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  1. zanoGreen

    The Final Straw

    I ran into the dining room to see Alex covered in blood, but it wasn’t hers. It was Cody's. "Cody! Cody!" She shrieked through tears, shaking his limp body on the floor. My heart plummeted as I ran over and dropped to my knees beside him. I felt for a pulse, there was nothing. "No-no-no-no." I had a panicked tone to my voice and immediately started doing compressions, hoping in some glimmer of hope he would come back. "C'mon Cody!" I yelled, as if somehow he would hear me. "Elliott…" Riley's voice broke as he came to stand behind me. "I'm not giving up on him!" I shouted, continuing to pump on his chest. Alex was crying, something of a rarity, which made me only want to work harder to save him. Cody's usually tan complexion had started to turn an awful shade of gray, signaling that he was getting further and further away from the point of return. I growled out of anger and closed my fist, slamming it down on his chest with all my might. "C'mon!" I slammed my fist against his chest again. "Come," another thump. "On!" I slammed my fist down on his chest one final time and then by some miracle Cody drew in a ragged breath, before beginning to cough and sputter. A wave of relief washed over me as the color slowly started to return to his cheeks. "Oh thank god!" Alex cried. We weren't out of the woods yet, I needed a hard flat surface so I could work on him and stop the bleeding. I eyed the dining room table, it was better than nothing. "Help me get him on the table!" I commanded the others. Riley and Jon stepped in immediately and we scooped Cody off the floor and set him on the table, Cody crying out in pain. I assessed the damage and found two bullet holes in his shirt, blood saturating the area around them. I stuck my fingers in one of the holes and ripped his shirt clean down the front to expose the wounds. There they were, clear as day, two bullet wounds. One just to the right of his naval, the other about two inches off to the left. "Roll him." I barked at Riley and Jon who grabbed Cody and rolled him to his side. He cried out in pain again and Alex tried consoling him, which only seemed to work slightly. I gave a sigh of relief as I saw two exit wounds on his back. "Through and through, that makes this easier." I stated as Jon and Riley rolled him back softly. I examined the front of the wounds and they were bleeding profusely. I estimated he lost about four liters of blood judging by what was on the floor, and what Alex was currently wearing. He would need a transfusion if he was going to make it through this. But first I needed to stop the bleeding. I grabbed Cody's shirt and held it over the wounds, he yelped at the pressure but I kept holding it. I looked around the room and made eye contact with Ryan, who was pacing nervously, no doubt worried about Cody. "I need my bag." I urged. He gave me a quick nod and disappeared. I turned my attention back to Cody who was looking at me, his eyes pleading for me to help him. His body uncontrollably shivering as a sweat broke out across his body. Shock was beginning to set in. "Hang in there buddy, I'm gonna fix you. I got you." I reassured him, even though there was a part of me that didn't know if I could. All I knew was that I had to keep him fighting. Cody's breathing was labored and ragged, and his color was starting to fade again. He was losing too much blood, if I didn't get my bag soon then I was going to lose him. I was relieved when I heard Ryan's boots approaching, my bag in his hand and a look of urgency on his face. "I need clamps, sterile water and gauze. Take one of the large irrigation syringes and fill it with the water." I ordered. Ryan gave me an understanding nod and set the bag on the table. He withdrew the needed supplies and immediately got to work with the water and the syringe. When he was done I grabbed Jon's hand in mine and placed it on Cody's shirt. "Both hands," I grabbed his other hand and placed it where mine were. "Hold pressure, hard, it's the only thing keeping him from bleeding out." I explained. Jon gave me a nod that he understood, a look of fear in his eyes at the situation. I exposed one of the wounds, and held my hand out. Ryan must've read my mind because, before I could ask, the large syringe was in my hand. "Hold him still… He's gonna fight." I gave them all a stern look and they nodded. Ryan immediately went for his legs and Riley his arms, while Jon leaned against Cody's torso to help as much as he could. I began squirting the wound with the sterile water and Cody immediately started writhing, crying out in pain. "Shh-shh-shh it's okay Cody, it'll be over soon." Alex cooed, stroking her fingers through his hair. I saw where the blood was coming from, one of the bullets hit a vessel and it was hemorrhaging blood. "Clamps." I held out a hand and felt the cool metal almost immediately make contact with my palm. I stuffed the clamps in the bullet hole and clamped down on the vessel to stop the bleeding. It would work for now, but I would need to stitch it later. "Okay, next one." I pushed Jon's big hands out of the way to expose the next bullet hole, this one thankfully not bleeding as profusely. I irrigated the wound causing Cody to cry out again, this time louder. Alex tried consoling him but it didn't work, and then he got quiet, body going limp. "Oh my god is he-" Alex shrieked. I checked his pulse and sighed, it was still there, faint but still there. "He just passed out." I stated, clamping off the second bleed. The shrill sound of sirens had us whipping our heads in the direction of the front of the house. No doubt the police were called because of all the gunfire. They sounded far away though, which gave us a slight head start. "We need to get out of here." Jon had a panicked tone to his voice. "We don't have a car, and we're sure as hell not leaving Cody behind." Riley replied. What the hell were we going to do? We couldn't just leave him here, but we also couldn't move very fast if we carried him. "We have a car!" Alex's eyes were wide from the realization as we turned to face her with confused expressions. "It was Cody's Uncle's. He didn't want to get rid of it." She added in a hurried tone. We didn't have time to debate it as the sirens drew nearer. I pointed to the coffee table in the living room and made eye contact with Jon and Riley. "Break the legs off and we'll use it to carry him out." I ordered. They both nodded and went into the living room to do their task while I started shoving supplies back into my bag. "Alex, where's the car?" I asked. "In the garage out by the alley." She replied. "Go get it ready, we'll meet you in the alley." Alex hesitated for a second, giving Cody a longing look. I could tell she didn't want to leave his side, but we needed to move. "He'll be fine." I rested my hand on her shoulder. She gave me a slow nod and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand before rushing off towards the back of the house. Riley and Jon stumbled into the dining room with the coffee table, coming over to the dining table and holding it level with the surface. "Ryan-" "I got you." Ryan interjected, grabbing Cody behind the knees. I grabbed Cody underneath the arms and we heaved him onto the other surface, which was just barely large enough for his slim frame. "Alex is gonna meet us in the alley." I stated as I began rounding up my supplies and any necessary equipment we needed. "Aren't you coming?" Riley asked with a wide eyed expression. "I'll meet you out there, now go!" I ordered. He nodded and him and Jon made their way towards the kitchen with an unconscious Cody. Ryan however stood behind, watching me flit back and forth, rounding things up. "C'mon we gotta go." Ryan stated impatiently. Once I was sure I had everything that was necessary we ran out of the back of the house and made our way towards a pair of headlights in the alley. The "car" that Alex was talking about was more of a truck then a car, and it was old, if I had to guess maybe a mid sixties. It was a faded red color that looked more like a burnt orange and there was a large crack running across the top of the windshield. "Oh my god... It's a nineteen sixty-three Chevy C-ten. My brother had one of these!" Ryan's expression was full of wonder as he gazed open mouthed at the truck. "You can take a trip down memory lane later, we gotta go!" I hissed and Ryan nodded, jumping into the front seat next to Jon. I noticed Alex and Riley in the bed of the truck, I gave her a confused look as I climbed over the side and settled in next to Cody. “I thought you were driving?” I asked. "Jon says he knows somewhere we can go." Alex answered with an annoyed tone. The truck pulled away from the back of the house with a loud rumble, the shocks creaking as we went over potholes in the ground. What place was this and how did we know that this new place would be any safer? I was still trying to find a way to trust Jon after finding out that he had been working for The Order this whole time, how did I know he wasn’t leading us to something sinister. We finally pulled out onto a paved road and began heading north, both my head and ass thankful for the lack of bumps bouncing us around the bed. Looking in the direction of Cody's house I could see the red and blue lights of cop cars and emergency vehicles, casting their glow over the street and roofs of the houses. I sighed and relaxed my head against the back window, we were home free, for now. "Did he say exactly where we were going?" I asked Riley and Alex. They both shook their heads at me and I looked over my shoulder, knocking on the back window. Ryan shoved the tiny window open and gave me an expectant look. "Where are we going?" I asked Jon. He paused for a second, a nervous look splitting across his face. "San Marino." "San Marino?" I questioned. "Don't." He said before I could speak another word. "Jon." I let out a sigh. "I know what you're gonna say, but it'll be fine. They haven't been home in months." Jon argued, his brows furrowing. "Someone wanna clue me in here." Ryan asked with raised eyebrows. Jon let out a huff of air, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. "It's… My parents house." He grumbled. Ryan shook his head. "We can't go there, they'll have your parents address on file.” Jon shook his head this time, turning his gaze on Ryan. "My parents and I haven't talked in over a decade, they're not even on my file." "How are they not on your file, their your parents?" Ryan asked. I knew why, but I wasn't going to spill the beans. It was Jon's story to tell, no one else's. I placed a hand on Ryan's shoulder and he gave me a questioning look. "It'll be fine." I stated. Ryan leaned towards me. “I don't trust him." He spoke in a hushed tone. "Then trust me instead." I countered. Ryan scrunched up his face in thought, clearly at odds with himself. “We need to get somewhere quickly so that I can work on Cody. If I don’t, then we might lose him.” I urged, hoping he would sway in my favor. Ryan bit his bottom lip and readjusted his baseball cap with a frustrated noise. He finally looked at me and gave me a nod before turning his gaze towards Jon. "Okay. San Marino it is then." He spoke in a stiff tone. I wasn't about to complain, it was better than nothing and certainly better than what we had just left behind. I turned back around to tend to Cody, who was starting to stir slightly. "Wha-" I cut him off by placing a hand on his shoulder and forcing him back down which made him wince from the pain. "Save your energy, I still have to fix you up but we had to move.” "Alex?" He croaked, ignoring my orders. Stubborn little shit. "I'm here." She smiled at him through misty eyes. "You 'kay?" He asked through garbled speech. Typical Cody, he's the one with two bullet holes and blood loss, yet he's more concerned about everyone else. "I'm fine, don't worry about me,” She stroked his cheek gently and he smiled softly at the touch. “Now listen to Elliott and save your strength." She commanded in a kind tone. "Bossy." He mumbled back. "You know it." She whispered back to him. “Just hang in there buddy.” I urged. I checked Cody's vitals as he drifted back off to sleep. He was surprisingly stable since I clamped the bleeders. But he wasn't out of the woods yet, and those clamps couldn't stay in forever. I've performed trauma procedures in the field plenty of times, so this wasn't anything out of my realm. However this was Cody. The kid I taught how to do his first stitch, who I stayed up late with to study for his exams, who I taught how to flirt with girls. He was the little brother I wish I had growing up. "He's gonna be okay. He has to be okay." I reassured myself. After about twenty minutes of driving, and a really sore ass later, we pulled off the main stretch of road and began driving down a long and narrow driveway. It was lined with palm trees, some of them tall, some of them short and some beautiful tropical flowers. After driving a few yards the driveway opened up to reveal a large and brightly lit house. The house was more like a mansion, it was a gorgeous two story, modern mission style home. Light tan stucco siding coated its exterior, and a red clay tile roof sat comfortably on top. Jutting out of the left corner was a circular turret, lined with floor to ceiling windows. The front doorstep was fairly deep and tall with a wrought iron glass door, a large window above that, and a sturdy metal chandelier hanging down, showering the doorstep in an inviting glow. We pulled up in front of two large garage doors at the side of the house and came to a slow halt. Jon killed the engine before stepping out of the truck and coming around towards the tailgate. "This is where you grew up?" Riley asked in an astonished tone. "Unfortunately." Jon grumbled, dropping the tailgate. He grabbed the surface Cody was lying on, but I stopped him and grabbed it in his place. "Here let me, that way you can get us in." I explained. Jon nodded and released his grip. "Let's go through the back door. I know the code." He stated, leading us toward a tall wooden gate just to the right of the garage door we parked in front of. "You never told us you were rich." Riley stated, still taken aback by the beauty of the house. "I'm not rich. My parents are." Jon growled, apparently there was some tension behind that subject. Alex opened the tall wooden gate and held it open so we could pass through, Ryan closed the gate with a soft click and then followed us down a narrow cobblestone path, lined with more flowers and palm bushes. The path opened up to a large outdoor space, most of it clad in the same cobblestone the path was made out of. An infinity pool sloshed around in the center with a hot tub nestled in the far corner. There was a pizza oven settled near the back porch and a gas fire pit which was surrounded by teak wood chairs with comfy white cushions. It was a beautiful space and screamed the typical Southern California style. As we walked along the pool edge around a few teak wood chaise lounges, strings of garden lights flicked on, which had us all on high alert. "It's okay, they're automatic." Jon stated, not paying any mind to them as he continued leading us towards the back door. “Riley move, you can gawk later.” I urged, pushing on the surface and nudging him forward slightly. He snapped out of his trance and looked over his shoulder at me. “Sorry.” Jon made it to the back door first, a set of large glass French doors, big enough for even the tallest person to step through. He began typing a code into the touchpad which emitted little beeps at every press. When he was finished there was a grinding sound of a deadbolt sliding and then a beeping noise which indicated the door was unlocked. He pushed the door open and we all rushed inside, thankful to be under another roof again. The inside of the house was even more gorgeous than the outside, which I didn't think was possible. The walls were off white, and the floor was a dark hardwood. There were bronze, mission style light fixtures hanging from the tall ceilings which were lined with dark wood beams. The furniture was covered with soft white sheets, my guess was to protect from dust while the house stayed vacant for an unknown amount of time. “I have to disable the alarm, I’ll be right back.” Jon explained before walking off and disappearing into a tall archway on the opposite side of the living room. “Dude, is Jon a trust fund brat and we haven’t known this entire time?” Riley was looking around the living in awe. “Riley, focus.” I ordered, trying to steer off this delicate topic. “I’m just saying-” Riley stopped short as the living room lights faded in and Jon came waltzing back in through the archway. “C’mon,” He waved an arm for us to follow. “My dad has a workbench in the basement. You should be able to work on Cody there.” Anything that was waist level would be good. If I had to kneel I was going to kill my back. I estimated this procedure would probably take an hour, barring no complications. He led us over to a door just off the living room, which had a wide set of stairs on the other side. He led us down the stairs, Riley and I being careful not to drop Cody or worse, miss a step. We reached the bottom of the stairs and what I saw was not the typical basement I was used to. It looked like something out of a science fiction film. Everything was modern, and sleek, with its shiny surfaces glinting in the light. Everything from the floor, to the walls, and even the pencils looked clean, with us being the only dirty objects in the room. Jon ushered us over to a workbench, which I was pleased to see was waist high, and he and Ryan helped move Cody onto the workbench. Cody stirred slightly with a soft whimper, but then was out again. “I gotta go make sure everything is okay upstairs, and then I gotta hide the truck,” He pointed to a small screen about a foot to my left. “If you need anything, use this. It will broadcast you to every unit in the house.” “I’m gonna stay with you.” Ryan stated, the tone in his voice making it clear there was no alternative. I nodded at him, a warm smile spreading across his face. “Riley will you help me?” Jon asked. “Sure thing boss.” Riley responded, leaning the broken coffee up against the wall. They both made their way up the stairs, leaving Ryan and I alone with Cody. I opened my bag and pulled out the needed supplies and a package of sterile gloves, sliding them over my hands with swift motions. “Are you oh negative?” I asked Ryan as I began stitching the vein back together in Cody’s abdomen. “I’m sorry?” Ryan asked with a hint of nervousness. “Your blood type? Are you oh negative?” I reiterated. “Oh! Yeah, I am actually… Why?” “He’s gonna need blood, oh negative is the best transfusion type.” I set my supplies down and grabbed an IV kit out of my bag. “Can I see your arm?” I asked. Ryan nodded and pulled his sleeve up, revealing plenty of suitable veins. I stuck the best one, a big vein running up the length of his forearm, and grabbed a blood bag out of my supplies. “Jeeze, how much stuff you got in there?” He asked with an astonished expression. “Anything I deem necessary.” I pulled out a red stress ball and slapped it in his hand with a smirk. He smiled back at me and began pumping the ball in his hand while scarlet red blood made its way down the IV line and into the bag. I turned my attention back to Cody’s wounds, I was almost finished stitching up the vein. Once I was done with that and I unclamped it to check my work, then I could close this hole up and move onto the next one. “How is he?” Ryan asked. I sighed and gave him a small smile. “He’s lucky, a few more inches and we would be burying him instead.” “The only thing that made him lucky was having you there.” He responded. A sheepish grin split across my face as I placed another stitch. Me? Cody would still be in the same state if it were another Doctor. I knew what Ryan meant and maybe I should just take the praise, but I was still struggling with that whole "pat on the back" thing. I placed the last stitch and eyed my work with critical detail. I didn’t want to unclamp this thing only to have one of the stitches break and have Cody bleed out. “Moment of truth.” I unclamped the vein and held my breath, waiting for any sign of leaking or if the stitches would hold. I exhaled once I saw the vein begin to do its job again, no signs of leaking or the stitches failing. “Perfect.” I whispered with a smile. I poured some QuickClot in his wound and watched as the powdery substance hardened, sealing the wound. If I could meet the person who invented this stuff I would kiss them, it was such a lifesaver out in the field. "I think the blood is done." Ryan gestured towards the bag. "Yep, it is." I confirmed, disconnecting the IV line and hanging the blood from a hook above the workbench. I connected the line to Cody's IV and released the clamp, letting the blood flow into him. "Thank you." I gave Ryan a smile. He smiled back at me and shrugged his shoulders. "Anything for you, and Cody." My cheeks flushed at that and I began working on the second bullet hole, this one not as extensive so I didn't think it would take me long. God I needed a shower, and sleep, and something to eat. But as I thought about the location of the bomb, sleep and a shower seemed less important. Riley was right about one thing, we needed to act fast. We didn't know when they were going to decide to detonate the bomb and that unsettled me. I tried to put myself in the General's shoes. If I were the General, when would be the perfect time to strike? I shook the distracting thoughts from my head. I needed to concentrate on the here and now, and right now Cody needed me at my best. I finished up the second bullet hole and then placed some gauze pads over Cody's wounds, taping them down to keep them secure. I pulled off my gloves and wiped my forehead with the back of my forearm. "That was quick." Ryan pointed out. "Was it? It seemed like forever to me." I admitted. "It was only an hour." He gave me an amused expression. I heard footsteps coming down the stairs and I looked over to see Riley, Jon, and Alex walk into the room, Alex looking like she was about to bite her lip off from anxiety. "How is he?" She asked nervously. "He's out of the woods, for now." I informed her with a sigh. She stepped around me so that she could get a better look at him, and in that moment I could see all the worry and anxiety roll off her shoulders. She turned towards me and wrapped her arms around me, pulling me into a hug. "Thank you." Her voice broke. I didn't say anything, I just returned the hug. Being a Doctor I was always in this situation, a loved one hugging me, tears of relief coming out of their eyes as they thanked me profusely. But I didn't feel like I needed a thanks for this, I was saving Cody for myself just as much as for the others. "Can you guys help me get him upstairs? He needs something softer to lay on than this workbench." I asked. "Sure thing." Riley volunteered, and he and Jon grabbed the coffee table and together we all lifted Cody onto it. “He’s out cold.” Alex pointed out as we began walking up the basement stairs. “I gave him a mild sedative to help him sleep.” I explained. Alex nodded her head. “Probably for the best.” We entered the living room and all the white sheets that were once covering various pieces of furniture were all gone. Instead they revealed two brown leather oversized armchairs, a brown leather sectional with a chaise lounge attachment, and a dark wood coffee table to match. I stared, taking in the space as Jon led us through the tall archway that he had gone through earlier. The room on the other side was revealed to be the entryway. It was tall and circular, with high walls and a wide staircase that hugged up against the wall. As we approached the first stair I noticed that it was adorned with colorful tiles with intricate details carved into them. They transitioned from Blue to Red and Green all the way to the top If we weren't in LA I would have sworn we were in Spain with the look and feel of this house. Everything was colorful, and decorated in a way that made it feel warm and welcoming. "Are you hispanic?" Riley asked as we climbed the staircase slowly. "No, I'm Greek dude,” Jon’s tone was taken aback slightly. “My parents just really love the Spanish style, that’s actually where they are right now." “I thought you don’t talk to your parents?” Ryan asked suspiciously. “My Uncles still talk to them from time to time.” Jon replied stiffly. We reached the top of the stairs and Jon led us down the hall and into a large bedroom, where a rather large and comfy king size bed sat. The bed was adorned in a teal colored quilt, and there were enough pillows on the bed to make a kid's wildest pillow fort dreams come true. "Careful." I urged as we lifted Cody off the surface and onto the comfy bed. I checked the bandages and made sure there wasn't too much bleeding. They were holding up good, for now. I trusted my work, but everybody was different in how their bodies reacted to trauma. Once I was satisfied with my assessment I stood up and made eye contact with the rest of the team, Alex sitting on the side of the bed holding Cody’s hand. “Team meeting, now.” My voice came out a little more stern then I wanted, and they all gave me confused looks as I brushed past them towards the hallway. I wasn’t upset with the team, not by a long shot. I was more upset at the fact that the General attempted to have us killed, and almost succeeded with one of us. I was tired of playing games and playing it safe. I wanted him to pay for what he did. We all filed into the living room and they each took a seat. Jon in an armchair, and Alex perched on the chaise lounge portion of the sectional that Ryan and Riley sank back into. I stood in front of them, not exactly sure what to say. My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest from the anxiety I was feeling. But I pushed through it. “Listen, Ell… If this has anything to do with what I said-” Riley started, but I cut him off. “No, it has nothing to do with that.” My tone was flat and somewhat emotionless as I spoke. As much as I wanted to lay into him about what he said back at Cody’s, I just didn’t have the energy or the drive to go there right now. I only wanted to focus on one thing, and that was taking the General down. “I know we're all tired, and we're worried about Cody. But we need to get back on track.” I explained. “Agreed.” Riley nodded his head. “Wait. Do you think he should be here?” Ryan jabbed his thumb at Jon. “Still don’t trust me huh?” Jon grumbled with an amused expression. “You were working with The Order. What would you think if the roles were reversed?” Ryan had an annoyed tone to his voice. “I don’t have any allegiance to The Order anymore.” Jon shook his head intently. “So you say.” “Enough.” I said sternly and they both turned their gazes towards me. I could understand Ryan’s mistrust in Jon, even I had moments where I didn’t think Jon was being entirely fothrite. But Something inside told me that we needed him, just as much as he needed us. “He needs to prove himself, and the only way he’s gonna be able to do that is by working with us. Besides, we need all the help we can get right now.” I replied. Ryan gave a reluctant nod and looked over at Jon. “I’ve got my eye on you.” “Promise?” Jon responded with a wink and a wolfish grinto match. Ryan scoffed in response and turned his attention back to me. "We need to come up with a plan on how we're going to get the bomb." I stated, steering the conversation back to the task at hand. "Well everyone knows my idea." Riley boasted, placing his hands behind his head and kicking his feet up. "Yeah and apart from that being completely moronic, it's also suicide." Alex retorted. "I'm all ears for any other plans." I announced. There was silence as everyone thought for a moment. “What about Alex?” Ryan inquired. “What about me?” She responded with a perplexed expression. “Well, what if you use your tech mojo to get us eyes on the warehouse. Then we can at least see how many soldiers were up against, and what their packing.” “Well that would be a good idea. But I don’t have any of my tech, it was all destroyed in the shooting.” “I got you covered.” Jon commented nonchalantly. Alex gave a snicker and shook her head. “No offense, but no ordinary tablet or computer is going to work.” “Obviously you don’t know who my mother is.” He responded with an amused expression. There was another silence as everyone gave him pointed looks, waiting expectantly for him to explain. I knew about Jon's family, hell I was one of the few people that did. The amount of money his family was worth was enough to make even Bill Gates' kids gawk. “Well… Don’t leave us hanging.” Riley asked impatiently. He let out a frustrated sigh. “My mother is Alethea Stavros…” Alex’s eyes got wide at that and she turned her full attention on Jon. “Wait… Your mom is the Alethea Stavros?” Jon nodded his head, a bright flush running up into his cheeks. "Oh my god, this is crazy! Your mom is one of my idols. She's amazing!" Alex looked about as excited as a kid in a toy store. “Does someone have a girl crush?” Riley smirked, and Alex shot him a death glare. "Whose Alethea Stavros?" Ryan asked. Alex gave him a look like he just slapped her across the face. "Whose-Alethea Stavros is one of the most prominent female icons of our generation. She founded Stavros Technologies and she's made Forbes top ten most powerful women like, three years in a row now. She's a legend." "If that's the case what are you doing slumming it with the Army? You should be sippin Mai Tai's on a private yacht somewhere." Riley threw at Jon in a joking manner. "Guys…" I trailed off with a sigh. I didn't want Jon to have to explain to the group why he was in the Army and why he wasn't taking advantage of his family fortune. "It's okay Elliott. I don't want to hide it, not if I'm trying to earn your guy's trust." Jon replied in a somber tone. "That's still to be decided." Ryan interjected. I cocked an eyebrow at him and an apologetic look split across his face. I wasn't expecting him to trust Jon immediately, but he also didn't need to keep reminding him. "I left home when I was sixteen and legally emancipated myself. That's why I'm in the Army and not “sipping Mai Tai's on a private yacht.”" He gave Riley a pointed look. "But why?" Alex asked in disbelief. "My Dad… After I came out he wanted to send me to some gay conversion camp to set me straight, but my Mom wasn't for that, so… She sent me to go live with her brother and his husband in Venice." "So why doesn't she reach out and try to maintain contact?" Ryan probed, his eyebrows as furrowed as I’ve ever seen them. Jon paused for a second, a tortured expression splitting across his perfect features. "My Dad… He forbids it. He told her that if she tried to reach out, or help me in any way, then he would tank the company, her reputation, and everything she worked so hard for would be ruined." "Wow… Your Dad sounds like a real prick." Riley replied. Jon scoffed. "Yeah, he is." "Wait," Alex cut in, her face screwed up with confusion. "How could he tank your mom's company? It's not his company." "My father invested in her company, so he owns shares in it. If he were to pull out then the other investors would follow suit. He's very influential in the business world." Jon explained which made Alex shake her head in disbelief "It's not like she hasn't tried though," He continued. "When I turned eighteen she reached out and we talked, and every now and then I'll get letters and money from her. But I could care less about the money." "I'm… I'm sorry Jon." Ryan spoke, but I could tell from his tone and expression that he wasn't just sorry about the information he had heard, and I think Jon picked up on that as well. “I forget how lucky I am to have an accepting family. I can’t imagine what it must feel like for Elliott and you.” He had a pained expression as he spoke. "It's fine," Jon gave him a reassuring look. "But that's why it's safe for us here. To the government I've been on my own since I was a teenager. They wouldn't think to look for us here." "It makes sense." Riley stated. "So that's how you were able to get the information we needed to find the truck." Ryan grinned as the pieces began to file into place for him. "Like mother like son I guess." Jon smiled back. Alex stood up with an excited look on her face. "Well… Let's go then. I can't wait to be in the same room where Alethea Stavros invented the Quantum Computer Chip." "Sorry to burst your bubble," Jon stood up and stepped around to the back of the chair, leaning against it. "She invented that at her lab." "Don't harsh my mellow man, I was just starting to like you." Jon chuckled, pushing himself away from the chair, and led her towards the archway that went to the front entry. I sat down on the coffee table and buried my face in my hands. It had been such a long day, and I was exhausted. But no matter how exhausted I was I couldn't let it take over. I was tired of fighting, tired of being hunted, it made my desk back at Medical seem a lot more appealing. I just had to keep going. "Is everything okay?" Riley asked, making me lift my head up. He was staring at me, those knowing, piercing blue eyes staring right through me. "Yeah, just exhausted is all." It was half true, but I wasn't going to unload on him. Riley glanced over at Ryan who made eye contact with him. I couldn't see the face Riley made but a wide eyed look spread across Ryan's face and he jumped up from the couch. "Coffee! I'm gonna make coffee, y'all want some?" He gestured to both of us. We nodded our heads and he turned around, all but running from the room in the direction I'm sure he hoped was the kitchen. Once he was out of earshot Riley turned his gaze back to me, this time he had an apologetic look and I immediately knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth. "Look-" "Don't," I cut him off, raising my hand. "It's fine. Everything is fine." I lied. He shook his head with downcast eyes. "No, it's not. I didn't even mean what I said." "You never say anything you don't mean." This I knew about Riley Monroe, he always spoke his mind, no matter how blunt or scarring it could be. It was both refreshing and cruel. He nodded his head before continuing. "True, but it shouldn't have been said." I gave him a curt nod. "That we can both agree on." He bit his bottom lip nervously and dropped his gaze slightly. "It's just… Ever since Gray stayed behind in San Francisco I've been so… Angry," His voice broke slightly at that word. "I finally got him, got my guy, and he just… Left me." I was sympathetic with how he felt, I couldn't imagine how I would feel if Ryan just up and decided to stay behind in a war torn city long forgotten. But at the same time, the things he said to me hurt as well, and the fact that he dragged Ryan into it hurt all the more. "Why do you blame me? You know it's not my fault." I asked. "I know," He wiped his eyes and sniffled slightly. "I figured it would be easier to blame you than him. If I blamed Gray, then I was scared that I would hate him, and I don't wanna hate him." That actually made sense to me, you never want to hate the people you love. You want to love them regardless of their faults and their questionable actions. "Riley… You know why he had to stay behind. It was his family, the people he had been searching for for years." My tone was calm and even as I spoke, trying to wrap him up in a cocoon of warm words. "Then why not let me stay too, I could have stayed." He pleaded. I shook my head sternly at that. "He was looking out for you. He knew odds were that he would be labeled as a deserter, and he didn't want to do that to you." "Well if he really loved me-" "Hey! Don't do that," I cut him off with a stern tone. "He does love you… Sometimes we have to do things for the people we love that don't make sense to the other. But trust me when I tell you this. He did it out of love for you, to protect you." Riley gave a slow nod and brought his gaze back up to meet mine. His blue eyes shone even brighter when glazed with tears, and his pale complexion was flushed from holding back what I assumed was a reservoir full of grief. "I really am sorry Elliott." His bottom lip trembled. "I know," I nodded my head in understanding. "Now shut up and come here." I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him into a hug. His shoulders began to shake, softly at first, then stronger as the dam broke and all that reservoir of grief came flooding out. I had never actually seen Riley cry, he was always good at burying his emotions, and by the sounds of things he was letting a lot out. However I was glad, because at least I was there to help him repair the dam after the flooding was over, and isn't that what best friends are for? I saw Ryan appear in the living room with three mugs in hand, but he stopped short when he saw Riley and I. "I'll come back." He mouthed. I gave him a warm smile which he returned, as he backed out of the room and disappeared on the other side of the archway he came through. "Ryan just saw me crying didn’t he?" Riley croaked. "No, no he didn't." I replied enthusiastically. "You're a horrible liar." He laughed through his tears which made me laugh in return, and before I knew it we were both chuckling. It was nice to laugh with him, hell, it was nice to laugh in general. With everything that was going on, I had forgotten the last time I had genuinely laughed. Riley broke away from the hug and wiped his eyes, which were bloodshot, and let out a groan. "Ughh… I hate crying." "That's good… Because you're a really ugly crier." I smirked at him. "Hey!" He punched me in the arm and we both laughed. "Hey," I had a serious tone to my voice. "Don't worry, we'll get Gray back." Riley nodded his head and his lips turned up into a comfy smile. "I know we will." "I see the best friends made up." Ryan made his way back into the room once he felt it was safe to do so. "Yeah… Sorry you had to see that." Riley's face flushed with embarrassment as Ryan handed him a mug. "Eh it's all good. Everyone needs a good cry every now and then." He had a grin on his face as he sat down on the couch. He looked over at Riley and his brows furrowed. "Wow… Elliott's right you are an ugly crier." Ryan and I snorted and began laughing, as Riley flashed us both an icy stare over the rim of his mug. "You guys suck." The night seemed to go by slow as we waited for any news from Alex. She locked herself in Alethea's office, saying that she didn't want to be disturbed and that she needed to concentrate, which all of us obliged. If it got her to work faster, then I was all for it. I checked on Cody multiple times to see how he was doing. He was holding steady and still not conscious, though with how much sedatives I gave him I would be surprised if he woke up by the time we had to leave. Ryan, Riley and Jon lounged in the living room watching the news. No surprise that the LAPD was still looking for us. They found Cody's Jeep in the parking garage where we had left it, however they didn't have any leads which was music to my ears. If they didn’t have any leads then I figured maybe the military didn’t either, or maybe that was just wishful thinking. One AM turned into three AM, and we were all starting to get antsy. It never took Alex this long to hack into systems. Maybe it was nerves? Maybe it was- "Guys!" She jogged into the living room with an excited look on her face. We all looked at her hopefully, and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest in anticipation. "I'm in." She proclaimed. If there was a choir in the room I'm sure they would be singing Hallelujah. We all jumped to our feet and followed her as she led us back to the office. "I was trying to get images off the CCTV cameras, but I couldn't pull anything off that was useful to us. Then I got to thinking." We walked into the office, or maybe I should say command center. Two large flat screen monitors were mounted to the wall opposite the door. In the center of the room was a metal desk with a glass top that had two more monitors settled next to each other. Alex plopped down in the comfy computer chair and began typing away. "Last year Stavros Tech launched two satellites into low earth orbit for their space program. They partnered with the Department of Defense and Homeland Security so that the government could more closely monitor terrorist organizations on our own soil." I stared in awe as she pulled up satellite feeds of the city. “Are these live?” Ryan asked in disbelief. Alex nodded gleefully. “Yep, but that’s not all they can do.” She started typing on the keyboard and one of the screens enhanced onto our location. It was so close that you could make out the structure of the house, and standing in our exact spot within the structure were five, red and blotchy figures with yellow fringe along the outside. Heat Signatures. I stepped to the right waving my arm in the air, and one of the corresponding blobs mimicked my movements. "Alex… This is brilliant!" I gawked. "Well the access was already there. I just had to hack into Alethea's servers which, I gotta say, even impressed myself." Jon chuckled. "I guess my Mom's finally met her match… Don't tell her I told you that." Jon said in a nervous tone. Alex gave a sheepish grin. "I'm no Alethea Stavros, but thanks." "So, what does this mean?" Riley questioned. "It means," Alex swiveled around the chair to face us, a cheerful expression set to her face. "We can go get our bomb."
  2. zanoGreen

    The Fugitives

    Thank you for the feedback.
  3. zanoGreen

    The Fugitives

    I knew this had to be General Dreyfus' doing, but even then it didn't minimize the shock of it all. We all sat around the living room, trying to figure out a way around this situation. None of us knew how we were going to warn government officials, let alone the President, about the inevitable dirty bomb. We had spent most of the morning trying to come up with an alternative plan. Since our faces were now plastered all over the news as wanted fugitives we couldn't exactly go to the capital about the General and The Order. Our only chance to thwart their plan now was to stop them ourselves without the government's help, and the only way to do that was to find out where the detonation was going to take place. "Alex?" I looked at her with a hopeful expression. She had been going through the information on her tablet, trying to figure out where the bomb was going to be deployed. She looked at me and shook her head, her expression grim. "Well, we're boned." Riley sat back in his chair, a defeated look set to his face. "Not yet." I rebuked, I refused to give up hope just yet. "How can they do this? We're not fugitives, we're the good guys!" Cody let out a frustrated growl and jumped up off the couch, pacing back and forth. "They're the government dude, they can do what they want." Riley replied. "Not to mention they have a high ranking General that's with the rebellion, and we're on his target list. He can spin anything and it would be his word against ours." Alex's jaw was set and her teeth were clenched, clearly enraged by the situation. "But still..." Cody trailed off, sighing in defeat as he sat back down on the couch next to Alex, who gave him a comforting pat on the knee. "Millions of people are gonna die… and there's nothing we can do about it." Riley had a sorrowful tone as he spoke. I looked around at them all, the atmosphere was as if we had already failed, as if the bomb was already detonated and raining the toxic virus down on the city. The vibe was more fit for a funeral than anything else, and I couldn't believe they were giving up so easily. "No," I said sharply and they looked over at me with puzzled expressions. "We are not giving up without a fight." "Ell…" Alex had a pained expression. "No! I refuse." I growled, turning my sights on Riley, who was staring down in his lap, picking at his cuticles. "Riley," He looked up at me with a vacant expression. "You are the best damn weapons expert at base. I've seen you disassemble and reassemble an AR-15 blindfolded." He gave me a cocky grin that reached his eyes. "Ryan… You're the best marksman on base. You always hit your target, even from a hundred yards away." Ryan rubbed the back of his neck in a shy manner before I turned towards Cody. "Cody, you're the heart of this team." Riley snorted and Alex shot him a death glare, daring him to say something, which he didn’t. "And Alex-" "Stop okay, I know what you're trying to do." She put a hand up, her tone as annoyed as her facial expression. I ignored her and continued. "You are the smartest person I know, you hacked Homeland Security with a laptop for chrissakes." "What's your point dude?" Riley asked with an annoyed tone. "My point is," I rolled my eyes. "We are the best damn team at Bakersfield. Hell, we're the fuckin' A-Team!" "The A-Team?" Cody scrunched his face up in confusion. "Really?" I stared at him dumbfoundedly. The other references I could understand, but The A-Team was widely known. “What are we supposed to do?” Alex asked, ignoring Cody's confusion. “Not wallow in self-pity, that’s for sure.” They all shuffled around uncomfortably at the realization. “C’mon guys,” I pointed towards the window. “There are millions of people out there that need us. We have come so far and we can't give up now.” There was a slight pause as they all thought, I was sure that there would be no bringing them back from this. But then- "Well, aside from that corny ass speech, I'm with you." Riley smirked from his overstuffed chair. I ignored his statement and beamed at him, happy to know that I at least got through to someone. "I guess I could try and find out who else is on General Dreyfus' payroll. Maybe I could do a reverse image search through the CCTV cameras, and see if maybe I can pinpoint a bomb location." Alex tapped her chin as she spoke, a far away expression on her face. "Perfect, do that." I urged. She stood up and wandered into the dining room, Cody following close behind. "Seriously, what's the A-Team?" He asked her as they both disappeared. "I'll do weapon inventory I guess. Maybe see what kind of explosives we got." Riley grumbled and hauled himself out of the chair, disappearing into the dining room with the others. I couldn't hide the smile from my face as I watched everyone go off to do their respective tasks. I had gotten through to them, which was something, even though I felt like we were royally screwed. "I can see why you're the leader now." Ryan spoke up behind me. I turned around to see him staring at me with adoring eyes, a small grin plastered on his face. "What do you mean?" I chuckled. "You inspire them." He remarked. His pride in me made my heart expand to new levels, making me feel a pride in myself that I hadn’t felt in years. "I'm just bringing out what's already there." I gave a modest reply and brushed past him towards the kitchen. "Are you always so modest?" He followed me. I chuckled as I poured another cup of coffee, this was definitely going to be a more-than-two-cups kind of morning, even though we were already heading close to noon. "I'm not being modest, just…. Humbled." I gave a lighthearted sigh. Ryan laughed and poured himself a cup of coffee. "I'm just sayin' you're kind of a badass, own it." "A badass?" I gave him an amused expression as I took a drink of my coffee. Badass wasn't on the list of what I thought my character traits were. In fact with my newfound anxiety, occasional panic attacks, and the night terrors, I felt like the least badass person in the group. Ryan gave me a compassionate smile before he spoke. "You have been through a lot recently. Most people would have packed up shop in the head, but not you. Even through the anxiety, the nightmares and the trauma you are still fighting. If that doesn't make someone a badass, I don't know what does." I gave him a sheepish grin and looked down into my coffee mug. Maybe he was right, maybe I did need to give myself more credit. It was never in my nature to give myself a "pat on the back" so to speak. Growing up we were taught that such behavior was obnoxious and not very likeable. Maybe my parents were wrong, which was believable considering the state of our relationship after my coming out. “Thank you.” I conceded, giving him a small smile. He just nodded his head and took another drink from his mug, clearly pleased with himself. My phone began vibrating in its usual pulse pattern it did when someone called. I pulled it out of my pocket and my muscles tensed, frozen in place. Ryan must have picked up on this because he was staring at me with a look of concern. "What is it? Something wrong?" I paused for a second staring at the phone screen, debating whether or not I should pick it up. "It's… Jon." There was an uncertainty in my voice as I spoke. Why would Jon be calling me? After what happened yesterday between us at the base I figured I would be the last person he would call. My phone buzzed in my hand again as I contemplated my next move. "Do you want me to answer it?" Ryan asked, catching onto my uncertainty. I shook my head and swiped my finger across the screen and placed it on speakerphone so Ryan could hear as well. "Hello." "MacArthur Park, northwest side of the lake, be there in one hour." Jon's voice echoed off the kitchen walls. "What for?" I asked. "I have some information that you may find useful." I looked at Ryan who gave me a disbelieving look, telling me that he didn't exactly buy it. "How do I know it's not a trap?" "You're just gonna have to trust me." I scoffed at his response. "Trust is earned, not given." "You trusted me before." He pointed out. "Or have you forgotten that we used to be friends?" I thought about that for a little bit. He was right, I had trusted him in the past and we were friends, not as close as Riley and I but friends nonetheless. If he were working with the General he would have to be one hell of an actor to pull the wool over my eyes. Despite my reservations about him, I didn't think he would be capable of what The Order had planned. Jon was always deep down a caring individual, a side of him that few people rarely got to see, a few being myself. "I'll be there." I replied stiffly, hanging up the phone. "Absolutely not." Alex placed her hands on her hips, face stern. I had explained the phone call I received from Jon to the others. Alex was clearly not in favor of the plan to meet up with him, but Riley, Ryan, and Cody hadn't given a response yet. "What's the worst that could happen?" "What's the worst…" She trailed off, scoffing at my nonchalant response. "I have to agree with Alex on this, it doesn't sound like a good idea." Cody chimed in. "Well, wait just a second…" Riley held out a hand and began rubbing his chin in a thoughtful manner. "No, there is nothing good that could come from this. For all we all know he could be working against us, trying to lure you out in the open." Alex argued. "That's why Riley and Ryan are coming with me, just in case." I pointed out. Alex shook her head, running her fingers through her copper colored hair out of frustration. "I think this may be legit. Doesn’t he work in cargo transport?" Riley gave me a pointed look at that last question. I nodded my head. "Yeah he does, he knows every shipment that comes and goes out of Bakersfield." "Then the information he has might be on a certain shipment that looks suspicious." Riley explained, looking hopefully over at Alex who was still wearing a stern expression. There was a long pause as everyone around the table thought about the plan. It was risky, that was obvious, but it could be the leg up we needed in trying to find the bomb. “Even if you do this-and I’m not saying you should… What would be the plan?” Her expression softened slightly, I could see that she was starting to lean in my favor. “There’s a parking garage across the street from the meeting spot. Riley will be on the lookout, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. Ryan will be with me as backup.” It was a short, sweet, and simple plan, one that I hoped would go accordingly. But if I learned anything from the past, it was to always have a contingency plan. “What if it goes sideways?” She narrowed her eyes at me. “Then we split up, and regroup here.” “Whoa, hold on there,” Riley cut in. “I don’t know if splitting up is such a good thing.” “He’s right, we’re stronger together, not alone.” Alex agreed. “Did you… Did you just agree with me?” Riley gave her a small grin. “Yeah yeah, don’t go getting used to it.” She rolled her eyes and the corner of her mouth twitched slightly. “We won’t be alone,” I steered the conversation back to the topic at hand. “We’ll have you.” “Come again?” Alex raised her eyebrows. “You have access to the CCTV cameras right?” She nodded her head in confirmation. “Then you’ll be our eyes in the sky as an extra precaution.” I replied with a confident tilt to my chin. She thought for a moment, her expression unreadable. I could only imagine the logistics and scenarios that were going through her head in that moment. Nevertheless she gave an agreeable nod and shrugged her shoulders, signaling that I had won her over with my plan. I gave myself an imaginary fist bump and an award winning smile. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea,” She stated in response to my smile. “But with me being your “eyes in the sky” so to speak. I guess I can get on board with it.” She flashed me a lopsided grin. I looked over at Riley and Ryan with a gleam in my eye. “You guys ready? Riley gave me a smirk. “I’m always ready.” “I’m driving.” Ryan staked his claim, grabbing the keys off the table. We turned around and began heading to the front door when Alex spoke up from her seat at the table. “Good luck… and come back.” She had a concerned expression on her face. We all nodded and I gave her a reassuring smile. “We’ll be back.” With that we stepped out of the house and began walking down the porch steps towards Cody’s Jeep. My mind was going through a million different scenarios, but the only one I wanted to focus on was the positive outcome. I was tired of everything working against us, and for the first time I felt like we got a much needed break. “Calm down Elliott, you haven’t even gotten to the meeting yet. For all you know it could be a bust.” I frowned at my internal thoughts as I slid into the passenger's seat. “What’s wrong?” Ryan asked as he fired up the Jeep and began backing out of the driveway. I shook my head and concentrated on the road in front of us. “Nothing important.” I didn’t want to burden Ryan with every single negative and cynical thought that crossed my mind. For all I knew this could go smoothly and according to plan, then what would all this cynicism be for? Ryan gave me a knowing look, the corners of his mouth raising slightly upward into a little grin. He didn’t push though, which I was thankful for, because then that would let me focus more on that beautifully positive outcome that I was hoping would happen. MacArthur Park was just west of Downtown, it was a fairly large park with a lake in the center and a mixture of birch and palm trees. The northwest side of the park was probably one of the most iconic spots in the city. The lake scene with the Los Angeles skyline in the distance was a widely photographed and recognizable spot, probably why Jon chose this spot to meet at. I slid my baseball cap on as we got out of the Jeep and kept my head low, trying to conceal my face. It was a futile effort, but you would be surprised at how much a hat can conceal someone's features. "This is crazy." Riley murmured as we crossed the street and headed into the park. "Well no one has stared at us yet so I would say we're good for now." Ryan replied. "Yeah, well it's only a matter of time before someone recognizes us." "Such the optimist." There was a smile in Ryan's voice. Riley grumbled something under his breath as we walked down the winding path towards the lake. We reached a fork in the path and Riley went left in the direction of the parking garage while Ryan and I continued towards the lake. As we walked I took in my surroundings, there were lots of people flitting this way and that, some talking on their phones, other’s playing with their kids in the playground. All of them were completely oblivious as to what was coming, blissfully unaware that rebels wanted to take them, and their city, out. We reached the meeting point and Ryan stepped in front of me, a questioning look on his face. "You ready?" I exhaled and looked across the lake towards the skyline. "As ready as I'm ever gonna be." I gave him a shaky smile. His expression turned serious and my heart dropped slightly, not looking forward to hearing what was going to come out of his mouth. "Listen… If shit goes sideways-" "It won't." “If it does,” He continued, ignoring my interruption. “I want you to take the Jeep, and get out of here.” I blinked at him, not sure if I was hearing him correctly. “If you think I’m gonna leave you and Riley behind, you are seriously senile.” I replied in disbelief. Ryan chuckled and shook his head. “I knew you were gonna say that.” “Then why would you even suggest it.” “Battle strategy one-oh-one... Take out the leader.” I scoffed and shook my head. “Yeah well, I’m not doing that so you can forget it.” There was a stubborn tilt to my chin as I spoke. He let out a frustrated growl and resituated his hat. “Do you always have to be so stubborn?” “Get used to it.” I replied, giving him a little smirk. Ryan however didn’t smile, instead he shook his head, staring at the ground and knocking the tip of his boot against a cement bench situated in front of us. I understood his reasoning, but I just couldn’t bring myself to agree with it. I couldn’t imagine leaving them both in a potentially dangerous situation, or a situation where they could both be captured. It went against everything that I stood for. “Heads up guys, we got a subject advancing on your location to the north.” Riley’s voice broke through the comms. I whipped my head in the direction of north and saw Jon walking in our direction. I let out a sigh of relief knowing that it was him and not someone else. A part of me wanted to trust Jon, but another part of me didn’t, thinking that maybe this was a setup. Since I didn’t see any military or police vehicles advancing on the park, I counted it as a win, for now. He made eye contact with me and his strides picked up slightly, becoming more purposeful. As he got closer Ryan inched towards me in a protective manner, his hand resting over the holster that contained his sidearm. Jon eyed his hand suspiciously and paused mid stride, a good four feet between the three of us. He held his hands out in a peaceful manner, his features unreadable. “I’m just gonna reach in my back pocket.” His tone was calm as he waited for approval from Ryan. “Nice and easy.” Ryan responded in a serious tone, his hand still resting on his sidearm. Jon reached slowly behind his right side and withdrew a folded manilla envelope from his back pocket, and held it out in front of him. Ryan closed the gap between the three of us, eyeing the envelope suspiciously before taking it and backing away till he was standing next to me. He handed the envelope to me, not taking his eyes off Jon who stood there, hands still raised slightly. The envelope was thin and light, its contents a mystery that I desperately wanted to uncover. "Can I lower my hands now?" Jon asked. "Just keep 'em where we can see 'em." Ryan warned. "Don't trust me do you?" Jon gave Ryan a pointed look. "Should I?" "Well, I'm putting my neck out there for you guys, so yeah." Jon argued. Ryan scoffed and shook his head. "Doesn't work like that." Jon rolled his eyes, his neck rigid and his cords becoming visible. He stared off across the lake, an absent look crossing his face. "What's in the envelope Jon?" I asked. He turned his gaze back to meet mine, his voice tight and to the point. "I'm pretty sure it's the bomb you're looking for." I gave him a blinking stare, at a loss for words. How did he know about the bomb? I stared into his eyes and there was something there, a secret, hidden behind his swirling brown eyes. "How do you know…" I trailed off, a shocked expression set to my face. He gave a low sigh and turned his gaze to meet mine, he was misty eyed, something that I had never seen in him before, telling me that whatever it was had to be serious. "You don't wanna know." Ryan scoffed and threw his head back out of frustration. I ignored him and instead kept my gaze on Jon, who didn't break eye contact with me. "Jon… I need to know, or else how are we supposed to trust that this information you're giving us is legitimate." I replied in a thick voice. I had a guess as to how he knew, but I didn’t want to think about it, let alone go there in my mind. There was only one possibility, one explanation and as Jon began forming the sentence with his mouth, I wished he would have never said it. “I’ve been working with The Order.” His voice shook as he spoke, his gaze turning towards the ground. Ryan went rigid next to me, his fists tightening up into balls, his eyes narrowed on Jon. I could practically feel the anger rolling off of him in waves. I just stood there with a stoic expression set to my face. The person that I used to have a relationship with, that I used to trust, that I used to care for, was also my enemy. “I should kick your ass right now.” I growled through gritted teeth. “Let me explain.” Jon urged. “Explain what? That you’ve cozied up to a bunch of murderous psychopaths.” I spat, my vision starting to go red from anger. “No, you don’t understand.” Jon pleaded. He took a step forward which made me take a step backward, but Ryan stood his ground, cords still ever present in his neck and fists that looked ready to swing at any minute. Jon eyed him nervously, clearly not sure what to do next so instead he turned his pleading eyes towards me. "You have to believe me, I didn't know about the bomb." "You expect us to believe that?" Ryan glowered. Jon moved his gaze between Ryan and I in a desperate manner. "Why would I request to meet you and give up vital information, essentially betraying The Order, if I wanted it to happen?" "Maybe it's all a ruse to get us right where the General wants us." Ryan challenged. Jon made a frustrated noise and threw his hands up in defeat, turning around to face away from us. I considered what Jon was saying. Even though I didn't trust him, especially now finding out that he's been a member of The Order this entire time, it would be crazy for him to betray such a powerful rebellion. I knew Jon, and one thing I knew about him was that he wouldn't be okay with killing millions of people in the name of their mission, no matter what it was. So maybe this idea that he didn't know about the bomb wasn't so much of a lie after all, maybe The Order was just using him because of his position as dock manager to move their cargo in and out of base. “I believe him.” I said calmly. I couldn’t believe the words flew out of my mouth, but the more that I thought about it, the more it made sense. “Are you kidding?” Ryan shot me a dumbfounded look. “Yeah I have to agree with Ryan on this one.” Riley piped in over the comms. “Think about it. He run’s the cargo dock on base, they would need someone like him to get their stuff in and out undetected.” I explained. “Yeah exactly, and your point?” “They're using him.” I pointed out. Ryan's expression was pensive, the gears in his head clearly churning around. “How certain are you that he’s not lying.” He asked. I looked at Jon who was staring across the lake, frustration written all over his face. How certain was I that he wasn't lying? I wish Alex were here, she could spot a liar from a hundred yards away. But maybe I didn't need her to be here, maybe she could find out another way. "Alex, come in." There was a short pause and then- "You guys get the information?" She asked. "Yes, but I need you to look into something for me." "Shoot." She replied. "I want you to look into Jon. Dig up all the dirt you can.” "On it." I unfolded the manilla envelope, watching Jon out of the corner of my eye who was still looking across the lake. I pulled out a small stack of papers and observed them realizing that they were shipping manifests. At the bottom of the first page was an alpha numeric code following the word CAL. "What's this at the bottom?" I asked. "It's the license plate number of the truck that's hauling the cargo." Jon replied. This was big. We now had a way to track down the truck and find out where the bomb was going to be located. I handed the papers over to Ryan who quietly looked them over, his eyes going wide as he made his way down the list. "Holy shit." He gawked. "What?" I asked. "This is all parts and chemicals used to make a bomb but…" He trailed off, not taking his eyes off the list. "Buuuut?" I asked impatiently. Ryan looked up from the list with a wild-eyed expression. “This is either several bombs, or one huge bomb. If it’s the latter then this bomb is gonna be powerful enough to level ten square blocks.” My body went stiff as I imagined what that would look like. It would be cataclysmic, especially given the right location. "How did you get these?" I asked Jon, who had the same wild-eyed expression Ryan did, leading me to believe that he really didn't know about the bomb and that he was telling the truth. "Alex isn't the only one who knows her way around a computer." He replied, flashing me a coy smile. I gave him a lopsided grin before turning to Ryan, who was giving Jon a suspicious look. "We need to get back and give this info to Alex so she can track down this truck." Ryan nodded in agreement and rolled the papers up, stuffing them in his back pocket. "What about him?" He jerked his head towards Jon. I looked at Jon, considering him for a moment. If he really wanted to stop The Order from detonating this bomb, then maybe we could use his help. It could be useful to have someone with his knowledge of them around. "Alex come in." I commanded over the comms. "What's up boss?" She replied instantly. "Find anything on Jon?" I asked, hoping that if she did it would be good rather than bad. "I'm not seeing anything that ties him to The Order. No correspondence with any known members or the General, in fact… As of last night he's been placed on the General's terminate list." That last bit of information was all I needed to hear to know that Jon could possibly be trusted and that, regardless of his past affiliations, he was one of us now. "Do you really wanna stop this?" I asked. Jon gave me a large and serious nod as a response. I looked over at Ryan who also gave me a nod of approval, apparently he was thinking along the same lines as me. "Then join us, and help put an end to this." I stated in a business like fashion. Jon blinked at me, clearly surprised by my offer. "Even though I just admitted to you that I was helping The Order, you want me to join you?" He asked in an equally surprised tone. "I still don't trust you, not yet. But as of last night you are now on the General's terminate list, which means you're in the same boat as us. You're not gonna be able to step foot back on Bakersfield until this is over." Jon's expression turned to that of hurt and as he responded his tone was low and thick. "Well… I guess I served my purpose and now they're throwing me away." "Is that really such a bad thing?" Ryan responded in a surly manner. "I guess not, not after learning about their plan." "Are you in, or are you out?" I asked impatiently, wanting to get out of here and back to the safety of our hideout. Jon thought for a moment before nodding his head. "I'm in." He confirmed with a serious tone. I gave him a curt nod and turned around, walking back the way we came. "Riley, we're heading out." I spoke into the comms. "Righteo bosseo." He replied. We began walking past a group of moms pushing their children in strollers on the outer flanks of the park. One of them glanced at me, her eyes going wide for a split second before whipping her gaze away. "Fuck!" I was afraid this was going to happen. I looked back at her and she was talking on her phone, her eyes following us. "Ryan?" I said cautiously. "I know, I see her," He replied in a hushed tone. "Just keep walking." We quickened our pace slightly, trying to get back to the Jeep without drawing any further attention. We crossed the street, Riley waiting on the other side giving us confused looks. "Where's the fire?" "We've been spotted, we gotta go." Ryan replied. "Fuck." Riley growled, matching our pace and following close behind. We rounded the corner to the street where we parked and our quickened pace turned more into a sprint, as the sound of sirens could be heard getting louder and louder. We all clambered into the Jeep and Ryan fired up the engine, tires screeching as we pulled away from the curb. "Guy's, you have LAPD converging on your location." Alex came over the comms, her tone stressed. "Yeah we know, get us out of here." I replied. There was a slight pause then- "I got your GPS locked, take a left on eighth street." Ryan turned left at the next light and as we were crossing through the intersection a cop made eye contact with us. My heart dropped as I could see in the cop's eyes that he immediately recognized us. It didn't take the cop but two seconds after we passed through the intersection to flick on his lights and make a u-turn. "Shit!" Ryan growled looking in the rear view mirror. "Lose 'em." I commanded, giving Ryan a tense look. "Hold on." He warned, pushing his foot down hard on the accelerator. We were zooming past cars, weaving in and out of traffic as people honked their horns at us. The cop was determined though, hot on our tail as we blew through a red light. "Alex, we need an exit strategy." I commanded. "I got you, I got you." She reassured. Up ahead three cop cars were coming towards us, lights flashing and sirens blaring. If we didn't think of something we were going to get caught, and that was not on my agenda. "Turn left on Union." Alex ordered. Ryan jerked the steering wheel and we slid around the corner, narrowly avoiding a garbage truck and a soccer mom with kids. I looked behind us and unfortunately the cops made it through, still hot in their pursuit. "Turn right on Wilshire." "Wilshire will take us Downtown." I replied. "I know just do it!" She ordered. Ryan swerved around a minivan and, with tires screeching, slid around the corner onto Wilshire boulevard. I looked over at him and he was surprisingly calm, his expression unreadable, as he maneuvered through traffic with such ease that it was impressive. We crossed under the one ten freeway and into Downtown where we were surrounded by tall buildings, one of which was sitting right at the end of the road we were currently bolting down. "Uhh, Alex?" I asked as the dead end got closer and closer. "Turn right on Grand." "I'm going left." Ryan replied defiantly. "It's a one way road!" Alex exclaimed. "We can lose them in there." He argued, pulling the steering wheel and going the wrong direction on a one way road. "Oh god, I think I'm gonna throw up." Riley admitted as we swerved around cars, being tossed slightly this way and that in the Jeep. "You better not." Jon warned. Ryan swerved to avoid a dump truck only to come head on with a bus, it's horn blaring at us. We all yelled except for Ryan who jerked the steering wheel, bringing us up onto the sidewalk which was just wide enough to fit our vehicle. Pedestrians yelled and jumped out of the way as we barrelled down the sidewalk. I silently prayed that we wouldn't hit one of them, and was elated when we didn't as Ryan pulled back out onto the road. After about two blocks of dodging oncoming traffic, the road finally went to a two way and I let out a small sigh of relief. "We still got a flea." Riley spoke up from the back seat. A single cop had come off one of the side streets and was now pursuing us. "Take the next right on first." Alex barked. We rounded the corner, swerving to avoid a pedestrian that screamed at us and gave us the middle finger. “Sorry dude.” In front of us I began to notice that all the traffic lights were turning green as we came up to them. I gave a smirk as I realized this had to be Alex, helping us out in any way possible. We were nearing an intersection just before a bridge when Alex came in over the comms. “Continue on across the river, I got an idea.” I was going to ask her what her idea was, but as we crossed through the intersection I noticed all the lights were green, signaling traffic to go in all directions. We were almost clipped on the rear fender by another SUV, but Ryan maneuvered around it. Right as the cop was in the middle of the intersection he was hit by a car in the front fender, and then another car in the back fender, causing him to spin out and gridlock the intersection. "Hot damn!” Riley exclaimed with a gleeful laugh. We crossed the bridge to the other side of the river, home free for now because the cops couldn’t get through the mess in the intersection. “We need to find a place to lay low for a while, we’re not gonna make it back in this car. The cops are gonna be looking for it.” Ryan explained. I looked at our surroundings and noticed a slightly run down, three story parking garage a block up on the corner. “There.” I pointed it out and Ryan nodded. “That’ll work.” He confirmed. He pulled into the parking garage and went up about two floors, and then parked in empty space towards the back where there wasn’t anyone else around. I sat there in silence, too shocked for words, coming down from the adrenaline rush of being in a high speed chase with the cops. “You guys make it?” Alex had a concerned tone to her voice. “Yeah,” I exhaled. “Good work Alex.” "You okay?" Ryan asked. I looked over at him and he had a look of concern in his eyes. "Yeah," I patted him on the shoulder. "Good driving." I replied shakily. He gave a soft chuckle and grabbed my hand, rubbing the back with his thumb. "I'm sorry if I scared you." "No, don't be sorry. You did what you had to do, and we didn't get caught." I gave him a weak smile. "So what do we do now?" Jon asked. "We ditch the car and lay low. Maybe find another car." Ryan replied. "Alex, how are we looking out there?" I asked. "So far so good, I think you guys lost them." She replied cheerfully. I gave a sigh of relief and rested my head against the seat. We had managed to lose the cops, but we were still about three miles from Cody's. How were we going to get back without being spotted? "I think we should wait till nightfall, it'll be easier to move under the cover of darkness." Riley suggested, completely reading my mind. Ryan checked his watch and sighed. "It's not gonna be dark for another four hours," He looked around the Jeep at us. "If anybody has any better ideas speak up." It was silent as everyone thought of a different plan but came up empty handed. "We wait then." I confirmed, relaxing back into my seat. Waiting wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, it would give us time to think about what we wanted to do next. "Alex, you there?" I asked as thirty minutes passed. "Yeah, you guys doing okay?" She enquired. I looked around the car; Riley and Jon were in a heated debate in the backseat over whether the Flyers would beat the Maple Leaves at the Stanley Cup, and Ryan was listening to the police channel on the CB radio. "Yeah we're good. I have something for you to look into." "Ready when you are." She replied. I took out my phone and snapped a picture of the license plate number on the shipping manifests, and then sent it to Alex. "A license plate number?" She asked. "Can you locate it?" I asked with a hopeful tone. "I'll see what I can do." Her tone didn't sound too certain, but I had faith in her. "Thanks Alex." "No problem Ell. Stay safe out there." I gave a small smile before responding. "Will do." I glanced over at Ryan who was tuning the CB radio to get better quality. "Have you heard anything?" I asked, hoping that he would have some good news for me. He shook his head, still concentrating on the radio, turning the dials left and right to lock in on a channel. "I heard snippets, they put out a BOLO on our car, that's pretty much it." "BOLO?" I scrunched my face up in confusion. Ryan gave a little smirk before responding. "Be on the lookout." He explained. "Ah, right." I nodded my head and gazed out the windshield. The city skyline could be seen from our location on the second floor, the towers reflecting the evening sun off of their glass facades. The skyline hadn't changed much since I went to school here, with the exception of maybe a couple new towers. Thinking about my time in medical school made me think about what we were gonna do after all this was over. Would we be acquitted of our charges and be able to live a semi normal life? Or would we be on the run forever? "Has anyone ever told you that you think too much?" Ryan spoke up, jerking me from my thoughts. "Is it that obvious?" I grumbled. Ryan gave me an adoring look and went back to tuning the CB radio. "What's on your mind?" He asked. I shrugged my shoulders. "It's not important." "Weeell, if it's important to you then it's important to me." He replied in an appealing tone. I gave a weary sigh and rested my elbow on the door panel, resting my head in my hand at an angle. "I'm just thinking about what's gonna happen if we stop this." "Don't you mean when?" He gave me a cocky grin. "When." I corrected. Ryan let out a long huff of air. "I haven't really thought about it. I was hoping that we would be able to expose the General, then maybe we wouldn't be fugitives anymore. But my cop brain tells me that without hard evidence, it'll definitely be his word over ours." "You don't think the evidence we found in his office is enough?" I asked, speaking about the emails, and the terminate files. Ryan shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe, but I don’t like to get my hopes up.” A channel finally came through, voices coming out of the speaker clear as day. Ryan gave a gleeful laugh and raised his hand up so I could give him a high five. “Try not to dwell too much on it.” Ryan suggested, giving me a weak smile. I let out a lighthearted chuckle. “Easier said than done.” “You just need to shut that big brain of yours off every once in a while. Let other people worry for a change.” I thought about his words for a second, letting them float around my head and find footholds. “You know I wasn’t always like this.” I looked over at Ryan, who gave me a quizzical expression. “What? Good looking and charming?” “Nooo.” I chuckled and pushed him lightly on the shoulder. “I mean… Brain constantly on, always worrying about the next move, kind of a hard ass.” “I wouldn’t describe your ass as hard.” He gave me a wolfish grin and I felt a flush creep up into my cheeks. "You know what I mean." Ryan nodded his head. "I do, but I don't see you like that." “Oh yeah? Then how do you see me?” I gave him a challenging expression and a small grin. “Well,” Ryan turned to face me in his seat, his face relaxed. “You're passionate about your work, you're driven to do good and help people, and earlier you said that Cody was the heart of this team but I don’t necessarily think that’s true.” “What do you mean?” I gave him a confused look. “You’re the heart of this team Elliott. You bring everyone together, and you care about all of us as if we were your own. There would be no team without you.” I looked down into my lap and began picking at my cuticles. I was hearing what he was saying, but I didn’t quite believe it. Ryan thought all of these wonderful things about me, but I didn’t see them. Ryan cupped my chin with his thumb and forefinger, bringing my lips up to meet his and giving me a tender kiss that sent my pulse racing. “I don’t think you realize how amazing you are Elliott Pierce.” Ryan proclaimed in a low tone. “Awwwwww.” Riley said in a high-pitched tone. I was so wrapped up in the conversation I was having with Ryan that I had completely forgotten about Riley and Jon in the backseat. I narrowed my eyes at him and the corners of his mouth twitched as he fought back a smile. The hours seemed to tick by slowly as the sun began to make it's descent over the ocean, slowly plunging the city into darkness. Cody's house was a little over three miles to the north, and our plan was to hike it. It was gonna take a little bit but the only alternative was to steal a car, and we didn't want to draw more attention to ourselves as well as add to our rap sheet. "What about my car?" Jon suggested as we exited the parking garage and began walking down the street in the direction of Cody's. "I think it would be stupid of us to return where we were originally spotted." Ryan explained. "It's not too far, we'll make it there in about an hour." I added optimistically, trying to make light of an otherwise crappy situation. “I don’t wanna hike up more hills.” Riley whined, reminiscent of our time in San Francisco. We just ignored him as we continued our trek up Soto street, the otherwise busy road was fairly sparse of foot traffic. The only people we saw were those in cars that were going too fast anyway to really catch a glimpse of us. A few people passed by us, but they were too busy in their own world to really pay us any attention. “This is gonna be easier than we thought.” Riley stated in a cocky tone. Not soon after he had said that a cop rounded the corner ahead of us, driving in our direction. I spotted an alley directly to our left and jerked my head towards it. “This way!” I hissed ducking into the alley. They followed me and we all crouched behind a dumpster out of view from the road. We watched as the cop passed by, not giving the alley a second look. I gave a sigh of relief and shot an icy glare at Riley who gave me a sheepish grin. “Sorry.” He apologized. “Let’s maybe pick up the pace.” Ryan suggested and I nodded my head in agreement. We dipped out of the alley and began walking at a faster pace down our designated route. I hoped that we didn’t come across anymore cops, it would take us a while if we had to keep ducking into alleys or hiding. After about an hour of walking we finally rounded the corner onto Cody's street. I sighed in relief internally as we drew closer to his house and the front porch came into view. "Oh my god, I can't wait to get off my feet." Riley groaned as we made our way up the walkway towards the front door. "Do you always whine this much?" Jon asked. "Yes." I answered with a smirk. "Rude, both of you." Riley scowled and we all laughed as we entered the house. Alex and Cody walked into the living to greet us, both of them with relieved expressions. "That was too close." Cody stated, hinting at our narrow escape of the police. “I’m just glad you came back.” Alex had a relieved tone as she spoke. “Of course we did, ye have little faith.” I gave her a warm smile. My mind went back to the parking garage, and the license plate number I gave her. “Did you get a location on that truck?” I asked in a hopeful tone. “Yes and no.” She turned around and walked back into the dining room, I followed her with a quizzical expression plastered on my face. “The license plate number you gave me is registered to a truck, but not the same truck that’s hauling our bomb.” She was leaning over the chair, typing away on her laptop. “So we're back to square one?” I grumbled, disappointment washing over me like a bad rainstorm. “Don’t get too emo on me just yet, because your awesome tech expert here,” She pointed one of her slender fingers at herself. “Figured out how to track the truck… Interested to hear how?” She gave me a cocky grin, situating her hands on her hips. “Yes.” I said excitedly, walking around the table to stand next to her. “Well, you remember when I hacked into the security systems on base so we could break into the General’s office?” “Yeess and I got captured which put us in this situation in the first place, don’t remind me.” “Anyway,” She ignored my surliness and continued. “I still have access to their systems, so I searched for the truck on the base cameras and voila, our truck.” I stared at the computer screen to see a typical cargo truck pulling through the base gates. "But that doesn't exactly help us locate the truck." I replied in a disappointed tone. "Just wait, there's more," She enhanced the picture so that you could see the drivers face, behind the wheel. "So George here has an internal defibrillator for a heart condition that he got diagnosed with as a teenager-" “Well how unfortunate for George…” I cut her off in a not-so-sympathetic tone. “Wait, I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet.” Her eyes sparkled with glee as she started typing on her computer again. “So I don’t know if any of you knew this, but back in 2024 biomedical companies started putting GPS trackers in their pacemakers and defibrillators so that, in the event they failed and the patient needed assistance, then they could easily track their location.” “That’s creepy.” Riley cut in with a bothered expression. “Yeah it’s all very “big brother-ish”. But if it wasn’t for that then I wouldn’t have been able to find our truck.” “Hold the phone,” I held out a hand to stop her. “Are you saying that you lojacked a person?” I gawked at her. I knew that Alex was capable of a lot of things, but this pushed the boundaries of what I thought her abilities were. “Yeah, isn’t it great!” She replied in a gleeful tone, all but jumping up and down. “Or a little creepy.” Riley’s tone wavered. "Well lucky for you all, I only use my powers for good." She gave us all a wicked smile. "So where's the truck located then?" Ryan asked impatiently. "Patience isn't your strong suit I see." She cocked an eyebrow at Ryan before turning her gaze back to her screen. "It looks liiike… A warehouse off Alameda and Pine." “Great, let’s go.” Riley turned around and began walking towards the front door. “Whoa! Hold on there Jonah Hex, we can’t just go in there half cocked and with no plan.” Alex called out, making Riley stop in his tracks and turn around. “She’s right, we don’t know what we're getting ourselves into. That truck is probably going to be heavily guarded.” I added. “First of all, don’t call me that,” He gave Alex a pointed look. “And second, we have no idea when they are planning on detonating the thing. They could detonate it tonight for all we know.” He argued. I saw his reasoning, but I also didn’t want to put the team in jeopardy. Going in there without knowing what we were getting ourselves into just spelled disaster. “I know that you wanna stop this as much as the rest of us, but Elliott is right. If we go in there without the proper reconnaissance, then we might as well be going in blindfolded and swinging baseball bats.” Ryan explained. Riley shook his head, expression that of disappointment, but not in himself, in all of us. “Well of course you would agree with him.” He rolled his eyes, giving Ryan a pointed look. "Excuse me?" Ryan blinked, jaw setting and neck going rigid. "Forget about it." Riley scoffed, turning around and walking into the living room. Ryan however followed him, the back of his neck a shade of scarlet from anger. "If you got somethin' to say, then say it." He growled. Riley whipped around to face him, expression contorted into anger. An expression that I've seen only a handful of times. “You're sleeping with the boss, so of course you would agree with him." He spat, throwing a pointed finger in my direction. I stood there, behind the overstuffed chair, a blank expression on my face. I knew this would come up eventually, I was just hoping it would be sooner rather than later and sure as hell not during everything that was going on. "In case you've forgotten," Ryan took a couple steps toward Riley, his tone low, and his bulky frame contrasting Riley's slimmer frame. "You pushed Elliott and I to pursue our relationship, even though he was afraid it would cause issues. I guess he never thought it would come from his best friend." Riley clenched his fists, his short fuse looking like it was going to rear its ugly head. I needed to intervene before this argument went to blows. "What is this really about Riley?" Riley turned his angry glare towards me, fire rolling behind his eyes and clearly biting back what he wanted to say. "I know this has nothing to do with Ryan and everything to do with me. So come out with it." I added, my tone even and calm. "We are in this situation because of you!" He growled. “Riley!” Alex exclaimed in a shocked tone. “No, it’s okay,” I held out a hand to stop her. "You don't think I know that Riley? You don't think I feel bad that I've practically ruined all of our lives, and forced us to be on the run because of a plan that you guys tried to talk me out of?" "We all agreed to it." Cody chimed in defensively. "But I pushed it," My tone fell slightly. "And for that I'm sorry. I wish I could go back and do things differently, but I can't." Riley scoffed and shook his head. "You're sorry." "What more do you want from me Riley?" I asked in disbelief. "I want you to do better!" "I'm doing the best I can!" My will had finally snapped, my temper now on full display. "Oh, like you did the "best you could" for Gray?" Riley's voice broke slightly at the mention of his name. I scoffed and shook my head. "Is that what this is about? Gray and his decision to stay behind?" I couldn't believe that Riley was blaming me for that. I wanted Gray to come back with us, and I would want nothing more than to have him here with us in this fight against The Order. "I heard the conversation the two of you had on our way to the extraction point. You practically gave him permission to stay behind." I blinked at Riley, not really sure what to say. But the words that came out just seemed to flow out like word vomit. "Gray chose to stay behind because of his brother, that’s not my fault. You want to be mad at anyone about that then be mad at him." I stated matter of factly. Riley rolled his eyes and growled out of frustration. "But you could have made him come back." He countered. I could see that there was no getting through to Riley right now. He was angry, hurt, and frustrated, much like the rest of us. He had just lost the person he loved, and even though Gray was still alive he might as well be on a different planet being in San Francisco. "You wanna blame me for Gray and this situation we're in, that's fine. But I'm in charge and I'm pulling rank. You can either fall in line or there's the door." I jerked my head in the direction of the front door and narrowed my eyes at him. The scene was tense as everyone stood around the living room, wide eyed and looking between Riley and I. Riley's bottom lip trembled and his eyes glistened as tears began coming to the surface. He quickly wiped his eyes with the back of his arm and shook his head. “I’m out of here.” He croaked, walking towards the door. Outside there was the sound of tires screeching which made Riley pause at the big picture window. He pulled the drape back slightly to see outside and then whipped around to face us, a terrified expression set to his face. “Get down!” He yelled, dropping to the floor just as bullets began whizzing their way through the window and the walls. Alex let out a shrill scream and Cody tackled her to the ground, shielding her from harm. Ryan wrapped his arms around me and pulled me to the floor behind the coffee table that Jon had overturned as a barricade. There was nothing we could do as bullets kept coming through and hitting the wall in front of us, showering us with glass, chair cushions, and various other pieces of debris and furniture. Not to mention the gunfire was so loud that it was like being in a battle zone all over again, except this was a house nestled on a quiet street and not the open desert. “We need to get out of here!” Jon shouted over the roar of gunfire. “Where are we supposed to go?” Ryan roared back out of frustration. Riley appeared from around the armchair, crawling across the floor like his life depended on it, which it did. “It’s the military!” He shouted. Of course it was, no doubt General Dreyfus’s men here to finish the job. I just hoped they didn’t succeed this time. The minutes seemed like hours as Jon, Ryan, Riley and I cowered on the floor behind the oversized coffee table, our only protection against the bullets ripping the house apart. I didn’t know where Alex and Cody were, but I could hardly move my head because I was pinned underneath Ryan and I didn’t dare try and look around the room at this point. I was wondering if the gunfire was ever going to stop and then, by some miracle, it finally did. We looked around, craning our necks to try and hear what was going on. Did they leave, or were they just reloading? The sound of screeching tires as a vehicle sped away was the only confirmation I needed to be sure that they were gone. I looked out the front window, which was more like a frame now then a window, and saw there was no one out front. “Is everyone okay?” I asked looking around. “Yeah, I think so.” Jon replied shakily. Ryan and Riley gave me a nod of confirmation, telling me they were okay. I looked around the living room, which was completely torn apart. If it wasn’t for the walls and what used to be a couch, you probably wouldn’t even know that a cozy living room once sat here. “Alex?” I shouted out across the ruined house. The only response I got was a blood curdling scream coming from the dining room which sent an unpleasant shiver up my spine. We all jumped to our feet and ran towards the dining room to be greeted by a scene that I’m sure would haunt my nightmares later.
  4. zanoGreen

    The Great Escape

    Thanks for the awesome words guys! I'm trying to post a new chapter every week, but sometimes I get a little stumped with my writing 😬.
  5. zanoGreen

    The Great Escape

    One thing was for sure, the General was working with The Order. I had figured that out when I saw the Dr. Jekyll emails. Dr. Jekyll was a codename for Dr. Grimm, I knew this because The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was my favorite book in high school. Knowing what I knew about Dr. Grimm, he fit the profile of the symbolic character from the famous novel. Dr. Jekyll the good scientist who would do no harm, and Mr. Hyde his evil counterpart. No doubt that General Dreyfus’ codename was Mr. Utterson, the best friend of Dr. Jekyll. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but a part of me didn’t think so. Why else would you be using code names like that, and talking about an operation White Rider? I felt left with even more questions, and I was hoping that Alex, Riley, Ryan, and Cody were sifting through all the information we had gathered trying to figure out the answers. I looked past the soldier to my right to peer out the window, we were screaming down the road, and it didn’t take me long to notice that we weren’t heading in the direction of the Police Precinct. “Sit back.” The soldier threw his arm across my chest and forced me back into my seat. I clenched my fists tightly as pain radiated across my chest, fighting the urge to give him an elbow to the left side of his face. “Your Riggs’ guy right?” The soldier in the passenger’s seat turned his head slightly over his shoulder. Was I Ryan’s guy? I didn’t know, but it sure seemed like it with the direction things were going. “What’s it to you?” I shot back. The soldier chuckled and shook his head. “I wonder how he would feel seeing his boyfriend cuffed in the back of a humvee.” There was a hateful tone to his voice, something that told me he wasn’t exactly a fan of gay people, or maybe he wasn’t a fan of Ryan. “Probably about the same as finding out that four of his men are rebel spies.” There was a long silence, about the only thing that you could hear was the pavement underneath the tires as we barrelled down the road. I wasn’t a moron, I knew that if General Dreyfus was working with the rebels then there had to be more people at his disposal. He would be an idiot to operate alone at one of the largest military installations in the Republic. The soldiers looked around the humvee at each other, clearly at a loss for words. It was the only confirmation I needed to prove my theory, they didn’t know I was testing them, but god dammit it worked beautifully. “You guys really need to work on your poker faces." I added sarcastically, a sly grin spreading across my face. "You don't know what you're talking about." The soldier to my left denied. "Seriously? That's the answer you're going with?" I sighed and shook my head. "I mean you guys are gonna kill me anyways so why don't you just cut the shit." The soldiers looked at me with stupid expressions, clearly underestimating how much I knew and how much I had caught on. "The station is about two miles in the other direction and we're heading for the desert. I mean do you guys think I'm stupid?" I had a challenging tone to my voice, daring them to say otherwise. "You're too smart for your own good." The passenger replied in an amused tone. "Both a blessing and a curse." I joked. "For a man that's about to die, you sure are a smart ass." "Tell me something I don't know." There was a silence for a few moments and then the driver spoke up, his voice was a deep baritone, and apathetic, completely devoid of emotion. "The Republic is a flawed system that needs to be destroyed." "Hey, I get it. The only thing I don't get is why you all want to kill millions of people in the name of your cause?” “The people of Los Angeles are all Republic lovers, taking down the capital is a sure way to destabilize the government.” The soldier to my right spoke up, he had a confident tone to his voice. “Or cause an act of war.” I replied. There was another confirming pause as the humvee turned down a dirt road, leading us further into the desert. The vehicle shook and bounced around slightly at the uneven surface. “Wait… So that’s what this whole plan is for? You’re going to drop a dirty bomb on LA and blame it on the United States?” I was genuinely shocked. This whole scheme turned from terrorists just wanting to cause damage and death, to a full blown plan of turning the Republic and the US against each other, essentially plunging us into another civil war. “You catch on fast.” The driver spoke this time, his tone still apathetic. “They’ll destroy us…” I gaped. “Exactly.” The passenger confirmed with an evil smirk. “With the United States and The Pacific Republic in a civil war, we can do what our previous members failed to do.” I gave him a quizzical look and his smirk never left. None of this was at all what I thought was going on, leading me down a rabbit hole of endless possibilities. Maybe I didn’t know what was going on. “What do you mean your previous members failed to do?” He shook his head with a chuckle. “Don’t you get it? The Order started the second civil war four years ago. This outcome,” he gestured around. “Was never supposed to happen. They were supposed to take over the United States, not have the Western states secede.” The driver spoke up next, a grin set to his voice. “But, with this new plan, we’ll succeed where our predecessors didn’t.” The humvee came to a slow halt, and so did my heartbeat. This was it, this was where it all ended. The soldiers hopped out of the humvee and began flanking it on either side, keeping watch. “C’mon.” The soldier who was sitting to my right grabbed my bicep, tugging me out of the vehicle. My feet felt like they were encased in cement as he led me towards the front of the humvee into the flood of the headlights. “It’s all you chief.” He said, pushing me in the direction of the man that was driving. He stood a little taller than me, having to gaze down slightly to make eye contact. His eyes were hazel, like mine, but with a darkness swirling around behind them. He had a strong jaw and his face was stoic, definitely the look of a man who was about to execute someone. He grabbed me by the arm and led me away from the front of the humvee, each one of my steps feeling like my last. I glanced up at the sky to see a beautiful array of stars, one of them shooting across the sky. I'm not a superstitious person by any means, but nevertheless I closed my eyes and made a wish. "Please get me out of this." I had given a lot of thought as to how I would die, but this, this wasn't on my list of how I thought my life would end. At least I would die out in the desert, under a beautiful night sky. A setting that reminded me of Ryan and I's first date, and the thought of that night brought a slight smile to my face. At least I had the chance to fall for someone again, something that I didn't think would be possible after James. James Would I see him again? Was there even anything after death? My scientific brain told me otherwise, but this weird new superstitious side of me wanted to object. A side of me was excited at the prospect of seeing him again, but another side of me didn't want to leave Ryan. I guess I didn't really have a say in that though, did I? We stopped just at the edge of the headlights furthest reaches, nothing but blank darkness ahead of us, their "chief" standing behind me. "On your knees." He said flatly, pushing down on my shoulder. I collapsed to my knees and stared straight ahead at the vast emptiness in front of me. "I'm sorry Ryan. Please don't hate me." I don't know why I was apologizing. Maybe because I should have listened to him when he told me the plan was a bad idea? Maybe because I could only imagine how he would feel, finding out that I was dead. I heard the click of a gun being cocked, bringing me out of my self pity. I felt the cool metal of a gun barrel press at the back of my head. "How's that cliche saying go..? Any last words?" There was a smirk behind his tone as he spoke. "You're gonna pay for this." I gritted through my teeth, my somberness being replaced with anger. "I doubt that." BANG! At that moment everything went black and my body went numb. Was I dead? I sure felt dead, but then again how would I know what that felt like? "Elliott!" "James?" Did heaven actually exist? Was I wrong about this my entire life? I could hear the muffled sounds of gunfire, but I couldn't see where it was coming from. Oh god, was I in hell? Would heaven have gunfire? I don't think so, but then again stranger things had happened. "Elliott!" There it was again. Was it James..? No… Not James… "Ryan?" This didn't make any sense. Ryan wouldn't be in heaven with me, or hell, or whatever this was. I felt a pair of familiar hands cupping my face, warm and comforting. I tried to see who their owners were but my vision wouldn't clear up. "Elliott, are you okay?" There was a long pause as I fought to speak, but for some reason my mouth opened and no words came out. "C'mon, talk to me babe." Ryan urged. "Am I dead?" The words finally spilled out. There was a long pause as I felt thumbs massaging my cheeks. "I think he's in shock." He spoke rapidly. "Just haul his ass to the truck, we gotta go!" This time it was Riley who spoke. What the fuck was going on? I felt myself being lifted over someone's shoulder. A familiar scent wafted into my nostrils, woodsy, musky, and a hint of sweetness, like citrus… Ryan's scent. "You drive!" I heard Ryan say. I felt myself being laid down on something firm with a slightly rough texture. Then my head was in someone's lap, a hand stroking my hair and an arm draped across my torso. "C'mon Elliott. Snap out of it." His voice broke slightly. My vision slowly began to return to normal, and the first thing I saw was Ryan’s face hovering over mine. He was misty eyed, a look of concern set to his face. We were in his truck, and traveling pretty fast judging by the way the truck bounced and shook on the rough road. "What happened?" I asked stupidly. Ryan made a relieved sound as he pulled me into a hug. My face was pressed into his warm chest, my nose getting a full whiff of his scent. "I thought I died." "You almost did, thank god Riley and I got to you in time." "But how..?" The question trailed off. "Alex, she hacked the GPS on the humvee so we could track you." Riley spoke up from the drivers seat. "But how did you-" There were so many questions I had, but Ryan cut me off. "Alex came to us immediately after you got captured and showed us the files you found. We knew they were gonna do something bad to you." "Are they dead?" I didn't know why I cared, they did just try to kill me. "They tried to kill you Ell! Of course they're dead." Riley had a flabbergasted tone as he spoke. This wasn't good, once the General found out we killed four of his men we would be hunted down as fugitives for sure. "It's okay, we're gonna figure it out." Classic Ryan, always being able to read my thoughts. I sat up in the back seat, staying close to Ryan. I buried my face in my hands as I was flooded with new emotions of guilt and shame. "Fuck… I'm so sorry Ryan. I should have listened to you." My sinuses began to burn as my voice broke. "No, you shouldn't have," He had a stern tone to his voice. "If you didn't go through with the plan then you wouldn't have found out about the General. Now we can take this information to the capital and expose him and everyone who works for him." He had a point there, but it still didn't erase my guilt. I had successfully blown up all of our lives by getting caught, and the aftermath that ensued. We would have to leave, go on the run, go into hiding. "But I put you and Riley in a situation that you shouldn't have been put in. Now thanks to me we're gonna have to go on the run." I had a somber tone to my voice. Ryan reached over and cupped my cheek, pulling my face up to meet his gaze. His expression was that of caring and seriousness and his tone matched it as well. "I don't care about any of that, all I care about is you." My heart lurched at that statement as we gave a sharp turn off the dirt road and back onto smooth pavement. Why would Ryan risk everything for me? I didn’t think I was worth it, but maybe Ryan did. He put his arm around me and pulled me closer till I was resting my head on his broad shoulder. A warm feeling began situating itself in my gut, settling into every crevice until it was the only feeling I had. It was comfort, warmth, and caring all wrapped up into a little ball that radiated across my skin. We pulled up to a warehouse at the edge of the base and Riley screeched to a halt. "C'mon." Ryan gently tugged on me and we exited the truck, making our way towards a little side door with a single light overhead. It flickered every now and then, giving the building an abandoned feel like it had long been forgotten. Riley pulled the door open and we all stepped through into a dingey, mold smelling space. It was large, about the size of a small house, and obviously vacant except for a Jeep and two figures leaning against it, talking in hurried voices. "We're back." Riley announced as we got closer. "Did you get him!" I heard Alex's nervous tone, she whipped her head in our direction and her eyes went wide as she saw me next to Ryan. "Oh thank god!" She all but sprinted towards me, wrapping me into a tight hug. "Can't… Breath…" I gasped. "Oh, sorry!" She released me and I could feel the air enter my lungs again. "Glad they got to you in time." Cody beamed at me before pulling me into a softer hug. "Me too." I replied. "We're there any casualties?" Alex looked between Ryan and Riley, who gave her a knowing look. Her face went stern and she placed her hands on her hips. "You guys weren't supposed to kill them!" "We had to! They had a gun pointed to his head!" Riley shouted, his voice echoed off the rust encased walls of the warehouse. "There was no other way, believe me Alex, I would have tried." Ryan's voice was calm and reasonable, which made Alex relax slightly. "Well… I suppose you guys had no other choice." She shook her head and folded her arms across her chest. "But this is bad, once the General finds out he's gonna want our heads." "No, just ours." I spoke up. I wasn't dragging Alex and Cody into this mess, no way in hell. "Don't be stupid man." Cody frowned at me. "We're a team, one of us jumps, we all jump." "Not this time." I growled and shook my head. "I've already ruined Ryan and Riley's lives, I'm not gonna ruin yours." "Our lives are already ruined. You saw those files, the General is gonna stop at nothing to eliminate us. He knows that we know." Alex argued. I let out a frustrated growl and punched the side of the Jeep, it's alarm gave a warning chirp and made everyone jump. "Aw man, that's a lease." Cody whined glancing at the fist sized dent on the back door. "Elliott." I felt Ryan’s hands on both of my shoulders, his voice was low, calm and warm. "I know you're frustrated, and angry, but she's right. Whether we went through with the plan or not he was already targeting us. At least now we have a slight upper hand." I gave a defeated chuckle, resting my forehead on the side of the Jeep. "We lost." I whispered. "No we haven't, not yet." Ryan countered. “No, you don’t get it.” I whipped around to face them. “Everything we thought we knew about The Order’s plan is wrong.” They all stared at me with the same quizzical look that I gave the passenger back in the humvee. “What are you talking about?” Riley asked flippantly. “They're not dropping a dirty bomb on LA simply as an act of terrorism, they’re gonna blame it on the US.” “Well but that would mean…” Alex trailed off, her eyes going wide. “Wiat!” Riley spoke up, holding his hands out in a halt position. “So you're telling me that those Cobra Command wannabe’s are trying to plunge us into a third civil war?” “Cobra Command?” A bewildered look split across Cody’s face. “It’s before your time Cody.” I said impatiently, waving a hand in the air. I didn’t have time to explain the reference right now. “To answer your question, yes, that’s what they're planning.” "Why don't you tell us everything that happened after you got captured." Ryan requested. I nodded my head and leaned against Cody's Jeep, starting at the beginning when they took me away. I explained everything that the soldiers told me in the humvee. How the second civil war was their doing, how they’re planning on using the upcoming war to do what their predecessors failed to do. When I said it out loud it all seemed unreal, like it was more the plot of some old J.J. Abrams film. But we weren’t in some story, let alone a movie, this was our world as shitty as seemed. “So what do we do then? We obviously have to warn someone.” Alex insisted. That was a good question, what should we do? A more important one would be, who could we trust? They all looked at me expectantly as I thought about our plan of action. There was only one that I could think of. “I obviously can’t stay here. Within a few hours every officer and soldier is going to be looking for me.” “You keep saying this I bullshit.” Riley rolled his eyes. “Regardless of your little outburst, we’re still coming with you.” I folded my arms across my chest and shook my head, stubborn, the whole lot of them. But maybe that was good, maybe I needed them to be stubborn so I would accept their help instead of going it alone. As much as I wanted to do this on my own, and not drag them into it, I couldn’t. They were my team, my family, and if they wanted to see this to the end with me then who was I to stop them. “I suppose if there’s any chance of stopping this, then we’re gonna have to do it together.” I gave them a warm smile, and I was greeted by similar smiles from them. “So if we can’t stay here, then where do we go?” Ryan asked. “We could lay low in the city, then we could try and get a meeting with one of the president's advisors.” Cody suggested, rubbing his chin while he thought. "That would be a good plan, if any of us knew somewhere or someone that would be willing to take us in.” A snarky tone flew out of Riley’s mouth as he spoke, which was greeted by a scowl from Alex. "I actually know a place" Cody rebounded. "What? I know a place." He responded defensively after noticing our questioning glances. “Is it a daycare?” Riley smirked, making a jab at Cody’s age. Cody flipped him off, giving him an icy glare. "You can explain in the car we gotta go, quickly, before word spreads about your great escape.” Alex turned her gaze towards me. Guilt began to bubble to the surface again, making me more aware that we were in this situation because of me. “What about gear?” I asked as Alex opened the back door of the Jeep and climbed in. “We got a bag in the back.” Riley stated as he slipped into the passenger's seat. I nodded in approval as I slid in next Alex in the back. “Wow, you guys work fast.” Cody was about to hop in the front seat but Ryan beat him to it, his large frame overshadowing Cody's more lean build. "I'll drive, we'll use my credentials to get out." Ryan informed, sliding behind the wheel. "Makes sense." Cody replied glumly and hopped in the back seat next to Alex. Ryan fired up the engine and the tires screeched as we drove out of the warehouse and onto the street, heading towards the direction of the main gate. It had been a whole forty-five minutes since Riley and Ryan rescued me, and I hoped that word hadn't traveled that fast yet. If it had then it would be hard for us to get out. My fears came to light as we turned onto the main road in and out base only to be met by a line of cars. Soldiers were checking vehicles, shining their lights through the windows and requesting identification. "Shiiit." Riley groaned, throwing his head back against the seat. "What are we gonna do?" Cody panicked. Alex looked over her shoulder and began rummaging around in the back. "What are you doing?" I asked, craning my neck to take a look. "Get in the back and lay down!" She hissed. "What?" I gave her a bewildered look. "Just do it!" She demanded. I obeyed and climbed over the seat, laying on my back while Alex situated various things around me. "What are you-" "Shush!" After she was finished she took a heavy green blanket and tossed it over me. Alex was one of the smartest people I knew, but even these soldiers would see right through this. "Alex, this is not-" I began to protest that this wasn't going to work, but she cut me off. "Just shut up and don't move." She ordered. I did as I was told, even though every inch of me knew this wasn't going to work. "Alex, I don't think that's gonna work." Riley mimicked my uncertainty, but Alex quickly put it to rest. "I've got a plan if it comes to it." She replied confidently. "Okay guys, let me do the talking." Ryan’s voice was low and stern as the Jeep came to a slow halt. "Identifications." A female voice ordered. The Jeep shifted this way and that as everyone shuffled to get their ID's. "Where you off too?" She inquired. "Off the base for a few hours." Ryan spoke. "I gathered that, but where to?" She responded with an annoyed tone. There was a silence as I’m sure Ryan tried to think of something, anything to tell them. “We’re totally fucked.” "What's with this blanket in the back?" A male voice this time asked, he sounded close too, like he was right on the other side of the back window from me. I tried my best to control my breathing, trying not to breathe too fast, my anxiety starting to ramp up slightly. "It's a government prototype, we're testing it out in the desert." Alex informed. "At this hour?" The woman scoffed, disbelief in her tone. "It's classified, don't want people seeing it who shouldn't." Ryan explained. "Well then, you wouldn’t mind if we took a look then would you?" The man responded and I heard the back door open, making my pulse race to extreme levels. "Actually I would mind." Alex snapped, her sternness taking hold of the situation. "Unless you and your partner here want to be under the disciplinary board, I would suggest you step away from the cover." "Under whose authority?" The man retorted. "The General's. He asked me to build this prototype and told me it was for me and my fellow teammates eyes only, until it's finished. I can call him if you want, but at this hour he's not gonna be pleased and especially right now with whatever is going on." Alex had a challenging tone to her voice and there was a long silence as I'm sure the soldiers pondered what they wanted to do next. I felt so vulnerable just laying under this blanket, I desperately wanted to see what was going on but I didn't dare try to peek through the cover and risk exposure. All I could do was hope that Alex's sternness and cunning would get us out of this. "Whatever, get out of here." The woman sneered. "That's what I thought." Alex remarked as the Jeep began moving again and I exhaled a sigh of relief. After a couple of minutes I felt a pat on my shoulder. "We're clear." Alex informed me and I threw the blanket back, happy to be out from underneath it's stuffy confines. "Holy shit babe, that was amazing!" Cody laughed. "It's all in the confidence." She gave a dimpled grin, breathing on her nails and rubbing them on her shirt. "Oh brother." Riley muttered, rolling his eyes. The drive to LA from Bakersfield usually takes a couple hours, and that's without traffic. I was shocked when we made our way into the valley at an hour and a half. At one in the morning the traffic on the five wasn't too horrible, but we were still going at a snail's pace. "This is insane. I mean I had always heard about how bad traffic was in LA, but this is ridiculous." Ryan stated in a shocked tone. "This is nothing, rush hour is a nightmare." Cody chuckled. Fond memories of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic came flooding into my mind. People freaking out behind their steering wheels, flipping other people off, and also seeing the occasional nine car pileup. Yep, that was LA for you and I didn't miss it. I did however miss the beach, and swimming in the ocean. "Okay Cody, where are we going?" Riley peered through the windshield at the row of taillights that stretched before us. "El Sereno." "El Sereno, are you kidding?" Riley gave him a bewildered look. "We need a place to lay low, we'll have a house to ourselves there." "Whose house?" Ryan asked. "My house?" Cody replied slowly. We all gave him a questioning look, and he quickly explained. "My Aunt left it for me, after she died." "Well it's a good thing you kept it." I remarked. "I couldn't get rid of it, too many memories. Plus I want to come back when I'm done in the Army." That I could understand, and it made my thoughts drift back to my own home up in Seattle. "El Sereno is on the other side of Downtown, it's gonna take us at least an hour to get there." Riley whined resting his head against the window. "You're right Riley, why don't we go with your suggestion instead..." Cody trailed off with a wicked grin set to his face. "That's not funny." Riley countered. Alex chuckled. "Yeah, it kinda is." I grinned at their bickering while staring out the window, watching as we slowly passed other cars, inching closer and closer to our destination. I felt a hand grip my knee and I looked over to see it belonged to Ryan, his other hand gripped firmly to the steering wheel. I placed my hand over his and rubbed my thumb against the back of it. I saw a pleasant grin spread across his face at that, and it made me feel warm inside knowing that I put that grin there. Riley was almost right about how long it would take us to get Cody's. It took us forty-five minutes, which might have actually been a record considering it was LA. But then again Ryan was driving, and he gave credit to being a cop at his superb driving capabilities. Cody's house was a cute little brown bungalow style home with an enclosed front porch. It was in remarkable condition and actually looked like it had been remodeled recently. "I had to fix some things after the earthquake." Cody explained, catching on to my observations. "It's nice." I nodded approvingly. Cody blushed and unlocked the front door, pushing it open so we could all step inside. He flicked the lights on to reveal a standard living room with a brown couch and two overstuffed armchairs flanking it on either side. There was a chic wooden coffee table separating the chairs that looked like it was made out of recycled driftwood from a beach. A large flat screen tv hung on the wall opposite the couch and was framed on either side by two large bookcases and a buffet table that connected them at the bottom. Everything was perfectly placed, every vase, every knick knack, every picture, as if someone had professionally come in and decorated the place. “This is really nice Cody.” Alex gave him an adoring gaze, clearly proud of her man’s decorating prowess. “Thanks.” Cody rubbed the back of his neck, a sheepish grin spreading across his face. "You've never been here before?" Ryan gave her a confused look. "No, never. I knew about it but with everything going on we could never make the trip." “Yeah, I suppose this was worth the two and a half hour drive.” Riley plopped down on the couch and kicked his feet up on the coffee table. “Shut up Riley,” Alex glowered and kicked his feet off the surface. “And feet off the coffee table.” “Yes Mom.” Riley sneered. I spotted a dining room off to my right, it was rather small with a square table taking up most of the room, two columns lined the entryway and I observed one of them, noticing marks etched into the wood and corresponding numbers for each of them. The numbers I recognized as age, so then that must mean the strike marks were height’s. I had always heard about parents doing these sorts of things for their kids to memento their heights as they aged. My parents on the other hand didn’t do such things, “pointless” is what they called it. I had never actually met a family who did this, so when I saw these marks I couldn’t help but run my fingers over them and smile at images of a young Cody, bouncing around excitedly as he grew over the years. I stepped through the entryway and flicked a switch that lit up a chandelier, a nice rustic looking thing with edison bulbs that emitted a warm yellow glow across the room. I set my bag on the table and began pulling the files and papers that we had found and copied out, setting them on the table. The others were still standing in the living room, talking about sleeping arrangements, where things were located and simple logistical things like; “You have to turn the faucet all the way over to get the water hot, and then back it off to a bearable temperature.” and “You have to jiggle the handle slightly for the attic door, because it gets stuck on occasion.” I sat down in a chair and groaned, the thought of having to flip through all these papers seeming more like a hassle then a necessity. But if we were going to figure out where the rebels were going to detonate their dirty bomb, it had to be done. “Elliott?” I looked up to see Alex standing expectantly in the doorway. She had apparently asked me a question, but I was too lost in my own thoughts to have heard her. “What?” “Where do you wanna sleep tonight? There’s the bedroom in the attic, and one bedroom downstairs. Cody and I are gonna take the master.” She had a slight twinkle in her eye at the mention of Cody, which made me grin slightly. “Oh… Wherever is fine, I’m probably not gonna get much sleep tonight anyway.” I admitted, holding the papers up in confirmation. “Do you want some help?” She asked, taking a step forward and moving some of the papers around. I gave her a gentle smile and shook my head. “Nah you go ahead and go to bed, you and Cody must be bushed.” She gave me a warm smile and nodded her head. “Goodnight Ell.” and with that she turned around and headed off with Cody towards the master bedroom, which was situated down a narrow hallway off the living room. "I think I'm gonna hit the sack too, I'm beat." Riley stated mid yawn, pulling his shirt off and collapsing on the couch. "Why are you sleeping on the couch? There's like two other beds in the house." I cocked my head at him in confusion. "Someone needs to stay out in the main room in case something happens. Besides you love birds are gonna wanna sleep together anyway, so that leaves me." "I can keep watch, that couch is not gonna be very comfortable." I countered. "I'll manage, besides, you look dead on your feet buddy." "I'm fine." I insisted. "Mmmhmm." I felt a pair of warm hands on my shoulders and they began kneading and working their way into my sore shoulder muscles. I let out a low groan and lulled my head back to look at Ryan, his gaze meeting mine. “You should get some sleep. You had a rough day.” I gave a lighthearted chuckle. Rough was an understatement, in fact, I was surprised that I hadn’t gone completely fucked up over what I had gone through over the past week. But I was resilient if that wasn’t already obvious. Sure I had the mental scars, but those would subside over time and as long as I had Ryan, I think I could manage. “Sleep scares me.” I grumbled, thinking about the last time I had slept. Visions already began creeping into my thoughts, and I shook them away. “C’mon.” A relaxed expression was set to Ryan’s face as he pulled on my hand. I reluctantly followed, not looking forward to sleeping. But if I was laying next to this man then maybe, just maybe everything would be alright. Ryan began leading us down the hallway toward the other bedroom but I resisted, instead eyeballing the staircase to our left. "Let's sleep in the attic." I suggested. Ryan nodded and gave me a gentle smile. "Okay." And he followed me up the steep and narrow steps towards the attic door at the top. I always liked sleeping in upstairs locations. Even as a kid my bedroom was in a remodeled attic, not by choice, but when you were the youngest of five in a 3 bedroom house you kind of got stuck where you could fit. Over the years though I began to find the attic comforting, a sanctuary of sorts. After jiggling the handle slightly and pushing against the door it opened and we were greeted by a rather large and open space. There was a single, double pane window situated over a queen sized bed, which was adorned in a taupe colored paisley quilt. There was a large dresser situated against the wall to the left, and a comfy looking brown armchair situated in the corner next to the door. There was even a small bathroom with a shower, which upon looking at it made me desperately want a hot shower. "Wanna take a shower?" Ryan asked, noticing my gaze. "Yeah, that sounds amazing right now." I admitted, feeling the tension start to creep back into my shoulders. A hot shower would fix that right up. "You go ahead, I'll wait up for you." Ryan gave me a gentle smile and kiss. I gave him a tired smile and began schucking off my clothes. I could feel Ryan's eyes watching me as I stripped, which made my dick begin to go hard. I turned to face him as I pulled my underwear off, tossing them towards him. Ryan gave me a hungry look and licked his lips as he took in my form. I had to be honest, it was nice to be stared at like that and it only made all the blood rush to my cock that much more. I crossed over to him, a primal feeling rising up in me. I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled him into me, smashing our lips together in a passionate kiss. Our tongues danced around each other in a perfect harmony and boy did Ryan taste good, that same spearmint flavor I craved. I ran my hands up his shirt, gliding them all over his chest and making sure to grip his nipples, which was met with a gasp of pleasure from him. "What about… the shower?" Ryan breathed between kisses and tweaked nipples. "Fuck the shower." I growled, a newfound energy rising up in me. I was tired before, but now I felt wide awake. I pulled Ryan's shirt off and brought my mouth to his chest, kissing his scars, and licking and gently biting at his nipples. I felt his hand on the base of my skull as he moaned in pleasure, tilting his head back. "Fuck… I love it when you do that." He groaned. "Mmm, you mean this." I repeated what I did, gripping his nipple gently between my teeth and flicking my tongue against it. "Mmm, yeah… that…" Ryan gasped. I began unbuttoning his pants, hooking my thumbs into the waistband and pulling them off, underwear and all. His cock sprang up after being released from it's confines, bobbing slightly out in front of him. I went to go down on him, desperately wanting to taste him but he stopped me. "No, you first." He whispered, wrapping me in his arm and gently lowering us to the bed, his full weight on top of me. I loved it when he layed on top of me, like the world's best weighted blanket. He slowly began kissing my neck, his hand traveling down and wrapping firmly around my dick. I let out a moan of pleasure at his electric touch, sending shockwaves across my body. "Oh babe, you're pre-cumming so much right now." He stated happily as he brought a finger up to his mouth and licked it, moaning slightly. He began kissing further down and when he got to my chest he was careful to avoid my cuts and move to the other side, swirling his tongue around my nipple. "Mmmff, fuuuck." I let out a moan. My sensitive nipple tingled with desire. Ryan continued what he was doing, humming in pleasure at my moans. "Ryan… I…" "Yeah baby?" He began palming at my dick, slicking up my head with my pre-cum. "I… need." "I know what you need." He responded in a low tone. I gasped as I felt the warmth and wetness of his mouth slide down the length of my shaft. "Fuuuck." Was all I could muster as he worked and sucked on my cock, each stroke feeling like heaven. "Not… gonna last like this." I moaned as I felt climax quickly approaching, sending tingling sensations over all my nerve endings. To my relief Ryan stopped and glanced up at me, a new form of hunger glazing across his eyes. "I have a better way of making you cum." He responded deviously. "Yes, I want you to fuck me." I replied breathlessly. I wanted to feel all of Ryan, in any way possible, make this moment last forever. Ryan shook his head and straddled my hips, gazing down at me, lust and want crossing over his perfect features. He leaned down and kissed me on the lips, gliding over to my ear and nibbling on my earlobe which sent a shiver down my body. "I want you to fuck me." Ryan growled in my ear. My breathing hitched slightly at that statement, I had given thoughts and even fantasized about this moment. But for some reason I was nervous, why the hell was I nervous? I had an inkling as to why, but as Ryan grabbed my dick and gently pressed it towards his opening all of that nervousness had seemed to float away. Instead it was replaced with desire, desire to make this good for him, like he had made it good for me that first time. "We don't have any lube." My eyes went wide from worry, but Ryan shook his head and continued pressing my cockhead to his hole. "I think you have enough precum to fix that." He chuckled. Ryan closed his eyes in concentration, his breathing relaxing as he slowly lowered himself on me. We both moaned in unison as his hole relaxed and my cock slid past his threshold. I could feel Ryan's body vibrate on top of me as he lowered himself more, my cock filling every crevice inside of him, until his ass came into contact with my pelvis. "Oh fuck." Ryan moaned, and man was that a glorious sound. He gazed down at me, a new type of vulnerability in his eyes as he slowly began riding me, his tight hole and the warmth that surrounded it pulling on my cock and making my eyes roll in the back of my head. He began quickening the pace slightly and I placed my hands on his hips, steadying him, wanting this to last a little bit longer. "Please." Ryan begged, which only turned me on more. "Not yet." I whispered, giving him a hungry look. He leaned down and kissed me on the lips, our tongues intertwining with one another. God this was such a perfect moment, nothing could replace it. The way Ryan moaned, the way he looked at me in that vulnerable and exposed way, it was like seeing inside of him for the first time. I thrusted my hips upward, burying my cock further into him and Ryan moaned in my mouth. I did it again and he moaned a little louder, I must have hit the spot. I began a motion of slow thrusts, each one sending me closer and closer towards that magnificent finish. "Oh fuck… Elliott." Ryan grabbed a hold of my arms and squeezed, riding through the waves of pleasure. I grabbed his dick and began jerking him off, my thrusts getting quicker and my climax reaching its peak. "Oh fuck." I groaned, my breath hitching and my body tensing as I began shooting load after load into Ryan, the intensity of which made my balls ache and had me growling. Ryan let out a low groan and I felt as warm cum began shooting all over my chest, his hole pulsating around my cock which was still buried deep inside of him. He collapsed on top of me, his breathing hard and labored. "Your shivering." Ryan stated breathlessly, taking notice to my body vibrating underneath him in waves. "It was… intense." I let out an exhausted chuckle. "I'm pretty sure I'm pregnant now." Ryan joked and we both laughed at that, the sounds echoing off the attic walls. I loved his laugh, it was thick and warm like honey, and deep like it came straight from the heart. It was the type of laugh that was more cozy than obnoxious, like being wrapped up in a warm blanket next to a roaring fire. "What is it?" Ryan asked gently. It took me a minute to realize that I was staring at him with a longing expression, my thoughts clearly plastered across my face. I bit my lower lip, a blush spreading across my face. "Just enjoying this." I admitted stroking his cheek with the back of my hand. “You're so beautiful you know that?” My voice sounded husky as I spoke. He blushed, leaning into my touch and kissing my hand. “You're not too bad yourself.” He replied softly, giving me a soft kiss and rolling off of me. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me closer as I let out a long yawn and nuzzled my way into his chest. Ryan stroked my back gently with his fingers, the touch was comforting and was sending me off into a sleep. "Goodnight Elliott." Ryan whispered, pressing a kiss to the top of my head. "G'night." I managed to say before my exhaustion completely took over and I drifted off to sleep. I awoke the next morning to a beautiful sunrise pouring in through the window, and the smell of coffee wafting from a mug that was hovering over me. Ryan was sitting on the edge of the bed, a grin splitting across his face at the sight of me. “Good morning.” “Morning.” I replied bleary eyed, my eyes not adjusting to the bright sunshine quiet yet. “How’d you sleep?” He asked as I accepted the mug from him. I reflected back on my sleep, no night terrors, no waking up in a cold sweat. I actually slept the best I had in awhile, considering the circumstances. “Good actually, considering.” “I’m glad.” Ryan leaned down and gave me a soft kiss on the lips, and I couldn’t help but feel giddy over it. Everything from Ryan, to the coffee, to the cozy attic room, to the sun coming in from the window was absolutely perfect and something that I desperately wanted to happen again. I took a drink of the coffee and groaned in approval, it was delicious, not like the coffee we usually got on base. “Is everyone else awake?” I asked. “Yeah. They're all in the living room discussing what we should do next." "Any ideas?" I raised my eyebrows as I took another drink of coffee. "Short from bursting into the capitol building and demanding to speak to the president, no." Ryan's expression turned bleak. I cocked my head at him, this was a side of Ryan I hadn't seen yet. "What is it?" I asked. Ryan picked at his coffee mug, staring pensively at its contents. He let out a long sigh and brought his gaze back up to meet mine. "This all just seems so impossible. Literally the fate of millions of people rests in our hands and we have no idea what to do.” Ryan was losing faith, which was understandable. It did seem like an impossible feat, but if I had learned anything from after San Francisco it was that our team could handle a lot. Sure this responsibility was forced onto us, but if we didn’t do it who else would? I grabbed Ryan’s hand, giving a gentle squeeze and running my thumb across his fingers. “It does seem impossible,” I admitted, nodding my head. “But we have to try, we have a responsibility." Ryan nodded his head and I gave his hand a squeeze, which he returned with a shaky smile. I could see the uncertainty on his face, we were all uncertain about this and where we went from here. We just needed to band together and get through this because we were stronger as a unit. I released his hand from my grip and swung my legs out of the bed giving a large stretch. I had slept pretty good, probably the best I had slept in a while. I glanced out the window above the bed to be greeted by an amazing view of Downtown. Glass towers and skyscrapers stretching towards the sky, desperate to escape a layer of smog that settled over the city. I stood up and walked over to the area that my clothes had been in the previous night but they were gone. I scanned the room but I couldn't see them. I looked over at Ryan questioningly as he stared at my bare form, a coy smile spreading across his face. "Your clothes were dirty so I threw them in the washer." He stood up and walked over to the chair in the corner of the room where a pile of neatly folded clothes lay. He picked them up and brought them over to me, his gaze looking me up and down in a hungry fashion. "We're about the same size. I brought a couple change of clothes just in case but honestly, I'm kinda digging this look you already have." I gave him a lopsided grin and took the stack of clothes from him. "Thank you." "No problem besides, seeing you in one of my shirts will be thanks enough." He gave me a gentle smile and pressed a kiss to my lips. "I'll see you downstairs." He added with a wink and turned on his heel, leaving me alone in the attic to get dressed. I pulled Ryan's clothes on and I was surprised to find that we were indeed the same size. His shirts were softer then I realized too, the cotton fabric clinging to my skin and feeling more like a pajama shirt than an actual shirt. I understood now why he wore them, besides the fact that they covered his burn scars they were just comfortable, plain and simple. I made my way down the attic stairs and rounded the corner to the living room, where everyone's gaze came up to meet me. "Someones in a good mood." Alex eyed me suspiciously from the couch. I hadn't realized it before but I did have a little extra pep in my step this morning. I guess a combination of good sleep and mind blowing sex will do that for you. "I slept." I half admitted, leaning against the wall. "Is that all?" There was a small glint and a knowing expression in Riley's eyes, telling me that he knew what happened. I rolled my eyes at him and turned my gaze towards Alex, who was typing away on her laptop. "What you got going on there?" Alex didn't look up at me, instead continuing to type away on her laptop. "I'm uploading all the information we found to my tablet, including the stuff from the flash drive that Gray gave to Riley." Her tone was preoccupied, giving me the impression that she wanted to be left alone while she worked. My intuition was correct when she stood from the couch and walked into the dining room, her eyes glued to her screen. "Do you want any help?" I asked. "No I got it, thanks." Her voice drifted from the dining room. I went to take another drink of coffee only to realize that my mug was empty. I must have been so tired this morning that I didn’t even notice I drank all of it. “Is there any more coffee Cody?” I gave him a pointed look. “Yeah, in the kitchen.” Cody replied, flicking through the channels on the tv until he found the news. An anchorman with a fake smile and an equally fake tan appeared on the screen, a rather striking woman sitting next to him. “Welcome to channel two news, good morning, I’m Dave Tucker.” “And I’m Carolyn Holly.” “Where do these people get these names from?” Riley asked with a bemused expression. “Does it really matter?” Ryan asked, lowering himself on the couch. “I just wanna know who would name their kid Dave Tucker.” “I don’t know why don’t we ask your parents, Riley Monroe.” Cody gave him a smirk and Riley stared back with pursed lips and pointy eyes. I made my way into the kitchen and found the coffee pot nestled in a corner between the sink and the fridge. I poured myself a steaming mug of coffee and took a drink, gazing out the window. The neighbors were coming out of their house, two men, one in scrubs and the other in a Paramedic uniform. They both said something to each other and smiled before leaning towards each other and kissing. They then broke apart, one of them climbing into the truck they were standing next to and the other jogging across the yard towards a Toyota sedan. I stared fondly at that image, wondering if I would ever have that again. I could have that again with Ryan, but what if Ryan didn’t want the same things I did. What if he was more the condo in the city type of guy vs my house in the suburbs. “Spying on the neighbors?” I jumped slightly as Ryan snuck up behind me, leaning in close enough to whisper in my ear. He gave a wide grin at my startled reaction and poured another cup of coffee for himself. “Dammit, you scared me.” I chuckled. “I see that.” He took a drink of his coffee and stood beside me, gesturing towards the window with his mug. “Looks nice doesn’t it?” “What does?” I blinked at him. “A house in the suburbs, leaving for work at the same time and giving each other a farewell kiss in the driveway. Seems perfect.” Was Ryan doing it again, practically reading my thoughts? Or was he just assuming those were the types of things that I wanted? “Is that what you want?” I asked, my voice coming out a little too hopeful. Ryan gave me a lopsided grin and shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe, is that what you want?” I rolled my eyes at his response and took a drink of my coffee. “Maybe.” I gave him a coy smile. Ryan opened his mouth to say something but was cut off by Cody’s voice calling from the living room. “Guuuuys!” There was an anxious tone to his voice which had Ryan and I both wide eyed as we walked into the living room to see Cody and Riley staring at the tv screen, mouths agape. “Pierce escaped custody last night, leaving three soldiers dead and one fatally wounded-” “Well at least we didn’t kill all of them.” Riley responded sarcastically. “Shush!” Cody hissed. “Authorities are also on the lookout for four of his accomplices-” “Frack.” Alex squeaked, coming in from the dining room and standing behind Cody with an equally wide expression. Four pictures popped up next to mine on the tv screen. “-twenty-four year old Alex Wilson, twenty-five year old Cody Park, thirty year old Riley Monroe, and thirty-six year old Ryan Riggs. All are suspected to be armed and dangerous, if you should see them don’t approach them, instead call your local authorities.” There was a long pause as Cody flicked the tv off. We all stood there, mouths agape, not really sure what to say. “I gotta say, I did not see that coming.” Riley said in a defeated tone. “What are we gonna do?” Cody stared, shocked and open mouthed, at the tv. I figured this would happen, and I had planned for it. What I hadn't planned for was all of us to be on the fugitive list. I ran my fingers through my hair, trying to think of a way around this and feeling frustrated when I came up empty handed. We all exchanged uncertain looks with each other too shocked for words. Cody asked the right question , what were we going to do?
  6. zanoGreen

    The Plan

    After our talk I felt better about the situation between Ryan and I. I couldn't erase the fact that I had hurt him, but I could make up for it in any way possible. Now that everything was out in the open I could finally do that. I sent a mass text out to the team, telling them to meet in Alex's shop so we could discuss what our next step would be to try and thwart the terrorist plot on LA. Who would have thought that this would be my life? Ruined cities, secret rebel armies, and thwarting plans to kill millions of people. I sure as hell didn't. "We need to stop off at the clinic so I can pick up a Banana Bag." I informed Ryan as we drove towards Alex's shop. "What do you need that for?" He asked, his brows furrowed. "You'll see." I grumbled. A Banana Bag, which is what we in the medical community call them, is an IV bag chock-full of vitamins and minerals that we usually use to treat chemical imbalances in the body. Soldiers mainly get them after they spend one hell of a night partying and drinking too much. They have a yellowish tint to them, hence the name Banana Bag. Ryan pulled up to Medical and I hopped out of his truck. "I won't be long." I said as I closed the door. I walked briskly towards the Medical building and pushed open the door to the main sick bay where we usually wheeled critical patients into. "Welcome back Doctor Pierce!" Julie called from the desk. I gave her a slight wave and a smile as I made my way to the supply closet. I didn't want to get stuck here by some managerial task, I just needed to get the supplies and get out. I grabbed an IV kit and a Banana Bag and walked back out into the sick bay. "Doctor Pierce?" It was Julie again. I didn't want to be rude and dismissive so I turned my attention to her. "Yes Julie, what can I do for you?" I plastered on my best smile as she approached me with a tablet. "The man in bed three is complaining of abdominal pain, after my assessment I concluded that it might be a small bowel obstruction. Would you just look over the notes and order an NG Tube?" She handed over the tablet and I took it from her. I read through her notes and concurred that was indeed what it was. I signed the orders for an NG Tube and handed the tablet back to her. "You know, you really should become a Doctor Julie. I usually just end up signing whatever orders you put in front of me." I smiled at her, this one genuine. I really liked Julie, she was probably one of my best Nurses. "Then who would take care of all the patients." She gave me a facetious grin and walked towards the supply closet. "I'll remember that the next time I get you for Secret Santa come Christmas." I teased back at her. She laughed and pushed the door open, disappearing into the closet. I hustled out of the sick bay and back into the crisp morning air. Ryan was waiting patiently for me in the truck, rocking his head back and forth to music that I couldn't hear. "What a dork." I smiled. "Doctor Pierce!" A gruff voice called out to me. "Jesus, what no-General Dreyfus!" I quickly changed tone mid sentence as I turned around and noticed the General coming towards me. He was flanked by two guards, a scowl on his face telling me that he wasn't happy. No, that was just his normal face. "I expect a report of this mission's failure on my desk no later than tomorrow." He barked. "Yes sir." "And what of Sergeant Torres? Why didn't he come back with the rest of your team?" I froze at that question, hiding the panic from my face. I hadn’t even decided what I was going to say to him about Gray. "MIA sir. We got separated, couldn't find him in all the chaos after we lost Doctor Grimm." It was the first thing to come out of my mouth, and my answer must have worked because his face softened, something that was a rare sight to see. "That's too bad. Sergeant Torres was a damn good soldier, our best explosives expert too." "I'll have the report on your desk by tomorrow morning sir." I reassured, wanting to wrap up this conversation quickly, so I could meet up with the team. "See to it Pierce, I'm looking forward to hearing your explanation as to why you weren't able to deliver Doctor Grimm to Los Angeles." He eyed me suspiciously. "I'm sure you are." I thought, biting my tongue. I wanted to lay into him about the lack of intel, but that wouldn't bode well for me in this particular situation. "I will be thorough sir." I said instead, biting back my urge to throw some attitude in there. General Dreyfus gave me a curt nod and continued on his path towards the armory. I wondered if he even cared about Gray being "MIA", he was so quick to make it sound like he would never be found, and that they might as well just slap a KIA on him instead. I was gonna get to the bottom of my suspicions about him, one way or another. "What was that about?" Ryan asked as I hoped in the truck and closed the door. "He wants the report on the mission by tomorrow morning." "Did he ask about Gray?" Ryan’s eyes went wide. "Yeah, he did." "What did you say?" "I told him he was MIA, that we got separated in the chaos when we lost Doctor Grimm. I didn't know what else to say, I didn’t want the General to think he was a Deserter." Ryan nodded and threw the truck in drive, heading in the direction of Alex's shop. "No, that's good. I'm sure the team would agree." Ryan reassured me. "Thanks. He seemed to buy it anyway, wasn't even too concerned over it. Just said that Gray was "a damn good soldier, and our best explosives expert"," I mimicked the General's voice. "He might as well have just said he was dead." "That was a good impersonation, can you bring that out in the bedroom sometime?" Ryan teased, giving me a grin to match. "Oh you like that huh? Just wait till you hear my Gilbert Godfrey impersonation." I gave him a flirtatious look. "Oh baby! You know exactly what turns me on." We both laughed as we pulled into a vacant space outside of Alex's shop. I could see Cody's Jeep parked outside, but I didn’t see Riley's car as we hopped out of the truck. That didn't surprise me, Riley probably had a late night of drinking last night. "Where's Riley?" Ryan asked. "Oh you'll see." I grumbled, walking towards the open bay door to Alex's shop. Cody was perched on an overturned bucket, cell phone in hand with a scowl on his face. Alex had a welders shield on as she worked on some sort of metallic structure on her work bench. I approached her and she didn't budge, too much in her zone. I waited for a second, but she didn't acknowledge my presence. "What are you working on!" I shouted, which made her gasp and jump. "Godammit Elliott! You scared me!" She shut the spot welder off and flipped her helmet up, giving me a scowl. I chuckled as she pulled her gloves and helmet off, her red hair falling gracefully to her shoulders. "And if you must know, it's a new prototype I'm working on." She grabbed her coffee and took a drink, the scowl never leaving her face. "What does it do?" Ryan stepped in for a closer look. "Hey Ryan." She beamed at him, giving him a hug. "Where's my hug?" I gave her a hurt expression. She flipped me off which made me chuckle. "There's your hug," She then slapped me on the shoulder with her gloves. "That's for scaring me." "Worth it." I grinned as she turned her gaze to Ryan. "It's going to replace bomb sniffing dogs. It runs completely off electricity and is charged by solar panels during the day, so it'll save on energy consumption." She took another swig of coffee. Ryan nodded his head, a look of approval on his face. "Impressive." "My girl's gonna be the next Elon Musk." Cody said pridefully from his bucket. Alex scoffed. "Please, that wrinkly old bastard wishes he was me." She eyed the Banana Bag and IV kit in my hand. "For Riley?" "Yeah… Have you guys heard from him yet?" I set the supplies down on her workbench. "No," She sighed, taking a seat on a stool. "But I wouldn't be surprised if he shuffles in here totally hungover." "Damnit!" Cody exclaimed. We all turned to face him, his eyes still glued to his phone. "What are you doing?" I asked with an annoyed tone. "It's his Medical Boards. He's been hitting the refresh on his email ever since we got back." Alex grumbled, looking over at Cody with a worried expression. I walked over to Cody and snatched the phone out of his hands, he gave me an incredulous look. "Hey! I'm gonna get the email any minute!" "Then you can look at it when you get it. You're gonna drive yourself crazy obsessing over it." I gave him a stern look and Cody pouted, knowing he had been defeated. I stuffed his phone in my back pocket and pulled out my own phone, checking to see if there were any messages from Riley. I wasn't surprised to find that there were none. "Goddamn that Riley Monroe, if I have to go over there and break his damn door down again-" "'M here." Riley shuffled in cutting me off. He was completely disheveled, wearing a Philadelphia Flyers hat, dark sunglasses, a tank top and a pair of shorts. "God, you look like a pile of shit." Alex pulled out another stool for him to sit on. "Mmm yeah, love you too." He replied snarkily, taking a seat on the stool. I went over to him and grabbed the IV kit and the Banana Bag, waiting expectantly. "C'mon, you know the drill." I said impatiently. Riley held out his arm and I wrapped a tourniquet around it, exposing many veins that were suitable options. I probably didn't even need a tourniquet, Riley had extremely veiny arms. But I figured if I was going to do it, might as well do it right. I stuck the IV in his arm and he sat there, not even a flinch. I released the tourniquet and taped down the IV, testing its placement by pushing Normal Saline through it, then drawing it back to see if I got any return flow. Once I was satisfied with my work, I hooked the Banana Bag up to him and hung it from an overhang over Alex's work bench, letting gravity do its job. "Thanks Doc." Riley gave me a mock solute with his two fingers. I grunted at him, letting him know I aknowledged him, but I didn’t necessarily approve of his behavior. Far be it for me to judge Riley for turning to alcohol as a vice during emotional times, we all have our vices in life. But after that last time, when I had to pump his stomach out and he spent three days in Medical recovering from near death, I couldn't bring myself to condone it. But I could help him not kill himself in any way possible. "Exactly how much did you have to drink last night?" Alex asked in a stern tone. "'Nough." Riley replied, that word slurring slightly. I rolled my eyes. "Damnit Riley, I needed you at one hundred percent for this meeting." It was my turn to use the stern voice on him. "And you'll get it. Just need to sober up a bit." He replied slowly, concentrating on each sentence as if he were trying to pass a literacy test. "I love you like you're my own brother, but you gotta get your shit together. I already have the General breathing down my neck, I don’t need this on top of it." "You saw the General?" Alex's eyes went wide. "Yeah," I sighed. "He wants a report, and he asked why Gray didn't come back with us." "What did ya tell 'im?" Riley asked, thrusting his shades off and squinting at the bright light pouring in through the bay door. "That Gray was MIA, I couldn't say he stayed behind or he might be pegged as a Deserter." "Did he buy it?" Alex had a hint of panic in her voice. "Yeah he did, thankfully." I looked over at Riley who was glancing at the floor, eyes somber. "If we're gonna stop the rebels and expose the secrets about San Francisco, then we all need to be at our best. Or else Gray staying behind, our mission failure all of it, will be for nothing." Riley wiped his eyes with the back of his arm, giving a sniff and nodding in agreement. "Good," I gave a stiff nod and crossed my arms. "First things first, our mission intel. I don't think I need to say that we weren't told everything before we went in." "Obviously. Those satellite images were doctored," Alex pulled her laptop out of her bag and set it on the workbench. She flipped it open and began typing away on the keyboard. "I cross referenced the satellite images we were given for the mission, with those from NASA-" "You hacked NASA?" I cut her off, Alex never ceased to amaze me with her technology prowess. She cocked an eyebrow at me, a mischievous glint reaching her eyes. "You're seriously surprised by that?" "Impressed actually." I admitted. She continued clicking and typing on her laptop, pulling up a satellite image taken during the night. "This one," she pointed at the screen. "Is the image we got from Intel, and this," she hit a couple keys on the keyboard pulling up a different image. "Was taken last night. Notice anything different?" I leaned in closer to observe the image on the screen. You could make out the city and it's edges, but there were two separate light sources coming from the city. One was obviously The Colony and to the south of it was another, larger light source, no doubt from the rebels. "And this one," she pulled up another image. "Was taken this morning." In the image I could make out The Colony, it’s clearly defined edges spreading over a twenty-three block radius. To the south was another large swath of land that was bordered off, clearly rebel territory. "Son of a bitch." I said under my breath. “My thoughts exactly.” Alex began typing away on her computer again. Everything that I had suspected about the mission was coming to light. The idea that someone was working against us from the beginning frustrated me to no end. Why would they want to keep something like The Colony and The Order a secret? “So what does this mean?” Cody asked nervously. “It means that someone on the inside is working for the rebels. The only question is, who?” Alex gave me a puzzled expression. I knew who it was, who it had to be. But the idea of it was so crazy, that even to take action against it would mean Court Martial for sure, maybe even Treason. “Alex, can you hack into a computer located on base.” “Well, sure,” She bit her bottom lip as she spoke, a thing she did when she was concentrating.”The only problem is that I can’t hack it remotely. The firewalls are tough to crack, it would take me days, I would need to be at the computer itself.” “Wait, what are we talking about here?” Riley spoke up. His color was already starting to return to normal, the contents of the Banana Bag clearly working it’s magic. “Well we need answers. I think we all know the one person who has them.” I crossed my arms, a serious expression set on my face. “The General?” Alex laughed but then cut herself short when she didn’t see me laughing with her. “Oh, you're serious.” Her eyes went wide. “Wait,” Cody held up a hand, a look of bewilderment on his face. “We’re talking about a man here that controls the base. Who could literally lock you up and throw away the key just for even thinking about doing what you’re thinking about doing. You wanna break into his office and hack his computer to hopefully find some answers?” I thought about it for a second and then gave him a nod. “Yeah, pretty much.” “Oh okay, just making sure we're on the same page.” Cody replied sarcastically and I rolled my eyes at him. “No way, what if you guys get caught?” Ryan gave me a concerned look. “We won’t.” I let out a huff of air, even though my mind went to a similar scenario, I couldn’t concentrate on that. I had to think about a positive outcome. “Look, I know this plan is crazy-” “Really crazy.” Riley scoffed. I narrowed my eyes at him before continuing. “We’ve done crazier shit than this in the past. We can totally pull this off.” I put as much optimism behind my voice as possible. They were all silent, obviously thinking through the plan themselves. “I can hack the building’s security,” Alex spoke up. “Camera’s, motion detectors, all of it can be hacked remotely from here so we can get in and get out without even being caught.” Alex had a cocky tone to her voice. Something that reassured even the deepest of doubts I was having. I gave her an encouraging nod. “Do it.” She turned back around to face her computer and began typing away, getting completely in her zone. “I don’t like this, we can come up with a better plan.” Ryan argued, hands on his hips and shaking his head. “The General knows something, and the only way we’re gonna be able to find out what it is, is if we do this.” I tried to reassure him. “Then I’m coming with you. You’ll need all the help you can get.” His tone was serious, like his facial expression. “No. I need you on the outside in case something goes sideways.” “You mean in case you get caught?” He gave me a sideways look, his lips pursed together. "That's not gonna happen." I denied his statement, I had to if we were going to pull this off. The last thing I needed was to be wary. He blew out a huff of air shaking his head. “If we’re gonna pull this off, we all need to have a positive outlook or else we’re gonna fail.” He gave a curt nod, I knew he didn't like the plan, hell even I wish there was an alternative. But if we were gonna get to the bottom of this, we needed to know what General Dreyfus was hiding, and the only way I knew how to do that was with this plan. "Alex, how long do you think it will take for you to hack the security systems?" She was typing away on her computer, clearly already one step ahead of me. "Not long." "What can I do?" Riley stood up, and then immediately fell back down on the stool from loss of balance. "Sober up." "Aye." He replied, giving me another mock solute. I held up Cody's phone and locked eyes with him, he had a look of relief, like it was salvation wrapped in glass and metal. "This stays here, I don't even wanna see you look at it." I set the phone next to Riley on the workbench. I could see the temptation in Cody's eyes as he tried to look at it, but wouldn't. I gave him a stern look and he rolled his eyes. "Fine, I'll find something to do." He stood up and walked over to Riley, checking his IV and drip rate. I understood Cody and his anxiety over his Medical Boards. I remember when I took my boards, I stayed up all night hitting that damn refresh button on my email, waiting for the message determining if the three years of training was sufficient enough for me to be a Doctor in Emergency Medicine. True you can retake the test, after about a year, but no one wants to be the guy that had to retake the test. I looked over at Ryan who was in conversation with Riley and Cody, he met my gaze and gave me a wink that sent a warm feeling straight to my heart. I was gonna have to get used to those feelings someday, but something told me that I never would and if I was being honest, I didn’t want them to, I liked them. "I'm in!" Alex broke me from my thoughts. "That was fast." I sounded a little too surprised, which garnered an offended look from Alex. "You sorely underestimate my abilities." "I wouldn't want to get on your bad side." Ryan settled in next to me. Alex gave a lighthearted laugh and shook her head. "No, you wouldn't." I watched as Alex hooked her tablet up to her computer and a loading bar appeared. "We're almost set. This is gonna take a little bit to upload to my tablet, but it should be done by the time we're ready" Alex explained, she had a cocky grin set to her face clearly pleased with her work. "Perfect,” I turned my gaze to the rest of the team. “Okay guys listen up, here's what we’re gonna do.” They all turned to face me, Alex swiveled around in her chair with the slyness of a nineties villain. "At twenty-three hundred hours Alex and I will sneak into the General's office, it's late enough that everyone should be gone." "I can get on patrol in that sector, try and get them to stay away." Ryan suggested. His face had a seriousness to it that I usually saw when we discussed strategy. "Actually, I have a plan for that." I replied, turning my gaze to Riley. "What?" He gave me a confused look. His eyes went wide when he saw the mischievous gleam in my eye. "Ohhh no, no." He replied waving his hand dismissively. "Heeey, now there's an idea." Ryan grinned mischievously, picking up on my plan for Riley. "No." He said again flatly. Cody meanwhile was looking between the three of us, a look of utter confusion on his face. "Someone wanna clue me in here?" He gave a nervous laugh. "They wanna use me as bait." Riley responded, giving us a dour expression. "That's… Actually not a bad idea." "Not you too!" Riley gave him a shocked expression. "We don't wanna use you as bait, more like… A diversion." I grinned at the last word. "All I'm hearing is that I'm gonna get tossed in a cell for the night." Ryan spoke up next, he had a flat look on his face, arms crossed and his muscles rippling under the tattoos that covered them. He was using his "cop" persona, something I've seen him do to recruits to help them fall in line. I had to admit, it was pretty hot seeing him like that. I shook the thoughts away of him using this persona on me in the bedroom. It was not the time for that, but my dick suggested otherwise. "Just cause a ruckus, enough to draw our attention away from the area for like ten-fifteen minutes, then haul ass outta there." Riley thought for a moment, the gears in his head clearly turning as he thought of a plan. "Fine, but you guys owe me big for this." He had a stern look as he pointed to Ryan and I. I held my hands up. "Whatever you want buddy." "Whatever?" He flashed me a roguish smile. "Within reason." I added. "You're no fun." He pouted, crossing his arms. "Cody, I need you to cover Medical for me tonight." "By myself?" He asked with a look of horror. "There will be other Doctors and Nurses there, you'll be fine." Cody looked like he was gonna hurl at the thought of working without me, but he nodded his head in a nervous manner nonetheless. I had faith in him, hell I trained him, and I didn’t get to CMO based on my good looks. Ryan adjusted his hat nervously, a frown set on his face. “I still feel like there could be another way to do this, one that doesn’t put both you and Alex on the chopping block.” I gave him a warm smile. “Everything will be fine. Don’t worry so much, you’ll get wrinkles.” Ryan grumbled and flipped his hat backward. I noticed that whenever he was stressed or nervous he fidgeted with his hat, it was just one more thing I adored about him. My stomach rumbled, signaling that it was around lunch time. I looked at the clock and it was twelve, the mess hall should be open for lunch now. "Well, now that that's settled, who wants to get lunch?" Everyone gave an agreeable sound and we all began making our way towards the bay door, Cody snatched his phone from the workbench and began flicking through it, no doubt checking his emails. The plan was solid, and we all had our jobs. I just hoped that it didn't all go to hell. You could have an air-tight plan, but then something could happen, the most miniscule thing that could completely derail it. I had faith in us though, a faith that could only be formed by being in the stickiest of situations. But we always figured a way out when we needed to. "You need to eat something." Ryan stated as we sat in the mess hall. I was staring at my chicken caesar wrap, my appetite not really there even though my stomach rumbled in opposition. Truth be told I was nervous about our operation, if it went sideways that would mean bad news for Alex and I. I could already see the two of us locked in a cell, being Court Martialed, and probably a fat Treason sticker slapped on us. Not to mention the cuts on my chest throbbed in pain every now and then, which made me have to bury the emotions that came with it until a later time. “How’s the chest healing up?” Cody asked, and everybody gave him a glowering look. “What?” He added through a bite of food in his mouth. “It’s fine.” I gave him a reassuring smile. There was an awkward cloud settling over the table, I could tell the team knew something was up. They all tip-toed around me, not wanting to bring up the obvious, hell even I didn't want to come to the conclusion that I already knew. I saw several soldiers battle it, even doctors back before the war when they made a mistake and accidentally killed someone. The words alone made me want to shutter, run from them, and bury them deep down in a place where no one could find them or psychoanalyze them. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “Seriously guys… I’m fine.” I added, trying to dissipate the cloud of awkwardness. They all looked at me with sympathetic eyes, looks that made my skin crawl. I didn’t want to be seen as damaged, something that needed to be fixed and coddled. I forced myself to take a bite of the wrap, but it tasted bland and not very appetizing. But it wasn't the wrap, it was me. Ever since we came back everything seemed bland. The way the birds chirped in the trees irritated me, where as before it would be music to my ears. The blue skies and sunshine of the California desert seemed less bright and vibrant, and instead made me miss the gloom of the Pacific Northwest during a torrential downpour. The only thing that seemed to keep me grounded and sane was Ryan. The way he gave me one of those lopsided grins, the way he said "y'all" in that southern drawl of his. The way his sandy blonde hair curled upward on the sides, sticking just slightly out from underneath his baseball cap. Not to mention those piercing blue eyes that always looked at me with warmth and caring. Ryan got me and understood me like no one else did, and that alone was enough to keep me going and not give in to the despair. “I’m gonna head over to Medical and make sure everything is in order for tonight.” I closed the container for my food and stood up from the table. I wanted to get away for a little bit, away from the sympathetic looks and the tip-toeing around subjects. “Do you want me to come with you? It’s on my way to the station.” Ryan asked, giving me a mild expression. “Nah, you stay here and eat.” I gave him a small smile and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He smiled back at me and nodded in confirmation. I could see in his eyes that he knew I wanted to be alone. I let my hand slowly fall from his shoulder as I walked away from the table and out of the mess hall. I was greeted by the summer heat as I stepped outside and began making my way across the courtyard towards medical, my boots beating against the hot pavement. I needed a distraction until tonight, and I was hoping I would find that at Medical. I rounded a corner and came face to face with none other than Jon. "Fuck." Was the only word I could think of. Jon was the last person I wanted to see right now, and now that Ryan and I were starting to smooth things over I really didn’t need his advances right now. "Hey there stranger." He leered at me. "Hey Jon." I grumbled. "I heard about Gray. How are you feeling?" He reached out and put a hand on my arm. The funny thing was that before, his touch would have sent shivers up and down my spine. But now that touch didn’t do anything for me, it just seemed bland, just like everything else. "I appreciate the concern, but I'm fine." I said in a kind tone, and gently pulled my arm away, thankful for the lack of contact. "Oh okay." Jon replied, he looked a little put off as he folded his arms. "You and Tex huh?" He gave me a devilish grin. "What?" I asked, fear starting to creep in. I didn't want Jon to know about Ryan and I, it could spell disaster for the both us. To everyone else, except for the team, we were just teammates and nothing more. If the higher ups caught wind that we were seeing each other they would reassign one of us, me being the obvious choice because as Chief I should have known better. "Don’t play coy." Jon gave me a lopsided grin. I shook my head and gave him a vacant expression. "I don't know what you're talking about." Jon just shook his head and chuckled. He looked around the two of us to see if anyone was around. We were completely alone, a situation that didn't bode well with me, and my feelings were correct as Jon reached out and began tracing his fingers along my bicep, inching closer to me. "What are you doing?" I said in a low growl, taking a step backward until I felt the cool brick of the building behind me. "What I usually do after one of us comes back from a mission." He replied with a smirk. My muscles tensed at that statement. I didn't want this, not with Jon. His touch felt cold and unwelcome, like something more out of a nightmare then a fantasy. “No.” I said shortly, the growl never leaving my voice. Jon was still moving in closer though, his breath hitting my neck. His hands landed on my chest, one of them resting right over the cuts which twinged. My pulse quickened, and I saw Diaz’s face instead of Jon’s for a split second and I instinctively pushed back against him with all my might. He stumbled backward and a wild eyed expression crossed his face, as he righted himself. “I said, no!” I shouted, my voice echoing off the buildings with a deep boom. Jon just stood there, blinking at me, clearly in shock about what had just happened. “What the fuck is wrong with you!” I growled and waved my hand dismissively. I didn’t owe him an explanation, and like hell was I going to tell him about what happened. “Just… Leave me alone.” I demanded. I turned and headed in the direction of Medical, leaving him stunned and with a confused expression set on his face. I didn’t feel sorry for what I did, I told him no, and he should have respected that. I was relieved that he didn’t follow after me, if he were to lay a hand on me again I didn’t know what I would do, and that scared me. I was always in control of my emotions, but that outburst proved that what had happened to me on our mission had royally fucked me up psychologically. I pushed the doors open to medical and plastered the best fake smile I could muster. “Back so soon?” Julie cocked an eyebrow at me. “Yeah you know me, workaholic.” I gave a slight chuckle. Julie gave me a suspicious look and placed her hands on her hips. “What’s the matter?” “Nothing!” My voice went up an octave. “Does something have to be wrong for me to want to come into work when I’m supposed to be off?” I picked up a tablet and began flipping through it, trying to find anything to change the subject. “Doctor Pierce,” Julie pulled the tablet from my hands and placed it on the desk in front of her. “I’ve been working alongside you for long enough to know when something is bothering you.” Fuck, why does everyone want to talk about what is bothering me. Can’t people just ignore my problems for ten minutes? “It’s nothing, don’t worry about me Julie.” I gave her a reassuring smile and swiped the tablet from the desk, she shook her head and sighed in defeat. “I could actually use a consult in bed two.” She jerked her head in the general direction of the bed. The curtains were drawn, so I couldn’t see the patient. I nodded my head and walked towards bed two, thankful for any kind of distraction. I pulled back the curtain to reveal a soldier, probably no older than twenty. He had his head tipped back and a handful of gauze in his hand which was stained with blood. "Let's see the damage." I sighed, sitting on a rolling stool. He removed the gauze and tipped his head down so I could see his face. His nose was black and blue, the bridge distorted slightly, it was definitely broken. "Yep," I pulled a pair of gloves on. "That's gonna need to be reset." "Shit." His tone was somber. It didn't take long for me to reset his nose. I numbed him with a local anesthetic to reduce the pain slightly, but he still jumped and flinched as I set the delicate nasal bones back to where they belonged. “God, I’m so embarrassed.” He stated, as I was shoving gauze in his nostrils. “It’s okay, your secret is safe with me.” I gave him a wink, which made him flush a bright shade of red. "Next time, hold the gun a little tighter." I gave him a couple of slaps on the shoulder and pulled the curtain back. He gave me a nervous look, his voice shaking. "H-how did you know?" "You think this is the first time I've seen an injury like this from a rook?" I chuckled and gestured towards the nurses station. "Julie will give you discharge instructions." He nodded his head and made his way towards the nurses station where Julie was waiting to hand him his paperwork. The day seemed to go by like nothing, a broken arm from a guy who was playing football with his buddies, head sutures for a guy who tripped and hit his head on a rock while out on a drill run, and a man and a woman who rolled their jeep during a training mission. Before I knew it, it was six and Ryan was walking through the doors carrying two take out containers in his hands. My stomach grumbled in approval as he approached me at the nurses station with a sly grin. “Thank god I’m starving.” I smiled. “I figured.” The grin never left his face. I opened the take out container to snoop out it’s contents, it was a pastrami and swiss sandwich, one of my favorites. “You wanna eat outside?” I suggested. “Sounds good.” He turned around and headed for the doors. I made eye contact with Julie who smiled and gave me a knowing look. I had mentioned Ryan a few times to her over the past week or so, and she definitely approved. We stepped outside and walked over to a picnic table around the corner from the doors, just out of sight from where they wheeled patients in. I sat down next to Ryan and opened my container, I was just about to take a bite when he leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. It’s warmth radiated over my face and made me blush, causing a sheepish grin to split across my face. “What was that for?” I asked. Ryan shrugged his shoulders and gave me a lopsided smile. “Just because.” I bumped shoulders with him playfully as I took a bite of my sandwich. I could get used to this routine, it was nice having something normal and stable right now. Especially with everything I was going through. “You nervous about tonight?” He asked. I nodded, swallowing a bite of my sandwich. “A little, yeah.” “No one is gonna blame you if you back out.” He responded a little too hopefully for my liking. “Fuck not you too.” “It’ll be fine.” I gritted through my teeth. I didn’t want to blow up on Ryan, but at the same time I didn’t need him coddling me like the others did. I thought that he was gonna treat me normal. “Please don’t.” I said somberly. He gave me a puzzled expression. “Don’t what?” I sighed and sat my sandwich down, no longer hungry. “Don’t treat me like I’m gonna break at any second.” His eyes went wide and he shook his head. “No-no, that’s not what I mean at all.” I gave him a confused expression. What did he mean then? Because from what I was hearing he was trying to get me to back out because he didn’t think I could handle it with what I was going through. “Then what do you mean?” He took my hand, intertwining our fingers together, and gave me a gentle smile. His hands were still that rough and soft texture that I loved. “I’m not worried about your ability, I’m worried that you're gonna get caught.” “Oh…” I blinked at him, not really sure what to say next. I felt like an ass for assuming that he was going to start treating me like the rest of the team, like some cracked egg that needed protecting. “I know that you're not gonna break Elliott. You're tough and resilient, it’s one of the many qualities I admire about you.” He admired me? I don’t think anybody had ever said that to me before. I expected it to feel awkward, but it felt surprisingly good instead. “Don’t worry about me,” I gave him a confident smile. “I’ll be fine.” He bit his bottom lip and I seized the opportunity to lean forward and plant a kiss on his lips. He groaned as I felt him relax into the kiss, accepting it, and I hoped, letting the worry slide off of him. I parted my lips and he slid his tongue into my accepting mouth which made my breath hitch slightly. “Someone… Could see…” I whispered between kisses. “I don’t care.” Ryan whispered back in a gruff tone. I turned to face him, straddling the bench we were sitting on and Ryan did the same. I placed my hands on his knees and looked him in the eyes. There was a glint behind them, that showed me that he more than just cared about me. Was he- “I’m falling for you Elliott.” He whispered, pretty much answering the question I was thinking. I didn’t have any words, I just stared at him, but my heart was thumping so hard in my chest from the joy of those words. His eyes went wide and he began to try and backpedal. “I mean… If you aren’t… Not saying that you should…” He growled out of frustration as he stammered with the right words to say. I just smiled at him, and how adorable he was when he was nervous. “Ryan,” I chuckled and gave his knee a reassuring squeeze. “I am too.” He blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. “You are?” “Yes.” I beamed at him, leaning in for another kiss. It was nice to finally get the words out there, and although we had only known each other a short time, it felt right. Ryan’s phone began to buzz and he groaned as he fished it out of his pocket and looked at the screen. “It’s the station,” He swiped his thumb across the screen and held the phone up to his ear. “This is Riggs.” His tone switched to a more professional and gruff one as he spoke. I turned my attention to my sandwich and began packing everything back up into my container. I had a feeling by the tone in Ryan’s voice that our dinner was going to be cut short. My intuition was right as Ryan sighed and slid his phone back into his pocket. He gave me a sad expression, telling me that he felt bad for cutting our meeting short. “There’s a situation, I gotta go.” He grumbled. “It’s okay, go, be safe.” I gave him a reassuring smile. “I’m sorry, I’ll make it up to you.” He gave me a quick kiss and began piling his leftovers into his container. “Ohhh, you will, will you?” A wolfish grin flashed across my face as I spoke. Ryan licked his lips and flashed me a coy smile. “I’ll see you tonight.” He growled in a playful tone which went straight to my dick, a more primal side of me wanting to come out and play. He gave me another quick kiss, this one with a little passion thrown behind it, and then he turned and headed towards his truck. I stood up from the picnic table and headed back into the sick bay with a little bit of pep in my step, which Julie caught on to. “Someone’s in a good mood.” “Nobody likes a snoop.” I gave her a grin as I approached the nurses station. “Not snooping, just being… Observant.” She flashed me a smile. “Mmhmm.” I grabbed the tablet to see if there was another consult that needed to be done. But as I flipped through the beds all of them had already been seen and didn’t need a consultation. I handed the tablet back to Julie with a sad expression. "Awe, don't look so grumpy. There will be more emergencies later I'm sure." She teased. I rolled my eyes and removed my scrub jacket, tying it around my waist. "Y'know. Most doctors where a lab coat." She knew I hated wearing my lab coat, I didn't like the big "I'm a Doctor" symbol it wrapped me up in. Plus it was uncomfortable and didn't fit my shoulders correctly, so I always opted for a scrub jacket instead. "I'm CMO, I'll wear whatever I want." I replied with a defiant tilt to my chin. She clicked her tongue and shook her head, a thing she normally did when she disapproved of something I did or said. "Just saying. It wouldn't kill you to look the part sometimes." She did have a point there. If anyone were to look at me they wouldn't guess I was a Doctor, let alone Chief Medical Officer of a joint base Emergency Room. I had tattoos, and there was beard scruff dusting my face. About the only thing about me that was regulation was the crew cut that I had. But as defiant as I was, I styled it into a short faux hawk. Growing up I was always a little rebellious at heart, and these things were like my little acts of rebellion, all while maintaining a certain level of professionalism that kept the higher ups happy. "I think he looks fine." Candace, a fellow doctor, approached the nurses station and handed her tablet over to Julie, who frowned at the lack of support. "Thank you Candace!" I gave Julie a smirk before turning around and heading towards my office. “I’m still not giving up on it!” Julie called after me as I closed my office door. I smiled at her remark and crossed over to my cot, collapsing on it. I wasn’t really tired, but I felt exhausted after all the work I had done. I stared at the clock and it was almost seven. A few more hours and we would be meeting up to put our plan into action. I stared up at the ceiling tiles thinking about what we may discover. A part of me was hoping we would come up empty handed, then I could just toss my feelings aside as being paranoid and leave it at that. But I had this nagging feeling in my gut that the General was hiding something, and by now I've learned to trust my instincts. "Ell, wake up." I opened my eyes to see Alex standing over me. I looked at the clock, my sleepy eyes adjusting to the light. 2230 Holy shit, I slept almost four hours. I rubbed my face and stood up, giving a large stretch which made me groan. "You ready?" She asked, a look of concern washing over her face. "Yep." I ignored her concern and crossed over to my desk, pulling a fresh t-shirt out. I pulled my shirt off and tossed it in the hamper in the corner. Alex's eyes landed on the bandages covering my chest, when I noticed her staring she looked down at her feet, a look of shame covering her face. "Stop." I said thrusting the shirt over my head and pulling it down to my waist. She gave me a wide eyed expression. "What?" "I'm still the same person, stop staring at me like I'm broken." "I'm not-" She cut herself off and let out a huff of breath. "We're allowed to be concerned about you. We're your family." "Then stop dancing around the topic and ask me what you really want to ask me." I walked past her and out of the office. Cody was standing at the nurses station, looking through charts on a tablet. He straightened his posture when I got close and tucked the tablet under his arm. A nervousness washed over his features when he saw the irritated look on my face. "You got this tonight?" I asked, locking eyes with him. Cody nodded briskly. "Yes." I gave him a curt nod as I strode past him towards the doors, pushing them open and stepping out into the cool desert air. Alex trotted behind me, trying to keep up. "Look, I know you're irritated but can you slow down? I'm a little shorter than you ya know." I slowed my pace slightly and she settled in next to me, matching my strides. We walked in silence the entire way with Alex stealing glances at me every now and then. I know she wanted to say something, but was apprehensive because of my mood. "What?" I finally asked with a hint of annoyance as we reached the building where the General's office was. "Nothing." Her reply was short and decisive as she fished a tablet out of her messenger bag. I knew she was lying and I didn’t blame her. Maybe the reason everyone was tip toeing around me was because I wasn’t giving them any answers? She tapped around on her tablet, the screen was full of code, something I didn't understand. “Look, I’m sorry.” My voice cut through the silence between us. She looked up at me from her tablet giving me a blinking expression. “For what?” “For acting like an asshole back at my office, for not opening up to you guys." "You don't have to apologize Ell… What happened to you," She let out a long exhale, like she was trying to find the right words to say. "No one should have to go through that." I nodded slightly, my sinuses starting to burn. "I just feel fucked up and angry now, and I’m trying to keep it together for everyone.” Alex shook her head and grabbed my shoulders, there was a stern look on her face as she spoke. “You get to be fucked up, you get to be angry, and you have the right to fall apart. But don’t shut us out, let us be there for you.” I nodded my head and Alex’s expression softened. She released my shoulders from her grip and turned her attention back to her tablet. I felt a little better knowing that the team didn’t think less of me because of what had happened to me. There was a beep and then a click as the door unlocked, signaling that she was in the building's security. We stepped through the door and into the dark narrow hallway that led to the General’s office. Alex pulled two headsets out of her bag and handed one to me, placing the other one over her ear. "Testing, testing." I gave her a thumbs up that I could hear her. "Go to channel two." She informed me, switching her own headset over. I switched channels and I could hear her trying to contact Riley, who immediately responded. "Go for Nighthawk." He said with a confident tone. "Nighthawk? Really?" You could practically hear the eye roll in Alex’s tone. "That's my codename dude! I'm Nighthawk, Ell’s is Chief, and yours is Pepper." "Pepper?" Alex scrunched her face in disgust. "Yeah, you know, because you're so fiery." Riley came back with an amused tone. "I'll show you fiery." Alex growled. "Riley, are you in position?" I asked, trying to shift the conversation to the task at hand. "I'm sorry, who?" Riley replied. "Riileeey." I growled into the mic. "Fine, fine. You're no fun." There was a pause on his end and I was about to ask again but then he was back. "Ready to go whenever you are." "Okay… 3… 2… 1… Go." A few moments later there was a loud boom that made Alex and I jump. "Riley, what the fuck was that?" I commanded. "You said to create a distraction." Alex and I began walking hurriedly down the hallway towards the general’s office. The whole base would probably be converging on the area where the explosion took place soon. "Yeah but not an explosion." "It was just a small stick of dynamite." Riley responded. I ignored him and began picking the lock on the office door. It didn't take me long as the door was old and the lock was easy to manipulate. I pushed the door open after hearing the satisfying click as it unlocked. Alex and I hurried inside and I closed the door behind us. I eyed a filing cabinet against the far wall and began opening the drawers, digging through its contents. Alex immediately began working on the computer, plugging her tablet in and typing away on the keyboard. My heart was pounding, adrenaline coursing through my veins as I flicked through the files. I was looking for anything that could point towards our mission, or towards the terrorist plot. But the only things I was finding was personnel files. "Anything yet?" I looked over at Alex with a hopeful expression. "No not yet, I'm looking through his emails right now." I closed the filing cabinet with a disappointed groan and crossed over to the desk, opening the drawers and looking through their contents. Nothing. I went to pull open another drawer but it was locked. I examined it and noticed that it was a simple lock, something that could be opened if I had something thin enough to slide into the crack and release the locking mechanism. I pulled out my tactical knife and carefully slid it into the crack between the top of the drawer and the frame, jiggling it slightly until I heard the lock release. I sighed with relief and pulled the drawer open. There was a file sitting on top so I grabbed it and set it on the desk. I flipped it open and the first thing I was met with was a picture of myself, paper clipped to some sheets of paper. I began flipping through the pages but all they contained was my rap sheet, successes and failures, my background and backgrounds on my parents. I got to the last page and there was a red rectangular stamp across the page. The word Eliminate was emblazoned in red ink inside the rectangular box. "Eliminate? What the fuck?" I flipped to the next page and this time it was Riley. I flipped to the last page and the same word, Eliminate was stamped across it. My pulse quickened as I flipped to the next page to reveal Alex. Eliminate was also stamped across the last page. I kept flipping, each time my heart dropping, Ryan, Eliminate, Cody, Eliminate. Once I got to the last page I was met with a picture of Gray, except across his picture there was a different stamp, this one read Eliminated. "Oh my god." "What?" Alex asked, not looking away from the computer screen. I set the file down in front of her, breaking her attention away from the monitor. She flipped through the file, her brow furrowing as she went. "What the hell is this?" "I don't know. But look at Gray's file." She flipped until she got to Gray's picture and her jaw dropped slightly. "Oh my god." I pulled out my phone and took the file from her, snapping pictures of everything that I could to show the team later. "Do you think he knows we're on to him?" Alex gave me a slack jawed look as she spoke. "I don't know what else it could mean." I responded, and I honestly didn't. It sounded to me like since we failed the mission, and we “lost” Dr. Grimm, that the General had a suspicion that maybe we knew more than we were letting on, and because of that we needed to be silenced. I looked over at the computer monitor, General Dreyfus's emails were still displayed, one in particular catching my eye. I looked at the subject line "Attention Dr. Jekyll". "Did you look at this email?" I pointed a finger at it and Alex gave me a confused look. "No, there are a bunch of them though. I just dismissed it as nothing.” I gave her an awestruck look, which she returned with a further confused expression. "Have you never heard of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde?" She shook her head slowly, as if to question the significance of it, and we didn't have time for me to explain it to her. "Click on it. See what it says." She tapped the monitor and the email opened, revealing a relatively short message. Dr. Jekyll, Operation White Rider is ago. Prepare for extraction. -Mr. Utterson "I don't get it." Alex's tone was confused. I had an idea, but we would have to look at them later. We were running out of time and the patrol would be back soon, not even Ryan could get them to stay away. "Copy every email that mentions Doctor Jekyll, Mister Utterson and Operation White Rider." She gave me a puzzled expression, signifying that she didn't understand. "Just do it, I’ll explain later.” She nodded and immediately set to work, typing fervently away on the keyboard. I turned around to look through another filing cabinet behind the desk, but it was locked. I observed the lock and was disappointed to see that my tactical knife would not be able to get me into this one. “I wonder.” I began feeling around the filing cabinet, running my hands over the back until I felt my fingers graze over what felt like a key taped to the back. I gave a little cheer internally as I removed the key from the back and thrust it into the keyhole. I pulled the drawer open and to my delight there was only one file in there. “Could it really be that easy?” I flipped the file open and there, in dark bold letters, read: Top Secret: Operation White Rider “Wow, that’s convenient.” “What’s convenient?” I jumped as I didn’t realize that I had actually said that out loud. I turned around to face Alex and held the file up so she could see the title. “Here lemme see.” She gestured with her hand. I handed the file over and she pulled a small device out of her bag. It was slender and emitted a UV light. She began slowly moving it over the pages of the file, looking at her tablet every now and then and nodding to herself. “What is that?” I eyeballed the device in her hand as she finished up the last page. “It’s a scanner, it’s uploading directly to my tablet.” I peered over her shoulder and watched as the scanned files appeared one by one on her tablet. “Cool.” I whispered in awe. “C’mon, it’s me. I have every cool ass gadget you could think of.” She grinned and put the scanner back in her bag. She closed the file and handed it to me, as I was turning around to place it back in the drawer Alex’s tablet began to beep. “Shit!” She began tapping away on her tablet. “What is it?” A fear began to rise in my gut. “We triggered a silent alarm.” Just then the lights came on and an alarm started sounding. I threw the folder back in the drawer and locked the cabinet, making sure to tape the key back where it was. Alex was frantically putting her equipment back in her bag, except for her tablet which she was still swiping and tapping at. “Uhhh guys…” Riley came through the comms. “We know Riley!” I hissed back at him. "I think it was delayed because I disabled the main security system, it must draw its power from there." I had a feeling she wasn't talking directly at me and instead was just thinking out loud because she was still concentrating on her tablet. “Well you better hurry because Fort Bakersfield’s finest is converging on your location as we speak.” My heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest as the minutes slowed down to mere seconds, everything feeling like it was going in slow motion. I moved towards the office door and was just about to open it, when I heard footsteps barreling down the hallway coming in our direction. “Fuck!” I locked the door and looked wildly around the room and laid eyes on the window next to the desk. I bolted over to it, turned the latch and opened it. My heart sank even further as the window only opened slightly, giving enough room for a small person to fit through. Only one person was getting out of this room, and it wasnt me. “I can’t disable the alarm!” Alex sounded panicked as she thrust the tablet back into her bag. “It’s fine, go out the window!” I ushered her towards the opening. She eyed the window suspiciously and then gave me a wide eyed look as she soon realized what was going to happen. "No, no I'm not leaving you behind." She had a flat tone. I jerked my earpiece out and grabbed my phone out of my pocket, shoving them in her bag. I took her bag off her shoulder and dropped it out the opening, now she didn't have a choice. "You have to." I commanded. "They'll throw you in a cell, or even worse." She pleaded with me. The door handle to the office rattled, signaling that someone was at the door. We had about ten seconds before they kicked it in. I grabbed her by the shoulders and began pushing her towards the window. She reluctantly climbed up on the window sill and began sliding through the narrow gap. I grabbed her arms to help lower her down to the ground and released her once I knew she was low enough to brace her fall. "I'm sorry." She stared up at me, her voice breaking slightly. "I know." I nodded my head in acknowledgement. "Kick it in." I heard someone order from the other side of the door. "Go!" I ordered at Alex. She picked her bag up and turned, running away from the building and disappearing into the darkness. There was a crash as someone kicked the door in, a knot formed quickly in my stomach at the realization that I was in deep shit. I calmly raised my hands and turned around to face four soldiers, all of whom had their weapons drawn on me. "Doctor Pierce?" One of them exclaimed, slightly lowering her weapon. "Did I say you could lower your weapon soldier?" A gruff voice barked. General Dreyfus stepped in front of the soldiers so he could lay eyes on me. There was a pleased look in his eye, something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. What was he so pleased about? That he caught me? Something told me that wasn't what it was. "Well well, what have we got here?" He spoke slowly. There was a slight joy to his voice that sent shivers up my spine. My mind flashed to the personnel files, and the red Eliminate word stamped across my page. I gave him a defiant look as he stepped closer to me, his lip curling upward into a snarl, and his eyes giving off a glint of joy. It was almost evil, which made me want to shutter, but I kept my composure. "Take him away." He growled. Two soldiers stepped forward, one of them grabbing my wrists one at a time and pulling them behind my back. I felt the cold plastic of zip ties wrapping around my wrists, locking them together. They then led me out of the office and down the narrow hallway towards the exit, which seemed never ending in comparison to earlier. Would the General torture me to see if I had found out his big secret? Maybe they would just take me out into the desert and put a bullet in my head, silence me so I couldn't spill his big secret. I began to take some deep breaths, calming my nerves, and as I did Images of Ryan began flooding in. God, what was Ryan going to do when he found out that I had been captured, that his fears had come true. I felt guilty knowing how helpless he would feel, knowing he couldn't do anything or else he would jeopardize everything he worked so hard for. I was loaded into the back of a Humvee and two soldiers slid in next to me on either side, both of them looking straight ahead avoiding eye contact with me. As the Humvee pulled out of the parking lot and we began driving down the road, I couldn't help but think about the information we had found in the General's office. I hoped that Alex could get the information to the rest of the team, and then at least they could stop whatever was going on. They had to, because there was no way I was getting out of this situation.
  7. zanoGreen

    The Talk

    I understood why Grayson had to stay behind, but I didn't think it would suck this bad. I looked across the chopper at Riley who hadn't said a single word since we left, his hand still clutching Grayson's tags like they were the only thing keeping him grounded. Poor Riley I now understood what he was talking about back at the lab, how he knew what it was like to let someone slip through his fingers. That someone was Grayson. The whole ordeal made me realize just how fragile everything was and that, regardless of the guilt I felt over having feelings for Ryan, I couldn't let him slip through my fingers either. What would I tell General Dreyfus about why Grayson hadn't come back with us? I couldn't make it out to seem like he was a deserter, he would be imprisoned, or worse. "Elliott?" Ryan’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts. "What?" I gave him a puzzled expression. "I asked if you were doing alright," He gave me a questioning look. "Are you alright?" "Yeah, I'm fine." I tried to convince him and myself, but even I didn't believe the words. The look on Ryan’s face told me that he didn’t either. "I'll be fine, promise." I gave him a lopsided smile to try and ease the concern. Ryan flashed me a knowing look, telling me that he didn’t buy it. Goddammit, how could he see right through me? Ryan wasn't entirely wrong though, I didn't know if I would be fine. This mission wasn't like the other ones. Usually at the end of a mission I felt accomplished, high off the fact that I had done my job and I had done it well. But I didn't feel any of those things, I didn't feel accomplished instead I felt empty, I didn't feel that high instead I felt dead on my feet. I had been tortured, I felt sleep deprived and I didn't know if I would ever see one of my closest teammates ever again. Not to mention that I was left with more questions than answers like: Why didn't we have enough intel for this mission? How didn't the General know about The Colony, The Order? And how in the holy hell were they supposed to stop a terrorist plot to release a bio-weapon on an unsuspecting city? I looked out the chopper door, a warm breeze blowing through my hair. We were flying over a small abandoned town, its buildings disheveled and falling apart from the elements, forgotten and neglected. "We're forty-five minutes out from Bakersfield!" The co-pilot shouted over his shoulder. I felt a pit in my stomach at the announcement. I gave him a curt nod and turned my gaze back out of the chopper. I didn't want to go back to Bakersfield, back to stitching up wounded soldiers, back to running Medical and all the headache that came with it. I wanted to be free, free from the Army, free from all of this heartache and turmoil. My contract was coming to an end soon, and when that happened I would be gone, hopefully with Ryan in tow. But we had two more missions to accomplish and then, only then, would I leave. I let myself drift off to a life outside of the Army with Ryan. I would wake up to the smell of that bacon that Ryan cooked so well, a cup of coffee, Ryan blurting out the correct answers to Jeopardy questions. We would live in a small bungalow style house, with a nice front yard and deep porch to match. There would be flowers lining the walkway, the sound of chirping birds coming from the tall oak tree in the front yard. There would also be a dog, hell maybe even two dogs, because of course we would have dogs. I smiled at the vision and how real all of it could be. I wanted that, not just for myself, but for Ryan too. He deserved something good and wholesome in his life, we both did. I hadn't realized how much time had passed as Bakersfield came into view, the usual business of choppers coming in and out, construction still being done on the outer flanks of the city. I couldn't wait to be done with this place, why they chose Bakersfield for a joint military base was beyond me. The chopper dropped in altitude to prepare for landing, I turned my attention to the rest of the team who all looked spent and in much need of a warm shower and some R&R. "Take the rest of the day off. We'll meet tomorrow at ten hundred hours." They all nodded in compliance as the chopper touched down on the tarmac. The engine was killed and they all hopped out, heading towards the hanger. I fell back a little to talk to Riley, who was still clutching Grayson's tags. "I don't really wanna talk right now Ell." "Fair enough, hey," I reached out and touched his arm as he went by. I could feel him immediately tense up, he was hurting, but in classic Riley fashion he wanted to be left alone to his brooding. "I know you wanna be left alone right now. Just know that I'm here, and I always will be, okay?" Riley gave me a stiff nod before turning and heading in the direction of where his Camaro was parked. "And don't drop off the grid either! I will break your door down again!" I called after him. The thought of another repeat of last year ran through my head. I hoped it wouldn't come to that, I hoped he would be smarter this time. I hoped, which was all I could do for my best friend. "He gonna be okay?" Ryan asked. "Honestly, I don't know. He was like this last year too after his father died. He almost died from alcohol poisoning, but luckily I found him." I turned around and began heading towards Ryan’s truck, remembering that we had arrived at the airstrip together. Ryan followed, keeping pace with me even though I was walking a little fast. I just wanted to get home, take a shower, maybe drink a beer. Maybe I could drink a beer and take a shower at the same time, that was an idea. "And what about you?" Ryan asked which warranted him an eye roll. Here we go again. What did he want me to tell him? That I felt like shit that I couldn't help my best friend? That the cuts on my chest hurt, and that seeing them and feeling the pain made my brain flash back to that room, with Diaz and with me tied to a chair? Well I wouldn't, I had to stay strong for the team, for Ryan, for myself. "Like I said before, I'm fine." I tried to hide the annoyance from my face, but apparently I didn't do a good job. "You know what the word fine actually means?" Ryan’s face turned serious. "Depends on who you ask I'm sure." I replied sarcastically. "Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional." "All that in one word huh?" I tossed my bag in the bed of Ryan's truck and turned to face him. "Could you be less of a smart ass right now?" "Ehhh probably not." I opened the passenger side door but Ryan pushed it closed. Leaving his hand on the frame, making it clear that he wanted some sort of answer. "Oh god, you really wanna do this, right here?" I could feel the heat rise in my face, the anger bubbling to the surface. "You can lie to me all you want, but I know there's something wrong. Why won't you just talk to me?" "Maybe I don't wanna talk about it right now!" I raised my voice, and that seemed to be enough to make Ryan back off slightly. He opened the door to the truck, his expression hard to read. "What, that's it? You're not gonna press me for more?" I asked, not moving. "All I wanted to hear was something other than "I'm fine" because I know you're not, and that's okay. But I know that when you're ready, you'll talk to me about it." I stood there, silent, mouth open slightly like he had just said something so appalling. But instead what he had said touched something in my heart, melted that ice a little further. He respected me. If this were James or anyone else they would have just kept badgering me until I exploded liquid hot lava all over them. But not Ryan, how did I deserve someone like him? I climbed into the truck, settling into my seat, still at a loss for words. Ryan climbed in and fired up the truck, her engine roaring to life, and drove off in the direction of my house. He didn’t say anything, keeping his eyes on the road. I could only imagine how tired he was, I don’t think any of them had slept in the past twenty-four hours, myself included. Ryan had one arm resting on the console between us and I was so tempted to reach out and grab his hand in mine. My mind flashed back to the rooftop and my heart gave a painful twinge. What if he was mad at me? I know I had hurt him with what I said. “Better not risk it.” I thought, keeping my hands firmly placed in my lap. We stopped at a red light and a bunch of tanks and transport trucks passed in front of us. Then Ryan did something I didn’t expect, he reached over and grabbed my hand, pulling it on top of the center console with his. I looked over at him and he looked back at me, his face was stoic with a hurt behind his eyes that made my heart bleed. I had caused that hurt, that was me, and I would feel guilty about that until he forgave me. I opened my mouth to speak but he turned his attention back on the road, making my mouth clamp shut. I wanted to apologize, I wanted to tell him that I was sorry, that I was a fool, maybe even a coward. We pulled up to the front of my house and I looked up the walkway, it seemed large and empty looking at. I really didn’t want to be alone, but I also wasn’t about to ask Ryan to stay with me. I reached for the door handle but Ryan surprised me again by speaking up, still looking out the windshield, but talking nonetheless. “I need to run home and pack a change of clothes, but then I’m coming right back.” I looked at him with a puzzled expression. “What?” Was this his way of saying that he was staying tonight? He turned his gaze to me again, his face was stoic, that hurt still behind his eyes. “I don’t want you to be alone, you’ve been through a lot.” I knew that he was talking about the… I couldn’t even say it, let alone think of the words. The cuts on my chest twinged and I was taken right back there, Diaz’s face looming closer to mine, scalpel in hand. I shuddered at the image and took a deep breath. “I’m okay.” I gritted through my teeth. “Clearly,” Ryan’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I’m not taking no for an answer.” Of course he wasn’t because he was Ryan, and regardless of how I acted towards him on the roof he was still going to be there. I gave him a nod because I was clearly not going to win this argument, and pushed the door open, climbing out of his truck and retrieving my bag from the bed. I unlocked my front door and went into the house, Ryan waiting until the door closed behind me to drive off. It comforted me how he always did that. I leaned against the door in the tiny entry and took in my surroundings. Even though it was daylight outside the house felt dark and suffocating. I began walking around the house, opening all the curtains, trying to get as much sunlight into the house as possible, as if that would help. I think the only thing that would help my anxiety would be if someone knocked me out with a high dose of ativan. I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, maybe a hot shower would calm me. I peeled off my shirt and stripped off my pants and boxer briefs, then climbed under the hot cascade of water. I was right, the hot water calmed me almost immediately, making me wish I could stay under there forever. I closed my eyes and dipped my head under the stream of water, but when I closed my eyes I saw Diaz again, and my eyes shot open a gasp escaping my lungs, cuts burning like they were just inflicted. “Fuck!“ I gasped. My hands began to shake, and then it was my arms, and then before I knew it my whole body was curling in on itself, air feeling like it was being pushed from my lungs. “This is a panic attack. Breath.” The Doctor in me was saying. But the other, less rational side, was taking control. Before I knew it I was on the shower floor, in the fetal position, gasping, and frozen out of panic. I thought I was gonna die, which only made me panic even more. “Get it together Pierce!” I commanded myself, but my brain and body apparently had other plans. Breathe I tried taking a deep breath but I just ended up gasping again and it was gone, just as quickly as it came. My vision began to get fuzzy around the edges as my body tensed, not able to relax. I felt like I was gonna pass out and wouldn’t that just be a sight? Ryan bursting in to see me passed out in the shower from a panic attack, him giving me that “I told you so.” look. Breathe I wished Ryan we're here, here to hold me while I went through this, tell me that it would be okay. Breathe This time it wasn't my voice I was hearing in my head, it was Ryan’s. It was like he was right there, and that alone was enough to finally, finally, get the breath I needed to fill my lungs. My body began to relax as I took in another shaky breath and another, and another, until my breathing was normal again. I laid there for another minute, scared to pick myself up from the floor, thinking that I would get hit by another wave of panic. After a few minutes passed I climbed back onto my feet, steadying myself. I reached for the bar of soap sitting on the ledge and began soaping myself up. My hands were still shaky and I dropped the bar of soap a couple of times, cursing at myself each time. But after a few minutes I was able to finish up and step out of the shower, grabbing a nearby towel and drying myself off. When I got to my chest I noticed my dressings were soaked. "Fuck." I cursed to myself, those were gonna need to be changed. I walked out of the bathroom and into my bedroom, pulling a pair of lounge shorts out of my dresser and slipping them on. Then I headed out to the living room where my bag was and dug out some dressings and tape to secure them. I grabbed the small trash can out of my bathroom and set it next to the coffee table, along with the fresh dressings. I sat down on the couch, and with shaky hands I pulled the wet dressings off, one at a time, having to breathe through it so I didn't go into panic mode again. I threw the soaked dressings in the trash can and then grabbed the dry rag I had retrieved from the bathroom. I patted the sutures dry, wincing slightly at the pain and shaking away the visions that crossed through my mind. I couldn't have another panic attack, I just needed to focus on the task at hand and that would get me through it. There was a knock at the door and I whipped my head over to it out of reflex. Ryan must be back. "It's unlocked!" I shouted and shortly after that the door opened and a warmth filled my chest as Ryan walked through the entry. He was freshly showered, his hair still damp underneath his baseball cap. He had one of his signature three quarter inch sleeve t-shirts on, this one was gray with black sleeves, and a pair of nice fitting shorts that hugged his ass and thighs. The whole house seemed to brighten up when he walked in, making it less dreary and lonely, and more warm and comfortable. He set his bag down on the floor and looked around at all the drawn curtains, a look of curiosity crossing over his face. “Why are all the curtains open” I shrugged. “I dunno, just needed some sunlight in here.” Even though opening the curtains didn’t even seem to help, it only helped when Ryan walked into the room. I turned my focus back on my fresh dressings, taping the sides so they were ready to apply. I brought the first one up to my chest and tried covering one of the sites, but my hands had other plans, shaking and making it noticeably difficult. “Fuck.” The words escaped my mouth. Ryan crossed over to me and pushed the dressings aside, taking a seat on the coffee table in front of me. He placed one of his hands on mine and gave me a sympathetic look. “Here, let me.” I was tempted to argue, to tell him no, but instead I exhaled out of defeat and handed the dressing to him. He took it with careful hands and placed it over the first cut, making sure it was secure. The entire time my eyes never left him, wanting to focus more on him, then what he was doing. “Cody does good work.” He broke the silence. “Yeah.” I replied just above a whisper. He grabbed the next dressing and applied it underneath the previous one. This time it stung a little bit. “Sorry.” “No you’re fine, that one's just a little sensitive is all.” Ryan’s jaw tightened, lips forming a thin line. I knew what he was thinking about, but I didn’t want to bring it up, because bringing it up would cause more of those visions to pop up and like hell was I going to fall apart in front of Ryan. I didn’t want him to see me like that. But curiosity got the better of me. "What is it?" Ryan shook his head. "Nothing." He applied the third dressing, more softly this time. I gave a confused look, why did he care so much? Especially after how I treated him on that roof. "What is it? Talk to me." I urged. Ryan scoffed, picking up the last dressing. "You want me to talk to you, yet you won't talk to me?" He cocked an eyebrow at me. "Okay, I deserved that." I admitted, and I did. I deserved his anger and frustration, especially after how I treated him on the roof and then again at the airstrip. Ryan nodded in agreement and applied the last dressing. He rubbed his face, the bags under his eyes more pronounced than earlier. "We haven't slept in twenty-four hours. We need some sleep. Then we can talk." His tone was flat and to the point. I really didn't like this side of Ryan, but yet I brought it on myself. I couldn't blame him for being frustrated, for being angry and distant, especially when I wasn't talking to him. Maybe some sleep would do us both good. Wait… sleep. I dreaded that word. Before I would have gladly laid down for sleep. But now, I was scared to sleep, scared to close my eyes. What if I went to that place in my dreams, that room? I shivered at the thought and Ryan gave me a curious look. "What is it?" "I…" I didn't want to make him worry, didn't want him to make a fuss over something that would probably be nothing. But if that time in the shower taught me anything, it most definitely wasn't nothing. "I… Don't know if I can sleep." Ryan’s expression softened and he gave me a knowing look, indicating that he knew what was going on. "I'll stay with you till you fall asleep." He placed a hand on my knee, which calmed my nerves slightly. I nodded, not having the energy to object. It would be nice to have Ryan there, maybe he could be like my human dream catcher, stealing all the nightmares I was sure to have. I stood up and turned in the direction of the hallway, walking towards my bedroom, Ryan following close behind. I paused once I reached the bed, it's warm and cozy features looking more like a cold abyss, its blankets and pillows mocking me, looking to swallow me whole. Ryan peeled off his shirt, his hat already gone, and then shucked off his shorts before climbing under the covers. The blankets settled down to his waist and he gave me a look of reassurance as I stood there, frozen in place. "C'mon, you need sleep." He spoke to me in a warm tone, and just like that I was moving my feet, climbing into the bed that looked warm and cozy again, now with Ryan lying in it. He wrapped his arms around me and brought me close, and I rested my head on his chest. I could hear the thumping of his heartbeat, his chest rising with every breath. It was peaceful, and calming. "Try and relax, focus on your breathing." He had a calm tone to his deep voice. I held onto him tighter, like he was a buoy in the middle of a storm, the only thing keeping me from being dragged into the icy depths. Ryan seemed to pick up on that, because of course he did. One thing that I had learned about Ryan, among other things, was that he was very perceptive. "I'm not going anywhere." "Promise?" I whispered. "Promise." He responded in his calm tone. That seemed to be enough reassurance for me. Because one second I was lying there, listening to the sounds of Ryan’s heart and his breathing. Then the next thing I knew my eyelids were getting heavy and I was falling asleep. "I'm gonna ask you again, why are you here?" Diaz held the scalpel up to me. I could feel the cold blade against my skin. "I-I told you, we're here to escort Doctor Grimm back to LA." "Are you a rebel scientist?" He asked. "No." I answered. I yelled as the pain from the scalpel cut deep into my skin. It was real, it was happening again. My worst fears had been answered, I was trapped. Trapped in this room again with Diaz, no way out. No one could hear me scream and yell as he dug the scalpel into me, again, and again. "Elliott!" I could hear Ryan's voice, he was there, but I couldn't see him. “Ryan!” I yelled, looking around wildly for him. Diaz’s lip curled upright into an evil snarl. “No one is here to help you.” and he dug the scalpel into me again. "Elliott!" My eyes snapped open. I was drenched in sweat, Ryan clutching me tight to him. "It's happening again!" I yelled, voice cracking from fear. "No-no it's okay, you're here with me." He tightened his grip. "No. I. Saw. Him!" I began gasping, my muscles tightening, my body going into full panic mode. "It was a nightmare, it was just a nightmare." The calm never left Ryan’s voice. I couldn't speak, couldn't think, couldn't breathe. My mind was still in that room with Diaz, the cuts he inflicted were on fire. "Breathe Elliott." Ryan rubbed my back as I gasped, hyperventilating from panic. "I…" Was all I could muster between gasps. Ryan made a shushing noise as he continued to rub my back, as if trying to will the air back into my lungs. "Concentrate on my breathing. We'll do it together." He said calmly. He began taking deep breaths, and I tried to concentrate on them, to feel them. "You're gonna be okay. I got ya." He reassured me. That reassurance, that warm and comforting reassurance was enough to make the air flow back into my lungs. I coughed and took in more shaky breaths. Then something happened that I didn't expect, I began crying. This was my life now, never being able to sleep, never being able to close my eyes without picturing the torture I endured while on that mission. And poor Ryan, who was lying here, holding me tight, rubbing my back and convincing me everything was alright, had to endure this with me. That thought alone made me feel worse, this burden wasn't his to bear. But yet here he was, holding my shaking body as I cried, a sign that he truly cared about me. But why? "It'll pass, just ride it out." He said, giving me a kiss on the top of my head. That kiss traveled from my scalp and down to my chest where it radiated caring and warmth, all the feelings that I needed. How did he know what to say, what to do? It was almost like he'd been in my situation before. Maybe he had been. After my body finally calmed down and my breathing returned to normal, Ryan released me from his tight embrace and climbed out of the bed. "W-where are you going?" I stammered, fear rising in my chest. "I'll be right back, promise." He said, giving me another kiss on the forehead before turning around and walking out of the bedroom. I knew he would be too, that was another thing I learned about Ryan, he always kept his promises. He returned about ten minutes later with a steaming mug. I eyed it with curiosity. "I don't think coffee is something I need right now." "Your right, and it's not." He climbed into bed and handed me the warm mug. I stared at the contents suspiciously, it was some sort of tea, judging by the bag in the contents of the liquid. Whatever it was it smelled heavenly. "Try it, it’s an old family secret." Ryan urged, sensing my hesitation. I brought the cup up to my mouth and took a sip of the mysterious liquid. I was pleasantly surprised by what I tasted, it was definitely tea, but it was sweet and there was something else behind it too, something strong. The liquid filled my stomach and radiated warmth all over my body. "Wow," I took another drink and Ryan gave me a lopsided grin. "What is this? It's amazing." "Chamomile tea with honey, and a splash of rum. My momma made it for me when I was going through this same thing." “What happened?” I asked, my curiosity peaked. “Remember that fire I told you about?” I nodded in confirmation, taking another drink. “Well, after I got released from the hospital I used to have horrible night terrors. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, and my Momma would just lay there with me and hold me until I fell asleep again.” "Is that why you care so much?" I asked. "Partly." Ryan settled back against the headboard, his gaze never leaving me. "And the other part?" He rolled his eyes at me. "Do I really need to say it out loud?" I didn't respond, instead I just blinked at him, showing that I was waiting for an answer. He stared at me longingly before he spoke. "I care about you, alot, and not in a friend sort of way." "Well I would hope not." I tried to smile, but I couldn't. I was still shaky, coming down from the panic I had just endured. "It killed me when Diaz was torturing you. I wanted nothing more than to rip his fuckin' head off." My body tensed and my eyes went wide from shock. "Did you…" "Hear what was happening to you?" Ryan's gaze fell. "Yeah, I could hear. I heard everything…" His tone was somber, like his face. "How?" My voice broke. "There was a closet, right off the living area. Inside there was a vent, it must have been connected to the room you were in because I could hear the two of you. Heard as he…" His tone broke as his voice trailed off. My mouth fell open from the shock of what Ryan was telling me. I cupped my hand on his cheek and he pushed into it, accepting it. "I'm sorry." Ryan scoffed. "You're the one who was tortured and you're sorry?" "I don’t know what else to say to make it better." Ryan grabbed my hand from his face, resting it between the two of his. "Just knowing that you'll be okay is enough for me." His words touched my soul, dancing around and making me feel slightly giddy inside. But there was something gnawing at me as well. Would I ever be okay? "I don't know if I'll ever be okay. What if this never goes away." "It will, with time." He responded and the look in his eye was enough to make me believe it. It was a look that he was sure, that he knew things would get better, and I believed no, trusted that look. If Ryan had gone through the same thing and came out the other side okay, then I should be able to also, right? "Now," Ryan took the coffee mug out of my hand and set it on the nightstand, then he pulled me into him, wrapping me up in those arms again. "Try and get some more sleep." Everything inside of me resisted the thought of more sleep. What if I had another nightmare? What if I woke up and it wasn't a nightmare? What if all of this; us coming back, me lying here with Ryan in my own personal safety cocoon, wasn't real and I had just passed out from the pain that Diaz caused me. All of these irrational thoughts ran through my brain as I relaxed into his embrace, letting his warmth and the safety I felt in his arms whisk me off to sleep. When I awoke it was morning again, Ryan had an arm around me, his hand resting on my hip. His other hand was holding a book, his eyes glued to it as they danced across the page. I didn't know he read, it was actually nice seeing this more relaxed side of Ryan. Something that I could get used to seeing every morning. "Hey there sleeping beauty." He gave me a grin as he set the book down on the bed next to him. "Is it morning again?" I asked, groggy from the amount of sleep I got. "Yeah, it's six." He chuckled. I looked around the room, the warm sunlight coming through the drawn curtains, shining bright highlights against the light gray paint on the walls. "How long have you been awake?" I rubbed my sleepy eyes and yawned, further relaxing into Ryan, if that were even possible. "Not long, maybe a couple hours or so." There was a smile in his voice. "You should have woken me." "You needed your sleep, you've been through a lot." "We both have." I pointed out, and boy was that true. Sure I was the one who had been tortured, inflicted by pain. But Ryan was inflicted by another pain entirely, one that was sure to leave psychological wounds. The pain of hearing someone you cared about being harmed, and not being able to do anything about it but sit there and listen, which begged another question. Did Diaz know about that too? Did he know that Ryan could hear somehow? It was highly unlikely, but it gave me more fuel for the fire of hatred that I felt for him. "Stooop." Ryan let out a long groan. "I can practically hear your brain thinking." "I can't help it." I admitted. "Well then let's find something to take your mind off things." He gave my shoulder a squeeze and climbed out of bed. "Bacon and hashbrowns?" He gave me a questioning look. "You seriously have to ask?" "I'll take that as a yes." He gave me one of those lopsided grins I loved so much, before heading out of the bedroom. I swung my legs out of bed and sat on the edge for a second. I did feel a little better after the sleep I got, and I had Ryan to thank for that. There were new feelings for him bubbling to the surface, feelings like, fondness if I had to put a word to it. There was something connecting me to him now, an almost invisible line that stretched from me to him, a strong line, one that felt like it couldn't be broken. I stood up and walked out of my bedroom, following the sounds from the kitchen as Ryan pulled out the tools and ingredients he needed. The fresh aroma of coffee met my nostrils as I took a seat at the island and watched Ryan work. His movements were so fluid, working around the space like he knew where everything was, like he'd spent his whole life in a kitchen. His Mom I'm sure had something to do with that. His back muscles flexed and rippled through his skin as he worked, watching him was like watching moving art. The coffee maker beeped, signaling it was finished. I went to stand up but Ryan pointed in my direction making a downward motion with his finger. "Sit, I got it." His tone wasn't commanding, it was more warm and caring. I settled back onto the stool as he poured me a cup of coffee and set it in front of me. "Thanks." I grumbled, taking a drink. He just grinned and shook his head. "So independent." "Is that wrong?" I asked defensively. Ryan gave me another grin before turning back to the bacon sizzling on the stove. "No of course not. It's one of the things I like about you." My heart jolted at that, Ryan has not just a thing, but things that he likes about me? That ice around my heart was in danger of becoming a puddle real quick. I sat there drinking my coffee, continuing to watch Ryan cook in his underwear, which wasn’t a horrible sight. In fact it was homely, comfortable even, and that invisible line seemed to grow stronger at those thoughts. He sat a plate in front of me that was piled with hashbrowns, bacon, and a couple of eggs. He went to the fridge and withdrew ketchup and a small bottle of Tabasco sauce, which were things that I loved to put on these particular breakfast items. "How did you-" "I've been a Cop for twelve years, I notice things." He gave me a wink and turned around, grabbing his own plate and his coffee and sitting next to me at the island. "Twelve years?" I was shocked that he had been a cop that long. I mean he was thirty-four, just a year younger than me so it made sense. But even the fact that I've been a practicing physician for a mere seven years was a shock to me. "Well, yeah." A confused expression crossed his face as he spoke. "I finished my Bachelors in Criminal Justice when I was twenty-one, then I joined the academy shortly after that. I made Sergeant at twenty-nine and I was up for Lieutenant last year before I left." I marveled at Ryan as he spoke. This man had accomplished so much in his twelve years as a Cop, it made my ten years of medical training look like nothing. "That's impressive." I took a bite of hashbrowns. He chuckled and nodded his head. "You're pretty impressive yourself." I laughed at that and Ryan gave me an amused expression. "What?" He asked, before placing a scoop of hashbrowns in his mouth. "I did four years of Medical School, and three years of Emergency Medicine residency, all the while in the safe confines of an ER. That hardly doesn't add up to your twelve years on the streets Protecting and Serving your community." Ryan shook his head before taking a drink of coffee. "I don't think so. You have literally saved lives, dealt with things that I don't even know how you deal with, and I've seen you work under pressure. Not to mention your Chief Medical Officer at the age of thirty-five, now that's impressive." I thought about his words for a second. It was true that my accomplishments were impressive, and how he spoke about it, almost with a hint of pride, made me feel impressed by my own milestones. "Thank you." I said in a humbled tone. Ryan gave me a smile before dusting off the last of his hashbrowns and wiping his face. "I have something for you." He turned around in the stool and got up, crossing over to his bag. My eyes went wide with surprise, he got me something? Why did he get me something? I didn't need anything from him, just him. He crouched down, balancing himself on the balls of his feet and unzipped one of the compartments. He pulled something out but I couldn't quite get a glimpse of it. He stood up and turned around, hands behind his back, a wide grin on his face that reached his eyes sending a twinkle to them. He walked towards me and brought the object out from behind his back, and I couldn't help but smile at what it was. It was a Seattle Mariners baseball cap. The teal and silver S on the insignia stood out against the navy fabric of the hat. I reached out and ran my fingers across the insignia, the memories of my first baseball game flooding in. Making that smile appear larger on my face. "Do you like it?" He asked in a hopeful tone. I nodded and smiled at him. "I do, it's awesome." And Ryan beamed at me, placing the hat on my head. It was one of those soft, flex fitting hats that didn't need velcro or a strap in the back. I hated messing with those things, which begged the question. How did Ryan know? "Where did you get this?" I asked, taking the hat off and marveling at it. "Remember that sports memorabilia store we stumbled upon in San Francisco?" I nodded and Ryan continued. "Well Riley and Gray told me that the Mariners were your favorite team, and that you couldn't find an original hat before they moved. So I figured it would be something nice for you." "Yeah, after the earthquake T-Mobile Park was destroyed so Portland agreed to build them a new field if they stayed and changed their name to the Portland Mariners. These are super rare, you can't find them anywhere." "Who knew the one place you could find them was in San Francisco." Ryan sat back down on his stool, facing me with a smile on his face as I gawked at something as simple as a hat. “I love it, thank you.” I gave him a kiss on the cheek and his face flushed. “I’m glad you like it.” He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. I smiled at him, his nervousness was always so adorable. It reminded me of when we took that walk around the perimeter fence some two weeks ago. A lot had happened since then, making a new pit form in my stomach at the thought that we needed to talk. “We should probably talk.” I said, trying to hide the somber tone to my voice. Ryan nodded, the flush disappearing from his cheeks, and the smile fading to a thin line. He dropped his gaze to the floor, his tone equally somber. “Yeah… We probably should.” “I think I should start by apologizing.” Ryan’s eyes snapped back up to meet mine, a puzzled expression on his face. “For what?” “The roof.” My mind flashed back to that moment, the moment I pushed him away, and I couldn’t hide the pained expression on my face at that thought. Ryan fiddled with his coffee mug in his hands, not maintaining eye contact, instead looking pensively into its contents. “Yeah... That hurt.” Ryan’s tone was flat, exact, and those words felt like a knife wound. The fact that I had hurt this man, this man that was so perfect, and so good. The man that stayed with me all night while I battled with the trauma I had endured, who took care of me. The fact that I had done what I did to him on the roof made me feel like shit, and want to kick myself in the ass. “I wish I could take it back.” And I did, I wished so much that I could reach back, pick that moment out of time and replace it with something better. But that wasn’t going to happen, so instead I have to mop up the mess I made. “Well, you can’t.” “I know, and I’m sor-” “Stop… Stop saying your sorry.” Ryan held up his hands. “It’s the only words I can think of to say.” And it was, I didn’t know what else to say to make it better. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re afraid of instead?” I swallowed hard at that response. My heart of ice wanting to form again, shut him out. But I didn’t want to this time, I didn’t want to shut him out anymore. If I was really hell bent on making things right with him, then I needed to also make things right with myself, and the only way I was going to be able to do that was being honest with him. “I feel guilty.” I finally said. Ryan gave me a confused look. “Guilty, about what?” My heart rate increased as I prepared myself for what I was about to say, to spill my feelings out and hope that Ryan didn’t run the other direction. “It should have been me…” I looked at the floor. “What are you talking about?” I took a deep breath, studying the knots in the wood on the floor boards. “It should have been me that died, not James.” My eyes stung slightly at the self revelation I had finally said out loud for the first time, the thing I had kept hidden for years. “Elliott…” Ryan grabbed his hands in mine, but I shook my head. “No, it’s true. Out of the both of us, he was the better one. He was a better person than me, a better Doctor, a better fiance.” “Is that what this is about? You feel guilty for being able to live, to enjoy your life, and he doesn’t?” “Partly. I mean maybe if I didn’t work so much, being exposed to so many sick people, maybe he would have never gotten sick.” It was a long shot, but it was something that I racked my brain with for the past eight years. Blaming myself seemed like the logical thing to do. “If he was a Doctor too, then he would have been exposed eventually. You can’t blame yourself for wanting to help others during what was, at the time, a national health crisis.” Ryan’s words made sense, they rattled around in my brain and settled in all the correct places, but it still didn’t help the grief I felt. “But I increased that risk, by picking up extra shifts, sometimes sleeping there. Being in the ER we didn’t know who had it or who didn’t since there was no way to test immediately. So we had to go off symptoms, and it mimicked the flu so perfectly that sometimes we weren’t even wearing all the protective equipment. Just masks and face shields, which at the time, we thought was enough.” It was like I was trying to reason with Ryan why I was in the right frame of mind. My grief and guilt had warped my mind to make me believe that I was the cause of James’ death, not a deadly pathogen that we hardly knew anything about when it was ravaging the country. Ryan shook his head. “That is not on you, and I’m sure James would agree.” He was right, and all my logic and reasoning was telling me that he was. I turned my gaze to the floor again, fresh tears streaming down my cheeks. “Well, I guess we’ll never know for sure.” I said somberly. “Elliott, look at me.” Ryan cupped my chin and lifted my head. His face was stern, his eyes had fire behind them. “It. Is. Not. Your. Fault.” He enunciated every word, making each one a point. I stared in his eyes, the fire behind them showing a man who knew the guilt I felt. I thought about when he told me about his brother David, and the guilt he felt over his death. Ryan knew exactly what I was feeling, which made his words that much more believable. The realization of that made a weight lift off my chest, this large cumbersome weight that I had felt ever since James died. “What happened to James, he was one of the unlucky ones, and that is not on you.” Every word Ryan spoke seemed to lift more weight off, and I felt surprisingly lighter. I took a deep breath and exhaled, wiping the tears from my eyes. “After James died I sorta, shut down or something. Everyone in my life has left or turned their back on me. My parents never accepted me for being gay, and neither did my siblings, and because of that I haven’t been home in over a decade. I figured that if I didn't let anyone get too close, then I wouldn't have to feel that pain again after they left. So I kept my distance from you. But I can't do that anymore." And there it was, everything that I had been afraid of, my guilt over James, my fear of abandonment. All of it came pouring out, it's contents pooling around Ryan and I like a puddle. I expected him to retreat, to let go of my hands, tell me that he couldn't handle this. But instead he kept hold of my hands, giving me a look that showed that he finally saw me, and he cared. "Well… I can't do anything about the guilt, that is something that will get better with time. But as for the leaving part,” He squeezed my hands lightly before he continued. “I can tell you right now that I'm not planning on going anywhere." I just blinked at him, I was stunned. Clearly I didn't give him enough credit, I truly didn't deserve a man like him. But maybe I did, maybe Ryan was exactly what I deserved, what I needed. That vision I saw in the chopper seemed to look more clear, more concrete. My heart was warm, radiating heat that melted that ice surrounding it. Ryan had me, and any fear or reservations that I felt about him seemed that much closer to disappearing. I wasn’t gonna haul off and exchange vows with him, although that thought did make me smile. But I could admit that I was starting to fall for this man. "So, where do we go from here?" I asked. Ryan gave me another one of those lopsided grins I loved so much and kissed my hands. "Forward."
  8. 10 Years Ago "Mijo, I don't understand why you can't just go to college closer to home." Grayson's mother fussed as he hauled his bags downstairs. Grayson rolled his eyes, his mother was always trying to talk him out of leaving. The truth was that he needed to get out of San Francisco, find his own way. He had considered going to a university in the bay area, being closer to home would mean he would save money on housing and he could enjoy his mom's home cooking. But when his acceptance letter to UCLA came in the mail he couldn't pass up the opportunity. It was a good school, and he was the first in his family to go away to college. "Mamá I told you, UCLA has one of the best Chemistry programs. I'll have access to cutting edge research, plus they're giving me a full ride. I'd be an idiot to pass that up." She grabbed Grayson's face in her hands. "You would never be an idiot to pass something like that up to stay closer to home." Grayson smiled at her. He loved his Mom, and he would gladly stay behind, basque in the comfort of his familiar surroundings, make tamales with her on the weekends and help his Dad with the shop. But he needed to do this, needed it like he needed oxygen. "Where's Pápa?" "Out in the garden." His mother responded, as she triple checked that he had everything he needed before he left. Grayson walked through their narrow kitchen and out the French doors that led to their small backyard. Most of the houses in their neighborhood were the typical Victorian row houses you found in San Francisco, narrow and with very little yard. His parents worked tirelessly to keep a roof over their heads, his father sometimes having to pull extra jobs here and there to make ends meet, and his mother often having to take extra house cleaning jobs to buy groceries. They immigrated from Mexico when his mother was pregnant with him, looking for a better life then what his parents had in their small village. With no higher education they had to get work where they could find it, and Grayson was always grateful for them. He crossed the small backyard to his father, who was planting some seedlings in the raised garden beds they had built over the weekend. "Pápa." His father turned to face him, sweat beading on his face from the unusually hot day. "Are you leaving?" "Yes, Marc should be here any minute." Grayson hated this part. Goodbyes were always awkward with his father, he didn't know whether he should hug him, shake his hand, or give him a nod. His father nodded and reached into his pocket, pulling forty dollars out that was folded in half. Grayson's eyes widened, he wasn't expecting this. His parents rarely if ever gave him money, and like hell he was going to take from them what they had worked so hard for. "No Pápa, I don't need that." Grayson shook his head and pushed the money back towards his father. His father grabbed his hands and held them firmly, rough and calloused hands, telling the story of a man who worked hard for everything he earned. "Grayson, I want you to have it." "But I don't-" "Listen to me Mijo," His father cut him off. "You have made me so proud, the first Torres to go to college." Tears formed in his father's eyes as he spoke, making Grayson start to tear up as well. Never in his eighteen years has his father ever spoken to him this way, from the heart, and he certainly had never seen tears in his eyes either. "You have been a good son, always helping out, always being there when we needed you. So let me give this to you, it's not much but it can at least buy you something to eat maybe a little more." Grayson reluctantly took the cash from his father and then his father did something that he didn't expect, he pulled him into a hug. It was warm and welcoming, like a cozy fire, like home. After what seemed like hours but was maybe only a minute, his father broke from the hug and wiped his eyes. "Go make us proud Mijo, like I know you will." Grayson nodded and turned around, heading back into the house, heart feeling heavy from the exchange he just had with his father. His mother was flitting around the kitchen rounding up tupperware containers. She had insisted on sending him off with plenty of food to feed a small army. She placed them in a tote bag and set them next to his duffel bags in the living room. "There's tamales in there, enough for you and Marc while you're on the road." "Mamá," I opened the tote bag which contained three medium sized containers, all full. "This is enough to feed the homeless." "You will thank me when you can't get my cooking on a nightly basis." Her voice was joking and light, but behind her eyes Grayson could see her struggling. He wrapped her up in a hug and she sniffed softly as she began to cry. "Mamá don't cry. I'll be home for Thanksgiving, and Christmas and then it will be summer before you know it." He tried to reassure her in a light tone. "I'll cry if I want to." She had a stubborn tilt to her chin which made Grayson laugh. "Gray!" He turned around to see his younger sister Gabriella all but barreling down the stairs. She was the youngest of the Torres clan at fourteen and the most athletic out of the three, with an excitement for life that Grayson always found refreshing. "What? You thought you would skip out without saying goodbye?" She punched him in the shoulder lightly and Grayson laughed. He scooped her up in a bear hug, her feet dangling off the ground. "C'mon Gabby, you know me better than that." Grayson said after setting her down. She placed her hands on her hips and cocked an eyebrow at him. "Mmhmm." There was a honk outside signaling that Marc was here. His mother stared dreadfully at the door, knowing full well that his time to leave was here. Grayson picked up one of the duffel bags and Gabriella picked up the other, his mother grabbing the tote of tamales and following closely behind as they stepped out into the hot San Francisco air. "You will call when you get to Salinas?" It was a question, but Grayson knew it was more like a demand. "Yes Mamá." "And again when you get to Santa Barabara?" "Mamá." Grayson groaned as they loaded the bags into the bed of Marc's truck. "Mijo I am your mother, I get to worry." She reprimanded, pointing a finger at him. "Hi Mrs. Torres." Marc called from the driver's seat, peering through the passenger side window at her. "Marc Tran, you better make sure he calls." She had a stern tone to her voice. "Yes, ma'am. Even if I have to call myself." Marc feared his mother's wrath, much like her own children and husband did. In the eight years he and Marc Tran had been best friends he had almost been like a fourth child to the Torres', his mother even fussed over him the same too. His mother brought him in for one final hug, giving him a kiss on the cheek. "Please be safe." She said, keeping a hand on his cheek. He nodded in understanding, trying to will reassurance through it, which he knew probably wouldn't work. His mother was going to worry regardless because, well, that's what mothers did. The front door of their house closed and Grayson peered over his mother to see his twin brother, Griffin, begin his descent down the tall staircase towards them. He and Griffin had been slightly estranged since his acceptance to UCLA. They had always done everything together, even hung around the same circle of friends. While Grayson was going away for college, Griffin decided to stay behind and take classes at a local college and work as a mechanic in their father's shop. Their mother stepped aside and Griffin stopped in front of him, he wasn't sure what was going to happen next. There was an empty pit in his stomach at the fact that his brother wasn't happy with his decision to leave home. But Griffin surprised him by bridging the gap and wrapping his arms around him for a tight hug. It felt like a thousand pound weight was lifted off of Grayson's chest at the realization that he and Griffin would be okay from here forward. "I'm glad you finally came around." Grayson said, breaking from the hug. "I can't stay mad at you forever bro." "Wonder Twins?" I asked, putting my fist up. "Wonder Twins." Griffin acknowledged and he bumped his fist with Grayson's. "God you guys are nerds." Grabriella shook her head and a smile split across her face. Grayson hopped in the passenger's seat of Marc's truck and they pulled away from the curb, leaving his family standing on the sidewalk, his mother with tears in her eyes and his siblings with wide smiles. Grayson gave one last look at his family in the side mirror as the truck went down a hill and they disappeared from view. This was the start of his chapter, his story, his chance to strike out on his own. He would miss his family while he was away at college, but there were always holidays and breaks, and there would always be a place for him here. Present Day Grayson couldn't move, he was shocked, stunned at the realization that his brother was here. A million things went through his brain. "Is it really you Gray?" Griffin asked, taking a step forward. "Y-yeah." Grayson fought for words, it was like he forgot to speak. Griffin approached, wrapping him into a tight hug, a lot like that same hug he had experienced all those years ago. "I… I don't understand." Grayson stammered, still trying to wrap his head around the fact that his brother was here, alive. "We have a lot to catch up on," Griffin gave him a warm smile. "Like how the hell, did you get so big dude." "Me? Look who's talking mister roids." And there it was, the playful banter like no time had passed. He always deep down felt like Griffin was still alive, call it twintuition if you will. "Wait, hold up!" Riley spoke and everyone turned their gaze towards him. "Your name is Grayson? We've been calling you Boomer for years now, and instead we could have been calling you Gray?" "Is that seriously what you're taking from this?" Alex gave him a glowering look. "I don't know, there's just so much crazy shit happening right now!" "Where's Gabby?" Grayson asked, turning his attention back to his brother. He was anxious to see her, anxious to see that love for life that he found so refreshing. Griffin's smile faltered and there was a new pain behind his eyes, a pain that told him what he already knew and feared at the same time. Grayson felt his heart pitch, like it was about to be ripped from his chest. He should have been here, shouldn't have left after the earthquake. Maybe then things would have turned out differently. "I'm sorry sir, but there's still the matter of what we do with them?" Diaz spoke. Griffin shot him a threatening look, which immediately made Diaz retract. Grayson recognized that look from their mother, she used it on them as kids all the time to make them fall in line. Needless to say it worked, even for a grown man like Diaz. A new pain formed in his chest at the thought of their mother and father. Griffin studied Grayson and the team for a few seconds before he spoke. "They're not rebels." He walked up to Ryan and reached out, ripping the Republic flag patch off of his vest. Ryan barely budged and instead just blinked at him. "Rebels don't wear this. They hate the republic." He held the patch up to Diaz, who studied it carefully. He nodded in confirmation but Grayson could tell he wasn't convinced. "I'm sorry for any trouble or harm that my men may have caused you. You are guests here, not prisoners." The last word he pointed at Diaz, who dipped his head in submission. "Is there somewhere we can stitch up our chief?" Cody asked, gesturing towards Elliott. There was a slight hint of blood soaking into his shirt, indicating that the gauze wasn't working to stop the bleeding. "I'm fine. We'll just pack it with more gauze." Elliott gritted through his teeth. "Those cuts are too deep and you know it." Cody challenged. "Cuts?" Griffin shot another stern look at Diaz who looked like a scolded child. Something said that he knew exactly what had happened, and that this had been a problem in the past. "What have I told you about torture Diaz? It has no place in our society!" Griffin looked like he was about to haul off and punch him, but he showed restraint, something Grayson didn't recognize in his brother. Being a leader had changed him. "He wouldn't have talked willingly." Diaz held his head high, clearly he felt no remorse for what he had done. Ryan scoffed, he had anger written all over his face. "Please, he told you the truth you sick bastard!" Diaz whipped his head in Ryan’s direction. "I broke your nose already, I can always break something else." He spat. "ENOUGH!" Griffin yelled, his deep voice echoing off the walls making us all jump. "One of the guards will take you to our clinic, you can stitch up your chief there." His face was calm as he spoke to Cody. "Thank you sir." "Please, call me Griffin. Any friends of Gray's are friends of mine." Cody nodded and he, Ryan and Alex turned around to walk away but Elliott gave Diaz a pointed look. His face was stern, something that told Grayson he meant business. “I believe you have something that belongs to me.” His tone was flat, and to the point. Diaz smirked and retrieved a chain with two rings dangling from it out of the front pouch of his uniform. He handed them over to Elliott who snatched them out of his grasp and hoisted the thin silver chain over his head, tucking the rings under his shirt. He turned around and walked away with the rest of the team. But Riley stayed put, giving Grayson a look that told him he needed some reassurance that he was gonna be okay left alone. "It's okay Riley, go with the others." Grayson said, a warmth filling his chest at the thought that Riley was concerned for him. Riley nodded and followed the others out of the church, the doors closing with a louder clatter. "We have a lot to discuss." Griffin put an arm around him and began leading him back to the hallway he had come out of earlier. He paused to look at Diaz, who was standing at attention, worry rippling across his face. "I'll deal with you later." Griffin glowered at him. Diaz saluted and walked away, heading towards a hallway in the opposite direction. "I'm sorry for any pain he may have caused your friend. Diaz is…" "An asshole?" Grayson finished. A grin split across Griffin's face. "Difficult was the word I would have chosen." "Walks like a duck, talks like a duck." Griffin opened the door to a room and let Grayson in first. The room must have been an office, judging by the solid oak desk, filing cabinet, and strategic maps placed on the walls. There was a large flag behind his desk that contained the city's seal, but instead of the words Seal of the City and County of San Francisco it read, The Colony of San Francisco Griffin sat behind the desk and gestured to the seat in front of Grayson. He sat down slowly, not sure what was going to happen next. Griffin pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniel's and two short glasses, pouring a drink for him and handing it over the desk for Grayson to take. He hesitated, not sure drinking would be in his best interest right now. "You're gonna want it after what I have to tell you." Griffin stated. Grayson took the glass and stared at the brown liquid inside, swirling it around lightly. He dreaded what was about to be said, the conversation that needed to be had. "She's dead isn't she?" He asked, not looking up from his glass. There was a long pause from Griffin, seconds felt like minutes and in this time he swore he could hear his own heart beating. "Yeah… She's dead Gray." Griffin's voice broke, and just then Griffin's whole world came crashing down. His shoulders began to shake as the tears came flowing out. Gabriella, the girl who he used to give piggyback rides around the house, take out for ice cream after school. The girl who's flicker of light lit up Grayson's outlook on life was gone, extinguished. He thought his parents death did him in, but this, this took the cake. It was like a hole was punched through his chest, leaving behind nothing but a giant, empty, nothingness. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see his brother's own broken gaze, tears welling up in his bright brown eyes. He knelt down and pulled Grayson into a hug as he just let the tears flow. He clutched onto Griffin's uniform, like doing so would keep him from falling deep down, down, down further into a dark abyss. 9 Years Ago "Goood moooorning San Francisco! It's gonna be another beautiful Saturday morning in the city by the bay," The morning newscaster announced in a way too chipper tone. "Temperatures are expected to reach the high eighties today. So make sure you use that sunblock and brace yourself for another scorcher, because this heatwave isn't going anywhere-" Griffin clicked the tv off with a groan. "How is anyone that excited." He tossed the remote on the couch next to him. "Drugs are a hell of a thing." Grayson joked. It was summer and a freak heat wave was running its course across the Bay Area, making people flock to the beach for the cool ocean water. It was his second week back home from college for the summer break, and he had to say it was nice being back. He missed his family something fierce, he didn't realize how homesick he would be after getting to LA. But at least he had Marc there with him, and they had some of the same science courses seeing as Marc made a sudden shift to Pre-Med. "I for one love it, it's a nice change from the seventies." Gabriella smiled from above her book. "You would, freak." Griffin shot back. I just smiled at her, Gabriella, always the optimist. "Hey!" She exclaimed snapping her book shut and setting it on her lap. "We should go to the beach!" Griffin groaned and flopped his head back on the couch. The beach was never really Griffin's idea of a good time, he refused to go into the ocean at all. "Aww c'mon Eeyore. I won't let the big bad ocean get you." She teased. "I'm not afraid of the ocean! There's sharks and jellyfish and rip currents, it's a respect thing." This was a lie, Griffin was very much afraid of the ocean and always had been, ever since they were kids. "Is that why you screamed and cried when Gray and I dragged you into the ocean on my eighth birthday?" She chuckled and poked him with her index finger. "I had just watched Shark Week! Do you know how many teeth-you know what, doesn't even matter." He threw his hands up as Gabriella and Griffin began to laugh. "I'm glad you guys find it so fucking amusing!" He said a little too loudly. "Griffin Arturo Torres! What have I told you about using that language in my house?" Their mother called from upstairs. "Oooohhhh." Grayson and Gabriella both said in unison. "I'm sorry Mamá!" He called up to her. He flashed both of them a glare. "You guys suck." But there was a smile teasing the corner of his mouth. "C'mon Griff, it could be fun." Grayson used his position as the twin to talk him into it. "Fine-fine we'll go! But I swear to god," He pointed to both Grayson and Gabriella. "If you screw with me you'll pay." They both put their hands up in solidarity, promising no shenanigans. Griffin got up from the couch and began trudging his way up the stairs muttering something under his breath about not being afraid of the ocean. Once out of earshot Gabriella turned to Grayson with a mischievous glint in her eye. "Were totally gonna mess with him right?" He gave her an evil grin. "Baby sister, you read my mind." Their home in Outer Richmond wasn't too far from China Beach, which was the one they frequented as children. The sand felt great between Grayson's toes as they marched close enough to the ocean where they could enjoy it, but not too close to make Griffin run the other direction. The beach wasn't too packed either, which gave them a pick of where to set up. Griffin sat on a low beach lounger, shirt off, looking through some mechanics magazine filled with muscle cars and half naked ladies clad in bikinis. Grayson was sitting next to him and Gabriella was wading around in the water, ducking her head underneath every so often to retrieve a shell or a sand dollar she spotted. "So, anybody special back in LA?" Griffin asked, not looking up from his magazine. "Between classes and research projects, no." "I figured it would be easy for you, ya know, swinging both ways and all." Grayson was bi-sexual, which his family knew about and supported him whole heartedly. Griffin on the other hand had a way of sticking his foot in his mouth when it came to the subject. "Dude, it’s not like I can get anybody I want just because I'm into both. It's no different then you with girls." He explained. "I know, but you do have a wider selection." This was true, plenty of girls and guys had hit on him on campus. Especially this cute guy who was a medical student. What was his name? Edgar, Eli, Elliott! That was it Elliott. But Grayson was too busy with school, and he was top of the list for this exciting research project next summer back east, and he didn’t want to squander that with the "college experience". Whatever that was. "All I'm saying is that it’s good to get your toes wet every once and while." Griffin stated, setting his magazine in the sand. "I'm gonna go join Gabby." He said, officially done with this conversation. "You wanna join?" He teased, slapping his brother on the arm. "Yeah, right. Enjoy your pool of death." Griffin replied in a sarcastic tone. Grayson made a baby crying face at him as he walked backward towards the ocean, which got him a middle finger in return. He turned sharply and whack! His body collided with something warm, meaty and solid. "Shit, I'm sorry!" "No I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention." The man laughed, rough hands placed on Grayson's arms to keep him righted. The man was about the same height as Grayson, brown, short wavy hair, hazel eyes and a lopsided smile. He was tan with rippling muscles and a dusting of hair on his chest and stomach that trailed down below his board shorts. Grayson couldn't help but take in the sight of the man, he was sexy and way out of his league. The man cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck nervously. What did this man have to be nervous about? He was literally the sexiest thing to walk this beach. "Well anyway, sorry." The man gave him another lopsided grin before continuing down the beach. Grayson couldn't help but stare at his ass in those board shorts as he walked away, which was perfectly round and bubbly. "What the hell man!" Griffin came up to him with a look of disbelief. "That guy was totally into you!" "No he wasn't, he's way out of my league." Griffin gave him a dumbstruck look, like I had just socked him in the jaw. "Seriously, how are we twins?" Grayson felt a weird rumbling below his feet and he looked at Griffin with a wide eyes expression. "Did you feel that?" Griffin nodded in acknowledgement, looking around at the sand. The air was still, the only sound came from the ocean as the waves batted against the sand. A large flock of seagulls flew overhead and everyone stopped, mesmerized by the sight, there had to be at least a hundred of them. "That's crazy." Griffin stated, awestruck at the sight. Just then the ground jolted, knocking him and Griffin to the ground. "EARTHQUAKE!" A lifeguard yelled some ten feet away, but this was unlike any earthquake Grayson had ever felt. It was strong, like someone picked up the beach and shook it violently. People were screaming, car alarms could be heard going off in the distance. He attempted to stand but he was knocked down to his hands and knees. "Gabriella!" Griffin yelled in her direction. Gabriella was about twenty yards away struggling to crawl towards them. So Griffin and Grayson began crawling towards her, meeting her halfway. They finally made it to each other and held hands, holding on to each other since there was nothing else for them to hold on to. The ear splitting sound of twisting and grinding metal could be heard, and Grayson looked towards the source of the sound to see the Golden Gate Bridge collapse into the water. Gabriella screamed and Griffin and Grayson just tightened their grip on her and each other, riding out the earthquake. "It has to be over soon, it has to be over soon." Grayson told himself in his head, but it didn't stop, it was a never ending torrent that felt like it was going on forever. Once the shaking stopped there was screaming, crying, people calling out for loved ones, running in different directions on the beach. Gabriella was crying and Grayson quickly picked her up to her feet. “Are you okay?” He asked, looking her over. “Y-yeah I’m fine.” She stammered through tears. “Griff?” He turned towards his brother, but he was still kneeling in the sand, a look of shock on his face. Grayson dropped to the ground in front of him and grabbed his shoulders, shaking him. “Griffin!” Griffin blinked and looked into his eyes. “What the hell just happened?” He asked dumbfoundedly. “C’mon we gotta get home.” Grayson pulled on his brother, but he was slow to get up, still in shock over the violent earthquake. “Griff, c’mon!” He pulled on him harder and Griffin seemed to snap out of it, jumping to his feet. They rounded up their important items off their spot and ran towards the street, towards their home, which Grayson hoped was still standing. A whole new flood of worries flowed through him at that thought, mainly about his parents. They were home, deciding to skip out on the beach and stay in. Their neighborhood was practically unrecognizable. Debris lay in the street and on the sidewalks, smoke was blanketing the city from fires. People laid on the sidewalks, some conscious, others not. Grayson flashed to his parents, laying there in the street, trying to escape their crumbling house. He shook the thoughts away as they rounded the corner to their street. There were people standing out in the street, observing the damage with looks of horror on their face. Most of the houses were collapsed and on fire and once they reached their house they soon realized that theirs didn’t fare any better. The home he was raised in, where he first learned to ride a bike, where they spent many Christmases in front of the bay window opening presents, now laid partially collapsed, a raging torrent taking it over. “Mamá, Pápa!” Gabriella screamed and she darted for the house. “Gabby no!” Grayson grabbed her and held her back. She kicked and screamed, cried and shouted for their parents as the house burned. Grayson held her tight until she stopped fighting, instead collapsing with him in a heap on the ground. Grayon didn’t think anything could hurt worse than that. He would never see his parents again, never make tamales with his Mom on the weekends, and never laugh at one of his Dad’s stupid jokes again. His whole world fell apart as he, Griffin and Gabriella all held each other in the street, watching their house full of memories burn, and their parents with it. Present Day Grayson tossed back his shot of Jack and grabbed the bottle from the desk, pouring another. Everything inside of him hurt, his soul hurt. It was one thing to think your family was gone, it was another entirely to be faced with the reality. “At least Griffin is still here.” His thoughts rang out, and that was true. Griffin was at least still here, his only remaining family member. “Told you you would want that drink.” Griffin settled back in his chair, and drank his own shot. “What happened?” The question all but blurted out of Grayson’s mouth. “Gray…” Griffin had a pained look on his face. “I need to know Griff.” Griffin studied him for a little bit, pouring another shot of Jack. “Gabby was my right hand, a job that I tried to refuse her. But she was stubborn, just like Pápa. She was killed by rebels during a supply run.” Griffin tipped back his glass and set it on the desk with a thud. “Why would rebels attack them?” Griffin stood up and crossed over to one of the many maps scattered across the wall. He pointed to a spot on one of the maps of the city, there was a red outline forming a boundary around Chinatown and some of the surrounding neighborhoods. It had to be at least thirty square blocks. “This is us right here, and this,” He moved his finger over to a section of the map just south of them that was grayed out, it was roughly three square miles of the city. “This is Rebel territory. Everything else is fair game.” Grayson studied the map for a second before taking another drink. “So you're telling me that the city is ground zero for some sort of turf war between you and the Rebels?” “Exactly, they don’t want us here and they’ve made that message very clear.” He sat back down at the desk. “But this is our home, and we’re not giving it up without a fight.” His face was stoic and cutthroat. Telling the tale of a man who had seen a lot of battle in the short span of time that the city went dead. “I don’t understand, you would think that the Republic would interfere, at least help.” Grayson had an incredulous tone. Griffin chuckled and stared at his brother with a look that told him he was naive. “The Republic? Those bastards are just waiting for us to kill each other off so they can reclaim the city for themselves. Protect their reputation, so they don’t have to face the repercussions of lying to their citizens about leaving us here to rot.” There was a tone of hatred to his voice as he spoke. Grayson sat back in his chair. The mission from the get go was shady at best, then finding out that Doctor Grimm was a rebel scientist that experimented on people, and then that they had plans to release a bio-weapon in LA. All the while they had no intel that pointed towards people actually being here, let alone a turf war, and they would have seen that on the satellite images. Doctored no doubt, covered up to hide the truth from the team. They weren’t expecting them to stumble upon this giant secret, but they did. Griffin stared at him from across the desk, watching him connect the dots, coming to the realization that sounded like a crazy conspiracy theory. But it wasn’t, it was fact, as solid as the desk that sat between them. Everything Grayson had fought for during his time in the Army, was for a corrupt government. Griffin looked at his watch and sighed, putting the bottle of Jack and their glasses back in the drawer he had retrieved them from. "It's getting late, and you need rest. You should go be with your team, I'll have some of my men escort you to your rendezvous location at dawn." Griffin walked around the desk and pulled Grayson into a tight hug. "It was good to see you brother, but you have to go back, expose the secrets of this place. Make your government accountable for what they've done." Fresh tears started to well up in his eyes at the thought of leaving him here. He couldn't, he wouldn't leave him again. He did that once already and he felt guilty for it ever since. But Grayson nodded, agreeing with his brother, for now. A guard showed him the way to the clinic where the rest of the team was, the entire way thinking about what needed to be done. His feet seemed heavy as he approached the building, pushing the front door open. He followed a light peeking down the dark hallway, as he drew closer he could hear voices, familiar voices, draw nearer and nearer. "One, TWO-" CRUNCH "Ah!" I recognized Ryan's painful shout. "You said you were gonna go on three." He groaned, nose sounding plugged. "If I would have done that then you would have tensed up, making it harder." I heard Elliott reply. I stepped through the doorway. Ryan was sitting in a chair with his head tipped back while Elliott stuffed little squares of gauze up his nostrils, Cody assisting him. The crunch sound he had heard was the sound of bone as Elliott reset Ryan's nose. Alex was perched on a cot in the corner, tinkering with her wrist computer, and Riley was sitting in a chair by a table, cleaning his gun. "Boomer!" Cody had a wide eyed expression as he made eye contact with him. Everyone whipped their heads towards him including Ryan, who winced because Elliott still had a hold of his nose. "I can't right now guys." Grayson said, fighting back tears, fighting back the urge to just lose it right there. Grayson crossed slowly towards Riley, a need pulling him towards him, a need that they had denied themselves years ago. “I can’t do this B.” Riley had tears in his eyes. “Why not? What would be so horrible about us being together?” “I…” He could see Riley fight for the words. “Give me one reason… Please.” Grayson pleaded, holding Riley’s hands in his. Riley was fighting it, fighting these emotions they shared together. He knew that it had something to do with Gregg, but he wouldn’t dare go there. “I’m sorry…” Riley dropped his hands, and with that he turned around, walked away. Leaving Grayson with a fresh hole in his heart. He shook the painful memory from his head. It had been a few years since Riley walked away, and since then he had made it clear to Grayson that he would always be there for him. He just couldn’t be there for him in that way. He felt dead on his feet, exhausted both mentally and physically, and he could feel his teammates eyes on him but he couldn't be bothered by that right now. The only thing that could make it better was cleaning out his assault rifle a mere ten feet away. As he got closer Riley looked up from his gun and he could see the knowing in his eyes, that he knew something was wrong. Five feet. He set his gun down on the table and stood up, concern leaking into his eyes. Two feet. He was almost there, just a couple more feet and he could fall apart, and Riley would be there to help keep him together. "Can we have the room guys?" Riley looked past him towards the team. "Yeah, sure thing. C'mon guys." Elliott said in a supportive tone. Did he know? Riley and him had been very close since Elliott stepped on base four years ago, so there were bound to be things that they talked about, personal things. He could hear footsteps walking out of the room, growing fainter as they walked down the hallway. "What's the matter?" Riley asked, knowing they were out of earshot. Grayson stood there for a second and when he opened his mouth to speak no words came out, instead he began gasping, gulping for air, precious air that tried to fill his lungs but couldn't. What was wrong with him? What was this? This was something he had never experienced before. Riley's eyes got wide and he wrapped him up into a hug, a tight hug and just like that his lungs found air again. He could breath. "Hey-hey I got you, I got you." Riley soothed, placing a hand on the back of his neck. Grayson held on to him for dear life as all the emotions, all the death, all the suffering he had kept bottled up for years came crashing down on him. He couldn't speak, all he could do was stand there and sob while being embraced by this man. This man that he so desperately wanted, needed, and who also felt the same way for Grayson. "I…" Was the only pained syllable Grayson could muster. "It's okay B. It's gonna be okay." Riley tried to reassure him, not loosening his grip, and Grayson believed him. It was like all the words Riley had were just what his soul needed. He looked into Riley's eyes, those sharp blue eyes that he used to get lost in for hours. He bridged the gap between their mouths and pressed his lips against Riley's, who let out a soft gasp. They were just as soft as he remembered and he even tasted the same, like spearmint and this candy that he used to get at the mini mart around the corner from his home when he was a child. Riley shuddered underneath the kiss as their lips parted and they exchanged their tongues, like no time had passed. It was a kiss like how you greeted a lover after a long time away. There was need behind it and longing. Riley led him over to one of the cots and laid down, pulling Grayson into him, wrapping him up in his arms and holding him close. He laid there, his head pressed against Riley's warm chest, the sound of his heartbeat lulling him into a sleep he so desperately needed. Seven Years Ago “Gray, you can’t leave.” Gabriella stood in the doorway of his room, hands on her hips. She had been at this all week, trying to get him to not go back to LA. But there was too much pain here in San Francisco and everywhere he looked were memories of his parents. “Gabby, I need to go back to school. I did two years online so that I could help you and Griff with Mamá and Pápa’s last wishes. But I need to finish my degree, on campus, not online.” This was the lie he told her, Griffin and even himself. Any excuse to leave this city and the pain behind. After the earthquake that claimed their parents, and countless others, Grayson stayed behind to help out. He helped with the lawyers, all the logistics, the insurance and even the debt collectors. Even after all of that the insurance money came through and it was enough for them to rebuild their family home. Not in it’s same former glory, but sustainable and suitable for the three of them. “You could always transfer to San Francisco State, they finally got it up and running again.” She followed him downstairs, hot on his trail. Grayson couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu at this conversation. Wasn’t it just two years ago that his mother was having a similar conversation with him? He shook the memory of her from his head and tossed his duffel bag on the floor. “I already tried that one baby sister.” Griffin grumbled from the couch. Grayson looked between his brother and his sister, frustration mounting in his brain. He hated being teamed up on, and it was something they always did to him. Regardless if he and Griffin were twins Griffin was “technically” born first, he was always treated like the middle sibling. “It’s only for one more year, and I’ll be back for every break.” “Stubborn.” Gabriella muttered. “Hey, it’s a family trait.” Grayson pulled her into a hug. “Once I graduate I’m coming back and I’m not going anywhere, I promise.” He added, breaking away from the hug. “I’m gonna hold you to it.” Her bottom lip trembled. Griffin came over to him, fist raised out in front of him. “Wonder Twins?” Grayson smiled and bumped his fist against his brothers. “Wonder Twins.” Gabriella sniffled. “You guys are so stupid.” Her voice broke. They all laughed and came in for a group hug, Grayson savoring every minute. He was going to miss them while he was in LA, but he would be back, he had to, they were his family. “We’ll see you at Thanksgiving.” Griffin commanded, not leaving any room for objection. “You know it.” He responded. But that wasn’t true. It wasn’t true because, unbeknownst to everyone, two months later there would be another outbreak and the city would be sealed off. He would never see his family again for another seven years, and Gabriella would be gone. He gave Griffin and Gabriella a wink and one last wide grin before turning and walking out of the house, not knowing that it would be the last time he ever stepped foot in it again. Present Day Grayson awoke to the sound of the hushed voices of his team. He turned his head to see them grouped around the table Riley was sitting at earlier. Elliott made eye contact with him and said something to Riley, who turned around. Grayson sat up and swung his legs over the side of the cot, he rubbed his face with his hands, his sleep was decent but it wasn’t enough. When he looked up from his hands Riley was kneeling in front of him, a look of concern on his face. “I would ask you how your feeling, but I know that would be stupid question.” Grayson didn’t even know what he was feeling, he felt numb if he was being honest with himself. The only feelings he could comprehend in that moment was the feelings he had for Riley, which were exuberant and complicated. “I’m sorry.” He shook his head in disappointment, and Riley seemed to know what he was apologizing for as he shook his head and took Grayson’s hands in his. “Don’t… I’m glad you kissed me.” Someone cleared their throat which made Grayson jump slightly. He was blindly aware that they were even there. “Sorry to interrupt guys, but we gotta go.” Elliott looked remorsefully at them. Go? Grayson looked at his watch. 0400 He wasn’t ready to leave yet, he didn’t want to leave his brother behind. Didn’t he make a promise all those years ago, that he would come back and he would never leave again? “What about Doctor Grimm?” He asked. “They're keeping him. Good riddance I say.” Riley responded, hatred dripping from his tongue. “But what about the mission?” Grayson could care less about Doctor Grimm, but if they didn’t accomplish their mission what would that mean for the team? For Elliott? “Screw the mission, in fact I’m gonna have a word with General Dreyfus when we get back to base.” Elliott folded his arms across his chest. Elliott was fearless, something Grayson admired and envied about their chief. He wasn’t afraid to tell someone where to stick it or to “go piss up a rope”. That last one always made Grayson chuckle when Elliott said it. "What are you gonna tell him?" Ryan asked. "The truth. What happened was beyond our control, not to mention we didn't have all the intel before we came into this city." He looked at Grayson with sympathetic eyes. "Don't worry. I won't tell him your brother's people were involved. We'll say it was the rebels." He turned his gaze to the rest of the team, who all nodded in solidarity. There was a lump so big in his throat that Grayson felt like he was swallowing an apple. He loved his team for this, for keeping his brother and their people safe in any way possible. "Thanks guys." "You've lost enough over the years, it's the least we could do Boomer. Or should we be calling you Grayson now?" Elliott flashed him a mischievous grin which made the tip of Grayson's ears turn pink. "My family calls me Gray." And they were his family, they all knew it. One little slightly dysfunctional family. Elliott rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, Grayson always found it humorous how the big bad chief couldn't handle emotional moments. Give him a broken leg with bone sticking out, a gunshot wound that wouldn't stop bleeding and he would handle it with grace and precision. Get deep on an emotional level with him and the poor guy didn't know what to do. He cleared his throat, which prompted Riley to speak up. "You okay big guy?" He flashed him a grin. "Yeah-yeah, just dusty in here is all." He cleared his throat again. “I don’t see any dust.” Alex teased. “Yeah, there's dust. It’s-you know what, we gotta head out.” Elliott quickly changed the subject. “Awww, it’s okay to get emotional Ell." Riley teased further. "Yeah. We won't tell the other chiefs." Cody even joined in this time. "I'm not getting emotional!" Elliott argued, even though he clearly was. "Group hug!" Alex shouted and they all converged on Elliott. "No! No group hug!" Elliott's commanding voice came out. But they all laughed and went in for the hug anyway, Elliott trying to squirm out of it as if he were trying to escape the most uncomfortable situation imaginable. Eventually he gave up and his grumpy face showed it. After a few minutes he began wiggling away from the hug. “Alright-alright that's good enough." He spoke up, and they all chuckled, separating from each other and satisfied with the teasing they had done. “We have two hours to get to the rendezvous, so let's pack up and head out." Elliott ordered, the blush not subsiding from his cheeks. There was a soft spot in him whether he wanted anyone to see it or not, but they all did. They rounded up their gear and made their way out of the clinic. It was dawn, the morning air was moderate, not too chilly, but enough to make the hair on Grayson's arms stand on end. They were met outside by a team of five men and women who were led by the guy with the green eyes, the one Riley had flirted with in the elevator earlier. Grayson stood closer to Riley, a protective side showing itself. "Doctor Pierce, I'm Seargent Hall. We're here to escort you and your team to Telegraph Hill for extraction." He held his hand out and Elliott shook it. "Thank you Sergeant, lead the way." "Will do sir." He gave a hand gesture to his team to roll out and they all followed him down the street. He looked at Riley as he passed and that smolder in his eyes appeared, that same smolder he had on the elevator. A low growl escaped Grayson's throat, one that he didn't think anyone had heard, but Riley did. "Jealous are we?" Riley gave a cheeky grin. "Of him? Of course not!" Grayson tried to put as much convincing behind the words, but Riley just chuckled and shook his head. "I only got eyes for you B." And he clipped him on the shoulder with his fist before following the rest of the group. A warmth spread in Grayson's chest at those words, but there was a pit in his stomach too that formed and they collided, creating a weird uneasiness inside of him. Could he go through with this? Could he do what he was planning to do, potentially breaking this man's heart, and giving up something he had wanted for years now? They were led in the opposite direction of the main gate they came in earlier, instead heading north. Grayson could see Telegraph Hill, and the notable Coit Tower standing out like a homing beacon in the distance and Grayson’s heart gave a little pitch at the sight. Pretty soon he would have to make a difficult decision, a choice that he didn’t want to but had to make. They came up to a small gate, maybe about as wide as Grayson, and his brother was waiting there and on his shoulders was the cutest little girl. Her dark brown hair was curlier than his or Griffin’s, and her chubby cheeks displayed dimples as she smiled at something her father said to her. “Figured I would see you guys off.” He said as they approached closer. Two of Sergeant Hall’s men began unlocking the gate, a job that evidently took two people. “This gate will give you a direct shot to Telegraph Hill, it’s only supposed to be used in case of emergencies. But I figured this would cut down time for you.” He added, giving a little bounce which made the girl giggle. “We appreciate it, thank you.” Elliott said, shaking Griffin’s hand. “No problem.” He gave him a grin. “Our colony is always open, for those who need it.” “I’ll keep that in mind.” Elliott gave him a friendly smile and followed Sergeant Hall and his men through the narrow gate. The team followed shortly after, all of them gave him a friendly handshake and a smile before stepping through the gate and joining the others. Once it was his turn he couldn’t get any words out, all of the words and emotions that he was thinking and feeling just seemed to get stuck. Instead Griffin spoke up. “I have something for you.” He held out a black thumb drive and I grabbed it, inspecting it and shrugging my shoulders at him. “What’s this for?” “It’s the truth. The truth about what’s really going on in here.” “What do you want me to do with it?” Grayson asked with a bewildered expression. “Leak it. Expose this dirty secret to the citizens of the republic. Maybe then something can be done." He replied. "Daddy I want pancakes!" The little girl shouted from his shoulders. Daddy? Grayson looked at the girl and her bright brown eyes gleamed back at him. The same eyes that he and Griffin had. "Just a second Mija." Griffin smiled up at her. She looked from Griffin to Grayson a confused look splitting across her perfect features. "Daddy, why does he look just like you?" "Because Gabriella, he's my brother which means he's your Uncle." Gabriella? Grayson's sinuses began to burn. He had a niece and her name was Gabriella, the same name as his sister. "You're a father?" Grayson couldn't hide the look of shock from his face. Griffin smiled at him. "I know, pretty wild right? If you would have asked me all those years ago if I wanted to have kids I would've called you crazy. But now," He sighed a look of bliss washing over his face. "Now I couldn't imagine life without her, or her mother." That pit in his stomach that he was feeling grew even larger. He had missed so much because he left, his brother met someone, became a father and also the leader of this Colony. An anger brewed up in him slightly, an anger towards himself for leaving all those years ago. "You comin Gray?" Ryan called through the doorway. "Yeah, I'm coming." But he didn't move, his feet felt like they were cased in concrete. He didn't want to leave. "Go,” His brother urged. “And when everyone knows the truth about this city, come back. There will always be a place for you here.” Grayson nodded and then held his fist out, tears fighting to be released. “Wonder Twins?” Griffin chuckled and bumped his fist with his. “Wonder Twins.” Grayson stepped through the opening and gave one last look at Griffin and Gabriella before the gate closed. A fresh tear ran down his face and he quickly wiped it away before anyone else saw. “Wonder Twins?” Alex chuckled, a look of amusement on her face. “Yeah, you know, Wonder Twins?” Grayson replied. Cody and Alex gave him a confused look, determining that they didn’t know what he was talking about. “You know…” Elliott put his fist out. “Wonder Twin powers, activate!” They gave him a further confused look. “C’mon! Twins that have super powers, one can transform her shape into any animal, the other any state of water,” He gave them a look of disbelief. “Super Friends?” He tried further. Nothing. “Is that like a song or something?” Alex asked in confusion. Elliott swatted a hand at the air before walking away. “God I’m old.” He grumbled. Cody and Alex both shrugged at each other and followed him. Grayson looked at the wall of The Colony one more time, wondering if he was about to make the right choice. He turned around and followed his team down the street, knowing what had to be done. It took them about an hour and a half to get to Telegraph Hill, because of all the collapsed buildings they had to go around which took more time, time that they thankfully planned for. Sergeant Hall’s team was friendly, most of them discussing battle tactics and sharing tips for how to better strategize during missions or when they came across rebels. Grayson couldn’t get into the conversation, his mind still traveling back to his brother and The Colony. Would it be such a bad thing if he stayed? If he didn’t go back with his team? If he became a deserter, to stay behind and help his brother? They began climbing the hill that led to Coit Tower, where the transport would meet them when Elliott pulled back and settled in next to him, keeping pace. “Something on your mind buddy?” “Nah.” Grayson shrugged. Elliott stopped and placed a hand on his shoulder, Grayson gave him a confused look. “I know that look. Tell me what’s on your mind.” Grayson looked up at the rest of the group as they continued on their path, not noticing they had stopped, before he spoke. “Have you ever been conflicted with a tough decision? Like life changing, where either choice’s outcome seemed bad?” Grayson asked. Elliott gave him a knowing look and Grayson knew that Elliott had an idea of where he was going with this question. “I think instead of focusing on the outcome, you need to focus on what matters most to you.” He responded cryptically. “But both are important to me.” He responded. Elliott thought for a moment before speaking. He placed a hand on Grayson’s shoulder and looked him deep in the eyes, telling Grayson he knew exactly what he was battling with. “Whichever one you decide to choose, the team and I will support the decision.” “But...” “Riley?” Elliott grinned at him. Grayson nodded slowly, it was crazy how Elliott knew things before anybody said anything. “Riley will be okay. He will be pissed, maybe even hurt a little bit but he will be okay.” Grayson thought about that for a moment. It was true, Riley was tough, probably the toughest man he knew next to Elliott. If Grayson chose to stay, Riley would hate him, but not forever. An image flashed through his mind, an image of him and Riley lying in bed next to each other, waking up in the morning to see Riley cooking breakfast, and two dogs cuddled up with them on the couch as they watched movies. The image gave him butterflies, made him hopeful for a future in a world full of uncertainties, and didn’t he deserve that? He could have that future with Riley regardless of what choice he made. “I know what I want to do.” He said, straightening his posture. Elliott smiled at him and patted him on the shoulder. "You're a good man, Gray. I know that whatever you decide will be for the best reasons." And with that he turned around and continued his hike up the hill. A new hope filled his chest after that conversation. The knowledge that his chief and the team supported him in whatever decision he made, gave him the energy to continue up the hill. Things would work out for the best, they had to. They reached Coit Tower fifteen minutes before the extraction time and a chopper could be heard off in the distance, it grew louder and louder as it drew nearer. "Time to make a choice." Grayson thought to himself as they waited for the chopper. It went out towards the ocean and circled back around to come in and land, the minutes felt like hours as the chopper got closer and closer to them, descending slowly. The wind from the blades blew a heavy breeze over the hill and Grayson wished that wind would carry him away, keep him from making one of the hardest choices he's had to make since that day seven years ago. The chopper landed lightly in the parking lot and they all began to move towards it, ducking slightly to brace against the beating gusts from the blades and Grayson having to hold onto his hat to keep it from blowing away. Once the team was on the chopper he took the thumb drive his brother gave him and thrust it into Riley's hand, who gave him a puzzled expression. "What are you doing?" He shouted over the noise of the helicopter. "I'm not coming with." "What are you talking about?" He asked, flabbergasted. "I have to stay, I can't leave my brother to fight this fight alone." "No! You're coming with, you'll be a deserter! Don't be stupid!" There was a hurt behind Riley's eyes that made Grayson's own eyes burn. He climbed up into the chopper and kneeled in front of him. "I can't Riley." "Then I'm staying with you!" Riley began sitting up from his seat but Grayson pushed him back down. "No, I won't let you desert either." "You don't get to decide what I do!" Anger split across his face. Grayson grabbed his hands in his and squeezed them tight. "Someone needs to get the message out that there are survivors here, then maybe people will force our government to do something. I need you to do this so I can stay behind and help my brother. I already left him and my sister before, and I still feel guilty about that. I can't leave him again Riley, I won't." Grayson explained, hoping that would be enough to get through to Riley, hoping that he would understand why he was doing this. Fresh tears formed in Riley's eyes, tears that threatened to escape at any moment. "But… I love you B." His voice broke. Grayson grabbed his face gently in his hands and brought their lips together, kissing him deeply and putting as much feeling behind it as possible, not knowing if it would be his last. "I love you too Riley." He replied, wiping a tear away from Riley’s cheek with his thumb. "We gotta go!" The co-pilot shouted over his shoulder at them. Grayson grabbed his dog tags from around his neck and yanked, freeing them from their place. He placed them in Riley's hand and closed it, sealing it with a kiss. "We will see eachother again." Grayson's face was serious. "Promise?" Grayson gave him one final kiss. "Promise." He confirmed. He flashed a look at Elliott who was sitting next to a very stunned Ryan. "Take care of him." He tried to say without words, and as he expected Elliott gave a firm nod, telling Grayson he understood him. He hopped out of the chopper and a few moments later it lifted off the ground, the team waving goodbye to him. He stood there, not able to move, knowing that he made the right choice. As he watched the chopper fly away over the city he hoped that he would see them again, hoped Riley and the team would be successful at the mission he sent them to accomplish. Hoped that vision of the future that gave him butterflies would come true. "I will see you again, if it's the last thing I do." Grayson said to himself as the chopper disappeared beyond the horizon.
  9. zanoGreen

    The Story So Far

    Thank you! I hope you enjoy the read as i have enjoyed writing it.
  10. Thank you! And hopefully I can get chapters out more quickly in the future 🙏
  11. Well if you think about it Boomer is from San Francisco and he never knew what happened to his family after the Clayton Outbreak. So one of them was bound to survive. I figured it would be a good plot twist.
  12. “Los Angeles.” My heart dropped at those words, a lot like how my body dropped on our jumps. A bio-weapon being released in a city like Los Angeles could prove devastating, not just for the citizens that lived there but the entire Republic. After the Pacific Revolution the governors of what used to be the Western United States decided to designate Los Angeles as the capital of our newly formed Republic. It was the center of everything for the Pacific Republic: Government, financial, the president, all of it was in LA, not to mention 5 million innocent civilians. “What about the antidote I was promised?” Dr. Grimm peered through the glass at me. We had no where to put him where we could keep an eye on him, keeping him tied up to a chair would have sat fine with me. However, that seemed a little more inhuman for the teams liking. So we found a room to place him, in one of the other labs. It wasn’t a very large room, maybe the size of a standard bedroom, but it had a large impenetrable glass wall so we could keep an eye on him. I could only imagine he and the other scientists used this room to observe their “test subjects”. I shuddered at the mere thought. “Yeah?” I heard Alex behind me. “What about his antidote?” I turned around and the look she had on her face was one I could not quite pinpoint. It was almost disappointment, maybe with some anger mixed in there. “He’ll get it… soon enough.” I smirked as I brushed past her. I felt a hand on my arm and I turned around to meet her gaze. “Is this what we do now? Play judge, jury, and executioner?” There it was, the look she had earlier in the lab. The disbelief at what I had done, like she was looking at someone she didn’t recognize. I reached into my pocket and withdrew the piece of paper that I had given to Cody earlier. She snatched it from me and held it up eye level. Her face scrunched up as she tried to decipher the words. “What the hell is ‘3 ml NS’?” She asked with a bewildered expression. I grinned at her. “3 milliliters of Normal Saline. Otherwise known as water, with added salt.” Alex gaped at me. “Salt water? You injected him with salt water?” “Mmhmm.” I nodded. “You tricked him?” She gaped at me. I laughed, although there was no humor behind it, and I folded my arms across my chest. “Ya know, I’m not this monster that you think I am.” “I never said-” “Save it. I saw the way you looked at me earlier.” I accused. “Eliott.” Alex had a pained expression on her face. “I don’t blame you. I lost control-hell I didn’t even recognize that person.” I admitted letting my arms fall to my sides. I could see her eyes begin to well up slightly. It made my own sinuses burn so I turned my gaze to the floor before I spoke again. “Even now. You would have believed that I would have injected that man with a deadly pathogen just to get the truth out of him. How could you think I would do something like that?” “You were so angry… I thought you lost it.” She took a step toward me and I took a step back. Making it clear where I stood. “I’m not a monster like him.” I jerked my head in the direction of Dr. Grimm, who was pacing in the glass cell. “I never said you were.” She tried to explain but I put a hand up to stop her. “You don’t have to, Alex. It was written all over your face.” And with that I turned around and headed out of the lab, eyes burning from tears that desperately wanted to come out. I needed air, I needed to get out, to be alone. I headed for the stairwell near the elevator bank and came face to face with Boomer, who was doing his guard rounds. “Whoa, where’s the fire boss?” He asked, stepping aside slightly. “Just need some air.” I grumbled, avoiding his eye contact. I pushed the metal door open and climbed the stairs two at time until I reached the last landing. I pushed the door to the roof open and inhaled the fresh air, letting it settle deep into my lungs. The sun was setting and the temperature reflected that, the only thing keeping the roof cool was the calm and even breeze. I walked to the edge of the rooftop and rested my hands on the ledge, looking out over the city. From up here you could see everything from the bay to the ocean. The bridges that used to carry exuberant amounts of traffic in and out of the city were collapsed, leaving only two towers sticking out of the glassy water surface. I wondered what it must have been like to feel left and abandoned in this city after the Clayton Outbreak. How Boomer’s family must have been so scared and helpless. “Penny for your thoughts?” I heard that gruff southern drawl behind me. I wiped my face and turned around. Ryan stood there, arms at his sides, his muscles rippling below his t-shirt. He noticed the redness in my eyes and a look of concern washed over his perfect features. “What’s wrong?” He bridged the gap between us until we were mere inches from each other. That same woodsy scent I had caught earlier wafted into my nostrils. I felt a sense of calm wash over me, something that seemed to happen when I was in his presence. “It’s nothing.” I waved off his concern and concentrated on the gravel under my boots, kicking at the tiny pebbles. Ryan didn’t say anything, instead I felt his strong arms wrap me up into a warm hug. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face into his shoulder. I felt his hand rest on the back of my head and his face nuzzle into my clavicle. I wished that I could stay this way forever. Forget about the mission, forget about this fucked up world we lived in, forget about rebellions and their plans to wipe an entire city off the map. “You’re not a monster.” Ryan’s voice was firm and concrete, like the embrace that he had me in. “You heard that?” My voice broke slightly. “Yeah.” Ryan pressed his face into me a little more. I went to break from the embrace but Ryan just held on tighter. “Let me hold you.” “The mission…” “Can wait. You need to take a breath, clear your mind.” Ryan stated. I felt his warm lips make contact with my neck and I closed my eyes, letting myself go, letting myself fall into his embrace even more. Ryan was kissing my neck and then my cheek, and then he was holding my face in his hands, locking eyes with me. He wiped the tears off my cheeks with his thumbs which only made my bottom lip tremble slightly. “You don’t have to be strong for me. You can let me take care of you.” Could I? Could I just give myself over to him so easily? I wanted to, wanted to just let Ryan in, let him kiss all of my wounds and make everything feel better. But it wasn’t that simple, it wasn’t like you read in the books or see in the movies. Emotions are fucking complicated, especially when you have a ball of ice where your heart should be. A part of me knew that Ryan was telling me the truth, that he could take care of me. But I flashed back to James and the day that ice creeped in, the day I found him dead on the floor. I couldn't - wouldn’t, go through that again. Before I could respond Ryan pressed his lips against mine, warm, inviting lips. It was soft and caring, making warmth spread across my chest, and that ice melt ever so slowly. My lips parted and a deep moan escaped my throat as I felt his tongue slide into my mouth. I could taste him, taste that unique thing that was Ryan. “I… I want.” I said between heavy breaths and kisses. “Tell me… Tell me what you want.” Ryan breathed hard. “You.” “You have me. I’m not going anywhere.” Ryan broke the kiss and pressed his forehead to mine. Was that true? Was he really going nowhere? I mean James said the same thing too multiple times. But in the end people left, whether they wanted to or not. “Stop.” Ryan said, like he could hear my thoughts. “Stop what?” I tried playing stupid. “Stop spiraling. I mean it when I say it.” “Everyone leaves.” My voice was just above a whisper. “Then I’m gonna fight like hell not to.” Ryan stated, and I believed him when he spoke those words. I pulled him into a kiss and I could feel Ryan's body vibrate in response. His hands left my face and rested on my chest, the warmth of them radiating across my torso. I pushed him against a high wall to our left and grabbed his hands, interwinding our fingers together and holding them above his head. Ryan let out a surprised gasp, and I broke from the kiss to look into his eyes, which were dark with lust. “Is this okay?” I kissed him on the neck and he arched his back slightly, moaning. “Mmm, yeah… it is.” I grinned at how his southern drawl was more pronounced when he was turned on. It was sexy as hell, and cute at the same time. I moved to his Adam's apple and kissed slightly which was greeted by another moan. Adjusting my grip on Ryan’s hands I used my other hand to snake it up his shirt, finding his nipple and giving it a slight flick. Ryan let out a low moan and arched his back towards me, feeding the grip around his nipple. “Fuck, Elliott.” He moaned. “You like this?” I leaned in and locked his lips on mine and Ryan moaned in response, parting his lips and letting me snake my tongue into his mouth. I rocked my hips into Ryan’s and our hard cocks rubbed together through the rough fabric of our pants. I cursed internally at the layers of fabric between our bodies. I began fumbling with his belt, needing to feel more of him, more of Ryan. I was able to get the belt undone and his gear fell to the rooftop with a thud. I reached into his pants and grabbed a hold of his girth, which made Ryan tilt his head back with a low moan. I took the opportunity to kiss his exposed neck which resulted in a gasp from him. “Elliott.” Ryan moaned. “Yes?” I responded, my lips hovering slightly above his neck brushing the skin softly. “I-I…” Ryan struggled with his next words, squirming slightly in my grasp, pushing his hips into my hand, his cock throbbing in response to the pleasure I knew he was experiencing. I moved my head to brush my lips against his, his breathing was ragged with pleasure. “Tell me.” I whispered, staring intently in his eyes. “I, need…” Ryan’s eyes were thick with desire. “Is this what you need?” I gripped his cock and began stroking it slowly. Ryan bit his lower lip and moaned. “Tell me…” My pace was slow and almost tortuous. “Tell me and I’ll get you there.” Ryan growled in frustration and I grinned. He was so fucking adorable when he was frustrated. “If you didn’t have my hands pinned…” “What? What would you do?” There was a slight humour to my voice. “You would be the one pinned against the wall.” Ryan growled. “Is that so?” I swiped the tip of Ryan’s cock with my thumb, which was coated in pre-cum and brought it up to my mouth. “Maybe next time.” I licked my thumb and moaned. Ryan tasted so damn good. I leaned forward and kissed him deeply, returning my hand to his cock. This time pulling it out of his pants. Ryan sucked in a breath and I continued my slow strokes. “Please…” Ryan pleaded, which only made my own cock get harder. “Tell me.” “I want to cum, please make me cum.” I grinned and quickened my strokes. I don’t know why this was getting me off so much, it was like this primal feeling deep down within me. All I knew was that having this weird power over Ryan was so fucking hot, but at the same time I wanted to take care of him, show him affection. “What about you?” Ryan asked between breaths. “Don’t worry about me, just seeing you like this is so fucking hot.” I kissed his exposed neck. “I want you to cum too.” “You first.” Ryan didn’t argue, instead he intertwined his fingers with mine above his head and kissed me. It brought out this weird feeling that I hadn’t felt in a while. It was warm, and it radiated from my chest, and made my sinuses burn. “Oh fuck. Elliott.” Ryan moaned. “Yeah you gonna cum?” “Fuck yeah.” “Cum for me baby.” I ordered. Ryan let out a moan and I felt his cock throb followed by warmth as Ryan unloaded in my hand. “Ohh, fuck.” Ryan gasped as the last wave of his orgasm hit. I kissed him and let his hands go, which he wrapped around my neck. He slouched against me, resting his head on my shoulder. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and he gave a groan, meeting my lips for another one of those kisses that I just couldn’t get enough of. Ryan grabbed a fistful of my shirt and spun me around, pushing me against the wall. A low growl escaped his throat as he pushed forward with a hungry kiss. If my cock wasn’t rock hard before, it sure was now. Something about being dominated by this man was such a turn on, I thought that I would shoot right there. Ryan reached his hand into my pants and grabbed my cock, I let out a moan and bit my bottom lip fighting the urge to cum right there. “Not… gonna… last long.” I gasped in between those addictive kisses. “Good.” I could practically hear the evil grin in his voice. He pulled my pants down to around my thighs and began stroking my length, slowly, like I did to him. Fucker. “Fuck Ryan.” “Yeah? Tell me what you want.” He was toying with me, like I did to him, and I liked it. He bit my lower lip lightly and I almost lost it, instead letting out a moan and arching my back towards him. “Please.” I begged, something I never did. “Please what?” “Please, let me cum.” Ryan grabbed both of our cocks in his hand and began stroking them together. I moaned at the feeling of our skin rubbing together, my precum giving us the lube necessary to let Ryan’s hand glide down the sensitive skin. “Fuck, Ryan oh fuck.” I moaned, thrusting my hips towards him. “Nuh uhh.” Ryan placed his opposite hand against my navel, preventing me from moving my hips. I growled out of frustration and Ryan chuckled. “I love it when you get all frustrated.” He teased. It was like everything was happening in slow motion, Ryan was stroking our cocks together, both of us moaning into eachothers mouths. That warmth that I was feeling seemed like a sun about ready to explode in my chest, and melt that ice surrounding my heart. “Oh shit, I’m gonna cum.” I announced. “Fuck, me too.” That enough was to make me cum. The feeling lit up my insides and traveled down every nerve ending as warm cum shot out of my cock coating both of our dicks in the warm fluid. Ryan let out a moan and pressed closer into me, kissing through the orgasm. “That. Was. Fucking. Amazing.” I said between breaths. Ryan chuckled and nuzzled our noses together. “Yeah it was.” Just then reality set in and that ice quickly began to form again, like there was a formidable blizzard in my chest. The only casualty being me, and the feelings that I had for Ryan. I reached down and pulled my pants back up around my waist, the feeling of guilt coursing through my body. Ryan followed suit all the while not breaking eye contact with me. “What is it?” He finally asked, after a moment of silence. “Nothing.” I grumbled. “I can practically feel your brooding from here.” Was it that obvious, was my guilt showing that bad? I shook my head and looked down, averting my gaze. “I can’t.” “You can’t what?” “Nevermind.” I said shortly. I turned to walk away but he reached out and grabbed my arm, turning me back around to face him. “Tell me.” He had a demanding tone. “There’s nothing to tell.” I replied defensively. He rolled his eyes. “The guilt is written all over your face.” Shit, apparently I’m not good at hiding my emotions around him. How was I supposed to explain to him why I felt guilty? The reason why I couldn’t but desperately wanted to keep this thing going with him. The idea of turning my back on what we had going was enough to make me hurl. But what would that look like? Me the leader of the team, dating someone that was supposed to be my subordinate? Yeah that spelled disaster. Maybe before Ryan came on the team we could have had something, but now that future looked uncertain and I didn't like uncertainties. “Elliott…” And there it was, the feeling that I got whenever Ryan said my name. This invisible force that drew me to him. I placed my hands on his chest and pushed him away lightly, shaking my head and looking at the ground, trying desperately to avoid his eye contact but failing. “This was a mistake.” I said sharply. “Oh,” There was a hurt in his voice that made my sinuses burn. "I see." “We need to focus on the mission, get out of here, and then we can talk when we get back to base.” I don’t think my voice was ever this flat and to the point with Ryan. I looked up and his expression was stoic, tears fighting to be released. There was a lump the size of a peach in my throat seeing him like that. Ryan cleared his throat and stood straighter, placing his hands behind his back. “Yes Chief.” He dipped his head slightly and turned around, walking towards the roof access door. That was a sucker punch to the gut that I so desperately deserved. Why the hell was I being so difficult, why couldn’t I just let this thing happen the way it was supposed to happen? I desperately wanted to run after him, apologize, tell him I was an idiot. Something to make things right. But as he passed through the door and it closed shut I knew it was going to take more than that to make things right. “God you’re a stupid motherfucker.” My thoughts rang out. The rest of the evening Ryan didn’t really talk to me, in fact he tried to avoid me all together, unless it had something to do with the mission. Now that it was his turn to patrol I didn't feel like there was a massive elephant in the room, waiting impatiently to be addressed. Boomer, Riley and Cody had seemed to have forgotten about the events that occurred just a few hours ago. It was nice to know that I hadn’t completely scared off my team, although Alex, seemed to be a different story. Speaking of. “Hey there slugger.” She had a nervous lilt to her voice. I gave a puzzled expression and she quickly spoke up. “Y’know, because you have a mean right hook.” She playfully punched the air in imitation. “So what? Now we're joking about this?” I responded flatly. “No,” Alex perched herself on the counter I had made into my desk, looking over Dr. Grimm’s files. “I wanted to apologize.” I peered at her over the notes. She was sincere, it was written all over her face. I closed the folder and sat back in my chair. “You don’t have to apologize.” “But I do,” Alex shifted uncomfortably on the counter. Apologies were not her strong suit. “I lost faith in you, something that should never happen. We’ve known each other ever since I came onto the team. Not once have I ever seen you act like that.” “Like what?” I crossed my arms over my chest and a frown split across my face. “Like you were gonna kill someone.” I gave out a hearty laugh that reverberated off the walls. “It’s not funny,” She slapped my arm. “It was scary seeing you like that.” “Alex, in the time that you’ve known me have I ever killed someone without provocation?” “Well… no.” “Exactly. It was about getting information, that’s all. I knew he wouldn’t talk willingly-” “So you decided to beat it out of him?” Alex cut me off. I gave her a curt nod. “When I saw what he did to that kid I knew that we were no longer dealing with someone with any sense of morality,” Alex gave me a confused look before I continued. “He’s a monster, someone who has done terrible things for a group of people who are going to do more terrible things.” “What are you saying? “We’re at war now Alex. With an enemy we know nothing about, and in war, we have to do things that are questionable.” I sighed and stood up from my seat. “As the leader of this team, I’m shouldering these responsibilities so none of you have to.” “You don’t-” I held up a hand and cut her off. “Yes I do. It’s my job, a job that I signed up for, and I can handle it.” Alex nodded slightly and slipped off the counter. “I really am sorry Ell.” I placed a reassuring hand on her arm. “I know.” My watch beeped and I looked at the display. 2300 “You should get some rest with the others, we head out in 4 hours.” I stated. “What about you?” “He’ll be fine,” Riley stepped around the corner. “Captain Insomnia at your service.” He gave an elegant bow as he finished. Alex rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Alright boys, don’t go causing too much trouble though.” She joked. “When have we ever caused trouble?” He asked incredulously. Alex cocked an eyebrow at him. “San Diego.” Riley and I blushed two shades of red at the mention of San Diego. “Touche.” He admitted in defeat and Alex passed by him to go join the others in the living room area. “What about you?” He gave me a direct look and I shook my head. “Sleep hasn’t been agreeing with me lately.” I admitted. He nodded his head and sat in the chair next to mine. He patted the armrest of my chair and I took the hint, pulling the chair out and sitting across from him. I had the feeling he was about to pry, something I wasn’t looking forward to. He wanted to talk about Ryan, and more specifically the reason we had been avoiding each other ever since we came back from the roof. “I know what you want to talk about and frankly, I don’t know what to say.” I got the first word in before Riley could. Riley leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling tiles, I thought for a second he wasn’t going to say anything but then… “Did you know that I lost someone close to me?” I gave him a questioning look. “Like recently?” Riley grinned. “No, this was way back. Way before the outbreak, way before I left Philly. Hell even before I joined the Army.” Riley had never mentioned this before, in fact, Riley never talked about his life in Philadelphia. I always knew there was something dark surrounding that subject, but I never brought it up. I didn’t want to open up old wounds if there were any. All I knew about Riley’s past was that his Mom was a Nurse and his Dad was a beat cop in their rough neighborhood. “Gregg Moretti, the first boy I ever loved.” Riley smiled at the mention of the name. “He was a funny guy, and could always make me laugh. We met when we were thirteen after his mother and him moved in next door. We became instant friends. Skateboarding at The Foundry, getting cheesesteaks at Spot’s, causing trouble every now and then. I had my first kiss with him when we were seventeen.” Riley’s smile didn’t fade as he went down memory lane. “He took me to this rooftop downtown, he knew a guy that worked in security, and he told me that he needed to get something off of his chest...” “What was it?” I asked. Riley smiled and his eyes glinted with joy. “He told me that he was gay and that he loved me, and with that he grabbed my hands in his and he leaned forward and kissed me." I smiled at that. “That sounds really romantic.” “It was fuckin’ ballsy was what it was, and yes romantic. Gregg had no idea if I was gay, bi, whatever. But he kissed me anyway and it just felt right, like every piece of the puzzle finally came together, why every relationship I had with a girl failed miserably.” “So what happened then?” I asked, anxious to hear more. However, Riley’s smile faded and a hurt appeared in his eyes, something I had never seen in him before. “It was the summer after our senior year and we were bound to make it our best one. Gregg got a full ride to Penn, he was wicked smart. He wanted to be a Doctor, to help people. Unfortunately for me Ivy League wasn’t in the books, so instead I was going to Penn State, which meant we weren’t going to see each other as much as we wanted. We were supposed to meet at Fairmount Park, they were doing one of those movies in the park things, but he never showed. So I left, and I was pissed, he had never stood me up in the two years we had been together. When I got home our road was blocked off, my parents were there, my dad was in uniform working the scene,” Riley took a ragged breath in and exhaled before he continued. “When I saw Gregg lying in the street, I just wanted to die. Apparently he was hit by a drunk driver who fled the scene, killed him instantly.” I couldn’t control my jaw muscles as my mouth fell open in shock. In that moment my heart went out to Riley, feeling his pain, his sorrow. How had he never told me about this before, especially when he knew about James. “What happened after that?” I asked, not being able to contain my questions. “All I remember was my Mom holding me on the sidewalk while I bawled my eyes out, the rest of the night was a complete blank. The days after that I was depressed, didn’t want to get out of bed, didn’t want to eat. I thought about killing myself multiple times, I didn’t know how to get rid of the pain. Eventually my parents got so scared for me that they put me in a center. I was there for a month and it helped, slightly, but I was angry at that point. When I got home I revoked my admission to Penn State, and a few months later I joined the Army and left Philly. Haven’t been back since.” Riley finished, taking a drink from his water canteen. “How come you never told me this before?” I asked. “It didn’t seem relevant until now.” “But you know about James.” “But Gregg’s death isn’t holding me back.” Riley stated, and his words cut deep like razors. “You don’t know what you're talking about.” I replied. “Oh but I do, because I was in the same position as you a few years back. Unfortunately for me though, I didn’t have a friend to kick me in the ass.” “I don’t need a kick in the ass from anyone.” My annoyance level was at its peak. Riley laughed and shook his head. “Denial is not a good look on you.” “Fuck off Riley, what do you know?” My annoyance had slipped into anger and I pushed up from my chair, muscles rippling, fists clenched. “Oh I know a lot more than you think.” Riley stood up and faced me, his jaw was set and his voice was stern. “I know you’re scared, I know that you have a wall so thick around your heart that it would take a construction and demolition crew to knock it down. I know that everytime you look at Ryan, you think about James and that makes you feel guilty because having feelings for another person isn’t honoring his memory. I know because I have felt every, single, one, of those feelings.” “That’s not even the half of it.” I growled as I began pacing next to the counter. I needed to hit something, but I didn’t want to hit Riley, I could never hit him. “Then what else? What else could you possibly be scared of?” Riley raised his voice slightly. I punched the countertop. “I don’t want him to leave!” Riley blinked. “What do you mean?” “Everybody leaves me Riley! My parents, my siblings, James!” I leaned against the counter, eyes burning. “Ryan," My voice was raw and I didn't know what to say, so I spoke from the heart. "He's such a good person. He makes me smile. When I see him it makes this world seem less shitty. The feelings that I feel with him I have never felt before, not even with James.” Everything that I had been feeling about Ryan just spilled out of my mouth and lay displayed before us. I could trust Riley, I know he would never say anything. But admitting it out loud lifted a weight off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize was there. “I don’t deserve him, I would ruin him Riley.” My voice broke slightly. “Ell,” Riley took a step towards me. “You are one of the most good, caring, and loving people that I know. I mean you can kick some ass when you need to, and man are you scary when you're mad,” I scoffed at that, thinking about the beating I gave to Dr. Grimm. “You are the best of us, and you would not ruin Ryan.” Riley finished. “Yeah, you sure about that?” I challenged, my thoughts going back to the rooftop and how I practically all but physically pushed Ryan away. No wait, I did that too. I felt a twinge of guilt erupt in my stomach, I hated the fact that I had hurt Ryan. “Well, except for earlier when he came in looking like someone kicked his dog. What happened up there?” “I’m a fucking moron that’s what happened.” I responded. “It’s not too late to fix things man. He would understand if you would just explain things.” “I told him that what we did was a mistake, and that we needed to focus on the mission. You should have seen the look on his face.” Riley reached out and squeezed my arms. “If anyone can make it right, it’s you. Tell him how you really feel. If not now then when we get back to base. I’m telling you that you will regret it if Ryan gets away.” The look on his face was something that said he knew from past experience what I was going through. That he also had a Ryan, someone that he desperately wanted to be with, but couldn’t for some reason. "It could never work though," I sighed. "I'm team leader, and there's the whole fraternization rule." Riley considered that for a second before he spoke. "Cross that bridge when you get there. Everything has a way of working out." I nodded my head and Riley patted my shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze. There was a light clatter coming from the hallway and we both jerked our heads in that direction. “Did you hear that?” Riley asked. “Yeah.” My pulse quickened. We both began making our way towards the hallway when a small metal canister about the size of a soda can came tumbling in. “Shit!” Riley wrapped an arm around me and threw me back, we both fell to the floor, Riley landing on top of me. BANG! The flash grenade went off, blinding me and the percussion knocked my hearing out slightly. I could hear voices, muffled, like trying to talk through thick glass. I felt arms grab me and I fought trying to break free. I felt something hard hit me on the side of the head and if I could see anything I would probably be seeing stars. My vision slowly came back into focus and I looked up at my two captors who were people that I didn’t recognize. They were dressed like the Army, and they had American Flag patches on their shoulders. Upon closer inspection I noticed the flag was the old flag, before the civil war, not the new one. They dragged me into the living room where I could see Ryan, Boomer, Alex and Cody standing in the center of the room, wrists restrained behind them. My gaze landed on Ryan who was bleeding from his nose, which definitely looked broken. He looked at me with a worried expression. “I’m fine.” I tried to convey with my eyes. Which he seemed to grasp as the worry dropped from his face a little. I braced my feet underneath of me to stand up straighter and one of the men restrained my wrists behind my back with zip ties, before pushing me towards the others. I fell in line next to Boomer who looked like he was about to hulk out from these zip ties and start splitting heads. They brought Riley in and he settled in next to me, he had a cut below his right eye and an angry bruise that was starting to develop. I looked out in the hallway to see 3 other men, all talking in hushed tones. One of them noticed me trying to eavesdrop and ordered the two who were standing guard to close the doors. Which they did, leaving us alone. “Damn, that looks like it hurts.” Riley said in a hushed tone staring at a spot on the side of my head. I could feel a warm liquid running down the side of my face, which I soon realized by the smell was my own blood. “What do you think these assholes want?” Boomer asked. “I don’t know but did you check out their uniforms? The flag on the shoulder is old, Pre-Civil War.” I pointed out. “I did notice that.” Boomer said. “You don’t think-” Alex started but Boomer cut her off. “What? That they're rebellion?” “Shit.” Riley responded barely above a whisper. “What are we gonna do?” Cody asked. He seemed nervous, I felt bad for the poor kid. “We’re gonna keep it together, we’ve been trained for this kind of stuff.” I stated and everyone nodded in agreement. Ryan was quiet all the while, the look on his face told me that he was thinking of ways out of this. I didn't know how we could get out of this. Looking around I didn't see any of our gear, and without that I didn't see how we were supposed to get unrestrained, and then take out five armed people. Our captors walked in and one of them stepped forward. He was shorter than me and stocky, tan complexion and brown eyes, with a short brown crew cut. His face was hard, and stern he was clearly their leader. He made eye contact with me and then spoke in a deep gruff tone. “Him.” Two guys came forward and grabbed me. I didn’t fight and instead let them guide me towards the hall. “Hey! Where are you taking him!” I heard Riley shout. They led me into the room that Riley and I were in previously and set me in a chair. They turned around and stepped out into the hallway closing the door behind them. It was just me and their leader, who stood about a foot away from me with his arms folded behind his back. “We’ve been following you and your team since you came into our city. Who are you?” His voice was deep and had a slight dialect to it that I recognized from hispanic culture. “My name is Doctor Elliott Pierce. I’m with the Pacific Republic Army.” “Okay Doctor Pierce. Why are you here?” “Our mission was to find Doctor Jason Grimm and escort him back to LA.” I explained. “Ahh, so your rebellion then?” “No.” “Then why would you and your team be here to extract a known rebel scientist?” Fuck, this could completely go sideways if I didn’t convince him I’m telling the truth. “We didn’t know he was part of The Order. In fact we didn’t even know a rebellion existed, it was always just a rumor.” He smiled and chuckled lightly, shaking his head. “Do you think I was born yesterday?” “I don’t know what you want me to tell you, I’m telling you the truth.” I put as much convincing as I could into that last statement. He nodded his head and knocked on the door. “We’ll see.” He said ominously. The door slid open and a man handed him a satchel, the leader took it and began speaking to him in Spanish. I could understand them, having learned Spanish in college, but they didn’t need to know that. “Take the red head, get her to talk.” “What about the others?” “Un-restrain them, stand guard. They won’t do anything seeing as I have their leader.” The man nodded his head and shut the door, leaving us alone again. The leader walked over to the table where Dr. Grimm’s files were still sitting and set the satchel down. He brought a smaller brown piece of canvas out and rolled it out on the table. The metal of surgical instruments glinted in the light, and right there my stomach dropped. This man was going to torture me for information. “You know, before the second outbreak I was a Paramedic. I wanted to help people, it was my purpose. I’m sure you know something about that?” He glanced at me, before returning back to his tools. “But then, your government left us to rot in this hell hole and all of that changed.” My breath caught at that last bit of information. They weren't part of The Order, they were people left behind during the Clayton Outbreak. He pulled a scalpel out of its designated spot and turned to face me. Every fiber in my body was telling me to freak out, to beg, plead, but instead I shoved it down and remained calm. Sure I was scared, but I couldn’t let him know that. “What do you want from me? I already told you the truth.” I kept a cool tone. “For some reason I don’t believe you.” “Well then you must be a shitty questioner.” He punched me in the face and I grunted, the pain radiating from my cheekbone. He smirked at me and held the scalpel up. “Keep up the sarcasm and see what happens.” His voice was cold, and stern as he spoke. I swallowed hard and for a split second that fear showed itself, and he grinned at the sight of it. “Ahhh, there it is.” He said slowly, making a chill run up my spine. I’ve been in the Army for four years now, and in those four years I had not once been captured nor had I been tortured. The fear of the unknown wrapped it’s icy fingers around me and made my bones shake. “What’s your name anyway?” I asked, courage rising up in my throat. He chuckled and walked back over to the table and pulled out a pair of trauma shears. “What does it matter?” He began cutting from the bottom of my shirt up the center. “It’s not like it’s going to help you anyway.” He pulled my shirt off, sleeves and all and tossed it in a tattered heap on the floor. “Maybe I wanna know the name of the man that’s going to torture me.” He leaned in closer to me, he smelled of sweat and citrus, his brown eyes had flecks of green in them and the corner of his mouth upturned into a slight smile. He was definitely the type of guy I would go for, if torture was my thing. “You can call me Diaz.” "Diaz huh?" I straightened up in the chair more, if I was going to be tortured I was at least going to take a page from Riley's book. "Well how about you un-restrain me and we can go get a beer, maybe watch a Mariners-" The rest of the sentence didn't make it's way out as Diaz punched me in the gut, knocking the wind out of me. "Your either stupid, or you have a death wish." Diaz replied in an icy tone. His eyes settled on the rings resting in the center of my chest. He reached out for them and every muscle in my body tightened. "These look important." He smirked and began lifting the necklace from around my neck. I tried to move my head to make it more difficult for him but all that earned me was another punch to the face. My head lolled forward and Diaz removed the necklace the rest of the way, my heart feeling like it went with it. I watched as he examined them closely and then tucked them in the front pouch of his uniform. "Maybe this will give you some incentive to talk." And with that he dug the scalpel into my right peck. White hot searing pain spread across the right side of my chest as he went slow and deliberate. It hurt like hell. I choked down a yelp, the only sound was a whimper that came from somewhere in my throat. “I’m gonna ask you again,” He retracted the scalpel, which was now coated with a thin layer of my blood. “Why are you here?” “I-I told you,” My mind was racing from the pain. “We’re here to escort Dr. Grimm back to LA.” I looked him in the eyes, which were searching mine for the truth. He nodded slightly and brought the tip of the scalpel back to my chest, just above the fresh cut he just inflicted. “Are you a rebel scientist?” “No.” But apparently that answer wasn’t good enough as he dug the scalpel into me again and began carving a straight line, perpendicular to the other one. I gasped at the searing pain, squeezing my eyes shut, bearing through it. I had been shot once, so I wasn’t a stranger to pain. But this pain was slow, relentless and it lingered long after he lifted the scalpel back up. “You're only doing this to yourself.” Diaz said and with that he kept going. Another question, another truthful answer, another cut. Another question, another truthful answer, another cut. I lost track of time, my mind only focused on the pain that Diaz was inflicting on me. It had to have been at least an hour, maybe longer? My mind wandered to the others. Were they okay? Were they going through the same thing? I hoped not. There was a knock at the door that jerked me back to reality. Diaz straightened his posture. “Enter.” The door opened and one of his men stepped in. “Sir, we got orders from the fort. He wants us to bring them in.” Why did they insist on speaking Spanish around us? Spanish, like English, was practically a universal language in the Republic. Everyone spoke it, or at least understood it. But maybe they didn’t know that, I mean they were shut off from the rest of society after all. “Very well.” Diaz replied. He turned his gaze back towards me. “Consider yourself lucky Doctor Pierce. You get to meet our leader.” There was that smirk again, the one that sent chills up my spine. “Take him to the others, then round up the other Doctor. We head out in thirty minutes.” He commanded in Spanish to the guard. “Yes, sir.” He and another guard walked into the room and grabbed me under my arms, hoisting me to my feet. I felt weak from adrenaline crash due to the torture, but I managed to make my feet walk in the direction they led me. Once we got outside the doors to the living room they cut my wrists free, opened the door and pushed me inside where I fell to the floor. “Oh my god Elliott!” Alex was immediately at my side. “What the fuck did they do to you?” I heard a shocked Boomer ask. “I’m fine.” I grumbled attempting to stand up. Alex and Riley helped me up and sat me in a chair. The soft cushions hugged me and I sank into them willingly, wishing the chair would just swallow me up so I could avoid all of this needless attention. “He needs dressings for these.” Cody appeared in my sight as he inspected my chest. “Fucking savages.” Riley spat. Where was Ryan? Did they take him? Did they torture him too? I began to panic at the thought of him in my position. I attempted to stand up but Bommer grabbed my shoulder and forced me down. “You need to relax.” Boomer commanded, and at that moment I hated him. I felt a warm, familiar hand grab mine and I looked over to see Ryan crouched next to me. I relaxed under Boomer’s grip, knowing that Ryan wasn’t in imminent danger. Fuck the mission, it was practically FUBAR at this point, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that knew that. Now all I wanted was to focus on getting the hell out of here and getting back to Bakersfield. I felt a sting course through one of my cuts as Cody applied an antiseptic, but I didn’t budge. Instead I concentrated on Ryan, his blue eyes, his perfectly soft lips. My gaze drifted to his nose, which was still very much broken. It made him look even more rugged and tough, if that were even possible. “You look like hell.” I joked. “Look who's talking.” Ryan shot back. I chuckled and then winced at the pain in my chest. “Could you not make him laugh please.” Cody sounded annoyed. “Sorry Doctor Park.” I retorted. Cody rolled his eyes. “I’m not a Doctor yet.” “You will be. Even if I have to go to the Medical Board myself.” Cody gave a sheepish grin. “Thank you Doctor Pierce.” “For the love of god Cody, enough with the Doctor Pierce business. It makes me sound like a total stiff.” “Would you shut up so I can work please?” “Better.” I replied. Cody had laser focus as he dressed my wounds. There were five cuts total, stacked in neat intricate rows in a sideways motion across the right side of my chest. “What did they wanna know anyway?” Riley asked. “He just kept asking me who we were, why we were here, who I was.” “What did you tell him?” Alex piped in. “The truth. It’s not like we have anything to hide anyway. Besides, I don’t think it’s us they’re after anyways.” “They’re after Doctor Grimm.” Boomer said. “Exactly. I think this whole thing with me was just a power play. To let us know that they’re the ones in charge here.” “What makes you say that?” Boomer asked. I glanced over at him, he was wearing a scowl, hands on his hips. “Because he knew I was telling the truth, but he kept going anyway.” I felt Ryan’s grip on my hand tighten and I looked over to see a fire of rage behind his eyes, jaw clenched, face turning slightly red. “Don’t do anything.” I gave him a knowing expression and Ryan exhaled sharply. He understood me. It was weird how I could communicate to him with just a look. "What about you Alex? What did they wanna know?" I looked in her direction. She was sitting on the edge of the coffee table, clearly lost in her own thoughts. "How did you know they took me?" "Diaz told them to. They were speaking in Spanish, I don't think they know that we can understand them." "Well that gives us a slight upper hand." Riley chimed in. "They asked me the same thing as you. Then they wanted to know where we were keeping Doctor Grimm, so I told them. I figured they would find him anyways." She explained, a sense of worry in her tone. "It's okay Alex, your right. They would have found him anyway. You did what you had to do." I tried to ease her worry, letting her know that she wasn't in trouble for telling the truth. The door opened and Diaz walked in followed by the guards and to no surprise Dr. Grimm, who looked like he was about to melt into a puddle of fear. “Time to go.” Diaz spoke brashly. Cody didn’t glance away from my wounds, he only had one left. “I just need to dress this last one, I’m almost done.” Cody’s voice was flat and assertive. Diaz rolled his eyes and tossed a shirt at me. “Make it quick.” Cody laid a piece of gauze over the last cut and taped it down. I pulled my shirt on and stood up, my strength having slowly returned. “I’m fine, stop hovering.” I grumbled at everyone who gave me a look of worry and questioning. I hated being waited on and fussed over. They all gave me some space except for Ryan, who remained close. I felt a skip in my chest at the thought that he still cared, even after I acted like a complete asshole. Maybe I didn’t mess up things as bad as I thought? “Get a move on.” One of the guards said impatiently. “Patience is a virtue.” Riley gave a snarky response and one of the guards shoved him on the back through the doorway. “Rude.” He muttered under his breath. We all stuffed into the elevator as best as we could, which was a challenge but we made it work. Riley was pressed up next to a taller guy with a lean build, handsome features, dark auburn hair which was styled into a faux hawk, and dazzling green eyes. “You have really pretty eyes.” Riley joked in a flirting manner. The man didn't say anything, instead giving Riley a smoldering look. "Keep it in your pants Riley." Boomer grumbled. Riley gave him an astonished look. "What? I can't pay a guy a compliment?" Boomer scoffed and shook his head. "Shut up, both of you." Diaz ordered. Riley rolled his eyes. "Someone's got their jock in a knot." He muttered under his breath. The man with the green eyes stared straight ahead, but a crooked smile broke across his face. "At least this guy thinks I'm funny." Riley jabbed his head in the man's direction. The elevator doors parted and we flooded out, I was grateful for the extra room as we made our way out of the building and into the night. The city was dark, and quiet, which in other circumstances would have been peaceful and cool but now it just seemed eerie and creepy. The jagged and crumbling skyscrapers looked nothing more than tall and giant silhouettes. We were heading uphill, climbing higher and higher through the streets, turning down a dark alley here and there and then back onto the street. “Boomer? Do you know where we are?” Alex asked out of earshot of our captors. Boomer looked around. “We’re near Chinatown.” “God, these hills suck.” Riley grumbled. “Try living in Seattle.” I retorted. “At least you guys could drive. Driving here was practically worthless.” Boomer shot back. “Yeah, you got me there.” We came to a large gate, which I recognized as the famous Dragon's Gate landmark, proving Boomer correct about where we were. The framing looked almost the same, except for a few pieces missing. The center was retrofitted with two large, and heavy looking metal gates, practically sealing off whatever was behind it. Diaz gave two hammering knocks and a floodlight shined down on us from above the gate. “Open the gates!” I heard a woman shout. There was a click and then a screech as the gates were pulled apart. “Holy shit.” Ryan had a shocked tone as we took in the sight before us. I had been in Chinatown before the earthquake, so I knew what it looked like, but it was different now. Streetlights lined the narrow cobblestone street, and most of the buildings were relatively intact. Most likely due to reconstruction on their inhabitants' part. I glanced at the buildings as we walked by and saw people peeking through curtains and blinds, trying to get a look at what was going on. I don’t understand how our intelligence couldn’t have picked up on this on satellite imaging. “Oh my god, more hills.” Riley whined as we climbed another hill towards a dilapidated, mission style, church. “How did we not see this on the satellite images?” Cody asked, just as bewildered as the rest of us. “Maybe your government didn’t want you to know there were people here.” One of the guards said. Those words didn’t set well with me, because then that would mean we had someone working against us in the higher ups. We walked through a large archway and into a small courtyard. On the other side were two large oak doors with two guards standing idly by on either side. The guards opened the doors as we approached and us and Diaz filed in, except for the guards who were escorting us, who stayed behind outside. The inside of the church looked like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. It was dimly lit and the walls were made of sturdy stone, which amazed me that the church withstood an earthquake at all. The trimming and columns were made of dark oak that gleamed ever so slightly in the light. The pews were pushed to the sides against the walls, leaving a vast open space that stretched all the way to the altar, where a large crucifix hung on the wall in front of a dazzling stained glass window. A man walked out of an entryway to our right and met us halfway stopping in front of Diaz. “Are these the visitors who dropped in earlier?” The man had a rough and thick voice. I couldn’t quite make out his face in the dim lighting, but I could see his bright brown eyes sparkle ever so slightly. “Yes, sir.” The lights slowly got brighter and I could now get a better look at the man. He had a tan complexion, and was large, like Boomer. His curly black hair was pulled back into a messy bun, and he had a five o’clock shadow dusting his chiseled face. His eyes shone even more now that the lights were brighter, and they were truly captivating. “Griffin?” Boomer had a shocked tone in his voice, his eyes the size of dinner plates. The man looked at Boomer with an equally wide eyed expression and stepped around Diaz to get a better look at Boomer. “Grayson?” “Grayson?” Riley gave Boomer a bewildered look. “Do you know this guy?” Cody asked, pointing a finger nonchalantly at the man. Boomer paused for a second before he spoke. The shock never leaving his face “He’s my brother.”
  13. zanoGreen

    The Order

    One thing was for sure, something wasn’t right with the situation we had walked into. The lab was deserted, no guards, no scientists except for Dr. Grimm who had just tried to attack me and lay on the floor before me after getting his ass handed to him. I lowered my gun slowly and the man stood up, regaining his composure. He looked as if he had run an obstacle course, his back hair was disheveled and he was missing his glasses. He had a rocker sort of style with his black Metallica tee, which hung close to his lean frame, and his long legs were clad in a pair of slim jeans which were tucked into a pair of black combat boots. “Why did you attack me?” I asked in a stern voice. “I thought you were with those… people.” Dr. Grimm winced as he stood upright. “What people?” I asked. The rest of the team stood near the doorway in silence, Riley and Ryan had their sights set on Dr. Grimm. He looked at me curiously and turned his head sideways slightly. “What exactly are you doing here?” Dr. Grimm asked. “I’m the one asking the question.” I growled, staring him down. Dr. Grimm cowered slightly at that. He repositioned himself on his feet awkwardly, he was hiding something. “People, they came in and took the other scientists.” He had a panicked tone in his voice. “I didn’t know what to do so I hid in my panic room.” He gestured at the closet, where a thick and heavy door sat slightly ajar. “What people?” Riley asked. Ryan and him had lowered their weapons and were now holding them at the ready in front of them. “People from the outside.” Dr. Grimm responded. “Were they military, like us?” Boomer asked, there was a hint of hope in his voice and I knew where that hope was heading. “No.. they were dressed like civilians.. But their clothing looked old, and worn.” Dr. Grimm explained. I kept trying to wrap my head around the fact that there were people here. People who were abandoned. By our government. “Maybe the government didn’t know there were people still here.” I tried to reassure myself. But even that sounded unbelievable to me. “How long ago was this?” I asked. “Three-wait-maybe four days?” Dr. Grimm scrunched his face together in confusion, which led me to believe that he had been in there for quite some time. “Elliott.” I turned around and Ryan flipped his head over in a come here motion. I stepped closer to Ryan, just out of earshot from Dr. Grimm. “How much of this do you believe?” He asked me in a hushed tone. I looked over at Dr. Grimm, who was now being examined by Cody. “I don’t know. But he seems pretty spooked.” I couldn’t get past the thought that he was hiding something from us. “I think we should keep an eye on him for sure.” I decided. “Riley, Boomer?” Riley and Boomer turned their gazes toward me. “You two and Ryan secure the floor, whoever those people are we don’t want them getting back in.” I commanded. They nodded their heads in agreement and made their way out of the room. “Do you want me to go with them?” Alex asked. I turned to her with my hands on my hips. “No, I have another job for you. Follow me.” I responded, turning around heading out of the room. Leaving Cody with Dr. Grimm. “Normally I wouldn’t ask so many questions, but what is this other job?” Alex trotted behind me. She had a hopeful tone in her voice. We stepped into the brightly lit hallway, lined with all the labs. “How good is your hacking?” I asked, hoping to hear anything but “piss poor” come out of her mouth. “Well, I went to MIT and dabbled in computer science if that answer’s your question.” She stated matter of factly. I grinned and made my way over to the BSL-1 lab I was in earlier and pulled the door open. “Perfect.” I responded shortly. I approached Dr. Grimm’s desk at the other end of the lab and rested my hand on the monitor of the computer. It felt warm to the touch and I could feel the mechanical vibrations contained within. “We need to get into this computer, whatever Dr. Grimm and his fellow scientists were working on pissed the locals off out of hiding. We need to know what it is.” I explained. Alex stepped behind the desk, she grinned and her eyes glinted slightly. I could see her mechanically inclined brain start to turn and work through its processes. “It might take me an hour or so, but I think I can crack it.” She said, undoing her vest to reveal a maroon tank top. She undid her hair from the tight bun it was in and her red hair fell to her pale white shoulders. I understood why Cody had a thing for her, she had brains and beauty, the perfect combo. “Just let me know when you're done.” I gave her a slight nod and grin. She didn’t respond, which is how Alex got when she was in her zone. I stepped out of the lab and into the hallway where I was greeted by Ryan, Riley and Boomer. “Floor’s secure.” Boomer said shortly. “Excellent.” I checked my watch “1202”, I grabbed the front of my vest and let my arms relax there. “Evac isn’t till 0700. So this is our base of operations until we leave for the evac point.” I explained. “Guess we're getting comfortable then.” Riley sighed, “I’ll take the first shift of guard duty.” He raised his hand slightly, volunteering himself for the job. “Ryan you take the second shift, Boomer you got last.” I said. “Got it Ell.” Boomer said, and with that he walked off in the direction of the living room alcove. “I’m gonna see if Cody needs help.” Ryan said as he walked off in the direction of the hallway that contained the living quarters. I looked over my shoulder and through the glass wall of the lab, watching Alex as she concentrated all of her efforts on her work. I reached into my bag and pulled out the files I had found on Dr. Grimm’s desk. The rough brown cardboard felt heavy in my hands and I was eager to see what they contained. With the files in hand I crossed the hall to the little living alcove we were in earlier. It wasn’t anything special, a large maroon couch, which Boomer was stretched out on, with two matching overstuffed armchairs sat around a glass coffee table. There was a landscape picture above the couch of the San Francisco skyline prior to the earthquake. I removed my vest and plopped down in one of the oversized armchairs, draping my right leg over the arm and resting my back against the opposite arm. I flipped open one of the files and began to read some of Dr. Grimm’s notes. Most of it was dry, scientific, and I almost nodded off a couple of times. A cure for cancer seemed like it would be more interesting than this. It talked about the Northern Flu virus and it’s RNA sequence, and how they could use that RNA sequence to then splice it with the DNA of another virus. I studied the notes more carefully and came across a gene sequence, the words “Zaire e.” were scrawled untidily underneath it. “Zaire e.? Zaire e.? Where have I heard that before?” I racked my brain thinking back through medical school, microbiology, anything. But I couldn’t think of it. I rubbed my face and looked at my watch. “1450”. I sighed and continued pouring over the notes again. “You need to take a break or you’re gonna fry that genius brain of yours.” James laughed, setting a cup of coffee in front of me. “I can’t, I need to pass my Intern exams, or I’m not gonna get that residency position at Harborview.” I replied, my eyes drooped and I had a tired expression on my face. “You’ll pass them.” James reassured me, rubbing my shoulders. I leaned back into his touch and groaned. “Some of us don’t have an eidetic memory.” I joked. “It’s both a blessing and a curse. Trust me.” James chuckled. The smell of coffee lifted me out of my memory of James and I. A coffee cup appeared out of my peripherals and I followed the gloved hand up to meet Ryan’s gaze. It was crazy how he could smile at me with just his eyes. “Thought you could use a pick me up.” Ryan said, handing me the mug of black liquid. I took the cup in my hands gladly and took a drink. Whatever the brand was, was a little bitter for my liking but I was appreciative nonetheless. “Thanks, I don’t know why I’m so tired.” I set the coffee mug on the glass coffee table and continued flipping through Dr. Grimm’s notes. “One reason comes to mind.” Ryan raised his eyebrows at me. I shook my head and grinned. As much as I wanted to flirt with him, kiss him, maybe even take him to one of those back rooms and have a little fun with him. The mission came first, and I needed my head on straight. “We can’t bring that up right now. It’s too distracting.” I replied gruffly. There was a twinge in my pants at the mere thought of our amazing sex last night. Ryan lifted his hands in defeat. “I know, I know. We need to concentrate on the mission.” He replied with a smile. “What you got there?” He motioned towards Dr. Grimm’s notes. “The good doctor's notes. I’m trying to find out what exactly they were working on here. Maybe it will give us a clue as to why those people came in here and took them.” I explained. “Does it bother you that there’s people living here on the island still?” Ryan questioned. “I would be lying if I said it didn’t.” I closed the file and tossed it on the coffee table. “I mean they could be from the outside and just traveled across the bay or the Daly Canal, looking for a home. They could also be natives, we don’t know. That’s what bothers me the most. I don’t want to walk into a Rager situation. Or worse.” Yes, there were worse things than Ragers, at least Ragers were out of their mind and more or less just had a one track mind. Other people though, they could be ruthless and sadistic, killing you slowly, and painfully. “Ragers, ruined cities, shady scientists. Man I miss Texas.” Ryan sighed and took a drink of his coffee. “You don’t ever really talk about home.” I stated. I needed a break from the notes for a few minutes, re-charge my batteries slightly before I dove into them again. Ryan settled into the armchair opposite me, leaning forward and resting his arms on his knees. He had a distant look in his eyes as he recalled his home. I could tell that he missed it, I missed my home too. “It’s awesome. Swimming at Lake Travis during the summer, getting BBQ ribs from Freedman’s, even the humidity. It’s like life before the Northern Flu pandemic.” Ryan spoke as if he was talking about heaven. I crinkled my face and scoffed. “You lost me at humidity.” Ryan chuckled and took another drink of his coffee. “You get used to it.” “I don’t know about that.” I rebutted with a grin. One thing Ryan had said stuck with me. “Life before the Northern Flu pandemic.” Sure I could remember life before everything went to hell, it was just hard to imagine a future where that life became a reality again. But would it be the same as before? No it wouldn’t. For one he wouldn’t have James, and second he would be working as an ER Physician in Seattle versus as a Trauma Physician in the Army. “You okay?” Ryan pulled me out of my thoughts and I looked across at him. His blue eyes looked at me with a knowing expression, like he knew I was going down the rabbit hole of life before. “Yeah, I’m fine.” I lied, taking a sip of coffee to hide the fact. I could tell Ryan could see right through the lie but he didn’t press it further. “What about your home?” Ryan asked. “It’s not that exciting.” I waved the question off. Ryan cocked an eyebrow at me. “No, really. It’s nothing to write home about.” I stated. “I’m still curious.” Ryan stared at me with his blue eyes and I instantly caved. Damn those eyes. “I’m from a town in Idaho called Kuna. Ever heard of it?” I asked. Ryan shook his head in response. “That’s okay, no one ever has.” I laughed. “It’s a small town, lots of farms and open fields. My parents own a ranch, my Dad breeds horses, breaks ‘em in for riding and then they turn around and sell ‘em for profit.” Ryan hung onto my every word, as if my past were a best selling novel. “I… I haven’t seen or heard from them since before the outbreak.” I glanced down into my coffee mug, swirling the dark liquid around. Ryan furrowed his brows and gave a questioning look. “Why?” “Well… after I met James they didn’t take so kindly to having a gay son.” My chest clenched slightly at the pain that still hung there. “Oh… I’m sorry.” Ryan’s tone was apologetic and soft. I shook my head, my eyes beginning to burn slightly as I pushed back tears. “Don’t be. It’s practically ancient history.” Even though that was a lie. I often thought about my parents, wondered how they were doing. But I could never get around to calling them, as I wasn’t ready to face the rejection that would follow soon after. “Hey Lone Star, you’re up!” Riley walked into the lounge, making us both jump. “Lone Star?” I gave Riley a confused look. “Yeah, you know… because he’s from Texas… the Lone Star State.” Riley replied. “That’s a horrible nickname.” I chuckled and took a drink of my coffee. “I’d like to see you come up with something better.” Riley folded his arms across his chest. “How about, oh I don’t know… Riggs?” I asked. Riley stared at me and then scoffed trying to hide the fact that my nickname was better. “That’s a horrible nickname.” And with that Riley strode off in the direction of the living quarters. Ryan, Boomer and I all laughed. Boomer’s laugh made me jump slightly, this entire time I thought he was sleeping. “So sensitive.” Boomer spoke with his eyes closed. “Boomer, have you been awake this whole time?” I asked, turning my gaze towards him. “If I say no, would you believe me?” Boomer smirked. “No.” I responded flatly. “Well then yes, I have been awake this whole time.” Boomer still had his eyes closed. “Why didn’t you say anything?” Ryan asked from the door frame. “Because… I’m trying to take a nap, duh.” There was a hint of sarcasm in Boomer’s voice. I shook my head and grinned. Ryan let out a chuckle and turned around walking toward the elevator bank confidently. I stood up from my chair and stretched, deciding that I should go check on Cody and Dr. Grimm. I made my way towards Dr. Grimm’s living quarters, glancing in the lab where Alex was still working away in full concentration mode. I could hear Cody’s voice from the hallway as I rounded the corner and stepped through the doorway. Cody was sitting at the desk pouring over a genetics textbook and Dr. Grimm was flipping through his tablet, no doubt looking through his research. “What’s going on here?” I leaned my broad shoulder against the doorframe and crossed my arms. “Oh hey Dr. Pierce!” Cody looked up from the textbook, his bright brown eyes shining at the sight of me. “Dr. Grimm was just answering some questions about genetics.” He finished. Dr. Grimm grinned at me from above his tablet. “You like Genetics huh?” I walked towards Cody and held my hand out, Cody gingerly handed me the textbook and the weight of it surprised me. “Yeah, it’s fascinating stuff. Dr. Grimm even said that if I was interested I should consider a fellowship in Genetics.” Cody had an excited tone in his voice which made my heart drop slightly. I didn’t want Cody to think about leaving, as selfish as that made me. He was the little brother I wish I had, his bright demeanor made my days better. I smiled at Cody and handed the textbook back to him. “If it’s something you really enjoy you should go for it.” What? No. You should be convincing him to stay. My thoughts rang out, but I squashed them down immediately. I turned my attention to Dr. Grimm who was trying, poorly I might add, to not eavesdrop on our conversation. “I actually had a question for you Dr. Grimm.” I motioned for Cody to give us the room, which he obliged. He went to put the textbook back in the bookcase but Dr. Grimm shook his head. “No, take it with you, please. You’ll have better use for it then I will.” Dr. Grimm smiled. “Thank you.” Cody said nervously and left the room, closing the door behind him. I sat in the now unoccupied chair that Cody was sitting in and faced Dr. Grimm. “I was reading through you notes-” “You were reading through my research?” Dr. Grimm cut him off. There was a sense of annoyance in his voice and his expression was almost taken aback, like I had violated some Doctor creed I wasn’t aware of. “Yes.” I nodded my head. “The best way to figure out what you guys were working on up here is to go right to the source.” I stated. “Which is why we're having this conversation.” Dr. Grimm pieced together. I nodded my head sharply before continuing. “In your notes, there’s a certain genome sequence of Zaire e., but I can’t seem to recall what exactly that is.” Dr. Grimm’s eyes widened slightly at the mention of that, but he shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “It’s a simple protein I’m using as a catalyst.” He set the tablet down on his bed and crossed his arms. “Why do you ask?” “It’s just… I mean… If you're really curing cancer up here, it would be awesome to know the brains behind it.” I explained. I knew Dr. Grimm was lying, but whether or not I could get him to spill, or even better slip up, was another story. “I’m sure that your general told you that we're working on here is classified, and strictly need to know.” Dr. Grimm gave me a knowing expression. Crap, he knows I’m on to him. I gave him a tight smile and nodded my head. “Very well.” I stood up and began walking towards the door. “Dr. Pierce?” I turned my head over my shoulder, Dr. Grimm gave me a smirk, there was an evil glint in his eye, one that I didn’t trust and sent a chill down my spine. “Do be careful snooping around. We wouldn’t want anyone to question your allegiance with the Republic.” My fists tightened into balls, my nails digging into my palms, and my body shook slightly with anger. I wanted to punch him in his pretentious face, make him talk but that’s not how this was going to get done. No. I had to beat Dr. Grimm at his own game, and that started with whatever was on the computer in his lab. I stormed out of Dr. Grimms living quarters and made my way to the lab hallway. “Ooof!” I ran right into a wall of muscle and kevlar that is Ryan, who was making his guard rounds. “Sorry, Ryan.” I looked at the floor, trying to avoid his eye contact so he couldn’t see how furious I was. “What’s the matter? I can practically feel the anger rolling off of you.” Ryan asked. Well there goes my plan of trying to hide it. “It’s that damn Dr. Grimm. He’s hiding something and he knows that I’m on to him, and to top it all off he threatened me.” I could see fire ignite behind Ryan’s eyes as I spoke the last part. I had never seen Ryan angry, his expression was all stoic, his jaw went firm and his southern drawl came out more. “What do you wanna do?” He asked. “We just gotta beat him at his own game. Whatever he’s hiding in that computer-” I pointed at the lab where Alex was still working tirelessly away. “-is going to give us our answers.” I felt a twinge of pain in the palms of my hands and I held one in front of me to observe marks where my nails had dug deep into my palms. The angry red and purple marks were enough to settle my anger slightly. It was physical and I could see it, which made it easier to cope with. Ryan grabbed my hand in his own meaty, fingerless gloved hand and turned it over to observe the marks. “What did you do?” He had concern behind his eyes. “Well it was either that or punched him in the face.” I stated matter of factly. “I would have rather you punched him the face.” Ryan placed his other hand over the palm of my hand. Even though he was wearing gloves, I could feel the warmth and electricity that I felt whenever he laid those hands on me. My mind flashed back to my bedroom last night and all the feelings I felt for Ryan, and I hoped he felt for me. I felt a warmth spread in my chest and my heart seemed to explode with desire, desire to be held, desire to be seen, desire to be loved. I regretfully pulled my hand back and stared at my feet, if I looked into those eyes it was only a matter of time before Ryan pulled me in for a kiss, and I would let him. But I couldn’t think like that right now, I had to think about the mission, there would be plenty of times for these feelings once we got back to Bakersfield. “Elliott!” I whipped my head over in the direction of the BSL-1 lab to see Alex poking half her body through the lab door. No one except Ryan ever called me Elliott, unless it was serious and her expression matched the seriousness of her tone. Without question I hurried towards the door, I could feel Ryan’s presence following behind me. I grabbed the lab door from Alex and stepped through following hot on her trail. Her red hair blew gracefully as she hurried along the racks and glass cabinets until we reached Dr. Grimm’s desk. “You need to see this.” She demanded, sitting in the computer chair. I stood behind her, leaning on the back of the chair and Ryan settled in next to me. It was a video still and Dr. Grimm’s exhausted face stared back at us. Alex hit a button on the keyboard and the video began playing. “This is Dr. Jason Grimm, date July 2, 2032 time 1620. We have successfully attached the RNA genome sequence of the H2N4 virus to that of Zaire ebolavirus-” The name Zaire ebolavirus stopped me dead in my tracks and brought me back to Dr. Grimm’s notes. Zaire e. My heart stopped at the realization of what was happening. Zaire ebolavirus is the scientific classification for Ebola, a very aggressive and deadly pathogen. They were using it as a catalyst to speed up the effects of the Northern Flu. “-We have gotten the green light to start human trials.” Dr. Grimm stepped aside to reveal a kid, no older than 20, sedated and strapped to a metal exam table. My eyes were glued to the monitor, not capable of looking away. Dr. Grimm took a pre-loaded syringe of some substance, which I guessed was the H2N4/Ebola variant and injected the kid with it. Ryan scoffed in disgust and looked away. I could empathize with him, I wanted to look away, pretend like I had never seen this. But my scientist mind got the better of me and I was determined to know what happened next. “Within twenty four hours we should see the effects of the variant present themselves. This is Dr. Grimm signing off.” The screen went dark and then Dr. Grimm appeared again, this time in a white hazmat suit. “This is Dr. Jason Grimm, date July 4, 2032 time 1920. The H2N4/Ebola virus variant has been successful. Symptoms began to present themselves as little as seventeen hours post exposure, seizures, hemorrhaging, respiratory failure and then death all presented themselves at an alarming rate. Despite the subject's excellent immune system he expired July 4th, 2032 at 1830.” “Shut it off.” I growled through gritted teeth. Alex clicked another button on the keyboard and the recording stopped. My blood began to boil, my hands shaking as I gripped the back of Alex’s chair. “Subject?” This was a human being. Not some lab rat that could be used for experimentation. The answer that I had been searching for in Dr. Grimm’s files came to light. They took the scientists not because they wanted to out of sheer thrill. They took them because the scientists were abducting and experimenting on them. “What do we do?” I heard Ryan ask. What DO we do? Out of all the missions I had been on, this was definitely a first. I had never been faced with something of this caliber before, I was practically in uncharted territory. A part of me wanted to kill Dr. Grimm for torturing innocent people. A part of me also questioned the government I had fought so hard for all these years. Did they know what Dr. Grimm was doing here? Did they know that he was slaughtering people like cattle? “Elliott?” I could hear Ryan’s voice, but everything was a haze. I was furious and not even Ryan’s husky southern drawl could bring me back to earth, bring me out of this cloud of fury, this fury that needed an outlet and I knew exactly what my target was. I stepped around the desk and began stomping my way out of the lab. “Elliott!” I heard Alex shout from behind me, but I didn’t turn around, didn’t acknowledge her. Instead I flung the lab door open and made my way towards the living quarters, towards Dr. Grimm’s living quarters to be more specific. “Dr. Pierce?” I heard Cody ask nervously. I shot him a look, and whatever that look contained was enough to make Cody clamp his mouth shut and give me a wide eyed look. I walked into Dr. Grimm’s living quarters to see him still sitting in the same place, with his tablet in hand. He looked up at me with an annoyed expression and returned his gaze to his tablet. “Dr. Pierce, to what do I owe this-” I grabbed Dr. Grimm by the scruff of his neck and jerked him out of the chair. I didn’t know where I got this brute strength from, but I enjoyed it as I watched Dr. Grimm squirm, trying to fight me off. “What’s this about?!” Dr. Grimm struggled, but my grip on him just tightened. “Shut up.” I growled, in a voice I myself didn’t quite recognize. I hauled him into the lab hallway and was met by Boomer, Cody, and Riley all with wide eyed expressions of horror at the sight they were witnessing. “Ell-” Riley started but I shot him an angry expression. “Move.” I commanded, and with that the three of them parted quicker than if someone had thrown a live grenade between them. “Help me-he’s crazy!” Dr. Grimm shouted. “I told you to shut up.” I said, grabbing the lab door and swinging it open with such force, that I swear if it hadn’t had soft open hinges the glass would have swung against the window and shattered. I was met with the same expressions of horror from Ryan and Alex as the others as I pulled Dr. Grimm towards the desk. Alex and Ryan backed away as I brought him around the desk and pointed his head towards the computer monitor, a video still of the deceased young man stared back at us. “Mind explaining this?” I asked, even though it wasn’t meant to be a question. “I-I don’t know what you're talking about!” Dr. Grimm stammered. I grabbed the back of his head and slammed it into the desk with a loud boom. Dr. Grimm yelped and grabbed at his face. “Wanna try again?” I growled. “Ell-” I heard Ryan start, I shot him the same look I shot the others and the look he gave me was a look that made my chest clench, a look that he didn’t recognize the man he was seeing. However, I didn’t let up, I was going to make him talk. One way or another. “I-I-” Dr. Grimm started but I interrupted him. “You were experimenting on people, living people, weren’t you?!” I shouted, the rage in my voice echoing off the lab walls. “No-no!” Dr. Grimm squeaked, which only made me see red even more. I spun him around and brought my fist back, plunging it forward I connected with his nose with a splintering crunch. There was something primal in me as I hit him again, and again, not letting up. Dr. Grimm yelped and howled at the pain but I didn’t care. I wanted him to pay, I wanted him to pay for the pain and suffering he caused. “Elliott!” Alex shrieked, but I ignored her. I felt two arms loop around me, pinning my arms to my sides. I growled and gave a kick towards Dr. Grimm but it merely connected with the desk and sent me and whoever had me pinned against the opposite wall with a thud, which made the person grunt. I struggled against him, but the more I fought the tighter his grip became. “Elliott-Elliott-Relax, I got ya.” I heard a southern drawl whisper into my ear. Ryan, I realized and slowly my brain came back to earth as I sunk into his grip, the rage within me subsiding. It was at that moment I became aware of my surroundings. Dr. Grimm was leaning against the desk, blood ran down his face and stained his t-shirt. There was a bruise that spread from the bridge of his nose and into his eye sockets. Cody tipped his head back and aided in trying to stop the bleeding, which was coming from his nose. Boomer, Riley, and Alex were looking at me with their mouths agape. They looked at me like I was a monster. Maybe I was. “C’mon.” Ryan, still holding my arms to my sides led me out of the lab. Boomer held the door open for us, avoiding my eye contact. I let him lead me willingly, my body shaking as the adrenaline that was just coursing through my veins began to subside. Ryan led me to a wall opposite the lab door and spun me around to face him. There was worry, with a touch of fear behind his eyes. Was he scared of me? I stared at the back of my shaking hands and my knuckles were red, covered in blood, but I didn’t see any cuts. My gut wrenched when I realized the blood didn’t belong to me, it belonged to Dr. Grimm. What did I do? I sunk to the floor, bringing my knees up to my chest and resting my arms on them. Ryan followed me down, crouching in front of me. I hung my head low, avoiding Ryan’s gaze. I didn’t want to see that look of fear in his eyes again, that look that the rest of the team had when he led out of the lab. I felt a firm grip on my forearm, and my body tensed. I couldn’t bring myself to look at Ryan, not yet. “Elliott...” Ryan had a calm demeanor in his voice. “... look at me.” I felt Ryan’s other hand cup my chin gently with his finger and thumb, slowly lifting my head so our eyes could meet and there it was. The look of fear behind those brilliant blue eyes, the look I never wanted to see again. I might as well just scrap my heart out of my chest with a melon baller. “Are you okay?” There was concern in his voice. “I… I don’t know what happened.” I whispered. “I thought I lost you there for a second.” The look of fear in his eyes was replaced with relief, and that’s when it hit me. He wasn’t scared of me, he was scared for me. “I can’t believe I lost it like that.” I said bewildered. I had been in plenty of fights, especially since being in the Army. But that was the first time I truly lost it, let the rage take control. I shuddered and let my head fall back into my lap. Ryan pulled me into him and I rested the top of my head on his chest and took a deep breath in. A woodsy smell mixed with sweat met my nostrils, Ryan’s smell. My sinuses began to burn from the want, no, the need to let the tears out. To let the crash of adrenaline just take me over. “It’s okay… I got ya.” And he did. I believed the words that came out of his mouth like they were law, like they were straight out of my Gray’s Anatomy medical textbook. I felt safe here, felt safe against Ryan, like nothing could touch me. I heard a throat clear and we both looked up to see Riley standing in the doorway for the lab. A look of regret on his face from interrupting. “He’s ready to talk.” Riley stated. “We’ll be there in a second.” Ryan took the words right out of my mouth. He returned his gaze to me and gave me a searching look. “Are you ready to go back in there?” He asked. “I’m gonna have to be.” I replied and Ryan helped me to my feet. I wished I could just hold his hand, keep him nearby. Right now he was my anchor in the shit storm of what this situation was. “I’ll be right beside you.” Ryan read my mind, giving my hand a squeeze before letting it go and holding the door for the lab open for me to walk through first. “Hey, you alright?” Riley asked in a low tone as I met up with the rest of the group towards Dr. Grimm’s desk. “Yeah, yeah I”m fine.” I mumbled. Riley gave me a slight smile and gestured towards the rest of the group, who were standing with their backs to me. Dr. Grimm was sitting at the desk chair, which had been moved to a more open area of the lab. I took a second to take in the damage I had done, turning my stomach in knots. The bleeding from his nose had finally stopped, which from the looks of it was indeed very broken. He had bruises that radiated from the bridge of his nose to his eye sockets, with his right eye swollen slightly. His eyes got wide as he saw me approach. “No! No! I don’t want him in here!” Dr. Grimm’s voice pitched with fear. “Well he’s our team leader, so that’s not gonna happen.” Alex folded her arms across her chest. Dr. Grimm scoffed, which made Boomer crack his knuckles in a threatening manner. “Okay, okay!” Dr. Grimm shouted. I could see him staring at me out of the corner of my eye, but I kept my gaze to the floor, arms across my chest, leaning against a lab bench. I could feel Ryan standing close by, just like he said he would. My heart warmed at the realization that he kept his word. “What are you working on?” Alex pressed. “An H2N4/Ebola virus variant. It’s meant to speed up the process of H2N4 to kill its host more quickly.” Dr. Grimm had a blank expression on his face, almost apathetic, which sent a chill down my spine. “Jesus christ.” I said a little too loudly. Everyone turned their gazes on me expectantly. I knew what they had planned for this new killer virus. My stomach twisted in knots at the prospect of the devastation it could cause, the millions of people it could kill. “It’s a fucking bio-weapon.” I gaped at Dr. Grimm, whose lips curled into an evil grin. “Why would the government want to create a bio-weapon?” Cody sounded flabbergasted. “Not the government…” Boomer looked deep in thought. “... a terrorist organization.” He finished. Dr. Grimm shook his head. “We’re not terrorists… we’re a rebellion, fighting against the fascist Republic that took over our homeland.” He spat. “Semantics.” Riley muttered, shrugging his shoulders. Boomer whistled slightly, getting everyone's attention and throwing his head over his shoulder. We all got the message and gathered around the lab bench that I was leaning against. Cody spoke up first. “Do you think he’s telling the truth?” There was a nervous twinge to his voice. “Well if he’s lying it’s a pretty elaborate one.” Riley spoke next, his eyebrows were furrowed from deep thought. We all looked over at Alex who gave us a knowing look. Alex was like a human lie detector, no lie would go unnoticed under her radar. Even Riley couldn’t hide things from her. “He’s not lying.” She shook her head, her red hair bounced slightly back and forth in its tight ponytail. “How have we not heard of an underground rebellion until now?” Ryan, still standing next to me, spoke up. “Maybe releasing this bio-weapon was how they were going to make their mark.... Unless…” Boomer trailed off giving me a look that I knew all too well. There had been rumors around Bakersfield about an underground terrorist cell. But it was always dismissed as rumor and a way to freak the newbies out. Maybe it wasn’t such a rumor after all. “No… there’s no way.” I rejected in a confident tone. “What?” Ryan asked, turning his gaze to me. I met his gaze and placed my hands on the cool surface of the lab bench. I didn’t want to say the words, because then saying the words would make them real, and would disintegrate everything I knew. I swallowed hard and then spoke in a calm, even tone. “Boomer is suggesting that this… rebellion… is working from the inside.” Riley scoffed and everyone else shifted uncomfortably on their feet. “That’s ridiculous.” Riley shook his head adamantly. “I’ve heard rumors...” Alex spoke up. “... that there are soldiers, even generals, in the army that have… wavering, allegiances.” Ryan let out a low groan and stared up at the ceiling tiles. “I miss Texas.” “If they’re making a bio-weapon we need to stop them before they release it.” Boomer spoke in an urgent tone. A chuckle erupted behind them, it sent chills up and down my body, making the hairs on my arms stand on end. We all turned our attention to Dr. Grimm, who had a wide grin splitting across his bruised and battered face. He shook his head and continued to laugh. “You’re too late, you know.” Riley stalked over to him, an angry expression spreading across his face. “What the hell are you going on about?” “The weapon…” Dr. Grimm said between chuckles. “... It’s already en-route to its destination.” My palms began to sweat and my stomach dropped after he spoke those words. People were going to die, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Or maybe there was. I took a step forward and I swear everyone’s breath hitched as they thought I was going to pummel him again. I had to admit the thought had crossed my mind. “What’s the target?” I growled. Dr. Grimm shook his head and smiled. “You will never be able to find it… at least not in time anyway.” The rage, that same rage that I had felt before, began to bubble to the surface. I squeezed my eyes shut and tampened it down to a dark place within me. I heard a slight yelp followed by a whimper and opened my eyes to see Ryan face to face with Dr. Grimm. He had a hold of the front of Dr. Grimm’s blood stained t-shirt by the fistfull. There was a serious expression on his face which made Dr. Grimm’s eyes widen with fear. The sight made me smile to myself. When Ryan spoke his voice was a growl, calm and even, his southern accent more pronounced. “Listen here you little weasel. If you don’t start talking my friend here is gonna pummel you to a pulp, only this time… I won’t pull him off of you.” Was it wrong that I was turned on by this strong, dominant side of Ryan? Maybe. But I would have to save those feelings for later. “Do whatever you want with me, I’m not talking.” Dr. Grimm replied. Ryan gave a threatening growl, gripping his shirt harder. His fist clenched and I could practically feel the anger radiating off of him. I gave a firm grip on his shoulder which forced him to turn his head slightly over his shoulder in my direction. It’s not worth it. I tried willing to him with just my thoughts. Ryan seemed to understand as he gave me a nod and released Dr. Grimm, who exhaled sharply in relief. That’s when it hit me, I knew how to play this game with Dr. Grimm. I knew exactly what would make him talk. “Cody?” I turned my attention towards him. I pulled a pad of paper and a pencil out of the front pouch on my vest and scribbled something on it. I then handed it to Cody, who cocked his head to the side slightly, giving me a confused look. I just gave him a stiff nod and with that he turned around hurried out of the lab, disappearing down the hall. Ryan gave me a confused look and I looked back at him. I’ve got a plan, just trust me. I tried to communicate with my eyes. Ryan nodded, signaling that he understood. The lab door opened and Cody walked up to me briskly handing over what I sent for him to retrieve. “Thank you Cody.” I had a more chipper tone to my voice, putting on an act for Dr. Grimm. He nodded and settled next to Alex who shot a confused look between the two of us. I turned my attention to Dr. Grimm, who sat there with the smuggest of expressions on his face. “I’m gonna ask you one more time…” I took a step closer until there was a foot between the two of us. “... What is the target?” “I’m not tal-ahhhh!” I stuck the needle into Dr. Grimms neck, injecting the liquid into him. I gave him a smirk and took a step back. He looked at me with a wild expression, rubbing the spot on his neck. “What the fuck was that!” He shouted. “Well in about forty eight hours you’ll find out.” I said apathetically, handing the needle and syringe back to Cody. “You mother fucker!” Dr. Grimm screamed. I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders. “I know you have an antidote. You would be an idiot if you didn’t…” I leaned against the lab bench and folded my arms across my chest. “... tell me what I need to know, and you’ll get it.” I was vaguely aware of the looks I was getting from the rest of the team. They would understand soon enough. Dr. Grimm seemed to be in deep thought, his breath huffing from anger at being backed into the corner that he couldn’t escape from. He went to speak but the words got caught in his chest, I stared at him expectantly. Waiting for a response. “The Order will kill me if I say.” Dr. Grimm looked torn, like he couldn’t decide whether living or dying would be better. This rebellion, The Order as he called it, must not be a force to be reckoned with if someone was battling that decision. “If you don’t say, then you're gonna die either way.” Riley had an annoyed tone in his voice. “So why don’t you just cut the bullshit and tell us what we want to hear.” There were so many things running through my mind. Would he talk? If he did talk what would that mean for us? How would we stop a terrorist plot from all the way here in San Francisco? I guess they could phone back to base and let the General know, then they could take it from there. “Well?” Alex placed her hands on her hips impatiently. Dr. Grimm hung his head somberly and muttered something incoherently under his breath. “Speak up for the rest of the class.” Riley demanded. Dr. Grimm lifted his head, he had a guilty expression on his face. No doubt from betraying his precious rebellion. “Los Angeles.”
  14. zanoGreen

    The Ruined City

    My alarm woke me up the next morning signaling it was time to get ready. My mind flashed back to last night and I felt butterflies in my stomach. Ryan and I had sex, but not just ordinary sex. Probably the best sex I've had in years. I looked over and noticed an empty spot next to me. There was still an indentation from where Ryan had been sleeping, so I know I wasn't dreaming. I sat up and looked around the room. My bedroom door was open slightly and I could hear a faint voice coming from the main area of the house. "Where is he?" I thought to myself. I threw the covers back and walked up to my dresser, pulling a fresh pair of underwear out and slipping into them. I made my way out of my bedroom and stepped out into the hallway, the wood floor felt cool and comfortable under my bare feet. I caught a whiff of the aroma of bacon and coffee, two of my favorite things in the morning. As I crept down the hallway the voice was getting louder and I quickly realized It was coming from the TV. I stepped out of the hallway and spotted Ryan standing in front of the stove with his back to me. He was wearing a pair of lounge shorts, the legs going down just mid thigh. I recognized them as mine, but I didn’t mind, I liked seeing him in my shorts. I had never noticed how well defined his back was, or the fact that he had a tattoo on his left shoulder blade. It was a phoenix rising from the ashes, surrounded by flames. It was very well defined, and beautiful. Watching him cook in my shorts, was definitely something I could get used to waking up to. "In 2005 the San Antonio Spurs mascot got ejected ref Jess Kersey saying I want the wolf gone!--he's really this creature." A man's voice came from the TV. I looked over and recognized the show as Jeopardy, one of my favorites. "What is A Coyote." Ryan said, raising his fork slightly in the air. “What is A Coyote?” The contestant asked. “That is correct.” The host said. “Suck it Jeopardy!” Ryan exclaimed, raising both arms slightly. I grinned at him and took a step forward. A floorboard creaked under my foot and Ryan turned his head over his shoulder, he saw me and smiled. “You know a question about the San Antonio Spurs isn’t exactly fair, seeing as you're from Texas.” I said. “I’m from Austin, so technically it is fair.” Ryan challenged, he turned around with a mug of coffee and set it on the island for me. I sat down and grabbed the warm mug in my hands. I took a drink of the dark liquid and it warmed my insides. Ryan sat a plate of bacon down on the counter and grabbed a piece for himself, leaning on the counter with his elbows. I grabbed a piece and took a bite. The seasons exploded in my mouth and I closed my eyes, savoring the bite. “Damn, that’s good bacon.” I said. “Thanks.” Ryan responded, smiling between bites. I took another drink of coffee and looked up at Ryan, who was gazing at me from across the island. “What?” I blushed slightly. “Last night was..” Ryan trailed off. “Amazing?” I finished his sentence. “Yeah.” Ryan smiled and there was a look of joy in his eyes. “I agree.” I said smiling at him from above my coffee cup as I took a drink. There were a lot of feelings that I felt for Ryan, feelings that I hadn’t felt since James was alive. It was nice, and warm feelings that touched my heart and made me feel butterflies all over. I looked at the clock and the LED read “0500”. “We gotta get ready.” I said standing up and grabbing two slices of bacon and my coffee. I shoveled the bacon down real quick as I made my way to the bathroom. I stripped off my underwear and tossed them in the clothes hamper. I turned the shower on and stood outside the sliding glass door, waiting for the temperature to warm up. I felt two arms wrap around me, and I could feel the heat from Ryan’s body as he pressed into me slightly. I leaned my head back into his shoulder and he gave me a kiss on the shoulder before resting his chin there. I pulled away from him and stepped into the shower, I stepped back to make room for him and he stepped in closing the door behind him. The shower head spewed hot water out of the faucet, cascading over Ryan’s head and running down his perfect body. I stepped forward and he placed his hands on my lower back pulling me into him slightly and I placed my hands on his shoulders. Our semi erect cocks pressed up against each other and they started becoming hard the moment they made contact. Ryan kissed me under the waterfall of water, our tongues dancing together in our mouths. I wished we could just stay like this. I grabbed the shampoo bottle and pumped some shampoo into my hand. I began scrubbing Ryan’s head and he closed his eyes as soapy water ran down his face. I could tell he was enjoying me running my fingers across his scalp, he groaned slightly and hung his head down so I could get to the back. He rinsed his head off and shook his head slightly, flicking water all over the shower. I chuckled and wiped his face off, he grinned at me and pumped some shampoo into his hand. I hung my head down so he could scrub my hair. Ryan’s fingers felt so good across my scalp, this must have been what dogs felt like when you scratched them. I closed my eyes as I rinsed the shampoo out of my hair. Just then I felt something warm and wet wrap around my cock. I let out a sharp moan and looked down to see Ryan working my dick with his mouth and right hand. I grabbed the top of the shower door and placed a hand on Ryan’s head. “Ry-ryan.” I moaned. “We don’t have t-TIIIME!” Ryan responded to the last sentence by deep throating my cock, sending a wave of pleasure over me that almost made my knees buckle. Ryan worked my cock with such force and conviction that it didn’t take me long to start reaching my climax. I gripped the glass door door harder and began bucking my hips, forcing my cock in and out of his mouth. “Haa-ohhh fuuuck!” I roared as cum began shooting out of my cock and down Ryan’s throat. He swallowed every drop and milked my cock for more until I was done. He stood up and grinned at me. “Damn, that was quite the load.” He kissed me deeply, I could taste my cum in his mouth as his tongue passed into mine. I dropped to my knees and immediately began working his cock with my mouth. Ryan moaned and placed both hands on my head. I could taste the pre-cum on the tip of his dick and it tasted amazing, I couldn’t wait to taste his cum. I stroked my hand up and down his girth and worked the head with my mouth and tongue. I placed my hands on his ass and pulled him into me more, deep throating his cock. Ryan moaned in pleasure and grabbed some of my hair. I took my middle finger and began pressing at the entrance of his hole, he must have liked it because he moaned even louder and began bucking his hips into me. “Oh shit, mmmm fuck that feels good!” Ryan shouted. I worked his cock more with my mouth and slid my finger slowly into his hole. At that point Ryan lost it. “Fuuuuck, I’m gonna cum!” He shouted. Not long after, Ryan’s cock began to pulsate and shoot warm salty cum into the back of my mouth. I savored the flavor of Ryan as I swallowed every last drop, milking his cock for more. His cum tasted magnificent. Ryan shuddered slightly as I licked the last drop from the tip of his penis and stood up. He wrapped me in an embrace and kissed me. “We're never gonna be able to take showers together again if we're late.” Ryan laughed. I laughed with him and gave him a quick kiss. “It’s worth it.” I said. Ryan and I washed each other down with soap and finished up our shower. Ryan teased me by whipping a towel at me, just barely enough to miss me. “I will cut you!” I shouted between laughs. Ryan just laughed and ran after me into the bedroom. I slid into a fresh pair of underwear and pulled my black tactical pants. They were comfy and had loads of pockets for all my tools and things I would need in the field. I threw on a plain olive green shirt and laced my boots up, my pants tucked inside. Ryan was wearing the same pants but opted for a black ¾ inch sleeve baseball tee instead. I noticed Ryan wore these a lot, and after what I had discovered last night I now knew why. We grabbed our gear bags on our way out the front door and headed to his truck. We threw our bags in the back and hopped in the cab. Ryan turned over the engine and we drove off down the road in the direction of the airstrip. The airstrip wasn’t too far from my house and would only take us close to 10 minutes. Which was a good thing because it was now 0535. We pulled into the airstrip 10 minutes later and Ryan parked his truck next to the hanger. We hopped out and grabbed our bags out of the bed. We began making our way towards Boomer, Alex, Riley, and another figure. Once we got closer I recognized it as Cody. “Cody!” I shouted, wrapping him up in a bear hug. “Can’t. Breath.” Cody gasped. I released Cody from my grip and Ryan shook his hand. “Showing up in the same car eh?” Riley eyed us suspiciously. “What happened after we left last night?” He prodded, there was a wicked glint in his eye. “Nothing, mind your own business.” I said. “Mmhmm.” Riley replied with a grin and a slight chuckle. “Cody what are you doing here? Did you pass your boards?” I asked. “What? You didn’t think I would miss out on all the fun did you? I mean, Boomer is bound to blow something up.” Cody explained. “You know it!” Boomer shouted as he laughed, almost maniacally. I shot a raised eyebrow at him and he quickly became quiet, looking sadly towards the ground. “I won’t find out the results of my boards till tomorrow. So the General said I could come on the mission.” Cody beamed. “Well we're glad you're coming.” I said giving him a slap on the back. Cody smiled and Boomer came over and wrapped an around his neck. “C’mon kid let's load up.” He said dragging Cody away from the group. Riley and Alex followed and Ryan and I followed shortly after them. “So tell me something?” Ryan asked. I looked over at him as he asked his question. “Why is a trauma doctor the leader of the team?” He gave me a perplexed look. “What? Are you questioning my leadership skills, newbie?” I joked. Ryan laughed. “No, you know what I mean.” He stated pushing me lightly. I chuckled and began explaining. “You remember us telling you about Danvers right?” I asked, Ryan nodded his head. “Well after Vegas, they needed someone to help keep the joint free of Ragers, and bandits. So they appointed Danvers to the job, much to Boomers chagrin.” “Boomer wanted the job?” Ryan asked. “Yeah he did. But he was offered team leader instead. I don’t know why he turned it down, he would have been perfect for it. Since he rejected the offer they then turned to Riley. But in solidarity for Boomer, Riley rejected the offer as well. The only person left was me.” We reached the plane and Ryan stopped and faced me. “So why did you take it? Why didn’t you stand in solidarity with Boomer and Riley?” Ryan asked. I looked up the ramp of the cargo plane and watched as Riley, Alex, Boomer and Cody laughed and carried on, strapping into their seats. “Because we knew if we all refused then they would throw some outsider into the role, who didn’t know our team, and who wasn’t a part of our family. So with Boomer’s blessing I accepted the position as team leader. I think it secretly annoys the General just a bit, which is funny in itself.” I chuckled, turning and walking up the ramp. I slammed the button with my hand to raise the ramp as I walked past. Ryan settled into a seat next to Riley, I walked up to the cockpit and knocked on the door. I heard a bolt slide and then the door swung open. There were two men and the pilot was staring at me, expectantly, waiting for an answer. “Were set.” I said giving them a thumbs up. They gave me a thumbs up and nodded, closing the door and latching it. I walked back towards the group and took a seat next to Alex, across from Ryan. I strapped myself in and rested my hands on the straps. Ryan gave me a grin and a wink. I flashed him a smile and gave him a wink back. Riley made eye contact with me and placed his hands over his heart. “Me!” He mouthed, acting flattered. I flipped him off and he laughed. The engines of the plane fired to life and a voice came over my headset. "Passenger secure check." A younger male voice rang out in my right ear. The plane began to move as we all responded with a simple "Secure." "Estimated time to drop zone is one hour." The voice said and then it got quiet. I looked across the aisle at Ryan and Riley who were talking. Ryan was leaning his ear inward to hear better. I wondered what they were talking about? "I bet they're talking about you." Alex leaned over and told me. "Whatever." I said grumpily. "What? It's good that your beau and your best friend are getting along." Alex smiled. The plane pitched upward as we began our ascent. I sat back waiting for the inevitable stomach drop that ensued shortly after. I closed my eyes and waited for the plane to stop ascending, so I could get out of my seat and find something to preoccupy myself with. I hated flying, in my opinion people belonged on the ground and gravity didn't like to be challenged. Unfortunately the Army did not agree with that statement. "Ryan is not my beau, and you know I hate that word." I said annoyingly. "Well what else would you call someone who slept over at your place and you had sex with?" Alex questioned. "How do you know we had sex?" I challenged. Alex gave me an annoyed expression. "Really? It doesn't take a genius to realize the sexual and romantic chemistry the two of you share." Alex explained. "You know just because you minored in Psychology in college, doesn't mean you know things." I responded. I unbuckled myself from my seat and grabbed my bag. I sat criss cross on the floor and unzipped the many compartments of the bag and began taking inventory of my supplies. Alex sat down across from me and stared at me. "What?" I questioned with annoyance. "What are you so afraid of?" Alex asked. I looked over at Ryan and Riley who were still talking. Ryan looked over at me and smiled, I smiled back. "I'm scared Alex." I admitted. Alex gave me a surprised look. "I've never seen you be scared of anything." She said. "Yeah, well my feelings for Ryan scare me shitless. I haven't had these feelings for anyone since James." I explained. "So why don't you tell him that?" She responded. She had the sisterly tone about her. "When the time is right." I promised. I gave her a slight grin and she smiled back. "There's never gonna be a right time. But hey it's your life." She said, throwing her hands up. She stood up and turned around to go talk to Cody. I eyeballed Boomer messing around with a wireless speaker and his wrist computer. Oh god, he wasn't doing what I thought he was doing was he? Just then Van Halen started blaring over the speaker and Boomer began shaking his head and tapping his foot to Panama. Don't get me wrong I love Van Halen just as much as the next person, but I wasn't in the Van Halen mood right now. "Boomer shut it off!" I yelled over the music. "What?!" Boomer shouted back. Alex rolled her eyes and walked over turning the speaker down. "Aw c'mon Ell, it's tradition on our way to every mission." Boomer gave me his best pouty face, but it ended up looking more scary than anything. “Yeah c’mon Elliott.” Ryan flashed me a smile and his blue eyes glinted. I blushed slightly and looked down at my pack, fumbling with my pre-loaded syringes of Adrenaline. "Fine, just not so loud, and if you promise to not make that face again." I ordered, pointing at Boomer. Boomer just smiled and turned the speaker up slightly. The plane pitched slightly and a roll of gauze rolled across the plane and Ryan scooped it up in his hand. He walked over and kneeled down, handing the gauze over. “Thanks.” I said grabbing the gauze and stuffing it in my bag. “Whatcha doin here?” He asked, adjusting his baseball cap. “Eh ya know. Just inventory.” I said. “Pretty boring really.” I laughed shyly. “What is this?” Ryan asked, he was holding a cylindrical white tube and pulled the cap off. “Careful with that, unless you want to be injected with .3 milligrams of epinephrine.” I shot him a grin. His eyes got wide and he capped the EpiPen handing it back to me. “Aaaand I’m done playing with that.” Ryan responded. I chuckled and shoved the EpiPen back in my bag. “The worst thing that would happen is that your heart rate would elevate and you would probably get heart palpitations.” I explained. “Is that all?” Ryan grinned. “Aside from cardiac arrest, yes. But that’s rare.” I reassured him. “Good to know.” He responded, giving me a grin. He stood up and turned to walk away. “Hey, Ryan?” I asked standing up. “Yeah.” He responded turning around, eagerly. I wanted to tell him how I felt, I wanted to tell him the feelings I was having towards him. Maybe Alex was right, maybe there never was a right time to tell someone how you feel. Ryan gave me a confused look and took a step forward. “Is everything okay?” He asked with a hint of concern. “Yeah, yeah everything’s fine.” I said. “I forgot what I was going to ask you. Must not have been important.” I lied. Ryan gave me a look like he wasn’t buying it. “Okay.” He responded shortly and turned around walking towards Boomer. Okay so I chickened out, but can you blame me? “That was awkward.” Riley said, shooting a quick glance at Ryan’s back. “Don’t, please.” I said. “What? I’m not gonna give you a hard time.” Riley defended himself. I cocked my eyebrow at him. “Okay fine, maybe I was going to give you just a little bit of a hard time.” Riley sat in the seat next to where I was sitting on the floor. “I’m not ready to tell him how I feel yet.” I explained shortly. “I’m sure he understands that.” Riley responded. “What were you two talking about?” I asked suspiciously. “You’re just gonna have to wait for him to tell you.” Riley gave me an evil grin. “You’re evil.” I said grinning back. “You’re just now realizing this?” He asked incredulously. “No, I've always known. Just stating the obvious.” I replied. I zipped up my bag after making sure everything was in order and stuffed it under my seat. I sat down next to Riley and rested my head back. “What if he doesn’t feel the same way? Like what if yesterday was just a fling for him?” I asked, staring up at the ceiling of the plane. “What if he thought the same thing about you?” Riley asked back. I crinkled my forehead in confusion and turned my head towards Riley. “Why? What did he say to you?” I asked. Riley shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “I don’t know what you mean.” He responded sarcastically. “C’mon Riley, you’re my best friend. If you know something you have to tell me.” I demanded. “I can’t man, you need to talk to him.” Riley responded. That’s one thing I loved and also hated about Riley Monroe. He was a steel trap. You could tell him anything and he wouldn’t say anything to anyone. Riley noticed the look of frustration on my face and placed a hand on my knee. “It’s not bad. I’ll tell you that much.” Riley stated. He stood up and walked over towards Ryan and Boomer, who looked to be having a large debate about sports. I stared back up at the ceiling and began getting lost in my own thoughts. What if Ryan did feel the same way? What would that mean for the two of us? I hated this feeling of uncertainty, I hated not knowing. I’ll talk to him when we get back to Fort Bakersfield. I decided. Yeah that would be perfect. We could have a picnic under the stars, and I could tell him how I feel. I slowly drifted off to sleep, with the sounds of the plane engines drowning out the debates about sports teams the guys were having. “Elliott.” I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see Ryan standing over me. “Mmmm?” I mumbled. “We’re twenty minutes till drop.” Ryan said. His hand slowly slid off my shoulder but I grabbed it. I looked up into his eyes and he looked into mine. “We need to talk when we get back to Bakersfield.” I said. He squeezed my hand and smiled at me. “We will.” Ryan responded. I smiled back and I let his hand go. I stood up and Ryan handed me a parachute. I grabbed his hat off his head and tucked it in my medical bag. “Wouldn’t want to lose that.” I smiled at him. “I feel so naked without it.” Ryan rubbed the top of his head. “I wouldn’t mind seeing that.” I winked at him. “Quiet you.” Ryan grinned back at me. I strapped myself into the parachute bag and then picked up my medical bag and strapped it to my front. Ryan walked up to me and checked my straps to make sure they were secure. “I got it.” I said. “Peace of mind.” He said shortly. A sheepish grin spread across my face and he grinned back at me, it was nice that he cared. I grabbed the front straps of his bag and tugged on them, making sure they were snug. Ryan looked over at the others, who were all concerned with their own parachutes, and leaned into me stealing a quick kiss. “What was that for?” I asked. “It might be the last time we get to for a little bit.” Ryan admitted. I looked over at the rest of the group and they quickly averted their eyes, except for Cody, who had a shocked but gleeful expression on his face. Alex grabbed his jaw and pointed his gaze the other direction. Ryan and I both laughed silently. “Well I guess that cat’s out of the bag.” Ryan said. “Oh please, Riley and Alex always knew.” I said. I broke apart from Ryan and walked towards the back of the plane. I turned around to face the team before I spoke. “Alright guys you know the drill! After two alarms we jump! Remember where the drop point is and there’s thick fog so stay close!” I shouted. I slammed my hand on the door release button and the ramp began to slowly go down, exposing us to cool air that whipped around us in every different direction. I held onto a strap attached to the wall near the ramp and made eye contact with Ryan who flashed me a confident smile. One alarm, the team planted their feet to the floor getting ready to run for the opening. I always hated the seconds before the alarms, my chest always pounded like a sledgehammer and it always seemed to last minutes rather than seconds. Two alarms. “GO! GO! GO!” I shouted, waving my arm out towards the opening. One by one they began running and jumping out of the hatch. I could hear Boomer and Riley cheer with glee as they jumped out. Those crazy bastards loved dropping in. Ryan ran past me and jumped out of the plane, that was my que. I let go of the strap and ran towards the end of the ramp, I felt like my stomach was going to explode with how anxious I was. My feet left the ramp as I jumped into the foggy abyss. I looked around and couldn’t really see anyone as I fell towards the earth. After what seemed like minutes, the fog slowly began to start clearing and I could start making out buildings, and 5 figures not too far below me. The earth was coming at me, fast and once I knew the time was right I pulled my ripcord and the parachute flew out of my bag. My body jerked vertical and my speed slowed down as I began drifting down towards the earth like a feather. I looked down and could see the others circling like vultures on our drop point. I looked over where downtown San Francisco should be as the fog lifted slightly. The city was practically unrecognizable. I hadn’t been to San Francisco since before the earthquake, but most of the buildings that were there before were no longer standing. I could recognize the Transamerica Pyramid and the Salesforce Tower, which remained unscathed, the other buildings however were broken and tattered. Some of them reduced to nothing but heaps of metal and stone masonry, others were lopsided, leaning against other buildings for support. There were cranes littered across the skyline from where they tried to repair the city prior to the Clayton Outbreak, but ultimately didn’t succeed. I landed next to boomer, who was staring in awe at the city he once called home. I released the parachute from my bag and turned my attention towards Boomer, who didn’t even flinch. “Ya know, this is the first time I’ve stepped foot in this city since before the Clayton Outbreak.” He said mournfully. I didn’t say anything, and instead placed a hand on his shoulder. He broke his gaze away from the broken skyline and stared at me. His eyes were watery, as if he were about to cry. I had never seen Boomer like that before. I grabbed the back of his head and pressed the top of my forehead to his. “If you need to let it out, let it out. No one is gonna judge you, and if they do they'll answer to me.” I said in a voice just above a whisper. Boomer grabbed my shoulders and looked at the ground. “Thanks brother, you're a good friend. But I’ll be okay. I’ll save it till after we're done with the mission.” He replied. “Okay.” I said pulling him into a hug. He hugged me back, almost squeezing the life out of me. We broke apart and I turned around towards the group who were all staring at us. “Well? We got a mission to complete, let’s go!” I said, clapping my hands. Alex and Cody pulled up the map on their wrist computers, Riley began assembling his weapons to his belt, and Ryan began re-packing a parachute. I retrieved Ryan’s hat from my bag and walked over to him. I knelt down to his level and slid the hat on his head, knocking my finger on the bill which made it go down into his eyesight. He pulled it up slightly, smiling. “Is Boomer okay?” He asked. “I think so. It’s kind of painful for him to be here, ya know, after all this time.” I responded. Ryan nodded his head in understanding. “Why are you re-packing this anyways?” I asked. “You never know when you’ll need a parachute.” Ryan said confidently, tucking the rest of the parachute into the bag. “Fair enough.” I responded. I stood back up and looked over in Cody and Alex’s direction who were arguing over which direction to head. “We need to go down Embarcadero and then down Mission.” Alex said. “It would be quicker to just cut through this plaza and then go down Market.” Cody argued. “Yeah if you want to make it complicated.” Alex argued back. “How is that complicated?” Cody replied with an annoyed expression. I rolled my eyes and walked up to Alex and grabbed her wrist. I pushed a button and the map displayed the best navigation route. I patted her on the shoulder giving her an amused look. "Lead the way." I said. Alex sighed and began walking down Embarcadero. Riley, Boomer, and Cody followed and I took up the rear with Ryan. Ryan looked extremely sexy with his backward facing baseball cap, his stubble that dusted his face, his tight black ¾ inch sleeve baseball tee and bullet proof vest. The strap for his automatic rifle was slung over his shoulder and he held the rifle firmly in his hands which were covered with the fingerless gloves. He looked over and caught me staring, grinning from ear to ear. "See something you like there?" He asked. "Maybe." I grinned back. "I know I do." Ryan replied, giving me a wink. I chuckled and rolled my eyes. "Have I told you how corny you are sometimes." I said. "A couple of times. But I know you like it." He said in a sure tone. "Attractive and delusional, those are excellent qualities." I said sarcastically. "So are sarcasm and surliness." Ryan shot back. I laughed and pushed him lightly on the shoulder. "Smart ass." I said and Ryan laughed. We crossed through an intersection riddled with cars and came upon, what looked like, a park with a pathway trailing through it. “The GPS is telling us to go this way.” Alex said. I peered down the path which ended in a pile of rubble, the side of tall building could be seen poking out slightly. I could see a tunnel below it. “The walking path leads to a tunnel, that’s our way through.” I said. We made our way down the path to the tunnel at the bottom and stopped at it’s entrance. It was encased in concrete, it was dark, and I couldn’t see a light at the end. “Sooo, this is creepy as fuck.” Riley said. “A jack in the box would creep you out.” Alex retorted. “Hey! Those clowns are scary as shit.” Riley defended. Alex just shook her head and turned her flashlight on, shining it down the long and never ending tunnel. “Can we just go around?” I asked. Alex turned her head over her shoulder at me. “This is the quickest way, going around would take too long.” She explained. “Alright, let’s go.” I said. We all turned on our flashlights and began making our way down the long, dark tunnel. The darkness slowly enveloped us, the only source of light coming from the tip of our flashlight. Ryan stayed close behind me, which I didn’t mind, as a matter of fact I found it comforting. I didn’t want to admit it, but going down a dark tunnel into the unknown was creeping me out a bit. “Shit!” Alex exclaimed in a whisper. “What is it?” I asked, praying it wasn’t something bad. “It’s a fucking dead end.” She replied. “Greaaaat.” I could hear Riley say. I made my way towards the front to observe for myself and my light shone against a wall of rubble, there was no way through. “I can’t blast through this.” Boomer spoke up, as if reading my thoughts. “There’s gotta be another way.” I said looking around at the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. There was nothing but concrete. My light settled on a spot on the floor, where I could make out a hole about the size of a softball. I got on my hands and knees and shined my light inside. “What have you got Ell?” Boomer asked. I squinted my eyes to make out what I was seeing, I was moving my flashlight back and forth to try and make something out. “Ell?” Riley asked. I held a hand up for them to give me a second. My flashlight caught something metallic, I stopped, then I moved it to the left and caught another metallic object. Train tracks, it was a subway tunnel. “There’s a subway tunnel down here.” I said. “The Mewnie.” Boomer said. “What the hells a Mewnie? That sounds made up.” Riley responded. “M-U-N-I, short for Municipality. It’s San Francisco’s transit system.” Boomer responded. “Oh, well of course it is.” Riley responded in a snarky tone. “Do you know where this leads Boomer?” I asked. “Well if we're lucky and the tunnel is still intact, then we should be able to get down to Montgomery which will put us right next to Union Square.” He explained. “This is our way then.” I said standing up. “Do you have a small enough explosive to make a hole big enough for us to climb down?” I asked, already knowing the answer. A grin broke Boomer’s face before he spoke. “Do you even need to ask?” He set his pack down and opened one of the pockets pulling out a tube. The emblem on the side read “Crest”. “Toothpaste? You're gonna blast us out with toothpaste?” Ryan asked behind me. I chuckled and Boomer flipped Ryan off. “It’s an experimental corrosive I’ve been working on. It should eat right through this concrete.” Boomer explained. I gave him a confused look. “What? I was a Chemistry major in college. Don’t you people ever pay attention? There’s more to me then just blowing shit up.” Boomer had an irritated tone to his voice. “Well it’s certainly a shock to me.” Riley grinned. Boomer slowly squirted the paste out of the tube forming a circle big enough for two of us to fit through. We all stood there, waiting for it to suddenly start eating away at the concrete floor. “Uhh, Boomer?” Cody asked, he had a look of confusion on his face. “Just, give it a second.” Boomer said holding a hand up. We waited for a couple more seconds, you could hear a pin drop as we concentrated all of our efforts on this circle of gray paste on the floor. “BOOM!” Riley shouted, making us all jump. Riley began to laugh. “Asshole!” Alex exclaimed, punching him in the arm. “Ow!” Riley exclaimed, rubbing the site where Alex had hit him. Suddenly the gray paste began to bubble and slowly it started to sink into the floor, eating away at the concrete. The circle in the floor gave away and fell to the ground below with a loud crash that echoed down the subway tunnel. “It worked!” Boomer exclaimed with a surprised tone. “Umm, I mean of course it does. I’ve tested it several times.” He added with a slight chuckle, seeing our uneasy expressions. Riley tossed a rope down the hole for us to climb down and secured it to a piece of rubble that looked like a window frame from a building facade. “Ladies first.” Riley said, glancing over to Alex. “Well in that case you better go first.” She replied sarcastically. “Fine, beauty always goes first anyways.” Riley replied, flipping his head as if he had long hair. “Oh god.” Alex scoffed. Riley climbed into the hole and and began his descent down into the tunnel. Alex climbed in next, then Cody and then Boomer until Ryan and I were left. “You go first.” Ryan said. “No, you first.” I insisted. Ryan listened and climbed into the hole I watched as he descended waiting for him to get to the bottom. Once he reached the bottom I tossed my pack down to him and he caught it with outstretched arms. I hoisted myself down into the hole and began climbing down, I was about 15 feet from the ground when I felt the rope snap and I began falling backward. My heart dropped and I closed my eyes shut, waiting for the inevitable impact with the ground. I felt a pair of strong arms catch me and we both fell backward onto the gravel covered ground. “I got ya, I got ya!” I could hear Ryan’s voice in my ear. I exhaled sharply, relaxing into him and patting his arms which were still wrapped around my center. “What the hell Riley!” April shouted advancing on Riley who had a look of shock on his face. “That rope was secure!” Riley shouted back. “It wasn’t Riley’s fault!” Cody shouted. Ryan and I sat up and we all looked at Cody, who was holding the other end of the rope. It was cleanly cut. “Someone cut the rope?” Ryan said. “That’s impossible, there’s no one in this city except for us and those scientists.” Riley said. “Or so we thought.” I replied. We all sat in silence for a second before Boomer spoke up. “It doesn’t matter, let’s just get to the lab and get Dr. Grimm. Then we can get the hell out of here.” Boomer said. “Agreed.” Riley said. Ryan looked over at me with a hint of concern. “Are you okay?” He asked. “Yeah I’m fine, are you okay?” I asked, standing up. “Yeah I’m fine.” Ryan replied. I held out a hand and helped him up to his feet. “I can’t believe you caught me.” I said. “Of course I did.” Ryan replied. He gave me a grin and we stood there, holding hands for a bit. “Hey! You guys coming?” Cody called out. “Yeah, we're coming.” I replied, releasing my hand from Ryan’s. We began following the group down the tunnel, I gave one last glance over my shoulder at the hole we had climbed down from. “Were there still people here?” I asked myself. No, that would be impossible. The Republic was told that the people in San Francisco all died. But what if that were a lie? “What’s on your mind?” Ryan asked, seeing the perplexed look on my face. “It just doesn’t make any sense. If there were people here, then why would the government just abandon them like that?” I asked. “I don’t know.” Ryan replied shortly. We continued walking along the tracks until we came upon a platform. Boomer shined his light on a sign that was hanging haphazardly from the ceiling. Emblazoned on it, in white lettering, were the words “Montgomery Street”. “This is it.” Boomer said. He hoisted himself up onto the platform and held his hand out for Riley to help him up. Ryan climbed up onto the platform and held a hand out for me. I planted my boot on a small concrete lip and grabbed his hand. I grabbed the edge of the platform with my free hand and helped Ryan hoist me off the tracks. Boomer walked up to a gate and opened it, the old rusty hinges squealed at the years of neglect and Boomer passed through the gate, making his way up the stairs towards the sunlight that was pouring in. We all followed him and made our way up to the street, letting our eyes adjust to the sudden brightness. There was a derailed streetcar poking out of a building across the street, stone and brick were laying in the road and on the sidewalks below the buildings they once belonged to. Below my boot there was a newspaper clipping. I bent down and picked it up recognizing it as the San Francisco Chronicle. “San Francisco to Begin Rebuilding After Devastating Earthquake” The headline read. April looked at her GPS and began looking around pointing her body in the direction the GPS was telling her to go. “This way.” She said, jerking her head sideways to the west. I tucked the newspaper into the front pouch on my vest, and began following the rest of the team. We passed by a building with a car halfway out of the glass storefront and Ryan stopped. “No way!” He exclaimed and jogged towards the store. “What? What is it?” I asked in a panicked tone. “It’s a sports memorabilia store!” Ryan shouted from inside the store. “Oh no way!” Boomer exclaimed joining Ryan. “C’mon guys, we don’t have time for this!” I called after them. “Speak for yourself I need, a new hat.” Riley said joining them. I threw my arms up in defeat. “Fine, I guess we could use a break.” I said, sitting on an overturned mailbox. I set my pack on the ground. Alex and Cody came over, Alex took a seat next to me. “What’s the matter?” She asked. “Something’s bothering me about the rope.” I started. “Don’t.” Alex interrupted me. “You’re gonna spiral until you obsess.” She added. “But what if there are people still here?” I asked. “I doubt it.” Cody said. “I read up on the Clayton Outbreak and the odds of survival are slim to none.” “Then where’s all the bodies, the bones?” I demanded. They both gave me a perplexed look, they didn’t have an answer to that question. “San Francisco had a population of just over six hundred thousand after the earthquake. All of those people crammed onto an island of around fifty square miles, and you're telling me there's not a single body, a bone, something to come across?” I questioned. I could see the wheels start to turn in their heads as they began to consider what I was telling them. "Not to mention, the additional fifty thousand that were never recovered or went missing. Something doesn't add up." I added. Riley, Boomer and Ryan began to walk back towards us. Riley was wearing a Philadelphia Flyers hat. Boomer and Ryan were empty handed. “Didn’t find what you were looking for?” I asked. “Nope.” Ryan replied shortly, but I could tell he was hiding something. Even behind that tough Army Rangers facade, he didn’t have the best poker face. I gave him a knowing look and he turned his attention towards Alex. “How far are we from the objective?” Ryan asked. He was obviously avoiding something. “Not too far, maybe a few more blocks.” Alex replied, looking at her GPS. “Let’s get going then.” I said standing up and putting my pack on. After about twenty minutes we made it to Union Square. It was a large and sunken plaza, what used to be an obelisk in the center was partially gone, the broken remnants scattered next to it. There was a 6 story tall glass building on the northside of the plaza that Alex pointed to. “That’s it, over there.” She proclaimed. “Jeeze, could they have made it more obvious?” Riley asked. “What would you suppose they do?” Alex asked, a hint of annoyance in her voice. “I don’t know. Maybe an underground bunker?” Riley responded sarcastically. We began walking across the plaza towards the building. Ryan surveyed the landscape, looking around at all the collapsed and lopsided buildings. “How could one earthquake do all this?” He asked, flabbergasted. Boomer shot him a stern look. “It wasn’t just any earthquake, it was THE earthquake.” Boomer explained. “It was the largest earthquake in US history, a 9.7.” Cody added. “They don’t have the news in Texas?” Riley asked sarcastically. “They do. But I was overseas when it happened.” Ryan responded. Riley looked away embarrassingly, due to his sarcastic remark. We reached the glass doors to the building that housed the lab. Boomer stuck his fingers in the slit between the glass panes and tried to pry them apart, but the doors didn’t budge. “Any ideas?” Cody asked. Riley looked around and picked up a piece of rubble off the ground and threw it like a baseball at the window. It bounced off and fell to the ground not leaving so much as a scratch. “Well that sucked.” Riley said in a defeated tone. Alex looked closely at the faceplate that contained the locking mechanism. Alex began digging through her bag for her tools. “I could see if I could bypass the security, but it’s voice activated and it might take me awhile-” “Riboviria.” I interrupted. There was a beep that emitted from the faceplate and the doors slid apart. Everyone turned to look at me, my face flushing slightly. “It’s the Realm for the viral classification for H2N4.” I explained. “That means absolutely nothing to me.” Riley said. “H2N4, the Northern Flu.” I said. “Whatever nerd.” Riley said, flashing him a grin. “How did you know that would work?” Alex asked. They walked inside the building and the doors closed behind them with a silent mechanical sound. “I didn’t, I just guessed.” I chuckled. The building was quiet, the only sound came from our boots as they echoed and reverberated off the cold and tiled walls. There was a bank of elevators straight ahead and Boomer pressed the button to call one. “Isn’t it weird that we’re standing in the very place that caused the Clayton Outbreak?” Riley asked. I shot him a glare and Riley retreated slightly. I looked over at Boomer whose head was hung slightly. Poor Boomer, I couldn’t imagine what he was going through. Losing his whole family in the blink of an eye. Ding ding! One of the elevator doors sprang open and we all piled inside, Alex and Cody being squished into a corner as our wide frames took up most of the space. The elevator began to move upward and my heart began to skip beats. This is it. In all of my years as a physician I had been waiting for the day that medical science found a cure for cancer, and now he was going to meet the doctor who was on a breakthrough. The doors slid open and we were greeted by a long plain hallway, lined with doors and windows. We all stepped out of the elevator and I began walking down the hallway, looking through the large windows as I passed. They were all labs, but they were all empty. Something didn’t make sense, where were all the scientists? “Are we on the wrong floor?” Ryan asked, he approached me with a look of confusion. “No, the elevator only had one floor button and this was it.” Boomer stated. I opened a door that had the words “BSL-1” above them. Ryan grabbed my arm with a look of concern on his face. “You can’t go in there.” He said. I smiled at him. “It’s fine, it’s a BSL-1 lab, you don’t need a hazmat suit.” I explained and continued through the door. Ryan followed close behind me which made me grin to myself. It was cute how he cared for me. I looked around, and made my way over to a desk at the back of the room. There were papers and files nestled in perfect order and placement. A computer screen was sitting on the corner of the desk, the words “Clayton Labs” with the company’s emblem bounced around the screen. I woke the computer up by moving the mouse gently and another screen popped up, it was a user interface login. Ryan was walking around the lab, peeking in the glass cases. “Somethings not right.” Ryan said. “I know. I don’t have a good feeling about this.” I responded. I began peeking through the files on the desk, it was Dr. Grimm’s research notes. “Just grab the files and let’s go.” Ryan urged. I began picking the files up and stuffing them in my pack. We walked out of the lab and joined the rest of the group, who were talking amongst themselves in what looked like a living room setup. “Something’s not right.” Riley said as they walked up. “That’s what we were just saying.” Ryan responded. “Even if the scientists aren’t here there should still be armed guards. They were working on some pretty classified stuff here.” He added. “We just need to find Dr. Grimm and get out of here.” Cody stated with a hint of worry. “Agreed.” I responded shortly. “I saw another door that led down a hallway. There might be private quarters back there or something.” Boomer said. “Let’s go check it out, and everyone stay close.” Ryan said. We all headed out into the hallway and towards a door at the opposite end from the elevator doors. Riley pushed the door open and we were greeted by another hallway, but this one had no windows, and doors made of solid oak in a modern design. I approached one of the doors and there was a silver name plate hanging on it. Emblazoned on it in black letters read the name “Dr. Jason Grimm, MD”. I turned the smooth, cold handle and pushed the door open, stepping inside. The room had plain white walls, and gray pergo laminate floors. There was a large window on the opposite side of the room that gave a view of the bay, amidst a ruined city. There was a desk against the wall to my left and a full sized bed to my right. I looked around at the walls that contained photographs, some of prominent San Francisco Landmarks, some of what I assumed to be Dr. Grimm’s family. I approached a bookshelf and began scanning the books. There were lots of medical journals, medical textbooks and a book on genetics. With the stuff contained in this man’s room, he reminded me of myself. I walked over to the desk and picked up a tablet, the screen woke up. A message flashed across the screen. “Hello Dr. Grimm”. I swiped the screen but it wanted me to input a pin, I sighed in defeat and set the tablet down. I heard a gun cock behind me and my heart dropped. I stuck my hands up slightly, there was someone behind me. “Who are you?” I heard a male british voice say. I swallowed hard, my training was running me through a hundred different scenarios on how to turn the tables on my opponent. Where was my team? I decided to go with the truth. “Dr. Elliott Pierce with the Pacific Republic Army.” “Okay Dr. Pierce. Where are your credentials?” The man asked further. “Here, in my vest pocket.” I pointed to my right side. I felt a hand slowly approach the pouch and I acted quickly. I trapped the gun against my left side and bicep and twisted slightly thrusting my elbow backward into the man's gut. “Unf!” He groaned. To finish him off I turned slightly and kicked him square in the chest which sent him flying backwards onto the floor. I turned his gun on him as he curled up in the fetal position on the floor, moaning in pain. “Now it’s your turn to answer the questions! Who are you?” I shouted. The rest of the team came piling in, Riley and Ryan were first, aiming their guns around the room. I raised an eyebrows at them. “How nice of you to join.” I said snarkily. I turned my attention back on the man. “I’m gonna ask you one more time. Who are you?” I asked more sternly. “Dr. Jason Grimm!” The man shouted. “And I need your help!”
  15. zanoGreen

    The Hero's Scars

    Hey thank you! I never thought to explain why Elliott is the team leader, maybe I will explain in the next chapter.
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