By the time the last member of the resistance returned, it was nine thirty at night. The ex-prisoners had been the first back, as they had no proof of identity, fake or otherwise. Alex had gone with them, along with his father and Mr. Hendrick.
Alex had never experienced anything like this before. By three pm, more than two hundred men stood before them, competing with each other to be heard. Some wanted to leave, some wanted to stay, others were asking if the resistance could locate their friends and family.
Finally, Mr. Hendrick raised his voice above the din, calming the men down. "Alright, enough. By now, I'm sure you know enough about who we are, and our requirements. All those who plan to leave tomorrow, stand over to your left with Mr. Wrightley. Those of you who want to stay, go to your right for a briefing from Alexander."
Alex shot him a resentful look, but Mr. Hendrick continued on, paying him no attention. "All who are unsure, stay here with me, and I'll try to sort you out."
And that was that. Alex walked to his left. A small handful of men; about twenty or so, were gathered in a group. Among them was Greg. Alex fought to hide a satisfied smile as the ruddy man fought his way to the front of the group.
"Greg Larkinson: where do we sign up?" The grin on his face was enormous.
Alex gave in and smiled back, but only briefly. He had to keep a professional demeanour.
"I take it you're all considering joining the resistance?" he asked crisply, raising his eyebrows at the men.
Though they ranged in ages from their early twenties to late forties, the ex-prisoners all looked distinctly nervous at being addressed. Alex waited for a moment, allowing time for a reply. Silence. He continued.
"Before we even consider this, you need to be aware of the implications."
One of the men flinched.
God, what did they expect?
"As a member of the resistance, you'll be expected to actively participate in all attacks and rescue efforts. You'll be required to undergo a minimum amount of gun training each week. There can't be any guarantees on your safety. You're joining the resistance under the full knowledge that you may be required to risk, or lose, your life for the cause. I'll give you a moment to consider this."
To Alex, this was all routine. To these men, it was terrifying. Even Greg was looking uncomfortable. Alex noticed his father glancing at him from across the room.
Alex went to speak, but found himself cut off by Greg. "Well, no ma'er what we do, we're gonna be safer out here than we were in there. We owe these guys!"
A few men seemed to take confidence in these words, though others looked more worried than before. Greg continued, looking around him excitedly. "As if we would turn down a chance to get rid of the scum that locked us up. Them guys are killing our wives and raping our daughters!"
Alex wasn't sure whether to consider this melodrama or not, but it was working. Two men from Mr. Hendrick's group, who had been glancing their way, moved across to join them. A few of the ex-prisoners began to chatter amongst themselves, dark expressions on their faces.
Alex surveyed his growing group of men approvingly.
Every bit helped, after all.
"It's still here," Kiara cried, pulling the wad of cash out from behind a cupboard.
Patrick kneeled down to look, taking the money from her. "You've got a fair amount saved up, here," he commented in admiration.
Kiara took it back and shoved it in her bra. Patrick pulled a distasteful expression. She shrugged. "The soldiers won't look here."
He gave his hand to her to help her up, but she hesitated, looking around the house. "Patrick, I really don't want to leave."
Patrick tutted loudly. "Don't start that. The soldiers found all your stuff; they know someone's hiding out here."
"But they might not care," she protested, resisting as he attempted to drag her from the room. "They might not come back!"
"Or, maybe they will, and they'll kill you on the spot," He argued, tugging her more forcefully. She gave in and allowed him to pull her. She'd grown fond of the dank, empty house. Besides. She liked being alone.
"Where did Michelle say the homeless house was?" Kiara asked reluctantly, squinting against the sunlight as they stepped outside.
"Not too far from here. Just a short walk."
The alarm rang in the middle of the night. Alex bolted upright, his heart pounding. At first, he was too disorientated from sleep to understand what was happening. As the kids surrounding him began to scream, his thoughts focused.
"Bonnie!" he called, stumbling in the darkness. His hand ran against the wall to find the light switch. It didn't seem to be there. He felt a rush of panic as he groped blindly. Finally, his fingers collided with it. The room flooded with light.
Bonnie was fighting past kids to reach Alex, her lips moving. He couldn't make out her words over the shrieking siren. He walked to her briskly, and she grabbed his arm. "You calm the kids down, I'll go see what's going on," she said quickly.
"Get fucked!" he cried, but she was already sprinting through the door. Alex let his breath out slowly, trying to keep his temper.
"Everyone!" he called, but his voice could barely be heard. He whipped around to find himself facing Declan, who had apparently been going to go after Bonnie. "Declan, block this door with your life. Don't let anyone out. No one."
Declan nodded. It was the first time in months that either of the two had addressed each other, but it was no time to acknowledge this. Alex pushed past him without another word, following closely behind Bonnie. She entered the recreation room before he did, but she jolted to a stop, taking a step backwards.
Alex came up behind her, and sucked in his breath. Dead bodies littered the floor, and none of them belonged to soldiers. Women and men, still in their pyjamas, spilled blood over the carpet and chairs, motionless.
There was no one else in the room.
The alarm had stopped.
"Alex..." Bonnie took a step closer to him, looking around her. Alex suddenly pulled her into the room, out of view of the hallway. She let out a cry of surprise.
"They're behind us," Alex hissed. "They've found one of our other entrances."
Bonnie headed immediately to a desk holding a gun. She pulled it out and took off the safety catch, before turning back to Alex. "Then why isn't anyone out here?"
"They came in, killed the nightshift workers, and left." Alex's voice was barely more than a whisper. "They're behind us. They would have gone back down the hallway. They must have gone in the adult sleeping rooms."
Alex momentarily questioned his own theory; why couldn't he hear gunshots? But then he remembered just how far down the hallway the senior faction's sleeping rooms were in Melbourne.
"The kids. We need to get the kids," Bonnie said urgently. Before Alex could reply, she was running. Without hesitation, he followed her.
Alex took a terrified breath before he opened the door. He was tempted to close his eyes, but then found, to his sheer relief, that the kids the only ones in the room. Declan was still standing vigil by the door.
"Bonnie, what's happening?" he asked as she rushed past him.
"We need to get everyone out, right now."
Many of the younger children had started sobbing. Lily, a three year old girl, held so tightly onto Bonnie's pants as she tried to move that she had to resort to picking the child up.
"Here," she said, passing Lily to Alex. Alex didn't complain, but started stroking her hair comfortingly, his mind racing. Were they safer in here or in the recreation room? He made his decision quickly. If the soldiers entered here, the kids would be trapped.
He held Lily tightly, murmuring encouragement to her as the sea of kids moved past him, following Bonnie like she was the pied piper. As soon as the last kid left the room, he and Declan brought up the rear. Alex heart was racing, and he didn't allow himself to look behind him. The group was moving too slowly. They were too exposed.
An explosion of noise from behind him spurred him into action. He roughly pushed the last few kids in front of him through the door, almost throwing Lily on the ground as he slammed and locked the door behind him.
He couldn't feel guilty. His priority was the kids. They were defenceless.
Alex lunged for the nearest body and retrieved a gun from it. He flipped around to find Bonnie.
"Get them outside!" he shouted, forcing his way to her. The sickening sound of bodies lunging at the door was clear above the din. "Between the main doors and the entrance."
"They won't all fit," Bonnie protested.
"Make them fit!"
A crashing sound rang out from behind him. Alex jumped out of the way as glass rained down from the door. "GET DOWN!" he roared as bullets fired through the newly made hole.
Most of the kids were crying by this point, including many of the older ones. They were pouring, not fast enough, through the double door entry to the resistance.
Finally, as though in slow motion, the broken door gave way. Alex watched in horror as soldiers poured into the room and began to fire at the kids.
A roaring filled his ears as he shot directly at their heads. He knocked two down instantly, drawing attention to himself. As several soldiers turned their guns on him he dodged wildly.
Let them hit him. As long as they left the kids.
Ear-splitting screams filled the room. Behind the soldiers, a wave of resistance members flooded in the room, all armed with guns.
In the pandemonium, Alex couldn't tell who was a resistance member, who wasn't, who was hurt and who was dead. The last of the children had escaped the room. As Alex shot, almost aimlessly, at the mass of soldiers, his eyes caught a group of kids on the floor. Among them was a familiar mess of blonde hair.
Later, Alex couldn't recall how he made it through the sea of people to Riley. The boy was soaked in blood, which seeped from a wound in his chest area, but conscious. Alex dropped his gun and scooped him up, unable to think properly. Riley let out a scream of pain as he did so.
Alex looked up at the ensuing battle. He was utterly exposed. He closed his eyes and faced the wall, protecting Riley with his back. If he got hit, Riley could still make it. That was all that mattered.
Seconds passed, and Alex remained untouched. He suddenly became aware of someone standing behind him. He turned around, scared of what he would see.
He found himself shielded behind his father.
They were dead. Every single one of them.
It had cost them. But they'd gotten their revenge.
Every single one of the soldiers had perished. But they'd achieved so much.
Eleven of Alex's children lay motionless, soaked in their own blood. One of them was five years old.
Dozens upon dozens of the senior faction were gone. Alex couldn't bring himself to move. To do so, he would have to weave around the bodies.
Mr. Wrightley wrapped his arm around his son's soldiers, surveying the boy in Alex's arms. "Put him down, Alex."
Alex looked at his father sharply, tightening his hold on Riley. "I can't. We need to get him to the infirmary. He's been shot. He's-"
"He's dead, Alex."
Alex froze. He looked down at Riley. He couldn't be dead. He was still warm. He was still limp.
He wasn't breathing.
"Put him down, Alex."
He shook his head numbly, pulling Riley closer to him. The child's blood was smeared over Alex's bare chest.
Mr. Wrightley sighed, but didn't push the subject further. He walked past his son to talk to Mr. Hendrick. Alex pressed himself against the cold stone wall and slid down, cradling Riley in his lap. Bonnie would have to bring the kids back in, soon. They couldn't stay in there forever.
He knew he had to get Riley out of Alana's sight before that happened.
But he couldn't bring himself to move.
The first thing Kiara took in about the house was that it had two storeys. The second was that it no longer had any windows.
"Promising," Patrick murmured. He knocked on the rickety door and then made a show of wiping his hands on his jeans. Kiara stifled a giggle.
Inaudible sounds rang out from inside the house, but no one opened the door. Kiara shifted on her feet and looked above her. A redback spider was nestled contentedly in a web just above the door frame. She stepped backwards, lest it lower itself onto her head.
Finally, the door opened, revealing a skinny, crabby looking woman. Behind her, a crowd of people were peeking past her arms curiously. Several were just slumped on the dusty floor; a few had bothered to stand to see her.
"What?" the woman asked impatiently, placing one filthy hand on her hip.
Before Kiara could speak, Patrick interrupted her. "Sorry, I think we have the wrong address. Is this number six or eight?"
The woman raised a thin, jagged eyebrow. "Six."
Patrick let out a light, nervous laugh. "Oh, we were looking for eight. Sorry..."
The woman shrugged and closed the door in their faces.
Kiara looked at her friend accusingly as he left the step. "Patrick, what the hell?"
Patrick continued walking, not looking behind him once. "You're staying with me until you earn enough to go."
For Alex, the next day contained nothing. There was movement, sure.
Planning that he was involved in.
Could he remember the decisions he made?
Not at all.
Was he thinking about decisions when he made them?
Mr. Hendrick barked orders at the lot of them.
They were leaving. Immediately. There would be another attack.
Like an earthquake's aftershock. It would come. The question was; when?
They stepped around the dead.
How was this human? Civilised?
Where was the ceremony? Where was the mourning period?
A few members of the senior faction began to line up the bodies along the outskirts of the room.
They were already turning stiff by the time this procedure started.
There was no washing.
Alex directed the minor faction, as usual. He didn't falter. He didn't stammer.
He didn't hear what he was saying.
The skin on his chest was tight with dried blood.
He couldn't look at Alana. Oddly enough, Bonnie took her.
Alex could handle crying. He could comfort small children.
But not with blood marking his skin.
Amongst the chaos, he was given the chance to wash. He couldn't touch himself. He stood motionless under the water while it slowly dissolved the substance, turning into dark red rivers, trailing down his front.
Eventually, his skin was once again unmarked.
But still he could feel the blood.
It had soaked into his pores, existing in a thick layer beneath his shell.
He had dried, but the towel hadn't cleaned him, no matter how violently he rubbed.
Back amongst the dead and dying he acted alive.
But with every passing second it grew harder.
On the twelfth of December, Isabella Shaw woke up earlier than usual. At first, she couldn't figure out what had woken her. It was hot, but then, it was always hot before Christmas. Her Mummy had always known when it was going to start being hot.
"When the bloom of the Jacaranda tree is here, Christmas time is near..."
There was noise. Not in the sleeping room, but outside. She pushed her pale blonde hair out of her face and stood up, wobbling a little from sleep. She pushed the door open, trotted down the hall and entered the recreation room.
There were so many new people.
Isabella pressed herself against the wall shyly, taking it all in.
She was interested.
They weren't only grown-ups. There were lots of big kids. But, most interesting of all, there were kids her age. There weren't many kids in the resistance. There was just her, Hannah, Jordan, Ben and Matthew.
There were even some kids younger than her here!
The kids were wet. It had been raining outside all day. Most of them were wearing raincoats. Isabella was just glad she was dry. She hated the feeling of being wet. And when her hair stuck to her forehead. That was the worst part of being out in the rain.
There were a lot of grown-ups around. Everyone seemed to be talking at once. She saw a blonde girl looking at her. She wasn't a big kid, but she wasn't as little as Isabella. She looked sad. Isabella cared for a moment, and then her attention wandered.
There were a lot of kids, now. They were everywhere. Hannah had come to stand by Isabella's side. She looked excited. Isabella wasn't sure if she should be. She had known some people were coming. She hadn't known there would be this many...
A big kid was walking towards her. Actually, she wasn't sure if she would call him a big kid. He might be a grown-up. It was hard to decide.
He knelt in front of her and Hannah. He smiled at them. Hannah smiled back. Isabella didn't.
"Hey," he said, smiling some more. The first thing Isabella decided about him was that his voice was very smooth. It was smooth the way honey was when she had a sore throat. It was a grown-up voice, but it wasn't like a Daddy's voice yet.
Neither she nor Hannah replied. The big kid glanced behind him, and then back ahead. His hair was stuck to his forehead. Isabella wondered if he hated it too.
He was wearing a thick, dark blue rain coat. It wasn't shiny and slick, but it was still a rain coat. Isabella knew that much.
"My name's Alex. What are your names?"
Well, he wasn't going to bite. He looked too friendly, though, like he wanted them to talk. And Isabella felt another wave of shyness overcome her.
Alex turned his attention to her. "Hannah, that's a pretty name."
Isabella glanced towards her friend in annoyance. "I'm Isabella," she said loudly, shyness forgotten.
Alex turned back to her. His eyes were strange. They were almost black. She had seen dark eyes before, but his skin was so light, it didn't look right.
She studied him for another second, and promptly changed her mind.
They looked fine.
"How old are you, Isabella?" That thick, smooth voice again. It was definitely a honey voice. She liked it a lot.
"Six. Seven next year," she added quickly. She would be big soon. She wanted to make sure he knew that.
Alex nodded, looking behind him again.
"How old are you?" she asked. She wanted to hear his voice again.
She smiled with her teeth when he looked at her.
That was only... a lot of years older than her. A lot. But that didn't matter, really, did it? It shouldn't.
Alex said something to them and stood up to leave. Isabella didn't take in what he said. She was too busy counting the freckles on his nose.
As Alex turned his back to her, Isabella clenched her fists tightly.
If she was a princess, and he was the prince, things would be much easier.
Princes always married the princess. Everyone knew that.
Kiara struggled to stay calm, but within seconds broke into a run. Her heart was pounding as loudly as her shoes on the sidewalk. She found herself almost tripping, but she caught her balance.
Patrick's house was coming into view. Her breath was coming in short, ragged gasps, but she didn't allow herself to slow down.
She ducked under a tree branch, the tip of it catching on her forehead. Water droplets spilled from the leaves onto her head, running down her nose. She blinked the liquid from her eyes. She had reached the front garden.
She sprinted to the door, only to find it locked. She pounded on the wood in a frenzy. "Patrick! PATRICK!"
She was pushed backwards as the door flung open.
"What?" Patrick demanded, looking alarmed. Kiara threw herself on him squealing, waving it in his face.
When Patrick realised what it was, he snatched it from her, an odd expression crossing his face. "You got the ID."
"I can't believe it!" Kiara cried, wrapping her arms around him and forcing him to do an awkward dance consisting of jumping in circles.
Patrick pushed her away from him and studied the ID with care. After a few moments he looked back at her. She grinned at him so widely her mouth hurt.
"What does this mean?" He handed it back to her and folded his arms.
Kiara's smile faltered a little. "It means I'm going home soon."
He stepped back from her and sat on his faded mahogany couch, resting his head on his hands. She approached him gingerly. When he didn't look up she sat beside him.
They sat in silence for several moments. She didn't need to voice the question; it hung in the air between them, driving a gap between their bodies.
Patrick acknowledged the unspoken query, and shrugged. "I just... it's going to be weird without you here."
Kiara nodded slowly. He paused a second, and then continued on, his voice growing passionate.
"I don't think you should go back! It's not a life, learning to kill people. Watching people be killed. It sounds creepy, and damn dangerous."
"It's nothing like that at all, Pat," Kiara argued, but he continued on as though he hadn't heard her.
"I don't see why you can't just stay here. Live with me. Use your new ID to stay out of the way. Just keep working at the cafe!"
Kiara looked at him, keeping her face expressionless.
He caught her eye and then sighed dejectedly. "I know. I know. Alexander."
"Not just Alex. Everyone." Kiara leaned forward and trailed her hand down her legs. "I belong there. I want to do what I can to get rid of the soldiers. Even if I have no idea what I'm doing."
Patrick smiled despite himself. "I wish I could be like you. Just plunging into something like that, no matter how dangerous it is."
"You could do it too, you know... come back with me."
"I know I could. But that just isn't me. I'm the sort of person who hangs at the back, staying out of the way. I'm happy at the cafe, and I'm happy in this house."
Kiara nodded, feeling a wave of sadness wash over her. Then she placed her hand in her shorts pocket to feel her ID, and the sadness disappeared as quickly as it had come.
"A dam?" Alex asked, confused.
Mr. Hendrick, along with Mrs. Burn, the leader of Brisbane's outskirt faction, nodded simultaneously. A few people glanced at each other, obviously as befuddled as Alex.
Others, mostly citizens of Brisbane, rolled their eyes at Alex's naivety. Again, even with the merging of their Tasmanian faction with one from Melbourne and Brisbane, he was the youngest member of the leader's committee.
A woman to Alex's left gave him a scathing look. "I assume you have no idea of the destruction-"
"It's a rather large dam," Mrs. Burn interrupted the woman curtly, obviously seeing no need for her tone. "Large enough by far to flood the entire town."
Alex shot the first woman a dirty look. She didn't give him the satisfaction of responding.
Mr. Hendrick laid an atlas on the table before him. Alex, along with the people surrounding him, craned forward in their seats to get a closer look.
"Little Valley has one of the largest dams in Australia. It's never sprung more than a leak. It was built in 2012." Mr. Hendrick jabbed his finger at a dot on the map. "Little Valley is about a twenty minute train ride from here. In other words, we have three days to send our troops by train or foot to station in Little Valley."
"Why so early?" enquired the woman who had addressed Alex.
"So we don't attract too much attention," Alex snapped, feeling smug at the opportunity to put her in her place. "The soldiers will be on the lookout for large amounts of people heading there." He refrained from adding 'obviously'.
Mr. Wrightley shot his son an approving look from Mr. Hendrick's side.
Mrs. Burns pursed her lips in obvious disapproval. "I would have hoped by now that fact would be second nature."
The woman sat back in her seat, sufficiently chastised.
"We don't want numbers above two entering the town at a time." Mr. Hendrick looked carefully at the table before him. "And no one under sixteen is to come on this." He directed his last statement at Alex, who nodded curtly.
He could understand the reasoning behind that.
They had accepted her ID.
She had her ticket.
The train was on its way.
She was alone.
Patrick was at work. They had said their goodbyes that morning. It had been short. Neither of them had wanted to dwell on the fact that they were never seeing one another again.
She blended into the crowd surrounding her beautifully. She attracted no attention. She held her bag close to her protectively.
As the train whistled into the station, people swarmed together, bumping into Kiara without bothering to apologise. She couldn't bring herself to care. She was one of the first people on the train.
She made her way through the aisles roughly, choosing the nearest seat. She was bursting with excitement. Her heart was heavy to leave Patrick, but thinking of what she was heading to made her feel giddy. Louise. Declan. And Alex. Her heart began to race, and she let herself slide down a little in her seat, resting her head against the hard cushion.
The train rolled into movement.
As they left the station, sunlight spilled through the window into the carriage.
As the warmth possessed Kiara's skin, an explosion pierced the air. The carriage shuddered.
No one moved. Kiara's eyes flickered to outside. They train wasn't in motion. People on the street were looking at them in alarm.
A third explosion.
Seconds passed before Alex realised he was still conscious.
He hadn't been hit.
As agilely as he could, he rolled forward, sliding on the mud thickened ground he'd landed on as he did so. He pressed his body as firmly as he could against the slimy but firm walls of the ditch, his heart racing.
Had someone seen him fall? It had been too fast for him to see. The ground had been soft and muddy from the rain.
A dodge from a bullet had sent him sliding uncontrollably, toppling into this hole.
He waited for a full, agonising minute, waiting for his head to explode. His breathing was ragged, and he felt as though he were about to experience an asthma attack; something that hadn't occurred in years.
When he finally became certain that no one was about to follow him into the ditch, he concentrated on making himself inconspicuous. He tried to bring his legs up to his body, but struggled to keep them still as they slid forward across the sludge.
He seemed to be in a hole left behind by the removal of something. Not a house, it was too small for that, but it was about the size of a hole that would be left behind from the uprooting of a windmill.
But it was deep. It would be almost three metres deep, for sure. Behind him he could hear the continuing battle. Gunshots. Cries of agony as bullets pierced skin.
How could he risk trying to get out to rejoin it? He would have to abandon his gun to manage to climb out. Thinking of it, he grasped his gun to hold it protectively above his chest, aiming it above him for anyone who may appear.
The gunshots rang out unrelentingly, and with each one he felt a stab of fear that it would be someone he knew.
Why did that even matter, though? His mother, Seb, Riley, Kiara... surely there would come a point when he no longer cared. Surely.
It began to spit again, not heavy, but light and muggy. Water droplets began to burst into his eyes, but he merely blinked them away. He didn't allow himself to take his eyes off the area above him.
Suddenly, a tall figure stepped to the edge of the crevice, startling Alex so much that he almost dropped the gun. But the man's eyes were locked onto his, and his gun was pointed directly at his head, and Alex managed to gather his senses in time to shoot.
A flash of red, and then a thud. Alex squeezed his eyes shut, but he still felt the man's body topple to the ground to sprawl out beside him, motionless.
More gun shots above his head. As the seconds passed, it became clear that either no one had noticed the soldier's fall, or no one was stupid enough to investigate. Either way, Alex was still very much alive when he eventually opened his eyes.
The gunshots were ringing out with a rapid precision now. There was a kind of desperate shouting.
Hurry up, they were screaming.
Alex stood up as soon as he understood what this meant.
He tried to dig his hands into the slick mud lining the side of the hole, but it was too soft to hold his weight, and his hand was brought down by gravity. He changed tactics and tried reaching the top. It was far out of his reach. He jumped, threw himself against the edge of the hole. He came close. But it was clear that he wouldn't get close enough.
He couldn't yell out; there was no telling which side would reply. He dropped his hands to the side and looked down. The soldier's wide eyes stared back at him with an eerie, knowing expression. You can't get out, they said. You killed me, now you get to die along with me.
Alex kicked the head roughly, and it lolled to the side, hiding those eyes.
He gritted his teeth and threw himself against the wall of the hole, letting himself slide down into the mud. It was in his hair, on his skin. Later, Alex couldn't explain exactly what it was that caused him to turn around and drag his hands down the wall, caking his skin in mud. He couldn't say why he let his forehead fall forward, blackening his face.
He pulled himself back, still leaning against the mud.
He let the rain wash over him, pouring the mud down his face like tears. Black tears.
There was no way he could physically get out of that hole. And the water was coming. And he had to hurry.
But he couldn't.
It took him awhile to realise that he was really crying. The tears were flowing freely, and he made no effort to stop them.
It took him even longer to realise that he wasn't crying from fear, or frustration.
It was from relief.
He could let the black swallow him for good.
He would allow it to take away all death, all loss. It would strip him of responsibility, and put his heart and mind at ease. The darkness would comfort him, the darkness would bring him back all who had gone.
His mother, Riley, Kiara, even Seb. God, why hadn't Kiara let Seb kill him?
The darkness would take away love. And that was what he wanted. Love was, by far, the most painful and destroying thing he had ever experienced.
He was through with everyone, and they were through with him. Where he'd once been needed as a leader, he was no longer required. Those who had once relied on him had either found someone else, or lost their lives altogether.
And thank God he wasn't wanted. The last thing he needed was to leave with guilt.
It was silent.
No more gunshots, no more screaming. His left hand was covered in blood. He considered it for a moment, confused, and then he realised the soldier's wound had spilled all over the mud.
He wondered what it would be like. He briefly questioned whether he would feel frightened, or regretful, under the water. He decided it wasn't likely.
He would be wet, then he would be soaked. He would be weightless, turned upside down, sucked in one direction.
A direction he couldn't fight against. Because he would be too light for gravity. Then it would be over.
And the darkness would heal him.
Why was it taking so long?
"Alex?" choked a voice.
He jumped, his eyes widening. He recognised it immediately, but didn't trust the circumstances enough to reply.
He would be right behind him now.
He didn't speak back. This time, he didn't want to be found. He pressed himself back, into the mud, as though it could hide him, protect him.
Why now? Why? After all this time?
"Alex, for God's sake!"
Alex stiffened and raised his head. Declan was leaning over the edge of the crevice, looking terrified.
He merely blinked, barely even registering this. "Declan, go back."
"Are you okay?" Declan reached his hand out to him. Alex shrunk away from it. "Come on, they're letting the dam go any second. Any second, Alex!"
"You have to go back, Declan." he said firmly, no emotion in his voice. This was important. Declan couldn't be here when this happened. Because... he couldn't remember. But there was a reason.
Declan froze, and understanding filled those grey eyes, the ones that had once looked at him with such respect, and had recently only looked at him with contempt. Now they held regret. Regret and an increasing fear. "Alex... come on, don't do this, mate."
"You have to go back now."
"I'm not going back unless you come with me."
Why now, Declan? He wanted to ask. Yesterday you couldn't have given a shit whether I lived or died. Why can't you just give me this?
"I can't. I don't want to." Alex's voice cracked at this, but he simply didn't care.
Declan was stretching down as far as he could, as though by doing so he could add an extra few feet onto his arm. But he couldn't get to Alex. Not without going down there with him. "Alex, please. Don't make me stay here. Please."
"Don't make me," Alex begged. It was strange. Declan kept saying his name, but it was losing more of its meaning with each time it was pronounced.
Maybe it had already started. Maybe he wasn't Alex anymore.
It wouldn't be that much longer.
"Goddamnit! Fuck you!"
Alex was taken aback at this exclamation.
"How can you just sit there? We can't just swim against this, Alex! Have you ever tried to swim in a current like that?"
He hadn't swum in a long time. Not since Winter, when Kiara was holding onto him. He just wanted her back here. Why was that such a big thing to ask? Why couldn't he have just that one thing?
Declan was slipping in the mud, and he fought to steady himself, to keep from falling in helplessly beside Alex. "I'm not leaving without you."
"Then stay here. Drown." Alex's voice was scarily calm, even to himself. He mustn't be Alex anymore.
Who he once was would never let a friend do that.
Even if the friend was being a... martyr.
"Please. It's not time, yet. Please." Declan's voice was fading.
With a cry of frustration, Alex flung himself upwards, stretching out his hand to grasp Declan's, as the warning call rang out in the distance.
A/N - You guys are so amazing! Thank you so much for all the reviews, they honestly make my day to get, and I love knowing all of you are out there reading Jihad!
Because there are a few reviews coming in each chapter now I'm just going to thank the names of those who reviewed here, and give my personal responses to all of you via private messaging for those who allow it (sorry Helgabertoni :( Your review was appreciated though, thank you! x) and those who aren't guests (mAcHiNe4231 get an account so we can talk! ;))
So thank you to mAcHiNe4231, Maceygirl, Aurora Olivers, Helga Bertoni, Head over heels in hate, Blue eyes ghost and Kristy Marigold for your lovely reviews this chapter! Keep them up :D
I hope you all enjoyed this one, it's sad, but I do love sadness, and this one is my second favourite chapter of them all!