Title: Purgatory
Fandom: Predators
Pairing/Characters: Royce/Isabelle
Rating/Warnings: Hard R, sex, violence, language
Summary: Post-movie. The jungle is always quiet at night. Except, of course, for when it isn't.
Spoilers: All of the movie.
Disclaimer: Predators does not belong to me.
Author's note: 6K. Betad by marinw, who also provided the name. ;) I realize barely anyone is in this fandom, but I had to write this fic because I needed to explore the dynamic between Royce and Isabelle more.


The jungle is always quiet at night.

(Except, of course, when it isn't.)

Isabelle can't get used to that, at first. She's spent the majority of her life in one jungle or another – she knows the Amazon, the wilderness of Central America, Madagascar's heat, the Congo River Basin, the tips of Burma to the sliding slopes near Pakistan. Isabelle knows what a forest feels like, breathes like. On earth, any given hectare of forest contains over two thousands species.

Here, she doesn't even think it's half that.

Different planet, different rules.

She sets out to learn as much as she can. There's no North Pole or South Pole, and the stars at night are still unfamiliar. She always gets distracted by the two moons and three planets anyway, all different shades, different sizes, so close and looming some nights she thinks she can stretch her hand out to touch them. The days are twice as long as the ones on Earth, but she knows the planet is exactly the same size. Figures there'd be a difference in gravity otherwise. Whether the preserve goes the whole width and length, Isabelle doesn't know. She just remembers what Noland said about the preserve stretching past the ground he'd managed to cover in ten seasons. Ten seasons.

They've been here just one.


When the new people arrive, Isabelle is the one who usually greets them.

Every so often, another woman shows up but for the most part Isabelle is the only one. The only female among groups of men that are hardened murderers and serial killers, recent inmates and military SOBs. Every so often, there's a decent man, a man that Isabelle feels like she can trust, but she doesn't. Not really. She remembers the doc, Edwin, with his kind eyes and quick humor, and the more respectable the man looks, the less she trusts the fucker. She can't afford to trust anyone here – save for Royce, and he'd be the first to tell you he's no decent man.

Decent men and women don't get sent here.


"Yo, leader guy!" an ex-con named Eddy Ortiz hollers; he looks like he's working through the first stages of heroine withdrawal. "How much longer are we gonna march?"

"Until we find cover or one of those things kills us," Royce says, without looking back. "Preferences?"

"Fuck this shit," another swears, the one with a tattoo of a python wrapped around his bicep. "I wish I was in Florida – the hookers down there owe me eight bucks and a beer."

Dead silence takes over because the terrain is rough and two klicks east of here they left another body behind for trophies. Even hardened criminals can freakout, and this new bunch just had their first encounter with the natives. Everybody's still a little shaken up, and Isabelle has blood on her hands, drying tacky and flaking off.

The new recruits aren't a talkative bunch, not like the last, but they're quicker on the uptake. They've already figured out the odds on surviving.

Something flashes by her periphery and she halts. Goes still and scans the horizons, waiting for a glimmer, some reflection of light that shouldn't be there, but it's broad daylight outside and as good as her eyesight is, better than anyone else's here, she can't make out anything.

"Royce," she warns, just once.

He stops and turns back, trading a silent look with her that communicates everything. "Split up," he tells the others, as his eyes sweep the periphery. "Watch the perimeter."

"What?" tattoo-guy barks, incredulous. "They're attacking again?"

Twenty seconds later, they get ambushed.

Tattoo-guy doesn't make it.


The longest time that Isabelle has ever stayed in one spot, motionless, is thirty-seven hours. A sniper is only as good as his patience, and she's always been the patient kind. Put her out in the middle of grassland or up in the canopy of a tree, and she can hit a moving target from fifteen-hundred meters away, and a still target with good conditions and the best rifle at two thousand. Her name is Isabelle Ashkenazi, but no one knows her last name, not even Royce. She joined the Israeli Defense Force when she came of age, straight through the ranks to the Special Forces when her aptitude tests showed a proclivity and predisposition suited for certain needs.

She rose through the ranks and then disappeared from them altogether when they called her up for Black Ops. She had the gift. The ability to drop her pulse on command, go still, keep quiet. She still remembers the day she stayed too quiet and watched her spotter killed.

She's committed horrors for faith and nation both. Now she kills just to survive.

Isabelle hates herself for that.


Getting off the planet proves as impossible as she thought. it would. The Predators come in waves of three, always three, hunting and growing smarter with each cycle that passes. It proves impossible to reach their ship; it's protected with a force field that's impenetrable to anything and everything they try. The Predator's camp is usually less than two klicks away. It proves reckless to attempt a raid. Not that it stops Royce from trying several times.

It isn't until they've lost nearly a dozen men that Isabelle corners Royce. "Enough. There is no weakness there! We can't keep losing men like this."

Royce disagrees. "We just have to catch one of them off-guard. We have to capture one alive, and—"

"Killing them is hard enough," Isabelle argues. "Catching one alive is going to be impossible."

"Nothing is impossible," Royce tells her.

She shakes her head, because arguing with him on this is worse than beating her head against a wall. He's convinced he's going to find a way off this planet, and while a part of her holds out hope, another part just wonders if this isn't supposed to be her fate. They were chosen for this planet, and she's always been of the belief that things happen for a reason.

"It's suicide to attack their camp," she says, finally. "At least can we agree on that?"

After a beat, Royce nods. "Agreed."

It becomes a rule after that: no one attempts a raid on the Predator's camp.

It's their only rule.


Royce doesn't talk much to the others beyond what's necessary. She tries, because she remembers all too clearly what it's like to be dropped on this godforsaken planet with shit for explanation. Every time a new shipment of recruits arrives, they go through the same drama over and over again. It becomes a sickening routine. The parachutes, the in-fighting, the cages and the killings. Not precisely in that order, and sometimes the cycles last longer. Days, weeks if they're lucky.

Royce prefers not to get attached to the new guys. Isabelle can see the wisdom in that, but she isn't wired the same way. She reacts. She still feels and flinches. If she ever stops doing that, she wouldn't know who she is anymore.

It does make her wonder. What made Royce open up to her? She's always kept her own counsel and company and she knows the same is true of Royce. Which should make the fact that they're a team now, partners in every sense, all the more unbelievable. Then again, she's on an alien planet being hunted for game.

Her sense of disbelief isn't what it used to be.


"What were you doing when you were taken?" she asks him, just once.

He doesn't even freeze at the question.

They've found a cave for the night. It's dank and dark, but there's crisp water running down one cavern wall. He splashes water on his face, quickly stripping nude to take what passes as a shower in this world. They're alone with no one else around and the solitude is a luxury.

"On a wet-job," he tells her, an ugly euphemism for murder or assassination. "I was chasing this guy through half of Columbia. Finally found him in a small dive near Bogota. He tried to run. Fucker was fast."

"But you were faster."

It's not a question, so he doesn't answer it. "One second I was jumping over rooftops, the next I was waking up in freefall. Here."

"You ever think…"

He turns to her. "What?"

"You ever think how your life would have turned out, if you hadn't landed here?"

He doesn't even blink. "Not once. Not even for a second."


Royce carries an automatic 12-gauge shotgun, fitted with a drum magazine loaded with Frag-12 rounds. It's his favorite. Even when they scavenge and take from bodies, he never lets that one leave his side. "Lucky I'm not the jealous type," she once told him. They acquire other things, too. Grenades. A few Claymore anti-personnel mines, Vietnam era. Two Heckler & Koch MP5K's. Isabelle still has her berretta and R93 Sniper Rifle, but she only has so much ammo left for the former.

"Here," Royce says, handing her an extra berretta clip when he finds one. "I know you're running low."

"Ohhhh," Eddy teases in the back. "Y'know, here on this planet, that's practically an offer for marriage."

"Fuck you," she tells him.

"Oh, sweetheart," Eddy mock-leers. "If only."


They come in threes. They always come in threes.

She kills her second Predator about a month later. Why were Royce scavenges the body and takes the camouflage armor, using it that evening to hunt another. He goes invisible. She watches from 700 meters away, covered in dirt and leaves, hiding in plain sight. Her sniper rifle rests heavy on the ground, the scope clear and direct where Royce marks his spot. She drops her pulse on command, goes still, her breath steady and even.

The surprise attack is successful – partially. They kill one predator when Royce makes his move, but the other, the last one, adapts to their tactics and learns.

Six of their men are killed off that night as retribution.

Royce doesn't say anything, but she knows what he's thinking. Royce, who's upfront and never lies, never hides, shows his darkness for what it is. Brutal, ugly and calculating. Even with six men dead, Royce considers the op a success. It should scare her, the way he is at times, how he can strategize around death and mayhem, how he allows for casualties as easily as he notes the number of rounds he has left in his clip.

He once told her that they were the same, deep below. Maybe that's true? Maybe she has just as much darkness in her as he does in him – just hidden, further down, banished to a place she tries not to reach. She's too good of a killer to be a clean soul, but Isabelle can't stand the thought of being labeled as a cold-blooded killer either. The fact that she can be with a man like that, though… doesn't that just make her a hypocrite?

God, she hates this place. It screws with her head.


"So I told the cop," Eddy shares his favorite story, even though barely anyone is listening, "nobody gets the point across without explosions. Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No! We gathered our forces and went after those assholes. That's exactly the same thing my gang was doing. Justified retaliation."

Across from him, there's another convict named Wolters that's barely spoken a word the entire time. Isabelle can feel his eyes on her, though. She can feel him follow her wherever she goes, and the look in his gaze isn't friendly. It's downright predatory. He isn't the first guy here to look at her like that. That's the problem with her selection of company; it tends to run towards dicks more often than not. Isabelle keeps cool, looking away, and she spots Royce eying Wolters in a cold stare.

Guys like Wolters, the usual suspects, they may be predators where they come from, but out here, they're prey just like everyone else.

Wolters will figure that out soon enough.


A storm hits and they get split up from the others. They haul up in quick camp built underneath a canopy of trees, just the two of them, just for the night. She'd been against stopping here, and said so—they should find the others; they shouldn't separate for too long. Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book, and they just came from a bad run-in with a predator. She wounded it, but all that usually does is piss it off more.

"It'll still be on the hunt," she warns.

"Not in this weather," he tells her. "The lightning fucks with their vision, remember? It won't be hunting anymore tonight, not wounded and blind. It's smarter if we stay put. Reconvene with the others in the morning."

After a beat she relents. She rests the butt of her rifle against the interior edge of the tent, still within reach. Exhaustion makes her eyes blur, and she realizes she hasn't slept properly in days – weeks, if she's being generous. Royce must see it as well because he volunteers to take the first shift, which is usually her slot. When he gets a fire going, he finally sits down and she rests her head against his shoulder, eyes closed but still alert, marking each time lightning strikes.

Exhaustion wins out.


When she wakes, she's lying on her side with his jacket thrown over her for warmth. He's lying next to her and, for a beat, with the storm still raging outside, it takes her a second to realize what actually woke her. But the hard press against her hip is a familiar sensation. She lifts her head a little, looking at him.

When Royce kisses her, there's no niceness to the touch, no gentle caress. It is what it is, and exhausted as she feels – they both feel – she isn't dead yet.

She quickly takes advantage because these private moments are few and far between. Shifting to settle more heavily atop him, Isabelle deepens the kiss. He has a familiar taste to him, overwhelming and warm. It's silent except for their rasping breaths, the crinkle of fabric shifting between them, the pelt of rain on the canopy of their tent.

His cold hands worm their way between and under her clothes, past layer after layer till he hits skin, hands palming her breasts, fingers tracing the scar along her right shoulder. She tugs at his belt in return, silently annoyed that their bodies feel so bulky, weighted down with cumbersome equipment and durable layers of fabric. It's too cold—and it would be stupid, so reckless—to shed their clothes entirely when they might have to pack up and take off at a moment's notice. This is a dangerous distraction at best.

On his belt, next to the handgun tucked under his waistband, there's a heavy serrated knife that Royce took off a dead body just the other week. She fucking hates that they can't even do this without an armory ready at hand. She grows frustrated and a little angry, striping off his belt and tossing the knife and gun aside. Royce doesn't protest, just lies back and focuses on peeling off her shirt.

The smell of rain and mud permeates everywhere, but Isabelle only concentrates on Royce. They take off a few more layers, enough that even if they can't press skin against skin, she can still feel him and that's all that matters. Soon she pulls him in, deeper even as he keeps thrusting up, moving with long hard strokes. Royce screws his eyes shut but Isabelle always keeps hers open. She kisses him, lips on his mouth, his throat, his body, and his fingers find her hips, digging in hard enough to bruise. Isabelle doesn't care. She just shifts her hips in short grinding movements, the type that leaves Royce cursing her name under his breath.

Afterwards, she lets him hold her, boneless bodies seeking warmth again.

His knife and gun is back within reach.


It takes a few weeks for Royce to bring up the topic. "Is Wolster going to be a problem?"

She thinks about a blanket denial but she doesn't, not with Royce. "If he is, I can handle it. I always do."

He glances away, his jaw clenched tightly. The temperature is cooling off and Isabelle thinks the seasons may be changing. They trudge through the forest quietly, side-by-side.

He breaks the silence again. "Some men aren't worth saving. I'd thought you'd figured that out with the doc."

She goes quiet for a beat, because she knows exactly what they're talking about now. "You really think he's that big a threat?"

"I don't underestimate anyone here."

"So, what? You're thinking about killing Wolster now?"

He doesn't deny the ugly accusation; he never does. "Some men don't deserve chances. Not even the first one."

"I don't believe that."

"You're still trying to save everyone."

"I'm just not gonna kill him. There's a difference."

"Not much," he tells her. "Not out here."

She just stares at him. "To me, there is."


"Konichiwa, bitches!" Eddy always says, right before he opens fire.

It's his thing, even though Isabelle doesn't find the tagline as hilarious as Eddy does. Despite being a loudmouth, Eddy isn't a bad guy. He's defied her expectations by surviving this long, and he's managed to prove himself a strong ally. Anyway, he's not a complete asshole. That's the most she can ask for, out here.

The hounds scatter in the wind when he fires off a few dozen rounds from a four-barreled gas powered rotary machine gun. Royce grows annoyed when Eddy starts wasting ammo, though, shoving him once to warn him off.

"All right, all right," Eddy grumbles, but grins when he sees two dead hounds. "Good kill."

"Overkill," Royce corrects, but Eddy just laughs.

If she didn't know better, she might've thought Royce was making friends.


"We're never getting off this planet," she tells him, just once. "You realize that, right?"

Royce shakes his head stubbornly. "There's a way. We'll find it."

She stares at him, caught between amazement and pity. She's come to accept the horror of her reality: she'll die out here on this planet. The things she's done, a part of her still isn't sure she doesn't deserve it. But the way Royce remains steadfast, so certain in his belief that they'll get off this preserve, off this goddamn planet, it makes her falter. She wants to believe him.

She doesn't, though. Not really.


Wolters isn't the usual type of asshole.

He's worse.

When the group separates into smaller clusters to forage for food, he corners her. It isn't a particularly sophisticated plan. He comes up right behind and when she turns, he slams her against a tree, pinning her body against the bark with a knife at her jugular. She almost gags on his rank breath when he leans over her and grins.

"Such a pretty girl," he says. "I always like pretty girls—"

"Get off of me," she bites out, but he turns her face as she says it, so her throat is bare to his knife. "I said, get off—"

"Shh," he warns, "I'm just having some fun."

He's twice her size, and as trained as she is, there is no stopping the flood of fear and adrenaline that grips her in that instant.

It doesn't last.

She slams her palm up, breaking his nose. Blood spurts everywhere, and she shoves him back but he rebounds. He flings the knife and she ducks; it embeds in the tree bark behind her. He throws a left jab, and she takes a punch that makes the side of her face go numb. She loses focus for a second, the pain lancing and dizzying, but when she feels hands around her waist again, she uses her elbow to jam into his ribs. She plants a foot against the tree and pushes off, forcing them to crash onto the floor. While she struggles around to face him, she pulls out a switchblade from her boot and holds it to his throat.

It takes a second for her to find her breath, and then her words. "I don't want to kill you, but I will if I have to."

Wolters stays silent.

Any other time, any other place, she might have considered the option more seriously. But here on this planet, there's enough death. There's too muchdeath. She can't add to the tally, not if there's any alternative left. She pulls back and then slams her elbow into his face, just for good measure, before she rises and climbs off him.

"Pack up your things and get out," she tells him, mercifully. "You're on your own from now on."

She doesn't think he'll last two-days that way, but his blood won't be on her hands.

She walks away as Wolters lies on the ground, bleeding from the gums. She uses a familiar winding path to reach some stream water, washing off her face before she's forced to head back to the others. Her veins are still pumping away with adrenaline. Her hands are steady, though. A sniper needs steady hands.

That's when she hears it: a single gunshot that echoes.

She grabs her gear and double-times it back to the others, checking the route for Predators. By the time she makes it back, she finds Royce standing over Wolters' dead body. Her eyes fly up to meet his.

He reloads a clip, and turns to face her, coolly. "It had to be done."


She settles near the campfire that night. The others are avoiding her and she knows the bruises on her face speak enough. So she sits, knees drawn to her chest, staring into the fire. After a while, some indefinable time, Royce drops down beside her and passes her a bowl of food. She doesn't accept it.

"I had to do it," he tells her, unrepentant.

"You've said that, already."

"I was watching your back."

"No," she refutes. "I handled it. I didn't need your protection on this."

As soon as the words are out, a part of her knows it's not entirely true. He does have to watch out for her, just like she watches out for him. They've been partners in this since the beginning, an unspoken bond forged from those first few days together, a tug and pull. Fact: without each other, they wouldn't last. Well, maybe Royce longer than her, but he'd end up just like Noland after a few years of this, a scavenger who's only friend was a voice in his head.

"What do you want me to say? I'm sorry?"

She shakes her head. "We both know you aren't."

"I have no reason to be," he tells her.

And that's where they'll always differ. She thinks, when you take a man's life, you should be sorry. It doesn't matter the nature and justification for the killing. A part of you should feel regret, some morsel of human conflict. It's the thing that separates them from the Predators.

Clearly, some more than others.

He gets up and walks away, and she won't call him back.


"We'll split up," Royce announces. "Isabelle and Eddy take the east route, the rest take the west."

Eddy keeps his mouth shut, but she can sense the surprise register on his face. He isn't the one usually paired up with Isabelle, and everybody knows it. Her cold front with Royce must be obvious, but Isabelle is determined not to make things more awkward than necessary. It's been three days since she's spent the night with Royce, and the entire time she's kept her distance by finding other things to do. It's becoming difficult, though. Dangerous, even.

Royce hands Eddy one of the only two radios they have on them, acquired when an Iraqi soldier was dropped off a month ago. They're considered some of the most precious commodities around.

She picks up her rifle and follows Eddy down the path. Royce heads the other way, and neither stops to look at the other. It's for the best, because she honestly doesn't know how to do this anymore. She doesn't like what this place is turning her into, and she needs to remember that whatever else she is, she isn't a cold-blooded murderer. She may have been chosen for this place, but she won't allow it to define her.

Halfway to their destination, Isabelle has to stop to get a small rock out of her shoe. Eddy halts beside her, looking awkward. "Y'know, it's not in my nature to ask this, but are you all right?"

She lifts a brow. "I've got a rock in my shoe."

"That's not what I mean, and you know it."

Isabelle thinks this place might be making them all go just a little bit insane, being hunted all the time. It tends to make them hardened, and she's almost too weary by now to be altogether worried by it. Then there are these moments, almost normal, casual, a display of concern from another human being. She doesn't know what to do with it, anymore.

She picks up her rifle, and starts walking again. "Hurry up," she tells Eddy. "We gotta keep moving."


A week later, she's throwing up behind a tree when Royce finds her.

"You all right?" he asks.

She nods. "Bad food. Been sick all night."

"You were sick the night before, too."

She's not surprised – Royce is always paying attention, even when it looks like he isn't. She shakes her head and dismisses it, because it's just a bug and if it were anything bad, something to be concerned about, she'd have known it by now.

Besides, it isn't going to be a disease that's going to kill her in this jungle.

He hands her his canteen of water, and she rinses out her mouth. "I'm leaving in the morning," he tells her, and she straightens to look back at him. "I want to do that trek to the preserve edge near the cliffs. I want to check something out."

"What?"

"It's a theory," he says, but doesn't explain.

She nods, then offers, more out of habit than anything else, "Do you want me to come along?"

There's a lengthy beat where he stares at her, and she thinks he might say something. Acknowledge something. They haven't talked much in over a week, and the canyon between them seems to widen further every day. She still isn't sure she can be with him, but it's becoming more and more obvious to her that not being with him might be more impossible.

She misses him.

Fuck.

"Davis has already volunteered," he says at length, breaking the silence. "Any more, and it'll just slow the pace. We'll take a radio with us. "

"Right." She nods. "I'll be listening."

He leaves without looking back.


The next morning, she wakes up to find Royce gone. She doesn't have much time to focus on it before she's throwing up again, dispelling what little is left in her stomach from the night before. Her throat feels raw and hoarse, and she runs a hand through her hair, frustrated, thinking about the possible bugs she could have caught in this goddamn miserable excuse of a planet.

"You all right?" Eddie asks her when he spots her doubled-over.

She's in a foul mood. "Does it look like I'm all right?"

He waves his hand in mock-surrender. "Sorry. Didn't realize it was that time of the month again. Jeeze."

She sighs, opens her mouth to apologize or to tell him to fuck off, she's not sure which, when the radio clicks on. "Man down," Royce's voice comes over, in a harsh whisper. "Davis is down. We're in the eastern quadrant near the river basin. Bring the claymores."

The radio goes dead before she can respond. She tries the radio again, but he isn't answering. That, in and of itself, isn't unusual. They often go radio-dark in the middle of a situation, and she's never been one to jump to conclusions just because one of their team members goes off-the-grid. Especially when that person is Royce.

Swiftly, she gives orders for the team to split in half, one taking the north route, and the other coming at Royce's location from the opposite direction. When they reach the eastern quadrant near the river basin, she finds Davis' body, torn open and ripped apart. The Predators have taken trophies, so Isabelle can do nothing but offer a silent prayer before quickly moving on. There are human footprints that lead away from the bloodbath, but Isabelle knows Royce is too smart to leave clues like that. She leads the team in the opposite direction.

Ten minutes later, they find Royce's favorite 12-gauge shotgun abandoned near the river.

It's drenched in blood.


Isabelle decides to break their only rule.

When she tells them that she's going to raid the Predator's camp, Eddy and the others try to convince her it's a clusterfuck of an idea. (Like she doesn't know that already.) But if the Predators didn't kill Royce immediately, that means they took him back to the camp. Royce and Isabelle have been here the longest, and in that time they've killed seven Predators; enough, she gathers, to gain a sort of infamy and reputation even among the hunters. They'd want to take their time with Royce, make him suffer.

"It's suicide," Eddy tells her. "You know that. You're the one that insisted on that rule!"

"And now I'm breaking it," Isabelle flings back. "Don't worry. I'm not asking anyone else to come along."

She knows the odds on this. She isn't fooling herself. She takes the bag of claymores, the alien camouflage armor, an extra sidearm and loads her rifle. She heads for the fastest route to the Predator's camp.

Halfway there, Eddy joins her. "Fuck it," he says to her look of surprise. "I was bored, anyway."


Surprisingly, the first Predator is easily killed.

The second one puts up a better fight.

But it's the last one that gets them.

Eddy's chest lights up with three small green dots in triangular formation. She freezes with a reckless shock, and a split second later the alien blast fires and Eddy goes flying back. She flinches back as the Predator materializes twenty feet away. She turns and fires off a round but it just keeps rushing.

She's lifted and slammed against a tree. When she pulls a knife, the Predator knocks the blade away. Her eyes dart to Eddy but he's gone – god, dead; Royce is lying unconscious on the ground, having been tortured and beaten half to death. Isabelle gasps for air as the Predator begins to choke the life out of her. She's dead, she knows it; there's no way out of this. But then the pressure on her throat falls away and the Predator stills, gaze drawn low over her body.

It drops her to the floor.

Breathing heavily, Isabelle stays crumbled on the ground, dazed, as the Predator passes a sweeping glance to Royce's unconscious form and then back to her. She doesn't understand when it just vanishes, invisibility cloak activated. She thinks it's a game of some type, a way of engaging her again, but even after Isabelle scrambles to recover her weapon, it doesn't rematerialize. She eventually pulls Royce's body to a place of cover, and spends the rest of the night on alert, waiting for the next moment of attack.

It never comes.


It had her.

She doesn't understand why she was let go.


It's Royce that figures it out.

"I remember once," he tells her, "I was in South Africa, hunting. I came across a lioness just after she took down her meal for the day. While she was feasting, I took aim, lined up my site, and then I saw she had three cubs. I could have taken the shot and gotten a clean kill. I didn't."

It takes her a second to connect the dots.

"It spared your life, Isabelle. They wouldn't show mercy without a reason."

The epiphany slowly sinks in. She does the math in her head, and when she comes up three weeks late, panic rises. God, she's a fool. She can't believe it took her this long to consider the obvious. She stares at him, feeling her breath go shallow with horror.

"I'm…" she begins, but trails off.

God, she can't even say it. The idea is foreign to her; it's too unnatural in a world meant to be entirely about death, not life. He reaches out, brushing fingers across her cheek where there's discoloration brewing. He moves to settle behind her, wrapping a bad arm around her shoulders and Isabelle feels her breath hitch. Months in this place, and she's never cried, not once.

"What do you expect me to do?" she asks him, chocking on the words. "I can't… I can't—"

"You think I don't know you better than that?" Royce replies. "I know exactly what you're going to do. The same thing you've always done."

Bringing a child into this preserve has to the biggest clusterfuck ever. But when her mind skids over the alternative – what to do to get rid of it, her stomach clenches in revulsion. She chokes back a sob. Isabelle hasn't always been the most religious person, but she believes in the soul.

"I know," Royce whispers in her ear, while she cries. "I know."

She thinks, for once, that they understand each other perfectly.


"We have to get off this planet soon," she tells him, just once. "You realize that, right?"

Royce nods his head, confident. "There's a way. We'll find it."

And Isabelle believes him.


Fin