.

.

The silvery beetle blade twitches on its side, its red light glowing faintly.

Thomas squints his eyes through his telescopic headgear, adjusting his bent-over position on the rolling chair. "The internal damage is pretty substantial—camera can be easily repaired, but I don't know about independent motor function," he announces.

"We'll have Mia take a look at it when she gets in," one of the other technicians says. "Don't sweat it the small stuff, kiddo."

Not a problem, Thomas thinks. For once, the lab feels blissfully cool, pumping and whirring air conditioning.

Everyone in WICKED has been like this with him: the pet nicknames, the unrelenting and smile-worthy encouragement. They've known Thomas since he got there, since being employed in his adolescence. "Brilliant" and "resourceful" Thomas. It doesn't feel like that, not especially in the past year or so, but he buries himself in assessments and equipment calibration anyway.

"Thomas, come here a second…"

At the sound of his name, he removes his tweezers from the beetle blade, setting it down.

The person who spoke — Dr. Greene — waves from the entrance doors, holding up a manila envelope. It's crisp and new by appearance, patterned with little, intricate zigzags. A sliver of darkly-colored vegetable is lodged right between Dr. Greene's second and third tooth — whoa. Thomas slips off his headgear, the world no longer in high-powered, stroboscopic zoom.

"Looks like you got a summoning," the technician calls out.

Thomas joins him on the opposite side of the lab. He receives the manila envelope, opening it and looking over the neatly scrawled instructions. Seemingly pasted on is also a small, multi-colored map.

"Um, where am I going on this?" he asks.

Dr. Greene's eyes widen in recognition. He taps his forefinger onto one of the bolded red lines. "Oh, right! Is this one of the unused medical facilities—yes, you take a left when you get to the South quarter. Remember the secondary hangars?"

Thomas nods, offering back a smile. "Yeah—yeah, I remember it, thanks," he says.

A ripple of uneasiness seizes Thomas as he notices the burly-looking, female guard with both of her meaty hands clenching on her weapon. A certified Launcher, by the looks of it. He's heard of what it can do, and the damn-near irreversible side effects, but has personally never been on the business end of one of those, thankfully.

Her vacant expression is not reassuring at all.

Thomas steps into the hallway with the guard, pulling off his lab coat. "Any reason I'm being escorted—hey, shit—" Thomas visibly flinches, backing up towards the florescent-white wall as she bumps him forward roughly with the Launcher.

"Let's go, handsome," is her equally vacant reply.

Okaaaay then.

He stares over at Dr. Greene with his ever-pleasant disposition, being passed Thomas's lab coat. Those hazelnut-brown eyes fogged by his thick glasses. "I'll cover for you, Thomas. Try to not get yourself lost now—aha, who knows, you might never come back!"

"… Gee, thanks for that," Thomas mutters to himself, being led away.

In a few, hurried minutes, he's out of the serpentine-like corridor and herded into an elevator. So far, this sectioned quarter of the WICKED complex has been well-lit, but scarce of faces or general signs of life. Clear-pane windows to various rooms darkened.

Thomas gazes over the array of neon-blue and aureolin-yellow elevator buttons, neutrally.

(But why is he being summoned? Is it one of the Chancellors?)

"I'm sorry, but do you really have to crowd—ow!—" he yelps when the Launcher nudges him between the shoulder-blades. Thomas can practically feel the heat radiating off the muzzle. The elevator dings open.

The guard nudges him again until Thomas exits, nearly stumbling.

"Move, handsome, now," she orders.

The map's destination comes through oval-window, mechanical doors, as a seven-digit code is punched in by the guard's heavily-gloved fingers. "Good luck," is spoken ominously by the female guard before the doors clunk shut loudly behind Thomas.

The semi-grating noise afterwards indicates that the doors lock.

Fantastic.

Thomas scratches the back of his head, turning fully around and examining where he is. It's definitely a medical facility, with gleaming, dusty floors and empty, steel trays on wheeling racks. There's enough overhead light for a decent exploration, but Thomas stops as he witnesses a shadowy, slow-moving figure through a nearby illuminated, mint-green curtain.

He shoves it aside, annoyance growing, revealing himself as well the identity of the other person.

"Okay, so what's the big emergen…?"

Thomas's words vanish into mid-air, his knees becoming weak.

It's Newt. Newt's alone, sitting on the edge of a gurney and clutching onto it as if for balance. He's wearing this loose, speckled hospital gown, his hair blond and shaggy and drooping over his eyes. Thomas knows that drowsy scowl from anywhere.

But it can't be Newt.

"… Tommy?" Newt rasps, staring in blurry confusion, his lips parting.

Hot tears gather alarmingly fast in his eyes, as a quivering exhale leaves Thomas. "Oh my god," he breathes, and Newt barely has time to be on his feet before Thomas's arms latch onto him, hugging him close. "Newt—oh my god."

That's it—that's it for him. If this is some kind of experiment trial set by WICKED, if this is a full-bodied simulation, Thomas is giving absolute consent to lose himself into it. Have Janson kick the shit out him later — he doesn't fucking care.

But, but Newt feels real — a heartbeat, a living, pounding heartbeat up against Thomas's chest.

He's crying, Thomas realizes. Crying all over Newt, burying his nose and mouth into Newt's throat, eyelashes damp with moisture. Thomas makes himself let go, just enough to be face-to-face. Newt's eyes are not focusing, and appear dry, bloodshot.

Thomas's palms reach up, holding Newt's face steady. Wanting the skin-contact and warmth so badly. Craving it.

He shakes his head.

"They said you were dead." Thomas repeats, disbelieving, blinking out another leaking tear, "They said you were all dead… I…"

Finally, finally, Newt is coming back to himself, groaning aloud and forcing his eyes to open bigger, to concentrate. "Uuugh… feel like I've been sleeping for bloody years," he whispers, leaning his head out of Thomas's eager hands.

"That's because you have." A woman in ruby-red heels under her lab coat, as bright as her spiraling curls, approaches them. Thomas didn't even the doors open. Not even an inch. He moves around Newt, hand grasping Newt's arm, blocking the other boy from view.

"Sorry about that, Newton," she says, smiling sweet as spun sugar. "We couldn't have you climbing walls anymore."

Newt's sickly-pale face crumbles with his flash-bulb memories, wordlessly as his fingers claw against his temples. Thomas keeps glaring at her. "I'm Dr. Wright, head of Psych. I'm in charge of the newest lifesaving project endorsed by WICKED."

"What the hell is this? Why are we here?"

"You should be grateful—as you can see, all your little friends are being released." Dr. Wright's teeth are perfectly straightened, and she bares them like a predator. "The next few days are going to be very special, preparing you for what's to come."

Thomas's eyebrows furrow. "Preparing us?" he asks.

"Questions, questions… it's alright, Thomas. You deserve to know." Dr. Wright presses a sequence of numbers on a slim, handheld console, tapping up holo-files bathing in spectral luminescence. Her red, red mouth smiling. "You both along with 198 others have turned the rightful age of procreation. You are all being assigned your 'partner' with the best match to your chemistry and neurological activity we've observed, until you were eighteen. Newton is the most compatible match as your Alpha."

What…?

(What is she talking about?)

Thomas lets the most obvious statement escape his lips, numbly, "But… I'm a Beta."

"That you are, Thomas."

"Omegas don't exist anymore. Everyone knows that," he insists, not bothering to tone down his condescending.

Jesus christ, Omegas had been the most vulnerable to the effects of the Flare, the population dying out within months. Months. Quicker than this organization predicted. They are specifically classified under those who would never be considered Immune. If there are any Omegas left on this scorching hell-orb planet, it will be the lousiest joke of a goddamn miracle.

Dr. Wright taps off the holo-files.

"Rest assure that won't matter in the long run," she tells him, amiably. "Enough questions for now—why don't you take him to the cafeteria? Everyone else is already attending dinner, and I'm sure your friends are, too."

And just like that, she's walking away. As if nothing just happened.

Thomas is about to go after her, demand for more answers, when Newt's hand falls to his shoulder. His fingers bite down insistently. He whirls around to face him. Newt's not doing so good standing on his own, his weight on Thomas, beads of sweat on his forehead.

"Oh shit, Newt—" Thomas helps him sit back down on the gurney, his concern ballooning. "You doing alright?"

The other boy glowers. His heavy, prominent accent thickened with fatigue.

"I have a massive shuckin' headache and no underwear… how do you think I feel?"

Thomas peers around, spotting a pile of meticulously folded clothes on one of the steel medical trays. "Here," he says, handing the pile over to him. Newt hesitates a moment before taking it, the blatant irritation on his features mellowing out.

Newt's peeling off the top of the lightweight hospital gown, and Thomas's eyes run over patches of old scars and hard-earned muscles. He vividly remembers the string-bean kid when they were both thirteen, full of snappish remarks and devilishly-wide grins, roughhousing with Thomas. He admits Newt looks damn good like this, arms fit and tanned as if hours spent under the sun.

"I'll just, uh…" Thomas averts his eyes, blood rushing to his cheeks as he faces his back to Newt.

A barking laugh echoes the room.

"If we are going to be partners, s'ppose it doesn't matter, does it," Next exclaims, and it sounds like teasing sarcasm to Thomas. He chucks the balled up fabric directly at Thomas's head, and Thomas laughs as well, half-turning back.

The hospital gown limply tumbles off his shoulder.

Oh — Newt's still dressing, already pulled on a grey-and-white henley. He's stepping into a pair of plain, dark boxers and Thomas can see every inch of his hair-covered legs, and then, an unusual, discolored bulge on his calf. There's a crinkle of golden-blond pubic hair between Newt's legs, his cock pink and soft — oh god.

He scrubs his fingers quickly over his burning cheeks, ignoring Newt fully aware of him peeking.

"If this is about the leg, it… it was the Maze." Newt's voice comes out like a dull knife-pinprick, worming and jabbing its way underneath Thomas's consciousness. "I'm not going to talk to you about it, Tommy. Not now."

The rush of guilt is staggering. He didn't know. Thomas didn't know WICKED kept them alive, lying to him.

He should have known.

"Newt, I'm—"

Newt's mouth twitches into a frown, his eyes narrowing in warning. "Don't start, don't," he grumbles, slipping his arm around Thomas's shoulders for upright support. "Just… let's get the fuck out here."

Thomas wants to protest, wants the opportunity to apologize.

He only nods wordlessly, clutching onto Newt's muscular side and helping them maneuver upright.

.

.

The female guard waiting outside antagonizes Thomas less, but leads them straight to another separate quarter of the building. The cafeteria buzzes with noise and activity, and has more guards within its main entrance. All of the faces within are young.

Young and hiding any fears with smiling or talking, eating, or brooding.

"Well, if it isn't these dumb shanks finally come to join the party!" Minho, along with Zart and Gally, approach him and Newt. The look of relief on each of their faces is impossible to miss. "Thought we'd have to start combing the place," Minho adds.

"Is everyone here?" Newt asks, eyes searching.

"Everyone from the our Maze, anyway—and then a shuck-ton from the other Mazes. How the hell were there so many?"

Thomas's gut curdles.

Newt stares determinedly at Thomas's profile, as if sensing his discomfiture. "Why did you say that earlier?" he says, quietly enough so only their group can hear. Gally's eyebrows scrunch in. "You said we were all dead. WICKED told you that?"

"They said the Maze Trials had been eliminated for Group A and everyone inside the Maze. It failed."

The previous year and a half is too clear.

Thomas remembers hearing the glaringly-real news delivered about their most promising subjects — his friends — and their deaths. How they weren't even spared the chance to be set free. Thomas remembers a blinding rage pounding in his veins, a combination of his pain and his grieving; and he remembers channeling it, screaming at the top of his lungs, taking it out on the nearby WICKED panel-boards and monitors with nothing but a long, metal pole.

Security barged in and disarmed him, knocked Thomas out, sedated him. Locked him up in a padded, white room. Thomas howled and vomited, sobbing out garbled names for what seemed to be days on end. He went lethargic and shuddering to the hard, padded floor when he wasn't livid all over again, throwing blood-crusting fists on walls that didn't feel like walls.

Eventually, one of them whirred open, revealing Assistant Director Janson. He agreed to let Thomas out… if Thomas went back to his work. It's invaluable to us, he said, with a flat, tiny smirk. You are going to save millions of lives, Thomas.

There's no use crying over spilled Variables, I'm afraid.

You can't get back your friends now.

Thomas can feel the slightest onset of that rage creeping back to him, whispering darkly.

Gally rubs his fingertips thoughtfully over his chin. "I remember… when it happened, I think. I remember being hit in the head with somethin' big and then dragged down a tunnel," he says lowly. "It had to have been one of the Griever Holes."

"Bright lights shining in my face," Zart speaks up, as if coming out of a trance.

"Getting shut up inside a chamber with a mask over my face. I didn't see the Maze anymore." Minho shakes his head. "I didn't know where I was, or who was there but there were people in white standing over me," he admits.

Thomas announces, "You guys must have been put in a stasis mode until this…"

"But why? Why not just kill us if they don't need the Trials?"

"For breeding," Newt says the word like it's contaminated with filth, his expression twisting up in anger.

From the other side of him, Thomas sees a fresh-faced, beaming Teresa approach, listening in on them.

"He's right, you know," she declares, hoisting a rather large cardboard box under her arm, resting it to her hip. Their heads swivel to her. "WICKED's managed to complete the Serum to allow Betas to reproduce like Omegas. It's been years in the making, but now the Immune have matured and can be sent to Paradise where we can all restart the population."

"What Serum?" Thomas and Newt ask in unison.

"Paradise?" Gally repeats back, skepticism evident.

"Thank god, I miss fucking," Zart says with undisguised enthusiasm. He ducks his head embarrassed as the other boys semi-glare. Teresa rolls her eyes a little, sticking a hand in her cardboard box — within it, Thomas discovers warm, laundered clothing.

She carefully passes him a navy-blue shirt and pair of pants. "Tom, none of this would have been possible without you." Teresa's bright turquoise eyes shine with fondness. "You've been such an amazing help. WICKED knows this. WICKED is good, remember?"

He winces under the dubious looks from the Gladers.

"No… no, I don't think it is," Thomas argues, murmuring. He steels himself, jaw tightening as Teresa hesitates from passing out new clothes, shooting him an utterly crestfallen stare. "Any of it. If I had known any of it would have happened…"

"S'alright, Tommy," Newt says, already standing on his own. He grasps onto Thomas's upper arm, squeezing once, making him turn around. The faint, tired smile on Newt's face is enough comfort, just enough to settle Thomas's gut.

The other boys murmur the same, low encouragements, and Minho hugs him gruffly. Thomas smiles big, hugging back. As they pull away, Minho gazes down at Thomas's opening left palm, in complete surprise. "Jeez, I didn't know you had one too, slinthead!"

Minho exposes his own left tattooed palm, holding it high: GROUP B, SUBJECT B1.

"Yeah, I-I don't know…" Thomas says, looking down as well and trailing off. His thumb-pad etches meditatively over PROPERTY OF WICKED and below it: GROUP A, SUBJECT A5, pleasantly tickling the surface of his own skin. "Think it's always been there for identification purposes, or something. I know only the Immune ended up getting them…"

Teresa makes a haughty, amused noise through her nostrils.

She shows them her right palm, tattooed in that familiar inky black with WICKED's name and GROUP C, SUBJECT C2.

"It's not your ID—it's your partner's." Teresa strolls between Gally and Zart, tossing her loose, midnight-brown hair, saying knowingly, "Yours is gonna be on the back of your neck." Thomas's eyes widen in slow realization, his mouth falling open.

He yelps suddenly as Minho and Newt grab roughly at the collar of his shirt, yanking it away. They all groan collectively.

"Damn it—"

"She's right—"

"Can you guys see mine—"

"What's it say?" Thomas almost starts shouting to be heard, his breathing trembling. "Will you just TELL me already?"

By now, everyone's attention has been drawn in the cafeteria, the rest of their friends crowding nearby: Frypan, Winston, Alby, Jeff. The rest of the eighteen-year-old teenagers examine each other's napes, squealing in excitement or gasping in horror.

Newt presents out his own tattooed hand to Thomas's face, same hand as Teresa, reading: GROUP A, SUBJECT A2.

"It's you, it's yours," he says, and it's not fear or thrill in Newt's voice, but a candid response. As if Newt accepts this knowledge as truth. Thomas stares back in wonder, tilting his head up, meeting their eyes and watching Newt smile close-lipped again.

"Left hand tattoos for Betas, and right hands for Alphas, then?" Gally says impassively, observing his right hand.

Minho frowns.

"Who the shuck is Subject B1?" he mutters.

One of the boys Thomas has seen before — Aris, who tends to be fiercely protected by the girls, who naturally gravitates to those more like him — he passes them by with a plate of cornbread. As soon the question drifts in, Aris's plate drops out of his hands, shattering. His face goes beet-red, eyes growing wide as Minho's head jerks around at him.

He darts out of sight, in a feat of agility Thomas's honestly never seen from anyone.

"Well then," Frypan says, grinning and elbowing Minho who appears less than happy about locating his assigned partner. "Got yourself a fine, squirrely shank, don't ya?"

"Awesome," Minho says curtly, shoving at Frypan's arm.

.

.

Dr. Wright appears before dismissal.

She explains what happened to the world since the Flare, why the Mazes existed, and the possibility of a cure. But now, it's the possibility of hope for the Immune in the safest region possibly — a fresh start, a new world they could all create together.

Everyone will be partnered up: one Alpha and one Beta given the serum who would be able to conceive like an Omega, regardless of gender.

Newt and Thomas. Frypan and Winston. Gally and Ben. Aris and Minho. Sonya and Harriet. Teresa and a very pretty girl with dark eyes.

Brenda, it says on the chart. She's got a wiry stature and black, trimmed hair, and Thomas likes the way she smiles. It's pretty on her, too. She doesn't bare all of her teeth menacingly, but in a flirtatious manner.

He can already see her with Teresa where they hang in the back, their knees touching. They hunch on a cafeteria table, occasionally speaking to each other. Brenda holds Teresa's palm on her leg, several of Brenda's fingers tracing dreamily over her tattoo.

.

.

Unlike the others, Thomas and Teresa have been given the freedom to wander, to continue working but under supervision.

WICKED has already lied so much. He's not ready to trust them, even if Dr. Wright's project sounds like it would save them.

Save the human race. But why? As far as he's aware of it, WICKED would rather sacrifice children to physically and mentally tormenting experiments and use the Variables to find their damn cure than willingly let them all go.

Has the Flare really gotten… that bad?

Thomas doesn't know. He's never been outside the WICKED complex except in a Berg, and he had been twelve, and first arrived here. Thomas remembers living in a house in their neighborhood with his parents, but they are old, worn-out memories. No longer colorful.

Outside of the WICKED complex, it's miles and miles of the Scorch. People don't survive it, rumor tells them. According to consistent temperature ratings taken by scientists, it's one of the hottest seasons right now.

The security escort — a male guard about his height this time, dark-skinned like Alby, walks a couple feet behind him and Teresa. Thomas glances over at her, and as if she knows what Thomas is thinking, she smashes her lips together and gives him a head-shake.

Sorry.

Thomas spins around, hands clasped firmly behind him, walking backwards. The guard narrows his eyes. "Okay, I'm not gonna lie," he says, informatively, "long periods of silence make me uncomfortable, so did you know that the average mayfly has no functioning mouth?"

A harsh, nasally sigh from the guard. He gestures with his Launcher, aiming at Thomas.

"Something to consider in the future, kid. Now shut your trap."

Teresa says, pleadingly, "Thomas, you shouldn't—"

"Hey, I said shut up," the guard says, pointing the Launcher towards her now. Thomas seizes his chance, ramming his shoulder into the guard, using all his body strength to crash them both into the wall.

He scrambles onto his feet, picking up the abandoned Launcher.

"TERESA, COME ON!"

Thomas sprints down the lone, winding corridor, expecting her to follow, his heart thudding staccato-beat. But, the floor is too slippery for Thomas's beaten sneakers. He ends up falling over and violently rolling himself. The Launcher skids in the process.

Another guard — his favorite one — emerges around the corner, weapon raised.

"On your feet, handsome, or you'll be getting 50,000 volts straight to your balls."

Thomas's vision still wildly spins, but he obeys, chest heaving, presenting his hands in surrender. Fuck, fuck.

She half-circles him, and grins razor-sharp. Before the female guard says anything, something happens. A sound like dull, meaty impact. She shrieks out of nowhere, as if burning alive, her entire frame tremoring. Her eyes jerking backwards in their sockets.

He takes a hopping step back as blue-white electricity zaps right along the guard's skull and her face, convulsing her. Teresa hurries around her, with her own smoking Launcher. She grabs Thomas's arm furiously. "Have you lost it completely?"

Thomas finally tears his eyes from the guard, mouth bone-dry.

"Something doesn't feel right about this. You know it—you know WICKED too, just as much as me. I gotta find out what's really happening, for everyone's sake," he insists. "Where's the nearest Data-Base?"

"Thomas—"

"I could try and find it myself, but I can't do this without you." Thomas softens his expression. He dares to reach out and touch the side of her face. The severity of her frown melts off. It's like being kids again, looking out for each other. "Teresa, please. This is important."

She makes a long, aggravated grunt through her teeth. Her fingers tighten instinctively on his sleeve. Teresa drags him in another direction, towards the adjacent corridor. With the fumbling swipe of her ID card, they're rushing within this floor level's Date-Base room.

Thomas rushes over the one of the consoles.

"Make it quick," Teresa whispers somewhere in the background.

"What's the system access code?"

"And how would I know that…?" At the exaggerated, deliberate smile from Thomas, Teresa nudges him aside. "You're an asshole, Thomas," she proclaims with vigor, and Teresa's smiling at him like she's trying so hard to not show it.

"Thank you—" and he quickly corrects himself, getting back into position as as Teresa snickers , "—for, uh, everything. Thanks."

The holo-screen switches from piercing red to green.

He didn't expect the files to be easily available. But they are. Heaps and heaps of information: recorded meetings with Chancellor Paige, timed sessions with the laboratory. Thomas's eyes scan more and more, his stormy anger and dismay growing.

"Is that…?"

"Oh my god," Teresa says, her bright eyes filling with moisture. "But… but they said—"

Thomas sneers at the glowing holo-screen, right at the unmoved faces of Dr. Wright and Janson. "WICKED's been saying a lot of goddamn things lately, huh?" he mutters. Just as Thomas taps another button, the overhead lights dim. Sirens ring out.

SECURITY BREACH! SECURITY BREACH! SECURITY BREACH! flashes on-screen, blaring over and over.

"Oh, fuck."

"Tom, we need to GO!" Teresa yells, as he snatches up a handheld device, plugging it into the main console, downloading files. "NOW!" Thomas jams the device into his trouser pocket. "Ventilation system! Tom, I need help!"

.

.

Being forcibly cramped into a shared lounge with twenty or so people is not on anyone's to-do lists. The security alarms have gone off, flashing red and pale lights in their faces. The stone-faced WICKED guards herd them in and block out the doors.

Frypan gazes up at the ventilation system above their heads, listening for that continuous, heavy scurrying.

"If that's rats, I'm leaving y'all," he quips, deadpan. "Cause it sounds like some big-ass rats."

The humongous, metallic venting grate pops out, clattering to the bare floor.

"Guys—take these!"

Alby braves the chance to peer up into it, seeing Thomas's perspiring, reddened face. He opens his arms and catches the first Launcher, with everyone else staring upwards in awe and fear. "What the hell are you doing with these?" Alby yells, passing it off.

"That's awesome," Aris breathes, holding it up and examining its bulky shape. Minho examines it over with him, grinning.

Thomas drops out of the vent, swinging by his arms and releasing himself. He lands easily on his feet, and catches Teresa by the waist who follows after him, panting. "You okay? Teresa?" he asks, helping her up as Teresa nods, trying to catch her breath.

"What are you doing—?"

"Did you two set off the alarms—?"

And just like that, Thomas's adrenaline fuels his panic. "Guys, it's WICKED. WICKED's done this," he says, talking too quick, borderline-ranting. "WICKED's got this all set up—it's not safe—we're not safe—we—"

"Thomas, THOMAS, slim it nice and cool." Alby holds up his hand, concern on his features. "WHAT'S… happening?"

He takes in a deep, shuddering breath for composure, wiping his face.

"WICKED can't send us to Paradise," Thomas gasps out, his entire body quivering. "There's—there's no Paradise. It doesn't exist."

"Called it," Gally mutters.

"Why would they lie about that?"

Minho snorts, crossing his arms. "When hasn't WICKED lied?" he points out.

"Thomas is telling the truth," Teresa says, unflinching against everyone's doubting looks. "I've seen it."

"Seen what?" Newt asks, curiously.

Her face scrunches up, acting as if haunted.

"… What they're going to do to everyone," she murmurs, one or two tears slipping down her face.

Thomas yanks out the handheld console, switching it on and revealing the holo-files, tapping each one. "WICKED is gonna harvest our bodies while we're still alive, after forcing some of us to reproduce. Keep us in comas and drain us until they find a cure," he says. "They're gonna keep a few around to discover who the Final Candidate is. The list had my name on it and Teresa, Brenda, Aris, and a couple others…"

Zart announces, bitterly, "So, what, you'll be saved?"

"You call imprisonment and non-consensual reproduction saving?" Teresa snaps, no longer crying.

That shuts him up.

"Look at this." Thomas presses a finger on one of the holo-files, enlarging it for everyone. "This is the map for the Flat Trans."

Alby shakes his head, looking at it over Thomas's shoulder, face bathing in the light.

"It doesn't go anywhere," he says.

"We stay in the WICKED complex the whole time. None of us are getting out of here if we do what they want."

Newt speaks up, running a hand over his mouth, "Then what do you suggest we do?"

"… We have to leave."

"Go into the burning wasteland and die out there, you mean?" Minho asks, sarcastically. Two or three of the Gladers look like they're about to open their mouths, either to agree or scold Minho until Brenda steps forward, holding herself in confidence.

"Not all of it is," she announces. Brenda stares into Minho's eyes in unspoken, prying challenge. "Some areas are more extreme climates, but there are places that are habitable if you get past the mountains. Especially when you're Immune."

Thomas urges, looking over at Minho as well, "We can't stay here and let them do this to us."

"There's cargo buses," Teresa says. "In the garages. They're specifically designed to get people safely in and out of the Scorch."

"We'll grab what we need and pile everyone in."

Newt's lips curl up into a mock-smile. "Can anyone even drive?" he asks the room of twenty or so, culturally-isolated teenagers.

"I can," Teresa says to him, nodding. Someone else pipes up, volunteering.

Winston and Alby put up their hands, volunteering along.

"Might as well try."

"… Is nobody else wondering how we can trust her?" Minho speaks up, frowning outright at Teresa. "She's been acting like she's on WICKED's side this whole time up until now. What if this is another experiment set up for us and she's in on it?"

"I trust her," Brenda speaks up, much louder, not looking at Minho this time. Teresa flushes a warm, sweet color.

"So do I," Aris says, cheerfully.

"Minho, she got me in to steal this. She didn't know either." Thomas feels his dry throat slick with bile, the guilt creeping over him like ivy trapped around his rib-cage. "We both didn't know," he whispers, and sees the other teenager blow air through his lips.

"Yeah yeah, shuck-face..."

"I must have missed this part, but how the hell we gettin' out of here again?" Frypan speaks up.

Aris lets go of the first Launcher as Thomas presents it out to the others.

"Any takers? Still might be some volts left."

.

.

They gather up more Launchers, along with handguns. Fire at the guards and security cameras. At least the ones they are unable to disable.

Teresa locates where the rest of the kids are being held captive, and everyone races for the secondary hangar. Within, the trucks she spoke of… they look more like old, ruined school buses covered in armor and rows of tinted windows.

"I'm sorry…" Teresa stops him before entering his, clutching Thomas's hand, gazing imploringly over him. "Tom, I really thought…"

She doesn't have to say it, because she's already forgiven about WICKED as much as he has been, but Thomas's hand clutches in return, and he half-smiles.

"It's okay," Thomas says. "Let's get everyone out of here, okay? Stay close to us."

Winson checks out the gears and holds the wheel, yelling their shuck asses to get moving as Gally and Ben pile up gasoline canisters onto their bus, jumping on. The hangar spews open, bursting with mid-day heat and sandy, blistering wind. Thomas shields his face.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Teresa, dark hair flying around her face, as she climbs into the bus with kids from Group B.

"You comin' too or did ya change your mind, shank?"

Thomas lets out a terse, mocking laugh and accepts Winston's hand, heaving himself onto the bus as the other boy closes the bus-doors. He can practically feel the temperature go up several more degrees as their bus roars into the Scorch. The tinted panes of glasses on the windows help them all look out and Winston maneuver without trouble, seeming to lead the other kids driving after him.

None of them expect the hangar doors to stay wide-open, but they do expect WICKED to start fighting back. "Look!" Frypan shouts, pointing an arm out the window and Thomas presses his face up to glass. WICKED bergs hover in the sky, lowering down for them.

"We gotta go faster, man!"

"Hang onto something!" Winston yells to them, gripping the tattered-looking steering wheel and jerking it. Thomas's body flies away from his window, out of his seat, and sprawling onto another person. Gally's arm locks to his chest and he jerks them onto their feet.

They narrowly miss one of the Bergs, ducking their heads as what sounds like high-powered bullets thunking the side of their bus.

"What the hell is that—!—?"

In the distance, their ears pick up an explosion. One of the buses is at a standstill, destroyed, getting smaller and smaller in the distance, smoldering with flames and thick smoke. An ice-cold horror pierces up Thomas's spine.

Two of WICKED's sunlight-gleaming Bergs crowd the other buses, almost touching down. With a low, miserable cry ripping out of Thomas's mouth, he witnesses Alby's bus completely flip over as it swerves the ground, abandoned.

There are no more buses following them.

"No, no—!" Someone grabs Thomas's fist, wrenching it away quickly from a bus-window before it can break it open. Thomas's chest feels bunched-up tight, and his eyes are swollen and damp as he sobs out a quiet, trembling breath.

"This can't be happening…" Jeff murmurs, unable to look up, shaking his head minutely.

Out of the smoke, a huge, armored shape — a speeding bus — barrels out, gaining traction on the sand-covered ground. Gally says, loud and undeniably confused, "Is that Teresa?" Everyone but Winston presses back up against the windows for a better view.

Frypan cheers, grinning.

"WOOOOO! Shuck-damn, the girl's got some skills or what?!"

Thomas feels his muscles sag, leaning himself on the back of a seat as he gazes at her bus getting closer and closer.

"Thank god… thank god…" he mumbles, feeling Newt's hand remove from his, sliding up Thomas's back to grasp lightly at his nape. Right over his forced-identification tattoo. It's a steadying gesture, and Thomas thinks he needs it at the moment.

Newt's fingers may be clammy against his skin, but he's grateful.

.

.

They're way past the ruins of a major metropolitan city before Thomas orders them to stop and fill up the gas tanks.

The weather is unrelentingly hot and windy. Many of the others decide to remain in the shelter of the buses. He stretches his legs, cupping a hand over his eyes and walking over to Minho finishing the headcount. "How many of us left?"

"… Sixty." There's a wheezing coming from Teresa's bus. Minho jerks a thumb. "Kid's got asthma. He's not gonna survive out here." He knows Minho is only stating facts, even if it's a callous tone, but Thomas sets his jaw, glaring.

"We have to try and find help. We lost too many of us already." He doesn't want to talk about the fate of the smoldering bus, or Alby, or Zart, or what will happen to those being dragged back to WICKED. "We need somewhere safe to hide."

Brenda rolls down a bus-window, poking her head out and coughing.

"I know where to go," she tells them, her dark eyes smiling. "Just need to get a message out first."

.

.

Thomas's handheld console provides enough energy for what Brenda needs to do.

It's our only rescue now, she insists.

They run on at least twenty miles towards the mountains before the buses stutter to a halt. The sky blackens with little starlight, and daylight seems to have taken the heat with it as it vanishes in the horizon. Thomas feels himself shivering, rubbing at his arms.

A twinkling red light in the distance. He squints his eyes at it, joining the others staring upwards at it.

"Is it them?" Thomas asks, raising his voice, face tilted. It's a lone Berg, shining out and blaring thunderously. "Brenda?"

Brenda appears terrified, rooted in place.

"That's not Jorge… that's not him!" she yells, waving her arms frantically as everyone outside glances at her. Thomas's heart leaps, panic and fear overtaking him. He grabs Brenda's shoulder, yanking her with him, and grabs Minho with his empty hand.

"Guys, it's WICKED—we gotta get out of here!" Thomas hollers over to the buses.

"There's nothing left!" Gally tosses the empty gasoline canisters, fury written on his expression. "We aren't going anywhere!"

Another thundering noise high, high above them, and suddenly blinding white light floods on the area. "Run…" Thomas says automatically, taking a slow step backwards as he gazes at the Berg descending. "GO! GO, GO, RUN! RUN AND HIDE!"

He has no idea where anyone else is in the mounting hysteria, in the noise of his rushing blood. Thomas keeps running in the growing darkness, not stopping, unable to know if his friends are close. Machinery and blood-curdling screams.

And then, more light floods itself in Thomas's eyes.

He staggers in his pace before realizing it's not a Berg he's seen before. It's much smaller and compact, with no inky-black WICKED drilled into its metallic plating. The hatch opens with no soldiers or weapons in sight. Newt and Teresa and Brenda are far ahead of him, to Thomas's relief. They scramble onto the new Berg as a middle-aged, brown-skinned man motions them on.

Little further… he just needs to keep going…

Minho passes him, taking the lead when a screeching cry for help! makes Thomas's head snap around. It's Ben. Ben on the ground, his legs and arms bound with massive, black ropes. He struggles and thrashes, and Thomas skids to a near-tumbling halt.

"Thomas—what are you doing!? THOMAS!"

"I gotcha, Ben," he says, reassuring the weeping boy and pulling at the rope. It's tough, won't budge an inch. But, Thomas will be damned if he leaves Ben here when he can save him right now. "Guys, I need help! Minho! MINHO, HEY—!"

A current of blue-white electricity surges out from Ben's restraints, jolting him and Thomas's hand. A numbing sensation creeps over Thomas, over the top of his skull, until he realizes he's about to go limp. His vision blurs.

Shit.

Someone — someone dressed in all black, they get a fistful of Thomas's hair, yanking his head sideways. A too-sharp prick of a needle jams into Thomas's jugular vein. It hurts, oh god it hurtsithurtsithurts

.

.

Fourteen. Fourteen of them out of the escaped sixty, out of two hundred condemned once to their Mazes.

Brenda's message had been received. Jorge and his Berg lifted the fourteen kids out of WICKED's grasp, Thomas included. Newt and Gally carried him though the hatch door, and then dropped him unceremoniously as if Thomas was made of red-hot fire.

"He's got a fever," Jeff announces, frowning.

"No, he's… I think he's in Omega-Heat." Teresa's pupils dilate, her nostrils flaring as she shakily wipes her lips. "This isn't good," she breathes, wanting to keep her distance but physically unable to. Brenda holds her wrist, firmly.

Eventually, all of the Alphas begin feeling the effects: Frypan corners himself with Winston and attempts to hold himself together, licking his lips nervously; Aris gets surrounded by Harriet and Sonya, Sonya being an Alpha herself as well, keeping themselves in lighthearted conversation and not focusing on the others; Gally stares in outright hostility as Newt prowls the entrance to where Thomas is being kept, glaring right back at Gally. The other Betas including Jorge feel nothing, and attempt to keep the peace.

Newt recognizes that he's always felt protective of Thomas. With more of his pre-Maze memories coming back every day, he's sure. But this is a whole different level, and Newt knows he should be resisting. He's never felt any-damn-thing like this before.

"How is he?" he asks immediately, as the bedroom door cracks open.

Jeff grimaces, lowering his eyes.

"I… I don't think he's not going to make it."

It feels… no, it feels like a horrible punch in the gut, forcing the remaining air out of Newt's lungs. He turns away with a deeply scowling look, going for one of the backpacks hanging open in the loading bay.

Teresa glances up, Brenda's gentle fingers unwinding from playing with her dirty, messy hair.

"Newt—?" she asks, worried.

He pulls out one of the handguns. Everyone in sight of him tenses up, eyes on him as Newt presents it handle-first to Minho. "I'm going to lock the door from the inside," Newt says, bluntly, voice dangerously soft. "If I hurt him… you need to take care of it."

Silence. Minho's eyes trail over the blueish-black, gleaming barrel.

Newt tries again, more impatiently, "Minho?"

"Got it, shuck-face." The other eighteen-year-old seizes it, feigning a grin. "Don't do anything stupid."

I just wanna be there when it happens.

Newt avoids looking at anyone else, ignores the protests and chorus of his name, entering the room. He locks the door.

Thomas no longer writhes where he's lying, but slightly quivering on a cot. Any exposed skin he has covered in rosy heat and perspiration. Thomas's navy-blue shirt darkens at his sternum and under his armpits, soaked entirely through. He reeks, and normally, Newt thinks he would be repulsed. But now, it's a strong fragrance and nearly pleasant to his senses.

His eyelids covered in perspiration as well, just a bit of a sheen.

"Newt..."

Thomas's eyes blink open, color so-bright, and Newt feels his body urge forward. "Tommy, hey… you're awake," he says in a whisper.

"WICKED… did something… f-feel it…"

Newt gives him a nod.

"They gave you the Serum before we could stop it," he explains, seriously. "Don't worry—I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

Thomas's voice is quivering, along with his body. It's visibly getting worse.

"It'll kill me… if you don't…"

"You don't know that."

"Teresa… says…" A weak laugh. Newt feels the irrational urge to slap him for it. "Please… want it to be you…"

He shakes his head, rubbing his hands over his face until it hurts. Newt wants to scream and rage against his Alpha instincts — it can't be like this. "You're not thinking straight. And I'm not either, so you can't ask me this."

Thomas says nothing else but quivers, eyes rolling back a little to reveal the whites.

"Tommy?… Tommy?"

Newt leans over him, patting his cheek. The feeling of Thomas's overly warm skin is like pure heaven, but he's not snapping out of it. "Fuck," Newt swears under his breath, unbuckling his belt hurriedly. He pulls it apart, hesitating before undoing his jeans. "If you die, I swear I'll drag your bloody arse out of your grave, do you hear me…?"

At Newt's touch, Thomas seems to regain consciousness. He repeats his name in pleading murmurs. Newt feels his cock twitch in response to pulling off Thomas's own jeans and underwear, to see Thomas's cock as full and blood-dark as his own.

He hesitates again, not touching him, only gripping the bedding.

"Tommy, you need to tell me this is alright…"

It's not the Omega-Heat in Thomas's eyes — for once it's him, amusement and trepidation mingling together.

"S'okay."

Just because it's been a passing thought, for how many years, and because he has every opportunity to, Newt kisses him.

He hauls himself onto Thomas's bed, lying down with him, facing sideways so they are aligned. Newt's mouth presses to his bottom lip, outlining its shape. When he thinks of shifting away, to let them gather themselves, one of Thomas's arms circles him, refusing to move. He presses back to Newt, moaning into the kiss, sliding his tongue restlessly against Newt's and working against his.

Oh god, yes.

Newt kisses down his throat, nipping occasionally. He burrows his fingers under Thomas's shirt, running absently over his chest and the dark, curlicue hairs. He reaches down, nudging Thomas's legs apart with his knee, feeling along his thighs.

They're moist. Newt's fingertips locate his warm, leaking entrance, skimming the crease of Thomas's buttocks.

He opens Thomas up with a couple of his fingers, barely finding any resistance due to the situation. Even with his sex-hungry, prodding Alpha-self demanding control, Newt will do nothing else but gentle with him, helping a red-faced, whining Thomas onto his back. He does at first, slipping inside him heedfully and groaning, Newt's cock swallowed up to its base in hot, clenching muscles. It's so delicious and wet, and he thrusts again, rocking their hips, savoring Thomas's blissed-out expression.

Their mouths find each other again, as Newt lowers himself, sucking and biting. Thomas looks so amazing like this — spread out, his brown eyes already so dark, and the pale skin on his neck littered with tiny marks. Thomas's lips glistening and kiss-bitten.

Thomas's tattoo palm slides over Newt's, their fingers clinging.

The orgasm is unexpected, striking them both without proper warning. Newt feels his knot swell up, and it's bigger than he ever remembers it getting. Thomas gasps out, arching, but Newt holds him down, fearing what will happen if he tries to get away.

He's pulsing inside Thomas's body, slowly, slowly filling him to the brink. Thomas relaxes against the bedding, against Newt's hands, his cock already gone soft, spend. "You alright?" Newt asks, voice too-husky, letting go of Thomas's side.

A sleepy, wordless nod.

"You did good, Tommy, shh," he shushes the low, needy whimper. Newt pushes the perspiration-damp hair out of Thomas's face and eyes. On compulsion, and because he wants to, Newt touches his lips over Thomas's brow, smirking.

.

.

The Omega-Heat lasts for another day, and by then, they're both exhausted and feeling gross and need water.

.

.

Jorge lands the Berg outside a town he and Brenda are familiar with, but no one else. The people guarding the city-gates scan everyone for VCT. Viral Contagion Threat. One of them scans Thomas, reading that he's Immune, but there's something else.

Thomas can already feel it.

He doesn't feel like himself, even as another two weeks passes. His body feels different, swollen. It even smells different. Everything's amplified — sounds, tastes, colors. Thomas discovers he loathes ground beef, but he also loathes sugar and chocolate.

Corner of Kenwood and Brookshire, Apartment 2792.

That's their safe haven for now. The Flare is running rapid, and "Munies" are being sold off to WICKED at personal benefit. No one but their own company knows they are all Immune. A doctor called Hans and a female nurse are old friends of Brenda's, as well as Immune, and she convinces Thomas to visit them.

They look him over and recommend vitamins, and sleep, and more monthly visits.

Until one morning, Thomas's lower stomach cramps up so painfully. He vomits spectacularly and passes out in front of Gally. Blood runs out of Thomas's nostrils, and then heavily and gory between his legs, as they discover later on.

It wasn't meant to be.

Multiples were meant to be created by the Serum, and Thomas has no idea if it was ever the case. He feels… so much relief, in a one way. But, an inescapable sense of mourning, in another. Bitterness. Heartache. Guilt.

Ever since the Berg, he and Newt have been avoiding each other, but this… this is ridiculous.

Newt's outside by the balcony, awash in orange sunset. He gathers long, blond hair into his hands and ties it up with a rubber-band. Thomas remembers how soft it felt, wrapped up his hands, clutching on and pulling Newt's face to his, lips smushed together.

Frypan elbows Minho, jerking his chin silently to Thomas as the other boy passes them without acknowledgement, heading for the balcony. The wind is chilly here, and everyone's taken to dressing in longer, thicker fabric.

Newt doesn't look at him as a solemn-faced Thomas stands beside him, leaning with his crossed arms on the railing.

"… Everything's different now. You have to understand that." Newt's words come out flat, emotionless. "We're all different—"

And they're just words, stupid and meaningless words, because he and Newt are still the same. Thomas isn't letting go of him. His arms latch onto Newt's shoulders, hugging him tightly to him. He's crying, like Thomas had in WICKED's medial facility, like he hasn't seen Newt in years… and instead of standing still, Newt hugs him so closely, cupping Thomas's tattooed nape.

.

.

He dreams. Thomas dreams so much these days.

He dreams himself in overly baggy clothes, pacing the apartment by himself. The carpet rock-hard and bristly under his toes. The Serum is supposed to help produce multiples. Thomas glances down at his prominent, round belly, massaging the underside. I don't blame you for this, Newt. I kind of want them now that they exist. He's embarrassed, wincing at a kick and hearing Newt laugh into his ear, Newt's hands resting on Thomas's hips and grasping on. Maybe twins aren't so bad, if WICKED doesn't…

He dreams himself with a bag over his head, and then an unending, winding corridor. Thomas's entire body hurts so much, his legs, his thighs, his chest and especially his stomach contracting with agony and spasming. Flashing strobe-yellow light in his eyes. Don't push, Thomas. He's screaming, wrists trapped in place with white, nylon cords. A long syringe presses into his belly, sucking out clear fluid from him. Relax. It's almost over. The increasing pressure and the burning threaten to…

Thomas still imagines he's dreaming when he's finally gone and woken up.

Assistant Director Janson smiles thinly, self-satisfied.

"We were worried for a moment, Thomas," he says, unmoved as Thomas's head jerks in all directions, peering at his blank, sterile surroundings. "It's good to see you—no, please don't get up for my sake." Janson smiles again, watching as Thomas fights his wrist and ankle bindings to his hospital bed, snarling out loud.

The veins in Thomas's forehead bulge.

"How did I get here?" he yells.

"Why, how did you ever think you would escape us?" Thomas gazes up at him, breathing hard, mouth opening in shock. Janson corrects himself, "You did for a little while. But that chip in your brain led us right to you."

Chip?

Thomas feels disconnected, mind fuzzy.

"My friends…"

"We didn't need them. We need you." The rat-faced man claps Thomas's shoulder, pulling away hastily as the teenager violently shakes him off, almost growling in primal anger. "Try to get some sleep. You need time to recover."

When the blank, sterile door whirs itself shut, Thomas drops his head back onto the mattress, yelling himself hoarse.

.

.

Nobody comes for him.

Until they do.

"Thomas, oh wow…" A tall boy with mousy, sun-tanned features and golden hair appears. Thomas blinks the fuzz from his eyes, confused as he pulls out a communication walkie that blares static. "I found him—I found our subject, do you copy?"

"Aris…?"

More static. Aris fiddles with a tuning button.

"Damn," he breathes out, lowering the volume.

Thomas finds himself with arms and legs returned as the other teen cuts him free with a knife-blade. "Okay, we gotta go," Aris says, not cheerfully, snatching Thomas's upper arm. "Don't worry, everyone's safe. It took us months to get ready."

His legs feel watery at best, but Aris leads him through another white corridor, beckoning quietly as he lets Thomas walk on his own. He's only wearing loose, white hospital pants and a white pajama-top. He… doesn't know what happening, not completely, but as soon as Thomas spots a mass of red, spiraling curls bouncing in another hallway… he's made his decision.

"Do you have a gun?" he asks Aris, lowly.

"Yeah, but" Thomas wretches it from Aris's belt, hustling him back and sprinting down for the adjacent hallway. "THOMAS!" Aris shouts, his face pinching. He reaches for his walkie, panicking. "I NEED BACKUP, COPY! I NEED IT NOW!"

It's not a Data-Base, but one of the project-mainframes Thomas finds himself inside, holding out his gun. Two of the guards raise their Launchers as soon as they see him. "Thomas, what are you doing?" Janson speaks up calmly, holding his hands out.

"Deactivate the chip."

"I'm afraid I can't do that. It's permanent."

Thomas's slow-blinding rage quakes his voice. "Then you better TAKE IT OUT OF ME!" he shouts, the gun's muzzle also unsteady as Thomas clicks off the safety. One of the guards curses, moving as if to attack but Janson gestures roughly, sneering.

"Don't hurt him. Take it easy."

"You'll die, Thomas," Dr. Wright tells him, her lily-white hands folded so neatly. Her smile so sweet.

"It wasn't dreams, were they?" Thomas asks, steadying himself, pointing the revolver on her now. "You took me… you…" A creeping sense of nausea sweeps over him. "Where are they?"

When she only keeps smiling, he screams out, "WHERE ARE THEY?"

"They didn't survive." Dr. Wright tuts as if disappointed, getting up from her chair. Thomas levels it back to her head, his teeth clenching, tears rolling hot down his face. "I'm sorry, Thomas. We did everything we could for the twins. The trauma during surgery had been too substantial."

"YOU'RE LYING TO ME—NOW TELL ME WHERE THEY ARE!"

One of the guards is down, the fluff in their bulletproof vest exploding. More guns going off. Thomas aims and pulls the trigger. Red, red blood splashes onto Dr. Wright's lab coat, and she dies twenty-eight minutes later, her predator-smile fading from existence.

He thinks he's sees Winston and Newt, and other familiar faces, but Thomas's forehead is suddenly slammed into a desk's edge. The guard responsible yanks him upright, long enough to put the Launcher against his temple.

"THOMAS, NO—!"

And then, it's numbing sensation, somewhere deep beyond the powerful electrical current shot straight into Thomas's brain.

.

.

Brenda. Dark eyes and a pretty smile. Brenda stares anxiously over Hans's shoulder, down on Thomas as he comes to.

A tiny, medical light flashes in Thomas's eyeball.

"Signs of life, excellent," the doctor announces, clicking off the device, but not without his trademark sarcasm. "Now we're making some progress. Can you feel your fingers? Toes? Do me a favor—try wiggling them for me."

Thomas obeys, feeling all of his ten fingers and ten of his bare, aching toes. He's definitely not on a bed. And it's definitely the floor of a Berg. The noises of its engine perks into Thomas's clearing ears. Jorge's one?

"What's your name?" Hans asks, briskly.

Stephen.

"… Thomas." He pushes out the vague, persistent memory. "I'm… I'm Thomas."

"Good, good. Well, looks like the real damage may have been the device WICKED implanted in his brain."

As soon as Hans leaves, checking his blood pressure and ordering Thomas to stay still for the trip, Brenda scoots in his place.

"Welcome back, Thomas," she says, beaming down on him. A nearby man carrying a shotgun across his chest peers over at her. "This is Vince. He's the head of our resistance movement. Oh god, Thomas, this is amazing. WICKED is gone. We pulled you out and destroyed it."

He doesn't share her enthusiasm, even hearing the best news.

"WICKED destroyed everything," Thomas rasps out, his expression deathly vacant. He thinks of the betrayal, children gone missing, the smoldering bus. Alby, Zart, Ben, and the others. His dreams and waking to a real-life nightmare. What Dr. Wright told him. "There's no point…"

"I catch you sayin' something like that again, and I'll punch you myself, slinthead." Newt emerges from Thomas's opposite side, sitting down. His tone is cruel, but certainly not his touch, no. Newt swipes his thumb under Thomas's eye, pushing away the line of moisture. "We still have each other, Tommy. That's all we need, I promise you."

Newt's sudden, benevolent grin stirs a warmth and emotions Thomas didn't expect to recover.

"Where are we going exactly?" he asks, gazing over to Vince.

"To take out the rest of WICKED's complexes. There's nine others where Mazes had been housed." The older man snorts, crouching down next to where Thomas remains prone. "I hear that you got yourself a funny little pocket of information. So, you in, Thomas?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Teresa joining them. She nods encouragingly, clutching onto Brenda's shoulder.

Thomas snorts, too.

Just another summoning.

"Where do we start?"

.

.


TMR does not belong to me. This fic took me forever and a day to get going, but I loved putting in all the book references and ahhhhh! I'm actually super proud of it and I'd absolutely love to hear any thoughts/comments on it, if you enjoyed it or wanted more or anything at all! Thank you lovelies for reading! :)