Chapter 7 – To The Grave And Beyond

"Numb and broken,

Here I stand alone,"

Killswitch Engage – Rose of Sharyn

Oliver sat in the wooden chair with a beer in his hand, the sound of the waves from the ocean wafting over him. The wind blew his uncut hair about, the leaves rustling in the remaining trees, brown with autumn. He stretched his legs out and heard the quiet clinking as he knocked one of the empty beer bottles into another. For just a moment, he was completely oblivious to the desolated state his city and country was in. His situation was nothing but a small niggling feeling in the back of his mind, impeded from moving to the forefront by a barrier of alcohol and serenity.

"I always liked this area." A voice said next to him. Oliver looked over and saw Daniel sitting in the empty chair, beer in hand. He had a series of sudden flashbacks of the two in similar positions, on different porches and back yards. "Right by the ocean, but still a decent distance from the water to keep it from drilling into your head."

"I hear that." Oliver muttered back, taking another swig from the bottle. "How's things on your end?"

"Not as bad as you, that's for sure."

"What do you mean?"

"Are you goddamn serious? You are going to catch some major hell for that shit you pulled up in Auckland the other day. Those four people seem like a group you don't want to fuck with. You're lucky they thought the city was nothing but a molten wasteland for the past two years. But then you went ahead and showed them you're still on the map. Not to mention Mathers' father." Daniel explained.

Oliver didn't reply, instead leaning his head back and looking at the afternoon sky. He didn't want to talk about Auckland. Not with him.

"Well that's just too bad, mate. You cannot ignore the floodgate alarms forever."

"No, but I can try." Oliver answered, necking the rest of his beer. He threw the empty bottle away and heard it shatter against the closest tree, brown glass splattering the grass. At least no one walked around in bare feet anymore.

He checked his phone for any messages from anyone and then got to his feet. Oliver realised Daniel was right as he walked back inside the house he and Leigh had commandeered from rats and mangy dogs. They had been incredibly lucky no one paid them any attention, but now he had given a few good reasons. He pulled his phone back out and called Sam. He answered after a few rings.

"Oliver, what's up?"

"We are going to be in a fair amount of trouble. And soon."

"Shit. Why?"

"We've been off the grid from these fuckers for the last two years, and we just shook the hornets' nest. Hell, we went into the nest, threatened the hornets and then blew the nest up. Tomorrow, we need to secure the hell out of the city as much as we can. Worst case scenario, we might need to evacuate."

"And where would we go?"

"We'll figure that out on the way out. Call the others, I want everyone on alert. I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"Will do, dude. Catch you on the flipside."

"Catch you on the flipside, my brother." Oliver hung up, pocketed his phone went inside.

"Who was on the phone?" Leigh asked, curled up on the couch with a book on her hands. Oliver sat down next to her and lay down, head in her lap.

"Sam. We can probably expect company tomorrow after Auckland, and I want to get preparations underway. We've become far too lax in security and preparation over the last couple of years." Leigh lowered the book and stroked the side of his face.

"And what was our trip to Hamilton, if not to gain information on what's going on?"

"Two years too late. We should've scouted out other places not long after the crash." He reached for her right hand and kissed her stiff and useless fingers while she ran one along the length of his faded scar. "At least we could have sent someone else to find out...stuff. We became too complacent. Too cocky over having defeated Mathers. Now we have his father and a bunch of others lusting for our lives."

Leigh didn't say anything, just continued to look at him, a faint smile on her lips. Oliver reached up, pulled her over and kissed her.

"And I don't want to lose you."

"You will never lose me." She replied, kissing him. He briefly thought of Tracey, lying on the top of the parking building, blood pooling underneath her, lifeless eyes gazing indirectly upwards. He felt hot tears sting his eyes.

"I don't want to lose anyone. But death keeps following me around like a lost puppy I threw some food at." He whispered with a bit of a smile. Leigh grinned back, brushing his tears away.

"That's what happens when you start a war." She said, kissing him again. They lay on the couch until the sun went down before moving to the bedroom. The house was getting cold, the windows having long been blown out and recently replaced with wooden boards.

It was already an old house when the bomb had gone off in Papamoa, levelling an entire neighbourhood just to get at the small group two years ago. The fires had spread over several days before all the houses and trees the fire could reach were ash. Many other houses unaffected by the fire were damaged from the shockwave; roofs collapsed, windows shattered, parked cars flipped, walls cracked and splintered, held together by a single nail or two.

The house the two had decided to call home creaked with every step and movement, and the water was temperamental. But it was close to the ocean, and far from anyone else. What they wanted in their downtime.

Oliver worried about the following day. Daniel had been right, retribution would soon follow them down from Auckland, and it wouldn't be forgiving. If he was being honest, he was surprised they hadn't been stalked the moment they had left. Maybe they had shook up the four heads enough to buy them some time?

Or maybe they weren't considered enough of a threat to deal with straight away. No, that was naive thinking, right there. They had blown up the Sky Tower, what seemed to be their central headquarters. They had broken in to what seemed like their secret meeting location.

They would be coming. And they would be coming hard. Soon.

But until then, he would enjoy what peacefulness he could. He would enjoy Leigh.

While a lot of the plant life near the house had died after being drowned in ash or burnt down to it, the insect life still seemed abundant, the chorus of creatures floating through the cracks of the wooden boards across the broken windows.

Oliver lay in bed, an arm holding Leigh tightly, eyes wide open. He wasn't going to sleep, not tonight.

"You were never able to sleep when you were filled with anticipation." He looked around and saw Mia sitting on the edge of the bed. "Be it a game coming out the next day, an ill-prepared for test, or just a visit to a mates place."

"Yeah...I remember." He muttered quietly, not sure if they would wake Leigh or not. Choosing caution over valour, he got out of bed, covered Leigh's naked body with the blankets and got dressed before going into the kitchen. He turned on one of the many torches and found himself beer, hoping that he might be able to drink himself to sleep sooner or later.

"You should also get some weapons ready. You're not going to be getting back her tomorrow." Mia instructed him. Oliver rolled his eyes.

"Yes, dear." He said slowly and sarcastically. But inside, he knew she was right. When they left in the morning to regroup with the others, they would probably be saying goodbye to the house. A shame, really, considering that they both liked it.

He downed half the beer before opening the closet in the hallway. On the shelves was a couple of XM8 rifles and stacks of ammunition, as well as an assortment of pistols and more ammo. He dumped the pistols and ammo into a small luggage bag and dumped them on the floor of the kitchen before loading both the rifles and putting them on the bench.

"How is Sam?" Mia asked, sitting on the bench with a beer in hand.

"He's good. He's staying with Michael at his parents' old house. He...he's with Jess now." Oliver watched Mia, waiting for some angry response. Instead she just smiled and drank more.

The two stood in silence, drinking, knowing that their time was coming to a close.

"Well...say hello to the others for me." Oliver muttered, looking at the bench, nothing but his beer and the rifles on it. He drained the bottle and was turning to retrieve another when he saw moving lights outside. He pressed his face against the boards over the kitchen window and looked through one of the gaps. There were five pairs of lights, moving in a snaking path towards him. It took him a moment before he realised what he was looking at, the recognition only arising when he heard the deep roars of the distant engines.

A convoy of trucks.

He snapped off the torch and ran by memory back to the bedroom. He grabbed Leigh by the shoulder and roughly shook her awake.

"Leigh, we need to move. Someone is coming, and I don't think they're friendly." He whispered urgently. Her eyes widened and she threw the blankets off, grasping for her clothes in the dark. Oliver went back to the kitchen and slung the backpack over his back, groping for both the rifles. Leigh felt her way into the kitchen and he gave one to her.

"Who is it?" Leigh asked, Oliver looking back through the gap in the window boards.

The trucks parked in a semicircle around the house, the sounds of the engines loud enough to wake anyone that would have been in the area. But there wasn't. They were the only two for miles. A series of sounds indicated doors were opened and people got out, guns being armed and readied.

"Retribution." He muttered, more to himself than to Leigh. "We need to get the fuck out of here."

He led her back into the bedroom, which was facing the opposite way of the kitchen and gently began to pull on the window boards. Slowly, the first one gave in and was yanked from the wood, nails sticking outwards. He threw it on the floor and began to pull on the next. He nearly had enough for them to slip through before he heard the sound of the front door being kicked in.

"Shit!" He cursed loudly, still trying to rip out the last needed board. It ripped from the wall with a loud squeal as something came clattering into the room.

The flash bang detonated, blinding and deafening the two. Oliver stumbled around trying to see when he tripped over something and tumbled backwards, falling onto and over something thin and then a great distance before hitting the ground. His vision was slowly returning and he discovered he had fallen out the window. He couldn't see Leigh, and heard nothing but a high-pitch ringing. He crawled towards a wrecked van lying on its side, one of the rear doors open. He climbed over the door and held his hands to his ears, blinking over and over again.

He wanted nothing more than to make sure Leigh was okay, but he was useless while he was half blinded and deaf.

It felt like an eternity before he was able to hear anything, and the first thing he heard was Leigh screaming in the distance. He shrugged off the backpack, noting that his rifle was missing, and pulled out one of the pistols, a 1911 .45, and a couple of fully loaded magazines.

He wasn't able to make out the words Leigh was yelling and screaming, but he could hear the fear and anger in them. Oliver crawled out of the van, the moon lighting the ground enough for him to see where he was going, but he was not partially blinded by the lights burning behind the house where the trucks were. He could see other torch beams swinging around.

Soldiers with guns searching for him. He considered sneaking up behind one of them when he heard a voice, amplified by some speaker system, calling out.

"We have your bitch, Oliver. Show yourself otherwise I'll put a round through the base of her skull." The voice sounded familiar; that American accent tantalizingly so. It was Mathers, the father of the one he had killed.

A gunshot ripped through the mostly silent night and another scream erupted from Leigh. Thankfully, he heard no pain, just terror.

"Shit." He muttered, coming to terms with the fact that there was no way he was going to be able to rescue her. He counted nine soldiers wandering around the ruined street, and those were only the ones he could see. He tucked the gun into the back of his pants, the magazines into his pockets and stepped forward, eventually coming into the light from the trucks as he strode around the house.

"Don't move." Mathers yelled at him, a speaker phone in one hand and a revolver in the other. Oliver held up a hand to fend off the lights, but he still couldn't see anything clear enough to get a good picture of where Leigh was. Soldiers came up behind him, jabbing him in the back with the barrels of their guns. Mathers waved the revolver at them and the soldiers behind him pushed him forward. He was finally able to see Leigh, on her knees in front of Mathers, blood seeping from a gash under her eye.

"Leigh, are you okay?" He called out. She looked up at him and was about to reply before Mathers swung the barrel down and shoved it in her mouth.

"Not a goddamn word, cunt." He snarled. Oliver reached around for the pistol but one of the soldiers behind him saw the move easily, ripping the gun away before his hand was even close and throwing it on the ground, giving him another sharp jab with the gun. Angry roared through his body, his fingers rearing to rip into the man in front of him, less than ten metres away. He finally noticed that second man standing behind Mathers; Sven, the German. He couldn't see either of the Asians.

"Where are the other two?" He asked.

"You don't ask questions." Sven said patiently.

"What do you want?" Leigh sobbed, Mathers having removed the revolver.

"Ah shut up, you dumb broad. You're giving me a fuckin' headache." He answered, throwing the speaker away and backhanding her across the face. Oliver tried to move, to do something, but the soldiers behind him grabbed him by the arms and kicked his legs out, forcing him to his knees.

"This was your idea, Mathers. If it were up to me, I'd have blown her brains out by now." Sven urged, stepping forward with an eager look on his face. Mathers rounded on him.

"Yeah? Well it's not up to you." He snapped. He grabbed Leigh one handed and dragged her to her feet, pushing the revolver into her neck.

"Wh...why are you doing this?" She asked in-between sobs, tears streaking down her face. Oliver was reminded of his last moment with Tracey. It had been so sudden he didn't get a chance to say goodbye. At least the universe seemed like it was going to give him that.

"Maybe you should ask your boyfriend over there. I hear it was him to killed my son." Mathers growled deeply, holding her by her face and bringing it right in front of hers.

"What, haven't you fucked us over enough yet?" She yelled, spitting in his face.

He let go of her and punched her in the side of the face, her body falling to the ground. It darkened slightly as thick clouds passed between them and the moon. Oliver struggled against the strong arms holding him down, but it was in vain; they were not budging.

It began to rain.

Mathers turned to Oliver

"You know why we're here? Because you hurt me, Oliver. You could have just died like everyone else, and left my son and daughter alone. And now all this blood is on your hands!" He screamed, waving his revolver at him. Oliver ignored him and looked at Leigh, hoping against all odds there was some way for her to get out of here. But there wasn't. All she could do was hold her hand against the side of her head.

"It just gets bigger and bigger, doesn't it? You hurt us, we hurt's like some fucking game we are playing here.'ve caused us a lot of trouble, boy." Sven called out over the sound of the rain, stepping up next to Mathers.

"You can have my city. You can have my country. You can have anything you want. Anything...except her. ANYTHING!" Oliver yelled back, resigned to blatant begging. He could see no other way out of this.

"What, you figure you got something to bargain with me?" Mathers grabbed Leigh by the neck, pulled her to her feet and jammed the revolver against her forehead. "You figure you got something to stop me from blowing her fuckin' brains out her fuckin' nose? Because the way I see you, you ain't got shit!"

"Please, no!" He cried out. He had nothing left. All he could do was cry, the rain mixing in with his tears.

Mathers began to walk forward, dragging Leigh with him through the mud and ash. He stopped merely inches away, looking down at him. Oliver looked at Leigh, who looked back, terror filling her eyes.

"My son...and my daughter...they were my blood, you piece of shit. And when someone takes from my blood...that someone always pays." He spoke quietly and slowly, Oliver only just managing to hear his words through the rain and his own heart beating faster than ever, the agony of knowing what was about to happen drowning out almost everything else.

"This is not your fault." Leigh whispered, trying to lean towards him, blood and rain and tears rolling down her face.

"And now, I take from you." Mathers let go of her neck.

"I lov—"

He lifted the barrel of the revolver and pulled the trigger. The crack of the gunshot echoed over the broken neighbourhood, heard by no one else. Leigh's body was thrown backwards onto the ground, one arm beneath her lifeless boy. The retort from the gun had barely lifted before Oliver started screaming.

Mathers turned and walked towards Sven, grinning his ugly face off. He raised an arm, twirled his hand around and the soldiers let go of Oliver, all of them walking back towards the trucks. As Mathers had predicted, Oliver had fallen forward over Leigh instead of doing anything else, and they quickly left the two alone.

The trucks faded into the rain. Oliver put a hand against the side of Leigh's face, the back of her head missing, and a single, small hole in the side of her forehead. Her eyes stared upwards, unfocused and filled with rain water.

Oliver raised his own face upward and let loose with all the pain inside him, the howling from his throat matched with the thunder following the lightning.

Authors Note: Not really sure why, but I recently got an urge to rewrite one of my favourite and hardest chapters to write from War's Heart 2. But it felt fun and good. Dat feel, bro.