She thought it was the sound of the world shattering.
Earlier, the night was filled with gunshots and screaming. So much screaming. The blurred colors of clothing breezing past were so dizzying. She spun along them, trying to keep her hold of the small hand in her own. So tiny she thought that the chorus of running and screaming was going to drown that away, force her to let go. Even if it probably hurt him, she kept her grip like iron.
The bag in her other hand had been swiped when she unloaded off the bus. That didn't matter. Something else was. It was gold and her IDs, documents, credit cards and cash were all rock in comparison. Her mind was focused, despite its confusion, on a little girl. So tiny.
She screamed until her voice was hoarse, trying to fight past the barrage of panicked shouts and stampeding feet. When the commotion died down, her being dragged some feet from the broken down bus from the swarms of people speeding off, she could look around. The black-haired woman held her son tightly around her arms; kept on gripping harder even in his whines of pain. Tears streamed down her face, sobs choked out from her throat, her mind and mouth repeating one name.
Her little girl. A piece of her heart had been viciously stolen.
She didn't know what allowed her to push on. As she stared at her son's dark green eyes; heard questions of where his sister was, she gathered courage to tell him they were looking for her. She was just lost. Her little girl was just lost.
The forest was dark and frightening at night. Sometimes she feared that she was just getting lost herself. But she had to be strong. If her son knew that she was scared, he would be frightened too. So she continued with a brave face.
The gunfire hadn't stopped at the accident's location. It continued on. She occasionally saw them. They were wearing army issue uniforms. At first she reacted with confusion. She had thought to ask for help, but then the man had shot at them. Anger was her next reaction. She had to thank years of tennis that made her legs sturdy enough and fast enough to get both of them out of there.
It was a quick decision to distrust all of the men she originally considered authority. Whenever she saw one, she made sure they didn't have the time to hurt her or her son. Never fatally.
Someone else wasn't being quite as kind, though. She saw the bodies. She hid her son's eyes from them. Always made an excuse about why they were going another way. Filled with thorns, that one, he'll scrape his poor knees.
A man who was filching a dead person's - no, honey, he's just sleeping - things had pointed a knife at her and demanded for her belongings. She had told him in all honestly that she lost everything in the stampede. He didn't believe her. He demanded for the ring on her finger. The image of a man with strong, hopeful green eyes flashed in her head. The same green eyes her beautiful little girl had. She felt herself bristle, her other hand covering the ring.
The thief didn't take well to resistance and grabbed her baby boy. Her child crying in pain at the man's grip made her blood boil. Deciding to point the knife at her child's throat was his biggest mistake. Kicking the man in between his legs, the thief staggered backwards and grazed her boy's cheek. The blood that trickled down her baby's face angered her more, prompting her to quickly pick up a branch as the man moved to retaliate. Using both her hands to grip the branch, she hit the bastard in the face with all the force she could muster.
The commotion had caught the attention of a couple of soldiers. They shot at them from the trees. She couldn't see them. Her instinct was to dive forward and cover her son.
At some point, gunfire ceased. Raising her head, she looked around to see the soldiers' bodies splayed on the grass. In front of her was a man with a hood. Whatever light was in the area gave her a view of the white hair that fell around his face from under the cloth.
She stood up. She was so grateful. Brown eyes gleaming with happiness, she held her son's hand and tried to thank the man for saving her. Perhaps even request to follow him until they could escape the forest.
The movement of his arm was unceremonious, the man's expression entirely too emotionless. A shot was fired.
She staggered back and accidentally let go. When she looked back behind her, the sight of her baby boy crumpled on the ground greeted her. There was blood. So much blood.
The most piercing sound occupied her ears. She thought it was the sound of the world shattering. It was actually her, screaming in horror and grief.
She rushed to the boy. He was alright. He was alright. He just needed help. Maybe a doctor. Anyone. Someone in those group of people from the bus might still be out there to give help for her baby. Two steps and she was grabbed, her face muffled and her entire body carried. She struggled and struggled, kicked and elbowed, bit and scratched. The captor was just much stronger and he managed to take her away from that place.
Far away from where her son lay - he wasn't dead, just hurt very badly - she stared blankly on the puddle on the ground. One night and so much has changed from her. She looked horrible. Eyes bloodshot, greasy hair falling around her face and sticking on her skin because of mud, lips cracked and dry. She'd aged so much in a day. Her baby boy wouldn't recognize his mommy anymore. Kenny always called her the prettiest mommy ever. Her Gwen wouldn't like to play with that greasy hair.
From the back of her mind, she could hear his deep voice. It was as blank and monotonous as she felt.
He spoke about the ideal nature of the military facilities being placed in such a remote location. There was so much freedom of movement - she wished she could still scoff, but her soul was gone - in the area. He told her that she was ranked so low that she was probably on the priority list of who to kill first, along with her pathetic spawn. When he said those words, her hands clenched on the soil. She felt her long fingernails puncture her palms. Apparently, he helped her by disposing of the last one. She had potential. The government had much use for people who had - if not physical strength - at least some level of inherent strength they could draw to fight for survival.
Trailing her eyes towards him, even in her lack of interest to do anything anymore - even to live, she stared. His eyes were blood.
She should thank him, he said, for getting rid of her baggage.
With a broken sob, she pushed herself from the ground. The salt liquid falling down the side of her eyes sprayed when she launched herself at him. The only thing that rang in her head was the desire to scratch his face off.
The Devil You Know
People had a lot of things to say about letting go. It usually related to love. He guessed that in some way, those people were on the right track.
She kissed his lips, softly and sweetly. Even after years of marriage they usually stuck to embraces for signs of affection when in public. That was an odd day. It was partly out of the little known fact in his head, the one that made his heart race a million miles a minute, that he was willing to let go of the usual. They were at the bus station, his hands filled with the bags that she was taking to the vacation house - did she really need all those shoes? She placed her dainty fingers on his cheeks and pulled him down for a kiss goodbye. The slight flush on his cheeks were perhaps the only hints that this was something out of the ordinary.
In the corner of his eyes, he saw the little boy carrying her big handbag stick out his tongue and make puking sounds. His little sister was sleeping beside him, her head lolling down to rest on her brother's side. They looked so heartbreakingly normal, like the world was perfectly fine. Everyday of his life, he prayed that one day he would wake up and the only fear he would have around his children was if they were growing too fast.
Dark eyes stared back at him and glittered. They were so comforting, as a mother's always were, that it could fool him every time about the normalcy of the world. That the only horrible thing were the occasional fights on how he wasn't going to place a life-sized statue of his favorite video game character in the living room or things about the differences in their child-rearing. That the numerous cameras inspecting their every movement were innocuous, that the accidents were really just accidents. Sometimes, he wished he could just drown in her eyes and believe their innocence.
He embraced her again, just in case. He told her that he was going to follow soon after and that he just needed to take care of a couple of things. While he was the most allergic of documentation of the two of them, he offered to get all the stuff done so they wouldn't have trouble when they spent a few months of the summer in the next state. Due to the heavy restrictions of the System on everyone's movement, every step was practically monitored, all those steps needed paperwork.
Raising her eyebrow, she pointed out that if he hadn't put it off so late, he would have been coming with all of them. He just smiled in an embarrassed way that didn't give away that he put it all off on purpose. He was a good actor. While he couldn't lie on high stress situations, he trained himself to twist truths and to play personas so he wouldn't have to lie, per se.
The bus arrived. It was a large vehicle, much more than the usual. Several other families, other couples, other everyday people boarded the bus along with his family. He shoved the bags on the compartment at the top of their seat.
Affectionately holding his groggy little daughter in his arms, he kissed her forehead while she kept on trying to rub her eyes of sleep. His boy was a little more humiliated by his embraces and whined that he was a big boy now and that he didn't need a kiss. Ken rolled off his arms and sat himself over to the other side of his mother. Reaching out, he ruffled the boy's messy dark brown hair. Before he left the bus altogether, he still couldn't help but try to squeeze his wife's hand to comfort himself.
They were going to be fine. They had all the documents needed to get past the borders, they weren't going to resist the procedures and everything was going to be smooth sailing.
Just in case.
A man with a suitcase and a hooded jacket was about to enter the bus but stopped beside him. They were standing a certain distance, just to make sure the driver knew this guy was taking a ride but not blocking the rest of the passengers from entering. Said man's face soured at the sight of him and looked at him distastefully, as if the minute long conversation Ben was about to share was taking one minute too long.
Even when they were younger, looking at this guy's face was like staring at a mirror. A disfigured one, where it changed the color of his features and changed his expression drastically.
This guy should really stop introducing him to others and greeting him as his retarded, genetically inferior brother. Losing interest at his twin's insults, he gripped the man's shoulder and muttered at him to remember what this was about.
The smirk was ingratiating. While Kevin's was particularly irritating to Ben, this was probably worse. It was hard to forget those instances of seeing the same smirk be directly accompanied with him getting in trouble or being harmed in some way.
The babysitting was never a part of his job description, the white-haired man had responded coolly, taking care to emphasize how much he was owed now.
His brown hair barely shifted when his head nudged in acknowledgment. Then he pointed out that his twin was just paying off the fact that Ben had saved him from being jailed after his last stint. What with all those forged paperwork that let him get reinstated in his line of work, then not being hunted down by the System, the debt was the other way around.
As his twin was about to make another retort on racking up debts, the ticket inspector on the bus called out that the bus was about to leave.
He watched his brother snort, pull the hood around his face tighter with his free hand and lift the suitcase with his other hand.
With that man's record, he was probably even less trustworthy than even his black-haired, ex-convict, government-spy friend. One thing that ensured Kevin to become less unpredictable was the fact that he was too smitten with Ben's cousin to do anything stupid.
His brother sat quietly behind his wife and she took no notice of it, paying more attention to Gwenny introducing to mommy all the new dolls her daddy gave. Kenny was pulling at one of her toys' hair and making faces, keeping his wife busy. As the bus moved to leave, his brother just pulled out a book from inside the case and proceeded to read.
The man looked so normal. But looks could be deceiving, as Ben himself could attest to. He wasn't outright sadistic like Kevin could be, but his ruthless nature showed when he was crossed.
The first time their parents took notice, really finally took notice, was when his brother beat the tar out of one the bullies who dared insult him for his crowning glory: his intelligence. He was there too and one of the people who had tried to pull his brother off the kid before the bully's skull caved in. It was gruesome. Their parents were called in and were told that the kid suffered extreme injuries that his brother inflicted deliberately. It would have been fatal had nobody gathered the courage to intervene.
He just managed to get worse as he grew older. He was disinterested about their grandfather, who had been extremely kind to him. Grandpa's death had only been met with a blank look and a cold remark about his age that apparently should've made Ben expect it already. In response, he furiously lunged at his twin and tried to punch some sense, some empathy out of him. Their parents' deaths barely affected his twin, which was something Ben truly begrudged him for.
He didn't know if maybe his brother was right and that he was so painfully stupid. After all, he still had a piece of his heart willing to believe that his brother wasn't truly that monstrous.
The bus continued on its way, disappearing on to the horizon. His family needed protection from the constant looming threat of the totalitarian government. At the very least, his brother was the devil he knew.
I'll wrap my hate around your heart
Why would you tear my world apart?
I see the blood all over your hands,
Does it make you feel more like a man?
Was it all just a part of your plan?
The resistance movement was a futile exercise. It was like a small creature struggling under the foot of a much larger, more toothed monster. One had to commend the vermin for its insistence to flail and bite but it was evident in the end that it was simply a matter of prolonging the inevitable.
The same way that the rebels were an exercise in futility, all the occupants of that bus applied to that analogy. He had nothing against them. To be honest, he couldn't really bothered to give a damn about them. The only people he allowed to take some space in his periphery were the people his brother told him to baby-sit. Mouth skewing to the side, he flipped the page of the book more forcefully than necessary.
To reiterate, he had nothing against these people. Though he was still a scientist and there was a little curiosity behind watching their stupid, inane worries on their everyday lives. Especially when the border inspectors entered the bus and requested the documents. He had to bite off the derisive chuckle when some overweight woman complained about the heat since the bus remained open while inspection was going. Air-conditioning and soft comforts were the least of their problems now.
Handing his documents to the officer, there was quick flicking through the papers. The paperwork was returned to him and his baggage was inspected. A lot of questions were raised on why he needed all those equipment. He answered the questions, trying to control the instinctive muscle twitch in his eye as he responded. Luckily, the inspector was too busy looking through his materials for possible weapons to notice his nervous tic.
Occasionally, he allowed his eyes to travel to the woman on the seat in front of him. She was on the side closest to the aisles, speaking gently towards the inspector as if they were old friends. The answers she gave were completely honest and she was open about everything. Finally chiding himself for looking at something so unimportant, he redirected his attention to the inspector, whose facial expression changed minutely. She didn't take notice of it. Nobody did.
Nonetheless, his jaw clenched reflexively and he sat himself firmly on the cushioned seats. It was the only indication that he was readying himself for the events that would take place not too long from then. The inspectors left the bus. He kept his suitcase beside him, even if the man on his right stared at him as if he was being inconvenienced by the bag's presence.
Exactly an hour and twenty one minutes, a firecracker sound echoed and the bus lurched.
On the subject of comparisons, he was very different from his intellectually inferior, starry-eyed brother. While that man would do everything in his power to keep those passengers together and optimistically persuade them to assist each other like a big happy united group, he just watched.
Another shot. Nobody seemed familiar with the sound of gunfire produced from smaller calibers and he just rolled his eyes at their ignorant questioning at what the noises were. He just kept his iron grip on the suitcase and his gaze on the woman - who tossed her head from side to side in as much confusion as everyone else. The worry in her dark eyes was just so unfitting. Determined strength or soft, kind expressions were more her.
Her head turned when one of her children, he assumed it was the girl, asked about the sounds. When he couldn't look at her anymore without appearing nosy, his mouth flattened to a thin line.
He always wondered what in the world his brother did to convince this woman to marry him. She was relatively more intelligent than the twit and there wasn't anything truly interesting or attractive about the man. Hardly anything changed about his brother. Upon returning, he still found the dimwit obsessed with childish games and repulsive tasting cold drinks. The man was still too idealistic for his own good and still believed in the influence of his measly rebellion. If he wanted, he could still probably trick his twin into drinking iced toilet water or direct him to falling into a manhole.
Yet somehow, the idiot managed to put a coherent sentence together that allowed this woman to agree to spend the rest of her - likely going to be miserable - life with his twin. Miracles did happen, it seemed.
His line of thought had travelled, his mind trying to occupy itself from the boredom of the driver and his assistant attempting to replace the tyres while the passengers complained. It was getting dark. They were frightened about being confined to an isolated location and looking like sitting ducks. If he was interested in getting them to make more noise, he'd just confirm their fears. He kept his mouth shut and just placed his head on his hand in irritation. The only reassuring idea was that it wasn't long before they were all forced out of that bus.
His mouth tugged to one side when another shot was fired. The driver fell down dead. It took a few seconds before the screaming erupted. More shots. The ticket inspector also crumpled to the grass. They all finally understood.
The shots were being targeted on the inside of the bus, random people were just being killed from being wedged on their seats. He had ducked down instinctively. Taking advantage of the confusion and panic, he also took the opportunity to get the woman in front of him to crouch down while the first shots were fired. This cue was enough for her to pull her kids down too.
The people were pushing and trying to run out of the bus. They knew being in there was only going to trap them. Of course, their negative mob IQ also made them think that having a stampede was a good course of action. As he was pushed and kneed, he cursed angrily at the panicking fools.
When one of them trampled on his brother's wife, making her produce a pained scream at being hit, he indiscriminately shot his arm out. The next idiot to run over them fell. The ensuing panic didn't stop just because of a person falling - they simply trampled over him.
Losing patience, he pulled at her collar for her to stand. She followed through and got her kids to stand too. Her children were frightened, just staring at the chaos of people running, pushing and hurting each other out of the basic instinct to survive. Pushing his brother's family out in the flow of rushing people, he elbowed and punched his way through the people to make a wider space for himself. He just produced a short chuckle when the person he hit fell at the force.
At some point, the shoving from the throng had made him accidentally let go of the woman's shirt. For a time, he was just furious as he tried to fight past the crowd so he could locate her again. After being pushed farther into the forest as the passengers scattered, he stopped short. Looking around he found her in a clearing nearby, clutching her son while looking around desperately for the other child.
She returned to the bodies that had been trampled on the stampede before quickly getting herself and her son out of there. This quick inspection probably made her conclude that her other child was alive. He doubted it.
Instead of providing help, he allowed her to travel a while on her own. She did rather well, which just managed to impress him more. Honestly, he had no idea what qualities his brother scraped off the barrel to blind this woman into marriage.
Keeping tabs on her, he also quickly infiltrated one of the observation towers to hack into the military's information database. He was able to gather the ranking system and was congratulatory to himself at his low position on the priority list. After all, cleaning up his records actually worked. It would change eventually, he told himself as he picked up the weaponry the men carried in the tower.
He returned back to observe the woman's progress. All the while, he multi-tasked and made sure to assist the military by convincing them number one wasn't number one.
Eventually, she travelled close to one of his objectives. The military wasn't interested in killing this one but he was. The man had an extensive criminal record. The only reason why he crossed the border successfully was because of that training session.
Knitting his pale eyebrows and scowling at the heavy weapon in his hand, he hissed at the inefficiencies that was inherent in its design. He really should talk to the weapons' manufacturer of the government to maintain their quality even if it was just rookie-issue calibers.
His psychiatrist said that his amygdala was very low functioning and it explained why he only looked at this much taller, burlier, overly tattooed criminal with slight annoyance. The annoyance was only because he was eyeing the woman as if she was some kind of meat. And really. What disrespect.
He pulled the trigger. The silencer was enough to prevent his brother's wife from thinking anything was unusual. At least that part of the gun was still functional.
There were a few times that her pursuers - criminal or military - faced him first. Which was why he had the chance to kill them before they did anything stupid. The others were killing simply because they were opportunistic; wanted to steal and there was resistance or because they just wanted to kill. Soldiers were ordered to dispatch as many as they could and also to bring in those on their priority list. A constantly changing priority list anyway, now that he shook up the game a little.
He raised an eyebrow at her desire to keep her child blinded to the carnage around them. This was rather fruitless anyway. The child wasn't a part of his plan.
A thief. It was a petty thief that coaxed him to finally show himself. The military had been honing on killing this woman a long while now. But they were increasing their measures and setting their sights. There was more than the usual that pursued her this time after she knocked out the thief that threatened to hurt her child in place of her ring. Which honestly, she could have just given away since it was just a rock. She had made too much noise in the process.
She was so celebratory when he had disposed of her potential killers. Not so much when he finally decided to get rid of the boy.
Muffling her loud shrieking, ignoring the kicks she delivered on his legs and the bites she made on his palm, he dragged her out of that location before the snipers pinpointed her purely by her screech.
After calmly explaining the situation to her, she finally raised her head to him. He'd never been able to properly look at the woman face to face. He was only able to look at her far away and had never been appropriately introduced. He didn't know exactly what he said that did it. The blank expression on her face changed very subtly.
His own eyes widened when she jumped at him and attacked. A scratch on his face, a kick on his gut, a punch on his chest and he'd finally had enough.
What an ungrateful bitch.
He grabbed her arm and punched her on the middle. She fell to the floor unconscious.
Here, they haven't even exchanged names yet. While she did look better up close, he preferred her quiet like that. Out of his own personal bias, he still refused to draw the parallels between her, the other passengers or the rebellion.
Either way, she'd eventually learn that the outcome of his plan was inevitable. Which was why she was a little bit smarter than those idiots. Not that he could say he was on expert on her, but he knew for certain that she was actually a vermin willing to compromise.
I love you, I hate you,
I can't get around you,
I breathe you, I taste you,
I just can't live without you.
A/N: Pairings: Ben/Julie, Gwen/Kevin, Albedo/Julie, Myaxx/Tetrax, Charmcaster/Mike