The Jaymes Saga: Book I - Family

The story that started it all. This is a different version than the one most of you remember, because I rewrote parts and added a few new chapters so I could make Salene a more integrated part of the story. I’m not sure how well known it is, but I began this story before the episode where Brady is kidnapped in S2 and everything you read with Trudy was originally intended to be Sal, but because I’m in love with Antonia to this day, Sal took a backseat. I’ve tried to change that. I hope it doesn’t take away from your memories of the tale…and considering how it grew and got better, I’m sorry the early ones suck. Anyway, on with the show.


Chapter 1–Dreams of Loves Lost:
I stand here in a tomb that I had created for Ebony. She was my friend, she was my woman, and she was first among my wives.

Ebony was once a person not to trust or to be trusted. In one of our tender moments she told me that her life before the Mallrats had made her this way. On her deathbed she told me that she both loved me and hated me for our life together. Love, she said because there had never been a person who trusted her without question, hate because she had felt forced to grow to be worthy of that trust.

I contemplate at this alter to Ebony just how easy it would be to use the rediscovered secrets to take her cells, just a few, and I could have my warrior goddess back with me. I am the Emperor, this is within my power. This thought makes me shudder when I think of how she would rage at me for this…for taking her out of her time and making her leave her friends in the feast of the dead. It is just then, that a bronze haired beauty of so few years enters the crypt. “Are you feeling well father?”, this little one asks me.

“Yes, Mara…I just came to visit your mother.” She stops for a moment, squeezes my hand then kneels to pay her respects to her mother, Then she tells me: “I’ve just had a messenger from Tai-San, your tribe is assembled at the old farm, Trudy is asking for you.”

“Is the messenger still here?”, I ask
“Yes father, shall I send her in?” My daughter asks

“Please.” I say absently.
As I stand still looking at the last memorial to my Ebony, I hear the footsteps behind me, a child’s hands, no bigger and no older than my Mara’s wrap around my own and this little girl leans her head against my arm.

I look at the sad face beside me “Little one…What’s happened?” I can think of Brady only as a little girl because there have been many a night where her mother and I have fought the battles of war alongside our friends while this little one slept in her crib in the mall we called our home.
“Mother is dying” Brady tells me in a voice that makes my heart sink.

I say my goodbyes to Ebony and then Brady and I make our way to the old farm. Alice’s family owned this farm before the virus. As I make my way across the field up to the house I see my old friends gathered on the porch. Patsy is the one who meets us. Her face tells me what I need to know, but I ask anyway: “Is there nothing to be done for her?”

Tears, more tears from the look of it, enter her eyes at this as she says to me, “Tai-San and Bray are with her. They’re doing what they can.” I note she didn’t answer my question.
When I get to the house I exchange greetings with Danni, Jack, Ellie and Cloe. Lex is there, but we’ve not spoken in some time and he doesn’t seem to want to start now.
“Where’s Salene?”, I ask.

Heads hang at this. Patsy leans over and says “She passed on about 2 years ago…we tried to get a message to you.” I realize I’ve been gone too long.

“Where is Trudy?” I inquire.

“She’s back down this way.” someone says. That voice was Tai-San. I turn, and see those eyes, still alight with wisdom. “How are you old woman.” I say playfully.

Tai-San smacks my cheek half heartedly. “Charmer. You always were to cover up your pain. Come on, I’ll take you to her.” I lean over to her as we walk and say, “Thank you for taking care of her. I love you for it, you know that.”

Tai-San shows me to the room where Trudy is being taken care of. “Thank you ‘San.” I say to her using my old nickname for her.

She shows herself out and I stand in the door watching Trudy as she sleeps. I think of many nights that Brady slept while Trudy and I fought to create the brave new world, and more than a few where we loved in the night, and when we fought.

I make my way over and lay down on the bed with Trudy, and as I do she stirs and wakes up. She twists in bed to face me and looks up into my eyes. I say to her, “I’m sorry I was late little girl.”

She tries to laugh, but it turns into a cough. “Little girl…you always did use charm to hide when you were hurting.”
“Why does everybody know that?” I ask. Then Trudy says: “How long have you been here?” I hug her gently and say, “Not long. Just enough to regret the way I’ve treated you.”

Trudy smiles softly, a smile that always melted my heart and says, “I’ve never regretted it, I love you husband.”
When Trudy falls back to sleep I go to set on the steps of the house. Patsy comes out, saying that Lex would have, but Patsy wouldn’t let him. A fight would stress Trudy.

Sweet Patsy, always trying to keep the peace.

She sits down and puts her head on my shoulder and doesn’t say a word. I start to rant, “I never should have sent her away. I wish I’d have just put her on the throne with me and the future be damned! What do I care what happens to this city anymore?”

Patsy just listens in that way she learned from my Trudy. After a half hour or so, I start walking, I don’t know if I said anything or not to Patsy, but I make my way to the coast and I fall to my knees on the beach. I sit there for what seems like an eternity and then I start to scream. “Why are you doing this to me Ebony? Don’t you love me anymore?”
I start crying like I’ve never cried before, then the screaming returns. “How can you be so cruel to me Ebony?! I miss you so much, I don’t have anyone else but her! You stop trying to take her from me you jealous waste.” I don’t remember anything else about the time on the beach.

When I wake up, Lex is setting in a chair. I look at him and say, “And you haven’t killed me yet. How unexpected.”
Lex, doesn’t do anything except say “I may not like what you’ve done, but you’re still my friend. I take no pleasure in your pain…or her’s.”

Then he chuckles and says, “I had a similar rant myself believe it or not, only I knew when it was time to quit.” As he walked away he turns back and adds: “Still, you must’ve yelled at the right people.”

I don’t respond in my depression, then I hear, “What exactly did you say?” My eyes go wide immediately as I realize the voice is my Trudy. I try to jump up, but nearly pass out when I do. “Don’t get up old man.” She says. I just look at her with a questioning look and she whispers “Miracles happen everyday.”

Trudy and I lay in the bed without saying anything until she breaks the silence. “Did you really scream at Ebony that you’d clone her and kill her over and over if I died?”

“Probably. The thought HAS crossed my mind.” I say.

Chapter 2—Waking and World of Lies

Something outside the dream shocks me awake suddenly. “Ebony is that you?” I say in the darkness.

“Who else would it be?.” She asks. “No, really. Tell me.” Then she says, “I need to find someone else, can’t sleep with you around.” I slap at her playfully and we share a laugh and a hug. I love Ebony because she accepts me in ways nobody else does. These dreams I have scare some of the others, so that doesn’t help me gain trust, but Ebony cares for me.

I have been with the mallrats for nearly a year now, five of those months in a coma sleep, but these dreams have plagued me for only a couple of months. It doesn’t add to my credibility. The tribe doesn’t know anything about me because I haven’t told them. They believe that it’s a result of the coma they found me in. When in reality, there are much bigger reasons.

“What are you doing today?” Ebony asks me, bringing me out of my thoughts. I tell her that I plan to check south perimeter security, see how some repairs are going, “Then I’m going to see Tai-San if she isn’t busy. Where will you be?” the answer I get before she leaves is a cryptic “Out and about, nothing fancy.”

I sit in my chamber that I share with Ebony for awhile ranting at myself when Bray walks by the door. “That dream got you spooked again?” he asks.

“Yeah, I just don’t understand it.” I tell him. I confide in Bray because I remember him from before the virus. I don’t think he remembers me, but I respect him as a person and leader. “The dreams are odd,” I say. “We’re all older, Salene is dead, Alice isn’t around anymore, Ebony dead, and she was my wife.” Bray listens to me, then he asks. “Was Trudy in this one?”

“Yeah…she always is…” I tell him, just as Trudy turns the corner saying, “Was Trudy in this one what?” I had hoped to avoid this, I don’t like talking to Trudy unless I have to. I see Bray excuse himself.

“Was Trudy in this one, what?” she says again. No avoiding it, so I go about telling her the dream. I’ve been married to Ebony…who’s dead and I’m standing in the tomb I’ve had made for her when Brady tells me that Trudy is dying, my going to the farm and seeing her.

“At least you didn’t die this time, that’s a change”. I tell her.
Trudy failed to see the humor. She takes it upon herself to tell me what the others think of the dreams. It seems that Ebony supports me, no surprise there, Tai-San is seeing signs all around me and thinks we should see where they lead. Alice doesn’t like me. Salene is claiming to be scared of me. Bray doesn’t understand me but doesn’t think I pose a threat, and the young ones are scared to death of me. Lex is saying nothing.

“Why would I be a leader though, Trudy. I’m not even a member of the tribe. I don’t see why I’d marry you and then send you away and have children by Ebony.”

Trudy looks thoughtful for a moment then says, “Maybe you did it for political reasons. You could combine remnant tribes that way.”

I nod and say “Yes, but a real marriage to you accomplishes that as well. The Supreme Mother can claim The Chosen.”

“You know I hate them.” Trudy says, reminding me of a distaste for them after what happened to her.

“I know you do. Still though, you could lay claim to them…and with Zoot’s daughter you may even be able to lay claim to the Locos as well.” Then I add, “With you I get three tribes to Ebony’s two.”

“Okay, so I was wrong…do you have to rub it in?” Trudy says. I wasn’t trying to hurt her feelings

“I’m sorry Trudy, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m just trying to figure out these dreams is all.” I look at her with puppy dog eyes, and she rolls her own and says “I hate it when you do that! You’re forgiven.” then she leaves me alone.
A few hours later, I decide I’m hungry and I go to the café for lunch.

After a stare filled meal I decide I need to be alone for a while, so I go to the sewers. After about four hours, Danni finds me there. “You’re a very interesting person” she says. She adds: “The Tribe have voted to make you a member”. I didn’t know they were voting on that.

“Easier,” I say, “to make me a member than it is to assign a covert watch when you kick me out, since you really know nothing about me.”

“Something like that,” Lex interrupts from behind me. “Tai-San is asking for you.” so off I went to see the resident weirdo of the tribe.

I got to Tai-San’s room, where she reads my aura and she tells me that the journey towards the truth will be a long one.

“You say you can’t remember who you are.” Tai-San asks me.

“That’s right, but all of you have said you’ve never seen me, so why would I be dreaming of all of us together as older?” I ask.

Tai-San shakes her head, then says “Its possible you are dreaming of us as a replacement family, or that you are reliving memories of something else with Mallrats playing the roles.” I take this in silently. “You’ve been voted into the tribe.” She says. I don’t bother to tell her that I knew already. “There’s a meeting later to tell you formally”

“I see” managing to be polite.

“Now”, Tai-San says “Tell me why you aren’t telling anyone you remember Bray and Trudy.” Tai-San is a perceptive little one…and I have been relaxed a bit these past few weeks in my acting.

“Bray and Trudy? I never laid eyes on them until I woke up here. I don’t know what you’re talking about ‘San.” I say, and I think I sound like I mean it.

“Stop lying. I’ve seen the way you look when one of them is around, especially Trudy. So tell me.” She says with determination.

So, I tell Tai-San about being a year behind Bray and Trudy in school before the virus, and having a crush on Trudy, I tell Tai-San about asking Trudy out once. “She laughed at me. In front of everyone she laughed at me.”, I say. “The thing that hurts the most ‘San, is that she doesn’t even remember me, so I pretend not to know who I am so it doesn’t hurt as much.” She looks at me weird, then I say “don’t worry, I’m going to tell everybody who I am…or at least that I remember.”

Walking back through the mall I meet up with Ebony in the south passage. “Hey, so did you get your ‘Nothing Fancy’ taken care of.”

In that totally annoying way she has, she just says “Yes.” I wait for her to expand on this. When it becomes apparent that she won’t, I say “So Ebbie, did you hear they made me a member of the tribe?”

“Salene told me.” Ebony says. “You know, I think Salene may have a thing for you.”

“I’m told I scare her.” I reply.

“Yeah, that’s what she says, but her eyes tell a different story when she talks about you.” Ebony says

I say to her “Salene DOESN’T have a thing for me, I know this. We’ve…met before. About a year before the virus.” I say, but I won’t tell her where. I respect Sal a lot more than that, and don’t want to have to admit a couple things to Ebony or anyone else. “Well babe,” I say “ I’m going to lay down before this meeting. Have somebody come get me when its time.”

Ebony kind of stares and asks me if she looks like a reminder service. “The most beautiful I’ve ever seen.” I say.
I’d been in my room for about 20 minutes when I hear a knock at my door. “Mind if I come in?” Patsy’s voice chimes.

“I don’t mind. Please come in.” I say. Surprised she actually came here, as frightened as she is of me.
She takes a cushion opposite my position on the floor. I ask her “Ebony didn’t send you to see if I needed anything did she?”

“No,” Patsy says, “I came on my own.”

I smile my best goofy grin and say “So then, what can I do for the most beautiful member of the tribe?”

Just like children will, Patsy says “You say stuff like that to everybody, you don’t mean it.”

I tell her, “Sometimes little one, you just flatter people for no reason at all.”

“Ah,” she says. Well, she’ll understand this one day.
“I heard you talking to Tai-San earlier. Why won’t you tell Bray and Trudy you remember them?”

I huff my breath out, look at her and I say, “Little princess, I hope that in our new world you never have to learn this for yourself, but sometimes the people we love, love other people…and like I told Tai-San, Trudy doesn’t remember me. I hope you never have to feel pain like this in life, ever.”
Patsy giggles and says “I hope I don’t get like you people when I get older.”

I look at her and say, “You’re very odd, laughing at the pain of others.”

More giggles from my little friend, then she says, “She talks about you all the time. She thinks that since you don’t remember, that she doesn’t have to apologize for hurting you.” she adds. “she’s completely in love with you. I think its odd that she won’t apologize, and you lie so you can forget…odd indeed.”

I sigh and say, “Sometimes little one, love requires odd choices of us.”

After Patsy leaves I start to fall asleep. Just as I’m about to have the dream again KC comes to tell me the meeting is ready. “Well,” I think to myself, “at least I don’t have to watch Trudy die again.”

Awesome story so far

Chapter 3—Meeting and Old Friends

KC ran ahead after telling me about the meeting which left me to get ready for the meeting and to think about what Patsy said earlier. So Trudy does remember me. This could be odd. I didn’t think to find out if Bray remembered me or not. If he does, he’ll remember that I was a friend of his brother. They may not like that. Well, best not keep them waiting. This meeting will indeed be interesting.

After what Ebony said to me earlier, I note that Salene’s eyes do light up a bit when I enter the room. Well, I know she doesn’t have a thing for me she’s just reliving memories that hurt and probably happy to have someone she could talk to about them. I also note that Trudy turns her eyes away. I wonder if Patsy said something to her. Nobody else seems to notice I’m there.

“Always the last to know”, I say. This quiets the conversations. To myself I note that everyone is in fact here.

After a few greetings, Bray leads off the meeting. “We have some concerns about you and what these dreams mean.”
Trudy chimes in “Not all of us.” I note Ebony, Salene and Jack agree to this.

“So,” I think to myself, “Trudy really does remember.”
“Well, I don’t like him.”, Alice says, “But at least it’ll be an extra set of hands.”

When most of the tribe look at me, I decide on a joking answer. “Dear Alice, you may put these hands to use wherever you need them.” and I wink at her. Salene blushes, Ebony smiles, obviously getting the joke, Lex chuckles a bit and Alice herself just outright laughs.

Taking control of the meeting again, Bray says, “Well anyway, we voted and you’re in. Only one vote against.” He won’t tell me who the negative vote was from.

I decide to use this as my time to hopefully gain a little trust. “Perhaps the tribe will want to vote again after I’ve said my piece.”

That grabs attention.

“I’ve been lying to you all. I do remember who I am. I’ve been lying because I was afraid that my past would present a problem…in more ways than one.” I take a breath, “Tai-San and Patsy know why this is and one, possibly two others.” I decide on a little test of my own. “Past friendships do not cloud my philosophy, nor guide my actions. Pains of High School DO.” This gets a raised eyebrow from Bray. Hmm, so he was the one who voted against me…I expected either Cloe or Lex.

“Shall we vote again then?” Bray asks. This time the vote is one sided in my favor. Bray says “Welcome to the Mallrats.” Trudy actually smiles a little.

Everyone’s looking at me, I guess I’m supposed to say a few words or something. Okay, here goes. “I want to thank everyone for allowing me to be in the tribe, and for keeping me here all these months before. I hope to live up to my end of the deal.” Then I say, “Now that all that’s settled, where does the tribe need my hands to go to work?”

Trudy chimes up ahead of everyone else, speaking very mousily. “Brady’s basket needs fixed. It’s creaky and broken in a couple places. If you know how and want to.”
I don’t want to, but it doesn’t do good for the new guy to turn down the first task asked of him. “Alright, if you’ll trust me with it.”

Trudy smiles and bounces Brady. “Of course we will, won’t we darling?” To her daughter. Oh no. Why did she have to say ‘Darling’? I love it when she says that word…always have.

“Then it’s settled”, Bray says, ending the meeting. As everyone starts to disperse, I walk up to Bray and I whisper “Power and Chaos was only interesting when I hadn’t eaten in three or four days. Otherwise it was a load of crap…and I didn’t much like myself back then.” Bray doesn’t say anything but I think he understands my meaning.

When I get outside her room I hear Trudy tell Brady that it will be interesting to finally have someone that her father’s insanity hadn’t infected. I think to myself how I wish that were true. Zoot’s insanity infected me horribly.

I stand in the door watching her fuss over Brady and talk to her about things. I’m so lost in thoughts of the old days that I don’t hear her as she calls my name. “Jaymes?” I kind of jump and Trudy says, “Where were you just then?”

I look at her and say “So you really do remember?”

Trudy motions for me to take a seat on the bed and says “Of course I do. You were so sweet and caring with all those flowers you didn’t think I knew were you.” Then softer she says, “I hated what I had did to you, but you remember Martin.”

I hang my head a little and say “Yeah, I do.”
Trudy takes my hand and says “You weren’t the only one that was afraid…” aphoristic, but sincere.

As I get to work on Brady’s bed, Trudy and I talk about the old days…regrets we have, happy times we remember…loves we’ve lost. This causes me to remember the dreams and I get quiet.

“What are you thinking?” Trudy asks me.

“I was remembering these dreams,” I tell her, “They scare me so much Trudy.”

She takes my hands in hers with true concern in her eyes and says, “Tell me about them.”

“No. You don’t want to hear about them. They hurt me, but they’ll hurt others far more.” I tell her.

“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to know Jaymes. I’m a big girl, I can take it.” She says. “So tell me now.”

“Alright, but I warned you. These dreams always start out the same. I am in a crypt that I’ve had built for Ebony, and I’m mourning her death.” I take a moment to play with Brady, who has taken an interest in my thumb. Trudy smiles at this as Brady giggles and coos. I continue, “In the dream, Brady comes and tells me that you want me at Alice’s farm.”

Trudy nods to show she’s listening, then I go on “When I get to the farm Lex and Bray are there, they are the only ones, except for you and Brady who have been in all the dreams., they talk to me and then I go in to see you.” I stop to wipe tears away from my eyes. Trudy now has her hand on my chest, a sign of comfort I witnessed many times between she and Martin. “Sometimes you die in my arms, and sometimes I run off to a beach and scream at Zoot and Ebony for trying to take you from me.

This time it’s Trudy who wipes my tears. “If I have the screaming dream it always ends with me waking up, talking to Lex like we hate each other, then Tai-San comes in to see if I’m alright, Then you usually appear like you’ve made a turn for the better…then I wake up, always. I don’t know if there’s more to these dreams or not.”

As I start to get to work again on Brady’s bed, a huge explosion rocks the area. A moment later Lex and Ebony run in, and Lex says “The bed’s gonna have to wait, we need you.” Trudy hugs Brady close to her, and I ask her, “do you want me here?” She puts on a brave face and says she can manage. To Ebony’s displeasure, I hug Trudy, then leave.

“What was that all about?” Ebony growls.

“Comfort between friends.” I tell her, taking a lesson from her on being cryptic.

Bray, Danni and Amber, who I knew as Eagle at one time are already together when Lex, Ebony and I arrive. It is quickly apparent to me that I’m part of a battle committee.
Cloe comes in, escorted by Bray. “Now Cloe, tell them what you told me.”

Cloe sounds nervous, but she’s a brave one, “I’d taken Bob out for a walk when I saw these guys around the old factory.” After a moment she says “I hid because they scared me. They were screaming and yelling, then the explosion happened. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to stop them.”
Bray consoles her, then he asks, “What tribe were they?” Cloe shakes her head and says, “I don’t know. They looked like a bunch of different ones. Their clothes weren’t the same.” She says again “I’m sorry I couldn’t stop them.”
I take this opportunity to try and win a few points with her. “You did right Cloe. Why don’t you go find Patsy and see if you can keep Trudy and Brady company.”

“But, I wanna…” Cloe begins before Ebony breaks in, saying, “No buts! Now run along and do as you’re told.” and I whisper to Ebony “That was a bit harsh.” As Cloe leaves, avoiding me altogether. Danni looks at me and says “That little girl is scared to death of you.” I don’t think that Danni sees how that hurts me.

Ebony saves me by bringing the fact that we have a problem back to the forefront of everyone’s awareness. After a few minutes discussion Amber asks “So, what do we do?”

I decide to end my silence on the matter. “We don’t have enough good information to go on to mount an operation, I say we send some people out for a scouting party.”

Seems Bray and Amber agree with this, Danni reluctantly agrees, but true to form Lex and Ebony are ready to go in blind. They start commenting on our lack of action, and I get annoyed and say “You two want to go in, gun blazing in one hand, with the other tied behind your back…Its foolish.” I put it into terms that Ebony will understand. “Its ‘Shooting thyself in the foot’ to do it that way and you know it.” At a vote it’s five to one in favor of waiting, so we wait and we plan.

Thank you. I’m happy with it, but several people here can tell you that it gets worse and then gets better. It’s inconsistent until story five. Lol.

Chapter 4—Overdue Business

Six hours since the explosion and not a word from the recon force we sent out to gather intelligence. The team consisted of three of Ebony’s people and Amber.

“God Ebbie, I hate this waiting.” I say as I set up in the bed that Ebony and I have shared since the second month after my arrival.

“You’re the one that wanted to, remember.” She says sarcastically.

“Well, I’m sorry Ebony, the next time you want to run off and get yourself killed and leave me lonely, I won’t try to protect you!” This dance has gone on for a while now, Ebony has been avoiding the source of our problem since we both came to rest. Finally she breaks her silence.

“Why were you hugging Trudy earlier?” Ebony is controlling her anger a great deal, but its there. When she doesn’t get the answer straight away, she says “Well are you going to tell me or not?”

“Let’s talk about something else Ebony.” I ask.

“No let’s not Jaymes! Lets find out why my boyfriend is hugging another woman!” She said loudly.

For some reason this just pushes me over the edge and I scream at her “You know why Ebony! Dammit! You’ve always known why!, before this damn virus hit I loved her, I loved her then as much as I love you now.”

Ebony starts to speak, but before she does I start again “I loved her and now she’s all alone and with a baby! Not everyone can go through life alone as well as you can.”

More quietly I say, “I just want her to know she’s protected is all.” From outside the room the sound of giggling can be heard. Patsy and Cloe were listening in. I can’t help but laugh a little. Ebony picks on them, so I bet they enjoyed hearing her put in her place like that.

Laughing, I say “Sorry babe, I hope I didn’t set your reputation back any” In one of her rare moments, Ebony sort of laughs and says, loud enough for the girls to hear “Yeah, I guess I’ll have to be extra hard on them this week.” We laugh some more as we hear the sound of running.

“I don’t love you any less.” I told her, regarding the hug I gave Trudy.

After another hour of waiting I excuse myself from Ebony to clear my head. I make my way to a spot that I like when I need to think, only to find it occupied by Danni and Alice saying something about children if the battle comes here.

Danni asks me “What do you think…what is your name anyway?” I tell her that my real name isn’t important and that they can call me Razz.

Alice has a huge burst of laughter at this. “If you’d rather be called Razz, your real name must be nasty!”

I look at her with a devilish look on my face and I say, “Maybe I like Razz because one Alice in the tribe is enough.” Alice returns my devilish look and smiles, Danni has a good laugh at this. “Well, I guess you’ll know soon enough, but my real name is Jaymes.”

Alice says “It’s a good name.” Then she excuses herself to check on the children.

When I start to walk away Danni stops me. “Let’s Talk.” She says.

I stop and sit back down “What’s on your mind Danni?” I betray a small amount of nervousness at her request.
Danni is straight to the point “Why did you lie to us Jaymes?”

“I lied because I’m tired of being alone. That and I have a history with Zoot, I was his friend in school, and I worked with the Locos every now and then. Only when I was hungry though.”

I stop for a second then say “I was afraid that if Bray and Trudy knew I remembered my time with Zoot that they’d vote to keep me out… I can’t take being lonely again.”

Danni shakes her head in understanding and says, “You should have trusted us to see beyond your past. The rest are very forgiving…and I know about having a past. My father was one of the people who created the virus.”

I think Danni expected that I was going to be angry with her because of this, but I put my parents in the ground long ago, and set her mind at ease about my feelings on it when I say “Killing the entire adult population must have been a high paying job in the old days.” Then I say “I guess I should have trusted you all from the beginning, but I was afraid. The only one who openly accepts me is Ebony. Even the children are scared of me. Do you know what its like to scare a little girl and not know why?”

Danni apologizes for the comment she made earlier. “Well Danni, I have to go. You enjoy yourself.” Then I add: “Danni, no matter what happens in the future, remember you are a good leader of this tribe.”

To this Danni says, “You remember not to let your demons consume you.”
Since we’re probably about to engage in battle I decide to take care of a few things to try and get the people to accept me a little more and to dispel their fears. First off I find Alice since she’ll be the hardest to win over.

As I arrive at the food court, I stop Alice from standing up. “What can I get for you Alice?”

“Ah, a gentleman,” she says, “Just get me a juice.”

I hand her the juice and ask if I can join her. “Sure, least I can do for the drink.”

I nod and go ahead with the conversation. “I think you and I have started on the wrong foot. We never really did hit it off.”

Dryly she says “Go ahead.”

I nod, “I know that these dreams disturb you, probably more than they do most others, and that sets you off about me, but I want you to rest assured that I wouldn’t EVER do anything to hurt this tribe, or you. I’d sooner cut off my own arm first.”
The thing I like about Alice is that she’s not one to say a lot that doesn’t need to be. "You admit you lied to us, why do we trust you now?” She asks.

“That’s a good question, and for a better, more reliable answer than I can give, you need to talk to Trudy and Bray.”

Alice thinks I’m avoiding the question and says as much. “I’m just telling you who you can talk to that you’d be more likely to trust.” I sigh and say “Look, I’m just looking for the chance to prove myself and to escape my past. I just hope to make the friends here I’ve never had anywhere else.”

Alice reluctantly agrees to this. “Okay, you’ll get the chance, but I’m going to be watching you like a hawk.”

“Good,” I tell her, “I would expect nothing less. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to talk to some others.”

Now for the part that I have the most fear of, I search for Lex to talk about a few things. The first thing I learned about Lex is that when it comes to him, you know exactly how he feels about you at the moment.

Before I even have a chance to enter the room he says “This thing is all your fault ya know! We should be out doing something about this, not sitting here like logs.”

I respect Lex a great deal for his straightforward nature, which is why I’d like to count him as a friend. "What is it about me that you hate so much?”

Lex looks at me like I’m a fool for not knowing, then says “You’ve messed up our entire way of life. We should have killed you when we had the chance.”

I give him a ‘What a moron’ look. “I never asked you people to save me. Ebony took it on herself. I was in a coma, I didn’t have the choice to walk away.”

Lex starts in again, “You know what, its not only that I don’t like ya, its that half these people are scared of what you’re here for, and Ebony’s losing her edge, and I know you think you’re hiding it, but I want to know what’s up with you and Amber…I know something’s going on with you two.

I show Lex a tattoo that only two other people know I have. “Amber gave me this personally when she was known as Eagle. She named me Wolf.” Before Lex can start again, I say “I had sworn to live and die at her command before you’d ever seen this mall, and to this day if Eagle orders me to fall on a sword for her, I WILL DO IT WITHOUT ASKING WHY!; that is what’s between us.” I lost control of my anger a little there.

Lex leans in close and asks “Was Amber your woman?”

I glare at him and say “No, not ever. She once saved me from a mob when I was near death. She took me in, she fed me and she clothed me. I owe her a debt that I’ll never be able to repay.”

Getting back to an earlier subject I ask “What makes you think Ebony has lost her touch?”

Lex grunts and says “This explosion for one thing. Never would have happened if she’d been on her game.” When I start to reply Lex yells “SHUT UP!”, then: “And even if it had happened we’d be out doing something about it.”

I reply to him then, “So what, she’s finally got a little sense about just running in blind…” Lex interrupts me by saying “YOU’RE TAMING HER!”

I laugh a full belly laugh at this and say “Lex, my friend, you know our little tigress keeps her claws sharp even while hiding them.” Confused, he asks “What’s that supposed to mean? I tell him it’s just my way of saying that a leopard never changes its spots. A simple grunt is all I get in reply. I really should have known better than to use symbolism with him.

“Lex, one day we’ll be as close as brothers.” I say, then I leave.

After getting myself a drink I go to knock on Ryan and Salene’s door. I feel for her because of our shared problems in the past. Ryan is just walking out when I knock.
“Something I can help you with?” he asks with just a hint of territorial paranoia, like I’m trying to steal her or something.

“Hey Ryan, I was just going to ask if Salene would go with me to talk to Patsy and Cloe. They like her, so I thought maybe having her there’d be easier.” I tell him

“Why do you wanna talk to them?” He’s very protective, if anyone were to hurt those girls Ryan would be the first in line to rip that person apart.

“Well, with us putting together a battle group I was hoping to make peace with everyone I could just in case. I’d just like to feel accepted and like I belong before we go.”

“Yeah, I get that.” Ryan says, “Kinda makes it hard, the girls being scared and all.”

I whisper, “Yeah.”

Ryan kisses Salene goodbye and then I take a seat and ask her my question. “Sure Jaymes, I’ll go with you.” She then moves around to face me a little straighter.
“Are you alright? You’ve been through a lot of stress lately. Any…setbacks?” She asks me.

“I almost did two nights ago…hurts me you know, being back around her.” I tell Salene.

“I had no idea that this was THE Trudy. I’d have had a talk with her if I had.” she says in a supportive manner.

“It wasn’t her fault Sal. All the things that happened were because I couldn’t cope. I let my pain get the best of me. I’m just glad I had group to get me through it.” I say, touching her hand like I did that night long ago.

“I’m here if you want to talk about it all again.” She offers.

“And I’m here for you Sal. Are you doing okay?” I asked her, realizing I hadn’t.

“Yeah. Ryan takes such good care of me. I wish I could tell him why I’m so reluctant.” Salene said.

“Remember rule one Sal.” I reminded her, and I say it with her. "You’ll never have real love if you don’t let yourself have it.” We say.

“I’m glad he’s gone you know.” Salene said. I know she doesn’t mean Ryan.

“I know. If the virus hadn’t got her I’d have killed Aunt Rose myself.” I say.

“They’re gone now and we’re better people.” Sal smiles.
She changes subjects suddenly. “How are your dreams? Still getting worse?”

“Who told you about that?” I ask her.

Salene smiles and says “Actually Patsy told me, she and Cloe sometimes sneak to your room and listen to you. They used to dare each other to go alone since you scare them.” This brings a bit of a smile to my face. “Anyway, they say the last few times they’ve been there that you’ve sounded like you were in pain and repeating ‘My name is Jaymes’ over and over again”.

I look at her puzzled. “What is it?” Salene asks.

Still puzzled I reply “That’s not part of any dream I remember.”

After getting over Salene’s revelations of a dream I can’t remember, I say to her “Salene, Why don’t the others like me?”

Salene puts a thoughtful look on her face and says “I think they like you more than they want to admit. They’re just afraid to be made fools of.”

I give her a look of understanding. “I’ll come get you when I’m ready to talk to Patsy and Cloe if that’s okay.” Then when I get up to walk out the door I tell her “Salene, you look beautiful today…I’m glad your dad’s gone too.”

After a brief stop to see Amber, a little talk about the old days, I make my way to Tai-San’s lab. Alice is of course guarding it like it held the Holy Grail, which, in a sense I suppose it does.

“Can I get in to see Tai-San?” I inquire

Alice stands a bit taller and she says “Off limits.”

I soften my eyes a bit and say “Please, just ask her.”
Alice doesn’t budge.

“Fine, ask her to find me when she’s finished.” Alice takes that guard job too seriously.

Since there’s not much day left, I decide to go to my bed and lay down. On my way, I see Ebony. “Hey there She-Devil, you coming to bed soon?” I ask.

In a half-purr she says “I’ll be along, you just get the bed warm lover.”

Interlude—New Dreams

After two hours waiting for Ebony to come to bed, I decide that she isn’t, so after finding a rose, and a candle I light the candle and write her a note that says “A rose for you to make beautiful, and a candle to light your way back to me.”

When it starts, I am shaken, in my sleep I feel the surprise at a new dream. The surprise quickly turns to utter shock and horror, as an enemy floods the mall attacking us.

I run in to where Bray and Lex are, and meet the enemy head on. Bray takes down two, and Lex breaks the legs of one attacker. I let out a war howl and take down two enemy, and break the nose of a third on the upswing.

Over the noise we hear Tai-San scream a sound like death. Lex and I turn as one. I see the look on his face, look at him and say “Keep fighting, I’ll protect her.”

When I get to the other side of the mall, I see seven enemy attacking the girls.

Ebony is on the ground, out of the fight, Tai-San and Danni are fighting two of them, Patsy and Cloe are doing what they can to fight off two enemy, two more enemy are trying to grab at Trudy and Brady.

I note that Alice and Ellie have taken down number seven. I focus in on the two attacking Trudy. I jump through the air swinging and crushing the first one’s skull, Ellie stops the second from taking me down by hitting him in the spine with a steel rod.

Alice and Tai-San have subdued the two Patsy and Cloe attacked. Hearing Salene screaming Alice, Tai-San and Ellie run to find her.

“Patsy, Cloe, watch that door…if its not a Mallrat, I want to know if its coming towards this room.” I tell them.

I move Ebony to check that she’s okay, then I go to check Trudy, who is in shock. From behind I hear thudding noises and I turn just in time to see the ball bat that knocks me out.

When I come to, I am locked alone naked in a room so dark I can’t see the walls. “Ah, you’re awake.” Says a voice from an intercom system. “Now, where have your mallrats gone to hide?”

“Where are my clothes?” I ask.

The voice booms “ANSWER THE QUESTION!” I refuse to answer, and after a while the voice returns. “You aren’t protecting anyone.”

A video monitor built into the wall activates and I see Patsy, Cloe and Trudy chained to poles in a field. Brady is strapped in front of the girls to a stone slab. I watch as, without a word, two people come and set Patsy and Cloe on fire, then a third comes in a moment later and crushes Brady under a huge rock.

Trudy’s agonized screams replace Patsy and Cloe’s screams as they die. Still screaming, Trudy is stabbed twice in the stomach to bleed to death as she screams at the loss of her baby.

Without remorse, the voice says “Now where are they!” Agonized at watching Trudy die in this fashion I feel like I’m outside myself and I rock back and forth.

“WHERE ARE THEY!” the voice comes again. Not in control of myself I repeat over and over “My name is Jaymes, my name is Jaymes, my name is Jaymes. Never tell you.”

I wake in a terror I’ve never felt before…ever.

Chapter 5—Finished Business and Battle

Memories of the terrifying dream deaths of Patsy, Cloe, Trudy and Brady haunt me as I sit for two hours staring at the wall and wanting to have one of the ‘setbacks’ Salene asked me about before Ebony wakes up. I didn’t even realize she was here. “Jaymes, what’s wrong?” she asks me. I don’t answer for a few minutes, thinking about how soft and caring that Ebony can be moments like this when nobody else is around. When I finally do tell her about the dream, she asks why it’s never made me this way before.
“Because I’ve never remembered it before. Wish I didn’t now.” Salene told me that Patsy’s heard me have the dream before.” I expected that hearing about Patsy sneaking into our rooms at night would upset Ebony, but she just wraps her arms around me tighter.

Rather rudely I throw her arms off me and just pick up and leave without saying much to Ebony. Oh well, I’ll apologize later I guess.

I go and sit in the food court. I’m just staring at the table but I hear Patsy Cloe and KC whispering about me and the dreams. I hear Amber and Trudy tell them to hush and that sometimes bad events in life make people have bad dreams.

Trudy brings Brady over and she asks me if I want to talk about it. Finally, the dreams and the stress become too much, I almost tear up again. I pick up Brady, I hug her and I say, “I’m sorry little one, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you and your momma.”

My vision starts going funny and fading and my ears start to have a ringing in them. As the world goes black, I see Trudy and Eagle over me. The last sound I hear is “Jaymes, Jaymes, are you okay?”
I am startled awake by a noise in my room. “Where am I? What happened? Oh, no, did I hurt Brady?” Salene is there, and she puts her hands on my forehead, “Calm down, Brady’s fine. She and Trudy are right here.” She stands up and says “She wanted to know why you passed out. I told her about your weak system.” Salene excuses herself.
“She shouldn’t have told you about that!” I say as Salene’s footsteps fade down the corridor.

“Your dad’s sister tried to poison you?” Trudy asked.
“Yeah.” I say. “When I told her I was gonna…” I stop. “I don’t wanna talk about it Trudy.”

“But…I don’t understand why your aunt would want to poison you. Or how she got away with it.” Trudy said.
“She got away with a lot. Now’s not the time to talk about it.” I told her.

I sit up in bed to see Trudy is there and holding the baby. Almost afraid to ask, I say “Are you sure I didn’t hurt her?”
Trudy smiles a little smile and says “No, you didn’t hurt her, but you gave us all quite a fright. What was all that about?”
The memory gives me chills as I say coldly “Pure terror.” Sweet Trudy always has known when some answers will have to do and mercifully doesn’t ask anything else.

“I’m sorry Trudy, these last couple of months have been hard on me with these dreams and everything.” I apologize.
Trudy takes this silently. “Will you tell me what this one was about?”

“No.” I say simply.

“Why not, you trusted me with the first one.” She reminds me.

“This one’s worse.” I tell her.

“I’m an even bigger girl than I was the other day, so start talkin’ little boy.” she says playfully.

I ask her again, just to make certain, if she wants to know and she says she does

“Okay then, I’m sorry about this, and let me say first that I think it has to do with the fact that I’m back here with you.” she nods then I tell her about the dream, how Patsy and Cloe were murdered, then Brady was smashed (this struck her so hard) and then the way she was killed.

“They did it because I wouldn’t tell them the hiding places. I wouldn’t tell them though, I kept repeating over and over ‘My name is Jaymes’ so I wouldn’t tell them.”

Trudy sits over on my bed and I reach over and rub Brady’s head. She makes happy noises. “You know I never would’ve hurt her on purpose, right?” I ask Trudy.

Trudy just gives me a half silly look, “Why ask me that? Of course I know you’d not hurt her. After I got pregnant who kept as more watch over me than you…even if you did try and keep it secret?”

This comment brings back memories. Always watching to see that she was eating enough, checking to see if she was too sick. I couldn’t do more than watch though. Its nice to see it was appreciated, anyway. Trudy is so much more perceptive than I give her credit for. I thought she was just a groupie type in school, a bit of a ditz, but I loved her anyway. I come out of my memories and ask Trudy to send in Salene.

When she comes in, Salene seems distant, but she asks “are you feeling okay?”

“No,” I tell her, “I’d give anything for a beer and a razor right now.”

“What happened Conner?” She asked, falling into the group routine.

“I just had the “I’m Jaymes” dream. I’m glad I haven’t remembered it before. Its horrible, more horrible than anything I’ve ever experienced.”

Salene asks me “What’s the dream about?” I tell her the gruesome details. Salene doesn’t handle them very well, but she stays strong.

“I’m ready to talk to the girls now, if you’ll still go with me.” I state.

Salene hangs her head and says “I wish you could, but they disappeared while you were out.”

I look surprised “What! How long was I out of it for Salene?” She acts shocked that nobody told me. “You’ve been down for about a day and a half Jaymes.”

I contain my surprise at this and Salene says “The girls went to walk Bob. He came back three hours later, but the girls haven’t been seen.”

“We’re looking for them?” I ask.

“Bray, Ryan, Ebony and Lex went. They’ve reported back and left again.” She says. I place my hand on her knee and say “You must be worried.”

“They’re just so little, and they’re all alone.” She says. I look at her softly and say “I meant worried for Ryan.” Salene smiles at this, but she doesn’t hide her concern well.
After I tell Salene I’m fine and she leaves I spend time wondering if Ebony is okay. I tell myself that Ebony is a warrior and is fine but the thought is still little comfort to me.

“May I come in?” I look to the door and I see Eagle standing there. Following an old custom I say “Yes Tribemistress, it would be my honor.” She enters with a laugh. “This is a new tribe. I’m not Eagle anymore than you’re still Wolf. We’re Amber and Jaymes of the Mallrats now, so stop calling me silly names.” I nod to her
Eagle and I have a history and a friendship formed on common loss of other homes. I rub my shoulder where the spirit tattoo she gave me resides.

“So, do you know what the trouble is?” she asks me. “You’ve always been troubled by nightmares when you’re stressed out.” I shake my head, Eagle knows me very well, and has an excellent memory.

“I think it’s being back here around Trudy…especially now that she knows I remember her.” I say.

“That and your love for Trudy affecting your feelings for Ebony. Does she know how much you care for Trudy?”

When she says this, we both laugh. Ebony hates Trudy, we know how she’d react to knowing I had feelings for Trudy. “Not even Trudy knows how deep my feelings go.”

I have been thinking long and hard about the next thing I say. Only one other time has what I’m about to ask been shared, it is between Eagle and Wolf, a bond which cannot be broken.

When she bonded me to her in this fashion years ago, we were both shaken, I believe we still are to an extent. I look at her seriously and I say “can I ask you a question?” the same way she did those years ago.

She looks at me with a silly expression, obviously not seeing it and says “You know you can. Anything.” The next thing I say is a ritual wording from Eagle herself to bond us to each other:

“I ask this question not as Jaymes to Amber, but I ask as Wolf to Eagle. If anything should ever happen, will you, Eagle promise me that you’ll protect Trudy and Brady if I can’t?” she is as shocked by this now as I was when she bonded me to protect her with my life, but still she says “As Eagle to Wolf, I swear it.” I bring out my knife and I place a cut on my left shoulder at the front and then my right hand. I pass the knife to Eagle and she does the same.

We then place our cut hands on each others cut shoulders. Going along with the ritual we say together: “The circle of blood is our bond, through it we pass our burdens, our loves, our promises, our selves. Through the blood we share our hardships and we share our celebrations. If there is no us, the circle is not complete. The one must shoulder the burden of the two. We protect each other, for the circle is our bond.”

Amber leaves quickly. She is obviously as disturbed by the ritual as I was when I promised to protect her life with my own. To this day though, the only way Eagle will die is if I die first.

Tai-San enters a moment later saying that Alice told her I was looking for her. From her face, she heard Amber and I.
“Go ahead and ask Tai-San.”

She smiles thoughtfully and says “That was a ritual from your old tribe?”

I shake my head back and forth “No, only Eagle and Wolf share that ritual. Its not something to be entered into lightly, and I expect you to keep what you’ve heard a secret, even from Amber and I.”

She has other questions but won’t ask them. “Why did you need me?” the change of subjects is welcome

“I was hoping, Tai-San, that I could find out where you and I stand on trust.”

She looks at me thoughtfully and says “Yours is a bright aura. Your soul is not violent except where it must be to protect yourself, or those you love, even then you detest the violence” taking a breath she continues, “Yours is not a soul to be distrusted. No soul with as much pain as yours can betray another.” Then she adds: “Each of us has secrets, even from ourselves. Yours are not dangerous.”

I look at her and say “mysterious.”

“I have faith in you” Tai-San says as she leaves.

I choose a good time to come down, as a commotion announces the return of Lex, Bray, Ryan and Ebony. They’ve come back empty handed. There are too many people asking too many questions as I take up a seat beside Trudy at a table.

Brady giggles and wraps her little fingers around one of mine. I look at Trudy and say “At least she’s not holding a grudge.” Trudy smiles as Ebony calls for quiet.

“We’ve found where they are.” Bray says. “They’re a couple of miles out beyond the bridge.”

Ebony takes over saying “We’re going to rest a while then organize some of my people and go back out.”

Salene is the first to ask what’s really on everyone’s mind “how are Patsy and Cloe?”

Ryan answers with “Yeah, the girls looked okay, probably scared though.”

After the recap, everyone eats and goes to rest a while. I escort Ebony back to our room and when we’re at the door I ask “Do you want me to go?”

“No, stay with me.” When we climb into bed, Ebony speaks first “What happened yesterday?”

I look at her and say “these dreams are getting the best of me. I just lost it a little bit.”

Ebony cuddles to me and says “I’m going to tell you something that I’ll deny if you EVER repeat.”

After I promise to keep her secret, Ebony says “You scared me. I didn’t know what to do. I lit our candle so you’d find your way back to me.”

I hug her tight and say to her “I’ll always find my way to where you are.” and then I ask “What do I need to take with me when we go back out?”

Ebony bolts up in bed at this and says “You ARE NOT going! You’re in no condition.” I start to protest and Ebony says “Bray and Lex agree. You’re staying here to watch over the girls. Alice will go with us and you and Amber will stay here to secure the mall.”

To this, I say “Okay Ebbie, lets just go to sleep.” When I know she’s asleep I hug her a little tighter and say “I love you Ebony.”

Ellie’s voice wakes us from our sleep

“EMERGENCY! Everyone wake up, EMERGENCY they’re getting in!”

Ebony and I jump out of bed at the same time. I grab my weapon’s belt and start running. I stop just outside the door to our room and catch Ebony as she comes out. I kiss her deeply and say “Find your way back to me.”

The battle is joined quickly as we find Lex, Bray and Danni near the mall entrance. Danni has just crushed the throat of an attacker and Bray and Lex have driven back three more. Ebony takes up position beside Danni and I turn to find Amber has my back.

“Are Trudy and Brady secure?” I yell.

Amber, breaking the ribs of an enemy says, “Yes, Salene and Tai-San are with them, Jack and KC are at the door.”
I nod as I fight off a particularly strong enemy and then say “where are Ellie and Alice?”

“Ellie’s making sure everybody’s up, and Alice and is backing her up. They’ll make their way to Salene and Tai-San and the rest”. I hear a yell as Lex goes down from a blow to the head. The yell was Ryan powering his way through a crowd of enemy. Cloe was right, these are outcasts or something. None of their costumes match up.
The battle rages for nearly three hours with neither side gaining an advantage until Ryan is knocked out, and Bray is incapacitated with a damaged knee. Still the tide is in our favor and we drive them back.

Then everything hits the fan.

I see Ebony overpowered by 3 guards. As I’m on my way to her, a scream catches my attention and I turn to see Trudy and Brady being held by several enemy. The lead attacker orders a retreat.

“Help Me!” Trudy screams, “Don’t let them take us.” Then I hear Ebony yell for help. I am torn apart inside, its as though time stops. They are trying to take both my loves from me.

“Jaymes, Help me!” Ebony screams, then Trudy screams “Don’t let them hurt my baby!”

From behind I hear “What do we do?” I look back and forth between Ebony and Trudy, then with agony on my face, I look at Amber, and with pain in my voice, say “Eagle! remember your promise.”

She knows what I mean, because as one we jump Trudy’s captors, each of us killing one, Trudy knocks one to the ground allowing me to crush his skull. The remaining attacker run empty handed. The last of the attackers runs carrying an unconscious Ryan out of the mall

In the wake of battle I’m thankful that we saved Trudy and Brady, then I remember that Ebony was taken. It’s as if the world’s gone silent as I sink to my knees and I escape inside myself.

Oh no. Where’s ebony???

Chapter 6—Aftermath and Demon’s Pact

In the aftermath of battle I was unreachable. For four days there was agony without end over my decision to save Trudy and Brady while letting Ebony be captured. The pain stopped eventually, but I was a while longer running the course of doubt and despair to get back to normal.

Salene and Alice took double duty taking care of me. In the morning Salene would remove plates of food I didn’t eat, and would change half drank glasses of water or juice. in the midday and night Alice would bring more food and drinks.

They both tried to talk to me but I wouldn’t respond to them, even though I heard everything. I vaguely recall the second day Trudy bringing Brady in to try and rouse me. Finally just thanking me for saving them and leaving.

Tai-San even came once when she got feeling better, read my aura and reported accurately to Ellie and Alice that I was there, but my soul was ‘crying hard tears’ an appropriate description indeed.

Ellie and Jack tried to bring me around but nothing worked. Bray even came in trying to get me out of it with talk of the old days, but when your will to live is gone and your heart’s given in to despair, its hard to be brought out by anything.

Over the course of the week I think everyone came in, but it wasn’t until at last Amber came in that I was shocked back to life. First Amber talked to me about our time in our old tribe. Seeing that this didn’t work, she started to talk about her own life before the virus, a thing we did often, but I still stared into space without moving.

Finally Amber says “Wolf!”, a pause “Wolf, this is Eagle…you owe me a debt! I’m here to collect it.” Not even this stirred me from my anguish.

Like in a tunnel I hear Amber say to someone “I can only think of one other thing.”

“What’s that Amber?” someone asked.

Amber sounds almost sad in my half delirious state as she says “Something he’d never refuse, but I’m afraid in his state what he’ll do. I’ve seen it before. Everyone else should clear out.”

There’s a pause then Amber, in a voice of command says “Wolf, PROTECT ME!” memories of the blood bond come screaming back to me as these words strike me like a fist.
Its as though with these words that my body is not my own, so deep is my conditioning to them. I twist in my bed, grab a weapon and jump at the door as I identify the first thing in sight that isn’t Eagle. She reaches out and hits me in mid air, knocking me to the ground. When I come fully to myself I see that if she hadn’t caught me I’d have taken out Alice.

I look up to find most of the remaining tribe, including Dal, back from the farm, standing at my door. Alice is first in the crowd and says “Welcome back Jaymes. That was good work during the fight. Maybe I won’t watch you quite as close anymore.”

I manage a polite smile, but the only thing I can muster to say is “Ebony is still gone and it’s all my fault.”

Everyone leaves when they find out I’m alright.

The thing about having awareness shocked back into you is that you get to remember all over again the things that hurt you in the first place. I don’t allow myself to cry the tears, but the pain, the not knowing, those are horrible questions to have on your mind, that and the worst question of all: Could I have done more? It’s this question that I spend two hours dwelling on until I get hungry.
I walk through the mall seeing signs of the battle everywhere. I grab a sandwich when I get to the food court and sit at my favorite table. Tai-San smiles and pats my shoulder as she leaves for a morning herb gathering. “I’ll be back later if you need to talk.”

Bray comes down the steps, walking carefully on the hurt leg. He sits down at my table. “How’s the leg?” I ask.

“It’ll heal, but I’m out of commission for a while.” he reports.

“Who else are we down?” I ask. Bray looks down at the table. He’s not saying it, but he’s blaming himself for all this. He’s wondering if he’s a good enough leader.

“Patsy and Cloe were already gone, Lex got busted good to the head, Danni got a broken arm out of the deal, Ryan was taken…and of course, Ebony.”

The silence hangs on the air just a moment, then Bray extends his hand “I want to thank you for saving my niece when I wasn’t able. Anything you ever need, I owe you a debt.”

I reply “You owe me nothing old friend. They mean almost as much to me as they mean to you.”

“Still” Bray says. “Anything you ever need.” Then he tells me about the note. “They’re all alive. The note said that sometime soon they’d ask for what they want. Our people are safe until then.”

Bray lets me finish my meal in silence then says “You should go surprise Trudy and Brady. They don’t know you’re awake yet.” I tell him I’ll do that. “Trudy hasn’t eaten a lot since you’ve been down. You remember her. It’s that stress reaction. She’s been feeding Brady, but that’s it.”

I nod, then I say “Bray, I’d like a meeting called for tonight, everyone there.” He agrees, with the exception of Lex, who isn’t in the condition.

I load a tray with fruit and place a flower in the middle, and walk to Trudy’s room where I find she and Brady both sleeping. I sit the tray on the table beside the bed then carefully sit beside her and hold my hand on her shoulder, carefully and slowly so I don’t wake her up. I’ve been there about twenty minutes when Brady starts to fuss a little bit, so I very slowly get up and pick Brady up from her basket. I bounce her and I hum her a tune.

“Hey little one, lets let your mommy sleep for a while, huh? She’s had a hard few days from the sound of it.” I pat her, and I rock her back and forth and I look at Brady and say “It scared me when you and your mommy were in trouble. I love her little one. I love you too. I don’t know if I could take her being gone.” I rub her hair and say “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

When I get Brady calmed again and put her in her basket I hear “We love you too.”

I pick up the tray and bring it over to the bed. “Bray tells me someone hasn’t been eating.” Trudy explains that she did it out of some show of support. I look at her in a scolding manner. “You did it because you’re stressed out. You forget I know you. You have Brady to think about. What’s she to do if you get yourself sick?”

“I was fine Jaymes.”

“Still Trudy, you take a chance leaving that baby without a mother…and all over me? I don’t like it.” Trudy doesn’t say any more, she picks up some fruit and sniffs the flower.

Then a serious look takes her features. "During the battle,” Trudy asks “What did you mean when you said ‘Eagle, remember your promise’ to Amber?”

I reply “Its not important Trudy, didn’t mean anything.”

“No! Right after you said it, both of you went crazy on the people holding me while letting Ebony, your own woman, be captured. Now tell me what it meant.”

I start slow, this is not a subject I want to talk about. “Amber and I are friends from before. We have bonds between us that we call on from time to time.”

Trudy asks “What bonds are those?” I won’t tell her at first. “What bonds are you talking about Jaymes?” I’m still hesitant, but if I can’t trust Trudy, I can’t trust anyone.

“I am spirit bound to her to protect her with my life. A few days ago I bound her to me to protect you and Brady with hers. Trudy protests this saying she doesn’t want to feel like she owes Amber anything.

I shake my head and I say “This bond is between Eagle and Wolf, not Amber and Jaymes and not Amber and Trudy. She will not move unless I ask it, or I die…and she will ask nothing in return.”

After I tell Trudy about the tribe meeting, I say I should go and leave she and Brady to themselves for a while. “Are you sure you won’t stay for a bit longer?”

“I wish I could, but I have things to take care of before the meeting.” I tell her

“Okay then.” She says, then adds “Bye.” Trudy holds little Brady’s arm and moves it in a waving motion.

“Goodbye beautiful little ladies.” I say to them, then walk out. I stop to hear her say “He’s just like your uncle Bray.” Don’t you believe it Brady. I’m more like your dad than your uncle.

Tai-San stands as I approach Lex’s door. She speaks first “How are you feeling?”

I shake it off. “I’m fine, I’m here to see about Lex. How is he?”

Tai-San sighs as a tear falls down her cheek, a rare thing to see from her. “I’ve done everything I know and he’s not getting any better. I should be able to do more.” My heart sinks for her because her pain mirrors my own at letting Ebony be captured.

I embrace her and say “don’t do this to yourself ‘San, sometimes you run on a situation only fate can resolve.” Then I tell her “Lex is a warrior, a born fighter. He’ll be back with you soon. You can’t kick yourself because you’ve run out of choices and an event has been taken from your control.”

Despite herself Tai-San smiles and says “Ebony is strong too. You’ll get her back in quick order.” It’s my turn to smile.
We sit in silence for a few minutes, then I say “I’ve been rude. How are your injuries?”

“Cuts, and scrapes, nothing serious. Others were hurt worse.” I squeeze her on the hand and say, “Its all my fault ‘San…I’m sorry.” Before she can say anything I walk away.
I go to search out Danni and find her in her room. Salene and Alice are there. Salene looks okay, but seems distant I’m told she took a nasty shot to the ribs. They thought for a while she damaged a lung, it was just a bruise. It strikes my attention that nobody told me if Alice was injured. “May I speak to Danni alone please?” Salene and Alice leave. Alice asks me if I’m better, Salene doesn’t say anything to me.

I look to Danni and say “I don’t know why they keep asking me that, everybody’s asking and I wasn’t even injured.” Then I ask “How bad were you hurt?”

Danni holds up her arm and says “one of them got a lucky shot and broke my arm. I’ve had worse, it’ll heal.”

“What can I do to help?” I ask her.

Danni declines my offer to help her saying “I’m fine, and you’ve got your own problems.”

I nod an agreement “You’re right, that’s why I’m coming to hard decisions.” With a confused look she says “Decisions about what?”

“When I’m ready Danni.” I turn to leave then say “I’m sorry I got you and everybody else hurt Danni.”

She stops me as I leave and says “Jaymes, remember what I said about inner demons. Doubt is one of those.”

I got back to the food court for a drink. I see Alice and Ellie sitting at a table talking. Jack is talking to Dal and Amber and KC is playing a game. Salene is at a table by herself. I get a cup of water and go to the table.

“Mind if I sit down?” I ask her.

Salene responds in a short tone of voice “Whatever you want to do.”

Shocked, I ask her “Are you okay Salene?”

“What do you think?” she shoots back. “Where were you when Ryan was getting captured? NOWHERE!, you left him to be taken, but when sweet little Trudy was taken you just jumped! You even let your own woman be taken.”

The entire food court Alice, Ellie, Jack, Dal, Amber and KC are all totally silent.

“Salene I…”

“SHUT UP! You let us all get injured, except Alice cause she was lucky. All of us, except YOU, yet for a week we had to nurse you through another one of your ‘moods’…I wish I’d left a knife in that room with you!” Then she storms off.

When I look up, I see everyone staring at me questioningly. “She’s right, and it makes my decisions that much easier.” I hurriedly return to my room.

After what seems an eternity of renewed regrets over letting the tribe down, Bray knocks and comes in. “I heard what happened, are you alright?” I look up from a book I found, thinking about what Salene had said to me. ‘I wish I’d left a knife in that room with you.’ and say “No, I’m not alright, but Salene is correct, I let the tribe down, I could’ve done more.”

Bray sits and says “We all could’ve done a little more Jaymes, but you saved Trudy and the baby, that’s the important thing.”

With rage on my face I half yell, “I was selfish Bray! I saw her in danger and I just leapt. I’ll tell you something, I never even thought about Ebony.”

Bray cuts in “But you saved the baby!”

I rage at him. “Bray, Trudy isn’t my woman! I had no right!”
holding his tone low Bray says “You may not be able to see it, Salene may not see it, but the decision you made was the right one.”

In a low whisper I say “You wouldn’t think so if it’d not been Brady I saved.” Bray ignores this comment tells me the meetings ready, and asks “What was that she said about the knife?”

I ignore the question of the knife completely and address his comments about the meeting. “Okay Bray. Would you please have the meeting moved to the spot where Ryan was taken?”

Bray gives me an odd look and asks “That’s a bit cruel isn’t it?”

“It’ll make sense Bray” I tell him.

When everything is gathered, I find the remaining Mallrats gathered at the spot Ryan was captured. I get started right in. “I’ve asked everyone here for two reasons. First, I’d like everyone to participate in a ceremony of hope for our missing and second, I have an announcement to make.” I ask that everyone make a circle around the spot Ryan was taken from and I place a large candle in the middle.

I quite deliberately sit beside Salene in the circle. I bring four flowers out of the bag I have with me. “First, I’d like to thank Tai-San for helping me work this out…and for not letting me rope her into doing it. Second, as I pass the flowers around the circle I want us each to think about all the people we’re missing. Salene, when each flower reaches you I want you to place them so they form a circle around the candle.”
There are tears as the flowers are passed from person to person. When the last flower is passed around the candle I light the candle and ask everyone to hold hands and close their eyes. I recite a ceremonial wording I worked over with Tai-San over the course of the day. “We come together in fellowship this night in this place where our honored friend was taken to ask that the candle carry our thoughts and our prayers to our lost friends. We ask that the candle serve as a beacon to light their way home to us. Four flowers to signify our four lost friend: Cloe, Patsy, Ebony, Ryan. May they hear our prayers wherever there are and may the power be with them to endure and to bring them back to us.” After this is said, I bring up two other flowers of a different sort and I say “In remembrance of those still injured. Danni, Lex. May the power be with them and help them heal quick and strong.” I lay the two flowers flat in front of the candle. “We burn this light until all our friends are home.”

For the announcement I ask that we return to the common area. “We won’t soil this place of homage.” When we get to the main stairs where most meetings take place, all eyes are on me.

“I don’t know how to say this other than to just say it, so here goes: Salene made a point to me today.” I pause for effect.

“My feelings for Trudy and Brady get in the way of my clear thinking.” I notice the slight hurt on Trudy’s face. I hate it, but it has to be done this way. “A week ago I let my feelings overrule me and I let the tribe down, something I can’t promise I’ll never do again if Trudy or Brady are in danger. That is why I’ve come to a decision.” They’re all looking between me and each other now.

“I have decided that as soon as we get everyone back, I’m leaving the tribe. I let down everyone, I let down Ebony, Patsy, Cloe and Ryan.” I take a few seconds to catch my breath. “I couldn’t stay focused and then afterwards you all had to look after me again because of my mood swings.” I notice my tears and wipe them away. “I’m so sorry Salene. I’m sorry I lost Ryan, Tai-San, I’m sorry Lex is injured, Bray I’m sorry about Danni. Maybe you should have left something with me Sal.” I stop a second then I say “Thank you all for coming…I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough.”

As I leave I hear murmurs behind me.

Now its time for my own private ceremony. I sit on the edge of mine and Ebony’s bed and think about how I let her down. “May the candle carry my prayers.” I think to myself, then I write another note telling her to find her way home.

Half an hour later, Salene appears at my door and knocks. “Were you asleep?”

I look up from the candle to see she’s been crying. Well, we’ve all been crying. She’s certainly allowed.

I say to her “No, Salene, I’ve just been thinking things over. Will you come in?”

Salene comes and sits down. I’m not sure what to say to her, but thankfully she speaks first.

“Jaymes, I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you earlier, I shouldn’t have done it. I never should have made light of…the past.” I place my hand on her shoulder and say “No Salene, you were right, I let him down.” Salene places her hand on my lips and says “No, I’m just lonely and scared for him. You saved Brady. Ryan would have done the same thing, even if it had meant me getting captured.” Then she says “You did the right thing. I just hope you can forgive me for my comment.”

She pauses for a moment, looking like she’s trying to stop tears from flowing. “besides,” she says “You have your own hurt over Ebony missing. I shouldn’t have belittled that by thinking my pain was worse.”

I look at her, hurt a little. “Salene, you don’t have to nurse me through this. We know each other’s pain a little too well for it, and this is not hurting.” I think about how many times, for how many people, she’s done this very thing she’s doing now. “Salene tries to keep everyone happy, but when Salene is sad, who’s there for her?”

“What?” she asks

“Its time you let us take care of you Salene. You need to grieve your missing just like the rest of us.” I place an arm around her as we sit on the bed and I say “Here, lets do this.”

Confused, Salene says “Do what?” I take the note I wrote Ebony from beside the candle and I write on it. ‘And please bring Ryan home with you.”

Salene can’t contain it anymore and she gets up as tears start, but she holds them long enough to say “We all love you Jaymes, don’t leave because of something I said when I was upset You know I don’t mean to say the things I do when I get like this. Please.” The tears flow as she leaves.

KC comes in, sent by Alice to see if I need anything.

“Alice sent you?” I ask in disbelief.

“Yeah, she said to drop everything I was doing and come right up, like I’m a waitress or something.” KC makes me laugh like I haven’t laughed in a while.

“I’m fine KC, tell Alice.” Then: “So, what do you think about all this KC?”

Quite bluntly KC says “Well, I don’t like you, but Lex respects you, so that’s enough for me. That and its been a lot quieter without Ebony here.”

As soon as he says it, his eyes go wide “I didn’t mean it like that, you know I didn’t.”

I stare at him for just a second, then laugh out loud, “Ah, don’t worry KC, I know what you mean. Now get outta here and go scam somebody!” KC hurries off.

The next few days are uneventful. We finally get the mall cleaned up from the battle. Lex is still in his coma, Bray is getting better, his limp hardly noticeable now. Salene is in good spirits and she and I are still on good terms and Trudy and I are getting closer.

Our people are still missing, and no further notes have been received. Our teams found their trail two days ago, but the attackers must have known they were being followed, because when our people rested the night, the attackers disappeared with a note saying the captives would die if we tried this again.

The note had one of Ebony’s braids with it. With Salene’s help I tied the braid into my own hair as a sign of remembrance and love. It looked stupid, but as I told Patsy, sometimes you do odd things in the name of love.

The pain of losing her and the others is still there, but by throwing myself into work both in the mall and on the farm I don’t have time to dwell much on it.

As another night falls, I go to the roof of the mall and watch the stars. Salene’s words, even though she apologized for them still in my mind: I wish I’d left a knife in that room with you! Well, I found one. The air is warm, with just a hint of a breeze on the night air. The kind of night I used to love before the virus. No better time to die than your favorite kind of day.

The question is how much do I want it to hurt before I bleed out? I could cut the artery in my leg. Low pain, fast bleed out. Or the wrist…lots of pain, slow bleed.

Its here watching the night and preparing to kill myself, that Trudy finds me and sits down beside me, the smell of her hair the perfect compliment to this perfect night.

Very quickly I put the knife away. Maybe she’ll just think I was sharpening it. “Where’s Brady?” I ask.

Trudy smiles and says “Salene offered to watch her for a little while. I think she lonely.” Then she asks “What were you doing just now?”

I answer her, trying to lie “Just sharpening my knife. It’s been a while since I did.”

“Where’s your stone?” She asks.

“My what?” I reply.

“Your sharpening stone. I may have been a groupie chick in school, but I wasn’t stupid.” She tells me.

“I don’t wanna talk about it.” I say.

“I did okay in health class too Jaymes. I know what runs through that part of the leg.” She says knowingly.

“Forget it Trudy. Just a mistake.” I say.

“What brings you out under the stars this evening Trudy?” I ask her, and she puts her head on my shoulder and wraps her arm through mine, saying “Do you remember that dance at school? Not the last one, but the one before?”
I shake my head “No, I didn’t go.”

Trudy, her eyes sparkling in the moonlight says “I know. You wanted so much to ask me, but you didn’t and then you didn’t go. That was a night just like this one.”

I gaze at Trudy thoughtfully. That was a night like this one. She remembers so much.

Interrupting my thoughts she asks “Why didn’t you ask me?”

I reply with “Would you have said yes? You were waiting for Bray to ask you out. You said so that time on the phone.”

Reaching back she clicks a button and I hear my favorite slow song. I’ll stand by you by The Pretenders “Where did you find this? How did you know?” I ask surprised at hearing the song after so long.

“You used to sing it all the time, and I found it in Lex’s collection. Now, are you going to ask me?”

I’m stunned and my voice betrays it. “What?…But I…”
She gives me a look that’s pure Trudy and says “Fine then, I’ll do it. Jaymes will you dance with me?”

Words fail me and I just stand up and let myself feel the moment. It was a moment of pure joy in Trudy’s arms and she in mine that seemed to both last forever and end far too soon. As the song came to an end she kissed me softly and said “I was right.”

Still caught up in the moment I ask “Right about what?”

Trudy smiles a secretive smile and says “Ask me again sometime.” Trudy begins to kiss me again and I her. The mood starts to get more intense and as it does I stop her. “Trudy I can’t, it just isn’t right.”

“Jaymes, she isn’t here.” Trudy pointed out.

I reply “I know Trudy, but if…WHEN she comes back what would…it just isn’t fair to either of us. I can’t…I won’t do that to you.”

I leave in a hurry, both afraid I’ve hurt Trudy, and afraid to let her see my pain. I make my way in the dark to my room and lay down. I don’t feel like I’ve been asleep any time when a whispered voice wakes me up.

“Who’s there?” I say in the darkness.

“Quiet. Do not speak, only listen.” The voice orders. That voice…it can’t be!

“What are you doing here? I thought you were dead.”

A chuckle. “so do most people. It suits me.”

Still not believing it I say “What if they find you here? Are you insane?”

another chuckle “Some think so.”

Almost scared, I ask “Why are you here?”

“I come to give you information. The people you seek are straight east of here, 5 miles. They move in odd patterns daily to confuse watchers.” I am told.

I ask accusingly “How do you know this? Are you involved?”

The answer in an amused tone is “I am involved only in that I watch.” Then the person says “I will do what I can to slow them down. I did not say this, I was never here.”

Still accusing I ask “Why are you doing this?”

the voice came back serious. “Because you saved my daughter.” Then he disappeared.

Chapter 7—The Long Wait

Three months have past since our people were taken.

Pictures have been sent weekly as proof that our people are alright. They are always made to hold a copy of Ellie’s newssheet to prove that they aren’t old pictures.

We are all still pained over our missing, but life goes on as best it can. Lex came out of his coma about 3 weeks after the ceremony for the missing and injured. Tai-San is rarely as happy as she was that day and in the following few.

They are currently away on a little trip. We all know what it means.

I’ve just made it in from a day of work on the farm with Dal, and I finished a nice meal that Trudy cooked for me. Bray finds me as I make my way to see that the sewers are secure. It’s my day for guard duty.

“Something up Bray?” I ask him.

“Just wanted to talk a second.” I grab a couple of old crates and slide him one to use as a chair. “What’s on your mind Bray?”

“You and Trudy have gotten a lot closer these last few weeks.” He says.

“I’ll take good care of her Bray. I know she and Brady are family.”

Bray shakes his head and laughs a little. “Its not that, I know you’ll watch after them, I was just thinking that Lex and Tai-San will be back from their trip in a day or so. Maybe you and Trudy could use some time away.”

I look at Bray then say “No, I really need to be here to help the work.”

Bray says “Don’t worry about it, you’ve done your share, more than your share really, and besides, Lex will be here.”

Reluctantly I ask “Are you sure?”

He clapped a hand on my shoulder and said “Take her somewhere and enjoy yourselves Jaymes, she needs it and you’ve earned it.”


“Jaymes, can I talk to you a second?” Jack asks me as I go on my way to the sewers.

“Sure Jack, just help me check the sewers.” Jack walks with me, checking the corridors and passages as we go. “What do you need Jack?” I ask him.

Visibly nervous he says “Well its kind of personal, its…well, its about Ellie.”

“Ah,” I say “Well, fire away buddy, I’ll see what I can do.”
Stammering his way through it he says “Well, I like her, a lot actually, and I’m not sure how to show her.” Then adds: “I see how you are with Trudy, well I thought you could help me out.”

Thinking for a moment, I say “What I do sometimes is find a flower when I’m out and bring it to her room while she’s out and leave the flower on her pillow with a note that says I just thought that wearing the flower in her hair would make it beautiful, or something like that.”

“That’ll really work then?” he asks disbelievingly

“Well Jack, its all part of a process. That, along with complimenting her for no reason, and doing little things for her, meals in bed, romantic walks, long talks, that sort of thing, but girls usually enjoy those sorts of things.” I say, then add: “I make no promises, but I got Ebony warmed up to me.”

Jack chuckled and said “Must be good then.”

As soon as Jack leaves Danni steps out from the shadows. She’s been pitching in again since her arm’s better.

“See Jaymes, even with your past they’re starting to trust you. It was all just a matter of time.”

I nod and say “Yes they are.”

“Jack still pining for Ellie?” Danni inquires.

“Yeah, I was actually surprised he came to me for advice.”

Danni gives me a sly, almost flirty smile and says “Why are you surprised. You’re a romantic at heart.” This gets a red faced look of embarrassment from me.

“So,” Danni says, “Bray tells me you and Trudy are going on a trip.” This gets a growl from me, shocking Danni a little. “What is it Jaymes?”

“I haven’t talked to her about it yet. Guess I’d best be doing that before she hears it from somebody else. You know where she is Danni?”

“She left a bit ago. She was taking Brady to the river.” Danni told me.

My eyes go wide “WHAT! Alone?” I’m at a full run before Danni even asks what’s wrong.

I leave the sewers, and I turn a corner running headlong into Alice and Amber. As I pick myself up off the ground, Alice asks “What’s the hurry Jaymes?”

“Have you seen Trudy and Brady? I have to find them.” I stammer.

Amber says “Calm down Jaymes we just passed them a few minutes ago. What’s wrong?”

As I try to run, Amber and Alice actually restrain me. “Jaymes, what is it?” Amber asks again.

“I have to get to them, he can’t find them out here.” I say, Then I say “Amber, Please let me go, I have to find them.”
After nearly ten fear filled minutes I finally catch up to Trudy pushing Brady in her stroller.

“Trudy, what are you doing out here walking around all by yourself?” I ask exasperated

Not taking me sincerely she says “I’m not alone, I have Brady here to protect me.”

Angry, I say “TRUDY! This is serious! With all the people on the loose out here you and Brady could get really hurt!” I yelled a little louder than I intended to and woke up Brady, who starts to cry. Trudy starts to get her and I stop her. “I’m sorry honey, let me.”

I pick Brady up and rock her in my arms. “I’m sorry little girl,” I say to her softly. “I didn’t mean to yell.” I walk over beside Trudy and say to Brady “See baby, everything’s better now.”

When she calms down I place Brady back in the stroller and Trudy starts pushing her again. “I’m sorry Trudy, I just don’t want to see you or the baby hurt. I’ll use the puppy dog eyes if I have to.”

Trudy lovingly says “NO! I forgive you. You’re so good to us.”

When we get to the river, Trudy lays Brady on the ground and brings out a basket of food. “I only packed for two,” she says, “But I’ll share mine.”

“Its okay Trudy, I’m not really all that hungry.” I say softly.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything.”

“I’m sure.” I smile because Trudy always sounds like a mother when it comes to things like that. While she eats and feeds Brady I say to her “Bray made an interesting suggestion today.”

“Oh really, what was that?” She asks.

“He said that you and I should take a few days away when Lex and Tai-San get back.” Trudy thinks on this a while then asks “But who’d watch after Brady?”

“Well,” I say, “She could always go with us.”

Trudy says “We’ll see”

After an hour or so, Trudy decides its time to go home. On the way, I glimpse a hooded figure that disappears when it catches me watching. I don’t see him again. When we get back, the tribe is assembled. All with hard looks on their faces.

“What is it? Is there news on Ryan and the others?” Trudy asks.

Bray looks up from his drink and says “No, this is for an in house problem.”

Everyone is staring at me, its very uncomfortable. “Amber and Alice told us about your little encounter earlier.” Bray said.

Puzzled, I say “I was worried about Trudy, that’s all.”

“Its not your actions we have a problem with, its your wording that the tribe is finding interesting.” Bray says.

I look at him weird and say “WHAT?!”

Salene breaks in, “Jaymes, we’re not here to accuse you of anything, we just want to know if something’s going on.” Then she says “You said “HE can’t find them out there, not THEY can’t find them out there. What were you worried about?”

God, I made a mistake. What do I do now? They’ll never understand if I tell them what I think is happening.

At my hesitation Danni says “Jaymes, remember, you’ve just gained the trust, keeping it is just as hard.” Trudy is even starting to look suspiciously at me now.

“Please, don’t make me do this, I beg you. Please.” This time Amber speaks “Jaymes, I can hear in your voice this hurts. Trust us to help you through it.”

“Amber, I can’t do this. Bray, this is not necessary.”

Bray says “We’ll decide that after you’ve told us.” I wait, still not saying anything, Salene says “Remember rule four Jaymes?” We say it together. “Admit to friends the things you’re afraid to admit to yourself.”, then Amber speaks again “Wolf, you need to share this with us.”

She called me Wolf, that can only mean they’ll never trust me again if I don’t speak. Hanging my head, I say “Since the attack on the mall I’ve received three visits from a person giving me information about our people. The information is good, if not timely. I’ve tracked the leads myself and found remains of camps.”

Salene asks “Why wouldn’t you tell us that? What’s so bad?”

It’s a few breaths before I continue. “The person giving me this information never gives his name, I’ve never seen his face. He claims that he’s helping me because during the fight I saved his daughter.”

For a moment everyone is confused. Bray and Trudy both get it at the same time. Trudy speaks first “HE’S DEAD! He went straight off those stairs!”, pointing to her left.

Bray interrupts her, “There’s no way its him. I saw his body, we burnt it even. I don’t know who it is, but it’s not Martin.”

I look at him and say loudly “I know that! That’s why I didn’t say anything. There’s no reason to scare everyone, especially Trudy, over someone we all agree it cannot be!"

Bray shoots back “If you don’t think its him why were you so scared earlier?”

I laugh straight out loud, amazed that Bray doesn’t get it. Sarcastically and condescending, I say “Well, this guy is claiming to be Zoot, and on the chance, no matter how remote it may be, it actually is him, I’d rather not have Trudy and Brady be left alone.” To hurt him, I say “and some of us seem to care a little more for that baby’s safety than do others.”

Amber breaks in “That was low Wolf.”

“Look,” I say “Do with me what you will. I was just trying to look out for safety and keep things peaceful at the same time.”

I go outside because I’m in a mood to throw things I won’t have to clean up. I’ve been at this a while when from behind me I hear “Aren’t you a little old to be throwing tantrums?”

I grunt. “I’d rather not talk to you right now Amber.”

“Fine then, don’t” she says. “I’ll talk, you throw things and listen.”

I let my voice overpower hers. “What do you WANT Amber?”

she grabs me by the arm and forcefully turns me to face her. “You can’t keep doing this to yourself Jaymes! We just wanted to talk and you expected the worst of us all.” Then she says “You probably think I’m here to tell you we voted you out, don’t you?”

“Aren’t you? Where did I ever have a place?”

Softer, calmer, she says “No Jaymes, we never even talked about that. Bray and Danni wouldn’t hear it, said they’d leave the tribe with you. That was before you and Trudy had even come back.”

“And what would you have done Amber?” I ask her

“I would have stayed. Even for you I can’t let down the people in my care.” she said.

“How’s Trudy taking this?” I ask.

Amber hugs me softly as a friend and says “she doesn’t understand why you ran out here instead of talking to her.”
“How do I explain this to her Amber?” I beg, “What can I say to her?”

She takes my hand and says “Just go to her. The words will come. It really doesn’t matter what you say, she needs YOU, Jaymes. She’s my best friend. All she’s ever had were fears, you ease them.”

I go to Trudy’s room, and find her hugging Brady close to her. There is anger and hurt in her voice as she says “What do you want?”

“I’d like to talk if you’d let me.” She doesn’t say anything, so I continue. “You know I’d never do anything to put her in danger.”

Sarcastically, she shoots back “Oh, really?”

“Trudy, whoever this guy is, he’s never even mentioned her except that first time.” I say before she overpowers me, half frantic, asking “How could you make a deal with him! If it’s him? You remember what he was like, I know you do. What on earth possessed you to make a deal with him?”

With an amount of sorrow in me I say “I just have to get them back Trudy. I owe it to Salene and the others to get them back. If I have to make a pact with the devil to do it…so be it. I’ve been in hell before.”

Trudy’s mood changes like a light switch. She’s much calmer and more like the Trudy I’ve spent the last few weeks with. “So, you don’t really believe its Martin then?”

“I don’t know Trudy, I just don’t know. I’ve never seen his face, the voice is strange, but could be him.” I take a breath and say “Whoever he is, his information is good. All three times he’s come I’ve looked where he said and there are signs of a recent campsite. If it’s him, he’ll never touch you…or her.”

Time for a change of subject. “So, I guess we won’t be going on that trip now?”

With a furtive smile she says “Oh, yes we are little boy. It’ll take more than scaring the hell out of me to get out of going on vacation with me.”

“Brady?” I ask.

“Her too.”

I kiss Trudy and then leave her to look after her daughter.
“Bray, I need your help with something.” I say cautiously, not sure about how he feels after the meeting.

“What is it Jaymes?” he inquires.

“On his next visit, I want to catch whoever this guy is and find out what his game is.”

That hangs in the air a second, “And I need to apologize to you for saying you didn’t care about Brady’s safety. It was wrong to say it, especially in front of everybody.”

“Yeah, so how will we know when this guy’s next visit is?” Bray asks.

I answer “he always leaves a signal outside the sewer entrance. I’ll know, then I’ll tell you.”

“Okay,” he said. “well the next question is, how do we pull it off?”
Back to Trudy. “Hi sweetie, how are you feeling?”

“I’m exhausted.” She says. “It’s been a long day.”

I sit on the bed and Trudy lays her head on my leg, looking up at me so sweetly. “Why did you leave? I wanted you to stay.” she asked.

“I needed to talk to Bray. He’s going to be helping me with a few things.” I say.

“Oh,” she asks, “What things are those?”

I reply “Whoever this guy is, Zoot or not, I want to capture him next time he comes.”

This ends the sweet moment. “WHAT? No, you can’t…I don’t want him…”

I stop her by wrapping my arms around her and saying “Trudy, don’t be afraid. Brady won’t be anywhere around. He won’t hurt her.”

Still scared, she says “But what if he…” I stop her again. “Trudy, I mean it. She’ll be fine. It’s me and Bray. There’s only one other person who cares more about that little girl more than we do.”

“I still don’t like it” she says softly.

“Everything will be fine Trudy. Lex will be with us too.” She calms down and directly she falls asleep. I stay so I can watch over Brady and let Trudy rest. The only time Trudy wakes up is when I’m trying to change the baby. Watching me fumble around in the dark she has a little giggle fit.

She gets up and says “Here, let me show you.” I stand behind her and wrap my arms around her and kiss her neck. So I think to myself, This is what being happy is.

Lex and Tai-San return the next day. It must have been a good trip cause Lex even looks happy, that almost never happens. I’m in my room, but not yet asleep, checking my weapons belts and vest to see that everything is all secure, when Lex and Tai-San come to my door and knock.

“Can we come in?” Lex asks.

“Sure guys, come on in” I motion to the chairs.

They enter and they sit. “So Jaymes, word is you’ve got Zoot coming down on us all over again.”

“LEX!” Tai-San chides him.

“Sorry babe, Sorry. Just trying to joke a bit.”

“Anyway,” Tai-San begins “We just came to see how you were and to give you this.” Lex tosses me an amethyst stone, and Tai-San starts “Its your power stone” she says. “It will give you inner strength when you need it most. It will keep your dreams safe too. Sharing of power stones is a mark of friendship and of deep respect.”

Gazing at the stone, I say to her “Thank you Tai-San. I will keep it with me always.”

“Don’t thank me, you have Lex to thank for this one. He found it and thought it would be right for you.”
Silently impressed I say “Well then, thank you Lex. Its an honor.”

Looking seriously Lex says “The honor’s mine” Looking to Tai-San and holding her hand he says “You took care of her when I wasn’t able. This rock is nowhere near the debt paid.” At this, Tai-San smiles and says “Well, we should go, you’ve got your guard duty tonight.”

Night falls and my guard duty shift begins. I check the sewers carefully, and upon confirming twice that they’re clear I do a bed check.

Trudy and Brady are secure, Lex is fast asleep. Tai-San is working late but is fine, Salene is sleeping sound, talking about Ryan in her sleep, a happy date from the sound of things.

All is good until I get to Ellie’s room, I hear her crying softly, so I peek my head in and ask “Are you alright Ellie?”

“I’m fine,” she says “These are happy tears. Someone left a rose on my pillow tonight with a note that said ‘a flower for you to make beautiful by wearing it in your hair’.

“An admirer, eh?” I ask her.

“Yeah.” she said, and As I go back to my checking I think “Good man Jack.”

I repeat the pattern of sewer and bed checks all through the night, on the third trip, Tai-San asks me to sit with her a moment.

“What’s up?” I ask

“I hear you got pretty upset at the meeting the other day.” When I don’t say anything she adds “Something about throwing a tantrum?”

“So,” I say “Its Amber you’ve been talking to.”
She nods her head “Would you like to talk about it Jaymes?”

“I just don’t see why they couldn’t leave it be ‘San.” Then say “If they’d needed to know, I would have told them.”
She smiles a smile that makes her face look so wise and says “If you spend enough time here, you’ll find that they have an odd way of deciding for themselves what is, and what is not, their business.”

“But ‘San, its…” I start to say, then she stops me “Jaymes, Zoot hurt all of us, Ebony much more than others, and Trudy is always scared he’s going to come back and try and steal Brady.”

She lets this sink in and says “Zoot, or his memory, hurt both your loves horribly. You owed it to them, if not the rest of us, not to keep this to yourself.”

I reach in and take out the stone that Tai-San and Lex gave me earlier and run it around in my hands. “See,” she says “It’s helping you already.”

I ask Tai-San if Lex really found this himself. “He did find it himself. Searched for it really, two days.” She stops a moment then she says “He wanted to give it to you as a show of support without actually having to say it. You know how he is. He says you remind him of the way he was when Zandra died. All the pain and the hurt that won’t stop. He doesn’t want you to walk down the same path he did.”

“Really?” I ask, amazed. “I wouldn’t have thought of Lex as a man with regrets.”

Tai-San just says “I’m finding him a man full of surprises.”

The night is quiet and event free after I talk to Tai-San, Amber gets up once, just says hi and goes back to bed. Trudy wakes up to check Brady, I watch, but I don’t let her know I’m there…she’ll want to stay up and talk if she sees me and she needs her sleep.

I wake up just after midday to Trudy there with me “Hi. How long have you been there?”

“I just walked in. I was enjoying looking at you there.” she smiled.

“I’m gonna get something to eat.” I tell her. I’m in a bad mood this morning. I’m not telling her that, but I don’t feel like talking.

“Let me get you something.” She says.

“I’d rather get it myself.” I tell her,

“No, come on…let me do it. You were up all night.” she said sweetly.

“TRUDY, I’m not completely helpless, I can get my own food.”

She actually jerks back in fear. “What’s wrong with you Jaymes!” then more softly she says “Did you have the dream again?”

“No Trudy, not THAT one it was…a different one. I’m just in a horrible mood. I shouldn’t be taking it out on you. I just need to be by myself a while is all.” I confess.
“Okay, if that’s what you need. I was hoping to talk about our trip today.” She says. She’s trying to brighten my mood, but it doesn’t work. “Not today, okay?” I asked.

After breakfast, which I take from the kitchen to the sewers, I climb out the hole, to find Bray just coming back. At the same time I see him, I see the marker. My mood dissolves into a pure analytical one. I pick up the marker and stop Bray as he goes to walk past me. “Bray. Tomorrow night…we have to be ready.”

He says “Okay, I have to talk to Danni then I’ll find you.”

“Okay Bray, I better get back in and find Trudy and tell her about this.”

I go back in almost afraid to talk to her after the way I treated her. It’s a hard thing to tell her, my face reflects it apparently, as I have a look of pure dread on it. “Jaymes, what is it? Are you okay?” she asks concerned.

“Trudy, I just found the marker. He’ll be here tomorrow night.” I tell her with my lips pressed together.

Her fear is evident on her face. “Jaymes, I want you with me.”

“I can’t Trudy, it won’t work.” I tell her. “Please Jaymes, I won’t feel safe unless you’re there.” She begs.
Trying to make her feel better I tell her “Okay sweetie, I’ll figure out something.” I kiss her on top of the head and tell her I love her. “I have to go Trudy, I need to get my weapons together.”

“I’ll go with you.” she says. She’s scared and doesn’t want to be alone, though she’d never say it.

When we get to my room and I pull out my weapon box it frightens Trudy a little. It is not in her nature to be violent, so weapons are foreign to her. I lay out the full contents of the box on the floor. Twelve throwing knives, four throwing stars, one large knife. Two large containers of powder, one for blinding, one that restricts breathing when inhaled…powdered pepper spray, Two steel rods made with sharpened hooked spikes, a pack of special steel spikes to slow down someone chasing me, and several flash grenades I got my hands on once.

“Maybe I should have left Brady with somebody.”Trudy says.

“She’ll be fine Trudy.” I hold up the lung restrictive powder and say “This is all we need to watch. This’ll kill her if it’s handled wrong. It’ll kill us too.”

She stares at me and says “If its dangerous to you then why do you use it?”

“Small amounts aren’t bad, at least to adults. If you throw it at an opponent and then move you’ll be okay.” I set the powders aside “I like to mix the two together so you get the double effect. I’ll do that when you leave.”

She isn’t talking, just staring at the gear. I grab one of the steel rods and hand it to her.

“I don’t want it.” She says, nervous and afraid.

“Trudy, I want you to get a feel for this. In a few minutes you’re taking Brady to Salene then we’re going to the sewers and I’m going to show you a few basic moves with this.”

Shocked, she looks and me and half laughing says “Oh no I’m not! I’m not touching that.”

I don’t have time to argue with her so I take on a mean tone, almost sounding like Ebony and say “Now you listen to me, I won’t be able to be everywhere tomorrow night, You’re taking this and I’m showing you how to use it! I may not be able to protect you and that little girl, so I’m going to go to sleep tonight knowing you can hold somebody off long enough to yell for help, is that understood!”
she looks at me with rage and says “How DARE you speak to me like that Jaymes! What right do you have!”
Still in the mean mode I half scream “TRUDY! We’re not back at school here! This person may try to kill you, and I don’t have time to be sweet to you about it and convince you.”

She says something next so vindictive I actually scream at her and leave “Knowing how to fight didn’t help you keep Ebony safe, DID IT!”

Trudy saying this hits me like a brick, and before I think about it I remember what Tai-San told me last night and more loudly than ever I scream at her “It’d serve you right if this guy was Martin and he came and took Brady away and made her as wild as HE is!”

I collect my gear and I leave her there shocked and crying. I have too much anger and fear of what will happen to Trudy and Brady tomorrow night to care what I said to her.
I must have screamed at Trudy a bit too loud, because as I walk to the sewers everyone, absolutely everyone is out glaring at me like I was pure evil. Dal is looking particularly mad. Trudy is special to him, Brady too. When I get to the sewers I decide I want some real practice, so I go outside and go to the river and to the tree line. I’ve taken my harmless powder for the throwing practice. I tack a target to the side of a tree and begin with some evasive throwing, flipping and throwing in mid air. Not as good as I’d like, but getting there. After two hours I take a break. I was so into it that I didn’t notice Bray had been there most of the time.

“Bray! I’d expected them to send Amber to talk me down from this one.” I smirk.

He says to me “Not here to talk about that unless you want to. I think you handled it wrong, but your point was dead on, she needs to learn. I’m here to talk about what we’ll do tomorrow.”

“Ah.” I nod “Well, I am going to hook a couple of Sprites up on a wire to my room, this’ll disorient him, wake me up if I actually fall asleep and will serve as a signal to you and Lex.”

“Sprites?” he asks.

I tell him I call my flash grenades ‘sprites’ “Sort of a play on that weird upper atmosphere lightning effect.”

He looks at me blankly and asks “Did you have sex in high school?”

“Girl named Erika” I say then I explain that Lex needs to be on one side of the hall, Bray on the other, so if this guy runs, we have him covered either way.

“Okay, well, how do we take him down?” Bray asks.

“As non violent as possible, but I will hurt him if I have to.” I say hard.

“Bray, was there another way I could have got my point across to her?” I ask.

Bray just says “Probably.” I just look at him very oddly
“Don’t get me wrong Jaymes, she needs to get the point, but Martin coming for Brady is still one of her worst fears…it was low to say that to her. Dal’s not too happy either.”

“Yeah, I just said it cause I was hurt. You heard what she said to me?” I ask.

“Yes, I talked to her about it.” he said

“Shouldn’t have done that Bray.” I shake my head.

“I think I needed to. She was in the wrong.” He says.
“Bray, I don’t need you to run behind me every time I have a fight with someone.” I reply.

“Well, I wanted to see how bad she was hurt too.” Bray says, then asks “Are you going to apologize to her?”

“Haven’t decided, really depends on if she does or not.” Bray just shakes his head, and we finalize plans to catch our visitor. Then I go back in, Bray has places to be, so he says.

When I come back in I pass the food court, Trudy and Brady are there, I notice out of the corner of my eye, but I don’t make eye contact. I go to my room, where I decide to lay down for a while.

Just as I’m about to fall asleep Trudy comes in. I actually ignore her though. She goes on and on about the old days how they affected her, what the world had done to her, and how bad everything was for Trudy.

It makes me angry and I say “I’ve known you for so many years, loved you, watched over you, tried to protect you and then Brady when you brought her into the world. The one thing I never thought I could do was hate you, right now though, that’s all I can do. Now get out, I want to sleep.”

She begs “Please Jaymes, I want to stay with you.”
“Well Trudy, I’ll see what Ebony thinks…oh wait, I wasn’t good enough to save her while I kept you and Brady from being taken. NOW GET OUT BEFORE I THROW YOU OVER THE RAILING!”

Pleading with me, she takes my hands in her own. “Please Jaymes, Please. What do I have to say? Just tell me and I’ll say it! I’m so scared.”

“Trudy! If I have to tell you what to say, then you don’t mean it, now get out before I say something else I’ll regret.” I growl, slowly losing what’s left of my temper.

“Is that an apology Jaymes?”

“Oh god!, yes Trudy, fine its an apology, I’m sorry for what I said. Now will you PLEASE leave so I can get some rest.” I ask her, nearly at my breaking point.

“Jaymes”, she says “Please just let me lay here with you. I don’t want to be alone.”

Exasperated I say “Fine Trudy, just lay down and don’t say anything, I’m tired. Brady is with Salene?”

quietly, she says “Yes.” I don’t speak to her again, I just turn over away from her, and I hear her crying though. When she thinks I’m asleep she says “I’m sorry Jaymes…I never should have said that bit about Ebony.” Then adds “I know you were only trying to teach me how to protect myself.”
I turn to her and ask, “Does that mean you’ll do it then?”
“Yes.” she says through a sniffle.

I say to her softly, “I’m sorry I said what I did, and I’ve acted the way I have. I love you Trudy.” When I fall asleep, we are in each other’s arms.

Trudy wakes me after an hour, asking if I’m ready to teach her yet. “I should have given you the choice earlier Trudy, so are you sure you want to do this?”

“No,” she says, “But if it helps protect Brady, then that’s what I’ll do.”

“Okay Trudy, give me a minute to get ready.” I grab my vest, belts and gear from the box, including the spiked rods that caused the argument earlier, then we walk outside. As we do so, I note that Dal looks at Trudy and I walking arm in arm and smiles. As a way to get Trudy a little more comfortable with the whole idea I ask loudly to all present “Anyone else want to come see me get my butt kicked by a girl?”

Everyone laughs and Salene takes me up on the offer and Lex comes out saying he needs the air.

I spend three hours teaching Trudy and Salene some moves with the weapons. She may not like them, but Trudy is a natural weapons girl. She was doing center ring throws with the knives after an hour, and was doing blind kill shots with the spike rod after the second.

“Good thing you didn’t have this in your hand when we started fighting.” I jokingly say. Salene laughs at this.
“Is this good?” Trudy asks.

“Took me six months to get to this level.” I tell her.

I hug her as a way to get close to her, and get her a small distance from the others, then softly I say “Can I ask a question Trudy?”

“Of course Jaymes.” She said with a small kiss to my cheek.

I take her off to the side a bit, and in a soft whisper I ask “What kind of weapons did the Chosen train you with?”
Laughing nervously she says “What? They didn’t…I’ve never touched a weapon before.”

“Trudy,” I say softly, adding a hug for calming effect “Your time with the Chosen was a long time ago, it doesn’t matter now, and nobody picks up a weapon the first time and learns that fast.”

Hanging her head in shame, and afraid to look at either Salene, Lex or I she says “I was trained on knives like yours and on long swords…staff” quietly she adds “I was trained to use poisons as well.” She adds, “You don’t even want to know what they did to my people skills.”

I feel like I should apologize, so I say “I’m sorry Trudy, I didn’t mean to…”

Crying, she says “Its okay Jaymes, I was just remembering something I did to Cloe once.” She seems disturbed by it, so I ask “Do you want to talk about it?” She doesn’t answer, but the look on her face says no, so we don’t. “I love you Trudy.” I say with a warm hug.

Knowing that Trudy can do what she needs to, we just go back inside. I set down on the edge of the bed then I start to burst out laughing.

“What Jaymes?” Trudy asks.

I still continue to laugh, almost not able to help it. After nearly two minutes, she finally gets me calmed down. “What was it that was so funny Jaymes?”

“I’m sorry, I was just remembering our fight. We were fighting because you didn’t want to learn to do something you already knew how to do. I just think that’s hilarious.” and I end up laughing for another three minutes.

Trudy asks me about my weapons, where I found them.

“Well, I looted a store when the virus hit, that’s where I got the throwers. The sprites came from a weapons locker in an old police station. That reminds me I need to check my stockpile. The powders came from a device called a “Pepperball” gun. Modified paint ball gun to shoot pellets of powdered tear gas. I added a couple of other powdered components to increase the effect. The Eco’s blacksmith taught me how to make the Chasers from scratch. I have a knife here I carry with me, the knife was a gift from a friend. I used to have swords, those were broken a long time ago. Eventually I’m going to make myself a set of hand claws, and a better spike rod.

She throws me a large can from under her bed. “nobody else knows about this.” She tells me.

“What is it Trudy.”

“It’s a powder you can add to your collection if you like. You have to wear gloves with this one, it’s a Guardian special blend He was pretty good in chemistry class too. It mixes with sweat and causes blisters and sores. He used it in ceremonies.”

“Ah,” I say “wear a glove covered with the powder and make boils and blisters appear on those who’ve offended Zoot.”

“uh-huh.” she agrees.

“I’m sorry to have called up bad memories for you Trudy.”

She shakes her head. “I hurt so many people.”

“Trudy?” I say, and she answers “Yes Jaymes?”

“Is this still about the Cloe thing?”

“Uh-huh.” she said absently.

“Are you ready to talk about it?”

“No.” We leave it at that.

Meal time, and I talk to Bray and Lex about how we’re going to do this. Lex thinks we should have a net on a trip cord in my room, Bray thinks it’s a bad idea. I actually think Lex has a good plan, but there’s no guarantee that I won’t get caught in the net also.

“Lex, grab KC and go to the hardware store. Get as many 20 pound sledgehammers and the longest four two by fours that you can find and as many nails as you can carry.” I tell him.

“What’s the idea?” Lex asks.

“Well, still using a trip cord, but instead of a net we’re going to make a nice little device that ought to hurt him like hell.”
Bray kind of raises an eyebrow and says “I like it.”

“Its settled then. Okay, I’m heading out to take a look around.” I say, then I leave.

I make my way to the old factory where all this started at, inspect the blast lines from the explosion. The pain of losing Ebony has been coming back lately, but I can’t talk to Trudy about it, it isn’t fair to her, so I’ve been coming here to meditate and deal with my pain. Today though, I don’t get to do that because Salene has followed me from the mall to here.

“Can I ask you a question Jaymes?” Salene asks, quietly, almost mousy.

“Certainly my dear friend.” I tell her.

“I miss Ryan so much, how have you made the pain of missing Ebony go away?”

Salene hasn’t been talking about it for a while, I thought she was getting on okay. “I’ll tell you a secret Salene, the pain never goes away, but with work to do, and friends who are there if you go to them, the pain gets a little bit less.”

Salene looks around and sees the spot on the floor where I usually meditate, the first time I was here I drew a circle, with lines from four points and wrote the names of the missing, one for Patsy, one for Ebony, one for Cloe and one for Ryan. “What’s this for?” She asks.

“The last few weeks I’ve been hurting again, but I won’t talk to Trudy about it…so I come here to the factory to meditate on everyone coming home. Each time I come I face a different name and I send my thoughts out to them.” I admit to her.

“Whose day was this?” she asks.

“Today was Patsy, I mediated for Cloe last time and Ryan the time before that.”

Salene hangs her head a bit and starts to sob. “I wish I could make this pain go away Salene, wish I could make it go away for us all. Is there anything one old friend can do to help another?”

“Trudy helps some, but I have a hard time talking to her since…” I look at her waiting for her to continue, but she doesn’t.

“Since what Salene?” I ask gently.

“Its nothing Jaymes.” She answers.

“Please Salene, tell me.” I try to sway her.

“Don’t worry Jaymes. You want me to leave so you can send your thoughts to Patsy?”

“It’s okay Salene, they know.”

Trudy asked me to be with her tonight. She’s had a bad day and she’s scared about what’s coming, so I arrive at her room carrying a rose for her and a daisy for Brady. I think she was happier that I brought little Brady a flower than with the rose I brought her.

“You’re so good with her Jaymes. Did your parents have another baby before the virus?” before I can speak she says “That’s silly, of course they didn’t or you’d be taking care of it now, wouldn’t you.”

“Actually Trudy I did have a baby brother, and I was taking care of him, but he passed away.” I say quietly.

“Oh Jaymes, I’m sorry. How did it happen?”

Sadness fills my eyes as I say “It was a raid on The Gaians. The men were on a hunting trip and our women wouldn’t share supplies, so they killed them and the children. Nothing left when we came home. Scorched flesh and black bones”

Trudy shudders and says “Oh Jaymes, I’m sorry. Did you know what tribe it was?”

I can’t bring myself to do more than shake my head and say yes.

“Jaymes,” she asks, “who was it.”

“Its not important Trudy.” I tell her.

“It’ll help to talk about it Jaymes.” She says to me, caringly.
“No it won’t Trudy…no it won’t.” Trudy looks at me so lovingly and says “It’ll be okay, just tell me.”

She won’t be satisfied until I answer, so I close my eyes, not bearing to see her face, and I tell her the truth “It was The Chosen.”

When I open my eyes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such pain on someone’s face. “It was a long time ago Trudy.”

She gets off the bed and picks up Brady and starts to walk out. “Where are you going?” I ask.

she looks at me with so much sorrow in her eyes and says “I’ll see if Salene will let me stay with her tonight.”

I jump up and grab her by the shoulders and say to her “Why are you leaving?.”

“I’m sorry Jaymes, I just have to go…I can’t bear it, knowing what I did.” she cries.

“What’s changed Trudy?”

“All the pain I caused, to them, to you, I can’t…” she can’t finish her thought.

“It was a long time ago. Nothin’ to be done about it now. No reason for you to leave.”

“How can you say that? He was your brother and you’re here with the woman that killed him!”

“You didn’t kill him. Probably weren’t even there honey.” I tell her.

“I ordered it though. And I was there.” She said, moving away as I tried to hold her.

I look at her softly gazing in her eyes and say “I fell in love with Trudy before the virus ever hit. I hate The Supreme Mother, but I understand that even though there’s only one body that Trudy and The Supreme Mother are two different people…and I don’t blame Trudy for what the other one did.”

“But Jaymes…” she says before I stop her with a kiss.

“Its getting dark Trudy, get back in here and lay down. Besides, I’m scared to be here alone.”

Through the flowing tears she says “Are you making fun of me?”

“Never Trudy,” I say. “What I’m saying is you did what you had to so you could keep your daughter safe, and what they did wasn’t your fault. That, and I can’t bear it when you’re not with me."

She still walks to her door to leave. I smile and grab her, smacking her butt playfully. “Trudy, get in that bed. If you go to Salene’s tonight we’ll just have to get over this in the morning.”

As night falls completely, Trudy is still blaming herself for my brother’s death, but I’m trying to get her talking about something else.

“That night we danced on the roof Trudy, what did you mean when you said ‘I was right’. She just frowns through her wet eyes and says “That’s hardly a conversation to have tonight. Ask me again sometime.”

I’m not ready to give up so I place my hands on her face and kiss her gently, “I want to know now.” I say to her.

Smiling despite her hurt she says “Ask me again.”

Ah, so we’re making a game of it. I maneuver myself behind her, take her arm and kiss her hand then as I work my way up her arm to her neck, I ask “What….were….you….right….about?”

a soft moan from Trudy and she says “That dance…I should have gone with you. I thought so then, and that night on the roof just proved it.”

Like it was planned, Brady stirs and coos in her bed. “No, Trudy,” I tell her “Fate worked out better for you. If something had changed then, you might not have that little miracle now.”

“Maybe you’re right. Lets just sleep, its been a rough day." I wrap her up in my arms and kiss her neck and behind her ears, before going to sleep.

From a deep sleep where I’m actually dreaming a happy dream about a home on a mountain somewhere with Trudy and Brady and other little ones running in the yard while Trudy and I sit on the porch watching them. I hear Brady scream. Trudy and I both wake at the same time to see a hooded figure holding Brady. Trudy screams and I grab one of my powder packs.

“Jaymes! No…Brady!”

she’s right, I could have hurt her. My mind is working at light speed and I grab at one of my steel rods I trained Trudy with. She actually grabs the other. The figure says “STOP! Move again and I’ll break her in half!”

Trudy is shocked. It’s the first time anyone other than I have heard him speak. “MARTIN!” she says, and the person just laughs, says nothing else.

In the darkness, I see Bray and Lex sneak up behind him. He hears it too and starts to run. He runs into Lex and Lex grabs the baby from him.

Knowing he’s lost, he starts running. That’s all I needed, I start running after him. Actually knocking Lex off balance and Bray to the floor I found out later. I didn’t see anything other than the person who tried to steal Brady. I catch him just outside Alice and Ellie’s room and hit his knees to knock him down. I drop the rod and start hitting him bare handed, all I can think is how he tried to steal Brady.

I hit him and hit him, over and over. I surprise myself with the fact that even in my state I don’t hit him in the head or face…that makes identification difficult.

Finally I stop, fists covered in blood. Everyone but Salene is there, she went to be with Trudy and Brady. I remember seeing Ellie throwing up and Lex and Bray come and pull me off the body. The rest of the night is a blur.

I’m going to have to start breaking the chapters into two parts. I’m a long winded writer and there’s a character limit on the posts. I hope nobody minds.

No, we don’t mind :yellow_heart: