This is actually a rough draft one-shot and part of my small tribe novellas from decades ago, back when eyeboards was still going strong, so it’s not that good (I am working on a rewrite of this, but with different timeline and someone else instead of Trudy), but I still hope you all enjoy it!
Author’s Note: The story is set in a Post-Season 5/Season 6 AU of the Tribe. The Mall Rats were successful in stoping Mega’s virus, but Mega faked his death and escaped.
THE FIRST MEETING
If one could ask Trudy how she felt that day, her answer would be simple: lucky. Even if it began on a sour note.
Despite having organized the whole thing, Trudy found herself hating the engagement party. If it were possible, she would have liked to just make herself invisible and make a run for it; or create a body double in her place. Or even use a cardboard cut out of herself. She suppressed a laugh, imagining a drunken Lex attempting to flirt with it.
Trudy watched as Amber leaned over to Jay and whispered something in his ear. His face broke out into a sheepish grin and he kissed her temple. As much as Trudy wanted to hate this stupid party, she cherished the look of content on her best friend’s face.
It’s just like it should be, she thought. The rest of the Mall Rats appeared to be in agreement. Now that the toasts were over, they were all scattered about. Sammy and Lottie were playing a game with Brady, who was enjoying her newfound fun and friends. Seated at the fountain, Darryl had made a joke that made Salene burst out laughing. Trudy knew she was not the only one noticing how much time the two were spending together. She could still recall how Salene said outloud how cute Darryl was after he traded in his road warrior-wannabe look for a more Jack-lite appearance, courtesy of Gel. Trudy smiled to herself; she was by no means a matchmaker, but even she could see how well the two fit perfectly. They were both sweet, they both loved kids, they both seemed to have a great time together and talked for hours. And while Darryl was more of a pacifist (his words), Salene was more than capable of protecting him. She pretty much did when it came to Lex.
That, and Darryl did remind them all of Ryan in some ways…
May seemed glad that Darryl was no longer following her around like a puppy dog, finding more time to concentrate on what ever was blossoming between her and Ruby.
Jack and Ellie were still, Jack and Ellie. And Lex and Gel… still made her shudder. Trudy had hoped that Gel would find someone her own age to make her forget about Lex. Somehow, she knew Lex felt the same.
The Mall was at peace, finally. Not just the Mall, but the City as well. Even if that peace felt fragile since…
Trudy felt the air grow stifling around her. She could blame it on the drink, if she had not forgotten it existed in front of her. Either way, she knew she had to get up and get out of there. She threw on her coat as she walked over and asked Salene and Darryl if they would watch Brady for her. Though concerned, they happily agreed.
“Just be careful,” Salene began. “With everything that’s happened…”
“I’ll be fine,” Trudy said. She would not go that far, anyway. Besides, her time with the Ecos was still fresh in her memory. Like she had told Lex, she could move on broken glass without making a sound.
The cool autumn air brought life to her senses, and Trudy felt she could hear herself think again. She wanted to feel happy for them both, and a part of her did. But while she had moved on from Jay and rekindled their friendship, before that stupid kiss that should never have happened, a part of her was still hurting.
But it has nothing to do with Amber and Jay, does it, Trudy thought wryly to herself. It has everything to do with you.
Trudy pulled tighter on her coat. Her conscience was right; it all came down to her. Or rather, the person she had been throughout her relationship with Jay. They say the good relationships can bring out the best in a person, but if that were true, why did Trudy feel like her old self again. The one that was selfish and bratty, even attempting to remove herself from her daughter’s life, one way or another.
Trudy shook her head. She hated that version of herself, knowing as much she tried to deny it and was reassured by her friends of how caring and loving a person she was, that old Trudy was still somewhere inside of her.
Trudy had been so lost in thought, reminding herself how she and Jay should never have been, she never noticed the shadows following after her.
Until a massive arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her back, as a hand covered her mouth.
“Just keep quiet, Mall Rat,” a male’s voice hissed in her ear. “You do as we say, you’ll be back with your friends in one piece.”
Panic surged through Trudy as her mind reeled. Suddenly she was no longer outside the mall. She was in Amber’s room, finding her best friend unconscious, just as Ned had come up behind her and put her to sleep as well. She remembered the dread of waking up in that dark room with Amber, hands bound, unable to escape. Never knowing if she would see her daughter again.
But that was then. Things were different now. Trudy was different.
Don’t panic, she remembered. Just breathe. Concentrate. Those were the instructions from her training with the Ecos. She followed them, calming her breath and her heart rate, though easier said then done. Especially when she was without her weapon, kicking herself for leaving her billy club back in her room. She’d been so lost in thought to heed Salene’s warning, remembering too late that Mega was still at large, even if he had disappeared.
She took in her predicament. Her captor was reasonably big, and much stronger. She could try to free herself with an elbow to the chest, or a stomp to his foot, but the chances of that working were slim. And from his warning, he was ready to knock her out at the slightest hint of resistance.
Those same chances slimmed when she saw a figure run up beside them.
“Coast is clear,” said another male, this slimmer and shorter then her captor.
Trudy noticed his uniform, and her eyes grew wide.
The smaller man’s eyes twinkled when he noticed her as well, his face breaking into a wide grin. “Quite a catch for a virt, isn’t she.”
“Don’t get any ideas, or did you forget Mega’s orders?”
The color drained from Trudy’s face hearing his name.
The smaller Techno rolled his eyes, backing away with his hands in the air.
“Now then, let’s get–”
All eyes flew to the direction of the new voice, coming from the end of the alley, where another stood watching the group, a weather-beaten backpack over his shoulder, and an unreadable look in his blue eyes. “I don’t think the lady wants to go anywhere with you, guys, so why don’t you let her go.”
“I thought you said it was clear,” her captor snarled.
“It was! I don’t know where this guy came from!”
“Shut up and get rid of him!”
The thinner Techno looked like he was pouting before he turned away. To her horror, he raised a zapper on his wrist to the newcomer. To her relief, there was no humming. They were still offline, or so she hoped.
“Get lost, virt. This is Techno business.”
“Not happening. Also,” he nodded to the zapper, “does that thing still work?”
“Come closer if you want to find out.”
The stranger dropped his backpack to his feet, then took the Techno up on his offer. He moved towards them with purpose, his shoulders hunched over as he looked ready for a fight.
The thinner Techno turned pale and staggered back, turning to his comrade. “He’s not falling for it!”
“Here.” The bigger Techno forced Trudy into his partner. “Make sure she doesn’t go anywhere.”
The newcomer stopped until he was just an inch away from the bigger Techno. To say the ladder towered over him was a bit of an understatement. Even Trudy was taller than him by an inch. On the other hand, from what Trudy could tell from the outline of his body, he was no slouch, either. In terms of physique he almost rivaled the bigger Techno, and that guy was practically a mountain of muscle.
The bigger Techno put on his best menacing face, nostrils flaring as he snorted like a bull. Despite the act of intimidation, the stranger would not falter, even if he looked less intimidating. He might as well have just laughed in the bigger man’s face.
“You should have ran when you had the chance, virt.”
“Yeah, well, when it comes to kidnapping, especially beautiful girls? I guess I am a bit old-fashioned.”
Trudy felt herself jump when the big Techno threw a punch, fast as it was devastating. The newcomer proved faster, ducking under the bigger man’s arm, then grabbing it between both hands. The limb acting as leverage, the shorter guy brought his knee up to the side of the Techno’s head, the sound of contact sickening as it was terrifying.
With a grunt, she watched as the bigger Techno staggered on his feet, head rolling. He dropped to his knees, barely conscious…until a spinning heel kick across the face from the newcomer changed that.
Without missing a beat, the stranger looked up at Trudy and her would-be kidnapper. That’s when Trudy remembered the thinner Techno as well, and made one important discovery: he was barely holding her.
“Hey…hey, man! I don’t want any–”
A wet sound from his noise cut him off after Trudy jabbed her elbow back into his face. The Techno staggering, Trudy caught him by the shoulders, and drove her knee high. Real high.
She left him on his side, whimpering as he clutched the family jewels for dear life, the blood oozing from his nose no longer important.
Throwing back her hair, Trudy turned to her rescuer. His eyebrows were raised high as he let out a whistle of approval.
“That was, awesome.”
“Thanks,” she said, though eyed him suspiciously. As grateful as she wanted to be, Trudy knew she couldn’t take that chance. Not while his arrival was a little too convenient. “And, thank you for the assist.”
A silence fell between the two, neither tense nor comfortable. They just stared back at each other, studying each other. Only the way he was studying her, it was not out of suspicion. Not with the admiration evident in his eyes.
Suppressing the heat from her cheeks, Trudy cleared her throat and nodded to him. “Where did you come from, anyway?”
“It’s my first time in the city,” he said as he turned and snatched up his backpack. Swinging it back over his shoulder, he returned to Trudy. “I was on my way to some place called the Phoenix Mall, when I noticed these guys following you, for lack of a better term.”
“The mall?” Alarms should have been going off in her head, but there was nothing but silence. “What business do you have there?”
“With someone named Amber.” He fell silent, staring at her for a moment. “You’re a Mall Rat, aren’t you. I noticed the marking on your hand. That’s the symbol of your tribe.”
Trudy felt herself tense up, only to relax a second later. She was no Tai-San, but even she could feel the honesty emitting off of her rescuer. And that fight just now was a little too real to be well-acted. Save for the three long lightning blue claw marks painted down his cheeks, he bore no tribal markings, nothing to indicate he was a local.
After a quick moment of consideration, Trudy took in a breath.
“I am. My name is Trudy.”
“Trudy!” he exclaimed.
She blinked in surprise.
“Trudy,” he repeated her name rolling like a sweet melody on his tongue, “as in one of the original Mall Rats, right? Brady’s mother?”
“H-How do you know that?” Maybe this guy was some remnant of the Chosen, but then, he did not address her as the Supreme Mother, or Brady as the Divine Child.
“He told me about you. About all of you. Just my luck I run into you.” He broke into a wide grin, brushing a hand over his dark blonde hair…
Trudy just stared at him, puzzled.
“Oh, yeah, where are my manners. I’m Le–”
Trudy jumped back when he raised his hand. The Techno she busted had already crawled away, but that didn’t keep Trudy from losing her footing on a lead pipe on the ground. Her fall would have been devastating, had it not been for the fast reflexes of the stranger, saving her again for a second time that day.
Hazel eyes stared into the deepest blue Trudy had ever seen, her breath slow. Suddenly all her fear and doubts melted away. Not just meeting this stranger, but of herself and her past. All that mattered now, a voice in her head told her, was in the present now. And how good it felt to be in his arms
She blinked, still feeling like she was in a dream.
“My name. It’s Leon.”
Trudy smiled, and knew in that moment, she had fallen in more ways than one.