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The Blood Culmination

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Frypan frowned and thumped down the ball of dough he had been kneading.

 

“What now…” he muttered, as he watched his two best fishers come arguing up the trail to the kitchens.

 

He passed the back of his hand wearily across his brow, aware he was probably leaving a streak of flour across his forehead, but not caring overly. He was also aware it probably wasn’t the only one.

 

“This better be good,” he warned, the minute they were in earshot. “I got twenty-four more loaves to go before the wake-up, and if Aris doesn’t make with the firewood a lot quicker than he has been the last few mornings there won’t be any breakfast at all.”

 

Frypan cast a meaningful look over at his helpers. Sure enough, Clarisse had given up kneading her own set of loaves in favour of stopping to watch the conversation play out and Omar had paused, knife in mid-air, over a pile of potato peelings that wasn’t getting any higher. At his sharp look, they dropped their gazes and got hastily back to work. He turned back toward his delinquent fishers.

 

“I need you two out on the water with the rest of the crew, and back here with your quota of fish for supper, by afternoon. Not running around here waking up every shank in camp!”

 

The pair exchanged a look. Glader slang still tended to strike the other haven-dwellers as funny or strange, but this time neither of them laughed. 

 

 “Sorry Fry, but—“ Daryl began.

 

“Yeah, sorry Boss,” Quentin cut across him, “but that’s just it. We were out on the water, but then we saw—

 

“A boat,” Daryl jumped in again, “we saw a boat.”

 

“Daryl thinks it was a boat, but—“

 

“It was a boat. What else could it have been?”

 

“What kind of boat is shaped like that?”

 

“It was moving against the tide!”

 

Would you two slintheads shut up for just one second and tell me what is going on?!” Frypan shouted.

 

___

 

Thomas had had this dream before.

 

Although knowing it was a dream didn’t make it any easier to wake up, somehow. These were the dreams that never seemed to let him go. The kind that felt so vivid, so real, it left his head throbbing when he finally woke; his gut churning, and his clothes damp and cold with sweat.

 

The kind he was sure weren’t dreams at all, but memories. Breaking through the walls in his mind.

 

And this one wasn’t new.

 

He is back at WCKD, sitting at his terminal, glued to the image playing out on the panel in front of him. Teresa is there. Thomas can feel her eyes on him, the way he always can when he knows she’s watching him, but right now he can’t look away from what he’s seeing. Even in sleep, Thomas can feel the start of a cold sweat, knowing what comes next.

 

In the dream, he leans closer to the panel, searching for some clue of what it is Newt is after. The Gladers have tried it before, a few times now, and there’s just no point climbing the ivy. It rarely goes all the way to the top, and where it does, there’s no where to go from on top of the wall.

 

Even in the dream, the Thomas watching the screen knows this isn’t anything like an innocent diversion, just something to stave off the boredom of countless afternoons without purpose in the Glade. Newt has been climbing steadily for some time now. He pauses – to catch his breath, and look up at what the dreaming Thomas knows now was never the sky.

 

The Glade sun is starting to angle lower, the light in the maze growing more golden-orange by the moment. The doors will close soon. The walls Newt clings so precariously to will shift and move. With a mighty rumbling of ground and a terrible grinding of gears, dark will fall in the maze, where no Glader has yet to survive the night. This climb, whatever else it might be, is no game. 

 

Newt drops his head in exhaustion, gathering his strength, and continues making his way up the wall. Thomas can feel his body twist in his sleep, his hands curled in fists, but the dream – the memory – plays on.

 

By the time Newt nears the top Thomas can see his breathing is ragged, his hands raw from desperately gripping the tough vines. It’s a struggle to make it over the edge to the top, and Newt nearly doesn’t make it. Twice he tries to hoist himself up and over the edge, and he looks almost ready to give up, letting his body sag down into the ivy leaves and looking down at the drop below him.

 

It’s dizzying, and Thomas sees Newt squeeze his eyes shut, steeling himself one last time before he finally heaves himself up and over the edge to the top of the wall.

 

Thomas catches Teresa’s eye in the dream, just as a seasick wave of nerves seizes his stomach, but their eyes only meet for a second. They are both watching Newt on the screen now.

 

Newt is standing on top of the wall, as if dazed to have actually made it. He stares down at his hands a moment, at what the ivy has done to his palms. Then he squeezes them tight, presses his face into his fists, and Thomas wants to call out to him, tell him to stop whatever mad thing he is up to.

 

Newt.“ It comes out as nothing more than a whisper in front of Thomas’s screen.

 

There’s blood streaking Newt’s cheeks and forehead when he finally brings his hands away. He steps forward to the edge of the wall, and Thomas feels the nausea push painfully through him again. What is he doing?

 

Newt steps forward far enough the toes of his sneakers point off the edge of the wall and into empty space. Thomas watches as he stands there, tipping dangerously forward, staring morosely down to the floor of the maze, storeys below.

 

By this point in the dream, Thomas’s breath has stopped. Any second Newt could fall – or worse.

 

He never sees. By now, Thomas’s head is pounding, his heart racing, and the image of Newt changes to the one he only wishes could be a forgotten memory.

 

Newt’s eyes are black as the night sky behind him. Dark, sickening veins are spidered across his friend’s face and skin. Thomas tries to move, to twist away, but Newt is straddling him, pinning him with an unnatural strength, just like he had done on that night – the night that always finally succeeds in waking him – and Newt raises the knife in his hands…

 

Something hit Thomas in the shoulder, just as the blade was coming down.

 

A second blow landed and Thomas groaned, blinking as his eyes finally seemed able to come open.

 

“Rise and shine, Greenie.”

 

Gally’s was just about the last face Thomas wanted to see whenever he woke up like this, but even through the dull throbbing still fogging up his head, and the receding images left by the dream, Thomas could see that something was wrong.

 

The thing Gally had been poking at his shoulder with, seemed to be the butt of a rifle.

 

“Hey, sleeping beauty. What’re you waiting for, a kiss?” Minho remarked from beside him.

 

He was securing a vicious-looking knife to his belt as he spoke, while Frypan looked on from behind them, his flour-streaked features holding a look of concern. But it was what Minho said next that had Thomas fully awake and moving in an instant.

 

“Up and at ’em, dude. We got incoming.”

 

___

 

It took less time than Thomas would have expected to muster a scouting party. Once he was up, the boys wasted no time in finding Vince, who had them armed, briefed – although there really wasn’t much information to go on – and marching off over the grass in what felt to Thomas like less than ten minutes.

 

Vince led them away from camp and up into the hills at a pace. Jorge and Brenda were there, right on his heels, clutching their sidearms and looking almost eager, as if itching for some action in what Thomas could admit had been a rather quiet existence so far on the island.

 

Nobody spoke as they made their way. Thomas kept up, flanked by Minho and Frypan, silently feeling the unfamiliar weight of the handgun Vince had outfitted him with at his hip, and nursing a vague nervousness in his gut he hadn’t felt in a long time. Gally and his shotgun brought up the rear.

 

Vince gestured for them to draw up behind the cover of the rocks that lined the top of the cliff’s face. From there they could look down and get a full view of the area where Frypan indicated his fishing crew had reported something headed for the island, without being seen.

 

Thomas dropped to a knee next to Brenda, who was crouched behind a mossy boulder. She turned to look at him, her eyes bright with adrenaline. She was like a picture of the day they met, suddenly. He had forgotten she used to look like this.

 

Thomas offered a small smile that he hoped looked calm and composed. He didn’t know what they were going to find, but hopefully all of this turned out to be overkill – for what so far was one sighting of one boat, that Daryl and Quentin couldn’t even agree was a boat in the first place.

 

They waited as the rest of the group crowded up behind them, then Vince gave them a nod. Thomas looked to meet Brenda’s eyes again, but she was already moving slowly into position to peer around the edge of the rock in front of them. Thomas carefully followed suit.

 

Sure enough, a boat had landed on the shore. If you could call it a boat.

 

The strange craft appeared to have started out as a life raft from an old ship, just like the ones Thomas had seen around the shipyard where Vince had brought them all once, so they could make the passage to their new home. The raft was rigged up with an outboard motor and a makeshift lean-to made of scavenged timber, in an attempt to provide some protection from the elements. Thomas could see the canvas roof flapping slightly in the breeze. It was almost more like a water-going tent than anything else. No wonder Quentin and Daryl couldn’t agree on what they had seen.

 

Whoever was captaining the ramshackle craft didn’t seem to have made much of a secret of their landing either. As the group watched, still crouched behind the rocks and listening to each other catch their breath after their swift hike, somebody rounded the far side of the raft.

 

It looked like a man, slim and dressed from head to toe against the elements in rugged, weathered looking clothing. His head was covered by a battered-looking hat, and he bent to take up a rope tied to the nose of the vessel in both gloved hands. Thomas watched as the man straightened up with the rope over his shoulder, setting his whole weight against it as he dragged his launch far enough ashore to beach it securely.

 

There was something about this stranger. Something about his posture and the thin-limbed movements that sent strange a chill of warning washing down Thomas’s spine.

 

It appeared the man was alone, but until they could get a look inside the boat and its tattered shelter, there was no way to be sure. As if echoing his thoughts, Vince spoke up.

 

“Okay. It looks like our visitor isn’t going to be too much for a small group of us to handle. But I still want us to stay alert. We have no idea what we’re dealing with. Who that is, whether there’s more coming, and what it is that they want with our beach.”

 

Thomas got to his feet as the team shuffled around Vince, ready to take orders.

 

“Immunes only, with me,” he began, pragmatically.

 

“Brenda, you’re the eyes.” Brenda nodded avidly, putting out a hand for the walkie-talkie he was passing her. “Take the walkie, and you can wait up here. Things get hairy down there, or you see anything else on the horizon that ain’t no seagull, you radio back to camp for backup. Don’t come down, you got me? Not until you’re coming with the whole cavalry. You’ll do more good getting the others here than putting yourself in harm’s way.”

 

“Sure thing,” she agreed, stowing her sidearm and taking the radio from Vince with a look in her eye Thomas knew full well meant she could be trusted to go along with the plan – until she didn’t feel like it.

 

Thomas grinned knowingly at her from behind Vince’s back. He took in her responding smirk and shoved down his feeling of nagging nerves. He was still hopeful it really was just the one guy down there and she wouldn’t need to break rank and come running to their rescue, anyway. 

 

“Jorge my man,” Vince said next, “I’m gonna need you to leg it back to camp. Round up the usual suspects and the rest of the weapons – and I know this is the challenge, but try and keep a low profile. If you get any questions, go ahead and squash the rumours though. We wanna avoid a panic. Tell ’em exactly what we saw – looks like one lonely guy just trying to survive on a dinghy, shouldn’t be much of a threat. …But wait for the all clear from Brenda, just in case.”

 

Jorge took the radio he was offered gamely, but his eyes were on Brenda, waiting.

 

“I’m good,” she reassured him, with a smile that looked like she was trying hard not to roll her eyes. “You go.”


“Okay.” Jorge patted her indulgently on the side of the neck, before turning to Vince. “You got it, hermano,” he agreed.

 

Then he wished them all good luck and turned and headed back the way they had come at a jog.

 

“The rest of you with me,” Vince finished, but they were already lining up, ready to follow along behind him.

 

Thomas reached out to squeeze Brenda’s arm before they moved off, and heard the rest of the guys behind him bumping her fist and murmuring quiet biddings of luck and that she be safe as they passed her. Then Vince and the boys threaded their way along the top of the cliffs, toward the pathway down to the beach.


The morning sun was starting to climb into the sky. Thomas took in the feel of it on his shoulders, the cry of the gulls overhead, and tried to collect his thoughts as they made their descent. When they reached the beach they would come out of the cover of the rocks, and the new arrival on the shore would see them coming.

 

That would be it, the moment of truth. They would know soon enough then what this was – whether it was some kind of trap, maybe with more boats like this one on the way, or other occupants of the craft already hiding out in the rocks to surround them. Or maybe it was just some poor sap trying to find somewhere safe from the horrors of what they used to refer to as ‘The Scorch’. An actual survivor.

 

But then there was the worst case, and the reason Vince had insisted only immunes go down to the beach. Maybe they were about to encounter somebody who was sick, and not in their right mind. A Crank, Thomas thought – realizing he hadn’t used the word in what felt like ages – the one thing they couldn’t allow to pass their shores.

 

Thomas could only imagine what might have happened to the world outside of their safe haven in the time they’d been here. The times he had spent in The Scorch had been brief but brutal, and these days, they were times he put a lot of energy into trying to forget.

 

Thomas shoved the morbid thoughts away, reminded himself that they had no reason to suspect any of that, not yet. He could see the boys walking next to him seemed to be having similar thoughts, though. Minho and Frypan had drawn their handguns, while Gally and Vince had never lowered their rifles yet at all.

 

They came out into the open. The sand squashing under their boots slowed their progress a little, but still they came forward as a group and without hesitation. Thomas gripped the handle of his weapon tightly, and breathed in the sea air, ready.


The man on the beach hadn’t noticed them quite yet. He was busy bent over the side of his raft, unloading various items onto the sand. Apparently he had plans to stay.

 

Again, something about watching the stranger at work struck Thomas strangely, but he didn’t have much time to wonder what it was.

 

Just then, the man seemed to catch sight of their small party on the approach. He straightened up from his task, putting one hand to his back and raising the other to shade his eyes from the sun, in a pose so familiar it made Thomas’s insides give a painful twist.

 

“What the…” Frypan said quietly from beside him, as if he had had the same thought that was threatening at the corners of Thomas’s mind, and squeezing at his heart.

 

It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. Thomas’s mind swam, as the newcomer swept the ratty hat off his head, waving it in the air in a show of friendly greeting and letting the sun light up a slightly longish shock of hair in a distinctive shade of strawberry-gold.

 

Minho had already moved past them and ahead of Vince. He charged forward a few quick paces for a better look before coming to a dead stop.

 

 “Shuck me,” Thomas heard him curse. Just as Gally stumbled to a stop behind them, spraying the backs of their boots in a brief shower of sand with a quiet “Holy shit.”

 

There was no mistaking it anymore, as the newcomer started toward them, lowering the hand shading his gaze and finally affording them a full view of his face.

 

It was Newt.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Minho got there first.

It was all Thomas could do to keep moving. His mind went blank, his ears rang – it was like he had taken a physical blow to the head. His vision sizzled blurry and black around the edges; eyes watery and stinging as he kept on, unblinking in the bright sunlight with his gaze locked on the impossible scene in front of him.

At some point Newt had noticed his welcome party was armed. He retreated a few instinctive-looking steps, hands raised in the air. But soon they were close enough Thomas could see his expression change from uncertainty to a grin of outright joy as Newt recognized the leader of the group rushing toward him over the sand.

Newt was hidden completely from sight for a moment by the utter exuberance of Minho’s embrace, and Thomas worried for a second that he had knocked him over in his excitement. After a moment, though, he saw Newt’s arms go around his friend’s back and they managed to stay upright even as Minho rocked him energetically back and forth on the sand in celebration.

Minho held on for a minute, only pulling back as the rest of the group drew up. He was still holding him by the shoulder as if, if he let go, Newt could disappear on them again.

Thomas could relate to the feeling.

“How,” Minho was asking incredulously, finally dropping his hold on Newt’s shoulder. “…How?”

It was a surprise to see the giddy looking smile fall away from Newt’s face.

“Forgotten where you left me already then?” His tone was an echo of old quips of teasing admonishment they had all known well, but his look was dark. “On WCKD’s bloody doorstep?”

He didn’t see Minho react. The words didn’t even have time to land, before Newt turned to take in the rest of the group and his eyes landed on Thomas.

“Tommy—” Newt’s tone was as oddly flat as the sudden frozen look that had taken his features.

Thomas knew he was staring right back.

It was the sound of his name that did it. His name as only Newt had ever said it, and it felt like something inside of him broke.

Everything seemed to stop. His heart stopped, his breath. His ears stopped ringing because everything suddenly felt like it had gone silent.

“Newt.” Thomas strode the last few paces forward, throwing his arms around Newt in a disbelieving hug to rival Minho’s in intensity.

It was strange. For a moment of reeling, frozen shock, Newt didn’t move at all.

Thomas held on tighter and reminded himself to breathe, wishing he didn’t remember that the last time he held onto Newt like this, there had been a blade between them. Ripping into both of them and taking his friend from him, for what he thought then was going to be forever.

But now somehow, impossibly – stunningly, paralyzingly impossibly – the universe had given Newt back to him. And he had to know; Thomas needed him to know, that he would never hurt him. He was never going to let anything hurt him again.

The moment of shock seemed to pass. Newt gave a sharp, surprised-sounding breath in and responded, throwing his arms around Thomas and gripping him tight.

Thomas didn’t know how long they stood there, he just hung on.

It was Thomas who let go first though, finally remembering that there was more to the world than just clinging this way, feeling Newt breathe and letting himself dare to believe this. He released him with a little difficulty, then tried not to feel the bitter little jab in his chest, while he watched Newt’s face light up all over again as he caught sight of Frypan, Gally and Vince and treated them to the same simply overjoyed greetings he had bestowed on Minho.

“So, WCKD can bring people back from the dead now?” Gally asked, with his usual level of tact, just as they had all finished grinning and slapping each other warmly on the back.

A shadow crossed the sunny expression on Newt’s face, but then he tipped his head thoughtfully and gave a wry quirk of his mouth as if to confirm that wasn’t actually too far from the truth.

“I’m beginning to think they can do anything.”

Newt turned his back, ostensibly to address the pile of items he had been unloading from his raft, but also conveniently hiding whatever other reactions might have been showing on his face.

Minho served a bristling look at Gally, who only widened his eyes and shrugged, his mouth silently forming the word ‘what?’

He didn’t need to point out that they were all obviously thinking it. Thomas himself was so full of questions, he couldn’t have figured out which one to ask first even if it had looked like Newt was up for answering.

When Newt turned back to face the group, he had retrieved a knapsack from the pile, and was strapping it securely over his shoulders.

“Guess WCKD finally was good for something after all, yeah?”

Thomas frowned, not sure what to make of the words.

Having Newt back was amazing, he was still reeling with it, but it came with the news that WCKD was still there, still taking people. Still messing with the few things in the world he cared about.

“It is good to see you,” Vince told Newt. He stepped forward to stand between him and the other boys in a way that said that any more questions were going to wait, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Even if – hate to say it, kid – you look pretty terrible.”

Newt ducked his head and gave a dry chuckle. “Two weeks on a floating crumpet’ll do that,” he admitted, giving a wave over his shoulder at his strange little vessel.

Thomas had been so caught up in the miraculous impossibility of it, of Newt standing in front of them alive and whole, he hadn’t looked closely enough to notice, but it was true. Newt’s face and clothes were dirty, his hair dank-looking and matted. There were dark marks under his eyes that it looked like even a week of sleep might not be able to erase, and his cheeks had a sunken, drawn look as if he had needed to ration his supplies pretty carefully over the course of his trip.

Despite the way it made his chest ache, and his hands want to ball up into fists, Thomas could agree that whatever had happened to Newt, the story should probably wait.

“Two weeks,” Vince marveled. “I don’t know how you managed it.”

“You, mate,” Newt replied, immediately. “It was all you. How many times did we go over it, back when we were planning our crossing here? It was all there, right where we left it in the shipyard. Your maps, all the little islands and landings, how to go around the leeward side of everything. Damn good thing too,” Newt concluded, with a gesture over his shoulder at the raft. “I never could have risked much time on open water aboard little Lizzy here.”

“Lizzy?” Minho’s brow was furrowed skeptically.

Newt turned to him, grinning again and squinting against the sun, and looking suddenly a lot more like the boy Thomas had known.

“Every good captain gives his yacht a good strong name, for luck.” Newt looked over at the modified raft for a quiet second, and then shrugged. “It just came to me.”

“Well, say goodbye to old Lizzy for now,” Vince put in, clasping Newt’s shoulder again and pointing the way back to camp. “I want to get you up that hill, and checked out. All of us here on Haven Island are healthy – but not all immune.”

“Understood.” Newt nodded gravely, gripping the straps of his knapsack and checking out the climb ahead of them. “If WCKD can be believed, I’m clean, but I’ll go wherever you need me.”

“We got a med shack that’s separated a little ways from the camp,” Vince said. “We’ll get you settled in there, and have Sonya take a look at you.”

“Sonya’s here?” he asked, and Thomas had the fleeting thought that he might never get tired of looking at Newt’s smile. “Harriet? And Aris?”

“Out hunting, and avoiding chores,” Vince replied. “Respectively.”

Newt shook his head with an incredulous smile. “How many people you got here?”

“A hundred and seventy two,” Vince answered. “…With a couple more on the way come the fall.”

Newt raised an eyebrow, and cast a glance around at the rest of the group. Minho raised his hands in the air in a gesture of innocence. They all snickered.

“We’ll give you the full tour after we get you all checked out,” Vince concluded. “And Frypan can get you something to eat; put some meat on those bones.”

“You took the words out of my mouth, man,” Frypan piped up, beaming happily at Newt.

Vince set off, leading the way. Newt turned and cast a final look at his battered dinghy, before he turned and followed, escorted by Minho and Frypan.

The walk over the beach was short, but Thomas hung back, watching his friends make it happily together. Frypan gabbling happily away about things like fritters and bacon, and Minho putting his hand out every minute or so, to pat Newt’s shoulder or squeeze his elbow – even chuck his knuckles gently against Newt’s jaw once – finding ways to reach out and touch and still giving Thomas the impression he was concerned Newt could up and vanish if he stopped for too long.

Thomas couldn’t blame him. He was still wrestling with the feeling that when they did get their answers about Newt’s time with WCKD, they weren’t going to like any of them all that much.

Gally turned back once to see if Thomas was keeping up, but still he took another second to watch them all go, breathing in the sea air and feeling the ground under his feet, seeing Newt walking ahead of him and assuring himself he was actually awake.

Then he followed behind, not caring if anybody noticed how he kept his pace regulated enough to stay at the back of the group, so as never to have to let Newt out of his sight.

Chapter Text

 

 

Newt slept for two days straight.

 

Sonya had given Newt a clean bill of health almost immediately, but she had also taken one look at him and ordered him to several days of bedrest just as decisively.

 

Apparently he had needed it.

 

Thomas hadn’t slept much himself. Not that that was new.

 

Even from the clifftops, it had evidently been so clear exactly what was going on down at the beach, that Brenda had radioed more than just the standard ‘all clear’ back to Jorge and his posse of gathering volunteers. The whole camp was already buzzing with the news of Newt’s arrival by the time Thomas and the others had even gotten back, and it hadn’t stopped since.

 

It was wearing. Had Thomas ever imagined it – and he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t – he would have thought having Newt back would be a relief. Like a weight that never seemed to leave him these past years had suddenly lifted.

 

Instead it was a strain. Frypan had been bringing Newt his meals, and Minho and even Brenda had been by to visit a couple times - though Newt had been asleep both times, and Sonya had shooed them swiftly away. Still somehow, everyone seemed to think Thomas would know more than anybody else. Even people who had never met Newt didn’t seem to be able to help themselves from asking – how Newt was doing, how this was possible, when he would be up and about, and what kind of role he was going to take around the island once he was.

 

His answer was always the same. No news. Newt was resting, and Thomas had stayed clear of the med shacks for his sake. He didn’t know a thing.

 

They meant well, but their questions needled him. How could he know? How could they not realize he was asking himself the very same things, day in and day out?

 

He tried to distract himself with the usual chores, chopping firewood and helping the gardeners haul bushels of vegetables up to the kitchens. But his mind just didn’t seem to be capable of focusing on anything else. It was constantly stuck on Newt. Newt, Newt.

 

Newt, standing in the sun, one hand up like always to shade his eyes from the glare while the light picked out the gold in his hair and set it ablaze. Newt, black veined and eyes bestial, wrestling Thomas’s gun from his hands to press to his own temple. Climbing the ivy in his dreams.

 

Standing mind-shatteringly in front of him on the beach, and giving the credit to WCKD.

 

Newt, laying eyes on him and freezing dead still, when he looked at everybody else with open and uncomplicated rejoicing. Newt. Tense and paralyzed when Thomas touched him, like he was expecting some sort of attack.

 

He thought about it all damn day. And he didn’t have any more answers than anybody else.

 

Thomas had taken to finding chores that took him away from camp, just to get some time alone. Just now, he had come to the edge of the forest to scrape pelts for Harriet, but it seemed he hadn’t gone far enough. He was just sharpening his knife, when Minho came hiking swiftly over the ridge.

 

“Hey man,” Minho said, when he reached him. “Awesome news. Newt’s up. Sonya says we can see him.“

 

“Okay.” Thomas looked up at him from where he was crouched over the pelts on the ground and offered him a brief smile and a nod. He gave the knife a couple more strokes with the stone.

 

“Okay,” Minho repeated. “So hustle that ass. Let’s go,” he said, giving a nod back over his shoulder toward the path back to camp.

 

“…I told Harriet I’d do this,’ Thomas demurred. He put a hand up to scratch at the back of his neck, the way he always did when he was uncomfortable. Then he cursed himself internally, knowing it would give him away. “You go ahead. I’ll head down after.”

 

Sure enough, Minho’s eyes were narrowed. He frowned impatiently.

 

“Man, Harriet doesn’t give a flying one. Winter is months away.”

 

“It won’t take me all day,” Thomas promised. “I’ll be down later.”

 

“Thomas, man, what is going on with you?” Minho’s hands landed on his hips in the way that meant his generally short temper was fraying. “You’ve been hiding out from everybody for days, ever since Newt got back. Even Brenda didn’t know where you were. I had to ask Aris!” he exclaimed, taking his hands off his hips to throw them emphatically up in the air. “...That creepy little dude knows everything, especially when it comes to you. It’s weird,” Minho concluded, with a declaratory jab of his finger in Thomas’s direction.

 

Thomas sighed. He spread the first pelt out, and smoothed his hands over it carefully. Stalling. He didn’t know if he could find the words to explain himself. Of course he was going to go see Newt. Eventually.

 

“I just…it’s a lot to take in, that’s all.” Thomas picked up the knife again.

 

“Yeah,” Minho agreed. “It’s batshit. Which is why everybody’s dying to see him – our long lost best friend – and figure all this crap out. Me, Frypan, Brenda. But you haven’t even tried to go down there—"

 

“Come on!” Thomas interrupted him, a little more roughly than he’d meant to. He forced himself to relax his grip on the knife handle, although it took him a second or so longer to be able to tear his gaze off the pelt and make himself look up and meet Minho’s eyes. “You saw him, Minho. The way Newt looked at me, the day he got here. What if Newt doesn’t want me going down there at all?”

 

Thomas gave the corner of the pelt a few hard scrapes, as if to show he was determined to do his work before he went anywhere.

 

“What?” Minho responded, not buying it for a second. “You don’t know that!”

 

“You weren’t there, okay!?” Thomas shot back. Everything he had been struggling to process in the past few days felt like it was threatening to boil over. He shoved the pelt away from himself with an angry swipe, rolled back on his heels so he was sitting down on the ground. He noticed he was still holding the pelt knife and he tossed that away too. Thomas drew his knees up and let his head hang. He pushed his hands into his hair. “The day we lost him,” he said, his tone low, “the day we thought we took down WCKD…”

 

How could he explain it? The memory of pulling back to see the knife between them. His knife. Or the desperate way he had scrabbled and caught at Newt’s body as he fell – as if he could catch hold of the soul he could feel slipping away, and hold it in.

 

“You didn’t see it,” Thomas muttered. “You didn’t have to watch him turn, and then try to—”

 

Thomas didn’t see a way to make anybody understand, ever. The helplessness of feeling Newt’s life going out of him, right under his hands. Hearing the last stunned word out of Newt’s mouth be his name.

 

Thomas gave up. He picked his head up and looked his friend in the eye. “I killed him, Minho.”

 

Minho didn’t flinch.

 

“Would you shut your precious shuck mouth and listen to me for once?” he said. “Not everything is about you, Thomas.”

 

Thomas didn’t know what kind of response he had been expecting, but this one surprised him enough he ended up doing exactly that.

 

“Look,” Minho said, even as he turned away from Thomas. He strode over to the discarded knife and pelt and picked them up. “I don’t talk about it,” he began, dumping the pelt at Thomas’s feet, “because I can’t.” Minho flicked the knife down next, so that it stuck smartly into the ground and would need to be sharpened all over again. “But if Newt’s time at WCKD was anything like mine…” Minho crossed his arms over his chest and turned his back, taking a few steps away from him again. “Then honestly I don’t know how he’s still alive at all. Even if they can raise the dead now.”

 

Minho was still turned away from him. The toe of his boot found a pebble, and pushed it through the dry leaves and pine needles that littered the ground here. Thomas stayed quiet.

 

“They have your mind, Thomas,” he said, finally. “They own it – everything. Your memories, fears… desires.” Minho gave the pebble a kick, and it skittered away into the brush. “It’s torture,” he said flatly. “That’s the whole point. And they can make you see anything. Feel anything.”

 

Minho turned around so suddenly Thomas felt his shoulders jump.

 

“My point is, you don’t have any idea what Newt’s been seeing all this time he’s been gone,” Minho laid out. “He could have been hallucinating a shuck Griever when he happened to look at you. Or maybe WCKD got off on showing him a lot of images of you suddenly morphing into Janson. Who knows! But if he’s anything like I was, it’s going to take his brain a while to recover…to trust what’s real.”

 

Thomas sighed. He was pretty sure he had been acting kind of selfish. He wasn’t the only one going through all of this.

 

He hadn’t meant to make it seem like he’d forgotten that the day they lost Newt was the day they got Minho back. The reason they went after WCKD at all had been to rescue him. Newt himself had pledged to make it happen at any cost, even knowing then that the cost might be his life.

 

And Thomas was glad every day that Minho was here.

 

“Sorry Minho,” he said sincerely. “I wasn’t thinking, I’m—”

 

“Nah,” Minho cut him off, with a wave of his hand. “I’m good. It’s Newt we gotta worry about right now,” he asserted, putting out a hand to help Thomas up off the ground.

 

Thomas let himself be pulled to his feet.

 

“Right now, what he needs is his friends,” Minho went on. “Being alone is when the mind can question, and wander. It’s better to have people close. And touch helps, you know,” Minho said, clasping him firmly by the shoulder in demonstration. “Touching isn’t really WCKD’s thing...”

 

Thomas nodded gamely. “I hope you’re right,” he said.

 

He still wasn’t sure he was ready to see what Newt’s reaction to a visit from him was going to be.

 

“Trust me,” Minho said.

 

Well, Thomas figured he owed him that much, at least.

 

He dug for a smile. Then he clapped Minho on the shoulder the way his friend just showed him, and resolved to try his best.

 

 

___

 

 

Brenda met them on the path to the med shacks.

 

Some of what was going though Thomas’s head must have been showing all over his face, because she took his hand as they walked, and she didn’t let go for a while.

 

He gave her hand a squeeze to let her know he appreciated it. Brenda hadn’t held his hand for a long time. It wasn’t until they neared the med shacks and she let go, that Thomas realized he couldn’t remember the last time she had even tried.

 

Sonya seemed happy to see them, telling them Newt would be glad they were here, and she left them to their visit, setting off to go find Harriet.

 

Newt did seem happy when they walked in. He was sitting up on one of the cots, holding an apple in his hands and turning it around and around between his fingers like he was more interested in examining it than eating it.

 

“Hey, guys!” A grin broke out on Newt’s face when he caught sight of them that nearly put all Thomas’s worries out of his mind.

 

He just had to put the thought out of his head that as Newt looked around at the three of them, he flicked his gaze past Thomas faster than the others.

 

“Brenda!” Newt exclaimed, as he scooted himself forward and to his feet, to give her a hug.

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

“Loads better than I bloody look, likely,” Newt said, sitting back down on the bed and smiling sheepishly at all of them. “Sonya’s been brilliant.”

 

Newt actually looked a lot better than the last time Thomas had seen him. It looked like his hair was still matted in places, but his face and clothes were clean. His eyes still looked tired too, but the dark circles under them were gone, and the way he was smiling lit them up with a bright energy. They all smiled back at him, but it only lasted a moment before Newt was looking down at the bedsheets awkwardly.

 

“She, ah— also said, that it’s been a little over two years. That you’ve all been here.” They nodded, but Newt didn’t look up. “Two years,” he said huskily, tracing his fingers over the skin of the apple still in his hand. “Is that really how long I’ve been gone?”

 

None of them seemed to be able to bring themselves to answer. If Newt had been in a state where he wasn’t able to keep track of time, it sounded like his stay at WCKD had been a lot more like Minho’s than any of them wanted to think about. Minho reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. Newt shut his eyes and smiled.

 

“What happened?” Minho found the guts to talk first. “How did you escape?”

 

“I didn’t,” Newt answered simply. “They let me go.”

 

In the short, stunned silence that followed, Minho and Brenda exchanged a look that needed no interpretation. It didn’t make sense. WCKD had never been known to let anything go willingly, and the times in the past they thought they had made it out, it had turned out to be nothing more than part of WCKD’s scheme anyway. This act from them was suspicious.

 

Newt wasn’t paying Minho and Brenda any attention, though. He was looking steadily at Thomas, suddenly.

 

“Had what they wanted, didn’t they?” he said, cryptically. “After they had taken their fill, of course.”

 

The way Newt was looking at him was doing nothing for Thomas’s nerves. Up until now, Newt had been behaving like he didn’t want anything to do with him. Now that Newt was focused on him, Thomas almost wished he would stop. There was a hard look in the dark eyes that made his blood run cold.

 

“Newt,” Brenda said slowly, “what do you mean?”

 

“Why don’t you ask Tommy, here?” Newt said, and the sudden sharpness in his tone surprised them all. “Well I don’t remember much, do I?” he snapped bitterly, when none of them spoke. “I was cranking out, remember?”

 

Thomas’s mouth opened, but no words came to him. He could feel Minho’s eyes on him, his expression just as shocked as Thomas felt. Thomas knew he didn’t need to say this was what he had been afraid of. He had tried to tell Minho this wasn’t a good idea.

 

But then Newt’s mood seemed to pass as quickly as it had come on.

 

“Sorry guys,” he was muttering, eyes sadly downcast again. “I’m sorry,” he said again, more firmly when he looked up at all of them.

 

Minho’s hand landed on Newt’s shoulder again. “It’s okay, man,” he said bracingly. “It’s okay.”

 

Newt sighed and looked back down at his hands. His fingers found a blemish in the apple’s skin, and he picked at it with a thumb nail.

 

“I woke up at WCKD,” Newt said, his eyes still cast downward and his tone wooden. “They didn’t tell me a lot. I don’t even know how long they’d had me by then. Most of the time I wasn—” Newt broke off and sighed again, as if bringing himself back to the topic. As if describing what it had been like would be something they wouldn’t care to hear.

 

“I don’t know much,” he reiterated. “Just that when they found me, I had lost a lot of blood. But they said what little I had left…” Newt tore his gaze away from the apple and looked up at them.  “Was completely free of the Flare.”

 

Now all of them were looking at Thomas.

 

“Your blood—” Brenda faltered.

 

Newt nodded. “Running through my veins.” The hard look was gone from his eyes now, replaced by something else. Something sad. Something like fear. “I don’t know what I did to you to get it, and I don’t know that I want to.”


Teresa had tried to tell them about it that day, how Thomas’s blood was different from other immunes’. That it didn’t just resist the virus, it went after it, cured it. It was the reason Brenda was still here, standing next to them. And apparently now Newt too.

 

It made sense he supposed, but it still felt like a shock. His blood. Had that really been all it would have taken? No serum, no Doctors? No WCKD.

 

He looked at Newt sitting there, looking up through his matted bangs at them with that new raw, stripped look in his eyes. It hurt.

 

He had thought WCKD was done hurting him, and the people he cared about. He felt a muscle jump in his jaw.

 

Thomas saw Newt notice it. He watched as he blinked, and took a breath, but his voice was still shaky when it came out.

 

“Just tell me I didn’t—did I try to… to bite you or—” Newt broke off, his expression full of revulsion.

 

His eyes looked pained and his brows were furrowed together so hard that Thomas was struck by the strangest urge to reach out and smooth the creases between them away.

 

“There was a knife,” he blurted. “It was a knife.”

 

Thomas wished he had found a less harsh way to put it. He had just been so anxious to wipe that look of anguish off Newt’s face, that he had said the first thing that came to him. It obviously hadn’t been very reassuring.

 

Newt’s look had gone distant. “The knife,” he repeated listlessly. “The knife was real...”

 

He brought a hand up to his chest and pressed his fingers to his sternum as if they would find it pierced and wet with blood, the way Thomas remembered. The way he still tried every night to forget.

 

“You…you weren’t yourself,” Thomas tried, haltingly. He was only vaguely aware of his friends staring back and forth between them. It was a story they had never really heard Thomas tell in full.

 

But he only had eyes for Newt, who was pulling his hand away from his remembered wound and looking at it like he was surprised not to see blood. Newt looked back up at him, his expression still raw, and open. Waiting.

 

“Minho and Brenda were coming with the serum, and I tried to— to make you wait,” Thomas went on. “...We fought. You – kept trying to hurt yourself. You took my gun and tried, but I stopped you. Then you got the knife…”


“And that time I went for you first,” Newt cut in. His voice had that odd hollowness to it Thomas had first heard when he had said his name two days ago, down on the beach.

 

Thomas put his hand out, to lay it over Newt’s like Minho had told him, but Newt wasn’t looking at him and he drew it back before it landed. He wasn’t sure anymore whether it would help or hurt. He watched Newt’s thumb nails dig into the apple’s skin instead, scraping into the resistant flesh hard enough to look painful.

 

 ‘You weren’t yourself, Newt,” he said again. “It wasn’t you.”

 

Newt just shook his head, and tossed the injured apple aside. Minho and Brenda exchanged a glance.

 

Thomas felt helpless again, that same useless way he had felt back in the Last City, watching Newt’s blood pool out onto the concrete, with nothing to be done, no way to make it stop. He hated it. 

 

“I’m sorry, Tommy,” Newt whispered. He cleared his throat, and spoke a little louder. “I’m glad you’re alright.”

 

Thomas shook his head, he wanted to say something. Something to make it clear that Newt had nothing to be sorry for, but when Newt finally looked up again, he was still apologizing.

 

“Sorry guys,” he said. His voice was steady now, although his brown eyes sparkled with tears. “Sorry I can’t tell you more.”

 

“It’s okay,” Minho told him.

 

Newt gave them a small smile. He sniffed, and wiped the backs of his knuckles unabashedly across the corners of his eyes. “I’ll get better,” he promised.


“You’re damn right, you will.” Minho reaffirmed. He put his hand out for Newt’s shoulder and Thomas watched again, the way it made Newt’s eyes close gratefully. “We’re gonna make you.”

 

Newt’s smile got a little wider, a little closer to looking heartfelt. “Good that,” he acknowledged. “Thanks guys.”

 

“Come on,” Brenda said, looking at Thomas and Minho. It was clear the visit was over. “We’ll let you get back to your rest.”

 

They walked out, blinking in sunlight that felt harsh and too bright, and when Thomas made the excuse of going out to the bush to retrieve Harriet’s stuff, Minho didn’t even try to follow him.

 

Thomas’s mind was spinning.

 

Part of him wanted nothing more than to rush back down there, and do what Minho claimed was best – just throw his arms around Newt, hold onto him and refuse to let go. Like he had done the other day on the beach. But the rest of him was still sure that Newt would be happier if he didn’t, and as much as it hurt to admit, that part of him was just glad to be away from the med shacks. Away from the hardened, painful way Newt’s eyes got when he looked at him.

 

He had been apprehensive and unsure what to expect before going to see Newt, that was true. But the one thing he had thought would come out of it would be some answers. Instead, Thomas had been the one doing most of the explaining, and somehow that left him feeling even more confused.

 

If Newt truly didn’t remember the last time they had been together, then it had to be something else that seemed to make him react to Thomas differently than he did to everybody else. Something that didn’t seem like it could be good, and he was no closer to figuring that out.

 

He tried to work on the pelts, if for nothing but an excuse to stay out in the brush by himself awhile. But it was no good. He couldn’t focus. The knife slipped and he cut himself twice before giving up.

 

Thomas stared at the streak of red sliding down the side of his finger and seeping into the creases where it bent. Had it been this simple all along? Could he have saved Newt with a simple prick of their fingers, or had it only worked because Newt had had so little blood left of his own? Had WCKD done something to revive him, or had his heart not stopped completely?

 

Thomas had been so sure. He had felt Newt die. He still felt it, all the time, when he shut his eyes to sleep at night.  Now, he might never know.

 

They might have left their best friend alive and bleeding on WCKD’s doorstep, as Newt had put it. Ripe for the taking and with the cure – the mythical, damned and blessed cure – already moving slowly through his veins.

 

And now, they had no idea what kinds of things WCKD might have done to Newt’s mind. Although Thomas remembered his words on hearing what had happened – that the knife was real. Minho had been right. It looked like Newt was going to need time, and probably their help, to piece together what was a Flare-jumbled memory, and what had been planted there, courtesy of WCKD.

 

Their dearest friend was broken. They had no idea how badly. And despite Minho’s not-wrong reminder that everything wasn’t about him, Thomas couldn’t help but despair, just a little, that he didn’t know how much help he was actually going to be able to be.

 

Thomas wiped his hand on the back of his pants and packed up to head back to camp. He wasn’t escaping his thoughts out here any more than he would surrounded by people with too many questions. At least maybe they would be easier to answer than the ones inside his head.

 

___

 

When Thomas got back to camp, nobody seemed to have much time for him, anyway.

 

Chores were just about finished for the day, but everyone seemed to be rushing around twice as fast as usual. When Thomas caught Quentin jogging past with a tub full of corn cobs, all he would stop to tell him was if he wanted to help, to go find Frypan.

 

When he got to the kitchens, though, Thomas actually had to wait his turn. Frypan was surrounded by people asking him questions and handing him things.

 

“Oh Thomas, great,” Frypan said, when he finally laid eyes on him. “Gally could use your help getting ready, he’s down building the bonfire.”

 

“Getting ready,” Thomas asked, “ready for what?”

 

“Huh?” Frypan looked at him for a confused second.

 

“I just got back from the woods, and it’s nuts around here. What’s going on? What are we getting ready for?”

 

Frypan’s face broke out in a wide grin and he slapped Thomas jovially on the back. “Newt’s welcome party, of course!”

 

Thomas did his best to smile, hoping it would hide the way his heart sank at the words. Then he headed off to find Gally before Frypan got time to notice his shock.

 

He didn’t want to be the one to bust Frypan’s bubble, but based on what he had seen today, there was no telling how Newt was going to handle a party in his honour.

 

Thomas wasn’t sure how well he was going to handle it himself.



 

 

Chapter Text

Thomas set down the wheelbarrow and scratched his fingers through the hair at the back of his head. He was really not in the right frame of mind for this.

 

“It’s seriously not that complicated,” Gally was saying, for what felt like the one hundredth time. “When you’re done chopping, you put it in one of the stacks, check the code, and write it down here,” he said, jabbing an impatient finger at the chart he had posted on the wall.

 

The last time Thomas had been here in the woodshed, things had seemed a lot simpler. He had underestimated how much could change in a day or two once you let Gally take charge of something, apparently.

 

"I get that, it’s just—"

 

Thomas stared perplexedly around at the shelves in front of him and along the opposite wall. The whole shed looked different.

 

Last he had checked there was kindling, chopped logs, and unchopped. Simple. But now there were rows of shelving, labled meticulously with numbers and letters and apparently some kind of ‘system’ that would make sure they could always find the driest wood and make sure the old stuff got used first. And this would apparently make all of their lives a whole lot easier.

 

“If you get it, why didn’t you write anything?”

 

It didn’t feel easier to Thomas.  

 

“It’s not like it’s the shuck Maze, Golden Boy,” Gally said, his frustration obviously starting to get the better of him. “Nobody’s asking you to map the whole thing out in your brain, it’s just a simple two-digit—“

 

Thomas straightened up, ready to come back with a retort that was probably going lead to an argument, but Gally had already trailed off. His mouth hung open, as he gazed in surprise at something by the door of the shed.

 

Thomas turned around. The afternoon sun streamed in the door, lighting up the familiar silhouette cast by none other than Brenda. She had one hip leaned casually against the woodshed’s doorframe like she had been standing there a few minutes.

 

“Hey,” she greeted them, flashing Gally a smile wider than Thomas was used to seeing from her. “Need to borrow Thomas for a sec.”

 

“Whatever.” Gally’s slightly slack expression gave way to a scowl. “He’s no help anyway. I’m gonna have to re-stack all of this…”

 

“Great,” she said brightly, ignoring Gally’s grumbling. “C’mon, Golden Boy.”

 

Thomas wasn’t sure where she was taking him but he was grateful to step out of the dankness of the shed into the sun and the breeze – and away from Gally, before the two of them got into it.

 

Gally’s temper was short at the best of times, but he was obviously proud of his hew ‘system’ and Thomas’s mind simply wasn’t up to taking in anything new today. 

 

Brenda didn’t speak right away. They passed Aris at the chopping blocks, who was moving logs from one pile to another. He claimed to be sorting them by size, but Thomas suspected it was just an excuse to avoid getting down to the work of actually splitting them.

 

“So, you took off,” Brenda said with her usual candour, once they were out of earshot. “As usual, the past few days.”

 

Thomas ducked his head and dropped his gaze, watching the toes of his boots scuff through the dirt and sawdust as they walked.

 

“I get it,” Brenda said, her tone softening. “That was brutal.”

 

She didn’t have to elaborate, it was obvious she was referring to their visit that morning with Newt.

 

Thomas shrugged, even though he could feel how the tension in his shoulders made it come off jumpy and awkward.

 

“I’m okay,” he said.

 

Which was true, when you compared it to how Newt was doing.

 

Brenda scoffed. “Like hell,” she said flatly. “You can’t even remember a simple two digit code.”

 

Thomas surprised himself by laughing. It was small and wry, but still. “Sure, take his side.”

 

Brenda smiled. She had led them to the very end of the wood yard. She turned and sat down on a long log.

 

“Frypan says it’s almost time for somebody to go find Newt. Invite him to his welcome shindig,”

 

“And that somebody is supposed to be me?”

 

Brenda looked up at him from her sunny spot on the log and shrugged. Thomas sighed.

 

“Why does everybody think I’m like…the Newt Expert or something? Minho is better at this than me,” Thomas said, realizing even as he said it he was making talking to Newt sound like a way bigger deal than it should be. Like some kind of special skill, to be practiced and honed. “He can go,“ Thomas finished anyway. He tried to keep his tone light, like a suggestion and not a refusal.

 

Brenda regarded him silently for a moment, like she was deciding whether to tell him something.

 

“Look,” she said finally, “I know you never asked, but I’m going to bring it up anyway. Because I’m me.”

 

Thomas sensed a long conversation was in the off. He turned and sat down next to her.

 

“Do you ever wonder why it never happened?” she asked slowly. “You and me, I mean?”

 

Thomas pulled a face. “…I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded.

 

That got a smile out of her, if not the laugh he had been going for.

 

“Thanks,” she said, nodding sarcastically. “Feels great.”

 

Thomas bumped her shoulder with his, letting his grin fade.

 

“Come on,” he said seriously. “Obviously I think about it. Every time I look at you.” He turned and looked right now – at her big soulful eyes in her pert, sassy face. Her luxurious brown hair had gotten quite long. "I see how great you are – smart and pretty, and way, way cooler than me."

 

Brenda smiled, and looked down at the ground. Thomas was pleased that if nothing else, he could still make her blush with a compliment.

 

“I see what I’m missing out on,” he went on. “But I don’t wonder. We both know what happened – it was me.” Thomas paused, looking for the right words. Sometimes things between them seemed so long ago. “When we got here, I wasn’t…”

 

“Oh you were broken,” Brenda cut in. Always rescuing him. “That’s for sure. Maybe you still are?”

 

Thomas frowned. He wasn’t sure how to reply to that, but she wasn’t even looking at him now.

 

“You told me, Thomas,” she said, haltingly. “In the Scorch. …That I could never be her.”

 

Thomas looked away too, down at his hands. They didn’t talk about Teresa.

 

“But then she was gone,” Brenda said, her voice full of sympathy. “At first I thought… I’d give you time, you know, to grieve. To get over her.” Thomas found the place on his finger where he had cut himself that morning. He ran the edge of his thumb nail experimentally over the forming scab. “But as that time went by, I figured it out.”

 

Thomas pressed his thumb into the cut, felt it throb.

 

He waited for Brenda to tell him what she had figured out, but she had gone silent, like she was waiting for him to figure it out too. Across the wood yard, Gally had emerged from the shed to set about haranguing Aris. Thomas saw him pause in his lecture as he looked up and noticed them sitting together.

 

“Her name isn’t the one you go down to the water to stare at for hours on the memorial stone. Is it?” she said, finally.

 

Thomas looked up at her then, and she was watching him quietly.

 

“…Her name isn’t the one you call out at night.”

 

Thomas felt his heart trip oddly in its rhythm. He knew his nightmares bothered the other Haveners sometimes, but most of the time nobody mentioned it. Whatever Brenda was trying to say, they had come to it. This was about what everyone seemed to want to talk to him about. It was about Newt.

 

The throb in Thomas’s finger was a pulse now, beating steadily.

 

“So I figured it out,” Brenda repeated. “It was the Scorch all over again. I could give you all the time in the world. But, once again, I was never, ever going to be what it was that you needed.”

 

Something in Thomas’s chest went tight and he felt a pang. He had screwed up in the Scorch, he had always admitted that much, but this… He had always just thought too much time had passed, that he and Brenda had become too good as friends to turn back the clock on what might have been.

 

But she had hurt. She had waited, and hurt, and given up – and he hadn’t known.

 

“Don’t look at me like that,” she said dismissively, before Thomas could think of anything he could possibly say. “You don’t have to worry about me, I’ve moved on.”

 

He felt his eyebrows lift. By ‘moved on’, did she simply mean she had long gotten over it, or…

 

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “It’s new.”

 

So there was somebody. Thomas felt a curious smile start to creep across his face, but if she didn’t want to share, then he wasn’t going to push.

 

“Sure,” he agreed. “Just tell me it’s not with Gally, and we’re good,” he joked.

 

He gave a nod over at the chopping blocks, where Aris appeared to have successfully goaded Gally into splitting nearly half his pile of logs so far, in the name of showing him how to do it the best way.

 

Brenda didn’t laugh, she just looked at him, and gave a silent quirk of her mouth that said she would be telling him no such thing.

 

Thomas’s mouth fell open. “Bren!!”

 

Sure. Now she laughed. And treated him to a trademark roll of her of her eyes.

 

“He’s not a bad guy, Thomas,” she said, firmly. “He says what he means, he’s…tall.” Brenda trailed off with a shrug, as her gaze strayed over to the area by the chopping blocks.

 

“Is that all it takes with you?”

 

The punch that landed on his shoulder didn’t actually hurt all that much, but it was probably pretty well deserved.

 

He knew she was right of course. He and Gally had settled their issues a long time ago, even if they still had their differences. He wanted Brenda to be happy, but he couldn’t say this wasn’t a surprise.  

 

Gally. Thomas shook his head and rubbed theatrically at his shoulder. They both grinned.

 

“Shut up,” Brenda told him, fondly. “We’re getting off the point. The point was you, remember.”

 

“Yeah, and how messed up I am,” Thomas agreed. “Thanks for the reminder.”

 

“Um, I believe I used the word ‘broken’,” Brenda argued. “And the point was…I was never going to be able to fix you.” The bitterness was gone from her voice now, and she reached up her hand to smooth out something weird his hair must have been doing just above his temple.

 

Over by the woodshed, Thomas caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t be sure if Gally had been watching them but he certainly wasn’t looking their way now – focusing maybe a little too studiously on demonstrating his hatchet swing for Aris. Maybe it was Thomas’s imagination, but the the swing looked a little more violent than Gally’s usual when it came.

Thomas sighed as he looked back at Brenda, unsure how to feel about returning to this subject. He was reasonably sure she wasn’t telling him all of this just to make him feel guilty – even if he was feeling it just the same. Her point was still coming, and judging by how long it was taking her to get there, Thomas wasn’t sure he was going to like it. 

 

“Teresa broke your heart,” she said bluntly. “I knew that. But Newt…left a hole in it.”

 

And there it was. Thomas took a slow breath. Her words made his chest feel oddly tight again, almost winded.

 

“Broken hearts, y’know, they mend with time. But when a piece of you – of the way your life is every day…of how you function and carry on –  is just gone…”

 

He didn’t interrupt when Brenda trailed off this time. His throat felt tight, and he wasn’t sure what his voice would do if he tried to use it.

 

His thumb had found the cut on his finger again, apparently absentmindedly worrying at it the entire time they had been talking. He could feel the warm throb of it with the fingers of his other hand now.

 

“You forget I was there,” Brenda said, “in the Scorch all those months. When you couldn’t think about anything but Minho, and getting him back.”

 

Thomas looked at her, his throat aching now with emotions he had been wrestling with all day, and still hadn’t figured out. He opened his mouth to say something, to tell her that wasn’t true, but Brenda was determined.

 

“But Newt,” she repeated, before he could speak. “He made sure you ate your meals, he hoarded blankets so he could bring you one every night and remind you you’d be no good to Minho or anyone without some sleep.”

 

Thomas let out a little huff halfway between a sigh and a bittersweet laugh at the memory. His throat was so tight now that it burned.

 

“That’s just Newt,” Thomas said, his voice rasping as badly as he had feared. “He was always…”

 

Thomas looked away, he blinked.

 

Talking about Newt like this was still hard. Sometimes it felt like none of this could be real, and he was still gone. Somehow Newt being back didn’t erase the months and years of loss when he was gone.

 

“Right,” Brenda said, rescuing him again from having to go on and nodding her head emphatically. “He took care of you guys, all of you. He was your rock, like a crutch holding you up, and I saw what it did to you when that was gone. But now? He needs you.”

 

Thomas knew everything Brenda was saying was true. It wasn’t as if he didn’t understand these things. That Newt needed help. That all of them, as Newt’s friends, had probably gotten more help and support from him than they could ever repay. But helping him wasn’t going to be simple. Especially not for Thomas, and he had no idea where to even start.

 

The cut on his finger had opened up. Thomas closed his hand in a fist to staunch the little seep of blood.

 

“Thomas?” Brenda asked, when he didn’t respond.

 

He nodded, buying himself the time to take another breath, in the hopes his voice would come out steady this time. “That’s what Minho said too.”

 

“Well then,” Brenda said cajolingly, “as much as it always kills me to say this about anything: Minho was right.”

 

“Yeah. Well Minho said something else, too.” Thomas cleared his throat, though he suspected it wouldn’t help much. He opened and then closed his fist again, checking the red smear that had spread to his second finger and thumb.

 

“They might have used me in Newt’s head,” he said. “To mess with him. I mean, you both saw him. The way he looks at me, Bren. It’s—”

 

It wasn’t easy to put into words, how Thomas felt sure that the way Newt responded to him was just different from his reaction to everyone else. There was something not right about it.

 

But Brenda was nodding.

 

“Yeah. He’s broken too,” she sighed. “I can see that he’s in pain when he looks at you…”

 

“Exactly,” Thomas agreed fervently, relieved that somebody actually understood what he had been struggling to say. “So how am I supposed to—what if my ‘help’ isn’t actually helping him at all?”

 

“You didn’t let me finish,” Brenda said. She waited until Thomas was looking at her before she went on.

 

“Yes, I see the way Newt looks at you,” she allowed. “And I can see that you hate it. I can see that you think it means he doesn’t want to be with you and that that possibility totally and absolutely freaks. You. Out. But what you don’t seem to see is… he doesn’t spend much time looking anywhere else.”

 

Brenda was watching him now, as if her point had been made and she was still waiting for him to get it. She sighed.

 

“You keep asking why everybody wants you to be some kind of Newt Expert and, sure, maybe you won’t be. But the bottom line is, avoiding this isn’t going to make it any better.”

 

That much at least made sense. Even if hanging around with Newt felt like pushing in where he wasn’t wanted, at some point they would have to figure out how.

 

Thomas sighed again. “Okay,” he said, still not sure what it was she wanted from him.

 

“Just talk to him,” she said encouragingly. “I know you’re scared to find out what WCKD did to him, and that he might not react the way you want him to at first, but everything doesn’t have to go perfectly, Thomas. In fact I’m pretty sure it won’t, but…just talk. You need to work this out, for both your sakes. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for him.”

 

Thomas nodded gamely, and Brenda smiled.

 

“…And me,” she added. “And Minho and Fry. It’s great that we got Newt back, but we’ve been waiting a long time to get the old Thomas back, too.”

 

His hair must have been a real mess, because she reached up solicitously to fix it again, somewhere near the crown of his head.

 

Thomas ducked his head and let her. Even if things between them were never meant to be, her touch still had an effect on him. It was nice to feel warm, and cared for. Just like what Minho had been saying they should do for Newt.

 

He reached out and wrapped her up in a bear hug, before she could notice the slight flush he could feel starting on his cheeks.

 

“Thanks for the pep talk,” he said into her hair. Even if he didn’t like the sound of how sure she was that talking to Newt ‘wouldn’t go perfectly’, Thomas knew she was right. It was time to at least try.

 

“Sure,” she said, when they separated. “…Would this be a good time to mention that I actually already told Frypan you were going to go and find Newt for him?”

 

Thomas laughed, and pulled her in for another squeeze before he let her go.

 

And if he happened to check over her shoulder to be sure Gally was watching them before he did it, well, who would ever be any the wiser?

 

 

___

 

Thomas made his way down to the docks, giving a conscious effort not to dawdle or drag his feet. Everything lately was just so weird and confusing.

 

He should be happy about spending time with Newt, he knew. The thought of welcoming him home at a party with everyone they knew and loved should be fun, not making him wonder why the back of his neck felt sweaty and his stomach was in a tense knot.

 

He had been told this was where Newt had gone any time he was given a free pass from the med shacks. After Newt’s arrival, Vince had had Frypan’s fishing crew haul Newt’s raft, Lizzy, over to the docks and he had apparently been anxious to ‘check on’ her.

 

When Thomas finally arrived though, Newt didn’t seem to be doing much tinkering or checking on anything.  Lizzy was there, alright, moored up with the rest of the island’s fleet of fishing boats and canoes – and sticking out from her compatriots like a veritable sore thumb – but Newt wasn’t aboard. It only took Thomas a moment to spot him, sitting alone at the end of her dock.

 

In spite of himself, he felt his step slow and falter to a stop.

 

He let himself just look for a minute. It was strange, the way it felt new, but at the same time so naturally familiar and commonplace, just to lay eyes on the particular shape of Newt’s posture – the line of his spine, that distinctive angle of his shoulders.

 

Thomas took a breath for courage he shouldn’t even have needed to muster, and reminded himself to move.

 

“Sonya said I’d find you here,” he said, mostly just to announce himself, when he came to the end of the dock.

 

He was a little worried Newt would jump, or be startled to find he suddenly had company, let alone Thomas’s, but he didn’t move at all. Not even to turn his head.

 

Standing above him like this though, Thomas could see him put a small, fond smile out over the water. “It’s like that girl knows me already.”

 

Newt had the cuffs of his trousers rolled up, and the tide was high enough his feet could dangle into the sea right up to the ankle. Thomas watched him swirl one foot thoughtfully a couple of times before he spoke again.

 

“Water helps,” he explained.

 

“You mean to make things feel…more real?” Thomas asked, hesitantly. It felt like the topic of WCKD had come up a little fast, but this was the kind of thing he was sure Brenda had meant he should ask about. And besides, if he was honest, Thomas had no idea what else to say. It wasn’t like he and Newt had a lot of other stuff they could make small talk about.

 

Newt turned finally, and looked up at him. “Minho told you? About simulation?”

 

“Only a little,” Thomas answered, honestly.

 

Newt looked off to the side and Thomas watched a look of consideration cross his face. A crinkling of blond brows and lopsided quirk of his mouth so familiar, for a second Thomas was transported back to their Glade days, when it had been Newt’s job to listen, take in everybody’s story and viewpoint and come to a decision.

 

 Always considering how everybody else around him was going to manage, even now. Some things about Newt hadn’t changed at all, it seemed.

 

Newt nodded grimly after a moment, seeming to come out of his thoughts. He looked back at Thomas briefly, then shuffled himself over sideways, leaving space for him to sit down next to him on the dock.

 

Thomas obliged, keeping his legs crossed under himself on the dock, and out of the water. And then, remembering Minho’s advice, he leaned back on his hands the way Newt was doing, so that their shoulders could touch.

 

Newt was still looking out over the water, but Thomas watched for his reaction. Sure enough Newt’s eyes fell shut, like they had when Minho patted his shoulder in the med shacks, and he let out a breath that sounded like it was meant to be cleansing.

 

It took Newt longer to open his eyes again, than it had with Minho, but Thomas tried not to worry what that might mean, and waited.

 

When Newt opened his eyes again, he was staring down at his feet, hanging off the dock. He dragged both legs through the tide a couple of times, silently.  Thomas focused on trying to calm the confused knot still twisted tightly in his gut, and waited some more.

 

“Water is pretty complicated,” Newt said, suddenly. “It looks different in any kind of light, different weather, or wind. It’s murky or clear, depending on the place. It’s always moving – on the surface, but underneath too.”

 

He kicked one foot up swiftly, watching the way it threw a splash out in front of them.

 

“It has so many properties,” Newt went on, after a moment, “and they all change each other.” Newt was frowning now, as if this explanation wasn’t coming out the way he wanted. “Like if you make the same pool deeper, the colour changes, the temperature… the drag, on your legs, when you’re trying to run from something.”

 

The last words came out of Newt’s mouth sounding simple, but Thomas didn’t like them at all. The tightness in his insides gave an unpleasant little jolt, and he could feel the shoulder against his had gone tense.


Thomas splayed his fingers a little wider, where his hand was braced next to Newt’s on the dock, so his thumb would sit just over the knuckle of his pinky. Newt's eyes fluttered a little, but his breath stayed even this time, and his frown eased a bit.

 

“Sometimes they get the details wrong,” he said, finally. Newt shrugged against Thomas's shoulder and then turned to look at him. “It’s hard to describe, but sometimes in a simulation it just wouldn’t feel…natural, maybe.”

 

Newt looked back out over the water.

 

“Then I’d know,” he said, “where I was. What was happening to me.” 

 

His voice had that awful, hollow tone again, and the tightness in Thomas’s stomach twisted up so suddenly, he had to swallow against the sour feeling rising up in his throat.

 

“…But water helps.”

 

Newt was still looking out over the bay, and Thomas took a slow breath and followed suit.

 

It was beautiful, really, with the afternoon sun getting low. He tried to look at it the intricate way Newt had just described – taking in the way the shifting breeze put little ripples on the tops of the waves, that lit up sort of orange-gold in the late light of the day.


Thomas watched Newt push his legs appreciatively through the tide again.

 

“Want to go for a swim then?” Thomas asked, so unexpectedly he almost surprised even himself.

 

But then something happened that made Thomas certain it had been the best idea he had ever had.

 

Newt’s eyebrows shot up and he chuckled.

 

“Water’s a mite cold, Tommy.” Newt turned toward him, the smile wry now.

 

But it was a smile. Thomas had made Newt smile and they. Were. Doing this.

 

“Chicken,” he teased.

 

Newt turned back to look down at the pretty, but allegedly chilly, waters below him. Thomas could see him press his tongue into his cheek, assessing exactly how stupid this idea was going to seem the second they were freezing their butts off in the frigid waters of the bay, and trying to hold back the luminous grin that had taken over his face.

 

Thomas could feel himself grinning back. He was smiling so wide, it felt like he was doing it with his whole being – because he could do this. He couldn’t go back to the Last City and check again that Newt’s heart had really stopped. He couldn’t undo the things that WCKD had done inside Newt’s head. But he had this. He could swim if Newt wanted to.

 

The contrary little knot in his guts had smoothed itself out into nothing and Thomas marveled at how they had managed to get to a place where something as simple as a smile from Newt could make him feel like he could damn well fly, if Newt said they should try.

 

Next to him, Newt appeared to have made his decision. He pulled his legs out of the water and stood, dripping all over the dock – and Thomas – and reached back over his head to pull his shirt up and over his head.

 

“Last one in then, shank,” Newt said, tossing the discarded shirt into Thomas’s lap, and walking away down the dock toward the beach.

 

Thomas looked down at Newt’s shirt in his hands, still grinning like an idiot – until suddenly he wasn’t, and he had to give his head a shake. His hands, holding the shirt, froze a moment in mid-air. He had been about to bring Newt’s shirt up to his face – and what, and sniff it?

 

He put the still-warm bit of fabric carefully down on the dock – on the side Newt hadn’t made a giant puddle, because he wasn’t a huge slinthead, thank you very much – and stood up slowly to take off his boots.

 

Weird, he thought. That had been weird. But everything lately had been so shucking weird. Apparently having Newt back was feeling a little unreal to Thomas as well. That had to be it. The weird impulse to go after Newt’s scent had just been his brain’s weird, instinctive way of looking for more evidence that Newt was really and truly here, with him again.

 

Thomas barely had one boot off, and was just trying to get his balance enough to work on the other, before he nearly toppled over and into the water fully clothed.

It was Newt, streaking past him with nothing but his skivvies on, right into a flying leap out into the water. He hadn’t been walking back to the beach at all, Thomas realized, he had been getting a running start.

 

“OH. SHUCK, THAT’S COLD!” Thomas heard him yell when he surfaced.

 

But he could hear the glee in it, and suddenly Thomas was doing that grinning-with-his-whole-being thing again. He made short work of the rest of his clothes, and then unlike Newt, he opted for a slow, agonizing death, and actually did make for the beach.

 

Newt had had the right idea, Thomas realized, the moment he was in up to his ankles.

 

The cold was strong enough he could feel it ache, but he had promised Newt a swim, and he was several feet out deeper into the water than Thomas, somehow with the fortitude to still be submerged almost up to his eyeballs. Probably just because once you were in, it only made you feel colder when you tried to get out, but still. 

 

Thomas waded in a little further, and waited for the biting sting in his skin to fade. He knew it was pointless, even before he heard Newt snicker evilly and watched him glide closer, nothing but his wetted head showing above the line of the water.

 

 “Who’s the bloody chicken now?” Newt asked, raising himself up out of the water enough to cup his hands and aim an expert splash his way.

 

Thomas gasped and laughed as the freezing arc hit him, letting it scatter icily across his shoulder and chest. He turned back to return the favour, but suddenly Newt wasn’t laughing anymore.

 

Newt stood up, taking a step closer to Thomas through the water.

 

A worrying change had come over the mood. Newt came forward again, approaching him slowly, but there was nothing playful about it now. He wasn’t smiling, he was looking him over strangely instead, his eyes flicking rapidly everywhere except to his face.

 

“Newt?”

 

“Is that…” Newt reached out a dripping hand in the direction of where his gaze had landed, just above the water line.

 

Thomas tucked his chin and checked the direction of Newt’s gaze. He had almost forgotten, but now he understood. The last time Newt had seen him, they both had a lot fewer scars.

 

Thomas took a step closer, so Newt could get a better look. Touch him if he wanted to. But he didn’t.

 

“No,” Thomas said gently. “That’s where Janson shot me.”

 

“He—” Newt broke off and his eyes flashed up to meet Thomas’s. A strange, panicked look Thomas hadn’t seen on his face, maybe ever, had made them white rimmed and wide. “Tommy.”

 

A chill that had nothing to do with the water sped up Thomas’s spine. It would always be a shock to hear someone you care about had almost died, but Newt’s reaction was beyond simple alarm.

 

Newt’s voice shook, and his fingers flexed spasmodically, where his hand was still outstretched toward him. Whatever was happening in Newt’s head, it was bad.

 

This was exactly the kind of thing he had been scared might happen, exactly what Thomas had been trying to avoid. But suddenly he could see it, what his friends had been telling him. That leaving Newt to his own devices would not be the way to fix anything. Suddenly, somehow, Thomas knew exactly what to do.

 

“Hey,” Thomas heard himself saying, as he came forward the last step between them, “hey.” He took hold of Newt’s outstretched hand and pressed it over the gunshot scar on his abdomen. 

 

Newt’s fingers were frigid against his skin, but Thomas could barely feel it, was barely even taking in the hard chill of the water they stood in anymore.

 

“See?” Newt’s breath hitched at the contact, but Thomas knew somehow not to let go. “It’s over,” he told him, holding Newt’s hand where it was and waiting for that slackening of the fearsome tension running through him, that always seemed to follow a touch from a friend. “You’re okay.”

 

“He shot you,” Newt whispered. His eyes had lost their white rim of terror, but his breathing wasn’t right, it was too fast. “When?”

 

“…After.” Thomas realized they had been so caught up in trying to get Newt’s story, they had forgotten there was so much Newt still had to catch up on too, but now wasn’t the time. 

 

“It’s over,” Thomas said again, firmly. “I’m fine.”

 

“I thought…for a minute,” Newt stammered weakly. “That I—with the knife…”

 

“You mean this little thing?” Thomas was still holding Newt’s hand in place by the wrist. He dragged the icy points of his fingertips across his skin, up to the jagged little line that sat above his heart.


Thomas thought it would reassure him, to see what an inconsequential scratch it was compared to what Janson had done. They both had had much worse, after all. But Newt made a heartbreaking choking sound instead, and even though his eyes looked a lot less panicked than before, Thomas saw them fill with sudden tears.

 

“They told me you died,” Newt said, roughly. His breathing was still hard and irregular. “That I – That I’d done it. In a rage fit, when we fought.”

 

Thomas felt his own breath stutter and stop. When would it stop shocking him, the depths WCKD would stoop to, to manipulate? To twist, and torture. If anything was ever going to explain the way Newt had been reacting to him, this had come the closest so far. It certainly made sense of the stunned way he had looked at Thomas the day he had arrived on the beach.

 

Thomas gripped Newt’s wrist tighter, though he didn’t show any signs of pulling away. He was staring intently at his fingers, moving probingly over the little scar. Thomas waited, giving him time to ground himself through the contact, the way Minho had said.

 

“Then they showed me,” Newt said, dully. “They made me do it, so many times,” he went on, ignoring the hitch in his voice and making Thomas’s own throat burn sympathetically. “So many different ways…”

 

And Thomas’s heart broke. He looked at Newt, tearful and too thin and trembling with cold and trauma and needless, senselessly manufactured grief.

 

Newt, who used to stand in the sunshine, all sinewy and golden, squinting merrily at him and calling him ‘Greenie’. It made him so angry he felt he could climb aboard Newt’s makeshift raft this minute, track down every last member of whatever remained of WCKD, and put an end to it once and for all.

 

But Thomas pushed it down. Anger wasn’t going to help Newt now, and Thomas turned his focus back to the moment at hand.

 

The scar Newt had claimed from their battle that day was much easier to discern than Thomas’s. It stood out in the centre of his chest, raised and uneven and still in a livid pink yet to fade into the skin the way older scars did.

 

Thomas reached out and laid his hand over it. Newt shut his eyes, and the tears in them spilled over.

 

“It wasn’t real,” Thomas told him, but his voice had lost its steadiness.

 

He could feel the way Newt’s breath shuddered in his chest, his heartbeat racketing under his hand.

 

“But I felt it.”

 

“I know,” Thomas said brokenly, even though he didn’t. He knew what it had felt like the day he was sure Newt had died in his arms, but he couldn’t imagine how it would feel to have to do it again, and over and over. To not know which of the repeated horrors was the real one, and which were invented just for his torment. “It wasn’t real.”

 

Newt laid his hand flat against Thomas’s chest, matching their hands-over-hearts poses and shaking his head bitterly.

 

Thomas felt utterly helpless again. The feeling that he mysteriously knew just what to do and to say was long gone. He let go of Newt’s wrist so he could reach up for his wet cheek, smearing the warm salt away into the cold with his thumb.

 

Newt blinked, and looked at him. It felt like it was along the right track at least, having Newt looking him straight in the eye.

 

“Minho told me this helps,” Thomas said quietly, with a nod down at where his other hand was still sitting on Newt’s chest. “That WCKD doesn’t do touch.” They were standing so close now that it made their hair brush together when he tipped his head.

 

Newt sniffed, but he was still looking at Thomas curiously, and his heartrate was slowing.

 

“Maybe they made some upgrades for me, since Minho’s visit,” he said slowly, even giving a little quirk of his lips that bordered on a wry smile. “But they can do it, touch. It’s just…”

 

Newt reached his hand up to the corner of Thomas’s eye, where he had apparently lost track of a tear or two of his own.

 

Newt’s fingers weren’t cold anymore, they had warmed up after all that time spent pressed against his chest. Thomas felt like he could still feel the cold where Newt’s hand had rested. He had all but forgotten they were standing waist-deep in freezing water.

 

“Did they get my details wrong?” Thomas murmured. Being this close together seemed to make his voice want to come out quieter.

 

Newt smiled wetly.

 

“Yes, actually,” he noted, tipping his head to the side and letting his fingers trail exploratively down the side of Thomas’s face now. Thomas kept still for it, holding back a shiver. “They don’t know, I guess, how warm your skin always is or…” Newt gave a sudden dry laugh. The huff of his breath this close was a surprise, and Thomas bit at his lip, where he had felt it land. “They got your hair wrong,” Newt remarked. His fingers had wandered down to Thomas’s nape. “Or maybe I didn’t even know that one,” he said quietly. “It’s…soft. Like a little baby’s.”

 

Thomas laughed a little too. Speaking of hair, he kept feeling Newt’s grazing his more and more as they stood here, getting closer and closer. So Thomas closed the little remaining gap between them and leaned their foreheads together.

 

Newt’s eyes fluttered shut like they always did, but there were no tears this time, and Thomas sighed, feeling more relaxed suddenly than he had in days.

 

Newt was just outright petting him, now – flexing his fingers up through the hair at his nape, then stroking down over his temple, and again, and then again. And Thomas submitted to it, moving his hand up to settle on Newt’s shoulder, where his fingers could wrap around the back of his neck, reciprocating.

 

“Feel better?” Maybe it was a dumb question, but as he felt Newt’s nod against his forehead, Thomas couldn’t help himself from being a little proud. Brenda and Minho would both approve. He had found out at least a little of what was messing with Newt, and he had helped. At least for today.

 

“So it does work,” Thomas noted, “this touching thing.”

 

“Mmm,” Newt hummed pensively. One fingernail scratched idly up the back of Thomas’s neck, and this time he was too surprised to hold back the shudder. “I think what Minho meant was, it’s just never used like this, to show kindness. You know how they work, the more harshness and stress on the system the better for the antibodies or whatever.”

 

Newt swallowed, and they were still so close Thomas could hear it.

 

“If something touches you in the simulation it’s to cause pain or…” the words were distressing, but Newt was still calm. He had given up on carding through Thomas’s hair so he could draw his thumb forward along the line of his jawbone to rest on his chin. “Like a …taunt,” Newt said, his voice starting to get that distant quality to it that worried him. “To show you the things you can’t have,” he said. “Things you…want,” Newt finished finally, slipping his thumb up and over the edge of his lip.

 

Thomas had the sudden sensation in his stomach that the bottom had dropped out of it. The thumb pressing into his lip made Newt’s unasked question unmistakable, and Thomas froze a moment, but only one.

 

After that, he would never remember which of them moved first, pressing forward just that inch further so their noses nudged together, making the intention in the air between them suddenly mutual and clear. But it happened again, and one more time.

 

And then with a crashing, swooping in his gut, Thomas felt their mouths come together, and come together hard.  

 

Thomas was reeling. He felt like he should taste salt, or feel the chill of the water on Newt’s lips, but he didn’t. He just felt Newt, moving his mouth amazingly over Thomas’s own and still cupping the side of his face, and Thomas clung to him, clutching at his nape, his cheek, his elbow – as if the whole world had slipped its axis to start spinning around Newt, and he would stumble if he let go.

 

“Shit,” Thomas swore, when everything stopped spinning and they had broken apart, staring at each other with wide eyes and chests heaving.

 

The light on the water had started to turn from bright golden to a flaming orange, and the air had taken on a sultry, breezy feel. Behind them, off in the distance, the sun had begun to set.

 

“Not…the best reaction,” Newt said, after an awkward beat. He reached up and wiped his thumb over the corner of his mouth, and Thomas struggled to ignore the hungry way his gaze followed the movement, not ready to deal with what it meant.

 

“NO!” Thomas said quickly, putting a hand out for Newt’s shoulder, before he got any sort of idea about what had just happened that could make things turn bad. “No, I mean…shit.”

 

Newt was looking at him like he was the one with the damaged mind now; his hair sticking up in all directions like a wet cat’s, cheeks slightly flushed and nose pink-tipped, despite the frigid chill of the bay. It was oddly distracting, making him feel things he had never felt before, and didn’t have time right now to figure out.

 

Thomas shook his head, trying to clear it.

 

He had just realized they were standing soaking wet in the middle of the water, completely naked down to their shorts, and Thomas had absolutely zero idea how much time had gone by.

 

“I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to just tell you this,” he said, anyway, at a complete and utter loss. “But…I was supposed to come down here to take you to a party.”

Chapter Text

 

 

“You know,” Brenda said, startling Thomas effectively enough he almost dropped the knife he was holding. “When I told you to go talk to him, it was so you guys could stop avoiding each other.”

 

She leaned one elbow conversationally against the counter, where Thomas was slicing up yet another loaf of what Frypan called his ‘pumpernickel’ – or at least pretending to slice it, while actually staring over at the bonfire and just hoping not to cut himself again today.

 

…At least not too badly. Thomas stuck his most recently injured finger in his mouth and snuck another quick glance over at where Minho and Newt were holding court by the fire.

 

Thomas looked sheepishly back at Brenda, and picked up the knife again. She wasn’t wrong.

 

After what had happened in the water, the two boys had awkwardly separated to gather up their clothes, bashfully agreeing that they should both go find some dry, fresher things to put on and to meet up later. Newt had headed back to the med shacks, and Thomas back to camp, and it had been the last they had spoken.

 

When he had gotten back up the hill, Thomas had no trouble finding tasks to keep him busy. The bonfire constantly needed fuel brought in from the wood yard. Even the people who were getting into Gally’s brew still – wisely, in Thomas’s experience – wanted a lot of water along with it, so there was no shortage of time he could spend hauling wagonfuls of jugs up from the stream, and trekking back down with the empties.

 

And of course Frypan had gone all out, roasting two of their larger pigs for the occasion, so there seemed to be no end to the job of cutting up bread and fruit to go along with it. Which was where Thomas found himself now.

 

“Minho’s got this,” Thomas said, barely looking up from his task as an excuse not to meet Brenda’s knowing gaze. “Told you he was better.”

 

It was true. Minho seemed to know everybody in camp some way or another, and every single one of them seemed to want an introduction. Newt didn’t seem to have stopped shaking hands and nodding politely since Thomas had seen them arrive. He was like the freakin’ Mayor of Safehaven Town or something.

 

If he had been worried about how Newt might handle a party in his current mental condition, he needn’t have troubled. He was handling it far better than Thomas.

 

Thomas could admit that he’d been watching Newt pretty closely – how the hell anyone could expect him to be paying even a stick of attention to anything else at this point, would be a mystery, honestly – and Newt didn’t seem to have stopped smiling the entire time. People were Newt’s thing, that was true, but Thomas suspected the hand Minho had pretty much constantly living on Newt’s shoulder, or at his elbow, was no small piece of the puzzle.

 

Minho was doing a much better job of escorting him than he ever could have managed, even if what had just happened a mere hour or so ago hadn’t happened at all.  He was oddly kind of grateful for it, truth be told. Newt needed a friend, and obviously Thomas wasn’t any good to him for that, right at the moment.

 

Brenda drummed her fingertips against the scrubbed wood of the countertop, and Thomas jumped at the abruptness of the sound. Apparently ‘Minho’s got this’ wasn’t the response she was clearly getting tired of waiting for.

 

He sighed and put the knife back down.

 

“I know,” Thomas said, not even needing to look up at her face to know the that’s-not-the-point-and-you-know-it look that would be sitting there. “I know. I just – it feels like every time I try to talk to Newt, we don’t end up talking.”

 

Brenda raised an eyebrow.

 

“We ended up swimming,” Thomas said, even though he could feel a flush creeping up his neck and into his cheeks that would give him away.

 

Brenda wasn’t looking at his face, though. She was aiming a pointed look somewhere in the vicinity of his chest. Thomas looked. It was Newt’s letter, that he kept on its cord around his neck. Thomas tucked it quickly away down into the collar of his shirt. He normally didn’t wear it in the open for people to see and ask questions about, but when he had gotten hastily dressed after their swim, he had left the buttons at the top of his shirt open, and it kept falling out every time he leaned over, doing all the various jobs he had given himself tonight.

 

Now Brenda was looking at him. Eyebrow still raised.

 

“And he—” Thomas started, and stopped, not sure he could put all of the responsibility for what had happened on Newt’s shoulders. “And kissing,” he admitted.

 

Both Brenda’s eyebrows were lifted now. She blinked in surprise.

 

“Okay,” she said slowly. “That happened sooner than I thought.”

 

“What!?” Thomas exclaimed. “Faster than you—” he broke off, checking the volume of his voice. A few people had glanced over their way at his raised tone, but were already going back to their conversations.

 

Thomas leaned forward over the counter so he could address Brenda in a tone low enough only she would hear. “You mean you were expecting this??” he hissed.

 

Over by the fire, Newt was shaking hands with Livia and a couple of the other girls from the sewing guild. He caught Thomas watching him and gave a brief nod, without interrupting whatever he said to Livia – who nodded, giggling approvingly.

 

Thomas sent him an awkward smile, and then turned back to Brenda indignantly. That had been happening a lot tonight. Things between him and Newt were probably more awkward than ever, and if she had known – it felt like he had been sent into a trap.

 

But Brenda was laughing. “No!” she answered. “I mean…eventually, yes.”

 

Thomas had picked up the knife again, only to rest the butt of the handle on the counter so he could glare at her in appropriate irritation. It only made her grin harder.

 

“Jeez, Thomas. What did you think I meant with all that stuff about you finally having the one thing back that you needed? About Newt being the one thing that that could ever make you whole again?” She said that last part with a sarcastic edge, like even coming out of her own mouth, the words felt too cheesy to be taken seriously.


Thomas sighed, and let the knife clatter back down on the counter.

 

“I don’t know!” he complained, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes, mostly to stop himself from gazing obsessively over at Newt again. “Not this.”

 

Thomas waited for Brenda to laugh at him again but she didn’t.

 

They fell silent as Clarisse wandered past them and into the kitchen with a few empty water jugs, and stowed them under the cabinets. “You two heading down to the ceremony? It’s almost time.”

 

“Leave that, honey,” she told Thomas, as he looked down at his half-sliced loaf of bread. “I’ll get it.”

 

Thomas wiped his palms off on the back of his pants, and walked around the counter to join Brenda. Sometimes he got the feeling Frypan’s team of cooks didn’t really like helpers hanging around their kitchen as much as they claimed to.

 

Sure enough, people had already started to file down the slope away from the bonfire. Thomas fell in step beside Brenda as they joined the crowd gathering in the firelight and making for the torchlit path down the hill.

 

 Brenda looked up at the night sky, before turning her gaze curiously at Thomas. “Are you okay?” she asked, as they walked.

 

“No!?” he retorted, a little sharper than he’d meant, throwing his hands up in a gesture toward himself meant to indicate that he was an easily noticeable disaster. But Brenda took it in stride.

 

“Obviously,” she said sympathetically. “Sorry.” She was quiet for a few steps as people passed by on either side of them, moving down the hill in groups. She gave a long-suffering sounding sigh. “Oh, Thomas.”

 

“Oh Thomas what?” he replied, trying not to make it sound too irritable. “Oh Thomas, don’t worry that your best friend is damaged in the head? Maybe permanently?” he asked rhetorically, while keeping his tone low, so that the people walking next to them through the flickering torchlight wouldn’t hear everything they said. “And that according to the only person who knows even a little of what he might have gone through, the best way to help him is to get really close, and touch him a lot – but then it turns out WCKD used a lot of images of you getting close to torture him. So now he has all these weird memories and feelings that never even happened and when you try to do that it just makes him... well, you know what happened,” Thomas muttered.

 

He looked furtively around at the groups of Haveners drifting past them, realizing he had gone off on a bit of a rant. 

 

“…No,” Brenda said, slowly, only looking a little bit like she thought Thomas had finally gone crazy, but a lot like she was holding back on a grin. “I just meant ‘Oh Thomas, you’re so…’ I’m not sure ‘oblivious’ even covers it,” she mused.

 

Thomas opened his mouth to defend himself but Brenda was still talking.

 

“You get…focused on things,” she said, giving him the distinct impression she had deliberately tried to find a word that sounded better than ‘obsessed’. “…And then you have a tendency not to notice anything else.”

 

“People are drawn to you, Thomas,” she said, earnestly, turning to look up at him. “That passion and focus you have is…I don’t know, charismatic, or something. Magnetic. But it’s also super annoying,” she said with a little huff that said she was talking from experience. “Because it means you don’t notice anyone.”

 

People were passing them left and right, and Thomas was thankful when Brenda grabbed him by the elbow to pull him off the path where they could talk a little more privately. He raised his fingers in a brief greeting, as Livia and the sewing girls went by, giving them cheerful waves as they passed.

 

So far it seemed the evening had been quite a success for everyone. As long as you weren’t Thomas, that was. Everybody that passed them was chatting excitedly about the ceremony and what it might be like, and Thomas couldn’t blame them. Nothing like this had ever happened before, after all. But then, how could it?

 

As least everybody was too loud and distracted to listen to what Brenda was telling him, he thought.

 

“Half the WCKD kids have crushes on you, Thomas. Girls and boys,” she said. Thomas could feel his cheeks flushing again. “Sure, Vince is our leader,” she went on, making a gesture with her hand at everything around them. “He’s the real saviour that led us here, and he makes everything here work. But to them, you’re this big stupid hero. You were the one they saw hijacking slave trains and busting them out of dormitories.”

 

Thomas laughed, at the thought of himself as a ‘big stupid hero’. Brenda certainly had a way of putting things that made it hard to tell if she was paying you a compliment or illuminating your flaws. Maybe it was both.

 

“I didn’t swing them on a bus, through a burning city with a giant crane, though,” Thomas pointed out.

 

“And yet—” Brenda countered with a sly smile. “Two years later, and I’ve never gotten a date out of it.”

 

Thomas grinned. “So you and Gally haven’t—"

 

“I told you I’m not going to talk about it,” Brenda cut him off, smartly.

 

Thomas laughed again but Brenda cut that short, too.

 

Thomas,” she said, refusing to let him get them off topic. “People follow you around and you don’t even see. When we met, you couldn’t notice me, because you were focused on WCKD and Teresa. And apparently you’ve forgotten I was even there, all those months after the Right Arm, because like I told you today, you were too focused on rescuing Minho to notice what was going on right in front of you with Newt.”

 

Thomas shoved his hands into his pockets uncomfortably. She kept saying things that made him sound like he forgot that she and Newt existed, which just wasn’t true. Thomas cared about his friends. They were everything he had. Everything he had done – all that big dumb hero stuff – was for them.

 

“I know,” he sighed. “You said already. With the blankets and how good he was at taking care of me, but like I said, that was just Newt. He…holds everyone together.”

 

“Yeah. Newt’s a caring guy,” Brenda agreed, somehow making it sound like an argument. “And patient as hell. But what you didn’t notice was the stuff that made him lose that patience, once he got sick. I’ve been there, Thomas. And I can tell you, when you’re infected with the Flare everything – everything – that happens to you seems… off somehow. Just that little bit irritating, just enough to make you kind of a grouch…but then when something that feels important happens to piss you off…you’re going to completely lose it like that.” Brenda snapped her fingers, making Thomas jump just a little.

 

“Don’t you remember what it was that made him snap, the day you found out he was infected?”

 

Thomas nodded. He would never forget it, the first and only time he had seen Newt lose his cool – the surprising strength and the heated anger, when Newt had suddenly and unexpectedly shoved him up against a wall, leaning into him hard, his eyes blazing and teeth gritted, telling him…

 

“He thought I cared more about Teresa than Minho.”

 

Brenda nodded.

 

“You weren’t talking about Teresa,” she said. “I waited months and months for you to be over it enough to bring her up. You never did. But Newt sure had been thinking about her. It was Newt who reminded you she would be there when we made it to Denver, remember? And when Gally gave us the plan, it was your feelings for her that made him snap the way he did.“

 

“You mean—” Thomas frowned. “You think Newt was jealous?”

 

Brenda rolled her eyes in a way that said she was tired of finding new ways to tell him how dense an idiot he could apparently be. The crowd filtering past them seemed to be thinning out.

 

“Come on,” she said, grabbing a fistful of his sleeve at the elbow and towing him across the last bit of the path and into the rows of rapidly filling benches until she found them a seat.

 

“My point is,” Brenda said, leaning over to him when they were seated, and the last of the audience were finding seats around them. “It’s totally fair if you need to have your first-time-kissing-a-guy freakout, or whatever is happening.” Thomas ducked his head. Brenda wasn’t exactly whispering, but everyone around them was so busy chatting and finding the last places to sit down that Thomas was hopeful nobody was listening except him. “But don’t kid yourself that this is new,” she concluded. “Or that it somehow isn’t real. Newt’s feelings are something WCKD used to torment him, not something they just planted there.”

 

Thomas looked at her, but Brenda wasn’t watching him. She had turned toward the aisle between the benches, to watch as Vince led Newt and Minho past them and down to the memorial stone.

 

“Which means at some point, you’re going to have to deal with that,” she told Thomas finally, once they had passed. “…And it seems like he’s done waiting.”

 

Thomas frowned, and chewed at his lip. It was the last thing either of them could say for a while.

 

A gradual quiet had started to fall, as Vince and the two boys made their way down to the front of the benches arranged around the stone. Torches had been set along the aisle and on either side of the tall standing stone, that Vince had designated when they arrived on the Island to bear the names of everybody they had lost.

 

Minho had put up Newt’s name himself. Tonight, they would strike it off.

 

“Welcome, everybody, welcome,” Vince was saying, waiting for the last few chatterboxes to stop their conversations and turn their attention to the front. “Well how’s this for a party!?” he shouted, lofting a jar of Gally’s concoction, and getting a scattered cheer and some applause.

 

“Thanks go to Frypan and the whole cooking team for all the delicious grub,” he said, tipping his glass in Fry’s direction. “And to Gally for the drinks,” he added, aiming a wink into the crowd. This got a significantly heartier round of applause, and a few whistles and cat-calls to boot. Vince smiled. “And…thanks to Thomas for everything else, it seems.”

 

Brenda gave him an ironic sideways look over her shoulder, as a ripple of laughter ran around all the people in the crowd who had obviously noticed Thomas’s disproportionate contribution of effort all over camp tonight.

 

“And all of this, in aid of something very special. Newt?” Vince reached out an arm, beckoning Newt forward.


Newt stepped up beside him, looking awkward for the first time all evening. He touched two fingers to his brow in a salute of recognition for the cheer that broke out, louder than any of the ones before. Somebody screamed ‘Newt, I love you!!’ and everybody laughed.

 

Even Newt tipped his gaze downward and aimed a short chuckle toward his toes.

 

Thomas smiled. Newt looked good. It wasn’t his first time noticing tonight. Sonya must have helped him find some new things to put on, that looked far less tattered or rumpled than his usual garb. There was even a scarf draped around his neck, against the cool of the evening. And his hair had been cut somehow, since Thomas had last seen him down at the water. It was much shorter at the back and sides, still flopping a little long into his face at the front, but Thomas thought it looked kind of cool.

 

“No introduction needed, apparently,” Vince was saying, with a grin. “But I’m gonna give you one anyway. Most of you know Newt now, if you didn’t before. And you’ve probably all heard at least a story or two. He’s got some good ones,” Vince said, with an appreciative smile. “Even I haven’t heard them all. But the one thing you all need to know is, Newt is one of us. He was as big a part of all of us making it here, as me or any of the folks you know. And it makes me one of the happiest guys in camp, to be welcoming him home tonight.”

 

This was met with more cheers and applause, Vince even set his drink down on the ground to join in clapping.

 

Newt nodded his appreciation to everyone again, and stepped back next to Minho, who was standing to the side of the stone. Minho gave Newt’s shoulder his trademark squeeze, and leaned in and said something in his ear, probably something super inappropriate, given the way Newt dipped his head and grinned down at his toes again.

 

Thomas clapped along with everybody else, feeling his smile get a little wider. It was nice watching his friends together. The familial ease Minho sometimes seemed to show for everyone, was always at its strongest with Newt, and there was something endearing about the way Newt stood next to him, his head bowed and his hands humbly behind his back.

 

“On this stone,” Vince announced, “are written all the names of the people we lost. Tonight we have a first. Tonight one of ours is found!”

 

Vince waited for the last round of cheering to subside.

 

“If you would do the honours.” He bent and retrieved the knife and hammer used for marking the stone from their resting place at its base and handed them to Newt first.

 

Newt took them, and struck off the N from his name, marking a straight line through the initial with a series of taps – many of which missed their mark or took more than one try and were met with much ribbing and laughter between himself and Minho.


Newt looked relieved to hand the tools off to Minho next, who took them in his fists and pumped them over his head a few times to raise a cheer from the audience – even though it was mostly a laugh.

 

“This is gonna take a while,” Minho called to the crowd, after a few equally laborious tries at striking out the E. “Feel free to go about your business.”

 

It actually didn’t end up taking all that long between the two of them as they became used to the action of the tools and their aim improved, although the atmosphere did seem to relax into something a little less formal, as people began to mill around the benches and chat to the people next to them.

 

Brenda was uncharacteristically quiet as they made the walk back up the hill with the rest of the crowd, once Vince had thanked everybody and sent them off with the reminder that there was still lots of food to be eaten and songs to be sung around the fire. But as they crested the ridge, she caught his elbow.

 

“You can’t keep this up, Thomas,” she said, warningly, just as he was about to make his excuse to head back to the kitchens to see if Clarisse still needed him.

 

She turned to look over her shoulder toward the bonfire, where they could see Minho and Newt were already installing themselves again, along with Frypan and Gally.

 

She looked back at him, and shook her head.

 

“You can’t keep wearing that love letter around your neck and pretending not to recognize it for what it is.”

 

Thomas felt his pulse skip. His hand went instinctively to the cord around his neck, but it was still tucked safely out of sight under the layers of his shirts.

Brenda gave him a sympathetic look and a little shake where she still had a hold on his arm.

 

“You and Newt are friends,” she said, giving a nod back over her shoulder at the scene of friendship that was missing some notable exceptions by the fire behind her. “Or maybe more. But without each other, you are falling apart.”

 

Thomas hung his head. He nodded. That part, at least, was definitely not up for any sort of argument.

 

“If you don’t want anything to do with Newt romantically, that’s fine,” she said, giving his elbow a comforting squeeze. “But that means as his friend, you’re going to have to tell him that.” Thomas sighed and looked back up at her. “Either way, you guys are going to have to work this out. And that means you’re going to have to taaalk.”

 

Brenda pulled at his sleeve, in a little urging motion toward the fire where his friends stood as if he should get started on that right now.

 

Thomas dug his hands into his pockets again, but he smiled and nodded his agreement.

 

“Okay,” he assented.

 

“Okay,” she confirmed, making a pact of the word and taking a step backward toward the fire so that Thomas had to step forward with her. She made the next couple steps backward as well, watching him, though she dropped her hold on his sleeve to let him walk on his own.

 

“And if it’s a no?” she said, finally, before turning around. “Take that thing off your neck, because you are the King of fucking Mixed Signals.”

 

And with that, she was gone. Thomas watched her stride over to their little group of friends by the fire – and then right past – stealing the drink jar out of Gally’s hand as she went.

 

Even with the thoughts swirling through his head, Thomas couldn’t help but laugh at Gally’s stunned reaction, as she patted his cheek in belated thanks and stalked off to go make conversation with Harriet, Sonya and Aris.

 

Gally threw up his hands exasperatedly, and turned to follow her, giving her exactly what Thomas suspected she wanted.

 

Thomas looked back over to the fire and ended up catching Newt’s eye again. If he didn’t already have his hands nervously crammed into his pockets he would have shoved them there now.

 

No time like the present, Thomas, he told himself cajolingly, and made his way over to join his friends, feeling nobody could really fault him if he wandered over slowly. It would probably look more casual that way anyway.

 

“Hey,” Thomas said, ever so eloquently, when he was standing next to them.

 

Hi,” Newt responded, and Thomas didn’t think he had ever heard one syllable carry so many possible simultaneous meanings before.

 

“Yep, I’m gonna need a fresh drink, too,” Minho said, turning on his heel and disappearing swiftly after Gally and Brenda, towing a confused Frypan off with him by a sudden, pushy fistful of his sleeve.

 

“Subtle,” Newt commented drily, sipping delicately from the jar in his hand and looking a billion times more composed in his scarf and fresh haircut than Thomas felt. At least he was smiling. It didn’t look like he was too mad at Thomas for ducking him all night.

 

“You cut your hair,” Thomas blurted, resisting the urge to slap his palm into his face at how dumb it sounded, and settling for pinching restrainedly at the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger instead.

 

Newt looked gratified though. He smiled again, putting a hand up to brush self-consciously over the clipped sides.

 

“Sonya,” he admitted. “Said it was the only way she could get the mats out.”

 

“I like it,” Thomas said, not caring this time how stupid it sounded, when it made Newt smile and go pink like that. “You look good.”

 

“You too.”

 

Thomas doubted that, but he felt himself start to pink up a little too. He was just hoping it was dark enough it wouldn’t be too noticeable, when Gally stepped back into the circle of firelight to join them, new drink in hand. He was followed by Minho, looking distinctly thwarted, as if Gally had them rejoining the conversation far earlier than he had planned.

 

Thomas honestly didn’t mind, in fact he had rarely been this pleased to see Gally in his life. He reached over for a quick-fist bump, before he returned his hands to their apparent new home inside his pockets.

 

“So how’s it feel to be officially back from the dead?” Gally asked, bluntly as ever, tipping his glass cordially in Newt’s direction.  

 

“All a bit…overwhelming actually,” Newt replied honestly. “Must have met about a hundred people tonight and I still haven’t met everyone, or seen much of anything – ” He looked around, at all of the people milling around them, talking and laughing. Around the far end of the big bonfire somebody had brought out a guitar and there would be a lot of – mostly bad, Thomas knew – singing soon too. “This place is great,” Newt said, warmly. “Vince is really something.”

 

“Thomas’ll give you a tour in the morning,” Minho volunteered, helpfully.

 

Thomas looked at him, but he was saved from having to make a response by the sudden appearance of Sonya, her signature platinum braid gleaming attractively in the firelight.

 

“Hey guys,” she greeted them cheerily. “Some party huh? How you feeling?” This last she said turning to Newt, running a solicitous hand up and down her favourite patient’s arm.

 

“Overwhelmed,” Gally said, over the rim of his drink. “Hey, it was his word,” he said defensively, pointing at Newt with his drink-hand again when everybody turned to look at him.

 

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Sonya admitted, looking back at Newt seriously. “Not to sound like the no-fun Mom or anything but – you probably shouldn’t over-do it on your first day out of bed. I mean it was just a little dehydration and exhaustion, but you did basically sleep for two and a half days.”

 

“You heard Mother, boys.” Newt took a last deep swig of his drink before he put it down on one of the rocks marking the outer ring of the fire pit. “Curfew’s up.”

 

There was a chorus of ‘goodnights’ and ‘see-you-in-the-mornings’, and then Sonya had to wait while Minho wrapped Newt up in one of his aggressively affectionate hugs before she could make off with him.

 

Thomas watched them go. They were waylaid a couple of times by people asking where the guest of honour was going to so soon, but Sonya was able to extricate them remarkably quickly each time. Thomas suspected avoiding this effect of Newt’s new Island-celebrity status was exactly what she had been aiming to accomplish by nabbing him by the fire before the night got too rowdy.

 

When they finally walked off into the night, Newt turned back to look over his shoulder and caught Thomas watching him one final time.

 

It made his insides give a strange little jolt as their eyes met, not for the first time tonight.


Thomas let out a little sigh. It looked like his big talk with Newt was going to have to wait, yet again. He let his gaze fall bashfully away from Newt’s and tried not to feel too relieved.

 

Thomas shook himself. There was nothing much else he could do about it tonight, despite what Brenda had wanted. He might as well make as much of what was left of the night as he could.

 

“…So you and Brenda huh?” Thomas said, turning to Gally and imitating her by swiping the jar of drink out of his hands.

 

Thomas took a healthy gulp, before Gally could do something like punch him and take it back, but he was clearly too dumbfounded to retaliate.

 

“Did— did she say something about me?”

 

Thomas only shook his head, grinning into his next draught of Gally’s cup, at the flummoxed expression on his face.

 

He wasn’t the only one to be surprised. Between them, Minho choked dramatically into his cup. Thomas slapped him on the back, grinning wider. Gally scowled, flushing scarlet up to his ears, and retrieved his drink out of Thomas’s grasp.

 

Brenda, dude?” Minho rasped, when he had recovered, pushing his sleeve across his wetted face. “Man, you know, right? If you mess with her…”

 

“Then I’ll mess his face up even more than it is already,” Thomas threatened, cheerfully. He bent down to retrieve the jar Newt had abandoned, and clinked it amiably against the one that was back in Gally’s hand.

 

Thomas looked down, examining his glass. He was only halfway listening to Minho blustering hilariously to Gally about being able to give him some pointers when it came to the ladies, should he want them; too busy wondering where along its rim Newt’s mouth might have been, before he put it to his lips for another long sip.

 

By the time Thomas made it back to his hammock it was later than it should have been, and he was stumbling a little.

 

He crawled into his hammock, not without some difficulty, and settled on his back, letting Gally’s moonshine and the exhaustion of the longest day he could remember in some time drag him off to sleep like sinking under the tide.

 

But not before he reached under his shirt collar for the cord always around his neck, and took off Newt’s letter.

 

At least, Thomas thought as he began to drift, maybe tonight he wouldn’t dream.

 

___

 

He dreams anyway.

 

He is back at WCKD, glued to the image on the panel in front of him. It’s Newt, like it is every night now it seems.

 

Thomas can feel the familiar itch of helplessness in his palms, the prickle of cold sweat starting all over his skin, as Newt climbs the ivy.

 

He reaches the top, and stands atop the wall, tipping precariously forward for that perilous look over the edge that always makes Thomas’s guts clench, and twist. Waking him up in a seasick, sweaty storm of the images in his head, that take minutes to clear and fade back into reality.  

 

Tonight though, he isn’t waking up. It’s going to be different, tonight.

 

Tonight, Newt turns, so the image on Thomas’s screen seems to be looking straight at him.

 

“I don’t know who you people are,” Newt says. “But I hope you’re happy.” The streaks of blood from his ivy-ravaged palms stand out against the pallor of his face like war paint. “I hope you get a real buggin’ kick out of watching us suffer.”

 

Thomas feels his body lurch in his hammock, as if struggling against the invisible bonds of sleep that seem to keep hold of his mind whenever these dreams take him.


“And then you can die and go to hell,” says Newt. Thomas doesn’t know how he can still be asleep, when he isn’t even breathing. He knows, somehow, what is coming next. He knows what Newt is about to try to do. “This is on you.”

 

Newt jumps.

 

Thomas wants to look away, but in the dream he stares determinedly at the screen, hands gripping the sides of his work table so hard his fingers have gone bloodless and white.

 

He sees everything. He watches in horror as Newt falls through the air – but not all the way to the ground.

 

One foot catches the ivy on the way down, tangling immediately in the traitorous vines so that his whole body is flipped violently over in the air, wrenching his leg so viciously Thomas is surprised not to hear it as the bones snap.

 

The momentum of Newt’s fall is broken, but there is still some way to go, and the camera feeding to the screen loses sight of him.

 

The next thing the feed picks up is Minho, marching into the Glade with his head down and Newt on his back, piggyback style. The camera seems to know to move close enough Thomas can see the looks on their faces.

 

Minho’s is stubborn and set – grubby with sweat from the day’s run, and the extra weight of carrying Newt, such as it is.

 

Newt’s leg is bandaged crudely and he has his head turned, his cheek pressed silently into Minho’s shoulder blade as he clings, but Thomas can see it – still streaked with tears and traces of blood. And, not least, the dead, vacant look that now sits in his eyes.

 

There is somebody else in the picture. Alby, Thomas realizes with a quick jolt of grief, and he watches Minho meet his eyes, shaking his head in a silent signal not to ask any questions.

 

Alby reaches for Newt, pushing the hair back from his eyes so he can try to get a look into them. And Thomas feels Alby’s heart break for him, as Newt ducks his head away, reaching both arms around Alby’s neck, so that he can take his weight from Minho, almost like a child’s.

 

When Newt has eased himself down onto his one good leg, Alby’s strong arm goes around his back. Newt leans into him, tucking his head into the hollow of his neck and letting him lead him away behind the closed doors of the Homestead.

 

In the dream, Thomas is standing at his terminal now, his chair toppled on the floor behind him and utterly forgotten. His hands are still gripping the end of the desk – arms shaking with shock, and dread, and new resolve.

 

He knows now, what he has felt in the deepest parts of him for some time. He knows now what it is he will have to do.

 

“I’m coming for you, Newt,” he whispers fiercely to himself. “I’m coming for every last one of you.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Thomas woke up gasping, sucking in night air like a drowning man pulled from the swells. 

 

He waited just until the images in his mind and the dizzy swirling in his head had faded away enough to let him stand. Then he rolled out of his hammock, stumbling out of the sleeping quarters and off into to the bush where he could fall to his knees against the support of the nearest tree and let his stomach empty itself of the last remnants of Gally’s brew, and what little else Thomas had remembered to eat that day.

 

He raised a shaking hand to wipe across his mouth, and breathed. In, and then out.

 

Thomas turned and spat out the last of the sour bitterness lingering at the back of his throat, and stripped off the outer-most of the layered shirts he had stumbled off to sleep in, but he would still need to wash up. His skin still felt sticky with sweat and sour spit.

 

He waited another second or two on his knees before he felt he could stand, and make the little hike past camp and up to the stream.

 

___

 

 

The water of the stream was cold and fresh-tasting, and Thomas was surprised at how welcome the chill felt on his skin. When he was dressed again he felt better than he had all night – awkward party experience and poor choices involving Gally’s drink included.

 

As he stood, shaking the last of the water from his hair like an oversized retriever, he noticed a light, not too far off. A lantern was lit in the med shacks.

 

It looked like maybe Newt was up too.

 

It was a short walk to the shacks, but Thomas kept his step quiet, in case Newt was asleep after all. Sonya had sent Newt home early from the party to rest, she probably wouldn’t thank him for waking him up again mere hours later.

 

As he approached the shacks though, Thomas thought he heard a sound from within. Then, as he drew up with the back wall of Newt’s shack, he heard it again. A low sound, like a groan.

 

“Newt?” Thomas called tentatively, aiming for a volume that Newt would only hear if he were already awake. He hadn’t been around for much of his recovery, but if Newt slept anything like Thomas did, he could make a noise like that and still be asleep.

 

Instead of a response, there was another sound from inside.  It wasn’t loud, but the night was quiet, and he could tell this time it was definitely a moan – pitched a little higher and sounding less like a sleep sound now, with a stifled, bitten-off quality.

 

Thomas frowned, and tried to quell a twinge of concern.  Sonya hadn’t mentioned nightmares, and he couldn’t think of a reason Newt might be in pain.

 

 “Newt?” he called out again, though this time was more like a whisper.

 

He rounded the corner of the med shack and sure enough, a lantern was lit on the table next to Newt’s cot.

 

Newt was laid out on the cot, body arched in a tense line. His head was tipped back, and Thomas could see his eyes were shut, but not in sleep. His eyelids were squeezed tight and his lip was between his teeth. One hand was twisted desperately in the sheet up by his head, and the other hand –

 

“Whoa!”

 

Thomas wished immediately he hadn’t said it out loud.

 

Newt’s eyes flew open. “Jesus!

 

Thomas spun around in a blind panic, turning his back to restore what he could of Newt’s privacy – but not before catching the way Newt’s head tipped all the way backward, so his new short hair crushed into the pillow and his eyes went wide, taking in the upside-down surprise of Thomas standing over him.

 

Thomas’s heart was racing. He could hear Newt shifting about on the mattress, no doubt covering himself up and restoring his decency, but Thomas wasn’t ready to turn around. He heard Newt make a little huffing sound, but whether of irritation or nervous laughter, Thomas couldn’t tell.

 

After another moment Newt cleared his throat quietly.  “Well that properly scared the klunk out of me.”

 

Thomas still didn’t move, he felt frozen. And weird. Maybe even a little guilty. But how could he have known that Newt would be… doing that?

 

 “Tommy,” Newt said, his voice uninformatively even, “you planning to stand there all night with your mouth hanging open? The least you could do after barging in here is to come in and tell me what you came for. …That, or bugger off and let me bloody finish.”

 

It sounded like Newt was smiling when he said that last part. At least Thomas hoped so. The last thing he wanted was for Newt to be upset with him. Things were weird enough between them as it was.

 

He didn’t think it would make things any better between them if he just turned tail and ran off into the night, however. No matter how tempting it might seem right at the moment. So Thomas risked it and turned around, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on the med shack’s dirt floor.

 

He stepped over to the side of the cot and then told himself to grow a pair and look Newt in the eye, for klunk’s sake.

 

When Thomas finally looked at him, Newt was stretched back on the cot, one wrist thrown up over his head in a pose that seemed much too relaxed for how deeply awkward Thomas felt. His eyes looked a little unfocused, and his cheeks held just a slight flush – either with lingering stimulation from the activities Thomas had just interrupted, or embarrassment. But then his mouth was curved in a coy half-smile that looked more amused than anything else.

 

“What do you want, Tommy?”


Thomas could feel the question make him start to blush.

 

He stuffed his hands into his pockets. His palms had already started to sweat. Yesterday that question would have seemed straightforward and uncomplicated. But now…

 

Newt was dressed for sleep, wearing just his undershirt and – now anyway – his trousers. He was all bare arms and pale skin, stretched languidly out on the cot in front of him, and Thomas felt his eyes move over the image he made; the slim torso, his fine, nearly elfin, features and wild, mussed hair.

 

Brenda had been right again. Thomas really had some shit to figure out about how he felt. It all just seemed so complicated.

 

So far, having Newt back hadn’t been what Thomas would have imagined it to be at all. And of course he could never claim that he hadn’t imagined – hadn’t spent more hours than could possibly be healthy, hopelessly wishing Newt had never been taken from him. Thinking what it would be like, to have Newt wake him up in the mornings like he had in the Glade. Or to go out to the fields to see Newt right where Thomas would have expected him – watering the new seedlings or advising the gardeners at their work.

 

But that was just it. Any time he had imagined it, he had thought of what it would be like if Newt had never been gone. How could he have ever imagined him coming back from the dead?  Newt died. Right under his hands, and Thomas struggled, and mourned. According to some, he hadn’t yet stopped. And then, months – hell, years – later… Here he was again. 

 

And none of it was like it had been before.

 

Sometimes, it seemed like it could be again. Newt was…well, he was Newt. Quietly thoughtful and quick with a smile. But other times he was like a complete puzzle – needing his friends and their touch to stay grounded but seeming to seek so much solitude, sticking close to the med shacks and spending his free time down by the shore.

 

Then there were those dark looks that crossed his features, the bitter little snaps of temper. Scaring Thomas and making his heart hurt at the same time, and giving him no clues what to do about them at all.

 

And then. There were moments like this one. Like their kiss. Where Thomas didn’t have room to feel anything except confused.

 

“Thought I was meant to be the twitchy, anxious, tongue-tied one,” Newt commented, tilting his head to the side and attempting to finger-comb his hair into some semblance of order.

 

Thomas realized he had been staring, and only blushed harder, dropping his gaze back down to the ground.

 

After a second or two, Newt spoke again.

 

“I saw Teresa’s name,” he said slowly. “On the stone.”

 

The mention of Teresa brought Thomas up short, making him feel surprised and a little winded, the way it always did. It was like a cup of water over the little blaze of thoughts that had taken light all over his mind, and had obviously been starting to get a little out of control.

 

Thomas nodded. There was so much Newt still hadn’t been told. He deserved to know.

 

“It happened that day.“ Thomas knew he wouldn’t have to elaborate on which day he meant, and he was grateful. He could already feel his voice getting rough.  

 

He took a breath and looked at Newt again. His eyes were sad. He had known her too, after all.

 

 “After what happened…with you and me…” Thomas paused to clear his throat, but it only seemed to make it feel scraped raw. “Minho, Brenda and Gally found us,” he went on, “but it was too late. …You were gone – or so we thought.”


Thomas’s gaze seemed to have slid down, and away from Newt’s face as he talked. When he looked back up, Newt’s expression was still sad, still waiting apprehensively to hear something he didn’t already know, but there was something else. The fingers of his right hand were flexing oddly, where it still rested above his head on the pillow.

 

Thomas held back a frown, and focused on getting through the story he had never had to relate in full to anybody before.

 

“I went back to WCKD,” he said, feeling his voice go toneless, on top of the touch of sandpaper he was sure Newt could already hear in it. “Teresa had said my blood was the key, or something. That I could give them the cure. But when I got there, Lawrence was attacking the entire city, and the place was practically abandoned.”

 

Thomas was still looking at Newt, but not at his face anymore.  He watched his fingers flex again, in and out, as if grasping for something invisible.

 

“Janson was there though,” Thomas said, bringing himself back on target and swallowing against what now felt like an entire lump of sandpaper in his throat. “He had the Flare, and he was starting to lose it. …I think he might have had it all along.”

 

Newt was watching him intently, his eyes a little wide with the new information of where Thomas had gone that day, but Thomas was still fixated on that movement in his hand.

 

He recognized it, was the thing – from earlier that day, in the water. When Newt had noticed his gunshot scar and gone into that strange episode of panic. Thomas was almost afraid to go on, but he had come this far, and Newt was still watching him, listening without interrupting, the way only Newt always had. Waiting.

 

“He shot Ava Paige,” Thomas said, his voice starting to waver. “He held me and Teresa at gunpoint. Tried to take the serum she made…”

 

“That’s when he shot you?” Newt supplied, quietly, when Thomas didn’t go on. He had stopped flexing his hand, and had let his thumb nail start to pick obsessively at his index and middle fingers instead.

 

“He said –“, Thomas faltered, his attention split between looking for any clues of distress on Newt’s face and what he was doing with his fingers. “He wouldn’t let us leave. …He said he would keep me alive, but only just…“ Thomas trailed off again with the horrible feeling Newt knew exactly what Janson had meant by it.

 

Newt’s eyes were still intense, and waiting, but they hadn’t taken on that terrorized white-rimmed look yet.

 

“And did he… Teresa?” he asked.

 

Thomas shook his head.

 

“She helped me,” he heard himself say, dully. “To fight him off and escape. But then Lawrence’s attack hit, and the building came down.”


Thomas didn’t see Newt’s reaction to the last of his words, because his gaze had dropped down into the dirt again. His voice had started to wear so thin now he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to get the rest out at all.

 

“Jorge and Vince and everybody showed up in a Berg to pick us off the roof. It was crazy,” Thomas tried for a wry smile, but it only made the sandpaper in his throat catch fire and his eyes start to sting. “But Teresa…I was injured, she had to get me aboard first. And then...”

 

Thomas’s voice officially gave out.

 

She fell. The last two words just would not come. But Newt didn’t seem to need them.

 

“I’m so sorry, Tommy,” he said, meaning it. His eyes shone and his voice was barely more than a whisper.

 

Thomas swallowed. It felt painful and gritty, and he wondered if Newt could hear his throat click like he could.

 

Thomas looked at him while he gathered himself. Newt was still calm at the moment – remarkably so, given the circumstances of Thomas’s entrance a minute ago, and now the topic of conversation – but he didn’t like the look of his new tic much.

 

Thomas nodded at Newt’s hand, clenching and unclenching, and Newt stopped, closing it in a fist.

 

“You know how Minho said,” Thomas began, testing his voice, “that I should touch you?” It came out awkward, but relatively sandpaper-free. “Y’know, to help. But I never know when it’s…”

 

Okay? Appropriate? …Necessary?

 

Thomas searched for the word. Brenda said they should talk about this but it was hard.

 

After everything that happened today he definitely didn’t want to make it sound like it was something he didn’t want to do, but on the other hand he wasn’t sure how to explain it – how he wanted to help, but every time it seemed like Newt needed a friend, there was also something else there.

 

Some awful thing WCKD had done to them that made Newt look like he’d rather have nothing to do with Thomas at all, or …something else. Something that Thomas walked in on, or shirts that Newt never seemed to be wearing. Something that made them…distracted. And not end up talking at all.

 

Newt smiled a little. He didn’t flex his fingers again, but it looked like he wanted to. His thumb moved a little, worrying over a knuckle.

 

“You can touch me, Tommy,” he said, his voice quiet in the nighttime air. “Any time.”

 

Once again Thomas had the thought that there was more meaning in the words than there would have been just yesterday. Before they had kissed.

 

Thomas licked at his lips. He fought off another blush, and tried again to make his point.

 

“I was thinking maybe…you should touch me?”

 

As soon as he had said the words, Thomas realized how tonight’s context so far made them sound.

 

Newt arched a single brow.

 

Thomas was blushing hopelessly again now. It seemed Newt wasn’t the only one throwing things out there that seemed to carry extra meanings, intentional or not.

 

“Not—” he stammered. “I didn’t mean like— “

 

Thomas pulled his hands out of his pockets but stopped just shy of making any sort of gesture with his hand that would only embarrass him further. He felt like they had just moved past the whole awkward interruption thing, and now here they were again.

 

He really hadn’t meant anything remotely like that. It was just that it was really hard to figure out how he was going to be all touchy-feely and supportive when any time he had touched Newt in simulation, it was because Newt was being forced to murder him in new and inventive ways, or apparently as some kind of tease – which Thomas didn’t even fully understand, and was damn sure not prepared to ask about.

 

“I just meant, whenever you…”

 

Freak out? Start to feel like you’re back at WCKD and this is all some twisted simulation about to cave in on you?  None of what came to him seemed like the kind of thing that would be calming or helpful to hear.

 

“…Want to,” he finished lamely. He wasn’t sure he had made his point, but Newt responded swiftly enough.

 

“So constantly, then.”

 

Thomas caught his breath. He could feel his cheeks burning, right up to the tips of his ears.

 

This was another thing about Newt that seemed different. He said things – things that sounded like maybe they were a joke, like WCKD finally being ‘good’ for something, the day he showed up alive on the beach. Or that they had forgotten that they left him ‘on the bloody doorstep’. But he didn’t smile when he said it. Not exactly. It was more like there was a dark sort of gleam in his eye. Like he was too busy watching you, waiting to see a reaction he could analyze, to remember to smile.

 

His hand had opened again on the pillow.

 

Thomas scratched his fingers over the hair at his nape, while he waited in vain for his blush to subside. His eyes felt gritty, his throat burned, and he remembered suddenly that it was the middle of the night.  

 

His head had been spinning for days, and he was tired. There was no way he was going to figure all of this out tonight, the double meanings and sarcasm. And there was every possibility that Newt meant exactly what he said. Maybe it didn’t matter whether he meant it in more ways than one or not. Newt said he wanted to touch him, and maybe that was enough.

 

He had been serious, that Newt should feel free to take control, to be the one to decide when he needed Thomas’s touch or he didn’t. And hell, maybe Newt had been serious too. In which case, he should just get on with it.

 

Newt’s fingers flexed again – just slightly, but yeah, enough was definitely enough.

 

Thomas stepped forward to edge of the cot, and he knelt – face aflame and heart rate jumping to speed in his chest – offering himself.

 

Newt had seemed remarkably imperturbable until now, staying laid out in his recumbent position on the cot, but the sight of Thomas going to his knees seemed to have him moving instantly, throwing his legs over the cot’s edge and sitting swiftly up in front of him.

 

“Thomas—” Newt started, maybe to take back what he had said, but whatever he planned to say, it had started bad. Wrong.

 

“No,” Thomas said, his voice going ragged all over again. His head was bowed, so he couldn’t see Newt’s face, but he heard him pause in whatever he had been about to say. He saw both his hands come to rest hesitantly on his knees.

 

“Not for you,” he said, stubbornly, even with his heart in his mouth for some reason, his blood pounding in his ears. Newt wasn’t moving, so Thomas moved for him. He reached for Newt’s hand and pulled, gently. When he didn’t get any resistance, he took Newt’s hand and placed it over his hair, where WCKD had apparently gotten the most details about him wrong. “I’m Tommy, for you,” he said, ignoring the ruined sound in his voice. “…Always.”

 

Thomas kept his head down, so he didn’t see if Newt shut his eyes and swooned the way he always did at the touch, but he felt the hand over his hair relax into the strands, like it was melting.

 

“Tommy for me, hmm?” Newt said softly, drawling a little, as he started to stroke at Thomas’s hair. It definitely sounded better to Thomas. “My Tommy…”

 

His hair was still slightly damp from the stream, and the feel of the night air on his scalp as it lifted between Newt’s fingers made him clamp down on a shudder.

 

“Yours,” he agreed. His voice was nothing but a hoarse whisper by now, but he didn’t care. He was just glad Newt had finally gotten the point.

 

And now that he had, Newt seemed to be taking it to heart. He dragged his fingers appraisingly through Thomas’s hair a couple – three, four times, before he gave a sigh and Thomas felt the warmth of his hand slide down to cup the side of his face.

 

It was the first touch Newt had initiated, really, even if Thomas had to help him get started, and he felt oddly overwhelmed. He turned his face into Newt’s palm, taking in the earthy, musky scent of him clinging there. It should be weird, or even kind of gross maybe, given the knowledge of where Newt’s hand had been tonight, but it didn’t feel like that. It wasn’t the usual hot, sweaty way they had all always smelled in the Glade, or the dusty grimy way of the Scorch, but fresh – dark and spicy-bitter and… aroused. It felt more like a message, to all of his senses. That Newt was here, with him, and touching him, and Thomas welcomed it, breathing it in and letting it hit his system as if it were a drug.

 

God, Newt affected him almost like he was one. Thomas was sure a few seconds passed while he knelt there, just nuzzling into the curve of Newt’s hand – but as he did, Thomas noticed something. Something important.

 

As much as he didn’t really want to, Thomas stopped what he was doing and pulled back a little. Just enough to take Newt’s hand by the wrist, and turn it palm-up in front of him.

 

It seemed almost stupid now, that Thomas had never looked before. Newt had spent so much of their time together in the Glade, and in the Scorch, with his hands wrapped or gloved for work, that maybe Thomas hadn’t had much of a chance. Still, it seemed like he had done a pretty poor job of noticing things that mattered about his friend.

 

Oblivious. Just like Brenda had accused him of.

 

Thomas ran his fingers along the little regiment of fine, white scars lining Newt’s palm. Newt’s fingers twitched slightly, once, but he didn’t close them, letting Thomas look.

 

Thomas chanced a glance up at him, and then back down. Newt was frowning, but calm. Thomas passed his fingers over the ivy scars again. They were raised slightly, just enough that Newt could probably still feel them when he closed his fist, if he thought about it.

 

Thomas’s throat might never stop burning. His eyes had started now too. Suddenly he hated Newt’s little fist-clenching tic a thousand times more than he had a few minutes ago.

 

“It was you,” Thomas said, barely able to get the words out without them breaking his voice again. “You were the reason I put myself in the Maze.”

 

Thomas could feel Newt go tense where he was holding him by the wrist. He smoothed his thumb over Newt’s pulse, hoping the movement would be soothing, but also checking. It stayed steady.

 

Thomas wished he could say the same for his own heartrate.

 

“I get these dreams,” he explained, still drawing little circles into the skin of Newt’s wrist with his thumb, unable to look up at him for now. “But not. They – I’m pretty sure they’re memories.”

 

Newt’s weight shifted on the cot and Thomas felt him lean closer, listening the way Newt always did – with all of himself.  

 

“When I took the serum, back in the Glade,” Thomas went on, “I remembered. I remembered working at WCKD, but not everything,” he said, a little breathless now but feeling giddy with it, with a kind of desperation to get through this, to explain.  “I remembered Teresa,” he said, only a little roughly. “I remembered telling her I was going in. That I couldn’t keep watching my friends die in there.”

 

Thomas paused. He may have been forgetting to breathe. It hurt a little, with his chest so tight and his throat so raw for so long, but he was nearly there now.

 

“And now when I dream I see…” he said shakily, passing his thumb over Newt’s skin again and staring at the scars on his hand through what he realized, with a crushing momentary feeling of defeat, were unshed tears. “I see how you got these. I saw you climb the ivy, Newt.”

 

Newt was moving in earnest now, shifting forward to the edge of the cot and pulling free of his grasp so he could move both his hands to take Thomas’s face between them. But Thomas still couldn’t look up, with his breath hitching painfully and the tears in his eyes still a threat. 

 

So Newt leaned down over him, pressing their foreheads together like Thomas had done today in the water.

 

“Newt,” Thomas gasped, “I saw you jump. And I—”

 

He broke off, done talking anyway. What more could he possibly say about it that Newt didn’t already know?

 

And Newt was stroking at his hair, besides. And his cheeks again, and making these heart-rending shushing noises and Thomas’s breath caught so hard in his chest this time that it made him choke.

 

This is all wrong he thought, coughing pitifully. He was supposed to be helping, and now, as ever, Newt was the one having to help him.

 

Newt was leaned over him far enough the singlet he was just barely dressed in gaped low enough that Thomas could see the knife scar on his chest.

 

There was something to say after all. What he should have been saying for days.

 

Thomas’s breath shuddered, and his voice cracked so hard in his throat he wondered if it were possible for it to bleed – and the real issue that had been hanging over them like a storm cloud, the real reason Thomas had been twitchy and anxious and avoiding Newt for days hit him like a bolt of lightning blasting through the Hoover Dam.

 

“I’m sorry.” Thomas clutched at him sightlessly, as the tears blinded him. “I’m so sorry Newt. For everything,” he sobbed, fingers curling in a tight fist in the cloth of his singlet. His forehead was pressed against Newt’s kneecap now, though he wasn’t even sure how it got there.

 

I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.

 

And that was it. When it came to it, that was all there was to say. Thomas heaved a harsh, wracking breath, and hoped Newt would just let him lie there and sob like the pathetic childish idiot he obviously must be.

 

But it didn’t seem like he was going to.

 

Newt’s knee shifted so Thomas would have to hold his head up by himself, but just as swiftly his face was caught between Newt’s hands again.

 

“You did save me, Tommy,” Newt argued, urgently. “You saved me. I’m here aren’t I?” Newt’s hand was cupped over his cheek again, his thumb stroking over and over his cheekbone in a way that was hard not to let be at least a little soothing. “I’m here.”

 

After a moment or two Newt stopped stroking and started nudging, obviously wanting him to lift his head up. So Thomas obeyed, looking up at him finally.

 

There were still tears in his eyes but they were all over Newt’s hands and the knee of his trousers too so, at this point, what did it matter?

 

“I wouldn’t be, if not for you,” Newt said firmly. “I know that now. If you hadn’t fought me, to stop me from taking my own life – if you hadn’t fought until you bled… You literally bled for me, Tommy.”

 

“My Tommy…” Newt said again, more quietly, brushing one hand over Thomas’s hair. It looked like there might be tears starting in his eyes too now, but Thomas couldn’t have that.

 

It was the opposite of what tonight was supposed to be, and he knew they were supposed to talk, but they had done so much of that already, and pretty much all of it had sucked.

 

It was just too much. Newt was too much. So damn much more than he deserved – patient and forgiving and still stroking his face like that; still looking over his tear-stained features like he could do it all night. As if they were something he should want to look at, instead of snotty and quivering and embarrassing.

 

It made him want to shiver, and blush, and maybe cry all over again at the same stupid time. Thomas still wasn’t sure who had moved first the last time, but this time it was going to be him.

 

Thomas surged upward, and kissed him.  

 

Chapter Text

He didn’t expect it to happen again – that swooping, spinning, crashing inside his chest, but it did.

 

Kissing Newt was different, it seemed, from when Teresa had kissed him, or even Brenda. He wasn’t sure what that might mean, but this wasn’t going to be the moment he figured it out.

 

It was all Thomas could do, to let his hands find the edge of the cot’s mattress, and to hold on like it was the only thing keeping him upright. Which it probably was.

 

Like last time, he could feel Newt, and not much else around him. He could feel him take in a surprised breath as their mouths met, he could feel the eager way he responded, pressing closer but also pulling with his hands, urging Thomas forward and up onto the cot next to him.

 

Thomas marveled abstractly at the way Newt was able to maneuver him like that, without breaking off the kiss. How he seemed to be able to communicate where Thomas should go, even with his eyes shut, with little nudges and tugs.

 

And still doing things with his lips – nipping, hungry, really nice things, that made Thomas’s blood rush and his head spin dizzily. Thomas didn’t have much experience to go on, but it felt like Newt was one hell of a kisser.

 

Once he was sitting on the cot next to him, Newt seemed to slow down a little. He put a couple more chaste pecks against his mouth and then pulled back just a touch, as if he wanted to let him breathe, or maybe just look at him.


Thomas was glad for the chance to look, actually, Newt looked amazing like this – his eyes had gone all wide, yet hooded, and dreamily dark as if his pupils were bigger than before. His hair was sticking up a little again, where it was still long in the front, and his mouth looked different. It had a used, slightly swollen look to it that only made Thomas think about how it had felt against his, and how he wanted it again.


Newt was looking at him, his soft-pupiled eyes flicking all over his face, as if he was thinking something similar, and Thomas couldn’t think of an idea that could be better. Except that they were sitting on a cot, when they could totally be lying down.

 

He leaned forward and kissed Newt again, curling a hand around his nape to try his hand at that tugging-guiding thing Newt seemed to have mastered.

 

“Okay,” Newt agreed, grinning indulgently into a kiss, once it was clear what Thomas wanted.

 

It didn’t go as smoothly. The cot was narrow and they both laughed when Thomas’s hand slipped off the edge as he tried to angle them down, nearly landing both of them on the floor.

 

It was awkward for a moment, but Thomas managed it, lying down on his side so Newt could lay out next to him, turning onto his shoulder a little, so Thomas could lean down and fit their mouths together quite comfortably.

 

It might have been a little bit pathetic – although Thomas wasn’t quite sure he cared. All they had done was kiss, and Newt’s skills already seemed to be putting to him to shame.

 

The first time he felt just the tip of Newt’s tongue touch his own, Thomas heard himself make a noise so surprised and needy he couldn’t blame Newt for the way he felt his lips go tight against his in a grin, or the little huff of laughter that escaped against his mouth.

 

Thomas pulled away so he could look at Newt, grinning so sunnily at him it felt like it lit up the whole dimly lantern-shadowed room. He didn’t think he had ever seen his smile that wide, or his eyes so slitted with humour that they were almost closed.

 

“You’re laughing at me?” Thomas accused, giddily.

 

“It’s just a little tongue,” Newt chortled, his eyes glittering with mirth. “You’re behaving like you didn’t know I had one.”

 

Thomas couldn’t help but laugh a little too.

 

“You’re gonna be fun,” Newt teased, evilly.

 

“Shut up,” he laughed, “c’mere.” Thomas made a fist in the flimsy fabric of Newt’s undershirt and tugged hard enough he worried it would be ruined and Newt would be annoyed with him, but the thought was fleeting, and a worry for later.

 

Right now, all his brain had room for was the noise Newt made when he brought their mouths back together.

 

It was sort of a surprised “Mmmm!” but followed by an approving “mmm-hmmm,” that made him feel all sort of warm and pleased all over – if a little surprised at how much Newt seemed to enjoy that one rough little tug. It was sweetly gratifying, to feel like he was giving Newt what he wanted, and if Newt wanted to do things to Thomas with his tongue, well Thomas was his tonight, after all.

 

He tried this wordless communication thing Newt seemed to be so good at, opening his mouth a little wider on their next kiss, and then the next. Newt didn’t take long to get it at all, responding with a little stroking motion of his tongue against Thomas’s, and then another. It did pull another reaction out of him; a quick little breath of surprise at what something so simple could do to a person.

 

There were tingles – oh, pretty much everywhere – shooting through him and making him feel things. That was the weird part about it. The simple unadulterated emotion of want that pushed through him.

 

Newt didn’t laugh this time though, and Thomas took his opportunity to fight back, meeting the next slick-soft stroke of Newt’s tongue with equal pressure. 

The noise Newt made then. Thomas didn’t know how many more noises like that he could handle. It was surprised and desperate and hungry all at once and it felt like it went straight down into him. Stirring up more feelings, more wants far more complicated than Newt’s mouth on his, or the feel of his tongue.

 

It made Thomas want to try things. More things than just kissing. Even if he wasn’t quite sure what they were yet.

 

He broke off their kiss again, and Newt wasn’t laughing at him now, when Thomas looked at him. He wasn’t even smiling. His eyes had gotten so dark with blown pupils that they might as well have been black. His cheeks were flushed, the tip of his nose was even pink with the way Thomas had been crushing their faces together.

 

Newt had looked a little like this when they had kissed earlier, in the water. He remembered the way Newt had touched his face then, the way Newt’s fingers along his jawline had made him want to shiver.

 

Newt’s jaw was different from his, sharp and angled, and… beautiful, Thomas thought, only halfway surprised to be realizing it. He had always known what Newt looked like, he had always objectively been quite nice to look at – golden haired and creamy alabaster skin and the whole Victorian novel deal.

 

Thomas just hadn’t thought before that Newt might be this kind of beautiful. The kind that made him want, the kind that made him breathless and stunned and kind of…squirmy, for lack of a better word. Impatient, maybe.

 

So instead of tracing it with his fingers, he leaned in and put his nose to that exquisite line of Newt’s jaw instead, nuzzling under the strong angle at the corner, until he found the soft skin of his throat. And Thomas wanted to try things, so he did. With his nose, his lips. His teeth.

 

The sounds Newt made then got very interesting.

 

His breathing got harder, and less even. The little moans he gave got more frequent and a little more desperate.

 

Newt looked like he was starting to feel a little squirmy too. His shoulder moved restlessly against the mattress next to him, and then his hip. Thomas reached out, on instinct. His hand had chased the movement, coming to rest on Newt’s hip before he had even realized what he was reaching for. Part of his palm landed over a little patch of skin between where the singlet Newt was wearing had ridden up slightly, and the waistband of his pants.

 

Thomas gave a little moan of his own, and pushed with his fingers, so they slid up under the cotton of Newt’s shirt and found the silky heat of his skin. And wow. He must have touched Newt a thousand times in the past, but it had never felt like this. Now it felt amazing, maybe as amazing as Newt’s tongue, and it suddenly seemed really stupid that they hadn’t tried this hours ago.

 

Newt didn’t seem to agree.

 

“Tommy!“ Newt gasped, suddenly, “Tommy, Tommy—” he said a little louder, when Thomas’s only response had been to move what he had been doing down to Newt’s collar bone.


It was another feature of Newt’s with a beauty all its own too, so it took Thomas a second to register he had been covering Thomas’s hand with his, and pulling it out from under his shirt.

 

“We should…slim it. A little, yeah? Slow things down a bit?” Newt suggested breathlessly, lacing the fingers of the errant hand he was holding in with his own. That was new. But Newt was still slate-eyed, and pink-cheeked and honestly looking like he wanted anything but.


“Why?” Thomas asked, trying not to sound like a petulant toddler, and probably failing.

 

“Why,” Newt repeated, with a scoff. “If you only knew what you do to me.”

 

Newt drew Thomas’s hand up to his mouth and nibbled puckishly at a knuckle. That was definitely new. His finger was such an unexpected place for Newt to put his mouth, and Thomas could feel everything, teeth and lips, breath. Tongue. It made those crazy tingles of want go shooting all over his skin again.

 

Thomas thought he might be getting some idea. But it didn’t seem all that bad.

 

“Don’t wanna,” Thomas huffed, pouting theatrically like the spoiled toddler he knew he sounded like.

 

Newt only laughed softly at him, so Thomas put his nose back where he wanted it, under the hinge of Newt’s jaw.


Thomas,” Newt said, his voice a warning this time, and boy, Thomas was really starting to hate the sound of his full name from Newt.

 

“Really?” he asked, taking a breath to try to rein himself in. He had never felt like this. It was a new thing to try to control it.

 

“Can’t believe I’m bloody saying this but, yes. Really,” Newt replied.

 

That didn’t sound like Newt wanted him to stop at all. Thomas was confused. And no wonder. After everything Newt had let him do so far – and all those noises it made him make –  he would be surprised if there was any blood left going to his brain at all.

 

He took his hand reluctantly from Newt’s grasp so he could put it across his eyes, pressing his thumb and forefinger into his temples. It didn’t do much to clear his head of the lingering, hazy feeling of desire, but he had said Newt should be the one to decide when he wanted him, and he meant it. No matter how gorgeous and lust-filled his eyes were, or how appealing his mouth looked.

 

“M’kay,” Thomas agreed, bravely.  

 

“Poor Tommy,” Newt laughed, reaching over to comb his fingers through Thomas’s hair.

 

In his state, Thomas barely remembered to watch for a reaction, but then the flutter of Newt’s eyes this time was so brief it could have been confused with a blink. Maybe Newt had actually just been fixing his hair. It was probably a pretty crazy mess right about now.

 

“Y’know I really haven’t got much sympathy for you,” Newt told him, moving his hand down to cup Thomas’s cheek the way he seemed to like to. His thumb smoothed over Thomas’s eyebrow, which apparently had somehow gotten mussed up too, burrowing in under Newt’s chin like he had been doing. “First you get me in the water, naked right down to your knickers. Then you go and kiss me…”

 

“Oh I kissed you?” Thomas challenged amiably, letting their foreheads rest together, like he had that last time.

 

“Mmmm,” Newt hummed affirmatively, but he was giving a teasing smirk that made laughter want to bubble up even through the lustful fog that was still clouding up Thomas’s brain. Newt’s thumb was stroking over and over his cheekbone again, and it seemed to work for soothing the edges off this kind of feeling too.

 

It felt nice, lying together like this, talking quietly and laughing even quieter. Newt’s fingers had started to wander now, tracing shivery little lines over his face and down to his throat. His fingernails scratched gently over his adam’s apple and Thomas swallowed on reflex.

 

Newt watched his throat move. He licked his lips distractedly, and Thomas could swear his eyes darkened a shade as his pupils spread again.

 

He was starting to get confused again. The next feather-light stroke of Newt’s fingers went up the side of his neck, and Thomas made no secret of its effect, giving a deep shudder Newt would be able to feel under his fingertips, but through the cot’s mattress too.

 

Newt’s smirk only deepened wickedly.

 

“Then I get you parading about,” he said thickly, “lifting things, for hours. By firelight no less, with your bloody shirt open.”

 

Newt’s fingers curled warmly in under the open collar of said shirt and around his neck, scraping deliciously up the back of Thomas’s nape. His thumb ran over the base of Thomas’s throat, making him swallow again, and let go of a quiet little grunting sound so tiny Newt would probably feel the vibration of it under his thumb before he heard it. 

 

“And then,” Newt’s voice rasped and he had to clear his throat. It sent a pleased little thrill though him, knowing he wasn’t the only one having trouble holding it together and sticking to their pact to slow things down. “Shuck it if the very object of my predicament doesn’t walk right in here while I’m trying to take care of it,” Newt concluded, drolly. “There’s only so buggin’ much a man can take.“

 

He shifted his hips uncomfortably on the mattress, all the better to make his point.

 

Thomas felt like he should be laughing again but he was too busy tingling and shivering and feeling like his cheeks – and maybe other places too – had caught on fire instead. Did Newt really think of him that way? So often? When he was just walking around doing normal stuff?

 

“You took it off,” Newt said, his voice changing to a steadier, more serious tone.

 

He was still gazing longingly at him though, moving his fingers again and again over Thomas’s skin in ways that felt different every time. So it took a moment for him to figure out Newt was pushing aside the edge of his shirt collar – and what was missing underneath.

 

Of course Newt had seen it. There had been too many opportunities down by the water and all over camp tonight to miss it.

 

Thomas shifted about awkwardly on the mattress for a moment and dug in his pocket.

 

He took a breath. “This is yours,” he said, opening his hand to offer Newt the letter on its soft, worn cord.

 

Newt’s smile as he looked down at the little metal tube was hard to decode – he looked bemused, maybe a little relieved. It felt strange when Newt took his hand away from petting him and took the little tube, still warm from his pocket, out of the palm of his hand. He felt just the hint of an urge to close his fingers around it again, keep it safe, like he always had.

 

Thomas realized, with a nudge of surprise, that nobody but him had touched it since Minho had handed it back to him his first night on the Island. But this was Newt. This was right.

 

Newt was shaking his head though.

 

“Nope,” he said, quietly, unfurling the cord between his fingers, and holding it out. “It’s for you,” he insisted. “Always was.”

 

“Here,” Newt prodded, when Thomas didn’t move. So then he did, bowing his head to let Newt fasten it around his neck, where apparently it was meant to be.

 

“Thank you,” Thomas said wholeheartedly, once he was resting thoughtfully back against the pillow again. He meant it, and not just for giving him the letter today. “I mean f—

 

But the way Newt was looking at him, and leaning back in to kiss him again, he got the gist.

 

Maybe they weren’t supposed to, maybe it was going to confuse him all over again, but Thomas welcomed the kiss, opening and relaxing into it, giving Newt access to do whatever he might want with his tongue or anything else, right from the start.

 

It was a less shocking, less urgent feeling in his chest this time than the crash and spin from before, more of a slow swoop. And lower down, deeper. Setting off the feeling in his stomach like somebody was letting loose a nest full of butterflies.

 

Thomas relished it, not knowing how long Newt was going to let it last. He pressed closer, letting a warm happy flush start in his chest and flow out through him right to the edges of his fingers. Thomas reached up a hand for Newt’s shoulder this time, instead of his hip. Then he moved it to the side of Newt’s face – feeling so pleased with himself he should probably be embarrassed, when he felt it make Newt relax into it too, like he was melting against him.

 

Encouraged, Thomas smoothed his hand down over the side of Newt’s neck and back down to his shoulder again. There was all this skin he had been neglecting, and that felt suddenly like a real shame. He moved his hand swiftly over the length of Newt’s arm as they kissed, and back up – thrilling himself all over again when he found his fingers brushing over gooseflesh on the way back up.

 

Thomas couldn’t help it. A delighted little moan escaped him, and sure enough, Newt made a noise too. A not-unexpected quelling sort of noise, and he pulled breathlessly out of the kiss.

 

“Tommy,” he panted. “I mean it – it’s getting blue down there, mate.”

 

“Oh. That’s the problem!” Thomas said, before he could stop himself.

 

You think?” Newt asked, giving a sardonic laugh. “Wait…what did you think?” 

 

Thomas ducked his head, and focused on tucking his necklace back in under his shirt, not sure how to answer.

 

“Tommy…” Newt persisted, tucking a finger under his chin and tipping his face up when Thomas didn’t look at him. “Not that I wouldn’t want you?”

 

Thomas sighed. It wasn’t that exactly. In fact in some ways Newt had been almost too clear about that. But then the moment Thomas tried to give him what it felt like he wanted…

 

Newt didn’t look like he was thinking about that stuff right that second though, he was still staring seriously into his eyes. “Did my letter not get anything through to you?” he pressed. “You’re everything, mate. …Everything.”

 

Thomas felt his chest go tight again. There Newt went again, being so open, and so, so much more than Thomas was sure he could ever deserve – but so hard to grasp at the same time. He wasn’t supposed to kiss him, so Thomas took Newt’s hand and laced their fingers in together like Newt had done earlier; he pulled him close, and pushed their foreheads together again. He really didn’t want to cry any more tonight.


Thankfully Newt kept talking, because Thomas was sure he wasn’t going to be able to form words for a minute or so.

 

“Not to mention you’re a proper wet dream on legs,” he commented, making Thomas choke on a surprised little laugh.

 

…And then Newt kept doing that.

 

“You don’t know, do you?” Newt marveled quietly, pulling back to look at him and bringing up his other hand between them, to brush his thumb over Thomas’s cheek, his lip.

 

It tickled, and Thomas bit at his lip where Newt’s thumb had been, getting a little close-up huff of a laugh out of Newt. But then he stopped smiling, smoothing his thumb over the crease between Thomas’s eyebrows instead.

 

Thomas knew he was frowning. He didn’t know what to say. These were the kinds of things Newt kept saying that seemed like jokes but it turned out weren’t. Things he was sure Newt never would have said before.

 

For all Brenda had said Newt was obvious in the Scorch, he certainly had never told Thomas anything like he’d like to touch him constantly or that he was a walking wet dream. Jeez, he was getting so used to blushing, his cheeks didn’t even feel hot anymore.

 

“You’re different…” Thomas started, trying to explain himself, but with no idea where he could start.

 

“You mean damaged?” Newt asked. He looked down at their hands interlaced, straightening his fingers out between Thomas’s own.

 

“No,” Thomas said, squeezing a little.

 

“I am, you know,” Newt countered, but he closed his fingers back around Thomas’s hand again, returning the squeeze.

 

Thomas sighed. “I know,” he rubbed his thumb back and forth over Newt’s knuckle, hoping it was reassuring. “It’s okay.”

 

Newt smiled, but he didn’t look up. “Hoping you’ll have me anyway,” he said, wryly.

 

That’s what I meant,” Thomas said, giving Newt’s hand a little shake and realizing it was probably a really weird moment to sound excited, but he was just so relieved he wasn’t going to have to figure out how to explain. “You say stuff. Like you’re kidding, almost, but then not, too…”

 

Newt was looking up at him finally, but Thomas wasn’t sure what to make of his expression when he did.

 

“I’m sorry Tommy,” he said. Thomas shook his head, not sure what on earth Newt could be apologizing for, but Newt kept talking. “I may be damaged,” he went on, his tone going distant, and wooden. “But I’m also wiser.” Newt looked down at their hands again, and pulled his fingers free.

 

Thomas didn’t like it. He almost felt a chill, like he was colder all over without the warmth of Newt’s hand in his. He was afraid Newt would start clenching his fingers again but he put his hands together instead, picking distractedly at his thumb nail.

 

“If there’s one thing I took away from WCKD,” he said dully, “it’s that life is precious. Too short not to say the things that are on your mind. …Not to go after the things you love.”

 

Thomas’s thoughts felt like an overturned apple cart. He had been so sure a minute ago he had been able to explain things properly, and now…

 

“I’m sorry I’ve been too forward,” Newt said finally.

 

“No—” Thomas started, but now he really didn’t have any words.

 

Love, Newt had said – love, but in that awful faraway, hollow tone he always used when he talked about WCKD. Thomas’s heart had never felt so tight, and so full at the same time – like it was swelling with joy, but it still hurt somehow, as if it was doing it against the point of a knife. 


Newt had only just moments ago told him he meant everything, and now what he said carried the terrifying sound of giving up.

 

“Please don’t stop,” Thomas said, so hastily he realized he hadn’t thought out the words enough for them to even make much sense. “Being too forward I mean,” he clarified, which only made Newt smile down at his hands. “I didn’t mean you should stop saying that stuff, it’s just when it sounds like you’re joking I—”

 

“They’re not jokes, Tommy,” Newt said, turning to him and mercifully giving up on picking at his fingers. “I know I can be a sarcastic old shank sometimes, but I’ve meant every word I’ve said. You just… seem to have a hard time hearing it. Of seeing yourself that way, I think.”

 

Newt rolled up on his shoulder to face him and put his hand to his cheek again.

 

“It is so hard for you to believe?” Newt asked gently. “That somebody would want you that way? …The things you make me feel?”

 

Thomas turned his face into Newt’s palm, the way he had done when he had knelt in front of the cot. It still felt so intoxicating, so electric, being this close to Newt – his scent, his voice, the heat of his skin, all filling up his senses and starting to make him feel sort of fogged up and dizzy again.

 

“Please don’t stop though,” Thomas said, again, losing track of their words, and knowing he needed to say this before they ended up distracted again. “I need you to keep on…telling me what you need. I can’t keep guessing, Newt,” he said, hearing the begging note in his voice, and pressing on anyway. “I’m no good at it. I’m too oblivious.”

 

“Oblivious,” Newt laughed, and it was such a relief to hear that terrible robotic sound gone from Newt’s voice that Thomas didn’t care that everything he just said had obviously made him sound ridiculous. “Who told you that?”

 

“…Brenda,” Thomas admitted, now starting to feel strangely sheepish. How had Newt known that word hadn’t been his?

 

“Ah,” Newt said, nodding to himself like it made a lot of sense to him in some way. But Thomas didn’t ask what. There was still something else he needed to say, even though he wasn’t quite sure how.

 

“Newt…” Thomas put his hand up so he could take Newt’s face in his palm too, to make sure he was looking at him. “Newt,” Thomas vowed, “You’re everything too. I’ve spent every day of the last two years wanting nothing but one thing – just to have you back.”

 

Newt’s eyes fell shut, but Thomas was still trying to figure out his words. “And then you were here and…”

 

“Damaged,” Newt said again, his eyes still closed.


“Well…yes,” Thomas said. “I’m sorry, and it’s…so awful and it…makes me hurt too.”

 

Newt had opened his eyes. They looked sad again, and it was so unfair, so far from how Thomas wanted tonight to have gone. He knew his face couldn’t have looked much better to Newt right now either, but he had to go on.

 

“…And they used me to do it,” he said mournfully, hearing his voice break, but feeling determined not to shed any more tears tonight. “When you told me I’d been in your head these past two years too – but always to hurt you, always to tease…” He ran his thumb over Newt’s cheek the way that always felt so sweet and soothing when Newt did it for him. “I don’t want to do that to you anymore.”

 

“You didn’t,” Newt reassured him, quietly. “I’m not so broken I don’t know that it wasn’t you.”


Thomas sighed. Hearing it in Newt’s own voice – describing himself as broken – he thought briefly of Brenda, and wondered if her prescription of talking things out was supposed to be this hard and painful.

 

“But I did,” Thomas argued. “Even if I didn’t mean to….parade around you, or make you take your clothes off in the water.”

 

“I know,” Newt said, smiling a little now, and petting soothingly at Thomas’s hair. “I know that Tommy, it’s alright. I shouldn’t have teased you.” Newt let his hand slide down and let his fingers nestle into the hair at Thomas’s nape. “I probably shouldn’t have kissed you – at least not so soon.”

 

Thomas raised a brow. “I thought I kissed you?”

 

If Newt could tease him, then Thomas could do it right back. He had seen that brief smile just now from Newt, and he wanted it back.

 

“Oh you did, you did.” Newt didn’t smile exactly, but his eyes had a glint to them Thomas knew well. He carded his fingers idly through the back of Thomas’s hair, before bringing his hand forward along his jaw, to run his thumb over the corner of his lip in an exceedingly familiar caress. “But I probably had no business putting my fingers in your mouth,” he admitted.

 

Thomas laughed. “Well obviously I didn’t mind!”

 

“I need you to keep doing stuff like that,” he said seriously, tipping his chin down into Newt’s touch so he could look straight into his eyes. “To keep being the one to tell me when it’s okay. So I’m not guessing. So I know I’m not reminding you of something bad, or…taking advantage.”

 

“Taking advantage,” Newt repeated, incredulously. “Here I’ve been worried it’d come off I’d been playing the sympathy card, trying to get into your pants!”

 

Thomas dipped his head and laughed again. He had given up even trying to fight off all his blushes.

 

“…We’re a pair,” Newt marveled darkly, putting his hands together and picking at his thumb nail again.

 

Thomas reached out and took his hand, putting a stop to it, and was rewarded with another small smile.


“Listen,” Newt said, running his thumb back and forth over Thomas’s knuckles. “My memories might be an addled bloody mess, and I might get a little freaked out now and then, when something feels a little too familiar, or like I don’t know where I am. But I know my own mind, Tommy. I always know what I want.”

 

He let go of Thomas’s hand to reach for his face again, stroking the backs of his fingers over his cheek.

 

“I’ve always known.”

 

“Newt,” Thomas said, hearing the husky touch to his voice, and not caring. How could it not affect him - the things Newt was saying to him, the sensitive stroke of his knuckles along the side of his face? “Can I…can I please kiss you?”

 

Newt smiled again, much wider this time.

 

And this time, Thomas felt the anticipation explode in his chest even before their mouths touched. He waited though, for Newt to come to him, taking his moment to watch what it looked like.

 

He watched Newt’s eyes, the way his gaze filled with intention and moved down to Thomas’s mouth, before finally sliding slowly shut. He watched his breath quicken and his lips softly part. The last thing he noticed was Newt’s eyelashes as he moved close – the blunt little fan they made against his cheeks a much darker shade than the gold of his hair – and then his own eyes fell shut just in time for the fireworks to go off behind his lids, as he felt the first soft brush of Newt’s mouth on his.

 

Thomas responded, but slowly, parting his lips gently and letting Newt decide, whether he would slip his tongue in between them or no. He did, to Thomas’s delight – once, and then again – and Thomas nuzzled closer, putting an appreciative hand up to hover at the corner of Newt’s jaw. He used the ghost of a touch only, nothing that would pull him in or hold him still should he decide the kiss was done.

 

Soon enough, Newt did, brushing his thumb over his cheekbone and nuzzling the tips of their noses together like a sweet little farewell, before he pulled back.

 

He was happily smirking his trademark half-smile, when Thomas opened his eyes. Thomas thought he might be one of the prettiest things he had ever seen.

 

“Thank you,” he said – still a little huskily – smiling contentedly back and reaching up to comb his fingers through Newt’s hair, where it kept sticking up at the top.

 

Newt was still watching him, like he was expecting Thomas to move in and try for another kiss again, but he had tried that approach, a couple times now, and it hadn’t worked out so well. He had asked Newt to tell him what he needed. It was the only way Thomas could see for this to work, and it started now.

 

Thomas settled back. He placed his hand back on Newt’s hip – over the cotton of his undershirt, instead of his skin. He could still feel it anyway – the warmth through the thin, delicately ribbed fabric; the way it slid smoothly over the taut skin when he moved his fingers, as if Newt were wearing a layer of tightly stretched silk underneath.

 

Newt seemed to appreciate it too, settling down beside him and cuddling closer. Thomas tipped his face down, resting their heads together and feeling the rough tickle of Newt’s hair against his cheek.

 

After a while, enough time seemed to pass for Newt to want another kiss. Which Thomas happily gave him, meeting his mouth carefully as Newt turned his face up slowly, nudging at Thomas with his brow bone, and then his nose, before finally letting their mouths catch.

 

It was shorter, more simple and chaste. But then it was followed by another, only a minute or so later. Just a gentle brushing together of lips that actually managed to have just as much shivery, tingling effect on him as anything they had done before. And Thomas stayed there and let it, feeling the little ripples of craving spread out over his skin and take him over completely.

 

Newt kept him in that shivery, crackling state for a while. Less and less time seemed to pass between each kiss he came back for, until soon it was more of a constant gentle brushing, nibbling, nuzzling, than it was a kiss. Still, Thomas stayed unmoving on his side of the cot, letting himself drift lazily on each new wave of sensation Newt’s attentions brought on.

 

He still had a hand on Newt’s flank, where he had been stroking in idle circles with his fingers, and running his palm absently over the slope of his waist, and after some time he felt Newt give that fretful little cant of his hips Thomas had begun to recognize as his warning Newt was about to put on the brakes.

 

Sure enough, he stopped what he was doing with their mouths, resting his forehead against Thomas’s and letting out a slow breath.

 

Thomas’s hand moved again over thin cotton and warm skin, and Newt cleared his throat.

 

“Hmmmm, Tommy…” he hummed soothingly. More for himself than for Thomas’s sake, it sounded like. “This could all end a bit…messy.”

 

Thomas didn’t move, except to curl his fingers, rubbing the backs of his fingernails over Newt’s side instead of his fingertips and getting another little throat clearing sound out of Newt that sounded like it was covering up a soft little grunt of reaction.

 

“…Would that be so bad?”

 

Thomas felt Newt’s eyebrows go up.

 

“Careful, there.” Newt pulled back a little, only to lean back in and tap their noses together in admonishment. “Awfully tempting, aren’t you?”

 

“Am not,” Thomas replied, trying to argue, but nearly laughing at himself when he heard how lazy and befuddled he sounded. Newt had him so blissed out and lust drunk his skin had given up tingling a while back and just felt like it had outright caught flame all over. His bones felt melted and liquid inside. He hadn’t known it was possible to feel like this. “I’m not doing anything,” he drawled, raising his hands in a slowed, molten gesture of innocence. “M’just lying here. You’re the temptation.”

 

Newt frowned, and it was kind of adorable, with his mouth all kiss-plumped and his eyes black with pupil. His hair was an absolute scene by now, with all the times Newt had dragged it across the pillow for a kiss, and for some reason it made him seem all the more irresistible.

 

“Maybe not on purpose,” he demurred, sounding a little slurred himself as he dragged a finger down the side of Thomas’s throat and down as far into the V of his shirt collar as it would go until it hooked in the layers of fabric and lost contact with the skin.

 

“Nope,” Thomas disputed, ignoring the way even that simple little line of touch fanned the flames all over his skin in a brief little flare, and lifting his hand away from its home on Newt’s hip to tug pointedly at his earlobe.

 

He hadn’t meant for the little caress to be provoking but maybe Newt was feeling as all-over over-stimulated as he was, by now. Thomas should have maybe felt a little guilty for hoping so, as he watched Newt shut his eyes and make a discomfited little grunting sound.

 

“I don’t tempt you, you tell me what you need, remember?” Thomas reminded him languidly, curving his fingers up to trace over the top rim of Newt’s ear instead. “That’s the deal.”

 

Apparently the tip of his ear wasn’t any safer a place to touch, because the next response out of Newt was nothing but this vexed little half-whimper, and he leaned forward to kiss him.

 

A real kiss this time, with both lips catching his firmly, and lingering. Thomas didn’t think he could feel much more – surely his entire nervous system was maxed out and overloaded by now – but his heart apparently could still swell happily in his chest.

 

“Tell me what you need, Newt,” Thomas prodded, when he could speak again. “You said you wanted me to bugger off and let you bloody finish,” he quoted, in a terrible imitation of Newt’s voice.

 

Newt snorted, tucking his head into Thomas’s shoulder in a short bout of surprised, derisive laughter.

 

“Horrible, Tommy,” he critiqued, when he lifted his head up. “Please don’t ever try to copy my accent again.”

 

Thomas gave a grin that probably came off goofier than intended, but it didn’t last long. He could feel it fade away from his face as he drew up the courage to say what he had to ask next.

 

“…Should I go?”

 

Newt’s hand tightened into a reflexive fist where his finger was still hooked into the collar of Thomas’s shirt, tangling the rest of his hand in the fabric and holding him still. Even though he still hadn’t moved.

 

Thomas waited though, for Newt to give a shake of his head before he let the relief and the little renewed thrill of being this close to Newt, of getting to stay this close, flood through him.

 

“…No,” Newt murmured, looking down at the fist he had made in Thomas’s shirt like he was only just noticing he’d done it.

 

“Then you have to tell me,” Thomas answered, turning his face down to nudge at Newt’s forehead with his own, and make him look him in the eye.

 

He had meant it, really, about not wanting Newt to hold back on his account. While he loved everything they were doing, some of it seemed to get to Newt in a way that felt strained, even a little distressed. And more stress was never what Thomas wanted for Newt, despite how most of tonight had gone so far.

 

His skin was still tingling, still lit up like rosily glowing embers everywhere, from the things Newt did to him. Even just lying next to him like this. And still Thomas would wait, gladly soaking it all in, until Newt was ready to give in to whatever it was he so obviously needed and tell Thomas what he could do.

 

“Tell me what you need from me, Newt,” he begged. “Please.”

 

It was the ‘please’ that had done it, Thomas thought, belatedly, once he recovered enough from Newt’s reaction to form thoughts again – it was quite the reaction, after all.

 

“God, Tommy,” Newt whispered, pulling with the fistful of his collar he still had hold of, and coming forward for a kiss – a real kiss, a hard kiss.

 

“You don’t know,” Newt muttered urgently, not even bothering to pull away, so that Thomas could feel the words come out against his lips. “You don’t. What you do to me, I’m so—”

 

But what he was, Thomas would never hear, because Newt was back again, kissing him. Still hard, but faster now – firm little pecks and nips, and then longer kisses too – drawing at Thomas’s mouth with his, and using strong, commanding thrusts of tongue, that made the fire in his skin build higher and catch on, moving inward like the space inside his chest had caught aflame too.

 

Thomas nearly forgot he was supposed to lie still and wait, letting the fire in his body melt him and make him go soft and pliant – giving in to the slow draw of Newt’s hand at his collar and moving instinctively into his space until their chests pressed together, pinning Newt’s hand between them.

 

Newt only tightened his grip, angling his head slightly so he could catch Thomas’s lip between his teeth and bite down. It wasn’t painful, not exactly, but bloody hell, as Newt would say, was it ever a surprise.

 

Thomas heard himself gasp, and then, embarrassingly, moan – and the hand that had found its way back to Newt’s hip went tight enough maybe it was a not-quite-painful surprise as well.

 

“Sorry,” Newt said breathlessly, releasing him and flattening his hand out against Thomas’s chest. “Alright?” he panted, putting his hand up now, to smooth his thumb over the spot on his lip where his teeth had been. “Y’alright?”

 

Thomas was better than alright. It felt like Newt was finally letting loose with him, showing him what he wanted. Instead of an answer, Thomas opened his mouth and gave the thumb at his lip a nip of his own.

 

Newt swallowed, thickly. His eyes were feverishly bright now, his cheeks sporting little pink spots that did things to the flames dancing about inside his chest.

 

“You don’t need to worry about me,” Thomas told him. “You can stop holding back. I don’t need anything. Just to make you happy.”

 

Thomas worried for a second he had said something wrong. Newt’s eyes closed and he sunk his head to Thomas’s chest, taking hold of his shirt with both fists now.

 

He felt him take a breath, like he was breathing him in, the heady, intoxicating way Thomas had done with Newt’s scent earlier.

 

“Tommy, Tommy, Tommy…” Newt chanted, in a low, overwrought-sounding tone.

 

“Newt,” Thomas replied, putting up his hand to stroke his fingers tentatively over his back, and drawing a shudder out of Newt so dramatic it stopped his breath a moment. Whatever was in Newt’s head, now it really needed to come out.

 

“No more holding back,” Thomas went on, trailing his fingers all the way down Newt’s spine this time, and then back up. “Just let me. Whatever it is I do for you, let me do it. Let me make you happy. Just tell me what you need from me …Please.”

Just like last time, Newt didn’t seem to be able to resist a ‘please’ from Thomas. He felt him let out a slow breath, that held just the touch of a groan. And then – shock and sensation like he didn’t think his over-sensitized body could feel anymore tonight sped through him.

 

Newt had put his mouth to Thomas’s throat. And not a gentle brush of his lips either, it was open, and wet and hot. And Thomas thought he let out a moan before he realized the sound had come from Newt.


“Tommy…” Newt grated, his lips still against Thomas’s throat, and then open again suddenly – mind-blowing and wet and sizzling on his skin – tasting him. “I want…”

 

“Yes,” Thomas agreed, just as grittily. Whatever it was, yes.

 

“That…that thing you were doing, to my neck,” he admitted, running what might have been the tip of his nose ticklishly up the column of his windpipe and up to his chin.

 

“Yes,” Thomas told him again willingly. More than willing. He put his hands to Newt’s shoulders and rolled him off of him, back into position on his back. “Move.”

 

Newt gave a surprised but not unhappy noise and co-operated, letting Thomas handle him without any sign of hesitation or resistance.

 

Thomas nuzzled close, brimming over with joy and so much giddy enthusiasm he didn’t know where to start. But even that first little snuggle had Newt making a helpless little noise in his throat, and Thomas’s heart swelled so happily big it felt painful, like it could break right through his chest. Newt had finally, finally told him what to do, and Thomas was more than ready to oblige.

 

The last time Newt had stopped him, he had left off at Newt’s collar bone, so he started there. Gently at first, just running his nose along the length of the delicate contour, and then back.


Newt swallowed, shifting his position fitfully as if forcing himself to settle in, accept Thomas’s attention.

Thomas approved.

 

“I love this,” Thomas told him, running his fingers lightly over the silken trail he had just traced with the tip of his nose. “Learning about you. …Your smell. How you taste.”

 

To demonstrate, Thomas took a page out of Newt’s book, putting his mouth over the place between the notch in the centre of his clavicle and the lowest point of his windpipe  –  open enough Newt would feel the wet heat of his tongue as he explored.

 

“Tommy,” Newt gasped, trying to answer him, “you taste s—”

 

“Shh,” Thomas interrupted, as much as he wanted to hear the rest of Newt’s thoughts on that, it would have to wait. “Focus on you,” he mumbled into the sweet-smelling hollow where Newt’s shoulder curved into his neck. “…I am.”

 

Newt gave a groan, which Thomas liked just as well. That was enough talk for now. He had been given work to do, after all. He started with a line of tiny little kisses, from the soft spot under the ridge of Newt’s jaw, all the way down the side of his throat.


Newt gave a long, shuddering breath and hooked his fingers into the front of Thomas’s shirt again. As if Thomas would dream of going anywhere now. It was time to work his way back up. He nuzzled over each spot he had dropped kisses, and then dutifully did what he had promised, taking a taste of each patch of pale, blushing skin.

 

Newt’s reactions got better and better each time. His breathing sped up, he made these tantalizing little hitching noises every time Thomas’s mouth made contact with the warm salt-satin of his skin, that mounted bit by bit in intensity until they were desperate little moans, making Thomas have to fight off a grin, just to avoid interrupting his task.

 

Though Newt kept doing that just fine on his own.

 

“God…Tommy,” he gasped, not for the first time. “You—”

 

“Can’t keep quiet, can you?”

 

“N—” Newt started, as if he had been about to answer, but even in this state, wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

 

He gritted his teeth and tipped his head back the way Thomas had seen him do earlier tonight, making the skin under Thomas’s mouth draw tight, and giving him so much more access than before.  He wasn’t quiet for long though, giving a surprised “huhhh” as Thomas opened up again, right over the spot where he could see his pulse beating.

 

Wanker,” Newt cursed, but he cut it off with an abrupt “mmmm!” when he felt Thomas flick his tongue, and put a little suction into the action.

 

“Really? After what I walked in on?” Thomas teased, brushing his fingers soothingly over the mark his mouth had made.

 

Newt chuckled. “Shut it,” he muttered, pulling at him where his hand had twisted tighter in his shirt collar as Thomas worked. “Who gave you permission t’stop?”

 

Thomas laughed too, a short little huff of a breath that apparently was enough at this point to draw another groan out of Newt when he felt it hit his skin.

 

“So sensitive,” Thomas remarked, leaning down to press a simple kiss over the new bruise starting to show under his fingertips.

 

“Y—your fault,” Newt stammered breathily. “…Tease,” he accused, even as he pulled at him again, bringing him closer for more.

 

“We’ve been— over this,” Thomas argued happily, between roving tastes of adam’s apple, and the rough spot under Newt’s chin where it seemed he might actually have some beard he shaved off from time to time, “ you’re just— stubborn.”

 

Newt’s other hand had been resting on his chest, but it was hardly at rest now. He kept moving it, plowing his palm in preoccupied paths across his chest and over his ribcage, and plucking agitatedly at the cotton of his undershirt intermittently, like maybe he wanted out of it. Frankly, Thomas had been finding it quite distracting.

 

He reached for it now, lacing his fingers in with Newt’s as he tipped his head up to catch at his earlobe with his teeth, remembering Newt’s reaction the last time Thomas had touched him there.

 

He got what he was after. Newt’s fingers clenched shockingly tight around his own, and he bit out a nonsense curse.

 

“Mmmh, Jesus and bloody— uhhn!“

 

…And he gave that desperate little tilt of his hips that Thomas knew meant Newt had reached his limit.

 

“Fast learner, are you?” Newt panted, and Thomas couldn’t help a smile. “I won’t last much longer with you playing dirty tricks like that.”

 

Thomas felt his heartrate pick up. It was just what he wanted to hear.

 

“Don’t,” Thomas said in his ear. He took Newt’s hand, still intertwined with his own, and drew it downward, toward the waistband of Newt’s trousers. “Focus on you, remember?”

 

Newt let out a slow breath. He gave another edgy, impatient little shift of his hips.

 

“I’m not above it, Tommy,’ he warned, his voice thick, and deeper than its usual sound. Thomas was sure he had never seen him this undone.

 

He leaned up for another nibble, at the very edge of Newt’s ear this time. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen already…”

Newt’s hiss of reaction turned into a ‘tsk’ of laughter. “Oh— fuck, come ‘ere,” he muttered.  “Kiss me.”

 

So Thomas did. Or he tried – it was hard to keep up. Newt’s kisses had changed. They were wetter, hotter, and wider open. There was a lot more of his tongue involved; more hot, sudden breaths against Thomas’s mouth. And far more frequent surprise attacks of Newt’s teeth. So Thomas felt it happen next to him, rather than seeing, as Newt finally gave in, fitfully tugging open the closure of his pants.

 

He heard the soft pop of the button, the comparatively loud sound of the zip, and a moan from somewhere deep in Newt’s throat.

 

Newt had been right about one thing – it didn’t seem like this was going to take very long. It was only a minute or two more of Newt’s heated new kisses and then Newt broke it off, to tip his head back desperately the way Thomas recognized from the moment he had walked in tonight.

 

Thomas took his cue.

 

He went straight back to the things Newt had asked him to do – to his throat, the tendon at the side of his neck, and of course the lobe of his ear. He tried every trick he could think of, brushing with his lips, flicking with his tongue, nipping gently with his teeth. …Then a touch harder.

 

“Nnnn—fuck, fuck, shite and Christ on a bloody f—your teeth!” Newt gasped, raggedly. “Again! …Please.”

 

Gladly. Anything. Thomas still sort of couldn’t believe it. His luck. That Newt would let him do this for him – that he would ask him to.

 

Thomas dove back in, settling his mouth over the soft spot at the base of Newt’s throat. He bit down, just hard enough to get an appreciative groan out of him, then pulled back to lave the little offense with his tongue. When that seemed to meet with Newt’s approval too, he went back for more, licking a slow stripe up the side of his neck, so he could follow it up with his teeth like Newt asked him – dragging them up the slick little trail he had made, and nipping softly at the silky spot that he loved, just under Newt’s jaw.

 

Newt moaned again, louder, arching his back into the tense bow-string pose Thomas remembered from when he had walked in tonight.

  

Like he had before, Thomas felt himself reach instinctively toward the movement, but the last time he had touched him like that, Newt had put a stop to it. He paused over where Newt had shoved the hem of his singlet up and out of the way of what he was doing, hand hovering in the heated space just inches above the bared skin of his ribcage.

 

But with his mouth just centimetres from Newt’s ear, he could give one more pleading little nibble, and he could ask.

 

“Newt,” Thomas murmured, surprising himself with the husky, needy tone of it. With how much he wanted to give this to Newt, to be part of it. “Newt, can I— ? …I want to feel.”

 

 “Better – ah – be quick about it,” came the breathless reply.

 

So Thomas lost no time. He nuzzled back down against the creamy white column of exposed skin that was Newt’s neck. He let his hand land, smoothing down over the arched plane of Newt’s stomach, past the brief thatch of one of the only places other than his head Newt seemed to have hair, to place his hand just over Newt’s – lightly, so as not to disturb the rhythm of what he was doing.

 

There was no way he was going to interrupt this again. He could feel the electric effect Newt had on him crackle through him again, at the feel of it – the humid heat he was giving off, and the slick, leaking tip just poking out of the top of his fist, as Newt moved their hands in long, steady strokes.

 

Thomas relied on Newt to keep the rhythm, and turned back to his task one final time, looking for the place he had earlier sucked the accidental little blotch into Newt’s pale skin. Thomas found his mark, and dropped a quick kiss, before he set his teeth against it and let them sink gradually in.

 

Then. He heard his name from Newt a last time, thready and shattering; breaking apart in the best kind of way. And he felt it – the stutter and break as Newt’s rhythmic stroking faltered, and the quick swell and burst of his release, pumping itself out in a swift set of hot stripes over their joined hands.

 

Thomas pressed closer, feeling Newt give a last ecstatic shudder, and another, before the bow-string tension in his spine finally popped and went loose, and Newt’s hips came back down exhaustedly on the sheets.

 

It took a few seconds, before Thomas was ready to pull his face back from the temptation of Newt’s skin far enough to look at him. Newt reached blindly over when he felt him move, eyes still shut, swiftly catching hold of his familiar fistful of Thomas’s shirt with his free hand and hanging on breathlessly, waiting for his breathing to come back into line.

 

He stayed that way for a while, long enough for Thomas to start to feel a little tug of concern. He shifted up on his elbow so that his hand that wasn’t still tangled messily in with Newt’s was free to brush a couple of fingers over the arc of his shoulder.

 

“Newt?” Thomas said tentatively, stroking at the more sensitive curve of his neck when he didn’t get a response. “Hey,” he tried again, gently, with an equally gentle flick at his ear. “You with me?”

 

Newt smiled, eyes still worryingly shut, but it was what Thomas needed to see. He felt a tightness he hadn’t noticed until now ease around his heart like letting loose an elastic band.

 

“I’m okay Tommy,” Newt said slowly, his breathing still sounding deliberate. “I know that had to be real…”

 

He opened his eyes, revealing that mischievous glint. “If they’d had that at WCKD I might never have left.”

 

They both laughed this time. As much as Newt insisted he meant every sarcastic word he said, Thomas was pretty sure this time didn’t count.

 

Newt pulled at his collar, tugging him closer and into a kiss. It was different yet again – slow, a little sloppier and more exhausted than Newt’s usual practiced technique, but Thomas liked it just as much if not more – the relaxed, lazy peacefulness. He sighed, feeling sort of lazy and boneless himself, after everything tonight.

 

He felt almost as if he would like never to move again. But no sooner had the thought occurred, than he realized he probably should. He looked down at where their hands still were.

 

“Gross,” Thomas commented, pulling his hand free so he could examine it, and feeling an immature giggle percolate through his chest before he could stop it.

 

Newt laughed, his usual unperturbed chortle.

 

“Oh you go creepin’ around at night, ” he accused, in mock indignation, “busting in on people’s private time. Then stick your bloody fingers in it, and I’m ‘gross’?”


Thomas looked down again. Not everything had landed on their hands. There were a couple streaks near Newt’s navel and on his ribs too.

 

He swiped a finger over the closest one. “…Yeah.”

 

Newt chuckled again, and Thomas grinned. He liked the mellow, rich way it sounded, when Newt was this relaxed.

 

“Always were too curious for your own good,” Newt remarked.

 

Thomas frowned. That had almost sounded serious. But Newt wasn’t looking at him anyway, he was moving.

 

“You— make me messy,” he declared, through a grunt, curling up a little to pull his shirt off over his head one-handed, and ruffling his hair into even more of state than Thomas would have thought possible. “...Always have.”

 

He used the discarded singlet like a towel, mopping at his chest and abdomen, and finishing by thoroughly drying off his hand. He passed it off to Thomas, letting him do the same, then gesturing for him to toss it over the side of the cot onto the ground.

 

Thomas leaned over the side of the cot to oblige, and when he turned back, Newt was propped up on his elbows, doing his pants back up – discreetly tucking himself away, and neatly buttoning the top.

 

He seemed suddenly self-conscious. Aware of being mostly undressed maybe, but also of what removing his shirt had done to his hair. He reached up, tugging his hand through it – only to pull a face at just how disastrously disheveled he found it.

 

Thomas reached up for his wrist to stop him, smoothing his palm over the tousled golden tangle when he did.

 

“Maybe I like you messy,” he said.

 

Newt turned abruptly pink. Thomas couldn’t help a small smile. After everything they had done, that was what was going to make Newt blush? And here Thomas was, honestly just glad that for once it wasn’t him.

 

Even Newt’s blushes seemed to make him that much more appealing. It was totally unfair, Thomas thought, the way he somehow managed to make it delicate and alluring, instead of turning into a scarlet, stuttering mess.

 

Sure enough, Newt was looking at him steadily despite his flush, like maybe he was expecting another kiss. And Thomas could never deny him that, so he leaned in for a short, gentle one. But just the one.

 

He was distracted. His fingers had fallen from Newt’s hair, brushing past his cheek, to rest on his shoulder, and it was amazing how different it felt now, without even a scrap of cloth to stop his fingers from forging a soft, explorative path along his clavicle. He half expected Newt to stop him again but maybe they were past that now, because he didn’t say a thing, he just shut his eyes, and let Thomas touch.

 

Thomas looked down, at what his hand was doing – at all the fresh new skin on display. The way Newt’s blush traveled all the way down his neck, giving way at his chest to the pale, creamy smoothness that made up the rest of him. Thomas let his fingers follow his gaze, tracing a slow V down the centre of Newt’s chest.

 

Newt had called him curious, but he really hoped he didn’t think that’s what tonight had been about. Thomas wasn’t curious, was fascinated.

 

“You’re beautiful…” he intoned, honestly.

 

Newt’s mouth curved up at the side, forming his usual half-smirk. His eyes opened.

 

“Too skinny,” he objected, settling himself back down on the pillow again and stopping the roving explorations of Thomas’s fingers for the moment. “Lost too much weight getting here.”

 

“And I found it,” Thomas returned, poking a finger into his side to demonstrate. He was still far from chubby, but neither of them looked the way they had back when they met in the Glade.

 

Newt frowned skeptically. He reached over and pinched the fabric of Thomas’s shirt between his fingers, giving an upward tug to indicate that apparently he had decided it was time Thomas joined him in his shirtless state.

 

“Off,” he demanded. Thomas smiled.

 

“You have bulked up a little,” he agreed, once Thomas’s shirt had joined his on the floor. The flat of his palm traveled appraisingly up the middle of his chest and over the curve of his right pec. Even though it was warm, it made Thomas want to shiver. “You look good,” he said, and from the admiring note in his voice, and fondling motion of his hand, he meant it.

 

“I hardly ever run anymore,” Thomas explained, settling down next to him, so Newt could touch however he wanted. “I don’t know how Minho does it. He’s still…” Thomas trailed off, not needing to finish. Everybody knew how Minho looked.

 

“He runs,” Newt answered simply, sweeping his fingers across the yoke of Thomas’s chest.

 

“Huh?” It tickled, but he wasn’t about to stop it.

 

“Every morning,” Newt confirmed, moving his fingers slowly up to the base of his throat. “Laps of the island, it looks like. I’ve seen him,” Newt lifted his hand away from Thomas’s skin to gesture out the door of the shack, only to put it right back again. “…Not always alone.”

 

Thomas laughed. “Why am I the last to know everything?”

 

“Not for lack of us trying to tell you.” Newt’s fingers had found the cord of the letter, giving a pointed tug. “…Did you really keep it on you, all this time?”

 

“Until tonight,” Thomas answered. “Brenda called me the ‘king of fucking mixed signals’.”

 

Newt laughed, right out loud.

 

“I always liked that girl.”

 

“Well good, because you have her to thank for me busting in here uninvited during ‘private time’.” Newt chuckled, and Thomas smiled, feeling the gust of his breath over his skin. “She spent most of the party trying to force me to get the guts to talk to you instead of…”

 

“Showing off?” Newt supplied, slyly.

 

Thomas laughed again. “I wasn’t! I wasn’t ‘parading’ either,” he asserted. There was nothing for it but the truth. “…I was avoiding you.”

 

“Yeah you were,” Newt agreed soberly, his fingers toying with the hair in the middle of his chest. Thomas rolled onto his shoulder so he could look at him. And maybe put his own fingers back to what they had been doing a few minutes ago at the dip in Newt’s collar bone.

 

“We’ve both been a bit shit about that,” Newt said, regarding him honestly. “Think we can stop that little game now?”

 

Thomas sighed at the word ‘game’. It hadn’t been funny, it had been – as Newt put it –  ‘shit’, and he was pretty sure most of it was his fault.

 

“I was just trying not to…be a reminder,” Thomas mumbled, apologetically. “Of bad things.”

 

Thomas had been avoiding it until now, but his hand moved downward, almost of its own accord, fingers searching gently over the scar in the centre of Newt’s chest.

 

Newt was quiet while Thomas looked. The top of the scar was brutal, raised and slightly raggedly uneven, but lower down it was different…surgical. Too finely straight and with strange off-shooting little marks that might have been stitches. WCKD had definitely done their work, whether to save Newt for their own selfish purposes, or something worse, he might never know.

 

Thomas felt that familiar elastic-band tightness around his heart, but Newt spoke up again before it could get too painful.

 

“You think I don’t think about the bad stuff when you’re not here?” Newt asked finally. “You think I don’t think about you?”

 

Thomas looked up at him, and Newt was looking quietly back, his gaze heavy with meaning.

 

He definitely had a point. Actually the same point Minho had tried to make that morning when Thomas had been stubbornly scraping pelts instead of coming here. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

 

“I haven’t thought about anything but you since you washed up on the beach aboard Lizzy,” Thomas admitted.

 

“Then there’s our answer. Hmm?”  Newt held up his hand in front of him, maybe to distract him from what his fingers were doing. It was balled in a fist, with the littlest finger sticking up entreatingly.

 

A pinky-swear. Yet another of those things they both knew the meaning of, without remembering how.  Echoes from another life, a world that might never be rebuilt.

 

“No more silly buggers?” Newt asked him. Thomas took his hand away from the scar and curled his little finger around Newt’s in agreement.

 

No more beating around the bush. Although at this point tonight it felt difficult to think of what else they could possibly need to talk over.

 

It had been a long day, and now, an even longer night. Thomas didn’t mean to, but a yawn crept up on him.

 

Newt’s brows crinkled together, even as his mouth quirked in a solicitous smile. He put his hand up to cup Thomas’s cheek.

 

“Now I haven’t gone and spoiled the bloody mood have I?”

 

He leaned close, and Thomas thought briefly how nice it was, to be able to kiss him, just for kissing’s sake. Without any intention or move-making, just the sweet affection of it.

 

But apparently Newt had other ideas. His second kiss was firmer, more insistent, and Thomas felt both his hands come to rest on the waistband of his pants.

 

Thomas let out a surprised laugh. He caught both Newt’s hands in his.

“Again, already?” He grinned, nuzzling Newt’s nose with his to soften the jab. “You’re not a newt, you’re a rabbit!”

 

Newt blinked. “What’d you expect? I’ve been locked in a buggin’ cell for two years…”

 

Thomas’s breath caught for a moment, but he was getting quite good at recognizing that sarcastic gleam in his eye.

 

Sure enough, Newt gave an admonishing little tug at his waistband and gave up the act.

 

“Not for me, you slinthead,” he chided fondly. “It’s your turn to make a mess, and be told how gross you are.”

 

Newt pulled him closer by his two-handed grip, a couple of his fingers delving perilously in under the edge of the fabric as he did. Thomas couldn’t deny the thrill that shot through him at the surprising contact, as he let himself be drawn forward into a kiss. Newt’s intention translated unmistakably into the slow, deliberate action of his lips, and it admittedly sent spirals of intrigue coursing down through his chest and his belly, reigniting sparks of some of the earlier sensations of the evening that Thomas had let fade as he focused on Newt and their talk.

 

But he pulled Newt’s hands free, lacing their fingers together familiarly.

 

“Mmm, I’m good,” Thomas demurred, when the kiss inevitably broke. “Told you not to worry about me.”

  

Thomas watched as Newt looked at him for a minute, his brows contracting in that familiar considering, analytical expression.

 

“Tommy—“ he started, and there was no frustration in it, just concern.

 

“Really,” Thomas cut in, giving his fingers a reassuring squeeze. “I’m okay,” he promised.

 

They had been through so much tonight – said so much, done so much. And Newt had finally, after so many false starts and frustrations, finally let Thomas do something to make him happy. If he was honest, he didn’t think he could feel any more satisfied.

 

He was also pretty tired.

 

Thomas brought Newt’s left hand forward in his right, turning it as he did to press a kiss firmly to the back of his knuckles.

 

“Two years, Newt,” he whispered, into the work-roughened skin on the back of Newt’s hand. “Every day, one wish.”


Newt’s eyes were bright and intense as they watched him now, and Thomas nipped at a knuckle with his teeth, hoping to get a smile out of it. Which he did.

 

“Tonight, can you just let me have that?” he went on, giving his hand another beseeching squeeze. “Just you. It’s all I want,” he vowed. “…I’ll be ready next time."

 

Newt’s small smile turned into a fully-fledged bright-eyed smirk.

 

“Yeah,” he allowed. “I can do that.”  

 

Newt let his hands go, sitting up a moment to retrieve the blankets that had spent the entire night so far shoved down to the bottom of the cot in favour of other activities besides sleep.  

 

“…But I like the sound of this ‘next time’,” he added, drawing the covers up and waiting for Thomas to get settled before he draped them over both of them.

 

Thomas felt a little thrill and a warm, rushing little uptick in his heartrate that had nothing to do with Newt’s comment. He hadn’t been asking Newt to let him stay the night – at least he hadn’t meant to. But now that he was going to, there was sure as hell no where else Thomas could want to be.  

 

“Rabbit,” Thomas accused happily, as he nestled down.

  

“Show-off,” Newt returned in kind, leaning over him to put out the lantern.

 

Thomas felt him lay himself out next to him in the dark, the warmth of Newt's palm coming to rest comfortably over the rise of his hip. Thomas rolled in under his hand, settling on his side and finding the lobe of Newt’s ear at a very convenient distance.

 

“…Newt,” he murmured contentedly, giving a happy little sigh, and a final little nibble.

 

Tommy,” Newt reprimanded, the effect only slightly dampened by the fact that it came out muffled against his hair, as Newt turned his head – partially to take his ear out of nibbling range, Thomas suspected – but also to put what might have been a brief goodnight kiss into the disarrayed strands at the crown of his head. “…Go to sleep.”

 

“Good that,” Thomas replied, his smile interrupted by another timely yawn.


So Thomas put his nose in his new favourite spot, just under the hinge of Newt’s jaw. He wrapped his arm around his chest, drawing him closer, and then, he shut his eyes.

 

And for the first time Thomas could remember in quite some time, he didn’t dream of anything at all.

 

 

___

Chapter Text

 

Beginning.

 

It’s always the hard bit. Becoming. Starting to be.

 

That place between wake and sleep where a day first cracks him open. Where there is still blackness behind his eyelids. That momentary, blank second of space.

 

The chink where the pictures could get in.

 

Eyes open then, lad.

 

Branches and thatch in the blessed roof above his head. Cotton sheets, a stolen luxury, below.

 

He blinks. And it’s all still here.

 

Newt is still here.

 

He can feel it, like a distant knocking. A soft tapping at a windowpane. …Hope.

 

The corridors of his mind are locked up much too tight, of course. Long, and labyrinthine. Endless with doors to be kept closed at all costs. Within those cloistered chambers dreams live – terrors, memories.

 

And who’s to say which are which?

 

He builds his walls a little higher every day. Stony and soaring. His very own Maze.

 

And yet the tap-tap-tapping grows no bloody quieter.

 

It was the hope that always ended up hurting the worst, really. Best not to let it in, lad, not just yet.

 

He puts the heels of his hands to his eyes, sending the sparks of white jumping and zipping through the blackness like fireflies, and recites instead. Over water. …By way of stars. …From out of the Scorch. The one way to be quite sure where you are, is to remember how you came.

 

Newt rises awkwardly to sitting, bare feet to the earthen floor. He likes it, rather – the floor here, or lack of it. Changeable and mercurial in its temperature, colour, consistency – with the time and the weather of the day.

 

Elemental. Hard to fake.

 

Right now it’s cool, and darkly damp. If he can be arsed to get himself to the door today, he will likely be looking out on dew.

 

But first things first.

 

“Alby,” he mutters. Strength.

 

“Winston.” Courage.

 

“Chuck.”

 

Innocence. And even now – even through the bright, wheeling chaos of memory too wildly savaged and jumbled to be set free from under stony lock and iron key – that one still burns.

 

But he can’t lie still and burn today.

 

Not today, not with the night before flooding back over him. Today there are creases in the sheets under his fingertips, pressed into the cotton by skin always several degrees warmer than his own. The fabric still holding onto the scent of him, reluctant to give up its echoes of roving hands and murmured promises.

 

Today Newt must be.

 

He takes stock. Stretching each limb experimentally. Cataloguing. The slight ache in the bad one; the minute, bunching resistance in the flexion of his fingers, where his skin is left thickened and leathery with the latticed scars scored across his palms.

 

They’d had his mind, but not this. The little failings of his body, flawed and broken though it be; his secret signs. Markers of reality and truth to carry him through until he could find it, some touchstone, the key he could trust. And be Newt again.

 

Anchored, finally. Grounded. Still.

 

Until he went to sleep and had to begin all over again, that is.

 

It was always the hard bit. Beginning.

 

But every day he works to find it. And find he will, he knows, as his fingers curl again. Closed, and then open.

 

Down at the water, maybe. Or in the touch of a friend, too affectionate to be manufactured. …Or the feel of his fingers through chocolate-brown hair, far too fine and silky-soft to be any sort of reasonable on a grown-ass man.

 

He has to shut his eyes again, knocked breathless with it, for a moment. The sheer magnitude of it, this unlikely gift. Of wrinkled sheets and the trails of lightly callused fingers still tingling on his skin.

 

Up, lad. Up, if you’ve any bleedin’ intention of hanging onto it.

 

Steps, then, across the cold earthen floor. The water in the basin, scaldingly icy with the lingering chill of the night’s long hours. He dresses himself, freshly washed skin pebbling slightly with gooseflesh at the hint of the outside breeze from his shack’s open door.

 

And there he is, standing on the threshold. Looking out on the day, one hand on the little rough-hewn doorframe. Dry, splintered and beginning to warm in the sun.

 

“Zart,” he remembers. “Clint. Fynn.”

 

Out then, into blaring sunlight, like ringing in his ears. The bright days are the worst ones. Harder to trust.

 

Give him rain any day. Much better to turn up his face into. To feel on an outstretched hand, or bleeding slowly into his hair. The better to catalogue and track, starting out cold and gradually warming on his skin. 

 

Bright days are innocent, treacherous. Blinding. But blink, and what’s in front of your eyes when they open, there might be no telling, lad, no telling.

 

They liked his bright memories. The best ones to twist. The sun shone every day in the Glade, after all.

 

“Mike. Jason. Jeff.”

 

But then it was never the sun, was it? Newt had seen what the sun had become: monstrous, deadly. Scorching.

 

But not here. And Newt is still here.

 

Making his slow, shambling progress across the sunny shingle and remembering.

 

 “Ben. Nick.”

 

“…Teresa.” This last is new, jagged at its edges and trailing darkling shadows. Ill-fitted, like a jigsaw piece put away in the wrong box.

 

But he’s crossing the stream now, and he can stop. Bending to trail his fingers through the gamboling current, to listen to it run – gurgling and tinkling like the laughter of a gaggle of truant faeries over its bed of pebble and shale.

 

 

“Adam. Lee. George.”

 

He stands and straightens, shaking the water from his fingers and making a shade of them over his eyes for a moment, before settling back into his swinging, uneven gait across scrubby, struggling grasses and finding his way.

 

The camp spreads out at the end of the trail in front of him. He passes the remnants of last night’s revelry in his honour, smoke still redolent here in the morning air. The bonfire’s wide, cheerful circle now a mound of doused and blackened embers.

 

And his destination comes in view. The long rows of hewn tables and crude benches, where the Haveners could meet and take their meals, grouped cozily close together and worn smooth with use – not unlike the ones they had had in the Glade.

 

“Tim. Billy. Jack.”

 

And then.

 

Newt comes to the name, just as he catches sight of him. Sitting there, in the too-bright sun, head bowed over a cup of something held between his curled hands and struck with an unreal halo that ought be a warning – but for the truth that he has always looked this way to Newt. Standing out to him in any crowd as if lit subtly from within, catching his eye more brightly than anyone he’s known.

 

Moth to flame, and all that.

 

“Tommy.”

 

The name that rips him in two every time. The beautiful, catastrophic name that fills him brimful to drowning with world-shaking gratitude and simmering fear and the worst – a dreadful, foundation-quaking hope – to be striking it off of his little list of grieving and ghosts.

 

One letter at a time, like a knife across stone.

 

Tap-tap-tap-tap.

 

A distant plea at a far-off windowpane, safe behind towering, miles-thick walls of stone. But stubbornly unsilenced. For days, now.

 

Then there are the weeks before today, months now, by his count. Over water and under stars, out of scorched dust and sprawling ruin.

 

…And wouldn’t that just be the trip though? To snap it all away from him in one fell stroke of blackness, tubes and wires, after having let him come this far.

 

Over sparse, springing grass, and cool, naked earthen floor. Out of cotton sheets still clinging to the siren-song warmth of the man who is, has always been, both Newt’s ruination and his salvation.

 

Out of the mire of spinning chaos and bright, searing pain in glaring, surgical white. Out of Hell.

 

And here, to rocky shores and forested hills and clear, pebble-bottomed streams. To reunions and family and moonshine songs by firelight. And him.

 

Into Paradise.

 

…If only he could trust it. If only he could stay.

 

Whatever is in Tommy’s cup, he has curved himself entirely in around it – spine softly bent and head bowed in the way that means he is lost in thought. So different from the hyper-alert, wide-eyed stance all and sundry know him for – erect and unendingly ready.

 

For anything and everything. Because both do unerringly seem to befall him, Newt’s bloody shucking hero. His idiotically fated, star-crossed boy. Who, true to form, is now pulling his gaze up out of his cup – even as his thumbs begin stroking searchingly along its sides, because he always has to be bloody touching everything – to look around himself.

 

Their eyes meet.

 

And if this is his last trip – his little Armageddon that will finally break him in pieces; shattered and erratic, refracting like shards of a fallen mirror – if this is how it happens, then he will take it.

 

He will take over-warm skin and silly, too-soft hair and stubbornly wandering hands. Those ridiculous brown doe eyes, always his undoing. He will take softly spoken nighttime vows and sweet, fumbling first kisses.

 

He will spend this time he has been given with his fingers mapping the intricate paths between the little constellations of moles, and the storied scars, that dapple his lover’s skin. And telling himself that it has to be real.

 

That he has never felt anything like it before, this reeling, drowning, crashing over and around his every sense, sweeping him irresistibly along like an endless roller on the ocean. Not in the span of his real memory or false.

 

And that much, at least, is unfailingly true.

 

…A smile. Tentative but knowing.

 

It slices its way into him, straight to the bloody quick as it has always done. At once opening new wounds and setting balm to the old, destroying and remaking him in a single swift stroke.

 

As it has been, always, but now also new. Those lips he has known now on his; that mouth, searching and pleading against his skin.

 

A smile quite literally to die for.

 

And if it’s not. If it’s not real. Then still, it’s what is his. This is his Tommy. Finally, mind-endingly, apocalyptically his. For once, he’s the luckiest sod in the known buggin’ universe.

 

…And, this once, he will take it.

 

Deep breath, lad. In and then out’s the way.

 

Steps forward – left foot, and then the right – fingers flexing comfortingly uncomfortably at his side, and the final name in his litany of those who have been lost a mere breath on his lips.

 

“…Newt.”

 

Time now, lad.

 

Time to be Newt.

Chapter Text

Tommy was already blushing, eyes cast down into his cup again, before Newt had even made his way across the grass to the table where he sat alone – thinking, obviously. Waiting, perhaps. For Minho and the others to join him for breakfast, as was likely their usual habit.

 

…Or maybe for somebody else.

 

It was still quiet here, a slow morning in the Haven apparently, everyone sleeping off the revels of the night before. The sounds from the kitchens carried easily across the grassy clearing – the odd clatter of pots, a cheerful command now and then from Frypan to his team, his voice bittersweetly familiar in the morning air.


Newt pushed his hands into his pockets as he walked, fingers curling to meet the unevenness scarred across his palms.

 

Tommy looked up, when Newt came and stood over him, smiling that same half-a-smile he had offered him on first noticing him coming up the path. If it were possible to feel a smile, rather than see it, Newt felt this one somewhere in the region of his chest – making itself thoroughly at home and setting a similarly dopey expression starting to take hold of his own features too.

 

Tommy’s blush deepened. Newt’s heart skipped idiotically. Honestly, he was such a fool for this boy he couldn’t remember how he had ever gotten anything done with him around, ever since the moment he came up in the damned and bloody Box.

 

Hell, maybe he hadn’t. Maybe it had all been Tommy’s doing, all along. He would follow him anywhere, after all.

 

Newt tore his eyes away to throw a pointed glance at the contents of the cup held so preciously between his hands.

 

“Coffee?” he noted intelligently. Because really, one of them ought to be saying something.

 

Tommy’s smile widened a touch, before he finally looked away and back down into the richly black liquid that looked like it might have been hot once, but certainly wasn’t steaming now, as if he and his cup had been sitting here a while now.

 

“We don’t always have it,” he murmured thoughtfully. “Fry thought after last night everybody might appreciate it. …I like the smell,” he noted, leaning down a little and breathing it in. “Dark and… musky kind of? Reminds me a little of last night… and your hands.”

 

Newt’s heart flipped all the way over this time, and his stomach gave what was very distinctly a flutter, even as he fought off the urge to put his hands up to his nose and sniff.

 

He had washed already this morning, he reminded himself, and honestly… Tommy was about the only person in the world he could think of who could say a thing like that and be completely and utterly sincere about it. It was actually so bloody cute it literally hurt in various places when Newt next tried to breathe.

 

And what gave him the buggin’ right, really? Newt forced his soppy little grin down into a dry smirk.

 

“Dark and bitter?” he confirmed, with the rise of a brow and an amicable nod. “Sounds like me.”

 

Tommy smiled again and Newt decided to take it as his invitation.

 

He pulled his hands out of his pockets, so he could throw a leg over the bench and sit, trading the way his fingertips pressed into his palms for sliding over so close that he could feel the edges of the ridiculous bubble of heat Tommy always seemed to radiate. As if he was made up of this continuously burning energy, to just constantly be giving away for free.

 

“And how are we, this very fine morning?”

 

Something Newt must have asked him dozens of times, hundreds perhaps, what seemed like another lifetime ago. When the mornings were never fine – when they had been trapped, or running scared shitless for their lives, or dusty and scorched, and plotting.

 

The ‘very’ was new, though. Because, depending on the answer, this could end up being the very finest morning Newt had ever known.

 

Or conversely, maybe one of his worst.

 

Newt watched the uncharacteristically shy smile fade as Tommy registered the distinction. He blinked, and his gaze flashed over at Newt, but then back down without quite meeting his eye. Just the barest flicker of amber in the bright morning sunlight.

 

One hand left the side of the cup long enough to scratch nervously at the nape of his neck. Newt absolutely did not hold his breath.

 

Tommy cocked his head uncertainly, and spoke. “We— Well, I think… we’re better than ever?”

 

Glory. Fanfare and rejoicing. And Newt’s heart didn’t skip so much as it had been lit with a blaze that felt like it could outshine the sun, should it happen to break his chest open right this second – and it very well might. Light of a thousand suns, choir of angels, every bit of it, every last bloody halleluiah.

 

“That settles that then,” he said.

 

Newt stretched his feet out under the table, letting their ankles rest together, and when Tommy smiled, it felt like the most natural thing in the world, just to settle his hand over his wrist.

 

And there it was – that impossibly warm way his skin always felt, so inimitably Tommy. Newt’s eyes shuttered, the way they always did at first, but he could still feel Tommy’s pulse under his fingertips, picking up speed at his touch and making his own quicken its step to match it.

 

“Sorry,” Tommy was saying suddenly, as if only just realizing there might have been any question about anything at all. And when Newt opened his eyes, he was taking one hand off of his cup to lay it overtop of Newt’s. “I couldn’t wake you. I’ve never seen you sleep in…”

 

Newt kept his gaze down, fixated on the spot where Tommy’s fingers wrapped around the edge of his own.

 

He wasn’t about to look up into that soulful, apologetic gaze that would only get him into all kinds of trouble. He couldn’t do that and admit some part of him was glad to wake up alone. Grateful Tommy hadn’t been there to see the way he had to put himself together, piece by piece.

 

“That was a mistake actually,” Newt allowed. “Wasn’t planning to fall asleep at all. Been sleeping for days.” …But apparently Tommy had a tendency to rather wear him out.

 

The fingers over his tightened in a concerned squeeze.

 

“You’ve been through a lot, Newt,” Tommy said gently. “It’s okay to be tired. You should take whatever you need.”

 

Newt moved his thumb in a long, slow line, tracing the warm, steadfast ridge of his wrist. “If you hadn’t noticed, I plan to.”

 

And oh, bloody, klunking hell, he might never get tired of making Tommy blush. If he hadn’t known he was in deep trouble over the man before, he certainly knew it now – from the way it made his heart race, and the inside of his chest go soft, even as his stomach got all flutteringly tense. But it didn’t make it any less consumingly entrancing to watch.

 

Tommy’s cheeks were patchy with it by now, even the rims of his ears going bright scarlet as he turned his gaze sheepishly back down to his apparently fascinating coffee cup. Newt couldn’t help the way his own smile went dopily wide again, watching him grinning self-consciously as he lifted one hand away from Newt’s to finally raise the drink to his lips – and looking not a little like he was only doing it in the hopes it might cover up some part of his flushing face.

 

“Mmmh—“

 

This had apparently been Tommy’s first taste of his morning’s drink of choice, and he didn’t appear to think much of it. The cup came back down against the table with a thunk, and his hand sought out Newt’s fingers again in a mock-panicky grip.

 

“Ugh!”

 

Newt laughed. The reminder was irresistible – of the day they had met, when he had offered the new Greenie his first taste of Gally’s brew, and gotten much the same reaction.

 

Newt watched him now, pulling a distasteful face and coughing hammily – which he did completely adorably, because of course he did – and marveled. Three years, it had nearly been now. And so little, and yet so much, had changed.

 

For one thing, now Newt was allowed to do this:


“If you like the smell of things that remind you of me,” he said, leaning in close so he could say it in Tommy’s crimson-rimmed ear, “but not the taste… I might be in for some very disappointing evenings.”

 

If he thought Tommy would blush impossibly even harder, if he thought he would cough and choke just that one time extra – if he thought that Tommy would splutter and grin and finally laugh, rubbing his hand perplexedly over the back of his neck – well then, he would be right.

 

But what he hadn’t expected to happen was for Tommy to settle his shoulders and clear his throat, recovering quite impressively quickly, and fight fire with admittedly blushing, but downright dirty fire:

 

“Mmm,” Tommy hummed suggestively, looking slyly sideways at him before letting his gaze fall conspicuously down to the region of Newt’s mouth. “So far? …No complaints.”

 

Oh.

 

Oh Christ, if that wasn’t something. Four little words and the hair on Newt’s nape was stood at attention – tingles of stimulation and anticipation pouring down his spine in a little cataract of craving.

 

Or at least it would have done, if right at that moment, a strong hand hadn’t landed sharply at the top of each of their spines, making them both jump – and Tommy flail rather spectacularly in his surprise, pulling both his hands away, and somehow miraculously avoiding spilling his ridiculously coddled cup.

 

“Well well,” came Minho’s unnecessarily high-spirited voice in their ears. “Doesn’t this look cozy!”

 

Newt tried not to jump again as Minho gave his shoulder what was probably meant to be a reassuring squeeze on his way by, as he moved to the table next to them. He dropped down, throwing his legs jauntily across the gap between the benches to cock his feet up on the bench next to Newt.

 

There was an apple in his right hand, as yet untouched, and his feet next to Newt were in trainers, as if he had been running or, more likely, was about to start. He didn’t look like going anywhere at the moment though, watching them with a knowing look, and giving an expectant raise of his brows like he was waiting for something.

 

Something like for Newt to turn back to Tommy and start publicly ravishing him for Minho’s entertainment, if the look on his face was any indication.

 

“Look who made it to breakfast,” Minho greeted him slyly, when that didn’t happen. He brought the apple to his mouth for a bite, but stopped before it got there. “Huh,” he interrupted himself, with a curious tip of his head. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced.”

 

“’Chu on about?” Newt asked him, hearing his words run together and hoping it didn’t give off too much irritation.

 

Not that Newt wasn’t terribly pleased to see his best mate, of course. Only now might not have been exactly the moment he would have chosen.

 

“Oh not you, Newt.” Minho prattled on, clearly delighted with himself. “I’m just talking to the GINORMOUS SHUCK HICKEY living on the side of your neck!”

 

Ah.

 

…Shit.

 

 

  

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

FINALLY.  Shuck.

 

If Minho had had to deal with these two slintheads dancing around each other for another entire day, he was probably going to throw himself off the cliffs. With his wrists bound. And the biggest random boulder he could get his hands on strapped to his ankles.

 

…After drinking an entire case of the poison Gally had the audacity to call liquor.

 

He could still feel it too, sluggish and toxic in his veins, making him feel clouded and groggy and just generally unhealthy all around. Mornings sucked. This one was no exception either, and he was late for his run, but this

 

Chancing across these two? Practically wrapped around each other and whispering, for shuck’s sake – as if anybody wanted to hear whatever manner of scandalous shuck nonsense Newt had to be pouring into Thomas’s ear, to make him blush like that.

 

Well, let nobody say Minho was a man who didn’t have his priorities straight.

 

He dropped one foot off of the bench where he had plonked his ass down next to the egregious display of public affection in front of him, so he could lean forward toward Newt for a better look at the highly suspicious blotch on his neck. Of course, Newt screwed up his face in confusion and leaned predictably backward away from the scrutiny, conveniently putting himself so far all up in Thomas’s space, he might as well be sitting in the shank’s shuck lap.

 

It was priceless. Thomas started flailing around immediately, almost as much as he had when Minho first rolled up and clapped his hand down on his back – once again supposedly all in the name of trying not to spill his cup of Frypan’s coffee-flavoured experiment all over himself, and now Newt. Whose sudden proximity was obviously and conspicuously sending a whole new flush crawling up the sides of Thomas’s neck.

 

Aw. Precious.

 

Minho held in his smirk. Humongoid hickey-looking deal aside, how these two shuck-faces had ever thought they were fooling anyone, was seriously its own special kind of hilarious.

 

Though if Minho had this right – and be honest, when didn’t he? The only ones they had been successful at fooling, were themselves.

 

So, back to business.

 

“Nice work, Thomas,” he declared, squinting appraisingly, even though he hadn’t gotten much of a look. “Is it a map of the Island? I can’t quite make it out… But then you two did enough making out for all of us last night huh?”

 

He should have seen it coming before it happened. But suddenly there were five warm fingertips splayed out across his forehead and temples, and a dry, roughened palm blocking out any further view of Thomas’s alleged handiwork.

 

“Piss off,” Newt laughed, giving his whole face a mock-irritable shove and pushing him out of the little love-bubble he and Thomas had made around themselves and back onto his own bench.

 

Minho let his knowing grin have free rein.

 

“So my boy Newt works fast! Attaboy, Newt.” It was fine. He’d have his answers soon enough.

 

Newt only shook his head, as usual saying nothing and giving even less away. Minho had his ways, though.

 

He took a bite of the apple he had picked up on his way past Frypan’s counter, which was just starting to fill up with the morning’s breakfast offerings, and moved on to a softer target.

 

“But frankly I’m a little surprised at you, Thomas,” he said, “sneaking out after curfew.” Minho fanned at himself with a hand, like a southern belle with a case of the vapours.

 

The thing about sharing sleeping quarters with a hundred and seventy random shanks living on a small island was it wasn’t easy to keep a lot of secrets. Not that Thomas would be any good at it if he tried. The man had no poker face at all. Minho should have started with him in the first place, probably. Besides, Minho had the hammock next to Thomas’s most nights, which meant both he and Thomas knew full well that last night it had been empty.

 

With Newt straightening up again now, and out of his damn lap, Thomas seemed to finally be capable of formulating what he probably considered to be a suitable response.

 

“Got up to puke, actually,” he said, with a little grin that was admittedly no more sheepish than his usual. “Thanks to Gally.”

 

He shifted that shuck coffee cup between his fingers, and gave a nod over to where Gally had joined the line of folks starting to trickle in to breakfast and making for Frypan’s counter to pick up their plates. 

 

Damn, he was really late for his run. He really needed it today too, but this was about to get approximately a thousand percent more entertaining, especially once Brenda inevitably showed up, and Minho wasn’t about to miss it.

 

“Uh huh,” Minho agreed skeptically, turning back to Thomas. “And then neither of you ever came back to bed. When you both know how I hate sleeping alone.”

 

Thomas didn’t react to the news or laugh, but then he had never had a proper appreciation for humour. At least it got a half-smirk out of Newt.

 

“You and Brenda were the ones who were so gung-ho for us to talk everything out,” Thomas was defending himself.

 

His eyes were doing that too-wide puppy dog thing they did when he was being earnest. Or totally missing the point of a joke. Or trying his hardest to convince you of something, like how a really stupid plan – say, jumping out an eighteenth storey window into a tiny pool – was a great idea. So, sure, pretty much all the shuck time.

 

“So, when I saw Newt had a light on down at the shacks…”

 

Minho let his eyebrows climb toward his hairline.

 

“Talking huh?” He leaned past Newt a little so as to give Thomas a good once-over. “You two do look a little too well rested. Don’t worry Tommy-boy, you’ll build up more stamina with practice.”

 

That finally got a rise out of him, if no more than a silent grin and the raising of his middle finger – not even going to enough shuck effort to take his hand off his cup and flip him off properly. Minho would have to up his game.

 

Newt didn’t seem to think so though. Neither of them had ever cared much for anyone besides him giving Thomas nicknames.

 

“Would you stop, you utter tit.”

 

Newt sounded exasperated but fond, if Minho said so himself, even as he shoved his other foot off of the bench so both Minho’s feet were once again planted firmly on the ground.

 

Huh. So going after Thomas was the way to get to both of them. Noted.

 

…For later though. Newt was starting to sound a little too English, and Minho, contrary to what some might say, wasn’t actually a total slinthead. He knew his limits.

 

He should probably lay off. He had been the one who encouraged Thomas to get physical with Newt in the first place, after all. But of course, if it ended up pushing these two closer together faster than either of them had expected, he wasn’t sure he could feel bad about it.

 

“Yeah,” he capitulated, rising to standing and pulling his right arm across his chest in a stretch, apple still in hand. “Wanting my friends to get over themselves and be happy. What an ass I am.”

 

His point landed with the desired effect. Newt’s gaze softened and dropped to the table in front of him, and Thomas was totally failing at holding back a pleased little smile. Dude was so transparent to everyone but himself, it was both hysterical and frustrating as fuck, depending.

 

The two of them were still looking everywhere but each other, though.

 

“Talking’s better than whatever was going on last night, though I guess,” Minho reasoned, dropping his hold on his right arm, and moving on to stretching out the left. “Seriously. You two good now?”

 

“You could say that,” Thomas murmured – fucking murmured – into his cup.

 

This was the kind of thing that made comments happen. There was no way Minho could accept full responsibility with this breed of provocative shit flying around.

 

“No details, bro!” Minho stopped him, swinging his arms out of the stretch to point a warning finger at him – making Newt scoff and roll his eyes, and having no discernible effect on Thomas at all, since he was too busy going into drama mode over his sip of what looked like just a pool of cold black sludge by now.

 

“…Wait,” Minho said, after a minute, ignoring Thomas’s melodramatic spluttering for the brightness in his eyes, the colour that hadn’t been in his cheeks for days.

 

“You do look rested,” he accused, coming back to plant his ass on the table this time, so he could address Newt out of shoving range, and point over at Thomas even with the half-eaten apple still in his hand. “Did he actually sleep?”

 

Newt’s gaze went sharp again, and he looked up. “He doesn’t sleep?”

 

“Guys,” Thomas groused, apparently recovered from his choking fit but still wrinkling his nose and putting out his tongue over the taste like a shuck six year old. “Newt’s been back in action for less than five minutes. Could you two not start doing the thing where you talk about me like I’m not sitting right here already?”

 

“No interruptions little man,” Minho replied, putting one foot up on the bench again so he could turn toward them, sitting properly right on top of the table.

 

“The grownups are talking,” he told Thomas. “He has nightmares,” he informed Newt.

 

“We don’t even know whether you’re older than me or not,” Thomas grumbled, right on cue, while Newt took his time to do his forehead-wrinkling, solving-everybody’s-problems thing, and Minho took another bite of apple, watching him and letting the familiarity of it all fill up his chest happily.

 

It was nice, finally having this back. The fractured little pieces of the only family he had ever known healing and knitting themselves back together. It was so much more than a leftover science-project like him could have ever asked for, and sometimes still a little crazy hard to believe.

 

With good reason actually, a shuck-load of them, if he thought about it too hard. Right now though? He didn’t feel much like questioning it.

 

“I’m older in Glade Years,” he answered Thomas instead, not bothering to wait until he was done chewing, while he pulled one leg and then the other right up onto the table so he was sitting primly cross-legged, facing him. “My memory’s sixteen months longer than yours, that makes me officially sixteen months wiser,” he concluded, leaning over to steal the cup of coffee out of his fidgeting hand.

 

It was a mistake. It tasted like a stewed klunk. Specifically one that had first been burned into charcoal, and then rolled in the dirt for extra… dirt.

 

Minho choked. Then he gagged. He was working on starting a nice, showy coughing fit to rival Thomas’s antics of a minute ago, but nobody seemed to be noticing his imminent death by poisoning.

 

“Still dreaming about Chuckie?” Newt was asking Thomas gently, even as he reached over to retrieve the cup out of Minho’s hand and return it to its rightful owner.

 

Minho relinquished his regretfully stolen goods, and wiped the back of his wrist across his sullied and defiled lips as they all went quiet. Only Newt could bring up that name without losing Thomas completely. As it was, he took his coffee back, using it as an excuse to look down and avoid Newt’s eye.

 

Minho frowned, but held his tongue. How much talking could they really have done if Newt didn’t know it was rarely about poor Chuck these days?

 

“Hey, Newt. Green Bean.”

 

Gally’s voice heralding the entrance of Stooge Number Three ensured the end of any further discussion of the current topic, but it also totally made up for the taste of the coffee still plaguing his tongue. Minho couldn’t have been happier with the way it went off.

 

“Whoa – possessive much, Thomas?”

 

And of course Newt shot an accusing look over at Minho, for absolutely no good reason.

 

Although granted, when he looked, it was to catch Minho widening his eyes meaningfully and nodding in Newt’s direction while scratching his pointer finger unsubtly at a very specific spot on his neck.

 

Gally sat down, looking way too happy with himself for being in on the joke for once. His plate was piled high with eggs, toast, and what looked like a fry-up of leftover pork from the night before.

 

Minho could feel his hungover stomach turn slightly at the heavy-looking sight. The toast looked okay though, and he snagged a piece.

 

“So Newt and the Greenie, for real?” Gally asked them, making Thomas’s gaze drop to the table with his usual display of confusion, and Newt’s roll skyward with his habitual level of derision – and getting about as much confirmation out of either of them as Minho had managed so far.

 

…But there had also been no denials.

 

”Figures,” Gally said, looking down at his plate and noticing the missing toast. “You always did have a thing for the Prom King types.” He made a swipe for the toast in Minho’s hand, but Minho was too fast for him.

 

Not for Newt though, who caught his wrist while he was focused on Gally, and plucked the spoils neatly from his fingers.

 

“What’s the adage,” he asked smoothly, in his usual unflappable Newt-tone, “every king needs a ‘queen’?”

 

Gally snorted, and picked up his fork, clearly giving up the toast for lost. As if they were still in the Glade and Newt outranked him or some klunk. Whatever had just happened, it was clearly undemocratic.

 

Minho consoled himself with a sulky bite of apple and turned his attention back beside Newt, where the real entertainment was happening anyway.

 

Thomas’s expression had clearly been at war with itself over whether to be offended at being crowned King of Gally’s estimation of what a Prom might look like, and the amusement of following the trajectory of his toast. But now it was turned in Newt’s direction, eyes going all puppy-dog huge again in surprise at the comment.

 

This time though, it was hard to blame him. Thomas would be the only one at the table who didn’t know the context.

 

“Sure,” Minho complained pointedly, “it’s all funny when you say it.”

 

Sure enough, Thomas’s big-eyed gaze flicked attentively in his direction.

 

“Royal privilege,” Newt answered him with a dignified raise of a single brow, taking a smug bite out of his ill-gotten toast. Minho’s ill-gotten toast.

 

By now Thomas was just about bursting with curiosity. And while Minho realized there might be something slightly unhealthy about how often he seemed to have taken to mentally comparing his friend to a small, endearing animal, he could swear if the man actually had a puppy-tail, it would be wagging uncontrollably with intrigue.

 

“What’s that mean?” he asked, fingers tapping eagerly at the sides of his the cup he clearly had more interest in playing with by now than drinking out of.

 

Minho filled his mouth up with the last bite of his apple, just to keep it quiet.

 

“Means he tried it once.” Of course, Gally was more than happy to answer. “Newt laid him out cold with one punch, it was awesome.”

 

Minho’s mouth was still full, and not by accident, giving him enough time to check Newt’s reaction to this particular story surfacing, before swallowing his mouthful and shutting Gally down, if he needed to.

 

“I’ll not stand for name-calling, children.” Newt’s eyes were glittering with suppressed laughter. It was so good to see that Minho went along with it, settling for giving Gally no more than a thorough side-eyeing while he chewed.

 

Thomas’s eyes were like dinner plates by now, moving back and forth between Minho and Newt like they didn’t know where to land. And his mouth hung open a second too, almost as wide.

 

“You—he… you actually hit—“

 

“Oh, slim it,” Newt said quellingly, not able to hold back his smirk. It was aimed as much at Thomas as it was at Gally, who was multitasking a snide snicker with shoveling scrambled eggs into his mouth so avidly, the prospect of them coming out his nose any second was looking like a real concern. “It was early days…”

 

“Yeah,” Gally agreed, once his mouthful was safely down. “When Minho was a total shank.”

 

“This from the man who tricked Ben into weaving me a crown out of flowers in the name of ‘tradition’ for his first Gathering,” Newt riposted, swiftly.

 

BAM. Vindicated. …It almost made up for the toast.

 

“Hey,” Gally said defensively, setting down his fork long enough to raise his hands in a show of non-contention, “it was a classic Greenie prank.”

 

“Especially since the first time you knew he’d think it was me,” Minho put in, not troubling to keep the accusation out of his tone.

 

“It happened more than once?”

 

Trust Thomas to pick up on that.

 

“So lemme get this straight,” he cut in, leaning into the table animatedly. “Minho makes an inappropriate comment – shocking – and you knock him out,” he summed, obviously fully engrossed now in Shades of the Glade: Times Newt was Awesome and Minho was a Giant Shuck-face, Vol. 1.

 

“Then Gally’s apparently some kind of evil mastermind with a frame job – actually shocking,” he noted, earning himself a glare from under Gally’s Eyebrows™ that gave the impression he would have given him the finger instead, if it hadn’t meant he would have to put his fork down again to do it. “Do I even want to know what happened to Ben?”

 

“Don’t worry, he decked me one too, when he figured it out,” Gally responded, coming up from of his rapidly-emptying plate for air. “Your boy used to be quite the little scrapper.”

 

His voice took on an admiring tone, and he gave Newt a little nod of acknowledgement. Newt rolled his eyes, but didn’t seem to be able to help looking a little flattered. You had to know Gally to know it was actually his idea of a pretty hefty compliment.

 

“No sooner had he put me on my ass, than he whirled around and started yellin’, asking everybody who else ‘wanted a go’,” Gally reminisced happily. “There were no takers.”

 

Thomas was grinning and shaking his head incredulously by now, while Newt just cocked a brow at him, apparently out of snarky comebacks for the moment.

 

“When Alby finally talked him down, he snatched up the stupid crown, and marched himself off to the Slammer without even being told,” Gally went on, clearly pleased to find himself occupying centre stage to spin his old yarn. “Everybody dropped their chores to watch him go. Fuming and cursing with the shuck thing on his head all the way across the Glade.”

 

They all snickered, to Gally’s evident pride.

 

“Impressed the fuck out of Alby though,” he added seriously, pointing his fork at Newt for emphasis. “He made Second in Command by the morning.”

 

Minho felt the start of a disappointingly un-sarcastic smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth, as he watched Thomas rub a congratulatory hand over Newt’s shoulder. It almost surprised him to think Thomas had never heard the story of how Newt got his position, but then of course he hadn’t. Two years hadn’t been nearly enough, to make bringing up memories of Newt happy dinner-table conversation.

 

Minho watched for it. It was still happening, Newt’s momentary little shut-down as he took in the warmth of Thomas’s hand on his shoulder.

 

Newt had been doing well this morning, Minho hadn’t failed to notice. He was smiling and engaged, hardly ever looking distant or disconnected. And they had just taken a nice long walk down memory lane – and Minho had kept a pretty close eye out, if he said so himself – and none of their recollections had seemed to strike Newt as off, or trigger anything nasty, from what he could see.


Of course he also hadn’t failed to notice the way he kept his leg stretched out under the table, either, constantly pressed up against Thomas from knee to ankle the entire time. 

 

Minho couldn’t help but feel… weirdly relieved. Whatever else might or might not be going on, Thomas was really good for this kind of thing. Even if he didn’t know it. He had been for Minho, after all.

 

He was warm. Dependable. Steady. Even if he could be a bit of an oblivious doofus.

 

“…Made it a lot easier to convince the Greenies the crown was a tradition for the leaders, after that,” Gally was saying, still finishing up his story, and finally turning his attention back to his plate.

 

“Got a lot less funny after the third or fourth time,” Newt stated, handing Thomas the half-eaten slice of toast.

 

“You didn’t have to keep wearing them,” Minho pointed out, watching Thomas look down at the little offering. Preferential treatment. So unconstitutional.

 

Instead of taking it from him though, Thomas leaned forward to take an obedient bite. Newt looked over at him in surprise, but neither of them jumped or blushed, even when they turned back and caught Minho watching them, and batting his eyes coquettishly a couple times for good measure.

 

They just smiled a corny shared grin while Thomas chewed his smug mouthful and finally took the toast out of Newt’s hand as intended.

 

It might not have been confirmation but it was the closest Minho might be going to get this morning. Besides, it was so perfect to see them like this, finally relaxed, and literally eating out of each other’s hands, that maybe it didn’t matter.

 

“You’re just jealous I was so pretty,” Newt answered Minho primly, dusting the crumbs from his hands.

 

Minho couldn’t hold back any longer on a big cheese-eating grin. He hadn’t even realized it, how much he had missed this. Obviously he had been messed up over Newt, but this, the small things – all of them sitting at a meal together, bantering and grinning like a bunch of shanks in the sunlight. Maybe it was no small thing at all.

 

“Hey,” he drawled, “it’s not every day somebody outshines yours truly. …But come on,” he campaigned, stretching his legs out along the length of the table, so that Gally and Thomas both had to scramble to keep hold of their respective plate and cup, and crossing them lazily at the ankles. “Flower crowns?? It’s weak, bro! Seriously, how’s that funnier than ‘God save the Queen’?”

 

Minho’s entire audience groaned in unison. Including Brenda, who had apparently joined them, standing at his shoulder, next to Gally.

 

You went after the accent? No wonder he hit you,” Thomas remarked, earning a sideways glance and a smirk from Newt.

 

Kiss ass.

 

“Didn’t even get the Slammer for it either,” Minho confirmed. “If I wasn’t unconscious, I would have called bullshit,” he added, pointing a finger at Newt around the apple core still in his hand.

 

“Doin’ my job, wasn’t I,” Newt argued smoothly. “I was your Keeper, at the time. I was keeping you in line.”

 

“Everybody’s a comedian,” Minho replied, on autopilot. Mostly, he meant it as a distraction from what was happening with Thomas’s face next to Newt.

 

It was hard to miss, but then maybe Minho could be accused of watching the pair of them too closely lately. Thomas obviously had some reaction though, to the news that Newt had been his Keeper once. He looked at Newt first, then at Minho, and when their eyes met something seemed to click. Minho obviously was no Track-hoe. Which could only mean one thing.

 

Thomas said nothing, dropping his gaze swiftly like he knew exactly why Newt wasn’t Running anymore by the time he came up in the Box, exactly how he had come by that characteristic limp.

 

Huh. Maybe the the two of them had done quite a bit of talking after all.

 

“Puns,” Minho said, bringing it back to the conversation and shaking his head in a mock-rueful show, “the lowest form of humour, man.”

 

He reached out and dropped his apple core emphatically onto Gally’s nearly-cleared plate.

 

Gally raised his arm half-heartedly in defense, but was clearly too distracted by Brenda’s presence to fend him off with a proper swat.

 

“Ugh,” she said, with a put-upon sigh, “are you guys speaking Glade again? ‘Cause I can go sit with Sonya and Harriet.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the other tables, full now with chatting breakfasters.

 

Shuck, was it ever getting late.

 

Gally caught her sleeve wordlessly before she could escape on him, already shoving his plate down the table and sliding hastily down the bench to give her the space to sit down. Brenda turned to look at him, an amused grin spreading across her face despite her sardonically raised brows.

 

“Like you’re gonna do any better with those ‘sticks’.”

 

It was Frypan, standing behind his other shoulder now, as if the two of them had walked up together deliberately, just to make him keep turning around like a shank.

 

“Table’s for glasses, not asses, Min,” Fry recited, prodding at his knee with a hand that did indeed have a cup in it. Juice, it looked like. “C’mon. Low bridge, Gal,” he announced, nudging at Minho’s calf again until he got the point, swinging his feet up over Gally’s head – who did finally get the message to duck out of the way, sadly – and climbing down off the table in the space Gally had made for Brenda.

 

He let her have it though, stepping back with a little bow and a hand held out in invitation like a waiter at a fancy restaurant – or at least he assumed.

 

“Special treatment,” Minho noted, as Frypan set down the cup of juice and a loaded plate in front of Newt.


Newt thanked him, and got a pat on the shoulder and a friendly ruffling of his hair that had him grinning and combing his fingers mostly uselessly through it before anybody but Minho would have even noticed the way his eyes flickered shut, just ever so slightly longer than a blink. It was far too soon for there to be any significant amount of progress, and Minho didn’t want to get his hopes up, but mornings could really suck, and so far, he was pretty happy with this one.

 

“Hey, you got yours, man,” Frypan pointed out. It was true, and given his state at the time, Minho would never forget it.

 

“Weeks of it,” he acknowledged, clasping his friend tightly by the shoulder and shaking his head. “Too much, man.”

 

It wasn’t a time he liked to remember much, the weeks before Thomas had been back on his feet after the Last City. Frypan, Brenda and Jorge – even Gally – had done a lot of bending over backwards trying to make Minho comfortable and happy. But the truth was, with Newt gone and Thomas not looking like a sure thing either from day to day, mostly Minho had spent his time inside his head, gathering the pieces of his mind left in tatters after WCKD, and feeling alone. And wondering if he was going to end up feeling that way forever.

 

If only he could have known there would be a day like today.

 

“Don’t remember you ever squeezing me juice though,” Minho teased Fry, with a nod over at Newt. “It’s okay, I understand. He’s my favourite, too.”

 

“You want juice?” he threatened, “I’ll have Gally make you a real special one.” Right. The absolutely last thing he needed this morning.

 

“Nah. You’ve done enough, brother,” Minho said seriously, giving his shoulder another grateful squeeze.

 

“We were just talking about Newt’s new look,” Gally was telling Brenda, who had finally taken her seat next to him, sounding eager to prove they were capable of conversation she could actually understand half of.

 

“Oh yeah,” she addressed Newt, who was still self-consciously finger-combing his hair intermittently, in between poking at the giant pile of eggs and bacon Frypan had bestowed on him. “Sonya did a great job, looks nice.”

 

“Not the haircut,” Gally said, scratching at his neck the way Minho had done earlier, and getting nothing more than a confused frown out of Brenda. “Lower.”

 

Brenda’s frown only deepened, sinking right down into ‘sometimes I worry there’s something wrong with you’ territory. Always priceless.

 

Thank you, Brenda,” Newt said, his tone pointedly polite. “But I’m afraid Gally is being rather a twat.”

 

“Hey—”

 

Apparently,” Newt continued speaking over him, taking a slice of toast off his plate and putting it on Gally’s in repayment, “there’s a mark on my neck. And everyone’s delightedly making the assumption it’s a hickey.”

 

Brenda’s eyes widened and made immediately for Thomas. Who only shrugged. Then grabbed the freshly-deposited toast off Gally’s plate.  

 

Okay. So Minho had been supposed to lay off, and he had. For…like a long time. A whole conversation, and probably a half. And Gally had been the one to bring it up anyway.


It was totally confirmation time.

 

“So it’s not a hickey? Hmmm…” Minho mused, tapping thoughtfully at his lip and climbing onto the bench to sit next to Newt so that he was forced to slide right up against Thomas. Which he was sure neither of them minded. “It better not be a bruise, dude,” he said, leaning past him a little to address Thomas, as per his new procedure. “It wasn’t there last ni–ight,” Minho sing-songed knowingly, “and only a certain number of people didn’t make it to bed…”

 

Minho paused to cast a meaningful brow-raise over at Gally and Brenda and then turned back again.

 

“It’s like you said, Newt’s been back in regular action for about five minutes, wouldn’t wanna have to kick your ass already!”

 

Minho may have miscalculated. Thomas gave a minute scoff of laughter over his second helping of Gally’s toast at the mock threat, but he was too busy raising his eyebrows over at him and Brenda – Gally now bright scarlet and Brenda conducting a thorough examination of her fingernails, albeit looking like she was holding back an amused grin – to pay him any attention.

 

Newt however, was staring straight at him, slowly chewing his mouthful of Frypan’s cooking.

 

“Right,” he said, when he had finally swallowed, laying his fork down deliberately.

 

Definite miscalculation.

 

“I had a bloody scarf on last night, ya tosspot.” Oh shuck, way too English. What did it mean, even? But Newt was turning to Brenda next. “He’s no idea what he’s on about,” he told her, in an apologetic tone like Minho was misbehaving in front of company.

 

Okay, so going after Thomas was fair game, but Brenda was a stroke too far. Good to know.

 

“He’s running his mouth as usual,” Newt said, throwing him a sideways look of admonishment, “putting all these shanks into a feeding frenzy just to make Tommy squirm,” he concluded, gesturing around the table and finishing with cocking his thumb at Thomas.

 

“And hilarious as it is,” he said, turning back to Minho with an air of finality, “you’re done now.”

 

Newt turned his gaze away and down to where he had set down his fork, attempting in vain to hide the reluctant smirk that was spreading across his features as he picked it up again.

 

“And fuck off, as well, yeah?” he added, for Minho’s benefit. “Nobody’s kicking anything.” He skewered a bite of scrambled egg as the smirk took over and grew into a full-on mischievous grin. He tipped his head in a brief nod at Thomas beside him. “…I’ll bloody well handle his ass on my own.”

 

Oh ho ho ho, the hypocrisy! It was well played, Minho had to give snaps for that. A ‘feeding frenzy to make Tommy squirm’ if there ever there was one:

 

“Well said, Newt old boy.” – Frypan, coming through with the snark like Minho wasn’t sure he had ever heard from him, and couldn’t have served better himself.

“Oh my God…” – from Brenda, sounding distinctly like she was thinking Harriet and Sonya would have been the wiser choice of breakfast companions.

Thomas – started coughing, even though he hadn’t gone anywhere near the stupid coffee cup.

And Gally, literally bringing up the rear – “We all know how you handle an ass, Newt.”

 

“Impossible,’ Newt said, “the pack of you.” He shook his head laughingly, effectively making a joke out of his comment and mucking up any sort of confirmation Minho might have been able to take from it.

 

He officially gave the hell up.

 

For now.

 

“Wait,” Gally said, looking suddenly serious about his last comment. “Did the Green Bean know? About you and...”

 

“Not likely,” Newt cut him off drily, “so thanks for that.”

 

“Nope,” Thomas piped up from beside him, “no idea who we’re talking about,” evidently getting tired enough of people ‘talking about him like he wasn’t sitting right there’, and being the literal butt of their jokes, to risk Newt’s wrath. “Definitely not anybody tall, dark and…bulging,” he added, grinning and holding up his hands in a gesture that looked like it was meant to depict squeezing at a pair of very broad shoulders. Or maybe some exceptionally thick biceps. “…Rhymes with Nalby.”

 

Newt turned to look at him, looking surprised for the first time today at any of the klunk to come out of their collective mouths. It took a second but Minho saw the start of an incredulous smile.

 

“…You were in the Glade for all of four days bef—”

 

“Whaddya know!” Gally, again. Apparently as surprised as Newt, or any of the rest of them. “The Greenie has eyes!”

 

“And ears,” Thomas agreed, and what he said next, surprised Minho most of all. “I slept next to Chuck. You can’t honestly tell me you didn’t hear him snickering like an idiot every time you two walked past after bed checks? Headed off to the Homestead together, bumping your shoulders together all cozy, and talking in murmurs…”

 

Well. Newt wasn’t the only one making progress.

 

This was the first time he had heard him say it willingly, Chuck’s name, and Minho made note of it, as they all bowed their heads at the memory of the youngest Glader. All of them with fond smiles on their faces instead of tears in their eyes.


Even Brenda. …Even Gally.

 

It was starting. The healing. They could remember Alby and Chuck, say their names aloud now, and smile.

 

What a glorious fuckin’ day it was turning out to be. If there had to be a day Minho missed his run, he was glad it was this one.

 

“That’s what he was always on about,” Newt chuckled fondly. Only to give his usual derisive scoff after a quiet moment or two. “Talking in murmurs,” he tutted critically. “Excuse us for being gentlemen and trying not to wake the lot of you shanks up…”

 

“There was literally one bedroom in the whole Glade and you two shared it,” Thomas said, still grinning and obviously not having any of Newt’s ‘gentlemen’ business. “Why, ’cause you were ‘Second in Command’?”


Newt’s mouth twitched, but he didn’t laugh.

 

“Oooh,” Minho heard Frypan intone from where he was standing at the head of the table. Just as he muttered, “…Snap.” And as Thomas totally ruined his surprisingly swish commentary by trying to take another drink of coffee and launching into another fit of gagging coughs.

 

“Minho, slim it,” Newt commanded. “Tommy, give up,” he finished, taking the cup out of his hands and sliding it away across the table in front of himself.

 

“Not ‘second’ the way I heard it,” Gally put in, not to be outdone. Especially with Brenda beside him now, pressing her fist into her mouth to hold back her laughter at just how far back Newt’s eyes seemed to be able to roll. “We got ears too, and those Homestead walls were pretty thin.”

 

Newt looked like he was biting the inside of his cheek.

 

“Yeah, good luck Thomas,” Frypan agreed sagely. He put up his left hand as a shield to point at Newt from behind it with his right. “Your boyfriend is BOSSY,” he stage-whispered.

 

Thomas looked like he might be choking on his tongue.

 

“And weirdly insatiable?” Gally added, relentlessly. “…Like I don’t think it’s normal.”

 

“ALRIGHT, you lot!” Newt snapped finally, grinning and sinking his blushing face into his hands to let his shoulders start shaking with silent laughter. “Jeeeesus, I’d forgotten,” he said when he caught a breath, his voice still muffled by the palms he was now rubbing exasperatedly over his face. “It’s like breakfast with a pack of bloody hyenas!”

 

Everybody was laughing, then, just like the bunch of rowdy shuck animals Newt accused them all of being.

 

A pack, no less. It was probably uncannily apt, Minho thought.

 

And honestly, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

“Well,” Newt was saying now, pushing his plate away from himself and looking like he was getting ready to make his escape. “As enchanting as it’s been, reminiscing with all of your noses in my relationships…”

 

Relationships, he said. Plural. Minho watched Thomas notice it too, impressively managing to limit his reaction to no more than a surprised blink of suddenly-wider eyes.

 

“…I’ve got a Greenie Tour to take. Tommy?” Newt tipped his plate slightly at Thomas, offering him anything else he wanted before they made off together.

 

Minho got up off the bench, to let Newt extricate himself as well.

 

Last night, Thomas had looked about ready to kill Minho for suggesting he spend that much time alone with Newt, showing him around the Island. This morning, he simply picked out a slice of bacon from his plate and started munching dutifully in preparation. What a difference a day made.

 

Or a night.

 

“Greenie Tour?” Gally sneered, “or a tour of the Greenie’s – ow!” And whatever Brenda had done to him under the table, Newt seemed to appreciate it, bestowing her with a cordial nod.

 

“Quite,” Newt quipped, swinging both legs over the side of the bench and standing gingerly. Then he leaned over, picking up the coffee cup he had confiscated from Thomas earlier.

 

Minho could have warned him, but it would be funnier if he didn’t.

 

Sure enough, Newt choked nearly as spectacularly as Thomas and Minho before him, bringing the cup away with a cough that sounded suspiciously like ‘Cor’, but Minho knew better than to call him on it.

 

Fry,” Newt wheezed, recovering. “Your first time making this, is it?”

 

Frypan looked affronted. “You just boil the water and put it through the beans, right?”

 

“Did you use a filter?” asked Brenda, who was getting up now too. As she did, she leaned forward over the cup Newt had abandoned for a look at its seriously nasty contents.

 

“And where the hell would I get a filter?” Frypan asked, his voice going up an indignant octave. “…But I did, yes, for your information. I used some old cheese cloth, it was the best we could do.”

 

“Tastes like you used Gally’s left sock,” Newt complained, nudging his plate toward Thomas again, who shook his head, apparently satisfied, and joined the rest of them standing.

 

Gally grabbed the rest of Newt’s bacon.

 

“Why the left one?” he asked, through his first mouthful.

 

Brenda sighed. “Don’t you have something you should be doing?”

 

Gally looked at her blankly. Minho waited. You could see it, the moment he realized the fact she was still standing there meant that whatever he was supposed to be doing, she might be waiting for him to do it with her.

 

Minho had never seen the man scramble to his feet so fast in his life. So classic.

 

“Well,” Minho announced, kicking an ankle up and catching it for a stretch. “I can’t spend all my time chitty-chatting with you shuck-faces, I’m late enough as it is.”

 

“Who is it this time,” Brenda asked him, “the girl from the Sewing Guild again?”

 

“Hey, what can I say, the ladies are loving the Minho Fitness Plan,” he non-answered. He actually wasn’t meeting anybody for his run – or whatever else – today, but none of them had to know that. He put his foot down to switch legs, cocking a finger-gun at her as he balanced. “You’re invited next time.”

 

Brenda had an eye-roll on her that could give Newt’s a run for its money. It always left Minho duly impressed.

 

“She’s busy that day,” Gally growled, taking a vicious-looking bite of the last slice of Newt’s bacon.

 

“Ugh,” Brenda gasped, “testosterone poisoning.” Then she mimed gagging, as if she had just tried a sip of Frypan’s coffee, for emphasis.

 

Thomas and Newt both snickered, probably just glad the heat seemed to be off the two of them for now.

 

“Everybody’s hooking up.” Minho shook his head sadly. “Wellp, have fun gettin' fat n' happy. Looks like it’s just you and me representing for the single life, brother,” he said, turning to Frypan for a bachelor-bro fist-bump. “All the more reason I gotta keep this tight for the ladies,” he declared next, reaching both arms up over his head in a stretch that should show off pretty much everything to advantage – and getting a round of groans for his trouble.

 

“And it ain’t gettin’ any earlier,” he went on, stepping over to Newt to check in before he took off.   

 

“Mornings, am I right?” He settled a hand on his shoulder, and waited. Newt’s eyes didn’t close, but Minho wasn’t fooled into thinking it was because they didn’t need to. It was the choice of words. And now Newt was fighting it, his gaze familiarly penetrating as he regarded him with concern, even through a series of slow blinks that threatened to shut it down on him.

 

This so wasn’t about him, though, and Minho waited it out, giving him a minute little shake by the shoulder, and a reassuring smile. If things kept up the way they were going today, Minho was going to be fine, just fine.

 

Newt clasped him by the elbow, finally, returning the touch and ducking his head to close his eyes and focus on it, the way Minho knew he needed. The warmth of it, the emotion, that made it real. The love.  

 

“Seriously,” Minho told him, when Newt finally raised his head again. Because it was probably time somebody was, this morning. “Welcome back, man.”

 

Newt nodded his thanks. “Yeah,” he acknowledged quietly.

 

It was good, being back. And not just Newt. All of them. All of this.

 

Thomas probably didn’t remember really, what a clingy-ass shank Minho had been for the first weeks after he woke up and started settling into life around the Haven.

 

Minho had done his best, but sometimes it had felt more like watching, from the sidelines, while everyone around him made themselves at home in their new life – some of them doing it more slowly, granted, hardly daring to believe this Eden around them could be a reality, with what the world outside of it had become.

 

But Minho had had his own reality to sort out first, before he could join them in this one. He felt like a ghost, drifting through without ever really touching down, never sure if he would feel grounded, and a true part of things, ever again.

 

Sure, the day had eventually come, and the people standing around him had played no small part. Hopefully he hadn’t been too big a pain in the asses of his little hyena-pack, as Newt put it, today, but he didn’t want that for Newt – the isolation, the doubt. None of them did.

 

So, Minho thought, as he watched Newt give a shy glance over his shoulder at Thomas, if he had to light a few fires under a few asses that were obviously headed in the right direction anyway, well then thank shuck for him, frankly.

 

Not that Minho would have been looking to start up something new in the romance department back in the days when he was still learning to deal, but this wasn’t new. That was just the thing. This was Newt and Thomas.

 

It was Newt, who every shank in the Glade knew had been soft for Thomas, since the minute he rewarded him for breaking their only rule that actually mattered and running off into the Maze like the shuckiest shuck-faced shuck there ever was, by making him a Runner the very next morning. Every shank in the Glade, including Thomas.

 

And it was Thomas, who still couldn’t make it through a night without waking the both of them up with his heart-stopping little gasps and sobs of Newt’s name.

 

And as much as it was actually pretty amusing, comparing him to things like big dumb loyal puppy dogs and pretty-faced, broad-chested Prom Kings, the thing was, sometimes people were actually like that. Sometimes – apparently – heroes turned out to be an actual thing. Thomas was literally Minho’s, after all, and when it came down to it, he didn’t know anybody just so consistently, stubbornly, unfailingly good

 

…Maybe nobody except Newt.

 

Newt would have deserved this, to simply be happy, even before it had become a matter of saving him, of healing and making him whole again.

 

And that was something Minho couldn’t do for his friends on his own. He wasn’t enough.

 

He had seen it in Thomas’s eyes the day he walked out of the med shacks and onto the beach, staring around at the new life already moving and bustling around him until he spotted Minho and their gazes locked. Hell, it had probably been there all over his own face too. The loss. The missing pieces punching their new Paradise full of gaping holes.

 

Now, with Newt miraculously, inexplicably back, some of those empty spaces felt like they were filling up again. And Minho wouldn’t feel bad about filling in a few extra – for wanting it to be more for his friends, than it had been before. To try to make up for some small part of what they had all been through.

 

If he could give them to each other; if any of the dumb shit he had said today could help even in some small way to point out what was plain to every other human on the island with eyes and ears that actually functioned, every time these two looked at each other like a pair of goofy lovestruck morons whenever the other looked away… If he had done anything that might point them in the right direction and get their asses moving, toward each other, finally…well then…

 

“I’m leaving you in good hands,” Minho said, looking over at Thomas, to see him watching them with this faraway, fond look that Minho had no need to interpret. It was how he felt when he saw them actually looking comfortable and at ease together, too.

 

Minho dropped his hold on Newt, and gently cuffed at Thomas’s shoulder as he moved past him, getting an affectionate nod and smile in return.

 

“Don’t enjoy watching me go too much!” It was a farewell meant for all of them really. But he made sure he was looking at Brenda when he said it.

 

And with a last wink at Gally, he set off.

 

___

 

Honestly, he was glad to be running alone today.

 

It wasn’t something he had always liked, being alone, but he had always needed this.

 

He could feel it already, the way the quickening of his heart got his blood moving, clearing out the drink and dull sickness of the night before. Gally might have a way with his moonshine, but this would always be Minho’s drug of choice.

 

It was how he did it. How he had done it all along. He opened his eyes in the morning and whatever was there – be it rocky beaches and crying gulls, endless, scorched dunes, or whirring, mechanical horrors stalking him through a looming Maze – whatever it was, he put it on hold. Moving through whatever the Universe threw at him at pace – a controlled, reined in walk.

 

Until he could get out and run.

 

Everything was simple when he ran. There was nothing else then, just this. Just his pulse in his ears and his breath filling his chest – all the way up, the way it was built to do. His feet striking the ground, rhythmic and primal. His very own drumbeat to set as he liked.

 

There had been the days he would sprint, of course, the days when he ran like he could outrun it – the prison of his own mind, the chaos and terror that never really left him. Always there, just beyond the edges. Chasing.

 

But sooner or later he always slowed, and came back to himself. Feet against the earth, solid and real. Wind, on his face.

 

It was different here, the air.

 

It was open – no stone walls to pen it in, keeping it still and stale. Bounded by nothing but the real sky, above. It was wilder, fresher, rustling with the sound of breeze through leaves, and hitting his lungs with a cool, indifferent comfort and the tang that always meant you were near the sea.

 

It was free.

 

He took it in, as he settled into his pace. The air, the sun – now starting to make its climb. Warmer on his shoulders at this hour than what he was used to, but still just the start really, of whatever the day would become.

 

Sure, sometimes mornings could really suck.

 

But this one was turning out pretty good so far.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The tour had gone well, for the most part.

 

It wasn’t lost on either of them, of course, the ironic role-reversal of Thomas showing Newt around the way Newt had done for him on his First Day in the Glade. Newt had called it his Greenie Tour himself after all, and more than once they found themselves grinning at a private joke, like when Thomas informed him that “they just call the Track-hoes Gardeners here”, or when he walked him through the wood yard, explaining that he worked there with Gally a lot because it’s where you went when you were “good with your hands, but there’s not a lot going on upstairs”.

 

There were a couple of highlights, he supposed. He had known Newt would be interested in the gardens and the fruit trees, and even though he was still out for his run, it was pretty amazing to see Newt’s surprise when Thomas showed him Minho’s carpentry – a sort of familial pride lighting his gaze over a little cabinet still in progress, and what looked like it was going to be a bowl when it was done. His impressed expression on realizing the very cup and bench he had used at breakfast that morning might very well have been made by Minho’s hand did soft, happy things to Thomas’s heart.

 

But Newt’s favourite by far had been Brenda and Jorge’s salvage and repair shop. Newt had surprised all of them by spending the better part of an hour enthralled by the used items brought in by the Islanders, excitedly pouring over the shelves full to bursting of odds and ends and animatedly picking out bits and pieces he might apparently be able to put to use tinkering with good old Lizzy.

 

The tour had its highlights for Thomas too. Mainly strolling at a leisurely pace through the grass and under the trees, shoulder-to-shoulder with Newt all morning, and not needing to make any excuses for the way he knew he kept staring, openly admiring him. Everything about Newt was so damn entrancing – the sweet delight in his laughter and the gentleness in his hands, when they stopped by the chicken coops and Zelda encouraged them to go ahead and pick up the baby chicks if they liked; the things sunlight did to a golden head of hair.

 

And even, Thomas thought, just a tad guiltily, the way the dark little blotch of purple he had made on his neck stood out against the pale cream of his skin.

 

When Newt finally asked what else he did around the Island, Thomas’s list of chores had Newt shaking his head and interrupting before he had even finished.

 

“So your job is essentially to kill yourself helping absolutely everyone? The more things change…”

 

“Shut up,” Thomas answered with a grin, too focused on leading the way up what was one of their less-used paths to banter properly. He had saved this for last deliberately.

 

”Hey, fine by me, if it’s going to have you building up all this much muscle— Oh, Tommy…” Newt interrupted himself when he saw.

 

It had been the right move, coming here last. Newt was silent with wonder as they walked the aisles of the greenhouse.

 

“You could grow anything here,” he said finally, his voice coming in awed, hushed tones. He stopped in front of a bank of melon vines to finger a leaf reverently.

 

“You could,” Thomas agreed, with a smile. Newt would have to figure it out at some point, what kind of role he was going to take around the Island, and it had been so cool watching him find little sweet spots and picking up on the potential here and there today. “Where do you think Fry got the coffee beans?” Thomas asked him, pointing a couple of rows over.

 

Newt shook his head disbelievingly, his eyes bright and overwhelmed. “This place really is a literal paradise.”

 

But something about it sounded suddenly sad.

 

Thomas put his hand out for Newt’s shoulder, and his eyes shut like they usually did, but instead of looking at him when they opened, Newt turned and kept walking through the planted aisles. Thomas followed, waiting for a clue as to what might have suddenly turned Newt’s mood so somber, but he was silent, marveling quietly at the herb garden and flowering sweet peas as they passed.

 

The light in here was soft, filtering in through the windows to bounce off Newt’s hair and pale complexion like the glow of a halo. Thomas took advantage of his new license to stare unabashedly, and his eye was drawn again to the contrast of the dark mark that the night before had left on Newt’s skin.

 

The tour was over now, they were all out of distractions, and the topic of last night would have to come up eventually.

 

He waited until they had finished in the greenhouse, and were walking out into the fresh air and the breeze again, before he said what was on his mind. Newt looked so thoughtful in there, so calm, Thomas almost felt like he would be breaking some kind of spell if he had asked Newt what he needed to inside.

 

As usual, the trouble was finding the words.

 

“Why didn’t you want them to know?” Thomas blurted, finally, when they were back out in the clearing.

 

“What?” Newt replied, turning briefly back over his shoulder, as he led them back toward the path. But he said it with the ‘t’ missing, like he had swallowed it. Thomas remembered from long experience that the thicker Newt’s accent got, the more distracted it tended to mean he was.

 

“The others, at breakfast,” Thomas clarified, catching up to him so he could reach over and brush his fingers gently over the spot on Newt’s neck he was referring to. “Why didn’t you want them to know the mark right here was mine?”

 

Newt jumped at the touch, clapping a hand over the place where Thomas’s fingers had just been, as if they burned him.

 

Thomas had seen Newt react to being touched in a lot of strange ways since he’d been back, but this, and the time Minho had surprised them when they were sitting together at breakfast, were the only times he had seen him jump. Something felt wrong.

 

“So you have marked me then,” Newt was saying, his tone as unreadable as his expression had been back in the greenhouse.

 

“I—” Thomas wasn’t sure how to respond. “Was I not supposed to?”

 

Newt raised his eyebrows. “Reckon Gally had it right – possessive little thing, aren’t you?”

 

His expression was a throwback to the banter and jokes of the morning, but it still didn’t feel quite right to Thomas. Like the shared laughter had put a light into it that was missing from his eyes now, or something.

 

“You told me to do stuff to your neck,” Thomas heard himself argue defensively, before he could stop himself. “And your skin is really pale!”

 

“Oh yes, go ahead and blame the victim!” Newt did laugh then, but it seemed kind of mirthless.

 

His hand was still hooked over the spot where his neck curved down into his shoulder, covering it up as if somebody else would be around to see, and pester them about it again. Thomas reached for it slowly, and this time Newt didn’t flinch, only putting up a second of hesitation before letting him pull his hand gently away and down to his side.

 

Thomas smoothed his thumb across Newt’s knuckles, and Newt’s eyes fluttered and closed. When he sighed again it sounded a lot less irritated, and when his eyes opened, whatever had looked wrong and tense there seemed to have eased.

 

“I’m sorry I left marks,” Thomas told him. “I’ve never done anything like that before. I didn’t know how easy it was, to—"

 

Marks?” Newt stopped him. “Plural?”

 

“Just the one – that I know of,” Thomas answered, honestly. This was clearly not the right time to mess with him like Minho and Gally had done. “And it’s not even as big as Minho said, it’s… kind of cute, actually.”

 

Of course, Thomas might be slightly biased. Newt squinted at him skeptically.

 

“I do bruise like a ruddy peach,” he allowed, and there it was, the gleam of laughter just under the surface was back in his eye now.

 

“Noted.” Thomas grinned. “But I also—" Feeling encouraged, he picked up Newt’s other hand so he was holding both of them in his. “I mean it… was I not supposed to? Am I not allowed to tell anybody what happened last night?”

 

Newt blinked.

 

“Well it’s not customary dinner table conversation, really,” he broke off, clearly remembering breakfast. “‘Course with that lot…”

 

Maybe it had been a poor choice of words.

 

“I didn’t mean – like Minho said, no details or anything, I just meant –”


But what did he mean? Asking if he could tell people if they were a ‘couple’ now seemed way too presumptuous, Newt hadn’t said they were anything like that. ‘Dating’ didn’t even make sense. There was a distinct lack of places to go out on what might qualify as a ‘date’ on the Island, and ‘what’s going on between us’ sounded…well kind of shady to be honest, and…

 

Apparently, he had lost his window.

 

Minho,” Newt scoffed, dropping Thomas’s hands to take a few steps along the path again. “Not letting him trouble you, are you? …He’s such a bloody idiot sometimes.”

 

Thomas frowned. And not so much at the revelation of Minho’s occasional idiocy. Even in the few steps Newt had taken, he could see he was limping. It wasn’t usually that noticeable. Maybe they had done too much walking today.

 

“Newt…” Thomas started, but Newt seemed to have gotten off on a bit of a rant.

 

“I told him off for a reason,” he stormed, as he turned back to face him. “He gets so caught up in treating us all to the buggin’ Minho Show, he doesn’t even realize when he’s being an utter slinthead. …And then it felt like he was starting in on you,” Newt stated, turning back to the path and adding his last words over his shoulder as he went, “and I wasn’t about to let it pass, Tommy, I’m sorry.”

 

“Newt—” Thomas reached out for Newt’s elbow to stop him. Newt didn’t jump, but he froze. His back was still turned but Thomas was sure if he could see his eyes, they would be shut. Thomas waited a beat. “…You’re limping,” he said, gently.

 

“Under the category of News to Nobody,” Newt contended, turning around to face him again. “We’ve met, I expect? I also speak with this charmingly unidentifiable accent, and keep company with the most stunningly attractive yet staggeringly observant young man…”

 

Thomas smiled obligingly, in spite of the nagging feeling starting to grow in his stomach.

 

In the thirty seconds or so since Thomas had brought up the hickey, Newt had gone from jumpy to joking to ranting, and now to…whatever you called what he had just done at Thomas’s expense. Self-deprecating-sarcastic-teasing-flirting …Englishness? It was almost starting to feel like he was avoiding the topic.

 

“Worse than usual,” Thomas persisted, pulling a little at Newt’s elbow and giving a nod off the side of the path to the clearing stretching out beside them. “We’ve walked basically the entire Island. Let’s go sit down.”

 

“I’m fine,” Newt insisted, making to turn away again and only increasing Thomas’s impression that he was trying to escape.

 

“I’m not,” Thomas said honestly. The little nag in his stomach was rapidly growing into the start of an unpleasant pit.

 

They had been sitting so close before breakfast, right up against each other, and leaning closer still. Thomas had just started to wonder, what Newt would have done if he were to kiss him there, right out in open daylight.

 

It was starting to look like maybe it was a good thing he hadn’t.

 

“Newt… Just come sit down with me. Please.”

 

Thomas felt a tension slip out of Newt’s arm, where he was still holding him by the elbow. Newt was looking at him now with a mixture of surprise and mild concern.

 

“…Sure.”

 

Thomas let him go and led them over to a few stray boulders near the edge of the clearing, where they could sit and maybe it would be better for Newt’s leg than just sitting down and trying to arrange himself in the grass.

 

Sure enough, once they were seated, he stretched his bad leg out straight, digging his thumb and forefinger in hard, on either side of the tendon just above his kneecap.

 

Thomas watched him and stayed quiet, and not just because he really had no idea what to say.

 

Pushing Newt to talk wasn’t working any better than pushing him had worked last night.

 

The same thing that made Newt such a good listener, could make him almost as stubborn as Thomas could be at times. Although it worked in a way that couldn’t make them any more opposite. 

 

Newt needed to think before he committed to a course of action – get all the information and make the best decision. Whereas Thomas just tended to do what felt right, and then fix whatever he fucked up later, by using much the same approach.

 

It was why Newt was such a good leader in situations where maintaining the peace and establishing order were key, like in the Glade. He was excellent with planning and careful actions, where Thomas was better with reactions, following his gut when there was no time to think and the shit was hitting the fan. Like when you had to outsmart a charging Griever for instance, or you were infiltrating an evil high-security facility or being chased by blood-thirsty, face-eating Cranks. It was what made them such a good team.

 

But if right now were any indication, it was also what could sometimes end up pushing them apart.

 

So maybe the same thing that had worked last night would work now. Maybe Thomas could stop pushing and let Newt come to him.

 

Sure enough, after what felt like minutes of quiet thinking and absent-looking kneading, Newt finally spoke.

 

“Look,” he said, with a sigh. “It’s not as if this place is awash in bloody mirrors is it? I can’t see this work of art you’re all describing,” he explained, giving up rubbing at his kneecap to gesture vaguely in the direction of his neck. “How was I to know there was anything there at all, and it wasn’t something the pair of those morons cooked up, just to get a reaction out of us – get us to admit something.”

 

Thomas would have to remember how well this trick worked. He was never great with words, at making what was in his head come out in ways that would make good sense to the people living outside of it. But then Newt had gotten there on his own, and that was just it. Exactly Thomas’s point.

 

“Why wouldn’t we admit it?”

 

Newt frowned.

 

“Why—” he started, but stopped just as quickly.

 

“Why what?” Thomas prompted.

 

Newt only gave an irritated little huff out his nose and pressed the heel of his hand down on top of his knee again.

 

Thomas didn’t speak, didn’t push. He reached over and wrapped his fingers around said hand and he waited.

 

Newt’s eyes closed. He breathed. Returned the squeeze in Thomas’s grip.

 

“Tommy,” Newt sighed, eyes still gently closed. “It’s the morning after the best night of my life,” he murmured, as they opened. “I really don’t want to spend it fighting.”

 

Thomas shifted off the rock he was sitting on, to go to his knees on the ground next to Newt. He brushed Newt’s hand away so he could put both of his own there instead.

 

“I’m not fighting. I’m too busy doing this,” he said, pressing in a little with his thumbs.

 

Thomas hadn’t done this before, but he had watched Newt do it what felt like hundreds of times in the Scorch – by the fire at night, or whenever they stopped for a break on any long hike.

 

“So when you’re ready to tell me what you were going to say, I’ll be right here,” he drew both thumbs firmly downward on either side of Newt’s kneecap, to press in underneath.

 

“I told you, I’m fine,” Newt protested, even as his eyes slipped shut again.

 

Thomas wrapped his fingers around the back of Newt’s calf, and squeezed. Newt’s eyebrows moved together, but he didn’t stop him. His lip went between his teeth.

 

“You really, really are,” Thomas agreed.

 

“Jesus,” Newt laughed. He opened his eyes, just to roll them at him.

 

Thomas squeezed a little harder, and Newt’s mouth opened like he was about to say something – maybe just make a wordless sound of surprise or pain – but nothing came out.

 

“That hurt?” Thomas asked him, gentling his grip a little.

 

Newt shook his head.

 

“S’good,” he replied, even though it looked like it did. He shifted forward a little, pressing down into the pressure a little further.

 

Thomas kept up his kneading, but he kept up his watch on Newt’s expressions too. Sure enough, the creases in his forehead smoothed a little, and he started to look a touch more relaxed.

 

“It was the best night of my life too, you know.”

 

Newt gave a quiet smile. Thomas just kept on kneading. “…Not going to give up are you?”

 

“Whenever you’re ready,” Thomas repeated, with a smile, moving a little lower. “I’ll be here.”

 

Newt sighed. He shifted his weight back on the rock a bit, but didn’t pull away.

 

“You asked me why I didn’t just admit it,” he said slowly, after a minute or so. “I was going to ask you why you dropped my hand like a hot potato when Minho turned up.”

 

Thomas didn’t mean to, but his hands faltered in the rhythm of what they had been doing, and this time Newt did pull away just a little, bending his knee enough to settle his foot flat on the ground and take his calf just out of Thomas’s grasp.

 

Had he done that? Now that Newt pointed it out, he guessed maybe he had.

 

Not about to make the same mistake, Thomas reached out again, putting both hands warmly around the base of his leg, right above the ankle. Just holding on to him for now.

 

“I…guess he scared me?” Thomas answered. It felt like the truth was coming out now, so he might as well be out with all of it. “I was just thinking about maybe kissing you…” Thomas admitted. “And then there he was.”

 

Newt’s gaze dropped, turning introspective. It had always been fascinating to Thomas, the way you could watch each thought pass over his expression before Newt settled on a response. Thomas watched him smile ever so slightly at the news he had wanted to kiss him, but it was chased swiftly by a look Thomas couldn’t name, like he was remembering something troubling.

 

And then a frown. Thomas waited.

 

“And with Minho there, it suddenly seemed like a bad idea?” Newt asked, finally.

 

Not bad, Thomas thought, kissing Newt could never be a bad thing. But it had certainly suddenly become less private.

 

“I just…wasn’t sure you would want me to.”

 

Newt nodded. He was looking Thomas straight in the eye now, his expression clear again, and meaningful. “And there you have it.”

 

“So…” It was true, Thomas hadn’t been paying much attention to his own reactions, or how they might look. He had been pretty solidly focused on Newt. “You’re saying you weren’t sure what I wanted either. You thought I was the one who wanted to keep it a secret?”

 

That…would have explained everything, actually. Why Newt had gone from ‘that settles that then’ and leaning all languidly into him, to rolling his eyes and avoiding Minho’s ridiculous teasing questioning, and telling Brenda it was an ‘assumption’ to think the troublesome little mark might have been put there by Thomas.

 

It seemed so simple. He wished Newt could have just said as much earlier. But now Newt was frowning again.

 

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you I don’t think it’s much of a secret,” he dissented. “But I… wasn’t sure, no,” he admitted, drawing his leg out of Thomas’s grasp again.

 

Thomas let him go this time, looking up at him and just waiting. If there was more to say, waiting was probably going to be the only way to get Newt to spill it.

 

“I’ve been where you are, Tommy,” he said, finally. “And I—” but he just broke off again with a heavy sounding sigh.

 

It was Thomas’s turn to frown now, not sure where this was going – why all Newt’s answers suddenly seemed to be about him, or why they seemed so hard for Newt to get out. But he must have looked down at where his knees were planted in the sparse grass and dirt of the clearing, because Newt gave a sudden dry laugh.

 

“Not where you literally are, you numpty. Here,” he said, reaching down to take Thomas’s hands in his warm, always-slightly-dry ones, and pull at him until Thomas got the point and moved back to sitting on the rock next to him.

 

“I meant I’ve been in your situation.” Newt’s thumbs slipped back and forth over his knuckles, and Thomas realized all at once – how long it had been since Newt had touched him, had initiated and reached for him first.

 

How much he had missed it.

 

It had only been hours, since that morning, but his memory flipped right back to it, to the way Newt had been so close then, rubbing his thumb in teasing lines over his skin and whispering seriously distracting things in his ear.

 

Thomas felt his eyes slip shut, just the way he usually saw Newt’s doing.

 

When they opened again, Newt was smiling fondly at him; an uncomplicated, soft, deep smile. One that made it all the way to his eyes, finally.

 

“I’m in a situation?” Thomas asked, not caring if he sounded dumb, not with Newt smiling at him that way, and still holding his hands, and finally, finally talking.

 

“Aren’t you?”

 

“I…” Thomas felt his brows wrinkle up and Newt’s smile got an amused little twinkle to it. “Well as usual, my situation is pretty much just total confusion.”

 

Newt gave an indelicate snort of laughter. Thomas didn’t know how somebody laughing at his general inability to express himself could come out as actually encouraging, but leave it to Newt to turn Thomas’s feelings all upside down and inside out. Any time, really.

 

“I mean,” he went on, still trying to riddle out his alleged ‘situation’. “We both agree, last night was pretty much the best thing ever…”

 

“So far,” Newt concurred, with the suggestive rise of a brow.

 

Thomas felt himself blush. And, speaking of Newt’s topsy-turvy effect on all of his emotions, he realized in an absurd moment of disbelief that he had actually missed it.

 

“Hopefully, yeah,” he acknowledged, grinning and probably looking like a huge dork, but still determined to get all of this – whatever it was – out.

 

“And now our friends are asking about it,” he went on. “And sure, it’s weird, but they’re excited, I guess. …I just want to know how much I can say.”

 

There. That was probably as close to piecing out his situation as Thomas was going to be able to come.

 

But instead of making things clearer, everything seemed to go backward.

 

Newt’s expression clouded. His gaze dropped and Thomas watched the chain of various thoughts cross his features, each looking as perplexing and opaque to Thomas now as the last, until Newt apparently came to some sort of conclusion and gave another of his cryptic sighs.  

 

“…I suppose I haven’t been quite fair.” Thomas felt his features bunching themselves up into a frown, but again, he waited. “Maybe you’re right, Tommy,” Newt went on. “Maybe your situation isn’t anything much like mine was at all…”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“No. Don’t expect you would,” Newt mused, distantly. He twisted his fingers awkwardly where they were wrapped around Thomas’s, so that he could get his thumb up high enough to pick at his own knuckle with the nail.

 

Thomas didn’t like that much. He put his own thumb up, interrupting the destructive little tic and setting it protectively over the place where Newt’s nail had been.

 

“I wasn’t thinking,” Newt said, looking back at him suddenly, like the little prod had just reminded him Thomas was still sitting here, waiting for an explanation. “This will sound a bit funny, I imagine, but can you consider for a second… How lucky we are?”

 

Thomas had even less idea now what Newt was getting at than he had a minute ago. He knew he was lucky, damn lucky, to be sitting here with Newt at all, much less to be able to hold his hands and talk about kissing him – and other things. To be talking about doing those things, and more, again some time. It wasn’t just lucky, it was nothing far short of shucking miraculous.

 

“How is that funny?” Thomas asked him.

 

Newt seemed taken aback. His hold on Thomas’s hands went slack like he was thinking of pulling them away.

 

No. Thomas tightened his grip on Newt’s hands and pulled them up until they were touching his chest.  

 

“You want to know if I can consider it?” he said, hearing the way his tone went sort of intense and incredulous, and deciding just to roll with it. Fuck it, it was how he felt. “I can’t consider anything else. I haven’t stopped thinking about it, not for one second. Not since I broke down crying like a complete shuck-face last night and you – you looked at me like… like my stupid snotty face was some kind of treasure to you, and all this fucking… fucking patience and kindness and… forgiveness. Not when you walked through that greenhouse, all lit up with excitement and the sun through the glass, all over your perfect skin and your gorgeous blond hair, until you were glowing like a freakin’ angel.” Newt’s eyes were wide and staring at him now, but Thomas was almost done, anyway. …Almost. “And not even at breakfast, blushing and rolling your beautiful eyes and surrounded by your favourite pack of idiots... 'Lucky'? Doesn't begin to cover it.”

 

“Oh Tommy,” Newt did pull one of his hands away, now, and Thomas let him, watching the way he clapped it over his mouth in surprise. His eyes were bright, but with his mouth covered up, Thomas couldn’t tell if it was from laughter or something else.

 

When he finally took his hand away, it looked like it might be a bit of both.

 

“That isn’t what I meant at all, but…” Newt’s eyes sparkled and he sounded the slightest bit breathless as he reached his hand back over to cup the side of Thomas’s face and run his thumb appreciatively across his cheek. “Christ on a bloody— one second you can’t string enough words together to express yourself to save your life, the next you’re fucking Shakespeare?”

 

Thomas shrugged. “Guess I was just bloody inspired?”

 

The glitter in Newt’s eyes got quite out of control, in the brief second right before his hand moved from Thomas’s cheek and around to his nape, and his fingers pushed bluntly up into the hair there, making them drop swiftly shut.

 

“Come here,” he said, though it came out mostly as a gasp of incredulous laughter by now, and he pulled until Thomas was doing just as he was told. “Somebody’s got to shut you up,” Newt muttered, as he leaned forward to meet him so swiftly that Thomas could feel the last of his words as a tickling brush of movement and breath against his lips, “my God.”

 

Thomas would have laughed but there was nothing funny about this – the way the feel of Newt’s mouth on his slammed his eyes shut and stopped his heart. The way the birdsong and sunlight and the breeze in the leaves all snapped off like hitting a switch, and Thomas’s entire everything was narrowed down to the lips pressing and nipping at his own, the fingers tangling just-this-side-of roughly in the back of his hair.

 

“There,” Newt said between panting breaths, when the sun turned back on and the birds came back to life and Thomas’s senses were his own again. “Still feeling bloody inspired?”

 

“Nope,” Thomas replied, breathing just as unevenly, and it was the honest truth. His mind had been wiped completely blank as effectively as WCKD themselves could have ever managed. “Back to being as dumb and horny as my usual.”

 

Newt laughed, and leaned forward again, this time just to kiss him amusedly on the forehead. “Just how I like you.”

 

Thomas smiled. But then he sighed. His mind wasn’t quite completely blank after all. There was still one last thing sticking stubbornly in there, and he had a feeling it was pretty likely to spoil Newt’s new and surprisingly jovial mood.

 

“What did you mean then,” he asked, “about being lucky?”

 

Newt smiled, but sure enough, there was something far-off and pensive in it.

 

“I meant we were lucky to have our pack of idiots, you mentioned,” he said quietly, pulling his hands into his own lap and looking distractedly down at them. “People who are excited, like you say, to see us together. Who want us to be happy and who aren’t…” Newt shook his head, still looking down at his hands, which were moving like they wanted to come together and start picking away at each other but he knew Thomas would stop him if he did it. Thomas watched him place them firmly on his knees instead. “Well, it doesn’t always work that way.”

 

“Still don’t get it,” Thomas said, shaking his head ruefully, and pointing a finger at himself. “Dumb and horny, remember?”

 

Newt looked up at him, but he didn’t laugh.

 

“It’s a bit of a long story,” he said, dismissively.


Thomas had never liked that phrase. It was the phrase people used when they didn’t want to tell you something. And in Thomas’s experience, it was always something big. Something important.

 

Something true.  

 

It had taken some doing to get here – to where Newt had finally decided that talking everything out to him was a good thing to do – and now that they were here, he didn’t want that to stop, at least not until everything made some kind of sense.


“Then tell me,” Thomas said. “Tell me the long story.”

 

Newt squinted skeptically at him the same way he had done when Thomas told him his hickey looked kind of cute, and the moment right before he had asked him ‘not going to give up are you?’ as Thomas knelt in front of him, clumsily massaging his sore leg.

 

Thomas knew exactly what to do. He waited.

 

The sun shone, and the birds sang. The seconds ticked.

 

Newt sighed.

 

“The boy Minho teased me about,” he said slowly, “the day I hit him, back when we were kids?”

 

Thomas reached out to pull one of the fidgeting hands out of Newt’s lap and back into his own. This journey looked like it was taking Newt quite a ways back. And if he wanted the company, then he didn’t have to go it alone.

 

Thomas waited again, while Newt’s eyes shuttered and came back, their look clearer and stronger now than before.

 

“It wasn’t Alby,” Newt confessed.

 

“In fact, he was absolutely nothing like Alby at all…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“His name was Nick.” 

 

Something in the way Newt pronounced the name made Thomas’s fingers twitch with the momentary urge to squeeze the hand in his lap tighter, like it left a bad taste in Newt’s mouth, having to say it.

 

“You never met him. But he was my first. …And he wasn’t all that nice about it.”

 

Thomas reminded himself again to keep his hold on Newt’s hand gentle. If he hadn’t met somebody Newt knew, it could only mean one thing. Before Thomas had arrived, there had only been one way out of the Glade.

 

Still, he could feel adrenaline prickle through him at the words, the hair on his arms standing up and an odd tension drawing a tight yoke across the back of his shoulders.

 

“Did he hurt you?” As if there was anything he could do about it now.

 

Newt looked over at him, surprise and mild amusement showing on his face at the slight growl Thomas hadn’t been able to keep out of his tone.

 

“No,” Newt reassured him, moving his thumb over Thomas’s hand, soothing as always, as if he was the one who should need it. “Not like that.” But then, seemingly still unable to keep from teasing him, he smirked and added “I’m hardly a damsel in distress, Tommy.”

 

Thomas forced his shoulders to relax, and gave him a small, teasing smile back. “No, apparently you’re a total brawler.”

 

Newt smiled down at their hands, at the memory of the stories and carrying on that had come out over breakfast, looking once again like he was trying not to look just the tiniest bit flattered.

 

“I’m actually a little intimidated,” Thomas went on. “I’m gonna be watching my back now for that killer sucker-punch.”

 

“Nah,” Newt said dismissively, pulling his hands away to lean backward a little, bracing them on either side of himself on the rock. “Had it comin’, those two did. …Meatheads,” he added for good measure.

 

Thomas raised his eyebrows at the expressive, though maybe apt, description of Minho and Gally.

 

“Well I wasn’t letting them bully me, was I?” Newt defended, smoothly. “I mean, look, it was early times in the Glade, we were basically an entire tribe of primitive idiots. And me? I was skinny, talked funny…"

 

“I prefer ‘slender’, with a ‘sexy lilt’,” Thomas corrected him.

 

Newt laughed.

 

“Yeah, well. Throw in finding out you fancy the other lads in a way they don’t return, and don’t actually appreciate all that much… well that’s just the bloody trifecta, innit? I mean, boys barely need one reason to start takin’ the mick, but give ’em three…”

 

Thomas held back a frown, noting the redoubling of Newt’s Briticisms and not quite understanding them all, but not wanting to interrupt, now that he seemed to be opening up. Newt had never talked about anything like this before. In fact, Thomas couldn’t remember a time they had talked about much of anything personal.


Not that there had ever been much time for reminiscing. There had always been so many other, more pressing, things to discus like escaping, rescuing. Surviving. He had Newt’s letter of course, but the only personal detail about him it really contained was that he seemed to have a bit of a soft spot for Frypan’s stew.

 

Thomas thought briefly that maybe he should mention it to Fry, he would be more than happy to be able to prepare Newt’s favourite meal for him, Thomas was sure.

 

“You have to remember,” Newt was saying now, stretching his legs out into the grass and apparently settling in for what he had warned would be a long story, “there weren’t always as many of us as when you came up. It took time, figuring out how to make it work, establishing order. And we were all just babies really, no memories, no experience that we knew of. We were still learning how to be… people, I guess, instead of just a bunch of buggin’ maniacs – every man for himself. You remember what it was like,” Newt said, looking meaningfully at him a moment. “Every new Greenie to come up in the Box was confused, scared. Angry. And we didn’t have any… guidelines, no procedure for handling it. No Slammer yet, no Tour.”

 

Thomas tried to imagine it, a time when there had only been twenty or so guys in the Glade – or even fewer, like twelve – boys with so much work to do, just to keep themselves fed and with a place to lie down at night. Who didn’t remember a thing about who they were or why they were there, and without the time or wherewithal to help each other through it.

 

Terrorized, trapped, mind-tampered boys, who hadn’t had a chance yet to make the friendships and establish the roles and routines that Alby had once told him were key to making the place work, to keep them from falling into ‘dark days’.

 

“We didn’t have an official leader yet at the time either,” Newt said, looking back down at where his feet were crossed at the ankle in a way that looked more closed-off than casual, to Thomas. “But Nick, he fancied himself a bit of a…”

 

“Prom King?” he prompted, when Newt trailed off, hoping his tone matched the light, joking one from that morning’s breakfast banter, instead of something more… well just something more.

 

“And I suppose I rather fell for it,” Newt confirmed, with only the hint of a smile at the lame joke.

 

Thomas was glad he didn’t have to ask what Newt meant by it – falling for the act, or the guy putting it on – because Newt was still talking.

 

“I was a kid,” he said, as if he needed to explain himself. “Still new, scared. And he was this older boy, who everybody sort of looked up to. We needed that, you know, somebody confident, somebody who seemed to know what the bloody hell he was doing – when the truth was none of us did, really.”

 

Newt still wasn’t looking at him, he was looking down at the heel of his shoe in the dirt.

 

Thomas nodded anyway, not sure what to do beyond stay quiet and listen. Newt said the guy hadn’t hurt him, so Thomas wasn’t sure where this was going, but it was starting from a place that set him vaguely on edge right from the beginning, somewhere Newt sounded too vulnerable for Thomas’s comfort.

 

It made him want to reach for him again, pull him closer, maybe, than just taking his hands again; wrap his arms around him and just refuse to let go. But Newt’s lack of eye contact and independent posture definitely didn’t invite it, with his hands planted firmly against the rock, and leaning back away from him. Almost like he needed all his focus to get through his story and Thomas’s touch would be too distracting.

 

“And he noticed. The way I looked at him, I guess,” Newt murmured distantly, rocking his heel back and forth and making a little furrow in the earth. “Hard not to, likely, I was such a little arse-kisser. Hanging on his every word, every rule he said we should make sounded like a good one to me…”

 

Thomas found himself wondering if in addition to being confident and charismatic, Nick also happened to be exceptionally good-looking. He wasn’t about to ask though. Besides, he had a feeling that even if Newt would give him an answer, it wasn’t going to make him feel any better.

 

“It was exciting at first, when he started paying attention to me,” Newt admitted, and Thomas was glad he wasn’t looking at him now, because the strange twist of unidentified emotion his insides gave would have certainly shown on his face. “Coming to chat me up while I was working now and then, or finding me out in the Deadheads, if I’d been brooding. And I’d be lying if I said he ever made me do anything I didn’t want.”

 

Newt did look up at him then, making sure that last point had sunk in. Thomas nodded again. Newt’s position on things like possessive hickies and over-protective bristling over long-dead ex-boyfriends was becoming abundantly clear. Thomas wasn’t making any promises, though.

 

Newt’s mouth gave a wry little quirk before he went on. “But then the others started to pick up on things about me too…”

 

“That you were slender and charmingly lilting?” Thomas suggested.

 

“Mmm,” Newt agreed, nodding solemnly, but failing to keep the glint Thomas had been hoping to see out of his eye. “And gay?” he deadpanned. “As a bloody maypole?”

 

It shouldn’t have caught him that off guard, but the tension of getting this story out was maybe getting to both of them, and the laughter surprised him – seizing his chest and bursting out of him in a silly guffaw probably much louder and dramatic than it really should have been.

 

Newt joined in with a chuckle of his own, but stopped long before Thomas did, who was now caught in the throes of what could only be embarrassingly described as a giggle fit. Newt sat and watched him, amusement written all over his features while he waited for him to recover.

 

“Better get used to the term, Tommy,” he warned, his tone serious, though he still wasn’t quite able to wipe off the sunny grin that had taken over his face. “Not that I even know where I heard it. …'as a maypole',” Newt repeated, with another short little chuckle. “It’s funny isn’t it, the things you remember without knowing how.”

 

A quiet few seconds passed, while Newt smirked down at his toes, and Thomas tried to regain whatever dignity he had probably never had in the first place. And then, as much as he might not be looking forward to it, Thomas figured it was time they got back on topic.

 

He wanted to do it right this time, though. So Thomas took his moment to shift over next to Newt, sitting right up alongside him the way Newt had chosen to do with him that morning. He stretched his legs out so their ankles could rest together, and their shoulders could touch if Newt wanted, but he wouldn’t have to reach out to take his hand, or even look him in the eye if he didn’t want to.

 

Newt leaned their shoulders together with his eyes closing on a sigh. Thomas waited until he could feel it – the tension strung all through Newt’s arm and shoulder loosening a notch. They were ready.

 

“…So,” Thomas asked, careful to keep any growl-type sound out of it that might peg him as a ‘primitive idiot’ in Newt’s estimation. “They started picking on you?”

 

Newt’s shoulder moved against his, as if he had started to shrug and then stopped, in favour of staying nestled comfortably up against him. Thomas approved.

 

“Mostly just whispers. Some snickering,” he answered, after a second or two had passed. “But old Nick didn’t want any of that coming his way, did he? We were just starting to figure our shit out, even if there was no official leader, he was probably getting the idea that we might be on our way to choosing one, and he was the type who certainly didn’t mind being able to throw his weight about. So anything that might damage his clout with the others…”

 

Newt was digging his heel fretfully into the dirt again. Thomas tipped the toe of his boot over to touch it to Newt’s. Not to stop him or anything, just a little nudge to let him know he’d noticed. That he was there, trying to listen with every part of himself, like Newt always did for him.

 

Newt’s expression softened a little in response, but he plowed on, sounding determined to finish.

 

“He started saying things in front of them, to distance himself, like. Make out he wouldn’t have anything to do with me, despite what the rumour mill might be churning out. It was mostly at meal times – just a lot of stupid rubbish, to make them laugh – about the way I used my mouth, or how I ‘liked my meat’.

 

Thomas felt a strange shot of chill, pouring down his spine and feeling like it was flooding his veins. His stomach twisted brutally and he was glad he wasn’t holding Newt’s hand anymore because down at his sides, his hands had curled quite forcefully into fists.

 

He said nothing. He wouldn’t have been able to keep the aggressive tone out of whatever came out if he spoke. This didn’t sound like ‘rubbish’ at all. It sounded much more like a word Newt had used earlier. This sounded like straight-up harassment. Like bullying.

 

“Only Alby could ever get the nadjers to tell him to slim it,” Newt commented. He looked over at Thomas finally, as if he had expected him to respond, maybe to laugh. “Don’t look like that, Tommy,” he said, nudging into him cajolingly with his shoulder, when he got a look at Thomas’s expression. “It wasn’t as bad as all that.”

 

Thomas let out a deliberate breath, and unclenched his hands. Newt caught the movement. He frowned. Then he moved, picking up the one closest to him and holding it between both of his own.

 

Thomas sighed, and threaded his fingers in between Newt’s. He had suspected he wasn’t going to like this story much, and he didn’t. But it wasn’t over.

 

“The thing that really burned me though…” Newt was saying now, still holding his hand but looking down again, at their feet. “He would still come find me alone sometimes…”

 

No, no Thomas didn’t like this story at all. He felt that unpleasant prickle and angry tension ripple across his shoulders again. And this time, so did Newt. 

 

He broke off, his frown even deeper now, looking at him as if he wasn’t sure whether or not he should go on. Thomas felt instantly guilty. Leave it to Newt to worry about bringing up his own painful memories because they might be too much for Thomas.

 

He did his best to rearrange his features so they resembled something like a reassuring smile. He would never be as good a listener as Newt, but he could damn well get through this one story and hear him out. He still didn’t speak. No more interruptions. He just gave an encouraging squeeze, where Newt had laid their intertwined hands down on the top of his thigh, urging him to go on.

 

Newt sighed.

 

“There was this one time, I was in the Map Room…” he gave Thomas a sideways look again, but went on, apparently deciding from the encouraging swipe his thumb made across Newt’s hand that he could handle it. “He’d been especially obnoxious at dinner. I laughed it off as usual, but he must have known I’d had enough, by how I’d hurried through eating, or the way I left the table.”

 

Newt looked over at him again, but he didn’t stop his story this time.

 

“And d’you know, he apologized? If you could call it a ruddy apology,” he went on, sounding irritated now, finally, at the memory of it. “All bangin’ on about how I should understand, shouldn’t I, why he had to talk that way. That we didn’t want them to know what we were getting up to, did we? And how it was harder for him of course, with the others looking up to him the way they did.”

 

Newt paused to shake his head incredulously.

 

“He’d known! He’d known all along his behavior was shit, and here he bloody was, telling me all about how it ‘had to be like this’. How he obviously planned to bloody well continue as long as he damn well liked. …Well I knew it all had to stop then, didn’t I? But then. If the idiot didn’t go and put his hands on me, like he still expected me to—”

 

Thomas couldn’t help it. His fingers tightened around Newt’s, but this time Newt didn’t seem to mind. He just squeezed back.

 

“Well,” he said, a little quieter now. “I’d never laid hands to anybody before, that I could remember of course. But I did it then. Put him on the floor so fast he didn’t even know what’d hit him until I was already out the door and gone.”

 

Newt was quiet a second and Thomas watched him, his expression showing a procession of thoughts the way it always did, moving between the strangest mix of what looked like shame over resorting to his fists, and then right across the board to pride in learning to stand up for himself.

 

“It was a surprise,” he said finally, “how much stronger I’d gotten since I’d arrived in the Glade – all of us working our arses off building, and tending the gardens, and Running every day. …Got a little caught up in it, I suppose, letting the others know I wasn’t about to let them bully me – or anybody else for that matter – for something like that ever again.”

 

Thomas smiled. He was starting to like this story just a little better.

 

“So Minho picked a bad time for an even worse joke,” Newt concluded, catching Thomas’s smile and joining him in a dry little chuckle for good measure. “But it all worked out in the end. New rules were made, Alby laid down that no Glader was to harm another without consequences, and goading another boy or picking fights was grounds for the Slammer too.”

 

“…Gally spent his share of time there before he got used to it all,” Newt finished, making them both chuckle briefly again.  

 

Thomas could feel some of the tension starting to ebb away. Some of Newt’s story had been hard to hear, but Thomas was glad he had asked, glad Newt was able to tell him.

 

“So that’s what I meant, earlier,” Newt said, “when I said I realize I might not have been exactly fair.”

 

Thomas didn’t think it was all that unfair. He could definitely understand why Newt might not appreciate being teased about what he may or may not have done with another guy over the breakfast table, and even more so now. But he still wasn’t quite sure what it meant for explaining things between them to their friends.

 

“You mean, just because you shut Minho down this morning? Because of…what Nick did? The bullshit way he treated you?”

 

“Well yes… but no. Not because of Nick – you’re just a little bit protective, aren’t you?” Newt answered with a smirk, not making anything any clearer, and obviously finding the way Thomas just couldn’t say that Nick dude’s name without at least the slightest hint of a growl some combination of highly amusing and slightly irritating. “No Tommy, everything that happened today was in good fun, I know that. That’s what I meant by saying we were lucky to have them, that not everybody gets to have support like that.”


Thomas nodded. That made sense, Newt definitely hadn’t had much support his first time around. But then…

 

“They want us to be together,” Newt went on, clearly noticing that Thomas was still pretty hopelessly confused. “They’re excited like you said, and everything that happened today was about that – togetherness. And not just us, it was about them all getting each other in on it too, showing that they support it and want to know if and when it happens.” Thomas looked down at their hands still sitting on Newt’s knee. If it happened? He didn’t get a chance to ask what that meant though, because Newt was still trying to explain. “And it’s the exact opposite of what Nick was trying to do, to distance and divide. And I know that Tommy, I do. It’s exactly what I was trying to explain to you. It’s just… Togetherness is all well and good, but sometimes they should know when to bloody well bugger off, as well.”

 

Thomas frowned, just feeling filled with even more questions. If it wasn’t about Nick, then what was it about? Privacy? Like on principle? He still just wasn’t getting it.

 

And apparently that was glaringly obvious from his expression because Newt gave a tired-sounding sigh and tried his explanation one more time.

 

“I mean it’s alright for me, isn’t it? It’s Minho and Gally for klunk’s sake, none of my relationships were news to anybody, but you…  All of this is new to you.”

 

OH.

 

Of course. Go figure. Thomas almost felt like it shouldn’t have even surprised him by this point. The long story, all the distressing, painful things Newt had been through. And then in the end, what was really bothering Newt was how all of it ended up feeding into what felt like a lot of needless worry about him.

 

Thomas shook his head, feeling an incredulous smile breaking out all across his face. He was fine, more than fine. He hadn’t been worried about the actual things Minho and Gally had been saying at all, he had been – of course – completely focused on how it might have been affecting Newt. The irony.

 

“Who’s protective now?” He raised his eyebrows. “I’m no damsel in distress, you know.”

 

“Oh, pipe it,” Newt answered, his reaction to being called on it coming off as no more than a twitch of his lips that wanted to be a smirk but never made it.

 

“You’ve got a lot going on at the moment,” Newt told him, seriously. “Best mate back from the dead, and not quite right about it, let’s both admit. And then…not so much just a best mate after all, now, eh? And it’s a lot, Tommy. Sure, our situations might not have been the same, and it might not have been exactly fair of me to assume you’re feeling the things I did. But either way, the truth of it is you’ve got thinking to do. And it might be best done without a lot of people pushing you in any one direction or another.”

 

“And call it ego, if you like,” he concluded, “but if you’re going to choose to be with me, I’d like it to be your idea.”

 

Thomas looked down at their hands again, moved his thumb in a pensive little circle were it was sitting on Newt’s knee. All of that certainly made a lot of sense, finally. Maybe a little too much.

 

Sure, it was a lot to think about – starting a new relationship, moving from friendship to something more, having a best friend back from the dead. And Thomas wasn’t the only one going through any of it.

 

Up until a few days ago, they had both believed the other dead and gone. Whatever Newt had been planning to do when he set out on his massive journey to make it here, whatever turn he might have expected his life to take on this Island, it definitely hadn’t been to be sitting here with Thomas. Much less spending the night wrapped up in and around each other, and then the morning negotiating how to manage announcing the status of their relationship – if there was one at all, apparently – and dredging up old heartbreak.

 

Thomas sighed.

 

“Thank you for telling me the long story,” he said, taking Newt’s hand in both of his, now. “Even though I kind of hated it. I’m so sorry that happened to you. You deserve so much better, Newt.”

 

Newt smiled. “I’m doing much better, these days,” he assured him, putting up his free hand to cup Thomas’s cheek, and stroke his thumb over the hair at his temple.

 

Thomas turned his face down into the touch, gratefully. “I’m glad you said Alby was nothing like that,” he told him.  

 

Newt frowned pensively.

 

“Alby and me… that was a different story altogether. And still nothing at all like you and me,” he added, giving Thomas’s cheek another sweet little stroke before he put his hand back down with the others in his lap. “I think he was madder at himself than he was at me, the first time he let me get away with it…” he said, musingly.

 

Thomas bit at his lip, trying to stick to his trick of staying quiet and listening. If another long story was kicking off, he hoped this one wouldn’t be as hard to hear.

 

But the way it started off didn’t give him much hope.

 

“It was after… my injury,” Newt said, flattening the hand that Thomas wasn’t holding out on the top of his thigh. “Alby had me move into the Homestead with him while I was recovering. I think it was more so he could keep an eye on me than anything. I… wasn’t in a good place, Tommy,” he admitted. “I was hurting – needy, angry. …Manipulative,” he added, sending Thomas an honest look.

 

“He’d let me put my head in his lap, y’know, for a cry,” Newt went on, looking back down at his hand fidgeting on his knee. “Then I… started doing quite a bit more than that while I was down there.”

 

Thomas felt his cheeks burn but he knew Newt wasn’t looking at him anyway. He didn’t know how to feel – maybe he should be squeamish, hearing about Newt with other guys, or even jealous. And maybe he was a little, both. But the thing was, it was all just so hard to imagine.

 

Thomas had only ever known Newt the way he was now. Well, the way he was up until Thomas lost him, and he came back to him with nervous tics and panic attacks, that was. But still, from the time he had met him, Newt had always been so steady and self-possessed. Kindly and logically solving everybody’s problems and never faltering in his cool, flippant British sarcasm.

 

He supposed he had known, on some level, that there was a time when Newt hadn’t been quite so stable, ever since the first time he dreamed about the day Newt climbed to the top of the wall and stood peering dangerously over its edge. But it was hard – not to mention painful – to picture. A Newt who wasn’t the all-knowing voice of reason Thomas remembered, the one to go to for any question at all about life in the Glade, but who was younger; scared, and despairing, and desperate.

 

Shit. If last night had taught him anything, it was that Newt was a hell of a temptation as it was. He didn’t think he could blame Alby for giving in, for bowing to the need that must have been so overpowering in him. For allowing himself to be Newt’s comfort, his support.

 

Newt seemed to be of somewhat similar feeling. “I owe him a lot, Alby. …Minho, too,” he noted, after a pause. “You said you saw…” Newt trailed off, and when Thomas met his eyes, they were filled with questions. “In a dream…?”

 

Thomas nodded.

 

“He found you,” he supplied. “Carried you back to the Glade, before the Doors could close.” Newt wasn’t the only one who owed Minho, Thomas knew, for the precious gift sitting next to him. He moved his thumb over the warmth of skin he could feel through the fabric of Newt’s pant leg, grateful for the chance to be able to do it, even this smallest of touches.

 

Grateful also, that he was allowed.

 

Newt gave a thoughtful nod, worrying at his lip with his teeth in a way that made Thomas want to stop him, soothe over the little reddened spot starting to show up now with his thumb. Or maybe his mouth. But Newt stopped, and started speaking again.

 

“Minho saved my life,” he affirmed. “And never told a soul anything about it. But Alby…he brought me back. To life, I mean. To accepting it the way it was, to learning that if life in the Glade was going to be the life we got, then it was up to us to make it work. …He showed me to respect myself. That the things we did together could be more than what Nick had wanted to make out of them. That being different from the other boys didn’t mean I’d have to feel alone. And most of all, to never let anyone like Nick use it to make me feel that alone and used and empty ever again.”

 

Hearing this part about what Newt and Alby had been like together didn’t make Thomas feel weird or squeamish at all. In fact, he thought, if he were here today he might have very well kissed Alby himself, for what he was hearing right now.

 

“I tried to show him what it meant to me, how much it changed things, but I don’t know if he ever got over the guilt, really. He always felt like I was this …kid, this delicate thing. A bit like he was taking advantage maybe. Seems to be a theme, doesn’t it?”

 

Newt turned and quirked a brow at him, clearly in reference to last night’s admission that Thomas had been worried about something similar.

 

“By the time you met him, we were barely even anything anymore,” Newt went on, quieter now, remembering. “Partners definitely, but maybe more like friends. We had all come such a long way since he first arrived in the Glade, and he could get so focused on running things… I did too, I guess.”

 

Newt was quiet for a second, then he smiled.

 

“He knew I liked the look of you your First Day though,” he said, leaning into Thomas’s shoulder to nudge it with his own. “Teased me about it as we were settling in that night.”

 

Thomas smiled, but he could feel the way it came out small, and absent. Newt had been checking him out on his First Day? Sure, he had been a little preoccupied on that particular day, but still, it was news. And it was a little bit sobering just how oblivious he really could be. And for how long.

 

Newt didn’t seem to notice Thomas’s distracted air, though.

 

“Now you have it,” he quipped, with a light shrug. “My entire sexual history.”

 

Thomas laughed. “Well, you already know mine! Thanks for not even looking surprised when I told you I’ve never done anything like this before by the way,” he complained, picking one hand up off of Newt’s so he could place his fingers lightly over the mark on his neck. Newt didn’t jump this time, he just smiled and shut his eyes contentedly instead. Thomas tapped the toe of his shoe against Newt’s a couple of times when they opened again. He felt suddenly kind of weird and shy. “It’s that obvious, huh?”

 

Newt shrugged again. “It’s not a bad thing…” he reasoned. “The way you look at me now, since I kissed you, like you’re seeing me for the first time. How sweet and special it feels every time you make some little discovery. …Like my tongue,” Newt teased, looking sideways at him.

 

“Or your ears,” Thomas agreed, raising his index finger up off of its spot on his neck to flick lightly at the lobe. 

 

And you’re a shockingly fast learner if last night is any indication,” Newt acknowledged, grinning and tipping his head away from the ticklish, teasing little caress. “So I’ve got to enjoy despoiling your fleeting innocence while I can, I guess.”

 

Thomas snorted at the words ‘fleeting innocence’, giving Newt’s foot a little shove with his again.

 

“And how is it there’s any of it left, by the way?” Newt was grinning now. “If you think I honestly wasn’t surprised…” He turned and looked seriously at him. “You should have had more than your fair share of opportunity! You’re practically a bloody celebrity around here. And apparently you’re a lot less choosy about your partner’s bits and pieces than most…”

 

Thomas wanted to snort again, but he bit the inside of his lip instead, and struggled for the maturity to keep a straight face, this time. That…might have actually turned out to be the case. He hadn’t actually put much thought into it.

 

Newt was the first guy he had kissed, and while he had certainly thought about kissing Brenda, and Teresa too, lots of times before it actually came about, the thing with Newt had just kind of… happened. And it hadn’t really felt like it was about kissing a guy, so much as it had just been about kissing Newt.

 

But Newt was staring at him now, like he might be thinking of kissing him again, and any further thought Thomas might have had was pretty effectively derailed.

 

“And,” Newt said coyly, “I mean, look at you.”

 

“Bluh,” Thomas shook his head, dismissing and blushing all at once. “Boring. Brown everything. Brown hair –”

 

“Chocolate,” Newt cut him off, smartly, correcting him the way Thomas had done when Newt described himself as ‘skinny and talking funny’. “And far too ridiculously soft and tempting to touch.”

 

Newt reached up and gave right in, his fingers combing shivery patterns through the sometimes unruly strands at his crown.

 

“Brown eyes,” Thomas went on, only holding back a little on the way the touch made him shudder.

 

“Amber,” Newt refuted. “Different in every light,” he informed him with a smile and another pass of his fingers through Thomas’s hair. “Right now for instance, in this sun, they’re gleaming like liquid gold.”

 

Thomas swallowed. Newt was always just too much for him, when he petted and cherished him like this. Too kind, too achingly sweet, and just the slightest bit teasing, Thomas thought, as he felt Newt’s fingertips slip, feather light, out of his hair and down the back of his neck. Goosebumps exploded eagerly to life all the way down to the base of his spine, and even along the length of his arms, almost making him lose track of the last complaint he was probably going to be able to make.

 

“Stupid brown moles all over…”

 

Newt smiled, and it had that just slightly wicked tinge somewhere in it, that said he knew exactly the effect he was having. He could probably feel Thomas’s goosebumps under his fingers, which were moving now, tracing a tingling path over the side of his neck.

 

“Adorable beauty marks,” Newt argued predictably, raising one finger long enough to tap it over the one gracing Thomas’s left cheek, “that just make you crave glimpses of more and more skin,” he purred, leaning close and letting his fingers go back to mapping icy, burning little trails between the ones down the side of his neck.

 

“Each one that you find more addictive than the last,” he went on, as his fingers reached the collar of Thomas’s shirt and dragged it down just the slightest touch, making even the way the fabric moved against his buzzing, over-eager skin set off rippling sets of shivers in whole new places. “Just piquing your curiosity and leaving you imagining how many more there might be, and where,” Newt breathed, and he was so close now Thomas was sure he could hear it, the tiny little hint of a moan that escaped his throat at the feel of that breath on his neck.

 

It didn’t matter. He was already lost, just drowning in sensation by the time he felt Newt’s hair brushing his temple and tickling his ear as he all but closed the remaining gap between them. Drawing a single finger down the side of his neck in one more merciless, catastrophic stroke as he barely murmured the last of his words right into Thomas’s ear. “Wondering… if you ran your fingers over them you could feel it, or is that skin as smooth everywhere as it is warm?”

 

Thomas heard another pleading little noise escape him as he turned, pressing his forehead into Newt’s and nudging at him, begging wordlessly to be kissed.

 

But Newt didn’t grant it, not just yet.

 

“It’s a bit silly,” he muttered, voice rasping a little now as his finger traveled maddeningly along the ridge of Thomas’s jaw, to stop under his chin, “how much I enjoy making you blush.”

 

Thomas shook his head, rocking his forehead ridiculously against Newt’s, and it was so stupid, feeling like he was coming apart, just from this. From a single finger over his skin and couple of well-chosen whispers in his ear.

 

“What’s silly is I’m kind of starting to enjoy it too,” he responded, his voice nothing more now than a husk.

 

“Jesus, Tommy,” Newt grated, the words barely slipping out at the last second as Thomas nudged beggingly at him again, and Newt gave in, bringing their lips together in a hot, sweet, commanding press, that didn’t stay sweet for long.

 

Thomas felt his lips urged open, Newt’s tongue sliding hungrily in between, as if he had been waiting to do it for some time. And Thomas could relate. He felt just as starved, just as desperate, reaching blindly for him, and finding; the warm, perfect angle of Newt’s jaw against his palm, the yielding crinkle of cotton as his other hand found a fistful of Newt’s shirt and started to tug.

 

Newt kissed him fervently twice, three, four times before he gasped and pulled back, placing a hand in the centre of Thomas’s chest and shutting his eyes for a long blink, like he needed the distance. Like stripping off and getting at each other right here in the grass, right out in the open, wasn’t the best, most amazing, awesome idea Thomas was starting to think it might be.

 

He must have been looking as stupid and lust-drunk and undone as he felt because Newt was smiling at him indulgently, putting his other hand up to comb proprietarially through his hair again.

 

“I still don’t understand it,” Newt marveled, between panting, recovering breaths, “how Brenda ended up keeping her hands off you.”

 

“Brenda?” Thomas repeated, just as breathlessly, blinking and trying to get his mind to make room for any thought that wasn’t about getting Newt’s mouth back on his, or the fingers stroking and scratching electrically through his hair. “She…we never…she was never my girlfriend.”

 

“Uh oh,” Newt caught a breath, stopped what his fingers were doing and let his palm slide soothingly down Thomas’s nape. “I was always so sure the two of you— Did something awful happen?"

 

Yes, something did. You died, and I was a broken, half-empty shell of the person I used to be without you, was something even Thomas, even in his current state, wasn’t dumb enough to go ahead and say.

 

He searched for the words, but it was even harder than usual with Newt so close, his dark eyes full as usual with so much concern, his thumb moving in an absent, instinctive, soothing stroke across Thomas’s nape, so caring and so close and so…

 

So Newt.

 

“We just…didn’t,” Thomas managed, tipping his gaze down in the hopes that if he stopped drowning willingly in the dark chestnut colour of Newt’s eyes, he might be able to force a little more coherence into his voice. “She…said that it never would have worked, that she wasn’t what I needed,” he admitted, looking back up at him now. “…Because I was waiting for something.”

 

Newt’s brow crinkled, genuinely concerned. Genuinely somehow, incredibly, not knowing.

 

“Waiting?” he asked, perplexedly. “…What were you waiting for, Tommy?

 

Thomas couldn’t help it, the little quirk of a smile he felt curve the corner of his mouth, the little huff of nearly-laughter. And they called him oblivious.

 

“You.”

 

Thomas couldn’t say the kiss was unexpected, but it knocked him back a little ways none the less, the way it was sudden, and urgent without being rough, demanding without being too hard – it was firm and sweet and passionate and gentle and commanding all at once. Just like Newt.

 

“I really always did like that girl,” Newt commented breathlessly, when he pulled back to catch his breath.

 

“Can we please stop talking about my ex?” Thomas returned, chasing his mouth with his own and only getting an amused little laugh for his trouble.

 

“Your ex-girlfriend who was never your girlfriend?” Newt clarified, his brow quirking, his cheeks flushed, his hair perfectly, exquisitely mussed, and not nearly, anywhere, anything like close enough.

 

“C’mere,” Thomas told him, twisting a little where his hand was still gripping a handful of Newt’s shirt in a tight fist and pulling him close.

 

“Somebody’s gotta shut you up. “

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Thomas felt a little like he might be losing his mind.

 

He was being ridiculous, that much he was sure of. He just couldn’t sit still. Or stand still, or crouch or even kneel, for that matter – all of which he seemed to keep trying to do, but without ever taking his mouth too far out of range of Newt’s. Who was sitting next to him on their little boulder perch, angling toward him as best he could and seemingly doing his level best to convince him their kisses were breath, and they were, both of them, drowning.

 

It might have been working. Thomas had personally never tried drowning to death before, but if the sheer frantic urgency of it were anything like this, it wouldn’t have surprised him.

 

He couldn’t seem to stop. He just kept finding himself moving, without going anywhere. He would pick his ass up off the rock behind him to angle closer, pressing and smashing his lips harder against Newt’s, only to put it back down again. Then, go to his knees, clutching and pulling at him in a vain effort to bring their chests closer together, to press against him and feel him – his heat, and the pounding of his heart, and the warming, stable pressure he had only gotten tastes of last night, of that lean, lithe body against his own.

 

Last night had felt nothing like this. Last night had felt like fire, slowly seeping into him. Warming and scorching and melting him on the inside until everything in him blazed and flowed fluid like lava, consuming and smouldering-molten. 

 

Right now wasn’t like that. There was heat, sure there was – on his cheeks, and the back of his neck and other, very definite, places that were getting more and more insistently hard to ignore. But right now didn’t burn, so much.

 

Right now kind of… itched. Where last night had been all wonder and surprise, this was all anticipation. Thomas knew now, was the thing – the amazing way Newt’s skin tasted, the doe-soft way it would feel if he could only get at it, and the… the goddamn noises that he could get Newt to make when he did. And he knew there was more than what they had done last night – more skin, more to touch, to taste. More things to try.

 

It just. It wasn’t enough. Not that Newt’s mouth on his, Newt’s hands – running over his chest, plowing hungrily up the length of his thigh, or tangling and dragging and tugging impatiently at his hair – wasn’t everything. It was. It was sizzling his mind and blurring his senses and shutting all of everything else around him completely out the way Newt seemed to be able to do to him, so that there was absolutely nothing else.

 

It was just that he couldn’t get close enough.

 

He was just all itch and squirm and, deeper down, the strangest sort of push-and-pull-and-twist feeling. Like the things Newt was doing – drawing at him with his mouth, delving with his tongue, being nothing short of absolutely, maddeningly confusing with his hands about where he seemed to want Thomas to go – could reach right down into him, somewhere deeper in his chest than he had really thought existed, and just start undoing him. Turning him inside out. Like he would willingly crawl right out of his skin if it got him close enough to get at some of Newt’s.   

 

It was hard to describe. Just the oddest little bit of insisting, unyielding pressure down low in his gut that wouldn’t leave him alone, constantly murmuring to the rest of him of need, and demand, and want.

 

Want, want, want, want. Thomas wanted like he hadn’t ever wanted anything before, and he didn’t even know what the fuck it was he was after.

 

Just. Newt.

 

Thomas slid forward off the rock again, feeling the ground come up against his knees on either side of Newt’s foot, the backward bend in his neck as he pushed tighter up in under him than was probably comfortable for either of them.

 

It was stupid. He was making noises too, stupid ones, he knew that. Silly little protesting things, any time Newt seemed like pulling away for a breath, impatient unhappy little moan things when none of the positions he tried seemed to get him any more access to him. The one he was making now could only be categorized as a ‘whimper’.

 

Newt had laughed at him a few times already. At his desperation, his complete lack of dignity or any concern about it, really. Thomas had laughed a little too. But not now.


By now, Newt was breathing just as heavily as Thomas was, shifting his sitting position now and then as if the agitation were contagious. Now, Newt was tipping his forehead down, pressing into Thomas’s – both breaking off the kiss and keeping him still so Thomas couldn’t chase after it.

 

Not that it stopped him trying of course, but suddenly there was a long, slender finger slipping in between their faces and laying itself over Thomas’s lips.

 

“Tommy,” Newt said to him, his eyes slate-pupiled, his mouth reddened and kiss-bitten and beckoning. But Thomas was being denied there, so he opened his mouth a little wider and took Newt’s finger in instead.

 

The desire-darkened eyes dropped shut. Newt cleared his throat.

 

Thomas swirled his tongue, and Newt made a sharp, surprised hissing sound that Thomas liked a lot better than what he suspected Newt was about to say. Something about slowing down, probably, even though they hadn’t done anything yet.

 

Newt sighed. His eyes opened and he tried again.

 

Tommy,” and there was a tone of reprimand in it, but it wasn’t ‘Thomas’ yet so he flicked his tongue over Newt’s fingertip again before releasing it from between his teeth, and held on to a little hope.

 

Newt smiled a little close-up smile and pressed a little harder with his forehead, the better to make his point.

 

“Remember last night?” Of course he remembered last night, Thomas couldn’t stop remembering last night. Would never forget it. It was everything he kept remembering about last night that kept making him nuts like this. “When you said you’d be ready next time?”

 

Thomas was almost afraid to breathe. Was it next time right now? Oh God, please let it be next time, Thomas thought. Please. Right now was the perfect time to be next time.

 

“’Bout that time, yeah?” Newt asked, as if he could hear his thoughts with their heads pressed so close together like this.

 

Jeez, maybe he really was starting to lose it. Thomas waited, for something to happen, but Newt’s mesmerizingly dark eyes only widened a touch, like he was waiting for something too. It was a second or two before Thomas realized what it was: an answer.

 

“Yeah,” was all Thomas could think of to say, huskily, and nodding his head clumsily against Newt’s.

 

But then Newt was gone, suddenly, having apparently heard all he needed. He was pulling fully away from him for the first time since they had started this, and now even standing up.

 

“C’mon,” he urged. “You’ve been the consummate tour guide.” Newt held out a hand to help Thomas up from off his knees, and let his voice go rougher and low with intention in a way that made Thomas stumble into him a little on the way to his feet. “It’s my turn to show you something.”

 

And that was how Thomas found himself virtually dragged across the clearing by the wrist. With no idea what was happening or where they were going, he let Newt lead him to the edge of the trees and into the woods a little ways. They threaded their way between the trunks of the trees until Newt found one he apparently liked well enough to turn and press him up against it, taking both Thomas’s hands in his and stepping in close to kiss him again.

 

Or at least so Thomas thought, until Newt smirked teasingly and leaned right past his waiting lips and down, to put his mouth to the skin of Thomas’s throat instead. And oh – yes – there it was, the heat from the night before, the liquid, pooling fire starting in each of the places Newt’s mouth touched him and spreading out slowly, up into his cheeks and down his spine.

 

Thomas let out an ecstatic breath and pulled with his hands, bringing Newt closer, finally. But still, achingly, maddeningly not quite close enough, with Newt’s head bent like it was, to his task of blazing a burning trail of kisses down Thomas’s windpipe, and moving on to a slower, roving exploration of the length of his collar bone.

 

But this was why standing up like this was so much better. Because now Thomas could put his hands to Newt’s hips, and pull him in that way instead. It was a little clumsily managed, but Thomas didn’t care. He was happy enough, if Newt didn’t mind, with the way he yanked him unexpectedly forward a little too brusquely so that he overbalanced and came up against him in that warm, electric press of lean torso and narrow hips Thomas had been craving.

 

It didn’t last nearly long enough though. Newt’s head came up and he righted himself, chuckling as he did. He put one hand up to cradle Thomas’s jaw and leaned in to kiss him for real this time. Slow, and long and sweet the first time, but after that – right back to it, that hungry, delving push-and-pull. Snapping him back to that insistent, inside-out bit of pressure that apparently had never left him, flaring again now in his chest and right down to the bottom of his stomach.

 

A moan escaped him. Just a little one, but Newt broke off anyway when he heard it. He pulled back to look at him, one hand finding its way to the waistband of his pants, the other still cupping the side of his jaw so Newt could stare searchingly at him for a second or two, dark eyes intent as they gazed probingly into his own. Apparently Newt was satisfied with whatever he saw there, because he dropped his hand, letting it join the other at his waistband and using his new, very intriguing, grip to steady himself as he stepped back slightly and sank down, going gingerly to his knees in the dry, rustling leaves that littered the forest floor.

 

Newt looked up at him.

 

“This okay?”

 

It felt like time stopped. His heart definitely did. His chest went tight and his throat went dry and the want want want fluttering and pulsing in his stomach gave a churning, surging thrill so intense the mere thought of what Newt was planning to do nearly did him in right then.

 

His hand went instinctively to the side of Newt’s face, tracing appreciatively over the pale curve of his cheek and jaw, down the long satiny column of his throat. Thomas wanted to memorize him like this, those wide sable-dark eyes staring up at him through his disarrayed bangs, and asking. Wanting him.

 

“Tommy?” Newt prompted him, stretching one long finger up under the layers of his shirts to find the skin of his belly, and come scratching back down, drawing his attention electrically and inescapably to the touch.

 

Right. An answer. He kept forgetting.

 

He nodded, tried to answer ‘yes’. The word wouldn’t quite come to him, but nodding was apparently good enough because Newt was already working the closure of his pants open. He made quick work of it, pants and his shorts coming down around Thomas’s thighs at once in a single, practiced tug.


Thomas let his head fall back and his eyes squeeze shut. It was so much at once, the freedom from the layers of restraining fabric, the coolness of the air over places that were used to staying quite carefully covered up. The strange, sudden shyness of just standing there, in front of Newt, fully exposed.

 

He could feel the back of his head hit the tree trunk, the flaming sensation of the blush that probably shouldn’t have been starting on his cheeks if he were really as ready for this as he felt. Newt’s reaction didn’t do much to put him at ease, either:

 

“Jesus, shucking, bloody Nora…”

 

Cursing. Not always the best sign. Thomas forced his eyes open, looked down to see what was wrong.

 

Newt wasn’t looking up at him though, he was too busy staring. “It just bloody well figures you’d be perfect all over.”

 

His tone sounded one part admiring, one part strangely almost irritated, and of course entirely sarcastic and slightly teasing. The familiarity and humour of it did set him just a little more at ease, then. Even as Newt leaned his head forward in an apparent state of overwhelm, choosing to nuzzle into the newly exposed skin of Thomas’s abdomen first, and leave dealing with the rest of his new, apparently surprising, discovery for later.

 

This felt somehow less awkward too, Newt just leaning into him, exploring and getting close, and Thomas let his hands move to cradle the back of Newt’s head, scratch contentedly into his hair. It wasn’t just an innocent nuzzle for long though.

 

It was only seconds before Thomas felt wet, heated little kisses, nipping a trail up from his hip and across to his navel. Newt stayed there for a few beats, nibbling, and then doing something with his tongue that made Thomas gasp in surprise at how sensitive a spot it could be.

 

Everything Newt did felt surprisingly sensitive, in fact. Even the smile Thomas could feel pressed into his skin at his reaction made the want in his gut tingle eagerly. The tickling, brushing, hot-wet-sweet line of kisses Newt trailed down his skin made him groan out loud. A swipe of a thumb over his hipbone made him shudder.

 

He even blushed shyly when he felt Newt stop to nuzzle his nose over the verge of his pubic hair.

 

And there it was again, that strange little feeling that he was learning to miss this, to need it, the unbidden heat rising in his cheeks. The way Newt could have such an effect on him with just the smallest things. How he so obviously enjoyed seeing those effects play out on Thomas’s face, and how that little naughty streak in him could never seem to resist teasing him.

 

He was teasing him right now, Thomas realized.

 

Newt’s mouth had been too busy to say anything sarcastic or leading of course, with his lips brushing burningly over hyper-receptive skin, his tongue endlessly finding unexpectedly delicate spots to lave and flick at devilishly.

 

But Newt’s hand, that hadn’t moved, hardly at all. It was sitting flat at the base of his shaft, and had been for a little while, now. Not moving, barely touching him at all, just cradling the base of his dick enough to keep his now completely hard length standing straight up in the air while Newt worked.

 

It made the heat in Thomas’s cheeks flush a shade hotter, looking down and seeing himself like that. He felt oddly raw and laid-open, exposed …neglected.

 

Still, Newt nuzzled and nipped and tasted and explored to his heart’s content, pretty much everywhere except where Thomas suddenly realized he needed it. That’s what it was, that twisting, tugging, inside-out want.

 

Thomas let out a hot breath as the realization fed it, fluttering and searing and making it grow, like fanning a flame. His fingers in Newt’s hair changed their grip, carding and tugging agitatedly at the strands. It only made Newt press another smile into his skin where he had been busy tracing his teeth down the line of Thomas’s hip.

 

His thumb did move though, stroking across the skin next to the base of his shaft, then yes, up – but just barely, less than an inch. Thomas let his hips twist toward the touch, instinctively chasing, seeking out more of it.

 

Which he didn’t get.

 

A frustrated whimper caught in his throat. Newt looked up.

 

“Wot’s’matter?” He drawled, starting to slur a little with his attention focused as it was on activities other than talking. “Not enough friction?” A slight pout curved his lips, the sound of mock pity heavy in his voice.

 

This what you want?” Newt ran the palm of his hand upward, along the length of Thomas’s shaft, not even closing his fingers as he went. Not until he reached the ridge of the head and wrapped just his thumb and forefinger around it. Much too gently.

 

But even that, even that dry, skidding stroke over the most sensitive of his skin had Thomas groaning and twisting uselessly, not knowing which direction to move in so as to get more of it.

 

Still nothing happened, Newt didn’t move. He was quiet. Waiting, as usual, for Thomas’s answer.

 

“Yes,” he gritted, barely finding the breath for it. “…Please.”

 

“Ooh,” Newt remarked, lifting a brow. “Such pretty manners.” He stuck his tongue into his cheek to keep from grinning too hard and rewarded him with a single swipe of his thumb over the tip of exactly where Thomas wanted it. A shock of sensation swept through him, that did nothing to appease the growing pit of desire making itself at home in Thomas’s deepest inner places.

 

“But not just yet, I’m afraid.” Newt changed his grip, in favour of holding him up on the tip of one balancing finger, just under the rim.

 

Thomas had known it was coming, the holding out, the teasing. Still, the denial and that beloved, sinful smirk took its effect on him, making his skin ripple with gooseflesh and draw up tight in the places he expected, but other ones too. Like down the length of his thighs, and the small of his back.

 

Thomas gave a little huff that should have been a laugh, but just came out tense and breathless. “What are you gonna do with me?” he asked, thickly.

 

“Oh I’ll be nice,” Newt assured him, taking his hands away from what he had been doing, to place one on each of Thomas’s hips and hold him still. “Only I’m wise to you, you see. I happen to know your reaction to my tongue,” he teased, with a raised eyebrow and a sweet, incendiary little stroke of his thumb across the skin at Thomas’s hipbone.

 

“And,” he went on, as he leaned back in to explore the spot his thumb had just been with his mouth instead. “I’m—  trying to enjoy this too,” he advised, between warm, open kisses that were moving closer and closer to the corner of his groin – enough now that it started to tickle. “I don’t— quite fancy you coming straight down my throat at the first second of contact.”

 

A groan Thomas had been holding back on broke free of his throat. Jesus, the way Newt talked.

 

“…So you’re gonna have to be patient.”

 

“Not my strong suit,” Thomas warned, his voice like gravel.

 

“Too much to ask for you t’be quiet too, yeah?”

 

Thomas’s eyes narrowed at the challenge. He bit down on his lip, at both the smile and the reply that wanted to escape.

 

A sinisterly pleased light entered Newt’s upturned gaze. His hands, still gripping either side of Thomas’s hips, pushed them firmly back against the rough bark of the tree.

 

Patient,” he reiterated. Thomas reached back behind himself, flattening his palms against the tree trunk to show he would at least try to cooperate.

 

Newt didn’t make it easy on him.

 

He just seemed to keep finding new spots to torture and test him, starting by pushing both hands slowly up underneath his shirt. There were thumbs skimming in ticklishly appreciative increments over his abs, warm palms smoothing up over his ribs. Fingers, slipping just over the edge of each pec as if readying to brush over the waiting nub of his nipple, and then stopping, moving back down to trace toying little crescents under the curve of the muscle instead.

 

Thomas breathed, trying to rein himself in. Newt had said he wanted to enjoy this, and he certainly seemed to be. He was turning his head now, nosing his way in to the as-yet uncharted territory of his inner thigh. Thomas gritted his teeth against the new, oversensitive thrill that shot up the inside of his leg and straight to his groin, as no doubt intended, and forced himself to shift obediently, granting him better access.

 

Newt sighed, leaning closer even with both his arms still reached up over his head – stretching like a cat, arching his neck and humming happily into the downy spot at the top of Thomas’s leg. His long fingers flexed, brushing haphazardly over both nipples under his shirt, and Thomas lost his resolve to stay quiet, letting out a sharp, surprised “hhaa!” at the sharp arc of lightning that went zapping down his spine.

 

He could feel Newt’s responding snicker, but then one hand came sliding mercifully back down the length of his torso, trailing a long wash of shuddery heat after it, and homing back to its place on his hip.  The other stayed where it was though, drawing slow, deliberate circles into his skin, alternately soothing and surprising, whenever it would catch the edge of the nipple or slip ticklishly in under his armpit.

 

He took another slow breath, and after a minute or so Newt turned his head, bringing his ministrations contentedly back to centre. Thomas lost another little battle with his resolve, feeling one of his hands leave the tree trunk behind him and letting his fingers nestle comfortably once again in Newt’s hair.

 

Newt didn’t seem to mind, making a pleased little sound in reply and continuing his work. He was getting so close to the mark now the resumed restraining grip on his hip was making a lot more sense, as Thomas could feel Newt’s intention ramp up – little brushes of his nose against his shaft, little slips of tongue in between where his balls touched the side of his thigh.

 

The attention on the new part of his anatomy made him blush again, not just in his cheeks, but all the way down his neck to his chest. He could even feel heat blooming everywhere Newt was working, setting entirely new pools of fire alight all over the area of his pelvis, from navel, to hip, down to the bottom of his sack, where he could feel the soft, probing caress of what had to be Newt’s tongue.

 

Thomas’s breath started to come a little faster. His hips moved again, and that, Newt did take exception to. The grip on his hip went tight, and his mouth went still for the first time Thomas could remember.

 

It was probably less than even a whole second, but the pause felt agonizing. Newt didn’t move, didn’t look up at him. Just as Thomas was opening his mouth to say something that would probably get him in even more trouble, the next flick at his nipple came, with an edge of a fingernail in it this time, and he sucked a hissing breath in through his teeth, instead.

 

But Newt’s other hand was sliding back down now, in a firmer, more promising touch that moved not to his other hip but past it – lower, closer to the centre of Thomas’s need and then… didn’t deliver.

 

Newt curled his fingers ruthlessly, scraping the edges of his fingernails right up to the base of his dick and then around it, in a tortuous circuit, running them down the other side of his sack to meet up with the things his tongue was doing on the underside.

 

The moan of frustration that got away from him this time was partially a growl.

 

He let his head thud back against the tree trunk, staring up into the branches and marveling at it again, that he had literally forgotten they were there, where he was. At the way Newt could just shut off the world for him. He tugged his fingers a little less gently through Newt’s hair in retaliation, and he could tell it was only making him smirk smugly because his tongue stopped doing brutal, amazing, terrible wonderful things.

 

Thomas huffed a quiet little laugh – because at this point it was actually kind of funny – that just picturing Newt’s teasing face was apparently enough now to make him blush.

 

“Something funny?”

 

Thomas looked down and sure enough, Newt had one eyebrow raised, and his smirk was getting so much further out of his control than Newt ever liked it to, that he seemed to be biting his cheek on the inside. And his eyes, they were lit up with that mischief Thomas knew and loved him for, but they were also dark and drowned with pupil, wide but going slightly heavy-lidded just as they had done last night.

 

Newt hadn’t been kidding about enjoying himself. And it was hot.

 

The realization made his erection twitch embarrassingly, where it had been abandoned in mid-air. Both Newt’s eyebrows went up now, and the hand that wasn’t holding his hip moved reflexively toward it, then stopped.

 

And oh, no, oh God, Newt was putting both his hands back on Thomas’s hips, pressing them back against the tree trunk again, ready to go back for more.

 

“Hhhnnnn,” Thomas whined, letting his head fall backward again. “You’re such an a— ha ha ow!’

 

Not very polite.” Newt had smacked the bare skin of his hip sharply enough to sting a little.

 

He was already rubbing his thumb soothingly over the spot though, making Thomas grin in spite of himself, at the way Newt could never seem to stop taking care, even when he was pretending to be mean.

 

“You think because I’m down here, I’m helpless, mate?” Newt took a hand away from pinning his hips, sliding it in between his legs and up, the pressure of his grip as he took Thomas’s whole sack into his palm just enough to be a warning. “Somebody needs reminding, I think,” he said slowly, with the slightest threat of a squeeze, “of the position he’s put himself in.”

 

And the hair on Thomas’s thighs stood on end for a literally hair-raising second, as Newt twisted his hold unexpectedly, only to reach two of his fingers back and under, scratching gently at the spot just behind his balls.

 

Whoa.

 

It was a place nobody had ever touched him before, where he had never really put much thought into touching himself, for that matter. Though he made a mental note to try it sometime, and preferably on Newt, if he ever gave him the chance.

 

That was the end of the thought though – of any real thought at all – because Newt had leaned back in, putting his mouth to skin again. But he also gave another slow, firm stroke of his fingers.

 

“Oh. Oh! That’s—!”

 

It did things, that touch, things he couldn’t describe. Things that made everything else Newt was doing feel different – shivery, more intense.

 

“Uh huh,” Newt agreed, as best he could, without interrupting the things his tongue was busy doing. But after a few more moments of intense, skin-tingling, spine-shuddering treatment, he drew back. “Think you’re going to be able to behave now?”

 

Thomas opened his mouth to answer, but snapped it shut again, as Newt took his other hand off Thomas’s hip and wrapped it –  not too gently, not to tease, but warmly, snugly, perfectly – around his shaft.

 

It was the anticipation, more than the touch itself, that did it, racing up his spine and pulling his skin tight, what felt like everywhere. But Thomas found his voice after a moment. Breathless as it was.

 

No promises.”

 

Newt’s eyes lit with so much enjoyment they practically glowed.

 

“Honest,” he remarked, approvingly. “…That’s my Tommy.”

 

He was already leaning so close Thomas could feel the words as humid, teasing breath. But it was the very last of his torture, as Newt gave several, practiced, perfect strokes. Thomas tried not to shut his eyes, wanting to be here for all of this, to see, as well as to feel, but it was just so much. So much tension and relief and anticipation rushing through him at once and making everything feel just slightly overwhelming.

 

With his eyes shut he could feel the expert flick of Newt’s wrist at the top of every stroke, the tickle of Newt’s hair across his navel as he moved close again, and finally, just the flat of Newt’s tongue on the underside of his dick – and oh, Jesus, Hell, and fuck.

 

Thomas’s eyes flew open. Newt had been right about that first second of contact. The slick, warm, barely-there sensation of it was nearly too much.

 

“Easy…” Newt murmured, not teasing any longer, but encouraging and soothing. The hand still cupping his balls put a little pressure back into the touch, not enough to be uncomfortable, just enough to distract.

 

The other hand went to his hip, maybe partially to steady himself but most likely to keep him still, as Newt licked, then parted his lips, and got serious about getting down to work.

 

Oh. God. Oh hell. Hell and heaven and all the saints that Thomas didn’t even believe in – there was no describing this. The heat, the sensation, the suction.

 

The sound. Oh, God.

 

Newt wasn’t quiet about it, either. But then neither was Thomas. He gasped. He moaned. Bit his lip and then moaned again anyway. Even his breath sounded like it was too loud, hitching on the way in, and shuddering on the way out.

 

The hand Newt had been using to push restrainingly at Thomas’s hip moved, snaking its way up under his shirt again, and – ohhh, that was dangerous.

 

Thomas felt his hips shift forward immediately, on instinct, but stopped himself before the movement could turn into an all-out thrust. Still, he felt the nagging, urging pressure that had been building tortuously in his stomach for what felt like forever now start to change. And move lower.  

 

“N—” Thomas put his hand up, into Newt’s hair again, but Newt either mistook the warning or didn’t want it, putting his free hand back to cover Thomas’s and curl their fingers deeper into the golden strands, encouraging and tightening Thomas’s grip.

 

It didn’t help either, when Newt moaned as he felt Thomas’s fingers close. It was like this pleased ‘mmm-hmmm’ sound of encouragement, but of course he had Thomas’s dick is in his mouth while he said it and holy shit, the vibration.

 

Newt?” Thomas managed, even if it was just another gasp. “Y—"

 

But his voice just broke uselessly on another gasp. The hand Newt had pushed back up under his shirt had reached its destination, palm and fingers splaying warmly against his skin while the thumb found the thin, raised skin of his nipple. And just hovered there. Barely brushing so gently Thomas didn’t think it could have had an effect but, oh boy, he could not have been more wrong.

 

The icy, electric tingles that ran down his back were like a shower of sparks, starting up between his shoulder blades and scattering all the way down. Down to meet the place where Newt was busily doing indescribable things – licking, sucking, bobbing, merciless fucking things – like closing a circuit.

 

It was officially too late. Thomas was done for.

 

His hands balled into fists, the dirt and splinters of the tree’s bark driving painfully up under his fingernails only registered as a distant distraction, as his other hand went too tight in Newt’s hair. He heard a cry, that was surely much too loud to be coming from him, as the force of his orgasm slammed into him, bending him forward, like breaking him in half.

 

He felt a brief jolt in his knees – the forest floor meeting them hard as he hit it – coming down on the bed of dry leaves and little twigs that surrounded them, dropping his forehead to Newt’s shoulder in a single movement as he came down. His arm went instinctively around him, pulling him close, hugging him tight and hanging on for dear life.

 

He stayed like that, just gasping for each ragged breath as he could catch it, each one filling his lungs with the increasingly familiar scent of Newt as wave over wave of it still crashed over him, his body still shuddering and bucking under the throes of tingling white jab after knife-blade jab of pleasure.

 

Thomas softened his grip on Newt’s hair as the last shudders left him, his mind starting to clear and come back even though his body still hadn’t stopped ringing with it – raw, like an exposed nerve. He smoothed his hand apologetically back over Newt’s crown and down, to curl needily around the nape of his neck, keeping him close and breathing him in while he came down.  

 

“Oh my God.” That was his voice, he was pretty sure. Shaky and devastated as it sounded, and muffled against the shoulder of Newt’s shirt. “Oh my God.”

 

And that was Newt’s laugh, low and throaty and humming ticklishly against his skin where he could feel smiling, swollen lips pressing a doting kiss into the place where the collar of his shirt gapped just enough to offer access to the place where his neck met his shoulder.

 

Oh God,” he said it a last time, his voice a little too high in pitch with disbelief at what had just happened. Just how damn, shucking, mind-blowingly amazing it had been.

 

Newt shook his head as best he could with Thomas still clinging to his neck.

 

“Newt,” he corrected.

 

Ha.

 

Or at least it’s what he should have said.

 

Fuck,” was what came out instead, which apparently wasn’t any better.

 

“Mmm-hmm,” Newt said in his ear. “…Later.”

 

Oh wow, okay, Jesus and shit. His skin was awash in gooseflesh and every nerve crackled with sparking white heat, and when would it end?

 

He was still too sensitive all over for that shit – the suggestive, dirty promise in his tone, the hot breath in his ear and down his neck. That voice, so close he was sure he was feeling the hum of it against his skin more than he was actually hearing it, and Thomas was thankful that at least his mouth had had the good grace to stop letting every curse that ran through his head tumble out willy-nilly, because he was sure Newt would have had something smart to say to those too.

 

He settled for a defeated little whimper and over-sensitized shudder he knew would only make Newt laugh all the more at the pathetic shaking wreck he could make of him, the quaking ruin Thomas could become in this man’s hands.

 

Newt stroked a hand over the back of Thomas’s hair and down his nape a couple of times, and then pulled back for a look at him. Sure enough, he grinned when he got it, and shook his head.

 

“That’s a mess,” he commented, glancing down at the state of Thomas’s pants, still pulled open and now sloppily rucked up and tangled around his thighs – and thoroughly marked up with the number of times Thomas had carelessly gone roughly to his knees in the grass and the mud and…with other stuff too, now. “What’ve you done?”

 

 “You said not to—you didn’t want it down your throat! But then you wouldn’t stop, and I—”

 

Thomas broke off. Newt was laughing at him again. Nice. It was a good thing he was gorgeous.

 

Thomas looked down, blushing self-consciously, and hitched his pants and his shorts back up, at least so everything was covered. He could deal with the zipper and everything else properly later.

 

“I said not immediately!” Newt chortled. “You were meant to eventually!”

 

Thomas wasn’t sure if what his face was doing would be classified as a frown or a pout, but whatever it was, it only seemed to amuse him all the more.

 

“Poor, confused Tommy,” Newt teased, reaching up to comb his fingers through Thomas's hair. “You were warned though, weren’t you? ‘Fraid it turns out your boyfriend is rather bossy.”

 

Even with his heartrate still evening out and his brain admittedly sort of fuzzy, Thomas couldn’t miss picking up on a certain specific word. Newt could tease him all he wanted, if he kept on saying things like that.

 

Thomas grinned. Wide and bright and probably dorky as hell. “I have a boyfriend!”

 

Newt chuckled again. “You might, if you want one.”

 

“Only one I want,” Thomas told him, reaching out and pinching the cotton of Newt’s shirt between his thumb and forefinger and tugging a little, hoping maybe Newt would take the hint and come forward for a kiss.

 

He didn’t though, he just smiled, and petted his hand over the back of Thomas’s hair again.

 

“Sounds promising. Get back to me some time when you haven’t just had your brains sucked out through your dick and you’ve got yourself a deal.”

 

Thomas could feel himself frowning now. Newt was always cautious, he knew that, but still.

 

Last night Newt had said something… well a couple of somethings. That Thomas was too curious for his own good, that he thought maybe he shouldn’t have kissed him. That it had been too soon.

 

Thomas hoped against hope he wasn’t starting to have regrets.

 

He tugged at his shirt a little again and Newt leaned forward until their foreheads touched, and closed his eyes.

 

“…Newt?”

 

“Hmmm?”

 

He was still smiling, looking actually more content than Thomas could ever remember, and though he hated the thought of having to disturb that look on his face, he needed to know.

 

“Do… do you think we moved too fast? Do you… regret that y—“ 

 

“No,” Newt said, firmly. Raising his head and opening his eyes to look seriously into Thomas’s. “Never, Tommy. I…told you. Life is too short to— I’ll never regret telling you how I feel.”

 

Life was short, but Newt still wanted him to wait. “But then—”

 

Newt sighed in an impatient, agitated way that made him draw up short.

 

“Again,” Newt said slowly, once he saw that he had Thomas’s attention. “It’s alright for me, isn’t it? I tried to tell you,” he said quietly, reaching out with a single finger and hooking it under the cord sitting just under the collar of Thomas’s shirt. “In this letter.”

 

Thomas’s gaze dropped, instinctively looking to see if Newt was about to pull the necklace out of his shirt, where he didn’t usually let it stay long, but he didn’t. It was private. And this was Newt, he got it.

 

He waited until Tomas was looking back up at him before he went on.

 

“I’ve known what I wanted since I saw you run into the Maze and knew immediately my whole future had gone right in behind those bloody, buggin’ Doors with you.”

 

Wow. That… that was a long time to know what Thomas had really only been sure of for what was now just a few hours.

 

But that didn’t make him any less sure.

 

Newt stroked his thumb over Thomas’s nape, where his hand was still curved comfortably, asking for Thomas’s obviously wandering attention back. He nodded for Newt to go on.

 

“But for you, this is all new. And you should take some time to yourself. I’ve thrown down the gauntlet, as it were, it’s up to you now, to figure out whether to take me up on it.”

 

As usual, once he actually let Thomas in on what he was thinking, Newt made a lot of unfortunately inescapably logical sense.

 

“Okay,” Thomas responded. “So then—”

 

“Tommy,” Newt interrupted with that impatient-sounding sigh again, but giving his neck another gentle stroke with his palm. “Please don’t say anything like you’ve figured it all out already. When? Over this morning’s cup of coffee, in all of the ten minutes or so you had to yourself before our idiot friends showed up and started eagerly making up our minds for us?”

 

“In a word?” Thomas stopped short of adding the ‘duh’.

 

So what if it was fast? Didn’t that make sense? When something was this amazing, made him this crazy and happy and excited and – okay also admittedly dumb and horny, but – didn’t it make sense that he would be sure about it right away?

 

Newt had a different perspective, as always.

 

“You run on instinct, Thomas, you know you do. And it’s one of your best qualities, the way you follow your heart.” Newt smiled patiently, and the thumb at his nape gave a few quick affectionate strokes, but Thomas didn’t miss the use of his full name, and he knew, frustratingly, that this discussion was rapidly coming to a stubborn and final close. “…But I’ve also seen it get you into trouble.”

 

Sure, fair enough. But then Newt said the first thing in all of this that actually gave Thomas pause.

 

“If we did this, I mean really did this, with all the promises and expectations, and then… say for some reason we had to un-do it? I… don’t think I would handle it all that well.”

 

Oh. That thought had honestly not even occurred. That Thomas could ever not want this. That he could ever give this up while Newt was still offering it – spending sunny mornings strolling the Island together, long stories that might have been hard to get through but made Thomas understand him so much better in the end, definitely not the whole getting-dragged-into-the-woods-for-a-mind-blowing-life-changing-blow-job part.

 

No, Thomas had thought it went without saying. He was planning to do this, all of it, as often and as long as Newt was prepared to let him. But maybe it wasn’t about whether or not Thomas needed the time. Maybe it was Newt who needed him to take it.

 

And messing stuff up for Newt more than it already was just wasn’t an option for Thomas.

 

He nodded. “Understood.”

 

“Good.”

 

“So I’ll get back to you sometime when my brains haven’t been sucked out by my amazingly talented, super-hot, totally bossy boyfriend… and then we can tell people?”

 

Newt was laughing at him again, and this time Thomas absolutely didn’t mind in the slightest.

 

“Still think we’ll be surprising exactly no one,” Newt answered, “especially if you go sauntering back through camp looking like that.”

 

He gave a nod down at the still quite disastrous state of Thomas’s clothes again.

 

“But yes,” he said, pressing down with both hands on Thomas’s shoulders the better to heave himself awkwardly to his feet, making Thomas feel a sudden touch of guilty concern for having kept Newt down here on his knees this long, when his leg was already bothering him. He seemed fine though, reaching a hand down to help Thomas join him on his feet for the second time today. “Then we can tell anyone and everyone my Tommy’s heart desires.”

 

Maybe giving amazing blow-jobs was almost as good a source of painkilling endorphins as getting one. Thomas made a mental note to find out, as he buttoned and zipped and dusted, making himself as presentable as he was going to get.

 

Newt looked better than presentable. Okay, well he looked a little disheveled really, his clothes slightly askew and his hair all ruffled up from Thomas’s hands. But then, Thomas really did like him messy.

 

This time when Thomas reached out to take hold of the front of his shirt, Newt came willingly, settling his hands on Thomas’s hips and allowing himself to be kissed.

 

Thomas sighed happily, at the flutter that revived in his stomach, the warmth starting again at the back of his neck. Yet again he marveled at the things Newt could manage to do to him. He bet if Newt started those pushing, pulling, drowning kisses again, he could get him just as worked up and crazy all over again. But he didn’t.   

 

“Would it be too mean of a joke if we told everybody except Minho?” Thomas asked him when Newt pulled back for breath and to look him over the way he liked to.

 

“Decidedly,” he answered, laughing deliciously into another kiss when Thomas came forward to chase his mouth the way he liked to. “I’d no idea you were so bloody naughty. Won’t need punishing, will you?”

 

He punctuated the threat by tipping his head so he could take the ridge at the corner of Thomas’s bottom lip between his teeth, and let them sink in, tightening gradually further and further until the sensation grew sharp enough Thomas gave in, letting out a sound of laughing protest.

 

“Probably,” he answered anyway, when Newt let him go.

 

God, Thomas could barely stand it, watching the way it made those eyes glitter with mischief and that smirk go dangerous.

 

He took a breath.

 

“…So can I come tonight?” he asked, seriously. “To bed with you, I mean?”

 

Then he waited.

 

The teasing glitter went out of Newt’s gaze as he considered the request. Thomas almost thought he saw a shadow of something cross his expression, something that didn’t belong there after the spark of playful mischief. Of course it might have been distraction, he thought, as he noticed how Newt’s gaze flickered and landed on the way he couldn’t seem to help running his tongue along the edge of his lip. Savouring the coppery little crescent of swollen reaction where Newt’s teeth had been, while he waited for an answer.

 

And now Newt was leaning in, closing the gap between them in a slow, delving kiss that tingled in his fingertips and curled his toes and was heavy with all kinds of promise that made Thomas’s mind suddenly both completely blank and very full – of a lot of very, very distracting ideas – at once.

 

“Mmmm…” Newt hummed when he finally drew back, settling their foreheads together and running both his hands electrically up and down Thomas’s back with a slow, close-up smile that looked just as inviting as ever.

 

“Yeah. Suppose you’d better.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

They never did make it to bed that night. They didn’t even bloody well make it to dinner. 

 

The sun hadn’t even had a chance to get low, hours still left of the daylight when Tommy’s footstep on the dock broke in on his thoughts – and they were well gone, weren’t they? Newt couldn’t have said what he’d been thinking about, not with a gun to his head.

 

It had been so easy to get lost in it – his saw against the wood, the steady melody of the tide gurgling under the dock and lapping at the shore his constant accompaniment. But now Tommy was here and any moment Newt would be completely bloody hopeless.

 

He was the first to admit Tommy had always, from minute one, been a distraction. But this time around was different – having Tommy know now, what it meant, when they stood a little too close and Newt couldn’t quite look him in the eye.

 

Having him want him in return.

 

It changed everything, thinking it might actually be possible. They might be possible. It changed the meanings of old conversations, it raised questions, and not least – started letting the kind of thoughts he used to keep pushed out to the furthest edges of his mind get the idea they had a right to start creeping in to the forefront.

 

And creep they did. Frequently. It had barely been a matter of hours and Newt was already concerned what he was dealing with might just be bordering on obsession. Addiction.

 

He couldn’t seem to stop with Tommy, doing things he knew full well he should have waited a touch longer to do. Thinking about doing them again, anyway. The more of him Newt got, the more he seemed to want. It was… well it was pretty damn nice, right at the moment, but the thing about moments was they didn’t last forever.

 

If the current one didn’t seem to stretch out, though – the slow, shuffling approach of Tommy’s boots echoing hollowly against the wooden slats feeling like an eternity. Still, Newt didn’t look up at him quite yet, taking his last few seconds of sanity before he gave himself over to it and started just bloody drowning in the man.

 

He took the time to move back over to where he had his notes spread out, over a set of old wooden crates. He took the pencil from behind his ear and leaned over them, double checking his measurements.

 

And then, what felt like suddenly, although of course it wasn’t – Tommy was right there. Newt’s eyes were already stuttering shut off just the heat of him, before they even touched – chest just barely bumping his shoulder blades, chin hooking curiously over his shoulder.

 

Newt smiled, but stayed quiet, waiting. For the inevitable slew of questions about the plans spread out in front of him, what on earth he was working on... and then, of course, why. But there weren’t any. Just what felt like the tip of a certain slightly upturned nose, tucking in just under his ear as if there was a kiss that wanted to land there.

 

Tommy didn’t do it though. A warm, playful hand came up over his already-closed eyes instead, and Newt absolutely didn’t forget everything and start grinning like a giddy flippin’ idiot, not at all.

 

“Guess who?” The voice was a deep, needless humming in the chest pressed to his back, a bare ghost of breath down his collar. It hadn’t been lip service, when Newt had called him a fast learner. Tommy was getting quite good at this, the little bugger.

 

“Gally, definitely.” Newt straightened, settling his shoulders back into the warm cradle of the arm circling them, even as he reached up to pry away the hand covering up his eyes by the wrist. “Oh wait, that voice – could only be Brenda.”

 

“Wow, you suck at this.” Tommy was grinning that grin when he turned around to face him. The one too bright to be allowed. The one Newt had privately come to think of lately as the Blinder. He could feel it quirking his mouth helplessly up at the side.

 

Tommy freed his wrist from Newt’s grasp, reaching up to brush his palm over the side of his hair. A shower of sawdust to match the set of light shivers that cascaded down the nape of his neck tumbled free, motes lighting up golden in the afternoon sun as they somersaulted and cartwheeled their way down through the air.

 

“Try again.”

 

“Hmmm,” Newt replied, absolutely not stalling for time while he bit down on his lip and struggled for a goddamned grip because this whole thing was ridiculous and not at all so stupidly, adorably Tommy that it made his heart skip and his skin itch, and a very, very silly warmth start to pool slowly in the bottom of his stomach. No, of course not. Newt couldn’t possibly have ever let himself get into this much trouble.

 

“Couldn’t be Thomas,” he answered finally, reaching out to straighten the skewed edges of his flannel shirt. “He was headed off to the showers last I left him, in search of a clean pair of trousers and lamenting aaaall the chores I was quote-unquote ‘making’ him go and see to today before he came to see me at bed time.”

 

“Finished the chores.” Tommy stepped in a little closer, leaning into the hands at his chest.

 

His thumb was against Newt’s cheek next, dropping his eyes shut another blink or two and wiping away a gritty-feeling swipe of something at the rise of his cheekbone. Another streak of sawdust, perhaps. Maybe a smudge of grease from the tools. He must’ve looked a right mess, for Tommy of all people to be fixing him up like this.

 

“…And you did make me.”

 

The little faux-pout was a nice touch, he had to admit. But then Newt wasn’t so whipped yet that such a little effort could get to him, setting flutters loose in this gut and thrills darting up his spine, and filling his head with a lot of ideas for much better uses of that mouth.

 

Or at least he couldn’t have Tommy knowing it. He let his hands slide lower, flattening out against warm layers of cotton and flannel and settling groundingly on each of Tommy’s hips before he let him go.

 

“Come to help me with mine then?” Newt asked, turning back to the array of wood, tools, and various other bits and bobs littering the dock.

 

Tommy’s gaze appeared to have dropped to around about the region of Newt’s lower lip. He blinked, like he had had a different set of ideas entirely and it was taking a little doing to clear them out of his head.

 

“…Sure.”

 

Tommy. Unfailingly bloody helpful. It was hard to miss the disappointed little sigh that escaped first though, even when he tried to cover it with an affable smile. Newt pretended it was working and shoved away the guilty little thought that he had no right feeling it as a loss, when Tommy stepped back and the air between them went an immediate few shades cooler.

 

“Solar panels?” Tommy asked, once he seemed to have regained a grip on himself and had taken a look around at Newt’s little project. “Is Lizzy gonna be solar powered?”

 

“Jorge’s idea,” he confirmed. “Along with adding a sail, it should go a long way to solving the constant issue of fuel for the motor. If I can bloody well get ’em working, not to mention mounted.”

 

“And this is the mount?” Tommy stepped forward, curiosity taking over already as he leaned over the varying lengths of timbers Gally had been kind enough to offer, laid out more or less into rows and mostly already marked for cutting.

 

“In theory. Thought it’d be nice to have a proper canopy, offer a bit more shelter,” Newt explained, with a nod over at Lizzy, her gnarled driftwood pole and faithful, tattered flap of canvas that had served him better than nothing – though only just – on his journey here. “Then I could mount them on the roof.”

 

Newt watched him stare down at the unfinished canopy frame, seeing the way his eyes flicked from one beam to the next, putting the pieces together in his head like solving a puzzle.

 

He nodded after a minute or so, shoving his hands into his pockets before he turned back to look at him, a quiet understanding settling in his gaze.

 

The water chortled softly under the dock, and the canoes and rowboats all moored up on either side bumped and groaned comfortably up against each other. And Newt waited again, the tension of it coiling slowly down low in his chest, for Tommy to ask. Why he was doing this. Where he was planning to go.

 

Another nod. “Good that,” he said simply, instead.

 

Newt did end up going a bit stupid off the sheer proximity of him a time or two, but when it came to it, Tommy proved himself to be actually quite a good helper. He more or less understood Newt’s plans right away and showed a knack for anticipating each next step and which tools Newt would ask him to fetch. He was much faster than Newt at sawing through the timber, of course – not to mention the way he looked doing it – and he showed what Newt considered to be remarkable restraint in letting him handle the actual tinkering, whilst keeping his own hands well out of the works.

 

That last was the most surprising, given how Newt knew those hands, and their seeming constant need to be exploring. Touching. Even now, they were fiddling idly with the handle of a screwdriver, while the two of them leaned together over the exposed innards of the dismantled solar inverter and Newt checked the contacts and jiggled the wires with admittedly absolutely zero idea what he was looking for as he did.

 

They looked up at each other for yet another of many sheepish shared grins so far, a silent acknowledgement that neither of them had even the foggiest idea how the bloody thing worked, what the problem with it might be, or what they could do to solve it if they ever figured that out. Newt bit at his lip to keep the hopeless chuckle at bay, not quite sure if he imagined the way Tommy’s gaze snagged there a split second, as they both looked back down into the little maze of chips and wires.

 

Newt let his weight shift, bringing their bodies just a hairsbreadth closer. They still weren’t touching, but Newt could feel the crinkle of the flannel at Tommy’s shoulder against his, his eyes working to stay open against that layer of warmth that pushed in on him at this scant distance, right from the side of his cheek all the way to somewhere down near his shin.

 

Tommy’s hands twisted in their grip on the screwdriver’s handle and Newt saw him swallow as if his throat had gone dry. He lost his little battle and his eyes fell closed.

 

Not fair, Newt lad. He curled his fingers and took a breath, moving before he had even opened his eyes, ripping himself free of the heated little orbit around his companion and stepping swiftly over to the edge of the dock where Lizzy was moored.

 

The tide had her sitting high enough it was nothing to hop lightly down and aboard, the dulled thud of his feet against her floor sweet and familiar as an old tune. He stepped through the cramped space to bend over his box of tools and start rummaging. Maybe there would be something there that would trigger a thought, some new idea for what one might try out on the innards of an uncooperative solar inverter.

 

A shadow fell across the box as he dug through it. It seemed Tommy had abandoned their exploration as well, trailing after him at least as far as the brink of the dock. Newt turned to look up at him and—

 

Good God. Sometimes he wished Tommy could see himself, really. The way Newt did. He cut quite a figure, standing splay-legged and broad-shouldered against the angling sun. It lit him nearly in silhouette, painting the edges of his dark hair with a flame-gold and picking out the highlights in slightly lighter shades of almost reddish chestnut. Newt felt his fingers twitch with the memory of the way the strands felt under them.

 

“Huh?”


Newt couldn’t have said it better himself.

 

“...Sorry?” Honestly, maybe it was a good thing Tommy couldn’t see the distractingly dashing way he looked through Newt’s eyes after all, or they’d both be totally bloody useless.

 

Tommy was looking apprehensively down at him, screwdriver still clutched nervously between his twisting hands.

 

“You— you said something.”

 

Oh.


Bugger.

 

Newt closed the tool box and picked up the tatty little rag he used for cleaning the tools. He rubbed at the spots of grease marking up his fingers, just to keep them still.

 

“I was muttering. I mutter,” he explained, hoping it would be enough. Knowing that it wouldn’t.  “…Call it a side effect.”

 

When Newt looked back up at him again Tommy wasn’t meeting his eye, too busy watching the movement of the rag between his hands like he knew exactly what Newt was really doing with it.

 

This was the thing about Tommy, how he got around you and surprised you. Their friends liked to tease him for being thick about things, but he was only that slow to catch on when it came to himself, really. Because Tommy didn’t have much call or desire to turn that unrelenting laser-focus of his inward. It wasn’t what he was made for.

 

There were times he forgot it, where Tommy had come to them from. Maybe because he had wanted to. Newt didn’t like to imagine it too hard, working for WCKD at the age of sixteen – or thereabouts. How long Tommy might have been there before then. But there were also the times when it was impossible to miss it.

 

Tommy had an ever-watchful eye for any problem he could solve, that was both untiring and uncanny. And when he found one, he would come at it with a machine-like disregard for his own welfare or survival. Relentless and unflagging, even when it saw him come in battered, and torn. Even when there was loss. Until his mission was done.

 

Newt had seen it happen, the awing and frankly frightening juggernaut tenacity, and not just with Minho. It had taken them literally years to accomplish whatever they had in the Glade, building structure and order, working fruitlessly on the Maze. Then Tommy arrived, drawn to it straight out of the Box like some kind of magnet – like the most dangerous bits of their little world called with a siren song only Tommy could hear – and brought the whole damn thing literally crashing down in a matter of days.

 

Whether whoever had done these things to them had intended it or not – and Newt had his suspicions – sometimes there was just no getting around it.

 

Tommy was a goddamned weapon.

 

And right now he was aiming himself at Newt, watching his hands and what he did with them like a hawk ever since yesterday. When Newt had caught sight of the gunshot scar that puckered and knurled his perfect, too-hot flesh and broke promptly out in a ringing, blinding panic.

 

He breathed, slipping his thumb in under the soft, battered fabric of the rag to slide over the roughness across his palm. Tommy frowned. 

 

“Permission to come aboard?”

 

And then Tommy would go and completely unironically say something like that, and Newt could snort and roll his eyes and remember what they were. Still young, still making silly banter and playing guessing games and taking in sunlight and the sounds of water. ...Still here.

 

“Granted.”

 

Together. Whether it was what the bastards had intended or not.

 

And that was just it wasn’t it? The big question.

 

Newt tried not to feel it as strange, that Tommy’s feet landed with the same nautical scrape and thud as his own made against the bottom of his little vessel. Or the way he could feel it through her floor, the drum-like thump and reverb under the soles of his shoes, of each slowly approaching step.

 

He and Lizzy had never entertained company before.

 

He watched as Tommy took his time moving the small distance, looking left and right as he did with a quiet, respectful expression at the admittedly meagre collection of equipment and survival gear Newt had been able to bring on board.

 

“You were saying?” Tommy asked when they were finally standing toe to toe, reaching out not to touch him but to take a gentle hold on a corner of the rag Newt was still rubbing fretfully at his hands with. To get him to still or just to acknowledge the movement, it mattered little.

 

“I… told you, I—”

 

“Muttering,” Tommy interrupted, “yeah I know. I heard that part.”

 

Smart-arse. Newt couldn’t help it, even as he rubbed in under the soft cloth of the rag with his thumb again, his mouth turned up in a smallish smirk.

 

Tommy grinned – though thankfully no where near as bright as the Blinder. Taking even the slightest sliver of encouragement and running with it as usual.

 

“But did… d’you call yourself ‘lad’?”

 

The cajoling, teasing note in it was shaky, tentative. But Tommy was trying. Couldn’t bloody help himself.

 

“Just something… somebody used to call me.” Newt could see him take in the flattened tone in his voice, the unsure smile falling away from his face. “My Dad, I think,” he added. Not sure why he could get those words out but not the rest of it.

 

Newt dropped all pretence – and his grip on the rag – and closed his fist, fingers curling right into the thickest part of the scarring on his palm.

 

It didn’t stop it though, the scene sliding in behind his eyelids. The sounds in his ears.

 

Gunshot. A scream. He was getting better at this, he thought bizarrely, barely flinching at all.

 

But it was always the hands, that made his breath catch and his heart pound. Little ones, clutching his arm as the men in the green suits led them roughly away, like he was the only piece of their entire world left.

 

Which perhaps he was. Another lifetime ago.

 

If she was even real.

 

…A squeeze, bringing him back. Tommy’s hand was on his shoulder. The other having done away with the little rag and now wrapped tightly around his fingers.

 

“You remember?” Tommy asked him finally, slowly, when he could see Newt was looking at him again, and not right past and through him. Back and seeing only what was right here and now, in front of him.

 

He looked down and away anyway. “…Hard to know for sure.”

 

The honest answer he knew Tommy would understand.

 

His heart was still hammering, hand still working at his side, open and closed. Tommy’s hand slid down from his shoulder to take it, trapping both Newt’s hands warmly now in his own.

 

Then he waited. Didn’t press any further, while Newt gripped him back and gave a couple of hard blinks, listening to the lap and swish of the water against the sides of the raft. It wasn’t that Tommy was done with his questions, Newt knew, just that he recognized now wasn’t his moment. He was watching him carefully, those big brown eyes full of ill-disguised concern and moving, searching his features. For what, Newt couldn’t say.

 

It should have troubled him, maybe. That Tommy was learning, as distressingly fast as usual, to manage him. But the truth was it was really nothing new. He had always been able to get round him. Newt had never been anything less than utterly powerless to give him anything and everything he wanted.

 

And he gave it to him now, taking a breath and offering up a reassuring smile.

 

Sure enough Tommy smiled back, apparently satisfied enough to give both of his hands a squeeze and let him go, looking around himself again. Another awed-looking, reverent silence took him as he stared around at Newt’s oars, his fishing pole.

 

“Wow. You spent two weeks here…” Tommy murmured finally, moving the few steps away it took to reach Lizzy’s prow and ducking predictably under the canvas roof for a peek. Newt followed a couple of steps behind. “Is this where you slept?”

 

The makeshift bunk was a scrounged cot mattress from the shipyard laid on a row of crates tipped on their sides, so as to allow more storage for some of the smaller things on the raft. And essentially just a pile of as many blankets as Newt had been able to find. 

 

“Occasionally.”

 

Tommy turned back, nose scrunching in a sympathetic grimace that shouldn’t have been as cute as it buggin’ well was. “Not so comfortable, huh?”

 

Newt put his hands into his pockets, pretending not to notice the way Tommy’s eyeline followed the movement, like he was worried Newt was hiding them. He held back on a sigh. Tommy, honestly. He was fine.

 

He made an effort to show it – relaxed his shoulders and shrugged. Hint of a smirk, perhaps. “I’ve done worse.”

 

They both had. And few people knew it better.

 

It worked like a charm. Tommy gave him a sideways glance, his sudden knowing smile putting a light in the brown eyes Newt much preferred to the problem-seeking, search-and-destroy concern of a few moments ago. 

 

“May I?” 

 

Newt felt a brow rise and his smirk deepen at the mannered request. It was too much to ask of course, for Tommy to stop being utterly adorably ridiculous, so he didn’t. “Be my guest.”

 

Besides. There was the slightest chance Newt found it just the tiniest bit impossibly, engulfingly, devastatingly fucking charming. Just slightly.

 

Christ, but he did manage to get himself into trouble. Which was why Tommy of course – of ruddy course – reached out to take him by the wrist and pull at him leadingly until they were both seated side by side on the bunk’s layers of folded blankets. And it was why, once they were sitting, Newt didn’t pull his wrist free, just letting his eyes slip shut and the warmth of the touch spread out from the point of the contact instead.

 

And it could have been coincidence that Tommy’s fingers paused in their travels before he spoke, just at the place where they would have been able to pick up a quickening in his pulse – if there were to be one, that was. Sure it could.

 

“So…before?”

 

But one thing Newt knew for sure, as those fingers resumed tracing their little spiral into the inside of his wrist, and his skin started to hum with a heady, pleasurable buzz, was that Tommy knew it too – it had come. “When you were muttering, did—” His moment of attack.

 

“Did you say something wasn’t fair?”

 

Newt sighed.

 

“It was me, Tommy. I mutter to myself,” he said, trying not to smile too softly at him as he pointedly withdrew his wrist from Tommy’s obviously strategically stroking grasp. “…And no, I don’t think I was,” he admitted.  

 

Tommy’s face did that thing it did when he was utterly confused but holding out hope that an explanation was coming before he had to admit it. And Newt’s chest did the thing it always did in response, going so tight that breathing hurt him just a little, but at the same time so soft on the inside he couldn’t feel his heart, to know whether it had stopped beating.

 

And Newt would give it of course, as always, the explanation Tommy was waiting for. Soon he would have no bloody secrets left.

 

But he took a second first, to look at him like this, to remember. The way his lips parted and his eyes widened hopefully, filling with their shine of curiosity and questions. He took in the colour of them even, how it lightened toward the middle to an almost golden amber, while the outer rim was dark as warm chocolate – like something in an oven that hadn’t finished baking.

 

Jesus, he was getting distracted. And Tommy was still waiting – he’d been doing that, lately, Newt hadn’t failed to notice. A new tactic for the impatient likes of Tommy, but it worked, damn it, just as well as any of his others. Newt sighed again before he went on.

 

“You— I’m not sure if you know, but you’re quite literally a very warm person. You give off…quite a lot of body heat. Like I’ve never felt off anybody else.” Newt paused, not sure if what he was saying was any explanation at all.

 

Like so many things between them, it felt just so outrageously ridiculous, such a bloody stupid thing to have to say. But Tommy wasn’t laughing or anything, he was watching him with that hawk-like search-and-destroy again. Newt looked down at his hand sitting on his knee, just to be sure he hadn’t done anything incriminating with it. Tommy caught the look and reached out and grabbed it anyway, pulling it into his lap as if just to ensure that he couldn’t.

 

“…Like there’s fire constantly burning just under your skin.” It was so much easier to say stupid things when you were looking down at your hands instead of into intelligent brown eyes. But Newt had to look back up at them then, to be sure this was making any kind of sense. “I can feel it just standing next to you, if I’m close enough. It’s…reassuring.”

 

It looked for a second like maybe it hadn’t. Tommy’s eyebrows drew together and he cocked his head to the side.

 

“Like a detail?” he asked then, pointing a finger at his hair and obviously making sense of it just fine.

 

And Tommy really had to stop doing that. Being so infuriatingly goofily adorable that it hurt, it literally did.

 

Newt waited for his heartbeat to reappear, and his chest to go loose enough he could breathe, and then he gave in to the itch in his fingers, reaching up to comb them through the impossibly silky strands in question.

 

When he was done he let his hand slide down to cup Tommy’s cheek and feel the warmth of the skin in question too.

 

“Very much so,” Newt told him softly. “Yes.”

 

And this time it was Tommy who shut his eyes under the caress. Doing absolutely nothing of course for the preposterous goings on still happily playing out in Newt's chest.

 

Tommy bit his lip before he opened his eyes. Maybe Newt was being unfair all over again.

 

He put both his hands back into his own lap.

 

“Okay but then—” Tommy’s eyes were open and watching him, back in problem-seeker mode. “Isn’t that a good thing? Being reassuring? What happened to— you were supposed to tell me what you need, remember?”

 

“I remember, Tommy. I just hadn’t thought—  I wasn’t counting on…”

 

“Me being a virgin?”

 

“—Tommy.”

 

Newt shook his head and watched the wide-eyed, honest look Tommy always had whenever he said something that painfully earnest give way to an amused, impish little smirk over his reaction.

 

He had meant it as an admonishment, but that didn’t make it any less accurate when it came to it, Newt thought.

 

He hadn’t been counting on Tommy at all.

 

He hadn’t even known he would be here, living and breathing and giving him his whole bloody future back, just when he was getting used to existing without one. Not to mention giving him that kiss that had changed everything; taking everything that they were, that they had been, and could maybe one day be, and turning it all into something else entirely.

 

Something hopeful. Something that, no, he hadn’t counted on at all.

 

And Tommy wasn’t entirely wrong, either. Newt had honestly been a little surprised – you only had to take one bloody look at the man to see that he would have had his share of chances. It was absolutely absurd that he hadn’t taken any of them before now.

 

It was just one more complication on the pile, then. Not that Tommy’s level of experience – or the lack of it – was a problem. In some ways, as Newt had told him, it was actually sort of nice. But Newt had said he should take his time, and he had meant it. Which was why it certainly wasn’t all that fair of him to go and make that time any harder on him than it had to be. How much time they had of course… was another story altogether.

 

Not that Tommy was making it easy on him either.

 

“Y’know,” he was saying, stretching languidly back onto his elbows and raising a suggestive brow. “This is technically a bed. If you wanted to help me out with that virginity thing right now…”

 

He wasn’t taking this seriously at all. But then maybe Newt was the one overthinking things. He did that.

 

So he arched a brow too, and played along. “Think we should settle that boyfriend thing first, don’t you?”

 

Tommy struggled forward, sitting immediately up straight. He all but dove for both of Newt’s hands, pulling them back into his lap.

 

“Am I allowed to be settled now?” Tommy’s thumbs moved slowly across his knuckles, and his eyes had lost the silly playful quirk and gone wide and earnest again. Waiting.

 

No, much more dangerous than that. …Hoping.

 

And Newt couldn’t lose track of his heart this time, not with the way it leapt up into his throat. And when the tension banded in his chest it tightened so hard he could swear that something cracked.


Oh sure. Now he wanted to be serious.

 

Newt sighed. He let Tommy’s hands go. He had known he was in trouble for a while now after all.

 

It was only a couple of steps over to the side of the raft, and Newt was back almost before he wanted to be, sitting back down next to Tommy and pulling the rucksack he had gotten up to retrieve into his lap.

 

It was a plain, non-descript thing really, he thought. Sort of a dull, military green canvas once, though thoroughly marked up and a little the worse for wear now of course. Unremarkable except for the four letters stenciled in black onto the top of the shoulder strap.

 

Newt traced them with his fingers before he spoke.

 

W.

 

C.

 

K.

 

D.

 

Tommy had shifted so close Newt could feel it again, where their knees were all but touching, the crackle and fire from under his skin. He looked up, into that warm, halfway-baked amber gaze, full to shining again with questions and curiosity and still waiting. Still painfully, shatteringly hoping.

 

The water was whispering against Lizzy’s sides, murmuring and chuckling musically under the dock.

 

And with one final sigh, Newt prepared to throw the most dreaded of spanners so far into the proverbial works. To put what could quite possibly be an end to literally the only thing he could ever remember having wanted in his short and fragmented, fractured life.

 

“There’s something you should know, first...”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Thomas felt …wrong.

 

Just, not good. His skin didn’t feel right. Like it was too tight, and crawling with the strangest unwelcome chill.

 

It wasn’t right to feel cold, it was the end of a warmish, perfect day and it was completely cozy here – tucked in under a little canvas tent and seated on a thick pile of blankets that turned out not to be that uncomfortable at all – nestled closely into the little space right up next to Newt. He should have really been enjoying himself actually, feeling the rock and sway of the raft drifting them gently up against its mooring and back, looking out at the lowering sun glittering off the water when he wasn’t too busy staring helplessly at the entrancing boy next to him.

 

But Newt was acting strange. He was sighing a lot, and he wouldn’t let Thomas hold his hands, at least not for very long.

 

He hadn’t wanted Thomas to kiss him when he’d first gotten here either, seemingly more interested in his tinkering than in Thomas’s admittedly inexpert flirting. And that had been fine actually, sure it had. Newt had sent Thomas off that morning to ‘take time to himself and do his own thinking’ and he’d been very clear that the status of their relationship – if Thomas was even allowed to call it that – was anything but clear at all, until he did.


But then things had gotten weirder and weirder all afternoon. And now, Newt was sitting next to him holding a knapsack bearing the most distressing acronym known to either of them, or anyone they cared about, and telling him there was something he needed to know.

 

He didn’t think he was imagining the shake in Newt’s fingers as he worked the buckles open to show Thomas what was inside, either. The chill in his skin seeped into his veins, making his blood run icy.

 

It made him want to take hold of those hands again but he knew Newt would just shake him off again after a few patient moments. And anyway, he needed them to open the bag, and Thomas both dreaded and really, really wanted to know what was in it.

 

He put his hand on Newt’s knee instead, and it felt a little less wrong, the warmth of him going a little way to melting the ice in his veins. But most of all, it was the tension he could feel ease just a little under his palm, that told him it was the right move.

 

Newt’s fingers still shook as he opened the pack, sliding out a black box emblazoned with the same four fearsome letters. He heaved another heavy-sounding sigh, and handed it wordlessly over.

 

Thomas was honestly surprised his own hands weren’t shaking by the time he reached out to take it, his fingers feeling oddly heavy as they moved over the cool, slick metal to pry open the lid. It was some sort of medical kit. There were several syringes inside along with some antiseptic and something else.

 

Thomas lifted it carefully out of its cushioned casing and held it up to the light for a better look.

 

“I dunno what it is,” Newt said dully, next to him. “I dunno what it does. But it was in this pack, along with a canteen and a few days’ worth of food.”

 

A small vial, full of a mysterious liquid inside – but anything further than that was hard to tell. The glass was too dark to see what the colour of the liquid might be, whether it was clear, or viscous. 

 

Newt watched him examine the vial, but he dropped his gaze when Thomas turned back to him, looking out over the water as if addressing his next few words to nobody in particular.

 

“I don’t know why they let me go. …Why I’m here.” His voice had that dulled, deadened tone to it that Thomas had come in the past few days to feel, more than he really heard it, exactly – a cold, reptilian drop and unfurling, of something dank and heavy in the pit of his stomach.

 

“I didn’t come at first, actually,” he went on. “Not right away.” His eyes were trained blankly ahead into the middle distance in front of them now. “I was too afraid, that they were tracking me. That it was another test. A trap.”

 

Thomas didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. They both knew, they had been through it together. Back when they were always trapped and everything – their every move and breath and thought – had been a test.

 

And he knew Newt. He knew what his greatest fear would have been. To lead them here. Back to the people he had always, without thought or question, given everything he had in him to care for, to protect.

 

“I’m not sure that I could’ve done, anyway. My mind wasn’t— I wasn’t lucid, I guess. Not most of the time.” Newt blinked, and looked down at Lizzy’s floor in front of him. “There’s… gaps.”

 

Thomas wanted to reach for him again, but that hadn’t been working so far. Besides, Newt still wasn’t looking at him, and his shoulders had that stubborn, independent set to them they had had that morning when he had leaned back on his hands just to keep Thomas from taking them, like it would have been too distracting to let him get through his story about that asshole Nick.

 

Thomas fit the vial back into its slot and slid his thumbs along the cool metal sides of the kit in his hands instead, suddenly suspecting Newt had left him to hold onto it for a reason. At least he had blinked himself out of the worrying blank stare.

 

“I don’t know how long I’d been loose in the Scorch the first time I remember waking up there. If I’d been wandering, or just left lying there in a drugged daze. I don’t even know whether I was the one who lit the campfire that was burning next to me.” Newt was looking down at the pack sitting empty in his lap now, his slim fingers moving slowly over the four letters tattooed onto the top of the strap. “It inevitably attracted company though, of course.”

 

Thomas felt his heartrate quicken a little in his chest.

 

“Cranks?” He asked, before he could stop himself.

 

He was pretty sure now was a bad time to interrupt. It was just hard. The tone in Newt’s voice was hard on him to hear, grating on his nerves, even as soft and quiet as it was. This was the most Newt had said about how he got here since he had arrived, and as much as Thomas was aching inside, to hear Newt’s story and have it out and told, it still sounded like it hurt him to tell.

 

But Newt just shook his head. “First Wave’s mostly died out now,” he said distantly. “Hard to keep the body going once the mind’s too far Gone to make any kind of concentrated effort I suppose – food, water. Shelter.” 

 

Thomas stayed silent this time, running his thumbs over the edges of the box again, taking in the news of what the world was like outside of the insulated little universe of the Safe Haven.

 

“…There’s still people, Tommy.” Newt turned to look at him finally, a little warmth and life coming back to his gaze, and easing some of the cold dread sitting densely in Thomas’s stomach. “Not many, I’ll admit but, they’re trying. Struggling to rebuild. Starting to scavenge and find each other.”

 

“Immunes?” Thomas asked, a little less afraid to interject this time, but then wishing immediately that he hadn’t. The look in Newt’s eyes darkened and he looked away again.

 

“Mostly,” he answered slowly, busying himself with moving the knapsack out of his lap. “I always thought it was supposed to be genetic,” he went on, as he leaned down to place the bag carefully at his feet. “But maybe it… can skip a generation or something. Maybe it’s not always passed on.”

 

Thomas felt a different, brand new tension knot itself tightly right up in his throat. Newt had mentioned a First Wave, of the virus. Of Cranks. That made it sound like there had to be at least the start of some sort of Second one.

 

“You mean—”

 

Newt nodded again. “The people that found my campfire had left their settlement for a reason.”

 

Thomas swallowed against the lump in his throat. He wasn’t about to interrupt again. He had no idea what the hell he could have said anyway.

 

“I don’t know what they hoped to find. Food and water to steal, or barter for? Other exiles like them maybe? Certainly not what they got,” Newt remarked drily, cocking his head to the side in consideration as he stared distantly ahead some more. “Can’t imagine what I must have looked like, stumbling out of the firelight at them. Would’ve shot me for a bloody Crank no matter how rare they’d gotten, and asked questions later, if it’d been me,” he concluded, with a tight little quirk of his lips that Thomas couldn’t say was anything like a smile.

 

“…But then I suppose Cranks don’t generally drop down on their arse in the sand, cover up their ears, and start muttering about what is and isn’t real.”

 

Shit. Thomas couldn’t take it. He was glad the deadly dullness had gone from Newt’s expression but the wry, almost self-deprecating tone was too much, too heartbreakingly at odds with the words being spoken. He took one hand off the little box to reach out again.

 

Newt caught it before it could land on his knee again though. He looked up to meet Thomas’s eyes, even as his own beautiful dark ones dropped shut, and gave it an appreciative squeeze.

 

But sure enough, as soon as his eyes opened, Newt let his hand go again.

 

“They spent a good deal of time arguing about what to do with me, and eventually I sort of realized if it’d been some new kind of simulation they probably would have attacked or something by now.” Newt’s voice was sounding determinedly light, but Thomas wasn’t fooled. Without the knapsack strap there to fiddle with, his fingers had started to curl into themselves, and back out. “I uncovered my ears to listen and realized why I’d had them covered in the first place. What the sound was.”

 

Thomas wasn’t going to try to reach across him to take his hand again after being rebuffed so many times, but this time when his palm settled over Newt’s knee, Newt let it stay there.

 

“Screaming. Coming from the truck they were traveling in,” he said haltingly, like the words were costing him some effort to get out now. “Or crying, I suppose. But the sound of it, Tommy… a wailing, snarling sound that just—  and it didn’t stop…”

 

The chill in his veins gave a fearful, sluggish surge, moving icily through him from the crown of his head to the tips of his toes. Newt still wouldn’t look at him, not even when he said his name, but when Thomas’s fingers pressed in a little more firmly where they were still sitting on his leg, Newt nodded appreciatively, and took a breath before he went on.

 

“But there was another sound too.”

 

And Thomas knew, he knew before the words came where Newt’s story was going, but he swallowed uselessly at the lump in his throat and didn’t squeeze again, didn’t interrupt. He let him tell it.

 

“The mother, sobbing. The sun was coming up then, and I could see her, when I had hold of myself and I’d gotten to my feet. She had a little bassinette next to her in the back of the truck, rocking the little bundle inside it and just sobbing, sobbing. Too afraid to pick the baby up, and soothe her properly. …Not that there was anything she could have done, likely.”

 

No, Thomas thought, he knew first hand. There was nothing. Nothing to be done, and he didn’t need to hear Newt’s next words to know what they were going to say.

 

“The sound – the horrible screaming, wailing sound – was coming from the bundle.”

 

A baby. Thomas shut his eyes against a sickening wave of emotion too complicated and horrible to name. The sound Newt described wasn’t all that hard to imagine, there was one much like it ringing through his head. Waking him from sleep each night when he saw Newt glaring furiously down at him, onyx-eyed and livid with sickly, dark-veined skin, mouth seething with poison-black ichor and an inhumanly screeching bellow of pure, unrestrained, hateful rage.

 

But when Thomas opened his eyes again, Newt was there, whole and healthy, the lowering sun setting his usual tones of ivory and gold blazingly alight, and still, bravely, talking.

 

“I didn’t trust the vial, couldn’t be sure what was in it. But I had the syringes.” Newt had turned toward him again, but his gaze was aimed down at the kit in his lap. Thomas shook himself, took his moment to hand it obligingly back.

 

“I don’t know how I managed to convince them to let me do it,” he said quietly, settling the box in his own lap and running his fingers slowly over the length of the syringe at the end of the neatly stored row. And again, Thomas knew, before the words even came. “What could make a parent decide to let a complete stranger, and obvious nutter, inject their child with his own blood…”

 

Thomas couldn’t have interrupted now if he tried, he couldn’t have found the breath. All of the dead, robotic tone in Newt’s voice was gone now and replaced with a grittiness of barely contained emotion. And Thomas was at a loss for which was worse.

 

I can help. I remember repeating it over and over, I can help, I can help.”

 

His voice had gotten so low now, Thomas couldn’t be sure Newt was still speaking the words to him, and not himself again.

 

“…Reckon they just had nothing left to lose.”

 

He didn’t describe it, what it was like when they unwrapped the bundle. And Thomas didn’t ask. Newt blinked a little clarity back into his gaze after a minute. He closed the box and stowed it in the bag at his feet.

 

“It worked, Tommy.” Newt turned to look at him finally, and the look on his face was surprising. Where he might have expected hope or joy there was a strangely manic sort of beseeching instead, a desperate pleading for Thomas to listen, to understand, as the next few words tumbled out in an almost-rush. “Not as fast as the serum, and I’ve got no way of knowing if it lasted the way it’s done for me, and for Brenda. But it worked.”

 

Thomas felt his mouth open, but the words… His head swarmed with questions. Too many to ask at once. But the way Newt had rushed through his last few words said he had already told him everything he knew anyway.  

 

It worked. Newt’s blood. His blood.

 

Thomas closed his mouth again and nodded instead, giving another warm squeeze of the hand still sitting on Newt’s knee.

 

Newt watched him silently for a second or so before he mustered up the smallest of smiles, one that looked more like it was for Thomas’s benefit than anything, and looked out over the water again. He drew his legs up onto the bunk, crossing them at the ankles and circling his knees with his arms in a manner that was likely intended to come off as casual, but Thomas thought looked more like hugging himself independently away onto the far side of the bunk.

 

With his hand conveniently dislodged from its perch on top of Newt’s knee, Thomas leaned forward, settling his elbows on his knees and lacing his fingers together to show he could do this. He could listen without touching, if that’s what Newt seemed to need. Even if Thomas couldn’t understand yet why

 

As much as he didn’t particularly like it, it seemed to work.

 

“There wasn’t too much discussion after that,” Newt began, picking up his tale where he had left off. “About what to do with me – whether I was sick or just crazy. They took me with them.”

 

“Back to their settlement?” Thomas asked, quietly, when Newt trailed off. Prompting with his voice instead of his hands.

 

Newt nodded and went on. “They did what they could for me, but I stayed mostly on the outskirts.”

 

Thomas watched as he settled back, the relaxed posture of his arms resting on his knees and the storyteller’s tone his voice took on reminding him for all the world of the day he had met him, the first day of his new life. When Newt sat him down by the Glade bonfire and explained. Telling him everything he could.

 

Thomas resisted the urge to let his hands twist anxiously where they dangled clasped between his knees, and trusted Newt to do the same again now.

 

“I didn’t have anything to trade, for people who weren’t sick. I don’t think all of them quite believed the story anyway, of what happened. The more superstitious ones were a bit wary, actually, of the muttering stranger who kept mostly to himself. Only coming into town to look for the odd job or chore in exchange for food and supplies.” Newt gave a shrug that only came halfway up, with his arms still wrapped around his knees. “The more pragmatic ones thought the family had just been too distraught or sun-sick to remember what had really happened, that Rosalyn must have had something else wrong with her when the family left the camp. Some other fever they mistook for the Virus, that had gone away on its own.”

 

“Rosalyn? That the baby’s name?”

 

Newt surprised him by actually turning to him and smiling. “Pretty, isn’t it?”

 

And Thomas felt it like sunshine, warming him across the back of his shoulders and muffling the chill still pulling tightly at his skin and curled tensely in his stomach.

 

“They let me hold her. In the truck for a little while after— Rosalyn…” Newt trailed off again, on the name. He turned his gaze back to where his hands were clasped in front of him, right hand holding the left wrist in a loosely held grip. His thumb moved pensively for a moment over the bone and he surprised Thomas again with a wry, distant little chuckle. “Wanderer was what they called me, mostly.”

 

“At least to my face, I’m pretty sure I heard things like ‘Lost Boy’ and ‘Stray’ more than a couple of times.  But Wanderer stuck. …Probably didn’t help that every item of clothing I had to my name was branded with a big W,” Newt added drily, pulling his hands apart just long enough to hold them up, index fingers up and thumbs together, to form the letter in the air.

 

Thomas smiled a little, even though Newt wasn’t looking. Even though the anxious chill still hadn’t left him completely. Newt’s tone had lightened considerably, but his thumb had gone back to fidgeting, running over and over the notch of his wrist, and Thomas knew wherever his story was going, it wasn’t nearly done yet. He watched Newt tip his head to the side, laying his cheek thoughtfully against his shoulder before he went on.

 

“By the time I started trusting things more – getting used to talking to people again instead of just to myself – I didn’t really feel the need anymore to correct them. …I knew I didn’t really belong there.” Thomas felt the tentative half-a-smile fade from his face at the words, as Newt picked his head up off his shoulder and straightened up to look straight ahead again. “So one day I asked if there had been any other children who had to leave the settlement, like Rosalyn. They said there had been two others, boys. Another baby and one a little older, called Elliot.”

 

Thomas waited while Newt paused to sigh and shake his head slowly.

 

“They were still so grateful, the family,” he said. “I don’t know how they managed to convince everyone who had to’ve helped out, but they managed to get me a jeep with enough fuel, water and supplies for where I needed to go.”

 

He uncurled from himself a little, opening his posture up enough to lean back, stretch one leg out onto the floor.

 

“And we left,” he said simply. “Me and this salty old tracker with one arm, by the name of Caleb. He’d lost it in an accident from before the flares, he said. Just a freak thing, cleaning his guns. I think he might have lost half his hearing too, when it went off, because he never seemed to mind my muttering.”

 

Newt gave a wistful little smile that Thomas was surprised to feel himself returning.

 

“If anybody could find those families, so I could try to help them too, it would have been him, they told me. But it’d been weeks or even months by then,” he said, the short-lived tone of hope dying out of his voice. “We found some old campfires, and even one of the abandoned trucks, but too much time had passed.”

 

Newt looked out at the water for another regretful looking minute, and then turned to look at him. He seemed to have stopped avoiding his eye now, Thomas noted. So he stayed quiet, simply giving another sympathetic nod and keeping his hands twined patiently together in front of him.

 

“I did what I could, I left Caleb with a few vials of my blood to take back to the little clinic at the settlement, just in case. He told me I was crazy – which of course I quite literally was,” Newt said, without humour. “Asked if I was sure I wouldn’t come back with him but… nutter or not, I’d already made my decision. Even had them check me at the clinic. They had one of those scanners, you remember, that Jorge used to find those chips WCKD tagged us with? But they didn’t find anything…”

 

Newt’s hand came up, fingers brushing self-consciously over the thin, hardly noticeable, sliver of a scar at the nape of his own neck. Thomas ignored a sudden reflexive urge to do the same himself.

 

“So I had him take me as far as he could toward Vince’s old shipyard before he’d need the rest of the fuel to make it back. I started working on Lizzy – ” he gestured vaguely around at the canvas tent roof and crates of gear and supplies surrounding them. “And the rest is history.”

 

History. Thomas was reeling. If everything he had just heard wasn’t enough – burgeoning settlements, a Second Wave, a possible actual incidence of a cure, without serum... After all that, leave it to Newt to gloss over what Thomas knew first hand was a punishingly arduous journey – hiking in a literally blistering heat by day, trying to fend off the surprisingly biting cold just enough to sleep at night. Newt would have been better prepared for it this time around, sure, but it must have been days, weeks even, until he had reached the shelter of their old encampment. Alone.

 

And then. There was everything Newt had been through. The disturbingly easy way he spoke of the alarming-sounding state his mind had been in, and for who-even-knew how long. The thought of it set off a strange, agitated prickling feeling somewhere between his shoulder blades.

 

It made him want to reach out for Newt again, pull him closer until he gave in and let Thomas wrap him up in his arms and not. Let. Go. It… kind of made him want to hit something.

 

It was a weird, protective reaction he wasn’t sure he cared much for, or even understood. And he knew that Newt wouldn’t think much of it either. Besides, Newt wasn’t done talking, and Thomas wouldn’t have known where to start even if he had looked like he was expecting a reply. 

 

“I didn’t know it’d been two years. I hadn’t thought to ask anyone the date. There was no sign of anybody when I got there, but all Vince’s plans were still there, the maps. All our old survival stuff and supplies. It probably still wasn’t entirely sane, what I was doing, but it didn’t feel all that crazy either – taking my chances out in the Scorch, or taking them out at sea,” Newt said, his dumbfoundingly matter-of-fact tone turning a shade more quietly thoughtful.

 

“I could stay, while my supplies dwindled and eventually ran out, or I could pack ’em up and try to find what was left of the only people who ever felt anything like a home to me.”

 

Thomas looked down at his hands, only now noticing the way they fidgeted unhappily against each other. He knew how it felt, to know deep down that no matter where in the world you might go, you might never feel settled, never quite at peace, not without the people that made a place a home.

 

He had been feeling it every day for the past two years.

 

Newt was quiet another minute before he spoke. “Then I got here and—”

 

And there he went again, Jesus. Skipping right over what must have been a difficult, dangerous – and at times, frightening – trip. A tiny craft like this making an ocean voyage? Thomas couldn’t imagine it. Even with the best navigation routes Vince had left laid out it would have taken nothing more than a bit of bad weather for Newt’s life to be in serious peril. And he would have had to be so very careful with both food and fuel. One wrong turn, and then…

 

The thought made the knot of anxiety in Thomas’s chest pull even tighter, and the urge to reach for Newt – to reassure himself that he was here, and safe – got so strong that he swore he could feel his palms itch. But then Newt seemed to be having some difficulty maintaining his nonchalant air too.

 

Thomas watched him swallow thickly, his oak-brown eyes darting about like they didn’t know where to land - only flicking his way for the barest split second before looking out at the water, then at the fishing boats lined up along the dock.   

 

“This place, Tommy. It’s incredible,” and sure enough Newt’s voice shook when it came out, dying off toward the end to just above an overwrought whisper. Thomas felt the usual sympathetic pang he got whenever Newt showed signs of any kind of pain, but then he felt his usual dose of confusion too.

 

“I mean Vince told us it was Paradise, but we all always assumed some of it was exaggeration, didn’t we?” After everything Newt had just told him, this was going to make his voice thin out and his eyes start to shine threateningly? This was what was going to make him bite the inside of his lip and press his thumb into his palm – the greatest test so far of Thomas’s resolve to keep his hands to himself. “I really hadn’t counted on this… the beauty here, the resources.”

 

Newt turned to him, his gaze coming around slowly as if he had to drag it, as if it hurt.

 

“…And you.”

 

And it did. It did hurt. Something in that look made the air leave Thomas’s chest, and his fingers clench so hard around each other his fingernails left marks. And what it was – that look, whatever Newt was trying to say – Thomas still didn’t understand. But it was obvious that when he did, he wasn’t going to like it.

 

“And you took me on that tour and… showed me that greenhouse…” Newt’s voice was coming out husky now and Thomas swallowed against a sudden roughness starting in his own throat. “I said you could grow anything here, and you said— you said that yes, you could. But I know you meant that I could.”

 

And for all that time Newt had spent avoiding Thomas’s eye, he didn’t seem to be able to look away from him now. Thomas watched the dangerous glitter filling the sable eyes as they flitted all over his features, taking in any reaction they could find like there was some answer he was waiting for –  although if there was a question, then Newt hadn’t yet asked. So Thomas gave him the only answer he could and nodded quietly anyway. 

 

Newt blinked, and looked away again, out to the sun starting to set. “You just looked so hopeful. And I realized— I mean, of course you’re expecting…”

 

Newt sighed. He moved, setting both his feet down onto the floor and leaning forward a little on the edge of the makeshift bunk. Thomas felt his hands come apart on reflex, ready to reach out in case Newt decided to stand, to give up on making Thomas understand whatever it was he was trying to tell him, and walk away.

 

“But I need you to understand. There’s people out there, Tommy, still getting sick. Children. And if I might be able do something about it then I don’t see how I can—”

 

Newt turned to look at him again, one last painful-looking time.

 

“I… don’t think I’m staying, Tommy. At least not forever.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Not staying.

 

It took a moment, for the words to sink in, settling into a place in Thomas’s mind that made sense of it all, but when it did the pieces came together as neatly as a jigsaw.

 

Newt’s story, the medical kit and syringes. The way Newt had looked that morning in the greenhouse, and how everything had changed by the time they walked back out of it – how he went from being lit with that glowing halo of overjoyed delight straight to closing right off as if somebody had reached in and snapped that light inside him off, simple as flipping a switch. How he went jumpy and evasive, mixing his signals and saying things like life was short but that Thomas should wait, make his own decisions.

 

That they shouldn’t have any expectations. Make promises.

 

Well fuck that.

 

But the moment had stretched out, and Thomas came back from the swirling, shifting maze of his thoughts too late. He had just enough time to see Newt turn away, his eyes shutting against the threat of what could have been tears sparkling in the corners as he did.

 

And then Newt did it, what Thomas had feared – he stood up. He was already half a step away from the bunk before Thomas came back to himself enough to dart a hand out and catch him by the wrist.

 

Newt stopped, ducking his head resignedly. Thomas waited, but he didn’t turn around.

 

They were quiet for another minute. Thomas watched Newt’s lips press together in silence. At some point, twilight had begun to fall.

 

“How long?” he asked.

 

Newt shook his head. “I don’t know. Weeks? Months?” He turned his head, a glance backward that didn’t quite connect, didn’t make it all the way back over the lean, angular shoulder.

 

Thomas nudged a little where he still had hold of his wrist, not pulling, just asking. And Newt gave, as he always did, what Thomas wanted, turning back. Coming back to him, and not putting an end to the discussion, not just yet.

 

“I didn’t have much of a plan when I came here, I wasn’t— you know I wasn’t bloody capable,” Newt said, a bitter little edge creeping into his tone that Thomas recognized from the last time they had questioned him about things he couldn’t answer, when he had first taken visitors in the med shack.

 

Just like he did then, Newt dropped his gaze and took a calming breath. His fingers flexed and clenched, and Thomas squeezed at his wrist a little, but didn’t take his hand, letting him do his thing. When he spoke again, his voice was calm.

 

“But obviously the more planned out it is the better. The more supplies I can scrape together, the stronger I can get myself… mind and body I guess…” Newt ducked his head again, drawing his wrist free of Thomas’s grasp to fold his arms insulatingly across his chest. “I’ll want to talk to Vince about medical supplies, where he did all his scavenging back in the Scorch days…”

 

He turned away a little – looking out over the water again like maybe he was thinking about heading out right now. But probably mostly just looking away.

 

Thomas got to his feet himself, to stand in front of him, right up close in the tight space of the raft.

 

“And then what?”

 

Newt didn’t step back, didn’t shift, just stood his ground – arms still folded and jaw setting the way Thomas remembered from Gatherings in the Glade, when Newt would make his final pronouncement and lay down the law.

 

And just like he had then, Thomas pushed it.

 

“You’re going to try to beef up old Lizzy here and just… head back out there?” he asked, gesturing around at the improvements they had spent the afternoon working on. The innocuous-seeming fortifications that suddenly looked much less like an admittedly quirky hobby, and started making so much more sense. “Two weeks’ journey across open ocean on a glorified pool toy – back to the Scorch, to… find whoever you can, and offer to bleed for them?”

 

“Tommy.” Newt wasn’t having trouble meeting his eye any longer. He was staring steadily at him, a frown creasing his brow and the look in his eye gone hard. Maybe ‘glorified pool toy’ had been a step too far. “It’s not much of a plan yet I know, but—”

 

 “It’s not going to work.”

 

The flint in Newt’s stare could have thrown sparks.

 

Thomas, I can’t just—”

 

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

 

“I— ” Newt’s arms uncrossed where they had been folded tightly against his chest, falling limply to his sides.

 

 “I’m coming with you.”

 

The cold, stony look was gone from his eyes now, only to be replaced by the dangerous glitter from earlier – half frustration and half something more, that gave rapidly away to shock before Thomas could name it. Newt shook his head, his hair falling into his face where Sonya had left it long at the front.

 

He pushed his hand through it, only for it to fall obstinately back out of place. Newt bit his lip and let it stay there, like he might be re-thinking how much he really minded it covering up his eyes a little.

 

He took a breath. Thomas didn’t miss the way it shuddered. “I can’t ask you to—”

 

“You didn’t,” Thomas interrupted, softly this time. He could step just a little closer now without Newt’s folded arms keeping the distance between them. And when he put his hands out for Newt’s hips, he still didn’t shift backward.

 

Thomas watched his eyes flutter shut in the rapidly fading light. 

 

“You want to help people, and I get that. I’m not trying to stop you. But why not take all the help you can get? I mean, two Immunes are better than one, right?”

 

Newt sighed. He reached up to take the edges of Thomas’s shirt in his hands.

 

Thomas took it as his cue to come forward the rest of the way, settling his forehead against Newt’s and breathing slowly, relishing the warmth and the newly-familiar feeling of being this close to him again, taking him in.

 

“Newt,” he said quietly, “look. You saved Rosalyn with – because of my blood right? What if mine would work too?  If you can’t stay here, knowing that there’s something you could be doing then… How can I?” Thomas gave a cajoling little nudge at Newt’s hips. “You’re not asking for anything. I am. Let me come with you. Let me help.”

 

“Tommy…” Newt shook his head so his forehead rocked against Thomas’s and when he spoke, his voice was pained. “Please don’t…”

 

“Don’t what?” Thomas asked seriously, pulling back to look into those dark, glittering eyes. “Do something we might not be able to undo? Raise your expectations, make you promises?”

 

Thomas watched Newt’s lips thin out and his eyes narrow slightly despite their sparkle of emotion, at having his own words of that morning pushed back at him. He would need to tread lightly.

 

Thomas dug for a smile.

 

“It’s too late for that, remember?” One intelligent bronze brow arced suspiciously, but Thomas pressed on. “You started it.” He brought one hand up to reach for Newt’s and bring it up between them, making a fist and curling their pinkies together in an echo of the night before. “No more silly buggers.”

 

The laugh Newt gave was tight and throaty, and the gleam in his eye was no longer in doubt, as he freed his hand to push the heel into the corner of it and gave an unabashed sniff.

 

“I remember you were under strict instruction never to copy my accent again,” he remarked, letting go of Thomas’s shirt to give him a surprising little two-handed shove backward before putting his tongue into his cheek and winding his arms around his neck instead.

 

“Told you I’d probably end up needing punishment,” Thomas answered, trying not to grin too hard as he let his hands find Newt’s hips again and yank them forward back up against his own.

 

“Careful,” Newt replied, leaning back a little. “You’re a bit of a glutton for it.”  He moved to settle his hands on either side of Thomas’s neck, thumbs settling gently against his cheeks.

 

“I mean, this is serious, Tommy.” Newt sighed. Thomas watched his eyes move over his features like he was committing them to memory, thumbs mapping the rise of his cheekbones with an intention that was starting to feel distressingly like some sort of farewell. “I can’t ask you to do this, to leave. This is your home.”

 

So they were going to do this. Thomas could feel his expression move into a frown. He tried to keep the stubbornness out of it, absolutely sure he was failing.

 

This wasn’t one of those times where Newt wasn’t ready to tell him something, and Thomas could just wait for him to come around, wait for Newt to come to him. This was Newt laying everything out, telling him right here and now, that he had already made his mind up. And that he had made it up to go alone.

 

 “No,” Thomas told him flatly. “Not without you it wasn’t.”

 

He heard Newt take a sharp-sounding breath, but he wasn’t going to be interrupted, not with this. Newt had to get this, had to understand.

 

“I’m serious too,” he said. “If you think you’d be doing me any favours, leaving me behind here, then you don’t have any idea what I’ve been like, just trying to get through every day here without you.” Thomas stopped, to swallow thickly. “I was a mess, ask anyone – Minho, or Brenda. Hell, ask Gally and Aris. …It wasn’t great.”

 

“Tommy…” Newt’s brows were furrowed and that pained sound came back to his voice.

 

“No.” Thomas shook his head, not sure how he kept on screwing this up, but not all that surprised. As usual his words didn’t seem to be the right ones. Because he knew that look. Newt was concerned, worried about him and the past two years now, when Thomas wasn’t even the point. And neither was the past.

 

“No, I mean, you already knew this, right?” Thomas asked, ignoring the way his throat tightened and the tension in his gut twisted a little tighter. It was too important not to be said. “Since the day I ran into the maze?”

 

He took one hand off Newt’s hip long enough to reach up and pull the necklace out from under his shirt, laying it out in the open, on top of all the layers for Newt to see.

 

“If you’ve really known all this time that I was your future… then I don’t know why you’re surprised,” Thomas vowed, giving up his hold on Newt’s hips to wrap his arms around them instead. “You’re stuck with me.”

 

One hand came away from his cheek, and holding him this close, Thomas could feel Newt’s breath go shallow, as his fingers moved to the small tube of metal around his neck, remembering the words within. 

 

Newt shook his head. His mouth opened, and Thomas knew he had to keep talking. Newt had already ‘Thomas’ed him once, he couldn’t risk the levels of stubbornness this conversation might reach if he made him say it again.

 

“And probably the rest of us too,” he added quickly. “If you think Minho and Brenda are going to stay home while we sail around like pirates, fighting off Cranks…”

 

Eventually Newt was going to have to understand. He would be lying if he said he hadn’t expected at least a little resistance, but this wasn’t really up for discussion. The day Newt had set foot on this beach and Thomas had got him back, he had wrapped his arms around these trembling shoulders and sworn to himself nothing would ever harm Newt the way he had been hurt already again, not while Thomas had breath in him. And nothing had changed.

 

He would sure as hell personally see to it. Maybe not even alone.

 

“Jesus, you should have seen Jorge and Brenda the day you got here and Vince thought it was some kind of invasion – practically vibrating with excitement that something was actually happening around here.”

 

That worked. The glitter in Newt’s eyes took on a shade of fond humour, and that, Thomas could work with. He looked down at where Newt’s fingers were still toying with the cord at his neck, and pressed his advantage – sure he would be able now to make his point. Despite the strange, jittery feeling still twisting in his stomach.

 

“You said you would follow me anywhere,” he said slowly, and only a little huskily. “And you did.” Newt’s hair had fallen into his face again. Thomas brought his hand up, pleased to find it didn’t shake, as one finger combed the errant strands gently away from Newt’s eyes so he could look into them. “And then you came back from the fucking dead and did it again.”

 

The laugh Newt gave was small and shaky, and his eyes were just as full now of barely held emotion as Thomas was feeling himself.

 

“Okay fine so you were probably looking for Minho when you did it, but—” Thomas broke off, keeping his shrug small enough not to dislodge Newt’s hands where they had settled again, thumbs stroking over his cheeks, fingers curled around his nape. “…It’s my turn.”

 

“Tommy…” Newt protested weakly.

 

“You said it yourself,” he went on, roughening voice and the sweat he could feel just starting on his palms be damned. “You didn’t come here counting on Paradise, looking for this place. It’s not about a place. It was the people who felt like home to you—”

 

“Tommy,” Newt’s voice was just a hoarse whisper now, but Thomas had a feeling it meant he was finally on the right track. “…Stop.”

 

He was shaking his head again, thumbs stroking softly over and over his cheeks and the tears had sprung back into his eyes. But Thomas couldn’t stop now, not before he said it.

 

“The people you love.”

 

“Jesus,” Newt cursed brokenly, and the fingers behind Thomas’s nape all thrust bluntly upward at once into the short hair at the back of his neck, holding him in place as Newt came forward and brought their lips together. Hard.

 

It wasn’t like any of their kisses Thomas could remember before – a long, emphatic press of Newt’s mouth against his own that stayed chaste the whole length of it – but hard, and insisting. Even as the hands at the back of his neck gentled their touch, petting over and over his nape while Newt kept their lips smashed firmly together, like it was meant to communicate something, more than it was to meant to excite.

 

It got to him anyway. The intense, unidentifiable emotion in it, the fraught, pent-up sense coming off of Newt like waves, despite the hands gentling over his nape in an obvious attempt to grapple desperately for some sort of calm.

 

But fuck, Thomas didn’t feel calm, not in the least.

 

It had been too much. Too much to process. All of Newt’s trials, the mystery of the goddamned vial, the cure.

 

And the tension, of not being able to touch – not all afternoon while Newt threw himself, so inexplicably at the time, into his work. Not being allowed to hold onto him, to offer comfort or feel the reassurance of his pulse under his fingertips, while he told Thomas things that made his hair stand up and his chest ache and his heart squeeze itself tight like it was holding itself together – hanging on to each of Newt’s next words because if he let go it would start to break. 

 

And now, to have Newt back in his arms, so close, and warm and intoxicating as he always was – but all of it spiked with bittersweet – all broken, roughly catching breaths and stroking hands. Smoothing over his skin, and over and over again, maddeningly soothing and stirring him up all at once.

 

And still, impossibly stubbornly still feeling like they were doing their damnedest to find the strength to tell him goodbye.

 

But Thomas’s hands were moving too, fumbling at Newt’s waist where they had been sitting quiescent until a moment ago. They burrowed clumsily up under the hem of his shirt now – only just grazing the breath-stealingly tempting heat of his skin in favour of finding the waistband of his trousers, fingers curling and hooking in tight. Desperate and needy and not caring if Newt got the message that at this point Thomas was just basically clinging.

 

Let him. Because this was it, really, what Thomas had been trying, several times now, to make him understand. The reality of it was, now that Thomas had him here, he wasn’t about to let him go.

 

Not out of his arms, not off this Island. Not without him.

 

Thomas gave up on words and pressed forward, letting the already too-hard pressure of the kiss go bruising.

 

Newt gave a sharp inhale of reaction through his nose like the movement came as a surprise, while the fingers in the back of Thomas’s hair dug in and curled, making an immediate fist as if it were also exactly what he had been expecting.

 

The bristling, tingling tug at the back of his hair twisted tight, sending shots of lightning-white sensation arcing down his spine, and keeping him still as Newt moved slightly, angling down to take his lip in between his teeth. Not as hard as the kiss, but not gently either, closing just tightly enough to draw a breathy little gasp and start a heated rushing sensation bubbling in his chest.

 

Newt’s lips closed then too, nursing over the little offense for a moment that actually felt much more savoring than apologetic, before drawing slowly, agonizingly back, to release his rapidly swelling mouthful with a slick little smack.

 

Thomas made to chase after the loss of Newt’s mouth against his, and this time, it was definitely the move Newt had been expecting, because the grip on his hair stayed unyieldingly tight and Newt tipped forward again, butting their foreheads together for good measure.

 

“…It’s gonna be dangerous.”

 

The words came out low, and breathless. The first response he had gotten out of Newt so far that wasn’t flat out ignoring what Thomas was telling him, or just refusing it altogether. And probably the most honest reason he had heard yet, as to why.

 

But it wasn’t ‘yes’ either.

 

“Fuck yeah, it is,” Thomas agreed grittily. “And what the hell else is new?”

 

Newt gave a little exhalation Thomas couldn’t be sure was a laugh. But his hand flattened out, smoothing down the nape of his neck again, and he drew back, straightening up to fix him with those piercing eyes.

 

The fingers still digging into Newt’s waistband stiffened, holding tight just in case he decided to pull away any further. “All the more reason I’m not letting you go alone.”

 

If Newt took exception to the growl in his tone, Thomas didn’t see it. He wasn’t looking at him anymore.

 

His gaze was turned downward, looking down at where one hand had come away from Thomas’s neck to take a hold of his beltline to match the way Thomas was still holding him, like he was just as worried Thomas might suddenly try to move, to leave him.

 

Newt was quiet.

 

And Thomas recognized, left alone in the falling dark of the approaching evening with only the sound of the nearby waves and his heart thudding in his ears, that now – now, when the stony stubbornness and self-sacrificing resolve had left Newt for whatever this was, this heated new emotion that seemed to have him teetering on the knife-edge of his famed self-control – now was the moment to stop arguing. To give Newt his time and let him come back to him.

 

So, with his breath held, and his lower lip still tingling hotly with the memory of Newt’s hard kiss against it, Thomas waited.

 

“I lost you once already.” The words were quiet and distant and wooden-sounding. And Thomas hadn’t been prepared for them at all.

 

“No. Not once,” Newt corrected himself, hollowly. “Hundreds of times. …Hundreds.”

 

 

Crashing.

 

 

It was the only way Thomas could have thought to describe it, the feeling all around him – and inside – rushing in his ears and blaring in his head and a shattering, slamming, broken feeling in his chest.

 

“Newt—” but when he tried to say it, the breath he had been holding seemed to outright disappear on him.

 

It didn’t matter though, because Newt was moving, stepping forward and pulling at him with the hand on his belt and the one at his nape, and taking his mouth with his own in a series of those hard, pressing, emphatic kisses.

 

“I know,” Thomas muttered against his mouth, as soon as Newt would let him, into his ear, his hair, the crook of his neck where it disappeared into the collar of his shirt. “I know, I know.”

 

Because he did, Thomas did know. Or at least he knew one hundredth of it, and it was more than enough.

 

And he knew now, what it was he needed to say.

 

But not just yet.

 

First, more waiting, while Newt pressed their mouths together again, and then again, and a few more times. Until he was calmer, dropping his head to Thomas’s shoulder and letting his hand pet over and over the back of his hair – just as much to soothe himself, Thomas knew, as it was for him.

 

“Say it.” Newt’s voice was muffled against the shoulder of his shirt, but Thomas was sure those had been the words.

 

“You’re doing it again, Tommy,” he mumbled, turning his face into the hollow of his neck. “Your bloody buggering little waiting game. But I know you, and I know you haven’t bloody well finished with me, so whatever you’re waiting to say…”

 

When Thomas didn’t answer right away, those fingers behind his head made a fist in his hair again, and Newt picked his head up to look him in the eye.


The look there was still glittering and hard, but there was an edge of a smirk now.

 

“I, just—” And Thomas felt himself returning the half-smile a little as Newt’s eyebrow quirked and there was a short but very definite tug from the fingers in his hair. He ran his hands soothingly up Newt’s back a little bit anyway.

 

“Do me a favour for a second and imagine it the other way around,” he murmured.  “…Imagine it was me.”

 

“Oh, you bastard…”

 

The kiss this time was just as hard, but not closed off and chaste, not this time. There was tongue, and teeth, and they didn’t stay put either, as Newt tipped his head to mouth and nip his way down Thomas’s chin, over the line of his jaw and down the side of his neck.

 

“That a yes?” Thomas panted, as Newt came back to him for another forceful kiss, which Thomas happily gave him, even as he reached for Newt’s wrist to pull it up in between them.

 

“You won’t be a twat about it?” He asked, grinning into the kiss and pressing the back of his fist to Newt’s, offering up his pinky again. “You won’t go anywhere without me?”

 

“That’s a shut-the-soddin’-hell-up-and-kiss-me,” Newt answered him, curling their fingers around each other forcibly enough to thrust their linked fists into Thomas’s chest as he came forward again. “You wanker, you know what it means,” Newt concluded, the fondness and sharpness of the sarcasm mixing in his voice so familiar, and so Newt, that it went straight into him – setting a flush in his cheeks and shortening his breath and making him as giddy and impatient as Newt always did.  

 

“Nowhere without me,” Thomas muttered, yanking Newt up against him and drawing a helpless little half-gasp out of him between rough, heated kisses. “You’re my home, Newt. You.”

 

It was different, and strange, but not what Thomas would call bad, these hard, passionate kisses. Making his head start to ring and his fingers curl into tight, needy little fists here and there in the fabric of Newt’s clothes, and punctuated with nips of Newt’s teeth, and little shoves at his chest. By the time Newt had him backed up nearly right up against the bunk, he could feel the urgent new buzzing, ringing sensation flooding his veins, spreading out to pretty much everywhere.

 

But he also felt something else. A wetness on his cheeks, making him pause, and pull back.

 

“Hey,” Thomas said, albeit a little breathlessly. He put his hands up to catch Newt’s face before he could come forward again, smearing the tears gently away with his thumbs. “Hey… hey. You alright?”

 

Newt nodded tearfully between his hands. “Will be,” he muttered. “Just as soon as you decide to shut up bloody making me cry so I can fuck you properly.”

 

OH. Whoa.

 

And Newt didn’t need to give him that last shove down onto the bunk’s mattress, Thomas dropped right down onto his ass all on his own.

 

Then he waited for it, the next kiss, but Newt just stood over him, smirking wetly down at him with a brow raised and his hair falling into his face again as he shook his head fondly.

 

Waiting, as usual, for Thomas to give him his answer.

 

So Thomas reached for his face again, brushing away the stray strands, then the last of the lingering tears, and pulled him close.

 

“Fuck yes,” he said, against that gorgeous, teasing, sweetly dirty, commanding mouth.

 

And a little while later – but only a little one – before the heady, ringing buzz in his head and the hot tingle and burn in his skin could make him too dizzy to remember, Thomas broke off the kiss.

 

“So,” he gasped, “guess that boyfriend thing’s pretty settled then, huh?”

 

Newt scoffed a little laugh into his next bruising kiss, not even pausing for breath as he was climbing into Thomas’s lap, long legs straddling him with a knee planted into the bunk’s mattress on either side of him.

 

“Tommy,” Newt replied, his voice gone rough and thick, and sexy as all fuck, if the answering throb in a very telling place were any indication. “You make a hell of an argument, I’ll give you that,” he mumbled urgently, shoving the flannel shirt back and off his shoulders and dragging his mouth up the side of his exposed neck before bringing it back to capture Thomas’s own.

 

But his hand was moving too, sliding all the way down the length of Thomas’s arm, from shoulder to wrist, to find his littlest finger and curl his own tightly around it.

 

So much for not making promises.

 

“…But you really, really need to learn when to shut the bloody hell up. “

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Out late again, young man.” Minho’s voice was thick and smug, curling over his shoulder through the hush of muted rustlings and quiet sleep sounds that blanketed the sleeping quarters at night. “Your father and I were worried sick.”

 

It was too dark to see it, but Thomas knew Minho was smirking appreciatively as Gally obliged this from the next hammock over with a well-timed snore.

 

“I’d ask where you’ve been but there’s only two possible answers, and I don’t actually want to know whether it was under a certain leggy blond, or on top of him.”

 

Thomas kept his back turned, focusing on removing his boots as an excuse to hide his private little smile and elated flush.

 

He tugged a lace confidently, considering whether or not to answer that it had been both...

___

 

 

“What’s wrong? Got what you wanted, haven’t you? Your incredibly bossy boyfriend?”

 

Thomas struggles again, knowing it’s useless, giving an only slightly fretful-sounding laugh into yet another nipping, goading kiss. Newt has him and he knows it, seated imperiously over his lap, knees planted far enough up on either side of his hips to pin the now tightly twisted folds of the flannel still tangled around his wrists effectively and immovably to the mattress of the bunk.

 

All the better to hold him helpless, while Newt has his mouth and both hands free to run wherever he wants them – lips over his own, now brushing and caressing, then pressing and pulling. Only to come over all quick nips and light pecks, in a teasing, tormenting pattern that would be cruel if it weren’t simultaneously so hotly sweet, and breathlessly enthralled – moving by affectionate, impassioned turns down over his throat and back up, to taste and taunt and explore.

 

Newt’s hands rove freely as well, reaching behind himself to drag them heatedly up the sides of his thighs, trailing ticklishly over the bared, lightly furred length of his forearms, or up under his shirt – fingers that press fervently into his abs, palms that slide around and back, moving exploratively up the columns of muscle either side of his spine to bring fingernails to centre there, rasping and dragging a razors-edge line of sensation all down the long, narrow path of the groove in between.

 

It’s those hips though, that make it unbearable – pressing down in sets of inciting, kindling, rutting strokes that get a little more heated, go on just a little longer, each and every time. But then it always ends up the same, as Newt settles back, straightening and bringing his mouth up to hover agonizingly over Thomas’s own for just a moment before coming down to start the whole tantalizing, tasting, tongue-stroking process all over again.

 

“I like bossy you,” Thomas gasps, swallowing thickly to take back some control of his voice. “Bossy you is a lot of fun,” he says, roughly. “But now I want the real you.”

 

Newt goes still, angling his head up to look at him.

 

Thomas watches the expression in his eyes, mild surprise and gentle amusement and something else, something softer, that threatens to take over, but his eyes close before Thomas can see it. His hips come up then, regrettably cutting off all contact for the moment, but his forehead comes down to align with Thomas’s own, nuzzling their faces together from hairline’s edge to the tip of the nose. Newt leans gently back, winding his arms around Thomas’s neck and bringing his weight freeingly up off the ridiculous, restraining flannel.

 

“Take me, then,” Newt says.

 

Thomas doesn’t need telling twice.

 

He is out of the flannel within seconds, tossing it aside and working on Newt’s shirt next – slim-muscled arms leaving his shoulders just long enough to let Thomas tug it up and off over his head.

 

He marvels at it again, the masterful, wordless parlay in the way Newt moves, the knowing way he always seems to be ready for him, anticipating his next step just before he makes it. Because those arms come down tight around his neck, long legs wrap around him, strong and snug and sure, and Newt's laughter is like music in his ears as Thomas stands.

 

He stares a moment, holding Newt up against the backdrop of the emerging stars just long enough for another breathless, nipping kiss before he turns back, a bundle of nerves and fizzing, sparking anticipation, to lay his lover out under him on the narrow mattress of the bunk.

 

___

 

Forever.

If whatever powers the universe holds
could ever conspire to let him spend it here,
he would swear on every last one of them this very bloody moment,
that he would.

Willingly captive; never wanting, nor straying.
Marooned contentedly here ever after.

Here with the living sea below him,
making them a gift of its lulling drift and rock.
Its eternal melody charmed by the spell of the company he keeps, tonight,
to an endless celestial serenade.

Above them, the awakening eye of Venus of course –
enthroned in her robes of firmament, midnight and plum.
Riding atop the last fiery glow of day dying into the horizon,
its fleeting funeral pyre a slowly waning glow of flame orange and misted rose.

And in between? Paradise.

The very name of it on his lips,
echoing in his every breath and written out in the rare,
staccato doves-wing flutter marking the beating of his heart.

Heaven and ecstasy, rapture and oblivion.

Tommy.

 

___

 

“Don’t move— I said DON’T. Move.

 

Even if his only movement was a grin, and maybe, ever so slightly, to tip his chin upward in pursuit of one more kiss – even if the threat is no more than a playful gleam in Newt’s evening star-lit eyes… Even while it’s ridiculous, and laid on thick, the grit in Newt’s tone makes his skin prickle tight with all the thwarted longing and anticipation that’s intended all the same.

 

“You’re perfect like this,” Newt vows, still low and serious, turning his head a moment to nuzzle over the soft, prone skin at the inside of Thomas’s wrist.

 

He has tried already, more than the once, to struggle loose, but though he is the stronger, Thomas can’t exactly say he’s sorry – or all that surprised – to find himself pinned again. Newt has the leverage, and apparently the knowledge of how to use it, keeping both his wrists firmly down on either side of his head with only the barest effort.

 

“Do you have any idea how much I love this mouth?” Newt fumes. The tight, fraught tone of his voice sounds almost annoyed, even as he bends his head to love it accordingly. “These perfect knife-blade edges,” he complains, running his teeth tantalizingly along the one at the bottom of his lower lip to demonstrate. “And yet the sweet, plump curves,” he goes on, as those teeth sink firmly enough into one to earn a little huff of protest. “How can you have it both ways? It’s so unfair,” Newt grouses, running the barest tip of his tongue in an ironic, tickling line over the top lip this time and making him groan. “…This perfect, pouty little cupid’s bow you’ve been given, and the things it does to me.”  

 

Oh hell, it is doing things to Thomas too. Things that start in his chest but push down lower, tightening and winding into a fluttering, pulsing urgency in his gut, and then lower still – growing and building and bubbling in a threat to just up and boil over. It is almost involuntary – almost – the groaning grin and roll of his hips that make Newt’s eyes roll back and his teeth dig in in a way Thomas may never get tired of.

 

“Well if you’re going to move like THAT.”

 

And just like that, all it takes is another grind upward, another low moan out of Newt’s throat, as the grip on his arms goes weak and Thomas is free. Free to run his hands over unendingly smooth acres of shuddering, creamy white skin, gooseflesh pebbling under his fingers.

 

Thomas rises to sitting, hands roaming and stroking and lips swallowing breathy little gasps and moans. Enjoying the feel of it so much he pauses there a while to take it in, Newt’s reactions to him. The way Thomas's fingers moving up the line of his spine make him shiver, how a rain of ecstatic, slightly-open kisses over his collar bone brings his fingers up into Thomas’s hair. And last but not least, what happens when Thomas pulls him close enough to whisper to him in his ear, quiet truths, fragmented little secrets – of the way Newt glows for him, brighter than the stars. The devastating way he tastes.

 

And while he is there Thomas can nuzzle softly at the delicate shell of that ear, graze his teeth along the line of its rim, and keep his laugh quiet and fond when it makes Newt groan and hiss and curse. He can tease his tongue around the curve of its edge, ending by taking the lobe in between his lips to suck gently and, finally, bite down.

 

Newt’s hips buck helplessly into him and the noise he makes is fucking cataclysmic. Thomas pulls back for breath, looking him over again a last time. And then he is shifting, nudging until Newt lets him bring his legs out from under them so he can tip forward – cradling hands going behind Newt’s back to lay him down, spread him out. Bring his mouth down to all that waiting skin and make joy-stricken, worshipful love to it as the tide gently rocks them, until Thomas has him panting and arched like living marble into his touch.

 

Gorgeous and gleaming and tables finally, firmly, deliciously turned.

 

___

 

He hasn’t readied himself,
having kept ever vigilantly distant.
Heart a stony-walled barricade,
safely closed to hope.
Knowing always
that he hasn’t steel enough within him to withstand.

Caramel-honey brown eyes,
tinted by moonlight to pools of silver and deep russet.
These hands, rough with work and scarred with battle,
now gentle in their questing trails over his skin.
Sweet to an aching, exquisite fault.

This will be his breaking, his reckoning, surely.

 

___

 

 

“Get up. Get out of this bed, and out of those clothes.”

 

Thomas is reeling, high as a kite off the taste of Newt’s skin, and the electricity in his touch. Made dizzy and buzzing and weak with the snapping, sizzling magic that pulses through him every time their bodies move against one another.

 

But now Newt is moving away, struggling up and out of his arms and leaving the bed, seemingly to bend over a box at the edge of the raft and rummage feverishly through it.

 

“…Newt? Where— ? What are y—”

 

“So many questions, far too shuck many clothes.”

 

Newt straightens up, giving up on the box with a toss of his head to flick the fallen strands of his hair out of his eyes, so he can raise an expectant brow at him.

 

Thomas sits up, more than willing to comply, hand already moving to the closure of his pants as he moves hastily to the edge of the bed. But Newt stops him with the toe of his shoe bumping barringly up against his own. “Shoes first.”

 

Of course. Thomas wonders briefly if anyone but Newt could get him into such a state he forgets how to undress himself – quickly banishing the musing thought of how many times Newt may have managed to do it to somebody else. He isn’t neat about it, overexcited fingers tangling in the laces and heels hurriedly kicking both boots off into a haphazard tumble, thumping melodically against Lizzy’s drum-skin floor.

 

He stands then, coming forward just as Newt backs away, stepping tidily out of his own shoes with a toe to each heel, one after the other.

 

Thomas isn’t sure what makes him do it – Newt has seen everything already today – but he turns his back a little, gathering up his boots and moving to place them neatly by the foot of the bunk as his excuse. He can hear Newt start rummaging through the toolbox again behind him.

 

He tries to move quickly, before the heady charge humming all through him has a chance to turn nervous. Even so, his fingers move clumsily, and he has to pause for a steadying breath once he has everything off and laid more or less neatly on top of his carefully stowed boots.

 

And Thomas turns, his gaze feeling strangely heavy, wanting to fall down to the region of his freshly bare toes. But when he finally drags it upward to meet Newt’s the look he sees there makes his legs threaten to turn to jelly.

 

Newt is standing stock still in the centre of the raft, bathed in moonlight – golden hair painted silver in its slanting beams, the planes of his shirtless frame glowing like pearl. His lips softly parted and eyes raking over him with a lightning-jolt intensity Thomas can feel go right through him.

 

He appears to have found what he was after in the boxes, one hand holding what looks like a bottle of something while the other sits immobile at the top button of his pants, arrested in mid task.

 

“Turn again for me,” Newt says, his voice like honey and granite.

 

Thomas hesitates, unsure and… naked. And frankly confused. It seems unlike Newt to be suddenly shy, and he still hasn’t told him what the bottle that was apparently important enough to drag him away from what they were doing is for. Besides, when his hand falls away to show he has already managed his trouser button one-handed, the way the top of the zip starts to peel open, revealing a smooth ‘V’ of pale moonlit skin, serves him a powerful distraction.

Thomas swallows, and obeys. He can hear Newt stepping closer as he moves, turning slowly back around. The feeling of Newt’s hand landing at the back of his neck stops him just as he is coming around to face the bunk, thumb and fingertips pressing haltingly in on either side, and Thomas goes still.

 

Newt’s hand leaves his skin, the cool of the night that much more noticeable a moment for the missing warmth, but Thomas can feel him already moving closer. The sound of Newt’s shoes joining his in the corner nearly makes him turn back but there are fingertips against his skin again – just a ghost of a touch this time, moving from the base of his nape along the ridge of his shoulder – and Thomas stops, held in place by the sudden attention, the way it surprises him coming up behind him out of the dark.

 

Then Newt lets out a breath, and Thomas freezes outright. It’s hot on his neck, gusting down the side and the top few notches of his spine and raising every tiny hair in its wake in an aggressive rash of goosebumps. Newt is right there, right up close behind him, and every inch of Thomas’s newly exposed skin suddenly comes alive, nerves crackling and reaching out, trying to feel all the places Newt’s body must be just missing his by mere fractions.

 

“You’re beautiful, Tommy.”

 

The words come out right into the crook of his neck. Still mostly just an overwrought breath, but he can feel Newt’s lips now, skimming his skin with every movement.

 

“Every angle of you,” Newt whispers hotly into his nape. “The line…” he murmurs, trailing a hand down the slanted incline of his flank, down to his waist and lower, fingers curling in to let the edge of his nails glide in a tortuously ticklish arc over the rounded slope of his ass, “and curve.”

 

The heat of his blush fairly explodes up the sides of his neck and into his cheeks, and Thomas lets loose an unabashed shudder, letting Newt feel his effect on him. A minute little sound of appreciation humming into his shoulder makes up his reward.

 

Thomas can hear him moving again, can feel it even, in the very way his movements disturb the evening air over his ultra-sensitized skin at this tiny distance. There’s a soft sound like fabric rustling, like Newt might now be completely undressed behind him. He moves to turn, but Newt’s hand snakes in under his arm, holding out the little bottle from earlier.

 

“For you.”

 

“What—”

 

“Just some oil, from the kitchen,” Newt reassures him, as he takes the bottle tentatively in hand – then promptly has to struggle not to drop it when he feels Newt mouthing hungrily at the back of his neck. “Almond, I think? Frypan gave it to me – a lot of my tools were full of sand. But it’ll do for you too… if you want.”

 

Free of the bottle, Newt’s hand settles on his stomach, while the other comes sliding up over his shoulder to curl around the side of his neck, holding him in place as Newt's mouth moves up the other side in a zigzagging trail of burning kisses.

 

And then, Thomas gasps. And the placement of Newt’s hands seems suddenly so much more steadying and purposeful, as if Newt were expecting to have to use them, like in case Thomas’s knees decided to buckle, or maybe for him to outright bolt.

 

Because all the places Newt’s body wasn’t touching his before are now. All the places. Newt’s warm palm is sliding proprietarily over his stomach, his chest presses electrically up against Thomas’s shoulder blades, and, and and. The hot, hard length of his cock lays itself into the cleft between his ass cheeks.

 

Oh holy holy holy God – but all that comes out is “mmmm.”

 

“Do you want it Tommy?” The hand at his neck moves, curling warmly forward around his throat, urging him gently backward. “Do you want this?”

 

He tries to nod but Newt’s thumb nudging under his chin stops him. Thomas tips his head back and leans into him. “…Yes.”

 

“Sure?” Newt puts a kiss on the side of his neck and his dick pokes into the small of his back. He can feel the slick smudge of pre-cum, for hot, holy fucking fuck’s sake. Jesus.

 

For a second Thomas is afraid that when he opens his mouth again only another tormented moan will come out of it, but he manages it:

 

“Please.”

 

Newt makes an approving humming sound, having heard what he wanted, and releases him.

 

“Put that where you want it then,” he says, and for a moment the chill of the night air rushing unwelcome in between them takes him too much by surprise to process the words.

 

“Wh— I…” But the sound of Newt’s incredulous chuckle saves him from having to say anything like ‘I thought that was your job’.

 

“The bottle, Tommy, you bloody great ninny.” Thomas can feel a little renewed flush in his cheeks at the gaffe, but he’s free now, to turn, and by the time he does, he is grinning wide. “I meant by the bed or… somewhere we can reach it for when it’s time.”

 

Thomas tosses the bottle back over his shoulder onto the bunk, letting his grin go predatory as he turns all the way around to take Newt in. “It’s not time right now?”

 

Newt steps back, and for a second Thomas is grateful. The view is astounding. If he had thought it had been something before, to see Newt standing half-clothed in the starlight, the picture he makes now is quite literally breathtaking. He is all stark, slim lines and luminous opal skin, and every inch of him is jaw-dropping – the long lean legs lightly covered with curling golden hair, even the striking, admittedly intimidating, jut of his erection standing straight up in the air – as long and slim and impressive as the rest of him. 

 

And for a moment Thomas is struck with the sudden, idiotic fear that the sight will ruin him, blind him and break him irreparably so that he will never be able to look at anybody else and find them attractive again.

 

But as he is shaking off the thought, something takes his notice. Newt’s hand. Curling spastically into a fist and back open again.

 

“Newt?” Thomas steps gingerly forward, and Newt swallows hard, looking distinctly like it’s an effort not to move backward as he does.

 

“Tommy…” Newt breathes, his dark eyes flickering as they move over him, taking him in the way Thomas had just done, but when those eyes come up to meet his, they are wide and, Thomas thinks, on the very brink of panic.

 

Thomas steps forward again and Newt welcomes it this time, reaching out for him before Thomas has to, taking both his wrists in his hands to draw him close as his eyes fall closed. Both his hands are trembling.

 

Thomas stands helpless for a reeling second, not sure where to touch him. He is used to having clothing to tug and pull Newt to him with. He opts for a hand on the bare, finely-boned shoulder, fingers landing to trace along his clavicle before his palm sets down. Newt shudders, but his eyes open up again.

 

“You’re shaking,” Thomas says, unnecessarily.

 

“Tommy, just…” his lips are trembling too. At least Thomas has an idea what he can do about that. He lets his fingers come up to brush over them, asking, as he closes the distance between them, skin heatedly meeting skin.

 

“Just tell me that you’re real,” Newt exhales, lunging forward and bringing his hands up to plunge his fingers deep into Thomas’s hair.

The kiss is fervent but soft, and still a little shaky where Thomas can feel it under the finger still lingering at the corner of where their mouths meet.

 

“I’m real, Newt,” he murmurs breathlessly into the kiss, as soon as Newt will allow it. “I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Newt moans, tipping to the side and letting him deepen the kiss, opening needily to take Thomas’s tongue, and Thomas obliges, holding him close and licking gently into him until the worrying shudders subside. Newt sighs when they break apart, turning his mouth a little toward where Thomas’s still-hovering finger sits, and takes that in too.

 

It’s hot and moist and very, very distracting. Thomas settles their foreheads together, and waits for him to release it, drawing it out when he does with a slick little pop.

 

“Sorry,” Newt apologizes quietly, but Thomas just shakes his head as best he can without dislodging it from resting against Newt’s.

 

“Don’t be,” he says softly, taking the opportunity to run his hand in a warm, soothing path up Newt’s back and back down. He stops respectfully at his hip, despite temptation, where the line of his waistband would normally be.

 

Newt shudders anyway.

 

“Back to bed then?”

 

“Are you kidding?” Thomas asks, picking his head up to give him a look that is meant to be flirty and sensual, but probably just comes off dorky and overly eager, before pulling back a little to give him a good once-over. “I just finally got you naked.”

 

Newt laughs, so dorky and eager apparently work just as well anyway.

 

“Mmmm. Likewise,” he purrs, giving a little tug where his fingers are still buried in Thomas’s hair, probably meant to urge him back toward the bunk.

 

But there is something still unsettled in the air. Newt’s arms still hold a disquieting tension where they rest against his shoulders. And Newt showed Thomas something today that makes it absolutely impossible to stay tense – in fact it’s pretty damn difficult just to stay upright.

 

“Compromise,” Thomas suggests, leaning in and tipping his head to put his mouth against Newt’s neck, nuzzling up into the silky-soft skin just under his ear that he loves. “I blow you first, you fuck me after.”

 

Newt’s crack of laughter is cut off by the sharp breath in he takes, when Thomas angles up to nip and suckle beseechingly at the lobe of his ear. “I think you’re – oh, bloody mmmh – gravely overestimating my – bastard – recovery time.”

 

“Well I don’t know about you, but I’ve got all night,” Thomas says, low, in his ear. He takes Newt’s answering moan as a good sign. “C’mon,” he begs, into a wet little line of kisses down his neck. “Just a little? You already got to do me, and I’m dying to know what you taste like …everywhere.”


Thomas ducks down, running his mouth along the line of his collar bone. He brings his hand up at the same time, traveling up Newt’s side to take a teasing page out of his book from earlier that morning and let it stop warmly just under the nipple, where his thumb can brush the flat curve of the muscle there instead. “Please?”

 

Newt groans, and there are fingers in his hair again, making a tight little fist. “Well, with manners like that…” They give a distinctly downward tug.

 

Thomas happily takes his cue, bending to put a few more open, sipping, tasting kisses to that skin he’s not unreasonably worried he just might be starting an addiction to, before going enthusiastically to his knees.

 

“Remind me how this works?” he breathes, over the smooth arc of flesh just under Newt’s navel, nuzzling downward for a rousing little kiss. “You put your hands behind your back, and I tease you like some kind of power-mad control freak, til you can’t fucking see straight,” he finishes, leaning in to put some teeth into what he is doing, flick his tongue once or twice. “That about right?”

 

Newt laughs again, a good sign and a gorgeous sound both, and the hand in his hair is joined by a second. “Not a chance, Greenie. Somebody’s got to make sure you don’t gag yourself to death and – ah! bugger – “ he groans, off another voracious little nibble, “speaking of those teeth…”

 

“No teeth,” Thomas notes, completely failing at following through on his threats of torture and running his hand brazenly up Newt’s thigh until he gets it where he has been wanting it, thumb stroking a dizzying, disbelieving line up the hot, satiny length before settling its tense, straining weight experimentally in his palm and lining himself up in front of it. His mouth literally starts to water. Huh. “Nice tip.”

 

Dick puns? Really, Thomas, your pillow talk needs— oh bloody shuck, God, shite

 

It’s cheating, probably, to pull out every trick Newt has taught him all at once, but he shouldn’t have shown him that sweet, furry little spot just behind his balls if he didn’t want him using it. And he never said fingernails weren’t allowed.

 

“It’s Tommy,” he growls, slightly tightening his grip in the one hand, and stretching the fingers of the other back for another long, provoking stroke. Slowly this time.

 

Tommy,” Newt agrees breathlessly. And he doesn’t say much else after that. Even though Thomas is the one with his mouth full.

 

He does say it an awful lot though. And of course ‘fuck’.

 

And honestly Thomas can’t really blame him because oh. My. God, he can see why Newt likes this.

 

It’s hypnotic. The way the salt-sharp tang on his tongue melts away into something subtler as he works, the low, lyrical sound of Newt’s moans, and the always-intoxicating scent of him stronger and muskier and probably drugging him a little bit stupid.

 

Thomas breathes, even though it only serves to draw Newt’s stupefying effect on him in all the more, and reminds himself to focus on the rhythmic, repetitive task of not choking – he did do it once, Newt was right  – each time his dick bumps the back of his throat. Once he figures out how to sort of forcibly relax though, the feeling of mastery is… well almost euphoric. And Jesus, Thomas thinks, it’s a marvel really – as Newt gives another groan a little longer and a little more desperate-sounding than the ones before it and he feels it as a hot, rushing blush blooming fast across his cheeks, and then down – that even with his mouth full of cock, Newt never fails to turn him into this much of a hopeless, starry-eyed, lust-stricken idiot.

 

Heck, he is reasonably sure he’s drooling. Thomas pulls back just a little, just far enough to swallow around him, and ohhhhhh the sound that it pulls out of Newt is ridiculous. It does ridiculous things. The way his heart flutters is ridiculous, and so is the hot, alert way his cock throbs alone in mid-air with nobody paying it the slightest attention.

 

Thomas fights valiantly against a proud little grin, pretty sure that would put him squarely in violation of the whole no-teeth thing, and naturally, giddily, he does it again.

 

And then it’s “Tommy” and “fuck” a whole pile more times, and to be fair, Newt really has been saying that a lot, so he really can’t be blamed when it takes an abrupt tug of suddenly-tight fingers in his hair and a sharply hissed “Tommy, stop – Christ, fuck – stopstopstop” before he does.

 

Oh man, he doesn’t want to though. Thomas chases away the thought that the whole Newt-addiction thing might actually be a legitimate worry, by snuggling forward and pressing several high spirited kisses into the warmth of Newt’s narrow thigh, before looking up at him.

 

Damn. Thomas is suddenly sorry he had gotten too focused to do it before. Newt looks – blown. His eyes are wide, so dark that if Thomas didn’t know better he would swear they were pitch black – his hair is a fucking mutiny, like maybe he has been pulling on it, and his lower lip is… well it’s abundantly clear it’s spent a lot of time between his teeth.

 

Thomas wants nothing more than to start up all over again just so he can watch this time around. But, as if he is reading his thoughts, the way Newt always seems to, a hand reaches out shakily to cup the side of his jaw, the thumb denting quellingly into his lip. Which is sort of numb and pillowy-feeling and, damn, double-damn, why is every little thing about this so stupid-scorching-hot?

 

Newt is panting. Triple damn. “You keep that up,” he says, remarkably only sounding a little bit winded, “and I won’t be able to show you what that oil is for.”

 

Then Newt laughs again, only reinforcing Thomas’s growing impression that he might actually be a mind-reader, because for a tiny split second, Thomas has to admit he’s genuinely considering it. But then Newt’s thumb moves questioningly over his tingling lip, and there’s the messy, undone way he looks

 

“Back to bed then?” he says instead.

 

“You read my bloody mind.”

 

___

 

 

And with each shudder that rocks him cruelly to his core,
each drowning, barely-caught breath.
With the shift and play of supple, resisting muscle above him;
miles of dewy, honeyed skin under his lips.

Taking him down,
piece by ragged piece,
each one as rugged cliffside rockfall in its deadly plummet for the seafloor.

Slowly,
he crumbles.

___

 

By the time Newt gets around to showing him what the oil is for, his body is like a violin string – every inch thrumming vibrantly with pleasure and giddy anticipation, and wound so tight he feels sure that he could snap.

 

It’s an honest surprise, the unexpectedly delicate shivers – the way the fingers brushing, and circling and finally, finally pressing into their goal make him tingle and gasp and moan.

 

And want.


“Steady…” Newt murmurs from where he is kneeling between Thomas’s legs, his tone low and soothing – and maybe just a hint of a warning, because there’s two fingers now – much more of an intrusion this time, and Thomas is pretty happy with the way he manages to hold back his gasp, shifting his hips down into the pressure and meeting it gamely. The concentration it takes must make him frown though, because a soft, encouraging kiss lands between his crinkled brows. “That’s it.”

 

The soft smile Newt gives him, and the admiring, hungry way the dark eyes move over him, makes him flush with pleasure – and maybe even, he can admit, a little pride – but definitely with impatience, and the thought of how Newt would feel, pressing surely and insistently into him instead of just these two hesitating fingers makes him want things he can’t quite define – craving, itching, inexplicably to move.

 

He shifts again, driving down onto Newt’s hand, aiming to take it in all the way to the knuckle, but Newt is ready for him as always, one hand stopping his hip, pressing down against the cot mattress.

 

Even so, there’s an immediate and unexpected scratchy-hot dry burn that has him taking a swift half-a-breath in, lip catching between his teeth.

 

“Shhh,” Newt soothes, the hand over his hip moving to circle strokingly over the low plane of his abdomen. ”You’re not ready, love.”

 

And Thomas flushes all over again at the words, heartrate ratcheting up several notches as the new little pet name dawns on him.

 

His mouth opens, but then he’s arching and groaning, helpless to reply, because Newt’s fingers are pulling smoothly back out, and then— Then there’s more oil, more sweetly torturous tickling, testing brushing that feels different this time around – even more sensitive if it were possible – and then that strange, plugging, filling pressure is back. Pressing and pushing slowly, so agonizingly slowly, in.  Stroking and scissoring, what feels almost too gently at first, but then twisting and – oh!

 

Everything in him feels like it pulls in together all at once, his arms struggling in under himself, and Thomas damn near almost sits up, before he remembers.

 

”What was that!?” He manages, though it’s breathless and shocked.

 

And maybe Newt’s pleased smirk should be enough of a warning for Thomas by now, but somehow nothing can ready him for what happens when Newt crooks his fingers, making an explosion of sensations run riot through him at once, in a bone-shuddering, stomach-jolting, every-nerve-firing way Thomas isn’t actually sure how he feels about.

 

But then Newt leans down to kiss him, his free hand wrapping itself around his shaft as he does, and everything goes spine-melting, brain-seizing amazing, and hot and bright and lit up inside him, and Thomas decides this feeling is one he could definitely get used to.

 

“That,” Newt says smugly against his mouth, “is a very useful spot to know. …For later.”

 

And then comes more oil, and yet another finger, and Thomas hopes this one goes faster than the last one, because if he thought the impatience was hard to rein in before, it is nothing to the new excitement and heady desire rampaging through him now. Up and down and out to his extremities and whispering fuck fuck fuck fuck, and Newt, Newt, Newt, on a desperate, rushing loop in his head.

 

“Breathe, love,” Newt croons, pairing his apparent new pet name with that infuriating, knockout smirk in a way that makes his heart race and his cock throb embarrassingly in Newt’s hand, and his skin flush mercilessly all over.

 

And Thomas does. Because he can do this. A third stretching, pressing, invading finger he can surely handle now, especially if Newt happens to let it do that thing to him a couple more times.


Which of course, infuriating, beloved, knockout smirk firmly in place, he does.

 

___

 

 

Your skin is like cream 

It isn’t until Tommy speaks – nosing shyly at the skin on the inside of his wrist,
lips dragging exploratively over the point of his trip-hammer pulse,
pressing the words into his scored and ravaged palm like the gifts that they are –
that Newt realizes they are given in answer.

How long, then, has he been doing it aloud?
Letting fall his stricken, spellbound nothings in a steady flowing stream –
breathless curses and idiotic verse
tumbling from his lips like the downing of orchard blossoms in a chill spring wind.
Muttering lovedrunk nonsense about honey,
and mapping the atlas of this new world laid out before them –
finding his way by this divine chase,
this roving, ravening hunt after the far-flung scattering of winking, beckoning little moles,
that chart his course homeward like the stars in the sky. 

Just so perfect

And he realizes at once, all in the same moment, that he doesn’t care in the least, at all, to stop.

 

___

 

 

If he had been expecting his heart to stop or the earth to move, the stars to perhaps align in the sky— well hell, maybe all of that is happening, Thomas wouldn’t know.

 

Right now there is nothing for him but this. There’s no room left in any of his senses – all raised and sharpened to a narrow, pulsing point, zeroed and closed so tightly in on this, to the centre of what they are, what they become together. There is only Newt, and the way he looks poised above him. The downward cast of dark lashes against a pale cheek, the rapt look of concentration etched across finely-wrought features as Newt positions himself and begins, carefully but firmly, to push inside.

 

Thomas breathes, making space for it – the warm, perfect way he feels settling home between his thighs like he was meant all along to fit there. The shape Thomas’s fingers make encircling his wrist – learning, at last, spelling out the code of Newt’s wordless ways, and writing their own silent language to share.

 

He can stop him, Thomas discovers, with a softly tightened grip; bring him pressing forward into him again with the barest little urging thumb-stroke over the notched bone of his wrist. And last, at very long and final last, he can sigh and let go – twining his pinky finger in around Newt’s instead, breaking that careful, concerted mask of his features into something warmer, the light in his favourite set of coal-dark eyes going more fond and more wondering, than he has ever seen.

 

“Good that, Tommy.”

 

And with the smallest motion of the littlest of his fingers, Thomas pulls Newt in.

 

There is a moment, nothing like the burn of Newt’s stretching, probing fingers, but a single sharp second – a silver knife-edge sliver of pain that sears hot and blinding for a moment, sending adrenaline racing up from the centre of where they are joined, all the way up his spine. But it’s followed immediately by a scalding, melting wash of heat that comes flowing immediately, shudderingly back down.

 

And then Newt leans down over him, and Thomas can feel the warmth of him everywhere, better than any blanket – wrapping in and around and inside, covering and enveloping and complete.

 

Newt isn’t moving yet though, head tucked down against his shoulder, and Thomas brings his arms up from where they are laid at his sides – almost as if he had forgotten he could move them – to wrap him up, hold him as close and as tightly as he can.

 

“You’re shaking again,” Thomas says, barely recognizing the quiet, wrecked sound his own voice has become. “I’m here,” he assures him hoarsely, hands moving, searching out Newt’s in the dark to push them hastily into his hair. “It’s real.”

 

“I know, Tommy,” Newt says, soft and brittle, into the curve of his neck. “I know it is.” Newt's fingers move anyway, before the rest of him does, carding needily into his hair.

 

“…That’s why.”

 

A kiss then – tremulous and slow – and Thomas really isn’t much surprised to find he’s trembling himself, feeling filled completely up from edge to edge, with the strangest, brimming… something.  A diffuse but intense need for Newt to do something, to please, please, please move.

 

And sure enough, long-fingered hands leave his hair, knowing as always, to run down over his biceps and slip warmly down his forearms, gathering up his wrists to urge them back against the mattress and then up, above his head. Those long fingers tangle in warmly with his own, familiar and possessive, and Newt’s mouth comes down to take his in a lingering kiss.

 

And before the pleading murmur building in his throat has even left his lips, Newt is drawing his hips slowly back and moving – starting a slow, searching rhythm, and giving him exactly what he wants.

 

___

 

…You shatter me, love.

Break me in little pieces…

___

 

Thomas is unraveling, coming apart. Torn chaotically somewhere between wanting this to go on forever, and honestly not knowing how much more he can take.

 

He can’t seem to keep a single thought in his head, he even has to remind himself to breathe. And he’s completely lost track of what comes out of his mouth; gasping, broken replies to Newt’s rapturously muttered declarations, his stunning little bouts of breath-stopping, soul-stealing poetry, in between  bossy, filthy come-ons and hot, panted curses. He can hear himself even now, asking for something, nonsense pleading for who-the-hell-knows what.

 

But of course Newt does. He always does.

 

And with a short, nearly exhausted-sounding sigh, Newt goes still above him.

 

“Alright, Tommy?”

 

Thomas can’t answer, can’t nod. An indistinct little lift of his hips in a vain attempt to get… something – something more, closer – is the only answer he can muster.

 

It’s enough. Newt smirks down at him, eyes shining with a tired, preternatural brightness as he shifts his weight, settling his hips and angling slowly, slowly just so. Until Thomas’s grip goes haphazardly, near-crushingly tight where their fingers are entangled, and he bites off a little gasp Newt swallows in a triumphant little celebratory kiss.

 

“There?” He doesn’t even need to ask, but Thomas nods avidly, desperately, against his mouth.

 

Yes. Yes yes there. There, bright-hot-tingling-blinding-there-right-there.

 

And Thomas shifts up to meet him, biting down on his own lip first, then on Newt’s. He squeezes his fingers and his hips even tighter, and tries desperately to hold on to this feeling as long as he can ride it out.

 

___

 

You melt me. Put burning in my skin and fever in my head until I’m… just molten inside. All soft and slow and I can’t-- It’s like it gets in my veins, burns everything away. And all that’s left is just… wanting.

All that’s left is you.

___

 

It’s happening even before Thomas hears Newt make that broken, urgent noise in his throat, before his rhythm starts to falter and one hand pulls free of his grip, moving down between them, to curl around and stroke and tug, and pull Thomas down with him. Down to where that hot, nagging draw coiling in his spine and building in his chest can break like a dam, rushing and flowing and pooling deep, deep down – and he’s lost – spilling over and over, slipping over the brink of that breathless narrow edge right along with him.

 

___

 

 

And, like the mirror-still surface of a silver lake,
awakened by the first stirrings of morning;
like a wave of the very tide that shifts and rocks below them,
building and cresting and towering in on itself against the shore as they meet –
as the frigidly armoured mantle over a mountain pond in springtime’s thaw,
cracking with a sound through the hills like thunder,
rending itself violently, earth-shudderingly asunder,
to end in razor-white continents and slowly drifting floes.
As all things, in the end…

 

Newt breaks.

 

___

 

 

“Be needing me out of there now, won’t you?”

 

“Mmh— How are you still hard?” Thomas shifts tentatively, the bliss and slaked, sated feeling breathing through every inch of him and weighing down his limbs bleeding over into his voice and making the complaint barely even half-hearted.

 

Newt laughs, a low and knowing sound, and Thomas can feel it, right inside of him. It’s weird, and at the same time… His fingers tighten their grip, digging in where they have fallen slack and stroking at the corners of Newt’s hips, just in case he’s thinking of going anywhere.

 

“Entirely – your fault,” Newt tells him, between punctuating little nips along the allegedly tempting knife-edge of his lower lip.

 

He hums contentedly, and Thomas can feel that too, but it’s a warm, buzzing, hitching in his chest right through to the back of his spine as Newt sends his attention – and his mouth – skipping affectionately down over his chin all the way to the base of his throat.

 

Thomas sighs – a deep, centering, peaceful thing – and he knows before it comes out that he will have to say it again. That Newt will chalk it up to afterglow or endorphins or some similarly infuriatingly reasonable shit. But then of course Thomas will, every day, gladly.

 

And it isn’t as if he can stop them anyway, the words that well up unchecked, out of this raw-nerved, completed and unfettered place Newt has laid open within him:

 

God, I— If I wasn’t already in love before, I think—

 

But Newt’s head pops up, one slim finger lays itself over his mumbling lips, and whatever stumbling confession he might have been aiming to make is lost in a swiftly avid, intensely ardent kiss.


For quite some time.

 

Newt sighs when it’s finally over, coming warmly down against him and curling around him as all the air comes out of him in a long, slow breath. His cheek presses in against Thomas’s neck and his eyes close – Thomas can feel the feather-stroke of his lashes against the hinge of his jaw.

 

His hands move, up over the little dimples just above Newt’s hips, fingers tracing the notches of his spine, exploring in a motion that has already fast become instinct, but still feels somehow new and wondering. He takes in each little ridge under the thin, silken skin and prepares for it, waits for Newt to tell him to try giving him that line again sometime when his brains haven’t been fucked into pudding.

 

“Oh Tommy,” he breathes instead, tipping upward to whisper the rest of his response into his ear. “I think I’ve loved you since the minute I can remember laying eyes on you. …Maybe even before.”

 

And if it’s not an easy thing to say, it’s no fucking joke to hear it either. There’s a swooping, spinning, dizzying feeling he hasn’t felt since the first times they kissed, but it sweeps through him now with a ferocity that honestly almost, maybe totally, scares the living hell out of him. And his hands aren’t wandering anymore, they are gripping fast, where his arms have enfolded themselves swiftly around Newt’s back, pulling him impossibly closer and holding on tight.

 

Maybe even before. Maybe. What they had been to each other before, they might never, ever know. But in this moment, if Thomas had to guess, he knows what his answer would be.

 

He doesn’t know how long he holds on like that before he is letting up, remembering that at some point Newt would probably like to breathe.

 

Sure enough his breath is coming a little heavy, his eyes searching and glittering and exhausted and joyfully bright. And that smirk – that maddening, heart-stealing, world-rocking smirk.

 

Thomas adores it, he knows he does. He helplessly, hopelessly, goofy-assed head-over-idiotic-heels, does. He maybe even worships it a little. But for now he stretches up and kisses it firmly and soundly right off his stunning, perfect, devilishly angelic face.

 

“Now if you’ll let go of me,” Newt complains happily, after not-even-God-knows how long. “And try to bloody well hold still a single klunking second for once in your life –” His voice takes on a hint of a grunt as he presses up awkwardly, getting ready to pull out of and away from him, “this is going to feel a tad bit weird.”

 

___

 

 

“Don’t fall asleep here, Tommy.”

 

It is possibly the best feeling in the world – and that is saying something, Thomas has felt a lot of things on this night alone that could seriously contend – to be able to roll over into Newt’s waiting, sleep-warm embrace and kiss himself gradually awake. Lips coming together, breath mingling, warm and whole and quietly complete, before his eyes have even blinked themselves blearily, groggily open.


They are both silent as they walk the starlit trail up from the water’s edge, but their shoulders never stop touching the entire way. And when Newt stops him where the path up to the med shacks and the one into camp diverge, taking both his hands and turning him around to draw him in, Thomas’s first ever goodnight kiss is long, and slow and unforgettable-drawn-out-sweet.

 

Newt’s hands turn under, linking their fists by their littlest fingers in a fond, heart-fluttering little farewell before falling softly away, and words suddenly seem pretty damned overrated anyway.

 

___

 

 

“Fell asleep,” Thomas muttered finally. It was technically the truth.

 

His hammock felt strange and lonesome to climb into – its airy, lulling swing a feeble substitute for softly rocking waves and warm, quiet breath tickling over the top of his hair.

 

“What, during??” Minho gasped, laying the incredulity on thick, the added volume it put into his voice seemingly having no effect on Gally’s continued snoring from beside him. “Do I hafta have a little chat with my boy about his technique?”

 

Thomas shifted onto his back, and shut his eyes, cataloguing the new sensations in his body. The dreamy, euphoric fog in his head and the subtle glowing feeling in his chest. A minute, dull ache starting in his thighs and a softly throbbing, sated warmth down low that he almost wished he could feel forever, hide it away under lock and key for the safest of keeping, always.

 

“…I like his technique just fine.”

 

“No shuck details dude,” Minho objected, sounding appropriately scandalized.

 

Thomas smiled, and neither of them said anything else. Long enough he was almost sure Minho had fallen back to sleep. But then just as he was beginning to drift, with the memory of poetry and promises whispered into his skin, Minho’s last words made him thankful it was dark enough to hide his happy, dorky little grin – and maybe even just the barest hint of burning in his cheeks.

 

“But glad to finally hear it.”

Chapter Text

 

 

They had four days together. Four glorious, perfect days.

 

They walked the shoreline at twilight, and they took the long way going anywhere. Choosing secluded, wooded paths just so they could stop to steal kisses under the shifting shadows of branches, feel the rough bark of trees at their backs.

 

They behaved like morons with their friends at mealtimes, and lay out in the sunshine. And more than once they took advantage of their new licence to roll forward into each other, to weigh and press the other’s body down into the grass. Making out and teasing and touching until one or both of them lost their patience enough for Newt to let Thomas fumble their clothes open just enough to get a hand down inside, or to slot in against each other, to grind and nip and kiss and move until they were both panting and sticky and laughing.

 

They only made it to the second day before Newt found himself with considerably fewer layers to contend with, and Thomas was forced to blushingly admit that he wasn’t doing it to be sexy, but that the frankly urgent state of his undergarment laundry was absolutely one hundred percent Newt’s fault. Newt insisted it was sexy anyway.

 

And each night the parting of their ways saw Newt sending Thomas off to bed with a starlit farewell so razor-sharply sweet Thomas almost didn’t mind the way it nicked his heart, letting him bleed out quietly into their kiss – suffusing it, transfusing him with all of the things Newt put into him that he couldn’t contain, that he couldn’t seem to bring out of himself and into words. Minho’s commentary on his arrivals got no less outrageous with each passing night of course, and though Thomas always answered bluntly enough to club an elephant unconscious, he could never be completely sure Minho was convinced he wasn’t joking.

 

Then, on the evening of their third day, Gally chose to join their group at the fire by way of dropping his ass down next to Brenda and greeting her with a gutsily demonstrative peck on the cheek. When this development had Thomas throwing Newt an admittedly furtive sideways look, it caught him openly watching for his reaction with a familiar, knowing twinkle. And since Thomas had recently come to recognize that particular smirk that meant warning: trouble ahead, it gave him a good fraction or so of a second to figure that two – or four, he supposed – could play at that game.

 

So just as Newt slung his arm around Thomas’s neck with the obvious aim of one-upping Gally’s awkward display by pressing a longer, firmer, slightly more sloppy one to the side of his dimpling, blushing face, Thomas turned to meet the kiss more-or-less head on instead. Bringing their lips awkwardly but publicly together amid the sounds of several celebratory wolf whistles and a good deal of applause uproarious enough to turn the heads of a few other nearby groups of chatting Islanders. As well as at least one vehemently muttered ‘holy shit, finally’.

 

And Thomas was so caught up in the way his heart went soaring right out of his chest and off somewhere up into the night sky, crackling with flames higher than the bonfire itself, that he couldn’t even bring himself to blush when Minho leaned over to Newt and murmured, much too loudly to be secretive, “so when are you gonna tell him about the big-ass shuck revenge hickey totally not hiding under his chin?”

 

It was reaction enough for both of them anyway, Thomas thought, when Newt reached down, grinning, to chuck a playful-but-swift fistful of sand into a particularly sensitive-looking area of Minho’s lap.

 

But the fourth day might have been turning out to be his favourite.

 

On the Fourth day Thomas took his usual seat next to Newt at breakfast, and when he settled down with his hand coming home to rest over the arch of Newt’s wrist – nothing happened. Newt’s breath stayed even, his eyes didn’t flutter, or swoon gratefully shut.

 

He just looked at Thomas, and smiled.  

 

Shortly after breakfast it rained. Chores were all but abandoned for the day as the Haveners retreated to the canopies over the sleeping quarters and the mess area, and the few other covered places throughout camp, to hole up with quiet pursuits and idle chit-chat. Back at the woodshed, even Gally had found something to occupy himself with, that he wouldn’t show Thomas when he asked. It had to be some sort of special project because the wood was a dark, unfamiliar teak-like shade that didn’t grow native on the Island anywhere Thomas had ever seen. Specifically scavenged driftwood was his best guess then, and he was sure he had seen a couple of sea shells on the work table before Gally tucked them secretively away in his pocket.

 

Rainy days weren’t normally his best. Without his meandering list of chores to occupy him, Thomas would be left alone with his thoughts, the sound of the drops drumming endlessly into his skull a poor defense against the threat of the creeping shadows always crouched at the borders. The ghosts of old voices he would never hear out loud again.

 

But today Thomas couldn’t really bring himself to mind the dismissal, more than happy for the excuse to come down to the docks to interrupt Newt at his tinkering. To pluck the stupid pencil from behind his ear and pull him insistently into his arms, mouth eagerly catching the soft chuckle that barely counted as any sort of resistance at all.

 

Newt, apparently, loved the rain. And Thomas probably let him keep them out under it for what was likely far too long, standing there kissing under the drizzle until he could feel the cold trickle of it start to move down his collar, and even after that - the wet of the drops tapping them on the noses and collecting in Newt’s eyelashes, chilling their skin right down until Thomas could feel it all over, a not-unpleasant counterpoint to the heat of Newt’s tongue.

 

Even now, as they lay in Lizzy’s bunk – stripped of their outer, most sodden layers; nestling comfortably in among the piled blankets and making plans – the blond head of hair tucked in under his chin stayed damp with it, and Newt still turned now and then to stretch a hand out from under the canopy they had finished days ago, to catch a few scattered drops on his palm.

 

And Thomas reflected that this was the happiest he could ever remember being.

 

It was a truth that struck him hard enough for a moment to make his next breath a slow, conscious thought. Was this what people felt? In a time before the world broke, before even being here to feel such a thing meant a whole lifetime of lost reasons that cut into and weighed it down, cancelled it out? The other people here had memories – lives, families. Both a blessing and a curse.

 

Or at least he imagined.

 

With the exception of the shattered mirror-shard bits he could piece together from after the Griever sting in the Maze, and from the terrors that still visited his mind every night, the furthest Thomas could think back with any solidity or continuity only took him back as far as the dark and panic of the Box. Bringing him juddering and screaming up into the bright, flinching kaleidoscope confusion of the first few seconds of his new life.

 

Then they had the Glade, where everything was escape, and the Scorch, when it was mere survival. And even that had come second to the constant burn and drive that consumed his mind – provisions and plans, rescue and revenge. Minho. And then here, where until today, each day had been a lesson in the art of existing without living, how to bury grief in hard work and to carry loss with him until it was no longer back-breaking. Until it was small enough to tuck into his pocket.

 

To wear around his neck on its worn gift of cord.  

 

But today. Lying together under the bunk’s canopy while Newt played idly with Thomas’s fingers and gave him quiet tales of the adventures that had brought him here with the sound of the rain like music on the water, and the soft, comforting sway of the tide. This minute. Thomas was happy.

 

That was when it happened.

 

 

Newt’s fingers stilled between his own. Thomas could feel him stiffen all over, his body making a tense, frozen line right from where his still-damp hair was snuggled into his neck all the way down to where their ankles tangled together at the foot of the bunk.

 

“Do you hear that?”

 

Thomas’s hand stopped in its slow track up the smooth skin of Newt’s bare arm.

 

Tommy, do you hear it??” Newt’s fingers were a sudden desperate fist crumpled into the cotton of his undershirt.

 

Thomas didn’t hear anything.

 

“Shit.” Newt cursed quietly, letting him go to sit bolt upright next to him.

 

His eyes were wide with that familiar white ring of panic, and it sent a chill of adrenaline shooting through Thomas’s chest. Newt hadn’t had a panic attack in days.

 

Thomas opened his mouth to say something – anything comforting – but Newt’s eyes were closing, his lips already moving.

 

Newt had warned him before that he muttered sometimes. Thomas had heard him do it. Sometimes while they worked on Lizzy, and a few times more consistently while they lined up for breakfast.

 

This sounded different. This had the flat, monotone sound of ritual in it. And Newt’s fingers flexed in and out of an agitated fist while he did it.

 

Under the cliffs. Over the water. From out of the Scorch.”

 

“Newt?”

 

Newt’s eyes opened but it didn’t look as if his strange mantra, if that’s what it was, had worked to calm him. Or to shut out whatever sound, imagined or not, that Thomas couldn’t seem to hear above the intermittent tapping of the rain on the tent roof over their heads.

 

“Shit, shit, shit…”

 

Newt continued cursing, hand still flexing at his side as he started to move, swinging both legs down off the side of the bunk and going in one swift movement to his knees to reach hastily for his shoes, push his head purposefully through the uncooperative, still-wet fabric of his discarded shirt.

 

“Newt,” Thomas started. “Wh—” But before he had the time to even find the words, Thomas was scrambling for the edge of the bunk and following suit.

 

Because now Thomas could hear it too. The belated recognition struck a second wash of adrenaline through him so strong, that it cut sharply at his lungs and put a hot, liquid feeling in his guts.

 

Engines. Faint and distant but definitely there, where by all rights they should never be. In the air, all around them. A subtle, growing whirr that spelled nothing welcome.

 

Newt took a moment to rummage through his tool box for something Thomas didn’t see, then he was moving again, striding swiftly to the edge of the raft. And then, instead of climbing onto the dock, Newt surprised him by jumping down under it.

 

Thomas hurriedly finished lacing his boots and followed, splashing nearly waist-deep into the chill water of the bay and wading after him without a second’s hesitation.

 

Newt stopped only when the shore started to rise up enough to meet the dock that they had to crouch down to move any further.

 

“What are we doing, what’s going on?” Thomas asked, breathlessly, when he caught up. Although he had his suspicions.

 

Newt didn’t respond, busy going to a knee in the wet sand.

 

“We have to move,” Thomas exclaimed, “we can’t stay here!” The sound was much louder now. Humming in the air and the rain all around like the falling drops themselves were vibrating with it.

 

Newt ignored that too, leaning slightly forward to peer out from under the dock, a bleak, consuming focus and intensity written all over his expression, and confirming exactly what Thomas feared. Newt wasn’t planning on going anywhere. He was using it for cover.

 

Thomas’s mind spun with the madness of it. This spot was nothing like safe. They had no weapons, no backup. And whatever was coming, they should be running like hell right now, even if it was to come storming back in with Vince and the entire fucking cavalry.

 

 “Newt,” Thomas tried again urgently, reaching for the cuff of his sleeve and knowing even as he did that they were probably out of time.

 

But Newt shook him off, barking a gruff, almost dog-like sound, that could have been “no!” The closest thing to an intelligible word Newt had managed since his muttering and cursing a few minutes ago.

 

Oh God, something was wrong. Sure, the pounding in his chest, the dryness in his throat and the throbbing in his ears said everything was wrong. Desperately, immediately, threateningly wrong. However something was, also, very obviously wrong with Newt.

 

But Newt wasn’t going anywhere. So neither was Thomas.

  

He took a knee beside him, leaned carefully out the same way Newt did for a view out from under the cover of the dock. Knowing before he did it to turn his gaze upward to the sky, knowing before he looked what he was going to see.

 

The engines of the Berg were deafening now, the ominous angles and slick silver sides descending toward the beach through the drizzling rain making a shape in Thomas’s memory that struck a familiar, lancing blow of terror through his insides he hadn’t felt for some time.

 

“Newt—” Thomas tried, one last time. But Newt was already turning to him, his hand reaching for a brief second’s attention-commanding hold on Thomas’s wrist and his voice raised above the din.

 

"Stay behind me, or stay here!” Thomas just barely heard his order.

 

And with that, he ducked out into the rain and the swirling sand, moving unexpectedly quickly across the beach at a strange-looking crouched run, right toward the lowering shadow of the Berg.

 

Thomas did the only thing he could do, and went pelting after him.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The belly of the Berg was mere feet from the ground by the time they were nearing it, arms thrown up over their faces against the burning sting of the wet sand flying in the churning, pulsating air.

 

But Newt kept moving in front of him without hesitation or explanation, darting harrowingly right in underneath, his strange crouched-over run still uneven but surprising in its speed. Thomas was right on his heels none the less, dashing in right under along with him and bending low.


The engines’ roar was ear-splitting here, beating his eardrums and filling his chest with a reverberating roar that felt as if it was shaking the very bones in his limbs. Thomas crouched lower, feeling like their backs could touch the giant metal body at any moment, as they moved toward the tail of the craft.

 

But that was where Newt finally chose to stop. He dropped down into the sand on his knees and crouched down even lower, turning his gaze up toward the mechanical underbelly as it loomed closer. Waiting for something.

 

There was a sudden screeching of metal panels. A secondary hum of machinery and a startling grinding of gears joined the cacophony of the engines.

 

It was the landing gear, Thomas realized, unfolding out of the slick steel carapace on either side. Stabbing like the claws of a gigantic flying insect into the sand, as the engines’ pitch dropped to a low, thundering bluster and the Berg came down the final few feet to touch down on the shore.

 

Newt was already moving again, crawling forward on his belly now, to the very tail of the craft.

 

“Shit,” Thomas muttered under his breath, the curse losing itself uselessly in the buffeting uproar all around them. He was helpless by now to do much for Newt but follow.

 

Newt turned to him as Thomas came down on his belly beside him in the sand, acknowledging he was even aware of his presence for the first time since running out from under the dock.

 

His hair was matted down to his skull with rain and wind in places, wild with the turbulence of the Berg’s descent in others. Sand clung wetly to his temples and down the side of his cheek and Thomas could see rainwater trickling out of his hairline and into his eyes. They stayed open in spite of it, livid and unblinking, and the look in them was stony and strange.

 

Newt’s finger went to his lips in a warning to stay silent, not to make a sound that might alert whoever was on board. And if Thomas had questions, now was not going to be the time for answers. Even if his brain was a storm of them.

 

Had they already been seen? What the hell were they doing under the Berg? Newt had taken them along the water’s edge, around the side and rear of the craft, but even so, Thomas had a guess that the only reason they hadn’t been shot was they were too close for the range of the Berg’s guns, now just mere feet away above their heads. Had that been Newt’s plan, bringing them here? ...Did he even have one?

 

As if on cue off Newt’s silencing gesture, the noise of the engines abruptly died – the skull-splitting racket becoming a sudden silence that pressed almost as aggressively in on them, leaving Thomas with just the sound of his heart pounding in his ears.

 

There was another heaving, creaking sound of metal plates and Newt was moving again, making for the tail edge of the Berg. Much further and he would be out in the open, Thomas thought, with an internal rush of additional panic.

 

But Newt was looking upward now, as a new sound met their ears – a hissing release and high pitched whine of hydraulics.


The hatch of the Berg was opening.

 

Thomas could hear sounds from within. A few terse, muffled voices. The startling clang and reverb of footsteps. And it was clear now, where Newt had been headed.

 

He wasn’t moving any further away now, positioning himself flat on his back in the sand and fishing something out of his pocket to clutch it tightly against his chest. Thomas recognized it briefly as a screwdriver from Newt’s toolbox, but what in hell he planned to do with it there was little time to guess.


The whine of the hydraulics peaked. Heavy, jack-booted steps echoed over Thomas’s head.

 

He watched Newt shut his eyes for a breath – the first inkling of fear or the insane danger of their situation Thomas had seen him show. Then Newt turned his head to look back at him, his mouth silently forming the same words he had given him under the dock.

 

Behind me.”

 

It was all Thomas could do to nod mutely, and hunker down in front of him. Each muscle in his body tensing and ready.

 

Newt turned his face back upward, clutching his screwdriver tight as the hatch of the Berg moved above him, the thick metal ramp opening in a broad arc against the sky and coming down slowly.

 

With Newt flat out in the sand directly underneath.

 

For a moment, nothing happened. Thomas inched closer, ready to move, heart in his mouth and the old familiar, acid fight-or-flight tang of battle at the back of his tongue.


Footsteps, above their heads and moving down the ramp now. And Thomas watched Newt for a movement, any signal. But when it happened, it happened without any warning at all.

 

The steps he could hear moving down the ramp paused and Newt launched into action, rolling sideways out from under the edge of the ramp. Coming up on his shoulder just high enough to swing a swift, vicious-looking blow over its side with the screwdriver at something Thomas couldn’t see.

 

There was a loud, strangled cry of pain, and the sound of something hitting the floor above him – a sharp clatter and scrape as it slid away down the incline of the ramp.

 

If it was a weapon, maybe they could grab it. But Newt wasn’t going after it. He didn’t lose a second, bringing the hand that had been holding the screwdriver back down behind him into the sand and drawing his good leg under himself to spring immediately up over the side of the ramp and out of Thomas’s sight.

 

Time to move.

 

What Thomas saw when he did was almost too much to take in at once.

 

It was barely a surprise to see two large men, armed, and in heart-sinkingly familiar jumpsuits. The four-letter acronym Thomas had all but been expecting sent a sour shot of endorphin-spiked anger through his guts, from where he could see it emblazoned in tiny white print on their chests. And larger and more aggressively down the lengths of their sleeves.

 

Thankfully, the first man Thomas saw wasn’t looking his way. He was too busy bending down to see what had happened to his partner. Who had fallen to a sudden, half-lying position on the ramp, his eyes wide and hands shaking with shock.

 

But Thomas could see what had happened from here. Newt’s screwdriver was lodged low in the calf of the downed man. It stuck out at a nauseating angle from down near the Achille’s tendon, while blood seeped quickly from the wound in a dark, rapidly spreading stain on the leg of his suit.

 

The sight was an admittedly grisly one, but they shouldn’t have been focused on it at the moment. They should have been watching for Newt.

 

In the second it had taken Thomas to take in their surroundings, Newt had cleared the edge of the ramp.

 

There was a yelp from the guard still standing, as Newt whipped a fistful of sand into his face. Ignoring his curses of surprise and pain, Newt continued forward, stepping over the downed man and making sure to connect a fast, brutal kick with the side of his head as he did, sending him the rest of the way to the floor, unconscious.

 

Thomas gaped, eyes on what was happening in front of him even as he scrambled over the sand for the bottom of the ramp. He was sure he had never seen Newt move like this before.

 

He had maybe never seen anyone move like this. It was all happening extremely fast.

 

Unflinching, Newt took the two steps over and past the felled man to the blinded guard. Not going after his weapon but leaning forward into a limping run, barrelling his shoulder into the heavy-set man’s stomach, and sending him stumbling backward across the ramp.

 

It wasn’t even half a moment, before Thomas saw why. At the mouth of the Berg, a third heavily armed guard was recovering from his surprise at the scene in front of him, fumbling for his weapon.

 

Newt was coming right for him. Holding the blinded guard up in front of him by the shoulder and hip, and still barraging forward at a pace too fast to let the disoriented man regain his footing. Making him quite an effective shield.

 

The third guard let off a couple panicked shots before they collided. The first went wide, ricocheting off the floor and ceiling of the Berg with an ear-ringing spark and clang. And from the sound of the cry from Newt’s human shield, the second shot struck exactly where Newt had intended. But as the three men went grunting and struggling to the floor, there was a new threat to consider.

 

Two more soldiers further back within the Berg, and dressed from head to toe in black, had been hurriedly wrestling weapons from racks on the walls and were rushing forward now to see to the unexpected threat on the ramp.

 

But as quickly as everything had happened, Thomas had been moving the entire time. He had reached the base of the hatch now, and his instincts had served him. The first guard’s weapon had fallen from his hands when Newt attacked with his screwdriver, just as Thomas thought, and skidded down the ramp to the bottom.

 

He had the gun in hand and was moving up the ramp to back Newt up within seconds.

 

The first black-suited soldier was ready now, aiming his gun at where the three men had toppled, trying to get a clear shot at Newt.

 

No.

 

Flooded with a clear, cold wash of fresh adrenaline and literally seeing red as the edges of his vision narrowed in, leaving only the target in front of him, Thomas didn’t hesitate. He aimed two shots into the black-clad chest and the man crumpled and went down without so much as a curse.

 

And Thomas kept moving. Up the ramp to where Newt now seemed to be on top of the pile of bodies – the one unconscious or worse, and bleeding profusely onto the floor of the Berg – the other putting up what Thomas had no doubt by now was a losing battle for his weapon.

 

A shot cracked the air. Thomas felt it miss his leg by inches. The second black-suited soldier had dodged in behind the wall of the Berg and was firing on him.

 

Thomas ducked down low and came on, only hoping to keep the gunman’s attention on him while Newt fought. He sent off a shot, just to keep the man penned in behind the wall until he could round it, but by the time he did, another shot rang out and the gunman was sliding down the wall of the Berg, leaving a wide smudge of blood behind him.

 

Thomas whirled around to see Newt holding the third guard’s gun.

 

And for a moment, Thomas saw him as the guards lying dispatched around them must have just done. The way Thomas imagined he had looked when Newt described himself during his lost time in the Scorch – when the people who had found him called him things like Wanderer and Stray.

 

The mad disarray of his hair coupled with the stony, disconnected look in his eye gave him an alarming, almost feral, cast. A smudge of blood marked the corner of his mouth where his lip had apparently been split in his fight with the last guard – who was now effectively out of commission with Newt’s knee planted firmly across his throat.

 

Almost before he could take this in completely, there was movement in the corner of Thomas’s eye.

 

Newt caught it too. They moved in tandem, weapon arms still raised and swinging in the direction of the Berg’s pilot, who had abandoned the controls, rising up out of his seat and reaching for a holster at his waist as he did.

 

Their shots went off, deafening and in almost perfect unison as the final remaining WCKD member in sight collapsed back into the pilot’s chair and gave a last, gurgling gasp for breath.

 

There was a moment of blankness. Nothing reaching him but the sound of his own heart, jackhammer-loud over the echo of gunshot still ringing in his ears. He lowered his weapon and turned, looking instinctively for Newt.

 

“Thanks Tommy,” Thomas saw, rather than really heard, him mutter. Even though they had no way of knowing whose shot had done the job.

 

Newt wasn’t looking at him. He was looking around, taking in the surrounding scene. Thomas took a breath and let himself do the same. Hoping in the new, strange quiet that fell after their brief but intense skirmish to let the situation around them sink in, to make some sense of everything.


What had just happened, how a Berg full of WCKD troops could have come to land on their beach. What plans they could have had, coming to a peaceful island strapped so heavily with weaponry that even the pilot flying it was armed.


What in the hell had just gone on with Newt.

 

But whatever it was, Thomas realized when he looked at him, it wasn’t over yet. Newt was moving again, and still in that hyper-focused, trance-like way.

 

He crossed the ramp and knelt a brief moment next to the first guard he had taken down with the screwdriver and that vicious kick to the temple – putting two fingers to his neck to check for a pulse.

 

Newt rose without comment – not finding one, Thomas could only assume. Then he tucked the gun in his hand into the back of his trousers and moved on to the pilot next.

 

“Newt?”

 

By this point, Thomas had all but given up expecting a response. He followed a step or two behind Newt, weapon still drawn. Still uneasy.

 

Still shaken by the image of the black-clothed soldier aiming to take Newt in his sights.

 

Newt wasn’t bothered to check for a pulse this time, seizing the pilot’s uniform at both shoulders instead and throwing the body roughly out of the chair to the floor so he could step over it and in front of the controls.

 

The navigation screen was spattered in the pilot’s blood. Unfazed, Newt remedied this with a quick swipe of his forearm, wiping it clean and turning his attention immediately to the control panel. Thomas watched as he flicked a series of switches and jabbed several buttons, bringing the dark screen flickering to life. 

 

Where had he learned to do that?

 

But even if Newt were being more talkative, there was no time for questions.

 

“Newt,” Thomas tried again.

 

They needed to get out of here. There were six dead people in a WCKD Berg on the beach. They needed to get back to camp as fast as possible and take the message back to—

 

“Jorge.”

 

“What? Newt—”

 

“I need Jorge,” Newt repeated, with an air of impatience, turning sideways in the small space between them and the pilot’s console to brush past him.

 

“Newt—” Newt was moving toward the shelf of weapons lining the Berg wall.

 

“You go,” he tossed the words backward over his shoulder, as casually as if they were discussing which of them should run out for milk. “I’ll stay with the Berg.“

 

“What? No. No way.”

 

“I may not be much of a Runner anymore, but if you haven’t noticed I can take care of myself.” Newt still hadn’t turned, his eyes were busy scanning the weapons racks in a way that left Thomas little doubt he was taking a mental inventory.

 

“Newt. …Would you look at me?”

 

Thomas waited, even though he wasn’t at all sure at this point that Newt would grant it. But after a beat, Newt turned.

 

“I’m not leaving you,” Thomas told him, even though the frown wrinkling Newt's still intensely smouldering expression, and the hand thrust into his hair to tug agitatedly at the wet, sandy mess screamed of warning.

 

Newt shook his head, crossing back over to stand next to him at the controls. He had to step around the body of the pilot on the floor to do it.

 

“Thomas.” Newt took a grip of his shirt at the collar, making him look into the cold determination burning in his gaze. “I know what it must look like, what you just saw. But there’s no time.”

 

“You’ll go faster without me.” Newt released him and turned, flicking hurriedly at the controls again as he talked, and making the screen flip through a series of differently coloured displays. “Somebody needs to stay and hold the Berg,” he went on, coming to a screen in green and black that even Thomas could recognize quite clearly as a radar tracking display. “We’re gonna need it.”

 

“We need Jorge, and anybody else who can fly one of these things right now.” Newt finished, turning to grip him urgently again, and jabbing a finger at the screen in front of them. “Because you see that? That’s more. And they’re headed straight here.”

 

“Thomas,” Newt said again. The beseeching, imperative note in his voice putting words to the very same thoughts that went rushing through Thomas’s mind as he took in the sight on the screen in front of him. “We’ve got people – Minho – up there. Brenda, and all her WCKD kids.”

 

The ominous little cluster of dots blinked balefully at him, making their way in blips of inevitable, resolute progress across the screen. Three of them. Coming this way.

 

“Tommy.” There was nothing more Newt needed to say. But the return of the nickname galvanized Thomas all the same, putting a grateful fire and energy into him he made a quick, silent pledge to put to good use. “…Please.”

 

Thomas clasped him back, his hand clutching desperately at his elbow. Holding onto him. To the very last second that he could. “Close the hatch behind me.”

 

Newt nodded. “I can use the guns if I have to.” And Thomas knew now was not the time to ask how he had learned. “Now go.”

 

Thomas nodded a last time. He took a breath. And he went.

 

The ramp was strewn with bodies and wet with pooling blood and the drizzling rain, and Thomas skidded a little in his haste and the chaotic thrumming of threat and battle still throbbing in his head.


And then. He was scrambling back. He could feel the metal of the ramp cut raggedly into his hand as it came down in his struggle to turn himself back around, but Thomas ignored it in his hurry. It wasn’t a priority.

 

There was one last thing to do before Newt closed the hatch.

 

Something Thomas had tried to do days ago, and should have been remedying every day since.

 

Newt turned back from the control panel, his intense, focused expression mixing with confusion as he saw Thomas storming back up the ramp and across the tight space of the Berg toward him.

 

Thomas reached out to grip him as they met, his hand sliding certain and firm around the nape of his neck, and the words came out of him steady and strong.

 

There was no stumbling falter in his voice, no room this time for ‘if’. No idiotic, goddamned blundering ‘I think’.

 

And no time for Newt to put a finger to his lips, or to stop him with a kiss.

 

“I love you.”

 

Newt’s head didn’t shake fondly. There was no gentle denial, no incredulous variation of Tommy this is hardly the time.

 

Newt’s acceptance came in a swift, matching grip across Thomas’s nape and a harsh, stinging sparkle leaping into the corners of the unfamiliarly alert, battle-ready sharpness of his gaze.

 

“Yeah?” It was a whisper, the single syllable barely completing itself, lost in the minute little nod as Thomas’s hand came away, to find Newt’s and curl their little fingers in around each other.

 

“Yeah.”

 

The kiss Newt pulled him into was a vow; breath-catching and dizzying and hard. A claim and a surrender to him all at once, with no room in it for doubt.

 

And when they broke apart Newt looked him firmly in the eyes. “Now go.”

 

The stony, panic-barring detachment in his gaze had drained away, leaving a bright, steely, grounded confidence instead.

 

“Do what you were made for,” Newt told him. “Run.”

 

And Thomas stole a single, final kiss, and ran like he had never run before. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The rain was driving at them, soaking Gally’s clothes to the skin and turning the grips of the semi-automatic slick and untrustworthy between his hands.

 

He could hear them – his name in Frypan’s voice, calling him back. Vince, shouting something about staying in formation.

 

They weren’t wrong. The sound of approaching engines overhead was getting louder what felt like every second. There probably wasn’t much more time.

 

But Gally needed a minute.

 

Minho was already there at the cliff’s edge when he reached it, posture tense and his hand in a fist at his side.

 

His boots squelched and slipped over mud as he moved. The seashells she had picked up off the beach below them only days ago scraped and chimed in his pocket.

 

It was bullshit, Gally knew, to think anything like he shouldn’t have let her go. Nobody let his girl do anything. Brenda did Brenda, and nobody else had shit to say about it.

 

The first thing he had noticed about her, and still one of his favourites.

 

Still.

 

He could admit it had been the right call, though, sending Jorge in first while the rest of the Island’s defenses organized. Newt’s instruction, apparently, or so Thomas said, when he came tearing into camp full of battle and adrenaline, a familiar danger flaring in his big wide eyes. Running as usual right into the peaceful centre of Gally’s life, trailing war and destruction in his wake and dragging the whole thing crumbling down into ruins.

 

Yeah. Shank was making a real habit out of that shit.

 

But then Jorge was in the air and had the first incoming craft down in the rough waters of the bay before WCKD even realized the scouting Berg they had sent was no longer one of their own.

 

Jorge and Brenda.

 

She had insisted on going along with him as his gunner, and that had apparently been the right call too. But the second attacking Berg had arrived only moments behind the first.

 

And they had lost the element of surprise.


The feeling in his chest had been as indescribable as the sound, as every one of the heads in the armed party of Haveners climbing the ridge to mount the best defense they could from the cliffs, turned toward the sky.

 

Gally watched it like it was happening in slow motion. Jorge and Brenda’s craft manoeuvred expertly through the air, moving in a smooth strafing line around the incoming Berg and landing a sweeping shower of gunfire. The enemy’s retaliating fire came almost too late, sounding off into the air even as the whirr of its engines cut abruptly off and it tipped itself dizzily out of the sky.

 

Almost too late. The edge of the volley caught the Islanders’ Berg and it lost its right engine.

 

Gally felt it tear down a piece of the sky and take it down with it. A load-bearing pillar of his world caving in, burying him under a sudden crushing weight that rooted his feet and squeezed the air out of his chest as he watched their Berg – Brenda’s Berg – listing in a vast arc through the sky before falling in a flat spin, trailing flame and dire black smoke in a spiral down to the water.

 

Now, peering down over the dizzying edge next to Minho and pushing the back of his hand swiftly across his eyes, he could make out the action below. Somebody was streaking across the beach, their hair dark and their stride desperate, moving fast over the wet sand.

 

So Thomas, of course. Making for the fishing docks.

 

Going after her, Gally realized.

 

And no matter what else his heart might be doing in that moment, he forced its rhythm to steady as he watched him go.

 

He wouldn’t be going alone anyway. Even from up here he they could see the inevitable turn of Newt’s head to call after him into the wind, the distinctive blond of his hair still easily recognizable despite the darkening wet of the storm. Minho cursed quietly next to him, a bare breath of a syllable lost under the growing noise of the rotors from above, as they watched Newt take off, predictable and limping, after him.

 

The first round of fire up on the ridge rent the air like a blistering hailstorm. Behind them, Vince was shouting, rounding the whole of the Island’s tiny militia into the trees for cover.

 

Minho’s hand was a brief, urging pressure at his shoulder before he tore his gaze off what was happening on the beach and sprinted off to join them.

 

Gally checked his side arm and the knife strapped to his thigh. He clutched the rain-slick sides of his weapon, breathing in slow to steady his fingers as he moved to join the group; headed for the very front of the lines.

 

Because when the last Berg landed and those WCKD shanks opened that goddamned hatch, Gally planned on being the first thing the motherfuckers saw.

 

___

 

The horizon outside the windscreen was flashing alternating expanses of sea, sky, sea again. They were in a spin.

 

Brenda ignored the painful popping in her ears, fighting off the way the sudden swing and drop brought her stomach up into her ribcage and put a sick, panicked pressure against her throat.

 

The dashboard in front of Jorge was lit up with a myriad of flashing warnings. He spent a moment flipping switches and hitting levers feverishly, but then he was turning to her. Reaching out to take a hold of her harness, as if testing it was still holding her secure in her seat.

 

“Hang on, mija!” he shouted, over the noise of what sounded like every buzzing, beeping and pinging safety alarm in the Berg going off at once.

 

His hands were moving, fumbling at the harness, and Brenda seized the sides of her seat as she realized he wasn’t testing it. He was about to unbuckle it.

 

“I’m going to open the hatch,” he yelled, over the cacophony of the alarms and the Berg’s single struggling engine. “This thing is gonna fill with water either way. This way it’ll happen a hell of a lot faster, but at least we can swim for it!”

 

“We’ll have to wait, you hear me!?” he went on. “Wait until the cockpit is mostly full, then you get a last breath and dive. Or else the water coming in is just going to push us back inside!”

 

Brenda nodded her understanding as the harness buckle popped terrifyingly open, and Jorge went back to the controls. She struggled free of her harness, managing somehow to cling to the co-pilot’s chair despite the unpredictable drag and sway of slanted gravity in the Berg’s cabin.

 

The sound of the hatch opening behind them was more than she had prepared for.

 

The throttling whine of the dying engine was deafening and petrifying, setting an immediate fight-or-flight fire for survival burning in Brenda’s blood. But there were other sounds. A buffeting, sucking wind filled the cabin, and she was sure she wasn’t imagining the sound of mechanized weapons firing on her whole world outside.

 

Brenda swallowed a sour lump in the back of her throat, steeling herself for what was coming next as Jorge prepared to release his own harness. “Get ready, mija!”

 

But Jorge wasn’t moving. His harness buckle was stuck, because of course it fucking was.

 

Brenda swiped out a hand to help him but couldn’t catch hold. The Berg was tilted almost entirely on its side in its fatal spin. She would have to release her death grip on the co-pilot’s chair and climb up on the side of it to reach him.

 

She was nearly there, Jorge still tugging urgently at the straps of the harness, when they hit the water. There was a battering impact and wailing screech of rending metal, and Brenda was thrown roughly across the cabin into the Berg wall.

 

She lifted her head with a groan, aching in several places, but nothing broken.

 

So far.

 

Water was already coming rapidly up the mouth of the Berg’s ramp. There was no more time to fuck around.

 

Jorge was shouting her name, still struggling up above her head in his seat. Brenda shook herself and moved.

 

A row of shelving along the Berg wall that carried weapons and supplies served as the perfect ladder. She pulled her knife from its sheath on her belt, set it firmly between her teeth, and started to climb.

 

Brenda shouted to him to hang on as she reached him, slipping the blade of her knife in as carefully as she could to slash open the ironically life-threatening safety straps.

 

But before she had finished there was another squeal of twisting metal plates, the shotgun-loud pop of bolts firing loose, and they were both thrown to the bottom of the cockpit once more. Brenda heard Jorge give a sharp yell of pain before they plunged into the frigid swirling water that was rising higher by the second.

 

“Are you alright??” Brenda gasped, when both their heads had broken the surface.

 

Jorge nodded. But he was treading water awkwardly, clutching his left shoulder tightly as he did.

 

“Dislocated, I think.” He gritted his teeth, kicking over to the wall of the cockpit so he could inch his back along it, keeping his head above the mounting waterline.

 

It was obvious what had happened. Brenda hadn’t been fast enough to cut the straps, and the last one had caught his arm hard enough to rip it out of the socket as they fell.

 

“I can make it out of here, once the cockpit fills up. But you’re gonna have to head for the shore without me,” he grunted, pushing a little further up the wall. “Then you can send help.”

 

Brenda shook her head.

 

“No,” she told him, spitting out achingly cold sea water and casting around. “I won’t have to.”

 

The shelving had started to come away from the wall, but it would probably still take her weight.

 

She could feel the water rising behind her as she climbed. Filling the cabin up nearly to the ceiling now as she approached the top corner of the cockpit. Their moment was coming, she knew, but she kept ahead of the level of the water. Climbing as high as the shelving would let her and reaching out, grappling for the side of the pilot’s chair at its dizzying, disorienting angle.

 

She could hear Jorge yelling at her that they needed to go.

 

“I got it!” Brenda yelled back, although she didn’t quite yet.

 

She braced her feet against the back of the pilot’s chair, stretching up. It was no use. She would have to wait for the last second. Let the water buoy her to the roof, and hope she could catch enough of a last breath before the cabin filled all the way to the top, to make it out of here.

 

“Whatever it is, leave it! We don’t need it. It’s time! One more breath and then we swim like hell!”

 

“It’s not for us!” Brenda shouted back, not sure if her words reached him before she saw Jorge clutch his arm tightly to his side, tip his chin upward to suck in a swift last breath, and disappear below the line of the water. “It’s for him!”

 

Because if Brenda knew anything right now, it was exactly who would be out there doing something colossally stupid. And if Thomas was going to find her and Jorge floating in some random spot in the middle of the clusterfuck of Berg debris littering the bay, then this was probably their best shot.

 

The water had reached her boots and was rapidly rising over the tops of them, and Brenda waited, feeling the icy, churning water rise past her knees and her heart leap into her mouth as it came up past her waist, and then her chest.

 

Brenda filled her lungs with a last breath and a prayer, and gave one last kick off from the back of the chair.

 

Her fingers closed around the handle of the case she hoped to hell was waterproof, just as the freezing water closed over her head. The letters stenciled in glaring capitals along the side were her last vivid gleam of hope:

 

F L A R E  G U N

 

___

 

It is easier, in the end, than he might have thought once. To fall.

 

He has done it before after all.

 

Less a leap of faith than a slide, backward and open. A single weightless, airless moment and then all that is left him is to embrace it –

 

The plummet; and shatter.

 

Crack of thunder and rattle of gunfire, and he is awake, this time. And sure of it. Perhaps more awake than he has ever been.

 

Out of the desert, over the water, under the stars.

 

There is none of the false brightness, the intangible crystalline scintillae of machinery and manufacture, grating at his nerves just outside awareness’s reach.

 

But his senses have not forgotten. His mind finding a strange twisted comfort in the steep slide back down into this.

 

This same familiar heightening. Crackling under his skin, and reaching out. The raised humming in all of his senses, spooling out around him and tuning his environment higher, tighter. To a shrill, ringing pitch. Setting the tripwire to his mental perimeter while his focus comes closed and narrowed, arrowing in on what target he might choose.

 

He would never be free of it then, the training his mind had set itself. For every threat and horror put to him, each ghost sent to haunt the stony corridors of his thought. Every illusory foe and invented beast living in memory locked resolutely away down the passages of the Maze that is his mind. Uncaged now, and prowling. Just past the rounding of each labyrinthine curve.

 

Each one, imagined or not, a lesson.

 

When to hide, how to seek out a weakness. The way to fade and meld into something less. Becoming a part of the surroundings, any bit of the world around him turned weapon in waiting – the very earth, the branches in a wood, the sand below his feet, his arsenal.

 

How to kill.

 

But he will not wake this time, sick and trembling, hands clean of their gore of moments before. Muck and blood, raked flesh trapped under aching fingernails blinked clean away, to face it all again. Fresh images clicking into place like slides in a machine, some new breed of hell. A blood-daubed knife in shaking hands, spider-black veins and the burn of fever in his skin.

 

This time is for keeps. Each wound will take healing, each drop of blood drawn will cost. A life lost here today he will not wake tomorrow to find and lose and mourn once more.

 

This time is real.

 

Newt has his proofs, his little reminders.


He can test it himself. Lean into the pain and the threat of collapse in his right leg, just to the buckling point, right before breaking. The very brink of where he and he alone knows it can withstand.

 

He has the rain in his hair, the drops hitting the backs of his hands and his forearms. Cold-to-warming with the heat of his skin until he is sapped of it, none of his warmth left to take. And still it stays at it, tapping at his skin and sliding in trickling, endless little rivulets of cool tears over his temples and down his wrists.

 

He has Tommy, at his side. All bated, hanging breath and pounding, ready blood. A warm spot in the simmering grey cold of Newt’s radius like a second heartbeat.

 

Until he isn’t.

 

Bang. And belching cough from the Bergs that hold their eyeline above. Circling each other out over the spreading, storm-stirred waters of the bay. A pair of titanic pewter birds of prey dancing their feral hunting reel.

 

Wailing death-cry of struggling engines. Wrenching spin and chaotic black smoke and Tommy leaves his side like a shot going off.

 

Running.

 

Newt follows. He will never catch him but he moves, breath quickening and limp a bright, jolting spark, cutting a long diagonal across the sand. He will never catch him, but he can head him off.

 

His shout is torn away into the buffet and pummel of the wind. But Tommy hears him. Always.

 

The brunet head turns, dark with stormwater, heeding even as his Runner’s steps barely falter, making for the ranks of rowboats that flank the docks.

 

“Lizzy! The motor, she’ll be fastest!”

 

Tommy reaches her first of course.

 

Newt splashes into the shallows, silted and dull as the sky with the stirrings of the storm.

 

Cold, biting faultless and unflawed at his ankles, into his calf. Over the knee and at his hip, the wade and drag perfect in its unwelcome delay. Hindering and earthly and real. 

 

Tommy’s hands are at Lizzy’s mooring line as Newt comes over her side, fumbling a moment at the rain-swelled knots.

 

Then they are loose, both aboard. Motor sputtering to choking, reluctant life after her days of disuse and moving them off from the docks through the murky waters over the sandbar.

 

Newt makes a fist, centres himself.

 

And a fresh, final wash of bedlam spills overhead, as the third Berg from the radar’s screen descends through the clouds. Engines roaring and guns clattering, dealing out death and calamity before it has even met a target. Aiming clear of the wreck and carnage of the beach in a blazing path directly for their troops gathering at the top of the cliffs.

 

He counts the scars on his palm, curled over the judder and shake of Lizzy’s rudder under his hand.

 

Off of the beach. By way of firelight, and the dappled shadow of branches.

Into Tommy’s arms.

 

Out of Paradise they have torn him. From out of hell he has come. This is only reality.

 

This, lad, will be easy.

 

The flare’s corona is a bold, match-strike moment at the hair-trigger edge of his heightened, shimmering fog of clarity. A clarion jet of flame, tearing upward into the sky.

 

Its call is hot blood and rose-petal red, its slash of scarlet lightning bright as wit and blade’s-edge sharp. Steadfastly, furiously, indomitably alive.

 

It’s turning the rudder at Newt’s hand even before Tommy can shout it at him over the wind and the clamour of Berg fire.

 

It’s Brenda!!

 

___

 

Brenda struck out, fingers finding the slippery side of the raft and everything was a blur for a few seconds. All hands, and choking, gasped breaths – Thomas, hauling her up over the side onto its floor almost before she had even gotten her grip.

 

Then hands again, warmer than they should be, at the sides of her cheeks and Brenda nodded into them, not needing the question out loud. Yes, she was fine, gulping for air and shivering with more than the frigid chill of the water, but fine. Considering.

 

“Newt has blankets,” Thomas yelled into the wind and the sound of gunfire up on the ridge. Or something like it, but Brenda couldn’t imagine giving less of a fuck.


They both turned to the side of the raft and Jorge was there. Staying afloat but clutching his injured arm to his side and not able to catch the nose of the raft as it bobbed roughly up and down on the waves, just feet from the edge of the wreckage where they had been clinging.

 

Shots. Gunshots, not from up on the ridge but whizzing just over their heads and fuck the blankets, Brenda thought, as they all ducked straight down to the raft’s floor on instinct, what she needed was a fucking weapon.

 

___

 

They were taking fire.

 

The storm raging within Thomas’s head, and the one outside and all around them, seemed to drop back to a dull, distant roaring. A mere backdrop to his new focus, as he brought his mind around to face this latest threat. The first Berg Jorge and Brenda brought down had sunk quickly to the bottom of the bay without incident, but there was evidently at least one survivor clinging to the wreckage of the second.

 

And they had decided to put up a fight.

 

Thomas felt his boots squeak and slip over the wet floor as he moved past Brenda to the prow. She was huddled over Jorge, who was injured but safe for the moment, shivering and nodding reassuringly at her on the floor of the raft. Thomas went to a knee in front of them, shielding them and putting himself down in the apex of the raft’s nose, to aim his weapon off the front of her bow.

 

No sooner was he in position than Newt hit Lizzy’s throttle and turned the rudder. Bringing her careering around in the slanting rain and heading in the direction of the shots, eyes scanning the wreckage that scarred the horizon for the location of their source.

 

“Take cover!” Thomas shouted over his shoulder, a warning to everyone aboard. He let off a shot or two as they got closer to where the wing of the enemy Berg rose up out of the water like the towering fin of a dying sea monster, in an attempt to draw the shooter out of hiding.

 

His gambit worked, and a uniformed arm and small handgun to match the one Thomas had picked up off the ramp earlier that morning appeared just under the rounded edge of the Berg’s demolished engine.

 

He could hear Jorge and Brenda cursing as shots filed the air, some ricocheting off the sides of the Berg’s metal skin with a startling, ear-stabbing reverb and zing. But the stranded WCKD shooter had nowhere to go, and as Newt brought the craft continuing around the edge of the Berg wing, one of Thomas’s shots found its mark.

 

With a short, cut-off cry and a squelching, squealing slide of flesh on wet steel, their attacker slid off the side of the Berg into the sea.

 

The sounds of gunfire went quiet, but there was a yelp and a telltale splash from the far side of the Berg’s wreck. Newt had Lizzy moving again immediately, like he had known before the sound alerted the rest of them that the shooter Thomas had just taken out wasn’t alone – and with the strange, combat-fixated way Newt was behaving, Thomas suspected it was most likely the case.

 

Thomas kept his weapon raised and at the ready, as Newt brought them around to the tail end of the Berg.

 

Sure enough there was a woman, clinging to the wreckage. Her raven hair clung wetly to her face and spilled in a long, dripping swath down her back where it fanned out into the water, floating around her in curling black tentacles.

 

She looked unarmed, both hands busy clinging desperately to the slick, purchaseless sides of the Berg tail.


Newt had already killed the motor and was moving forward to the prow, his arm coming down across the top of Thomas’s outstretched forearms and halting his already-hesitating fire.

 

“Hold fire, Tommy.” Newt straightened up, training the muzzle of his own weapon to cover the clinging woman instead. “This one, we might want to keep.”

 

Thomas lowered his weapon, blinking the rainwater from his eyes and looking between Newt and the stranger from WCKD to watch a strange dance of recognition play itself out on both their expressions.  

 

“…Hey, Doc.”

 

The woman – or doctor, apparently – took one shaking hand from the side of the Berg to raise it in a show of surrender. But then it was moving again, slowly pushing a few strands of that long hair back from a caramel-complexioned face. A pair of dramatic dark eyebrows drew together and the panic-stricken look in her eyes took on a note of uncomprehending disbelief.

 

A5?”

 

Newt watched her a moment, his expression unreadable, before he let the gun in his hand fall slack so that it dangled from the trigger finger in a demonstration of non-aggression.

 

Then his lip quirked, and he gave it a quick spin over the back of his fingers like a gunslinger out of the Old West, only to take it in a comfortable-looking grip by the handle again and tuck it into the back of his waistband. He bent to gather up Lizzy’s prow rope from the floor.

 

“Name’s Newt,” he corrected her.

 

And he leaned out across the bow to toss their apparent new prisoner of war a life line.

 

Chapter Text

Paprika. He was sure he had forgotten to pack paprika.

 

Frypan looked out straight ahead and not down at his hands, gripping the rail in front of him. He had scrubbed so many times but sometimes he still felt like if he looked he would see blood.

 

The last few days had passed in what almost felt like a blur. The last Berg to arrive at the Island had made for the cliffs and not the beach, but whoever was inside had apparently thought better of landing and opening that hatch. Once the pilot had gotten a good look at the regiment of armed Haveners all lined up under the trees, it had taken off to disappear back up into the clouds as quickly as it had appeared. 

 

But not before letting loose a blazing spray of mechanized gunfire into the trees where they had all been positioned, waiting. 

 

Where Gally had been positioned. Right at the front of the lines.

 

His hands tightened a little against the rail, at the way the memory of it made his eyes sting, and put heat in his blood. The senselessness. Had they just simply done it out of spite? Sometimes he had to wonder what could happen to a person to make them so… Frypan had never cared much for the word evil, but there it was. 

 

WCKD or not, those were people. People sitting in those pilot’s chairs, people manning the guns.

 

People killing one another. 

 

Quentin’s burial had barely been worth calling a ‘funeral’. A few quiet – and angry – words from Vince lit by rows of candles Daryl and Clarisse passed out had been all the camp had had time for. There was too much for the living to worry about now, too much to be taken care of. Too many new threats to imagine, and discuss, and stay armed against. 

 

Too many wounded.

 

Gally had been all but a dead weight between him and Minho by the time they had gotten him down off of the ridge, with an arm slung around each of their necks. It was probably only minutes but it had felt more like hours as they inched down the hillside. Struggling to keep hold as Gally’s grip started to go weak and slip off their shoulders with the more and more blood that soaked the front of his shirt and slicked their grip on his wrists, as they stumbled and skidded their way down the mudded, treacherous slope to the med shacks. 

 

On the way there was when they had run into the others. Wrapped in blankets Thomas and Newt had apparently somehow scrounged up from the fishing docks, and shivering from the freezing cold water of the bay. Headed to the med shacks with Jorge, who was injured as well – shaky and grey and clutching his arm weakly to his chest.

 

But it was Brenda he remembered the most clearly. Brenda’s face, when she saw them. 

 

Now, Brenda was a badass. Hell, she and Jorge had just single-handedly taken down two Bergs, with no more preparation than a few minutes’ warning, and probably saved their whole island. And he himself would never forget the day she volunteered to let him swing her and her busload of brave-as-hell kids straight through a sea of fire and mayhem on a damn crane. 

 

She was even one of only two people he knew of, to ever survive the Flare. 

 

And never, ever had he seen her face look that sick, or pale with shock, as when she had broken away from Jorge’s side. The rough woolen blanket fell forgotten from her shoulders on the puddled ground, as she rushed forward at the sight of Gally between them, his head lolling and his legs having already given out a ways back up the trail. 

 

No sooner had she reached them – her hands finding the sides of Gally’s face and her voice a breathless, broken little bleat as she begged to know what had happened, whether he was going to be alright – than somebody was following hot on her heels. 

 

Somebody new. 

 

The first stranger to set foot on the Island and live to tell about it. Shouldering past Thomas and Newt and marching straight toward them without the slightest regard for the weapons still drawn and held down at the men’s sides as they escorted her, as if they were unsure whether to treat the newcomer as a prisoner or a guest. 

 

“Are those your medical facilities?” She had asked, after barely a second’s glance at Gally’s state. There wasn’t a trace of judgement in her crisply accented voice as she pointed a finger over at what had to look to her like a couple of raggedy, abandoned old sea shanties compared to where Frypan now knew she had come from.

 

“Get both of them in there,” she ordered, not waiting for his and Minho’s breathless and bewildered nod of confirmation, but giving a swift glance back over her shoulder at Jorge still huddled in his blanket before turning her attention back to Gally. “Right away!”

 

And damn if that WCKD woman hadn’t swept up her long, rain-sodden hair to knot it into a hasty bun at the back of her head, and rolled up her sleeves. Then she marched on ahead, leading the way to the med shacks as if she had been there all her life and they were the Newbies.

 

Leaving both Thomas and Newt to trail along behind, their expressions respectively perplexed and impassively stony, and guns still in hand.

 

But the new doctor wasn’t the only one with her work cut out. The entire Island pitched in as more wounded people came down from the ridge, and the med shacks were a blur of activity all night long. 

 

The morning hadn’t found him feeling much clearer, either.

 

The light was still grey outside when Frypan had entered the council room at the North end of camp, the lantern light inside casting its yellow glow around the wood-paneled walls a soft contrast at odds with the mood inside.

 

The meeting table was strewn with maps, the image a forceful and unbidden throwback to the Map Room in the Glade. There were weapons on the table too. Pushed aside but only a small, vigilant ways away, as if the men inside weren’t ready yet to set them down too far from hand. 

 

Minho was there already, leaned against the wall with his arms folded and his expression guarded. His eyes were on Newt, who was busy sorting rather expertly through a crate of ammunition in the corner, while he listened to the conversation happening at the table.

 

It was a tableau Frypan remembered vividly from nearly their every night back in the shipyard. Vince leaned back on a hip with a look of determined calm as he regarded Thomas – hands spread out over the corners of a map, his head bent wearily but studiously over the images of the nearby surrounding Islands. 

 

This wasn’t the council hall anymore. It was a War Room.

 

And Frypan could have cut the tension in it with a bread knife.

 

“I just think we’re getting ahead of ourselves,” Vince was saying. His voice had a low, reined-in sound that gave the distinct impression he was repeating himself. “We’ve got thirteen people badly wounded, two still under sedation at last check, one soul lost, and one hell of a mess. Until we get some answers, we’ve got no—”

 

Thomas shook his head without raising it. “You didn’t see it,” he argued, sounding like it wasn’t his first time making this point either. “I’m telling you, if it wasn’t for Newt—“ 

 

But he was interrupted by Minho, who turned to see Frypan standing in the doorway and seemed to come to a sudden decision, pushing off from the wall behind Thomas and brushing past him to swipe up two of the handguns from the meeting table. 

 

“Minho? Where—“

 

Getting some answers,” Minho tossed back over his shoulder. “C’mon,” he said, handing one of the guns to Frypan as he moved past him, headed for the door. 

 

Frypan didn’t get much else out of him the entire walk, but by the time they were crossing the stream and making for the path up to the med shacks, he had it figured out anyway. 

 

They greeted Harriet first, who stood tired but vigilant-looking by the doorway of the largest hut, cutting long reams of gauze into strips. Probably more for something to do than anything else. 

 

She was armed, which Frypan could admit was her usual, but not normally found around the med shacks without Sonya. So he could only guess that in spite of the night’s efforts, the prisoner vs. guest status of their new resident physician was still in doubt. And the way Minho gave her a nod of thanks as they passed only further confirmed his suspicion that Harriet’s presence had probably been a strict condition for his getting Newt and Thomas to let her out of their sight long enough to help out with the chaos around camp and meet with Vince. 

 

Unusually, Minho didn’t seem too keen on speaking, to the newest arrival on the island. But it turned out there wasn’t much need. She barely even looked surprised to see them, when they entered.

 

Her clothes were dry and her glossy black hair had been braided in a neat plait down her back since Frypan had seen her the night before. Rushing about from patient to patient, issuing instructions and demands for various supplies to the volunteers milling about the huts. But there were dark spots under her eyes that said she had gotten about as much sleep as any of them.

 

She looked them over, her large, dark eyes taking in the weapons in their hands, and she nodded in silent understanding and cooperation. Then she stood to the side, holding out a hand in a gesture for them to come further inside. 

 

Brenda was there, sitting watchful and puffy-eyed on a stool in the corner next to where Gally lay on a cot, unconscious. He had been stripped of his bloodied and torn clothing but what could be seen of his chest and shoulder above several layers of blankets was so heavily bandaged it was hard to tell until they got close. 

 

Frypan put a hand down on her shoulder when they did. Brenda didn’t speak but he heard her sniffle a little. And both her hands stayed where they were, wrapped tightly around Gally’s much larger, pale-looking one, but she tipped her head to the side, laying the crown of her hair against Frypan’s forearm in acknowledgement. 

 

“Your friend has lost a lot of blood.” The doctor’s cool, well-spoken voice answered their unasked question from behind them. “But he will live. His injuries are mostly in the shoulder, and the clavicle. The bones are shattered. He may take a long while to heal but he was very lucky, his heart and his lungs were not pierced.”

 

“Then he’s lived through worse,” Minho offered, brushing his knuckles gently against Brenda’s shoulder, and getting a weak, watery-looking smile. 

 

Frypan bowed his head, feeling the irony of Minho’s commentary on Gally’s last nearly-fatal chest wound dimpling his cheeks in a small, painful little smile, too.

 

“Whenever you’re ready,” the doctor said gently, and without questions or protest, went to wait for them by the door.

 

WCKD or not, they were people. And Frypan had not a single doubt in his mind this person was solely responsible for saving Gally’s life.

 

They heard her kindly telling Harriet to go wake Sonya for her shift in case any of the patients woke up, and then to go get some rest. Confirmation, as far as Frypan was concerned, that the bandage-cutting act had fooled nobody and she knew exactly why Harriet had been there all night. And probably exactly where they were taking her next.

 

Sure enough, their ‘visitor’ let them walk her out of the shacks and through the quiet, slowly brightening morning with her spine straight and her mouth stoically shut all the way to the council hall. Minho leading with his features uncharacteristically closed off and grim, while Frypan brought up the rear and pushed down hard on the feeling of leading a victim to guillotine.

 

There was no sign anymore to show the newcomer there had been any sort of argument between the Islanders when they entered the hall. Newt had moved on from his box of ammunition to a new crate that appeared to be full of various weapons, several of which he had laid out in a careful but intimidating array in front of himself on the floor. 

 

Thomas and Vince had been joined by the rest of the Safe Haven’s council and were seated quietly, if a little surly-looking, across from each other at the table. 

 

Both of them got to their feet when they saw the three of them enter. Vince spread out a hand indicating a vacant chair, one that had been pulled a little way away from the meeting table. Offering a clear view of the occupant for everyone at the meeting, as well as the message that the person sitting in it was not one of them.

 

Everybody understood who it was for. Minho stepped aside to let her pass.  

 

She made the walk past the long table lined with council members – many of whom had set down more not-quite-discarded weapons on the tabletop – with her head held high and eyes straight ahead. And Frypan followed Minho back to his spot against the meeting room wall, and tried not to think how much they really did resemble an actual firing squad.

 

“Doc, meet Vince.”

 

All the heads in the room turned from their scrutiny of the new stranger at the sound of Newt’s voice. He had moved out of the dim shadows in the corner and into the circle of lantern light around the meeting table to stand up near the head of it, at Thomas’s shoulder.

 

The doctor turned to look at him too, and Frypan watched what seemed to him like the first trace of emotion he had seen from her flicker across her exotic features, but whatever it was she was thinking disappeared from view the moment he spoke again.

 

“He runs things around here.”

 

“Vince,” she repeated, a quiet smile of understanding settling on her face, even as her dark eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Of the famous Right Arm.”

 

“Have a seat,” Vince said. It was neither an answer nor an invitation.

 

“Thank you,” the doctor replied anyway, as she did.

 

“Vince, everyone,” Newt announced cordially, as everybody around him settled back down. Frypan watched the way he leaned back on a hip and folded his arms across his chest, assuming the exact same stance he used to use when he took the floor at Gatherings back in the Glade. And from the slight hint of a smirk Frypan thought he might be the only one noticing starting to pull at one corner of Newt’s mouth, he got the strangest suspicion he was almost enjoying this. “Allow me to introduce Doctor Patel.”

 

There was quiet in the hall, the odd shift of clothing or clearing of a throat, maybe a murmur or two, as the council took in the fact that the two newest people to appear on the island knew each other. 

 

“Just about the very first face I was allowed to see after I woke up at WCKD, alive …more or less.” Newt added. 

 

Then there were definitely a few murmurs. Everybody knew Newt’s story by now. Everybody had heard how he had contracted the Flare, that he had been all but dead before Thomas and the rest of the survivors had landed on the island, only to turn up years later astonishingly alive and well. But nobody knew how

 

This sounded like Dr. Patel might. This sounded like she may have even had a hand in it.

 

Frypan watched Thomas’s fingers curl in surprise against the table top and his eyes flick toward Newt standing next to him. Apparently this was new information, even to him.


But Newt didn’t say anything more, simply passing the floor to Vince with a silent nod, and stepping back into the shadow a little, to stand behind Thomas’s chair.

 

“As you can imagine,” Vince began, seriously enough that the room went silent around him again, “we have some questions.”

 

“I will try not to disappoint you,” Dr. Patel answered, equally seriously in her soft, poshly accented voice. “The organization I work for can be very secretive.”

 

Nobody said ‘no shit’ out loud. But Frypan had the sudden feeling they were all thinking it so loudly, it amounted to almost the same thing.

 

“You can start from the beginning,” Vince responded, without a trace of humour. “What it is you’re doing on our island. What does WCKD want with us?”

 

Dr. Patel bowed her head a moment, the first breaking of her steady, deliberate eye contact Frypan had seen, as she collected her thoughts.

 

“I’m afraid those may prove to be two very different questions,” she said when she raised her chin again. “But I can answer the first. As you know, we monitor the spread and mutation of the Flare virus, that has by now killed off a large portion of the world’s population. An island such as yours represents a unique closed environment, something that is not uncommon as a subject of WCKD’s study. I was sent here as the lead of a medical team, and told there would be high priority specimens to transport back to headquarters under my care.”

 

“Specimens,” Thomas repeated suddenly, before Vince could respond, and apparently surprising both of them into silence. His fingers had closed all the way into a fist on the table’s top now, and his eyes seemed to blaze darker than their usual in the windowless, dimly lit hall. “You mean people? Like Newt?”

 

Dr. Patel sighed. She flicked an almost involuntary-looking glance Newt’s way, but he wasn’t looking, arms still folded and his gaze pointed down somewhere in front of him on the floor. He was listening though, carefully. Frypan could see a tiny muscle twitch along the line of his jaw. 

 

“I don’t know,” the doctor went on. “I was to receive my assignment details once the rest of the team had arrived. I didn’t even know whether or not to expect the island was inhabited. We had nearly landed when the scouting Berg assigned to secure a safe perimeter for our work sent out a distress call that it was under attack. And so as you will know, the Chancellor’s Berg never landed. …And now, unfortunately, you have just as many facts as I do.”

 

“The Chancellor?” Vince asked, just as the words “Not Ava Paige?” came incredulously out of Thomas’s mouth across from him.

 

Vince sent Thomas a quelling look but didn’t say anything more. He didn’t need to. Thomas sat back, making a visible and deliberate effort of settling his shoulders and unballing the tight fist he was making on the tabletop. 

 

Dr. Patel looked perplexedly between them for a moment before she answered.

 

“Chancellor Paige was killed in an act of terrorism against our facilities in Denver several years ago.”

 

Vince nodded. This answer seemed to satisfy him some way, as if asking something they already knew the answer to had been some sort of test. But his eyes stayed on Thomas a moment, like he wanted to be sure he did nothing to suggest they knew anything more than Dr. Patel seemed to, about the way Ava Paige’s life had really ended.

 

And Frypan couldn’t help but wonder just how secretive things must have been around WCKD. 

 

“So your new Chancellor set out to personally accompany you on a research expedition?” Vince asked after a moment or two. “In four heavily armed Bergs?”

 

There was the slightest quirk of Dr. Patel’s eyebrow, and a strange light entered her eyes. ‘Amusement’ might not have been quite the right word, but there was a dark sort of glint that was a challenge to interpret. 

 

“It does seem a touch excessive doesn’t it?”

 

The little muscle in Newt’s jaw jumped again. Shuck. Captured and questioned on an island full of strangers, barely surviving a Berg crash and a gunfire battle that killed everybody else that she knew and worked with and still – this woman was just as sarcastic a shank as he was. 

 

But she was cooperating. Frypan could feel the mood shift in the room, as clearly as he could see the shift in Vince’s posture, as he sat back a little in his chair, regarding her coolly.

 

“So you don’t think it’s a coincidence then,” he asked, “finding Newt, and the rest of us, here?” 

 

They were coming to it, the question on everybody’s mind. 

 

Vince glanced up at Newt as he spoke, and so did the doctor. He met their eyes this time, even if it looked like he was biting nervously at the inside of his cheek. 

 

“Not now,” Dr. Patel answered honestly. “No.”

 

“Are they coming back?” Clarisse piped up loudly from Vince’s left side. He held up a hand, both acknowledging and delaying the question that was only part of what they needed to know.

 

“So if not a coincidence,” Vince repeated himself, “then how did you find us? …Are they tracking him?” 

 

“Hey,” Thomas cut in again before she could answer. He was so far forward in his seat again that he was nearly coming up off the edge of it. “Newt got checked out!” His eyes glittered darkly as they swept around the table at the council. “I told you before, he – he got himself scanned before he came here just to make sure—”

 

“Nobody is blaming Newt for anything,” Vince said swiftly, his tone firm and silencing, as Thomas broke off. Newt had stepped forward, letting his arms fall uncrossed and to his sides, so he could press a taming forearm quietly to his shoulder. “These are the questions that need answering, Thomas,” Vince said. “And I get that some of them are going to be hard to hear, but I’m going to ask you not to interrupt this meeting again if you want to stay part of it.”

 

Almost every pair of eyes in the room was turned on Thomas as he clamped his jaw shut and nodded stiffly, but Frypan felt Minho tense beside him where they leaned together against the side wall, watching. And he was sure he knew why.

 

Dr. Patel’s dark eyes had shifted Thomas’s way too.

 

“Thomas.” It came out under her breath. Too quietly, probably, for any of the distracted council members to hear, but if you were watching, you could see her lips form the name in her surprise. 

 

This was apparently her first time hearing it since arriving on the island, and she very obviously recognized it. 

 

“Dr. Patel?” Vince prompted her, when Thomas was sitting back in his chair again, leaning slightly into the pressure of Newt’s arm still at his shoulder.

 

She blinked, a strange fascinated look was in her gaze where it had been following the way Thomas reached briefly across himself to curl his hand gratefully around Newt’s wrist.

 

Beside him, Frypan could feel Minho’s hands making fists. 

 

“It is very likely,” she said finally, returning to Vince’s question like there had never been a distraction. “During the early trials, subjects to be released into the surrounding environment were tagged with radio ID chips found just under the skin, where a scanner could easily read them, yes.” She turned to Thomas again, the creepy studying look gone from her face, and leaving it almost sympathetic. “And yes, I can confirm that yours – Newt’s –” she corrected herself as she looked at Newt and Thomas in turn, like the name felt strange for her to say, “was successfully removed.”

 

“But you think there’s one someplace else.” It was Newt who interrupted this time, and Vince didn’t stop him, his voice flat and direct in the tense quiet that had taken over the room. “Deeper than just under the skin. Where a scanner wouldn’t find it?”

 

Dr. Patel sighed again. There was a definite emotion in her expression now, although still not one Frypan could quite put a finger on. But he couldn’t help the thought that it was the first time he had seen her actually look like a doctor.

 

“It required many hours of surgery, for you to be standing here alive, Newt.” She said, turning to look at him after a short pause. “I do not have to think. I know. I can be certain there is a device implanted where a scanner would be unlikely to pick up on it, one that reads your vital signs and communicates with the mainframe system at WCKD. One that, yes, I suspect they might use to find you if they wished to devise a program to do so” she said, raising her chin even as her voice came out more softly than Frypan had heard it come yet. 

 

“...Because I put it there myself.”

 

And so the doctor who had indeed been the one to save Newt’s life, had also been the one to make sure he would never live it free.

 

There was a moment of utter, awkward silence and then the restlessness was back in the council room, tenfold.


Frypan could hear the rustling of movement, a surprised exclamation or two, and the scraping back of more than one chair. Including Thomas’s, who had twisted right around for a better look at Newt.

 

Frypan looked too, feeling his skin itch all over in sympathy at the pale, convulsed look of revulsion there. Newt was staring hard at the doctor, while his fingers flexed agitatedly at his sides, like he was wishing he could read the location of the mysterious tracking device right out of her head if he stared hard enough, and tear it out right then with his bare hands.  

 

“Can you remove it?” It was Thomas again, addressing the doctor sharply, and Vince didn’t stop him this time either. 

 

Maybe he wasn’t even sure that he could. The look he was aiming at Dr. Patel was intense, hard and blazing, even as he reached out for a gentle hold on Newt’s arm to calm the stressed, spasmodic twitching of his fingers. 

 

“Not here,” she answered smoothly. “While your facilities are actually quite impressive for a community without a trained medical staff—“

 

“Well we have one now,” Thomas growled pointedly. 

 

Dr. Patel’s eyes flickered uncertainly between the hard, driven look Thomas was giving and the place where Newt was drawing his hand softly out of Thomas’s grasp. His fingers had gone still, and he was muttering something like “it doesn’t matter,” that was lost into the mounting murmur starting to fill up the air in the room.

 

Minho was so tense beside him, Frypan could hear that his breathing had gone shallow. Vince was looking at Thomas like he was worried he might need to be restrained. 

 

Dr. Patel shook her head. “The equipment and technology required for such an invasive—"

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Newt said again, louder. “You don’t have to worry about any more troops landing here looking for me,” he promised. He addressed his last words to Vince, as he turned away from the table, heading back to the corner to retrieve his box of supplies. “I won’t be here.”

 

“Newt,” Vince responded carefully, when Newt had returned to set his box of various weapons unceremoniously down in front of Thomas’s place at the table. “It’s like I said, nobody’s blaming you.” Newt kept his head down as he picked studiously through the items in the box, and both he and Vince ignored the one or two murmurs around the room that might suggest otherwise. “I’m not sure that’s the best idea. If it’s true that they’re tracking you, there’s nowhere for you to go. How can you expect to be able to hide?”

 

Newt picked through his box silently for another second before raising his head again. But when he did there was a silver handgun in his hand and a glint in his eye. “Who said anything about hiding?”


“We don’t understand, honey,” Clarisse pressed, concern for this slightly manic new mood quite obvious in her voice, as Newt busied himself strapping his choice of weapon into the holster on his belt. “Where are you planning to go?”

 

Newt gave a pantomime frown of uncertainty. “Well, we’ll have to check the map they sent us won’t we?”

 

There were a few more murmurs and confused whispers around the room at the new mention of this mythical-sounding map. But Newt was turning his eyes on Dr. Patel as he chose a long hunting knife out of the box.

 

“So, what say – where’re we headed, Doc?”

 

The strange, dark glimmer lit up Dr. Patel’s gaze again.

 

“Are you asking the location of WCKD headquarters?”

 

“Politely,” Newt confirmed. “The first time.” An eyebrow lifted and a hand settled on the freshly-holstered weapon at his side. “Are we going to have to ask again?”

 

And this time Frypan could be sure that at least one part of the look she was regarding Newt shrewdly with, was definitely amusement.

 

“Alaska,” she answered.

 

“Newt—”

 

“Bundle up, Tommy,” Newt quipped, swiftly cutting off whatever protest Thomas had been about to offer from beside him. He tipped the box on the table toward him, theatrically offering him his choice of the weapons inside as if he planned for them to pick up and leave right then. “Doc Patel here will be needing a lift back home.” 

 

“Because WCKD have sent us more than just a map,” Newt went on, leaning back on his hip into his habitual cocky stance, and folding his arms over his chest as he addressed her. “They’ve given us a right nice little set of fingerprints haven’t they? A lovely big brown pair of retinal scans? They’ve sent us a list of all their security measures, an inventory of personnel and their favourite weapons to use. A blueprint of all their most secret labs, and even the skills to use them.”

 

The doctor only blinked, her striking dark brows drawing together as she met Newt’s eyes gamely. But at some point during his little speech, Newt’s attention had turned elsewhere.

 

A new look of clarity and fiery interest had lit somewhere in the back of Vince’s gaze, as he leaned into the table toward Newt. A look Frypan remembered from their Scorch days, and wouldn’t soon be about to forget.

 

“We’ll need a plan.”


And now, as they stood on the deck of the same ship that had brought them here two and half years ago, Frypan kept his hands on the rail and his eyes straight ahead, watching the Safe Haven sliding away from them into the distance.

 

He tried to keep his mind on counting and re-counting his new number of mouths to feed. He ran over and over his mental list of things to pack – he was sure he had forgotten paprika – but still, he could hear them. Newt’s final words of the fateful meeting, ringing through his head.

 

“I hope they are tracking me. I hope they’re watchin’ real buggin’ close.”

 

The memory was as vivid as the moment it had happened. Thomas was already rising out of his chair, moving to stand at Newt’s side. Minho’s back came away from its reclined position against the wall, arrow-straight and ready, before the rest of the words had even left Newt’s mouth.

 

Let the bastards see us coming.” 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“Oh hell no.”

 

Minho’s voice shouldn’t have come as quite that much of a surprise, breaking through the dark of the cabin to snap him abruptly out of his blurring, endlessly turning thoughts. But Thomas had maybe expected him to be asleep already.

 

To call the past few days ‘exhausting’ didn’t begin to describe them. Thomas had spent most of his time embroiled in overseeing the planning. Endless hours in the council hall, spent in long, repetitive discussion, and pouring over inventories. Hashing and re-hashing out interminable, confusingly overlapping lists of all the things they would need. Provisions, food.


Weaponry.

 

How much of each they would need to get where they were going. And then, ideally, for the way back.

 

And all of it under a silent, sort of heavily hanging pall – though nobody had yet had the guts to say it out loud – that there was far from any guarantee they were all going to be coming home.

 

Word of the plan had spread like a brush fire through a camp that wasn’t the same one it had been days before the one when WCKD had tried – and failed – to set foot on their shores. Something had been stirred up that had maybe always been there somewhere, settled at the bottom of the hearts of the people like silt on the ocean bed of the Safe Haven’s waters. Something tense, and watchful. Something angry.

 

Anyone who was Immune, and a few who weren’t, had wanted to volunteer for the trip. Vince actually ended up having to turn Daryl and a fair few others away with the reminder that there was still a whole infrastructure, a whole life for them to maintain.

 

Life on the island had to go on. It was the whole point of this, after all.

 

The departure itself, when it came to it, had taken as much effort if not more. A spectrum of different chores as well as the new and gruelling daily work of the clean-up of debris that still polluted the beach, had been put aside. Teams of helpers had organized for all the packing, loading and hauling that had to be done to lade a ship that could only move close enough to the shore to be reached by rowboat.

 

It was several more days of active, physical labour and everyone now aboard ship had taken part. Thomas could only imagine that everyone around him must be as drained and distracted as he was.

 

So it took him a dazed sort of moment to come out of his thoughts, finding himself rooted in confusion to the spot he had simply wandered to on autopilot, after entering the cabin they had assigned to be used as sleeping quarters for the duration of the trip. He stood there, in front of the bunk Minho had selected, preparing to throw the sleeping bag he had grabbed from the pile by the cabin door up onto the one above it, and settle in for the night without further thought.


But from the sound of it Minho had some objections.

 

The covers of the lower bunk rustled for a brief, irritable moment as Minho threw them dramatically back to scramble agitatedly to his feet. Only to grab a fistful of Thomas’s sleeve and frog march him unceremoniously through the dark and down the line of bunks until they were both standing over the one that, unsurprisingly at this point, contained Newt.

 

Thomas ignored a little flitting of apprehension somewhere in his guts, as he opened his mouth to warn Minho against waking him. Even though the stiff-looking hunch of Newt’s shoulder where he lay, curled away from them onto his side and facing the wall, said there was probably no need.

 

Nope.” Minho said, seemingly by way of simultaneously silencing Thomas and announcing his presence. “You two shuck-faces signed up for each other.”

 

There were a few rustles from other bunks around the cabin at the sound of his voice cutting through the dark and likely into several attempts at sleep.

 

“You literally made your bed,” he went on, unconcerned. “Time to lie in it. Newt—” There was another rustling as Newt rolled over onto his back toward them. His hair was already its signature riot of bedhead, as if simply touching a pillow sent it immediately into a mad state of pandemonium. Even now, even in the middle of the mess they were all in, and with the whole of their motley crew turning in their bunks toward them, Thomas felt his heart turn over and his fingers twitch with the urge to smooth and comb through it. “Unzip that mother and slide over,” Minho instructed, with a nod at the seam of Newt’s sleeping bag.

 

“You what?” Newt’s eyes gleamed alertly as he turned to him, further evidence to Thomas’s suspicion he hadn’t been asleep in the first place. But his voice still came out muzzy and weary.

 

“Relax,” Minho reassured him, with a tilt of his head in Thomas’s direction. “I mean for him, not me.”

 

Thomas’s heart gave a little stutter in its rhythm. Newt gave Minho a silent lift of a brow that said if he was planning on having a point to make with this little disturbance, he could get to it any time.

 

But Minho was already turning his attention back to Thomas.

 

“I don’t need to remind you why we’re here, right?” he obliged, blithely. “Where we’re going? We need to be on top of our game, which means we all need to actually sleep. And apparently the only way this one,” Minho stated, looking back at Newt and jerking his thumb in Thomas’s direction, “can do that without waking the rest of us sorry-ass shanks up calling your name out every five minutes from his shuck nightmares, is if he does it wrapped around you.”

 

There were a few softer, more awkward sounds from the surrounding bunks.

 

Thomas could feel heat start in his cheeks under the cover of the dark in the room, as Newt’s eyes found his through the shadows. His expression was easily readable, even in the bare bit of light filtering in from the cabin doorway, maybe because it was the same one Thomas had seen him wear so often. That brow-contracting, forehead-furrowing frown of concern.

 

“Nightmares.” Newt sat up on an elbow. “Tommy, wh—"

 

“And you,” Minho interrupted, jabbing a finger at him and getting a skeptical slow-blink in response. “Everybody else may not know the reason you’re pretending you don’t want any of this,” he went on, punctuating his comment with a wave of a hand over the length of Thomas’s torso and back up again that did nothing for the whole blushing furiously in the dark thing. “But I do.”

 

“Min—”

 

“And if you think you’re going to be able to get up every morning at the crack of dawn like you’re back in the Glade,” Minho bulldozed on ahead, “and try to tiptoe through this minefield of sleeping shanks and sneak off to do your whole pacing and muttering act I’ve seen you doing outside the med shacks on my morning runs every day since your first day at the Safe Haven, without waking up every last one of us? Newsflash, Hop-a-long – that limp? You’re not stealthy. And we’re not deaf.”

 

You don’t say,” put in a voice from back down the row of bunks before Newt could get in a reply.

 

The pointed commentary on Minho’s continued disruption of the cabin’s quiet was one of the first cracks Thomas had heard out of Brenda in days.

 

Her farewell to Gally had been tearful, and heart wrenching to watch. Gally had taken Dr. Patel’s news that his healing time would be far too lengthy and difficult to join their mission more than a little hard, and Thomas still saw the image of their goodbye by the water’s edge in his mind each time he looked at her. Gally, tall and pale, with his arm tightly bandaged in a sling. Bowing to place a silent, stoic kiss to her forehead before Thomas turned away, making his way to the rowboats to board ship, and leaving them to it.

 

Brenda had spent most of her time since wandering the decks looking pale and seasick. And antisocial enough that Thomas and the others had cut her somewhat of a wide berth most of the day.

 

Minho, however, seemed mostly unperturbed by her interruption.

 

“Almost done,” he said with a dismissive wave probably only he and Newt could see in this light. And Thomas was treated to a little sinking sensation at the idea that that sounded like Minho had at least some of this whole speech planned out. Which could never be good.

 

“Newt, I get it man – mornings,” he went on, saying something Thomas actually now remembered him saying to Newt on other occasions before. “But I mean – look at him,” Minho directed, grabbing Thomas rather unnecessarily by the shoulder and hip, holding him out to show him off like a prize catch in a fishing derby. “He’s practically a human teddy bear, who wouldn’t want to wake up next to this and just roll over for a cuddle?” Thomas shoved him playfully off, but then he put up his hand to scratch at the back of his neck, where he could feel the flush starting to crawl down under his collar now.

 

“And his cuddles are pretty damn effective, man, I should know.”

 

“Oh my Gooood.” Brenda’s contribution this time sounded distinctly like it was coming from under a pillow being smashed down over her ears.

 

“It was a rough time, there was a lot of man-hugging, and we’re not ashamed to admit it—”

 

Alright Minho, you relentless. Bloody. Twit. Will you shut it, before I let Brenda shut it for you? Tommy just –” Newt interrupted his own interruption of Minho irritably, with a nod at the sleeping bag still dangling uncertainly from Thomas’s fingers, “give that here, love.”

 

It was almost hard to make out anything in the flurry of voices that followed.

 

“…Love.”

 

“It’s an expression.”

 

“Yeah, an expression that would have been ‘mate’ a week ago, and everybody here knows it hermano.”

 

“Unbelievable,” muttered Brenda.

 

And Thomas wouldn’t have even been sure that he’d heard it himself, if it hadn’t been for the way Minho’s head turned sharply, his features moving into a distinct distrustful scowl at a soft, interested “huh” that came from the bunk all the way down at the end of the row. The one that housed Dr. Patel herself.

 

A tiny sound, that Thomas might have lost in the round-robin of teasing now surrounding Newt’s bunk, had Minho’s expression not sent a little chill of warning through him, before the one voice that could put a stop to it all cracked through the dark with a sandpapery nighttime taint that brought an immediate chastised hush.

 

Even if Thomas was sure he could still hear just the barest hint of soft snickering from whichever bunk in the room currently held Jorge.

 

Since sleep is supposed to be the ultimate goal at some point here,” Vince asserted, from the far end of the cabin, “I’m gonna say that sounds like Newt’s prepared to accept the new sleeping arrangements, Minho. Call off the dogs.”

 

Which Minho apparently took to mean stepping back a few paces with his chin tucked, arms folded, and mouth admittedly shut as he waited pointedly for Newt to climb out of the bunk and start rearranging the sleeping bags into some facsimile of a reasonably comfortable – though quite tight – nest for two. While Thomas stood by haplessly, reaching out to raise the edge of a blanket now and then or tug a corner no doubt completely unhelpfully, and Minho hovered and hawkishly supervised the entire, agonizingly awkward process.

 

Finally, when Newt straightened up to serve him with a significant glare, Minho gave his work a nod of approval, and reached out to put an olive-branch of a hold around the side of his neck. Trust me, he mouthed, reassuringly, although once again Thomas was sure nobody in the room could catch it save for the three of them.

 

And with that – and one last surly glare in the direction of the last bunk in the row – Minho left them to it with a hearty couple of slaps at Thomas’s shoulder, and jogged off back down the row to where he had come from, for the night.

 

It was a quiet couple of words, but Thomas just made them out, as Minho made his way past the top bunk that, had he climbed into bed where he had originally been intending to, would have been the one right next to his own. “Thank you.”

 

Vince’s command had apparently been effective enough Minho didn’t say anything more in reply, but Thomas thought he could see him reach up to tap an acknowledging fist against Frypan’s on his way past and back to his own bunk, just before the darkness swallowed him up. 

 

Thomas sighed and reminded himself how much he loved his friends. Even when they were kinda being jerks.

 

It shouldn’t have been awkward, standing there with Newt, staring at the bed made up for two as if Thomas had never seen one before. What was it Minho had said? They signed up for each other. They were a couple – weren’t they?

 

The past few days had been more than just hectic. More than just chaotic and stressful. If Thomas was completely honest, what they had been, was downright damaging.

 

Despite spending nearly every minute more or less working side by side, they hadn’t spoken much, not in days.

 

There hadn’t been much time. Everybody had been focused and industrious, diligently going about their new tasks getting ready for the voyage with dedication and purpose. And though he and Newt had both been no exception, it had been just as hard as it ever was, if not more, for Thomas to keep his eyes off him.

 

And what he saw was troubling.

 

It was almost like that closed, internally-focused state Newt had seemed to slip into the day the Bergs landed had never quite switched off. 

 

Everyone was focused, sure, but there was a detached, mechanical quality to the way Newt completed a task, only to move robotically on to the next without much pause or conversation. He was laconic and closed off, often giving one word answers where possible. He didn’t look around himself anymore, taking in the sun and the rocky shores of the Haven around him like he used to when he first arrived.

 

He definitely didn’t smile. Thomas didn’t think he had seen him do it once.

 

His eyes stayed turned forward at mealtimes, most likely avoiding the eyes of the other Haveners while they took their meals, though Thomas couldn’t blame him much on that front.

 

He too could feel eyes cast surreptitiously at him, and especially at this new stony, laconic version of Newt, every place they went – the council hall, loading boxes of munitions in the armoury, packing up what felt like half of Frypan’s entire kitchen – with a new sort of apprehension and concern.

 

Everything had changed. And all anyone seemed to know for sure was that whatever was happening, they appeared to be at the centre of it.

 

And no matter what Vince or anybody else might have officially had to say at council, Thomas was sure Newt blamed himself for most of it.

 

Then there was this. This was something that had a heavy sort of significance sitting darkly over it like a threatening stormcloud in Thomas’s mind.

 

It wasn’t as if Thomas didn’t want this, to curl up in sleep at night with the person who was by now unquestionably the love of his entire, if short, life.

 

But there was something – things – that wouldn’t let Thomas be sure that Newt wanted it.

 

It wasn’t as if he didn’t lie awake in his hammock each night wishing it didn’t feel so empty. It wasn’t like a night went by he didn’t wait for sleep adrift in memories of that first and only night Newt had given them to spend wrapped around each other.

 

The memories of how it had felt, finding new definitions of the words peace, and joy. To wake up to the sight of Newt bathed in early light, the crescent of his lashes dark against the cream of his cheek, and his breath coming slow and steady and serene. That bar of sunlight from the med shack door setting white morning fire to the gold in his hair, and the way the bright, wild tangle had felt under the tentative, barely-brushing caress of Thomas's palm.

 

Thomas had asked, after all. He had asked Newt after that first night they spent together for permission to come to him again at night. And Newt hadn’t said no, never in words.


But it wasn’t lost on him.

 

Those gentle warnings Newt roused him with any time they began to drift off to the gentle rock and sway of the bay’s waters as they lay in Lizzy’s bunk, their interlaced hands resting warmly together on Newt’s chest. There was no better word he could think of to describe the soft, lingering goodnight kisses on the starlit paths back to their separate quarters each night than careful.

 

Even that next fateful morning Minho had interrupted them at breakfast with his giddy, genial back-slapping and talk of ‘ginormous shuck hickeys’ that were actually one tiny purple blotch against pale, parchment-white skin, Newt had admitted that falling asleep next to Thomas hadn’t even been in his plan. A mistake, actually, he had called it.

 

And now the things Minho said – ‘muttering acts’, mornings… trust me  – made it sound like maybe there were reasons for Newt’s reticence that he wasn’t keen to share.

 

Thomas wanted this, he did. He had wanted it every night since Newt had been back in his life, and probably, if he thought about it, even every night before that.

 

But he didn’t want it more than he wanted Newt to feel comfortable and happy and safe.

 

Vince’s silencing ban still seemed to be reigning over any further talk around the bunk room for the night, so instead of words he probably wouldn’t find even if he tried, Thomas offered Newt what he hoped was an apologetic look, one that tried its best to communicate that if he didn’t want to do this, then – Minho or no Minho – they wouldn’t.


Newt just blinked softly at him in the cabin’s gloom, holding out a hand toward his freshly re-made bunk in invitation. And Thomas did the only thing left to them and climbed in, heart racing in his chest and throbbing in his throat and hammering in his ears as if he was headed back into battle. Instead of simply to crawl in between the sleeping bags as far in up against the wall as he could get himself, then roll up onto his side to leave room for Newt to slip in and settle awkwardly in front of him.

 

Then he waited. For what he didn’t know. For his next breath to come, harsh and too-loud sounding in the new unbroken silence of the cabin; for his heartrate to calm and even out? For Newt to – well just for Newt.

 

And then, just as Thomas was starting to think he wasn’t going to, Newt reached for him – a warm set of fingers finding his between the covers and lacing in just as always.

 

He lost track of how long they lay there in silence, fingers curling and caressing warmly over one another while their close, humid breath slowed and evened and fell into quiet sync.

 

Then finally, Newt turned, settled on his back. Pulling their entwined fingers toward himself until Thomas took the hint and came inching forward into their usual position, to press his nose in under Newt’s ear, lay their joined hands down on top of his chest. While the fingers of the other hand found their way home into the waiting crown of his hair.

 

He felt so full. So flush to the brim with that usual crackling electricity being this close to Newt always set off in every inch of his skin, but under that, under a layer of something warm and buzzing, he was like a pressure chamber. So much flaring hope and nameless dread warring at each other in his chest he was sure that he could never possibly sleep. And he had the feeling, from the soft, wakeful tapping of an idle thumb over his knuckle that Newt was thinking much the same thing.

 

In fact, Thomas suspected he was counting on it.


That last thought was no less troubling than it had been since the first time he had had it, but then the longer he lay there, with his questions and anxieties slowly drowning under the sound of Newt’s heartbeat and the slim fingers carding methodically through his hair, the drama and the exhaustion of their last few days started to pull and drag at the edges of his consciousness like unseen hands drawing down the shade at the close of a long and arduous day.

 

Thomas felt his eyes draw just as slowly, firmly closed. And he finally, gradually began to drift.

 

___


Blackness.

 

His eyes come open on black darkness, and it is all gone.

 

The warmth and slatted sunlight through sapling walls, the bright white of cotton sheets and the thatch overhead. The smell of disinfectant and sun on sea grasses.

 

The sound of waves.

 

Gone. Like some nasty, whispering nag walled stonily away in the backmost, twisting corridors of his mind had always quietly, enduringly, breathed to him it would.

 

Tension and readiness wake in his limbs. And he is moving, flailing. Throwing off the wires he feels piercing his temples, swatting and swiping at the crook of each arm for the tubes he is sure will be there.

 

Blinking himself awake, then. Fighting back the clinging blur and sleep. Flexing his fingers, in and back out, mind reaching out – searching out the feel of sluggish, tarry blackness in web-spun veins, and fever pounding at the back of his skull.

 

Someone holds him, a strong grip around his waist and Newt strikes out, hard, the flat of his fist connecting with a solid smack against flesh.

 

Warm.

 

And hair – soft.

 

Silky, baby soft. And a wave of realization, crushing the breath from his chest as it all comes filtering back to him through the dark with the shuddering, maritime hum of engines floors below, carrying them swift and sure through the ocean swells.

 

Carrying him back toward hell.

 

___

 

 

Minho had been right about one thing.

 

Thomas didn’t wake up from nightmares that night. Not when he could sleep curled tightly into his boy like he was, head tucked avidly in under his chin and holding him close, breathing him greedily in like Newt’s mere proximity were some kind of drug.

 

No. Thomas woke up clutching the side of his head with a sharp, surprised cry of pain and Newt bolt upright and staring at him in abject horror.

 

For all of half a second, before he turned and slid off the side of the bed, wasting not a single second in retrieving his shoes from under the corner of the bunk and padding precipitously off – barefoot and with them still in hand – out into the hallway. Fingers of the other hand flicking mechanically open and shut at his side, while the few muffled, questioning waking sounds around the cabin couldn’t hope to hide the sound of his muttering already starting before he had even reached the door.


And Thomas stared after him, eyes wide and watering. Clutching his already reddening ear – jaw working uncertainly and looking too stunned with pain and ringing shock to know whether or not he was supposed to go after him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Newt wasn’t all that difficult to find, once Thomas had been awake enough to put a little bit of thought into it.

 

He was alone, when Thomas came out onto the ship’s deck, his back to him and hair stirring slightly in the wind. His hands were spread wide where he was leaned forward against the deck rail, looking out over the water sliding endlessly by.

 

Thomas watched him a moment, putting a strange hesitation he couldn’t name to the back of his mind before he went to stand next to him. Then he took a similar pose, setting his own hand down close enough to Newt’s that their fingers touched.

 

He wasn’t sure why he didn’t do it, what made him stop short before hooking his little finger over top of Newt’s. But then it was barely a moment before Newt did it for them, instead.

 

Thomas watched his features for a change, a hint of a smirk or a crinkling at the corner of his eye, but his gaze stayed set stoically away out on the slim line of where the sea-grey of the water met the mist-grey of the sky.

 

The warmth of their secret little gesture encouraged him anyway. Enough for Thomas to pull away, step back to stand behind him and put his hands back down on the rail on either side of him instead.

 

Newt did react then, letting go of a light sigh and leaning backward into the embrace. The relief that hit him was strong enough Thomas almost felt he could taste it, a punch of white light to his chest and a coppery something at the back of his mouth like biting his own tongue.

 

Thomas turned his face into the warm, Newt-scented side of his neck. He let it breathe out of him – the pent restlessness and stolid tension between them the past few days making itself a part of the slow, heartfelt exhale into his favourite soft spot under the curve of his jaw more than it was words, really:

 

“…I miss you.”

 

“I’m right here,” Newt answered, his voice quiet and distant-sounding even as he turned his cheek into Thomas’s hair to reply.

 

Are you?”

 

A beat, and then Newt was turning all the way around, putting his back to the railing, to face him.

 

The look in his eye was still stony and hard as it had been for days now. But even so, Newt tipped his head, raising a hand to the side of Thomas’s face to let his fingertips land gently over his temple and the shell of his ear, checking for damage.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

Thomas had to hold back a shiver at the simple bit of intimacy. He knew it wasn’t strictly true, but it felt like days since they had touched properly.

 

There were too many eyes always cast their way, always somebody watching their every move. Always something to be taken care of, work to be seen to, new problems to discuss.

 

“Only when you are,” Thomas answered him, turning his face into the touch far enough to put a kiss against the heel of his palm and feeling his stomach curl up and drop unpleasantly when it made Newt’s eyes flutter stiffly shut in a very familiar, very unwelcome, expression. “So. No, I’m guessing.”

 

Newt sighed. His eyes were still closed. “I’m sorry.”

 

“We’ve been over that,” Thomas told him softly.

 

Then he waited.

 

Because apparently they were back to this. Back to Newt needing that moment to take in everything that came at him and decide whether it was real before he could trust it. Back to waiting games and questions that seemed to go in circles and endless figures of eight.

 

Newt didn’t make him wait long though.

 

“Your nightmares…” he said finally, and when his eyes opened again the stoniness in them had chipped away just enough to show the beginnings of his trademark frown of concern.

 

Of course. Of course after what had just happened that morning the first words out of Newt, after an apology he definitely didn’t even need to be giving, would naturally be about him.

 

Thomas gave a sigh of his own and took his hands off the cool of the metal railing to take both Newt’s hands in his. He turned one of them slowly palm-up, so he could run his thumb pointedly over the little latticework of fine white scars there while he worked at trying to swallow the sudden lump in his throat.

 

“…They’re not about Chuck.”

 

His voice didn’t split apart on the words, but it came out weaker than he had wanted it. Why did talking always have to be so hard?

 

“But—” Newt seemed bent on it though. Thomas let the thickness in his throat win out for a moment and stayed quiet, grateful that Newt didn’t seem to need any further explanation than the last one Thomas had stumbled and plowed his way through on their first night together back in the med shack. “What Minho said – they’re every night?”

 

Thomas didn’t look up at him. Not yet. Maybe it was silly, the weird seizing feeling like an invisible hand had reached inside his chest to wrap around his heart, and squeeze.

 

He knew it was just imagination messing with him, this vague, abstract fear that if he looked up at Newt right now his mind would show him the version that the nights gave him. His face years younger than now, tracked in dirt and tears like a child’s, and streaked in battle-stripes of his own blood.

 

Or his eyes, black and inhumanly lightless; the soul of the person Thomas loved drowned under the animalistic sickness cobwebbing in fearsome dark patterns against the pale of his cheek and down the sides of his neck.

 

Thomas licked at his dry lips and nodded. “Couple of times, usually.”

 

“But not last night.”

 

He breathed, shivering a little at a rise in the ship deck’s breeze, and pushed the images back into the dark where they belonged. “No,” he admitted. Obviously. “Not last night.”

 

Newt sighed. His palm shifted away out from under where Thomas’s fingers hadn’t yet stopped stroking over the scars there as if he could unravel their knotted, interwoven paths, erase them each one by one with the potency of his remorse alone and a gentle touch. His fingers came around to take Thomas’s hand.

 

“Why di—“ Newt broke off his admonishment-as-question, and Thomas waited for it to land, another unwarranted apology, hanging in the air above their bowed heads. But Newt gave his hand a soft, solicitous squeeze instead. “If I’d known…”

 

“I know.” Thomas squeezed back. “I know you would’ve.” And messing stuff up for Newt more than it already was? Well, Thomas had been over that too. “That’s why.”

 

Not an option.

 

Thomas threaded his fingers in between Newt’s and forced his gaze up just in time to see it make Newt’s eyes blink shut. Yeah. He had more than enough on his mind without worrying about Thomas’s sleep patterns into the deal.

 

As if to put proof to the thought, Newt’s head shook silently, and when his eyes came open Thomas almost would have taken the closed-off stone-walling of a few minutes ago over the painful, broken look he could see sitting in them now.  

 

“How did you do it?” he asked quietly. “The Maze? The Scorch, all of it. All those eyes looking to you and—"

 

Newt’s pained gaze flickered searchingly between each of his eyes before it dropped and slid away, along with the hands holding his.

 

His next words were half-whispered, aimed out toward the sea as Newt turned to look back over his shoulder and out at the water. “…There’s so much I have to make right.”

 

Thomas felt his chest clench warily. This swerve in their conversation – if you could call it that –  was both unexpected and exactly what he had been fearing for days. He caught Newt’s hands again before he could put them back behind himself on the rail.

 

Don’t do that,” he said, running his thumb firmly across Newt’s knuckles. “You can’t let the guilt—” Thomas stopped and shook his head. God, this was no time to struggle over the right words. This was something that Thomas knew first-hand could be quite literally vital.

 

It didn’t matter what Vince said, Thomas knew. It didn’t matter how many times Minho or Thomas himself, or anybody else, told Newt he wasn’t to blame for anything that had happened. All that mattered, Thomas knew from experience, was what Newt told himself.

 

And giving up? Wasn’t how they had made it through any of the things they had done before. Whatever enzyme or antibody or magic fucking potion ran through their blood amounted to nothing if they never even got there.

 

Self-doubt wasn’t how they were going to survive.

 

So Thomas pulled Newt’s arm around his waist, and stepped closer so he could settle both hands on his shoulders and wait for his full attention.

 

“You wanna know how I did it?” he asked, once Newt was looking back at him. “You.”

 

Newt’s brows drew together but his head tipped attentively again, and the way the intensity in his gaze softened like Thomas hadn’t seen in days made the tension in his chest dial back a notch.

 

“I never figured it out, how you always knew, but you were always there,” he said, thumbs moving reassuringly over the thin fabric of the t-shirt Newt had rushed from the sleeping cabin and out onto the decks wearing. Newt’s eyelids fluttered again but opened back up for him quickly enough this time.

 

So he went on, still not quite sure how to say what he needed, but still feeling oddly urgent, still determined to get there none the less.

 

“Just when I started to think how big and impossible it all was. Whenever I started to feel how small we were, and how there was just no way – there you were,” Thomas admitted. “Telling me to pick my ass up, finish what I started.”

 

He couldn’t care less that they were Newt’s words and not his own. Words he would never forget, that he repeated to himself in times of quiet darkness or moments of doubt. They had been the right ones back then, and apparently not much had changed. Newt’s expression had softened enough now that Thomas was sure there was even the slight quirk of a distant smile curving the corner of his mouth at the memory.

 

And now that he had the words, Thomas could finally come to his point. “That it didn’t matter. What might have happened before, or who was to blame for what.”

 

And thankfully, if the way the hand settled around his hips moved appreciatively a little way up his back were any indication, Newt seemed to be getting it. Thomas took a breath, tightening his hold on Newt’s shoulders by a shade and trying not to mind when it made him give just the slightest of long blinks this time.

 

“What mattered was,” he said finally, “that we’re in this together.”

 

Newt was nodding silently, and Thomas let the tension in him ebb away another notch. Those brightly dark eyes were open and watching him steadily now, and his fingers had started drawing little circles into the small of his back; the intimate little caress already setting tingles starting in Thomas’s skin. It had really been too long since they had touched like this.

 

If Newt wanted him to keep talking, he was going to have to stop that. And so far, it did seem to be helping. Thomas slid his hands down and along the length of Newt’s arms, to take both of his hands in his once again.

 

Sure enough, Newt’s t-shirt probably hadn’t been enough for the amount of time he had ended up spending out in the morning sea air. His skin was cool, noticeably so.

 

Thomas rubbed his thumbs quickly over the backs of his hands, as if the little bit of friction could help to warm him up at least a fraction.

 

What he should really be doing was pulling him into his arms to get warm. He tugged a little hint on the hands he was holding in his own, but Newt, it seemed, did want to keep talking, and only leaned backward into the tension.

 

His mouth opened, but no words came out. It was so strange to see Newt at a loss that Thomas almost interrupted before he remembered. But he held Newt’s hands, and he held his tongue, and he waited.

 

Because there was only one thing Thomas could think of that Newt was really good at Not Talking about. And even that had to come out sometime.

 

Thomas watched his jaw work soundlessly again for a second, his eyes blazing, quiet and dark like embers.

 

“I don’t wake up right, Tommy.”

 

“Noted.” It was more for something to say, than anything. But it came out quiet and wry none the less.

 

Newt didn’t smile. He came forward into the suggestion of the embrace pulling at his hands instead. But he stopped when their foreheads pressed together, keeping a tight hold of Thomas’s hands in his when they made to free themselves and slide around the shape of his hips, to gather and draw him in.

 

“I. Don’t feel right the rest of the time either, lately.” Newt’s voice came out halting and serrated. Thomas tried to draw back to see his expression, but Newt only pressed forward, butting their heads more firmly together, and Thomas took it as his sign to keep quiet, not to interrupt.

 

“There’s a chip,” Newt gritted, his breath starting to catch on him and his eyes falling shut. “Somewhere there’s a chip that, I don’t know what it does.” He pulled Thomas’s hand up, to press it flat against the centre of his chest, and Thomas felt his own eyes drop shut too, fighting off the sudden spinning, breaking feeling the new change in topic set loose inside him, somewhere around the region of his heart.

 

“And I— I check for scars,” Newt rambled jaggedly, his fingers shifting and fumbling over Thomas’s and moving again, bringing his hand down and under the hem of his shirt to push it against the skin.

 

Newt’s skin was warmer there, under even such a thin layer, and Thomas couldn’t be sure if the light shudder he could feel run through him was from the chill of the sea air on his hands, or something else. Newt seemed unfazed though, dragging the tips of Thomas’s fingers skidding in an urgent line up the smooth plane of his stomach to find the ragged, puckered place in his chest where the knife had gone in. 

 

“Old ones,” Newt muttered, “from the Glade or before,” into the skipping, uneven spaces between the beats of Thomas’s now-stuttering heart. “Trying to remember getting them, if they look different.” He nudged forward harder, grinding their skulls together so their noses brushed, and their lips hovered just fractions apart.

 

Newt was already moving Thomas’s fingers down again though, to where the rough breach in the satin-soft perfection of him thinned out and turned mechanically precise and surgical, as if Thomas could feel the answer there and grant it for him. But he barely had time to take in the slivered line of raised flesh under his fingertips – barely registered the swift, bitter upwelling in his own chest, of the unfairness of it all, of just how much Newt had been through – before Newt was moving his other hand too.

 

“New ones,” he chanted, eyes still shut tight and thrusting Thomas’s fingers abruptly into the back of his hair, “places you can’t see.”

 

Thomas let his fingers smooth, disconcerted and careful, down over the roughly ruffled spots as soon as Newt freed them in favour of moving his own hand further up to the strands at his crown, twisting in and tugging aggressively enough for Thomas to feel the slight involuntary tilt of his head.

 

“Newt…” Thomas said, at an utter loss for more. Things had gotten overwhelming fast, but he kept his voice and his grip gentle, as he reached for Newt’s wrist to put a stop to another sharp-looking tug on his hair.

 

Newt cooperated, letting Thomas pull his hand softly free. Thomas waited for him to open his eyes and look at him, but Newt's wrist merely snaked around in Thomas’s grasp to take his hand and put it to his cheek.

 

Newt turned immediately into the touch, his breath a hot, overwrought huff into Thomas’s palm, his mouth landing at the point of Thomas's pulse.

 

“I try not to,” he promised, hotly and unasked, into a staggering line of kisses down the inside of Thomas’s wrist and forearm. “But it’s like my mind won’t shut off.”

 

Between the emotions swirling chaotically in him, and the tautly held tension between them the past few days, the sensation each place Newt’s mouth touched down struck him like tiny jabs of lightning, setting patches of fire alight in dry forest underbrush gone days without rain.

 

Each brush of his lips crackling with sparks, a nip of his teeth zapped white-hot and electric straight for his veins. It was all too much.

 

“Newt—” Thomas tried again, hurriedly disentangling himself from under the scant fabric of Newt’s t-shirt to take his face in both hands, coax his eyes open. Make him look at him.

 

Take a breath.

 

Newt did open his eyes, but only to mirror Thomas’s hold on him, taking hold of him in both of his hands and lunging forward, pulling him into a reeling kiss. The kind that always took him for everything he was worth – stopping his breath and snapping off his vision and blocking out every bit of the world around him that wasn’t Newt.

 

“I just want to shut it off,” Newt huffed against his lip, his teeth finding the edge at the corner the way he always liked, and setting what felt like every nerve in Thomas’s body lighting up with tight, buzzing anticipation.

 

He didn’t know how it was working for Newt, but it was certainly shutting thought down for him pretty damned effectively.

 

He just wasn’t sure this was the time.

 

Thomas breathed slow, grasping for the fraying edges of his self-control even as Newt’s hands traveled down the sides of his throat in a shuddery-light brush of fingertips, landing against his chest while his mouth moved to follow the same path across the line of his jaw and then down. Thomas swallowed against the dragging current of want starting to pour through him, struggling for the last threads of the things they had tried and not quite managed to discuss – important, literal life-and-death things, true things they had barely touched on.

 

Newt had said it himself – they had so much to make right.

 

But Newt didn’t seem as worried about it now – with his head angled in under Thomas’s chin to urge it obediently upward. One hand had already slipped precipitously down the incline of his waist to find his waistband and pull, the force of it enough of a surprise to bring Thomas stumbling forward into him, so that a satisfied gasp of breath was knocked out of him, as Newt's back met up with the deck’s rail.

 

“Tommy,” Newt breathed heatedly over his collarbone. “I – will you?” in between a hot set of open, tasting kisses to the soft flesh at the top of his windpipe. “I need—”

 

Yes. Those were the words Thomas needed, the last kick against the rising tide of desire stoking between them. He tipped his head down, breaking the surface for a last, clarity-seeking breath of cool sea air.

 

“Tell me,” Thomas agreed, hands finding the sides of Newt’s face again and forcing their eyes to meet, his sentences already going short - breathless and useless. “Tell me what you need.”

 

Do you one better,” Newt countered, pressing forward into a kiss that ended in teeth finding that skin-tingling, nerve-lighting edge again.

 

Thomas had never been the one for making the plans. Newt had always been far better at working out those kinds of details. And from the way Newt's hips rolled ardently into him, and his mouth busied itself setting new little flares of flame burning down the side of his throat and along the line of his collar, Thomas would guess that whatever Newt's plans were, they didn't include telling him anything at all.

 

In fact, he seemed pretty done talking for now.

 

So Thomas gave in to the pull of him, letting the fire and heat rising in him turn to flood and the undertow of Newt's need take him on the next devastating roll of his hips. He nodded his assent eagerly against him where Newt had butted their heads together again now, holding the next kiss momentarily just inches out of his reach.

 

“Okay,” he gasped.


Yes, yes as always. Anything. And he leaned in to take it, that waiting, captive kiss, as he gave him what it was Thomas had learned well enough by now Newt was asking him for.

 

His answer.

 

“…Show me.”

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Thomas wasn’t even entirely sure where they were.

 

It was hard to think of anything, to feel anything except Newt and the things he was doing, as Newt’s need became his and the world slid away.

 

A shade drawing across in silver and black, leaving him only distant echoes – the sea breeze that must have still been blowing, raising the gooseflesh under their fingertips and ruffling their hair – lost to him in favour of the feel of those lips on his skin. The sound of waves surely splitting against the sides of the ship’s hull, eclipsed by the hotly muttered words in his ears.

 

Newt’s need was no less worrisome for its undercurrent of desperation, but it was still somehow all the more consuming. The hard, hungry edge of it written glaringly in the brash line of Newt’s body pressing into him, spelled searingly out in the trail of burning nips and kisses across his throat.

 

And what could Thomas do but to give to it? Willingly, to bend and curl into him. Taking not a breath unless Newt granted it, even the direction of his footsteps not his own as Newt moved them down the ship’s deck a door or two past the one Thomas had taken to come and find him that morning. Letting Newt own this, claim what he needed.

 

With his mouth like a brand and voice laced with desire, pleas and commands licking heady strips of icy-hot flame down Thomas’s spine, and his hands somehow everywhere.

 

It was almost like a dam had broken. As if after the days of going without it, they couldn’t seem to stop touching. Even now, as they took the half flight of stairs leading one deck below, Thomas was hot on Newt’s heels, staying close enough his chest stayed pressed against Newt’s back as they clattered down the few grate-metal steps to the floor, to come quickly together again.

 

“Here,” Newt gritted in his ear, taking him by the hips as he whirled around to stop them. Back slamming into the wall next to the staircase a little more deliberate than unconcerned, with the rush and the haste now starting to seep into Thomas’s blood like it might be contagious, and pulling him after.

 

The breath that landed against his collar bone felt stricken and crushed out, as Thomas came up against him, inelegantly and a little too hard – but judging from the way he grunted and hitched eagerly into him, it was exactly what Newt wanted.

 

Newt wasn’t being shy about showing him either, for once. A hand was already sliding swiftly down the length of Thomas’s arm to his wrist, drawing it around behind to place his palm firmly over the compact little slope of his ass.

 

The directness of the suggestion sent a hot surge of anticipation through him, and Thomas stifled a moan against his mouth.

 

“I’ve been waiting to do that for days,” he admitted breathlessly, cupping the tight, sweet curve in both his hands and tipping Newt’s hips encouragingly in under his own, bending his spine so that their bodies pressing flush up against each other sent another rush of heat and expectation pulsing through him.

 

“Try waiting three bloody years,” Newt grated back, taking an equally firm hold of both Thomas’s ass cheeks and jamming the two of them back up against the wall hard enough the brief shock of bone on bone ignited that telltale tingle and burn that warned of new bruises Thomas shouldn’t be surprised to find the next morning – at the corner of his ribcage, the soft place on the inside of his hip and the notch of his wrist.

 

Maybe it should have hurt, but it didn’t. Thomas was too full of distraction – of adrenaline, and Newt. The quip had been the first thing like Newt’s old habitual snark to come out of him in days, and the familiarity of it, the relief at hearing a hint of humour finally back in Newt’s tone, sent him a thrill like nothing else Newt had been doing to him so far.

 

Thomas huffed a manic little laugh against his neck and then tipped back a touch, looking for that smirk he loved. But Newt only took it as an opportunity to capture his mouth again, claiming it in a set of slick, devouring kisses.

 

Thomas fought down another moan, tried to rally his thoughts. The last time Newt had backed them up against something, pressing urgently into him the way he had Thomas doing now, it had been a tree. And even with his breath coming only in shallow, sharp little sips stolen between the demands of kiss after insistent kiss, and his head starting to enter a dizzy, suffocating spin like it was, Thomas wouldn’t be forgetting what had happened then any time soon.

 

Newt had promised to show him what he needed. And if this was Thomas’s clue, he was more than happy to provide. He drew back, dragging his focus back through the swelling tide of Newt and his pull on him, mouth already starting to water with anticipation as he let his fingers find Newt’s beltline and stepped backward to take readily to his knees in front of him.

 

But before he could move any lower, Newt caught him. His hands making quick fists in his shirt at the elbow and up by his collar, and the glint in his slate-dark eyes reading ‘where do you think you’re going, then’ as clear as ever.

 
“I need you,” Newt halted him. He tugged with his hands, somehow managing to pull Thomas back in for another hastening kiss, yet still with enough of a twist and lift in the action where he had hold of his shirt to be a not-so-subtle suggestion of what he wanted done with it. “Naked.”

 

It wasn’t the dirtiest thing Newt had ever breathed into his skin, or slurred suggestively into his ear, not by a long shot. But something in the blunt order, some dark note in the deep tenor of that voice had all the hair on his body abruptly standing tinglingly on end.

 

 “What if somebody comes??” Thomas’s fingers grappled reflexively for the rising edge of his shirt hem.

 

But Newt had already abandoned it, in favour of working his trousers efficiently open.

 

“’S the gen’ral idea,” he answered, slipping both hands expertly down the back of them and pulling a short, helpless noise out of him Newt seemed to know full well to expect, given the way it was promptly swallowed in an open, waiting kiss. 

 

Newt’s hands were cold from his time spent up above deck, but it wasn’t the cool surprise of the touch against his rapidly heating flesh that did it. It wasn’t what made Thomas’s skin draw tight all over and the air leave his lungs – his next breath filling them with a heavy, intoxicating mixture of something hot and cloying. Something that made want spread out from under his ribs and start to take him over.

 

No. The repeated cheeky sarcasm was the most animated Thomas had seen or heard him being in days. The most Newt.

 

His Newt. Tipping his gorgeous golden head aside to mouth convincingly down the side of his jawline and making Thomas’s voice stall breathlessly in his throat.

 

“Newt—” But there was still something…

 

Something missing from the familiar feel of those knowing fingers skidding in under his waistband and around front to take a much more mind-numbing hold of him than the one of moments before.

 

“Then they’ll bugger off, won’t they?” No hint or huff of laughter in that voice. No warm, teasing tint of smirking curling up in the low, accented timbre following after his own as always. Smoothing roughly over Thomas’s inevitable gasp at the contact and the still-chilled touch, and giving him a real answer now and as ever, to his admittedly weak protest.

 

Along with a single, practiced stroke that made his blood run hot and his eyes want to roll back in his head.

 

“…Or they’ll get a bloody show.” Newt’s hands abandoned what they were doing just as suddenly as they had started it, to take a renewed double grip on the opened edges of his trousers and give an emphatic downward tug.

 

The harsh folds of Newt’s clothing meeting up with the exposure of Thomas's most sensitive places knocked a surprised breath out of him into the crook of Newt’s neck. But there was a strange, feral new tingling setting alight at the back of his scalp and down the lengths of his arms – the humming current of arousal coursing through him mixing with an unshakable flare of warning.

 

Thomas pulled back to look at him, nerves sizzling and heart pounding, and this time Newt let him. Letting Thomas’s eyes rake his features for traces, hints of his Newt slipping through the cracks of this new one, carved out of cold marble and pale granite.

 

Newt’s eyes shone darkly at him, deep black pools of pupil in the dim light of the stairwell, and what glinted at him from those drawing depths was something else entirely. Something new. A fracturing, soft-edged look of pleading Newt never gave him when they did this.

 

The hand still at his waistband tugged briefly in suggestion, as Newt balanced the begging look in his eye with a challenging upward tip of his chin, his parted lips a clear invitation.

 

Thomas felt his own hand come up in reply, cupping the brave tilt of that jaw and chasing the beseeching look from those eyes with the stroke of a thumb over his cheek bone. Catching the fringe of his lashes, as they fluttered tellingly shut at the touch.

 

Newt took one hand from its hold on him, fingertips curling just once, but unmistakably, into his palm before he unfurled them, to press it cool and flat against the freshly exposed flesh of Thomas’s abdomen. And it was as much the chill shot of reaction as it was the quick crush of understanding washing over him, that made Thomas’s breath stop.

 

He waited, as the moment stretched itself out. Suspended against the harried mauling of his senses of seconds ago, with touch and tongue and teeth, still fizzing in his veins. Watching Newt take what he needed while Thomas’s throat ached in sympathy and his heartbeat knocked at the walls of his chest like it wanted free of them to go off in search of Newt’s.

 

He waited until those eyes opened again, still darkly full of asking. Newt’s thumb traced his question idly out over the button of Thomas’s trousers where he still had hold of them, grazing his skin and driving a jagged shudder hard down his spine.

 

And Thomas threw what little caution was left him to the winds still surely blowing one deck above them, and came forward to give it to him again, his answer without words.

 

Though it was less an answer than a promise this time, in hard kisses and rough, shaky breaths. Less yes than it was always. Again and as many times as Newt wanted it, asking him with his hands, his mouth. With each moan into a forceful, claiming kiss and fingernails raking shards of lightning into his skin.

 

And Thomas gave. Pressing direly into him so there was no room left between them for anything but this truth of the way their bodies fit instinctively together. Pulling him close, and pushing with his hands so the flats of his palms went up under the sides of Newt’s shirt, fingers tangling firmly enough in the edges to pull it halfway up the narrow torso, where his hands paused in their long slide up the sides of that taut, alabaster skin he had been missing.

 

Newt nodded his approval against him, careless and ungentle. Thomas took one more kiss, one more harsh breath and stifled moan torn from Newt’s throat, then he broke away long enough to push the flimsy bit of cotton up the rest of the way off and over his head. His hands coming back to slide eagerly back down the cool satiny length of him it revealed, and head bending to set vow after wordless vow – to always be this, Newt’s truth and his anchor – at the edge of his clavicle, the curve of his hip, the livid scar marring the centre of his chest.

 

They made quick work of the rest of their clothing, the fire of Newt’s urgency having thoroughly caught every inch of Thomas ablaze now. Hands trading tasks stripping each other bare as they traded hot, biting kisses. Coming apart only long enough to shuffle hurriedly free of the fettering folds; shoes and the fallen scraps of fabric kicked wantonly aside.

 

Newt’s skin was still cold enough to be a sharp-breathed surprise to both of them when they reunited. But Thomas ran his hands warmly up his back, gathering and folding him in so the chill of it met up with the warmth of his own everywhere, from shoulder to shin.

 

And with the way Newt went soft and yielding in his arms, he might as well have melted.

 

Something had changed. It was in the way that lithe body bent for him, Newt’s usual steely-straight posture bowing willow-supple all the way in and under, at the mere suggestion of a firm hand slipped around the back of his nape. It was all that smooth, ductile skin, starting to warm now under his wandering hands, and in each soft, responsive sound Thomas’s every touch was bringing out of him.

 

Newt was pliant, and new up against him. Filling him with a heat that was different from the slow, languid smoulder that made their usual. This was no slow burn, no mellowly glowing ember to be stoked by slow, lingering kisses and drawn out, teasing touch. It was flashfire.

 

A light and flame alive in his chest and a bright apollan energy through his limbs he was sure he had never felt before. Not low and pooling moltenly in his gut but arcing proudly higher up at the back of his nape, and the rise of his shoulders, as if he could sprout wings should it have burned hot enough.

 

It was a whole new kind of exhilaration, the rush and buzz of having this for Newt, to hold the keys to each hitching of his breath, to own the gratified little moan at an imposing couple of fingers taking Newt’s chin and tipping it smartly back to allow sets of spilling, overwrought kisses down the sides of his throat. The way he could make Newt’s fingers curl, rough and worshipful at once through his hair. The words in his ears pleased and urging, as Thomas moved him backward, pinning his back to the wall again with a thigh thrust in between Newt’s own, and a hand taking an authoritative hold at his hip.

 

Thomas lost track of how long they went on burning blindingly into one another, all shared breath and tangling tongues and indolent grinding of flesh on flesh, before the fingers through his hair took enough of a grip to still him.

 

Newt pulled back, breaking away to regard him with a weighty, deliberate look as he brought his other hand up to push his own index finger into his mouth. Thomas watched him close kiss-reddened lips around the knuckle, pushing in deep enough to choke if he weren’t paying attention, if he wasn’t obviously quite thoroughly practiced at this. If it weren’t Newt.

 

Thomas would have sworn he could feel his gaze darken with the meaning of it, the thought of what Newt must be planning to do with him here, standing and completely stripped in the stairwell. And Newt must have seen it, the longing on his face, because he glinted knowingly at him, pulling his finger slowly, wetly out to offer the second one puckishly up for Thomas to take.

 

He accepted enthusiastically, taking it in with a slicking swirl of his tongue that put a dark, approving light in Newt’s eye Thomas hadn’t seen in far too long. One that went right through him, straight to all his most relevant places.

 

Thomas released him, feeling that slow, heavy sinking of craving traveling netherward, only to turn up in a spark and nudge of surprise as Newt took his glistening, slicked fingers and reached around behind himself rather than where Thomas had been expecting. Newt’s head thudded unexpectedly back against the wall, his teeth closing hard into the swollen little curve of his lip and eyes rolling back a clear indication of what he was wasting no time in doing with them.

 

Thomas watched him a moment – the catching breath heaving his chest, and the fitful swallowing motion of his throat – held transfixed by remembered sensations that took him aback several stunned moments before he could think to react.

 

Thomas reached for Newt’s wrist, his grip gentle but with enough squeeze to be halting.

 

“Let me.”


Newt lifted his head up to look him straight in the eyes with his gaze bright and appraising, jaw jutting open just enough Thomas could watch him curl his tongue into a cheek that was just starting to flush – considering. Then Newt came forward for a kiss, flavoured at its centre with a honey-sweet little Newt-sound of effort at stopping what he had started.

 

“Alright,” Newt breathed, breaking away to give a prompting glance down at the hand snaking its way up in between them. His voice was threadbare and husky, and doing things to Thomas that pulsed and throbbed in some very intimate places. “Spit.”

 

Thomas felt his eyes go wide. His already-speeding heart tripped over itself.

 

“I’m not going to spit. On your hand.”

 

Thomas flushed as much at the thought as the shocked puritanical-old-woman sound of his voice in the words that came out slightly hushed between his teeth, as if there were anyone around to hear.

 

 “Tommy.”

 

That dark gleam was still in Newt’s eyes, challenging and finally, blessedly, belovedly familiar.

 

“If you think you are going to fuck me with that thing.” The daring gaze gave another significant and indicating downward flick. “You are going. To learn,” he advised firmly, ducking forward to cup his hand to his mouth and do the dubious honours himself. “To spit.”

 

And Thomas barely had time to blush over the words, because Newt was reaching that hand down to wrap it around him, spreading warmwetslipperyslick from the base of his shaft up to— ohhhh.  The sensation when it reached that sensitive tip, teased raw already from the long stint of unaddressed arousal broken with intermittent little fits of erratic rutting into the smooth little groove along the inside of Newt’s hip… His mind went blank and his eyes rolled back and—

 

Newt twisted his wrist, and Thomas damn near swallowed his tongue.

 

Well. Maybe a little spit wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

 

He pushed down a last little flutter of shyness and brought his hand up to his mouth to coat it the way Newt had just done, before Newt had him completely losing control of the faculties to do it at all.

 

And then, taking his assertive new cue, Thomas reached down, knocking Newt’s distracting hand away as he went and getting a pleased little smirk for his trouble. Half its usual strength, maybe, but Thomas would happily take even the half-dose of flushed elation and budding pride, as his free hand grabbed for Newt’s thigh, hitching it up over his hip to offer better access to that warm, waiting cleft of his body.

 

Thomas leaned in and kissed him slowly, moving his fingers in brushing, seeking strokes. Remembering the soft shiver and thrill of Newt doing this for him the first time, and letting the vicarious shudders take him. But Newt seemed to have other ideas. Impatient, and as he usually put it, ‘bossy’ ideas.

 

With a discomfited little grunt and a twist of his hips Thomas wasn’t even sure how he managed, Newt had Thomas's fingers finding the target and even pressing in slightly, albeit at an angle that didn’t seem comfortable.

 

“In a hurry?” Thomas asked him, tucking forward the tiny distance between them to say it in his ear, and place a soothing kiss at the corner of his jaw.

 

“Two,” Newt prompted breathlessly, ignoring him. Or maybe answering him. “Start with two.”

 

So Thomas did. Nuzzling and nipping gently at his favoured soft-smelling spot under Newt’s ear, and doing his best to focus.

 

It would be a lie to say this wasn’t overwhelming. It was the heat that surprised him most, hotter by several distinct shades than the moist, welcoming warmth of Newt’s mouth. But the tight resistance that met him as he tried to stroke in a little further, along with a soft, throaty little prodding noise from Newt, reminded him of his task.

 

So Thomas kissed him again. He pushed aside for later any thought that this just might prove too much for him, Newt – this feverishly perfect, enveloping point in the universe that was his somehow, to fill, to love and to satisfy – and he went back to work. Scissoring slowly, stretching and curving his fingers gently the way Newt had taught him before.

 

Newt was overwhelming enough for the moment, as it was. His kisses slipping slack and disorganized, his breath going short and shot through with cutting little gasps and quiet moans. It wasn’t long though, before Newt was rolling his head to the side, pulling back so their eyes could meet, and Thomas knew the intensely lit eyes and faintly pink cheeks under that golden riot of tufty, mussed hair were the single most beautiful thing he would ever see.

 

“Mmm, another,” Newt panted, with a little angling shift of his hips that gave Thomas all the hint he needed of what he was after. “Spit again and do an—“

 

But Thomas was already moving. He came forward to kiss him through the withdrawal, then he brought his hand up to his mouth long enough to oblige before reaching back down.

 

He was careful, rocking his three fingers gently as he pressed in, but he wasn’t even half way there, when he rocked them again and Newt took a sharp breath in and his hips came snapping forward.

 

Oh. There.

 

Thomas tilted down, going back to his place under Newt’s jaw to tease and to taste while he worked. He rocked his hand again, dragging across the same spot and then pushing in deeper this time.

 

“Oh Christ,” Newt swore. “Oh bloody shuck, Christ, and chuffing hell.”

 

The string of curses might as well have been music.

 

“There he is.” Thomas let his laugh bury itself in the sweet-smelling curve of Newt’s skin before he straightened up to look at him. “Welcome back.”

 

Newt frowned. God he was gorgeous.

 

“Shut up.” Newt said it like a promise, his brows rising and the look in his half-lidded eyes gone soft and serious. “Shut up and—oh. …FUCK.”

 

Thomas tried not to mentally congratulate himself too hard for remembering how amazing this felt with a hand wrapped firmly around your dick, and watched Newt feeling it instead, letting his head fall back against the subtly echoing steel of the wall again with a dull metallic thump. And then another, harder and more deliberate. And he stayed – stranded there for a moment, over the fragile heave of Newt’s chest and the way his overwrought pose exposed the line of marks Thomas had left down the side of his throat – feeling the grin Newt’s reply would have put on his features wiped blank by the sight facing him, the weight of what Thomas truly held in his hands.

 

There he was. There he really really was, his Newt. His flawless, brittle, broken tangle of poetry and mysteries and nonsensical cussing. Undone and fiery and giving this to him. Giving himself to Thomas’s hands, his body. His love.

 

Thomas leaned forward, let his teeth sink in a bit to the provocative little jut of his chin a moment. “…That an order?”

 

“Too fucking right it is.”

 

Then Newt was shifting, shoving at him, pressing him back and off of him.

 

“It’ll be easier,” he explained, breathily, turning around to present his back in the tight little space under Thomas’s arm where his hand was now braced for balance against the wall. “For your first time.”

 

The words set a bolt of butterflies loose inside of Thomas, that was shot silent immediately by the sight in front of him.

 

“Oh, Newt…”

 

The light in the stairwell was the dim, unnatural fluorescent kind, and Thomas knew it was imagination, the way Newt seemed to radiate a golden light from every angle. But every bit of him shone for Thomas none the less, from the rust-gold edge of his hairline, the curve of his nape and the sweep of his shoulders, down the long line of his spine and even the tight little rounding of his ass cheeks.

 

All of it lit up for him, putting that glow in his chest – like somebody had set out a lantern – of everything Newt was. Everything Thomas knew him to be under the glittering faceted conundrum of his shattered new surface; sunshine on warm grass and rain on the Safe Haven’s waters, campfires on starry nights.

 

“You’re so beautiful.”

 

Newt had a couple of tiny moles at his nape, and Thomas brushed his fingers over them before following the light touch with an even lighter kiss and savouring the minute, stifled-sounding grunt the caress earned him.

 

“If you could see yourself,” he pledged adoringly into Newt’s skin, drawing his fingertips across the yoke of his shoulder blades, and down. “If only I could paint, maybe I could show you…”

 

Newt snorted in quiet derision, but the goosebumps erupting all along the wake of Thomas’s touch gave him away. Thomas allowed himself a smug little smile, knowing Newt couldn’t see him, and swept his fingers teasingly all the way back up.

 

“Maybe I could draw you, like, a stick figure?” Thomas traded his grazing touch for the edge of a fingernail instead, getting a little ‘mmh’ sound out of it. “Scratch it out on a wall like a caveman…”

 

He drew a few deliberate nail-edge strokes into the luminous, responding skin to demonstrate. And oh, yeah, that was definitely a shudder.

 

Newt turned his head, and that over-the-shoulder look paired with those blown pupils and that heavy-lidded gaze was so damned sexy Thomas nearly lost control of this whole damn thing right then.

 

He leaned in to take advantage of the angle for a kiss, but before their mouths could meet it was impossible for Thomas to miss the appreciative little noise and the way Newt’s eyes fluttered anticipatingly shut off Thomas’s other hand hitting the wall in front of him, penning him in as he came forward.

 

Thomas could feel the smug smile again, pulling his lips tight and interfering with the kiss. And by the way Newt ended it with an admonishing set of teeth closing snugly into his lip, he could tell Newt felt it too.

 

“You know what a caveman wouldn’t do?” Newt reprimanded slyly when he let him go. “Keep a willing fuck waiting.”

 

Oh God. Newt’s dirty talk should have probably stopped affecting him this way by now. Thomas swallowed down the sudden dryness in his throat, and tried to ignore the excitable twitch and throb from down below, glad that at least Newt couldn’t see it.

 

“Good that,” he agreed, gamely, putting a few contrite kisses down across the latitude of Newt’s shoulders, and taking a hand from the wall to run it down his back in a long slide that he couldn’t help but be pleased to notice resulted in another shiver. “Ready?”

 

Mmmm,” was the only answer Newt gave him as he felt Thomas’s hand come down, warmly cupping the globe of his ass cheek to pull it gently aside. But they both knew who the question was really for.

 

Another quick spit and a few slippery, spreading strokes like Newt had given him earlier, and Thomas was lined up and as ready as he would ever be. He took a breath, put another, more lingering, kiss at the curve of Newt’s neck and—

 

Oh. Ohhhhh oh oh no, this was not going to be easy. Not even close to halfway there, and. Oh God, that was tight, despite the stretching Thomas had done his best to accomplish – and it was Hot, oh Jesus, oh God, ohhhh fuck.

 

Thomas froze in place, hand gripping Newt’s hip still, letting his forehead drop forward into the centre of his back. He breathed in groundingly, taking in the warm scent of his love and reflecting that it was a good thing he had the best, most calming drug known to him right here in good supply.

 

“Alright back there?” Newt asked him, his voice sounding somehow, impossibly, only slightly ruined.

 

“No,” Thomas answered flatly, his voice a groan not nearly as stable. “You’re so…”

 

Oh. NO.

 

“Don’t laugh!”

 

His first one in days and Newt had to choose now.

 

The way Thomas’s teeth dented desperately into his shoulder in retribution did nothing, of course, to quiet him either. Only getting him an indignant little exclamation and another soft chuckle of surprise.

 

Damn.

 

Not that Thomas wasn’t head over heels stupid for that sound, he was, but the timing was problematic for so many reasons. And ego aside, not only did Thomas not need the happy little rush of encouragement flooding eagerly through his veins at this particular moment, but… well, the things it made the inside of Newt’s body do created a chaotic maelstrom of sensations Thomas’s nervous system had less than no idea what to do with.

 

“Oh, holy shit,” Thomas breathed into the space between Newt’s shoulder blades, the shudder of laughter threading through his own voice now as he recovered.

 

Newt’s soft snickering died abruptly away into an appreciative little groan as Thomas nuzzled at the sensitive skin in front of him, the hand still at his hip giving a quelling squeeze. Thomas smiled to himself again, treating the little patch of gooseflesh now prickling to life under his attention to a brazen swipe of his tongue, the groan it garnered a little louder this time in response.

 

“Okay,” Thomas whispered over the moistened, receptive patch of skin – again to himself as much as anything.

 

But Newt seemed to take the cue. He gave a long breath out just as Thomas came pushing slowly forward, doing something mystifying and obviously experienced with the muscles inside his body that seemed to change that tight, resisting pressure to something accommodating and embracing. Letting Thomas enter him, long and smooth and ache-sweet slow.

 

It wasn’t until it came out in a gasp, as he felt his skin meet up with Newt’s again, that Thomas realized he had been holding his breath. He let the hand still holding Newt’s hip move, smoothing soothingly around over the taut, flat plane of his belly and up to his chest, pulling Newt back against him in an instinctive quest for that lissom frame up against his own.

 

It wasn’t helpful. Newt’s back had spent the last while pressed up against the steel of the wall, instead of warming against Thomas’s skin or under his hands like the rest of him, and it was still cold. Much more noticeable against the overheated, overstimulated skin of his chest than it had been to the touch of his fingers, or the tip of his nose, and the contrast made the impossible heat Thomas was trying to ignore sear all the more scalding.

 

It might have proved catastrophic, but Newt’s hand caught his own against his chest, tangling their fingers roughly in between each other and squeezing tight. It was just enough of a distraction, as his confused nerve endings attempted to unfry themselves, this sudden reminder that Thomas might not be the only one needing a moment to adjust.

 

“Give us a second,” Newt half-whispered hoarsely, turning his head to press his temple imploringly to Thomas’s crown.

 

Thomas picked his head up to put a kiss there instead, answering the squeeze of Newt’s fingers and waiting out the fraught, airless second connecting them like a shorting electrical current. Until he felt it - that minute change in the stiffly-held posture, the single-notch loosening in the shoulders pressed to his chest, and Newt did it for him again – turning soft and malleable, and melting all over again. 

 

Newt gave a slow breath and relinquished his vise-tight grip, bringing their hands up to lie flat against the dip in his collar bone and dropping his head back to rest against Thomas’s brow.

 

So Thomas brought the touch the rest of the way up, curving his hand around the vulnerable, vital column of his throat. Holding him steady so Thomas could tilt away and down to dot kisses in between his fingertips, taste Newt’s pulse beating like a thousand trapped butterflies under his skin.

 

When that started to slow, he moved back up again to the shell of Newt’s ear. Tracing the blushing rim with his nose, grazing with his teeth. Taking the lobe into he heat of his mouth and nibbling, teasing in ways Thomas had learned Newt’s reactions to so keenly, so indelibly by now, it almost wasn’t a surprise when Newt hissed and seized his wrist, following it with a short, impatient noise and a backward shift of his hips that sent Thomas’s body the first suggestion of a consuming, primal friction – and voiced a riot of demands that went racing through him all at once, better than any possible word or command could have done.

 

“Okay.”

 

 Stroke of a gentle thumb over adam’s apple as his hand shifted to the curve of Newt’s shoulder.

 

“Okay, I got you…” The other going bracingly to take his waist.  

 

And somehow, Thomas realized as he started, slowly at first, deliberately, to move – somehow, world-shakingly, air-sizzlingly, heart-stoppingly impossibly – he did.

 

He could lose himself in Newt, give himself to the natural rhythm that took them while his focus stayed pinned to Newt’s pleasure –  the sounds he was making, the taut, trembling responses of that perfect body to the hand holding his nape, or sliding down the slim, satin length of him to take his hips.

 

To hold him, steady him between his own shaking hands and close his eyes and feel this. This feeling, this bond.

 

This force joining them, that was everything they were – liquid and flowing as the tides of the ocean they travelled, that always held Newt’s attentions in such sway. Full of giving and flex, and at once a challenge, resisting, stubborn and strong as the very earth of the Safe Haven they left behind them.

 

To hear it, their breath going hot and harsh in their lungs, speeding up to catch and fall into ragged, desperate sync. Newt’s voice, a raw, heady chant of ‘yes’ and ‘more’ and ‘harder, Tommy, please’. Until it gave way, a sweeping, landslide crumble to nothing more than a litany of curses broken with stunning little gasps and moans of his name.

 

Thomas opened his eyes to see, to flood his senses with Newt all over again, and when he did the onslaught was nearly too much. Newt had his head bent forward, his skin flushed and a light sweat starting to break and glisten at the edges of his hairline; one hand a white-knuckled fist pressed hard into the ship’s wall, and the other down in front of himself, matching Thomas’s rhythm in tight, determined strokes.

 

The sight stopped him more or less dead. Thomas heard Newt make a heartbreaking little bereft noise of surprise as he felt him stop and collapse forward, dropping his head to the middle of Newt’s back again, peppering the dewy-hot skin he found there with kiss after apologetic kiss for the abrupt interruption while he breathed, taking him in again and recovering from his sudden state of overwhelm.

 

“I said…” He was nearly done for, the heat in his blood and the bright, white hot energy in his limbs was starting to stretch thin, and wear. His hand coming around front of Newt to find his wrist and still his already-slowing hand felt like it must be starting to shake. But he still had work to finish. “Let me.”

 

That noise again. Ohh, Newt really needed to be more careful how he used that.

 

Thomas settled his teeth against he salty-soft skin of Newt’s shoulder, let them dig in just enough. His grip on Newt’s wrist went halting.

 

A gasp, this time. Fragile and sharp as glass.

 

Newt’s fist against the wall came away and then sharply back down for a beset, frayed-sounding thump. “Tommy. I swear to Christ-all-bloody-fucking-hell, if you’re not going to move, I—“

 

Thomas brought his other hand up to take Newt’s chin, turn his head enough that he could angle forward for an awkward, but effective, bruisingly silencing kiss.

 

And Newt did it again, that devastating, shattering little kitten-noise. But to be fair, Thomas had probably really done it this time, pulling away and right out of him while he continued to turn him. Gently guiding with the hand at his chin, nudging with his lips, putting what he wanted into the kiss again and again until Newt had come all the way around to face him. Until Thomas probably no longer needed to put it into the words he gave him anyway:

 

“I want to see you.”

 

Oh God, was it worth it.

 

When he had Newt’s thigh thrown boldly up over his own again, when he was buried hilt-deep and hot inside him again, and those slender arms came claimingly up around Thomas’s neck to hold him this time, keep him close – well. Newt was easily at the top of the list of things in this lifetime Thomas would always be grateful to have had the privilege of laying his eyes on.

 

Newt’s ivory skin was flushed everywhere, his lips slackly parted, wordless and soft. His eyes glittered all-but-black with an exhausted, ardently avid obsidian sparkle that Thomas decided then and there was definitely his new favourite thing.

 

It wasn’t long though before Newt was shifting against him, wedging himself desperately up between Thomas’s thrusting hips and the wall. Thomas took his cue to slow down just a moment, look deep into Newt’s eyes for the reaction he was seeking, as he canted slowly, gradually forward until he found it – that angle that made Newt’s teeth find his lip and his head fall back.

 

Then Thomas leaned forward to take those soft, parted lips. He swallowed another delicious little moan as his fingers curled snugly around the straining heat of Newt’s erection between them, tugging and teasing, and finding his pace again. And definitely as ready as he had ever been to follow the best piece of advice he may have ever been given – and finish what he started.

 

It wasn’t going to take him long, either.

 

”Mmm!” The noise Newt made into their kiss was keyed and urgent, Thomas could taste the warning in it like battery acid on his tongue. “OH!” Newt breathed into him again, “Th—” but Thomas only swallowed it quellingy down.


As if he was going to stop now. As if he wanted Newt’s warnings, when he could feel him like this, strung tight and helpless, pitched on the precipice of that fall into bliss that he could feel mirrored in himself now, building just at the edge of his own control already, at the mere thought.

 

So Thomas didn’t stop, driving them both steady and quick straight for that edge. He didn’t stop kissing, didn’t stop stroking, did not stop moving – not even sure that he could. Not with this, not with everything that Newt was coming apart like this, against his mouth and in his hands and all around him, and taking him for every last thing that he had.

 

Every drop of him, every single nerve and every iota of his senses was tied up in this, the chaotic cataclysm that was Newt’s undoing becoming his own.

 

It was white hot heat, seizing him, vision blurring and red behind his eyelids and Thomas would never be sure he didn’t maybe black out for a couple of seconds as the entire length of his spine went hot, crumpling in and crushing tight. And the last thing he knew was his fist curling, raking reflexively closed over the skin at the side of Newt’s neck in a way he was sure he would see had left marks once Thomas had finished coming and coming and coming. Harder and longer than he ever thought possible in this life or any to come after it.

 

 

Wow.

 

Oh, wow. He would breathe again sometime, probably. He would be able to open his eyes and see something besides softly fuzzing, ear-ringing blackness. To feel Newt collapsed and sagging into him, boneless and gratefully spent.

 

“Oh. Well done love.” 

 

And yeah. There were definitely marks.

 

But Newt didn’t seem much concerned, forehead still dropped damply to Thomas’s shoulder, voice coming out bleak and destroyed. A weak, ruined havoc in the small space over his collar bone. “I needed that.”

 

Newt’s still-raised leg slipped and slithered off its perch on his thigh, and he gave a slow, sated, almost-drunken-sounding giggle as Thomas drew back far enough to look into his eyes and claim a soft, slow and molten, fucked-out kiss.

 

It was one he could absolutely get used to.

 

However.

 

“What you need...” Newt had promised to show him, and he had done a hell of a job. But with that particular need as satisfied as Thomas was frankly capable of providing, a suspicion was starting to creep into the softly fizzing corners of his lust-addled brain, about the exhausted glitter that had been living in Newt’s eyes for the past little bit. And the number of hours of sleep Newt had likely achieved last night.

 

So when Newt swayed dizzily into him as he moved to bring both feet to the floor, Thomas’s decision to finish his sentence thankfully didn’t take much effort from his sex-muddled brains to make.

 

Mornings and muttering and whatever excuse or distraction Newt might have been able to conjure up from the heavy, still-charged air between them, aside. It was time.

 

Thomas came forward for one last adoring, disbelieving kiss before he nuzzled their foreheads familiarly together to break it to Newt though, just in case.

 

“...Is a nap.”

  

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The steel of the wall under Thomas’s hand was cool enough it was starting to draw the fading heat out of his limbs. A slight ache was starting now, down at the bottom of his spine, and his knees felt like they might be contemplating mutiny.

 

But Newt was drawing slow, sloppy spirals lazily into the back of his hair with a fingertip and the uncoordinated way he kissed when he was this shattered and relaxed always felt too good to Thomas to pass up.

 

He was just starting to doubt he might ever find the heart to let him move anywhere ever again, much less all the way to the sleeping cabin like he knew they should, when Newt started to move himself. A shifty little half-squirm against the wall like he might be getting uncomfortable. Which, from Thomas’s no-longer-all-that-limited experience, he probably was.

 

“Okay,” Thomas acknowledged, with another short little kiss. As good as it felt, staying here pressed into each other with the last of their connection still lingering, warm and sated and softening where everything between them had been hot and dire and hard… they were still in a stairwell. “How do I—”

 

“What d’you mean how, you just— mm! …Bugger.” Newt swore predictably as Thomas pulled obligingly, but maybe a little abruptly, out and away.

 

Oops. Still, he couldn’t resist.

 

“Literally, I guess huh?” he murmured smugly into the dewy-damp hair at Newt’s temple.

 

But then he felt the teasing grin trip up and fall right off his face, when Newt’s full weight coming back to him as their pelvises unlinked nearly proved too much.

 

“Hey— whoa.” Thomas’s hand shot to Newt’s hip to steady him as his right leg gave way, and his arms tangled themselves hastily back around his neck. “You alright?”

 

Newt only laughed against his mouth into another not-quite-kiss, though.

 

“Help fetch me my things at least. Ya twat,” he snarked, giving an enervated, even-less-than-half-hearted gesture at the pile of chaos that was their clothing, all tossed into the corner of the stairwell next to them. “Least you could do, now you’ve shagged the bloody legs out from under me.”

 

Thomas leaned forward into the kiss until he was satisfied Newt felt steady enough against him it would be safe to pull back a little. But not far enough he couldn’t still nuzzle their noses together a bit.

 

“You get extra English when you’re really distracted, anyone ever tell you that?”

 

Newt’s smirk was still all sweet and desire-softened where it curved halfway up at the side, but the chivvying hand that shoved at Thomas’s hip was firm enough.

 

“Minho,” Newt answered him anyway, as always, once Thomas had turned away to the corner to obey. He could practically feel Newt’s dark eyes on him as he bent down to gather everything – not unclumsily himself – up against his chest. “Every time he cut it a little close coming back from the Maze.”  

 

Newt’s smile had gone faraway and affectionate at the memory as he gave a nod of thanks for the t-shirt Thomas handed him, and then wriggled back into it with a surprisingly quick and coordinated energy at odds with his sapped, swaying posture.

 

“Called him loads of names I’m still not sure how I ever picked up,” he finished, when his tousled head had emerged to conclude the little reminiscence.

 

Thomas felt the warm and familiar urge to put his hands into the golden chaos of his hair again, smooth it down and set it right. But he was too busy, trying to finagle his way back into his own pants with the rest of their things still draped over his left arm and shoulder, and so narrowly missing toppling over himself that it was Newt’s turn to strike out with a solicitous hand for a quick, stabilizing hold on his elbow.

 

So Thomas put both feet back to the floor and settled for the fond grin he could feel spreading across his probably equally tired-looking face.

 

“It’s cute.”

 

“Brilliant,” Newt replied drily, letting go and holding out his hand expectantly for the return of his own trousers. “Only the weight of what little remains of civilisation as we know it riding on this, and we’re working with ‘cute’.”

 

Thomas frowned. As much as he had missed Newt’s flip sarcasm, sometimes it had a certain edge to it, and Thomas had already tried to make his point clear up on deck that doubts weren’t a luxury they could afford. So if this was Newt’s way of saying he could use a little reassurance, Thomas was definitely going to give it his best shot.

 

“Hey,” he said softly, giving up on their clothes for the moment, and coming forward to slide a hand over Newt’s still-bare hip. “We did it once already,” he pointed out, cupping his other hand carefully around Newt’s jaw to tip him forward for a gentle kiss.

 

And judging from the soft, centering sigh Newt hummed into it, his best shot wasn’t going too badly.

 

Which of course felt to Thomas like the perfect time – when else, but when you’re still half naked and making out in a stairwell – to press his luck, just a little.

 

“Wait –” he said, only a little breathlessly, when they broke apart for air. “Does that mean you didn’t think I was cute the first time?”

 

His gambit paid off. Newt didn’t laugh, not out loud, but his eyes did it for him, lighting up and glittering evilly with that familiar mischief Thomas loved.

 

“What, planted firmly face-down in the grass with your arse in the air? Yeah, you were bloody adorab—” but Newt’s bantering retort cut itself off in a hiss of surprise, as Thomas’s fingers trailed absently down the soft side of Newt’s neck and found the accidental tracks of his fingernails, where his fist had closed on Newt’s shoulder in his passion and broken the skin. Leaving what were now raised, ragged lines of evidence in their wake.

 

“Ooh.” Newt tipped his head to the side, stretching the skin under Thomas’s apology-gentle fingertips. “Done it again, have you?”

 

Apparently. And again, he most definitely had not meant to.

 

“I’m sorry.” His voice was so close to a whisper, suddenly whisked away from him in his remorse, he couldn’t even put much of his contrition into it.

 

So he ducked his head down to look at the long red streaks against the creamy palette of Newt’s throat and tried to say it with his fingers instead, moving them in brush-light strokes just above and between the scratches, his touch avoiding the razed and reddened lines starting to bead thinly here and there now with pinprick traces of scarlet.

 

Newt had warned him his pale skin bruised like a peach. Apparently it also tore like tissue paper. The last mark had been just a silly little hickey, and that had caused a whole morning’s worth of ribbing and confusion and general trouble. Thomas felt his nape heat at the memory and tried not to think what was going to happen when Minho saw these.

 

“F’what?” Newt was still tilting his head experimentally, testing the pull and the sting in the stretch of his raked skin, but he straightened up to look at him, and waited until Thomas was meeting his eyes before he went on. “Stepping our usual up when I asked it of you? Being the very thing I told you I needed, and then some? Getting me out of the bloody labyrinth in my head and quite literally fucking my brains out?”

 

Thomas allowed himself a small chuckle at the way Newt’s blunt talk might never stop making his heart lurch and his face flush. But Newt shook his head so that pieces of his ruffled hair fell down into his eyes.

 

“Not a bit of it, love,” he promised, as Thomas gladly took his fingers away from the roughened places at the side of his throat to brush it away, so he could see the sincerity in his gaze.

 

And then that glint of something slightly more playful. “…Mark of a job well done.”

 

Newt arched a brow wittily, the effect only slightly ruined by the state of utter chaos that was currently that hair.

 

Thomas grinned and rolled his eyes at the not-quite-pun. And he gave in to temptation, leaning back and pushing his fingers right into Newt’s hair to tame it into some approximation of— well hell, it was never going to be ‘obedient’, but something less obviously fuck-tousled.

 

Newt retaliated by waiting patiently until Thomas made the mistake of looking minutely satisfied with his work, and then shaking his head about wildly so that half of it fluffed back up and the rest of it spilled down into his eyes.

 

“Oof.” He blinked hard a couple of times under his fallen bangs. “Dizzy.”

 

Thomas laughed and put up a single finger this time, just enough to brush the errant strands out of his eyes so he could look into them and declare: “Serves you right.”

 

With that, Newt came forward for a kiss. But Thomas had moved far enough back now, in order to stroke the hair from his forehead, that Newt had to take his back from the wall to do it, and this first attempt at standing under his own power only ended in Newt tipping forward into him. Their mouths landed against each other, sure, but they did it mid-laugh, and a little too hard.

 

“Yeah,” said Thomas, when they had righted themselves, running his tongue over the new little split in his lip and his thumb over Newt’s to check for similar damage. All while trying not to grin too hard. “About that nap…”

 

There was a lot of grumbling after that – that the shorts Newt shimmied and slid unhappily back into would be good for nothing now but the trash bin, the reminder that a certain somebody was not in fact a seven year old, Tommy, and could bloody well dress himself, thanks, and a fair bit of laughter when that of course proved easier said than done – on both their parts.

 

When they had gotten themselves cleaned up enough to be getting on with, and eventually started to make their way, though, Newt seemed to have pretty much accepted the reality that Thomas wasn’t about to let go of his admittedly overprotective and constant hold on him – just at his elbow or his shoulder at the very least – likely as much a reassurance to himself as anything, that Newt was continuing to successfully maintain upright status. By the time they were finally approaching the bunk room Newt had more or less given up on his complaining, seemingly content to make the rest of their walk leaned comfortably into him.

 

Even if it did lead to several stops along the way down the ship’s long halls and twisting tunnels.

 

“You’re stalling,” Thomas accused between nips and kisses more than once, after finding himself pinned up against various bits of wall, assorted railings, and one lavatory door.

 

To which Newt, of course, replied with some variation on the argument that the real problem was Thomas’s being just too cute slash delicious slash no fun at all.

 

As nice as it was, or should have been, having Newt’s good humour back, Thomas actually wasn’t sure he had ever seen him in quite as high a humour as this one. And as they passed through the doorway to the sleeping cabin, he couldn’t help but feel the nag of something starting in the back of his mind.

 

The last time he could remember Newt being quite so stubbornly upbeat – and spouting quite so many little British swearings and slangs – Thomas had been trying to convince him to take the weight off his leg for a rest to a limp that had become distinctly more pronounced than usual, and struggling to dig out the real source of Newt’s irritation about an accidental but very telling mark left by none other than Thomas himself on the side of his neck. It was all starting to feel a little too familiar. And by the time they reached the edge of the bed the nagging in his head had put down roots and blossomed into a fully-fledged worry.  

 

“Thanks Tommy.” The exhausted sigh in the words and the way Newt slithered from his side and dropped heavily to sitting on the mattress felt a little more like collapsing than grateful repose.

 

Thomas could feel himself frowning. He was starting to cool off and stiffen up a little since their exertion himself, and in this light – a dimness that could make Newt’s pearl-pale skin almost glow, the way it sometimes did in moonlight – the marks on the side of his neck seemed to stand out more darkly somehow than before.

What had been a pink and puffy-white swath of irritation before was a set of distinct and insistent little stripes now.

 

“Guilty conscience?” Newt asked knowingly, looking up at him from his perch on the edge of the bed and clearly more than able to read the line of his gaze.

 

“Then look at it this way,” he said, gently, reaching out for a hold on Thomas’s index finger to tow him closer to the bunk so that he could stretch up with the other hand to stroke his fingers over the hair at his temple and the curve of his ear. “At least you’re evening the score?”

 

Point taken. Of course Newt didn’t want Thomas wasting time feeling guilty about an accidental hurt he could do nothing about anyway, any more than Thomas wanted Newt dwelling on it.

 

“Hey,” Thomas replied, letting his voice match Newt’s soft tone as if the empty bunks all around them demanded quiet and rest and sleep, even with no Minho or Brenda in them to enforce it. He reached for Newt’s hand and held on, brought it away from the side of his face. “I’ve had worse.”

 

Newt’s wry, responding smile flitted across his face in the semi-darkness then disappeared, like a fleeting shadow.

 

He let go of Thomas’s hand.

 

“Staying, then?” Newt’s gaze shifted, breaking eye contact in favour of flicking away and down in the direction of the space on the mattress next to him.

 

Thomas’s hands felt cold where Newt wasn’t holding them. He curled them into his pockets.

 

“Am I?”

 

Newt picked at the edge of the sheets with a fingernail. “What was it Minho said? We signed up for each other’s shuck faces?”

 

Thomas smiled, even though Newt was still looking down at his fingers.

 

“Since when do we let Minho make the rules?”

 

It wasn’t until Newt laughed quietly and looked up at him, that Thomas realized he had been afraid Newt wasn’t going to be able to.

 

The little trill of relief that ran down his back and in an excitable little circle around his stomach was short lived, though, as Newt’s gaze dropped again and he moved his hand to start digging his thumb and forefinger into his leg just above the knee with a sigh and a distracted air like he the action wasn’t entirely a conscious one.

 

Thomas pushed down on a sigh of his own and a little tug of something somewhere behind his navel that was too many things at once to name.

 

The confirmation of his suspicion that Newt had been in pain and yet defiantly refusing his help the whole way here wasn’t nearly the whole of it, either. He had only been half-kidding. This wasn’t Minho’s call by any means. But Newt was still stalling on making it.

 

Thomas took his hands from his pockets so that he could go to his knees and wrap them around Newt’s thigh.

 

“When are you going to learn to just tell me what you need?” He pushed his thumbs in under Newt’s hand and pressed down, taking over the kneading with a medium sort of pressure he remembered from the last time Newt let him do this for him.

 

Newt moved his hand cooperatively enough, but something about the lack of a reply and the tension he could feel staying stubborn and set under his hands made Thomas look up at him.

 

Sure enough, Newt’s expression was the incredulous, take-no-bullshit eyebrow-rise Thomas had seen him use to impressive effect daily in the Glade. Most notably on Gally.

 

“Tell me you’re kidding.”

 

Newt’s tone was flat, and deadly calm in a way that made Thomas’s hands falter in what they were doing.

 

Thomas wasn’t entirely sure what he had done wrong. He opened his mouth, probably to say something that was about to make that much too abundantly clear, but Newt plowed ahead.

 

“Goes both ways, doesn’t it?”

 

Oh.

 

He had known really, that he hadn’t gotten away hearing the last of having kept the full extent of his nightmares from Newt. Not that he had done that, exactly. It was just that it hadn’t felt important, not with the horrors Newt had been through, and what he had to deal with. But when Newt turned it around like this, so that Thomas couldn’t help but think what he’d feel if things were reversed… yeah. As usual it was pretty hard to ignore the irony, of being pissed off that the person he loved was too stubborn to ask for help when he needed it.

 

Well, damn. He let his gaze drop back down to where his thumbs still sat at the sides of Newt’s kneecap, and moved them in a couple quick brushing strokes that were more apology than massage, but as he’d expected, Newt wasn’t finished.

 

“Minho didn’t say ‘Tommy’s signed up for Newt’s shit’,” he went on, pointedly. “He said we signed on for each other. You need your sleep as much as I do.”

 

Thomas sighed, and swallowed the arguments and excuses that sat unworded as usual on his tongue. As much issue as he might take with this particular use of ‘shit’ as a description, it would be a lie to say he wasn’t pretty tired, especially right now, anyway.

 

Down on his knees like this, he could feel a dull burning in his thigh muscles, and his back and shoulders where he was curled forward over his task held onto the memory of the strain of bearing both their weight so long in a way that told him they would be tight and achy later.

 

Of course, it was definitely, unquestionably worth it.  

 

So he nodded. And when Newt spoke again his tone had shifted, and softened a little.

 

“And if Minho can be believed, everybody else would appreciate it too.”

 

This time when Thomas looked up at him, the eyebrow Newt lofted at him held the touch of teasing humour in it. Thomas ducked his head much too late to hide his sheepish smile of acknowledgement and went back to what he had been doing, bringing his hands smoothly over the bend of Newt’s knee and down to his calf to squeeze.

 

A little too hard, if the surprised hitching noise from Newt was an indication.

 

“Sorry.” Thomas eased up immediately, but Newt didn’t pull away from him this time, or seem too troubled at all, really.

 

“Been over that,” he replied, glinting familiarly at him and leaning gamely into the vise of his palms.

 

Newt was quiet for a while, letting him work his way down almost to his ankle, and get thoroughly lost in his meandering thoughts, before he spoke again.

 

“He’s not wrong, Thomas,” he said, leaning down to take his hand, and likely his wandering attention. “Your needs are no less important than mine or anybody else’s.”

 

Judging from the sound of his full name, the massage was over. Thomas leaned forward and dropped a kiss on the top of Newt’s kneecap before he let him go.


“I feel like those are the exact words I’ve been trying to find for you.”

 

“Well if that isn’t us all over.” It wasn’t funny, really, but Thomas couldn’t help a little bit of a smile at the not-unfamiliar thought that despite his total inability to put it into words, at least Newt got it. Newt sighed and reached down for Thomas’s other hand, lifting them and guiding him like always until he had taken the hint and was seated next to him on the mattress with their knees comfortably touching. “Still. We need to find a way to work this out.”

 

“In this together, huh?”

 

“That’s the hope, yeah,” Newt agreed.


Thomas had been aiming for a smile, but what he got instead was Newt’s eyes fluttering familiarly shut in reaction to the thumb Thomas pushed across his knuckles in a subconscious little caress.

 

He looked down at their hands, and sure enough, the one Thomas wasn’t holding flexed in and out, making a tight fist and then uncurling again.

 

Thomas felt his heart quail at the sight. This was always going to be easier said than done, but they weren’t even lying down yet and Newt was already showing his tells.

 

Thomas waited, for his fingers to move again. When they didn’t, he took Newt’s hand back, bringing it up to his mouth and putting a lingering kiss into the lines across his palm.

 

Newt’s breath caught, and his eyes didn’t open, but when Thomas closed his fingers around the kiss for him, as if he could hold onto it for the keeping, Newt squeezed them tight and he nodded gratefully.

  

Then he was pulling. With both his hands. Pulling and guiding, leading him closer until both Thomas’s hands cupped the sides of Newt’s face and Newt was reaching for a matching hold on the back of Thomas’s nape and pulling again, drawing him blindly into a kiss. And Thomas met him willingly, more than happy for Newt to take what he needed from him as often as he could give it – lips parting to allow the curl of his tongue tip in against his own, thumbs stroking the touch Newt was so clearly seeking into his cheekbones and the line of his jaw.

 

But as Newt moved closer, and the kiss started to grow hungrier and fierce, spiked with the clash of teeth and the way his breath started to quicken and heat, Thomas could feel a warning raise itself at the hackles of his neck. A rush of static and prickling down the length of his arm, as he realized through the growing haze of the things Newt’s mouth was doing that Newt had his hand laid over Thomas’s own, pressing the palm to the side of his throat where the little scratches Thomas had left would surely still be at least slightly tender.

 

The realization sent something shooting up through his insides from low down right up into his chest like a hazard flare, flame-hot and cold, magnesium-white both at once, as Newt gave a spurred little moan into his mouth and pressed harder into the contact with obvious relish for the sharp sensation in the friction of his hand against the abraded skin.

 

“Mmm—” Thomas broke the kiss and pulled away, dodging back a little as Newt came forward, chasing the end of the kiss with his mouth.

 

“Newt.” The single syllable was a short, panted breath but Thomas recovered quickly, turning his palm away forcibly enough to tangle their fingers and draw Newt’s hand safely down into his lap. “Y’know,” he breathed, ”the thing about how this whole nap thing works…”

Newt took a centering breath of his own through his nose. “I’ll actually have to sleep, some time?”

 

Thomas’s relieved squeeze of his fingers thankfully seemed to be all the response that he needed.

 

Newt took another breath. “Right,” he allowed. “That.”

 

Thomas watched as Newt regarded him a moment in the dim light of the room with his dark, shining eyes, and for a second he couldn’t be sure Newt wasn’t about to pounce at him again. But then those eyes glittered with tired mischief in that way he had, like he could read Thomas’s thoughts, and putting the fear of it in him had been satisfaction enough.

 

Newt smirked, quietly. Then he yawned, wide like a cat, turning promptly to crawl forward onto the mattress and settle down on his side. Leaving room for Thomas to join him and fixing him with an expectant, if slightly apprehensive, look.


Thomas sighed, and settled down too. Here went nothing.

 

Though a little more than nothing, if Newt had anything to say bout it.

 

“Hey,” Thomas reminded him, giving a warning squeeze of his fingers and nudging him gently away with his nose, when a kiss or two inevitably become four, or six or seven.

 

“’M just getting comfy,” Newt protested, sounding admittedly sort of dozy, before stealing a last smug little peck. “Nice ’n drowsy.”

 

Thomas thought better of the comment that the pang and sting of the way Newt had been pressing into his touch only moments ago had been much more likely calculated to be rousing and awakening than relaxing, and bit his tongue.

 

“Glad to know my kissing puts you to sleep,” he groused teasingly instead. “Doesn’t say a whole lot for my skills.”

 

Newt’s cheek plumped into the pillow as he smiled, softly.

 

“You’re relaxing,” he argued, lazily. “Very grounding.” He reached for Thomas’s hand and pulled it up between them so that he could toy idly with his fingers the way he liked to when they laid down together like this, quietly conspiring and trading stories.

 

But then. Newt’s gaze stayed cast down at their hands instead of coming back up to him.

 

“I have to start all over again, you see…” he said, and a dull-sounding change that always sent something cold and reptilian down the back of Thomas’s neck took over his voice. “Grounding myself.”

 

Thomas swallowed, and tried to ignore the way Newt’s voice going distant and flat made his throat hollow out and his heart clench tight as Newt paused for a breath and set his gaze stonily somewhere out in the dim dark in front of them, and he told Thomas what felt like everything.

 

Or very nearly.

 

He told him about the disorientation in the blackness of that moment before his eyes could even open, each morning when he woke. How the trouble was it wasn’t so different, from coming out of a simulation. And how entering one wasn’t entirely unlike a dream – the way you just started there, thrown in, with no memory of how you arrived.


He told him how the muttered mantras Minho had often seen him pacing through out in the woods after dawn, or that Thomas had heard him utter to himself in the breakfast line, served him like breadcrumbs in the moonlight, marking out his trail. How the backward re-tracing of his steps – out of the desert, over the water, and here, finally, to the Haven of Thomas’s waiting arms – helped to make him sure that if he could remember how he came to a place, then there was every chance that place was real.

 

He didn’t tell him about the things they had liked to ‘throw’ him into, and Thomas didn’t ask.

 

But Newt told him other things. Other things that helped, and some that hurt. He told him things Thomas already knew, and some he could only have imagined, about little proofs and touchstones that whispered to him of the real world, of what was natural, and true.

 

Things that couldn’t be manufactured, like the complexity of water and the way it always drew him, the affection and the comfort that lived in a gentle touch.

 

Love.

 

He told him how it was those little details of nature, the tiniest of grand universal truths, that the machines of WCKD science could never hope to duplicate – and in the case of that last one, would never wish to – that were always what gave them away.

 

He explained how the mornings were the hardest because he hadn’t found enough of them yet, enough clues and reassurances from the world around him to let him trust his arrival in it. The way it felt like a hunting and gathering of little pieces of himself sometimes, to put back together bit by bit before he could fit himself into the day facing him and just be Newt.

 

And Thomas’s heart broke a little over the realization that when the day ended and the morning came, Newt would have to start from scratch, and build himself all over again.

 

There were other things of course, that Newt could use to get by. His little constants when the world around him failed to provide, and started to shimmer and threaten at the edges. So he explained that when they took his mind, they could only insert what they knew, trials and torments of their own invention.

 

But Newt’s body held its own. His own ravages born of the day he had set out to escape from WCKD the only way, to this day, any of them truly knew for sure how.

 

He and he alone knew the particular jolt and twinge of the broken, rough-knit places in his step, and the odd pull of the thickened, ropey marring of his palms. His own secret little sufferings their technology could have never known to add.

 

So the lingering echoes of the day Newt broke, without ever breaking free, were his escape of sorts, after all.

 

And Thomas’s heart cracked a little further open.

 

And then a little more still, as Newt explained finally and last, how each night when he shut his eyes, and each morning when he opened them again, he did it never knowing if it might finally, finally be the day they opened to the glare of antiseptic white, and slick, pristine machinery, to find that he had never actually left.

 

So Newt didn’t explain what had happened that morning, because now, Thomas didn’t need him to. He didn’t need to say aloud how afraid he was, to hurt him, when he brought his fingers up from their lazy intertwining dance to stroke yet another apology over his temple and the rim of his ear.

 

But Newt said it anyway. And more. That sometimes he didn’t feel fully himself, that sometimes he felt like he didn’t know what he might do. He reminded him that there were times he still wasn’t sure of what he had done.

 

Thomas reached up to join their hands again and bring them back down to settle in place on the mattress.

 

“You don’t scare me.” The biggest lie to ever come out of his mouth followed immediately by the greatest truth: “I trust you.”

 

Newt’s eyes smouldered through the gloom at him like cooled black embers, not fooled. He had always been able to read him.

 

But Thomas was learning too. So when Newt gave up on his gentle fidgeting with Thomas’s hands where he had been absently steepling and unsteepling their fingers, and brought his palm up in front of him instead, Thomas knew even before Newt’s eyes shut in anticipation what was happening, what it was that Newt was doing.

 

Telling him what he needed.

 

Thomas took his hand and pressed a kiss into the talisman scars Newt carried there, one that he could fill with so much more purpose now – with his understanding, and his gratitude – knowing what it meant and why it worked. Then another, and another.

 

Newt smiled and closed his fingers into his palm around Thomas’s little gifts before his eyes came open, looking at last a bit like it was taking them some effort.

 

“One last thing then.” His voice was worn and weary, but warm. And for the moment, without a trace of cold and distant steel or stone.

 

And Newt kissed him then, once, drowsy and soft. And he rolled over. Turning his back to him and reaching over his shoulder for Thomas’s wrist as he did, so that once they were spooned comfortably in together, Newt could pull Thomas’s arm over and around him so that his own were pinned securely down underneath.

 

“…Just in case.”

 

Fair enough.

 

“Thomas.” Newt’s murmur was cut by a knackered little sigh, but his fingers found Thomas’s and the little one curled itself around his own to draw his hand in close, tucking it in against his heartbeat with a strength of meaning that was deliberate and acute. “I’m not sure you’re aware…”

 

He stifled what might have been a small yawn.

 

 “Of quite how much I love you.”

 

 .

 

By the time Thomas had caught his breath, and found his reply – the one he whispered into Newt’s ear, and the double-crowned cowlick at the back of his hair, and pressed into the warm skin of his nape under kiss after soft, vowing kiss – the slackening of the single finger wrapped tight around his own and the slow, deep current of his breath told Thomas he had already fallen fast asleep.

 

He almost didn’t dare to believe it. If it wouldn’t have woken Newt, any other living soul aboard the entire damn ship who might have decided to settle in for another snooze this time of the day, and probably a good proportion of the dead, he could have cheered out-fucking-loud.

 

But instead, he tucked his nose into its place under Newt’s ear. He drank in the nearness of him, felt the warm press of Newt’s back up against his chest as it filled and ebbed, and filled again, with his each and every breath.

 

Thomas sighed. He shut his own eyes.

 

And he held on tight.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Newt woke from their nap with a terrorized jolt and his spine a rigid, distrustful line, but this time with no more incident than to roll promptly over into Thomas’s chest, and bury his words there.

 

     Off of the Safe Haven’s shores…

 

Words low and muffled, that Thomas might not have even been able to hear did he not know them for what they were now.

 

     Over the water.

 

For the meaning that went beyond their sound.

 

     …Into Tommy’s arms.

 

For their purpose.

 

So Thomas let the thrumming timbre of Newt’s voice wash into him, undercurrent to the clamour of his own racketing pulse in his ears. And he gathered Newt closer in his arms, tighter. And he clung as if one or both of their lives just might have depended on it to the newborn glimmer of hope just daring to take root under the sharp, jagged feeling in his chest, like shards of his broken heart.

 

Until the edges dulled, and the rushing in his ears calmed and went quiet, leaving only the sound of Newt’s slowly evening breath.

 

___

 

 

And so it went that Thomas came to be spending his nights with his nose nuzzled contentedly in under Newt’s ear, his arms a tight protective vise across Newt’s chest, and the bunk room blissfully undisturbed.

 

Newt’s forced nap had seen them waking up some time in the afternoon that day, and correspondingly landing in bed later that night, than the rest of the ship’s inhabitants and crew. Resulting in somewhat of a shifted sleep schedule that had maybe worked out all for the better.

 

Their new habit meant most of the bunks were already full and emanating the peaceful sounds of sleep by the time Thomas – in a turn of events ironic enough it would be funny, if the circumstances were more suited – could convince Newt to give up on his maps and blueprints and weaponry on any given night, and to finally turn in. And they were mostly empty by the time they woke too, leaving room for Newt to mutter himself through his morning rituals in relative privacy, everyone having vacated in favour of breakfast, or the first crack at the lavatories, in the early hours.

 

Brenda, oddly enough, had turned out to be one of the earliest – and uncharacteristically, one of the loudest. Her seasickness had unfortunately never seemed to have quite abated, and most mornings had her bolting out of her bunk, with the sea shell Thomas had seen Gally gift to her at their parting clicking urgently against the pen knife in her pocket as she rustled hurriedly out of the room for the toilets. Very likely on her way to put her head in one of them.

 

It was enough some mornings to rouse Thomas – used to the dawning sun and the sounds of the awakening Haveners around him serving as his alarm. Whereas Newt must have learned to sleep through some pretty odd sounds and strange disturbances in his time spent as a Wanderer, camped on the edge of bustling, burgeoning desert communities or hunkered down amid the slap and gurgle of the waves aboard Lizzy.

 

So Thomas stayed after he woke, wrapped around and burrowed into him exactly where he was. And he drank in every minute of him; of the warm sleep-scent and slow, peaceful rhythm of his breath. Still a little afraid to believe them, that these were things – pieces of Newt – that Thomas was allowed to have.

 

He stayed, and he did what always seemed to be all Newt really needed from him in the end, and he waited.

 

He waited for the stark, ramrod-iron tension to steal the softness from the sleep-lax frame pressed against his chest each morning; for the steady flitting of Newt’s pulse under the fingers Thomas could now keep curled snugly around his wrist to snag, and flutter like the wings of a caged bird against its bars. He waited through the ragged-cut breaths and murmured mantras into the soft folds of the sleep clothes at the hollow of his chest. And for Newt’s hands to snake their inevitable path up between them and into his hair, his seeking fingers scrubbing and carding and soothing until Newt had come far enough back to him that he could disentangle himself silently – or, with a rough “okay” or whispered “thanks, Tommy” – to slip out of his arms and from under the covers. Rolling fluidly to his feet and padding without pause or hesitation out the door of the bunk room, fingers flexing in a familiar spasm at his side, exactly as Thomas and Minho had watched him do their first morning aboard ship.  

 

Minho, naturally as well as loudly, took full credit for the sleep cabin’s successfully quiescent atmosphere each time he caught them wandering in late to breakfast – with Frypan agreeing heartily that the extra effort of keeping it hot for them, even in the conditions he currently had to work under, was well worth the trade off. Adding that he couldn’t remember sleeping this well since the Glade. 

 

Before the day Thomas had come up in the Box.

 

Thomas, for his part, gladly welcomed their teasing as long as it could get even a half-a-smirk out of Newt, which was easier said than done these days, but was a hell of a lot better than nothing. A fact Thomas wished he didn’t remember quite so vividly, from mere days ago.

 

Minho rarely if ever chose to stop there of course, usually offering some comment or other to the effect that they weren’t fooling anybody into believing they had spent the entire morning sleeping, by arriving to the mess hall separately. But Thomas was reasonably sure it was just his way of letting them know he was still watching Newt’s progress, and that it wasn’t lost on him that he wasn’t entirely there yet.

 

___

 

 

Then came a morning when Thomas loosened the vise of his arms around Newt, the better to find his wrists and guide his hands up to their usual destination in his hair, only for them to torque swiftly out of his hold and delve in under the covers. Digging pointedly for the hem of Thomas’s shirt and pushing up under it.

 

Thomas felt his breath catch and his nerves sizzle with surprise and slow dawning understanding as Newt’s fingers searched out the twisted, puckered place in his skin where the gunshot had ripped him. The trembling he could feel in the exploring fingertips was new – and it didn’t stop there, he found, when he closed his arms back around Newt again.  

 

And yet Newt’s ordeal seemed to pass him by so much more quickly than the other mornings. Though Thomas couldn’t think to do much more than to hold him through it, as Newt muttered and shuddered and stroked, his fingers moving carefully in intricate, painstaking investigation over each tiny knurl and minute ridge of the scar that had not been there before that day. The day Thomas watched the ebbing light of recognition come back to the unnatural, red-rimmed onyx of Newt’s eyes only to watch it snuffed cruelly out again as Newt gasped and rattled, and drew what Thomas had been sure then was his last and final breath. And he slipped away from him, right there in his arms – to eventually wake again at WCKD.

 

The day that had born them this detail any simulation programmed to include Thomas could have never known to insert.

 

Then, when the trembling had more or less subsided and the dread tension had seeped away out of him a little, this time when Newt got up to make his exit he did it with the briefest of kisses first. Warm and swift and hasty, to the lower half of Thomas’s mouth. Just before Newt slipped out of his arms and from their bed, to disappear as always.

 

Thomas couldn’t seem to keep his fingers from brushing at the bottom of his lip all throughout the rest of the morning, as he washed and combed and dressed himself – and even all the way to the mess hall – until he met up with Newt again at breakfast. It was strange and sort of a bit surreal, feeling this distractedly absorbed and bemused, as if the kiss he could still feel lingering there had been their first.

 

Although, Thomas thought, maybe it was a first of sorts. Newt still hadn’t looked far enough up at him to meet his eyes that morning, or spoken a word outside of his usual invocations and mutterings. But for the first time Thomas felt – even if he hadn’t quite been let in – that it was almost like a chink had opened, there in the towering stone of Newt’s walls, that he could stretch up and peer in through.

 

For the first time, Thomas felt like maybe he might be able to do more for Newt than simply to wait.


___

 

It was that night Thomas stopped Newt midway through his nightly habit of drawing Thomas’s arm restrainingly over and around him.

 

“Shh,” he whispered needlessly into the dark. “Gimme a sec.” They always made it their habit to stay as quiet as they could while they crawled, exhausted, in between the sheets at the hours they did, in deference to the soft sounds and snoring from the surrounding bunks.

 

“Skin,” was all the explanation Thomas hazarded as he felt Newt draw sceptically back from him in the gloom to witness him struggling hurriedly out of his shirt. “You said it helps. So wouldn’t it be better if—”

 

Newt cut his rushed whispering off with a kiss, fierce and hot. And promptly rolled over again the moment Thomas had finished, to shift tightly back against him so that he was pressed into him absolutely everywhere he could manage, like he didn’t want to miss an inch of the exposed warmth on offer. Then he pulled Thomas’s arm back around him tight, which Thomas took as a simple and resounding ‘yes’.

 

And for the first time he was aware of since their infamous enforced nap, Newt was asleep well before Thomas.

 

___


“You left off the shores of Safe Haven,” Thomas dared to whisper, on a morning Newt rolled over into him and then nothing at all happened. “To board this ship and come with me – over the water – into battle. Again. And now you’re safe here, in my arms, and I’m never going to let anything like what happened come near you again.”

 

Newt’s answer was to press his palm flat over Thomas’s gunshot scar, as if it were still fresh and he could staunch the hot, livid flow of the blood – and his next breath came in a sob. Wracking and torn.

 

But then, quiet. Thomas could feel him nod, into his chest.

 

This was it, where Newt would get up to go do his thing. His pacing and muttering, as Minho would describe it, up on the ship’s deck. Thomas loosened his protective hold on him a little to allow it, but this morning, Newt pressed closer instead.

 

“Alby.”

 

Thomas felt his stomach drop away through the mattress and down to the floor.

 

His mind was swirling with sudden questions he was still mostly too asleep to untangle, drifting here in this liminal half-dream space with Newt, thick-voiced and vulnerable and the warmest Thomas had ever known him to feel, tucked in against him.

 

Maybe his gambit had backfired. But how severely?  Maybe he should have let him do his own thing, rather than interrupting, interfering with his clumsy attempts at help. If WCKD had used Thomas in simulations that distressed and teased, what might they have been able to do to Newt’s memories of Alby? Alby, who had been Newt’s rock and his salvation when he had gone through his darkest times, Alby with whom Newt’s connection went back further than anyone’s, as far as his living memory could reach.

 

Thomas was just starting to spin out into his own worries of how much damage he might have done, how lasting Newt’s confusion might be, when the next name landed in the centre of his chest.

 

“Winston.”

 

Newt stopped to give a mournful sniffle before he could go on, and the momentary pause between names was enough for Thomas to recognize what was happening, their pattern – though the stab of understanding that lanced through him was of little comfort. He knew now, what came next.

 

Thomas felt his fingers twitch on instinct, wanting to move for the pendant around his neck, but he had Newt instead now. Newt to hold onto, and pull in closer, as the next name landed.

 

“…Chuck.”

 

___

 


There were more names. More beads on Newt’s personal rosary of rememberance. Some familiar enough to ache, some Thomas had never heard. Some that made his heart clench, unwarned.

 

But it was the last one, or so Thomas thought on first hearing, that made him angle down to press a hard, reassuring kiss to Newt’s forehead. A kiss that said the things that came from a place beyond where Thomas’s words fell short. That he was here, and would be as long as Newt needed or even allowed it. There was nowhere else he was ever going to be, nothing else but this, that could ever drag him away.

 

“Tommy.”

 

___

 


He learned the names well enough, over the days, to say most of them along with Newt. The ones Thomas could muster, anyway. Chuck’s still tended to stick a little, and Teresa’s …

 

Well, Thomas never quite managed them all. But It seemed to help Newt all the same, this corroboration from outside of himself. This confirmation that somebody else, a part of this reality Newt was waking to find himself in, knew and remembered and mourned the same things that he did.

 

And by the time the final days of their voyage began to draw near, between the two of them they had established a sort of routine that Thomas could allow himself to dare a weak hope in. That it would be enough. Enough of a comfort to Newt to steady him, a foundation just barely strong and stable enough to get them through.

 

What was coming would test them all, even on their best days.

 

And Thomas still wasn’t sure which Newt would be standing at his side when it came. Who it was that he held in his arms.

 

Over the days the lines had begun to blur, between his Newt, the one he remembered guiding him through the confusion and chaos of his arrival in the lush green of the Glade, the one that held him up and kept him together through the choking dust of the Scorch, and the one he seemed to retreat into sometimes. The one that had come back to him steeled and stony and taking down Bergs full of trained soldiers, unblinking, with nothing more than a spare screwdriver.

 

And there was some part of Thomas that feared some of that blurring might just be deliberate.

 

Still. Each morning, by the time they came to the name Thomas knew now to be truly the last in Newt’s long roster of grief, the two of them could arrive in tandem, to the destination at the end of Newt’s waking journey down the twists and turns and the darkling alleyways of their particular memory lane.

 

To take it on together:

 

“Newt.”

 

___

 

 

And finally, a morning dawned that delivered a gift that had frankly been beyond Thomas’s wildest hope.

 

As he reached the end of his long novena of names, Newt turned his face right up, far enough to let his eyes meet Thomas’s own. And there was a gleam there, dim and exhausted looking despite only having just come from his night’s sleep, but there, none the less – a stubborn spark in the darkness that refused to be extinguished.

 

And Newt smiled. It was tired and wan and all but broken but Newt smiled, right at him.

 

Then, he answered to the last of the names in his roll call of the lost. His own.

 

“Present and accounted for,” Newt promised, sleepy and distant. But with a note of what was absolutely, remarkably, humour.

 

Most definitely Newt.

 

They were both laughing, short and surprised, when their mouths met in a kiss; Thomas in wonder and Newt in triumph, as his hands slid down the length of Thomas’s arms to find his wrists and press them snug and warm down against the mattress, both of them thankful that the bunk room was abandoned.

 

And Thomas arched, encouraging and eager, into the surprise of Newt’s intention. He dipped his head and let his mouth come open, welcoming the taste of his skin. Questing for the delicate point of Newt’s pulse under the pale, easily marked flesh of his throat.

 

Hell. If they were going to be walking in to breakfast together today, then they might as well give Minho something truly showy to entertain himself – and everybody else – with, after all.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Minho wriggled his ass backward a touch further, in a brave attempt to shift a little weight off the left cheek and over to the right, in his meeting-room chair which had clearly never been designed for sitting still this long. But then again, neither was he.

 

He never thought the day would come when he missed anything at all about WCKD but there wasn’t a lot he could think of that he wouldn’t do right now for one of those treadmills Janson had had back at his fancy, fake-ass facility.

 

He was jonesing like nothing else for a shuck run. There was something about knowing they were stuck here, penned up in this ship; a measly couple thousand square-foot steel box, bounded on every side by hundreds of miles of freezing ocean stretching as far as the eye could see – and a few good thousand miles after that – that made him feel tight. Like he was trapped in his own skin. Captive.

 

He had tried walking the length of the decks at the fastest clip the space would afford, but it wasn’t the same. His steps were too short, too tightly reined and trammeled up, and it just ended up feeling like pacing. Which felt somehow all the more distressing. He could leave that shit for Newt. As much as it seemed to do the trick for him, it wasn’t doing shit for Minho.

 

He could feel every muscle in his body languishing, begging him for freedom. Movement and action.

 

True, he was still one of the earlier risers – except Brenda of course, but that was due to what you might call ‘special circumstances’ – and he could find plenty of places quiet enough to squeeze in a workout of sorts, most mornings. But still there was something, like an itch in that hard-to-reach place between your shoulder blades, that a makeshift chin-up bar and any amount of press-ups, crunches and lunges couldn’t scratch quite like a run.

 

But the thing was, the tense, timebomb-ticking way his body felt wasn’t actually the worst of it. Minho could feel it in his mind, too, like breath on the back of his neck. Uninvited. The unwelcome thought that he had never truly left WCKD behind.

 

There were still echoes, old horrors that whispered off the walls to him in the quiet, or the dark of night. That escape was just an illusion. That he could keep running, but he’d never really be free. You can never outrun your own mind, after all.

 

And now? He was running right back.

 

Minho wasn’t the only one feeling it, either. He could see the evidence in every stress-lined face and agitated finger-tap in the Gathering as he looked around the expanse of the stores-cabin-turned-strategy room.

 

There was the crew, first off. The biggest pack of superstitious shanks Minho was sure he had ever run across. Hearing noises. Allegedly ‘unexplained’ noises from the boiler room, since the beginning of the voyage. Minho didn’t know a damn thing about boilers but he was sure one thing about them was they made a whole hell of a lot of shuck noise. It was a testament to the tension building lately, though, that nothing could convince these shanks for the past few days that there could be any other explanation but that old vessels like this one couldn’t help but hang onto old ‘energies’ and carry ‘malevolent spirits’.

 

So basically ghosts.

 

Then of course there was Frypan. Seated right next to him, but with the easy grin that customarily lit up his round, affable face dimmed to a mask of preoccupied concern. Fry had it pretty rough, no doubt, trying to keep the whole damn ship fed without his team, or the luxury of having three working kitchens running at once like the spoiled shank had gotten himself used to back at the Haven. But the past little while he had been driving himself into a foaming frenzy no less than a couple of times a day, going over and over his inventories and swearing left and right that various shit was going inexplicably missing. Weird klunk that wouldn’t be explained by random shuck-faces just pilfering snacks.

 

Which of course did nothing to help shut down the whole shuck Ship-is-Obviously-Haunted rumour.

 

Just that morning, in fact, Fry had completely lost it in the middle of breakfast over three bags of dried lentils. Minho had bitten back on his extremely sensible point that there were probably a hundred much simpler explanations, and went off to go find a place for another nice, truly unsatisfying workout-slash-pacing session instead. Brenda’s perpetually queasy looking expression hadn’t looked like it could handle even the most logical and obvious suggestion of rats.

 

Out of everyone, Minho maybe felt for Brenda the most. She and Jorge sat in all the meetings just as they were doing right now, as rebelliously smug and stoic and silently intimidating as they ever were. Leaning keenly in at the mention of particularly juicy bits of mayhem, or reclining back with a heel cocked up on the arm of a nearby table or stool and exchanging dark, knowing looks and roguish conspirators nods, and generally outing themselves as the duo of no-good old scallywags Minho had always suspected them of being. But outside of the Gatherings, she spent most of her time walking the decks, missing Gally and hugging herself, and looking slightly green.

 

The motion of the ocean had hit a few people pretty hard at the start of the trip but Brenda, though she was brave about it as she was with anything, never seemed to get her ‘sea-legs’ – great as those legs were, of course, for outrunning Cranks and escaping collapsing buildings, and generally kicking ass. Not to mention being a foxy-ass set of fine, well-muscled gams, if the glimpses Minho had gotten the odd beach moment at the Haven, or on her morning trips to and from the showers, said anything.

 

She looked stable enough for the moment right now though, lounging in that relaxed but vaguely animalistic, watchful pose she adopted in these daily strategy meetings, and flipping the bone white, salt-bleached seashell she always carried over and over between her fingers.

 

“Run it for us again,” came Vince’s voice from his seat up near the head of the meeting table. Not quite as smoothly and unassuming as the time before. Or the time before that.

 

Minho rolled some of the stiffness out of his shoulders where he sat, and kept his eyes on Newt, watching his expression for a response with close care.

 

One of the few people with a slice of Minho’s Pie Chart of Concern big enough to beat out Brenda’s, was the obvious exception of Newt. It was clear nobody wanted to talk about what in the ever-loving shuck was up with Newt, or what the hell to do about it.

 

And, Minho’s personal challenges with that aside, it had its own special compounding effect on the slowly spiralling mood aboard ship, too. Made moments like this one string out fraught and worrisome through the air, so that he would swear he could feel every butt cheek in the room clench a little tighter.

 

Newt didn’t smile. He hadn’t cracked a snarky-ass Brit-comment in days. And the only way you could have a hope in hell of pulling him away from the strategy room, or his incessant muttering to himself over ammunition and launchers and tactical concussion grenades, was if you were Thomas. And even that wasn’t always a sure bet.

 

Minho had pushed the two of them a little, but so far he hadn’t regretted it one bit. Things between the two had looked— well, if not ‘okay’ then the closest reasonable facsimile of it, for a little while. Thomas and Newt had worked their shit out – at Minho’s urging, and for which he frankly and rightly took no small amount of credit – for the most part. And the whole shuck rigmarole had resulted in the both of them sleeping a little better at nights, if nothing else. Not to mention everybody else, of course.

 

And Newt had seemed… ‘better’ might be taking it a hair or so too far. But at the very least, ‘improved’. Minho was even sure he had caught him making the odd sarcastic crack, even if it didn’t quite come with a smile.

 

But then, the past couple days seemed to have visibly taken their toll on the proverbial power-couple as much as they had on anybody, if not more. And then there had been this morning.

 

The morning they showed up to breakfast separately again, and Thomas with a telltale-looking split in his lip.

 

Minho could remember all too vividly, the first time Newt had tried to sleep next to the shank and ended up landing a semi-conscious swing pretty squarely in the vicinity of Thomas’s right ear. It didn’t take much more than a glance between the two of them now – Thomas unusually withdrawn and taciturn with his input in the morning’s meeting in favour of standing at Newt’s shoulder and watching him with an unsettling, studying sort of caution as he stood at the head of the strategy table, stony and distant and once again clenched as tightly as ever – to piece together the most likely scenario for what had gone down.

 

It was quiet, while the Gathering waited and watched Newt standing with his head bent silently over his spread of maps and ‘blue prints’. All extracted from the mind and memory of their very own Good Doctor WCKD, in a series of interviews too numerous to count – led by Newt himself, and usually qualifying much more closely for description as ‘interrogations’ rather than meetings.

 

The Good Doctor watched too, looking on from her usual seat by the back wall; still removed a little from the others, dark and fucking nefarious no matter what anybody wanted to try and tell him, and silently waiting to speak until spoken to, as ever. So did Vince.

 

Minho pushed down on a bubbling sort of feeling of something unwanted somewhere in his guts.

 

Vince cleared his throat, but Newt’s gaze stayed lowered and his expression did what it always did these past few days.

 

Nothing.

 

Vince seemed to have more questions than usual today. Questions that, in Minho’s opinion, only made sense at this late a stage in the game if there was an issue that had been raised somewhere in the ranks with confidence in the plan.

 

Or the person making it.

 

“…Newt?” Vince prompted, and the unwelcome bubbling started to feel like something closer to a boil.

 

Minho looked around the table at the assembled faces, some averting their gazes, or watching Newt with impassive, forced expressions of calm. None of them comfortable.

 

And no wonder. They were a single slim breath away from Go Time at this point. This was a time for questions that firmed up little overlooked details or confirmed crucial understandings, not a time to question the whole damn thing. Again.

 

“We’ve run it,” Brenda spoke up from the sidelines, rocking her knee comfortably where it was propped up against the hard arm of her chair and still fingering her shell. And if Minho hadn’t been pretty sure she’d just throw up, he might have kissed her.

 

They had run it. And run it. And Newt had been equal to the repeated rounds of questioning, for the most part. Always with an answer; short and clipped maybe, but as calm and unaffected as always.

 

Unless you knew where to look.

 

And Minho was looking now. Newt’s hands flexed in and out, where they had been gripping the sides of the table for some time now – tighter and tighter with each query all morning, calling into question his motivation for everything from ‘why split the team up here?’ all the way up to ‘why go for the control room at all, instead of a faster, less invasive attack, taking the outermost rooms with explosives, and going after as many load bearing structures as they could hit?’

 

Vince shot a silencing leader-look over at Brenda but she had said her piece, and simply flipped her salt white seashell over again with an air of obvious boredom. Minho would have put his entire precious life on the bet that Gally was back at Haven with a similarly matching one in his own pocket right this very minute.

 

Next to her, Jorge met Vince’s gaze over the tip of an unnecessarily jagged-looking hunting knife that he appeared to be using to clean his fingernails, while looking equally bored. Vince turned his gaze meaningfully back to Newt, and Minho felt the tension in the room ramp up just one more unbearable notch.

 

Thomas stood next to him, still watching him too closely to look like he had bothered taking any of the whole exchange in, with the exception of the way his hands were making ready-looking fists at his sides.

 

Newt still didn’t look up from his spread of papers and plans, but he nodded silently.

 

“Yeah,” he said, finally. Low and terse and to nobody in particular. “Run it.” He reached up to pluck away the pencil he kept tucked, as a habit, behind his ear, and toss it sharply down on top of the pile. “I just need a—"

 

But before Newt could even be bothered to finish his sentence, he had turned from the table and was striding right out of the meeting, leaving the entire room ringing in a shocked, simmering silence.

 

Thomas stood at the front of the room a moment in classic fashion – his eyes doing their best imitation of dinner plates and his mouth open almost as wide – but today, there was nothing funny about it.

 

The bubbling boiling rose up and drew strainingly tight across Minho’s chest like a rubber band.

 

And snapped.

 

___

 

 

As the final days of their journey counted down and the shores of their destination drew closer, the mood on the ship had begun to close in and tighten around everyone aboard. And Brenda wasn’t sure whether it was sharpening to a dagger point, or closing like a noose.

 

But she had a feeling they were about to find out.

 

More or less every man, woman and beast aboard had gathered for their last-ditch strategy session and now Thomas was standing stock still at front of the room, his big brown puppy dog eyes wide and staring at the door where Newt had just up and stormed right out of it. Brenda watched him hesitate a moment before he turned to face their assembly, clearly expecting to find every eye in the room trained on him and, from a quick glance around, not being wrong about it when he did.

 

“Sorry—” Thomas moved an instinctive step or two toward the door even as he spoke, obviously torn between the expectation of his responsibility for taking over leading the meeting and his natural compulsion to go after Newt. “I’m not sure what’s—”

 

“I am.”

 

So many gazes swung around to the source of the interruption at once, it was like you could practically hear the scrape of the eyeballs swiveling in their sockets.

 

Minho’s voice wasn’t one they heard a lot of in the meetings, generally reserved for seconding an opinion from Thomas or Newt, or for when he was called on by one of them for his thoughts on a particular tactic. Brenda turned to look at him herself, only to see him glance down at where he was standing – feet planted firm and ready and aggressively apart, with both fists pressed hard into the table top – like he was almost as surprised at himself as everybody else, and was only just noticing he had gotten to his feet.

 

Brenda might have been the only person in the room, including Minho, to have seen this coming. Hell, the Scorch had taught her a thing or two, and it was textbook Basic Grifting 101: when you didn’t know anything about your person of interest, you started with the person closest to them. And Brenda would be the first to admit she had less than no idea what might have been going on with Newt – lately he and Thomas were rarely seen outside of this room at all – but she knew who did. So even if nobody else had, Brenda had had eyes on Minho for a little while now. And he had been doing the whole caged tiger act for days.

 

“You pushed him too fuckin’ far,” Minho growled.

 

And you could feel the air go out of the room. Like everybody had used it up taking a breath at once, as the entire assembly turned toward Vince for a response to the accusation – or just the straight-up sass.

 

But Minho wasn’t looking at Vince. His head was still down but his gaze was pointed with a dark laser-style precision straight at none other than Dr. Patel.

 

Huh. Brenda wasn’t sure, but that might actually be worse.

 

It was no secret there was zero love lost between Minho and their unlikely new ally, if that was the best way of describing her. Just days ago the new resident Saw-Bones, as Jorge liked to call her, had asked Frypan to mix up some sugar water for the way Brenda’s stomach was acting these days. Brenda would never forget the way Minho had walked in to breakfast to see her accepting it – along with the doctor’s kindly suggestion that she try dry bread first thing in the mornings – with a look like he was taking Brenda’s momentary trust that it wasn’t fatally poisoned as a personal betrayal.

 

“Nobody wants to talk about it, but as usual, the klunk that everybody’s dancing around? That’s the real shit that needs to be said.” The entire room watched him straighten up from the table, setting his admittedly impressive set of shoulders back into their usual staunch line. “So allow me.”

 

And Brenda tried not to feel too literal about visibly watching the final straw breaking the proverbial camel’s back.

 

It made sense. To this day neither he nor Thomas seemed to want to talk much about what had gone down in the Last City. But there wasn’t a person on the whole damn island who could claim they weren’t curious, and the whole crappy, gossipy bullshit side of that had only gotten a hundred times worse since Newt had landed on the shore. And after the Bergs that followed a couple days later – about a hundred times worse than that.

 

But Minho, he had dealt with it a lot longer. Ever since he had first arrived at the Haven as a ‘survivor’ of WCKD – the sidelong looks, the indiscreet whispering behind hands in the kitchen line-ups. And then, finally, there was today. And the mysteriously motivated new line of questioning.

 

And anything those gossipy old nags could worry that WCKD might have done to Newt, they could have just as easily done with Minho.

 

“You don’t know what’s up with Newt? That the big question on everybody’s mind but can’t seem to come out of a single shuck mouth?” Minho’s voice took on an accusing tone as he turned to address the room with a sharp, sweeping gaze. “Well I do.”

 

Vince sat forward in his seat, his eyes narrowed like he was calculating the odds of whether it would incite more drama to shut Minho down right then, or whether it was best to just let whatever he had to say play out. Thomas’s eyes couldn’t have gotten any wider, but the shocked, kicked-puppy-dog look was gone, replaced by something wilder and fiercer that gleamed dangerously in the gloomily lit cabin.

 

“By now every shank in this room knows a little something about where we’re going,” Minho began. “About WCKD. Some of us have been there.” His intense, roving gaze landed on Thomas a moment. It even flitted over Frypan and Brenda herself a second or two before he went on. “Some of you have just heard the rumours. That they have amazing technology beyond our wildest dreams. That can do anything. Mess around with people’s brains. Even bring them back from the dead.”

 

There were a few rustles of movement from some of the elder Haveners seated around the table, but Vince held up his fingers to hold off any interruptions, like maybe he had now realized what was coming next, and he had been waiting to hear about it for as long as Brenda or anyone else had.

 

“Well, take it from a guy who knows.” Minho swept his gaze meaningfully around at everyone again before pushing in his chair like he didn’t intend to be sitting back down in it any time soon now that he was sure he had everyone’s attention.

 

“It’s true,” he said, in a hard, brittle tone Brenda hadn’t heard out of him in a long time. “All of it. They have machines that can read and completely replicate brain waves. And that might be wild, but it’s no dream.”

 

Minho looked down at the table for a moment as if he needed it to collect himself.

 

“It’s not like a memory either, or something that happens just inside your head, like a thought.” he continued, turning to take a few steps down the aisle between the chairs tucked into the long table, and the ones lined against the wall. “Their shit has access to your brain, man.” His hand came up in an erratic gesture around the side of his head as he took a few more of those caged, pacing steps Brenda had been clocking for days, and his eyes took on a glazed, distant look. “Your brain that controls everything you see, hear. Smell. Your whole body feels it. You live it. Whatever they want you to. Every step you make, every movement.”

 

By now every eye was on him, every mouth shut. Minho reached the end of the aisle and stopped.

 

“…Every hit you take.”

 

Vince had his head bowed now in leaderly sympathy, and he wasn’t the only one. From beside her, Jorge’s “híjole” was so quiet even Brenda almost missed it before Minho went on.

 

“Your body feels you do it. Only it doesn’t actually do any of it, so there’s no way your body can fail, run out of steam. You can bleed, you can break, you can hurt.”

 

At the front of the room in her regularly designated, slightly-distanced corner, Dr. Patel’s eyes had gone silently wide with some unspoken realization.

 

“Yeah, you can even die.”

 

Brenda felt predictably sick.

 

“And then,” Minho was saying now, “you can do it again. Endless energy, endless possibilities to face over and over and over again. No end in sight.” Minho paused to point two fingers into the air next to his temple like cocking a gun. “The only wear and tear is on your mind.”

 

At the far end of the table, Sonya held both Harriet and Aris’s hands so tight it actually looked painful, but they were both gripping back just as tight. Thomas’s teeth were gritted so hard Brenda could see the muscles in his jaw knot and pop, and beside Minho’s vacated chair, Frypan lifted a couple of fingers to his face to brush something away from his cheek in silence.

 

Brenda swallowed down the stickiness rising in her throat. She had been there, before even Thomas had seen him. Minho’s first strange, listless days on the Island. The ones he spent trailing after Frypan or Gally, wistful and aimless until one of them or she herself pointed him, sometimes literally and physically, at some mindless task or invented busywork. Something that could force his mind to focus on what his hands were doing instead of wandering into dangerous places that always left him oddly vacant, and prone to a bizarre and unpredictable temper.

 

“Sound like torture?” Minho turned and started moving back up the row, meeting the eyes of anybody who still had the balls for it as he went. “Good. Because that’s what it is. An Immune’s body produces more defensive chemicals when it’s under attack, right? Makes sense. So the whole point is to keep the system under stress. As long as possible.”

 

Minho had come to a stop again at the head-end of the table. The one closest to where Dr. Patel was habitually seated.  

 

“But here’s the thing. That also makes it pretty much the perfect training system.”

 

He was quiet a second, letting the words settle and sink in before he went on; his voice rising a notch in volume when he did.

 

“You think you spend months being attacked by every conceivable nightmare known to man – and a fair shuck few that aren’t, yet – without learning a thing or two about how to fight?” he asked, turning his rhetorical look on Thomas a moment. “How many of the Grievers they sent after me do you think it took before I figured out where exactly to stick a knife, if I could get one?”

 

Thomas’s gaze dropped pensively, in deference and sympathy, though none of the aggressive fight-or-flight tension left his stance.

 

“Or how to make one, out of anything I could find lying around, if I couldn’t? Sharpen a stick, break a window and grab a nice long shard? And if you cut yourself, no biggie, it’s gone as soon as the scene resets and the next thing is coming at you.”

 

The room started to fill here and there with uncomfortable noises, rustling of clothing and shifting in seats. But Minho’s eye had caught those of Dr. Patel now, and his rant seemed to be hitting its full flow.

 

“Say, maybe even, that you die?” His voice picked up a low, gritty sound and his feet took up their sub-conscious-looking steps again. “Same deal.” Toward her.

 

“And every time you get a little better at fighting it off, a little smarter. It just makes the fight go on longer, just gives you more chances to learn. And in the end – whether you get another kill under your belt or it gets you? Doesn’t matter. On to the next one.”

 

Minho’s steps had carried him all the way forward until he was standing knee-to-knee with the Doctor. Still sitting in her chair and watching him, quiet and careful.

 

“And I was there, what,” he hissed coldly, “months?” He brought a finger up to jab condemningly toward her face. “You shanks had him for years.”

 

“Min…” Thomas’s interruption was low, and entreating. But Minho simply straightened his shoulders and pointed a vehement finger down at the floor between his feet.

 

“I’ll stake my life on it, right here right now, that Newt can make eight kinds of weapon from just the klunk lying around this room. That chair you’re sitting in? Kick the leg off of it, it’ll splinter off nice and sharp.”

 

Vince’s voice had joined Thomas’s interruption now, but Minho showed no sign he had heard that either.

 

“Spear. Waiting to happen,” he asserted. “Got some rope, or maybe even just tear off the sleeve of your shirt – slingshot, no problem. Maybe even a nice flail.” He threw a dramatic, questing look around the room before turning back. “Pretty much anything heavy’ll make a cudgel real nice. The right throwing-weapon’ll take down an animal or a person of any size before they even reach you.”

 

“Minho!” Vince’s second interruption seemed to be loud enough this time to stop the flow of his words, if not to quell the wrathful blaze in his glare. “…I think we all get the picture.”

 

“WCKD should be afraid,” Minho concluded through his teeth, despite the warnings, for Dr. Patel’s benefit. “They should be very afraid.”

 

Her only response was a slow nod, and a look of confirmation in her big dark eyes like whatever realization she had come to earlier when Minho had first started his whole disturbing speech about WCKD was now a sure thing in her mind. And the only words out of her mouth weren’t words at all, they were a number.

 

“A7…”

 

The mention of the numbers sent Thomas into motion like a trigger, the balled fists at his sides raising themselves instinctively to hip height as he moved forward. But Vince stopped him with an arm flung out from the end of the table.

 

Minho simply raised his chin and folded his arms across his chest. Giving no satisfaction of a response to the doctor, or the spoken numbers.

 

“The question we should be asking isn’t whether Newt knows what he’s doing, or even what they did to him. We know what they do. We should be asking why they let him go.”

 

His voice was raised loudly enough again to address the entirety of the room, but relatively calm and measured enough now not to spark another warning from Vince.

 

“They never let anything go. And maybe they didn’t,” he said ominously, turning briefly to face Vince and then Thomas, who had come forward the last few paces to stand next to him as the conversation came down from a threatening boil to a mere tense simmer. “Newt was tracked, you said it yourself. But maybe it was never about Newt. We have what they really want, don’t we?"

 

“Minho…"

 

“Thomas,” Minho said, and it was unclear whether he was addressing him or answering his own question – or if he had even heard Thomas speak at all. His gaze was turned straight ahead and unflinching again, boring right into Dr. Patel’s own, to make his final accusation. “It’s a trap.”

 

“If you are waiting for my input on your conclusion, it is an understandable one,” the doctor said finally, after a moment or two of Minho’s defiantly unbroken eye contact. “But no, I do not think so.”

 

Minho’s mask of ireful defiance cracked enough to let through a look of skepticism that said that was exactly what a person who was setting a trap would say.

 

“And why is that?” Vince’s voice from the table was quiet now, but firm.

 

“Because according to the patient data files in WCKD archives,” she answered, her gaze shifting from Minho’s angry stare to Thomas, standing statue-still now at his shoulder, “to all administration’s knowledge, the subject previously known as A2 – or Thomas – is believed to be dead.”

 

In the stunned silence that took over, Brenda watched Minho and Thomas exchange a glance that nobody else in the room would have had a single shot at interpreting. Nobody else had been there, that day right after Newt had first arrived on the island and had taken his first visitors. None of them had been there to see what happened, the first time he tried to explain where it was he had been.

 

Nobody else had been there the night around the bonfire when Thomas had later confirmed for them, in typical Thomas fashion - his fire-lit eyes distractedly downcast over the toe of his boot bulldozing into the flickering pothole shadows in the sand - what might have been WCKD’s biggest implement of torture of all.

 

WCKD had told Newt as much, that Thomas was dead. They had also told him he had been murdered. By Newt.

 

It had never occurred to any of them that WCKD might have actually thought it was true.

 

“Well.” Vince’s voice cut through the murmurs that had started up here and there around the room, now that Minho’s ranting seemed to have finally fallen quiet. “I think we’re adjourned for now. We can gather again in a couple of hours if there are still any questions. In the mean time,” he spoke a little louder over the round of muttering that started up in reply, “anybody with a problem can see me about it directly.”

 

Vince rose pointedly from his chair, and with a heavy, meaningful look at Thomas, left the meeting cabin without any further discussion.

 

A few of the elder Haveners, who evidently had some real pressing issues to discuss, followed pretty hot on his heels, and then all the rest. One by one.

 

Jorge got to his feet as one of the last, only to stand over her and give her that overprotective eyebrow-raising thing his face did whenever he was feeling particularly paternal. Brenda shook her head with a smile and the ‘I’m fine, old man’ eye-roll she knew he was waiting for. Then she nodded toward the door for him to get the hell out of here and leave her with the only two idiots left standing in the room.

 

Thomas stood in the self-same spot he had been occupying the entire meeting, and with his stance and expression also relatively unchanged. His hands were still in agitated fists at his sides, and his eyes were still wide and moving uncertainly between Minho and the door.

 

His teeth worried anxiously at a cut Brenda had only just now noticed on his lower lip.

 

“Go,” Minho prompted, simply. “Find him.”

 

The fact that he didn’t add any salacious innuendo about what Thomas should do when he did was almost more telling than anything else Minho had said today so far.

 

Thomas stood there another second or so, meeting Minho’s eyes and looking him over assessingly – and if his chest was still heaving a little, like the morning’s episode had left him slightly out of breath, Thomas didn’t mention it.

 

He put out a hand for Minho’s shoulder for a brief squeeze, instead, and then he was out the door. He sent Brenda a distracted nod on his way past, and Brenda didn’t mind the brevity one bit. If everything Minho had just said was true, she kind of didn’t want to find out what would happen if somebody else found Newt before Thomas did.

 

Minho spent at least the next full minute, or maybe several of them, staring at Dr. Patel’s vacated chair.

 

“Thanks,” he said, finally. Though without turning around. “For staying. …And for not saying anything.”

 

Brenda just smiled, even though he wasn’t looking.

 

“Do me a favour?”

 

She swallowed carefully, fitting her thumbnail into the grooves in the seashell in her pocket. Her throat was still sticky and she could feel sweat prickling the tips of her fingers.

 

“Shoot,” she replied.

 

“Whatever plan we end up following, don’t let Vince make me be alone with her.”

 

“Hey…” Brenda got to her feet, ignoring the threatening wobble in her knees.

 

“Oh I’m not scared of her,” Minho said over his shoulder, on hearing her walking up behind him. Then he turned. “I’m just scared I’ll kill her.”

 

And the look in his eye was every bit as terrifying as it was terrified.

 

Hey,” Brenda said again. She reached out for his wrist, even though the prickling in her fingertips was spreading to outright sweaty palms, and gave a squeeze. “You're not alone.”

 

The corners of Minho’s mouth softened and he used her grip on him to pull her into a hug that was appreciated, even if it might have been designed to hide whatever his eyes were doing now.

 

“You gotta go ralph, don’t you?” he asked, surprisingly smoothly over her shoulder.

 

Brenda laughed, hating the way it sounded as full of water as her guts felt. “Yup.”

 

Minho drew hastily back to hold her out by the shoulders at arms’ length. He looked at her paling face with mild alarm that didn’t completely disguise an undertone of minor distaste. But the fear was gone.

 

“Go,” he said. The word was a fond, softened echo now of the command he had given Thomas minutes earlier. “Your work here is done, I’m good. Get outta here.”

 

Brenda patted him on the shoulder and mustered up a smile probably far too watery to show the true depth of her gratitude, before she turned to go do just that.

 

But that was when it happened. Brenda was stopped in her gratefully retreating tracks by a weird sounding commotion in hall, headed their way.

 

“Stop! Let me go, I can walk— myself!” complained a voice she was sure she knew. But before she could place it, two people were wrestling their way through the narrow cabin doorway and into the room.

 

It was Daryl, from down in the boiler room. Hauling somebody quite a bit shorter than he was – and kinda scrawny, but putting up a pretty good fight none the less – by the scruff.

 

Somebody with matted brown hair and a dirty face. Somebody with eyes she had met for the first time in the rearview mirror of a bus about to do some serious aerial acrobatics courtesy of Frypan and a construction crane on what was still one of the weirdest days of her life. And that was saying something.

 

“Isn’t that one of your…” Minho started, but Daryl interrupted him.

 

“Miss Brenda?” he panted, as the girl he was holding shoved him roughly off for what was obviously not the first time. “I believe this belongs to you?”

 

Oh. No.

 

Oh shit.

 

“Well that explains the ghosts,” Minho offered.

 

The girl only stared, and swiped a guilty looking hand across her dirty cheek. A hand that was supposed to be back on the island, mending fishing nets and happily braiding her best friend Marina’s long wavy hair. Cheeks that were meant to be out under the bright Haven sun, sporting more new freckles what felt to Brenda like every time she saw her, and blushing any time anybody mentioned Thomas’s name.

 

"Ana??”

 

“I can help,” Ana cried, rushing forward to clasp Brenda’s hand imploringly in both of her little delicate ones. “Brenda. I can fight! I couldn’t let you… You saved me. You and Thomas and— and Gally and Newt! I couldn’t stay,” Ana begged, starting to sound a little like she had rehearsed this. “…Not if there was a chance for me to do the same.”

 

Ana set her fragile shoulders and defiantly raised the tatted young brunette head that Brenda could make no guarantees she was up to the task of being responsible for.

 

“Ana…” Brenda took a breath. Her fingers untangled themselves from Ana’s in search of the comforting sea-worn edges of the shell in her pocket. God, she was so not ready.

 

“Brenda?” Ana’s big eyes had taken on a look of concern to match the tone of Minho’s worried voice.

 

Her knees had turned to gelatin and black was starting to press in at the corners of her vision.

 

They were hours from game day. And she was a pukey, fainty wholeass mess.

 

Ana was a stowaway, Minho was on the point of a nervous breakdown, complete with homicidal urges, and Newt was apparently a malfunctioning fucking super-weapon.

 

“Nope,” Brenda said, as another wave of nausea took her. “Not gonna make it.”

 

She gestured for the waste paper bin in the corner, but Minho was already making a beeline for it.

 

And Brenda’s last thought was that she was sure she had never been more appreciative of Minho’s cat-like reflexes than this moment, as he darted across the room, swiping the bin up and shoving it into her lap.

 

Just in time for her to collapse weakly into the nearest chair and stick her face in it.

 

Chapter Text

 


“Is there a chip in my brain?”

 

Minho hadn’t planned this, hadn’t expected to happen upon the doctor alone in the small servery, her raven head bent over the thin wisps of steam rising from a steeping cup of tea. They still hadn’t rousted out Newt yet, but the thing about hunting was, sometimes it was opportunistic like that.

 

She didn’t trouble to lift her head as he approached, either, his steps predator-quiet across the glorified tin can floor despite having already announced himself.

 

Her long hair was swept aside to pour down over one shoulder, and she waited to speak until he was standing so close he could see the place where the artery in her neck was beating, vital and unconcerned. Minho pressed back the thought that somewhere in the servery there had to be a drawerful of knives.

 

“Hello Minho.”

 

His hands itched. Minho folded his arms across his chest.

 

“What happened to A7?” Then he unfolded them. Too defensive. “If we’re gonna be all cozy and first-name-basis, then you have me at a disadvantage.”

 

She looked at him then, and the dangerously amused glint in the dark eyes reminded him in a discomfiting and incongruous sort of way of Newt.

 

“Doctor Lina Patel.” In lieu of a handshake, she offered the cup of tea she had clearly been making for herself.

 

Minho didn’t take it.

 

“I assure you any offense was unintentional,” she said, voice quiet and smoothly unconcerned as ever, as she set the cup down on the servery’s little makeshift table-cum-countertop in front of him instead. Her fingertips lingered at the ceramic edges of the cup a moment as if she was deciding whether to go on. “You were A7, the first subject to be tested using Simulation Technology. I am a woman of science. It is asking too much, I’m afraid, not to find you fascinating.”

 

Her voice was cool, and not ungentle. “Must I apologize for it?”

 

And WCKD, through and through.

 

The air filling up the small, cramped cabin felt thick with poison, curling hot and razor sharp into his lungs. Minho breathed in, nice and deep.

 

“We’re not experiments anymore.” His tone came out satisfyingly flat. “We’re people.”

 

“You were always people,” she answered without hesitation, her gaze too intent on reaching for the kettle again to spare him a glance or give anything away. “The struggle to find a cure has always been about people.”

 

Game, recognize game.

 

“People with chips?” He folded himself by force into a relaxed lean against the countertop. The look she sent him was merely another amused flicker of obsidian in the cabin’s dull grey gloom as she moved to sit the kettle under the tap of the dinged and battered sink. Minho aggressively ignored the parallels this time. “Hey. I’m not here for me. Trust that if this were about me, I wouldn’t even be talking to you.”

 

It was quiet a minute while The Good Doctor turned the tap, waiting for the rust in the pipes to clear and looking anything but surprised.

 

“Your friend convinced you,” she said, when the faucet had run from muddy orange to dull, foamy pewter, “the girl. Brenda.”

 

Minho bit back his sarcastic congratulations on being bothered to learn Brenda’s name, but it was a close call. She saw too much, this creepy old crone.

 

But then of course… she wasn’t really. Now that he was looking at her for longer than strictly necessary, for what actually might have been the first time, Minho could size her up. She was surprisingly young for a doctor, and, as a person who was a little less full of venom and vendetta might grudgingly admit, probably quite beautiful.

 

Then again so was a snake, Minho reminded himself, as he watched her fill the kettle and put it on to boil.

 

The black river of her hair was long and glossy and flowing, and her dark doe’s eyes were large and liquid under a set of lush, full lashes that maybe had even Thomas’s beat.

 

Her movements held a grace he hadn’t noticed before, too. Each one was deliberate and fluid and sure – as surgeons’ hands had to be, he supposed. Her step was confident and measured, posture upright and straight, and her head, even with her eyes cast down at her task, seemed to be perpetually held high.

 

Proud. Which Minho could respect. Obviously ferociously smart, with the way brutal, calculating intelligence flowed assaultingly off of her in waves.

 

And not wrong.

 

It was true, Brenda had been the only one to hang around after the morning’s infamous meeting that Minho knew for a fact was already the subject of much muttering and whispers. The one where both victims of WCKD’s brainwashing had snapped and ‘shown their true mental states’.

 

After she had recovered from a pretty healthy dose of shock brought on by the appearance of a certain young stowaway, but before she had hustled Ana off to the showers for a much needed scrub-down – and to no doubt have Frypan force-feed a hot meal into the kid – Brenda had had one last thing to say to him.

 

Just try not to kill her before she’s useful.”

 

Her tone had been her usual no-nonsense brand of directly-for-the-jugular wit. But the pressure of her hand at his elbow as she stopped on her way past him to the door said with inescapable clarity that it was, as she would put it, No Fucking Joke.

 

“She might be one of the only people alive who knows more than you do about what happened to you.” And then her tone and her grip were both uncharacteristically soft, and Brenda’s eyes had done that thing where she waited to make sure you were done being a dense-ass idiot and actually paying attention before she went on. “Or Newt.”

 

Point taken. The Haven had brought the doctor in for the things she knew about WCKD operations and security. But she knew other things too. Things that, who knew, might potentially be healing or therapeutic or whatever. And from the looks of things, Newt could use every bit of that they could rustle up.

 

“She did not trust me either,” the doctor was saying now, with a meaningful look at the tea cup still steaming away untouched on the counter in front of him.

 

Minho held her gaze steadily, and picked up the cup.

 

He didn’t sip though. Not any more than he was about to point out that that might not be strictly true.

 

“There was a morning, I mixed her a simple solution...” she stopped in the middle of her sentence, her eyeline flicking sideways at him in the first instance of hesitation Minho may have ever seen from the woman, as if revealing the ship’s worst kept secret of how well Brenda’s stomach and ocean travel got along would be violating Patient Confidentiality law or some klunk.

 

“Sugar,” Minho prompted. Not to be reassuring so much as, if the goal of all this being-in-the-same-room-and-not-killing was information, then he might as well keep her talking. “For all the puking.”

 

“Electrolytes,” she agreed, still side-eyeing him strangely. “To… combat the emesis, yes.”

 

The thing was, this wasn’t even news. And he didn’t mean Brenda’s constant up-chucking.

 

Minho had been there. He had seen her, speaking low and handing over the cup of sugar water with a gently smug, doctor-y air. He had walked right into breakfast to witness for himself the way Brenda took it from her with both hands, not unlike somebody was tossing a drowning woman a life-preserver, eyes tired and red-rimmed and… grateful.

 

There was no way he could blame Brenda, either. She unquestionably had this woman to thank for Gally’s life, and all that.

 

And then, today. There was the moment that stood out like a break in a storm, from the maelstrom of angrily flying words and flung accusations that was Minho’s memory of that morning’s meeting, when he had met Brenda’s eye across the room. And the look he had found there needed no translation.

 

They had known since the first meeting back at the Haven that Minho had ‘invited’ their new guest speaker to, at gun point, that she had been one of the first people Newt had been allowed to communicate with when he woke up at WCKD. One of the people who had told him that Thomas was dead.

 

That Newt himself had been the one to do it.

 

It hadn’t been until today any of them had considered that as far as Doctor Lina Patel knew, it hadn’t been a lie.

 

It didn’t mean Minho had to trust her, of course, but it was obvious Brenda did. And she was one of Minho’s tightest friends.

 

Which meant she was clearly an excellent judge of character.

 

So here he was. Standing here – where if somebody had told him he would be standing not a bare shuck hour ago, Minho would have made them the proud owner of a shiny new busted nose – and very carefully not murdering.

 

So far.

 

But the Good Doctor was talking again now.

 

“Brenda asked me that morning, why,” she said. “Why would I help her. I will tell you what I told her.” The kettle had boiled. “I did not become a doctor to work for WCKD. I became a doctor to treat illness and save lives. I do not work for WCKD anymore,” Minho fought off the rise of an eyebrow at this assertion and watched her deft surgeon’s fingers pour out the seething liquid into a fresh cup. “But I am still a doctor.”

 

Well, shit. Minho could admit it was maybe a perspective he should have considered before now, but when it came to perspective...

 

He took in another lungful of that dagger-point poison still moving sinuously and subtle in the air. “Do you know what it’s like?”

 

The words snagged on the knives in his chest and came out angry and bleeding. Pushed against their will past his teeth.

 

Have you ever been hooked up to that thing?”

 

The tea cup’s ceramic sides were hot enough against his fingers to burn. Minho planted his feet and switched his hold to the other hand, refusing to think too hard about why just putting it down would feel like letting the cup win.

 

Dr. Patel looked down into her freshly poured and even more vigorously steaming cup, and, quite literally, held her own.

 

“I had a daughter once,” she said, after a long beat. It wasn’t an answer but Minho felt his breath slip slow and quiet, so as not to miss the rest as her voice turned lower, and distant. “She had black curls, the colour of ebony wood. Her eyes were green, like her father’s. Until…”

 

Until.

 

Minho remembered. The way the fever had taken the colour from Newt’s eyes bit by bit in a matter of hours – bloodshot and ringed with crimson at first, while the pupils expanded and grew past their natural borders, until the edges seemed to tear and bleed black. Devouring the familiar rich chestnut, feeding off the wit and the light in them; the sharp, clever energy that made him Newt. Until it might as well have been drowned away entirely.

 

And then Minho ran. He ran and didn’t make it.

 

The side of the tea cup still burned, and this time he let it.

 

Standing in front of him now was one of the first people to see those eyes when they opened again. He didn’t ask what colour they had been when they did.

 

Like her father’s, she had said. How old could this child have possibly been?

 

Minho wondered briefly what kind of man might have cracked through the layers of icy logic and hard science this woman wore over her every step and each spoken word like armour, and found something there to love. What kind of person it took to win her love in return, whether they had been married. How he had died.

 

Or maybe he was still there? Still alive and well wherever she had come from, in Bergs full of soldiers and guerilla-grade weapons, to land on their beach.

 

He wondered if she had people – a family, still going about whatever lives they did and waiting, praying for her to return. Having surely accepted by now that it would never happen.

 

He wondered if they were making it happen, taking her back to WCKD.

 

Then he reminded himself he didn’t care.

 

“My technology was not always intended as a device of torture, Minho.”

 

She had reined her voice back again from the bereaved, vacant tone to something more present, and the sound of his name from her was soft. Enough of a surprise to hit like a cupful of cold water to the face, bringing him back from the runaway train of his thoughts.

 

But when it did, the only word that seemed to make it through past the derailed sound of crashing in his head was ‘my’.

 

Which sounded an awful lot like Doctor Lina Patel had invented it.

 

Minho switched hands on the cup again. Even though he suddenly couldn’t feel a thing.

 

“Part of what makes death permanent is brain death,” she was saying next, all science and facts once again. “Organs can remain functional if they are free of the decay that comes with many hours or days without blood circulation, but if the brain stops sending the instructions to function…” She trailed off as if the rest was obvious and she felt no further explanation should be needed, or maybe just worried his feeble human intelligence was too puny to keep up. “The Flare virus is a disease of the mind. Simulation forces the brain to continue activity, even after the fever may have disrupted its ability to do so naturally.”

 

Maybe once again, she wasn’t wrong. Did that mean Newt had died? Gally had been right, that WCKD could literally just raise the dead? What were the odds?

 

“Whatever other uses it may have been put to, it saved your friend’s life.”

 

Saved, she said. Not resurrected. Minho could still see him sometimes, if he let his mind stay still long enough, lying where they left him – had to, when the city started to burn.

 

Paler than the pasty English shank ever was in life, the pool of more blood than Minho had thought possible spreading out behind him like failed parachute silk. It hadn’t felt real then, either. That Newt was gone.

 

But back then, he couldn’t trust anything his eyes were showing him was real.

 

“I was not granted the funding to finish my work in time for me to help my own child, but it saved Newt,” she said again, like it mattered to her. Like she cared. Minho’s thoughts were starting to swirl. “But before it could, before it could be used on any human subject at all…”

 

She looked at him, and Minho met her gaze levelly. She had told him, only minutes ago, who the first subject had been. Who WCKD had been willing to pony up the cash to run their bullshit on. Not Dr. Lina’s kid, not the kids who were sick, the ones they were supposed to be helping.

 

Just the ones who were already Immune.

 

“It had to be tested.”

 

Tested. On what? Or who?

 

Minho had never heard tell of a doctor nutty enough – either in the noggin or the sack region of their anatomy – to be willing to test their shit out on themselves before they went ahead and plied it on the unfortunate saps they intended it for. But if money were still a thing, Minho was willing to bet every last cent of it to his name on the suspicion that if one happened to exist – then he was looking at her.

 

“So yes,” she confirmed, her voice quiet and deadly, “I know exactly what it is like.”

 

And you did it to us anyway? Minho didn’t say it. At least not yet. Not before some of this started to add up.

 

“It would be pointless to ask for your forgiveness,” she went on, as if she could hear his thoughts better than he could, over how loud everything felt in his head. “But I will say this. I am a specialist, in neuroscience. I was called in specially to work with Newt when he was found, for this very reason. I am not a computer programmer, I do not write the code or devise the scenarios for the programs that are run by the machines.”

 

Minho looked at her, mind completely in a spin now.

 

“When my technology was taken from me, I was given every assurance…” Her voice faltered. Taken how? By force? “That it would be better, more humane, than the physical trials you and your cohort of friends were put through.”

 

Maybe it shouldn’t have been surprising by now that WCKD could be so deceitful it duped its own employees, or kept them in the dark, and denied them the help they needed to save the people they loved. Or even bold-facedly outright stole their life’s work.

 

Maybe he should have called her out on ‘cohort’. But his lungs were too busy burning and his hands were itching worse than ever to clench themselves into fists.

 

This woman had been lost to anyone she knew or held dear. She survived a Berg crash that killed everyone she worked with and had been taken at gunpoint by an Island full of potentially-hostile strangers. He had seen her life threatened, multiple times – hell, he had even done it himself – and she had only just got through telling him about losing a child.

 

Minho had never known her to betray even the slightest emotion about any of it. But this was the moment her dark eyes shone suspiciously and the slender, skillful fingers shook?

 

“No. It is not like a dream,” she said, the shock of the quaver in her voice still enough to distract him a moment from the fact that she was quoting him, “nor a memory.” Repeating his heated words from earlier that morning back to him.

 

“You said WCKD should be afraid...” Dr. Patel abandoned her cup on the counter in favour of pressing the inside of her wrist to her cheek, as if to catch the tears Minho was now nothing short of astounded to confirm were welling all-too-humanly in her deep brown eyes. “I have my doubts that they are.”

 

He watched dumbly as she swallowed, her fragile throat moving mechanically before the last of her words came out in a vicious whisper.

 

But I hope so.”

 

He heard her mutter a vague but polite excuse for herself, and then she was sweeping past him and out of the servery like a chill gust of wind.

Leaving him with hardly any new information and more questions than he had come in with. Staring into the deep amber of his half-cooled cup of tea, his head full of hazel green eyes and ebony curls and revenge, and revenge and revenge.

 

And the internal compass that used to tell him in no uncertain terms which direction to point it in spinning like a deranged proverbial top.

 

___

 

 

The water doesn’t move here, the way it’s supposed to. Can’t shift and waltz and wink to him this far North; its dull, insouciant porpoise skin grey an inert slurry of brittle, sunken clouds and miniature floes.

 

The steel of the railing under his palms is cold enough to burn.

 

There is ice in his veins, Newt can feel it. Flowing sluggish, jagged and slick, as if in the wrong directions.

 

The sound is wrong, too. No longer chattering or slapping against the ship’s metal sides, but a long, slow, constant hiss, as they make their inevitable slide through the frosty depths. Like claws against her steely skin. A long, beseeching scrape, imploring her to turn away, go back to the home she left from. Before it is too late.  

 

The sly, unceasing sibilance gets under his skin. Crawls up over his shoulders, to whisper behind his ears and curl its deathly fingers in his throat.

   

The sky is white, and close. Filling his vision with nothingness, a blank field of scintillating pinpricks in the backs of his eyes, and falling in tiny beaded flakes that light in his lashes and bite at his skin.

 

     They fell from the grayness, swirling and dancing, defying gravity and flitting up before floating back down again.

 

     Snow.

 

     Snow.

 

The sound of gunshot rips its way through the cottony sheets of fog in his mind. And Newt remembers.

 

His mother’s face, lit up with awe. Outside the window the snow is falling. And the step of jackboots is heavy down the cellar stairs.

 

They have been found.

 

The report of his father’s gun deafens him. Newt breathes, but the air in his lungs freezes solid, stopping his breath. He tries to move but his step betrays him, faltering backward and only bringing his back to meet the frigid steel of the ship-deck’s railing wall. And he can’t hear his mother’s scream, but the men in jackboots have guns too, and she doesn’t move again.

 

There are voices, familiar and urgent. Footsteps swift up the metal stairway beyond the ship-deck door behind him.

 

“He wouldn’t! It’s sub-zero temperatures out here!”

 

Dad doesn’t move again either.

 

And he can see her. The colour of her pigtails, and her eyes like a winter storm. The rest of his world has ended, she is all he has left.

 

And damned if they’ll take her away from him too.

 

“I’m telling you, he’ll go where there’s water.”

 

But of course, they do.

 

___

 

 

“Newt!”

 

Newt was halfway to the floor already when they found him; feet giving up on their scrabble for purchase against the slick metal decking, and his back sliding by reluctant increments down the safety wall at the ship’s stern.

 

“Tommy?”

 

The expression displayed across Newt’s face was one Minho recognized by its feel, rather than by sight. The glazed, not-present look was one he knew all too well his own features must have worn many times, had anybody back at WCKD ever cared to check.

 

“It was snowing,” Newt gasped, and it was clear by the way his hand came out in a blind, unfocused swipe, reaching for Thomas – who was barreling past Minho, going to his knees in a premature, painful-looking skid before he had even reached him – that Newt wasn’t here right now. Whatever it was Newt was seeing, it had nothing to do with what was in front of his eyes.

 

“It was snowing, the day they took us.” Newt’s fist caught in Thomas’s collar as he reached him, his head dropping grateful and distraught to his shoulder while the fingers of the other hand worked themselves fitfully in and out. And then it was obvious what kind of scene Newt had to be remembering, there was no need to ask who it was he meant when he said ‘they’. But then Newt said something else.

 

“The day they took her.”

 

Minho could feel his own fists closing protectively at his sides, but the best thing he could do for Newt was to stand back, give the pair of them what they needed.

 

Each other.

 

“Elizabeth.” The name came out a rough, raw-sounding sob into the folds of Thomas’s jacket. Minho could see his brows move together in confusion, even as his hand moved instinctively in slow, soothing strokes over Newt’s hair, but he waited. Waited for Newt to draw a shaking breath before he prompted him to go on. To explain.

 

But then Newt saved him the trouble.

 

My sister.”

 

Thomas’s gaze met Minho’s for the first time since they burst together through the ship-deck door to find Newt half-collapsed at the wall. And he could see himself mirrored in it, all shock and rage. And all of it violently, brutally helpless.

 

From somewhere none of them looked up to see, there was the lone cry of a sea tern.

 

Newt’s eyes had cleared when he picked his head up, to look at them. Focused and set and deadly.

 

“Vince was right, Tommy.” His voice was as hard now as his gaze. “I’m not going to WCKD to destroy it. We tried that already. This time,” he said, bitter as the bite in the sub-arctic wind, “I’m taking it over.”

 

Newt never did come to bed that night. Not that it mattered much, there wasn’t a one of them that was going to be getting anything like a full night’s sleep with what the morning was bringing. And Minho knew better, from the cold, solitary curve of Thomas’s shoulders in the bunk above his, than to ask what passed between them, or about the cut that had appeared that morning on Thomas’s lip.

 

But he also knew, as he settled fruitlessly into his own bunk, that if there was one thing in what was left of this shuck-forsaken world that could make Newt give his boy up, it would be ‘Thomas’s own good’.

 

Minho shut his eyes and he sighed. The night would be sleepless and the dawn merciless, and their tiny militia would assemble none the less.

 

And the morning would see them stand on the ship’s deck despite the freezing shards in the air, and the way the cold stung on their cheeks and burned in their throats, to watch the towering, icy cliffs of their destination – and quite possibly their doom – move into view.

 

 

Chapter Text

The wind on the ship’s deck was merciless; flattening their hair and the paltry thickness of the warmest gear and clothing they could muster. A constant howling past their ears, and cold as hard steel in their lungs.

 

It was the kind of cold that burned, biting at any bit of exposed skin and flaying it raw within minutes. But Thomas kept his face turned forward into it, his hands tucked deep into his jacket’s pockets where he held Chuck’s carving, with its talisman grooves true and familiar under the pad of his thumb, already worried nearly smooth over countless sleepless nights past.

 

He didn’t know how long they stood there, shoulder to shoulder. Newt beside him on the right, Minho on his left, with their eyes slitted against the way the air whipped the stinging tears into the corners, and focused on the sight that seemed to rise up out of the water at them as they approached.

 

Thomas took another deep breath of frost and steel, would swear he could feel all of their gazes moving as one as the ship’s course brought their little army up to and alongside high, soaring walls of white, climbing and climbing into the sky until they blocked it out – vast and imposing and looking somehow much closer than possible across the unbroken distance of the water. Every eye scanning the unending frozen span for their landing. For the port or inlet that would take them to the interior’s shore, some hint of solid ground where they would find some evidence of WCKD, some edifice or activity.

 

Then, the ship rounded a promontory that seemed almost to materialize out of nowhere from its camouflage of endless white on white, and a great, wide harbour was opening out before them in the lee of the iceberg’s bluffs.

 

They had been over the layout of WCKD’s headquarters and how to get into it so many times – every detail of the building’s security and operation. Nobody had thought to ask Doctor Patel about the geography. Nobody had expected the damn thing to be carved right into the goddamned ice.

But there it was.

 

Emerging in places from the frozen cliffs; the building’s metallic outcroppings, dark gleaming glass and burnt-pewter turrets surgical and out of place against the brutal natural magnificence of the ice’s walls, as if they could be the implants of a towering cybernetic chimera, built by some gargantuan Dr. Frankenstein.

 

Including, down near the line of the water, a tall metal archway fitted into the icy surface. Housing what were unmistakably a set of huge launch bay doors. The surprise barely had any time to settle in though, barely a ripple of startled, restless movements and hushed curses through their meagrely assembled ranks before something happened.

 

A blast like a fog horn sounded, loud even across the distance, the sound carrying easily over the open water and echoing off the walls of the expansive bay. Even from this far off, Thomas could see arrays of orange safety lights at the top of the archway start to flash and spin, and the massive metal doors began to slide open.


“Newt?” Vince’s voice was low on the frigid wind, pitched more for Newt and Thomas and the few people gathered next to him rather than the rest of the battalion ranged out behind them. “Remember when you said to let the bastards see us coming?”

Newt pulled his stony, faraway gaze away from what was happening on the waterline long enough to take the set of binoculars Vince had just finished looking through, and was now offering to Newt in a surprisingly steady-looking hand. Thomas watched Newt’s profile for some hint or any information but his features stayed unreadable for a long, impassive beat or two in the freezing air as he took in the close-up view of what was coming out of those doors.


“Looks like they’re already rolling out the welcome wagon,” he commented, handing the binoculars off to Thomas next.

 

Thomas raised them to his eyes and looked for himself. It was no surprise to see a fleet of small but armoured-looking boats emerging from the doors. But what was coming behind them, was maybe a different story.

 

“Hey Vince,” Newt’s tone was offhand, deceptively bland from next to him as Thomas took in the massive gun tower and wide, spanning armament bridge of the full-sized battle ship moving slowly and surreally, like something out of a dream – and not the good kind – out into open water. “How attached would you say you are to this ship?”

 

“Don’t even think it,” Vince warned. His voice was still low, and this time through his teeth, and definitely aimed to avoid the ears of the rest of their party. “I figure I don’t need to remind you this hunk of metal is the only thing keeping us afloat and alive in the middle of the freezing ocean.” He waved a hand backward over his shoulder at the whole platoon of them stretching down the entire length of the ship’s deck none the less. “But how do you propose we get all these people home after you’re done with it?”

“Oh, we won’t be sailing back home.”

 

Thomas felt an unpleasant twisting in the cold tightness in his chest. He turned to trade a disquieted look with Minho where he stood next to him, both of them feeling the constant juddering vibration of the ship’s decks that had grown familiar and homelike over the last weeks under their feet, and wearing matching expressions as if each of them were holding up a mirror to the deep apprehension the other felt.

 

Thomas knew it was a luxury, foolish even, to think that they were going home at all. Every person on this ship had known when they stepped up that gangplank that coming back likely just wasn’t in the cards for every one of them. But Newt – knowing his plans as Thomas and Minho did, remembering his words – his sister, not coming to WCKD to destroy it after all… Newt had perhaps been counting on it the least of any of them.

 

“If everything goes according to plan,” they heard Newt saying now, “we’ll be taking those instead.”

 

Thomas, Minho, and probably the rest of the entire passengery turned in the direction Newt was pointing in, far off the railings of the ship’s bow, to see what had to be a formation of Bergs, rising like a cloud up over the edge of the horizon.

 

“Are we sure this qualifies as a ‘plan’?” Vince’s reply was both stunned and skeptical.

 

Thomas watched the two of them regard each other for a moment, the whipping wind snapping at their hair and carrying a silent exchange of looks back and forth between them Thomas didn’t need put into words. He watched Vince turn to look again at the waterline, saw the line of resignation settle across his shoulders. They were seriously outmanned and heavily outgunned. Despite the frankly impressive job they had done on munitions, considering, they weren’t a military vessel, they didn’t have the bow cannonry for naval battle on any level, let alone one of this scale.

 

Thomas knew neither of them was going to say what they were thinking out loud. That they were nothing like a match for the artillery pointed at them right this second. That it was just as well Newt’s plan didn’t rely on saving the ship, because whatever he was planning, no matter how crazy, from one look at what was coming, one thing was obvious: the ship they were standing on may have brought them this far, but as of this moment?

 

It was as good as sunk anyway.

 

“Hey, Plan B is still a plan.”

 

“Amen, brother,” Minho muttered, earning a dubious sidelong glance from Vince.

 

Thomas looked at Newt – his jaw set and his hair wild in the biting wind, his eyes sharp and alert with an almost preternatural steely brightness despite having never come anywhere near their bunk to sleep the night before, and that vacant, stone-like focus that hadn’t left his gaze since Thomas had watched him collapse on this very deck, had held Newt’s shaking hands clutched tightly to his chest while the words Elizabeth and snow trembled out of him through a veil of pure, mad fury –  and hoped he could share Minho’s confidence.

 

Vince turned back to Newt to finally nod his approval, still looking skeptical about it. But Newt was already adjusting the weaponry he had strapped to his back, belt and even down one thigh, in preparation.

 

“I’ll go and brief the crew on changing course.” Vince put his fingers to his lips to give a single loud, cutting whistle before he raised his hand into the air to signal Jorge and Brenda, standing a ways down the deck at the head of their lines. “Let’s get started on getting all these people back below deck.”

 

___


They led their people to the safest place in the stern he could find and then he saw Brenda and the girl to the girders in the corner, where they would be able brace themselves. Jorge was all for going all-out-crazy-motherfucker in a battle and he had more than a small feeling that as a soldier, Newt was his kind of motherfucker.

 

Most of the fighters aboard might not know enough about sailing or navigation to understand what the new coordinates Vince had relayed to the crew meant, but it just so happened that Jorge did. And now, they were on the approach to land and instead of slowing down for docking, they were gathering speed.

 

The ship that carried them wasn’t a ship anymore. It was a battering ram.

 

The collision, when it came, was more like a slow, dragging skid than a hard crash. It was the sound more than anything that terrified, that sent the quick shifting of feet seeking for purchase and stoically muffled little yelps and gasps you could feel moving like a frisson through the throng huddled behind them – armed to the teeth and shaking in their boots.

 

The ship was still moving, but everywhere through her walls echoed pops and bangs like eruptions. The sounds of snapping beams, and the crush and twist of metal, inseparable from the noise of guns and artillery that harried the ship from outside. And then worse, was the hellish wail and screech like a kettleful of harpies that was the hull, crumpling accordion style as the ship’s speed ground them in deeper; a slow bullet penetrating their foe.

 

But then a sound that was different, repetitive. Each jarring explosion louder, and closer, and Jorge realized what it was just barely in time.

 

“Take cover!” He barely had a moment to get to them, throwing his back to the girder next to Brenda without a second to spare. Something was coming, piercing the decks above them one by one.

 

And then sure enough, with a final sound like hell itself breaking down their door, it came. Crashing through the thin ceiling of the deck above to smash down mere feet in front of them. He saw it when he opened his disbelieving eyes and peeked over the arm he had thrown instinctively up to shield his face.

 

Ice. A jagged, unbelievable pillar of it, struck right through from ceiling to floor like a giant’s cudgel, sending shards like slick little pebbles and bergs scattering and skating out across the steel where it struck down.

 

Behind his shoulder Brenda was yelling an all clear back to their squadron and taking the damage report, checking to hear that everyone was alright.  

 

The little one under her arm looked shell shocked and pale, younger than anybody here had any right to. But then, War was the cruelest bitch of goddesses and she had taken much younger. And Jorge knew in his weathered old pirate’s heart that this one, under the protection of Brenda’s wing and the sharp watch of her eye, was in good hands.

 

Even as the familiar, ever-present droning of the engines chose right then to falter and choke a sudden, snuffed-out death and the lights gave out. And they were plunged into the void of a silent, pitch black second that was over with too quickly for the reactions of the squad to even reach their ears, before the eerie blue glow of the emergency lights flickered pluckily to life.

 

Jorge twisted back over his shoulder and threw them both a wink. Crazy as a motherfucker after all, and Brenda grinned for him in the dim blue light, wide and ready. Ana at least took the time for a deep, steadying breath.

 

Jorge grinned back, and wedged himself in, blanketed across them and braced to make them as best a shield as he could of himself.

 

And they all, each and every soul aboard, felt the almighty lurch and fatal shudder of the exact moment the ship began to sink.

 

___

 

 

She carries out her fated duty worthily in the end, queenly in her warrior’s death.

 

The unholy scream of her iron skin torn open rends the fabric of their tiny metal Universe like the legion-cry of descending Valkyrie into battle, and their little floating world’s gravitational force evaporates. Tipping them all on her axis into the tumble of combat, chaos and perdition.

 

Newt feels, more than he sees, his soldiers rally and regroup. The heat of Tommy’s hand, brief at his shoulder; swift singe like the swipe of a fleeting finger through candle flame. Minho’s voice calling out to him, warm and grounding and rich as earth he has not set foot against in weeks – they are distant, muffled, pushed at him through a shadowed shroud.

 

His focus is too diffuse, spread out under it like tendrils of a sinking smoke, a tentacled kraken, seeking out his horde as they hand one another up onto their feet, righting themselves to the new gravity. And they make their way – shaken, some already damaged, limping – to midship.

 

But it isn’t there.

 

Dazed, gawping, they take in the sight. The ship’s bow snapped clean away, hung straight down and stretching away below them in an awestriking dangle.

 

They stand. Look down on flags of tumbled bedsheets that hang from their bolted bunks like fresh laundered shirts hung out to dry in a rustic breeze. The strategy room they occupied mere hours before: vertical. Swept bare of its overcrowding of eclectic folding tables and mismatched chairs.

 

The iron walls that rise up, now on a diagonal, above their heads are breath-trappingly ragged. Peeled open like a sardine tin.

 

And leaving them just as exposed.

 

For they have reached their destination. Newt feels his mind join his army’s like the homecoming to a hive. He can feel them all move with him, recovering in the space of a breath as they draw their gazes up. Raking them over the innards of the beast glowering balefully back.

 

The walls of WCKD span before and above them, stretch and breathe, like a thing alive. Crawling with thick cords and cabling that make the veins of the machines, capillaries of technology that slither and cling. Climbing high away up walls of ice, gnarled and warty in spots, and blinking pinpoint lights like eyes, infinite. Glinting and gleaming at them distrustfully and unreal in the frozen, crystalline air.

 

Newt turns, craning up – pull in his sinews and twist in his spine – to look surreally back, behind and up. At the wound, this canyon they have made in the ice’s exoskeleton; its obdurate armour adamantine, metres thick in places, now gaping wide enough to let in the bright slanting lance of the sky.

 


On the ship’s starboard side bleeds a long cataract of seawater, cascading in through the open gash down alongside the snapped hull – which has bashed valiantly through several of the facility’s floors. A grey-looking warehouse type area, a meeting room with a long table – one of its abandoned chairs perched on the crumbling cinderblock edge with a single leg preposterously stuck out in mid-air – and a military style exercise floor. Deserted or evacuated all, and all revealed at once to their eyes, cut open on a bias like a great freakish dollhouse.

 

On the port side, then, lies their highway. Down massive gleaming boulders and shattered landslide spires of ice.

 

Thomas’s palms bleed. As maybe Newt’s do as well – bright scarlet paw-swipes left stuck against the sawblade white. The full lot of them, then, making blood pacts and brotherhoods of each steadying grip and helping hand, as they make their scrambling way together down the glacier. All with fingers numbed and grated raw, feet slick as hooves over traitorous cliffs and slides.

 

Urgent and careful and nothing like quick enough.

 

Ears splitting, adrenaline spiking, the emergency alarms of WCKD go off before they can reach the level place in the floor where they could organize, and enter. They are still climbing, some still cling to the sloping deck and tilted bow rails of the ship’s wreck when the guardian troopers arrive, pouring out onto the stacked dollhouse floors in a jumpsuited, black-booted flood.

 

The Haveners range up where they can, hunkering behind glacial outcrops and calling out to one another. Advisements and warnings over the electrical sizzle and cordite thunderclap of WCKD opening fire already, their weapons stunning and shooting, both.

 

Newt finds his place – Thomas at his side, rocksteady as an ember – ready to return fire. Scanning for a target, when his newborn hivemind awareness catches, peripheral, and Newt turns just in time.

 

One of their own is hit.

 

Newt sees him fall, stunned or worse, like a ragdoll off his icy perch before he can draw a hand to defend himself. His comrades in arms flock to him, targets abandoned.

 

Cooks, after all, and not soldiers. With fists better suited, in a time of peace, to the pounding of dough than a fight. Hands born to wielding a kitchen blade; taking up steel, were the world right with itself, to nourish life, and not for its taking.

 

Frypan.

 

Cheery round cheeks like acorns, dimpling pillowy and butter-soft over his work – under dappling sunlight or by bonfire’s flame, eyes aglow with the language of family, hearth and home. And pride in the taste of his stew.

 

A secret singing voice that could charm the birds from the trees – were they to wake early enough. A crooked homemade spoon held to Newt’s lips in tireless hands, ages too young for their own careworn cast.

 

And for this.

 

His heart vanishes. Evaporating swift and sudden as the ship’s gravity had gone from under his feet, sublimating in the dry ice burn of the air.

 

And Newt is Gone along with it.

 

No more the boy that secreted himself away to shed hot, desperate tears, salt and bitter in the green grass of a sunlit Glade.

 


Not the Crank whose brain took the Flare and itched with fever; madness seething in his blood, his mind boiled and cracked and chipped away until it burned. Charred, black and red.

 

He is a weapon in scarred and bloodied, (un)shaking hands. A set of senses, honed to a killing point.

 

And drenched to drowning now in the stuff of combat.

 

The blare of WCKD’s alarms shakes the air so loudly it is thick with it, throbbing and unbreathable. Like needles in his skin.

 

His mind is a field of red – electric lightning and gunpowder thunder – and in it Newt sees the final thread tethering him; the last delicate ivy tendril that binds. To this Newt. To the boy that was.

 

Ready, and waiting, to snap.

 

More soldiers appear, myriad heads of an undying hydra. Rounding corners and spilling out of vehicles summoned by the alarm’s tortuous, abrading clarion.


This is it, lad.

 

Black and smoke-clad scorch marks marching on a field of red.

He readies himself. Grips his weapon. The red is engulfing, swallowing him alive. He takes silent stock of his knives and his side arm, feels the last clinging thread of the boy who was tremble under their weight, and fray.

 

Time now, lad. Time.

          And Newt

    lets

 go.

___

 

 

Thomas realized he was wounded right about the same moment he realized they were totally surrounded.

 

The battle was short but tempestuous. And Thomas took in most of it through a haze, like he was watching a recording of it all in slow motion.

 

He could remember the sound of Brenda and Jorge screaming their orders over the blaring of the alarms, deafened and dulled through the adrenaline fog as they led their phalanx up the left corridor of the battlefield. Harriet, a mere blur of movement at the corner of his vision, a wild, vague impression as if she were wreathed in flame, spraying fire into the oncoming host – one of their only fighters who could handle an automatic weapon.

 

Still, it didn’t take WCKD long. The guard came on, and on, and on. Relentless in their masked helmets and anonymous dark tactical gear, brushing off the Haven’s counter attacks like a great faceless black beast swatting away flies.

 

Thomas stayed intent on his targets, watching his shots find their marks and barely aware of the sharp slice of pain that skimmed in between them, somewhere under his arm and across his ribs. A scarlet-hot blade’s kiss that flared out fast to a dull trickle and throb against the background of war-noise and endorphins. His focus was elsewhere, forced out in a wide fan at the fighting in front of him.

 


Newt was there, just a little way ahead, cycling fluidly through weapons with a badass, frankly psychotic-looking ease and speed that should have been worrying if it weren’t probably the best bet going for keeping him alive. Fighting off four WCKD guards at once and showing no sign of slowing down in the least.

 

Thomas stayed engaged, head down and weapon up. Pushing away the creeping certain futility and doing what he could, covering Newt anyway. Making one jumpsuit less in the melee, then another.

 

Even as the black wave of WCKD’s infantry encircled the entire field of battle like an inevitable dark tide.

 

Next to him, Minho was still fighting. Weapons thrown down and probably out of ammunition some time ago, and looking more than comfortable resorting to fists and feet. He had one guard down already, unconscious at his feet, and was just taking down another with a brutal-looking, expertly aimed kick to the chest.

 

But there were too many, of course. And they were both taken.

 

The hands of the guards felt indifferent more than deliberately rough, though still using enough force to take his arms and bind his wrists behind his back in cold metal cuffs to make the wound on his chest pull and burn.

 

“Newt!” Thomas struggled against their hold just enough for a view in between and past the obsidian helmets obscuring their faces.

 

When he got eyes on him, it was to find Newt finally standing still, circled in by a double line of WCKD soldiers, pointing their varied collection of weapons right at him.

 

If Newt heard Thomas call out to him it didn’t show. His eyes were like coals, dead cold and burning, fixed on the concentric weapons ringing him round, and for a moment Thomas was afraid Newt wouldn’t – but he surrendered, throwing his gun down and raising his hands slowly in the air.

 

Behind them, Thomas could hear Vince follow suit, and then the mass shuffling and clatter of the rest of the Haveners’ party doing the same. Letting themselves be taken.

 

It was why they had come, after all. To get in.

 

There was a brief flicker of motion and light, as small communicator screens strapped to the wrists of the WCKD guards’ uniforms lit up in unison all around them.

 

“Careful,” one of the soldiers guarding Newt warned, the microphone in his helmet amplifying his voice enough to be heard over the alarms. Thomas couldn’t get a good enough look at any of the screens to make out the words flashing across them, but whatever was displayed there included what looked like a photo identifying Newt. “The Chancellor has special orders for this one.”

 

And Thomas watched as the masked trooper who had just spoken took a look down a moment at the display lit up on his arm before looking back up, and without ceremony or warning, pointed his weapon at Newt despite his obvious show of surrender, and shot a crackling blue arc of stunning energy right into the centre of his chest.

 

Thomas didn’t see what happened after that. The heat of battle and the rush of the fight still pulsing through his veins and flooding his senses went cold and liquid as nitrogen. His vision swam, black at the edges, and his head rang. And Thomas must have done something the guards holding him didn’t take much of a liking to because the next thing he knew was a lot of shouting and he was chest down on the ground.

 

His cheek was pressed against the freezing studded metal floor, so he couldn’t turn his head for a look at what was happening with Newt, but he could see Minho retaliating to their treatment with a quick headbutt that crumpled the guard holding his left shoulder into a pathetic-looking heap.

 

Minho was taken immediately to his knees with the help of at least one of the other guards’ batons, but Thomas could see that he stayed upright, rolling his head gamely back on his neck. Bleeding a little from his hairline down to his left eyebrow, and wearing a gritted but smug expression like it was decidedly worth it.

 

“Newt!” Thomas shouted. He struggled against his captors once more, trying again to turn his head. “What are you doing with him??"

 

But something was happening.

 

Abruptly and without seeming reason, the air-pounding emergency alarms stopped. The sudden vacuum of sound left an empty space in Thomas’s head that felt dreamlike and strange.

 

The moment felt stretched out, eerie, almost suspended in time. He had room now, to feel the warm trickle and sharp ache in his ribs that probably didn’t spell anything good.

 

Away on the right and back, he could hear Clarisse, whimpering quietly over Daryl’s bleeding form. Somebody, maybe Dr. Patel, yelling for medical supplies.

 

Thomas squirmed a little, but still all his line of sight would give him was Minho, who was looking up at something. Something that made his eyes darken and widen, and had him letting out a quiet curse.

 

Thomas followed the stunned gaze, looking where Minho was looking – and where everyone else seemed to be looking too. He could feel the posture of the guards holding him go alert, their hold on him suddenly stiff and at attention.

 

He could move his head now, not sure if the ringing in it was from the absence of the eardrum-piercing alarms or a blow from the guards. The bodies restraining him were moving aside, though without letting him go; a pack of predators presenting their trophy kill at their alpha’s feet. And Thomas was left with very little doubt what – or who – he was about to see.

 

There was a strange sound in the new, uncanny quiet, a pitched electrical humming. Thomas looked up through rows on rows of lug-tread boots, parting like the red sea before him to reveal a gleaming set of wheels.

 

They belonged to a chair. It was smoothly self-propelled and fitted with the same glossy, elite-looking technology flickering on the sleeves of the uniformed guards, and gleaming darkly in slick tones of hematite and onyx. A stark contrast with the attire of its occupant – seated regally in her mobile throne and clad from the points of her stiletto heels, right to the stiff lines of her crisp, fastidious suit, all in dazzling, immaculate white.

 

The Chancellor.

 

Her face was scarred on one side. Scorchingly raised petals of red, climbing and licking up over her cheekbone and into her hairline in the pattern of the flames Thomas knew had put them there – could still feel the heat of, smoke searing his lungs on a crumbling and doomed rooftop. The loose, dark waves of her hair were swept sharply back into a severe twist at the back of her head, but her eyes were unchanged.

 

Striking clear and impossible right into him with their vivid, arctic blue.

 

“Stop!” The screen on the arm of her chair lit up in unison with the order as if it responded to her very thoughts, sending out another wave of flickering messages lighting up the wrist communicator panels throughout the crowds of the guard.

 

Her name was on Thomas’s lips even as she called out, putting end to the rough, embattled voices and lingering sounds of violence from both sides as effectively as if she had shut them all off by flipping a switch, with the single syllable of her command.

 

In that voice Thomas could feel from the inside, the one that still rang, some nights, in his dreams. Echoing clear and bell-like from its forever place inside his head.

 

 

Teresa.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The hallways of WCKD made up a nested set of arcs, gradually giving way from the grey, industrial-looking outer areas of loading bays and weapons stores to dark steel, black stone lobbies and sleek glass elevators that marked the interior, housing the elite laboratories and executive offices for the administrative brass to occupy. Where they could work far away from the ice and the noise in all the luxury and comfort of pampered house cats.

 

Thomas had little attention to spare for it, though – orienting himself to the layout they had studied in countless meetings aboard the ship, or tracking their whereabouts. Not in between demanding information from the guards leading him and constantly angling and re-angling himself against their hold, desperate for a look through the tactical amour-clad bodies surrounding him and a glimpse of Newt. Who was still unconscious and being wheeled along on a surgical gurney by his own, separate, escort of guards effectively crowding him from Thomas’s view.

 

Thomas got about as many answers out of them as he expected of course, as the Haveners’ tiny army was marched at terse, taciturn gunpoint past corridors and offshoots protected by heavy security doors and usually, as their intelligence told them, strategically stationed personnel. But then those were currently otherwise occupied.

 

He couldn’t see Jorge and Brenda either but he could hear them. Backtalking their guards any time they were given a direction or command, Brenda especially vocal about what she was willing to do about any of them putting their hands – or weapons – anywhere near Ana. And to which parts of their anatomy.

 

Minho was right there next to him, eyes pointed stoically forward at the back of Vince’s head. Who was being led along in front of them and looking miraculously prepared and composed in a way that couldn’t be more at odds with the veritable shit-maelstrom making up Thomas’s thoughts.

 

The last time Thomas saw Frypan, he had been offering him a reassuring nod and a flash of that brave smile over his work of counting heads and ushering lines of confused Haveners below the ship’s decks to prepare for impact.

 

The crowd of troops, Haven and WCKD alike, rounded a corner and Thomas inevitably lost sight of Newt completely. They were marched past a set of diverging corridors, and Thomas was sure he could hear the metallic trundling of Newt’s gurney and a subset of booted footsteps peel away from the larger group and move off down one of the halls, but there was no way of knowing which one.

 

Thomas struggled, and shouted after him. And was probably only saved from a brutal – and likely very short – fight with his guards that would no doubt see him ending up the worse for it by Minho, leaning over from where he was being marched efficiently along next to him and telling him to “Chill.”

 


“Easy, brother.” The calm of his voice was definitely forced, but Minho knew the words that were probably about the only ones that could have gotten through the buzz of panic filling up Thomas’s head like static. “You’re no help to Newt if they take you out too.”

 

They were taken through a wide, gleaming rotunda and then several security doors to a room that set a vague, queasy current of unplaceable memory coursing through Thomas’s insides. Rows on rows of low work tables lined the walls. Abandoned, but glittering with dark machinery and shining screens.

 

At the head of the room sat a subtly raised platform featuring a long, lone desk overseeing the operations of the spanning, fan-shaped space. The platform’s beveled sides were no barrier for Teresa’s wheels to surmount as she glided smoothly to centre stage, to take her place on the dais.

 

Behind her came a small escort of two armed guards, leading one Dr. Patel solicitously between them to stand at the back of the platform, having clearly recognized and taken her as one of their own – whether by scanning some sort of implant or something to do with the devices on their sleeves, Thomas could only guess. Teresa gave her a welcoming nod as she passed, and a sympathetic look that said she was home now, where she belonged; her ordeal of being kidnapped by violent anarchic criminals over.

 

The Doctor’s responding nod gave as much away about her own feelings on the subject as she ever did.  

 

Teresa waited, watching silently while the guards ushered the Haveners into an audience facing her in neat but still-guarded rows. It made Thomas’s head spin and his thoughts swirl all the faster to look at her. Alive, pale and still as a statue enthroned in her high-tech seat, with the striking blue of her gaze sweeping the room.


Teresa.

She cleared her throat subtly, even though every eye in the room was undoubtedly already hers, and opened her mouth to speak.

 

Thomas didn’t give her the chance.

 

“What are you doing with Newt!?”

 

“Thomas.” The flicker of her gaze moving through the crowd to find and land on him went through him like the stab of an icicle down his spine.

 

“Teresa,” Thomas growled. “Let him go!”

 

“Newt needs special care.” Her voice was like bells in his head. “I know this is difficult, but please try to calm down.” Her tone softened, and a look breaking across the mask of her icy expression made her look for a fleeting second like the girl Thomas had known once. “…It’s good to see you.” 

 

But then she lifted her head to address the room coolly, ice queen air securely back in place.

 

“I feel like we may have all gotten off on the wrong foot.”

 

“Yeah?” Minho challenged hotly from beside him. “I’d say that’s an understatement, given we just smashed a hole in your shuck-ass supervillain’s lair.” His hands were in ready-looking fists at his sides. “Finally just gave the hell up on convincing yourself, huh? What happened to WCKD is good?”

 

Thomas gritted his teeth against the burning in the back of his throat that made him want to shout at her again, to answer the goddamned question. What the hell had happened indeed.

 

“I mean seriously, a hollowed-out iceberg? That’s some comic book shit.”

 

“It’s a glacier, actually.” Teresa’s reply was calm and deadpan, and would have made Ava Paige herself proud. “But yes, that is a problem.”

 

Her gaze moved to one of the open doorways of the wide room. Outside, the sounds of destruction and emergency still reigned; urgent voices and footsteps scrambling down the hallways, giving off a feeling like they were standing in an anthill that had been poked with a stick. 

 

Teresa raised a placating hand in a signal to the guards to lower their weapons none the less, and a flickering and lighting of wrist-mounted screens moved through the room, no doubt delivering a set of instructions to the same general effect. The shuffle of movement and the slide-and-click of safety locks being set filled the room as the guard lowered their guns but, Thomas noted, didn’t put them away.

 

“You said we got off on the wrong foot.” Vince’s voice cut through the new almost-quiet that followed with a tone like playtime was over and it was long past time to get down to business.

 

“But the first step was yours,” he asserted. “WCKD attacked us first. We did only what had to be done, coming here. Our survival depended on it, being sure you weren’t coming back. But now that we’re here we’ve come with questions. What was your intention with our island Teresa? The Doc here says you sent her to do research,” Vince gave a short gesture at Dr. Patel, still standing silently behind Teresa’s chair, “but when we arrived you were waiting with an entire navy.”

 

Next to Thomas, Minho was stirring restlessly again, chin jutting defiantly.

 

“Did you really send four Bergs just for Newt?” he asked loudly.

 

Thomas swallowed down the acid flavour of burning at the back of his head and on his tongue again, and raised his own chin, just as more-than-ready as Minho for some answers.

 

Teresa turned from where she had been about to address Vince, to fix Minho with a look like a parent whose adult conversation kept being interrupted by preschoolers.

 

“Obviously it wasn’t enough,” she replied, pointedly. The burning feeling burst into full-force flames. “But—” 

 

“What are you doing with him!?” Thomas yelled again. The weapons of the guards closest to him came back up into position. He was sure one of them even nudged his shoulder warningly. “Answer us! Let him go!”

 

Teresa put up her hand to settle them, and again, Thomas got the feeling that her gaze could cut right through him.

 

“Newt is being taken to the people who know his condition best,” Teresa said.

 

Yeah, Thomas thought viciously, casting a sideways look at the guard who had poked him with her gun. Because they caused it.

 

“If you’ll let me, I can explain everything.”

 

“That sounds like a good plan hermanita,” Jorge’s voice drawled from the other end of the room. “You think we’d come attack your stronghold with just one ship, Chancellor Agnes? I’d talk fast if I were you,” he warned, with a nod at the chaos still flowing by out in the hallways. “Who knows how long we have before the rest of the cavalry arrives.”

 

If Teresa believed the bluff, it didn’t show anywhere on her face. She turned her attention back to Vince and spoke as coolly as ever.

 

“First I think it’s best to tell you, I didn’t deploy the Bergs that landed on your island,” she began. “Not exactly. NERO did.”

 

Not exactly? Who or whatever this Nero was, they had a lot to answer for. The guard to his right still had her weapon trained at him, but with another look from Thomas, she lowered it slowly, apparently satisfied for the moment that he was done yelling or interrupting, or generally causing trouble. She gave a jerk of her head in a silent signal for him to turn his attention back on the Chancellor like a good little soldier.

 

“I wasn’t always Chancellor, Minho,” Teresa was saying, but it was Thomas her eyes rested on as she spoke. “If you can remember the last time we saw each other, then you can imagine.” Teresa looked down at her own lap a moment, no doubt remembering the flames and the terror of the day Thomas had spent months – years – of his life trying to forget. “…The recovery from my injuries took a fair bit of time.”

 

The scarred corner of her mouth moved up in an ironic twist.

 

“I’m not the first to step into the Chancellor’s shoes since that day,” she said finally. “There are old protocols put in place by past leaders. Things our system carries out on an automatic basis—” The screen on the arm of Teresa’s chair lit up like a single eye waking from a light sleep, as if the system knew it was being mentioned. “Actions that are triggered in response to a certain set of criteria, or… circumstances.”

 

“Then who set the protocol to attack our Island? Who the hell is Nero?” Vince asked, sounding like he was voicing Thomas’s thoughts right out loud.

 


Thomas looked at Teresa in her stark white suit and couldn’t help having a few ideas of his own about exactly who ‘past leaders’ with an interest in their Island might have been.

 

“It’s complicated.” Teresa frowned. “We have a system, NERO – the Neuro-Enzyme Research Operations system – that runs things here. Everything, from housing all of our research and outcomes data to turning on the lights.”

 

She looked down at the display on her armrest a minute, demonstrating with a sweep of her fingertips and the touch of a couple of buttons that made the lights at the back of the room dim to an eerie blue glow for a second or two, and then back up to their regular humming fluorescent white.

 

“But it’s a highly intelligent, complex system,” she went on, when all the eyes in the room had re-adjusted and re-focused in her direction, “built up gradually over years and years of development. NERO is full of old commands that, once they are authorized at a certain level of clearance, become part of the neural net and overall functioning.” Teresa pressed her scarlet lips together, considering her explanation before she went on. “There are old files and memos that sometimes correspond to a specific order, but it can take months to manually find the right ones. I don’t know who authorized Newt’s last trial…”

 

“Trial!” Minho exclaimed. “I knew it! They never let Newt go, it was always a damn trial! Always a test!” He turned to Thomas, vindication and ‘I-told-you-so’s riddling his expression, before looking back up at Teresa. “A trap. Admit it, you’ve been after Thomas since the minute he slipped through your shank fingers!”

 

“Minho—” Vince quieted him, voice firm and sounding as patently tired of interruptions as it always did, but Terea’s reply was placid.

 

“He’s right,” she said, simply. Apparently surprising Minho into silence, whose mouth snapped shut and eyes glittered with avid new interest. “And wrong. It was a trial, yes. Though one that was set up before my time.”

 

Nobody was interrupting now. Thomas could hear the pounding of his pulse in his ears. Outside the room the sound of emergency response activities had evened out to a steady flow of bustle and rush, but there was another sound. A loud cracking and rumble that they could all feel shaking the floor. Even here, this far from the site of the impact where the walls of the glacier must have still been crumbling down.

 

Wrist displays blinked to life everywhere in the room and the guards re-readied their weapons, though there was nothing to point them at.

 

“You were saying? Better talk fast like I said, Madam Chancellor.” Jorge gave his warning as smoothly as if this had all been part of his plan.

 

Teresa ignored the comment, frowning down at her display and swiping through a few screens of information, and then – she did talk fast.

 

“By now most of you may know that Newt’s blood carries a similar enzyme to Thomas’s,” she began. “One that does more than just provide immunity, but enables the cells to actually fight the virus – cure it.” Teresa looked around the room, letting her point land. Whatever reaction she might have been expecting, the room stayed quiet. Listening.

 

“And you know that a high percentage  – too high – of the population in the places of the world most affected by the solar flares has been infected. And now, wiped out completely. But there are other Nations on continents where the disaster has been more contained, where research still continues in the hopes of stopping it from happening all over again. Everywhere. But the virus is mutating. I know you don’t see it this way, but you should know the work from Newt’s trials was helpful to so many people.”

 

Helping. The ‘bigger picture’ and the ‘greater good’, that had always been WCKD’s tune. Their justification for so many horrors and misdeeds. Things Thomas had once been a part of and to this day could not even remember the whole of.

 

But what if there was no greater good? What if there were just people, trying to get by in the several types of Hell their world had become, and the only way to be good to them was to – do just that.

 

What if none of it had even been necessary? Taking immunes as children, running trials on them without their consent? Anybody who knew Newt at all knew that if you wanted his help – Hell, you probably didn’t even need to ask. Thomas had never asked Newt for a thing he could remember, and yet he had always been there, somehow. Any time Thomas needed it.

 

Nobody had asked Newt to give up his life at Safe Haven to go scrape by in the wasteland of the Scorch so that he could help people with his newfound Immunity, but the minute he found out that he could, he had been ready to. Without question.

 


But of course Teresa was still giving her explanation.

 

“However,” she said gravely, “at some point during his trials, Newt’s system stopped producing the enzyme in response to stimulation.”

 

Stopped producing immunity? Thomas’s mind raced, feeling like it was both getting ahead of itself and stumbling to catch up somehow at once. That didn’t make sense. Newt’s blood had cured the baby, Rosalyn, in the Scorch. Unless none of Newt’s memories from the Scorch could be trusted at all.

 

Beside him Minho was still quiet, listening. But he made a silent show of folding his admittedly impressive arms belligerently across the breadth of his chest. Thomas was reminded of the last time he had seen him standing like this, voice raised and words emphatic in their final meeting aboard ship –  

 

You pushed him too fuckin’ far.

 

Thomas’s throat and chest were tight, enough that breathing was tough and the slightest bit painful. He had seen first hand what Newt’s ‘trials’ had done to his mind, what his recovery looked like. He couldn’t bear to think what it must have been like when he had been ground down to the point his body had apparently started to – what? Shut down? Stop functioning?

 


But then the person who spoke next, wasn’t Minho. To Teresa’s – and maybe everyone’s – evident surprise, it was Dr. Patel.

 

“You didn’t.” It was soft enough it was almost under her breath.

 

Thomas’s head was still ringing, ears buzzing. He could barely hear the comment, let alone work out what it was supposed to mean. But Minho seemed to understand just fine.

 


“Oh, they did,” he contended, eyeing the doctor with a flashing glare. “Can you seriously just stand up there and tell me you haven’t learned a thing, yet, about the people you worked for? After everything they did to you!?” Without elaborating any further on what that was supposed to mean, Minho turned his angry look on Teresa. The venom in his voice tripled. “You didn’t let him go because he wasn’t any good to you anymore. You let him go because the real world was going to be worse than anything your little torture machines could do to him! Turning Newt loose alone to burn in the Scorch – starving in the desert and fighting off Cranks – was the worst torture you could think of. That was Newt’s next trial.”

 

It was Dr. Patel and not Teresa who responded.

 


“No, I am afraid in my time at WCKD I have finally learned more than enough. And yes. The world outside had become much more of a challenge for Newt than anything simulation could have set to him. The last promise WCKD ever made to me was that the capabilities provided by simulation meant no subject would be treated with physical trials again.”

 

Teresa turned to her, both of their expressions intense but unreadable.

 

“Which is why I am certain you are right. That was the most likely stratagem. Except that it is unlikely that Newt was in fact always alone,” the doctor concluded.

 

Thomas’s mind snapped back, almost unbidden, to that day aboard Newt’s raft, Lizzy. The sun bright and the salt in the breeze, and Thomas’s stomach in tense, aching knots while Newt had told him about his time being released into the Scorch. That there were gaps in his memory. That the furthest back he could remember was waking up next to a campfire he had the feeling he hadn’t been the one to light.

 


“That’s true,” Teresa said carefully. “From the reports, Newt was never meant to stray outside of our tracking range, for his own protection. But we underestimated him— What he had become.”

 

Another distant but loud rumbling shook its way through the walls and the floor all around them. Thomas wrestled with the ringing in his head and the burning across his chest, determined to focus on getting all the answers they had come for, as Teresa picked up her explanation again.

 

“When I took over my post, the reports for Newt showed several escorts were sent out for him,” she said, flipping through the information on her screen again as if she were pulling it all up again to jog her memory. “Increasingly large details of more and more skilled personnel were sent after him, but always with the same result. Several of our top field people were put down.”

 

Thomas didn’t know whether to think ‘put down’ meant ‘sent’ down –  to wherever Newt’s location had been –  or what he suspected it meant. Nobody asked.

 

“Until finally, Newt fell off our grid. His tracking chip stopped transmitting his whereabouts. We suspect it was damaged in his last fight, or by the roughness of the elements. Or,” Teresa said a little more slowly, “that Newt found and removed it himself. The chip would be small, but just under the skin. He would have been able to do it with not much more than a small knife, or some sharpened instrument, and something to bandage up the cut.”

 

Thomas felt his stomach rebel hotly at the thought.  

 

“So Newt was lost to me even before I gained Chancellor’s clearance and had the chance of finding him again,” she said gravely. And for a moment her voice was quiet enough to almost be drowned under the sounds of quickly-trooping footsteps past the doorways. “And then I found something in his files, another possible way that he might be found. …But it was a matter of waiting for it to be activated, first.”

 

Here, Teresa looked at Dr. Patel again. Clearly expecting her to know something on the subject.

 

“Newt’s biofeed,” the doctor said.

 

Teresa nodded. Her chair moved smoothly back without any command from her Thomas could see, again giving the impression it was capable of simply responding to her thoughts, as she gave Dr. Patel the floor.

 

The doctor hesitated an inscrutable moment and then spoke.

 

“As you know, when Newt was brought to my surgery, extreme measures were taken,” she began. “His condition was extremely dire.” The doctor swept a look around the room as Thomas imagined she might do giving a lecture to a classroom full of students, or taking the podium at some sort of big medical convention. “The implant required for keeping his heart beating, for restimulating and monitoring his brain and other organ function, was also his link to the NERO system – reading and recording the status of his body’s vitals, and sending those statistics to the mainframe. When Newt’s body began to adapt itself to the simulations and stopped production of the enzymes under study… it would have been programmed to send out an alert. To trigger the system when the counts in his blood once again reached high enough levels for collection.”

 

Trigger. That word again. Dr. Patel swung her dark gaze in Teresa’s direction as if for confirmation, but Teresa was listening as silently as everybody else in the room.

 

This was what Teresa had meant by not ‘exactly’ being the one to send the Bergs.

 

“What some may not yet understand,” Dr. Patel continued, slowly, “is that the search for the cure to the Flare is complex. As complex as the entire human body’s functioning,” she went on. “It is about more than just blood. Anyone who has encountered the infected - a ‘Crank’ - knows it is an affliction primarily of the brain.”

 

Cranks. Thomas felt justified considering himself somebody who had met more than his share. And from what he had seen, that did make a lot of sense.

 

“But the brain is the epicentre of each function of the body,” Dr. Patel was saying now. “Carrying out each one with thousands, perhaps millions, of specialized tiny areas that fire off the brain’s messages and instructions to the body in an uncountable number of complex patterns. The pattern required for the brain to produce the correct chemicals to maintain the body’s immunity could be produced by any number of stimuli – say, a particular stressor, or a harsh environment generated through electronic simulation.”

 

Thomas’s own brain was starting to feel a little stressed, playing keep-up. But the doctor seemed to have hit her stride.

“The Scorch is the harshest of imaginable environments indeed,” she continued, and from the way Minho shifted next to him, Thomas was sure he wasn’t imagining the way her eyes lit on him as she spoke, acknowledging his earlier accusations.

 

“But Newt’s brain function had inured itself to undue stress to an almost unimaginable degree.” Thomas felt his fists curl up tighter. He breathed. “It is likely no coincidence that only when he was reunited with his friends – with Thomas – and new patterns were presented, that his levels of production were again able to climb high enough to trigger the alert.”

 

Before Thomas could ask what Newt’s recovering immunity levels had to do with him, specifically, Teresa was speaking again.

 

“So not a trap,” she said mildly. Her gaze rested with Thomas once again, “though I did hope.”

 

For the first time since he had seen her again, it was something like soft. “That I might find you again. …Alive.”

 

Thomas felt his fists uncurl one imperceptible notch – though he had the inexplicable feeling that if anybody in the room were somehow capable of perceiving it, it would be Teresa.

 

“You have to let him go, Teresa.” Thomas made an effort to keep his voice even, hoping against the odds that if he stopped yelling maybe somebody might finally take him seriously. “You don’t know— your soldiers knocked him out. He’s unconscious.” Nobody had any idea how serious this really was. “He doesn’t wake up right. Every time he wakes up he has to… re-orient himself. Look around his environment and try to piece it together bit by bit – because of what you, what WCKD, did to him. Prove to himself that it’s real.” Thomas paused for another breath, for some clarity, not sure his point was coming through at all.  “…If he wakes up and sees that he’s back here? At a WCKD facility??”

 

“You don’t know what you’re doing, Teresa,” Minho put in, taking up the call when Thomas’s words seemed to be failing them. “You never did. You think you’re doing research? Shuck research my sweet ass. WCKD doesn’t do research.”

 

Minho straightened his shoulders and gave an indicating gesture between both himself and Thomas, suggesting everybody get a good look at his prime examples. “They make weapons.”

 

“But you got greedy,” he concluded simply. “And now, thanks to your handiwork, one is malfunctioning. Congratulations,” Minho sneered, “you’ve got one hell of a loose cannon on your hands.”

 

“Nobody knows better than I do that Newt is a situation that needs to be treated with the utmost care,” Teresa said, her voice firm and in that tone that called back all Thomas’s memories once again, of the last WCKD Chancellor he had known. “That’s why—”

 

“No,” Minho retorted flatly, pointing a finger in Thomas’s direction. “Nobody knows Newt better than Thomas. So for once you better listen to him. If you WCKD shanks make the mistake of letting Newt wake up? …Well chances are your guys are already dead.”

 

As if on cue, something started happening.

 

Something that definitely felt wrong.

 

All the screens in the room lit up at once; Teresa’s, the guards’ wrist displays. Even all the terminals at the rows of working desks that lined the room blinked open in a show of bright, ready, white – and then fuzzed immediately into fizzing grey displays of static.


There were sounds of shouting from the hall, and then the safety alarms started blaring again.

 

Thomas looked around the room; fast, calculating. Taking it in. The control panels next to each set of security doors were lit up too. Little green display lights, clicking off and changing to bright, blinking orange instead.

 

He was already moving by the time all the doors in the room gave off a loud, warning buzz and began to slide sealingly shut.

Chapter Text




It all happened fast enough to blur.

 

Thomas set his sights on the closing doors at the head of the chamber, and he moved. Behind him, he could hear the sound of Minho coming to blows with their guards, covering him from their fire and giving Thomas as much of a head start as he could.

 

Brenda saw him moving, and caught on quick. She took advantage of her closer position to the doors to duck through the guards surrounding her while they were distracted, making a dash for the control panel next to the nearest door in the hope she might be able to stop it from closing, sealing them all inside.

 

But just as quickly, the WCKD soldiers recovered from their surprise, and two of them caught up with him.

 

Thomas was able to knock the first one’s weapon aside, but it slowed him down enough that the second caught at him, spinning him around and off his feet. Thomas lashed out with a wild haymaker, but missed, and they both found themselves on the floor in a blink. They grappled blindly a moment, a tangle of light body armour and rough jumpsuit canvas, and Thomas felt the earlier wound across his ribs tear and open again in a rush of warmth and pain.

 

With a last desperate burst of effort Thomas kicked out, scrambling to his feet, his breath a hot stab in his chest. Ahead, he could see Brenda’s guards recovering as well, weapons ready and taking her in their sights.

 

But now nobody was watching Jorge.

 

Who had already removed the gun Thomas wouldn’t be surprised to learn he kept holstered down by the ankle of his boot on any given day – though especially this one – from concealment, and was flying across the floor. Firing off shots as he came, aim wild like he was more interested in drawing the soldiers’ fire from Brenda, than in actually hitting anything.

 

For better or for worse, it worked. The entire room exploded with sound, as the whole place seemed to fill with gun and stunning-blast fire at once. Thomas was on the floor again before he could even make it to the doors and Brenda.

 

By the time he got there, crouched next to her, the noise of shooting was starting to slow enough they could hear Teresa’s voice shouting for a cease to the fighting.

 

“Stop this!” Her last order could be heard once the noises had died off. Her face was livid and pale over the screen of her chair as she moved swiftly forward toward the doors.

 

From behind her came Dr. Patel as well, rushing forward and past Teresa’s chair and drawing the notice of every still-shocked eye in the room along with her to the centre of the floor. And then Brenda went scrambling from Thomas’s side right after her.

 

It was too late.

 

The doors had closed. Trapping the Haven’s entire remaining host inside the room, with Newt outside. In what sort of state, none of them knew.

 

And mere feet away from them lay Jorge, flat on his back with a small pool of blood beginning under one shoulder.

 

Thomas’s vision swam. He could make out Dr. Patel, already stripping off her coat by the time Thomas had moved, head pounding dazedly and blood starting to soak through the side of his shirt, back across the floor to join the small group now gathering around Jorge’s fallen form, where she was bundling it into a haphazard shape to staunch the dark stain spreading from what Thomas could now see was a gaping gunshot hole in the flesh of Jorge’s shoulder that made the woozy feeling in his head swing violently at the sight.

 

“Put pressure on that,” she instructed tersely, guiding Brenda’s hands firmly into place to hold it.

 

Brenda made a choked sound that made Thomas’s heart give a sharp, painful clench in his chest, and complied.  

 

“Híjole!” Jorge’s eyelids flickered open at the pressure. “Easy on the merchandise, mija.” He winced and gave a weak, pained-looking cough before closing them again. “I don’t want to worry you,” he murmured quietly, “but I think somebody shot me.”

 

Brenda gasped a short laugh, her relief obvious at hearing him alert enough to speak, even as tears of desperation spilled over and down her cheeks. 

 

“Come!” Dr. Patel was already giving more commands, this time directed apparently at Aris, who was hunkered, pale and shell-shocked at the other end of the room, into Harriet’s shoulder as if she might be holding him up. “Let him come forward,” she ordered the guards flanking them. “There should be an Emergency First Aid Kit in that cabinet! Bring it to me.”

 

“I need a medical team in here, stat!” she shouted next, her voice rising over the re-doubled ringing in Thomas’s head. He could feel it cut through the fog of endorphin and shock like a scalpel blade. “Get those doors open!”

 

“I can’t.”

 

Teresa’s voice was a cool and clear as ever as she looked down at her screen, giving a few hopeless-looking swipes with her fingertips. “NERO’s controls have been disabled. Lockdown procedures have been initiated.”


“Why?” Thomas had the word out even as the possible reasons crowded through his mind – because Newt had gotten free? Was it a measure to cut off his escape? Or…

 

“I don’t know. It’s malfunctioning. It could be that something has been damaged from the impact of your ship.” Teresa tapped at the screen again, only with more futile-seeming results. “The system is behaving like it’s under attack.”

 

“Because it is.”

 

Thomas looked up at the sound of Minho’s voice. He was standing, but still surrounded by guards who watched him warily, weapons still held ready even though they pointed at the floor, on Teresa’s orders. He gave Thomas a dark, knowing look as he wiped at a trickle of fresh blood under his nose with the back of his fist.

 

“It’s not a malfunction.” And Thomas knew his next words before they came out. “It’s Newt.”

 

Elizabeth.” The realization slipped past Thomas’s lips in a whisper.

 

“What?” Teresa’s voice was nearly as sharp as the burn slicing through his lungs now with every breath.

 

“Elizabeth.” Thomas could feel his hands clenched tight into fists at his side, and bile rising hotly in his throat. He didn’t care. From beside him he could hear Brenda sniffling quietly while the doctor worked on Jorge. “Look her up,” he added, with a bitter little nod in the direction of Teresa’s NERO screen, glowing expectantly under her fingertips. “That was her name before WCKD came and took all of us from our families. But Newt had more to lose than any of us, when they stole our memories and put us in that Maze. He had a sister.”

 

Thomas watched something settle in Teresa’s eyes, and her perfectly made up lips press into a tight line before he kept talking.

 

“And now – probably thanks to all the shit WCKD did to him, messing around in his mind – he remembers.”

 

Minho had started across the room toward them at the mention of Elizabeth, and family. His guards came too, trailing a cautious but watchful distance behind, their eyes on Teresa for a sign they should stop him, but she gave none, and they didn’t interfere.

 

“Vince told you,” Thomas went on, once Minho had reached his side, coming to stand next to him with a hand resting comfortingly on Brenda’s shoulder. “We came here to defend our Island. To fight for our freedom. But Newt came for something else. He wants it ended. He’s not going to stop at destroying you, or taking this place down. We did that, that happened in the Last City,” Thomas reminded her, with a gesture at the gleaming facility around them, “and yet here you still are.” Only to drop his arm swiftly to his side when it made the wound under his arm pull and bite. He tucked a hand in against his ribs, but he kept talking. “You said it yourself, this is happening in other countries, other places people are still being taken and tested on, tortured. Newt wants control of it – all of it – every facility, down to the last… stun gun and fuckin’ test tube. He’s on a mission all his own.”

 

Thomas’s breath still burned but Teresa was watching him with her cool blue gaze gone quiet and intent. He finally seemed to have her ear, without explanations or interruption, and he wasn’t done.

 

“Newt came for revenge,” he said. “Which is why I can tell you Minho is right, if Newt is awake now the system is under attack. If Newt’s awake then I know where he is.”

 

They had been over it so many times. Time and time again no matter how many times Vince or anyone else had questioned it, while Newt stared darkly and blank-faced down at their D-I-Y ‘blue prints’ of the building’s layout.

 

“…He will have gone for the control room.”

 

Muffled from outside the sealed security doors there were faint sounds of shouting and chaos, and then another loud rumbling and shaking of the walls around them as more of the building at the ship’s impact site apparently came crumbling down.

 

At their feet, Jorge gave a wet-sounding cough and an ensuing groan of pain that prompted a panicked sob from Brenda.

 

“I need those doors open!” Dr. Patel insisted loudly, in between checking Brenda’s pressure on the makeshift bandage bundled against Jorge’s chest and readying a syringe of something it looked like she was preparing to inject somewhere in the region of his neck. Jorge kept up a strong grip of reassurance on Brenda’s wrist where she held the coat in place, but he was in obvious pain. Worrying lines of sweat were beginning to bead on his forehead.

 

“That means you need Newt.” Minho’s eyes were still on Teresa as he spoke. “If Newt’s brain really is gone – like, gone where I think it is – I don’t know if anything can calm him down or bring him back, except Thomas.” Something sparked in Teresa’s eyes, and a frown creased the space between her dark brows as she looked back and forth between them, as if in hope of some further explanation of the statement. “You gotta let him out of here.”

 

“What happens in a lockdown?” Thomas asked her shortly, pressing down on something urgent that fluttered up from his gut at Minho’s words about Newt and willing his ringing head to stay focused on the moment at hand. “What will happen if they find him?”

 

“They won’t hurt him,” Teresa said assuringly. “Not if they can help it. They have orders to neutralize him, stun him on sight. Unless he tries to hurt anyone—”

 

“He will not ‘try’,” Dr. Patel put in, without looking up from her work, apparently satisfied Brenda had her role as a makeshift assistant sufficiently in hand enough to give her a gently collegial pat on the shoulder and move on from Jorge to begin tending to Aris. Who was scratched and bleeding in various places and gingerly cradling an arm that looked like it might be bent in a suspiciously awkward angle at the wrist.

 

“Hell no, he won’t,” Minho agreed emphatically. “He’ll do it. At the slightest sign of threat, he won’t hesitate. He’ll kill anybody who gets in range wearing that getup,” Minho insisted, pointing an impatient finger at the uniformed guards still surrounding them, “I can guarantee you.”

 

Thomas watched Minho and Teresa regard each other for a tense second while Minho stared her down as if daring her to speak. But the moment it looked like she might be about to, Minho beat her to it.

 

“If Newt is in that control room,” he went on, his voice rising little by little as he did, “how many of your people do you think he’s already taken down? You’ve gone after him so many times, and it’s like you said, it’s obviously never enough. How many times do you want go through this cycle!? End it. Get the doors open! Break this fucker right here down if you have to,” he challenged, with a wave at the door nearest to them. “The rest of us will stay here if it makes you feel any better. Let Thomas out of here.”

 

“I believe you.” Teresa’s voice held its usual steely underpinning of unshakable calm, though her eyes were back on Thomas with a look that said her thoughts were churning uncertainly behind the facade.

 

“But this is my lab,” she said. “The Chancellor’s lab. It has top level security, those are double chromium-reinforced security doors. There’s nothing in this room strong enough to batter them open, by design.”

 

More rumbling and sounds of cave-in shook the walls from outside. Thomas would swear he could feel time slipping away from them, as if there were a great big doomsday clock inside his pounding skull, ticking each second loudly away which each throb of his aching head.

 

Whatever Dr. Patel had given Jorge seemed to have helped, at least with the pain. His grip on Brenda had gone loose and his breathing looked relaxed and nearly even.

 

“Thomas.” Thomas looked up in surprise, startled out of his thoughts by the quiet voice. “I think I know a way we can get to Newt.”

 

It was Aris, still looking paler and shakier than his usual and leaning reliantly into Harriet as they allowed Dr. Patel to work on him, wrapping a long bandage around and around a nasty, septic-looking wound on his forearm.

 

“Remember?” Aris prompted, and Thomas followed his gaze, looking way up to find a small square opening in the ceiling overhead. “But I think I’m too big now,” he said with a wince, gritting his teeth as the doctor’s ministrations apparently hit a tender spot. “…to fit through the vents.”

 

“I’ll fit.”

 

The voice was small, but her eyes were big, wide and familiar when Thomas turned to look.

 

“Ana—”

 

“Brenda,” Ana returned, with the timid start of mutiny in her tone, even though Brenda hadn’t even finished voicing her obvious objection. “I can do it. Let me go, I’m the smallest here. I’ll fit.”

 

“All I have to do is get the doors open right?” Her voice shook, but her expression was determined.  “I can do this! You said— you said Newt responds to threats. Like, that’s his trigger. Right?” Ana spread her hands in a gesture that showed off her diminutive little frame as if she were presenting it to a panel of contest judges. “I’ve got to be the least threatening person here.”

 

Thomas looked at her, with her freckled nose and her big eyes wide and beseeching, and her delicate-fingered little hands spread wide open, and had to admit she was sure as hell at least right about that. Fuck. She was just a kid.

 

Had he and Aris looked like that, when they done this very thing, what sometimes felt like an entire lifetime ago?

 

“Thomas.” It was Teresa. Who didn’t seem to share Brenda’s concern about sending a child into what could potentially be harm’s way. “If you and Ana would come over to the main station with me,” she said, “I can give you what you’ll need to navigate the system.”

 

Thomas ignored her, looking down instead at where Dr. Patel was urging Brenda to ease up on the pressure and lifting Jorge’s coat-compress gingerly, to check on something at the site of the wound. Clearly preparing to do something to it with a pair of scissors and what looked like a bottle of antiseptic she held in her other hand.

 

Everybody else though, seemed to have their eyes turned on him. Thomas looked around at them – Brenda’s, desperate and red-rimmed, Minho stoic and expectant, Ana’s wide and insistent.

 

His head was spinning. But possible lingering head injuries and the woolen, cottony feeling in his brain aside, Thomas didn’t feel anything like equipped to be the one making this decision at all. As glad as he might be to see that nobody in the room seemed to be worried that Newt, no matter his state, would be capable of hurting a kid – there was more than Newt to worry about outside those doors.

 

The walls rumbled and shook again, and this time, the lights overhead dimmed and then leapt back to their to full halogen brightness in the slightest of flickers.

 

“Thomas,” Teresa said again, this time with a touch of urgency starting to creep in underneath the veneer of calm. “It’s the fastest way to get you to Newt. I can give you maps of the corridors, the override signature Ana will need for the doors, everything you’ll need to go after Newt the minute the doors are open,” Teresa pledged. “You’ll be free to go to him the second they are.”

 

Thomas shut his eyes and took another breath that pinched, and stung. As much as there were a shuck-load of questions from the past couple hours – not to mention the past couple of years – that wanted answering, for some reason joining Teresa for what was obviously intended to be a discrete tête-à-tête away from the others felt like the last thing he should be doing.

 

Something about the array of dark, glinting machines and laboratory equipment on the Chancellor’s desk made Thomas’s neck prickle unpleasantly with contextless memory. And Jorge didn’t look good; his skin had taken a terrifying greyish cast, his eyes closed and possibly unconscious.

 

“You’re injured,” Dr. Patel said, suddenly, noticing the way Thomas still had a hand pressed to his ribs under his coat. Thomas tried not to flinch as she reached out to him and gently pulled the edge of it aside for a look.  

 

“I’m alright.” He was careful not to grit his teeth on the words. They were true enough, Thomas thought. It wasn’t a priority.

 

He moved his hand to let her see, but then gave a nod back down at Jorge – carefully, so as not to make the cut pull and sting again. The doctor looked at the wound and frowned, but then looked back up at him and nodded. As if she didn’t like this, but would allow it.

 

Which Ana seemed to take as a green light, and seized her moment without a second to lose.

 

“Brenda,” she campaigned. “Let me and Thomas do this? He’ll be there the minute the doors are open, to come and get me.”

 

Thomas clamped down on any reaction that would confirm or deny whether or not that was a responsibility he felt he could commit to.

 

Brenda’s mouth opened again, but she couldn’t seem to manage any words.

 

“Jorge needs this,” Ana said, finally, her voice going quiet and letting a little of the vulnerable wobble back in.

 

And once again Thomas was afraid the kid had a point they couldn’t argue with.

 

Tears welled again in Brenda’s eyes and she turned them back down toward Jorge’s now-definitely-unconscious form with a sound a lot like a sob.

 

With a last skeptical look, Dr. Patel seemingly gave up on Thomas accepting any medical attention as a lost cause, and turned back to Jorge. But before she went back to what she had been doing with her scissors and iodine, she took a bedside-manner moment to lay a hand on Brenda’s arm. “Your father is in good hands.”

 

“He’s not our—"

 

“No?” The doctor interrupted with a quirk of a dark bird’s-wing brow. “It is not only blood that makes family.”

 

Thomas swallowed against a dull burning starting to thicken in his throat. He had never had more respect for anything the woman had said.

 

Brenda gulped, still apparently not trusting her voice enough for words, and settled for shifting her hold on Jorge’s dressing, and nodding bravely.

 

“She’s the top care WCKD has to offer,” Minho reassured Brenda as well, with a squeeze of her shoulder and a softness and certainty in his tone that struck right through everything that was happening – the urgency and danger and pain all currently screeching for dominance inside Thomas’s head – strongly enough to land as a surprise. Minho was generally in the habit of making his feelings about the doctor more than painfully clear.

 

Maybe watching a woman literally hold yet another of his bleeding and fatally wounded friends’ lives in her hands was enough to change his mind about a person.

 

“Maybe, uh, give her some space?” But he was looking at Thomas, now. He gave what he probably considered to be a subtle nod in the direction of Teresa, and the Chancellors’ desk away behind her.

 

But it was what Dr. Patel said next that maybe struck Thomas the most.

 

“Chancellor.” Her voice was firm, the look she aimed at Teresa meaningful and significant. “Tell him.”

 

Teresa didn’t reply but she lifted her head, her chin jutting out with its familiar proud tilt. And again Thomas watched her lips press together, and something play out behind her eyes that said whatever that was about, and as little sense as it made to Thomas, Teresa understood.

 

There was only one way to find out. Thomas took another sharply stabbing breath and nodded his consent.

 

And the guard around them moved into position, preparing to escort him and Ana as they followed behind Teresa over to the long bank of mysteriously gleaming computers and machinery waiting on the Chancellor’s desk.