Thomas had spend the day in the back of a truck.
He’d grown used to the ache in his limbs over the past year, like it was nothing more than the shirt on his back, but he certainly wasn’t used to sitting on the lumpy seats of a shitty car for hours on end.
His fingers fumbled with the worn leather between where Frypan and Newt sat in the front seat. It was a welcome distraction from thinking about how, by tomorrow afternoon, they would reach the Last City.
Anxiety curled in his stomach, just like every other day since he’d arrived in the Maze, since they’d escaped into the Scorch, since they’d lost Minho.
The three of them had driven through the early hours of the morning, Frypan loosely gripping the steering wheel and Thomas sitting pensively in the seat behind him. Newt occasionally tried to crack a joke, usually enough to make Fry snort, but for the most part they drove in silence.
It was stupid, Thomas knew it. Vince was going to kill him when he found out the they’d run off on a suicidal, last-ditch rescue attempt.
If they survived.
Thomas wasn’t leaving Minho behind, not after everything they’d been through. It wasn’t just a promise he’d made to himself, but Newt as well.
Newt had stayed with him the night after Minho and the others were taken, wordlessly leaning into him as they both recovered from the gut-wrenching loss. Thomas had fallen asleep on his shoulder, waking hours later in cold sweat, tears rolling down his face and the image of Minho being beaten and dragged away still fresh in his head.
Newt had hushed him, pulling him into an impossibly tight hug. They had stayed like that for what felt like ages, even though Newt’s own hands were shaking.
After that, Newt had moved his sleeping bag into Thomas’s tent.
Now, Thomas was swallowing his frayed nerves as they sped through the desert. He tried not to think about how he was running headfirst into WCKD without so much as plan. He tried not to think about how he was taking Fry and Newt with him.
Instead, Thomas stared at the back of Newt’s neck. He focused on pale skin and the blond hair that curled slightly above the nape. He focused on Newt’s broad shoulders and the scratchy fabric of his shirt. He focused on how it might feel to run his fingers through his hair and down his neck and against that’s thin, scratchy fabric.
And, okay, maybe that train of thought wasn’t much better.
They pulled the van over next to a towering rock formation late in the second day. The sun had gone down, and a shocking cold had begun settling in through the vehicle’s thin windows.
“Good thing we brought blankets,” Fry mused. “Vince always warned us how cold the desert can get at night.”
Newt laughed. “And to think, our Tommy would’ve been freezing if it wasn’t for us.”
Ignoring Thomas’s disgruntled glare, Fry stretched out in the front seat. “And he’s kind enough to take the first watch!”
“Oh, he better well be, since this was his bloody idea,” Newt said, though the meaningful look he shot Thomas said he was anything but upset.
Newt had crawled into the backseat and, after tossing Frypan one of the aforementioned blankets, propped his gangly legs across Thomas’s lap.
Newt grinned. “Extremely.”
Thomas shook his head and got out of the car. As much as the guys teased him, with his coat on the temperature was comfortable enough.
As he left the warmth of the car, Thomas also left behind any semblance of a cheery mood.
Maybe all the near-death and hopeless odds were making them delirious, but Thomas suddenly wished he’d enjoyed simpler moments he’d had back in the Glade. Even though he’d desperately wanted to escape, those problems seemed a lifetime away. Chuck and Alby and Gally felt like memories of ghosts he barely knew.
That first night though, his back to the fire and Newt sliding down next to him, was still at the forefront of his brain.
It probably should’ve been all the horrors he’d seen, like his night in the Maze or the Gladers getting picked off by Grievers one-by-one. Newt always seemed to be in his thoughts, though, no matter how much he tried to push them away.
Did he really want to push them away?
Thomas perched against the rear of the truck, his back against its dirt-coated steel and his knees pulled in close to his chest; he wouldn’t have been able to sleep even if he’d wanted to.
The windows of the car didn’t roll all the way up, so he could hear Frypan’s quiet snores from the front seat. Thomas was sure he’d never be able to sleep alone in a room. The silence, the lack of someone else’s breathing, made his chest tighten in panic.
He was immediately thankful they’d insisted on coming along.
Thomas scanned the dark horizon, taking in how the night sky was almost clear in a way he’d never seen before. He wasn’t sure whether to take it as a good omen or not.
“Tommy?” A whisper cut through the dry air from the back seat.
“You alive out there?”
Newt’s voice was rough, wavering in a way that was so unlike him, it made Thomas uneasy.
It didn’t take much for him to piece it together. They’d shared a living space long enough over the past six months for Thomas to recognize the remnants of a nightmare.
“I’m alive,” he said, loud enough for Newt to hear but soft enough so he wouldn’t wake Fry.
Thomas felt the vehicle shift against him as Newt clambered out of it.
A moment later, he was joining him against the car, a blanket in hand. He draped it over the both of them, pressing himself shoulder-to-shoulder with Thomas.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Thomas asked.
“Didn’t want to,” Newt replied.
All the Gladers had nightmares. It was probably a given considering the hell they’d been put through the past year.
Minho and, surprisingly, Teresa used to coax conversations about them with the others. Minho’s usually involved Alby and the night they were trapped in the maze. Teresa and Fry both described dreams filled with the mechanic grind of Grievers.
Newt rarely spoke during these attempts at group therapy.
After Minho and the others were taken, though, something had changed. A silent agreement between Newt and Thomas had formed.
Thomas rarely slept, haunted by what WCKD was doing to Minho while they wasted time trying to cobble together any pathetic excuse of a plan. His frequent insomnia had encouraged conversation between Newt and him.
On the nights when Thomas never went to sleep, and when Newt didn’t want to go back to his nightmares, they’d scoot their sleeping bags close and talk.
Thomas talked about Teresa, about the things he could remember from before the Maze and the things he wished he didn’t. He talked about Chuck and Winston and Minho and even, sometimes, Gally.
And Newt would listen patiently, intently, as if just hearing Thomas breath the words to life would suddenly solve all their problems. In those moments, it almost did.
Newt talked less, and Thomas didn’t push him, but he would bring up his nightmares. The horrors of losing their friends, sometimes handfuls at a time, sometimes one by shucking one. Once, on a particularly bad night, Newt has talked about throwing himself off the Wall.
Something about tonight felt different, though.
He couldn’t explain it, but he felt it in the unusually clear sky, the crisp air, and the unwavering warmth of the boy sitting next to him.
Newt’s whisper cut through the silence. “I want us all to make it.”
His was voice low, standing out against the silent hum of the night.
He turned to Thomas, meeting his gaze with an intensity they’ve both become so familiar with.
“I’ve said that since we left the Glade,” Newt whispered, “and I said that when we escaped into the Scorch, and I’m saying it now, while we’re running completely bloody outnumbered into the heart of WCKD.”
He looked away, his chest rising and falling shakily. Thomas didn’t have to ask what this nightmare was about.
“I really shucking want us to make it through this, Tommy,” Newt said. “I want you to make it through this.”
Thomas was usually the one who needed calming down, the one who needed to be held back from leaping off the metaphorical edge of the cliff and into an emotional rage he couldn’t come back from. Newt was the one who helped him down.
Something about tonight felt different, though, and they both knew it.
Tonight was the beginning of the end, and whether that end had a happy ending was yet to be determined.
“We’re gonna make it, we’re gonna save Minho, and we’re all going to Safe Haven.”
Newt snorted, but his lips were curved into a rare smile. “You can’t promise that.”
“Is it stupid of me to say I believe you anyway?”
“You do have a habit of following me around,” Thomas said.
He meant it teasingly, but as they looked into each other’s eyes again, Thomas realized just how serious Newt was.
Newt swallowed, which was a whole theatrical performance with that long neck of his. He touched Thomas’s face, reminding him how close they were.
“I’d follow you anywhere,” Newt said, hand warm against his cheek.
What if I get us killed? What if I don’t do enough? What if you die because of me? The questions swirled in Thomas’s gut, making him feel sick. The thought of Newt dying, of Minho and Fry and anyone else who was left, was too much for him to think about.
They’d lost so many friends already, how was he supposed to survive without the boy sitting next to him now, pressed together from shoulder-to-knee, hand on his cheek?
He didn’t get a chance to think about it.
Newt kissed him, pulling Thomas from his thoughts and back into the moment, under the stars, against a truck, with a boy he’d fallen in love with.
Something about tonight was different, it had just taken Thomas longer to notice.
Newt pulled away too soon, and Thomas pushed forward, cupping his face with both his hands and kissing him again.
It was all lips and tongue, Newt’s hand slipping to catch on the back of Thomas’s neck. Thomas let out a soft whine, echoing softly into the desolate night.
It was a good kiss, not that Thomas had much experience or memory with much kissing in general. His only comparison was the drugged-up kiss he shared with Brenda, wishing it was Teresa, wishing it was Newt.
This kiss was slow and languid, so different from the non-stop race their life always seemed to be. Thomas wanted to crawl into Newt’s lap, he wanted to press his fingers beneath his thin shirt and just keep kissing him until everything else faded away.
It was so easy to get lost in this, to sit back and watch the world burn itself to ground while Thomas sat back, wrapped in Newt’s arms.
But that wasn’t the kind of world they could afford to live in.
When they broke apart, Thomas rested his forehead against Newt’s, his breath heavy.
“What are we doing?” Newt said, voice still low.
“I don’t know.”
“We’re probably going to die tomorrow.”
“Bloody inspiring you are.” Newt straightened up, pulling away and looking out at the desert in front of them, but a hint of a smile still played on his lips.
“We’ll figure it out,” Thomas said, resting a hand on Newt’s knee. “We always do.”
Newt laughed, short and open. It was a sight for sore eyes, despite how dire their situation was.
“Maybe you and I could get our own little island,” he said, and Thomas snorted.
“Minho would kill us if we left him out.”
Newt made a face. “If he’s not being a slinthead, maybe we’ll allow visitors.”
They both laughed and Thomas felt his shoulders relax. They were still pressed closed, as if they both knew what leaving this spot meant; tomorrow they’d leave what happened behind them, at least until they found their friend.
“Don’t give up on this yet,” Thomas said, swallowing the lump in his throat. “Don’t give up on me yet.”
Newt shook his head, his already disheveled hair falling into his face.
“I could never give up on you.”
Newt sighed, tipping his head back against the steel of the truck. He tugged the blanket up around one of his shoulders, leaving the other uncovered as he fixed Thomas with a pointed look.
It was enough of an invitation as any.
Thomas shifted into a more comfortable position so he could lean his head against Newt’s shoulder.
It really had no right being as comfortable as it was, but he felt himself relax into the contact like they’d done this a billion times.
Thomas had gotten involved in the messy business of saving the world, and even though most of his memories were in the hands of WCKD, there had always been a simmering sense of responsibility to at least attempt to help what was left of the human population.
Right now, though, Thomas couldn’t bring himself to care. If it meant Newt was safe and pressed against his side, Frypan fast asleep a few feet behind them, and the hope of seeing Minho again fresh in his mind, he would happily watch the world burn.
If it meant Newt would kiss him again, Thomas would light it on fire himself.
Tomorrow they’d wake up and climb back into the car. They’d continue speeding across the desert until they saw the Last City on the horizon. They’d face WCKD for what could be their final time.
But right now, against the backdrop of thousands of stars and a dusty truck, he could forget all that.
Thomas could lean his head against Newt’s shoulder and pretend that maybe, the world wasn’t his to let burn.