May 6, 2236, Woods Outside of Reston
He knew he was grinning like an idiot, running out towards the big fire, screaming “Brody!” at the top of his lungs, and he didn’t care. Brody, his Brody was alive after all. He always hoped he was, but when Janet told him about tracking Brody to that hotel, where he supposedly put a bullet in his head, and then his tracks disappearing altogether, it fit with all the rumors in Waller. He had to let him go then, and reluctantly, he did. But there he was, a few meters in front of him, staring at him now with a strange look on his face. He heard the others following behind him, but slowly, carefully through the dark.
The younger boys lined up flanking Brody, guns drawn. He put his hands up, so they wouldn’t accidentally shoot him.
The guns were lowered immediately. So he was right. Brody was in charge here. And then Brody pointed his own gun straight at his head, “That’s far enough, Zoriner. Bruner, search him, thoroughly, for anything he can use as a weapon.” One of the larger boys walked over to him and patted him down. He took his screens out of his pocket, and a small knife. That’s all he had on him. Everything else, including his gun, he stupidly left in his backpack in the woods.
He was standing only a few steps away from being able to put Brody into a headlock, few steps from being able to hug him for all the years he thought he was dead. He was staring at his best friend in the world, who was still pointing a gun at him, not finding any words now. He heard the rest of his group coming out of the woods, and the boys running to them, guns drawn again.
“Search them for weapons and bring them all here.” The stun guns, Ella’s knife and med kit were dropped in a pile behind the fire. He watched as the boys moved Ams and Laurel away from Ella. He couldn’t see Drake anywhere. The girls were holding hands, fear written all over their faces. He flinched when they put a slave band on Ella, Brody not looking at any of it, staring at him, gun still pointing at the middle of his head.
“On your knees, Zoriner,” and he walked the few steps to him, so the cold metal of the gun pressed into his forehead. This wasn’t a stun gun, but an old school weapon, ones that made holes in you, instead of just stopping your heart. He remembered Brody’s uncle, Andy, restoring these back in Waller. He used them to barter for moonshine and food. They were thought of as valuable, when they worked. He was pretty sure this one worked.
“No,” he shook his head, looking Brody in the eyes. There was no way he was going to die like this, by the hand of his best friend, and on his knees. If Brody wanted to shoot him, he would have to do it looking him in the eyes. Brody clicked the safety off with his thumb, and he saw Ams running towards him, screaming something. He shook his head at her, begging her with his eyes to stop, but it was too late.
“Grab her and tie her up at this tree, hands and feet. I don’t want her moving at all,” Brody barked at the boys. They dragged Ams to the tree just to the right of where he was, he guessed so she could see whatever Brody would do to him, and tied her up. They couldn’t hurt her. They had to know what she was. She didn’t protest or scream at them. She was staring at Brody as if he had just kicked a dead body.
“On your knees!” and he pressed the barrel of the gun harder into his skin.
“No, Brody. You’ll just have to do it like this,” he said quietly, so only Brody would hear him. Without any warning, Brody pointed the gun at where Ams was tied up and pulled the trigger. He saw a spray of dirt and leaves just at her feet. She screamed.
“This is the only warning you’ll get, Zoriner. I only miss on purpose. On your knees.”
He dropped to his knees then, hands laced behind his head. He looked up at Brody, trying to find something of the boy he had known his whole life in his face, “You win, Brody. You can do with me what you want. Please, let her go. I am begging you, as someone who used to be your friend. Let her go.”
“I’ve no idea who this Brody is, Zoriner. I don’t have your kind as friends. Bruner! Tie him up over there, same as the girl,” and he pointed to a tree just opposite of where Ams was. He could see her face more clearly now in the firelight. He mouthed “I am sorry, Ams,” hoping she could read his lips. She looked angry, and afraid, but there were no tears. He had to save her. He hoped he could save her. The one called Bruner tied his hands and feet to the tree, pulling so roughly on his arms, he thought he would break something. He couldn’t move anything but his head, and he couldn’t move that enough to not see Brody and Ams.
“Take the slave girl and the Replenisher to Astor. I’ll deal with these two. Go. I’ll send the memos myself. No comms. ECH only. Dismissed.”
One of the boys stepped forward, “Sir, there are two of them. Protocol calls for at least two.” The boy looked uncomfortable.
Brody just nodded to him, “Anders, I need you over here. You’re with me. The rest of you are dismissed.”
He didn’t even turn around to see if the boys did what they were told, as if he was so accustomed to being obeyed that he didn’t need to. The one called Anders stood by the fire, gun drawn, unmoving. Brody was going through all the screens they took from everyone, and scanning the last bits, it seemed. He’d know that Drake was supposed to be with them. Where the hell was Drake? He hoped the giant tripped on something and was now hiding in the woods, waiting for the right moment to save them.
Brody got up from the pile he was digging through, walked over to him and punched him in the stomach, hard. He couldn’t breathe for a bit after that, couldn’t speak either.
“You are making me wish you had put a bullet through your head, Brody,” he finally spat at him. He knew it was the worst kind of thing he could say to him. It didn’t matter anymore. He meant it. Needed him to know that he meant it. Brody blanched and turned away from him. So he did know who he was.
“I think one of your group is missing. Drake, wherever you are, I know you can hear me. Here is what’s going to happen. Anders here will keep hitting this boy till his insides turn liquid, until you come out with your hands up, unarmed, and walk over to the fire.” He nodded to Anders and stepped away from them, watching Anders. After the first few punches he wished it was Brody hitting him. This kid whaled on him hard, not even giving him enough time to breathe. After a few more punches, he felt one of his ribs crack. Brody turned away then. At least he had the decency not to enjoy it.
He was coughing up blood, could taste it, and his vision was going blurry at the edges. He heard Ams screaming, but it seemed too far away, softer, too soft to make sense with how close her face was. He knew he was going to black out, could feel it coming, and tried his best to hold on, and then the punching stopped. He saw Anders slump to the ground at his feet, and then Drake shooting Brody and he was down too, Drake, looking paler than he’d ever seen him, still pointing the buzzing stun gun at the prone form. Not for the first time he was grateful that this giant of a man moved like a ghost. He could close his eyes now, so he did.
He woke up to the gentle touch of Ams’ small hands smoothing the hair out of his face. He felt the bandages around his ribs, restricting his breathing. He registered the fire, and tried to stand up. Ams was holding him, and he knew he’d fall if she let go of him now, so he sat down, slowly, carefully, and finally his head was clear enough to remember all that had happened since he ran out of the woods so carelessly, so stupidly, risking everybody. Ran out to Brody. He scanned the camp looking for Brody and Drake. Brody was probably dead, of course. He remembered Drake shooting him.
“Where are they, Ams?” It hurt to talk.
Ams handed him a thermos of warm tea, “I’ll go get them. Drake took that boy away from the fire for a bit. He didn’t want you to see him when you woke up. He thought you might kill him, and I think you should. But we need him to get Ella and Laurel back. That’s what Drake said. The other one, Anders, he is dead, Riley. Drake killed him, only I don’t think he meant to, because he seemed sad about it afterwards. Nice friends you have.”
So Brody wasn’t dead then. That was okay. He could fix that.
“Try not to move, Riley. I’ll be right back,” and she was gone, light steps running into the woods.
He closed his eyes and tried to picture his old Brody, the one who cried telling him about Samson, the one who always got him in trouble in school, and the one who tried to get his father to whip him with that belt instead of Riley. The boy he had spent every day with after Ella was gone. And he could see him like that, as a little kid at first and then a bit older, stealing Andy’s moonshine. And he saw him looking at Trina as if she were made of magic, and later still, sobbing into his hands at Janet’s house after he thought he would cast him out like the rest of Waller did when the feed of his parents’ treason came out, looking very much ashamed after that. And Brody, pressing the gun to his head, forcing him to kneel, punching him.
He opened his eyes, watching the three shapes moving towards him. Brody looked unharmed, not a scratch on him, less some redness on the side of his face. His hands were tied behind his back. Drake shoved him right up to where he was sitting and pushed him to his knees in front of him. He looked angry when he did it, nothing of the gentle giant in him. The redness on Brody’s face was probably from Drake then. He couldn’t blame him for that. Brody sat up as straight as he could and looked up at him, face hard. And he thought then that maybe Brody really did want him gone, dead gone. For knowing the real Brody, Zoriner Brody, someone he seemed to have gone to a lot of trouble trying to forget.
“Untie him, Drake.” He didn’t know how to explain it to Drake or to Ams that he needed to do it this way. That he needed to know for sure who this boy was more than he needed to be safe, and that if he was right about Brody wanting him dead, he could use it to get Ella and Laurel back. Drake shook his head at him, sadness written all over his face. He probably thought he would try to fight him.
“Stand him up and untie him, please. You can point your gun at him. And Ams, please help me up.”
She did, and he was standing, swaying lightly at first, staring at Brody’s face.
“Drake, give me your gun, please, and a few minutes of privacy with him. I promise I won’t kill him.” Reluctantly, Drake handed the buzzing weapon over and took Ams back towards the woods.
He waited for them to be completely out of earshot, and not taking his eyes off Brody’s handed him the gun, handle first.
“Finish what you started,” he said flatly, quietly. Brody shook his head, not reaching for the gun.
“Do it, Brody. Finish it. I know why you think you need to. I am the last of them who knew you then, truly knew you. No more shame after this. I am okay with it. I just need your word that you and your crew will let everyone else go, that all four of them will be safe. I need your word, Brody. I still believe you will keep your word.”
Brody just kept shaking his head, “I can’t, Riley. I can’t get everyone out. I wish I could, but I can’t. You shouldn’t have run out to me like that. I can’t fix this now, not for any of us.”
He switched the gun off and threw it on the ground, Brody watching him, his jaw working hard. He put his hands out in front of him, but there wasn’t anything to tie them with. It didn’t matter, not after what he just said. He didn’t think he would run. He could have done that when he offered him the bloody gun easily enough. The gun was still lying lifelessly on the ground, so he kicked it away towards the backpacks, not knowing what to do or say now. Brody hadn’t moved.
“There are slave bands and ties in the pile by the bags. I won’t run,” his voice strained, quiet.
He walked over and found a slave band, but it felt wrong to put that on Brody even now, so he settled on one of the old ties, plastic, not metal. He tightened it around Brody’s wrists, hard enough to bite into the skin to hurt, enough for him to know he was a prisoner now. He still didn’t move, didn’t even flinch at the pain, just stood looking at him.
“Go ahead, Riley. Hit me. Beat the shit out of me. You can’t possibly not want to. Do it.”
But he couldn’t do it, and strangely, didn’t want to. He shook his head and dropped down on the log by the fire, Brody looking at him as if he were disappointed that he didn’t beat him.
“Riley! We found us a cave!” Ams voice caught him off guard. She was smiling at him. Ams had probably never seen a cave before, not even in those old library books. Of course she’d be excited. And a cave would be a better place to hide than out in the open.
He let Ams and Drake move all the backpacks to the cave. It was larger than he expected, when they finally all settled there, the ceiling tall enough to where even Drake didn’t have to bend down to stand. Brody sat against the far wall, his tied hands in fists in front of him, not speaking, and refusing anything to drink or eat that was offered him. He seemed entirely uninterested in what they would do to him. After a small supper, Drake and Ams moved into one of the inner chambers, away from them, as if sensing that he and Brody weren’t done with whatever they needed to work out. He heard them wrestling with the blankets and making another fire to keep themselves warm. They’d be asleep soon enough. Something he couldn’t possibly do now.
He sat staring at his friend through the fire, not saying anything, hoping he’d find the words soon enough. Hoping, too, that Ella and Laurel could be saved, and that Brody would help save them. Something in the way he was looking back at him told him that he couldn’t make him help them. That something terrible happened to this boy and there was nothing at all he could promise him or threaten him with.
“I am sorry I let Anders hurt you, Riley. I wanted you dead, not hurt. I still do. It would make things easier for me, but I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t lie to you about the girls. I would have killed you if I could. I want you to know that.”
He believed him. There was no reason for him to lie now. It hurt knowing that he wished him dead, but he understood it too. And he remembered the last time he ever saw him, when he chased after him down that street in Waller, but Brody wouldn’t stop, and then Brody just shaking his head at him. He remembered that now, couldn’t help remembering it, and knew that he wanted him gone even then, that he couldn’t bear take anything from that life where he was going.
He nodded, leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes to keep all the tears in, and said in almost a whisper, so there was no chance Drake and Ams would catch any of it, “If, by some miracle, you do help us get Ella and Laurel back, I will let you, if you still want me dead then. However you want. You just can’t tell Drake or Ams about it.” He looked at him, to make sure he understood, and when he knew for sure that he did, walked right up to him. Brody stood up, breathing hard, and looking like he was about to cry. It didn’t add up, what he just said to him and the way his face was.
He pulled the knife out of his pocket, but Brody didn’t seem to notice it or to care. He was just watching his face. He cut the tie at his wrists, registering a look of surprise on his face, then took his right hand and shook it, squeezing it hard, as hard as he could. Brody flinched, but returned the handshake, and put his hands out in front of him again.
He cuffed him with regular old cuffs, the ones with a tiny key that they got from Brody’s supply bag, and put the key into his sleeve pocket. These would be a bit more comfortable to sleep with, though less comfortable than the slave bands. He still couldn’t bring himself to put that on Brody. On anyone.
“You should get some sleep,” he whispered, and unrolled one of the blankets at the wall for him and then threw an almost empty backpack on it for a pillow, but Brody just shook his head at the offering, slid down against the hard clay of the wall and closed his eyes.
Crylo, May 14, 2233
She loved him from the first moment he looked at her in a grown up way. They were standing outside the school, and Brody offered her one of the smokesticks he stole, likely from his uncle’s warehouse, only these were old looking, shorter, all the dried grass wrapped in paper. She took it from him, and he touched her hand when he lit it. She felt that touch in the pit of her belly, a warmth and a sharp ache. He must have felt it too, as he looked at her with those gray blue eyes of his, so full of suns in them, so full of light, and she knew she wanted this boy to like her. She blushed when he asked her if he could walk her home, and nodded, hoping he couldn’t see her blush through her dark skin.
That was a year ago now. She loved everything about him, even when they fought on rare occasions, there was a sweetness, a tenderness to him, even through that hard facade he put on for everyone else. For Riley, and his uncle, and Mr Sanders. As if he didn’t care about much, but she knew him better than anyone, and care he did, deeply. She caught him sneaking bits of what little food they were given for lunch into his bag and handing it to Spartan, the scrawny stray that followed them home from school. Brody would always give him a bit of something he’d saved, and talk to him, soothingly, as if he were talking to a little kid. He seemed embarrassed the first time she saw him do it, but didn’t seem to mind after that.
She loved how he’d always bring a few sweet smelling blooms to her mother in the Spring or Summer, whenever he came by, and how he’d help her put the dishes away, and listen to her talk. He had a way of making you want to tell him things, secrets even. A way of listening without judging.
She loved that he didn’t rush her into anything. He didn’t want to hurt her or scare her, he said, and when they finally did kiss, it was her doing the kissing, at least at first. She’d been wanting to kiss him for so long, she couldn’t help herself, so she took his face in her hands and watched his eyes get darker, all gray now, and she kissed him, her hands moving up to his neck and then going all the way down his back, and she felt him freeze at her touch. She let go then and he stepped away from her, his face flushed, and he looked at her with so much fear, she hoped she didn’t hurt him somehow.
“Are you sure? I need to know this is for real for you. Because I couldn’t bear it if it wasn’t,” he said quietly, not letting go of her eyes.
She walked up to him then and threw her arms around his neck, nodding, whispering that it was for real, that she’d been wanting to do it since the first time they met, and that she was pretty sure she’d want to keep doing it for the rest of her life.
She sat there, in the Zoriner Council’s chambers, thinking about all of it, about Brody, and what would happen to him if they find him, and to her. She hoped she could somehow convince these strangers that she broke it off with him right after she saw the feed with the traitors, his parents on it. She was pretty sure there were cameras in the room, recording her, and tried to make her face look calm. The doors slid open and a smallish woman came in. She looked older than her mother, by a few years at least, creases around her dark brown eyes. She had a large screen with her and was typing away on it as she sat down.
She nodded, timidly, she hoped.
“You and Brody were a couple, I’m told, for about a year. Is that correct?”
She nodded again. It seemed easier to nod than to speak.
“I need to know how he felt about Zoriners and the Alliance. Conversations you had, all of them that could give us a glimpse into his thoughts.” She was looking at her, openly, waiting.
She shook her head, “We never talked about that. It just never came up. Not until after the feed from his parents, but I broke it off with him as soon as that happened, so we didn’t even talk about it then.”
The woman got up and walked right up to where she was sitting on a hard metal bench against the wall. She looked at her, kindly, she thought, and nodded her head, “It is very, very unfortunate then, I’m afraid. You will be transported to an Alliance center at dawn. I suggest you say your goodbyes now,” and she handed her a screen she could use.
She didn’t understand why they would do this to her. Zoriners didn’t give up their own to the Alliance; at least she’d never heard of them doing it. She couldn’t think of anything she could type to her mom and dad. Couldn’t think of anything to say to anybody that would make it all right. So she simply typed “I love you,” sent it to her house and handed the screen back to the woman. She needed her gone now, so she could cry in peace.
“Can you please leave?” she hoped she sounded soft enough and polite enough, not angry. The woman put her hand on her shoulder and held it there for a bit, and then left the room, silently, except for the swish of the sliding doors.
It didn’t make any sense to her that her people would try to punish the kids for something their parents did. Zoriners weren’t supposed to do this sort of thing. It sounded like something the Alliance would do, not them. She couldn’t wrap her head around it. They had been looking for Brody all over Waller. Zoriner soldiers. They had asked her a million times if she knew where he was. She didn’t. She told them she hadn’t spoken to him since after the feed, that they broke up, that she broke them up. She wasn’t lying, they could see that much. And now they were going to use her as bait. It didn’t make any sense. She knew she hurt him, deeply, when she broke up with him. He wouldn’t come looking for her. He probably hated her by now. The way he looked at her when she handed him the little necklace back. There were tears in his eyes then. He knew what it meant. He took the necklace from her hand, and flung it hard into the woods outside the school, looked at her crying face and whispered something she couldn’t hear or read on his lips. He leaned in and kissed her on the top of her head, turned and walked away from her, quickly, not once turning around. That was the last she saw him.
And when Riley came to see her, she knew that it was because of Brody, and she couldn’t bring herself to talk to him. Riley was just a sweet kid. She couldn’t tell him she had hurt his friend like that, so she slammed the door in his face, feeling ashamed of what she’d done to Brody, hoping someday he’d understand that she was just trying to protect him, trying to make him go, leave Waller, because she knew he wasn’t safe there anymore. Everyone knew that. But when she told him after they showed the feed at school that he had to run, had to leave Waller, he just shook his head at her. She knew he wouldn’t leave for as long as she was there, so she did the only thing she could to make him go. Nobody but her knew why she did it. So them taking her to Alliance now didn’t make any sense.
She curled up on the cot by the wall, hoping they would change their minds. Hoping something would happen in the few hours she had left that would make them let her go home. But nothing did happen, and at dawn, two Zoriner soldiers woke her up, and tied her hands with metal ties, and then put her on the flier, all without saying one word to her. The youngest of them — he looked just a few years older than she was — seemed embarrassed by what they were doing. She could see the shame in his face, and she almost felt bad for him.
The flier took off silently, as if running on nothing but air. She didn’t know how they worked, having never been on one before. She looked out through the triangle of the window as they flew over Waller and then the woods and the fields and some kind of empty looking land, with strangely colored hills on it, lavender hills on beige ground. It seemed unnatural for the ground and those hills to be that color. They flew over a stark blue bit of water after that. She couldn’t tell how fast they were going, so she had no idea how large the water was. And once they were over land again, she saw an enormous city in the distance, peaks of buildings visible over the walls of the fence, startlingly white. They flew lower now, and she knew that’s where they were taking her. She knew, too, that it was impossibly far from Waller. Too far for anyone without a flier to ever find her here, even Brody, if he ever wanted to find her again. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see any more of this place, not wanting to know what they would do to her.
Two Alliance women came up to her when they were on the ground and dismissed the soldiers with a nod. The flier took off silently. The women looked like twins, same light hair, falling in straight lines around their white faces, as if they’d never been outside. Same gray-blue eyes, Brody’s eyes, only without the suns in them, and without the kindness. They put a wide metal band around her wrists and walked her down a very empty street, with the impossibly tall white buildings on both sides, but no trees, no houses, and no kids or people of any kind. They walked for a long time, the women not saying anything to her. Finally, they stopped, and pushed her inside one of these big buildings that all looked alike to her, and shoved her towards the elevator. It shot up so fast, her throat dropped into her stomach. She had no idea how high up these things went. It didn’t matter. There was nothing she could do about that now. Nothing she could do about any of it.
An older woman with white hair greeted them at the elevator with a nod, and pointed at something ahead of them. “Take her to the cage. Leave the band on,” and she walked on quickly ahead of them, disappearing down the hallway. The cage sounded ominous, but she had already given up on trying to wrap her head around any of this. She knew they would needlessly keep her here for however long it took for them to learn that Brody wasn’t coming for her. That nobody was coming for her.
The cage was a glass box. The doors slid open and closed behind her, soundlessly. She looked around and her heart dropped. She was suspended at an insane height, looking down on tiny specks of people walking around below her, the box swaying lightly. She couldn’t not see how high up she was no matter where she looked, so she leaned on one of the walls, cautiously at first, but the wall was solid enough, and she closed her eyes for long enough to get her heart to stop pounding in her head. And when she could breathe normally again, she spotted a tiny cot along one of the walls, and a small sink with a toilet near it. There was nothing else. This was her home now.
And finally, she was angry. Angry at Brody for looking like these people, angry at her own people for bringing her here, for giving her up like that, and angry at herself for not fighting while she still had a chance to fight, even if it ended up with her dead. She would fight now, would have to. Maybe get one of these sunless people angry enough at her to just shoot her with those buzzing weapons they all had. Anything to get out of this glass cage, before she went crazy. Before she became angry at herself for falling in love with a boy who wasn’t one of them.
May 6, 2236 Woods Outside of Reston
He hoped that Riley would be smart enough to know there could be soldiers there that simply had their regular comms off. Hoped this kid, the smartest person he knew, would choose something other than a straight line to get to where they were going. The boys he was teaching here were better trained than they looked, and there were 20 of them. If his crew ran into Riley’s group on their own, it would be over. Nothing he could do to protect his friend and still get his hands on one of the replenishers, and that he had no choice about. He heard him before he saw him, his little-kid-excited voice calling his name, his old name, screaming it at the top of his lungs. Not so smart then.
He had seen Alliance soldiers humiliate Zoriners they caught so many times, he knew what he had to do as if he’d done it himself before. He had to convince his crew that he was in charge and get rid of them. He had to do this, hopefully, without killing Riley. But when he obstinately refused to kneel, he wasn’t so sure he could keep him alive. At last his crew was gone, all but Anders. He didn’t care for Anders, that’s why he picked him. The kid was a bully. He’d have to find a way to deal with him.
He had the replenisher tied up at a tree, only he wished it wasn’t the one who apparently liked Riley, the way she ran to him, but he couldn’t do anything about it after she did that. If he’d known about her and Riley upfront, he would have found a way to take the other girl, but it was too late now. This had to look believable to his crew. If Riley just got down on his damn knees when he told him to, this girl would have had a fifty-fifty chance. Now she didn’t. He was half mad at Riley for this, but it wasn’t his fault. He should have known that kid had too much pride in him, only he knew it wasn’t just pride. They had too much history. He didn’t think he’d kneel if he were in Riley’s place either.
He had to make sure it was just the four of them. He could find a way to manage this, so that he got Trina back and didn’t have to kill Riley to do it. The girl eyeing him from the tree, he felt bad for her, but he knew they wouldn’t hurt her. Just make her do what they raised her to do, in comfort. She’d make babies with the unbroken genes for the Alliance. She’d never have to worry about anything for the rest of her life. It wasn’t so bad. They pampered these untouchable girls as if they were queens. In a way, he thought, they were. She would never spend a day in a tiny glass box. He knew that much.
He was digging through the pile of screens his boys found on Riley’s group, and saw Drake’s name popup on Ella’s over and over again. Recent too. So Drake was somewhere around here. He remembered Drake, the soft-hearted giant, remembered him well. Rumor had it Drake was a guard at one of the compounds. It made sense for him to be with this group then, but it surprised him that Hassinger didn’t mention him. Drake probably arranged their escape in the first place. He didn’t think Drake would kill him, that he could kill anybody; just didn’t have it in him. And he knew Drake always had a soft spot for Riley, and not just because he was always in love with Ella. He had to get him to come out of hiding. Had to contain him somehow. He had to make him believe Riley would die if he didn’t. There was no other way.
It was hard for him to throw the first punch at Riley, to see all the air go out of him like that, and his eyes looking at him, more hurt than in pain. He knew Riley would have never done what he was doing, no matter what, and it made him angry that he knew it with such certainty. In the same way it made him angry at Riley for not walking away from him when he needed him to, when everyone else in Waller had. For trying to comfort him after all the things he just heard Max say about his kind, calling them animals. It couldn’t have not hurt him, hearing it from Max, and yet there he was still, trying to make him, the bloody offspring, feel better. He never got over asking him if he’d walk away, trying to make him angry at him for asking, and the way he looked at him then.
He should have done the rest of it himself, the beating, knowing that Anders actually enjoyed hurting people, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not to Riley. So he let this boy hurt his best friend, because he was too much of a coward to do it himself. Riley was looking at him, not Anders, not making any noise, just taking it. He heard something break in him, and it scared him, and he had to turn away from it, hoping Drake didn’t take much longer.
He watched the face of the girl. She wasn’t screaming anymore, but pleading, quietly, her face wet. She was watching him, her eyes much too big for her face, and suddenly she looked surprised. He hoped Anders didn’t kill Riley. He spun around and for some reason couldn’t see him clearly enough, his vision going dark. He registered the swaying form of Drake hovering over him, pointing something at him, and hit the ground.
He woke up to Drake pouring tea into his mouth and making him swallow it. It tasted of some kind of herb he didn’t recognize. He hoped it was poisonous, remembering how Riley looked when Anders pummeled him at that tree, and the girl screaming, but Riley just taking it, looking at him, looking right at him until he finally couldn’t take it anymore and turned away from him.
He coughed and spat some of the liquid out, and sat up. Drake grabbed him roughly by his shirt and yanked him upright, and as soon as he was standing, slapped him hard on the face with his gigantic hand, making his ears ring.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Brody? How could you? You, of all people? Your best friend in the whole world, you son of a bitch. I hope he does to you what you had done to him when he wakes up, or worse. I’d shoot you right now if I could, Brody, I swear I would, and I’ve never shot anybody, before that animal you brought here, and even that was an accident. The damn dial must have moved to lethal in my backpack. So in a way, you are lucky I didn’t shoot you first,” he was shaking him roughly, screaming the words at him. He’d never heard Drake scream at anyone before, and then his voice went all quiet, “a part of me wishes I had, Brody, wishes I killed you, instead of that other kid, if only so Riley never had to look at you again.”
He looked down, hoping again that whatever was in that thermos would kill him, “I wish you had too, Drake.”
Drake looked at him strangely at that, as if trying to make sense of it.
“Put your hands behind your back, Brody.”
He did, and he felt Drake put a metal tie around his wrists, pulling it tighter than he needed to, tight enough to hurt even when he wasn’t moving his hands. He let him push him over to a tree, and sit him against it, and then wrap long straps around his whole body so he could barely breathe. He didn’t mind any of it. Drake was right to be furious with him. They all were. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, not wanting to see the anger and disgust on Drake’s face.
He must have dozed off again. He felt Drake shaking him awake, not too gently, and then pulling him up, and marching him towards the fire. He hoped Riley would just shoot him. There wasn’t anything he could do about Trina now. Maybe they would let her go anyway, after they learned that he died trying to capture one of the replenishers. He didn’t know if they would, hadn’t thought of it like that before. Maybe that would be enough. His crew would eventually stop with the holding pattern and get the other one safely to one of those compounds they kept them in. That ought to count for something with the Alliance. Only he couldn’t tell his crew what his plan was, or why he was hunting this group through the woods for all these days. They didn’t know anything about Trina and the deal he made with Hassinger.
He saw the bandages around Riley’s chest and the bruises on his face long before Drake dropped him to his knees in front of him. And then the girl needing to help him up, him swaying like that, he knew how badly Anders hurt him, only it wasn’t really Anders. It was him that did it with someone else’s hands. But he was still glad Anders was dead now, or he’d try to kill him himself. He didn’t understand at first why Riley had Drake and the girl leave like that, and why he was now handing him the gun, asking him to shoot him. It didn’t make any sense for the longest time. And then it did. Riley really thought he wanted him dead. And he couldn’t blame him for thinking it after the way he was with him. Riley, too, was making a deal for the people he loved, his life for Ella’s and the other girl.
And he wished he could do this for him, keep everyone safe, and suddenly, he had the makings of a plan in his head that wasn’t there just a moment before. He just had to get Riley angry enough at him to pull the trigger. Ella and the other girl were his only leverage now. He could trade on that for Trina’s life. He couldn’t think of a single reason for them to hold her if he were gone… He just hoped he could get Riley to do what he needed him to do. So when they got to the cave, he told him that he really wished him dead, and he could tell from the way he looked at him that he believed him.
Only he didn’t, in a million years, expect him to still volunteer to let him kill him on the off chance they got the girls back. It didn’t make sense. He was doing this for him, and it hurt worse than anything to shake his hand after that, and him putting the blanket down for him was too much. It made him feel every kind of wrong just looking at it. He couldn’t sleep anyway, not now, not after what he did to his friend. So he sat there for the longest time, with his eyes closed, trying to find just the right things to say to make it easy for him to pull the trigger….
…end of preview
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