Chapter 7 – "Sanctuary Part 2"
With Sarah's successful delivery behind them, Weaver called for a briefing in Command. Maggie wanted to get there early to ask about Tom and Dai, and was almost there when someone came tearing down the hall behind her, knocking her into the lockers. As she straightened up, a few choice expletives on the tip of her tongue, she realized it was Ben, followed closely by Dai. The words died on her lips as she ran after them, entering Command a few steps behind.
"Whoa, whoa, slow down now," Weaver was saying to Ben as she entered.
Ben paused for a moment and started again. "Clayton tricked us."
"What do you mean tricked us?" Weaver asked, looking from Ben to Dai. Dai just shrugged and nodded towards Ben.
Weaver focused his attention back on Ben as Maggie moved further into the room. "He didn't take us to keep us safe."
"What are you talking about?" Weaver asked. "The orders were…"
"Whatever he said was a lie!" Ben interjected.
"Watch it now son," Weaver warned.
Putting up his hands in defense, Ben took a deep breath and continued, "he didn't take us to protect us from the skitters, he took us because he was going to give us to the skitters."
Weaver shook his head, "that makes no sense."
It did though, Maggie thought to herself as she listened to them continue to argue. Clayton was smooth about it, sure, but why would the 2nd Mass doubt him? He said he'd received his orders from Porter—who were any of them to question that? Not to mention, the 2nd Mass was ripe with skitter bait.
"Look, I don't know everything," Ben relented, "all I know is that if Mike and Hal hadn't gotten us out of there when they did…" he paused, "we…we think Mike is dead," Ben said, his eyes finding his shoes.
Weaver perked up at that news.
"They were after us, shooting at us, but he stayed… and we got away. But Clayton and his men passed me when I doubled back for help," Ben continued. "They're still after us."
Maggie knew Hal would do what he could to keep those kids safe, but if Clayton had the manpower he told the 2nd Mass he had, and if Mike really was dead, unless they were well hidden, Hal and those kids wouldn't stand a chance.
"So what do you want me to do?" asked Weaver. "Weaken our already meager defense here? This attack could hit at any moment."
"We have to do something," Ben pleaded.
Weaver sat, thinking, but Maggie was pretty sure she had it all figured out. Live with a band of cons long enough and you start to think like them.
"What if there is no attack. What if it was all part of his con?" Maggie offered.
"What do you mean?" Weaver asked.
"If you're in deep with the skitters, kids are valuable currency," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "They send a single mech/skitter unit to attack us, put us on edge, and we hand the kids over without question. While we're here protecting the school, the kids are sitting ducks."
Dai nodded, agreeing. "Tom seemed to think this was pretty serious."
With a heavy sigh Weaver turned back to Ben, "So what are we supposed to do?"
After Ben and Dai relayed Tom's message, Weaver called the fighters in for a briefing. Those that had sent their kids on ahead were not happy to hear that they'd been duped. But Weaver convincingly assured them that they'd do whatever it took to get the kids back where they belonged.
After the meeting, the remaining fighters formulated a modified defense plan in case the attack wasn't another part of Clayton's ruse.
Maggie ended up trading her spot on the recovery mission for Neil's century duty. He was too anxious about his son's safe return to stand guard, so she offered to take his place. She was worried too, but the impending attack couldn't be completely dismissed—they needed focus on the line.
The night came and went without an attack. Shortly before sunrise Maggie took up position on the roof. Once there, time seemed to stand still. The more slowly the minutes ticked by, the more anxious she became. But six hours in she saw their plan had paid off. The tension left her body as she caught the first glimpse of the rescued group walking down the road.
Parents, family and friends all poured out of the school as the kids shuffled wearily over the lawn. The mood turned instantly festive. There were hugs, kisses, smiles, laughter—it was the reunion they'd all hoped for. It made Maggie smile.
As she scanned the crowd, her eyes landed on Hal, sandwiched between his brothers and father. It was good to see them back in one piece.
Maggie watched as parent after parent thanked the Mason's, particularly Hal. He was making quite a name for himself—rescuing harnessed kids, saving some of the 2nd Mass' youngest members from dirty skitter deals—he was becoming a real celebrity. She'd have to give him a hard time about it the next time they were on patrol.
Suddenly, she realized he was staring at her. Amongst all the chaos he'd somehow managed to spot her on the roof. He lifted his hand to wave, half-smile on his face.
'How long has he been staring at me, staring at him,' she wondered as she shook her head, lifted her hand and smiled back.
After the group made its way safely inside she looked at her watch. Only an hour and 45 minutes left in her shift. Taking up position, Maggie's eyes found the horizon once again.
Finding himself surprisingly full, Hal leaned back in his chair. To say the gym was chaotic would be an understatement, but spirits hadn't been this high in a long time, so he couldn't really complain.
Sitting here with everyone back safe, Hal still couldn't get his mind around the drastic turn the past few days had taken. In his wildest dreams he'd never imagined that humans would actually help the skitters. And to think what could have happened if he hadn't gone along…he couldn't even finish the thought.
But somehow it had all worked out. Not to say there weren't any casualties. Hal's throat tightened just thinking about what Mike had done to save them.
He'd walked Weaver his dad through what had happened on their way back from Sanctuary, but it was merely the facts—what had happened, how they'd escaped, the route they'd taken, the time spent at each location. But now that they were back, the danger they'd been in—how close they'd come to being traded to the skitters—it was hard to think about all of it. Not to mention the part Mike played in their escape. His eyes stung slightly at the mere memory of that moment—and the single shot that had rung out shortly after. If Maggie were here she'd probably tell him to suck it up, the thought of which made him smile.
He looked at his watch—they'd been back for about an hour. He wondered if she was still on duty. He wanted to grab a few hours of sleep but decided to swing by her room first. If she was done, he wanted to tell her about the memorial service they were having that evening for Mike.
He got up from his chair and laid his hand on his dad's shoulder.
"I'm going to go lay down for a bit before the service," he said, then picked up his empty dishes.
"Sounds good," Tom replied smiling.
Hal dropped off his plate and headed out of the gym.
Maggie had to give those regularly posted on the roof credit. She'd had her fair share of century posts, but usually it was roaming the halls or sitting on what used to be the old school bus parked out back. Her legs ached from hours of standing still, and despite it being the middle of the day, her bed was beckoning.
She'd just left the science lab, not thrilled that Pope was back, but happy to see both Sarah and Charlotte were doing well. As she rounded the last corner that led to her room she stopped short. Hal was on the floor outside her door, knees bent, arms draped over his legs, his head resting against the lockers with his eyes closed and mouth slightly open. He looked like he was sleeping.
She approached slowly as not to startle him, but even with her footsteps echoing down the deserted hall he didn't budge. She crouched down in front of him.
"Hal," she whispered as she gently shook his knee. Nothing. "HAL," she said more loudly, instantly startling him awake.
He sat up fast, wide-eyed, and looked around, trying to figure out where he was. She saw recognition enter his eyes as his gaze finally settled on her kneeling in front of him.
"Hey there," she said lightly.
"Maggie, hey," he replied as he slumped back down against the wall. She didn't miss the tension that had been in his shoulders as he'd struggled to orient himself with his surroundings just a second ago.
"What time is it?" he asked as he yawned and rubbed his eyes, oblivious to the watch on his wrist.
"It's just after two," she replied. "Why are you sleeping on the floor?" she asked as she stood up.
He shrugged. "I wasn't sure what time your shift was over," he explained, "I swung by to see if you were here to tell you about the memorial service for Mike tonight. My next stop was my room, but I guess I ended up sitting down instead."
She frowned, then held out her hand. He grabbed it and pulled himself up.
"When's the last time you slept?" she asked as she opened her door.
He stretched his arms over his head, yawned again and smiled, "it's been awhile."
She shook her head and laughed as he followed her inside.
As she shrugged off her coat, and unholstered her guns and placed them on the table next to her cot, he took a seat on the couch that he'd helped her drag down from the teacher's lounge a few days ago. She watched silently as he laid his head against the cushions, let out a deep breath and closed his eyes.
"So what happened?" she asked as she sat down next to him. She'd gotten the gist of it from Neil when he'd come up to thank her for taking his shift, but she wanted to hear it from Hal.
He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at her. She could see it all in his eyes, plain as day—the helplessness, the fear, the sadness…
He took a shaky breath, "I…" he started as his hand rubbed across his forehead. He stared at her for a few seconds, shook his head, "it was…" he tried to say something, anything, instead he just bowed his head and closed his eyes, breathing deeply.
She could tell he was trying to be strong and she admired him for it. But she also knew what it was like to see—to experience—the absolute worst in humanity—and to have no one to turn to. Part of what made him who he was—part of what she admired most about him—was his undying optimism. She didn't know where it came from, but it was a strength of his—one that the 2nd Mass couldn't afford to lose.
"When Pope and his gang grabbed me…well let's just say the situation wasn't ideal," she offered. He opened his eyes and turned his head to stare at her.
At first she smiled, trying to make light of it, but then she realized he wasn't looking at her like everyone else looked at her when someone brought up her time with Pope—there was no pity in his eyes, just curiosity and honest sympathy.
She took a deep breath and continued, "The things they did to me," she glanced away briefly but made her eyes return to his, "in situations like that you see humanity at its worst."
He nodded silently, agreeing with her.
"It almost doesn't seem real at first. But then it keeps happening," she paused, trying to keep her emotions in check, "and all of the sudden you find yourself accepting that that's the way things are. You start looking at things differently—thinking about things differently. You let it change you. And that's hard to come back from."
He stared at her for a long moment, taking in her words. She pulled her legs up to her chest, suddenly feeling vulnerable under his open gaze.
"Don't take this the wrong way," he finally responded, "because I'm glad that you are, but why are you telling me this?"
She smiled softly. "You've been through some pretty horrific stuff lately Hal, hell we all have."
"Yeah," he breathed out on a laugh.
"But when I was with Pope, it was just me. Here? It's not just you. All I'm trying to say is that you're not alone. If you want, you can talk about it, talk about anything—with me—with someone else. Just…don't hold things in. You don't have to carry it all on your own."
At that he bowed his head and rubbed at his eyes. "Sorry," he whispered.
"Don't be," she said as she unfolded her leg and nudged his knee with her foot.
She smiled when his eyes once again found hers, "now tell me what happened."
He started at the beginning. He told her about when they'd first arrived at Sanctuary. How normal it'd been—playing games, cooking in an actual kitchen, eating at a proper table. In hindsight he saw how 'too good to be true' it really was.
When he got to their escape, he gave her all the details. Trying to leave the house undetected, getting caught, running for their lives, Mike saving them all.
"I didn't want to leave him. I didn't," Hal said, "but they were closing in fast. When he was saying goodbye to Rick…it was like I already knew. I knew that we'd never see him again and I didn't want to get up. But the way he looked at me, with a father's eyes, I could see my own father in his stare. And I knew I couldn't let it be for nothing. So I grabbed Rick and we ran."
Throughout his explanation Maggie had been silent, just listening to what he was saying.
"Rick and I caught up with the rest of the kids in the woods. We could hear shouting and shooting as we were running, and then…"
He paused, his eyes left hers and found the ceiling. After a moment he looked back at her, found her simply waiting.
"And then a single shot rang out," he shook his head at the memory. "Rick and I just…we just stopped and looked at each other. We knew. We knew he was gone. Rick was looking back but we couldn't go back, so I pushed him forward."
Hal finished the story, told her about the house, how they'd been surrounded, how Tom had come and leveraged himself to keep the kids safe. Even how Clayton had pulled a gun on him when they're returned to Sanctuary, right before Tom had shot him.
"Jeez Hal," she'd said to that. "How many lives do you have?"
"I wish I knew," he laughed in response.
When all was said and done, he had to admit Maggie was right, it was better to talk about it. Saying everything out loud helped, and he found himself in a better mood because of it.
He'd sat with her for a few more minutes, she filled him in on Sarah's miraculous delivery. Hal couldn't believe that Weaver had had a hand in it. Then he'd left to try to get some sleep.
But when he returned to his room he didn't find it. His mind simply wouldn't stop spinning. Eventually Tom had come in to get him and together they'd headed outside.
As they walked down the front steps of the school, the sun was just getting ready to set. It felt warm on Hal's face as he walked side by side with his father. A crowd had already gathered near the spot they'd chosen.
As he took it all in, Hal thought Mike would have liked it. It was as true to a soldier's burial as it could be. Someone had built a marker with Mike's name on it—Neil and Dai were even holding an American flag.
Weaver was already standing nearest to Mike's grave. Hal and Tom walked up to stand on either side of him.
The murmur of voices surrounding them quieted. After a few moments of silence, Hal felt like someone should say something—and he felt like that someone should be him.
"I'd like to say something if that's okay," Hal said to Tom and Weaver. The surprise on Tom's face didn't escape Hal, but he masked it quickly.
"I think that's a great idea," Tom said. "Why don't you get things started."
Hal nodded and walked to the front of Mike's grave, staring down at the mound of fresh earth as he passed, thinking about those last moments—how Mike didn't hesitate for a second—how deciding to stay to fight really wasn't a decision at all.
Hal lifted his head and scanned the crowd. They were all looking at him expectantly. Not exactly sure what to say, he just started talking.
"Mike was a good man," he began, "a good father," he added as his eyes fell on Rick. "You could tell from being around him how much he loved Rick."
Hal thought again about how quickly Mike had given his own life to save the rest. How other members of the 2nd Mass before him had done the same, and how still more would meet the same fate in the future, all in the name of resistance—of hope. And then he thought about how many chose to take a different path. To run and hide, or worse, to help the enemy.
"Like all of us here today he was faced with a decision. He could have run, and saved himself… " Hal paused as his eyes drifted down to Mike's grave, his throat tightening, but suddenly he found himself filled with pride, "instead… he stood his ground and fought for us," he said, lifting his head. "I'm going to miss him." He spread his arms wide, including everyone, "we're going to miss him."
Finished, Hal returned to his spot next to Weaver. As his father moved to address the crowd, he felt fingers entwining with his own. He looked down to see Maggie's hand enveloping his, and glanced up and caught her stare. With reassurance in her eyes she squeezed his hand. He squeezed hers back.
Hal held tight to Maggie's hand through the rest of the service. Having her next to him, being surrounded by the 2nd Mass, he sent up a silent prayer of thanks. They'd lost so much, lost so many good people. But they weren't giving up. They'd never give up.
When the crowd started to take their leave, he nudged Maggie's arm.
"Heading back inside?" he asked.
"Eventually," she replied. "I'm going to stay a minute longer though."
He nodded, "Do you want me to stay?"
"Nah," she replied. "Go grab some sleep. We have patrol first thing tomorrow. It'd be nice if you were actually awake for it."
He laughed softly. "Thanks Maggie," he offered catching and holding her gaze. He hoped she knew what he was thanking her for.
She nodded and returned his smile.
He squeezed her hand once more before he let her fingers fall from his.
He could feel her eyes on him as he walked inside and it felt good knowing he had someone looking out for him, watching his back.
Despite his exhaustion, and their early start, he was suddenly looking forward to patrol.