NOTES: Please forgive any 3am typos. I will be rereading and editing tomorrow, I just wanted to get this up before bed!
"It's been long since I've lost all fears and concerns. I don't worry, I calculate." ~ Alexander Lebed
The gunslinger's eyes scanned the horizon once more. He woke up with the sun, had for years now, and although the breathtaking sight of the natural light spilling out over the remains of the Forbidden City should have been considered beautiful, to him it was simply a sign of things to come. They had a good solid 10 hours of daylight before the sun began to hide its face, and in the darkness was where the City came to life.
During the day it was simply a pathetic dead thing, lying there with the clever disguise of long abandoned ruins.
Draco had been to the city only once since the bombs fell. He had a scar on his right shoulder from it, a scar he hadn't dared heal with magic at the time. He hadn't gotten to a safe place where magic was possible until the wound closed up in an ugly, jagged line. Now it was a constant reminder, and on some nights when it got extremely cold, the scar ached.
He glanced at his horse, lazily grazing surrounding patches of grass. The animal knew that something was about to happen, for while its attention seemed to be on the food it tore out of the ground, its eyes constantly scanned the area and the ears were ever shifting at sounds no human could possibly hear. Animals were intuitive-this was something he'd learned even back at Hogwart's thanks to Filch's fucking cat. And the owls. Merlin, he missed the owls. Who would have thought he'd miss them? Hunted like the wizards themselves, they were considered a tool of magic, and therefore destroying them to the point of extinction was considered the best form of confiscation. After all, the wizard who couldn't communicate with other wizards was less likely to cause an uprising.
Draco pulled his gun from his left holster, flicking the cylinder out to check the ammunition again. It was filled completely, six shining bullets there inside the cylinder they were designed for, but over the years Draco had learned that one could never be too sure of whether their weapon was loaded or not. Holstering it, he took his other gun out, giving it the same careful attention before holstering it again.
"Where did you get them?"
Her voice should have startled him, but he hardly seemed to react, gaze still on the sunrise. "Does it matter?" Draco finally asked, glancing at her.
"I suppose not," Hermione agreed. "I was just curious."
"They were a gift from a friend," he admitted, and it was clear in his tone that this was all he was going to tell her about the matter. "Don't look so surprised, Granger, I do have friends." They were few in number and even fewer in surviving count, but that was entirely beside the point. She didn't need to know that he hadn't had anyone to consider a real friend until after the bombs fell.
Before that it had been difficult to tell if someone was befriending him out of fear or the desire to get in a Malfoy's good graces to work through the ranks towards Voldemort's favor.
And then there had been the girls. Like Pansy. Fucking Pansy. She'd taught him a lot of things without even meaning to, lessons he kept in mind still today.
Lessons that weren't needed around Granger.
As his thoughts turned to the face of the friend who had given him the weapons he held so dearly, Draco almost welcomed Wood's annoying voice as interruption when he walked outside. "One horse?" he asked.
"Unless you've got a couple hiding around here," Draco replied with dry sarcasm. Humor had all but left his personality over the last few years, but there was something about being around an old rival that brought it out. He could only imagine what being around Potter would bring out in him.
"We'll take the brooms," Wood commented, glancing at Hermione now.
"You know they're illegal," she reminded him with a sigh, already sounding tired. Was it possible that just the thought of their journey was tiring her? If that was the case, she wasn't going to last too long, so Draco decided right then and there to not depend on her too much.
That had always been Potter and Weasel's biggest mistake.
"Once we're inside the city borders there will be no one there to enforce that rule," Wood argued, moving back into the small house to fetch whatever brooms he and Hermione had managed to keep over the years.
"He's right," Draco commented casually, putting his focus on his guns as he holstered them and made sure his belts were positioned to make the weapons easy to reach. "Dementors don't give a damn about magic use."
"So it's true then?" she asked him, folding her arms in front of her. "They've taken over the city?"
"Parts of it," he replied, moving towards his horse to check on the saddle. Everything seemed to be in place, but he felt the need to recheck it all just in case. It also kept him too busy to look directly at Hermione as he explained, "Muggles couldn't kill them, so they let them have free reign of London, but the Dementors have only taken parts of it, and they're not the worse thing there."
"How do you-you've been there, haven't you?"
He almost smiled at the fact that she was only just coming to this realization, but in the end the fearful expression on her face made him pause. "Yes," Draco replied. "Same friend of mine who gave me my guns went in looking for someone she cared about," he explained.
"She?" Hermione asked. But on this, Draco wasn't going to budge. He'd had enough personal talk for one morning, and gratefully Oliver walked back out just in time again, carrying two old brooms.
"They're not much, but they'll fly," he explained.
"I'll tie them to the left of my horse," Draco offered. "They never look over there." Oliver nodded but was ultimately hesitant to actually give the brooms up. "Oh come on!" Draco snapped. "Worst case scenario, I end up being burned alive after they catch me with them instead of you," he pointed out.
He handed the brooms over, and ten minutes later they were securely fastened against the left side of his horse. Glancing at the two of them, Draco looked at Hermione. "Have you ever ridden a horse before, Granger?" Wood opened his mouth to correct him on her name again, but Hermione cut him off.
"Once or twice," she replied. "Why do you ask?"
"Because the only way this isn't going to seem suspicious is if you ride it and we walk," he replied. "Our story is simple-you're sick, and we need to get to the other side for medicine."
It was a believable story only because medicine was hard to come by these days, and what was left lied somewhere within the Forbidden City. People had suffered horrible deaths in an attempt to find the medications they needed, but with a gunslinger these two would appear to actually have a chance. Unlike most who asked for entrance to the city.
The guards were forever suspicious. If a gunslinger were to ride his own horse and make a woman walk, it would only make them ask more questions. So she would have to ride.
"Once we're past the guards, you can ride your soddin' broom," Draco added, "but in the meantime…"
"Alright," she replied, making her way towards the animal.
This was how they found themselves coming upon the dark entrance to the Forbidden City and hour later. The guards did not immediately show themselves, but they made their presence known from the tower to their right with a siren that fired off noise so loud it startled the horse for a moment and caused the three of them to cover their ears until it passed.
The large, tattooed man who walked out to meet them carried an axe with him that he rested on his shoulder. His walk was forced, with a slight limp on his left leg that hinted towards an old injury of some sort that had never quite healed. His face was scarred, and where it wasn't scarred inked images and words took up the space of skin that would have otherwise been clear.
After the bombs fell, escaped prisoners had taken over London. Over the years they had gained a reputation for brutally keeping "normal" folk out of the city, becoming extremely territorial over it. It was commonly accepted that should you ask for entrance to the city, you would have to pay a toll of some sort, and anyone who tried otherwise was violently cut down and made an example of. The Guards-as they'd ironically come to be known-were infamous for torturing their victim and dismembering the bodies to send back to relatives as a reminder. If there was no family left, they kept the bodies visible for any approaching public.
There were two corpses hanging from the tower the Guard had come from even now. One was missing an arm and nearly skeletal, but the other was fresh enough that his eyes had only just melted a week or so before and his purple skin was only beginning to dry out in the sunlight. Death was the most abrupt of reminders and it faced them now openly.
"You seek passage, Gunslinger?" the Guard asked, speaking to Draco while he kept his gaze flickering to Hermione and Oliver.
"I do," Draco replied. He kept his tone indifferent, calculated to sound like a man without any emotional attachment to the situation. If the Guard thought they were too desperate to enter the city, the price would go up.
"You have payment?" The tattooed man glanced at Hermione as if to ask if she was the payment, and Oliver glared at him before instinctively moving to stand in front of the horse.
Hermione watched nervously from where she sat on the horse. Although Draco had clearly grown and matured over the years, it made her nervous that the Guard-an ugly man with a fowl stench about him that reminded her of the few trolls she'd run into in her lifetime-was speaking only to him. Of course a gunslinger would always demand attention in a situation like this, but the difference here was that this particular gunslinger had once been an enemy.
Part of her wondered if he still was.
"Of course," Draco finally replied to the Guard, before turning to make his way towards the horse she sat on now. The Guard tensed, gripping the axe he held a bit tighter as he watched.
Draco returned with something wrapped up in an old cloth. Unfolding the dirty material, he revealed a vial of some sort and held it out towards the Guard, who stared at it in suspicion.
"Is this some kind of magical potion?" While the Guards themselves hated everyone equally, they were not above turning in a suspected witch or wizard for reward, and even Oliver tensed a bit at this question.
But Draco remained not only calm, but slightly amused it seemed, smiling as he looked at the other man. "If you can call perfume a potion," he replied in an almost playful tone. "I suppose it's bewitched a thousand men over before, but the woman who once wore it is no longer in need of the scent, and I assumed that a man such as yourself-" Draco glanced towards the decaying bodies tied to the tower behind him, "-would appreciate a change in pace."
And such a gift was rare these days. Hermione bit her bottom lip as she watched, wondering where Draco had gotten the perfume, if he'd killed to get it, and who this woman the wizard kept referring to was.
"What is your reason for entering the city?" the Guard asked, taking the small vial now to study it.
"My sister is sick," Draco replied. "Sick enough to need medications that can't be found here. Her husband has asked that I escort them to find the supplies they seek."
The lie startled her so much that Hermione very nearly corrected him, but when the Guard turned his ugly gaze to her, she nodded.
The Guard glanced at the three of them, then brought the axe away from his shoulder. "You may pass," he told them, carefully gripping the weapon as he watched them walk past him.
Getting past the Guard had been nerve-wracking, but it was hardly the worse thing they were to face today, and Hermione was filled with a sense of dread as they finally put some distance between themselves and the city's border.
There was no going back now.
"Who was she?" Oliver asked after a while, breaking the darkened silence. They had walked for nearly ten minutes through the debri-filled streets of what had once been downtown London without saying a word. The silence was overwhelmingly stressful, and while Hermione seemed relieved that someone had finally spoken, Draco showed no emotion one way or another.
In fact, he nearly insisted on more silence. It would keep them alive longer. But chances were the Dementors already knew they were there, and they were merely biding their time until the sun set.
And he was tired of them staring at him strangely every time he mentioned that he'd actually had a friend in the past.
"You know who," Draco commented.
"Pansy?" Hermione guessed, and Draco actually laughed and stopped walking altogether for a moment.
"Even nuclear war couldn't make me care for her, Granger," Draco assured the witch, glancing at her where she sat on his horse.
"Then who?" Hermione asked, annoyed that he wasn't simply answering her.
"Who was the last person you saw me with?" Draco asked.
Silence fell again, and Hermione seemed to think about this for the longest time before realization crossed her features. "No…" she whispered. "She would never-"
"Trouble," Oliver commented, breaking off the conversation as he pointed towards a group of people approaching them. While many of the prisoners had become the Guards, some had broken off and created gangs, taking in survivors that were tough enough to live up to their lifestyle.
The men that approached them now had the look of one of those gangs, markings on their face in make-up to signify who they represented. The symbols meant nothing to Draco.
His hands moved to rest on his guns, and he waited until they were within speaking distance to call out to them. "We don't want any trouble, and we're not here to take your territory," he assured them. "We simply want to pass through." Behind him, Hermione climbed off of the horse and moved to stand near Oliver.
What happened next happened so quickly that Oliver wasn't even aware of what was going on until the red spot on his shirt began to grow. All he knew was that he had just witness Draco Malfoy drawing his weapons and shooting the man who had shot at them all within a matter of seconds.
When one of the other men reached for his gun, Hermione's voice rang out from behind both Oliver and Draco. "Protego Maxima!" Wand out, the shield that formed around the three of them stopped the bullet, disintegrating it on contact. The gang stood there, staring at her in disbelief, and both Oliver and Draco seemed just as surprised.
"Forbidden City," she reminded them. "Different rules." And then she turned towards Oliver, helping him stand as the sudden loss of blood caused him to become weak.
"There are no rules in this city, witch," the gang leader muttered, directly before all hell broke loose.