buried in his chest and sobbed. Finally able to release everything he was never able to grieve for, the trauma, the loss, everything. Jesse remained there, crying tears of his own, because even though the majority of him felt awful for Aiden. Jesse didn’t feel so much alone anymore.

Because Aiden understood too.


 

Aiden was weary and a little stiff, not from his wounds, those were tolerable now. No he was stiff from only being allowed in the bed or the bathroom for the last weak and a half. Tired, because his body was still recovering in a different way.

Telling Jesse the truth had been this overwhelming weight lifted off his shoulders. But receiving forgiveness - where Jesse still insisted no apology was needed - felt…..so strange.

Jesse had encouraged him to tell the others. He kind of had to anyway, considering when they all came together for dinner a teary eyed Aiden was not a natural sight. But having told someone before telling them, even if it was someone he hadn’t known very long had helped greatly.

The whole team handled it well, upset about the horrid things that can happened more than anything. None of them were mad he never told, none of them blamed him either.

Gill had one thing to say, “You’re telling me the whole time in New Denver you could have just punched us out of that damn building?” then the large burly male chuckled, “Typical, making me run my ass off.”

That’s when Aiden knew it would be okay.

It had been a few days now, but not having to hide it anymore left him feeling very light, and naturally exhausted. Like he had finally dropped the damn boulder off at the top of the mountain he had been hiking for the last seven years.

“I’m glad you told me,” Isa piped up, running fingers through his hair. She was helping him get his compiled things out of the hospital room. With Isa’s home out of commision, Lukas had pulled a card with the local collector. They all would be staying there now that they didn’t all need to be in the hospital, “You seem better for it,” she observed as if reading his thoughts.

“Yeah, well,” Aiden reached to the nightstand, he picked up a book and glanced at Jesse asleep in the chair. The male had come to visit extremely early this morning - his visits having doubled in the past few days a constant support- but the boy had been still rather sleepy and nodded off shortly after arriving, “I had help.”

Isa smiled fondly, taking the book from him, “I’m glad.”

He squeezed her hand, “I wanted to tell you sooner, I tried at the festival. I was just so scared I-”

“Aiden, love,” she reached up and kissed his cheek, “I know you tried.”

He gripped her hand, “Just thank you for being there.” he said, voice trembling slightly, “Just….thank you. You were always…..”

Isa gave him a gentle smile, blinking away soft tears. Brushing her eyes she then handed him a wrinkled up folder, “Here.”

“What is it?”

“It was in the lab coat you were wearing,” Isa replied, “The doctor’s figured you would want it back.”

Aiden’s heart skipped a beat, having nearly forgotten the thick file folder he had stolen from the PAMA base. He took it, reading the faded Subject Files ink on the water stained folder.

“I didn’t open it,” Isa quickly explained, “I know you opened up to us, but I figured you didn’t want to give the details just yet.”

Aiden took a step back as Isa went back gathering the rest of the loose items in the room up. He ran his thumb along the edge of the thick paper folder, then flipped it open-

Aiden’s eyes widened.

This…...wasn’t …. his….

“Whatcha got Aiden?”

Aiden jumped lightly and quickly closed the folder. He turned around, coming face to face with a awake and sleepy eyed Jesse.

“Just paperwork,” Aiden assured, ruffling Jesse’s messy hair.

Jesse hummed sleepily, looking around the room “Oh shoot you already packed,” He yawned, “I wanted to help,”

“Why don’t you carry that box over there for Isa?” Aiden suggested, “She’ll lead you to the new place.”

“Are you lingering?” Isa asked, a bit of concern in her voice.

“Yeah,” Aiden said, “I need to use the bathroom, don’t wait up, I know where to go.”

Isa tilted her head, “Aiden are you alright?”

“Fine,” he kissed her forehead, “I’m fine I promise.”

“Alright~” she replied, patting Jesse’s arm, “Come on hun,”

Jesse gave Aiden a bright smile, then followed the elder female out of the room. Aiden smiled for both of them, even waving.

Aiden waited till the door was closed and they were gone before he sat shakily down on the bed. He flipped the folder back open, reading the water stained header paper.

Subject Files

Project: Rebirth

Code: Lifeline

Subject: RB-32J

This was Pama's file on Jesse.

Aiden sat there for the next half hour, flipping through test notes, results, theories. The more he looked the more sick he became, three hundred years ago and PAMA’s morals were just as bad as now. They didn’t need to end of the world or lack of laws to commit such horrendous acts.

But it was the pictures, that really got to Aiden, what he saw. He saw visibly what they did to Jesse. What they tested, produced, changed-

“Aiden?”

Aiden yelped as Lukas knocked and opened the door. The blond gave him a funny look as he entered the dim room, flicking the lights on; leaving Aiden to blink away the brief blindness. “What in the world are you still doing here? Do you really like the hospital dining so much you want to stay here?” Lukas lightly teased, “I mean I suppose the pudding isn’t bad but….” he trailed off smile dropping, eyeing Aiden carefully. He closed the door behind him, “Aiden are you alright?”

Aiden swallowed once, twice, still at a loss for words.

Lukas hurried over and sat down next to him, “Aiden what’s wrong?” he stressed placing an hand on Aiden’s shoulder.

“We-we need to talk,” Aiden stammered out finally.

Lukas tensed, “About what? Can it wait till we are-”

“No we need to talk about Jesse now, Lukas.” he pressed.

Lukas frowned, “What about Jesse?”

“What PAMA did to him.” Aiden said.

The blonde relaxed briefly seeing that the problem was not with Aiden, but then Lukas’s eyes went dark, “I know you told me they were going to cut of his arm when you found him.” He looked angrily at the floor, voice tight “I already know about the second tattoo those bastards put on him and you. The needles and the inserts too-”

“No, Lukas,” Aiden interrupted, he pushed the folder into Lukas’s hands, “That’s not all of it.”

Lukas glanced at Aiden then took the folder. He flipped it open, thumbing through the papers, “What is this?”

Aiden looked away, ‘“It’s Jesse’s subject file.” he answered stiffly. He heard Lukas gasp in horror as he no doubt found the pictures, “It’s what they did first.”


Oh good I was hoping to catch you all together.”

The team and Petra all looked Lukas’s way as he stepped into the living room.

“Hey Lukas, what’s up.” Maya inquired.

Lukas hesitated, and for the a moment he was scared to speak, scared to address all his friends, his family.

“I need to talk to you guys about something.” He finally answered, voice soft.

His tone changed the air in the room, and he quickly had everyone’s full attention.

“Lukas what’s wrong?” Petra inquired.

He took a deep breath and looked at everyone individually, “I would like to talk to you all about what happens next with us.”

At least three eyebrows shot up because of the statement. Lukas noticed Aiden glanced away, going back to this wood carving, but he could tell the brunet was still listening.

“I’ve been foolish,” Lukas said, “I put all of you and a lot of people in danger because I took Jesse out of that vault-”

“We,” Maya corrected, “Took him out.”

“The decision was primarily mine, you don’t have to sugar coat it.” He frowned, “I was sure PAMA wouldn’t care, but unfortunately they did. Everything past that point we’ve been running, getting shot at, getting hurt.” he cringed, “I had no idea PAMA would go as far as to attack Ground Town directly just to get Jesse back.” Lukas sighed heavily and looked sadly at them all, “I’m sorry my choices have gotten almost all of you nearly killed or hurt.”

“Lukas it’s okay man-” Gill began.

“No, it’s not.” Lukas insisted, “You are my friends, you are…..you are pretty much my family guys. I wasn’t even thinking straight trying to keep Jesse away and you were all hurt in someway in the process.” He looked shamefully away, “I’m so sorry.”

Everyone one in the room was silent, processing his words.

Lukas reluctantly looked back to them, “I’m going to stay with Jesse,” he announced, “After hearing what they tried to do, and- and-” he glanced tensely at Aiden, “After getting a general idea of what they would continue to do….I’m going to stay with him. He needs help, I know we- I- …...I know there is a chance the cure can be found, and can be kept away from PAMA.” he rubbed his arm, “But I’m not going to force any of you to come along. You all can do what you please. I don’t want you getting hurt because I’m ordering you to come along with my frankly suicidal plan-”

“Lukas,” Aiden cut in.

Lukas stiffened.

Aiden stopped his wood carving, a finely made little horse - at least what it would have looked like before mutations according to Jesse. He set his knife down on the table, “If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll stick around.”

Lukas’s heart skipped a beat and his eyes widened slightly, “What-”

Aiden sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. He looked apologetically at Lukas, “I know I haven’t been the most agreeable team mate since this whole fiasco started. I should have supported you on your choice. You’ve always wanted to help people and that’s a admirable habit. But I wasn’t exactly being the greatest of friends these past few months.”

“You had good reason-” Lukas began.

Aiden held up a finger, a gentle sign to shut up, “But I want to make up for that.” he insisted. Aiden glanced at everyone, ““I know probably better than anyone in this room what PAMA can really do.” He looked back to Lukas, “I saw what they were going to do to Jesse and well….” he stood, walking over to Lukas and placing a hand on his shoulder, “If leaving the team for my own well being is going to put Jesse inevitably back under a knife, I think I’d rather stay with you guys.”

Lukas was stunned, “Aiden, I….”

“I don’t want to live the rest of my life, be it short or long.” Aiden explained, “Knowing I never helped keep Jesse from PAMA. It would make me sick. Especially since I know…..I think I’ll stay Lukas if it’s alright with you.”

Blinking rapidly and at a loss for words, Lukas mutely nodded.

“Well,” Maya piped up, “I guess I better stick around then too. Because between the two of you you’re both gonna get hurt a lot.”

“I’ll stay too,” Gill agreed, rubbing Maya’s back with a smile.

Lukas looked over at them, “You guys no one has to stay.” he stressed. “If PAMA finds out Jesse survived that snowstorm we’re going to be running again. If they find him in Beacon Town, we’ll be running then too. If you stay, you’re going to be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life or until we beat PAMA somehow.”

“Lukas man,” Gill stood up, Maya joining him, “We’re already looking over our shoulder all the time. It’s the life we live. You and Jesse alone can’t find a cure. You’re gonna need help, and muscle and connections. The more people we have the better it will be.”

“Besides, he’s sweet,” Maya said, “He’s part of our team. Team means us. All of us.”

Lukas swallowed throat thick, “O-okay.”

Maya grinned, “Did you really think we were going to just leave?”

“W-well after what happened,” Lukas stammered, held up on emotions, “Ground Town getting attacked, and Gill was shot, and Aiden-” he cringed.

“I think we’re all a little smitten with Jesse,” Aiden teased. He shrugged, “Some more than others. But regardless we wouldn’t just leave you Lukas, you’re….you’re family too.”

Petra stood then, “I would also like to stick around,” she paused when everyone looked at her. “If it’s alright with you guys.”

“Are you sure?” Lukas fretted.

The ginger nodded, “I’ve been wandering on my own for a long time now. Frankly I think I was trying to find what I needed to do in this world.” she shrugged, “Helping you guys, helping Jesse would be a good cause I think. It’s been nice to be in a group again.” Petra admitted.

“Well, you’re welcome if you want,” Lukas replied.

Petra grinned, “I do want this.”

“Oh thank God!” Maya grabbed Petra’s hand pulling her closer, “Do you even know how big of a pain in the ass it has been to be the only female in a group of boys!”

There was some light laughter all around, then, “Well my dysfunctional family. What do we do next then?” Gill asked.

“Isa, with Jesse’s consent of course, wants to get a general baseline on how Jesse’s healing and DNA operate.” Lukas explained, “She wants to start while we’re staying here for the winter. When spring comes we take our research and move someplace safer just in case PAMA decides to check here again. But the primary goal is keeping Jesse safe and away from the grips of PAMA, the cure is the side quest.”

“No big deal,” Aiden said dryly, “Just the fate of humanity in our hands.”

“Exactly,” Lukas smiled.

Suddenly the door to the living room busted open, and the collector’s daughter - a little girl named Lily- came flying into the room pulling Jesse in tow.

“See I told you they were in here!” she declared happily.

Jesse scooped the little girl up, face red in embarrassment, “And I told you they were in a meeting,” he looked apologetically at Lukas, “I am so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Lukas smiled, “We’re…..” he glanced at everyone smiling fondly, “We’re all good now.”

Jesse seemed surprised as he shooed Lily out of the room, ”Wait you talked already?”

Lukas nodded.

“Looks like we’re a team of six now,” Gill proudly stated.

“Six?”

“You and I raise the number,” Petra waved, “We’re sticking with you Jesse.”

Jesse straightened up, eyes wide and lips trembling, “You guys don’t, none of you-”

“Jesse, we don’t need to,” Maya assured, “We want to. You’re part of our gang, and as a team we protect each other.”

Jesse let out a shaky breath and looked over to Lukas who in turn gave him a encouraging smile. “T-thanks you guys,” the smaller male choked out.

“Guess you’re stuck with us,” Petra laughed.

Jesse choked out a laugh, fighting on tears.

“Ah come’re!” Gill reached his long arms out, “Group hug all!”

Aiden let out a yelp as Gill yanked him in, “Gill the ribs! Watch the ribs!”

Jesse let out a slightly merrier laugh as he was pulled in. Crashing into Lukas and still struggling to hold back his tears.

Lukas wrapped his arms around Jesse as everyone piled together, “You’re going to be okay Jesse, we’re here for you.”

“We’re here for each other,” Aiden added.

“Right, each other,” Lukas smiled.

Jesse smiled, eyes shining an he wiggled deeper into Lukas, “Thank you,” he whispered.

Lukas looked at Jesse affectionately smiling softly. He closed his eyes, letting Jesse bury into him. Lukas sank into the warmth of the hug, of his friends. “Welcome to the family Jesse.”

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Minor Cursing

-

 

A Few Years Ago…..

“Magnus, just admit it. You lost the deer.”

Ellegaard watched as her husband wiped snow out of his eyes. The stout man growling in pure frustration. “I didn’t lose it! I know it went this way…..” he trailed off, “Least I think….”

Ellegaard adjusted her hood, “The storm’s getting worse, anyone could have lost it in this-” she flinched as the wind howled, increasing ferocity momentarily before subsiding. “We should head back to camp.” she suggested, not comfortable with the the changing weather conditions.

Stubborn as he could be, her partner knew when it wasn’t worth it. “You’re right,” Magnus sighed in agreement.. He got up from his crouching position, adjusting his rifle. “Let’s head back. Before we get anymore turned around.” he glanced at the shadowed trees around them. The forest was dancing in the storm, all around one could hear the trees brushing together and the branches snapping in the gale.

“I don’t like not knowing what’s near me.” Magnus frowned, knowing very well that the music of the forest now covered anything that might be nearby.

Ellegaard tightened her grip on her own rifle and stepped in close next to him. “We’ve got a few good kills this hunt, it’s not a total loss.” she encouraged.

Magnus just grunted.

She reached up, gripping the fur trimmed hood of her coat as the bitter snow storm tried to blow it off again. “God have mercy this one is awful!” she gaped.

“Storms have come early this year,” Magnus frowned. “Gonna be a bad one.”

Ellegaard went to agree “It’s going to be hard on the town-”  only to yelp slightly as she staggered down a snowbank, snow piling up to her knees, “Gah!”

Magnus scooted down seconds later, “Elle you okay?”

“I’m fine. Just got snow in my boots.”

“It’ll be better when we get to camp, we’ll get a fire going,” Magnus wiggled a frost covered eyebrow, “Get steamy~”

She rolled her eyes, smiling and humored. She almost shoved the man into the drifts, but decided against it. Then they would have to get steamy.

They continued to trek down the forest path. The wind wasn’t so bad here. Small hills were on either side of the trail, trees atop the slopes, sheltering them from the storm.

Magnus frowned, taking a slow turn in a full circle, inspecting his surroundings.

“What’s wrong?” Ellegaard asked.

“We didn’t come through this way.”

Ellegaard looked around, “Shit we better not be lost.”

“We’re not lost, not yet. We crossed over this path but didn’t stay on it.” Magnus huffed, “We just got to find our-” Magnus yelped as he suddenly went face first into the snow.

“Magnus?!?”

“Fine!” he was his muffled reply. He brought his head up, spitting snow, “Something tripped me.”

Ellegaard brushed away the mound of snow underneath Magnus’s legs. Her heart skipped a beat, and her breath hitched.

Magnus caught the noise and he looked back, “Elle what- Jesus!” he scrambled up as he joined Elle in realizing the snow covered mound that had tripped him was a body.

A human, body.

Ellegaard quickly rolled the person over. She yanked off her gloves,  checking for a pulse, “Dead.” she stated after a moment of no heartbeat. The person’s skin was icy cold against her fingers. But due to the subzero temperatures it was hard to tell how long the man had been dead.

“Ya think?!” Magnus hissed. “He has no coat!”

“Raiders?” Ellegaard suggested.

Magnus kneeled beside her, “I don’t know.” he ran his hand along the corpse’s clothing, “I’ve never seen clothing like this on anyone before.” He inspected the person closer, “No bullet or stabs marks either, this person froze to death.”

“If he ran out here without a coat that means there has to be a shelter nearby. There might be people looking for him,” Ellegaard tilted her head, eyeing the one piece jumpsuit. It was dark in color the material thick but not enough to stop the cold. It looked like there was a number printed on the collar-

“Elle there is more.”

“A search party?”

Magnus didn’t answer, but the silence spoke volumes.

She looked up, spotting a trail of mounds in the snow. She and Mangus quickly rushed to each one checking for life. But every person they passed was long frozen and gone. Same as the first there were no lethal injuries. Just the frostbitten skin.

“Magnus these people are all in the same uniform.”

“I know Elle, I know.”

“They had to be running from something, or someplace.”

“....Yeah.” She watched as Magnus paused at their latest body, a crossbow bolt stuck out of the young woman’s back.

As they hurried down the trail, they came across a soft glow pouring out from an divet in the hills.

Magnus clicked off his safety, moving around the bend. He peeked around the corner, “What in the world?!”

Ellegaard looked as well, eyes widening in surprise at the sight before her.

Built into the hills, large doors wide open and exposed was a steel room. Illuminated by fires of many men and woman inside the structure, “A bunker?”

“Those are raiders in there.” Magnus hissed  spotting the gang marks on many of the men and women's coats. He took Ellegaard’s hand backing into the safe dimness of the forest path.

“They must have killed those people. Some of the last ones had bullets and arrows in them.” Ellegard concluded. “They didn’t follow the rest they knew they would freeze to death.”

Magnus looked grimly at the bodies slowly getting buried in the snow, “It must have been a fallout bunker.”

A fallout bunker wasn’t unheard of. There were a small handful on this side of the divide. Some of them had still running societies in them, while most just housed more dead. Sad souls who hadn’t made the fallout. Over time some of them would rejoin ‘society’ and others, like the one tucked away here…..Became unfortunate victims of the lessers of mankind.

“The suits are vault suits then?”

“Maybe.” Magnus frowned, “The raiders must have found this place and chased them out. Bloody bastards, population is small enough as it is.”s

Ellegaard looked sadly at the bodies.

“We should go.” Magnus sighed. “Before the raiders see us.”

“Yeah…. I wish we had time to send them off properly. Instead of leaving them to freeze till something feasts on them.” She stated solemnly.

Her husband patted her shoulder, “Me too Elle, me too.”

Just as they were about to head off, when one of the snow bumps by Ellegaard’s foot shifted. A muffled moan carried out through the wind.

Startled Magnus and Ellegaard quickly dropped down, shoving the snow away.

Underneath was a large male, still and pale. He had a crossbow bolt in his shoulder but the wound wasn’t anywhere near anything immediately fatal.  But underneath him was a female, she moaned shifting.

“She’s alive?!” Magnus gapped.

Ellegaard check the male, eyes widening as she felt the faint throb on her fingertips. “He is too!!”

The female looked weakly up at them, trembling from the cold. Ice was caked to her face, cracking as her shaking lips parted.

“P-please h-help- h-help us.”


 

Present Day….

Jesse watched as Maya squeezed the small dropper. His eyes followed the small drop of blood that fell from the tube and landed in the dish below, joining the blood already there.

“Alrighty,” Maya hummed sliding the petri dish under the microscope, “Let’s see how this goes~”

Jesse scooted closer, “Anything yet?” he asked after a moment.

The brunette chuckled, “Not yet, your blood is fast Jesse but not that fast.” she answered as she adjusted the focus on the microscope.

Jesse leaned back, rubbing his arms. Already the needle mark where they had drawn blood earlier had vanished. “I hope it works.”

“We’ll see,” the female replied. But after a moment she added, “But I do too Jesse.”

Jesse hopped off his chair and moved towards the single window in the medical lab. He gazed out the frost decorated glass, “Lukas says spring is almost here.” He observed, attempting to make conversation while they waited for the results.

Maya snorted, still looking through the microscope, “I think he means light winter Jesse. No such thing as spring anymore…” she laughed, “But you have got to love Lukas and his little burst of sunshine and optimism.

Yeah, Jesse smiled a little and glanced back out the window.

He and Maya were currently in Ground Town’s medical lab in the hospital. Jesse has visited this room a few times already this winter. With not much to do with the heavy snow everywhere the team settled for figuring out some of the baseline skills of Jesse’s healing DNA.

It had been fairly slow progress, they clearly still had a lot to learn. But they concluded that Jesse’s blood was more potent than to be believed. While they already knew Jesse to be immune to radiation, it seemed Jesse’s DNA was resilient to any and all known current diseases. His body had adapted fully to its new environment, taking in the radiated atmosphere as easily as he could take in oxygen from the old world.

From where he stood in the lab, Jesse could see the majority of Ground Town from the window. The layers of apartments and buildings all stacked up. Smoke billowing out of chimneys. There was Isa’s office and home. Tarps were anchored down over the back half of the building. They covered a gaping hole made by rocket explosions during PAMA’s attack on the city a few months ago.

The attack -though long over- still lingered in Jesse’s mind often. He felt bad for the people who had been hurt, and the families who had lost loved ones.

All just to get him.

And that thought still hurt him greatly. He could only imagine the damage that would have been done if PAMA had tried to get him from the hospital, all the innocent people that had been in between him and them.

PAMA would have had him, or would have kept him anyway. Had it not been for the former PAMA experiment Aiden helping him escape and Lukas and the team coming to get them.

So Jesse often found himself trying not to think of the damage that had been done. But more towards the blessing of having such wonderful new friends who were willing to save him. It was the only thing that kept him sane, that gave him a smidge of comfort.

Movement from the waterworks factory drew his attention. Coming out of the waterworks he spotted two familiar faces. Aiden and Lukas.

With winter scarce for jobs but credits needed for travel the team had taken up any jobs they could find around the town.

Petra and Gill would go out hunting for roots and other food resources, both equipped and skilled when it came to hunting and scavenging. They’d bring back their goods to sell as food was precious and always in demand during the dark winter months.

Maya did an job here and there. But when Jesse was here at the hospital for testing, Maya was almost always present. She had the most medical experience on the team; And while she might not be as knowledgeable as some of the doctors here, she doubled a support beam for Jesse. Maya knew very well Jesse was uncomfortable with doctors and needles, so Maya learned as quick as she could the proper procedures to drawing blood and taking notes and samples to send to the more skilled. This way, research continued and Jesse had someone he trusted drawing blood from him.

Aiden and Lukas took odd errands around the city. But both of them primarily operated at the waterworks. Ground Town’s main source of trade and income.

They were hiking up the hill together on the way to the hospital no doubt. Both clearly happy and in a good mood. Lukas at one point said something, a jest judging by his expression. Aiden said something back, resulting in Lukas trying to push him over.

He might as well have tried to topple a wall. Aiden’s PAMA experience left the male a super soldier, strong and sure. Once he came out about it to the others per Jesse’s encouragement Aiden had no reason to keep his skill set on the down low.

He didn’t abuse it by any means. But rare occasions such as these he was known to take advantage.

Aiden laughed at Lukas’s attempts and then promptly shoved his friend into the opposite snow bank. Lukas came out of the drifts, coughing and sputtering in the cold powder as Aiden continued to laugh.

Jesse smiled fondly at the scene. Even chuckling as he watched Aiden reach down to help Lukas up only to get yanked into the snow by the downed male.

Lukas and Aiden’s relationship had been severely strained and tested when Jesse first came to the picture. It warmed Jesse to see them back where they should be, as good friends.

Maya suddenly sighed, the unhappy sound cutting into Jesse’s pleasant observations.

Pulling his gaze from the window Jesse turned around just as Maya let out another huff. She shook her head, eye still gazing in the microscope.

“What’s wrong?” Jesse asked as he sat down next to her.

“It’s doing it again. Your blood is destroying the current blood sample.”

Jesse took a turn viewing the scope, watching distressed as his blood absorbed the original sample at an accelerated rate, “But I thought this was a clean sample. No diseases just the usual radiation levels.”

“It is,” Maya replied. “But it’s treating it just like all the other diseased blood we tested it on. Granted it didn’t do anything for a few minutes, but it’s decided the other blood is bad.”

She ran her fingers through her hair before dropping it down to her notes. “According to those loose notes Aiden managed to retrieve from the lab you guys were hostage in. PAMA already knew your blood reacted negatively to diseased and contaminated samples. But I was hoping in this case….”

Jesse watched sadly as the last of the blood was engulfed by his own, now there was only his healthy red cells left. He pulled away from the microscope, “Maybe it’s the radiation?”

“If that’s the case,” Maya frowns, “A blood transfusion with you would be lethal. Your blood would kill your partner.”

“Maybe it would be different though.” Jesse suggested.

Maya raised an eyebrow, “You mean different because it would be a living host instead of a sample?” she glanced at the tray, “Possibly,” the female shrugged. “Maybe your blood needs a brain to guide it. Without it maybe the dna just reacts hostile to any foreign contaminant, healthy or no.”

Jesse didn’t respond.

“We don’t have the means nor the right to test on a person anyway.” Maya hummed, “I mean I guess we could do a blood transfusion on someone with a confirmed chance of death. Like a victim of an enderman attack. So they would either die of your blood or the radiation. But there would be the slight chance…..” she trailed off, “I don’t know. Guess we won’t know for awhile.” she closed the folder.

“Hey you two!” Lukas’s feather light voice cut through the solemn air.

They looked over at the door just as Aiden and Lukas entered the lab. Both were covered in powdered snow, evidence of a wrestle on both of them. Jesse smiled, not even having to wonder why they would be in such a state.

“What happened?” Maya blinked at the pair, unaware of what had just gone down outside the hospital.

“Lukas tripped,” Aiden answered, earning him a playful jab from Lukas. “Aaaaand I tripped too.”

The female smirked, “Huh, yeah okay. Well how were the waterworks?” Maya asked.

“Good,” Lukas smiled, pushing his disheveled hair back as he moved deeper into the room. He stopped by Jesse, rubbing Jesse’s arm. “Milo managed to get the fifth pump fixed from the rock damage so the factory is back up and running at full steam.

“Was it clogged?” Jesse inquired.

“Yeah, they had to rappel Aiden and I down into the cavern. Some rock came loose when PAMA attacked and got sucked up by the pump.”

“Nothing like hanging from a rope over a rushing cavern river.” Aiden rested an arm on Maya’s shoulder, “How is the tests going?”

“Peachy,” Maya answered, “Jesse’s blood devoured the clean sample.”

Lukas lifted an eyebrow. “Really?”

“I don’t know how we’re going to find a cure if my blood keeps treating everything like a disease.” Jesse sighed sadly.

“A cure isn’t the focus Jesse,” Lukas soothed, he rubbed Jesse’s back, “Keeping you safe is.”

Jesse felt a familiar heat on his cheeks and he quickly looked away, “Thank you Lukas,” he managed to squeak out.

Aiden was giving Jesse a funny look, but he didn’t do anything other than that, “If you guys are done for the day maybe we should head back and get dinner started?”

“Aren’t Gill and Petra out hunting?” Maya asked.

“Checking for animal activity and border security,” Aiden corrected. “I highly doubt they’ll find a rabbit. It’s still too cold out.”

“You’re just saying that because you have credits on the line. They might find something out there.” Lukas teased as the group left the lab, shutting the lights off behind them. “It’s getting warmer Aiden.”

“Tell that to my frostbite.”


 

Gill took a slow step forward in the snow, the wet frozen ground hardly crunching as his large boots stepped down.

He kneeled down, taking calm and steady breaths. Hot puffs of air escaped his frost dried lips with each exhale.

Gill slowly reached out, fingers wrapping around the thin branch before him.

Gill snapped the branch.

The rabbit shot it’s head up looking directly at Gill. It stared at him with unblinking eyes. Gill stared back, not moving, not blinking-

The bushes to the left of the rabbit hardly moved as the knife flew out. The rabbit didn’t even get to squeak as the blade went through the base of it’s neck killing it instantly.

Gill let loose an exhale and stood.

Petra climbed out of the bushes and picked up the rabbit smiling triumphantly, “ Hah! I told you, you can catch a rabbit without a trap!.”

Breaking into a smile, Gill laughed. “Yeah but it’s still a two person job,”

“Naw, it’s just harder to do with one.”

“Is it mutated?”

Petra adjusted the dead animal in her hands, “Yeah,” she answered after a moment of inspecting, “Four eyelids.”

Gill made a face, “Mutated rabbits always taste funny.”

“Food is food,” Petra replied trekking over to Gill. “All that matters is Aiden now owes me fifty credits.”

Gill snorted. He turned on his heel and began trekking back to the outwards gates of Ground Town. They were out checking the barrier today, when Petra had spotted the rabbit. So far the structure was intact and doing well. Only a few snags here and there. But most of the creatures had been hibernating till the sub zero winters receded. Since the barrier was doing well Gill didn’t mind taking a little side trip twenty feet into the woods.

He didn’t mind catering to the Petra vs Aiden competition, it was usually pretty fun.

“That wouldn’t happen to be the same credits he took from you in poker the other night would it?” Gill asked.

Petra scowled, “Aiden can’t play poker worth spit, I know he cheated. Cards up his sleeves or something-”

“Petra he was in a tank top.”

“Then he got damn lucky.” the female finished. “And if I remember correctly, he got twenty five off of you as well. So we take him the rabbit and split the cut how does that sound?”

“Sounds just fine,” Gill laughed. He watched as Petra pulled out her knife from the rabbit, the energy blade having seared the wound before it could even bleed. There was only the tracest hints on red on the knife, which Petra was currently wiping off on her cargo pants. “That was a good toss. Jack teach you to throw like that?”

“Yeah,” Petra smiled fondly at Ms. Butter. “Yeah he did. I almost threw it into his foot one time.”

Gill kicked up some snow, and caught it. He started to compact the wet snow into a ball, “When is that last time you heard from Jack?”

“I got a letter two years ago,” the female answered, “He was closer to the coasts then. But he was talking about moving inland back towards here. I was hoping I’d run into him. But Jack’s always been the isolated sort. So I’m not surprised.”

Gill threw his snowball into a nearby tree.“Maybe he’d stick around if he met Jesse,” he teased.

Gill knew full well Petra adored Jesse like the little brother she never got to have. Petra more times that not was doing something with him. Their favorite pastime was sledding down the many slopes of Ground Town, whenever it wasn’t too cold or there was a blizzard to prevent it. They had gotten quite good at it, able to start at the top of the city and cut and weave their way down all the way to the gates. Petra loved going fast and both loved the wipeout that followed. Granted there were usually a few bruises by the end of the day, only on Petra of course but that didn’t stop her.

Petra laughed softly to herself, “Yeah, never thought I’d end up back in a group again. It’s kinda nice. We’re hanging out again just like when we were kids.”

“Little more danger I think,” Gill observed as he checked some barbwire along the fence.

“Naw, danger is the same,” Petra said, “We’re just deeper in it.”

“Hmmm,” Satisfied that this part  of the fence was decent the pair trekked on.

“Do you think we’re going to be moving out soon?” Petra asked.

“I think so,” Gill replied, “I know Lukas wants to get some distance between us and Ground Town. He’s worried PAMA might realize Jesse is alive and come back here.”

PAMA was definitely on everyone’s  minds throughout the winter. Everyone in the team had high hopes that the dreaded organization would assume Aiden, and their target Jesse had perished in the first big blizzard of the winter last year. The team had been God blessed to find the pair, barely alive in some derelict building. Now they only hoped that PAMA was unaware of their rescue.

Aiden made it clear that PAMA would probably check in on Ground Town however, especially since Isa killed their only spy. PAMA would probably be wanting to place another mole as soon as possible, and when they did they would know Jesse was here

“Is he waiting for it to be warmer?” Petra wondered, “Farmers are saying this year is going to be a tough year, we got more snow than usual.”

“We are against the mountains, they tend to get hit worse.” Gill stated.

“We’re gonna have to move out soon,” the female pointed, “PAMA has vehicles and they can get over all of this, we don’t. I’d rather not be on the trails when the enderman start to migrate either.”

“Well we just gotta look for some signs-” Gill began.

Gill stopped talking and both of them stopped walking. Because they both heard the noise.

And they could smell it.

Dropping down low the pair moved silently forward across the snow, ahead of them was a cluster of trees, about twenty feet away from the fence. There was shuffling coming from beyond the branches, a kind of wet noise. Gill didn’t need to get close, he already could tell by the smell and the sounds something unkind was in the shrubbery.

Petra let out a soft pssst, hand signaling towards the brush. Gill followed her finger, able to see through the gaps to which she pointed.

A deer, or a dead one anyway. The mutated deer - white freakish eyes, staring lifeless at the sky was currently being torn into by and enderman.

The monster was young, only about four feet tall. But that didn’t make it any less dangerous. The small ones were just as fast, a little less coordinated perhaps, but that just made them more sporadic, harder to hit. Judging by how ravenous the creature tore into the carcass, Gill presumed the young one was probably starving. The monster would chew on the creature long after the body would be cold. Starving as the young animal was, he wasn’t too hyper aware to what was going on around him, so Petra risked a whisper.

“If that little guy is out there might be a pack of them nearby. Even if he was abandoned this is a sign. If the young ones are out the big ones are going to be too,” she whispered, breath hot in Gill’s ear.

“We’re going to have to let the guards know there is one close by.” Gill whispered back. “I’m not going to shoot it in case there is a pack. No point in drawing more in that we should-”

They both stiffened as if on cue, there was a unearthly screech cutting through the otherwise deathly silent forest.

The young enderman pulled away from his meal, hissing. He looked blindly about, sniffing the air. Neither Gill nor Petra moved, but they both glanced warily down at the rabbit in Petra’s hands. The creature snapped at the air, sinew hanging from it’s teeth and wet sticky blood plaster to it muzzle.

Eventually satisfied that there was no more immediate danger, the enderman returned to its meal, it buried it’s face into the stomach of the animal yanking out an intestine.

“We should go,” Gill whispered.

“Yep,” Petra agreed, she set the rabbit down in the snow, and they both cautiously backed away and headed back to the fence.

Gill pushed some barbwire aside for Petra to slip through first, “Sorry about the rabbit,” he whispered.

“Yeah well,” Petra ducked through the small gap, turning around and pulling the wire wide so Gill could duck through. “I’d rather not be that things next meal please and thank you.”

They trekked across the farmlands,  heading back towards town. They would occasionally look behind them to make sure nothing was following. They were about halfway across the farmlands when another scream echoed from the forest, followed by a roar.

Something bigger found the deer.

“You know with the enderman out of hibernation PAMA is going to be moving too,” Petra said after a moment of tense silence.

“Yeah…..” Gill looked forwards towards Ground Town, “I know….”


 

Aiden gave them the credits anyway. But that was the only pleasant thing of the evening.

“So you guys saw an enderman?” Lukas asked, tapping is fork idly against his food.

“Yeah,” Petra explained, “It was young, but we found it gnashing on a deer. So the animals are out and moving. Gill and I possibly heard a bigger one trekking about but we didn’t stick around to find out.”

“If they’re out moving then I guess heavy winter is done,” Aiden frowned.

Lukas didn’t seem exactly please to hear this news, dreading it even. “Which means PAMA is going to be out too.”

Jesse - who was sitting next to Lukas- didn’t say anything to the word, but Petra saw Jesse cringe from the corner of her eye.

Aiden who was on the other side of the male, noticed, he gave Jesse a soft rub on the arm, “PAMA doesn’t know Jesse is here. If they did they would have tried to get here while winter was in and we had nowhere to run.” the larger male said.

“But that doesn’t mean we should stick around much longer,” Lukas sighed, “Caravans and traders are going to be coming in soon. And even with Milo’s new inspection process, spys could slip in. You said so yourself Aiden. PAMA is going to want to get a new mole in here.”

“The roads could be dangerous though,” Isa spoke up from the head of the table, she seemed just a bit stressed by the news the team might have to leave, “There is still a lot of snow, and the enderman can travel over it far easier than any human.”

“We have the snowshoes you got us,” Jesse said.

“We can’t exactly run in those,” Gill replied, “Not without faceplanting.”

“Well we can’t stay too long,” Maya sighed, “Someone will notice Jesse is here, and Aiden too since he left a bloodbath behind at their old facility. I have no doubt PAMA will want to get even while getting Jesse back. If they find him here things are going to go bad.”

“What if they find Jesse in Beacon Town then?” Gill asked, “Beacon Town hardly as a defense. We have the wooden wall, and the towers. The lakes can slow an attack down, but they don’t make escape easy either.”

“If they find him there we keep moving,” Aiden said.

“We just need to keep low and get to Beacon Town safely without being noticed,” Petra explained, “That’s the key. If they don’t know Jesse is alive, and they don’t spot us on the roads then they aren’t going to know where we are going. We slip Jesse in and we lay low.”

“I just wish there was  little less snow in the way,” Isa frowned, “It worries me the six of you will be out there. Anything could happen, snow, animals, another blizzard might hit.” she grabbed Aiden’s hand, giving it a squeeze, “I don’t want to lose you kids.”

“Why don’t we give it a week or two then,” Petra suggest, “Some enderman like to start out early they’re resilient like that. But I haven’t seen any bears yet, so maybe it’s still too cold. We wait a bit longer and keep our activity low here. If the animals of the wastes are clearly starting to move about then we know it’s time to move.”

“I can have the men lay out some animal traps,” Reginald pipped up from his end of the table, “If they are filled quickly, we will know they are all waking up. The town needs some meat anyway so laying out traps and bait won’t be unusual if there are any PAMA scouts viewing the town.”

“In either case,” Lukas said glancing at Jesse, “The rest of us need to lay low, it will probably be best if Jesse and Aiden don’t wander around too much.” he looked around at everyone, “We wait two weeks and see if it’s time? Is that our plan?” he asked the group.

“It’s as prepared as we’re gonna get,” Gill sighed.

“It’ll be okay,” Maya assured, patting Gill’s forearm.

“Just promise me you’ll wait at least two weeks,” Isa stressed.

“Two weeks,” Petra said, “Then we’ll see.”

Chapter Text

 

-

Chapter Warnings:

Minor Cursing

-


 

Two weeks and the traps gave the team all the info they needed.

The wastelands were waking up, and it was time to leave.

They were at the city gates now, having spent the last week prepping just in case. The team was ready to leave first thing that morning. Now it was time for the goodbyes. 

“Just please be careful,” Isa was hugging Aiden tight.

“We promise,” Aiden assured the older woman, “I’ll write as often as I can.”

“Send me a letter as soon as you get to Beacon Town. I’ll visit as many times as possible.”

Aiden kissed Isa on the forehead before pulling away, “We’ll see you soon.” he promised, giving Isa another quick hug.

Isa smiled sadly, giving Aiden’s hand one last squeeze before turning her attention to Jesse.

Jesse stood there awkwardly for a moment, till Isa opened her arms happily. They embraced each other, Jesse burying his face into the hair of the woman he had come to greatly admired.

“Thank you so much for everything,” Jesse said, voice cracking from emotions. 

“It’ll be alright Jesse,” she whispered, “Everything will be okay.”

“I’m sorry for all the damage that-” 

“Jesse,” she gently cut him off, “There may have been damage, but there were many things that are better for it. I have no regrets.” she assured. 

He didn’t know how to respond as she hugged him tighter, “You have a long journey ahead,” the female whispered, “But I have no doubt that things will be alright in the end.” 

Jesse pulled reluctantly away and Isa brushed a loose tear from his cheek, “I miss you already.” he said sadly. 

“We’ll be seeing each other soon don’t worry.” 

“Okay~” Jesse gave  her hand one last squeeze and backed away from the female, stepping into place next to Lukas.

Isa gave Aiden another quick peck on the cheek before moving back, “I’ll be continuing the research we have with Jesse’s blood samples here. I’ll keep you all updated on what we find out.”

“Don’t do anything drastic,” Gill grinned. “No raising the dead.”

“Perish the thought Gill,” the female laughed, “That would be easy.”

Everyone broke into laughter, and Isa looked at the group eyes sparkling, “Now everyone please travel safe.”

“We will Isa, don’t worry.” Lukas soothed.

“I always worry dear,” Isa replied, “I just want an assurance you’ll do nothing stupid.”

Lukas laughed, “We won’t.”

“With this group I wouldn’t guarantee anything,” Aiden smirked. 

“Aiden~” Maya warned. 

Isa smiled, and nodded, “I wouldn’t expect anything less.” 

The last of the goodbyes were exchanged. Milo, Reg and Isa sneaking in the last of the good lucks and well wishes. The team doing likewise. Jesse found this goodbye a difficult thing. This wasn’t like the past, where everyone was a phone call or a car ride away. The disant wasn’t far between the towns, yet in a way the space was vast.

And it made Jesse’s heart ache knowing that it would be a long time before he saw any of his precious new friends again. But it made the goodbye a  little more cherished in a way, the hugs a bit more appreciated. 

He looked over his shoulder as Ground Town vanished from around the bend. There was nothing but the Wastes before him now, and for Jesse personally, the great unknown was beyond the mountains. 

He knew Beacon Town was on the other side somewhere, there was a new life waiting for him and he was frightened and nervous. But he knew with Lukas and the others he was going to be okay, and least he strongly hoped he would. 

Lukas noticed he was looking back, “It’ll be alright, we’ll see them again before you know it.”

Jesse looked to Lukas, seeing the encouraging smile on the blonde’s face. “Yeah, I have no doubt." 

Lukas smiled brighter and gave Jesse’s shoulder a rub. And together they continued on with the team into the forest.


 

There was a slight issue with the trip, right out the gate.

Ground Town -for the most part- plowed and shoveled it’s paths to the best of its ability.

Mother Nature was not as courteous. Mother Nature had actually gotten nastier in the past few centuries….

Gill frowned, “I know it’s around here somewhere-”

Jesse yelped as suddenly, his next step sank him all the way up to his chest in snow. “Gah!”

Gill’s eyes lit up, “Ah! There is the trail. Thanks Jesse."

The forest path, which once was a divot in the hills, was now even terrain with the slopes on either side. It had been completely filled with snow and finding  the trail had been fairly difficult.

“Woah there! Hold on a sec don’t squirm I’ll pull you out.” Aiden easily lifted Jesse out of the sinkhole, careful not to let himself fall into the deep snow pile that no doubt went deeper than Jesse sank. “I gotcha.” 

“Great,” Maya frowned, “We’re gonna need to wear the shoes.”

Jesse did a quick shimmy, trying to shake the snow that had shoved up his jacket and under his shirt and was now against his bare skin. He slapped at his coat, trying to shove it out, “I’d r-rather walk above t-than -in -in please.” he chattered out. 

Lukas chuckled and temporarily dropped  to his knees to unhook his sets of snowshoes from his pack. 

“God I hate these things,” Maya mumbled as she and Petra did likewise.

“Guys wait!” Gill cut in, “I think I found a more stable spooooooooo-T!” Gill’s next step sent the large male sinking, just like Jesse had moments prior. Only Gill was much heavier and nearly vanished into the white piles of powder. It left him stuck at an awkward angle, his shaved head a black spot sticking out in the otherwise pristine snow.

“Yeah Gill, that’s much more stable,” Aiden remarked dryly as he headed over to pull their teammate out. 

“Just shut up and help me.” Gill grumbled, voice muffled by the snow. 

Jesse giggled, then returned his attention to Lukas right as the other male finished unhooking the large and cumbersome snowshoes.

“Have you ever used snowshoes before?” Lukas inquired. 

“No,” Jesse admitted, “We never got snow this deep three hundred years ago.”

Lukas smiled, “Well this should be fun then.” he passed him a pair of shoes, “Here I’ll show you how to put them on.”

As Lukas guided Jesse through the steps, Jesse snuck a brief glance over at his other companions. Petra and Maya already had their shoes on, the sturdy frames hooked around their  boots allowing them to easily trek across the snow. They only sank slightly now into the drifts, unlike Gill; who Aiden had finally finished pulling out of the sinkhole.

“There we go,” Lukas said after Jesse finished lacing he snowshoes around his boots. Lukas stood - a little slow getting up- and reached down to Jesse, “Up we go.”

Jesse took Lukas’s hand accepting the blonde’s help in getting up. It took a little effort, the wide frame was cumbersome and made it a bit difficult to get up off the ground,but he managed. Jesse got upright and stumbled forward just a bit, Lukas holding him to make sure he didn’t fall back down.

“Why don’t you take a few steps and get used to them,” Lukas gently suggested. 

So Jesse wobbled around while Aiden and Gill put on their own sets of shoes. By the time the last two males were done, Jesse had a general somewhat idea of how to walk. 

Sorta. 

As the team slowly walked along, the forest was deathly silent, only the crunch of snow and soft gasps and tired panting of the group could be heard.

Jesse remembered the first time he had passed down this trail and how quiet it had been. He recalled the tales of a monster in these woods.

Aiden told him at one point during their hang outs that he fought and scared off a few of the raiders when he was younger as a secret mission  to help Isa and the town. But the rest of the gangs hanging about had suddenly vanished.

“You didn’t scare them off too?” Jesse had asked.

Aiden had shrugged, “No, they were just gone. I guess something else did the job.” 

There had been higher levels of radiation residue last time the group had passed through here. Lukas still theorized that enderman had done the job, hauntings of enderman were known to leave residues behind when they migrated. 

But then Petra had stated that the levels were too high, even for enderman.

Jesse wondered as they walked along if they would cross paths with the mysterious radiation again. Or even see what had caused such a spike. 

“Man it is quiet,” Gill piped up suddenly, “I wished the stations could reach my radio out here.” 

“And listen to that blasted song again?” Aiden scoffed, “No thanks.” 

“It’s better than nothing Aiden,” Petra laughed. 

“Silence is far better than Crawl Out Through the Fallout,” Aiden argued, “Trust me on that Petra.” 

Everyone laughed, knowing Aiden’s disdain for that song nearly rivaled his disdain for PAMA. 

“Crawl out through the fallout baby~ When they drop that bomb~” Gill began to sing.

“Gill~!” Aiden warned.

“Crawl out through the fallout, with the greatest of aplomb!” Gill sang louder, “When your rad count’s getting higher, hurry don’t delay!” He grabbed Aiden by the hand and spun the slightly smaller male under his arm, and impressive feat considering they were both in snow shoes, “I’ll hold you close and kiss those radiation burns away!”

Aiden turned scarlet as Gill did just that- holding him close and making exaggerated kissing noises.” Augh! S-shut up Gill!” he stammered. Aiden shoved the other back. He scooped up snow and hit Gill with a haphazardly made snowball, still red in the face as everyone laughed, “Stop making it weird!”

Maya still laughing, wiped the happy tears from her eyes, “Hey Jesse, what about that music player that you got a last month. Doesn’t that have songs on it?” she asked.

Jesse paused from his laughing, and from the corner of his eye he saw Lukas stop as well. The blonde’s face tinting pink in embarrassment. “Um,” Jesse began.

At the beginning of the winter, during one of the teams visits to the collectors. Jesse had discovered a portable walkman cassette player. Though outdated even during his time. Jesse told the team all about his father’s own player and how Jesse would listen to music on it all the time.

Lukas a little over a month ago, had found one intact and working at a shop in Ground Town, complete with headphones and a speaker already on it. He had bought it for Jesse. He even worked together with Milo to get it modified to run on post fallout power so Jesse wouldn’t have to hunt for batteries. He had been so eager and happy to give it Jesse. The gesture still warmed Jesse to his core. He knew full well that the cassette probably wasn’t cheap and cost Lukas a lot of credits.

Unfortunately however, Jesse forgot to tell the team that the antique walkman didn’t actually have music ready to play inside the device. It needed cassette tapes, which Jesse didn’t own, and Lukas -not knowing what they even looked like- didn’t buy.

Lukas had tried to hide it, but Jesse could tell that the male was upset that Jesse wouldn’t be able to play the songs he thought so fondly of. Even now it was still distressing for him, and Jesse desperately wished it wasn’t.

His hand  came up and rested on his coat, where in the internal pocket the walkman was tucked away dry, warm and safe. He struggled to come up with a reason as to why the walkman was yet to be used, “I-" 

“It’s too cold for that Maya,” Petra cut in, “We don’t want the circuits on his player freezing.”

“You have an excellent point,” Maya agreed, “No music it is then.”

Jesse sighed, noticing Lukas looked faintly distraught.

“But we still need some good road trip music. Guess I’ll have to sing some more!” Gill declared, pulling the group - Lukas included- back into high spirits as he once more grabbed a hold of Aiden.

Aiden yelped, “God dammit Gill! No!!!”

“Crawl out through the fallout, cause they said this bomb was clean~”

The male moaned as Gill once more spun him around, “I’m gonna strangle you and drop your body somewhere you just watch me!” 

Everyone laughed, Jesse patting Lukas encouragingly on the shoulder as he saw the other smile.

“If you cannot find the way, just listen for my song~ I’ll love you all your life, although that may not be too long!”

GILL!!”


 

Baby crawl out through the fallout~ Dammit now it’s stuck in my head.

Lukas pushed aside a low hanging branch. He shook his head furiously as snow fell down upon his hat, shaking off the cold and heavy snow. He was no more partial to that song that anybody else hearing it for the thousandth time. But it was hard to let an opportunity slip by the resulted in Aiden getting teased. Even if it did mean that he was going to have that song stuck in his head for the rest of the week. 

“Lukas?”

Lukas looked over his shoulder, seeing Jesse walking just behind him. The smaller male was struggling to trek over the snow, having resorted to stepping in Lukas’s footsteps for easier movement. The snow had lightened and firmed up after about six hours of walking down the trail, so the snow shoes were no longer required. But hiking in heavier snow was never easy, and someone as small as Jesse would probably have a hard time.

“What’s up Jesse?” he asked as he paused and waited for the male to catch up. Up ahead of him, Maya stopped walking, looking back to Lukas. He signaled her everything was okay, and she continued onward.

Jesse finally caught up and stepped into place next to Lukas as they continued to walk. “I was wanting to ask you some questions.”

“About what?”

“Well,” Jesse brushed some loose hair out of his face, the action making Lukas smile fondly. “I was hoping to talk to you about Beacon Town?”

In front of them, Aiden snorted glancing back just slightly,  “Now there’s a topic.”

Lukas chuckled, “Beacon Town?”

“Yeah, I thought since I’m going to live there, I might as well ask about the place and get to know it more.”

“Alright,” Lukas obliged, “What would you like to know?”

“You all grew up there didn’t you?” Jesse asked, “That’s where you were all born?”

“Not all of us no." 

“I was born in one of the outlying farms,” Gill piped up, “About ten miles from the lakes in the eastern hills. My Pops, and Grandpa moved closer to town after my Ma died. I was about two though, so I pretty much was there from the start.” 

“I wasn’t there either,” Maya threw in, “My family moved there when I was five to be closer to my Dad’s family.”

“I was unfortunately born there,” Aiden snorted.

“Aiden!” Petra laughed.

“I’m sorry, fortunately.” the male corrected. 

Lukas shook his head chuckling, then he looked back to Jesse, the younger man's eyes were sparkling in delight. “Petra and I were born there as well.” he told Jesse, “I think I told you before that our families shared a house together. So we grew up together quite literally.”

Jesse smiled brightly, “What’s Beacon Town like?”

“A dirt mound,” Aiden remarked.

“In the middle of an bunch of acidic puddles.” Gill added.

Lukas gave them both a look, and the other two males looked away chuckling. He returned to Jesse, “They’re right in a way though. I’m afraid Beacon Town isn’t quite as impressive as Ground Town. But they have gotten better in the past decade.” he thought on it, “To start, it’s a older settlement roughly a hundred years old. A bunch of acidic rain and mountain water compiled there shortly after the fallout making the lakes. Don’t ask me why the people who founded the town decided to park in the middle of that mess but they did.” 

“Some people say that our founders, when they looked at the mountain divide said hell no I ain’t climbing that, and decided to stay there.” Petra laughed. “But according to Jack, it was the best place to settle down between farms and selected outposts. There was nothing for miles till Beacon Town was founded.”

“Anyway, it’s a small town,” Lukas explained. “It’s sort of in the middle of an island. There are a few outlying buildings around the main part of the city, which is protected by a large wooden wall. The island has one major road going to the town. Which makes the city difficult to overtake, but also very hard to escape from. There are a few small paths that weave through the lakes, but depending on the snow levels each winter they might not be accessible and under water.”

“Do you guys have a place in town?”

“No we invested in a small bunker outside the city,” Maya answered. “It has an underground tunnel that leads into the city but we wanted a place that was a bit more secure to store our stuff.”

“Oh okay!" 

“The town is simple, has an inn, a few bars. There is the market that is the best part of town. It’s for trade, so obviously they want to make it look nice. Then you have the residential areas, the outskirts. They just added a small medical facility-”

“Outskirts?” Jesse inquired.

“A nasty dead part of town,” Aiden frowned,  “It’s on the low side of the island and the most dangerous. It’s where people go when they are not wanted but can’t risk living outside the city.”

Jesse blinked, “Oh." 

“It’s not a lot, but we’ll make it work.” Lukas smiled. “I think you’ll grow to like it. We have a lot of friends there and I hope you’re going to like them.”

“We’ll I like you guys!” Jesse grinned brightly, “So they’ll probably be amazing!”

“I don’t know Magnus might scare him,” Petra snorted.

Jesse lifted an eyebrow as Lukas flushed, “We’ll uh…..ease you in slowly.”

Jesse laughed, bumping into Lukas slightly as he walked, “Hey, that sounds perfectly fine by me.”

Lukas smiled, rubbing Jesse’s shoulder. 

“So,” Gill declared as the group walked into a small sheltered clearing along the forest path. It was specifically designed and cleared out for caravans to rest and stop in during travels. There were many points like this on the road to and from Ground Town. The team had already passed a few that day.

“I forgot how exhausting walking out here is.” Gill chuckled. “It’s getting pretty late, so I’m going to throw the pitch that we stop here for the night.”

Lukas glanced at the clearing, eyeing the small sheltered building generously built against a cluster of trees. He suddenly was hyper aware how tired he was. “You know what, that sounds nice. Is everyone okay stopping here?”

“Yes please,” Maya yawned, while no one else protested.

“Alright looks like we’re staying here.”

Gill popped open the cabin door, the entry always unlocked unless someone was already staying in it. Which this early into the thaw was highly unlikely.

It was dry and cozy inside. Hardly warm, but there was a stack of wood against the far wall and a fire pit in the middle of the singular room.

The team dragged themselves in weary and tired. Lukas let the door close behind him with a heavy thump, letting out a soft sigh.

One day down

“I’ll get a fire going.” Petra mumbled out. 

Gill nodded, “I’ll make di-” 

“Like hell you are,” Maya cut in. “I want a decent meal before I pass out.”

“Babe come on." 

“Well I guess if we have to get food poisoning,” Aiden dropped his backpack on the floor, “Might as well do it when there is a settlement close by.”

Gill gave Aiden a look as the girls laughed, “This is for the singing isn’t it?”

Aiden just smiled. 

“Man I can’t wait to get to Beacon Town.” Maya moaned out, as she shed her heavy trench coat. “I miss a bed already.”

“I think we’re so tired you’ll be out before you hit your pillow.” Petra chuckled as her fire came alive with a woosh.

“How many miles do you think we traveled today?”

“Well if you count the detour,” Aiden threw down his bedroll, “When we had to go off trail, we walked almost 15 miles today.”

“Jesus I swear it was longer.”

“Well we passed the fourth rest house so that means….”

The conversation trailed off and Lukas turned away to check on Jesse.

The smaller male was leaning wearily against the cabin wall, still standing. His head bobbed slightly as he was beginning to doze off.

“Jesse?”

Jesse’s head snapped up, eyes wide like a doe, “Yes?!” he squeeked.

Lukas moved closer, worried, “Are you okay?”

“Oh fine!” Jesse smiled after a second of confused blinking, “Little cold and a little tired, but fine.”

Lukas frowned, stressing. Jesse had filled out in a healthy young man during the winter months. He was stronger and his body having long adapted to the atmosphere. He was not the frail boy Lukas met last year who struggled to walk even a mile. He wasn't strong or even combat handy by any means. But his stamina and endurance had increased for sure.

But early thaw trekking by foot was never easy, even for experienced people like Lukas. “We had a pretty grueling pace today, we can slow down if-”

“Lukas it’s okay.” Jesse assured, “I don’t want to slow us down any more than we have to.”

“And I don’t want you collapsing in exhaustion.” Lukas insisted. “If it ever becomes too much for you I need you to tell me. I-.....I worry okay?”

“O-okay,” Jesse stammered awkwardly.

Lukas glanced down, not realizing he had reached out and grasped Jesse’s hands. The smaller hands- pale and flawless- were cool against his own calloused and warm hands.

Lukas turned scarlet and quickly let go.

Jesse tucked his hands into his coat, face pink. “Like Gill says. Travel is hard.” he mumbled. “I’ll be okay after I go to the fire and rest.”

“Y-yeah.”

“Just….Don’t exhaust yourself either okay?” Jesse turned a deeper shade of pink, “I worry about you too.”

Lukas gave him a smile, “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

Jesse mutely nodded. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but he hurried past Lukas and went to unpack by the fire.

Lukas watched him pass and go, turning around to allow his gaze to follow after Jesse. It was then he noticed Aiden was staring over at him.

Aiden glanced at Jesse unpacking  his bedroll then back to Lukas, eyebrow lifting.

Lukas turned scarlet, face heating faster than a fire. He quickly moved away, to an open area. Aiden’s chuckling did little to ease his fluster and he hurried to unpack his things. “Hey Gill, how about a song?” he declared.

“Sure!”

Aiden’s reaction was immediate, “Don’t you dare sing Crawl Out Through the Fallout!”

Gill went on to his tunes and for a moment Lukas could forget Aiden’s staring. But he he looked at his hand, fingers twisting and sore…..

Finding himself missing that soft hand in his own.


 

It took a few days longer than planned to get to the outpost. There had been some avalanche damage on the trail. This forced the team to go off trail and into the steep and thick woods. The uneven terrain had been difficult to navigate, and as a result progress was slower. So it was nearly  a week before the team reached the outpost.

They were all gathered up on the hill, looking down on the small wooden settlement.

But nobody moved.

“Do you think PAMA is down there?” Jesse whispered.

“I don’t know,” Lukas answered tensely.

“It’s still intact,” Gill observed, “That’s a good sign.”

“Doesn’t mean there aren’t spies down there waiting for us,” Aiden frowned. He leaned heavily against a tree, looking down at the small structures far down the hill. “If they see us with Jesse….” he trailed off.

Jesse cringed, actually taking a step back, hands clenched and tucked against his chest.

Petra glanced at the team, then towards the outpost, “Maybe I should go down by myself?”

Everyone piped up to protest immediately, and Petra was hit with an overwhelming onslaught of “No you can’t!” and “Petra it’s too dangerous!” followed by “Please don’t! What if something bad happens?!”

She looked back at the team, “Look, PAMA saw you guys take out their men the first time they tried to take Jesse. They sure as heck probably know what you all look like. I didn’t join the group till you guys were in the wilds. If anyone is going to be unnoticed by PAMA it’s going to be me.”

“But-” Lukas began.

“Lukas, we need to know the status of that mountain pass, and we need to know if PAMA is still searching.” Petra pointed and she didn’t give Lukas time to answer. She got up and began hiking down the hill.

“Come back before nightfall!” Lukas called.

Jesse’s heartfelt message came shortly after. “And please be careful!”

Petra gave the team an encouraging wave and continued on her march. By the time she reached the quiet little settlement, her team had all but vanished into the trees, safe and hidden.

The gatemaster asked for her business, to which Petra kept it brief and simple in her reasoning. She might have been the first person to come to this outpost this year, but she wouldn’t be the last. She hardly stuck out to anyone.

The outpost was fairly quiet, though crammed. Dozens upon dozens had been stuck here for the winter. The locals hid in their little homes, the travelers -temporary guests-  were all tucked away in their tents and their wagons.

The air was bitter and cold, colder still from wind that carried down from the mountains. It danced through the windswept trees and blasted through the settlement. Each inhale of breath was harsh and biting on Petra’s lungs.

The only source of warmth to be found in the complex was a burning set of funeral pyres tucked into the back of the fort. They burned and sparked sending hot ash floating up to join the rest of the toxins in the sky. One wiff and Petra was aware that somebody had burned a body on there recently.

She glanced briefly at the bonfires as she passed them, spotting multiple bodies melting and burning away.

She stopped at the tavern still eyeing the smoking corpses, “Lot of bodies,” she observed.

There was  man leaning against the door frame, burly, hairy, he had ashes in his thick red beard and a cigar in his mouth. “Got hit with flu,” he said, “Poor sods.” his voice was rough, but carried genuine sympathy.

“How many?”

“Twenty of them, ranging from eight to sixty years in age.” He sighed, “That’s the last of them burning.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Petra whispered, looking away from the funeral that held no mourners.

“Most of them were travelers, weary from trips.” He took a long drag of his cigar, releasing a puff of smoke, “Now, what brings you here kid? You’re not with the caravans that were already here.”

“No I  came from Ground Town.” Petra smirked.

“Mmmmm,” he took a another drag, “You’re here for work?”

“I’m looking for a caravan to hire onto yes,”

“Escort then?”

“I’m more of a tracker and a hunter.” Petra said, “But seeing as there isn’t much out there to hunt at the moment, I thought I’d come down and see if work was needed. Maybe pick up on some gossip on the side.”

“You see our gossip just peachy.” he frowned, gesturing to the fires.

“And I apologize. No one likes to put their kin to rest Sir-”

“Henry.”

Petra extended her hand, “Petra.”

He smiled just a little at the statement as he shook her hand.

“Know me?”

“Know your name.” he put his cigar out on his coat with a hiss, “Well darlin, I don’t have any work here at the settlement. You’re a bit early for the season. You can check with the caravan masters though. We’ve got six of them.”

Petra whistled, “You got crowded this year.”

“More than we would have liked.” Henry admitted. “But you might have luck with them. You’ll find them in their camps, can’t miss their markers.”

She tilted her head to him, “Thanks Henry,” she turned on heel, her back to him, heading off for the camps.

“See you around kid,” he lit a brand new cigar, “Keep an eye out for unfavorables.”

She spotted the hint, heading her way the caravans parked and in slumber.

No one was ready to give her a job, it wasn’t surprising however. It was too early, the snow was too deep for wagons and caravans to traverse. From what she heard from some of the scouts in the caravans a walking party could managed alright. It would be difficult but possible. A few of the masters offered her a job if she stuck around. But she wasn’t her for a job, she got what she needed on the pass. Now she was here for confirmation, for Jesse’s safety.

She was jumped by a familiar little girl on her way back to the inn.The young child tugged on Petra’s coat, face rosy from the cold. “Miss? Miss?”

Petra looked down at her, barely recognizing the little girl from last year.

“Is the angel okay?” the child asked.

Petra paused, then smiled, “He’s okay.”

The girl giggled and ran off.

Petra watched her go before straightening.

Leaning against the inn, where he had been watching her for an hour, was a man. He wasn’t intimidating, he didn’t even really stand out. But Petra had spotted him during a discussion with the second quarter master. The stranger lingered around, trying to be in earshot without being noticed, and in the case of Petra who had been raised to observe, he failed.

She kept walking to the inn, acting casual, cool, and he pushed off the building to meet her.

“Miss?”

“Hmmm?”

“I couldn’t help but overhear that you came from Ground Town.”

“I did.” Petra confirmed.

“Perhaps you can help me then?” he smiled. Petra couldn’t help but notice that some of the man’s teeth were silver. Fillings, something she didn’t see very often. Not many could afford fillings, much less had access to them.

“With?”

“I'm looking for some folks.” the stranger explained, he reached into the inside of his coat.

Maybe it was her cautious nature, or maybe perhaps it was her paranoia. But Petra swore she saw at least two letters, M and A, stitched into the inside of the jacket. She settled her hand on her hip, fingers tightening around Ms. Butter.

The stranger pulled out a photograph, a rare shocking item for the post apocalypse.

But the contents were more surprising and…….unsettling. It unnerved her but it gave her the answer she needed.

“Do you know these people?”

Petra’s heart skipped a beat as she was handed the photograph. She recognized her team immediately, her family. But what frightened her was the memory the photo preserved. She recognized the day Jesse took everyone sledding the first time. She could see the skepticism of Gill, the curiosity of Maya. Lukas’s excitement. Aiden’s detachment. And Jesse, Jesse’s rare smile…..She wasn't in the shot. Which was fine the man wouldn't hopefully know the truth.

“I know most of them,” she lied.

“They were traveling with this person here.” the man tapped on Jesse’s face.

Her grip tightened on her knife.

“I’m looking for him.” he looked closely at her, “If you were at Ground Town have you seen him?”

She stood there in silence for a moment. The market was silent, the temperature had dropped and everyone was tucked away. The wind whistled through the fortifications and the fires crackled as they burned the last of the corpses away.

“I know him,” Petra finally said, “Sad story.”

The man reclaimed the photograph and raised an eyebrow, “Do you know what happened to him.”

Petra smirked at the man, the gesture masking her dark hate. She elbowed him, “Why don’t you and I go for a walk and I’ll tell you what went down.”

He stepped  into line next to her as she headed off towards the other side of the outpost. Her fingers adjusting on Ms. Butter.

“So there were these raiders you see. They called themselves the Dead Enders….”

Chapter Text

 

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing

-


 

Aiden looked uneasily down at the mountain outpost. It had been well over two hours now. It was getting late, it would be night soon and Petra had yet to return.

Gill walked up next to Aiden, joining him in leaning up against the tree.

“She should have been back by now,” Aiden stressed.

“Calm down.” Gill assured.

“I am calm.”

Gill gave him a look, “Then why are you smoking?”

Aiden blinked, he glanced downward, spotting the smoldering cigarette bud sticking out between his lips.

Aiden didn’t smoke often, Lukas detested the habit and often stated Aiden was killing himself. Not to mention, it was usually not the wisest habit to begin with, seeing as most animals and monster out in the wastes relied on smell. But Aiden still did smoke on occasion however, usually when he was stressed. He had owned the same pack of cigarettes for the last four years they were lit so rarely. He didn’t realize he lit one he had been so focused on the town.

Aiden took a slow drag, and pulled the cigarette out of his mouth, letting loose a smokey exhale. “I’m just worried Gill.” he finally admitted.

“I know pal,” the larger man agreed, “I am too. But Petra didn’t get a badass bitch title for nothing. She traveled out in the wastes by herself for a long time, I think she can handle a dingy outpost.”

“The wastes has monsters.” Aiden scowled, “Things you can outhunt, outsmart.That fort could have PAMA-”

“The wastes have PAMA too Aiden,” Gill gently corrected.

Aiden flinched, and Gill placed a hand on his shoulder, “She’ll come back.” the other assured.

“I just don’t want PAMA to get her. I don’t want them to get anyone .” Aiden looked over his shoulder to the small campfire they had risked lighting to keep warm. Jesse was leaning against Lukas, sneaking in a small power nap, “I’m never going to forget what they did to me. I know what they were going to do to Jesse. What they do Gill…... I- I wouldn’t wish the fate of PAMA on anybody.”

“Cept maybe Earl.” Gill mumbled.

Aiden actually snorted, appreciating Gill’s attempts to put him at ease. “Maybe Blake too?” he inquired.

“I think the enderman covered Blake nicely.” Gill smirked. He squeezed Aiden’s shoulder, “We’ll give her another hour, and then you and I’ll will head down. I’ll throw you over the wall if I have to.”

“It might be safer if I-” Aiden paused, glancing down the hill.

Gill noticed, “What is it?”

Aiden smashed out his cigarette, “Someone’s coming up the rise!” he looked down at the figure, his sharpened vision only barely able to make out the silhouette in the dimness, “Someone’s coming!”

“Maya put out the fire!” Gill hissed over his shoulder.

The female didn’t need to ask why, she caught Gill’s tone and immediately kicked snow over the flames, putting them out with a hiss.

“Jesse wake up,” Lukas shook the smaller male awake.

Jesse’s eyes fluttered open. Slightly confused by the darkness, he looked around. “What’s going on?” he yawned.

“Shh, stay quiet.” Lukas whispered gently.

Jesse’s eyes widened in fear when he saw Aiden pull out his pistol. Now awake and alert he quickly got up, following Lukas deeper into the treeline.

Aiden dropped down to his knees, the snow hardly making a sound as it compressed underneath him. He raised his pistol, without the fire everything was pitch black but Aiden could still see well enough.

He aimed towards the approaching figure, ready to shoot at any sign that this person was hostile.

He pulled back the mechanism-

“Aiden?”

Aiden froze, from the corner of his eye he saw Gill look to him, mouthing, Petra?

“Aiden man, I know your super sight can see me coming!” the female called, “I’m alone and I’m fine. It’s really me! Don’t you dare fucking shoot me!”

Aiden clicked on his flashlight, Petra blinking from down the hill as the light came on. “Guys it’s Petra.” he called to the team with a wave of relief washing over him.

Everyone else came back out

Jesse hurried by Aiden heading straight for Petra and giving her a hug, “We were worried!” the smaller male said.

Petra hugged Jesse back, giving him a good squeeze, “Sorry guys, I got busy.” she apologized.

“How is the status of the pass?” Maya asked as she tried to relight the fire while the group moved back in.

“Deep,” Petra answered. “Too deep for caravans.  We could make it by foot. However, there is a small problem.”

Aiden out his gun away, “And that would be?” he asked, tension creeping back into him.

Petra, an arm still around Jesse sighed, “I ran into a PAMA agent at the fort.”

Jesse turned white, “Y-you did?”

Petra reached into her coat, and pulled out what Aiden immediately recognized as a photograph.  Petra handed it to Lukas. With Maya now having lit the fire, everyone could see the photo clearly as they all crowded together to see.

“This is from Ground Town.” Lukas said, voice hushed.

“Greg must have taken that photo.” Gill snarled.

“The agent was looking for you guys. He kept asking me about Jesse,” Petra said as she gave addressed male a rub on the shoulder.

Jesse was pale, trembling slightly as he eyed the photo.

Aiden looked to the settlement then back to Petra. “How did you get this-”

“I killed him and dumped his body in a funeral pyre.” Petra stated.

Everyone stared.

The female was unfazed by their reactions, “I got the info I needed from him. There are agents spread out all over major settlements in the area and there are some at the mountain pass rest house. PAMA is looking and trying to figure out where we’re heading.”

“So they know we have Jesse.” Lukas stressed.

“I don’t think so.” Petra answered, “He didn’t know Jesse was alive, they’re trying to confirm that we have him.”

“You killed a PAMA agent though!” Lukas ran a hand through his snow dusted hair, “They’re going to know he’s here and-”

“Lukas, people kill PAMA agents all the time, that’s why they always travel in small groups.” Petra cut in, “I managed to get out of him that his entire group was up in the pass to avoid attention which worked to my favor. They’re not going to know what happened to their mate because I dumped him into a burn pile.”

 Aiden took a slow drag of his new cigarette, that he didn’t realize he had lit to begin with, “Even if PAMA doesn't blink an eyelash at one dead agent, they’re going to start noticing something if we leave a trail of bodies behind.”

 “If they find out it’s us,” Maya cringed, “They’re going to know we’re trying to hide Jesse.”

“B-but you said they’re all up in the p-pass.” Jesse whispered softly.

“Which we have to get through to get to Beacon Town,” Gill cursed.

“Hold on just a sec,” Petra briefly pulled away from Jesse to pull out one of Lukas’s regional maps from his pack, she spread the paper out over the bag waiting for everyone to move in. She tapped various points on the map, “From what I got, PAMA has agents everywhere, they are trying to at least figure out where we are heading. They’ve got agents at every major outpost. But Aiden is correct, if we start to leave a trail of bodies, they’re going to notice.”

“But if we go up that mountain and try to sneak by,” Gill stressed, “ The risk that they’re going to see we have Jesse is going to increase ten fold. It only takes one of them to call in to their base. And once PAMA knows the general direction we’re going, they’re going to be scouring everywhere for us."

“But falling back on Aiden’s point we can’t kill an entire team of agents just to get over the pass.” Lukas frowned.

“Maybe we wait to the snow gets lower?” Maya suggested, “Then we can go right through the forest-”

Aiden scowled, “It’s not an awful plan, but then PAMA will be moving around more freely,” he glanced nervously at the dark woods around them, “And not to mention the animals are going to be crawling all over these mountains.”

Lukas was staring distressed at the map, “Maybe we should head back to Founder’s town? Or-or somewhere else and-”

“Guys,” Petra said suddenly, her voice even and calm, “We have another option.”

Aiden lifted an eyebrow, “And that would be what, exactly?”

Petra ran a trail line along the map, “If we head this direction towards the brick yards-” she paused to give Jesse a arm rub as the smaller male flinched at the sound of the location.

Even Aiden himself had to suppress a small shudder at the reminder of that terrible place, ribs aching just a bit.

“We won’t be going through them I promise. However, if we head over this way,” she tapped a spot against the mountain range, “There is another trail here.”

Lukas squinted, lifting the map higher, “It’s not on the map-”

“It’s an old hunters path.” Petra answered, “Not too many people know about it. It’s small, and there are no settlements nearby, so it’ll be a bit risky of travel. It will take us longer to get to Beacon Town. But we can dodge most of the major settlements and therefore PAMA. They won’t know where we are and they won’t find Jesse.”

“How dangerous is it exactly?” Lukas inquired.

“Like I said, it’s a hunting path. Only trackers and hunters used them; and with the world’s current mutated status for nature, well, even the hunters don’t use it much now.” The female admitted, “ But Jack is the one who showed it to me. There are a few houses scattered about up there, not much, but we’ll occasionally have a roof over our heads. There are a few bears up there, but they shouldn’t be much trouble. No known enderman hauntings up there either.” Petra explained, “The dangerous bit is that if something should happen, we won’t be able to find civilized help until we get over the other side. The path isn’t wide, and it probably is heavy in snow, so traversing won’t be easy. But we could take it.”

Lukas silently eyed the map.

“It sounds like our safest bet to get away from PAMA man,” Gill admitted, he glanced at Petra, “How close does it come out to Beacon Town?”

“On the other side by the range farms,” Petra replied, “We’ll have to hike around our favorite little lakes, but we all know how to handle that.”

Aiden looked at Lukas, “Unless you have another idea-”

“No I think it’s good,” Lukas agreed, “As long as you are all okay with it?”

“No one’s arguing,” Maya said, “Anything to avoid PAMA.”

“The hunter’s path it is then. Good idea Petra.”

Petra smiled encouragingly, “I’ll go in to the outpost in the morning and buy a few extra supplies, then I’ll lead us on to the trail.”

Lukas sighed in relief, wearily rolling up the map, “I can’t wait to get to Beacon Town,” he mumbled.

Maya snorted, “Don’t we all?” she headed towards the campfire, “Come one Jesse, let’s start dinner so Gill doesn’t kill us with his cooking.”

Gill followed after her, “Would you stop insulting my cooking woman!”

Lukas shook his head, he looked over at Aiden with a tired shrug before heading to the campfire.

Aiden turned to Petra, “Glad you weren’t hurt.”

She flashed him a smile, “Aaaaw, were you worried?”

Suppressing a heat in his cheeks he let his eyes shift away, “I just didn’t want you to lose a limb or something, you know?” he tapped his arm, able to hear the metal thump through his coat sleeve, “It kinda sucks.”

Petra laughed and patted his arm “I’m touched.”

“We got a lucky break with that trail of yours.”

“Yeah,” she sighed, looking off into the distance, “I’m just glad I had Jack to show me where it is.” She looked out to the vast expanse of the wastelands a few moments longer, before turning away. “Let’s go eat dweeb.”

As they were heading for the fire, she plucked the cigarette from Aiden’s mouth.

“Hey!” he protested, “When did you start smoking?!”

 

“I don’t , it’s been a stressful day,” She took a quick dragged, making a face at the taste. “Bleck! Besides,” she threw the remainder in the snow, “When did you even start smoking?”

Gill overheard her question and immediately piped up. “Oh! He only smokes when he is-”

“Shut up Gill!” Aiden snarled, already pulling out another cigarette.

God help him this was going to be a long trip.


A Few Years Ago…….

Jack actually jumped- just a bit mind you- when the sudden pounding of his door disturbed his otherwise quiet dinner.

Nurm looked up as well, though not as surprised as Jack was, he looked to the door more out of curiosity, tilting his head slightly.

“Who the hell can that be?” Jack grumbled,

Nurm shrugged, “MmmMm?” he hummed, stabbing his fork into his food.

Jack took his own large bite, “Maybe they’ll go away.” he grumbled, ignoring the look Nurm gave him for speaking with his mouth full. “I’m not going to answer it. It’s freezing-”

The bang on the door came again, a little harder this time.

Nurm looked at Jack, and he in turn let loose a growl, “I’m not gonna-”

There knock came again.

“Oh for fuck’s sake.”

Nurm frowned.

Jack huffed, “No.”

Nurm pointed.

“No Nurm, I am eating.”

Nurm set down his fork, “ Dinner is not going to go anywhere. Go answer the door Jack. ” He signed out, fingers dancing about gracefully as he formed his words. “ It would be rude to leave whoever it is outside waiting.”

“Do I look like I care?” Jack growled, “It’s probably some person who lost their kid again, or they need me to go find their goat or-”

Answer the door Jack.”

Jack got up, “Fine. But they’re not joining us. So don’t even think about asking.”

Fine fine,” Nurm waved. “ Now go.”

Jack crossed the room ,grumbling as he went and opened the door angrily, “What do you want-” He paused. Because looking directly out into the lightly falling snow, he couldn’t see anyone.

“Ahem.”

Jack glanced a few inches down, his one good eye blinking in surprise. His new angle greeted him with a young teenage girl - fourteen maybe fifteen judging by her height- staring right back up at him. Her hair was fiery red, eyes a vibrant electric blue, her pale snow cold skin was splashed in freckles, her face full of determination.

“Who…..?” Jack asked.

“My name is Petra and I’m going to be your apprentice.” She declared.

There was a moment of deathly silence, save for the wind howling across the acid lakes beyond the borders of Beacon Town.

“No.” Jack said bluntly, then he closed the door.

“Hey-”

“Crazy dumb teenager,” Jack dusted his fingers off on his shirt, turning around, “Playing their dumb-gak!”

Nurm stood right there, arms crossed and his eyebrows scrunched together in disapproval.

“What?” Jack asked.

Nurm lifted an eyebrow.

“She’s just some stupid kid Nurm.” He stepped around Nurm, “I’m not going to waste my time on-”

Nurm grabbed his arm and pushed him back towards the door, “ She said she wanted to be your apprentice,” he pointed out, his sign language agitated and sharp. “ You were looking for one were you not?”

“That was a long time ago,” Jack warned, “That’s when things were different and-”

I know you miss Sammy,” Nurm sadly cut in, “ I miss her too. Things are surely not the same with her around anymore. The hunts are not like they used to be. Even Vos is worried about you. You have no children Jack, no one will be able to carry on your trade when you are gone. You and Sammy always talked of taking on a apprentice.”

Jack grumbled, looking away from Nurm agitated, “I don’t have that kind of time.”

Nurm gently turned his head back, “ You have more than enough time my friend, you only sit around here and drink. You wait for the next measly job that is not worthy of your skills. You are getting rusty might I add.”

He squinted, “You are so elegantly blunt Nurmie.”

I’ve seen the girl in the marketplace Jack. She holds her own quiet well with the boys her age.” Nurm let out a warbled chuckle, “ She broke the nose of one of them last year with a brick. She has a fiery spirit and a strong soul.”

“So she’s stubborn.”

“No, she’s a lot like you. “ Nurm’s eyes sparkled, “ I think you two will get along like cats and dogs, but you’ll teach her well, and she’ll maybe bring some of that old Jack back-”

Old Jack is right here thank you very much,” Jack scowled. “Besides her parents wouldn’t approve of a term under me.”

Jack this town is small, everyone is fighting for a trade. You’re the only open position left.  I’m sure they’ll be just fine with it.”

Jack sighed. “Nurm….”

“Just consider taking her in for a short time?” Nurm suggested, “ If it doesn’t work out you can discontinue the apprenticeship. But you need to do something with your trade Jack or you are going to end up like the homeless in the dredges.”

Jack glanced over his shoulder at the door, staring at it full of turmoil. Finally, “Ugh, fine ,” he looked back, “But if this goes to hell I blame-”

Nurm was already seated at the table, happily munching away at his dinner.

“I swear, Sammy taught you all her tricks,” Jack grumbled, he turned back to the door and opened it back up.

The young girl was just beginning to trek back up the street. Her threadbare coat pulled tight over her shoulders.

“Hey kid!” Jack barked.

She whipped around, eyes wide in surprise.

“Get over here,” he ordered gruffly.

The female scrambled back, “Y-yes sir?” she asked, trying to keep her teeth from chattering.

“Petra was it?” he asked.

Petra nodded.

“You said you wanted to be my apprentice?”

“I’m dead set on it,” she corrected.

Jack leaned against the door frame, “And what makes you think I’m going to let you?” he asked.

Petra straightened, her face glowing again with that fiery determination Jack had seen not mere minutes ago . “Because I want it. And I will do anything to study under you.”

“A lot of people want this position kid.” he stared, “What makes you think you’re cut out for it.”

He saw her falter, if only for the briefest of seconds, “B-because I want to do something with my life.” she declared.

Jack lifted an eyebrow.

“I don’t blame the people who work here,” Petra continued. “But I don’t want to be stuck in this town my whole life. I want to go out there, I want to see what this world can throw at me,” she gestured to the Wastes. “I want to see what I can throw at the world. I want to make a difference out there, here, everywhere.”

She looked earnestly back at Jack. “I see you go out there time and again, and you help people. You bring the town food, you find their lost children and pets and you fight monsters that even the strongest mercenaries that come through town won’t even touch. I can see what you do, and I want to do it to….” she faltered again, “Because…..because the world needs more people like that….” she trailed off.

Genuinely surprised, Jack peeked up and down the street. “Are your parents alright with you doing this.”

Petra looked sadly down, “They’re um…..”

Jack’s lips formed into a firm line, “Ah….I see.” He shifted off the door frame, “How long ago?”

“The radiation sickness epidemic we had four years ago.” Petra mumbled, “I have been staying with the Porter family since then.”

A very small part of Jack ached in that moment, thinking back to those four years ago and Sammy- “I’m sorry.”

“I wasn’t the only one to lose someone,” She stated stiffly with a shrug, “Lot of people died.”

“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt less kid,” he replied.

She looked up at him.

Jack cleared his throat and idly scratched his beard, “You do this it’s gonna be the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life. So make sure you want this.”

Petra’s eyes widened, “Does that mean you will-”

“No, you have to be sure you want this.” he cut in.

“I do!” she urged.

“You want to learnt to hunt?”

Petra nodded, “Yes!”

“You want to learn to track?”

She squinted at him, confused by his continuous questions, “Yeeees?”

“It’s gonna be rough, hard, you might even want to quit.”

Petra crossed her arms, “I’m not going to quit, not now nor ever.”

Jack scoffed, looking off to the wastelands beyond the town, “And you want to make a difference….” he mumbled.

The youth leaned in tentive, waiting.

“Fine, “ Jack sighed, he pointed a finger, “But if I here even one whining peep out of you, you’re gone, you hear me?”

Petra nodded vigorously, “I won’t I promise!”

“Good,” he stepped aside, “Now get in here.”

The female paused, once again confused.

“If you’re going to train with me, you’re going to live here. I’m not going to tolerate you being late, we’re working on my schedule. I’ll arrange with your current guardians in the morning to move you. But for now we’re having dinner.”

Petra slipped inside rubbing her arms and shaking off the cold.

Jack crossed the room and grabbed another bowl to pour the stew in, “Petra this is Nurm. He’s my roommate. He’ll be your teacher just as much as I am. He’ll teach you natural remedies and what plants won’t kill you and a few other shamen weird things.”

“Shamen?”

“He learned his trade from a Native American, knows a few wacky remedies.”

Petra stopped at the table, “Hello I’m Petra.”

Nurm signed out hello, shaking her hand.

“He doesn’t speak, Nurm uses sign language to communicate. I’ll teach ya don’t worry about it.”

“O-oh?” Petra looked at Nurm, “What happened.”

“Don’t ask him that he changes his story every time.” Jack said handing Petra a bowl after she sat down. Last time he said it was a enderman that cut it off.”

Nurm smiled pleasantly, a garbled chuckled in his throat.

Petra smiled, “I think he likes messing with you.”

Jack pointed a fork at her, “Rule number one missy, don’t ever take Nurm’s side.”

Nurm’s eyes were sparkling, and he signed, “ Oh I like her.”

Petra smiled at Nurm, “What did he just say?”

“He said eat your dinner.” Jack said gruffly, grumbling as he stabbed into his stew. “This is going to be interesting…”


Chapter Text

 

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Alchohol Use,

Blood

-

The brickyards were as silent as death.

And the reason wasn’t hard to see why.

Aiden remained quiet and composed - even though he was tense - underneath the cover of a large and mighty pine. He watched silently as a singular lone enderman wandered across the brickyards, sniffing about the buildings.

The brickyards were an alien sight to Aiden. Everything looked drastically different now that there was no blizzard to mask and blur buildings into giant stone shadows. He could see from one end of the massive complex to the other. He looked at all the crumbling and deteriorated buildings and found himself wondering which one he and Jesse had hid away in all those months ago struggling to survive.

He knew he shouldn’t be here. But some part of him felt tugged here. Was it a curiosity to see PAMA? A hope that he mind find stragglers from his carnage to pick off and finish the job? Closure? He wasn’t sure.

Petra had led them tried and true to the hunter’s path. They had camped well away from this place to keep Jesse and -in a secondary way- to keep him at ease. But still, even before dawn could peek over the horizon, Aiden was up, coming down the mountain….

And now he was here.

A quarter of a mile into the plethora of buildings, he watched as the enderman stiffened, sniffing the air. Aiden knew he was down wind of the creature, so he was safe there. But he remained silent and unmoving waiting to see what the animal would do.

Suddenly a rabbit shot out of the nearby pile of snow and faster than the poor creature could get in a second bound the enderman’s claws were sinking into its body. The rabbit hardly got a squeak out before death snatched it away.

The enderman let loose a snarl ripping into the carcass and staining the snow red in a scarlet spray.

Aiden let out his own sigh, glancing over his shoulder slightly as the crunching of snow caught his attention.

“Too much to hope you had ditched for good when I woke up and found you were gone,” Lukas mumbled softly in a weak attempt at humor. “How are you doing?” He asked as he stopped next to Aiden; Aiden scooting over a hair so Lukas could join him leaning against the pine.

“Alright, I’m sorry I snuck out.” Aiden whispered, looking down again towards the enderman.

“Don’t be.”

“It looks very different, for such a short time….”

Lukas nodded in agreement. “Yeah….” he scanned the brickyards for a moment, “There are the furnaces.”

Aiden followed Lukas’s finger spotting the rounded buildings with pillars atop them.

Lukas’s hand dropped, “That’s where they were burning the bodies. The facility is right over there.”

Aiden felt his heart skip a beat. He knew it was out here somewhere. But he had been so delirious from the events and the cold that he had not been able to figure out the exact location. But now he could see it, and he knew under the ground somewhere over there….there was a nightmare waiting in the snow.

“When we found your clothes in the furnace room and…. And-” Lukas cringed, “I thought that was it. I thought they had killed you, I knew they wouldn’t kill Jesse, but you, you-”

“Lukas, you and the others got us out of there. It didn’t happen.”

“You got yourself out. I’m the reason you got in there.” Lukas frowned.

Aiden elbowed Lukas, “We are not debating this. That whole mess was not your fault-”

Both the boys paused as the enderman lifted it’s head, listening for the faint whispers of their voices. It waited for only a few seconds however as something elsewhere caught the hungry creature’s attention and it bounded away across the snow.

Lukas watched it go, expression grim, “Do….do you need to go down there.”

“No,” Aiden answered quietly. “We need to head back before the rest of the team begins to worry.” He has a painful need to light a cigarette right now, to chew on a piece of gum, or do something. His fingers are twisted around the pistol holstered on his hip, twitching and dancing along the metal like it was meant to give him some sort of comfort. “We should head back…” he mumbled again.

But he didn’t move.

“Aiden are you sure you’re alright?” Lukas pressed, his face was clouded in increasing worry. “Look, if you need to talk to me about something, you know I’m here for you right? I can only imagine what you had to go through with PAMA, and I don’t know all the details of what you had to do to get out of this facility here. But if you need someone to talk to you know you can talk to me.” he placed a hand on Aiden’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze, “We’re here for you, I’m here for you. We all promised each other that.”

“I know…..I just.” Aiden scanned the brickyards, “I don’t know what I expected to get out of coming here. But….This doesn’t feel right.”

“Feel right?” Lukas looked about, “Do you think we camped too close? Are we in danger?”

“No, it’s too quiet, even I can’t hear anything. The furnaces you pointed out aren’t running, there is no activity, no movement.”

“Well there is an enderman running around.” the blonde reminded him.

“Exactly.”

Lukas gave him a look of confusion, “Aiden, you’re not making any-”

“PAMA has a facility here, they’re supposed to be the biggest most dangerous force in the Wastes. Nobody can fight them or get past them; And yet they’re letting a enderman wander around over a secret base all willy nilly?” 

Lukas paused, looking around, “Do you think they left? Maybe that’s why the enderman is unhindered? There is no one here to stop it?” 

“Maybe...or…..”

Or? Or what?” 

“I wonder,” Aiden tightened his grip on his gun, “You told me Greg was terrified to give up information on that base. He was afraid of what PAMA would do to him.” 

“Yeah?”

“The people here,” Aiden eyed a half buried PAMA truck in the valley, “They had Jesse, they had him . PAMA has been after him for months, and they finally had him. Then they didn’t…..”

Lukas cringed, “I don’t think even PAMA would kill its own people for failing, would you?”

Aiden took one last look at the buried truck. And he tried to tell himself it was his eyes and paranoia playing tricks on him. He tried to pretend that beyond those frost covered windows he wasn’t seeing what looked like a body. He turned away from the brickyards, “The PAMA I know would.” he whispered quietly.

Lukas looked solemnly out into the clearing, eyes dark and clouded.

“We should head back to camp before Jesse starts to worry.” Aiden mumbled. “He’s been anxious since we got over here.”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to help him out with that.” Lukas complimented as they began walking away from the valley and it’s terrible memories.

Able to pull his mind away from his own darkened thoughts, Aiden snorted. “I think you would do a better job than I would Lukas." 

“And why would you say that?” Lukas laughed, even though Aiden caught the curious tinge in his tone, “What do I have that you don’t? What special feature do I possess hmmm?” 

Aiden snorted, thinking about exactly that, that special feature, “ Call it a intuition.”


 

Across the Wastes…….

The bar was grungy. Stuck between the dividing line that separated the people with a slight whisper of hope in life, and those condemned to the slums. It was closer to the edge of that dirt patch of a town. You couldn’t be too loud, monsters might hear and climb the protective barriers.. But the steel bared windows provided many a drunken fool with an excellent view of the wastelands beyond the wall.

There was something about watching the radiation and the lightning storms roll in on the horizon, coating the already bleak, hopeless and Godless land into a deadly darkness that really put perspective on one's life.

The windows reminded people that it was out there, that the world couldn’t be ignored forever.

But between the drunken wrecks of the slums, and those supposed “upperclass” folk coming down to risk a chance amongst “danger” the little grim bar did alright.

Granted the building itself seemed to be divided in half by the classes. You could tell just by looking who was from what side of town. On one side you could see those with homes, income, warmth, giggling or laughing drunkenly. Then there were those dying, drowning out their pain in the drinks they could afford. Begging by the doors for just one more credit.

So the two gentleman in the corner of the tavern stuck out to Jack like enderman in a hen house. They had been “discreetly” eyeing Jack for over an hour now. Jack was doing his best to ignore them, but for the most part even his fourth shot of whiskey did little to ease his agitation.

Their lack of discretion made it easy to look them over, Jack was never one to coyly inspect his prey, he simply stared right back. He didn’t distinguish people from animals anymore. Everyone in the damn world was out to kill or survive. Just like wild animals…..

But these men - he could tell by the suits and the clean clothes - that these men were parasites. They got others to do the killing for them, they profited from the chaos, from the blood.

He was starting to just flat out drink from his bottle when both men got out of their booth and moved over into his.

“Mr. Tattasciore I presume?” The leader of the pair asked as he slid into the booth.

“By all means sit down,” Jack warned as he sighed into his bottle. 

The leader gave him a toothy smile. Jack could tell the other one had his hand on his gun. He idly wondered with his slightly intoxicated stated if he could break the man’s arm slower than usual. But that would require the sacrifice of his whiskey. A sacrifice he wasn’t willing to make at the moment. 

The tavern didn’t need a blood bath anyway. Jack wasn’t stupid, he knew if he got aggressive these men would start shooting, and that would be the end of a lot of innocent lives.

“Are you Mr. Tattasciore?” the man asked again.

“What can I do for you?” Jack asked dryly.

“I’m here on a small proposition.” the other answered, “I need you-” 

“Mate let me do you a favor, we’ll skip the formalities and head straight to no.”  

The stranger’s venom smile dropped into a uncomfortable forced grin, “I beg your pardon?” 

“I know what kind of men you are.” Jack sighed, he lifted his head, looking out from underneath the brim of his cowboy hat.  “I don’t work with people like that, especially your kind of people.” 

The man’s smile turned to ice, “I don’t think you understand Mr. Jack Tattasciore-” 

“No, you’re the one who is confused.” Jack took a long slow drag of his cigar, deliberately releasing the smoke into the men’s faces, “I know a PAMA dog, when I see one.” 

The word dropped the temperature in the bar by multiple degrees. Plenty of people had head Jack. Many moved away from his booth, leaving the bar all together even. Till the only ones who remained where those to drunk or too stupid to care. 

The air in Jack’s booth was even more frigid than the rest of the bar, thick and suffocating. “That’s a bold statement huntsman,” the second man scowled. He seemed to lack the grace and civility of his partner. 

“Do I look like I give a fuck?” Jack sneered back. “I don’t care for you people, or the people you work for. So get lost.” 

Instead of retreating from the booth however, the leader pulled out a manila envelope. He quietly reached inside of it and pulled out a photograph, placing it gently on the table. “Are you familiar with the woman in this picture?” he asks. 

Jack slowly looks down, eyeing the flaming red hair and the stunning blue eyes. 

Yes….he does. 

“Yeah I know her,” he answers sharply, “She’s a hired hand out in the wastes. She does hunts, escorts, sometimes-” 

“Her name is Petra.”

“I know her name,” Jack growled.

“She is currently traveling with a small band of other hired hands. We know they were camped out in Ground Town for the winter. But by the time our people were able to get a peek into the city, they were long gone. We need you to track Ms. Petra and the others down.”

“She’s a huntsman as well,” Jack smirked, “What makes you think I can find her?”

“Because we know she learned every trick of her trade from you Jack,” the other laughed, almost mockingly, “We know everything. We know she spent her youth learning with you and your partner Nurm in that quaint little shack in Beacon Town.”

Jack leaned back, taking a drink of whiskey to drown out the twist in his gut. “I’m a huntsman, not a bounty hunter." 

“We’re not after her Jack, we want nothing to do with her as a matter of fact. But we do need to locate the people she is traveling with.”

Four more photos hit the table, and Jack takes a second to examine each picture. It makes him sick to recognize each face. Lukas, Aiden, Gill, Maya. Jack knew all those kids, Petra spoke of them often in her letters, and often fondly. He knew they were good kids, they were just trying to get by just like everyone else, just trying to help….

“I’m not killing them either.” he growled. “Now leave-”

“We’re not asking you to kill them my good man,” the stranger cut in. “These four took a very valuable product from our organization and we want it back. But with Ms Petra on their team she’s made it very difficult for us to locate them. We know you know all of her tricks, and we know you are often hired as a delivery man and a smuggler. Kill them or not we don’t care, but we are offering you a job to return our product.”

Jack stared at the photos before glaring up at the pair, “Get someone else to fetch you trash!” he spat. He went to get up-

“Sir,” The stranger placed a hand on his enraged partner, as his other hand calmly wiped the spit off his cheek. “I don’t think you understood me. We hire you,” his eyes went dark, “Or we hire someone else to do it instead. Someone who prefers bullets over brains.”

Jack stiffened. 

“We’ll hire every assassin and mercenary in the wastelands if we have to just to find them. And believe me, we will find them. These poor young folk won’t stand a chance. They’ll surely be killed.” he smiled at Jack, “But if we hire you, to fetch the product - we’ll pay you handsomely I might add - they just might come out alive. But it would be quite a shame if that wouldn’t be the case however.” 

The man leaned forward, resting his chin in his hands, “Don’t you think we should avoid further bloodshed?” You’ve already lost so much in your life Mr.Tattasciore, it would be a pity for you lose any more people in your shrinking circle of “friends”.” 

Jack let loose a low, angry , growl; his teeth grinding into his cigar.

The room was deathly silent, everyone was waiting for a fight, for a gun to go off, something.

The stranger dropped his hand after a minute of the tense silence with a heavy sigh, “Looks like he isn’t interested-” 

Jack snarled and stood so rapidly that it startled the other man. He grabbed the stranger by the collar yanking him up; completely ignoring the second PAMA man drawing his gun.

He pulled the man close, ashes of his cigar falling on the cheek of the stranger. The other’s eyes were wide and terrified, cowering under his gaze. 

Everyone was frozen, frightened, waiting.

Jack glared, and he glared hard, the whiskey fueling his fury. “What’s the damn product?” he asked.


 

Jesse sneezed.

“Bless you.” Gill piped up.

“Thanks,” Jesse sniffed. 

Lukas looked worriedly over, “You’re not too cold-” he paused as he nearly tripped on the snowy and uneven terrain.  “Cold are you?”

“No more cold than usual.” Jesse assured.

They had been out on Petra’s hunter trail for over a week and a half now and the journey had been rough.

It was cold and bitter in general, but without outposts, houses or shelter buildings; the team had spent most of the trip sleeping outside. The result was despite everyone’s best efforts, they were all a little cold and weary.

Traveling had been hard, Petra meant what she said about the trail being difficult to navigate. The snow from heavy winter was still in effect, the trail unplowed and untouched. They spent most of their time traveling in those clunky snowshoes. The few times the snow was compact or shallow enough however -like now- it was bumpy and uneven, sometimes even slippery terrain. Gill had already fallen down a steep snowbank early this morning when he lost his footing, accidentally taken Aiden down with him. 

But despite the weariness and the difficulty of travel, the team stayed in positive spirits. There was no sign of PAMA out here and that in itself was always something to be relieved about. 

“I’m fine Lukas I promise.” Jesse assured once more.

Lukas gave him a lingering worried stare before relenting and continuing his trek. “Just let me know if you need anything ok?” 

“I will.” 

“What about the rest of us?” Gill teased, “Should we let you know if we need anything?”

Lukas looked back for a second, eyes squinting.

Gill let loose a toothy grin, “Or is this just a Jesse exclusive- woah!” Gill swung his arms out wildly struggling for balance as one of his feet lost ground on the steep edge of the trail.

“Don’t you dare grab me!” Aiden hastily warned, stepping closer to Petra and away from Gill.

“I’m good! All good!” Gill assured as he regained his balance, “No thanks to you.” he stated sticking out his tongue.

Aiden rolled his eyes, “It’s not my fault you are as clumsy as an-”

Please don’t start,” Lukas groaned rubbing his temples, “We’ll stop for the night in just a bit. But guys, just pleeeease you two don’t go killing each other.”

“Why don’t we stop now?” Petra piped up with a chuckle.

“No offense,” Maya gestured around, “But this isn’t the best place to camp.”

Petra smiled knowingly, then point up the hill.

Everyone followed her finger, immediately spotting the quaint little log cabin just up a old driveway. 

“We’re stopping.” Aiden declared.

Jesse looked nervously at the pitch black beyond cabin windows, “What if there are enderman in there?”

“We should be fine,” Petra assured, “This part of the mountain is more bear country than anything. But I’ll take a look.” then she trotted up the driveway.

Jesse scooted closer to Lukas, looking slowly around at the thick woods all around him.

The radiation and bombs had twisted this part of the mountain in a confusing and distorting maze of rotted, dead, and crooked trees mixed in with large pines. But the growth was thick, and it was hard to see a few feet in either direction.

He hadn’t really thought much about bears since they started traveling. Considering since his far too close for comfort encounters with enderman, bears were probably the least of his worries.

However….

“What do the bears look like?” Jesse asked, to no one in particular.

Aiden wasn’t really paying attention when Jesse asked the question, he was busy cleaning his knife. “Like bears?” he mumbled out.

“Did bears not exist back in your day or?” Gill asked with a raise of his eyebrow.

“No! We had bears,” Jesse flushed, “I just was wondering if they looked like bears or if they mutated into something else.”

Lukas brushed snow off his coat, “I guess since we don’t know what they looked like back then we can’t really answer that.” he shrugged apologetically, “Sorry.”

“It’s ok, I was just curious.”

Petra rejoined the group then, “Cabin is all clear guys.” she smiled.

Relieved and tired everyone headed up the hill.

Pushing open the cabin door revealed the open kitchen and dining room area and the damage that had been done by time. Isolated as the cabin was, it had not been ransacked by looters. But part of the roof and wall in the back left hand corner had rotted and collapsed.

“Hmmmmm,” Gill hummed in a exaggerated and painfully fake accent. He placed a arm over Maya’s shoulder, “Looks like a fixer upper to me darlin.”

Maya snorted, lightly slapping his chest, “Stop.”

Gill grinned, “We can probably patch the hole up enough to keep the wind and snow out easy.”

“There are some tables and nightstands in the bedrooms.” Petra said,  “We can break those down and use them to board up the hole.”

“Not a bad plan.” Gill agreed.

Maya trekked over to the stone fireplace in the living room, running her hands along the grimy rocks embedded in the wall, “We clean the snow out of this we can start a fire.”

“Can we risk an actual dinner tonight?” Petra asked, “I don’t know about you guys but I’m sick of jerky.”

“We could boil some down and make a stew?” Maya suggested.

Stew sounded absolutely heavenly to Jesse. He knew everyone - him included- were pretty tired of eating dry and nearly flavorless meat. But traveling in the wilderness with smelly foods was never a good idea, and Petra was right about cooking being a risk.

Something might smell it.

However, Lukas seemed just as tired of it, “We can barricade the windows and the hallway to the bedrooms. It’ll be easier to cover this one room and keep anything that might be sniffing around out.” He looked around, “Like Petra said, this is more bear country than anything. Bears are a lot easier to kill than enderman.”

“Stew it is then,” Maya declared, the very word putting a spark of energy back into the group, “I’ll get the cooking started.”

“Petra and I will block this hole up.” Gill stated.

“I’ll get to work on empty out the bedrooms and blocking the hall and windows,” Lukas hummed.

Aiden dropped his pack, keeping only his pistol and his knife on him, “Well in that case I’ll go scrounge up some herbs.”

Lukas glanced nervously outside the cabin, “Aiden-”

“Lukas I really don’t want to eat bland stew do you?” Aiden said, “A little herbs and truffles will add to it and you know it. I won’t be gone long I promise. Then I’ll help you board everything up when I get back.”

Lukas seemed hesitant.

“Come on  man,” Aiden urged, “I might find a mushroom or two? Think about the last time we’ve gotten the chance to eat an actual meal out here. Let’s make it worth it.”

“I don’t really like you going alone-”

“I’ll go with him!” Jesse piped up, he already knew he wouldn’t be much help to Gill or Petra, and Maya always got into such a routine with her cooking that helping her was just too much of a hassle for the female.

Lukas gave Jesse a poorly covered distressed glance, and Jesse knew Lukas really wasn’t keen on the idea even in the slightest anymore.

“We’ll be careful.” Aiden assured. “It’s just some truffle hunting. If anything gets close I’ll hear it Lukas I promise.”

Lukas grabbed Jesse’s hand, “Just be careful.” he stressed.

Jesse hugged Lukas, “We will don’t worry.” he assured, then he pulled away, giving Lukas a good hand squeeze before following Aiden out of the door.

“Hold that,” Aiden ordered gently as he hopped off the porch.

Jesse merrily took the bag Aiden had brought with him, happy to be of use. “My family used to go mushroom hunting all the time.” he said as he followed Aiden farther up the hill and over the rise. “Granted it was warmer back then.”

“Some of them adapted to the cold,” Aiden sighed, “Most of them are poisonous - don’t worry Petra showed me a long time ago which ones not to ingest. Not too many edible plants and mushrooms made it though.”

“I’m surprised anything made it at all,” Jesse said as he hopped over a small fallen tree, “And the truffles didn’t absorb all the radiation and poison?” he asked.

“Oh it did,” Aiden admitted, “You have to be careful, younger truffles aren’t so toxic they’re edible enough. It’s the older ones you gotta watch out for. The bigger they are the more they have absorbed from the trees and the soil, that’s when they get nasty.”

“Oh, but the little ones are ok? Even though they have radiation in them?”

“Jesse,” Aiden paused by a tree, digging away the snow to inspect the base of it, “I hate to break it to you, but everything you’ve eaten since you’ve woken up in this wonderful winter wonderland is poisoned.”

Jesse blinked.

Aiden didn’t even need to look up, Jesse’s surprised silence was response enough, “Everything has radiation Jesse, Isa’s theory is that you body adapted to it like it adapted to the radiation and poisoned gases in the air.”

“I see,”

Aiden waved him down, “C’mere.”

Jesse kneeled down next to Aiden, joining him by the base of the pine.

“You see this, how it’s tinted brown down at the base here?” Aiden pointed, “There are truffles in the roots of this tree.”

Jesse helped Aiden dig the snow away, the larger male had to use his knife to break up the solid and frozen ground around the roots. But sure enough there was a small handful of truffles embedded in the depths of the tree roots.

After shuffling around in the hole for a bit they came out with only five truffles, Aiden declaring the others too big.

He stood with Jesse rubbing a thin sheen of sweat off his forehead, “Might be a little too cold still for us to be digging, the ground is damn near frozen solid.”

“Herbs and mushrooms then?” Jesse asked.

“Herbs and mushrooms,” Aiden echoed.

Aiden spent the next half hour with Jesse trekking all over the slopes the mountain, Jesse helping him find mushrooms, various herbs. They were lucky enough to stumble across another cabin that had some canned spices still edible enough to stomach.

The little bag on Jesse’s back wasn’t too heavy, neither was it full. Though he wished he carried more, he knew that out here what they found was hard to come by and valuable. He couldn’t wait to take it back to the others.

He stood on a stump waiting for Aiden to gently peel off a set of mushrooms from a massive old oak tree. He followed the branches up, watching as they spread out and blocked out the sky. He noticed with a bit of worry that the already dim cloud covered sky was turning black.

“Aiden we should get back soon before it gets dark. Lukas is going to worry.”

Aiden snorted and finished peeling the last mushroom off the tree. “Oh he’s worrying alright.” he said, as he came over to Jesse and dropped the mushrooms in the bag.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You should have seen his face when you hugged him. Jesus it’s hard to watch you two sometimes.”

Jesse gaped, “Aiden! What does that even mean-”

“Come on let’s head back. So you can get back to Lukas.”

“H-hey! Aiden!” Jesse leapt off the stump and raced after the departing male. “What in the world are you getting on about?!”

“You can’t fool me Jesse.” Aiden snorted.

“Fool you on what?!” Jesse demanded.

Aiden gave Jesse a teasing smile, “Aw, do I need to tell Lukas for you Jesse? Are you too nervous?”

Jesse blinked in utter confusion.

Aiden rolled his eyes and looked, “Oh come on Jesse just tell Lukas you love him.”

Jesse turned four shades of red in a matter of seconds, actually freezing in place, “W-what?!” he shook his head stammering, “N-no! I just like him as a friend I s-swear!”

“Uh-huh.”

Jesse’s blush deepened, he once again followed after Aiden, “I- He- there isn’t anything-”

Please,” Aiden turned to face Jesse, walking backwards, “I have had to suffer through you two puppy dog gazing at each other the entire winter and this whole trip! I’m getting tired of the love sick longing.”

“ He- no- there- gah!” Jesse grabbed the sides of his face,shaking his head, “He’s a f-friend. I could never-”

“Just tell him you might he surprised,” Aiden suggested as he turned back around. “If you don’t, I will.”

“Don’t you dare!!!” Jesse cried, he grabbed onto Aiden’s arm, struggling to pull the other male back. “Aiden! Don’t tell him!”

Aiden simply chuckled.

Jesse puffed out his cheeks in frustration, then, “If you tell Lukas! I’ll - I’ll tell Petra you have a crush on her!!!”

Aiden stiffened, cheeks exploding pink, but he managed to keep walking. He flashed Jesse a look, “Who….who told you that stupid idea?”

“Lukas,” Jesse grinned, “He said you had the biggest  crush on her when you two were kids.”

Aiden’s eyes narrowed and he looked away mumbling, “I’m going to  kill that fucking….” then louder, “When I was a kid Jesse. There is nothing there now.”

Jesse grinned cheekily, pleased to get the upper hand. “Uh-huuuh~” he teased.

“Jesse~” Aiden warned.

“I think you still like her,” Jesse wrapped his arm around Aiden’s, “I mean, who wouldn’t? She is a pretty badass woman after all. Probably won’t find another girl like her in a hundred miles. How cute would it be to hook up with your childhood crush?”

He saw Aiden’s eyes spark for a millisecond before he was pushing Jesse away, “You are a delusional romantic.”

“Sha la la- My oh my- Looks like the boy is too shy-” Jesse sang.

Jeeessseee!” Aiden flashed him a look, “You’re the one who can’t confess to Lukas. You have no backbone.”

“Says you!” Jesse laughed, “Tell you what. Whoever confesses their love first the other has to do it right after. Deal?”

Aiden snorted and rolled his eyes.

Jesse grinned, “Deal then.” he elbowed Aiden, “Glad that’s settled.”

“You’re going to be waiting a looooong time Jesse.” Aiden said. “Cause there is nothing there.”

“Chicken~” Jesse teased, mimicking the cluck of the bird. “Whatever are you going to do if I beat you to it?”

“Oh you little twerp!”

Jesse yelped as Aiden easily shoved him sideways into a snow-pile. He went under briefly, before coming up sputtering and shaking snow from his face.

Aiden laughed, “Now you really are a snowflake!”

“You jerk!” Jesse laughed, he lunged out of the snow pile and tackled Aiden at his midsection. But in all honesty Jesse might as well have tried to tackle one of the many trees around them. Because the super soldier male didn’t budge an inch.

Aiden laughed again at Jesse’s attempt, easily pushing Jesse back down to the ground. Jesse let out a merry laugh as well, grabbing Aiden by his jacket and yanking him downward, laughing harder as he shoved a handful of snow into Aiden’s face and hair.

“Gah!” Aiden cried, furiously shaking the snow off his face before it fell down his shirt, “Jesse!”

Jesse scrambled up and scurried away, whipping around once he was far enough away to hit Aiden in the face once again; This time with a snowball.

Aiden sputtered and coughed, rubbing the snow off, “When I get my hands on you…” he warned, even though he was grinning, “I am gonna-”

Aiden froze.

Jesse paused from his backing up, “What’s wrong Aiden?” Jesse laughed, “Snow down your shirt?”

Aiden slowly straightened out, “Jesse,” he said, his voice hush, “Jesse come back to me slowly.”

Confused by Aiden’s sudden change of tone, Jesse dropped his smile. He noticed in that moment, Aiden was reaching for his pistol on his belt. “Ai-”

“Walk towards me Jesse, slowly,” Aiden urged in a harsh whisper.

Jesse heard a peculiar noise then, a sort of snort, coming from behind him. Slowly risking a glance over his shoulder Jesse's eyes widened; As not five feet away was the biggest grizzly bear Jesse had ever seen.

The bear growled, lifting itself up to a frightening height, easily seven feet tall. It roared aggressively, thick paws waving in the air.

“Jesse, remain calm.”

Jesse took a tentative step away.

The large brown animal dropped  back down on all fours.

“Jesse-”

The bear growled,  and with a roar even louder than the last one, the animal charged.

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Violence, Mauling,

Blood, Underage Smoking

-

The bear lunged, crossing the five foot gap faster than Jesse could even blink.

Jesse!!!!”

Jesse screamed as he was not body slammed by the bear, but instead, Aiden. Aiden tackled him with a extreme force, his mad run to Jesse having given him momentum.  Aiden pulled Jesse into a protective hold, sending them both crashing to the ground just as the bear barreled over them.

Aiden grunted in pain as the bear ran them over it’s claws just scraping across his back.

“Aiden!!” Jesse cried.

Aiden didn’t answer, already scrambling up as the bear finished running over them. He yanked Jesse up off the ground, “Run! Go!” he cried.

“Where?!”

“Anywhere! Just run!” Aiden urged, giving Jesse a shove.

They started running just as the bear turned around already realizing it had missed its targets. It roared furiously at them, giving chase and quickly gaining speed.

Jesse cried out as Aiden wrenched him to the left, pulling him around a tree as bear swiped at them. The animals claws easily stipping the bark off the old pine. It growled furiously trying to claw and bite at them everytime Aiden wove them through tighter gaps in the woods.

“Aiden where do we go!?” Jesse gasped out, full of fear and terror surged adrenaline and the bear’s claw barely missed his shoulder.

“Just keep going!”

The grizzly directed itself once again, this time running to the side of the pair roaring viciously.  It would swipe at them whenever there was a gap in the trees.

“Jesse run down the hill!” Aiden yelled.

“What about you!?!”

“I’ll distract the bear!! Just go!” Aiden yanked out his gun, aiming it at the bear.

Jesse jerked as the gun went off with deafening bang, the entire forest echoing from the shot. The bear roared in rage as the bullet buried into the animal’s shoulder. Turning away from Jesse the grizzly swiped at Aiden, anger and fury burning in its eyes, it’s wrath now amplified by Aiden’s shooting.

“Yeah that’s right, over here!” Aiden yelled in response. “Come get me!”

“Aiden be careful!” Jesse begged sliding to a stop before the hill. He couldn’t just leave Aiden to the wild raging animal. But he didn’t know what to do!

“Jesse run!”

The grizzly roared, swiping at Aiden and forcing him to duck.

“Aiden-”

“Jesse go-” Aiden began. But in his small state of distraction the bear found a mark. Aide  gasped in pain as the giant paw of the bear caught him on the back swing sending Aiden sprawling into the snow. “Gaaa!”” the male fell into the powder cringing and gasping from the hit.

Aiden!” Jesse screamed as the bear was on Aiden in an instant and bit forcefully down onto Aiden’s arm, tearing through the winter jacket with ease “ Noooo!”

Aiden didn’t cry out from the ferocious attack, but he did immediately begin to struggle. The air filled with the sounds of teeth grinding on titanium. Jesse realized the bear had bit down onto Aiden’s prosthetic, not injuring him. But regardless of flesh or metal it wasn’t letting go, tearing apart the jacket shoulder and sleeve as it attempted to rip apart Aiden.

The bear swiped at Aiden with its other paw, trying to club him in the head. Aiden kept ducking, and struggling with all the strength and room he had. He kept shoving against the bear trying to get a good angle with his gun.

The pistol went off again this time scrapping the outer edge of the bear, which only enraged the animal further. It roared in anger and wrenched it’s head side to side, swinging Aiden about like a human sized rag doll. Jesse began running back towards the bear, “Aiden-!”

“No! Jesse run-” Aiden was again cut short as the bear slammed him into a tree, dragging him across the wide oak and knocking the gun out of his hands. Aiden’s knife snagged against the rough bark as well, and the blade came free from the sheath. The gleaming weapon falling down into the snow.

The impact drew a sharp cry from Aiden. The male was now dazed as the bear slammed him into another tree, face scraped on the rough wood. He was so stunned he was truly a limp deadweight as the bear continued to fling him into any solid object it could find.

“No!” Jesse raced forward, snagging the knife off the ground. “I’m not going to leave you here!”

Aiden regained some of his focus as the bear slammed him hard onto his back, gasping out in pain and shock as the massive animal immediately bore down upon him. His free hand shot up, fighting to keep alive. 

“I’m coming!!!”

The other’s eyes widened when he saw Jesse running to the wrestle “Jesse don’t!” Aiden cried out. He struggled to push the large head  and gaping jaws of the animal away from his throat. “ Don’t!”

He didn’t listen, Jesse lunged at the bears back, immediately met with a face full of fur and the overwhelming smell of musky wet animal. He blindly tried to stab with the knife, hoping somehow someway he was hitting the animal. Begging hoping he could distract it.

He could barely see with all the fur, his heart was pounding a thousand miles a minute and his ears were overwhelmed with the sound of the raging animal.

He screamed in terror as the bear stood up on two feet, taking Jesse and Aiden up with it. Aiden yelled in pain as his arm was twisted up and back.

“Aiden hang on!” Jesse cried as he continued to stab.

He must have hit his mark then, because suddenly the bear dropped Aiden, roaring and snarling in fury.

Jesse gasped in horror as the bear backed up, aiming for the nearest tree. He immediately let go of the bear, falling down into the snow with cry.

The bear slammed into the tree, and realizing that Jesse was no longer on its back it dropped back down on all fours.

Jesse got up, scrambling and struggling to put distance between him and the raging animal as quickly as possible.

The bear lunged and Jesse felt the breath leave his lungs as he was slammed in the back by the giant paw of the animal. He was knocked to the ground, landing face first into snow gasping for breath. His back screamed in pain entire body tightening in fear from the hit.

There was an incredible pressure on his shoulders and Jesse screamed in pain as the bear’s weight stepped down onto him. The heavy girth of the bear was unbearable, his bones felt like they were going to snap as the pressure continued to build.

He cried out in pain and tried to cover his head as the gaping and foaming maw opened up ready to bite.

No! ” Aiden yelled.

The bear suddenly staggered off Jesse as Aiden rammed into it from the side, body slamming the bear with all his strength.

Gasping for air still, Jesse struggled to get away, crawling out from underneath the huge girth of the animal as Aiden fought to push it back.

Aiden cried out as the bear shoved him back, sending the young male slamming into a nearby pine. Aiden slid the the ground stunned, sticky blood staining the bark.

“Aiden!”

The bears attention returned to its smaller target and it roared at Jesse, easily stealing back the distance that Jesse had gained.

AAAAAAAA!!!!!” He screamed in agony as the wild animal bit down on his right calf. He could feel the teeth tearing through , clothing, skin, muscle and all the way down to the bone as the strong jaws came shut. Fiery agony shot forth from the point of contact and his bodily struggled to writhe from the painful sensations.

He continued to scream in pain as the bear dragged him backward, thrashing and jerking its head. Each sporadic head thrash ripping Jesse’s flesh and expanding the wounds. The animal would let go and bite again, tearing and trying to rip.

Jesse!”

The bear dropped Jesse to roar at Aiden. Jesse in a world of delirium and pain, still struggled to crawl away. His vision was darkened and hazy, and he fought hard not to pass out from the burning agony of it all. All around him the world was a disheveled mess of torn up ground and bloody snow and mix of blurry dark and light.

Somewhere behind him the bear roared, and Jesse let out another pained cry as he felt the claws of the animal dig into his other leg. “ No-!” The pain was beyond comprehension. Jesse blindly dug his fingers into the snowing ground, trying anything - everything- to get free of the animal, to make the pain end.

Suddenly the bear made a sound of pain and the claws in Jesse’s left leg vanished, leaving behind raw oozing cuts.

He looked hazily back to see Aiden between him and the bear. The larger male wielded his knife with an iron grip, swinging at the bear.

The bear was cautious to attack, a jagged red line of blood was running across its face. Through his pain Jesse realized that Aiden must have slashed the bear there and now the animal was more careful in its attack.

Aiden back closer to Jesse, “Can you move?” he hissed out, voice low as he didn’t take his eyes off the animal.

“M-my l-legs,” Jesse hiccuped. “A-aiden it got- it got-”

Aiden moved in, reaching down, “Grab my arm-”

The bear snarled as Jesse went to move.

Slowly ,” Aiden whispered.

Jesse shakily reached up and did as he was told, grabbing onto Aiden with trembling fingers.

With a deep breath, Aiden hoisted Jesse up to his back, where Jesse proceed to latch onto Aiden’s shoulders. The back of Aiden’s neck and collar were stained with blood, a small laceration oozing from his lower hairline. But Jesse weakly dropped his head against Aiden’s neck, struggling to breath and not pass out.

The bear growled, stepping closer.

Aiden lifted the knife back up, struggling to keep Jesse on him and the bear away from them.

“W-where is your g-gun?” Jesse whimpered.

“In my holster, I can’t shoot it, it’s full of snow.” Aiden adjust his grip, “But I can throw a knife.”

Jesse whined in pain and struggled.to hang on, pulling himself higher up onto Aiden’s back.

The grizzly roared in agitation, swiping it’s paws at the pair.

“Back off!!!”

Over the cocktail mix of roars and Aiden’s noise, a peculiar noise carried through the woods. Jesse was surprised he heard it at all. Confused Jesse looked over Aiden’s shoulder and beyond the bear, immediately he found the source of the sound. “Oh no-” and for a moment his mind slipped back into clarity.

The bear roared, lifting up on two feet.

Aiden drew back his arm ready to throw the blade-

“Aiden no!” Jesse cried, managing to catch Aiden’s wrist despite his pain. “Don’t throw the knife!!!!”

“What?!” Aiden yelled, “Are you crazy- gah!”

Both males cried out as the bear swiped at them. Aiden took a hasty step back, barely able to dodge the claws that grazed his throat.

They both screamed as Aiden’s step took them over the edge of the steep hill, and Jesse and Aiden both went rolling down the long embankment.

Jesse howled in pain, his mangled and bloody legs leaving highlights of red as he tumbled down the hill.

He finally came to a stop fifty feet down the way, groaning and sobbing in overwhelming agony.

“Jesse!” Aiden scrambled up from where he had fallen, snagging his knife once again. He slid to a stop over Jesse, protectively covering him as he looked up toward the hill. “Fuck where is it?!” he snarled between heaving gasps. “Where is the bear?!”

“It won’t- ghh- come down,” Jesse whimpered.

“What?”

“She….she had cubs Aiden, she was just protecting-” Jesse hissed, struggling not to grip at his legs in pain.

The bear roared somewhere up over the rise, but the sound was farther away, fading even. She had done her job.

“Fuck,” Aiden sheathed his knife and scooped Jesse up, holding him close as he made fast tracks out of the area.

“Aiden-”

“Just give me a second.”

Aiden jogged another quarter mile or so before setting Jesse back down. Jesse struggled not to whine as Aiden gingerly peeled back the ripped fabric of Jesse’s jeans.

“What were you thinking!?” Aiden hissed, and Jesse saw how dark and full of emotions the other’s eyes were, “You could have been killed!”

“I couldn’t l-leave you,” Jesse hiccuped out, “You would have- could have-”

“I would have been fine!” Aiden stressed. “I would have fought it off or gotten away or- f-fuck.”

Jesse noticed then that Aiden was struggling to use his prosthetic arm. His pinky, ring, and middle finger seemed to hang loosely. “Aiden your hand-”

“It’ll be fine!” Aiden cut him off, stiffly rolling his shoulder, “Something is twisted inside my arm and I can’t move my fingers but I’m fine.”

Jesse flinched as Aiden ran snow over his now exposed legs, trying to see the wounds, “But your-your back and your head-”

“I’m not the one who got a chunk bitten-bitten-” Aiden cringed. He reached into his little waist back and pulled out his medical supplies.  He retrieved a needle. “This is gonna sting.”

“Like it doesn’t now?” Jesse tried to sooth, cringing as Aiden flinched. He shakily reached out, touching Aiden’s cheek. “Please don’t blame yourself I…..”

Aiden didn’t respond. He took Jesse’s and away from his cheek and gently peeled back Jesse’s glove. He slipped the needle into a vein, injecting the contents. Jesse took a deep breath, feeling a surge rushing through his already pounding heart.

“The adrenaline will help you heal faster,” Aiden mumbled. He produced two more needles -painkiller- and injected them one each into Jesse’s mangled legs.

Jesse loosened up a bit as a strange cold numbness overtook his limbs, stifling the pain. “Aiden…” he asked as the male pulled out bandages and began wrapping the wounds.

“What?” the other whispered back.

“Don’t blame yourself for this please.” Jesse begged.

“I should have heard that bear.” Aiden scolded himself.

“We were having fun,” Jesse urged, “This isn’t your fault.”

“I should have been attention regardless,” Aiden growled. He finished wrapping Jesse’s legs and wiped his hands in the snow, “I promised Lukas-”

“Lukas isn’t going to disown you.”

“He sure as hell ain’t going to let you go anywhere either.”

“If I was with Lukas out here we still might have run into the bear,” Jesse countered. “Aiden please. I’ll heal.” he ran a hand along Aiden’s cheek again, “But you got hurt….”

“Just some cuts and bruises Jesse.” Aiden said, pausing to scoop up some snow and rub his blood of Jesse’s cheek.

Jesse sighed, “Yeah but…..” he fell into silence, feeling the wave of guilt set in now that the pain had been numbed.

Aiden was quiet for a moment. Then he heaved a great sigh and ran his finger through his hair, “I can’t believe you stopped me from killing the bear.” Aiden mumbled.

Jesse blinked.

Aiden looked at him, weary and tired, but the darkness had receded from his eyes. He gave Jesse a rough ruffle through his hair, “Only you would be a big enough sap to protect a bear that nearly ripped your leg off.”

Jesse blushed and looked down, “She was protecting her cubs just as much as you were protecting me.” he whispered.

Aiden sighed, “Well snowflake,” He groaned, “Better get back and get Lukas’s heart attack over with.”

“Aiden, that’s mean.” Jesse scolded. He shivered a little, starting to feel his body temperature drop as the adrenaline surged his healing abilities forward.

Aiden hoisted Jesse up onto his back, careful not to jostle the tender injuries. “Yeah well….” he trailed off and began his hike back.

“I still have the stuff we gathered at least.” Jesse again tried to lighten up the situation and for the sake of his own mental state.

“Honestly Jesse the least pressing problem on my mind back there was saving our stuff.”

“I know,” Jesse shrugged, “But I didn’t want you to suffer through bland soup.”

“Appreciated.” Aiden said dryly.

Jesse smiled.

After a moment however, “Jesse?”

“Hmmm?”

“As stupid as it was,” Aiden said softly, eyes fixated forward, “I do appreciate you trying to help me. Even though it almost killed you.”

Jesse smiled weakly, resting his head on the back of Aiden’s shoulder “You’re welcome Aiden.”


 

Founders Town……

The foundations of the building shook as the wind howled and lightning fired down onto the small town.

Everyone one was indoors, or least trying to hide and shelter themselves inside something.

Everyone knew they wouldn’t last long out in a radiation storm such as this.

Lightning smashed down just beyond the confines of the door Jack was by. He luckily wasn’t looking directly at it, but the world around him still went briefly white. His ears rang from the thunderous roar that followed after.

His radiation detector screeched a warning and Jack backed away from the door. His oxygen mask pumping -less dirty than outside- air into his lungs to compensate what poison it assumed he was inhaling.

Jack looked solemnly beyond the door, watching the blinding swirl of snow and smoggy green so dark it was almost black.

He faced a lot of horrible things out here in the wastes. But it was the radiation storms that he believed to truly be the worst thing this world had to dish out.

Energy and poisonous gases building up from the constant storms in the sky would sometimes work their way down to the helpless earth below. It brought with it all the toxic air that resided up there. It brought lightning to start fires, and wind to destroy whatever it could get its hands on. Sometimes it brought rain, acidic burning rain.

The storms reminded everyone what kind of world they lived in now. The hunters and mercenaries could kill the beasts. The settlements could put up their barriers and ignore the great beyond. But nobody, nobody, could hide from the storms.

Jack sighed and turned his back to the door. He shut off his mask pump, choosing instead to use the filter. He had a good enough one to handle whatever toxic miasa that might seep into the building. No point in wasting decent oxygen.

The abandoned building he had taken shelter in groaned and shuddered constantly around him.It was covered from seemingly top to bottom in patchwork metal, wood, and other odds and ends materials that made this building. It seemed like a unbelievable miracle it stood at all, but it did.

He noticed with some minor discomfort that there were the faint whiffs of burnt wood drifting through the air. Indicating this building had been damaged by fire before.

He took a slow circle around the open room, careful not to step on broken glass bottles and over old stains of blood. “Damn piece of junk better hold.” he grumbled.

“Oh it should,” a raspy voice grumbled.

Jack turned around, immediately spotting his shelter buddy crouched in the hallway that led to the apartments.

She was a young female, no more than 15 at most. Jack could tell she was a beggar from the slum side of town. She wore layers of rags, a cloth wrapped around her face since she owned no mask. She had joined Jack in the building minutes before the storm had hit the town.

“Or maybe it will crumble,” she grumbled, “Take us all with it and out of hell.” she coughed into her elbow. “Satan’s place has gotta be better than this shit.” the female nodded to him, “Name’s Mia.”

“Jack,” he responded, walking closer over to her.

“Huntsman Jack?” Mia inquired.

“One of ‘em.” Jack answered. He glanced around the building, “Smells like this place has been burned.”

“Top floor of the building went up in flames late last year.” Mia confirmed. “Huge gunfight, got really nasty. Lot of bodies burned that day.”

“Gun fight huh?” he said as he glanced down the hallway to the stairwell.

“Yeah, with a small force of PAMA dogs.”

Surprised Jack returned his gaze back to Mia, “PAMA?” he asked.

She tugged down her mask, to blow on her exposed fingers, only pausing when lightning and wind shook the building violently, “Yep,” she pulled her mask back up. “Whole bunch of men and woman, easily thirty strong raided the building late last year, a few months before heavy winter set in.”

Jack lifted an eyebrow, “Any idea what they were fighting about?”

“Not sure, there were a few whispers here and there. Something about stolen product.” The girl shrugged, “I know who they got into a fight with though.”

“May I inquire?”

She shrugged again, “No one knows where they went. But it was a small team of hired hands. Group of four.” Mia sighed and yanked her mask down once more, this time keeping it down and she produced and lit a cigarette. “Young adults, all of them. Good crew too,” she admitted after a slow drag, “Fuck what were their names…”

Jack waited patiently.

Mia snapped her fingers, “Gill, that was the name of the big one. Sweet guy, sometimes would buy me a meal or two at Charlie’s joint. I called him a teddy bear. Can’t remember the name of the others, but the blonde male wasn’t too bad, he would give me credits. They were a overall good group, never messed up the town, didn’t rip off on their jobs. Mostly everyone liked them.”

Knowing now that she was talking about the kids Jack kneeled down next to her, resting his back against the wall, “Mostly everyone?”

Mia shook her head and took another drag of her cigarette, “There was this old greaser from the dredges, Earl was his name. Earl and Buck….” she casually pointed to a man curled up down at the hall, “Now it’s just Buck….Earl, Earl was a greedy bastard.”

“Yeah?”

“When PAMA came sniffing, asking around for anyone who might have been up to the old town area and particularly around the old fallout vault up there, Earl pointed to the team. PAMA shot him after they got the location.”

“Sounds like PAMA,” Jack admitted.

“Well PAMA shows up here, full of guns and even trucks.” Mia explains, “They raid the building. The team lived on the top floor here, had the whole upper section as their base. They were the main source of the gunfight. People stupid enough to fight back were getting killed on the first and second floors, but when PAMA got to the third, the group bottle necked them at the entrance.”

“At some point the shooting went quiet and the building started to smoke.” Mia sighed, eyes tilting to the ceiling as she thought on it, “Lukas that was the other guy’s name. Lukas, Aiden, and Maya…... Well, the shooting stopped. And they broke out one of the windows and climbed down the side of the building. I saw the whole thing from across the street. They were shooting and fighting their way out. Took off like rabbits they did.” She smashed out the cigarette, “Took off with some kid I had never seen before. Stole a truck and drove out of here shooting and blazing any PAMA dog that got in their way. “

“All those men and PAMA didn’t catch them?”

“No, they were always good fighters. Every bullet killed a man.” Mia glanced at Jack, “PAMA was mad as hell.”

“And no one knows where they went huh?”

“Not a soul,” Mia pulled up her mask, “PAMA found the truck out in one of the acidic lakes the following morning. Let me tell you Huntsman, I may have not been around very long, but I have never seen PAMA like that. Their leader was furious, he was screaming and raging. Between you and me I think he wanted to put this whole town up in flames. Whatever those fools took PAMA wants it and they wanted it bad . They didn’t even bother to sneak into the town. They blew in here full force and ready to kill to get back what they wanted.”

Jack didn’t say anything to the statement. He looked away, returning his gaze to the violent storm beyond the building.

“I hope they got away,” Mia sighed, “I can only imagine what those fuckers would do if they ever got their hands on them.”

“I’m sure they got well enough away.” Jack stated, but inside he was troubled. To raid through a town without even caring  if the populace attacked or not…..

Petra what have you gotten yourself into?

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Drug Use, Drug Mentions,

Lynching,  Implied Death, Sexual Implications

-

Gill ran his blade along the sharpener with swift smooth slide. The blade hardly making a sound as it hit the rough stone.

He didn’t really need to sharpen his knife, it was sharp enough as it was. But stuck waiting like he happened to be at the moment left him little to do, save contemplate.

It had been a week since the….grizzly incident. Lukas had nearly suffered a stroke, and in all honesty so did the rest of the team when Jesse and Aiden walked through the door injured from a bear attack. Well- Aiden, walked in anyway. Jesse had been a bit on the…..damaged, side.

The rest of the trip had been spent with over cautious traveling, and the whole group going out gathering together if they wanted something other than jerky. It was hard to tell who felt more guilty; Petra, for picking the trail, Aiden, who blamed himself for not hearing the bear, Jesse, for well, Jesse always felt guilty when things went wrong and Lukas, who blamed himself when things went wrong whether they were in his power to control or not.

Jesse could walk by the following morning of course, and was sore up until the third day. But now he was fine physically. Aiden was still cut up and bruised. He was healing quick, but whatever the bear had done to the male’s prosthetic arm had rendered it nearly useless. The metal seemed undamaged to the naked eye, and in reality it was. If Aiden could punch steel and concrete, bear teeth were not a problem. However according to Aiden, something inside the arm in the complex network of wires and nerves was twisted wrong.

Aiden could now only bend his wrist inward, and his pinky, ring and middle finger were immobile. The team hadn’t been able to twist it back into place and Aiden was mad as hell that his arm was now considered useless to his standards.

“Looks like you are gonna have to go see your favorite lady.” Gill had smiled.

Aiden tried to flip him off, but with three fingers down, it looked like he had simply given Gill the ‘ok’ sign, “Shut up Gill,” he scowled. He groaned, “Ellegaard is gonna murder me.”

“She will not.”

“She never breaks her threats Gill, remember when she broke Magnus's nose?”

Gill couldn’t blame Aiden, Ellegaard scared him too.

The team had finally arrived at their first settlement early this morning. Lukas, Petra, and Aiden had gone into the encampment shortly after their arrival to top off on some jerky, and medical supplies.  Gill, Maya and Jesse remained beyond the limits of the town, just in case PAMA had been hiding within the wooden walls of the fortress.  So Gill was currently resting on a stump, waiting for his team mates to come back.

Jesse sat down next to Gill.

“Hey leprechaun,” Gill smiled.

Jesse smiled back, “No malls out here, I’m afraid I’m lacking gold right now.”

Gill chuckled and went back to his sharpening.

“So what’s the name of this settlement?”

“Ashcroft,” Gill answered.

“It looks nice.”

Gill glanced up at the settlement, “It’s not too bad.”

Ashcroft if Gill remembered correctly was a bit smaller in size than Beacon Town. Built deep into the heart of the forest and the mountain, the people here were lumberjacks so to speak. The entire city was built out of the wood of the trees. In the center of the massive logging circle full of tree stumps was their wooden fortress.

Ashcroft housed roughly five hundred people, including about a dozen or so different hunters that lived in cabins beyond the barrier.  The snow rarely receded here, farming was impossible, so Ashcroft relied on its meat. There was a large barn beyond the city -built out of whole pine trees-  it housed the town's entire supply of cattle, lamb and pig. The huntsman would go out and add to the supply with rabbit, deer and fish from the mountain lakes.  Gill knew Ashcroft to be a major trade factor for Ground Town, the two cities exchanging meat and produce with each other.

But he also knew the people to be conservative and tight. They stuck to themselves. He vaguely recalled his grandpa telling him the story of another settlement that had been close by. It was called Gold Mountain, consisted of one of the largest gangs this side of the divide. Gold Mountain and Ashcroft had been at war for years, and these woods were filled with death.

Ashcroft won out in the end. But they never trusted anyone very  much after that. People rarely left the city, and people rarely came in. Hence the team splitting in half. A team of three is a little less threatening than a team of six.

“They’re getting by like everyone else.” Gill yawned.

“It reminds me of a settler’s town.” Jesse squinted, “Is everything made of wood?”

“Every damn inch. Even that barn.”

“Wow.”

“They’re a rough and tough group,” Gill sheathed his knife and put away his sharpening stone.

“I hope the others are okay.” Jesse stressed.

Gill yanked off Jesse’s snow cap and ruffled his hair, “Don’t worry about it. Petra has the respect of the hunters up here. She and Jack would come over here from the old highway after a hunt.”

“Highway?”

“Yeah, we’ll be crossing it for a bit.”

“What about PAMA?”

“They won’t go up there,” Gill assured, “No one does.”

Jesse lifted an eyebrow.

Gill caught the look and laughed, “And you’re wondering why we are?” he smiled, “Don’t worry lil’ buddy, It’s just covered in snow most the year and nearly impossible to travel. But Petra says the hunter’s trail runs right through it.”

“Ah.”

Suddenly a dreadful noise disturbed the otherwise peaceful and silent forest. Jesse and Gill both looked towards the city gates just as a mob of people came pouring out, yelling and angrily storming out into the clearing.

“What’s going on?” Jesse stressed, he went to stand, “Are Lukas and the others going to be okay? Should we go down there and-”

Gill gently grabbed Jesse’s coat, holding the male in place, “We don’t need to go down there.” he said solemnly. Unlike Jesse, he already could see what was going down. He calmly pulled Jesse back down to his seat. “The others are fine.”

“But what is going on?” Jesse stressed, still observing the crowd in case the rest of their team was among the mob.

Gill let his eyes shift briefly to the masses of angry people, he then shifted his gaze ahead to their most probable - based off the temperament of the crowd- destination. Heaving a great sigh after he located the small wooden platformed tucked against the side of the city’s walls. He looked away and pulled out his knife and whetstone again to sharpen, “It’s a lynching Jesse.”

“A what- oh.” Jesse shifted nervously next to him, hands twisting nervously on his jacket, “I didn’t think that people still did something like that- I mean- Why are they-” He shifted again, “That thing they’re dragging those four men onto, is that-”

“Yep.”

The smaller male was silent for a moment, then, “Why?” he whispered.

Gill tapped his finger on the tip of his knife, “Well bullets are hard to come by, and people I suppose have to save where they-”

“No, why.”

“Oh,” he fiddled with his weapon, “It could have been anything really. They could have murdered someone, broke a law, stole food....”

“No trial though?” Jesse asked, flinching as the cries of the mob got louder.

“No, they broke the illusion.”

“Illusion?”

“The big grand lie,” Gill sighed. He pointed his knife at Jesse, “Those folks broke the fragile illusion that everyone is living and now they are going to pay for it.”

“I don’t understand,” Jesse whispered, looking worriedly to the gallows.

“Look away Jesse, you’re not going to want to see that.” Gill said quietly, “The rope is too short, this isn’t going to be quick for them.”

Jesse looked sharply back to Gill, just as the platform dropped. Gill kept his eye contact with Jesse, patting the male’s shoulder as the roar of the crowd increased.

Jesse scooted closer to Gill, careful not to look back at the ongoing execution, he had gone a shade paler, hands shaking slightly in his lap, “Y-you said they ruined a lie?” he asked.

Gill sighed, stabbed his knife into the tree stump between his knees. “Let me ask you something. Have you noticed that despite some colonies having combat, resource and even a steady population advantage, none of them are expanding outward?”

“What do you mean?”

“Take Ground Town for example,” Gill explained, “They have a rich trade, plenty of water, a small militia capable of taking out a small town, and yet, they keep building up. Sure they expanded past the original dirigible wall, but the large concrete one they don’t build past. They are all stacked up behind the barrier. There are no houses on the farm plots either, just barns. Now why do you think that is?”

Jesse thought on this, “Well you guys mentioned a monster in the woods, so I take it the locals are scared?”

“That’s not the main reason, but it part of it in a way.” Gill pointed to the wood fortress, “Now take Ashcroft. Plenty of lumber, cattle, sheep. They have the whole mountain, and yet here they are. Stacked up on top of each other, house on top of house.”

“Sooo they are scared too?” Jesse asked.

“Everyone I’ve ever met is living the same lie Jesse,” Gill said, “That out here,” he gestured around them, “This wilderness, this wasteland, this all isn’t here.”

“But it is,” Jesse stated, confused, “We’re sitting in it.”

“Yeah but people like to pretend its not.” He explained, “They don’t like to face out here because out here is reality.”

“Reality?”

“The world burned Jesse. We destroyed our home, and now all we are left with is a burnt out, toxic husk. We can’t go on trips as easily, we can’t go camping or swimming or just enjoy the world anymore because we ruined what we had and left a monstrosity behind. And no one wants to face that.” Gill looked to his knees, “I didn’t want to face it for awhile…” he mumbled.

He continued, “But the big problem is, that everyone just hides in their towns. Because in their towns, they can at least pretend that life is normal, they can pretend that everything is okay. But it’s not okay. Everyone just keeps saying the world will fix itself, but it’s not getting better. We’re still dying.” He looked at Jesse, “We still have storms, we’re losing resources, people, and we’re not trying to fight for it. Even those of us who actually come out here aren’t trying to fight for it. We’re busy killing each other.”

“You and the others do escorts though, you find food and supplies, you are helping.” Jesse said softly.

“Jesse,” Gill replied quietly, “These 'goodwill' jobs of ours…..They’ve killed a lot of people. If I run into a raider trying to take my caravan I have to shoot him if he doesn’t stand down. If I’m out looking for food or supplies and run into a competition, I have to kill then too. To keep someone alive, I’m usually killing someone else.”

Jesse went quiet.

“The people in settlements don’t care about that though,” Gill continued, “Because like I said, out here is not real. They don’t want to face it and they don’t want to fix it. Because they believe if they hide away long enough it will fix itself - which it’s not. So that’s probably what those men were hung for, because they brought out here, into there. We can kill, fight, scrap, raid all we please out here. But you bring that into a town and you remind people what’s really going on, what’s really happening. They don’t like that.”

“I think I get it,” Jesse sighed sadly.

Gill patted his shoulder, “No one out here is alive Jesse, they’re just surviving and living in their grand illusion.” he grabbed his knife and sheathed it, “And you know what? I was too.”

Jesse glanced at him, curious.

“Lukas has a good heart. Wants to help people, take care where others won’t. That was always really admirable, and I had no trouble joining along with him. But it became almost pointless to me after awhile.” Gill idly scratched his beard, “One step forward, three steps back, no matter what we did nothing seemed to get better, and I started to ask myself ‘What’s the point?’ ya know? Then we found you and went through - well you were there- and I thought if we can turn this around, if we can really, genuinely prove to people that we can change our course. Then maybe, maybe, things will start to get better.”

He gave Jesse a smile. “You’ve given me hope, and if we can show people that we can fix this world and that sitting back ain’t an option then maybe….You know?”

Jesse smiled, nodding, “Yeah.” he adjusted himself on the stump, “Yeah, maybe we can. I hope we can.”

“We will it just won’t be easy.” Gill admitted, “But we got you-”

“What’s going on?” Maya asked as she came to join the group, she immediately spotted the mob by the gallows, “Oh.” her shoulders dropped slightly.

Gill grabbed her hand, “And we got her. God bless Maya and her painful medicinal remedies or we would have been dead six years ago.”

She look down at him, lifting an eyebrow, “Gill what the hell are you talking about?”

“Fixing the world.” Jesse answered. “And how we got each other.”

Maya let out a breath, cheeks puffing slightly, “Well that’s a serious topic.” But then she smiled, “I’m glad I have you guys too.”

Gill adjusted as Maya settled down on his lap, leaning into him. The mob was starting to recede back into the city, back to their sweet little lie….

But they were going to stay out here, choosing to live.


 

Aiden shoved himself off the post he had been currently resting on, “We shouldn’t linger much longer guys.” he whispered, flicking his cigarette bud away. He was eyeing the storm of people passing by the shop.

“I noticed the mob.” Lukas huffed under his breath.

“Pretty sure they’re off to lynch someone.” Aiden mumbled. “Petra?”

She shoved hair out her eyes, “Yeah yeah.” she paid the merchant and shoved the jerky into her backpack, “We still have to get meds and adrenaline.”

“We better hurry,” Aiden looked uneasily after the group of people storming for the city’s exit, “The locals are gonna be tense from this.”

They stepped out of the shop and Petra waited with the boys as the last of the crowds stormed past them, “Jesus they are pissed.” she frowned.

Aiden watched them go, “I missed most of the gossip, too many voices, but I think a group killed someone down at the tavern.”

“Luckily we’re going elsewhere,” Petra said, “Come on.”

She led the boys away from their current stand and deeper into the market. It had been a few years since Petra had been to Ashcroft - the last time she was here was before she and Jack went separate directions - but she still had a fix on where everything was amidst the confusing maze of wooden shops.

The boys stuck close to her, keeping a wary eye out for the dreaded agents of PAMA. Petra partially wondered if Ashcroft had spies here as well. Or if they were too tight knit of a community for a spy to sneak into.

She led the others to a quiet set of stalls tucked in the the center of the market, quiet only because most of the town was out being a mob. Walking up to the stall in the middle of three, Petra leaned onto the counter where a small boy sat playing with a wooden carved cow on the other side.

“Hey~” she smiled brightly as the boy looked up at her, “Hey is Antony here? I need to get some meds from him.

The young child silently got up and ran into the back of the shop.

Aiden lifted an eyebrow as he retreated, “Are you sure that kid is going to get your friend?”

“I’ve never seen him before,” Petra admitted, she looked at the sign over the stall, “But that is the same logo that Antony used, so I’m going to assume he still lives here.”

Aiden nodded, before wandering off a bit to keep scoping the area.

“Chems are a lot better ya know~” A familiar voice teased.

Petra turned to the the resident of the local stall next to her, “Val,” she smirked.

The bleach blonde female smiled back at her, “Petra,” she grinned, “Haven’t heard that pretty voice of yours in a long time.” Her gray eyes sparkled and stuck out in bright contrast to her black eye paint. She firmly shook Petra’s hand, “ Damn I haven’t seen you since you were here last elk hunting for Antony. What brings you back to good ole Ashcroft?”

Val was a drug dealer, to put her profession simply. But she was more of the honorable kind. Some of her drugs were used for medicinal when normal meds became too much in prices as her resources were easier to come by. But she also specialized in the drugs that people tended to get addicted to, drugs such a Euphoria, Bliss, Comatose, and other such colorfully named stoners.

Val like stated before however, ran a honorable business, her goods were never brought in via dirty means. And she made great effort not to get her clients addicted, only selling them a limited price and keeping track of when they purchased it as to not allow them to buy more inside a certain window of time. This made her a little unpopular with some of the local druggies, but it made the city council appreciative that she was doing her best to keep Ashcroft semi drug addict free.

“Business,” Petra answered, leaning on the counter, “Making my way back to Beacon Town.”

“Heading for the pass then?” Val inquired.

“No the other way actually,” Petra answered, “Heading for the highway.”

Val hesitated, and Petra noticed, “Val?”

“It’s just-”

“You go that way you good as dead.” a new voice cut in

Val sighed and gave Petra a apologetic look before twisting her chair around, “Go back to resting Soup.”

Petra knew Soup. She was Val’s partner in the business. She suffered from a serious chem addictions most of her life, only kicking it when she went partially blind. Blindness never slowed Soup down however, if anything it boosted her. She could still make chems as easy as she pleased. She was one of the best this side of the divide and it helped Val in the business.

Soup however was what many would consider....odd. Some say the chems had given the female a “second sight” as it were; a mystical sense into the unknown. Others just figured she was still drugged up when random things came from her mouth.

Soup glanced at Petra, foggy grey eyes inspecting her over. “You head to the highway, you’s dead.” she repeated.

“Soup!” Val warned.

“No no it’s fine.” Petra soothed, “What’s up Soup?”

Soup sat down next to Val, “Val ain’t telling you people are going missing up there I take it?”

Petra glanced at Val.

Val’s eyes cast downward, she pushed some of her hair out of her eyes, “Look, the past few years….People….People have been heading to the highway and they don’t come back.”

“Maybe they’re just staying on the other side of the divide?” Petra suggested.

“Maybe, but,” Val shifted nervously again, “Some of our huntsman. They haven’t come back either.”

Petra shifted, “I appreciate any worry there might be Val, but I’m traveling with a group. We’ll be alright. I don’t know if you have heard of Lukas and his gang, but I’m escorting them to Beacon Town and I’m sure the group of us will be-”

Beacon Town!” Soup spat on the ground, “BAH!”

“Soup!” Val stressed.

“You go to Beacon Town you ain’t got nothing but misery waiting for you!” The female said.

“Soup please stop-”

“No!” Soup hissed, clearly agitated. She pointed a Petra, “I thought my dreams were messed up, too many euphoria fumes, no no, no. I've seen it! You’ll be hurting! You go to Beacon Town you lose part of your heart.”

“I’m so sorry,” Val stressed to Petra before grabbing her partner’s arm, “Soup stop! I swear if you’ve been in the chems again-”

“I haven’t been in nothing!” Soup angrily stood and grabbed Petra’s hand, “You go there you are gonna be hurting honey! I can see it on you, I see pain and I see heartache.” She squeezed her hand desperately, “Don’t go Petra! You got bad things waiting for you. I see death coming your way!”

Petra smiled tensely, “I appreciate your concern Soup but I-”

Soup pointed past her, “You’re not the one with death leaking off you honey. It ain’t waiting for you.”

Petra didn’t dare turn her head, but she let her eyes shift.

Soup was pointing at the boys not too far away. Petra had no idea how Soup could even see them, they were too far and her partial blindness would clearly make them invisible to her. But it was blatantly obvious Soup was pointing at the two young men. But Petra couldn’t tell if she was aiming at Aiden….or Lukas.

“Before light winter comes death’s gonna get him  Petra….” Soup whispered. “Death’s claws are waiting and they are gonna swing-”

“Soup enough!” Val pulled her away, pushing Soup towards the shop door, “You’re all upset now, just go lay down, please.”

Soup grumbled something, but obliged and headed inside. She paused at the door frame, “Be careful Petra.” she hissed before vanishing.

“I am so sorry.” Val stressed.

“It’s...it’s okay,” Petra smiled, “Don’t worry about it.”

Val looked ready to say something more, but a man excited the stall where the child had vanished a few minutes earlier. “Take care Petra.” she whispered.

Petra watched her go before turning to the man, she inspected the stranger over, “You’re not Antony.” she stated.

The male gave a smile that Petra immediately disliked, “I am his step brother, Julian.” he said, “Antony left over a year ago to go live and take care of our sister over by the lakes. Her husband died of radiation sickness. I took over the shop for him.”

“I see,” Petra rubbed the back of her neck, “Well I’ve always come to Antony for meds whenever I was over this way and I find myself in need of a refill.”

Julian smiled brightly, “Of course what can I get you?”

“ I need three medical kits and a small package of adrenaline stems.” Petra requested.

“You are a smart girl,” the man beamed as he began pulling out the items she asked for. “You know where to get the best high grade items.” \

She said nothing to the statement as he placed the gear on the table, simply giving him a forced smile. He was overdoing it on the compliments, Petra wasn't dense.  She glanced the stuff over, looking for any defects or scams, “Everything here looks good,” she admitted. Petra pulled the her needed amount of items out of the pile, “I’ll take these.

“Wonderful!” Julian rubbed his hands together, “That will be sixty five hundred credits.”

Petra’s eyebrows shot up, “Six thousand and- ummmmm-”

His smile dropped, “Is that an issue?”

She rubbed the back of her neck, “I know you make good stuff man, I swear I’m not trying to downgrade you. Buuuuut,” She smiled sheepishly, “I have a really long way to go and only so many credits to get me there. Is there any way we can perhaps work out a deal?”

Julian crossed his arms, “This stuff is the best money can buy and you want to haggle?”

“No, I just-” Petra set her hands on the counter, “I’m not looking to cut you short, but is there any other way I can pay for these along with credits? I can go get you an elk or help you out? Antony was always willing to cut me some slack especially after I found his kid in that blizzard way back-”

“That’s Antony’s policy not mine.” Julian scoffed, he rolled his eyes. “Blind fool was always giving too much and taking nothing in return for it. He was starving half the time and everyone took advantage.”

“Not everyone,” Petra politely corrected, “There are those who gave back. Give a little love get a little love in return ya know?”

“Regardless I am not in need of food and I have no need for a mercenary-”

“Huntsman.”

“-Whatever,” Julian frowned, “I don’t need a supposed ‘huntsman’ doing any work for me.” He inspected her over, clearly doubtful of her position, “It’s sixty five hundred credits or nothing at all.”

“Come on man-”

“It’s not going lower,” the man warned, “Only up if you keep pushing me.”

Petra growled internally, she almost wanted to break his nose for his horrible business practice. But instead she rubbed the bridge of her nose in frustration, “Can I trade anything to reduce the credits a bit?”

Julian did think on this, “Perhaps.”

Petra dropped her hand, a little hopeful, “I have some ammo I can spare,”she offered, “A few strips of bear hide and some water from Ground Town-”

The trader waved his hand uninterested, “How about that energy blade?” he suggested, gesturing his hand towards her thigh where Ms. Butter was currently strapped.

Petra hesitated, “I-”

“Unless,” he gestured to all of her, “Unless you have something else in mind.”

Petra caught his tone and her temper flew. She had half the mind to take her energy blade and stab him. “Now listen here you -”

Both Julian and Petra jumped in surprise as Aiden slapped credits down on the table with a loud bang, “Six thousand five hundred credits,” he snarled, “Now give her the fuckin meds.” he ordered.

Julian looked like he was about to say something, but then he glanced between the pair and decided against it.  Scowling Julian bagged the items up and passed them to Petra, “Have a nice day,” he gritted out before grabbing his credits and turning to retreat into his shop.

“Fuck you,” Petra mumbled under breath, she sighed heavily as she and Aiden departed the stand, “I had it under control.”

“I know,” Aiden admitted, “My patience just ran out, I was ready to shoot him.”

“Heard all what he said did ya?”

“Yeah, trashbag......" the male grumbled.

They walked over to Lukas who gave them a soft smile, “Got everything we need?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Petra huffed, shoving the medical supplies into her front coat pocket.

Lukas tilted his head, “Petra are you alright?”

She hesitated, looking back and forth at the two men and her mind wandered to what Soup had said.

Death is gonna get him….

“Yeah I’m fine.” Petra smiled, “Just tired, that guy was an asshole and I have no patience for bullshit.”

“I hear ya,” Lukas laughed, “Come on let’s go before the mob comes back and makes this whole place tense.”

As they started walking Petra lightly elbowed Aiden, “You didn’t have to pay for the meds.” she said. "I had enough credits."

“You can pay me back in coffee if it bothers you.” Aiden glanced her way and gave her a quirky smile.

Petra smiled back, “Thanks man.”

“Anytime. Besides.” he looked forward, “I know how much your knife means to you.”

She let her hand drift down to her thigh, her fingers wrapping around the handle, “Yeah…..”

Chapter Text

-

Chapter Warnings:

Cursing, Violence, Death, 

Implications of Death, Cannibalism, Implied Cannibalism, 

-

 

Many Years Ago…..

Petra yelped as Jack yanked hard on her ponytail, pulling her towards him.

She staggered back and then whipped around the moment Jack let her go, “What the hell was that-”

Jack popped her on the head with the flat of his hunting knife.

“Ow! Hey!”

“What did I tell you?”

Petra stopped rubbing her head and looked at Jack in confusion, “What?”

Jack looked upward as Nurm chuckled next to him, “Mother earth preserve me, have you listened to nothing I have told you this past year?”

“I’ve been listening!” Petra protested.

“Then what have I told you?”

“Be careful, be calm,” Petra labeled off on her fingers, “And always be aware of your surroundings.”

Jack gestured to the old building entrance that they currently stood before, “And yet you were going to just waltz right in.”

Petra looked over her shoulder at the building then back to him, “This building has been cleared ages ago Jack-”

“Never assume it is safe!” Jack warned. He pointed a finger at her, “No matter where you go, always assume there is a danger . No matter how many times you have been there.”

Just because nothing was there yesterday,” Nurm explained, “ Does not mean something won’t be there tomorrow.”

Petra’s confidence faltered slightly, and she looked down, “O-oh.” she bit her lip. “I’m sorry….”

Jack glanced at Nurm who in kind tipped his head towards Petra, lifting his eyebrow.

Jack huffed and turned back to Petra. “Kid,” he placed a hand on her shoulder, “Kid- Petra look at me.”

She looked up at him, still clearly embarrassed by her mistake.

“You’ve been doing well so far this year,” Jack admitted, “While a slip up like this can be lethal, it's better to do it now when you are in training and not alone somewhere.”

“Okay…..”

“I want you to treat this building as practice. Act like no one has ever been here before and you don’t know what’s inside.”

“Be prepared for the danger.” Petra confirmed.

“Always assume it’s there.” Jack finished. “Now let’s go.”

Petra led them into the building again, this time much more cautious and slow.

Inside the multi level complex the interior of the building was a mess of dirt, grime and broken structure. It used to be a mini mall at one point. Some of the businesses had their safety gates down, most of those said gates however had been broken or scrapped for materials.

Jack sometimes wondered what went down in here when the war dropped all the final bombs. Were the businesses abandoned long before that point? Were there shop owners struggling to keep out the looters and the panic from the fallout.

Jack watched, as despite her cautiousness Petra was still in awe of the building; Being as this was her first time out past Beacon Town. She looked about in minor wonder and a fear at this unknown place.

Nurm cleared his throat and Jack looked at him to see his partner pointing at some markings on the floor nearby.

Jack walked over to them, the marks where old -years old- but would still be good for a lesson. “Kid come here.”

Petra hurried over and knelt down next to him.

“See these tracks?”

“Yes.”

“These are ghoul tracks -they’re old- but see how they are shuffled and dragging.”

Petra nodded.

“When not enraged, ghouls shuffle and drag their feet. They tend to move in clusters of two to five, so the tracks are muddled by the number. They can easily be mistaken for human tracks, but the best way to tell the difference-” He stood and lifted his boot, “We leave shoe marks and ghouls do not.”

Petra smiled slightly, “Shoe marks got it.”

“Another thing to look out for is smell. Ghouls smell musty like old socks and of copper from blood. They are partial to dim and dark places, and show more in locations with higher radiation. The radiation is low here and judging by the drag across the floor this was a pack of seven or so wandering through. Probably a migration group.”

“I thought you said they only traveled in groups of two to five?”

Usually,” Jack corrected. “Ghouls can travel alone, or even in large hoards a hundred strong. But usually , it’s two to five. Never assume an animal or a monster is gonna stick to its numbers.”

Petra nodded, “So when ghouls are running what do those tracks look like-”

A loud crash echoed through the complex, disturbing the silence and vibrating the air.

Petra’s breath hitched and Jack rapidly pulled out his gun, “Get your gun, stay behind me!”

The young female did as she was told, nervously pulling her pistol from her holster with unsteady fingers. Nurm moved in close as well, his crossbow poised and ready.

A scuffling noise filled the air, and Jack and Nurm both glanced up, detecting the source from the second floor.

“Remember kid,” Jack whispered softly, “Killing is the last option. If it gets to that point, makes sure killing loudly , is your last resort. You kill something noisy, you might wake up something you didn’t know was nearby.”

“Gunfights are for the dead,” Petra mumbled off one of Jacks less than sage but still practical sayings. “Loud equals doomed.” she took a deep breath and swallowed, following Jack’s gaze to the second floor.

“It’s small whatever it is.” Jack mumbled.

“It could be a rat, or a insect. Possibly a roach. It’s moving fast.” Nurm signed out quickly.

“It’s moving to the stairs-”

A scuffle came again followed by a soft hiss. They pointed their weapons to the stairs-

A small gray fox jumped into view and Petra let out a soft squeak in surprise, her tension from what could have been a possible monster attack getting the better of her.

The fox jerked, freezing at the sight of them.

Jack huffed, putting his gun away and gesturing for Petra to do the same. “We’re okay kid. Good job arming yourself.”

Petra looked a little pale as she put her weapon away, but she nodded appreciatively. She took a slow exhale, “I’ve...n-never seen a fox before.”

“They can be aggravating little buggers.” Jack said, “Fur bags always were trying to eat my chickens. I wanted to shoot them but Sammy would never have it.”

“She always did have a soft heart,” Nurm’s eyes sparkled.

The fox looked at then a moment longer, before racing down the stairs and U-turning into the dark gloom of the building.

“Did you see the meat in its mouth?” Nurm inquired.

“I did,” Jack replied, having spotted the piece of jagged flesh in the animal’s red stained maw. “Me or you?” he asked.

I’ll go look, stay with Petra.” Nurm said, then teasingly, “ I’m quieter than you.”

“Har har,” Jack said, unamused.

Nurm let out a soft warbled chuckle and walked up to the second floor.

Jack turned to Petra. The young teenager still seemed to be getting her heart rate back under control, taking slow deep breaths as she scrapped one of her boots into the dirt caked floor.

“You okay kid?”

She quietly nodded.

Jack turned away, “You know its okay to be scared?” he sensed her looking towards him, “Sammy would always say the smart ones are the ones who are scared.” he idlily scratched his nose, “You’ll learn to control your breathing, learn to control that fear. But it’s always going to be there, and in some ways it's going to warn you when things are wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“Sometimes we got a six sense kid that knows things are bad before we even see it kid-”

Nurm came back into view at the top of the stairs, his crossbow was on his back, already letting Jack know upstairs was safe.

You are going to want to let Petra see this,” He gestured.

Jack waved for her to follow and the pair marched up to the second floor to join Nurm. As they reached the top the other male pointed to a small little outlet store in the corner of the building.

As they followed the mute man down the way, Jack’s nose scrunched as he picked up a very vile and very   familiar scent. Behind them Petra covered her nose, eyes watering slightly from the stench.

Nurm stopped at the entrance and gestured in. Jack looked first, “Kid c’mere.” Petra hesitated, and he waved her again, “It’s safe gingersnap just come look. This will be important to you.”

Petra walked up and peeked into the store, eyes widening in shock and fear, “Is that-”

“An enderman?” Jack finished, “Yes, he’s dead though don’t worry.”

The enderman lay in the middle of the room, body splayed over a set of clothing shelves, it’s lower jaw was missing, or more accurately the flesh to it. The creature was littered in small feeding signs as it’s blank white eyes stared lifelessly at the ceiling.

“How- how long has it-” Petra stammered, eyeing the long arms and the claws easily a foot in length.

“About three days ago,” Jack said, “Judging by the feeding signs. Not too many animals can chew on an enderman.”

“Because they are radioactive?” Petra asked.

“Right.” Jack kneeled down next to the animal, ignoring the cocktail stench of the enderman scent and the growing decay. “This animal starved to death. You can always see an enderman’s ribs- they are lanky like that- but it’s thin in the arms and legs. Looks like it was chewing on it’s right arm here.”

Petra scooted closer and tentatively reached out, “Can- can I-?”

“You can touch it, just avoid the mouth and the fluids. Keep your gloves on.”

Petra touched a horn protruding from the creature’s skull, “It has horns.”

It was an alpha,” Nurm signed, “ They are not very common and are highly elusive.”

He’s not too old, I'm going to guess eight or nine years of age.” Jack observed, “Male alpha’s can easily reach nine feet in height, this little guy is just past six feet, I’m gonna guess six foot seven at the tallest.  He probably ate out the resources from his hunting ground and was forced to migrate. Couldn’t find enough food and starved to death……” he trailed off, inspecting the claws, “Could sell those…” he mumbled.

“I’ve….I’ve heard the stories,” Petra took a step back, “But they are even scarier than I thought they would be.” she whispered.

“Lucky for you kid your first encounter is with a dead one.” Jack replied softly.  He pulled out his hatchet and hacked off a finger, careful to avoid the small drain of blood that oozed out. He pulled out a cloth and wrapped up the detached oozing  stub before reaching for the next finger, “I wish I could say this would be the last time you see one kid. But the enderman are mother earth’s new favorite. They are everywhere out there.”

I just hope that’s not what gets you, he thought as he hacked off another claw.

Petra was quiet for a moment, silently walking around the creature as he worked, when suddenly, “What’s this?”

Jack looked up as Petra cautiously moved back in on the animal. He felt a small sense of approval and even pride as she treated it carefully, as if it were to get up at any second - despite the fact the animal was very much dead. The teenager reached under the armpit of the animal, eyes squinting in concentration.

The was a wet sticky noise of skin tearing and Petra grunted, using her weight as she pulled back. Then with a loud pop, Petra pulled the object of her curiosity out of the armpit of the beast.

“Hmmm~” Nurm hummed, surprised, “ It looks like a knife.”

“I’ve never seen a knife like this…” Petra mumbled, flicking the stray bits off blood off the item. “I thought Enderman had thick hides. A knife can’t cut them. At least not easily.”

Jack gestured for her to come close, inspecting it as she did so, “ Hmmm….” he went back to his hacking, “Looks like this fella got himself in a scrap with someone, and unfortunately won. What you have there is an energy blade .”

Petra eyed her new find with greater curiosity, “Energy Blade?”

“Pre-war relic.” Jack explained, “Highly valuable, even more so now. The blades were the sharpest you could make them, and the metal alloy takes hundreds of years to dull. That knife is one of the things that can cut through enderman hide like it is butter.”

She tapped her fingers on the flat side of the weapon, “Doesn’t seem like much.”

“Take your hands off the blade and hit the button on the handle there.”

Petra did as she was told and the weapon crackled and hissed to life, it spark and sputtered a moment before glowing a steady strong golden color. Petra’s eyes widened, blue orbs shining in the glow.

“Now cut something.”

The female looked around a moment before settling on the other hand of the enderman. She took hold of the thick thumb claw, and swung the knife down.

It cut through the thick hide, even the bone, effortlessly.

Petra eyed the stub in wonder, clearly amazed as the detached limb had been sealed shut. Not a single drop of blood.

“The power cores last forever.” Jack smirked, humored by her awe. “Those suckers are worth a fortune. I’ve seen people kill for them.”

“How much is a fortune exactly?”

“The cheapest I’ve seen is fifteen thousand credits.”  Jack said, suppressing a chuckle as Petra gasped.

“Wow….” Petra murmured, she inspected the knife a moment longer before shutting it off and extending it out to Jack. “Here.”

He glanced at it, before going back to his finger chopping, “You found it kid, it's yours.”

“Really?!”

“Yes really,” Jack said, noticing Nurm grinning from the corner of his eye, “If you want to keep it we have a sheath at home we can-”

“You’re the best!!!” Petra gushed, throwing her arms over Jack’s shoulder. He grunted as the teenager’s weight bore down on his back.

Nurm let out a warbled laugh as Jack flushed, “Yeah yeah,” he grumbled. He gently pushed her off. “Now take that butter knife of yours and cut off those horns why don’t ya?”

The blade once more sparked to life, “You got it!”

“Just don’t cut your finger off!!!”

“I won’t!” Petra assured, “Trust me-gak!” she yelped as on her down swing the knife slid out of her hand.

Jack cursed as it missed his boot by half an inch embedding itself into the tile. The heat of the blade melted the rubber of his boot slightly from the intensity. He lifted his foot and jumped away. “Jesus kid!!!”

“Sorry sorry sorry!!!” Petra gasped out!

Nurm laughed, “ That’s what you get for letting children play with sharp.objects.” he teased.

“Oh put a lid on it!” Jack scowled.


 

It hasn’t changed , Petra mused.

She stood at the edge of the small abandoned mountain town, slowly inspecting it over. Certainly looks like it anyway. She frowned, tapping her boot on the snow, the wet heavy ice crunching beneath her boot.

“Be prepared for the danger”   She reminded herself, “ Always assume it’s there.”

Hearing what Soup and Val had said about the mountain pass had put her on edge. People went missing in the wastes all the time, it was hardly unusual, people just went out and they never came back. But more than one experienced hunter from Ashcroft vanishing up here was cause enough for alarm. The hunters from the little lumber town were no pushovers, they knew these mountains and knew the animals and the monsters out here. To just vanish…..

The sound of her team catching up pulled Petra’s attention away from town, at least for the moment. She had informed everyone what Val had told her, and the whole team was cautious but still attempting to stay in a bright mood. Jesse had taught Gill a new song - much to Aiden’s relief- and Jesse and Gill were currently singing it softly together as the team caught up.

“So rock me momma like a wagon wheel, rock me momma anyway you feel. Hey~ Momma rock me~ Rock me momma like the wind and the rain, rock me momma like a southbound train. Hey~ ey yeah momma rock me~” They trailed off as they spotted her and Jesse waved. “Petra!”

She chuckled walking towards them, “Hey guys.”

Lukas smiled at her, before cautiously glancing past her, “How was scouting?” he asked.

“I’m not seeing anything yet, there are a few animals track, bears, dear, that sort of thing.” Petra answered, “But so far so good, I’m not seeing any signs of enderman or ghouls.”

The blonde let out a sigh of relief, “We can go ahead then?” he asked.

“Yeah, we have plenty of time in the day. So I suggest to be safe we haul through here and sleep on the other side of the highway.” Petra said.

“Sounds good.”

Jesse’s eyes lit up as they entered the town, “I know this place!”

“Really?” Maya asked.

“Yeah!” The brunette grinned, “I’ve never been here personally, but my Mom and Dad used to come up here for date nights all the time! This used to be a real hot tourist spot.”

Petra looked around at the crumbling buildings and dark and silent shops. It was hard to picture such a desolate place as a booming town at one point. But looking at all the decorations on the rusted and half buried lamp posts and what remained of old empty flower barrels, she could slightly picture people bustling about here at one point.

Aiden took a step over a buried car, only the hood protruding from the snow, “Whatever you say Jesse.” He said, apparently skeptical as well.

“They used to have mountain tours up here,” Jesse explained happily, “You could run all over these mountains and not worry about enderman or ghouls-”

“What about bears?” Aiden stated dryly.

Jesse flushed, “Well, bears were here yes. But-” Suddenly his eyes flashed in delight and he pointed, “My parents took a photo up there!”

Everyone followed his finger and Petra spied a large stone structure built on top of the peaks of one of the local mountains. Steel cables, a few of them broken, were run down the mountain to another structure close to them.

“They had a gondola that ferried people up there.” Jesse explained.

“What is a gondola?” Gill asked.

Jesse thought on it, “Its….it’s like a car, only it doesn’t have tires and it rides those cables you see there. It hangs off them and goes up and down, kind of like an elevator but at an angle.”

“You hang from a metal box over open air?!” Maya gasped.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

The female shuddered and walked faster.

“She’s not to fond of heights,” Petra whispered to Jesse when the smaller male gave her a questioning look.

“But she’s dating a giant,” Aiden hummed, earning him a elbowing and a snort from Lukas.

Jesse chuckled and shrugged, “It’s okay, my Mom hated those things too. First time dad took her up there she texted me her “will and testament” and-”

There was a loud sharp crack, and everyone immediately froze, guns up. Petra dropped to her knee, gesturing for Jesse to stay behind her as she lifted her pistol, she eyed the alleyway the sound came from, listening to the faint shuffles. It was too loud to be an enderman, and too heavy- the shuffles were cautious- it had to be an animal-

Jesse let out a sharp exhale as an elk stepped out of the alley. “Oh God I thought it was a monster,” he wheezed weakly.

“Always prepare for it to be one,” Petra said, chuckling a little.

The elk stared at them a moment, Petra noticed it was a mutant. The elk had white eyes, and three antlers growing from its skull. But she didn’t get any more time to observe as the animal turned away and walked down the street. It easily stepped over a fence and vanished into the trees beyond.

Everybody relaxed and continued on. But the tension lingered, knowing that something else still had the chance to show itself.

Jesse did his best to try and ease it up as they walked, pointing out little shops and restaurants and talking about what they sold and other little things. But even he too relapsed into silence after a bit.

The town was deathly silent, and that made Petra uneasy. Usually this time of winter the mountains carried many sounds, with birds being the biggest noise. But now she heard nothing...Only the occasional wind, shaking the old structures and making them creak and groan.

“Here’s Johnny!” Jesse suddenly mumbled out.

“What?” Lukas asked.

Everyone watched at Jesse pointed to a large building at the top of the hill far down the road. Petra recognized the building, Jack had pointed it out to her once before a long time ago. He said it used to a pre war hotel, and it was a trading post for a few years when he was young till disease killed everyone off.  It had remained abandoned ever since. “What about it Jesse?” she inquired.

“Well that hotel is the origin point for the book called The Shining, and it later became a movie and one of the famous lines was ‘Here’s Johnny!’.” Jesse explained. He looked sadly at the grime streaked and worn down hotel, “It’s sad someone graffiti-ed it, it was such a pretty hotel back in it’s day.

Petra turned her gaze back to the hotel, immediately spotting the strange red markings painted all over the building. She paused from her walking, Those weren’t there last time….. Her stomach twisted. Something isn't right. 

Aiden noticed she stopped, “You good?” he asked, stopping his own hike and in turn catching everyone else’s attention.

“Yeah….I just wanna do another scout ahead,” Petra said slowly, she glanced to Gill, “Are you okay coming with me?”

The large male shrugged, slinging his shotgun over his shoulder, “Yeah sure no problem.”

“Lukas can you guys hang back a bit?”

The blonde nodded, he gestured to one of the shops that was not completely buried in snow, “We’ll be in there.”

Petra waved in acknowledgment as she and Gill trekked on ahead.

“I’m surprised you didn’t snag Aiden.” Gill teased a mile later as Petra led them up one of the side hills parallel to the hotel.

“I need someone, with tracking skills.” Petra answered, too focused on the the hotel to really pick apart what probably was a jest from the large male. “Aiden’s a fighter not a tracker. Your Dad taught you land reading didn’t he?”

“You want me to see if things have been messed with then eh?” Gill snorted.

“Yeah, besides, if we get in a scrap Aiden won’t be quite as effective since he is down an arm.”

Gill lifted an eyebrow, “The way you say that makes it sound like you are expecting a fight. You worried about trouble?”

Petra paused from her walking long enough to inspect her trajectory to the hotel, “I’m always expecting trouble.” she answered. He throat felt tight, and even though her pulse was regular something in the air felt….. wrong.

She went to walk again, but Gill grabbed her arm. “Wait.”

“Why? Is something wrong-”

Petra watched as Gill solemnly pointed down at the snow. She had been so focused on the hotel she had almost missed a very clear set of footprints, that did not belong to her or Gill pressed into the snow. They headed for the hotel.

“Lands been messed with.” Gill said, voice low and heavy.

Pulse raising slightly Petra gestured to Gill, “Follow me. Let’s keep it quiet.”

Petra and Gill hurried down the road to a building half buried in snow. Deep as the snow was here it wasn’t hard for the pair to reach and scale the structure’s ladder.

Once on the roof they dropped onto their stomachs and crawled to the other side, they peeked over the edge inspecting the clear view of the grimy hotel.

Now that they were closer Petra could easily make out the occult like red markings splattered all over the sides of the complex.

She remembered the last time she was here she and Jack had stayed near the hotel. Petra had hated the building even then. It was just so eerie and off.

Now it was even more disturbing.

But it seemed to be full of activity, or signs of it anyway. There were boarded up windows, defense walls and barbed wire markers, even smoldering piles of dead fires.Someone was living here. But were they-

Gill tapped Petra’s shoulder silently.

She looked at him, he was grimly handing her his scope. “Look to the west side of the building.” he said, eyes narrow.

She did as she was told, taking the small spyglass in hand she peered through it. Then she aimed to the west.

Bones. She saw bones. Even in the white snow Petra could make out piles and piles remains. Some of them were human.

She hastily handed the spyglass back to Gill. Her heart was racing now.

“Petra,” Gill began, “I think we better-”

Suddenly a loud wave of noises rose up in the air and roughly three dozen or so haggardly dressed and heavily armed men and woman poured out of the hotel.

They whooped and hollered as they dragged a much smaller group of half naked people out into the sub freezing air.

One woman was screaming bloody.murder as she was dragged across the snow. She kicked and thrashed, wailing and howling as two men dragged her towards an ominous looking block on the west side of the building. But her struggles were futile, she was weak and frail against the two men and she was missing her left arm from the elbow down.

Cannibals.” Gill hissed.

“That’s why the hunters went missing!” Petra whispered harshly, “Oh God those poor people-”

“We’re out gunned Petra.” Gill cut in, his voice cracking slightly. He rolled on his back to get up, “I wish we could help but we-Look out!”

Gasping Petra rolled over as well just as a man, who had been sneaking up on them-knife in hand- lunged at then with a crazed scream.

Gill shoved up mid howl, catching the stranger in the mouth and shoving him to the ground. The rooftop gravel and snow crunching as both men went down.

“Gill!” Petra gasped, scrambling over to help Gill subdue the male.

Due to the woman’s screaming the rest of the cannibal crew didn’t hear their comrade’s battle cry but Petra and Gill only had so much time now.

Gill grunted and cursed as their attacker struggled and screamed against his glove. “ Fuck!” he reached back for his shotgun-

“Don’t! They’ll hear!”

He cursed again and went back to subduing their enemy, “We can’t exactly keep him Petra!!”

The woman was still screaming, still begging, “ No! Please! No No NO!”

“Keep him down!” Petra hissed, reaching for her knife.

The man shrieked, boot-clad foot lifting on and slamming Petra in the ribs. She grunted falling backward, “Gak!”

“Goddammit!” Gill snarled, pressing his weight down on the screaming male.

Petra yanked on her knife and and scrambled back over.

Someone help me! God NO!”

The man was in a bucking frenzy that even with the pair holding him together, Petra and Gill still struggled.

“Petra hurry!”

Petra stabbed Ms.Butter into the stranger’s throat. He let out a blood.curdling howl, loud even through Gill’s gloves.

NO-”

The woman stopped screaming with a sickening thump of an axe just as Petra wrenched her knife across their attacker’s neck. Blood spurted from the wound and the man went still and lax with a death gurgle.

There was a moment of deathly silence, then the cannibals whooped and hollered in delight as they continued to hack away at their ‘dinner’.

Petra and Gill shakily pulled away from the dead man. Petra taking slow deep breaths as Gill hastily shoved  snow over the lifeless gang member.

“We gotta get b-back to the others.” Gill said unsteadily.

Petra nodded, still shaken up from their close brush with death. She wiped her energy blade on the snow. She hadn’t the time to turn on the blade and as a result the kill had been a bloody mess. The golden colored knife gleamed as she rubbed it in the snow, staining the pristine white red.

She felt bad for the woman. But there had been nothing she or Gill could have done to save her. But Petra tried to have some consolation that the stranger had saved their lives with her screaming.

Petra and Gill hurried off the roof and made fast tracks back to their friends. Silently moving and terrified there might be more gang members lurking about.

She was hit with an overwhelming wave of relief to see their team still at the shop. Blissfully unaware, Jesse was chattering to Lukas about some small wooden doll in his hands as she and Gill approached.

Aiden was closest to the door as they came in, and he turned his head upon hearing them, “That was fast- Oh my God are you guys alright?!” his eyes widened in alarm, “Petra there is blood on your face what-”

“We gotta move.” Gill wheezed out.

Lukas and Maya hurried over as Jesse set down the doll.

“What happened are you okay?” Maya stressed as she grabbed Gill’s hands, “There is blood on your coat!”

“We’re okay baby, ” Gill assured kissing her forehead. “We do have a problem though, we ran into-”

“Cannibals,” Petra finished.

“Fuck!” Aiden cussed.

“C-cannibals?!” Jesse squeaked.

Lukas’s expression immediately clouded with stress, “ Where? Do they know we’re here?”

“They are based in that big hotel.” Gill said, “They don’t know we’re here yet- least we think- We had to kill their scout. But we better skedaddle, I don’t want to be around after-” he cringed. “After dinner is done.”

Maya covered her mouth, “Oh my God.”

Aiden uneasily glanced outside, “How are we going to get around them?”

Petra scooped up some snow and rubbed it on her cheek, scrubbing at the blood, “We can go into the woods and go wide around them. I can still get us to the highway from here.” she said.

“Lead the way then.” Lukas said, he looked to the rest of the team, “We stick close together. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

The team, armed and frightened followed Petra as she backtracked and led the team to the fence the elk had crossed earlier.

They were still paranoid as they continued the fast pace into the woods and out of the town, leaving the hotel, and it’s cannibals behind.

Even as the city fell out of sight Petra kept up the jog, desperately wanting to get her crew as far as possible away from the danger. “Now we know what happened to Ashcrofts hunters.” she scowled, “I’m going to have to stop at the next major outpost to send a messenger bird to Val.” she told Lukas. “They’re going to need to know about this.”

“Couldn’t agree more.” the blonde replied. Then after a moment, “How many were there?” Lukas asked as he leapt over a log.

Petra kept her eyes ahead, “Three dozen easy. Maybe as many a fifty.”

Lukas flinched, “Jesus and we would have walked right into them. They would have seen us and we would have been….” he trailed off flinching again.

“There were people there. But, but they wouldn’t have made it out of the mountain pass Lukas-”

“I understand Petra,” Lukas assured. He glanced back to the rest of the group still running behind them. “I’m just glad you decided to inspect ahead a second time. If you hadn’t, we would be dead.”

“Yeah.” Petra sighed. “Yeah….”

They ran for nearly two hours. Through heavy snow and up and down hills. It was grueling and exhausting. By the time they reach the highway again however, no one in the team felt they were far enough away from that town and the monsters it held. Not far enough at all.

Chapter Text

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Chapter Warnings:

Cursing

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Beacon Town was cold tonight.

It was always cold really, but tonight it seemed colder. It was quiet too, Ellegaard realized as she hiked silently down the streets. There was no one out and about, she was the only one on the road. All the houses were dark, all the diners were closed, even the taverns were dim, housing only a small handful of souls.

She could hardly blame them really, no one wanted to go out anymore. It wasn’t a matter of wanted really, it was a matter of no one dared. They were all scared and she was too-

There was a sharp crack from somewhere beyond the town’s walls. It was distant and it echoed across the island like a gun going off. It didn’t bother Ellegaard however. It only meant some ice had given way to the acidic waters in the lake around them. It may have felt cold to her, but it wasn’t cold enough for the ice to withstand the corrosion of the lakes.

Ellagaard adjusted her coat and carried on.

It was snowing out, some of the last lingering touches of heavy winter still clinging on.  The snow was heavy enough to stick, and it mixed with the gravel as she walked along, crunching under her boots.

As Ellegaard reached the west gate watchtower, some ghoul howled in the night. It’s voice carried across the wastes, but like before it was no reason for alarm.

She tapped on the wood of the tower. “Anyone awake?” she called, loud enough to be heard.

“Come on up,” A familiar voice replied.

Ellegaard hurried up the snow slick stairs, opening the door and stepping out into the partially covered viewing room.

Gabriel Fennoy was there to greet her. He looked up from his chair and bundle of blankets. “You should be home,” the dark skinned male grouched.

“And you are not a watch tower guard,” Ellegaard replied, “And yet here we are.”

Gabriel grumbled and hooked his foot around a spare chair, dragging it closer to her.

Ellegaard accept the invitation and sat down. She dug into her satchel as her friend grabbed her a blanket, “I brought you something.”

“Oh?” Gabe asked as he cast the blanket over her shoulders and sat back down.

“I figured you’d want something warm.” She answered as she set a thermos down on the table by them. “Stew alright?”

Gabe let out a breath of relief, “Bless you woman.”

She set a small flask on the table next as Gabriel took the thermos. “Magnus thought you’d care for some whiskey as well.”

“The liquid warmth,” Gabe laughed, “Thank you Elle.”

“Anytime.”

They sat in silence a moment as Gabriel enjoyed his meal. Then he said, “How is Magnus?”

Ellegaard shoved a wet frozen bang out of her face, “Stubborn as always.”

“How is his arm?”

“Healing well.”

“Good good! What about the kids, how are they doing?”

“Well as to be expected,” she answered.

He nodded in agreement, taking a small sip of the whiskey. “Fair enough.” he paused from his drinking as another ghoul howled. He leaned off his chair a bit, staring out solemnly into the wastelands.

Ellegaard looked as well, “It sounded pretty far.”

“Never underestimate a ghoul.” Gabe replied. “He can be a lot closer than we think.”

“I’d rather it be a ghoul then-” She flinched, unable to finish.

“Me too Elle,” the male sighed, sitting back down in his chair, “Me too.”

She rubbed her eyes, “You don’t belong up here Gabe, you are not a tower guard. You are too old for this.”

“Someone has to.” He replied, “All the actual tower guards are dead.”

“I hate having my best friend up here.”

“Elle,” Gabe soothed, “I’m old. B