NOTES: This is a 4400 fic, set eight or nine years in the future. (Hey-- the show itself has currently reached levels of instability previously known only to Soap Operas, so I had to do something. ) Big emphasis on Shawn and Kyle, with a side of Maia, and possible cameos by any number of others. It's kind of bleak. I'm a hopeless romantic, but I'm not a very nice one, so don't say I didn't warn you. And, hoping I haven't scared too many people off, I can only add a huge thank-you for all the kind comments people left on 'And Princes Kept the View'—I appreciate you guys taking the time to read my story. I hope I can bother you just a little more for a comment-- they make me all shiny and sparkly inside. ;-)

"... I did love you once."

"Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so."

"You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not."

"I was the more deceived."

-Hamlet and Ophelia; Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1

We Were The More Deceived 1/1

By Meredith Bronwen Mallory

Kyle Baldwin had been alone for four days when he woke, bleary and disconcerted, on the damp forest floor. For a moment, he stared up at the unhelpful gray sky, devoid of any clouds, slick and featureless as a thin coat of prison paint. He heard the soft crack of a branch breaking, and knew a similar sound had awoken him, rousing him with the same unconscious adrenaline a soldier feels when his trench is approached. Rolling over, he flexed his painful left hand and reached into his tattered backpack, watching the edges of his clearing with a wary eye. The sound came again, and then silence, as if the intruder was aware of their misstep. Kyle breathed deeply out his nose, pulling his protesting body to crouch behind a fallen tree. Some ways a way, the embers of his small but necessary fire smoldered and flared, but there was no help for that now. There was no time to disguise his presence.

The silence in the chilly Washington forest was thick and nearly complete, broken only by the now rare bird call. For a moment, Kyle began to wonder if it were a deer or wolf he'd heard, rather than a person, and his stomach rolled in base desire at the thought. He felt over-alert and numb-- as if he hadn't slept for days-- despite the few hours he'd managed to catch, resting in the helpful bulk of two fallen redwoods. He'd very nearly decided that it was an animal, one that he should at least try to track and kill, before there came one last crack of wood, and Maia Skouris emerged like a dryad from between the close and aged trees. Kyle's body relaxed before he consciously told it to do so, and he stood up fully. With the safety flicked back on, Kyle shoved the small handgun back into the belly pocket of his green hoodie.

"Hey," he said in greeting, when she was close enough to hear him in the still, dew-laden air. Briefly-- so briefly that stranger might think they imagined it-- a smile flickered across Maia's face, and then was gone as if it had never been. Tall and willowy, the teenage girl approached with a lanky, careless gate that reminded Kyle very much of a wild horse. She came to the remains of his fire and knelt there, rekindling the embers.

"Hey," she said, not having to look far for small sticks to add. Her hair, long and unwashed, fell to her waist in a plait that had probably once been fairly neat-- now a myriad strands had escaped, held back only by the blue and green scarf she'd tied, like an oversized bandana, around her head. There was a deep scratch down her left cheek, and a chain of bruises that ran along her arm up under her muddy and colorless sweater. Vaulting over the fallen trunk with a little less grace than he'd originally planned, Kyle came to sit beside her, adding a few more dead branches to the flame. Up close, he could see that what he'd thought of as a patch of darker blond hair was actually Maia's usual just-off-gold, matted with blood.

"They're dead," she said without preemble. Once-- very long ago, it seemed, though he was not that old himself-- Kyle had known this girl to be almost verbose in trusted company. Now she picked her words with self-conscious care, as if she was only allowed so many of them. "A Purist Squad caught us outside what's left of Portland-- I didn't See it, and I don't think they were looking for us, particularly. There were new roadblocks up, I tried--" her brown eyes were almost black in their darkness, sad and anguished but utterly without tears, "-- it ended badly."

"I'm sorry," Kyle said, meaning it even though it felt as if the words had little truth to them after all this time. Maia acknowledged his sympathy, briefly brushing his wrist with two of her painfully thin fingers.

"I Saw you." As if that explained everything-- and perhaps it did. Reaching into the ratty messenger bag looped around her shoulder, Maia removed an equally battered composition notebook, as well as a crumpled granola bar. She held out the food, and Kyle accepted it with eager gratitude.

"Thank you," he said, earnestly and between bites. "I haven't eaten in days. There was a deer, about a week ago, and another one yesterday morning. The last one was no good-- it must have gotten too close to one of the Walls. Insides were practically liquified. The whole thing was a loss."

"I didn't expect to catch up with you for another day or so." For Maia, this was almost idle conversation, "I was hoping to catch a rabbit or raccoon, but I haven't seen anything." She waved away his offer of the remains of the granola bar. "They say it's spreading, you know. Beyond the Walls."

Silence hung between them as they considered the implications. The fire was steady now, too small to provide more than the barest relief from the chill, but just the size to avoid detection. Now, breathing in the scent of earth and ashes, Kyle recalled the dream that had come to him in the moonless night hours. The forest had been dark, but the dream was yellowed with familiar autumn sunshine. Kyle had come into the wide, cluttered garage of the house he'd grown up in. Time was seamless, and the future did not exist to contradict; Shawn sat in an ugly orange lawn chair, plucking out the chords to 'Eve of Destruction' with an oddly heartfelt staccato. In this dream, Kyle had come to kneel before his cousin, to cup his clumsy adolescent's hands around Shawn's strong jaw, and they had stayed that way, skin to skin, while the song remained incomplete. Presently, Kyle felt his heart wrench in a way his stomach-- which had, since his youth, known considerable hunger-- could never accomplish.

He looked up to find Maia watching him, an omen manifest, her gaze considering. Maia came and went, drawn by whatever flashes of insight were washed up against her mental shore, and people rarely asked her what she planned. Finally, sheepishly, Kyle felt the need to unburden himself.

"I'm headed east," he said, "along the Northern Wall, as close as can be accomplished safely. You're welcome to come with me as far as Boise." Maia made a little exhalation of air that could perhaps be called a laugh.

"I know what you're doing." She sobered instantly. "And I understand why you want to go alone."

"Richard wanted to send a team with me," Kyle confessed, "but I can't justify that. Shawn is my..." With an agonized, curdling hope, he wondered if perhaps Maia-- with all her esoteric wisdom-- might know the word he was searching for. "It's too risky. I got him into this mess. I have to go to him."

Maia did not argue, as Richard had-- but her words were uncompromising when she said, "I'm coming with you." He opened his mouth, but she overrode his speech, tapping a slender finger on a particular, neat paragraph in her notebook. "Collier's men are going to hit a major checkpoint in Lewiston, some time soon. You can use the confusion to slip into the Midwestern Districts."

"They're holding him in Bowentown," Kyle forced the last word past his teeth with a poisonous disgust. He hated to say it, and he imagined Maia knew anyway. From her pained expression, he supposed she had known, but the spoken word jarred her anyway. They both knew what it meant.

"You think you'll be too late," she said gently. He searched her face and saw she had no knowledge of what was to come. Sightlessly, Maia looked through him, idly stroking the scar on her left arm. It was an old wound, and self-inflicted. To the unpracticed eye, Kyle supposed it might look like the remains of a suicide attempt, at least in the Time Before. Once, Kyle knew, numbers had rested there, a cattle-like brand with the damning prefix P4400-- Maia had cut and mangled her own skin beyond recognition, just to be rid of it.

"I'm sorry," she said at last, "I can't See anything, one way or the other."

Together, the man and teenage girl stared into the fire a few minutes longer. The granola bar disappeared between Kyle's teeth and, though his body appreciated it, he barely tasted it. The name 'Bowentown' hung between them like a silent, heavy scythe. The sword of Damocles-- and Kyle could, just barely, picture Shawn, singing a Greek myth set to bawdy 'Rocky Horror'. Bowentown was a carnal house; Bowentown was the End of the Line. No outlet, no exit.

Of all cancerous, hideous camps that dotted the American landscape, Bowentown was the worst. Even the government, so fond of flowery euphemisms and careful phrasing, made no secret of it-- there was no coming back.

Bowentown was the dead end.

TO BE CONTINUED