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zanoGreen

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About zanoGreen

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  1. Whats funny is that when I was writing Riley's perspective the song "Blood In the Cut" came on, specifically this part. "Met back up with the boy I love Cried on the streets of San Francisco I don't have an agenda All I do is pretend to be ok so my friends Can't see my heart in the blender Lately, I've been killing all my time Reading through your messages my favorite way to die Take my head and kick it in Break some bread for all my sins Say a word, do it soon It's too quiet in this room" But your song works too!
  2. "San Francisco?" I repeated the name as if I didn't hear it the first time. "That's what I said." General Tucker shuffles around a pile of papers on the corner of his desk. "You're to report at the airfield no later than oh-six-hundred hours tomorrow." Tomorrow? I would be leaving tomorrow? "Sir, with all due respect, I think my talents could be used elsewhere." I try to plead my case, try to convince the General that San Francisco would not be the best place for me. "I'm not coming with." "What are you talking about?" The conversation plays on repeat inside of my head as General Tucker sighs and sinks back into his seat. "Look, I respect you, you may be a royal pain in my ass sometimes but I still respect you. That being said, the only reason your hearing this from me and not your team leader, is because of that fact. You and the previous members of Team Alpha helped stop the worst terrorist plot this country has seen since Nine-Eleven, and that hasn't gone unnoticed. No one wants to go to San Francisco right now and I'm not gonna sugar coat it, it's a shit show right now. Between the last remaining factions of The Order holding up somewhere in the city, and the citizens resisting our attempts to help them, we need Team Alpha there. You're the only one on this base that's been there, so you know the city better than the soldiers we already have there. Can I count on you?" "I can't Riley." "Then I'm staying with you!" I feel an emptiness in my heart, the dog tags belonging to another man feeling like a ten thousand pound weight on my chest. I desperately want to rip them off and chuck them across the room like an angry teenager. Though I hold my composure, straightening my posture even more. "Of course sir." I nod sharply. General Tucker smiles and nods his head in approval. "You're a good soldier Monroe, maybe when you get back there will be a Staff Sergeant position waiting for you." I know what he's doing, enticing me with a promotion so I won't go kicking and screaming. I could give a shit less about the possibility of a promotion, I just didn't want to go back to that god forsaken city. "But… I love you B" "I love you too Riley." "You're dismissed, take the rest of the day for yourself, get things in order." General Tucker commands, I give him a solute and turn sharply on my heel, heading for the office door. I thrust it open and close it behind me, standing in the boring, brightly lit hallway. My breathing is sharp and fast, my panic beginning to rise slowly. I hadn't seen or heard from Gray in almost a year, and it wasn't by lack of trying on my part. I had written emails hell even going old school and writing letters. When we finally established communications inside the city I even tried contacting him. I never heard a single word back. I run my fingers through my hair as I step outside into the hot desert sun, cursing my bad luck and misfortune. It had taken me so long to get over Gray, finally coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn't see him again, and that maybe he didn't want to see me either. "We will see each other again." "Promise?" I run my fingers over my lips, where I swear I can still feel that kiss from last year. "Promise." I shake the conversation from my head and make a beeline for the armory. I need to destroy something, and what better way to do that than with an assault rifle and some practice dummies. I pass by Alex's old workshop, not bothering to look at it. The last thing I need is more heart wrenching memories. "Riley!" I hear a voice shout, but I continue walking, my mind on one thing and one thing only. "Monroe!" The voice calls again. I grumble and slow my pace so he can catch up. "What is it Jon?" I growl, not bothering to look at him as he catches up, huffing and puffing from running. "What did the General want?" He asks. "We're wheels up tomorrow for San Francisco." I reply shortly. "No shit? So I guess that explains why you look like your about ready to murder someone." "Why? Are you volunteering?" I tease. He laughs and I crack a small grin. "You know I'm your only friend here, who else would be able to put up with your shit?" He jabs. He had a point there. Now that Cody was gone, and Elliott was up living the civilian life with his sexy boyfriend and adorable dog, Jon was the only friend I had left at Bakersfield. I didn't get along with other people too well, and I liked it that way. Less ways to get hurt, or stabbed in the back. "What are you doing in Alex's shop?" I ask, noticing that was the direction he came from. "General Tucker wants me to take over, since Alex…" He trails off and shuffles around uncomfortably. I nod my head, ignoring that pain in my chest that appeared whenever someone mentioned Alex Wilson. Of course Jon would be the natural successor to Alex. With his knowledge of mechanics and computers it would only make sense. Word must have gotten to the General that his mother was Alethea Stavros, tech genius and billionaire. No doubt that Jon was a chip off the old block, which he proved during the LA Terrorist Plot, and many times after that. "I'm gonna keep everything as it is. I don't want to step on any toes." He reassures me. "Thank you. Alex may have betrayed us for The Order, but she was still like a sister to me." "I know, you guys cared about her a lot. I have big boots to fill." I scrunch my eyebrows together and give him a confused look. "I think you mean shoes, big shoes to fill." He chuckles and shakes his head. "I meant what I said, Alex always wore boots." I grinned and nodded my head. "That she did." We approach the Armory and I turn around to look at Jon, who gives me a confused look. "As much as I enjoy your company, I kind of want to be alone right now." I explain. Jon lifts his hands in defeat, slowly walking backward. "Say no more, consider me gone." That was the one thing I liked about Jon, he didn't hover. I push the door open to the Armory, its cool and dark confines like a support blanket for my soul. I grab an assault rifle out of the cage behind the desk, giving a nod to the Private manning the desk, and step into the firing range. There was only one other person in there, so I chose a stall five down from him to give myself some privacy. I enter my chosen stall and place the assault rifle on the counter in front of me. I grab my ear protection and snap the noise canceling headphones over my ears completely knocking out all sound. The only thing I can hear is the soft muffle of the other man firing at his targets. Some people have the gym, some listen to music, but my therapy is this right here. Nothing but me, a gun, and some fake targets to take my aggression out on. I slam my fist into the big go bottom on the side and a countdown initiates in front of me. 3 I check my clip to see if it’s full, shoving it back into the gun. 2 I bring my rifle up to shoulder and look through the sight. 1 The first target pops up and I shoot it, right between the eyes. Then another, then another, a civilian pops out to my right, being held hostage by an enemy so I nail him in the forehead. The simulation stops and my score pops up where the countdown timer was. 1000, perfect score. I grin to myself as I set my assault rifle down, feeling more content than ever, and slide my headphones down around my neck. "Holy shit man, I've never shot a thousand before." The man who was shooting at the stall down from me had been watching apparently. I didn't even notice him come over, or stop shooting. "Nothin' but net." I give him a cocky grin and brush past him. There was a reason why I ran the Armory, and that's because weapons and shooting are my specialty. So of course I would be able to shoot a perfect score. Some may call it cocky, but I just call it doing my job. I return the gun back to the cage and head back outside, not really sure what I was going to do with the rest of my day. Maybe I would head to one of the new bars in town. Now that the US is over here helping us, it might be nice to see some new faces… Among other things. I head to my car, my mind set on going out. Maybe I could find someone to take my mind off going to San Francisco, because that's what I'm really worried about. Isn't it? I climb into the driver's seat and rest my head against the steering wheel, sighing heavily. The more I think about going out, the more it makes me think about Gray. The age old saying "The only way to get over someone, is to get under someone else." was obviously not written by someone with a broken heart. There was no amount of hot sex that could replace the feelings I had for that man, and it infuriated me to no end. "Fuck." I growl, punching my dashboard. Why did I have to fall in love? Why did I have to go and get feelings for a man that apparently didn't feel the same way I did? When I first met Gray, all I wanted was to get in his pants. He was a big hulking Latino, with a brooding personality that was so hot. But the more I got to know him, the more those sexual desires morphed into something else. The first time we kissed I knew I was fucked, and yet I couldn't stay away. Then the first time we had sex. I shudder at that memory, no one had ever made me feel that way before. Before I can resist, the memories of that night come flooding in. Gray on top of me, kissing me tenderly on the neck while he slides his thick cock into me. Whispering in Spanish, into my ear, how sexy and beautiful I was. The memory makes my chest ache and I try to choke back tears, but to no avail. I try to breathe but all I do instead is gasp. I grip the steering wheel, my knuckles turning white from the force, and I count backwards from ten. A little tactic my therapist taught me to control my temper, maybe it would work with this. Soft tears begin falling down my cheeks as I count backward, taking deep breaths, trying to calm myself from the wave of emotions. When did I become such a heart broken baby? I was being ridiculous right, I'm thirty-five years old for chrissakes, not some love sick teenager. I mean after all, he was just a man, a man that I fell helplessly in love with. But that was the thing about me, when I fell in love, I fell hard. It was my curse, and while some people may not think so, they've never had to deal with the aftermath. "Pull yourself together Riley, and be a man." I can hear my father's voice ring out in my head. Even from the grave, I can still hear his words of disappointment. I wipe the tears from my face and blow out a long huff of air, before starting my car and driving out of the parking lot. I decide against going out, instead taking my usual route back home. More than anything I just felt like being alone, drinking a beer, and watching the hockey game. I pull up to my apartment and step out of my car, trudging my way up the stairs. I unlock my front door and step inside, kicking my shoes off and making my way across the living room. "TV on." I command, and the TV flicks to life, already on the sports channel. I grab a beer out of the fridge and make my way back into the living room, collapsing on the couch and propping my feet up on the coffee table. I tried getting lost in the Red Wings and Bruins game, but my thoughts kept turning back to San Francisco, and the inevitable thing that was waiting for me there. What would I say if I saw Gray? What would he say to me? Would he apologize and grovel, or not even care? I take a drink off my beer and my phone begins to vibrate next to me. I look at the screen and notice it’s Jon. I almost don’t answer it, but against my better judgement I swipe the screen and accept the call. “Please tell me you're not stranded somewhere, because I’m not leaving this couch.” I grumble. “Umm no.” He chuckles. “Hockey game and beer, you down?” His question is more of a statement than a question. “What part of, not leaving this couch, didn’t you get?” I deadpan. At that moment my doorbell rings and I groan. “Hold on, someones at my door.” I shuffle over to the door and open it, only to find Jon on the other side with a wide grin on his face. I look from him to my phone, and then back to him again. He hangs up his phone and slides it into his pocket before pushing past me and walking into my apartment. “Sure, just come on in.” I give him an annoyed look and flip my door shut. “I got your favorite beer and cheese pizza, coupled with the Hockey game we have all of your favorite things in one room.” Jon gives me a warm smile. “Well not really, because you're still here.” I tease, plopping down on the couch. “Har har.” He bumps shoulders with me and cracks a beer open. I smile and take a drink of my beer. Actually having Jon around couldn’t be the worst thing ever, he was my friend after all. Hell, he was the only person that seemed to understand me at this place. “So why are all of my favorite things in one room?” I ask, keeping my eyes glued to the TV. I had a feeling I knew what the answer was going to be. He hesitates at first, chewing his pizza slowly, clearly choosing his words. “We got an update from Jack about our next assignment." "And let me guess." I tear my eyes away from the game and give him a suspicious look. "You wanted to make sure I wasn't freaking out." "Can you blame me?" He cocks an eyebrow at me. I make a frustrated noise and take another drink from my beer. I guess I couldn't blame him, I couldn't be mad at him for caring. “Well I’m fine, I already freaked out in my car. Freak out over, done, never to return again.” He gives me a blinking stare, not quite believing me. Maybe I didn’t even believe myself. “What? You don’t believe me?” I reply. “Well,” Jon wipes his hands with a napkin and turns his body to face me. “The last time someone mentioned Gray, you did throat punch them.” “Hey, I told him if he didn’t shut up I would throat punch him. It’s not my fault he didn’t listen.” “And you got court mandated anger management for it.” Jon pointed out. I sigh in defeat, it was no secret that I had fucked up this past year. That one incident cost me my position as team leader, a position that Elliott had entrusted me with. "Do you think I'm being stupid?" I ask, seeking some affirmation for my behavior. He takes another drink of his beer before answering, looking at his bottle in a pensive fashion. "Depends on what you're asking? Do I think your behavior is stupid? Maybe." He shrugs. "Gee thanks." I grumble, taking a drink of my beer. His expression turns to empathy and he places one of his big hands on my knee. "But, do I think the way your feeling is stupid? Not at all. You fell in love with someone and then that person left you behind. Not to mention the only family you had around here left, and Alex died but not before betraying you all." "Yeah, what you're saying isn't really helping here." I deadpan. "Would you shut up for five seconds?" I clamp my mouth shut and Jon continues. "Your heart is broken man, you're allowed to feel however you want." I nod my head slowly. He was right, about all of it. I was allowed to feel heartbroken, and not just about Gray but about everyone else as well. "Now." Jon slaps my leg and cracks open two more beers, handing one over to me. "Let's drink some beer, eat some pizza, and watch the Red Wings get annihilated by the Bruins." I smile and take the beer from his outstretched hand. "Your a good friend Stavros." "Pfft, I know." He responds, holding his head high. I snort and shake my head, relaxing back against the couch. Jon settles in next to me, his broad shoulder resting against mine. The light contact feels nice, his warm skin sending a nice heat across my shoulder and down my bicep. I slouch down further into the couch and rest my head on his shoulder, seeking more of that warmth. I can feel him turn his head and look down at me before throwing a big arm over my shoulder and pulling me closer into him. I would never do anything with Jon, and he would never try anything with me. It was an invisible line both of us respected. We were friends, plain and simple, and neither of us were the others type. It still felt nice to have someone around though, to feel the warmth and contact of another man. Even though I desperately wished it were Gray. ***** "Jesus christ! Don't you knock?" I shout as my brother Griff swings my bedroom door open. I scramble to find something to cover myself since I'm completely naked, just having gotten out of the shower. I resort to my hand, covering my manhood as best to my abilities. "Gray, were twins. Literally what you have is what I have. Although I seem to have gotten more than you." He teases. "Get out!" I yell. "Jeez always the grouch." He rolls his eyes. "Come downstairs, Liv made her banana pancakes." I pause while pulling my underwear on. "Banana pancakes?" I respond excitedly. "Yeah, so you better hurry before Gabby eats them all." Griff chuckles as he closes my bedroom door. I hurry and throw some clothes on, excited for the taste of banana pancakes making my mouth water. Griff's wife Olivia was a phenomenal cook, and her banana pancakes for breakfast were the best way to start a morning. I throw my bedroom door open and barrel down the stairs, almost missing one and falling flat on my face. The smell of coffee and pancakes draws me to the kitchen, marking the perfect morning. I enter the kitchen and notice Gabby and Griff sitting at the kitchen table, Liv was standing in front of the stove, humming and flipping pancakes. "Uncle Gray!" Gabby shrieks, an excited glint in her eye. "Hey there little one." I grin and ruffle her hair, choosing the seat next to hers. "Hey, don't mess up her hair. I finally got the curls under control for school." Liv flicks her spatula at me threateningly. Gabby, like Griff and I, has a head of curly hair that is almost impossible to maintain. When her hair isn't done she looks more like a wildling then an adorable seven year old girl. It's why I resort to having a shaved head, I never liked having to deal with it. Plus it's an easy way to tell Griff and I apart. "Did you save me some?" I ask Gabby. "Mmhmm." She nods her head. "More on the way." Liv replies from the stove. I grab the coffee pot off the warmer in the center of the table and pour myself a cup. Bringing the cup up to my lips and taking a whiff of the beautiful scent before taking a drink. "Dude, it's way too early for that shit." Griff states, pointing out my coffee bliss. "Language! A dollar please!" Gabby shouts, holding out her tiny hand. Griff groans and then pulls a dollar out of his wallet, grumbling something under his breath about stupid rules. "He don't forget, you're the one that made the rule." Liv jabs, while placing more pancakes in the center of the table. "Yeah-yeah don't remind me." I spear a couple of pancakes and transfer them to my plate, the anticipation of the taste killing me. I slather some peanut butter on them, and then a little bit of syrup, before finally cutting up a piece and bringing it to my mouth. My taste buds explode in happiness as I let out a pleasant groan that has Gabby giggling. "Liv, if you keep this up I may never move out." I joke, taking another drink of coffee. "Then don't. The room is always yours when you need it." She replies sitting down at the table with us. "Gray needs his own space to grouch around in." Griff jabs and I poke him with my fork, causing him to rub his arm and scowl at me. "I don't know why you're wasting your time with that train wreck next door." Liv flips her hand around aimlessly. "Nah, it's got good bones. It'll be awesome when I'm finished. Plus I'll be right next door." I give her a warm smile before taking another bite of pancakes. Ever since I decided to stay in San Francisco and leave my team last year, I have been staying with Griff and Liv. Don't get me wrong, I loved living with them, and having Gabby around was great. But Griff was right, I needed my own space, and that space was a run down single story house next door to theirs. Since the city was virtually abandoned until a few months ago, there was no currency. So when the United States and Republic Armies began moving in to help rebuild, they began giving away unclaimed properties under the condition that they would be rebuilt. Their hope is to re-populate the city and get the economy back up and running, which seemed to be helping slightly. Although not everyone agreed with it, mainly the citizens of The Colony. "I'm all for having Uncle Gray next door." Gabby smiles and I give her a grin. "Who else would I play hide and seek with?" I ask. "Oh I don't know, maybe someone your own age, and with less fabric, if you catch my meaning." He gives me a devilish grin and a wink, causing me to blush. "Griffin!" Liv hisses. "You do realize our daughter has ears don't you?" "Relax, she's seven. She doesn't know what we're talking about." Griff waves his hand in a relaxed fashion. "Your talking about sex." Gabby deadpans. An awkward silence falls over the table, and I try my hardest to stifle my laughter. Liv shoots an angry glare and backhands Griff across the shoulder. "Well." Griff's eyes are as wide as dinner plates, his face turning two shades scarlett from embarrassment. "Did not see that coming." "Nice one Griffin." Liv responds sarcastically. "What? She gets the big brains from you." He points out. "Well that we can agree on." She jabs back with a facetious grin. I laugh and Griff clutches his heart dramatically. She turns to Gabby and pushes away from the table. "C'mon munchkin, Mamas got early rounds and you have school to get to." She picks up her and Gabby's plates and heads for the sink. "Can't Daddy and Uncle Gray take me?" She pleads. "They have to go to work too, and school is on the way to the clinic. Go on, get your bag." "Fiiine." She pushes herself from the table and walks away dramatically. "Now that, she gets from you." Liv bends down and gives Griff a kiss on the lips. "I love you." "I love you too." He responds with an adoring glint in his eye. Watching them reminds me of Riley. That pain I've been trying to hide deep below the surface tries to break through slightly, but I push it back down. Riley had tried to call, sent emails, hell even wrote a few letters, but I never knew how to respond. What could I say to the man that I abandoned, the man that I loved. You don't abandon those that you love, although not returning his correspondence probably just made things worse. "You're a fucking coward." My thoughts ring out in my head. Yeah, I am a fucking coward. "You okay bro?" The sound of Griff's concern pulls me out of my thoughts. I grunt and round up my plate and coffee mug, heading over to the sink. I don't want to talk about this with Griff. I love my brother to death, but feelings were never a Torres family trait, at least with the men. My mom and Gabriella on the other hand... I mentally stop myself from going down that rabbit hole. "They're never coming back. Just move on already." It was hard to move on though. Moving on felt like I was forgetting about them, but my more rational side knows that's not true. Damn you rational side. "Gray!' I hear a boot stomp on the floor, getting my attention. "What?" I give Griff a puzzled look. "I said are you ready to go-whats with you? You seem more broody today." "Oh I'm uhh." "Think of something Gray, so you don't have to talk about your feelings." "I'm uhh… Debating on whether I want to put a skylight in the kitchen or not." It wasn't a complete lie, I had been thinking of adding one. "Does that house have vaulted ceilings?" His expression turns to confusion. I nod my head a little more energetically than necessary. "You should do it. Might add some flair, plus natural lighting is always good. Now c'mon let's go." He turns and heads out of the kitchen as I breath a sigh of relief. I throw my boots on and walk through the front door, the crisp morning sunshine hitting me square in the face. It was a beautiful July morning and the sun was out, no fog in sight. The walk to the capitol isn’t very far, maybe a few blocks or so. Still, it would be nice to have a car, even though cars and San Francisco have never gone together since the age of time. It wasn’t the fact that no one had cars, it was that the city didn’t have any gas reserves. But the Army was working on that, slowly but surely. I think that’s the thing I miss most about life outside of this city, driving, well, and something else, but I didn’t want to get into that. People waved and smiled, giving greetings as we walked by. A few members of the guard stop and salute Griff as we walk by. “Do you ever get tired of being The Commander?” I ask with a grin. “Sometimes.” He grumbles and that takes me by surprise. Griff had never mentioned before that he disliked his position of power. “I didn’t want this. I didn’t know how to be a leader, or even how to run this colony, shit sometimes I still don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.” We round a corner and begin walking down a hill, the rotunda for the church that served as the Capitol coming into view. “If it wasn’t for Olivia.” He pauses and shakes his head, his long curly hair bouncing slightly. “I’m sure I would have cracked under the pressure.” I shake my head. “I don’t believe that, you were always the strong one.” He snorts. "I just wish people would stop treating me differently." I could understand that. Even growing up Griff just always wanted to fit in, but his humor and quick wit had other plans for him. We approach the Capitol and Griff reaches for the handle to the side door, but the sounds of angry shouting coming from around the front has us stopping in our tracks. "What the hell is it this time?" Griff states with an annoyed tone. We walk around to the front of the building to see a crowd of people in the square across the street, being held back by a line of Republic and US soldiers. Griff straightens his posture and pulls his hair back into a messy bun before making his way across the street, me following right behind him. "We don't want you here!" "Go back to where you came from!" I heard angry people shout from behind the line. Griff approaches a man, who looks to be in charge, his hackles raised. "Sargeant Reed, what the hell is going on?" Reed rounds on Griff, a formidable vein pulsating in his forehead from anger. "What's going on, is your people attacked a group of my soldiers." "Watch who you're talking to." One of the men from the guard growls. Griff holds up a hand, telling the Guardman to stand down. "Was anyone hurt?" Griff responds, taking a more diplomatic approach. "Yes, Simmons over there is bleeding from the head." He gestures to a man sitting some five feet away, holding a square of gauze to the side of his head. I approach him while Griff continues talking to Reed, kneeling down and taking a look at his injury. The man, Simmons, was cute. He had chiseled features and a large frame, similar to mine. He had soft emerald green eyes that, when I looked into them, made me feel relaxed, like I was surrounded by mountain evergreens. "Are you a Doctor?" He asks, turning his gaze towards me. It took every ounce of willpower to concentrate on the wound on his head, then at those eyes. "No." I snort and tilt his head to get a better look at the gash. "I'm a scientist, but I did do a small stint in Med School." He lets out a deep chuckle. "I didn't realize Sexy Scientist was a job title." I blush and give a sheepish grin. "Yeah, you obviously got hit in the head hard." It wasn't that I wasn't flattered, I was, though the last thing I needed to deal with right now was the prospect of being intimate with another person. Especially when my thoughts always turned to Riley whenever I even gave a second glance at an attractive person. "Whatever you say Doc." He gives me a wolfish grin followed by a wink that sends warm feelings through my body. I shake the feeling off and part his auburn hair to get a better look at how large the wound was. It wasn't very large, though it kept bleeding. He would definitely need stitches, and Liv's clinic was close by. I grab his hand and place it over the gauze on his head. "Hold pressure here Rico Suave." I give him a sly grin before I look over at two Guardsmen, who are standing near Griff. "Sanchez, Miller, get this guy to the clinic so Liv can look him over." They both nod and begin making their way over. "Whoa-whoa, we'll take him." One of the soldiers responds defensively, stepping in between me, and Sanchez and Miller. "Dude, Kale, don't be a dick." Simmons speaks up. I roll my eyes in frustration, my temper beginning to show itself. I take a deep breath and calm myself, not wanting to make the situation worse. "We're all on the same side here." I reason. Kale scoffs and shakes his head dismissively. "Is that how you guys show your gratitude around here? By throwing rocks?" He gestures at Simmons, his golden eyes lit with fire. I could understand their mistrust in us, our people haven’t exactly made it easy to cohabitate, and they don't want to be here. "Look, why don't you go with Miller and Sanchez? That way you know your friend made it safely. Our people won't mess with the guard, so it's safer if they go with you." I explain, hoping beyond hope that he sees reason. He thinks about it for a few moments. Then to my relief nods his head and steps aside so Sanchez and Miller can help Simmons off the ground. I watch as they walk away towards the direction of the clinic before turning and walking back towards Griff. "Will he live?" Reed barks and I give him a nod. "Yeah I sent him to Liv. Probably just a few stitches." Griff gives a sigh of relief before giving a worried glance at the angry crowd, still being held back by the soldiers. "You need to talk some sense into these people Griff." I say. He gives out a huff of air. "I don't even know what to say. I understand their frustration." He admits. "You understand their frustration?" Reed replies incredulously. "You seem to have forgotten that the Republic and the US abandoned these people after the second outbreak. Their pissed, and rightfully so." I defend, turning a scowl towards Reed. "So injuring my soldiers should just slide?" He rounds on me, face turning red. "No, but if your going to be here you need to understand these people. They see you as unwanted invaders. For the past eight years they've been making it on their own. Then the government steps in and tells them whats what, that same government that left them to die." My temper starts to flare slightly, and Griff takes notice. "We can't fight amongst each other. If we do that then we'll never get them to fall in line." He urges. "We have to set an example, let them know that this behavior has consequences." "And if that doesn't work? What then?" Reed questions. Griff's face is expressionless as he glances at Reed. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there." Straightening his posture, he marches toward the angry mob. His strides are confident and powerful, his knee high jacket flapping behind him. It was a look that I didn't recognize from my brother, something that could only be gained from being a leader. "Soldiers, break rank!" He orders in a deep baritone, stopping just short of the line. They all glance at him, giving their Staff Sergeants looks of permission. "Did I stutter? I said, “break rank!" He orders again, this time with a little more bite. The soldiers part apprehensively and the angry crowd shuffles around, looking at their commander nervously. "Whose doing is this?" He inquires, his tone never losing its edge. No one responds, they just stand there, looking around at each other as if the culprit would materialize from their ranks. "If the culprit doesn't come forward right now, you all will be charged with disorderly conduct. Now I'll ask again, whose doing is this?" The crowd parts slightly and a larger man steps forward. There's a look of hatred on his face, and his fists clench as he comes to stand in front of Griff. "Jory Gibson… I should have known." Griff shakes his head, the disappointment in his voice palpable. "Someone has to do something about these invaders, since our commander won't." He rebounds. Griff stands there for a second, the anger in his face apparent. "Guardsmen, take him to lockup." He growls. Two guards come forward and restrain Jory's hands behind his back, before marching him off towards lockup. "This is bullshit! We're never gonna stop! You can't silence us all!" He shouts, struggling against the guards as they haul him away. Griff ignores him, turning his gaze back to the crowd who are all whispering amongst each other. "Listen up and listen well. I know we're all on edge right now, but these people," He gestures at the soldiers. "Are here to help us. We can't rebuild this city alone and ever since they've come here our colony has flourished. The gates are open now, we've begun expanding further outside the walls, and The Order is in hiding. We need to stick together so that we can get our city back to the way it was before." "But they abandoned us after the second outbreak!" A woman shouts, and the crowd begins to talk amongst each other, most of them in agreement. The voices become louder and louder until the shouting starts again. Griff turns to me, an unsure look in his eye. I give him a nod of approval, telling him that he's doing good. "He's losing them." Reed's tone is cautious. "He's got this." I reply, having complete faith in my brother. He didn't get this far as their commander without a few bumps in the road. "ENOUGH!" He bellows and the crowd dies down immediately, most of them with shocked expressions. "We've all made mistakes, none of us are perfect! We are on the path of history, right now! We can either fight amongst each other like children, or, we can work together and do better than those before us. We have come so far as a community, we can't let something like this break us." He says the last sentence with urgency, something that the crowd seems to pick up on. "Go home, go to your jobs. This community isn't going to build itself." He orders. They're silent as he turns around. Some of them begin to scatter in different directions. Griff turns around and begins heading back in my direction. I give him a mock clap and he makes eye contact with me. "Good job." I give him a grin. "Don't you have a lab to be at?" He cocks an eyebrow at me, but I see a grin behind his eyes. "Yes sir." I tease. He scoffs and shakes his head. "Shut up." I watch as he climbs the Captiol's steps and disappears behind the heavy wooden doors. I had to admit I was impressed with how he handled that. For someone who didn't think they knew what they were doing, he was a natural leader. The way the crowd responded and listened to him proved that. I turned on my heel and began walking across the square in the direction of my lab. People whisper and shoot me glances my way but I just ignore them. People always talked about me, the man who used to be a Republic soldier, a part of the system they hated. Some of them didn't believe I truly left, that my loyalties still lie with the Republic, that I was a mole of some sort. The one thing I've learned is that people will believe whatever they want, even if it's not true. I turn and walk down the narrow alleyway that leads to my lab, the brick buildings on either side blocking out the sun and sending a cold shiver down my spine. Even though it was June the morning air was still a crisp fifty-six degrees, but it would warm up later in the day. I walk down the cement steps and unlock the door, pushing it open and stepping inside it's safe confines. The sound of music meets my ears, signaling that Adam is already here. I hang my jacket up next to the door and walk towards the back of the room where Adam's station is. As I get closer I can make out his voice, singing along to some Spanish lyrics. "No son ni Reebook ni son Nike. Sin estilista, luzco fly. La Rosalía me dice que luzco guay. No te lo niego porque yo sé lo que hay. Lo que se ve, no se pregunta. Si los perdí, tengo claro que e' mi culpa. Como Canelo en el ring nada me asusta Vivo en mi Oasis y la paz no me la tumban. Hakuna Matata como Timón y Pumba. Voy pa' leyenda así que dale zumba. Los dejo ciego' con la vibra que me alumbra…" I round the corner, a look of amusement on my face at what I see. He's shaking his hips back and forth, his slim frame bouncing slightly to the beat. His muscles ripple as he works, pulling the tops off of bullets and dumping their contents into a plastic container. He was cutting rounds, something we did sometimes when we were low on ammunition. "This is the rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, rhythm of the night." "Your Spanish needs some work." I speak up. He jumps from surprise and there's a loud pop as the round he's holding fires off in his hand. "Ow! Dammit!" He flips his hand back and forth. I roll my eyes and make my way over to him. "How many times have I told you that if you're going to cut rounds you need to wear gloves." I scold. He shoots me a glare with those silver eyes, his fingers in his mouth. I can't help but chuckle at his expression. I grab his hand and observe his fingers. "It's hard to grip the bullets when you wear those bulky gloves." He argues. His fingers are red and angry looking. So I retrieve the first aid kit from the opposite wall and set it on his work bench. "Then use the pliers with the rubber grips." I counter. He grumbles and holds his hand out, letting me put some burn gel on his fingers. Adam was a local kid, about twenty-three, whose parents were killed in the earthquake. When I showed up last year and set up this lab, he used to hound me with science related questions. When I told him I needed an apprentice and asked him if he was interested, he jumped at the opportunity. He's a good kid, bright, with a good head on his shoulders. "If you lose a finger, don't come crying to me." "I'm not gonna lose a finger." He deadpans. "Mmhmm." I raise an eyebrow at him before packing the first aid kit back up and hanging it in its designated place. "Why are you cutting rounds anyway? I thought we were good on ammunition." Adam shrugs his shoulders and continues his work. "Apparently not." That was a little concerning. Usually when something like that happened I heard about it. Being the brother of The Commander had its perks like that. I grab a pair of workers gloves and slap them on his work bench. "Wear them." I order in a stern tone. He huffs, but concedes, pulling the bulky gloves on. "Yes Doctor Torres." He replies in a mocking tone. I chuckle and shake my head, one of these days he'll learn. I turn around and climb the few steps to my office and back into the door, pushing it open. It was a square room set in the corner of the basement and it had a wall of windows that looked over the space. It took me a good six months to put this whole lab together, that included all the tech upgrades that I got when we finally got a supply shipment in. "Pull up last project." I command. The monitor on the wall flashes to life, bringing up formulas and equations for a new industrial sealer I have been working on. It was boring, and not as exciting as explosives, however, the colony needed building materials. Since I arrived in San Francisco this was my job, creating things that would help engineers rebuild the city. After the earthquake the ground under the city was slightly unstable, the frequency of earthquakes increasing to one or two every month or so. They weren't very large earthquakes, most of them only registering to around three to five on the Richter scale. Still, engineers didn't want to take any chances. So here I was, thinking of new sealants, adhesives, and any other things that could help buildings withstand another large earthquake. I pick up my headphones on my desk and glance at the picture sitting in a wooden frame. Riley, smiling goofily, and me grinning with an arm around him. It was taken by Elliott on his thirty-second birthday. We went to the Santa Monica pier, something Riley had always wanted to do. We shared our first kiss after I won him this ridiculously huge teddy bear, which he effectionately named Yogi. I smile at the memory, though it's soon replaced by a pain in my heart. The type of pain that only came from heartbreak. I couldn't complain though, after all, it was my fault I felt this way. Riley deserved someone who could be around, someone he didn't have to worry about being in a worn torn city. Someone he could come home to, to share dinners and memories with. Maybe that was why I didn't return his calls or messages, it wouldn't work for us, at least not in the way Riley deserved. I grab the top of the frame and pull it face down on the desk so I didn't have to look at it, turning my attention back to my work. I shove my headphones in my ears and tap one of them, letting the sounds of Led Zeppelin submerge me into my work. Riley would understand, someday.
  3. zanoGreen

    The End

    This is going to be a series, so all questions will be answered in future installments. 😊
  4. zanoGreen

    The End

    One Year Later I wake up to the smell of bacon and fresh coffee wafting into my nostrils. The sun is streaming through the pulled drapes casting that beautiful morning glow that I love so much. Rudy rests his head on my knee, laying in a little ball beside me. "Hey there Rudy doo. You have a good rest?" I pat him between the ears and he gives a long yawn, shaking his head. "Where's Daddy?" I ask. He perks his ears up and cocks his head to the side before standing up and jumping off the bed, disappearing into the hallway. I stand up and give out a long stretch, groaning at my aching muscles. I shuffle over to the dresser and pull out a pair of jockey shorts, pulling them on before making my way out of the bedroom and down the hall. The hardwood floors were cool against my feet, signaling that fall was here, regardless of the morning sunshine in the Pacific Northwest which was a rarity this time of year. As I approach the kitchen I can hear a skillet sizzling pleasantly and the sound of voices coming from the TV. "It's been just over a year since the terrorist attack on LA. The Pacific Republic and The United States have begun entering peace agreements, with plans to reunite the two countries once again. President Dubois and President Hanover are in meetings with congress from both nations, going over agreements and terms. A poll shows that eighty percent of Republic citizens are in favor of reunification, given the threat this new terrorist organization brings-" "How can you watch that?" I ask sitting at the breakfast bar. "C'mon! Doesn't reunification excite you just a little bit." Ryan asks, shooting me a grin. "I can think of something that excites me a little more." I wiggle my eyebrows at him and he gives me a wolfish grin. "Drink your coffee casanova, then we'll talk" Ryan gives me a wink, placing a mug of dark liquid in front of me. "I'll down this whole damn cup, don't tempt me." I tease, giving him a sly grin. He arches an eyebrow at me, giving me one of those crooked smiles before turning around tensing to the bacon. "Are you excited to see Cody?" He asks. I smile as I take a drink of my coffee. "I am. I've missed that little shit." "I'm sure he's missed you too-shit." Ryan accidentally drops a piece of bacon and Rudy gobles it, licking his chops happily. "Is that good bacon? Huh boy?" Ryan kneels down and pets him between the ears, his tail wagging with excitement. "You spoil him." I grin as Rudy licks him on the face. “That’s because he’s my boy. Huh Rude Rude? Yes you're my boy.” Rudy gives out a low bark and Ryan chuckles, standing back up and facing the skillet once again. I take a drink of my coffee and peer over the breakfast bar at his perfectly toned ass being hugged by the jogger sweats he's wearing. My cock begins to stir, and I shuffle uncomfortably on my stool before making a frustrated noise and pushing myself away from the bar. I walk up behind him and wrap my arms around him giving him delicate kisses on his shoulder blade, running my hands down his sides until they're resting on his hips. "Baaabe." He groans with a chuckle. "Baaabe." I repeat back to him, pushing my now rock hard erection into his ass. He lets out a soft moan as I move to kissing him on the neck, nibbling on that little patch of skin just below his ear that I know drives him nuts. He moans again, grabbing my hand and resting it on his thick cock which is now tenting his sweats. I let out a pleased moan as I begin massaging him through the fabric, his cock getting harder at the attention. He whips around, the lust clear in his eyes. He places his hands on my chest and forces me back into the kitchen island behind me, crashing his lips against mine in a passionate kiss that makes my whole body tingle. I part my lips to let his tongue sneak its way into my mouth and moan into his mouth as he thrusts his hand into my shorts, wrapping his hand around my length. His other hand is everywhere. On the back of my neck, on my chest, tweaking my nipple which forces a groan of pleasure out of my mouth that is quickly devoured by his mouth. He releases my cock from his grasp and drops my shorts in one fluid motion, cupping my ass in his meaty hands. He begins kneading at my ass with his hands before sliding them down to the back of my thighs and hoisting me up onto the counter. I give out a delighted chuckle and wrap my arms around his neck, stealing more of those intoxicating kisses. He begins kissing me down my chest and I gasp as he flicks his tongue against one of my barbells, nibbling my nipple between his teeth. I grab a fistful of his hair and growls in pleasure as I pull lightly. As he starts kissing me down my stomach he pauses at my scar, giving it delicate kisses which leave me whimpering. "I came so close to losing you that day." He whispers. "But you didn't." I reply breathlessly. He moves lower, dropping to his knees and resting his hands on my thighs. He drapes my legs over his muscular back and begins planting kisses on the inside of my thigh, making me squirm and moan. I hear him chuckle softly, reveling in my torture, and I let out a frustrated growl. He moves one of his hands to grip my cock, running his thumb over my slit, collecting some pre-cum. He brings his thumb to his lips and moans at my taste, a lust and fire igniting behind his eyes that makes my cock ooze even more. He grips my thighs and pulls me closer to the edge of the counter, spreading my cheeks and spitting on my hole before sliding his tongue over it. I moan and buck my hips, but Ryan places a firm hand on my pelvis and keeps me still. "I need you to be still baby." He growls in a husky tone that sounds so primal and manly that I thought I would cum right there. "Fuck, easy for you to saaaa-" I let out another moan as he forces his tongue into my hole, the warm sensation traveling straight to my dick which dribbles out more pre-cum. His scruff rubs against my cheeks, mixing with the warm sensation from his tongue and my cock gives a little jolt, but I didn't cum, thank god. "Ryan." I moan. He growls in response, the vibration traveling to my balls which constrict and a warm sensation begins forming in them. I was going to cum, but I didn't want to cum yet. "Ryan, I'm gonna-im gonna." I moan and just like that he pulls away. "Not yet." He stands up, bringing his sweats down and stepping out of them. His thick cock bounces out in front of him, the head glistening with pre-cum. He gently lowers my legs so I can wrap them around his waist and leans down, pressing his warm body against mine and claiming my mouth for another kiss. "Ryan, I want you inside me." I whisper as he teases his cock against my hole, his pre-cum mixing with his saliva, creating a slick enough surface that I'm sure if given just the right amount of pressure would have his cock head sliding into me. "Yeah? You want this?" He teases, sliding the head of his cock just past my entrance. I gasp and he pulls back, giving me an evil grin. "Not… Fair." I pant. He leans down and kisses me again, this time softer, and in the midst of our kiss he slides his cock back into me. I gasp and tighten my legs around his waist, bound and determined to keep him there. He slides in more and my muscle relaxes, letting him slide further in. He lets out a low moan which I steal with my lips, gliding my tongue against his. "Fuuuck, you feel so good baby." He moans in just above a whisper. "So do you." I reply. He rocks his hips into me, burying his cock further in. I moan a little louder this time, reveling in the pleasure and fullness I was feeling of having him inside of me. Slowly he begins to quicken his pace, not too fast that it's aggressive but just the right amount to make it passionate and loving. His hand wraps around the back of my head, his eyes locked on mine. The lust behind his eyes is gone, instead he has this fire behind them, mixed with a caring and delicateness that has my breath hitching. "You're so beautiful." He states, nuzzling his face into my neck. His words mixed with his cock rubbing against my prostate sends me over the edge. I moan as rope after rope of cum shoots all over my stomach, leaving my balls spent and aching from the force of my release. Ryan quickens his thrusts, his breathing becoming more ragged. My hole is still pulsating around his cock from my orgasm, and he lets out a moan followed by a gasp as he reaches his climax. His cock engorges inside of me and then I feel it start to pulsate as he releases his warm cum deep in my hole. He collapses on top of me, shuddering as his dick continues to throb and rests his head in the crook of my neck. I gently run my fingers through his hair, the both of us spent from the mind blowing sex we just had. Something strange catches my nose, causing me to sniff the air slightly. Was something burning? "Shit!" Ryan jumps off me and whips around to face the stove. He flicks the burner off and removes the skillet, tossing it in the sink and turning the faucet on. "Oh no, the bacon." I give him an apologetic look. "You owe me breakfast." He teases, pointing a fork in my direction. "What? I don't count as breakfast?" I give him a sly grin. He chuckles and moves over to me, lifting me off the counter and placing me gently on my feet. It still amazed me to this day how strong he was. "You're more like the whole buffet babe." He gives me a gentle kiss and I smile against his lips. "Still as corny as ever." "It's why you love me." He smiles back. "Hmm, among other things." I wink at him. I glance over at the clock on the microwave and give him a pat on the chest. "It's ten, Cody's flight lands at noon." I inform, separating from him against my body's wishes. "I'm never gonna get tired of seeing that ass walk away from me." His tone is husky and my cock gives a little jolt, preparing for a second round. I give my ass a slap and disappear down the hallway, grinning stupidly to myself at how crazy I was over this man. **** "Does it ever stop raining here?" I ask as we drive down the highway. Elliott laughs and shakes his head. "Oh this isn't rain." I gesture at the windshield where water droplets are collecting before being swept away by the wipers. "You don't call this rain?" "No, this is just a drizzle." I roll my eyes and chuckle. "Well whatever it is, it's annoying." When we decided to move to Washington it was mainly because of the temperate climate, and also the fact that I wanted to live somewhere green. However, I didn't account for the fact that eight to nine months out of the year it was constantly overcast. Don't get me wrong, Washington was a gorgeous state, and living on one of the many islands that dotted the Puget Sound was pretty spectacular. I just missed the sun and the heat from time to time. Elliott suggested we move to Texas because he knew how much I missed it, but I wanted us to build a start somewhere new and somewhere we could both enjoy. To be honest I didn't care where we lived, as long as I had him that’s all that mattered. "Don't worry, you'll get used to it." He gives my leg a squeeze. Somehow I didn't think that was going to happen, but I gave him a warm smile anyway. We get to the ferry terminal and I pull up to the pay station, handing the man in the booth a ten dollar bill before he waves us through. We had made it just in time as they began directing cars onto the boat, waving their arms and pointing us towards a narrow opening off to the side just wide enough to fit our SUV. We parked and I killed the engine, stepping out of the car and taking a whiff of the crisp salty air. That was one of the things I loved about it up here, the air always seemed so clean and refreshing. The ferry disembarked and we began coasting across the water, the boat cutting through the dark and glassy surface. I always loved riding on the ferry, something about it fascinated me. You would think having to commute to Seattle everyday to work by ferry would kill it for me, but so far it still hasn't. I walk up the stairs to our left, Elliott close behind me. Once we reach the top of the landing he turns to me. “I’ll get us some coffee.” He says, giving me a quick kiss and then turning around to walk through the door that leads to the main waiting area. I turn and walk toward the deck at the front of the ferry, the breeze blowing lightly against my face. “Mom look! A seagull!” A little girl to my right shrieks excitedly. I smile and look at where she’s pointing, it wasn’t a seagull though. “That’s not a seagull honey, it’s a hawk.” Her Mom informs, smiling down at her daughter. “Oh.” Her face falls in disappointment. “She likes seagulls.” The Mom says, noticing me observing their conversation. "Coffee for you sir." I hear Elliott's voice and turn around to see him holding out a paper cup for me. "Thanks." I grab the cup and take a sip, the bitterness hitting my tongue and causing me to make a slight face. "Yeah it's not the best." Elliott laughs. "This is worse than what we get at the station." "Are all Seattle detectives coffee snobs?" He teases. "This coming from the king of coffee snobs." I jab. "I can't help that I have good taste." His chin gives a defiant tilt which makes me grin. I wrap an arm around his waist and direct him to stand in front of me, wrapping my arms around him and resting my chin on his shoulder. Beyond the fog settling over the water the Seattle skyline starts to come into view, the tops of the many towers blanketed by a low cloud cover. Even with the gloomy weather it was a beautiful sight. "This view never gets old." He gives a heartfelt sigh before taking a drink of his coffee. He gags slightly and his face pinches. "Oh god, that's awful." I let out a hearty laugh and kiss him on the cheek. "My little coffee snob." He scoffs. "You don't need to be a coffee snob to know that this stuff is a sin against the coffee gods." I give another chuckle and look up at the sky as a plane fly's low overhead, turning in the direction of the city to make a landing. The sight brings my thoughts to Cody and his visit, something that Elliott has been looking forward to for months. "Cody nervous about his interview?" I inquire. Elliott takes another drink of his coffee and scrunches his face. "Yeah, I haven't seen the poor kid more nervous than when he took his Medical Boards." I grin at that memory. That was just before I joined the team we were on. Before our world got flipped over on its head. I couldn't complain though, it led me to Elliott, the best thing to come out of my stint with the Republic Army. "What's the name of the lab he's interviewing at?" "Decker Labs." I give out a low whistle. “Wow, Decker is a big deal. They have some of the best research scientists in the country." "Yeah don't remind me." He groans. I give a smirk and shake my head. "Still hurt that he jumped ship and became a Geneticist huh?" "No I get it. It's what he's passionate about. Plus I think it keeps him preoccupied, especially after Alex." He explains. My heart gives a little jolt at that, the memory of that night still fresh in my mind. After Alex's death Cody took a leave of absence, we didn't blame him, being betrayed by the woman you thought you knew and loved could damage you in ways that can't be explained. Though when he came back he announced that he was leaving Trauma behind and going in favor of Genetics, taking a fellowship at a research hospital in San Diego. Elliott was hesitant at first, but eventually he came around. The ferry begins approaching the pier, and the captain announces everyone to return to their vehicles and prepare to disembark. As I'm reaching for the drivers side door, something heavy and soft hits me square in the back, making me grunt. I whip around to see what it was and notice a soccer ball rolling away from me. I place my foot on it to stop it, and kneel down scooping it up in my hands. "Andrew! Jason! What have I told you about playing with that ball on the ferry?" A woman, probably no older than myself, scolds two sandy haired kids that couldn't be no older than ten. She turns her gaze to me with an apologetic expression. "I'm so sorry. We sign them up for soccer lessons and they seem to think they're David Beckham." She gives out a lighthearted laugh. I give out a chuckle and approach them, kneeling down to the boys' level and handing one of them the soccer ball. "We're sorry." They say, staring at the ground in embarrassment. "It's okay. That was a strong kick, keep it up." I grin at them and they smile back. "All passengers return to your vehicles for disembarkment." The overhead speaker blares out again. "C'mon boys, lets go. Sorry again." She shoots me another remorseful look. "It's no problem." I respond, as she ushers the two boys back to their car. I turn back around and head towards the car, climbing into the driver's seat and turning the engine over. "What was that about?" Elliott asks with a half amused expression. "Just boys being boys." I respond with a smile. Between the interaction with the girl on the deck and the two boys this feeling started forming in my gut. It was like I felt something missing in my life. I had everything I ever wanted, I had Elliott and Rudy, a beautiful home and the career I had worked so hard for. So what was it? "You know I think you look sexy when deep in thought, but I think people are going to get pissed if we don't move soon." "Hmm?" I turn my gaze towards him, eyes slightly wide. The sound of a horn blares, making us both jump. I stick my hand out the window and wave apologetically before slowly driving off the boat and onto the pier. "Wow, you must have really been gone there." Elliott has an amused tone, raising his eyebrows. "What were you thinking about?" He probes, poking me in the side. What was I thinking about? Something crazy apparently, because the idea of having a child didn't seem so bad. In fact, it sounded kind of nice. I could already picture Elliott fussing with the nursery decorations, us setting the crib up together, signing up our kid for little league, or whatever they wanted to do. The prospect actually excited me, making me feel things that I didn't know existed until now. "Hellooo? Earth to Ryan." Elliott laughs, wiggling my ear lobe with his index finger. "What?" I ask, giving him a confused look. "Are you okay? Your acting strange, I keep telling you that bacon every morning is not a sufficient breakfa-" "Do you wanna have kids?" I blurt out, interrupting him. He gives me a blinking expression, his mouth still open mid sentence. "With you?" He asks, finally breaking the silence. "No, the mailman-of course with me." I reply with a chuckle. He chuckles. "No I just mean, you've never mentioned wanting to have kids." "I would like to have it be open for discussion." I state in a hopeful tone. Elliott gives me an endearing smile and places his hand in mine, intertwining our fingers together. "It can definitely be open for discussion." "Really?" My pulse quickens, and butterflies begin forming in my stomach. "I've never been against having kids. I've just never been with someone I can see having them with. With you though, I can see us with a kid or two." He responds. I lift his hand up to my lips and plant a kiss on his knuckles. "I love you." I give him a crooked smile. "I love you too." He responds with a wink. As we approach the airport my mind races at all the possibilities of our future. This life was never what I expected, but it was so much better. I didn’t expect to meet someone that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with when I left Texas, and I certainly never thought I would be thinking about having kids. In my life I had never felt like I belonged anywhere. Now as I sit here, hand in hand with Elliott, I finally felt like I found my place in this life.
  5. zanoGreen

    The Sergeant

    I rubbed my sleepy eyes, picking my head up off the rough comforter. The slow rhythmic beep of monitors filling the room almost makes me fall back asleep again, but then the door to the room slides open. I jerk my head up and glance towards the direction of the door, my eyes adjusting to the bright fluorescent lights. "Sorry hun, I didn't mean to wake you." The nurse, Sarah I think her name is, says to me in her sweet southern accent. "It's okay, I was already awake." I grumbled. She tsks at me as she checks the IV pumps and does her hourly rounding. "You should really go home and get some rest, we can call you if there's any changes." She urges. For the past three days they have been trying to get me to go home, but I can't bring myself to leave. I look over at Elliott, tube down his throat to help him breathe, endless IV lines going every which way. What would he do if I were in this bed? Wouldn't he stay? "I just can't bring myself to leave him." I say, gripping his hand tighter hoping that maybe that would be enough to wake him up. My mind flashes back to the warehouse where he slowly lost consciousness in my arms, my heart shattering into a million tiny fragments. Once help arrived his heart had stopped, but thanks to the excellent medics and the superb surgeons who stitched him up good as new, he was still alive. The unfortunate thing though, is that he had to be induced in a coma. The Doctors and Nurses said that it was the best way to help his body heal from the trauma it had endured. What they hadn't expected was for him to not wake up after they took him off the drugs. So here he was, still in the ICU, not wanting to wake up. Why didn't he want to wake up? "He's lucky to have you." She smiles at me and I force myself to smile back at her. "You should at least take a break, go get some coffee or food. There's a cafeteria in the South Tower on the first floor." She informs, hugging her tablet close to her chest, giving me a sympathetic look. I give her a slow nod and pick myself up out of my chair. I lean down and give him a kiss on the cheek, the scruff on his face tickling my chin. "I'll be back." I say in a low tone. The nurses say that talking to him will help, that he can still hear his surroundings. I hoped that was true, I hoped that he knew I was here with him. I stepped out of the room and slid the door closed behind me, the hustle and bustle of the ICU floor drowning out my thoughts slightly. I walk past the desk and make eye contact with Elliott's nurse, she gives me another warm smile and I return with a wry one, not really having the energy to give her a full smile. I make my way down the hall towards the elevator bank, hitting the button a little harder than necessary causing the man next to me to shoot me a nervous look. I give him an apologetic look and he nods his head in understanding. I wonder if he had a loved one laid up in a bed like Elliott? The thought of Elliott sends a pain through my chest and I choke back a rather large lump in my throat. The elevator doors swing open and I step inside, leaning against the railing and hanging my head so as to avoid eye contact with the various other people on the elevator. I can't remember the last time I had ever felt so down and brooding, oh wait, yes I do, it was when David died. I felt like my chest had a hole punched through it and the only thing that could make it better is if Elliott were to wake up . I stepped off at my designated floor and crossed the sky bridge over to the South Tower, following the signs for the cafeteria. I could practically taste the coffee, as I entered the brightly lit space. A nice tall cup of liquid gold might just be the thing I need right now to keep myself from coming apart. I eye the coffee machine and shuffle my way towards it, not paying much attention to the people buzzing around me. I grab a cup and tap the button, reveling in the smell of fresh Columbian coffee that comes pouring out. My phone buzzes and I reach into my pocket, staring at my screen. It's my mom. No doubt she heard about the almost destruction of half the city, and I was sure to hear an earful from her about how I haven't returned any of her phone calls. "Hey ma." I answer in a friendly tone, hoping to soften the blow. "Joseph Ryan Riggs, why haven't you returned any of my phone calls?" Her voice comes through the phone stern, and I wince at her use of my first name, something I never go by. "Mama I'm sorry-" "Don't you Mama me, do you know how worried I was?" I sigh and stare at the coffee machine, the slow trickle indicating it's almost done. "I know, my mind's just been… Elsewhere." I skate around the topic of Elliott's current condition. Not wanting my mom to worry too much about me. I had told her about Elliott and she was really happy for me, even going as far to tell me that she was excited to meet him. Although now, I was hoping that plan was still in our future. I shook the thoughts from my head, that damn lump starting to form in my throat again. The last thing I wanted to do was lose it on the phone with her. She sighs and there's a rustle of the phone shuffling around. "I'm sorry honey, I saw the news yesterday and I've been so worried." I couldn't blame her. Images of my brother David begin shuffling through my head, David and I at the shooting range, me whooping and grabbing him up in a bear hug because he hit the perfect mark three times in a row. David and I celebrating my finishing the Police Academy, and how hungover we both were the next day… Finding David dead. That last one never ceases to send chills over my body and make my breath catch. I've been to multiple therapists over it, but none of them seemed to help. The only thing that helped was lying in a hospital bed some five floors up. Elliott made those bad thoughts disappear, and ever since the warehouse they've slowly started to creep their way back in, festering inside of me like a virus. "It's okay Mom, you don't have to worry." I put a little chuckle on the end to give it some oomph, but even I knew she wouldn't buy it. "What's wrong buddy?" She asks, and I curse myself for not getting her off my tail. "Nothin' Mama." I lie. I pay for my coffee and dodge people on my way out of the cafeteria, heading in the direction of the elevator bank. I hear a huff of air on the other side of the phone, signaling that she's growing impatient. "I have been your mother for thirty-six years, I know when you're lying and I know when somethings wrong, spill." "Nothings wrong." I argue. "Joseph." She warns, and I cringe again at the use of my first name. "Mama." I whine. There's a pause and then another huff of air. "Fine. If you won't tell me then I guess you leave me no choice." There's more shuffling on the phone, followed by a thud of her setting the phone down and then clicking along with the clacking of keys. I listen intently, trying to figure out what the noise is. "What are you doing?" I ask nervously. "Well, since you won't tell me what it is, then I guess I'll just have to come out and pay you a visit." She responds. "Haha you're very funny." I respond with a nervous chuckle. When it came to her son, Sarah Riggs was anything but a joker. She wouldn't really fly all the way out here just to figure out what was wrong. Would she? "Ohhh look at that, nonstop to LA. You know how I hate layovers." She teases. "Mama c'mon, I'm not buying it." I wasn't so sure though, my Mom has done crazier things in the past. "Save thirty dollars when booking first class, yes please. Maybe I'll get a mimosa." A panic begins to rise up in me at the realization that she is one hundred percent being serious. I couldn't have my mother flying all the way out here for something so trivial. Even though to me it wasn't that trivial, but to her, whatever she thought had me so down was enough to warrant a trip out here. "Mama stop." I respond in a defeated tone. "Do you think I should get the travel insurance? I know some say it's a waste of money, but you never know." "It's Elliott…" My voice breaks this time, the lump that forms in my throat making it hard to swallow. "Oh. Did something happen with the two of you?" She asks, that motherly concern traveling through the phone and hitting me right in the chest, where I swear it would make me collapse into a heaping, bawling, mess of a man. "He's hurt Mama, pretty badly." I say my voice cracking as I start to cry. Luckily I was the only one in the elevator, crying in front of complete strangers was not something I liked doing. "Oh honey," Her voice goes soft. "I'm so sorry." The elevator doors open and to my embarrassment there's people standing on the other side. I dip my head and pass by them, not wanting to see any sympathetic stares. I approach a wall and rest my head against it, leaning into it, it's about the only thing keeping me upright at this point. Between the lack of sleep, worrying over Elliott, and now the crying, I didn't know how much more I could take. "I just don't know what to do." I choke out. "He's just lying there, and I want him to wake up but he won't. I can't lose him Mama." "Take a deep breath, love." She orders with a warm tone. I take a deep ragged breath, and then another, and then another, slowly starting to feel my heart rate slow. "You remember when you were in the hospital after your accident?" She asks, and I nod my head even though I know she can't see it. "When you were in that coma I was so worried that you would never wake up. I thought that you were just tired of fighting and you had given up, but then I realized something. You're a fighter, and stubborn, and there wasn't anything in this world that you couldn't overcome. You just needed some time to yourself, to sort things out in your head. Maybe that's what Elliott needs, maybe he needs some time in his own headspace to make sense of things." Was she right? Was Elliott just refusing to wake up because he wasn't ready yet? I imagine him in a dark empty vastness, mulling over everything that has happened. Maybe she was right, maybe he just needed some time to process. I mean no one really knows what happens while people are in comas, so it isn't too far fetched. It still didn't ease the pain of him not waking up though. "Ryan?" She asks, making sure I'm still there. "Yeah, maybe you're right." I sniff and gently knock my boot against the wall. "Just try and keep your head up honey. Go home, take a shower, and get some proper rest. I know you don't want to leave him, but he's in the best place he can be right now." I nodded my head in agreement, and wiped my eyes. She was right, I knew she was right, it didn't make it any easier though. "Okay." I agree shortly. I hear her give a pleasant hum, no doubt at the fact that I took her advice for once. "I'll let you go sweetheart. Give Elliott my love." "I will." I respond, another lump forming in my throat. What if she never got the chance to meet him? I shake the thoughts from my head, and begin walking down the sky bridge. "I love you Mama." "I love you too." I hang up the phone and stuff it in my back pocket, thinking about the conversation. It gave me a lot to think about, as if I needed more of that. Though it wasn't unpleasant, actually it gave me hope that he would wake up, I just hope it's sooner rather than later. As I'm passing the front desk I stop and realize something, I had been in this hospital for three days and not once had I checked on Cody. I give myself a reprimand, feeling guilty, but I'm sure they would understand right? My thoughts go back to the warehouse and the moment they found out that Elliott had accidentally killed Alex. The look on Riley and Cody's faces were hard to shake, in that split second I could see hate and pain mixed in there. Did they care if Elliott died? "Don't be ridiculous Ryan, he's their best friend of course they care." I roll my eyes at myself and approach the desk. "How can I help you sir?" A petite younger woman with her blonde hair styled in a side-swept braid looked up at me nervously as I approached. Probably thinking I was some crazy person stumbling off the street by the way I battled with myself moments ago. I give her a wry smile and adjust my hat. "Yeah, um, I'm looking for Cody Park." I inform. She turns her attention to her screen, typing away, her eyes darting over the screen. I couldn't imagine how many patients were in this massive hospital, let alone how many Cody Park's were here. But after a few moments she looks back up at me with a less nervous smile plastered to her face. "Room six-fourteen, IMCU." She informs me. "Thank you." I give her a warm smile and walk back towards the elevator bank. I have no idea where I'm going, but I figure there should be signs. I've never heard of an IMCU, but if the room number was any indication it should be on the sixth floor. I walk into one of the elevators and stare at the directory on the wall. I find the button labeled IMCU, which happens to be on the sixth floor and press it. The elevator gives a delightful ding as the doors close and then it starts climbing. Apparently IMCU stands for Intermediate Care Unit, which I didn't even realize was a thing, let alone what it meant. Nevertheless I walked through the doors and walked around the unit until I found Cody's room. I stood outside the door which, like the ICU, was a glass slider. I could see Riley and Jon in there talking to Cody, who looked better than he did three days ago. Why hadn't any of them been to see Elliott? I pulled the door open and they all whipped their gazes towards me, a smile forming on their lips. "There he is!" Riley exclaims, jumping up and wrapping me into a hug. I return the hug, it felt nice to hug someone who could hug back. "How's Elliott?" Jon asks hopefully. "Same as the past few days, although you guys would know that if you paid him a visit." I stated, with a little bit of acid to my tone. They all shuffled around uncomfortably, averting their gazes and looking rather ashamed. "We've been meaning to come visit-" Jon begins to explain but I just wave him off. "I didn't come here to fight, or guilt trip you guys. I haven't slept for shit in days, but I wanted to see how Cody is doing." I turn my attention to Cody, who gives me a deer in the headlights look. "Me? I'm fine. Their saying I should be able to go home tomorrow." He states cheerfully. "That's great." I respond, and a little pain forms in my chest at the fact that Elliott won't be able to go home either. There's an awkward silence and I take a drink of my coffee, perching myself on a stool next to Cody’s bed. "Seriously though, how is Elliott?" Riley asks. The answer must have been written on my face because Riley's expression quickly turned grim. "That bad huh?" I drop my gaze to my coffee cup and begin picking at the lid, that annoying lump re-emerging in my throat. I close my eyes and breathe, not wanting to fall apart all over again. "Get your shit together Riggs." I feel a warm hand grasp mine and I open my eyes to see that it's Cody's hand. I raise my eyes to meet him and he gives me a sympathetic look. "He hasn't woken up yet, they don't know when he will." I inform in a low tone. "He'll wake up. It's Elliott." Jon replies optimistically. I want to believe him, I want to have that same optimism that he has. "What if he doesn't?" I reply in just above a whisper, my voice thick with emotion. "He will." Cody urges, giving my hand a squeeze. I wish I could have Cody's strength right now. Here he was lying in a hospital bed, the woman he loved having been killed, healing from gunshot wounds, and he was still seeing the bright side of things. What a lucky bastard. “Did you hear about the new General at the base?” Jon asked, giving me an excited look. “Oh god, here we go.” Riley groans. “What?” Jon looks offended. Riley rolls his eyes and scoffs. “You have a hard on for the man in charge.” Jon’s cheeks turn bright red and stammers over himself. “I do not.” “You so do.” Cody teases. “What’s so special about this new General?” I ask, my interest piqued. “He’s like forty-two, and a decorated soldier. I’ll give Jon credit; he's a hot piece of ass, but it’s not going anywhere.” He shoots a stern look at Jon. “It’s not just about that!” Jon argues. “Mmhmm. That’s why I caught you staring at his ass during a meet and greet.” “There was something on his pants.” “Yeah, his ass.” Riley shot back. I had never seen this side of Riley before, responsible and keeping his fellow soldier in line. That wasn’t something Riley ever did, he was always the clown, down and ready to get into trouble at a moments notice. I give out a long yawn and stretch, groaning at my tense muscles. "You look like shit." Riley teases, and they all laugh, even I manage a chuckle at that. "Yeah, I feel like shit too." I admit, taking another drink of my coffee, which at this point isn't doing anything but sending a bitter taste across my tongue. "Where are you staying?" Jon asks. I gesture around the hospital. "You're looking at it." "You've been sleeping here the whole time?" He clarifies. "I haven't wanted to leave him." Riley shakes his head. "No-no-no, you can crash in our hotel room. You need a real bed, a shower and some food." He echoes my Mom's earlier advice. I grunt and shrug my shoulders. Why does everyone want to take care of me? I don't need it, Elliott needs it, hell even Cody needs it, but not me. "Come on brother, I'll drive you." Riley says, standing up from his chair. "I'm fine." I grumble. "That's funny, I don't remember asking how you are." He counters with a stern expression. I'm too tired to argue back though, so I pick myself up off the stool. I lean down and give Cody a hug, and then Jon stands up, wrapping me up in his big arms and squeezing the air out of my lungs. I groan and he just chuckles, releasing me from his iron grip. I follow Riley out of the room, giving Jon and Cody one final look and waving before closing the door. The walk out to Riley's car felt longer than it actually was, an awkwardness drifting between the two of us. Maybe it was just me being the awkward one, but I highly doubted that. Riley opened and closed his mouth several times, clearly wanting to say something, though not having the courage to do so. Once we were in his car and pulling out of the parking garage, he finally broke the silence. "I'm sorry." I shoot a puzzled expression at him. "For what?" "For not being there." I don't know why he was apologizing to me. If anything he should be apologizing to Elliott, his best friend lying comatose back at the hospital. "I'm not the one you should be apologizing to." I reply bluntly. He nods his head slowly in agreement, coming to a stop at a red light. "Why haven't you gone and seen him?" I ask, the question festering inside of me since I stepped foot in Cody’s room. "I have." He replied. "I never saw you." "You were sleeping," The light turns green and the car begins to move. "I didn't want to wake you, so I stayed outside." "Oh, I'm sorry." I replied, a wave of guilt beginning to wash over me. "It's okay. I mean with how we reacted in the warehouse to finding out Elliott killed Alex, I'm sure you thought we hated him." He wasn't entirely wrong at that statement. I did think they hated him, after all, they weren't there, they didn't see what happened. If someone had told me that Riley killed Elliott, I wouldn't have given a second thought at my hatred. "Why hasn't Jon gone and seen him?" I ask. Riley cocks an eyebrow at him and chuckles deeply. "They may be friends now, but given their history he didn't think it would be a good idea to interrupt you to visit his old booty call." "I wouldn't have cared." I reply flatly. I wasn't lying, I wouldn't have cared. I know that there's nothing between Jon and Elliott. "He just wanted to be respectful. Regardless if there's nothing going on between them, there was still history." Riley explains, turning into a parking lot for a Comfort Inn. He turns towards me and holds up a room key between his fingers. "Room three-twelve, take a shower, get some rest." He orders with a stern expression in his eyes. I take the key from him and flick the plastic card against my fingers. "I don't think I can even sleep right now." I admit with a bleak tone. "Then don't sleep. Relax, meditate, chill out to some Zeppelin-I don't care. Just take some time for yourself." I stared at him for a second. Besides my Mom and Elliott, it had been a long time since someone actually expressed caring and concern for me. It sent warm and sappy feelings straight to my heart, and I didn't do sappy all too well. "Thank you." I reply, finding my voice again. He gives me a warm smile and claps me gently on the shoulder. "No problem brother. Elliott is my family, and Elliott loves you, so that makes you my family too." I swallow hard at that statement, nodding my head instead of speaking words which would probably fail me anyways. Elliott had always said that the team was like family, though I always thought that was just something people said. Now I realize with the look that Riley is giving me, that it wasn't just some bullshit statement. It was real. I open the door and climb out of the car, making my way towards the entrance to the hotel. I look back in time to see Riley exit the parking lot and back onto the street, the engine of his Camaro making a loud roar. I walk inside and manage to find the stairwell, trudging up each step in pure exhaustion. Maybe I should just skip the shower and go straight to bed. I sneakily take a whiff of my armpit and immediately retreat at the smell. No wonder Riley was so adamant on me taking a break, I smell like a hog that just got done rolling around in a pile of its favorite slop. Once I get to the room, after struggling with the door for a bit, I make a beeline for the bathroom and immediately begin stripping out of my clothes. It felt like I was shedding a second skin and I had to admit, it felt nice. I turn on the shower and stand outside the curtain, waiting for the water to warm up to a desired temperature which for me was scalding. Once I'm satisfied I step inside and let the hot water cascade over my head. I let out a satisfied groan and rest my hand on the shower wall. It was probably the most satisfying shower I've had in awhile. I just stood there, letting the water pour down me and wash away all the grime and negativity from the past few days. After a few minutes of standing there I figured I should probably clean myself off. I grab a bar of the generic hotel soap and begin running the bar over my skin. It smelled like Irish Spring, which brought up memories I'd rather not think about. I wash the soap off and instead turn my thoughts to Elliott. I think about the future, a house in the suburbs, and the two dogs. I smile to myself as I think about mornings with Elliott. Making breakfast in the morning and him sitting at the breakfast bar, sipping sleepily on his coffee, looking sexy in nothing but those shorts and slightly messed hair. My thoughts go from Elliott in nothing but shorts, to Elliott in nothing at all. Splayed on the bed, waiting for me to come home from a long day at work. Growling at me to ditch the uniform and join him. I let out a frustrated growl, not sure if right now was the appropriate time to be having sex fantasies about my boyfriend. Though my cock begins to stir at the vision and my hand reflexively wraps around my girth. I can taste Elliott on my lips as I imagine climbing on top of him and kissing him deeply, him moaning in my mouth as I slide our cocks together. I groan and my whole body shudders as I feel a wave of pleasure wash over me. I grab some body wash off the ledge in the shower and use it as lube, slicking up my length and moaning at images of Elliott flashing through my mind. It doesn't take me long to start oozing pre-cum, gathering it up into the soapy mixture and using it for lube. I brace myself against the wall, feeling my release building up inside of me. I can practically hear Elliott moaning my name as I slide my cock in and out of his warm opening. My balls begin to constrict and I let out a moan as I feel the warm sensation of my cum coat my palm and my fingers. I drop my head and shudder as the last wave of my orgasm washes over me. I hope beyond hope that I get to experience those feelings with him again. Hell I would even just take having him here without the sex. I wash myself off and step out of the shower, grabbing a towel and running it over my water drenched skin. I throw the towel over the shower rod to dry and walk out of the bathroom, not even bothering to put on boxers. The warm confines of a bed are calling my name, and I'm too exhausted to even fight it. I climb into the closest bed, laying on my stomach and pull the blankets just over my waist. I don’t want to flash Jon or Riley my ass if they decide to come in. As soon as my head hits the pillow, I'm out like a light. I jerk awake to the sound of my phone ringing. I look at the clock noticing it's now seven in the afternoon. Jesus, did I really sleep twelve hours? I grab my phone off the night stand and stare bleary eyed at the screen, letting my eyes adjust to the bright light. Once they do I notice the caller ID is flashing LAC+USC Med Ctr. The hospital Elliott and Cody are at. My pulse quickens and I jerk my thumb across the screen to accept the call. "Hello?" I ask nervously, trying to calm my racing heart. "Yes, is this Ryan Riggs?" I hear a pleasant and warm female voice come across the phone. "Yes." I ask in more of a question, dreading where this conversation was heading. "Yes this is Heather, I'm the nurse in charge of Elliott Pierce's care. We need you to come down here at your earliest convenience." She replies in a calm tone, which completely contrasted my speeding heart rate. "I'll be right there." I say quickly, hanging up the phone and throwing the blankets back. I rush into the bathroom throwing on my old clothes, not really paying any mind to the fact that they're dirty. But this is Elliott, I don't give a damn. I order an Uber on my phone and bolt out the door, all but running down the corridor and clambering down the stairwell. "Please be okay, please be okay." I plead to myself as I make my way outside. I curse at myself for leaving the hospital. I should have been there, what if something happened to him and he knew I wasn't there with him? The weather is still warm, not surprising since its August in Southern California. I look around wildly for the Uber I ordered, but it wasn't here. I look at my phone and it says that Gary, my Uber driver, is five minutes out. Maybe I could just run there? It's only a little over a mile I could probably make it in nothing flat. I decide against it, the last thing I need is to run into the ICU looking flustered, sweaty and generally like a hot mess. I pace impatiently back and forth waiting for Gary, who appears to be taking his sweet ass time getting here. My phone beeps indicating that Gary is here. I look around wildly and spot a gray Toyota Camry approaching me. I don't even ask if he's Gary, I just throw the back door open and clamber inside. "Where's the fire buddy?" He asks. "I need to get to the hospital. There's an extra twenty in it for you if you get me there in five minutes." I inform, ignoring his comment. "You got it." He says enthusiastically, whipping out of the parking lot and screaming down the road. You would think the Russian mob was chasing us with how erratic he was driving, weaving in and out of traffic and receiving honks from angry motorists. We made it to the hospital in just under five minutes, and staying true to my word I tossed a twenty in the passenger's seat after paying him over the phone app. "Hey thanks man!" He exclaims as I jump out of the car and sprint towards the hospital. My mind was racing, my heart probably racing even faster. People stared at me as I ran through the otherwise quiet atrium, the sound of my dirty boots clambering against the pristine floor and echoing off the walls. I threw myself at the elevator button, pushing it repeatedly, as if that would make it go any faster. An elderly couple stood a short distance away from me, eying me nervously and probably thinking I was a mad man. I tossed an apologetic smile at them and they averted their gazes, the woman whispering something to the man under her breath that I couldn't quite catch. The elevator door opened and I waited patiently as the elderly couple entered the elevator before me. I may be in a hurry, but I still respect my elders. I tapped my foot impatiently in the elevator as it slowly climbed to the seventh floor. I don't remember the elevator going this slow before, it was maddening. The elderly couple exited on the fifth floor, the man giving me a nervous smile. I give him another apologetic stare at my rudeness, and he just gives me a look of understanding, signaling that he had more than likely been in my shoes before. Once the elevator stops on the seventh floor I all but stumble out after tripping on my boot laces, which I realize in my hurry that I hadn't even laced up. God damn I was a hot mess. I stop and kneel down, tying my boot laces and remembering to take some deep breaths. I need to calm myself down before I walk in there, whatever situation I was about to walk into I needed a clear mind to get myself through. I walk into the ICU, my muscles stiff as I brace for the impact of horrible news. I spot Jon, Riley, and Cody outside of his room and they all make eye contact with me, their eyes going wide with some emotion I couldn't pinpoint due to my anxiety. "What's going on?" I ask, catching my breath. A million scenarios run through my mind. Is he worse? Did something happen to him? Is he dead? I swallow a lump the size of a peach down my throat as Riley begins to form words with his mouth, but I can't hear him. My pulse is thundering in my ears and the only thing I can seem to focus on is Riley. "Ryan?" I shake my head, my surroundings coming back into focus. Riley, Jon and Cody are looking at me with concerned expressions. "What?" I ask. "He's awake." Riley reiterates, tacking a small grin on at the end. "What?" I gasp out, stepping around Cody in his wheelchair to see Elliott. He was awake, the head of his bed sitting him upright. I shake my head, this has to be a dream right? Elliott looks away from the Doctor, who is trying to get him to follow a light with his eyes, and his gaze lands on me. His eyes go wide and I see a pleading glint behind them, telling me to get in there. It was crazy how we could communicate with each other by just a look. I slide the door to his room open and a Nurse whips her head over to meet me, a smile spreading across her face. "You must be Ryan." I nod my head in confirmation, my eyes still stuck on Elliott who was also staring at me. Tears begin to silently slide down my face from the joy of seeing him awake. "He's been asking for you." The Nurse begins ushering me further into the room until I'm practically standing next to Elliott. He glances up at me and grabs my hand, rubbing his thumb across the back. Even though I had held his hand earlier, it was different now, more responsive, and dammit if that didn't feel good. He opens his mouth to try and speak, and nothing comes out but a squeake of air. I look over at the Nurse nervously and she gives a reassuring smile. "His throat is just sore from the breathing tube." She explains, pulling a small notebook and pen out of her pocket and handing it over to me. I hand the items to Elliott and he grabs them, flipping the notebook open and scribbling down a frantic message. I peer over his shoulder and read the message. It takes me a little bit to decipher his chicken scratch and doctor scribble, though I manage after looking it over a few times. "What am I doing here?" I give him a confused look. "You don't remember what happened?" This gets the Nurse and Doctors attention, whipping their gazes over toward us from the corner where they were talking in hushed tones. Elliott shakes his head slowly, a concerned look crossing over his eyes. The Doctor, who couldn't be any older than Cody, steps up to the bed. "Doctor Pierce, what's the last thing you remember?" Elliott begins scribbling on the page again, turning the notebook so I can read it. "Waking up and drinking my coffee on the porch swing.” Porch swing? The way it was written seemed so nonchalant, like it was something he did every day. But Elliott didn’t have a porch swing, I had been over to his place several times and not once had I spotted one. “What porch swing?” I ask, the confusion in my tone apparent. Elliott gives me a perplexed expression and then scribbles out another message. “The porch swing you built me, for our anniversary.” He gave me a dumbfounded look, like I should have been aware of this supposed porch swing, or the fact that we had been together long enough to celebrate anniversaries. I was at a loss for words, trying to find something to say but having it lost before the words could form on my lips. "Let's order a STAT CT scan and make sure everything is in order. I also want a full lab workup done." He orders the Nurse, who nods her head and begins typing away at her computer. “What’s going on?” I ask the Doctor who begins walking out of the room. He turns to face me, his face expressionless. "I’m not sure, but once we get the results from the CT back, we should know more." He steps out of the room and I follow him, apprehensively dropping Elliott's hand. “I’ll be back.” I assure him after seeing the look on his face, he didn’t want me to leave, and I didn’t want to leave him, but I wanted answers. I step out of the room, Riley, Jon, and Cody all shooting me confused looks. I approach the Doctor who is standing at the nurses station, tapping away on a tablet. "Why don't you give me your honest medical opinion." I ask. I hated waiting, and even more I hated when people didn't give me straight answers. I could understand if he didn’t truly know what was going on, but I could see it on his face for a split second that he knew more than he was letting on. He turns around to face me, his expression that of impatience. He lets out a huff of air and closes the tablet he’s working on, tucking it underneath his arm. Out of the corner of my eye I also see Cody wheel up to my side, followed by Riley and Jon. “If I had to give you an answer right now, I would say that he's probably suffering from some form of amnesia." I give him a blank stare, not quite understanding what he's telling me. "I thought amnesia was where people forget things? He's remembering things that haven't even happened." "That's not always the case." Cody spoke up and we all turned our gazes towards him. "In Med School I had read case studies where patients in comas would create whole worlds based on their subconscious desires. Then when they would wake up they would think it was real." "Yes, but that's rare." The Doctor rebukes. "Which is why I want to do a CT scan to rule anything else out." "Doctor Miller to ED bed two, Doctor Miller to ED bed two." The intercom rings out. "I have to go." Doctor Miller hands the tablet over to a Nurse who takes it from him with a warm smile. As he's passing by me he stops and places a hand on my shoulder. "He's going to be okay. Just remember that it's fortunate that he remembers you." I give him a wry smile and he jogs off in the direction of a stairwell. "Did any of those people ever regain their memories?" I ask Cody, fearing for the worst response. "Don't think like that man." Jon urges. It was hard not to. What if Elliott never regained his memories, what if he led the rest of his life believing in this world that he had created for himself. Granted that wouldn't be the worst thing considering what he, what we, had all been through. "He'll remember." Cody reassures me. I glance down at him and give a nod. I had to believe that. The next few hours were torture as we waited for the CT results. How long could it take them to examine a picture of his brain? Riley slaps his hands against his thighs, sighing heavily. "Stop pacing, you're making my skin crawl." I let out a frustrated growl and plop down in the seat closest to Elliott, whipping my head over to make sure I didn't wake him. It's funny, the man spent four days in a coma and now he's taking a nap. The Nurses forced Cody to go back to his room despite him pleading to stay. Jon went back to Bakersfield to round up some clothes for all of us after a Nurse commented that we smelled like a herd of alpaca. “Sorry I’m just-” “Anxious?” Riley finished the sentence for me. I nodded my head and let out a sigh, staring at Elliott as he slept. He looked peaceful, his dark hair ruffled slightly, his chest rising and falling in a rhythmic manner. You would almost think he wasn't healing from a severe abdominal wound. "I just…" I trail off and Riley turns his gaze to me. I just what? The rest of the sentence gets lost in my mouth. Every time I close my eyes I'm right back in that warehouse. Every time I'm holding a dying Elliott. That wasn't Riley's burden to bear. "Just what?" Riley asks. "It's not important." I lie, releasing my gaze from him. "Somehow I don't believe that's the case." Riley counters, giving me a sly grin. I give a soft chuckle and nod my head. "You would be right." "Then why don't you tell me?" I snap my eyes up to meet his, his blue eyes swimming with a comforting glint, forcing the words out of my mouth. "Every time I close my eyes, it's like I'm right back there. Holding him as he bleeds out, and the worse thing is, I can't shut it out. Usually I can control my emotions, I've learned to block things out. But with him," I nod my head in Elliott's direction. "I can't." Riley nods his head in understanding, leaning forward in his chair. "I know exactly what you mean." "You do?" I ask flabbergasted. Riley didn't strike me as the type of person to lose control. Then again, the man did have a notorious temper. "It's how I felt whenever I was around Gray, like there was this force that seemed to make me bring my guard down." Riley explains. I hung onto his words like glue. What he was explaining was exactly what I feelt around Elliott. Riley flashes me a smile, clearly reading my thoughts. "Just embrace it. You won't regret it." I nod my head in understanding and turn my gaze back to Elliott. Letting myself go completely around Elliott couldn't be the worst thing. ****** I listen to the conversation that Ryan and Riley are having. They were both blissfully unaware that I’ve been awake the entire time. It was nice to hear them bonding though. The door slides open and I open my eyes to see Doctor Miller walk through them. He was a handsome man, probably no older than Cody, with a lean body and a tan complexion that only comes from spending time in the sunshine. The sunshine, now that was something I wanted to get back in. "Well, I have good news and bad news." He begins, coming to stand at the foot of my bed. "Umm, bad news first?" I respond in a hoarse tone, wincing at my sore throat. "We got the results back from your CT scan, there's no evidence of damage or anything that could cause you amnesia." "That's bad news?" Ryan asks, raising an eyebrow. "When we don't know what's causing his amnesia, yes." "So what's the good news then?" I ask, hoping for a little ray of sunshine. "Your amnesia should be temporary. Thanks to your friend Doctor Park, I was able to read up on some case studies from patients with similar experiences as yours. All of them experienced full memory recall after a few weeks." "Doctor who?" I ask, scrunching my eyebrows together. "Cody babe, your apprentice." Ryan explains, shooting a concerned look between me and Riley, who looks just as equally concerned. Cody, of course. How could I forget about Cody? I make a frustrated noise and Ryan grabs my hand, bringing my emotions back down to earth. "It's okay." Ryan reassures. I shake my head. "No, it's not." "It's going to be difficult, but you'll slowly start to remember things. Just don't lose faith." Doctor Miller gives me a soft squeeze on my foot for reassurance. "Let the Nurses know if you have any other questions. But with how well you've healed up during your coma, I would expect a discharge in a couple days." Two more days of this place? I groan and rest my head back. I hated being the patient, feeling helpless and completely at the mercy of other people. I can feel Ryan rub the back of my hand with his thumb making my worries and anxiety slowly start to dissipate. I look back up at Doctor Miller and give him a wry smile. "Thank you Doctor Miller." "Of course." He nods his head and turns around, sliding the door closed behind him. "He's like a baby Doctor." Riley teases with a chuckle. "Yeah like Doogie Howser." Ryan chuckles, which makes me crack a grin. A memory flashes through my mind, there were gunshots and Cody was hit, Alex drenched in his blood. Then Cody lying on a table while I stitch up his bullet wounds. "Elliott?" I hear Riley's voice. "How is Cody?" I ask. "He's good, should be discharged tomorrow. He would have stayed but the Nurses forced him back to his room. He would have signed AMA forms just to stay up here but Ryan talked him out of it." Riley shook his head, grinning from ear to ear. "He's a stubborn little shit." Ryan also shakes his head, chuckling softly. "Well, at least Alex can handle him." I tease and they both fall silent, their expressions turning dour. Why were they looking at me like that? "What?" I ask. "You don't remember." Riley's tone indicates that he's pieced that part together. "Remember what?" I ask sternly. "It's not important right now." Ryan urges. "No, tell me." I shoot him a stern look. He gazes back at me, chewing on his bottom lip, clearly something eating at him. I turn my gaze over to Riley and he looks no better, his complexion turning pale as if he's about to hurl right on the spot. "Alex," Ryan begins with a somber tone. "Alex is dead Elliott." Another flash of memory hits me, this one I wish I could have never experienced again. It was a little choppy, but from what I was recalling Alex and I struggled with a gun. I tried to get it away from her so I could talk some sense into her, but it went off. "I killed her." I croak and Ryan squeezes my hand tighter. A flood of emotions hits me at once, anger, sadness, regret, all of them slamming into my chest like a freight train. I drop my face into my free hand as tears slowly start to roll down my cheeks. I feel Ryan's other hand work its way behind my neck, pulling me into him. His warm breath dusting over my ear as he plants a kiss on my temple. "It's okay babe. Everything's going to be okay." Somehow I didn't know if that would entirely be the case. I wish I could just slip back into my coma, back into my world that I had created, a world that was blissfully perfect. A world where Ryan and I were married, with two dogs, and a cute little bungalow five minutes from the beach. It was sunny everyday, no clouds in sight. There was no suffering, there was no death, it was what I imagined heaven to be like if I believed in that sort of stuff. But no, I had to wake up, had to come back and face my true reality. No matter how much that sucked. The more I thought about my coma reality, the more it seemed to make sense that it was in fact a coma. There were little things, like when Ryan would tell me to "wake up" even though I was awake, and the sounds of a hospital when I was cuddling with our dog Rudy on the couch. In my coma I just thought they were my mind playing tricks on me, but now I realize that my coma reality was in fact the biggest trick of them all. As I sit here, wrapped up in Ryan's comforting arms, I wonder if I could have that reality. I found it sad and frustrating at the same time that I miss that reality, that I would give anything to go back to it. But maybe I can have that in the real world, this world, which was tragic and maddening. Although at the same time it was also beautiful, and full of love if you found it. "I love you." I say to Ryan in just above a whisper. He grabs my face in his hands, his eyes glistening with small tears. "I love you too baby, so-so much." He brings his lips to mine in a soft and gentle kiss that travels straight to my heart and makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. "Gah, get a room you too." Riley teases. Ryan and I chuckle as he rests his forehead against mine, rubbing our noses together delicately. Everything would be okay. As long as I had this amazing and wonderful man by my side, anything was possible.
  6. zanoGreen

    Momento Mori

    "Elliott?" I snap my gaze up to meet Ryan's, his brown eyes swimming with concern at the sight of me. I have blood all over the front of my shirt, Alex's blood, and I've been sitting on the edge of one of the chaise lounges by the pool. I don't exactly know how long I've been sitting here, I was lost in my own thoughts, the sound of a gun going off playing on my repeat in my head. It must have shown, because a moment later I felt a hand on my knee, and then Ryan was kneeling in front of me, that same concerned look still on his face. I look back at him with swollen eyes, I hate that look. It reminds me of pity, and I don't like people pitying me. "It's not your fault." He states calmly, giving my knee a gentle squeeze for reassurance. I scoff and shake my head. "I killed her, Ryan." "It was an accident." He urged. My brow furrows at those words. An accident would have been if I just fatally wounded her, not killed her. The words made sense on paper but not in my head. It reminded me of when I was a resident and a patient died on my table. Everyone was quick to say it was an accident, but in all reality I was just cocky, arrogant, and it got someone killed. "Please… Don't shut me out." Ryan pleads. I bring my eyes up to meet his, that worry behind his eyes tugging at my resolve. I don't want to talk about this, not right now. I need to process it, mull it over, come to my own conclusions. "I…" I started to form a sentence but the words were lost in the air. My mind was going to dark places, dark and scary recesses of my brain that I had kept locked away for so long. However, the way Ryan looks at me tugs at those doors and smashes against them like a battering ram. Ryan places my face in his hands, rubbing my cheeks with his thumbs, and searching my eyes for answers. "It should have been me." Just like that, those doors bust open and the dark thoughts came flooding out, like my own personal horror story. Ryan shakes his head, his eyes going glassy. "No, don't say that." "It's the truth." I say flatly, my own voice even scaring me. "Listen to me," Ryan grips my face a little harder, his own expression going stern and a fire lighting behind his eyes that I have never seen before. "When that gun went off, I thought it was you, and I felt a piece of my heart die. So don't ever say that shit again, you hear me?" His voice is stern and it breaks slightly at that last sentence, his eyes starting to form tears. I just blink at him, his words sinking in and leaving me shocked. I hadn't expected Ryan to get furious with me, though it wasn't out of hate, it was out of caring. "I'm sorry." I reply in just above a whisper, dropping my gaze out of shame. I feel Ryan's hand grab the back of my head and he pulls our heads together, resting the top of his forehead against mine. I can feel the heat of his breath on my face, and his all too familiar scent that made me feel safe and comforted. We stayed like that for a little while, both of us telling each other how we felt with nothing more than just skin to skin contact. How can I move forward after killing Alex? She was my friend, my teammate, my sister. When the rest of the team finds out about this it's going to devastate them, Cody especially. How was I going to keep the team afloat through all of this? My phone begins to vibrate, making us both jump and Ryan separates from me, much to my dismay. I pull the phone out of my pocket and look at the caller ID. It's an unknown number, but I have a feeling who it was, I just hope my suspicions were incorrect. I swipe the screen and put the call on speaker. "Hello?" "Well I'm disappointed you answered, I was hoping Wilson would have finished the job." The husky drawl of General Dreyfus comes through the phone, the mention of Alex's name making my blood boil. "You mother-" "Let's spare the theatrics son and get right to the point." He cuts me off and I clamp my mouth shut, the rage rolling off of me like a tsunami, causing my hands to shake. "What do you want?" I grit through my teeth. "The same thing as you Pierce, to end this, although we both have different versions as to how we see this wanting to end." "Cut the cryptic shit Dreyfus and get to the point." I growl. "Eager are we? Very well. There's a warehouse on Harper and Locust, be there." "And if I don't show?" I ask with a defiant tone. Dreyfus chuckles. "You will Pierce, unless you want the rest of your team to die." He had me there, I would of course show up. No doubt that was where the bomb was, and if the team is in danger I couldn't very well leave them out to dry. "I'll take your silence as a need for initiative. Be here in one hour, or I start to execute your team. I think I'll start with the mouthy one, Monroe? He's your best friend right? No doubt that loss would finally crack you." "Fuck you." I growl. "Or maybe I'll start with Park, given the sight of him, I'm sure putting him down would be a relief." Dreyfus counters, I can practically see the smirk on his face through the phone. "Fine." I reply through bared teeth. "Good choice! Remember one hour, oh and Pierce? Bring that boyfriend of yours, no doubt he should be there when you lose." The line cuts out and I'm left shaking from anger, my grip so tight on the phone that I was sure I would break it's delicate features. Ryan shakes his head, his face flat and expressionless. "Trap." "What else are we supposed to do Ryan?" I shoot back, a little too aggressively for my liking. Ryan cocks an eyebrow at me and I force my lips into a thin line, trying to dial back my anger. "I'm sorry." I apologize. "It's okay." He reassures me, rubbing my knee with his hand. "It's not okay,” I let out a huff of air. “We can’t just walk in there without any way to defend ourselves.” “We don’t have to.” Ryan looks over in the direction of Alex and the two men that were with her. I followed his gaze and noticed the two assault rifles and a handgun that were set neatly on the patio next to them. It wasn’t much but it was something at least. "Hey." Ryan speaks up, making me pull my eyes away from Alex and look at him once more. "We're gonna get them back." His tone is so sure and confident as he speaks, making me jealous and wishing I had that same confidence. I hope he's right, maybe Dreyfus is right. If I lose the rest of the team then maybe it will be the thing to finally make me crack, give into the pressure. Ryan grabs my hand, giving it a gentle squeeze and just like that, some of those worries seem to dissipate little by little. It's funny how a simple touch from the right person could do that. I look at him and give a wry smile, nodding my head. "We need to find the warehouse." I decide, standing up and releasing Ryan's hand, but not before giving it one final squeeze. "I'll round up any weapons and ammo I can find." He replies, moving over towards the assault rifles laying on the patio. I walked through the house and pushed the doors open to the office, stopping short of the entryway. It definitely looked like there had been struggle here. Both monitors that were once sitting on the desk were now laying on the floor amongst the shattered glass tabletop of the desk. It looked like someone had been slammed into it which, now that I recalled from upstairs hearing the glass break and someone yell out, that made sense. I eye the tablet which is sitting next to the computer monitors and fish it off the floor, opening up the satellite feed of LA which broadcasts over the large monitors on the wall. I type in Harper and Locust and the feed focuses on a street corner, with a large warehouse taking up much of the block it sat on. “Oh shit.” I scroll out slightly to reveal the area that it’s located in. “What?” I hear Ryan ask from behind me, making me jump slightly. I hadn’t even heard him come into the room. “This warehouse is maybe three blocks away from The Capitol Building-” “And right across the street from Union Station.” Ryan points to the map. I look closer at the map and he’s right. The location of the warehouse would make the perfect ground zero for a devastating bomb. I pull up the heat signatures for the warehouse and what popped up stunned both of us. There were the normal heat signatures of people, I counted ten total, three of them I assume were the rest of the team and the other six I assume to be Dreyfus and his soldiers. Though that wasn’t what caught my attention. Lined up along the inside perimeter of the warehouse were small square heat signatures. “Are those?” “Bombs… Yeah I think so.” Ryan finishes my sentence. It didn’t surprise me that Alex had lied about both the type of bomb, and the location. It made me angry to think about, and also sad, realizing that she would never be able to make up for her wrong doings. Regardless of her loyalties I knew that if given the chance, she would have come back to our side. "So, we're gonna waltz into a warehouse that might as well just be one giant bomb, crawling with six armed soldiers, not including Dreyfus, and rescue our team while at the same time saving the city from an apocalyptic event. Am I right so far?" Ryan asks. "Pretty much." I respond in a nervous tone. When said out loud it sounded like the dumbest plan ever. Who in their right mind would walk into a situation like that? Ryan readjusts his hat, letting out a sigh. He walks up to the monitor and points to a spot in the back corner. “We go in through here, that should get us in undetected.” I gape at him slightly, admiring him while he studies the warehouse, considering all tactical options. He looks over at me, the corner of his mouth lifting into a small grin, and his eyebrow arching in amusement. “What?” “You're not gonna try and talk me out of this?” Ryan lets out a snort, the grin never leaving his face. “Why would I? You wouldn’t listen anyway.” “Is that a bad thing?” I chuckle nervously. “It can be, but truth be told it’s one of the many things I adore about you.” He gives me a wink, which sends a blush across my face and makes me feel slightly giddy. After coming up with a plan, and I transferred the blueprints into my wrist computer, we were on our way towards the warehouse. The streets were eerily quiet, which for LA was a rare sight to see regardless if it was five in the morning. I steal a glance at Ryan, his eyes are focused on the road and his hat pulled backward. Every time a car passes us coming in the opposite direction, the headlights reflect off his eyes making them appear more brilliant if that was even possible. His eyebrow cocks up in curiosity and I see a smile start to pull at the corner of his mouth. “Stop staring at me, you're creeping me out.” He teases. “Who knows, maybe I am a creep.” I tease back. “Impossible, you're too cute.” He gives me a wink. “Ted Bundy was cute too.” “Well, I guess we better just cut our losses then.” Ryan gives me one of his crooked smiles. “Yeah, this is never gonna work out.” I give a heavy sigh. We both chuckle and Ryan takes my hand, intertwining his fingers in mine. “I’m not letting you go anywhere.” He gives me a warm smile and I smile back, my heart skipping and bounding in my chest at his words. It almost made me forget that we were on our way to a high stakes mission. Once we near the warehouse Ryan pulls over to the side of the road and kills the engine. “We should walk from here, it’ll be easier to sneak up undetected.” I nod my head in agreement and reach for the door handle. "Wait, Elliott." I turn around to face Ryan and before I know it his lips are crashing against mine. I let out a surprised and satisfied moan as I part my lips and let his tongue slide in to claim my mouth. A deep rumble escapes from his mouth as his hands find their way to my sides. I bring my arms around his neck and deepen the kiss, all of the want and desire I feel for him I try to will in this single act. Our tongues clash against each other and my breath pitches as Ryan's hands move from my sides, to my chest, the feeling sending bolts of electricity through me. "Ryan." I whisper breathlessly between kisses, though not in passion but instead to get his attention. As much as I want to stay here in this moment, savor every minute of it, we also need to get our team back. "Fucking priorities." "I know." He whispers back, pressing his forehead to mine. "I just didn't want to never get the chance to do that again." "We will." I say confidently. He nods his head in agreement, and we reluctantly break apart, my body screaming for more of his touches. We both hop out of the truck and begin walking down the industrial road towards the warehouse. “Are you ready?” I ask, checking my clip to see how many rounds I have. “Yep, let’s get our team back.” He responds, his face and posture set in a serious tone. The northeast side of the warehouse wasn’t as heavily guarded as the other side, which was why we chose it. It would take us longer to get to the team, but it would also mean the enemy wouldn’t see us coming. We hug close to the side of a shipping container, managing to stay out of sight from the two men sitting sentry on the roof. Once we reach the end Ryan peaks around the corner and then quickly snaps his head back. He looks at me and begins giving me hand signals, telling me that there was someone coming. Just then I could hear the sound of gravel beneath boots and the faint smell of cigarette smoke as someone approached the other side of the corner. We don’t have anywhere to go except back, and as I start to back away Ryan holds up the halt gesture. I comply with a wide-eyed expression, even though everything in my being was telling me to go back and around the other way. When the man rounds the corner two things happen in rapid succession. First, the man saw us and his eyes went wide from shock, but before he could yell out Ryan punched him in the gut, causing him to keel over slightly. Then Ryan wheeled around behind him, wrapping himself around the man and putting him in a choke hold. He struggled for a few seconds but then finally went limp and Ryan gently lowered him to the ground. Ryan grabs the man's radio and his gun, slinging it over his shoulder, and tosses me the man's sidearm, which I tuck into my holster. We duck behind a truck just on the other side of the container and Ryan peeks through the window. “We're about twenty yards from the door. We’ll have about a ten second window where the door will be out of their sights.” Ryan whispers.. Seeing Ryan work like this was something that I haven’t seen before, he was focused, in his own zone, and god dammit if that wasn’t insanely hot. “Get ready.” Ryan whispers, snapping me back to reality. The guards on the roof disappear for a split second and I feel a rough hand grab my wrist as Ryan begins pulling me across the gravel laden parking lot. My eyes were glued to the rooftop intently, looking for any sign of them coming back so we could hide again. We made it to the door and Ryan went to open it, but instead his body collides with the door, giving a low thud. "Shit!" Ryan hisses under his breath, jiggling the handle. "We're gonna have to find another way in." I glance around nervously, making sure no one has spotted us. Ryan reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet, brandishing a credit card. I give him a confused look as he slides the card between the door and the frame where the locking mechanism is. He jiggles the nob and the door gives a click, slowly opening. We both quickly step inside and I close the door quietly behind me. "Wow, I thought that only worked in movies." I whisper astonishingly. "That's come in handy more times than I'm proud to admit." Ryan shoots me a sheepish grin before leading the way down a narrow path between some large wooden crates. I pull up the blueprints of the warehouse on my wrist computer, locking onto where the rest of the team is located. "There should be a door up and to the left that'll take us to a staircase. The team is being held in a room at the top of the landing." I explain to Ryan who nods in confirmation. I was surprised no one else spotted us as we duck around the vast array of large wooden crates and make it to the door, climbing the stairs quietly, two at a time. We reach the door at the top of the landing and I place my hand on the doorknob, just as I was about ready to twist it Ryan stops me. I give him a puzzled look, wondering why he was stopping me. "They're going to be guarded." He warns. "Oh, right, I knew that." I blush from embarrassment. "It's okay, you're pretty." He teases with a grin and I flip him off. My eyes catch something metallic above the door and I look up to see a transom window. "There." I point up to it and Ryan follows my finger, giving a nod of approval. He kneels down on one knee and laces his fingers together, I catch on and place my boot in his interlocked hands, and he hoists me up so I can see through the panel of glass. Ryan was right, they are being guarded, but only by two men. They're not pacing, instead leaning up against a desk shooting the shit. My eyes wander to the team, who are all tied together in a circle at the center of the room. I pat Ryan on the top of the head to let him know to put me down, accidently knocking his hat slightly askew. "What did you see?" He whispers as he lowers me to the ground. "Two guards with assault rifles." I respond. Ryan fixes his hat with a thoughtful expression crossing his face. "Turn around." He commands, pushing at my shoulders lightly. "Wha-why?" I ask, letting him spin me around and cocking my head over my shoulder to see what he's doing. He starts rifling through my bag, clearly on the hunt for something. "Yes! You have one." Ryan cheered under his breath. "One of what?" I ask trying to get a peek at what he snatched from my bag. He zips my bag closed and I spin around to see him holding a silver canister in his hand. I quickly recognize it as a smoke grenade, and to be completely honest, I didn't even know I had it in my medical bag out of all places. He goes to stand on one side of the door and I follow suit, pressing my back against the cool cement wall on the other side. Ryan pulls the pin from the canister with a click and glances over at me with a look asking me if I'm ready. I nod my head tentatively and place my hand on the cool doorknob, giving it a twist and pushing it open so Ryan can toss the smoke grenade inside. The sounds of coughing could be heard coming from inside the room and Ryan and I take that as our que that the smoke should be thick enough to conceal us. We pull our scarves up around our faces to protect us from the smoke and then step inside the room. The room is completely shrouded in smoke that I can barely see, I look around for any signs of movement and see a dark figure stumbling around aimlessly. I can tell by the assault rifle he's clutching that he's the enemy and I quickly advance on him, pulling him into a choke hold. He struggles and I tighten my grip, but he’s strong. Then somehow I'm being lifted off the ground and It then dawns on me that the guy I'm practically riding piggyback, is at least a good five inches taller than me. I kick at the back of his knee, trying to get him on his knees to give me a better advantage, but there's no use. He begins swinging around and I hold on for dear life, my legs flying through the air like I'm a rag doll instead of two hundred pounds of beefy muscle. Just when I begin to panic thinking about what I'm going to do, Ryan appears through the smoke like some sexy action hero bad ass. With a running start he jumps and lands a right hook on the man's temple. He grunts and falls to his knees, giving me the leverage I need to finally subdue him and he falls to the floor with a heavy thump. "Thanks." I manage to say through heavy breathing. "Why did you try to put him in a choke hold, he's easily seven feet tall?" Ryan asks, flicking his hand from the pain of punching the brute of a man. "He didn't look that tall when he was leaned over." I argued. "Hey, think you guys can stop bickering like an old married couple and come untie us?" Riley asks with an annoyed tone. I roll my eyes as Ryan and I cross over to them and begin untying them from their restraints. My gaze lands on Cody, who is conscious but just barely. "Hey, you okay?" I ask, placing a hand on his shoulder. He nods his head slowly, leaning into my touch. "Where's Alex?" Riley asks looking around and noticing her absence. A new pain forms in my chest at the mention of her name. What was I supposed to say to them, how was I supposed to tell them that she was dead, and by my hands no less? Ryan must have sensed my struggle because he spoke up before I could form the words on my mouth. "Later, we gotta get Cody out of here, then we gotta find the bomb." I give him an appreciative glance and the glint in his eye tells me that he understands. "Think you can carry a gun?" I ask turning my attention back to Cody. "Yeah." He responds weakly. I pull my sidearm out and hand it to him which he takes with a shaky hand. Ryan hands me his own sidearm so I have one and I drape Cody's arm around my shoulder, placing a hand on his hip. With a little help from him, and Jon, we both stand up, Cody slumping into me. He isn't heavy by any means, but it's a hell of a lot easier carrying someone if they can help at least somewhat. Ryan leads the way, Riley behind him and Jon taking up the rear to keep an eye on our six. We make our way down the stairs, slowly for Cody and I because of his wounds, but we manage and once we reach the bottom I give a sigh of relief at the fact that we both don’t tumble down them. We begin walking along the crates, trying to remain out of eyesight, when shots ring out, one of them hitting the top of the crate right next to my head. "Fuck!" I shout, throwing Cody and I to the ground behind the wooden crate. Shot after shot barrels into the crates were huddled behind, hoping to god that one of them doesn't find a way through and into one of us. "There's at least six of them!" Jon shouts. A shot rings out to my left and I snap my gaze over to see Riley poke back behind the crate. "Five!" Riley comments with a cocky grin. I give him a grin and shake my head. Jon pokes his head around the corner of the crate and then jerks back after a shot narrowly misses him. "Catwalk, at our seven." He states. Ryan nods sharply and pokes out slightly from behind his crate, ringing out two shots, both of which hit their target. "Catwalk, at our four!" He replies as more shots ring out from the enemy, causing bits of splintering wood to rain down on us. Riley jumps out firing a couple of rounds in the specified direction. There's a yelp and then a loud thud from someone falling from a height. Out of the corner of my eye I see the door to the stairwell fly open and a woman with an assault rifle step through. I whip my gun in her direction and fire off a couple of rounds, both of them hitting her and causing her to flop against the door and then fall to the floor. "We gotta move!" Ryan commands. It takes me a little bit to realize the gunfire has stopped and it's safe to come out. I hoist Cody back up to his feet and he gives out a painful groan. We begin making our way towards the door out of the warehouse when a voice barks out, making us stop in our tracks. "Leaving so soon?" I don't need to turn around to see who it is, the deep and gravelly voice is recognizable anywhere. Regardless I turn around to see General Dreyfus, standing in a straight posture, hands behind his back, and an arrogant smirk set to his face. Just seeing him standing there so smug makes my blood boil, visions of Alex gasping her last breaths flowing through my mind. He holds up a small electronic device proudly. "You didn't even get what you came here for." I assumed what he was holding in his hand was the detonator for the bombs, I mean, what else could it be really? "You're just going to detonate them anyway, so what are you waiting for?" I dare with a low growl. He chuckles, shaking his head. "That would be too easy, but I have a better idea," He steps up to a crate nearby and places the detonator on the surface with a light thud. "Fight me for it." I blink at him for a second and then scoff, shaking my head. "Your kidding right?" He just stares at me, the look on his face indicating that he is not joking. "What's to stop us from just shooting you and taking the detonator?" Ryan asks with an amused expression. Dreyfus shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly, a smirk crossing his stony features. "I guess you could, but what would be satisfying about that? After all, I'm the reason Alex is dead right?" "What!" Cody chokes out, coughing at the sudden gasp of air from the shocking news. "You son of a bitch!" Riley raises his rifle but I stop him. Dreyfus gives a chuckle. "What? Your leader didn't tell you? Well that's not surprising, seeing as she didn't die by my hands." Riley slowly looks over towards me, a look of both shock and hurt crossing his face. I could feel Cody turn his head towards me also, the anger and sorrow just rolling off of him. "It was an accident." Ryan gritted through his teeth, but that didn't deter their expressions. "Isn't that what they all say?" Dreyfus smirks. My blood feels like it's boiling over at this point. I know what he's doing, he's trying to get me to play right into his hand, though dammit if it wasn't working. "Take Cody." I give a low rumble, passing him over to Ryan who gives me an incredulous look. "Elliott, you can't be serious?" He replies, taking Cody from me. "Let him go." Cody shoots a glare at me which pierces my heart. I probably deserve that, but it doesn't hurt any less. I turn around to face Dreyfus, handing my gun over to Jon who hesitates, but eventually takes it. "Fine… Have it your way." I begin taking steps toward him, closing the gap between the two of us until we're mere feet away from each other. My fists are clenched so tight that I was sure my nails were digging deep into my palms. "You and your team have been a royal pain in my ass, I'm going to enjoy this." He brings his large fists up in a fighters stance, his face stiff and determined. I bring my own fists up and widen my stance. I was decent at hand to hand combat, but being a Doctor I relied heavily on my sidearm. However, there was no way I was going to let this bastard win. He threw the first punch, a right hook that I dodged and then a left that I dodged again. He left himself open so I threw an uppercut that connected with his jaw and had him stumbling back slightly. "I'm gonna rip your fuckin throat out." I growled, advancing on him. He gave me an evil smirk and sweeped one of his legs, knocking me off my feet and making me land on the hard ground. Before I knew it he was on top of me, raining his fists down on me. I threw my arms up to protect my face, struggling to get out from underneath him. But he was heavier than me, and the more I struggled the more he seemed to pick up on it which made him punch me in the side. I manage to grab his fists in both of mine, crossing our arms so that Dreyfuss jolts towards me. I give him a headbutt between the eyes and push him off of me. I scramble to my feet and out of the corner of my eye I can see Ryan start to take a step toward me, a look of concern on his face. "No!" I growl, holding my hand out. "Don’t interfere, no matter what." Ryan's expression turns to worry and Riley grabs his arm, pulling him back, Ryan following reluctantly. I righted myself and went back into my stance, my vision now seeing red from rage. Dreyfuss picked himself up off the ground, cords in his neck rigid, and face screwed up from anger. He came at me again but this time I was ready and I dodged him, landing a punch on the side of his temple. I grabbed the back of his head and thrust his face into my knee, the sound of breaking cartilage and bone cracking through the warehouse and reverberating off the walls. He grunted and fell to his back, blood running out of his nose. "C'mon, get up!" I ordered. He picked himself up off the ground again, this time there was a darkness in his eyes, a pure evil that sent cold shivers down my body. He spit blood out of his mouth, and reached into his boot withdrawing a knife. I glanced at the knife and then back at him, that same evil smirk plastered on his face. He came at me and swiped the knife towards my torso and I jumped back, dodging the sharp blade. I tried knocking the knife out of his hand but instead he slashed me across my forearm, leaving a thin long cut which stung, but I ignored it. He kept advancing on me and trying to connect the knife with me but I was backing up, not sure what my next move was. I backed into a large crate and Dreyfuss seized the opportunity to try and bring the knife into my gut, but I caught his hand in both of mine and fought against him with all my might. He was stronger than me, and the knife was inching closer and closer to my abdomen, I could practically feel the point start to touch my shirt. He headbutted me which caused my hands to slip and I grunted as the knife blade plunged deep into my abdomen sending a searing hot pain across my stomach. "No!" I could hear Ryan call out. Dreyfuss smirked in a pleased manner as he twisted the knife blade inside of me causing me to gasp and groan from the pain. My body felt like it was on fire as the blade cut through me, my insides trying to retreat from the foreign object invading my stomach. I had never been stabbed before, but I gotta say, it hurt worse than a bullet. Dreyfuss stepped back, his eyes gleaming from what he had just done. I collapsed to my knees, placing my hands around the knife handle. It was deep in me, all the way to the hilt and touching it only made my insides erupt more in pain. "Elliott?! Get up!" I could hear Ryan shouting, his voice sounded so far away even though they were probably only a good fifty feet away. "You don't get it kid," Dreyfus' gruff voice spoke out. "There is no stopping The Order, we are everywhere, and we could be anyone." I gasped as I pulled the knife out of my abdomen, something that went against my better judgment as a physician, but I was dead anyway and I was determined to take this bastard with me. He chuckled at me and leaned down slightly, that gleam still in his eyes. "Don’t fight it kid. Just let go." I wish I could, I wish I could just collapse on the cool floor and sleep. Finally at peace, not having to fight anymore. I glance over at my team, all of them have wide eyed expressions, in complete shock at what had just happened. Ryan looked like he was on the verge of tears, his face stoic and his body shaking with emotion. I turn my attention back to Dreyfus, a sudden wave of adrenaline crashing into me. My hand tightens around the handle of the blade and in one swift motion I bury the knife right into his thigh. Dreyfus yell's and collapses down to my level, which is exactly what I want as I whirl around behind him and put him in a choke hold, pressing against his carotid with the crook of my arm. He struggles, clawing at my face and fighting against me. "Killing me… Won't stop… The Order…" He gasps as I tightened my grip against his windpipe. "No," I growl in his ear. "But It's a start." I jerk his head to the side and with an ear sickening crack, snap his neck. He collapses to the ground with a thud, his body lifeless, and his head twisted at a disturbing angle. I sit there on my knees leaning back slightly, not able to move. I don't know if it's from blood loss or if I finally have just given in and decided to stop fighting. I can see the team rushing towards me, though my body doesn’t want to move, no matter how much I want it to do so. I collapse on my back and stare up at the ceiling, my breathing coming out in high pitched wheezes and my body feeling like it was going numb. So this is what it felt like to die. The sun began to flow through one of the skylights in the ceiling, casting a beautiful golden glow across the many crates and facets of the warehouse. Even though I was in a dinghy warehouse, it was surprisingly peaceful the way the sun danced around. "Elliott?" I felt a pair of warm arms wrap around me and then Ryan's face came into my line of sight. I blinked slowly, just staring at him. The sun from the skylight was shining around him, making him look even more gorgeous if that were possible. I reached a hand up to brush his cheek and he took it in his, squeezing tight, his warm hand sending a radiating pulse through my body flooding me with emotions. There was so much I wanted to say, so much I wanted to do with this man that now I would never be able to accomplish. If I could have chosen a way to die, I guess this would be fine. No, it's better than fine, because at least I'm dying in the arms of the man I love. "Stay with me." Ryan's voice was pained and he was fighting back tears. "It's okay." I reply back in barely a whisper. "No, you can't die, you can’t leave me." He pleads, a tear starting to slide down his cheek. “There’s still so much to do, the house in the suburbs, the dogs..." He trails off, his voice breaking. I bring my other hand up weakly, and wipe the tear from his cheek with my thumb. He brings his hand up and keeps it there, leaning into my touch. "I love you." I confess, finally getting all my feelings out. Too bad it was on my deathbed, so to speak. Ryan nods his head. "I know," His voice breaks and he pulls me closer to him. “I love you too.” His shoulders begin shaking slightly as he cries into my chest. I wish he wouldn't cry, I hate seeing him cry, I hate seeing him in pain. I cough and wheeze as my body begins to succumb to it's wounds, my vision slowly starting to fade out. Los Angeles would live to see another day, but I wouldn't, and that was okay. Because I had accomplished my mission, and maybe this was my life's purpose, maybe this was my destiny, even though I thought that was a bunch of bullshit. But who knows what would be waiting for me on the other side. My fight is over now.
  7. "Ow! Son of a bitch!" Ryan exclaimed. "Oh, did that hurt? Good." I pressed on the wound while I dug around in my bag with my other hand. I was sitting across from him on one of the teak chairs on the back patio, fuming slightly at the injury he had sustained. He had a pretty gnarly gash on his forehead, nothing too serious, though it didn't stop me from being a little overprotective. "Do one of you want to explain to me how this happened?" "We were sparring-oww!" Ryan explained as I began cleaning the gash with alcohol solution. I rolled my eyes and looked at Riley. "Sparring… Really?" "What?" Riley had an incredulous expression. "We need to be prepared in case of hand to hand combat besides, it's not my fault he lost his footing." "What are the chances of that?" I pulled a package of butterfly sutures out of my bag. "Besides, you guys are pretty good in that area already. I don't think you need practice." "It's my fault," Ryan winced as I placed the first suture. "I was showing him new techniques." "Like what? How to use your head?" I asked sarcastically. Riley snickered and I gave him a stern look, which made him drop his gaze to the cobblestones under his feet. "Please don't be mad." Ryan looked at me with those doey brown eyes, his defense mechanism. In any other circumstance that would probably work on me, but not today. I let out a huff of air and placed the last suture. "I'm not mad, irritated yes. We already have one man down and we can't afford to have another." Ryan gave me an understanding nod. “We’ll be more careful, scouts honor.” Riley mimicked the scout salute which made me roll my eyes at him again. “You better,” I stood up and slung my bag over my shoulder. “Because if I have to place more sutures in my boyf-” I stopped myself before I said the word, and Ryan looked up at me with a glint in his eye, knowing full well what I was about to say. Was I ready to use that word? Once I used that word there was no turning back. I mean, it was how I really felt except, was that how Ryan felt too? “Ryan,” I corrected. “Then your ass is grass.” I pointed at Riley before turning around and heading back into the house, my cheeks flushed from embarrassment. I set my bag down on the living room floor and stalked in the direction of the office. How embarrassing! I almost used the boyfriend title on Ryan. What if it was too soon? What if I wasn’t ready? Did I just totally blow it? I made a frustrated noise as I pushed the office doors open and closed them behind me. “You fucking idiot!” I cursed at myself. “Well,” I whipped around to see Alex standing behind the desk, tablet in hand and a pencil between her lips, something she often did when concentrating. “Tell me how you really feel.” I stood there, frozen, a look of pure embarrassment on my face. When I opened the door I didn’t even see her in here, she must have come in from the kitchen which was connected to the office by a set of french doors. “No, not you.” I sighed. “Oh, thank goodness. For a second I thought we were gonna have a problem.” She gave me a mischievous grin. “What’s the matter?” “It’s stupid.” I shook my head and looked at the screens on the wall. The warehouse where the bomb was being kept was displayed. There were at least six heat signatures displayed in the warehouse itself. On the outside there were four more, forming a perimeter around it’s outer edges. “Is that the warehouse?” I pointed to the screen and stepped around the desk to get a closer look. “Yeah, but hold up a sec.” She placed a hand on my bicep and turned me to face her. “Don’t change the subject, spill.” She demanded, hugging the tablet to her chest. I could tell there was no getting away from this with her, she had a way of pulling information out of me that I didn’t quite enjoy. “I… I almost gave Ryan the boyfriend title." I admitted. Alex’s expression lit up and she smiled at me. “That’s great Elliott!” I knew she would say that. Alex was tough as nails, but deep down there was a romantic side to her. “I’m not so sure.” I grumbled. Her excited expression turned to confusion. “Why? You don’t feel the same way?” “No, that’s not it at all.” I replied with a frustrated tone. “Then what is it? Because I don’t see a problem with this.” “I’m more worried about him… I haven’t been the same since we got back from San Francisco. I second guess my decisions, I’ve been having panic attacks-" “You went through a lot Ell.” She interjected with a calm voice. “I know that. But Ryan shouldn’t have to go through it as well.” Alex’s expression softened as she set the tablet down on the desk and grabbed me by the shoulders. “Elliott, listen to me. Yes you went through a lot in San Francisco, but that mission brought you and Ryan even closer together.” What did she mean by that? I hadn’t noticed a change in our dynamic since we had gotten back, but maybe the rest of the team did. "What do you mean?" I probed. “I see the way he looks at you,” She began. “The man is crazy for you, I mean hell, he even stayed with you all night when we got back and held you through the night terrors. If that doesn’t scream that he’s in it for the long haul, I don’t know what does.” I hadn’t thought of it in that way. I thought that Ryan was just doing those things because he felt some sort of obligation, but maybe she was right and he was in fact, in it for the long haul. The idea of giving Ryan the title of “boyfriend” didn’t seem that bad at all, in fact, I would love nothing more than to call him that. With the way we had been interacting with one another, it was pretty much like we were already in that form of relationship. It was just a title, nothing more, and any sense of obligation that title seemed to carry didn’t exactly scare me away. I nodded my head. “Yeah, maybe you're right.” “I know I’m right.” She smiled, which got me to smile back. “You deserve all the happiness in the world Elliott. Grab it before it’s too late.” She gave me a questioning look, and I nodded my head in confirmation. There was a beeping sound emitting from one of the monitors that had us both jerking our heads in that direction. “What is that?” I asked. Alex began swiping away on the tablet with an excited look in her eyes. “You remember that manifest that you got from Jon?” I nodded my head in confirmation. “Well, I examined some of the components and then I threw them in an algorithm which will give us the best possible match for a bomb.” “How accurate is it?” I questioned in disbelief. Alex smirked and cocked an eyebrow at me. “I designed it, so what do you think?” “Fair enough.” I conceded. A blueprint popped up on one of the screens, it was a tall cylindrical device, probably about the size of a standard SUV. There were two containers on either side, connected by tubes and hoses. It was a big bomb, definitely enough to level a few square blocks. “Well that explains why there’s no heat signature for the bomb.” Alex spoke up. “Why?” “You see these two tanks on either side,” She gestured at the blueprint and I nodded my head in confirmation. “Their water collection tanks that cycle cool water through the bomb's reactor to keep it from overheating and melting down. Once they're ready to detonate they shut off these tanks which causes the core to overheat and the bomb to detonate. It’s actually a pretty impressive system." “Why do I get the impression you're having a nerdgasm right now.” I snickered. Alex gave me a cheeky grin. “Maybe because I am.” She stepped towards the screen and observed the blueprint more closely, her eyebrows furrowing. "What is it?" I inquired. She bit her bottom lip before she spoke. "Well, it's just… For professional terrorists they picked a pretty easy bomb to keep from detonating…" I could see where she was going with this, and I didn't like the realization we were coming to. "There's a failsafe." I concluded with a defeated tone. "Frack!" Alex fumed, turning around and slamming the tablet on the desk with a hard thud. She hung her head and leaned against the glassy surface of the desk, clearly defeated. I stepped over and placed a hand on her shoulder, she flinched at the contact and lifted her head. "You need a break." "No, no I don't." She shrugged off my hand and picked up the tablet, turning around to face the screens. "You've been at this for hours. Take a break, spend some time with Cody and recharge your batteries. This will still be here when you come back." I demanded in a calm tone. "Is that a request or a command?" She questioned. I cocked an eyebrow at her which made her smirk slightly. "I guess that answers that question." She handed me the tablet and turned around, walking towards the doors that led to the front entryway. When she reached the doors she paused and looked at me over her shoulder. "Thank you Elliott." I gave her a warm smile and nodded as she opened the doors and closed them behind her. I could only imagine the amount of stress she was going through right now. Cody being shot, spilling herself over these computers and trying to get us intel. Not to mention she probably feels like she’s in it alone, I wish there was some way I could make her see that wasn’t the case. There were a few raps on the door and I looked over to see Jon enter the room. If that wasn’t perfect timing I don’t know what was. “Hope I’m not disturbing you.” He had a worried expression. “No not at all, perfect timing actually.” I admitted. He gave me a confused look as he approached me, he turned his gaze towards the computer monitors and his eyes went wide slightly. “Oh, is that our bomb?” He inquired. “Yep.” I grumbled, staring at the blueprints. “So why do you look like someone pissed in your cheerios?” He joked with a smirk. I ran through the specs of the bomb with him, most of which he seemed to grasp pretty quickly. This entire time I always thought Jon wasn’t the brightest tool in the shed, but over the hours he’s actually surprised me. He knew things that I didn’t even think Alex knew, which was crazy. “What?” He inquired with a lopsided grin. This entire time I wasn’t aware that I was staring at him with a shocked expression. “Jon… You’re really smart.” I stated with a surprised tone. Jon blushed and scratched the back of his head. “Uhhh, thanks?” “No-no! I didn’t mean it like that.” I panicked which made Jon smirk. “I mean, why do you put on this front that you're a total…” “Meathead?” Jon finished my sentence. “Yeah.” I agreed. Jon sighed and folded his arms across his chest. “Being a Stavros comes with… Expectations, especially being the only child. I guess acting the way I do kind of gives me a scapegoat.” I could see where he was coming from. I wasn’t the only child but it was hard being under pressure from your parents to be or act a certain way. “You don’t have to pretend, at least not with us.” I stated, giving him a reassuring smile. “Hmph… You wanna know what’s funny though? I never pretended with you.” “Jon.” I warned, shaking my head. I couldn’t, no, wouldn’t go down this road. I was with Ryan now and anything that Jon and I had in the past was just that, in the past. “I know-I know, you’re with Ryan now and I respect that.” He argued. “I’m just letting you know that the way I was with you wasn’t an act. Even though I was secretly working with The Order, who I was when I was around you was genuine… I just hope that we can be friends is all.” He explained. That’s not at all what I was expecting, I for a second thought he was going to try and drive a wedge between Ryan and I. But he actually seemed happy for me, and the fact that he wanted to be friends and nothing more was a welcoming invitation. “I would like that.” I admitted with a smile. I looked back at the monitors and gestured at the blueprints. “Well then Einstein. Think you can figure out what the failsafe is with this.” Jon shrugged his shoulders and took the tablet from me. “I’m no Mechanical Engineer like Alex, but I can take a whack at it.” I nodded my head and began heading in the direction of the kitchen. “Let me know if you find anything.” “Will do… Hey Elliott?” I looked over my shoulder at Jon who had a sparkle in his eye. “You really love him don’t you?” That question took me off guard. Did I love Ryan? I know I cared for him on a deep level, and you would think that being in love once before I might be able to tell if I was. It had been so long I forgot what it felt like. I gave him a coy smile. “Just let me know what you find.” “Mm-hmm, you totally love him.” I could hear Jon teasing as I exited the room and walked into the kitchen. Maybe I did love Ryan, but if I did, I wasn’t ready to admit that to his face. I froze up at calling him my boyfriend, I think the “I love you” can wait a little bit. “Baby steps Elliott.” I sighed and plopped down on the couch in the living room. Someone had left the news on and there was a male and female anchor sitting behind a large glossy desk. “Police and government officials are still on the lookout for what locals are calling The Bakersfield Five-” I snorted out loud and shook my head. “The Bakersfield Five? Really? What were we, some cheesy seventies mo-town group?” “That’s right Allen,” The female anchor spoke up. Her voice was nasally, making me wonder how she even got an anchor job in the first place. “-as you may remember this group of vigilantes escaped from Fort Bakersfield just two nights ago. The home in El Sereno, where they had been staying, was involved in some sort of shootout early last night. Police have no leads as to where they may have gone, but their requesting citizens help in locating these dangerous criminals.” “The Bakersfield Five?” Ryan laughed, coming around the corner of the couch and settling in next to me. He was sweaty, muscles glistening and flexing underneath a black tank top, which I was surprised he was wearing because his scars were on full display. But he didn’t seem to mind as he took a swig from a water bottle and leaned back into the couch. “Yeah.” I snickered. “Maybe they’ll give us a record deal and we can take this show on the road.” I joked. “Mmm, one can only hope.” He replied. There was a short silence as Ryan placed one of his hands on my knee, giving it a small squeeze. I looked over at him and he gave me one of his crooked grins which never ceased to make me smile. "I think we should probably talk about earlier." I knew what he was referring to, the almost boyfriend slip. The fact that he wanted to talk about it didn’t surprise me necessarily, though it did make me nervous. "You know," He scratched his head with his hat before continuing. "What we have… We don't need to put a title on it right away. We both know how we feel about each other." I placed my hand over his, and laced our fingers together. I began tracing the runes on his fingers, thinking about what I wanted to say next. "You remember yesterday morning when we were in the kitchen, and you had asked me if what the neighbors had was the kind of life I wanted?" "Yeah, when you were spying on the neighbors." He gave me a facetious grin. "I seem to remember it differently-but that's besides the point." I shuffled around in my seat, not really sure if I wanted to go down this road. But Ryan had said he wanted to move forward, so that would mean me having to confess my wants. "That is the kind of life I want. I want the house in the suburbs with the two dogs and the farewell kisses in the driveway...” “I know.” I gave him a confused look. He knew? Did that mean that he also knew that I wanted that with him. A fear began to trickle it’s way into my gut at the realization that Ryan might not want that as well. But if I didn’t tell him how I felt, then wouldn’t that be unfair to him? I sighed and dropped my gaze thinking that if he rejected the notion, then maybe it would hurt a little less. My grip strengthened on his hand slightly thinking maybe if I held on hard enough he wouldn’t let go. “I… I want that with you.” I felt his thumb and forefinger cup my chin, bringing my gaze up to meet his. His eyes were soft with an adoring gaze, and the corner of his mouth turned upward in a crooked smile. “I want that too.” Those words were like a weight lifted off my shoulders. That fear that I was feeling, that dread, seemed to dissipate and was instead replaced with a warm feeling. It reminded me of those times I would go up camping with my friends, and we would gather around the campfire and drink, laugh, and tell old stories. It was love. “You do?” I asked in a surprised tone. “Well don’t act so surprised.” “I’m not-I just… I didn’t think you wanted that.” He chuckled softly. “Well maybe not by myself-but with you," He placed the palm of his hand on my cheek. "I want it all. We can have the house in the suburbs, we can have a condo in the city-hell we could even live in San Francisco and help rebuild-" "I don't know about that." I chuckled, my eyes stinging with joy. "You know what I mean. It doesn't matter where we are, all I want is you." Ryan's confession went straight to my heart, a warm and piercing wave of joy and happiness that I wanted to keep locked away forever. He pulled me closer and gave me a soft kiss before looking deep in my eyes. Those brown eyes swimming with the same joy that I felt, or at least that's what it looked like. "All I want is you too." I admitted. It was the truth, Ryan was everything I wanted, from his crooked smiles all the way to his impatience. I wanted the good and the bad from him, there was no one way or the other. "He is my boyfriend." My thoughts rang out. "What?" Ryan asked with an endearing smile. My thoughts must have been displayed, because the way he was smiling and staring at me signified that he was along the same wavelength, like we were speaking some Ryan and Elliott language that only we knew. I smiled and shook my head. "Nothing, just good things." "You gonna leave me in suspense?" "Hmm, maybe." I gave him a facetious grin. "Your evil." He smirked. "So then, would that make you the good one in this relationship?" Ryan paused for a second, a far away expression crossing his face. "So we're in a relationship huh?" "Unless you've changed your mind?" I gave him a wink. Ryan gave me another grin and squeezed my hand. "You know I haven't." I gave him a nod and a warm smile. "Good." Proclaiming a relationship with Ryan was surprisingly easy. It wasn't awkward at all and had me feeling well, warm, like a kid who comes bounding down the stairs at six in the morning to find Christmas presents under the tree. It was an excited feeling but also one that felt familiar and welcoming. "Elliott." Jon came bounding into the living room, then stopped short when he saw Ryan and I holding hands on the couch, clearly feeling like he interrupted something. "Oh… Uhh… I can come back." He began backing away. "What is it?" I asked, a hopeful tone to my voice. I was hoping that he found the failsafe to the bomb, then we could end this thing once and for all. If he did, it hadn't taken him very long. "I found it." A cocky grin spread across his face. "It? What's it?" Ryan's face was screwed up in confusion. "Really?" I all but bounded off the couch, leaving Ryan with the same confused look. "Seriously! What's it?" He asked, following Jon and I into the office. "So we know the bomb is ran off a nuclear reactor." Jon began, ignoring Ryan who made a frustrated noise. "Right." I confirmed. "And it needs to remain cooled with water to prevent meltdown and ultimately an explosion." "You're just saying things we already know." I replied impatiently. "Do you wanna hear this or not?" Jon cocked an eyebrow at me. I gave an impatient sigh and made a hand gesture for him to get on with it. "Most of this bomb is made with computer components, they did this so they could remote detonate it." Jon explained. "Sooo?" Ryan asked in an unsure tone. "So," Jon gave a grin. "If there's computer components in it, then all we need to do is build a virus that will corrupt the system and shut it down." I gave him a dumbfounded look, not quiet believing what I was hearing. I knew that technology had advanced to an extreme extant. I mean when I was born people used cell phones that were affectionately known as 'bricks', because they were big, bulky and probably could be classified as a deadly weapon. Now, there were drones, cell phones with enough technology to launch a rocket, they just created the first successful Android, and you could now get from Seattle to San Diego in just over an hour with the new MagLev train they completed last year. It wasn't that I didn't believe Jon, I did, but whenever someone started talking about technology I had to remind myself what decade we were in, because it sounded like it came out of an Isaac Asimov novel. "I'm assuming there's a catch?" Ryan's voice knocked me out of my thoughts and brought me back to the current discussion. A crease formed in between Jon's brows and he let out a sigh. "There is. In order for us to upload the virus we have to be at the bomb. We can't do it from here." "Well that doesn't sound too bad." I admitted with a shrug of my shoulders. "That's not all." Jon bit his bottom lip nervously. "Of course it isn't." Ryan groaned. "What is it?" I asked, ignoring Ryan. Jon fiddled with the tablet in his hands before continuing. "If we don't upload the virus into the system before they arm it, then it's useless." And there it was, the mother of all catches. "Who the fuck designed this thing?" I asked in a frustrated tone. "I have no idea, but they must have one hell of a computers expert on their team, which kind of worries me." Jon replied. "Well then," I sighed and folded my arms across my chest. "Lucky for us we have two." I walked over to the comm system on the wall and pressed the button to broadcast myself across the house. "Alex, we need you in the office." I ordered. "I could probably do this without Alex’s help." Jon offered, shifting nervously on his feet. I gave him a bemused expression. Jon didn’t hate Alex, he just found her intimidating, an effect she had on most people who didn't know her well. "It'll go faster with the both of you." I explained. Jon nodded his head and crossed around the desk to sit in front of the two monitors. He began typing away on the keyboard, pure concentration on his face. "What's going on?" Alex ran into the office, breathing heavily. She eyed Jon suspiciously sitting at the computer, probably wondering what he was doing there. "Jon will catch you up." I explained. "Jon?" She chuckled in disbelief. "Oh trust me, you've got some competition with this one." I gave her a coy smile, which she returned with a confused expression. I turned around and walked out of the office, heading into the main entryway. I looked up at the space of the wall where Cody was and decided I should probably go check on him. I climbed the steps and rounded the corner to where Cody was being kept. The door was cracked open and the lights were on, which I found odd considering that he was laid up with gunshot wounds. I slowly pushed the door open and found nothing. No Cody at all. I closed my eyes and opened them again and still there was no Cody. The bed was disheveled, so I knew he was there. Next to the bed, the lamp was tipped over, the shade cocked at an odd angle and the state of the room suggested there had been a minor struggle. I walked over to the closet and peeked inside, no Cody to be seen. I peeked into the bathroom, nothing. My muscles went tense as panic began to set in. Where the hell was he? "Cody?" I called out. What I heard next was the sound of breaking glass and someone crying out from downstairs. I ran towards the hallway and just as I crossed the threshold my face was met with the butt of a rifle, knocking me unconscious. The sound of muffled voices began to bring me out of my unconscious state. My face was throbbing in pain and I could feel something warm and what tasted metallic crossing over my lips. Blood. I would know that smell and taste anywhere. I tried to move my hands but they were tied behind my back. I soon realized that I was strapped to a chair, but I wasn't the only one. "Elliott?" Ryan asked, concern washing over his face as he peered at me through a bruised eye. He was strapped to a chair directly across from me, his muscles rippling as they fought against the ropes. "What happened?" I looked around and noticed we were on the back patio, the garden lights were on, twinkling above us like stars or maybe that was just because I had a concussion. "They caught us off guard." Ryan replied with a sorry tone. I looked around but couldn't see Jon, Cody, Alex, or Riley anywhere. A panic slightly rose in my chest at the thought of what might have happened to them. "Where are the others?" I asked, the panic creeping into my voice. "They took them, loaded them up in a van and left." Ryan growled. I was totally lost. How could this have happened? Was Jon lying to us the whole time? My panic was slowly replaced with anger at the thought of being fooled by someone I thought I could trust. "I'm sorry Ryan." "Why are you sorry?" "You were right about Jon." I explained with a pained expression. There was a long silence as Ryan's expression went grim and he dropped his head slightly. "Not Jon." "What? Then how the hell did they find us?" "Alex." Ryan gritted through his teeth. "What?" I asked with a dumbfounded expression. At that moment the patio doors opened and out stepped Alex, flanked on either side by two men I didn't recognize. My mind was at a loss as she locked eyes with me and a grin spread across her face. "See right about now, you're probably wondering 'what the hell is going on?'." She strode over and placed her hands on her hips, cocking them to the side slightly. She wasn't wrong, I had no idea what was going on. I was at a complete loss for words as she stared at me with that malevolent twinkle in her eye. "Alex… What are you doing?" There was a shocked tone to my voice as I spoke. "Isn't it obvious? I mean, you're the ringleader, a Doctor. Surely you can figure it out with that big brain of yours." Her grin never faltered as she spoke. Regardless of the dull ache spreading through my face, I was slowly starting to put the pieces together. The alarm in the General's office, the way we were able to escape the base despite it being locked down, how they found us at Cody's house. "Alex, no." There was pain in my tone from the realization that I had come to. "Ohh yess" She mocked, with a pouting expression. She crossed over to me and placed her hands on the arms of my chair, leaning down to my eye level. Her brilliant green eyes dazzling in the patio lights. It was hard for me to believe, even as I was strapped to a chair, that this person that I thought of as a sister was in fact part of the same organization that we were trying to stop. She had been working against us the whole time, from the inside and the more I thought about it the more it made sense. "So that's how The Order has been one step ahead of us." "Ding-ding-ding, see, I knew you would figure it out." "Why?" I growled, giving her an icy stare. She laughed and pushed herself off from my chair. "Isn't it always the same ending questions? 'Why?', 'Why are you doing this?', it's all so boring really." "We're your family Alex!" I shouted, my voice carrying off across the backyard. "No Elliott," She shook her head. "We were just some diluted version of the real family that wanted nothing to do with you." Her words cut like razors, though she wasn't wrong. The team were the only people I had, well, and now Ryan. They were the closest thing I had to a real family. Even though her words should have upset me, I couldn't help but start to laugh. Alex gave me a quizzical look, frustration boiling to the surface. "What's so funny?" Her tone was stern. "There's always a psycho in the bunch, ain't there?" I responded through chuckles. Alex's face turned red from anger and she strode up, landing a fist right into my chest, right where she knew my healing wounds were. The force was so strong that it somehow knocked the wind out of me, and the pain that radiated across my chest brought back to that all too familiar image of Diaz, which was only exasperated by the fact that I was also strapped to a chair in this instance. I could hear Ryan struggling through my closed eyes, a growl escaping deep from his chest. A panic began to rise up in me, my body beginning to shake as I felt a wave of an attack washing over me. "Leave him alone!" I heard Ryan bellow, his chair clattering around from him struggling. "Shut him up!" Alex ordered one of her cronies. I heard a smack of a fist meeting bare skin followed by a grunt from Ryan. "God," I could hear the smile in Alex's voice as she spoke. "You should see yourself right now… So pathetic. You're supposed to be the leader of your team yet, you can't even keep your shit together." I drew in a few sharp, shaky breaths, trying to calm myself down. "Fuck… You." I growled. Alex backhanded me with such force that it knocked me over. I grunted as my body met the hard cobblestone, not able to break my fall. "Sit him up." Alex hissed. The two men came over and grabbed my chair, tipping me back upright. The force of Alex's hit actually dazed me slightly, my head swimming and my vision not quiet being able to focus. "Elliott?" I could hear a pained Ryan trying to get my attention. I looked up to where he should be sitting, but instead I was seeing double. I felt a hand grab my jaw tightly and thrust my head straight, which quickly made my vision focus and realize that it was Alex who had me by the jaw. "You wanna know why Elliott? Why did I join The Order? I'll tell you why." She gritted through her teeth. 3 Years Ago The sound of an explosion awoke Alex from her sleep, she jerked upright in her bed and looked around immediately recognizing the familiar space of her bedroom. She sighed and swung her legs out of bed, crossing over towards the window and pulling the curtain back slightly. The explosion that had startled her out of a good sleep came from somewhere near Downtown. The smoke billowed over the lights of the city, casting a dark cloud overhead. She let the curtain fall back to place and stepped out of her room. The sound of the tv and some hurried voices were drawing her towards the living room, making her pulse speed up slightly. “It’s okay honey, I’m sure it was nothing.” Her mother’s tone was calm and reassuring. “No Mom, there was an explosion in the city. I saw it.” Amanda argued. “It was probably just the rioters. You know how they’ve been ever since the US moved in.” “Then I need to be down there.” Amanda urged. Alex stepped into the kitchen just in time to see Amanda rip a pair of keys off the counter and head for the door. “Amanda June Wilson, you stop right there!” Her mother yelled, her stern voice coming out. “Mom you don’t understand, we need to fight! If we don’t, then who will?” “Amanda you are eighteen years old-” “Which makes me an adult.” “Which also makes you naive." "Guys stop!" Alex made her presence known, stepping further in the kitchen. Amanda shot her a glare. "Oh look who it is, the golden child." "Amanda." Her mother warned. "What? Just admit it! I'm the disappointment that dropped out of school to follow something I'm passionate about." “Joining a bunch of deviants who hate the government is not something to be passionate about.” Her mother responded in a disapproving tone. “Oh and what,” Amanda scoffed, folding her arms across her chest. “Being a Geneticist like you or an FBI Agent like Dad is?” “It’s better than throwing your life away for a lost cause.” Amanda gave their mother a bewildered expression before slowly shaking her head. “I’m out of here.” She turned around and began heading for the door. “Dammit Amanda, I will not lose another child!” Their mother cried. Alex’s eyes moved towards the shelf in the living room which contained a picture of their older brother Allen, a neatly folded flag, and a Purple Heart medal. Allen was killed two years ago overseas while trying to protect his unit from insurgents. The wound was still fresh on their family, a deep gaping bloody wound that always seemed to open back up at the most random of times. Amanda paused, the door partially open. Alex crossed over to her mom and pulled her into a hug as she began to cry. There was a thud as the door closed and then Amanda’s citrus shampoo could be smelt wafting into Alex’s nostrils as she came in to hold their mother as well. “Mama, I’m sorry.” Her tone was remorseful as she spoke. “You two can’t leave me. You hear?” She croaked. “Were not going anywhere Mama.” Alex reassured her, cocking an eyebrow at Amanda, daring her to say otherwise. The front door flew open, causing all of them to jump and separate from each other. Spinning around wildly to face the door, Alex saw her father rushing into the house not bothering to look as he swung the door closed behind him. He had a look of urgency on his face as he approached all three of them, a look Alex had never seen on him before. "Jason, what's wrong?" Their mother met him halfway, a concerned look crossing her face. He placed his hands gently on her shoulders, then gave Amanda and Alex a pointed look. "Girls get your emergency bags." "Dad what's going on?" Amanda urged in a scared tone. "Girls listen to your father." Their mother responded calmly, still keeping her gaze on their father. Alex grabbed her sister's arm and pulled her down the hallway, stopping short of her bedroom so she could listen in on their conversation. “Jason?” Her mother asked. “We lost the city.” Her father stated in a panicked tone. “What?” “The US… They're attacking.” Alex felt the air being sucked out of the room at that statement. Salt Lake City was the de facto neutral zone in the civil war against the US. It was the perfect place being at the base of the Rocky Mountains and just West of the new boundary line that was formed as a result of the ongoing war. It was supposed to be a place where each side could come together for peace agreements, kind of like the UN, though it seemed that was no longer the case. Air raid sirens began going off in the distance followed by booms, which Alex guessed was the sound of bombs. They sounded far away, probably more towards the center of the city, which was a relief in a twisted way. “Amanda! Alex! Let’s go!” Their father bellowed. Alex darted for her room and thrust her closet door open, grabbing the all black, and heavy backpack stuffed in the corner of her closet. She quickly pulled some jeans on and a light jacket and then bolted for the entryway where her mother and father were already waiting, both had their respective bags. “Where’s your sister?” Her father gave her a quizzical look. “I’m here.” She jogged up behind Alex. Their father ushered them towards the door and thrust it open, the warm August night air greeting them as they bounded for the black SUV that was still running in the driveway. "Wait! Rosco!" Amanda shrieked. "Dammit." Their Dad cursed under his breath running back towards the house to get the dog. He reappeared a few seconds later, a black lab in tow, and jumped in the SUV. Rosco jumped in the back seat with Alex and Amanda, resting his big head on Amanda's lap. The SUV sped out of the driveway with squealing tires and they were off, going at a breakneck speed down their once quiet suburban road. Alex watched as they sped through their neighborhood, families were clambering into their cars throwing bags and other belongings into them. The only way out of their neighborhood, which was just north of Downtown, was to follow the back roads skirting along the outer fringes of the now war torn city. "Where are we going to go?" Their mother asked. "My brother’s house in Denver, they're expecting us." Their father explained, swerving around a slow moving car. There was a crack and a loud whoosh overhead as fighter jets raced towards the city center, then there was a loud bang as two bombs went off, completely shrouding the skyline in dust and smoke. "Oh my god." Their mother gaped out the windshield, a look of complete horror on her face. Their father placed a reassuring hand on her knee and gave a light squeeze. "It'll be okay Anna." He took his eyes off the road for one second to give her a wry smile, though one second was all it took. A van, which seemed to come out of nowhere, came barrelling down one of the side roads to their left with no intention of stopping. “Dad watch out!” Alex shrieked. He tried to avoid it, jerking the steering wheel to the right, but to no avail as the van sideswiped their SUV causing them to lose control and then flip. With the impact of the van and how fast they were going, they must have rolled at least a block and a half. The last thing Alex remembered was the strangled sounds of her family screaming as they rolled down the road, glass and debris flying around them as the SUV tore apart. Present Day As I listened to her tell the story, it made sense to me why she was so pissed, why she blamed the US, why she joined an organization hell bent on it's destruction. “When I came to, my family was dead. I was the only survivor of the crash.” Alex explained. There was a hurt behind her eyes as she finished her story, clearly still haunted by the demons of the past. “Alex… I’m so sorry.” I stared into her eyes, letting her know that I on some level knew her pain. True I didn’t lose my whole family in one event, but I did lose James, the only real family I had at the time. “Everyone says they’re sorry,” She scoffed. “But sorry doesn’t bring back the fact that the US attacked our city, which caused my parents death in the first place.” She steamed, a hate forming behind her eyes. "The Order started that war. Or have you not been paying attention?" I retorted. "They may have started the war. But it was soldiers from the US that killed my parents and my little sister when they decided to drop bombs on our city, and they're gonna pay for that." She spat releasing my jaw from her iron grip and straightening up. "It was an accident Alex." I replied calmly. "You know, that's what I thought before. It wasn't until I came to Bakersfield and I met the General that I learned the truth, and where my loyalties lied. The General knew about my parents, knew about my hatred for the United States, which was when he came to me with a proposition. A proposition that I couldn't refuse." "So he brainwashed you?" I demanded, anger filtering into my voice. "He didn't brainwash me, he made me realize my true potential." Alex argued, giving me a death glare. "Alex…" I responded painfully. I couldn't exactly blame her for the rage she felt. She was hurting from the loss of her family, and that would drive anyone to do drastic things. However I couldn't believe this entire time she was betraying us. "What about Cody? How could you do this to him?" I pleaded, trying to find anything that might sway her back to our side. "Cody?" She chuckled softly. "Cody was just another pawn, a way to further hide my intentions, and it worked beautifully." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Cody loved her, and come to find out that she never even loved him back. It was all just a play to her. "He almost died Alex!" I shouted in disbelief, my anger coming out in full display. She gave an insidious smirk which made my spine tingle. "Then that would have been a victory for The Order." I gaped at her, the words that came from her mouth were pure insanity. There was no saving her, she was completely lost and warped by The Order. My sinuses started to burn at the awareness that I had just lost someone else, another person that I cared for deeply. In some twisted way I blamed myself. I blamed myself for not being able to get through to her, and I blamed myself for not knowing the truth. "Aww, don't cry Elliott," Alex pouted in a mocking tone. "Besides." She pulled out her sidearm and pointed it directly at my head. "Alex no!" Ryan shouted, straining against his ropes. "You'll be able to see James again. No more fighting, no more pain-" "Alex!" Ryan shouted in a guttural, almost painful tone. He grunted and groaned in an almost primal manner as he struggled against the ropes, which did nothing but cut into his skin. "It's everything you've always wanted." She smirked. Was that true though? Was that everything I ever wanted. Maybe if I would have been asked two months ago, then yeah, that would be correct. No though I didn't want to die, I wanted to live, to be with Ryan and see that future that I imagined so vividly. The sound of Alex's gun cocking brought me back to reality and forced me to look at her, to look directly into those beautiful green eyes. The eyes of a woman who had dealt with so much pain and so much suffering, that this seemed like the only solution to her. "Do what you have to do. If you never cared about us, then what are you waiting for? Pull the fucking trigger." I growled. "Elliott, no!" Ryan called out, face screwed up in bitter emotion, body going red from fighting against his ropes. I gave him a reassuring look, trying to tell him everything would be okay. He looked back at me with an agonizing expression and tears running down his cheeks. I knew there was no way out of this situation. I had cheated death too many times, and now, my time was up. Alex rolled her eyes and turned her gaze towards Ryan. "Take a page from your boyfriend's book. It'll be easier if you don't fight it." She explained in an eerily calm tone. "Fuck you, you psycho bitch!" Ryan roared. That was enough to have Alex whip the gun around and smack him across the face with it, which sent him toppling over. There was a loud crack as the force, combined with Ryan's weight broke the chair enabling him to start scrambling from his ropes. Alex pointed the gun at him as the two men advanced on him, I seized the opportunity to tip myself forward and lunge at her with the little amount of leg use I could muster. We both fell to the ground and the gun Alex was holding clattered to the cobblestone patio and out of reach. As a result of the fall one of the legs of the chair broke, letting my right leg free which I used to kick Alex square in the jaw. I quickly began shimmying around, trying to loosen the ropes hold on me. Little by little they slowly loosened their grip and I was able to get free. Alex shot her eyes at me and then to the gun, which was about five feet away. We both scrambled towards it, trying to get there first. I didn’t want to shoot her, but I figured if I had the gun, then maybe I could talk some sense into her. We both reached the gun at the same time, both of us struggling with it. Alex brought her knee up into my gut, knocking the wind out of me, but I wouldn't let the gun go. We rolled around on the cobblestone patio until Alex was on top of me, her eyes laser focused, and a look on her face that I had never seen before. It was the look of pure hatred behind her eyes, and it froze my heart and scared the ever living shit out of me. I could hear Ryan fighting with her two men and then two loud pops of gunfire ripped across the night air, sending shivers down my spine. I dreaded the worse as I didn't hear anything after that, I feared that Ryan was probably dead and I would be next. The gun shook in both of our hands as Alex tried to force the barrel my direction, but I fought against her trying to get the barrel of the gun pointed away from us and off to the side. At that moment there was another pop of gunfire followed by a warm sensation pooling across my stomach. My eyes went wide in horror as I realized the warm sensation I was feeling was in fact blood, but it was Alex's blood. She toppled off of me and laid on her back, coughing and gasping for air. "Alex?!" I scrambled to my knees and assessed her wounds. The bullet had hit her in the chest and she was losing blood at an alarming rate. Her color was slowly changing from the normal creamy white to an ashy shade of gray that I only saw in corpses. She was going to die, and there was nothing I could do about it. "No-no-no." I scooped her up off the hard patio and held her in my arms as she coughed up scarlett red blood and took another gasp of air. "Alex-Alex, look at me." I turned her head to meet my eyes. "I-i-i'm s-s-orry." She moaned as a tear began gliding down her cheek. "I know-I know." My voice broke and my bottom lip trembled, I was on the verge of crying, but I was trying to keep it together. Mainly for her, but if I thought about it probably mainly for myself. "Listen to me Alex… Where are the others? Where did they take them?" I urged. As much as I wanted to just hold my dying friend and let her take her last breaths, I wanted information too. Information only Alex knew. "Ware-warehouse… Ha-ha-harper 'nd Lo-locust." She struggled through the words, her body gasping and struggling for air. "Stay with me, stay with me." I pleaded as she took her last breath and went limp in my arms. "Alex?!" I shook her slightly, her head lulling around aimlessly. She was gone. Her eyes were frozen open, the light behind their green depths extinguished forever. I closed them with a shaky hand, which made her look surprisingly peaceful. Something that I'm sure she was probably grateful for. "Dammit!" I let out a frustrated growl and brought Alex closer to me, holding her in my arms. My shoulders started to shake and tears began pouring out of my eyes as I cried, holding her now lifeless body in my arms. A dull ache arose in my chest, getting stronger and stronger as I felt my heart slowly begin to break. Alex may have betrayed us, and may have had bad intentions, but that didn't change the fact that she was like a sister to me, and deep down I knew there was some good in there. I didn't blame her, I blamed The Order. They took a fragile girl, who had her life completely torn to shreds, and used it to brainwash her to do their bidding. "I'm sorry." I cried, rocking back and forth. I don't know why I was apologizing. Maybe for the fact that she felt like her only option was a terrorist organization, or maybe because I couldn't help her. I felt a pair of strong, warm arms wrap around me, and a heavy but familiar weight pressing against my back. Ryan pressed his lips to the top of my head, trying to comfort me. Though in that moment I didn't think even that could help me right now. I wrapped my hand around Ryan's forearm like my life depended on it. I was probably hurting him, though if I was he didn't seem to care because he just held me, keeping me from completely falling apart. "We gotta get these bastards Ryan." I pleaded through tears. "We will." Ryan growled in a sure tone. His tone was so sure that I believed him, and I had to. Because if I ever saw General Dreyfus again, I was going to kill him for this.
  8. 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."
  9. zanoGreen

    The Fugitives

    Thank you for the feedback.
  10. 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.
  11. 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 😬.
  12. 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?
  13. 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.
  14. 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."
  15. 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.
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