Summary: A post-escape fic. I just needed to try something non-Max, non-Alec for once. Call it an exercise in variety.
A/N: Review, please. Even if just to tell me that I really suck at this and need to go back to my usual Max-and-Alec-filled stories.
They'd been on the road a while now.
Eleven hours and sixteen minutes, to be exact. Well, that was how long ago the bus had first pulled out of the station back in Minneapolis. There'd been a couple of stops since then, but he was still counting it as "on the road" time.
Eleven hours and sixteen minutes, and during that whole span, Zack had said exactly *twelve* words to him. Eleven, if you took out repeats. He'd grunted, "Hungry?" at him twice.
And he had kept quiet too. Because the last thing he wanted to do was piss Zack off any further.
Piss him off…he learned that from Devon. They'd used the term with conspiratorial grins, always careful to make sure there weren't any adults in the vicinity at the time. He didn't quite understand why that was…why they could say the same thing with different words, and only get in trouble with one combination, but not another. That wasn't how it'd been back at Manticore. There it had mattered what you said, how you said it - sharp, crisp, emotionless voice - and sometimes if you said anything at all, when you were supposed to just stand there, quiet and unmoving. But Devon had laughed when he said it, and that had been reason enough for him to do the same.
Devon hadn't been like anyone he'd known back at Manticore. Not like any of his brothers or sisters either. There was nothing dark and haunting lurking in the depth of his eyes. When he laughed, or smiled, or did something fun, he wasn't looking over his shoulder just to make sure he wouldn't be caught. And sometimes he broke the rules; even when there was fear of punishment if he was found out, he still did it; and he was never really *afraid*.
Devon had been…nice.
The thought suddenly made him sad, and he knew he was never quite as good as Zack at keeping his feelings from leaking into his expression, so he turned away. Zack had given him the window seat, for safety, and he used the guise of watching the scenery to hide his face.
And it was just like Zack to do something like that. Always protecting, always looking out for them. Always coming to the rescue when one of them screwed up.
Well, he wasn't quite sure about the last one…he was just assuming that's how it went. He didn't know if any of the others had ever screwed up. He'd never screwed up himself before now.
But all it takes is once.
That's what Lydecker had always said.
"There's no room for error on the battlefield. Your mistake could mean death for someone else. It could mean death for your unit."
Death for your family, but that wasn't the word that Lydecker would ever use.
"493, do you want that? Do you want 471 to die for your ineptitude?"
"Sir! No, sir!"
Family. Like Zack. Like Tinga, like Syl, like…Devon?
"Good. Because we don't tolerate mistakes here, soldier. We don't tolerate them of ourselves, and we don't tolerate them of others. Do you understand, 599?"
"Sir! Yes, sir!"
It was a lesson, it seems, he hadn't learned very well. At least, not until now.
Maybe that was why Zack had been so quiet all this time. Maybe he was letting him figure these things out for himself, because Zack knew that was the only way he'd every really understand. It was one thing to be told something was true, and an entirely different thing to experience it for yourself.
Still, he wished Zack would talk to him. It made him feel alone. Cramped in beside Zack, in a four-foot wide area of space, boxed inside the hulking metal compartment with a couple of dozen complete strangers…he couldn't help but feel alone. Lost. Scared.
If this was Manticore and he'd messed up, he wouldn't have had room for anything more than fear. Fear of Lydecker, fear of the consequences, of being a "bad soldier", of being sent down to…
But, no, this wasn't Manticore. This was the Outside. This was Freedom. This was supposed to be a Good Place.
And he was still afraid.
Of Zack. Of disappointing Zack - which, he knew, he already had. Of losing Zack - which, it seemed, was becoming an increasing possibility as the miles stretched out behind them and the silence grew between.
Because Zack hadn't once yelled at him, hadn't hit him or threatened him at all. Ever since he'd met him in the back parking lot of the corner store where he'd been huddling all afternoon and right through the evening, dressed in nothing more than a thin shirt and a worn pair of jeans. And after Zack had looked him over just to make sure he was all right, even though he'd already assured him he was, several times, both on the phone when he'd called him and frantically told him what had happened, and after, when Zack finally stepped off from a seven-hour bus ride. Ever since then, Zack had been very quiet and very still.
That was how Zack got when he was really upset.
Upset, not angry.
He'd learned a while ago that there was a difference between the two. And the thought had bewildered him, at first, when he considered that something could bother Zack to the point of any emotion besides anger. After all, Zack didn't get scared. Or sad, or lonely, like other people. Did he?
He was the C.O., the oldest…"big brother" to everyone.
And the fact that maybe Zack could be all those things - scared, sad, or lonely - had shaken him, badly.
Just like he felt right now, even though by now he understood it, and had already accepted it. Because he didn't know what kind of upset Zack was right now. Anger, he could understand. He even expected it. But Zack sad? Afraid? The fact that he might've frightened *Zack*, of all people, scared him too. And if he was - Zack, that is - if Zack *was* afraid, was he afraid *for* him, or *of* him?
He really hoped it wasn't *of* him.
He remembered the look in Devon's eyes, in that very last moment, before everything fell apart… Devon had been afraid *of* him.
And he hadn't understood it, not then. Not until the sickening crunch of bone had echoed through the playground, not until the sticky liquid had begun to pool beneath him, tinting his already reddish hair a startling shade of crimson, and the vacant eyes - no longer holding their usual laughing twinkle, or even that strange fear that had been there just seconds earlier - stared up at the cloudy sky.
It didn't seem right, something so small, so mild. A simple fall.
No bullet, no shakes, no doctors in white coats…
"Zack," he whispered, gaze finally turning away from the window as he dared, for the first time, to take the initiative to break the silence. The older boy turned to him slowly, his gray eyes alert but inscrutable, his mouth set in a straight line.
He swallowed thickly over the lump in his throat and forced himself to continue.
"Honest, Zack, I didn't mean to. I didn't know they…broke…so easy."
Blinking rapidly over the tears that surfaced, despite the best of his effort, he willed his brother to understand. To forgive.
Zack watched him, and something in his expression changed. Some tension seemed to seep out of his body as his shoulders slumped every so slightly. Suddenly, he looked very tired, and very much older than his thirteen years. More so, even, than usual.
He reached out a hand, placing it gently on the other boy's head, letting his fingers pass through the dark curls in an uncharacteristically affectionate gesture.
"I know, Krit. I know."
Krit released a breath he hadn't known he was holding, feeling it leave his body through a gasping mixture of relief and pain. Then he realized, with some embarrassment, that there was wetness on his cheeks and that he had been crying, in front of Zack. He raised one balled first to roughly wipe away the evidence, grateful when Zack glanced away without comment.
Krit reminded himself, yet again, that this wasn't Manticore. The rules were different out here.