Author's Note: First things first...SPOILERS if you haven't played 40th day! This story is rated for bad language and adult themes.
So I was going to continue with my other AOT story but I was overcome with the idea of ruining something that worked fine on its own so...I chickened out basically and wrote this instead. Its pretty dark, consider yourself warned.
When I played The 40th day through, I wasn't quite sure what happened at the end; it was all over very quickly. So I've had a poke around the wiki and used some artistic licence and basically assumed that the invading army would kill pretty much everyone anyway, bomb or no bomb.
Before I begin, I have to say a big thank you to Lime-frog, Game-on-panda and especially the lovely Vault-Pizza and the ever adorable MissWindowsill for your support and for renewing my faith that there is still love for this fandom.
Disclaimer: Army of two, Elliot and Salem included, belongs to EA Montreal, not me.
...While The World Spins Madly On
"Every man...has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice."
- Ayn Rand
Salem never even stops to think.
His body moves involuntarily before his mind has a chance to catch up; the notion that there is a choice involved never occurs to him because his decision is made before he consciously makes it.
This bullet is meant for any man but one.
There is no time for the concept of consequence, for mental coherence, for rationality.
There is only time to take a shot.
For a few seconds, it seems to Salem that time freezes and he is eternally left standing, hands steady as his heart drums wildly in his chest, clinging to his gun and staring blindly at the body crumpled by his feet.
Then time begins to unravel while his world folds in on itself. Seven million people – it could be either him or Tyse that vocally laments the loss of life; Elliot's brain remains at a standstill, unable to recognise the voice behind the words, while he continues to run on instinct and hours-old adrenaline.
"What - what were you – thinking?"
This time it is definitely Rios speaking and the condemning tone snaps Salem out of his trance.
There was no thinking.
His vocal chords will not co-operate, however, some synapse misfire in reaction to the utter shock at what has just happened stopping his brain and his voice-box from connecting.
Instead he gapes blankly, first at the dead body and then Tyse himself, thinking there was no time and -
seven million people
but there is no bomb, no explosions engulfing the screens that surround them; in the darkness, thick blood spilling around their feet, they watch Jonah's invading force continue its massacre, unhindered.
Hands propel him to move, force him back the way they came; they had never intended to go back, Elliot realises, there had only been forward, to revenge and heroic death...and they had failed.
Somewhere along the way he hears himself say in a defensive, disembodied voice,
"I didn't have time to think, I just -"
"Picked me over them."
Elliot stumbles along on numb legs, knees threatening to buckle at every step, knowing that Tyse is never going to forgive him for this.
He doesn't throw up until they reach the spot where Alice's helicopter spiralled out of control and even when he does, its just a watery mess of nothing because he hasn't eaten in so long that the memory of food is hard to place.
Rios stands aside, unmoved, face schooled into a carefully empty expression.
Standing in this place, this place where Alice fucking died, Salem is struck by a sudden desire to find her body – to bury her properly, put her to rest like that will somehow undo the fact that he has just sentenced the equivalent of the entire population of a small country to death.
He can't even visualise seven million people. It is impossible to conceive of and yet consumes his mind. Its just an abstract number, a few words that mean nothing attempting to signify something that he can't wrap his head around, can't make any sense of.
He wavers, fights to stay on his feet, struggling to understand why any one person would want to cause so much death and destruction, all for some sort of – what - social experiment?
To see if he would shoot his partner - his brother, the man who has spent the last decade keeping him alive, keeping him sane, becoming the only thing in his life that matters more than his own continued existence - like a good soldier.
The idea never occurred to him. The idea of having Rios make that choice never occurred to him.
The idea that Salem would shoot first and ask questions later like a good soldier obviously never occurred to Jonah, either.
Making it out of China is a blur of foot after foot, ruined buildings and blazing heat; aching limbs, shame and silence.
The silence is worst of all.
Every word that Rios does not, will not speak weighs on Elliot; he feels like Atlas, forever carrying the weight of a heaven he will never see on his back.
He knows logically that Jonah's soldiers are doing the killing, but...
They are lucky, Salem muses, though lucky doesn't feel remotely like the right word, that they still have contacts, powerful friends made through their business.
Lucky to be sitting in a helicopter, riding over a sunless sea.
Lucky to be fleeing the flames of a war-torn country.
Lucky just to be alive.
Tyse won't meet his eyes and Salem has never felt less lucky.
When their feet finally touch American soil, Elliot's instant reaction is immense relief.
The memory of the journey is transient and fleeting, already hazy in his mind, all that matters is he's -
He's half a world away from what he's done and for a few moments, he can almost convince himself that the whole, harrowing ordeal never happened. That Alice will be waiting in her office with her long legs and that sly, curling smirk and seven million men, women and children are going about their daily lives and any minute now -
Any god damn minute now -
He's going to wake up.
He either has to wake up now or never wake up again.
"Get in the car." Tyse's voice is ragged, dark eyes steely, fathomless. "I won't ask you again, Salem."
Elliot follows the order, as always. He doesn't care to question where they're going or what they're going to do – the rumbling thrum of the engine is making his eyelids flutter and his head feels unaccountably heavy and -
and then he's sitting in the backseat of a car that is parked in the basement of his apartment building, head filled with fog, fumbling to undo his seatbelt because he can't breathe in this damn enclosed space, he can't breathe when he's woken up and he knows, knows that it wasn't all some terrifying dream.
He falls out of the car, palms smacking into hard concrete; gravel encrusted into his skin, he staggers to his feet.
He wants to escape but no man can outrun his shadow.
Rios grabs him by his shirt before he can try, lips pressed into a grim, colourless line and all Elliot can do is submit and tell himself that at least Tyse is still here.
That has to mean something.
The first thing Elliot does is sink onto his couch and throw his arm over his eyes, trying to block out the image of a man bleeding out at his feet with a button in his hand.
Being home doesn't feel right. He doesn't belong here. He belongs in the ground.
Hell, all those people - they won't even be in the ground. They'll be lying in tangled heaps, butchered in the streets.
That's what he deserves, seven million times over.
When Rios speaks, his voice is rough-edged and quivering with rage,
"No. You don't get to -" He cuts himself off, giving a low growl of frustration and when Elliot finally finds it in himself to remove the limb obstructing his vision, Tyse looks older, more lined and haggard than Salem ever remembers him being and he has a pilfered bottle of Jack clutched in his hand.
"God, Elliot." The words crack, splinter, sink away like shards of bone from a bullet-wound. "E-Explain it to me." He's pleading. "You gotta explain it to me 'cause, I don't – I can't -"
"Don't negotiate with terrorists." He mumbles, if only because he doesn't know how to admit to any of the complicated, instinctual feelings that governed his actions.
And because he knows Tyse will take the bait.
"Are you fucking kidding me? I don't want to hear that, that political bullshit man, I want an answer. I deserve a fucking answer! Seven million people, Salem-!"
"I know how many, all right! You don't have to keep saying it over and over!" His voice is uncontrollably taught: shrill and shaken.
"Well what the Hell else was I supposed to do, Rios? Huh? You think I could've shot you in cold blood, just like that, after – after everything?!"
"You should've damn well let me handle it!"
"Handle it?!" Overwhelming incredulity causes a bubbling, bitter laugh to swell in his chest and spill over his lips. "Handle it how, exactly?"
"I would've shot myself!" The bottle of Jack hits the wall and shatters to punctuate the statement – brittle glass and the oozing remnants of brown liquid trickling down white wallpaper. The implied second-half of the fragmented thought – being dead would be better than this – hangs in the air, a terrible, tangible presence.
The only thought that comes, unbidden, to Elliot's mind is
but I couldn't survive without you
and he knows its shameful and he knows its selfish but he can't actually picture his life without Tyse in it. If Tyse had shot himself, they'd both be dead and what were the chances that Jonah and all of his men would have gone quietly home, satisfied with their sacrifice?
"That wouldn't have made a difference and you know it." His voice is calm, now, low and empty. "He was insane. It wouldn't have mattered who died there, we were never going to stop him."
Rios shakes his head, over and over and over, like he won't allow the words to sink in, presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and Salem knows why.
It was never about stopping Jonah, it was about revenge. They weren't supposed to have to deal with the aftermath.
When he pulls his hands away, Rios looks right through his younger partner, words halting and tumbling together.
"I – is that – is that really how you see this, Elliot? He would've had - all, all those people - killed -anyway, so its not your fault? You pulled the fucking trigger and you're just gonna – pretend that its not – that there was no other way?"
Salem grits his teeth, draws in a deep and shaking breath. Fuck Rios, like its all black and white and not a huge wash of impossible grey, like there's some kind of moral high ground to take, like there was time to weigh up all the options and write a fucking pros and cons list, like Tyse shooting himselfwould have been the difficult choice. Shooting himself would have been the damn easiest way out there was because then Tyse would have been dead and he wouldn't have suffered or been totally fucking alone. Elliot knows, of course he fucking knows that he can talk out his now semi-lucid reasoning as much as he likes but that the chances are, a few lucky escapees aside, he's still going to have the blood of seven million human beings on his hands at the end of it all.
He's responsible all right and it will torture his soul till the day he dies but he took charge of that moment for a reason, a reason that he wasn't even aware of until it was already done.
Instead of explaining, instead of trying to answer, he simply states,
"I know what I did and I'd do it again."
When Tyse slams the door shut behind him, Salem honestly never expects to see the older man again.
"Just so you wouldn't have to make that fucking choice."
Elliot sleeps for two days straight.
Yes, he's tired – his body is battered, scarred and hurting and he's emotionally exhausted, probably beyond what sleep can heal.
More than that, though, he's simply lost.
The only way to go on is to act like nothing happened because he can't – he can't work through this, assimilate it, have it be a mistake that he learns from. Its too huge, too awful.
All the things that he did in the past – all the dreadful things he has managed to put behind him – can't even begin to compare to this. Turning the gun on his bastard father as he backed out the door, the thieveries and the muggings as a teenager, stabbing a fellow member of his 'gang' for looking at him the wrong way, killing whoever the US army decreed without question, letting innocent civilians die to get the job done-
He turned his back on all of that, somehow, forced it into some dark recess of his brain; they are the memories of a person that he no longer acknowledges as himself, a person that no longer exists, but this -
He can't pretend this didn't happen.
There's no way forward and no way to undo what he's done; he's lost, confused, with nowhere to go.
So he closes his eyes, sleeps, hopes not to wake.
Five times he tries to call Tyse.
Five times his resolve breaks down and he admits to himself that he can't function without the older man, that everything important inside of him is fracturing; that this is killing him.
Five times the phone rings itself into silence and Elliot won't leave a message because a minute on an answering machine is nowhere near enough.
Five times he reaches out, sinking into his own despair, drowning in it, and on the fifth call the only response he eventually gets is,
"You're a child. You've always been an impulsive fucking child and I was too blind and stupid to see it."
He turns to alcohol. It is all there is in the world that can come close to taking the edge off the pain.
His anaesthetic, to numb a bleeding wound that is too torn to stitch.
It burns down his throat and stings dully behind his eyes, has him bound to the couch, weeping repeatedly
seven million people
like if he says it enough times, he will understand the gravity of the number. It will actually mean something more than the aching nausea or the occasional, sudden stabbing pain in his chest.
There are birds chirping outside and blue mid-afternoon skies, a bright, golden-white orb that has no right to be shining whilst he can hear the quiet rhythm of the constant news reports detailing the rising death-count droning in the background.
They don't know what the final count will be but Elliot does. Jonah made sure of that.
five million and rising, the exact figure is impossible to
soldiers are still storming the streets
reclusive billionaire and former army officer, Jonah Wade
it is also possible officers of a US Private Military firm
the UN are meeting as we speak here in New York City
Salem swipes for the TV remote, misses and lands on the floor, dazed.
He can't – listen to this – any more -
A well aimed drop-kick and the table splinters, sending the TV remote clattering to the floor; seconds later it is finally clutched clumsily in his hands, is sailing through the air, smashing into the flat-screen and plunging the room into silence.
He screams insensibly; raw with rage, regret, indignation.
He digs through the remains of the table for his keys, ignores the sudden stinging in his hand and how it starts dribbling red and then he's on his feet, unsteady, vision swimming but he knows where he's heading, would know his way there with his eyes closed.
He's out the door, weaving through the corridors, squinting against fluorescent elevator lights and pressing his hands to his ears, can still hear it, can still hear that death-count rising, news reporters with sad, sympathetic faces who want to make everything as black and white as -
He's standing outside, mid-afternoon sun sinking, cars rumbling slowly along the road; one foot after another, Salem.
Avoiding eyes turn away from his defiant glare, don't dare to look at him – fucking idiot, murderer, devil incarnate.
Glowing orange, pink, purple, a rainbow sunset dances across the sky.
Elliot sneers at it.
The house he finally lurches to a stop at is small and nondescript, a carbon copy of every other house on the street; white picket fence and trimmed grass like the owner thinks he can pretend he's neat and normal too.
A family home that'll never have a fucking family.
Elliot knows the thought is cruel even as he thinks it and he knows that what he's doing is stupid but he still zigzags up the driveway and pounds on the door.
"RIOS!" He sounds drunk to his own ears; a very bad sign. "I know you're in there, asshole! Y'got nowhere else to go!" He thinks he sees a curtain flicker in the neighbour's window but it could be his imagination. "Y'think I wanted to do it?! Do you really think - I don't give a shit? Y'know me better than that, man. I did you a fucking favour, all right." His words are slurring together, to the point that he's unsure what he's even saying any more. "Open this fucking door and talk to me! You – you couldn't have - I did it for you." He realises belatedly that Tyse really might not be home, slams his forehead and fists into the door, tries to think straight. "I'm sorry, ok? I – I'm sorry. Don't hate me."
When Rios tears the door open, Salem falls right into him but large hands quickly take him by the shoulders and roughly deposit him back onto the doorstep.
"I don't hate you, Elliot. I just can't look at you."
They both recoil, a little, at the severity of the words.
Tyse's eyes are shining. It becomes impossible for Salem's drunken mind to focus on anything else.
"For God's sake, go home. You're drunk - and – you - you're bleeding. And you're causing a scene."
Salem snorts and turns his back on his partner, wonders why he came.
It is worst at night.
When it is black and silent and the world sleeps, there are only his thoughts stuck on repeat.
Salem considers it Game Over when the name of their company becomes a regular feature of the news reel. Its only a matter of time; at this point, he is simply waiting around to die.
He doesn't understand why he's waiting, any more. Why he keeps thinking that maybe, maybe it will all just go away.
He made Jonah Wade a martyr and shouldered all the blame; there is no escaping that.
There is a gun in his hand, though he doesn't remember picking it up; cold, smooth metal, a comforting weight in his palm. The muzzle is pressing insistently against his head and he's seconds from using it, really, he is, he wants it all to end, can't live with the guilt for one more second -
But Tyse's voice reverberates on the other side of his door, saves him from himself.
Elliot is frozen in time, caught between the harsh reality of what is happening, what has happened and the possibility, still clasped with two fingers on the trigger, of absolute mindlessness; his body only struggles sluggishly into movement when the older man's fist starts to pound relentlessly at the door.
He flings it open, can only imagine from Rios' expression – bleak and frightened, savagely fierce - that he looks like a ghost, a dead man walking: translucent skin, vacant eyes.
"You told?" Elliot asks, just for words to say.
"I confided in someone I thought I could trust." Rios' tone dares the younger man to contradict him but Elliot doesn't have the strength to fight. The gun is hanging limply in his hand and his eyes are drawn to it.
Its the same easy way out his partner wanted and he desperately needs this all to just
His thoughts are clearly scrawled over his features because Tyse's voice trembles as he whispers,
"Don't you dare."
When Rios reaches out slowly, takes the gun firmly from his hand, he doesn't even have the energy to resist, to ask since when Tyse gives a shit. He just stands, a listless, wretched ghost, waiting, hoping to simply fade away.
"Elliot..." There's more spoken through the one word than he cares to try and translate.
Tyse never stopped giving a shit. He has the same haunt in his voice, the same burden of the dead weighing down his words that is wrapped around Salem's lungs, suffocating him.
God, he just wants this to end. They don't deserve to suffer like this.
There is a strong hand at the base of his neck, digging into his shoulder, shaking him roughly.
"Hey! I said look at me! Pull yourself together, Elliot, we have to go, understand? We have to get the fuck out of here."
"Go where?" He doesn't care.
"I – I don't know, exactly – it doesn't matter -" Tyse pulls wildly at him. "Will you come the fuck on, already? Just -" He brandishes the gun, looking, for a moment, dangerously frantic. "Just – don't – don't fucking do this, all right? Never this."
As they speed along the darkened freeway, silver stars pricking the black horizon, Salem knows they're running.
But from what? That's another matter.
Rios is tensed like a cobra ready to strike, hands clenched on the steering wheel, knuckles alabaster white.
"Why's it always me bailing you out, huh? When are you gonna pay me back?" His voice is too light and airy, painfully put-on.
Salem laughs, hollow, broken.
"I thought I already did."
From the fond, defeated sidelong glance the older man throws him, Elliot thinks that maybe, maybe after the arguments, the righteous moralising and the two of them clashing on all counts, Tyse finally understands that there was never really a choice – the only decision was which one of them pulled the trigger.
"Man has no right to kill his brother."
Percey Byron Shelley