They meet at the edge, the wasted zone, the ruins that demarcate the city's unconquered streets. Where not even Reapers dare enter.

"Be careful."

He nods and breaks apart from his group to meet the other, the one who stands alone. Under the flickering streetlight. What is he really? In all the time they've dealt with him, he could never tell.

"You're late." The other remarks. "Three minutes."

As always, the area around seems deserted. But he's learned, the hard way, that they're out there as well. Shadow soldiers, Dogs of War. He can feel their eyes on him as he waits.

"It doesn't matter, I suppose." The watch clicks shut.

They stand facing each other for a long moment. He knows the other's tricks, but still, he feels annoyed, ignored. As the other continues to contemplate the object in his hand.

"Have you come to accept our terms." As always, he's forced to break the silence first.

"Your terms."

You know perfectly well what they are. "Withdraw your troops." He repeats for what seems like the thousandth time. "Leave this place."

"Oh, that." The other pauses in mock thought. "No, I don't think so."

"Then you will never have a moment's peace." His words fade into the night. "For we will never stop fighting you."

"Still?" The other laughs softly. "But you must realize that reinforcements will arrive. Any day now." His voice is lilting. "A new ruler to replace your poor dead king."

"The King is not dead." He struggles to keep his tone level.

"However," The other waves dismissively. "I did not come here to discuss this. Yet again."

"We have nothing further to discuss." It's useless. He turns away. They were right.

"But I have something to return to you."

"You have nothing of mine."

"A comrade."

His fists clench. "Don't mock me." He keeps walking.

"I am being perfectly serious." The other watches him carefully. "Shiro."

He stops.

The other smiles. "Come here." He nods to someone in the shadows.

"Yes, sir." A figure walks slowly forward. No. It takes even Shiro a moment to recognize him, in the uneven light. Half his face is wrapped in bandages.

"Jack!" Her voice breaks out in shock. But without hesitation she comes running from the group. "Jack." She embraces him, nearly toppling him over. "Jack." He looks like a scarecrow. The others soon follow, gathering around him. Staying still, not knowing what to say. He looks like a ghost.

He stands awkwardly in her arms, looking at all of them for a minute, without saying anything. His face twitches a little, but remains expressionless. "It's good to see you. Guys again." His finally manages. His voice is ragged, nearly a whisper.

The other laughs. But none of them take notice.

Only Shiro turns to watch him go.


Note. This is a side story to Goodbye, Blue Sky (it takes place before that timeline). Thanks for reading!