Aftershocks

I found several older stories buried in various file folders on my hard drive during an ongoing attempt to put things there in better order. This is one of them. As far as I can remember, the only folks who've seen this were a couple of EFNY fans way back when I wrote it, so I thought what the heck, I'll inflict it on other folks…I mean share it. When reading this, you need to keep in mind that this movie was made in 1981, and set in 1998. Since we're now past that date and New York City has not become a giant maximum security prison, I guess we need to think of Snake's world as an alternate reality.

The only folks here who don't belong to me are Snake and Malloy. (Malloy is actually a

character from the sequel, Escape from L.A., that I borrowed for this.) Jenny is all mine, as is Snake's friend—whose name, by the way, is a joke. (I named him after another Kurt Russell character, just for giggles, and saw no reason to change it now.) No money was made, characters were put back in the toybox (worse for the wear, as all my toys seem to be) when I finished with them. Warnings: Violence (because this is one of my stories) and a lot of bad language (because this is Snake Plisskin talking). Spoilers for the entire movie.

o-o-o-o-o

Aftershocks

An Escape from New York story

by Melody Wilde

His biggest regret, now that it was all over, was that he'd been too damn tired to kill Hauk.

Of course, he had managed to fuck the government. Big time. That was almost as good. He wished he could've seen the look on their faces when they realized what he'd done. Leaning against a wall in the shadows of the train station, he lit a cigarette and allowed a brief, grim smile to cross his face. They should've remembered Siberia and what had happened when the government had tried to get one up on Snake Plissken.

Now all he had to do was get away before the repercussions of his tape switch caught up with him and they came to haul his ass back to prison, pardon or no pardon. He hadn't wasted any time getting off Liberty Island. Once he was back on the mainland, he'd headed straight for the only man he'd even come close to trusting in years. Jack O'Neil had been with him in Leningrad; they'd saved each others' lives a dozen times and more getting out. O'Neil was good--almost as good as he was...

o-o-o-o-o

The door was jerked open before he could even lift his hand to knock. O'Neil dragged him inside and up the stairs, shoving him into the cramped apartment and slamming the door behind them.

"I see you've been expecting me."

"Ever since I saw the news." O'Neil gestured toward the couch. When Snake shook his head, afraid that if he let himself relax for even a few minutes he wouldn't be able to get up again, O'Neil gave a brief nod of understanding. Crossing the room to the hotplate, he poured a cup of coffee and held it out. "The early reports said they'd sent their best man in. I knew that had to be you."

"I haven't been their best man in a long time." The coffee was strong and it was hot. He gulped it down, ignoring the way it burned his throat, and held the cup out for a refill. He needed all the caffeine he could get to keep him going. The end wasn't anywhere in sight.

"No. But you're the best. And..." O'Neil shrugged apologetically. "I knew you were probably in the area. I heard about that business at the bank."

"Yeah. Wrong place at the wrong time. All the way around." He took it slower with the second cup.

"Sorry to hear about Taylor. He was a good man."

"One of the best." He shifted, not wanting to think about Bill's death.

"How'd they make you do it? Offer you a pardon?"

"You know the way they think too well," he said dryly. "That and they shot some explosive capsules into my neck. If I didn't find their man and get him out in time, I was dead."

"Bastards."

"The more things change, the more they stay the same. See what happened afterward?"

O'Neil nodded, and they shared a quick grin. "Geez, Snake, that was a hell of a thing to do. The Prez is busting his butt trying to do damage control. The war's--"

"He didn't give a damn about the war. All he cared about was saving his own fucking fat ass."

"What's wrong with that? You and me've been there a lot of times ourselves."

"Some people died getting him out. People who didn't have anything to do with that whole mess." He heard the bitterness in his voice and tried to curb it. "A couple of them were good people--as good as you could expect in a place like that. As good as him. I didn't like his attitude afterwards."

O'Neil raised an eyebrow and wisely decided to change the subject. "You need a place to hide out?"

It was tempting--but not a good idea. "I need help getting away."

"You got it." O'Neil stepped back and gave him a quick look up and down. "What about the leg?"

"Crossbow bolt. It's pretty much quit bleeding."

"Can you walk on it?"

"I got here."

"Let it go 'til later, then. Anything else?"

"Headache. A few bruises. Nothing major."

O'Neil went into action, pulling a duffel bag from beneath a chair then heading to the closet. "Take my car. If there's any trouble over it, I can always say it was stolen. Just let me know where you leave it."

"No problem." He trusted O'Neil enough to do that.

"Give me fifteen minutes."

o-o-o-o-o

O'Neil had been as good as his word. Within twenty minutes, Snake had been driving through the dark toward Philadelphia, pushing the speed limit as much as he dared to get there before dawn. The duffel bag, filled with everything he might need for the next few days, was in the back seat. O'Neil had handed over a worn black duster that was long enough to hide the bloodstains on his pants. That, a stocking cap, and oversize sunglasses were the closest they could come to a disguise on such short notice. Not that he could really disguise himself if they were after him; his face was too well known. He'd just have to trust his luck...which hadn't been too damn good lately.

Snake shifted as the gleaming intercoastal bullet train pulled into the station, wincing as the movement set off an assortment of pains, some in places he hadn't even realized he'd been hurt. He'd ditched the car a mile from the station and walked the rest of the way. That hadn't helped his leg much, but he'd live.

Time to go. He discarded the cigarette, flipped up the collar of the duster, and limped quickly across the platform. As he'd hoped, the early hour kept the few departing passengers from paying much attention to him. He shoved the "borrowed" travel card O'Neil had given him into the slot and climbed aboard. So far so good.

The first compartment on the left--close to the door in case he needed to get out in a hurry--was open, and he slipped inside, dropping the bag on one end of the seat and switching off the overhead light. He settled himself beside the bag, jerked off the sunglasses, and raised the windowshade just enough to let him watch the station.

No signs of pursuit. Maybe there wouldn't be any. Maybe they'd keep their word and let him go. Maybe they'd ignore the kick in the butt he'd delivered and wait for him to screw up on his own so they could send him back legally. God knows they probably wouldn't have long to wait. Maybe they'd let him get away.

And maybe pigs would fly and politicians would start telling the truth. No, they'd be after him soon enough, if they weren't already. Their pardon wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. They'd slap him back into New York Max for good this time--assuming they let him live long enough to get there.

He rubbed his eye wearily, suddenly aware of just how exhausted he was. It had been...how long?...since he'd slept. A damn long time, unless you counted the hour or so after the Duke of New York had put him down with the tire iron--and he didn't. Of all the things he needed--a bath, a drink, a doctor--sleep was the one he needed most and was least likely to get.

He went back to watching the platform, examining the passengers making their way slowly to and fro. He was so focussed on the outside that he didn't hear the sounds in the passageway until it was almost too late. His gun was out as the door swung open, but the sudden flare of the light blinded him. He identified the startled gasp as feminine just before his finger tightened on the trigger.

"My God! I'm sorry. I...I didn't know there was anyone..."

She sounded as if she were about to faint or, worse, to scream. He surged up to pull her inside, slam the door, and kill the light again. "Shut up and sit down," he rasped.

In the dim light, he could see her nod. She sat down heavily, as if her legs wouldn't hold her up. This time, he remembered to lock the door before he resumed his position by the window.

"Who are you?" she whispered.

"Nobody. Look, I was trying to get some sleep. You caught me off guard. I reacted." He hoped she'd buy it and shut the hell up.

"Then I'll go somewhere else. I'm sure there are other--"

"No." That would be all he needed--her going down the hall telling everybody about the guy with the gun up in the end compartment. He was tired. Too tired for this kind of damn game. "You're staying."

Something in his tone must've gotten through to her. She shut the hell up and cowered in a corner of the seat. A century or so later, he heard the doors slam shut and the grind of machinery as the train went into motion. He finally allowed himself to relax only after the skyline had whizzed past at a dizzying speed and they were in the open.

"You can turn the light on now if you want to." He slid the gun back into the holster beneath his coat. When she hesitated, he snapped, "Go on."

She leaned forward cautiously, as if afraid to move too quickly, and flipped the switch. He squinted until his pupil adjusted, then, ignoring his unwanted companion, unzipped the duffel bag and began to rummage through its contents. A change of clothes. Bandages and painkillers and other things he'd need to take care of the wound in his leg. Money--not much, but enough to do for a couple of days. An extra gun and ammunition.

He knew she was looking him over and, immodestly, knew she was probably attracted to what she saw, even in the shape he was in now. Damned if he knew why women reacted the way they did to him. Maybe it was the eyepatch--or the fact that he so obviously didn't give a damn about them. It didn't matter. He took advantage of it when he was in the mood and found it an irritation when he wasn't. At the moment, he most definitely wasn't in the mood.

"Do I know you? You look familiar..."

Oh fuck--she was going to recognize him and tell him she'd thought he was dead.

"You're Snake Plissken, aren't you?"

"Sometimes," he said wearily.

"You're hurt."

He glanced down, not surprised to see that his leg had begun to bleed again. "Shit." With all the blood he'd lost, his pants were probably welded to his leg by now. It was a miracle he was still conscious.

"What happened to you?"

"Life." He frowned, trying to remember the layout of the cars. There should be a bathroom somewhere on this end. He could clean himself up and change clothes. Bandage the leg and stop it bleeding until he could take better care of it. But the minute he left, she was going to go screaming down the corridor... "Shit."

"Are you--"

"Look, lady, I'm not up to playing Twenty Questions right now," he snarled. "Just shut the fuck up and let me think."

"But..."

Her voice faded away as he lifted his head, giving her the most evil look he could manage at the moment. He saw her expression change in a way that would've been funny under other circumstances--go from frightened to disbelieving to stunned.

"Oh my God. David!"

It was a million light years from anything he could have expected. He went cold with a shock that had nothing to do with his injuries. "You were right the first time," he growled. "My name's Snake."

"Your name's David--David Pearson." Her voice was stronger, all fear gone now. "Don't you know me, David? Have I changed that much?"

His eye narrowed as he mentally stripped away the age-lines around her eyes and mouth, added twenty pounds, and darkened the hair color. Time slipped, and he was 16 again--young and idealistic. And whole, in more ways than just the physical.

"Jenny." The name was out before he could stop himself.

"It is you. I thought so...but I couldn't believe... What's happened to you?"

"Life," he repeated, looking away. He shouldn't have said her name. He could've bluffed his way through if he hadn't; he'd changed enough to get by with it. This was all he needed--somebody from his damn-near-forgotten past showing up at a time like this and wanting to do the family reunion bit.

"It's been so long since you ran away. I thought you'd come back eventually. I thought you'd write or call or...something." She leaned forward, hand outstretched as if she wanted to touch him, but stopped herself. "Where have you been all this time?"

"To hell and back." Only maybe not back. He grimaced. He didn't want to be reminded of what he was then--who he was then. It was too long ago. He'd worked too hard to put it all behind him and out of his mind.

"I've always wondered where you were. I thought you must be dead."

There it was. He almost laughed. Almost. "You were right. I am. Leave it at that."

"You've changed."

"You have no idea." Desperate to end the conversation, he grabbed the duffel bag and lurched to his feet. "I'm going to get cleaned up and take care of this." He gestured.

"Let me help you."

He shook his head and reached for the doorknob.

"You look like you're about to pass out. Please, David."

"My name's Snake." He saw her flinch from the coldness in his voice. He wanted to get out of here--fix his leg and then jump off the train if that's what he had to do to get away from her. Like that was an option--hop off a train doing a couple of hundred miles an hour through God knows what kind of territory in the dark. He'd be lucky if the only thing he broke was his other leg.

This was hell. He was exhausted and he was hurting and he was weak with blood loss and he was afraid things were going to get a lot worse before they got better. And he was stuck on this fucking train with Jenny. Maybe jumping off wasn't such a bad idea after all. Even going back to New York didn't sound bad in comparison.

"Please?"

On the other hand, maybe he should let her help him. No matter how close they'd been in the past, he wasn't sure he could trust her now. Better to keep her with him for a while. And he had to admit that he could probably use some help with what he was going to have to do. He nodded brusquely and opened the door.

A quick glance told him the corridor was empty and the room he wanted was almost directly across from their compartment. Finally, something had gone right. He crossed the hall quickly, slipping inside the bathroom, slamming the door almost before Jenny was inside. There was room for both of them, but just barely.

"Hope you're not easily embarrassed." He set down the bag and pulled off the duster, then the shoulder holster, laying them aside.

"I never was. You know that. Besides, I saw everything you've got a long time ago," she retorted.

She sounded too much like the old Jenny. He didn't want that. He was afraid he's start to sound like the old David. He wanted her to know things weren't the same and never would be again. "Not everything. There's been some additions." Jerking off his shirt, he turned to let her see.

"Oh God." Her hand went to her mouth, and he wondered which bothered her more, the scars or the tattoo curling down across his stomach. Wondered why he gave a damn.

Ignoring her, he turned on the faucet and bent over the tiny sink. The cold water felt good on his face. He wanted to pull off his eyepatch and dunk his head in the basin, but he wouldn't--couldn't--do that with her standing there. Stupid. Fucking stupid. He had no problem with the idea of stripping in front of her, but he didn't want her to see what was left of his eye.

"Shit." He wiped his face on a paper towel, straightened, and began to do a quick check of his other injuries. There were bruises from the fight on his shoulder, chest, and back--big, ugly places that were beginning to turn interesting colors. He probed cautiously at the one on his side. No broken ribs, just sore as hell. The lump on his forehead from the impact with the cab's steering wheel was nothing. He'd been lucky, considering what could've happened to him.

He couldn't put it off any longer. Gritting his teeth, he unzipped the camouflage pants and began to slide them down. The material was stuck, as he'd known it would be. He grunted and shoved harder.

"Not like that." She caught his arm. She pointed at the scarf the Duke's men had tied around the wound while he'd been unconscious. "Take that...thing from around your leg first."

It was stuck too. He could tell she realized that as soon as she'd spoken. "Water then. Soak it and maybe it'll come loose."

"You got a lot of experience taking care of wounded men?" Despite his words, he wet a towel and began to squeeze the water over the area.

"I never finished nurses' training, but I remember everything I did learn."

He'd forgotten her dreams of going to college and becoming a nurse. He fleetingly wondered what had happened to end them. Told himself he didn't want to know.

"Do you have another pair of pants? It would be easier if you could cut those off."

"Don't want to ruin them. They can be fixed." No need to tell her these clothes and the contents of the bag were all he owned in the world right now. He tugged impatiently at the cloth, gasping at the pain it caused.

"How did this happen?"

"Been watching the news lately?"

Her eyes widened. "You had something to do with the President's plane going down?"

That shouldn't have hurt, but it did--damn near as much as what he was doing to his leg. "No. I'm the one who got him out."

She had the grace to look ashamed. "David..."

"Will you fucking quit calling me that?" He vented his frustration and anger by jerking at the material, and it tore loose, sending a fresh flow of blood down his leg. "Shit."

"Here. Let me."

Her hands were over his, applying pressure that slowed the bleeding and had him sinking his teeth into his lower lip to keep from crying out. The room began to go gray around the edges.

"Sit down before you fall over."

He sat, waited for things to quit spinning, then fumbled one-handedly in the bag for the medical kit O'Neil had packed. "Think you remember enough of your nurses' training to sew that up?"

"I could do it, but you really need a doctor."

"Haven't had time to find one. It's you or me--and you'd probably do a better job than I would." He reached down to poke at the wound.

She slapped his hands away and began to clean the injury. If she was bothered by the sight of the tear in his leg or by the blood, she kept it to herself. But then she'd always been strong like that. He remembered the day he'd fallen off his tree swing and broken his arm. The bone had been sticking out through his skin. It had hurt like hell and he hadn't been able to do anything but roll back and forth and scream. While his mother was crying and wringing her hands, Jenny had shoved him down flat and told him she'd kill him if he moved and then gone to call an ambulance. She couldn't have been more than seven or eight at the time--he'd only been three. She'd have made a damn good nurse.

"Shit." He didn't want to remember things like that. That was another life. Another person. For one thing, being in the Army had forced him to learn how to deal with pain without screaming. He'd hardly made a sound when he lost his eye.

He didn't make a sound now as she took the needle containing a local anesthetic from O'Neil's medi-kit and jabbed it into his thigh, then, without waiting for the drug to fully take hold, began to suture the wound closed. He leaned back, eye half closed, and tried not to shiver. Tried not to think. Tried not to feel.

"I'm sorry," she said finally, as she tied the last knot.

"'S okay. Barely hurts," he lied.

"Not about this. About thinking you were one of those terrorists. I should've realized you could never do anything like--"

"No," he interrupted, shaking his head. "You didn't know. You don't know a damn thing about me."

"The David I used to know was a good man."

"He's long gone." God, he was so fucking tired. He didn't need this.

"Snake Plissken was a good man." She looked up briefly, then went back to her task. "I read the stories. I even saw you on the news after you flew that plane into Russia and led the assault team in. If the pictures hadn't been so blurry, I might've known you were my--"

"Let it go."

"You saved a lot of lives there. You were a hero."

"I was an asshole."

"How can you say that?"

"Because I let myself get caught in Leningrad and--fuck!" He grabbed at his leg and tilted sideways as she tightened the bandage. "Damn it, Jenny!"

"If I don't tie it that tight and put some pressure on it, it's going to start bleeding again and you're going to bleed to death." Her voice had an edge that he'd heard a million times in his own. "What happened in Leningrad?"

"One of my men fucked up. He got away. I didn't. I spent two days in a Russian prison before Jack O'Neil and some of my men got me out." His mouth twisted with the memory. "They didn't tell that part of the story on the six o'clock news. That's why your pictures were blurry. They didn't want the public to get a good look at what was left of me."

"Is that what happened to your eye?" Her voice was soft.

He was talking too much. He didn't want to tell her about Leningrad. That was just one more thing in his past that he'd rather not remember. Instead of answering, he pretended to check the bandage.

"Looks good."

"Of course it does." She pulled the clothing out of the bag. "Let's finish up here so you can get some rest."

It took longer to change than it should have. He refused to let her help with that, even though he could feel his control going more and more with every second. The jeans were too tight and the sweatshirt was too loose, but they'd do. O'Neil had even thrown in a pair of sneakers to replace the boots and, wonder of wonders, they fit. When he was finished, he did a quick check of the room to make sure there were no signs that an injured man had been there, then stuffed his old clothing into the bag.

"Let's go." Scooping up the bag, his gun, and the duster, he checked the corridor, then limped back to the other compartment as quickly as his leg would allow.

"You're welcome." This time, Jenny was the one to lock the door as he dropped onto the seat.

"Yeah. Thanks." That was a word that didn't come easily to him anymore, but he owed her that much.

"David..."

He closed his eyes briefly. He was tired of telling her to call him Snake. Tired of thinking about the past. Tired of everything. His head hurt and his leg hurt and all he wanted right now was some peace and quiet.

Encouraged by his silence, she leaned forward. "Aren't you even going to ask about--"

"The folks back home?" he interrupted. His lips curled in a sneer. "Why should I give a damn what happened to any of them?"

She drew back in shock. "Because we all loved you."

"Don't fool yourself. I know the old man was glad to see the last of me."

"I wasn't."

He didn't have an answer for that.

"Did you give a damn about what happened to me?"

He didn't have an answer to that one either. He had cared about her--just not enough. And then he had stopped caring about anybody but himself.

"Why did you run away?"

She didn't know. That surprised him. He wondered if he should tell her. Give her the details of what had happened the day after they'd buried his mother. Wipe that sad little look off her face. Destroy her illusions. Let her know exactly why he'd left--why he didn't give a damn.

He couldn't do it. "I wanted to see the world." He shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position. He wished he dared use the drugs in O'Neil's kit. They'd take away the pain, but he was afraid they'd put him out, and he couldn't risk it. Not until he was someplace safe.

"Then why didn't you ever call? You could've at least let us know you were all right."

"Was I?" He turned his head toward her, let her see the eyepatch again to remind her just how not all right he had been.

She flinched and amended, "Let us know you were alive."

"Because..." He tensed, suddenly aware. "Shit!" He surged to his feet, dragging one corner of the windowshade aside so he could look out.

"What? What's wrong?"

"The train's slowing down." He searched the sky, knowing what he'd find even before he spotted it, then dropped the shade with a curse.

"Are we in Chicago already?"

He shook his head angrily. "There's a police helicopter out there." He shoved a fresh clip into his gun. "They're stopping the train."

"Why?" He saw the light dawn before he could answer. "They're looking for you?"

"They're looking for me."

"Do you think they know you're here?"

She hadn't asked why they were after him. He decided he'd be surprised about that later, when he had time. If there was a later.

"Who knows. They could just be searching all the trains." They probably were, but it didn't really matter. The end result would be the same--he'd be hauled back to New York. He wasn't going to let himself be hauled back to New York.

"What are you going to do?"

"What the fuck do you think I'm gonna do?" he growled. An hour earlier--thirty minutes earlier--he could've jumped off the train and lost himself in the darkness. It was too late for that now. Too light. They'd spot him in a heartbeat, and he was in no shape to do the evasive moves it would take to get away from them.

"You're going to fight them?"

"You got a better idea? Now get out of here before--"

"I have a better idea."

"I don't have time--"

"Listen to me, dammit! I don't know how many soldiers are on board that thing, but I know it's too many for you to fight alone."

"You want to help me fight? Fine. I've got another gun."

"It wouldn't be enough. You know that."

The hell of it was, he did know that, but he wasn't going to give up without taking a lot of them with him. "Look, Jenny, just get out of here."

"I'll cover for you."

He could hear the 'copter now, hovering overhead, waiting for the train to come to a complete stop. "Cover for me?"

"Lie down on the seat there. Pretend to be asleep. When they search the train, I'll deal with them."

"That's the stupidest idea I've ever--"

She interrupted him by shoving him backwards onto the seat. "It's the only chance you have of saving your ass, David. Trust me. I can do it."

"I haven't trusted anybody in fifteen years."

"Well now's the time to start." Jerking a blanket out of the overhead compartment, she tossed it over him. "Now lie down--on your left side. Get that patch off so they won't see it."

He didn't want to do this--any of it--but it was a chance to get out alive. Probably the only chance he had. Still, he resisted, staring at her, jaw tight, until he saw her mouth quiver.

"Please," she whispered.

"Fuck fuck fuck." Tearing the eyepatch off, he flung himself down, pressing his face into the bend of the seat, one hand gripping the gun tightly against his chest. Jenny moved quickly, tucking the blanket around him to cover the lower half of his face, dimming the lights in the compartment, shoving the duffel bag out of sight.

"This isn't going to work."

She punched his shoulder, the way she had a thousand times before a thousand years ago. "Just lie still and don't move."

He lay there, tense but trying to seem relaxed, trying to keep his breathing even, listening to the squeal of brakes and then the slamming of the doors as they began their search. He heard Jenny opening the door to their compartment even before the footsteps reached it.

"What's going on?" Her voice was low, her tone anxious.

"Lt. Mac Malloy, ma'am. U.S. Police Force. Nothing to be alarmed about. This is just a routine search."

"Search?"

"We're looking for an escaped criminal."

"Oh my God!"

"Like I said, I'm sure you have nothing to be alarmed about. Plissken's a traitor to our country, but I don't think he'd harm a woman. We're just checking every angle. May I see some ID?"

He heard her fumble in her purse, knew Malloy was looking at him, tightened his grip on the gun.

"Thank you, Ms. Williams. And this is...?"

"My brother David. He's been very ill--just getting over the flu. Do we have to wake him?"

There was a long silence, then Malloy muttered, "No, ma'am. That won't be necessary. Just be sure to keep your door locked, and if you see anything suspicious, notify a conductor."

"I will. Thank you, Lieutenant."

He heard the door shut, heard Jenny turn the lock and sit back down, but didn't move or speak until the helicopter went away and the train went back into motion.

"They're gone," Jenny whispered unnecessarily.

It had worked. He couldn't believe it--she'd pulled it off, cool as could be, just like the Jenny he remembered. He turned over and sat up.

"Thank you." It came easier this time, and he saw her smile--then saw it fade. Ducking his head, he pulled the duffel bag over, lay his gun on it, and fumbled for the eyepatch.

"Oh, David." Her voice broke. "What did they do to you?"

He shook his head and covered the scars. "Doesn't matter. It was a long time ago."

"Do I want to know why they're after you?"

"You heard the man. Treason."

"Really?"

He sighed and sank back against the seat, suddenly almost beyond the limit of endurance. He shivered, and Jenny reached over to pull the blanket back around him, as if he were a small boy again. He wanted to dislike the gesture.

"That's what they call it."

"What do you call it?"

He couldn't help grinning. "Getting even." In a few brief sentences, he told her about his forced journey into the maximum security prison, what had happened there, and what he had done.

"That's horrible." He would've sworn he saw tears in her eyes. "To force you to do something like that--threaten you--"

He shrugged, secretly pleased, not wanting to show it. "I lived through it."

"You always do, don't you?"

"So far."

"David, you're exhausted. Why don't you lie down and get some sleep? They won't be back. I'll wake you before we get to Chicago--or if there's any trouble."

It was tempting. He was so damn tired.

"I'll watch over you--just like I always did."

Maybe it wouldn't hurt to go back to the past, just for a little while, and trust her enough to fall asleep. Maybe she'd been right--maybe it was time to start trusting again. Not everybody, but...a few people. Like Jack O'Neil. Like Jenny.

He nodded. "Don't let me sleep too long."

"I won't."

Making sure his gun was within reach--he still wasn't able to trust her that much--he settled himself down onto the seat again and pulled the blanket over him. From the look on her face just before he closed his eye, he knew she wanted to give him a kiss but didn't dare. Before he could even try to smile at her, he was asleep.

o-o-o-o-o

Jenny sat there for hours, watching him sleep, remembering the boy he'd been and mourning the man he'd become. The sun went high in the sky and, finally, she realized she was starving. She started to wake him, then shook her head. He needed the rest. She could get to the dining car and bring something back before he even knew she was gone.

She hadn't gone ten steps down the hall before an arm shot out from one of the other compartments and pulled her inside. A hand over her mouth kept her from crying out, but she struggled until a voice whispered in her ear.

"Nice to see you again, Ms. Williams. You're not going to scream, are you?"

Malloy. Oh God. She shook her head and he released her. "I thought you'd left."

"That's what we wanted him to think."

"Him?"

"Your...'brother'." His eyes narrowed. "Snake Plissken isn't really your brother, is he?"

"I don't understand."

"The man in the compartment back there. Snake Plissken. Is he really your brother?"

"That's not Snake--"

"Let's not play games." Malloy's face was hard. "Right now I'm willing to believe you're an innocent victim--that he had a gun on you and forced you to say the things you did. If you helped him willingly..." He let his voice trail away, but the threat was unmistakable.

She didn't know how to respond, so she kept silent. After a moment, he seemed satisfied and went on, "I knew he wouldn't give up without a fight. I didn't want any innocent bystanders getting hurt--wouldn't look good on my record--so I pretended to believe you. We waited until the 'chopper left, then cleared the car. You were the last civilian. Now that you're out, we can take him." He gestured and a half-dozen more men, all armed, appeared in the corridor.

"Wait!" She caught his arm.

"What is it?" His face was getting a closed, suspicious expression that terrified her.

She swallowed. He was right. David would never give up. Never. He'd let them kill him first. She couldn't let that happen. She had to stop them--had to save him somehow.

"It's true that I did help him because he had the gun," she began desperately. "But I also helped him because...because he was a hero. In Leningrad--"

"Leningrad was a long time ago, Ms. Williams. He's nothing more than a criminal now.

"But...he saved someone. Someone close to me. In Leningrad." Her fingers tightened on his arm. "Please don't kill him."

"Our orders are to take him alive, if we can."

"What if I get the gun away from him?" she said desperately. "Then you could be sure you'd take him alive."

Malloy's eyes narrowed. "How could you do that?"

"He's asleep. Just give me a few minutes..."

He considered, then nodded. "I'll give you three minutes. After that, we're coming in. And if you're in the way..." He shook his head. "At least we know you're not an innocent bystander."

Hating Malloy more than she'd ever imagined she could hate anyone, she slipped back into the compartment. David hadn't moved. He was so deeply asleep that he hadn't even been aware she'd been gone. She knelt beside him, eyes filling with tears. With his head turned into the cushion, hiding the eyepatch, and his hair falling across his cheek, he didn't look like the hardened man he'd become. He looked like the little boy she'd known and loved so many years ago.

His gun was still lying on top of the bag where he'd placed it, close to his hand. Slowly, carefully, she opened the bag and slipped the gun inside, then shoved it away from him, out of his reach. Betraying him. Saving his life.

She couldn't resist the urge to stroke his cheek. He made a soft sound and his hand came up to cover hers. His eye came open and he gave her a sweet smile. She had a feeling it had been a very long time since he'd smiled at anyone like that.

"Jenny. I had the funniest dream..."

She could see the moment when he came fully awake. His face changed in a split-second, and he sat up abruptly, pulling away from her. He opened his mouth to say something, but it was lost as the door burst open and the room filled with soldiers.

o-o-o-o-o

Fucking hell! He reacted instantly, hand diving for the gun that should've been there...and wasn't. Then they were on him, jerking him up and shoving him face-first against the wall with a force that left him momentarily dizzy. He fought, even past the point where it was obvious that he couldn't possibly get away, but they held him effortlessly. There were too many of them. He was too weak. His arms were dragged behind him and his wrists cuffed tightly together in the small of his back. They searched him, none too gently, then spun him around.

A dark-haired soldier was standing in the doorway, a self-satisfied grin on his face. Malloy--had to be. He wasn't as stupid as he'd sounded.

"Hey, hotshot. Nice to meet you. Good work, Ms. Williams."

He went cold. His gaze moved from Malloy to Jenny, not wanting to believe she'd betrayed him. Her face had gone pale, telling him all he needed to know.

"Shit," he muttered. "You took the gun."

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I had to do it. They'd have killed you. I couldn't just stand by and..."

His eye narrowed and his teeth bared. "Bitch."

"David..."

He surged toward her, almost breaking free from his captors. "Don't call me that," he growled. "If you ever call me that again, I'll fucking kill you."

With a sob, she shoved past Malloy and ran from the compartment.

Stupid. He couldn't believe he'd been so fucking stupid. He should've jumped off the train and taken his chances the minute he saw her. He should never have trusted her. He shouldn't have let himself get sucked in by some fake kindness and a handful of memories. When the chips were down, she'd turned him in to save her own neck, just like he should've known she would.

"You caused quite a stir back there, hotshot." Malloy came into the room and closed the door behind him. "The President's real unhappy with you."

"That makes us even. I'm not too thrilled with the President."

"He got in a lot of trouble over that tape."

"Too bad."

"You're in a lot of trouble over that tape. Want to save us all some time and trouble and hand over the real one?"

"Isn't it a little late for that?"

"Not quite. The President managed to buy some time. We can still pull this thing off."

Snake looked away. They obviously hadn't found the ruins of the original cassette. He wondered what they'd do when they found out he'd destroyed it. Probably kill him on the spot. No--not probably. Definitely. His best chance was in not letting them find out.

"How come Hauk isn't here?" he asked, stalling.

Malloy moved closer. "Funny thing. He refused to come after you. He must be getting soft."

"Nice to hear he still has some honor."

"Honor?"

"I have a pardon."

"Sorry, hotshot. Your pardon's worthless."

"I figured as much."

"You didn't complete your mission. That invalidates the pardon."

"I got the President out. I got the tape out."

"But you gave us the wrong tape."

"My mistake."

"Treason's a big mistake." Malloy's voice went harsh, warning that his patience was running out. "Now hand it over and maybe it'll go a little easier on you later."

He decided to ignore the warning. At this point, he didn't have anything to lose. "How come they need that one? Didn't they ever hear of backups?" He grunted as Malloy's fist drove into his stomach.

"Listen, you fucking piece of shit. The police are going to be waiting in Chicago to pick us up, but we're a long way from Chicago. A lot can happen to a man in that time."

"Yeah," he gasped. "He could have to listen to your bullshit all the way."

Malloy took two steps back and drew his riot stick. Raising it threateningly, he nodded to the men holding Snake.

"Search the compartment. See if it's here before I waste my energy taking him apart."

He stood motionless, gaze locked with Malloy's, as they went through the room, scattering the contents of his duffel bag and Jenny's purse, then searching the cushions and overhead compartments. He knew they wouldn't find anything--and suspected that Malloy knew they wouldn't find anything--but it gave him a few more minutes.

"Nothing, Lieutenant."

Malloy nodded. "I think I'm going to enjoy this, Plissken."

"I'm sure you will."

"Oh, I'll try not to hurt you too bad." Malloy chuckled. "It'd be a shame if you lost that other eye and got sent back into New York blind."

"Fuck you."

He tried to duck as Malloy swung, but there was no room to escape. Pain exploded from his shoulder. The second blow came from his left, swift, unexpected, and he staggered, fighting to keep his balance and stay on his feet.

"Tell me where it is, damn you." The riot stick came down hard, then, before he could even begin to catch his breath, smashed up into his ribs. Malloy began pounding at him, grunting with the effort, the blows coming from all directions.

Either by accident or design, Malloy's weapon landed on his injured leg, and Snake went down, not quite unconscious, gritting his teeth to keep any sound of pain from escaping him. He wouldn't give Malloy the satisfaction of knowing how badly he'd been hurt. He felt Malloy's hands grabbing the front of his shirt to jerk him upright and went limp in the man's grasp.

From far away, he heard one of the other men mutter, "Geez, Lieutenant, maybe you should take it easy. If you kill him, he won't be able to tell us anything."

There was a long silence. He forced his eye open, shaking his head to try to clear his vision. Malloy's face--furious and out of focus--was too close. He shut his eye again.

"I'll take care of you when we get to Chicago," Malloy growled at last. "We've got some drugs there that'll make you talk. You'll be begging to tell us everything you know."

"I can't wait." He could barely get the words out. With a muttered curse, Malloy slammed him down onto the seat. He fell sideways, unable to sit up, and they left him there.

"Grant, McCaffrey, watch him. If he moves...shoot him."

As he left, Malloy slammed the door hard enough to shake the whole car. Bad as he was hurting, Snake couldn't hold back a grin at the man's frustration. He had the feeling Malloy wasn't used to being in this type of situation.

His grin faded as he began to take stock of his latest injuries. Malloy seemed to have found the same spots as the big ox he'd fought and killed in New York, leaving bruises on bruises. He thought a bone in his shoulder might be cracked--maybe a rib or two. The left side of his face ached, but he'd been able to duck away from the worst of that blow. His leg...

He looked down, not surprised to see that a darker spot had appeared on the black jeans. Bleeding again. Shit.

There was a soft knock on the door, and one of the soldiers jumped to open it slightly. Jenny.

"Lt. Malloy said I could come in. I need to get my things." Her voice was quiet, dispirited, not at all like the Jenny he'd known for so long. Of course, the Jenny he'd known for so long would never have betrayed him either.

"Yes ma'am." The soldier opened the door and stepped back, allowing her to enter. Malloy appeared behind her, standing guard in the doorway as if he thought she were going to attempt to rescue him.

Snake watched her come into the room. She was moving slowly, hesitantly, frightened of him, just like she had been at the start of this whole damn mess. He saw her eyes flicker from the fresh blood on his leg up to his face, saw her bite her lip.

"Did they..." Her throat worked and he could tell she was trying hard not to cry. "Did they hurt you?"

"What the fuck do you think?" He looked away.

"Why?"

Malloy answered for him. "Because your...'brother' is a very stubborn man, Ms. Williams. He has something we need. And we are going to get it, one way or another."

"May I...talk to him?"

This time Snake answered for Malloy. "No."

Malloy gave him a nasty grin. "Of course, Ms. Williams. Stay as long as you like." He closed the door.

She sat down across from him, beside one of the guards. "I have to let you know why I helped them."

He didn't want to listen to her. Didn't want to look at her. Didn't want to be anywhere near her.

"You wouldn't have given up. They'd have killed you."

He couldn't let that pass. "They weren't going to kill me. Didn't you hear the man? I have something they want."

She slumped forward. "I didn't know that. I swear. I just wanted to save your life."

With an effort that left him white-faced with pain and sent the guards to attention, he forced himself upright. "You 'saved my life' so Malloy could beat the shit out of me," he snarled. "You 'saved my life' so they could take me to Chicago and pump me full of drugs. And if I make it through that, you 'saved my life' so they can shove me back into New York. Malloy thinks it'd be funny to take my other eye and send me back in blind. Know what'll happen to me then? Thanks for saving my life, Jenny. Don't do me any more favors."

She was sobbing, face buried in her hands, but he had no strength left to waste on feeling sorry for her. His energy spent, he leaned back against the seat, working his shoulders in a futile attempt to ease the pains shooting up from his manacled wrists.

"I didn't know."

"You don't know shit. Don't fuck around with my life any more." Not that there was much left of his life. He could tell by the look on her face that she realized that--now--as well as he did.

"I'm sorry. It's just...you're all I have left." Her hands twisted together in her lap. "You didn't ask about...'the folks back home'. There aren't any left. They're dead. All of them."

He wouldn't let himself respond. He didn't care. It wasn't his family anymore--hadn't been for years.

He heard himself mutter, "What about Stephen?"

"He and I got married about a year after you ran away. We had a little boy." She tried to smile; instead, the tears started again. "I named him David. After you."

He swallowed. "What happened?"

"Stephen was drafted. He died in the first assault on Siberia."

He'd been there--and remembered the hell that had been Siberia all too well. He'd gotten his first Purple Heart from that assault on Siberia. And lost a lot of faith in the government.

"And the boy?"

"The flu of '87. He was so small; he didn't have a chance." She leaned forward. "I've been alone ever since. When I saw you, I thought... I hoped maybe..."

The door opened and Malloy reappeared. "Time's up, Ms. Williams."

She bent to gather the scattered contents of her purse, then rose, seemingly in control of herself again. Snake suspected her sudden calm was as false as the calm he was showing them at that moment.

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Goodbye...Snake."

She was gone, but her words kept echoing in his head. "I've been alone ever since." He didn't want to admit it, not even to himself, but he understood her pain. He'd been alone a lot longer than she had--not allowing himself family or friends or more than the most casual lover for more than fifteen years. He knew what it was like. It was hell.

It was hell, but it was the only way of life he'd known in a long time. He was almost used to it--he'd forced himself to get used to it. But Jenny...

"How you doing, hotshot?" Malloy bent over him, pushing him back down with a heavy hand on one aching shoulder.

"Just great," he said flatly. "And you?"

"Never better. Four hours to Chicago."

"I don't have a watch. How 'bout coming back every half hour or so to keep me updated? And maybe you could give me a weather report while you're at it. Chicago's kinda cold this time of year. I want to be sure I'm dressed properly."

Anger flared briefly on Malloy's face. Then he smiled and not-so-gently patted Snake's bruised cheek. "Glad to."

Malloy turned to speak with his men, and Snake closed his mind to Malloy's presence in the car. Tried to close his mind to everything. He didn't want to think about what was going to happen to him when they reached Chicago...didn't want to think about the things Jenny had said...didn't want to think about her being alone...didn't want to think about the life he'd had a long time ago and the kind of life he had now.

He heard someone moan softly and, when he saw Malloy smile, realized the sound had come from him. He set his teeth and glared up at the man.

"Take it easy, hotshot." Malloy gave him a mock salute and left the compartment.

As soon as he was gone, Snake forced himself upright again. It took a long time, and the movement sent the room spinning around him. He sat very still, panting, struggling for balance, fighting to keep from throwing up. His stomach and the walls finally settled, and he leaned his head back against the cushion.

"Either of you got a cigarette?"

One of the soldiers took out a pack, lit one, and, with a sneer, blew smoke in Snake's direction. "Thanks," he muttered.

All three were surprised when the door opened and Malloy reappeared. "Don't tell me it's already been half an..." His voice trailed away at the sight of the expression on Malloy's face--and the sight of Jenny standing close behind him.

"Tell them." Jenny's voice was harsh.

Malloy licked his lips. "Put down your guns."

The soldiers were slow to comply and Malloy jerked, as if he'd been jabbed from behind. "Do it!" he snapped.

"Lieutenant..."

"I have a gun," Jenny rasped. "Do as I say or I'll shoot him." She watched as they lay their guns carefully on the floor. "Now handcuff them."

Moving cautiously, Malloy took the handcuffs from his men and secured them to the metal bar behind the seat. When Jenny seemed satisfied that they were immobilized, she nodded toward him.

"Now let Plissken go."

"You'll never get away with this." Malloy was almost purple with rage.

"That's my problem. Let him go."

Snake grinned up at the lieutenant, then turned sideways. He heard the catch release and pulled his arms down, shaking them to restore circulation. He didn't think he could stand just yet, so he turned his attention to Jenny. "How'd you manage this?"

"I pretended to faint. When one of his men caught me, I got his gun."

She was beginning to shake. Snake decided he'd better move, whether he felt like it or not, before she fainted for real. Scooping up one of the rifles, he forced himself to his feet. "Where're the others?"

"They're handcuffed in the other compartments. There aren't any other passengers in here. The car's empty. Nobody'll hear them. Not over the noise of the train."

"You've signed your death warrant, bitch."

Moving was easier than he'd expected. In fact, it was a real pleasure to bring the rifle butt up to connect with the side of Malloy's head. The lieutenant hit the floor and lay still.

"I'm sick of listening to him," he muttered. Bending awkwardly, he fastened the handcuffs around Malloy's wrists, then began to shove his things back in the duffel bag. He added Malloy's handgun and extra ammo last, grinning.

"Thanks, Lieutenant. Gentlemen." Taking Jenny's elbow, he urged her out into the hallway.

"Can you get off the train?"

He threw the bag over one shoulder and leaned down into the brief stairwell to examine the door. "Yeah. It's sealed, but I can get through it." Jumping off, as fast as the train was moving, wouldn't be as easy, but it beat the hell out of what they had in mind for him in Chicago. He took a step down and began to work on the lock. "Give me a couple of minutes and we'll be able to--"

"I'm not going with you."

His fingers froze on the lock. "What?"

"I'm staying here."

"That's crazy."

She braced herself against the wall and let the rifle slide to the floor. "I have to stay--to make sure they don't get loose and send an alarm. If the police don't know you've escaped until the train gets to Chicago, you'll have four hours' head start. More. They won't know exactly where you jumped, so they won't know where to start looking. You can get away."

"What about you? They'll..." He didn't want to think about what they'd do to her for helping him escape.

"It doesn't matter. My life was over a long time ago, when Stephen and my baby died. You still have a chance."

"Jenny..." He felt as if something were falling apart inside, something he'd thought was long gone. "I can't leave you here."

"Will you please listen to me for a change?" There was a note of desperation in her voice. "You never did--not from the time you were old enough to walk--but please listen to me now. I made a mistake, helping them. Let me make it right. I don't want to be responsible for you going back to prison. I couldn't stand it if I lost you again and it was my fault. Please."

There was nothing else to say. He knew that she was every bit as stubborn as he was--maybe more so. He took out his frustration on the door, forcing it open, then jumping backward to keep from being sucked out by the rush of air outside. The wind was strong. That was why his eye was watering as he stared at the swiftly passing countryside, waiting for a good place to jump.

"Be careful?"

He felt her hand on his shoulder and spun, wrapping his arms around her, holding her tightly, his breathing harsh and ragged. "I can't do it," he rasped.

"Yes, you can. For me." She hugged him back, then pulled away. "When you think about me...remember I love you, Snake."

He brushed his lips against her cheek, then gave her a faint grin. "Call me David."

"Good bye, David."

There was a bridge just ahead--a good one, long, no girders to get in the way, close enough to the water. It might be the best chance he'd have. He looked back at Jenny, whispered, "I love you", and, before he could change his mind, jumped.

He hit the water with enough force to knock the breath out of him and went under. He came up almost immediately, gasping, treading water, but the train was already gone.

"Oh God. Jenny."

His instinct for self-preservation took over, shoving sentiment aside. Getting a tighter grip on his bag, he began to swim for the shore.

His luck had changed. Within an hour, he found an unoccupied cabin far from its nearest neighbor. He knew he had time--thanks to Jenny. He broke in. Took a long hot shower. Rebandaged his leg. Found dry clothing. Opened two of the tins of food stored away and forced himself to eat, even though every swallow threatened to choke him.

He wouldn't allow himself to think about Jenny. Not yet.

There was a motorcycle--and fuel--in the garage. He headed north, toward Canada. It seemed like the best option; the Canadians weren't too friendly toward the U.S. and its fucking war at that moment in time. He hoped they might not be too quick to help return a political criminal.

The sun had gone down when he pulled into the back of a used car lot that had closed for the night and switched the bike for an inconspicuous blue sedan. Not his style, but it'd do. Turning on the radio to keep himself awake and alert, he pulled out and headed north again. He realized he was waiting for the news as he drove along the deserted highway...and it wasn't long in coming. Wanting to know and not wanting to know, he raised the volume.

"A massive manhunt is underway tonight for S.D. 'Snake' Plissken. Plissken, who was decorated for his role in the recovery of American troops from Leningrad in 1989, is wanted for treason and should be considered armed and dangerous. He was captured en route to Chicago by special agents of the U.S. Police Force but escaped with the aid of a woman claiming to be his sister. Jennifer Williams, 36, was shot and killed in Chicago when--"

He didn't hear the rest. Slamming on the brakes, he jerked the wheel to pull off the road, flung open the door, and leaned out to throw up the food he'd eaten earlier. He'd been expecting it. He'd known it would have to end like this from the moment she'd told him she was staying. But hearing it... Up to that moment, he'd been hoping that somehow Jenny would get away.

And he should've known better. She hadn't had a chance. It wasn't like him to be wishing for something he knew could never happen.

He pulled himself back into the car, shut the door, and leaned his head against the wheel. She was gone, just like everybody else. He'd just lost the only person left in his life, before he'd even had a chance to find her again. The government had taken her from him, just like they'd taken everything from him.

They'd pay--he'd see to that. He'd make the business with the tape seem like nothing. He'd get even with those bastards someday, somehow. It might take the rest of his life, but he'd shut them down permanently. He made that promise to Jenny--and to himself--as he set the car in motion and headed into the night.

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