And this is the new chapter. I’m pretty sure at least that this never got posted on the old site, though I did publish it on Ao3. Not sure how long it will take me to get another chapter done after this, but hopefully not too long!
CHAPTER 12: WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER
Danni let out a sigh as the CityNet logo came back on, Ebony’s face and the cheering crowd disappearing. The few members of the tribe staying at the mall were gathered in the cafe, around the computer Jack had gotten set up last minute, after quite a bit of swearing in the process. Danni had been half way out the door to get to the square to watch it there instead, when it finally worked. Ebony’s speech had been good, of course. It had gone according to plan, although Danni had a feeling the cheering crowd might have been full of Technos out of uniform, acting for the cameras. No, they wouldn’t know more about the city’s reaction before the others returned.
“I think it went well. I don’t like relying on her, but she got the job done.” Bray was speaking her thoughts, leaning forward in the dining chair with his elbows on his thighs.
“Eh, we’ll see.” Lex shrugged, getting up from the chair he had been sitting backwards on, naturally not bothering to put it back by the table as he moved into the kitchen.
Danni was on the sofa, a safe distance from Luke on the other end, with the little girl placed between them. Danni hadn’t been convinced she should be watching, nervous that Ebony’s speech might evolve into a riot, but Mouse, as they now knew her name was, had looked at her with those big brown eyes and Danni couldn’t say no. It was unnerving to Danni how trusting the girl seemed of Luke, she was almost curled up next to him, still keeping a distance from most of the rest of them, with the exception of Dee and Cloe, who she seemed to like. Naturally, she was also warming to Bray. Danni could have seen that coming. Jack had kept an even bigger distance from Luke, remaining standing by the wall. As the broadcast was now definitely over, he moved over to the computer to shut it down.
“You should be getting to bed, little missy.” Bray was kneeling down in front of the girl, a smile on his face that Mouse returned.
“Okay,” she agreed silently, still very quiet for the most part, constantly watching everyone with wary eyes.
“Want me to read for you?” Bray offered as he moved to let her stand up. Mouse looked at him, seeming to consider it for a moment before looking towards Luke instead. “Okay, I get it. I have strong competition here.”
Mouse giggled, reaching out for Luke’s hand. Luke was smiling to, though seeming a little embarrassed, or touched, as he glanced around the room. Danni simply avoided looking at him. Even if she knew Luke had done a lot to make up for his time with the Chosen. It didn’t change anything for her, or anyone else who had suffered at their hands. The damage couldn’t be undone.
Mouse and Luke soon disappeared, Danni noticing a glare in Luke’s direction from Jack as they passed him. If Bray was offended by Mouse picking Luke over him, he didn’t show it, still looking fairly happy as he started putting the chairs back in place. Danni moved into the kitchen, deciding to make herself a cup of tea while waiting for the others to return. Lex had left, leaving behind an empty can on the counter, right next to the trash bin, a used fork thrown into the sink. Danni threw the can in the trash, half tempted to run after Lex and throw it at his head. Instead she took a deep breath and put some water on to boil, relieved to have a small moment to herself. It didn’t last long though, Bray soon joining her.
“You want some tea?” she asked, not taking her eyes of the water.
“Yeah, that would be great,” Bray said, moving to find two clean mugs from the cupboard. “You know a watched kettle never boils, right?”
“Watching water boil doesn’t actually have an impact on its boiling point, it just seems to take longer when you do.” Danni replied, just a hint of a smile on her face.
“Ah, right. I forgot you’re the daughter of a scientist.” Bray teased as he placed the mugs next to her on the counter, getting the can of tea leaves Tai-San had left behind.
“Yes, that’s how I know. You have to be related to a scientist to know something like that.” Danni wanted to bite her tongue, annoyed with herself for joking around with him. But the pleased and probably relieved look on Bray’s face made it hard to resent it. She couldn’t deny she had missed his smile. “Speaking of, could you ask Jack if he wants some tea to?”
“Oh, he went downstairs.” Bray replied as he got the mugs ready for the nearly boiling water.
Danni swallowed, feeling suddenly nervous now that she knew she was alone with Bray. She almost wished she had gone out with the others to test the mood around the speech, or even that she had gone to the square to watch the speech in person, even if the thought of having to be civil to the General and the other Technos was repulsive. She hadn’t really considered that option very seriously, even if it would have been interesting. But it wasn’t a good idea for them to be seen hanging around with the Technos like they were buddies now. It had to look like they had made a deal for the city, not for themselves or the invaders.
The water started boiling, so Danni took it off the heat, pouring it into the two mugs.
“Well, I’ll just head to my room, then…” Danni hesitated, not wanting to seem rude but not too eager to be alone with him for much longer.
They had all decided to go back to sleeping in separate rooms after she and Lex got back, with the exceptions of Luke, Mouse and Dee, who were all still sleeping in Bedding and Furniture. Luke and Dee because they were wary of claiming space in the mall for separate reasons (though Dee had decided to stay on the sofa as far away from Luke’s bed as possible), Mouse because she wanted to stay close to Luke. Danni was relieved to have her own space, the thought of a group sleepover in the larger room making her skin crawl, though sleeping on her own would still be difficult. Her having nightmares was more of a certainty than a possibility. She didn’t imagine being back at the mall would change that.
“I was hoping you’d join me, for a chat.” Bray watched her carefully, seeming nervous himself.
“I don’t know,” Danni sighed. “I have a feeling I know what you want to talk about, and I’m really not in the mood.”
Bray nodded, looking down for a moment. “Okay. Well, we can talk about what to do next, lay down strategies, plans. Or just the weather. It’s been lovely and warm lately, don’t you think?”
Danni raised her eyebrows, giving him a look. Bray smiled carefully back. Danni let out a breath, then shrugged as she moved past him towards one of the tables. Bray sat down opposite her, both of them quiet for a moment.
“I missed you, Danni.” Bray leaned forward a little across the table, one hand on the steaming mug. “I did. I know you think I forgot about you, but it wasn’t like that. I know it makes me a coward, but…I couldn’t take it again. I was certain they wouldn’t have let you live, avoiding finding that out for certain was easier somehow. Like Schroedinger’s cat, you know? As long as I didn’t know for sure…”
Danni felt her hands clenching around the mug, almost burning hot against her skin, but she didn’t care. “Right. Not wanting me to complicate your second go with Amber had nothing to do with it.”
Bray shook his head, looking down into his tea for a short while. “I knew you’d understand that. You were the one who helped me get through losing her. You were my best friend.”
Danni looked up, narrowing her eyes as she looked at him across the table. “We weren’t simply friends, Bray.”
“I know, that’s not what I…” Bray sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Sorry, I’m not very good at this. I know I can’t make up for what I did. Or what I didn’t do. That I wasn’t there for you with what you went through…”
“I said I don’t want to talk about that,” Danni replied sharply, keeping her gaze firmly on the table in front of her rather than look at Bray. It was in vain though, a few tears still making their way down her cheeks. Bray reached out to place his hand over hers, but it only lasted for a second before they heard the sounds of the others returning, and Danni pulled her hand away instantly.
An alarm sounded suddenly, and May crouched further down behind the boxes as Code jumped up from his seat. She wiped the tears off her cheeks, her heart beating so fast she thought he might have heard it if the alarm wasn’t on. Code put his headset back on, barking into it. He went quiet as someone reported back to him, but only for a short moment.
“Prisoner missing? Who’s missing? You useless bunch of trash!” Code raged, and rushed out from his office.
It took May some effort to move quietly and calmly over to the door, opening it carefully to peek through it. She couldn’t see anyone inside the plant’s work area, so she hurried out of Code’s office, knowing that was the last place she wanted to be found. She could soon hear voices over the alarm though, and looked around, panicked as she tried to find a way out of this. Part of the space was still a mess from when Moz had started the small rebellion as distraction, and May rushed over there. Equipment was all over the place, large piles of coal spread around. May found something sharp, gritting her teeth as she scraped up the side of her forehead with it, making sure not to do it too deep. Then she rolled herself around in the coal to get her clothes dirtier than they already were, using her hands to get some of it on her face. She could feel blood dripping down her cheek, smearing it with her hand to make it look less fresh.
When Code and a few guards came back inside, she stumbled out from the disaster area, looking dazed and a complete mess.
“What the hell?” one of the guards looked at her as if she was a ghost or something.
“Where have you been!?” Code rushed over to her, near barking into her face. May’s face instantly crumbled and she sobbed loudly.
“I don’t know! The last thing I remember is a lot of shouting and then something hit my head and everything went dark.” May was already emotional and scared, so she didn’t need to act all that much, even as she made herself sway against the nearest guard, who had to grab onto her to keep her from falling. Code narrowed his eyes as he looked at her face, his hand reaching out to cup her chin, hard, turning her face so he could look at the wound.
“Get her back to her group.” He let go of her head, taking hold of her arm and pushing her back towards one of the guards. “Give them some extra water and a first aid kit to get her cleaned up. We don’t need her getting an infection.”
The guard was surprisingly gentle as he held her up and let her lean on him, his partner ahead of them leading the way. Once they were there he was about to lead her to her bed when his partner stopped him, and he instead let go of May just inside the barracks. She knew she couldn’t trust anyone, so she kept up the act, swaying on her feet. The guard returned with a bottle of water and a small red box with a white cross on it.
“One of you virts clean her up.”
Moz was there before anyone else had even considered moving, taking the things and letting May lean on her as she guided her to her bed. May was surprised to find actual worry and anger in her eyes when she looked up.
“What did they do to you?” Moz whispered harshly once they were sat down.
“Nothing, relax.” May leaned in, whispering how she got out of it as Moz started cleaning the cut.
Cloe and Ryan had gone to the square, the feeling being that they were less likely to get recognised, though they had both worn hoods just in case. Salene and KC had gone off to one of the old casinos where screens had been set up, KC knowing how to talk his way into those places. Ellie and Dee had gone further to another side of town where an old school had been set up by the Technos with screens for people to watch the broadcast. The two of them weren’t back yet, but the other four were making their way up the staircase, having met up on the way home.
Danni had tried to wipe the tears off her face, but Ryan, who reached the cafe first, had become so used to reading her that he could instantly tell. His gaze moved to Bray, a look of anger in his eyes.
“What’s going on? I told you to stay away from her.”
“Who made you her bodyguard?” Bray snapped back, annoyed both at being interrupted and Ryan’s lack of trust in him. “We were just talking.”
KC hung back, leaning against the railing and looking almost amused. Salene and Cloe stood there uncertainly, not sure whether to intervene or not.
“Ryan, it’s alright,” Danni began.
“No, it’s not! He has no right to upset you.”
“And what gives you the right to control her, exactly?” Bray stepped into Ryan’s path. “Maybe you need to decide whether you’re still married to Salene or dating Danni, cause you seem a little confused!”
Ryan’s eyes narrowed even more. “Or maybe I just don’t need to be in a relationship with someone to give a damn about them!”
“No, you just go on a rampage and get yourself sent away when your wife needs you the most!”
Bray’s words made Ryan step closer, Danni and Salene both instantly moving between them to keep them apart, Salene giving Bray a warning look, but he didn’t take any notice.
“I wasn’t walking around free and healthy while my girlfriend and several others were prisoners of the Chosen!”
“You think you’re so much better than me? Where the hell were you when we needed you, huh? When Salene had to be talked off the roof?”
They all stopped dead in their tracks, even Bray instantly looking like he regretted his words, his gaze only now moving towards Salene.
“What?” Ryan stared at him first, then turned towards Salene who was glaring daggers at Bray. Danni stood between them, one hand still firmly holding onto Bray’s arm, glancing from Ryan to Salene. Ryan took a step backwards, his eyes locked on Salene who was trying to come up with something to say.
“I-I can’t,” instead she turned away, racing down the stairs towards her room. Ryan watched Bray for a moment, still looking half tempted to jump him.
“Go after her,” Cloe nudged him in the side. Ryan glanced at her, then nodded, seeing the look she was giving him. Without another word he headed for the staircase to.
“Nicely done,” KC was grinning from his position by the railing, earning himself three sets of glares. Bray quickly decided to ignore him though, running his hand through his hair again and sighing loudly.
“Well, that was really smart. Suddenly I’m very happy you’re planning to leave,” Cloe crossed her arms over her chest, her glare now fixed on Bray who had the sense to look ashamed.
Danni was rubbing her temples, closing her eyes for a moment before she turned towards Cloe and KC again. “Anything to report out there?” she asked quietly, needing something else to focus on while trying to get her head around what had just happened.
“Mixed feelings,” Cloe shrugged. “The crowd was a bit doubtful, but Ebony has a way with words. There weren’t just Technos cheering, I think a lot of them feel like she’s made a good deal, or they’re just happy to get people back. Others thought she had sold out. The mood was kinda tense, but nothing close to a riot. At least not yet.”
“Pretty much the same at the casino,” KC chimed in, deciding to be helpful rather than tease Bray anymore. “Though it got a bit rowdy, a couple fights. Most people were in the middle I think, not sure if it’s good or bad.”
Danni nodded, those reports were about as good as she could hope for. “What about the rest of us, what did they think of us cooperating with them, Lex continuing as sheriff?”
Cloe shrugged again. “People mostly talked about Ebony.”
She turned towards KC, who nodded to show it had been the same at the casino. Danni chewed on her lower lip, considering that side of it. She had hoped to be able to find out more of what the city felt about them now, but it would probably take time. She had a feeling though, that it would take a lot more than a few prisoners returned to keep people from resenting them as time went on. That held true for the Technos to though, and they could use it against them.
“Did you find anything?”
May sighed, leaning back against the wall, now that Moz was done cleaning her wound. She hesitated, studying Moz’s face as she tried to decide whether or not to tell her everything. In the end she figured Moz could handle it better than most, knowing her supposed friend and tribemate had decided not to save her. Probably better than May had handled it herself.
“They’ve made a deal, Ebony and the Mallrats, to return prisoners to the city. Every tribe getting to pick one, or two in case of siblings.”
Moz frowned. “So the Mallrats can save those kids?”
May nodded, her gaze flickering away despite her own effort to keep a straight face. Moz’s face strangely softened at that.
“But not you.” Moz sighed. “It’s smart, whoever made that decision. No way that’s Amber or Bray, they are way too soft and they don’t have the political brains to make a decision like that. Must have been Ebony.”
“Smart?” May couldn’t hide the hurt and offended tone to her voice.
“Don’t take it personally. If the Mallrats got all their missing back and the other tribes didn’t, everyone would hate them. This way they’re giving themselves an alibi, equalling themselves with the rest, keeping everyone on their good side. Not a bad move.”
May huffed, glancing away for a moment to get herself under control again. “Well, I’m glad you feel that way, cause one of your girls escaped. And she didn’t pick you.”
Moz’s face was impossible to read, she looked more thoughtful than upset. “Who?”
“I think they called her Dee, she’s joined forces with the Mallrats apparently. And she picked some kid, Lotta…”
May nodded. To her surprise, Moz actually smiled. And not her usual smile that said she was about to hurt someone or cause trouble. It was a much softer one.
“Yes. I can take care of myself. Lottie is a tough kid, but she’s still just a kid. I don’t want her anywhere near any work camp or anything else these bastards might put her in. The rest of us can handle it. She shouldn’t have to.”
May swallowed, remembering what she had heard about Andy. She leaned in closer to whisper it all to Moz, even repeating the words they had used, him getting his systems friend, deleted blinking over his photo. Moz’s hands clenched into fists, her usual fighting mode expression back on her face.
“Cowards. What a bunch of cowards.” She whispered harshly, her eyes shining with anger as she turned to May again. “We’ll destroy them. Are you with me?”
May hesitated for a short moment, feeling scared of what Moz might be capable of, but before she even knew she had made up her mind, she was nodding. “I’m with you.”
Ryan knocked carefully on the door-frame of what had once been his and Salene’s room. He heard a quiet “come in” and stepped inside, peeking around the screen. Salene was sitting on the foot-end of the bed, leaning forward with her head in her hands. She looked up, not seeming very surprised that it was him. For a moment they just watched each other, neither one speaking. Ryan finally took a few steps closer, sitting down next to her.
“Did they really have to talk you off the roof?” He asked, after another moment of silence. “I mean, were you actually going to…you know.” He couldn’t even say the words, hoping she would tell him it had been a misunderstanding, that Bray had gotten it wrong or that he had made it sound worse than what it was.
“I don’t know,” Salene sighed, sitting up a little. “I don’t know if I would have. Trudy was the one who got me out of it, really. Well, her and Brady.” Salene smiled wryly. “But I don’t know if I actually would have done it. I think I went up there because I just wanted everything to stop hurting, and…I guess I wanted to see how I felt if I actually put myself in that situation. At the time I thought I wanted to do it, but looking back at it now…if I really wanted to, I would have jumped before anyone had a chance to stop me. I think it was just a cry for help, you know? Like you on the bridge…”
Ryan kept his eyes on his hands resting in his lap as she spoke. It was a relief to hear that she didn’t think she had actually wanted to die, but it didn’t stop the guilt he was feeling. In the corner of his eye he could see Salene watching him. She placed her hand on top of his gently.
“Don’t, Ryan. I know you, I know what you’re thinking. It wasn’t your fault, okay? Please don’t think that.”
Ryan sighed. “But I wasn’t there. Because I was such an idiot to attack the Guardian, I wasn’t there. Bray was right, where the hell was I?” Ryan stood up, starting to pace back and forth. “What was I thinking? Nothing good would have come out of it for any of us. It’s not like I would have managed to kill him, and if I had it would have been a death sentence. Maybe not even just on me, they could have gone after you. They could have punished everyone for what I did. And it would have achieved nothing, absolutely nothing. I should have been here. I’m so sorry, Salene.”
He had stopped pacing, standing a few feet away from her. Salene gave him a small sad smile and stood up to, taking a couple steps towards him. Ryan stepped back, and Salene almost rolled her eyes.
“Relax, Ryan. I’m just going to hug you. I think we could both use a hug, right?” she raised her eyebrows.
Ryan hesitated for a second or two, before nodding. She put her arms around his neck, pulling him close, leaning her head against his shoulder. At first Ryan was hesitant, his arms loosely placed around her waist. When he realised she wasn’t going to simply let him go after a quick hug, he tightened his grip a little more. She could feel him placing his head against her shoulder, his breath on her neck.
She had hugged him when she first found him in that village, but it had been more of an instant reaction and then she had pulled away, remembering that she didn’t actually know if he’d be happy to see her or not. He hadn’t seemed unhappy exactly, but it had instantly been awkward, and continued to be awkward. It hadn’t seemed like the right opportunity for a hug since. Now she didn’t want to let go, remembering back to how comforting it had been to fall asleep in his arms, to know that he was there. She hadn’t appreciated it enough, how safe and protected he made her feel. Eventually though, he pulled away, putting a few inches of distance between them again. At least he wasn’t taking several steps away from her, that was something.
“Are you gonna be okay?” He asked softly, studying her face with worry in his eyes.
“Yes, Ryan. I’m fine,” she smiled, still keeping one arm around him to keep him from moving further away from her. “A bit mad at Bray, but I’ll get over that.”
He simply nodded, a small smile that faded again quickly. “Then I think I should go.”
“You could stay. This was our room, if you wanted to, you could…stay.” Salene could see a hint of a blush creep up on his cheeks, but he quickly shook his head.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he replied, taking a step back, causing Salene’s hand to drop to her side.
“Why not? We don’t have to do anything, we could just sleep. Like at the farm. It would be nice to not sleep alone.” Salene watched him, trying to figure out what he was thinking. His eyes darted towards the bed for a swift second, then back to her.
“I just…I can’t.” He let out a breath, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Do you really think it’s a good idea, Salene? Me and you?”
That stung, and Salene had to stop herself from taking a step back. “Why wouldn’t it be? Don’t…don’t you love me anymore?”
Ryan closed his eyes, the question obviously taking him by surprise. “Of course I do…” his voice was almost a whisper. “I think I always will. But just look at what happened. I lost my head, I still don’t recognise that guy who jumped the Guardian like that. I got myself sent away, leaving you to deal with everything on your own. Losing the baby, you almost jumping off the roof…We were supposed to take care of each other, we promised to take care of Cloe and Patsy, and look what happened. In the end I wasn’t there for any of you when you needed me. We’re not good for each other. How can we be?”
Salene could feel tears pressing behind her eyes, knowing she would struggle to keep her voice steady. “We’re all still alive though. And we’re all okay, we’re safe.”
“Are we? Patsy is with those Technos, and we’re pretty much forced to work with them, a tribe who took people prisoner and invaded our city. We don’t know what they’re gonna do next. We’re not safe, none of us are.”
“We’ll get through that, like we got through the Locos, Tribe Circus and the Chosen. And we could do it together. This is our second chance, how many people get a second chance?”
“Exactly,” Ryan stopped her with one word. Salene looked at him confused. “This is our second chance,” he started to explain. “If we jump back into things, trying to pretend like we didn’t mess things up the first time around, we’d mess it up again and it would be wasted, and I’m not sure we’d get a third chance. I don’t wanna take that risk. If this really is our second chance, then it still will be in a few weeks, or months. I just don’t think we’re ready. At least I’m not.”
Salene swallowed, forcing herself to hold back the tears. At least he wasn’t rejecting her completely, what he was saying now was giving her more hope.
“Okay. You’re not ready, I get that. I don’t wanna push you, I just…I missed you.” She looked up, seeing a soft smile on his face.
“I missed you to.”
She returned his smile. Though it was an uncertain situation to be in, she hadn’t been rejected for good. She could wait.
“I really should go…I’m supposed to take over guard duty later, and Dee and Ellie aren’t back yet. I should talk to Danni about going out to look for them soon.”
Salene nodded. “Okay. But, Ryan?” He stopped on his way towards the doorway, turning towards her again. “Whatever you’re ready for, the offer still stands, you know. If sleeping alone gets lonely,” she smiled carefully, hoping she wasn’t pushing it. “Just sleeping.” She held her hands up.
For a moment it looked like he was considering it, but he just nodded and turned to walk away. As he walked back out towards the fountain, he looked up, seeing Cloe by the cafe, leaning over the railing. Even from a distance he could tell she looked disappointed, before she moved away from the railing and disappeared out of sight.
Ellie turned around to watch Dee as she hobbled along, her face a grimace each time she stepped down on her foot. Ellie had offered to let her lean on her, but Dee was too proud and stubborn for that. Just like she had been too proud and stubborn to let them know how much her ankle was still hurting her, insisting she was okay to go out scouting with the rest of them.
“We’re almost there now,” Ellie told her, trying to sound cheerful and uplifting. Dee grunted something in reply, nodding her head slightly. They walked in silence a little longer, before Ellie turned towards her again. “Have you decided what you’re going to do, once the Technos bring that girl back?”
Dee sighed, stopping and leaning her hand on a wall, taking some weight off her leg. “I dunno, our headquarters are a bit big for just the two of us. I suppose I’ll ask Lottie what she wants to do.”
“You’re welcome to stay with us.” Ellie said instantly.
“You sure Danni agrees with that?” Dee huffed.
“I’ll talk to her. I don’t imagine she’d want to throw you out. She seems a bit like an ice queen at times, but she’s not really. And we’re the Mallrats, we let people in when they have nowhere to go. It’s what we do.”
“Yeah, even former Chosen lieutenants.” Dee retorted instantly. Ellie bit the inside of her cheek to keep from saying anything back without thinking.
“Yes, well…we’ll see how long he sticks around this time.” Ellie said darkly, keeping her eyes ahead of them, avoiding glancing back at Dee. “Anyway, I was sure you’d pick Moz to be brought back.”
Dee didn’t reply for a moment, and Ellie finally turned around again, seeing a look of doubt on her face.
“I was going to, but…Lottie is just a child, you know? Moz was the one who took her in, insisted on teaching her everything herself. She took her under her wing. So I figure if she had a choice, she’d want the girl safe. Even if she can be an annoying brat.” Dee smiled, a hint of sadness to it.
“We’ll get them all back eventually.” Ellie gave her a comforting smile. “They can’t keep them locked up forever.”
Dee shrugged, moving up next to Ellie as the blonde slowed down. “That’s what Moz said last time. But we didn’t get everyone back.”
“Last time?” It dawned on Ellie even as she asked the question. “The Chosen.” She made a face, not sure she wanted to know, not when she had to face Luke later.
“Yeah. But I suppose all of yours have come back now, haven’t they?”
“Not all of them.” Ellie said quietly, Dal’s face flashing through her mind. “And then there’s those coming back in a uniform,” she added more bitterly.
Dee snorted. “Never really know people, I suppose. Like you. You seem clever, and like you’ve got your heart in the right place. Know right from wrong. Yet you’re still looking at that blue-haired monk like a lovesick puppy.”
Ellie felt her face go red. “I do not look at him like that. Anyway, that’s finished business.”
“If you say so.”
Neither of them said anything else as they approached the mall. Danni was halfway down the stairs when they walked inside, jacket partly on and Ryan tagging behind her. Both of them let out relieved sighs when they saw Dee and Ellie.
“We were getting worried about you two.” Danni greeted them as they approached her, taking her jacket off again, folding it over her arm.
“Yeah, sorry, we weren’t sure what the situation would be like, so we took some detours to try and go unnoticed,” Ellie said right away, not mentioning Dee’s leg. It was noticeable when she walked though, Danni looking at her in concern.
“Go to the cafe and put your leg up, and we’ll get you two some food. You’ve been walking a long way, you must be exhausted.”
Ellie and Dee both smiled at her gratefully, both looking a little surprised. Danni gave them a look.
“What, am I that cold normally?”
Ellie tried to hide her amused smile, Dee just shrugging.
“Wish you were,” she said as she started hobbling up the stairs, finally allowing Ellie to help her. “Then you could freeze some water and make me an ice pack.”
They all laughed, and though it wasn’t that much of it, the sound of laughter, even their own, seemed to take them all a bit by surprise after everything that had happened the last few days. Danni shook her head, a small smile on her face that disappeared as Ryan approached her.
“I’m going on guard duty. Luke is taking the sewers. You need anything else first?” He asked carefully, studying her face.
“Everything is under control, Ryan.”
He sighed. “Are you mad at me?”
Danni smiled softly. “No. But…you can’t protect me from everything all the time, Ryan. I know you’re just being a good friend and worrying about me, but I need to be able to handle things on my own.”
Ryan nodded, looking down for a moment. “I know. I’ll try harder,” he said with a small smirk on his face. Danni smiled, patting him on the shoulder as she moved past him.
There was a steady rhythm to the sound of boots against linoleum floors as Mega walked down the hallway. The stadium was near empty now, at least this part of it, with most of the Techno force moved to the Hotel to tend to Ram’s needs and whims. He couldn’t help smirking to himself as he put his finger against the little screen next to the door, a green light appearing as it scanned his fingerprint, then a beep as the door opened. He strolled inside, finding Page in the only seat in his control room, long leather-clad legs up on the counter, filing her nails, a look of boredom on her face.
“What’s the status?” he asked, letting a hint of annoyance shine through. Granted, he had given her a high status by letting her in on his plans, but that didn’t mean she was allowed to take such liberties. Page didn’t rush to stand for him though, but she did at least take her feet down and put the nail file away.
“Still crazy,” was the only update she offered. Mega raised his eyebrows, giving her a look. Page sighed, hitting a key on the keyboard, switching the large screen from a camera in the city centre to one from a small dark room.
The man inside it was kneeling on the floor, seeming to talk to himself, hands folded in front of himself. His hair was a mess, matted and dirty, eyes wide.
“Think he’s for real?” Page asked, zooming in closer on his face.
“You mean is he really crazy? Doesn’t matter. If he’s not, he will be by the time I’m done with him.”
Page hesitated only for a second as she glanced up at Mega.
“Seems easier to just delete him.”
“Yes, it would be. Or just to throw him into the game. But this way will be more efficient for our aims. Besides, I thought you wanted revenge.”
Page looked back at the screen, the blond man looking near straight into the camera. Her eyes narrowed as she stared back at him, as if he could see her.
“Oh, I do. Trust me. The Guardian won’t get away with what he did.”
“No, he won’t.” Mega said it in a very matter-of-fact way. “There’s a kind of poetic justice to it, don’t you think? Corrupting his mind, the way he did with so many people.”
Page didn’t reply, simply continued staring at the screen. She didn’t know if she could trust Mega, or even what his end-game was to this whole scheme, but if she was honest she didn’t really care. Torturing the Guardian was enough of a goal for her.