Runaways Remix: Teenage Wasteland

Issue 5

The Mind of Jacob Hunter

The Main Room of "The Hostel"

Bronson Canyon, California

Time Unknown

Though he had hoped to sleep peacefully, Jake's mind was as restless as it had been the last three times he'd closed his eyes.

This time, he was at least somewhere nice for once. Not flying whales or rusting skyscrapers or anything crazy like that. Now, he was just in a field of grass. It was very thick grass, he noticed. Well nourished by rain and good soil. A couple meters from him were several massive evergreen trees. The air was filled with their scent, and a glance up revealed he was leaning back against one of them. Beyond the other trees was the glittering blue of a large body of water, which Jake realized was probably the Pacific Ocean judging by the presence of pine trees. He was obviously in the Pacific Northwest, though where exactly he didn't know.

He breathed deeply, feeling amazingly good. Even the tell-tale clouds on the horizon that heralded the certainty of rain didn't trouble him.

Jake sighed, stretched his arms, and glanced at the watch attached to his wrist. 16:05, it read. 4:05 in the afternoon.

Jake stood up with a grunt, dusted off his clothes to remove the light accumulation of pine needles that had fallen on him while he rested under the tree, and pulled a small radio from his shirt pocket.

"This is Hunter." He said into it. "All teams, sound off."

A moment of silence punctuated by static emanated from the radio's speaker. It cut off abruptly as someone spoke into the channel.

"This is Alpha Actual," a male voice he didn't recognize spoke first. "We're ready to start the ownage when you are, sir."

A pause, then another speaker.

"Beta Actual reporting". A female voice this time, which he did know; Deryn, the cross-dressing midshipman from the living airship. How she was here, wherever this was, didn't bother him in the least. "We're ready to provide covering fire when you need us. Or we will be, if Alek can get this barking tin can moving when you need it."

A third voice cut Deryn off as she drew breath to say something else.

"Uh, Omega Actual here, sir." Another male voice. Jake knew this one too. He'd heard it in his dream from earlier that night, the one with the red airship and the moving city.

He felt the urge to answer this one himself.

"Go ahead Natsworthy." He said into the radio. "You on station?"

"Yes. The Jenny's ready for pick up when you call for us."

"Good. All teams, stand by to commence on my mark. Get tactical, people." He turned the radio off and stuffed it back into his pocket. Then, with another stretch, he started trudging further inland. He would have call it walking, but the grass was so thick it was like stepping on a sponge. Jake didn't particularly mind. It felt good, and honestly having every step he took be a sort of bounce on the ground was fun.

Quickly, Jake found his destination. A dry stream bed cut through the rich earth, flanked on both sides by trees. With a grunt, Jake jumped off the edge and crashed to the damp earth below like he wanted to crush it under his weight, knees bent to absorb the shock and arms thrown out behind him for balance. He straightened, dusted himself off again, and glanced down at the other end of the stream bed.

Several meters inland from where he stood, three teens waited. Two were crouched around the third, who was lying prone behind a large pair of binoculars, which were pointed at what was undoubtedly their target; a small city, half-hidden in trees and lacking anything even resembling a skyline.

Hearing Jake land (part of the reason he'd been so loud) they turned around and acknowledged him.

Jake looked them over, checking their state of readiness.

The one on the left of the prone teen was a boy, who looked somewhat similar to Jake himself. Same blond hair, blue eyes, and wiry build. He was a full head shorter than Jake was, however.

He was also armed to the teeth. Strapped to most of the plates of ceramic armor that covered his clothes and the tops of his shoes were long belts of huge bullets. Undoubtedly, they were meant to be loaded into the large machine gun laying on the ground near him.

In addition to the bullet belts, he also carried a dozen grenades, twin M6D pistols with laser sights and extended magazines, a flare gun, and some large device that resembled a gun but obviously wasn't. And if those weren't enough, a large three-barreled rocket launcher was slung across his back.

The team member to the opposite side of the binocular user couldn't have been more different. Aside from being a girl (though her hair and eyes were similar to the boys, but not enough that they could be related), she wasn't armed or armored conventionally. Instead of the guns and grenades of her fellow soldier, her only weapon was the longest chainsaw Jake had ever seen, the blade of which was at least two feet long. Replacing armor was the kind of clothing you'd see a standard high school student wearing, with the exception of her hands, which were covered by a pair of full-size white cotton gloves with some kind of circular emblem inscribed on their backs.

Jake figured she didn't really need firepower when he noticed what was sitting next to her. Curled like a giant, reptilian cat was a dinosaur. A velocoraptor, from the looks of it, one that looked quite similar to Old Lace. It opened a huge eye, glanced at Jake, then closed it again.

"Hey, our fearless leader has returned." The girl noted without turning around.

"Glad to see you too, Jas." Jake said, a smile pulling at his lips. "I don't remember you having a fabricated dinosaur before."

"Yeah. HunTech was nice enough to let me beta test this one for them. Some time travelers want it for their kid, I think. Something like that."

"Ah." Jake nodded. "Lucky you. You got a name for it yet?"

"Yeah. Old Lace."

"Old Lace?" the armed boy asked, surprised. Jake realized this was the boy who had been talking to him over the radio. "Kinda funny naming for a dinosaur, wouldn't you think?"

"It's a reference to possibly the best B&W film I've ever seen." Jas replied. "And it's better than Oscar Lima 155, or whatever they called her, right?"

"Eh..." The boy made an indecisive noise.

"Well, she seems to like it." Jas noted, scratching the dino with her fingers. "Might mention that to whoever ordered her. Get their kid mentally implanted with it. Or something like that."

"Good luck with that, you know how they are about changes of plans-" the boy muttered.

"Still, you're lucky to have it." Jake added, cutting off what he knew would grow into an argument.

"Well it was your connections with the company that got me it." Jas shrugged as she finished.

"Yeah. Go Team Jake." The boy added, pumping his fist unenthusiastically. "Now are we going to kill these undead mother fuckers or no?"

"Soon, Chris." Jake soothed. "Remember the plan."

"I remember," Chris grumbled. "I just don't like waiting."

"You've never been one for waiting, its true." The third and final member of the group, the one using the binoculars, finally joined the conversation.

Jake knew this girl all to well. Though it should be impossible, she was here; Clementine Jones herself.

He glanced over again, just to be sure he was right. He was; it really was Clem, alive and well and apparently ready to fight, judging by the ODST battle dress uniform she was wearing, minus the helmet.

"Got that right, Clem." Jake said, feeling a smile play across his lips. "But we won't have to wait for much longer."

He glanced at his watch again. 16:09 and thirty seconds. 30 seconds till the start of their mission.

"All teams, be ready to commence on my mark." He ordered into his radio. He glanced at the group around him. They too were following his order. Chris slid a belt of ammo into his machine gun, then yanked the charging handle, loading a round into its chamber. Jas cracked her fingers and wiggled one, calling Old Lace to her side. Clem clambered to a kneeling position and pocketed her binoculars. Jake glanced down at his watch again.

"Three...two...one...Mark!" Jake called out over the radio.

There was a moment of silence, as if the whole world was drawing a breath.

Then everything exploded.

At least, that's what it felt like to Jake. He knew it was really nothing more than Beta Team beginning the distraction they'd been assigned, the large kerosene-powered walking tank they were riding in firing it's twin 75mm cannons blindly into the city below it.

The high-explosive rounds fell to earth, spewing flame through the once-calm streets of the city.

"That's our cue!" Jake barked, waving his hand forward dramatically. The gesture wasn't really needed, but it felt good to do it.

"Hell yeah!" Chris agreed, hauling his gun up like it weighed nothing. "Lead the way, boss! We got your back!"

Jake nodded in approval and thanks, then vaulted the bank of earth in front of him and slid down the small hill it created. As he slid, he pulled his own weapon off his back. It was an assault rifle, but not one he was familiar with. It wasn't an MA series. The magazine was placed in front of the trigger and grip, meaning it wasn't a bullpup rifle like the MA. It lacked a stock, and the magazine itself was little more than a box held in place by a latch.

But it was obviously nasty; in addition to the big barrel, which indicated a large caliber of ammunition, the underslung attachment point was filled with a chainsaw. An honest-to-Master-Chief chainsaw.

It was this that Jake activated, the saw's roar almost drowned out by the constant, steady boom of cannon shells landing everywhere and the irregular secondary blasts of things in the town exploding under the walker's fire.

Jake slid to a stop in front of a boarded up door, which he took the chainsaw to. The wood splintered easily, sending slivers everywhere but opening the passage into the building. Before he entered, he glanced up at the name above the door.

Sheriff'sOffice,Forks,Washington, it read.

So that's where he was. Forks.

His team filed in behind him, having followed him down the hill; first Clem, then Chris, and finally Jas, with Old Lace close behind.

Jake glanced around, making sure the area was clear. It was. He turned back to his team, who had formed up behind him in the darkened office.

"Alright, split up." He ordered. "Chris, Jas, take the back way and secure the objective. Clem, you're with me. We're going to cut right through the heart of these undead freaks and draw them away from Chris's group."

"Sounds fun." Clem noted, retrieving her own weapon. Jake recognized it as a BR55 Battle Rifle. A modified one, if the extended clip, lengthened barrel, and more powerful scope were any indication.

"Don't worry, sir. We'll get the job done." Jas assured Jake, hefting her chainsaw to make a point.

"Hell yeah. Just keep those bastards distracted and the LZ clear. We'll do the rest." Chris added. Jake bumped fists with Chris, and the boy split off, followed by Jas and Old Lace, climbing out the window behind them. Jake turned to Clem, who was flipping the safety of her BR55 off.

"So..." he said, voice low and husky. "Same deal as normal?"

"Who ever kills the most tangos gets top?" Clem pulled something on the side of her rifle and it made a loud click. "You know it."

"Better find that ottoman foot-rest thing then." Jake smirked, adjusting his grip on his rifle. "You know how I like having you over it."

"And you'd better find some extra pillows." Clem retorted. "I got something new I want to try out."

Jake laughed darkly and revved his chainsaw again.

"You'll have to lace more people than me first!" He cried.

He hurried to a window and glanced out of it. Off in the distance, he could see where he needed to go; a large statue of a lumberjack felling a tree, right in the center of town. The pre-arranged distraction point.

There was a lot of ground to cover between there and where he was. And he had a feeling it wasn't going to just be a quick, clean walk.

"Let's sprint this." Clem noted, indicating the statue. Jake nodded, agreeing. "Sprint this" meant running from a start point to an end point, not stopping for anything or anyone. The perfect tactic for this situation.

"See you there!" Jake taunted happily.

With that, he ran to the door on the other side of the room and kicked it right where the lock met the frame. The wood splintered, and the door swung freely on its hinges. Jake charged out into the street, rifle swinging in his arms.

Outside, it was chaos. In addition to the havoc caused by Deryn and Alek's walker fire, which was still coming down hard, there seemed to be a small war going on in the town. As Jake ran through, Clem at his heels, he caught snatches of it.

There seemed to be two sides. What looked like normal people, everyday citizens you'd see in any small town or city out in the middle of nowhere. And the other group...well, they usually looked normal. But every time one stepping into a beam of sunlight (the very few there were through the overcast sky) there would be a brilliant flash and they would start to...sparkle.

This didn't faze Jake at all. Instead, he fired up his chainsaw again and sprinted harder. He could hear Clem just behind him, panting as she ran, the noises of her breathing intermixed with the crack of her rifle.

Something fell in Jake's path; one of the glowing people, arms flailing comically. Jake swung his rifle, and the teeth of the saw caught the unfortunate person in the chest. A plume of black liquid erupted from the contact point, a small amount splashing onto Jake's shirt. Jake shoved down and pulled back on the rifle, forcing his victim to the ground and removing the saw from his body. He kept running. Two more sparkling freaks started to cross his path, but Clem got them first and both their heads exploded in clouds of black. Jake elbowed his way through them without a second thought.

As he ran, he could see the battle wasn't as simple as it looked. One of the seemingly normal people came at him, and in mid-air he seemed to change. What landed was the largest wolf Jake had ever seen. Size, or it's origin, didn't mean anything to Jake, however. Instead, he simply leveled his rifle at the wolf and pulled the trigger. Rounds tore into the creature, sending it sprawling and twitching to the ground. Jake promptly stepped on in, using its massive body as a spring board to get airborne and cover more distance.

Seconds later, his boots touched ground and he was running again. Right behind him, Clem's rifle fired and another of the wolf-things crashed into his path, leaking blood from a clean hole in its chest.

Jake recoiled and raised his rifle again. The saw bit into the wolf, and his forward momentum sent it down and in. Meat and bone gave way under its sharp teeth, and in seconds Jake had literally cut the wolf in half. The two parts fell to the side and Jake moved on.

"Watch your fire!" He called back to Clem, more taunting than angry. "That one nearly tripped me!"

"Then watch where you're walking!" Clem shot back, before promptly shooting one of the sparkling freaks to the left of Jake.

Jake grinned and sped up. He was close to his destination now. He could see the statue, huge and imposing against the darkening sky. Or at least, what remained of it. Most of the top had recently been removed by a walker shell. Jake could see where it had landed, off to the right. Judging by the black smear under it, one of the sparkling fighters had been unlucky enough to be under it when it hit.

A buzzing noise filled the air. Jake glanced up. Above him, an airship hung over the town center like a malicious red cloud. On its gondola Jake could see the name JennyHaniver.

Their escape ship, piloted by Tom Nastworthy. Probably being used by Beta Team as an artillery spotter to direct their fire.

As if drawn by his thoughts, another shell soared in towards him like a pass thrown by a quarterback. Jake had enough time to see the green paint on its side and throw himself to the ground before it burst apart with a dull pop. A soft whistling noise filled the air, and when Jake glanced up from the ground he saw sparklers and wolfs falling in all directions. One too close to the statue was forced against it and stuck there, impaled by the dozens of tiny metal spikes Jake knew came out of the green-painted rounds.

He rose from the ground and pulled his radio out.

"Beta Team, Alpha One! Watch your fire! We're at the statue and that last beehive shot nearly got us!"

"Roger that. Apologies, sir. We're adjusting our fire." A male voice replied this time instead of Deryn. Alek, Deryn's Austrian boyfriend, judging by his accent.

"Yeah, you better be sorry, Clanker." Jake growled, turning the radio back off.

There was a thud behind him as Clementine joined his position. Jake eyed her, making sure she wasn't hurt. She wasn't. She looked normal, except for the brilliant blush in her cheeks which showed off her freckles, the evil glint in her green eyes, and the free hand she was currently shoving down the front of her armored pants.

"I've got five," she said, meaning dead enemies. "What about you?"

"Four-" Jake started to speak, but stopped as another of the sparklers came around the corner. He fired his rifle one-handed and the freak went down, minus an arm and most of its head. "Make that five."

"Huh." Clem said, grinning. She raised her own rifle and cut down one of the wolfs in mid-change. The corpse, half-man, half-wolf, crashed to the ground and knocked over a sparkler, which Jake quickly finished of with a long-range headshot.

"Six and six." Jake noted calmly. Clem scoffed and quickly blew away a sparkler who was running to join the fight.

Jake matched her again, dropping the sparkler's buddy, but as his victim fell he noticed that the battle was escalating. More of the sparklers were coming out of practically every building, and Jake could hear the sounds of more wolfs approaching from behind and to the sides of him, dog-like breathing mixed with bone-chilling howls.

Jake's radio crackled. He snatched it up and clicked it on.

"Alpha One here! Go ahead!" He shouted, blind firing his rifle at another sparkler who had gotten too close.

"Two here, boss." Chris's voice came through. "We're on the third floor of the target building. Looks like you got ten buttloads of tangos inbound to your position."

"No shit!" Jake howled back. "Do you have the package?"

"Jas's working on getting it." Chris replied. In the background, barley audible over the static of the connection, Jake swore he heard the sound of something screaming. "But it looks like half the fucking Cullen clan's here. They must really want to protect this Bella chick. Jas's having to take it slow to avoid collateral. She hasn't really mastered Mustang's gloves yet, and that dino's only good for taking out one of these freaks at a time. Hey, you do want Miss Swann in one piece, right?"

"What do you think?" Jake asked angrily. "What about that chainsaw of hers?"

"Grell's death scythe? Yeah, it's too big for this. She got the damn thing stuck in a wall the moment we walked through the door."

"Fine. Just get the package and get it to the LZ." Jake cringed as a dead wolf slammed to the ground near him. "I'd rather not be here for much longer."

"Copy that. Hey, I've got a clean view from here," Chris noted. "Give me the word and I'll cook these sons a bitches."

Jake paused, and glanced at the area around him. The fighting was getting worse, and more dead wolfs and sparklers were falling around him, one close enough to spray black goo over his shoes.

"Do it!" He howled into the radio.

"Roger that. Dropping the Hammer of ODIN in three..."

Jake cut off the radio the moment he heard what Chris said. Quickly, he grabbed Clem by her arm (causing her to gasp and almost drop her rifle) and pulled her behind the statue, into the shady place produced by its pedestal.

"What the hell, Hunter?" She yelled. "This isn't the time to make out!"

"Chris's dropping the Hammer!" Jake shouted back.

Clem's face drained of color.

"Shit, we gotta-"

The rest of her sentence was lost to Jake. In that moment, the sky seemed to split open.

A roaring, shrieking column of pure energy burst from above and impacted the ground four yards from where the statue was.

The instant it did, everything in that area died.

Any wolfs and sparklers within a yard of ground zero instantly vaporized, turned into shadows on the ground. Anything beyond that simply caught fire, or was carbonized into a dusty statue. Windows melted or exploded into shards from the force of the blast. Roofs ignited as their shingles caught fire. Wooden buildings evaporated into clouds of debris. Anything metal liquefied, sending streams of glowing slag into the street. The street itself cracked and burned, then heaved as a gas main under it exploded. Every ounce of water within a fifty yard radius flashed from liquid to gas, filling the whole area with a scalding steam.

Jake and Clem huddled behind the statue's pedestal, protected from the lance of death by the thick local rock of its construction. The waves of fire currently burning the town swept around the base of the statue like water around a boulder, sucking most of the air out of their hiding point and making it amazing cold. The statue above itself melted under the intense heat, providing them a strangely wondrous view of metal rivulets soaring through the air over them.

Over the radio, Jake faintly heard Chris calling out in joy at the destruction he'd caused and Jas mentioning that the package was secure and they were calling for exfil. Unaffected by the lance of light, the JennyHaniver floated serenely over to the designated landing zone.

Despite the situation, and how close they were to the possibility of death and the waves of fire roaring around them, Jake found himself pulling Clem to him. He could see his own reflection in her eyes, lit by the fire of death that wrapped around their shelter.

"Now's the time to make out." He said softly, cupping her chin.

And he promptly did just that.

The moment his lips touched Clem's, a sudden darkness swallowed Jake. It was like someone threw a switch and the sun went out.

He could feel that he wasn't in the center of Forks any more. The feelings of the statue, the fire, and, most depressingly, Clem's body were gone. All Jake could feel now was a sort of cold vacuum.

He wasn't blind, though. He could see himself. But everything else was a blank void of black.

Then there was a sudden rushing, liquid noise, like a river. Jake spun, looking for the source. But there was just the void. Nothing moved, nothing that could be causing the rushing noise.

Something joined the rushing. At first, Jake thought it was part of it. Slowly, though, it became clear it was something else. A rhythmic, throaty beat. A chuckle.

From the blackness all around him came a voice. One very familiar, but without something to place it with.

Atlast, it said, sending shivers up Jake's back. Backonthefrontagain.Itsbeentoodamnlong.

"Who are you?" Jake shouted into the dark.

The voice chuckled again.

Youalreadyknowmequitewell, it said.

Before Jake had time to ponder this, he felt something warm and wet swirl around his feet. He glanced down.

He was ankle-deep in some red liquid, which had seemingly come out of nowhere. At first, he thought it was Kool-Aid or something similar. But it was too thick, and far too sticky. Intrigued, he stuck his finger in and tasted it. Coppery.

Revulsion hit him like a brick in the gut; he was standing in blood.

And it was getting higher.

He hadn't noticed it earlier, but now, as he watched, he could see the pool of blood was slowly rising, coloring parts of his pant that had until then been dry. Jake took a step backward in horror, which only caused him to loose his balance and fall backwards into the rising red tide.

He stopped his fall with his hands, but his fall seemed to open some unseen floodgate. As he rose to his feet, he was splashed in the chest by a wave of blood. He fell again, but never hit bottom. Before he could, another surge lifted him, sending his body spinning around like a bottle in rough surf.

The ocean analogy quickly proved even more apt as Jake felt his feet leave bottom. He was floating, out of control and soaked to the skin in blood.

He struggled, and a coppery wave splashed over his head. When he forced himself back up, sputtering and gagging, he could hear the voice laughing.

He opened his mouth to shout something at it, but another bloody wave slammed into him, forcing him deep into the red depths. He struggled, trying to swim up, but the blood seemed to be pulling him down. Still he fought, gaining inches through sheer will and fear.

Just as his fingers broke the surface, there was an all-mighty pull from below, like someone pulling the plug out of a tub, and Jake was sucked back down again.

He let out a scream, a long line of glistening bubbles rising up as he was dragged into the darkness.

Jake jerked awake with a gasp worthy of any bad TV show. But in this case, it wasn't just drama that made him do it. He could still feel the blood of his dream coating him, the sticky, coppery taste still in his mouth. He gagged, but there wasn't anything actually there. He pushed himself up against the couch and took a couple deep breaths, clearing his head.

A sudden cold feeling seized him, and his whole body started to shake.

Adrenaline letdown, he thought. The same thing that had dropped Karolina before he went to bed. Or something similar.

But this one was a lot worse than what the alien girl had gone through. Jake's was brutal compared to it. He felt like his muscles were trying to shake themselves off his bones. His throat clenched tight, making it hard to breath. It felt like there was a hole in his chest, sucking everything around it in. His eyes burned, and he felt tears force their way down the sides of his face. He crossed his arms over his chest, trying to force some heat back into his body. It didn't do much good, and if anything made the sudden sucking feeling in his chest worse.

Something warm pressed against his cheek, sliding through the lines of dampness left by his tears and sending tingles up the nerves in his face. He inhaled sharply, jerking up straighter.

"Bad dream?" Karolina's voice drifted softly from the couch. The warm spot on his cheek moved, trailing down rest on his neck. Jake reached up and placed his hand on the spot, feeling long, nimble fingers under his palm. Karolina's hand.

"Yeah. Fucking nightmare." He replied hoarsely. His throat was still tight.

"Must have been. You were making funny noises." Karolina noted. "Your skin's ice cold. Are you feeling okay?"

"I'll live." Jake replied automatically. Without meaning to, he slipped his hand into Karolina's. Heat spread through his hand, sending sparks up his arm as feeling returned to his fingers.

"Probably isn't helping that you're on the floor." Karolina's voice was soft and kind, soothing to Jake's rattled nerves. "Why don't you come up here?"

Jake paused and considered his options. Which consisted of either staying on the cold, hard floor and suffer until whatever had seized him let go, or climbing onto the couch and maybe sharing some of Karolina's apparently abundant warmth and obvious concern for him.

"Yeah, I'm coming up." Jake said, rising from the ground with a groan and a shudder. He practically collapsed onto the couch, which was thankfully now only occupied by Karolina. Molly had, at some point, rolled off the couch onto the floor and was now, Jake noticed, under it, snoring softly.

Jake let out a sigh as he sank into the cushions of the couch. After laying on the floor for so long, it felt like settling into a cloud.

He felt something warm encircle his midriff and pull him down sideways, so that he ended up with his head practically in Karolina's lap. An accident that he was, in all honesty, quite fine with. He sighed, inhaling the scent of her pajama bottoms happily. She smelled like sunlight. If that was even possible.

Jake watched out of the corner of his eye as Karolina looked down at him, a look of concern on her face.

"Are you sure you're okay?" She probed. "You look like you've-"

"If you say 'seen a ghost', I'm going upstairs." Jake cut in. But there was no real force behind the threat. Now that he was here, on the couch and more specifically Karolina's warm lap, he wasn't really sure if he wanted to get up under his own power. Ever.

"Well, you look shaken." Karolina replied, a weak smile playing on her lips. She absentmindedly stroked Jake's forehead, leaving lines of warmth on his still-sweaty skin. "That must really have been one hell of a nightmare." She paused, then looked down at something on the floor next to her. Jake was pretty sure it was the pile of ash that used to be Topher. "Though after what just happened..."

"Funny, but it actually had nothing to do with that." Jake felt the sentence leave his mouth without intending it too. Well, it wasn't like he had anything else better to do than elaborated...

"You remember Clementine Jones, right?" He asked. Karolina jerked slightly, then nodded.

"Yeah. We had a couple classes together, and she helped run the Gay-Straight Alliance. And I was at the hospital with my parents when-"

She stopped, looking guilty.

"Oh, jeez. You're nightmare...was it the accident?"

"Nah, I'm over that." Jake laughed, guiltily. Because he wasn't, not really; even now, he could still remember that horrible antiseptic and rotting flesh smell, the ambulance gurney under his back, the dull hospital lights, Mr. and Mrs. Jones sobbing and then cursing, the body-numbing shock. Sneaking through the dead halls, so drugged up on morphine he was seeing things but determined to make sure Clem's remains got the proper treatment, not whatever Christian bull-shit her parents wanted. The weeks of fake compassion from people he didn't know or hated that would have made Clem go crazy...

He snapped back with a shiver.

"Well, I dreamed about it earlier." He continued, hoping Karolina had missed his zone out. "Before our fight with Edward. But I'm over that, like I said. This last dream...well, it wasn't really a dream."

"It was one of those memory things you told me about earlier?" The alien girl asked quietly. "And...Clem was in it?"

"Yeah, that's the long and skinny of it." Jake couldn't help but be slightly impressed by the girl's quick thinking. A dumb blond she certainly wasn't, as if he'd ever doubted it in the first place. Something he didn't mind one bit.

"You could be wrong." She suggested, looking thoughtfully off into the broken ceiling above them. "Maybe it actually was a dream, but it just seemed like one of your memories. I mean, that's what dreams are. Our brain attempting to file away memories and random thoughts. According to Molly's dad, anyway."

"And you trust the word of an evil mutant?" Jake asked sarcastically. He couldn't help himself. Karolina scowled down at him, but there was no menace in it.

"It's not just him. I heard the same thing in my Beginning Psychology class."

"Huh." Jake grunted, but nodded. He liked that suggestion. It certainly was easier to think about than the other possibility, which was...what? That Clem was somehow related to his lost past? That he's actually killed vampires and werewolves in Forks alongside her?

He shook himself mentally. The idea was too weird to even think about.

"Makes sense." He said finally. "I have been thinking about her a lot this week. I thought Nico was her, for a moment, back at that meeting where this all started. He clothes, you know. And then when we were coming back from the Circle A you guys talking with Topher sparked something, and now this..." He shrugged and sighed.

"So, how are you holding up?" He asked. Karolina made a grunt equivalent to "no comment".

"Alright, all things considered." She looked over Jake again, this time in the opposite direction. Jake shifted his head to follow her gaze and guessed she was looking at Alex and Nico, who were curled up in an almost-sexual way ("spooning", Jake remembered randomly, though he had no idea where the word had come from).

"I'd be more worried about them, really. Especially Alex." He face turned soft as she glanced over the bespectacled boy. "You know how he is. He'll be beating himself up for days for this."

Jake noticed her eyes get hard, and suspected she was about to start berating herself for following the boy in his line of thought and not seeing Topher for what he was faster. He reached up and grasped her shoulder firmly.

"Don't you start beating yourself up either." He ordered. "That bitch tricked us, and we kicked his ass in return. That's a win for us, right?"

"Yeah." Karolina didn't sound so sure. She absentmindedly started rubbing Jake's chest. "I guess."

She paused again, leaning her head back into the couch to look at the ceiling. Her hand continued to rub Jake's chest as she did. "So, what about us?" She asked.

"What about us?" Jake asked back, feeling a little confused again. He had a semi-solid idea of what she meant, but he wanted to make dead sure of it.

"What are we now? I mean, all this kissing, and the fighting...are we a couple? Or what? I mean, not that I don't want to be if you want to be but-"

Jake sat suddenly upright, cutting Karolina off. He softly kissed her again, silencing her protests once more against his lips.

"Shhh." He said, pulling back and replacing his lips with his finger. "Don't think about it to hard. How bout we let this wait till tomorrow, okay?"

The words spilled out of him like he'd said them before. But to who, and on what, he didn't know, and he was too tired to try and find out. He let the deja vu slip away, focusing instead on the dreamy look in Karolina's eyes.

"Okay." She smiled around Jake's finger, then sat back into the cushions of the couch. "Actually, I think I might just try-"

She interrupted herself with a massive yawn, one of the ones that left your mouth aching for seconds after. Jake just smiled and lay back down.

Karolina sighed, and then went quiet. After a minute, Jake realized she was asleep.

Good, she needs the rest, he thought. Now I just need to-

Iwaswonderingwhenyou'dfinishflirting.

Oh hell.

Hannah chuckled, a sound that sent a shiver up Jake's spine.

What do you want? I'm kinda tired here, you know, he griped.

You'vedonemoreonlesssleep, the AI quipped back. Now,aboutthatstuffweweretalkingaboutearlier-

Jake groaned inwardly. Admittedly, he wanted to know about what had been going on during the fight. The voice in his head, his sudden plasma hands, where Hannah had been while he was getting his ass kicked...

But mostly, he wanted to sleep. He could deal with all the questions in the morning. And he said so to Hannah, in no uncertain terms.

Well fine then, she replied, sounding put off. I'll just sit here in the teenage wasteland that is your mind until you wake up again.

You do that, Jake thought, closing his eyes and curling up closer to Karolina's warm, sweet-smelling body.

And for once, he didn't dream.

End of Issue 5, End of Arc: Teenage Wasteland

Next: Lost and Found

A/N: And there we go. Behold, I actually got out of my writing funk and finished it! Hope you guys liked the "remixing" there. And if you think this was different, wait till we get to the next arc. Let me just say this...if you're hoping for Cloak and Dagger, prepare to be disappointed. If not...well, I think you'll enjoy what I have in store.

And now, to go start Lost and Found.

Cmdr. Gen. Marasco, Over and Out.